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Republika Srpska's Dodik Says He's 'Only Supporting The Constitution'

Interview: Republika Srpska President Dodik
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Milorad Dodik has headed the ethnic Serb entity of Bosnia as Republika Srpska's president since November 2010, having previously served as its prime minister since 2006.

In an interview with RFE/RL Russian Service correspondents Irina Lagunina and Aija Kuge, Dodik discusses the political situation in Bosnia, which has been deadlocked over the formation of a new government for more than a year. Dodik accuses Bosnian Muslims of trying to "impose their will" on the country's ethnic Serbs and Croats and blames the "constant meddling" of Western powers for the country's political problems.

RFE/RL: It has been more than a year that Bosnia-Herzegovina has been unable to form a Council of Ministers, an executive branch of government. Who is to blame for this? What is going on in this country?

Milorad Dodik: You have arrived in a country that was not created by the will of the people who live here but by the will of the international community. The Dayton agreements were concluded for a number of reasons -- someone wanted something, someone else signed the agreement under duress. It would take a whole broadcast to explain this to your audience.

I'd just say this briefly: The situation regarding the selection of a Council of Ministers reflects the situation in the country as a whole, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is a fact that the peoples living in Bosnia never expressed the desire to live in that country. It is also a fact that one of those nations wants to impose its will, demonstrate its will as a majority, over the two other nations that do not want to live under such conditions.

You can reduce the problem of the Council of Ministers to the level of ministerial posts and who will have what chair. But in this case, the inability to select an executive branch is typical, and it is directly connected to the conception of the construction of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Dayton accord created Bosnia in two parts and with three basic nations.

So, in general, on the national level, Bosnia-Herzegovina is dominated by these two parts and the three nations that make them up. But this was not to the liking of the liberal politicians of the world. Instead they preferred to strengthen the concept of individuality as sacrosanct and the concept of citizenship replaced the concept of sovereign and constitutional nations. So, the political system of Bosnia-Herzegovina could be different -- even to the point where it wouldn't matter which candidate represented which ethnic group.
Which candidate represents which ethnic group? Some people don't like going into this problem, saying that it isn't important. But for us this question is very important.

However, it is clearly written in the constitution that representatives on the national level must represent ethnic groups. So this problem has arisen now: Which candidate represents which ethnic group? Some people don't like going into this problem, saying that it isn't important. But for us this question is very important. A representative can only be a person who has a mandate -- isn't that the way it is throughout the democratic world? In order to have a mandate, he must be elected in legal elections or he must receive it from legally elected persons.

But the Muslim Bosniaks in Bosnia-Herzegovina are tying to take over positions that belong to the other constitutional ethnic groups. It turned out that the member of the Presidium of Bosnia-Herzegovina from the Croatian ethnic group was elected by the votes of Bosniaks. This is perfectly clear if you look at the results of the elections. This situation has produced mutual distrust and if the Bosniaks are going to continue to insist on this deception, the formation of a government will not succeed.

I represent Republika Srpska and a political party that is dominated by the votes of ethnic Serbs. True, our party also has Croats and Bosniaks, and we respect that and they hold certain posts in our party structures. But on the level of Bosnia-Herzegovina, it is a different matter -- there we are present as Republika Srpska and we are represented as Serbs. I am only trying to support the constitution, where it is written that one-third of the ministerial posts belong to us -- that is, four posts. Now they are demanding that we give up this right and also give up the rotation of the head of the presidium, which was enacted previously under the constitution but was annulled as a result of the incompetent policies of United Nations High Representative Paddy Ashdown. This is unacceptable. It is not possible to violate the constitution and we do not intend to sign on to this complicated game of Sarajevo's.
The will of one part of the world is completely focused. They want to continue with the experiment called "Bosnia-Herzegovina" regardless of how many times it has proven a failure.

I don't consider myself either an optimist or a pessimist on this matter, but the Council of Ministers is functioning nonetheless. But the main question is the functioning of Bosnia and only naive people think the problem is the Council of Ministers.

