Almost anyone who has followed events in the former Yugoslavia since the war of the early 1990s is likely to be aware of who the Ustashas were, and to know that they carried out genocide against the Serb, Jewish and gypsy populations of their puppet ‘Independent State of Croatia’ (NDH), under the leadership of Ante Pavelic in the period 1941-1945. Yet scholarly understanding of this genocide is still in its infancy. There is no serious general explanatory history of this genocide in the English language, and while a wealth of respectable works on the topic have been produced by native historians in the former Yugoslavia, these have almost invariably tended to prioritise the description and cataloguing of crimes over analysis and explanation. In recent years, serious contributions dealing with particular aspects of the Ustasha question have been made by historians writing in the English language such as Tomislav Dulic, Mark Biondich and Esther Gitman, but it is no exaggeration to say that our scholarly understanding of the Ustasha genocide is considerably behind our understanding of the Rwandan genocide, even though the latter occurred a half century later.
Part of the problem is that historians who touch upon the subject have often seemed mesmerised by the sheer horror of the Ustasha regime and its deeds, to the point where their treatment of them has reflected outrage and condemnation rather than the pursuit of intellectual understanding. This, it should be said, is characteristic of much writing on the wars of the 1990s and the Milosevic and Tudjman regimes as well. Nevenko Bartulin’s new book focuses, once again, on a particular aspect of the topic; in this case, the origins and nature of Ustasha racial ideology. One of the strengths of his approach is that he sets out to explode many of the clichés that have bedevilled our understanding of the Ustasha question, but from a rigorously objective standpoint, untainted by any clear ideological or political bias of his own. Bartulin is unsparing in his discussion of nineteenth- and twentieth-century thinkers and ideologists of all ideological persuasions, whether Croatian- or Serbian-nationalist, pro- or anti-Yugoslav, including not only the Ustashas themselves but such key figures of Croatian history as Ante Starcevic, Josip Juraj Strossmayer, Stjepan Radic and others, all the way up to the Communists of Josip Broz Tito, whose ideology did not mark such a clean break with what had gone before as might be expected.
Bartulin challenges both the idea that the Ustasha ideology was primarily Catholic-sectarian in inspiration, and the idea that it was a copy of Nazi ideology. Instead, he stresses its origins in native Croatian racial thinking going back to the nineteenth century. Paradoxically, while the father of integral Croat nationalism, Ante Starcevic, had slipped into overt anti-Serb racism at times, he had primarily been a civic nationalist; it had been the Yugoslavist-nationalist thinkers who had pioneered racial thinking among Croats, from which Ustasha anti-Yugoslav racial thinking emerged – both as heir and as reaction. Serb-oriented Yugoslavist thinkers like Jovan Cvijic believed in a common Dinaric racial identity of the Yugoslavs, in which the ‘Serbian type’ was the ideal, core component that could assimilate the rest; conversely, anti-Yugoslav Croatian race theory also drew upon the idea of a Dinaric racial ideal, but counterpoised it to a non-Dinaric Serbian ‘other’.
Racial Yugoslavism also formed the basis of the ideology of the Croat Peasant Party of Stjepan and Antun Radic. Bartulin quotes the Peasant Party’s official programme: ‘We Croats consider Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria as our national states’. The Radic brothers had upheld the concept of ‘a-Semitism’, which meant excluding the non-Slavic Jews from the Croat national movement and from the idea of a racially Slavic Croat nation (but supposedly without active hostility to the Jews in the manner of anti-Semitism), and the Ustashas drew upon this legacy to justify their own much more extreme anti-Jewish ideology. The Ustasha regime celebrated the Radic brothers as national heroes, but not Josip Frank – leader of the anti-Serb Pure Party of Right, traditionally viewed as the precursor to the Ustasha movement – because he was Jewish. The Yugoslav Communists who defeated the Ustashas in the war of 1941-45 also celebrated the Radic brothers as Croat national heroes, and they too embraced a national ideology based upon racial pan-Slavism, but this time directed against the Germans and Italians, which involved ethnic cleansing and persecution of Yugoslavia’s German and Italian minorities following their victory.
Murderous and genocidal as it was, Ustasha ideology was not as absolutely racist as its Nazi counterpart. Jews and gypsies (except the so-called ‘white gypsies’) were considered racially alien and subject to racial laws modeled on the Nazis’ Nuremberg laws, though a small minority of Jews were declared ‘honorary Aryans’, so spared persecution. But because the Ustashas considered the Serb inhabitants of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina to be a racial mixture that included Croat elements, they did not entirely consider them as a group to be wholly racially alien, and their policy toward them was characterised by some flexibility. Thus, in addition to massacre and expulsion, Serbs were subject to assimilation attempts, via forced conversions to Catholicism and, subsequently, the establishment of a ‘Croatian Orthodox Church’ to replace the Serbian Orthodox Church on the territory of the NDH. There were three Orthodox generals in the NDH’s Home Guard.
Challenging the identification of the Ustashas with militant Catholicism, Bartulin argues that they were in fact not hostile to Orthodox Christianity as such, merely to the presence of a Serbian church on NDH territory, and were genuinely philo-Islamic. The Bosnian Muslims were celebrated as among the racially purest of Croats; Pavelic was ready to anger Catholic opinion by establishing a mosque in Zagreb. Nevertheless, the Ustasha regime preferred to force Serbs to convert to Catholicism rather than Islam or Protestantism, for fear of strengthening the Muslim autonomist movement and Volksdeutsche community respectively. Bartulin therefore stresses the pragmatic nature of the Ustashas’ use of Catholicism, though as his study focuses on the Ustasha leadership and intelligentsia, it does not consider the frequently genuinely Catholic-sectarian and anti-Muslim character of Ustasha activity at the local level in Bosnia-Hercegovina.
Though Bartulin’s book may be somewhat too monographic to appeal readily to the general reader, anyone interested in the former Yugoslavia would benefit from reading his exercise in cliché-busting. With all the lazy binaries – Serb and Croat nationalist; pro- and anti-Yugoslav; pro- and anti-Communist – it is refreshing to read a work that stresses just how many common assumptions were shared by the various ideological currents and political groups; even by those that were mortal enemies.
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.
When we talk about solutions for Bosnia-Hercegovina, the emphasis is usually on what we would like Bosnia-Hercegovina to look like. This is very easy to say. I and many others would like Bosnia-Hercegovina to be a sovereign, unitary state of all its citizens, regardless of nationality. However, it is much more difficult to see how to achieve this. In this presentation, I am going to talk about a much more modest goal: the development of a Bosnian resistance strategy to prevent a greater misfortunate from befalling Bosnia-Hercegovina. And that will take the first steps toward restoring the state. I won’t engage in false optimism; this will be an analysis of the reality of the situation with a hard-headed analysis of what can realistically be achieved.
Bosnia-Hercegovina’s problems do not need explaining – we are all familiar with them. Bosnia-Hercegovina as a state exists only formally; on paper; in reality, Bosnia-Hercegovina has no functioning state. Bosnia-Hercegovina is divided into two entities. Of these, the Serb entity is the more homogenous one. It is the principal obstruction to Bosnia-Hercegovina’s functioning as a state. The Federation – some once expected – might have acted as the core around which Bosnia-Hercegovina could be reintegrated. So people have viewed the RS as the ‘bad’ entity and the Federation as the ‘good entity’. In fact, they are both bad entities, and the Federation is as much part of the problem as the RS. The Federation is crushed under the weight of its bureaucracy. Its division into cantons weakens both the administration and the economy. The Federation is plagued by the conflicts between Bosniak and Croat politicians. But reform of the system is impossible. It’s impossible to reform the state, because this would require consensus between the three nationalities. But the RS politicians will always veto any reforms that would make the state function. Reform of the Federation is also difficult. The Croats already feel marginalised within the Federation and view the system of cantons as a guarantee for at least a degree of autonomy.
The status quo is unsustainable
At one level, the status quo represents an acceptable compromise, or lesser evil. Bosniaks, and those Serbs and Croats who believe in a united Bosnia-Hercegovina, get at least the illusion of a united Bosnia-Hercegovina. They don’t get a real state, but they get a unified country that exists at least on paper. In return, those Serbs who don’t identify with Bosnia-Hercegovina get an entity with most of the attributes of statehood, but without the full right to secede. Those Croats who don’t identify with Bosnia-Hercegovina are perhaps the least satisfied, but they aren’t strong enough unilaterally to change the system. The status quo, some might feel, is better than any alternatives. However, there is reason to believe that it is unsustainable.
Continue reading at Krug 99
This interview with Marko Attila Hoare was conducted by Bisera Fabrio for Jutarnji list and published in Croatian on 20 June 2014
Who started the war ?
