Conference on normalisation of relationsPolitics Against Logic.
TUE, 29 FEB 2000
Sarajevo, 18 February, 2000 - Prime minister of the Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik was sharply and directly accused by the extremist but even moderate Yugoslav and his domicile political opponents that he "gathered enemies of the Serbs" just because the three-day international conference on prospects of bilateralrelations between FR Yugoslavia and Bosnia & Herzegovina was held under his auspices. This very fact speaks for itself of the circumstances in which this meeting of a large number of representatives of various opposition political parties, alernative trade unions and other groups,non-governmental organisations, representatives of local groups and initiatives and democratically oriented respectable individuals from Serbia, Voivodina, Montenegro, Sandzak and Bosnia & Herzegovina was organised in Banja Luka from 11 to 13 February.
As it is easy to find more than one drawback in every attempt of normalisation of relations among the people, citizens and states in the former Yugoslav space in circumstances which are at least in the polical sense still more than inimical, critics who seem to be always on the alert will easily find plenty of deficiencies of this meeting. Indeed, one should not even attempt to hide these deficiencies, because transparency of numerous existing problems facilitates every well-meaning attempt, such as this one.
Dialogue of Like-Minded Persons
The Conference was organised by the Forum of Democratic Alternative of B&H, the Centre for Regionalism from Novi Sad and the Democratic Youth Centre from Banja Luka. The general topic of the Conference, except at plenary sessions, for practical reasons (efficiency and expert analysis),was discussed at three separate working groups - for the political, the economic and the cultural aspects of possible establishment of bilateral relations between the two states. It was only natural that the three were interwoven and it was even more natural that all the participants without much effort agreed about one thing: the current abnormal and unsustainable political and international relations between FR Yugoslavia and B&H, the burden of the terrible consequences of the war, almost pathological mutual intolerance of the ruling political elites and almost complete lack of political will on both sides are practically an unsurmountable obstacle to normalisation of the situation not only between the two countries but in the region in general. Such a situation was for plenty good reason assessed as unendurable and unsustainable.
But the fundamental problem of this conference was equally paradoxical as it was understandable. This was a dialogue of like-minded persons, groups and individuals, who have no political and actual power in their respective environments and although they have a clear vision of the future, that they realistically observe problems and offer reasonable solutions, it is justifiable to put the question who among those who can and who should but evidently do not wish to, will not only hear them but more importantly obey them? And these very persons were not present at these sessions.
Therefore, the (un)intentional, but quite logical starting hypothesis of the participants of the conference was that all those who are nowadays prevented by political elites are the very ones who can, should and wish to move from the standstill the process of normalisation not only of political, but also of the relations of the two countries in general, because they primarily wish to, have the will and are aware oftheir role and responsibility in this process. In this way, by establishing not special relations, but normal, logical and necessary mutual cooperation in economic, social, cultural, technical and commercial field, at least step by step, portion by portion, institutionally or individually, the existing tensions, mutual lack of confidence and barriers between local (nationalistic) ideologies and reasoning could be considerably weakened.
Political Changes are Necessary
If the working group on political relations could do nothing but state the causes of the existing situation, diagnose problems in the relations and clearly define the ways for overcoming the current (abnormal) situation, it was clear that protagonists of the conference had no power to significantly affect the development of the political situation, that is, mutual official political and state relations. That is the reason why it was generaly accepted that without the change of the current political regime in FR Yugoslavia and a stronger process of democratisation of the society in B&H (with special hope invested in the possibility of political changes in B&H similar to those in Croatia) there would be no normalisation of the official relations between the two countries. This statement is not especially comforting, but at least it is not self-delusive.
