bosnia report
New Series No. 4 June - July 1998
Whistling in the Wind

Notoriously, as the former Yugoslavia entered the final stages of its dissolution under the impact of Milosevic's drive towards a Greater Serbia, the then US Secretary of State James Baker visited Belgrade and proclaimed his administration's unswerving support for Yugoslavia's survival. His ill-judged declaration was not merely a naive refusal to face reality; it also (even if perhaps unwittingly) encouraged hardliners in Serbia and the JNA to resort to military force in pursuit of their aims, first in Slovenia, subsequently in Croatia and Bosnia. And although Baker's symbolic offer of life-support for what was already a cadaver was soon abandoned, the attitude underlying it continued to distort Western policy in the region.

What was needed was consistent support for the successor states which emerged from the former Yugoslav Federation, with the aim of helping them to become viable and democratic independent countries, upon the basis of which a new regional stability might be established. This meant insisting upon the right of the former members of the Federation to decide freely their joint or separate futures - and, indeed, a framework for allowing just this was created through the Badinter Commission.

Simultaneously, however, other and disastrous policies were followed which went in exactly the opposite direction.

First, an arms embargo was imposed on the victims of aggression as well as on the perpetrators: this not only impaired the ability of the former to protect their people and fend off the attack; it not only weakened - in the eyes even of sections of their own population - the legitimacy that was rightfully theirs; but it also contributed mightily to the growth of corruption, gangsterism and anti-democratic practices as they struggled to arm themselves for survival.

Secondly, the JNA was allowed under the Vance Plan to withdraw its heavy weaponry from Croatia into Bosnia.

Thirdly, successive settlements were sought that enshrined the very principles of 'ethnic' separation that inspired the aggressors, culminating in the ethnic quotas and territorial rewards for aggression of the Dayton Accords. Fourthly, the legitimate authorities of newly independent Bosnia-Herzegovina were progressively reduced to the status of a mere 'warring party' in a conflict that was deliberately mis-defined as civil. The list could be continued.

Today, in Kosova, the US and European governments, while loudly asserting their determination not to repeat the mistakes of Bosnia, are in reality doing just that. As Noel Malcolm wrote recently: 'The Western governments' prime error is their refusal to allow any discussion of independence for Kosovo. Here they repeat the mistake they made in 1991, when they told the Slovenes, who had campaigned peacefully for independence, that it was out of the question. Eventually, after a short war in Slovenia and a long and bloody one in Croatia, it was accepted. Our diplomats are afraid of setting a new precedent for ethnic separatism, under which ethnic groups elsewhere (including Macedonia) would follow the Kosovo Albanians' example. They fail to understand that Kosovo's case simply applies the precedent under which Slovenia and Croatia gained independence: the argument is based not on ethnic maps, but on the legal rights of the constituent units of the old, federal Yugoslavia. Kosovo was one such unit; Macedonia was another. If Western governments accepted the argument for Kosovo's eventual independence on this basis, they would actually be strengthening their support for Macedonia's own integral statehood. Western politicians and diplomats are displaying a painful slowness to learn the real lessons of their previous mistakes. The pain will be felt most keenly by the thousands of Albanians and Serbs (and, possibly, Macedonians) who may die while waiting for them to complete their education'.


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