Stjepan Mesić: How Croatia Can Help Bosnia-Herzegovina Survive

The Center for Critical Thinking Mostar and the web portal organized a lecture held by the former Croatian president Mr. Stjepan Mesić, Friday, March 7, 2014 at 18:00 at Bristol Hotel, Mostar. The topic was how Croatia, as a new EU member and a guarantor of the Dayton Peace Agreement, could help Bosnia and Herzegovina survive.

Before his visit to Mostar, where he expounded his concept of a new international conference on the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina and stated the reasons for it, Mr. Mesić visited Sarajevo. On that occasion, he visited the chairman of the BiH Presidency and Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija. He presented both of them with the full text of what he intended to say in Mostar. Chairman Komšić asked the former Croatian President to submit copies to the other two members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mr. Mesić was greeted with a standing ovation by the citizens of Mostar, which once again confirms that Mostar was and remains a city open to all its true friends. Mr. Mesić then presented concrete ideas concerning revision of the Dayton Peace Agreement. The following is a translation of his remarks (an untranslated transcript is here):

Distinguished Mrs. Galić,

Mr. Bahtijar,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear citizens of Mostar,

It is certainly not pure courtesy or pure form if I say that I am pleased to be here tonight. I am truly pleased to be in Mostar, and I would like, right away, to remove any possible doubt: I have come neither to the Eastern nor to the Western Mostar, neither to the Croatian, nor to the Bosniac part of it. I have come to the city of Mostar, one city, which belongs to all its citizens, equal people with equal rights.

I don’t perceive these citizens, either here or elsewhere in Bosnia and Hercegovina, as Bosniacs, Croats or Serbs. I simply see people, citizens of both the city of Mostar and the state of Bosnia and Hercegovina. Naturally, in order not to be misunderstood, I should say that the status of citizen does not prevent or limit anyone in expressing and preserving their national and religious identity. I am speaking about the order of values, considering that a ‘citizen’ and everything that derives from that concept, should get priority over anything else, but without cancelling it.

I wanted to stress this right away, because I would not like, by a single word or move, to leave the impression of accepting such divides, or that I deny anyone’s right or freedom to promote their own identity.

On the contrary: I strictly and unambiguously reject divides. My message is: a unique, but not unitaristic Bosnia and Hercegovina, with citizens who will not be divided according to nationality or religion. Saying it in today’s Mostar might sound utopian, dreamlike, or like talking about an unattainable goal.

There would be sufficient reason for such pessimism, due to many things that happened here during last two decades and right up until now, to the burning of tires and wood at the entrance to the already devastated Partisan cemetery on Mostar Liberation Day this year. I, however, refuse to be a pessimist.

If we didn’t have goals, higher goals we strive to reach, if we didn’t want things to be different and better, what would be the purpose of our activity? It is in man’s nature, no matter how much of the worst facets occasional wars draw from this nature, to wish for a tomorrow which is better than today, even when having such a wish seems quite unrealistic. I agree to be considered unrealistic, but I shall never give up certain goals I strive to attain and principles that guide me towards them.

Neither should you.

Your city deserves better than what it has.

You have deserved better, just like all of Bosnia and Hercegovina!

When I got the invitation from the Center for Critical Thinking and when we considered the topic I should reflect on and then discuss with you, this topic appeared as logical as it is almost academic. Whatever happened in the past month and continues to happen in a large part of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Mostar included, makes it a topic of great importance and requires that it be thought about.

I was warned by a friend that, as he said, the mistake is often made of giving the Republic of Croatia the status of the Dayton Agreement guarantor. He reminds me that Croatia is a signatory, and the great powers are guarantors. Formally, indeed, this is correct. If, however, we look at responsibility, and that is what we should look at, then it is clear to everyone that the primary responsibility is with the signatories, and only then comes the responsibility of those who should watch that what was signed is also observed.

