Panel II: International Engagement and the Future for the Region
Ivana Howard: Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, thank you very much for staying with us for this second panel today. And to those of you who are just now joining us, welcome. I have the honor today to moderate a discussion with four distinguished panelists who are going to help us to better understand what are some of the problems that Bosnia continues to face today, 15 years after the genocide and after the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords.
We’re also going to discuss the nature of the international engagement today as well as what are some of the things that the international community can specifically do to secure a viable peace, to help to create a functional state, and to ensure a European future for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Lots of questions to answer. We’re going to try to keep it brief, both in questions and responses so that hopefully, the audience will again have an opportunity to ask some questions at the end. I will therefore take only a little bit of time to introduce our panelists today and you can find more information about their backgrounds in the materials. Let me begin then in the order in which they’re seated right now.
Kurt Bassuener is a political analyst who has been devoted to the Balkans for over a decade, and he has been continuously residing in Sarajevo for the last five years.
Following Kurt, we have Douglas Davidson, Ambassador Douglas Davidson who was the head of OSC mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina and is currently a Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues at the State Department.
Next we have Her Excellency Renée Jones-Bos, ambassador of the Netherlands to the United States, and previously, she was also Ambassador at Large for Human Rights.
And finally… Bruce George, a former member of the British Parliament and now the leader of the U.K. delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
I will begin with some of the questions of the current situation and let’s begin with the American perspective. And if you don’t mind, Ambassador Davidson, I will start with you. Sorry to put you on the spot. I think we’ve all been aware that over the last 10 years, the international attention, specifically American attention has shifted away from the Western Balkans and to some other areas, such as the Middle East following the events of the 9/11 and developments that followed, but also, due in part to relative stability of the region, of the Western Balkans.
However, the last year, we witnessed renewed attention to the region and this all began most prominently with the May visit of Vice President Biden to the region, which began in Sarajevo and his speech in which he famously proclaimed “We’re back.” The following month, we had a congressional delegation visiting Sarajevo where members of the U.S. Helsinki commission, probably the largest delegation, or one of the largest ones that has visited the region also paid a visit to Sarajevo. And all of this culminated in a very high level involvement of the current U.S. administration, more specifically the State Department at the end of the year where diplomats from both the EU and United States joined forces to try to reform the Bosnian constitution. Can you tell us in your opinion what warranted this renewed attention and where are we today, a year after Vice President Biden’s speech?
Douglas Davidson: Thanks Ivana, easy question, and then you tell me to be brief, which is very difficult for me. But I’ll do my best. The short answer is, we’re about where we were a year ago, I think, and I think Kurt, who actually lives there, can tell you more than I. I also slightly like to reject the notion that the U.S. stopped paying attention because at least I was there during this time when no one was paying attention and I figure I’m an American. So at least one of us -- and there were lots more people than I there. But it is true I think, from about the early 2000s on, where the American policy was driven by the notion that this was increasingly going to be Europe’s problem or priority or challenge or whatever you’d like to call it, and that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future properly belonged in Europe.
I think if you look at the underlying motive behind the Butmir initiative, process, call it what you will, it was exactly that. It was to say what we have in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the moment isn’t working. You’re not able to ready yourself for European Union accession. And while I think constitutional reform became a significant part of it and that’s probably one of its legacies if it has any, my memory is what we used to talk about is making reforms that would make the government one, more functional and ready, more ready for European Union accession. I can let my European Union colleagues to the left talk more about that. But I think that was the driving force. We were back in the sense that we were suddenly interceding in a more sort of high level dramatic fashion. I think the basic thrust of the policy had continued over time.
I know I’m running out of time, but I think part of this change too was driven by -- I hope Kurt this had nothing to do with me -- but about halfway through my tenure there, all the progress that was being made in Bosnia and Herzegovina ground to a halt and began to reverse itself. And I think after about three years of absolute stalemate from about 2006 onward, it began to dawn on people not just in Washington but other capitals -- Brussels and Stockholm in this case -- that maybe more drastic action was needed, or a little bit higher level intervention to sort of push Bosnia and Herzegovina back in the right direction, where it seemed to be going I think at what I guess I’d call a measured pace, but at a pace toward making the kind of reforms that almost everybody both in Bosnia and Herzegovina and abroad thinks are necessary for the country. I can go on for about 20 more minutes.
Ivana Howard: This will be just fine. Speaking of reform, there was one positive development this year and that was that Bosnia was offered a membership action plan, which is one of the steps needed for the NATO accession. And with us, we have Mr. George who just recently paid a visit as a member of delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. And I wanted to ask you if you can comment on what are Bosnia’s NATO membership prospects? What is your impression of the current situation and what are some of the obstacles that you see for Bosnia to meet the conditions set before it for the membership action plan and ultimately the NATO accession?
The Right Honorable Bruce George: Thank you. I’m not an expert. I’ve been 10 times, but I am oscillating between optimism and pessimism, and that pessimism is tempered by occasional bouts of real anger. I know that the international community was very slow in coming along when there was a crisis. I know enormous mistakes were made. Intervention always has so many problems and disadvantages and disasters. I know that the Serbs have been really difficult and Republika Srpska is enjoying its luxury of independence.
I know, I know, I know, but blame can be attached to the Bosnian politicians and leadership. When I was there a couple weeks ago, what the politicians were saying in public was not quite what they were saying in private. There is an irritation. There is a feeling that look, these people, they’ve got problems but they’re not listening. Here we are, the international community continuing to pour large sums of money, having soldiers that could be placed elsewhere. We have the OSCE involved. We have the United Nations involved. We have European Union involved, NATO, endless NGOs, what we say, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. Everyone is there but are they listening?
