President of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

It is an honour to address the autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Allow me to express my sadness at the passing of Lord Russell-Johnston, who was your peer for 23 years and who ably presided over this Assembly between 1999 and 2002. Lord Russell-Johnston worked tirelessly on human rights issues until the very end, and our thanks and sympathies go to his loved ones.

Bosnia and Herzegovina highly values the work of the Council of Europe and its bodies and institutions. We have often been direct beneficiaries of this work, and have, as a result of it, made improvements with respect to the rule of law, human rights and democracy. For this, I convey to you the gratitude of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is on human rights, the rule of law and democracy that I intend to say a few words.

We are mindful of the fact that we continue to face a number of obstacles. We have a long way to go before Bosnia and Herzegovina is able to live up to the principles that constitute the very foundation of this body. Even the progress that Bosnia and Herzegovina has made often falls prey to the discriminatory arrangements that are built into our system of governance. While Bosnia and Herzegovina was among the first five countries to ratify Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention, it is the only country in Europe, and the world, whose constitution bars some of its citizens from seeking office solely on the basis of their ethnicity.

“Helping to build a modern constitutional state that is true to its multiethnic character will make both Bosnia and Europe a better place”

To be sure, the Dayton Agreement for peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina of 1995 ended the war, aggression and genocide. Its value in such a context cannot be denied, but that peace agreement was also intended to reduce discrimination and reverse the effects of genocide and ethnic cleansing. On paper, it had all the necessary elements to do so. Indeed, Annexe 7 of the Dayton Agreement guarantees that all refugees and displaced persons shall have a right to “return in safety, without risk of harassment, intimidation, persecution, or discrimination, particularly on account of their ethnic origin”.

In practice – and in the words of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitutional Court – we have witnessed “a systemic, continuing and deliberate practice of the public authorities of Republika Srpska” – that is one of the two entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina – “with the goal of preventing the so-called ‘minority’ returns, either through direct participation in violent incidents or through the abdication of responsibility to protect the people from violent attacks due solely to their ethnic backgrounds”.

Clearly, this matter is not solely our concern. On the contrary, we are hearing statements this week, in these halls, that the right to return – in another European context – is not an important right, as demonstrated by the fact that it was never implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Do these statements suggest that Republika Srpska succeeded in creating an international precedent? Does one get to keep the ethnically clean slate created by butchering or expelling those who are different?

If that is allowed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it will serve as a dangerous precedent and will seriously undermine this institution’s other objectives in my country and elsewhere. Dayton was clearly not designed with à la carte implementation in mind, as one of its components cannot function without the full functioning of the others. Obstruction of some of Dayton’s elements was born precisely out of a desire to stifle democracy and preserve ethnocracy.

One effect of this obstruction is that entity voting has morphed into an ethno-territorial mechanism, whereby only 22% of deputies in the state parliament, all of them Serbs, and all of them from Republika Srpska, can block any decision they desire. Indeed, precisely because 1 200 000 people have not returned, there are only two non-Serb deputies from the Republika Srpska, far from enough to unblock obstruction. Conversely, since a vote from Republika Srpska is worth double a federation vote under entity voting, this is a one-sided mechanism.

And what has this entity voting been used for? Just in the last two years, it was employed five times to block changes to the citizenship law that would permit dual citizenship. Unless these changes, modelled on European practice, are passed, more than 500 000 Bosnian refugees who fled the country not of their own volition but under the threat of death stand to lose their native Bosnia and Herzegovina citizenship. It is not the implementation of Dayton, but the violation of its core principles, that has led to the ethnic apartheid we see today in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

We are about to start work on a new constitution, and allowing this practice to continue will not make that process a successful one. Instead, we will see secretive and pressurised negotiations, resulting in a flawed document. I know that because I was there two years ago when the April package of amendments, which was heavily criticised by the Venice Commission, was offered instead of a meaningful constitutional reform. The Council of Europe knows that as well, because at that time, it adopted a report that unequivocally stated that it was “this [entity] voting system, the insistence on it and its political implications, which is to blame for the failure of the constitutional initiative, not a handful of individual representatives who voted against the package.”

It is for those reasons that I ask you to clearly identify the culprits and hold them accountable. Indeed, if Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot end school segregation because Dayton gives it no competencies to do so, where should the finger be pointed? Likewise, if only 22% of entity-voting deputies can block the law on the census, refusing the EUROSTAT-recommended disaggregated data, should the 78% majority who voted for the census take equal blame? Finally, if we do not create a supreme court, as the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission tell us we should, is the blocked majority to blame?

