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Interview

Visit by The B&H Presidency Member Dragan Covic , 25. 06. 2015.

 

INTERVIEW: DRAGAN ČOVIĆ, BIH PRESIDENCY MEMBER

 

By: Tarik Moćević

SARAJEVO, July 1 (ONASA) – BiH Presidency member and leader of the Croat Democratic Union (HDZ), Dragan Čović, in an interview for ONASA Agency speaks, among other things, on the crisis in the Federation of BiH (FBiH) and possible new coalition partners, the Declaration of Srebrenica in the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina, BiH relationship with Serbia, reform agenda and the European path of Bosnia and Herzegovina …

ONASA: At the last session of the House of Representatives of the FBiH Parliament representatives did not adopt the agenda, with which it became clear that a parliamentary majority no longer exists. Also, all four ministers from the Democratic Front (DF) in the FBiH government practically do not perform their duty, even though the President of FBiH Marinko Čavara only accepted the resignation of Reuf Bajrović. How can FBiH get out of this crisis?

ČOVIĆ: Constituting government has not even been completed basically. We could not constitute all levels of government, as the election law states. Thus, in Mostar, that is in Herzegovina-Neretva Canton we still do not have executive power, in my opinion, without a single reason, because the same party form a parliamentary majority again and everything is clear. We are a little anemic in the political sense. I think we should have worked much harder and faster. However, at the end of six months, we have what we have. We can never be satisfied with what we achieved, especially as after two months one of the parties that formed the basis of the parliamentary agreement on the level of the FBiH is leaving the coalition. I say the coalition, even though it is not a classic coalition, because if it were, we would have worked differently. It worked when we were together in the FBiH Government, as we are now in the BiH Council of Ministers, but when you look at how the BiH Parliament vote on decisions of the BiH Council of Ministers, you will see that each item on the agenda has a different parliamentary majority. In other words, it is not a classic coalition that has its program and knows what it wants. The crisis is, in my opinion, serious, and we have not come out of it. It took six months to form a government even though we have agreed on almost everything at the end of the November. When you ask the question why, it opens up a huge number of other issues. I think this situation will remain for at least another two months, and we will not have a solution before the ninth or tenth month, although there are attempts to begin discussions. I have personally participated in the talks with the leaders of the Party for BiH (SBiH) and the Alliance for a Better Future (SBB) BiH. In particular, in a friendly conversation, we have analyzed the possibility of a joint project in which we should not make the same mistakes as before. It would be devastating if after five or six months again nothing is done, then we should all resign from our positions. It is again a problem for itself because we do not have a law that defines how to handle such situations. Some talk of early elections, but here implementation of such elections is not defined by law. I think we will in the ninth or tenth month have enough competent interlocutors, and that by then staffing issues will no longer be a problem. In any case, we are facing the reform program and the Euro-Atlantic path to which we have to devote our attention. To our European friends we have to say that we know what we want and ask for help. At this point, it does not look so serious. In the next ten days in Bosnia and Herzegovina we will have many guests from abroad who will to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, and I think we should seize this time, and as much as possible speed up the reform program and the economic and social stabilization, but also when it comes to the European path. In front of us remain only symbolic issues and, considering that the threshold is now relatively low, I see no reason why we in next year would not apply for candidate status for membership in the European Union (EU).

ONASA: Can the government crisis jeopardize reform?

ČOVIĆ: Of course it can, but in time until the new government is established we should work. The FBiH government has its own capacity, regardless of the three or four ministers who happen to be there or not. However, if someone does not want to be part of the partnership then they should withdraw from all institutions. You cannot be one foot in the ruling party and one in the opposition. Be clear, either you are in the ruling party or you are in the opposition. I think that the crisis cannot be disguised in any way. This is a serious crisis due to which we are not dealing with the essential questions of life. If that is not resolved in the next few months it will be passed on to all other levels of government. As much as everyone keeps quiet about it, that is the situation.

ONASA: You mentioned the talks with the leaders of the Party for BiH and SBB. Leader of SBB Fahrudin Radončić after the talks said he did not want the power. What are potential new partners of the HDZ BiH and the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) at BiH level?

ČOVIĆ: In coalition with smaller parties we would have a minority government. After all, we already had a minority government, although we did not portray it in such a way. We did not approve a single project when we were working together. We did not have a joint program by which to act. I believe that there is room for talks with the SBB. Radončić told me that in these conditions he is absolutely not interested in entering the government because they do not want to take responsibility for something one cannot influence. However, in a slightly different ambience, the aforementioned ninth or tenth month, it can visibly change.

