March 6, 2017 - Fort Russ -
Aleksey Zabrodin, Izvestiya - translated by J. Arnoldski -
Milorad Dodik, President of Republika Srpska (one of the state entities within Bosnia and Herzegovina), is visiting Moscow. In this exclusive interview with Izvestiya correspondent Alexey Zabrodin, he spoke of friendship with Russia, Serbs’ desire for unity, the fact that the Crimean question is closed, and how Moscow and Washington do not need mediators in mending relations.
Zabrodin: On March 2nd, you held talks with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. How do you appraise the results of this meeting?
Dodik: Such a meeting is held annually. I want to thank Sergey Lavrov because, as far as I know, he has a very busy schedule, but he always finds time for us. Republika Srpska and Russia have many joint projects. We discussed the political situation in the Balkans, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina, bilateral relations, the role which Russia is playing on the peninsula, projects in the sphere of education, i.e., educating students from Republika Srpska in Russia, and economic and trade cooperation.
I am grateful to Moscow that its actions are always aimed at maintaining stability and peace in the Balkans. In addition, we talked about the necessity of strengthening Russia’s media presence in the region.
By the way, Republika Srpska did not allow Bosnia and Herzegovina to impose anti-Russian sanctions. Therefore, all of Bosnia and Herzegovina to this day maintains trade with Russia.
Zabrodin: Things in the Balkans are once again restless. Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic recently stated that he is personally ready to go with a gun in his hand and with his sons to defend Serbs in Kosovo if Pristina unleashes violence. Can Kosovo Serbs count on the support of Republika Srpska in the case of a conflict?
Dodik: The unity of Serbia and Republika Srpska is unquestionable. We treat the Kosovo problem just as urgently as Serbia does. Our actions in Bosnia and Herzegovina are aimed at not recognizing Kosovo. The West violated international law in the case of Kosovo. And the West is pursuing a completely different policy towards Republika Srpska than towards Kosovo, albeit we are overall dealing with similar examples. I hope that armed conflict is impossible now. But if we talk about any hypothetical situations, then we will always be together with Serbia.
Zabrodin: In 2008, the parliament of Republika Srpska discussed the issue of declaring independence if Kosovo unilaterally does. Today Kosovo has been recognized by more than 100 states. Was external pressure put on Republika Srpska so that she would not go through with this?
Dodik: You’re talking about international recognition. If Kosovo becomes a full member of major international organizations, such as the UN, then Republika Srpska will also take the necessary steps in this direction. Kosovo and Republika Srpska are a perfect example of the West’s double standards.
Republika Srpska is dissatisfied with its practical status within Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you proceed on the basis of the original text of the Dayton Accords, then Republika Srpska could function within Bosnia and Herzegovina. But over many years since, the agreement has been subjected to revision, which has drawn people’s dissatisfaction. In addition, the West is putting enormous pressure on Republika Srpska.
I want to emphasize that we're not adventurists; we want peace and stability, but we want to resolve the issue of our status and our rights.
Zabrodin: You have said that by 2018 Bosnia and Herzegovina should restore Republika Srpska’s rights which were enumerated in the original version of the Dayton Accords (1996). Otherwise, discussions will be held on organizing a referendum on independence. Are the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina capable of fulfilling these demands? Through what channels are you going to achieve this?
Dodik: To this day, Bosnia and Herzegovina remains under the control of the West, which stands behind the violation of the Dayton Accords and the changes in the status and rights of Republika Srpska. This most often plays into the hands of Bosnian Muslims who now do not want to give up what they’ve received to the detriment of our interests. The West is not ready to admit its guilt in violating the agreements whose original text says that there should be only four joint political organs in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But now there are around 70 such. This is a violation of Dayton and the Constitution. We demand a review of this policy.
In the spring of 2018, at the congress of the Union of Independent Social Democrats, we will discuss what we’ve ultimately arrived at. Besides political dialogue with the West and representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we have no other tools at our disposal.
Zabrodin: Now many people are saying that the West is trying to turn the Balkans into yet another point of tension with Russia. How can the Balkans be prevented from becoming a field of conflict between Russia and the West?
Dodik: Today we are faced with the expansion of the West. At the same time, Russia, unlike other so-called partners, has never put forward any political demands to or forced its will on the Balkans. This point should be considered in the context of the general anti-Russian hysteria which is unfortunately present in Europe and the US. They fear Moscow and they are not pleased with how Russia has under Vladimir Putin’s leadership regained its position on the international arena. Therefore, the West is maintaining the rhetoric of the Cold War. For Republika Srpska, Moscow is a desired and reliable partner. And we really want to develop bilateral cooperation.
Zabrodin: You weren’t allowed into the US for Donald Trump’s inauguration. Is this the fault of Barack Obama’s administration? What do you expect from Trump politically and are you planning a personal meeting?