In other words, the responsibility of the Republic of Croatia with regard to Bosnia and Hercegovina and its survival is undoubted. There is the additional responsibility arising from our Constitution, which stipulates that Croatia has to take care of Croats living outside her borders. I shall add, as I frequently stressed while I was President of Croatia: Croats in Bosnia and Hercegovina are not a diaspora, they are a constituent nation. Each Croat here has to strive to be an equal citizen on the entire territory of Bosnia and Hercegovina, and not only in the so-called ‘Croatian communities’.

I can formulate this as follows: Croats must feel the entire Bosnia and Hercegovina as their state and should resist every attempt to be closed within national ghettoes, disregarding the explanation or pretext for such action.

This needed to be said clearly, although I shall dwell more on the issue of responsibility that the Republic of Croatia has as a signatory of the Dayton Agreement, the responsibility it cannot and should not avoid.

In that context, and having recent developments in mind, the question of how much Croatia, as an EU member-state and a signatory of the Dayton Agreement, can help the survival of the integral state of Bosnia and Hercegovina, takes on an entirely new dimension. The time when we could be satisfied by simply stating the fact that the neighbouring country, with which we share the longest border, is not a functioning state, is over. The time has come to say, clearly and directly, the things we have until now mostly been hinting at.

Firstly: the Dayton Agreement put an end to a bloody and brutal war, and that is its greatest merit. As time went by, it became clear that it is its only merit.

Secondly: The inner structure established by Dayton, which includes the Constitution of Bosnia and Hercegovina, simply does not make it possible for this country to function. It is so because, on the one hand, Dayton (more or less) legitimizes the results of warfare, and we should not forget that they were partly achieved by genocide and war crimes. On the other hand, this is so because it inaugurated, allegedly protecting the equality of constituent nations, a structure so complicated that in real life it is incapable of reacting to issues that crop up in the normal functioning of a state.

Thirdly: Dayton establishes Bosnia and Hercegovina as a country consisting of two entities, for which there is no historical or political reason, and its citizens are treated solely as members of a particular nation. In other words: the equality of citizens derives from the fact that they are either Croats, Bosniacs or Serbs, and not from the fact that they are citizens, who — as such — must be equal.

The fourth, and final, fact is that the international community, including the European Union, is responsible for doing nothing, absolutely nothing, about adding to or revising Dayton, which resulted in the situation we now have in Bosnia and Hercegovina.

There is another issue I absolutely want to emphasize: the criticism of Dayton, no matter how justified and founded, is not an attack directed at a nation, any nation as such. Such criticism is a direct attack to the so-called Dayton structure which distorted and totally disoriented the state and the system. This also needs to be said clearly.

This brings us to the question of what Croatia, as a new member-state of the united Europe, can do for the preservation of Bosnia and Hercegovina as an integrated state. I have to be cautious in phrasing this, because I am speaking of another country, and, apart from that, I am not in the position that would give me the opportunity or the right to speak on behalf of the Republic of Croatia anymore. Therefore, I speak exclusively in my own name, and what I say is my opinion, although it is based on many years of political experience.

Apart from that, my position is based on the firm conviction that the survival of an integrated Bosnia and Hercegovina is crucial, not only in terms of the security of Croatia, not only to ensure adequate status for the citizens of Bosnia and Hercegovina who are of Croatian nationality. I firmly believe that the long-term stability of the whole region depends on the survival of Bosnia and Hercegovina as one state, and with that, at least the stability of the whole southeastern part of Europe, and I should almost say: of Europe as a whole.

Alas, the powerful of the world did not understand this, or rather, have for years been refusing to understand it. They were sticking their heads in the sand, referring to  Dayton, which created some sort of (pardon my words) premature child of a state, accepting the entities as God-given, as something carved in stone and eternal. Meanwhile, the entities went their separate ways, each in its own direction. The Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina experienced disorder and lack of functionality, and Republika Srpska went towards the status of a para-state whose leader does not hesitate to publicly appeal for the disappearance of Bosnia and Hercegovina.

In today’s situation, Croatia must act. It has a responsibility to do so. Croatia should, in my view, come forth with the initiative to change the Dayton Agreement and the Constitution of Bosnia and Hercegovina that it defines.