World War I was a conflict with multiple layers. It began as a Balkan conflict between the two Balkan powers, Austria-Hungary and Serbia, but quickly expanded to become a war of Germany against the Franco-Russian alliance, after which other Great Powers and Balkan powers joined the war on one side or the other. So it did not have one single aggressor. The Sarajevo assassination was engineered by leaders of the extreme-nationalist, terrorist Serbian organisation ‘Unification or Death’, also known as the ‘Black Hand’, which must bear responsibility for provoking the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war on Serbia. However, the assassination did not reflect the policy of the Serbian government, and Vienna’s decision to go to war against Serbia was an expression of long-standing Austro-Hungarian imperialist plans. Austria-Hungary and Serbia each had predatory, expansionist designs against each other. However, Austria-Hungary, as the much bigger power, whose leadership officially decided on war, bears the greater responsibility for the outbreak.
Was the fatal shooting by Gavrilo Princip the true cause or simply the formal pretext for a great war that had long been ‘cooking’ ?
The Sarajevo assassination was the spark for the outbreak of a conflict that would almost certainly have happened anyway. However, it was not accidental that the conflict broke out over an event in the Balkans. Austria-Hungary had for decades sought to control Serbia, but Serbia had in the years before 1914 – particularly since 1903 – increasingly moved away from Vienna’s influence. Serbian leaders had long-term plans to ‘liberate’ or annex South Slav territory in Austria-Hungary, and the Black Hand supported terrorist acts like the Sarajevo assassination as part of a deliberate expansionist strategy. Austria-Hungary, for its part, sought to extend its imperial influence southward into the Balkans and viewed Serbia as lying in its natural path for expansion. Beyond this, Germany viewed the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire – the Near East – as a key sphere of influence, after it had largely been shut out of other areas for imperial expansion by the British and French. Russia viewed the possibility of Austro-German expansion into the Balkans as a mortal threat. France competed with Germany for influence over the Balkan states, while Italy competed with Austria-Hungary for influence over the Albanian lands. So the Balkans and Ottoman Empire were a key area of dispute – probably the most important area of dispute – between the Great Powers. Consequently when the assassination crisis broke out in June 1914, neither Austria-Hungary nor Germany nor Russia felt it could retreat.
Was it possible that the citizens of Austria-Hungary, that early summer in 1914, really did not expect any kind of military conflict, let alone a long war that would bring down the Monarchy ?
The citizens or subjects of the Habsburg monarchy were divided over how they viewed the crisis that erupted in June 1914. The war party, represented most prominently by the joint Austro-Hungarian foreign minister Count Leopold von Berchtold and by Chief of General Staff Conrad von Hoetzendorf, was determined to attack Serbia following the assassination, but they did not foresee that this action would result in a general European war lasting over four years, and they certainly did not predict that the war would result in the Habsburg Empire’s collapse. Others, particularly the Hungarian prime minister Istvan Tisza, hoped after the assassination that war could be avoided. Ironically, Hungarian resistance to a Habsburg war against Serbia helped to delay its outbreak, so that Vienna lost the chance to occupy Serbia quickly and present the other Great Powers with a fait accompli. This ensured that when war did break out, it would not remain localised between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, but become a general European war.
What did Serbia actually want ? What were its intentions toward Bosnia ?
Bosnia had formed a key goal of Serbian expansionist plans ever since Ilija Garasanin’s (in)famous ‘Plan’ (Nacertanije) in 1844. Following the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1878, those Serbian statesmen who favoured collaboration with Vienna – most notably Prince, later King Milan Obrenovic – chose to disregard Bosnia-Hercegovina and concentrate on southward expansion. But Bosnia-Hercegovina remained a long-term goal for nationalist Serbians, and the change of regime in Serbia in 1903, when King Aleksandar Obrenovic was murdered and replaced by Petar Karadjordjevic, brought to power those who certainly intended Serbia’s eventual expansion westward. This meant, firstly, the People’s Radical Party under Nikola Pasic, and secondly, the extreme nationalist army officers who had carried out the murder of King Aleksandar and who went on to found ‘Unification or Death’ in 1911. When Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1908, Pasic called for preparations for war, and something of a war psychosis gripped Serbia, with the formation of the ‘National Defence’ (Narodna Odbrana) organisation to wage guerrilla warfare in Bosnia-Hercegovina. However, when he subsequently became prime minister in 1912, Pasic pursued a more moderate policy toward Austria-Hungary, since he was focused on Serbia’s southward expansion against the Ottomans. After the Balkan Wars, Pasic wanted a period of peace to enable Serbia to assimilate the territory in Old Serbia (Kosovo) and Macedonia it had taken. It was the Black Hand, whose leading officers Dragutin Dimitrijevic-Apis and Vojislav Tankosic were behind the assassination, who were the real war-mongers on the Serbian side: they supported terrorism and aggression in Bosnia-Hercegovina, against Montenegro’s King Nikola, against Bulgaria, etc., as part of a consistent policy.
What was the state of inter-religious and interethnic relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1914 ?
Inter-religious and interethnic relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1914 were better than they would later be within the Yugoslav kingdom. Serbs and Muslims were divided by the question of land reform, since the majority of Orthodox Serb peasants in Bosnia-Hercegovina remained subject to Muslim landlords. Croats and Muslims were divided over the issue of Catholic proselytising. However, there was also a general degree of solidarity among members of the Serb, Croat and Muslim elites. Conservative Serb and Muslim leaders had collaborated in their demands for church and school autonomy from the Habsburg regime, and for Bosnian autonomy. Some of the more liberal Bosnian politicians favoured inter-religious and inter-ethnic collaboration on a pro-Yugoslav basis against the regime. The actions of Gavrilo Princip and his fellow assassins were those of an extremist fringe, and were condemned by mainstream Bosnian Serb political and religious figures. Although the assassination provoked a wave of attacks on Serb properties in Sarajevo, these were condemned by Catholic Archbishop Josip Stadler and by Reis ul-Ulema Dzemaludin Causevic. Yet even Princip’s Young Bosnia movement encompassed Croats and Muslims as well as Serbs. Inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina would deteriorate sharply as the result of the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
What was Young Bosnia ? Was it a Serb conspiratorial group, a wing of the Black Hand or an authentic Bosnian illegal organisation ?
Young Bosnia was an ill-defined, loose network of Bosnian student radicals. It was numerically dominated by Serbs and many of its supporters were at least unconsciously inspired by the tradition of Serb Orthodox Christianity. However, its political goals bridged the gap between Great Serb nationalism and pro-Yugoslav ideas, and its adherents came to support common South Slav unification based on the overcoming of religious and ethnic differences between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Consequently it was able to recruit Croats and Muslims as well as Serbs. Young Bosnia was an indigenous Bosnian movement, but it was co-opted by the Black Hand which sought to use it to advance its own expansionist goals. The Black Hand organised a guerrilla training school in Prokuplje in Serbia that prepared young people from Bosnia-Hercegovina to engage in terrorist activities. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, engineered by Apis and Tankosic and carried out by Bosnian Black Hand agents – Princip in conjunction with others – represented the culmination of these activities. The assassination cannot be understood unless both the indigenous Bosnian element (Young Bosnia) and the external Serbian element (Black Hand) are both taken into account together.
Gavrilo Princip was in the period of Tito’s Yugoslavia treated as an extraordinary historical figure; as a revolutionary who initiated the emancipation of the Yugoslav peoples; the forerunner of the people’s heroes of the Second World War. Today he is, at least in Croatia, looked upon differently – some consider him a murderer and terrorist, and others an exponent of Serb nationalism…
He is a figure that understandably divides Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks today. His political goals stood on the border between Great-Serb nationalism and Yugoslavism; he was very much Serb in his background, but he came to embrace a form of South Slav unification that stressed unity between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. He expressed violent hatred for the Sarajevo carsija, that from a contemporary perspective reminds us of Radovan Karadzic. However, his patriotic hatred was directed primarily against the foreign, Habsburg occupier, rather than against Croats or Muslims. His assassination set off a chain of events that had disastrous consequences for the South Slavs. Serbia was militarily crushed by the Central Powers in World War I, and only ended up on the winning side by luck: it was the US’s intervention in World War I that led to an Allied victory, in which Serbia was freed from occupation. The establishment of Yugoslavia was disastrous for Bosnia-Hercegovina’s peoples, and to a lesser extent for Croatia’s: it led to the Chetnik and Ustasha genocides of 1941 and to Milosevic’s and Karadzic’s genocide in the 1990s. We can reasonably view the assassination, leading to the establishment of Yugoslavia, as a historic wrong turn for the South Slav peoples of the Habsburg Empire. Some Young Bosnia supporters became notorious Chetniks in World War II. But it is important to remember that Princip was not Karadzic; he did not plan or engage in genocide.
Was the assassination of the heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand a terrorist act, as the Austro-Hungarian authorities understandably treated it at the time and as it is today treated by some historians, or was it in fact a patriotic act, as it is treated by the majority of Serb and pro-Serb historians ? If it was patriotic, what kind of patriotism was it ? Serb ? Bosnian ?
