The judgement on Radovan Karadzic will confirm the criminal character of Republika Srpska’s wartime leadership
This interview with me was published in Bosnian in Dnevni Avaz on 23 March
On 24 March, the tribunal in The Hague will pronounce its judgement for the case of Radovan Karadžić for war crimes and genocide. What do you expect from the judgement ? Will it bring justice for the victims ?
I expect that Radovan Karadzic will be convicted on the majority of counts, which will result in him spending the rest of his life in prison. I don’t expect him to be convicted on the first count of genocide, regarding the municipalities outside of Srebrenica – even though the ICTY Appeals Chamber ruled in 2013 on the Karadzic case that sufficient evidence existed to establish the actus reus of genocide for this count. ICTY Trial Chambers have, to date, failed to convict suspects of genocide outside of the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995. This contrasts with judges in Germany, who have, through the cases of Nikola Jorgic and Maksim Sokolovic in the 1990s, convicted suspects of genocide and related crimes in Bosnia outside of Srebrenica. The European Court of Human Rights, in dismissing Jorgic’s appeal in 2007, confirmed that crimes consistent with the international legal definition of genocide occurred in northern Bosnia in 1992. Therefore, if the ICTY, as seems likely, fails to convict Karadzic on the first count of genocide, then the victims will not have received proper justice. To this should be added the facts that, so far, no official of Serbia has yet been convicted of war-crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and that the two most senior Bosnian Serb convicts to date, Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik, are both already free after serving relatively short terms in prison. We cannot therefore conclude that the victims have received proper justice.
What could be the consequences of the judgment for Bosnia ? Can we except tensions among the people, Bosnian Serbs and Muslims? Or could it be a step to final justice ?
The judgement is unlikely to have major consequences for Bosnia, since it is likely to confirm the established narrative about the Bosnian war. Thus, it will not provide support for those who want to deny Serb-extremist crimes altogether, nor to those who seek recognition of the genocide outside of Srebrenica. Milorad Dodik and other Serb nationalists will continue to claim that the ICTY is anti-Serb, while the victims and their representatives will continue to feel that they have not received proper justice. The judgement will at least establish definitely the criminal character of the wartime political leadership of the Republika Srpska – already indicated by the convictions of Plavsic and Krajisnik – and in that sense will provide a small step towards final justice. But final justice remains a long way in the future.
Review of Keith Doubt, Through the Window: Kinship and Elopement in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Central European University Press, Budapest and New York, 2014, 158 +xvii pp.
‘The world has read much about the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, its horrible nature and unconscionable character’, writes Keith Doubt in his preface, ‘but the world has read less about Bosnia-Herzegovina itself’ (p. xii). Indeed, it is difficult for many of us to think of the country without thinking of the war that ended in 1995 and the political struggle that has continued ever since. One of my personal regrets, as a historian specialising in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is that I never knew the country as it existed before the war, particularly since many people who did, both natives and other foreigners, have described it as an idyll. I’ve been told more than once about how you could go skiing in the morning in the mountains around Sarajevo, then drive down to the coast for a swim in the afternoon. Very little is left of that idyll today.
Doubt has set out to shed light on the hidden or forgotten social relations of Bosnia-Hercegovina that existed before the war and continue to exist, and his book owes a large debt to the now-classic anthropological studies of William Lockwood and Tone Bringa. Specifically, he studies familial relations by focusing on the phenomenon of ‘elopement’, which as Svetlana Slapsak indicates in the foreword, does not have the same implications as it did in the pre-feminist era in other countries. Although elopement in Bosnia-Hercegovina does allow a woman to choose her marriage partner, it does not damage a woman’s reputation or that of her family but represents a socially acceptable norm. Indeed, Doubt links this to the greater importance of affinal kinship ties; i.e., those based on marriage rather than blood. It is often supposed that the ancestors of today’s Bosniaks, or Bosnian Muslims, had essentially the same culture as those of the Serbs or Croats until this was altered by Ottoman Islamic occupation. But according to Lockwood, as cited by Doubt: ‘Muslim peasants of Bosnia give much less emphasis to patrilineality and to groups based on patrilineal kinship than do either the Croats or (especially) the Serbs… The slack seems to be taken up by an increased emphasis on affinal relations.’ (Doubt, pp. 97-98). Paradoxically, in this regard, Serbs and Croats are culturally closer to Turks than any of these are to Bosniaks, for the Turks share with the former, but not with the latter, an agnatic kinship structure that defines family and community.
This observation emphasises the distinctiveness of an autochthonous Bosniak culture, distinct from both the wider Serbo-Croat and post-Ottoman neighbourhoods. It perhaps stands in tension, however, with observations that Doubt makes later, that emphasise Bosnian commonalities: ‘The emphasis on establishing affinal relations is not only a cultural custom of Bosniaks, but also a cultural custom of Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs’ (p. 123). Doubt supports this assertion by reference to a survey, which indicates that even in the present day, the two sets of parents of a married couple (i.e. those of a husband and of a wife) visit each other frequently: about two thirds or three fifths of those questioned indicated that their parents visited each other at least four times a year, with very minor differences in the rate for the three nationalities.
Thus, Doubt’s research powerfully illustrates the distinctiveness of both Bosnian and Bosniak culture, and the richness of its heritage. It would not be possible in this review to do justice to the complexity and nuance of Doubt’s interdisciplinary study and discussion. They provide an antidote to the facile tendency among some observers, and not only foreign ones, to assume that the cultural differences between Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims can be reduced to religious ones, and the book sensitively discusses the relationship between ethnic culture and religion, though the latter features only slightly in it.
