Bosnians, Europeans



Introductory courtesies

In the UK we have no “intellectuals”. We don’t like clever people who use long words.

But in Continental Europe things are very different. Someone can call himself an intellectual without fear of being thrown out of the window. In such cities as Paris thousands of people are professional intellectuals.

You had one here the other day. President Izetbegovic gave an award to M. Bernard-Henri Levy. It was easy to tell that M. Levy was an authentic French intellectual. At the ceremony he was the only man not wearing a tie.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has intellectuals, showing that you are definitely more European than we are! Though I see today that most Bosniac intellectuals are men – are Bosniac Women really so British that they fail to qualify to join you?

Today I want to talk about Bosnians and Europeans. I want to talk about the future – an unfashionable subject in this part of the world.

I will be talking in a personal capacity, drawing on my twenty months here as British Ambassador and my previous work as Press Secretary in Belgrade in the early 1980s. None of what follows should be taken as representing official British policy or EU policy – the UK currently holds the EU Presidency.

As I expect you know, the British Constitution does not exist. But this invisible Constitution lays down some very strict rules.

One of them is that civil servants and Ambassadors are loyal to the government of the day, and not to previous governments. Following the British elections in May last year I am under orders not to talk about the policy of the former Conservative government, but rather to advance the merits of the new Labour government policy.

So I am definitely not going to talk today about the arms embargo, or the British role in UNPROFOR, or anything else from that period.

Nevertheless, there should be no misunderstanding about the basic British position vis-à-vis Bosnia and Herzegovina. Both the Labour and Conservative Parties support it.

The Prime Minister made this position clear when he met the BH Presidency here in December. The British Government unambiguously and unconditionally support one united democratic Bosnia and Herzegovina within its internationally recognized boundaries. A Bosnia and Herzegovina in which people are equal before the law. A Bosnia and Herzegovina whose people are getting richer, not poorer. A successful, normal, European country, albeit a country with unique constitutional arrangements.

A united and successful Bosnia and Herzegovina does not come about by speeches and rhetoric. We all have to work on it.

This is what we the British have been doing. We have made available hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of practical assistance. We have supported reconciliation initiatives, women’s groups, over a thousand small projects across the country.

We have worked towards the political reconciliation needed to build a single, successful European country.

We were the first country to bring together senior representatives from central government and both Entities behind one nameplate saying “Bosnia and Herzegovina” at the December 1996 London Conference; this set the standard for international gatherings.

We were the first country to take a senior visiting delegation to Pale in MFA cars using Sarajevo number-plates.

When the Prime Minister arrived at Banja Luka in December we were the first country to organize an official welcoming ceremony in Republika Srpska involving Bosniac, Serb and Croat representatives from the Bosnia and Herzegovina central institutions.

When Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was here recently we were the first country to arrange for the BH Foreign Minister and MFA officials to host a state-level departure ceremony at Banja Luka airport;

British forces continue to play a very active part in SFOR’s moves against suspected war criminals, three more just in the past few days;

And, in a country in which symbolism is so important, the British Embassy in Sarajevo is the only public building in the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina which has a nameplate in Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian, your three official languages.

All this shows that we British are serious about building Bosnia and Herzegovina. Maybe the Presidency building in Sarajevo and public buildings in Republika Srpska and Croat-dominated areas should follow our example and have their nameplates in all three languages. The editor of Ljiljan tells me that he would be happy to have a Cyrillic edition of his magazine if he could find the money for it. That’s the way forward.

Saying that we all support a united Bosnia and Herzegovina within its internationally recognized borders sets the policy at the grand level of international diplomacy. But it’s a bit like allocating land to a builder – the real question is, what sort of house and garden is he going to build?

Dayton gives us the architect’s plans. But a lot of architects were involved. They achieved extraordinary results in a very short time. Yet as you know better than me, the final design did not answer all the questions.

