Nevertheless, the majority of citizens associate his name with his primary profession and vocation: for the public of Srpska and BH, Mladen Ivanic is, primarily, an economist with the title of doctor of sciences. When he, together with another university professor and former vice-president of the Independent Social-Democratic Party (SNSD), Branko Dokic, and a group of like-minded thinkers, established the Democratic Progress Party (PDP) in September of last year, even those "in the know" were surprised. It sounds paradoxical but it is true: regardless of his biography, many people asked themselves after the formation of the Democratic Progress Party what Mladen Ivanic was doing in politics.
Nevertheless, Mladen Ivanic has (again?) "plunged into the political waters". As the president of the Democratic Progress Party, these days he is deeply involved in the pre-election campaign. After the interview with Nezavisne Novine he hurried off on a "tour" of villages in the Banja Luka region to try to convince voters to vote for his party in the local elections.
NN: Mr. Ivanic, are you another one of those politicians who claim they don't care for politics and that circumstances and the times have forced them to become politically engaged?
IVANIC: I don't believe politicians who say they are involved in politics despite their inclinations. I think that a man must have some affinity for politics, much as for anything else. To answer your question: circumstances as well as my personal affinity motivated me to become politically engaged. Today, as before the war, I am involved in politics in a way in which, conditionally speaking, I can always "remove" myself. That is my life principle: I don't think that politics is the only profession a man should have.
NN: Be as it may, you are the president and founder of a party about to participate in local elections. What values will the Democratic Progress Party advocate in the upcoming elections? What will you offer the voters to win their trust and their votes?
IVANIC: We will offer them four important things. First, we will nominate new people. More than 75 percent of the members of the Democratic Progress Party are people who have never before been politically active. Second, in our program, we will advocate the stabilization of political conditions in RS and the formation of institutions which will be based on a clear majority in the National Assembly, which we believe will contribute to the general stabilization of conditions in RS. Third, we will offer the voters an orientation toward the economy and development. I think that the development of RS to date has not been completely satisfactory, and the orientation toward the economy and development will be our argument, especially critical in the general elections in the fall. The fourth, but by no means the least, value which the Democratic Progress Party is advocating in its pre-election program is the defense of the position of the Republic of Srpska on the basis of the Dayton Agreement. We will defend the interests of RS, primarily, by people who will be well-prepared and expert in the defense of those rights which RS gained by that agreement.
NN: You have also said earlier that the Democratic Progress Party should not be a party of leaders, and just now you said that new people are your first pre-election ace-in-the-hole. Here is a chance to promote those new people. What individuals, as candidates of the Democratic Progress Party, will attract the attention of voters in the April elections?
IVANIC: In Banja Luka that would be professor Branko Dokic, one of our rare candidates and party officials who was politically active earlier. In Prijedor it is Zivko Ecim who earlier was not especially active. In Doboj it is Dr. Dragan Mikerevic, who, likewise, was earlier not especially active. In Brcko it is Dr. Stevan Stevic, who was a minister earlier, but was not really a political symbol at that time. In Trebinje it is Dr. Jovan Dutina who has not been politically active. In addition to Zoran Djeric of Rogatica, the vice-president of the Democratic Progress Party, these are the people on whom we will be counting in the general elections, as well.
NN: In how many municipalities of RS and possibly the Federation do you have candidates?
IVANIC: We have not been successful to date in forming municipal boards in the Federation but we are very seriously considering doing just that immediately after the local elections. We are especially interested in Sarajevo. In RS we have formed 45 municipal boards. This was done in a very short period of two and a half months, and we are participating in elections in 43 municipalities, because, for well known reasons, elections in Srebrenica and Brcko have been delayed.
NN: Doesn't it seem a little politically risky to you to participate in the elections with new names, especially now when the voters will vote on the basis of open ballots, that is, directly select individual candidates?
IVANIC: On the contrary, I am convinced that the results of the elections will show that this is a good approach. We believe that the majority of well-known politicians, except perhaps for the key figures, have exhausted their possibilities, that those individuals have become too controversial and that the voters will respond to the new people. New names on the ballot are not a risk but our strongest advantage.
NN: In an earlier interview with Nezavisne Novine you said that you would participate in the elections with optimism, among other things, because you have nothing to lose since you have not appeared before on "the voters' market". However, doesn't that seem risky to you considering that the party was recently formed and that you do not have a party infrastructure in place? Could this diminish your prospects for success?
IVANIC: That is a debilitating circumstance. The Democratic Progress Party is a new party, practically created five months ago. That is a problem but also because the party is new, within the Democratic Progress Party there is also a kind of enthusiasm which does not exist any more in other, more established parties. That surprising enthusiasm makes me personally responsible in a way because everyone is working very hard and everyone in the party expects a lot from the elections. I think that the Democratic Progress Party will have very respectable election results and I am convinced that this will be a very pleasant surprise of these elections.
