Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

The Left is wrong about racism

Witnessing the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK over the summer, I felt an old sense of frustration: the Left is wrong about racism and has been wrong for a long time. I know this, because I have lived much of my life near the hearts of the black community in London – Notting Hill, North Kensington and Brixton – and attended, back in the 1980s, a very rough and very multiethnic, largely working class and black secondary school: Holland Park Comprehensive. I was a white, Left-wing, ‘right on’ (as ‘woke’ was then called) teenager who joined the Labour Party Young Socialists and agitated against Apartheid South Africa. But my lived experience taught me that racism was not how the Left perceived it.

Our multiracial, mostly Left-liberal teachers taught us that racism was white and anti-black. In English class, we studied Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry; Mildred Taylor’s 1976 novel about racism in Mississippi in the 1930s. But London in the 1980s was not the Jim Crow South. I honestly cannot recall a single incident at Holland Park of any pupil or teacher ever being racist to a black person to their face. There was, however, plenty of racism, and it primarily involved white and black kids being racist towards ‘Asians’; i.e. children whose families were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. I recall a playground fight, in which a very large black boy punched a much smaller Asian boy in the face so hard I could hear the blow, and was later told by a teacher it had begun with the black boy racially taunting the Asian. On another occasion, an Asian supply teacher took our class for a lesson and a black boy commented ‘this school is being P***-ised’. A white girl in our class went on a racist rant when a new boy turned out to be Asian, complaining ‘Why can’t we have someone English ?’ An Arab boy was reduced to tears when a white girl he fancied called him a ‘P***’.

Continue reading at Uncancelled

Monday, 14 September 2020 Posted by | Britain, Marko Attila Hoare, Racism | | Leave a comment

The national identity of the Bosnian Serbs

Originally published as ‘The national identity of the Bosnian Serbs’, in Darko Gavrilović et al., Facing the Past, Searching for the Future: The History of Yugoslavia in the 20th Century (Sremska Kamenica: Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation, Centre for History, Democracy and Reconciliation and the Faculty for European Legal-Political Studies, 2010), pp. 179-204



National identities are not homogenous; differences of identity may be produced within the same nation by differences in region, historical experience, socio-economic background or other factors. The Bosnian Serbs, by virtue of living for centuries in the land of Bosnia or Bosnia-Hercegovina, developed a form of Serb national identity that differed from that of other Serbs, including the Serbs of Serbia (Serbians). Bosnian Serb politicians have pursued specifically Bosnian Serb national politics that regularly set them at loggerheads with the political elite of Serbia. This Bosnian Serb national politics has differed over time and has itself been expressed in different currents, but it has always reflected an identity and worldview that is both Serb and Bosnian. The overriding goals of Bosnian Serb national politics before 1918 were the liberation or autonomy of Bosnia-Hercegovina and unification with Serbia and other lands identified as Serb; the first goal was seen as a means toward the second, but the second did not necessarily negate the first. After 1918, when unification with Serbia was achieved, albeit on a Yugoslav rather than a pan-Serb basis, Bosnian Serb national politics shifted to resisting Bosnian autonomy. After the Axis destruction of Yugoslavia in 1941, the Partisan movement embodied a new expression of Serb-led Bosnian autonomism, which resulted in the unification of Bosnia-Hercegovina and Serbia on a Yugoslav federal basis, as two distinct republics. In the 1990s, with the fall of Communism and collapse of Yugoslavia, Bosnian Serb nationalists rejected Bosnian independence and, with Serbia’s assistance, established a separate Bosnian Serb entity – the ‘Serb Republic’ or ‘Republika Srpska’.

It was the Serbian Orthodox Church that provided the basis for a single Serb national identity stretching across the western Balkans. The autonomy enjoyed by the Bosnian Orthodox community under the Ottomans, combined with the memory, preserved by the Orthodox clergy, of the Serbian medieval state, were the twin foundations of Bosnian Serb nationhood. This nationhood was then conditioned by the multi-religious or multi-national character of Bosnian society. The fact that up until the end of World War I, the Bosnian Serb peasants were predominantly non-free and legally subordinate to Muslim landlords conditioned the course of Bosnian Serb national politics. The impossibility of the Serb political classes satisfying the class aspirations of their Serb peasant constituents, while at the same time winning over the Bosnian Muslims to Serb national politics, was the principal structural weakness of Bosnian Serb nationalism. It ensured a permanent, irresolvable tension, between on the one hand the Bosnian Serb assumption that all Bosnian Muslims (and Catholics) were really Serb and that Bosnia-Hercegovina was a Serb land, and on the de-facto treatment of the Muslims and Croats as the national ‘others’, and ultimately of Bosnia-Hercegovina as an alien entity oppressing the Orthodox Serbs, and from which they sought autonomy. During the interwar period, Bosnian Serb weakness vis-à-vis the Muslims in the struggle for control of Bosnia-Hercegovina manifested itself in support for the country’s partition. Although the Serb-dominated Bosnian Partisan movement resulted in the establishment of a unitary Bosnian republic within federal Yugoslavia, the prospect of independence for a unitary and Muslim-led Bosnia-Hercegovina resulted in a new, and this time successful, Bosnian Serb partitionist drive.

Given the repeated conflict between the Bosnian Serb political classes on the one hand and those of Serbia on the other, the establishment of the Republika Srpska as an autonomous entity separate from Serbia should be seen as a more natural outcome of Bosnian Serb national aspirations than a ‘Great Serbia’ that proved repeatedly unrealisable.


The National identity of the Bosnian Serbs

Nationalists like to portray their nation as being homogenous; a ‘seamless garment’. Yet nations and national identities are in fact heterogeneous; differences of identity may be produced within the same nation by differences in region, historical experience, socio-economic background or other factors. As there are differences of identity among Croats, between those from Zagorje, Slavonia, Istria, Dalmatia, Bosnia and so forth; and among Albanians, between those from Albania proper, Kosovo, Macedonia and so forth; so there are differences among Serbs, between those from Serbia proper, Vojvodina, Kosovo, Bosnia, Lika and so forth. This study will discuss the specific identity of the Bosnian Serbs, its differences with the identity of the Serbs from Serbia, and the historical consequences of this difference. It will trace the historical origins of the difference between the respective national identities of the Bosnian Serbs and of the Serbs from Serbia (henceforth referred to as ‘Serbians’ – Srbijanci). It will explore how this difference of identity resulted in different political goals and ideologies between the political classes of these two branches of the Serb nation, throughout the existence of Yugoslavia and up until the present day.

The original Serbs arrived in the western Balkans, including Bosnia, in the seventh century A.D. It is not, however, possible to trace the existence of the Serb nation in Bosnia, in unbroken continuity, back to this medieval population. The population of medieval Bosnia, which emerged as an effectively independent state under Ban Kulin in about 1180 and reached its greatest territorial extent under King Tvrtko in the second half of the fourteenth century, had ethnically heterogeneous roots. These included both the pre-Slavic (Illyrian or Vlach) population of the region and the Slavic settlers, including Serbs and Croats, who arrived during the early middle ages. But there is no correlation between these medieval ethnic divisions among Bosnians and the contemporary ethnic division between Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims or Bosniaks. The latter was the product of religious divisions created by the long period of Ottoman rule, which began definitely when the medieval Bosnian kingdom fell to the Ottomans in 1463. Prior to the Ottoman arrival, the Bosnian population had been principally divided between Catholics and between adherents of the Church of Bosnia, deemed heretical by the Catholic Church, with a smaller population of Orthodox in Hum or Hercegovina, which was acquired by Bosnia only in the fourteenth century. The Ottoman occupation resulted in the conversion of the greatest part of the Bosnian population to either Islam or Serbian Orthodoxy, while large numbers of Orthodox Vlachs migrated to Bosnia in the same period. It was this Orthodox population – Slavic and Vlach – that formed the basis of the modern Bosnian Serb nationality, while the Islamic population formed the basis of the Bosnian Muslim or Bosniak nationality and the Catholic population formed the basis for the Croat nationality. All three modern Bosnian nationalities have diverse ethnic origins; each of them is descended both from the original, already heterogeneous Bosnian medieval population and from more recent arrivals.(1)

Ethnic Serbs are spread across the territory of the western Balkans; after Serbia itself, the largest populations of Serbs are in Bosnia-Hercegovina followed by Croatia and Montenegro, with smaller numbers in several other states of the region. This does not correspond to the historic borders of any Serbian state. Although Bosnia was briefly under Serbian suzerainty during the middle ages, the largest concentration of ethnic Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, prior to the 1990s, was in western Bosnia and central Croatia; territories that mostly had never formed part of any Serbian state. It was the Serbian Orthodox Church, not any historic shared Serbian statehood or primordial ethnicity, that formed the underpinning for a single Serb nation spread across the western Balkans. In 1557, the Ottomans re-established the Serbian Orthodox patriarchate, with its see in Peć in present-day Kosovo. Stevan K. Pavlowitch says of the re-established patriarchate that it ‘provided a well-organised framework for its faithful over all the European lands controlled by the Turks, and remained across Hungarian and Venetian borders even after the tide had receded. It acted on behalf of the “Serbian nation”, and spread the name “Serb”. In fact, once could say that it was only then that something approaching a Serbian ethnic consciousness appeared.’(2) Ironically, the Ottoman Empire was the state that united most of the lands inhabited by substantial numbers of Serbs , for whom the restored Serbian church provided unity; as Michael Boro Petrovich writes, ‘from 1557 until the Peace of Požarevac (Passarowitz) in 1718 virtually all Serbs found themselves together in an organization of their own.’ Furthermore, ‘it was the political, social and cultural role of the Serbian church that gave it such decisive importance in the preservation and rebirth of the Serbian nation. In effect, it was the Serbian church that provided the bridge between the medieval Serbian state and a modern secular Serbia in the early nineteenth century. Thanks to Ottoman policy, the patriarchate of Peć was the bearer not only of spiritual but of secular authority, as the legally confirmed organisation of the Serbian millet.’(3)

Nevertheless, if the existence of a unified Serbian Orthodox Church laid the basis for a single Serb people sharing a national identity, the division of the Serbs between different states and provinces laid the basis for different interpretations of this national identity. Following their conquest of Bosnia in 1463, the Ottomans re-established Bosnia as a sanjak – an administrative-territorial unit. This was followed in 1580 by the establishment of an eyalet of Bosnia – a larger administrative territorial unit that grouped the Bosnian sanjak with other sanjaks. Though the borders of the eyalet of Bosnia fluctuated greatly over the succeeding decades and centuries, and at times included large parts of what are now Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, nevertheless this entity – itself the heir of the medieval Bosnian kingdom – was the direct precursor of the modern province and subsequently republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Serb Orthodox inhabitants of the eyalet of Bosnia, over centuries of living in it, evolved a consciousness of Bosnia as their country; i.e. a national identity that was Bosnian as well as Serb. This has meant a somewhat different national identity to that of the Serbians, and frequently to different perceptions of national interest, even to conflicts between these two branches of the Serb nation. In this respect, the Bosnian Serbs resemble the Montenegrins, for whom identification with the Serb nation had to be reconciled with awareness of their own distinct national tradition arising from having inhabited a distinct country of their own.(4) Like the Montenegrins, Bosnian Serbs might differ among themselves, or over time, on the question of how far to submerge their own country and identity in the wider Serb nation. Unlike the Montenegrins, the Bosnian Serbs never evolved into a wholly separate nation in their own right. But like the Montenegrins, the Bosnian Serbs’ distinct national tradition, arising from having inhabited a homeland different from other Serbs, helped to ensure that this homeland would never be united with Serbia into a single, Great Serb state.