One important feature of the current international approach towards Bosnia and Herzegovina is the emphasis on “multi-ethnicity”. As the Bonn PIC Conclusions said, “there is no alternative to the Peace Agreement for the political and economic development of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its two multi-ethnic Entities and three constituent peoples”.

There is no reference in the Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitution to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s multi-ethnic character. What does it mean? Let me say something about South Africa, unlike Bosnia and Herzegovina a country I know something about.

South Africa had the remarkable apartheid system. So-called Whites, Blacks, Coloureds and Indians were forced to live separate lives within separate constitutional arrangements.

But the logical Afrikaners who devised this system quickly spotted a problem. To devise separate arrangements for Whites, Blacks, Coloureds and Indians they needed to identify who these people were. A tricky business in a country of good suntans.

In practice it was usually easy to tell a White person from a Black person. Whites were European and Blacks were African. It was like an elephant: you can’t define an elephant but you know one when you see one.

But the Afrikaners wanted precision. They wanted the system to be logical. They thought that if it was logical it was morally defensible. Thus we had the Population Registration Act of 1950. Section One said in effect that a White person was a person who was self-evidently white. Subsequent Sections said that a Black person was a person who was self-evidently not a White person, a Coloured person was someone self-evidently not White or Black, and so on. Manifestly silly and circular definitions.

Legal problems arose concerning albino Blacks, who were very white indeed, and others of mixed parentage. The courts had to resort to such insanities as trying to measure the curliness of a person’s hair to test so-called racial differences.

Apartheid and communism both finally collapsed in the early 1990s, for related reasons. Both systems had continued long after they had been intellectually discredited in theory and shown not to be viable in practice.

The anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa produced much sophisticated analysis on “racial” issues. Careful distinctions were drawn by Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement and others between “multi-racial”, “non-racial”, and “anti-racial” approaches.

MuIti-racial meant that you accepted that there were separate races but tried to devise constitutional arrangements to create a fair political balance between them. This was favoured by the mainly Zulu Inkatha movement and in a sense by the Afrikaners themselves.

Non-racial meant that you accepted that different races existed but refused to take this into account in political or constitutional arrangements – all men are equal, one man one vote etc. This was the policy of the African National Congress and its Communist allies.

Anti-racial meant that you did not accept the very idea of races – there is only one race, the human race. This was the approach taken by the Pan Africanist Congress who tried to mobilize ‘indigenous’ Africans against “European settlers” on an African nationalist platform. They had some good jokes. They were asked about their famous slogan “one settler, one bullet”. “We are a poor organization – we can only afford one bullet for each settler!”

The real-life problems facing South Africa have absolutely nothing in common with those facing Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But on the level of constitutional practice there are some Issues in common. You too have to reconcile different philosophies. Using the South African terminology, are you multi-ethnic, non-ethnic or anti-ethnic? How if at all is the very idea of ethnicity incorporated into your political and constitutional arrangements?

Dayton is not consistent on this. Your constitution contains muIti-ethnic, non-ethnic and anti-ethnic aspects.

The main multi-ethnic aspect is the emphasis on the three constituent peoples. The BH Presidency is required to contain one Bosniac, one Croat and one Serb. Yet unlike the Afrikaners you do not have a Population Registration Act to specify who or what is a Bosniac, a Croat or a Serb.

But the law is the law. If a Bosniac man marries a Serb woman or a Croat woman marries a Jewish man, their children might want to call themselves “Bosnians”. Under your law these children can not run for President or the BH House of Peoples. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that your constitution actually discriminates against “Bosnians”.

The main non-ethnic and anti-ethnic elements are in the provisions for guaranteeing all Bosnian citizens equality before the law regardless of race, sex, national or social origin or association with a national minority.

The Dayton architects did not have those South African distinctions in mind – I am sure that they were not aware of them.