The assassination was undoubtedly a terrorist act, and it enjoyed no general support or democratic sanction among the Bosnian population – not even among the Serb population. So it cannot be considered as a legitimate act of a genuine national-liberation movement. But the assassins viewed themselves as patriots, and were undoubtedly sincere in their belief that they were acting in the best interests of their people. They did not have clearly worked out political goals – they were very young people, largely teenagers. They supported the liberation and unification of the South Slavs in general terms. Their patriotism was of a kind that blended Serb patriotism, Serbo-Croat patriotism, Bosnian patriotism and Yugoslav patriotism.
Was the goal of Young Bosnia to ‘expel’ Austria-Hungary from Bosnia-Hercegovina, which would then become an independent state, or to annex Bosnia to Serbia ?
Young Bosnia was a loose network with an imprecise membership – it was not a proper political organisation, and it did not have a precise programme. Its members broadly believed that Serbs, Croats and Muslims were the same nation, and they broadly sought Austria-Hungary’s expulsion from the South Slav lands so that these could be united with Serbia in a common South Slav state. In general, Young Bosnia’s members believed that Bosnia-Hercegovina belonged neither to Serbia nor to Croatia, but to both equally. At his trial, assassin Vasa Cubrilovic described his identity as ‘Serbo-Croat’, while Trifko Grabez said ‘I was not led by Serbia but solely by Bosnia’.
How much did the new, post-war (1918) geopolitical picture of the Balkans influence the fact that at the end of the twentieth century a number of national states were established ?
Those who defend the Versailles settlement claim that it permitted the liberation of the subject peoples from the former European empires – particularly the Habsburg Empire – and enabled them to form their own national states. However, from the point of view of the South Slav inhabitants of the Habsburg Empire – roughly speaking, the peoples of the lands that today comprise Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Vojvodina – 1918 arguably resulted in the exchange of one slavery for another. In the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, both Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina lost the parliaments and autonomy they had enjoyed in the Habsburg Empire, and relations between Serbs and non-Serbs became worse, not better. In retrospect, we can view the Yugoslav period (1918-1992) as a transitional phase on the road to independent national statehood for the Croats and Slovenes (although the Bosnian question remains unresolved today). The establishment of Yugoslavia on a centralised, Serbian-dominated basis in 1918-1921 made it very likely, if not inevitable, that the country would eventually break up in favour of independent national states.
Was Austria-Hungary a precursor to the European Union ?
No; Austria-Hungary was a multinational dynastic state that predated the independent national statehoods of its peoples, whereas the European Union is a multinational union built from independent nation-states. Only by freeing themselves from rule by the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Russian and other empires and establishing themselves as independent states, could the European nations go on to establish something like the European Union.
What was the key cause of the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy ? The burning, militant nationalism of its various peoples or the rigid centralism of Vienna and Budapest ? We see that in contemporary Europe nationalism is rising…
Historians debate how inevitable the break-up of Austria-Hungary was; whether it might have survived had its leaders been more accommodating toward its non-German and non-Magyar peoples, or if there had been no World War I. But I believe pre-national multinational unions like Austria-Hungary and Yugoslavia ultimately had no future. As a general rule, unless a state is underpinned by a common national identity shared by most of its citizens, then it cannot survive in the face of democracy. Because people will generally want their nation to be free and independent, not to be ruled by an alien master. The question is today how many more independent nation-states will one day appear in Europe: Scotland, Catalonia, Chechnya, etc. ?
What kind of lesson can Europe today draw from the Great War ?
That the peace of Europe is best secured when the continent is organised on the basis of independent, democratic national states in which the rights of national minorities are fully respected. And when these states are united in trans-national unions or associations – political, economic and military – that provide a common framework for interaction while respecting the sovereignty of each member.
If, after a hundred years, historians from either side of the Drina cannot even agree on who started the war, let alone who was really to blame for it, how can we expect that this part of Europe will truly be stabilised politically ? It turns out that the debate over the First World War is itself the pretext for a new war, at least among historians if not politically…
The establishment of the former Yugoslav lands as seven fully-functioning, fully sovereign states – Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo – and their unification within the European Union and NATO would provide the best guarantee for the region’s stabilisation. In such a case, the disputes of the past will matter less. Unfortunately, this process is stalled, and the futures of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia, in particular, appear uncertain. If Europe’s leaders remain unwilling to take the necessary steps to restore Bosnia-Hercegovina as a functioning state and to bring it into the EU along with Kosovo and Macedonia, then they will be responsible for any new conflict that breaks out.
On the night of 11 March 2000, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie attended a performance in Moscow of the Prokofiev opera ‘War and Peace’, in the company of acting Russian president Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila. This was part of a high-profile intervention in support of Putin’s presidential election bid that month. ‘He was highly intelligent and with a focused view of what he wants to achieve in Russia’, Blair gushed at the time. Meanwhile, Russia’s campaign of killing and destruction in Chechnya was in full swing. The contrast with Blair’s resolute opposition to the similar assault on the Albanian population of Kosovo by Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia the previous year was glaring.
Those who have demonised Blair as a ‘warmonger’ over NATO’s Kosovo intervention, and particularly over his support for the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, have been mostly silent over his Russian blunder. This is strange, for whereas the Kosovo war ended forever Milosevic’s military adventures, the West’s Russian strategy since the 1990s has been much more damaging to the cause of world peace. Putin claims his actions over Ukraine have been a response to longstanding Western mistreatment of Russia, but the truth is the opposite: the threat of war hanging today over Ukraine is the ugly offspring of the West’s longstanding enabling of Russian imperialism, of which Blair’s Moscow misadventure was merely an episode.
Continue reading at Left Foot Forward
This interview appeared in Bosnian translation in Dnevni Avaz on 2 April 2014
What parallels with Bosnia – if any – can you draw from the situation in Ukraine ?
Ukraine and Bosnia are both multinational states that until the early 1990s were members of larger multinational federations – the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia respectively. When these federations broke up, Serbia under Milosevic initially wholly rejected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the former Yugoslav republics as successor states, and waged a genocidal assault on Croatia and Bosnia in order to redraw the territorial borders in its favour. Whereas Russia under Yeltsin adopted an initially more moderate policy and largely accepted the sovereignty and borders of the former Soviet republics, though with some attempts to undermine them – above all in Georgia and Moldova. However, Putin’s policy is closer to Milosevic’s, insofar as he is openly tearing up the territorial integrity of other former Soviet republics – first Georgia, now Ukraine. Putin, like Milosevic, is head of a ‘soft dictatorship’ – meaning a regime that preserves the outward appearance of a democracy but is in reality a dictatorship. And like Milosevic, he wants to expand the borders of his state through violent, unilateral means. We do not yet know now far Putin will go; whether or not he will move from annexing the Crimea to a larger war of conquest against Ukraine that could involve bloodshed on the scale of Bosnia in the 1990s, or whether he will extend his aggression to another former Soviet republic such as Moldova. Either scenario is entirely possible.
Of which international agreements over Ukraine is Russia now in breach ?
Russia is in breach of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which it signed along with the US and the UK, whereby the three parties agreed to refrain from the use or the threat of force against Ukraine’s territorial integrity, in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons.
How do you view the appearance of Chetniks in Crimea ?
The presence of Chetniks in Crimea indicates the fact that extreme Serb nationalists view Russia’s confrontation with the West and with the new pro-Western regime in Ukraine as a continuation of their own national struggle against the West and against Serbia’s neighbours. It is comic, but it could also be tragic, if the Russians decide to engage in ethnic cleansing against ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars in Crimea and the Chetniks participate.
Many Serbs from both sides of the Drina river support Putin’s action over Crimea? Why ?
Again, hardline nationalist Serbs view Putin’s confrontation with the West and with the new pro-Ukrainian regime as a continuation of their own national struggle. Putin is constructing a ‘Greater Russia’ through the annexation of the Crimea and other foreign territories, just as Milosevic sought to construct a ‘Great Serbia’ through the annexation of territory in Bosnia and Croatia. Putin’s actions open the door to possible territorial revisions in favour of Serbia as well. More generally, Putin is admired because he represents resistance to Western liberal values that hardline Serb-nationalists hate: tolerance, pluralism, respect for human rights and for ethnic minorities and gay people.
What should Sarajevo and the West do in order to prevent a Crimean scenario in Bosnia ?
If, as appears to be the case, Putin succeeds in annexing the Crimea without meeting serious Western opposition, it is entirely possible that he will eventually support the secession of Republika Srpska from Bosnia-Hercegovina. The argument used by opponents of Western military action in defence of Ukraine – that Ukraine is not a NATO member, therefore NATO should not defend it – applies equally to Bosnia. If Serbia joins the EU, it will be very difficult to restrain further aggressive actions on its part against Bosnia. Just as it has proven impossible to prevent Greece’s persecution of Macedonia, because Greece is in the EU as well as in NATO. If Republika Srpska declares independence and is recognised by Russia and by an EU-member Serbia, with the collaboration of EU-member and NATO-member Croatia (seeking to support Bosnian Croat separatism) it is difficult to imagine the West taking meaningful action to defend Bosnia’s territorial integrity.