The Serbian socialist Svetozar Marković was among the first to caution that, given their long history of separation, unity between the different branches of the Serb nation would pose its own problems. In his 1872 essay ‘Serbia in the East’, Marković wrote:

But Prince Mihailo himself was unable to establish a Great Serbia… We maintain that this policy came to nothing because against it were insurmountable obstacles. The first and greatest obstacle was independent Montenegro, which looked upon Hercegovina, Bosnia and Old Serbia exactly as Serbia did and, and which furthermore openly strove to found a completely independent Serb state. The second great obstacle was the Bosnian aristocracy with its existing rights… To acquire Bosnia by war would mean provoking a social revolution in Bosnia, destroying the local aristocracy, which has existed there for several centuries; and when the delighted common people had liberated itself from one master, would it then have consented to come under the Serbian gendarmes, captains and other masters ? (5)

Marković correctly predicted that the Serb population of Bosnia-Hercegovina would prove as much, or more, of an obstacle to Serbia’s annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina as the Muslim landlord class. Successive events in the one-hundred and twenty years after Marković’s death in 1875 would prove him right.

The autonomy enjoyed by the Bosnian Orthodox community under the Ottomans, combined with the memory, preserved by the Orthodox clergy, of the Serbian medieval state, were the twin foundations of Bosnian Serb nationhood. At the same time, centuries of living in the land of Bosnia, as distinct from Serbia, gave the Bosnian Serb urban elite an awareness of, and patriotic identification with, their Bosnian homeland that in some ways resembled that of the Muslims. Indeed, early Bosnian Serb nationalists tended to espouse a nationalism that was inclusive of the Bosnian Muslim elite, not anti-Islamic, and that while looking to Serbia, at the same time expressed its awareness of Bosnia as a distinct land in its own right. In the late 1840s a delegation of Serbs from Bosnia visited Russian political circles, declaring ‘that the Bosniaks would gladly be the rulers of their country while paying the Sultan a definite tribute.’ Their project was ‘inspired by the example of their neighbour and sister Serbia.’(6) When the Bosnian Christians, above all Orthodox, rebelled against the Ottomans in the 1870s, the rebellion, under the leadership of the Bosnian Serb urban middle classes, was both Serb-nationalist and Bosnian-patriotic in organisation. Representatives of the Bosnian rebel bands held a gathering at the village of Jamnica in December 1874, one that was referred to subsequently as the Bosnian national parliament. Among its most prominent actions were an appeal to the Great Powers for international recognition, the appointment of a provisional government known as the National Council for Liberation in Bosnia, and the framing of an appeal to the Bosnian Muslims to join the rebellion, promising full respect for their religion and property.(7) In July 1876, the Bosnian rebel leaders issued a ‘Proclamation to the Bosnian people’ in which they announced that ‘we, the entire leadership of the Bosnian rebel detachments as the only legal representatives of the Serb land of Bosnia… proclaim that our homeland Bosnia be joined to the principality of Serbia’.(8) Yet the rebels were aware that Bosnian and Serbian interests had diverged following Belgrade’s signing of a peace treaty with the Porte in March 1877, when it was felt among them that ‘nothing now links us with Serbia’.(9) The rebels’ Provisional National Bosnian Government, formed in October of the same year, announced that ‘the Bosnian nation has never wanted, nor now wants, to become a constituent part of any other state’. It ‘wishes to unite with other Serbian lands. If that unification, in the present political circumstances of Europe, is not permitted us as we wish, then the Bosnian nation wishes to have its complete freedom and self government’, without prejudicing its right to unite with other Serb lands in the future.(10)

Bosnian Serb nationalism, as it emerged in the nineteenth century, therefore favoured both unification with Serbia and other Serb lands and sovereignty for Bosnia. This duality found its most eloquent spokesman in the Bosnian Serb revolutionary Vaso Pelagić. The Ustasha proclamation put forward by Pelagić during the rebellion of 1875-78 called for Bosnia-Hercegovinas unification with ‘both Serbian principalities [Serbia and Montenegro]’, but made clear that the carrier of sovereignty in the land of Bosnia should be its own parliament with its own government.(11) Pelagić advocated that ‘Bosnia-Hercegovina become an independent state or enter a brotherly and free union with the Serbian Principality and other nations of the Danubian region and the Balkan peninsula’.(12) In this period, Bosnian sovereignty was seen as a stepping-stone toward unity with Serbia; no possible contradiction was envisaged between the two.

The Bosnian rebellion of 1875-1878 nevertheless provided an early manifestation of the principal structural weakness of Bosnian Serb nationalism: its inability fully to embrace the Muslims and the Bosnian Orthodox peasantry at the same time. Under the Ottomans, the landlord class was Islamised. Although by the 1870s most Muslim and the majority of Catholic peasants were free, in that they were not fiscally or legally obliged to the Muslim landlord class, the majority of Orthodox peasants remained subordinate to the Muslim landlords. Although this subordination was not strictly speaking ‘feudal’, this fiscal and legal subordination resembled in many respects the serfdom of Christian feudal Europe. These ‘enserfed’ Orthodox peasants naturally viewed the Muslim landlord class as the national oppressor. To satisfy the Bosnian Serb masses, the Bosnian Serb national movement would have to satisfy the class aspirations of the peasantry vis-à-vis the Muslim landlords. Yet to conquer Bosnia-Hercegovina, the Bosnian Serb national movement would have to embrace the Muslim element, which meant providing guarantees for the Muslim landlords. This dilemma was ultimately inescapable, and explains in part the failure of the rebellion of 1875-1878. The Bosnian Serb merchants who provided most of the rebel leaders shared their Serb national identity with the peasants that comprised the rebel rank and file, but enjoyed close relations with the Muslim elite, with whom they were, as tax farmers, complicit in exploiting the peasantry. The rebel leaders consequently fell between two stools: their rejection of the expropriation of the Muslim landlords alienated the rebel masses while their aim of unification with Serbia prevented them from winning significant Muslim or Croat support. The rebellion therefore stagnated and ended in failure.(13)

Bosnia, which from the 1870s became ‘Bosnia-Hercegovina, was viewed by Bosnian Serb nationalists as a ‘Serb land’, and the Bosnian Muslims and Catholics as Muslim and Catholic Serbs. This became more problematic, however, following the occupation of the country by Austria-Hungary in 1878, and particularly after Benjamin Kállay became Austro-Hungarian Finance Minister, therefore ruler of Bosnia-Hercegovina, in 1882. Kállay preserved the economic privileges of the Muslim landlords and the Muslim domination of municipal government. He sought to create a new, Bosniak national identity that would be inter-confessional and inclusive of all Bosnian citizens – a project known as Bošnjaštvo, that translates roughly as Bosniakism. From 1883, the language of state was known as Bosnian. In 1889, the regime introduced a Bosnian flag and coat-of-arms, designed on the basis of research into historical Bosnian symbols and intended to signify a Bosnian identity wholly distinct from the Serbian and the Croatian.(14) The governments assumption of the right to appoint Orthodox Metropolitans for Bosnia-Hercegovina, interference in municipal government, removal of municipal control over schools, forced transformation of Serb Orthodox schools into inter-confessional state schools, restrictions on the use of the Cyrillic alphabet and ban on the official use of the Serb name, represented a violation of rights that the Serb Orthodox community had enjoyed in the Ottoman Empire. This united the Bosnian Serb population against the government and behind a specifically Serb-national movement for church and school autonomy. This meant that the Serb-nationalist view of all Bosnia-Hercegovina and of all Catholics and Muslims as ‘Serb’ was now at loggerheads with the Serb national movements goals of autonomy vis-à-vis the central Bosnian authorities and separateness vis-à-vis other Bosnians in the fields of education and language. Bosnian Serb nationalism was pulling simultaneously in opposite directions.

A further contradiction preventing the achievement of a ‘Serb Bosnia’ was the class conflict between the ‘enserfed’ Orthodox peasantry and the Muslim landlord class. The Serb political classes were required, under pressure from the Serb peasant populace, to push for reform of agrarian relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Yet this drew a wedge between them and the Muslims, preventing the absorption of the latter into Serb national politics. Thus, leaders of the Serb and Muslim autonomist movements met at Kiseljak near Sarajevo in August 1901 and produced a draft of an agreement for cooperation that called for an autonomous Bosnia-Hercegovina with a Serb governor and Muslim vice-governor under the aegis of the Ottoman Sultan. But on account of disagreement over the agrarian question, this draft agreement remained unsigned on the Muslim side.(15) Despite their shared opposition to Habsburg rule and goal of Bosnian autonomy, the Serb and Muslim national movements crystallised wholly distinct from one another in the period of this rule. Hence the foundation of the ‘Serb National Organisation’ in 1907 in parallel to the ‘Muslim National Organisation’, as well as the ‘Croat National Union’, formed the year before. Hence also the formation of wholly separate cultural societies for the three principal Bosnian nationalities in the early years of the twentieth centuries: the Muslim society ‘Gajret’ (‘Zeal’); the Serb ‘Prosvjeta’ (‘Enlightenment’); and the Croat ‘Napredak’ (‘Progress’). These societies then became the principal institutional promoters of national identity in Bosnia-Hercegovina in the decades that followed; through financing the education of students from the ranks of their respective nationalities, they acted to create nationally conscious intelligentsias.(16) Meanwhile, the Austro-Hungarian occupation had been followed by the increasing foundation of nationally exclusive Serb and Croat newspapers, usually by Serbs and Croats from the Habsburg lands or by Bosnians educated among them who adopted their respective national outlooks.(17) This acted to consolidate the Bosnian Serb and Croat reading publics as distinct, nationally homogenous ‘imagined communities’.

