Difficult election year is before the Republika Srpska, with an unpleasant atmosphere caused by the election campaigns. The fights for authority between certain parties will take on such proportions as have not been seen here since the postwar period.
By: Andrea Vuković
The National Assembly ends the year with continuing meetings up to the New Year’s celebration. Have you got reasons for celebration? Are you satisfied with what has been done in 2013?
I think that the National Assembly has a very successful year behind it. The statistics are rather positive. If we look at the number of passed laws, held meetings, completed points, their contents and quality, the results are among the best so far. When we sum everything up after the final meeting, I believe this will be one of the most successful years from 1996 to date. Among other things, we now have a new model of business registration that became effective on the 1st December and enables companies to complete their registration within 3 days; then, there is the new Law on Space Planning and Construction, as well as new laws on energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy and the Strategy for fighting against corruption. By performing its control and legislative function, the Parliament has deserved the epithet of the most successful in the country.
To what extent can the image of the National Assembly have an impact on the image of the Republika Srpska?
Foreign diplomats working in B&H know to what extent our image has an impact on the image of the Republika Srpska, but they will rarely admit it. We are still fighting with plenty of stereotypes and sometimes we also feel a dose of cynicism in some of their comments. Finally, many non-governmental organizations find it hard to admit that we are the most successful parliament in B&H.
The announcement by the Board of Directors of the Peace Implementation Council after the regular December meeting treats once again the issue of the rhetoric of division, denying the territorial integrity and B&H institutions and the like, but the Republika Srpska is not mentioned in any part of this year’s report. Do you pay attention to PIC and OHR in those meetings in the same way as you did before?
The PIC meetings are not what they used to be anymore. The times are gone now when the OHR imposed laws, appointed and removed officials from power, carried out reforms and so on. Today, PIC has a monitoring role which is not in the foreground due to both local and international circumstances. On the local scene, the number of those who are ready for an imposition of decisions by others is decreasing all the time. However, there still exists a strong line in one part of Sarajevo politics which has a tendency to seek that the decisions about which Serbs, Croats and Bosnians cannot agree be imposed by someone else, if, of course, this is beneficial for them. And this imposition no longer takes place.
So you notice a different approach of the international community?
When it comes to the international context, it too has changed a lot. We have a new EU representative who is thereby a new reality. EU has the greatest mission in B&H, in which it invests a lot both politically and financially. Many people do not want to finance two OHRs and two special representatives and therefore every year there comes about the discussion related to the budget for OHR. On the one hand, there emerged a new mission of the international community that is huge and financed, and on the other, there is this old approach through OHR. EU and not only EU, for it is an international community concensus, came in with a different kind of approach. It is the approach that consists of reaching agreements of local politicians with the benevolence, help, assistance and expertise of Europe. I think that the interest in B&H is far smaller abroad and that the mood for any kind of interventionist politics is below zero. One part of the local political scene has to understand that B&H is no longer interesting.
Is that good for this region?
On the one hand it is, because it means that we do not have a huge problem, while it is bad in the economic sense, as it means that we are becoming unimportant in some way and this puts off investors. The focus of the world’s politics and economics is currenlty on Russia, China, Asia, India and Eastern Europe, and no one talks about the Balkans.
Do you see this lack of interest as an opportunity for the Republika Srpska to change its approach in the relations with the international community and to step forward more actively in solving some important issues?
The Republika Srpska had a huge problem with OHR which saw Srpska as the usual suspect in some issues. The arrival of the special representative of EU was in a way our attitude and our politics, that is, we wanted a different approach of the international community which implied mediation and assistance, not imposition. A new opportunity opened for the Republika Srpska and I think we are using it very well. We are present a lot in Brussels, not only through representatives that the Republika Srpska has there, but also in the parliamentary form. I myself go to Brussels two or three times a year where we have contacts with all members of the European Parliament that deal with the Balkans and there are not many of them. Whenever there is an event in which the Republika Srpska is mentioned, we either go there to talk or send letters and notes. The Republika Srpska shows an interest and seeks and makes new contacts. The European resolutions in B&H in the last two years are balanced and different from what they used to be like. By its intensive communication the Republika Srpska is trying to use the opportunity of the new atmosphere.Also, the Republika Srpska has stepped into the process of European integrations more than the other entity in the operative sense.
