Ljubo Bešlić has been the Mayor of the City of Mostar since December 2004, so for almost 16 years. It is not known in the history of recent democracy in Europe, probably also the whole world, that someone held an office for so long just because no elections were held. He told Interview.ba that during all those years he intended to resign countless times. But, the question was, he added, to whom to hand over the mandate.
INTERVIEW.BA: Has democracy disappeared from Mostar and does not live there anymore? That is what critics say, opposition parties, the international community, non-governmental organisations, and even many citizens of Mostar?
BEŠLIĆ: It depends what you mean by democracy. If democracy are only elections, then I think that democracy disappeared the moment when the international community imposed a Statute to the City of Mostar, which no other city in BiH has and according to which elections are carried out completely differently than in any other town and municipality in BiH. Why are the elections in the City of Mostar not held in 2020 when they are held in all other towns and municipalities? That would be my comment. But, now the moment for elections has arrived and that should be welcomed.
The political problem with Mostar arose back in Dayton in 1995, when the principles for Mostar and Travnik were agreed, which were later confirmed with the Rome Statement. Years have passed since then and the Interim Principles, which were supposed to be temporary, became a permanent Statute, with minor modifications?
Proportionality in Mostar was completely negated by that Statute. That was the foundation for the Constitutional Court to reach a decision in 2010, following objections of political parties whose voters from certain city areas were discriminated. That decision meant a change which was not enforceable in Mostar. Because of that it took so much time to reach an agreement.
INTERVIEW.BA: You are transferring the responsibility to the international community. However, Mostar is ours, not international. We have transferred too much responsibility for Mostar to the internationals.
BEŠLIĆ: I agree that Mostar is ours, but just like that we have to agree that the international community passed the Statute against the will of local political actors. When the Constitutional Court ruled that the Statute was discriminatory, then the one who passed the Statute was obliged (according to the logic of it) to change it. The City Council never adopted that Statute and the international community cannot run away from its share of responsibility.
INTERVIEW.BA: That seems to me like a good excuse to seal the situation in Mostar?
BEŠLIĆ: Considering that the international community passed the Statute, one could also say that it wanted to seal the situation in Mostar, because if they had wanted to do so, they could have revised the Statute at any moment in accordance with the ruling of the Constitutional Court of BiH, and harmonised it with international conventions.
INTERVIEW.BA: Then you are claiming that Mostar was some sort of project, a "hot potato” that was knowingly left in that part of BiH, i.e. the Herzegovina, so that we would be "diverted" by something?
BEŠLIĆ: Had the international community done things properly, it would have left BiH a long time ago. Everything is pretty clear based on that. When you have a complex community such as Mostar, it is easier to create tensions and then argue about it.
INTERVIEW.BA: You have been the Mayor for over a decade and a half under such political, daily political relations; there has been a lot of criticism on your behalf. Your mandate is now over. What would you say for yourself, what kind of Mayor have you been under almost unprecedented conditions?
BEŠLIĆ: When it comes to criticism on my behalf, that is normal. No matter what you do, there will always be critics who believe that they would do it better. It is very difficult to talk about myself, and many would say that it is subjective. However, I have to say that it has not been easy under conditions that do not exist anywhere else in the world. And surely, under such conditions, with your hands tied, you cannot show your full vision, do what you intended to do. I had to adapt to circumstances of which I tried to make the best. I am leaving the city in a state of economic stability and from that aspect I can say that the city is functioning excellently under the possible circumstances.
INTERVIEW.BA: Have you ever considered giving up during those 16 years?
BEŠLIĆ: I can say that I have always performed responsibly in the face of all challenges and in accordance with the law.
INTERVIEW.BA: When you look back, what has marked your mandate?
BEŠLIĆ: I will say that many good things have been done during my mandate. First of all, we have consolidated the administration, which was extremely difficult, people tend to forget that. In the beginning, people did not even want to sit together, let alone work together. It was a divided city. We treated the whole city equally, legal frameworks which until then had been effective for seven different parts of the city, were reduced to one; we made wages equal; we managed to get included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites as the first cultural heritage site from BiH to be on that prestigious list. We reopened the rebuilt Old Bridge, built two completely new museums, rebuilt a large part of the city, launched the historical projects of building the wastewater collector and the sewage treatment plant, we restored all destroyed bridges: the Old Bridge, Lučki Bridge, the bridge in Bijelo polje, and in addition to that we built a completely New Bridge on the Neretva River, long-awaited by the citizens. Furthermore, we have raised many standards in education, rebuilt many schools, kindergartens and nurseries, the community health centre, parks, flowerbeds, many traffic roads, the Spanish Square, the promenade along the Radobolja, the Rondo Square, the Mostar Gymnasium, the Mostar City Hall, the building complex in Šantićeva ulica. Many hotels were built, shopping malls, cinemas, roundabouts and many traffic roads. Ultimately, we have laid the foundation for the fast and intense development of the tourism industry... What we have not achieved, and I am not hiding from it, is that we have not resolved the situation in public undertakings in the best way. The reason for that lies in the Decision of the City Council of Mostar, by which the City Council took away the competence of the Mayor when it comes to managing companies.
INTERVIEW.BA: To what degree has the politics of the HDZ and the SDA, who have fought over the city for years, influenced the fact that we still discuss Mostar as the “city-incident”?
BEŠLIĆ: I think that the HDZ and the SDA alike have made efforts to create better living conditions in Mostar. I believe that we were able to achieve many good things. Something that is not in the jurisdiction of the City, and that needs to be dealt with on other levels, is the difficult economic situation. There are problems there, but this is not a problem of the City. The City neither creates the legal framework for the work of companies, nor does it manage them. I am not making excuses, this is a matter of governmental levels and competencies in BiH.
INTERVIEW.BA: You will not run as a candidate again?
BEŠLIĆ: I am not even considering that in this moment and I am completely focused on other issues.
INTERVIEW.BA: What kind of Mayor does the City of Mostar need?
BEŠLIĆ: I think that the citizens of Mostar will show that at the elections. What I can say is that it should be someone with experience, someone who will be able to handle Mostar and its peculiarities. And that is not an easy task at all.
INTERVIEW.BA: Is that a tempting position?
BEŠLIĆ: On the one hand, it is a honourable position, and that makes it tempting and challenging, but extremely difficult and sensitive. Mostar is a specific environment and it has special rules. We have had numerous discussions, trying to balance different points of view, reconcile them and reach decisions. That requires a lot of time, energy, and patience.
INTERVIEW.BA: Since things have started happening, many people are coming to Mostar, offering new projects, ideas. Even some who are not from Mostar. How do you comment on that?
BEŠLIĆ: We consider projects and ideas. We support everything that falls within the law and where legal possibilities allow implementation. Nothing is illegitimate, but some things are absolutely ridiculous. If you look at things from where I stand, I have been fighting windmills in Mostar for many, many years. The culmination was when it was claimed from Sarajevo that sludge from the sewage treatment plant was transported to the landfill, which allegedly contained piralene. All of that was later rebutted by authorised certified organisations from the EU. We also saw a whole scheme by the media against the City of Mostar. Some non-formal groups were pandered to and now they are turning into political parties. They were financed by the international community and again, it bears part of the responsibility. You have to prove that you are not what is being claimed of you, instead of doing your job and creating a better environment. That makes work extremely difficult, not only in Mostar, but in the whole country of BiH.
INTERVIEW.BA: That landfill marks the beginning of the citizens showing their dissatisfaction with the life and living conditions in Mostar.
BEŠLIĆ: I think that this whole affair regarding the landfill was started because there were no elections in Mostar. That was used to exert pressure on the City Administration and me. How else could one explain the fabricated claims regarding the illegality of the landfill and the fabricated piralene. This is also evident by the fact that everyone who was involved in those affairs now is in some political party, or some well paid non-governmental organisation. Furthermore, the international community is awarding prizes to those fighting the landfill, which is legal (what they know because the landfill was financed by the World Bank), and the protesters are people who have illegally built their houses in areas where building is prohibited. The landfill possesses all required documents and we have to prove that something legal is indeed legal, and obtained all necessary documents a long time ago, and when it comes to illegal objects, no one besides the City Administration wants even to hear about it.
INTERVIEW.BA: Is Mostar a unified or a divided city?
BEŠLIĆ: Mostar is a unified city according to all characteristics of a city. It used to be divided, but such were the circumstances at that time. Unfortunately, there are individuals who cannot get rid of some prejudices in their own heads. But most citizens lead a completely normal life. When Sarajevo keeps emphasising how Mostar is a divided city, people start talking about dividing that city. When that is repeated over and over, we reach that point when people say "oh, come on, divide it already".
INTERVIEW.BA: What will Mostar be like after the election?
BEŠLIĆ: We can only observe what is happening. The most important thing is who will participate in the City Council and how that City Council will treat the city. If there is compromise among the councillors, the situation can be good. However, you know that without compromise and agreement, it can be completely different.
INTERVIEW.BA: It is already being speculated that the elections in Mostar are over, that City Council has already been elected, at the expense of the Bosniaks. Have you heard of that plan?
BEŠLIĆ: You said that well, speculations. That sort of talk is commissioned, and I would not comment on that, as it is not based on any facts.