Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Croatia must defend Bosnia. So should Serbia…

Outgoing Croatian president Stjepan Mesic earlier this month threatened to intervene militarily in the event that Bosnia’s Serb entity, Republika Srpska, attempts to secede and establish itself as an independent state. He was responding to repeated separatist noises on the part of the Republika Srpska’s aggressively nationalistic prime minister, Milorad Dodik, who makes no secret of his hostility to the state of Bosnia-Hercegovina and his designs against its territorial integrity, and whose atrocity denial and friendship for convicted war-criminals indicate a dangerous contempt for the norms of civilised behaviour. Mesic has warned that if Dodik announces a referendum on secession – as the first step toward the Republika Srpska’s unification with Serbia to form a ‘Great Serbia’ – he would send the Croatian Army south across the River Sava to cut in half the Bosnian Serb entity, which ‘would then have to disappear’. Yet the establishment of a Great Serbia is not the only danger about which Mesic has warned. He has highlighted also the possibility that, with Republika Srpska seceding and the Bosnian Croats following suit, it would leave behind an embittered Muslim rump-state, that ‘would find itself in a hostile surrounding, and would be able sustain itself only with the help of a fundamentalist regime.’ Consequently, ‘In the next 50 to 70 years there would be a new center of terrorism. It would be a new Palestine in the heart of Europe.’

German Ambassador to Sarajevo Joachim Schmidt is reported to have said that Mesic’s military threat ‘is not of help’. Yet it would not be left to Bosnia’s western neighbour to issue such a threat if the EU and US had not shown themselves to be quite so complacent in the face of Bosnia’s threatened collapse. Bosnia was lumbered with the unworkable and unsustainable Dayton settlement that ended its war in 1995. To sustain this unsustainable settlement, to make the unworkable work, required a powerful High Representative wielding authoritarian powers, backed up by a large international military presence. The Dayton system enjoyed its golden years in 2002-2006, when the Office of the High Representative (OHR) was held by the energetic Paddy Ashdown, and Bosnia superficially appeared to be making genuine strides towards reintegration. Yet the EU, naively believing that the farcical Dayton constitutional order could actually be made to function without massive outside interference, has since been rushing to wind down the OHR, and has withdrawn its support from Ashdown’s successors. With few international troops now remaining, the OHR has been left as a paper tiger, something that Dodik has taken advantage of to pursue his secessionist policy. It is as if a zoo-keeper had decided that, since his caged tiger had not eaten many people recently, it was now tame and could safely be let out of the cage, not realising that it was only because of the cage that the tiger appeared to be safe.

With the EU and US blithely fiddling while Bosnia burns, it has been left to the Croatian president to behave like a responsible European statesman, and make clear that the destruction of the international order in the Balkans will not be tolerated. Those condemning Mesic forget that his policy toward Bosnia is the exact opposite of that pursued by his predecessor, the chauvinistic tyrant Franjo Tudjman. Where Mesic defends a unified Bosnia, Tudjman joined with Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic in attempting to destroy Bosnia and crush the Bosnian Muslims. And that is really the choice that Europe has, so far as Croatia is concerned: between a Croatia that upholds Bosnia, a la Mesic, and a Croatia that undermines Bosnia, a la Tudjman. It does not take a genius to realise that a Mesicite Croatia is preferable to a Tudjmanite Croatia.

