bosnia report
New Series No: 39-40 April - July 2004
Civil War and Civil Disagreement
by Gordana KneĹževic


It is hard to understand the anger expressed by Neven Anđelić in response to my review of his book Bosnia-Herzegovina: the end of a legacy.

In his search for the origins of the war in internal Bosnian circumstances, Anđelić is inclined to reject the idea of aggression: ‘My view is that there was more to the origins of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina than pure aggression from Serbia and Croatia’, he says in his book. And my disagreement with Anđelić's view is precisely about the causes of the war.

If the author insists on the role played by local forces as the major cause of the conflict, then we have a clear case of civil war, no matter what he chooses to call it. In my opinion the war in Bosnia started as a pure case of aggression from Serbia (and later Croatia, whose acts of aggression would have been inconceivable without the Serbian lead) By looking for the origins of the war in Bosnia's internal circumstances, Anđelić takes away the responsibility from the main culprits, namely Serbia and to a lesser extent Croatia, and by doing so he confuses rather than clarifies the real causes of the conflict. The devil is in the detail, but it affects the big picture too.

In defending his point of view Anđelić records a number of village quarrels, press releases by minor, unimportant political parties, official meetings that took place in the decade before the war. However, the war didn't happen as the result of a village fight, and it didn't erupt as a mutual 'struggle for more ethnic space' as Anđelić concludes in his book. General Kadijević of the JNA himself acknowledges in a book of his own that the goal of the conflict was the creation of a Greater Serbia, and it is hard to understand why Anđelić should argue against that obvious fact, and either minimize or ignore completely the roles played by Milošević and Tuđman, or by the Yugoslav Army, or by the Serb Academy of Arts and Sciences (SANU) . Perhaps the reason is that Kadijević's revelations, as well as many other facts highly relevant to his subject matter (the causes of the war), emerged only after Anđelić's pre-determined closing date for admissible facts - 1991? Does this mean that one could come up with different versions of the roots of the war depending on one's choice of 'last call' on events - be it 1987, 1989 or Anđelić's 1991? But far too much has become known since 1991 to be ignored, and all the evidence points in the direction of Belgrade (and Zagreb).

It is hard to discuss the issue with Anđelić, since for the sake of inventing an argument he even misrepresents quotations from his own book Here is just one example. In objecting to my criticism of his observations on the SDS (Serbian Democratic Party), he quotes only the first part of his own sentence: ‘The Serbs were the first to homogenize as a group with clear political aims....’ . He chooses not to quote the rest of his own sentence, which continues: ‘....but they (the Serbs) failed to set up an official party and to organize themselves effectively.’ ( Anđelić, p.165) The Serbs certainly didn't 'fail to organize themselves' ! They felt no need to do so 'officially', since their main organizational efforts were directed through the most powerful 'military wing' of all - the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and its recruitment lists. And if the systematic ethnic cleansing and the consequent redrawing of the ethnic map of Bosnia do not constitute 'effective' organization, then I shudder to think what would have transpired had the Serbs achieved this according to Anđelić's high standards.

The thoroughness with which the Serbs and the JNA executed the design of changing reality on the ground in Bosnia is only evidence of long-term planning for a war that, faced with such overwhelming pressure, no number of favourable local circumstances could have resisted. The months - and years - prior to the start of the war were spent by the JNA in special operations of the sort that a professional army normally conducts in preparation for a conflict – infinitely more significant as such than the toothless masquerading of a handful of hotheads from the SDA or the HDZ. Indeed Anđelić may find upon delving a little further into the subject that many of his all-important local circumstances destabilizing Bosnia on the eve of the war were in reality the direct result of covert (and overt) machinations by the JNA and its secret service.

I do sincerely thank Neven Anđelić for one correction: Hamdija Pozderac died in Sarajevo, and not in Belgrade as I wrote. However, what is far more relevant to the argument between us is the circumstances of his death, in other words the intense pressure of the witch-hunt orchestrated from Belgrade that marked the last months of his life.

It is sad that almost a decade after the war ended it is not possible to have a civil disagreement over its causes.


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