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South Slavic: January 20, 2000

20 January 2000, Volume 2, Number 3

Time To Revise The Dayton Agreement? Part II

The following is the second part of a translation of a recent edition of Omer Karabeg's "Radio Most" (Bridge), which brought together Zeljko Mirjanic and Miro Lazovic. Part I appeared on 13 January.

Let me explain you why I am asking you that. Some experts think that the Bosnia-Herzegovina made in Dayton is an artificial legal creation and that this is why it can hardly start functioning.

Mirjanic: This is how practical people think, but we who deal with theory, we have to take a broader view. Every country has its system, and it is never the same in any two places. Every system is unique; it is always different and specific. But if those specific qualities are a product of free will and the political outlook of the citizens, if a democratic country is based on the rule of law, then there is no reason whatsoever for that country not to function.

Lazovic: I would ask Mr. Mirjanic if he really thinks that in both entities of Bosnia-Herzegovina human rights are protected, that rights of Bosnjaks [i.e. Muslims] and Croats are protected in the Republika Srpska, as well rights of Serbs in the Federation.

Mirjanic: As far as the Republika Srpska is concerned, I can tell you that there are no incidents inspired by national or religious feelings, meaning that normal life for all the citizens is secured. I am not, of course, talking here about the economic or social situation, which is not normal, just like elsewhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Lazovic: I cannot agree with you because I think that human rights are threatened everywhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but maybe not as much in the Federation as in the Republika Srpska. First of all, I am talking about the return of the refugees. I would really be glad to know that the situation is the way you just described it, that human rights are protected, that human rights of Croats and [Muslims] are protected and that there are no incidents.

But, in the real world, both of the entities do discriminate among the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina. According to the constitution of the Federation, Serbs are a minority in that entity, and according to the constitution of the Republika Srpska, [Muslims] and Croats are a minority in the Republika Srpska. Until the constitution is changed and both entities' constitutions are reconciled with the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina, until the three peoples have equal rights on the entire territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, we cannot talk about democratic and stable conditions for the protection of human rights....

Mr. Mirjanic, do you think that all three peoples should be constitutive, [that is equal "peoples of the state"] on the entire territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina?

Mirjanic: Before I answer your question, let me first say that I remain convinced that there are neither nationalistic nor religious incidents in the Republika Srpska. I do not know that there have been cases like that, and if someone claims that there have, let him first cite some. As far as the return of the refugees and displaced persons is concerned, we cannot really be satisfied with what has been achieved so far. There is no doubt that everyone has the right to return home and to choose where to live. As far as equal rights for all the peoples are concerned, let me remind you that it is an issue discussed by the Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina, after an initiative by a member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina from the Federation, Mr. Alija Izetbegovic. He demanded that the constitutions of the entities be changed in a way that would allow all three peoples to be constitutive on the entire territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. But I wonder whether those who have signed the Washington agreement--[of 1994 between Croats and Muslims] defining the constitutional order of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in such a manner that makes only the [Muslim] and Croat peoples constitutive in that entity--should now open that question.

Alija Izetbegovic is not the only one who proposed that. The Social Democratic Party of Bosnia-Herzegovina also supports that initiative.

Mirjanic: Mr. Karabeg, I am talking about the constitutional proposal that has been launched by Mr. Izetbegovic.

Lazovic: But it is not only Alija Izetbegovic's initiative. Before he raised it with the Constitutional Court, the same was demanded by many political parties and associations in the Federation. We have also demanded a parliamentary discussion of the issue.

Mirjanic: I must say that I did not know that. I was only informed about the formal initiative. I still think that the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina should not be modified. The only thing to do is to implement it, since it guarantees equality of all the peoples and citizens in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The constitution does not create inequality.

Do you think that Serbs being a minority in the Federation as are Croats and [Muslims] in the Republika Srpska does not create inequality?

Mirjanic: In what sense do you think that they have no equal rights, as peoples or as citizens?

As peoples.

Mirjanic: If you talk about them as peoples, then the issue might be raised, but as citizens, they are equal. There is no discrimination whatsoever because all the citizens--those of the Republika Srpska as well as those of the Federation--are completely equal in terms of rights in the eyes of the law. This holds both for the Republika Srpska and the Federation, and for the law of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But every citizen belongs at the same time to his people.