Please, tell us clearly what the European standards are, and I, for my part, pledge to accept them entirely, as I have in the past. I am certain that I speak for a clear majority of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina in that. There are those who say that they would choose an ethnocracy and its institutions over Europe, but are such views relevant in today’s Europe?

In fact, is today’s Europe substantively different from Europe 60 years ago? Are we now only declaratively in favour of the rule of law, human rights and democracy, while secretly still harbouring respect for brute force, and not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Do we condemn genocide through a verdict of the International Court of Justice, but do nothing to eliminate its results? I hope that we are not such a Europe. I hope that we are a Europe in which ICJ judgments are implemented and not left in the archives. I hope that we are a Europe that realises that, in the long run, values will always win against short-sighted pragmatic interests or political expediency.

I could quote the ICJ judgment to remind you what values are at stake, but instead I will quote my good friend, the late Lord Russell-Johnston, whose account of the Srebrenica genocide was almost identical to that of the Court, seven years later. He wrote that “almost ten thousand husbands, fathers and sons, some only ten or eleven years old, even babies were killed in a five-day long spree of homicidal madness, committed by the Bosnian Serb troops under the command of Ratko Mladic, an indicted war criminal, who is still at large.”

While we applaud the recent arrest of Radovan Karadžić, the fact remains that some of the institutions that the ICJ judgment explicitly identified as perpetrators of genocide are still in existence. We also applaud the revision of the indictment against Karadžić, which now includes two counts of genocide across Bosnia and Herzegovina, against both Bosniacs and Croats. Finally, considering that the ICJ judgment is the first and only judgment under the Genocide Convention in its history so far, I hope and expect that this Assembly will consider its implications.

Dear friends, we have not forgotten the help that we received from many of you. For that, we thank you once again. However, without comprehensive reform of the Dayton constitution, little progress will be made, threatening peace and stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the region. I hope that the monitoring process will continue, and that we can also count on the continued help of the Venice Commission in this regard.

The rule of law is important as it regulates an otherwise chaotic world, and we need such regulation more than ever. Financial regulation is not the only regulation that we need in this world. There must be a notion that justice exists and people must be able to believe in it. That is very important.

Finally, I hope that we can count on you to identify those who are committed to a Europe of the 21st century as against those whose thinking is still dominated by 16th century ideas of ethnic fiefdoms. Ironically, Bosnia and Herzegovina was for centuries an authentic multi-ethnic and multicultural society whose unique fibre was almost destroyed at the end of the last century through mass slaughter, rapes, torture, abuse, expulsion and plundering.

Helping us to reverse the effects of those crimes and to build a modern constitutional state – a democratic state – that is true to its multi-ethnic character will make Bosnia and Europe better places.


Thank you, Mr President, for your statement and the information about your problems and troubles, as well as the difficulties in your society. However, we also thank you for the projects that you are undertaking and your engagement here in the Council of Europe with the aim of making progress in establishing a normal state with the rule of law, human rights and real democracy.

People here in the Council of Europe know the Dayton Agreement and its institutions. They also know of the difficulties in your country, and many times they have demanded here in the Council of Europe to know when we can go on with reform of the Dayton Agreement. You came to tell us of the necessity of the project to reform that agreement. That is also the position of our Assembly.

We now come to the questions. Many people have asked to be able to put a question to you, Mr President. Remember, colleagues, that you have only 30 seconds.

The first question is from Mr Cebeci, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr CEBECÌ (Turkey)

Thank you, Mr President, for your address to our Assembly. What is the biggest challenge for Bosnia and Herzegovina on its way to completing the necessary reforms? In that context, what is your first request for support from the Council of Europe in reaching that objective?

Mr Silajdžić, President of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Thank you for that question. The answer will be very short. Bosnia and Herzegovina, because of the system, is a blocked country. We need a new constitution. I hope that this Organisation can help us to agree on a constitution that is truly democratic and that serves first the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is true that we have a lot of differences – serious differences – but nothing is impossible. We respect this Organisation very much and we in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as people in other places, need an institution that we respect and believe in, especially when it comes to human rights, the rule of law and democracy. I believe that this Organisation can help us to get there.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland)

Mr President, those who listened carefully to your speech and to the answer that you have just given will understand very well why you like the suggestion that Dayton was good for ending the war, but not so good for building up a new democratic state. How do you respond to the fear of those who do not belong to your nation or to your community that, when you go beyond Dayton, they will be the losers? They are afraid of a dictatorship of the majority. Democracy is about more than just the majority. How will you deal with the concerns of those other people?

Mr Silajdžić, President of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina

That question pertains to the content of my speech. As I said – I tried to explain – the fear is now that of the minority, not of the majority. Many important decisions are blocked by the minority, not by the majority. Now, if you think it is better that the minority blocks the majority, that is okay with me, but this issue is not about the majority and the minority; it is about basic human rights.

One of the basic human rights is the right for people to return to their homes. As I said, 1.2 million people never returned to their homes. That is the latest OSCE statistic. If we are talking about human rights, that is one of the basics.

Those people did not return because of the obstructions. Of course we have differences; I stated that. We have very serious differences. I might say that there is a difference of philosophical outlook, of world view. Some prefer, as I do, the civic citizen state that makes all citizens equal, with their rights, their responsibilities and so on. Others would prefer to put to the fore the primacy of ethnic groups. I want to tell you that Bosnia and Herzegovina never knew such a thing in its history. Its multiculturalism is hundreds and hundreds of years old. I do not want to go back into history, but it is at least 1 000 years old. It survived all those centuries, but it almost died at the end of the 20th century. I hope that it will survive the 21st century. That is why I say that things are difficult. We have to agree on a constitution that will serve every single citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

People’s fears are always important, whether they are real or not. I will tell you something: I am not new in politics and I have been involved in it for some time, including during the most difficult periods. I am proud to tell you that what I have said today is what I was saying in 1992, 1993 and 1994, when it was very difficult to be democratic and objective. The other day I read some of my statements from 1992 and 1993, and I am proud of them. I can assure those who read them that they have nothing to fear. Again, I thank you for your question.

Ms KEAVENEY (Ireland)

Like Ireland, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country that has known conflict. What role, if any, does history teaching in schools play in developing peace and understanding among all citizens and entities in your country? How are the very diverse views and interactions of the different cultures represented in Bosnia and Herzegovina supported in co-ordinated and practical policies, particularly given the number of education ministers in the entities?

Mr Silajdžić, President of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Unfortunately, the non-implementation of the Dayton Agreement – I am thinking of Annexe 4 of our peace agreement, the constitution – is conducive to segregation and, some say, apartheid. We have, unfortunately, cases where children are segregated according to their ethnicity, which is a disgrace, and not only for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some people even say openly that that is a solution. We should not allow that to determine the right of citizenship in modern Europe, yet it is happening in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Probably we did not do enough, so I urge institutions such as this one and the bodies within it to help us to end this practice, which is probably the wish of the majority of people in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

What does this teach us? Bosnia and Herzegovina is a big lesson, and is therefore a big symbol and a big message. The question is: what kind of message do we send? Shall we allow the consequences of genocide to stand? Shall we allow the Dayton peace agreement to become an umbrella under which Milošević’s project can thrive? That is the question.

As for the history – I will end with this – it is interesting that the other day I spoke with Sir Patrick Cormack, a member of the United Kingdom Parliament, who proposed that we should all come to Belfast and talk to people there to see how they settled their differences, which is acceptable if the other side accepts. That is enough for the time being, and I thank you for your question.

Mr JACOBSEN (Norway)

Dayton was good for stopping the war, but it was based on ethnic compromises and could not lead to efficient decisions, owing to political issues and so on. What concrete reforms do you think should be introduced for the best for all people in Bosnia and Herzegovina? In which areas and in what way can the state be strengthened?

Mr Silajdžić, President of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina

I am not a supporter of a centralised state and never have been, but I believe that we should strengthen our state institutions, because the present system, way of voting, and so on makes Bosnia and Herzegovina inefficient. I believe that Bosnia and Herzegovina should consist of economic regions, in order to follow the trend that is known to Europe and known to be efficient, rather than following ethnic criteria. Economic criteria should be put at the fore. That is the way to do it.

By the way, the system prevents us from making decisions about very important matters, including our economy. Many of you present may know that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a rich country in terms of human and natural resources. Today, we all know how big the demand for energy is, but 63% of our hydropower is unused. That means that there are thousands and thousands of megawatts that we could put into the European network to contribute to the well being of Europeans. However, we are not using that power because we do not have state planning or the will to do so. That is also the case for other sectors of the economy, such as infrastructure.

I am not against people having the right to say “We are Croats”, “We are Serbs”, or, “We are Bosniacs”, or to protect their vital interests. I am saying that the best for Bosnia and Herzegovina would be to have economic regions. That would give a great boost to our economy, and link those regions with the states and regions in the vicinity and Europe as a whole. That would be the best thing, and as far as I can see, a lot of our citizens agree.

Mr IVANIĆ (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

You mentioned that there were two Bosniacs in the delegation from our parliament from 14, but you did not mention that there are zero Serbs, from 28 in the federation. You heavily criticised all the others and did not even mention the federation, where you have a majority and a key role. After such statements, do you think that the country will be more divided than before your statement?

Mr Silajdžić, President of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Thank you, Mr Ivanić. I wish that you would ask this question in Bosnia and Herzegovina when we meet, but it is good that we can have this interaction here. I did not say that everything in the federation was okay, but I think that you will agree with me that Republika Srpska is an example of the non-implementation of the Dayton Agreement in its most vital annexe, which is Annexe 7, on the return of refugees. I think that you will agree that having only 8% of non-Serbs, out of 46%, says everything, after all the implementation and all the means and money put into the effort.

The second part of your question is very interesting and I hope that I will have your attention for the next couple of minutes. You said that Bosnia would be more divided because of what I had said. That is the same reasoning that, during the Second World War, when some American generals proposed to bomb the tracks leading to Auschwitz, led some others to say no, because the Nazis would get mad – you can find that in the Holocaust museum in Washington. So, the Nazis did not get mad; they killed only 6 million people.

The same thing goes for the aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina. One very well-known player in the international arena, a representative of a major European country, supported the embargo on Bosnia and Herzegovina, helping Milošević. He justified that by saying, “If we lifted the embargo” – this relates to taking away our right of self-defence – “it would be like adding oil to the fire.” Therefore, the fire was quelled by the innocent and that was his justification. The American general was wrong. That representative of a major European country was also wrong.

In Sarajevo, a representative of another major European country, commenting on the International Court of Justice verdict, said, “We have this verdict and it is a verdict of genocide. There is genocide in Bosnia but this judgment should remain within its own confines”, probably meaning the archives. Do you really think that what I say today can add to those hundreds of thousands killed, those tens of thousands of women raped, the 1 400 children in Sarajevo killed? God knows what is happening to some of those whose whereabouts we do not know – 15 000 of them, and Bosnia is a small country. Do you think it will make the position worse? I think not.

It is time that we said that the Milošević project will not thrive under the umbrella of the Dayton Agreement. There must be human rights in Bosnia. People must return. There must be the rule of law not only here but elsewhere, otherwise Bosnia sends a bad message.

This body is interested in basic human rights, the rule of law and, I hope, democracy in Bosnia. We do have democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our elections are really democratic. I am sure that those who oversee the election will come back with the same results, but once we start voting, it is not democracy for some. I thank you again and hope that we can discuss that matter again in Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. I am ready to do so any time.

Mrs MARKOVIĆ (Bosnia and Herzegovina) (interpretation)

asked whether Mr Silajdžić felt that he could remain as Head of State in Bosnia and Herzegovina in light of his recent actions.

Mr Silajdžić, President of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Thank you for your question. I will tell you something that you already know, I think. I am the chair of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina by virtue of democratic elections. As you probably know, I won by a big margin, so I do have democratic credentials and I represent Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It is true that we have differences and you are probably referring to the letter of Mr Radmanović. We did not agree on that letter either, to follow the same logic as you. In any case, I always say that I want to be honest, and we do not play games. Too many people died and this is too serious to play games. It is so serious that I sometimes find it disturbing that, for example, the judgment of the International Court of Justice on genocide is ignored – the first and only such judgment in history. Of course, there have been other genocides but I am talking about official genocide. This is so serious that I will not be stopped from speaking in the name of the victims by any flawed procedure.

Referring to that letter, it has not been agreed to. Generally, there are big differences, but I hope that we can find common ground. That common ground is the values codified as standards and laws that we must all follow, and they are here in Europe and in the Council of Europe. I thank you for your question.

Mr IWIŃSKI (Poland)

May I refer to your last reply? Many of us are concerned by recent information on the increase in instability in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The public calls between two out of three members of your presidency have even reached the UN. It is not a standard situation, to put it mildly. Could relations between Sarajevo and Banja Luka be improved in the foreseeable future?

Mr Silajdžić, President of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina

I do not know: that is between Sarajevo and Banja Luka. Those are citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to whom we are responsible and to whom we report, wherever they are. We have been trying to do that. Those who oversee the Dayton Agreement, the Peace Implementation Council, admitted that, but the problem is in drawing the line of equality.

That is why I ask all of you here specifically to say who is saying what and who is doing what. For over two years, we have heard disturbing statements by some leaders in Republika Srpska bordering on separatism, which can bring a lot of problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is fair to ask who is saying what and who is doing what? That is why I specifically asked this body to point the finger: to say you did this and you said that. Always hiding behind two sides is the result of the philosophy of the least line of resistance.

I know that the international community generally is in love with the status quo, but I believe that this Assembly understands, because it has followed the problems closely in our country for such a long time. It is high time that we saw who is doing what and why and then have some sanctions, otherwise there will always be two sides, and we will do nothing. In the end, we will have no desire to do that. I thank you for your question.

Mr KOÇ (Turkey)

Mr President, thank you very much for your address to the Assembly. Probably right after the local elections, you will start to work hard for constitutional reform. As it takes almost totally opposite views on the future constitutional arrangement, do you believe that the leadership in your country is capable of working on it without the interference of the international community?

Mr Silajdžić, President of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina

I do not. I think that not only expertise but political input is needed. This is an international project, and we are entitled to the assistance of the international community in doing it. I must say – although it is not easy for me – that the international community did interfere during the attacks and aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina in a form that helped Milošević’s project. They took away from us our right of self-defence. They imposed an embargo that cost a lot of life. That is what I said in the United Nations, believing that the United Nations, specifically the Security Council, has responsibility, at least partly. The UN intervened. It was not an indifferent or neutral position. It took away our right of self-defence, at the same time allowing those with military power to wage war against civilians. On that basis, I believe that it is in order and fair for the international community to help us to settle the situation.

Mr BIBERAJ (Albania)

Thank you, Mr President, for coming here and discussing with us this very important issue regarding your country. My question is how you see your country’s perspective regarding your integration with the EU and NATO membership.

Mr Silajdžić, President of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina

I am glad to be able to tell you that it is going well. Despite the system that is blocked, as I said, I think that we have done a lot and that we can do more. All those who visited Bosnia and Herzegovina can witness the progress there. There will be some difficult issues, of course, and we are going to deal with them. But in general I am satisfied and, as far as this is concerned, I am an optimist. We can have a good economy. We already have 6% growth. We have natural resources and human resources. We are doing well in fulfilling one of our strategic goals, which is to join NATO. I also think that we are doing well on the path towards the European Union. However, the most difficult task ahead of us is the integration of our community. We were living side by side in Bosnia and Herzegovina – we genuinely co-existed. Now that is not the case, and that is something that we would like to fix.

Mr NESSA (Italy) (interpretation)

said that Mr Silajdžić had spoken warmly of his love for his country and had acknowledged that there was a lot of work to be done. He had done a lot for his country and was obviously wedded to his people. He had mentioned priorities. Which of the matters he had referred to was the top priority?

Mr Silajdžić, President of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina

I can give the answer to that question, and I shall write to reiterate it. The Dayton Agreement stopped the killing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and stopped the suffering of civilians. We are very grateful for that. Obviously there had to be some contradictions and deficiencies. It was very difficult to find common ground in Dayton, where I was present along with all the others. At that time. Milošević was a peacemaker and President Tudjman was very strong, and our delegation was split, as it were. It was very difficult to find a compromise. It is no wonder that the peace agreement has some contradictions and deficiencies.

Now we need to go forward. We need a new constitution – a constitution that will be conducive to the promotion of democracy and not ethnocracy. Bosnia and Herzegovina does not deserve to step back into the ethnic and tribal systems. It deserves something else, because it is one of the places that keeps the tissue of our civilisation together. It is a model in respect of all the experiences that have occurred, bad and good. This authentic and ancient multicultural world does not deserve to descend into having frontiers between children who live side by side. That is why I believe that we need a new constitution. That is my rather long answer to the question.


Thank you, Mr President, for answering our questions. Thank you also for your clarity and your engagement with our Assembly. I want only to add that in your project for the new constitution and democracy, you can count on us.