When international representatives today talk about a “multi-ethnic” Bosnia and Herzegovina I suspect they mean – using the South African distinctions – a “non-ethnic” Bosnia and Herzegovina, a democratic country in which ethnicity is acknowledged and respected but in which people need not fear persecution or discrimination on ethnic grounds.

Making this happen in practice is, putting it politely, difficult. The so-called “ethnic” complications are made worse by the strong devolved powers to the Entities. The practical problems thrown up by these philosophical mysteries in part lie behind the slow progress in normalizing political life here.

How far should you go in guaranteeing exact formal equality for, say, Croats as a constituent people in the allocation of jobs in the central institutions or in Bosnian delegations representing your country overseas? Should Serbs be constituent peoples of the Federation? Should Croats and Bosniacs be constituent peoples of Republika Srpska? Should all languages be used in schools in both Entities or in decisions of the Presidency?

What is a Serb or a Bosniac or a Croat? What is an “Other”? Are we talking only religious categories? Can you be a Serb or Croat atheist? Can you be a Bosniac atheist? Blood/family ties or regional variations scarcely come into it – I suspect that most of you here today have Serb and Croat relatives somewhere in the family, yet you call yourselves Bosniacs.

All these are obvious problems. We are not going to resolve them today. They are not unique to Bosnia and Herzegovina. We in the United Kingdom have the same sort of issues rumbling on down the centuries.

I myself am an “Other”. I come from Northern English and Scottish families with a bit of Irish in there somewhere. I was born in the deep south of England. I have scarcely been to Scotland in my life; I am not a fan of Scottish dancing. But Charles Crawford is a good Scottish name and my two boys have good Scottish first names, James and Robert. This could come in handy for passport purposes should the Scottish Entity one day try to break away.

All over the world these ethnic/cultural/linguistic/tribal/national divisions – call them what you like – cause problems. But what is different here is the colossal international involvement intended to help Bosnia and Herzegovina work as one country, to calm down the passions caused by the war, to help resolve these tensions by political means rather than by war. The BH Dayton constitution is a very serious attempt to do this by balancing powers in the interests of all.

And here I want to make my two main points today.

First, we, the international community and especially the Europeans, want to make Bosnia and Herzegovina a success. But we can not want Bosnia and Herzegovina more than the Bosnian people do.

And second, a lot depends on how the Bosniac community as the largest community in Bosnia and Herzegovina set about building the country.

Many Serbs and Croats either wanted the former Yugoslavia to survive in some form or other. If it was not going to survive, they preferred to be part of a new Serbia or a new Croatia. They were not all enthusiasts for a new independent Bosnia and Herzegovina!

Bosnian Serb and Croat attitudes also were shaped by policies pursued in Belgrade and Zagreb. Some senior figures there did not want – and perhaps still do not want – Bosnia and Herzegovina to succeed or even exist.

It is not now easy to achieve a sense of nation-wide reconciliation when so many indicted suspected war criminals are still at large and hundreds of thousands of people can not return home.

But however difficult it is, the Bosniacs as the largest community in Bosnia and Herzegovina have a special challenge. They have to convince those Serbs and Croats who say that the Yugoslavia calamity showed that ethnic power sharing can never work, so Bosnia and Herzegovina can never work. The Bosniacs have to show that Bosnia and Herzegovina does not belong mainly or specially to Bosniacs alone – rather that it belongs to all Bosnians, working together.

This is the basic issue for your future – can you build a European Bosnia and Herzegovina only with “multi-ethnic” Bosniacs, Serbs and Croats? Don’t you need “non-ethnic” or “anti-ethnic” Bosnians as well?

Let me quote from an inspiring interview in Ljiljan by Ivan Lovrenovic. He said that the first step in renewing Bosnia and Herzegovina was the “relativisation” of political and national identities: “if we in Bosnia are only Bosniac Muslims, only Serbs, only Croats then we have nothing more to talk about…if you want Bosnia you have to be a Bosnian and if you want to be a Bosnian you can not be ‘only a Bosniac, only a Croat, only a Serb…I am not less a Croat because I am not only a Croat. If all Bosnians from all national identities can say the same for himself we are right on the road towards rebuilding Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

Fine words. What do they mean for politics?

