Interview: Miroslav Lajčák, EU Special Representative/High Representative for BiH “We Have No Time To Go Back to Square One”

Bosnian peace envoy discusses police, constitutional reform, Bonn powers

by Sasa Bizic:

A month has elapsed since Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak took up the post of high representative to Bosnia-Hercegovina. This is not enough time for some ambitious activities, but it is sufficient to summarize his first impressions of the new job. At the beginning of his interview with Novi Reporter, the high representative compared the situation in B-H with what he learned about B-H during his preparations for coming to the OHR: “There were no big surprises. The situation was exactly as I expected. And it is by no means rosy. No positive results have been recorded on the B-H checklist for a long time. The reform processes have been at a standstill, and something must be changed there as soon as possible.”

[Bizic] You have said recently that B-H is last in the region with regard to European integration. What are the advantages of the neighbouring countries, that is, what are the key problems of B-H in this competition?

Miroslav Lajčák: The answer is very simple: the neighbouring countries, which, like B-H, are striving toward the European future, either signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement [SAA] or are getting ready to do so. Some of them are progressing faster on that path, while some are moving more slowly, but all of them are moving ahead, unlike B-H, which is standing still. Just compare the current situation with that of a year ago, when the reform processes in B-H were moving ahead relatively well, but then everything stopped, and the country has been at the rear ever since, lagging behind all of its neighbours. And this distance keeps increasing. If this country wants a European future — truly, not just declaratively — then certain concrete steps must be taken. Europe expects this. Empty talk will get us nowhere. We have concrete tasks, and we must find concrete solutions.

[Bizic] What are B-H’s chances at the moment to get a positive report from the European Commission by the end of fall 2007 and to start the process of signing the SAA?

Miroslav Lajčák: We will see. I certainly hope that this chance will be used. It will not be good if the European Commission’s annual report about the progress of reforms in B-H for 2007 is negative. This would mean another year was lost. I must remind you of the European Commission’s Feasibility Study, which very precisely lists all the reforms and criteria B-H must implement and meet to be able to sign the SAA. A big part of the job has been done. Only a few things are left, including the police reform.

[Bizic] Would the OHR find acceptable the resumption of the police reform in B-H on a new basis, independently from the report by Wilfred Martens and the Directorate, whose legitimacy was disputed in the Serb Republic? What is your approach to the most strongly contested detail in the last, unsuccessful round of talks, the name and the status of the Serb Republic police? Do you treat that as a linguistic issue or an essential dilemma?

Miroslav Lajčák: The police reform is directly linked with the signing of the SAA, and since the signing of this agreement is my primary short-term priority, I will discuss that issue with the political leader as early as this week. I will see who is prepared to work seriously on that issue. I do not think there is time or a need to start everything from square one. We have a good basis. Most of the issues have already been agreed; Bosnia-Hercegovina was close to an agreement in March. Therefore, the police reform is becoming more of a technical issue that can and must be solved quickly. Regarding the second part of your question, I will just tell you that the three EU principles have already been defined: ensuring that the exclusive competencies in connection with the police are at the state level, eliminating political interference in police work, and determining the police regions based on the technical and professional criteria. This is the framework, ! and I am absolutely positive that it is broad enough to find an appropriate solution, provided that there is a political will.

[Bizic] Is the situation in B-H ripe for a completely new constitution, or is it more realistic to change that document through amendments? What do you think of the leading politicians’ readiness to resume the B-H constitutional reorganization process based on the April 2006 package of constitutional reforms? Which segment of that proposal does the OHR consider usable?

Miroslav Lajčák: During my month in the office of the high representative, I have met all the political leaders, and they have all assured me of their willingness to seriously work on the reforms, which certainly include the reform of the Constitution. It is also encouraging that all of them are aware of the current situation in the country, and they want to take a step forward. B-H is an expensive country, and it is hard to imagine that it could successfully pursue the European integration in this form. The main goal is to make this country cheaper and more efficient. I think that all of us can agree that it is regrettable that the April package was not passed, but we cannot return to the past. The current political situation is different, and a new solution must be found. Whether this new solution will encompass the “April package” and to what extent is a question for your politicians to decide. This myth about the constitutional changes should! perhaps be slightly unveiled. This is a serious issue that requires time, political maturity, and willingness to compromise, but it is not such a bugbear. As for the internal organization, there is no European standard. There are different constitutional systems in Europe. There are unitary states, the centralized or federal states. Bosnia-Hercegovina must find a model that reflects its structure. The starting point must be the fact that B-H consists of the two entities and that three constitutional ethnic groups live in it. Everything else is a matter of compromise; B-H must find a model that is acceptable to all.

[Bizic] Based on your first moves, could we talk about the practice of using different standards for the three ethnic groups in B-H? The Serb Republic received the sanctions for about 100 people, and the Croats were sent a clear message that they should not count on a television channel in their language, while the “most rigorous” measures against the Bosniak politicians was “a pedagogical conversation” with Security Minister Tarik Sadovic.