I am sure that with a well-planned diplomatic action within the ranks of the European Union, it would be possible to find a sufficient number of allies who would, at the beginning, at least look at such initiative with a favourable eye. Things should be moved from the current deadlock, and the current state of affairs should not be accepted, because it is not only a cause of major concern, but it is also dangerous, which is today, I trust, clear to all.

The myth of the untouchable Dayton and the Dayton structure of Bosnia and Hercegovina has to be broken.

Likewise, the myth that members of constituent nations will not be equal if they are treated as citizens — individuals — has to be broken.

And another myth to be broken is that of the necessity of the existence, or the unavoidability of the existence, of ethnically bounded territories in Bosnia and Hercegovina.

In its entire history, Bosnia and Hercegovina was always one single entity. It was so when it was an independent kingdom, when it was under the Ottoman Empire, when it was under the Austro-Hungarian state, and at the time of socialist Yugoslavia. Its population was always mixed, and there were, of course, parts in which this or that nation was a majority. Ethnically pure, or to put it more precisely, ethnically cleansed territories, were created only in this last war. The creation of a third, Croatian entity, which many persistently advocate, would only finish off the ethnic cleansing begun in the war.

That would represent a reward to those who have been brought to justice, who were on trial in the Hague, just as they are already rewarded by the very existence of Republika Srpska. This third, Croatian entity would also be a punishment, an undeserved punishment for all Croats from Posavina, from Central Bosnia and other places where they live outside Hercegovina, because they would not belong to this entity.

Let me be completely clear: never in history have there been entities in Bosnia and Hercegovina based on the nationality of the population. They were only created by the Dayton Agreement, which, and I reiterate, is positive for having brought the war to an end. At the same time, it is also negative, because, in order to enable the war to end, it granted concessions to the nationalistic policy which led to war in the first place, and in which the germ of new conflict is hidden.

I am deeply convinced it is necessary — it is a role Croatia could prominently figure in and it is where I see Croatia’s responsibility — to launch the initiative for the revision of the Dayton Agreement, i.e. for the change of the internal structure of Bosnia and Hercegovina, such as it was set in the Dayton Agreement.

What I shall say now is my personal view of the possible and desirable course of events. I shall tackle it by stages.

After accepting the initiative to change Dayton, it is necessary to determine a preparatory period in which it will be made possible for the representative of the international community and the European Union to function as intended — including the possibility of using fully the so-called Bonn powers. We can call that the disciplining of the BH internal political scene.

In this same period, the concept of the post-Dayton Bosnia and Hercegovina has to be prepared, based on it as a civil state, divided into several multinational cantons, with the central power which will truly function as such, and which will have equal representaiton of the three constituent nations, without excluding the citizens who do not belong to these.

This is my thinking, and I am not venturing into speculation on who would draft such a concept. Neither do I venture into debating whether there will be several such concepts. My idea is certainly, that Croatia should draft its proposal. It is important, however, that in this preparatory period, cards be put on the table. With this, I think of the need to clearly define the starting positions of those who will be deciding on the change of Dayton, as well as of the maps on which the new model or models will be drawn.

The next stage is the most sensitive one. There should be a new international conference at which the signatories of the original Dayton, and the guarantor-states of the agreement, will, on the basis of the proposal or several proposals submitted, develop the final model of the state structure and organization of Bosnia and Hercegovina. Why would this be the most sensitive stage? Because the various interests, which, objectively speaking, have absolutely nothing to do with the real interests of the citizens of Bosnia and Hercegovina, would get confronted at that stage.

That is why I think that in the drafting of the concept of Dayton 2, the model of the first negotiations should not be blindly copied. The new negotiations, as I see them, should take place with the participation of the same stakeholders as the first negotiations, but ‘under the umbrella’ of the United Nations. To be even more specific, they could be chaired by three former High representatives of the international community, because they know more about Bosnia and Hercegovina than anyone else from the world of diplomacy.

