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South Slavic: July 24, 2003

24 July 2003, Volume 5, Number 22


A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) with Hidajet Ripovac, sociologist and professor of the Faculty of Political Sciences in Sarajevo and Miodrag Zivanovic, chairman of the philosophy department at the University of Banja Luka. Moderated by RFE/RL's Omer Karabeg.

RFE/RL: Some people find the depth of national divisions in Bosnia-Herzegovina today similar to those before the war. Of course, they do not think that another war will break out, but they warn that each ethnic group is becoming more "homogenized" to the exclusion of any real integration with outsiders. Mr. Zivanovic, do you agree with this view?

Miodrag Zivanovic: There are definitely some similarities. We have three ethnically pure territories here and deep national divisions, perhaps even deeper than during the war. There is practically no chance for an integrated society to be built -- if not a truly civic one, then at least the best we could hope for.

Here in Bosnia-Herzegovina, we live only as Serbs, Croats, and [Muslims], instead of as people or citizens. Our constitution legalized this, and I must say that a morbid mechanism has been created based exclusively on ethnicity. If one tried to enter an ID card with the word "human being" on it, the mechanism would not recognize it.

And, of course, those who want to stay human beings, individuals, and citizens are simply excommunicated. I fear that this tendency will further deepen existing ethnic divisions and create a society based on discriminatory criteria.

There is another, even bigger problem hindering the creation of a civic society in Bosnia-Herzegovina: the fact that, unfortunately, ethnic hatred is no longer a characteristic primarily of national political elites alone; it is now a characteristic of the three peoples living in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The hatred has penetrated into the population, and now, seven or eight years after the war, our three peoples live in hatred, while their elites do just fine.

RFE/RL: Mr. Repovac, do you agree that the three ethnic groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina hate each other?

Hidajet Repovac: I think that the hatred has reached a dreadfully dangerous level, and we have become alienated from the Bosnia-Herzegovina in which we live.

Once one could travel all around Bosnia-Herzegovina, day and night, and find friends and people to talk to everywhere. One could find a friendly neighborhood from Trebinje and Pocitelj to Bihac and Prijedor -- but that simply does not exist anymore.

Believe me, no one wants to spend a night away from home, on the road somewhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The war and the political parties are responsible for this. The parties manipulate us, using hatred as an instrument of their power.

Zivanovic: A morbid mind-set is solidifying, based on hatred. Everybody feels threatened by everybody else. The schools have done much to promote this.

Repovac: That is true. This spiritual aspect of our lives has been seriously damaged as a result of the activities of the nationalist parties. Divisions in education -- which we are now trying to overcome artificially with some so-called reforms -- show how seriously the cancer of intolerance has spread and how difficult it will be to eradicate.

RFE/RL: To be frank, the dream of a civic Bosnia-Herzegovina ended for me last November when nationalist parties won the elections.

Zivanovic: You are right about the last elections, but the question is what will happen next time. Things are getting to the point where the only criteria on which people will be elected is ethnicity. There will be no liberals, social democrats, communists, socialists, etc.

Repovac: The national parties won because the parties with a programmatic basis could not overcome the huge problems they face. The nationalist parties are led by petty people who care mainly about positions, seats, and economic power.

RFE/RL: Even in the parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina under a direct international protectorate -- such as Brcko -- people still do not live together. That district was hailed as the core of a new multiethnic society, but now we see that nothing based on multiethnic principles works there.

So, when the water polo team of Serbia and Montenegro won the final match against the Croatian national team, young men went out to celebrate by singing nationalist songs and shouting: "This is Serbia." Doesn't that prove that the idea of a truly multiethnic district is a farce?

Zivanovic: Too many young people are infected with the virus of nationalism as a result of our education system. Their religious feelings are more clerical than theological, since for them the church is a political institution rather than a place to profess their religion. That is what research has shown.

Universal values such as love, peace, and humanism -- which are respected by truly religious people -- occupy the last place on those young people's scale of values. Some of them have given up, and all they want is to leave Bosnia-Herzegovina. Others simply do not know what to do.

Some are drifting towards the political parties and forming youth organizations. Eventually they will become the stooges of their party leaders.

Repovac: Let me just add that the young people abroad, both the refugees and those we call displaced persons, have practically no chance to return and do something in their hometowns. Instead, many young people still want to emigrate.

Zivanovic: Eventually, we could be left with a state without people. Of course, I am talking metaphorically, but something like that might happen.

Who is going to implement the international community's decisions? Well, to be frank, I even wonder who is able to do so now. Just look at this nonsense.

The present "director" of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as I call him, Mr. Paddy Ashdown, is a political liberal. His job here is to install a model of Western, liberal capitalism.

Who is supposed to implement his decisions? Three nationalist parties: the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), and the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), since they are in power.

How could these truly nationalist parties possibly implement a model of Western, liberal capitalism centered on human beings and individuals instead of on communities or nations?

RFE/RL: Mr. Repovac, how do you explain that nationalism is on the rise even among the [Muslims]?

Repovac: The idea of a multiethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina has seen its day.... People don't seem to care and don't want to live under the same roof with each other...

RFE/RL: Is the fact that the Serbs and Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina have their own "mother" countries the main obstacle preventing the return of a multiethnic and multicultural Bosnia-Herzegovina?

Sport events seem to show this best. In both the Republika Srpska and Herzegovina, the successes of the national teams of Serbia and Croatia are celebrated, while no one even cares about the national team of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Zivanovic: There is a problem in Bosnia-Herzegovina that has not been solved yet, eight years after the war. I am talking about the state: Bosnia-Herzegovina exists only as a territory, on a map, with a red line outlining its frontiers.

People live there, but the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina simply does not work. One half of the population does not consider it their own state. You have just given a couple of the many possible examples regarding sports events.

Repovac: We have the ambience of a ghetto here with deep ethnic divisions. We must constantly cross [internal] borders to move about. Even the [external] border crossing near Bihac is not the one I might consider mine, since in order to get there from Sarajevo, I have to cross the [internal] borders in Vares, Jajce, and Mrkonjic Grad. If someone decided to close those border crossings, the only way I could leave Bosnia-Herzegovina is by helicopter.

RFE/RL: Well then, was Professor Franjo Kozul right when he said recently that in Bosnia-Herzegovina everything is divided except the air?

Zivanovic: I wouldn't be so sure about the air.

RFE/RL: So, if everything is already divided, do you think that Bosnia-Herzegovina will eventually be split up into three ethnically pure entities: Serbian, Croatian, and [Muslim]?

Repovac: That would be the most disastrous consequence of what we have just been discussing, and I sincerely hope it will not happen. I think that there are still enough politically mature people who understand how dangerous such a division might be. The point is that a divided Bosnia-Herzegovina would bring even more trouble and suffering for its peoples.

Zivanovic: If this continues, we risk becoming the black hole of Southeastern Europe. When I discuss these things, I usually quote an American diplomat, who said this during the [November] 2000 Zagreb [EU and Balkan] summit: "The only thing we in the United States are interested in is the Belgrade-Zagreb express train. We do not really care about the passengers in that train. However, if some of them misbehave, we will throw them out at the Vrpolje railway station." Vrpolje station is the railway junction where the trains turn off for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Therefore, Bosnia-Herzegovina really does face the risk of becoming a black hole and, if there is any wisdom left, we have to do everything we can to prevent it.