The Office of the High Representative (OHR) has recently come under attack from Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serbian entity, the Republika Srpska, whose prime minister, Milorad Dodik, has threatened to withdraw from federal structures and says the OHR should be dissolved.
EU and U.S. officials are gathering in Sarajevo to talk to leaders from Bosnia's three ethnic communities in hopes of preventing the political situation from destabilizing further.
Miroslav Lajcak, the foreign minister of Slovakia, served as the international community's high representative to Bosnia from 2007-09. RFE/RL Balkan Service correspondent Ljudmila Cvetkovic spoke to Lajcak in Belgrade ahead of the talks.
RFE/RL: There is a lot of tension these days between the Office of the High Representative and the leadership of Republika Srpska. If you were the high representative today, how would you respond to the refusal by the Republika Srpska and Prime Minister Dodik to accept Valentin Inzko's authority, and their threat to abandon federal institutions in Bosnia?
Miroslav Lajcak: As a rule, I wouldn't give advice to someone doing a job I did previously. Mr. Inzko is there now. He has the support of the international community, and my support, of course.
I know it's not easy for him. But I won't offer advice, as I myself didn't find it pleasant, in similar situations, when others acted wise and gave me advice about what could be done better and how.
RFE/RL: After your conversation on October 2 with Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, you said that the situation in Bosnia isn't satisfactory. Many see the Republika Srpska as the thing that's keeping Bosnia from functioning normally. Does the international community have a strategy regarding Banja Luka?
Lajcak: I am happy to announce that the international community is aware of how serious the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina has become, and is finalizing a strategy which should be presented in the coming days.
It's clear to everyone that this situation demands the active involvement and initiative of the international community, as local leaders have not shown that they have the potential or the capacity to resolve the situation on their own. I believe that we will soon see the international community acting resolutely and displaying the kind of vision, strategy, and unified stance that has been lacking so long with regard to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Bosnia Back In Focus
RFE/RL: Can it be considered a failure of the international community that, in spite of its presence in Bosnia and the Office of the High Representative, things remain far from stable?
Lajcak: That's not a failure of the international community. Because the fact is, there has been an international presence there for the past 15 years.
There was a plan to decrease the international presence in the "hard" form of the high representative, and to increase the international presence in a softer form -- for example, a European representative. But that process has been stopped because of a few factors -- one of them being the international community's preoccupation with Kosovo, which meant Bosnia wasn't the center of attention anymore.
A package of constitutional reforms failed in 2006, which led to a worsening of the situation and so on. And the result is we've been going in circles for three years since then, instead of having some kind of strategy and vision. The result is a worsening of the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But now the international community has realized that it must direct its attention and capacities towards Bosnia-Herzegovina once again.
I have my share of engagement on that issue, as the foreign minister of an EU member state which is also a member of NATO. I have a range of opportunities to speak, and to answer questions concerning Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in that way I try to contribute to that process.
RFE/RL: Is it possible that Dodik was encouraged by the fact that the international community lost its focus on Bosnia?
Lajcak: My opinion is that everything in nature should be in some kind of balance. If there is a decrease in the presence of the international community, there is a space to increase, let us say, the activities -- and not always positive activities -- of local participants.
While it was preoccupied with Kosovo, the international community had no desire to deal with the issues, or resolve the issues, surrounding Bosnia-Herzegovina. The consequence was that those issues grew and accumulated. That was the trend. I'm not accusing or judging anyone.
The international community has a huge responsibility toward Bosnia-Herzegovina in terms of the high representative. It has a direct responsibility toward it because it created the Dayton accords. So it must play the part that it has prescribed for itself. In the last three years, the international community hasn't played that part well enough, and now we see the consequences.
RFE/RL: Who, apart from the international community, is most responsible for this dysfunctional situation? What responsibility does Dodik bear, for example?
Lajcak: Bosnia-Herzegovina has a coalition government made up of five political parties, which means that five political leaders carry responsibility for all the successes and failures of Bosnia-Herzegovina. And the same basic logic holds for the present situation also.
The prime minister of Republika Srpska is practically the strongest politician in Bosnia-Herzegovina. His responsibility for whatever happens there flows from this. He contributes to the worsening of the atmosphere, above all, with his rhetoric and his attacks on the international community and the federal state.
All of that makes the rest of the country very nervous, and creates the feeling that he wants to destroy Bosnia-Herzegovina. It provokes reactions, also, from the [Muslim-Croat] Federation, and from the international community. And of course, only Mr. Dodik can be responsible for the things he says and does.
It's a fact that he says much worse things than he carries out in his actions. But one can see that the things he says have destructive potential as well.
Country, Or Protectorate?
RFE/RL: Some people suggest that dismissing Dodik could be a solution to the impasse. Did you ever consider that an option during your time in Sarajevo?
Lajcak: I think that today, 14 years after the signing of the Dayton accords, we've already passed the phase where we can replace key politicians in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I don't think it would help. It might help solve some short-term problems, but I am convinced that it would create other serious and long-term problems.
We should lead the country forward by reducing the heavy presence of the international community. The dismissal of key political figures would create strong political tremors that could block the normalization of political life and the political system.
I'm not talking about Milorad Dodik or any other politician. But we are already in a phase where people have been through democratic elections, with results approved by the international community; where Bosnia-Herzegovina has applied for NATO membership and is planning to apply for entry to the EU; and when it has great chances for a seat on the UN Security Council.
That situation is incompatible with the international community taking administrative decisions to eliminate key political players. Bosnia-Herzegovina is either a serious country, which has its own problems but is still a country. Or it is a protectorate.
But in that case, let's forget about membership in the Security Council, about European integration and NATO, and let's treat Bosnia-Herzegovina as a protectorate. I've never wanted that. I've always wanted to treat Bosnia-Herzegovina as a country, to help it solve its issues by pushing it forward and not backward.
RFE/RL: You've spoken a lot about Bosnia with Serbian Foreign Minister Jeremic. He and Serbian President Boris Tadic have both spent time in Banja Luka recently. What's your opinion on Belgrade's behavior towards the Republika Srpska -- is it a provocation or an attempt, as Serbia claims, to calm the situation?
Lajcak: A lot of the time I spent in discussion with Jeremic and Tadic was devoted to Bosnia-Herzegovina. It made sense, since they are following the situation there, and they are worried by it.
I appreciate Serbia's attitude toward Bosnia-Herzegovina. Both President Tadic and Mr. Jeremic have repeatedly made clear public statements in support of the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. And I know that they honestly mean what they say.
It is much easier to cooperate with Belgrade -- and Belgrade's attitude towards Bosnia-Herzegovina is much more constructive today -- with Tadic as Serbian leader, compared to the situation two years ago with Vojislav Kostunica as prime minister. I also know, and I have reliable information to that effect, that the visits you mention to Banja Luka actually had as their goal the calming of the situation.
They spoke to Milorad Dodik in order to aid the high representative and the international community. I know that in Sarajevo this visit was seen in a different light, but that's not unusual for Sarajevo.
RFE/RL: And yet, Tadic recently caused a stir in Sarajevo, when he visited the Republika Srpska city of Pale, where he opened a school named "Serbia." Many people saw this as an insult.
Lajcak: I did see the reaction. But I also saw the reaction of the high representative, who said that there was no problem with the visit, as it had been announced to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that diplomatic protocol had been followed in that sense. Naturally I accept the high representative's view as a legitimate official view.
RFE/RL: In a joint press conference with you, Jeremic said some progress will be made in Bosnia-Herzegovina by the end of the year. You've hinted the same in this conversation. Could you tell us more about this, and about what kind of steps the international community might take?
Lajcak: The things I've said are based on discussions I've had during the past few days, and especially the last week during my visit to the United States, to New York and Washington. However, I'm not really authorized to make any specific announcement. Sweden currently holds the EU Presidency, and Swedish officials at present have the sole authority to officially announce decisions on behalf of the European Union.