Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey
After the meandering of 2007 in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro, can we expect a better 2008, or at least more decisive future? One thing is certain, the United States will have a new President in 2008, and that will at least open the door of opportunity for a fresh relationship between Washington and the region. It could also translate into a new global perspective including with much of the Islamic world.
Bosnjaci.net: Will 2008 be similar to 2007 for BiH’s political development?
Sacirbey: There is a human tendency to see the future as not being much different then the past. I’m certain that was the mindset of many, particularly in Sarajevo in 1991. I’m not expecting war. On the other hand, the continuation of the political conflict that erupted into “crisis” in 2007 will come to a head in 2008. The so-called “crisis” of 2007 was manufactured in the belief that the decision on Kosovo could be exploited by Belgrade and Banja Luka to gain concessions at the expense of Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Bosnjaci.net: So the “crisis” is finished or never existed?
Sacirbey: There is still a fundamental contradiction in the vision of what Bosnia & Herzegovina is or should be. The “crisis” is an on-going poker game, with a winner yet to be identified. All that happened is that Dodik’s bluff was called, and he lost this hand. However, he continues to play poker even today.
Bosnjaci.net: re you also referring to Dodik’s recent interview on comments on Croatian television?
Sacirbey: Dodik understands now that the status quo will not continue. In order to save the RS, he must get the Croats to urge for their own entity. It will be a division of BiH into three entities or there will be no RS. Dodik understands that he is playing poker. Not sure that Bosnian/Herzegovinian loyalists yet understand this game or know how to play.
Bosnjaci.net: Who holds the better cards?
Sacirbey: It almost does not matter. What really counts is that no one holds an absolutely winning hand for now, and the winner will be determined by how you play the hand rather than the cards that you start with. In my humble opinion, the most important conclusion of the last hand played, the “crisis,” is that Dodik’s bluff was called. However, now, I’m concerned that in 2008, the mistakes of 1995-96 are not repeated.
Bosnjaci.net: What mistakes?
Sacirbey: Dodik’s hand is not so good. He tries to make his small cards seem more with big talk, a typical tactic of overcompensation. It’s as if the RS needs Viagra to keep nationalism aroused. Milosevic also did not have a winning hand in Dayton in 1995 and 1996, but he knew how to play Holbrooke, Bildt and the so-called mediators. Milosevic did not play against their hands, but rather he exploited the weakness in their ego and character to position himself as the dealer.
Do not Allow Others to Play Your Hand
Bosnian/Herzegovinian loyalists can not allow others to play its hand. I’m hopeful when I see SDA, SBiH and others putting forth their own proposals for constitutional change, rather than just waiting. It’s a real improvement over the scenarios played out in the spring of 2006, when the arguments were whether Sarajevo had to accept the so-called “reforms” simply because they came from those that must be obeyed. We won that hand, but that still has no long term practical application until the next hand is played.
Holbrooke, Bildt and other purported mediators presumed the authority to play Bosnia ‘s cards, and some Bosnians thought why not? What better than to have the most powerful military and political global forces sitting in the game for you?
In the end, though, their and our cards were only played for their benefit. When you lose the right to play your own hand, you inevitably subjugate your claims to someone else’s big and small ambitions. The one that claims to be your friend presumes even greater prerogatives than an enemy might dare. Then, they characterize you as ungrateful when you object. The poker game is played with your chips, but not with your interests so much in mind.
The United States of America and Europe would like to see themselves as our friends. I’m certain that they will be true friends once they see us as real partners. Right now, though, none of the American presidential candidates even know the name of any US official presiding in BiH, much less their direct pronouncements on BiH’s course.
the Battle in 1992-1995, But How to Win the Peace in 2008
Bosnjaci.net: How Will the US elections affect Bosnia & Herzegovina?
Sacirbey: Not much, that is unless BiH becomes part of the campaign debate. In the early 1990s, BiH was part of the American campaign debates. It was not a very high priority, but nonetheless, it was somewhere on the list. Today, BiH is not on the list, yet. In the early 1990s, very few Bosniaks and Bosnian/Herzegovinians were living in the US. It was BiH’s citizen soldiers that made certain that BiH would not pass into history without trace. They kept the debate on BiH alive in Washington, London, Paris , Brussels, and at the United Nations with their courage and perseverance in BiH. Those of us who spoke on behalf of BiH could do so only because of the platform kept alive by BiH’s citizen soldiers. Today, it is up to the survivors to make certain that Bosnia & Herzegovina is part of the debate.
Sacirbey: It depends on where you are. For us Bosniaks in the United States , it is to be taken as a factor of the election process. Institutions, such as KBSA, will have to work that Bosniaks and Bosnians/Herzegovinians of like mind are heard as a voting block. A few years ago, there were very few that were US citizens. And, do not confuse lobbying with being an electoral factor. It’s voters and campaigners who create the opportunity for lobbying.
Bosnjaci.net: Which candidate is preferable for BiH elections?
On fron of UN
Sacirbey and Albright
From right: Slovenia’s Presidente Danilo Turk, ambassador Sacirbey and Princ Zeid
With Croatian’s Presidente Stjepan Mesic
Sacirbey: That is still only speculation. And, maybe we should have this discussion when the field is narrowed down a bit. Nonetheless, some of these candidates have a background regarding BiH that may be relevant. Some may be inclined to generally see BiH only through the prism of America’s so proclaimed war against “Islamo-terrorism.” Some of BiH’s enemies of course will continue to encourage that type of prejudice. We have suffered much as a people and country because of such prejudice very effectively sown from Belgrade and Banja Luka.
Sen. Hillary Clinton will find it difficult to separate from her husband’s legacy in the region, the good and bad. She has many advisers from Bill Clinton’s presidency including Madeline Albright, who was one of the more sincere friends.
Sen. Clinton is also supported by Dick Holbrooke. He is presumed to be seeking the post of Secretary of State. It’s not certain that he will get the job even if Hilary is elected. Nonetheless, the concern is that many of Bosnia’s bad secrets and deals would contaminate Hillary Clinton’s Presidency. Certainly Holbrooke is first committed to protecting and promoting the legacy of “his Dayton” while making sure that his mistakes and deals are not revealed. Holbrooke has made it clear that he believes the RS must stay, but I would not associate that same sentiment with all or necessarily most advisers of Hilary Clinton.
Interestingly, Sen. Barak Obama has as his chief adviser Anthony Lake, President Bill Clinton’s National Security Adviser from 1992-96. I got to know Mr. Lake better, and I think that we had more friends within the National Security Council as compared to the State Department or Pentagon. I particularly recall this conversation.
We were sitting on in the Metropolitan Museum of History in NY at the end of President Clinton’s reception for Presidents and Ministers during the 1995 United Nations Assembly. Mr. Lake, paraphrasing, said: “Don’t believe the protests that religion and identity plays no part in the way that particularly Europe and America have approached the conflict in BiH. Behind closed doors and in private, there was always talk of the Muslim threat.”
Perhaps it should not surprise us that this introspection has resulted in Mr. Lake supporting and advising a black man with at least one Islamic lineage in his past. To those who can and dare think openly, America is in need of a reawakening to its promise of an inclusive society. It is not about us sharing some particular heritage with Obama, but rather than his election would be a recommitment to a more inclusive America, and perhaps global community.
Bosnjaci.net: Are you assuming that Hilary and Obama are the only 2 real candidates?
Sacirbey: That would be too premature and dangerous. Congressman Dennis Kucinich is far behind in the polls, but his ethnicity is part Croat. He was my Congressman already in 1974, where I grew up in a Cleveland, Ohio suburb before going off to college to New Orleans.
Sen. Edwards has a compelling campaign, but a limited resume on BiH.
