bosnia report
New Series No:32-34 December - July 2003
Greater Serbia lives on
by Branka Magas

There was a hope that Milošević's arrest and trial would send the vampire of Greater Serbia back to the underworld. This hope was fortified by large-scale arrest, in the wake of Serbian premier Zoran Đinđić's assassination, of Milošević's accomplices and the delivery of some of them to The Hague. There are, however, too many signs that point in the opposite direction - the most obvious, of course, being the continued existence of ‘Republika Srpska’, and the failure to deliver Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić to justice.

There are other, equally conspicuous signs that post-Milošević Serbia continues to feed, if not the vampire's body, since the war is over, then at least its spirit. Leading ideologues of the Greater Serbia project - people like Dobrica Ćosić, who played a crucial role in Milošević's war against civilians - continue to dominate public life. Serbian children learn at school that Greater Serbia was and remains a legitimate project; that Bosnian Croats and Muslims, Montenegrins and Kosovo Albanians are in reality all Serbs, while the lands they inhabit are ‘ethnic and historic’ Serb lands. Particularly worrying is the rapid growth, under the patronage of prominent national bodies, of radical nationalist associations among the youth. The Serb Orthodox Church, which took an active part in the war and whose influence is now stronger than ever before, has declared the late Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović - a fervent Great Serb and pronounced anti-Semite who admired Adolf Hitler - a national saint. Equally alarming is the seeming inability of the leading Serbian parties to lay the Greater Serbia ghost to rest.

It is inevitable, in view of the recent past, that the attitude of Serbian politicians towards neighbouring countries and national minorities living within Serbia’s borders should be subject to careful scrutiny. If, with this in mind, one examines the State Programme for a European Serbia recently published by G17 Plus, a party led by Miroljub Labus and Mlađan Dinkić, whose stated aim is to make Serbia ‘the regional leader’, one is left with the depressing impression of an essential continuity between Milošević and his successors even today. Such a continued pursuit of the Greater Serbia project, albeit in changed circumstances, by the Serbian political class will inevitably impede the region's progress towards stability.

G!7's regional aims

Vojvodina During the war Vojvodina lost perhaps 100,000 of its Hungarian and Croat citizens, victims of direct or indirect pressure, and gained in return up to 300,000 Serbs who had fled or were otherwise removed from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.1  (1. See Dimitrije Boarov, Ima li jos Vojvodine, Novi Sad 1996) .Until 1990 this multi-national and prosperous province enjoyed a strong autonomy as one of Yugoslavia's eight federal units. One of Milosević's first acts was to abolish its self-government, after which the province was mercilessly pillaged by Belgrade. Since his fall Vojvodina has been trying to regain its former autonomy, and appears ready to do battle to achieve it. The Programme echoes Milosević's policy by referring only vaguely to Vojvodina's autonomy, and stressing instead the need to preserve ‘Serbia's unity’. There is no mention of collective rights for minorities. This is in strong contrast to what it demands for Serbs living outside Serbia.. Rejection of any concept of reciprocity in regard to national rights is one of the corner-stones of the Greater Serbia ideology.

Kosovo The Programme acknowledges that Serbia has lost Kosovo. As Dinkić stated at the meeting at which the Programme was formally presented, Albanians are demographically far too strong to make attractive the prospect of their integration into Serbia. The party, therefore, is ready to offer them - and the ‘international community’ too - a ‘historic agreement’. This would provide for Kosovo to remain part of Serbia until a final settlement has been negotiated, during which time it should stay under international control. In the meantime, however, the area of Kosovska Mitrovica - identified also as ‘the Serb minority’ - should enjoy ‘full autonomy’ and ‘special links’ with Serbia. The Programme also demands for Serbia the right to ‘'protect’ three key monasteries (Gračanica, Visoki Dečani and the Peć Patriarchate) and other ‘holy Serb sites - which would become ‘extraterritorial’. Equivalent rights are not envisaged for the mainly Albanian municipalities in southern Serbia, the large Bosniak minority in the Sandjak, or the Hungarians of Vojvodina. These much larger and territorially more cohesive national groups are not to have any autonomy, nor should they enjoy special links to, respectively, Kosovo, Bosnia or Hungary. By making the Kosovo Serbs and their churches into a special case, the party is in effect seeking Kosovo's partition - and the means in future for Serbia to intervene in its internal life.

