Those who promote division still hold too much sway in Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to one of the region's veteran leaders.
By Bedrana Kaletović for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo – 01/08/11
Former Croatian President Stipe Mesic. [Bedrana Kaletovic/SETimes]
Stipe Mesic wrapped up two consecutive terms as president of Croatia 18 months ago, ending a distinguished political career. In December, he published his new book "The Age of Economic Diplomacy", co-authored with Geoeconomic Forum vice president Jasna Plevnik.
Mesic says he is enjoying his retirement but continues to actively follow the situation in the region – especially diplomatic relations and efforts by countries in the region to move beyond the conflict and trauma of the 1990s.
He spoke to SETimes correspondent Bedrana Kaletović during a recent visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).
SETimes: Many foreign politicians compare the complicated make-up of BiH to Kosovo. Can a parallel be drawn?
Stipe Mesic: BiH was a unified whole during the rule of the Bosinan kings, the Turkish empire, and Austro-Hungarian rule, and it was a republic in Tito's Yugoslavia. As such it cannot be compared to Kosovo. Kosovo is something else. BiH had a right to exist as a country along with the rules of the modern world.
SETimes: We still do not have an established central government, however, and many politicians from both entities are determined to keep it so. Can you comment on that?
Mesic: When there is no ruling government, I am reminded of an NGO, and BiH cannot allow itself this. Voting should not be looked at as the population census which is so feared in BiH. It is important that [elections] are done democratically, and if someone does not wish to be a part of the political platform they should go into opposition.
Croatian President Franjo Tudjman (left) and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic meet in Belgrade in April 1991. [File/Reuters]
The problem arises exactly because of that, because everyone would like to rule and not to form an opposition.
When [former Croatian President Franjo] Tudjman was splitting Bosnia up together with Milosevic, I didn't want to take part, but went into opposition and this was for me the honourable decision. Democracy has a solution for everything, but what is the point of elections if everything must be divided according to a national base? Citizens live in BiH, they are not merely nations.
SETimes: Numerous politicians in BiH from the Croatian part say their rights are being ignored. Is the position of Croatian people in BiH the way some individuals depict it?
Mesic: The moment in which Croat would receive a separate entity in BiH would be the end of them. Only a part of the BiH Croats would be living in it, leaving large numbers of them outside of that territory, which would yield no results.
The condition of Croats is talked about a lot, without taking the historical elements into consideration. Before the beginning of war of the 1990s, the president of the BiH government was Jure Pelivan. Jerko Doko was the defence minister, five of the strongest ministers were Croats, the Natianal Bank governor was a Croat, 300 professors, lecturers and professor assistants were Croats, as well as directors of large companies.
Nobody complained then, and then came Mate Boban who proclaimed that any Croat who stayed in Sarajevo would be considered a traitor to the Croatian people. After that, Croats started to leave Sarajevo, little by little.
Today the politicians who have no clue about politics say that there are no Croats in Sarajevo, but do not mention who led to that. They do not blame Mate Boban and the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Party) of the day, but simply remark that there are no Croats left.
The church is among those that insist on the endangered position of Croats, and do not mention that the Croatian politics in BiH is to blame. Nobody says that judging by numbers, Croats in Sarajevo should have only one representative, and they have eight. It should be said objectively that one does not complain when one is overrepresented. Another problem is that they are not unified enough when it comes to their standpoints.
SETimes: How do the politics in Croatia affect the situation of Croats in BiH?
Mesic: I represented the politics of non-division in BiH and entities not being countries. I suggested that the constitution needed amendments, the Dayton Agreement as well, if needed. I hope that Croatian politics will continue to go that way.
Although I am now a retired man, I still have good relations with some politicians, but there are also those with whom I am in deep disagreement. I can't understand politicians like [RS President] Milorad Dodik, who, during a meeting with Serbs in Croatia, sends them a message: ''Serbs, if you are not happy in Croatia, come to Republika Srpska!''. A decent politician would invite the Serb refugees to go back to their homeland, Croatia, but he continues to propagate hate.
SETimes: Talk of changing the borders is heard from time to time in BiH. What is your stance?
Mesic: According to Europe, the story is definitely finished. BiH deserves to join the EU as soon as possible. When Southeast Europe joins the EU, there will be no more motives for war. The plan to break up BiH is what led to our last wars. The formation of Republic Srpska at the time of the war took BiH apart as much as the formation of Herzeg Bosnia did. Only the most naive can think that the formation of those countries strengthened BiH.
SETimes: Do you think that stronger influence by the international community could improve the situation in BiH?
Mesic: The international community must be present and take measures against those who block the way to BiH unity. Such people should be eliminated from politics, making room for politicians with vision to direct the country towards coexistance, tolerance and prosperity.