ONASA: FBiH Government conducted the categorization of public companies to strategic, those with disabilities, and those that are being privatized. Management of “Aluminij” reacted to the classification of the company in the ones being privatized. Is this classification final, ate there other ways to save certain companies?

ČOVIĆ: I am convinced that the FBiH Government has made a correct classification of enterprises. Our key idea, when we agreed to act together, was the review in each of the institutions. Steering committees will not change in the companies that are generating positive results. However, if this is not the case, we have to react immediately. The privatization of “Aluminij” was not an issue that has been opened now. It is a process that has lasted for about 15 years. A few years ago the project of privatization was even completed. “Aluminij” was favored an international tender, but in the end the buyer gave up. Then “Aluminij” operated positively, and we have often stressed that this is the biggest exporter from BiH. Imagine what it would be like today, when, according to some data, there is no official data, the debt of “Aluminij” is over 250 million BAM. However, it is the only way. FBiH Government, or the BiH cannot be a good host to such a company, and it has shown it a hundred times in the last 20 years. It must be privatized, how – is another issue, and this must be done through an international tender. “Aluminij” has been privatized to a certain extent, but today you have 44 percent of small shareholders and 12 percent of private capital also from Croatia. Why would the Government of FBiH have its share, especially when it is practically proven that it cannot manage it appropriately.

ONASA: Why did the representatives of the HDZ BiH in the House of Representatives of the BiH Parliament abstained from voting on the declaration on Srebrenica?

ČOVIĆ: The reason is simple. First, with regard to Srebrenica, in my opinion as well as in the opinion of the people from the party, there is no doubt – it was a genocide. Verdicts that needed to be made in order for that case to be classified as genocide, have been made. I do not see the need for political outwitting in the BiH Parliament, knowing that this initiative would not be adopted. We did not want to take sides. I realized that it is a classic political struggle of who will win “brownie points” thanks to the victims and all the evil that happened 20 years ago. That is the only reason. We did not want to participate in someone else’s political games. If we now have a resolution on Srebrenica in the United Nations, which is transferred to other levels, my question is why we have to adopt it at the local level when we know how this will end. If the agenda behind it was to expose some to say they were against it, it should not have been done in such a way because we knew it regardless. The victims do not deserve such political games because they have been played with for 20 years.

ONASA: What do you expect from the reform agenda when it comes to Euro-Atlantic integration of BiH, and when could its implementation start?

ČOVIĆ: The reform agenda must be fully transparent, so that all could give their opinion on it, and so it could eventually be adopted at all levels in BiH. I think that the reform agenda should have been adopted in the first or second month of this year, given that we made the statement back at the end of the 12th month of last year. Agenda is nothing other but a program of framework activities, of what needs to be done in certain segments. There is still no key content in it, and therefore I see no reason why we should drag it now. I believe, however, that currently the campaign about the reform agenda is being led in a wrong way, and citizens are being left to guess about its contents rather than to inform the public about it. One of us says they do not like something in the agenda, but none of us has seen the document.
First, we must be completely transparent, without any games. It needs to be discussed in the next five or ten days and adopted at all levels in BiH, so we could conclude this story. Furthermore, it is important that the agenda be adopted at all levels in BiH, because otherwise it will be impossible to implement, and that would be cheating our European partners.

ONASA: In the part of the public there is skepticism about the agenda, given that its content is not fully known to the public, and due to the fact that there are announcements of sale of certain public enterprises. Is there any reason for that?

ČOVIĆ: We are coming back to the issue of transparency. It is irresponsible to talk about such important issues when it is actually about a certain plan of activities.

ONASA: How could we solve the crisis in terms of adoption of the reform agenda, given the disapproval of the authorities of Republika Srpska (RS)?

ČOVIĆ: I see no reason why it would not be adopted in RS. In fact, I am certain they will adopt it when it becomes completely transparent. So I am optimistic. Personally, I believe the agenda should be slightly adjusted, and give it a certain standard and framework. Already next week I will propose that we go to the public with it and that everyone states their opinion about it.

ONASA: In May this year BiH took over the presidency over the Council of Europe. What are our priorities in the Council and what are the benefits that BiH can get from this?

ČOVIĆ: The benefits that BiH can gain from the presidency over the Council of Europe are enormous if we know how to communicate. Messages that the Chairman of the Presidency of BiH Mladen Ivanić sent from Strasbourg show that, if we know what we want, we can be a credible chairman of any institution, such as this one to which we have now practically joined in an institutional kind of way.
But who will respect you if you are not able to arrange the basic things in your own country? I am convinced that we can take advantage of this time that is ahead of us, and practically show that we can draw benefit from this. I also think we can wisely organize and adopt a national strategy so we would not miss out on the benefit that we can have. I will propose that we and the Council of Ministers of BiH make the concept of how to behave in these next few months of our presidency, and in a very clear way to position BiH in a different light through the institution of the Council of Europe and other institutions that rely on it.
Council of Europe opens up many possibilities in which – if we know how to – we can easily benefit without any major costs. We are in Strasbourg anyway, we are already working in these institutions, only question is our credibility when we go to some institution, that we know why are we there and who we represent. If we represent BiH there in a wise way, benefits are inevitable.

ONASA: Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić canceled his visit to BiH at the invitation of BiH Presidency ember Bakir Izetbegović, after the wartime commander of Army of Republic of BiH (ARBiH) Naser Orić was arrested in Switzerland based on a warrant issued by Serbia. Could this lead to deterioration of relations between BiH and Serbia and how do you comment the entire case?

ČOVIĆ: We are skilled in abuses of peace that we have, and making conflict out of it, thinking that we will benefit. A similar situation is with the resolution on Srebrenica in the BiH Parliament. Something like that we also had with Montenegro, and we knew from the start how it will end. I’m talking about the Sutorina case. It would be a different thing if we had not known that. But if we know how something will end, it’s stupid to go into it. In such a situation we can only collect a lot of diplomatic and every other kind of scars.
We in the Presidency consulted that weekend on how to deal with Nikolić’s visit. I supported Mr. Izetbegović in a way that I said that, if we are going to have an incident and if we will do damage with this visit, it is better that it does not happen – there is less damage, it will make it easier to heal wounds – than to have it happen and to have unwanted side effects where the visit, unlike other recent visits, would take us into a completely different tone.
However, I think that, as much as we want to keep quiet about it, the relation between BiH and Serbia is visibly deteriorated because of this. Cancellation of a visit at such a level, or having disputes about important things, cannot go without consequences.
Personally, I think we need a much higher level of good-neighborly, friendly relations with Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia than the one we have today. We should not run away from it. We defend Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we are friends in different ways with the neighboring countries. Many of us possess the citizenship of neighboring countries. I am confident that, as soon as we diplomatically resolve the relations with Belgrade, there will be no reason for it to complicate further.
Extradition of Orić to BiH does not resolve the issue. We must not react in this way. We must not repeat mistakes and create incidents, we must be organized in order to solve any future similar incidents. We are still faced with the obligation to clear up relations with our neighbors and with them to create true friendly relationships.

ONASA: Early this month we received a visit from Pope Francis. How much does this visit mean for BiH and were you satisfied with the organization of the visit?

ČOVIĆ: We have already had significant benefits from the visit of Pope Francis to BiH. First of all, everyone in the world has heard about BiH, in a good kind of way. In this way, BiH is transformed and becomes a brand. Without it, we are a black hole in which no one even wants to take a peek. Our friends from around the world, who have seen what the lens has shown, were delighted, they cannot believe that we organized such a thing. A completely different thing is what we see here, some shortcomings and the like. I think the job of organizing committees, both of the Church and the State, has been done perfectly, and that it is an example of how we can do anything if we want to. Especially because it was done at quite a delicate moment, the moment of political crises that we talked about which were already current at that time. I thank all those who presented Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo, and our citizens that day to the world in the way they did. The Pope said everything that needed to be said. He could have said it any day from Rome, but he wanted to say it here, in Sarajevo. Many in the environment would have given everything only to have him visit them.
There is this tiny, conditional envy that he came right here. In the future, on the basis of this project, we would have to create a positive atmosphere in BiH. I think that we have multiple benefits and can continue to have benefits from that visit, and I mean everyone in the political world, not only diplomats, but all that communicate with the outside world, including journalists.
Pope in Sarajevo sent a message that is completely contradictory to the thinks we talked about above. If we prove capable of working on it we will free ourselves of the possibility that tomorrow we have a similar ordeal as we had, for example, now with Switzerland. We just need to take that positive energy of the Pope’s visit.
Let us not deny all that the Holy See worked on in the modern history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They were among the first to recognize Bosnia and Herzegovina, they introduced the position of Cardinal in BiH, which de facto acknowledged Bosnia and Herzegovina, they constantly advocated the coexistence of the three peoples and other universal values. His message should be a guideline in our political behavior. If we succeed in that then we have benefited even more. (end)