Dodik: We are for normalizing relations with the US. But the Barack Obama Administration literally two days before my departure imposed sanctions on me, so I couldn’t visit America. Nevertheless, we are ready to hold dialogue with Americans and discuss any questions. We’ll see.
Zabrodin: Now many countries are arguing about who will “reconcile” Russia and the US. Slovenia, Latvia, and others in particular. Does Republika Srpska, as part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, not want to contribute to the resumption of dialogue between Moscow and Washington?
Dodik: I welcome any improvement in relations between Russia and the US, but Moscow and Washington don’t need intermediaries. When they talk about the place of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump’s potential meeting, then some kind of local goals are being pursued. Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have the resources for this. But I hope that in the near future we will be witnesses to a meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump that could positively impact Russian-American relations. Moscow and Washington will come to an agreement, and things will become easier for us.
Zabrodin: Albanians in Macedonia have strongly intensified their activities. The Albanian parties are demanding changes to state symbols to reflect Albanian ones. Experts say that Macedonia is threatened with a Kosovo scenario. Is the situation in the country really dangerous?
Dodik: Macedonia is in a very difficult political situation. But we are talking not about domestic politics, but the external factor. The president does not want to see the Albanian group supported by the EU in his coalition. The West is taking advantage of this and trying to influence the situation.
For many years, Albanians in Macedonia have been urged to use methods similar to ones used in Kosovo. We are for the preservation of peace, and we hope that the situation will be resolved on the basis of constructive dialogue within the country without the interference of foreign factors. But if a conflict breaks out in Macedonia, this will be very dangerous for all of the Balkans and could end in the collapse of the state.
Zabrodin: After the collapse of Yugoslavia, Serbs became a divided nation. Is the unification of Serbs into a single state possible again in the future?
Dodik: In the 20th century, Serbs suffered more than all others in the Balkans. Take the two world wars for example. The Serbian people only wanted to maintain Yugoslavia, but the Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians, Albanians, and others unleashed centrifugal tendencies. The formation of Bosnia and Herzegovina after Yugoslavia’s collapse was illogical. The “great powers” decided that it was necessary so as to stop the war. They told us: Republika Srpska should remain in Bosnia and Herzegovina on the same principles along which Yugoslavia existed. Serbs, Croats, and Muslims could not live together in Yugoslavia, but it turns out that they should within the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina? This is an illusion.
They tore Kosovo away from Serbia even though there is a significant Serb enclave there which has virtually no rights. They expelled 500,000 Serbs from Croatia in the 1990’s, depriving them of rights and property. There are also certain restrictions on the rights of Serbs in Montenegro. The Serbian people is partitioned. Therefore, it is necessary to conceptualize integration processes for Serbs based on a shared mentality. Working on the integration of the Serbian people - this is the task of the Serbian political elite in this century.
Zabrodin: Could integration in the European Union, which Belgrade is seeking, be a way out of the situation?
Dodik: The EU itself is threatened with collapse. It could hardly contribute to the integration of Serbs. Several years ago, the EU looked attractive, but now everything is different. There are even moods for leaving the EU in Italy and France. Not to mention the UK.
Zabrodin: You said that Republika Srpska did not allow Bosnia and Herzegovina to impose the anti-Russian sanctions which arose following the Ukrainian crisis and Crimea’s reunification with Russia. The West is more often linking the lifting of sanctions with the Minsk Agreements, preferring not to talk about Crimea. Is it possible that the West actually recognizes Crimea as Russia? What is your opinion on this whole story?
Dodik: If not for the anti-constitutional coup d’etat on the Maidan, many of these events would not have happened. Crimea joined Russia on the basis of a referendum, and the will of the people should be respected. The Crimean issue is solved. The West does not recognize the will of the people in Crimea, but it recognizes the will of the political elite in Kosovo, where no referendum was held. It is difficult to predict the actions of the West which loves double standards.
But the key issue with sanctions is Russia-US relations. Many countries in Europe are for lifting the sanctions, and such sentiments are only growing. They tried to economically weaken Russia, but they themselves incurred serious economic losses. Brussels said it would punish Moscow, but Russia simply stopped buying goods from the EU and began developing its own economy, thereby only becoming stronger. Overall, Russia has not lost anything. Therefore, lifting sanctions is in Europe’s interests.
As for the DPR and LPR, this problem should be resolved through dialogue. It is possible that the future of these republics is also tied to Russia.
Zabrodin: In Russia, Serbs are traditionally considered to be a brotherly people. Is this feeling mutual?
Dodik: Serbs consider Russia a reliable friend who can be appealed to in the most difficult moments. Serbs love Russia and our Russian brothers.
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