Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Will Britain’s exit from the EU cost Bosnia a friend ?

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The following interview with me was published in Bosnian translation in Dnevni Avaz on 23 June.

What’s you personal opinion about Britain leaving or remaining in the EU ?

Britain leaving the EU would be a major setback both for Britain and the democratic world. Britain would lose much of its influence in Europe and the world, and would turn inwards, to become a more fearful, xenophobic country. It might trigger a full collapse of the EU, with all the chaos and economic decline that would cause. Or it will result in Europe reconstituting itself as a super-state without Britain. Britain would still have to accept rules made by the EU, contribute to the EU budget and accept EU immigration. But we would have no say in making EU rules. We would be abandoning our friends in Europe; above all, our friends in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Brexit would also probably trigger the secession of Scotland from the UK; hence, the break-up of Britain.

What consequences would Brexit have for the stability of Europe ?

The likelihood is that a vote for Brexit will encourage anti-EU forces in other countries, such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France. Thus, it could potentially trigger the complete break-up of the EU, which would have calamitous consequences for the economy and political stability of Europe. Even if that doesn’t happen, Brexit would destabilise the EU; it would swing the balance of power further towards the Franco-German bloc, particularly Germany itself, and away from those countries that, like Britain, prefer a looser Union. The creeping centralisation that is responsible for much of the anti-EU mood and economic difficulties across the continent would thereby be strengthened. We have seen how the single currency has helped wreck Greece’s economy, in turn destabilising the Union. An EU without Britain would be more prone to such crises.

Some analysts claim that Bosnia-Hercegovina in that case would lose a true friend. Your comment?

Yes. EU policy in the Balkans will be made without Britain, which has been a friend of Bosnia-Hercegovina and other Balkan countries. Britain will retreat from the outside world, and will lose interest in helping BiH and other friends. Ministers on both sides of the Brexit debate, including former good friends of BiH like David Cameron and Michael Gove, have been ready to offend and alienate Balkan allies such as Turkey and Albania in order to score points in the debate. So Cameron has distanced himself from his former support of Turkey’s EU accession, and Gove has stereotyped Albanians as criminals – all in order to appease anti-immigration sentiment in Britain. Whichever side wins, Britain is becoming less of a friend to Balkan states, as a result of the Brexit debate.

What would an eventual Brexit bring for the enlargement process?

Britain’s exit will greatly set back the enlargement process, as Britain has been a key supporter of enlargement. Although the mood in the EU is shifting against enlargement, irrespective of whether Britain stays or goes.

Your comment on the murder of Jo Cox ?

Jo Cox was a great MP; a friend of BiH and other peoples in need of solidarity, including the peoples of Syria and Palestine. Her death is a tremendous loss to Britain. Her murder by a far-right extremist cannot be blamed on the Leave campaigners as a whole, but there is a current of hatred that is being generated by this campaign, and by anti-establishment, anti-European, anti-immigration and anti-Muslim discourse in Britain generally, that should be held responsible and tackled. Her death was not an aberration.

Saturday, 25 June 2016 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Britain, European Union, Former Yugoslavia, Immigration | , , | Leave a comment

The judgement on Radovan Karadzic will confirm the criminal character of Republika Srpska’s wartime leadership

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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.

Thursday, 24 March 2016 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kinship and Elopement in Bosnia-Hercegovina

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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.

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Keith Doubt

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.

Monday, 24 August 2015 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, gender | , , , | Leave a comment

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Genocide, Justice and Denial

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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

Monday, 27 July 2015 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Srebrenica massacre after twenty years

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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.

Friday, 24 July 2015 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The origins and nature of Ustasha racism

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Review of Nevenko Bartulin, The Racial Idea in the Independent State of Croatia: Origins and Theory, Brill, Leiden and Boston, 2014

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.

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Nevenko Bartulin

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.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015 Posted by | Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, World War II | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A ‘federation’ between Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs was mooted by the Clinton Administration in autumn 1994

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[…]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

Tuesday, 6 January 2015 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Towards an Explanation for the Bosnian Genocide of 1992–1995

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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

Tuesday, 23 December 2014 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Carl Bildt’s feckless policies and the Srebrenica massacre

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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.

Saturday, 13 September 2014 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide | , , , , , | Leave a comment

How can the Bosnian question be resolved ?

BosniaCantons

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.

An entity such as the RS has a natural tendency to seek ever greater independence, and eventually full secession. That would be true even if Bosnia-Hercegovina were a relatively rich and successful country like Belgium, Spain or the UK, where there are strong tendencies toward separation in Flanders, Catalonia and Scotland. But the Serb political classes in the RS don’t just want greater autonomy. They wish to negate Bosnia-Hercegovina. Among the ordinary Serb people, the war has created a high level of bitterness that militates against acceptance of Bosnia-Hercegovina. International circumstances can give them hope that they will eventually be able to establish an independent Republika Srpska. Russia is acting as a Great Power in opposition to the European Union and NATO. The Russians have shown in Georgia and in Ukraine that they are fully prepared to dismember other European states, through support for secessionist regions, in opposition to Western wishes.

