European Western Balkans

[EWB Interview] Ćurak: Nationalism, not islamism, the main threat in BiH

Nerzuk Ćurak; Photo: Vanja Čerimagić

Interview with Nerzuk Ćurak, Professor of the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Sarajevo.

European Western Balkans: How do you see the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Dayton Framework, given that in one of the previous public appearances you have noted that a “Dayton state”, with its dual concept, requires nothing less but the rule of nationalism?

Nerzuk Ćurak: The future of Bosnia and Herzegovina is, in the long run, one anticipated in Dayton. Therefore, BiH will continue to exist on dual sovereignty, as a mechanical sum of the two entities, and this is on the trail of becoming a ruling paradigm within conflict studies, which implies the importance to preserve external sovereignty in post-conflict communities. As regards BiH, its sovereignty is undisputable both from the point of view of international law and from the international policy, which is the result of an international treaty. However, only within a long period of time, conditions might be created to constitute a self-sustaining political community. It is a very questionable whether it will provide a solution. I think that with Ukraine we have the same approach, that is, to preserve the borders of Ukraine, and to satisfy various appetites from the inside and constitute something that will function.

The future of BiH is, on the one hand, certain. But the nationalist forces will continue to destroy BiH and poison the citizenship with ideas that Bosnia and Herzegovina will not survive. So, instead of investing some creative energy, directed towards the development of a political community from which all citizens of BiH would benefit, I think that we will, in the long run, have to face a debate on the state reason. On the one hand, we will be assured by many that this should be broken, because it does not function, and on the other hand, it will obviously continue to function, and instead of investing energy in building a better political community, we will spend a long time on the issues of national reason.

European Western Balkans: Do you think that frequent announcements of the referendum in Republika Srpska are a threat to the integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina?

NĆ: Yes, because this is, above all, the negation of Annex 4, i.e. the Dayton Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, on the other hand, a narrative that is extremely illegitimate, illegal, degrading and handicapped has been produced in the political field.

The name says many things. The name of the entity of the Republika Srpska itself produced in the public space an idea that it is a Serbian entity. The Republika Srpska, as well as the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, are two provinces, two entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which, by the decision of the Constitutional Court of BiH, are constitutive for all three constituent peoples of BiH. Therefore, according to the Constitution of the Republika Srpska and the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republika Srpska is an entity of equality of Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats and in the perspective of the “others”, as well as the Federation of BiH. People completely ignore this legal dimension. Unfortunately, whereas Bosniaks and Croats are discriminated in the Republika Srpska, the Serbs are discriminated in the Federation.

As for the referendum, we have, in theory, a referendum as an extremely legitimate democratic right to declare a will of citizens, but, unfortunately, there is no righteous person who will interpret how it should look. Therefore, it is not a problem when somebody says that he will conduct a referendum in accordance with the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the constitutions of the entities, which are harmonized with the Constitution of BiH. In that case, nothing would be disputable. But when you call upon the will of the people and you know that you negate the legitimacy of the Constitution of BiH, then that is the problem.

It is funny to see now that everyone, because of their current ethnoterritorial position, is trying to link their situation to Catalonia. So, aside from political illiteracy, as it is incompatible, there is no connection between Catalonia and, say, the Republika Srpska, people are consciously drawing parallels because there is a reason behind it, although every literate man knows that there is no political basis to compare these two units.

To return to your question, I believe that this exhaustion will continue, there will be a request for the final referendum, on the one hand, but the international community will demand a suspension of it, on the other. So, the unnecessary political agony will, nevertheless, continue.

European Western Balkans: Is the progress of BiH on the Euro-Atlantic path, along with all the challenges and obstacles that are present, possible?

: Euro-Atlantic integration is, from the point of view of the countries of the Western Balkans, i.e. their elites, but also from the point of view of the Brussels bureaucracy, largely a matter of rhetoric and desirable political correctness, and to a lesser extent tied to a real result achieved in that process.

When it comes to BiH, we see a development of one spin from Brussels where Bosnia and Herzegovina are perceived to make significant results in the process of European integration, although we have sections of our recent history, the post-Dayton one, where we had better results on the Euro-Atlantic path, but these parts are in the narrative nominated as the worst sections of the integration process. And now, when the situation is not bright at all, when there is a lot of mistrust, when the political elites attempt to stall the process of Euro-Atlantic integration in the premises of a constructed nationalism and production of fear, we have messages that the situation is very good, that much has been done.

Unfortunately, what will happen to Bosnia and Herzegovina will be, in my estimation, the result of monitoring of key foreign policy priorities of Serbia. Therefore, BiH is forced to submit to an irrational political empathy of Republika Srpska towards Serbia that would not be controversial if there was previously a rational empathy towards its own state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. What is it all about? Namely, if BiH were closer to the EU in the process of Euro-Atlantic integration than Serbia, the Republic of Srpska would block it and it would unblock its integration process only when Serbia would go further in the process of Euro-Atlantic integration in comparison to Bosnia and Herzegovina. For instance, if BiH met more chapters in comparison to Serbia, the political authority in Republika Srpska would stall this process until it is certain that Serbia would take the lead in the process and only then “defrost” the European path of its own state – Bosnia and Herzegovina. In fact, the citizens of BiH have been hostages of this unnecessary quasi-empathetic form, from which only Serbian nationalists in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as their “nationalist brothers” from the Bosniak and Croat political parties have benefited.

The Euro-Atlantic path of Bosnia and Herzegovina is, therefore, conditioned on Serbia’s position: if Serbia joins the EU, Bosnia and Herzegovina will join, if Serbia does not join NATO, neither Bosnia and Herzegovina will. This should not cause pseudo-imperial joy in Serbia, but rather a serious concern for progressive policies.

