Page last updated at 14:31 GMT, Monday, 28 July 2008 15:31 UK

Old Bosnian Serb plan 'thriving'

Bosnian President Haris Silajdzic interviewed by BBC
Mr Silajdzic was a leader of the Bosniaks in the 1992-1995 war

Bosnian President Haris Silajdzic says the arrest of Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic obscures a more important issue - that his "ethnic cleansing" project is still "thriving".

Talking to BBC television's Hardtalk programme, he criticised the Dayton peace deal which ended the 1990s war in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

The following are excerpts from Stephen Sackur's interview with Mr Silajdzic, who was a Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) leader in the war.

Q: We have seen in recent days the joy of people in Sarajevo, the tears of relief from the families of victims, of those murdered in Srebrenica. What are your feelings when you now reflect on the capture of Karadzic?

I'm especially glad for the families of victims, because at least they have some satisfaction. But then I think the focus should not be on the criminal, but on the crime.

Obviously Karadzic is arrested and his project is not arrested, it's free and thriving, living in Bosnia-Hercegovnia. [Former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic is dead, Karadzic is arrested, [former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko] Mladic will be arrested hopefully one day - and we have their project thriving.

Q: When people around the world hear that, I think they won't understand it. What do you mean, the project is "thriving"? Patently that isn't true, Bosnia is now in peace.

Bosnia is in peace exactly because that project succeeded. Hundreds of thousands of - at least half a million - people are outside their own country because they have been ethnically cleansed, they're not there, because they were forced to get out under the threat of death. Our constitutional arrangement is such that actually it rewards the aggression and genocide and ethnic cleansing and so on.

Q: But hang on a moment, the situation in Bosnia today is reflective of the agreement which your own Bosnian leadership signed in 1995, the Dayton accords, that is the system under which Bosnia runs today, you signed it.

Exactly. One technical correction - we are Bosniaks. True we are Muslims, but we have a national name, we are Bosniaks. Yes, it was signed, at gunpoint. It was signed, the question is whether it was implemented or not. I say it wasn't implemented. And I'll prove this to you.

The criminal is caught and we leave the money on his account - that is not logical to me
Haris Silajdzic

The crucial part is so-called Annex Seven of the agreement, about the return of refugees and so on in dignity. Now Karadzic, the same man captured now, said he could tolerate in that part of Bosnia - tolerate - up to 10% of non-Serbs, meaning that Bosniaks and Croats are out… Now the level of return today in that part of Bosnia is 8%. So we did not live even up to Karadzic's expectations. That's why I say the project is kicking and alive.

Q: I asked you for your reaction to Karadzic's capture, and you've already taken us right back to the detail of the Dayton accord and what you believe to be the failures of that accord. Many people say to you, Haris Silajdzic, it's time to move on, look forward, not back.

Well, those who'd like to keep that arrangement are looking back. I'm looking toward citizens' representation in Bosnia, not ethnic representation - I think that's looking back.

Q: Are you saying that for you the political future for Bosnia has to rest upon eliminating the Republika Srpska, created under Dayton? That is, the autonomous Serb region inside Bosnia?

By the way, created by that same man Karadzic. He named it himself. So I think it would be a travesty arresting this man and at the same time legalising his project.

Bosnia map

Yes I have a different future for Bosnia. I'd like to see a Bosnia of the regions, a decentralised state, but based on the economic regions... not based on ethnic regions. It's never been an ethnically divided country. It survived the 15th Century, 16th Century but did not survive the 20th Century as a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, genuinely ancient multi-cultural world...

I give credit to the new Serbian government, and [Serbian] President [Boris] Tadic himself for doing this [arresting Karadzic]. It's a very good move for all of us, not only Serbia, Bosnia, but the whole region. I think it's turning a new page. I think it'll probably provide the ingredients for catharsis in Serbia itself… to go through real change, to challenge the established paradigms about nation, nationality, Europe and so on....

But again the focus should be on the project. The criminal is caught and we leave the money on his account. That is not logical to me.

Q: A very different perspective and different emotions are heard on the streets of Pale [in Republika Srpska]... Serbs who live in Republika Srpska, many of them feel an unfairness about the process… they say there are Muslims too who are yet to be held to account, who also committed crimes in the terrible years from 1992 to 95. Would you acknowledge that?

Oh, this is equalisation, which is wrong… They were defending themselves. It was a war against civilians, and civilians defended themselves. The crucial difference is what is your intent? The Bosniaks' intent was to defend themselves… In defending themselves they may have committed in some places some things I wouldn't like to hear or see..

When you are attacked, your family is slaughtered before your own eyes, what do you do? Defend yourself. Then the international community imposed an arms embargo not on Milosevic, because he had the arms, but on the victim - the international community, the [UN] Security Council, committed a cosmic moral mistake... not allowing us the right to defend ourselves…

There are politicians in Bosnia using nationalist rhetoric these days, and also trying to belittle symbols of Bosnia, for example throwing the flag of Bosnia publicly from the table… so this equalisation is very dangerous…

Q: ... The international community has become increasingly frustrated with you, sees you as part of the problem, blocking progress toward a reformed, modernised Bosnia…

What was I blocking? I'm fighting all my life for a multi-ethnic Bosnia. Even during the war, I had no nationalist rhetoric, no nationalist feeling. I'm fighting for more centralised power, not a centralised state. But more centralised power... So why would I reject a proposal that amends our constitution? Why?... There's a good reason. That amendment was meant to soften the position of Belgrade on Kosovo. It was compensation for Serbia…

My question is to you - if you sign a contract today and parts of it are ignored what do you do? ...You go back to the law.

Q: The EU is telling you to move on... You can change and modify Dayton, but not throw it into the trash can.

I want to implement it. There are obstructions - by whom? Everybody knows - those who kicked those hundreds of thousands out... So this looking forward into the 21st Century, if it means accepting this fascist ideology then I'm not a forward-looking man…

My strategic objective is the EU and Nato alliance... not because of economic benefit, but because of stability and peace... They can be secured under these two roofs. I'm working on it day and night…

The Karadzic arrest will reveal some more details about the genocide and Srebrenica and will prove that genocide took place in other parts of Bosnia-Hercegovina...

But shall we build our future on the results of ethnic cleansing and genocide?.. I think that's backward-looking…

The international community is in love with the status quo, but sometimes for the sake of stability and peace you have to actually do something, not follow the line of least resistance, and break some eggs to make this omelette.

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