Mirjanic: Yes, but human rights and liberties are guaranteed and do not depend on the people to whom one belongs.

This principle has been implemented in Switzerland, but I am afraid that in the Balkans it does matter a lot whether you belong to a majority or a minority people.

Mirjanic: I think, Mr. Karabeg, that we ought to forget all those stories that make us look back to the past. We have to construct Bosnia-Herzegovina as a society where all the citizens will be equal and free, where no one will ask us to which people we belong. This is how I see Bosnia-Herzegovina and not as a country where we will once again count how many of us belong to which people. Our workers who live in Germany or France are equal in rights with the Germans and the French. Their human rights and liberties are respected although they are neither Germans nor French.

Lazovic: I think that, for some reason, Mr. Mirjanic keeps avoiding giving us a concrete answer. He says that all citizens are equal in the Republika Srpska and in the Federation. If it is true, why is it that I as a Serb living in the Federation cannot be elected [from there] to the institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I think that things are clear here. The present constitution contradicts all the human rights conventions.

Mirjanic: What makes you think that you cannot be elected? Who prevents you from being elected?

Lazovic: The electoral system.

Mirjanic: Why?

Lazovic: Because neither I nor any other Serb from Sarajevo could be elected member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The same goes for Croats and [Muslims] in the Republika Srpska.

Mirjanic: Why do you think that every citizen wants to be elected a member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina or of any of those institutions? Citizens simply want to live normally.

Lazovic: I do want to be elected a member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Mirjanic: But why?

Lazovic: Because it is a human right that belongs to me according to the criteria that you have just mentioned. If I as a citizen am somehow stigmatised and cannot run for all the offices of my state, Bosnia-Herzegovina, then the constitution is not a good one and has to be modified.

Mirjanic: Mr. Lazovic, a member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina from the Republika Srpska represents all the citizens of the Republika Srpska and not only the Serbs from the Republika Srpska or only the Serbs of Bosnia-Herzegovina. He represents the citizens of the Republika Srpska, and all the citizens of the Republika Srpska, whether they are Serbs, Croats or [Muslims], can vote for him. There is no argument about it.

Lazovic: I understand that perfectly. Nevertheless, either you are avoiding giving me a straight answer or you do not want to understand me.

Mirjanic: I am not avoiding giving you an answer, but a member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina from the Republika Srpska represents all the citizens of the Republika Srpska. He does not represent only the Serbs, either from the Republika Srpska or from Bosnia-Herzegovina. He is being elected by the entity. He is being elected by a part of Bosnia-Herzegovina, no matter the voters' national affiliation.

Lazovic: Mr. Mirjanic, I am perfectly aware of the way the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina functions and what kind of an electoral system is based on that constitution. What I am talking about is that the constitution must be changed, so that every citizen can have equal rights on the entire territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, no matter what his national or ethnic affiliation. I would like the Serb representative in the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina to represent all the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina and not only those from the Republika Srpska.

Mirjanic: Do not forget that the Presidency is made up of the representatives of the three peoples: we have a Serb, a Croat, and a [Muslim] there. They are supposed to reflect the national structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina and to express the will of the three peoples. If we had the situation the way you want it, then the [largest single] people, [the Muslims,] would elect the representatives of the other two peoples. This explains the reaction of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) and other Croatian political parties against [the solution you suggest], fearing that "their" representative in the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina might be elected by other peoples.

Lazovic: There are mechanisms that could be introduced in order to protect their national interests. Those fears can be eliminated by those mechanisms. Nevertheless, so long as there is a fear that a [Muslim] will [necessarily] work against the interests of Serbs and Croats, we will not see better days.

Mirjanic: I agree with you that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be the product of the free will of its citizens and not of agreements and negotiations. However, it will take time.

Lazovic: I can agree with you about that, Mr. Mirjanic, but...I am for a more radical and more dynamic approach that would bring about changes more quickly. It seems to me that with your approach, you are trying to maintain an imperfect status quo. I am certain that it is not good for the Serb people either, since the Republika Srpska--with its prevailing policies--still aspires to a kind of a autarky, isolation, and self-containment. That should be changed.

