Straws in a new wind?
Within the space of a few midsummer days two, even three items of good news (at least in relative terms). First on 22 June 2004, under intense international pressure, RS president Dragan † avić finally acknowledges in a televised public statement that ‘the nine July days of the Srebrenica tragedy are a black page in the history of the Serb people’. Less than a week later, in the second round of presidential elections in Serbia, the candidate of Š ešelj’s Radicals loses to a rival widely presented as ‘pro-Western’ and reform-minded. Just three days after this, following B-H’s failure to gain entry to the Partnership for Peace at NATO’s Istanbul summit, HR Ashdown punishes with political and financial sanctions an unprecedented number of prominent RS officials accused of aiding Radovan Karadžić and other fugitives from the Hague tribunal. Is a new wind now blowing in these troubled areas of the former Yugoslavia? Has a corner been turned?
The first of these events is doubtless the most significant. Confronting the truth about the war waged in their name between 1992 and 1995 is essential, if the Bosnian citizens of RS are to play their part in making their country a viable and democratic state. Yet the Srebrenica massacre, however horrific, was in reality nothing but a final link in the chain of terrible crimes - each of them a ‘black page’ - committed in order to establish an ethnically pure Serb entity. The question still remains, indeed is now posed all the more starkly since † avić’s admission, of what purpose can possibly be served by the maintenance of an entity created by genocide.
So far as the election of Boris Tadić to the Serbian presidency is concerned, a number of reservations must temper any excessive hopes. The outcome is more symbolic than substantive, especially since the Radicals remain the strongest party in Serbia’s parliament, while their defeated presidential candidate won 45% of the votes defending an unalloyed Greater Serbian programme. The coalition government headed by Koštunica remains a nationalist pot-pourri, its planned ‘solution’ for Kosova smacking more of war than peace. Tadić himself may speak words that Western governments like to hear, but his record as defence minister encourages little hope of a break with the unreconstructed nationalist consensus that still holds Serbia’s political life in thrall.
As for Ashdown’s sanctions, welcome as these are, it is hard to believe that personnel changes can make much difference, when the problem is structural. Huge amounts of public money go to sustain the vast, parasitic hierarchy of bureaucratic apparatuses created by Dayton, which work not for the public good but for their own interest. These bodies are clearly not accountable to the people of the country, but only to OHR, which may periodically dismiss individual wrongdoers but remains unwilling to admit that qualitative progress in a democratic direction is impossible, so long as Bosnia remains the prisoner of structures created during the war with the intention precisely of preventing it from becoming a viable nation-state.