The Serbian president, Boris Tadić, and his foreign minister Vuk Jeremić have made several declarations on Serbia’s policy towards its neighbours. They insist that this policy is based on principle and truth. Let’s begin with the alleged principles, and let’s take the example of relations with Bosnia-Herzegovina. On his recent visit to Banja Luka, Tadić evoked three principles: non-interference in Bosnia’s internal affairs; support for democracy; and support for whatever the three peoples agree between themselves. Are these principles mutually consistent? The answer is no.

It is not difficult to spot the first inconsistency. In response to the question why Serbia is involving itself in Bosnia’s current problems, he did not reply that it was not, but that it was doing so on account of being a guarantor of the Dayton agreement. But this is a systemic contradiction that follows from Serbia’s involvement – to put it mildly – in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Having taken note of this, let’s set it aside. .

Let’s assume that the principle of non-interference relates only to the political problems that Bosnia-Herzegovina confronts today and will confront in the future. The compatibility between the principle of non-interference and that of supporting democracy is of the essence here, as too is the criticism of the high representative, Valentin Inzko, for disregarding the democratic decisions of legally elected representatives. This refers to the decision made by the high representative to annul the decision of the Bosnian Serb entity’s assembly to transfer to itself some of the competencies of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. For some time now Jeremić has stressed Serbia’s devotion to Bosnia’s democratisation. Thus he said in a recent statement (Vreme, Belgrade, 25.6. 2009): ‘I hope that all the factors of the Dayton agreement will reach a joint conclusion in the not too distant future that, following fifteen years of rule by high representatives, the time has come to establish full democracy.’ How does this relate to the principle of non-interference? It depends on how one understand consensus between the three peoples. Why? Because the principle defines the demos in Bosnia-Herzegovina. What are its implications?

The reply is unambiguous: if it is necessary for the three peoples to agree on what their common interest is, and if this is the democratic procedure, then the decision by the RS assembly is undemocratic. If so, then the following is also true: if one anticipates the possibility that agreement cannot be reached, and that unilateral decisions could be made by a first, second or third people, then one needs an arbiter. The principle of non-interferences precludes another country, Serbia, for example, from playing this role, which then falls to the international community or its high representative. This is the logic of the Dayton agreement, guaranteed by Serbia as is constantly being stressed in Belgrade. There follows from this the need to support the high representative rather than criticise his acts – as is indeed demanded by the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states (Bosnia has been a member of the United Nations since 1992).

Let’s look now at the compatibility between a commitment to democracy and decision-making based on consensus between the three peoples. It is obvious that RS would never had come into existence had these two principles been adhered to. It is equally obvious that the organisation of Bosnia-Herzegovina would have been quite different from the Dayton one, had the demos of this country been defined in a natural way, i.e. as an assembly of citizens – as it was indeed defined, following the recommendation of the international factors, for the referendum on independence, which supplied the basis for Bosnia’s membership of the United Nations and for the involvement of the international community ever since then. Since the Dayton agreement did not define the Bosnian demos in this way, it became necessary to divide authority and re-distribute it from time to time. One cannot achieve this through unilateral decisions. There is no agreement on how to do it at present. This is why we have the high representative, who from time to time reminds all, including the guarantors, of the lack of will to bring the two principles into harmony.

The policy of Tadić and Jeremić in this regard does not differ, in fact, from that of Slobodan Milošević. RS is first encouragedsub rosa to make unilateral decisions by reference to democratic principles, understood here as a promise of unconditional support; after which, in order to avoid conflict with international factors, the principle of consensus is verbally upheld. The principle of non-interference is constantly evoked, of course.

In this context, it is interesting to examine this policy of truth that Jeremić has recently started to advocate. ‘We in government’, he says (Utisak nedelje, Radio B92 website), ‘don’t feel burdened by what happened in the past, for the simple reason that we took no part in it; we have done nothing whatsoever to destabilise this region, either now or last year, when matters became exceptionally grave due to Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, and certainly not in the 1990s. There is no reason, therefore, for us to be ashamed of anything and not to tell the truth. Since everyone else is allowed openly to tell the truth, then I think we too should be allowed to do that.’ And, in a raised voice: ‘We cannot base our foreign policy and this country’s future on lies and avoidance of truth, because things happened in the past which some of our neighbours maybe did not like. Some of our neighbours have perhaps done things which they would not be keen to be reminded of – that they have done them – but we have no reason to hide it.’

It is very important to grasp properly the use of the first and the third person plural here. We who form the current government in Serbia have no reason to avoid the truth. They, the neighbours, i.e. the neighbouring states, do have a reason, but those who are now in power there don’t like to hear it. It is because they – and it will be important to learn who in the continuation – did things in the past which they prefer not to be reminded of. What we have done in the past – it is vital to be clear to whom this refers – poses no problems for us in the government, no difficulties (it is not clear whether this involves also responsibility).

In order to understand what kind of policy of truth we have here, it is necessary to mention that what is surreptitiously being referred to here is the Serbian government’s decision, reached at Jeremić’s insistence, to charge Croatia with genocide, and to include also documents on the genocide against the Serb people in the Second World War, during the existence of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). This last is the truth which disturbs some neighbours, because ‘they have done it’. The term neighbour can refer here only to a people, i.e. the Croat people. Why? Because it could not possibly refer to the current Croatian government, nor to the Croatian state, because neither it nor anyone else accept its continuity with the NDH. Franjo Tuđman tried to establish some continuity with it, but without success. Hence the truth about it can bother neither the Croatian state nor the Croatian government, because they did not ‘do it’. It makes sense only as Jeremić’s insistence on the Croat people’s collective responsibility, which doesn’t exist, of course, and which can be taken only as an insult.

It is another matter, unfortunately, with the Serbian government and the Serbian state, though not with the Serb people. For in the rooms occupied by the government of which Jeremić is a leading member – and this reflects also on Tadić – there hangs a portrait of [wartime] prime minister Milan Nedić (he is named as such in order to make it possible for his picture to hang there) which highlights the continuity of the Serbian state with Nedić’s own, and which makes all its governments, including their members not personally but as representatives of the state, responsible for all that Nedić’s regime did (and they are personally responsible for having the portrait there). These are not responsibilities that others acknowledge, which is good. And it is fortunately not a responsibility that binds the Serb people, regardless of the efforts spent by Serbian intellectuals and politicians who hold dear collective identities and spiritual unity (see various declarations to this effect by Tadić and Jeremić), because it simply cannot be true. But if it were true, as a considerable number of nationalists insist, one would expect that it would be unwelcome to the current officials and indeed to all ages of the Serbian population. Something that Tadić and Jeremić should ponder. Because if they believe in the existence of such a responsibility but do not wish to acknowledge it, then they must be lying.

Translated by Bosnian Institute from a longer text on the website, 27 June 2009

Pešč, 02.07.2009.