BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: 'Peace at All Costs' 5369-bosnia-and-herzegovina-peace-at-all-costsBOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: 'Peace at All Costs'15 September 1998 A vehement nationalist during the war, President Biljana Plavsic of Republika Srpska reinvented herself in spring 1997 as a pro-democratic pragmatist championed by the international community. In an interview with the news agency SRNA, published on 30 July, she discusses calls to change the Dayton agreement if the parties that do not support Bosnian integrity win in September, as said by Alija Izetbegovic, chairman of Bosnia's joint presidency. Excerpts from the interview, conducted by SRNA's Editor in Chief Milan Nogo, are below.

SRNA: The return of refugees, the disbanding of collection centers, privatization, the fight against crime, democratization--these are the issues that have been preoccupying politicians, political structures in the republic, and the international community. Many think there are positive results, but there are others who say that we are running in circles.

Biljana Plavsic: I wouldn't agree that we are running in circles. I wouldn't analyze the success in terms of resolving these issues individually, but I will give you the example of collection centers to back my view of the situation. The collection centers have been around for quite a while, since the first days of the war, when the first refugees left their homes. In the first few months since it has been in charge of the collection centers and people living there, the current Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons did more than the previous one did over several years. ... Two and a half months into its work, I received from the current ministry a detailed and complete report, which can be used to take specific action to ensure permanent accommodation for 7,000 people from these centers. If this is so, and it is, is this running in circles? ...

SRNA: You said the following at the first constitutive session of [the parliament], in October 1996: the cornerstone of our state must be the rule of law. Has this been put into practice, and how much has been achieved in our fight against crime?

BP: We must recall that in the period between the constitutive session of the assembly and the establishment of the new government, for more than a year, I fought for this aim, for the rule of law. Up until then, assembly deputies offered verbal support for this goal, but nothing could really be done in practice. I saw this as a signal for action on my part, but my actions caused a lot of commotion and a lot of pressure was brought to bear on me. Before the new Republika Srpska government was formed, as president of the republic I had no mechanisms at my disposal and no support in my fight against crime. The previous government had sent a letter saying that it did not want to have any contact with the president. None of the ministries wanted to cooperate with me, and that is why I can only comment on [Prime Minister Milorad] Dodik's government. I think that a lot has been achieved since his government was formed, and that things are going in a positive direction.

SRNA:
To what degree is the judiciary independent, and to what degree is it under the influence of those who are appointing judges; that is, the current government and national oligarchy?

BP: You know that there have been no significant changes in the judiciary, apart from its very highest bodes: the election of the presidents of the supreme and constitutional courts. There have been no significant changes in basic courts. It is not just that the judiciary's financial situation is bad, but also that long-term bad management resulted in negative attitudes toward this profession. Why, if it is clear that someone has committed an offense, don't judges set in motion a proceeding instead of waiting for someone at the top to ring them and tell them that such-and-such a case should be resolved? They must do this themselves. ...

SRNA: A passing of a bill on confiscation of war profits is being mentioned a lot lately. What would this law mean for the fight against crime, and what effects would it have?

BP: The passing of such a law would the best and most beautiful thing that could happen to this republic and its people, above all from the point of view of justice. The need for such a law exists, and maybe its adoption could have removed some very serious problems. A lot happened to us over the years. For years a very interesting and sad link was formed in our custom offices: customs official-police officer-trader. The trader is very often the customs official's wife, or the other way around. It seems that this scheme was very successful, and it spread, and the whole situation became tragicomic. But the Republika Srpska budget suffered. There are still similar examples.

SRNA: The process of privatization, i.e., the adoption of relevant laws, is going full steam ahead in Republika Srpska. What do you expect from privatization, and how much foreign capital will enter Republika Srpska with the help of this program? Are there any hints regarding this?

BP: ... All models of privatization are being considered, and the most suitable ones are being sought. Serious and prominent experts are working on this. ... We should proceed with privatization quickly and exploit the advantages we are enjoying at present. One of them is that Republika Srpska has the attention of the world, and that there are people who want to bring capital into this country. Furthermore, there are rich Serbs living abroad who want to invest in Republika Srpska. ...
SRNA: It looks as if the Dayton agreement has finally brought lasting peace to this region. We must value this. What are the achievements of the Dayton agreement so far, and what problems are still encountered in its implementation?

BP: The war was horrific. People fear it could happen again. And when you fear something you keep talking about it. It is similar with this document. Many are manipulating with people's fear and threatening us. However, the Dayton agreement is reality. It is an international document, and it would be difficult to make changes to it. Of course, we have never been 100 percent satisfied, but the practice shows that it is difficult to change international agreements. ... There are aspirations toward a [unitary] Bosnia and Herzegovina. These are the aspirations of the Bosniak nation. We know what we would like to have. However, this is not the time for the realization of our wishes. The Dayton agreement is an international agreement that brought peace to this region. It answered the wishes of all three nations and regulated the relations between the Croats and Muslims on the one side and the Serbs on the other.

The Croats and Muslims fraternized before the war, outvoted us, thought alike. ... They showed to the whole world that they could live together, and that the Serbs were the only ones to cause problems. The Dayton agreement did just that: it separated the Serbs, so that we don't bother them, and gave them a chance to live together. They got what they wanted, and there is no question of revising or amending Dayton.

SRNA: Nevertheless, the other entity has lately been using terminology that is not in harmony with the Dayton agreement. Among other things, they are referring to the reintegration of Republika Srpska into Bosnia and Herzegovina. How much can this phrase become rooted in reality and how much can it jeopardize the Dayton agreement?

BP: Nowhere does the document use the word reintegration. Such a phrase can only be wishful thinking on the part of the Bosniak side, but certainly not the Croat side and certainly not our side. It depends what the starting position is. I know what Izetbegovic promised his people, but I also know what our starting position was. We talked in order to avoid war, so there were proposals to form certain cantons, to become divided. We never considered Bosnia and Herzegovina to be something common. We were suggesting cantons while Izetbegovic was insisting on a unitary Bosnia and Herzegovina. That is how the war broke out.

We never promised our people anything more than that we will defend ourselves if attacked. That is exactly what happened. We were the ones who were attacked, but many--like the United States--thought that Serbs from Serbia came here and that together we attacked the poor Bosniaks. Surviving all those years was quite a feat, because many people really believed that we attacked first and started the war. We suffered a lot before they realized what was happening, until they grasped the whole situation.

SRNA: The elections are drawing near; the election campaign is under way. Your party's strategy can be summed up in the slogan For a better life in Republika Srpska. Could you elaborate on this slogan?

BP: Peace at all costs. Peace is a permanent necessity in these parts. When people have peace they start thinking about how to organize a better life for themselves. We will do everything to secure a better life for our people, to ensure stricter adherence to the law, to have more justice, to join European trends, to blend our interests with the interests of some powerful association and thus enter the 21st century.

SRNA: How do you see Republika Srpska after the September elections--will democracy and the best people win, or will we have an election swindle?

BP: I trust the common sense of our people. 5369-bosnia-and-herzegovina-peace-at-all-costs

You have reached a premium content area of TOL. To read this entire article please login if you are already a TOL subscriber.

Not a subscriber?

Annual membership costs only $55 per year for individuals ($33 for students) and organizational subscriptions start at $141 per year.

Subscribe today for access to:
Full access to the website, including premium articles videos, country reports and searchable archives (containing over 25,000 articles).

You can subscribe here to gain access to the entire website.