THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release July 31, 1999
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION WITH REGIONAL INDEPENDENT MEDIA
Third High School Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina
6:00 P.M. (L)
Q Mr. President, thank you very much -- first of all, thank you very much for the possibility to meet you and for everything -- for what you and your administration and the American people did for Bosnia-Herzegovina. It's very big for all of my colleagues here to meet you today, and thanks to all your efforts for the construction and rebuilding of modern society in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
I want to say to you that your efforts give results, and with my colleagues from Banja Luka, for example, -- I'm from Sarajevo -- three years ago it was impossible to meet each other and to think united five percent saying same about our past and 100 percent about our future. Today it is possible just thanks to your support and the support from countries from Western democracy.
Especially I want to thank for your decision to send and to election ambassador from the United States, Mr. Kauzlarich, who helped all parts of democratic infrastructure, especially maintenance. You cannot believe how he supported us and even that just through his reports, even a few journalists maybe just survived.
I would request you for continuing with your support for rebuilding of democratic society and then sure it will get results. Maybe even faster and earlier than in similar countries like Northern Ireland or South African republic.
You said today in your speech Bosnia passed the war and we believe this war is over forever. But you know coming is the new phase. With your support a program of military -- will get excellent results. But I am free to propose idea about similar program -- maybe can change democracy in Bosnia. I think it's essential for the new decades and for the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
We will request, as will my colleagues, to ask you a few questions. I just want to ask you two questions. The first is, do you think that Slobodan Milosevic is only nationalistic leader in this region -- is creating problem and hopefully that current authorities and current national leaders in countries such as Bosnia and Croatia could be possible to reach a real democratic change for our society and our country and reach European and -- unification?
And just maybe -- I make one interesting fact. Some analyses shows that -- in Bosnia we spent about $10,000 per capita of citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina for international support for military action. $1,000 was spent for reconstruction of infrastructure, but, unfortunately, less than $100 for rebuilding serial infrastructure -- independent media, education, culture. I think that this proportion is not so proper, especially for the future. If it was justified in the past, I am not sure if it is good for the future.
And the second question, I think it is one very, very, very painful and very shameful fact for the victims of war in Bosnia for the democratic institutions, democratic country as the United States that accused person for war criminals -- primarily, Mr. Karadzic and Mr. Mladic -- are still free. I think without full and efficient work of International High Tribunal, there is not possible to create conciliation as the most important part of rebuilding -- in Bosnia.
My question is, did you make everything what you or your administration what you could to arrest these two guys? And second, did the American administration offer and give to High Tribunal all proof about other accused or future accused war criminals? Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me answer the second question first because I think it leads us back to the first question. We were the principal supporter of creating this War Crimes Tribunal, and we have made very strong contributions to it -- financial contributions. And we have worked hard to cooperate with it. So the answer to that is we have cooperated strongly.
We also have been a part of an operation in Bosnia that has arrested I think about 29 of the 80 people who have been indicted. In the case of Mr. Mladic and Mr. Karadzic, they're not in the American sector. And when the United Nations accepted the mandate of going into Bosnia, the mandate was that they could and would arrest any people who had been indicted by the War Crimes Tribunal if they, in effect, came across them, but they wouldn't start another war to get them. That was basically the mandate. And I think we should continue to do everything we can to arrest people. But I think if -- there's no question that the effectiveness, the impact, of both those men has been, in effect, ended or dramatically reduced.
Now, to go back to your first question. You said, is Milosevic the only nationalist politician who's causing problems. I don't think you could go that far, but I believe that basically the misery of Bosnia, the war, the four-year war, and what happened in Kosovo is because of his 12-year rule, and because he had a policy to gain and enhance his power based on selling "greater Serbia" to people -- the idea that anybody who wasn't a Serb was an enemy, had no political legitimacy, that their religion was no good, their ethnic background was no good, it was okay to disregard them and uproot them, and maybe okay to kill them.
And here in Bosnia, 250,000 people died and a quarter of a million people were made refugees. In Kosovo because we acted more quickly, not so many people died. We know of 10,000, although there are a lot of mass graves that have been dug up, and people have been moved, so we don't know for sure. But 800,000 or more refugees -- most of them have gone home in Kosovo, unlike Bosnia, where, because the thing went on longer here, they are taking longer to go back.
