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Ethnic Divisions Remain in Bosnia

Aired March 1, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, can Bosnia get past the ethnic bitterness that still divides it, as former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic faces a war crimes court.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

Fifteen years after the worst genocide in Europe since the Second World War, at The Hague tribunal Radovan Karadzic today made a defiant opening statement in his war crimes trial. He said the Serb cause is, quote, "just and holy."


RADOVAN KARADZIC, FORMER BOSNIAN SERB LEADER: I stand here before you, not to defend the mere mortal that I am, but to defend the greatness of a small nation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.


AMANPOUR: Charged with more than 11 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, international prosecutors say that Karadzic is responsible for the conflict's worst atrocities, including the 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, and the massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnian men and boys in the U.N.-protected enclave of Srebrenica.

Today, the violence has ended, but Bosnia is still bogged down by political instability, corruption, and unemployment. Joining me now from Sarajevo, as the country celebrates Independence Day, is Haris Silajdzic, member of the Bosnian presidency.

Mr. Silajdzic, thank you very much for joining us.


AMANPOUR: Radovan Karadzic is finally at the tribunal, something that you and many others around the world lobbied for, for years. Will this be the end of ethnic conflict, ethnic divide in Bosnia?

SILAJDZIC: Well, it will if his project is finished in The Hague with him. But it's not, unfortunately.

AMANPOUR: What do you mean by "project"?

SILAJDZIC: The thing is that -- the project of ethnic cleansing, of genocide, of aggrandizing Serbia at the expense of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. That began in '92 by attack from Serbia on Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, they continued the ethnic cleansing, all kinds of crimes, including genocide. It had a cataclysmic effect. Half the population left their homes.

Unfortunately, after the Dayton peace agreement that brought peace to us in Herzegovina, the project continues, meaning that the ethnic division continued, that the ethnic cleansing is there because the people did not come back to their homes. Hundreds of thousands of them are around the world today. And that's the problem.

So he sits in The Hague. Milosevic is dead, and his project is alive.

AMANPOUR: Let me play something that the prosecutor at The Hague said when the case first opened. Karadzic had boycotted the opening day, but this is what the prosecutor said as the central charge against him.


ALAN TIEGER, PROSECUTOR, THE HAGUE: This case, your honors, is about that supreme commander, a man who harnessed the forces of nationalism, hatred and fear to implement his vision of an ethnically separated Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic.


AMANPOUR: So that's the prosecution's case against Radovan Karadzic. But let me press you, Mr. Silajdzic. You, the rest of the Bosnian groups, did sign the Dayton Accords. Why are you saying that the project still continues when you're at peace?

SILAJDZIC: We -- we signed the Dayton Accord in order to have peace in our country. The problem is that the Dayton agreement has not been implemented. The ethnic divisions continued because people did not go back, were not allowed to go back to their -- to their homes, including Srebrenica, where the genocide took place, and others places, too.


So an all-genuine, multi-cultural society, the model of globalization of today, if you like, that country, such a country is being divided as we speak today, because the Dayton agreement has not been implemented, especially the Annex 7 of that agreement, which is about return of refugees.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, what specifically do you think needs to happen?

SILAJDZIC: What needs to happen is that we stop actually fulfilling the wishes of Radovan Karadzic, who sits today in The Hague tribunal. It is the ethnic division that is happening to us, the divisions are deeper and deeper because we did not implement the Dayton agreement.

Because of the fact that people did not return to their homes, they cannot vote, and they were supposed to go back. Now, we cleansed them. We cleansed their vote, too. So what we need to do today is to listen to what the European Parliament says, what the European Commission says, what the European Council says, what the American Congress says, and that is to address a way of voting that actually legalizes the ethnic cleansing.

AMANPOUR: So what needs--

SILAJDZIC: And that is my demand, but -- yes?

AMANPOUR: No, no, it's your demand, but what exactly do you think -- are you talking about negating the Dayton Accords? Are you talking about amendments, changing the Constitution? What has to happen, in your view?

SILAJDZIC: I'm talking -- I'm talking about one amendment that would unblock the country and make the government functional. The government is dysfunctional because we have a way of voting. It's called the entity of otian (ph). I don't have time to explain to this.

But that means that that entity voting became the ethnic voting, the right of one people or one group, the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that is why our parliament is blocked.

So my demand is -- and all these institutions, from European Parliament to the American Congress, they all had resolutions saying this is the problem, solve the problem.

