bosnia report
New Series No: 19/20 October - December 2000
 
Ostriches

At the end of 1998 we published in Bosnia Report (new series 6/7) a critical review of Richard Holbrooke's book To End a War by Paul Wolfowitz, who had been under-secretary of defense in the former Bush administration and is now likely to get an important post in the new one. Freed from the constraints of office, Wolfowitz was commendably forthright in his eschewal of conventional emollient spin, as in this comment:  while Holbrooke argues at length against the idea of partition, the Dayton Agreement comes very close to a partition, though accompanied by the fiction of a unified government - which was introduced in part to make a de facto partition more palatable to the Bosnians.

Five years have now passed since Dayton, and most Western officials are still spinning with all their might to conceal, or explain away, the bitter reality in Bosnia-Herzegovina: 1.2 million refugees from a prewar population of 4.3 million; a virtually ethnically pure Republika Srpska, where half the population was once non-Serb; non-functioning state institutions; porous borders, outside any control by the central authorities; apartheid in education; massive unemployment; minimal production, investment or economic restructuring - the sorry list could be extended. Even now, following general elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina that have frustrated all the expressed hopes of Western officials (see figures on page 3), they are still trying to put a positive gloss on what has happened, though their disarray is clear for all to see. To take just the most glaring contradiction: while during the war years and at Dayton the Bosnian authorities were put under extreme pressure to accept as valid interlocutors an SDS that they had rightly declared a criminal organization, now five years after Dayton US representatives are openly quarrelling with their European counterparts over what attitude to take to an SDS that has just emerged as the overwhelming victor of the elections in RS; and while the Europeans are for a pragmatic acceptance of facts on the electoral ground, the Americans propose ostracizing a criminal SDS that is the ideological mirror-image and preferred partner of the very Koatunica whom they have worked so hard to elect and for whom they have shown such indulgence in Serbia!

Yet some of the more clear-headed politicians and officials, whether from the United States or from Europe, know very well what needs to be done in Bosnia and throughout the former Yugoslavia. They know that Kosova cannot be put back under rule from Serbia, and that clarifying its status alone offers any serious hope of countering irredentism on both sides of their mutual border. They know that Montenegro cannot be denied a free choice on its future relationship with Serbia, while a Serbia dominating any of its neighbours cannot become democratic. They know that permitting the new authorities in Serbia to evade commitment to cooperation with the Hague Tribunal undermines democracy and the rule of law in B-H and in Croatia. They know it is unjust to blame the Bosnians for sticking to nationalist politics, so long as the Western powers insist - ostrich-like - on retaining the ethnic structures imposed at Dayton. They freely admit the need to strengthen the central institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina and reduce the competencies of the entities, and these days are speaking of the desirability of a single army for the country. Is it too much to hope that a new US administration, after an inevitable initial period of cautious reappraisal, may listen to the argument that only if the failed policies symbolized by Dayton are replaced by a new approach based on the real needs and democratic aspirations of the inhabitants of the region will it be possible, one day, to withdraw leaving stable structures behind?

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