On 4 December of last year, the Bosnian Embassy in London did me the honour of hosting the launch of my book, The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War: A History (Hurst and Co, London, 2013). Very special thanks for organising the event go to His Excellency Mustafa Mujezinovic, the Bosnian ambassador to London, who also gave the opening speech; to Ms Jasmina Turajlic, Second Secretary; to all Bosnian Embassy staff; and to Jon de Peyer of Hurst Publishers. Very special thanks go also to my friend and colleague Dr Edina Becirevic, for coming to London to speak at the event. The following articles are based on the texts of our respective speeches.
Since the aggression and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina took place two decades ago, so many books have been written on the subject. Yet, very few people have understood Bosnia as well as Marko Attila Hoare does. The first of Hoare’s books that I read was, How Bosnia Armed, and I remember many of my colleagues commenting that, finally, there had been a new approach taken to examining the war against Bosnia. Hoare’s handling of the topic was different because it followed the dynamics of the rise of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and attempted to determine why initial intentions to create a truly multinational Army of Bosnian people – of all nationalities – instead manifested as a predominantly Muslim, i.e. Bosniak, military force.
When war began in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, the international community stood aside and watched as Serbia unleashed an aggression against the country’s non-Serb population. Hoare belonged to the world of academics, civil society members and journalists who understood what is going on and openly campaigned for the defense of Bosnia. He lived in the small universe of people who saw the genocide and aggression for what it was. And this is also why Hoare’s book How Bosnia Armed carried so much weight: his inquiry into past events did not deter him from lobbying for the defense of Bosnia, even when his analysis of the responsibility of Bosniak leadership led him to conclude that they had given up on the ideal of a multicultural Bosnia and Herzegovina in exchange for the pursuit of exclusively Bosniak interests, and had thus played into the hands of Serb and Croat nationalists. The pattern that Hoare recognized, and was one of the first to analyze – on the loss of the multicultural character of the Bosnian Army – became a central theme as he tried to answer the question of why Bosnian leadership settled for the Dayton Accord; which essentially legitimized the division of Bosnia. And this pattern can be steadily traced through the post-Dayton period in Bosnia, too, in many political compromises that Bosniak political elites made at the expense of Bosnian statehood.
I am not sure where the saying originates, but I have heard it many times from many people, that “Serbs and Croats cannot destroy Bosnia and Herzegovina unless Bosniaks agree to it.” And Hoare’s work is therefore even more important; because it has offered researchers in Bosnia and Herzegovina a model of how to tackle this issue without falling into the stereotypical traps of dispersing responsibility for the war and genocide equally to all sides and of viewing it as a war in which there were no clear victims and no clear aggressors. Hoare’s methodological framework can be the example to researchers who identify as victims of the war and who want to address that pattern of de-multiculturization of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This can allow them to step back from a sense of victimhood that disabled many of them to fully understand the dynamics of the war and aggression.
History is important not only for the sake of understanding the past, of course. Historical lessons matter in both the present and the future. Today in Bosnia, Bosniak political forces continue to be inconsistent in defending Bosnian statehood and preserving its multiculturality. The battle for what many still consider to be the core multicultural values of Bosnia and Herzegovina is now left to a group popularly called “the others” – representatives from ethnic groups who were not accommodated in the Dayton Accord – who stand behind the “Sejdić-Finci” ruling and demand political rights equal to those of the three dominant ethnic groups in the country.
Marko Attila Hoare has published four books. Besides How Bosnia Armed, he is also the author of Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943, which looks at the conflict between Yugoslav Partisans and Chetniks in Bosnia during World War II. In The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day, he focuses on the history of national identity in Bosnia. All three of these books are essential reading for understanding the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the present day political chaos facing the country.
But the book The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War: A History, which examines the role of Bosnian Muslims in World War II, not only comes full circle in his corpus, but carries a special significance in relating how events that took place in WWII still affect Bosnia and Herzegovinia presently and by deconstructing the Serbian propaganda of the 90’s, which put forth that all wars waged by the Serbian state were fought to prevent genocide against Serbs. For, it is unquestionable that the various collective myths and memories of the past, of different ethnic groups in Bosnia, played a role in the 1992-1995 conflict, and that they continue to shape – and sometimes strangle – Bosnian society today.
The genocide of Serbs in World War Two is indeed a part of the history of Yugoslavia and the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and no one seeking truth could deny that. However, growing up in Yugoslavia, the genocide and suffering of other people in Bosnia and Herzegovina was never mentioned at all. In school, history books told a one-sided story about both World Wars, giving us the impression that it was only Serbs who had been victims of genocide. And it was the continuity of this narrative that convinced many of my Serb friends to go into the hills to join the forces which turned their heavy artillery against Sarajevo.
In a way it is understandable that there were few books on the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina that went against the official narrative, for there were just as few brave historians willing to detail the complex alliances of the Second World War, and to tell the story that it was not only Serbs, Jews, and Roma who suffered losses. But World War Two meant suffering for Muslims and Croats as well; and while genocide against Serbs is an undisputed historical fact, the changing coalitions and patterns of crimes committed during the war were extraordinarily complex and convoluted. This latest book by Marko Attila Hoare plays a crucial role in setting the record straight, and not only for historians in the region. It also successfuly deconstructs stereotypes about World War Two that many Western historians, regardless of their ideological perspective, have blatantly promoted without reservation.
The residual effects of alliances and aggressions that played out during World War Two revisited Yugoslav society around the time of Tito’s death and began a discussion that is still ongoing; bringing with it an impact on all the societies of former Yugoslav states. But most of the narratives that have emerged are influenced by official dicourse of some kind or another. Some are apologetic toward the Ustasha, others toward Chetniks, some glorify the Partisan movement, and others, as Hoare writes, tell the tale “through the prism of Allied policy.”
Yet, Hoare, in this as in his previous books, does not depend on official narratives or safe stereotypes. He illustrates the complicated game Communists had to play in “leading predominantly Serb and peasant armed resistance to the Ustasha regime in the countryside,” while at the same time conquering the hearts and mind of a predominantly Muslim and Croat urban population. And both of those strategies were, as Hoare says, “ulimately necessary for the Communists to become masters of Bosnia; and both were achieved.”
The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War is the first book that views the history of World War Two in Bosnia from the perspective of the Bosnian Muslims – and not only that of political elites, but also of ordinary people, who formed different political and military alliances. Hoare concludes that, “Political divisions among the Muslim elite were not essentially ideological, but were between conflicting strategies of how best to safeguard its position, and the Muslim population as a whole, in the face of two threats: the assimilationalism and hegemonism of the Croat Ustashas and the genocide of the Serb Chetniks.” And Hoare refers to those threats as two sides of the same coin.
Future generations in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be thanking Marko Attila Hoare not only for this last book, but for all of his books, including those that I hope are yet to come. I say “future generations” because I am not confident that this generation of Bosnian historians and intellectuals fully grasps the importance of Hoare’s work. But I am hoping that there will come a day when real accounts of Bosnian and Herzegovinian history by rare historians like Hoare will serve as the essential content for history textbooks. For, books like this one do not only present fair accouts of Bosnian history of benefit to academics, but can also serve as the basis for a process of reconciliation among Bosnian people, who must understand their history in order to move forward into the future.
What Hoare always brings to his reader is the invaluable insight that time and the events of an era cannot be seen in isolated compartments; that we miss seeing key parts of the picture of today if we are blind to the realities of the past. And his work beyond the pages of this and his other books, to identify and address genocide denial, is a natural extension of this insight. The value of his commitment to bringing awareness to the dangers of genocide denial cannot be understated.
The issue of genocide denial is an understandably contentious one. There is always an accused “side,” for which denial of their crimes is desirable; and since genocide is rarely achievable without the backing of state-level apparatuses, accused perpetrators usually have the backing of both political power and historical rhetoric. But, as the list of genocides in the world sadly continues to grow year after year, the issue of genocide denial becomes one of greater and greater importance. And what motivates Hoare and activists like him, is the knowledge that it is precisely this denial that invites further genocides.
What sets Hoare apart in debates about the topic – and believe me, it is a topic rife with debates, usually fueled as much by emotion as by concrete evidence – is his firsthand knowledge of Bosnia and his exhaustive research on and in the region. He has developed a relationship with the Balkans that few Westerners who deny genocide occurred there, or who tend toward revisionist views of the recent conflict, can lay claim to. This has predictably made him a target of those who do wish to deny genocide, and yet Hoare has remained a consistent “thorn in their side.”
As academic discourse invites ever more questioning about what “truth” and “denial” and “narrative” actually mean; as denial itself is viewed increasingly as a valuable coping mechanism in the face of a world full of trauma; and as we are bombarded more and more by images that Stanley Cohen rightfully points out are bound to overload and overwhelm our senses of reality, it is so important that activists like Hoare continue to demand that we see. For, as Cohen pointed out in his famous treatise on denial, “there is nothing positive about a society denying that it has an AIDS problem or the failure of the international community to recognize early warning signs of genocide…” While my guess is that most people would quickly jump to agree with his first statement; until genocide is seen as something as dangerous and pernicious as AIDS, the world needs activists like Marko Attila Hoare fighting to remove people’s blinders.
Edina Becirevic’s book Genocide on the Drina River will be published this year by Yale University Press
Marko Attila Hoare
Thank you all for coming. I would like to begin by thanking His Excellency Ambassador Mustafa Mujezinovic, Second Secretary Ms Jasmina Turajlic and Jon de Peyer of Hurst Publishers for hosting and organising this event.
I started researching the subject matter of this book seventeen years ago, in 1997. The war in Bosnia-Hercegovina had just ended. As a graduate student in history, it was impossible for me not to be gripped by the need to understand why it had happened. Of course, I have my political views about the rights and wrongs of the conflict, which I have never tried to conceal. But history should not be researched and written with political objectives in mind; rather, it should be guided by the need to answer intellectual questions.
The genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina of 1992-1995 involved the destruction of the Bosnian state; the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Consequently, the questions I wanted to answer were: why had the state been created in the first place, and how had it been possible to build a common, multinational state encompassing Serbs, Muslims, Croats and others ? I believed it was necessary to understand how and why the Bosnian state had been created, in order to understand how and why it was destroyed a half century later.
I have used the name ‘Muslim’ to refer to the Bosnian Muslim or Bosniak people in my book. Although this nation is properly called ‘Bosniak’ today, in the 1940s, when the events described in the book take place, the Bosniak name applied to Bosnian Orthodox and Catholics as well, whereas Muslim Bosniaks were referred to as ‘Muslims’ in most of the documents. It was only in the 1990s that the Bosniak name came to be synonymous with Muslim as opposed to Orthodox, Catholic or other Bosnians. I do not, however, wish in any way to question the legitimacy of the Bosniak national name today.
The revolution in Yugoslavia in the 1940s, led by Josip Broz Tito and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, had been the object of a great deal of myth-making, both by its supporters and sympathisers and its by its anti-Communist critics. Yet it has been greatly under-researched in the West when compared to other great European revolutions, such as the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution. One of the purposes of my research has been to demystify the Yugoslav Revolution; to explain what really happened and what it really looked like. Set against the depressing outcome of the 1990s Bosnian war, the outcome of the 1940s revolution appears more positive, for it involved the establishment of a Bosnian state in which Croats, Muslims, Serbs and others were able to coexist for nearly half a century. But history is not about happy endings, and my work has sought to understand the flaws in this original state-building project, in a manner that might help explain the catastrophe of the 1990s.
My first book on Bosnia-Hercegovina in World War II - Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006) focused on the Bosnian Serbs. It sought to explain how they had been led to support, in large numbers, the establishment of a unified Bosnian state instead of a Great Serbia – something that seems paradoxical in light of the apparently overwhelming and violent Serb rejection of this same state in the 1990s. In fact, as I showed, for many ordinary Bosnian Serbs, there was a fine line between supporting a unified Bosnia, as demanded by the Communist-led Partisans, and supporting a Great Serbia, as demanded by the anti-Communist Chetniks. Both options were open to the Bosnian Serbs; both reflected aspects of their national heritage; and many of them switched from supporting one to supporting the other at least once during the course of World War II.
In this, my second book on Bosnia in World War II, I focus on the Bosnian Muslims, and to a lesser extent on the Croats and smaller Bosnian minorities. The Croats were very much smaller and weaker in Bosnia-Hercegovina in the 1940s than the Serbs or the Muslims, and it was these two latter groups that were and remain ultimately most important for the outcome of the Bosnian question. My book stresses the diversity of forms assumed by the Muslim resistance to the new order established by the Nazis and Fascists in 1941, whereby occupied Bosnia-Hercegovina was forcibly incorporated into the Great Croat puppet state named the ‘Independent State of Croatia’, under the rule of the Ustashas, or Croat fascists. Members of the Muslim elite resisted this incorporation in a number of ways: some turned to an alliance with the Serb nationalists (Chetniks); others appealed directly to Hitler and the Germans; others built their own autonomous Muslim forces within the framework of the Croatian puppet state. But all of them shared the goal of ensuring the national survival of the Muslim people in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Communists realised that in order to win the war in Bosnia, they would have to co-opt at least part of this Muslim autonomist movement.
