Dizdarevi?: Ten years on, Miloševi? scars remain in Balkans

Raif Dizdarevic.jpg

A decade since the fall of Slobodan Miloševi?'s nationalist Serbian regime, there are still ''deep wounds'' across the former Yugoslavia which will not heal for a long time, said former Yugoslav politician Raif Dizdarevi? in an interview with Pavol Demes, director of the German Marshall Fund in Central Europe and former foreign minister of Slovakia.

Raif Dizdarevi? is a retired Bosnian politician who held senior positions in the Yugoslavian regime, including foreign affairs minister and chairman of the presidency. He experienced two wars and collaborated with Josip Broz Tito and Slobodan Miloševi?.

This interview, conducted for the Slovak news agency TASR, was sent to EURACTIV by Pavol Demes.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here

In early October, the international community will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the fall of Slobodan Miloševi?'s regime. During your service in senior posts in the former Yugoslavia, you had the opportunity to communicate with Slobodan Miloševi?. How did you view him? What kind of person and what kind of politician was he?

Slobodan Miloševi? was formed by conservative and nationalist ambitions that already existed in Serbia at the time of his accession to power. He was a representative of forces that were directed more at the past than the present and future. His ambitions in the power struggle weren't limited in any way. This also became fully evident in forming his autocratic government.

Miloševi? didn't stop at anything. He caught the wave of nationalism, with the unfortunate programme of Greater Serbia being created – connecting the interests of various powers, and in that regard his love of power came in handy. On this was based his power.

On the other hand, this policy proved unfeasible in the context of wars against Slovenia, Croatia and the aggression against Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, it has left terrible, deep wounds that will not heal on the territory of the former Yugoslavia and particularly in our country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, for a long time.

I had a personal experience with Miloševi?. As a politician, he was ruthless, he didn't stop at anything. At the same time, he was skilful in hiding his intentions, simply an insincere partner. In debates we agreed on several issues, but later I learnt that he says one thing, and does something different. He also behaved that way in international relations – plenty of flattering words, providing certain hopes that he'll do this and that, but in fact it was only political deception.

In me, he left the impression of a flinty person and an unscrupulous lover of power who didn't put up with anybody who got in his way – not to mention those who resisted him. He was free from emotions to a considerable extent. I even sometimes had the impression that he was a political robot. He showed immense ruthlessness, even vis-à-vis his own brother when he fell into a state of bad health.

In your opinion, what contributed most to the bloodbath that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia in the first half of the 1990s? Could the tragic wars between Serbs, Croats and Muslims have been prevented, or was the dismemberment of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) sealed with Tito's death?

The causes of Yugoslavia's bloody break-up are very complicated, but I wouldn't say that it all began with Tito's death. Certain internal problems had existed even before then, and they were deepening. We were aware of the necessity of changes, but they came late, and this was the biggest mistake. As necessary measures for development were absent, nationalism emerged, and to such an extent that it eventually become the gravedigger of Yugoslavia.

Nationalism can only beget hatred, and hatred can stir up an international conflict – one that engulfed the entire territory of the former Yugoslavia. This was especially prevalent in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which became a victim of both external and internal aggression. Of course, external aggression came primarily from Serbia, but at a certain moment also from Croatia.

Croatia and Serbia followed their goal – they built their positions in regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina where their nations were living. These nations were deceived and misused in the following conflicts.

It [the war] could hardly have been avoided, but a question remains whether the course of the conflict could have been somewhat toned down and the number of victims and tragedies reduced. When the bloody break-up and conflicts in former Yugoslavia are discussed, people agree that the most drastic course of events took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina. International players also bear part of the blame, as they were observers at first and did nothing to prevent the subsequent events from taking place.

After all, the direction was clear as early as in 1992. If an international intervention similar to the one in 1995 had taken place at the time, everything would have developed differently. The United Nations were caught with their pants down, because their forces were only passive observers of the events. Similarly, the European Community limited its activities to providing humanitarian aid. It showed utter incompetence, which still continues, I think.

You remained in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the civil war. How do you recall these times?

