Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

The national identity of the Bosnian Serbs

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

 

Summary

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

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

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

 

The National identity of the Bosnian Serbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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References

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  21. Ibid., pp. 322-324.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  50. Ibid., pp. 342-358.

  51. Ibid., p. 388.

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

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Genocide, Justice and Denial

CNSbook

A selection of articles from the blog Greater Surbiton has been published in book format by the Centre for Advanced Studies in Sarajevo, and can be downloaded in PDF format for free via its website. The following is the foreword to the book:

The articles in this volume were published on my blog, Greater Surbiton, since its launch in November 2007. Although Greater Surbiton was devoted to a number of different themes – including the southern and eastern Balkans, Turkey and Cyprus, Russia and the Caucasus, the meaning of progressive politics and the fight against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of chauvinism – Bosnia-Hercegovina and the former Yugoslavia were at all times central to it. Twelve years after Dayton, when the blog was launched, the war over the former Yugoslavia was being waged as fiercely as ever – not on the battlefield, but in the realm of politics and ideas, both in the region and in the West. Genocide deniers and propagandists who sought to downplay or excuse the crimes of the Milosevic and Karadzic regimes of the 1990s – people like Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti, David N. Gibbs, Nebojsa Malic, John Schindler and Carl Savich – continued their ugly work. Yet the ongoing struggle to counter their falsehoods was just one front in the wider war.

The period since 2007 has witnessed the rise of Milorad Dodik’s separatist challenge to the precarious Bosnian-Hercegovinian unity established at Dayton, and the consequent degeneration of the post-Dayton political order in the country; the declaration of Kosovo’s independence and Belgrade’s efforts to derail it; the struggle in Serbia between reformist and nationalist currents; the increasingly aggressive challenge of Russia’s Vladimir Putin to the West, manifested most starkly in the attacks on Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, but also in support for Belgrade over Kosovo and for Dodik in Bosnia-Hercegovina; the increasingly apparent failure of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to punish adequately the war-criminals of the 1990s, despite the spectacular arrests of Radovan Karadzic in 2008 and Ratko Mladic in 2011; and the increasingly stark failure of Western leaders to confront murderous tyrants like Putin, Sudan’s Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad – reminiscent of their failure in the 1990s over Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Today, the truth about the war in the former Yugoslavia is more widely known and understood than ever. The battle for the recognition of the Srebrenica genocide worldwide has largely been won; the remains of most victims of the massacre have been identified and reburied. The deniers and their narrative have been largely discredited. Yet the Bosnian question is further from a happy resolution than ever, while the West – the US, EU and their allies – look less likely to lead positive change in the region than they did a decade ago. Kosovo’s full international recognition is still being blocked by Serbia and Russia; Macedonia, kept out of the EU and NATO by Greek nationalist intransigence, is in crisis; not a single official of Serbia has yet been found guilty by the ICTY for war-crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina, or is likely to be in the future; and leading former-Yugoslav war-criminals such as Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik have been released after serving short prison-terms in comfortable conditions.

The outcomes of the struggles tracked by my blog have therefore been far from unambiguously happy. Yet the politics and recent history of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the rest of the former Yugoslavia are much better understood than they were a decade ago; new generations of scholars, analysts and activists are discovering and explaining more all the time. I hope that the articles contained in this volume have made a contribution to this process of discovery.

Marko Attila Hoare, June 2015

Monday, 27 July 2015 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Srebrenica massacre after twenty years

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The following article was published by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust on 8 July, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre:

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995, when rebel Bosnian Serb forces carried out an act of genocide that claimed the lives of over 8,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims). In the interval, the world has come a long way towards acknowledging the crime. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) have both recognised that genocide was committed at Srebrenica. The European Parliament in 2009 voted overwhelmingly for a resolution calling upon all EU member states to adopt 11 July, the anniversary of the start of the massacre, as a day of commemoration. Consequently, the UK held its first Srebrenica memorial day event in 2013, and is currently sponsoring a resolution at the UN to mark the 20th anniversary. Bosnian Serb officers have been found guilty by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Bosnian state court of genocide and other offences in relation to Srebrenica. The two leading Bosnian Serb perpetrators, Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, are currently on trial at The Hague for the genocide.

The world has come a long way, but from an ignominious starting point. The Srebrenica massacre did not come out of the blue; it was the crowning atrocity of a genocidal killing process that had begun over three years earlier, in the spring of 1992, and unfolded before the cameras of the global media. Not only did the international community – the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), NATO and other bodies – not intervene to halt the genocide, but what intervention did take place made the situation worse. The UN maintained an arms embargo that hampered the ability of the fledgling Bosnian army to defend its citizens from the heavily armed Serb forces. The British and other Western governments resisted calls for military intervention to halt the killing, instead seeking to appease the perpetrators by accommodating their demands for the carving out of a Bosnian Serb territorial entity through the dismemberment of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Consequently, the Bosnian Serb leaders embarked on the massacre at Srebrenica in the fully justified belief that the world would not stop them, but would recognise their conquest of the town. UN officials blocked NATO air-strikes to defend Srebrenica, and the Dutch UN peacekeeping force supposedly defending this UN ‘safe area’ then abandoned or turned over to the killers the Bosniak civilians seeking their protection. The Dayton Accords that ended the war in November 1995 recognised the town of Srebrenica as part of Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity. Srebrenica was not just the shame of Serbia and the Serb nation, but the shame of Europe, the West and the world as well.

Continue reading at the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website.

Friday, 24 July 2015 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Carl Bildt’s feckless policies and the Srebrenica massacre

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This is a guest post by Markus Göransson, Jonas Paulsson and Hasan Nuhanović. It was originally published in Swedish in Aftonbladet on 15 July 2014

Nineteen years have passed since the massacre in Srebrenica in July 1995. Sweden should shoulder part of the blame for the fact that the massacre of eight thousand men and boys during the Bosnian War could take place. During the war, the centre-right government under Prime Minister Carl Bildt provided unflinching support to an erratic and feckless European policy that rewarded Serbian aggression and limited the possibilities for the Bosnian government to defend its people. The Srebrenica massacre was the nadir of this policy, which ever since the beginning of the war had capitulated in the face of the Serbian assault on the fledgling Bosnian state.

Whilst other countries, not least the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, have scrutinised their roles in the Bosnian tragedy, a frank discussion about Sweden’s part has yet to take place in the Scandinavian kingdom. It is high time that such a discussion begins. The actions of the Bildt government are unworthy of a country that prides itself on its struggle for international peace and justice.

In international terms, the responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre is usually laid at the feet of the United Nations. The Dutch UN battalion, stationed near Srebrenica in July 1995, has been given most of the blame. Yet, the indisputable weakness and pliancy of those who took decisions within the UN machinery during those fateful days nineteen years ago must not overshadow the far greater responsibility that many European countries, among them Sweden, hold for the way the war in the Balkans evolved.

When the commander of the Bosnian Serb forces, Ratko Mladic, shortly after the fall of Srebrenica ordered that the Bosniak men be taken away and executed, he did so feeling secure in his belief that the international community would not intervene. After all, Europe had been a passive onlooker for three years as Bosnian Serb troops had attacked and expelled non-Serbs from large parts of Bosnia. In the early months of the war, large swathes of eastern and northern Bosnia were cleansed of Bosniaks, who were living obstacles to the Serb nationalist dream of a greater Serbia. Sarajevo was surrounded by Serb canons, which poured down death and destruction on the city.

Instead of coming to the aid of the assailed Bosnian state, European countries successfully pushed through an international arms embargo against the former Yugoslavia – an embargo that froze Serbia’s overwhelming military advantage and prevented the Bosnian government from importing heavy weaponry. The United Kingdom and France, cheered on by Sweden, also took steps to compel the Bosnian government to endorse peace plans that would have entailed the recognition of the rebels’ territorial gains.

When the United States argued that military aircraft should be used to take out certain positions of the Bosnian Serb – among other things in order to break the siege of Sarajevo – the proposal was vehemently opposed by European statesmen. Instead, the Europeans, operating through the United Nations, moved to establish so called “safe areas” under UN supervision, ostensibly to protect Bosnian government enclaves within Serb-held territory.

One of these areas was Srebrenica, which had been surrounded by Bosnian Serb forces early during the war. A “safe area” in name, it did not receive much in the way of protection. A “peacekeeping battalion” of 450 men were sent in to protect the fifty thousand children, women and men who had gathered in the city, many of them refugees from other parts of eastern Bosnia. When Bosnian Serb troops seized the town on 11 July 1995, Mladic did not need long to convince the Dutch commander to hand over the people who had looked to the UN troops for protection.

Throughout their time in power, the Carl Bildt government gave unwavering support to the vapid policies that were cobbled together in Europe’s capitals. Without fail, the government signed off on the proposals about the arms embargo, the peace plans, the safe areas and the opposition to aerial attacks on Serb positions. The fact that the European efforts repeatedly came up short in the face of the Serb aggression did not seem to trouble it. The European response was water to the mill of Ratko Mladic, who took note of the fact that Europe was willing to stand idly by while brutal and unjust violence was perpetrated on its own shores.

Saturday, 13 September 2014 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dejan Jovic, David N. Gibbs and the Great Serbian narrative

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On 21 January, the Croatian journalists’ website autograf.hr published an article about me written by Dejan Jovic, chief analyst and special coordinator at the office of the president of Croatia, Ivo Josipovic. The Croatian newspaper Vecernji list republished Jovic’s article, then published my reply on 30 January, which is reproduced here with Croatian-language passages translated into English. My reply was also published in BCS translation by tacno.net.

[My four-part refutation of David Gibbs’s book ‘First do no Harm’ can be found here.]

