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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    FRI, 03 NOV 1995 19:25:04 GMT

    Rasim Ljajic, leader of Sandzak SDA, after the split in his party


    AIM, October 29, 1995

    When conflicts in the largest political party of Sandzak Muslims, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), culminated in the end of last year, people who are well-informed about the local circumstances knew that the split between the President Sulejman Ugljanin (abroad for two years already) and Rasim Ljajic, Secretary General of the SDA would be ended. In July, both Ugljanin's and Ljajic's faction of the party convened their respective assemblies, elected their respective leaders and announced reregistration of their respective parties as the SDA. While waiting for the decision about who the only legitimate representative of Sandzak Muslims would be, Ugljanin's faction never missed an opportunity to stick labels on Ljajic's supporters: from that they were "meek", to that they were traitors of the Muslim nation, or as they say, "Abdicists".

    A few days ago, a decision of the Ministry of Justice arrived in Novi Pazar from Belgrade, saying that Rasim Ljajic was entered as the President of the SDA in the register of political parties.

    AIM: Has this decision finally put an end to all the stories about who has the legitimate right to represent the Sandzak Muslims?

    - It is more correct to say that we convened our Assembly in July, and a session of the General Committee of the Party in September, where we introduced changes. The Ministry of Justice has just adopted these changes and verified them. Of course, it is difficult to say whether this will put an end to all the conflicts. In any case, this puts an end to the legal aspect of the problem, but a political struggle remains to be fought in order to prove correctness of our convictions.

    AIM: Many tend to reduce the split of the Sandzak SDA to a personal conflict and struggle for domination in the party between you and Sulejman Ugljanin.

    - This is not a matter of a personal conflict. This is a matter of different conceptions and the manner of attaining certain political objectives. From the foundation of the party, my supporters and I were in favour of resolving problems within the political reality which, unforunately, is not at all good for us; to seek resolutions and introduce changes by democratic and political means. We are aware that our manoeuvring space is not at all wide, but even in such a narrow space we have tried to find an adequate mode which would enable attaining of our program and political objectives. Our job was considerably aggravated when the war in Bosnia & Herzegovina started. We have always been observed through a special magnifying glass. Separatism, seccesionism, even fundamentalism were imputated to us. The press controlled by the regime in Belgrade blazed the trail in order to jusify repression over the Muslims in Sandzak.

    We are trying to change these stereotypes about the party and our people, so we initiated certain political actions which were not supported by Ugljanin's faction. On the one hand, we are trying to negotiate with those who really have political power in this state, we are striving to establish cooperation with democratic political parties from the opposition, although we are greatly critical about them. It is highly questionable whether someone can be called a democrat just because he is against Milosevic's regime. We do not have much of a choice. We will always, as an ethnic and political minority be in a situation to choose a less bad solution between two bad ones.

    AIM: Nevertheless, what was the actual reason for disagreement in the party?

    - The reason were 1992 elections. Namely, my stance was that it was necessary to take active participation in the political life of the state in order to attain political objectives, but the majority decided differently. Boycott of the elections in the existing constellation of forces on the political scene of Serbia, now it must be finally quite clear to everyone, has removed us even further away from resolving the problems. Moreover, I am afraid that we will feel the consequences of the boycott of the elelctions for a number of years to come.

    AIM: Representatives of embassies have started to come to Novi Pazar lately, you have met Karl Bildt, Co-Chairman of the International Conference on Former Yugoslavia, just recently. How do you assess the increased interest in Sandzak at this moment? What is the significance of the talks you've had?

    As politically realistic people, we neither overestimate, but then nor do we underestimate the significance of the international community in resolving the Yugoslav crisis. In any case, the experience from Bosnia & Herzegovina and inertia of the international community direct us to be cautious. At this moment, danger exists that some members of the international community, after resolving the crisis in Bosnia & Herzegovina may be fed up with Yugoslav problems and leave the so-called minority issue unresolved.

    Our objective was to maintain a certain level of internationalization of the Sandzak problem by incorporating it into the whole package of resolving the Yugoslav crisis. For the time being we are quite satisfied with the level of internationalization of the Sandak issue. In this way we are not in any way questioning territorial integrity of the state we live in as we are often accused, since the problems of human, ethnic and civil rights ever since the Paris Charter, which Yugoslavia was a signatory of, have ceased to be just internal issues of this state. If one keeps in mind that our political demands have still not met with understanding of the current authorities, it is quite understandable that at this moment the accent is on this aspect of political activity. We have, nevertheless, tried to establish contacts with the authorities as well, regardless of the fact that they wish to neglect the issue of Sandzak. We cannot accept such treatment, just as we do not expect the international community to resolve our statius overnight. We expect from the representatives of the international community to influence the authorities in Belgrade to finally begin to establish a dialogue with representatives of Sandzak Muslims.

