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South Slavic: September 28, 2000

28 September 2000, Volume 2, Number 35

Apologies and Reconciliation in Bosnia? Part II

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 I appeared on 21 September.

Sejfudin Tokic: First, I would like to say that I have never referred to the collective guilt of a people, neither of the Serbs, the Croats, nor the [Muslims]. I have always spoken about the political responsibility of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), and the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), as well of their leaders, supporters, and [sympathizers]. I always was--and I will always be--against the identification of a people with any political party.

The SDS is responsible, but the Serbs are not. The SDS is greatly responsible in political terms for the suffering of the [Muslims], Serbs, and Croats. That party simply cannot exist in a civilized society without distancing itself from the political projects that were--and indirectly still are--directed by indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic.

As far as responsibility is concerned, I really do think--and that is why I have been repeatedly criticized--that the political accountability of all three leaders and all three national political parties exists. The extent of the responsibility of each remains to be determined, but I consider that none of these leaders and none of these political parties have either the moral or practical requisites to participate in what is called the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

I am strongly convinced that this trio will end up in the dustbin of history, together with all those who secretly sympathize with them. This includes those who have met with the war criminals and those who have not.

A multi-ethnic society of Bosnia-Herzegovina needs multi-ethnic political parties that did not wage war and that have not spread hate. This society needs that sort of politician as well. And, as far as Mr. Banjac's label of [me as] a [Muslim] nationalist is concerned, I can only say that I fight for the [Muslim] people as much as I fight for the Serbs and the Croats. I am convinced that the fight for the benefit of one's own people implicitly includes the fight for the benefit of other peoples.

Mirko Banjac: Mr. Tokic has said that Mr. Izetbegovic has a political responsibility, while Mr. Karadzic's is a criminal one, which makes things absolutely clear. But that is his opinion and in the last analysis the public will decide about it.

Bosnia-Herzegovina--the way I see it in the future--should not be like it was in the past. If the past could have been the future, then it would have been so. If the national question had been resolved, then this tragedy would not have happened. If Bosnia-Herzegovina had been viable the way it was, then former Yugoslavia would not have broken up. If Bosnia-Herzegovina could have been different than it is now--as established by the Dayton accords--it would have been so.

The present [situation] is the way the world has recognized it [through Dayton], and we have to build the future of the Republika Srpska and the Federation--and therefore of Bosnia-Herzegovina--based on these solutions.

And let us make one more thing clear. I am not against somebody's sweet-talk that is aimed at attracting na?ve people, promising that everything will be OK once they renounce themselves, their traditions, their culture, and their...heritage and declare: "I am a citizen, an amoeba, an amorphous creature." But I do not want that. I want people to be free. I want a [Muslim] and a Croat in the Republika Srpska to be allowed to celebrate their religious holidays, and a Serb in the Federation to celebrate his.

Sejfudin Tokic: Mr. Banjac belongs to the party that holds the power in most of the local communities of the Republika Srpska. What sort of freedom his party offers can best be shown by the people who are trying to return to the Republika Srpska and who are trying to have their properties restituted. People from Janja, whose houses have been burned down recently, are the best possible examples.

Mirko Banjac: Mr. Tokic has mentioned the coalition of the Croatian Democratic Community, the Party of Democratic Action, and the Serbian Democratic Party. However, Mr. Tokic's party forms a coalition in Banja Luka with the Party of Democratic Action, the Croatian Democratic Community, the Independent Social Democrats, the Democratic People's Alliance, and the Democratic Socialist Party. How can he possibly criticize national parties while his own party is a coalition partner of the Party of Democratic Action and the Croatian Democratic Community in the biggest town of the Republika Srpska?

Sejfudin Tokic: Mr. Banjac's claims are [wrong].

Mirko Banjac: You cannot deny that your party is a coalition partner with the Croatian Democratic Community and the Party of Democratic Action in several towns, such as Prijedor, Banja Luka, etc.

Sejfudin Tokic: Such "false facts" cannot undercut the basic tenet of the Social Democratic Party which, at this moment, has no coalition partners whatsoever....

Omer Karabeg: Almost all political parties in the Federation have sharply criticized officials from the Republika Srpska for not taking part in the Srebrenica commemoration [this summer] (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2000). Neither the Serbian member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Zivko Radisic, nor any other official from the Republika Srpska came to Srebrenica. This gave the impression that it was a sort of boycott. Why, Mr. Banjac, did officials from the Republika Srpska not come to the commemoration?

Mirko Banjac: You would have to ask those who were invited but did not come. I cannot answer your question for them.

However, one thing is certain: the attempt to politicize the misfortune and tragedy that befell the people from that place is not a good one. I think that we should try to see what made [many Serbs] decide not to come [to the commemoration]. That did not happen by accident. Among them, there are people who have never made a single gesture that could be labeled intolerant or hate-filled. There is something basically wrong [with the commemoration].