The highpoint of Serb-nationalist Bosnian autonomism was nevertheless reached in the period of the Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1908. This annexation was itself prompted by the Young Turk revolution of that year and the restoration of the Ottoman constitution, and by the consequent joint demand of the Muslim National Organisation and Serb National Organisation – formally submitted by Ali-beg Firdus and Gligorije Jeftanović, on behalf of the two organisations, to Ban István Burián – that Bosnia-Hercegovina, too, be granted a constitution and parliament. When Austria-Hungary responded to the Young Turk and Bosnian autonomist threat to its control of the country by annexing Bosnia-Hercegovina on 5 October, the two parties responded with a joint proclamation to the ‘people of Bosnia-Hercegovina’, asserting the unity of Serbs and Muslims in the struggle for Bosnian autonomy. In 1909, Serb National Organisation representative Nikola Stojanović issued a denunciation of the draft Austro-Hungarian constitution for Bosnia-Hercegovina, in the process making an eloquent demand for Bosnian national self-determination. Stojanović denounced the division of the Bosnian parliament by curia on the grounds that ‘the government creates for us religious curias and in that way sanctions the earlier conflicts.’ In contrast to this, ‘the Serb National Organisation expressed as its programme the universal, equal, secret and direct right to vote’. This, it should be said, was linked to Stojanovićs accusation that the curial system was intended ‘to bypass the Orthodox majority’. He went on: ‘Complete autonomy is the only true solution to the question of Bosnia-Hercegovina, because only this protects the Bosniaks and Hercegovinians, joined by a common past and origins, from assimilation by heterogeneous elements, and guarantees the indivisibility of Bosnia and Hercegovina; only on this basis can control by the signatory powers to the Berlin Congress be replaced by the self-control of a single nation, one that Austria-Hungary itself has declared to be mature.’(18)

Stojanović’s statement reflected the still-dominant belief among Bosnian Serb nationalists that Bosnia-Hercegovina could emerge as a unitary, self-governing nation-state – both Bosnian and Serb – formed around the core of the Orthodox majority. Yet in this period, the Bosnian Serb political elite began to divide between the supporters of the older, more conservative, traditional Serb current and those of the younger, more cosmopolitan, more oppositionist Yugoslav current influenced by pro-Yugoslav currents in the other Habsburg South Slav lands. The older current, which was heir to the Serb autonomist movement of the 1880s and 1890s and was represented by individuals such as Jeftanović and his son-in-law Milan Srškić, remained dominant among the Serb čaršija; it was generally loyal to the Habsburgs during World War I and formed the basis for the Bosnian wing of the People’s Radical Party in the interwar period. By contrast, the younger current, represented by individuals such as Stojanović, had its stronghold outside of Sarajevo in the town of Mostar.(19) Its members during World War I sought Bosnia-Hercegovinas unification with Serbia on a Yugoslav rather than a Great Serbian basis.

The Bosnian Serb political classes were further fractured by divisions over the agrarian question, which became more acute after early March 1910, when Emperor Franz Joseph ordered Ban Burián to begin the process of resolving the agrarian dispute through the voluntary purchase by the overwhelmingly Serb serfs of their farms. This reform amounted to only a very meagre step toward solving the problem, one that was to register very little success. In response, the Serb parliamentary club issued a declaration in March 1910, demanding that ‘Bosnia-Hercegovina should become an independent administrative oblast with all the characteristics of a state, safeguarding its unity and historical-political individuality’, and calling for a ‘solution to the agrarian question’ through the ‘compulsory redemption of the serfs’.(20) These maximal Serb goals therefore linked the demand for national liberation for the land of Bosnia-Hercegovina with the demand for class liberation for the predominantly Serb serfs. Yet the apparent unwillingness of the majority of Serb parliamentary delegates to press for the realisation of their own program led to a split in Serb ranks, with a radical minority led by Petar Kočić agitating against the majoritys betrayal of the goals of Bosnian autonomy on the one hand and of the redemption of the serfs on the other.(21) For Kočić, Bosnian autonomism and Serb nationalism were now combined with a partisan advocacy of the cause of the Serb serfs vis-à-vis the Muslim landlords, a class struggle which tended to express itself in sectarian, anti-Muslim terms. Kočić’s radical pro-peasant and anti-Muslim faction was the father of the Bosnian wing of the League of Farmers of the interwar period, which in turn begat the Bosnian wing of the Chetnik movement of World War II.

As Bosnia-Hercegovina modernised and prospered economically under Austro-Hungarian rule, so class divisions among the previously relatively homogenous Bosnian Serb and Croat communities increased, while the elites of all three Bosnian nationalities became more conservative. Conversely, the network of radical student groups that retrospectively came to be known as ‘Young Bosnia’ represented a reaction against these developments. Hostile to urban, bourgeois civilisation, to the social influences of Western Europe and to the Serb elite or čaršija in cities such as Sarajevo, Young Bosnias activists tended to hold principles that were puritanical, mystical and anti-materialist, drawn unconsciously from the ethics of rural society based on Orthodox Christianity and the extended family (zadruga). Their fanatical national-radicalism and their longing for martyrdom were a reflection of the Orthodox religious milieu in which the majority of them had been raised. Young Bosnia nevertheless grew from what was primarily a Great Serb nationalist movement in its early years, into one that in the last years before World War I was Yugoslavist in character, preaching an end to religious divisions, the cooperation of Serbs, Croats and Muslims and the unification of the South Slavs on a federal basis. Its young members, and those of similar organisations, came from the first generations to be schooled in the nationally mixed schools and colleges of Austro-Hungarian Bosnia-Hercegovina; their family backgrounds were in the religiously segregated countryside, but they spent their youth among Bosnians and others of all nationalities.(22) Yet Young Bosnia was very far from representative of the Bosnian Serb mainstream, and the Bosnian Serb elite was generally outraged by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Young Bosnia radicals on 28 June 1914, and remained loyal to the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the start of the war. On 1 August, four days after the Empire declared war on Serbia, a delegation of Sarajevo Serbs visited the Vice-President of the Country Government to express their continued loyalty to the Emperor.(23)

At the time of the outbreak of World War I, therefore, the Bosnian Serb political classes were therefore divided over national strategy. Yet the political ideologies of all factions reflected, in different ways, the Bosnian Serb national identity. As the collapse of Austria-Hungary and Bosnia-Hercegovina’s unification with Serbia and with other South Slav lands approached, the dominant faction among the Bosnian Serb political elite sought to manage this unification in a manner that would avoid a break either with their counterparts from among the Bosnian Muslim and Croat elites, or with the pro-unification politicians of other Habsburg South Slav lands, or with the government of Serbia. This strategy reflected a peculiarly Bosnian Serb understanding that, while unification with Serbia was the goal, collaboration between Bosnian Serbs and non-Serbs could not be sacrificed to this goal, and that the feelings and aspirations of the latter had to be taken into account. According to Pero Slijepčević, a leading Bosnian Serb supporter of the Yugoslav Committee – the London-based body of emigre South Slav politicians under the leadership of the Dalmatian Croat Ante Trumbić that lobbied the Allied governments in favour of the establishment of a unified Yugoslav state – he and his collaborators saw themselves as representing ‘the whole of Bosnia, not just its Serb part’, and worked to avoid ‘a break between Serbia and the Yugoslav Committee [that] would hit Bosnia-Hercegovina the hardest, tearing it apart both spiritually and perhaps also territorially’. Consequently, Bosnia-Hercegovinas representatives played the role ‘that Bosnia-Hercegovina ought to play: the role of intermediary, the role of buckle between Serbia and Croatia’.(24) In particular following the outbreak of revolution in Russia in 1917, the desire of the Bosnian Serb political classes to maintain a united front with their Croat and Muslim counterpart was heightened by their fear of popular revolution; they feared the revolutionary-nationalist fervour of the Bosnian Serb peasant masses directed against the Muslim landlords.

The pro-Yugoslav standpoint of the leading Bosnian Serb politicians standpoint brought them into frequent conflict with the Serbian government of Nikola Pašić, which wished to establish Serbia’s exclusive right to Bosnia-Hercegovina, irrespective of any wider Yugoslav dimension. In January 1918, Pašić requested that Nikola Stojanović, as a Bosnian Serb member of the Yugoslav Committee, campaign solely for Bosnia-Hercegovinas unification with Serbia outside of the Yugoslav framework, something that Stojanović refused in the belief that this would mean a break between Serbia and the Serbs on the one hand and the Croats and Slovene on the other, an unsightly scramble for territory and ‘even that Bosnia be divided between the Serbs and Croats’.(25) In the negotiations in Geneva in November 1918 over the form that Yugoslav unification should take, Stojanović and his fellow Bosnian Serb member of the Yugoslav Committee Dušan Vasiljević sided with their colleagues in the Yugoslav Committee and against the Serbian government in favour of an essentially confederal union between the Kingdom of Serbia on the one hand and the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs on the other.(26) The Bosnian Serb political elite kept rank with other Bosnians and Habsburg South Slavs, ultimately through the medium of the first National Government of Bosnia-Hercegovina, which was established on 30 October 1918. The latter, dominated by Serbs and headed by the Bosnian Serb Atanasije Šola, kept a check on radical manifestations of Serb irredentism. On 1 December 1918, the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs, including Bosnia-Hercegovina, was united with Serbia under the Karađorđević dynasty to form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Bosnia-Hercegovina joined this state as a distinct entity under international law, having successfully resisted considerable pressure from the Serbian government and army to declare Bosnia-Hercegovinas unification with Serbia prior to the act of all-Yugoslav unification.(27) That Bosnia-Hercegovina was not formally united with Serbia by the time of Yugoslav unification in 1918 was the direct result of actions taken by the Bosnian Serb political elite in the face of popular irredentist pressure from the Bosnian Serb masses. This demonstrated that far from simply being part of a larger, seamless Serb nation, the Bosnian Serbs formed a national corpus in their own right: their elite perceived a national interest and followed a national strategy that were independent of, and to some extent in conflict with, those of the political elite of Serbia.

This divergence between the national politics of the Bosnian Serbs and the Serbians continued after Yugoslav unification, even though the Bosnian Serbs were themselves deeply divided. After 1918, the greater part of the Bosnian Serb political elite rejected the Great Serb nationalism of Serbia’s People’s Radical Party under Pašić, choosing instead to unite with Yugoslav-oriented elements from other former Habsburg lands and from Serbia to form the integral-Yugoslavist Democratic Party. This was a reflection of their past collaboration with, and attempt to maintain unity with, their non-Serb Bosnian counterparts. The Bosnian Serb leaders made a particular effort to draw Muslims and Croats into the Democratic Party project. Almost all Bosnian political factions participated in the founding conference of this party, which took place, symbolically, in Sarajevo in February 1919, but the principal Croat and Muslim factions ultimately refused to join the party on account of its centralist programme.(28) The Democratic Party was rejected also by the bulk of the Bosnian Serb masses which, thanks to the class division between Serb peasants and Muslim landlords, gave their support overwhelmingly to overtly Serb nationalist parties: the People’s Radical Party and the League of Farmers [Savez zemljoradnika]. Yet the Bosnian Serb politicians of these parties, too, remained guided by peculiarly Bosnian concerns that divided them from Serbia’s political classes.