Montenegro G17 Plus appears to have given up on Montenegro as being more trouble than it is worth, so is keen to negotiate separation: on 1 June 2003 Dinkić and Labus launched a new campaign for an independent Serbia. The latter should keep the UN seat which it now shares with Montenegro, however, thereby sparing itself the trouble of a fresh application. The Programme makes no mention of the plans and activities of the Serb Orthodox Church. Ever since Montenegro turned its back on Milošević, the Church has been a main agent of Belgrade's efforts to destabilize the country. This is not surprising, given that the Serb Orthodox Church claims as its own the rights and property of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church abolished by King Alexander in the 1920s. The Serb Orthodox clergy are today busily creating their own mini-state within Montenegro: it is only a matter of time before these ‘holy Serb sites’ too are proclaimed ‘extraterritorial’.

Macedonia ‘European Serbia’, its mentors state, has no ‘national interests’ in Macedonia other than the latter’s continued territorial integrity and independence. The Programme makes no mention of Macedonian Serbs. Serbia, however, will ‘watch over the rights and property of the Serb Orthodox Church’ - i.e. over what in reality belongs to the Macedonian Orthodox Church. For in contrast to the official position of Milošević's Serbia, G17 Plus does not recognize the separate existence of the Macedonian Church. Since Macedonia is unlikely to surrender either the independence or the property of its Church to Belgrade, and since the militant Serb Orthodox Church has proved ready to engage in guerrilla-type action against the Macedonian Orthodox Church, this attitude on the part of Labus and Dinkić will not aid good relations between the two states.

Bosnia-Herzegovina In contrast to Macedonia, there is only a conditional commitment to Bosnia's territorial integrity and independence. While the party ‘accepts that Bosnia-Herzegovina is a separate, internationally recognized state’, it ties this acceptance to preservation of the separate existence of ‘Republika Srpska’. G17 Plus, in other words, is determined to preserve Milosević's gains in Bosnia. According to its Programme, Serbia should not only continue to have a special relationship with RS, but also once ‘Serbia has gained its independence and recovered its strength, it will fight for the realization of a Serb [!] economic, educational and cultural sphere’ - all this ‘in full conformity with EU standards’. This is a typical irredentist programme dressed up as regional cooperation.

The proclaimed policy of G17 Plus towards the above-mentioned countries displays all the marks of Dobrica Ćosić's old strategic concept, now shared by the Serbian political mainstream, according to which Serbia should give up - but at a price! - unsustainable territories in the south-east (Macedonia, Kosovo, perhaps also Montenegro) and expand in a north-westerly direction (Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina). Greater Serbian strategists are grateful to Milošević, Karadžić and Mladić for having carved out a Serb state on the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which now has to be defended. Hence the Programme's emphasis in the case of Vojvodina and Serbia on ‘unity’ and ‘citizenship’, and in that of Bosnia-Herzegovina on disunity and ethnicity.