Omer Karabeg: If you had been invited as a deputy speaker of the Parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina--therefore as a high official of Bosnia-Herzegovina--would you have come?

Mirko Banjac: I was invited. I have no reason to apologize but, believe it or not, that very day I had previous commitment. However, I would not have come to this commemoration under the circumstances even if I could have. The intention [of those organizing the commemoration] to assign collective guilt to an entire people would have made me decide not to come.

Omer Karabeg: You think that the commemoration in Srebrenica was an attempt to put the collective blame on the Serbian people?

Mirko Banjac: I think that, unfortunately, there were such attempts, among others....

Sejfudin Tokic: I find it inappropriate to comment on an event in which the entire democratic international community took part via the UN's representative, the Office of the High Representative, and the ambassadors of almost all the states accredited in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

All those who think about the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina--whether they are Serbs, Croats, or [Muslims]--were there. I find it really inappropriate to talk about the event the way Mr. Banjac does. One must not talk that way about such a large-scale gathering, the only purpose of which was to pay tribute to the people who were killed in that terrifying crime. There was neither a word nor a gesture that would indicate that some of the participants had other intentions.

Mirko Banjac: I find that what Mr. Tokic is saying is disgusting and out of place. I have never turned somebody's misfortune into my own political profit and I never will. And that is what Mr. Tokic is doing right now. I am really ready to take part in commemorations of such a tragic event, but that has to be done with reverence for the victims, and politics must not be involved. I will always be against the involvement of politics in [marking] such a tragedy.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Banjac, how do you think such a tragic event as the one that took place in Srebrenica should be commemorated?

Mirko Banjac: It absolutely should be commemorated, but without appearing to turn it into a political event.

Sejfudin Tokic: Mr. Banjac's rhetoric and views can be expressed by Radovan Karadzic's words: "I swear by my children that I am not guilty."

It is shameful from a moral and humanistic point of view that representatives of the highest official structures of Bosnia-Herzegovina--the Parliament, the Council of Ministers, and the Presidency--were not present at a commemoration of such a tragedy.

Mirko Banjac: I am not going to use Mr. Tokic's vocabulary. I am not going to make anybody feel ashamed. All of those who did not come and were able to do so should be asked why they did not come. As far as I am concerned, I am ready to take part in a cultural and religious ceremony in which the victims are remembered. There is no argument about that and, as far as I am concerned, there will never be.

Omer Karabeg: At the end of the conversation, I would like us to go back to our main topic, which is apologizing for the crimes committed during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mr. Banjac, what is your conclusion: is such an apology necessary?

Mirko Banjac: For 50 years we had slogans like "let us dearly cherish brotherhood and unity"--and we have seen the result. I would not like the apology to become one of these [phony] slogans.

However, if this "I apologize" that the Serbs would say to the Croats, the Croats to the Serbs, the [Muslims] to the Serbs, the Serbs to the [Muslims], the Croats to the [Muslims] and the [Muslims] to the Croats could resolve all our problems in Bosnia-Herzegovina, then let us say it tonight. But slogans produced no results during Tito's regime, and there will be none today. Resolving practical problems will be the best possible form of apology.

Omer Karabeg: May I conclude that you are ready to say "I apologize" if that could end the problems?

Mirko Banjac: Personally, I am, but under the condition that we all say it to each other.

Sejfudin Tokic: This program and everything that was said has convinced me that what we need first is criminal and political accountability--and after that the apology and reconciliation, which are necessary for our way to the future. Without the criminal and political accountability, the same thing will happen to us again.

The latest events have shown that, on the one hand, there are people who are ready to come to the commemoration in Srebrenica and to develop new relations, but on the other side, there are activists of Mr. Banjac's party who, the day before or after the commemoration, burned down the houses of [Muslim] survivors trying to return to Srebrenica.

The latter is a concept without a future. Therefore, what we need is denazification--criminal and political accountability, but also new people with a reputation that would allow them to develop new relations. Mr. Dodik's gesture regarding the apology is one of them.

Mirko Banjac: After what Mr. Tokic has just said, it is clear what he really wants. A minute ago, he said that none of the officials of the Republika Srpska came to the commemoration, and now he demands criminal and political accountability. He wants everybody to be held responsible, which means that he accuses the Serbian people collectively, which is not the way to the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I am convinced that Mr. Tokic has chosen the wrong way.

Sejfudin Tokic: Once again, I would like to emphasize that any sort of a collective responsibility is out of the question. There is no collective accountability for the Serbs, but there is accountability for the Serbian Democratic Party and its leaders who are now either in The Hague, or somewhere in the forests of the Republika Srpska.