Tragedy of Bosnia
would not be an exaggeration to say that everyone in the Balkans
turned their eyes to Washington this week, eagerly awaiting
word of the outcome of the US presidential elections. For
at stake was not only the leadership of some 280 million people
in the United States, but the fates of countless millions
throughout the world for whom American benevolence or hostility
over the years have meant the difference between life and
man who is inaugurated as the 43rd President of
the United States this January will also assume the mantle
of the Emperor of the known world. This may not be right or
just, but it is the way things are. And as the new Emperor,
he will have to deal with crises and problems created or perpetuated
by America’s military and political presence worldwide, in
addition to handling domestic issues.
of these problems will be Bosnia-Herzegovina, an unfortunate
patch of mountainous Balkans heartland that has been occupied
by NATO and the UN for the past five years, and has never
recovered from a brutal civil war (1992-95). Another will
be Kosovo, which has been under NATO occupation for sixteen
horrible months. And the third might be Macedonia, a country
still in the balance as its neighbors’ territorial and cultural
aspirations ebb and flow.
coming Saturday, Bosnia’s despondent citizens will themselves
flock to the polls to try voting
for a better government for the third straight time since
the Dayton Agreement ended the bloodshed in November of 1995.
Their electoral procedures, drafted and implemented by international
protectors, will be flawed; but they will still offer more
of a choice than Americans had this past Tuesday. Voter turnout
in the Bosnian hills has routinely put Americans to shame.
For the first time since 1990, Muslim hardliners stand to
lose control of the central government. And yet, none of that
will make one morsel of a difference.
the Dayton Agreement, Bosnia is a paradoxical, semi-viable
pseudo-state, divided into two self-governing entities with
their own constitutions, governments and militaries. In reality,
this state is held together by a UN
viceroy (High Representative/HR) and an army of NATO peacekeepers.
Its budget is dependent on foreign handouts and outrageous
taxes on local commerce – mainly trade and smuggling.
High Representative has the authority to dismiss elected officials,
impose and override legislation, censor the media and ban
political parties. In the past, it has also dictated trash
collection practices, imposed license plates, passports and
other identity documents, and determined the country’s national
anthem and flag.
of its dictatorial activity has occurred in the Bosnian Serb
republic (Republika Srpska/RS).
For the past two years the High Representatives have maintained
in power a Prime Minister with only a fraction of parliamentary
support. Right before NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia in 1999,
Srpska’s president was sacked by then-HR Carlos Westendorp.
Last year, after a statement by US Ambassador to the UN Richard
Holbrooke, the HR outlawed a Serb political party. Just weeks
before the county elections this spring, the Hague War Crimes
Tribunal cooked up an indictment against another Serb politician
– who had served as one of three co-presidents of Bosnia from
1996 to 1998 – and NATO troops dragged him off to prison.
addition to the indirectly administered territory of Bosnia,
there is an actual sliver of territory under direct international
occupation. The District of
Brcko divides the RS in two and separates the Muslim-Croat
Federation from Croatia proper. Until Serb control till then,
Brcko was made a district by an American arbitrator in March
the past five years, Bosnia has made astonishingly little
economic progress. The High Representatives have blamed this
situation on corruption and nationalism. Both are certainly
plentiful in Bosnia. How wouldn’t there be? Laws are changed
every Tuesday, voted, vetoed or imposed at will. Economic
activity is controlled in a feudal fashion, with local officials
usually maintaining a stranglehold on all activities on behalf
of their political party. Most parties are simply vessels
for their leaders. Corruption is a natural consequence of
personal politics. However, these two issues – however present
and important – are not the key to understanding or solving
the Bosnian situation.
war that broke out in 1992 was not a case of external aggression
against a peaceful Bosnian nation. Such a nation is a figment
of imperial imagination – first Turkish, then Austrian, and
finally American. The underlying cause of the war, as Misha
Glenny pointed out in Fall
of Yugoslavia, were irreconcilable political differences
between ethnic communities. One could deny it as much as one
wants, but it remains a fact that the Muslims wanted to claim
the state as their own and dominate the other two groups,
the Serbs wanted to keep Bosnia in Yugoslavia (and secede
to form a separate state once that goal was no longer practical),
while the Croats’ ultimate aim was annexation of their ethnic
territories to Croatia proper. Those caught in between, or
left behind, were given a choice to accept becoming a disenfranchised
minority, move, or die.