NN: Not long ago you published the fact that the Democratic Progress Party has approximately 10,000 members. This seems like a hefty number for a recently formed party but perhaps too little for participation in elections?
IVANIC: In our approach we decided that we would not try to increase membership at any price because we think that party activities will increasingly change, and that parties with massive membership will start to lose their members. It is important to have a good infrastructure and a small number of highly motivated members. I must say, in all honesty, that I did not expect 10,000 people in such a short period. This means that the party has had a respectable reception among the public. The people are tired, disappointed, they do not want to get involved in politics and with parties to any great extent, and in such conditions 10,000 members is really a huge achievement.
NN: What people are joining your party? Is it true that some former Serbian Radicals are joining, as well as advocates of the "hardline" SDS [the Serb Democratic Party]?
IVANIC: One part of the political public in RS has the perception that the Democratic Progress Party is, so to speak, a rightist party. On the other hand we have been accused of being a Belgrade stooge and financed by the Yugoslav United Left. These are all examples of our political speculations and the political battle on the ground. The party is primarily picking up new people. In 70 percent of cases they are people who have not been in other parties, who have no political experience, the people who responsibly and professionally performed their work in the belief that this was the best way of contributing to their country and the well-being of their compatriots. The Democratic Progress Party has also been joined by smaller numbers of disappointed people from other parties: both from Unity, and from the other bloc, the SDS and the Radicals. But the main body consists of new people.
NN: So, you claim that you have not gone too far to the right, as some assess?
IVANIC: No, we are exactly in the center, we will remain in the center and we will not move away from the center. It is very difficult to persist in this course but we believe in this and think that political promotion really cannot be achieved by joining any of the currently existing blocks. We cannot beat Dodik and the SDS in their own game. We represent a completely new option and we believe so strongly in our own strength that we even consider the question "whom will you join" to somehow underestimate the role and possibilities of our party.
NN: You said that you will not try to increase membership in your party. If you are so selective, what are the criteria according to which you will decide whether or not someone can be a member of the Democratic Progress Party?
IVANIC: We had a very strict set of criteria during the selection of the party leadership. We tried to avoid having people who carry some sort of controversy with them in the Democratic Progress Party leadership. As far as the membership is concerned, there is no exclusiveness. According to the Democratic Progress Party statute, any citizen of RS can become a member.
NN: You are participating in the elections independently and you are quite optimistic; however, it seems to me that it would be pretentious to expect a majority of the votes, at least in the larger municipalities. That is why the question with whom you would possibly enter into a coalition is an interesting one, and it may well influence the mood of voters in the parliamentary elections. Therefore, with whom can the Democratic Progress Party be in a coalition, and with whom would it not under any circumstances consider this?
IVANIC: After the local elections the Democratic Progress Party will not sign any general coalition agreement that would force the municipal boards to go everywhere in coalition with that party. We will allow the municipal boards to take the initiative on coalitions after the elections, and the main board will only assess whether the people, programs and concepts with which the coalition is being formed are adequate. Our goal is to protect our indeppendence at any cost until the next elections and that logic will remain in place following the municipal elections, as well. Therefore, we will try to participate independently in the general elections.
NN: Is a coalition with the Independent Social-Democratic Party possible since you represent the same values in many matters?
IVANIC: A moment ago you said that we have gone a little too far to the right, and now we are agreeing with the SNSD. All parties participating in the local elections are, in our view, formally correct. Therefore, generally speaking, the possibility of coalitions exists but, I repeat, we will think about general coalitions only after the general elections. Whether it will be realistic at all to talk about some kind of coalition will depend on how much support we receive because we have yet to prove ourselves in elections.
NN: What is the position of your party toward the international community and its mission in BH. Do you, too, like some rightist parties, consider them to be occupiers or do you experience them as saviors and benefactors?
IVANIC: Neither one nor the other. They are not occupiers because they have done much that is positive for RS but I think that many elements of their politics are the product of frustrations from the war period and the politics which they then saw in RS, and that they are unconsciously transferring those criteria to the present situation, even though circumstances in the meanwhile have changed greatly and completely new political concepts have emerged in RS. The role of the international community in RS and BH will be great for another few years, perhaps even a decade. BH could not live in peace nor experience the level of prosperity which it has without the international community. I think that the international community will be forced to change some of its political prejudices, particularly toward RS, and allow, through a realistic approach, more independence on the RS political scene; they will have to accept the ideas advocated by the political parties in RS with a far greater degree of respect.
NN: Is BH the homeland of the Serb people?
IVANIC: BH is a country which belongs to the Serb people, as well, neither more nor less than to others, and that is a conviction which must spread through RS. Every other conviction would mean that we are leaving the institutions of BH to other peoples, especially to the most numerous people, and that we are unnecessarily leading ourselves into a position of inequality.
