Myth of the Month
[Many myths circulate about the war in Bosnia, and are repeated in British newspapers. We urge Alliance supporters to write in to these papers, contesting the
myths wherever they see them. Sometimes the relevant true facts are not easily
available; so in this series we aim to supply reliable information that supporters can use.]
News reports still continue to quote the claim, frequently made during the past
two years by Radovan Karadzic (and echoed in Foreign Office circles, from Douglas Hurd down), that the Serbs used to own 65% of the territory of Bosnia before the war. This claim is usually cited as one of the reasons why the Bosnian
Serb leadership is so reluctant to accept a "mere" 49 per cent of Bosnia under
the present so-called peace proposals.
There are two things wrong with this claim: it is wrong in principle, and wrong
as a matter of fact. The principle it depends on is an absurd one: it supposes
that the political identity of a geographical area should simply be a function
of private property-ownership. Thus, if everyone in London lived in rented
flats, and if the owners of the freeholds were a small number of Greek millionaires, this argument would imply that London should become part of Greece.
Secondly, the facts are wrong. According to the most recent land surveys before
the war, almost half (46%) of the total surface area of Bosnia was owned by the
state and the municipalities: it consisted of lakes, rivers, mountains, forests,
pastures, etc. and, crucially, most urban and industrial land. The largest
component of the remaining 54% was privately owned arable land: 44.8% of this
was owned by Bosnian Muslims, 42.6% by Serbs and 13% by Croats.