    AIM: Will lifting of the sanctions imposed on the FR of Yugoslavia be connected with the issue of the autonomy and the status of the minorities?

    - The only ones who know the answer to that question are those who will make decisions about it. Everything is in the sphere of presumptions. I believe that lifting of the sanctions will not be directly linked to minority issues, nor will it be conditioned by it. However, future economic assistance will greatly depend on resolving these issues. Mr Karl Bildt stressed that Serbia, if it wishes to be an equal member of the international community, will have to adequately resolve the issue of human, ethnic and civil rights in Kosovo, Sandzak and Vojvodina.

    AIM: You have announced a new political platform. Have you retained the demand for autonomy of Sandzak?

    - We have started from the political reality in formulating our demands. Their attaining would proceed in three stages. In the first, we wish to win elimination of all aspects of repression of the Muslim population and free the political prisoners. We will advocate proportional representation of the Muslims in municipal, republican and federal administration. In the first phase which we have decided to mark as normalization of political and economic life, we will demand liberalization of import and lifting of administrative restrictions, in order to enable further development of the economy. We have already initiated these issues in contacts with the Government in Belgrade.

    In the second phase we will deal with resolving the problems in the sphere of culture, education and information. The third phase of our work is included in the Memorandum on Special Status of Sandzak which is founded on the Paris Charter, and implies recognition of political, cultural and national identity of the Sandzak Muslims. This means that the demand for autonomy is retained, but that we will leave these political requirements for some other occasion when it will be more convenient for us.

    AIM: Supporters of Sulejman Ugljanin accuse you of having "sold your faith for a dinner", that you are an "Abdicist" because you have negotiated with the Government in Belgrade. What have you negotiated about and have these talks been completely interrupted?

    - The topics of our talks were specific life issues, issues of political repression, as well as political trials. We think that it was very significant for Serbia to free these political prisoners. There were issues of the economy which is in a disastrous condition. We demanded that the decision on bannning imports from Turkey be reexamined, because practically 60 per cent of the population of Sandzak made their living from it. The private sector has almost died down now, production was interruptred.

    One of the reasons why the talks were interrupted is certainly the situation in Croatia and Bosnia, which is at any rate of top priority for the international community, and even for the authorities from Belgrade. It seems, however, that there is still no political readiness in Belgrade to seriosly deal with the problems of Sandzak. As if it wishes to minimize these problems, or even completely disregard them. The third reason is the appearance of the Yugoslav Associated Leftists (JUL) and the attempt to present it not only as a mediator in the negotiations, but even as a negotiator in the name of the Sandzak Muslims.

    AIM: Do the Yugoslav Associated Leftists really have such good chances in Sandzak as one can hear? What is the actual power of the JUL in Sandzak?

    - With an aggressive campaign in the media, JUL tried to make the impression that the Muslims in Sandzak offer them support. Based on the media campaign, one could even get such an impression. But, this is just the first effect of the propaganda. The JUL demonstrates its political power in Novi Pazar by taking directors of the leading firms for its members, and as a branch of the ruling SPS, it shapes personnel policy - appoints and removes people in prominent posts. A part of the people expects to make political but especially economic gain with the help of the JUL. This is one of the most significant reasons why the associated Leftists started so ambitiously to Sandzak. The other reason is the fear of the Muslim population which has been intimidated by Seselja and Arkan in the past two or three years. And now, the JUL appear as something quite new from Belgrade - a party which has great power, and guarantees to the people something quite different from what they have experienced in the past three to four years. I would not disregard traditional nostalgy among a part of the Muslim population who believe that the good old times may be restored, even with a woman as a replacement for Tito - in this case Mira Markovic, the wife of President Milosevic.

    AIM: What are the contacts of the SDA with the opposition parties in Serbia like?

    - Locally, we have established good cooperation with the Serb Revival Movement. Apart from that, we cooperate with the Civic Alliance and New Democracy. Unfortunately, majority of the opposition parties remember that we exist only before the elections.

    Vesna Bjekic