Doubt ends by overstating somewhat the extent to which the Bosnian commonality and identity have been neglected by scholars and remain obscure; they have, in fact, been explored and written about in various ways by many different scholars, myself included. If we do not have a more complete picture of what makes Bosnians specifically ‘Bosnian’, this is probably because non-native scholarship about the country is still relatively underdeveloped in general, rather than due to a particular neglect of this topic. In fact, almost any scholar not completely blinded by an ideological agenda, and indeed almost any visitor who spends any length of time in the country and its neighbours, will be aware that Bosnia-Hercegovina and its people are distinctive, and that the Bosnian Serbs and Croats and the lands they inhabit are not simply indistinguishable from their counterparts in Serbia and Croatia. Doubt argues that as long as the common Bosnian gemeinschaft, particularly gemeinschaft of kin, is sustained, then ‘the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina is promising’ (p. 135). But he also notes that the cultural phenomenon of elopement, on which the book focuses, is in decline and faces extinction.
Thus, as this book suggests, though Bosnia-Hercegovina’s statehood is badly broken and its citizens politically divided along ethno-nationalist lines, shared common traditional cultural practices, albeit in decline, bear witness to the fact that the country continues to exist. Of course, this begs many questions, such as whether these cultural practices differ significantly between the different regions of Bosnia-Hercegovina, how much other traditional Bosnian cultural practices differ from those in Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro, and what the implications are of the continued decline of these various practices for Bosnia-Hercegovina’s long-term survival. This fascinating little book does not provide all the answers, but it does suggest a lot of original ways of looking for them.
A selection of articles from the blog Greater Surbiton has been published in book format by the Centre for Advanced Studies in Sarajevo, and can be downloaded in PDF format for free via its website. The following is the foreword to the book:
The articles in this volume were published on my blog, Greater Surbiton, since its launch in November 2007. Although Greater Surbiton was devoted to a number of different themes – including the southern and eastern Balkans, Turkey and Cyprus, Russia and the Caucasus, the meaning of progressive politics and the fight against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of chauvinism – Bosnia-Hercegovina and the former Yugoslavia were at all times central to it. Twelve years after Dayton, when the blog was launched, the war over the former Yugoslavia was being waged as fiercely as ever – not on the battlefield, but in the realm of politics and ideas, both in the region and in the West. Genocide deniers and propagandists who sought to downplay or excuse the crimes of the Milosevic and Karadzic regimes of the 1990s – people like Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti, David N. Gibbs, Nebojsa Malic, John Schindler and Carl Savich – continued their ugly work. Yet the ongoing struggle to counter their falsehoods was just one front in the wider war.
The period since 2007 has witnessed the rise of Milorad Dodik’s separatist challenge to the precarious Bosnian-Hercegovinian unity established at Dayton, and the consequent degeneration of the post-Dayton political order in the country; the declaration of Kosovo’s independence and Belgrade’s efforts to derail it; the struggle in Serbia between reformist and nationalist currents; the increasingly aggressive challenge of Russia’s Vladimir Putin to the West, manifested most starkly in the attacks on Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, but also in support for Belgrade over Kosovo and for Dodik in Bosnia-Hercegovina; the increasingly apparent failure of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to punish adequately the war-criminals of the 1990s, despite the spectacular arrests of Radovan Karadzic in 2008 and Ratko Mladic in 2011; and the increasingly stark failure of Western leaders to confront murderous tyrants like Putin, Sudan’s Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad – reminiscent of their failure in the 1990s over Bosnia-Hercegovina.
Today, the truth about the war in the former Yugoslavia is more widely known and understood than ever. The battle for the recognition of the Srebrenica genocide worldwide has largely been won; the remains of most victims of the massacre have been identified and reburied. The deniers and their narrative have been largely discredited. Yet the Bosnian question is further from a happy resolution than ever, while the West – the US, EU and their allies – look less likely to lead positive change in the region than they did a decade ago. Kosovo’s full international recognition is still being blocked by Serbia and Russia; Macedonia, kept out of the EU and NATO by Greek nationalist intransigence, is in crisis; not a single official of Serbia has yet been found guilty by the ICTY for war-crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina, or is likely to be in the future; and leading former-Yugoslav war-criminals such as Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik have been released after serving short prison-terms in comfortable conditions.
The outcomes of the struggles tracked by my blog have therefore been far from unambiguously happy. Yet the politics and recent history of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the rest of the former Yugoslavia are much better understood than they were a decade ago; new generations of scholars, analysts and activists are discovering and explaining more all the time. I hope that the articles contained in this volume have made a contribution to this process of discovery.
Marko Attila Hoare, June 2015
The following article was published by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust on 8 July, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre:
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995, when rebel Bosnian Serb forces carried out an act of genocide that claimed the lives of over 8,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims). In the interval, the world has come a long way towards acknowledging the crime. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) have both recognised that genocide was committed at Srebrenica. The European Parliament in 2009 voted overwhelmingly for a resolution calling upon all EU member states to adopt 11 July, the anniversary of the start of the massacre, as a day of commemoration. Consequently, the UK held its first Srebrenica memorial day event in 2013, and is currently sponsoring a resolution at the UN to mark the 20th anniversary. Bosnian Serb officers have been found guilty by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Bosnian state court of genocide and other offences in relation to Srebrenica. The two leading Bosnian Serb perpetrators, Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, are currently on trial at The Hague for the genocide.