I suspect they are not listening. I wouldn’t have the time and you wouldn’t have the patience for me to give you a checklist of what I think the progress has been, certainly in military affairs where they were having their feet close to the fire in order to reform and meet some of the NATO commitments. But I could give you a longer list where nothing is happening or where there has been a reticence to do much to help their own cause. So I would say briefly and buy you a drink afterwards -- not that I think alcohol should be consumed in this place; I’m sure it’s not -- but I will go into stronger and being Welsh-- although you have a Welsh name. I must ask you afterwards what the Welsh connection is. The Welsh get very emotional and I think the Bosnians, regardless of what the Serbs are doing, which is obstreperous, ought to be doing more. We kept getting the elections. Things will change after elections. I doubt if it will. But if the country wishes to get into NATO, they must do a damn sight more than they have done. Please remember getting into NATO isn’t only meeting the military requirements, but meeting a host of many other non-military requirements which, at this point, they haven’t done. And lastly, getting into NATO will be relatively easier than getting into the European Union because there, few of the requirements have been met. So I know we can feel some guilt about what we didn’t do, but there are some obligations on behalf of the Bosnians and so far have not been met.
Ivana Howard: Well, as the previous two speakers have pointed out, there has been a substantial level of international engagement, even though it has decreased but it continues to remain in Bosnia. And also, they’ve pointed out too some of the problems. I wanted to ask a question of you, Mr. Bassuener, about your assessment on some of the problems that are facing Bosnia, specifically, the international community seems to be ready to leave Bosnia and it is often we can hear words such as closing the OHR. And I wanted to get your sense considering that you’ve been living in Sarajevo now for five years, on whether peace in Bosnia self-sustainable. In other words, can we safely assume that when the international community pulls out, both the OHR as the interpreter of the civilian part of the Dayton Peace Accords and the EUFOR, can we safely assume that Bosnia is not going to slide backwards or, yet worse, plunge into violence?
Kurt Bassuener: Thank you, Ivana. To be brief, no, we can’t be sure of that and I think that that’s part of the problem. The international community, to the extent it’s still engaged, has forgotten why it’s there. Part of that is just it’s been 15 years and people go into a managerial mode rather than remembering what the dysfunctions were that brought them there in the first place. But there’s also a misapprehension of how the country works.
I mean, listening to Mr. George, I don’t disagree with anything you said but who are the people who are expected to deliver? You’ve got an inherently dysfunctional political system. We pretend it’s a democracy. It’s not a democracy. It’s an electoral oligarchy with three separate stovepipe political universes that don’t have to deliver to citizens. They only operate through patronage and fear.
Now, the difference between 2006 elections and the 2010 elections coming in October is that there may be less money to throw around for patronage, but fear is a lot more salient mostly because of the retrenchment of the international community. I would say that the effort at Butmir, referring back to what Ambassador Davidson said, was mainly aimed at being able to say we’re done. We can move out of an executive role both on the civilian side of peace implementation, of having international high representative, but also on the military side.
There’s a Chapter VII military operation that started as a NATO operation that’s now run by the EU since the end of 2004. It’s down to 2,000 men. All of the operational forces are based in Sarajevo. And do you know how many troops they can move in one lift, with the helicopters they have? Thirty-four at a pop. That’s less than a platoon. So you’ve got a situation where deterrence -- the word that I think we need to keep in mind if we want to prevent things from spinning out of control again; not into war. War carries with it a connotation of 1992. I don’t think we can go back there. But organized violence you can definitely have in Bosnia Herzegovina, and I think it’s a lot closer to the surface than people console themselves into believing. There have been incidents recently that have happened that have shown how close this is in Zvornik most recently. But there are a number of others.
I was talking to Emir on the way here. Things that go unreported because EUFOR isn’t patrolling anymore because that would be provocative. So large convoys of people shooting in the air past returnee communities, nothing happens. It’s not in the media. It’s not in the international reports that go to governments. It’s just invisible. So to answer your question, this is not a time to be sanguine. The analogy I would draw is, say you live in a floodplain. You’re below sea level. This should ring true for the ambassador from the Netherlands. But you haven’t put your house up on stilts. You haven’t built dikes. But you have been paying your flood insurance but you decided “Well, we haven’t had a flood in 15 years. Maybe we’ll stop paying that.” That’s about where we are in terms of international community’s policy, and it’s about that stupid.
Ivana Howard: Well, before I move on to Ambassador Jones-Bos, let me just follow up then really quickly because you have now, I think, answered the previous question. What do you think the ability of those institutions that are currently in place, such as the OHR and EUFOR, is to address some of these issues that you mentioned? You obviously point out that some things are happening that should be addressed and are not. Do they have the ability to adequately address? If not, why not? What hinders that ability? Can you give us a little bit of your view on this?
Kurt Bassuener: What hinders the ability, frankly, is simply the unwillingness to deal with Bosnian politics as they are, to recognize that there is a structural reason why Bosnian politicians don’t deliver. It’s because they don’t have to. Once upon a time, they answered, in some ways...the work around to it not being a functioning democracy is at least they had to worry about what the international community would do to them.
Now they know that the rules that had pertained to Bosnia from Dayton onward had been allowed to lapse because we don’t want to enforce them. They still exist. Legally they’re still there but the will to actually make them work is not there. And so it’s playtime for lack of a better term and there are a number of people who’ve taken advantage of it. RS Premier Milorad Dodik has been the prime beneficiary because he’s positioned in the strongest position in that government constitutionally. The Republika Srpska can stop whatever it wants from operating at the state level and does, and has been since 2006.
But not only that, the reforms that have been achieved, the state building that has been achieved, is unraveling so we’re not just stagnating. We’re actually going backwards at an accelerating pace. I mean, you have to first of all stop that dynamic from continuing and then look at trying to solve that dynamic, and that’s not going to be through minor tinkering with clause X or phrase Y in the constitution. It’s going back to first principles on how do you have a state that each self-defined group of citizens believes works for them, can work for them.