Mirjanic: I do not share your impression. I think that the democratic changes that have taken place in the Republika Srpska have opened up that entity toward the outside world. This is the way we are being treated by the international community. You know that since the election of the new [sic.] government, the views of the Republika Srpska are being taken into consideration abroad. We have done a lot to help the institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina start functioning. We want Bosnia-Herzegovina to become integrated into Europe. Our policy is completely different from the one that used to lead the Republika Srpska and Bosnia-Herzegovina into isolation [under wartime nationalist leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic].

Lazovic: I could agree with you that some changes have taken place in the Republika Srpska and that more progressive people and forces have replaced those who were in power before. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the Republika Srpska is still a region contaminated with propaganda belonging to the past, with some false ideas and false values that are not part of the Dayton agreement or of the international community's policy. The Republika Srpska is an entity made by the Dayton agreement, but Bosnia-Herzegovina is the state in which that entity functions. I am certain that existing partitions created by the war through the use of force do not correspond with the interests of the Serb, Croat, or [Muslim] people.

Mirjanic: I agree with you that all the barriers between the peoples and citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina should be removed. I think that a natural process will eventually remove those barriers.

You are saying that all the barriers should be removed. Are the entity borders a barrier or not?

Lazovic: The Dayton agreement has accepted the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina into two entities. However, the Dayton agreement did not say that the entities are two separate states functioning within Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Dayton agreement did not foresee any kind of [international] borders within Bosnia-Herzegovina. The demarcation lines drawn in Dayton were a mere compromise solution in order to make the agreement acceptable [to all parties]. All the other provisions of the Dayton agreement aim at destroying the existing barriers that prevent the return of the refugees, the free flow of capital, economic integration, etc. This is why one cannot say that the entities are some kind of states within Bosnia-Herzegovina. The territorial division was a kind of compromise, a high price that had to be paid in order to have the entire Dayton peace agreement accepted. We are now living with the consequences of that compromise. However, I am sure that Bosnia-Herzegovina will eventually become integrated and that there will be no more barriers between the entities.

Mirjanic: I do not see the borders between the entities as lines that divide Bosnia-Herzegovina. They do not divide it. They are more psychological than real borders. Although fear is fading, people are still afraid of travelling from one entity to another. Those are the consequences of the war. The war ended four years ago and that has not been enough for all the consequences to disappear. It will take more time. Nevertheless, it is clear to me that the borders between the entities are not real state borders but merely administrative ones.

Finally, let us go back to my first question: has the time come for a revision of the Dayton agreement? Mr. Lazovic?

Lazovic: I think that a small conference on Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Dayton agreement will take place soon. These four years since the signing of the Dayton agreement were more than enough to reveal all its good and bad sides. A serious study should be made of the weaknesses and one more try made to remove them. It does not matter whether we call it a revision of or an annex to the Dayton agreement. The point is to make a breakthrough in the best interest of all citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Mirjanic: I have a different approach. I do not think that we in Bosnia-Herzegovina need big political and constitutional discussions to lead to a major new compromise. Bosnia-Herzegovina and its citizens need quick political reforms. We need to enter the process of transition [from communism] as soon as possible. We are lagging ten years behind other countries. If we start discussing [every single issue] again, we will continue with our conflicts and with wasting time--and the world will keep on going ahead of us. We do not need that. The Dayton agreement is broad enough to make Bosnia-Herzegovina a part of Europe. Once the process of integrating southeast Europe is over, many issues remaining from the historic development of this region--including ones that are now still very important here--will have disappeared or lost any meaning. The citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina will be living like other citizens of other European countries by then.

If I understand you correctly, you would not change anything about the Dayton agreement.

Mirjanic: I did not say that I would not change anything. I think that everything can be changed, but only through the procedure foreseen by the Constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina, not any other way. However, we really have no more time left to postpone the transition [from communism].

Lazovic: I can agree with Mr. Mirjanic concerning the need for a transition and economic reforms. Nevertheless, I think that first we have to remove all of our political barricades, as well as some of the more grotesque solutions offered by the Dayton agreement. Without that, neither economic reforms nor privatisation and foreign investments are possible.

The key problems of this country are political, such as the political barricades maintained by the present authorities in order to stay in power. I wish we could analyse the implementation of the Dayton agreement in a rational way, without emotions. In the interest of all the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, we should identify where those barricades are.