The world has come a long way, but from an ignominious starting point. The Srebrenica massacre did not come out of the blue; it was the crowning atrocity of a genocidal killing process that had begun over three years earlier, in the spring of 1992, and unfolded before the cameras of the global media. Not only did the international community – the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), NATO and other bodies – not intervene to halt the genocide, but what intervention did take place made the situation worse. The UN maintained an arms embargo that hampered the ability of the fledgling Bosnian army to defend its citizens from the heavily armed Serb forces. The British and other Western governments resisted calls for military intervention to halt the killing, instead seeking to appease the perpetrators by accommodating their demands for the carving out of a Bosnian Serb territorial entity through the dismemberment of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Consequently, the Bosnian Serb leaders embarked on the massacre at Srebrenica in the fully justified belief that the world would not stop them, but would recognise their conquest of the town. UN officials blocked NATO air-strikes to defend Srebrenica, and the Dutch UN peacekeeping force supposedly defending this UN ‘safe area’ then abandoned or turned over to the killers the Bosniak civilians seeking their protection. The Dayton Accords that ended the war in November 1995 recognised the town of Srebrenica as part of Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity. Srebrenica was not just the shame of Serbia and the Serb nation, but the shame of Europe, the West and the world as well.
Continue reading at the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website.
Almost anyone who has followed events in the former Yugoslavia since the war of the early 1990s is likely to be aware of who the Ustashas were, and to know that they carried out genocide against the Serb, Jewish and gypsy populations of their puppet ‘Independent State of Croatia’ (NDH), under the leadership of Ante Pavelic in the period 1941-1945. Yet scholarly understanding of this genocide is still in its infancy. There is no serious general explanatory history of this genocide in the English language, and while a wealth of respectable works on the topic have been produced by native historians in the former Yugoslavia, these have almost invariably tended to prioritise the description and cataloguing of crimes over analysis and explanation. In recent years, serious contributions dealing with particular aspects of the Ustasha question have been made by historians writing in the English language such as Tomislav Dulic, Mark Biondich and Esther Gitman, but it is no exaggeration to say that our scholarly understanding of the Ustasha genocide is considerably behind our understanding of the Rwandan genocide, even though the latter occurred a half century later.
Part of the problem is that historians who touch upon the subject have often seemed mesmerised by the sheer horror of the Ustasha regime and its deeds, to the point where their treatment of them has reflected outrage and condemnation rather than the pursuit of intellectual understanding. This, it should be said, is characteristic of much writing on the wars of the 1990s and the Milosevic and Tudjman regimes as well. Nevenko Bartulin’s new book focuses, once again, on a particular aspect of the topic; in this case, the origins and nature of Ustasha racial ideology. One of the strengths of his approach is that he sets out to explode many of the clichés that have bedevilled our understanding of the Ustasha question, but from a rigorously objective standpoint, untainted by any clear ideological or political bias of his own. Bartulin is unsparing in his discussion of nineteenth- and twentieth-century thinkers and ideologists of all ideological persuasions, whether Croatian- or Serbian-nationalist, pro- or anti-Yugoslav, including not only the Ustashas themselves but such key figures of Croatian history as Ante Starcevic, Josip Juraj Strossmayer, Stjepan Radic and others, all the way up to the Communists of Josip Broz Tito, whose ideology did not mark such a clean break with what had gone before as might be expected.
Bartulin challenges both the idea that the Ustasha ideology was primarily Catholic-sectarian in inspiration, and the idea that it was a copy of Nazi ideology. Instead, he stresses its origins in native Croatian racial thinking going back to the nineteenth century. Paradoxically, while the father of integral Croat nationalism, Ante Starcevic, had slipped into overt anti-Serb racism at times, he had primarily been a civic nationalist; it had been the Yugoslavist-nationalist thinkers who had pioneered racial thinking among Croats, from which Ustasha anti-Yugoslav racial thinking emerged – both as heir and as reaction. Serb-oriented Yugoslavist thinkers like Jovan Cvijic believed in a common Dinaric racial identity of the Yugoslavs, in which the ‘Serbian type’ was the ideal, core component that could assimilate the rest; conversely, anti-Yugoslav Croatian race theory also drew upon the idea of a Dinaric racial ideal, but counterpoised it to a non-Dinaric Serbian ‘other’.
Racial Yugoslavism also formed the basis of the ideology of the Croat Peasant Party of Stjepan and Antun Radic. Bartulin quotes the Peasant Party’s official programme: ‘We Croats consider Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria as our national states’. The Radic brothers had upheld the concept of ‘a-Semitism’, which meant excluding the non-Slavic Jews from the Croat national movement and from the idea of a racially Slavic Croat nation (but supposedly without active hostility to the Jews in the manner of anti-Semitism), and the Ustashas drew upon this legacy to justify their own much more extreme anti-Jewish ideology. The Ustasha regime celebrated the Radic brothers as national heroes, but not Josip Frank – leader of the anti-Serb Pure Party of Right, traditionally viewed as the precursor to the Ustasha movement – because he was Jewish. The Yugoslav Communists who defeated the Ustashas in the war of 1941-45 also celebrated the Radic brothers as Croat national heroes, and they too embraced a national ideology based upon racial pan-Slavism, but this time directed against the Germans and Italians, which involved ethnic cleansing and persecution of Yugoslavia’s German and Italian minorities following their victory.
