Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Montenegrins, Serbs and anti-fascists


Review of Bato Tomasevic, Life and Death in the Balkans: A family saga in a century of conflict, Hurst and Company, London, 2008

The former Yugoslav lands have produced an extraordinarily rich body of autobiographical and eyewitness literature. So much so, that this has even somewhat squeezed out the academic literature. Rather too many readers seeking an introduction to the region have begun with Rebecca West’s dreadful, rambling travelogue Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. Rather too many English-language authors writing about Yugoslavia in World War II have relied too heavily on a small number of memoirs and diaries, so well worn from repeated use that they have virtually dissolved into general knowledge: in particular, the memoirs of Milovan Djilas and the war diaries of Vladimir Dedijer. Journalistic accounts still largely dominate the literature on the 1990s Bosnian war. For all that, memoirs can provide an accessible and vivid introduction to the region – provided they are taken with a pinch of salt. The English-language reader is, in fact, limited to the tip of the iceberg; the vast body of memoir literature available only in the former-Yugoslav languages comprises a goldmine for the historian.

Bato Tomasevich’s autobiography and family saga, Life and death in the Balkans, is rather special, in that the Montenegrin author was just old enough to remember the 1930s (his earliest memory is of the assassination of Yugoslavia’s King Aleksandar in 1934), fought and was wounded as a Partisan in World War II, was a relatively well-connected member of the Yugoslav establishment in the Communist era, played a minor, though not wholly negligible role in the drama of Yugoslavia’s break-up, and was an observer of the wars of the 1990s – all the way up to the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999. Tomasevic does not provide much in the way of grand analysis, or give the reader any greater insight into any of these episodes at the all-Yugoslav level. But in telling the story of a Montenegrin individual and his family, the author throws much light on the Montenegrin identity, relationship to Serbia and experience within Yugoslavia – particularly as regards the period up to 1945.

Nebojsa ‘Bato’ Tomasevic’s father Petar was raised on the heroic tales of his Montenegrin forebears’ battles with the Ottomans. A veteran of the First Balkan and First World Wars, he supported Montenegro’s union with Serbia in 1918. After that, fired by romantic Serb-nationalist ideals, he settled in newly reconquered Kosovo as a colonist, where he became a police officer. Despite this, Petar strove to build good relations with the local Albanians, even learning some Albanian and becoming blood-brother to an Albanian village headman. This policy was not well received by other members of Yugoslav officialdom in Kosovo, which sanctioned oppressive and discriminatory treatment of the Albanian population – which Bato describes.

Bato attributes his father’s exile from Kosovo to his friendly policy toward Albanians, as well as to his readiness to welcome into his home the relatives of a Communist killed by the Belgrade police. The book provides an insight into the nature of the early Communist movement; the Communists in interwar Yugoslavia were often the children of members of the national or local elite. Thus, the author recounts how his father, as a deputy police chief in the historic Montenegrin capital of Cetinje, where he had been relocated, confronted with his officers a Communist-led student demonstration, among whose leaders was his own daughter, the author’s older sister Stana: ‘The police were carrying truncheons, the students their schoolbags. When the two advancing columns met, Father raised his truncheon and struck his daughter. This was the signal for the rest of the police to lay into the students.’ (p. 116).

Nevertheless, as Bato tells the story, Petar and Stana ended up on the same side following the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia in April 1941 – of those who rejected collaboration with the occupier. A considerable portion of the book is devoted to Bato’s memoirs of World War II, providing the reader with an insight into the oft-neglected history of Axis-occupied Montenegro. Although Petar had been a supporter of Montenegro’s unification with Serbia in 1918, his opposition to collaboration marked him out from the Chetniks – the principal Serb-nationalist armed movement in occupied Yugoslavia. The author describes in some detail Chetnik collaboration with the occupiers: ‘In all parts of Montenegro, including Cetinje, units of Chetniks were formed as part of Draza Mihajlovic’s [sic] movement. These were armed by the Italians and sent to fight the Partisans.’ (p. 177)

Bato’s family supported the Partisans; his brother Dusko survived their legendary battle with the Germans at Drvar in May 1944, only to be subsequently killed by the Chetniks. Stana was a prominent Communist, and Bato describes how he joined the Partisans by accident, when he tried to visit her on Partisan territory and was wrongly assumed to have come to volunteer – a misunderstanding he was too embarrassed to correct. Bato nevertheless entered the movement enthusiastically, but his memoirs are far from whitewashing the Partisans’ record, and he describes their execution of the Communists’ political opponents, not to mention the atrocities of their Soviet allies. As he recalls one fellow Partisan telling him: ‘Russians are good comrades, and when it comes to fighting no worse than Montenegrins, but they’ll drink anything that’s not water. Groups of them wander around at night and go into houses, especially out-of-the-way farms, looking for wine and brandy, and raping any woman in sight. Nothing is sacred to them. They don’t seem to care we’re allies. The peasants have started keeping guard and shooting any Russians that try to enter their houses. You can imagine what problems this causes !’ (pp. 341-342)

Even under the post-war Communist regime, the ties of kinship and locality counted for much. Bato recalls how he secured a coveted place to study English at the Philosophy Faculty in Belgrade, solely because he bumped into an old Montenegrin friend who worked as a clerk at that institution, and who pushed his application to the top of the pile. Bato eventually secured an enviable job in the Yugoslav diplomatic service in the UK. His standing with the regime benefited from the fact that his sister Stana was a high-ranking functionary upon whom Tito himself looked favourably. He claims Stana was made Ambassador to Norway on Tito’s personal initiative, and that when she created a stir by marrying a Norwegian man, Tito invited the couple to be his personal guests at his Adriatic retreat at Brioni, thereby ensuring her status and career did not suffer.

Bato himself, however, was not so influential that he could get away with marrying a foreigner; his marriage to an Englishwoman called Madge Phillips resulted in the swift termination of his diplomatic career. But he remained a well connected individual in the Communist regime, which ensured that he continued to play a significant role in Yugoslav affairs. Thanks both to his connections and standing and to sheer luck, he came into personal contact with various interesting historical figures, and not just Yugoslavs. They included the Albanian Communist leader Enver Hoxha, British envoy to Tito’s headquarters Fitzroy Maclean, former Yugoslav Crown Prince Djordje Karadjordjevic and British Labour politicians Denis Healey and Hugh Gaitskell. He was a passenger on the plane that crashed at Munich in February 1958, carrying home Bobby Charlton and other members of the Manchester United football team following a European Cup match in Belgrade. But perhaps the most curious personal encounter of the book was Bato’s witnessing of the death by suicide of Milan Nedic, the former leader of the Serbian Nazi-puppet regime.

In the final section of the book, Bato recounts his experiences during the break-up of Yugoslavia and Wars of Yugoslav Succession. Following the publication of sections of the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in September 1986, he recalls the heated arguments he would have with old Serbian friends: ‘Instead of a modern Yugoslavia, many of them now wanted a Greater Serbia.’ (p. 452) He is forthright in describing the role of the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic in destroying Yugoslavia and promoting Serbian nationalistic hatred, though he has harsh words too for the Croatian regime of Franjo Tudjman. Appointed in 1990 director of the Federal TV station Yutel at the initiative of Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Markovic, Bato attempted to promote Markovic’s vision of a united Yugoslavia, but was ultimately forced to flee Belgrade to escape prosecution by the Milosevic regime: ‘Serbian nationalists, it seemed, wanted to get rid of all those who in any way, however slight, obstructed the creation of their “Greater Serbia”.’ (p. 468)

Bato’s judgement on the War of Yugoslav Succession was that ‘The Partisans had now withdrawn before the onslaught of nationalism, and the resurrected Chetniks and Ustashas wanted to renew the war and, if possible, win the battles they had lost when fighting on the side of Hitler. They thought it was still not too late to achieve their goals of a greater Serbia and greater Croatia by means of violence and plunder, ethnic cleansing and concentration camps.’ (p. 483). He has no hesitation in identifying the policy waged by the Serb and Croat forces against the Bosnian Muslims as one of ‘genocide’ (p. 486).

Bato Tomasevic was raised on stories of his family’s and country’s battles with the Turks; his father was a Serb nationalist. Yet his family’s story, as he tells it, is one in which the politics of national chauvinism are consistently rejected: from the anti-Albanian racism of the interwar Yugoslav administration, through the Chetnik movement of World War II, up to the Memorandum of SANU, the regimes of Milosevic and Tudjman and the genocide of the Bosniaks. When so many choose to obfuscate the Yugoslav story, having it presented so straightforwardly by an eyewitness from such a background is a breath of fresh air.

Monday, 30 July 2012 Posted by | Balkans, Fascism, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Marko Attila Hoare, Montenegro, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The West and the break-up of Yugoslavia: A groundbreaking new study

Review of Josip Glaurdic, The Hour of Europe: Western Powers and the Breakup of Yugoslavia, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2011

The break-up of Yugoslavia has generated an enormous literature – much of it poor, some of it acceptable and some of it excellent. There are several decent introductory accounts of the break-up that competently summarise familiar information. There are some very good studies of Slobodan Milosevic and his regime that do justice to the break-up as well. There are some excellent studies of sub-topics or related topics. But there have been few truly groundbreaking studies of the process as a whole. Too many of the older generation of pre-1991 Yugoslav experts had too many of their assumptions shattered by the break-up; too many journalists and casual scholars flooded the market in the 1990s with too many under-researched, third-rate works; too many younger scholars were handicapped by political prejudices that prevented them from addressing the truth squarely. Furthermore, the body of relevant primary sources has been vast and growing exponentially while the body of good supporting secondary literature has only slowly grown to a respectable size. In these circumstances, to write a groundbreaking general study of the break-up of Yugoslavia has been a difficult task that has required both a lot of talent and a lot of patient hard work.

Josip Glaurdic’s The Hour of Europe: Western Powers and the Breakup of Yugoslavia is such a study. As far as general accounts of the break-up go, there are only two or three that rival this work; none that is better. A great strength of this work lies in Glaurdic’s careful balance between the domestic and international dimensions of Yugoslavia’s break-up; he gives equal space to each and shows carefully the interaction between them. As far as the domestic dimension is concerned, he has skilfully summarised and distilled the existing knowledge about the subject as well as anybody before him. But where this book is truly original and groundbreaking is in its analysis of the international dimension. For this is the best serious, comprehensive, scholarly analysis of the role of the West – specifically, of the US, European Community and UN – in the break-up of Yugoslavia.

The mainstream literature has tended to present the West’s involvement in the break-up in terms of a reaction after the fact: Yugoslavia collapsed and war broke out due to internal causes, and the West responded with a weak, ineffective and primarily diplomatic intervention. Some excellent studies of the responses of individual Western countries have appeared, most notably by Michael Libal for Germany, Brendan Simms for Britain and Takis Michas for Greece. Apologists for the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic or for the Great Serb nationalist cause have, for their part, churned out innumerable versions of the conspiracy theory whereby the break-up of Yugoslavia was actually caused or even engineered by the West; more precisely by Germany, the Vatican and/or the IMF. But up till now, nobody has attempted to do what Glaurdic has done, let alone done it well.

Glaurdic’s innovation is to begin his study of the West’s involvement not in 1991, when full-scale war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, but in 1987, when Milosevic was assuming absolute power in Serbia. This enables him to interpret the West’s reaction to the eventual outbreak of war, not as a reflex to a sudden crisis, but as the result of a long-term policy. He places this long-term policy in the broader context of the evolution of the West’s global considerations in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The most important of these considerations concerned a state incomparably more important than Yugoslavia: the Soviet Union.

Yugoslavia’s principal significance for the Western alliance during the Cold War was as a buffer state vis-a-vis the Soviet Union and as a model of an independent, non-Soviet Communist state. These factors became less important in the second half of the 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev ruled the Soviet Union and the Cold War was winding down. Milosevic was initially identified by some influential Western observers as a possible ‘Balkan Gorbachev’; a Communist reformer who might bring positive change to Yugoslavia. The most important such observer was the veteran US policymaker Lawrence Eagleburger, who became deputy Secretary of State in January 1989. In his confirmation hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 15-16 March 1989, Eagleburger stated that ‘there is no question in my mind that Milosevic is in terms of economics a Western market-oriented fellow… [who] is playing on and using Serbian nationalism, which has been contained for so many years, in part I think as an effort to force the central government to come to grips with some very tough economic problems.’ (Glaurdic, p. 40).