There are many things the West should do to prevent this from happening. It should send troops to defend eastern Ukraine from possible Russian aggression. It should impose severe sanctions on Russia until Russia withdraws from the Crimea and recognises Ukraine’s territorial integrity. It should revise the Dayton settlement to restore a functioning Bosnian state, with a strong central authority and the powers of the entities and cantons at least greatly reduced.
However, I do not believe that the West will do these things, because it lacks the will. Therefore it is vital that patriotic Bosnians (primarily Bosniaks, but also other Bosnian citizens whose primary loyalty is to Bosnia-Hercegovina rather than to Serbdom or Croatdom) begin to develop a resistance strategy to prepare themselves for a possible conflict arising from the secession of the RS supported by Serbia and Russia. If and when the RS secedes, Bosnians must be in a position to respond militarily, even if the West fails to act. And they must have clear strategic goals.
Three years ago, as readers may recall, David N. Gibbs of the University of Arizona responded to my criticisms of his Srebrenica-genocide-denying propaganda tract First do no Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia with an article published on ModernityBlog, entitled – in his characteristically hyperbolic style – ‘The Second Coming of Joe McCarthy’. What followed was a public debate in the comment boxes of the blog, in which Gibbs was comprehensively defeated on every point: he was unable to counter either my criticisms of his work, or my refutations of his criticisms of my own work. So weak, underhand and disingenuous were Gibbs’s attempts at discussion that the proprietor of the venue – where Gibbs had himself chosen to publish – graciously apologised to me personally for allowing him to post there: ‘I made a mistake by allowing David Gibbs a guest post. At the time I thought he was a reasonable academic who deserved a right of reply, however, subsequently I have had time to reflect on my poor judgement.’
I then published further articles exposing the way in which Gibbs distorted and manipulated source material to construct his fictitious narrative of the war in the former Yugoslavia. I refuted his attempt to justify Serb-nationalist territorial claims in Bosnia and his attempt to blame the break-up of Yugoslavia on a German imperialist conspiracy. I could have gone on to demolish the rest of his book as well, but that would have taken weeks of my life, and I felt I had sufficiently exposed its worthlessness as a supposed piece of scholarship. In January 2011, Gibbs admitted his inability to counter my refutations: ‘In what follows, I will make no pretense that I answer all of Hoare’s allegations, which I find impossible, given the huge quantity of his charges.’
Unable to win in a public debate, Gibbs then attempted to intimidate both me and my institution, Kingston University, in order to silence me. Out of the blue, nine months after our debate, he submitted a bogus complaint against me to my university containing fraudulent allegations. When Kingston inevitably failed to uphold his ‘complaint’, he published an attack on me, on Kingston and on my faculty dean on the far-right website Antiwar.com. He then sent increasingly threatening emails to my institution, which nevertheless continued to reject his ‘complaint’. Let us be clear on this point: despite what Gibbs insinuates, no part of his bogus complaint against me has ever been accepted by Kingston University.
This week, he is attempting yet again to intimidate Kingston University in the hope of silencing me, through a further bogus public complaint published on the anti-Semitic website Counterpunch .
The essence of Gibbs’s ‘complaint’ is that he is unhappy that I have I refuted much of his book. Instead of attempting to counter my arguments, he has simply restated his already refuted claims and portrayed my exposure of their fallaciousness as some sort of legitimate grievance. I am not going to waste my time re-stating points to which he was unable to respond the first time around. I have already refuted at length his wholly fantastical claim that the break-up of Yugoslavia was engineered by Germany; his wholly disingenuous claim to have engaged with existing scholarly literature by Michael Libal, Brendan Simms, Richard Caplan and others that contradicts his own arguments; his wholly spurious denial that he blames the Bosniak side for the Srebrenica massacre (I have dealt with his victim-blaming over Srebrenica twice already); and many of his other claims.
As regards arguments to which I haven’t previously responded, Gibbs’s formal statement condemning Milosevic is little more than a disclaimer in the style of ‘I’m not a racist, but…’. For those who are not familiar with the way these people operate: they rarely deny the crimes of Milosevic and the Serb forces altogether, but usually make an opening gambit along the lines of ‘Of course Milosevic and the Serb forces were guilty of terrible atrocities, but…’ before proceeding to regurgitate the Great Serb propaganda narrative putting the blame for the war on the Croats, Bosniaks and Western imperialism. There is little that is original in Gibbs’s version of this narrative; it has previously been presented in book form by Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti, Kate Hudson and others, and before that via magazine format by the people behind Living Marxism.
Of course Gibbs does not devote much space in his book to explaining how Milosevic ‘made a central contribution to Yugoslavia’s demise’. No mention of the fact that Milosevic and the Serbian and JNA leaderships were the principal separatists in the break-up of Yugoslavia; that Milosevic’s ally Borisav Jovic recorded in his diary that he, Milosevic and the JNA’s Veljko Kadijevic agreed in June 1990 to work for the forcible expulsion of Slovenia and a dismembered Croatia from Yugoslavia; that Kadijevic in his published memoirs admits that the JNA was working from this time for the ‘peaceful’ exit of Slovenia and Croatia from Yugoslavia; that Serbia’s constitution of 28 September 1990 declared: ‘The Republic of Serbia determines and guarantees: 1) the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia and its international position and relations with other states and international organisations’; that the following month Serbia imposed customs duties on imports from Croatia and Slovenia; that on 16 March 1991 Milosevic publicly announced that Serbia would no longer recognise the authority of the Yugoslav Presidency. Instead, Gibbs defends Milosevic as ‘a strong advocate of maintaining both Serbia and Yugoslavia as socialist’ (Gibbs, p. 65). And he makes clear that he blames the war in Croatia on the Croatian side: ‘The Croatian war had its origins with the nationalist forces that were unleashed during the election campaign of 1990, when Franjo Tudjman’s HDZ party came to power.’ (Gibbs, p. 87). And so on and so on.
Contrary to what Gibbs claims, I have never insinuated that he is ‘an extreme anti-Semite’. Gibbs pretends to deduce this supposed insinuation from my comparison of the myth that Germany brought about the destruction of Yugoslavia by engineering Croatian and Slovenian secession (a myth that he upholds) with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In other words, I am comparing an anti-German libel with an anti-Jewish libel, and Gibbs deduces from this that I am therefore accusing those who uphold the anti-German libel of being anti-Semitic. It really is difficult to believe that even Gibbs is quite so logically challenged that he can take his argument here seriously. Moreover, his faux outrage at the fabricated ‘insinuation’ is undermined by the fact that he has chosen to publish his latest attack in an anti-Semitic publication.
Gibbs claims ‘I have never objected to serious condemnation of Milošević’s crimes, in the media or elsewhere.’ But this is untrue. Gibbs wrote in his book: ‘Another feature of the Balkan conflict was the tendency of the Western media needlessly to exaggerate the atrocities committed by Serb armies… Atrocities committed at Serb-run detention camps were presented in sensationalist fashion, for example, and they became “extermination camps” comparable to Auschwitz. President Izetbegovic himself encouraged these interpretations. Yet, in 2003, shortly before his death, Izetbegovic conceded that “there were no extermination camps” in Bosnia. He also conceded that his previous claims to the contrary had been deliberate misrepresentations, intended to outrage Western public opinion and thus trigger Western military intervention against the Serbs.’ (Gibbs, p. 216) So Gibbs has accused the Western media of having ‘exaggerated’ Serb atrocities and presented them in a ‘sensationalist fashion’ (NB Gibbs’s claim regarding Izetbegovic rests not on any credible source, but solely on the self-serving testimony of Bernard Kouchner, who had been a minister in France’s pro-appeasement government during the war in Bosnia).
Gibbs claims ‘Another one of Hoare’s techniques is the use of faked quotations, wherein he fabricates quoted statements, which he attributes to me.’ This is another falsehood, and represents Gibbs’s desperate attempt to deflect attention away from my point-by-point refutation of his book. Here is what he writes:
‘In the above Modernityblog posting, for example, Hoare attributes to me the phrase “creating the hatred,” which he presents as a direct quotation. The implication is that in my view the Bosnian Muslims were “creating the hatred” in the Srebrenica area. In fact, this is a fake quotation. This phrase “creating the hatred” appears nowhere in any of my writings. Then in a later posting, he attributes to me the quote “created the hatred,” which once again implies that in my view the Muslims had created the hatred in Srebrenica. But the quoted phrase appears in none of my writings, and the essence of its meaning corresponds to nothing I have ever said.’