Murderous and genocidal as it was, Ustasha ideology was not as absolutely racist as its Nazi counterpart. Jews and gypsies (except the so-called ‘white gypsies’) were considered racially alien and subject to racial laws modeled on the Nazis’ Nuremberg laws, though a small minority of Jews were declared ‘honorary Aryans’, so spared persecution. But because the Ustashas considered the Serb inhabitants of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina to be a racial mixture that included Croat elements, they did not entirely consider them as a group to be wholly racially alien, and their policy toward them was characterised by some flexibility. Thus, in addition to massacre and expulsion, Serbs were subject to assimilation attempts, via forced conversions to Catholicism and, subsequently, the establishment of a ‘Croatian Orthodox Church’ to replace the Serbian Orthodox Church on the territory of the NDH. There were three Orthodox generals in the NDH’s Home Guard.
Challenging the identification of the Ustashas with militant Catholicism, Bartulin argues that they were in fact not hostile to Orthodox Christianity as such, merely to the presence of a Serbian church on NDH territory, and were genuinely philo-Islamic. The Bosnian Muslims were celebrated as among the racially purest of Croats; Pavelic was ready to anger Catholic opinion by establishing a mosque in Zagreb. Nevertheless, the Ustasha regime preferred to force Serbs to convert to Catholicism rather than Islam or Protestantism, for fear of strengthening the Muslim autonomist movement and Volksdeutsche community respectively. Bartulin therefore stresses the pragmatic nature of the Ustashas’ use of Catholicism, though as his study focuses on the Ustasha leadership and intelligentsia, it does not consider the frequently genuinely Catholic-sectarian and anti-Muslim character of Ustasha activity at the local level in Bosnia-Hercegovina.
Though Bartulin’s book may be somewhat too monographic to appeal readily to the general reader, anyone interested in the former Yugoslavia would benefit from reading his exercise in cliché-busting. With all the lazy binaries – Serb and Croat nationalist; pro- and anti-Yugoslav; pro- and anti-Communist – it is refreshing to read a work that stresses just how many common assumptions were shared by the various ideological currents and political groups; even by those that were mortal enemies.
A ‘federation’ between Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs was mooted by the Clinton Administration in autumn 1994
[…]Prevented by Congress, NATO allies or its own disinclination from putting pressure on either side, the Clinton Administration [in autumn 1994] hinted at still more concessions both to the Bosnian Serbs and to Serbia in the hope of coaxing them to end the war. Up until the UN-hostage crisis of late May 1995, Washington was offering to lift sanctions against Belgrade if the latter recognized Bosnia and Croatia. Throughout the Bihac crisis, the Clinton Administration remained officially opposed to a confederation between the Republika Srpska and Serbia, according to officials in the State Department. On 29 November, leading US Contact Group member Charles Thomas told Bosnian leaders in Sarajevo that the United States did not support such a confederation. Yet that very day, Perry stated that ‘One thing that would be considered is allowing a federation between Bosnia Serbs and Serbs [of Serbia].’ Galbraith had in March 1994 spoken of the Federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina as a step towards the reunification of Bosnia through its eventual inclusion of the Serb-held areas. McCurry now, in November, spoke of the Federation as a precedent for Bosnia’s partition, suggesting a ‘federated formula’ for the Bosnian Serbs modeled on the links between Bosnian Croats and Croatia established through the Washington Agreement. Lake euphemistically put it to Alkalaj that the parties to the conflict should be ‘free to negotiate their own alliances.’ Christopher, when asked whether a concession to the Bosnian Serbs of this kind did not amount to ‘appeasement,’ argued that it ‘wouldn’t be appeasement’ if it were ‘agreed to by the parties,’ perhaps forgetting that the Czechs had ‘agreed to’ the Munich Agreement of 1938.
Such rhetorical twists reflected the Clinton Administration’s attempts to pursue its own conciliatory policy while paying lip service to the harder line demanded by Congress. Contrary to previous promises, in early December US ambassador to Bosnia Charles E. Redman did indeed offer a confederation between the Republika Srpska and Serbia to Karadzic during talks at Pale. The memorable oxymoron used by Administration officials to describe the main aim of US policy, to ‘preserve Bosnia as a single state within its existing borders while providing for an equitable division of territory between the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serb entity,’ encapsulates this approach. The Administration not only ‘talked unity and acted partition,’ as one Senate source told the The Christian Science Monitor, but it talked unity and talked partition in one and the same sentence. This principle was to be enshrined in the text of the Dayton Accords, which stated ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina shall consist of the two Entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska’ and ‘The Entities shall have the right to establish special parallel relationships with neighboring states consistent with the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.’
Contradictory statements of policy by different individuals within the Clinton Administration, or indeed by the same individual at different times, were not purely a reflection of cynicism on the part of the leadership. They reflected also genuine differences between different branches of the Administration. Harris and Walker, two State Department officials who resigned in protest at what they saw as Clinton’s betrayal of Bosnia, have described the State Department before the policy shift as sympathetic towards the Bosnians, cynical of the Administration’s policy and supportive of strong intervention and a lifting of the arms embargo. According to them, officials in the Pentagon were more opposed to military intervention, though Walker argued that this derived more from obedience to Clinton than to their own convictions. According to Harris, top officials in the Pentagon would have been comfortable with a Serb victory that would have brought the war to a quicker conclusion, whereas the working levels of the State Department feared this would result in further destabilization of the region.
