Submitted by Nalini Lasiewicz
The current war in Bosnia-Herzogovina is essentially a war of aggression from the outside, even though it has internal ethnic dimensions. The conflict is a continuation of the war of aggression against Slovenia and Croatia, which temporarily subsided in those countries, (but has reignited in Croatia. in 1995). If the Serbian war machine is not stopped, the war can only spread to new areas and is likely to result in a confrontation of continental proportions. In the meantime, Milosevic's allies in Bosnia have been carrying out step-by-step destruction of most of the country.
In the name of protecting Serbs, no one has done more to endanger the lives of innocent Serbian people than Milosevic and his political allies. If inter-communal violence and 'ethnic hatred' have emerged in what was once regarded as a model multi-ethnic or multi-national federation, it is an ethnic violence Milosevic and the federal army have manufactured, stimulated, and perpetuated in their last-ditch effort to hold power in an era of democratic and nationalist revolutions. It was his chauvinistic policies which culminated in the arbitrary abolition in March 1989 of the autonomous status of the provinces of both Kosovo and Vojvodina which had been guarenteed by the Federal Constitution of the Yugoslav Federation.
ELECTIONS AND INDEPENDENCE
In March and April of 1990, Slovenia and Croatia held their first multi-party elections in almost fifty years. The Communist reformers lost the elections to parties favoring national sovereignty within a reorganized Yugoslav confederation. In November and early December 1990, similar non-Communist democratic nationalist coalitions emerged victorious in multi-party elections in Macedonia and Bosnia-Hercegovina as well. Throughout the first half of 1991, Bosnia's Muslim president Alija Izetbegovic and Macedonia's president Kiro Gligorov desperately sought to find a democratic solution which would allow the Slovenians and Croatians to remain within a decentralized and reorganized union of sovereign Yugoslav states but announced their desire to leave the Yugoslav federation should the Slovenes and Croats refuse to remain. Izetbegovic and Gligorov feared that if the Croatians and Slovenians left, Bosnia and Macedonia would be left to the mercy of Milosevic and other intransigent Serbian leaders.
Milosevic and the federal military leadership flatly rejected joint Slovenian and Croatian proposals for a looser federation or union of sovereign Yugoslav states. Serbian leaders appointed puppet representatives to the presidency from the no-longer existent autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina whose automy had already been arbitrarily and unconstitutionally abolished by the Serbian parliament. The last straw for the Slovenians and Croatians came when the Serbs and Montenegrins, together with these bogus representatives of no longer existent Kosovo and Vojvodina, blocked the confirmation of the very moderate, rational, and conciliatory Croatian Stipe Mesic as chairman of the federal presidency. According to the post-Tito constitutional arrangement, the chairmenship of the federal presidency, the highest executive body in the country, was to pass each year to the representative of a different republic who was to be chosed by his republic's parliament. It was Croatia's turn to select the federal president and Stipe Mesic was the first non-Communist ever to be nominated to head the federal presidency. The Croatians responded to Serbian stonewalling and provocations with a plebiscite in which the vast majority voted to authorize the Croatian parliment, 'Sabor' to declare independence at the end of June 1991 in the event that the coming weeks' negotiations proved futile.
CONSTITUTION AND CIVIL LIBERTIES
In December 1990, the Croatian parliament, or Sabor, passed a democratic constitution which guarantees the civil liberties of all of its citizens and provides for cultural and educational autonomy for the Serbs and other national minorities in Croatia. Under this constitution, Serbs and representatives of smaller minorities are given the right to have their own schools and to use their own language and alphabet as the official language and alphabet of districts where they form a majority. In May 1992, urged by the United Nations and European community, the Croatian government went even further, passing a law guaranteeing self-government and political autonomy to districts where Serbs make up a majority of the population. Because of these conciliatory measures taken by the Croatian government, it seems clear that the legitimate goals and concerns of the Serbian minority could have been addressed through negotiation and comprimise, and that there was no need whatsoever for an armed rebellion.
INSURGENTS IN CROATIA
In the fall and winter of 1990, Serbian insurgents centered in Knin organized autonomous districts with their own army and police forces in the Krajina. During the spring of 1991, while negotiations were taking place between the republican governments over the future of Yugoslavia, armed guerrillas and agitators, with help from Milosevic, "Yugoslav" army leaders, and Serbian officials, infiltrated village after village, town after town and district after district in the Serbian populated areas of Croatia. These agitators brought large quantities of weapons provided by the Serbian police, the federal army, and state weapons factories and literally thrust them upon the Serbian villagers in these areas. The Yugoslav federal army, led by an officer corps that was eighty percent Serbian, then entered the rebellious districts under the pretext of preventing ethnic violence. Long before the Croatians made their final and irrevocable declaration of independence from Yugoslavia, the "federal" army had completed the occupation of as much as one quarter of Croatian territory.