In what way? What has been done on that field?
Two years ago we changed the National Assembly rules of procedure in the sense that every law that comes into the Assembly as well as every act has to have a declaration of conformity with the European legislation. We have a special Board for European Integrations in the National Assembly, which the other entity does not have. We have departments in the ministries that deal with the European legislation, which, again, is not the case in the other entity. In some way we are the leaders in B&H when it comes to the European integrations. Although many will deny it abroad, it is a fact that in the Republika Srpska we have stepped into it at the operative level, while this is far from being the case in the cantons and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Lately, they themselves have been working hard on it, since it is clear that with the EU request to make a model, i.e. mechanism of European coordination and communication the other entity has to work more when it comes to the institutional strengthening and organization.
Is it possible to take the system of coordination from the political down to the technical level? Are the requests by the EU directed towards the centralization of B&H in that sense or is it merely the case that the EU institutions only want a simpler communication with B&H?
With the request to make the mechanism of communication and coordination of B&H, the Republika Srpska politics gained a big plus. Srpska holds the view that everybody should do their job in accordance with constitutional competences, while the Sarajevo view is that the European issues are eo ipso B&H issues and that therefore they are are to be solved by B&H institutions, and this would amount to an „en gros” transfer of competences, which we find unacceptable. From the conflict of the two views that lasted for years, Brussels decided to ask for a system of B&H communication and coordination. In fact, we get the message from Brussels that the subjectivity of all those levels is accepted in accordance with their constitutional competences and B&H is only asked to find a manner of placing the harmonized position.When we started dealing with the issue of the mechanism of communication and coordination, FB&H had no proposals. There were some proposals developed by foreign experts, as well as some ideas that leaned toward centralization and were more in accord with the Sarajevo view, which we declined and put forward our own proposal. The existing document on the mechanism of coordination and communication which is being discussed is, more or less, a paper created by the Republika Srpska. The model that will be accepted in the future will represent a victory of the political position of the Republika Srpska.
Does that mean that the attitude of the international community towards the Republika Srpska is changing?
We should bear in mind that in the international relations changes in positioning are rather slow, and some stereotypes are hard to change. It takes a full mandate to establish close communication with someone, and then elections take place and the structures change on either side. It takes years of huge effort to establish contacts and develop good personal and institutional relations and trust. It is definitely not enough to be present in Brussels two or three times a year. One has to be there all the time, as well as in Moscow, Washington, Paris, Berlin and other places. We can take as an initial success the fact that I am welcomed as the president of the National Assembly in a wonderful way in the whole world, from America to Russia over the neighbouring countries, where we have the biggest wall with Croatia. When it comes to the conversations that we have during those meetings, I have to say that changes happen rather slowly. The most common objection of the international community at this stage is to our rhetoric.
Strengthening of relations with Russia is politically and economically synchronized and very intensive. Should the Republika Srpska follow the investment model by „brotherhood“ line or is it open for the whole world? In that sense, can more be done on attracting foreign investments from the countries with which Srpska does not have „brotherlike“ relations?
The word „brotherlike“ should be forgotten in business. There are lots of those who are present here and who would like to be present politically, but the investments by their home countries are virtually non-existent. On the other hand, there are the relations with Russia which are extremely important for us since they yield concrete economic results. Russia’s attitudes are very similar those of the Republika Srpska, and therefore our political relations are important as well. There is a high level of understanding and the tradition of contact at the political level. Russian investments in the refineries of Brod and Modrica, then in Ugljevik, switchgear in Istocno Sarajevo, South Stream and other are crucial. Turkey is making a huge effort here politically – it is a member of PIC, their officials are always present but their investments are not proportional to their political attempts in B&H. Turkey invests much more in other countries in the Balkans than in B&H. We have not closed our doors to anyone. There are no restrictions here for those who want to invest, regardless of whether they are „brother“ countries or not.