Continue reading at Journal of Slavic Military Studies, vol. 24, no. 1, January 2011, pp. 88-114
Scholarly interest in genocide has grown exponentially over the past two decades, due largely to two high-profile genocides during the first half of the 1990s: the genocide in Rwanda of 1994 and, in particular, the genocide in Bosnia- Hercegovina of 1992–95. Yet, paradoxically, the Bosnian genocide has inspired relatively little original research from scholars outside of Bosnia-Hercegovina itself. This article will examine the existing literature while suggesting a theoretical and historical framework by which the genocide might be understood. It will examine how far the genocide can be explained through internal versus external causes, ideological determination versus contingency, and short-term versus longterm factors.
The claim that the organized mass violence carried out by Serb authorities and forces in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1992–95 constituted ‘genocide’ has divided genocide scholars, but received strong support from some. For example, in reference to the 1990s, Eric D. Weitz (2003:235) writes: ‘as an eminently twentiethcentury dictatorship, Serbia made ethnic cleansing and genocide a cause not only of the state but also of the population as well’. Norman M. Naimark (2001:160) writes of the ‘genocidal treatment of the Muslim population in the first months of the war [in Bosnia]’. Adam Jones (2006:212–27) applies the term ‘genocidal’ to Serb atrocities in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, and Martin Shaw (2007:48–62, 130, 148) argues that ethnic cleansing must be categorized as ‘genocide’, a termhe applies to Serb atrocities in both Kosovo and Bosnia. Other genocide scholars challenge this categorization (Mann 2005; Semelin 2007). Nevertheless, detailed scholarly studies of the mass violence in Bosnia-Hercegovina by Smail Cekic (2004), Edina Becirevic (2014), and Norman Cigar (1995), among others, have supported the view that this was, indeed, a case of genocide.
The international courts have been unanimous in declaring the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995 a case of genocide, with both the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) ruling that it was.1 But the verdict regarding other acts of mass violence perpetrated in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1992–95 has been ambiguous.
Continue reading at Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, vol. 14, no. 3, 2014
This is a guest post by Markus Göransson, Jonas Paulsson and Hasan Nuhanović. It was originally published in Swedish in Aftonbladet on 15 July 2014
Nineteen years have passed since the massacre in Srebrenica in July 1995. Sweden should shoulder part of the blame for the fact that the massacre of eight thousand men and boys during the Bosnian War could take place. During the war, the centre-right government under Prime Minister Carl Bildt provided unflinching support to an erratic and feckless European policy that rewarded Serbian aggression and limited the possibilities for the Bosnian government to defend its people. The Srebrenica massacre was the nadir of this policy, which ever since the beginning of the war had capitulated in the face of the Serbian assault on the fledgling Bosnian state.
Whilst other countries, not least the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, have scrutinised their roles in the Bosnian tragedy, a frank discussion about Sweden’s part has yet to take place in the Scandinavian kingdom. It is high time that such a discussion begins. The actions of the Bildt government are unworthy of a country that prides itself on its struggle for international peace and justice.
In international terms, the responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre is usually laid at the feet of the United Nations. The Dutch UN battalion, stationed near Srebrenica in July 1995, has been given most of the blame. Yet, the indisputable weakness and pliancy of those who took decisions within the UN machinery during those fateful days nineteen years ago must not overshadow the far greater responsibility that many European countries, among them Sweden, hold for the way the war in the Balkans evolved.
When the commander of the Bosnian Serb forces, Ratko Mladic, shortly after the fall of Srebrenica ordered that the Bosniak men be taken away and executed, he did so feeling secure in his belief that the international community would not intervene. After all, Europe had been a passive onlooker for three years as Bosnian Serb troops had attacked and expelled non-Serbs from large parts of Bosnia. In the early months of the war, large swathes of eastern and northern Bosnia were cleansed of Bosniaks, who were living obstacles to the Serb nationalist dream of a greater Serbia. Sarajevo was surrounded by Serb canons, which poured down death and destruction on the city.
Instead of coming to the aid of the assailed Bosnian state, European countries successfully pushed through an international arms embargo against the former Yugoslavia – an embargo that froze Serbia’s overwhelming military advantage and prevented the Bosnian government from importing heavy weaponry. The United Kingdom and France, cheered on by Sweden, also took steps to compel the Bosnian government to endorse peace plans that would have entailed the recognition of the rebels’ territorial gains.
When the United States argued that military aircraft should be used to take out certain positions of the Bosnian Serb – among other things in order to break the siege of Sarajevo – the proposal was vehemently opposed by European statesmen. Instead, the Europeans, operating through the United Nations, moved to establish so called “safe areas” under UN supervision, ostensibly to protect Bosnian government enclaves within Serb-held territory.
One of these areas was Srebrenica, which had been surrounded by Bosnian Serb forces early during the war. A “safe area” in name, it did not receive much in the way of protection. A “peacekeeping battalion” of 450 men were sent in to protect the fifty thousand children, women and men who had gathered in the city, many of them refugees from other parts of eastern Bosnia. When Bosnian Serb troops seized the town on 11 July 1995, Mladic did not need long to convince the Dutch commander to hand over the people who had looked to the UN troops for protection.
Throughout their time in power, the Carl Bildt government gave unwavering support to the vapid policies that were cobbled together in Europe’s capitals. Without fail, the government signed off on the proposals about the arms embargo, the peace plans, the safe areas and the opposition to aerial attacks on Serb positions. The fact that the European efforts repeatedly came up short in the face of the Serb aggression did not seem to trouble it. The European response was water to the mill of Ratko Mladic, who took note of the fact that Europe was willing to stand idly by while brutal and unjust violence was perpetrated on its own shores.