Naturally Gibbs doesn’t provide any link that would allow his readers to check whether indeed I had said what he claims. In fact, this is what Gibbs wrote in his book: ‘The Srebrenica safe area had an especially brutal history, and it was besieged by Serb forces throughout the war. It is important to note, however, that Muslim troops also behaved brutally. Especially problematic was the Muslim commander Brigadier Oric, who based his forces inside Srebrenica and conducted forays against Serb villages in the surrounding region. One UNPROFOR commander later described Oric’s activities as follows: “Oric engaged in attacks during Orthodox holidays and destroyed [Serb] villages, massacring all the inhabitants. This created a degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the [Srebrenica] region… [etc.]“‘ (Gibbs, pp. 153-154).
So Gibbs quoted an UNPROFOR commander as saying that the actions of Naser Oric’s Bosnian army ‘created a degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the [Srebrenica] region…’. Gibbs treated this claim uncritically, using it to substantiate his attribution of blame for the Srebrenica massacre to Oric’s Bosnian forces. He is now trying to conceal the fact that he wrote this passage, perhaps because he is aware of how shameful it is.
I cited this passage from Gibbs in my first ever post about him, and gave the quote in full. Readers are invited to check what I wrote about him against what he wrote in his book, to see if I cited him accurately. The discussion at Modernity blog was Gibbs’s response to that post. Readers are invited to read the exchange and judge for themselves whether my subsequent references to his statement were accurate or not.
Gibbs continues: ‘And there is yet a third fake quote, in the title of one of Hoare’s reviews: “First Check Their Sources 2: The Myth that ‘Most of Bosnia Was Owned by the Serbs Before the War.’” The first part of the title (“First Check Their Sources”) is a play on words from the title of my book, which is First Do No Harm. The embedded phrase in Hoare’s title (“Most of Bosnia Was Owned…”) is presented as a direct quote, with quotation marks. This quote is yet another fabrication, which falsifies both the literal wording of my book and also the substance of my stated views.’
As Gibbs knows very well, the part of the title in quote marks was not ‘presented as a direct quote’; nowhere did I claim that Gibbs had used those exact words. It was an entirely accurate paraphrasing of the position common to Gibbs and others like him, who do indeed claim that ‘most of Bosnia was owned by the Serbs before the war’. The exact words Gibbs uses are provided in detail in the article in question, with page numbers given. Again, readers are invited to read the article and decide for themselves if it was an accurate paraphrasing. Readers will note that Gibbs was wholly unable to respond to that article, so we may reasonably assume that apart from his quibble over my use of quote marks in the title, he accepts the validity of what I wrote there.
Finally, Gibbs claims ‘Due to Hoare’s tactics, the public understanding of Yugoslavia’s breakup has been fundamentally distorted, due to a climate of intimidation and fear, which has prevented genuine scholarly debate.’ But my ‘tactics’ simply involved writing a negative extended review of Gibbs’s book, exposing its poor scholarship and genocide denial. By contrast, here are Gibbs’s tactics, in his own words: ‘Every time in the future that I am forced to respond to Hoare’s attacks, I will emphasize the role of Kingston University in helping to make these attacks possible. I will especially emphasize the roles of Vice Chancellor Weinberg and Dean McQuillan, who are Hoare’s academic supervisors. Up to this point, there has been too little accountability with regard to Hoare’s conduct. It is time to correct the problem.’
I leave it to readers to make up their own minds about who is guilty of trying to intimidate. Gibbs has revealed himself as a bully with no respect either for truth or for freedom of speech. Neither Kingston University nor any other university worthy of the name will uphold a bogus, malicious complaint published on an unsavoury extremist website; one aimed solely at distracting attention away from an unanswerable refutation of poor scholarship, and at silencing legitimate criticism through threats and smears. But I am not going to be intimidated. I should like to take this opportunity to reaffirm what I have written about Gibbs, and to assure readers that it will not be retracted or taken down.
On 21 January, the Croatian journalists’ website autograf.hr published an article about me written by Dejan Jovic, chief analyst and special coordinator at the office of the president of Croatia, Ivo Josipovic. The Croatian newspaper Vecernji list republished Jovic’s article, then published my reply on 30 January, which is reproduced here with Croatian-language passages translated into English. My reply was also published in BCS translation by tacno.net.
[My four-part refutation of David Gibbs’s book ‘First do no Harm’ can be found here.]
Dejan Jovic’s attack on me, published by autograf.hr on 21 January, contains numerous falsehoods. For example, he accuses me: ‘To justify the war in Iraq, they employed the metaphor of Hitler (for Saddam Hussein)’. Yet I have never used the Hitler metaphor to describe Saddam Hussein, and in June 2013 I described the Iraq war in the pages of the Guardian as a ‘misguided adventure’. He claims ‘people like Hoare advocate further interventions as the solution to new problems: in Syria, maybe afterwards in Iran, then who knows where tomorrow.’ In fact, I explicitly condemned the idea of a US or Israeli attack on Iran on my blog back in April 2012. Jovic claims: ‘Indeed, those same people who attack me have already attacked many others, including the Washington Times, The Guardian, and proclaimed some other reputable individuals and media outlets to be “genocide deniers”.’ But I have never accused either the Washington Times or the Guardian of genocide denial, and I doubt whether Jovic’s other critics have either. Jovic links me to the politics of the Henry Jackson Society. Yet I resigned from that organisation at the start of 2012, and have explicitly and strongly condemned its politics repeatedly since.
Jovic’s string of ad hominem falsehoods directed against me appear to be his way of distracting attention from the matter at hand: his uncritical endorsement of David Gibbs’s Great Serb propaganda tract (First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009), which denies the Srebrenica genocide. Jovic claims: ‘In criticising my review of Gibbs’s book, Hoare “forgets” that Gibbs personally replied to his thesis on “genocide denial” – and completely refuted it.’ But this is untrue. In his book (p. 281), Gibbs says of Srebrenica: ‘Certainly, the murder of eight thousand people is a grave crime, but to call it “genocide” needlessly exaggerates the scale of the crime’ (p. 281). Furthermore, Gibbs claims the massacre was provoked by the Bosniak victims: ‘The origin of the Srebrenica massacre lay in a series of Muslim attacks that began in the spring of 1995… Such actions invited Serb reprisals, and this dynamic contributed to the fall of the safe area’ (p. 160). As for Jovic’s claim that Gibbs ‘totally refuted’ my accusation of genocide denial: this is also untrue; Gibbs was completely unable to defend himself from the charge. Readers can view my refutation of him and see for themselves.
Jovic first tries to deny that Gibbs engages in genocide denial, then tries to justify Gibbs’s genocide denial. He argues that ‘in the academic community – not our own post-Yugoslav one, but more broadly – there is no consensus on whether in the wars in the former Yugoslavia genocide was committed or not.’ But none of the people he cites, in support of the view that there was no genocide, is an expert on the former Yugoslavia. Jovic then claims ‘courts have ruled that in Bosnia-Hercegovina there was no genocide (apart from in Srebrenica)’. But this is untrue: the ICTY has not ruled that there was no genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina apart from in Srebrenica. Both Karadzic and Mladic are currently being tried for genocide in municipalities across Bosnia-Hercegovina – not only in Srebrenica. Karadzic’s acquittal by the ICTY Trials Chamber for one count of genocide (in municipalities outside of Srebrenica) was recently reversed by the ICTY Appeals Chamber. Furthermore, in 1997, a German court convicted Nikola Jorgic, a Bosnian Serb, for genocide in the north Bosnian region of Doboj in 1992, and this ruling was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.
Finally, Jovic claims that genocide is something invented by warmongers to justify military intervention, whereas people who deny genocide are really just trying to protect peace:
‘”Genocide” and “Hitler” are always there when it is necessary to start a new war – they are the “idea” explanation of the reason why one more is being launched. The difference between Gibbs and Hoare is, therefore, that one thinks that the wars are not waged out of altruism and that they do not solve problems, whereas the other maintains that liberal interventions are necessary and important, and that there is nothing controversial in them even if they result in a large number of deaths. One is an advocate of peace, the other of war.’ The reality is somewhat different: both Jovic and Gibbs seek to minimise the guilt of the Serbian aggressor for the 1990s war, and to shift as much blame as possible onto the Croatian and Bosnian victims of the aggression. The agenda of people like Jovic and Gibbs is to ensure that the real warmongers – tyrants like Slobodan Milosevic and Bashar al-Assad – should be free to wage their wars without fear of Western military intervention, or even of serious condemnation from the Western media.
Following his review of Gibbs’s book in Politicka misao, Jovic has now for the second time, in his reply to me and to the Bosnian organisations who criticised him, praised this book in glowing terms, while refusing to make any substantial criticisms of it. Yet Gibbs’s book is a Great Serbian propaganda pamphlet of no scholarly value. Gibbs has no expertise on the subject of the former Yugoslavia; he does not even read Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian; and his arguments are based on the distortion and manipulation of source material. He minimises the guilt and crimes of the regimes of Milosevic and Karadzic and of the JNA; exaggerates the guilt and crimes of the Croatians and Bosnians; and seeks to blame the West for the break-up of Yugoslavia and war.
