The Battle of Bosnia
by Mirko Pejanovic
From the start Karadzic's war against Bosnia had as its chief aim - an aim which he never bothered to hide - to achieve ethnic and confessional separation, dividing Bosnian Serbs from Bosnian non-Serbs in order to achieve a racially pure Serb state. The human suffering caused by this attempt at social engineering, involving as it has mass murder and deportation of millions, jhas been enormous. Given Bosnia's delicate ethnic lacework, the policy of 'ethnic cleansing' - carried out in the Serb name - cannot fail also to destroy Serb existence in this shared space.
On the eve of the war Bosnia had around 4,400,000 citizens, nearly half of them Muslims (Bosniaks). Today, 10% of these Bosniak are dead and almost 50% have been forced into exile. Of the 700,000 Bosnian Croats, less than half are still to be found in Bosnia-Herzsegovina. As for the Bosnian Serbs, out of the original 1,300,000, 400,000 have left the country and an estimated 100,000 have died. Of the rest, 200,000 live on free territory and 600,000 under Karadzic's control. Thus for Bosnian Serbs too this war has been a catastrophe. Their tragedy lies also in the fact that much of the outside world (notably the Western leaders) has accepted those who have brought them to their present calamitous pass as their only spokesmen. In this way they have been made into a criminal nation.
Yet the figures speak for themselves. In one way or another, half the Bosnian Serbs have rejected Karadzic's racial war. They have either chosen exile or remained with their Muslim and Croat neighbours. They are to be found in the Bosnian parliament, whose speaker is a Serb. Serbs serve in the Bosnian government and state presidency, and are fighting in the Bosnian army in mixed or separate units. At the start of the war, it was a Serb who commanded the defence of Sarajevo, defeating several attempts by a far superior force to compel the city's surrender. Wishing both to give the lie to Karadzic's claim (unfortunately and inexplicably accepted by the Western democracies) that he along speaks for Bosnian Serbs and to counter the widespread perception of this war as an ethnic conflict, in March of this year Serb citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina set up a Serb Civic Council. We are committed to coexistence and equality between Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs; the integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina within its internationally recognized borders; a parliamentary democracy based on scrupulous respect for human rights; and a peaceful settlement of the current conflict. We support the extension of the Washington Agreement to the rest of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
If you compare this progra mme with that of Karadzic, it becomes clear that the war in BoÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ
snia is not between its peoples, but between two opposing visions. One side believes in a peaceful and democratic society based on the continuity of Bosnia's multiethnic and multi-religious fabric; the other seeks a militaristic and fascistic structure based on religious and racial purity, established by mass murder and deportations.
There is no doubt which of these two projects better serves Bosnian Serb interests. Thre are good reasons to believe, moreover, that the majority of the Serb population living on territory controlled by Karadzic likewise longs for an end to bloodshed, and that most of those who have left would like to return to their homes. Bosnians of all nationalities today yearn for peace and a return to normality, which means coexistence with their neighbours. They want peace, but peace is being denied to them. What stands between them and peace is not just Karadzic's military machine, but the cold indifference to their fate of the leaders of the world's most powerful countries.
Why is the voice of democratic Serbs ignored by governments professing unconditional support for parliamentary democracy, in favour of that of war criminals? The Bosnian Serbs living on free territory cannot understand why the true nature of this war is being misunderstood and misrepresented. It is hard for us to comprehend how democratic states can stand by and watch a genocide take place unhindered and unpunished, and why its perpetrators are received as valid inlocutors. It is especially difficult for us to understand why Europe, which went to war against fascism only a generation or two ago, now seems ready to tolerate and appease those who speak in the name of racial purity and ethnic apartheid.
We feel we have the right to demand a different behaviour from the international community and protest against its policy which refuses to distinguish between right and wrong. Due to the arms embargo, it has been difficult for us to build up our defence forces and thus protect our population. What is more, each attempt on our part to safeguard the lives of our civilians - be it in Gorazde, Sarajevo or most recently in Bihac - risks not only a terrible retribution from Karadzic's well-supplied forces, but exposes us also to the charge of detracting from the 'peace process.' This despite the fact that, unlike Karadzic's side, we have accepted each peace plan, however unjust, put to us by the international community. And whereas we are forever being told that only a political solution will do, and that we should suspend all our military activities and stop asking for the arms embargo to be lifted, Karadzic's offensives not only to unpunished but are actually rewarded by more and more concessions to both Belgrade and Pale. The Contact Group plan, which was put forward on a 'take it or leave it' basis, is now being modified in a way that would abrogate the sovereignty and integrity of a member state of the United Nations.
The international community should decide once and for all, clearly and openly, which side it is on. Does it support a democratic, pluralist and tolerant Bosnia or those who seek to destroy that state and society in the name of an atavistic ideology which all of us hoped had been defeated fifty years ago? All other decisions -about the arms embargo, the protection of safe areas, humanitarian aid, the right combination of political and military pressure to bring about a negotiated settlement - follow from that primary decision.
The people of Bosnia-Herzsegovina yearn for peace. We have suffered enough. Yet if peace with justice is denied to us, we shall be left with no other choice but to continue our struggle for survival, come what may. The Bosnian army may lose battles, but the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina will not lose the war.
A slightly longer version of this text appeared in The Tablet, London, 3 December, 1994.