I Wonder if the Pope was Correctly Understood in Sarajevo

by Hadzem Hajdarevic

Ljiljan, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, 4/30/97

Before I started the interview with Mr. Tadeusz Mazowiecki, former special rapporteur of the UN commission for human rights in the former Yugoslavia, I had been warned that Mr. Mazowiecki is on a tight schedule. He was in Sarajevo with a group of Polish writers and intellectuals as a part of the multimedia festival, "Days of Polish culture", held in Sarajevo. His most recent visit to Bosnia fell at the same time as the visit of the Pope John Paul II to Sarajevo. This time, the Bosnians greeted Mazowiecki as a dear friend, as a man with attitude, man of action, man who keeps his word; because, in 18 reports which he passed to the UN bureaucrats between August 1992 and July 1995, Mazowiecki brought attention to almost all examples of human rights violations in the former Yugoslavia, especially in Bosnia and Hercegovina, where the most gruesome crimes since the WW2 had been committed.

Before the start of our interview, I tried to summarize everything I know about this honest Polish man, a humanist and a Catholic. I knew that he justified his resignation to the position of the special UN rapporteur for human rights in the former Yugoslavia by the outrageous attitude of the international community with respect to the tragedy in Srebrenica and Zepa. He tendered the resignation, with certain disgust and visible sorrow, on July 27, 1995; at that occasion he said the following words: "The international community must reject its hypocrisy with respect to Bosnia: we claim to defend Bosnia while at the same time we are abandoning her..." But that hypocrisy, only in various "shapes" and "guises" continued until today. War criminals are not only free but still, from the shadows, direct the political life of the Serb entity in Bosnia and Hercegovina and the behavior of the still-existing-and-not-yet-abolished "Herceg-Bosna". Mazowiecki's replacement at the position of the special rapporteur, Elisabeth Rehn appears rather anemic and helpless, exactly as her employers would like her to be.

During the interview, Mr. Mazowiecki appeared rather reserved. The conversation took completely different course from that which I had imagined before the start. Mr. Mazowiecki's answers were translated from Polish by Ms. Malgorzata Wierzbicka.

Mr. Mazowiecki, I'd like to start this interview with a question which is more on a level of a coincidence than concrete actuality, but, it could be said that it concerns all of us. It is interesting that you tendered your resignation to the post of the special rapporteur for human rights in the former Yugoslavia on July 27, the day which is here commemorated as the beginning of the uprising in Bosnia-Hercegovina against the fascists in WW2. We were here exposed to the worst varieties of fascism. Was your resignation caused by the inability to confront obvious, concrete fascism in the Balkans?

Please, ask me concrete questions...

Actually, I had an impression that when you condemned the unprecedented hypocrisy of the world you had some information which was not made public, something which you found especially upsetting and which caused your protest against the behavior of the international community in Bosnia- Hercegovina.

No, I didn't have any secret information. All information that I had was made available to the public in my reports. I produced 18 reports between 1992 and my resignation. I don't know which information you are talking about. As a special UN rapporteur for human rights I was obliged to put all the information I received in my reports. That's all...

When you tendered your resignation, many tried to convince you to retract it.

That's true, quite a number of people tried to convince me to retract my resignation. I had wanted to resign even earlier. The fall of Srebrenica was the last straw: it represented the fall of a safe area, which I had helped establish. Consequently, I had to resign. I came to the conclusion that the resignation was the only remaining way to protest what had happened and was happening in Bosnia at the time.

I would like to talk about the moral aspect of your decision. As far as I know, the mediators in the negotiations for the solution of the Balkan crisis, Lord Owen and the Norwegian Stoltenberg, showed a lot of resistance to your ideas, exactly because you tried to understand Bosnia as a moral problem of global importance.

Messieurs Owen and Stoltenberg had a different role. I believed that human rights problems should take more space in the observations of Vance, then Owen and Stoltenberg. They knew that in the spectrum of the problems in Bosnia-Hercegovina human rights had to be represented. They never clearly demonstrated that the existing practice of human rights violation had to stop once and for all.

You were rather clear and decided in your reports. Nevertheless, you were accused of often neglecting to name the events for what they really were. These are the most important issues: who is the aggressor? Which army is attacking? Who is the main victim? etc.