In the RS, Dodik has established himself as Russia’s ally through supporting Putin’s annexation of Crimea. If and when Dodik leaves office, the next president of Republika Srpska may pursue the same policy. It is entirely possible to envisage a scenario whereby the RS eventually secedes from Bosnia-Hercegovina, with support from Russia and Serbia. Right now, Serbia must behave itself in order to gain entry into the EU. But when Serbia joins the EU eventually, it will no longer need to behave well. The EU has shown that it won’t restrain a member that behaves badly toward a non-member. We have the example of how Greece and Bulgaria treat Macedonia. Or the example of five EU member states that won’t recognise Kosovo – three of them are recent members. Croatia joined the EU, and immediately the Croatian right-wing launched chauvinistic campaigns against gay marriage and the Cyrillic alphabet.

The likelihood is that Serbia will join the EU before Bosnia. So there will be a situation where the two states that tried to partition Bosnia-Hercegovina in the 1990s – Serbia and Croatia – will be in the EU and Bosnia will be outside. Should Serbia and Croatia then try again to partition Bosnia, it is difficult to see how the outside world will stop them. Even if Bosnia-Hercegovina joins the EU alongside Serbia, this will not necessarily help defend the country. Cyprus is in the EU, but the EU is not doing anything to try to end the partition of Cyprus, because Turkey is too strong. And Turkey does not even have the advantage of EU membership. If Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia and Croatia are all inside the EU and the RS secedes, the EU will find it very difficult to enforce sanctions against the RS. So Bosnians should be prepared for a possible new assault on Bosnian territorial integrity, involving the secession of the RS – particularly if and when Serbia joins the EU. So it is not necessarily a choice between the status quo and something worse. It may be a choice between an independent RS in its existing borders and something else.

Change won’t come from outside
In seeking to prevent this happening, and looking for a solution, there are two places we can look: from within the country of Bosnia-Hercegovina, and from the international community. Of course, we cannot ignore the outside world. International opinion is always crucially important. The Serb failure to achieve their full goals in the war of the 1990s, and the NATO bombardment of 1995, occurred in part because the Serbs lost the propaganda war – particularly following the Srebrenica massacre. So any attempt at change in Bosnia-Hercegovina has to be made with international public opinion in mind. But change will not come from outside. The wars of the 1990s demonstrated the unwillingness of the Western alliance to defend Bosnia-Hercegovina. Since then, the Western alliance has shown that it will not act to defend the territorial integrity of Georgia or Ukraine from Russian aggression. The excuse has been that these countries are not NATO members, so there is no legal obligation. Bosnia-Hercegovina is also not a NATO member.

So we cannot rely on the West to defend Bosnia-Hercegovina from the RS’s secession, backed by Russia, Serbia and maybe Croatia. Particularly if Serbia is already in the EU. There is no point expecting the international community to bring about a ‘Dayton 2’, and to re-establish a functioning Bosnian state. I recently visited Washington DC, where I met with State Department officials, and they made it clear that the US has no interest in any kind of Dayton 2. They also made it clear that they would only accept change on the basis of consensus. But positive change cannot be on the basis of consensus because of the Serb veto.

The high point of international intervention in Bosnia-Hercegovina, via the Office of the High Representative was in the years of Paddy Ashdown, up to 2006, when significant steps were taken to reintegrate Bosnia-Hercegovina. But since then, the momentum was lost, and the international community effectively stopped rebuilding Bosnia. So the process went into reverse, as Milorad Dodik dismantled the country again. Today the international community is happy provided Bosnia-Hercegovina remains quiet and is not a source of regional instability. This is a small-minded era in European politics. Public opinion in many European countries is increasingly hostile to the European Union. Anti-immigrant racism is very strong, and so is Islamophobia. Resistance to active foreign policy was revealed when the Western states refused to intervene to protect the people of Syria. So this is not a good era to expect constructive Western action to rebuild Bosnia. Only in the event of a major new crisis breaking out over Bosnia would the West feel moved to intervene – as was the case in 1992-95.

Change from within
So change in Bosnia-Hercegovina can only be expected to come from within. The question is how to build a movement for change that embraces Bosnians of all nationalities – Bosniaks, Serbs, Croats and others. Of the three principal Bosnian nationalities, only Bosniaks are overwhelmingly committed to Bosnia-Hercegovina as their homeland. Only a small minority of Serbs, and a slightly larger minority of Croats, identify with Bosnia-Hercegovina as their homeland. This was not always the case. Historically, Serbs and Croats identified with Bosnia-Hercegovina as their homeland in much greater measure than they do today. Before the 1990s, a political mobilisation based on shared Bosnian patriotism, embracing Bosniaks, Serbs, Croats and others, was still a possibility.

