[Asharq Al-Awsat] Up to the time of this interview, Bosnia-Herzegovina has not declared an official position on the independence of Kosovo; what is your official position, and why the delay in declaring it?
[Silajdzic]I do not think Bosnia-Herzegovina will recognize the Kosovar state any time soon due to internal reasons. Bosnia is at a very delicate stage, and recognizing Kosovo at this time will not serve stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such a move would be unwise at this moment, and when the time is right, we will talk about this, but as for now, recognizing Kosovo is on not on the agenda of the Presidency or the government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you saying that Kosovo’s independence put you in an embarrassing position and made the situation inside Bosnia even more fragile?
[Silajdzic]This is true to some extent: with Kosovo’s independence, the Balkan region turns the page on a series of events that were put into motion by the regime in Belgrade during the reign of former [Yugoslav] President Milosevic, whose project, despite his personal demise, lives on, with one of its core objectives being the division of Bosnia. This is what they tried to accomplish in the past through murder, destruction, and a policy of ethnic cleansing, and the result is that some one million Bosnians now live outside their homeland.
Unfortunately, we continue to deal with the legacy of our miserable past, and as you know, on26 February 2007, the International Criminal Court held Bosnian Serbs responsible for the mass exterminations that were committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina, stating in its report that the state of Serbia has yet to hand over war criminals. We will be lodging a complaint with the UN Security Council over this matter, but certain issues are keeping us from doing so, and the Kosovo issue was, and will remain, an important issue that strongly reflects on the situation in Bosnia, especially with the presence of some one million Serbs there. Furthermore, Belgrade’s official statements sometimes try to undermine Bosnian sovereignty, and there are extremist political environs in Serbia that want to compensate for its loss of Kosovo at the expense of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What has come of your efforts to join the EU and NATO?
[Silajdzic]In terms of principle, entry into the EU and NATO are two strategic projects for Bosnia-Herzegovina, but as for the practical steps being taken to achieve this entry — several measures need to be taken. At present, we are hoping that by March of April, we will have signed an agreement that lays out the provisions of a true partnership with the EU. We have definitely started taking measures, and we have been pursuing this goal for many years. This agreement will finally make this entire process official, but there are of course conditions that must be met, and sometimes, the internal situation does not help in achieving this goal. This is a penalty that we pay due to the remnants of Bosnia’s bitter past, but I am confident of our ability to reach this goal in under 10years.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does your accession into the EU require amending your constitution, and are you willing to meet such a requirement?
[Silajdzic]The EU is not asking us to amend our constitution, but an amendment is inevitable because the current constitution is based on the Dayton Peace Accord that was signed in Paris in 1995, meaning that we are still witnessing apolitical battle in Bosnia. The Serbs insist on maintaining what they had achieved through the ethnic cleansing policy they had adopted in the past, and we are asking that international law — which incriminates such practices — be observed, and that UN member states undo the results of these mass massacres by guaranteeing that Bosnia continue to be the pluralist country that it was for hundreds of years; that it remain united within its internationally recognized borders; that there be no racial discrimination; and that all its citizens be equal in their rights and responsibilities.
As Bosnia-Herzegovina takes steps to join the EU and NATO as a democratic country, the Serbs seek to maintain the semi-autonomous status of that part of the country that they had seized through mass extermination so that they may ultimately annex it to Serbia. The positions of the international community and the major powers are crucial, for the situation in Bosnia must not remain torn and founded on the outcomes of massacres, because by accepting this situation, we would be legitimizing war crimes and ethnic cleansing not only in Bosnia, but in the entire world. If what they call the Serb Republic inside Bosnia-Herzegovina continues to exist, this would mean that they want to create a Muslim ghetto in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and this we cannot accept.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] A short while ago, a crisis emerged following statements by Bosnian Foreign Minister Sven Alkalaj on the issue of dual citizenship — in reference to the right of Serbs and Croats living in Bosnia to retain their Serbian and Croatian nationalities alongside their Bosnian nationality — and you were personally accused by the Serbian Government of being behind these statements; how would you comment on this matter?
