bosnia report
New Series No: 23/24/25 June - October 2001
Ethnic cleansing of Republic Srpska
by Suzana Andjelic

The ‘one nation-one state’ plan in Republika Srpska has been completely realised. Every stone thrown in Banja Luka is additional proof. Every blow, curse or look full of hatred. ‘Republika Srpska is a unitary state, accepted in about 1992 (?)’ official RS documents claim. The question-mark next to the year of acceptance is unnecessary. Though recognised officially only at Dayton in November 1995, Republika Srpska had begun to exist as a state entity in the international context from the moment when the international community accepted Bosnian Serb leaders as official negotiators, and when the first maps concerning the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina were placed on the negotiating table. Today this entity not only has state symbols (its red-blue-and-white flag is identical to that of Serbia, while its coat of arms, the two-headed eagle, is identical to that of the Kingdom of Serbia before World War One), but all the institutions necessary for a (national) state: a president, a government, a parliament.

Crimes and deportations

Republika Srpska occupies approximately 25,053 square kilometres, or in other words 49 per cent of the territory of B-H. Some 55 per cent of RS is mountains. Fertile land is mainly located along the bigger rivers: Sava, Drina and Vrbas. Mineral resources in RS include lignite, bauxite and iron. According to the RS Statistical Institute, the population of the entity (estimated in2000) is 1,469,182; but they claim at the Institute not to have any information regarding its ethnic structure. The profile of RS, however, reveals that Serbs make up 95 percent of the population, while Croats and Bosniaks make up the remaining 5 percent. Even without statistics, it is clear that RS is a state of the Serb people - as the Constitution of RS asserts. Average population density is 55 inhabitants per square kilometre, which is way below the European average.

According to figures from September 2000, there are 227,748 people employed in RS, while in December 2000 there were 153,264 unemployed, with 172,405 pensioners. Around 220,000 people live in Banja Luka. According to Council of Ministers figures, during the war in B-H 2.2 million people left their homes, i.e. more than 50 per cent of the total population. Of this number, 1.2 million dispersed to more than one hundred countries around the world, while within B-H itself about one million inhabitants were displaced from their homes. Clearly most of the people who emigrated - in other words, were expelled - came from the territory of the present-day RS. Five years after the end of the war in B-H, only a small number of these people have returned to their homes. From the day the Dayton Peace Accord was signed in 1995 up to today, 148,195 people have gone back to RS (20,47 per cent of total returns), while 575,719 people (79.53 per cent of all returns) have gone back to the Federation. So far as minority returns are concerned, from the Dayton Accord up to the end of the year 2000, out of 195,166 ethnic minority members who returned to their homes, as many as 71,41 per cent went to Federation territory, while a mere 25,77 per cent went to RS. Out of all requests for the restitution of property in RS, a decision has been made in only 32 per cent of cases.

Who demolished the mosques?

In the first few months of the war all non-Serbs in RS were fired from their jobs. As compensation, they can now get a few hundred marks; but they cannot go back to their jobs. Quite simply, the business of ethnic cleansing in the national state of the Serbs is finished. As early as 1993, during the talks on the Vance-Owen Plan for B-H, Radovan Karadzic maintained that the Serb people was capable of behaving in a ‘state-building’ manner. He was right. The process that began at the end of 1991 with the proclamation of the Serb Assembly, and then also of the Government of the Serb Republic of B-H, and the proclamation of this Republic as part of the federal state of Yugoslavia, by then had become territorially defined. Ethnic cleansing was the logical result of territorial boundaries, and implied that members of other ethnic groups on Serb territory should be eliminated by various means: through mass or selective crimes, deportation, the destruction of personal property and of religious and cultural monuments marking the presence of other communities on that territory.

In November 1991, the by then already proclaimed Serb Assembly ordered a map to be drawn on which municipalities to be included in ‘Serb B-H’ would be marked. A year later, in November 1992, a map of the British UNPROFOR command staff showing the actual military situation more or less coincided with that first map. So territorial control in B-H in November 1992 for the most part corresponded to the division defined by the Serb Assembly six months before the war started. The problem that had to be solved was the fact that almost half the districts allocated to the new Serb state had a predominantly non-Serb population. Radoslav Brdjanin, president of the ‘Serb Autonomous Region (SAO) of Krajina’ did not hesitate to announce in public that the acceptable percentage of non-Serb population in the future Serb state would be just three per cent.

The process of creating RS began in [Bosnian] Krajina. The ‘Crisis HQ of SAO Krajina’ was activated in October 1991, then six months later proclaimed itself the highest authority in the region. In early May 1992, upon an order signed by Radoslav Brdjanin, all non-Serb officials were removed from their jobs; within a few weeks approximately ninety per cent of Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs from mixed marriages, were unemployed. At the same time, Serbs who did not express loyalty to the SDS were removed from all major functions. The Crisis HQ of SAO Krajina determined the manner in which the unwanted population would leave their territory: taxes of 100 DM were introduced for registering their departure with local police stations or the secretariat of defence, and also for giving notice that they were vacating their flats, with the obligation to sign a document saying that they were willingly giving up their entire property to Republika Srpska.

In January 1991 the heads of three faiths organised prayers for peace in Banja Luka: these were held in the Catholic cathedral on 1 January, in the Gazanfesija mosque on 3 January, and on 6 January in the Orthodox cathedral. The last united appeal by Banja Luka’s religious leaders was issued on 23 December 1992, by which time thousands of Bosniaks and Croats in the Bosnian Krajina had been exiled from their homes or killed. The Bosniak and Croat side accused the Serb Orthodox church for having supported the Serb leaders who had started the war, after which the Banja Luka mufti Ibrahim efendija Halilovic and the Catholic bishop Franjo Komarica broke off contact with bishop Jefrem and the Serb Orthodox church.