Under Tudjman, Croatia was a corrupt and despotic state that sheltered war criminals, persecuted national minorities and undermined the territorial integrity of its Bosnian neighbour. The Tudjman regime represented a synthesis between the authoritarianism of the Croatian Communist ancien regime – whose child Tudjman himself was – and right-wing Croat emigre nationalism, combining the worst features of both. Yet since Tudjman’s death in 1999 and the electoral defeat of his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in 2000, Croatia appears definitely to have made the transition to becoming a democratic European state. Both Ivica Racan’s Social Democratic government, which took power in 2000, and the government of Ivo Sanader, who reconstituted the HDZ as a mainstream conservative party and took power in 2003, have guided Croatia down the democratic European path. Over them presided President Mesic, a reformed nationalist who honourably broke with Tudjman as early as 1994 over the latter’s Bosnian policy. These politicians redeemed Croatia in the 2000s from the disgrace brought upon it by Tudjman in the 1990s: they turned their back on anti-Bosnian Croat irredentism; refrained from pandering to neo-Ustasha sentiment; cooperated with the war-crimes tribunal in the Hague; put on trial war-criminals who persecuted Serb civilians in the 1990s; recognised the independence of Kosovo; and have brought Croatia into NATO and up to the gates of the EU. Croatia’s citizens should be as proud of their rulers’ record in the 2000s as they should be ashamed of their predecessors’ record in the 1990s. Of course, Croatia still faces huge problems of corruption and organised crime, but measured against where it would be now if Tudjman’s policies had been continued into the 2000s, the achievement is monumental.

With the election victory of the Social Democrat Ivo Josipovic in this month’s Croatian presidential election, Croatia has reaffirmed its democratic European path. His opponent in the presidential election, Milan Bandic, was a vulgar and corrupt populist who enjoyed the support of the nationalist emigration, of the better part of the clergy and of war-criminals such as Branimir Glavas and Tomislav Mercep. Bandic waged a red-baiting campagin directed against the Social Democrats on account of their Communist past – despite the fact that he too had been a member of the Communist party. Had he won the election, he would have become a Croatian Berlusconi. Yet Josipovic, a composer and law professor, crushed Bandic, winning 60.26% of the vote. Zivjela Hrvatska !

Josipovic is a civilised, non-nationalist individual who will serve to consolidate Croatia’s democratic transition and guard against any resurgence of Tudjman-style chauvinism. Yet there are indications that he lacks Mesic’s toughness. He has spoken of the possibility of withdrawing Croatia’s lawsuit against Serbia at the International Court of Justice; this would be an error, for although Croatia is unlikely to win the case, the verdict is highly likely to recognise Serbian war-crimes in Croatia in 1991-92, as it did in its judgement on Bosnia’s case against Serbia, when it recognised that ‘it is established by overwhelming evidence that massive killings in specific areas and detention camps throughout the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina were perpetrated during the conflict’ and that ‘the victims were in large majority members of the protected group [the Muslims], which suggests that they may have been systematically targeted by the killings’, and that ‘it has been established by fully conclusive evidence that members of the protected group were systematically victims of massive mistreatment, beatings, rape and torture causing serious bodily and mental harm, during the conflict and, in particular, in the detention camps.’ Croatia can reasonably hope for a similar recognition of its people’s suffering in the early 1990s.

Josipovic has also distanced himself from Mesic’s threat to intervene militarily to prevent the Republika Srpska’s secession, saying ‘sending the Croatian Army to a neighbouring country for me is not an option’ and ‘problems must always be solved through negotiations and with the agreement of all interested parties’. The pacific sentiment is commendable; the naivete less so. The Western alliance, given its past record, cannot be relied upon to take action to prevent the Republika Srpska’s secession; if it does not, and if Croatia does not either, then one of two things might happen. The Bosniaks might be stupid enough not to respond militarily, on the grounds that ‘problems must always be solved through negotiations and with the agreement of all interested parties’, in which case Republika Srpska will become independent at the price of some token concessions to the Bosniaks. Or the Bosniaks might take military action alone, in which case the consequences cannot be predicted, but are unlikely to be good.

