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Dayton Is Not Lisbon

When in the Federation they advocate "reintegration of Bosnia-Hercegovina and equality of citizens", in the Republic of Srpska this is interpreted as centralization and domination of the [Muslim] majority, especially because the advocates of "reintegration" are the same politicians who were active on the eve of the war


NIN, Belgrade, FR Yugoslavia, September 23, 1999

"Wedding guests always kill each other, man. If it were the way some politicians from the Republic of Srpska claim, then any murder should trigger a war." This was Dr. Nijaz Durakovic's comment on "the murder of the Serb wedding guest in Bascarsija, which for many Serbs is evidence that their Muslim neighbors started the civil war."

Based on the logic used by the professor of political science, a SDP official and expert for ethnic relations, in his statement made in an interview given to Nezavisne Novine from Banja Luka, it seems that killing of wedding guests is almost a part of the marriage ritual in Bosnia-Hercegovina, almost a friendly gesture. I lived in Bosnia-Hercegovina, in Sarajevo, between my birth in 1947 and the first months of the war in the summer of 1992, but I was not aware of this custom among Muslims, Croats or Serbs in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Of course, it is quite possible that Dr. Durakovic is better informed than I am if the custom in question is practiced only in his birth place Stolac. But the murder of Nikola Gardovic took place in the center of Sarajevo where I can confirm that similar killings hadn't taken place for at least a quarter of a century, as I personally do not recall a single case, although there have been innumerable wedding processions and weddings. Besides, the murderer was not a participant of the wedding party, nor did he know the victim, and a fight of drunkards did not occur before the shooting, which indeed sometimes happens in the closing phases of similar ceremonies in the rural parts of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Then, the murder took place at a specific time and in specific circumstances, which definitely belied the fact that this was a random incident. On the contrary it was obvious that this was a political murder.

Namely, in the spring of 1992 the coalition government of the three nationalist parties was already in the deep crisis with open enmities in the state leadership. As 90 percent of electorate had backed each one of them and all of them together, inter-ethnic relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina were at the verge of a civil war. Furthermore, the murder took place in front of the old Serb Orthodox Church, which is the oldest cultural monument of the national culture and is located in the center of the city, in Bascarsija, which had and still has mostly Muslim population. Therefore, the members of the wedding party were Serbs, while the gathered passers by, one of whom shot at the wedding procession, were Muslims, later Bosniaks. Finally, last but not the least, it is interesting that the opinion polls published in newspapers and conducted among the people who live in this part of the city after the murder, besides the expected revulsion with the criminal act also revealed there was a lot of outrage and surprise - "What was a Serb wedding procession doing in Bascarsija? They were obviously trying to provoke Muslims!"

The final impression is that this was above all a political murder, both by motive and by consequences. Additional evidence for such a conclusion comes from the fact that the local police station in the municipality Stari grad, controlled by the SDA and mayor infamous for his ban on alcohol, could not find the murderer, even though he shot in front of numerous witnesses, was not masked, nor anonymous in the city. All of that without doubt confirms that the peacetime murder of Nikola Gardovic, despite the years of war in which mass suffering of hundreds of thousands of people tragically reduced the significance of individual innocent victims, nevertheless cannot easily be dismissed with offhand remarks such as "wedding guests always kill each other, man".

Colleague Durakovic is, however, right when he says that the murder of the Serb wedding guest cannot be taken as a justification for the war. We can agree with that even taking into account the above explained political dimension of the murder in Bascarsija, which he, oh well, we hope without political tendencies, simply failed to spot. If for no other reason then because before and after this event there were numerous individual and group murders all over Bosnia-Hercegovina and none of them can with certainty be identified as direct causes of the civil war. As an extension of politics by military means, this war had to be directly inspired by some significant political events, even though they could have taken place somewhat earlier. Perhaps it was too much to expect from a politician from the Federation BH, even though Dr. Durakovic is an eminent representative of the local opposition. Nevertheless, it is rather surprising that his interlocutor and the editor-in-chief of Nezavisne Radmilo Sipovac in addressing the start of the war failed to mention crucial events in mid October 1991 and late March of 1992.

Let us remind the readers that at a session of the still joint parliament of Bosnia-Hercegovina "Muslim" and "Croat" representatives, in spite of fierce opposition of the "Serb" representatives declared independence of Bosnia-Hercegovina, which in practice meant secession from Yugoslavia against the will of one of constituent nations, the "Serbs". We put the quotation marks because these representatives were actually representatives of the SDA and the HDZ versus the representatives of the SDS. However, it cannot be denied that all three parties enjoyed at the time almost unanimous support of the ethnic groups they represented, as well as that in the voting for and against they were joined by many representatives of the opposition parties, who voted based on their ethnicity. All of that shows that the vote was actually a legitimate expression of the support of representatives of the three constituent nations for and against independence of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

It is interesting that later references to that dramatic last pre-war session of the complete parliament of Bosnia-Hercegovina, which turned out to be fateful for the future of the former central Yugoslav republic, seldom mention that representatives of the SDA and the HDZ that morning flagrantly violated the Constitution. Namely they violated Amendment LXX of the then Constitution of Bosnia-Hercegovina referring to the "Council for Accomplishment of Equality of Nations and Ethnic Minorities in Bosnia-Hercegovina". "Equal number of representatives from the ranks of three constituent nations and other ethnic groups living in Bosnia-Hercegovina is elected for members of the Council. Council makes decisions by consensus." National parity testifies that the Council was a sort of substitute for the still non-existent House of Nations. In order to remove a controversial proposal from the agenda of the Parliament, it was enough that "at least 20 representatives submit that the proposed act within the jurisdiction of Bosnia-Hercegovina endangers the equality of nations and ethnic minorities, and the final proposal was within the jurisdiction of the Council" (Official Gazette of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, issue published on July 31 1990, pages 590-591). This mechanism of protection of equality of Serbs and from the domination of majority, as used to be said at the time "the Muslim crescent and the Croat checkerboard tied together", was applied correctly several times until the representatives of the SDA and the HDZ suddenly decided to ignore not only the will of their equal neighbors but also the Constitution of Bosnia-Hercegovina. That was the reason why SDS representatives as well as several Serb representatives from the opposition left the joint parliament and formed their separate national parliament, after which the joint government also fell apart, followed by the presidency and other institutions of the united Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Only a few months later, thanks to international mediation of the European Union, representatives of the three nations again met at a neutral location in Lisbon, for the last time before the war. Serb negotiators, despite the referendum conducted among Serbs in Bosnia which expressed almost unanimous support for the unification with Yugoslavia, agreed to recognize independent and sovereign Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Muslim and Croat negotiators, again despite unanimous support for a centralized Bosnia-Hercegovina expressed in their referendum, accepted a division of Bosnia into cantons based on ethnicity. The result of the negotiations was a signed Statement Regarding Principles for New Constitutional Solutions for Bosnia-Hercegovina that envisaged that "Bosnia-Hercegovina will remain in her present borders as a single state with three constituent units based on ethnic principles". As is well-known the Muslim leader after his return to Sarajevo decided to reject this compromise solution which could have saved peace in Bosnia. Then, after four years of horrendous suffering of all three nations and destructions of hundreds of years of work, he signed in Dayton an almost identical solution.

Therefore, man, it is not true that wedding guests kill each other in Bosnia almost every day and that is why such events are remembered for a long time although, of course, such a murder cannot be a cause of war. However, a violation of equality of a constituent nation guaranteed by the Constitution can by all means be a reason for a civil war and that is why it will be recalled even longer. Perhaps that is why Dr. Durakovic is right to say that "Srpska is trying to develop as an independent state and sees after all that her future with Yugoslavia", and that "for the sake of political pragmatism for now the claim is that it is necessary to strictly stick with the Dayton agreement as a guarantee of the survival of the Republic of Srpska". That is probably because in that very same Republic of Srpska they are convinced that when someone from the Federation, either from the authorities or the opposition, advocates "reintegration of Bosnia-Hercegovina and equality of citizens", he says that for completely pragmatic reasons, while he is actually referring to centralization and domination of [Muslim] majority [over Serbs]. That is why for now the best course of action is that all of us stick to the Dayton Agreement, whose realization still requires a lot of work. Besides, Dayton is not Lisbon, so that we can change our mind every other day! As far as the future is concerned, it is easy to agree there. We shall, all together, in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Yugoslavia and southeastern Europe be a part of Europe... The sooner the better.

Translated on December 7, 2001