So I say, you know, each -- the politicians, when they run for office, there are all kinds of shades, you know. There are people who may be nationalists, but still prepared to work with people of different ethnic groups, different religious backgrounds. And I think that the difference is that he was willing to have ethnic cleansing and even mass killing to achieve his objectives. And I think that's wrong.
Then you asked me if I thought Bosnia, the people could actually be reconciled. Yes, I believe so, but I think we have to keep giving people something to work for. It's not enough to go around and tell people, after this sort of killing and bitterness, that, now, be nice people, you know, just do the right thing. You have to give them something positive, some reason to work together.
And what I saw today, with the Bosnian presidency, was that they were -- you know, sure, there's still tensions. There are all these refugee return issues, for example -- big issues out there. But they were much more comfortable together and, obviously, had more in common than they did two years ago. And I think that's a plus.
Q Okay, now it's my turn, I guess. I'm coming from Montenegro, you are aware of that. And I'm happy that today I am coming from the country which not follows Milosevic anymore. Just two or two and a half years ago, my country, unfortunately, follows Milosevic in all his work. And Montenegro, unfortunately, took part in war in Croatia and Bosnia, and Montenegrans committed war crimes in that war. So we have not a pleasant past, but we think that we might have a much better future.
Still Montenegro is in danger of Milosevic. In Montenegro, very strong Milosevic political and army forces are still present. And during three months of bombing, we never knew that time if we will have tomorrow war with them or not.
We had a lot of problems in our paper because the military wanted us to follow the military censorship and, of course, we didn't want that. And they used to come during the day and during the night with the long guns. Some of our people were accused in front of military court. We know that tomorrow they can again come in our offices and as well we know that they can occupy Montenegro and even that we can have a war if Milosevic decides to have another war.
I would like -- we are, of course, grateful for your great support for our leadership. I do not think that our leadership is the most democratic in the world, and we are critical to them because we think that they had to learn a lot because of their past involvement in all of that event. But I think that they are improving and with support, especially with the control of the West -- because in Montenegro we have now strong democratic opposition and we have now strong independent media and, unfortunately, only the West can control our leadership, which would like to continue with the all-monopoly in many fields of the life.
But I would like to ask you a few questions, which I think are very important for Montenegrans, for the future of the region. The United States is insisting on the territorial integrity of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. But Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is not international recognized. Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is not a member of United Nations or any other serious international institution. And when we are talking about possible independence, on which we might be forced because of Milosevic -- reforms are impossible in country in which Milosevic is the leader. So when we are talking about independence, we are always hearing the answer from the West, "you cannot change the borders."
But Montenegro is not intending to change the borders. Montenegro would like in the case just recognition of the last internal border of the former Yugoslavia, which is not internationally recognized. If that border is not recognized, it might be that Milosevic's project of great Serbia is winning because with Montenegro, Milosevic still has great Serbia and fright is creation of Mr. Milosevic. And I do not know if -- and I would like to ask you if we will be forced to leave Federal Republic of Yugoslavia if Milosevic remains in power, are you going to block Montenegran independence?
And another question, which I think as well is important -- if Milosevic stays in the power, Montenegro will be isolated because we cannot be a part of international community with Milosevic. So in which way are you going to support Montengren government?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, you have asked a very good set of questions because -- but I think I need to back up and say, we very much appreciate the role that Montenegro has played in these last difficult months. It has been in a very hard position. It has been vulnerable to invasion, as you pointed out. And the government of President Djukanovic maintained a position of independence and the position that Montenegro should acquire more and more autonomy, and should be a democratic and multiethnic society -- that's what we believe.
Now, here's the problem. Obviously, and you've pointed out quite properly that we shouldn't punish Montenegro with withholding aid, reconstruction aid, for example, just because it's part of Yugoslavia. And that's a good example of the dilemma.
Here's what I'm interested in. I want the people of Montenegro to have maximum freedom and maximum self-determination. But I don't think it's a good idea for the United States, or for Western Europe generally, to get in the business of redrawing national borders right now. Who knows what is going to happen in the future? I think -- we need to stand for a certain set of principles.