Miroslav Lajčák: I do not accept such assessments, because they are simply not true. This is not about any sanctions or punishment. This is about satisfying justice. This is about practical steps that will lead to better cooperation with the Hague tribunal, which is one of my priorities. Ethnicity is of no relevance here. Justice must be served, and that is all. I made that decision based on consultations with the domestic institutions.

As for the PBS, you must know that it is legally impossible to have a Croat channel. The law on the PBS system, which was passed in October 2005, says that the following [as published] system would consist of three channels: one at the state level and two channels at the entity level. So, there is one channel at the B-H Federation level. The request for a separate ethnic channel is contrary to the principle that the program must cover the interests of all the people on the territory where a certain public broadcaster televises its program. An organized PBS legal framework is one of the conditions for signing the SAA. As for Sadovic, I did not meet him because, as you said, he is a Bosniak politician, but because he is the security minister. If anyone else were in that post, irrespective of his ethnicity, I would ask for the same: the implementation of the B-H legislation. The minister himself, who is also deputy chairm! an of the Council of Ministers, is significantly responsible for the efficient functioning of that institution. Keeping in mind the fact that the Security Ministry will have a crucial administrative role in the police reform, it is very important that it enjoys the trust of all B-H citizens. There are many issues in B-H that need to be solved, and ethnicity is absolutely irrelevant. I have no dilemma about that. No one joins Europe because he is a Serb, Bosniak, Croat, or something else; you can see that in many examples so far.

[Bizic] After you took the high representative’s post, you did not rule out the possibility of using the Bonn powers in your work. Do you currently have any indication about which problems and people in B-H may require such action?

Miroslav Lajčák: The Bonn powers are part of the high representative’s mandate, and I accepted them as such, because you can only accept the mandate in its entirety. This certainly does not mean that I will think: “Well, whom can I remove today?,” but it also does not mean that I will not use them, if I am persuaded that certain obstacles cannot be removed otherwise. The Bonn powers have always generated different opinions and debates, but they should not be the focus. We must focus on the reforms that are ahead of us. There is no reason for anyone to fear the Bonn powers or to see them as a tool to satisfy his own interests.

[Bizic] How significant in your analyses is the statement that Haris Silajdzic and Milorad Dodik are the cause of the current ethnic polarization in B-H and that, by removing them, the way of reasoning of a large number of voters could be redirected? Does the fact that the Serb Republic prime minister transferred his negotiating powers in the sphere of the Constitution and the police to Milan Jelic and Nebojsa Radmanovic affect the OHR position?

Miroslav Lajčák: Everyone has his own view. In my opinion, everyone has his share of responsibility. This applies to the domestic politicians, as well as the international community, and actions should be taken based on this responsibility. I would not like to speculate about “what would happen if this or that occurred.” I would like to concentrate on changing the political climate, so that all those who are involved in the process could participate in finding solutions. Let us look at the things in this way, for a change, to see what we can do. Dodik and Silajdzic are legitimate representatives of authority in B-H, and they have the right to think about the situation in the country in different ways, and I will certainly work with both of them. Regarding Dodik, I had a very open and constructive meeting with him, and I did not get the impression that he was withdrawing from the reform process. It is not up to me to decide who will be his closest! associates in that process. That is his business.

[Bizic] Are the examples of and the experiences from the Slovak Republic and Montenegro significant in your mandate as high representative — Slovakia being your country of origin, while in Montenegro, you were in charge of the international supervision of the referendum on independence?

Miroslav Lajčák: Of course they are. I was in Montenegro to help find the European answer, and we succeeded in that. Today, Montenegro is on the European path. As you said, I come from Slovakia, a country that went a long way in a relatively short time. Slovakia had ups and downs on that path. It was not at all easy to handle the disintegration of the state, the building of new institutions and a functioning political system, and the transition of the economic system. At one point, Slovakia, like B-H today, found itself in the rear, behind those striving toward Europe. All of our neighbours had advanced quickly, and that was, in fact, a signal that we needed to concentrate on what was important, that is, a joint goal of the then ruling coalition, which was made up of different parties: the European Union. That was the basis for Slovakia’s success. I believe the same thing can be the basis for B-H’s success. I know what it is like to be in both positions, w! hat it is like to live outside and inside the EU. There is no segment of life on which the EU membership has not had a positive impact. I was personally involved in that process, and I know what we did well and what we did wrong. This experience will certainly help me. During my mandate in B-H, I want to help the B-H citizens understand the EU better. There is no better future for B-H than the European one. That is a common goal, and we should all gather around it, in order to fulfil it as soon as possible. Bosnia-Hercegovina, precisely because of the tragedy it has suffered, deserves more than any other country to have a future that will be much brighter and better than its past.