Croatian President Stjepan Mesic was straightforward in warning about possible new trouble in the region, making radical Serbs furious -- especially those in Bosnia, but also those in Serbia proper. Their anger stemmed from the message's content as well as to whom it was addressed and where it was delivered.
President Mesic cautioned the administration of US President-elect Barack Obama and the leadership of the European Union, calling on them to prevent the policy of disintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina being carried out by Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of Republika Srpska, an entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina. "We invite the new American administration and the European administration to stop the ambitions of Milorad Dodik in destroying Bosnia and Herzegovina," Mesic said clearly during a lecture on the integration of southeastern European countries into the EU, held at the World Policy Institute (WPI) in New York, in front of ambassadors and diplomats of UN member states. Later, the Croatian president also spoke on global terrorism in the UN Security Council, to which his country has been elected, but his concern over what the behavior of that new Balkan warmonger could cause for Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region attracted more attention. It seems his speech was deliberate because he expressed similar anxiety to former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, aware that she will advise Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton.
In making his point, President Mesic compared Dodik's policy to that of the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic at the beginning of the 1990s. "Just as the world failed to recognize Milosevic's policy then, it does not recognize Dodik's policy today," he said. Explaining where such a policy could lead, he added: "If Dodik manages to merge Republika Srpska with Serbia, all Croats concentrated in Herzegovina will want to join Croatia in the same way, and a small Bosniak country would remain, surrounded by enemies. If this were to happen, this small country would become the refuge of all the world's terrorists."
If there is anyone in this part of Europe with all the reasons to make such a comparison, it is Mesic. When Milosevic's policy of breaking up Yugoslavia in order to create a Greater Serbia reached its peak in 1991, Mesic was the last president of Yugoslavia's federal presidency. He joined the government of an independent Croatia but left it 1994, accusing it of corruption and war profiteering but even more for its involvement in Bosnia. He accused Franjo Tudjman, the first president of the independent Croatia, of agreeing to carve Bosnia and Herzegovina up with Milosevic. As the second president of Croatia, from 2000 until today, he is perhaps the most persistent European statesman who is a supporter of Bosnia and Herzegovina as an indivisible and sovereign country. He has, by the way, the Turkish leaders on his side in an equal manner; however, the Croatian president's political weight is more considerable than that of the Turkish leaders. If nothing else, he could not be accused of backing Bosnia because of an affinity with Islam.
Dodik's immediate reaction to the Croatian president's statements was calmer than usual as he is known for being harshly criticized by Sarajevo for doing everything to make Bosnia and Herzegovina weaker and his entity stronger. "I have no emotional attachment to Bosnia and Herzegovina nor do I love it," he recently said. He was probably advised to be more polite by Boris Tadic, the president of Serbia, which is, together with Croatia, a signatory of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. Tadic said that Serbia "will never accept the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina into separate entities." Contrary to claims voiced by Belgrade-based Kurir daily, which conveyed the words of its interviewees by calling Mesic a "declared Serb hater," President Tadic said only that his comments in New York were "inappropriate."
If Dodik was more polite this time, he was no less straightforward, even cynical, in accusing President Mesic of personally taking part in the breaking up of Yugoslavia, of the affected wars in the region and of therefore becoming "directly responsible for these tragedies."
In the meantime, another statement of the Bosnian Serb leader put aside his polemics with the Croatian president and confronted him once more not only with majority of Bosnians, but with the entire international community dealing with Bosnia as well. Speaking on documents that the Republika Srpska government had to give up almost forcefully to the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dodik said, "It is not acceptable for Republika Srpska to be tried by Muslims." EU High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Miroslav Lajcak said, "Such a statement by a politician in any standard democracy would mean the end of his political career." The US Embassy in Sarajevo was "extremely concerned," stressing that "such intolerance is absolutely unacceptable." I was told by a European ambassador that EU envoys in Bosnia convened an immediate meeting last Friday and concluded that Dodik "went beyond all bounds." When I asked him "What does the international community do when someone like Dodik exceeds all limits?" the ambassador just shook his head and said: "Nothing, I guess." The EU is concerned over developments in the whole region. "Look at what is happening in Greece," he added.
Dodik is a ruthless but very skillful and wise politician. He is aware that the international community is not ready to go very far to apply its own rules to him. The so-called Bonn powers, adopted in 1997, gave the high representative in Bosnia the authority to impose legislation to help reintegrate the country's two highly autonomous entities and the right to sack officials who were obstructing the implementation of the peace process. Sacking Dodik would mean recognizing the failure of the entire design of the Dayton Peace Accords, which were imposed upon the victims of the aggression of Milosevic's Serbia against Bosnia. The Bosnian constitution adopted in Dayton left much more space to the forces of disintegration than to those who were defending the integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It also helped nationalist parties preserve their power until today.
Dodik is just a good child of Dayton. He does not accept Bosnia as his country, he threatens it with the secession of his dukedom -- Republika Srpska -- and even plays with representatives of the international community. He recently sued Rafi Gregorian, Lajcak's deputy, for calling him a "psychiatric case."
The high representative, however, does not get enough encouragement from either the US or leading EU powers for using his Bonn powers in dealing with Dodik. He has so far only been capable of naming all these heated debates, including comments by the Croatian president, "daily political rhetoric."
It is true that there is a lot of rhetoric in Bosnia and around Bosnia, nationalist or just "Balkan rhetoric." The warning by the Croatian president should, however, be taken as something else. He made his remark because he supports Bosnia, but more so because of his concern for the security of his own country and the region in general. To allow the escalation of policies such as those of Dodik could lead to new violence in Bosnia that would certainly shake its neighbors as well. The US and its NATO allies do not want any more players in the region, they say. They can also say they did not recognize Milosevic's policy in the 1990s because they were preoccupied with the fall of the Soviet Union and other communist regimes. What is to happen tomorrow if they do not recognize today the policies of Dodik, and the new regional Dodiks, in the event that the world financial crisis develops into larger political turmoil?
Regarding myself Bosnian, I have an additional reason to consider President Mesic's warnings as very serious. I met him in Turkey at the end of April 1993 while we were attending the funeral of President Turgut Özal. He came from Croatia and was then the president of its parliament. Bosnia was in the middle of a blazing war. I asked him about the desperate situation of the Bosnian forces -- a situation in spite of which I thought the territorial integrity and independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, recognized by the United Nations and leading Western powers one year prior, could not be questioned. "Don't be so sure," he said. "You still have to fight for it."
Today, 15 years later, we Bosnians, unfortunately, need to still be cautious about the future of our country.
*Hajrudin Somun is the former ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to Turkey.