Serbs could go either way: toward Bosnian patriotism or toward Great Serbianism – or to a combination of them. But the effects of the war, and in particular the creation of a Bosnian Serb entity, have destroyed Serb identification with the common Bosnian homeland.

In effect – regardless of the extent of the brutality and genocide involved – there now exists a Bosnian Serb nation-state: Republika Srpska. Most Serb inhabitants of the RS identify with it and will not accept the loss of its autonomy. Of course, it’s possible to engage in bridge-building between people in the Federation and those in the RS, and that is positive. But this is not very different from what you would do with citizens of a foreign country, like Serbia or Croatia. Politicians, intellectuals and public figures from the Federation can establish links and projects with those from the RS, as they can with those from Serbia and Croatia. But good relations are not the same as national unification.

As regards the Croats, things are less bad because there is no Croat entity. My feeling is that if the RS could somehow be reintegrated with Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croats could accept the common homeland. But coexistence in the Federation as the smaller partner with the Bosniaks cannot have solid acceptance among the Bosnian Croats. As I said before, the Federation is not the solution; it is part of the problem. The dilemma is, that a reform that might lead to greater Croat acceptance of the Bosnian state – i.e. a third entity – would accelerate the division of the country. A Croat entity would pursue the same separatist policy as the Serb entity. With a Serb and a Croat entity, Bosnia-Hercegovina probably would not last long as a unified state. But the two-entity system alienates the Croats from Bosnia-Hercegovina.

What is to be done ?
It is not for me, as a foreigner, to lay down a precise resistance strategy for Bosnia-Hercegovina, so I’ll just say a few words for further consideration. When I talk here of Bosnians, I mean those citizens of Bosnia-Hercegovina who view the country as their homeland. Mostly Bosniaks, but also Serbs, Croats and others who identify with Bosnia-Hercegovina. Bosnians cannot rely on the international community to defend Bosnia-Hercegovina. So they must be prepared to defend it themselves. That means that if and when the RS does secede, Bosnians must be prepared – if necessary – to respond militarily. If nothing else, the readiness and ability to fight a war to defend Bosnian territorial integrity may act as a deterrence to any attempt at secession. It may also strengthen the hand of those in the international community who support a unified Bosnia-Hercegovina, against those who are prepared to let it break up. For this, it is important to have at least some elements of statehood capable of mobilising national resistance.

It can be valuable to learn from the experience of the 1990s. At the start of the war in 1992, there were two bases for resistance: there were the official organs of the republic, including the Territorial Defence and the MUP/police. But these were difficult to mobilise for defence, since they were partly controlled by Serb and Croat nationalists – agents of Belgrade and Zagreb. Drago Vukosavljevic, commander of the Territorial Defence, was a supporter of the SDS. Jerko Doko, Minister of Defence, was a politician of the HDZ. So Bosnia-Hercegovina’s official organs of defence were paralysed. On the other hand, there was also the Patriotic League. But this was essentially a Bosniak militia, and was not able to mobilise Serbs and Croats to defend a united Bosnia. This dilemma – between a Bosnian and a Bosniak resistance orientation still remains. The resistance should always be in the name of all Bosnian citizens, but realistically it will be Bosniak-majority.

The second dilemma is: how do you prepare to resist without accelerating Serb and Croat secession ? Reforming the Federation is a way of beginning the process of reform in a way that cannot be blocked by the Serb veto. But how do you reform the Federation in a manner that’s acceptable to the Croats, but without empowering Croat separatism ? If we abolish all the cantons, then that is unacceptable for many Croats. But if we reduce the number of cantons to two, then there is a danger that the cantons become entities, and we end up with a Croat entity that pursues the same separatist policy as the Serb entity. I think it is necessary to reduce the number of cantons – maybe to five. In any case, there should remain a central canton in the Federation based on Mostar, that would be ethnically mixed.

But a larger canton including, at least, Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zenica, Travnik and other towns, could act as the heart of a functioning Bosnia-Hercegovina, as the centre of national energy. Here, solid, functioning Bosnian national institutions could be build. Such a large central canton could prepare and mobilise an effective national resistance in the event of a new conflict arising from any attempt at secession. Bosnian citizens need to be psychologically prepared to fight, if necessary, to defend Bosnian unity. Such psychological preparation was lacking in 1992. With a more efficient administration, with a lighter bureaucracy and without any national key, such a large central canton could act as a more attractive magnet for the Bosnian periphery.

This could also mark the start of a more general process of change. It’s important to begin the process of constitutional change; to get the ball rolling. At the very least, such a strengthening of the heart of Bosnia-Hercegovina could put the Bosnians in a stronger position to react to any new state crisis. And this could serve as a deterrent to any attempt to break up the country altogether. And when the international community would see that Bosnians are ready to act independently and to resist, they will be less likely to appease those who seek to divide Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Based on a speech given at Krug 99, where this text was originally published. 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia | , , , | Leave a comment