In Democracy `You Cannot Be Silent'

Moral vision is the only one that is practical in the long run

WHAT distinguishes us from other opposition groups and parties [in Belgrade] is our double agenda - for democracy and against nationalism. Many people talk about democracy, but you cannot implement democratic values and institutions within the framework of aggressive nationalism and war. You cannot be silent about the horrors of bloodshed and ethnic cleansing and the destruction of cities and villages and places of worship and claim that you are a democrat. You cannot call yourself a democrat if you are only seeking democracy for your ethnic community. We raise our voices against such thinking and against those who inflame national feelings and fears in their own struggles for power.

I would like to take this occasion to convey three messages to US policymakers and the public. First, I want stress the existence of those who do not support the policies of national hatred and war. For example, a group of people in the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Banja Luka have formed an organization called the Civic Forum. These people - Muslims, Croats, and Serbs - reject the notion that they cannot live together. They resist the nationalist propaganda. There are independent women's groups speaking ou t against the war and caring for women who have been raped and abused. There are independent associations of intellectuals who are trying to raise the voice of reason; journalists challenging the official accounts of the war; and people from all over the ex-Yugoslavia working together in the struggle for real peace and democracy. These people need to be recognized and supported.

When I speak to US and European officials about these efforts, they often respond, "You are only a small minority." My answer to them is: "Do you want us to disappear altogether? To not exist at all? Who is going to build democracy if our efforts are both silenced by our regimes and ignored by the outside world?"

To those ready to accept any deal with nationalist forces, to those for whom "never again" means "another time, but not now," I would point out that the so-called utopias have a concrete basis in the basic norms of international and humanitarian law. This moral vision is the only one that is practical in the long run.

SECOND, we feel that the international community can and must do more for all those trapped by the power games and violence in the war in the former Yugoslavia. The vacuum of the post-communist period allowed the extreme forces in the country to gain momentum, to push us into a vicious cycle of threats, aggression, and drastic violations of human rights.

The international response to date has been confused and without any consistent or understandable policy. In between packages of food and bombs there are steps that can and must be taken. In the first place, there should be rapid and effective establishment of protective zones for civilians in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and distribution of humanitarian aid by all means. Ultimately the international community should establish a civil administration for the whole territory of Bosnia.

Rather than spending all efforts and resources in order to create elaborate peace plans, the international community must attend to the immediate suffering of civilians. Long-term solutions for the region can be deliberated after an effective cease-fire. In addition, help must be given to establish and maintain a free press, television and radio [in] the region. This is essential in order to rebuild communications, to break the monopoly over information and the psychology of war.

Third, we need support for our commitment to the idea of individual rights. We must be able to move away from the notion and practice of collective responsibility and guilt and develop foundations for individual responsibility, which is a basis for democratic citizenship. Not all members of a national or ethnic group are guilty of war crimes, but the individuals who can be named must be made accountable. I'm not suggesting that we engage in witch hunts after the war, but we do need fair trials for those who have committed crimes. The Center for Anti-War Action has developed a project for an international war crimes tribunal which should be supported and which could ultimately fit into the international process. This can be a starting point in ending the historical cycle of collective revenge and introduce the rule of law into our societies.

During this occasion of the world conference on democracy, I can still hear the echo of our warlords, with their claims that we cannot live together. Do not believe them. With so many people gathered here from so many regions, races, and religions, we ourselves prove that multiethnic communities and cross-cultural communities are possible and present the only just future.

I firmly believe that in defending values of individual rights and mutual tolerance we are the real patriots of our nations.

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