Working Toward Peace
By Arin Pereira
Croatia has a key role to play in the evolution of the former Yugoslavia, as does the United States. The success of both the Dayton peace agreement and Hague war crimes tribunal will depend in large part on cooperation and support from the Republic of Croatia. The U.S. relationship with Croatia has suffered twists and turns this year: the first official trade mission to Croatia, led by former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, and expected to bring much needed foreign investment, ended in tragedy in April. In May, media fallout from the unearthed, unofficial White House policy to ignore the flow of arms from Iran to Bosnian government forces via Croatia inflamed members of Congress and the public. Currently, there is widespread editorializing about President Clinton's motives as he backs the Bosnian presidential elections, scheduled for September 14. Under provision of the Dayton accords, the elections must be 'free and fair,' a seemingly impossible condition at this point as the two indicted Bosnian Serb war criminals, Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, remain at large and influential. In a recent letter to the editor, published in the Washington Post (June 18), Croatian Ambassador Dr. Miomir Zuzul wrote, 'The prospects for a permanent understanding between the parties involved in Bosnia and Herzegovina have never been better,' and he stressed that it would be a mistake not to hold the elections on time. He also stated, 'American involvement will remain essential long after the last U.S. soldier has been withdrawn...' I recently spoke to both Ambassador Zuzul and to Dr. Nedzib Sacirbey, Bosnian representative to the United States. Dr. Sacirbey is a psychiatrist and former university professor. (He once had a student named Radovan Karadzic.) Dr. Sacirbey's son, Muhamed, is Bosnia's Ambassador to the U.N. In talking over the situation with these two experts, I hoped to gain a clearer understanding of the current state of affairs in Croatia and in Bosnia Herzegovina, as the debate over Bosnian elections continues and a new trade mission, to be led by U.S. Trade Secretary Mickey Kantor, plans to leave for Croatia.
Dr. Nedzib Sacirbey
Bosnian Representative to the U.S.
Dr. Sacirbey, what are the chances that the elections in Bosnia Herzegovina will take place as planned on September 14?
We in Bosnia need elections; we want to have elections. But elections should not be a counting of heads, they should be free expression of the political judgement of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In order to create the conditions for free expression of political judgement, we need free media. We need freedom of movement, we need a right of recognition to return, and we need absentee ballots for the people who are experts in their area and who are now out of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Otherwise, we already had 200,000 people biologically killed; we do not want a new political killing of those people who will be deprived of their voting rights.
At this point, does it look as if the necessary conditions will be met in Bosnia Herzegovina before September?
I am not worried about elections being called, but I am bothered if elections are held under adverse conditions, because conditions for free and fair elections should not be different in any country in the world, regardless of whether that country is called Bosnia Herzegovina, Colombia, or Sweden.
There has been a lot of talk about President Clinton's political maneuvering to avoid the issue of elections in Bosnia Herzegovina during an election year. What is your opinion?
The people of Bosnia Herzegovina are grateful to President Clinton for the many things he did for us. We hope that everything we hear about his desire to have elections in Bosnia Herzegovina as soon as possible, regardless of conditions, is not true. If we have unfair, unfree elections in Bosnia Herzegovina, they will be recognized as American elections, and we do not want the name of America related to something unfair and unfree.
What about the War Crimes Tribunal? It's taking a long time to bring identified criminals to justice.
The war crimes tribunal definitely does exist in the Hague, established by a UN resolution. The tribunal judges and prosecutors are elected not by Bosnia Herzegovina, but by the UN Security Council and General Assembly. Consequently, it is a neutral court, and, as such, it is the conscience of mankind. The court assembled to judge what happened in Bosnia Herzegovina, in order that it not be repeated at any place on this planet, at any time and to any ethnic or national group. For this reason, the court is important, not just to us in Bosnia, but to mankind. The action of this court, the support of this court, is the common cause of all peace loving and freedom loving people on this planet. Up to now, it has done very little to apprehend war criminals. These crimes in Bosnia were committed under the leadership and command of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. If Serbian people identify themselves with the deeds of these people, they are accepting responsibility. It is in the interest of Serbs and Serbia to separate themselves from the deeds of these criminals. The people try to explain the situation, to show that they are not going too fast in making judgement. They would like to throw light on every aspect leading to these crimes because they demonstrate the humanity in giving General Djukic the chance to die in Belgrade, not in jail. They did not lift the indictment, but they realized he is sick and dying. That human aspect of the court's behavior should be recognized and praised. We are not asking for revenge, we are asking for human behavior. These are crimes against humanity, and, as such, we should demonstrate to these criminals what human behavior means.
