Lajčák: Bosnian crisis is artificial

"If there is a crisis then it's artificial. You said that the crisis was caused by my measures, and I disagree. The crisis was caused by inordinate reaction to my measures, and by some reactions from Belgrade, which have certainly not been helpful. I would like to remind you that these measures are completely in line with my mandate."

Guest: Miroslav Lajčák, Journalist: Jugoslav Ćosić

B92: As you know, the latest measures introduced by the High International Representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina have caused great political tension, especially in the Republic of Srpska. The chairman of the Council of Ministers, Nikola Špirić, has resigned, while tensions are also high on the High Representative – Serbian Government front. High Representative Miroslav Lajčák is speaking for B92 TV's Poligraf. Mr. Lajčák, good afternoon, thank you for your time, I hope the satellite links will be good since the political ones aren't so great between Sarajevo and Belgrade.

Lajčák: Good afternoon, Belgrade, I hope so too.

B92: Before we look at the essence of the measures you have introduced, I would first like to ask for your comment on the resignation tendered by Mr. Špirić, does the government exist at this point, can this move jeopardize the existence of the ruling coalition?

Lajčák: Mr. Špirić's decision to resign is within his rights, [it's] his personal decision. I think that at this moment, in this situation, this is not good for the country, and I'm not sure there is reason for it, but I respect his decision. However, I think it is necessary for the institutions to function, and it that sense for further political activity to continue. I would also like to stress that there is no reason for panic, since the government continues to function in its technical mandate, and continues to do its work.

B92: The government continues with its work as you say, but the global media, I won't even mention the media in Serbia, such as The Independent, speak about the deepest political crisis in Bosnia since the end of the war in 1995.

Lajčák: You know what – if there is a crisis then it's artificial. You said that the crisis was caused by my measures, and I disagree with that. The crisis was caused by inordinate reaction to my measures, and by some reactions from Belgrade, which have certainly not been helpful. I would like to remind you that these measures are completely in line with my mandate, completely in line with this country's constitution, completely in line with the Dayton agreement, and that this is not only my opinion, but also that confirmed by all Peace Implementation Council member states, which, as you know, met on the political directors level this Tuesday, or Wednesday in Sarajevo.

Precisely this is one of the important conclusions, that my measures, from the legal point of view, are absolutely legitimate, in line with my mandate and the constitution. Therefore, I would like to ask for a more careful approach by anyone who wishes to speak about their position, since they need to consider the facts, and not what they wish to there to be.

B92: You said, all countries, I believe Russia is not in agreement over what you just talked about. But let's just mention this, you have in effect changed the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is what caused this avalanche of reactions, you changed the quorum rule and the decision-making process, you have introduced a simple majority for adopting decisions, which no longer requires agreement from at least two representatives from each of the three nations, now one vote is sufficient, while a quorum is present whenever the majority of ministers is present. In Serbia, and in the Republic of Srpska, and President Boris Tadić spoke about this yesterday, for the principles to change, according to the Dayton agreement, all three nations in Bosnia need to reach consensus first.

Lajčák: Well, it's quite a bit shocking, the amount of factual errors in your position…

B92: I only relayed what the positions are.

Lajčák: Well, then, the positions you are relaying are wrong. Firstly, Russia also agreed that my decisions are in line with my mandate, in line with this country's constitution and the Dayton agreement. Russia views this in a different way in a political context, and it expressed this, but not in a legal sense, which is a very important fact for all those who wish to accuse me of breaching the constitution.

Secondly, it is not true that I changed the constitution. I am not a cowboy, I am not an irresponsible man. I am full and well aware of the fact that one of the key principles for Bosnia-Herzegovina to exist is the protection of the interests of the entities, and protection of vital national interests of each of the three constitutive peoples, and no one could ever force me to change that, because that would then really mean a destruction of the system.

I have changed the rules on the manner of operating, because right now, you may or may not believe this, but right now, you vote against by not showing up at a session. And this is bad. You should attend and vote against. But, there isn’t any way to have any of the constitutive peoples outvoted, if they take part in the work, and not only if they take part in the work. Therefore, it would be a good idea, before positions on this are made known to the public, to read what I have said, for my partners to acquaint themselves with legal interpretation of all this. Once again, I must categorically reject any claim that I have changed the constitution, because I did not.

I have changed the rules of procedure. The only goal is to have these institutions function better, for them to have less room for obstruction, for ministers and MPs to arrive to work, because today they vote against by not showing up for work. No one, except those who do not care about Bosnian institutions' functioning, can have a problem with that. And another thing: all three peoples in Bosnia-Herzegovina are equally sensitive about protecting their national interests, this is normal. If it were true that I had changed the constitutional principle of protection, then not only Serbs, but Bosniaks and Croats too, would have huge problems with that. And they don't. Because they did not misinterpret my decisions. Once again-

B92: Maybe that is just a matter of tactics, you know. Maybe they let the Serbs do the job for them? Can we interpret it that way?

Lajčák: We cannot interpret it that way. There is no tactics involved with constitutional protection of vital national interests. Let's get serious.

B92: In other words, you believe that you have not opened the door to possible outvoting, as many in RS think, as Belgrade thinks? Outvoting of the Serb people?

