Western ambassadors and Western civilisation
by Senad Pecanin
Not a single Western ambassador responded to the invitation of the surviving Bosniaks from Srebrenica to attend their meeting on Monday 12 March 2007, at which they wished to explain their demand of the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina that Srebrenica be allowed to leave the RS entity. Those who did go to Srebrenica on that day included SDA politicians, [presidency member] Željko Komšić from the SDP, and ambassadors from the Islamic countries. It seems that Western ambassadors were prevented from joining them by the fear that doing so might annoy Milorad Dodik, the RS premier.
The moral wretchedness of the decision not to attend on the part of the ambassadors of the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands was heralded by a visit to Srebrenica by the High Representative, Christian Schwartz-Schilling. Having avoided the actual meeting on the Monday, he read out to the press a note written on a piece of paper which deserves to be recorded and analysed: ‘A genocide was committed here, and all those who refuse to accept the verdict of the International Court of Justice place themselves beyond all civilisational norms.’ Schwartz-Schilling and all of Bosnia-Herzegovina know full well that Milorad Dodik has on several occasions publicly denied that genocide took place in Srebrenica. The extent of the hypocrisy of Schwartz-Schilling and his Western colleagues is illustrated by the gap between their words and their deeds: while setting those who deny the genocide beyond all civilisational norms, they also took care not to offend the prime minister of Republika Srpska who does precisely that.
Schwartz-Schilling read out his statement at the Memorial Centre in Potočari. Security for his visit to the graveyard of the victims of genocide was provided by the very same police force which, according to the ICJ judgment, had together with the Army of Republika Srpska committed that genocide. One may well imagine a scene in which, following the end of World War II, foreign dignitaries turn up to pay their respects to the victims of the Nazi camp at Buchenwald and are protected by policemen wearing swastikas on their sleeves. It is impossible, indeed offensive, to imagine such a thing, is it not? Yet the High Representative and the Western ambassadors continue to meet a man who denies the genocide, and to beg him to accept European principles of police reform - according to which there should be no place for those guilty of genocide.
I know most of these Western ambassador, and know they are not happy with their allotted role. But I cannot feel sorry for them for finding themselves in this miserable position, because the transformation of the RS premier into a denier of genocide did not happen overnight. They had both the possibility and the obligation to prevent it from happening. Like animals caught in a strong light, they are paralysed by his threat of a referendum [on RS secession]. In order to camouflage their own moral and diplomatic bankruptcy, they seek to establish an artificial symmetry between the positions held by Dodik and those espoused by Haris Silajdžić. They do not understand how fortunate they are that the Bosniaks remain satisfied - but for how long? - with Silajdžić’s articulation of their sense of humiliation and injustice.
The Western ambassadors do not understand that they are sending a very dangerous message to the Bosnian Muslims by appeasing Dodik, and by leaving it to their colleagues from Islamic countries to honour the survivors of genocide and to show understanding for their demand for changing the status of Srebrenica. If not even a verdict of genocide issued by two international courts can oblige Western ambassadors to eliminate or at least remedy the existing constitutional arrangements in Bosnia-Herzegovina, rooted in this most terrible crime, then the Bosnian Muslims can be forgiven for wondering whether the West did in fact simply overlook the possibility that genocide might occur in that ‘UN-protected area’. By failing to prevent genocide when it could, Western diplomacy in the persons of Owen, Stoltenberg, Boutros Ghali, Akashi et al. showed us its cynical and perverse face. In failing today to take action against those who deny genocide, seeking instead to appease them, Western ambassadors lay themselves open to the charge that they too may be placing themselves beyond all civilisational norms.
Translated from Dani (Sarajevo), 16 March 2007