Swiss Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti is chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was chosen to monitor elections in Bosnia. He spoke with Monitor contributor Cathryn J. Prince aboard a Swiss Air Force plane en route to Bern after meeting with Bosnia's municipal elections steering board in Sarajevo.
First I would like to ask you about the Sept. 14 elections in Bosnia. When you look back, do you think it was right to hold the elections then?
Sept. 14 was the best possible date in view of the conditions that existed in the country.... And the elections were better than I thought.
The OSCE has been called by some the "Organization to Secure Clinton's Election." Do you think that's true? Did he push the elections?
Listen, I remember the Ministerial Conference [on Bosnia] in Florence [Italy] in June. All the countries were in favor of the elections.... There wasn't any pushing [by Clinton or the US].
In Bosnia, there were people who reported infractions. Do you believe the role of the OSCE is to err on the side of a fragile democracy in hopes it will become stronger?
There are situations that are absolutely intolerable, situations that must be severely criticized. And there are situations that are to be seen as part of a longer process. I've always said the Bosnian elections are just a first, small step on the long way of building peace and democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Do you think it's better to wait to hold [the local elections in Bosnia]?
It would be more useful to postpone the municipal elections several months in order better prepare them.... Just until springtime perhaps.... But this decision will be taken by [Bosnia's] Provisional Election Commission.
Do you think the local elections will be more difficult? Are there more security concerns?
Absolutely, the demands are greater, the problems are bigger; local elections are more sensitive.
What weaknesses do you see in the Dayton peace accords?
I have always defended the Dayton agreement. But I think there is a feeling, not only in my country, that Dayton sanctioned ethnic cleansing.... Dayton tried to establish the basic principals to create multiethnicity. But will Dayton succeed?... Only history will tell us. In any case, the intentions of Dayton are very honorable.
Do you think NATO forces should stay here even longer to ensure those elections hold?
I think now one must give more responsibility to the country progressively. And I always said elections are a first, small step on the long way to democratization. But it will take a generation or more until there will be peace in the hearts.
Don't forget the terrible experiences people had during the war. The destruction, the violence, neighbors were killing each other - all these experiences one can't forget in six months. It will take a generation....
Like I've said many times before, this will be a long and difficult mission and in order to continue the peace process, the international community must think about staying, perhaps with fewer soldiers than today.