When we talk about solutions for Bosnia-Hercegovina, the emphasis is usually on what we would like Bosnia-Hercegovina to look like. This is very easy to say. I and many others would like Bosnia-Hercegovina to be a sovereign, unitary state of all its citizens, regardless of nationality. However, it is much more difficult to see how to achieve this. In this presentation, I am going to talk about a much more modest goal: the development of a Bosnian resistance strategy to prevent a greater misfortunate from befalling Bosnia-Hercegovina. And that will take the first steps toward restoring the state. I won’t engage in false optimism; this will be an analysis of the reality of the situation with a hard-headed analysis of what can realistically be achieved.
Bosnia-Hercegovina’s problems do not need explaining – we are all familiar with them. Bosnia-Hercegovina as a state exists only formally; on paper; in reality, Bosnia-Hercegovina has no functioning state. Bosnia-Hercegovina is divided into two entities. Of these, the Serb entity is the more homogenous one. It is the principal obstruction to Bosnia-Hercegovina’s functioning as a state. The Federation – some once expected – might have acted as the core around which Bosnia-Hercegovina could be reintegrated. So people have viewed the RS as the ‘bad’ entity and the Federation as the ‘good entity’. In fact, they are both bad entities, and the Federation is as much part of the problem as the RS. The Federation is crushed under the weight of its bureaucracy. Its division into cantons weakens both the administration and the economy. The Federation is plagued by the conflicts between Bosniak and Croat politicians. But reform of the system is impossible. It’s impossible to reform the state, because this would require consensus between the three nationalities. But the RS politicians will always veto any reforms that would make the state function. Reform of the Federation is also difficult. The Croats already feel marginalised within the Federation and view the system of cantons as a guarantee for at least a degree of autonomy.
The status quo is unsustainable
At one level, the status quo represents an acceptable compromise, or lesser evil. Bosniaks, and those Serbs and Croats who believe in a united Bosnia-Hercegovina, get at least the illusion of a united Bosnia-Hercegovina. They don’t get a real state, but they get a unified country that exists at least on paper. In return, those Serbs who don’t identify with Bosnia-Hercegovina get an entity with most of the attributes of statehood, but without the full right to secede. Those Croats who don’t identify with Bosnia-Hercegovina are perhaps the least satisfied, but they aren’t strong enough unilaterally to change the system. The status quo, some might feel, is better than any alternatives. However, there is reason to believe that it is unsustainable.
Continue reading at Krug 99
This interview with Marko Attila Hoare was conducted by Bisera Fabrio for Jutarnji list and published in Croatian on 20 June 2014
Who started the war ?
World War I was a conflict with multiple layers. It began as a Balkan conflict between the two Balkan powers, Austria-Hungary and Serbia, but quickly expanded to become a war of Germany against the Franco-Russian alliance, after which other Great Powers and Balkan powers joined the war on one side or the other. So it did not have one single aggressor. The Sarajevo assassination was engineered by leaders of the extreme-nationalist, terrorist Serbian organisation ‘Unification or Death’, also known as the ‘Black Hand’, which must bear responsibility for provoking the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war on Serbia. However, the assassination did not reflect the policy of the Serbian government, and Vienna’s decision to go to war against Serbia was an expression of long-standing Austro-Hungarian imperialist plans. Austria-Hungary and Serbia each had predatory, expansionist designs against each other. However, Austria-Hungary, as the much bigger power, whose leadership officially decided on war, bears the greater responsibility for the outbreak.
Was the fatal shooting by Gavrilo Princip the true cause or simply the formal pretext for a great war that had long been ‘cooking’ ?
The Sarajevo assassination was the spark for the outbreak of a conflict that would almost certainly have happened anyway. However, it was not accidental that the conflict broke out over an event in the Balkans. Austria-Hungary had for decades sought to control Serbia, but Serbia had in the years before 1914 – particularly since 1903 – increasingly moved away from Vienna’s influence. Serbian leaders had long-term plans to ‘liberate’ or annex South Slav territory in Austria-Hungary, and the Black Hand supported terrorist acts like the Sarajevo assassination as part of a deliberate expansionist strategy. Austria-Hungary, for its part, sought to extend its imperial influence southward into the Balkans and viewed Serbia as lying in its natural path for expansion. Beyond this, Germany viewed the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire – the Near East – as a key sphere of influence, after it had largely been shut out of other areas for imperial expansion by the British and French. Russia viewed the possibility of Austro-German expansion into the Balkans as a mortal threat. France competed with Germany for influence over the Balkan states, while Italy competed with Austria-Hungary for influence over the Albanian lands. So the Balkans and Ottoman Empire were a key area of dispute – probably the most important area of dispute – between the Great Powers. Consequently when the assassination crisis broke out in June 1914, neither Austria-Hungary nor Germany nor Russia felt it could retreat.
Was it possible that the citizens of Austria-Hungary, that early summer in 1914, really did not expect any kind of military conflict, let alone a long war that would bring down the Monarchy ?