But what I want to say to all the ethnic groups of the Balkans, and all of Southeastern Europe, is that we have to build a future in which your safety, your right to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, access to education, access to a job, does not depend upon your living in a nation where everybody inside the nation's borders has the same religion you do and the same ethnic group you do. And in the past, when outside powers have attempted to redraw the lines of the Balkans and impose that, the results have been very painful for the people here. It's led to a lot of suffering.
So I don't want to strip any people of their democratic aspirations. And I don't think it's right for the United States to do that. But I also don't think it's right for us or for any other outside power to come in and, in effect, say, well, because we don't like Mr. Milosevic, we're going to redraw all the national boundaries. Because the real trick here is to preserve democracy, self-determination, freedom from religious or racial or ethnic persecution in all these countries, without regard to the national borders.
And what we need is -- and let me just make one other point. If we had the right sort of economic and political integration in Southeastern Europe, and then the right ties between Southeastern Europe and the rest of Europe -- Central and Western Europe -- then it wouldn't matter so much one way or the other.
That is, if you knew human rights were going to be protected, and if you knew everyone in this region was going to be tied together economically and politically, across national borders, and that the region would be tied to Europe and would have a future with the emerging European institutions, then the actual status -- whether you were independent or autonomous, for example -- wouldn't be nearly so important.
And what I've been afraid of -- the reason I've been reluctant to say anything about territorial borders is, there is a whole history in the 20th century of disaster happening in the Balkans because of outside powers redrawing the national borders. We have to change the nature of national life, and the nature of international cooperation, and then I believe, over the next few years, whatever is right about the national borders will settle down. The people will somehow determine that, not outsiders. That's what I think will happen.
Q -- (inaudible) -- but as a consequence of that, we have now a Serbia with situation with economy collapsed, with devastated structure, infrastructure, social structure and infrastructure, in deep moral crisis, political crisis. So this is a time of bad luck in Serbia, and finally, don't forget that Sloboan Milosevic still in power.
So the first question I want to raise now is, what to do to provide situation for Serbia to be back to normal, let me say in this way -- or how to attract Serbia or to force Serbia to become a part of new integration process here? I mean, the Pact of Stability which is going on now. Because if international community leaves Serbia out of such integration, it will be very bad for the integration because of the geostrategic position of Serbia. But it will be a real disaster for Serbia itself. And the part of the same question would be, do you have any idea how to cope with the strong anti-American mood and feeling of the Serbian people in this moment, which escalated especially after air strikes in the country?
And if I'm allowed, I would ask one more question as a second one. As far as I know, you met once Slobodan Milosevic, once --
THE PRESIDENT: In Paris.
Q -- in Paris, yes. So I --
THE PRESIDENT: And he was, of course, in the United States at Dayton.
Q Yes, but you met him in Paris. And I think that you will never meet him again because he is now an indicted war criminal. But I want to ask your personal impression about Mr. Milosevic. How do you keep him in your mind -- as a rival, stubborn rival? You hope, now, for almost --
THE PRESIDENT: Let me answer you that. You asked, first of all, about aid to Serbia because the Serbs have been hurt very badly by this war. And then you ask about --
Q -- the anti-American mood.
THE PRESIDENT: -- the anti-American feeling, and then my personal impressions of Mr. Milosevic.
The international community has taken the position that we would support humanitarian assistance to the Serbian people, because we realize that we have very badly damaged Serbia, economically, and stretched the social fabric in this conflict.
We would like very much to -- the United States, in particular, would like to participate in the rebuilding of Serbia, because we have many Americans of Serbian heritage, and because we want to make it clear that we're not anti-Serb, we were against Mr. Milosevic's policies. But we do not believe at this moment we can or should go beyond the humanitarian aid, for the simple reason that if we do, it will strengthen Mr. Milosevic's hold on power. So it's a terrible dilemma. But the people of Serbia need to find some way to change their government.
He has been charged by the War Crimes Tribunal. The evidence is overwhelming. The reason we acted so quickly in the case of Kosovo was because of the horrible experience we had in Bosnia -- and I was President for two of those years. It was a nightmare, and we only got the international community galvanized to take action after Srebrenica. So I think that, if the people of Serbia want us to be involved beyond humanitarian aid, then there needs to be a change in the government.
Now, in terms of anti-American feeling, I can only say I understand it, even though we didn't act alone, and all of our European allies agreed with us. We have the largest military, and we dropped the most bombs. And unfortunately, there were some innocent civilians killed in the bombs, and I feel terrible about it and I understand it.
