8 January 2004, Volume 6, Number 1
A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service with Srdjan Dizdarevic, president of the Helsinki Committee of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Srdja Popovic, a well-known human rights lawyer from Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8, 15, and 22 February 2001).
RFE/RL: Presidents apologize in the name of their citizens. Many of those who were not involved in war crimes actually disapproved of the apologies. I have heard some people say: "Who told him to apologize for me? I didn't do anything to apologize for."
Srdjan Dizdarevic: ...I heard some colleagues from Belgrade the other day apologizing during a roundtable about Srebrenica. They were all antiwar activists, but since the evil came from their country, they felt they should apologize to all those who suffered because of the policy of their state.
RFE/RL: Mr. Popovic, do you find [Serbia and montenegro President Svetozar] Marovic right to apologize for you?
Srdja Popovic: I do, but I prefer to put it in a legal context.
This is how I understand it. The crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina were committed by our state, and this is why the official bodies of that state must be held responsible. Its leaders are being tried before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, and the state itself before the International Court of Justice in that same city.
We, the citizens, are responsible for our political decisions. We voted for Mr. [Slobodan] Milosevic in what amounted to a plebiscite, even when it was obvious that his policy meant war. He was elected president of Serbia four times in free elections.
After the Srebrenica massacre [in 1995], he received 2 million votes in Yugoslavia. Therefore, all those who voted for his policies...must be held responsible.
And what about those who voted against Milosevic and condemned the war crimes while they were taking place? They can also be held responsible, because, as Hannah Arendt says, "we live among other people." If we are happy when the Yugoslav basketball team wins -- although we did not score a single point but were simply sitting in a chair, watching TV, and cheered -- then we should also feel ashamed for the misdeeds of our army.
RFE/RL: Apologies made by politicians from the nations whose members committed the most serious crimes are obviously made out of some sort of self-interest. [Those politicians usually add] that nobody is innocent, every side has committed crimes, and everybody should apologize.
Let me just quote Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic, who said after Marovic's apology in Sarajevo that "three Willy Brandts" are needed in Bosnia-Herzegovina for Marovic's apology to have any meaning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2003).
Dizdarevic: It is obviously an exercise in petty politics to present war crimes in such a way without any reference to what led to them and what the consequences were.
Regarding...[Cavic's statement, Bosnian Serb] nationalists have the greatest difficulty in...apologizing because an apology implies that a second step should follow: namely, that the Serbian Democratic Party [SDS] and those close to it should start analyzing their own responsibility for what happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
That [quandary] became obvious when the [Bosnian Serbs began to] pressure [the Sarajevo authorities] to withdraw the aggression and genocide charges against Milosevic's Yugoslavia [now Serbia and Montenegro] before the International Court of Justice.
All those things reflect efforts to remove from the records all the crimes committed, to relativize them, and to equate the roles of aggressors and victims....
However, one should be careful not to fall into the trap of closing one's eyes and denying the crimes committed by the [Muslims] and Croats.
The extent of the atrocities committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina should be determined by the Hague-based tribunal and by the new court that has just been founded in Bosnia-Herzegovina with international judges.