Bosnia and Hercegovina would, at these negotiations, be represented, by the Presidency of the country. This would not be done by entities, or by the representatives of constituent nations, and especially not by the representatives of the national parties. The Presidency represents the state, and with it, all its citizens.

I firmly stress that this is the only formula to be considered.

After the end of the international conference and the adoption of the new structure and the new Constitution of Bosnia and Hercegovina, the transitional period would come into force. There is no doubt that it would be a particularly hard time. Resistance coming from all who would be losing power would have to be dealt with, thus making it impossible for them to thrive on the misfortune of Bosnia and Hercegovina. There would certainly be resistance in a part of the public, which got successfully indoctrinated by politics and media in the past decades. Finally, we should not be blind to the possibility that attempts would probably come from the neighbouring states to undermine the new solution.

In the one-year transitional period, the High Representative should continue functioning with all the powers of that position. At the end of that period, parliamentary elections and a referendum at which the citizens of Bosnia and Hercegovina — and I stress: the citizens, and not members of particular nations — would vote on the proposed solution, should be held at the same time. The referendum and the elections should be observed by the OSCE observers and the representatives of NGOs.

The campaign before the referendum, and I am specific again, would last for six months, and the campaign for the parliamentary elections, a month.

This would be followed by a five-year period in which the international community would be gradually withdrawing from Bosnia and Hercegovina, although it would, through the role of the High Representative, albeit with reduced powers, still be able to influence on events on the internal political scene. At the end of this period, Bosnia and Hercegovina would really, not only formally, become an independent state, and a functioning one.

You have probably noticed that I have at no point yet mentioned the accession of Bosnia and Hercegovina to the European Union. I did not do that, because it is self-understood. I do not see the solution exclusively through the process of accession to the European Union. I have in mind two parallel processes: the radical reorganization of Bosnia and Hercegovina and the accession negotiations with the European Union.

Europe should, for Sarajevo, open the prospect of the beginning of pre-accession negotiations as soon as possible, even if their conclusion is linked to the successful transformation of today’s Bosnia and Hercegovina into what I call the post-Dayton Bosnia and Hercegovina. That is where I see the role for Croatia, and Croatia’s responsibility, too.

We negotiated with the EU for a long time, we have positive experience, and we know what we did wrong.

We can help, and we must, bearing in mind the fact that by helping Bosnia and Hercegovina, the Republic of Croatia also helps Croats in a neighbouring country.

What I want for Bosnia nad Hercegovina, and I think I’ve proved myself to be its friend, is its transformation into a civil, democratic state with a functioning parliamentary system, and which will be able to bear the burden and responsibility of the key factor for the stability of the region.

I want Bosnia and Hercegovina devoid of the chains of nationalistic narrow-mindedness, intolerance and hatred, an open country in which each of its citizens will be able to declare himself, without being either privileged or discriminated against because of his national or religious affiliation, or for the lack of it.

I want a Bosnia and Hercegovina that will be a good neighbour to Croatia, and a good partner, in both bilateral and international relations. To put it shortly, I want the Bosnia and Hercegovina that is desired, I am convinced, by a majority of its citizens. Recent events were a kind of a confirmation of this very fact. We did not see the protests of only some, while others kept silent. Everyone protested, somewhere more, somewhere less, that is true, and they successfully prevented those who wanted to steal their rebellion and to compromise it.

Someone might claim that I want too much, that I want the impossible. I do not agree with that. With a dose of reason, a good, healthy common sense, with sufficient political will and honesty, in Bosnia and Herccegovina, and in the region, and in Europe and the world, this is an attainable goal.

Despite nationalisms and the nationalistic ghosts we face on daily basis.

Despite all career-makers who amass fortunes and build careers on the basis of national myths, actually on plain nationalism, on division and spreading national hatred.

And despite the international community, which still seems not to have grasped the depth of the crisis in Bosnia and Hercegovina.

I refuse to accept the idea that there is no future for Bosnia and Hercegovina.

I will not be resigned to this and I shall not lose hope.

That is why I am here this evening.

Thank you for your attention!

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