The sun is shining in Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska, one of the two entities which make up Bosnia and Herzegovina. The city center is an incessant swarm of young people, the main street cafes are crowded while street musicians entertain passers-by. At first glance nothing suggests that the region is facing one of the most critical situations and one of maximum instability since the end of the 1990s’ civil conflict. To understand the social tensions simmering in this Balkan region it helps to walk around the city outskirts: on the walls we see symbols of ethnic ultra-nationalism and portraits of Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian-Serb general and war criminal accused by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia of being responsible for the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre. As does an exhaustive depiction of the situation by Milorad Dodik, a Serbian member of the tripartite presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and leader of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats. The press and the international community accuse the president of carrying out secessionist policies and reforms in the legal, administration and military fields aimed at increasing the powers of the Republika Srpska to the detriment of the central institutions. He receives us in his office, and after posing for the camera as he kisses the Serbian flag, he agrees to give us an exclusive interview.
President, on 11 April, Britain announced that it had imposed sanctions against you and Zeljka Cvijanovic, the president of the Republika Srpska entity. You are accused of threatening the peace and security in the Western Balkans through your separatist positions and by encouraging Putin: what do you say to this?
I believe that the whole of the West, including yourself, are frightened of Putin. Even when you open the refrigerator, you think you might find him in there. I appreciate Putin, I have met him many times, he never asked anything of me, never. He tried talking to us, to understand our situation. And he always asked us in what way he could help. Your people, on the other hand, when they come here, they look for people who will do what you tell them, especially the British, who first left the EU and are now telling us we should join the EU. So, let me ask them a question: if you decided to leave the EU, how is it that you now believe it such a wonderful and positive institution for us? In any case I don’ own anything in Britain, I have not been to Britain in the last 15 years, and I see no reason why I should visit Britain in the next 100 years, so I don’t care.
You know Putin very well, you’ve met with him several times and expressed a deep respect for him. In your opinion, what should the Russian president do to stop the war?
I appreciate and respect Russia, its people, its history, its literature. The same as I enjoy Western literature and the West’s impressive history. The Ukrainian people, like the Russians, are friends with the Serbian people. However, people need to understand that the situation in Ukraine is a side effect of the clash between global players: on the one hand the West led by Washington and London, on the other Russia. Russia had an agreement with the West: that NATO should not expand too far east, especially in Ukraine. NATO had already reached Russia’s borders in Latvia and other countries. For Russia it was simply not acceptable that NATO should expand so far into Ukraine. It is evident that the members of the EU are in a weaker position in this conflict because they are being asked to go against Russia while depending on Russia for energy and at the same time, they are NATO members. I wish this conflict could end as soon as possible, but what we are seeing here is something new which we have never witnessed before in other conflicts. People suffer in all wars; bridges and buildings, everything is destroyed… there are injustices of course and when children suffer it is very painful. We experienced all this when NATO bombed us, when it bombed Serbia. A little girl would be playing in the yard and NATO bombs would hit her. As a community this is the pain we carry. This is why we understand suffering. For Westerners, war is just a video game. And now they are out to hunt all those of us who declare themselves neutral. Should we follow London? They killed so many people in Africa, in Southeast Asia… for hundreds of years. We are going to remain neutral in all this. Our sole position is one of neutrality and we hope that the war will end as soon as possible.
After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine much was written and said about Bosnia’s possible application for NATO membership and as soon as rumors spread the Russian ambassador in Sarajevo, Igor Kalabukhov, stated that if it should occur, and represented a threat to Russia, Moscow would react.
Firstly, Kalabukhov is not the one who decides. We decide. NATO bombed our city and our TV transmitter. I, we, have had uranium heavily dropped on us. If you were to come to the hospital with me you would see how many children there are affected by different types of cancer, and these are occurring mainly in the areas where NATO intervened. Should we join NATO to applaud all this? The Russians don’t decide for us, this is just Western paranoia. We are the only ones who decide here. You have dropped bombs, you have killed children who were not yet born by using uranium. We don’t want to be with you. This is our relationship with NATO.
Walking through this city, Banja Luka, I noticed a very flashy mural with the words: The reunification (between the Republika Srpska and Serbia) has begun and nothing can stop it. Do you think that from a political, economic and cultural point of view it would be positive for the people of the Republic to join Serbia?
We are not Bosnian Serbs. We are Serbs. We belong to one nation: Serbia. Bosnian Serbia was built by the West during the Austro-Hungarian Empire when the people of Serbia were divided. Is there anything more natural than wanting to be united? Let me ask you a question: why was Germany reunified? The Germans had the right to do so, but we Serbs do not have it. Why?
A comparison can be made between the Republika Srpska and Donbass: in both cases two regions inhabited by minority populations (Bosnia’s Serbian population is approximately 35%) who want to reunite with their motherland…
When we talk about certain issues, we need to take into account what the United Nations Charter says concerning people’s right to self-determination. But this principle applies to Kosovo, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, however the Serbs do not have the right to do so. And so again, why?
You do not accept the term genocide associated with Srebrenica. From your point of view, if it was not a genocide then what was the Srebrenica massacre?
Srebrenica is an unresolved case of suffering. There are many rumors and manipulations regarding what happened. The definition of genocide says that it is genocide when a massacre was committed by an entire nation, while as far as Srebrenica is concerned,