Lajčák: There is not a single way for the representatives of the Serb nation to be outvoted, my legal experts are already involved in talks with the Republic of Srpska representatives, precisely with the goal of demonstrating that there is not a single reason for anyone to be afraid that any nation, including the Serb nation, could be outvoted. Once again, I will repeat, I am not a trivial man, I am not a cowboy, to change constitutional principles that Bosnia is built on, and no one can seriously think that I would do such a thing.

B92: Mr. Lajčák, the British ambassador in Serbia has, on behalf of five countries, sent a demarche to the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you yourself have angrily commented on the prime minister [Koštunica] statements. How come the international community does not react when, for instance, the Croatian president calls for a revision of Dayton?

Lajčák: You know what, it is up to me to do my job, which is currently that of the high representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina. I have said that I have respect both for the mandate and responsibility of the Republic of Serbia premier, and I have a personal feeling of respect for Mr. Vojislav Koštunica. I don’t thinks it's unfair to ask the same in return. I think that internationalization of these sensitive issues is certainly, certainly counterproductive, something no one needs. If anyone has any questions, we will not regret spending time and energy to clarify everything.

B92: But, the Serbian prime minister, political parties in Serbia, and Serbia, are entitled to comment on events in Bosnia-Herzegovina, according to the Dayton agreement, Serbia has special relations with the Republic of Srpska, and after all, Serbia is one of the guarantors of peace in Bosnia?

Lajčák: You know what I miss in these statements? Precisely the phrase, Bosnia-Herzegovina. They always talk about the Republic of Srpska, which is a legitimate entity within Bosnia-Herzegovina, but it would be much, much more useful if those statements that come from Belgrade accepted the fact that the Republic of Srpska is a part of a state called Bosnia-Herzegovina.

B92: You have spent a lot of time in Belgrade, in Serbia, you know most of the politicians here. Do you really believe that someone in Belgrade wishes to separate the Republic of Srpska from Bosnia and annex it to Serbia, after the experience of war and the horrors that we had in the past 15 years?

Lajčák: I do not think that, and that's why I find it strange to hear these odd statements coming out, it would be much better if there were productive and useful statements instead. And let me ask you something back, because I have spent a lot of time in Serbia, people there know me: do you really believe that anyone in Serbia could seriously think of me as an enemy of Serbia, the Republic of Srpska and the Serbian people?

B92: No. But many wonder, actually, many know that you are not there as a private person, you are there on behalf of the international community, which, in a way, really brings the Serbs into a kind of frustration, what must be well known to you. The international community and the U.S. on the one hand propose a partition of Serbia and independence for Kosovo, while on the other they insist on Bosnia as a unitary state? That, you know, is a frustration that everyone must take into account.

Lajčák: I am aware of these frustrations, they are huge, and they are for the most part justified, I understand that. You're right, I do not make my decisions as a private person, I am a representative of the international community, and each move is a result of intensive consultations with the international community.

However: I have my personal honor and dignity. No one could ever force me to make any move that is detrimental to this country, or any of the three constitutive peoples. You can be sure about that, and you can lean on me, that there is no such force that could make me do what I disagree with. My mission that I truly believe in, is to help Bosnia-Herzegovina to function as a state, respecting the constitutional basis, respecting the fact there are two entities and three peoples, and do all I can to have this country join the process of European integrations.

B92: Mr. Lajčák, you have always maintained that Bosnia, Kosovo, and Serbia's EU future are not mutually connected issues. Now, it's extremely hard to say that these three are not connected, since you made your decisions ahead of the solving of the Kosovo problem. Let me be even more blunt and direct, many circles in Serbia see your moves as preventive, to remove any idea that the Republic of Srpska might be taken out of Bosnia to join Serbia?

Lajčák: I am of course aware that conspiracy theories are very popular in this part of the world, and it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. I can personally assure you, and you can, if you like, believe me, that Kosovo has never even crossed my mind. I was thinking about timeframes, we don’t have time to waste if Bosnia-Herzegovina is to become functional, and this has no regional context.

Kosovo is a problem apart, that has its own mechanisms and instruments, Bosnia is a country that has its own challenges. My mandate and responsibility is to help it function better,” the high representative stated. In that sense, I must categorically reject all those paranoid suspicions that this is part of some wider international conspiracy. I certainly would not be part of any regional conspiracy, not against anyone.

B92: Are you considering sacking officials in the Republic of Srpska, or do you see a way to have your measures enforced, while the Republic of Srpska, despite your claims that you did not change the constitution, receives clearer and firmer guarantees that its sovereign presence in the Bosnian institutions will be present, in other words, that it will not be outvoted when it comes to the most important topics?

Lajčák: I do not wish to think about dismissals, what I am thinking about is overcoming this situation, removing all misunderstandings and misgivings. We are working toward this goal. On Wednesday, my legal experts and those from the Republic of Srpska met, on Monday that process will continue. Each time, the space for misinterpretation narrows.

I don't want anyone to lose or win, I want to dispel all doubts, I want it to be absolutely clear is that my measures are good for the Bosnian citizens, therefore also the citizens of the Republic of Srpska. Another thing I wish for very much, is to once again return to the subject of Europe. I believe that the Mostar Declaration is a good step forward, while we need to continue with more concrete steps, and this is what I will fight for.

B92: Miroslav Lajčák, High Representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Thank you for the time you dedicated to B92 TV viewers.

Lajčák: Thank you.

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