I've been a direct participant in two wars. During WWII, I was an active soldier in the national liberation army and I witnessed everything that was taking place at the time. I refused to leave Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. I remained when the people were experiencing the darkest days, because they trusted me.

Comparing these two wars, I think that the latter was much more atrocious. In WWII we fought against invaders, Chetniks and Ustasha; but it was nothing like the blockade of Sarajevo. Neither mass ethnic cleansings, nor mutual crimes of such an extent as in the war in the late 20th century ever occurred. Evaluating my experience of both wars, in the first case we had a liberation army that was part of the anti-Hitler coalition. The anti-fascist army had high morale and was well-organised, also thanks to the inner discipline of its soldiers. Conversely, the war in the 1990s rather featured 'hordes' that fought each other. There's also a big difference between what followed WWII and the war in Yugoslavia.

After WWII, we were full of enthusiasm and confidence in our strength, which demonstrated itself in the recovery of the country. Conversely, the war in the first half of the 1990s is still going on. It might be without weapons, but features all the elements of hatred, division and rift.

The Dayton Agreement in 1995 ended the war. Bosnia was divided into the Bosniak-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska. How do you view this division in the context of current developments in Bosnia? In your opinion, is it necessary to maintain the Dayton model, or should the powers of central institutions be strengthened?

As far as Dayton is concerned, it's possible to repeat the hackneyed sentence that it stopped the war. Dayton reflects the pragmatic American style of thinking and negotiating. It created a complicated system, which is a reflection of the actual situation at the end of the war. Dayton prefers the ethnic and nationalist principle, which has determined the whole way of life in the state and the way of solving all problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This principle doesn't provide any solution, it rather preserves the status quo and makes the situation worse. All considerations regarding independence for the Republika Srpska and liquidating the vestiges of the current state only escalate tensions. The situation in both the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska will change depending on the development of democratic processes.

Only following this process will the need for solidarity emerge. Two tendencies are often in conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina – unitarianism and separatism. The key question consists of defining the mutual interest and the mutual benefit of everyone in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this needs to be resolved at the state level, while everything else can be dealt with at lower levels.

Only in this way can the situation can be improved – only in this way will a mutual, positive consciousness be created. All parts of the state are mutually connected in tiny Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I'm concerned most about the lack of communication between the two main parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. There's no dialogue, both parts have locked themselves away and are transforming themselves into some sort of state within a state. This leads to no good. Dayton can't be viewed in isolation – it isn't a permanent solution.

The key question is what stance the USA and the European Union take on the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It won't be good if they repeat the phrase 'make an agreement within Bosnia and Herzegovina – we'll support it'. They should bring forth fresh ideas.

You view Serbian nationalism as the main trigger of the wars in the Balkans. What do you think about the situation in Serbia ten years after the fall of Miloševi?'s regime?

I think that Serbia has been on an historic crossroads for a long time. Part of Slobodan Miloševi?'s regime is still alive in Serbia, and participates in the current state power. On the other hand, there are politicians who are attempting to change politics and relations in Serbia. Now one tendency is up, then the other one. It's like a duel between two wrestlers – at one time the first one wins points, then the other one.

I think there's only one solution for Serbia: first and foremost it must accept reality. It must free itself of illusions that something can return that has definitely been lost. At the same time, pro-European tendencies must be bolstered.

It appears that the pro-European orientation hasn't definitely triumphed in Serbia, and it will be the subject of a heated domestic dispute. It's evident in the fact that Tomislav Nikolic's Serbian Progressive Party, which has split off from Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party, is now the second strongest party in Serbia.

What's your opinion on Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence?

When I said that Serbia should rid itself of illusions of a possible return of something that has been definitely lost, I chiefly had Kosovo in mind. Serbia hasn't said everything about what occurred in Kosovo, and what caused [Kosovo's] complete separation from Serbia.

It was mainly the long-term anti-Albanian policy, removal of autonomy, a virtual police regime with everything bad that such a situation brings – including an exodus.

