bosnia report
New Series No: 39-40 April - July 2004
For and against the B-H state - II. The glory and the infamy
by Ivan Lovrenovic


The first day of March is a symbol productive of sharply contrasting reactions. A newspaper headline summed it up well, if not quite accurately: the Bosniaks celebrate it, the Croats recognise it, and the Serbs reject it. We are talking of the day twelve years ago when 64% of the population voted in a referendum for an independent and sovereign Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and when that evening barricades sprouted across Sarajevo manned by Karadžić’s supporters wearing face masks and armed to the teeth with weapons supplied from JNA depots.

Serb project

This was the introduction to an impending war, but also the climax of lengthy military and political arrangements conducted in secret - as testified to recently by Patrick Treanor, head of the Hague Tribunal’s legal investigation team, at the trial of Momčilo Krajišnik. In the report ‘Bosnian Serb leadership 1990-1992' that he prepared for the court, Treanor describes in detail the process of secret and continuous arming which started in the spring of 1991, and linked to it the rising curve of the increasingly aggressive rhetoric delivered by Radovan Karadžić and other SDS leaders.

The court was thus able to hear the tape of a telephone conversation between Karadžić and Gojko Đogo, then president of the League of Bosnian Serbs in Serbia, in which the former informed the latter: ‘They should know that twenty thousand armed Serbs have encircled Sarajevo. Sarajevo will become a great furnace that will consume three hundred thousand Muslims. I shall be telling them openly that there are three to four hundred thousand armed Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina, not to speak of the Army and its machinery. They do not realise that there will be rivers of blood and that the Muslim nation will disappear.’ The date is important here: the conversation between the two ‘poets’ and ‘humanists’ took place on 12 October 1991, i.e. five months before the referendum and the Sarajevo barricades.

The brandishing of phrases such as ‘rivers of blood’ and the figures of the dead which were to be ‘built into the foundations of the Serb state’ was characteristic of the behaviour of these Serb state-makers, though it was not easy to tell whether they derived greater pleasure and excitement from the projected numbers of ‘their own’ dead than from ‘ours’. While not properly established, it is widely accepted that in our day this notion may be ascribed to invented by Milorad Ekmečić, member of the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts and well-known Sarajevo historian. According to many witnesses he spoke readily and with stoic calm of two hundred thousand dead Serbs being a perfectly acceptable price for the building of the state, i.e. for the successful completion of ‘what we began in 1804 [with the uprising in Serbia against Ottoman rule]'.

The tragedy of contemporary Bosnia-Herzegovina, coloured with a strong dose of farce, symbolically and indeed clinically revealed each and every First of March, is that the state which it celebrates does not in fact exist. None of the ethnic subjects in whose name the state was made - who bled and died under its flag, for the sake of which neighbours belonging to the ‘wrong’ faith and nationality were tortured, murdered and otherwise destroyed - have it in fact. Paradoxically the Serbs have it least, despite having ‘their own’ Republika Srpska. Every Serb who thinks of himself as a ‘true Serb’ in the Ekmečić sense must know, or at least feel deep down, that this ‘republic’ is a historical joke and a swindle so far as the state-national dream is concerned: the dream of all Serbs in one state. It is possible, of course, to admit that this aim is utopian and that some Serbs may have to be left on the other side of the imagined border; but how is one to swallow the betrayal of Cvijić’s supreme national credo according to which Bosnia-Herzegovina is ‘the essence and the heart’ of the Serb state and nation?!1

Croats and Bosniaks

The Croats do not have their state in Bosnia-Herzegovina either. They voted ‘yes’ in the referendum, but split soon after into national integralists led by Tuđman, Š ušak and Boban - who militated against Bosnia-Herzegovina as a ‘colonial creation’ and a ‘prison of nationalities’, which should be destroyed in favour of an eternal and somewhat enlarged Croatia - and a smaller bloc who remained faithful to their original choice. During the war and especially in the post-Dayton period both sides emerged as losers. The former because political opportunism (at which they excelled!) forced them to pretend that they accepted Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was not true; and the latter because they lost everything and gained nothing. Alija Izetbegović was the first to scorn them, after having exploited their fortitude and energy, just as he scorned the Serbs who remained loyal to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Bosniak Muslims, who alone adore the First of March state and speak of it as being independent, sovereign, indivisible, internationally recognised and so on and so forth, have nothing of it either. We are speaking of those Bosniaks to whom Alija Izetbegović has bequeathed a dim state-building metaphysics encapsulated in two words: Bosnian idea! The sense of it is that, while things are not ideal and much uncertainty remains, the main aim has been achieved: ‘we have saved the Bosnian idea’. Even if it were possible to envisage that in this world of political realities and contingencies there may exist a kind of Platonic ‘refrigerator of ideas’, the real question which none of them is ready to confront in all its implications is what really remains of Bosnia, what part of it has in fact been saved. The truth is that nothing has been saved; that Bosnia is internally - structurally and mentally - ethnically and confessionally divided; and that this has come about precisely thanks to the united efforts of all the three ethnic political movements and their leaders. They are not equally guilty for the aggression against Bosnia-Herzegovina, for the war crimes and the destruction committed - that is hard historical fact and the scale of measurement has long been established. But so far as the final outcome is concerned they are equally deserving. One can only say that in all this the Bosniak Muslims represent the most tragic case in this story, since they have failed to discover a politically effective exit from the magic triangle: the imperative need to complete the process of national formation; the avid return to Islam as (also) a political identity; and the existential need for the state’s consolidation - which cannot be achieved, however, without unreserved respect for others and jettisoning the quest for ‘majority rights’.

Losers and winners

Those most bereft of their state is a fourth group - those who do not feel like stereotypical members of a confession or nationality, and who reserve for themselves the right to question all these micro-Orwellian ideological projects that seek - what a paradox! - to break up and dominate both domains. Not to speak of the meaning of the First of March for the vast number of impoverished, socially marginalised and existentially threatened from all the above-mentioned categories.

If, however, there is one group, layer, ‘nation’ that has good reason for celebrating the First of March, for whom the day is indeed significant, then we can easily tell who they are. They are the small yet diabolically powerful new class made up of professional politicians, war profiteers dressed up as businessmen, and one can serenely add some officials of the international administration - all of whom live in great comfort off the non-existence of the (legal) state of Bosnia-Herzegovina and are doing their best to make this condition permanent.

Translated from Feral Tribune (Split), 5 March 2004


   Table of contents

  Latest issue



  Support the Institute


home | about us | publications | events | news | Library | contact | bosnia | search | bosnia report | credits