I’m not saying that’s an easy engineering task. I think it’s possible but that’s the way we need to look at it. But when it’s approached through the sort of partnership mentality that goes with EU accession, there are certain assumptions. You assume that you’re working with a representative democratic political interlocutor on the other end of it. You also assume that these politicians want to do the heavy lifting that you’re asking them to do to join your club. That doesn’t apply in Bosnia. It’s just not there. And assuming that you could plug and play the enlargement philosophy strategy in Bosnia, that’s the reason it’s not working. It’s not Poland. It’s not even Slovenia, which was at least in Yugoslavia. It’s its own animal and it needs to be dealt with on its own terms if you want to solve it.
Ivana Howard: Okay. So we’ll definitely discuss some of these issues when we talk about the outlook for Bosnia. And you mentioned one word, consistency, and consistency also applies to another issue that was brought up in a previous panel and that is conditionality. So let me ask the following question and at the risk of spurring another heated discussion.
Ambassador Jones-Bos, it really appears that the legacy of the Srebrenica genocide has decisively shaped a Dutch policy towards the Western Balkans over the last 15 years. And the Dutch government remained, up until recently, the only EU government that strictly adhered to the condition set for Serbia’s further EU accession, and that is the ratification of the Stabilisation Association Agreement, pending basically full cooperation with the ICTY. As we have heard several times today, two of the war criminals remain at large. One of them, Ratko Mladić, is a mastermind and a chief executor of the Srebrenica genocide. Yet the Dutch government has decided to join the other EU governments now in allowing Serbia to come closer to the EU.
Could you please elaborate a bit on this decision by the Dutch government, especially considering that I believe Ambassador Rapp has mentioned in his speech that the report that was given by Serge Brammertz -- correct me if I’m wrong -- was interpreted by some governments in the EU as an A grade, but he did not intend it as an A grade. And the question that I even have to take it even further, how would the Dutch government specifically address the victims who feel, yet again, wronged by this possible decision?
Her Excellency Renée Jones-Bos: Thank you very much, Ivana. First of all, also thank you very much to the Holocaust Memorial Museum and to the Endowment for Democracy for organizing this because I think as some of the speakers in the first panel said, it is very important to remember and to commemorate, and we shouldn’t forget what happened 15 years ago. And you are right. It is very much ingrained in the Dutch memory and the national psyche almost, and that is why we do feel very committed to what is happening in the Western Balkans and why it is still very much in the life and political issue in the Netherlands. So thank you for doing this really, really important… and very glad that you allowed us to be part of this.
As to your question, the Dutch government has indeed been very strict in applying the conditionality for the agreement for Serbia. But that was always based on the insight of the prosecutor, right. We have always said that we will follow the advice of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and that is why as long as the prosecutor said there is not cooperation with the tribunal, we said “Well, there is not a moment then to agree to send the SAA for ratification to the different parliaments.” The prosecutor did not give a full A. I think we would agree with that, but he did say there was a definite improvement and an increase in cooperation. And based on that incremental cooperation and his more positive reports, the Dutch government decided after two such more positive reports that we would also make an incremental step.
Now, the SAA is the first step. It will still have to be sent to all the parliaments as you know for ratification. I’m sure there will be an intense debate in the Dutch Parliament for one in autumn when we will discuss the ratification of the SAA, as there maybe will be in other parliaments. So it is not that we’ve given away or given up or agreed with everything. No. This is a process. Step-by-step, we will keep on keeping up the pressure.
We did base our judgment on the report of the prosecutor. We will keep on doing that and we will see what he comes out with in autumn. We never said that Mladić has to be in the Netherlands, in The Hague. We also said we will base our judgment on the judgment of the prosecutor. We would very much like Mr. Mladić to be in The Hague. That is our effort and that is what we’re working towards. So it’s a step-by-step approach and we do base our judgment on the judgment of the prosecutor. It has certainly led to a lot of debate in the Netherlands but it has done that for a long time. And you also know that a lot of our European Union countries were not partners.
We’re not particularly happy with the fact that we did stick to this conditionality for such a long time, but we do think it’s very important. Human rights is an important part of the foreign policy of the Netherlands and the fight against impunity is basic. I think if you ever want to achieve a real new society, if you want to get progress, if you want to go for a healthy democracy and the rule of law, the fight against impunity is an extremely important part of that.
Ivana Howard: Thank you very much for that candid answer. If you don’t mind, I’ll go right back to you because you mentioned one of the words, committed, commitment. And one can often hear, especially here in Washington, that by virtue of being in Europe, Bosnia is a European problem and that we should leave it to the EU to resolve some of the issues there, at least to take a lead in resolving some of the issues. However, as was mentioned I think even before, the prospect of EU membership, not only seems too distant to offer immediate results, but also insufficient to address some of the complex problems that are facing Bosnia today, some of which were mentioned. What are some of the concrete steps that the EU or its individual members such as the Netherlands can make to basically contribute to creating and maintaining stability and promoting reform in the Balkans in general, but particularly in Bosnia?
Her Excellency Renée Jones-Bos: Well, I think that on the second of June, there was a meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Sarajevo where they firmly recommitted the European perspective for the Western Balkans. And so I think that is very important, that commitment is there and that remains there. That certainly goes also for the Netherlands.
But let me also sketch a little bit broader context from the side of the European countries. I think it’s also important to mention that here. I myself was posted in Prague in the late-‘90s and I saw what a major effort it was for the Czechs to go through this whole process of the avis and moving towards the European Union. But I also saw what sweeping changes they had in their society, in their government, in their civil society and the rule of law. It’s a major, major task but I think it is very, very beneficial for those communities; and the same process we are now engaged in now with the Western Balkan countries. But it requires a lot of effort, right. It’s not something that will go automatically. It requires political will. Some of the speakers before me were referring to that.
But it also requires on the European side trust that things are really changing, because it’s quite a commitment that you make by countries joining the European Union. And so let me sketch what is going on in Europe right now. We’ve had a big financial/economic crisis. We’ve had in many European Union countries political concerns about the changes in the world, globalization, what is going to happen with the financial, the monetary situation, the euro. We’ve had this big enlargement of the Union, 10 countries in one go in 2004. And a lot of people in the EU countries themselves are thinking “Well, what is happening?”