The situation is quite different when the spheres the two other working groups are concerned - for economic cooperation and the questions of cultural connections. Indeed, it was quite depressing that the participants of both working groups not once ironically concluded that politics determined their fate and that they had no political or economic power to design development of their relations. Nevertheless, they are firm in their conviction that in the economy and culture resistance and barriers to mutual cooperation are the least logical and the least subject to political retrogressive wills. Accoding to their (reasonable) conviction, it is easiest for the economy and culture to find reasons and modes of cooperation, exchange and connections on the grounds of interest, if not immediately in global, certainly in making local, group or individual plans. War years confirm the fact that different forms of economic and cultural links existed and were operational all the time thanks to the initiative and energy of those "normal" groups and individuals, that even war enemies traded between themselves, and that the the future of economic and cultural connections relies on historical foundations of logical connections of the economy and culture on the territory of the countries of former Yugoslavia, on their common tradition, language, historical development, complementary interests of the people and many other elements.
Economy and Culture - Against Isolationism
In the quite new postwar circumstances, at the height of the tumultous transformation of individual newly created states and the whole region, especially in the ambience of general global and especially European integrative processes, local (Balkan) nationalistic autism and isolationism are not a good solution for any country. The economy and culture in their diverse modalities, vitality and logic are the best confirmation for this.
That is why it is only natural that the stand was adopted that in the sphere of economic relations there is primarily mutual interest, along with a series of extenuating preconditions (complementary economies, low transportation costs, knowledge of the taste of consumers, language, existence of business contacts from the prewar period, etc.). If official state institutions still do not wish to establish cooperation (for political reasons), it is certainly possible to do it without delay on the level of micro-plans, between individual privately-owned companies on joint ventures, in regional forms, etc. The examples that already exist not only prove such possibilities, but are also encouraging for new initiatives.
Participants in the working group on culture started from the stand that culture is a form of the struggle against violence and nationalism, and they expressed the belief that the initiative for establishing cooperation should be taken by the authors and creators of culture, cultural workers and their associations, with the most essential and the most productive in these efforts being direct contacts, agreements and actions. They also expressed unambiguous doubt about the current prospects for cultural connections on the level of inter-state bilateral relations, but every form of pressure on responsible state institutions in the sphere of culture was considered necessary in order to ensure the necessary means for individual and unofficial initiatives and projects of cultural cooperation.
At this point, the specific situation in B&H was stressed. Due to the war and nationalistic policies, cultural cooperation between the two B&H entities, and even inside B&H Federation, was completely interrupted. In an ambience in which there is still strong resistance to mutual connections even among cultural creators, "thawing" of the still prevailing atmosphere of mistrust and cultural isolationism is assisted only by events which can be considered to be on the level of incidents. As an example of the paradoxical situation the case was described of the Croat People's Theatre from Western Mostar which recently gave a guest performance in Sarajevo and was extremely warmly received by the audience, but the same theatre still has not been able to cross the few hundred meters and give its performance in the other (Eastern) part of its home city! This, in fact, refers to all cultural institutions in the still divided city of Mostar, the still divided B&H Federation and the still divided B&H in general. Therefore, it is logical that the participants in the working group on culture believe that, along with establishing normal inter-state relations, it is equally if not even more essential to previously normalise relations and establish cooperation within B&H itself.
But, to be perfectly truthful, this is not the case with B&H alone. Speeches of some of the representatives from Serbia, Montenegro and Sandzak demonstrated the existence of numerous and various tensions inside FR Yugoslavia. This further complicates the existing problems, but also points out the necessity of gradual and fragmented development of future relations.
It is necessary, at this point, to stress as a serious complaint to the organisers of the gathering, the fact that those were not present (because they had not been invited) who could have reached actual agreements on modes of direct cooperation already at the meeting - entrepreneurs, owners of companies, managers, economists, directors of theatres, libraries, museums, galleries and other cultural institutions..Even the ones from Banja Luka who were informed about the conference, instead of at the round tables of the conference - sat at the tables of the café of Banski dvori (the seat of RS authorities) where the conference took place. Whether it is the question of their lack of interest, mistrust, obsession by past events or mere vanity - is not at all important. One should be comforted, though, by the fact that it was agreed to organise numerous separate meetings at which instead of principled declarations, specific programs of economic, cultural, social, commericial, technical and every other form of cooperation would be adopted, in order to eliminate the currently ruling political elites as the main barrier to normalisation of global bilateral relations.