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An international presence is still necessary in Bosnia, Croatia’s president tells Kathimerini

On November 21, 1995, Slobodan Milosevic, Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic signed the Dayton Agreement, ending the bloodshed that led to 200,000 deaths, the displacement of a million people and the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Years later, people fear that removing the international community’s administration in Bosnia could disrupt the precarious balance there. Croatia’s President Stipe Mesic (below) and Serbian President Boris Tadic spoke to Kathimerini about the issues. Dayton needs update Do you think that the Dayton Accords were fair or are there still ethnic issues that need settling? The Dayton Accords put an end to the war. Unfortunately, the agreement made official what had taken place during the war. The war caused ethnic populations to form groups and this is precisely what the Dayton Accords legitimized, preventing refugees and displaced persons from returning. The accords maintained three armies with three different sources of funding, three administrative regimes and two entities, the Serb Republic and Muslim Croat Federation, that act as states. Bosnia-Herzegovina must function as any other European state, however. This is why the Dayton Accords need an update. What do you think should be done? Is it time for the international community to withdraw and leave Bosnia to proceed on its own? On the contrary, this is when it must not leave. State mechanisms must be created now, as in other European states. A part of these mechanisms are being created but very slowly. The army is being formed and decisions have been made to create a police force. But Bosnia-Herzegovina must acquire a government, a parliament and a president to be elected every four to five years. Bosnia needs a responsible government with all its functions and this is where the international community must help. We must reach an agreement that will update the Dayton Accords. Nevertheless, outgoing UN High Representative Paddy Ashdown maintains that Bosnia has powerful institutions and the country can proceed on its own. It is difficult for someone to imagine this when the high representative has the last word on everything. Now institutions must be created that can function without him. To resolve the issue of Bosnia’s operation, one has to know the history of the country’s birth in the last war. Tell us your opinion on this, as you were the last president of united Yugoslavia. The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina did not group together because of religious or ethnic issues. The problem was created in Bosnia-Herzegovina because Milosevic could not reach an agreement on the independence of the Yugoslav republics. The Yugoslav Constitution of 1974 established the republics inside Yugoslavia as states with the right to decide on their independence if they so wished. Yugoslavia collapsed because it lost the key factors that held it united. These were Tito, the army and the multiethnic Communist Party. Tito died, the Union of Yugoslav Communists was dissolved and the Yugoslav army became Serb. Milosevic needed the army to create a Greater Serbia upon the ruins of Yugoslavia at the price of the Croats and Bosnians. Some say Yugoslavia would not have dissolved had Tito lived. Of course, but Tito was not immortal. You have given us your version of the breakup. But there are other theories, of which the following two are the most common. One claims Yugoslavia collapsed because it never functioned as a democracy and a sense of Yugoslav nationhood was never created; the other attributes the collapse to the West. The answer lies somewhere in the middle. Yugoslavia was created at the behest of the powers who won World War I. The Yugoslav regime was created from parts that had never been together. From the first it was plagued by conflict. The union was formed as a result of pressure and not because its politicians wanted it. It was a country without cohesion under the aegis of the Karageorgevic family. The state of Yugoslavia after World War I was a federation that could only be sustained as such for as long as Tito was alive. When Tito was gone, everyone sought a new model. We proposed a federation but Milosevic did not want a federation nor a confederation. He wanted a Greater Serbia. He deceived the people and made them think he was fighting for Yugoslavia as the people were emotionally tied to the state. Milosevic therefore appeared to be pro-Yugoslavia but was in fact undermining its existence. He deceived the Serbs by telling them that they would all live in one state, he gave them weapons and told them that the weapons they held in their hands would be the Serbia of tomorrow. This was the basic problem that led to the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Milosevic’s efforts to create a Greater Serbia were to the detriment of the others. What was the role of your predecessor Franjo Tudjman on this issue? Tudjman was impressed by Milosevic’s successes in taking over a large part of Bosnia-Herzegovina and believed that the people approved of the partitioning of the republic. He wanted Croatia to annex part of Bosnia-Herzegovina as he believed that with the creation of an independent Croatia, a Herceg-Bosna in Bosnia-Herzegovina would stand up for the interests of Croatia. All of this was fantasy as Bosnia-Herzegovina could not be partitioned. We found ourselves facing an unbelievable situation: Tudjman and Milosevic fighting in Croatia but planning the partitioning of Bosnia-Herzegovina each for their own interests. That was the problem. What happened in the end that caused the plan to fail? The plan could not have succeeded because Europe and the international community realized, albeit rather late in the day, what was happening. They saw that if the Serbs took a part of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Croats another smaller part, a third part would be left where a small Islamic state would form in the center of Europe, a new Palestine, a center of terrorism for the next 50 years. They could not consent to such a thing. Personalizing blame With so much hate accumulated, is there a danger of a new war breaking out if the international community withdraws? The war in Bosnia did not take place due to hate. The hate was a product of the war. It is important for the court in The Hague to convict the guilty so that the guilt is personalized. Specific individuals must be condemned for the crimes committed and not all the Serbs, Croats or Bosnians of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Blame has been attributed by prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, but you have not helped to get Ante Godovina arrested, nor have the Serbs helped arrest Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. No one will get away because once guilt is personalized the collective accusations will cease. I am not Godovina’s lawyer, and I favor his appearance before the international court as soon as possible. He can only defend himself in the court and, sooner or later, he will have to appear in court. No one can be compared to Mladic, who is the worst criminal in the area – including those of WWII. There is no precedent in history of the arrest and execution of 8,000 people, something that Mladic did in Srebrenica. He is a separate case. After the Dayton Accords do you think the Yugoslav issue has been resolved for good? Yes, Yugoslavia does not exist anymore. Even if we wanted to create a new Yugoslavia, the people wouldn’t allow it. The only solution for all of us is the EU. We must respond as quickly as possible to the requirements… to enter the family which the Croats, Serbs and Bosnians want to become a member of. You do not fear the outbreak of a new war in Yugoslavia? War? Not in the least.