August 17, 1996 Vreme News Digest Agency No 254

Interview: Fikret Abdic

On the Brink of Capital Punishment

by Svetlana Vasovic-Mekina

"I was the first person to perceive that the structure of the OUN was outdated which is why, in due time, on Nov. 11, 1991, I dispatched a letter to the American president in which I entreated him for American military aid"

The name of one of the candidates who is to appear on the following elections in Bosnia brings to mind Agrokomerc, at one time a socialist economic miracle from Velika Kladusa, which later erupted into a major scandal. Even today, Fikret Abdic is the director of Agrokomerc, an international company whose head office is in Rijeka, Croatia, situated in an opulent building close to the sea. With the capital of the people of western Bosnia, and primarily from those living abroad, he founded a stock company in 1993, retaining the same name. Recently, the DNZ was registered in Mostar - Democratic National Union (it was officially registered at the Higher Court in Mostar and registered with OEBS) and Fikret Abdic was named as a candidate for a member of the Presidency of the Federation of B-H (Bosnia and Herzegovina). However, it appears that DNZ-B-H and Abdic won't have an easy time at the elections, due to the fact that the Higher Public Prosecutor in B-Hac has just indicted Fikret Abdic Babo, accusing him of war crimes; the trial was set in motion and commenced in absentia. In spite of that, Abdic believes that his participation at the following elections is a test of democracy in Bosnia.

VREME: In B-Hac a court trial has commenced, in absentia, in short - "due to war crimes". Does that mean that the elections are over for you?

ABDIC: No, since those charges are of a political nature; in my case there is no criminal activity. Only those who had sent armies onto civilians could answer for criminal activities. They killed four civilians, which is why the people self-organized themselves. That's how the war began. Therefore, such an indictment could be applied to all the other politicians of the former Yugoslavia, but not to me.

What would happen if you would now like to attend a pre-election assembly in Bosnia? Could they arrest you?

The leaders of SDA obviously find it much easier to justify my arrest than to lose their power from me, while free. True, a year ago they could have arrested me a lot easier, whereas today that would prove somewhat more difficult...

Recently three people were sentenced in Croatia who had attempted to assassin you in Rijeka. It has been established that they are members of the Bosnian secret service. During the pre-election campaign you shall have to appear in public meeting places - are you afraid for your life?

To my political opponents from SDA I am obviously least harmful in the grave or in jail. However, the participation of our party at the elections signifies a certain test of democracy in Bosnia and therefore we have support for our participation at the elections from the West, which stands for democracy. At the end of the day, the final balance shall be tipped by the voters.

How much trust and support do you still have from the people of former western Bosnia. Most of those who haven't returned to Kladusa have lived in horrendous conditions in the refugee camp Kuplenska in Croatia...

Part of our people today live as immigrants, part of them have returned, and a part have remained in Kuplenska where they didn't have any citizens rights, where they were harassed and beaten, battered, locked up... Our people have absolutely no protection, not even the protection of their own country. Neither they, nor their families can acquire a Bosnian passport. Not to mention the fact that all those who, in spite of everything, decide to return to their homes, are subjected to a brutal treatment by the new local authorities. Murders, thanks to the pressures of the international community, are a thing of the past, even though the remaining violence stands as a trademark of the regime in Bosnia and the authorities in Sarajevo. That the members of one party, who have control over the whole state can harass their political opponents in such an unscrupulous manner, is truly shameful not only for Bosnia but for Europe as well.

In spite of that, your followers dared to collect signatures for yourself and your party?

We have truly done all that we could for our people. We are not responsible for their present destiny, and they don't consider us to be so either. Thanks to our people, we have managed to collect around 100.000 members all over Bosnia and around forty thousand signatures for the registration of our Democratic National Union party, even though nine months following the Dayton agreement we are still working illegally... In any case, the best propaganda for our party are facts: like, it has almost been a year since the people in western Bosnia have been "liberated" from the Fifth Corps. Those people have nothing today. And before we left, they had everything: a well regulated town, shops full of merchandise, warehouses full of food and materials for reproduction. Today it has all been stolen and destroyed. Before we had withdrawn from our part of western Bosnia, we had supplies for about six months. There were goods worth around 60 million German Marks. We asked for an inventory of all those goods after we had left. Of course, the clique that came after us failed to make one out. Let's say I am exaggerating - let's say there were goods worth 50 million German Marks, yet today it can be established just by throwing a glance that those supplies are no longer there. That state had once previously robbed us, during the first occupation of Kladusa. After that our "para-state" as they called it, returned, accumulated capital again, and then the state stepped in once again and robbed us once again. Isn't that our best propaganda?

Are you counting on Serbian votes as well?

All Serbs in the Srpska Republic shall vote for DNZ-B-H as well, that is the ones who decide to vote from there. They shall vote for the Democratic National Union, since it is a party which shall, on the territory of the Federation, protect their interests as well in the best possible way. My option is for peace and it is rational. My program is logical, and if you take a look - it has been the same throughout my life, from the first multi-party elections until today.

They are accusing you that, due to your political stand during the war, you have threatened the territorial unity of Bosnia?

Media controlled by the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) claim that. I simply don't read nor listen to them. I know that I am being accused in them, at the same time not giving me a chance to answer back, to defend myself from their allegations. Therefore - I am guilty until I prove otherwise. That is Stalinism. It is true that in the Presidency of B-H I had done everything in my power to enable that state to have its wartime economy. I sent them 25 informative papers and suggestions. They hadn't discussed a single one! When I realized that it was getting us nowhere, I returned to my own people in Kladusa and helped to bring the situation under control. Not for myself, but rather to be able to secure freedom from western Bosnia for the rest of Bosnia. The responsibility for all that had happened immediately afterwards lies exclusively with the Fifth Corps. We didn't attack it, on the contrary, we defended ourselves. And then those, whom I had defeated in the legal elections, adopted a decision that I was no longer a member of the Presidency. And that I was to acknowledge the Presidency of the republic in "package", which meant that I was to verify by my signature that Alija Izetbegovic was to replace me, who had received less votes than I had. That was the essence of our conflict.

Your opponents hold it much more against you for forming an alliance with the Serbs from Krajina than with the Croats. Wasn't that a mistake, especially since Knin today is in Croat hands?

Well, it's easy to say so today. However, at that moment it would have been utterly ludicrous. We were completely surrounded. Many international mediators later confessed that my policy was the best solution for all. Finally, even today in Bosnia and Herzegovina you have two entities - the Serbian Republic and the Federation of B-H. Our territory still borders both entities. Therefore, it is extremely important for us that we have not been at war with them. And not only that. SDA wanted Islamization of Western Bosnia, Islamization which brought disquiet not only to the Serbs but to the Croats as well. We, even though Muslims, refused to consent to return the wheel of history back 300 years. Which is why our policy was the real and only possible solution for all the peoples who live here.

Do you believe that future wars shall be avoided if the same people again take their places as the heads of states?

Conditions today are utterly different; the experiences are different and many have learnt a lesson from all that had occurred. To suppose that today the same people would do the same things, isn't realistic.

In the spring, at the moment when you announced your candidature, Izetbegovic was in hospital. You then stated that you wished him all the best. The election game has started, rather rough as far as SDA is concerned - do you still wish your opponents all the best?

I then said that it was very normal that Izetbegovic was in hospital. It would have been strange if after so many committed political mistakes a man does not become ill. However, I wish good health upon all my political opponents and would even take part in their recovery, since I wish for healthy competition and an open political battle. Which is why I would suggest to them to opt for fair play and to stop making threats.