Sir,

Dejan Jovic’s attack on me, published by autograf.hr on 21 January, contains numerous falsehoods. For example, he accuses me: ‘To justify the war in Iraq, they employed the metaphor of Hitler (for Saddam Hussein)’. Yet I have never used the Hitler metaphor to describe Saddam Hussein, and in June 2013 I described the Iraq war in the pages of the Guardian as a ‘misguided adventure’. He claims ‘people like Hoare advocate further interventions as the solution to new problems: in Syria, maybe afterwards in Iran, then who knows where tomorrow.’ In fact, I explicitly condemned the idea of a US or Israeli attack on Iran on my blog back in April 2012. Jovic claims: ‘Indeed, those same people who attack me have already attacked many others, including the Washington Times, The Guardian, and proclaimed some other reputable individuals and media outlets to be “genocide deniers”.’ But I have never accused either the Washington Times or the Guardian of genocide denial, and I doubt whether Jovic’s other critics have either. Jovic links me to the politics of the Henry Jackson Society. Yet I resigned from that organisation at the start of 2012, and have explicitly and strongly condemned its politics repeatedly since.

Jovic’s string of ad hominem falsehoods directed against me appear to be his way of distracting attention from the matter at hand: his uncritical endorsement of David Gibbs’s Great Serb propaganda tract (First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009), which denies the Srebrenica genocide. Jovic claims: ‘In criticising my review of Gibbs’s book, Hoare “forgets” that Gibbs personally replied to his thesis on “genocide denial” – and completely refuted it.’ But this is untrue. In his book (p. 281), Gibbs says of Srebrenica: ‘Certainly, the murder of eight thousand people is a grave crime, but to call it “genocide” needlessly exaggerates the scale of the crime’ (p. 281). Furthermore, Gibbs claims the massacre was provoked by the Bosniak victims: ‘The origin of the Srebrenica massacre lay in a series of Muslim attacks that began in the spring of 1995… Such actions invited Serb reprisals, and this dynamic contributed to the fall of the safe area’ (p. 160). As for Jovic’s claim that Gibbs ‘totally refuted’ my accusation of genocide denial: this is also untrue; Gibbs was completely unable to defend himself from the charge. Readers can view my refutation of him and see for themselves.

Jovic first tries to deny that Gibbs engages in genocide denial, then tries to justify Gibbs’s genocide denial. He argues that ‘in the academic community – not our own post-Yugoslav one, but more broadly – there is no consensus on whether in the wars in the former Yugoslavia genocide was committed or not.’ But none of the people he cites, in support of the view that there was no genocide, is an expert on the former Yugoslavia. Jovic then claims ‘courts have ruled that in Bosnia-Hercegovina there was no genocide (apart from in Srebrenica)’. But this is untrue: the ICTY has not ruled that there was no genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina apart from in Srebrenica. Both Karadzic and Mladic are currently being tried for genocide in municipalities across Bosnia-Hercegovina – not only in Srebrenica. Karadzic’s acquittal by the ICTY Trials Chamber for one count of genocide (in municipalities outside of Srebrenica) was recently reversed by the ICTY Appeals Chamber. Furthermore, in 1997, a German court convicted Nikola Jorgic, a Bosnian Serb, for genocide in the north Bosnian region of Doboj in 1992, and this ruling was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.

Finally, Jovic claims that genocide is something invented by warmongers to justify military intervention, whereas people who deny genocide are really just trying to protect peace:

‘”Genocide” and “Hitler” are always there when it is necessary to start a new war – they are the “idea” explanation of the reason why one more is being launched. The difference between Gibbs and Hoare is, therefore, that one thinks that the wars are not waged out of altruism and that they do not solve problems, whereas the other maintains that liberal interventions are necessary and important, and that there is nothing controversial in them even if they result in a large number of deaths. One is an advocate of peace, the other of war.’ The reality is somewhat different: both Jovic and Gibbs seek to minimise the guilt of the Serbian aggressor for the 1990s war, and to shift as much blame as possible onto the Croatian and Bosnian victims of the aggression. The agenda of people like Jovic and Gibbs is to ensure that the real warmongers – tyrants like Slobodan Milosevic and Bashar al-Assad – should be free to wage their wars without fear of Western military intervention, or even of serious condemnation from the Western media.

Following his review of Gibbs’s book in Politicka misao, Jovic has now for the second time, in his reply to me and to the Bosnian organisations who criticised him, praised this book in glowing terms, while refusing to make any substantial criticisms of it. Yet Gibbs’s book is a Great Serbian propaganda pamphlet of no scholarly value. Gibbs has no expertise on the subject of the former Yugoslavia; he does not even read Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian; and his arguments are based on the distortion and manipulation of source material. He minimises the guilt and crimes of the regimes of Milosevic and Karadzic and of the JNA; exaggerates the guilt and crimes of the Croatians and Bosnians; and seeks to blame the West for the break-up of Yugoslavia and war.

1) Gibbs writes ‘And we will see later in the chapter that the post-Yugoslav state of Croatia, which became independent in 1991, had important historical links with Pavelic’s puppet state.’ (p. 48).

Discussing World War II, Gibbs mentions Ustasha genocide and collaboration, as well as the collaboration of Bosnian Muslims and Albanians, but fails to mention the crimes or collaboration of the Chetniks, or of Serbia’s Nedic regime.

2) Gibbs claims Tudjman ‘recommended’ genocidal violence against the Jews (p. 67)

3) Gibbs claims Croatia and Slovenia were not experiencing any oppression at Serb hands prior to declaring independence, so had no legitimate grounds for seceding: ‘In fact, there was no serious evidence of Serb oppression in Slovenia or Croatia prior to the secessionist actions. The main reasons for seceding, as we saw in the previous chapter, were economic in nature. The JNA’s initial use of force in Slovenia was quite mild’ (p. 97). Thus, he disregards the Serbian economic sanctions against Slovenia; the JNA’s disarming of the Slovenian and Croatian territorial defence; the Serb rebellion in Croatia; the ‘Log Revolution’; the JNA’s intervention in support of the Serb rebels; and the massacre of Croatian policemen at Borovo Selo.

4) Gibbs blames the war in Croatia on the Croatian side: ‘The Croatian war had its origins with the nationalist forces that were unleashed during the election campaign of 1990, when Franjo Tudjman’s HDZ party came to power.’ (p. 87)

5) Gibbs claims Germany engineered Croatia’s independence and the war in 1991: ‘We will see that Germany began encouraging Croatian nationalists and preparing them for independence months before the war began. Based on this new information, I argue that German officials did not simply respond to the war; they helped initiate it.’ (p. 77)

And again: ‘Germany played a key role in encouraging Slovenia and Croatia to secede, and surreptitiously assured them of external support for the secession efforts. Once the republics actually seceded, the European Community (backed by the United States) condemned the JNA’s efforts to block secession.’ (p. 105)

Gibbs’s anti-German conspiracy theory – which Jovic particularly praises – is based on biased, unserious and manipulated sources; he does not have even a single piece of real evidence to demonstrate that Germany encouraged Croatia to secede from Yugoslavia. I have exposed Gibbs’s anti-German falsifications in detail.

6) Gibbs condemns the European Community for recognising Croatia’s independence in its republican borders, and its failure to recognise the independence of the Krajina Serbs: ‘The European Community took the view that Croatia and other republics could not be divided. In effect, this meant the following: Croatia had the right to secede from Yugoslavia but this same right would not be recognised for the Krajina Serbs, who wished to separate from Croatia. In the ensuing conflict in Krajina, the European Community supported the Croatian position and opposed that of the Serbs. At the Hague conference, Van den Broek, the Dutch foreign minister, affirmed that any changes in the republican borders “were not an option”. This anti-Serb bent was evident at many levels.’ (p. 96).

And again: ‘On the one hand, the Community accepted the right of Croatia to separate from Yugoslavia, or at least viewed such separation with leniency. On the other hand, the European Community condemned efforts by the Krajina Serbs to separate from Croatia. Why the double standard ?’ (p. 97)

7) Gibbs claims: ‘In addition, the Muslim/Croat alliance of 1990-1991 recreated a similar alliance that had existed during World War II, when the two groups were the main supporters of the pro-Nazi Ustasa state, and both participated in the massacres of the Serbs that occurred during this period.’ (p. 116)

8) Gibbs claims: ‘Operation Storm also generated a humanitarian disaster. The attack forced from 150,000 to 200,000 Serbs to flee, producing what was probably the largest single act of ethnic expulsion of the entire war.’ (p. 163)

9) Gibbs writes: ‘Another feature of the Balkan conflict was the tendency of the Western media needlessly to exaggerate the atrocities committed by Serb armies… Atrocities committed at Serb-run detention camps were presented in sensationalist fashion, for example, and they became “extermination camps” comparable to Auschwitz. President Izetbegovic himself encouraged these interpretations. Yet, in 2003, shortly before his death, Izetbegovic conceded that “there were no extermination camps” in Bosnia. He also conceded that his previous claims to the contrary had been deliberate misrepresentations, intended to outrage Western public opinion and thus trigger Western military intervention against the Serbs.’ (p. 216) In this way, Gibbs minimises the criminal nature of Serb concentration-camps like Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje.

