EU encouraged extremists
by Ozren Kebo
Recent unrest in Mostar, Trebinje and Banja Luka has once again highlighted what many analysts have been warning about for years. This is that few inside or outside Bosnia are resolute about rooting out the network of hard-line nationalists who still control so many of the country's key institutions.
This country has three basic problems. First, there is the need to acknowledge the real source of its ills. Bosnia-Herzegovina (B-H) is not being eaten away by mutual ethnic hatred. It is being eroded by the original, two-fold fascism of the nationalist Serb Democratic Party (SDS) and Croat Democratic Union (HDZ).
Secondly, the war in B-H did not end with the defeat of fascist forces. It ended with the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, which is proving difficult to implement. Dayton, in fact, amounts to a tie or draw between the democratic, civilized forces of the pro-Bosnian bloc and the fascist bloc which wanted to divide the country with knives, grenades and concentration camps.
Thirdly, this solution is essentially a dead end. There can be no draw in a match between democracy and fascism. Fascism is either defeated, as it was in World War II, or it will bubble away and fester, as has been seen in the violence and tension in Mostar, Brcko, Banja Luka, Visegrad, Trebinje, etc. over the past six years.
RS police glee
The pitiful reaction of senior Republika Srpska (RS) officials after the ethnic violence in Trebinje and Banja Luka confirms this pattern of events. Trebinje police looked on gleefully as Daniel Ruiz, from the Office of the High Representative, was badly beaten and defended by only one person, Sarajevo journalist Kenan Cerimagic. Two days later in Banja Luka, events repeated themselves. Some Bosnian Serb policemen stood by laughing as the mob beat up elderly Muslims who had come to attend a ceremony to lay a foundation stone for the Ferhadija mosque, destroyed by the Serb authorities during the war. Other officers attempted at least to help the elderly and wounded Muslims, finding them shelter from the violence; but none attempted to thwart the mob.
Similarly, the entire Bosnian Serb political leadership failed to demonstrate that it even wanted to tackle the roots of this unrest. Mirko Sarovic, the president of this problematic entity, went so far as to shake hands with the violent protesters who initiated the unrest. Not a word was heard from the RS interior minister on the incident. Nor did Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic move to quell the unrest. On the same evening, Bosnian state television showed an interview recorded earlier with British ambassador Graham Hand. In resigned tones Hand explained how, in a previous meeting with Ivaniƒ, the prime minister had described himself as a Serb nationalist.
Ivanic arrived on the scene in Banja Luka in late afternoon to make a weakly-worded statement condemning the incident. Echoing the sentiments of SDS officials, he condemned ‘all forms of violence’, but also cautioned against ‘any politicisation of religious events’. He was clearly forgetting the highly politicised campaign waged by Bosnian Serb leaders against the rebuilding of the Ferhadija mosque.
Meanwhile, Zivko Radisic, who currently chairs the B-H Presidency, sent an advisor to attend the Presidency meeting at which the Banja Luka violence was discussed. Radisic later distanced himself from the official statement issued after the meeting, which condemned the unrest and described it as fascist vandalism.
Why are you here?
And what of the response to the violence of NATO-led peacekeepers, SFOR? They were pelted with eggs in Mostar and had to seek refuge in an Islamic Community building in Trebinje, leaving a member of the Presidency at the mercy of a drunken mob. In Banja Luka, they reportedly issued ultimatums to the gathered protesters, which were completely ignored. SFOR later denied issuing any ultimatums. The day after the Trebinje incident, an SFOR spokesman was mocked and booed at a press conference. One question asked of this spokesman seemed to sum up the general feeling: ‘Why are you here? What is the purpose of your presence in B-H?’
It was left to civilian representatives of the international community to rise to the challenge in word and deed. The British, Swedish, Canadian and Pakistani ambassadors, the chief of the UN Mission in B-H Jacques Klein, and several OHR representatives, all attended the ceremony at the Ferhadija mosque, alongside hundreds of Muslims bused in for the day. All became trapped in the Islamic Community building in Banja Luka as the unrest surged outside. However, although they were offered escorts to leave the building in safety, the officials refused, instead choosing to stay until the trapped civilians could also go.
What has been the response from the international community? The unrest has underlined the double standards of the European Union. When fighting recently broke out in Macedonia, the EU reacted swiftly, and justifiably, by sending a clear message that it would open intensive negotiations with Macedonia on its future possible entry to the 15-nation bloc. The aim was to stabilize Macedonia and to discourage those forces seeking to destroy it.
Bosnia has never received such resolute support. On the contrary, throughout the difficult post-war years, the EU has indirectly supported separatism in BH. The EU responded to recent nationalist protests by high-school students in Brcko by asserting that such incidents were pushing B-H further away from the integration process! The statement played squarely into the hands of the separatists, who want nothing to do with integration. The EU has inadvertently encouraged extremists in Br…ko, in Mostar, and in all the parliamentary, electoral and political acts of destruction that we have witnessed down the years.
After Banja Luka, the EU did sharply condemn the RS authorities for the unrest. But yet again the carrot of EU integration - dangled before Macedonia - was missing. Based on that, are we to conclude that America remains Bosnia's only safeguard? Draw your own conclusions.
Ozren Kebo is a commentator for Sarajevo bi-weekly Slobodna Bosna. This comment appeared in IWPR'S Balkan Crisis Report, no. 247, 16 May 2001