1) Gibbs writes ‘And we will see later in the chapter that the post-Yugoslav state of Croatia, which became independent in 1991, had important historical links with Pavelic’s puppet state.’ (p. 48).
Discussing World War II, Gibbs mentions Ustasha genocide and collaboration, as well as the collaboration of Bosnian Muslims and Albanians, but fails to mention the crimes or collaboration of the Chetniks, or of Serbia’s Nedic regime.
2) Gibbs claims Tudjman ‘recommended’ genocidal violence against the Jews (p. 67)
3) Gibbs claims Croatia and Slovenia were not experiencing any oppression at Serb hands prior to declaring independence, so had no legitimate grounds for seceding: ‘In fact, there was no serious evidence of Serb oppression in Slovenia or Croatia prior to the secessionist actions. The main reasons for seceding, as we saw in the previous chapter, were economic in nature. The JNA’s initial use of force in Slovenia was quite mild’ (p. 97). Thus, he disregards the Serbian economic sanctions against Slovenia; the JNA’s disarming of the Slovenian and Croatian territorial defence; the Serb rebellion in Croatia; the ‘Log Revolution’; the JNA’s intervention in support of the Serb rebels; and the massacre of Croatian policemen at Borovo Selo.
4) Gibbs blames the war in Croatia on the Croatian side: ‘The Croatian war had its origins with the nationalist forces that were unleashed during the election campaign of 1990, when Franjo Tudjman’s HDZ party came to power.’ (p. 87)
5) Gibbs claims Germany engineered Croatia’s independence and the war in 1991: ‘We will see that Germany began encouraging Croatian nationalists and preparing them for independence months before the war began. Based on this new information, I argue that German officials did not simply respond to the war; they helped initiate it.’ (p. 77)
And again: ‘Germany played a key role in encouraging Slovenia and Croatia to secede, and surreptitiously assured them of external support for the secession efforts. Once the republics actually seceded, the European Community (backed by the United States) condemned the JNA’s efforts to block secession.’ (p. 105)
Gibbs’s anti-German conspiracy theory – which Jovic particularly praises – is based on biased, unserious and manipulated sources; he does not have even a single piece of real evidence to demonstrate that Germany encouraged Croatia to secede from Yugoslavia. I have exposed Gibbs’s anti-German falsifications in detail.
6) Gibbs condemns the European Community for recognising Croatia’s independence in its republican borders, and its failure to recognise the independence of the Krajina Serbs: ‘The European Community took the view that Croatia and other republics could not be divided. In effect, this meant the following: Croatia had the right to secede from Yugoslavia but this same right would not be recognised for the Krajina Serbs, who wished to separate from Croatia. In the ensuing conflict in Krajina, the European Community supported the Croatian position and opposed that of the Serbs. At the Hague conference, Van den Broek, the Dutch foreign minister, affirmed that any changes in the republican borders “were not an option”. This anti-Serb bent was evident at many levels.’ (p. 96).
And again: ‘On the one hand, the Community accepted the right of Croatia to separate from Yugoslavia, or at least viewed such separation with leniency. On the other hand, the European Community condemned efforts by the Krajina Serbs to separate from Croatia. Why the double standard ?’ (p. 97)
7) Gibbs claims: ‘In addition, the Muslim/Croat alliance of 1990-1991 recreated a similar alliance that had existed during World War II, when the two groups were the main supporters of the pro-Nazi Ustasa state, and both participated in the massacres of the Serbs that occurred during this period.’ (p. 116)
8) Gibbs claims: ‘Operation Storm also generated a humanitarian disaster. The attack forced from 150,000 to 200,000 Serbs to flee, producing what was probably the largest single act of ethnic expulsion of the entire war.’ (p. 163)
9) Gibbs writes: ‘Another feature of the Balkan conflict was the tendency of the Western media needlessly to exaggerate the atrocities committed by Serb armies… Atrocities committed at Serb-run detention camps were presented in sensationalist fashion, for example, and they became “extermination camps” comparable to Auschwitz. President Izetbegovic himself encouraged these interpretations. Yet, in 2003, shortly before his death, Izetbegovic conceded that “there were no extermination camps” in Bosnia. He also conceded that his previous claims to the contrary had been deliberate misrepresentations, intended to outrage Western public opinion and thus trigger Western military intervention against the Serbs.’ (p. 216) In this way, Gibbs minimises the criminal nature of Serb concentration-camps like Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje.
10) Gibbs accuses the Bosnian armed forces of shelling their own civilians during the siege of Sarajevo, in order to blame it on the Serbs ‘: ‘In several cases, Bosnian forces themselves bombarded Sarajevo and blamed the resulting deaths on the Serbs.’ (p. 125)
Furthermore: ‘In should also be noted that the [Bosnian] government restricted the right of Sarajevo residents to flee the city, effectively blocking the exit for many besieged civilians. This policy increased the potential for casualties and fit in nicely with the government’s public relations strategy. In the world’s media, the deaths from shelling and sniper fire were blamed exclusively on Serb forces, but in reality the Bosnian government bore some responsibility as well.’ (p. 126)
11) Gibbs claims the Serbs legitimately owned most of Bosnia: ‘: ‘It is clear that Serb forces were on the offensive during much of the war, and they conquered large areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina. But the extent of Serb aggression was once again exaggerated. Newspaper articles repeatedly noted that Serbs controlled some 70 percent of Bosnia’s territory, despite the fact that they only constituted 31 percent of the total population… What such reports omitted was that Serbs had always occupied most of Bosnia’s land area, owing to their demographic dominance in rural regions.’ (p. 124)
12) Gibbs claims that it was the Muslims and Croats who caused the war to break out in Bosnia in 1992, whereas the Serbs wanted peace: ‘In March 1992, however, before full-scale war had begun, Serb leaders welcomed the Lisbon agreement and they endorsed it in the strongest terms. Radovan Karadzic, who represented the Serbs at Lisbon, called the agreement a “great day for Bosnia and Herzegovina.” And it should be recalled that it was the Muslims and the Croats, not the Serbs, who actually reneged. There is no evidence that the Serbs were bent on war at this point.’ (p. 111)
So, those are the theses of David Gibbs, which Jovic has now chosen to praise on two occasions. For Jovic to praise so highly Gibbs’s extreme anti-Croatian, anti-Bosnian and Great Serb propaganda tract is scandalous. Yet it is scarcely surprising, since in his own book about the break-up of Yugoslavia (Jugoslavija – država koja je odumrla: Uspon, kriza i pad Kardeljeve Jugoslavije (1974-1990), Prometej, Zagreb, 2003), Jovic already revealed that his sympathies in the 1990s were with Slobodan Milosevic and the JNA. Jovic praised Milosevic as a fighter for Yugoslav statehood and unity and defender of Tito’s legacy, regretted the failure of the JNA to crush Croatian rearmament in 1991, and absolved both Milosevic and the JNA as instigators of the war and perpetrators of the mass killing:
1) Comparing Slobodan Milosevic and Vaclav Havel:
Jovic, p. 56: ‘The direction of the protests against the regime, for example in Czechoslovakia and in Serbia, was totally different, so Havel and Milošević became antipodes in everything. While one led a liberal-democratic revolution against the state, the other led an anti-bureaucratic revolution against an anti-state ideology and anarchy, for the establishment of a state. ‘
2) Lamenting the JNA’s inability to halt Croatia’s rearmament
Jovic, p. 64: ‘The British reaction to separatism in Northern Ireland is a typical example of a liberal (minimal) state, which did not refrain from introducing a state of war and employing tanks in order to halt a civil war before it had begun. In contrast to this, in the state that was withering away, Socialist Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav People’s Army turned itself into a filmmaker recording the illegal import of weapons at the border (with Hungary) whose duty it was to protect from that sort of illegal activity.’
3) On Milosevic as a ‘Yugoslav nationalist’
Jovic, p. 65n: ‘In his first phase, Milosevic was probably a Yugoslav nationalist, but he never became a Serb nationalist, as many call him today. Never, indeed, did he want to form a Serb national state. His attachment to Yugoslavia, even to the point when Yugoslavia had become just a name and nothing more, was the main reason why he in the end lost popularity and the elections (2000).’
4) On the Chetniks as a ‘strong-pro-Yugoslav resistance movement’
Jovic, p. 141: ‘He who claims that Yugoslavia had to collapse in 1941 because of ethnic tension, should have to explain how it was possible that there arose, immediately following the occupation, two strong pro-Yugoslav resistance movements (Mihailovic’s and Tito’s).’
5) On Milosevic’s loyalty to Tito’s legacy
Jovic, p. 156: ‘In destroying the fourth Yugoslavia, Milosevic rejected Kardelj but not Tito.’