The largest segment of the Bosnian Serb electorate gave its support to the People’s Radical Party, whose Bosnian wing was heir to the conservative, Sarajevo-based section of the Bosnian Serb elite under Jeftanović, that had led the campaign for religious autonomy under Austria-Hungary, then made its peace with the Austrian Kaiser and court in 1909. This political faction, in which the dominant figure was Srškić, had split with the Democrats when the latter in April 1919 chose to merge with the anti-Radical opposition in Serbia; Srškić’s faction became the Bosnian wing of the Radicals instead. Yet when the Serbian-dominated Radical-Democratic coalition government in Belgrade adopted a more moderate position vis-à-vis the Muslim landlord class than was acceptable to the Bosnian Serb electorate, Srškić resigned as Bosnian prime minister in protest, thus squaring his commitments to his Bosnian Serb constituents with his obligations toward his party leadership in Belgrade and articulating a particular Bosnian Serb national interest. Meanwhile, a significant constituency among the Bosnian Serbs demanded a still more radical reckoning with the Muslim landlords, and their expropriation with minimal compensation. To press for this, this constituency spawned a ‘Labourer’s Organisation’, which in 1920 emerged as the Bosnian wing of the League of Farmers party. In 1921 the Radical-Democrat bloc in the Yugoslav constitutional assembly bought the support of the principal Bosnian Muslim party (the Yugoslav Muslim Organisation – JMO) for the draft constitution, by giving concessions to the Muslim landlords on the issue of agrarian reform and by undertaking to preserve the administrative borders of Bosnia-Hercegovina within the new state. The League of Farmers voted against the constitution in protest. On the eve of the vote on the constitution, Vojislav Lazić, on behalf of the Farmers in the constitutional assembly, complained that the government was ‘more keen to collaborate with the beys than with the representatives of the Farmer-worker nation’, and that ‘[n]ational unity has been totally confounded by the fact that, at the last moment, the historical borders of Bosnia have been conceded’.(29)

Thus, the different traditions of Bosnian Serb nationalism were represented by the Bosnian wings of the Democratic, Radical and Farmers’ parties. The Bosnian wing of the Democratic Party – which included the greater part of the pre-unification Bosnian Serb political elite but enjoyed minimal electoral support among the Bosnian Serb masses – represented the non-sectarian tradition of Bosnian Serb nationalism, which favoured the collaboration between Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims in the interests of Bosnian unity. The Bosnian wing of the People’s Radical Party – heir to the autonomist movement of the Austro-Hungarian era and to the conservative, Sarajevo-based wing of the pre-unification Bosnian Serb elite, and enjoying the strongest electoral support among the Bosnian Serb masses – represented the hegemonist tradition of Bosnian Serb nationalism, which viewed all Bosnia-Hercegovina as a Serb land and all Bosnians (or at least all Orthodox and Muslims) as Serbs, and which sought to subsume all of them within the Serb national movement. The Bosnian wing of the League of Farmers – heir to Petar Kočić’s radical faction under Austria-Hungary, and the second-most-popular party among Bosnian Serb voters – represented the separatist tradition of Bosnian Serb nationalism, which viewed the Muslim landlords as the class enemy and viewed the nation in narrowly Serb Orthodox terms. All three groups interpreted the national interest differently from the political classes of Serbia.

The political fragmentation of the Bosnian Serbs following the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes reflected an insurmountable structural weakness in Bosnian Serb nationalism vis-à-vis the Bosnian Muslims, who successfully united behind a single party, the JMO. Mainstream Bosnian Serb nationalism during the 1920s, as represented by the Radicals, was unable to overcome the contradiction faced by the need to unify the Serb nation in Bosnia-Hercegovina and co-opt the Muslims at the same time. The Radicals could not hope to challenge the JMOs hold over the Muslim electorate if they supported the sectional interests of the Bosnian Serb peasantry unconditionally. Yet so long as they attempted to win over the Muslim elite by a conciliatory stance on the agrarian question, they could not eliminate the Farmers as a competitor for the Bosnian Serb vote. The Radicals were therefore unable to dominate the Bosnian Serb vote as the JMO dominated the Muslim vote, therefore were at a disadvantage in their political competition with the JMO. This was the root of a wholly new tendency among Bosnian Serb nationalists: retreat from the claim to exclusive possession of all Bosnia-Hercegovina, to support for the Bosnia-Hercegovinas partition. Srškić, increasingly desperate as the 1920s progressed in the face of the Radicals’ inability to compete successfully with the JMO for control of Bosnia-Hercegovina, pursued a policy that was autonomous of the Radical leadership in Belgrade, attacking the JMO as his irreconcilable enemy even when the Radicals and JMO were allies at the Yugoslav level. Srškić blamed the Bosnian Radicals’ failure on Clause 135 of the Yugoslav constitution, that preserved the provincial borders of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the six traditional Bosnian oblasts within the administrative framework of the kingdom, allowing the JMO to cooperate with the principal Croat party (the Croat Peasant Party – HSS) and preserve its influence at the oblast level. At the same time, the Radicals’ political campaign against the JMO escalated into actual physical terror and violence.

Srškić’s struggle with the JMO for control of Bosnia-Hercegovina culminated in him once again breaking ranks with the People’s Radical Party leadership to support the dictatorship of King Aleksandar, established on 6 January 1929. As Minister of Justice under the dictatorship, Srškić engineered the Law on the Naming and Division of the Kingdom into Administrative Territories of 3 October 1929, through which the kingdom – now renamed the ‘Kingdom of Yugoslavia’ – was partitioned into nine provinces or ‘banovinas’ that disregarded the historical borders between the different Yugoslav lands. In particular, Bosnia-Hercegovina was partitioned between four banovinas – the Vrbas, Primorje, Drina and Zeta Banovinas. In three of these banovinas, the Serbs enjoyed a majority; in the fourth, the Primorje Banovina, the Croats enjoyed a majority; while the Muslims were left as a minority in all four, with the aim of fulfilling Srškić’s plan to assimilate them into the Serb and Croat nations. The Law on the Islamic Religious Community of Yugoslavia of 31 January 1930 deprived the Bosnian Muslims of all autonomy in religious affairs. All high-ranking Islamic officials were to be appointed by the King, up to and including the Reis ul-ulema, who was to be transferred from Sarajevo and seated in Belgrade, with authority over all Yugoslavia’s Muslims. Finally, Srškić’s determination to destroy forever the JMO and any possibility of Muslim autonomous political mobilisation was reflected in the new Yugoslav constitution of 1931, which stated: ‘There may be no association on a religious, tribal or regional basis within the party-political sphere nor in the sphere of physical education’.(30)

Srškić’s peculiarly Bosnian Serb perception of national interest thus led him to break with the Radicals in Serbia to pursue his campaign against the JMO, which now involved abolishing all traces of Bosnia-Hercegovina as an administrative entity. Yet just as Bosnian Serb politicians were ready to break ranks with their Serbian counterparts, so the latter were ready to break ranks with the former, when their own different perception of national interest required it. Srškić’s triumph was short-lived. The assassination of King Aleksandar on 9 October 1934, followed by the appointment of a government under Milan Stojadinović in June 1935, led to the reversal of Aleksandars policy toward Bosnia-Hercegovina and the Muslims. Stojadinović created what was nominally a new political party, but was in fact a coalition of existing parties: the Yugoslav Radical Union (JRZ), formed from a merger of the Radicals, the JMO and the Slovene Peoples Party. This policy effectively ceded power in Bosnia-Hercegovina to the JMO and the Muslims, to which the fragmented Bosnian Radicals were very much a junior partner. The Stojadinović regime (1935-39) thus marked the low point of Bosnian Serb political fortunes in Yugoslavia. Bosnian Serbs, alienated from the regime on account of its alliance with the JMO, gave only meagre support to the JRZ. The vice president of the JRZ organisation in the north-east Bosnian town of Brčko, for example, wrote to Stojadinović in October 1935 that, while a minority of politically conscious Serbs in Brčko recognised that the alliance with the JMO was necessary for higher state interests, the Serb masses were alienated by this policy.(31) In December 1936, Government Minister Lazar Marković learned from a Bosnian Serb correspondent that ‘among the Serbs a terrible depression and apathy is reigning that bodes ill for Herceg-Bosna’.(32) Serb members of the JRZ ‘felt themselves to be a constituent part of a deserved majority in both the state and the party; they could not cope in the position of a minority in a party grouping and did not know how to subordinate their local and personal interests to the higher interests of the party and state’, as one of them reported to Stojadinović in October 1938.(33)

Nevertheless, Dragiša Cvetković, who succeeded Stojadinović as Yugoslav prime minister following the latter’s fall in February 1939, sacrificed the Muslims just as Stojadinović had sacrificed the Bosnian Serbs. On 26 August 1939, Cvetković signed an agreement with HSS leader Vlatko Maček. This Cvetković-Maček Agreement or Sporazum established an autonomous Croatian Banovina within the framework of the Yugoslav state. The Banovina of Croatia was formed from the merger of Yugoslavias two Croat-majority banovinas – the Sava and Primorje Banovinas – plus some additional territory. Cvetković thereby built upon Srškić’s partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina, which was now more overtly divided between Serbs and Croats. Yet whereas Srškić had been motivated by a Bosnian Serb desire to defeat the JMO and establish Serb control over the best part of Bosnia-Hercegovina, the motivation of Cvetković, and above all of his patron, the Yugoslav regent Prince Pavle, was essentially Serbian: the desire to reach an accommodation with the Croatian opposition that would preserve Yugoslavia, at the expense if necessary of the Bosnian Serbs and Muslims. According to the recollections of Branko Miljuš, who had been Minister without Portfolio under Cvetković, the latter responded to his objections to the Sporazum with the question: ‘How much longer will you Serbs from Bosnia obstruct our Sporazum with the Croats ?’ In Miljušs opinion, Cvetković represented a ‘type of politician for whom the territory between the Drina and the Adriatic represented simply a field of manoeuvre, and the Orthodox and Muslim population of that area so many bargaining counters’.(34) Cvetković and his supporters, for their part, claimed that, as concerned the Serbo-Croat dispute, ‘the main role in provoking all these conflicts was played precisely by those Serbs from the prečanski areas [i.e. Serbs from Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina] headed by Svetozar Pribičević, as the one most familiar with Croatian conditions’, while ‘the “Serbs from Serbia”, on the basis of the latters prescriptions and advice – of course incorrect – attempted to resolve them’.(35) In this dispute between Bosnian Serb and Serbian emigres over the Sporazum, each blamed the other for betraying the national interest.