First, they rule out ethnically exclusivist political parties and philosophies. Under the BH Constitution – under your law – all discrimination on ethnic or other grounds is illegal. So what is a Serb or Croat or Bosniac political party fighting for?

Any party organizing itself or campaigning directly or indirectly on an ethnic ticket aims to practise discrimination. “Vote for me not because my policies for everyone are good but because I’m a Serb (or a Croat, or a Bosniac). If I achieve power trust me to look after the ethnic interests of my people first and foremost.

Following his visit here the Prime Minister has asked the British Labour Party to work with its social democrat party partners in other leading European countries to help build democracy here. How should European political parties meant to identify which political parties here represent the best hope for the future? Can the exclusively Bosniac SDA, the exclusively Serb SDS or the exclusively Croat HDZ hope to qualify as modern European parties worthy of joining the great European Centre- Left or Centre-Right political traditions?

And second, adopting a Lovrenovic approach to politics forces leaders to think about what they can do both to encourage their supporters but also reassure those who are not, to empower people from all communities who want to share but are nervous.

This has been the whole point of the astounding success of the post-WW2 settlement in Europe. By emphasising a wider, inclusive philosophy respecting national interests as part of a wider whole, Western Europe has discredited exclusivist mono-ethnic fanatics whose reactionary rhetoric makes less and less sense when cooperation is happening and bringing results.

Western Europe is now far more prosperous, stable and successful than at any time in history. We want all Europeans, including Bosnians, to share this success.

Within Bosnia and Herzegovina no-one adopting the Lovrenovic Bosnia and Herzegovina-first approach can be accused of so-called “domination”.

This is a fundamental point. President Clinton raised this matter explicitly with President Izetbegovic during his visit in December. What was he getting at?

I suspect he was referring to a concern now widely shared in the international community that following Dayton the Bosniac leadership have not demonstrated the inclusive “Bosnian” approach they proclaimed during the war.

Perhaps the best example is Sarajevo itself. During the war Sarajevo came to symbolize internationally the struggle between civilised values and barbarism. The world looked at Sarajevo as a city bringing together different religions and traditions. Sarajevo was both a place and an idea under threat.

After the war Sarajevo as the country’s capital should have been the first proud Open City, setting an example to the rest of the country and to Europe.

But this has not happened. Sarajevo has been criticised by name in the Bonn Conclusions. The international community has had to press the Sarajevo and Federation authorities to adopt a law which would give pre-war occupants the simple, honourable right to return to their pre-war homes.

We also have seen all sorts of vested interests clinging on improperly to privileges and positions. The examples of discrimination or favouritism or reluctance to share have been far too numerous to dismiss them as “individual excesses”.

Mayor Beslagic rightly says that there is little to distinguish the war criminal from the war profiteer. Yet how many senior war profiteers have been prosecuted anywhere in Bosnia and. Herzegovina?

Let me offer one more example of the Bosniac leadership sending an unhappy political signal to their fellow countrymen and to the international community.

During the Yugoslav period Mr Izetbegovic and thousands of other Bosnians were persecuted by the Yugoslav secret police. According to an article in Ljiljan the post-war Communist regime actually murdered tens of thousands of Yugoslav citizens. Having survived this persecution the Bosniac leadership might have decided to follow the shining example of President Havel in the Czech Republic and open up the secret police archives to full public scrutiny.

This would have dealt a massive blow in favour of freedom and democracy. Bosnia and Herzegovina would have set the rest of Europe an example of openness, making a clean break with the repressive past.

Yet what has happened? These secret police archives are not private property. They belong to the BH state, and hence to all Bosnian citizens. But these Yugoslav secret police archives are not public. No democratic accountability has been brought in. Those archives in Sarajevo are being controlled by a narrow unaccountable group of people for cynical and reactionary political purposes.

