bosnia report
New Series No: 35 August - September 2003
 
Exorcising the Ghosts

When the victorious Allies set about ‘de-Nazifying’ Germany after World War II, their aim was not simply to remove individuals compromised by their role in Hitler’s regime from positions of influence in public life, it was above all to eradicate a poisonous ideology, world-view and system of values from the democratic postwar Germany that was to be created. What a contrast in the former Yugoslavia, where many of Milošević’s war gains have been frozen and ratified; war criminals accepted as interlocutors; the ideology, world-view and values of blood-and-soil ideologues left largely unchallenged.

In post-Milošević Serbia, as Ivan Čolović evokes in his masterly survey published here, the politico-cultural landscape remains dominated by unrepentant Greater Serbian aspirations, to which the future of Serbia is kept in pawn. Not only does the Serbian elite continue to pursue, this time through its own version of Kulturkampf, the war for a Greater Serbia, but the Western support for RS - established on crime and crime alone - condemns Serbia to remain a slave of the pre-modern, indeed mediaeval, mind-set that Milosević consecrated back in 1991. How could a country in which mediaeval saints are treated as national spokesmen, and graves as emanations of national unity, aspire to become a modern liberal democracy? Western protection of Milošević’s achievements in Bosnia (the ‘Serb’ entity) places an unbearably heavy burden precisely on those in Serbia who wish their country to become a democratic nation.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina the racialist structure created by Karadžić and Mladić was saved from utter defeat in 1995 by NATO governments, was then given a spurious legitimacy by Dayton, and is perpetuated to this day - thus making Bosnia, as indeed it would any country, unviable. The Dayton principle of ethnic representation, as Zlatko Hadžidedić argues forcefully here, has ensured that democracy cannot be created within the prevailing order. Yet Western officials continue to strive assiduously in the name of ‘reconciliation’ to make Bosnia’s education system and mass media indifferent to the genocidal and aggressive nature of the war that engulfed the country in 1992-95. Bosnia’s new generations are thus prohibited from learning what really happened to their country, and its populace is denied a public debate that could inform it as a whole about the realities of the war.

We thus find the ICTY issuing indictments for genocide, while US and EU politicians proceed as though no genocide had taken place at all, just as - from Cutileiro, Hurd, Mitterrand, Owen and the rest through to Holbrooke - they did during the war. Noel Malcolm recalls here Washington’s concern to avoid the ‘g’ word. And who can forget the respectful wooing of Biljana Plavšić, a main ideologue of racial purity, by London and Paris before her indictment for genocide (later plea-bargained away)? Yet the countries of the region can never be democratic, secure and stable so long as the genocidal project has not been exorcised once and for all. Given the complicity of some European states in the war against Bosnia-Herzegovina and the ambiguous record since then of the OHR, a US role remains essential; but any qualitative advance will necessitate dissolving the ‘entities’ and re-establishing a unitary government and polity.

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