PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — A convicted Bosnian Serb war criminal who spent 13 ½ years in prison for persecuting and forcibly expelling non-Serbs during the country’s 1992-95 war urged Bosnians on Tuesday to stop hating, forgive each other and move on for the benefit of all.
Wartime Bosnian Serb Parliament speaker Momcilo Krajisnik was granted early release last month from a British prison where he had served two-thirds of a 20-year sentence handed down by the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
He told The Associated Press in an interview that when he returned, he was surprised by how obsessed people in Bosnia still were with war. He had expected inter-ethnic relations to have improved.
“They should not be talking about the war, they should be aware of the fact that war is evil and they should think positively,” Krajisnik said.
In 1992, Bosnia’s Serbs rebelled against the majority in Bosnia who opted for independence. They preferred to stay in Serb-dominated Yugoslavia while Muslim Bosniaks and the republic’s Catholic Croats wanted Bosnia to be an independent state. The subsequent war over this took more than 100,000 lives.
The war ended in 1995 with the Dayton peace accord. Bosnia remained independent but divided into two autonomous regions — one for the Christian Orthodox Serbs and the other shared by Bosniaks and Croats. The regions are linked by a central government and parliament but the country is hardly functioning. Serbs are trying to keep as much autonomy as possible, if not break away, while the other two groups are trying to unify the country so it can eventually enter the 28-nation European Union.
This political battle has paralyzed Bosnia for 16 years, just as its population is being devastated by a brain drain and widespread poverty, unemployment and apathy.
Krajisnik said he was sad to have found his country so impoverished and ridden with ethnic bickering.
“I have the impression during the war we killed each other but now we don’t let each other live,” he told the AP. “I do not understand this warmongering rhetoric that keeps opening war wounds.”
Krajisnik was a friend and political ally of Bosnian Serb Radovan Karadzic, who is on trial now at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague for genocide and other crimes committed against non-Serbs in Bosnia. Krajisnik was convicted of helping orchestrate so-called “ethnic cleansing” — the expulsions of non-Serbs from areas controlled by Serb forces.
During his last four years in jail, Krajisnik studied the Bible, learned English and kept himself fit in the gym, according to court reports.
“Hatred is bad,” he said. “Hatred is for losers and evil people. Good people forgive.”
The 68-year-old now lives in his house in the wartime Serb stronghold of Pale, near Sarajevo, surrounded by his children and grandchildren. He does not expect to re-enter Bosnian politics but says he has learned “never to say never.”
He thinks that Bosnia will only have a positive future if attitudes change.
“I think we must be in peace with each other, no matter what this country looks like in the end, divided or unified. Both ways, we will have to live next to each other,” he said. “If we forgive each other we could build a harmony in which we could live nicely.”
Cerkez reported from Sarajevo.