bosnia report
No. 4 February - March 1994
Open Letters to Dick Spring
by Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill and Chris Agee

On 20 July 1993:

. . . We believe that the horrors of the conflict are set to escalate even fur- ther; that the genocide directed against the Muslims (well-documented by the In- ternational Court of Justice, the UN Reporteur on Human Rights, the UN War Crimes Commission, Human Rights Watch, etc) may well assume proportions reminis- cent of the Holocaust; and that the possibility of the third full-blown Balkan War this century is real and increasing. We view with alarm, and indeed are as- tounded and appalled, that the profession of principle and good intention by the Community is belied (and this is clearly revealed at Geneva) by what is now indubitably de facto Western collusion with the two tribal fascisms, the two imperia, intent on a carve-up of the ancient multi-ethnic land of Bosnia. We re- ject, as having legitimised the extremists, the "discourse of obfuscation" upon which this furtive collusion is based (particularly the notions of "civil war" and "symmetry of guilt") and believe that the Community should adopt a clearly annunciated policy repudiating partition in any form, and backing both the legal Bosnian government and the re-establishment of a democratic, pluralist and uni- tary state. Anything else will be judged historically as an unprecedented act of modern appeasement, conceding the gains engineered by war crimes and ensuring the ultimate acceptance (whatever is said) of the expulsion of a population one half the size of Ireland's.

Thus we request a meeting to outline specific proposals relating to the follow- ing issues:

  1. the controlled, defensive arming of the Bosnian government (the only side truly disadvantaged by the pre-independence embargo), in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter and Article 8 of the Genocide Convention 1948;

  2. the re-invigoration of a credible threat of ultimatum and military interven- tion, without which European diplomacy has become, in effect, appeasement;

  3. the removal of Lord OwÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌàen, the rejection of prima facie war criminals as va- lidinterlocuters, and the instigation of new negotiations (strictly based on the London Conference principles) which rule out a priori annexation, partition, loose confederation or any other related form of words;

  4. the use of the quite viable Tuzla airport for a huge Berlin-type Community airlift of aid and materiel to the Bosnian government;

  5. the establishment of secure and seriously enforced aid corridors through central Bosnia;

  6. the raising of the siege of Sarajevo and other cities, in accordance with existing UN Resolutions;

  7. the announcement of solemn undertakings by the Twelve relating to the perma- nent non-recognition and complete economic, political and cultural embargo of lands which remain ethnically cleansed and barred to the return of their origi- nal inhabitants;

  8. the formulation of a clear long-term Community strategy (none of any sort exists at the moment) aimed at securing both a pluralist and unitary Bosnia and the defeat of the recrudescence of fascism in the Balkans, including implicit support of the non-extremist, democratic oppositions in Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia;

  9. the return of displaced persons and expropriated property . . .

On 4 November 1993:

. . .To reiterate the premise and inspiration of our original letter: the meas- ure of a moral policy on Bosnia, Irish or European, is the degree to which geno- cide against the Muslims of Bosnia - past, continuing, looming - is the overrid- ing touchstone, the ne plus ultra of all political deliberation. It was, pre- cisely, the Community's substitution of `political comfort' for real resistance to this genocide (in actual deeds, rather than the rhetoric of meetings and negotiations) which was the overall impression we took away from the cat's-cra- dle of arguments - legitimate, disingenuous, dismaying - offered us at length by your officials, briefly by yourself. Our sense of the Government's passivity be- fore the cataclysm overtaking the Muslims was further strengthened by your fail- ure, in your otherwise laudable speech to the UN General Assembly, to address the dismemberment of Bosnia (surely the greatest European tragedy since WWII), despite the potential influence of such a contribution.

. . . It is a consolation of a sort that, whilst politicians shape historical experience, they do not by and large write the history that matters. Already in evidence are the beginnings of what will become, as the catastrophe of the Bosnian war drags on over the next decade, a crescendo of opprobrium directed toward those Western politicians whose appeasement acceded to the sacking of Bosnia. It is evident that a major strand of this coming historiography will (i) assign a decisive role to the United Nations and the European Community (not un- like the role of the Great Powers and League of Nations vis-a-vis the Treaty of Lausanne, 1924, which arranged for the expulsion of over a million Greeks and Turks from their homelands); and (ii) discern more than a whiff of Chamberlain and Daladier in the Bosnian policy of Britain and France. A general parallel is also likely to be drawn between the violent animus directed against the Jews of Middle and Eastern Europe in the thirties and the Muslims of the Balkans in the nineties - the continent's two great minorities, both superfluous to contempo- rary "considerations of national power and expediency", both caught in a dynamic of international indifference. As Salman Rusdie has remarked: who can doubt that if genocide of these proportions had been inflicted by a `Muslim horde' upon the Christian populations of Bosnia, the Western response would have been wholly different?

Ultimately, as an equal member of the Community, the Irish Governments of the past two years will bear a share of the responsibility for this new appeasement, particularly if Irish policy is seen to have been aligned (out of public ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌàview) with those of Britain and France. Not even an Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs keeping a low profile on the issue can emerge unscathed from the Community's abandonment of Bosnia, spearheaded so astutely and unconscionably by Douglas Hurd.

Another Bosnian moment of truth now looms for "European Political Cooperation". The savage toll of the coming winter: the collapse of the last Geneva plan: the reigniting of the "infernal machine" of full-blown war in Bosnia and Croatia: a Greek Presidency disgracing the European ideal with its support of Serbia and dark hints of a Greater Greece - these and other developments may present those member states discomfited by the false unanimity of Community policy on Bosnia with the starkest of choices. Will the Government be press-ganged further down the complacent road of inaction and appeasement, professing one thing and obliged to condone another, as described in our correspondence? Will it tolerate the current anti-Bosnian tenor of Community policy, referring to the shibboleth of cohesiveness, even if it means witnessing the final extinction of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the decimation of the Muslims and their culture on an even greater scale?

Indeed, given the current interregnum between the collapse of negotiations and a resurgence of greater violence, now is the time for the Government to jettison its deference to Britain and France on this issue, and to adopt a wholly new approach, a moral policy worthy of the name, with particular reference to a new framework of international negotiations, the dismissal of Lord Owen and a pro-Bosnian `tilt'. The Irish Government's approach to GATT demonstrates that the Community can accommodate strong dissensions. Is it too much to expect a similar independence of line in Irish policy on Bosnia, an issue of incomparably greater moral weight? We hope not: the cup of Balkan genocide is not yet drained.


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