I mean, the context there is also one to take into consideration, so politicians certainly in the Netherlands say that if you do want to join this Union, you have to take the steps that are required to take because it means a lot to the country that joins, but it also means a lot to the countries that are already member of the European Union. You acknowledge each other’s verdicts. You have a European court that can instruct one country to do something if it hasn’t acted right to another country. So it is such a huge process so you have to go step by step. Well, we think we are going step by step in the Western Balkans.
You see that some countries have already an SAA. We worked with visa liberalization, investment. We in the Netherlands are helping the countries through EU programs but also through bilateral programs. In the rule of law, for example, how to deal with border issues, supporting NGOs like I think it’s called “Vaša prava” in Bosnia. So we do what we can in terms of practical help, supporting projects, supporting organizations, training judges, training prosecutors, building up the rule of law. But the countries themselves have also got to take important steps and the support for EU enlargement in the EU countries is less than it was certainly when I was in the Czech Republic in the ‘90s. People are more critical and are also looking at well, what does it mean for us and what does it mean for the countries. So the conditions and the conditionality are very important elements and I think the countries in the region do have to be aware of this as well.
Ivana Howard: Thank you. Let’s stay in the EU, Mr. George, if you don’t mind. Let me ask you, when we talk about the United Kingdom, what can the United Kingdom specifically do to help Bosnia along on its path, of course, taking into consideration what the Ambassador has said, that the countries themselves have the responsibility for this. And I would like you to, if you can, just maybe reflect on some of the very strong statements that under the new government, the new Foreign Secretary Hague has made using words such as “more muscle is needed to be applied” to resolve some of these problems in Bosnia. Can you tell us what your opinion is and how do you see the future UK engagement in the Western Balkans, if at all?
The Right Honourable Bruce George: Well, I’m not the most eloquent or committed supporter of the European Union. I regard myself as Euro-acquiescent. I’m even less of a supporter of the current British government. So they would be in dire straits if they expected me to offer any words of comfort to their inane decisions. But now I can add, in addition to those people I dislike, i.e., the Conservative Party, I must now throw in the Liberal Democratic Party, who I probably dislike even more. However, the British record on the Balkans I think has been pretty good, pretty good.
In the early days when your people were getting killed, politicians like myself -- and I was on the Defense Committee -- argued strenuously the British should do more and that the United States should take an interest. Neither were particularly interested for some time whilst the killing went on. When finally the British government succumbed to pressure to send troops, they sent a battalion. The rules of engagement were so restrictive that every night you saw the colonel in charge, a very good friend of mine, in front of a television camera almost crying with the pain that he saw and the inability that he could do or was allowed to do about anything. It was a show presence.
Thankfully, the international community took Bosnia and Kosovo more seriously and it was an involvement that had substantial British support. I think we are amongst the major contributors behind the United States. We have an embassy which I met three weeks ago, who are very committed. They were very helpful. I stayed on a day because I wanted to go talking to the lateral commission and NGOs. And there is so much that in fairness, it’s being done with the help of countries like ours.
If you listen to the Ambassador’s more discreet words than I am able to use, she was I’m not saying threatening, but warning, warning that patience was running out. I had military people from NATO countries saying they’re not even certain the country wants to join NATO because it would cramp their style. In other words, there would be less scope to purloin money that is passed on to the country by Western countries, less scope for fraud. And we have been quite tough. I have been. Well, we have been quite tough and those of you who are Bosnian should take back to your government, if they are prepared to listen and politicians who are prepared to act, because as has been said, they’re doing quite nicely. Thank you very much.
I think it was the Danes or the Dutch built them a nice new parliament. They should behave like politicians, try to act responsibly, take difficult decisions which is the essence of politics, especially now in a crisis, taking difficult decisions and telling your electorate that you’ve got to suffer pain is not easy. The parliamentarians there have got to recognize they are in a privileged position having been elected, some of them very honestly. But now they must act decisively and take tough decisions. Don’t always use the Serbs as the excuse for not taking action. So I do have -- you may not think so -- it’s what we call tough love and they have a strong empathy for the country. But they deserve better politicians. In fact, everybody says that.
I retired from politics. I was one of the very few that was chased out of politics. I was there for 36 years, had enough, and I’m now doing what I want to do, which is exactly the same as before, in Parliament without having to stay up late and vote. So I’m very happy. I’ve been a lot of times to the country. I genuinely sympathize. I want to see them do better but there is far more that they should be doing for themselves and not relying on the international community whose patience, whatever they say publicly, is getting very, very thin.
And before they take decisions that might be seen as quite dangerous, before they say “We’re not going to condone this anymore,” you’ve got to deal with corruption more successfully. You’ve got to start taking decisions because if you can’t, then why should we stay? Why should we stay? In a moment of madness, I thought I had a great solution, a great solution. It’ll be great for the building industry. That is, build a bloody big wall around the country and let them get on with it. But I quickly realized that is not feasible because in the crisis in which they would be, we’d have to knock the wall down and push a tank through to save the country again. I’m getting, as you can tell, frustrated. There are people more professional than I am who are exhibiting privately even greater frustration, and I think Bosnians should take heed of this growing indifference that could lead to further anger and would be potentially very, very damaging. I said afterwards I’ll give you what I think, which is far strong left.
Ivana Howard: Thank you so much for such an honest answer and for your continued commitment to the region. We have another panelist here who encouraged his politicians to do a bit more in the Balkans. Ambassador Davidson, prior to taking your current position as a special envoy, in a policy brief you wrote-- you said something like one of the recommendations you had to the U.S. policymaker was to remain engaged in the country for foreseeable future, to be prepared to stay committed for the time to come. You also expressed some grave concerns about Bosnia’s ability to continue to function and to progress on its path to Euro-Atlantic integrations under the current constitutional arrangements. Could you tell me, first of all from this vantage point now, how do you see the nature of both short term but also long term engagement of the international community, in particular that of the United States, and specifically on the aspect of the constitutional reforms?