6) On Milosevic’s desire to bring about the ‘unity of Yugoslavia’
Jovic, p. 400: ‘His program now [in 1987], for the first time, seemed clear even to those at the lowest level of the social hierarchy, and he carried it out decisively: first the unity of the Serb Party, then unity of Serbia, then of the Yugoslav Party, then of Yugoslavia. That programme had four phases – Milosevic had now accomplished the first; at the third he would be halted, and at the fourth defeated.’
7) On Milosevic’s desire to restrain Serb nationalism
Jovic, p. 471: ‘Treating Milosevic and Kucan with a bit of benevolence, one could say that at least part of their motive could be explained by an attempt to retain power in order to prevent the “real nationalists” (those gathered around the New Review or people such as Vuk Draskovic was at the time) from coming to power in Slovenia and Serbia. As David Owen later said of Milosevic, they had to “ride the tiger of nationalism if they did not want the tiger to swallow them” (1995: 129). They appeared powerful, omnipotent, but in reality they were both afraid that the exit of the League of Communists from the political scene could bring about only worse nationalism. They accepted nationalism in order to prevent it.’
8) On the JNA’s ‘good intention’ to prevent ethnic conflict in Croatia
Jovic, p. 485: ‘When the Croatian government attempted to prevent the [Serb rebel] takeover, the Yugoslav People’s Army imposed itself between it and the Serbs, perhaps with the good intention of preventing direct ethnic conflict in Croatia.’
9) On Milosevic as ‘genuinely surprised’ by break up of Yugoslavia and war
Jovic, pp. 491-492: ‘The sources that were at the disposal of the author of this book do not give sufficient reason to support the conclusion that the members of the Yugoslav political elite in this period (including, thus, Slobodan Milosevic and Milan Kucan as well) intended to destroy Yugoslavia. Many of them, like most Yugoslavs, most analysts at home and abroad and the international political community as a whole, were genuinely surprised by the break-up, and still more by the war that broke out after that.’
10) On war in Yugoslavia as expression of state weakness and ‘private violence’
Jovic, pp. 492-493: ‘‘The violence that, in the ruins of Yugoslavia, in a stateless terrain, erupted in the ‘90s of last century had, indeed, the same cause as the collapse itself: it was the expression of a weak, ineffective state that was not in a position to suppress the private armies, private revenge, private “laws” and private violence. The wars that were waged in those ruins were to a large extent private revenge in which neighbours repaid some imaginary quid pro quo to their neighbours.’
Jovic is right about one thing: the criticisms being made against him are political, not academic in motivation. If Jovic were simply a scholar expressing his private opinion, it would not matter that his work rehabilitates Milosevic and the JNA. It would not matter that he praises a propaganda pamphlet with no academic value, that supports Croatia’s territorial dismemberment and denies the Srebrenica genocide. Jovic has the right, as a scholar, to express his views freely. But he is the Croatian president’s chief analyst and special coordinator. It is dangerous to both Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina for someone holding such views, and with such poor analytical judgement and grasp of reality, to occupy the position that he does.
Marko Attila Hoare
‘Fortified by the Austrian alliance, Catherine [the Great] proceeded toward the realisation of the Grand Plan. She began in the Crimea where, in complete violation of her pledges at Kuchuk Kainarji, she applied the same tactics that had proved successful in Poland. She encouraged a revolt against the reigning khan and installed in his place a pretender who faithfully executed her orders. When the Tatar population rose in protest she proclaimed the annexation of the country with professions of acting only to deliver its people from misgovernment. This highhanded robbery excited the greatest indignation in Constantinople. But the Turks received no support from any quarter. Even France advised acceptance of the fait accompli. The inevitable outcome was the Treaty of Constantinople (1783) ceding to Russia the Crimean Peninsula with the neighbouring Kuban area and the Taman Peninsula.’
L.S. Stavrianos, The Balkans since 1453, Hurst and Company, London, 1958, 2000, pp. 193-194
Image courtesy of Infowars.com
This is a guest post by Sarah Correia
When I returned to Sarajevo three weeks ago, after two years away, very little seemed to have changed, and I was struck by a dominant feeling of disenchantment, which became more clear when I asked people about the Bebolucija. Nobody wasted much time on their replies, merely expressing their disappointment. Thus, when, last Wednesday, 5 February, a friend in Tuzla posted on Facebook a few pictures she took of a protest, it looked just like another protest, as so many that have been staged over the years, of workers who lost their jobs or haven’t received their salaries, or farmers, pensioners, veterans… But this turned out not to be yet another protest, but that one moment when too much becomes too much. The police charged at the protesters, who were throwing eggs and stones against the building of the government of Tuzla Canton. My friend’s status on Facebook was “ja i moj narod vicemo…. Kijev u TZ” (“I and my people are shouting… Kiev in Tuzla”), translated very well the mood there, and people joined the protests the following days in growing numbers, defiant despite the use of force by the police; arrests; tear gas. The protests had turned violent, culminating on Friday 7 February in a local government building being set on fire, and prompting the resignation of the Prime-minister of Tuzla Canton.
The situation is Tuzla immediately gave rise to protests in other Bosnian towns. I will now present my own eyewitness account of the protests in Sarajevo, which have been the focus of much anxiety, speculation, and manipulation.
On Thursday 6 February, I found myself in a small protest in Skenderija, in front of the building of the government of Sarajevo Canton. I had been visiting the Ars Aevi collection depot, which had re-opened to the public that same day, and when I left and crossed the bridge towards the right bank of the Miljacka river, there they were, the protesters. The street (Obala Kulina Bana) was blocked, and riot police were standing in front of the government building, as well as the Dom Sindikata. Someone had used a banner saying ‘Niko ne sme da vas bije’ (‘No one is allowed to beat you’ -the phrase proffered by Slobodan Milosevic in 1987 in a meeting in Kosovo that marked the beginning of his ascent to power). The protesters were mostly youngsters as well as pensioners, and there were very few women, one of whom was standing on the road in front of the police cordon. It was objectively speaking a very small protest, maybe 200 people or slightly more, held in solidarity with Tuzla, as a protester informed me, but another protest was scheduled for the following day.
When I left my home on Friday, 7 February to see the protest, I expected it to be more of the same as the day before – a few hundred people, kids and pensioners. And despite the example set by a much bigger mobilisation in Tuzla, when I got to Skenderija around 12 noon, I counted no more than a hundred people. There were a lot of police in riot gear, though, and there were obviously a number of them in civilian clothes as well. I went for a walk, and noticed that in the surrounding streets there were vans with more riot policemen, and quite a number outside the MUP (Ministry of the Interior) of Sarajevo Canton, including also vans typically used to arrest people.
When I returned a few minutes past 1pm there were a lot more people, and within half an hour many more arrived, but still it was very far from a massive demonstration. The protest spread through the square in front on the building of Sarajevo Canton and the riverbank ahead, between the two bridges, with some people also watching on the two nearby bridges and from a safe distance on the other side of the river in Skenderija, and something like 50-100 people more spread through no more than 100 metres on the Obala Kulina Bana towards the centre. I cannot say how many people were there in total, but it was not a dense crowd, and there were lots of empty spaces, the crowd compact only in front of the building.
The building was not protected by metal barriers as is usually seen elsewhere in Europe when protests occur, but merely by yellow tape with ‘Stop Police ‘ written on it. The police barrier was not compact either, merely a row of men, although there were more on the side streets. Traffic was diverted from that area, with the police blocking traffic in Marijin dvor towards the riverbank and in front of the Alipasina mosque.
As for the protesters, there was an almost complete absence of flags and banners – only one older man with a big Bosnian flag and a few women with small banners, who soon left the protest. There were no chants either. Only ever now and then a few would should Tuzla Tuzla or lopovi (thieves). A man had a megaphone but the quality of the sound was so poor that 10 metres away as I was I could not hear any distinct words. Suddenly around 1.30-1.40pm a core of young protesters wearing hoods started throwing objects against the building, over the police, including stones and bricks. Cameramen and photographers ran for a safer position, but it took some minutes for the police to react, by advancing the barrier towards Kulina Bana (the riverside street). A middle-aged man started chanting the Internationale, but nobody followed him.
At that moment I moved from the centre of the protest to the river bank (Obala Kulina Bana). That was when I could take a closer look at the hooded youths, who had also withdrawn from the garden to this area after the first wave of stone-throwing and the initial police reaction of advancing the cord some 10 metres. I could see how some of them communicated with small gestures, mere looks. One had a Molotov cocktail in his hand but after exchanging looks with another he hid it away. At that moment I made an assessment of the situation bearing in mind that I had previously seen a lot of police stationed in vans in surrounding streets. I was at that time next to the riverbank’s wall, between the stanica and the kiosk. Oddly, both kiosks were open for business. I realised that I would be trapped if the police charged (which I honestly assumed they would), so I decided to cross the river, expecting an escalation. Meanwhile the police threw some tear gas, but not in such a quantity to force the dispersal of the crowd. Already on the other side of the river, two kids aged about 16-18 were affected by the tear gas, and someone got bottles of water at the nearby kiosk to wash them.