How would you describe the relationship between Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia? Is Croatia doing all it can to help Bosnia Herzegovina?
I believe they are not. We are neighbors. We were victims of the same aggressor. We try to have relations based on mutual understanding and respect. Unfortunately, just today, I read two pieces. One, a letter to the editor in the Washington Post written by Ambassador Zuzul, entitled 'Bosnia Needs Elections on Schedule.' In the text he adds, 'Croatia is particularly hopeful that the Federation of Bosnian Croats and Muslims will serve as a catalyst for the creation of lasting peace in Bosnia Herzegovina.' When I read this I was very happy. Then, into my hands came the Financial Times with a piece written by Laura Silber and Harriet Martin, the first from Belgrade, the second from Mostar. 'In another setback for the Dayton pact, Mr. Pero Markovic on Saturday was named prime minister of Herceg Bosna, the ethnic state the Croats agreed to disband last November.' I was present in Dayton when the agreement was signed. Unfortunately, Herceg Bosna still exists, something that is definitely not helping. That is the reason why our Prime Minister, Hasan Muratovic, stated that it is an illegal move and shows a lack of Croatian commitment to the newly created federal government in Bosnia. For us, the rights of Croats are very important. But to create Herceg Bosna is not right, it is division of federation, and that is not cooperation. We agreed with Croatians to create a federation of Bosnians and Croats. We call ourselves Bosnians, they call us Muslims; why, I do not know. In the civilized world it is a habit to call people by the name they accept.
It is said that Sarajevo is going to become a Muslim city. What do you think of that comment?
I definitely disagree. For centuries Sarajevo was a city with a Muslim majority. The number of Muslims was always relatively higher than the number of Serbs and Croats. The Croats started to emigrate from Sarajevo long ago. Their number, percentage wise, went down regularly as they emigrated to Zagreb and to Croatia, while people from rural areas did not come in such numbers as did Muslim Bosnians and Greek Orthodox Serbs. There were many reasons for this, but we Bosnians were always sorry when we saw other people leaving the city, in particular, Croats. When the suburbs of Sarajevo came under Bosnian government control, we tried to convince Serbs to stay. We need them. We need them to build together a new Bosnia with an old concept, the concept of a multi cultural, multi ethnic, multi religious community. They left. Some left because they committed crimes. Some because criminals ordered them to leave. Some because exodus gained a kind of spontaneity. It is not my intention to hide anything, and I cannot hide the fact that some Bosnians acted inappropriately toward Serbs. It was not policy, it was not an act of the masses, it was an act of individuals. I am sorry about it, we have to stop these things, we have to encourage people to live together. Sarajevo should not be a Muslim city, rather a city of Bosnian citizens, and we will encourage all Serbs and all Croats to stay. And we will encourage the Serbs and Croats who left to return. Obviously, we cannot offer an apartment to everyone because Sarajevo was under siege, and many apartment houses have been destroyed. Besides, the refugees from the area that fell under Pale control came to Sarajevo. We cannot expurgate either, but we have to accommodate a new situation. Definitely, everyone who has roots in Sarajevo has the right to claim Sarajevo as their city.
Is the Dayton peace agreement working?
We welcome the Dayton peace agreement. We love the city of Dayton. But above all, we like peace. And in Sarajevo we do have peace_no shooting, no killing, and we would like this condition to continue. Consequently, the implementation of the Dayton peace agreement is very important to us. When you are discussing the elections, you discuss the fact that we will elect and give life to the democratic institution of Bosnia_putting Croats, Serbs and Bosnians together. We would like these elections to be free, because we would like these institutions to live, not for one year, but for centuries. We want to develop through progress, maybe change in certain ways, as all things change as the result of progress. But everything should be based on human rights. If we have a Bosnia with human rights for everyone and, through this, security for everyone, the borders would be something much less important.
An interview with the Ambassador of Croatia follows.
Ambassador of Croatia
Ambassador, what is the current situation in Croatia?
The situation this year, in comparison to the last five or six years, is quite stable and predictable. We consider war to be behind us. While there is no longer war in Croatia, there are still problems in one part of the country, Eastern Slavonia, which is occupied, (by Serbs), but we believe that situation will be solved peacefully, and there are enough reasons to be optimistic. At the moment we are about in the middle of the process of demilitarization, the crucial part of the process of peaceful reintegration, so we are concentrating on several other things. First, how to fully implement the Dayton peace agreements in Bosnia Herzegovina, because without stability and without long lasting peace, it is difficult to imagine stability in our region. Two other areas are, first, our relationship with the Western world_the reentering of Croatia into the Western world_and our European and transatlantic integration. This is our major concern involving international relations. The second area of concentration is economic development, or the establishment of economic relations with the West, primarily the United States. Such relations already exist between Croatia and the majority of Western European countries.