10) Gibbs accuses the Bosnian armed forces of shelling their own civilians during the siege of Sarajevo, in order to blame it on the Serbs ‘: ‘In several cases, Bosnian forces themselves bombarded Sarajevo and blamed the resulting deaths on the Serbs.’ (p. 125)

Furthermore: ‘In should also be noted that the [Bosnian] government restricted the right of Sarajevo residents to flee the city, effectively blocking the exit for many besieged civilians. This policy increased the potential for casualties and fit in nicely with the government’s public relations strategy. In the world’s media, the deaths from shelling and sniper fire were blamed exclusively on Serb forces, but in reality the Bosnian government bore some responsibility as well.’ (p. 126)

11) Gibbs claims the Serbs legitimately owned most of Bosnia: ‘: ‘It is clear that Serb forces were on the offensive during much of the war, and they conquered large areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina. But the extent of Serb aggression was once again exaggerated. Newspaper articles repeatedly noted that Serbs controlled some 70 percent of Bosnia’s territory, despite the fact that they only constituted 31 percent of the total population…  What such reports omitted was that Serbs had always occupied most of Bosnia’s land area, owing to their demographic dominance in rural regions.’ (p. 124)

12) Gibbs claims that it was the Muslims and Croats who caused the war to break out in Bosnia in 1992, whereas the Serbs wanted peace: ‘In March 1992, however, before full-scale war had begun, Serb leaders welcomed the Lisbon agreement and they endorsed it in the strongest terms. Radovan Karadzic, who represented the Serbs at Lisbon, called the agreement a “great day for Bosnia and Herzegovina.” And it should be recalled that it was the Muslims and the Croats, not the Serbs, who actually reneged. There is no evidence that the Serbs were bent on war at this point.’ (p. 111)

So, those are the theses of David Gibbs, which Jovic has now chosen to praise on two occasions. For Jovic to praise so highly Gibbs’s extreme anti-Croatian, anti-Bosnian and Great Serb propaganda tract is scandalous. Yet it is scarcely surprising, since in his own book about the break-up of Yugoslavia (Jugoslavija – država koja je odumrla: Uspon, kriza i pad Kardeljeve Jugoslavije (1974-1990), Prometej, Zagreb, 2003), Jovic already revealed that his sympathies in the 1990s were with Slobodan Milosevic and the JNA. Jovic praised Milosevic as a fighter for Yugoslav statehood and unity and defender of Tito’s legacy, regretted the failure of the JNA to crush Croatian rearmament in 1991, and absolved both Milosevic and the JNA as instigators of the war and perpetrators of the mass killing:

1) Comparing Slobodan Milosevic and Vaclav Havel:

Jovic, p. 56: ‘The direction of the protests against the regime, for example in Czechoslovakia and in Serbia, was totally different, so Havel and Milošević became antipodes in everything. While one led a liberal-democratic revolution against the state, the other led an anti-bureaucratic revolution against an anti-state ideology and anarchy, for the establishment of a state. ‘

2) Lamenting the JNA’s inability to halt Croatia’s rearmament

Jovic, p. 64: ‘The British reaction to separatism in Northern Ireland is a typical example of a liberal (minimal) state, which did not refrain from introducing a state of war and employing tanks in order to halt a civil war before it had begun. In contrast to this, in the state that was withering away, Socialist Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav People’s Army turned itself into a filmmaker recording the illegal import of weapons at the border (with Hungary) whose duty it was to protect from that sort of illegal activity.’

3) On Milosevic as a ‘Yugoslav nationalist’

Jovic, p. 65n: ‘In his first phase, Milosevic was probably a Yugoslav nationalist, but he never became a Serb nationalist, as many call him today. Never, indeed, did he want to form a Serb national state. His attachment to Yugoslavia, even to the point when Yugoslavia had become just a name and nothing more, was the main reason why he in the end lost popularity and the elections (2000).’

4) On the Chetniks as a  ‘strong-pro-Yugoslav resistance movement’

Jovic, p. 141: ‘He who claims that Yugoslavia had to collapse in 1941 because of ethnic tension, should have to explain how it was possible that there arose, immediately following the occupation, two strong pro-Yugoslav resistance movements (Mihailovic’s and Tito’s).’

5) On Milosevic’s loyalty to Tito’s legacy

Jovic, p. 156: ‘In destroying the fourth Yugoslavia, Milosevic rejected Kardelj but not Tito.’

6) On Milosevic’s desire to bring about the ‘unity of Yugoslavia’

Jovic, p. 400: ‘His program now [in 1987], for the first time, seemed clear even to those at the lowest level of the social hierarchy, and he carried it out decisively: first the unity of the Serb Party, then unity of Serbia, then of the Yugoslav Party, then of Yugoslavia. That programme had four phases – Milosevic had now accomplished the first; at the third he would be halted, and at the fourth defeated.’

7) On Milosevic’s desire to restrain Serb nationalism

Jovic, p. 471: ‘Treating Milosevic and Kucan with a bit of benevolence, one could say that at least part of their motive could be explained by an attempt to retain power in order to prevent the “real nationalists” (those gathered around the New Review or people such as Vuk Draskovic was at the time) from coming to power in Slovenia and Serbia.  As David Owen later said of Milosevic, they had to “ride the tiger of nationalism if they did not want the tiger to swallow them” (1995: 129). They appeared powerful, omnipotent, but in reality they were both afraid that the exit of the League of Communists from the political scene could bring about only worse nationalism. They accepted nationalism in order to prevent it.’

8) On the JNA’s ‘good intention’ to prevent ethnic conflict in Croatia

Jovic, p. 485: ‘When the Croatian government attempted to prevent the [Serb rebel] takeover, the Yugoslav People’s Army imposed itself between it and the Serbs, perhaps with the good intention of preventing direct ethnic conflict in Croatia.’

9) On Milosevic as ‘genuinely surprised’ by break up of Yugoslavia and war

Jovic, pp. 491-492: ‘The sources that were at the disposal of the author of this book do not give sufficient reason to support the conclusion that the members of the Yugoslav political elite in this period (including, thus, Slobodan Milosevic and Milan Kucan as well) intended to destroy Yugoslavia. Many of them, like most Yugoslavs, most analysts at home and abroad and the international political community as a whole, were genuinely surprised by the break-up, and still more by the war that broke out after that.’

10) On war in Yugoslavia as expression of state weakness and ‘private violence’

Jovic, pp. 492-493: ‘‘The violence that, in the ruins of Yugoslavia, in a stateless terrain, erupted in the ‘90s of last century had, indeed, the same cause as the collapse itself: it was the expression of a weak, ineffective state that was not in a position to suppress the private armies, private revenge, private “laws” and private violence. The wars that were waged in those ruins were to a large extent private revenge in which neighbours repaid some imaginary quid pro quo to their neighbours.’

Jovic is right about one thing: the criticisms being made against him are political, not academic in motivation. If Jovic were simply a scholar expressing his private opinion, it would not matter that his work rehabilitates Milosevic and the JNA. It would not matter that he praises a propaganda pamphlet with no academic value, that supports Croatia’s territorial dismemberment and denies the Srebrenica genocide. Jovic has the right, as a scholar, to express his views freely. But he is the Croatian president’s chief analyst and special coordinator. It is dangerous to both Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina for someone holding such views, and with such poor analytical judgement and grasp of reality, to occupy the position that he does.

Yours faithfully,
Marko Attila Hoare

 

Friday, 28 March 2014 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Marko Attila Hoare, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Edina Becirevic and Marko Attila Hoare on the Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War

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On 4 December of last year, the Bosnian Embassy in London did me the honour of hosting the launch of my book, The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War: A History (Hurst and Co, London, 2013). Very special thanks for organising the event go to His Excellency Mustafa Mujezinovic, the Bosnian ambassador to London, who also gave the opening speech; to Ms Jasmina Turajlic, Second Secretary; to all Bosnian Embassy staff; and to Jon de Peyer of Hurst Publishers. Very special thanks go also to my friend and colleague Dr Edina Becirevic, for coming to London to speak at the event. The following articles are based on the texts of our respective speeches.


Edina Becirevic

Since the aggression and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina took place two decades ago, so many books have been written on the subject. Yet, very few people have understood Bosnia as well as Marko Attila Hoare does. The first of Hoare’s books that I read was, How Bosnia Armed, and I remember many of my colleagues commenting that, finally, there had been a new approach taken to examining the war against Bosnia. Hoare’s handling of the topic was different because it followed the dynamics of the rise of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and attempted to determine why initial intentions to create a truly multinational Army of Bosnian people  – of all nationalities – instead manifested as a predominantly Muslim, i.e. Bosniak, military force.

When war began in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, the international community stood aside and watched as Serbia unleashed an aggression against the country’s non-Serb population. Hoare belonged to the world of academics, civil society members and journalists who understood what is going on and openly campaigned for the defense of Bosnia. He lived in the small universe of people who saw the genocide and aggression for what it was. And this is also why Hoare’s book How Bosnia Armed carried so much weight: his inquiry into past events did not deter him from lobbying for the defense of Bosnia, even when his analysis of the responsibility of Bosniak leadership led him to conclude that they had given up on the ideal of a multicultural Bosnia and Herzegovina in exchange for the pursuit of exclusively Bosniak interests, and had thus played into the hands of Serb and Croat nationalists. The pattern that Hoare recognized, and was one of the first to analyze – on the loss of the multicultural character of the Bosnian Army – became a central theme as he tried to answer the question of why Bosnian leadership settled for the Dayton Accord; which essentially legitimized the division of Bosnia. And this pattern can be steadily traced through the post-Dayton period in Bosnia, too, in many political compromises that Bosniak political elites made at the expense of Bosnian statehood.

I am not sure where the saying originates, but I have heard it many times from many people, that “Serbs and Croats cannot destroy Bosnia and Herzegovina unless Bosniaks agree to it.” And Hoare’s work is therefore even more important; because it has offered researchers in Bosnia and Herzegovina a model of how to tackle this issue without falling into the stereotypical traps of dispersing responsibility for the war and genocide equally to all sides and of viewing it as a war in which there were no clear victims and no clear aggressors. Hoare’s methodological framework can be the example to researchers who identify as victims of the war and who want to address that pattern of de-multiculturization of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This can allow them to step back from a sense of victimhood that disabled many of them to fully understand the dynamics of the war and aggression.

History is important not only for the sake of understanding the past, of course. Historical lessons matter in both the present and the future. Today in Bosnia, Bosniak political forces continue to be inconsistent in defending Bosnian statehood and preserving its multiculturality. The battle for what many still consider to be the core multicultural values of Bosnia and Herzegovina is now left to a group popularly called “the others” – representatives from ethnic groups who were not accommodated in the Dayton Accord – who stand behind the “Sejdić-Finci” ruling and demand political rights equal to those of the three dominant ethnic groups in the country.