I didn’t stay long on the other side, and after crossing back I went to the balcony of the Dom sindikata, a building on this square, where people were watching. I was still on the Dom sindikata when, around 2pm, the police tried to disperse the crowd in two fronts, one on the riverbank next to the Dom, the second one by pushing the crowd towards the big bridge. An ambulance came as at least one policeman was injured. The watchers on the Dom sindikata showed some enthusiasm, but among journalists standing there there were more signs of concern. After initially being pushed back towards Kulina Bana and the bridge, the crowd charged back, and to everybody’s surprise, broke the police barrier, a barrier consisting of a single line with no rear back up. Then, instead of reassembling, the police withdrew towards the streets around the Presidential building, and left the Canton building totally unprotected.
For a while I expected the police to come back, but they didn’t. Meanwhile the rioters seemed confused with such an easy victory. A few had to openly invite the crowd to attack the building. Eventually a small stand was set on fire, the window glasses were broken, and finally the building’s entrance was set on fire. All of this while the more passive protesters watched. There were also people standing on the street that goes from the bridge to the Alipasina mosque, but these were mostly just ordinary passers-by looking incredulous over what was going on.
By 3pm I was still expecting a come-back from the police and did not believe at that moment that the destruction would spread to other buildings so easily as it did. I walked towards the building for a few shots, and that was when it became obvious that the rioters were becoming more aggressive. Two of them approached me and told me not to take photos of faces. They did so politely, and I did not feel in immediate danger, but other people with cameras were less fortunate and were punched or somewhat assaulted. It was 3.10pm when I took my last photo and decided to get back home. By then I had a headache which, I was told later, may have been the result of exposure to tear gas and fumes – I did feel very sick later that day.
This was the protest, as I saw it. There were no banners, no demands, just a hundred young men or even less than that, who were given a chance to engage in destruction, maybe a hundred pensioners, and a few hundred people watching. I’ve been in many protests in different settings, and there was nothing of the typical protest vibe present in this one. There wasn’t even much anger, there was instead a rather odd, pervasive feeling that is hard to describe, as if it was some kind of parallel reality, and it was as if we were all feeling paralysed, merely waiting for something to happen – except the ones who were busy breaking glasses, spraying catchphrases and penises on the building’s walls and setting fire to the building. They didn’t show much emotion either, and certainly not rage. At that moment, they seemed guided only by a nihilistic sense of possibility.
As I walked towards Marijin dvor, the absurdity of the whole situation dawned on me. Cafés, shops – including electronic goods shops – supermarkets and shopping centres were all open for business, as if nothing was going on, just a few dozen metres away. Except for the disruption in traffic, it was just another day in Sarajevo.
Around 5pm things had significantly escalated and by then people had woken up to the seriousness of the situation. Rioters also attacked the Presidency building, setting it on fire, which damaged one of the deposits of the Arhiv BiH – the Bosnian state archive – located on the basement. The following is based on the eyewitness accountt of a friend, who lives in the centre, and was at the time of the events working in a building in front of the Alipasina mosque. When I called her around 6pm to know if she was safe, she told me, before the media reported it, that she could now see the building of the Opstina Centar – i.e. the municipal office – on fire. When we met on Saturday and went through the events again, she showed much more concern for the archives of the municipality than for anything else, as people’s practical issues are very affected: birth certificates, residency certificates, etc. She could understand attacking the Canton Sarajevo building and the Presidency, but not the municipality. She also told me that at 10pm, when he streets became secure again, and she walked home, there were many people in the streets, including people who took the tram to the centre with the specific purpose of taking a look at the destruction. People were walking up and down and there was a general feeling of sadness. I could see, and a number of people confirmed this to me, that this event brought back the memories of the first days of the war in Sarajevo, and the same emotions were felt all over again, like a tragic version of the episode of Proust’s madeleines.
On Saturday I went to the centre in the afternoon. I strolled around, and it was very different than the normal Saturday afternoon. There was much less people out, I’d say a quarter of the usual number. There was no buzz, although all business were working as usual. I stayed until 8pm, and as there were no trams in the centre, I walked to Marijin dvor with my friend. In front of the presidency building was still standing a small group of people, maybe 20 – the remaining participants of a peaceful protest that has since taken place every day. On Sunday anther peaceful protest took place, in which I didn’t participate. The main demand was the release of the persons who had been arrested on Friday, and friends who joined described how they spontaneously joined, and how loosely organised it was, but it was clearly effective, as all the protesters were released between that evening and the following morning.
I joined the protests again on Monday, 10 February, along with a friend. The atmosphere had radically changed. The Prime-Minister of Sarajevo Canton had meanwhile resigned his post, and there was a sense of possibility in the air, that positive change might be possible, although people I spoke to sounded very prudent, perhaps too modest in their ambitions, or perhaps realistically aware of the obstacles towards success.
Trying now to analyse what I’ve witnessed, the big question for me (and for many others) was the police’s behaviour. It seemed clear from very early on that a decision had previously been made not to use violence, possibly in light of events in Tuzla. The police official reporting today (Wednesday 12 February) to the assembly of Sarajevo Canton confirmed that, saying that the lives of the citizens were more important than the integrity of the buildings. But this was not merely the case of police restraint. The police completely withdrew, leaving public and private property, including crucially the Presidency building, at the rioters’ mercy for a number of hours. My initial feeling was that power was crumbling like a house of cards, under the pressure of a few hundred protesters, but that was an illusory impression. The stakes are high for those in power, and they are not as detached as to let go so easily. There has since been much speculation about this, many rumours and conspiracy theories, some openly vented by politicians, such as was the case of Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak member of the collective Presidency of Bosnia, who suggested the rioters came from Eastern Sarajevo, and SDA’s Ahmet Sadikovic, former Security Minister, who declared having information that the hooligans belonged to Slavija football club from Eastern Sarajevo, both trying to tap the ethnic key. Most importantly, there has been great anxiety over the possible role of the current state Security Minister, Fahrudin Radoncic, a populist politician who immediately tried to score points on the situation, and whom many are aware may, once elections are held, ultimately benefit the most from a situation of political unrest. But we can also question how willing would the policemen, even the special forces, be to use violence. This is a crucial question.
Regarding speculation about who were the protesters and how well-organised they were: on Friday there was a certain level of coordination among the younger elements, and a core of people who were clearly organised. Some of them had an appearance consistent with the hooligan subculture, and I wouldn’t be surprised that they were fans of the local clubs, and homophobic graffiti sprayed on the Sarajevo Canton building makes one wonder whether some of them were the same people who attacked the cinema Kriterion where an LGBT festival was taking place. But these individuals were not the majority, and there were also many boys who seemed to have joined spontaneously, in small groups of friends. There weren’t many girls, but there were some, and there were a few people of all ages, but mostly people around 15-23, and older people, and very few people in their 30s. Disturbed as I may have been by their actions, in hindsight they seem to me rather mild. Private property was largely untouched and, bearing in mind they were let loose for a few hours, it could have been much worse. For instance, the GRAS kiosk adjacent to the tram stop in front of the Sarajevo Canton building was set on fire, and I suppose also pillaged. But the other kiosk, standing 3 metres away, was left untouched. In fact it remained working all the time I was there.
As for whether these demonstrators were hooligans or not, that is a matter of qualification, and great efforts were made to seize upon the initial shock of the population to portray them in the darkest way possible. They were called ‘huligani’ (hooligans) and portrayed as drug addicts, and false news was published that the police seized 12 kilograms of speed in tablets. The media spin tapped into the socially dominant codes of behaviour, which divide people into ‘kulturni’ (cultured), ‘primitivci’ (primitives), ‘seljaci’ (peasants), etc., and this may have alienated a great number of people from the protesters. But the reaction to this spin was itself a form of manipulation, which denied the obvious. Of course there were hooligans in the protests, and they brought stones and Molotov cocktails. But over the years so many protests have taken place in Sarajevo, larger in number, with absolutely no results, and a few dozen ‘huligani’ with a few Molotov cocktails have set something in motion. At that moment, they seemed guided only by a nihilistic sense of possibility, but the fact remains that they did not merely break glass and burn government buildings and GRAS kiosks , but also broke the inertia that had previously seemed so overwhelming.
Some people want to believe a revolution is taking place, but then again, only after everything changes can we say there was a revolution, and despite the resignation of four Canton governments (Tuzla, Sarajevo, Zenica and Bihac), power structures are still standing, largely untouched in fact, and a conservative reaction will very likely be supported by the international players, EU countries, neighbours Serbia and Croatia, and Turkey, which have their own unsolved domestic problems very similar to Bosnia’s, and which sanctify ‘stability’ more than anything else. They have anyway assigned Bosnia a low priority.
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