bosnia report
New Series No: 19/20 October - December 2000
After Milosevic - the situation of Bosnia and Kosova
by Desmond O'Malley T.D.

After Miloševic – the situation of Bosnia and Kosova

Desmond O’Malley T.D.

The fall from power of Slobodan Miloševic must be celebrated by democrats everywhere. The emergence of President Koštunica as Serbia’s new leader offers real hope of a new period of stability and peace in a part of Europe that has witnessed unimaginable savagery during the last decade. Realistically, however, there are many outstanding injustices and destructive forces unleashed by Miloševic which have the potential to return this part of the Balkans to its recent turmoil.

Rights of small countries

Ireland, as a recently elected member of the Security Council, has a special responsibility to recognise the factors that allowed Miloševic to launch four separate wars against Serbia’s neighbours in the region. Much was made of Ireland’s courtship of tiny Islands in the Pacific by way of securing its membership of the Security Council. In the same spirit of democratic accountability, our country’s voice should always support the legitimate rights of small countries such as Bosnia against the aggressive irredentism of more powerful neighbours, along with the legitimate aspirations of those people such as the Kosovars struggling against occupation and oppression. Such an independent policy will inevitably be tested by its preparedness to risk the displeasure of the permanent members of the Security Council, traditional allies or otherwise of Serbia.

I recognise that President Koštunica’s task is immensely difficult. He needs to rebuild his shattered country and restore its democratic credibility. This has to be done in the context of a large part of the population which has not been allowed to understand the levels of atrocity inflicted in their name by Serbian military forces in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosova. The truth of this has been recognised by some courageous Serbs such as journalist, Miroslav Filipovic, who recently stated on his release from prison that Serbs had to start to face up to and discuss war crimes fully. He explained that this was vital if good relations were to be restored with Croatia, Bosnia and Kosova: ‘We cannot go forward otherwise.’ On this point, many Serb dissidents recognise the importance of the Hague Tribunal as vital to the reintegration of Serbia into the international community.

Koštunica himself is a self-declared nationalist who supported his country’s recent military campaigns and who is opposed to the right of Montenegro and Kosova to secede from the Yugoslav Federation. At the same time, the extreme nationalists – both pro- and anti-Miloševic – continue as a powerful and even dominant force and will use every opportunity to damn Koštunica as a renegade to Serbia’s claimed historic rights and interests in the Balkans.

For a changed Western policy

After the disasters of Western policy in the region, which often adopted (either by default or otherwise) a Yugoslav/Serbian perspective on events, it is essential that a new post-Miloševic model of national identity and democratic rights be encouraged within Serbia. These policy disasters were influenced – at least in part – by a pronounced bias in Western media commentary and analysis. As Branka Magaš, the distinguished historian and chronicler of Yugoslavia’s break-up has observed: ‘The writing on the area being produced in the West has overwhelmingly retained a "Yugoslav" conceptual framework. The former constituent parts that are now its successor states – those that have been internationally recognised as well those like Kosova that sooner or later will be – are kept in its shadow.’

It took French, British and American foreign policy at least 5 years to understand that – far from Serbia’s interests being the prevailing consideration in resolving the Balkan conflicts – Miloševic’s corrupt and expansionist regime was the very source of instability in the region. Its cynical oscillations between war-monger and peace-broker masked a continuing and consistent strategy of fermenting fear and division in the interest of perpetuating its grip on power.

It is now imperative that the smaller and less powerful states and national groups, whose subservient status has for too long been acquiesced in by the international community during most of the Miloševic era, should be allowed to assume their proper place as fully equal partners in the resolution of the region’s conflicts. If their rights are not properly recognised, we are merely sowing the seeds for renewed hostilities in the area.

Factors undermining stability

Let us consider some of the very serious factors that undermine the prospects for peace and stability in the region:

1. The de facto countenancing by the international community of Bosnia’s unjust partition, resulting in 1 ½ million Bosnians being unable to return to their homes.

2. The refusal of the international community to take on board the demands of the overwhelming majority of Kosovars for self-determination.

3. The minuscule levels of economic investment in both Bosnia and Kosova, arising in large part from their fragile and indeterminate political status. There has also been a huge delay in fulfilling promises of pledged aid to Kosova, as indeed EU Commissioner, Chris Patten, has admitted.

4. The persistent massive unemployment, the breakdown in social services and the dire poverty that prevails in both Bosnia and Kosova.

5. The continuing impunity of the principal indicted war criminals Miloševic, Karadzic and General Mladic, which poisons efforts to establish peace and reconciliation in the region.

6. The continued failure of the Serbian government to hand over the approximately 800 Kosovar prisoners captured by Miloševic’s forces and still remaining in Serbian prisons. This issue has been a key source of grievance for the Kosovar community since the end of the war.

The Palestinian experience has taught us that the gross impoverishment and alienation of a national community is an endless source of political and military instability. If we consider the plight of 1 1/2 million Bosnian refugees who have no realistic hope of safely returning to the homes from which they were ethnically cleansed, we must conclude that no long-term peace can be expected in that land. In addition, a great number of those refugees are experiencing a second eviction, as Serbs very rightly return to their original homes in the Federation-controlled half of Bosnia. Unfortunately, returns of non-Serbs to the ‘Republika Srpska’ continue to be more hazardous and intimidating undertakings than the reverse flow of Serbs to Federation territory.

The continued economic and social degradation of peoples, whether in Bosnia or Kosova, who have already suffered so much is an affront to the European Union principle that human rights should be universally respected. Earlier this year Nusreta Sivac, a survivor of the notorious Serb-run Omarska camp in Bosnia, highlighted the conditions of extreme deprivation endured by thousands of refugees, including many other camp survivors, at a Council of Europe meeting in Dublin Castle during Ireland’s Presidency of the Council. Despite the horrific suffering many of them have experienced, they remain unemployed, alienated and marginalised.

Getting priorities right

Yet despite this ongoing humanitarian crisis, there now exists the real threat, with the eclipse of the Miloševic regime, that the plight of these victims of Serbian aggression will slip further down the international agenda. The International Crisis Group, in a recent report on Kosova, has acknowledged: ‘Serbia represents to the West a much more promising market, with more opportunities for privatisation and none of the tricky legal issues over ownership and status that have so far impeded formal development of the Kosovar economy.’

While effort to regenerate the Serbian economy deserves support, this must not be at the expense of those countries which have been the main victims of Serbian aggression. The Dayton agreement, with misguided expediency, sacrificed the interests of the Kosovar Albanians with tragic results. It would be a supreme tragedy if similar mistakes were to be made in the interests of expediency as the international community reestablishes relations with Serbia.

Finally, and by no means least. the plight of the Serb communities in both Kosova and the Krajina must not be forgotten in any final settlement in the region. In Kosova, the best possible security for the Serbs can only be within the context of a peace based on justice. Paradoxically, it is the very uncertainty over Kosova’s future status that is the principal threat to attempts at restoring the Serb community there.

Meanwhile, the departure from power this year in Croatia of Tudjman’s HDZ party and the subsequent dramatic improvement in the level of cooperation with the Hague Tribunal are hopeful signs that serious efforts will now be made to permit the return of Serbs to the Krajina. By the same token, it is to be expected that the new regime in Croatia will be more receptive to representations from the international community in this regard.

If Ireland’s presence on the Security Council is to have significant value, it must always be a voice for the less powerful nations whose interests are readily set aside by greater powers.

The author of this contribution to the Sunday Business Post (Dublin) is chairman of the Joint Foreign Affairs Committee of the Irish Dáil.


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