Marko Attila Hoare has published four books. Besides How Bosnia Armed, he is also the author of Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943, which looks at the conflict between Yugoslav Partisans and Chetniks in Bosnia during World War II. In The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day, he focuses on the history of national identity in Bosnia. All three of these books are essential reading for understanding the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the present day political chaos facing the country.

But the book The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War: A History, which examines the role of Bosnian Muslims in World War II, not only comes full circle in his corpus, but carries a special significance in relating how events that took place in WWII still affect Bosnia and Herzegovinia presently and by deconstructing the Serbian propaganda of the 90’s, which put forth that all wars waged by the Serbian state were fought to prevent genocide against Serbs. For, it is unquestionable that the various collective myths and memories of the past, of different ethnic groups in Bosnia, played a role in the 1992-1995 conflict, and that they continue to shape – and sometimes strangle – Bosnian society today.

The genocide of Serbs in World War Two is indeed a part of the history of Yugoslavia and the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and no one seeking truth could deny that. However, growing up in Yugoslavia, the genocide and suffering of other people in Bosnia and Herzegovina was never mentioned at all. In school, history books told a one-sided story about both World Wars, giving us the impression that it was only Serbs who had been victims of genocide. And it was the continuity of this narrative that convinced many of my Serb friends to go into the hills to join the forces which turned their heavy artillery against Sarajevo.

In a way it is understandable that there were few books on the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina that went against the official narrative, for there were just as few brave historians willing to detail the complex alliances of the Second World War, and to tell the story that it was not only Serbs, Jews, and Roma who suffered losses. But World War Two meant suffering for Muslims and Croats as well; and while genocide against Serbs is an undisputed historical fact, the changing coalitions and patterns of crimes committed during the war were extraordinarily complex and convoluted. This latest book by Marko Attila Hoare plays a crucial role in setting the record straight, and not only for historians in the region. It also successfuly deconstructs stereotypes about World War Two that many Western historians, regardless of their ideological perspective, have blatantly promoted without reservation.

The residual effects of alliances and aggressions that played out during World War Two revisited Yugoslav society around the time of Tito’s death and began a discussion that is still ongoing; bringing with it an impact on all the societies of former Yugoslav states. But most of the narratives that have emerged are influenced by official dicourse of some kind or another. Some are apologetic toward the Ustasha, others toward Chetniks, some glorify the Partisan movement, and others, as Hoare writes, tell the tale “through the prism of Allied policy.”

Yet, Hoare, in this as in his previous books, does not depend on official narratives or safe stereotypes. He illustrates the complicated game Communists had to play in “leading predominantly Serb and peasant armed resistance to the Ustasha regime in the countryside,” while at the same time conquering the hearts and mind of a predominantly Muslim and Croat urban population. And both of those strategies were, as Hoare says, “ulimately necessary for the Communists to become masters of Bosnia; and both were achieved.”

The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War is the first book that views the history of World War Two in Bosnia from the perspective of the Bosnian Muslims – and not only that of political elites, but also of ordinary people, who formed different political and military alliances.  Hoare concludes that, “Political divisions among the Muslim elite were not essentially ideological, but were between conflicting strategies of how best to safeguard its position, and the Muslim population as a whole, in the face of two threats: the assimilationalism and hegemonism of the Croat Ustashas and the genocide of the Serb Chetniks.” And Hoare refers to those threats as two sides of the same coin.

Future generations in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be thanking Marko Attila Hoare not only for this last book, but for all of his books, including those that I hope are yet to come. I say “future generations” because I am not confident that this generation of Bosnian historians and intellectuals fully grasps the importance of Hoare’s work. But I am hoping that there will come a day when real accounts of Bosnian and Herzegovinian history by rare historians like Hoare will serve as the essential content for history textbooks. For, books like this one do not only present fair accouts of Bosnian history of benefit to academics, but can also serve as the basis for a process of reconciliation among Bosnian people, who must understand their history in order to move forward into the future.

What Hoare always brings to his reader is the invaluable insight that time and the events of an era cannot be seen in isolated compartments; that we miss seeing key parts of the picture of today if we are blind to the realities of the past. And his work beyond the pages of this and his other books, to identify and address genocide denial, is a natural extension of this insight. The value of his commitment to bringing awareness to the dangers of genocide denial cannot be understated.

The issue of genocide denial is an understandably contentious one. There is always an accused “side,” for which denial of their crimes is desirable; and since genocide is rarely achievable without the backing of state-level apparatuses, accused perpetrators usually have the backing of both political power and historical rhetoric. But, as the list of genocides in the world sadly continues to grow year after year, the issue of genocide denial becomes one of greater and greater importance. And what motivates Hoare and activists like him, is the knowledge that it is precisely this denial that invites further genocides.

What sets Hoare apart in debates about the topic – and believe me, it is a topic rife with debates, usually fueled as much by emotion as by concrete evidence – is his firsthand knowledge of Bosnia and his exhaustive research on and in the region. He has developed a relationship with the Balkans that few Westerners who deny genocide occurred there, or who tend toward revisionist views of the recent conflict, can lay claim to. This has predictably made him a target of those who do wish to deny genocide, and yet Hoare has remained a consistent “thorn in their side.”

As academic discourse invites ever more questioning about what “truth” and “denial” and “narrative” actually mean; as denial itself is viewed increasingly as a valuable coping mechanism in the face of a world full of trauma; and as we are bombarded more and more by images that Stanley Cohen rightfully points out are bound to overload and overwhelm our senses of reality, it is so important that activists like Hoare continue to demand that we see. For, as Cohen pointed out in his famous treatise on denial, “there is nothing positive about a society denying that it has an AIDS problem or the failure of the international community to recognize early warning signs of genocide…” While my guess is that most people would quickly jump to agree with his first statement; until genocide is seen as something as dangerous and pernicious as AIDS, the world needs activists like Marko Attila Hoare fighting to remove people’s blinders.

Edina Becirevic’s book Genocide on the Drina River will be published this year by Yale University Press

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Marko Attila Hoare

Thank you all for coming. I would like to begin by thanking His Excellency Ambassador Mustafa Mujezinovic, Second Secretary Ms Jasmina Turajlic and Jon de Peyer of Hurst Publishers for hosting and organising this event.

I started researching the subject matter of this book seventeen years ago, in 1997. The war in Bosnia-Hercegovina had just ended. As a graduate student in history, it was impossible for me not to be gripped by the need to understand why it had happened. Of course, I have my political views about the rights and wrongs of the conflict, which I have never tried to conceal. But history should not be researched and written with political objectives in mind; rather, it should be guided by the need to answer intellectual questions.

The genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina of 1992-1995 involved the destruction of the Bosnian state; the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Consequently, the questions I wanted to answer were: why had the state been created in the first place, and how had it been possible to build a common, multinational state encompassing Serbs, Muslims, Croats and others ? I believed it was necessary to understand how and why the Bosnian state had been created, in order to understand how and why it was destroyed a half century later.

I have used the name ‘Muslim’ to refer to the Bosnian Muslim or Bosniak people in my book. Although this nation is properly called ‘Bosniak’ today, in the 1940s, when the events described in the book take place, the Bosniak name applied to Bosnian Orthodox and Catholics as well, whereas Muslim Bosniaks were referred to as ‘Muslims’ in most of the documents. It was only in the 1990s that the Bosniak name came to be synonymous with Muslim as opposed to Orthodox, Catholic or other Bosnians. I do not, however, wish in any way to question the legitimacy of the Bosniak national name today.

The revolution in Yugoslavia in the 1940s, led by Josip Broz Tito and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, had been the object of a great deal of myth-making, both by its supporters and sympathisers and its by its anti-Communist critics. Yet it has been greatly under-researched in the West when compared to other great European revolutions, such as the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution. One of the purposes of my research has been to demystify the Yugoslav Revolution; to explain what really happened and what it really looked like. Set against the depressing outcome of the 1990s Bosnian war, the outcome of the 1940s revolution appears more positive, for it involved the establishment of a Bosnian state in which Croats, Muslims, Serbs and others were able to coexist for nearly half a century. But history is not about happy endings, and my work has sought to understand the flaws in this  original state-building project, in a manner that might help explain the catastrophe of the 1990s.

My first book on Bosnia-Hercegovina in World War II – Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006) focused on the Bosnian Serbs. It sought to explain how they had been led to support, in large numbers, the establishment of a unified Bosnian state instead of a Great Serbia – something that seems paradoxical in light of the apparently overwhelming and violent Serb rejection of this same state in the 1990s. In fact, as I showed, for many ordinary Bosnian Serbs, there was a fine line between supporting a unified Bosnia, as demanded by the Communist-led Partisans, and supporting a Great Serbia, as demanded by the anti-Communist Chetniks. Both options were open to the Bosnian Serbs; both reflected aspects of their national heritage; and many of them switched from supporting one to supporting the other at least once during the course of World War II.

In this, my second book on Bosnia in World War II, I focus on the Bosnian Muslims, and to a lesser extent on the Croats and smaller Bosnian minorities. The Croats were very much smaller and weaker in Bosnia-Hercegovina in the 1940s than the Serbs or the Muslims, and it was these two latter groups that were and remain ultimately most important for the outcome of the Bosnian question. My book stresses the diversity of forms assumed by the Muslim resistance to the new order established by the Nazis and Fascists in 1941, whereby occupied Bosnia-Hercegovina was forcibly incorporated into the Great Croat puppet state named the ‘Independent State of Croatia’, under the rule of the Ustashas, or Croat fascists. Members of the Muslim elite resisted this incorporation in a number of ways: some turned to an alliance with the Serb nationalists (Chetniks); others appealed directly to Hitler and the Germans; others built their own autonomous Muslim forces within the framework of the Croatian puppet state. But all of them shared the goal of ensuring the national survival of the Muslim people in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Communists realised that in order to win the war in Bosnia, they would have to co-opt at least part of this Muslim autonomist movement.