It is worth stating again the case against allowing Republika Srpska to secede: it would represent a violation of the right to self-determination of the nearly 50% of the territory’s population that was Bosniak and Croat before 1992, that was mostly ethnically cleansed during the war and that has not been able to return since Dayton; the quid pro quo for international recognition of the Republika Srpska’s existence, with a massively disproportionate share of Bosnia’s territory, was the Serb recognition of Bosnia’s unity and indivisibility, and if the Serbs cease to recognise Bosnian unity then nobody is under any obligation to recognise the Republika Srpska’s existence any longer; the secession of Republika Srpska and its eventual unification with Serbia would derail Serbia’s own democratisation, and send it back down the path of expansionism and regional troublemaking; if Bosnia is allowed to break up, it will create a precedent for the break up of Macedonia and the secession of the Macedonian Albanians to unite with Albania and form a Great Albania, with all the dangers that would bring; and finally, the elements responsible for the bloodbath of the 1990s must never be rewarded. For all these reasons, Republika Srpska should not be allowed to secede. It is for the Bosnian citizenry as a whole to decide whether Bosnia should be divided into separate Serb, Croat and Bosniak states or whether it should remain united as a single state; it is not for either of the Bosnian entities to decide this unilaterally.

A threat, such as Mesic’s, makes a war in the region less rather than more likely, since so long as it is plausible, it will serve to deter an act of secession that would at the very least greatly destabilise the Balkans, and that would most likely spark a new Serb-Bosniak war. Dodik may be ready to pursue a secessionist policy that will result in war if he only has to fight the Bosniaks; he will be much less likely to do so if he has to fight Croatia as well, because he would inevitably lose. Those, such as Germany’s Ambassador Schmidt, who would like to deter Croatia from promising to defend Bosnia militarily if necessary, are contributing to the likelihood of war in the Balkans. Rather than praising him for not doing so, we should do well to encourage Josipovic to adopt Mesic’s policy.

We have spoken of Croatia’s tremendous achievement in turning its back on the politics of the late Franjo Tudjman. Serbia, too, has made tremendous strides in its democratic transition, particularly since the victory of the pro-European parties in Serbia’s 2008 parliamentary elections. Serbia has become a fully democratic state, embraced the European path and put war-criminals on trial, and however misguided its attempt to retain Kosova might be, it is at least using judicial means that are within its rights. But in one respect in particular Serbia scores much lower than Croatia: it has not abandoned its nationalist paradigm vis-a-vis Bosnia. Whereas official Croatia today sees Bosnian unity as its national interest and refrains from promoting Bosnian Croat separatism, official Serbia continues to see its interest in undermining Bosnia and promoting the separateness of the Republika Srpska.

The day when Serbia sees its national interest as defending Bosnia’s unity and integrity from enemies such as Dodik, is the day when post-nationalist Serbia will truly have arrived.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

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Friday, 29 January 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bosnia: Weighing the Options

tworoadsThese days, even the most ardent Bosnian patriot or foreign friend of Bosnia-Hercegovina finds it difficult to be optimistic about the country’s future. In its current constitutional form, Bosnia is a state that does not and cannot work. No conceivable solution appears very good, while even bad solutions appear unachievable. Yet the status quo appears worst of all. I have been defending Bosnia-Hercegovina for seventeen years – ever since I campaigned on its behalf when the war broke out there in 1992. In this article, however, I shall weigh up Bosnia-Hercegovina’s different options and prospects as cold-bloodedly as possible.

The Dayton Peace Accords of 1995 established a Bosnia-Hercegovina that was more partitioned than united. For every year that it exists, the constitutional arrangement for Bosnia established by Dayton brings Bosnia another step closer to full and complete partition. Every year, Republika Srpska further consolidates itself as a de facto independent state; the Office of the High Representative declines in power and authority; the international community’s will and ability to coerce the Republika Srpska are that much weaker; the already dim prospect of Bosniaks and Croats returning to Republika Srpska recedes further; and the share of the Bosnian population that can remember the unified, multinational country that existed before 1992 becomes smaller. Despite apparent steps toward reintegration taken while the Office of the High Representative was headed by the energetic and determined Paddy Ashdown, subsequent high representatives have lacked either the will or the international support to continue down Ashdown’s path, with the result that Bosnia has further unravelled in recent years. However monstrous the injustice that Bosnian partition would represent, with every year that passes, the injustice is further forgotten by the world and full partition – like death – draws nearer. We need only look at the other injustices that have become realities on the ground: the three-way partition of Macedonia in 1912-13; the dispossession of the Armenian population of Anatolia; the dispossession of the Palestinian population of present-day Israel – these are realities on the ground. The partition of Bosnia is steadily becoming as irreversible as the partition of Macedonia.