The declaration of Kosovo's independence is verification of this bad situation, which had lasted for several years. I personally think that it's quite an explosive situation in Kosovo due to its underdevelopment and unresolved social problems, and the ongoing phase of thievish capitalism. There are various tendencies, including the Greater Albanian one.

Serbia should realise what it has definitely lost, and through dialogue it should be interested in the situation of Serbs that have remained in Kosovo. They will be able to survive only after their rights are guaranteed in Kosovo, and not when they remain a tool of Belgrade's politics.

What's your opinion on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, and the processes that have taken place there?

I think that forming The Hague's tribunal was a necessary move, but in terms of its functioning and how successful it has been in carrying out its tasks, the results are questionable – many shortcomings can be found in its activities. Sometimes it appears to me as a ridiculous theatre. There are never-ending discussions on things that are not relevant to the issues that should be dealt with by the tribunal. The processes are being protracted forever.

Currently, there's an ongoing discussion on whether the process with Radovan Karadzic should be concluded in 2014 or 2015. I think that there are too many problems coming from the outside, especially in that various secret services are present in the halls of The Hague's tribunal.

How do you expect the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina to look? Do you think that the separatist ambitions of the Republika Srpska's Prime Minister Milorad Dodik can be fulfilled, or is that rather unrealistic?

I think that the national-separatist policy in Republika Srpska under the leadership of Milorad Dodik is sheer adventurism.

I'm deeply convinced that Bosnia and Herzegovina can't be divided without another war. This is clear from the internal conditions in Bosnia and Herzegovina itself, as well as from external influences. I've publicly said several times that this policy is actually anti-Serbian. This adventurism is also being stirred up by certain people in Serbia who are still connected to conservative Miloševi?'s heirs that are part of the current state power.

On the other hand, Dodik's policies also affect the situation in Serbia. Dodik reminds me of Miloševi?. Fortunately, he doesn't have the military power, otherwise the adventurism could go very far.

At the same time, I register that positive processes, albeit quietly, are also developing in Republika Srpska. The opposition is strengthening, new political parties are emerging – they are more realistic, I'd say more state-building. Similar parties are also emerging in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

One problem is that the communication isn't sufficient, with even common people having problems visiting other parts of the state. If [after the election­] powers that can lead some kind of dialogue – at least about small issues and problems – don't emerge it won't be good, and dangerous tensions will remain in place. A sort of wall has emerged, both a psychological and political wall.

What is the importance of the upcoming general election in your country?

I don't expect any significant changes. It'd be very good if the three-member presidency was changed – but this is unlikely to happen. I expect that there will only be minor changes in the existing power structures given the current governing parties.

Everything that we have heard before is again being repeated in the election campaign. It's mostly lies. It's promises and claims that make the mind boggle. One wonders whether the political entities that produce this situation are actually convinced that people are a flock of sheep that will buy anything.

It's good that new political parties have emerged, such as the Democratic Party led by Dragan Cavic [the former president of Republika Srpska], or the liberal Our Party.

It isn't good, however, that far-right parties have also emerged, such as media mogul Fahrudin Radoncic's party. I'm also sceptical about both the results of the election and whether the European Union brings forth something new for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

What's your relationship with the former Czechoslovakia and Slovakia?

I've an emotive relationship with Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I've spent beautiful years in Czechoslovakia during my career. I was there at an interesting time, and I've had many Czech and Slovak friends since then. I was pleased with the Prague Spring. I knew most of its figures in person, and I was clearly on their side both politically and humanly speaking. I was pleased that you were able separate in a quiet and civilised way.

Maybe I'll use a too expressive formulation, but I'm delighted with the results that Slovakia has achieved after becoming independent. For a certain time the country had to seek out its identity, but an economic boom followed its accession to the EU. I'm happy about it. You know, when you have a good friend, you rejoice with them in their success. What you've achieved under difficult circumstances has real value.

At the same time, you have a good position within the EU, because you have quality economic, political and diplomatic personalities at your disposal. You're no marginal member of this club; you're able to defend your interests. That's a great thing. It would be fortunate if Bosnia and Herzegovina at some point was able to defend its interests similarly.

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