For in the 1940s, the Bosnian Muslims were the key to victory in Bosnia-Hercegovina. This was apparent also in the 1990s; the Serb nationalists rebels under Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who attempted to conquer Bosnia on the basis of a total rejection of the Muslim population, found themselves unable to break the latter’s resistance; they were brought to the very of total defeat by the autumn of 1995, something they escaped only thanks to  Western – above all US – diplomatic intervention. As the eminent Bosnian Muslim notable Muhamed Sudzuka had recognised already before World War II, the Muslims were the key to Bosnia and Bosnia was the key to Yugoslavia. So the Bosnian Muslim story was crucial for the outcome of the Yugoslav Revolution. The mass influx into their ranks of Muslims and others, including Croats and members of smaller minorities such as ethnic Poles and Ukrainians, was decisive for the Partisans’ victory in Bosnia. Above all, the mass defection of quisling troops to the Partisans – members of the Home Guard, Muslim legions, Handzar SS Division and even some Ustashas – enabled the Partisans to capture Bosnian towns and cities without destroying them or destroying their own forces in bitter street-fighting of the kind that broke the back of the Serb forces at Vukovar in Croatia in 1991.

In order to win Muslim support, the Communists championed the goal of a unified, sovereign state of Bosnia-Hercegovina within the Yugoslav framework, and treated the Muslims in practice, if not formally, as the sixth Yugoslav nation – alongside the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians and Montenegrins. Considerable freedom was accorded to the Islamic religion. The Partisan triumph consequently resulted in a brief flowering of Muslim national life and freedom. Yet following this triumph, as the Communists began to consolidate their dictatorship, many of these freedoms were taken away. Muslim religious and cultural institutions were suppressed or neutered. Less respect was shown to the dietary needs of Muslim soldiers in the Yugoslav army. Official statements stopped using the large letter ‘M’, denoting a nation, in relation to the Muslims, and reverted to using the small ‘m’, denoting a mere religious community.

This curtailment of Muslim rights and freedoms set the stage for the next movement of Muslim resistance, involving members of the ‘Young Muslim’ organisation, including a youthful Alija Izetbegovic. But this movement was ruthlessly suppressed, and the Bosnian state that took shape in the 1940s did so on the basis of the hegemony of the Bosnian Serbs – as the group that had numerically dominated the Bosnian Partisan movement. It was when the Bosnian Serb hegemony began to crumble from the 1960s, as the Communists in Bosnia-Hercegovina moved to emancipate fully the Muslims and Croats, by recognising finally the Muslims as a nation and by removing the Ustasha stigma from the Bosnian Croats, that the Serb disenchantment with Bosnian statehood truly began; a disenchantment that would gather pace as the Muslims overtook the Serbs as the most numerous Bosnian nationality during the 1960s and 70s, and that would reach a head when Izetbegovic’s presidency sought to establish Bosnia-Hercegovina as a fully independent state, wholly separate from Serbia, in the 1990s.

The state of Bosnia-Hercegovina was therefore at all times a fragile project, based as it was upon a compromise between the national aspirations of its constituent peoples; a compromise that was unstable as the balance of power between them shifted. Nevertheless, the lesson of the 1940s is that in order for Bosnian Serbs, Muslims and Croats to be reconciled and live in harmony, there has to be a strong, functioning Bosnian state. And this cannot happen again so long as the constitutional order established by the Dayton Peace Accords, which cripples Bosnia-Hercegovina as a state, persists.

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Further on the launch by my friends Amila Jasarevic of Amila Bosnae and Jonathan Norton, via Facebook

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Photos by Sarah Correia, Anna von Buchenroder and Jonathan Norton

Tuesday, 28 January 2014 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Islam, Marko Attila Hoare | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why was Momcilo Perisic acquitted ?

Perisic

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has acquitted on appeal Momcilo Perisic, former Chief of Staff of the Army of Yugoslavia (VJ), who had previously been sentenced to 27 years in prison for war-crimes in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. He was one of only six officials from Serbia-Montenegro ever indicted by the ICTY for war-crimes in Bosnia. He was the only member of the high command of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) or VJ ever indicted for war-crimes in Croatia or Bosnia, and the only former JNA officer from Serbia or Montenegro of any rank ever indicted over Bosnia. His acquittal means that, to date, no official or army officer of Serbia-Montenegro and no member of the JNA or VJ high command has been convicted by the ICTY for war-crimes in Bosnia. By any standards, this represents a monumental failure on the part of the Tribunal. Precisely what kind of failure, and whether it is a failure of the Prosecution or the judges or both, is open to debate.

Perisic’s acquittal follows the ICTY’s recent acquittals of Croatia’s Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, and of Kosovo’s Ramush Haradinaj. Those previous acquittals had provoked a veritable paroxysm of fury from Serbia’s politicians such as President Tomislav Nikolic, Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and UN General Assembly president Vuk Jeremic, who condemned them as proving that the ICTY was an anti-Serb and/or a political court. Commentators in the West widely agreed; an ill-informed rant by David Harland, former head of UN Civil Affairs in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1993-1995, upholding all the old Serb-nationalist stereotypes of the ICTY’s and West’s supposed anti-Serb bias, was published in the New York Times and received wide publicity even from reputable sources. People who had apparently been fairly satisfied with the ICTY’s not entirely glorious performance over the past two decades now emerged from the woodwork to denounce it in bitter terms.

The acquittal of such a high-ranking Serbian official, following the acquittal of two high-ranking Croats and one high-ranking Kosovo Albanian, provides further proof – if any were needed – that the ICTY is not ‘anti-Serb’. Perisic is, in fact, neither the first nor the most high-ranking senior Serbian official to be acquitted by the Tribunal; former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic was acquitted back in 2009 of war crimes against Kosovo Albanians.

Consequently, the Serbian government has now made a rapid U-turn in its view of the Tribunal. Prime Minister Dacic (also leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia founded by Slobodan Milosevic) had responded to the Gotovina and Markac acquittals by stating ‘This confirms the claims of those who say that the Hague Tribunal is not a court and that it completes political tasks that were set in advance’. Yet his reaction to the Perisic acquittal is that it ‘negates accusations about the alleged aggression of the Army of Yugoslavia against Bosnia and Croatia’. The latter conclusion is echoed by the Sense News Agency, which provides detailed overage of the activities of the ICTY and which claims that ‘Momcilo Perisic was the only senior official from Serbia and FR Yugoslavia convicted by the Tribunal and sentenced for crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Slobodan Milosevic was charged with the same crimes, and the judgment can be considered as Milosevic’s posthumous acquittal for Sarajevo and Srebrenica.’

In these circumstances, there is naturally a temptation for those on the other side of the front-lines from the Serb nationalists – those who wanted to see the Serbian perpetrators of war-crimes in Croatia and Bosnia punished, and the victims receive justice – to cry foul, and to carry out a Dacic-style U-turn of their own. A temptation, that is, to say that the supporters of Milosevic, Seselj and Tudjman were right after all, and the ICTY is really just a kangaroo court whose verdicts are political. But this temptation should be resisted, both for pragmatic reasons and, more importantly, for reasons of principle.

Pragmatically, conceding that the ICTY is a kangaroo court whose verdicts are political means handing an enormous victory to those extremists – Serb and Croat, right-wing and left-wing – who supported the elements that carried out the war-crimes and that have always resisted the efforts of the ICTY to punish them. It is not for nothing that – both in the former Yugoslavia and in the West – ethnic cleansers, fascists and extremists have consistently opposed the Tribunal, whereas liberals, democrats and progressives have supported it. To reject the legitimacy of the ICTY and its verdicts means negating not only those verdicts we don’t like, but all the good that has been achieved by precisely this Tribunal, despite its undeniable numerous failures. The ICTY was the first international court to establish that the Srebrenica massacre was an act of genocide, paving the way for the confirmation of this fact by the International Court of Justice.

Immediately following the acquittals of Gotovina, Markac and Haradinaj, the ICTY in December of last year convicted Zdravko Tolimir, Assistant Commander of Intelligence and Security of the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS), for genocide, and in the process established that the group targeted for genocide by the VRS was the Muslim population of East Bosnia as a whole – not just of Srebrenica – and that the genocidal act extended to Zepa as well as Srebrenica. It is a tremendous breakthrough for the legal recognition of the Bosnian genocide beyond Srebrenica. If the Perisic acquittal is to be dismissed as a political verdict, it undermines the Tolimir verdict as well. You cannot have it both ways, and cheer the verdicts with which you agree while denouncing those you don’t like. Either the ICTY is a legitimate court or it is not.

Which brings us to the matter of principle: a genuine, legitimate court must have the right and ability to acquit, as well as to convict. If the ICTY were really a kangaroo court, all those accused would be convicted. Instead of which, we have proof of genuine pluralism, with panels of judges dividing 2-1 and 3-2 over major cases, and the Appeals Chamber reversing the decision of the Trial Chambers. Whatever his political views or personal inclinations, Judge Theodor Meron, presiding judge at both the Appeals Chamber that acquitted Gotovina and Markac and the one that acquitted Perisic, and currently under attack from critics for the acquittals, was in each case only one judge in a panel of five who came from different countries. He was the only judge who acquitted both Gotovina and Markac on the one hand and Perisic on the other, and was not even a member of the Trial Chamber that acquitted Haradinaj. The only other judge who was a member of the Appeals Chamber both for Gotovina-Markac and for Perisic was Carmel Agius, and he strongly opposed the acquittal of Gotovina and Markac but supported that of Perisic. Judge Bakone Justice Moloto was presiding judge both in the Trial Chamber that convicted Perisic and in the Trial Chamber that acquitted Haradinaj. In the first case, he dissented from the majority opinion but was outvoted – something that took place in September 2011, a mere year and a half ago. Hence, I must respectfully disagree with my colleague Eric Gordy, who argues that the acquittals all form part of a consistent policy on the part of the judges in this period.

The conspiracy theorists (among whom I do not include Eric) would either have us believe that the initial indictments of Gotovina/Perisic and their initial convictions were simply elaborate deceptions paving the way for the final, pre-determined acquittals. Or they would have us believe that whenever the ICTY convicts it is acting legitimately and whenever it acquits it is acting politically. But a court that only convicts and never acquits is not a genuine court. Even at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg that tried the leaders of Nazi Germany after World War II, three of the twenty-four defendants – i.e. one in eight of the high-ranking officials of Nazi Germany who were prosecuted – were acquitted. The whole point of a fair trial is that guilt is not assumed and defendants are assumed to be innocent until proven guilty.

The present author has, in the past, condemned the ICTY for retreating in the face of Serbian obstruction of its activities, citing such instances as the failure to indict most of the leading members of the Joint Criminal Enterprise from Serbia and Montenegro; the acquittal of Radovan Karadzic on one count of genocide; and the censoring of the minutes of the Supreme Defence Council. However, the acquittal of Perisic is not part of this pattern; he had already been arrested and convicted, so any Serbian resistance in his case had already been overcome.

It is one thing to accuse the Tribunal of shabby or unprincipled compromises and retreats, but quite another to accuse it of actually falsifying the guilt or innocence of suspects. Karadzic’s acquittal aside, the present author has never accused the Tribunal either of acquitting anyone guilty or of convicting anyone innocent. I did not, for example, condemn its initial conviction of Gotovina and Markac. Nor did I condemn its acquittal of Milutinovic or of Miroslav Radic (one of the three JNA officers indicted over the Vukovar hospital massacre). I am somewhat amazed that so many people, of all national backgrounds and political persuasions, have so little respect for the principle that it is ultimately for the court to decide who is innocent and who is guilty. Of course, it is entirely possible for a court to get things wrong and for a miscarriage of justice to occur. But a miscarriage of justice needs careful explaining as to how it was arrived at, not mere petulant denunciation.

In the case of Perisic, the essence of the disagreement between the Trial Chamber majority and the Appeals Chamber majority was that the first considered that ‘under the VRS’s strategy there was no clear distinction between military warfare against BiH forces and crimes against civilians/and or persons not taking active part in hostilities’, while the latter argued that ‘the VRS was not an organisation whose actions were criminal per se; instead, it was an army fighting a war’, albeit one that also engaged in criminal activities. Thus, the Trial Chamber considered that there was no clear distinction between the VRS’s lawful and its criminal actions, while the Appeals Chamber considered that there was.

Furthermore, the Trial Chamber ruled that though it could not be proven that the military assistance provided by Perisic to the VRS was specifically intended by him to support its criminal as opposed to its legal activities, nevertheless, since he clearly knew that his assistance would be used for criminal activities at Sarajevo and Srebrenica, as well as for legal military purposes, he was therefore guilty of aiding and abetting its criminal activities. The Appeals Chamber, by contrast, ruled that since it could not be proven that that he intended his military assistance to be used for criminal as opposed to legal military purposes, he could not be held to have criminal intent and therefore be held culpable for aiding and abetting the VRS’s crimes.

In other words, there is little disagreement between the two Chambers regarding facts of the case (so far as the Bosnian part of it is concerned) but principally over what conclusion should be drawn from them. The disagreement is not equivalent to that between the Trial Chamber and Appeals Chamber in the case of Gotovina and Markac, when the two chambers fundamentally disagreed over what the facts were; i.e. over whether the Croatian Army had deliberately shelled civilian targets with the intent of bringing about the removal of the Serb population from the so-called Krajina region. In the case of Perisic, the Appeals Chamber was not throwing out an unsafe conviction based upon a highly spurious interpretation of events, as was the case with the acquittal of Gotovina and Markac. Rather, it was expressing a different judgement on the nature of culpability to that of the Trial Chamber.

In this disagreement, my own sympathies are entirely with the Trial Chamber, and I applaud the dissent from the Appeals Chamber majority opinion of Judge Liu Daqun, who argued that by acquitting Perisic, the Appeals Chamber was setting the bar too high for convictions on grounds of aiding and abetting. However, personal sympathies aside and on the understanding that judges are supposed to be wholly impartial, the conclusions of either Chamber could legitimately be drawn from the facts. Unfortunately, the more conservative type of conclusion of the Appeals Chamber is the one I would have predicted judges at the ICTY usually to reach. My colleague Florian Bieber has made the reasonable point that ‘arguing that not all [the VRS’s] activities were criminal is about as convincing as stating that the Mafia is not only involved in criminal activities and thus supporting it does not mean that one is “aiding and abetting” criminal activities.’ Following that analogy, Perisic could be compared to a powerful businessman who donates money, vehicles and properties to a charity known to be acting as a front for Mafia activities. Even if he clearly knew the charity’s true purpose, convicting him might not be so easy for the courts. Al Capone was, after all, only convicted for tax evasion.

This brings us to the ultimate reason for Perisic’s acquittal: the Prosecution’s case against him, resting as it did on a model of culpability that was judicially controversial, was not a strong one. The Prosecution was unable to prove his intent to commit crime, or that the assistance he provided to the VRS was intended to further its crimes. It was unable to link him directly to any specific crime. It could merely prove that he aided and abetted an army – the VRS – that he knew was engaging in criminal activities, but which was also engaging in lawful military activities.

The second reason why the Prosecution’s case was weak concerns the question of command responsibility. The Trial Chamber ruled that Perisic had no command responsibility over VRS forces, but that he did have such authority over the ‘Serb Army of Krajina’ (SVK – so-called ‘Croatian Serbs’), and in addition to aiding and abetting the VRS forces engaged in criminal acts as Sarajevo and Srebrenica, it convicted him for failing to punish the SVK perpetrators who shelled Zagreb in May 1995, killing and injuring civilians. But the Trial Chamber recognised that Perisic had ordered the SVK not to shell Zagreb and that it had disregarded his orders, choosing instead to obey the orders of Milan Martic, ‘President of the Republic of Serb Krajina’, to shell the city. This implicit recognition of Perisic’s lack of effective command responsibility over the SVK forces formed the basis for the Appeal Chamber’s overturning of his conviction for the war-crime at Zagreb – and even Judge Liu, who dissented from the majority over Perisic’s acquittal for Sarajevo and Srebrenica, agreed with the majority on this count. In other words, the Prosecution chose to indict someone who had no command responsibility over the Bosnian Serb forces guilty of crimes in Bosnia (Sarajevo and Srebrenica) and only ambiguous command responsibility over the Croatian Serb forces guilty of crimes in Croatia (Zagreb).

Having myself worked as a war-crimes investigator at the ICTY, I am not at all surprised that four out of the five judges (and one out of three in the original Trial Chamber) were not convinced by the Prosecution’s case. Generally speaking, cases involving high-ranking perpetrators far removed from the crime base are complicated to build unless their command responsibility is clear and unambiguous. Thus, it was relatively straightforward to build a case against Milosevic for war-crimes in Kosovo, where his command responsibility (as President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) was clear. But more complicated to do so over Bosnia, where (as President of Serbia) it was not. In such cases where evidence of de jure responsibility is lacking, prosecutors need strong evidence of de facto responsibility.

But Perisic was not a Milosevic, Karadzic or Mladic. He was not a member of the top Serbian-Montenegrin-JNA leadership that planned and instigated the wars against Croatia and Bosnia, and his name is not listed among the principal members of the Joint Criminal Enterprise as laid down in the Milosevic indictments. He was commander of the Artillery School Centre in Zadar in Croatia, and in January 1992 became commander of the JNA’s 13th Corps, based in Bileca in Hercegovina. In these roles of less than primary importance, he participated directly in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. Had the Prosecution chosen to indict him for war-crimes committed by his forces in this period, he would in all likelihood have been convicted. However, it did not.

The three principal phases of mass killing by Serb forces in the Bosnian war were the initial Serbian blitzkrieg of spring, summer and autumn 1992, resulting in the Serbian conquest of about 70% of Bosnian territory; the siege of Sarajevo, lasting from spring 1992 until autumn 1995; and the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995. The first of these claimed by far the largest number of victims; according to the figures provided by Mirsad Tokaca’s Research and Documentation Centre, more Bosniaks were killed in the Podrinje region (East Bosnia) in 1992 than in 1995, the year of the Srebrenica massacre. Moreover, the regular Serb army forces that undertook the initial blitzkrieg, until 19 May 1992, were formally part of the JNA and not only de facto but also de jure under the command and control of Serbia-Montenegro, in the form of the rump Yugoslav Federal presidency made up of members from Serbia and Montenegro, and of the high command of the JNA/VJ.

Had the ICTY Prosecution indicted the top JNA commanders and Yugoslav Presidency members (from Serbia and Montenegro) who commanded these Serb forces during the blitzkrieg, and prior to that the earlier assault on Croatia, they would no doubt have been successful and Serbia’s direct responsibility for the war in Bosnia would have been judicially established. A successful outcome would have been particularly likely, given that a couple of these war-criminals have been obliging enough to publish their memoirs or diaries in which they admit their planning of the war.

On 19 May 1992, however, the newly proclaimed Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), comprising Serbia and Montenegro, formally withdrew its forces from Bosnia, and a Bosnia Serb army – the VRS – formally came into being. Serbia’s political and military leadership thereby ceased to have de jure command and control over the Bosnian Serb forces. Furthermore, the Trial Chamber that convicted Perisic ruled that, in fact, the Serbian leadership in this period did not have even de facto control over the Bosnian Serb forces either – as did the International Court of Justice, in its own 2007 verdict in the case of Bosnia vs Serbia. The arrangement whereby the Bosnian Serb war-effort would be formally independent of Belgrade was put in place with the deliberate intention by Serbia’s leadership of avoiding accusations of aggression and involvement in the Bosnian war. Of course, Serbia continued to provide extensive financial and military support to the Bosnian Serb forces. But it should have been clear to any war-crimes investigator worth their salt that convicting FRY military commanders of war-crimes in Bosnia after 19 May 1992 would be a much more difficult task.

Momcilo Perisic became Chief of Staff of FRY’s army, the VJ, only in August 1993, and his indictment by the ICTY only covers his activities from this period. The policy of supporting the VRS had been put in place under his predecessors, and though he was a strong supporter of the policy and apparently institutionalised it, he was scarcely its architect. Even as regards the siege of Sarajevo – one of the two crimes in Bosnia for which Perisic was indicted – the Serb killings of civilians peaked in the spring and summer of 1992 and dropped considerably thereafter, dropping particularly from around the time that Perisic took over (according to Tokaca’s figures). Chief of Staff Perisic was therefore a singularly bad choice of individual to indict for war-crimes in the period from August 1993: though he was not a simple figurehead equivalent to President Milutinovic, and enjoyed real authority in a post of considerable importance, he was ultimately just one of Milosevic’s interchangeable officers; little more than a cog, albeit a large one, in the military machine, and moreover in a part of the machine whose culpability for actual war-crimes was secondary at the time, since the Milosevic regime had devolved most of the killing to a different part – the VRS.

Had the ICTY prosecutors ever really understood the chronology and organisation of the Serb aggression against Bosnia, they could have avoided such a poor decision. But it is clear from reading Carla del Ponte’s memoirs that she, at least, never had more than a muddled understanding of it. She nebulously attributes primary and equal responsibility to the war as a whole to two individuals, Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman, but is unable to explain how that responsibility translated into the form that the war took. Although she deserves credit for eschewing a narrowly legalistic and lawyerly approach to war-crimes prosecutions and for attempting to view the big picture of the war – and therefore for insisting on genocide indictments in the face of conservative resistance from some of her colleagues – the big picture that she viewed was an erroneous one. Her starting point was not a global systemic analysis of the aggression, but apparently the big crimes with which she herself, as a non-expert on the war, was familiar – the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre.

In her own memoirs, del Ponte’s former spokeswoman Florence Hartmann recalls that del Ponte insisted, among other things, that Milosevic himself be indicted for Srebrenica and Sarajevo, in the face of resistance from Geoffrey Nice and others, who feared that they would not be able to convince the judges of the validity of the charge. Del Ponte was thus motivated by the commendable desire to ensure that Serbia’s leadership would not escape responsibility for the killing in Bosnia, but her analytical confusion ensured her plan would not go well. In light of Perisic’s acquittal, Nice’s caution, as recalled by Hartmann, appears entirely vindicated. That said, it is worth restating that Perisic’s indictment covered only the period from August 1993, when he was Chief of Staff, not the period when the Serbian aggression was actually launched and the largest part of the killings occurred. Thus, the claims made by Dacic and by the Sense News Agency, that the verdict exonerates Milosevic and Serbia of aggression against Bosnia and Croatia and of culpability in the siege of Sarajevo, are unfounded. Furthermore, as noted above, the Appeals Chamber has not actually changed the facts as established by the Trial Chamber: that the VRS was engaged in criminal activity, at Sarajevo and Srebrenica, and that Serbia’s army was aiding and abetting it while it was doing so.

On Twitter, Luka Misetic, the lawyer who successfully represented Gotovina, has succinctly referred to ‘Carla Del Ponte’s dark legacy: Perisic, Haradinaj, Oric, Gotovina, Cermak, Markac, Boskoski, Halilovic all indicted by CDP, all acquitted.’ The failure at the ICTY is that of a Prosecution that has repeatedly failed to secure the convictions of those it has indicted, not of the judges who were unconvinced by its cases.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

David Harland’s attack on the ICTY

Harland

David Harland, Executive Director of the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue and head of UN Civil Affairs in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1993-1995, recently published, in the New York Times, a polemic against the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Responding to the recent acquittals of Croatia’s Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac and Kosovo’s Ramush Haradinaj, he accused the Tribunal of ‘selective justice’ on the grounds that it has essentially only convicted Serb perpetrators, acquitted non-Serb perpetrators and failed to punish crimes against Serbs. This is, of course, the claim that hardline Serb nationalists and supporters of Slobodan Milosevic have been making for about the last two decades. Instead of carrying out any research into the actual record of the ICTY in order to support his thesis, Harland simply repeats a string of cliches of the kind that frequently appear in anti-Hague diatribes by Serb nationalists.

1) Harland writes: ‘More Serbs were displaced — ethnically cleansed — by the wars in the Balkans than any other community. And more Serbs remain ethnically displaced to this day.’

Harland doesn’t provide any statistical evidence to support this claim, but he appears to be conflating being ‘displaced’ with being ‘ethnically cleansed’, and to count all Serbs displaced by all the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo as having been ‘ethnically cleansed’ – as opposed to being evacuated by the Serb authorities themselves, for example, or fleeing Sarajevo to escape the siege. The Appeals Chamber of the ICTY, in acquitting Gotovina, Markac and Haradinaj, rejected the prosecution’s claims that a Joint Criminal Enterprise (JCE) existed, on the part of either the Croatian or the Kosovar Albanian perpetrators, to bring about the removal of the Serb population from either ‘Krajina’ or Kosovo. Harland has not attempted to address the Appeal Chamber’s conclusions. He has simply re-stated a falsehood after two panels of judges carefully explained why the claims on which it was based are false.

2) Harland writes ‘Almost no one has been held to account [for these crimes against Serbs], and it appears that no one will be… Convicting only Serbs simply doesn’t make sense in terms of justice, in terms of reality, or in terms of politics.’

It is untrue that nobody has been convicted by the ICTY for crimes against Serbs, or that no non-Serbs have been convicted. Bosniaks, Croats and Albanians convicted of crimes against Serbs include Rasim Delic, the top Bosnian army commander in 1993-1995; Enver Hadzihasanovic, former commander of the Bosnian army’s 3rd Corps; Amir Kubura, former commander of the 7th Muslim Mountain Brigade; Zdravko Mucic, Hazim Delic and Esad Landzo, former commanders and guard for the Celebici prison-camp; and Kosova Liberation Army camp guard Haradin Bala. Former Croatian Army major-general Mirko Norac was indicted by the ICTY for crimes against Serb civilians in the Medak Pocket in September 1993; his case was transferred to the Zagreb District Court, which convicted him.

3) Harland writes: ‘Altogether, almost all of the West’s friends have been acquitted; almost all of the Serbs have been found guilty.’

Harland appears here to be following the example of the extreme Serb nationalists who divide all former Yugoslavs into ‘Serbs’ on the one hand and ‘friends of the West’ on the other, and who claim that the ICTY ‘persecutes’ Serbs because they are independent of the West. Yet two of the most senior Serb officials to be convicted by the ICTY, former Republika Srpska president Biljana Plavsic and former Yugoslav Army chief of staff Momcilo Perisic, had pursued friendly relations with the West in the second half of the 1990s. On the other hand, being unfriendly to the West is scarcely something of which other prominent Serb indictees can be accused, since Western and Serb officials spent the best part of the 1990s collaborating with one another.

RoseMladic2

Ratko Mladic and Britain’s Michael Rose

Holbrooke

Slobodan Milosevic and the US’s Richard Holbrooke

GENERAL RATKO MLADIC

Ratko Mladic and the Netherlands’ Thom Karremans

Holbrooke3

Milosevic and Holbrooke again

4) Harland writes: ‘Convicting only Serbs simply doesn’t make sense in terms of justice, in terms of reality, or in terms of politics. The Croatian leaders connived in the carve-up of Yugoslavia, and contributed mightily to the horrors on Bosnia and Herzegovina. I witnessed for myself the indiscriminate fury of the Croatian assault on the beautiful city of Mostar.’

Harland either does not know, or chooses not to mention, that the ICTY is currently prosecuting a group of prominent Bosnian Croat perpetrators for crimes carried out in Bosnia: Milivoj Petkovic, Jadranko Prlic, Slobodan Praljak, Bruno Stojic, Valentic Coric and Berislav Pusic. They are specifically being tried over the Croatian attack on Mostar. The ICTY has already convicted a large number of Croat perpetrators, including Dario Kordic, wartime leader of the Croatian Democratic Union in Bosnia and vice-president of the Croat Community of Herceg-Bosna, and Tihomir Blaskic, former commander of the (Bosnian) Croat Council of Defence (hence equal in rank to the Bosnian Serbs’ Ratko Mladic) and inspector in the General Inspectorate of the Croatian Army. NB Blaskic spent longer in prison than any Yugoslav army officer sentenced over the 1991-1992 Croatian war, except Mile Mrksic.

5) Harland continues: ‘The Bosnian Muslim leadership had deeply compromising links to the international jihahist movement, and hosted at least three people who went on to play key roles in the 9/11 attacks on the United States. I witnessed attacks by foreign mujahedeen elements against Croat civilians in the Lasva Valley.’

The accusation regarding the Bosnian government’s supposed links to the international jihadist movement and 9/11 attackers is sheer Islamophobic defamation. As regards the mujahedin, Harland either does not know, or chooses not to mention, that Rasim Delic, commander of the Bosnian army from June 1993 until the end of the war, was convicted by the ICTY over crimes carried out by the mujahedin against Serb civilians. On the other hand, the ICTY Appeals Chamber found in the case of Bosnian army 3rd Corps commander Enver Hadzihasanovic that he could not be held culpable for the crimes of the mujahedin, since ‘the relationship between the El Mujahedin detachment and the 3rd Corps was not one of subordination. It was quite close to overt hostility since the only way to control the El Mujahedin detachment was to attack them as if they were a distinct enemy force.’

