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South Slavic: September 21, 2000

21 September 2000, Volume 2, Number 34

Apologies And Reconciliation In Bosnia? Part I

Omer Karabeg: In today's Radio Most (Bridge), we are going to discuss the issue of apologizing and asking for forgiveness for the crimes committed during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Our guests are: in Sarajevo--Sejfudin Tokic, vice-president of the steering committee of the Social Democratic Party of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in Banja Luka--Mirko Banjac, member of the steering committee of the Serbian Democratic Party and deputy speaker of the parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Part II will appear on 28 September.

Prime Minister of the Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik recently said that he was ready to offer his apology to the Croatian and Muslim peoples, as long as the same goes for the others. Dodik also said that Croatian government should as well apologize to other peoples, including maybe the Serbs. What is your comment, Mr. Banjac? Do you find apologies necessary for overcoming the traumas from the past?

Mirko Banjac: I cannot see anything wrong with that statement. If someone finds that a mutual apology could lead us towards a better future, then I am not against it. If such a lofty word or a sentence means a better future, I am absolutely ready to support it.

Crimes were certainly committed by all three sides, ...but, I think that what we have here is a politicization of our joint misfortune, and I am not for such a politicization. I would prefer that we find the best modality for our future life in this region and a way to overcome the antagonisms created by this unfortunate war.

Omer Karabeg: You have just mentioned the politicization of the joint misfortune. Did you refer to Mr. Dodik's statement?

Mirko Banjac: I do not think that Mr. Dodik was politicizing. Mr. Dodik's reasoning was completely rational and consistent. If everyone should apologize to everyone else for what was done during this unfortunate war, I am not against it. However, the question remains whether this is a solution. I think that there is no collective guilt for any side, since every criminal has a name and should be held responsible.

Sejfudin Tokic: Mr. Dodik's statement is undoubtedly a positive step forward, one that helps build confidence between the peoples...and strengthens peace and stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

However, in order to reach that point, the responsibility of specific individuals must be determined. In addition, one must determine the political responsibility of the groups, political parties, and individuals who were not directly involved, but whose concepts and political programs largely contributed to and even "planned" the crimes.

An apology can only be offered by new people, just like the peace can only be built by those new people--and not by the politicians belonging to the nationalistic structures. They made possible what happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina, either by implementing Belgrade's and Zagreb's hegemonistic concepts, or by attempting to impose the domination of one nation.

None of Hitler's cohorts apologized after World War II--it was done by people who held a completely new, different political orientation. I am talking about Willy Brandt, whose gesture [of kneeling in Warsaw] should be repeated in Bosnia-Herzegovina as well.

Omer Karabeg: You think that those who committed the crimes should be punished as a prior condition for an apology?

Sejfudin Tokic: Of course. I think that a strategic mistake was made during the building of peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Once the war was over--thanks to the international community--no "denazification" [as took place in Germany after 1945] was ever completed.

Political groups and individuals who had started the war have remained on the political stage. The comparison might sound a little bit strong, but it is as if the Allies had called elections after they arrived in Berlin in 1945. The Nazis would have won, of course, thanks to the [effects of their long monopoly of power.]

However, what happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina [after 1995] did not happen in Germany [after 1945]. This is because the elections were barred to Nazi political parties and individuals who helped in the creation of the Nazism and who were held responsible for crimes.

There were Nazi-style projects and little Hitlers in many parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina, too. There were all too many of them. Discoveries of new graves every day bear witness that.

Mirko Banjac: I do not agree with you. I think that opening up such issues would not help coexistence in this region. The fact is that there was a civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and therefore it cannot be compared with what was going on in Nazi Germany. It cannot, and it should not be compared.

Sejfudin Tokic: Of course, we cannot agree about the nature of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But to prove to you that I am right regarding the need for the denazification, let me remind you that even after the peace agreement was signed, the same political parties that had started the war stuck to their original political programs, or something very close to them.

One can hardly expect that peace and confidence among the peoples could be rebuilt by those belonging to Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party, Izetbegovic's Party of Democratic Action, or by those from the Croatian Democratic Community, which maintains Tudjman's political views even after his death.

I am not trying to [deal with] the responsibility of the three political parties. All I want to emphasize is that people who created the war and antagonisms, who built their political standing by disseminating hate and national intolerance--those people cannot possibly succeed in building the peace.

Mirko Banjac: I do not want to be involved in another lie being spread among the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina. We used to have 50 years of [Titoist] "brotherhood and unity," based on so-called civic options. Now, tell me, please, if there was this brotherhood and unity, how could it collapse overnight and lead to the bloodiest war?

A new society should be built in the region, which will not be based on that lie. During the 50 years of Tito's regime, the hate existed but it was not allowed to be discussed. Some people were put in jail just because they demanded that it be openly discussed.

If the road towards coexistence leads through a new sort of brotherhood and unity, then I do not want to be involved in it. I have three children and I want them to have a future. I want to live in Bosnia-Herzegovina--this is my country--but I want also to help build such a Bosnia-Herzegovina that will ensure the possibility of free expression to all its national groupings and individuals.

There cannot and should not be taboos in Bosnia-Herzegovina, nor should any minority position be automatically excluded--all issues must be open to discussion. If we can discuss all issues, then we will certainly be able to find a solution. Blaming an entire people can only cause new misery.

Omer Karabeg: Entire peoples, of course, should not be blamed. However, everyone agrees that individuals should be held responsible. Does the leadership of your party, whose president used to be Radovan Karadzic, think that his place is in The Hague, that he should be tried in The Hague?

Mirko Banjac: Before answering that question, let me just tell you one thing. Radovan Karadzic has his place in the history of this people. However, I personally have never met Radovan Karadzic, and I have never seen him. I just want to make one thing clear: Radovan Karadzic's guilt should be proven by facts, and if it is proven, then he should be held responsible. But the same principle should be applied to everybody else, too.

Sejfudin Tokic: Mr. Banjac's discussion about a new society, about coexistence instead of brotherhood and unity, about a society in which we will have freedom instead of the lack of freedom and the torture we had under the Communist system--this is the same discussion we heard back in 1990. (By the way, I never took part in the Communist system, while Mr. Banjac was an important official in some municipalities then.)

And what happened after that discussion began? There were never more attacks against religious places, never more destroyed churches and mosques than during the rule of the three national political parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

I am not trying to equate their responsibility. All I want to say is that there were all sorts of invaders and armies in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the past, but [Banja Luka's] Ferhadija mosque and so many Orthodox churches between Mostar and western Herzegovina were never destroyed before these nationalistic parties came to power.

Mr. Banjac's attempt to distance himself from Karadzic--I am talking about his claim that he has never seen him--means nothing. The Serbian Democratic Party has never distanced itself from the political concepts, projects, and ideas forcibly put into practice by the indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic.

Nationalists still hope that the international community's presence in this region will not last long and that things will return to the status-quo-ante as soon as the international forces leave.....

One should not forget that the same promises about a new society that we have just heard from Mr. Banjac were already made in 1990 by Radovan Karadzic, [Alija] Izetbegovic and then-leader of the Croatian Democratic Community, Stjepan Kljuic, who were embracing each other. [Ed.: Kljuic subsequently repudiated nationalism and left the HDZ.]

However, the worst thing is that even today, after ten dramatic years in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the three nationalistic parties--SDA, SDS, and HDZ--remain proud of their merits. What kind of merits? A destroyed Bosnia-Herzegovina, hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of displaced persons, and a country on the brink of poverty.

Obviously, we are talking here about an intolerant, nationalistic political concept, tinged with chauvinism, and, I would also say with some fascist ideas.

Mirko Banjac: I am quite familiar with Mr. Tokic's story. Mr. Tokic cannot fool anyone by denying that he is a [Muslim] nationalist.

All the things that he attributes to somebody else are actually his own problems. Elections will show to what extent his path is a civic one. People will pass judgment on it.

His continuous driving at collective guilt of the Serbian people is well known, too. We can see it in every single sentence he says.

As far as the destruction of mosques and churches is concerned, I condemn every sort of vandalism. I have already said on television and would like to reiterate that I condemn the destruction of Ferhadija, but I wish that the church in Sanski Most had been destroyed rather than have more than 300 Serbs killed inside. If I would have to choose between a religious building and a human life, then my choice is life.

Therefore, I condemn every sort of vandalism, but I also condemn even more a project that was carried on during World War II as well as in this last one. The project could be defined as follows: do not destroy religious buildings but use them for massacres in order to make people remember the tragedy and therefore hate the buildings. But I would like to ask something of Mr. Tokic: Does he find Mr. Izetbegovic as guilty as Radovan Karadzic?