Former prime minister of Bosnia Haris Silajdžić explored the history and implications of multiculturalism in Bosnia at a talk on Monday.
Silajdžić, an A.D. White Professor and a 1997 Bartels World Affairs Fellow at Cornell, was a key figure in the peace negotiations that ended the Bosnian War and created the Dayton Accords, establishing Bosnia and Herzegovnia.
During his presentation, which was organized by the Cornell Institute for European Studies, Silajdžić described the meaning of what scholars call the “Bosnian Paradigm” and how it relates to the country’s multicultural background.
The “Bosnian paradigm,” he said, refers to the contrast with the European way of life where “people live in a civilized way next to each other.” While multicultural like Europeans, Bosnians “lived together, and they did not tolerate each other. They just lived together.”
Silajdžić followed the history of this paradigm through the 1992-95 Bosnian War, in which three main ethnic factions fought and the Bosnian Serbs launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Bosnian Muslims.
“There was no need for civil war,” he said.
Silajdžić served as Prime Minister during this war, his term lasting from 1993-96. Silajdžić additionally held the role of Foreign Minister from 1990-93, Bosniak Member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2006-10 and Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“It was not a civil war,” Silajdžić said. “It was a land action to ferment trouble amongst people in order to cleanse ethnically the unwanted population or to create what they think is clean populations in different parts of Bosnia.”
His remarks come as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia prepares to issue a verdict on Wednesday in the genocide trial of Ratko Mladic, a Bosnian Serb commander accused of being responsible for the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre of 8,000 Muslims.
“There are people — there are potentials in Bosnia — to rebuild a real multicultural society,” he said. “In order to do that, we must have citizens … democracy is based on citizens.”
As a Muslim, Silajdžić said, he faces questions in Europe about his religious identity and is told he is creating a problem by bringing “Oriental elements” into Europe. His response is to point out that Christianity, Judaism and Islam come from the same source, he said.
Even as the world is changing, Silajdžić also said, conflict is considered normal despite that nothing is gained from it.
“Can we make progress without war? Can we make progress without sacrificing lives?” he asked. “Places like Bosnia can show that nothing is really gained by conflict.”
Moving beyond Bosnian history, in an interview with The Sun, Silajdžić said that in the current times, both globalization and nationalism exist and create cultural tensions. This, he said, is because people have not had time to adapt to global changes.
“The pace of change, the pace of globalization, the pace of technology, is such that it does not allow the time to dull the edges of cultures,” he told The Sun. “That’s why people are afraid of other cultures. They don’t have time to adapt to it.”
Silajdžić predicted that cultural tensions will continue across the world for a couple decades but then will subside as people come to know each other, he said.
“The problem of our time is the pace of change. It’s almost inhuman,” he told The Sun. “So we need time to adapt. We are incremental beings.”