bosnia report
No. 7 November - 1994
Myth of the Month

One of the most pernicious myths concocted by the propagandists of a Greater Serbia, and frequently repeated in the Western media, impugns the legitimacy of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a sovereigh, independent state on the grounds that 'the Serbs' have never accepted its sovereignty or independence. John Zametica, a 'specialist on European security' (subsequently to be reincarnated as Jovan Zametica, official spokesman for Radovan Karadzic) gave the myth perhaps its first full elaboration, in the Guardian (11 May 1993). He was soon followed by Misha Glenny in the New York Review of Books (27 May 1993) Since then the refrain has cropped up in numerous pundits' columns and readers' letters.

The argument runs that since 'the Serbs' were a 'constituent nation' whose consent was required in constitutional matters, their opposiion to Bosnian sovereignty and independence invalidated these. Secondly, 'the Serbs' boycottted the February/'March 1992 referandum on independence, so this could have no legitimacy. The bogus nature of the argument quickly becomes apparent, however, once three circumstances are taken into account.

  1. The constitutional order of former Yugoslavia was defunct, having been comprehensively shattered in the course of Milosevic's 1987-9 uncompromising drive for supreme power; that legitimized the move of Bosnia and other republics to independence.

  2. Although Serbs were/are indeed a constituent nation of Bosnia, ie. equal in rights but also in responsibility for the well-being of the republic as a whole, this did not mean that the Bosnian state was organized in a tripartite way. On the contrary, in its external relations Bosnia (unlike Serbia itself) was always a unitary state, so that the assembly majorities for affirming Bosnian sovereignty and seeking international recognistion from the Badinter Commission were constitutionally entirely valid.

  3. It was not 'the Serbs' who boycotted Bisnia's independence referendum but the multi-ethnic areas already under SDS (Serb nationalist) military occupation that were prevented from taking part, while many Serbs especially in the larger towns not only participated but voted for Independence. Indeed, the SDS leadership's decision to boycott the referendum can be explained only by its fear that, left to decide for themselves, most Serbs might indeed vote for independence.

The plain fact is that the referendum, which was conducted on normal democratic (ie. 'non- ethnic') lines as specified by the European Community and problaimed fair by an army of international observers, saw a two-thirds majority of the total electorate and an overwhelming majority of voters opting for independence. In contrast with this democratic expression of the willÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ of the Bosnian people, at no time did the SDS seek, or was it granted, a mandate from Bosnian Serbs to reject the referendum verdict in favour of a secessionist war against the Bosnian state or the other nations of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The legitimacy of the new Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, within its centuries-old borders, was thus established unambiguously by that democratic verdict. It has indeed been contested on the ground through mass terror and genocide; not, however, by 'the Serbs,' but by the proponents of racial purity and blood-and-soil nationalism. And also, of course, by their appeasers, deluding themselves that ethnic partition will bring peace and stability - if not democracy - to the Balkans.


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