This initial US appreciation for Milosevic dovetailed with a more important consideration: the fear that a collapse of Yugoslavia would create a precedent for the Soviet Union, weakening the position of Gorbachev himself. Of decisive importance was not merely that Western and in particular US leaders viewed Gorbachev as a valued friend, but the extreme conservatism of their ideology as regards foreign policy. Simply put, the US administration of George H.W. Bush valued stability above all else, including democratic reform, and actually preferred Communist strongmen, not only in the USSR but also in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, to the democratic opposition to them. Bush and his team feared the collapse of the Soviet Union and the destabilisation that this threatened – given, among other things, the latter’s nuclear arsenal. This led them to acquiesce readily in Soviet repression in Lithuania, Latvia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Their acquiescence in Milosevic’s repressive policies was a natural corollary.

As Glaurdic shows, this conservative-realist worldview led the Bush Administration, right up till the end of 1991, to champion Yugoslavia’s unity rather than its democratic reform. Though the US gradually lost faith in Milosevic, its animosity in this period was above all directed at the ‘separatist’ regimes in Croatia and Slovenia. The irony was not only that Croatian and Slovenian separatism was a direct response to the aggressive policies of the Milosevic regime, but also that the latter was promoting the break-up of Yugoslavia as a deliberate policy. Through its unwillingness to oppose Milosevic and its hostility to the Croats and Slovenes, Washington in practice encouraged the force that was promoting the very break-up of Yugoslavia that it wished to avoid.

Josip Glaurdic

The problem was not that the Bush Administration lacked accurate intelligence as to what Milosevic’s regime was doing, but that it chose to disregard this intelligence, instead clinging blindly to its shibboleth of Yugoslav unity, indeed of Yugoslav centralisation. Thus, as Glaurdic shows, a ‘conservative realist’ ideology resulted in a highly unrealistic, dogmatic policy. In October 1990, the CIA warned the US leadership that, while the latter could do little to preserve Yugoslav unity, its statements would be interpreted and exploited by the different sides in the conflict: statements in support of Yugoslav unity would encourage Serbia while those in support of human rights and self-determination would encourage the Slovenes, Croats and Kosovars (Glaurdic, p. 110). The Bush Administration nevertheless continued to stress its support for Yugoslav unity.

This meant not only that the West failed to respond to Milosevic’s repressive and aggressive policy, but that Milosevic and his circle actually drew encouragement from the signals they received from the West. Milosevic scarcely kept his policy a secret; at a meeting with Western ambassadors in Belgrade on 16 January 1991, he informed them that he intended to allow Slovenia to secede, and to form instead an enlarged Serbian stage on the ruins of the old Yugoslavia, that would include Serb-inhabited areas of Croatia and Bosnia and that would be established through the use of force if necessary. This brazen announcement provoked US and British complaints, but no change in policy (Glaurdic, pp. 135-136).

The problem was not merely ideological rigidity and mistaken analysis on the part of Western and particular US leaders, but also sheer lack of interest. Glaurdic describes the paradoxical Western policy toward the Yugoslav Federal Prime Minister, Ante Markovic, who – unlike Milosevic – really did want to preserve Yugoslavia, and whose programme of economic reform, in principle, offered a way to achieve this. In comparison with the generous financial assistance extended to Poland in 1989-1990, no remotely similar support was offered to Markovic’s government, because in US ambassador Warren Zimmermann’s words, ‘Yugoslavia looked like a loser’. (Glaurdic, p. 68).

The US’s dogmatic support for Yugoslav unity was shared by the West European powers. Glaurdic demolishes the myth – already exploded by authors like Libal and Richard Caplan – that Germany supported or encouraged Croatia’s and Slovenia’s secession from Yugoslavia. When the president of the Yugoslav presidency, Janez Drnovsek, visited Bonn on 5 December 1989, German chancellor Helmut Kohl expressed to him his ‘appreciation for Yugoslavia’s irreplaceable role in the stability of the region and the whole of Europe’. On the same occasion, German president Richard von Weizsaecker informed the Yugoslav delegation that he supported a ‘centralised’ Yugoslavia (Glaurdic, p. 59). A year later, on 6 December 1990, German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher told his Yugoslav counterpart, Budimir Loncar, that Germany ‘has a fundamental interest in the integrity of Yugoslavia’, and consequently would make ‘the Yugoslav republics realise that separatist tendencies are damaging to the whole and very costly’ (Glaurdic, pp. 124-125).

This German opposition to Croatian and Slovenian independence continued right up till the latter was actually declared in June 1991, and beyond. According to Gerhard Almer, a German diplomat and Yugoslav specialist at the time, ‘Everything that was happening in Yugoslavia was viewed through Soviet glasses. [Genscher’s] idea was, “Well, Yugoslavia disintegrating is a bad example for Soviet disintegration, and this was bad for us since we needed a Soviet Union capable of action because we needed to get a deal with them on our unity”. This was widely accepted in the ministry.’ (Glaurdic, p. 160). Contrary to the myth of anti-Yugoslav imperialistic tendencies on the part of Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democratic government, the latter’s support for the Yugoslav status quo in the face of Belgrade’s abuses was so rigid that it provoked strong resistance from the Social Democratic opposition.

Genscher, subsequently demonised as a supposed architect of Yugoslavia’s break-up, actually resisted this pressure from the Bundestag for a shift in German policy away from unbending support for Yugoslav unity and toward greater emphasis on human rights and self-determination. The turning point for him, as Glaurdic shows, came with his visit to Belgrade on 1 July 1991, after the war in Slovenia had broken out. The combination of the overconfident Milosevic’s aggressive stance in his talk with Genscher, and the Yugoslav government’s inability to halt the Yugoslav People’s Army [JNA] operations against Slovenia, destroyed the German foreign minister’s faith in the Belgrade authorities, leading to his gradual shift in favour of Croatia and Slovenia. Eventually, after a lot more Serbian intransigence and military aggression, Germany would reverse its traditional policy by 180 degrees, and come out in favour of the recognition of Slovenia’s and Croatia’s independence, while the EC would split into pro- and anti-recognition currents of opinion.

Nevertheless, as Glaurdic shows, Germany’s change of heart was a double-edged sword, since it aroused the anti-German suspicions and rivalries of other EC states, particularly France and Britain, which consequently hardened their own stances against recognition. On 6 November 1991, while the JNA’s military assaults on the Croatian cities of Vukovar and Dubrovnik were at their peak, Douglas Hogg, the UK’s Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, explained to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons that his government was opposed to the recognition of Croatia since it would create an ‘obstacle’ to territorial adjustments in Serbia’s favour and at Croatia’s expense. Several days later, the French president, Francois Mitterand, made a similar public statement, indicating that he saw Croatia’s existing borders as a ‘problem’ that prevented its recognition (Glaurdic, pp. 253-254).

The Bush Administration, meanwhile, acted as a brake on the EC’s shift against Belgrade and in favour of recognition, teaming up with the British and French to counter Germany’s change of policy. US Secretary of State James Baker and his deputy Lawrence Eagleburger, as well as the UN special envoy Cyrus Vance (himself a former US Secretary of State) waged a diplomatic battle in this period against any shift away from the West’s non-recognition policy, and against any singling out of Serbia for blame for the war – even as the JNA was massively escalating its assault on Vukovar in preparation for the town’s final conquest. Eagleburger had signalled to the Yugoslav ambassador in October that, although the US was aware that Milosevic was attempting to establish a Greater Serbia, it would do nothing to stop him except economic sanctions, and even these only after Greater Serbia had been actually established (Glaurdic, pp. 243-246). As late as December 1991, Vance continued to oppose recognition and to support the idea of a federal Yugoslavia, and continued moreover to put his trust in Milosevic, the JNA and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, while viewing the Croatians dismissively as ‘these Croatian insurgents’ (Glaurdic, pp. 264-265).

Glaurdic has marshalled an enormous wealth of documentary evidence to show that the British, French and Americans, far from reacting in a weak and decisive manner to a sudden outbreak of war, actually pursued a remarkably steady and consistent policy from before the war began, right up until the eve of full-scale war in Bosnia-Hercegovina: of vocally supporting Yugoslav unity and opposing Croatian and Slovenian secession; of resisting any singling out of Serbia for blame or punishment; of opposing recognition of Slovenia and Croatia; of seeking to appease Milosevic and the JNA by extracting concessions from Croatia as the weaker side; and finally of appeasing the Serb nationalists’ desire to carve up Bosnia. EC sanctions imposed in November 1991 applied to all parts of the former Yugoslavia equally, while there was no freezing of the international assets or financial transactions through which the JNA funded its war. The UN arms embargo, whose imposition had actually been requested by the Yugoslav government itself, favoured the heavily-armed Serbian side and hurt the poorly armed Croatians. Although, largely on account of Germany’s change of heart, the EC at the start of December 1991 belatedly limited its economic sanctions to Serbia and Montenegro alone, the US immediately responded by imposing economic sanctions on the whole of Yugoslavia.

According to myth, the Western powers applied the principle of national self-determination in a manner that penalised the Serb nation and privileged the non-Serbs. As Glaurdic shows, the reverse was actually the case. In October 1991, Milosevic rejected the peace plan put forward by the EC’s Lord Carrington, which would have preserved Yugoslavia as a union of sovereign republics with autonomy for national minorities, in part because he feared it implied autonomy for the Albanians of Kosovo and the Muslims in Serbia’s Sanjak region. Carrington consequently modified his plan: Croatia would be denied any military presence whatsoever in the disputed ‘Krajina’ region, despite it being an integral part of Croatia inhabited by many Croats, while Serbia would be given a completely free hand to suppress the Kosovo Albanians and Sanjak Muslims. Carrington’s offer came just after leaders of the latter had organised referendums for increased autonomy, and after the Milosevic regime had responded with concerted police repression (Glaurdic, p. 242).

Milosevic nevertheless continued to reject the Carrington Plan in the understandable belief that the West would eventually offer him a better deal. He consequently asked Carrington to request from the EC’s Arbitration Commission, headed by Robert Badinter, an answer to the questions of whether the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia possessed the right to self-determination, and of whether Serbia’s borders with Croatia and Bosnia should be considered borders under international law. Carrington submitted these to the Commission, along with a third question, of whether the situation in Yugoslavia was a case of secession by Slovenia and Croatia or a case of dissolution of the common state. That the Arbitration Commission ruled against Serbia on all three counts was, in Glaurdic’s words, a ‘terrible surprise for Milosevic and for many in the international community’ (p. 260), given that Badinter was a close associate of President Mitterand, whose sympathies were with Serbia’s case. The Badinter Commission’s ruling dismayed both Carrington and French foreign minister Roland Dumas, and paved the way to international recognition of Croatia and Slovenia. But it did not fundamentally change the West’s policy.

Glaurdic’s account ends with the outbreak of the war in Bosnia, which as he argues, should be seen as the logical culmination of this policy. The failure of the EC foreign ministers to recognise Bosnia’s independence in January 1992 along with Croatia’s and Slovenia’s was, in Glaurdic’s words, ‘the decision with the most detrimental long-term consequences, all of which were clearly foreseeable… The EC had missed a great chance to preempt a war that would soon make the war in Croatia pale in comparison. Of all the mistakes the European Community had made regarding the recognition of the Yugoslav republics, this one was probably the most tragic.’ (pp. 281-282). Recognition of Bosnia at this time would have upset Milosevic’s and Karadzic’s plans for destroying that republic; instead, they were given every indication that the West would acquiesce in them.

Thus, on 21-22 February 1992, Bosnia’s politicians were presented with the first draft of the plan of the EC’s Jose Cutileiro for the three-way partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina into loosely linked Serb, Croat and Muslim entities. Since the plan, based on the ethnic majorities in Bosnian municipalities, offered the Bosnian Serb nationalists ‘only’ 43.8% of Bosnian territory instead of the 66% they sought, the latter’s assembly unanimously rejected it on 11 March. Once again, the EC abandoned universal standards in order to accommodate Serb intransigence, and Cutileiro modified his plan so that the three constituent Bosnian entities ‘would be based on national principles and would be taking into account economic, geographic and other criteria’ (Glaurdic, p. 294), thereby opening the way for a Serb entity with a larger share of Bosnian territory than was justified on demographic grounds.

Ultimately, Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic rejected the plan. But as Glaurdic writes,

‘The damage that the Cutileiro plan did to Bosnia cannot be overstated. By accepting the ethnic principle for the reorganisation of the republic, Cutileiro in essence recognised the platforms of the SDS [Serb Democratic Party led by Karadzic] and the Boban wing of the HDZ [Croat Democratic Union] and opened a Pandora’s box of ethnic division that still mars Bosnia to this very day. Cutileiro’s intent was obviously to appease the Bosnian Serbs and their Belgrade sponsor into not implementing their massive war machinery. However, instead of lowering tensions and giving the three parties an impetus to keep negotiating, the plan actually gave them a “charter for ethnic cleansing”.’ (p. 290)

In these circumstances, the West’s belated recognition of Bosnia’s independence in April 1992 was naturally not taken seriously by the Serb leaders; Milosevic rather wittily compared it to the Roman emperor Caligula declaring his horse to be a senator (Glaurdic, p. 298).

My principal regret is that Glaurdic did not fully apply the logic of his iconoclastic analysis to his consideration of the Croatian dimension of the Yugoslav tragedy. He carefully and correctly highlights the retrograde nationalist ideology of Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, including his equivocal statements about the Nazi-puppet Croatian regime of World War II and his promotion of the partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Yet he does not properly stress the extent to which Tudjman’s repeated retreats in the face of Serbian aggression merely encouraged the latter, just as did the similar retreats of the Western leaders. Thus, Tudjman capitulated to the JNA’s bullying in January 1991 and agreed to demobilise Croatia’s reservists and arrest Croatian officials involved in arms procurement, including the Croatian defence minister Martin Spegelj himself. Glaurdic argues that this ‘defused the [JNA] generals’ plan for a takeover’ and brought Yugoslavia ‘back from the brink’ (p. 134), but it would be more accurate to say that such Croatian appeasement merely encouraged further Serbian assaults, and that the killing in Croatia began only weeks later.

Glaurdic has carefully described the Milosevic regime’s secessionism vis-a-vis the Yugoslav federation, but one significant detail omitted from his book is the promulgation on 28 September 1990 of Serbia’s new constitution, which stated that ‘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;…’. In other words, Serbia declared itself a sovereign and independent state before either Croatia or Bosnia did. This is relevant when evaluating not only the Milosevic regime’s hypocrisy regarding ‘separatism’, but the extent of the West’s policy failure. Milosevic posed as Yugoslavia’s defender while he deliberately destroyed it. Western leaders were hoodwinked: they sought both to uphold Yugoslavia’s unity and to appease Milosevic’s Serbia. As Glaurdic has brilliantly demonstrated, their dogged pursuit of the second of these policies ensured the failure of the first.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, European Union, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia, Slovenia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The trial of Ratko Mladic will not mean that justice has been served

The start of Ratko Mladic’s trial today means that the most important Bosnian Serb war-criminal, alongside Radovan Karadzic, is now facing justice. This trial will be crucially important for two reasons.

Firstly, its proceedings may shed some light on the role of Serbia and its military in the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995. At the time of the massacre, Serbia was in a federal union with Montenegro, and the joint state went by the name of the ‘Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’ (Savezna Republika Jugoslavija – SRJ). Its army, the ‘Army of Yugoslavia’, provided logistical support for the Bosnian Serb army – the ‘Army of the Serb Republic’ – and its Croatian Serb counterpart, though these were formally independent of it. The minutes of the SRJ’s Supreme Defence Council (which comprised the presidents of ‘Yugoslavia’, Serbia and Montenegro) were recently used by the prosecution of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)  in its case against former Yugoslav army Chief of Staff Momcilo Perisic. They reveal that Perisic regularly appealed to the Supreme Defence Council to provide such logistical support to the Bosnian Serb military, and that these appeals continued up until the eve of the Srebrenica massacre. Hopefully, the trial of Mladic, alongside that of Perisic, will provide more information on the role of the Army of Yugoslavia during the Srebrenica massacre. Indeed, it is likely that Mladic’s ability to provide such information was one of the reasons that Serbia’s military shielded him from arrest for so long. This is, however, an optimistic hope, as Mladic is more likely to continue denying responsibility for the massacre and to shield his former protectors than he is to spill the beans.

The second, and more important reason why Mladic’s trial is important, is that it provides the best chance yet to prove that genocide occurred not only at Srebrenica in 1995, but in other places and at other times in Bosnia-Hercegovina as well. The judicial record on this question so far is ambiguous. Germany’s courts have convicted Bosnian Serb perpetrators for offences relating to genocide carried out in parts of Bosnia outside of Srebrenica. One of these, the paramilitary leader Nikola Jorgic, was convicted of genocide in the north Bosnian region of Doboj in 1992, but appealed his conviction all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. The latter upheld Jorgic’s conviction for genocide, ruling that the German courts’ definition of genocide was consistent with the international legal definition. The German and ECHR rulings on Jorgic corroborate the view that genocide occurred across Bosnia from 1992, not merely at Srebrenica in 1995. On the other hand, the International Court of Justice, in the case for genocide brought by Bosnia against Serbia, acquitted Serbia of all genocide-related charges apart from failure to prevent and punish genocide. The ICJ specifically stated that genocide in Bosnia occurred only at Srebrenica in 1992, not in other places or at other times. Mladic, however, stands accused by the ICTY prosecution of systematic genocide across both western and eastern Bosnia from May 1992. If Mladic is found guilty on all charges, the judicial record for a genocide in Bosnia that occurred across the country from 1992 to 1995 will be greatly strengthened.

Be this as it may, the significance of this trial, and of Mladic personally, should not be overstated. News reports have suggested that Mladic was, along with Serbia’s wartime president Slobodan Milosevic and the wartime Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, one of the three principal perpetrators of Serb war-crimes in Bosnia. In fact, the singling out of these three individuals, to the exclusion of all others, betrays a false understanding of the nature of the Great Serbian killing campaign and of how it was organised. In reality, the Serb military aggression against Bosnia and programme of mass killing of its non-Serb inhabitants was planned and organised by the regime in Belgrade; not merely by Milosevic the despot, but by a much wider circle of top political, military and police officials. This war followed on seamlessly from the prior war waged by Serbia against Croatia in 1991-1992.

Mladic, on the other hand, was merely a run-of-the-mill officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) until well after the war in Croatia had begun. He served as chief of the Department for Instruction of the JNA’s 3rd Military District based in Skopje in Macedonia until January 1991, then as assistant to the commander of the Pristina Corps in Kosovo until July 1991, when he was transferred – still as a mere colonel – to Knin, which was the self-proclaimed capital of the Serb rebels in Croatia. He was appointed chief of staff of the 9th (Knin) Corps at the end of July, and played a central role in ethnic cleansing operations against Croatia. In October, after Serbia together with Montenegro had carried out a coup d’etat to establish exclusive control of the federal organs of rump Yugoslavia, including of the JNA, Mladic was promoted to major-general. From late November or early December 1991, as they were preparing to wind down the war in Croatia and to shift it to Bosnia, the Milosevic regime and the leadership of the JNA set about organising a Bosnian Serb military within the framework of the JNA, something that involved concentrating all Bosnian Serb soldiers and officers in the JNA on Bosnian territory. On 30 December, the rump Yugoslav presidency (i.e. the representatives of Serbia and Montenegro) established a new military district – the ‘2nd Military District’ – based in Sarajevo, that had jurisdiction over Mladic’s Knin Corps. At the same time, Mladic was promoted to commander of the Knin Corps.

Thus, when the JNA launched a full-scale war against Bosnia in March and April 1992, Mladic was not even based in Bosnia, but was still in the relatively junior position of commander of the Knin Corps, based in Serb-occupied Croatia. He nevertheless participated in the start of the aggression against Bosnia; his forces captured the town of Kupres in south-west Bosnia from its predominantly Bosnian Croat defenders on 8 April 1992 and helped to organise the future Bosnian Serb army in that region of the country, after which he returned to the Knin region for further operations against the Croatian Army.

On 27 April 1992, Milosevic’s regime proclaimed the new ‘Yugoslavia’ – i.e., the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SRJ), consisting only of Serbia and Montenegro. The Bosnian Serb rebel entity, subsequently known as the ‘Republika Srpska’, had already proclaimed independence a month before. By establishing the SRJ and the Bosnian Serb republic as formally separate states, the Milosevic regime aimed to pretend to the world that it was not involved in the war in Bosnia, and that this war was really just a ‘civil war’. This necessitated a formally independent Bosnian Serb army, separate from the Yugoslav army, and Mladic was handpicked by Belgrade to be its commander. On 30 April, Milosevic and other top officials of Serbia, Montenegro and the JNA met with the Bosnian Serb leaders under Radovan Karadzic to arrange the formation of a Bosnian Serb army, and it was agreed that Mladic – who had been promoted to lieutenant general only a few days before – would serve as its commander. In early May, JNA Chief of Staff and acting Yugoslav defence minister Blagoje Adzic summoned Mladic to Belgrade to inform him that he was to be promoted to both commander and chief of staff of the JNA’s 2nd Military District, based in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. At about the same time, the acting president of the Yugoslav presidency, Branko Kostic, ordered the previous JNA incumbent of the post to surrender his duties to Mladic, whose appointment as commander of the 2nd Military District was reported by Belgrade TV on 9 May.

Mladic subsequently recalled that ‘When I took up duty in the 2nd Military District I immediately assigned myself the task of assembling men and forming a command and General Staff, partly from the remnants of the 2nd Military District and partly from the men who had come with me from Knin and from other areas, who were born in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We immediately began the formation of a General Staff of the [Bosnian] Serb Army.’ On 12 May, the self-declared Bosnian Serb parliament voted to establish a Bosnian Serb army incorporating all JNA units on Bosnian territory, and to appoint Mladic as its commander. Yet the law was not promulgated by the presidency of the self-declared Bosnian Serb republic until 19 May. Until that time, Mladic was still formally subordinate, along with all Serb forces on Bosnian territory, to the Yugoslav military command and Yugoslav presidency in Belgrade. Only on 19 May did the the JNA formally split into two separate armies: the ‘Army of Yugoslavia’, made up of troops from Serbia and Montenegro, which formally withdrew from Bosnia on the same date; and the ‘Army of the Serb Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina’, subsequently simply the ‘Army of the Serb Republic’, headed by Mladic and now formally independent.

In other words, although Mladic played a prominent and significant role in the Serb military assault on Bosnia that began full-scale in the spring of 1992, he was far from being its chief instigator or organiser. The latter was the political and military leadership of Serbia, Montenegro and the Yugoslav People’s Army, which handpicked and groomed Mladic for the role. Attributing excessive importance to Mladic as organiser of the war in Bosnia downplays the party that was actually responsible: the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.

War crimes investigators at the ICTY were aware of how the war and mass killing in Bosnia were organised. According to the amended indictment of Milosevic for war crimes in Bosnia:

‘Slobodan MILOSEVIC participated in the joint criminal enterprise as set out below. The purpose of this joint criminal enterprise was the forcible and permanent removal of the majority of non-Serbs, principally Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, from large areas of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (hereinafter referred to as “Bosnia and Herzegovina”), through the commission of crimes which are in violation of Articles 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the Statute of the Tribunal. The joint criminal enterprise was in existence by 1 August 1991 and continued until at least 31 December 1995. The individuals participating in this joint criminal enterprise included Slobodan MILOSEVIC, Radovan KARADZIC, Momcilo KRAJISNIK, Biljana PLAVSIC, General Ratko MLADIC, Borisav JOVIC, Branko KOSTIC, Veljko KADIJEVIC, Blagoje ADZIC, Milan MARTIC, Jovica STANISIC, Franko SIMATOVIC, also known as “Frenki,” Radovan STOJICIC, also known as “Badza,” Vojislav SESELJ, Zeljko RAZNATOVIC, also known as “Arkan,” and other known and unknown participants.’

However, at the time of writing, not a single official of Serbia, Montenegro or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – i.e. of the regime that organised the war – nor any officer of the JNA (excluding officers of the Bosnian Serb army who had previously served in the JNA) has been convicted by the ICTY of war crimes in Bosnia. The weight of ICTY punishment has, so far, fallen exclusively on the Bosnian Serbs, while the regime of Milosevic in Belgrade and the leadership of the JNA have been mostly let off the hook. Only six such officials were ever indicted: Milosevic, Stanisic, Simatovic, Perisic, Arkan and Seselj. Arkan was assassinated before he could be arrested, while Milosevic died while his trial was in progress. This leaves a maximum of four representatives of the regime who could, if the prosecution is wholly successful, receive punishment for organising the worst case of aggression and mass killing in Europe since World War II. None of these belonged to the top rank of officials responsible for organising the war in Bosnia, with the exception of Stanisic, who was head of Serbia’s State Security Service.

Of the other representatives of the ‘joint criminal enterprise’ from Serbia, Montenegro and the JNA high command who were listed in the Milosevic indictment, Stojicic was assassinated in Belgrade before the indictment was issued. Adzic and Kadijevic, the two top figures in the JNA during the war in Croatia and (in Adzic’s case) during the first stage of the war in Bosnia, were never indicted. Neither were Jovic and Kostic, the Yugoslav presidency members for Serbia and Montenegro respectively, and therefore (along with their counterparts for Vojvodina and Kosovo) the individuals in ultimate formal command of all Serb forces in Croatia and Bosnia up until 19 May 1992. Other top officials of Serbia, Montenegro and the JNA also escaped indictment over Bosnia or Croatia – such as Montenegro’s wartime president Momir Bulatovic, and acting Yugoslav army chief of staff Zivota Panic (who died in 2003).

Some relatively minor JNA figures were indicted for war-crimes in Croatia, in relation to Vukovar and Dubrovnik, but over Croatia, as over Bosnia, the weight of the ICTY’s punishment has fallen on the Croatian Serb agents of Belgrade – such as Milan Martic and Milan Babic (and potentially also the still unarrested Goran Hadzic) – while the officials of the former Milosevic regime have escaped extremely lightly.

This extraordinary failure of international justice over Bosnia – the failure of the ICTY to indict more than a handful of the officials of the regime and army responsible for the planning and launching the war, and so far to convict a single one of them – reflects both the inability of its prosecutors to understand the war properly, as well as their poor strategy in issuing indictments. As I have indicated elsewhere, a preliminary draft of a war-crimes indictment for the leadership of the SRJ (Serbia and Montenegro) drawn up in 2001 by investigators – including the present author – aimed to indict Milosevic and other members of his regime together, including Jovic, Kostic and Adzic. But by a decision of Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte, the policy was then dropped in favour of an indictment of Milosevic alone. Apart from allowing his chief collaborators to escape justice, this had the unfortunate effect – as Geoffrey Nice, who led the prosecution of Milosevic, himself noted – that when Milosevic died in 2006, his trial came to an end, and with it, the trial of his regime. This contrasts with the sensible indictment strategy pursued over Serbian war-crimes in Kosovo by del Ponte’s predecessor, Louise Arbour, who indicted five top members of the regime together, including Milosevic.

In her published memoirs, del Ponte’s failure to understand the planning and organising of the war in Bosnia is apparent; it is a failure that found expression in her misguided indictment strategy. She describes Milosevic and Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman as the two figures primarily responsible for the break up of Yugoslavia – as if their respective roles in the process were equal, and as if none of the other leading members of Milosevic’s Belgrade regime was of similar importance. But this is false.

The break up of Yugoslavia and the wars in Croatia and Bosnia all formed part of a single process, planned by the regime in Belgrade under Milosevic’s leadership from at least the spring of 1990, with the goal of creating a Great Serbia (masquerading as a ‘new Yugoslavia’). So far as Bosnia was concerned, this ‘joint criminal enterprise’ aimed to destroy the country and kill or expel most of the Muslim or Bosniak population. Most of Bosnia, as well as large parts of Croatia, were to be annexed by Serbia, and rump Croatia was to receive some Bosnian territory as well, with the Muslims or Bosniaks, at best, being confined to an Indian reservation in between. Tudjman was an eager collaborator in this programme of genocide and aggression, whose other leading members were, in particular, the aforementioned Jovic, Kostic, Kadijevic, Adzic, Stanisic, Panic and Bulatovic. None of these has yet been punished, and most of them certainly never will be.

As for Mladic, he was merely a middle-ranking agent in the planning and launching of this enterprise – more than a pawn, but not more than a knight or a bishop. So while his arrest and trial should be celebrated, and while we have much to expect from it, let us not pretend that justice is being served.

Friday, 3 June 2011 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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.

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

The difficult road to Balkan stability

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The Balkans are only a step away from normalisation, but it may be a step too far for Western policy-makers.

Normalisation for the Balkans would mean the region’s definite establishment as a set of functioning, democratic nation-states on the model of Western Europe; undivided by serious conflicts or live territorial disputes. The region’s national questions would be resolved, to the point that they would be as unlikely to spill over into large-scale bloodshed as the national questions of Belgium, Scotland or Catalonia. The Balkan states would all be integrated into the EU, and ideally NATO as well.

This is not an ambitious ideal, yet it is far from being realised. Regional progress is still being derailed by a series of conflicts of varying severity between the Balkan states. The Slovenian-Croatian border dispute for a while threatened to derail the entire region’s EU integration, though this appears to have been averted. Greek-Turkish rivalry over Cyprus, the Aegean Sea and other areas remains latent, something for which the anti-Turkish rhetoric on the part of candidates in the recent Greek parliamentary elections has served as a reminder. Both Turkey and Greece are problematic: the first is, under the leadership of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)  in the process of developing a new regional role for itself, one that appears to be taking it closer to authoritarian and radical states like Russia, Iran and Syria; the second is pursuing a damaging regional policy, involving hostility to the fragile states of Macedonia and Kosovo. With its campaign against Macedonia, in particular, Greece is threatening the stability of a neighbouring state where relations between the majority Macedonians and minority Albanians are already dangerously unstable.

Meanwhile, the policies of Serbia and Serb nationalism remain the single greatest source of Balkan instability. Serbia is still failing to arrest war criminals indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, thereby obstructing its own EU integration. But more dangerously, it is pursuing a dog-in-the-manger policy vis-a-vis Kosovo, preventing the newly independent state from consolidating itself and integrating itself properly into the international community. The Serbia-Kosovo dispute poisons regional relations; Belgrade recently rebuked Skopje for the latter’s agreement with Pristina to resolve the Macedonia-Kosovo border dispute.

The most intractable regional problem of all, however, remains Bosnia-Hercegovina. The state is saddled with the unworkable constitutional order imposed upon it by the Dayton Accords of 1995, ensuring that the state cannot function and must remain in a state of permanent political crisis. Bosnia’s recent exclusion, along with Albania, from the EU’s grant of visa liberalisation to the western Balkans, that was applied to Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, has further entrenched divisions in the country and the wider region. Milorad Dodik, prime minister of Bosnia’s Serb entity, the Republika Srpska, is openly pursuing Bosnia’s full dismemberment; the aggressive and provocative nature of his policy was recently highlighted by the warm welcome he extended to the convicted war-criminal Biljana Plavsic, following her early release from prison in Sweden.

These home-grown Balkan problems are being exacerbated by the policies of outside powers. The revanchist, neo-Soviet regime in Russia is aggressively backing Serbia over Kosovo, preventing the dispute from being resolved. By doing so, Moscow is not merely undermining Kosovo, but is undermining also Serbia’s own complete transition into a post-nationalist liberal democratic state. Moscow aims to keep the Balkans divided to prevent their full integration into the Euro-Atlantic framework. Hence, Dodik was looking to Moscow when he unilaterally withdrew Bosnian Serb soldiers from participation in NATO exercises in Georgia.

The second major external source of Balkan instability is the weak and vacillating policy of the EU, dominated as the latter is by the Franco-German axis. Germany is pursuing a pro-Russian policy that is making the new East Central European members of NATO and the EU very uncomfortable, while France continues to seek a dissident role in the Western alliance vis-a-vis the Anglo-Saxon powers. Hence, the EU’s muted reaction to the Georgian war; the crushing of Washington’s Georgian ally was not allowed to get in the way of growing EU-Russian collaboration. The Georgian war was facilitated by the Franco-German blocking of the grant of NATO Membership Action Plans to Georgia, along with Ukraine, in the spring of 2008. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, pursuing his Gaullist policy of Mediterranean union, sees fit also to support Greece against Macedonia.

Such an attitude on the part of the EU also involves toleration of Serbian trouble-making vis-a-vis Kosovo and Bosnia. The Netherlands is essentially isolated in its continued insistence that Serbia’s progress on EU accession be linked to its arrest of war criminals. The EU, for its part, would like to see the Office of the High Representative (OHR) for Bosnia closed. Yet the OHR has been the principal integrating force in Bosnia since 1995. Take away the OHR, and Bosnia moves another step toward full partition.

The EU’s resolve over the Balkans is further weakened by the activities of dissident members. No unified EU policy exists over Kosovo on account of the refusal of five EU members to recognise the new state – all for nationalistic reasons. Romania and Slovakia perceive a ‘separatist’ parallel between the Kosovo Albanians and their own maltreated Hungarian minorities. Likewise, Spain is obsessed with ‘separatist’ parallels of its own vis-a-vis Catalonia and the Basque Country. Greece and Cyprus are traditional allies of Serbia; Cyprus also equates Kosovo with Turkish-occupied Cyprus. None of these states’ reasons for opposing Kosovo’s independence are very noble, yet the EU has no means of compelling them to keep ranks with the majority; the EU therefore pursues the policy of the lowest common denominator.

Although the EU has been as an instrument for bringing nations together, its recent policies in the Balkans are having the opposite effect. The veto that EU members enjoy in relation to membership bids by aspiring members places a weapon in the hands of trouble-makers lucky enough to already be in the club. The Slovenian-Croatian border dispute was exacerbated by Ljubljana’s use of its veto against Croatia. Although Ljubljana threatened to use its veto to keep Croatia out of NATO as well, Washington quickly put a stop to this mischief. Unfortunately, the EU states are much less ready than the US to put pressure on their partners to cease misbehaviour, and though Ljubljana did eventually lift its veto, this was not before it had won concessions over the border dispute at Zagreb’s expense.

Still more destructive has been the EU’s exacerbation of the Greek-Macedonian dispute. Despite the thoroughly pre-democratic and chauvinistic nature of Greece’s campaign against Macedonia, EU members have been wholly unwilling to put pressure on Athens to change it. So, rather than the whole club forcing a badly behaved member to behave better, the policy of the trouble-maker is imposed on the whole. The bad apple poisons the whole basket; the tail wags the dog.

The structural factors underlying the EU’s damaging policies vis-a-vis the Balkans are likely to become worse in the years to come. The accession of new members will give more states vetoes to use against aspiring members. After joining the EU, Croatia may use its veto against Serbia. If Macedonia does back down to Athens, Albania might be encouraged to use its veto to keep Macedonia out of NATO, to extract concessions regarding the Albanian minority in Macedonia. For while both Croatia and Albania have pursued responsible regional policies over the past ten years, the EU is sending out to them the wrong signals: that bad behaviour brings dividends.

Meanwhile, the EU’s growing energy dependency on Russia is likely further to dampen the EU’s resolve to resist the mischief of Moscow and Belgrade in the Balkans. Russian plans to build the ‘North Stream’ gas pipeline direct to Germany, bypassing the former-Communist states of East Central Europe, will allow it to exert leverage over its neighbours without simultaneously punishing its German ally.

As the EU moves increasingly to accommodate a dangerous and hostile power, so it is alienating an important power that has long assisted Balkan stability. Paris and Berlin have made it very clear they do not wish to allow Turkey to join the EU. This has had the predictable result that Turkey is losing is faith in the possibility of a European future, and is turning increasingly toward Russia, Iran, Syria and other radical and anti-Western states.  Turkey has made huge strides this decade in improving its human rights record, as required by its bid for EU membership. For the same reason, it has facilitated a resolution of the Cyprus dispute through its support for the 2004 Annan Plan. As the prize of EU membership moves further from its grasp, Ankara may backslide over both human rights and Cyprus as well. There are worrying signs that the pace of democratisation in Turkey is indeed slowing -such as the record fine recently imposed on Dogan Yayin Holding AS – Turkey’s largest media group and critical of the AKP government.

A hardening of Turkey’s stance on Cyprus could lead to the collapse of the Greek-Turkish rapprochement, further damaging the prospects for the Balkans’ normalisation. For all its human rights abuses, Turkey has been playing a constructive role in the region, as the ally of the weak and vulnerable states of Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia. We do not know what the full consequences would be if Turkey fully abandons its European moorings and goes off in a new direction.  But at the very least, an authoritarian Turkey headed by an Islamic-populist regime on the border of the Balkans will not have a positive effect on the region.

Unfortunately, alongside Russia and the EU, there is a third external factor whose contribution to Balkan stability currently raises concerns: the Obama Administration in the US. The latter’s abandonment of the Bush Administration’s plans to base a missile-defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, in order to appease Moscow in the hope of obtaining Russian support vis-a-vis Iran, is a worrying indication of US passivity vis-a-vis Europe and Russia. The capitulation amounts to a betrayal of the security of allies in order to appease a hostile power, with echoes of Cold-War-style sphere-of-influence politics. While it is too soon to press the panic button over Obama’s policy toward Eastern and South Eastern Europe, we should be very concerned if Obama goes any further down this path.

For all these internal and external problems facing the Balkans, the success stories and models for future success are close at hand. Romania and Bulgaria are far from model democracies, and have serious problems with corruption and organised crime. Yet neither has engaged in military aggression or seriously attempted territorial expansionism since joining the free world in 1989; both are members of the EU and NATO. Turkey and Greece, following their heavy military defeats in World War I and the Greco-Turkish War respectively, pursued an enlightened policy of rapprochement vis-a-vis one another, eschewing territorial expansionism. This rapprochement was only derailed by the outbreak of the Cyprus conflict from the 1950s, and later resumed: Greece today is a vocal champion of Turkey’s EU membership. Croatia, too, following its unsuccessful expansionist adventure in Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s has, since the death of Franjo Tudjman in 1999, abandoned expansionism to pursue a responsible regional policy and EU membership.

The key to turning aggressive, expansionist Balkan states into responsible members of the European family, therefore, is for the international community to shut off all avenues for their expansionism and keep them firmly confined within their own borders. With all due qualifications, this is the way it has been for Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece and Croatia. Where these states have been less than responsible – as, for example, in the case of Turkey vis-a-vis Cyprus or Greece vis-a-vis Macedonia – this has occurred when there have been insufficient limits placed on their ability to coerce neighbours.

The biggest source of instability in the Balkans remains the fact that, thanks to the weakness and vacillation of Western and above all EU policy, Serbia has not been firmly confined within its borders, despite its defeat in the wars of the 1990s. Instead, Belgrade continues to destabilise the neighbouring states of Kosovo and Bosnia. Its ability to do so means that Serbia – unlike Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Greece and to an extent Turkey – is unable to develop a post-expansionist state identity; one that does not revolve around territorial aspirations towards neighbouring states. This is bad above all for Serbia itself – the reason why it is still a long way from EU membership, despite being before the 1990s more prosperous, developed and liberal than either Romania or Bulgaria.

The problem is not, however, ultimately with Serbia itself. In parliamentary elections following Kosovo’s independence last year, the Serbian electorate handed victory to the pro-European rather than the hardline nationalist parties, revealing what little stomach it has for renewed confrontation over Kosovo. Belgrade has also played its trump card with its case against Kosovo’s independence before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and there is every reason to believe that the Court will not rule in its favour, even leaving aside the strength of Kosovo’s case. The ICJ’s judges come from different countries and their verdict will likely represent some form of compromise rather than award outright victory to one side or the other. Anything less than a full victory for Belgrade will effectively be a defeat, ambiguity leaving the door open for more states to recognise Kosovo’s independence while plausibly claiming to do so legally. In other words, both in terms of its range of available strategies and in terms of the popular support it enjoys, Serbian expansionism vis-a-vis Kosovo is a broken reed. With the Kosovo Albanians enjoying a comfortable majority in their country, their ultimate ability to consolidate their state is assured.

The principal problem for the region is the Bosnian question, and the policy of the Western alliance toward it. Unlike for all the other Balkan regional problems, for Bosnia, stability will not come through persuading or coercing the states involved to accept reality or to reach a compromise. For Bosnia, it is the very legal status quo and ‘compromise’, born at Dayton in 1995, that is generating instability for the state and the region. The Dayton order provides a framework that is gradually enabling the Bosnian Serb separatists, currently headed by Dodik, to establish the Bosnian Serb entity as a de facto independent state while preparing the ground for formal secession. The Bosniaks will, however, go to war to prevent this happening. It is a moot point what the outcome of such a military confrontation would be, but it is not something to which we should look forward.

Bosnia remains, therefore, the weak foundation-stone of Balkan stability. Only the transformation of Bosnia into a functioning state, through the transfer of most state powers from the entities to the central government, will guarantee against the outbreak of a new Bosnian war, and provide a final and definite check to Serbia’s expansionism, forcing that state wholly onto the post-expansionist path and removing the principal obstacle to the region’s progress.

Unfortunately, with Western and particular EU policy being what it is at present, such a decisive step seems unlikely. The problems facing the Balkans are neither huge nor insurmountable, yet Western passivity and vacillation seem set to allow these small problems to turn into larger ones. The Balkans look set for a rocky road ahead.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society. A longer version was given as a presentation to the Sussex European Institute on 3 November, entitled ‘How far are the Balkans from normalisation ?’

Monday, 9 November 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Caucasus, Croatia, Cyprus, European Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Germany, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, NATO, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt denies over half the Srebrenica massacre

BildtIn his memoirs of the Bosnian war, Carl Bildt, the foreign minister of Sweden – which took over the EU presidency on 1 July – has this to say about the Srebrenica massacre:

‘In five days of massacres, Mladic had arranged for the methodical execution of more than three thousand men who had stayed behind and become prisoners of war. And probably more than four thousand people had lost their lives in a week of brutal ambushes and fighting in the forests, by the roadside and in the valleys between Srebrenica and the Tuzla district, as the column was trying to reach safety.’ (Carl Bildt, Peace Journey: The struggle for peace in Bosnia, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1998, p. 66 – all subsequent page references are to Bildt’s book).

The Srebrenica massacre, an act of genocide against the civilian population of Srebrenica that claimed the lives of approximately eight thousand victims, including at least five hundred children under the age of eighteen, has therefore been reduced by Bildt to ‘more than three thousand’, all of them ‘prisoners of war’, while four thousand of the victims are portrayed as battlefield deaths. This would be equivalent to claiming that only two and a quarter million Jewish ‘prisoners of war’ had perished in the Holocaust, while the rest of the six million had been killed in battle.

This was not a casual slip on Bildt’s part. At the time of the Srebrenica massacre, Bildt was the EU’s special envoy to the former Yugoslavia. His massive downplaying of the Serb genocide reflects the EU policy of the time, which was to collaborate with Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia and with Radovan Karadzic’s Bosnian Serb extremists, and to appease their expansionism. Unlike the US, the EU states staunchly supported the international arms embargo against Bosnia, which prevented the country from defending itself from Serb aggression.

In his memoirs, Bildt’s chapter on July 1995, the month when the Srebrenica massacre occurred, is entitled ‘Success and failure: July 1995’. He believes that when describing his record as EU peace mediator in Bosnia for the period of the Srebrenica massacre, the word ‘success’ should appropriately be put before the word ‘failure’. Some might feel that using the word ‘success’ in relation to EU policy that presided over a genocidal massacre of eight thousand people was just a wee bit inappropriate. But not Bildt, who seems quite proud of his record.

Following the Serb conquest of Srebrenica, Bildt records how he attempted in London on 21 July 1995 to dissuade the Western states from intervening militarily to defend a second Bosnian enclave that was being threatened with a similar fate:

‘[British foreign secretary Malcolm] Rifkind was a little taken aback when I started his day by saying that Gorazde was scarcely threatened, and even if this was the case, I did not believe it could be defended by air strikes. We had to focus on getting the political process going. If we left London with a bombing strategy but without a political strategy, we would almost certainly be faced with even more acts of war and suffering. But sooner or later, we would be forced to return to the political track in any case. Bombing strategies were all very well, but we should not bomb our political opportunities to smithereens.’ (p. 67).

When Serb forces based in Serb-occupied Croatia (so-called ‘Krajina’) attacked the Bihac enclave in north-western Bosnia that same month, threatening to overrun it and enact another massacre on the model of Srebrenica, Croatia – which had signed a military agreement with Bosnia on the 22nd for the defence of Bihac – responded in August with a full-scale military offensive (‘Operation Storm’) against the Krajina area. According to his memoirs, Bildt made no effort whatsoever to deter the Serb attack on Bihac – which he barely acknowledges even occurred – but instead attempted to halt the Croatian counter-offensive. As Bildt records,

‘My public statement was clear: The Croatian offensive against areas inhabited by Serbs must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. This attack is occurring after negotiations have commenced, and when the Serbs are clearly willing to make substantial concessions on both economic and political matters. This will cast a long shadow over Croatia for many years to come. The shelling of the civilian population which is now being reported is particularly serious. It should be recalled that Martic, the ‘president of Krajina’, was charged with war crimes after the Serb rocket attack on Zagreb in May. It is difficult to see any difference between this and the bombardment of Knin, for which President Tudjman must be held responsible.‘ (p. 75).

In other words, the same Bildt who had made no such threat against the leaders of Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs when they were attacking Srebrenica, nor when they attacked Bihac, was now threatening the Croatian president with a war-crimes indictment for launching a counter-offensive against the Serb forces; a counter-offensive made, moreover, on the basis of an agreement with Bosnia-Hercegovina’s legitimate government for the purposes of defending part of its population from conquest and genocide. Bildt described the Serb-occupied areas of Croatia – defined as ‘occupied’ by the UN General Assembly – as ‘areas inhabited by Serbs’, forgetting that these areas had had a substantial Croat population before being ethnically cleansed by the Serb forces in 1991. He found it ‘difficult to see any difference’ between the Krajina Serb extremists’ wholly gratuitous act of civilian terrorism against Zagreb’s civilians in May 1995 and the legitimate Croatian government’s bombardment of Knin, made in the course of a military offensive against the same Serb extremists who were using Croatia’s territory to attack the territory of a neighbouring state, with the likely aim of perpetrating an act of genocide.

We can compare the way in which Bildt attempted to halt the Croatian offensive against Krajina with the way he had responded to the previous month’s Serb offensive against Srebrenica:

‘I had no way of knowing who was responsible for what was happening around Srebrenica, but it was hard to imagine that Milosevic, at any rate, was unable to influence the course of events. Before going to Geneva that afternoon, I therefore sent a clear letter of warning to Milosevic. There was a clear risk, I wrote, that our talks would be completely overshadowed by what was happening around Srebrenica. The entire situation could take a turn for the worse. If the enclave were attacked and overrun, this would be a very serious provocation which might well lead to an escalation of hostilities throughout much of Bosnia. I thus urged him to do everything in his power to prevent this.’ (p. 56).

So whereas Bildt threatened Tudjman with a war-crimes indictment – a threat he was wholly unauthorised to make – he threatened Milosevic with the possibility that ‘our talks would be completely overshadowed’ !

Bildt goes on to describe how, at the time of Operation Storm, he told the press:

‘I said it was regrettable that the attack meant that Croatia had chosen war, not peace, and said that I assumed that The Hague Tribunal would examine the question of the shellfire against Knin sooner or later, in the same way that it had considered the question of responsibility for the missile attacks on Zagreb.’ (p. 77).

Bildt did not accuse the Serb leaders who had just conquered Srebrenica and Zepa, and who were now trying to conquer Bihac, of ‘choosing war, not peace’; nor did he threaten them with indictment for war crimes. Rather, his threats were directed solely against Croatia. He ends his chapter on the Croatian offensive against Krajina with the following complaint:

‘For me, the conclusion from Srebrenica was not that we should blind ourselves to atrocities committed by others, but that we had to react strongly and clearly against all atrocities. In November 1995, The Hague Tribunal indicted Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic for war crimes committed in and around Srebrenica. However, as this book goes to print, the Tribunal has so far not considered anyone responsible for the massive and brutal ethnic cleansing of the Krajinas in August 1995.’ (p. 80)

Bildt, in pointing out that the Hague Tribunal indicted Karadzic and Mladic over Srebrenica, omits to mention that he did not call for such indictments at the time, in contrast to his call for an indictment against Tudjman over Operation Storm – and this despite his claim that his ‘conclusion from Srebrenica’ was that ‘we had to react strongly and clearly against all atrocities’. He does not complain that ‘as this book goes to print’, neither Milosevic or anyone else from Serbia’s leadership had been indicted for conquering and ethnically cleansing the Krajina region of Croatia in the first place.

Bildt was, in other words, an arch-appeaser, who actively opposed every attempt to resist the Serb forces militarily, whether by the international community or by Croatia. He denies over half the Srebrenica massacre, and describes its child and other civilian victims as having been ‘prisoners of war’. He describes the month in which the Srebrenica massacre occurred as a month of ‘success and failure’. Following the fall of Srebrenica, he attempted to block NATO air-strikes to defend Gorazde. He tried to deter the Croatian offensive against Krajina by threatening Tudjman, but made no equivalent threat to deter the Serb assault on Srebrenica. He called for Tudjman to be indicted for war-crimes, but not for Karadzic, Mladic or Milosevic to be indicted. He complained in 1998 that Tudjman had not been indicted, but he did not complain that Milosevic had not been indicted.

Some things never change. On behalf of Sweden’s EU presidency, Bildt has claimed that ‘Serbia is fully cooperating with the Hague Tribunal’. He pledged that ‘Sweden would take a pragmatic stand on the Kosovo issue, taking into account the fact that several EU member-states had not recognized the independence of Kosovo.’ Also: ‘We want to liberalize the visa regime with Serbia, but not Kosovo, as a dialogue on visa liberalization is being conducted with Serbia, not Kosovo’.

In other words, Bildt is saying that the policy of Sweden’s EU presidency will be: ‘Stuff Mladic’s Bosniak victims. Stuff the relatives of the people killed by him at Srebrenica, who still want him brought to justice. Stuff Kosovo and its people. I’m going to go on appeasing Belgrade, just as I did in 1995.’

No doubt, with Sweden at the helm of the EU, we can look forward to another glorious episode in the illustrious history of this heroic institution.

Update: Owen Beith has pointed out to me that Bildt’s Srebrenica revisionism is actually worse than I originally indicated: not only has he reduced the number of Srebrenica massacre victims to ‘more than three thousand’, but he describes them all as having been ‘prisoners of war’; i.e. captured soldiers. In fact, the Srebrenica massacre was perpetrated against the Bosniak civilian population in general, not simply against captured soldiers, and those killed included at least five hundred children under the age of eighteen. This post has been updated accordingly.

Update no 2.: Daniel of the Srebrenica Genocide Blog has posted a refutation of Bildt’s Srebrenica revisionism in full, which I strongly recommend reading.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009 Posted by | Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia, Sweden | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Nationalism and cowardice

GlavasWe have commented here on more than one occasion on the less than fearless character of our contemporary South East European chauvinists, Serbs and Croats alike. Whether they were forgoing resistance in order to collaborate with the Nazis and Fascists in World War II, beating defenceless prisoners and raping women in camps in the 1990s, fleeing before enemy armed forces or trying to evade trial at The Hague, the national chauvinists have, for the most part, exhibited cowardice as a defining feature. Indeed, the cowardice of chauvinists is often in proportion to their greed for territorial expansion.

So far as the Great Croat chauvinists are concerned, one of their defining moments came in May 1941, when the Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic, newly installed at the head of the Nazi-puppet ‘Independent State of Croatia’, signed a treaty that ceded without struggle a large part of the Croatian coast to Fascist Italy. He then proceeded to try to divert the popular anger of the outraged Croatian public away from the Italians and against the apparently defenceless Serb civilian population of the Croatian puppet state – only to find that his anti-Serb genocidal campaign generated a popular resistance, among Serbs and others, that his sorry armed forces were incapable of suppressing, leading him to ever-greater acts of grovelling dependency on his German and Italian masters. Pavelic and his fellow leading Ustasha murderers fled the country in 1945, leaving the remnants of the puppet Croatian army and the civilians who had remained loyal to it to bear the brunt of Partisan retaliation.

Franjo Tudjman, the next chauvinistic despot to rule Croatia, did not approach Pavelic’s degree of murderousness, but he was his equal when it was a question of grovelling to the strong while mercilessly persecuting the weak. Tudjman was terrified at the prospect of taking on Serbia and the Yugoslav People’s Army, and attempted to obstruct and defuse Croatian resistance efforts at every step, while seeking to reach a deal with Slobodan Milosevic at the expense of those further down the pecking order – above all, the Bosnian Muslims. This involved offering Milosevic and the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic bits of Croatian or Croat-inhabited Bosnian territory in exchange for other bits of Bosnian territory. This did not stop the Serbian aggression against Croatia, and Croatia was saved from military disaster and dismemberment only by the heroism of its ordinary defenders and by the military and political bankrupcty of the Great Serbian project. Operation Storm, and the liberation of Serbian-occupied central Croatia, came only after Tudjman had received assurances that it would incur neither a Yugoslav Army counter-offensive nor US displeasure. But just as Pavelic’s surrender to the Italians went hand in hand with his slaughter of Serb civilians, so Tudjman’s slavishness to Milosevic went hand in hand with his merciless campaign against Bosnia and the Muslims. Only naturally, the Bosnian Army, poorly armed though it was, proved more than a match for Tudjman’s Bosnian Croat proxies, and routed them all across Central Bosnia in 1993 until they were ignominiously rescued from defeat by US diplomacy.

After that, the very Great Croat chauvinists who had bravely slaughtered Muslim and Serb women, children and old people proved not quite so brave when it was a question of standing trial at The Hague and attempting to justify what they had done, and were quite ready to obstruct Croatia’s EU accession in order to save their own skins. This glorious tradition of evading imprisonment is now being continued by the Croatian politician and former warlord of the northern Croatian city of Osijek, Branimir Glavas. Glavas, who openly identifies with the World War II Ustasha movement, was sentenced by a Croatian court on 8 May to ten years’ imprisonment for war-crimes against Serb civilians, after which he fled Croatia to Bosnia, whose citizenship he possesses, and is now fighting an extradition battle, while ranting bombastically against the Croatian government and judiciary.

Not all nationalists or even all fascists are cowards, and the type of ‘patriotic’ mentality represented by individuals such as Tudjman and Glavas requires some explaining…

The Nationalist Coward’s Manifesto

1) Words count for more than deeds. The biggest patriot is the one who shouts most loudly about his nation. It really is as simple as that.

2) Ethics are for suckers. Only the naive really believe in principles such as ‘rights for ethnic minorities’, ‘inviolability of state borders’, ‘resistance to the occupiers’ and so forth, whereas the cunning one, unhampered by such delusions, has the edge when dealing with the naive. The nationalist coward wins by violating ethical rules and lying about it successfully.

3) The Raskolnikov syndrome. Since violating ethical rules gives one the edge, it is necessary for the nationalist coward to do this if he wants to achieve great things for his nation. Slaughtering civilians, destroying villages, transferring populations and the like, are an escapable part of nation-building, therefore of being a patriot.

4) Heroism is also for suckers. From steps 2) and 3) it follows that dying or even fighting for one’s nation against a superior enemy is also the pointless, stupid act of a naive hothead; much better for the nationalist coward coolly to reach an unethical, therefore ‘patriotic’ agreement with the occupier to get what he wants for his nation.

5) Being a patriot means being proud to be an arsehole. Since only by doing bad things can the nationalist coward serve his nation, he should not be ashamed to be accused of being a ‘war-criminal’, ‘dictator’, ‘fascist’, ‘Chetnik’, ‘Ustasha’, etc. He should take pride in such compliments ! In fact, he should act so as to provoke more of them…

6) To the victor, the spoils. Having served his nation by collaborating with the occupier and slaughtering civilians, it is only right that the nationalist coward should reward himself for his efforts, by expropriating the wealth of the state for himself and his family and friends, and by appropriating all power within it. A nation must reward its best sons, after all. To borrow a quip from Vuk Karadzic: the nationalist coward loves his country like a swine loves a forest full of acorns.

7) L’etat – c’est moi ! As one who has built his nation, the nationalist coward understands that the nation is simply an extension of his own ego. Consequently, unpatriotic elements who attack him for war-crimes, corruption or abuses of the legal or democratic processes are simply attacking the nation, and should be condemned on those grounds as aliens and traitors.

8 ) ‘Don’t worry, no-one will ever find out’. The nationalist coward realises that other people, particularly representatives of Western powers and members of his own public, are fundamentally stupid. The best way for him to get away with doing bad things is simply to pretend he is doing the opposite. For example, he can spend World War II collaborating with the Nazis, but pretend to be leading a resistance movement. Or he can offer to sell bits of his country to the enemy, while pretending to be defending it ! The cunning village huckster will always trick the clueless inhabitants of the big city.

9) You’ll never take me alive, copper ! Since patriotism requires that one violates an ethical rule or two, it is the worst possible affront to the nationalist coward when he is actually, finally, indicted for war-crimes. Why, he carried out these war-crimes because he sincerely believes in the principle that a patriot has the right and duty to do bad things. And now you’re telling him that he has to answer for these things before an unpatriotic court of law ? Never ! There’s nothing more patriotic than sacrificing one’s country to save oneself.

10) Za dom spremni !

Monday, 18 May 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Serbia | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Was Franjo Tudjman a Holocaust denier ?

tudjman1When faced with claims made by revisionist writers concerning the wars in the former Yugoslavia of the 1990s, that they present as ‘challenging accepted wisdom’, it is generally a safe working assumption that they are all falsehoods, unless the writers in question actually present hard evidence to back them up. This can be shown by even the most casual glance at the ‘sensational revelations’ that these writers have been making since 1991: that Germany ‘encouraged’ Croatia’s secession from Yugoslavia in 1991; that the Croatian chequerboard symbol was a ‘fascist’ symbol; that Bosnia’s Alija Izetbegovic recruited for the SS during World War II; that Izetbegovic’s regime reestablished a five-thousand strong SS ‘Handzar Division’ in Bosnia in the 1990s; that the Western media ‘fabricated’ the existence of Serb concentration camps in Bosnia; that the Bosnian Army was guilty of shelling its own civilians in Sarajevo in order to provoke Western bombing of the Serbs; that the US imported mujahedeen or Wahhabi fighters into Bosnia during the war; that Izetbegovic was a friend and ally of Osama bin Laden and shared his politics; that the fighting and massacres in the Srebrenica region were initiated by the Bosnian Army; that there is ‘no proof’ that the Srebrenica massacre occurred; that Croatia’s Operation Storm was the ‘largest single act of ethnic cleansing during the Yugoslav wars’; that there was no Serbian ethnic-cleansing in Kosovo before the NATO bombing began in 1999; that no mass graves of Kosova Albanians were found in Kosova after NATO moved in; that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has focused disproportionately on Serb war-crimes suspects; and so on and so forth –  all these claims, and others, have either been shown to be complete fabrications or, at best, wild exaggerations, or they remain entirely unsubstantiated. Generally, only a bit of research is necessary to reveal each new claim of this kind as yet another falsehood.

On this occasion, I should like to turn to one of the older claims made by the members of the Milosevic-Karadzic lobby and by others who defend Milosevic and the Great Serbian record: the claim that the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman was a ‘Holocaust denier’. This claim has generally been linked to Tudjman’s turgid, rambling, 1989 study of genocide and mass violence, Bespuca povijesne zbiljnosti: Rasprava o povijesti i filozofiji zlosilja [Wastelands of historical truth: A discussion of the history and philosophy of violence] – citations here are from the first edition, Nakladni zavod Matice Hrvatske, Zagreb, 1989.

This is what Tudjman wrote in Bespuca (p. 153) about the Holocaust:

After Hitler’s military forces had foundered in the Soviet expanses, together with the myth of German invincibility in the Blitzkrieg, there disappeared also for Germany the possibility of a territorial solution of the Jewish question outside of Europe. Already from the very start of the German-Soviet war, from the summer of 1941, the persecution of the Jews was increased, with fanatical propaganda about the need for the merciless uprooting of all members and supporters of Jewish-Bolshevism. Since with the development of the war the possibility of expelling the Jews to Madagascar had vanished, and the conquest of large Polish and Soviet expanses in the East had opened other possibilities for a territorial solution, so Hitler, at the start of 1942, with the goal of a ‘final solution’, took the decision on the resettlement, that is the expulsion or ‘deportation’ of the Jews to the East. Although the Berlin (Grossen Wannsee) confererence (21.01. 1942), at which Heydrich gave instructions to the high Nazi officials on the execution of Hitler’s new orders, spoke only of ‘evacuating’ the Jews from all European lands to the East, it was obvious that the final solution of the Jewish question in this way aimed at achieving their step-by-step annihilation. H. Frank had, before German functionaries in Krakow, spoken more directly of the ‘final solution’. Mentioning that in Poland there were now almost 2.5 million Jews, and including the mischlings perhaps up to 3.5 million, he would say that they ‘cannot all be executed or poisoned’, but that it was necessary ‘to take measures that would bring about their annihilation’, because the war would not be a complete success if Jewry survived.

Thus, in the third year of the Second World War (1942), began the period in which the Third Reich would attempt through the ‘final solution’, that is, the exclusion of the Jews from the life of Germany and the other European nations, to achieve their step-by-step extermination. But, as that goal could not be announced to the world public, and was in the form of a secret directive notified to only a narrow circle of Nazi confidants, this was also kept hidden from the majority of Germans, who took the deportation of the Jews to the East to be their resettlement in the Polish-Russian territories, and held the concentration camps to be work camps and not death camps.

Thus, the accusation that Tudjman was a ‘Holocaust denier’ is simply untrue. But nor is it quite true that the accusations came completely out of nowhere: in this case the lie contains three grains of truth:

1) Tudjman cast doubt on the figure of six million Jewish Holocaust victims (pp. 155-156):

Regarding the total number of Jewish victims in the Second World War, in world literature there is still not even an approximate scientifically determined fact. On the one hand, estimates range from about four million (G. Reitlinger, 1953) to up to six million (J. Lestchinsky and the American Jewish Congress, 1946, and N. Levin, 1968 and 1973). Raul Hilberg, whose book (1961 and 1973) in terms of comprehensiveness and quality exceeds that of Nora Levin, judges that the total losses exceed about five million or about one third of the pre-war Jewish population, but in his statistical overview alleges that of 5,100,000 deaths there are records for the deaths of 900,000, and casts doubt (putting question-marks) on some other numbers in the framework of the total figure. Those are, presumably, the reasons why there is a need to mention that, on the other hand, some consider the figure of six million deaths to be highly ‘exaggerated’.

This passage has frequently been misquoted to accuse Tudjman of putting the figure for Jewish Holocaust victims at only 900,000, though Tudjman was in fact claiming that a leading Holocaust scholar, Raul Hilberg, had put the figure at 5.1 million and the number of those for whom records existed at 900,000. However, Tudjman then argues (p. 156)

That the mentioned estimates of up to six million dead are based too much, both on emotionally partisan testimony, and on one-sided and exaggerated figures of the postwar settling of accounts for wartime misdeeds and retribution against the defeated perpetrators of war-crimes…

After discussing differing estimates of Jewish, Polish and other casualties at Auschwitz, Majdanek, and elsewhere, Tudjman nevertheless concludes his discussion of the Holocaust (p. 158):

Of course, these examples – whether unconfirmedly indiscriminate or highly contradictory – of giving different figures, do not bring into question the enormity of the war losses of particularly the Jewish and Polish, as well as some other peoples, and in particular are not important for an overall condemnation of the genocidal acts of their perpetrators.

2) Tudjman cites self-evidently anti-Semitic sources to try to show that in the Ustasha death-camp of Jasenovac, Jewish inmates had enjoyed a privileged role in relationship to other groups of prisoners, including Serbs and Gypsies, and had even participated in the persecution and killing of the latter (pp. 316-320). Typical of the way Tudjman gives credence to anti-Semitic testimony against the Jewish inmates of Jasenovac is his citation of an anti-Semitic Bosnian Serb former Jasenovac inmate, Vojislav Prnjatovic, whose statement Tudjman quotes (p. 318): ‘A Jew remains a Jew, even in Jasenovac. They have retained all their vices in the camp, only these are now more apparent. Selfishness, cunning, unreliability, avariciousness, treacherousness and a propensity to snitching are their principal characteristics.’

Tudjman then comments (p. 318):

This judgement of Prnjatovic’s reeks of exaggeration; we could say an anti-Semitic inclination, but similar things are said by other witnesses. Some of the Jewish camp officials were armed and participated in the killing. Furthermore, in their hands was, to a large degree, the ‘selection’; i.e., the separation of prisoners for ‘liquidation’, and partly even their actual execution.

Tudjman did not deny the crimes of the Ustashas against Jews in Jasenovac, but his discussion of the Jewish inmates of Jasenovac is dominated by their supposed role as perpetrators, rather than their suffering and loss of life. 

3) Tudjman moves straight on from his discussion of the Holocaust to a discussion of Israel and Palestine, in which he compares Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi treatment of the Jews (p. 160):

After everything that it had suffered in history, particularly that terrible suffering in the Second World War, the Jewish people will in a very short space of time carry out against the Palestinian people such a brutal, genocidal policy that it has justly been termed judeo-Nazism.

Tudjman described Israeli policy as tending toward a ‘“final solution” of the Palestinian question‘, and complained:

And all this is taking place in the middle of the nineteen eighties, when world Jewry still has the need to recall its losses in the ‘Holocaust’, and even to try to prevent the election of the former general secretary of the UN, Kurt Waldheim, as president of Austria ! (p. 160)

Tudjman had fought as a Yugoslav Partisan during World War II, against the Croat Ustasha fascists; his ‘anti-Zionist’ views concerning Israel and Palestine should be attributed not so much to any right-wing Croat nationalist tendencies on his part, but primarily to his formation as a Yugoslav general under Josip Broz Tito’s fiercely pro-Arab and anti-Israeli Communist regime, with its close links to Nasserite Egypt and the Non-Aligned Movement.

In sum, therefore, Tudjman was not a Holocaust denier, but he cast doubt on the figure of six million Jewish Holocaust victims; went out of his way to portray Jewish inmates of the Jasenovac death-camp as perpetrators rather than as victims; and relativised the Holocaust in a manner that can only be deemed deliberately offensive and provocative toward Jews – by comparing it to Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

Tudjman was a crude Croat chauvinist who was entirely ready to write offensively about Jews, as he was about other groups, and to repeat anti-Semitic cliches about the role of ‘world Jewry’ in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to its alleged use of the memory of the Holocaust. But hostility toward Jews was not central to Tudjman’s worldview, as it was for ideological anti-Semites in the mould of Hitler, Corneliu Codreanu, David Duke, Osama bin Laden, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Hassan Nasrallah, Mahmud Ahmadinejad or other contemporary Islamic radicals. What was central was a profound cynicism and callousness with regard to questions of genocide and its victims, which led him to veer in the direction of anti-Semitism.

Originally a hard-line doctrinaire Marxist, Tudjman began his evolution into a Croat nationalist through his work as a historian, in which he had attempted to evaluate Croatia’s World War II history more positively; this involved emphasising the Croatian contribution to the Partisan movement. But it also involved challenging the view favoured by some Serb intellectuals, that the Croats were a ‘genocidal nation’, and challenging the high figures given by Yugoslav and Serb historians of Serb victims in the Ustasha genocide, in particular at Jasenovac. These were legitimate gripes: the widely accepted figure of several hundred thousand dead at Jasenovac was indeed a gross exaggeration; the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington today places the figure at 56-97,000 (though Tudjman’s own estimate of 30-40,000 was too low). Likewise, the overall figure for Serb deaths in the Ustasha genocide has frequently been put at around a million or upwards. But studies of war-losses carried out by the demographers Bogoljub Kocovic and Vladimir Zerjavic, a Serb and Croat respectively, have shown that the total number of Serbs killed on the territory of Croatia and Bosnia during World War II – including battlefield deaths and civilians killed by the Germans, Italians, Chetniks, Partisans and other non-Ustashas – was somewhat over three hundred thousand. These and other sources suggest a total figure of somewhat under three hundred thousand Serb victims of the Ustasha genocide.

As a historian, therefore, Tudjman was entirely justified in questioning the figures for Serb casualties in mainstream accounts of the Ustasha genocide, particularly where Jasenovac was concerned. But this bee in his bonnet then mutated into the highly cynical and offensive general theory set out in Bespuca, with its anti-Semitic overtones, in which genocide was relativised and the distinction between victims and perpetrators was deliberately blurred. This involved, as we have seen, a questioning of the figure of six million Jewish Holocaust victims; a portrayal, based on anti-Semitic sources, of Jewish inmates of Jasenovac as perpetrators rather than as victims; and a description of Israeli policy toward Palestinians as ‘Judeo-Nazism’. Tudjman had moved seamlessly from skepticism about mainstream evaluations of the Serb death-toll in the Ustasha genocide and resentment of the image of Serb victimhood in it, to skepcitism about the figure of six million Jewish deaths in the Holocaust and resentment of the image of Jewish victimhood in Jasenovac.

The type of anti-Semitic views expressed by Tudjman in Bespuca, particularly where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was concerned, was of a kind that is today not unusual among supporters of the UK’s ‘Stop the War Coalition’ and ‘Respect’ party, or among speakers at the Socialist Workers Party’s annual conference. They reflect, in part, Tudjman’s background as a Yugoslav general under Tito’s fiercely ‘anti-Zionist’ Communist regime. But Tudjman was not a Holocaust denier. The accusation that he was, of course, is frequently made by radical leftists in the West, such as supporters of the SWP, who are themselves often apologists for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime – all incomparably more anti-Semitic than was Tudjman. Such radical leftists hold views on Israel and Palestine that are generally similar to, if not more extreme than Tudjman’s, and share his hostility to the Bosnian Muslims, to the idea of a united Bosnia, and to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Of all the revisionist myths that such radical leftists peddle about the former Yugoslavia, the myth that Tudjman was a Holocaust denier is particularly cynical: insofar as it has any origins in reality, it derives from him having said the sort of things about Jews that they do themselves.

Friday, 6 March 2009 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Israel, Jews, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, SWP, The Left | , , , | Leave a comment

How Croatia and the US prevented genocide with ‘Operation Storm’

oluja.jpgThe trial of Croatian General Ante Gotovina, who spearheaded the liberation of the Serbian-occupied areas of central Croatia in ‘Operation Storm’ in August 1995, began this week in The Hague. Gotovina is accused of playing a leading role in a Croatian ‘joint criminal enterprise’, whose purpose was, according to his indictment, ‘the forcible and permanent removal of the Serb population from the Krajina region, including by the plunder, damage or outright destruction of the property of the Serb population, so as to discourage or prevent members of that population from returning to their homes and resuming habitation.’

Every Croatian democrat should be pleased that this trial is taking place. If Gotovina is innocent, then the trial should result in his acquittal and rehabilitation. If he is guilty, then his victims deserve justice and he should be punished. But either way, the trial will force Croatia to confront the dark side of its national-liberation struggle and the murderous nature of the regime of Franjo Tudjman that was in power while this liberation struggle was taking place. Not only did Tudjman sabotage this liberation struggle at every step (see postscript), but he discredited it with the campaign of murder and terror that he waged against Croatian citizens of Serb nationality. Though the Croatian Serbs have made a tremendous historical contribution to Croatia, they were treated as an enemy population rather than as a population to be liberated. This resulted in large-scale war-crimes, to which Croatia needs to face up if it is to become a fully democratic country.

The trial of Gotovina is therefore good for Croatia. As for Gotovina the individual: I do not know if he is personally guilty for the crimes that undoubtedly took place, or whether other individuals were responsible. But he is entirely unworthy of any sympathy. His selfish, cowardly attempt to escape being tried, and to become an international fugitive, threatened to derail Croatia’s accession to the EU until he was embarrassingly arrested in the Canary Islands in 2005. In any normal army with a modicum of dignity, a soldier is prepared to risk and, if need be, sacrifice his life for his country. But the governing ethos of the corrupt, criminal Tudjman clique was that the country existed to serve its interests and line its pockets. So it was entirely natural that Gotovina, as a typical representative of this clique, should be prepared to jeopardise Croatia’s chances of joining the EU in order to save his own skin. His behaviour may be contrasted with the patriotic readiness of another indicted Croatian general, Rahim Ademi, immediately to turn himself in to the Hague Tribunal. The judges will hopefully take the contrasting behaviour of Gotovina and Ademi into account in the event that either is sentenced.

I say this by way of a preliminary, for despite all the crimes against Serb civilians that accompanied Operation Storm, the fact remains that it was an entirely necessary, legitimate military action that should rightly be celebrated. Although the US under Clinton played a far from glorious role in the war in the former Yugoslavia, yet it deserves credit for giving Croatia the go-ahead for Operation Storm, without which the craven Tudjman would probably not have dared to order it. Operation Storm and its aftermath killed roughly betweeen 700 and 1,200 Serb civilians. But it 1) saved the lives of tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims; 2) defeated the Great Serbian project; 3) liberated Croatia, allowing it to become a normal, independent state (rather than another Cyprus, which it would have become had Operation Storm not taken place); and 4) led directly to the Dayton Peace Accords, which belatedly ended the war in Bosnia. Moreover – and this is usually overlooked – Croatia was legally obliged to carry out the operation. Had Operation Storm not occurred, Croatia’s crime would have been much greater. Finally, although supporters of the Great Serbian cause have claimed that Operation Storm was ‘the largest ethnic-cleansing operation that occurred in the whole Yugoslav war’, not only is this untrue (the Serbian assault on Bosnia in 1992 was an ethnic-cleansing operation far larger in scale), but Croatia’s role in the exodus of at least 150,000 Serb civilians from the so-called ‘Krajina’ region was entirely subordinate and secondary to the Milosevic regime’s own role.

Operation Storm was an entirely defensive operation. Its immediate cause was the Serb conquest of the ‘UN safe areas’ of Srebrenica and Zepa in July 1995, followed by the Serb assault on the ‘UN safe area’ of Bihac and the surrounding Bosnian-government territory. The conquest of Srebrenica involved the genocidal massacre of 8,000 Muslims by Serb forces, out of a Muslim population of about 40,000. It provided further proof – if any were needed – that the international community was entirely unwilling to take action to protect ‘safe areas’ or Bosnian civilians in general. The Bosnian government had every reason to fear that, if the assault on Bihac succeeded, the 200,000 Muslim inhabitants of the Bihac pocket would have been subjected to an even larger genocidal massacre. At the same time, the Serb conquest of Bihac would have essentially won the war for Serbia and defeated both Croatia and Bosnia, resulting in the establishment of a Great Serbian state incorporating two-thirds of Bosnia and one-third of Croatia. This represented a deadly threat to both countries. In response to the Serb assaults, Tudjman and Bosnian President Izetbegovic signed the Split Agreement on 22 July, according to which, on the grounds of the ‘ineffectiveness of the international community’, the ‘Republic and Federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina called upon the Republic of Croatia to extend military and other assistance to their defence against aggression, especially in the Bihac area, which the Republic of Croatia has accepted.’

