Interview: Miroslav Lajčák, EU Special Representative/High Representative for BiH: “The Crisis in BiH Has Nothing to Do with Kosovo”

by Dragan Jerinic, Denis Kuljis:

Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajčák, the current high representative to Bosnia-Hercegovina, acquired his knowledge of the Balkans during his many years of education in Moscow.

“I got a law degree in Bratislava; then I went to Moscow, where I did my PhD. In the old system, if Czechs and Slovaks wanted to become diplomats, they went to Moscow to study. I attended the course on the history of international relations and specialized in the Balkans, their history, the theory of international relations, political economy, protocol, and so on. Many of those things are helping me to deal with diplomacy as a science,” Lajčák said in his interview with Nezavisne Novine and Zagreb’s Globus.

Speaking about his diplomatic and political experience to date, Lajčák said that he had first witnessed the collapse of a system in Moscow and then the disintegration of a system in Prague, in Czechoslovakia.

“I came back from Russia to Czechoslovakia in 1991. In the meantime, my country had fallen apart. Then I witnessed the birth of a new state service in Slovakia, the state institutions, and not only their birth, but I was also part of it. I next went through the agony of European integration, including four years when Slovakia dropped out of everything and we were described as the black hole of Central Europe.

Nezavisne novine: Wherever you went, most of it fell apart. You are now in Bosnia-Hercegovina; is our country falling apart or is it in the process of being put back together?

Lajčák:  This country must establish its institutions, and it is still suffering the consequences of the past. It must define its identity.

Nezavisne novine: All the sides here have put forward clear positions. The position of the international community reminds me of parents’ attitude to their children. I feel that I need to tell my children what is good for them, while someone else is saying that children should not be told what to do and that they will realize that on their own.

Lajčák: That does not help. You must talk. That is a way to make them understand that what you are saying is for their own good.

Nezavisne novine: Is that the key thing?

Lajčák: You have to do that for a certain period of time, and then they should take responsibility. When you feel that you can no longer carry on, and that they have learned enough, then they can go on. It makes no sense for you to carry on; if you do, they will never understand. They should assume responsibility.

Nezavisne novine: Is it not discouraging to have an international administration in B-H? It has been present here for 12 years now, and the gap between B-H and neighbouring countries in the region is increasing.

Lajčák: This is a special experiment. The presence of the international community has created an interesting and unique relationship of mutual dependence. Sometimes, the same politicians who criticize the influence of the international community use it to make certain difficult decisions in their stead, so that they can hide behind the international community.

On the other hand, the extent of the international community’s activities is very important. In my view, the international community should be a referee, and not badger the political system. Here I mean that this referee should have yellow and red cards, like in soccer. He should not be dictating the game, but intervene every time there is danger of the game moving in the wrong direction, and might lead to conflict.

Nezavisne novine:  So, is this the case here? The problem seems to be, precisely, the strong partiality of the referee, just like in soccer.

Lajčák: The problem is that the people here do not believe in the word impartial, because everyone is either ours or theirs. If I say that I am neutral, then that is understood to mean that I am with the others, but that I am only avoiding saying so. That is a problem. People are always searching for partiality; they tend to make such accusations. They see everything in a negative light, instead of trying to see things from a positive, common side. I just state this as a fact.

Nezavisne novine: The reasons for such an attitude are based on the experience of these people.

Lajčák: There are a number of reasons, but all three sides claim the same reason. That is the problem. The problem is also the habit of presenting the truth, but only the part of the truth that suits one particular side. I cannot say that you are not saying the truth, but the problem is that everyone is presenting his part of the facts, instead of agreeing on what is real.

Nezavisne novine: So, how do you see the end of the high representative’s mission? At what point should his term end?

Lajčák: I think that with the signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU, or when granted candidate status.

Nezavisne novine:  You can achieve that during your term?

Lajčák: I think I can. There is no issue or problem in B-H that does not have a solution. There is only a poisoned, very difficult atmosphere. Many bad things are being said and you can read them in the newspapers. This is why the people do not believe that a positive solution is possible.

I saw six political leaders in Mostar who were truly happy when they reached an agreement on that declaration. The people are used to seeing things resolved, things developing spontaneously, things moving forward for everyone but B-H.