European Western Balkans: What are, in your opinion, the key security challenges in the region and could it perhaps be Islamic radicalism?

NĆ: And here we are in the trap of a general global spin, due to the triumph of right-wing forces now in many countries in the West, and even in the centers of world power themselves. We have a situation in which a figure of enemies of the West within those right-wing circles is re-constituted, and this figure is Islam. This is a serious problem because these, I would say, hostile narrations, led to the creation of an interpretation that links one great religion to a group of people,  which in turn, has a violent interpretation of the world. This is very irresponsible, as it is quite interesting that we do not have such a standpoint when it comes to other violent interpretations that are generated from some other ideologies. Therefore, in the Western Balkans, under the pressure of right-wing forces, the figure of the enemy has been produced, and that figure was translated into a real security and political field in a way that Islamic extremism became a key security challenge.

There is a certain paradox in the Western Balkans if we look at the whole of the European Union and the countries of the periphery, as we realize that this extremism was barely existent in terms of realized violence.

I think that the most serious security challenges for the region are in the context of the revitalization and renewal of the most extreme ideologies – “neo-Ustaša”, “neo-Četnik” and “Neo-Balija” ideologies, which from my point of view are much more dangerous than the peril of extremism of Islamic radicals which is perceived to be of a greater severity than the others.

I will explain why I mean it. Unfortunately, we live in the “mainstream” of these ideologies, therefore, “neo-Ustaša”, “Neo-Četnik” and “Neo-Balija” ideologies are not some extremist interpretations of the world that can be held under control such as Salafist one. These ideologies I am talking about are nothing less but the heart of our failure, because they are “mainstream” ideologies, because they are in fact the ruling ideologies of our world that are just disguised in a new cloth. This is our fundamental problem and is related to the fact that we do not see it at all as such.

The people who are the heirs of these ideologies are sitting as our political advocates and, in their political speeches, present ideas for which their predecessors ended up in The Hague during the war. And now they are free to speak. If a war were to be broken out and a new court was formed again, the people who are leading those policies would be, in the logic of the court, convicted of the command responsibility of the joint criminal enterprise because of their rhetoric, which would be subordinated to the institutional norms of politics, i.e. they had some decisive power.  And now it is not treated at all as a danger. Thus, it is a major security challenge, with the ongoing challenges of trafficking, proliferation and other forms of organized crime, therefore, all trans-border security challenges.

An enormous security challenge is also the culture of violence that has impregnated our culture, as there are many security challenges here that arise from this culture of violence, which is predominant. The phenomenon of this culture is also domestic violence, which is ubiquitous both in Serbia and BiH. This all generates an environment that makes society uncertain. We are so far from a peaceful society, we are still at the stage of a society that is fighting violence and other security challenges and it would be very good that the fight against radicalism, now a commonplace within Europe, reaches a higher and a more creative level, in a way that will not fall into the traps of various prejudices.

European Western Balkans: What should be the role of the international community in the current circumstances in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

: The Dayton Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a constitution that requires international governance.  By recognizing the results of violence, violence has been stopped, and this is a structural mistake that makes us stand in place.

European Western Balkans: This is an indicator of the so-called “negative peace”.

NĆ: Yes, positive peace is far off. We are in the lasting negative peace. The international community is simply invited to be there and I would be the first to advocate the country’s lesser reliance on the international governance factor, but this implies that the country, which remains behind the international governance factor, would no longer be a country that requires an international presence.

What would that mean – this would mean that the departure of the international community implies a different constitution of a political community, that is, a political community that is self-sustaining and can independently generate its political status. Upon the departure of, say, the High Representative, there would not be any instance that could stop any gestures directed towards the disappearance of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Therefore, there would be no institution to prevent such a move, because the Constitutional Court obviously cannot do this.

Therefore, the international community is needed. If it wanted to achieve its role completely, to encourage the policy of friendship in BiH leading toward the production of a consensual political community, which would be a community for all of its people, and not for privileged ethnonational elites, only in that case we could talk about the gradual departure of the international community. However, the situation has not changed, as it still resembles the one from the beginning of 1996. The same matrix of the state, the same structure, the mechanical sum of the entities and ethnicities is simply reproduced. So, everything has gone to a completely different direction from the one envisaged by, let us say, Anthony Lake and Richard Holbrooke, the creators of the Dayton.

Have you ever considered why the Republika Srpska and Federation of BiH were named entities? The intent was to emphasize that they were without identity and constituted thus internal provinces of the state. But everything went in the other direction and the entities were given such a powerful quasi-state identity, and Bosnia and Herzegovina itself became void of identity content. This is a horrible problem.

I hope that the younger generation will break with these bad narratives, but it will be really difficult. The opening of the chapters 23 and 24 in talks with the European Union implies that nationalists will end up imprisoned. This is a problem and that is why the process of BiH’s entry into the EU is being blocked, and the excluding nationalist narratives are being invented on the Bosniak, Serbian and Croatian sides. The people do not benefit because the culture of all the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina is identical, only the elites produce infinite and irreconcilable differences that otherwise cannot be seen. But, although artificially articulated, this difference is politically generated and creates the base of the political system that should ultimately lead to the negation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But this will not happen and that is why I am frustrated with the role of the international community and domestic policies to whom the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which testifies that the country has survived in the most difficult conditions when all objectively indicated that the country will disappear, does not suffice enough. Is it not a criterion that should argue that people should abandon these narratives and build a consensual political community, without myths, on the basis of a constitutional patriotism?

Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States

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