For in the 1940s, the Bosnian Muslims were the key to victory in Bosnia-Hercegovina. This was apparent also in the 1990s; the Serb nationalists rebels under Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who attempted to conquer Bosnia on the basis of a total rejection of the Muslim population, found themselves unable to break the latter’s resistance; they were brought to the very of total defeat by the autumn of 1995, something they escaped only thanks to Western – above all US – diplomatic intervention. As the eminent Bosnian Muslim notable Muhamed Sudzuka had recognised already before World War II, the Muslims were the key to Bosnia and Bosnia was the key to Yugoslavia. So the Bosnian Muslim story was crucial for the outcome of the Yugoslav Revolution. The mass influx into their ranks of Muslims and others, including Croats and members of smaller minorities such as ethnic Poles and Ukrainians, was decisive for the Partisans’ victory in Bosnia. Above all, the mass defection of quisling troops to the Partisans – members of the Home Guard, Muslim legions, Handzar SS Division and even some Ustashas – enabled the Partisans to capture Bosnian towns and cities without destroying them or destroying their own forces in bitter street-fighting of the kind that broke the back of the Serb forces at Vukovar in Croatia in 1991.
In order to win Muslim support, the Communists championed the goal of a unified, sovereign state of Bosnia-Hercegovina within the Yugoslav framework, and treated the Muslims in practice, if not formally, as the sixth Yugoslav nation – alongside the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians and Montenegrins. Considerable freedom was accorded to the Islamic religion. The Partisan triumph consequently resulted in a brief flowering of Muslim national life and freedom. Yet following this triumph, as the Communists began to consolidate their dictatorship, many of these freedoms were taken away. Muslim religious and cultural institutions were suppressed or neutered. Less respect was shown to the dietary needs of Muslim soldiers in the Yugoslav army. Official statements stopped using the large letter ‘M’, denoting a nation, in relation to the Muslims, and reverted to using the small ‘m’, denoting a mere religious community.
This curtailment of Muslim rights and freedoms set the stage for the next movement of Muslim resistance, involving members of the ‘Young Muslim’ organisation, including a youthful Alija Izetbegovic. But this movement was ruthlessly suppressed, and the Bosnian state that took shape in the 1940s did so on the basis of the hegemony of the Bosnian Serbs – as the group that had numerically dominated the Bosnian Partisan movement. It was when the Bosnian Serb hegemony began to crumble from the 1960s, as the Communists in Bosnia-Hercegovina moved to emancipate fully the Muslims and Croats, by recognising finally the Muslims as a nation and by removing the Ustasha stigma from the Bosnian Croats, that the Serb disenchantment with Bosnian statehood truly began; a disenchantment that would gather pace as the Muslims overtook the Serbs as the most numerous Bosnian nationality during the 1960s and 70s, and that would reach a head when Izetbegovic’s presidency sought to establish Bosnia-Hercegovina as a fully independent state, wholly separate from Serbia, in the 1990s.
The state of Bosnia-Hercegovina was therefore at all times a fragile project, based as it was upon a compromise between the national aspirations of its constituent peoples; a compromise that was unstable as the balance of power between them shifted. Nevertheless, the lesson of the 1940s is that in order for Bosnian Serbs, Muslims and Croats to be reconciled and live in harmony, there has to be a strong, functioning Bosnian state. And this cannot happen again so long as the constitutional order established by the Dayton Peace Accords, which cripples Bosnia-Hercegovina as a state, persists.
Photos by Sarah Correia, Anna von Buchenroder and Jonathan Norton
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has acquitted on appeal Momcilo Perisic, former Chief of Staff of the Army of Yugoslavia (VJ), who had previously been sentenced to 27 years in prison for war-crimes in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. He was one of only six officials from Serbia-Montenegro ever indicted by the ICTY for war-crimes in Bosnia. He was the only member of the high command of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) or VJ ever indicted for war-crimes in Croatia or Bosnia, and the only former JNA officer from Serbia or Montenegro of any rank ever indicted over Bosnia. His acquittal means that, to date, no official or army officer of Serbia-Montenegro and no member of the JNA or VJ high command has been convicted by the ICTY for war-crimes in Bosnia. By any standards, this represents a monumental failure on the part of the Tribunal. Precisely what kind of failure, and whether it is a failure of the Prosecution or the judges or both, is open to debate.
Perisic’s acquittal follows the ICTY’s recent acquittals of Croatia’s Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, and of Kosovo’s Ramush Haradinaj. Those previous acquittals had provoked a veritable paroxysm of fury from Serbia’s politicians such as President Tomislav Nikolic, Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and UN General Assembly president Vuk Jeremic, who condemned them as proving that the ICTY was an anti-Serb and/or a political court. Commentators in the West widely agreed; an ill-informed rant by David Harland, former head of UN Civil Affairs in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1993-1995, upholding all the old Serb-nationalist stereotypes of the ICTY’s and West’s supposed anti-Serb bias, was published in the New York Times and received wide publicity even from reputable sources. People who had apparently been fairly satisfied with the ICTY’s not entirely glorious performance over the past two decades now emerged from the woodwork to denounce it in bitter terms.
The acquittal of such a high-ranking Serbian official, following the acquittal of two high-ranking Croats and one high-ranking Kosovo Albanian, provides further proof – if any were needed – that the ICTY is not ‘anti-Serb’. Perisic is, in fact, neither the first nor the most high-ranking senior Serbian official to be acquitted by the Tribunal; former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic was acquitted back in 2009 of war crimes against Kosovo Albanians.
Consequently, the Serbian government has now made a rapid U-turn in its view of the Tribunal. Prime Minister Dacic (also leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia founded by Slobodan Milosevic) had responded to the Gotovina and Markac acquittals by stating ‘This confirms the claims of those who say that the Hague Tribunal is not a court and that it completes political tasks that were set in advance’. Yet his reaction to the Perisic acquittal is that it ‘negates accusations about the alleged aggression of the Army of Yugoslavia against Bosnia and Croatia’. The latter conclusion is echoed by the Sense News Agency, which provides detailed overage of the activities of the ICTY and which claims that ‘Momcilo Perisic was the only senior official from Serbia and FR Yugoslavia convicted by the Tribunal and sentenced for crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Slobodan Milosevic was charged with the same crimes, and the judgment can be considered as Milosevic’s posthumous acquittal for Sarajevo and Srebrenica.’
In these circumstances, there is naturally a temptation for those on the other side of the front-lines from the Serb nationalists – those who wanted to see the Serbian perpetrators of war-crimes in Croatia and Bosnia punished, and the victims receive justice – to cry foul, and to carry out a Dacic-style U-turn of their own. A temptation, that is, to say that the supporters of Milosevic, Seselj and Tudjman were right after all, and the ICTY is really just a kangaroo court whose verdicts are political. But this temptation should be resisted, both for pragmatic reasons and, more importantly, for reasons of principle.
Pragmatically, conceding that the ICTY is a kangaroo court whose verdicts are political means handing an enormous victory to those extremists – Serb and Croat, right-wing and left-wing – who supported the elements that carried out the war-crimes and that have always resisted the efforts of the ICTY to punish them. It is not for nothing that – both in the former Yugoslavia and in the West – ethnic cleansers, fascists and extremists have consistently opposed the Tribunal, whereas liberals, democrats and progressives have supported it. To reject the legitimacy of the ICTY and its verdicts means negating not only those verdicts we don’t like, but all the good that has been achieved by precisely this Tribunal, despite its undeniable numerous failures. The ICTY was the first international court to establish that the Srebrenica massacre was an act of genocide, paving the way for the confirmation of this fact by the International Court of Justice.
Immediately following the acquittals of Gotovina, Markac and Haradinaj, the ICTY in December of last year convicted Zdravko Tolimir, Assistant Commander of Intelligence and Security of the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS), for genocide, and in the process established that the group targeted for genocide by the VRS was the Muslim population of East Bosnia as a whole – not just of Srebrenica – and that the genocidal act extended to Zepa as well as Srebrenica. It is a tremendous breakthrough for the legal recognition of the Bosnian genocide beyond Srebrenica. If the Perisic acquittal is to be dismissed as a political verdict, it undermines the Tolimir verdict as well. You cannot have it both ways, and cheer the verdicts with which you agree while denouncing those you don’t like. Either the ICTY is a legitimate court or it is not.
Which brings us to the matter of principle: a genuine, legitimate court must have the right and ability to acquit, as well as to convict. If the ICTY were really a kangaroo court, all those accused would be convicted. Instead of which, we have proof of genuine pluralism, with panels of judges dividing 2-1 and 3-2 over major cases, and the Appeals Chamber reversing the decision of the Trial Chambers. Whatever his political views or personal inclinations, Judge Theodor Meron, presiding judge at both the Appeals Chamber that acquitted Gotovina and Markac and the one that acquitted Perisic, and currently under attack from critics for the acquittals, was in each case only one judge in a panel of five who came from different countries. He was the only judge who acquitted both Gotovina and Markac on the one hand and Perisic on the other, and was not even a member of the Trial Chamber that acquitted Haradinaj. The only other judge who was a member of the Appeals Chamber both for Gotovina-Markac and for Perisic was Carmel Agius, and he strongly opposed the acquittal of Gotovina and Markac but supported that of Perisic. Judge Bakone Justice Moloto was presiding judge both in the Trial Chamber that convicted Perisic and in the Trial Chamber that acquitted Haradinaj. In the first case, he dissented from the majority opinion but was outvoted – something that took place in September 2011, a mere year and a half ago. Hence, I must respectfully disagree with my colleague Eric Gordy, who argues that the acquittals all form part of a consistent policy on the part of the judges in this period.
The conspiracy theorists (among whom I do not include Eric) would either have us believe that the initial indictments of Gotovina/Perisic and their initial convictions were simply elaborate deceptions paving the way for the final, pre-determined acquittals. Or they would have us believe that whenever the ICTY convicts it is acting legitimately and whenever it acquits it is acting politically. But a court that only convicts and never acquits is not a genuine court. Even at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg that tried the leaders of Nazi Germany after World War II, three of the twenty-four defendants – i.e. one in eight of the high-ranking officials of Nazi Germany who were prosecuted – were acquitted. The whole point of a fair trial is that guilt is not assumed and defendants are assumed to be innocent until proven guilty.
The present author has, in the past, condemned the ICTY for retreating in the face of Serbian obstruction of its activities, citing such instances as the failure to indict most of the leading members of the Joint Criminal Enterprise from Serbia and Montenegro; the acquittal of Radovan Karadzic on one count of genocide; and the censoring of the minutes of the Supreme Defence Council. However, the acquittal of Perisic is not part of this pattern; he had already been arrested and convicted, so any Serbian resistance in his case had already been overcome.
It is one thing to accuse the Tribunal of shabby or unprincipled compromises and retreats, but quite another to accuse it of actually falsifying the guilt or innocence of suspects. Karadzic’s acquittal aside, the present author has never accused the Tribunal either of acquitting anyone guilty or of convicting anyone innocent. I did not, for example, condemn its initial conviction of Gotovina and Markac. Nor did I condemn its acquittal of Milutinovic or of Miroslav Radic (one of the three JNA officers indicted over the Vukovar hospital massacre). I am somewhat amazed that so many people, of all national backgrounds and political persuasions, have so little respect for the principle that it is ultimately for the court to decide who is innocent and who is guilty. Of course, it is entirely possible for a court to get things wrong and for a miscarriage of justice to occur. But a miscarriage of justice needs careful explaining as to how it was arrived at, not mere petulant denunciation.
In the case of Perisic, the essence of the disagreement between the Trial Chamber majority and the Appeals Chamber majority was that the first considered that ‘under the VRS’s strategy there was no clear distinction between military warfare against BiH forces and crimes against civilians/and or persons not taking active part in hostilities’, while the latter argued that ‘the VRS was not an organisation whose actions were criminal per se; instead, it was an army fighting a war’, albeit one that also engaged in criminal activities. Thus, the Trial Chamber considered that there was no clear distinction between the VRS’s lawful and its criminal actions, while the Appeals Chamber considered that there was.
Furthermore, the Trial Chamber ruled that though it could not be proven that the military assistance provided by Perisic to the VRS was specifically intended by him to support its criminal as opposed to its legal activities, nevertheless, since he clearly knew that his assistance would be used for criminal activities at Sarajevo and Srebrenica, as well as for legal military purposes, he was therefore guilty of aiding and abetting its criminal activities. The Appeals Chamber, by contrast, ruled that since it could not be proven that that he intended his military assistance to be used for criminal as opposed to legal military purposes, he could not be held to have criminal intent and therefore be held culpable for aiding and abetting the VRS’s crimes.
In other words, there is little disagreement between the two Chambers regarding facts of the case (so far as the Bosnian part of it is concerned) but principally over what conclusion should be drawn from them. The disagreement is not equivalent to that between the Trial Chamber and Appeals Chamber in the case of Gotovina and Markac, when the two chambers fundamentally disagreed over what the facts were; i.e. over whether the Croatian Army had deliberately shelled civilian targets with the intent of bringing about the removal of the Serb population from the so-called Krajina region. In the case of Perisic, the Appeals Chamber was not throwing out an unsafe conviction based upon a highly spurious interpretation of events, as was the case with the acquittal of Gotovina and Markac. Rather, it was expressing a different judgement on the nature of culpability to that of the Trial Chamber.