Consequently, the best strategy for Bosnian Serb nationalists who want to achieve an independent Republika Srpska is simply to continue the existing constitutional arrangement while quietly chipping away at Bosnia from within. Ironically, however, the present arrangement may serve the interests of the Bosnian Serb political classes at the present time better than a full partition. A unified, homogenous Serb nation embracing the Serb populations on both sides of the River Drina is a myth; the dominant historical thrust of Bosnian Serb nationalism is toward an independent Bosnian Serb state rather than toward annexation to Serbia. Thus, for the Bosnian Serb political classes, the existing arrangement, whereby the Republika Srpska increasingly enjoys complete de facto independence, may be preferable to a full partition that would threaten them with being swallowed up by Serbia. One day, the Serb population of the Republika Srpska may cease to support annexation to Serbia, as the Greek population of Cyprus has ceased to support enosis with Greece. Until then – and until international conditions are fully favourable to the disappearance of Bosnia – Republika Srpska’s leadership might sensibly desire to stay put.

Conversely, the best hope for supporters of a unified Bosnia may be for Milorad Dodik’s increasingly arrogant regime to continue and escalate its present policy of rocking the boat, inciting Serb-nationalist passion and baiting the Bosniaks and the international community. Eventually, we may hope, Dodik might become sufficiently stupid actually to attempt unilateral secession prematurely, or some other such outrage that would provide Bosnia and the world with a legitimate pretext to overturn the Dayton order and reintegrate Republika Srpska with the rest of the country. This is not a wholly dim prospect, as recent antics on the part of the leaderships of both Serbia and the Republika Srpska highlight the continued Serb-nationalist propensity to self-destructive nationalist confrontation. Last month, Dodik issued a gratuitously offensive denial of the Tuzla massacre of 1995.  This followed hot on the heels of Serbian president Boris Tadic’s recent act of provocation against Bosnia, when he visited the Bosnian Serb entity without Bosnia’s permission, to open a new school named ‘Serbia’ in Pale, the former Bosnian Serb rebel capital outside of Sarajevo.

At this point, we should be clear about what partition would mean. Partition might be appealing for those Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats who would be able to unite with Serbia and Croatia respectively, exchanging their citizenship of a dysfunctional state for citizenship of states that function. But for the Bosniaks, partition would cement their confinement to what is effectively a ghetto comprising the two territorial enclaves around the Sarajevo-Zenica-Tuzla triangle and Bihac respectively. The EU’s recent extension of visa-free travel to Serbia, following on from Croatia, thereby in practice to Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats but not to Bosnia and the Bosniaks, is evidence that this is indeed a ghetto. An ‘independent’ Bosniak entity comprising these enclaves would be non-viable, while its embittered and demoralised population would fall under the influence of the most reactionary form of conservative Islamic politics. Bosniaks would be fully justified in choosing war before accepting such a grim fate.

A territorially fairer form of partition – which one or two of my own Bosniak correspondents have suggested to me – would envisage both Republika Srpska and the Bosnian Croats giving up territory to the Bosniaks in exchange for the right to secede, resulting in a separate Bosniak entity comprising somewhat less than half of Bosnia, with roughly a third going to the Serbs and a fifth to the Croats. This would represent a great injustice to the Serb and Croat inhabitants of the transferred areas, who would suddenly find themselves ethnic minorities in a Bosniak national state. The Republika Srpska, at least, would find such a solution unacceptable, so it would have to be imposed unilaterally – involving, in effect, a new war and ethnic cleansing. This is not something that twenty-first century Europe can sanction.