Do you explain the delay in Croatia's acceptance into the European Community?
It is sometimes quite difficult for us to accept, but we can understand it from the perspective of the European Union, or European countries generally. First, it is no secret that there are those who never wanted Croatia, so Croatia is somehow like an unwanted child. They need time to accept the fact that we exist, and that we will exist in that territory as an independent state. Second, there are those in Europe who believe it would be much better to solve the problems of the whole region at one time. There is logic in that, but that logic is not acceptable to us because we do not want to be hostages to a situation where we know who's to blame. Third, there are still those who believe that Europe's future is better served if Croatia is not tied with the process of regional stabilization, but is in a long term position as part of Yugoslavia. And, of course, there are those who genuinely believe that there are some elements in the development of Croatian democracy that should be better solved than is the case now. I think that those four different approaches or combinations of approaches are why we sometimes receive negative reactions from Europe on the subject of reintegration, for example, from the Council of Europe.
What about the issue of freedom of the press in Croatia?
Yes, freedom of the press is generally an issue when we discuss new developments in Croatia. Looking from the West's perspective, obviously some elements are more visible than others. What I truly believe is that as we look at the global picture, we have to learn how to find the relationship between responsibility and freedom, which is actually the basic element of democracy. In Croatia we still do not have established rules pertaining to those issues. So on the one hand, we almost have anarchy more than freedom. It is possible to write whatever you want in Croatia, to invent something, even to write an article based on clear lies. On the other hand, sometimes the government reacts in a way which is not usual in a democratic state, and we must find a way to deal with that. I think it is a general process, not only for Croatia, but for any new democracy. Personally, I do not believe it will be a big problem, nor that it should be, because Croatia wants to be a democratic state in the full meaning of the term. It is not always easy, but I have no doubt that we will solve these issues. At present, there are maybe a dozen influential weekly journals published. At least 10 of them are completely independent and quite critical regarding the leading party, even the State. There are not as many independent daily newspapers, but this is simply because they do not make as much money. Speaking of the electronic media in Croatia, which has also been criticized, there is a possibility for more private channels, but finding investors is the problem. In meetings with people in the U.S., I try to attract investment in free, independent channels in Croatia. That would be the best proof of freedom of the press in Croatia. I can assure you that such a private initiative would more than likely be accepted.
What kinds of plans exist to continue the trade relations launched by former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown?
I am glad to confirm that the new mission, to be led by U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor in early July, has given us concrete elements to be worked on, but we have, more or less, the same elements we had with the first mission. The chance to enter into a new stage of economic relations between Croatia and the United States is very important. We also believe that if we are able to develop that new stage, it will be the best guarantee of long lasting stability in the region. In that regard, it is no secret that the situation in Croatia is quite different from that in Bosnia Herzegovina. The region has two parallel and connected parts, but with differences. The majority of the companies that came with the first trade mission already had ideas on how to work with Croatia, but very few with Bosnia Herzegovina. Now I think the situation is similar, but on our side we will support all kinds of projects which will help Bosnia Herzegovina recover from the war, especially projects which will strengthen the relations between Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia.
How would you describe the current state of relations between Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina?
Our relations are complex and very sensitive. From the beginning, our relations, and the criteria used to evaluate our relations, have been different from those of two completely independent states. First of all, we share parts of a common history; there are Croatians living in parts of Bosnia Herzegovina, and we have been exposed to the same war and same aggression. We fought together, and it is true that because of that situation, many problems developed. We were the first state to recognize independent Bosnia Herzegovina, although that fact is not well known. Now, and in the future, we will not only recognize, but support, the independence and sovereignty of Bosnia Herzegovina. But we also want to develop specific and special relations; we believe that is best for our futures. Once the problems are solved in Bosnia Herzegovina, we will have closer relations than with other countries in the region. That means we will be very economically interconnected. The geography of our two countries is such that it pushes us in the direction of closer ties. We also believe in our ability to maintain friendly and specific political relations in the future, and those kinds of relations, exactly as they were described in the Dayton agreement, can be based on long lasting stability, not conflict in that region. To arrive at that stage we certainly need American support.