Douglas Davidson: Thanks and I’m going to speak very closely to the microphone. Can you all hear me better now? Good. First I have to just mention to the Right Honorable Mr. George that it seemed to me the post-war high point of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s life was when they had a former Liberal Democratic politician as the High Rep with a Conservative Party member as its chief of staff. I think he was last seen working for your Prime Minister. But anyway, there was a great mixture of politicians from the United Kingdom but it worked, I think, quite well by comparative purpose.
Now, I hate it when my words come back to haunt me but I think I did write something like that a year or two ago. So I guess I can’t really disavow it. But I do actually believe it but I think our engagement has to change. It’s changing by force of circumstances, in any case, as the size of the international community diminishes. I think we have to stay there because we’ve set some guidelines and parameters that the Bosnians and Herzegovinians have to meet and until they meet them, I don’t think it would be a wise idea to pull away.
I’m referring in the first place to the conditions for the closure of the Office of the High Representative, which were set, what, three years ago and they seem to me fairly simple, easy things to meet. But I was wrong. They haven’t been that, particularly in the defense area on state and defense property. I think that’s about it, maybe one or two others. They key condition was actually having a functional state but that’s a whole other discussion. I used to go as an observer to a wonderful body called the Peace Implementation Council, and I always thought it was odd because before I got to Bosnia and Herzegovina, I thought peace was kind of a state. You were either at war or at peace.
But what you’re doing in Bosnia is implementing a peace agreement which is what the Dayton Agreement was, and it hasn’t been implemented yet, which is another reason to stick around until it’s actually completed. But in these sessions, they used to line up the members of the steering board of this body, which were, I think, Netherlands and United Kingdom, Russia, Turkey, United States, a few others, and would meet with local politicians. And one of the local politicians got very upset about the European Union’s behavior and accused them of making mistakes. And at that point, I still remember the European Commission’s then Director General for the Balkans said “Well, the European Union doesn’t make mistakes. It makes experiences.” I think one of the experiences it made was to realize that if you kind of loosen the rules for membership, you have a few problems with some of your new members.
And I think the Balkans, for better or for worse, are suffering from the European Union having raised the bar slightly on them and insisting they meet all these conditions we were talking about. I’m actually not sure that’s a bad thing because if-- I used to advocate that Bosnia and Herzegovina be sort of cut a little slack and now I’m not so sure because if they’re allowed the impression that sometimes we give them that “We want you, we the EU or anybody more than you want this, and we’ll break all the rules to get you in,” it allows the kind of irresponsible political behavior we were just discussing.
I think we had enough processes and we’ve had Prud and Butmir and God knows what else -- and I’m going to get to your question on constitutional reform. When I wrote this paper, I argued that it probably has to be done in stages, and to go back to the original question, there are certain things that I think the most wonderful body in Europe, the Venice Commission -- if only because it meets in Venice -- it’s the European Commission on Democracy through Law. It’s told Bosnia and Herzegovina certain things that it has to do if it wants to change its constitution to confirm to European conventions and legal standards.
Secondly, there was recently a court case which involved a man we know well named Jakob Finci, who used to be the leader of the Jewish community in Sarajevo. The European Court of Human Rights I think has given them until 2011 to change the constitution so that you don’t have to be a Bosniak, a Croat or a Serb to be elected president because this is clearly a discriminatory thing. A lot of the Butmir package was simply trying to incorporate these kinds of things into the Dayton constitution. It was a constitutional convention. I don’t think you want a constitutional convention there because God knows where that could lead. But to make these kind of changes that simply conform the country to what it needs to do to be a-- It’s already a member of the Council of Europe though it’s constantly under monitoring so it doesn’t measure up to any of the things the Council of Europe-- It told the Council of Europe it would do before it entered. I used to love to say the phrase “post-accession commitments to the Council of Europe,” another sort of gobbledygook phrase. It means you promised to do this stuff, now it’s about time you did it.
But if it’s simply lived up to all these things-- and another thing the Venice Commission argued for, which is to limit sort of the blocking mechanisms in the parliament, this is also what impedes any kind of progress because there are too many ways-- there’s various ways to block things and so the Butmir package originally would’ve almost eliminated the House of Peoples, which is the upper house and simply exists to stop things. And it would’ve at least limited this ability to do so because right now, I mean, you can claim this goes-- you have an ethic block in parliament to vote against something and then you have something called a vital national interest, which is an interesting Yugoslav concept that also manages to block things.
I think we have to stay there until we can help them, if they can ever get there, get over these kinds of things and reform the state so it is, to use a phrase we like to use, it’s more functional and therefore ready for European accession. I’ve talked too long but I want to make one more point.
I think in all of our attention on high politics, we sometimes ignore elements that are important as well, which have to do with civil society with educating-- it sounds like we’re educating the populace but I think one of the big problems that’s occurring now is that people are separating themselves. They go to ethnically pure schools. They watch different television channels. They read different newspapers. And because of the way returns has not happened or has happened and then reversed, the country, I think it’s fair to say, is also in effect dividing itself to an alarming stint into sort of ethnically pure geographical areas.
And so there has to be an effort to do something. I mean, politicians, however imperfect the democracy is, they get voted into office and as Kurt said, it’s an oligarchy. As someone else said, political parties are mostly organized patronage networks there. But unless you can break the grip of the system, the politicians protect the system and the system protects the politicians. So it’s more than just removing the politicians. It’s breaking the political system and that I don’t think is going to happen until people come to see that if they don’t do something different, they’re going to be sort of stuck in the mire they’re stuck in right now for a very long time to come.
