Friday, October 13, 2006

Silajdzic' all or nothing game

William Montgomery is a US diplomat who served in Yugoslavia in its final period. Nowadays he regularly writes a column for B92. Often it is not very interesting, but his recent "deje vu" article certainly was. He compares the present situation in Bosnia with that before the war and finds them very similar. But what interested me most was his vision of the breakup of Yugoslavia.

When one reads Montgomery's article the first impression is that he has learned a lot since then. But on closer observation his core beliefs have stayed the same.

It is very interesting to see how he discards Milosevic's efforts to centralize Yugoslavia without much thought. Obviously he disliked Milosevic and he didn't bother to look after the arguments for his policy. Yet at the same time he finds Izetbegovic's longing for a strong central state in Bosnia very understandable. He even compares it to the American melting pot.

It keeps amazing me when I hear politicians talk about splitting up countries as if they talk about clipping nails. In fact splitting up countries is a very sensitive process that should be done very carefully. It can be done: see the breakup of Czechoslovakia. But in Yugoslavia the international politicians have made a mess of it. Breaking up Yugoslavia and expecting that the same ethnic groups can live happy together in a smaller unit is in my eyes stupidity. The hurt of a badly managed break-up makes it harder - not easier - to live together.

Also very interesting is Montgomery's description of a meeting between Eagleburger and Jovic. He tells how Eagleburger gave a typical American blunt speach before the war. One of its elements was that the Serbs had to accept the idea of an independence referendum in Bosnia. Jovic's reaction was to say calmly and matter of factly "If there is a referendum in Bosnia and independence there, there will be war.". Even now Montgomery sees this only as a threat. He simply doesn't get it that it may have been a warning that he was playing with fire.

This brings me to the recent election victory of Silajdzic in Bosnia. This is the man who does not recognize Dayton and who torpedoed Bosnia's new constitution. If major Serb politicians had behaved in a similar way the OHR would have given serious reprimands and threatened with sanctions. But now it stayed quiet. It looks like the internationals have been sent on a guilt trip by Silajdzic and are no longer capable of logical thinking.

Silajdzic likes to repeat that the Republika Srpska is based on ethnic cleansing. He is partially right of course (some parts had already a Serb majority), but the same applies to much of the Federation. Like it or not, but this is the predictable outcome of an ethnic war. The main question is not the guilt question, but the question how we can best go from here.

During the war the Bosniac government liked to maintain the pretense that they were there for all Bosnians - not just the Muslims. It was on this basis that the Serb occupied part of Sarajevo was allocated to the Bosniac government in the Dayton Agreement. They could have proved there that their propaganda was true. But instead we saw a speedy ethnic cleansing of this part of Sarajevo. Muslims constitute now over 90% of the population and minorities are still leaving. And the Bosniac politicians do nothing to stop this. They give only lame excuses about hurt feelings in the war. So we know what will happen if the rest of Bosnia will come under Bosniac rule. I don't think this is what the international community wants.

Silajdzic most fervent followers are Muslims from places like Srebrenica, Banja Luka and Prijedor, that are now in the RS. One can understand their longing to return to a less hostile climate than the present RS. But this should not be a one-sided right. Bosnias Serbs need a place to live too. The Dayton borders were designed so that at least everyone had a home. When returns happen both ways this works. But when it works only one way Bosnia will end with 100% Muslims.

Silajdzic's game is an all or nothing game. If he wins his followers can return to their original homes - very probably ejecting the other inhabitants. But if he does not win he has only made the ethnic tensions worse and a return for his followers more difficult.

So while Silajdzic states that he is for a Bosnia without borders and ethnic differences he is in fact for a Bosnia where one ethnic group is allowed to dominate.

Silajdzic's great example is Croatia. The Croats largely got away with cleansing most of their Serbs. The EU and the US could have set Croatia strong targets regarding the number of returning Serbs. Instead they prefer trophy hunting and going after people like Gotovina. I think this is the wrong priority. Restauration of the damage of the war is more important than getting some people behind bars.

It is claimed that tribunals like ICTY can prevent future conflicts from getting so cruel. But I believe that in every conflict every party has its war crimes. And in the climate of a war getting things done is more important than playing by the rules - so they often remain unpunished. In the court room this is played out by pointing to the delicate position of the party that committed the war crimes. And so it comes down to the question whether a party waged a justified war - a question the ICTY is not qualified to answer and which it doesn't try to investigate thoroughly either. The most obvious example is the case of Nasir Oric. As the main militia commander of Srebrenica he was involved in the murder of hundreds of unarmed Serb civilians. Yet in the end he got away with a 2 year verdict. In his defense the court gave a lot of attention to the delicate position of Srebrenica at that time (a besieged and hungry city on the brink of collapse).

The Serbs, Croats and Muslims all managed to get the areas that they control ethnically cleansed. For all three there are strong indications that this was no coincidence - but a well planned policy. All three had a different kind of policy to achieve this. The Croats in Croatia and Muslims in Bosnia relied more on their control of the state to create a unbearable climate for minorities, while the Croats in Bosnia and the Serbs needed violence to create an area under their control first. I believe this is the big picture and this should be the main focus of our attention - not individual war crimes.

Brcko is an example how Bosnia could be. No ethnic group is really dominant and the international comunity keeps a close watch to keep it this way. Similarly all the peace proposals before and during the Bosnian War foresaw territories where one or the other ethnic group dominated.

The heart of democracy is not elections. It is that all men are equal (before the law and before the government). It seems that for mr. Silajdzic democracy means that the Muslims may dominate the Serbs and the Croats because they are with more. But this is not democracy. It is something that is often nichnamed as "the dictatorship of the majority" and it is usually compensated for with special autonomy.

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