NN: Before splitting the votes at the elections it is well to think about the percentage of voters who will participate in the voting. It has long since been known, and science has demonstrated, that citizens with rigid opinions, who are more involved emotionally, will certainly participate in elections while others may or may not participate. Are you afraid that your potential voters may stay at home on the day of the elections?
IVANIC: I think that everyone, and all political parties in RS as well, need to appear before the public before the elections with a joint declaration calling on all voters to participate in the elections, regardless of for whom they intend to vote. The belief needs to be encouraged among voters that by voting they are showing their respect for the institutions of RS. By not participating in the elections, the citizens would demonstrate that they do not care about RS institutions, which would amount to a contribution on their part to attempts to eliminate the Republic of Srpska. I think that this is an exceptionally important matter, that a people show that it respects its institutions, and that is why I think that all political parties, regardless of their conflicts, need to appear with that joint message and to call on voters to vote. In this manner the position of RS on the basis of the Dayton Agreement is strengthened.
The biggest problem will be if the middle class and the young, most of whom are disappointed, do not go to the polls. This is where the greatest danger of abstinence lies, and it seems to us that the Democratic Progress Party may get significant support precisely in that structure. That is why we will do everything within our power to motivate people to participate in the elections and to vote.
NN: So the middle class and the young are your main "target group"?
IVANIC: We have two target groups: dissatisfied former voters from other parties and the mentioned middle class and the young. I hope that young voters will vote for us because the average age of candidates of the Democratic Progress Party is 38. We are seriously counting on the votes of unemployed citizens as well and that is why we will present our plan for solving the problems of the unemployed next week.
NN: What kind of solution is the Democratic Progress Party offering to probably the most numerous population segment in RS and BH - refugees. Does your party advocate refugee returns?
IVANIC: All parties must respect the individual will of the refugees and must do everything to make sure that state institutions support that decision. No pressure should be placed on refugees at all, either to return or to stay. The responsibility of state institutions should be to fulfill the will of their citizens.
We as a party represent the position that both decisions, either to return or to stay, are completely legitimate. We strongly support the position that private property is inalienable and that is the foundation of a society. Regardless of all difficulties, private property should go to whoever owns it. However, we believe that people should be given all possible alternatives for resolving the issue of property, too. Five years have passed since the Dayton Agreement, and refugees are still where they were on the first day of peace and the first day they became refugees. The strengthening of institutions which need to help these people is one of the things on which the Democratic Progress Party will insist.
NN: Do you have a program or at least a vision of how to offer citizens this, especially with respect to staying?
IVANIC: As far as staying is concerned, there are two ways in which this can be resolved. The Democratic Progress Party will initiate a case before the constitutional court because of the regulation which stipulates that an apartment cannot be purchased until the resident has been living in it for two years. This law is currently in effect in the Federation, and we will see how this will be handled in RS. We believe that such solutions create undue hardships for refugees and that their human rights are thus endangered. We believe that if the purchase of apartments were permitted immediately, without this stipulation, that a great number of families, considering that 150,000 refugee apartments were left in the Federation, would thus automatically resolve their problem. They would purchase their apartment and determine whether they wanted to remain, to exchange their apartment or chose some third alternative. This would be a great contribution to the resolution of the refugee problem.
Secondly, we believe that the government and other institutions must form some offices, especially in two cities: in Prijedor, because of the western part of Bosnian Krajina and in Sarajevo, because of the fact that a large number of people are concentrated there. These offices would be available to our people who are returning and are faced with enormous problems. Now they have no one to turn to. These offices should assist them in resolving problems they encounter in the Federation. Thirdly, we think that it is high time that the exchange of property is made possible. This aspect must not be underestimated. An atmosphere has been created as if something like this is not allowed even though this solution was foreseen by the Dayton agreement. Fourthly, I think that it is necessary to formulate an initiative for the construction of housing objects for a long-term period in agreement with investors from abroad and at home who are capable of offering credits and providing mortgages in the same manner as we had before. This cannot be massive, but it can be one form of resolving the refugee issue.
NN: When you were deciding on the name of the political party which you head, why did you choose to call it "partija"? [instead of "stranka" as in the names of most other political parties; both words mean "party" in Serbian - trans. note] It seems to me this associates it a bit with times gone by? [The interviewer is hinting at "komunisticka partija" or simply "partija", i.e., the Communist Party - trans. note]
IVANIC: If you look in Vujaklija [a dictionary], you will see that "stranka" defines a single individual or group in conflict with someone. Since we have always insisted that a certain degree of unity is necessary in RS, we chose the word "partija" because it means a group of people who have a common goal. I don't think that the fact that some associations have remained from the past is that important. Among other things, we also chose this word because of the acronym PDP [Partija Demokratskog Progresa] which sounds completely different that the acronyms of the other parties which contain at least one "S" [for "stranka"], for example SNS, SDS, SNSD, SPRS, DPS, etc. We wanted to be different and to accentuate our independence and our orientation against conflict.