|Taking Sides against Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia: the story of the Workers Aid for Bosnia convoys|
Workers Aid for Bosnia, 35 Hilton Road, Leeds LS8 4HA
Macmillan, London, 504pp, £20.
reviwed by Adrian Hastings
The 198 pages of this book constitute a closely detailed record of the campaign of Workers Aid for Bosnia to provide material assistance and political support for Tuzla and its mining community between June 1993 and December 1997. It includes hundreds of pictures as well as copies of all sorts of documents. All in all, it provides a fascinating account of how one very determined and courageous group of people, mostly in Britain, endeavoured to help another even more determined and courageous group survive, despite the attacks of fascism and ethnic cleansing which had brought the city of Tuzla close to starvation and total collapse.
This is not a history of the war, but a most valuable contribution to the picture of how the West responded to ethnic cleansing. It is, in many ways, a story of failure, of ineffectiveness, but also of a refusal to give up. The members of Workers Aid were struggling in face of a Western consensus, including the British and French governments, the UN and the trade-union leadership, that no one should 'take sides' between those committing genocide and their victims. That was, above all, the view of Britain's Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, and it prevailed almost everywhere. Anyone and anything not in conformity with that view was emphatically cold-shouldered by officialdom. Few indeed were the people able at the time to see through the weasel words of the UN to the reality of its effective complicity in genocide.
Workers Aid was one of the few groups who really did so, but it is worth noting that they began only in June 1993, well over a year after the war began. Once Workers Aid got going, however, it became one of the most effective campaigning forces for the survival of Bosnia in the West, almost the only group to combine the provision of aid with political activity, and to succeed in establishing a workable international network of support groups. Above all, it was important because it built up an immediate and lasting relationship with people inside Bosnia and demonstrated to Bosnians during the thick of the war that their struggle had been correctly understood by at least a handful of people in the West prepared to 'take sides'.
It would be very worthwhile for this book now to be translated into Bosnian and published in Tuzla, so that ordinary people in Bosnia can learn of the very great efforts to support them that, despite betrayal by most Western politicians and leaders of all sorts, some very ordinary people elsewhere made to ensure Bosnia's survival.