In this disagreement, my own sympathies are entirely with the Trial Chamber, and I applaud the dissent from the Appeals Chamber majority opinion of Judge Liu Daqun, who argued that by acquitting Perisic, the Appeals Chamber was setting the bar too high for convictions on grounds of aiding and abetting. However, personal sympathies aside and on the understanding that judges are supposed to be wholly impartial, the conclusions of either Chamber could legitimately be drawn from the facts. Unfortunately, the more conservative type of conclusion of the Appeals Chamber is the one I would have predicted judges at the ICTY usually to reach. My colleague Florian Bieber has made the reasonable point that ‘arguing that not all [the VRS's] activities were criminal is about as convincing as stating that the Mafia is not only involved in criminal activities and thus supporting it does not mean that one is “aiding and abetting” criminal activities.’ Following that analogy, Perisic could be compared to a powerful businessman who donates money, vehicles and properties to a charity known to be acting as a front for Mafia activities. Even if he clearly knew the charity’s true purpose, convicting him might not be so easy for the courts. Al Capone was, after all, only convicted for tax evasion.
This brings us to the ultimate reason for Perisic’s acquittal: the Prosecution’s case against him, resting as it did on a model of culpability that was judicially controversial, was not a strong one. The Prosecution was unable to prove his intent to commit crime, or that the assistance he provided to the VRS was intended to further its crimes. It was unable to link him directly to any specific crime. It could merely prove that he aided and abetted an army – the VRS – that he knew was engaging in criminal activities, but which was also engaging in lawful military activities.
The second reason why the Prosecution’s case was weak concerns the question of command responsibility. The Trial Chamber ruled that Perisic had no command responsibility over VRS forces, but that he did have such authority over the ‘Serb Army of Krajina’ (SVK – so-called ‘Croatian Serbs’), and in addition to aiding and abetting the VRS forces engaged in criminal acts as Sarajevo and Srebrenica, it convicted him for failing to punish the SVK perpetrators who shelled Zagreb in May 1995, killing and injuring civilians. But the Trial Chamber recognised that Perisic had ordered the SVK not to shell Zagreb and that it had disregarded his orders, choosing instead to obey the orders of Milan Martic, ‘President of the Republic of Serb Krajina’, to shell the city. This implicit recognition of Perisic’s lack of effective command responsibility over the SVK forces formed the basis for the Appeal Chamber’s overturning of his conviction for the war-crime at Zagreb – and even Judge Liu, who dissented from the majority over Perisic’s acquittal for Sarajevo and Srebrenica, agreed with the majority on this count. In other words, the Prosecution chose to indict someone who had no command responsibility over the Bosnian Serb forces guilty of crimes in Bosnia (Sarajevo and Srebrenica) and only ambiguous command responsibility over the Croatian Serb forces guilty of crimes in Croatia (Zagreb).
Having myself worked as a war-crimes investigator at the ICTY, I am not at all surprised that four out of the five judges (and one out of three in the original Trial Chamber) were not convinced by the Prosecution’s case. Generally speaking, cases involving high-ranking perpetrators far removed from the crime base are complicated to build unless their command responsibility is clear and unambiguous. Thus, it was relatively straightforward to build a case against Milosevic for war-crimes in Kosovo, where his command responsibility (as President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) was clear. But more complicated to do so over Bosnia, where (as President of Serbia) it was not. In such cases where evidence of de jure responsibility is lacking, prosecutors need strong evidence of de facto responsibility.
But Perisic was not a Milosevic, Karadzic or Mladic. He was not a member of the top Serbian-Montenegrin-JNA leadership that planned and instigated the wars against Croatia and Bosnia, and his name is not listed among the principal members of the Joint Criminal Enterprise as laid down in the Milosevic indictments. He was commander of the Artillery School Centre in Zadar in Croatia, and in January 1992 became commander of the JNA’s 13th Corps, based in Bileca in Hercegovina. In these roles of less than primary importance, he participated directly in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. Had the Prosecution chosen to indict him for war-crimes committed by his forces in this period, he would in all likelihood have been convicted. However, it did not.
The three principal phases of mass killing by Serb forces in the Bosnian war were the initial Serbian blitzkrieg of spring, summer and autumn 1992, resulting in the Serbian conquest of about 70% of Bosnian territory; the siege of Sarajevo, lasting from spring 1992 until autumn 1995; and the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995. The first of these claimed by far the largest number of victims; according to the figures provided by Mirsad Tokaca’s Research and Documentation Centre, more Bosniaks were killed in the Podrinje region (East Bosnia) in 1992 than in 1995, the year of the Srebrenica massacre. Moreover, the regular Serb army forces that undertook the initial blitzkrieg, until 19 May 1992, were formally part of the JNA and not only de facto but also de jure under the command and control of Serbia-Montenegro, in the form of the rump Yugoslav Federal presidency made up of members from Serbia and Montenegro, and of the high command of the JNA/VJ.
Had the ICTY Prosecution indicted the top JNA commanders and Yugoslav Presidency members (from Serbia and Montenegro) who commanded these Serb forces during the blitzkrieg, and prior to that the earlier assault on Croatia, they would no doubt have been successful and Serbia’s direct responsibility for the war in Bosnia would have been judicially established. A successful outcome would have been particularly likely, given that a couple of these war-criminals have been obliging enough to publish their memoirs or diaries in which they admit their planning of the war.
On 19 May 1992, however, the newly proclaimed Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), comprising Serbia and Montenegro, formally withdrew its forces from Bosnia, and a Bosnia Serb army – the VRS – formally came into being. Serbia’s political and military leadership thereby ceased to have de jure command and control over the Bosnian Serb forces. Furthermore, the Trial Chamber that convicted Perisic ruled that, in fact, the Serbian leadership in this period did not have even de facto control over the Bosnian Serb forces either – as did the International Court of Justice, in its own 2007 verdict in the case of Bosnia vs Serbia. The arrangement whereby the Bosnian Serb war-effort would be formally independent of Belgrade was put in place with the deliberate intention by Serbia’s leadership of avoiding accusations of aggression and involvement in the Bosnian war. Of course, Serbia continued to provide extensive financial and military support to the Bosnian Serb forces. But it should have been clear to any war-crimes investigator worth their salt that convicting FRY military commanders of war-crimes in Bosnia after 19 May 1992 would be a much more difficult task.
Momcilo Perisic became Chief of Staff of FRY’s army, the VJ, only in August 1993, and his indictment by the ICTY only covers his activities from this period. The policy of supporting the VRS had been put in place under his predecessors, and though he was a strong supporter of the policy and apparently institutionalised it, he was scarcely its architect. Even as regards the siege of Sarajevo – one of the two crimes in Bosnia for which Perisic was indicted – the Serb killings of civilians peaked in the spring and summer of 1992 and dropped considerably thereafter, dropping particularly from around the time that Perisic took over (according to Tokaca’s figures). Chief of Staff Perisic was therefore a singularly bad choice of individual to indict for war-crimes in the period from August 1993: though he was not a simple figurehead equivalent to President Milutinovic, and enjoyed real authority in a post of considerable importance, he was ultimately just one of Milosevic’s interchangeable officers; little more than a cog, albeit a large one, in the military machine, and moreover in a part of the machine whose culpability for actual war-crimes was secondary at the time, since the Milosevic regime had devolved most of the killing to a different part – the VRS.
Had the ICTY prosecutors ever really understood the chronology and organisation of the Serb aggression against Bosnia, they could have avoided such a poor decision. But it is clear from reading Carla del Ponte’s memoirs that she, at least, never had more than a muddled understanding of it. She nebulously attributes primary and equal responsibility to the war as a whole to two individuals, Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman, but is unable to explain how that responsibility translated into the form that the war took. Although she deserves credit for eschewing a narrowly legalistic and lawyerly approach to war-crimes prosecutions and for attempting to view the big picture of the war – and therefore for insisting on genocide indictments in the face of conservative resistance from some of her colleagues – the big picture that she viewed was an erroneous one. Her starting point was not a global systemic analysis of the aggression, but apparently the big crimes with which she herself, as a non-expert on the war, was familiar – the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre.
In her own memoirs, del Ponte’s former spokeswoman Florence Hartmann recalls that del Ponte insisted, among other things, that Milosevic himself be indicted for Srebrenica and Sarajevo, in the face of resistance from Geoffrey Nice and others, who feared that they would not be able to convince the judges of the validity of the charge. Del Ponte was thus motivated by the commendable desire to ensure that Serbia’s leadership would not escape responsibility for the killing in Bosnia, but her analytical confusion ensured her plan would not go well. In light of Perisic’s acquittal, Nice’s caution, as recalled by Hartmann, appears entirely vindicated. That said, it is worth restating that Perisic’s indictment covered only the period from August 1993, when he was Chief of Staff, not the period when the Serbian aggression was actually launched and the largest part of the killings occurred. Thus, the claims made by Dacic and by the Sense News Agency, that the verdict exonerates Milosevic and Serbia of aggression against Bosnia and Croatia and of culpability in the siege of Sarajevo, are unfounded. Furthermore, as noted above, the Appeals Chamber has not actually changed the facts as established by the Trial Chamber: that the VRS was engaged in criminal activity, at Sarajevo and Srebrenica, and that Serbia’s army was aiding and abetting it while it was doing so.
On Twitter, Luka Misetic, the lawyer who successfully represented Gotovina, has succinctly referred to ‘Carla Del Ponte’s dark legacy: Perisic, Haradinaj, Oric, Gotovina, Cermak, Markac, Boskoski, Halilovic all indicted by CDP, all acquitted.’ The failure at the ICTY is that of a Prosecution that has repeatedly failed to secure the convictions of those it has indicted, not of the judges who were unconvinced by its cases.
David Harland, Executive Director of the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue and head of UN Civil Affairs in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1993-1995, recently published, in the New York Times, a polemic against the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Responding to the recent acquittals of Croatia’s Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac and Kosovo’s Ramush Haradinaj, he accused the Tribunal of ‘selective justice’ on the grounds that it has essentially only convicted Serb perpetrators, acquitted non-Serb perpetrators and failed to punish crimes against Serbs. This is, of course, the claim that hardline Serb nationalists and supporters of Slobodan Milosevic have been making for about the last two decades. Instead of carrying out any research into the actual record of the ICTY in order to support his thesis, Harland simply repeats a string of cliches of the kind that frequently appear in anti-Hague diatribes by Serb nationalists.
1) Harland writes: ‘More Serbs were displaced — ethnically cleansed — by the wars in the Balkans than any other community. And more Serbs remain ethnically displaced to this day.’
Harland doesn’t provide any statistical evidence to support this claim, but he appears to be conflating being ‘displaced’ with being ‘ethnically cleansed’, and to count all Serbs displaced by all the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo as having been ‘ethnically cleansed’ – as opposed to being evacuated by the Serb authorities themselves, for example, or fleeing Sarajevo to escape the siege. The Appeals Chamber of the ICTY, in acquitting Gotovina, Markac and Haradinaj, rejected the prosecution’s claims that a Joint Criminal Enterprise (JCE) existed, on the part of either the Croatian or the Kosovar Albanian perpetrators, to bring about the removal of the Serb population from either ‘Krajina’ or Kosovo. Harland has not attempted to address the Appeal Chamber’s conclusions. He has simply re-stated a falsehood after two panels of judges carefully explained why the claims on which it was based are false.
2) Harland writes ‘Almost no one has been held to account [for these crimes against Serbs], and it appears that no one will be… Convicting only Serbs simply doesn’t make sense in terms of justice, in terms of reality, or in terms of politics.’
It is untrue that nobody has been convicted by the ICTY for crimes against Serbs, or that no non-Serbs have been convicted. Bosniaks, Croats and Albanians convicted of crimes against Serbs include Rasim Delic, the top Bosnian army commander in 1993-1995; Enver Hadzihasanovic, former commander of the Bosnian army’s 3rd Corps; Amir Kubura, former commander of the 7th Muslim Mountain Brigade; Zdravko Mucic, Hazim Delic and Esad Landzo, former commanders and guard for the Celebici prison-camp; and Kosova Liberation Army camp guard Haradin Bala. Former Croatian Army major-general Mirko Norac was indicted by the ICTY for crimes against Serb civilians in the Medak Pocket in September 1993; his case was transferred to the Zagreb District Court, which convicted him.
3) Harland writes: ‘Altogether, almost all of the West’s friends have been acquitted; almost all of the Serbs have been found guilty.’
Harland appears here to be following the example of the extreme Serb nationalists who divide all former Yugoslavs into ‘Serbs’ on the one hand and ‘friends of the West’ on the other, and who claim that the ICTY ‘persecutes’ Serbs because they are independent of the West. Yet two of the most senior Serb officials to be convicted by the ICTY, former Republika Srpska president Biljana Plavsic and former Yugoslav Army chief of staff Momcilo Perisic, had pursued friendly relations with the West in the second half of the 1990s. On the other hand, being unfriendly to the West is scarcely something of which other prominent Serb indictees can be accused, since Western and Serb officials spent the best part of the 1990s collaborating with one another.
Ratko Mladic and Britain’s Michael Rose
Slobodan Milosevic and the US’s Richard Holbrooke
Ratko Mladic and the Netherlands’ Thom Karremans
Milosevic and Holbrooke again
4) Harland writes: ‘Convicting only Serbs simply doesn’t make sense in terms of justice, in terms of reality, or in terms of politics. The Croatian leaders connived in the carve-up of Yugoslavia, and contributed mightily to the horrors on Bosnia and Herzegovina. I witnessed for myself the indiscriminate fury of the Croatian assault on the beautiful city of Mostar.’
Harland either does not know, or chooses not to mention, that the ICTY is currently prosecuting a group of prominent Bosnian Croat perpetrators for crimes carried out in Bosnia: Milivoj Petkovic, Jadranko Prlic, Slobodan Praljak, Bruno Stojic, Valentic Coric and Berislav Pusic. They are specifically being tried over the Croatian attack on Mostar. The ICTY has already convicted a large number of Croat perpetrators, including Dario Kordic, wartime leader of the Croatian Democratic Union in Bosnia and vice-president of the Croat Community of Herceg-Bosna, and Tihomir Blaskic, former commander of the (Bosnian) Croat Council of Defence (hence equal in rank to the Bosnian Serbs’ Ratko Mladic) and inspector in the General Inspectorate of the Croatian Army. NB Blaskic spent longer in prison than any Yugoslav army officer sentenced over the 1991-1992 Croatian war, except Mile Mrksic.
5) Harland continues: ‘The Bosnian Muslim leadership had deeply compromising links to the international jihahist movement, and hosted at least three people who went on to play key roles in the 9/11 attacks on the United States. I witnessed attacks by foreign mujahedeen elements against Croat civilians in the Lasva Valley.’
The accusation regarding the Bosnian government’s supposed links to the international jihadist movement and 9/11 attackers is sheer Islamophobic defamation. As regards the mujahedin, Harland either does not know, or chooses not to mention, that Rasim Delic, commander of the Bosnian army from June 1993 until the end of the war, was convicted by the ICTY over crimes carried out by the mujahedin against Serb civilians. On the other hand, the ICTY Appeals Chamber found in the case of Bosnian army 3rd Corps commander Enver Hadzihasanovic that he could not be held culpable for the crimes of the mujahedin, since ‘the relationship between the El Mujahedin detachment and the 3rd Corps was not one of subordination. It was quite close to overt hostility since the only way to control the El Mujahedin detachment was to attack them as if they were a distinct enemy force.’
As with the Croatian attack on Mostar, so with the Bosnian government and the mujahedin, Harland’s portrayal of the ICTY as simply having ignored the crimes in question reflects either an extraordinary degree of ignorance regarding the ICTY’s record, or is deliberately deceptive of his readers.
6) Harland continues: ‘And the Kosovar Albanian authorities deserve a special mention, having taken ethnic cleansing to its most extreme form — ridding themselves almost entirely of the Serb and Roma populations. Kosovo’s ancient Christian Orthodox monasteries are now almost the only reminder of a once-flourishing non-Albanian population… Haradinaj has been cleared of the charges brought against him, but the fact remains that hundreds of thousands of Serbs — mostly the elderly, women and children — were ethnically cleansed from Kosovo by the Kosovar Albanians.’
Again, Harland does not attempt to address the ICTY judges’ refutation of the claim that Kosovar Albanians had engaged in a ‘Joint Criminal Enterprise’ to remove the Serb and other non-Albanian population from Kosovo. His claims that the Kosovar Albanian authorities have succeeded in ‘ridding themselves almost entirely of the Serb and Roma populations’ and that ‘hundreds of thousands of Serbs — mostly the elderly, women and children — were ethnically cleansed from Kosovo by the Kosovar Albanians’ are further falsehoods: of the roughly 200,000 Serbs living in Kosovo before 1999, roughly half are still there.
7) Harland concludes: ‘What has happened at the tribunal is far from justice, and will be interpreted by observers in the Balkans and beyond as the continuation of war by legal means — with the United States, Germany and other Western powers on one side, and the Serbs on the other.’
To which one can reply: only by anti-Western Serb-nationalist politicians and ideologues and their fellow travellers.
Perhaps the most disgraceful statement in Harland’s tissue of falsehoods is his claim that ‘I lived through the siege of Sarajevo.’ In fact, as the UN’s head of Civil Affairs in Bosnia from June 1993 until the end of the war, Harland was scarcely a victim of the siege. Following the Markale massacre in Sarajevo of 28 August 1995, when Serb shelling killed 37 civilians, Harland engendered the myth that the Bosnians themselves might have been responsible; as he testified, ‘I advised [UN commander] General Smith on that one occasion to be a little unclear about what we knew about the point of origin of the mortar shell that landed on the Markale market-place in order to give us time, give UNPROFOR time, to get UNPROFOR and UN people off Serb territory so they couldn’t be harmed or captured when General Smith turned the key to authorise air-strikes against the Serbs. That is true. That was less than fully honest.’
Indeed, the UN in Bosnia collaborated with the Serb besiegers of Sarajevo and helped to maintain the siege. It obstructed any possibility of outside military intervention to halt the genocide. It maintained an arms embargo that prevented the victims of the genocide from defending themselves properly. It was complicit in the murder of Bosnian deputy prime-minister Hakija Turajlic by Serb forces in January 1993. It abandoned the ‘safe areas’ of Srebrenica and Zepa to Mladic’s genocidal operations. Romeo Dallaire said of the UN, ‘Ultimately, led by the United States, France and the United Kingdom, this world body aided and abetted genocide in Rwanda. No amount of its cash and aid will ever wash its hands clean of Rwandan blood.’ The same could be said of the UN with regard to Bosnia and Bosnian blood. Yet no former UN or other international official has been prosecuted by the ICTY or any other court for complicity in genocide or war-crimes. That is a real scandal of selective justice about which Harland has nothing to say.
There is a scene in the film ‘Bean’, in which Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean, mistaken for an expert, is forced to give a speech about a painting in an art museum, about which he knows nothing. Trying to think of something to say, he points out that the painting is ‘quite big, which is excellent, because if it was really small, you know, microscopic, hardly anyone would be able to see it’. That scene sometimes comes to mind when reading Michael Dobbs, a Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) who blogs for Foreign Policy magazine. For reasons that are beyond me, Dobbs has been tasked by these two bodies with investigating and writing about the Bosnian war, Srebrenica massacre and Ratko Mladic trial – despite apparently having no prior knowledge or expertise about these topics, or about the topic of genocide.
Dobbs is a well intentioned individual who tries hard to be balanced and objective. He writes frankly about the horrors of the Bosnian war. He consequently comes under regular vicious attack from the creepy-crawlies of the Srebrenica genocide-denial lobby and has been forthright in confronting them. He responds to criticism in a fair and measured way. Yet it’s as if the USHMM and Foreign Policy had simply walked into a random bar, pulled out a random Joe Bloggs, and told him to write about Bosnia and genocide. In October 2011, he wrote ‘I must admit that I find it difficult to use [in relation to Srebrenica] the word genocide, which conjures up images of the Holocaust… In the popular culture, at least, when we talk about “geno-cide,” we think about the killing of an entire race or ethnic group.’ That a Fellow of the USHMM should be guided by ‘popular culture’ when considering the meaning of genocide – instead of by expertise in the history and literature of the study of genocide – is incredible. It is, on the other hand, not in the least incredible, but wholly predictable and understandable, that his comment should have caused enormous offence among Bosniak people, prompting a letter of protest to the USHMM from the Congress of North American Bosniaks, Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada and Bosnian American Genocide Institute and Education Centre.
Now, Dobbs has put his foot in it again, with an article entitled ‘In Defense of the Serbs’, containing his pearls of wisdom regarding the international recognition of Bosnian and Croatian independence in 1991-1992:
‘Looking back at the start of the Yugoslav wars two decades later, I am struck by a contradiction in western policy to the former Yugoslavia. Europe, supported by the U.S., recognized the independence of the breakaway republics. In other words, the borders of the multi-ethnic state that resulted from the Versailles conference decisions of 1919 (see photograph above) were not inviolate. On the other hand, the international community (in the form of the Badinter commission set up by the European Union) also decreed that the borders of Croatia, Bosnia, and the other republics could not be changed simply because a minority wished to secede.
The practical effect of these decisions was that Croats and Muslims were given the right to secede from Yugoslavia, but Serbs did not have the right to secede from Croatia or Bosnia. The delicate ethnic balance sanctioned by the Great Powers after World War I and enforced by Marshal Tito (a Croat) in the four decades after World War II was upset.
For what it is worth, my own personal view is that the breakup of Yugoslavia was inevitable, just as the breakup of the Soviet Union was inevitable. On the other hand, the United States and Europe (the nations that created Yugoslavia in the first place) should have been much more vigorous about establishing and enforcing rules for the breakup that guaranteed minority rights.
To use a phrase attributed to the French statesman Talleyrand, leaving two million well-armed Serbs in other people’s republics was “worse than a crime.” It was a gross error of political judgment.’
Two decades since the start of the Bosnian war, and a Fellow of the USHMM and writer for Foreign Policy can do nothing better than trot out the same, tired old sophistry that was being peddled by the Serb nationalists back then. It’s as if all the scholarship on the subject of the break up of Yugoslavia and recognition of new states, written in the interval by Richard Caplan, Michael Libal, Josip Glaurdic and others, simply did not exist. Dobbs is making a point that has been extensively addressed and refuted by real experts on the subject over a period of twenty years.
It would take a lot of space to refute all the misconceptions in Dobbs’s small passage above, so let me pick just one. There was, of course, no ‘contradiction’ in the policy of the international community as regards the right to secede of Serbs and of non-Serbs in the former Yugoslavia in 1991-1992. Dobbs claims that ‘The practical effect of these decisions [by the international community] was that Croats and Muslims were given the right to secede from Yugoslavia, but Serbs did not have the right to secede from Croatia or Bosnia’. This is false: ‘Croats and Muslims’ were not given the right to secede from Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was recognised as being ‘in the process of dissolution’, and the six constituent republics were recognised as the entities that inherited its sovereignty. Thus, it was the six republics – including Serbia – not the ‘Croats and Muslims’, whose right to independence was recognised. Serbia was not treated differently from Slovenia, Croatia or Bosnia in this respect, and was entirely free to seek and receive international recognition of its independence, just as they did.
The right of the Serbs of Croatia and Bosnia to secede from their respective republics was not recognised; neither was the right of the Croats of Bosnia. Nor of the Muslims/Bosniaks of Serbia’s Sanjak region. Nor of the Hungarians of Vojvodina, within Serbia. Nor of the Albanians of Macedonia and Montenegro. Nor, at the time, of the Albanians of Kosovo. In fact, the only group on the territory of the former Yugoslavia whose carving out of a wholly new entity has ever been recognised by the international community is the Bosnian Serbs. Thus, at Dayton, the ‘Republika Srpska’ was recognised, whereas the Bosnian Croats’ ‘Croat Republic of Herceg-Bosna’ has been dissolved, and the right of the Bosnian Croats to establish their own entity within Bosnia has been consistently denied.
It is difficult to believe that anyone could think about this for even a few minutes before realising that the ‘contradiction’ Dobbs posits is no contradiction at all. But I’m not suggesting he’s being insincere; merely that he hasn’t bothered to think seriously about this, let alone read anything much – if at all – on the subject. Hamdija Custovic, Vice-President of the Congress of North American Bosniaks, has quite rightly written another letter of protest to Foreign Policy about Dobbs’s article. What saddens me about this is not that Dobbs’s views are particularly outrageous – as I said, I believe he is a well intentioned individual trying hard to be balanced and objective. It is that respectable bodies like the USHMM and Foreign Policy consider it acceptable to provide a lot of space and opportunity for someone with no expertise on the former Yugoslavia or the Bosnian genocide to write about them, as if the subject wasn’t important enough to recruit a proper expert who actually has something informed to say.
The victims of the Bosnian genocide deserve better than this.
The US and its allies have waged a series of wars over the past two decades for legitimate reasons. One reason has been self defence: the US’s intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 was a straightforward case of a state defending itself from attack. Another has been humanitarian: the interventions in Kosova in 1999 and Libya in 2011 averted humanitarian catastrophes. There is a strong case for intervening in Syria today on the same grounds. A third reason has been to promote progressive and democratic change. One of the ironies of the most controversial of the West’s recent wars – the Iraq war – was that although there were strong humanitarian and democratic reasons for waging it, these were not primarily stressed by Western leaders. Before President George W. Bush, US leaders had pursued the policy of leaving Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in power while strangling Iraq with sanctions over many years – at enormous cost to the Iraqi people. Although the Bush Administration bungled the occupation, the argument that a short war was a price worth paying to free Iraq from dictatorship, sanctions and isolation was not unreasonable. A pity, therefore, that the war was justified on the grounds of the Baathist regime’s supposed development of ‘weapons of mass destruction’. Even before the coalition failed to discover them, the grounds for invasion were not deemed sufficient by international opinion. The war was from the start a propaganda disaster from which the West’s reputation is still struggling to recover.
An Israeli or US attack on Iran would most likely be another such propaganda disaster. It would have no humanitarian justification, nor would it advance the cause of democracy or human rights in Iran or the Middle East. The argument that it would constitute a pre-emptive act of self-defence by Israel – which we shall come to – is not to be sniffed at but is nevertheless misguided. We are left with a purely strategic argument: the need to limit the power of a barbaric Islamist regime with an aggressively anti-Western ideology and foreign policy, that is promoting bloodshed and strife in the region. While this argument, too, is not to be sniffed at, it is not sufficient to go to war, and would not be accepted as such by world opinion.
It has been suggested that Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Arab states would publicly deplore an Israeli strike against Iran while privately rejoicing in it. In other words, Israel would be doing the dirty work for a group of regimes, at least one of which is, if anything, even worse and more dangerous than the Iranian regime itself. Iran promotes regional trouble and instability; it enables the Assad regime’s slaughter of its own people and supports the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia’s promotion of trouble extends far beyond the Middle East, through its export of Wahhabi fundamentalism from Pakistan to Bosnia. Last October, a locally grown Wahhabi, Mevlid Jasarevic, carried out a terrorist attack against the US embassy in Sarajevo. Osama bin Laden himself was the bastard offspring of the Saudi system. Going to war against Iran with the silent blessing of Riyadh would be like going to war against Stalin with the silent blessing of Hitler.
The idea that ‘weapons of mass destruction’ pose a terrifying threat is a canard. Nuclear weapons have only ever been used once, against Japan in 1945. The Cold War came and went without either side falling victim to them, yet nearly three thousand civilians were massacred in the US in September 2001 by virtually unarmed terrorists. Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons in his genocidal campaign against the Kurds in Iraq in the late 1980s, but a much higher death-toll – up to one million – was achieved by the perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, using much more primitive weapons, in particular machetes. In other words, sophisticated ‘weapons of mass destruction’ are not needed to carry out mass murder, and those regimes that possess them have not used them against the Western democratic world, whose powers of deterrence have been sufficient to protect us from them – though not from more primitive forms of attack.
Israel has very legitimate reasons for wanting to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons: the regime in Tehran has made clear it will never recognise Israel, that it views the state of Israel as illegitimate, and that it seeks Israel’s destruction. Its propaganda systematically demonises Israel and Israelis, and it supports terrorist and extremist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, that are likewise formally committed to the end of Israel. It represents a real threat to the latter – broadly comparable to the threat posed by the Soviet Union to the Western democratic world during the Cold War. Yet the Tehran regime’s stated desire to see Israel abolished is no less utopian than the Soviet leadership’s formal goal of overthrowing world capitalism; it is a crucial part of the self-legitimising ideology and propaganda of a tyrannical regime, not a concrete policy goal.
Against this threat, Israel possesses very effective protection in the form of its own nuclear deterrent. Even were it to acquire nuclear weapons, Iran would be in no position to use them against Israel, or against anyone else, since to do so would lead to its own certain annihilation. It is simply unserious to portray Iran’s leaders as lunatics seeking to commit suicide by launching a nuclear strike against Israel, as opposed simply to cynical, calculating politicians seeking to strengthen their state’s power in the region while exploiting anti-Zionist rhetoric. Former enemies of the West have not lived up to the stereotype of the suicidal madman: Saddam Hussein failed to attack the US forces that were amassing against him in Saudi Arabia in 1990, and instead passively awaited their offensive; Osama bin Laden did not die fighting heroically in Afghanistan in 2001, but scuttled off to Pakistan and hid there until he was hunted down; Ratko Mladic quietly let himself be arrested in Serbia last year. Furthermore, neither Ahmadinejad nor Ayatollah Ali Khamenei possesses the sort of absolute power that Saddam possessed; the Iranian theocracy is far from democratic, but neither is it a totalitarian personal dictatorship. Its regional policies have been evil but sober rather than crazy; it has done nothing even as adventurous as trying to annex Kuwait, let alone launch a war that would inevitably destroy it. We should, perhaps, be more afraid of the nuclear capacity possessed by Pakistan – a highly unstable state deeply infiltrated by extreme, murderous Islamist currents, whose intelligence services are involved in supporting the Taliban’s war against Western forces in Afghanistan.
According to a poll carried out last month, 58% of Israelis oppose attacking Iran without US support. This is, after all, not 1967, when Israel took preemptive action in the face of a very real and immediate existential threat. Yet even that stunning victory, like the military victories won by Israel before and since, did not provide the country with lasting security. That can only come with a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement. For the longer this conflict continues, the more likely it is that Israel, not to mention the Palestinians, will suffer a major catastrophe. Meanwhile, as the Israeli author David Grossman argues, the uncertain results of a strike against Iran would have to be set against the long-term damage to Israel’s standing among the more educated, liberal and secular elements in the Iranian population that may one day overthrow the regime and come to lead the country. They would have to be set against the global anti-Israeli backlash that would inevitably occur.
Unfortunately, the same right-wing nationalist Israeli government that is apparently preparing to attack Iran, has shown itself a major obstacle to a peace agreement and to regional normalisation, from its foot-dragging over the peace process and its promotion of settlement-expansion to its obstruction of the wholly legitimate Palestinian demand for membership of the UN and UNESCO, undermining the most moderate leadership Palestine has yet produced. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was the world leader who supported the dictator Hosni Mubarak against his own people most openly during last year’s Egyptian revolution. There is absolutely no reason why Israel, the US and the West should allow themselves to be dragged into a damaging war to serve the reactionary, chauvinistic agenda of this government, which will probably use the opportunity to impose further repressive and discriminatory measures against the Palestinian population of the West Bank. A successful war against Iran would further encourage the Netanyahu government along its self-destructive nationalistic path, making a future peace agreement even less likely and further jeopardising Israel’s future.
Democrats should be deeply concerned at the climate being generated by this government and its supporters as they prepare for war. Nobel laureate Guenter Grass’s wrote a pretty innocuous and banal poem criticising Israeli policy vis-a-vis Iran, containing such lines as the demand that ‘the governments of both Iran and Israel allow an international authority free and open inspection of the nuclear potential and capability of both. No other course offers help to Israelis and Palestinians alike’. He was consequently subjected to hyperbolic verbal attacks by senior Israeli ministers Eli Yishai and Avigdor Lieberman and barred from entering Israel, while a campaign is being waged to smear him as an anti-Semite. If Israel is falling prey to this kind of hysteria, it is time for people who really care about the country to play a moderating role.
There is an Israeli left, and we in the West would do better to support them. The threat posed to the Middle East by Iran’s regime can ultimately only be resolved by a democratic revolution in that country. In the meantime, to weaken this regime, we would do better to concentrate on bringing down its murderous ally in Damascus, something that would not only save lives, but if handled properly might even improve the West’s reputation in the Middle East, instead of ruining it further.
Update: A strong case against an Israeli attack on Iran is made by Shalom Lappin at Normblog.
I cannot remember any year of my life being so exciting, in terms of global political developments, as 2011. In a positive way, too: although many of the great events of last year have been far from unambiguous triumphs for human progress and emancipation, they have nevertheless demonstrated that many of the chains that bind humanity are not as immovable as they previously seemed. Though many of the battles remain to be fought and some will be lost, that they are being fought at all is reason for optimism. I haven’t remotely been able to provide adequate comment at this blog, but here is my personal list of the most inspiring events of 2011 – not necessarily in order of importance.
1. The Arab (and Russian !) Spring.
Cynics regret the fall of the Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi regimes, and the likely fall of the Saleh regime, in the belief that these acted as Hobbesian leviathans keeping lids on political Islam. They fail to appreciate that these dictatorships, through preventing the emergence of healthy political pluralism and through opportunistic collaboration with Islamism, acted as the incubators of the very Islamist movements they claimed to keep in check. It is pluralism – more so than democracy – that is ultimately the cure for the evil represented by Islamism. The Arab Spring may end badly in some or all of the countries in question, but hats off to the brave Syrians, Yemenis, Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Bahrainis and others who have redeemed the honour of the Arab world through their heroic struggle against tyranny, showing that change is possible. The Arab fighters against tyranny may not win, or they may succumb to a new tyranny, but they are fighting a struggle that needs to be fought. And hats off too to the brave Russians who are raising the banner of freedom in the heart of Europe’s worst police state.
2. International intervention in Libya and Ivory Coast and the fall of Muammar Gaddafi and Laurent Gbagbo.
For all that I supported the US-led intervention to overthrow the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, events have proven it was an intervention too far: carried out without any form of mandate from world opinion or support in the country in question and attempting a too-radical overthrow of the existing order, it brought democratic change and emancipated the Shia majority and Kurdish minority, but only at great human cost and immense damage to the West’s reputation and to the political standing of the Western governments that participated. By contrast, the intervention in Libya was everything the intervention in Iraq was not: carried out in support of a genuine popular uprising and at the request of Libyans themselves, with a genuine international mandate, it brought down a dictatorship without any foreign troops setting foot in the country or losing their lives. There has been some whining among wishy-washy moderates that regime-change was carried out under cover of a UN mandate to prevent massacre, and that consequently Western leaders have made it more difficult to obtain international support for humanitarian intervention in future. Nonsense: even the propaganda catastrophe of Iraq did not prevent the intervention in Libya, so the successful intervention in Libya will be far from discouraging future interventions. In fact, like the Kosova intervention before it, Libya shows how humanitarian intervention can work, as did the international intervention that helped bring about the fall of Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast, followed by his arrest and deportation to the International Criminal Court where, we hope, more of his fellow tyrants will end up.
3. The rise in the West of protests at the abuses of capitalism.
For much of the past fifteen years or so of my life, I felt I was gradually becoming more right-wing (from an admittedly extreme-left-wing starting-point), to the point where, at the last British general election, I adopted a bi-partisan standpoint vis-a-vis Labour and the Conservatives. I have seen, and continue to see myself, as a centrist rather than a leftist. Well, the events in the UK, the rest of Europe and the US have certainly served as a wake-up call to me, as the mainstream political right and the super-rich – not to put too fine a point on it – are simply taking the piss. Here in the UK, public services are being massacred while those in the corporate and financial sectors pay themselves vast and unearned bonuses, and the authorities turn a blind eye to their blatant tax-evasion. We’re supposed to believe that cutting the incomes of ordinary working- and middle-class people is necessary in the name of deficit-reduction, while cutting taxes for the rich and for corporations is necessary in the name of economic stimulus ! Well, you can’t have it both ways. In the US, the Republicans have gone so far to the right in their support of selfish and irresponsible tax-cuts for the rich that they’ve gone completely off the rails, seriously jeopardising their government’s ability to navigate the economic crisis. With mainstream centre-left leaders like Barack Obama and Ed Miliband failing to show any backbone over this, it is left to grass-roots activist movements to do so. So three cheers for Los Indignados, Occupy Wall Street, 38 Degrees, UK Uncut and all such movements, for doing what our elected representatives are failing to do. I never thought I’d say that, but there it is.
4. The fall of Silvio Berlusconi and popular protests in Greece.
The fall of the corrupt sleazeball is a bittersweet triumph, given that it occurred in the context of the EU’s imposition of brutal austerity programmes across the Eurozone, accompanied by creeping integration that violates both the national sovereignty and democratic will of member states. The cause of deeper EU integration has revealed itself to be a deeply undemocratic, anti-people cause. I have been very critical of the Greek political classes for their criminal regional policies, vis-a-vis Milosevic, Macedonia, etc.; the Greek people, by contrast, in the ferocious fight they are putting up against the EU-imposed austerity measures, have set an example to us all. Let the costs of the economic crisis be born by the bankers and politicians who caused it, not by ordinary people and future generations.
5. The phone-hacking scandal in the UK.
All my life in the UK, I have lived in the belief that the tabloid newspapers and particularly the Murdoch media empire are a great incubus on British politics and society, encouraging everything that is worst in our country: xenophobia, small-mindedness, vulgarity, philistinism, voyeurism and sleaze. So how refreshing and liberating it is, to see them being taken down a peg or two. There is no reason why people’s private lives and feelings should be constantly violated, and intimate personal details splashed all over newspapers, by hack reporters pandering to the worst public instincts; it is time that the UK passed some serious privacy laws, to put an end to the permanent national scandal and embarrassment of our tabloid press. However uninspiring Ed Miliband may be as Labour Party leader, he deserves credit for bravely taking on the Murdoch empire. Let’s hope the Daily Mail goes the way of the News of the World - that would go a long way toward solving our supposed ‘immigration crisis’ !
6. Independence for South Sudan.
What a sad day it is for democracy, when a genocidal dictatorship accomplishes what various flawed democracies seem unable to do, and negotiates the independence from it of an oppressed region. In July, South Sudan formally became an independent state and joined the UN. Congratulations to its people, who have shown that even the most brutal struggle for freedom can have a happy ending ! Meanwhile, Turkey is escalating its terror and repression of its Kurdish population; Serbia continues to block and disrupt Kosova’s independence, with Serb extremists creating chaos in northern Kosova and undermining Serbia’s EU aspirations; and Israel continues to obstruct peace with the Palestinians through its settlement-building programme and Apartheid-style occupation regime in the West Bank – to which its apologists turn a blind eye, while they try to blame the Palestinians for wanting to join the UN and UNESCO ! Shame on the democratic world.
7. Macedonia’s victory over Greece at the International Court of Justice and Palestinian membership of UNESCO.
Were the democratic world to apply liberal and democratic principles fairly and consistently, it would be extremely easy to bring about solutions to the Macedonian-Greek and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, that would respect and safeguard the rights of all four nations in question. Unfortunately, the EU over Greece and Macedonia and the US over Israel and Palestine, far from acting as honest brokers in negotiations to end these conflicts, are simply supporting the hardline nationalist agendas of the stronger sides. They hypocritically talk of ‘negotiated settlements’ while ensuring that pressure is only put on the weaker sides, never on the stronger. When they say they want both sides to negotiate, what they really mean is that they want one side to surrender. The Macedonians would have to be stark, raving mad if they followed advice over what’s in their national interest from EU apparatchiks, just as the Palestinians would have to be stark, raving mad if they followed advice from craven US officials. Do they really want their countries to end up like Bosnia, whose leaders in the 1990s were unwise enough to follow ‘advice’ of this kind ?? So what an inspiring example these nations are setting when they refuse to follow the advice of hypocrites, and pursue justice in a dignified, civilised manner through international institutions. Palestine’s admission to UNESCO in October followed by Macedonia’s victory over Greece at the ICJ in December are two blows struck for democracy and human rights that Western leaders seem unable to uphold.
8. The fall of Dominique Strauss-Khan and the acquittal of Amanda Knox.
At one level, the collapse of the sexual assault case in New York against Dominique Strauss-Khan suggests that even in the US, it may be legal for a rich sexually to assault a hotel maid, provided the maid in question has a personal history that’s marginally less unblemished by sin than that of the Virgin Mary, and has done something satanically evil like telling a lie during her asylum application. As has long been said, in rape cases it’s often the victim rather than the rapist who is on trial. For all that, Nafissatou Diallo’s accusation against Strauss-Khan did succeed in ending the political career of a violent misogynist with a history of attacking women, forcing his resignation as IMF chief and wrecking his French presidential bid. And in encouraging other female victims of sexual assault, at the hands of him and of others, to come forward. Another spectacular victory over misogyny was won in October, when Amanda Knox was acquitted by an Italian court on appeal of murdering her flatmate, having been originally convicted in something resembling a medieval witch-trial. Again, she was convicted not on the basis of the evidence against her, since there wasn’t any, but because she was good looking and sexually active, pursued what was in conservative Italian eyes an unorthodox lifestyle, and did not behave like a tearful female stereotype after her flatmate’s murder. Soon after, an apparently respectable boy-next-door, Vincent Tabak, was convicted of murdering his neighbour, Joanna Yeates. Initially overlooked by police until he incriminated himself, he turned out to have a secret fixation with strangling women. So there you have it.
9. The killing of Osama bin Laden and the arrest of Ratko Mladic.
Justice finally caught up in 2011 with two mass-murderers whose long evasion of justice made them symbols of ‘resistance’ for the worst kind of extremists. Mladic turned out not to be as brave as he had been when he was directing the genocidal massacre of defenceless Bosniak civilians at Srebrenica, and surrendered quietly to the Serbian police. Bin Laden was, by contrast, whacked in Pakistan by US special forces, as was his follower Anwar al-Awlaki by a US drone attack in Yemen later in the year, in both cases prompting much hand-wringing by wishy-washy liberal types of the Yasmin Alibhai-Brown variety, who seem to be under the impression that it’s possible for the US peacefully to arrest terrorists based in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, in the middle of an ongoing armed conflict with those terrorists, as if the latter were pickpockets in New York. They would do well to remember the Allied assassination of Holocaust-architect Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, and of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of Pearl Harbour, the following year – we certainly didn’t try to arrest them ! And of course, based on what happened to former Republika Srpska vice-president Biljana Plavsic, an international court might have just sentenced bin Laden to a few years in prison, then let him out early.
10. The referendum defeat for the ‘Alternative Vote’ in the UK.
Not as significant as the above events, but it made me happy anyway.
Happy New Year !
This is a guest post by Amila Jasarevic of Amila Bosnae
On the morning of 26 May 2011, the Serbian Security Intelligence Agency arrested General Ratko Mladić. When the news first broke, it said that a man believed to be Mladić had been arrested, and that the authorities were verifying his identity. Nobody really believed it, until the President of Serbia, Boris Tadić, confirmed in a press conference that the arrested man was indeed Mladić.
My news feed on Facebook literally exploded with the news. Articles from the world press were being passed around, the news spreading like a multilingual wildfire. Europe’s Most Wanted criminal finally arrested, after 16 years on the run.
But how much “on the run” was he, really? And why on that day ? What is so different today from the previous sixteen years?
Ratko Mladić was the Chief of Staff in the army of the self-proclaimed Republika Srpska on the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was first indicted with war crimes on 24 July 1995, roughly ten days after occupying the east Bosnian town of Srebrenica and giving orders for the worst massacre in Europe since the Second World War. More than 8,000 civilians, mostly men and boys, were executed under his orders. Before that, he had been in charge of the siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in recorded history. The siege was merciless and inhumane, and more than 10,000 Sarajevans lost their lives.
Yet, up until 2001, Mladić was living and moving freely in Serbia. He was seen at football matches and dining in fashionable restaurants. He was even drawing an army pension from Belgrade until the end of 2005. More than once the media reported how “special forces” were on his track, but nothing ever happened. That’s why it was so hard to believe the news when it happened.
Shortly after the news of Mladić’s arrest went viral, I saw a status update on Facebook saying that just like Croatia paid for its EU candidature with Gotovina (which also happens to mean “cash”), Serbia is paying with Mladić. Ante Gotovina was a Lieutenant General in the Croatian army, who was extradited to the Hague in 2005. Last month he was sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to 24 years in prison for war crimes.
The witty status update is not to be dismissed as merely a conspiracy theory. The notion that the move is motivated by political interests isn’t that far-fetched. Because what is exactly different now than in the previous sixteen years? Has the EU put a stop to any more concessions to Serbia? Is it a coincidence that the arrest came as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton was in Belgrade to confer with top Serbian officials on their country’s road to the EU? Is it a coincidence it came just a couple of weeks before Chief Hague Prosecutor Serge Brammertz is to address the UN Security Council on Serbia’s cooperation with the court?
Member of the Bosnian collective Presidency, Željko Komšić, said to the news portal Sarajevo-X.com that today’s arrest is proof that the Serbian authorities have always known Mladić’s whereabouts, and that he is simply being traded in for a closer relationship with the EU.
I spoke with Hazim Rizvanović, 41, a survivor of Mladić’s attack on Srebrenica. At the time he was active in the defence of the city. He told me how Colonel Karremans, head of the UN force that was supposed to protect Srebrenica, on 10 July 1995 – the eve of the massacre – told the Bosnian defence not to advance on Mladić’s troops, because international forces were going to air bomb their tanks. The next day, he says, a few bombs were dropped on a little brook well off from any tanks, and Mladić simply marched into town.
When he heard about the arrest, Rizvanović didn’t know whether to believe the report or not, as there have been so many political games involving Mladić and his arrest. “My opinion as an ordinary man is that they’ve always known where he was, all the intelligence agencies. This was just a matter of waiting it out to exchange him for the best possible deal with the EU. Time will tell what they ended up getting for him,” he told me over the phone from Denmark, where he has been residing since 2000. “I don’t expect anything from the court in the Hague, certainly not any new details on who else had their hands in the genocide in Srebrenica or who stopped the defence of the enclave. I haven’t had any expectations since the courts kept records away from the public in the case Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Serbia, resulting in Bosnia losing the case.”
Marko Attila Hoare, 38, author of three books about Bosnia and long-time observer and commentator on the situation in the Balkans, points out that we don’t know when the planing of today’s operation began and how long the Serbian authorities have known where Mladić was hiding. However, he too wonders why the arrest came when it did. “As I see it”, he wrote to me, “the Serbian establishment has long been divided between those who wanted to see him (Mladić) arrested – particularly among liberal politicians and intellectuals – because they want Serbia to join the EU, and those elements in the army and security services who have protected him, supported by the nationalists. So, the arrest suggests to me that there has been a subtle shift in the balance of forces, in favour of the liberal elements.”
When I asked him what he expected would happen in Serbia and Bosnia in the days that followed, he said “Nothing much… Most ordinary citizens don’t care about Mladić, and aren’t going to protest… There may be the usual protests by the minority of hard-liners, led by the Radicals and other such far-right elements, but this will have no effect on politics. As for Bosnia, nothing will change either; Dodik [President of Republika Srpska] will continue his long-term secessionist drive.”
It is a sad outlook that nothing will change, but probably a realistic one. Many years have passed since Mladić ordered massacres wherever he went, and those years have left a trail of disillusionment.
Sarah Correia, 36, a researcher in Political Science, is currently studying the memory of war in Bosnia and what it tells about the political situation in the country. On the morning of Mladić’s arrest, she went to a commemoration at the concentration camp Trnopolje in the north-west of Bosnia, set up for the non-Serb population. The region has been all but completely ethnically cleansed of non-Serbs. “There I could see in people’s faces the pain,” Correia writes. After returning to the near-by town of Kozarac, she heard the news. “Tears in everyone’s eyes, not so much of joy, but of surprise… a feeling of disbelief, that a moment in which nobody believed had come at last,” she says about that moment. But after the initial disbelief and joy, people just went back to going about their business, like nothing had happened. What could they expect? The very camp they visited this morning is now a school, just like it was before it was used to imprison and murder civilians. There is a monument in front of it, Sarah told me, but it’s not to the victims – it’s for some Serb soldiers who had fallen somewhere else. Memory of war is not just personal, it is a commodity fought over, manipulated and used on the political scene.
Not unlike war criminals, probably.
This is a guest post by David Pettigrew
The arrest of General Ratko Mladić is a profoundly important step on the long path to justice for the victims and the survivors of the genocide against Bosnia’s Muslims (Bošniaks) that was perpetrated from 1992 to 1995 by Serbian and Bosnian Serb forces. However, the expectation that Mladić’s arrest will “close a chapter” –as stated by Serbian President Tadić– on the war of aggression, or open a “new chapter” for Serbia, fails to recognize that Mladić’s genocidal legacy lives on in the form of the political entity known as Republika Srpska.
Between 1991 and 1992 Radovan Karadžić’s nationalistic Serbian Democratic Party brought about the creation of Republika Srpska in response to the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina was preparing a referendum on independence as a multicultural nation. The name Republika Srpska literally means a Republic of or for Serbs. Unfortunately, the area in which this “Republic for Serbs” was declared was within the borders of Bosnia and included eastern Bosnia where the Bošniaks constituted, in most locations, the majority of the inhabitants. The creation of Republika Srpska was to entail the forcible displacement of the Bošniaks from within its self-declared territory through terror, rape, and murder, which in some cases included wanton mass murder. In July 1995 alone, over 8,000 men and boys were murdered at Srebrenica in an act that has been declared genocide by two international courts.
Srebrenica was not the only place where Bošniaks were targeted as such and murdered en masse. Additional atrocities and murders occurred throughout eastern Bosnia, between 1992 and 1995 in towns such as Višegrad. On two separate occasions in June of 1992 (on Pionirska Street and in the Bikavac neighborhood) women and children were forced into houses that were set on fire. They perished in the flames. Further, an estimated 3,000 were murdered on and around the Ottoman bridge in Višegrad and thrown into the Drina River. In August of 2010 I accompanied the Bosnian government’s exhumation team to Višegrad. Work on a nearby dam caused the river level to drop and it was finally possible to exhume the bones of the victims from the riverbed. We found the remains of many of the victims and identification is in progress.
In addition, hundreds of villages in eastern Bosnia were destroyed as part of the Bosnian Serb strategy, making return and repopulation by the Bošniaks virtually impossible. Approximately 1,000 mosques were destroyed in Republika Srpska, and in some cases, Serbian Orthodox churches were constructed directly upon the ruins. In one case, a Serbian Orthodox church was constructed on a Bošniak woman’s land without her permission and it still remains to this day. More than 350 mass graves that hold the remains of the Bošniak victims have been discovered within Republika Srpska. The perpetrators tried to hide their crimes by moving the remains to new locations. In the process, the bodies were dismembered, making the process of exhumation and identification tragically difficult.
Indisputably, the entity Republika Srpska was founded upon a genocidal ideology, maintained through the barbarity of genocidal acts and ultimately legitimized by the Dayton Peace Accords 1995. The surviving founding members of Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadžić, Biljana Plavšić, and Momčilo Krajišnik, are either on trial –having been charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws and customs of war– or have already been convicted and sentenced for their role in the war crimes. However, the current President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik denies the genocide at Srebrenica and speaks openly of secession from Bosnia. In other words, in spite of the arrest of Mladić, Republika Srpska continues to be, for Bosnia’s Muslims, a dehumanizing zone of exclusion. Mladić’s legacy –Republika Srpska– remains intact.
One of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s greatest regrets, as the architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, was the recognition and the naming of Republika Srpska. He feared throughout the process that such recognition and such a name would legitimize –if not reward– their genocidal aggression. Hence, to do justice to victims of the genocide against the Bošniak civilians (Bosnian Muslims), the arrest of Mladić must serve as a reminder to the European and international diplomatic community that it is time to reunify Bosnia through constitutional reform. It is indeed unseemly for President Tadić to reduce Mladić’s arrest to the final step in Serbia’s strategy for its entrance to the European Union. The Copenhagen Criteria of 1993 call for those seeking membership in the European Union to respect human rights and the rule of law not only in their own countries but also in association with others. Serbia must now be called upon to denounce President Dodik’s rhetoric of genocide denial and secession and to fully support the reunification of Bosnia.
David Pettigrew, PhD, is Professor of Philosophy at Southern CT State University in New Haven, CT. His report on the exhumations in Višegrad can be found on his website.
The start of Ratko Mladic’s trial today means that the most important Bosnian Serb war-criminal, alongside Radovan Karadzic, is now facing justice. This trial will be crucially important for two reasons.
Firstly, its proceedings may shed some light on the role of Serbia and its military in the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995. At the time of the massacre, Serbia was in a federal union with Montenegro, and the joint state went by the name of the ‘Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’ (Savezna Republika Jugoslavija – SRJ). Its army, the ‘Army of Yugoslavia’, provided logistical support for the Bosnian Serb army – the ‘Army of the Serb Republic’ – and its Croatian Serb counterpart, though these were formally independent of it. The minutes of the SRJ’s Supreme Defence Council (which comprised the presidents of ‘Yugoslavia’, Serbia and Montenegro) were recently used by the prosecution of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in its case against former Yugoslav army Chief of Staff Momcilo Perisic. They reveal that Perisic regularly appealed to the Supreme Defence Council to provide such logistical support to the Bosnian Serb military, and that these appeals continued up until the eve of the Srebrenica massacre. Hopefully, the trial of Mladic, alongside that of Perisic, will provide more information on the role of the Army of Yugoslavia during the Srebrenica massacre. Indeed, it is likely that Mladic’s ability to provide such information was one of the reasons that Serbia’s military shielded him from arrest for so long. This is, however, an optimistic hope, as Mladic is more likely to continue denying responsibility for the massacre and to shield his former protectors than he is to spill the beans.
The second, and more important reason why Mladic’s trial is important, is that it provides the best chance yet to prove that genocide occurred not only at Srebrenica in 1995, but in other places and at other times in Bosnia-Hercegovina as well. The judicial record on this question so far is ambiguous. Germany’s courts have convicted Bosnian Serb perpetrators for offences relating to genocide carried out in parts of Bosnia outside of Srebrenica. One of these, the paramilitary leader Nikola Jorgic, was convicted of genocide in the north Bosnian region of Doboj in 1992, but appealed his conviction all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. The latter upheld Jorgic’s conviction for genocide, ruling that the German courts’ definition of genocide was consistent with the international legal definition. The German and ECHR rulings on Jorgic corroborate the view that genocide occurred across Bosnia from 1992, not merely at Srebrenica in 1995. On the other hand, the International Court of Justice, in the case for genocide brought by Bosnia against Serbia, acquitted Serbia of all genocide-related charges apart from failure to prevent and punish genocide. The ICJ specifically stated that genocide in Bosnia occurred only at Srebrenica in 1992, not in other places or at other times. Mladic, however, stands accused by the ICTY prosecution of systematic genocide across both western and eastern Bosnia from May 1992. If Mladic is found guilty on all charges, the judicial record for a genocide in Bosnia that occurred across the country from 1992 to 1995 will be greatly strengthened.
Be this as it may, the significance of this trial, and of Mladic personally, should not be overstated. News reports have suggested that Mladic was, along with Serbia’s wartime president Slobodan Milosevic and the wartime Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, one of the three principal perpetrators of Serb war-crimes in Bosnia. In fact, the singling out of these three individuals, to the exclusion of all others, betrays a false understanding of the nature of the Great Serbian killing campaign and of how it was organised. In reality, the Serb military aggression against Bosnia and programme of mass killing of its non-Serb inhabitants was planned and organised by the regime in Belgrade; not merely by Milosevic the despot, but by a much wider circle of top political, military and police officials. This war followed on seamlessly from the prior war waged by Serbia against Croatia in 1991-1992.
Mladic, on the other hand, was merely a run-of-the-mill officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) until well after the war in Croatia had begun. He served as chief of the Department for Instruction of the JNA’s 3rd Military District based in Skopje in Macedonia until January 1991, then as assistant to the commander of the Pristina Corps in Kosovo until July 1991, when he was transferred – still as a mere colonel – to Knin, which was the self-proclaimed capital of the Serb rebels in Croatia. He was appointed chief of staff of the 9th (Knin) Corps at the end of July, and played a central role in ethnic cleansing operations against Croatia. In October, after Serbia together with Montenegro had carried out a coup d’etat to establish exclusive control of the federal organs of rump Yugoslavia, including of the JNA, Mladic was promoted to major-general. From late November or early December 1991, as they were preparing to wind down the war in Croatia and to shift it to Bosnia, the Milosevic regime and the leadership of the JNA set about organising a Bosnian Serb military within the framework of the JNA, something that involved concentrating all Bosnian Serb soldiers and officers in the JNA on Bosnian territory. On 30 December, the rump Yugoslav presidency (i.e. the representatives of Serbia and Montenegro) established a new military district – the ’2nd Military District’ – based in Sarajevo, that had jurisdiction over Mladic’s Knin Corps. At the same time, Mladic was promoted to commander of the Knin Corps.
Thus, when the JNA launched a full-scale war against Bosnia in March and April 1992, Mladic was not even based in Bosnia, but was still in the relatively junior position of commander of the Knin Corps, based in Serb-occupied Croatia. He nevertheless participated in the start of the aggression against Bosnia; his forces captured the town of Kupres in south-west Bosnia from its predominantly Bosnian Croat defenders on 8 April 1992 and helped to organise the future Bosnian Serb army in that region of the country, after which he returned to the Knin region for further operations against the Croatian Army.
On 27 April 1992, Milosevic’s regime proclaimed the new ‘Yugoslavia’ – i.e., the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SRJ), consisting only of Serbia and Montenegro. The Bosnian Serb rebel entity, subsequently known as the ‘Republika Srpska’, had already proclaimed independence a month before. By establishing the SRJ and the Bosnian Serb republic as formally separate states, the Milosevic regime aimed to pretend to the world that it was not involved in the war in Bosnia, and that this war was really just a ‘civil war’. This necessitated a formally independent Bosnian Serb army, separate from the Yugoslav army, and Mladic was handpicked by Belgrade to be its commander. On 30 April, Milosevic and other top officials of Serbia, Montenegro and the JNA met with the Bosnian Serb leaders under Radovan Karadzic to arrange the formation of a Bosnian Serb army, and it was agreed that Mladic – who had been promoted to lieutenant general only a few days before – would serve as its commander. In early May, JNA Chief of Staff and acting Yugoslav defence minister Blagoje Adzic summoned Mladic to Belgrade to inform him that he was to be promoted to both commander and chief of staff of the JNA’s 2nd Military District, based in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. At about the same time, the acting president of the Yugoslav presidency, Branko Kostic, ordered the previous JNA incumbent of the post to surrender his duties to Mladic, whose appointment as commander of the 2nd Military District was reported by Belgrade TV on 9 May.
Mladic subsequently recalled that ‘When I took up duty in the 2nd Military District I immediately assigned myself the task of assembling men and forming a command and General Staff, partly from the remnants of the 2nd Military District and partly from the men who had come with me from Knin and from other areas, who were born in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We immediately began the formation of a General Staff of the [Bosnian] Serb Army.’ On 12 May, the self-declared Bosnian Serb parliament voted to establish a Bosnian Serb army incorporating all JNA units on Bosnian territory, and to appoint Mladic as its commander. Yet the law was not promulgated by the presidency of the self-declared Bosnian Serb republic until 19 May. Until that time, Mladic was still formally subordinate, along with all Serb forces on Bosnian territory, to the Yugoslav military command and Yugoslav presidency in Belgrade. Only on 19 May did the the JNA formally split into two separate armies: the ‘Army of Yugoslavia’, made up of troops from Serbia and Montenegro, which formally withdrew from Bosnia on the same date; and the ‘Army of the Serb Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina’, subsequently simply the ‘Army of the Serb Republic’, headed by Mladic and now formally independent.
In other words, although Mladic played a prominent and significant role in the Serb military assault on Bosnia that began full-scale in the spring of 1992, he was far from being its chief instigator or organiser. The latter was the political and military leadership of Serbia, Montenegro and the Yugoslav People’s Army, which handpicked and groomed Mladic for the role. Attributing excessive importance to Mladic as organiser of the war in Bosnia downplays the party that was actually responsible: the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.
War crimes investigators at the ICTY were aware of how the war and mass killing in Bosnia were organised. According to the amended indictment of Milosevic for war crimes in Bosnia:
‘Slobodan MILOSEVIC participated in the joint criminal enterprise as set out below. The purpose of this joint criminal enterprise was the forcible and permanent removal of the majority of non-Serbs, principally Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, from large areas of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (hereinafter referred to as “Bosnia and Herzegovina”), through the commission of crimes which are in violation of Articles 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the Statute of the Tribunal. The joint criminal enterprise was in existence by 1 August 1991 and continued until at least 31 December 1995. The individuals participating in this joint criminal enterprise included Slobodan MILOSEVIC, Radovan KARADZIC, Momcilo KRAJISNIK, Biljana PLAVSIC, General Ratko MLADIC, Borisav JOVIC, Branko KOSTIC, Veljko KADIJEVIC, Blagoje ADZIC, Milan MARTIC, Jovica STANISIC, Franko SIMATOVIC, also known as “Frenki,” Radovan STOJICIC, also known as “Badza,” Vojislav SESELJ, Zeljko RAZNATOVIC, also known as “Arkan,” and other known and unknown participants.’
However, at the time of writing, not a single official of Serbia, Montenegro or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – i.e. of the regime that organised the war – nor any officer of the JNA (excluding officers of the Bosnian Serb army who had previously served in the JNA) has been convicted by the ICTY of war crimes in Bosnia. The weight of ICTY punishment has, so far, fallen exclusively on the Bosnian Serbs, while the regime of Milosevic in Belgrade and the leadership of the JNA have been mostly let off the hook. Only six such officials were ever indicted: Milosevic, Stanisic, Simatovic, Perisic, Arkan and Seselj. Arkan was assassinated before he could be arrested, while Milosevic died while his trial was in progress. This leaves a maximum of four representatives of the regime who could, if the prosecution is wholly successful, receive punishment for organising the worst case of aggression and mass killing in Europe since World War II. None of these belonged to the top rank of officials responsible for organising the war in Bosnia, with the exception of Stanisic, who was head of Serbia’s State Security Service.
Of the other representatives of the ‘joint criminal enterprise’ from Serbia, Montenegro and the JNA high command who were listed in the Milosevic indictment, Stojicic was assassinated in Belgrade before the indictment was issued. Adzic and Kadijevic, the two top figures in the JNA during the war in Croatia and (in Adzic’s case) during the first stage of the war in Bosnia, were never indicted. Neither were Jovic and Kostic, the Yugoslav presidency members for Serbia and Montenegro respectively, and therefore (along with their counterparts for Vojvodina and Kosovo) the individuals in ultimate formal command of all Serb forces in Croatia and Bosnia up until 19 May 1992. Other top officials of Serbia, Montenegro and the JNA also escaped indictment over Bosnia or Croatia – such as Montenegro’s wartime president Momir Bulatovic, and acting Yugoslav army chief of staff Zivota Panic (who died in 2003).
Some relatively minor JNA figures were indicted for war-crimes in Croatia, in relation to Vukovar and Dubrovnik, but over Croatia, as over Bosnia, the weight of the ICTY’s punishment has fallen on the Croatian Serb agents of Belgrade – such as Milan Martic and Milan Babic (and potentially also the still unarrested Goran Hadzic) – while the officials of the former Milosevic regime have escaped extremely lightly.
This extraordinary failure of international justice over Bosnia – the failure of the ICTY to indict more than a handful of the officials of the regime and army responsible for the planning and launching the war, and so far to convict a single one of them – reflects both the inability of its prosecutors to understand the war properly, as well as their poor strategy in issuing indictments. As I have indicated elsewhere, a preliminary draft of a war-crimes indictment for the leadership of the SRJ (Serbia and Montenegro) drawn up in 2001 by investigators – including the present author – aimed to indict Milosevic and other members of his regime together, including Jovic, Kostic and Adzic. But by a decision of Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte, the policy was then dropped in favour of an indictment of Milosevic alone. Apart from allowing his chief collaborators to escape justice, this had the unfortunate effect – as Geoffrey Nice, who led the prosecution of Milosevic, himself noted – that when Milosevic died in 2006, his trial came to an end, and with it, the trial of his regime. This contrasts with the sensible indictment strategy pursued over Serbian war-crimes in Kosovo by del Ponte’s predecessor, Louise Arbour, who indicted five top members of the regime together, including Milosevic.
In her published memoirs, del Ponte’s failure to understand the planning and organising of the war in Bosnia is apparent; it is a failure that found expression in her misguided indictment strategy. She describes Milosevic and Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman as the two figures primarily responsible for the break up of Yugoslavia – as if their respective roles in the process were equal, and as if none of the other leading members of Milosevic’s Belgrade regime was of similar importance. But this is false.
The break up of Yugoslavia and the wars in Croatia and Bosnia all formed part of a single process, planned by the regime in Belgrade under Milosevic’s leadership from at least the spring of 1990, with the goal of creating a Great Serbia (masquerading as a ‘new Yugoslavia’). So far as Bosnia was concerned, this ’joint criminal enterprise’ aimed to destroy the country and kill or expel most of the Muslim or Bosniak population. Most of Bosnia, as well as large parts of Croatia, were to be annexed by Serbia, and rump Croatia was to receive some Bosnian territory as well, with the Muslims or Bosniaks, at best, being confined to an Indian reservation in between. Tudjman was an eager collaborator in this programme of genocide and aggression, whose other leading members were, in particular, the aforementioned Jovic, Kostic, Kadijevic, Adzic, Stanisic, Panic and Bulatovic. None of these has yet been punished, and most of them certainly never will be.
As for Mladic, he was merely a middle-ranking agent in the planning and launching of this enterprise – more than a pawn, but not more than a knight or a bishop. So while his arrest and trial should be celebrated, and while we have much to expect from it, let us not pretend that justice is being served.
Image: Bosnian forces destroy a JNA convoy at Brcanska Malta, Tuzla, on 15 May 1992
Imagine if, fifteen years after the end of World War II, the Japanese government had tried to have Henry A. Wallace, Vice President of the US during the war, extradited to face trial in Japan for the deaths of Japanese soldiers during the Battle of Pearl Harbour. Imagine if the German government after the war had tried to have survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising extradited from Israel to Germany to face trial for the killing of German soldiers during the uprising.
On Monday, Ejup Ganic, the former de facto Bosnian vice-president during the war of 1992-95, was arrested in London at the request of the Serbian government, which seeks his extradition to face trial in Serbia for the killing of Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) soldiers in Sarajevo on 3 May 1992. This incident demonstrates that Serbia is still very far from showing repentence for its aggression against Bosnia during the 1990s. On the contrary, with the arrest of Ganic, Serbia is continuing this aggression, by attempting to persecute Bosnians guilty only of trying to defend their country from it.
The incident for which Ganic’s extradition is being sought by Belgrade occurred at Dobrovoljacka ulica (Volunteers’ Street) in Sarajevo on 3 May 1992. At this time, the JNA forces in Sarajevo and in Bosnia as a whole were de jure and de facto the forces of the neighbouring state, the self-proclaimed ‘Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’ (i.e. Serbia and Montenegro), which was then engaged in a full-scale war of conquest against Bosnia-Hercegovina, involving the systematic massacre and expulsion of non-Serbs from the areas that it occupied. In principle, the JNA should have been the joint army of all the former Yugoslavia’s republics and peoples. But thanks to the Serb preponderance in its top command and its officer corps, from 1990 the JNA had been transformed into an exclusively Serbian (and technically also Montenegrin) army. On 27 June 1990, Veljko Kadijevic, the Yugoslav Secretary of People’s Defence and the most senior officer of the JNA, agreed with Borisav Jovic, Serbia’s representative on the Yugoslav Federal presidency and Slobodan Milosevic’s right-hand man, a plan ‘forcibly to expel’ Slovenia and a dismembered Croatia from Yugoslavia, thereby breaking up the common state and creating what was in effect a Great Serbia. The JNA was thereafter steadily transformed into a Serbian army.
During the war in Croatia in 1991-92, the JNA fought against Croatia, bombarding Croatian cities, killing and expelling Croatian civilians and turning over territory to the Serb rebels in Croatia – all without any authorisation from its constitutional commander, the Yugoslav Federal presidency, or from the Yugoslav government of Ante Markovic. The JNA simply disregarded orders given to it by Stjepan Mesic, the Yugoslav president. On 3 October 1991, even formal pretence that the JNA was still ‘Yugoslav’ was dropped; the Serbian and Montenegrin members of the Yugoslav presidency carried out a coup d’etat, appropriating to themselves the right to command the JNA. This represented a violation of the rights of Bosnia-Hercegovina, which was still part of Yugoslavia. From then on, the JNA on Bosnian territory was a Serbian and Montenegrin army of occupation.
The Bosnian presidency and government under Alija Izetbegovic remained neutral during the war in Croatia. They bent over backwards to avoid provoking the JNA on Bosnian territory, and to retain good relations with it. Izetbegovic, his fellow Bosnian presidency member Ejup Ganic and other senior Muslim political leaders naively believed that war could be avoided and that the JNA would not support the Serb extremists. This was an error of monumental proportions. Following a long and careful preparation, at the start of April 1992 – before Bosnia-Hercegovina’s independence had been recognised by the international community – the JNA, under Serbia’s formal control, launched a full-scale military attack on Bosnia-Hercegovina. Eventually, the Bosnian Serb nationalists under Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic would assume command of a formally independent Bosnian Serb army (‘Army of the Serb Republic’). But until 19 May 1992, all Bosnian Serb forces were either themselves part of the JNA, or under JNA command.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), in its 2007 verdict in Bosnia’s case against Serbia for genocide, ruled that ‘it is established by overwhelming evidence that massive killings in specific areas and detention camps throughout the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina were perpetrated during the conflict’ and that ‘the victims were in large majority members of the protected group [the Muslims], which suggests that they may have been systematically targeted by the killings.’ Moreover, ‘it has been established by fully conclusive evidence that members of the protected group were systematically victims of massive mistreatment, beatings, rape and torture causing serious bodily and mental harm, during the conflict and, in particular, in the detention camps.’ This process began while all Bosnian Serb forces were still under the command of Serbia and the JNA, whose central role in these crimes has been extensively documented.
Izetbegovic and Ganic were certainly guilty in relation to the JNA – they were guilty of failing to prepare their country to resist its aggression, and for failing to take action against it even after this aggression had begun. Already during 1990, in preparation for its attack on Bosnia, the JNA had begun disarming the Bosnian Territorial Defence, but had run into resistance from sections of the latter, which refused to turn over their weapons. After Izetbegovic and Ganic came to power in the Bosnian elections of autumn 1990, their Bosnian presidency actually ordered the Bosnian Territorial Defence to turn over its weapons to the JNA. Izetbegovic and Ganic would continue to restrain Bosnian resistance to the JNA until long after the aggression had begun. When the Serbian paramilitaries of Zeljko Raznatovic ‘Arkan’ attacked the Bosnian city of Bijeljina on 1 April 1992, Izetbegovic sanctioned the JNA’s occupation of the city, in the belief that it would restrain the Serb extremists. Weeks after the JNA and Serbia’s paramilitaries had already begun conquering Bosnian towns and killing and expelling their non-Serb inhabitants – Bijeljina on 1-3 April, Kupres on 8 April, Zvornik on 8-10 April, and so forth – Izetbegovic was still systematically vetoing moves by Bosnia’s commanders to strike back against the JNA.
On 26 April, Izetbegovic negotiated in the Macedonian capital of Skopje with Branko Kostic, acting president of the self-declared rump presidency of ‘Yugoslavia’ (i.e. Serbia and Montenegro), and with Blagoje Adzic, chief of staff of the JNA, over the possible withdrawal of the JNA from Bosnia. Agreement was reached that JNA troops from Serbia and Montenegro should be withdrawn. But agreement was not possible over the more than 80% of JNA troops on Bosnian territory, mostly Serbs, who were citizens of Bosnia. The Bosnian presidency demanded that they either be withdrawn or place themselves under Bosnian command, while the Belgrade leadership rejected either option, seeking instead to have them placed under Bosnian Serb command, and rejected furthermore any solution that was not agreed to by the Bosnian Serb leadership. Consequently (contrary to what was subsequently claimed by Serbia in its request for Ganic’s extradition) no agreement was reached between Izetbegovic and Belgrade over the withdrawal of the JNA from Bosnia.
Sarajevo was the object of a full-scale offensive on 2 May, on the part of Colonel General Milutin Kukanjac, commander of the Sarajevo-based Second Military District of the JNA, attacking with his garrison within the city and attempting to seize control of the Bosnian presidency building, while additional JNA forces attacked the city from outside. Sarajevo’s post office, telephone exchange and other public buildings were bombarded. On the same day Izetbegovic, returning from peace negotiations at Lisbon, was kidnapped by the JNA at Sarajevo airport. This amounted to a concerted assault by JNA forces on the organs of Bosnia’s democratically elected government. But the JNA’s offensive against Sarajevo was defeated by the Bosnian Territorial Defence, and Kukanjac’s column was surrounded.
It was perhaps Bosnia’s greatest military victory to date, and it was largely squandered by Izetbegovic. Initially, on 3 May, Izetbegovic negotiated his own release from JNA captivity in exchange for the Bosnian armed forces allowing Kukanjac to leave Sarajevo. But immediately afterward, Kukanjac demanded that his entire JNA garrison be allowed to leave Sarajevo as the price for Izetbegovic’s release. This revised deal was not supported by Ganic and the Bosnian military commanders in Sarajevo, but it was supported by General Lewis Mackenzie, the UN commander in Sarajevo and subsequently a paid lobbyist of SerbNet, a Serb-nationalist lobbying group in the US. Once Izetbegovic was safely back in Bosnian hands, the Bosnian forces opened fire on the JNA convoy in Volunteers’ Street, succeeding in killing or capturing dozens of JNA soldiers.
There is some uncertainty as to whether the initiative to attack the JNA convoy was taken spontaneously by the Bosnian soldiers on the ground themselves, as Jovan Divjak, the then deputy commander of the Bosnian Territorial Defence, claims, or whether it was ordered by the top Bosnian commanders or even by Ganic himself, deputised by Izetbegovic to head the Bosnian presidency and critical of the deal with Kukanjac. Were the attack on the JNA convoy a war-crime, it would make no difference: Ganic and other members of the Bosnian wartime presidency - including Izetbegovic himself - as the supreme command of the Bosnian armed forces, would be automatically responsible. But the attack was not a war crime: it was an attack on a legitimate military target. At most, the Bosnian defenders were guilty of violating a ceasefire agreement extracted from them under duress, by an enemy that had attacked them, been defeated, then sought to extricate itself from its defeat by kidnapping their democratically elected president and holding him as a hostage.
The real guilt of Bosnia’s leadership in the spring of 1992 was not that, on this and one or two other occasions, its forces attacked and killed soldiers belonging to the army of a foreign state that was attacking its country. Its guilt lies in the fact that its forces did not do so more often. Where Bosnia’s defenders did prepare their defences and fight back against the JNA, they were sometimes able to protect their people from killing and massacre. So it was at Tuzla, where on 15 May 1992, the city’s defenders successfully destroyed the city’s JNA garrison, as a result of which Tuzla’s population was spared the massacres, expulsion, torture and rape that befell the citizens of other East Bosnian towns. So it was initially in Srebrenica, where the local defenders fought back and saved their town from destruction for three years, though they would eventually pay a very heavy price for their resistance. But in towns where the Bosnian authorities followed Izetbegovic’s lead and did not resist the JNA, such as in Foca and Visegrad, the non-Serb population was massacred or expelled.
The JNA would nevertheless probably have been allowed to withdraw peacefully from Sarajevo and Tuzla had it been willing to return the weapons it had confiscated from Bosnia’s Territorial Defence. Yet Belgrade’s strategy – carried out via the JNA - was to disarm Bosnia’s defenders and keep them disarmed, while arming the Bosnian Serb forces to the teeth, to enable them to carry out their genocidal plans against a defenceless enemy. In principle, the JNA had been the collective army of all Yugoslavia’s republics, and even its own weapons were therefore the collective property of all of them; the claim by Serbia and Montenegro (the ‘Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’) to be the sole successor state of the defunct Yugoslavia was never accepted by the UN or the international community. The ability of Bosnia’s defenders to defend their civilian population from the Serbian genocidal attack depended largely on their ability to recapture their weapons from the JNA – their attacks on the JNA in Sarajevo and Tuzla were a matter of life and death.
With the arrest of Ejup Ganic and attempt to have him extradited to Serbia, Belgrade is persecuting a former member of the democratically elected presidency of the state that it attacked in 1992, for the crime of having resisted that attack. Last September, Ilija Jurisic, one of the Bosnian military commanders who directed the attack on the JNA at Tuzla on 15 May 1992, was sentenced by a Belgrade court to twelve years in prison for his role in the attack. Fifteen years after the end of the Bosnian war and ten years after the overthrow of Milosevic, Serbia is still hounding Bosnians who attempted to resist its aggression and genocide in the 1990s. Such behaviour is of a kind with the Serbian parliament’s unwillingness to recognise the Srebrenica massacre as an act of genocide, despite the fact that this genocide has been recognised by two different international courts.
Britain must release Ejup Ganic at once. Britain and other EU members must make it absolutely clear that such behaviour on Serbia’s part will not be tolerated; that until Belgrade ceases its persecution of Ganic, Jurisic and other politicians and soldiers of the Bosnian war of independence, it will have no place in the EU or in democratic Europe.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Update: This article has been published in Bosnian in BHDani.
Correction: When it was published on 3 March 2010, this article contained the following claim:
‘On 26 April, Izetbegovic signed an agreement with the regime in Belgrade to permit the JNA to withdraw from Bosnia, along with its own weapons and those that it had confiscated from the Bosnian Territorial Defence. This was arguably an act of treason on Izetbegovic’s part, since he had turned over Bosnia’s confiscated armaments to the army of a neighbouring state that was currently engaged in attacking and conquering his country. But it did not mollify the JNA, whose operations against Bosnia did not cease; at the start of May, JNA forces previously withdrawn from Croatia were used to conquer the Bosnian towns of Derventa and Doboj.’
Subsequently, my research on behalf of Ejup Ganic’s legal defence team revealed this claim to be false: no agreement was reached between Izetbegovic and Belgrade over the withdrawal of the JNA from Bosnia, either on 26 April 1992 or thereafter. Nevertheless, Serbia’s request for Ganic’s extradition from the UK claimed falsely ‘On April 27, 1992, the Agreement was made between B&H and FRY on peaceful withdrawal of JNA until May 19, 1992 [sic - all grammatical errors in original].’
The article has been amended accordingly.
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