I would like to repeat that I wrote 18 reports in which I talked about human rights violations. I considered human rights violations on all sides in the conflict. I was neither a judge nor a lawyer. I was a witness and I had a duty to present what I witnessed to the UN and the world public.

During your work, you spent most of time on the territory controlled by the Bosnian Army. You were allowed to visit the territory controlled by the Serbs only twice.

That is correct.

I see that you do not want to talk too much. I don't know why. Let us try a different kind of questions. I'd like to ask if your visit to Sarajevo had anything to do with the Pope's visit?

If that was the case, I would follow him on all of his travels around the world.

I mean, because Bosnia is specific for your mission and for the mission of the Pope's arrival.

I wanted to visit Sarajevo one more time. Still, I wonder if the Pope has been understood correctly here. He said that the past events cannot be forgotten, but there must not be place for hate either. If I was interviewing you, I would ask you whether you personally and your newspaper Ljiljan will do something to prevent this new blossoming of evil, to overcome hate and prevent a new misery. I analyzed your newspaper in one of my reports. You said in Ljiljan that each Muslim should find a Serb and kill him. I wonder if, after the Pope's visit, there will be similar statements.

Mr. Mazowiecki, we've never published such editorials in our paper, nor will we do that in the future. On the contrary, even in the most difficult moments of the war, persecution, and genocide we stuck with our original editorial mission and called for tolerance, coexistence and understanding between all nations, religions and cultures in Bosnia. I see that the local former communists, we call them quasi-communists, denounced Ljiljan to you in order to win a donation or two from abroad. They gave you only one article and ignored everything else; a single article which was, true, somewhat more extreme in its views, but that article was a letter from an unfortunate soul who suffered in the recent war; it was a sort of a verbal outburst. I later found out that [Serb] neighbors, Chetniks, crucified that man's father in WW2 and sent him crucified down a river; his father and brother were tortured in 1992 in a Serb camp. I personally detest that sort of articles, but it is nothing but a verbal outburst. If I remember well, even in that article the author only wrote that he "[despised] Serbs"; he didn't hate them, he despised them. Ljiljan has been a victim of many who want to win donations from abroad. During the war we published interviews with all Serb and Croat politicians with civic orientation and always distinguished between Serbs and Chetniks, between war criminals in HVO and Croats.

One should be aware that articles with extreme views spread intolerance, even if they are only verbal outbursts. Such articles are very dangerous. All those who fight for a multiethnic Bosnia-Hercegovina must avoid that sort of articles.

We would like you to analyze Ljiljan's editorial policy since 1992. Some papers in Croatia wrote that out of all Bosnian newspapers Ljiljan had the best coverage of the Pope's visit. We do not have a reason to be unhappy because of his visit. The Pope is a man who brings the force of faith in humanity and in the God. We, in Sarajevo and Bosnia, had been murdered for four years by nonbelievers...

Fine, let us forget about that article; the problem is much wider. I would say that there are different tendencies in Bosnia. One of them supports a multiethnic society; however, there is a school of thought which supposedly supports a multiethnic society while in practice that is not the case. That is not good, neither from the humanist nor political point of view. Exclusively Muslim Bosnia doesn't have a future. I can understand that sort of thinking, but I think it is bad. Bosnia can only exist as a common state of Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs. If we are talking about the emphasis of the Pope's visit it is that despite the suffering in the past we should build a Bosnian mosaic, Bosnian kilim about which I've heard a lot. I think that after the Pope's visit, the tension between those who support multiethnic Bosnia and those who support the national option will be more or less overcome. I know that that is sometimes difficult, but that needs to be done.

The official policy of Bosnia-Hercegovina, or rather that part of Bosnia-Hercegovina which the extreme media in Serbia and Croatia call the "muslim side" has always been the support for multiethnicity. Bosniak politicians have always supported multiethnic Bosnia. True, there are were a few individual excesses, but one must know that both greater Serbian and greater Croatian policy, expressed through leading politicians from Belgrade and Zagreb, has supported a division of Bosnia and been against any sort of multiethnicity. I'm sure you know that. We are here painfully aware how much any attempt to portray the sides in this conflict as equally at fault is dangerous and wrong.

