INTERVIEW: Haris Alibasic – We Seek a Long Term Sustainable Solution for Bosnia and Herzegovina

INTERVIEW: Haris Alibasic – We Seek a Long Term Sustainable Solution for Bosnia and Vice President Biden’s recent visit to Sarajevo signaled the return of U.S. involvement in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) which many political analysts in our country and around the world interpreted as a beginning of the process of correction of the mistakes caused by the Dayton agreement, that even after 14 years of peace, Bosnia and Herzegovina is still drowning in the mud of nationalism, crime, and corruption. 

The latest information indicates that the Obama administration may assign a special envoy to Bosnia and Herzegovina with the purpose of “convincing” the powers that be that the constitutional reforms are in the interest of everyone involved and to finally move beyond the political stalemate. This information leads us to ask Mr. Haris Alibasic, the President of the Congress of North American Bosniaks, whether it really signals the beginning of serious American action in BiH or if it is just a new probe of the Bosnian political landscape?

Alibašić: It was expected that the very arrival of Barack Obama and his administration, whose members include proven friends of Bosnia and Herzegovina [Clinton and Biden] would signal a more active U.S. role in resolving the pressing issues in BiH which Europe is incapable of resolving  or is trying to resolve them at the expense of the Bosniaks. The most recent example of this activity is the latest decision involving a discriminating E.U. visa policy towards the Bosniak people. CNAB has, over a long period of time, called out the harmful decisions of Europe that affect Bosniaks and BiH, while lobbying the U.S. government to take on a more active role in resolving these issues.

The Obama administration has already made it clear that Bosnia and Herzegovina is still a priority on their foreign policy agenda, and has recognized the crisis that is currently threatening the country. The evidence of this recognition is the recent visit of Vice President Biden as well as two visits by several U.S. congressmen to Bosnia. Certainly, appointing a special envoy would make it even more apparent that the U.S. is willing to take a more active and leading role in resolving the Dayton related issues. To this end, all pro-Bosnian forces in the U.S., including CNAB, will do everything in their power to make it happen. I should also mention the important efforts of the Bosniak-American Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BAACBH) to reach this goal. This effort includes the House Resolution 171 adopted by the U.S. Congress regarding the need for constitutional reforms in BiH and the need for a closer partnership of the European Union and the U.S. in this regard. The inclusion of Bosnia and Herzegovina into the Euro-Atlantic community is within the national interest of the United States. The naming of the special envoy for the Balkans is also mentioned in the resolution. Furthermore, the United States unconditionally supports the sovereignty, the territorial integrity, and the lawful continuity of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state. A long term solution requires greater cooperation of the politicians within BiH as well as the European Union. However, I believe, as is the case with the Dayton agreement, that only a strong U.S. engagement can ensure concrete political action is taken in BiH for the mutual benefit of all its citizens. According to the information available to us, we may see a return of the “April package” for constitutional reforms from 2006.

Alibašić:  The “April package” was at the time only a partial solution which is still considered the current situation as part of the long term solution. Every proposal has a certain opportune historical and political moment, but CNAB believes that the time of partial and incomplete solutions is gone and that we have to move towards comprehensive revisions of the Dayton agreement as a sustainable solution for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Your organization constantly calls upon the international community to help formulate a normal Bosnian state. What do you mean by this?

Alibašić: Bosniaks and all those who consider BiH their homeland, rightfully expect of their political representatives and the international community to support a sovereign state that preserves the human rights and civil liberties of all citizens according to international law. They also want a state which will become a member of NATO and the EU, and will provide political and economic stability for all ethnic groups. Any new agreement must also recognize historical facts and not reward those who would like to benefit from the results of aggression, ethnic cleansing, and genocide in BiH. Many world political analysts, including those who are known to be friends of BiH, are warning that at the end of the day, it will be necessary to have negotiations similar to those that occurred in Dayton in 1995.

Alibašić: The Dayton Accords were necessary to stop the war and the bloodshed. Just as it once served the purpose of stopping the war, today it is undoubtedly an obstacle that undermines the functionality of BiH as a state. The resulting situation is unsustainable and it is necessary to change it. I believe that the Obama administration must take a more active role in initiating and implementing constitutional reforms in BiH. CNAB is ready to help in any regard. As you know, next year is the year of general elections in BiH. Who does CNAB support, or will support of the current politicians or parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and who has earned your trust?

Alibašić: CNAB has always supported all those whose actions, and not just campaign slogans, display a commitment to a sovereign, independent, democratic, and multi ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina and will not compromise those principals. As you know, we have equally criticized Sulejman Tihic’s Prud agreement, Silajdzic’s police reform policy, Dodik’s secessionism, HDZ’s proposal for a third entity, SDP’s opportunism, and all signs of crime and corruption. CNAB is ready to support all pro-Bosnian groups and parties whose actions and words serve to build a modern and democratic BiH state and certainly all those who are willing to listen and recognize the voice of the Bosnian diaspora which we represent. In the event you meet with political representatives in BiH, will you ask to meet with president of SNSD Milorad Dodik?

Alibašić: The primary purpose of our visit to Bosnia is not to meet with representatives of political parties, but to continue to develop relations with numerous non-government organizations and institutions. We would also like to have talks with government officials and inform them of the wishes and sentiments of the people whom we represent in the diaspora. It is not our intention to meet with mister Dodik, however we are ready to have relations and dialogue with all representatives who are pro-Bosnian, but we have made it very clear that we do not agree with Mr. Dodik’s views.

Kliker info: Recently there are rumors of a possible meeting of the Bosniak Assembly in Sarajevo. Are you a proponent of such an event?

Alibašić: CNAB supports the Bosniak Assembly project because of the need for unity among Bosniaks through internal dialogue. The international community, and particularly the neighboring countries have made their intentions clear through various political and intellectual actions. It is time for Bosniaks to bury their disagreements and to take decisive control of their own destiny and the destiny of BiH. Bosniak Assembly is a step in the right direction. The organizers have historical responsibility to ensure that the most valuable Bosniaks are invited to fully represent the diversity of Bosniak views. We hope they will succeed in this endeavor. In your press releases, you often indicate that CNAB is an umbrella organization representing the Bosniaks in North America. Given that your actions prove you are working for the interests of BiH in which all people will be equal regardless of their differences, why does your name represent only Bosniak and excludes all other immigrants and refugees who are not Bosniaks but who do consider Bosnia and Herzegovina their homeland.

Alibašić: If you observe CNAB through our actions, you will see that we do represent the interests of BiH and all of its citizens because there can only be a multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina as the way forward. CNAB has members and supporters who are not Bosniaks, but who help us through various projects and work together with us. All those who would like to help our homeland are welcome. Of course, CNAB also supports the interests of Bosniaks anywhere in the world, as is evident by our recent actions regarding the violations of human rights, national and religious minorities in Serbia, particularly Bosniaks of Sandzak. Can you tell us more about the activities of CNAB and what has been done over the last few months since the annual convention that was held in Florida?

Alibašić: In May, we had our annual CNAB convention in Jacksonville, Florida which resulted in democratic election of new board members, including 11 members who were not previously members of the board. We are very satisfied with the new team and are refreshed with younger, highly educated, and capable Bosnian patriots. The team does excellent work. Just since May 2009, CNAB has completed many activities. All those who read our email newsletter can see that there is a tremendous amount of work being done in a short timespan. To name a few, we have written letters to the European parliament regarding a few issues, as well as to the American news organizations and members of the media, the U.S. State Department, various representatives of the Bosnian government, and have supported Florence Hartmann in her fight against criminal accusations against this former spokeswoman of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Because of actions taken by CNAB, the University of Minnesota is modifying the contents of their web site for the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Research, including text and references to holocaust and genocide as related to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Center will also engage the entire adjunct faculty to do a comprehensive review of all web content which are dedicated to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Holocaust. The previous articles were biased and provided historically inaccurate facts about Bosnia and genocide in BiH. We are working on a project to address the security concerns of Bosniaks in Republika Srpska, the arrests of Bosniaks in this entity, and the attacks on religious objects in RS. Per our request to commemorate July 11, 2009 in U.S. and Canada, many cities and states throughout these two countries have adopted resolutions and proclamations commemorating this event. In Michigan alone, the House of Representatives of the state of Michigan (and the city governments of Grand Rapids and Kentwood) have adopted resolutions and proclamations to declare July 11 as a Day of Remembrance of Srebrenica and the week of July 11 as the Bosnia and Herzegovina Tribute Week. For more information, please visit our web site In conclusion, can you tell us if the conflict among Bosniaks in North America has been resolved?

Alibašić: I think it is healthy to have some disagreements among Bosniaks because only through open dialogue about problems and issues can we become stronger and more able to work for the mutual interests of Bosniaks and BiH. There is no better way to strengthen an organization than to have a democratic dialogue through which we can resolve various problems. Despite the obstacles, we find a good way to communicate in a democratic fashion through dialogue and concrete actions and activities. CNAB remains an umbrella organization with its traditions and clear objectives, and all other organizations are welcome if they would like to work together with us towards these goals. We have our agenda, which is to fight for a united Bosnia and Herzegovina, to promote tolerance and respect among all Bosnian citizens, to protect the interests of Bosniaks, and the cooperate with all those who share common goals for Bosnia and Herzegovina. BiH is the homeland for all people who live within its borders and historically belong there, and we’re ready for all forms of relations and cooperation as long as it is in the best interest of BiH and the Bosniak people around the world.

Halil Šetka (