The current situation is a disgrace. It is high time these archives were made public or at least brought under normal democratic control.

Many of you here today were spied on by the Yugoslav secret police simply for believing in God or for having liberal ideas. Why should you not see the lies and distortions they wrote about you on your file? You Bosniac intellectuals here today will do your country a great service if you demand publicly that this happen forthwith, and certainly before the September elections.

All in all, as a friend of this country I have to say that this sort of thing – and the lack of transparency in public accounting, and the continuation of “parallel structures”, and the continuing presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina of imported so-called Islamic extremists – is doing a great deal of damage to the Bosniacs’ collective international reputation.

The Bosniacs are the largest community here in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Bosniac aspirations and Bosniac standards to a great extent shape the way this country is going to be run.

The usual reply I hear in Sarajevo to these criticisms is that it is insulting and absurd to accuse the Bosniacs of “domination” when the Bosniacs lost so much in the war; when the Bosniacs control only about a third of the country’s territory; when the Serb and Croat leaderships are harbouring war crimes suspects, and running completely mono-ethnic administrations, and playing games on the buildings for the new BH central institutions. Let the international community sort out the worst offenders first, before complaining about so-called Bosniac domination!

President Izetbegovic and I have talked all this over in very frank terms. He told me bluntly that if there are any European values still surviving in Bosnia and Herzegovina it is thanks to the Bosniac leadership and people who stood firm against mono-ethnic fanatics and at great cost maintained some sort of commitment to a shared future.

This of course is a powerful argument. I personally agree with it. Sarajevo has its problems. Yet it can indeed be proud of the fact that religious freedom survives here whereas the mosques have disappeared from Banja Luka and many other places in one of this century’s most shameful crimes against civilisation, right here in Europe. It can be proud that unlike anywhere so far in Republika Srpska or Croat-controlled parts of the Federation people from all your different peoples do have a role in public life and the media.

But even if this argument is powerful I feel that it is not what the British Prime Minister, President Clinton and other world leaders want to hear. They want to hear all the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina setting their sights not by the grudging standards of rival ethnic leaders but by the standards of best European practice. They want to hear all your leaders setting ambitious targets for what Bosnia and Herzegovina is to be in five and ten and twenty years’ time, and then showing how they intend to get there.

Even if Bosniacs do “control” only a part of this country’s territory, what example is being set on that territory? Are you pushing us to help you move quickly to best international practice in public accounting and transparency; to reform the secret police; to deregulate the economy; to bring Serbs and Croats back to Sarajevo and make them feel welcome; to have the freest TV stations and newspapers? Or are we having to push you?

The good news is that the political atmosphere among all three peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina is getting better. And this is bringing results. The transparency/ accountability issue in both Entities is being addressed, with lots more money now available for pensions and wages as improper customs dealings are brought under control and dishonest officials are sacked. TV stations in both Entities are being reformed. So-called parallel structures are at last being put on a lawful footing. The forthcoming Banja Luka conference is going to send a powerful international message to Croatia about its bad record on Serb returns. All in all leaders from all three constituent peoples are seeing that they have the responsibility of giving the voters better public services, better government – and a new sense of hope.

The Federation Forum meeting in Mostar this week and the regular meetings between Prime Ministers Bicakcic and Dodik showed what can be done once all concerned decide that they have no choice but to move things forward. Within a few weeks Bosnia and Herzegovina will have a new currency, new car number-plates, new passports. Officials from the Council of Ministers will be taking up their new offices in the chosen building – the end is in sight for the ignominious business of rotating venues for the BH Presidency, neither of which were remotely adequate or appropriate.

These dramatic improvements are transforming post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina. And they are sending signals to your neighbours that the international community is pressing on fast with the Dayton agenda of establishing this country for the first time in centuries as a full, independent European partner. I arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina late on Friday 26 July 1996. To my horror I found that I had to present my credentials at 1100 the following morning.