True, any attempt to simplify those problems is utterly senseless. Nevertheless, I would like to consider this problem from a different point of view. Respect of human rights cannot be compared. For example, I do not compare violations of human rights in Banja Luka and Sarajevo. I wouldn't want Sarajevo to compare its human rights practices to those in Banja Luka or in west Mostar. The same applies to my conversations with intellectuals who support a multiethnic state. I have an impression that they do not know how to present their ideas. And you know well the role of the media in that situation... I don't know if the Pope's visit will mark a new beginning, but I wish that was the case. I'd really like that.

We'd all be happy if the situation improved after the Pope's visit. Because he is the head of the Christians. I'm not sure how you'll understand this, but my impression is that Muslims will pay more attention to the Pope's call for the respect of others and coexistence than the Catholics. That is a paradox, but the majority of flags on the Kosevo stadium were the flags of the parastatlet Herceg-Bosna.

That is a problem, but you must remember that there are a lot of Catholics in the so called Herceg-Bosna and that they came to see the head of their church. I hope that this visit will mark a new beginning for them as well.

I hope you won't misunderstand this. The flag of Croatian people or the state of Croatia is one thing and the flag of the parastate whose authorities carried out genocide and crimes is another; the authorities of Herceg-Bosna expelled Muslims from many towns in which they used to be a majority (Stolac, Pocitelj, Zepce)

All together, it wasn't that bad during the Pope's open air mass at the Kosevo stadium, was it?

Of course. If you don't mind, I'd like to again address the events in Bosnia and the attitude of the international community with respect to them. Do you thing that the authorities in Sarajevo have made mistakes in their approach to the international public opinion? Should they have been more aggressive? If you were the prime minister of Bosnia, what would have you done?

It is not up to me to say that.

I'd like to hear your opinion.

I will repeat myself. I could list many examples in which the human rights of Serbs and Croats living on territory controlled by the Bosnian Army were not in danger. That means that here you worked for multiethnicity. Actually, all that is evidence for the international community that such a thing is possible. What would I do if I were a prime minister? You probably have in mind that I was a prime minister in Poland after the fall of communism. Well, I would work on the implementation of the Dayton Agreement. And if that didn't work, that would indicate that a decisive international verification of the Agreement was necessary. That would be my policy regarding the state. My policy regarding the society would be to investigate how to overcome divisions in the society. The media have an important role in that. People with different political orientations and nationalities could be represented. They could be scientists, sportsmen... You should build such a structure. You must be patient while building such a structure. That is the only chance for Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Having in mind the current situation, these are still only good wishes. Good wishes of all of us. I would be happy if our society were like that. The problem is, Mr. Mazowiecki, that war criminals are still at large and that they haven't been punished for their crimes. The German fascism in WW2 could have been defeated in only one way. The worst war criminals didn't take part in the negotiations about Bosnia, but their deputies did. There are some horrible indications from the international community that war criminals will not be arrested. That is one of the basic problems...

Yes, that is a very important problem. But it doesn't override other problems. I agree with you that war criminals must be punished. The Hague Tribunal has been established and it should be consistent. Everyone is using the fact that war criminals haven't been arrested as an excuse to avoid solving other problems. I don't want you to forgive criminals, but I wish you didn't regard every Serb or every Croat as a war criminal.

You are not saying that that is widespread in Bosnia?

I'm not criticizing. That's just my opinion.

The problem is that at the end of a millennium, Europe and the world are stuck in a moral quagmire. Recently, at a round table discussion at which you were present, I talked about "Anglo-Saxon torture" in journalism. Media must inform about an event while respecting the rules of journalism. They must provide answers to five questions: what, where, when, how and why. Unfortunately, in Bosnia some are trying to cross over "why" and even "how". There cannot be a solution until there is a clear understanding of the situation. A compromise is necessary, but only after the situation is cleared up.

WW2 finished with the capitulation of Germany. The war in Bosnia-Hercegovina finished with the Dayton Agreement. That is a big difference. You must keep that in mind. War criminals must face justice. It is reasonable to expect that nations can reconcile only after the question of war crimes is cleared up. At the same time, that means that hate will be present in this region until those problems are resolved. All that is very hard and complicated. Still, I believe that it is possible to start resolving some problems immediately. There is no need to wait for the criminals to appear in a court. The basic problem is not how to arrest war criminals. It is how to translate the logic of war into logic of peace. Everything connected to the war must be stopped.