never actually had independence. Not counting a medieval kingdom
whose population bears no cultural or national resemblance
to the present inhabitants, it has always been a province
of some empire or other, its peoples constantly played against
each other. Even as a part of federal Yugoslavia, Bosnia existed
only in an external context that kept its populace in balance.
As soon as it left that external context in 1992, that populace
split over who was to be in charge. It took three and a half
years and 200,000 dead to end that argument – but not to resolve
it. The Dayton
Agreement left the matter open, but put a lid on passions.
Bosnia’s embittered Croats, Muslims and Serbs still fear and
mistrust each other, and far too many remain convinced that
the argument will have to be finished some other way, some
current masters of Bosnia seem to believe that this division
will disappear given time, education and money. Some of Bosnia’s
inhabitants share this opinion, for various reasons. Given
time and a benefit of a doubt they have a slim chance to succeed,
but history and experience are against them. Attempting to
bridge the gaps between Bosnia’s ethnic communities is comparable
to pouring glue on the St. Andreas fault in hope to prevent
earthquakes. And just like earthquakes, Bosnia’s ethnic tensions
are a constant presence in that unfortunate land’s life.
bribes and brainwashing may indeed accomplish some temporary
semblance of unity, but it takes far more than that to wipe
out separate identities of entire nations, especially if they
have a vibrant historical memory. Any time someone tried to
bottle up national identities in Bosnia, savage campaigns
of murder followed. In the histories of Bosnia, the years
1914 and 1941 are written in blood right alongside 1992.
add insult to injury, the bloody internal dispute among the
peoples of Bosnia has been used to promote the agenda of the
Empire in a most cynical way. From the last months of Bush
the Elder’s presidency through the first three years of Clintonism,
Bosnia was the linchpin of America’s Balkans policy. The United
States sabotaged peace efforts and fed the flames of the conflict,
then used the conflagration to promote its role as a peacemaker
and security kingpin of the post-Cold War Europe. In the process,
the half-dead Cold War dinosaur of NATO
was reborn as an aggressive military alliance. From the very
beginning of the bloodshed in Bosnia, NATO had accumulated
more power and responsibility in the area. Its attack on the
Bosnian Serbs in 1995 and the subsequent occupation of Bosnia
paved the way for the attack on Serbia and the occupation
of Kosovo almost four years later. Few question the need for
NATO’s existence today as they did in the early 1990s, and
even fewer see the horrible danger this metamorphosis represents.
used then half-forgotten, Bosnia is presently at peace because
it is governed by a superior external force. When the Empire
leaves Bosnia, and someday it will have to, the issue of control
will flare up again and again, until it is resolved one way
or another. Worse yet, the dysfunctional Bosnian confederacy
will cause the old wounds to fester and rot until they are
ready to spill their venom again, in a harsher and deadlier
way than ever before.
new Emperor probably has no idea how complex of a situation
he has inherited, nor does he begin to understand what trouble
the United States has gotten itself into over a land it used
as the sacrificial lamb for reviving the American domination
that respect, one could say that this week’s US elections
will be just as futile as the coming elections in Bosnia.
The United States is set on its path of imperial dominance,
which implies a continued involvement with the land it used
to make that status a reality. Bosnia, on the other hand,
is set on a path of renewed conflict sometime in the future.
Those who are attempting to create a peaceful, united Bosnian
society while ignoring the main obstacle in their path are
brave idealists, but
the odds are against them – and their efforts might even make
matters worse in the long run.
exemplifies the depth of the Balkans curse – a land where
hostilities between neighbors run deep and parallel to friendships
and intermarriages, alternating every so often. It also represents
a tragedy the Empire cannot begin to fathom, arrogant
and ignorant as it is, no matter who sits in the White
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