[Silajdzic]Everything you said is true, but the foreign minister, who, incidentally, is a member of my political party, was misunderstood. The idea behind this movement and these remarks is the annulment of Article 17 of the citizenship law in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and which bans Bosnian nationals from obtaining second nationalities unless the country whose nationality they seek has a bilateral agreement with Bosnia-Herzegovina, and this system is not observed anywhere in the world. What we meant is that we want all citizens to have the right to obtain any nationality they want regardless of bilateral agreements — we want to annul this article so that all citizens may be equal and have the right to two or three nationalities without the need for bilateral agreements. We have no problem with individuals holding the Serbian, Croatian, Australian, US, or any other nationality.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The problem of Arab fighters in Bosnia was raised some time ago; has it been resolved, and what are its real dimensions?
[Silajdzic]The real dimensions of this issue do not go past it being a purely bureaucratic issue that involved not only the Arabs, but all those who had obtained the [Bosnian] nationality illegally. Moreover, there is no doubt that certain political factors exacerbate this issue. At any rate, a specialized committee and a ministry are investigating how these individuals — Arabs or not — obtained the Bosnian nationality. Some of them married Bosnian women and settled in Bosnia without being harassed by anyone, but very few cases are complicated, and they acquired bigger political dimensions due to the statements made by those individuals on television screens, but nonetheless, these people are still in Bosnia, and – as I have said — their status is under consideration.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you fear that radical religious trends and terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda might seep into Bosnia through the fighters who settled there and hence open a new front that you are better off without?
[Silajdzic]I am actually extremely confident that such problems will not surface in Bosnia because there have never been any terrorist incidents in the country despite its bloody history, the massacres that killed tens of thousands, and the detention camps that cast their dark shadow over the future and life of this country — there have not been any incidents so far. There are, naturally, people of varying degrees of piety in the Bosnian population, but this in itself has never been a cause for concern or trouble. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a secular, free, and democratic country in which everything is allowed within the boundaries of the law.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about Bosnian-Arab relations, how would you evaluate them, and are there any plans to broaden the scope of these relations?
[Silajdzic]You are interviewing me as I visit Saudi Arabia to attend the Jeddah Economic Forum. Bosnian-Arab relations are good overall, but the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Bosnia-Herzegovina is exceptional since it is based on the fact that the Kingdom’s people and leadership stood by Bosnia-Herzegovina during decisive times in its history. As Bosnians, we will never forget that our ties with the kingdom stem from this reality, and I can say that efforts are underway to establish economic and investment partnerships on a wide basis — a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Saudi and Bosnian Chambers of Commerce, and this April, we will be hosting a delegation of Saudi businessmen and investors.
Bosnia is a very wealthy country, especially in terms of sources of water and electric power, and is home to booming heavy industries like the steel and Iron industry, the chemical industry, and the lumber industry, in addition to the huge potential of the tourism sector, which we have not yet developed because of the war. We look forward to discussing benefits with potential investors in Bosnia.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Many do not know that Haris Silajdzic was an author and a novelist before entering the political arena; do you not long for literary work from time to time?
[Silajdzic]Literature requires focus, and politics is a field that does not motivate one to pursue any form of literature — politics is a grouping of interests. I believe that some sort of balance should exist between material needs and spiritual needs, and I am still interested in literature and art, but juggling politics, literature, and art is extremely difficult, at least for me.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Finally, what do you want for Bosnia, and what are you pursuing right now?
[Silajdzic]I want to preserve the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia, and I want us to join the EU because that would give us projection and a ceiling that would allow us to open up to the world and move into the future, making use of all our strengths without fear of being attacked by our neighbors like in the past. I do not believe that we need a large military force as much as we need to develop our material, human, and spiritual resources. Bosnia is rich with everything, but its problem is that it got more than its share of history and tragedies.