If only the expansionist appetites from East and West have been sated. In one of his essays, David Reef wrote that Serbs kill Bosniaks as some sort of subhumans. They will not give up their attempts to commit genocide because they haven't been punished for this genocide nor for the numerous genocides before this one...

No one is being killed right now.

I don't want to bore you with the story about how here in Bosnia communists and Serb and Croatian nationalists banned the mention of the national name Bosniak. They did that because they were preparing a genocide and wanted to tell Europe: they are a religious group, they came here with the Turks, on camels; before the Turks and Islam they hadn't lived here, we had; therefore Bosnia is ours, not theirs.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that the problem of national and religious determination is relatively recent.

The crime was so horrific and so quick that at the beginning of the war we didn't think about that so much. But later, we realized perfidious consequences of such names. I'd like to know if you ever thought about whether in Bosnia someone is trying to provoke (in the most blatant way) a clash of two civilizations: Islam and Christianity.

Yes, there was a danger of that, and it is still present. A lot depends on what will happen with Bosnia. That is a big problem for Bosnia and the world. Bosnia can be a good example of contact between cultures, civilizations instead of being an example of conflict. I'll be happy if Muslims accept the Pope's words the way you interpret them. That would be good for Bosnia and this region.

As a proven humanist, what do you think about the fact that the Western politicians and media still treat us as a religious group (Muslims) and not as a nation, as Bosniaks, although we have lived in this region many centuries before the arrival of Islam...

That problem is fairly recent. When, at the start of my mission, I wrote about "Muslims", about suffering of Muslims, no one had a problem with that. However, later the situation changed and people started paying attention.

True, but the same day when the Pope left Bosnia-Hercegovina several Bosniak families were expelled from Tomislavgrad. Here communism drained faith out of people. They've lost the feeling for the God. Consequently, thanks to atheisation, we were exposed to four years of barbarian mayhem...

I will add something to what the Pope said. His message was the message whose of the man faith in the God is deep; it was the message of the man who believes that Islam and Christianity have common roots. Recall his first words upon the arrival to Sarajevo airport. Before expressing gratitude to the people who had waited for him, he thanked God for fulfilling his great desire and bringing him to Bosnia. That had a profound influence on everyone present, regardless of their religion. Therefore, the Pope first addressed the God. His last hope for peace in Bosnia is exactly the faith in God. I hope that the people in Bosnia understood that correctly.

It is interesting that at one point Alija Izetbegovic, during the most difficult times for Bosnia and its people, said that only God can save us. Then, the local quasi-communists made fun of him. This is just a digression. I'd like to ask you about the central European cultural space, because Poland and Bosnia both belong to it. Do you think that here in Bosnia the West endangers central Europe?

In what sense?

I've already mentioned Anglo-Saxon torture as a sort of cultural and media colonization.

I don't think that can be called cultural colonization. Rather, that is a problem of the mass media and the tendencies which dominate in them. Just look at the news. You'll see many crimes and horrible things. Good news is not the news any more. People are getting used to that. They accept that superficial culture is winning against the real culture. That is a big problem all over the world. Of course, we can talk about whether that is good or bad, but almost every household has a TV set these days. That means that everyone receives more news from all over the world. It is up to us to choose which button to press.

Let us return to the problem of genocide and crime. If the International Community and the Hague Tribunal are incapable of apprehending criminals, do you expect that the relatives of the victims will take justice into their hands? That could be a very dangerous form of terrorism. Do you think that will happen?

I don't think that that would guarantee justice, nor that those who deserve punishment would be punished for their crimes. One shouldn't count that the Hague Tribunal will be able to punish all the war criminals. It must sentence real criminals. But it needs assistance from local courts. One shouldn't dispense vigilante justice. Instead we should encourage courts which will be trustworthy.

Do you have any new information regarding the Hague Tribunal? These days, there is a lot of speculation about it.

I've only visited the Tribunal once. My impression is that it is a serious institution. The Hague Tribunal must sentence the criminals, but it needs assistance from the local courts.

------------Translated on 7/10/97 --------------- [HOME]