bosnia report
No. 5 April - 1994
Reactions in Belgrade to the Washington Accord
by Branka Magas

Surveying the Belgrade press during the first two weeks of March, one gets the impression of a great unease. Moscow's sudden entry into the diplomatic fray, following the NATO ultimatum on Sarajevo, was greeted by some with glee - since Serbia seemed to have gained a powerful protector. But many fear that Serbia, in any eventual renewal of an East-West division, would find itself a protectorate of an impoverished and unstable Russia. "The Nato ultimatum serves to change the balance of forces on the ground, after which a lasting solution can be imposed. With the Croat-Muslim agreement the USA is drawing a clear demarcation line between East and West, leaving the Bosnian Serbs with a choice of either joining the new entity (and thus helping to lift the sanctions) or retaining a pariah status". (NIN, 11.3.1994). "It is natural that Belgrade and Moscow should have good relations, but it is equally natural that Belgrade should have good relations with Washington, London, Paris, Berlin or Vienna, and that this should not be sacrificed for anybody's [i.e. Karadzic's] sake". (NIN, 4.3.1994) At the same time, it is assumed that the price for the American and Russian involvement in Bosnia "will be paid by the Serbs. First affected will be the Serbs in Croatia, since at the end of March UNPROFOR's mandate runs out and Croatia will seek a reward for its signature on the Washington agreement. Something similar will happen also to the Bosnian Serbs, whose negotiating position is stronger, but who have been seriously shaken by the latest American military and political moves".

The withdrawal of heavy artillery from around Sarajevo and the opening of Tuzla Airport are seen as a defeat for Karadzic, and especially for General Mladic, who did all he could to resist. Indeed, it required a charged meeting between Russian special envoy Churkin and Mladic for the general to comply - despite the fact that Milosevic and Karadzic had already agreed. Mladic's relative autonomy rests, NIN writes, on the support he commands in the Serbian military establishment, which find the war in Bosnia useful for maintaining its influence over the politicians. On the issue of Tuzla Airport, Mladic and the so-called Yugoslav army found themselves in agreement: this brings NATO to within five minutes flight-time from Belgrade. As for Sarajevo, military circles are quoted in support of the view that "Sarajevo is now lost for the Serb side".

It is the potential turnaround in the military situation, in the event of the Croatian-Bosnian agreement being implemented, that is seen as particularly worrying. The agreement is understood as resulting from the growing strength of the Bosnian army, which is now in control of several armaments factories. Peace ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÀbetween Croatia and Bosnia would allow a more intensive arming of Bosnia. Moreover, the demilitarization of Sarajevo, Mostar and certain towns in central Bosnia would allow the Bosnian army to redeploy its forces and go onto the offensive against "the Serbs". The normalization of life in Sarajevo is expected to be followed by the opening of communications between Sarajevo, Zenica and Tuzla: between them lies an area with an estimated 650,000 people, many of whom are refugees from Zvornik, Bratunac, Bijeljina, etc. They would become the core of an army raised for a mass attack on Serbian lines, in the first instance in the east. "The war now loses in quality (weapons) and gains in quantity (manpower)". The "Republika Srpska" army lacks the troops required to man a very long frontline, stretching from Bosanska Krupa in the west to the enclaves of Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde and the left bank of the Drina in the east, and from Brcko in the north to Popovo Polje in the south. It is in the Bosnian east that a Bosnian offensive is envisaged and feared: the situation there is described as critical. There are those who would, therefore, prefer to hand these enclaves back, but Mladic - sitting in his bunker in Han-Pijesak - is against it. At stake is the link between northern Bosnia and eastern Herzegovina, which Mladic sees as his personal contribution to the (ethnically pure) Greater Serb state. But that this option may well be under consideration is testified to by Montenegrin President Bulatovic's recent and surprising talk of Montenegro expanding to include eastern Herzegovina. Such an outcome would, of course, change the ethnic balance in that former Yugoslav republic to the disadvantage of ethnic Montenegrins. The idea of expansion has been vigorously attacked by the democratic opposition in Montenegro.

If the new military situation arising from the Croatian-Bosnian peace is one subject of concern, another is the economic situation in the "krajinas": the conquered areas of Croatia and BosniaüHerzegovina. Their economic activity is down to 15-20% of prewar capacity. That they have survived thus far has been due to direct aid from Serbia, to the tune of 20% of its own budget. The new economic programme of the "Yugoslav" government, introduced without any consultation with "krajina" economists, envisages the reduction of this aid to 5%. Apart from that, there is no reference in the programme to "krajina" needs. The economic system of the "krajinas" lacks any structure of taxes or wages, nor do they have a currency - other than the Deutschmark. Serbia has now, most unwillingly, allowed the new "strong dinar" to start circulating in these areas, and has sent its officials to supervise their books. In return, the "krajinas" have been forced to deposit what meagre foreign currency they have in the National Bank in Belgrade. An already dire economic situation is thus expected to get much worse, with unpredictable consequences. The Belgrade daily Borba, describing the situation in the key town of Brcko, reports great dissatisfaction with their pay and food among "Republika Srpska" soldiers, who blame war profiteers. Soldiers and civilians regularly cross the heavily mined no man's land - made up largely of looted and burnt out Muslim villages to forage for whatever they can find to take back and sell on the streets of Brcko.

It should, therefore, perhaps come as no surprise to see Ratko Mladic described, in such a prominent journal as NIN, as a psychopath and war criminal, by the former editor of People's Army (journal of the now defunct JNA), who in all likelihood is close to the League of Communists - Movement for Yugoslavia, the party created by Yugoslav generals back in 1990 whose leading member is Mirjana Markovic, wife of Slobodan Milosevic.


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