The citizens or subjects of the Habsburg monarchy were divided over how they viewed the crisis that erupted in June 1914. The war party, represented most prominently by the joint Austro-Hungarian foreign minister Count Leopold von Berchtold and by Chief of General Staff Conrad von Hoetzendorf, was determined to attack Serbia following the assassination, but they did not foresee that this action would result in a general European war lasting over four years, and they certainly did not predict that the war would result in the Habsburg Empire’s collapse. Others, particularly the Hungarian prime minister Istvan Tisza, hoped after the assassination that war could be avoided. Ironically, Hungarian resistance to a Habsburg war against Serbia helped to delay its outbreak, so that Vienna lost the chance to occupy Serbia quickly and present the other Great Powers with a fait accompli. This ensured that when war did break out, it would not remain localised between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, but become a general European war.
What did Serbia actually want ? What were its intentions toward Bosnia ?
Bosnia had formed a key goal of Serbian expansionist plans ever since Ilija Garasanin’s (in)famous ‘Plan’ (Nacertanije) in 1844. Following the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1878, those Serbian statesmen who favoured collaboration with Vienna – most notably Prince, later King Milan Obrenovic – chose to disregard Bosnia-Hercegovina and concentrate on southward expansion. But Bosnia-Hercegovina remained a long-term goal for nationalist Serbians, and the change of regime in Serbia in 1903, when King Aleksandar Obrenovic was murdered and replaced by Petar Karadjordjevic, brought to power those who certainly intended Serbia’s eventual expansion westward. This meant, firstly, the People’s Radical Party under Nikola Pasic, and secondly, the extreme nationalist army officers who had carried out the murder of King Aleksandar and who went on to found ‘Unification or Death’ in 1911. When Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1908, Pasic called for preparations for war, and something of a war psychosis gripped Serbia, with the formation of the ‘National Defence’ (Narodna Odbrana) organisation to wage guerrilla warfare in Bosnia-Hercegovina. However, when he subsequently became prime minister in 1912, Pasic pursued a more moderate policy toward Austria-Hungary, since he was focused on Serbia’s southward expansion against the Ottomans. After the Balkan Wars, Pasic wanted a period of peace to enable Serbia to assimilate the territory in Old Serbia (Kosovo) and Macedonia it had taken. It was the Black Hand, whose leading officers Dragutin Dimitrijevic-Apis and Vojislav Tankosic were behind the assassination, who were the real war-mongers on the Serbian side: they supported terrorism and aggression in Bosnia-Hercegovina, against Montenegro’s King Nikola, against Bulgaria, etc., as part of a consistent policy.
What was the state of inter-religious and interethnic relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1914 ?
Inter-religious and interethnic relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1914 were better than they would later be within the Yugoslav kingdom. Serbs and Muslims were divided by the question of land reform, since the majority of Orthodox Serb peasants in Bosnia-Hercegovina remained subject to Muslim landlords. Croats and Muslims were divided over the issue of Catholic proselytising. However, there was also a general degree of solidarity among members of the Serb, Croat and Muslim elites. Conservative Serb and Muslim leaders had collaborated in their demands for church and school autonomy from the Habsburg regime, and for Bosnian autonomy. Some of the more liberal Bosnian politicians favoured inter-religious and inter-ethnic collaboration on a pro-Yugoslav basis against the regime. The actions of Gavrilo Princip and his fellow assassins were those of an extremist fringe, and were condemned by mainstream Bosnian Serb political and religious figures. Although the assassination provoked a wave of attacks on Serb properties in Sarajevo, these were condemned by Catholic Archbishop Josip Stadler and by Reis ul-Ulema Dzemaludin Causevic. Yet even Princip’s Young Bosnia movement encompassed Croats and Muslims as well as Serbs. Inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina would deteriorate sharply as the result of the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
What was Young Bosnia ? Was it a Serb conspiratorial group, a wing of the Black Hand or an authentic Bosnian illegal organisation ?
Young Bosnia was an ill-defined, loose network of Bosnian student radicals. It was numerically dominated by Serbs and many of its supporters were at least unconsciously inspired by the tradition of Serb Orthodox Christianity. However, its political goals bridged the gap between Great Serb nationalism and pro-Yugoslav ideas, and its adherents came to support common South Slav unification based on the overcoming of religious and ethnic differences between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Consequently it was able to recruit Croats and Muslims as well as Serbs. Young Bosnia was an indigenous Bosnian movement, but it was co-opted by the Black Hand which sought to use it to advance its own expansionist goals. The Black Hand organised a guerrilla training school in Prokuplje in Serbia that prepared young people from Bosnia-Hercegovina to engage in terrorist activities. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, engineered by Apis and Tankosic and carried out by Bosnian Black Hand agents – Princip in conjunction with others – represented the culmination of these activities. The assassination cannot be understood unless both the indigenous Bosnian element (Young Bosnia) and the external Serbian element (Black Hand) are both taken into account together.
Gavrilo Princip was in the period of Tito’s Yugoslavia treated as an extraordinary historical figure; as a revolutionary who initiated the emancipation of the Yugoslav peoples; the forerunner of the people’s heroes of the Second World War. Today he is, at least in Croatia, looked upon differently – some consider him a murderer and terrorist, and others an exponent of Serb nationalism…
He is a figure that understandably divides Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks today. His political goals stood on the border between Great-Serb nationalism and Yugoslavism; he was very much Serb in his background, but he came to embrace a form of South Slav unification that stressed unity between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. He expressed violent hatred for the Sarajevo carsija, that from a contemporary perspective reminds us of Radovan Karadzic. However, his patriotic hatred was directed primarily against the foreign, Habsburg occupier, rather than against Croats or Muslims. His assassination set off a chain of events that had disastrous consequences for the South Slavs. Serbia was militarily crushed by the Central Powers in World War I, and only ended up on the winning side by luck: it was the US’s intervention in World War I that led to an Allied victory, in which Serbia was freed from occupation. The establishment of Yugoslavia was disastrous for Bosnia-Hercegovina’s peoples, and to a lesser extent for Croatia’s: it led to the Chetnik and Ustasha genocides of 1941 and to Milosevic’s and Karadzic’s genocide in the 1990s. We can reasonably view the assassination, leading to the establishment of Yugoslavia, as a historic wrong turn for the South Slav peoples of the Habsburg Empire. Some Young Bosnia supporters became notorious Chetniks in World War II. But it is important to remember that Princip was not Karadzic; he did not plan or engage in genocide.
