July 20, 2001

Another "war crimes" scapegoat

The utter hypocrisy and outright evil of the "war crimes" trials being conducted in the Balkans these days is epitomized by the Croatian court trying Fikret Abdic for alleged "crimes against humanity." It is a story in which everything is inverted: in which the West, as embodied by the International Criminal Tribunal for War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia (ICTFY), pursues a policy in which good is sacrificed to evil and the virtuous are smeared as "war criminals."


Cazinska Krajina, centered in the town of Velika Kladusa, in the far northwest corner of Bosnia, was once the most prosperous and peaceful region in Bosnia, in spite of the constant warfare that has bedeviled the region since the breakup of Yugoslavia. For this was the home base of Fikret Abdic, the remarkable and well-loved local entrepreneur who rose from nothing to become the country's biggest industrialist: it was Abdic who transformed a poor area into a highly profitable center of industry through his company, Agrokomerc. It was Abdic who provided the highest wages in the region, and this economic powerhouse gave the locals the highest standard of living in Bosnia. Persecuted by the Yugoslav Communists, who naturally resented a successful entrepreneur, he was jailed for two years without being charged with a crime, and released in 1989. He restarted his business, was more successful than ever, and ran for the Bosnian presidency on a moderate platform of economic revival as the key to reconciliation between the religious and ethnic factions. Abdic beat out Muslim fundamentalist Alija Izetbegovic – although the latter was mysteriously declared the "winner."


Abdic retired from the national political scene, and decided to go back to Cazinska Krajina with the tacit understanding that he would be left alone by the central government to do his own thing – which was making money not only for himself but for his people. Abdic opposed the radical Islamic fundamentalism of Izetbegovic and proclaimed himself a follower of Western-style capitalism. In Balkan Odyssey, Lord Owen, the British diplomat, described him as "forthright, confident and different from the Sarajevan Muslims. He was in favor of negotiating and compromising with Croats and Serbs to achieve a settlement, and scathing about those Muslims who wanted to block any such settlement." As one Abdic supporter succinctly put it: "Alija Izetbegovic is the biggest Muslim fundamentalist. Fikret Abdic is the best economist and smartest man."


The socialist-minded government in Sarajevo did not look kindly on Abdic's economic liberalism, and furthermore was horrified by Abdic's open dealing with Croats and Serbs. Abdic believed that he could achieve a kind of informal autonomy, and that his mini-state could stay above the fray: this may have been the crux of a deal with Izetbegovic that led Abdic to walk away from his 1990 election victory, with the understanding that he would henceforth enjoy a kind of immunity. But it was not to be.


The three-sided civil war that tore apart the fragile Bosnian confederation did not allow for such a disinterested pragmatism: he soon found himself and his prosperous isle of Balkan capitalism under siege, from the Bosnian government – which resented his moderate stance and was jealous of his popularity – and also from the Croatians, who were realigned with the central authorities in Sarajevo. Abdic did his best to straddle the fence, and play one side off against the other, but eventually this became impossible. In spite of Abdic's adroit maneuverings, by the spring of 1992, his peaceful and prosperous enclave was surrounded by hostile parties on four sides – and the Bosnian Muslim army afforded him no protection. Always critical of the uncompromising position of Izetbegovic and his pro-Iranian fundamentalist party, the SDA, Abdic declared the Cazinska Krajina enclave an autonomous republic, and signed a separate peace with both the Serbs and the Croats.


The Bosnian Army launched a deadly offensive against Abdic on June 10, 1994, and they were joined by their newfound allies, the Croats. The Bosnian 5th Corps attacked Velika Kladusa in a campaign of murder, terror, and rapine that equals any of the more widely-touted atrocities, such as the "rape" of Srebenica, in which the Muslims are always the victims. Well, here it was Muslims victimizing other Muslims: but since that didn't fit into the neat victimological categories established by the Western media, it was studiously ignored.


Abdic and tens of thousands of his followers fled into neighboring Croatia, where many were crowded into refugee camps, as the Bosnian army reclaimed the enclave. Thousands were killed in the fighting, and, after the battle, Abdic's remaining supporters – those who did not flee – were subjected to systematic and cruel repression. (Abdic was himself the target of an Iranian-trained assassination squad organized by the Bosnian intelligence agency.) Now Croatia is accusing him of involvement in the deaths of civilians and prisoners of war during his enclave's battle with the Bosnian Muslim central government.


Fikret's political associate, Ibrahim Djedovic, a former official of the Autonomous Republic of Western Bosnia, has already been acquitted of the same phony "war crimes" charges of which Abdic is now accused. Djedovic was arrested during a session of the House of Representatives of the Bosnian Assembly, of which he is an elected member, representing Abdic's party, the Democratic People's Community (DNZ). The police surrounded the building, seized Djedovic, and spirited him off to a hotel room in Sarajevo. He was jailed, and initially convicted by a Bosnian court, but the decision was overturned by an appeals court for lack of evidence. Djedovic's victory is widely seen as a confirmation of Abdic's contention that the autonomists never wanted war with Sarajevo. It is also a stinging refutation of the phony charge that Abdic and his government set up "concentrations camps," in which civilians were locked up for political reasons. Besides holding Djedovic personally responsible for every violation of human rights that had occurred during the rebellion, the governing Party of Democratic Action (SDA) prosecutors threw in the charge of rape. All the favorite horror stories of the Bosnians and their Western supporters were thrown into this "war crimes" stew: not only tall tales of "genocide," but also "concentration camps" where rape was the overseers' favorite pastime.


The Croatian government has given in to the ICTFY's pressure, and is sending some of their military leaders, who are widely viewed as heroes in their own country, to the Hague. According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting: "The authorities in Croatia are arresting innocent Serbs to diffuse nationalist anger over the detention of Croat war crimes suspects." A few months ago, after Croatia arrested several of their own military personnel on "war crimes" charges, they also arrested eighteen Croatian Serbs. The men declared their innocence, and began a hunger strike, at which time Yugoslav President Kostunica accused Croatia of violating their human rights. But who will defend a Muslim hated by the Bosnian Muslim government?


General Charles Boyd, deputy chief of the US European Command at the height of the Bosnian war, wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine [9/95] that Abdic created "one of the few examples of successful multiethnic cooperation in the Balkans." Gabriel Partos, writing in today's [July 20] BBC News, speculates that had Abdic actually taken over as president of Bosnia, history "might have taken a completely different course as he was always willing to strike a bargain with Serb and Croat separatists." This willingness to negotiate contradicted the policy of the fanatical Muslim separatists and the US government. The US armed and trained the Croatian military, whose leaders are now being judged and punished by America's allies. Meanwhile, Croatia is punishing a Muslim peacemaker and innocent Serbs – such is justice after NATO's Balkan victory.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.


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