bosnia report
New Series No: 23/24/25 June - October 2001
Not so secret deals
by Branka Magas

Asked to comment on reports that Slobodan Milosevic is ‘planning to embarrass Britain and other Western governments by revealing at his war crimes trial at The Hague the secret deals which he claims propped up his regime during a decade of bloodshed in the Balkans’, a ‘senior Foreign Office official’ stated that ‘our hands are clean, we have nothing to hide’ (The Sunday Telegraph, 1 July). While the theory of ‘clean hands’ has rightly been questioned in sections of the British press, given Western politicians’ decade-long negotiations with a man engrossed in an orgy of destruction, the claim that ‘we have nothing to hide’ cannot be so easily dismissed. Secret diplomacy it may have been, but no one can deny that its results were made public - indeed, implemented in full view. One does not need to await Milosevic’s revelations, interesting as they will surely prove to be, to acquire evidence of Western complicity in Milosevic’s genocidal grand design. Such evidence already exists in the shape of Dayton Bosnia.

The Dayton Accords are a settlement sui generis in the history of post-1945 Europe. They represent an agreement between key Western states to ratify the partition of the sovereign state of Bosnia-Herzegovina: in other words, to endorse the results of the war of aggression waged against that country by the leaders of Serbia and Croatia. The Accords consecrated racial segregation of Bosnia’s population, by reserving one half of the country for Serbs and dividing the other half between Croats and Bosniaks, and by ordaining that the principle of racial separation should shape the entire organisation of the Bosnian state. The arrangement was secured, moreover, by an active participation of the aggressor states in the negotiations which took place in Dayton. The Dayton Accords were signed, in addition to the hapless Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic, by the Croatian president Franjo Tudjman and by Slobodan Milosevic. Tudjman and Milosevic, with Western acquiescence, disposed of Bosnia's territory and population as they saw fit, while Russia, the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany proved willing to guarantee the outcome. It is true that the United States, by insisting that Bosnia’s international borders remain intact, prevented Britain and France from forging a new Munich. The Accords, nevertheless, legitimised a political solution based on ethnic cleansing, of which Republika Srpska is the most conspicuous demonstration. The continued affirmation of racial separation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the shape of Republika Srpska, remains an affront to democratic Europe.

The deals which produced this finale are known only in part, while much remains to be learned. But the Accords themselves bear eloquent witness to their obnoxious nature. The Bosnian Serb leaders most responsible for the creation of Republika Srpska - Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic, Momcilo Krajisnik and Biljana Plavsic - have since been indicted for crimes against humanity. Nikola Koljevic, who signed the Accords on behalf of this entity, committed suicide (or was murdered) soon after. Milan Milutinovic, Serbia's current president, who as Milosevic’s foreign minister signed parts of the document, has also been charged with war crimes. Milosevic now faces trial for those he has committed, as yet only in connection with Kosovo: however, crimes committed in Croatia and Bosnia by forces under his effective command will soon be added to the list of charges against him. Tudjman died, thus avoiding being arraigned for war crimes. Where does this leave the Dayton Accords, whose premises those individuals created?

If you ask people in the Foreign Office, they will tell you that the Accords constitute an international agreement, which can be changed only by unanimous will of those involved. Croatia has in fact indicated its desire for Bosnia’s reintegration, while Serbia - by delivering Milosevic to The Hague - has signalled its readiness to repudiate Milosevic’s legacy. Western diplomats, on the other hand, make it clear that there is no agreement among their leaders as to Bosnia’s future: some favour its outright division along the lines established at Dayton; others support its reintegration.

Western governments have welcomed Milosevic’s transfer to The Hague. Moreover, they have invited the Serbian people to face up to the truth and to reject what Milosevic did in their name. At the same time, they themselves appear most reluctant to do likewise. But the truth is catching up with them too. In their desire to exculpate themselves, not just Milosevic but other Serb leaders are increasingly ready to speak about Western support for the policy of ethnic cleansing in Croatia and Bosnia. Dobrica Cosic, the evil genius of Serb nationalism who for a time acted as FRY president, has recently added his own testimony to this effect. Their refusal to go away quietly will encourage the lower echelons of willing and unwilling accomplices to speak up. Western capitals will soon find that they cannot afford to be seen as the last custodians of Milosevic’s barbarous inheritance.

So it is necessary but not sufficient to ask individual Western governments to explain and account for the way in which (as The Observer put it on 1 July) ‘their clumsy and misguided diplomacy has contributed to the lethal decade in the Balkans’. It is necessary also to demand of them to undo what Milosevic has done. Milosevic has always treated Bosnia’s division as his greatest achievement. Bosnian reintegration consequently remains the greatest test of Western governments’ willingness finally to part with him. It is of the greatest importance to confront and remove all legislative arrangements that enshrine racial segregation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and to replace them with ones befitting a democratic order of the kind that Western democracies like to call their birthright.


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