Attacks on houses of worship, presented as terrorist acts by fanatical individuals, were in fact actions ordered by the very highest political authorities. In spring 1993 some members of the SDS’s supreme council, Velibor Ostojic and a number of local party officials from Banja Luka, were sitting in Café Adria, Opposite the café stood the mosque of Ferhad-pasha Sokolovic, one of the oldest and most beautiful mosques in the Balkans. With a sidelong glance Ostojic nodded towards the mosque and asked : ‘Why don’t you knock down that mosque?’. One of those present was astounded. ‘Would you really knock down a 500-year-old mosque?’ Toying with the glass in his hand, Ostojic replied calmly: ‘Even older ones went up in Foca’. This conversation with Ostojic was merely an overture to what was going to happen. ‘Not long after that, in an SDS supreme council meeting, we discussed demolishing Banja Luka’s mosques. Karadzic harangued us fiercely about the historic necessity of knocking them down, with Ostojic’s enthusiastic support. The decision, although rejected by the then mayor of Banja Luka Predrag Radic, went ahead. Out of thirty-nine members on the supreme council almost all signed the decision, even Radic, so that only two signatures were missing’, recalls one of the participants in these events.

The real surprise was that, apart from the signature of one council member who had openly opposed demolishing the mosques, the other missing signature was that of Radovan Karadzic. As on many previous occasions, Karadñic wished to ensure that he had an alibi for the planned crime. The then regional police chief Stojan Zupljanin was in charge of demolishing the mosques. The operation was carried out by his police officers, to whom Karadzic gave formal cover with a letter written to the minister of police on 12 May 1993, in which he requested the Banja Luka regional police force to ‘protect all religious places of worship in the town and its surroundings with extra patrols, because of the frequent terrorist attacks’. During the night of 7 May, at exactly 3.05 a.m., the Ferhadija was destroyed at the second attempt. On the previous day only part of it had been damaged by an explosion, after which Radoslav Brdjanin had criticized civil engineer Gacanovic for inaccurately calculating the quantity of explosive. The definitive demolition of the Ferhadija next day proved that the second time round they were not stingy with the explosives. The windows on the surrounding houses were shattered by the force of the detonation. The Arnaudija mosque too was demolished on the same evening.

Banja Luka’s mufti Ibrahim efendija Halilovic, shocked by the strength of the explosion, thought that all was over that night for Banja Luka’s Bosniaks. After the explosion, the mufti and his wife headed for the mosque. A Serb policeman tried to stop them. ‘Get out of my way’, the mufti snapped. ‘They couldn’t be bothered to knock down the whole mosque, so the minaret and turbe were left standing. When they later blew up the minaret too, it rose into the air, turned round completely and crumbled only when it hit the ground. In the morning they brought in mechanical shovels and levelled everything to the ground.’ The late mufti told us this in 1997. We were sitting in the Muftiate building, the only remaining edifice of the Islamic community in Banja Luka. They threw grenades at the mufti’s house, and tried to kill him on several occasions. When they arrested him, the police asked him: ‘What are you doing here, why don’t you leave? We knocked down the mosque.’

He stayed on and recorded everything that took place around him. Wartime statistics for the Banja Luka Muftiate, where before the war more than 200,000 Muslims had lived, showed that only six per cent of them were left. 105,000 Serbs lived in Banja Luka before the war, forming a majority. There were around 30,000 Muslims, but only 3,000 stayed on until the end of the war, half of whom had been evicted from their flats. On the territory of the Muftiate all 207 mosques were demolished, 16 of them in the city itself, and over 40 harems, while of twenty imams in the town only one remained. On the territory of the Banja Luka bishopric, meanwhile, 41 Catholic churches were demolished and only 8,000 Catholics continue to live there, whereas before the war they numbered some 30,000 in Banja Luka alone.

Serb conquests legalized

Left without political representatives, Muslims and Catholics saw religious leaders as their only protectors, turning to them for comfort and food. ‘I was some kind of a prism through which the sufferings of my people in this region were refracted’, Mufti Halilovic used to say. ‘The most difficult years were 1993, and mid 1995 when the exodus of Serbs from [Croatian] Krajina took place. In 1993 all the mosques in Banja Luka and its Muftiate were rased, and this was a message to Muslims that there was no survival for them in the town or the Muftiate. The Muslims were stunned by this vandalism, shocked and fully aware of the dangerous situation they were in. This caused many of them to leave, many others were driven out by force.’ After the demolition of the Muslim and Catholic places of worship, there was no public protest. Patriarch Pavle spoke out: ‘Only a criminal or an unbeliever could destroy a mosque or church.’ But Banja Luka’s Orthodox bishop did not speak out. ‘Bishop Jefrem did not express sympathy even when the mosques were demolished’, Mufti Halilovic used to say disappointedly. Only a few people protested. Others quietly accepted the ‘historical necessity’ of removing the places of worship of others, in order to redeem the ‘historical debt’ for the Orthodox Temple of Christ the Saviour, which the Ustashe had demolished fifty years earlier. Cultural cleansing proceeded in parallel with ethnic cleansing.

Republika Srpska was proclaimed on 9 January 1992, when former B-H parliamentary deputies introduced a new Constitution for a state of one nationality alone. This was de facto recognized internationally on 21 November 1995 at Dayton, despite all the international conventions according to which para-states established through force or the threat of force are not recognized. In such a manner the Serb conquests were legalized, and their legitimacy as means for creating a ‘national state’ - of a kind where there is no place for others, nor for their places of worship, their culture or their language - was de facto acknowledged. The recent events in Banja Luka and Trebinje are merely in continuity with such a creation of ‘statehood’.

This comment has been translated from Slobodna Bosna (Sarajevo), 10 May 2001


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