Bosnia: a single country or an apple of discord?
Author: Dragoljub Petrovic
Uploaded: Friday, 12 May, 2006
Analysis translated from Helsinška Povelja (Belgrade) criticizing the distorted approach to Bosnia of Serb nationalists, and the nature of the Dayton settlement that brought the war in Bosnia to an end
By contrast with the national liberation movement [led by the Partisans in World War II], Serb and Croat nationalists denied the individuality of Bosnia-Herzegovina and sought to add it to their respective states. The Independent State of Croatia, a typical Quisling formation that conducted genocide, included all of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In Serbia, Milan Nedić’s Quisling government hoped that the Nazis would grant Serbia autonomy and add to it Bosnia-Herzegovina, Vojvodina, Slavonia, Dalmatia, Montenegro and northern Macedonia. The Ravna Gora Chetnik movement had in its programme the creation of a ‘Great Serbia in a great Yugoslavia’. Typical of the many documents is Homogenous Serbia, which advocated the creation of a Great Serbia. Similar drafts relating to the post-war map and the structure of the post-war state, as well as Draža Mihailović’s orders, tell of an unrealistic national project. A fictional Yugoslavism was to serve as a transition to the creation of a great Serb state in the Balkans. Serbian lands were to be demarcated within such a Yugoslavia, and purged of their non-Serb and in particular Muslim populations. This concept and policy was present before World War II in the plan of action propagated by the Serb Cultural Club, numerous politicians and assorted nationalists. After the end of the war this nationalist vision would remain latent until the end of the 20th century, although it was based on no historical right, regional-political factors, ethnic, ethical or indeed any other consideration.
In the second Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina was proclaimed a federal state of three nations, but without internal territorial divisions or political autonomies. Indeed, throughout its history Bosnia was never divided. The heterogeneous nature of its population gave no grounds for its division. Following World War II, its territorial integrity was constitutionally guaranteed - as was true for the borders of other federation members. Those internal borders remained constant and unchallenged up to the beginning of the 1990s, when Serbia adopted a policy of territorial expansion. The cover for this was the thesis that the Serbs, wherever they lived, should have the right of self-determination. This principle was not, of course, applied to Serbia itself. Active propaganda was conducted about the Serbs being endangered in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Serbia’s political leaders proclaimed themselves guardians of Yugoslavia, while concentrating on the creation of a Great Serbia.
‘The Serb national question’ raised by the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in its notorious Memorandum is not a real one, since the same arguments could be used to make every nation into a national question. In 1919, for example, when Hungary’s borders were decided at the Paris Peace Conference, they left out a substantial part of the Magyar nation. Something similar happened to the Albanians. The argument that Serbs were endangered in Bosnia-Herzegovina had no grounding in reality, given the high positions which they occupied in that republic. The thesis that the Serbs were being assimilated is equally spurious. Assimilation is a natural process that goes both ways: some Serbs were assimilated into other nations, members of other nations became Serbs. Nor can one rely on Yugoslavia’s break-up to justify the argument that Serbs were under threat. Socialist federations such as Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union divided along the lines of the federal borders. Although the number of Russians left outside the Russian Federation was considerable, the Federation showed no desire to expand to include them. In Serbia, however, a great campaign was started in the late 1980s about the alleged inferiority of the republic within Yugoslavia and the alleged injustices suffered by the Serb people.
It is a historical fact that Yugoslavia’s deconstruction was initiated by Serbia’s leaders, headed by Slobodan Milošević. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia were keenest to preserve Yugoslavia, but in the new situation Bosnia-Herzegovina followed Slovenia and Croatia in demanding that it too be recognised as an independent state. Belgrade described the recognition of these states as ‘premature’, which meant that the international community should first have satisfied Serbia’s territorial demands. The war against Bosnia began immediately after its recognition. A war planned by Belgrade militarists was imposed on the Serbs. The war was started by a military compact of the JNA, Serbian reservists and paramilitary units. Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were pushed into the war with weaponry supplied by the JNA, much of which came from Serbia. Under international and domestic pressure, the assertion that the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia had been attacked was changed to one about a dirty civil war. Just how dirty this war was is testified to by the fact that most of the Serb volunteers engaged in systematic pillage of the occupied lands. Ordinary Serbs were driven to spill blood for the sake of an expansionist plan forged in Belgrade. After the well-armed Serb troops had taken much of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatian hardliners turned to creating their own Herzeg-Bosnia.
The war created ‘Republika Srpska Krajina’ in Croatia and ‘Republika Srpska’ in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But whereas the international community helped to restore Croatia within its own borders, they divided Bosnia into two entities whose borders were established at Dayton in November 1995. This settlement, intended to end the war, has no terminal point. It was reached with the participation of Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro - a legal absurdity, since only a country’s own citizens have the right to shape their future. The entities and their borders are equally preposterous: they are unnatural, historically and economically unjustified, and ethnically unfounded. A height of absurdity is represented by the district of Brčko, whose sole purpose is to tie together the northern and eastern segments of Republika Srpska. (According to the 1991 census, the population of the present-day Brčko district was only 20% Serb.)
Such a resort to the ethnic principle in territorial demarcation on the part of the international community is unreal and impractical. In all democratic constitutions, citizens not nations appear as the normative category. It is not surprising that Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot function. This weird construction, which has no perspective, awaits a final dissolution. What is worrying is that an essentially anarchic situation is being allowed to continue, although it is unsuitable for a prolonged duration and injurious to both the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina and its citizens.
Translated from a longer text in Helsinška Povelja (Belgrade), nos 91-92, January-February 2006