So I don’t think we need to be engaged in the same way with processes and all of these things, but we do need to keep OHR there until somebody measures up to the conditions for closure. And I think we do need to keep the EU with U.S. support engaged so that-- the one thing they can all agree on is we’d like to be members of the European Union, or almost everybody, and we can help them make that happen. But we probably shouldn’t lower the bar too far to enable it to do so.
Ivana Howard: Thank you. So we talked a little bit about this longer term engagement, or even medium term engagement. Let’s talk about short term engagement, specifically very short. And I’m going to ask Mr. Bassuener to answer this question. As some of us know, or most of you know, elections are scheduled, both parliamentary and presidential elections for October 2010, so in two and a half months. And many times today, just in this conversation, it was mentioned that people deserve better politicians, that they should take issues to the government, that the countries themselves or the people themselves are responsible for their future.
But the question is, in Bosnia, is it quite so? Because what happened is that in election rhetoric in Bosnia four years ago, ahead of the October 2006 elections, the election rhetoric was basically heavily dominated by nationalist issues and many analysts would argue that this forced the voters to make their choices in the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty, rather than basing them on specific issues and demonstrated performance of the elected officials. I would ask Kurt maybe to tell us do you think there is anything that the PIC members, which is mentioned can specifically do to contribute to creating a more positive political climate and in removing this atmosphere of fear ahead of the general elections in the next two and a half months.
Kurt Bassuener: Yeah, absolutely, and I think this is the place to start. It’s setting the stage to sort of reshuffle the deck and draw a better hand in 2011 to deal with the fundamental issues of constitutional reform and functionality and having a state that works for its citizens for a change. First, it’s removing the existential security fear that’s been allowed to reanimate itself because we’ve stepped back. One element would be to put one of the mobile companies of EUFOR, station it in your hometown, Brčko, permanently because that is a critical lynchpin of Republika Srpska without which they can’t even dream of being independent. Just take that off the table. Make clear that EUFOR is not going to be withdrawn. Their Chapter VII mandate comes up for review at the Security Council in November. Most people think that it’ll be extended even though the operational size of EUFOR will be drawn down. I think that’s a mistake.
We’re already at the lowest operational level that was projected to be able to do anything, to react to any emergencies. But if the international community were clear saying “Look, these instruments, the Executive High Representative and Executive EUFOR are going to remain and be used as needed to protect the sanctity of the peace agreement until you agree to change the rules,” that would set the stage for people at least voting in whatever they consider to be their rational self interest. I mean, the public dissatisfaction with politicians in general is massive. I mean, you can’t shock Bosnians with corruption because they assume that’s why people get into politics in the first place. And for the most part, they’re right. It’s a for-profit enterprise and people have that assessment. So you could certainly upset them but it doesn’t shock them. They assume that’s why anybody’s into it.
And then clarify the nature of how the change in constitutional order will need to happen. It can’t be imposed from without, and nor should it. Saying to each self-defying group that “Look, Serbs, we know that you’re concerned with something being imposed from without. It won’t happen. Things need to change but you need to buy into the deal.” You’re not giving anything away by saying that. That’s the reality anyway but the perception is that there’s going to be stitch up behind them that’s going to leave them in a disadvantageous position. That needs to be taken off the table. And this is a matter of pure political will -- it should’ve happened at the last PIC. It didn’t happen. Unfortunately, the next meeting of the Peace Implementation Council is after the elections, so it makes it harder.
But if the lid were put on and people were reassured, then in the immediate term before the elections, the EU and the commission in particular, I think, could have a very salutary role, but they’d have to approach their public information campaign on the EU, which is already ongoing to the citizens, in a completely different way. They should dissect it and say “This is the money your politicians have left on the table because they don’t want to do what’s good for you. They want to do what’s good for them.”
I’ll give you an example on agriculture. When you sign a Stabilization Association Agreement with the EU, it’s a free trade agreement. Well, but Bosnia can’t exercise a free trade agreement in terms of agricultural products with the EU because of the problem on the Bosnian side. There’s no agriculture ministry and there’s no Food Standard Safety Bureau. Who does this hurt the most? It hurts Bosnian-Serb farmers because they have the best agricultural land on average and the closest to EU markets. It’s the Republika Srpska that doesn’t want an agriculture ministry because new state competences are evil as far as they’re concerned. Spell it out and say “This is your average sized farm. This is your average basket of produce. This is how much money on average you, farmer, lose per year.”
Do it sector by sector, issue by issue. Nobody in the whole Bosnian political firmament would come away unscathed because they’re all at it. And then voters would go to the polls with a clearer picture of how they’re being screwed. The reason this isn’t happening is, of course, we have to partner with these guys after the elections. There’s an assumption “Okay, well, we’ve got to work with them. They’re the elected leadership even though it’s a stacked deck the way the elections go forward in the electoral system that we co-produced at Dayton.” So it could happen. Do I see those decisions being made? No, but there is something clear that could be done within the next two and a half months if there were the political will to do it.
Ivana Howard: Well, speaking of wishes, it’s your birthday today. Could you give us your birthday wish for Bosnia and Herzegovina?
Kurt Bassuener: Oh, God. Well, yeah. I think my birthday wish -- I didn’t know this was coming, by the way -- I think that the lineup in the international-- we’re actually a lot closer to changing the international dynamic. It’s not that difficult I don’t think. We saw this with the international judges’ and prosecutors’ decision in December. Had the American position been different, the international alignment would’ve been different. They were trying to save Butmir, which was already dead but they deluded themselves and they were afraid of what Dodik would do if they extended the international judges and prosecutors in the organized crime chamber of the state court. Had the American position been different, we would’ve had the-- Britain was onside. Canada and Turkey and Japan would’ve been onside. Netherlands was onside. Germany would’ve taken a little bit of work. Italy and France would’ve grumbled, would’ve gone along and then you would’ve just had a Russian footnote because it’s not a consensus decision. And that would’ve been that.