As with the Croatian attack on Mostar, so with the Bosnian government and the mujahedin, Harland’s portrayal of the ICTY as simply having ignored the crimes in question reflects either an extraordinary degree of ignorance regarding the ICTY’s record, or is deliberately deceptive of his readers.

6) Harland continues: ‘And the Kosovar Albanian authorities deserve a special mention, having taken ethnic cleansing to its most extreme form — ridding themselves almost entirely of the Serb and Roma populations. Kosovo’s ancient Christian Orthodox monasteries are now almost the only reminder of a once-flourishing non-Albanian population… Haradinaj has been cleared of the charges brought against him, but the fact remains that hundreds of thousands of Serbs — mostly the elderly, women and children — were ethnically cleansed from Kosovo by the Kosovar Albanians.’

Again, Harland does not attempt to address the ICTY judges’ refutation of the claim that Kosovar Albanians had engaged in a ‘Joint Criminal Enterprise’ to remove the Serb and other non-Albanian population from Kosovo. His claims that the Kosovar Albanian authorities have succeeded in ‘ridding themselves almost entirely of the Serb and Roma populations’ and that ‘hundreds of thousands of Serbs — mostly the elderly, women and children — were ethnically cleansed from Kosovo by the Kosovar Albanians’ are further falsehoods: of the roughly 200,000 Serbs living in Kosovo before 1999, roughly half are still there.

7) Harland concludes: ‘What has happened at the tribunal is far from justice, and will be interpreted by observers in the Balkans and beyond as the continuation of war by legal means — with the United States, Germany and other Western powers on one side, and the Serbs on the other.’

To which one can reply: only by anti-Western Serb-nationalist politicians and ideologues and their fellow travellers.

Perhaps the most disgraceful statement in Harland’s tissue of falsehoods is his claim that ‘I lived through the siege of Sarajevo.’ In fact, as the UN’s head of Civil Affairs in Bosnia from June 1993 until the end of the war, Harland was scarcely a victim of the siege. Following the Markale massacre in Sarajevo of 28 August 1995, when Serb shelling killed 37 civilians, Harland engendered the myth that the Bosnians themselves might have been responsible; as he testified, ‘I advised [UN commander] General Smith on that one occasion to be a little unclear about what we knew about the point of origin of the mortar shell that landed on the Markale market-place in order to give us time, give UNPROFOR time, to get UNPROFOR and UN people off Serb territory so they couldn’t be harmed or captured when General Smith turned the key to authorise air-strikes against the Serbs. That is true. That was less than fully honest.’

Indeed, the UN in Bosnia collaborated with the Serb besiegers of Sarajevo and helped to maintain the siege. It obstructed any possibility of outside military intervention to halt the genocide. It maintained an arms embargo that prevented the victims of the genocide from defending themselves properly. It was complicit in the murder of Bosnian deputy prime-minister Hakija Turajlic by Serb forces in January 1993. It abandoned the ‘safe areas’ of Srebrenica and Zepa to Mladic’s genocidal operations. Romeo Dallaire said of the UN, ‘Ultimately, led by the United States, France and the United Kingdom, this world body aided and abetted genocide in Rwanda. No amount of its cash and aid will ever wash its hands clean of Rwandan blood.’ The same could be said of the UN with regard to Bosnia and Bosnian blood. Yet no former UN or other international official has been prosecuted by the ICTY or any other court for complicity in genocide or war-crimes. That is a real scandal of selective justice about which Harland has nothing to say.

Monday, 17 December 2012 Posted by | Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Michael Dobbs: An innocent in the Bosnia controversy

There is a scene in the film ‘Bean’, in which Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean, mistaken for an expert, is forced to give a speech about a painting in an art museum, about which he knows nothing. Trying to think of something to say, he points out that the painting is ‘quite big, which is excellent, because if it was really small, you know, microscopic, hardly anyone would be able to see it’. That scene sometimes comes to mind when reading Michael Dobbs, a Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) who blogs for Foreign Policy magazine. For reasons that are beyond me, Dobbs has been tasked by these two bodies with investigating and writing about the Bosnian war, Srebrenica massacre and Ratko Mladic trial – despite apparently having no prior knowledge or expertise about these topics, or about the topic of genocide.

Dobbs is a well intentioned individual who tries hard to be balanced and objective. He writes frankly about the horrors of the Bosnian war. He consequently comes under regular vicious attack from the creepy-crawlies of the Srebrenica genocide-denial lobby and has been forthright in confronting them. He responds to criticism in a fair and measured way. Yet it’s as if the USHMM and Foreign Policy had simply walked into a random bar, pulled out a random Joe Bloggs, and told him to write about Bosnia and genocide. In October 2011, he wrote ‘I must admit that I find it difficult to use [in relation to Srebrenica] the word genocide, which conjures up images of the Holocaust… In the popular culture, at least, when we talk about “geno-cide,” we think about the killing of an entire race or ethnic group.’ That a Fellow of the USHMM should be guided by ‘popular culture’ when considering the meaning of genocide – instead of by expertise in the history and literature of the study of genocide – is incredible. It is, on the other hand, not in the least incredible, but wholly predictable and understandable, that his comment should have caused enormous offence among Bosniak people, prompting a letter of protest to the USHMM from the Congress of North American Bosniaks, Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada and Bosnian American Genocide Institute and Education Centre.

Now, Dobbs has put his foot in it again, with an article entitled ‘In Defense of the Serbs’, containing his pearls of wisdom regarding the international recognition of Bosnian and Croatian independence in 1991-1992:

‘Looking back at the start of the Yugoslav wars two decades later, I am struck by a contradiction in western policy to the former Yugoslavia. Europe, supported by the U.S., recognized the independence of the breakaway republics. In other words, the borders of the multi-ethnic state that resulted from the Versailles conference decisions of 1919 (see photograph above) were not inviolate. On the other hand, the international community (in the form of the Badinter commission set up by the European Union) also decreed that the borders of Croatia, Bosnia, and the other republics could not be changed simply because a minority wished to secede. 

The practical effect of these decisions was that Croats and Muslims were given the right to secede from Yugoslavia, but Serbs did not have the right to secede from Croatia or Bosnia. The delicate ethnic balance sanctioned by the Great Powers after World War I and enforced by Marshal Tito (a Croat) in the four decades after World War II was upset. 

For what it is worth, my own personal view is that the breakup of Yugoslavia was inevitable, just as the breakup of the Soviet Union was inevitable. On the other hand, the United States and Europe (the nations that created Yugoslavia in the first place) should have been much more vigorous about establishing and enforcing rules for the breakup that guaranteed minority rights.  

To use a phrase attributed to the French statesman Talleyrand, leaving two million well-armed Serbs in other people’s republics was “worse than a crime.” It was a gross error of political judgment.’

Two decades since the start of the Bosnian war, and a Fellow of the USHMM and writer for Foreign Policy can do nothing better than trot out the same, tired old sophistry that was being peddled by the Serb nationalists back then. It’s as if all the scholarship on the subject of the break up of Yugoslavia and recognition of new states, written in the interval by Richard Caplan, Michael Libal, Josip Glaurdic and others, simply did not exist. Dobbs is making a point that has been extensively addressed and refuted by real experts on the subject over a period of twenty years.

It would take a lot of space to refute all the misconceptions in Dobbs’s small passage above, so let me pick just one. There was, of course, no ‘contradiction’ in the policy of the international community as regards the right to secede of Serbs and of non-Serbs in the former Yugoslavia in 1991-1992. Dobbs claims that ‘The practical effect of these decisions [by the international community] was that Croats and Muslims were given the right to secede from Yugoslavia, but Serbs did not have the right to secede from Croatia or Bosnia’. This is false: ‘Croats and Muslims’ were not given the right to secede from Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was recognised as being ‘in the process of dissolution’, and the six constituent republics were recognised as the entities that inherited its sovereignty. Thus, it was the six republics – including Serbia – not the ‘Croats and Muslims’, whose right to independence was recognised. Serbia was not treated differently from Slovenia, Croatia or Bosnia in this respect, and was entirely free to seek and receive international recognition of its independence, just as they did.

The right of the Serbs of Croatia and Bosnia to secede from their respective republics was not recognised; neither was the right of the Croats of Bosnia. Nor of the Muslims/Bosniaks of Serbia’s Sanjak region. Nor of the Hungarians of Vojvodina, within Serbia. Nor of the Albanians of Macedonia and Montenegro. Nor, at the time, of the Albanians of Kosovo. In fact, the only group on the territory of the former Yugoslavia whose carving out of a wholly new entity has ever been recognised by the international community is the Bosnian Serbs. Thus, at Dayton, the ‘Republika Srpska’ was recognised, whereas the Bosnian Croats’ ‘Croat Republic of Herceg-Bosna’ has been dissolved, and the right of the Bosnian Croats to establish their own entity within Bosnia has been consistently denied.

It is difficult to believe that anyone could think about this for even a few minutes before realising that the ‘contradiction’ Dobbs posits is no contradiction at all. But I’m not suggesting he’s being insincere; merely that he hasn’t bothered to think seriously about this, let alone read anything much – if at all – on the subject. Hamdija Custovic, Vice-President of the Congress of North American Bosniaks, has quite rightly written another letter of protest to Foreign Policy about Dobbs’s article. What saddens me about this is not that Dobbs’s views are particularly outrageous – as I said, I believe he is a well intentioned individual trying hard to be balanced and objective. It is that respectable bodies like the USHMM and Foreign Policy consider it acceptable to provide a lot of space and opportunity for someone with no expertise on the former Yugoslavia or the Bosnian genocide to write about them, as if the subject wasn’t important enough to recruit a proper expert who actually has something informed to say.

The victims of the Bosnian genocide deserve better than this.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments