NN: At the beginning of our conversation, a topic which, so to speak, imposes itself: the draft of the permanent election law in BH offered by the international community. Namely, we are witnesses to the fact that there are different opinions and positions, and one of the proposals of the permanent election law was offered by your party. Is it possible that in the end the high representative will impose the election law as he has already done in some other cases?
TOKIC: The election law will decisively influence political processes and the future of BH in general. It is certainly the most significant law that has been offered to the BH parliament. Because of all this, it is of decisive importace that solutions in the election law are founded on standards applied in countries with developed democracies and that the law is harmonized with international conventions on human rights and freedoms.. In BH international diplomatic representatives must not suggest solutions which they would not dare mention in public in their own countries. The draft of the election law which was offered by OSCE in its initial version through delegate Drago Ljubicic was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights and Basic Freedoms. The SDP strongly opposed this and offered its own proposal of the law. In the meantime OSCE made certain changes in the text of the draft law on the basis of our party's request, which are not enough in themselves but create a chance for more successful negotiation and possible adoption of the law in the parliament. This solution would be incomparably better than having this law imposed by the high representative.
NN: If it happens that in this instance the high representative again has the last word, what in your opinion would be decisive for him to do so?
TOKIC: Some political structures in BH are advocating the delay of the general elections with the goal of preventing changes and retaining present positions. They could use the failure to pass a permanent election law as an alibi to delay the parliamentary elections in October 2000.
NN: You are a representative in the BH parliament. How do you assess the work of this state institution, the BH presidency and the council of ministers?
TOKIC: The majority of representatives in the parliament act on the basis of national intolerance and antagonism which irresistibly remind one of the period 1990-1992. Even the personal leadership of the parliament reminds one of the pre-war period only now they are not called Momcilo Krajisnik, Mariofil Ljubic and Abdulah Konjicija but Banjac, Skopljak and Genjac. Today, Banjac runs a session of the parliament using the same Balkan maneuvers as Krajisnik, his party colleague, before the war. The majority of representatives of mono-ethnic political parties are simply blocking constructive work is the main characteristic of the concept on acting. The same political structures are acting in the same way the council of ministers and the BH presidency which is why we have, generally speaking, total lack of action on the part of central BH institutions.
NN: One gets the impression that in state institutions there is conscious obstruction of work. Can you name some of the "master minds" of those, shall we say, obstructionist activities?
TOKIC: This is done equally and in a synchronized manner by representatives of the Serb Democratic Party(SDS), the Party for Democratic Action(SDA) and the Croat Democratic Alliance(HDZ) and by their allies and satellite parties.
NN: Why did the representatives from RS in the BH parliamentary assembly vote against the law on the border patrol? It is a known fact that Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, following a meeting with US ambassador Thomas Miller, announced that the law should be ratified on the same day that the session of parliament was held. Also, among the representatives who voted against there were members of the Unity Coalition.
TOKIC: The work of the Unity representatives in the house of representatives of the BH parliament is completely overshadowed by the actions of the Serb Democratic Party and the Serb Radical Party. I can't remember a single political opinion that the Unity coalition autonomously presented to the BH parliament. The representatives of the Socialist Party regularly vote against laws proposed by Radisic, a member of the presidency, or Mihajlovic, a member of the council of ministers. Some say that this is a previously agreed upon policy of having Radisic formally accept the laws in the presidency, and then his representatives reject it, supposedly democratically, in parliament. I know Radisic and I cannot believe this. A more likely explanation is that the Socialist Party of RS in the house of representatives of the BH parliament does not have enough high quality people nor profiled policies and that is why they are falling under the complete influence of the Serb Democratic Party. On the other hand, after Dokic left the Independent Social Democratic Party, Dodik's party does not have a single representative in the house of representatives.
NN: The most recent events in RS, the dismissal of deputy prime minister Tihomir Gligoric and the director of the fund for national health insurance Dragutin Ilic, have shaken relations within the Unity Coalition. However, it has been said that Unity has remained unified, and claimed that this was achieved through the efforts of the international community.
TOKIC: One gets the impression that the only person within Unity who has a clear political concept and long term policies is Milorad Dodik. Many people from the Socialist Party still go to Milosevic for their political opinions, others are confused by the speed of change in this part of Europe and simply cannot keep up with events, and a good part of the Socialist Party of RS members give greater support to Dodik than to their own president, Radisic. On the other hand, the Serb National Alliance(SNS) from the movement for changes in RS in 1997, when those changes occurred, has stopped growing and profiling as a party. In this situation in the future there will a paradoxically weakening of the Unity Coalition but a strengthening of the Independent Social-Democratic Party. The dismissals of Gligoric and Ilic as well as the promotion of new members of Unity in the government and in other places are all going in this direction. As far as the international community is concerned, its influence is obvious in all spheres of activity in RS and throughout BH.
NN: When this text appears in print, the epilogue of the continuation of the ninth session of the RS National Assembly will be known. The leaders of Unity prior to the continuation of the session confirmed that "constitutional and legal conditions for Sarovic to assume presidential duties" do not exist.
TOKIC: Mirko Sarovic and those who support him in the indisputable confrontation between the Serb Radical Party's Nikola Poplasen and the Independent Social-Democrats Milorad Dodik obviously will not be able to summon the strength to decide on a serious political move. He will remain where he is as vice-president of RS until the elections, and after the elections he probably will not play any significant role. This at the same time means that Dodik will remain prime minister of RS until the new elections.
NN: However, let us go back to some earlier events. The Unity Coalition has survived, apparently yet another attempted political coup by Slobodan Milosevic against RS and BH has fallen through but the possibility of something like this recurring is not excluded. In your opinion, are there persons guilty of allowing Milosevic to again become "installed" in this region? The weakness of the current government, more precisely of one of its segments in the form of the Socialist Party of RS, or something else?
TOKIC: In RS there exist political forces which are not satisfied with the changes and direction in which RS and BH as a whole are moving. Considering that the orientation of the government of this entity is supported by the entire international community, especially by the US, the opponents of these processes can de facto only find their support in Milosevic's regime. On the other hand, the isolated Milosevic like a drowning man is clutching at straws, attempting to escape from a completely defensive political position. There is no question that his interest in RS comes mainly from the wish to find an argument more in dealing with the international community to save his own hide by using RS and the Bosnian Serbs.
NN: The member of the BH presidency Zivko Radisic received certain warnings and recommendations from Richard Holbrooke. However, Radisic is not the only high official from RS criticized by the representatives of the international community...
TOKIC: It is interesting that the only people who are in political alliance and maintain contact with Milosevic are the politicians of the Radical Party, the Serb Democratic Party and the Socialists who are all at first glance in complete ideological opposition to each other. It is obvious that they, as well as Milosevic, have only one thing in common: to retain the present status and stop changes which have begun in both Yugoslavia and BH.
NN: How do you assess the current position of the Serb Democratic Party and the Serb Radical Party on the RS political scene?
TOKIC: The Serb Democratic Party and the Serb Radical Party, contrary to the expectations of many, have not lost support among the voters. The insufficient clarity of the policies of the ruling Unity Coalition and the unsatisfactory results of Dodik's government in the fight against crime, corruption and misuse of authority have left room for the activities of these parties. To this we should certainly add the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia and the incompetent engagement of the international community in Kosovo. In BH itself, a fact in the SDS's favor is that her coalition partners from pre-war days, the Party for Democratic Action and the Croat Democratic Alliance, are still in power in the Federation.
NN: Is a split between the SDS and the SRS possible?
TOKIC: It is, but not as a result of crucial political issues but because of competition for voters to whom they are offering variations of de facto similar, if not the same, policies.
NN: At the beginning of January former president Nikola Poplasen gave medals to certain individuals who have been indicted by the Hague tribunal. In an interview with our paper, Poplasen said that he would hand them the medals personally on the territory of RS, even though Stanislav Galic is already in the Hague.
TOKIC: This is part of the continuity of action by Poplasen against the peace agreement and at the same time an attempt to remind the citizens of RS of the function which he once performed. Moves of this kind are the only way that Poplasen can survive in the political arena.
NN: How do you assess the political situation in the BH Federation? Some announcement intimate that the government of Prime Minister Edhem Bicakcic is "wobbly". One can also hear that this are not what they once were in the Coalition for a Unified and Democratic BH.
TOKIC: After the elections in Croatia and the complete victory of the Social Democratic Party and other democratic parties, the Croat Democratic Alliance in BH is completely disoriented while the SDA for a number of years has been continuously losing influence among the voters. That loss to date has been compensated for by a coalition with Silajdzic's party and the peace parties of Rasim Kadic and Ibrahim Spahic which has pretentiously been named the Coalition for a Unified and Democratic BH. The disagreements in the past few months in this coalition clearly signal its rapid demise. The change in structure and relations in favor of the Social Democratic Party on the political scene in the Federation and throughout BH is realistically to be expected at the upcoming elections. As far as the position of Bicakcic is concerned, it is stable inside the SDA, and possible changes in the Federation government can only be a tactical move by Izetbegovic on the eve of the new elections.
NN: Apparently the economic situation in BH is also far from ideal?
TOKIC: Even though Bicakcic and Silajdzic and dozens of prime ministers and ministers throughout the cantons held press conference on the eve of the New Year holidays emphasizing economic progress, positive results and general advancement, the situation in the lives of ordinary people is such that general poverty rules even to the very level of endangering physical existence. It is realistic to expect massive demonstrations and strikes. People are especially bitter about the clear cut social differences, about the tremendous wealth of individuals which is usually the result of corruption and criminal activities in conjunction with the ruling structures.
NN: BH is going through a privatization process. The support of the international community was not lacking; nevertheless, USAID has decided to withdraw assistance to the Federation with this project.
TOKIC: Transition processes in BH are being carried out with inexcusable slowness. The reform of the bank system and the tax system has been blocked for a number of years and the state apparatus is gigantic and ineffective. Processes of privatization, despite the direct financial and professional assistance of the US government and other Western European countries, are burdened with obstruction and attempts on the part of the ruling oligarchs to use this process exclusively for their own profit. Because of this, the assistance of American agencies to the Federation government has been withdrawn.
NN: Let's go back to the elections. Is there a possibility that general elections in September-October will be delayed if an election law is not ratified, as the media are announcing?
TOKIC: For some people their only chance of survival on the BH political scene is a delay in the elections. The ruling structure is trying to put off the loss of its current positions and that is why they are asking for a delay of the general elections. Especially active is Silajdzic who has been lobbying for months in US diplomatic circles and Western European countries to have the elections delayed. Every day that the elections are delayed will lead this country with its present government into an increasingly worse situation and increasingly greater debt. Because of this, the Social-Democrats of BH will do everything to prevent the delay of the elections.
NN: Let's go back to the elections again. In April we have local elections. What are the chances of, for example, the Unity Coalition in RS gaining at the local level what it already has at the entity level and your party achieving victory in the BH Federation. The Social-Democratic Party is preparing for elections in RS, as well.
TOKIC: The Social Democratic Party of BH is participating in 108 municipalities of which 35 are in RS and 73 are in the BH Federation. In the larger centers of the BH Federation we expect victory, and in all other municipalities a significant increase in political influence in comparison with the earlier elections. We expect particular success in the elections in RS since we are appearing in this entity as the only multiethnic party.
NN: Similarities and differences between the Independent Social-Democratic Party of RS and the Social Democratic Party of BH. Is there cooperation between your parties?
TOKIC: I am personally striving to achieve the cooperation of the Social Democratic Party with all democratically oriented parties in BH, especially with the Independent Social-Democrats and the New Croatian Initiative. I believe that that cooperation will grow stronger and that it will undoubtedly lead to the merger of the Independent Social-Democrats with the Social Democratic Party. Some representatives of the Independent Social-Democrats, of course, must stop as soon as possible giving irresponsible statements about the Social Democratic Party which can only go in favor of the nationalists in RS and the BH Federation. The prerequisite for better cooperation is the multiethnicity of the Independent Social-Democrats and the growth of this party into a true party of Bosnia-Hercegovina, not just a party of one entity.
NN: You were in the alternative BH council of ministers [shadow government] together with prime minister Dodik. One gets the impression that after the initial enthusiasm and interest of the domestic and world public, the alternative council of ministers is currently in some kind of political lull?
TOKIC: The alternative BH council of ministers during the past year has prepared and harmonized approximately ten laws at the BH level and through representatives sent them to undergo the parliamentary procedure. We harmonized the program of instruction for schools and the programs for the national group of subjects and organized eight discussions of the democratic alternative regarding current political issues. This work was not presented adequately in the media and we will certainly try to correct that in the future.
NN: In Croatia there are new political relations, while in Serbia Slobodan Milosevic is still firmly holding on to power. The Serbian opposition apparently does not have the strength for a turnaround and is asking for help from BH, more precisely, from RS. To what extent will changes in Croatia influence the situation in BH?
TOKIC: The majority of the former socialist countries experienced the victory of nationalist structures as the result of their first multiparty election. The balloon of nationalism according to the logic of things became empty after a few years of functioning of a government which, despite negative anti-Communist or pro-nationalist positions, did not adequately resolve the basic necessities of the people. This happened in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and, a few weeks ago, in Croatia. It will certainly happen in BH, too. The better links of transition countries with the European integration as a rule are connected with the strengthening of the social-democratic option. Of 15 countries in the European Union, social-democrats rule in 13 of them. The Social Democratic Party of BH, as a full member of the Socialist International, in the political sense is already a part of these integrations.
NN: Crime and corruption are certainly hot problems in BH. Do you or your party have a vision of how you would resolve this problem?
TOKIC: Crime and corruption are an integral part of the concept of government in BH. The current presidents and ministers comprehend government literally as ruling over people and economic goods, and the possibility to grow wealthy and secure privileges for their families and friends. The Social-Democrats of BH are advocating a government which will serve the people and which will be responsible for creating an atmosphere in which all people will have equal chances of success. In which success will depend primarily on individual capabilities and qualities. Every minister must remember that the origin of the word minister means servant. Without a change in the concept of government it will be difficult to effectively counter the current problem of corruption and crime.
NN: Another of the hot issues in BH is the return of refugees and displaced persons.
TOKIC: The return of refugees and realization of rights to private property is an essential issue of the peace process. There is no excuse for authorities not to return tens of thousands of houses to their owners four years after the signing of the Dayton Agreement. Also inexcusable is the ineffectiveness of the international community with respect to this segment of the peace process. For the current government in RS, it is shameful that there are numerous families in Banja Luka and Bijeljina who have lived in these places the whole time, who have been forced to leave their houses and apartment and who are still unable to return to them.
NN: And in conclusion, a question which one could say is always current. It is a fact that the high representative has powers. Does it not seem to you that he could one day, with the blessing of the remainder of the international community, use those powers to their full extent and, as the popular saying goes, "completely take matters into his own hands". Namely, do you agree that BH at present is actually a kind of half-protectorate?
TOKIC: I don't believe that the high representative will make this move. The citizens and democratic parties of BH will have to increasingly assume the powers in the hands of the high representative. If this does not happen, BH will be abandoned by the international community and isolated. Then we will be threatened with great poverty.
NN: Haris Silajdzic expressed an opinion in favor of the revision of the Dayton peace agreement. Your comment?
TOKIC: Silajdzic's initiative for fundamental changes of the Dayton agreement, the Croat Democratic Alliance's initiative for the establishment of a third entity, and the Serb Radical Party's initiative for the unification of all Serb countries are synchronized activities which have the goal of causing fear and national homogenization before the forthcoming elections. The Dayton peace agreement is a part of history and it is impossible to change the decisions of the peace agreement just as it impossible to change the decisions of the Berlin Congress. It is possible in the BH parliament within the institutions of the system to change the constitution and other laws of this country. Silajdzic's initiative also has the goal of distracting attention from the difficult economic situation and catastrophic results of the government which is one of the main perpetrators. Because of this, I support the opinion that it is more important to remove Silajdzic from the BH political scene than to change the Dayton peace agreement. New people are needed for additions to the Dayton peace agreement and construction of a more consistent state and legal structure in BH.