But I just would ask the people to consider the position I was in. When I first became President, I tried talking with Mr. Milosevic for two and a half years. And tens of thousands of people died in Bosnia. Here, we knew they had a plan. We knew that the Milosevic government had a plan to systematically uproot the Kosovars, to kill, to loot, to destroy the property records in a very systematic way. And we did not want to wait another year or two and let all these people die, and all these refugees be created and then not come home.
If you look in Bosnia, here, we're sitting here in Sarajevo, and over a million people have still not come back. In Kosovo, because we moved immediately, 90 percent of the refugees have already gone home.
So if the Serbs are mad at me, I understand that, and I accept it as part of the inevitable consequences of a terrible conflict. But I want them to know they can continue to be mad at me, but the United States does not hate Serbia. We do not have anything against the Serbian people. Our country is a better country because we have so many Serbs in America. And I want to be involved in the reconstruction of Serbia, and I want Serbia to have a leading role in Southeastern Europe in the future.
But we have got to put an end to ethnic cleansing. The politics that have driven Mr. Milosevic's government and power for the last 12 years have got to be put aside. The idea of racial or religious superiority has got to go into the dust bin of history.
And I'm very sympathetic with it. It had a big hold on America, you know, the idea that whites were superior to blacks had a big hold on America. We didn't elect a Catholic President until 1960 in the United States. I understand these things. But you can't -- we've reached a point, now, where we can no longer sanction this sort of slaughter. And I think it's a good thing for the world. So the people can be mad at me, but they need to know Americans have nothing against Serbs. We opposed what Mr. Milosevic did.
And the third question you asked me was about my impressions of Mr. Milosevic. I am reluctant to say much, you know, because at home people are always psychoanalyzing me. You know, they meet President Clinton, "why was your president President Clinton?"
I think he is a very intelligent man. I think that he can be charming. But I think there are two problems that he has, that have proved fatal. Number one, he has built his political power on the idea of the religious and ethnic superiority of Serbs, and their inherent right not only to be a part of, but to completely dominate, whatever he decides is "greater Serbia." He thought it was what is generally the Republic Srpska, now, in Bosnia. He took the autonomy away from Kosovo, which it once had. Now you have Hungarians in Vojvodina, and you have the Montenegrans worried, because he basically has created this fear, this paranoia, in the Serbian population, and then he fed it, like a fire, with the bodies and lives of others.
Now, you know, there were other excesses in this region. The others are not pure. But he created this whole thing, and he drove it home in Bosnia, and then he drove it home in Kosovo. And I think he had -- in other words, I think he had a dark and terrible idea.
The other thing I observed from watching him is, perhaps because of the tragedies of his own life -- he had terrible tragedies, you know, as a child, with his parents and all -- I feel very badly about it, but I don't think he feels the way normal people would feel when they make decisions that cost people their lives.
I know, you see, I know when I ordered those airplanes to fly over Serbia, I knew innocent people would die. And I hated it. And the only reason I did it was because I knew I was saving many, many tens of thousands of people's lives, more than would die.
I think to him it doesn't matter. That's the only thing I can conclude. After watching 250,000 people die in Bosnia, and seeing these stories of these children raped and these children -- they were draft-age boys -- killed en masse, and these people wrapped up in a circle and burned alive -- and it happens over and over and over again, I can only conclude that he has no -- for whatever reason, he doesn't have normal feelings.
So those are my two problems with Mr. Milosevic. I think this idea of ethnic and religious superiority is the biggest threat to civilization in the world today -- not just in the Balkans -- Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Africa -- you just go right down the line, everywhere in the world. In the United States -- we had a guy go crazy the other day and kill a bunch of people of different races in the United -- did you see it? In two states?
THE PRESIDENT: Killing these people. Why? Because he belonged to some crazy, religious cult that convinced him he had the right to do that.
So that's what I feel. I think it's quite a tragedy because he's an intelligent man, and he can be an engaging man -- and I talked to him in Paris and I thought we had an understanding. I was quite surprised actually in the beginning -- he knew -- after -- he knew after what I did in Bosnia that I would do this. So I don't know how he could have thought I was bluffing him after what we went through in Bosnia, when I said, if you do what you intend to do in Kosova, this is what I will do. He should have been under no illusion. I think he thought maybe the other Europeans wouldn't stay hitched.