Any form of outright partition, furthermore, would destabilise Bosnia’s neighbours: Serbia, Croatia and those further afield. Serbia and Croatia have slowly and painfully democratised over the past decade, turning their back on aggression and expansionism. In Serbia, in particular, the struggle between pro-European reformists and aggressive nationalists is far from over. The acquisition of new irredentas would mark a huge setback for this process: the newly expanded states would be unstable as they struggled to integrate the new populations; their party systems would be further fragmented; the expansionist nationalists would be vindicated and revived. Serbia, in particular, would be encouraged by such an annexation to pursue further expansionist goals – possibly against fragile Macedonia or even NATO-member Croatia. Ultimately, what Serbia needs to prosper is to be kept firmly within its existing legal state borders. The reason why Bulgaria and Romania entered the EU before Serbia is that they were fortunate enough to have lost World War II and to have been confined to their own borders, with no prospect of further territorial expansion. Serbia, which came out of World War II ambiguously – neither wholly as victor nor as vanquished – and which appeared to have some prospects for territorial expansion in the 1990s, has paid a heavy price. The last thing Serbia needs is to be tempted off the wagon.

The redrawing of international borders and partition of a sovereign state would encourage those elements in the Balkans that wish to partition Kosovo and Macedonia as well. Partitioning Bosnia outright could open a Pandora’s box, with unforseeable consequences. Yet as we have seen, the status quo – the Dayton system – represents not an alternative to outright partition, but de facto partition with the likelihood of full de jure partition at some point in the future, when circumstances are more favourable to the Bosnian Serb nationalists. In the meantime, the Bosniaks have the worst of both words. Not only have they been squeezed into a ghetto and forced to inhabit a dysfunctional state, but their energies must be expended in permanent political conflict with Serb and Croat politicians who do not want the state to cease being dysfunctional. The Bosnian Croats, meanwhile, suffer as the minority party within the Bosnian Federation, permanently squeezed by the embittered Bosniak majority. The Republika Srpska leadership, by contrast, should feel wholly satisfied with the existing order, which grants it all the cards except one: the right to secede formally one day without complications. Republika Srpska’s lack of the right to secede comprises the only strong card in the hands of supporters of Bosnian unity, though the card is unlikely to remain strong indefinitely.

The Western alliance should have cause to regret the rise of Republika Srpska, which may be relied upon to undermine its interests in South East Europe. In May, Dodik unilaterally withdrew Bosnian Serb soldiers from Bosnia’s participation in NATO exercises in Georgia, which he then boycotted, in a move attributed to pro-Russian sentiment. Nebojsa Radmanovic, the Bosnian Serb member of the Bosnian presidency, recently stated that most Bosnian Serbs oppose NATO membership, and mooted the possibility of a referendum on NATO membership in Republika Srpska. A de jure or de facto independent Republika Srpska will obstruct the Balkans’ Euro-Atlantic integration and serve as a bridgehead for Russian influence in the region.

Supporters of a unified Bosnia-Hercegovina, both inside the country and internationally, must act now if Bosnia-Hercegovina is to be saved. Highlighting the fact that the Dayton system is leading inexorably toward the outright partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina, they must campaign for an end to this system and the restoration of a unified, functioning Bosnian state, through the reintegration of Republika Srpska with the rest of the country. This should not involve the entity’s outright abolition; rather, it should involve the transfer of all meaningful power to the central government in Sarajevo, leaving Republika Srpska a de facto administrative entity. Justification for such a move may be found in numerous places: Dodik’s repeated calls for Bosnia-Hercegovina’s dissolution; his continued denial of the Srebrenica genocide, in disregard of the verdict of the international courts; the Serb failure to arrest Ratko Mladic as the Dayton Accords required; the Republika Srpska’s failure to permit the return of Bosniak and Croat refugees. This is not a good option, but it is the least bad of the possible options.

If they do not wish to or are unable to campaign on this platform, Bosnia-Hercegovina’s supporters might as well give up and accept that at some point in the future, Bosnia-Hercegovina is likely to disappear from the map of Europe.

This article was previously published in Bosnian by BH Dani, and in English by the Henry Jackson Society.

Sunday, 11 October 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, NATO, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The racist case for partition

MontgomeryWilliam Montgomery, former US ambassador to Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro and former advisor to President Clinton on Bosnia, has an article in today’s International Herald Tribune, arguing for the partition of Kosova and Bosnia:

In both Kosovo and Bosnia, we need to consider different solutions — ones which we may not like and which will have complications of their own, but which will be really…achievable. This is the only way the international community can bring its involvement in the Balkans to an end. In Kosovo, this probably means some form of partition between the Albanians and the Serbs combined with joint recognition, pledges of full rights for minorities and a variety of sweeteners from the EU. Bosnia is more complicated. There, a solution probably involves shaping a different relationship within Bosnia and permitting the Republika Srpska, the Serbian portion of the divided country, to hold a referendum on independence. This would have to include a lot of guarantees about future relationships, and be done as a complete package led and implemented by the international community.

Montgomery admits that adopting this position represents a policy turn-about on his part. He justifies it thus:

The reality is that no amount of threats or inducements, including fast membership in the European Union or NATO, will persuade the Bosnian Serbs to cede a significant portion of the rights and privileges given them under the Dayton Agreement to the central government, as the Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and the international community are determined to bring about. The Bosnian Serbs are determined to have full control over their own destiny, and fear that if they continue to transfer authority to a central government, the more numerous Bosniaks will end up in control. The end result is continued tension between the two Bosnian entities, a dysfunctional country, and the prospect of many more years of efforts by Western politicians — like Vice President Joe Biden on his recent visit — to pound a square peg into a round hole. I know of what I speak: For more than 15 years, I was one of these pounders. I finally came to understand that the historical experiences in this region have implanted a mind-set very different from our own. We keep expecting the people in the Balkans to think and react as we do: It is not going to happen.

The last two sentences are worth re-reading:

I finally came to understand that the historical experiences in this region have implanted a mind-set very different from our own. We keep expecting the people in the Balkans to think and react as we do: It is not going to happen.

In other words, Montgomery is saying that the Balkan peoples are oriental savages who will never accept the values of civilised humanity. This being so, he feels that their problems can’t be solved by civilised solutions, and the only option is to let the savages wear their grass skirts and bones through their noses, and to enjoy their traditional right to dance round idols and cook other savages in large pots.

It was ever thus. The supporters of appeasement/partition have long tended to justify their abandonment of principle with reference to the fact that the Balkan peoples are supposedly ‘not like us’ and don’t think like ‘we’ do, but are just a bunch of savages in the grip of ‘ancient ethnic hatreds’, to which civilised standards of right and wrong cannot be applied.

But who is this ‘we’ ? In Montgomery’s case, the ‘we’ is the former servants of the Clinton Administration in the US. It is this group of people that bears a very large share of the blame for the mess that Bosnia is currently in. In defiance of mainstream US opinion, Clinton sided with the pro-appeasement Europeans over Bosnia. In the autumn 1995, he rescued Republika Srpska from the jaws of defeat and imposed the Dayton settlement on Bosnia that gave the Serb nationalists most of the territory and autonomy they wanted, and that has ensured Bosnia has never been able to function as a state since. After Dayton, the Clinton Administration refrained from arresting Radovan Karadzic and other war-criminals, being basically content to let the country rot. This was probably related to the fact that Clinton’s envoy Richard Holbrooke made a deal with Karadzic, promising he would not be arrested, and also because Clinton viewed Milosevic, right up until Milosevic’s rejection of the Rambouillet Accords in March 1999, as a partner in maintaing order in the Balkans.

First Clinton’s people create a mess in Bosnia. Then, after the mess has remained a mess for over thirteen years, they blame it on the fact that Balkan peoples don’t ‘think like we do’.

But Montgomery is wrong: there are plenty of people in the Balkans who think like ‘we’ do. In Bosnia, they are Republika Srpska Prime Minsiter Milorad Dodik and the Serb nationalists, who share Montgomery’s thinking about allowing Republika Srpska to secede. Just as the indicted war-criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic shared Clinton’s thinking about the need to establish Republika Srpska in the first place.

Montgomery’s ‘we’ is not the ‘we’ of the principled democratic West. It is the ‘we’ of the war criminals and their appeasers.

Friday, 5 June 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment