Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

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

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[…]Prevented by Congress, NATO allies or its own disinclination from putting pressure on either side, the Clinton Administration [in autumn 1994] hinted at still more concessions both to the Bosnian Serbs and to Serbia in the hope of coaxing them to end the war. Up until the UN-hostage crisis of late May 1995, Washington was offering to lift sanctions against Belgrade if the latter recognized Bosnia and Croatia. Throughout the Bihac crisis, the Clinton Administration remained officially opposed to a confederation between the Republika Srpska and Serbia, according to officials in the State Department. On 29 November, leading US Contact Group member Charles Thomas told Bosnian leaders in Sarajevo that the United States did not support such a confederation. Yet that very day, Perry stated that ‘One thing that would be considered is allowing a federation between Bosnia Serbs and Serbs [of Serbia].’ Galbraith had in March 1994 spoken of the Federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina as a step towards the reunification of Bosnia through its eventual inclusion of the Serb-held areas. McCurry now, in November, spoke of the Federation as a precedent for Bosnia’s partition, suggesting a ‘federated formula’ for the Bosnian Serbs modeled on the links between Bosnian Croats and Croatia established through the Washington Agreement. Lake euphemistically put it to Alkalaj that the parties to the conflict should be ‘free to negotiate their own alliances.’ Christopher, when asked whether a concession to the Bosnian Serbs of this kind did not amount to ‘appeasement,’ argued that it ‘wouldn’t be appeasement’ if it were ‘agreed to by the parties,’ perhaps forgetting that the Czechs had ‘agreed to’ the Munich Agreement of 1938.

Such rhetorical twists reflected the Clinton Administration’s attempts to pursue its own conciliatory policy while paying lip service to the harder line demanded by Congress. Contrary to previous promises, in early December US ambassador to Bosnia Charles E. Redman did indeed offer a confederation between the Republika Srpska and Serbia to Karadzic during talks at Pale. The memorable oxymoron used by Administration officials to describe the main aim of US policy, to ‘preserve Bosnia as a single state within its existing borders while providing for an equitable division of territory between the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serb entity,’ encapsulates this approach. The Administration not only ‘talked unity and acted partition,’ as one Senate source told the The Christian Science Monitor, but it talked unity and talked partition in one and the same sentence. This principle was to be enshrined in the text of the Dayton Accords, which stated ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina shall consist of the two Entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska’ and ‘The Entities shall have the right to establish special parallel relationships with neighboring states consistent with the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.’

Contradictory statements of policy by different individuals within the Clinton Administration, or indeed by the same individual at different times, were not purely a reflection of cynicism on the part of the leadership. They reflected also genuine differences between different branches of the Administration. Harris and Walker, two State Department officials who resigned in protest at what they saw as Clinton’s betrayal of Bosnia, have described the State Department before the policy shift as sympathetic towards the Bosnians, cynical of the Administration’s policy and supportive of strong intervention and a lifting of the arms embargo. According to them, officials in the Pentagon were more opposed to military intervention, though Walker argued that this derived more from obedience to Clinton than to their own convictions. According to Harris, top officials in the Pentagon would have been comfortable with a Serb victory that would have brought the war to a quicker conclusion, whereas the working levels of the State Department feared this would result in further destabilization of the region.

Continue reading at Journal of Slavic Military Studies, vol. 24, no. 1, January 2011, pp. 88-114

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

Angelina Jolie’s Bosnian imbroglio

Angelina Jolie is among the most intelligent and politically aware of Hollywood actresses; her humanitarian campaigning has taken her all over the world, and she has a particular interest in the plight of refugees. It would seem appropriate, therefore, that her directorial debut will be a film set during the Bosnian war, with Bosnian actors and actresses playing several of the leading roles (as well as, apparently, the famous Croatian Hollywood actor Rade Serbedzija). For all the publicity that the Bosnian war received, it is often forgotten that Bosnia effectively lost the war, and that the Bosnian state remains crippled to this day by its outcome; its people still suffering from the effects of an unjust peace settlement. One would think that one of the world’s most famous actresses showing such an interest in the country would be something warmly received by its people.

Yet Jolie has had to overcome a degree of unfounded hostility and suspicion before being allowed to film in Bosnia. Her permit to film was initially revoked by the minister of culture in the Federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Gavrilo Grahovac, formally on the grounds that she had failed to submit a copy of the script to the ministry. This came, however, after complaints about the film from Women Victims of War, an organisation representing wartime rape victims, which claimed to have learned that the storyline involved a Muslim rape-victim falling in love with a Serb rapist. The organisation’s president Bakira Hasecic, herself a rape victim, said that such a storyline would be an ‘an outrageous and humiliating misrepresentation of our ordeal’.

However, neither Hasecic nor any member of her organisation had actually read the script, and it was suggested that the rumour may have originated with TV Pink, a Serbian television network formerly associated with Slobodan Milosevic’s wife Mira Markovic. TV Pink’s owner Zeljko Mitrovic was already reported to have been hostile to Jolie’s film project on the grounds that it was ‘biased against Serbs’, and some Bosnian officials have been horrified that such a source should have led the country to snub Jolie. Emir Hadzihafizbegovic, minister of culture minister of the Sarajevo Canton and himself a famous actor, asked ‘Is this how we thank Angelina Jolie… for treating a Bosnian tragedy that has already been forgotten by the world… for hiring five or six Bosnian actors in her movie?’ He also said that it was ‘grotesque that the owner of a television network that was created with Milosevic’s financial backing was now concerned about the dignity of Bosnian women who were victims of war.’ Hadzihafizbegovic made clear that he was ‘going to give a shooting permit even if they have to arrest me.’

Grahovac told Bosnian radio ‘They no longer have the authorisation to shoot in Bosnia. They will have it if they send us the script with a story which will be different from what we have been told by people who read it.’ This amounted to a grave infringement on freedom of expression, as the prominent anti-nationalist Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulic made clear: ‘In this case we are dealing with censorship, which is unacceptable coming from the minister of culture, whom reports quoted as saying that he would ban shooting of that movie anywhere, not just in Bosnia, because the movie offends the feelings of victims… Such an important decision was based on rumours.’

Jolie, for her part, urged the Bosnians not to succumb to ‘unfair pressure based on wrong information’. As she said, ‘The choice to make a film about this area and set in this time in history was also to remind people of what happened not so long ago and to give attention to the survivors of the war.’ She added that she would like to talk with representatives of the rape victims’ association ‘to personally clear up any misunderstandings about this project.’ Eventually, permission for Jolie to film was reinstated, but only after her production had been treated in a manner that bordered on harassment. In the words of the film’s Bosnian producer, Edin Sarkic, ‘At no other place in the world they would ask for the script. One is required to give a synopsis, not a script.’ There remains the possibility that the filming may be disrupted by protests.

The whole affair represents a minor disgrace for patriotic Bosnians; a pathetic attempt at censorship inspired by unfounded rumour that only illustrates the unserious character of the Bosnian state and its officials, and their whimsical approach to both procedure and freedom of expression. While one may sympathise with the feelings of Hasecic and the members of her organisation, a democratic state has no business suppressing a film just because they deem it to be politically incorrect. As far back as 1974, it was possible for the film ‘The Night Porter’, starring Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogarde, to be shown in Western cinemas; it was a story of a consensual sadomasochistic relationship between a former Nazi SS guard and a former female camp inmate he had previously abused during the war. It was controversial, but it was not censored.

The struggle for Bosnia is far from over; there are indications that the conflict there may heat up again in the near future. Currently, it is the government in Republika Srpska that is pursuing a clever, sustained campaign to win foreign support. This is not a time for Bosnia to be alienating its friends.

Visiting refugees in East Bosnia with partner Brad Pitt

Meeting Bosnian presidency member Haris Silajdzic.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments