bosnia report
No. 19 June - August 1997
Defend the Flag
by from the Editors

Since the arrival in office of Madeleine Albright and Robin Cook, we have heard some ringing declarations of principle with respect to Bosnia's future. There has even been increasing talk recently of a country with 'two multi-ethnic entities' (which should in principle mean accepting the Serb Civic Council's proposed constitutional changes: see p.3 below). And we have witnessed the spectacular action by SFOR at Prijedor, in which one war-crimes suspect was arrested and another was killed resisting arrest. Unfortunately, however, despite all this there is an abundance of evidence indicating that the West's underlying policies remain unchanged: de facto ethnic partition of the territory; distribution of political power between the main nationalist parties; refusal to make a public and programmatic distinction between those who have fought to preserve Bosnia-Herzegovina and those who are still seeking to destroy it; refusal to use SFOR to enforce the integrative, civilian elements of the Dayton AccÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÄords; reliance on the anti-Bosnian regimes in Belgrade and Zagreb to secure such limited 'implementation of Dayton' as is required.

Ever since the Dayton Accords were drafted, it has been clear that they were internally contradictory and could lead to two quite different outcomes, depending on how (or if) they were implemented. For example, they divided the country on the basis of military realities on the ground' and attached ethnic labels to the resulting 'entities'. But at the same time they provided for the right of refugees to return to their homes, and for free and democratic elections on the basis of the pre-war census - things which, if they happened, would make nonsense of the Dayton maps and percentages. Since then, however, we have seen the US and European officials supervising implementation of the Agreement consistently favour its disintegrative over its integrative elements. They proceeded with elections last year, and are now doing so again at the municipal level, in the full knowledge that none of the preconditions had been established or the vote to be free or democratic (as the articles published here make clear). They have been encouraging (in the case of Germany compelling) the return of refugees to so-called 'ethnic majority areas' rather than to their own homes, thus completing the vile work of the wartime ethnic cleansers. At a more fundamental level, moreover, the basic message that the powers involved in Bosnia - above all Britain, France and the United States - have been transmitting ever since 1991, with their succession of ethnically based 'plans, has given comfort to the proponents of racially pure states and weakened those advocating democratic mullet-national societies, within Bosnia-Herzegovina itself and also in Croatia and Serbia.

The central hypocrisy, and fatal flaw, of Western policy is well illustrated by the Sintra Declaration published here (see pp-11). Because the whole edifice is founded on the idea that the war was a civil conflict, with 'warring parties' similar in nature and deserving equal treatment, every last shred of legitimacy of the wartime Bosnian republic is ignored, every claim that it represented citizens rather than mono-ethnic constituencies is dismissed. It is not to be wondered at that even such elements of the post-Dayton state, deliberately fashioned to be extremely weak, as have actually been put in place are hamstrung by proponents of a 'democracy' based on racial purity. Such bodies are in any case expressly designed to operate only by horse-trading between three nationalist parties.

The proposed fate of the country's flag, adopted by the national assembly when it voted for sovereignty, and under which its people voted for independence and it became a member of the United Nations, is emblematic of Western intentions. The lilies drawn from the arms o Bosnia's mediaeval kings represent the country's state continuity rather than its ethnic groups, and as such may be identified with by any citizen, irrespective of religious or national background. What is more, they have come to symbolise Bosnia-Herzegovina's magnificent struggle for survival, against what at times seemed overwhelming odds. But Sintra requires the lily flag to be replaced by a new one 'representative of the new constitutional order,' which can only mean one incorporating insignia of the three ethnic groups. Here we see ethnicization imposed on B-H by the West - and betrayal of all those who fought under that flag for ideals that the West claims to defend.

The Sintra requirements regarding diplomatic representation show the same basic thrust. While Sarajevo has pressed for the prior establishment of a common foreign ministry, with agreed criteria (not purely ethnic) for the selection and operation of B-H diplomats, and also for the representation of 'others' in the country's foreign service, the West has backed SDS and HDZ demands for equal quotas in a three-way split between the nationalist parties. Again, an ethnicization of politics that deliberately sÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÄqueezes out such long-serving B-H representatives as Sven Alkalaj in Washington, who is Jewish, or Nikola Kovac in Paris, a Serb loyal to Bosnia.

The fact nevertheless remains that Dayton cannot provide a durable solution. Unless its integrative elements are implemented, Bosnia-Herzegovina will fall apart and there will be long-term instability throughout the region. If they are implemented, however, its partitionist side will be swept away by the new realities on the ground. The present equilibrium is like a house of cards: it would take just one important civilian provision of Dayton to be implemented and the barriers would tumble. Richard Holbrooke has recognized this, referring to the return of refugees, but he was being disingenuous. For how is this to be achieved, given SFOR's refusal to make it possible?

The first precondition for the return of refugees, of course, and the easiest to accomplish, would be the arrest of all those indicted for war crimes, beginning with Karadzic, Mladic and Kordic. This is indeed imperative. But this would take on full meaning only in the context of a true change of policy, in which US and European politicians lived up to their democratic rhetoric.


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