The critical pieces that are not in alignment are the United States and Germany. Turkey is already engaging solo very, very hard in the region, as a result in large measure of the Butmir failure. And Britain was never a fundamental part of the problem recently -- since Labor took over and they did the flip and started arresting people. But now they’ve become even more vocal. So the way to do that, I still think there needs to be an American special envoy for the Balkans, not so much in a representative function to the regional governments, but basically as a sheepdog to corral the coalition of international actors within the European Union; and Germany is the key player that needs to be brought onside. And then you have a different constellation of actors to work with and then we could move forward. So that’s what I’d wish for, is an American special envoy.
Ivana Howard: Thank you. Thank you very much. I doubt my other panelists have birthdays today but I would still ask them if they would like to make a wish for Bosnia, a better future for Bosnia. What is it? What would it be? And then we will open the panel for questions.
Her Excellency Renée Jones-Bos: I would like Ratko Mladić to be in The Hague. That would be my first wish. And my second wish would be that this election campaign and the elections will make a difference and make a step forward because in the end, it’s about a political process. People need to get engaged and get involved. You can do a lot of support from the outside but the real change has to come from the inside, and we will continue to help people in Bosnia to do that.
Ivana Howard: Thank you. Gentlemen?
The Right Honourable Bruce George: I hope there emerges in the next few months a Bosnian Mandela who-- I was watching this wonderful film -- was it “Invictus?” -- where that guy had the most reason in the world to be mad as hell in relation to the Afrikaners. And he broke that tradition that one might’ve expected and tried to get and succeeded in getting a degree of reconciliation. Perhaps people here should read what happened to Germany after the Second World War, a pariah national totally defeated, totally defeated 15 years later in NATO. The time comes and it’s easy for me. I still, as a Welshman, haven’t forgiven the English for what they did to us in 1258. The Scots and the Irish have even longer memories than my nation, even longer memories. So it’s not for me to tell people to forget the catastrophe that was inflicted upon them. But if they bear a grudge indefinitely, they will stay down at the bottom indefinitely.
I just hope and if it’s a prayer -- maybe prayer is the only answer and I don’t believe in it -- if only politicians emerge who are prepared to say “For God’s sake, don’t forget what happened, we can’t.” But we have to move on and it’s only if we move on that we are going to get a prosperous part of this region. Other countries have gone through catastrophe and have come out at the other side. If the grudges are bad for a century or two centuries, then this country -- so I’m saying this country; I presume a number of people are from the Balkans -- will suffer indefinitely. And so my wish would be politicians of substance who have the courage to make very, very, very difficult decisions, if it may cost them their careers, but their careers are a very small price to pay for more peace and prosperity in a region that hasn’t see much of it for a long, long time, if ever.
Ivana Howard: And Mr. Davidson?
Douglas Davidson: May I be facetious for just a moment before I get serious, because Mr. George reminds me that ethnic differences are not unique to Bosnia and Herzegovina. And it occurs to me maybe what you need is a monarch in Bosnia, like the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, or Belgium for that matter. Or maybe the return of the Hapsburg Empire. I’m not sure. Short of that though, I think what I would wish for is that-- I think one of the great problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina is that population is disaffected or apathetic or cynical. Call it what you will. As Kurt here said, they don’t trust any of their politicians. They think they’re all corrupt, probably with some good reason. But it would be nice if they could for once replace that sort of apathy and disaffection with anger and maybe turn out to the polls and vote for somebody different. My wish would be that would be what would happen in the October elections. Or maybe they can get a monarch.
Ivana Howard: May all your wishes come true, and let’s see if our audience has any questions for you now. Go ahead. You just have to wait a few seconds until the microphone comes down. And yes, of course, I of course know who you are but if you could please introduce yourself for the rest of the audience.
Question: I’m Mike Haltzel, Johns Hopkins and McClarty Associates. A terrific panel. Thank you all very much. I’d like to follow up on Kurt’s I think excellent suggestion that one way to begin to help Bosnians help themselves is to take certain things off the table. Let me throw out a suggestion and get the panel’s reaction to it. That would be a joint declaration of the United States and the European Union and any other countries that wish to associate themselves with it, that would essentially say on what’s now the territory of the Republika Srpska in 1992, there was a Bosniak Muslim plurality of about 46%, 42% Serb, the rest Croat and others. The only reason that a referendum on succession today would almost certainly yield a positive result is because 100,000 people were killed and a million and a half were driven away. And the resolution would essentially say you can’t kill 100,000 people, drive a million and a half out and then say, “now it’s time to vote.” I think a resolution like this would combine ethics and politics. It’d be fine with me if you would wait until October 4 so as not to give advantage to the ultranationalist demagogues in the campaign. But I would urge a resolution like this to come while there’s still an International High Representative and we at least formally have some influence. So perhaps this is naïve. I don’t think it is naïve. I think we should’ve done it a long time ago but I’d appreciate your reaction.
Kurt Bassuener: To start the answer then, I mean, I think that would be fine. I agree with you. That’s long overdue and there’s been this sort of contortionism that the international community has gone through, where they’re confronted with the question of how did the RS exist and previous High Representative, Lajčák “Oh, well, it was part of Dayton.” Well, yeah, but how did it get there? I think that that would be positive. I agree that that is something that the international community doesn’t want to deal with. They’ve forgotten why they’re there.
Ivana Howard: Next question? Sir, go ahead.
Question: Thank you. Thank you very much for the interesting panel. I teach Philosophy in New Haven, so I think I’m going to ask what’s maybe two moral questions that may have political implications. But I’m following up on this previous comment. It seems to me that Sara Bloomfield started us off by saying that we’re dealing with situations where distorted historical narratives became ideology in the case of Republika Srpska. As well known, it became a genocidal ideology and its current existence, political recognition, I think can only be seen as a reward for a successful genocide. And this has to be a problematic legacy of Dayton. There was this constituent of instability or toxic contamination at the founding moment, which was Dayton, and that has to be addressed.
Again, the practical political solution to this is something I would leave to you, but if it was my birthday, I would wish that we would convene a second Dayton at which we would allow Dayton to reach its full potential in a unified Bosnia or reunified Bosnia. Because it seems to me that given this reward for a successful genocide, it doesn’t matter how many war criminals we convict if their legacy, that successful genocide, remains.
And hence, it’s really no surprise, which is the second moral question, is that the prime minister of Republika Srpska is the one who regularly denies genocide, as he did again officially on Monday at the commemoration at Bratunac. And I’m asking you in the Holocaust Museum, how a genocide denial can be allowed in this day and age?
Let me add that last year, I stayed in a village on the Drina River that had been destroyed. Of 300 homes, two remain and I was there as part of an effort to symbolically re-inhabit this place where the mosque was destroyed and the homes were destroyed, and had been overgrown by the forest. If you haven’t understood the meaning of genocide or ethnic cleansing, I recommend that you try to go to the village of Klotjevac. On the way back to Srebrenica, we drove through Bratunac. It was late afternoon and we drove through this commemoration, at which this year, Prime Minister Dodik denied the genocide. And what I saw with my own eyes was that this was not just a commemoration of some unfortunate victims at Bratunac. This was a celebration of the genocide.
So I’m asking how in this day and age we allow this prime minister to a) deny genocide, and b)we allow this event that takes place every year where the genocide is celebrated with people wearing Chetnik insignia and nationalist banners, with banners celebrating the war criminals who are currently on trial or who have been convicted. So these are naïve moral questions that I’m raising from my discipline and I’m hoping that they have some political implications.
Ivana Howard: Thank you. Thank you. I think Emir also mentioned when he was addressing his panel, he said that it is your job. And I think many of you at this table can recognize yourself who he was really calling out to, to raise the price of denial. And I think this is what your question also alludes to. Can you think of any ways to raise the price of denial, like the gentleman said, prevent genocide denial from happening?
The Right Honourable Bruce George: I think both the proposals are on the outer limits of reality and would inflame the situation even further. I just wish life and politics was just. I would love a situation where the evil get what they deserve. But we’re trying to think of a way of moving forward and I’m afraid morality is not too high up the international agenda. It’s embarrassing saying it but I’m telling you what I think is true. I’ve been very suspicious of Republika Srpska since the car I was driving to Srpska was attacked by an eagle who dropped an enormous tree just in front of my car. But I’m trying very hard to treat them rationally but it is very difficult.
But I think the broader picture is bringing Serbia into the international environment with a democratic government that is sustained. And I fear that any attempt to do what one might like to do to Srpska is going to recreate an enormous crisis. And you’re looking at me as though I’m speaking as a total idiot. Maybe. But I think that you’re looking to try to solve problems, not to create bigger problems. I’ve listed about 10 solutions. None of them work until you create the environment in which citizens are prepared to say “We’ve had enough of this, even if we have to bite the bullet.” Then there are other ways of proceeding than the ones which either domestically or internationally have been seen to be feasible. So politicians are always coming out with glib, simple answers. I really can’t think of any. Many of them have been tried. They’ve all failed. But I hope something does come up or I’m afraid I regard the proposals that I’ve heard as fulfilling one’s aspirations, but at the price of creating an even greater crisis.
Question: Can I ask a second thing?
Ivana Howard: Well, I think that we’re very, very close now. I would invite you of course to ask those questions at the reception following our keynote speakers if you don’t mind because we only have a couple of minutes. Does anybody else want to follow up on this?
Douglas Davidson: If I could just comment on that. I mean, we’re sitting in a museum that’s devoted to an event that I think was unprecedented in world history and gave rise to the concept of genocide and it gave rise to the international covenant on the prevention and whatever else of genocide. And I think we have to be careful about misusing that term a little bit.
I mean, I actually went back-- When I was in Bosnia, the International Court of Justice handed down a ruling on a case that the then-government of Bosnia and Herzegovina had filed in 1993, I think. It took 14 years to move the courts. The respondent party changed its name about three times, from Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, to Serbia and Montenegro, to Serbia. The court ruled that genocide was committed, but only in Srebrenica. It’s an interesting ruling and it did not find Serbia-- it found it responsible for not having prevented it, but not for having committed it.
It’s a very odd ruling and in a technical sense, far be it for me to defend Milorad Dodik. But in a technical sense, it was almost correct because he said that it happened in Srebrenica, not everywhere. You can argue the case but there is a legal ruling on this. It seems to me we have to get beyond some of these things. I think Mike’s idea is a good one but I think it might not produce the result you would wish. The idea was I think what your first question pointed to, is to get beyond the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to move to a different structure.
I have to defend my government a little bit because the Dayton Agreement was far from perfect and the people who negotiated it recognized that. But it stopped the war. It stopped the killing, which was the prime purpose and it was never meant to be forever. I fear that at this point, if you have a Dayton 2, which a lot of people are calling for, I mean, it wouldn’t have the result you desire.
I’d much more advocate for gradual changes over time because one of the problems that happened 15 years after Dayton is these ways of thinking get embedded in the populace, these divisions into three. And they’re not, I don’t think, easily overcome overnight. But we should remember what happened; teach people what happened in their schools. They don’t get taught in any of the three curricula accurate histories. It’s not just the Serbs and, trust me, I’ve dealt with that there. But we have to, I think, move onward from that point and try to build a better system in the future, which would eliminate entities and eliminate ethnic voting and all these other things. But that’s not going to happen right away.
Ivana Howard: Thank you. I’m trying to be very disciplined with my time and I apologize for not being able to accommodate any more questions. But I do, like I said, invite you to approach our panelists both from the first and the second panel during the reception and follow up on some of the issues that were raised. Thank you very much and please join me in thanking our panelists for the great work that they’ve done, and the enormous response.