Despite all the evidence, the American, British, and French governments continued to harbor the notion that a unified Yugoslavia had to be preserved and that Croatia and Slovenia should be pressured into remaining in the Yugoslav federation. Ignoring the months of fruitless negotiotions deliberately sabotoged by the Serbian and federal army leadership, in the final week before the Slovenian and Croatian independence proclamations, American Secretary of State James Baker and Under Secretary Lawrence Eagleburger publicly opposed the Croatians' and Slovenians' moves towards independence. The German government, which ahd followed event much more closely and carefully, rightly advocate immediate recognition of the independence of Croatia and Slovenia and an unambiguous policy against Serbian or "federal" military intervention to prevent the indepence of these republics. Had the Germans been heeded, much bloodshed probably could have been prevented. At times European and American diplomats seemed strangely oblivious of the human suffering caused by Milosevic's war of aggression.
SEIZURE AND DESTRUCTION OF TERRITORY
In the course of their war against Croatia, Serbian and "federal" armed forces not merely entered Serbian-populated areas to "protect" Serbs but seized wide stretches of territory where Croatians formed an overwhelming majority. In such regions, they embarked on a systematic effort to terrorize and expel the Croatian population. This has been well documented by international human rights organizations. The same pattern was introduced simultaneously in Vojvodina against local Hungarians, Croatians, and other non-Serbs. Whole sections of Croatia and now Bosnia have been converted into a wasteland of rubble and charred rafters. Factories and buildings, capital accumulated through decades of toil and investment, have been totally destroyed. Hundreds of Serbian civilians have been killed by the indiscriminate bombardment of villages of mixed nationality and cities like Vukovar and Sarajevo, where a substantial part of the population is Serbian. Hundreds of naive Serbian army recruits have also been killed in the senseless and wanton assaults on Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. The destruction and killing perpetrated first against innocent Croats and Bosnian as well as Serbs by the Serbian and "federal" forces has been, nevertheless, of a far greater magnitude and is the result of conscious governmentally sponsored policy rather than spontaneous outbursts of "ethnic hatred."
For a short while in the first months of 1992, it appeared that the Yugoslav crises might, indeed, finally be settled peacefully. Representatives of the European Community and later the United Nations had spent many months trying to find a solution acceptable to Milosevic. Cyrus Vance, the chief United Nations negotiator, after months of foot dragging by Milosevic and the federal army, appeared to have convinced the Serbian and "federal" military leadership to agree to withdraw federal forces from Croatia.
But peace was not to be, and what followed cast grave doubt that Milosevic and the federal military leadership had any intention of respecting UN or European Community-sponsored agreements. After considerable delay, the United Nations sent peace-keeping forces into the designated areas of Croatia, but none to Bosnia. The "Federal" and Serbian military and civilian leaders have blocked the repatriation of thousands of Croatians who were driven out of their homes and are claiming the right to determine which Croatians will be allowed into the areas they control. The federal army handed much of its heavy weaponry over to local Serbian militias in Croatia, who have put on the uniforms of local police forces allowed by the peace agreement. Efforts by UNPROFOR to collect weapons from Serbian forces in Croatia have been ineffectual and are hopelessly behind schedule. Because of the UN failure, the Croatian government has now launched military action to reestablish control over part of the occupied areas. The United Nations has been unsuccessful in overseeing the return of any but a small handful of Croatian refugees all of whom face dangerous and uncertain conditions. In the meantime the Belgrade regime and its allies in Bosnia-Hercegovina have launched a new war of aggression.
THE WAR IN BOSNIA
Hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Croats were driven from their homes by the Serbian forces in a deliberate campaign of territorial conquest and ethnic purification. At the last count, the number of refugees from the Serbian war of destruction and extermination in Bosnia was approaching two million. [note: updated to 3.5 million by October 1995.] The "federal" military in Bosnia joined the fight on the side of the Serbian new-fascist legions and added its weaponry for the step-by-step destruction of Sarajevo.
Whenever Bosnians and Croatians have been able to organize defense forces to resist the Serbian attacks, the systematic mass killing and ethnic cleansing of these two peoples have been prevented. In areas where the Bosnians handed over their weapons to the Yugoslav army or Serbian militias, the local non-Serbian population have been totally defenseless and has suffered mass atrocities. Areas which were well defended by local Bosnian Muslim and Croatian militias were spared this fate. Bosnian Muslim and Croatian forces have generally defended only areas where members of these nationalities are in a majority. They have not engaged in systematic ehtnic cleansing, and their actions have been largely defensive.
RESPONSE OF THE WORLD TO AGGRESSION
The response of the United States and Western European governments, Russia, United Nations officialdom and the European Community to what is clearly a Serbian-Montenegrin or "Yugoslav" war of aggression against the now internationally recognized independent and sovereign nations of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina has been irresponsible with appallingly destructive consequences. The United States, France, England and Russia failed to intervene in an effective and constructive way to mediate a democratic and peaceful disassociation of former Yugoslav republics from the Yugoslav federation after its viability had been destroyed by a series of arbitray actions of Milosevic's Serbian government and the Serbian-dominated federal army leadership. The United States, France and England - by initially publicly opposing the democratic decision of the Slovenian and Croatian peoples when they declared independence after months of Serbian and Montenegrin sabataged negotiations - gave the "Yugoslav" military an open invitation to intervene militarily to prevent the independence of these republics and to seize territory for Greater Serbia alias Yugoslavvia.
By imposing an arms embargo on all of former Yugoslavia by Resolution 713 on September 25, 1991, the United Nations Security Council effectively granted a monopoly on heavy weaponry and air power to the aggressors in the conflict, the "Yugoslav National Army" and the various Serbian and Montenegrin paramilitary forces supported by the army leadership.
Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia were the only republics of former Yugoslavia to meet the human rights criteria set by the European Community in December of 1991 as a condition for recognition. President Izetbegovic had already shown himself to be a democrat and advocate of human rights for all citizens regardless of religion or nationality. The only sensible choice was for the international community backed up by the military power of NATO and the United Nations to assist Bosnia-Hercegovina to achieve a democratic and peaceful transition to independence and to provide reasonable guarentees to the Serbian minority by sending a clear message to Serbia/Yugoslavia and its Serbian Bosnian clients that they accept such a peaceful and democratic solution and the democratically elected governments of Bosnian-Hercegovina and Croatia.
SANCTIONS AND AID
The United Nations has failed to provide effective support for a just and democratic resolution of the crisis and has passed a number of ineffectual resolutions all of which have done nothing to stop the continued onslaught of Serbian military forces. On May 31, 1992, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on the rump Yugoslavia or Serbia and Montenegro. This resolution for the first time singled out Yugoslavia or Serbia and the aggressor in the Bosnian conflict. The sanctions have created considerable economic discomfort in Serbia and Montegegro but have had little effect on Serbia's policy towards Bosnia-Hercegovina or the behavior of the Serbian forces in Bosnia. In summer of 1992, the United Nations belatedly began providing food and medical supplies to the hungry, sick and blockaded citizens of Sarajevo and other Bosnian cities. The aid mission has done nothing to address the fundamental cause of hunger, disease, injury and death, which is the war itself. The United Nations forces sent to deliver humanitarian aid and monitor cease fire agreements have become virtual hostages.
For months after the outbreak of the conflict United Nations officials failed to heed the many reports of ethnic cleansing, rape and mass killing being carried out by Serbian forces on a massive scale. In a similar fashion, the Bush administration for months suppressed daily reports of atrocities in Bosnia which were reaching the United States Embassy in Belgrade. Only after television news reporters showed the world public video footage of the appalling treatment of prisoners at Serbian run camps did United Nations officialdom or leaders of major world powers take notice of the problem. The arrival of Red Cross monitors and United Nations special missions have done little to change the situation. While some prisoners were released from the most notorious camps, many others were merely transferred to unknown locations or perhaps killed.
VANCE-OWEN PEACE PLAN
According to the version of the plan which Vance and Owen submitted in January 1993, the Bosnian Muslims who made up 44 percent of the population in Bosnia-Hercegovina before the war began are to receive 29 percent of the land in the republic for their three cantons, the Croatians who made up 17 percent of the population 25 percent and the Serbs who made up 31 percent of the population 42 percent. This arrangement leaves approximately 44 percent of the Muslims living outside the cantons where they are in the majority, 37 percent of Croatians outside the Croatian controlled cantons and 48 percent of the Serbs outside the Serbian controlled cantons. Nobody but the Tudjman government, the Boban wing of the Croatian Democratic Union of Herceg-Bosna, and some Croatians living inside the proposed Croatian controlled canton are satisfied with the Vance Owen Plan. In Izetbegovic's view, Bosnian unity can be maintained only if Bosnia is organized as a democratic and secular state which stresses the human and political rights of all individuals rather than the rights of national or confessional groups, and only a united Bosnia can be economically viable. If the plan were actually implemented, the Bosnian government and Bosnian Muslims would receive the least and give up the most. Bosnian Serb forces led by Karadzic and General Mladic would be required to relinquish about one third of the territory they have conquered and ethnically cleansed while keeping two thirds.
This essay is from a book by Alan Fogelquist and was reprinted with permission.
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