Only in the last month there were three meetings on the topic of all topics – application of the ruling „Sejdic and Finci vs. B&H“. Four years after the ruling no agreement has been reached. Is an agreement that will satisfy all sides realistic in 2014?
I am pessimistic in this respect. After so much time, prospects about any kind of progress seem ridiculous. The thing is enchained and occasional progress in some details has not yielded a final solution yet. The final solution will come when an amendment to the Constitution is formulated and when two thirds of the B&H Parliament have voted for it. The Croatian political parties cannot agree to any solution which would produce a new Zeljko Komsic next year and their priority is solving the Croatian issue. On the other hand, Bosniak parties have their own priorities – they do not want to divide Bosnia and Herzegovina and any third entity or a Croatian electoral unit are unacceptable. Somebody would have to make a huge looping, that is, a complete turn in its attitude in order for the solution to be reached and two thirds in B&H Parliament collected.
The Council of Europe has warned about the possibility of suspension of B&H; from time to time the European Union officials announce that the Union won’t recognize the 2013 elections if the ruling is not implemented… Identical messages that B&H had been receiving before the 2010 elections, after which nothing of the sort happened. How do you see this?
When it comes to warnings, I think that the international officials do not understand that the politicans have been threatened for twenty years in this country and therefore have become deaf to warnings and do not take them seriously. The suspension due to not implementing the sentence is possible. However, that depends on their political decision. EU thinks a lot about the possibility that „Sejdic-Finci“ has no solution. There are those who are aware of the complexity of the problems when it comes to the alignment of decisions in B&H and who are ready to give us a chance, while there are also those who would like to stop all financial help, jeopardize the “stand by” arrangement, close the free visa regime and simply bury B&H.What is certain is that there are no new IPA funds and that in the coming period there will be no new means for B&H, while the up-to-now projects are being re-examined. According to our Constitution and the laws, elections are scheduled for October, either by new or by old rules. Whether people from abroad will want to have conversations with the newly-elected Presidency, if it is elected by old principles, is a huge question. I think it is realistic to expect that we will have elections by the same principles and that some sort of quiet sanctioning of some of the elected is possible.
Does it make sense in the long run to find the solutions for the issues such as the application of the ruling „Sejdic and Finci vs. B&H“ along the way or is it firstly necessary for the political circumstances and leaders to become mature, after which it will be possible to sit down and talk openly about the direction that B&H should essentially take?
The key sentence from the annual report on the progress of B&H towards EU is that there is no single vision in the country and that every side sees the future of the country in its own way. With such a starting point it is hard to solve anything. „Sejdic-Finci“ is an individual issue and we have been stuck with it for three years, just as we had been stuck for three years with the police reform.
What future do you foresee for the Republika Srpska, starting with the coming year?
The sixth year of economic crisis is ahead of us, with some estimates which are moderately optimistic, in the sense that a mild growth will be achieved in terms of employment and investments, and therefore the total situation will be somewhat better, but with all the consequences faced by the EU and the neighbouring countries, which are marked since 2009 and pertain to unemployment, budgetary deficit, lack of foreign investment and various other economic difficulties. I think we will have a better economic growth than the neighbouring countries and these are not only our estimates, but also the estimates of international financial institutions. We shall have a better but slower growth which will represent the recovery from the crisis. The estimates are that the Balkan countries will have somewhat bigger economic growth only from the year 2017. When it comes to politics, a difficult election year is before the Republika Srpska, with an unpleasant atmosphere caused by the election campaigns. The fights for authority between certain parties will take on such proportions as have not been seen here since the postwar period. These fights will not only be political but will also be unusually dirty. Politically speaking, 2014 will be one the more difficult years.