Following a landmark visit to Belgrade, SDA leader Sulejman Tihic sat down with SETimes correspondent Jusuf Ramadanovic to discuss problems and possible solutions for BiH.
By Jusuf Radmanovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 01/07/10
SDA leader Sulejman Tihic. [AFP]
BiH Parliament Speaker and Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) leader Sulejman Tihic maintains that co-operation and realistic solutions are the key to getting Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) back on track politically and regionally. After a visit to Belgrade last month, Tihic says good relations will help to preserve a BiH that stands for the prosperity and benefit of all its citizens, regardless of ethnic and religious affiliation.
In 2006, the political landscape in BiH changed with the election of the nationalists to power. Now, four months before the new elections, Tihic says such mistakes must be avoided; voters should deny support to policies of exclusion and nationalism.
SETimes: You recently completed a landmark visit to Belgrade, the first one by a prominent Bosniak politician since 1992. What was the aim of this visit?
Sulejman Tihic: The aim of the visit was to jump-start relations between two neighbourly countries. The current BiH presidency, which is in charge of foreign policy, has not paid a single official visit to Belgrade over the four years of its mandate. The BiH presidency has not sent a single invitation to Serbian President Boris Tadic to make an official visit to Sarajevo. This is bad both for regional relations and for relations within BiH itself.
I was waiting and hoping that those who are directly in charge of foreign policy would take some concrete steps; I did not want to do their job for them. However, after it had become clear that they would not do it, we at the SDA decided to pay this party and state level visit to Belgrade and Novi Pazar.
SETimes: Some media are critical of your contacts with Belgrade, accusing you of "courting the former aggressor" and "being an agent for Belgrade in Sarajevo". They are also critical that this visit was not a state-level, but rather a party-level visit. Can you comment on these assessments?
Tihic: Those who criticise the policy of dialogue and good neighbourly relations are certainly not benevolent. This is an attempt to destroy the multi-ethnic and multi-religious BiH, the one I truly believe in and work to preserve for the prosperity and benefit of all its citizens, regardless of ethnic and religious affiliation.
Therefore, all those who condemn such a policy do not wish well for BiH. They work exclusively for their personal and/or party interests and try to use criticism to gain cheap political points.
SETimes: In terms of future co-operation with Serbia, were there any specific bilateral agreements or arrangements made with your Serbian counterparts?
Tihic: The discussion was mostly focused on co-operation on the fight against organised crime. I was glad to see the decisiveness of Tadic, to firmly and systematically confront this serious problem.
Of course, we at the SDA are also ultimately committed to give our best in this field and to persevere in the fight against crime, because we believe it to be more dangerous for BiH than nationalism or any other problem. Nationalism and protection of the so-called national interests is most frequently only a curtain for organised crime, which does not know borders.
SETimes: How do you see the future of relations between Bosnia and Serbia? In spite of some opinions that Serbia is a "former aggressor", do you believe it is favourable for our country to have good neighbourly relations with all former Yugoslav republics that are now independent states, particularly for the sake of our path towards NATO and EU integration?
Tihic: Co-operation and good relations have no alternative. I am not a person who wishes to live in the past and pursue political and material gain from that. I wish to work for a better and more prosperous future for my children and future generations. And this requires solving present problems.
Until the politicians start doing their jobs instead of doing the jobs of historians, prosecutors, judges and the like, this region shall not pull out from the jaws of the past and move forward towards full membership in the EU and NATO.
And, good neighbourly relations, Euro-Atlantic integration, prosperity and interstate co-operation are not an obstacle for victims to recall their plight.
BiH voters brought the nationalists to power in 2006. [Getty Images]
If we fail to learn the lesson and fail to correct mistakes from the past, then we can only expect it to repeat. I am convinced that the citizens of BiH and of other states in the region do not want this. We all want peace, security and prosperity, membership in the EU and NATO. In order to pursue these goals, we have to co-operate, develop and improve good neighbourly relations.
SETimes: The political situation in Bosnia has deteriorated significantly since 2006, when nationalist politicians returned to power, and more rapidly during the past year. What are your forecasts and thoughts about the country's future?
Tihic: The future of the country will largely be directed by the results of the forthcoming elections. I am convinced that voters will deny support to policies of exclusion and nationalism, which won a significant number of votes back in 2006. [The nationalists] have done nothing [that] they had promised -- they did not separate from BiH, they did not revoke Republika Srpska, they did not form the third entity, they did not accomplish the "100% BiH". I am sure that nobody will vote for such promises again.
SETimes: Bosnian Serbs now openly consider seceding; Bosnian Croats talk openly of further internal divisions along ethnic lines, and Bosniaks warn that a renewal of violence is possible. Also, interethnic political co-operation among the country's three largest ethnic groups has largely broken down, leading to political gridlock and a near halt to the reform process. Please comment.
Tihic: The fault for all of the above stated problems is ascribed to the irresponsible [politicians] that back in 2006 managed [to] sell the bombastic promises and nationalist rhetoric. Emphasising the story on these issues is an attempt to direct even this pre-election campaign into the same direction, because this is the easiest way to victory. Once the voters give their trust to the constructive policy of dialogue, the situation in BiH will be better.
SETimes: The international community has lost much of its leverage in the country, and the global economic crisis has exacerbated BiH's economic and social woes. Any ideas for improvement of the overall situation?
Tihic: True. The international community has lost a good deal of its authority, but that does not release it from the responsibility for the situation in BiH. This was imposed in the Dayton Peace Accords as a temporary solution to help stop the war, and all those who took part in its implementation still bear part of the responsibility for the non-functional state. In order for the situation to improve, the international community must be more decisive, or must assist in the transfer of competencies from the OHR onto the local institutions.
SETimes: BiH has a weak central government and is divided into two largely autonomous entities. The international community has called for the strengthening of the central government institutions. Any thoughts about how this could be accomplished?
Tihic: This can be accomplished through changes to the Constitution of BiH. We reached that twice -- once in 2006 through the April Package, and also in 2009 through the Butmir Package. However, some individuals destroyed the efforts and [what could have been the] best opportunities for BiH.
The reason for this is that a new generation of politicians has grown in BiH and have become accustomed to accusing and arguing with each other, while their job is being done by the international community.
Those politicians are not ready for dialogue and do not want it; they have no courage to take steps ahead and make compromises in favour of BiH and all of its citizens. This is why we are now standing and waiting for someone to come from Brussels or Washington and bring us ready-made, "ideal" solutions. However, there are no ideal solutions in this country, just realistic solutions.
This is what we can reach through dialogue and agreement and it can be acceptable to all, while benefiting all of us as well. Although the international community does carry the responsibility for the situation in BiH, I believe that nobody should do our job for us.
This process will go much quicker and easier if the citizens vote to disqualify the irresponsible individuals who have destroyed the future of BiH, and its membership in NATO and the EU, for the sake of their personal interests.