Croatia Since Serbia has not merely lost the war against Croatia, but also - thanks to the drastic decline in the size of the Croatian Serb population - any realistic possibility of intervening in its internal affairs, Croatia can now be elevated to the status of a regional ally. While in the case of Bosnia there is no mention of war, Serbia's aggression against Croatia is cited in the document - albeit as ‘civil war’. For a party like G17 Plus it is difficult, of course, to speak of ‘civil war’ in Bosnia-Herzegovina, since that would imply that now the ‘civil war’ is over RS might as well fold up. RSK , the Croatian equivalent of RS, did indeed fold up, more or less voluntarily, in 1995. The phrase 'civil war' conveniently implies that Croatia, not Serbia, is to be blamed for what happened to the Croatian Serbs: ‘the civil war in Croatia has resulted in nearly all of Serbs been driven from this state’. G17 Plus does not demand the return of the Croatian Serbs, however, since this would dilute the new Serb predominance in Vojvodina. Serbia, in sum, ‘has no national interests’ in Croatia either. Having put the past neatly behind it in this manner, the party sees only a bright future where Croatia is concerned. The mood of the Programme at this point becomes almost ecstatic. ‘The logic of further development of the situation in south-eastern Europe will incline Croatia and Serbia to rely on each other. This rapprochement will most likely end in the creation of a strong security, military and economic partnership. In the future, the most important foreign-policy task of Serbia and Croatia will be the maintenance of security in the region. Here we have in mind, in particular, the fight against international crime and all forms of extremism.’ The partnership, though, is not meant to be one of equals, since the Programme envisages Serbia becoming ‘the regional leader’. Ćosić's concept is thus at work in the case of Croatia too: having failed to enlarge itself at the latter’s expense, Serbia should now seek to lock this potential rival in a tight embrace. Given, however, the unresolved problems which Serbia has with its neighbours - the claim to exclusive ecclesiastical authority of the Serb Church over the Orthodox Macedonians and Montenegrins; the desire to divide Kosovo; and the intent to keep Bosnia-Herzegovina fragmented - it is difficult to see how Croatia would profit from an alliance the main purpose of which is to ease Serbia's burden of keeping the Greater Serbia project in existence. Having paid a high price for its own adventure in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia has surely realized that its national interest demands long-term stability in the region and friendly relations with all its neighbours.

Reinventing the Anti-Bosnian Alliance

During the last century, Serbia and Croatia forged two anti-Bosnian alliances: in 1939, when Cvetković and Maček signed their agreement (Sporazum); and in 1991, when Milošević and Tuđman forged their own partnership. Both led to bloody conflicts. The proposal by G17 Plus for a ‘strong security, military and economic partnership’ between Serbia and Croatia represents an attempt at a third anti-Bosnian coalition, designed this time to preserve the status quo in Bosnia-Herzegovina until such time as Serbia is able to absorb half the country into its own ‘economic, educational and cultural sphere’. The truth is that the region does not need any locally forged military coalitions, since all of it will sooner or later join the EU and NATO. Croatia and Serbia can hope to enjoy the harmonious rapport they both need only if they unconditionally recognize and uphold the unity, territorial integrity and independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina. A Bosnia managing its own affairs is the best recipe for achieving regional security and economic prosperity.


The current Serbian government is quite open about its desire to keep Bosnia divided. Its finance minister Božidar Delić, for example, in a 6 June 2003 interview (headlined ‘We do not wish to interfere in B-H internal affairs’) with Dani (Sarajevo), described how he had intervened to prevent the Bosnian government acquiring the right to supervise and dispose of VAT and customs duties collected on its territory. According to Delić, he told High Representative Paddy Ashdown that he, Ashdown, should ‘be concerned that someone like myself is worried’ about centralization of Bosnia’s state resources. ‘Together with Donald Hays and the [entity] finance ministers’, Delić says, he managed to ensure the ‘fiscal sovereignty’ of Republika Srpska - which he absurdly claims is part of the Dayton Agreement. Delić told the editor of the Sarajevo weekly - albeit in the form of a pro forma denial - that Serbia had a legitimate right to intervene in Bosnian internal affairs, deriving from its status as ‘guarantor of the implementation of the Dayton Agreement’. Messrs Clinton and Holbrooke will be pleased to hear that ‘to guarantee means not to alter aggressively the basis of the agreement’: i.e. that there will be no attempt to change the settlement by ‘unconstitutional means’ - a truly cynical statement, given the fact that Republika Srpska owes its very birth to the crime of genocide. The Serbian minister was happy to be able to assure the Sarajevo journalist that, despite all attempts to the contrary, the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina would be maintained.


   Table of contents

  Latest issue



  Support the Institute


home | about us | publications | events | news | Library | contact | bosnia | search | bosnia report | credits