NN: Mr. Ljajic, what is your view of the political scene in Sandzak in light of the most recent meeting of 16 opposition parties?
LJAJIC: This meeting was that much more significant for us because the coalition "Sandzak" became one of 16 politically relevant parties in Serbia. Therefore, we share a certain dose of optimism that this gathering could lead to a new progress in the unification of the opposition forces in Serbia. Of course, that excludes the possibility of the formation of a single opposition list of candidates, as something like that is not realistic at this time. On the other hand, even if something like that were realistic, it could be counterproductive. You are aware that the political scene in Serbia is very diverse and includes parties with diametrically opposing political views, so that their cooperation may end up being less than convincing to the voters. Besides, the experience form Montenegro in 1996, with the coalition "Popular Accord" and in 1997 with the coalition "Zajedno" indicates that the formation of a single list of candidates carries certain risk. In both cases coalitions received less votes than their members separately in the past. We advocate the formation of certain political blocks in Serbia. These blocks should cooperate before the election and definitely after the elections. I think that Bosniaks from Sandzak can see their perspective in all that.
You are the only representative of the political parties from Sandzak invited by [Vuk] Draskovic to the opposition meeting. Can that be an indication of changes on the Bosniak political scene?
Of course, certain changes on the Bosniak political scene will take place, but the condition for those changes are changes of the overall atmosphere in Serbia. If Seselj receives more than a million of votes, it is impossible to expect normalization of circumstances in Sandzak and the change in the mood of the Bosniak voters. That simply will not happen. However, if the changes advocated by us take place, that will certainly affect the mood of the Bosniak voters. We have already seen indications that the Serb voters in Sandzak are changing their allegiances, since so far most of them have voted for the Socialists and Radicals. Of course, for the first time there are indications that the voters are moving towards the center and that the opposition for the first time in the last ten years has made some inroads among the Serb voters in Sandzak. That is very important from the point of view of the normalization of relations in Sandzak and especially the relations between the two ethnic communities living in this region.
Immediately after the end of the meeting, Nenad Canak stated "some of the participants should not really be here". Were there a lot of differences and disagreements at the meeting?
You must understand that that was a meeting of representatives of 16 political parties covering the spectrum from the right to the left, from monarchists to the republicans, from those who advocate a civic to those who advocate a purely national option, from those who represent minority communities to those who represent the extreme right. Obviously some disagreements are to be expected. Even before we went to the meeting, we knew who we were going to talk to and had some idea regarding the likely problematic issues. It is obvious that if you go there with good intentions you must make an effort to compromise. The decisions of that meeting are at this point the least common denominator around which the opposition can unite. Of course, we are not fully satisfied with the documents adopted there and these documents would have been different if we alone were making them. Nevertheless, 16 different political parties were there and everyone had to give up some demands to finally adopt the document. Our contribution, one ingredient on which we insisted and without which we would not have signed the document, is our request, our demand, that the document include the obligation of new authorities to respect national, ethnic, cultural and other rights of minority communities, and our second demand about the decentralization of the authorities and the need for the local and regional self-rule in accordance with European standards.
At a press conference, the president of the SPO, Vuk Draskovic, did not mention the Serb people but instead "Serbian citizens". How important is that for your supporters?
I think that that is more important from the point of view of the general political climate, the realization that Serbs make up two thirds of the population in Serbia and that democracy cannot be built by neglecting that fact. So far, opposition parties only mentioned minorities on the eve of elections mentioning them only as numbers of votes that they would or would not get. Therefore, we believe that this reflects a change in the attitude of the Serbian opposition with respect to minorities. We advocate a state in which minorities will be allowed to nurture their national, cultural, and all other differences, and will also be allowed to get integrated in the state in which they live. That is an ideal balance which does not represent an unattainable goal. The opposition must take a step towards the minorities, the step that the authorities haven't made.
Besides the unification of the opposition, was there a better, more efficient way to shake up Milosevic, which is the basic opposition goal?
I think that all other methods have been tried. They tried the institutional way and that did not give any results. They demanded Milosevic's resignation and that of course did not make him resign. They tried protests but the critical mass was not achieved. On the contrary, as time went by those protests grew weaker which gave the regime additional strength to consolidate its ranks and not only maintain but also in some segments strengthen its authority. Internal conflicts within the SPS and the Yugoslav Army were also expected but that did not happen. Therefore, the only other course of action is the unification of the opposition. The last campaign of the authorities is the best proof of the regime's panic.
Are you concerned about the reaction of the Bosniak voters to your participation in a meeting with certain politicians who do not have the support of the Bosniaks because of their former statements and activities?
That is a continuous dilemma, which exists in the conditions of a strong national tension currently present in the whole country. Sandzak is not immune to that. Of course, there will be those who will be critical and complain "what is he doing there with the Serbian opposition if they agree on many issues with Milosevic," which is not far from the truth. But the opposition is not a potato so that it can be imported from abroad and is not an item that can be changed overnight. The opposition is the way it is. Our only choice is between the authorities and the opposition. We have seen what the authorities can do and we cannot keep saying that the opposition will be the same if it comes to power. We must hope that there will be some changes. Only one thing is certain: no matter who comes to power after Milosevic, he will not be able to establish the same monopoly over the Police, Army, media and economy, as Milosevic did. These are the key elements of his rule. Secondly, the future authorities will have to respect certain rules of the political game imposed by the international community. Our participation is not a reflection of love towards the opposition but an expression of our pragmatism and concrete political interests.
After the opposition meeting, Radio Belgrade the very same evening broadcast a very harsh commentary and referred to you as NATO parties.
I expect an intensification of the media campaign against all those who participated at the meeting and against the very act of the unification of the opposition. I have already stated that the unification is the only method that so far hasn't been used in the direly needed attempt to overthrow Milosevic. We now have a clearing in practice, an open polarization of the political scene to the position and the opposition. Their campaign is the proof that they feel insecure exactly because of the fact that from now on they will face strong and respectable opponents.
You have recently announced that "Sandzak" coalition will publish a Plan for Sandzak in February.
Everything that I have spoken so far is the condition for any future plans. Therefore a change of the regime in Serbia is our primary goal at this moment. As far as the Plan for Sandzak is concerned we talked about the need to formulate a political strategy of "Sandzak" coalition tied to the future of this region and the status of Bosniaks in this state. We see Sandzak as a multicultural and multiethnic region in a democratic Serbia. We see the future democratic Serbia as a decentralized and regionalized state in which Sandzak would be one of the regions with certain legal and political authorities, and with wide-ranging local self-rule for all the municipalities. It is simply unacceptable that now a municipality keeps only 0.8% of the tax income it collects, while before 1990 municipalities controlled 36% of collected tax income. Through this program we shall emphasize the need to form national councils and allow minorities to preserve, nurture and develop their national, cultural and every other form of identity. Above all we want to emphasize that the Sandzak region should be organized in such a way that citizens directly decide about many issues so that they have more direct participation in the government.
We are convinced that we can identify many issues about which Serbs and Bosniaks can reach full consensus. Both of them are served by good roads, the formation of local higher education institutions. It is unnatural that Blace, with 6,000 inhabitants has two faculties, while Novi Pazar has none. It is not natural that large medical centers are established in towns ten times smaller than Novi Pazar. We must focus on those issues in which it is easier to reach consensus instead of talking about those issues for which we know in advance that we cannot agree. The Plan for Sandzak will be a program imbued by reality as well as demands in accordance with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948. That is all I can tell you about the Plan for Sandzak at this moment.
To what extent is your view of Sandzak and its future different from the one offered by Sulejman Ugljanin in the Memorandum About the Autonomy of Sandzak in published July 1999 and which, according to the promises of the Belgrade authorities will be considered in the Parliament?
That memorandum does not demand autonomy but a federal unit and politics is not a list of wishes but also has to do with reality. Ugljanin's memorandum is both in collision with reality and unrealistic. That document brings into question the principle of inviolability of borders, as it erases the border between Serbia and Montenegro and does not take into account the fact that Sandzak is distributed in both federal units. We do not see internal potentials in Sandzak capable of realizing such a document and on the other hand do not see anyone in the international community who would be prepared to support and back such demands. If we respected the principle of inviolability of borders in the Bosnian case and advocated the preservation of Bosnia-Hercegovina we must respect it in this case as well. We believe that the Plan for Sandzak can receive the support of the democratic public in both Serbia and Montenegro and on the other hand the support of the international community.