Unfortunately, when we sit down and talk about this, I am surprised that international negotiators never even mentioned this. They talk about further division of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that's, frankly, what frustrates me--

AMANPOUR: So -- so--

SILAJDZIC: -- is why should we continue and accomplish and complete Milosevic's project in Bosnia?

AMANPOUR: A lot of people are looking to the future of Bosnia. A lot of people felt that it really did show the success of international intervention, a successful peace enforcement. There is no more war in Bosnia. People, though, are worried about potentially violence erupting again.

Do you believe that there could be a violent explosion there or is that moment over?

SILAJDZIC: Essentially, it's over because there is no Milosevic, there are no Milosevic's armies, and there is no international embargo, which actually played into the hands of Milosevic and Karadzic and others. Let me remind you: When Serbia attacked Bosnia in 1992, the international community, through the Security Council, imposed an embargo, tied our hands.

We could not defend ourselves. So (inaudible) Milosevic's army against civilians. And they died in tens of thousands. We had the embargo. It was a cosmic moral mistake that the Security Council committed against citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

That is no more there. The Milosevic's armies are not there. But we suffer from the fact that Bosnia is being divided ethnically.

AMANPOUR: Do you -- do you--

SILAJDZIC: It's never happened to Bosnia before.

AMANPOUR: Right. It used to be a mix of Muslims, Croats and Serbs in Bosnia. Do you believe that even if there was an amendment, even if as that Annex 7, you call it, about the voting was amended, that Bosnia could now after all these years be ethnically reintegrated? Or is too much time has passed?

SILAJDZIC: Well, it would be process, but we should begin today. This is a political problem. This is not a bureaucratic problem. And I hope that Western governments would actually hurry to do something in Bosnia that really looks like a positive political action here.

We can do this. Bosnia is a rich country economically. But we are blocked. So if we unblock this, we actually have a democracy in Bosnia, not ethnocracy.


This is a test for Europe, also, and it's a test that resounds around the world. You know that there are Bosniaks, Muslims in Bosnia- Herzegovina, decimated by Karadzic's and Milosevic's campaign, but still they are the ones, although the main victims are -- they are the ones that ask for reintegration. What we have is disintegration along the ethnic lines.

AMANPOUR: OK. Let me play--

SILAJDZIC: Why? Because the system allows that.

AMANPOUR: Let me play you something that President Obama said during his famous speech in Cairo, reaching out to the Islamic world.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. When innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience.


AMANPOUR: So there's what he said about what happened. What do you think? And do you believe the United States is doing all that it should be doing in trying to keep Bosnia democratic and ethnically mixed?

SILAJDZIC: Well, I hope that the Obama administration will continue to be engaged in Bosnia-Herzegovina. What I heard from Mr. Obama about the stain, unfortunately, I have to say, the stain is still there. The message is that the stain is still there, that the arms embargo during the war allowed Milosevic to kill a lot of Muslims. And according to President Clinton -- and I'm eternally, eternally thankful to him for making this public -- the arms embargo was kept intentionally because it locked in Bosnia this favor (ph).

So let us do the right thing now. Let us not legalize Milosevic's project, because this is about the Muslims, too, in Bosnia. They were the main targets. And it looks like to some too many Muslims survived, and this is a problem.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Silajdzic--

SILAJDZIC: So let's do this. Let's -- let's make amendments to this -- to our constitution, and I hope the American government, as well as the Europe governments, will engage politically here and solve this problem.

AMANPOUR: President Silajdzic, thank you very much for joining us, and we're going to pursue that point right after a break. Thank you so much for being with us.

And as a result of the Dayton agreement, an organization called the International Commission on Missing Persons was formed to identify people who've been killed. To see just how these bone detective work, go to

And next, what can the international community do now to help Bosnia survive? I'll speak to the former high representative for Bosnia- Herzegovina, Lord Paddy Ashdown.




AMANPOUR: Unlike the Holocaust, unlike Cambodia, in Bosnia, the media was there in full force. Genocide was on the front page. I was there, and day after day, I reported the story.

(on-screen): The international community says there'll be no military interventions.

(voice-over): Now, in the era of 24-hour cable news, no one could say, "We didn't know."


AMANPOUR: That was a clip from my documentary, "Scream Bloody Murder."

And joining me now from London, the former international high representative for Bosnia, Lord Paddy Ashdown.

Thank you so much for joining us.


AMANPOUR: It's very dramatic, as you know. You lived it. You were there during the war. You were there as high representative afterwards. Today, Radovan Karadzic, chief architect of the Bosnian-Serb massacre, sits in The Hague on opening day of his trial.