The period 1939-1941 witnessed the strongest manifestation in the entire Yugoslav period of Bosnian Serb national mobilisation, autonomous of Serbia’s political classes. The Muslims mobilised in opposition to the Sporazum and to the partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina, in the ‘Muslim Movement for the Autonomy of Bosnia-Hercegovina’, which demanded the establishment of a Bosnian banovina equivalent to the Croatian one, heightening the insecurity of the Bosnian Serbs. The latter mobilised either against the Sporazum, or against the possible establishment of a Bosnian banovina, or against both. In the words of one correspondent of Srpski glas, the newspaper of the Serb Cultural Club: ‘We were struck with shock when the Sporazum was published and when we saw that those deciding in Belgrade had sacrificed us Bosnian Serbs without a thought’.(36) All Serb political parties were totally opposed to Bosnian autonomy as demanded by the Muslim Movement, but a minority within the Bosnian Serb political classes were ready to buy off the Croats by accepting the Sporazum. For example, Dobroslav Jevđević, head of the Bosnian section of the Yugoslav National Party, broke ranks with the latter’s leadership by embracing the Sporazum on an anti-Muslim basis: ‘since, as we said, we do not deem Bosnia-Hercegovina to be a territory with a particular state right, because it does not comprise any kind of particular ethnic, economic, communications, nor in its present frontiers historical whole, we make no bones about the fact that the administrative division should be carried out on the basis of the tribal ownership of each part of the Bosnian land, except where military or industrial-defensive interests do not permit this.’(37)

Yet such Bosnian Serb voices were outnumbered by those that opposed the Sporazum. Branko Kaluđerčić, a Bosnian Serb follower of Stojadinović, argued: ‘It is wholly understandable that the Serbs of Bosnia-Hercegovina are without exception frightened and excited, and are raising their voice against the notion that even a single district of Bosnia-Hercegovina be sacrificed to the kind of political system of terror that reigns in Croatia.’ He insisted: ‘no one has the right to decide that a single district of Bosnia-Hercegovina be separated from Belgrade and from Yugoslavia, for whose greatness and unity Bosnia-Hercegovina gave many lives and much blood of its best sons.’(38) Some Bosnian Serbs even revived the tradition of Serb-Muslim cooperation in their resistance to the Sporazum. Serbs from Brčko denounced the inclusion of their town in the Banovina of Croatia as a ‘complete injustice to Serbdom and at once an injustice to our Muslim brothers, of whose feelings and thoughts nobody has taken account.’(39) A particularly hardline opposition to the Sporazum and to Bosnian autonomy was expressed by the Serb Cultural Club, a pan-Serb, extreme-nationalist organisation that was to a considerable degree dominated by Bosnian Serbs, with Nikola Stojanović as vice-president, Vasa Čubrilović as secretary and Vladimir Ćorović as its intellectual motor.(40) Serb Cultural Club member Stevan Moljević, provided the fullest articulation of the pro-partition ideology of Bosnian Serb nationalism, born of the recognition that even in a united Yugoslavia Bosnia-Hercegovina as a Serb land was lost. His concern was therefore to ensure that ‘the Serbs in the area encompassing Bosanska Krajina, Banija, Kordun, Lika and Northern Dalmatia, which forms a compact whole of over 1,200,000 souls, [not] be put in a subordinate position either to Zagreb or to Sarajevo’. Moljević favoured the abandonment of Serb defence of Bosnian unity; the abandonment of Sarajevo as a Serb city; and a defence instead of the Serb-majority Vrbas Banovina centred on the city of Banja Luka; ‘Today in Banja Luka the Serbs have a relative majority. In time they will have an absolute majority.’ Banja Luka, therefore, had to become a ‘mighty cultural centre’ for the 1,200,000 Serbs of this area, that would ‘paralyse the influence of Zagreb and Sarajevo’ and ‘be the frontier guard of Belgrade.’(41)

 The Bosnian Serbs arose in November-December 1939 in a spontaneous movement directed against their forcible inclusion in an autonomous Bosnian banovina: the Movement ‘Serbs Assemble !’ Paradoxically, the Bosnian Serbs arose on an autonomous Bosnian basis to oppose Bosnian autonomy. On 11 November, a conference of Serb organisations and societies convened in Sarajevo to express the Serb opposition to Bosnian autonomy. The conference resolved: ‘Regarding the plan – that in the new ordering of the state, beside the Banovinas of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, Bosnia-Hercegovina be detached to form a separate, fourth banovina – all Serbs of Bosnia-Hercegovina reply with a decisive and unconditional “No”, and every attempt to enact such a plan will collapse in the face of the most decisive resistance of the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Serbs, of whose unity in such a struggle, if it is presented to them, nobody need doubt for a moment.’(42) The conference led to the formation of a Council of Serb and Other National Societies and Institutions that assumed a leadership role in the movement. Similar conferences of Serb organisations and societies were then held in other towns across Bosnia-Hercegovina. The movement culminated with an assembly organised in Doboj on 31 December 1939, at which five-hundred delegates representing ‘all national, cultural and other societies from all Bosnia-Hercegovina’ presided over a crowd of three-thousand people. President of the assembly Jovan Ɖakula, who was president of the Orthodox Church municipality for the town of Doboj, referred dismissively in his opening speech to Bosnia-Hercegovinas ‘so-called historical borders’, yet the assembly represented Bosnian Serbs alone, not Serbs from other parts of Yugoslavia. The purpose of the assembly, in the words of Milan A. Bož, was to show that ‘the national and state question cannot be resolved without us, cannot be resolved without the Serb nation of Bosnia-Hercegovina or against its wishes’. Ilija Berić of Bosanski Brod appealed to ‘Serb Sarajevo, brave and heroic Tuzla, glorious Banja Luka and Mostar, the pride of Serbdom, and the other towns and villages of our proud Bosnia and stout Hercegovina, that together we raise a strong and decisive voice, that we are one, that we are indivisible, that we shall everywhere and always be and remain with mother Serbia, and that no force will separate us.’ This speech and the very form of the Doboj assembly illustrate that even though Bosnian Serb nationalism in 1939 was directed at the negation of Bosnian autonomy, its frame of reference remained Bosnian and its rhetoric Bosnian-patriotic.(43)

The events of 1939-1941 demonstrate that the Bosnian Serbs comprised a national corpus in their own right, entirely ready and able to mobilise independently of the political classes of Serbia. They appeared to demonstrate also a virtually unequivocal rejection by both the Bosnian Serb elite and populace of any form of Bosnian autonomy. Yet Bosnian Serbs opposed Bosnian autonomy only when it implied a move away from union with Serbia, as it appeared to do in 1939, and when it was Bosnian autonomy under Muslim leadership. In World War II, the Partisan movement in Bosnia-Hercegovina, headed by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, won the battle for political leadership over the Bosnian Serb masses, despite – or perhaps because – of the fact that it fought under the banner of self-rule for a multinational Bosnia-Hercegovina of Serbs, Croats and Muslims. The Germans and Italians who invaded and destroyed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April 1941 separated Bosnia-Hercegovina from Serbia, incorporating it within a Croat-fascist puppet-state, the so-called ‘Independent State of Croatia’, which carried out genocide against the Serb, Jewish and Gypsy population of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Partisans fought under the banner of Bosnian self-rule within a re-established Yugoslavia, in which Bosnia-Hercegovina would again be united with Serbia, not on a Great Serb basis, as part of an enlarged Serbian state, but on a federal Yugoslav basis. The establishment of the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1943-1946, as a constituent member of a Yugoslav federation along with Serbia, Croatia and other South Slav lands, represented the fulfilment of traditional Bosnian Serb national aspirations.

The process of establishing the Bosnian republic was very much led and driven by Bosnian Serbs: the Bosnian Partisans were never less than 60% Serb in composition, and Serbs numerically dominated the Bosnian Partisan movement at every level. In 1945, the fledgling Bosnian state that emerged from the war had a Serb president, Vojislav Kecmanović; a Serb prime minister, Rodoljub Čolaković; and a Serb secretary of its Communist organisation, Đuro Pucar. Although sharing the internationalist and multinational-Yugoslav ideals of their non-Serb Communist comrades, Bosnian Serb Communists such as Čolaković and Pucar also expressed their Bosnian Serb national identity. At the Second Session of the Country Antifascist Council of the People’s Liberation of Bosnia-Hercegovina in June-July 1944, at which Bosnian statehood was formally re-established by the Partisans, Pucar gave the first keynote speech, stating: ‘Thanks to historical and political circumstances, the Serb people, which was the most threatened, found within itself enough living strength to wage the struggle against the occupier. Led by democratic forces, it developed a democratic spirit in its struggle; thus it could introduce the idea of brotherhood among the peoples of Bosnia-Hercegovina. To it belongs the honour and glory of introducing the idea of brotherhood among the Muslims and among the Croats.’(44) In attributing to the Bosnian Serbs the role of bringers of freedom to Bosnia-Hercegovina and the Bosnians in general, Pucar interpreted the Bosnian Partisan achievement as part of the Bosnian Serb revolutionary tradition. This was not an entirely accurate interpretation, as despite the Serb preponderance within them, the Bosnian Partisans were very much a multinational movement to which Muslims and Croats as well as Serbs made a crucial contribution. The Bosnian Partisan movement was the child both of the genuinely multinational interwar labour movement that spawned the Communists, and of the principally Serb Bosnian peasant-radical tradition.

The Partisans’ Bosnian Chetnik rivals, too, were a child of the Bosnian peasant-radical tradition, and despite their Great Serb ideology, they continued to express a Bosnian Serb national identity and outlook that put them at loggerheads with Draža Mihailović’s Serbian-oriented Chetnik Supreme Command. The Bosnian Chetniks sense of identification with the land of Bosnia-Hercegovina; their jealousy over their own autonomy; and their understanding of the Serb rebellion as a Bosnian peoples uprising rather than as a conventional military struggle waged by Yugoslav Army officers – all this marked their divergence with Mihailović’s leadership. Bosnian Chetnik commanders tended to view Mihailovićs officer-delegates as representatives of an alien and hierarchical officer corps, and their conflicts over authority with these delegates on occasion erupted into violence, even killing. Stevan Botić, commander of the Mountain Staff of the Bosnian Chetnik Detachments, claimed in the course of his conflict with Mihailović’s command that ‘we are not at all separatists, but we wish to preserve the unity of Bosnian Chetnik action and do not permit that men interfere in our Bosnian problems who did not participate in the Bosnian uprising, nor are familiar with the situation in Bosnia.’ He claimed also ‘that Bosnia has its special problems and that not a single Bosnian wants to have anybody imposed upon him as a tutor, just as we Serbs of Bosnia do not want to set up some kind of Serb unit just for ourselves, like they think we do’.(45) He claimed that around Mihailović ‘are gathered men who want to be master of Bosnia, when she is liberated… Around Brother Draža are gathered mostly Montenegrins and Serbians who do not understand our circumstances’.(46) On 21 August 1942, Botićs Mountain Staff of the Bosnian Chetnik Detachments held a joint conference with another Bosnian Chetnik staff, Radoslav Radić’s General Staff of the Bosnian Chetnik Detachments, to prepare for the formation of a unified Bosnian Chetnik command and to adopt a united stand vis-à-vis the Chetnik movement in Serbia. The conference recognised Mihailović as supreme Chetnik commander but remained committed to the principle that Mihailović had no right to appoint Chetnik commanders for Bosnia without their agreement, and insisted that such commanders had to be Bosnians.(47)

The conflict between the Partisans and Chetniks in Bosnia-Hercegovina of 1941-1945 reflected, so far as the Bosnian Serbs were concerned, a fissure in their national identity induced by economic and social change. The Partisans were spearheaded by the Communists, who were the product of the pre-war labour movement, itself a product of the urban and industrial civilisation that had begun to emerge with the industrial revolution following the Austro-Hungarian occupation of 1878. In the Bosnian towns, there was a stronger tradition of inter-ethnic civic coexistence that transcended the divisions between Serb, Croat and Muslim nationalists, while the Bosnian labour movement was based on the principle of working-class unity across ethnic divisions. This urban and industrial culture found expression in the multinational composition of the Communists and Partisans, which embraced Croats, Muslims, Jews and others as well as Serbs, and in support for a multinational Bosnian republic as the common state of Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Although the Partisans were also a child of the Bosnian peasant-radical tradition, it was their Communist spearhead that ultimately defined their politics. By contrast, the Chetniks were more exclusively an heir of the peasant-radical tradition; the direct successor of the League of Farmers, whose politics were defined by the Serb peasantry’s class struggle with the Muslim landlords. Unlike the population of the towns, the population of the Bosnian countryside lived on plots of land exclusively owned or occupied by mono-national families. The Serb peasants’ national outlook therefore tended to be more ethno-religiously exclusive than that of the Serb urban population. This outlook found its most extreme expression in the Chetniks’ genocidal campaign against the non-Serb population of Bosnia-Hercegovina, particularly the Muslims, and their goal of a nationally homogenous Great Serbia.(48) Yet it was the Partisan movement that proved stronger.