Was the assassination of the heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand a terrorist act, as the Austro-Hungarian authorities understandably treated it at the time and as it is today treated by some historians, or was it in fact a patriotic act, as it is treated by the majority of Serb and pro-Serb historians ? If it was patriotic, what kind of patriotism was it ? Serb ? Bosnian ?
The assassination was undoubtedly a terrorist act, and it enjoyed no general support or democratic sanction among the Bosnian population – not even among the Serb population. So it cannot be considered as a legitimate act of a genuine national-liberation movement. But the assassins viewed themselves as patriots, and were undoubtedly sincere in their belief that they were acting in the best interests of their people. They did not have clearly worked out political goals – they were very young people, largely teenagers. They supported the liberation and unification of the South Slavs in general terms. Their patriotism was of a kind that blended Serb patriotism, Serbo-Croat patriotism, Bosnian patriotism and Yugoslav patriotism.
Was the goal of Young Bosnia to ‘expel’ Austria-Hungary from Bosnia-Hercegovina, which would then become an independent state, or to annex Bosnia to Serbia ?
Young Bosnia was a loose network with an imprecise membership – it was not a proper political organisation, and it did not have a precise programme. Its members broadly believed that Serbs, Croats and Muslims were the same nation, and they broadly sought Austria-Hungary’s expulsion from the South Slav lands so that these could be united with Serbia in a common South Slav state. In general, Young Bosnia’s members believed that Bosnia-Hercegovina belonged neither to Serbia nor to Croatia, but to both equally. At his trial, assassin Vasa Cubrilovic described his identity as ‘Serbo-Croat’, while Trifko Grabez said ‘I was not led by Serbia but solely by Bosnia’.
How much did the new, post-war (1918) geopolitical picture of the Balkans influence the fact that at the end of the twentieth century a number of national states were established ?
Those who defend the Versailles settlement claim that it permitted the liberation of the subject peoples from the former European empires – particularly the Habsburg Empire – and enabled them to form their own national states. However, from the point of view of the South Slav inhabitants of the Habsburg Empire – roughly speaking, the peoples of the lands that today comprise Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Vojvodina – 1918 arguably resulted in the exchange of one slavery for another. In the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, both Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina lost the parliaments and autonomy they had enjoyed in the Habsburg Empire, and relations between Serbs and non-Serbs became worse, not better. In retrospect, we can view the Yugoslav period (1918-1992) as a transitional phase on the road to independent national statehood for the Croats and Slovenes (although the Bosnian question remains unresolved today). The establishment of Yugoslavia on a centralised, Serbian-dominated basis in 1918-1921 made it very likely, if not inevitable, that the country would eventually break up in favour of independent national states.
Was Austria-Hungary a precursor to the European Union ?
No; Austria-Hungary was a multinational dynastic state that predated the independent national statehoods of its peoples, whereas the European Union is a multinational union built from independent nation-states. Only by freeing themselves from rule by the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Russian and other empires and establishing themselves as independent states, could the European nations go on to establish something like the European Union.
What was the key cause of the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy ? The burning, militant nationalism of its various peoples or the rigid centralism of Vienna and Budapest ? We see that in contemporary Europe nationalism is rising…
Historians debate how inevitable the break-up of Austria-Hungary was; whether it might have survived had its leaders been more accommodating toward its non-German and non-Magyar peoples, or if there had been no World War I. But I believe pre-national multinational unions like Austria-Hungary and Yugoslavia ultimately had no future. As a general rule, unless a state is underpinned by a common national identity shared by most of its citizens, then it cannot survive in the face of democracy. Because people will generally want their nation to be free and independent, not to be ruled by an alien master. The question is today how many more independent nation-states will one day appear in Europe: Scotland, Catalonia, Chechnya, etc. ?
What kind of lesson can Europe today draw from the Great War ?
That the peace of Europe is best secured when the continent is organised on the basis of independent, democratic national states in which the rights of national minorities are fully respected. And when these states are united in trans-national unions or associations – political, economic and military – that provide a common framework for interaction while respecting the sovereignty of each member.
If, after a hundred years, historians from either side of the Drina cannot even agree on who started the war, let alone who was really to blame for it, how can we expect that this part of Europe will truly be stabilised politically ? It turns out that the debate over the First World War is itself the pretext for a new war, at least among historians if not politically…
The establishment of the former Yugoslav lands as seven fully-functioning, fully sovereign states – Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo – and their unification within the European Union and NATO would provide the best guarantee for the region’s stabilisation. In such a case, the disputes of the past will matter less. Unfortunately, this process is stalled, and the futures of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia, in particular, appear uncertain. If Europe’s leaders remain unwilling to take the necessary steps to restore Bosnia-Hercegovina as a functioning state and to bring it into the EU along with Kosovo and Macedonia, then they will be responsible for any new conflict that breaks out.
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