The problem is the current relations we have in Bosnia-Herzegovina. When that will be settled -- I don't know. Political will in Bosnia-Herzegovina is completely fractured. The will of one part of the world is completely focused. They want to continue with the experiment called "Bosnia-Herzegovina" regardless of how many times it has proven a failure. We are sick and tired of being some sort of chemical elements that foreigners put in test tubes and shake up in an attempt to get a result that is impossible. Our chemical elements do not combine.

RFE/RL: Does the situation with the central authorities of Bosnia have any impact on what is happening in Republika Srpska?

Dodik: No, it doesn't impact us at all. They only bother us. The arrogance of the international community regarding the strengthening of the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina is resulting in enormous financial costs and that money is being spent ineffectively. Bosnia-Herzegovina has 22,000 bureaucrats who get salaries but do nothing useful.

But the struggle of the Bosniaks for their national identity is completely tied to the idea of creating some kind of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Bosniaks are a people that exist only in Bosnia-Herzegovina and only declared themselves a people sometime around 1993. They are stubbornly trying to prove their national identity, which they can only do by destroying the nationality of others -- primarily, of the other constituent ethnic groups of Bosnia.

Of course, Republika Srpska has sufficient opportunities to establish direct relations with the world, with all those who desire such relations. If others don't desire such relations, we won't force them. But Bosnia-Herzegovina is such an artificial construct in many ways, including in its relations with the outside world, and so we get little benefit from "effective" government in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the past, they have hindered us more than helped us and now and in the future they will hinder our success and development.

RFE/RL: Maybe it would be easier for Republika Srpska just to leave the federation and follow its own path....

Dodik: Whether Republika Srpska proceeds along its own path or not does not depend only on us. But I will tell you that a few months ago, at the behest of some foreign organizations, the Gallup organization conducted a survey here. They asked if our citizens want to remain within Bosnia-Herzegovina. Eighty-eight percent of the respondents in Republika Srpska said they don't want to stay in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

On the other hand, we politicians must respect reality and that reality is international agreements and the arrangement of forces on the international stage. In my opinion, certain foreign representatives also influenced this desire in Republika Srpska to be independent because they never did anything to help make Bosnia-Herzegovina attractive to citizens of Republika Srpska.

On the contrary, with their constant arrogance and accusations directed at Republika Srpska, they created sufficient energy so that now 88 percent of those questioned expressed a desire to live outside of Bosnia-Herzegovina. We cannot make one-sided decisions. However, maybe the question needs to be posed differently: How can we politicians exist and work without respecting the will of those 88 percent?
There is not one event in Bosnian history that is significant enough to bring together Serbs and Croats and Bosniaks to proclaim such-and-such a date a common date of our success.

On the other hand, foreigners see us only as some exotic thing and don't pay attention to the fact that there are three constitutional ethnic groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina but only two common holidays -- New Year's and Victory Day -- nothing more. There is not one event in Bosnian history that is significant enough to bring together Serbs and Croats and Bosniaks to proclaim such-and-such a date a common date of our success -- or perhaps of shared sadness or happiness.

Our Serbs are unhappy about the collapse of Yugoslavia. We were against it, but the Bosniaks and Croats were for division. Bosnia-Herzegovina differed from the other republics of Yugoslavia in that it didn't have its own ethnic group that had an overwhelming numerical majority. Slovenes were the majority in Slovenia. Croats in Croatia. Montenegrins in Montenegro. Macedonians in Macedonia. You can say the same about Kosovo.

But only in Bosnia-Herzegovina was there no ethnic group that made up a majority. According to this principle, we should have continued to live as we did in the former Yugoslavia -- instead of a greater Yugoslavia, it would be a smaller Yugoslavia which, like the bigger one, would prove unsuccessful. This is absurd.

Some people say -- "Enough history! Let's work on the future." But what future? How do we imagine this? Are Serbs supposed to throw off their national identity in order to build a new one? I speak Serbian, but in Sarajevo they say that they speak Bosnian. But there is no Bosnian language. If we call the language Bosnian then they have to ask me, as a resident of Bosnia, if I agree to have my language identified as Bosnian. But I don't agree! For every ethnic group, language is an important symbol of one's identity. And I speak Serbian. If any Bosniak politician agreed to appear at an international conference speaking in Serbian, there would be a huge scandal. But we Serbs are always described at international conferences as speaking in Bosnian. And it is clear that part of the international community, either through ignorance or willfully, is inciting the Bosniaks to fight for their national identity. That is why we are a failed society.

RFE/RL: You were in Moscow just recently to attend the congress of the United Russia party and while you were there you met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. What were your impressions?

Dodik: He is a decisive state figure, a person who, undoubtedly, deserves credit for the successes of the Russian state in recent years. He is a person who has sufficient charisma and authority to head a state that was in very complex circumstances at the end of the 1990s and the early 2000s.

For us, for people from small states and regions, it is always a great honor to meet with such important, great world leaders. Without doubt, he is a global leader. And without doubt, he is committed to the strengthening and the development of the Russian state, and he encounters a lot of problems on the international level connected with the security system. After all, the main goal of Russia is to ensure the security of its territory. I am pleased each time I get to meet him.

RFE/RL: At the United Russia congress, it became pretty clear that Putin would return to the presidency, possibly for another 12 years. Do you think Russia will continue its strong support for Republika Srpska and will it continue investing in your economy?

Dodik: Judging by all that has happened and that is happening at the present moment, there is clear political cooperation and respect for the position of Republika Srpska, of the fact that Republika Srpska functions as part of Bosnia-Herzegovina as organized by the Dayton principles. In this sense, Russian policy at its essence supports the Dayton agreements.

This corresponds to our interests. We believe that the Dayton agreements must be observed, unlike certain Western conceptions that demand preserving only "the spirit" of Dayton while really insisting on the violation of what was written in this international agreement, which not only ended the war but also created a new organization for a state of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Russian politicians make great efforts in this regard and our positions on this question correspond exactly. It is in the interests of the Russian Federation, as we understand them, to preserve stability and peace and also to preserve the Dayton agreements as the foundation of the functioning of Bosnia-Herzegovina. And the next step is handing over to local government structures responsibility for the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina to discontinue the constant meddling of foreigners, who are binding us with informal decisions by various power centers that are trying to run Bosnia-Herzegovina.

There is another moment -- the investment of Russian capital in Republika Srpska and the arrival of Russian businessmen is happening constantly. This began with Zarubezhneft, which participated in the privatization of the oil industry of Republika Srpska. And now, several years later, we can speak of the success of that project which, first of all, showed the ability of Russian state companies to facilitate complex processes of the reconstruction of industries destroyed during the war, such as our oil refinery. This reconstruction was supported by Vneshekonombank.

And after that we began developing new projects connected with exploring new oil deposits. There are indications that on the territory of Republika Srpska there are certain oil reserves and the exploration of these deposits will be carried out by Russian companies. One of our biggest projects is a natural-gas pipeline. Together with the Energy Ministry of the Russian Federation and Gazprom, we are now developing these ideas and I am confident that this will be a new investment of Russian capital.

Further, it is important that Sberbank purchased Volksbank in Banja Luka. The transition phase will be completed in a couple of months and then Russian financial and banking specialists will begin managing the new bank. For us this is important because we believe that others will come that, together with business criteria of financial support, will also take into consideration our good cooperation at all other levels.

We must also note that together with the Russian Embassy we are rehabilitating the teaching of the Russian language. Our university already has a Russian-language department and we are prepared to expand it. At our university, students also study English, German, French, and other languages, but nor it is important to overcome a certain stagnation that set in with the teaching of Russian.