The ‘Republic of Serb Krajina’ was the name of the Serbian-occupation regime on Croatian territory. The UN General Assembly on 9 December 1994 resolved that it was ‘Alarmed and concerned by the fact that the ongoing situation in the Serbian-controlled parts of Croatia is de facto allowing and promoting a state of occupation of parts of the sovereign Croatian territory, and thus seriously jeopardizing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Croatia’. Thus, the UN General Assembly itself recognised that the ‘state of occupation’ was ‘jeopardising’ Croatia’s ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity.’ The Krajina Serb leadership had failed to abide by the terms of the Vance Plan, on the basis of which Croatia had signed a ceasefire with the Krajina Serbs in January 1992, and instead made use of the UN presence to cement its separation from Croatia. It rejected the internationally proposed Z-4 Plan, which would have represented a Serbo-Croat compromise establishing Krajina as a state within a state in Croatia. The Croatian government had every reason to believe that there was no alternative to the use of force to restore its control over the occupied territory.

Yet Croatia also had a legal and moral obligation to launch Operation Storm. The Krajina Serb army was engaged in an offensive, from Croatian territory, to conquer the Bihac enclave of the neighbouring state of Bosnia. Had Croatia not acted to prevent this, it would have become an accomplice to this Serbian act of aggression against Bosnia, perhaps even guilty of failure to prevent genocide under international law. Whether or not these considerations entered into the minds of the Croatian leadership, they are undoubtedly reasons why Croatia should have intervened. Croatia’s action against the Krajina Serbs may be compared favourably to Lebanon’s failure to act against Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel, that provoked the recent Israeli assault on Lebanon.

Operation Storm resulted in the exodus of at least 150,000 Serb civilians. This was not a case of Croatia rounding up the Serb civilians and transporting them out of the territory; it was a planned evacuation carried out by the Krajina Serb leadership itself. As I do not expect the reader to take my word for this, I shall quote here Milisav Sekulic, a Serbian officer and member of the Krajina Serb General Staff at the time of Operation Storm. Sekulic writes in his account of the fall of Krajina, published in 2001:

At the [Supreme] Council of Defence [of the Republic of Serb Krajina] the worst possible decision was taken – for the evacuation of the population. It would be shown that that was worse even than the decision to capitulate. The Supreme Council [of Defence of the Republic of Serb Krajina] could have taken one of the following decisions. The first would have been: to have continued with the defence and to have, on the night of 4-5 August [1995] organised its units and prepared the command for the action that needed to be taken in the following days. The basis for such an action would have been the taking of all possible measures and actions forseen by the plan, including action against the Croatian towns. An integral part of this option would have been to turn to UNPROFOR, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Republika Srpska… [ellipsis in the original] The second decision could have been: to offer a ceasefire and accept negotiations with Croatia, through the mediation of the Security Council. However the negotiations went and however unfavourable they might have been for the RSK [Republic of Serb Krajina], the people would have remained on the terrain and its status would have been incomparably better than going into exile. The third possible decision would have been to have evacuated only that part of the population that was endangered at that time, and those were the parts of northern Dalmatia and the southern part of Lika. Unfortunately, the option that the Supreme Council of Defence took meant the evacuation of the entire civilian population, as well as the police and army, from the entire territory of the western part of the RSK. Those who took such a decision on evacuation must have known well and knew, that they had taken the entire people and army into exile. If this was not realised by certain members of the Supreme Council of Defence, present at the session was the commander of the General Staff of the Serb Army of Krajina, who certainly knew it. It was his obligation and duty to tell members of the council what it meant to take such a decision, to warn them, and that if it was nevertheless carried, to define it as it was envisaged – the evacuation of the people, police and army from the western part of the RSK.

Milisav Sekulic, ‘Knin je pao u Beogradu’ (‘Knin fell in Belgrade’), Nidda Verlag, Bad Vilbel, 2001, pp. 178-179.

Note that ‘the western part of the RSK’ refers to the territory of Krajina proper, as opposed to the geographically separate and distant territory of Eastern Slavonia, which was on the border with Serbia. Note also that the commander of the Krajina Serb forces at the time was Mile Mrksic, who had been appointed by Belgrade shortly before to preside over the assault on Bihac, and who then presided over the evacuation of the Serb population.

This does not mean that Croatia was innocent in the exodus of the Krajina Serb population. According to the Hague indictments of Gotovina and of Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak, the Croatian Army killed and terrorised Serb civilians and burned and plundered Serb homes and property, while Croatian broadcasts encouraged the Serb civilian population to leave. These are, of course, the charges of the Prosecution; it remains to be seen whether the Tribunal will convict the indictees. Nevertheless, Croatia undoubtedly encouraged the Serb exodus by brutal means. Had there been no evacuation by the Krajina Serb authorities, the death-toll would undoubtedly have been greater. But although the death toll of up to 1,200 Serb civilians was up to 1,200 too many, the lives of tens of thousands of Bihac Muslims were saved.

The Croatian victory and destruction of Krajina was the turning point of the war. Combined with NATO air-strikes against Bosnian Serb rebel forces later that month and further Croatian and Bosnian military victories, it led to the Dayton Peace Accords in November 1995 that ended the war in Bosnia. Prior to these defeats, Karadzic’s Bosnian Serb rebels were simply unwilling to agree to even the over-generous Contact Group Peace Plan, that awarded them 49% of Bosnia. Operation Storm hastened the end of a war that had seemed unending, and saved many more lives.

The US, too, played its part in this. Its military collaboration with Croatia, in the fields of training and intelligence, and above all the simple fact of its authorisation of the offensive, all helped make the success possible. The Western powers undoubtedly have much blood on their hands for their collusion in the Serbian genocide in Bosnia, but had the US not enabled Operation Storm, it would have been responsible for an additional act of genocide. The credit for this should not go to Clinton, who wanted nothing more than to go along with the Anglo-French policy of appeasing Milosevic and Karadzic, but to the principled US opposition represented by such individuals as Bob Dole, Marshall Freeman Harris, Steve Walker, Joe Lieberman, Frank McCloskey, Albert Wohlstetter, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and others, whose relentless pressure forced a reluctant Clinton to take belated action to counter the Serbian aggression.

In its ruling last year, the International Court of Justice ruled that the Srebrenica massacre, alone of all Serb massacres in the war, was an act of genocide. Had it not been for the Croatian Army and the US oppostion in 1995, Serb forces might last year have been found guilty of two genocidal massacres, not just one. This is one reason why Serbia, almost as much as Croatia and Bosnia, should be thankful for Operation Storm. As for Croatia and the US, they succeeded in preventing the genocide of a Muslim population. In these times, when being anti-American is often seen as fashionable and when the US is widely demonised as being anti-Muslim, this is a success that needs to be trumpeted. 

***

Postscript: it would be bestowing undue recognition on Tudjman to describe him as having ‘led’ the Croatian struggle for independence; he was a traitor and a stooge of Slobodan Milosevic and the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). Tudjman in 1990-91 sabotaged the plan of his own defence minister, General Martin Spegelj, to defeat the JNA through a pre-emptive strike, preferring to restrain Croatian resistance in the hope of appeasing and collaborating with the JNA and Milosevic; he refused to come to the aid of Slovenia when it was attacked by the JNA in June 1991, ensuring that Croatia would in turn enjoy no Slovenian military assistance when it was attacked; he rejected any collaboration with Ibrahim Rugova’s Kosova Albanians, telling Rugova to his face that Rugova should be talking to Milosevic, not to him; he refrained from besieging and storming JNA garrisons on Croatian soil until well after the Serbian aggression had begun, even arresting Croatian patriots who took such actions on their own initiative; he halted key military operations under pressure from the international community, including an operation to lift the JNA siege of Vukovar; he rescued the JNA from defeat in late 1991, halting the successful Croatian Army operation to liberate Western Slavonia and leaving Serbian forces in control of large parts of Croatia for another three and a half years; he maintained his ceasefire with Serbian forces in Croatia while Serbia and the JNA attacked Bosnia; his agents sabotaged the successful operation of his own, Croatian Army in October 1992 to sever the Serb forces’ northern corridor that linked Serb-occupied western Bosnia and central-Croatia to Serbia, because he wanted to partition Bosnia with Milosevic, even at the price of maintaining the Serb control of central Croatia; he attacked Croatia’s own Bosnian allies in the back in collusion with Croatia’s own Great Serbian enemies; he planned to hand over bits of Croatian territory to Milosevic and Karadzic in return for bits of Serb-held Bosnian territory; and he halted the successful operation to defeat Bosnian Serb rebel forces in western Bosnia in 1995, because he wanted to continue collaborating with Milosevic and to partition Bosnia. Croatia was liberated despite Tudjman, not because of him, and Tudjman was, more than any other individual, the architect of the partial Great Serb victory in the Bosnian war. Tudjman was Croatia’s Draza Mihailovic – a traitor, chauvinist and collaborator with the occupiers.

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

Friday, 14 March 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Serbia | , , , | 5 Comments

Who was Yugoslavia’s most anti-American statesman ? Take the one-question quiz

USflagburnEveryone knows that the United States of America is totally to blame for absolutely everything that is wrong with the world today. Any crisis or conflict in any part of the world is, one way or another, the fault of the US and its imperialistic policies. American intervention in a given region should always be opposed and condemned unreservedly, since everything that is wrong in that region was caused by an earlier act of American intervention – if you go back far enough, you’ll always find one. The US is always intervening for a bad reason, whether it is to grab oil supplies or patronisingly to impose its Western ‘democratic’ values on foreign peoples whose own, different values it doesn’t respect. Yet neither should the US be let off the hook when it doesn’t intervene; we should never stop pointing out that if the US cared so much about freedom and democracy, it wouldn’t turn a blind eye to their absence in Saudia Arabia or Pakistan. We must cut the US no slack: it should be condemned when it invades or bombs other countries; when it starves countries to death with sanctions; when it demonises them with its media; when it hypocritically points out their human-rights abuses instead of minding its own business; and when it enjoys peaceful and friendly relations with them – trading with them and selling them weapons despite their poor human-rights records. The US will sometimes wage illegal wars without the consent of the UN Security Council, yet on other occasions it will work through the UN, proving that the UN is an American tool. Whatever policy the US adopts is being done for reasons of self-interest, so all its policies must be opposed, no matter what they are. In sum, there is no higher nor more noble cause than the cause of being against the US.

This, at least, is what every fashionable, right-on, politically correct person worth his or her salt feels in his or her heart to be true.

Well, the peoples of the former Yugoslavia need no lessons from anyone about how to have a go at Uncle Sam – they have produced more than their fair share of notable and colourful anti-Americans. In fact, they may have a thing or two to teach the rest of the world on this score. Many former Yugoslavs were upset by the US’s insistence that they cooperate with the UN war-crimes tribunal in the Hague. Some muttered that the US had no right to lecture them on war crimes, given the US’s own extermination of its native Amercian population. Highlights in the history of former-Yugoslav anti-Americanism include Croatian President Franjo Tudjman signing a declaration of friendship and cooperation with Russia’s Boris Yeltsin as a response to US pressure over the Hague tribunal; Serbian warlord Zeljko Raznatovic-Arkan’s challenge, ‘I will go to a war-crimes tribunal when Americans are tried for Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam, Cambodia and Panama’; and Serbian politician Vojislav Seselj’s response to the 9-11 attacks, ‘I have never forgotten the thousands of Serb civilians who died under NATO’s bombs – the United States has reaped what it has sowed around the world.’

But who was the most anti-American of them all ? See if you can guess in this one-question Former-Yugoslav Anti-Americanism Quiz.

Question One: Who was the only ruler from the former Yugoslavia actually to declare war on the US, citing the ‘blatant endeavours of the United States of America’ to ‘establish for itself a hegemonic position, on the basis of which it would in ever greater measure impose its plutocratic domination on all other nations’ ?

1) The Communist ruler Josip Broz Tito, President of the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia

2) The Ustasha ruler Ante Pavelic, Poglavnik (Fuehrer) of the ‘Independent State of Croatia’

3) The Socialist ruler Slobodan Milosevic, President of the Republic of Serbia

To find the answer, click here.

Saturday, 17 November 2007 Posted by | Balkans, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Political correctness, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, The Left | , , , , | Leave a comment