bosnia report
New Series No. 3 March - May 1998
 
The Perils of Appeasement

As Slobodan Milosevic inaugurates a fresh cycle of violence, it is only appropriate to remind ourselves that Bosnia's tragedy began not in 1992 but several years earlier, when as Serbian president he forcibly suppressed the autonomy of the Yugoslav province of Kosova and thereby destroyed the constitutional foundations of the Yugoslav Federation. The West then largely turned a blind eye, in the mistaken belief that this would help save Yugoslavia. The wars of aggression upon which Milosevic subsequently embarked not only ensured the country's violent disintegration, but also destabilized the Balkan region as a whole. As we have always argued, the Western (and for a long time especially British) policy of appeasing the chauvinist and expansionist regime installed in Belgrade has represented the worst option for the region and all of its peoples, including the Serbs. Belgrade's current military action against the Albanian population of Kosova proves once again how wrong-headed was the notion once cherished by Douglas Hurd and the Foreign Office that, if satisfied in Bosnia (and for that matter in Croatia), Serbia under Milosevic would become a pillar of regional stability. Equally mistaken is the notion that Western inaction in regard to Kosova will help Western efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The recruitment of Bosnian Serbs into Serbian paramilitary forces active in Kosova is already a reality. Western passivity towards the problem of Kosova will only strengthen Belgrade's desire to make Bosnia part of its 'solution'. The fateful link between what happens in Bosnia, in Kosova and in Serbia explains why a substantial part of this special issue of Bosnia Report is concerned with Kosova and the Serbian-Montenegrin federation.

The unfortunate truth appears to be that, despite some welcome changes in Western public pronouncements over the past year - in relation to return of refugees, for instance - the patterns established in previous years have by no means been superseded. To take just one particularly symbolic example, consider the way in which the international bodies now exercising a virtual de facto protectorate over Bosnia-Herzegovina have chosen to cope with the results of last September's municipal elections in Srebrenica. Of all the towns where Bosniaks constituted a prewar majority of citizens, in Srebrenica alone the Coalition for an Integral and Democratic B-H won an outright majority. But there alone the normal procedures for forming a local administration reflecting such a majority were not followed. While in Foca, Visegrad or Zvornik the supporters of Pale were confirmed in unfettered power by the OHR-supervised 'implementation' process, in Srebrenica a 'mixed' council was projected, in which the Coalition would have had to play second fiddle despite its victory. When even this plan then fouÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ndered on the intransigence of the Pale hardliners, High Representative Carlos Westendorp simply dismissed the entire council and installed a provisional committee based on parity. So much for the elections! But perhaps these double standards and dubious procedures are not really that important, given that the local administrations can hardly be other than cosmetic in these areas to which not a single expelled non-Serb has been able to return.

After admitting the big nationalist parties, some of which have also been openly partitionist, through the main door by making them co-responsible for implementing Dayton, and by enshrining the ethnic principle in every part of the Dayton structure, the international community has now discovered the threat of nationalism and the danger that such parties pose to cooperation between parts of Bosnia controlled by them - a control upon which it has itself mainly relied hitherto. The new belief now seems to be that changing a few people at the top will trigger positive changes down below. The Srebrenica case, like those of Prijedor or Brcko, shows that this does not work. An altogether more robust effort is required to return people to their homes - one that confronts the issue of power on the ground. And we should be in no doubt that democracy in Bosnia - Herzegovina, and economic recovery too, are primarily a function of the country's real ethnic reintegration.

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