bosnia report
New Series No. 6/7 September - December 1998
Forked Tongue

Since the imposition of the Dayton Accords three years ago, no friend of Bosnia- Herzegovina can have failed to notice the vast gulf separating the proclaimed objectives of the country's international controllers from their actual practice. They say they would like a democratic B-H, but they deal with and reinforce the undemocratic forces confirmed in power by the peace settlement. They say they would like a reintegrated B-H, but they do everything to weaken the central state and to strengthen its ethnically monolithic subdivisions. They say they would like a multi-ethnic B-H, but they direct returning refugees firmly away from their homes towards an appropriate 'ethnic majority' area of the country, and when refugees do try to return home they refuse to provide security. They say they would like a B-H free from corruption, but they gloss over the fact that their own well-heeled presence atop a blocked and destitute indigenous economy constitutes a major source of corruption (both in the obvious material sense and, by inculcating a culture of dependency, also in political and even spiritual ways). And so on.

The Daily Telegraph

Just in the past few weeks, OSCE spokes people have attempted to gloss over the September election debacle (as Marshall Harris explains below), NATO troops have connived at the continued barring of Bosnjak refugees from HVO-controlled Stolac, and the OHR has sought to move towards standardization of educational textbooks in the most shameful and damaging way conceivable, by censoring the truth about the genocidal aggression against B-H in favour of a sanitized discourse acceptable to the perpet rators of the worst war crimes in Europe since World War II. Perhaps most tellingly of all, the Serb Civic Council's constitutional amendments (see BR original series, no. 19, June-August 1997), whose implementation would provide the indispensable precondition for creating the kind of Bosnia- Herzegovina that Western politicians are forever assuring us they would like to see, have been allowed to become bogged down seemingly irretrievably in a Constitutional Court three of whose nine judges are actually European Court of Human Rights appointees.

So what is the real policy, behind the rhetoric? Perhaps it is to persuade, however long it takes, the nationalist parties in power to permit at least some small percentage of 'minority' returns, and then proclaim the reintegration of Bosnia a success. At the same time to allow time to do its work by extinguishing the hopes of the great majority ever to go home and by consolidating existing power structures into a semblance of stability after which it will be possible to leave þ if this is indeed the wish and the intention. This is so-called 'realism': bargaining with those in power (while conveniently forgetÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ting their crimes); always putting pressure on the weakest party; and, if you can get through today, caring little for what will happen to the region tomorrow.

Unfortunately, however, unprincipled short-term policies of this kind are the very opposite of realistic. Rather, they are based on illusion. For the criminals left in power will move on to fresh crimes, as we have seen this year in Kosova, where Milosevic's scorched-earth campaign was waged with the complicity of the very Western politicians who so deplored it. And the racists left in power are anachronistic forces who can never preside over any healthy or viable future development.

The only genuinely realistic policy would involve a change of course as whole-scale as that which occurred, for instance, in Foreign Office thinking in 1917/18, when unconditional support for the integrity of Austria-Hungary gave way within a year to enthusiastic acceptance of the new successor states about to be accorded international legitimacy at Versailles.

It is true that in formal terms Western governments did indeed in 1991/2 accept the disappearance of Yugoslavia and recognize its successor states, including Bosnia-Herzegovina. But their attitude to the latter has precisely always been characterized by an abyss between formal recognition and complicity in practice with the new country's external and internal enemies. Much time has been lost throughout the region in shoring up doomed tyrants and sending demoralizing or wrong messages to potential oppositions. What would now be needed, to signal a new approach of opting consistently for democratic ways forward, would be a decisive symbolic act: the arrest of Karadzic and Mladic, say, followed by the indictment of Milosevic. This does not have to wait for the new millennium. What better way to celebrate the last year of the old one?


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