Nezavisne novine: Let us be specific. What is, really, the problem with the police?

Lajčák: This country has accepted that the police reform is a condition for signing the SAA. The three parliaments voted for this, and now the EU, a well-intentioned institution, wants this to be fulfilled. It expects that. Nothing has been done in that sense, that is, only negative things have been done. However, the EU has clear rules of the game. No police reform, no singing of the agreement.

Nezavisne novine: But what does this reform really mean?

Lajčák: The police reform is defined by three European principles. However, that space is flexible enough to reach an agreement. The political leaders in this country are not prepared to agree a joint interpretation of the three EU principles.

Nezavisne novine:  You mentioned the Mostar declaration. Is it not just a short version of the agreement between Dodik and Silajdzic]? Why is their agreement not acceptable, but the Mostar declaration is?

Lajčák:  Do you know why?

Nezavisne novine: Because the Dodik-Silajdzic agreement bears only two signatures, and the Mostar declaration bears six. Is this the only reason?

Lajčák: That is not the only reason, but it is the key difference. The political legitimacy of six signatures is completely different to that of only two signatures.

Nezavisne novine: What exactly do you have against Dodik and Silajdzic?

Lajčák: Nothing. In my view, it was logical that, after signing the agreement, they should come to the political partners and say: “Here it is, we agreed on this, and we propose that you join us.”

Nezavisne novine: Was that not what happened?

Lajčák: No, it did not. They signed it and said that this was it, take it or leave it; and what was the reaction of the other political parties? They should have tried harder to gain political legitimacy for that agreement. Any document that has only two signatures has no chance of going through three governments.

Nezavisne novine: Do you think that the Mostar declaration would have been signed had you not been present?

Lajčák: That does not matter at all; what matters is that it was signed.

Nezavisne novine: It matters for the future of B-H?

Lajčák: It is important for a serious process to begin, to see that things can happen. I am here to contribute to that.

Nezavisne novine: What is the core problem regarding the police? The people in the Republika Srpska feel that if the police become centralized, they will not be safe. Is that correct?

Lajčák: The problem is that the police issue, like everything else, is perceived in context. First, in an atmosphere of no trust, taking away control of the police is seen by the people of the Republika Srpska as weakening the Republika Srpska. Second, there is a fear that this is the first step towards the abolition of vital institutions, and they have no confidence, they are fearful, and their experience has been negative.

It turns out that today the European perspective cannot balance all the accumulated negativity. B-H’s European perspective is too abstract at present, which is why it is necessary for me to work on that education, for people to learn about the EU, but without any strategic agreement between the political leaders. Because in an atmosphere of fear and mistrust, no agreement can be reached.

Nezavisne novine: The police reform boils down to centralization. In Macedonia, you are going in the opposite direction, towards decentralizing the police?

Lajčák: I certainly do not want to go back to the prior history of this issue. I shall go back just two years. Nothing was imposed. The police reform was accepted by B-H and the entities, and they pledged to complete it so as to sign the SAA with the EU, and that is a partnership relationship. In two years, nothing has been done.

Nothing has been done here without the involvement and pressure from the international community, and despite this engagement, we have still not got anywhere, which is why the process stopped. This is why the Mostar declaration is a step forward, which could mean the beginning of a new process, but only if the first step is followed by a second, third, and so on.

Nezavisne novine: So, you are expecting initiative from the local leaders?

Lajčák: I really try hard to embolden and encourage the partners: “go ahead, you go and make your own proposal that is legitimate and has everyone’s support,” because the European issues should not be the subject of an internal struggle. You can fight about anything but not about your European future. You should agree on that.

Nezavisne novine: And then you introduced your measures, which were perceived by the Republika Srpska political leaders as punishment for the failed police reform.

Lajčák: No. I have said many times that you cannot punish someone who has not matured.

Nezavisne novine: Why did you not introduce them two months ago?

Lajčák: What would have been the reaction if I had passed them two months ago? Do you think that I would have been applauded then? Two months ago, I was concentrating all my energy on opening our path towards European integration; I chose that.

Nezavisne novine: Why did you not consult Spiric in connection with the decisions on the Council of Ministers?