You just heard the president, Haris Silajdzic, of Bosnia talk about the failure of the peace process and that the project of ethnic cleansing continues, paradoxically cemented by the Dayton Accords. What is your response to that?

ASHDOWN: I know Haris. He and I are old friends, old colleagues. And much of what he says is true. It is, however, with great respect to him, a little partial.

First of all, Dayton was not a failure. It was a success. I mean, in 10 short years, Christiane, up to 2006 or thereabouts, Bosnia, as you mentioned to him, was the poster boy of international intervention. We made more progress in 10 years in Bosnia than we did in Northern Ireland in '36.

You know, it's not true to say no refugees went back. A million went back. None of the -- none of the Catholics I saw burned out of Belfast in 1960 went back. Unlike, for instance, in Greece, which is still divided, there is complete freedom of movement across Bosnia.

And so unlike in the Basque country of Spain, which for 35 years has had elections tainted by violence and murder, in Bosnia, they carried out elections under Bosnian auspices and completely peacefully. There was huge progress in the first 10 or 11 years.

AMANPOUR: But you -- but--

ASHDOWN: But where he's -- but where he's right, if I may just very quickly, is to say that the next step, which is to make a functional state, not to stabilize the peace, but to make a functional state, which we ought to have begun in 2006, has not been a success. Bosnia, instead of going forwards, is now beginning to unravel and go backwards.

And what needs to be done -- and he's right to point this out, too -- is to remove some of the ethnic blocs to making this a functional state.

AMANPOUR: Right. And that's basically--

ASHDOWN: So he's right in that.

AMANPOUR: And that's basically what he's saying. I mean, you and I know that there are lines on this map. We can see this map, and there is a wartime line on that map. Yes, it kept the peace, but there has been a lot of displacement still, despite the successes that you mention.

And I understand that you and other members of the international community are concerned about what happens in the next round of elections, that it's going to harden nationalism, yeah.

ASHDOWN: Yes, and I think they're -- it could -- it could indeed. But, look, Christiane, you've been through this. You know this area, frankly, as well as I do, probably better. You've seen many wars. It takes a very long time to unstitch the enmity of war.

I can still find the divisions in Belfast in Northern Ireland 36 years later. You know, it said that they took 200 years to get rid of the enmities of the English Civil War and the enmities of the American Civil War are still there.

But where I think you are correct is this. And, you know, we have to now begin to build a state in Bosnia that can be effective as part of a European Union and can serve its people.


ASHDOWN: And one of those things we have to do -- and Haris is right here -- is to alter the voting system. But another, which he doesn't mention, is that the most dysfunctional part of the whole of Bosnia is actually the federation between the Muslims and the Croats, where they spend 79 percent of all taxes just on the process of government.


ASHDOWN: So there has to be that reform. And it's that constitutional change which is blocking Bosnia from moving forward.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, then, you've mentioned the two things that should happen. Why -- is that the reason why we read that Bosnia is lagging so far from E.U. membership, way behind other participant nations?

ASHDOWN: Sure. Sure. But for goodness' sake, let's not just blame the Bosnians, because the truth is that it's the European Union -- and I'm afraid it is the European Union -- but also America now which allowed Bosnia to slip off the map and pretending that it had been done, who have not invested enough will, and the -- enough, I have to say, muscularity in driving forward the process of building a functional state.

They've allowed certain groups, including certain Muslim groups, I have to say, and Croat groups, but chiefly the Serbs to block the process of building a constitutionally functional state in Bosnia that can serve its citizens, and that's the crucial thing.


AMANPOUR: Let me read this, a quote by the prime minister of the Bosnian Serb entity, Milorad Dodik, who said earlier this -- well, in February, quote, "I still believe that this is a virtual pointless country, only sustained by the international community. They've been here for too long. The international community only creates crises because they know that if they leave Bosnia, they'll have to go to Afghanistan."

Well, look, besides the last point of what he said, can Bosnia, in fact, even survive without the international community and the international forces still being there?

ASHDOWN: For the moment, no. But, you know, it takes a long time to make progress towards peace. Thirty-five years in Northern Ireland, and we're only just beginning to get there. Twenty-five years, much longer than Bosnia in Cyprus, haven't got there yet. If you think that building - - going through the tough, difficult issue of building peace -- and it does take time -- is expensive, try going back to war.

We have to complete the job. We were -- I think eight-tenths of the way there by 2006, but because the international community and, above all, I'm bound to say, Brussels took their eye off the ball, this thing started to unravel backwards again.

So instead of having progress towards unity, we now have a dangerous dynamic moving the opposite direction, towards nationalism, and that may well be reflected in the coming elections.

AMANPOUR: So what would that mean?

ASHDOWN: This thing is by no--

AMANPOUR: What would that mean, nationalism? War again?

ASHDOWN: Well, it -- no, I agree with Haris. I don't think war is the biggest danger. I don't say, Christiane, I have gloomily to tell you, that we couldn't get back to war, but I think it would take a long time. It wouldn't be something that could happen quickly, no.

The real danger is that Bosnia descends backwards into a black hole of corruption, criminality, and dysfunctionality in the middle of the Balkans, which we can neither leave, we the international community, because the consequences for the rest of the Balkans is too grave, nor have we got the instruments to drive it forward.

We have to begin to invest this with new political will. And that depends on two people. It depends on Barack Obama making sure that the Americans now do that from the president's office downwards. This, after all, is an American project. And it depends on Baroness Cathy Ashton, the two -- the new European foreign minister, who, by the way, I think is taking a close interest in this, to begin to give this some political momentum, again.

If we can do that, we can recover the great hopes of 2006, rather than sliding backwards into something very ugly and, in the end, perhaps even quite violent.

AMANPOUR: You say "if." Is there any notion that that is beginning to happen? Is this being taken seriously?

ASHDOWN: Well, early -- early in the Obama administration, I went to Washington and said to them this was the danger, and my view was that they had gripped that as an issue. But then we saw the failed talks that were badly handled, in my view, in Butmir, to drive the constitutional process forward. The United States did not take the line that I hoped they'd take in that.

AMANPOUR: Which was?

ASHDOWN: This was before the new -- this was before the new European foreign minister was installed. I went to see her in early January and made the same point.

I think this can be recovered, but it is going to require a lot of attention, a lot of horsepower, and a lot of will from Washington on the one hand and Brussels on the other. But the problem -- the price of not doing that is, in my view, extremely grave, grave for the Balkans, grave, as Haris himself said, for Europe, grave for the international community.

AMANPOUR: And as you know, the Bosnian Serbs periodically, regularly talk about seceding. Do you think there's a risk at all?

ASHDOWN: Well, I think it would be a disaster. The one way Bosnia would get back to war is we allowed the -- we allowed the European Union and the United States of America to be, as it were, absent-minded observers to the process of Karadzic's plan being put into operation without them having the will to stop it.

My own view is that it can't happen, but we need to make that much, much, much clearer. I think the strategy of Milorad Dodik, the Serb prime minister, is not to make it happen, but to bore us all to death with dysfunctionality until we lose the political will to stop it from happening. That would be exceedingly dangerous. And he has to be stopped, in my view.

But at the same time, the Bosniak Muslims must realize that they don't have too many opportunities left, either, to create the kind of functional state which I think is in their best interests and Bosnia's best interest, as well.

AMANPOUR: And just to -- to wrap it up, what should the goal of the E.U. and the U.S. be?

ASHDOWN: Well, very simply, to make sure that Bosnia can continue the progress it made towards full membership of the two great Atlantic institutions, NATO on the one hand, which requires them reforming their security forces, and on the other hand, the Brussels institution, the institutions of the European Union, so that Bosnia can at last join the only future that it can have, which is part of the European Union.

And, by the way, when it's made those changes, I think people will see it -- as you and I both know -- we've been there many times -- as one of the little jewels of Europe.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Paddy Ashdown, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you indeed.

ASHDOWN: Thanks. Nice to be with you.

AMANPOUR: And this conversation doesn't stop here. International forces have been in Bosnia for more than 15 years. Should they stay? Please weigh in on that at

And next, our "Post-Script." What could this man possibly have to do with peace in Bosnia?


We'll tell you in a moment.



AMANPOUR: A story that captures the intractable nature of the divide in Bosnia makes our "Post-Script" today. They may not agree on much, but if all ethnic groups are united about anything, it's about this man, kung- fu legend Bruce Lee, the star of martial arts movies like "Enter the Dragon." In 2005, youth groups in the ethnically divided city of Mostar chose Bruce Lee as a symbol of unity. They unveiled a bronze statue of him, calling the Chinese-American actor an emblem of the fight against sectarian divisions, the very same divisions that continue to fester in Bosnia to this day.

And that's it for now. We'll be back tomorrow with an exclusive interview with the son of a founder of Hamas who says he became an Israeli agent. In the meantime, catch our podcast of this program on For all of us here, goodbye now from New York.