Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Notes on Three Interviews about Bosnia and Herzegovina

Adelina Marini, November 28, 2017

If you want to understand what is wrong in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it could help you watch consecutively the series of interviews which Deutsche Welle journalists, Zorica Ilic and Bahri Cena, made this month with the leaders of the three main ethnic groups in the Dayton country - Dragan Covic (of the Croats), Bakir Izetbegovic (of the Muslims) and Milorad Dodik (of the Serbs). The former two are members of the trio BiH presidency and the latter is president of the Serbian entity Republika Srpska. The three answered similar questions about their readiness to make concessions to the other ethnic groups, about their actions to protect their citizens, their views about the future of the country, about Russia's and Turkey's role in the country and the region as a whole, recognition of Kosovo.

The interviews are important not only because they reveal how deep the division among the leaders of the three main ethnic groups is, but also because of the reactions they caused in the region. These reactions again show that the key to solving the Balkan problems is in BiH. Something that constantly escapes the EU policy makers.

The Croatian member of the triple BiH presidency Dragan Covic was first to be "interrogated" on 8 November. He said BiH is at a crossroads where it has stayed for far too long. He admitted that the country is in a deep crisis. Covic was the only one of the three who refused to point a finger to the others for the current situation in the country because, in his words, this would not be collegial. Nevertheless, he admitted that not everyone is working on resolving the problems and more and more often there is a violation of the established tradition controversial issues to be first coordinated among the leaders in the presidency.

The Croatian representative also said that for the time being a two-thirds majority cannot be ensured in the Bosnian parliament that would help adopt amendments to the Constitution to allow the implementation of the European Court of Human Rights decision on the Sejdic-Finci case and other similar cases, but he said that the proposed changes to the electoral law can partially help implement this decision. Covic spoke in detail on the Croatian demand a third entity to be created in BiH. He said any decision that can ensure the equality of the three composite peoples in the country is acceptable to him.

Dragan Covic believes that today it is hard to talk about a partition of BiH. "I am confident that in the coming 5 to 6 months the border disputes should remain in history", he said. On the question about non-recognition of Kosovo by BiH Mr Covic said that this is a problem. BiH is a country of three peoples but when it comes to foreign policy one of them is following the messages conveyed by Serbia. And this is a problem, he said. "Unless something specific is agreed at that level we will hardly have an agreement in BiH". He is of the opinion that Kosovo recognition is not to be questioned at all. The problem is how to find a consensus around it. Covic said that the minute Serbia recognised Kosovo BiH would do it too.

Regarding relations with Russia and Turkey Dragan Covic says BiH should maintain excellent relations with both, including with America and China, but most of all with Brussels. "I am confident that cooperation with Russia is welcome. Cooperation with Turkey is more than welcome but first of all we should all be devoted on our relations with Brussels", the Croatian presidency member added.

War crimes prosecution, especially after the end of the ICTY, should be institutionally bound to the two main neighbours of BiH - Serbia and Croatia, Dragan Covic said and underlined that BiH justice must be entirely discharged of politics which is not the case today. In BiH war crimes are being processed and verdicts are being delivered but the problem is that the three peoples react to them in three different ways. In such a situation, Mr Covic said, it helps a lot if the judiciary is independent and today it is not.

During the interview, the journalists asked a series of questions demanding just short yes-or-no answers:

Question: Do you respect the Dayton peace agreement?

Covic: Completely.

Question: Are for BiH's integrity?

Covic: Absolutely.

Question: Do you want to found a third entity in BiH?

Covic: As a possible solution in the search of domestic solutions in BiH we are proposing a fourth solution. I have nothing against a third or fifth.

Question: Do you think that BiH, in its current state, has a European perspective?

Covic: It doesn't.

Question: Do you think that given the current relations BiH can become a member of NATO?

Covic: No.

Question: Are you concerned with too big influence by Russia and Turkey in BiH?

Covic: I am not.

Question: Are you afraid of a new war in BiH?

Covic: No.

Question: Do you defend BiH ....

Covic: Until the end ... In its internationally recognised borders, according to Dayton, as the complete equality is defined for the three peoples and all the other citizens.

Every interview finished with an inspection of the BiH map and a question whether there is something leaders would like to change. Dragan Covic did not wait for the additional explanations and said he fully accepted the current borders of the country and has nothing to add.

Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim representative in the trio, is of the opinion that, generally, BiH is going in the right direction, despite all the oscillations and internal conflicts, but admitted that this movement is too slow. The process of normalisation is going in the right direction, as is reconciliation, the economy, the European path, the path toward NATO. To the question is he ready to defend the BiH integrity even with military means in the case of cessation of Republika Srpska Bakir Izetbegovic said he is. "Everyone in this country, who loves this country, must be ready to go to the end when it comes to territorial integrity".

Dragan Covic's interview ended with his words that he is ready to make concessions on any issue if the Croats receive a third entity. According to Bakir Izetbegovic, however, no one ever raised the issue officially. He believes the Croats will not request a third entity because they know they will not get it. Izetbegovic criticised Croatian policy saying it is constantly oscillating - it is either against BiH or supporting it. On the issue of Kosovo recognition Bakir Izetbegovic said that such a thing needs a consensus at BiH level but that the Serbs in the country are firmly against and are often even more rigid than Serbia itself. Without the trio international issues cannot be addressed, the Muslim member of the Bosnian presidency said.

Bakir Izetbegovic added that Kosovo had to be recognised long ago but admitted that the attempts to do so only harmed domestic relations with the Serbs. His statement caused the usual media hysteria in Serbia where President Aleksandar Vucic even called an urgent meeting of the security council. Threats and angry reactions began pouring from Belgrade to Sarajevo, which is not the case when Milorad Dodik talks of Republika Srpska's independence.

Regarding relations with Turkey Bakir Izetbegovic said that Turkey plays a very positive role in the Balkans and BiH, by working for reconciliation. He does not believe that the deteriorated relations between EU and Turkey could affect BiH's European path. He recalled, however, that Turkey is taking care of more than three million refugees, that it is surrounded by wars and is a factor of stability. Bakir Izetbegovic admitted that Russia's influence in the Balkans is constantly growing. It is more and more present, including through media and any other ways, Mr Izetbegovic added. He believes, however, that Russia cannot overpower NATO and the EU when it comes to BiH and the Balkans at large.

Bakir Izetbegovic's yes-or-no answers:

Question: Is BiH a functioning country in its current state?

Izetbegovic: Partially. Insufficiently.

Question: Will you accept a decision of Republika Srpska for a referendum if it decided such a thing?

Izetbegovic: No. Never.

Question: Do you accept a third entity for the Croats?

Izetbegovic: No. This is not even discussed.

Question: Are you afraid of a split of BiH?

Izetbegovic: No.

Question: Are you afraid of new conflicts in BiH?

Izetbegovic: No.

Question: Are you satisfied with the situation in Sandjak?

Izetbegovic: No.

Question: Will BiH recognise Kosovo at some point in time?

Izetbegovic: I hope it will.

When shown the BiH map and of the region Bakir Izetbegovic said it is okay and that he does not think borders can be changed. They should be just agreed with Croatia and Serbia.

The interview with Milorad Dodik took place in a completely different atmosphere. There is something that not everyone will notice but the journalists' behaviour in front of the three men was very important. In the presence of Dragan Covic and Bakir Izetbegovic, the two reporters visibly felt completely calm and safe in their role of people who are seeking accountability from people in power. The difference in the behaviour of the two, especially in the case of Zorica Ilic, when Milorad Dodik was interviewed was tangible. Her uneasiness could be seen with bare eye, her usual confidence was often shaken during the interview.

In the very beginning of the interview the president said that the idea of an independence referendum is not on the agenda at the moment. To the question is he ready to resort to military means to protect such a referendum Dodik answered with "no". According to him, BiH is a failed state. He reiterated his thesis that for the Serbs the best is the Dayton peace agreement in his initial form at the beginning and not as it was changed later. Currently, the Serbs have no benefit of BiH, he said.

If things go on this way - without any basic consensus - BiH will fall apart and then Republika Srpska will become a fact because it is the only one that can function as it has institutions of its own and a sufficient budget to finance itself. However, there are still not sufficient political conditions in place to allow for Republika Srpska to secede, Milorad Dodik said, and added that he works hard for the creation of such conditions.

The president of Republika Srpska confirmed that when it comes to Kosovo he is following Belgrade's decisions, but emphasised that if Serbia recognised Kosovo he would do that too but he will raise the question of why Republika Srpska cannot be independent. Regarding the Croats' demand for a third entity Milorad Dodik said this issue is beyond his interests. And regarding NATO Dodik said there is no pressure from Russia but the reasons why Republika Srpska is against are entirely domestic - NATO bombing.

Milorad Dodik's short answers:

Question: Is Dayton a good solution for the Serbs in BiH?

Dodik: The way it was written.

Question: Will you hold an independence referendum if Dayton does not function, as you say?

Dodik: I dream about it.

Question: Should BiH have a third entity?

Dodik: Why not?

Question: Should BiH become a member of NATO if there are conditions for that?

Dodik: No.

Question: Should BiH become a member of the EU?

Dodik: If procedures are respected.

Question: Are you afraid of new conflicts in BiH?

Dodik: No.

Question: If Serbia reached an agreement with Pristina will you recognise Kosovo?

Dodik: We're following Belgrade but we will ask what are we going to do with Republika Srpska.

Question: Will BiH survive in its current state?

Dodik: No, in any state.

When shown the map Milorad Dodik without any hesitation grabbed the pen and redrew the borders by integrating Republika Srpska and northern Kosovo to Serbia with the words "Now, it's beautiful". This caused an avalanche of angry reactions throughout the region, except by Belgrade.

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