The People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, renamed in 1963 the ‘Socialist Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina’, was dominated by Bosnian Serbs for the first two decades of its existence, until the second half of the 1960s. From that time on, however, Serb preponderance within the Bosnian republic began to decline while Muslim power rose, due to a number of factors: the relative numerical decline in the Serb population and rise in the Muslim population, on account of higher Serb out-migration and a higher Muslim birth-rate, leading to the Muslims overtaking the Serbs as the largest Bosnian nationality by 1971; the formal recognition of the Muslims as a nation in their own right in 1968, coupled with a Muslim national cultural renaissance in this period; the rehabilitation from 1966 of the Bosnian Croats, who had previously suffered widespread discrimination on account of their generally weak support for the Partisans; the fall of the Serbian strongman Aleksandar Ranković, vice-president of Yugoslavia, in 1966, and the consequent weakening of Serbian predominance within Yugoslavia as a whole; and the retirement of the Bosnian Serb Communist strongman Đuro Pucar in 1969 and the rise of a new generation of Bosnian Communist leaders headed by the Croat Branko Mikulić and the Muslim Hamdija Pozderac. This process was paralleled by the loosening of the Yugoslav federation from the late 1960s onward and its evolution along semi-confederal lines, culminating in the Yugoslav constitution of 1974. The Bosnian republic, in which Serbs were increasingly less dominant and numerous, was increasingly also more independent of the federal centre and resembled more closely a sovereign entity.(49) So too did the other members of the federation, including the Socialist Autonomous Provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina, which though formally part of Serbia, came to escape its control and enjoy most of the attributes of the Yugoslav republics. This process generated a Serb-nationalist backlash, among the Serbs of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia and elsewhere, which expressed itself in the regime of Slobodan Milošević after 1987, the ‘anti-bureaucratic revolution’, the ‘happening of the people’, and the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, in which the Milošević regime and Serb nationalists in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina sought to carve out new Serb borders. In Bosnia-Hercegovina, the retirement of the Partisan generation of Communist leaders during the 1980s, who were generally committed to Bosnian republican statehood, opened the way for the emergence of a new generation of Bosnian Serb leaders who would lead the backlash against the latter.

The fall of the Communist regime in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1990 and the first free elections resulted in a coalition government of three nationalist parties representing each of the Bosnian nationalities: the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), Croat Democratic Union (HDZ) and (Muslim) Party of Democratic Action (SDA). Yet the Bosnian Serb nationalist backlash immediately expressed itself in a campaign to set up regional associations of ‘Serb municipalities’ as expressions of Serb self-rule at the local level. In April 1991, Pale, the only Sarajevo municipality where the SDS had achieved an absolute majority in the elections of autumn 1990, seceded from the city of Sarajevo, and would later become the Bosnian Serb rebel capital. In September 1991 the Serb regional associations grew into autonomous regional bodies. Thus the Serb Autonomous Oblast (SAO) of Herzegovina was established on 12 September, followed by the Autonomous Region of Bosanska Krajina on the 17th and the SAO of Romanija on the 19th. The SAOs of Semberija and North Bosnia were subsequently established, bringing the total to five. These SAOs were autonomous regional bodies that grouped together Serb-controlled municipalities, violating the authority of the central government in Sarajevo. This separatist drive was catalysed by resistance to the emergence of Bosnia-Hercegovina as a sovereign state, under a Muslim-nationalist president, Alija Izetbegović. Following the Bosnian parliament’s vote on 14 October 1991 to establish the Socialist Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina as a sovereign state, the SDS delegates seceded from the parliament in protest and on 24 October established a separate Serb National Assembly claiming to represent the Bosnian Serb population as a whole. On 9 January 1992, the Serb Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina was formally proclaimed. Following the declaration of Bosnian independence and with international recognition of this independence approaching, the two SDS members of the Bosnian Presidency resigned from that body on 4 April and left Sarajevo. The Serb Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina dropped the Bosnian appellation in September, becoming merely the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska).(50)

The establishment of a separate Bosnian ‘Serb Republic’ necessarily required a brutal war, the destruction of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the extermination or expulsion of the non-Serb population on the new Serb entity’s territory. Yet through the Milošević regime in Belgrade and the Republika Srpska leadership under Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić were partners in this process, the perceptions of Serb national interest on the part of these two Serb regimes continued to diverge, as they had for successive earlier generations of Serbian and Bosnian Serb leaders. The Bosnian Serb rebels resisted the efforts of Belgrade to pressurise them into accepting successive international peace plans; Belgrade retaliated by imposing sanctions on the Republika Srpska, but proved unable to impose its will on the latter. The goal of unifying ‘Serb lands’ east and west of the Drina to form an enlarged Serb state proved to be as elusive in the 1990s as it had been in earlier periods. The emergence instead of a semi-independent Bosnian ‘Serb Republic’ wholly separate from Serbia, which achieved international recognition under the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, was a more natural culmination of Bosnian Serb national aspirations. But it was not the only one: an alternative, albeit minority Bosnian Serb current was provided by those politically conscious Serbs who remained loyal to the concept of a unified, multinational Bosnia-Hercegovina during the 1990s. Including such individuals as Bogić Bogičević, Jovan Divjak and Mirko Pejanović, as well as many Partisan veterans, members of this anti-nationalist current founded the ‘Serb Consultative Council’ in 1993, refounded the following year as the ‘Serb Civic Council’.(51) The Bosnian Serbs, to this day, continue to express their national identity in diverse ways.



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  1. Marko Attila Hoare, The History of Bosnia; From the Middle Ages to the Present Day, Saqi, London, 2007, pp. 33-61.

  2. Stevan K. Pavlowitch, Serbia: The History behind the Name, C. Hurst and Co., London, 2002, p. 16.

  3. Michael Boro Petrovich, A History of Modern Serbia, 1804-1918, vol. 1, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York and London, 1976, p. 12.

  4. Srdja Pavlović, Balkan Anschluss: The Annexation of Montenegro and the Creation of the Common South Slav State, Purdue University Press, West Lafayette, Indiana, 2008.

  5. Svetozar Marković, ‘Srbija na istoku’, Celokupna dela, vol. 8, Narodna knjiga, Belgrade, 1995, p. 93.

  6. Dušan Berić, Ilija Garašanin i ustanak u Hercegovini 1852-1854, in Fuad Saltaga (ed.), Bosna i Bošnjaci u srbskoj nacionalnoj ideologiji – antologija tekstova, vol. 1, SALFU, Sarajevo, 1997, pp. 366-367.

  7. Milorad Ekmečić, Ustanak u Bosni 1875-1878, 3rd ed., Službeni list SRJ, Belgrade, 1996, pp. 175-178.

  8. Vasa Čubrilović, Bosanski ustanak 1875-1878, 2nd edition, Službeni list SRJ / Balkonološki institut SANU, Belgrade, 1996, p. 182.

  9. Ekmečić, Ustanak u Bosni, p. 320.

  10. Milorad Ekmečić, Radovi iz istorije Bosne i Hercegovine XIX veka, Beogradski izdavački-grafički zavod, Belgrade, 1997, pp. 248-249.

  11. Vaso Pelagić, Istorija Bosansko-ercegovačke bune u svezi sa Srpsko- i Rusko-tursko ratom, Štamparija Viktora Hornjanskoga, Budapest, 1879, pp. 57-58.

  12. Kasim Suljević, Nacionalnost Muslimana između teorije i politike, Otokar Keršovani, Rijeka, 1981, p. 113.

  13. Ekmečić, Ustanak u Bosni 1875-1878, pp. 180-181, 234-235.

  14. Tomislav Kraljač, Kalajev režim u Bosni i Hercegovini (1882-1903), Veselin Masleša, Sarajevo, 1987, pp. 210-214.

  15. Mustafa Imamović, Pravni položaj i unutrašnjo-politički razvitak Bosne i Hercegovine od 1878.-1914., Bosanski kulturni centar, Sarajevo, 1997, p. 125; Nusret Šehić, Autonomni pokret Muslimana za vrijeme austrougarske uprave u Bosni i Hercegovini, Svjetlost, Sarajevo, 1980, pp. 118-119.

  16. Robert J. Donia, Sarajevo: A biography, Hurst and Company, London, 2006, p. 101.

  17. See Todor Kruševac, Bosanskohercegovački listovi u XIX veku, Veselin Masleša, Sarajevo, 1978.

  18. Nikola Stojanović, Ustav Bosne i Hercegovine, Steve M. Ivković i Komp., Belgrade, 1909, pp. 5-6, 21-25.

  19. Imamović, Pravni položaj i unutrašnjo-politički razvitak BiH, pp. 149-155.

  20. Petar Kočić, O programu obnovljene Otabine, in Petar Kočƒ, Sabrana djela, vol. 2, Svjetlost, Sarajevo, 1967, pp. 320-321.

  21. Ibid., pp. 322-324.

  22. See Vladimir Dedijer, The Road to Sarajevo, MacGibbon & Kee Ltd., London, 1966.

  23. Mustafa Imamović, Historija Bošnjaka, Preporod, Sarajevo, 1997, p. 464.

  24. Pero Slijepčević, ‘Bosna i Hercegovina u svetskom ratu’, in Pero Slijepčević (ed.), Napor Bosne i Hercegovine za oslobođenje i ujedinjenje, Narodna Odbrana, Sarajevo, 1929, pp. 260, 264-265.

  25. Nikola Stojanović, Jugoslovenski odbor (članci i dokumenti), Nova Evropa, Zagreb, 1927, p. 58.

  26. See ‘Ɖenevska deklaracija od 9. nov. 1918’, in Ferdo Šišić (ed.), Dokumenti o postanku Kraljevine Srba, Hrvata i Slovenaca 1914.-1919, Naklada Matice Hrvatske, Zagreb, 1920, pp. 236-238.

  27. Nusret Šehić, Bosna i Hercegovina 1918-1925, Institut za Istoriju u Sarajevu, Sarajevo, 1991, pp. 29-30; Branimir Gligorijević, Kralj Aleksandar Karađorđević, vol. 1, Beogradski izdavačko-grafički zavod, Belgrade, 1996, p.432.

  28. Branislav Gligorijević, Demokratska stranka i politički odnosi u Kraljevini Srba, Hrvata i Slovenaca, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Belgrade, 1970, pp. 46-53.

  29. Stenografske beleške Ustavotvorne skupštine Kraljevine Srba, Hrvata i Slovenaca, vol. 2 (from the 38th to the 68th regular session), Državna Štamparija Kraljevine Srba, Hrvata i Slovenaca, Belgrade, 1921, no. 53, p. 2.