But I made a decision -- I agonized through two long years of what we went through in Bosnia, and I was not about to let all those people die again. I just was not -- I couldn't do it. So, anyway, that's my impression. I think it's quite a tragedy really because he has a lot of ability.
Q Thank you.
Q Mr. President, we talk about -- what are the basis for the optimism regarding peace Stability Pact for the Balkans if we know how little politicians from the former Yugoslavia work on the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement?
THE PRESIDENT: I would make two points. First of all, I think both here and perhaps in Europe and the United States, we tend to underestimate how much progress has been made in Bosnia since Dayton. That is, there are common governmental institutions, there's a common currency. After the economy was completely destroyed, it's been growing at about 40 percent a year since then. I realize it's got a long way to go because it was at nothing. The shared institutions have functioned in many ways. So I do not believe that we have made no progress. I think the biggest problem with the Dayton Agreement is we still have 1.2 million refugees who haven't come back. And the return of refugees in areas where they are minorities is still very slow.
But if you look at the leadership of Mr. Dodik in the Republic of Srpska, for example, I think he's been quite a progressive, cooperative person. I met with both Prime Ministers today as well as the three Presidents.
So what I draw from watching what has and what hasn't happened since Dayton is that we need more help to this whole in governance -- that is, what kind of legal changes do you have to make to get people to put their money in your country and put your people to work? How do you fight more effectively crime?
But the crime problems in the Balkans -- you know, that we have organized crime all over the world now -- it's not just here. So it's just really a question of do you have the capacity to fight it. You shouldn't feel that there's something wrong -- intrinsically wrong with your region because you have this organized crime problem. It's everywhere in the world. So the real issue is, do you have the capacity to fight it? We have to build that. So I think that's important.
Now, in addition to that -- the reason I'm optimistic about the Stability Pact is that I think that the experience of Kosova, coming after the experience of Bosnia, was very sobering for me and for the European leaders. And I think we saw clearly that if we didn't want another Balkan war, we had not only to take a strong stance against Mr. Milosevic and against ethnic cleansing, we had to offer a better future for all the people of the region. There had to be a way to bring people together around a common economic and political future within the region, and then a way to bring the region closer together with the rest of Europe, and to keep us involved in a positive way.
So that's why I'm optimistic. I think that all these people who came here today, I think they understand that. I don't think they're kidding. I think they really know that -- well, let me make one other point -- backup, if I might.
In 1993, when I became President, I realized that we had fought two world wars in Europe; that we had had this long Cold War with communism in Europe; that before the 20th century, Europe for hundreds of years had been afflicted by wars as people sought advantage of land; and that for the first time ever, we now had a chance to build a Europe that was democratic everywhere, that was drawing together in a common political and economic union and that was at peace. And the biggest threat were the religious and ethnic conflicts of the Balkans.
I think now, after all this work of the last six years, we now know that unless we build a common economic future and a common political future, we're going to have -- there will someday be another Balkan war. And that's why I'm optimistic -- because I think we have learned our lessons and I think we are ready to make this common commitment.
One more. Yes, let him ask one more and then we've got to go.
Q With new power, we have new problem, corruption. Does the international community intend to fight against our corruption?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, but a lot it is you have to do it yourself and we have to help you fight against it because -- and you see this everywhere. Again, a lot of former socialist states convert to democratic states and privatize property. But when we privatize -- when we have private property in America, we also have strong economic institutions to preserve the integrity of the economy, to keep dishonesty out. We have strong, sophisticated law enforcement institutions, and even we still have problems. Everybody has problems.
So, I think you should -- you shouldn't feel that there's something wrong with your country because this vulnerability is everywhere. And we have to -- we will help you -- we have to help you fight corruption. But you shouldn't feel that there's something really badly wrong with you, you should just fight it.
And one of the most important things is a free press. Keep in mind, in any society, most people are honest. In every society on Earth, most people are honest. And in most societies, the people who do turn to crime don't do it unless they have -- they feel like they have no other choice. That is, in any society, there are only a small percentage of people who deliberately decide to make money illegally.
But this is a worldwide problem we face, this corruption problem now. And if you will fight it, we will help you. And the press has got to be a major part of the battle.
END 6:40 P.M. (L)