“The deadlock in BiH has resulted in progress and development being stagnant for years now, and as a result of that, the general increase in standard of living for the citizens of BiH has been very slow, almost non-existent. There are certainly more factors as to why, but the most prominent ones are: the absence of the rule of law and the culture of responsibility; the constitutional framework of BiH, and the widespread corruption that follows it,” Ismet Fatih Čančar stated during the interview with Sarajevo Times news portal.
Mr. Čančar continues by saying that the country is engulfed by an anachronistic legal-political order in the form of the Dayton Peace Agreement that no longer serves as a solution. It has become an obstacle to the development and integration of the country in the EU, and poses an incentive structure for corrupt political elites, nationalist politics and clientelism, and authoritarian actors and regimes to block and obstruct any kind of progress. As a result, BiH has no institutional capacity to hold these actors accountable and push through with reforms it badly needs.
He adds that, as a result, the systemic corruption in the absence of rule of law has come to a point where it has destroyed the social fibre of the country, perpetuating the erosion of democracy and its institutions, which affects the political, economic and social sphere of every Bosnian on daily basis.
Finally, there is a clear plan for destabilization, conflict and secessionist ambitions in the entity of Republika Srpska that are trying to use this framework in fulfilling their goals.
Sarajevo Times: On April 7th, BiH’s Chairman gave an interview for Serbian local media, drawing a new territorial map, connecting Serbia, Republika Srpska, and parts of Montenegro. How would you comment on this? It is 2019, and the agreement on borders is not yet signed. Is it solely a political rhetoric, diversion from economic problems or it has some greater connotations?
“It is a mixture of a lot of things. It certainly is a reflection of the issues we face in the country, and a lot of this reminds us of the 1990s where border drawings and crossings where discussed, and later on attempted. There is no secret that the Chairman of BiH’s presidency is an open propagator of division, discontent with the state and willingness for partition and secession. When you add to that the support he receives from his patrons in Belgrade and Moscow, it becomes easier for such ideas to be pursued. It also is a good learning lesson, insofar that it allows us, pro-Bosnian forces, to carefully listen and be warned of what kind of thoughts are circulated among these structures in BiH,” Mr. Čančar explains.
But, in times of changing global political landscape, where other issues are in the centre of attention, the first steps have to come from within the pro-Bosnian side. No other outside entity is going to put BiH on the first place of priorities if we don’t do so. Also, there is no evidence that the EU, in the midst of its own challenges (Brexit, EU elections), is marshalling a diplomatic (or any other kind of) initiative to deescalate these growing provocations coming from the RS. Once we do everything in our power to push back, then the rest will follow, including the support and concrete actions from the International Community. In the meantime, nationalist and populist politics will be the way of swaying masses and instilling fear led control of the citizens of BiH which masks any kind of real confrontation with everyday problems of our country; economic, demographic, political and social ones, he explains.
Sarajevo Times: How would you comment on Republika Srpska’s decision to form a police reserve force? Is this a red alert? Should PIC countries intervene? Is this similar to events in 1990s?
“The red lines have been crossed long time ago. What we are witnessing right now is just an extension of a more careful, deliberate plan set more than a decade ago. Remember, in 2006 it started with Milorad Dodik advocating for the dismantling of state judiciary and foreign judges that could hold him and other politicians accountable. Then it was the (unconstitutional) 9thof January date followed by SNSD quashing any kind of opposition in the RS. Now you hear daily callings for the dissolution of the state and the entity joining Serbia after a secession. The reserve police force (which is absolutely in violation with the Dayton Constitution Annex 1A and the IPTF demilitarization guidelines set by the commissioner) is just the final tool in this process that should be sounding alarms all over the continent,” Mr. Čančar explains further.
In that regards, the so far passive International Community needs to turn their bureaucratic autopilot off and answer with concrete measures. This entitles expanding the current United States measures by further targeted sanctions, travel bans and asset freezes for leading SNSD actors, all in cooperation with major European countries, as well as placing credible deterrent forces with NATO troops in BiH. Of course, this has to be followed with the reactivation of Bonn Powers by PIC states and the capacity of OHR in BiH to deal with destabilizing forces the proper way, he highlights.
Most importantly, BiH is on a bridge right now. A bridge between two possible realities. One leads towards the past, the uncertainty, and the fear of the 1990s. The other one leads to the future, prosperity, clear European vision and liberation. But for the country to direct this ship to the latter, the pro-Bosnian forces have to consolidate themselves. They have to stop with frivolous and selfish politics of personal agendas. Adequate reforms, real tangible ones, both economic and political are the way forward. Animation of foreign subjects and further expansion of partners in the world that support the Bosnian state will follow this traction. The times we are in right now require active leadership, not passive observation.
Sarajevo Times: There is harsh rhetoric from Croatia, such as that BiH is a potential hotbed for terrorists. Also, last year, there were alleged espionage activities conducted by Croatian’s SOA in BiH. What is your opinion on this? As much as it is important for BiH to enter the European Union, it is also important to enter NATO. How to achieve this with these radical statements?
“Indeed, the recent times has been full of different scandals and actions coming from our neighbours. There are enough indicators to believe that the Croatian government with their Intelligence agencies did really try to orchestrate false-flag operations on the territory of BiH. Same seems to happen in Slovenia as well. This is a continuation of the already established praxis of Croatian meddling in internal questions of BiH, and the revival of irredentist politics towards BiH. It also complements (well) the immense pressure our country faced coming from HDZ BiH and their sister party in Zagreb since the general elections in October and the efforts to force a change in the election law,” Mr. Čančar explains.
However, what is disappointing is that the response of domestic and foreign relevant bodies has been very poor. With the non-existent rule of law and sense of accountability in the country, they have allowed these kind of issues to slide through. And this leads to dangerous precedents of creating exclusive rights for Balkan countries in relations to BiH. Same applies for foreign actors. No one should be able to blatantly violate the territorial integrity and sovereignty of BiH and receive a free pass for it. Under such premise, the question is can Croatia be trusted as a security partner within the NATO framework? Those are questions left unanswered.
Finally, the Euro-Altantic road still has to be the goal. NATO should be the absolute priority for BiH, not only for security reasons but for economic opportunities and the guarantee of continuity of democratic means in the country. It also furthers the EU membership as no South Eastern European country has entered EU without prior NATO membership. Such decisions of vital interest have to be put in front of the people of BiH as a referendum question. Whether that happens depends on the pro-Bosnian political leadership.
Sarajevo Times: For the last 10 years, freedom of media in BiH is in constant decline, and the latest global index of media freedom states that BiH is on the 62ndplace. We are witnessing journalists being beaten on the streets, threatened etc. How about the latest situation when Huso Cesir attacked Zurnal’s journalist?
“A healthy democracy is defined by strong media presence, and a society and its existence is strong only as how much media freedom its citizens enjoy. BiH as a transitional country and a society that strives to become a member of the modern Western world has to work continuously on protecting media freedom and allowing journalists to do their job, report the truth, and hold politicians accountable for what they do and what kind of progress they achieve. This is what leaders have to understand. It is also what the European project is about. Enjoying the fundamental right of absolute freedom of expression and freedom of information as a guarantor and key indicator of a country’s readiness to become part of the EU family,” Mr. Čančar concludes.
Unfortunately, we have seen that journalists are often hindered in doing so, as has been the case in recent times. It is especially problematic when this issue receives institutional support like the amplified repression of domestic critics and media freedom in Republika Srpska.
However, as Winston Churchill once said: “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
Interview by Zejna Yesilyurt