bosnia report
No. 16 July - October 1996
Legitimizing Genocide

When Milosevic launched his war against the newly independent Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina in April 1992, the task of his local proxies - the Serb Democratic Party, headed by Radovan Karadzic, and its armed forces, led by Ratko Mladic and financed from Belgrade - was to carve out the largest possible "Serb" state on Bosnian territory. Genocidal terror was systematically deployed in order to clear the majority non-Serb population from eastern Bosnia, from Posavina in the north, and from the area round Prijedor in the west, as the first stage in replacing an ancient multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Bosnian society by a racially pure Lebensraum for Bosnian Serbs alone. This project was to a large extent realized, mainly thanks to a United Nations arms embargo upon the victim of aggression. It was then, for good measure, legitimized at Dayton. By forcing the Bosnian government both to hold back its army when Banja Luka was within its grasp and to recognize - in Geneva and at Dayton - the racist system and structure of Republika Srpska, the Clinton Administration and its European co-thinkers conferred retrospective legitimacy upon a project of the very kind that was denounced as a crime against humanity back in 1945 at Nuremberg.

To be sure, Republika Srpska was not granted independence at Dayton. Moreover, the right of the people its authorities had spent four years killing and deporting to return home was formally asserted there. These minimal concessions to proclaimed international principles and human decency, however, have remained a dead letter. In theory, even a flawed, unjust and contradictory Dayton settlement could have given the NATO powers a chance, by building on its positive provisions, to undermine and later jettison its iniquitous elements. In practice,however, that opportunity has been wasted. Republika Srpska has been permitted to act - and been treated - as a de facto sovereign entity. Its obstruction of frÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ̸eedom of movement, its prevention of any return of refugees, indeed its continuation of ethnic cleansing, have been met by NATO troops on the ground at best with scant challenge, at worst with complicity. For they have treated the line of demarcation between "Republika Srpska" and the Federation - in the Dayton Accords a purely administrative boundary - as a de facto international frontier, thereby legitimizing in practice also the secessionist intent behind its original forcible establishment. The United States and its allies have quite simply failed to honour their commitments to preserve Bosnia as one state with an effective central government, to restore its multiüethnic and democratic institutions, to provide adequately for its defence, and to ensure freedom of movemnet for its citizens and the return of refugees to their homes. Last but not least, they have failed to bring war criminals to justice.

One of Dayton's clearest provisions was that individuals indicted by the court in The Hague cannot hold public office in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Yet it took over six months for the representatives of the `international community' to achieve Karadzic's nominal replacement by Biljana Plavsic, an aficionada of Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan" and Karadzic's own closest associate in four years of war against the state and people of Bosnia-Herzegovina and genocidal anti-Muslim crusade. Mladic, meanwhile, has been left at the head of an army permitted under Dayton to remain on Bosnian territory. In any case, by concentrating so overwhelmingly on the individual case of Karadzic and pretending that a satisfactory deal has been achieved with his very partial removal from the public scene, the United States and its European partners have allowed the whole project incarnated in the SDS and Republika Srpska to slip from public attention. "The failure to arrest the indicted Bosnian Serb leadership before the Bosnia-wide elections firmly guarantees a vote that is neither free nor fair. It is also poisoning the prospects for even short-term peace, contributing to Bosnia's political disintegration and partition, and undermining the principles of international justice. The immediate apprehension of Mladic and other indicted war criminals would represent a strong first step that could arrest or even begin to reverse this invidious process". (Action Council for Peace in the Balkans, Washington, 30 August 1996)

By allowing unabashed ethnic cleansers to remain in power and run in the September 1996 Bosnian elections, Washington and its allies are providing the mechanism whereby their monstrous "entity" will be given legitimacy, and its future secession from Bosnia-Herzegovina accepted as inevitable. In the words of Kris Janovski of UNHCR, it is as if elections had been held in postwar Germany with the Nazi Party competing and the SS being responsible for overall security. The leaders of the SDS and their Radical Party allies do not even bother to hide their intention to use the elections to enhance Republika Srpska sovereignty, as a prelude to final separation from Bosnia. It is not just that the elections - as Dole recently wrote in an open letter to Clinton calling on him to postpone them - will be "neither free nor fair, but a fraud". Worse still, they will provide a veneer of international legitimacy for the SDS political project of racial purity, and for Bosnia's partition along ethnic lines.

What Bosnia's people, Bosnjak, Croat and Serb alike, want and need is above all to return home, in order to begin rebuilding their shattered individual and social existence: this should be the cornerstone of the outside world's policy towards Bosnia-Herzegovina.


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