Sen. Joe Bidden has a lengthy resume on BiH, but so far not such a compelling campaign. On numerous occasions we met at events promoting the integration of the Baltic and other newly independent former communist states into NATO. We could hope and probably expect the same for BiH if he becomes the next Secretary of State.
Governor Richardson was my colleague at the United Nations in early 1997, and we had a good personal and working relationship. He would be a compelling Vice Presidential candidate.
Sen. Dodd is a longtime Senator, who probably will remain senator, but who has an ever larger Bosniak constituency in his home state of Connecticut.
Bosnjaci.net: You have only focused on Democratic candidates?
Sacirbey: Purposely, yes.
Bosnjaci.net: Because Republican candidates have no chance?
Sacirbey: More because very few have any proven history with foreign policy, the region or Bosnia & Herzegovina. Unfortunately some have fallen into the trap of only defining BiH and Bosnians in the context of religious labels. Of course, Muslims have been guilty of the same at times.
In 2000, Muslims in America voted 2 to 1 for President George W. Bush, many because they presumed that he was more morally conservative and anti-homosexual, anti-promiscuity, anti-deviant etc. Muslims in America were too caught-up in being against some life style or group to recognize that they soon would fall into the list of the unwanted in much of America’s social and political circles. Regardless of Republican or Democrat, Muslims in the US may be voting on their future in America, as an integral part of or excluded from.
Sen. John McCain is one who has a history on BiH. Once around 1993, Sen. McCain and I debated on CNN as to whether the United States had an interest in becoming involved in the war in BiH. Sen. McCain advocated no US intervention. When I responded with a reference to “we, the Americans,” he interrupted to demand how I could use the term “we” in including myself as an American when I was representing Bosnians/Herzegovinians. I pointed out that it was entirely consistent with an American identity to also have another as Jewish, Chinese, Italian, Irish, African or Bosnian American.
Sen. McCain did not respond further. However, after the interview was concluded, he called me up from Washington to apologize for his comment. He regretted his questioning of my American identity. Regardless of his position on BiH, this left a positive impression.
That an American war hero and someone who was imprisoned and tortured during Vietnam did not give himself the right to question my American identity spoke a lot of the man. It spoke a lot about America , but then that was 1993. In the United States, you can be both an Indian and cowboy. In fact some of the best cowboys are Indians. The Indians that persevered most successfully took on some of the better characteristics of cowboys.
I’m still concerned that many of today’s presidential candidates are inclined to follow, if not lead, into the political rhetoric of exclusion rather than inclusion. Of course, I should emphasize this as my crude generalization. Congressman Chris Smith from 1993, when I fist met him, to today, is a great Republican and good friend of Bosnia & Herzegovina.
In short, as the field narrows and we come closer to the November elections, we will have to get to know the Republican nominee better, and also see if he is inclined to see and understand us.
Bosnjaci.net: What else is new for 2008?
Sacirbey: How about what is old but yet unfinished. Let me be brief. Otherwise, the list could become too long:
1. Belgrade still has not fulfilled its obligations under the ICJ judgment of February 26, 2007 . We have reasons to feel cheated with the judgment but even more so that even what BiH was awarded has not been honored by Belgrade . Quite to the contrary, Belgrade assumes that revisionism rather than repentance will clean its hands. And, why not? There is no one pressuring them, and it can only remain up to our leadership in Sarajevo and us.
2. While Srebrenica was declared the victim of genocide, its status remains further imbedded in the RS by all of those who want to help, or more accurately, play the poker cards for Srebrenica.
3. Will Mladic and Karadzic end up in The Hague? Too many deals and lies, and they are more likely to see the grave before the judge.
4. Will those who betrayed Srebrenica and made deals with Milosevic, Mladic and Karadzic be held accountable? Why would they? If Bosniaks and Bosnians/Herzegovinians are not calling out for truth and justice, then who will. While some talk very big language with an exaggerated Bosnian machismo, they are afraid of offending the masters. We are the true “levats.” I’m sincerely for truth, justice and reconciliation, but don’t just sell barren reconciliation. There is still a lesson that we must learn from the Holocaust and Jewish victims.
I think that I’m a good friend of Europe, the Netherlands, the United Nations as well as being a committed American, but asking for accountability and securing our rights does not make any of us an enemy and not of Belgrade or any of our neighbors. It is up to them how they wish to characterize us because we demand what is our right and not their prerogative. The question that is more relevant is what we see in the mirror.
Bosnjaci.net: Is this also a poker game?
Sacirbey: Yes, in part. Poker is not just about chance, although it has an element of gamble, as most things. It is much more about how you play your hand. Cowboy has become a bad label in some circles. However, the cowboy’s primary identity is self reliance, perseverance and a bit of risk taker. Maybe I’m mistaken, but that is what I find is the most shared in the Bosniak and American character.
Bosnjaci.net: Is 2008 mainly about what opportunities and promises were missed in 2007 and before, correcting the mistakes of before?
Sacirbey: I hope not, but that is about responsibility. We also do have a new President of Slovenia, not only a friend but someone to counter a bit of a wavering toward Belgrade from his own capital and Europe as a whole. President Turk is a bit of the good past coming back today. He takes over just as Slovenia will assume the Presidency of the European Union. It is an opportunity to see the Euro-Atlantic road toward integration with greater clarity and integrity.
In Croatia, we also have a President, Stephan Mesic, who has shown an inclination to speak more about history and about the now more clearly than most Bosnian/Herzegovinian leaders. More importantly, his words and sentiments are most relevant for the future.
With or without BiH, Croatia is quickly heading toward the EU and NATO. Slovenia is there. On the other hand, BiH lags behind, badly. Some have argued that BiH is still far away from Euro-Atlantic integration. Others have proposed that BiH should not become a member of NATO at all, because the RS will resist this in alliance with Serbia and Putin’s Russia.
2008 will prove to be a crucial point in setting BiH into the track toward the west or subjugation to political agenda of not only Belgrade but a re-assertive Russian Empire. On this point Holbrooke and I agree even if I hold his previous policies partially responsible for this peril.
We must take advantage of Slovenian and Croatian leaders who have not forgotten BiH, before their countries move so far beyond that catch-up is impossible and by inertia BiH is drawn toward Belgrade’s, Moscow’s sphere of influence. It is not just about how fast is BiH realizing economic growth, but also relatively, in comparison to its neighbors and can it catch up to become a partner.
Belgrade seems to have presumed to speak on BiH on many occasions, as if it is a right without limit and purpose. That can be challenged and also countered by voices from within and to BiH’s west.
Sacirbey: Dodik’s nationalist Viagra!
Whether we like or dislike the result, Kosovo will be independent. And, it will be again used to arouse nationalist passions in BiH.
Well, no need to follow his mood, timing or setting. This nationalist passion will impress some and scare others. Contrary to engaging with this false bravado just as it reaches its peak, this should only impress upon all, that substantive change is necessary. Time and manner should serve the need of true change.
Bosnjaci.net: What if someone says Republika Srpska for Kosovo?
Sacirbey: RS for Kosovo? No! But Whatever the RS is in BiH then Sandzak should be with respect to Serbia. Sandzak is as much ethnically linked to BiH as is RS to Serbia. And, Sandzak is historically linked to BiH as Kosovo is to Serbia. If you want to shuffle the deck and play cards, Bosnia & Herzegovina will not be at the table with nothing to gain and all to lose. Anyway, Bosnia & Herzegovina needs change regardless of Kosovo or Sandzak, and it is in need of change because of the betrayals and failures of the last round, the Dayton Accords. Unlike Belgrade, Bosnia & Herzegovina was neither aggressor nor responsible for genocide. It does not deserve to be penalized nor the status quo.
2008 must be the new beginning for an ancient country, based upon globally shared values free of the RS and the mistakes of the past. It’s a modest goal for the New Year even for a relatively small country, but with big heroes from the recent and ancient past.