Lajčák: That is my decision and my responsibility. I am the one who has the Bonn powers. Spiric has his opinion about the way in which the Council of Ministers should operate. However, this is not how things work, that the ministers are answerable only to the chairman and not to their party leaders. Of course the ministers have to be answerable to their party chairmen, but the Council of Ministers must function.

Nezavisne novine: Why did you not authorize the chairman to remove several ministers?

Lajčák:  That would have meant changing the Constitution. That would have been a brutal encroachment on this country’s Constitution, but not through what I have done; that would have been an ethnic composition. This is exactly what would have led to changing the balance, which would be against the Constitution.

Nezavisne novine: Spiric argues that you have now completely disempowered him.

Lajčák: Show me the article in which I disempowered him.

Nezavisne novine: His deputy can replace him at any moment.

Lajčák: Not at any moment, but only if the Council of Ministers’ chairman fails to schedule the session twice without justification. For instance, if he is ill or if he is travelling, this would help avoid a blockade. Even then, the two deputies must agree on the matter and, in that case, nothing can be passed without the votes of all three constituent ethnic groups. Is it normal to fail to schedule a session twice without justification? That would be a blockade.

Nezavisne novine: Very well. Is it possible, in accordance with your measures and the rules of the B-H Parliament, which you will probably have to impose, to have a situation in which the Council of Ministers passes decisions without the Serb representatives? Can they be outvoted?

Lajčák: No, they cannot; when they are present, they cannot be outvoted. If they are not present, only decisions on matters that do not fall under the vital national interest can be passed. Furthermore, everything that the Council of Ministers passes, goes to parliament, where there is, again, an institutional guarantee.

Nezavisne novine: Do you know what I think about your decisions? They were made with the aim of preventing the Serbs from possibly leaving B-H’s institutions when Kosovo gains independence, and to make it possible for the B-H institutions to function in such a situation.

Lajčák: To be honest, no. This has absolutely nothing to do with Kosovo. I am interested exclusively in B-H, which has wasted a lot of time. You should not search for that angle. Second, let me repeat, no one can be outvoted. You cannot find a situation, a model, according to which anyone could decide on behalf of the Serb deputies, against their will. There is no such situation. Do not search for obstacles everywhere.

Nezavisne novine:  But connecting the situation in B-H with Kosovo did not originated here. This is the European and the regional outlook.

Lajčák: That does not exist in my specific activities.

Nezavisne novine: Do you not pay attention to that? Do you not care?

Lajčák:  I am not responsible for that. I am saying that B-H has its own problems and its own homework to do. And whether it solves them or not, it has nothing to do with Kosovo.

Nezavisne novine: But this is not something that is discussed only in B-H.

Lajčák:  It is logical that certain politicians and analysts are thinking about it. Of course, whatever the outcome, the solution for Kosovo will have certain repercussions. . . However, B-H is not a hostage to Kosovo in that sense. B-H has everything in its own hands and we should not think about Kosovo in that context at all. One may try to abuse Kosovo if one wishes, but B-H is not linked to the situation in Kosovo in any sense.

Nezavisne novine:  I must ask you something: can the legal experts, who are discussing your decisions, change a single comma in them? I do not know what they are talking about if they cannot change anything.

Lajčák: The legal experts are trying hard to remove all the uncertainties. If they find something wrong in the decision, something that is harmful, then I would not object to changing it. I am certain that there are no such problems.

Nezavisne novine: An easy question for the end. Are you thinking of removing Dodik and Silajdzic?

Lajčák:  I do not answer hypothetical questions. But I said that I accepted my mandate fully, together with its powers. However, I tend to think positively and I want to use my mandate positively, not negatively.

Reform of Constitution

Nezavisne novine: Are we going to have a broader discussion soon in B-H about constitutional changes?

Lajčák: That is logical, is it not? We have agreed that that the meeting should take place in November; a meeting that will be devoted only to constitutional reform and to the essence of that process. All the political leaders who are politically reasonable agree that this country needs a constitution to be a functioning state. It is logical for there to be different views about what that state should look like. It would be good to start that process. I am aware of that and we are available.

That constitution should be a domestic product. The international community is prepared to offer its expertise, but without imposing anything. If they want my opinion, it is my private opinion. If the political leaders are thinking about this or that variant, then we can express our opinion when conducting a legal analysis of a specific issue, or to see what is feasible. However, the final decision is theirs.