When I did so I told President Izetbegovic that British policy towards your two neighbours would be largely shaped by these neighbouring countries’ attitude towards you. We meant it. And we and our international partners are going to continue delivering it. So on we go. Success is starting to breed more success. We – and you – are seeing probably the most successful post-war reconstruction and reconciliation effort in human history. It has been a privilege for me to have had the chance to play a personal part in it.

In a country with a relatively small population things can be turned round fast with the right policies and attitudes. Look at what Estonia has achieved in only some 300 weeks since leaving the Soviet Union, racing ahead to become already a credible candidate for EU membership. Finland has one of the highest per capita numbers of Internet subscribers in the world, giving that country a lead in the latest education and technology. It also has one of the highest numbers of Internet providers. Why doesn’t Bosnia and Herzegovina jump straight to the free-est possible private market in national and international telecommunications, rather than messing about with three inefficient, overpriced ethnic telecommunications services you currently have?

Don’t we all need more vision here? Here IS my own personal conclusion. Your success is not inevitable. Your choices make a difference, the difference between quicker or slower success, and quicker or slower failure. Bosnia and Herzegovina can have a future, and a European future. It can work. The huge international effort can turn things round. As the Prime Minister told the Bosnian Presidency, the world should never have allowed the war to start or allowed it to continue. We do not intend to let it happen again.

But this European future can not lie with people trying to sell exclusivist ethnic politics. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future lies with Bosnians who are proud to be Serbs or Croats or Bosniacs, but who demand to be Europeans as well.

It lies with politicians who work hard to reassure not only their supporters but also their opponents.
It lies with people who demand the break from the corrupt Yugoslav secret police in favour of modern, European pluralism and transparency.

It lies with people in all communities and in all political parties who maybe took hard positions during the war, but who now realize that completely new approaches are needed for the peace.

Some Bosniacs wonder whether Europe really wants to welcome the Bosnian Islamic community. Europe will accept Bosnia’s Muslims to the extent that Bosnia’s Muslims accept Europe, no more no less. This means a modern pluralist approach, which keeps religion and politics kept firmly separated – any other approach is a recipe for disaster in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s circumstances.

The same applies to Bosnia’s Serbs, whose fanatical leaders over the past few years have taken them to isolation and ruin. And to Bosnia’s Croats who too will take their proud place in Europe by abandoning extremism.

This is your country. It is not a protectorate. Since it became independent it has mostly been a symbol of failure, not least – it must be said – failure by the international community. But I feel that things are changing. Bosnia and Herzegovina has the chance to start to enter the next century as a symbol of success. Your country – like mine – can succeed only as a modern, democratic European country; there is no alternative.

We in Europe have joined with our friends in North America and the Islamic world to make a firm commitment to your success. But modern Europe has its standards – European standards need to be your standards.

A lot of things about Bosnia and Herzegovina are very complicated. But one thing here is really simple. We Europeans can not want Bosnia and Herzegovina more than all its citizens do. We want you to succeed. We can and will help. But our help makes a difference and brings results only if you Bosnians – Bosniacs, Serbs and Croats alike – get the policies right. You all must decide whether you are going to adopt the policies and general approach which are pre-conditions for your success.

Everything depends on you.

To conclude. Intellectuals in all communities have a key role to play. You here today have to give a lead, pointing out the risks of competing approaches but helping your political leaders see what has-to be done now to make Bosnia and Herzegovina a credible, respectable independent country not now but in twenty years’ time.

And maybe if I am invited to come back here in twenty years’ time to give you another address I will be talking to the Congress of Bosnian intellectuals, an audience from all local ethnic and religious backgrounds. An audience of prosperous, confident twenty-first century Bosnians who see that what they have in common is so much more important than the old twentieth-century rivalries and hatreds that once kept them apart.


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