bosnia report
New Series No: 21/22 January - May 2001
Double Standards

Throughout the ten years that have passed since Jacques Poos, foreign minister of Luxembourg, so memorably issued dire warnings against the proliferation of unviably small states that would surely result from any dissolution of Yugoslavia (a warning still parroted today by Western politicians striving officiously to keep alive the agonizing FRY), blatant double standards have unfortunately been the norm rather than the exception. It has not just been a matter of the notorious local examples: Belgrade simultaneously claiming Kosova on historical grounds, Vojvodina and great swathes of Bosnia and Croatia on ethnic ones; Tudjman appealing to the world to respect Zagreb's recognized borders while, in cahoots with Milosevic, doing his best in practice to erase the frontier dividing Croatia from Herzegovina. It has also, and above all, been the double standards of international players that have crippled their own pursuit of a stable south-east Europe.

This has been the case in very general, as in quite specific and concrete, terms. At the general level, the reluctance or inability of politicians from countries whose own everyday political life is dominated by issues of democracy, constitution, legal order, separation of powers, federalism, devolved rights, shared sovereignty, national identity, citizenship, etc. to take seriously the very same issues when posed in 'the Balkans' never ceases to amaze. When has the domestic experience of multi-ethnic EU states ever been brought to bear in shaping policy towards Macedonia? How have US officials brought up on constitutional lore and democratic principle been able, in all conscience, to override the legitimacy of Bosnia, Kosova or Montenegro - derived from their status as constituent members of the former Yugoslav federation - in favour of far more restricted and uncertain rights formulated ab novo, and with scant regard for democracy, at Dayton or under Milosevic's illegal FRY constitutions?

When we come to more specific cases, of course, the list is unending. Could we imagine French or US politicians leaving mass murderers at large in their own countries rather than risk the lives of peace officers, as they have for years now chosen to do in 'their' zones in B-H? How are we to explain the sorry spectacle of a British government minister openly recommending non-compliance with the international arrest warrant issued by the Hague Tribunal for Slobodan Milosevic? Robin Cook's generosity in 'granting' to Belgrade the right to try him first on minor charges undermines both the Tribunal itself - along with the whole cause of international justice - and the democratic forces in Serbia, which have taken a courageous stand precisely on this issue of collaboration with The Hague as precondition for exorcising the demons of the country's recent past. Serbia's refusal to deliver people indicted for war crimes committed in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosova in no way assists, moreover, the establishment of good relations among these countries - which Western politicians profess to desire.

Above all, there has been the record in Bosnia itself, where complicity with ethnic division in practice has throughout gone hand in hand with rhetorical support for multi-ethnicity. To say this is not to question the sincerity of those international officials who have sought to translate the rhetoric into reality. Wolfgang Petritsch deserves full support in his efforts to state the real issues. As he wrote in the International Herald Tribune on 31 January this year: 'A multi-ethnic Bosnia is not an illusion designed by ambitious do-gooders. It is the answer to the war. Rebuilding a war-torn country and ending a war are about more than peace secured by troops. It means establishing functioning political institutions, it means economic reform, it means civil peace.' But the problem remains the framework within which he, like everyone else, is obliged to operate. The Dayton Accords in fact preclude 'functioning political institutions', hence true 'economic reform'. And, after more than five years, NATO forces have still not arrested Karadzic, Mladic or the many other indicted war criminals still holding power in places like Foca and Stolac, who remain the main threat to 'civil peace'; nor have they secured the return of refugees to their homes without which no such normality is possible.

At a deeper level, moreover, these failures reflect a continuing ambivalence among Western politicians concerning Bosnia's future, revealed most starkly in relation to Republika Srpska. For RS remains in name and essence a denial of multi-ethnicity: the apotheosis of a racial state. Its survival at Dayton and thereafter has been emblematic of the dark side of Western policy. This has involved support, successively, for Krajisnik (later indicted for genocide), Plavsic (ditto), Dodik (thrown out at last October's elections for passivity and corruption), and now a purportedly 'non-party' administration formed only with tacit permission from the SDS, the party of genocide, which has secured a new patron in Belgrade in the person of  'democratic nationalist' Vojislav Kostunica. It is an open secret that some highly placed Western diplomats continue to advocate the secession of this part of B-H, as a condition for 'peace in our time' in this part of Europe. International officials in Sarajevo today are commendably busy suppressing an attempt by the HDZ to establish an exclusive Croat entity within Bosnia-Herzegovina. But they themselves did much to provoke the revolt in question: by maintaining the formal structures of ethnic separation sanctioned by Dayton, and by espousing different electoral norms and constitutional provisions in the Federation from those prevailing in RS. Consistency of principle, clearly, would mean rejecting an exclusive Serb entity in B-H as vigorously as an exclusive Croat one. This could be described as a departure from Dayton or alternatively as a creative reinterpretation of it, necessary for regional stability as well as for 'functioning political institutions, economic reform and civil peace'.


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