22 September 2005, Volume 7, Number 28
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA: BEYOND THE 'LEOPARD SKIN'
A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg
RFE/RL: Can a multiethnic society be restored in Bosnia-Herzegovina, or it is more likely that the ethnic divisions established during the 1992-95 war will remain dominant? Our guests are: in Sarajevo, Beriz Belkic, member of the Parliamentary Assembly and former member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in Banja Luka, Miodrag Zivanovic, professor of the Philosophy Faculty and president of the NGO European Movement.
Mr. Zivanovic, in a recent statement you said that the gap between the ethnic communities living in Bosnia-Herzegovina is now deeper than during the war. Why?
Zivanovic: Recent research undertaken in Bosnia-Herzegovina shows beyond a doubt that the ethnic divide is getting bigger. For example, an analysis of the electoral rolls that we conducted after the local elections last October showed that all the local districts are ethnically pure. Only in Tuzla and Sarajevo are more than 10 percent of the inhabitants of different ethnic origins, so "ethnic cleansing" has proven successful.
At the same time, an inversion has taken place. Nationalist political elites that pushed their ethnic communities into war now get along famously while those communities actually hate each other. The point is that the hatred has penetrated deep into the population.... If we have three separate economies, three models of privatization, three different educational systems, and -- I would dare to say -- three ways of living, it obviously means that the ethnic divide is a reality.
Belkic: It is true that there is no ethnically mixed population in Bosnia-Herzegovina because the population is now grouped according to the political will of those who created the postwar situation. However, this situation is undoubtedly unnatural and was the result of brute force, not of the people's wishes.
Such a situation cannot last forever. I disagree with Mr. Zivkovic's stand that the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina hate each other. [The problem lies instead with the elites and the economic situation.]
Zivanovic: The problem is structural in nature. Our entire life is based on an ethnic matrix, the matrix of the Dayton constitution. That logic of numbers is omnipresent since we live here as Serbs, Croats, and [Muslims], not as human beings. We must get beyond this if we want to have a future....
RFE/RL: I would say that a multiethnic Bosnia came to an end when the ethnic picture of Bosnia ceased to look like the leopard skin that used to be a symbolic representation of the country. It was replaced by a map with predominantly ethnically pure territories. Ethnic groups were forced apart, which is why they now live next to each other instead of living together, the way they used to.
Belkic: I strongly believe that communication is part of human nature, which is why I am not so pessimistic as to think that this situation will persist. Take a look at what is happening in culture, sports, and some other areas where people have overcome divisions.... What we need to overcome is a constitutional system that reinforces these divisions.
RFE/RL: But every attempt to change Dayton encounters strong resistance.
Belkic: Because there are too many powerful, vested interests....
RFE/RL: Is there a politician either in Bosnia-Herzegovina or some other post-Yugoslav country with enough courage to do what Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has done? That man used to be a hawk on the Israeli political stage and now he has made a move -- I am talking about the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip -- which will undoubtedly cost him the next elections and probably his political career. He sacrificed his own political interests in the name of the historical needs of his people.
Zivanovic: He said: "I personally assume full responsibility. I am responsible for what is happening now, and whoever wants to complain should complain to me." Of course, this kind of responsibility is not possible here. For example, we cannot change this discriminatory constitution. Our laws based on ethnic discrimination derive from that constitution. If I do not declare myself a Serb, Croat, or [Muslim], I am deprived of at least 50 percent of my rights as a citizen.
RFE/RL: Many politicians say that the high representative should leave Bosnia-Herzegovina and that the present semi-protectorate should be abolished [see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 July 2005]. On the other hand, all the decisions aiming at unification of Bosnia-Herzegovina were imposed by the high representative. Do you believe that Bosnia-Herzegovina might function without the high representative?
Belkic: I do not believe so, because Bosnia-Herzegovina still has no institutions that could assume full responsibility for the lives of our citizens, economic development, and everything else....
Zivanovic: I would say that Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot function without a political authority, and during last 10 years the only genuine, authentic political authority here was the high representative.