  30. Ustav Kraljevine Jugoslavije od 3. septembra 1931 godine, Izdavački knjižarnica Gece Kona, Belgrade, 1933, p. 12; Hamdija Karamehmedović, AM. ‘Srškić i Muslimani, in Milutin Popović (ed.), Milan Srškić 1880-1937, Odbor za izdavanje Spomenice pok. M. Srškić u, Sarajevo, 1938, p. 185.

  31. Archive of Serbia and Montenegro, Collection 85, L. Marković, 2-195.

  32. Archive of Serbia and Montenegro, Collection 85, L. Marković, 2-421.

  33. Archive of Serbia and Montenegro, Collection 37, M. Stojadinović, 53-153.

  34. Branko Miljuš, Sporazum 1939 god., Glas kanadskih Srba, Windsor, 1957, pp. 7-10.

  35. Srpsko-hrvatsko pitanje i putevi Sporazuma, Paris, 1952, pp. 36-37

  36. Dokle će bosanski Srbi podnositi žrtve ? Zar ćemo opet preživljavati drugu 1914 godinu ?, Srpski glas, no. 14, 15 February 1940.

  37. Dobroslav Jevđević, Bosanski Srbi i autonomija Bosne – memoar o anacionalnim i razornim elementima politika dra M. Spaha, authors publication, Sarajevo, 1939, p. 4.

  38. Branko Kaluđerčić, Zašto smo protiv granice na Drini i protiv ćepanja Bosne i Hercegovine ?, authors publication, Belgrade, 1939, pp. 13, 16.

  39. Brčko srez i grad – riječ Srba brčana povodom pripojenje srezova sjeverne Bosne Banovini Hrvatskoj, Belgrade, 1939, pp. 3, 12, 34, 44, 45.

  40. Nebojša A. Popović, ‘Srpski Kulturni Klub (1937-1941)’, Istorija 20. veka, yr 7, no. 1-2, 1989, pp. 110-113.

  41. Stevan Moljević, Uloga i znaćaj Vrbaske Banovine, Brača Jakšić, Banja Luka, 1939, pp. 8-18.

  42. Srpske i nacionalne organizacije u Sarajevu i Banjoj Luci protiv autonomije Bosne i Hercegovine, Politika, 13 November 1939.

  43. Sabor u Doboj 31 decembra 1939, Belgrade, 1940, pp. 1, 9-16, 21-24.

  44. Zemaljsko antifašističko vijeće narodnog oslobođenja Bosne i Hercegovine, vol. 1, Veselin Masleša, Sarajevo, 1968, pp. 182-184.

  45. Zbornik dokumenata i podataka o narodnooslobodilačkom ratu Jugoslovenskih naroda, Vojnoistorijski institut, Belgrade, 1981, pt 14, vol. 1, doc. 139, pp. 523-524.

  46. Đoko Slijepčević, Jugoslavija uoći i za vreme drugog svetskog rata, Iskra, Munich, 1978, p. 442.

  47. Petar Kačavenda, Prilog pitanju odnosa komande bosanskih četnika i Vrhovne komande Draže Mihailovića (1942), Prilozi, no. 8, 1972, pp. 264-265.

  48. See Marko Attila Hoare, Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943, Oxford University Press, London, 2006.

  49. Hoare, The History of Bosnia, pp. 309-342.

  50. Ibid., pp. 342-358.

  51. Ibid., p. 388.

Thursday, 10 September 2020 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Marko Attila Hoare, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kurdistan, Palestine, Scotland, Catalonia, Taiwan, Chechnya…?

National self-determination really just means democracy – the principle of majority rule. Democracy is based on the nation; sovereignty of the people means sovereignty of the nation. If a smaller nation is dominated by another, larger nation that imposes its majority on it, the smaller nation may reasonably feel that this majority is alien and illegitimate. A genuine nation rests on the consent of its members, which means they agree to be ruled by its majority, even if they support the minority.

In other words, true democracy must be pluralistic; it involves respect for the minority alongside rule by the majority. Consequently, for a nation to determine its own destiny freely, it must be able to choose freely between different, legitimate options. Scottish independence vs union with the rest of the UK; Catalan independence vs union with the rest of Spain; Brexit vs Remain. And not so long ago, Croatian and Slovenian independence vs united Yugoslavia; Jewish national statehood (Zionism) vs opposition to Jewish statehood (anti-Zionism). There can be no self-determination if there is only one permitted choice, and no national unity unless we respect our co-nationals who choose differently.

Modern history has involved the continuous emergence of new independent nation-states, from the secessions of the Netherlands, Sweden and Portugal in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through the American, Haitian, Belgian and Greek revolutions; the independence of Brazil and break up of the Spanish empire in Latin America; the break-up of the Ottoman, Habsburg and Romanov empires; independence of Norway, Ireland and Iceland; the Turkish and Israeli wars of independence; the establishment of the British Empire’s Dominions; post-WW2 decolonisation; the independence of Algeria, Bangladesh and Eritrea; the fall of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia; Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Divorce; up to the independence of Montenegro, Kosovo and South Sudan.

There is every reason to believe that as the human world continues to grow and evolve, the process will continue and more independent states will emerge – Kurdistan, Palestine, Scotland, Catalonia, Taiwan, Chechnya…? But the question of which nations or countries will become independent, as opposed to remaining parts of larger unions, is not predetermined. It depends – among other things – upon the will of their respective peoples. It is up to us to ensure that, while these difficult, weighty questions are being decided, the spirit of pluralism and tolerance is preserved.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019 Posted by | Catalonia, Chechnya, Kurds, Marko Attila Hoare, Palestine, Scotland | Leave a comment

The second edition of my book ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina: Genocide, justice and denial’, published by the Centar za napredne studije, is out ! PDF available here…

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PDF: Marko Attila Bosnia – TEXT 2. izdanje (PRINT) 21.12.2017.

The second edition of the selection of articles from my blog, Greater Surbiton, has been published in book format by the Centre for Advanced Studies in Sarajevo. 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.

Sunday, 14 October 2018 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Fascism, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Islam, Marko Attila Hoare | Leave a comment

Remembering the Bosnian Genocide

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Review of Hikmet Karcic (ed.), Remembering the Bosnian Genocide: Justice, Memory and Denial, Institute for Islamic Tradition of Bosniaks, Sarajevo, 2016, 350 pp.

Hikmet Karcic, who this month defended his PhD at the International University of Sarajevo, combines an intellectual seriousness in his research into the Bosnian genocide with a readiness to engage with the painful essence of the topic in a way that is all too rare. He is not one to rest content with safe platitudes about reconciliation, memory, civic values and the like that often seem to substitute for such an engagement. His readiness to rock the boat was apparent when his exhibit on the Srebrenica genocide, due to be shown at the European Parliament this month, was cancelled by the latter for displaying ‘too many skulls and bones’. For all that the Srebrenica genocide is now commemorated and recognised in Europe, elements of the EU establishment clearly do not like to see their sleek corporate veneer tarnished by a display concerning it that is too frank and prominent. Subsuming the story of the Srebrenica and wider Bosnian genocide within a ‘progressive’ democratic European narrative remains difficult to achieve, given the extent to which ‘progressive’ democratic Europe was implicated in the genocide

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The current volume of essays arose out of an conference organised by the Islamic Tradition of Bosniaks and held in Sarajevo in 2015 to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. Karcic has managed to assemble a collection of texts covering a range of themes related to the genocide – trials and courts, remembrance and memory and destruction of denial – that are generally of a high scholarly level and likewise pull few punches. In particular, Sandra Cvikic and Drazen Zivic have contributed a withering critique of the form of ‘transitional justice’ promoted by the international community and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), whereby the genuine trauma and memory of the genocide among communities in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia are expected to be suppressed in the name of ‘reconciliation’ and a blander, value-neutral form of memory that tends in the direction of equalising the guilt and suffering of the parties to the conflict and their respective populations. Similarly, former ICTY investigator Nena Tromp provides an account of the tribunal’s pragmatic compromises in the pursuit of truth and justice, in particular with regard to its failure to compel Serbia to hand over the uncensored minutes of the Supreme Defence Council; Tromp’s account is as well informed as one would expect given its author’s expertise, but also very critical of the tribunal’s policies. Norman Cigar’s critique of the US military’s contribution to the Bosnian catastrophe, in the form of its exaggerated estimates of the Bosnian Serb armed forces’ capacity to resist militarily and consequent bad advice to the Clinton Administration, provides an excellent antidote to cliches of US hawkishness, militarism and imperialism.

There are too many more good essays and individual points contained in this volume to list them all, but just to give an example of the range, there is an essay by Safet Bandzovic on the abuse of Bosniak refugees from Srebrenica and Zepa in Serbia during the war – a sideshow to the genocide that has had little attention paid to it – and an essay by Alexandra Lily Kather on the international law regarding genocide that serves as a very good introduction to the subject. I am just sorry that Karcic was apparently unable to prevail upon the always interesting Geoffrey Nice to contribute a fully referenced academic article; his contribution here consists of a rather tantalising list of numbered points.

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Hikmet Karcic

There is, however, one criticism to be made of this collection of essays that transcends any single article, and it applies to many other similar collections relating to the war in the former Yugoslavia: various cliches have crept into several of the texts that should rightfully be dispensed with. Thus, John Weiss claims that in the Communist era in Yugoslavia, ‘The popular memories of the battles of World War II that set Partisan against Chetnik or White Guard, Ustashe against Serb or Jew,  Handzar against Chetnik or Jew, and Yugoslavs against Russian were not allowed expression in the public sphere’ (p. 114). It was certainly a grievance of the Serb nationalists in the 1980s and 1990s that the memory of the Ustasha genocide against Serbs and Jews was supposedly suppressed, but it was not a legitimate one; the genocide was commemorated very publicly, for example in the memorial parks at Jasenovac and at Vraca in Sarajevo, while the Partisan battle against the Chetniks at Neretva in 1943 was depicted in the famous 1969 film ‘Battle of the Neretva’ starring, among others, Yul Brynner and Orson Welles; a more high profile commemoration could barely be imagined. Weiss also argues, in relation to comparisons between the Bosnian genocide and the Holocaust, that ‘As a tocsin to assemble and stir up the righteous, then, “Never again !” retains power, perhaps even more power than it had before the 1970s. But as analytic framework or policy guide, it has to be judged often misleading and occasionally dangerous’ (pp. 122-123). This seems to be an unwarranted concession to the ‘all sides are guilty’ attitude that dominated UN and international community thinking during the 1990s conflict, yet it was the latter, not the ‘Never again !’ position of pro-Bosnia activists, that resulted in the catastrophic international policy that culminated in the Srebrenica massacre.

Bandzovic notes without criticism the view that ‘Everything that happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to the Bosniaks between 1992 and 1995 can be observed, according to a number of Serbian politicians and academics, as the continuity and completion of a process that began in 1804. Earlier events included Karadjordje’s uprising against the Ottoman government in the Smederevo Sanjak, the establishment and expansion of the Serbian state, as well as the disappearance of Muslims from this territory’ (pp. 224-225). Such a teleological, essentialising attitude toward Serb nationhood and nationalism as intrinsically genocidal has predominated among some of their critics, but it isn’t warranted: Serb national politics was historically at least as ready to co-opt the Bosniaks as it was to exterminate them, as witnessed in Ilija Garasanin’s 1844 ‘plan’, the readiness of the Serbian government in the 1850s and 1860s to recognised the land-rights of the Bosnian Muslim landlords, the Serbian Army’s generally correct treatment of the Muslim population of the Sandzak during the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, the 1921 Vidovdan constitution’s recognition of Bosnia-Hercegovina’s historic provinces within the the new Yugoslav state, Milan Stojadinovic’s partnership with the Yugoslav Muslim Organisation in governing Yugoslavia in 1935-1939, and so on. Treating the genocide of the 1990s as simply the logical culmination of Serbian history detracts from the specific responsibility of the Milosevic and Karadzic regimes for organising and launching it.

Samuel Totten’s recommendation, that there be established two major museums and research centres on the Srebrenica genocide (pp. 87-88) seems to follow the trend of over-emphasising the latter to the point where it overshadows the rest of the Bosnian genocide, treating the 1995 massacre as if it were something of an aberration. In fact, as Edina Becirevic’s research has shown, the Srebrenica massacre was the culmination of the genocidal policy begun in the preceding years, and followed on logically from the massacres of 1992 and the siege of Srebrenica of 1992-1995. Since the German courts found, in the Nikola Jorgic case, that genocide had already taken place in Bosnia outside of Srebrenica in 1992, and since the European Court of Human Rights upheld the legitimacy of this conclusion under international law, there is no need to commemorate the Bosnian genocide as if it only occurred in Srebrenica in 1995.

All told, this is an excellent collection of articles that will be of interest to the newcomer to the subject and to the expert alike. But it highlights the fact that there is still more to do in challenging the stereotypes.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, European Union, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holocaust Memorial Day: We need to reconcile the conflicting lessons of the the last century


This year, Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) falls on the eve of another round of negotiations in Geneva that are unlikely to end the war in Syria – the latest case of mass killing that the international community has failed miserably to halt.

HMD has long been about more than just remembering the Holocaust and its victims. The failure of the world to prevent the crime of the Nazis or to come to the rescue of its victims provoked the cry of ‘Never again’. Today, the cry sounds as forlorn as ever.

The cause of intervention to prevent genocide and other mass crimes has had its ups and downs since the twin tragedies of Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s made it an issue in international politics.

Then, the discrediting of the international community by its wilful failures to intervene to halt genocide, and of those Western statesmen implicated in the failure, motivated their successors to do better.

Hence, a series of international military interventions to halt atrocities, beginning with Kosovo and East Timor in 1999 and culminating in the saving of Benghazi from Colonel Gaddafi’s forces in 2011.

There were terrible failures elsewhere, including Darfur and Congo. But the unanimous adoption of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) by the 2005 UN World Summit, committing the world to acting to prevent genocide, war-crimes and crimes against humanity even within the borders of sovereign states, seemed to have laid the ghosts of Bosnia and Rwanda to rest.

It was not to be.

Continue reading at Left Foot Forward

Friday, 12 February 2016 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Syria | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The origins and nature of Ustasha racism

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.

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

Should Draza Mihailovic’s war-crimes conviction be quashed ?


The following commentary was published in Serbian in Danas on 23 April 2015

The testimonies of Slobodan Markovic, Veselin Djuretic, Kosta Nikolic and Bojan Dimitrijevic are all in support of the overturning of Draza Mihailovic’s conviction as a traitor and war-criminal. They put forward a combination of arguments: firstly, the opinions of foreign observers and others sympathetic to Mihailovic; secondly, allegations of procedural irregularities that worked to Mihailovic’s disadvantage; and thirdly, attempts at refuting specific pieces of evidence accepted by the court.

The first of these carries the least weight. Slobodan Markovic devotes much space to opinions of foreign governments (British and US) and their agents that Mihailovic was innocent of the charge of collaboration with the Germans and Italians. Naturally, such opinions should be considered by historians, but they are not a reason to question a judicial verdict – they are simply opinions of interested parties. We do not know how these agents would have fared had they testified, but they are unlikely to have resulted in an unambiguous endorsement of the pro-Mihailovic narrative. Markovic mentions Colonel William Bailey as one such source. Yet Bailey was one of the sources for Churchill’s conclusion that Mihailovic was collaborating with the Italians. According to Bailey’s report as referred to by Churchill, Mihailovic had given a speech to his troops on 28 February 1943 in which he had stated that ‘As long as the Italians remained his sole adequate source of benefit and assistance generally, nothing the Allies could do would make him change his attitude towards them.’ This fact is not mentioned by Markovic, Djuretic, Nikolic or Dimitrijevic.

Markovic mentions William Mackenzie’s 1947 report, which cites the very high Yugoslav wartime casualties, apparently in order to vindicate not only Mihailovic, but even the open collaborator Milan Nedic – presumably in opposition to the high-cost resistance strategy of the Partisans. But this argument amounts to a defence of collaboration, not a denial that it occurred.

Markovic cites Peter Solly-Flood’s opinion that Mihailovic would experience a ‘totalitarian trial’ [totalitarno sudjenje]; this is a political judgement that cannot serve to overturn a judicial verdict. If it did, then implicitly all war-criminals convicted by Yugoslav courts under the Communist regime should have their convictions overturned – Ustashas, Nedicites and Germans alike. For example, German General Alexander Loehr was convicted and executed in 1947 by the same judicial system that convicted Mihailovic. High-ranking Nazis were tried by the victorious Allies via the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, which was undoubtedly a case of ‘victors’ justice’ and in which Stalin’s totalitarian regime participated. All these convictions cannot simply be dismissed.

Kosta Nikolic claims that the Mihailovic trial was ‘fixed [montiran]’ He argues: ‘Ako uporedimo da je optuznica imala 15 tacaka, a da je Mihajlovic osudjen po 7 tacaka, to ukazuje da je vec u toku sudjenja otpalo 8 tacaka za koje Mihajlovic je optuzen.’ [‘If we consider that the indictment had 15 counts, and that Mihailovic was convicted on eight counts, that shows that already during the trial eight counts upon which Mihailovic was indicted had failed.’] It is unclear how Nikolic arrived at these figures, but if the court failed to convict Mihailovic on over half the counts, it suggests that the trial was not fixed (or at least not wholly fixed). Nikolic and Dimitrijevic both discuss the 1943 agreement on collaboration between the Partisans and Germans. Yet this is irrelevant: the question here is not whether the Partisans were hypocritical or whether they also collaborated, but only whether Mihailovic was guilty (equally, the fact that the Allied powers were themselves undoubtedly guilty of war-crimes does not invalidate the conclusions of the Nuremberg tribunal).

Veselin Djuretic’s testimony is the least convincing, amounting to little more than a political polemic. He counterpoises the ‘Etnojezicki odnosno zapadnoevropski sasnovano, [model], koji je personifikovao Gen. Mihajlovic i AVNOJevsko koji je razbijao srpske zemlje i potkopavao Jugoslaviju u sustini separatisticko retrogradnog velikohrvatskog i veliko albanskog, koji model je personifikovao Josip Broz Tito.’ [‘The ethno-linguistic or West-European-based model, which Gen. Mihailovic personified, and the AVNOJ model that fragmented the Serb lands and buried Yugoslavia – in essence separatist, retrograde, Great Croat and Great Albanian – personified by Josip Broz Tito’] Such unserious propagandistic testimony cannot have any bearing on whether Mihailovic’s conviction was sound or not.

Bojan Dimitrijevic provides the most serious case for questioning the conviction of Mihailovic, insofar as he focuses in turn on specific points of evidence in the case. Yet he omits key details that do not support his viewpoint. Thus, in discussing Mihailovic’s meeting with the Germans at Divci near Valjevo on 11 November 1941, Dimitrijevic omits to mention that Mihailovic asked the Germans for ammunition with which to fight the Partisans. Yet this is recorded in the transcript of Mihailovic’s speech at the meeting, published in the collection of documents which Dimitrijevic and Nikolic themselves edited (‘Rat i mir djenerala – Izabrani ratni spisi’, Srpska rec, knj. 1, str. 213). Dimitrijevic correctly notes that the Germans initially viewed Mihailovic as an enemy with whom they were unwilling to collaborate, but fails to note that the reverse was not true: Mihailovic viewed the Germans as his enemies in the long term, but in the short term he was willing to collaborate with them against the Partisans; this collaboration was vetoed by the Germans, not by him. The fact that Mihailovic’s Chetniks at times resisted the Germans does not mean they were not guilty of collaboration at other times.

Dimitrijevic admits that following the defeat of the uprising, ‘part of Mihailovic’s organisation in Serbia’ was ‘legalised within the framework of Nedic’s armed detachments’ and that ‘Mihajlovic tolerated this legalisation’; he admits also that Mihailovic’s commanders outside Serbia engaged in ‘tactical collaboration’ with the occupiers’ forces. Dimitrijevic therefore does not deny the collaboration; he simply argues that the Chetnik motives were legitimate.

However, Dimitrijevic does not discuss the German-Chetnik agreements in Serbia, for collaboration against the Partisans, reached on the basis of Field Marshal Maximilian von Weichs’s 21 November 1943 directive. They involved several of Mihailovic’s top officers, above all Vojislav Lukacevic, Nikola Kalabic, Jevrem Simic and Ljuba Jovanovic-Patak. Simic, as the overall inspector of Mihailovic’s Supreme Command, renewed his agreement with the Germans on 17 January 1944. The agreement specified that the Mihailovic forces would receive ammunition and medical supplies from the Germans. Three days later Mihailovic ordered the buying of weapons and munitions from the Germans. These events are described in Kosta Nikolic’s book ‘Istorija ravnagorskog pokreta’ (Srpska rec, knj. 1, str. 419-423); Nikolic claims the agreements were ‘an expression of necessity [izraz nuzde]’. Altogether, Dimitrijevic’s and Nikolic’s testimonies and published work support the view that Mihailovic’s commanders across Yugoslavia collaborated with the Germans, which Branko Latas expresses in his own testimony. These crimes – agreements with the occupiers for joint military action; receiving arms and assistance from the occupiers; and ‘legalisation’ within the framework of the occupation – were all cited in the court’s guilty verdict against Mihailovic.

Finally, Mihailovic was convicted because he ‘raspirivao nacionalnu i versku mrznju i razdor medju narodima Jugoslavije, usled cega su njegove cetnicke bande izvrsile masovne pokolje hrvatskog, muslimanskog kao i srpskog stanovnistva koje nije prihvatilo okupaciju’ [‘incited national and religious hatred and discord among the peoples of Yugoslavia, as a result of which his Chetnik bands carried out huge massacres of the Croat, Muslim as well as Serb population that did not accept the occupation’]. This very serious count of the conviction was not challenged by any of the testimonies discussed here.

Friday, 24 April 2015 Posted by | Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How can the Bosnian question be resolved ?


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

Gavrilo Princip was a terrorist, but he was not Radovan Karadzic


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.

Friday, 27 June 2014 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Central Europe, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment