Monday, July 20, 2009

Some thoughts on Bosnia

In a recent opinion piece William Montgomery criticizes Western Balkan policy:

This is because we continue to insist that it is possible, with enough pressure and encouragement, to establish fully functioning multiethnic societies in Bosnia and Kosovo with no change in borders. And we have consistently ignored all evidence to the contrary and branded as obstructionist anyone who speaks openly about alternative approaches.

The reality is that no amount of threats or inducements, including fast membership in the European Union or NATO, will persuade the Bosnian Serbs to cede a significant portion of the rights and privileges given them under the Dayton Agreement to the central government, as the Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and the international community are determined to bring about. The Bosnian Serbs are determined to have full control over their own destiny, and fear that if they continue to transfer authority to a central government, the more numerous Bosniaks will end up in control.

The end result is continued tension between the two Bosnian entities, a dysfunctional country, and the prospect of many more years of efforts by Western politicians — like Vice President Joe Biden on his recent visit — to pound a square peg into a round hole.

Regarding a solution he writes: a solution probably involves shaping a different relationship within Bosnia and permitting the Republika Srpska, the Serbian portion of the divided country, to hold a referendum on independence. This would have to include a lot of guarantees about future relationships, and be done as a complete package led and implemented by the international community..

I am glad to see a more realistic policy. But I would like to see a more realistic view of a multi-ethnic society: a multi-ethnic society can only exist when the rights for all ethnic groups are guaranteed. One can discuss about the situation before the war, but just after a war it is ridiculous to assume that the Serbs will not be discriminated if Muslim politicians get the chance. Just study the history of American South after the civil war. So there is a need for iron guarantees like the existence of the RS. The RS is not part of the problem; it is part of the solution and a similar solution for Bosnia's Croats is necessary.

Inzko recently has used his Bonn powers to veto a decision by RS parliament to take back the powers it had ceded to Bosnia's central government. Parliamentarians later claimed that their resolution was meant symbolic. What I totally miss is the ideological perspective in Inzko's reaction. The implicit message in the Serb resolution is "we have given up enough; now it is up to the other side". Inzko should either prove this message incorrect or come up with some Muslim concession to get things going again.

In a more recent article from Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Senad Pećanin, director of the news weekly Dani, gives three reasons why Bosnia should stay united:
- the division of the country would not be just. It would represent a reward for ethnic cleansing and genocide.
- the division would not happen in a peaceful manner; that would be absolutely impossible. It is something which could not be done without a new war. The part of BiH with a majority Croat population would want to have the same rights as the Serbs, that is, to also secede and eventually join Croatia.
- a sort of European Gaza would be created for the Bosnian Muslims. This would be a clear message for radical Muslims; a confirmation for those who say that the international community, for three and a half years, did nothing to stop the war, the mass killings and the deportations of hundreds of thousands of people because, in reality, it was all a big conspiracy of Christians against Muslims.

This requires an answer:
- the reward of ethnic cleansing argument is an old one. But it ignores that ethnic cleansing happened on all sides. Ethnic cleansing is not only ethnic cleansing when it happens violently. This fact that it happened on all sides makes it practically impossible to turn the clock back and let everyone return. Sooner or later one will have to recognize this as the new reality.
- the ethnic cleansing argument also ignores that already before the war there was a demand by the Serbs (and to a lesser extent the Croats) to have institutionally guaranteed minority rights. Yugoslavia had offered such guarantees. When denied such rights the Serbs started a cruel war to get them the only sure way: a clearly demarcated area where they were the majority. But those rights should not have been contested in the first place.
- the war threat: I think a split of the Federation is inevitable. I find it rather stupid that this opportunistic war alliance now dictates a highly inefficient configuration of Bosnia. For the rest - as Montgomery writes - it is a matter of profound negotiations. Negotiations that should have been held in 1991 or 1992.
- I find the last point the most problematic. When Bosnia secedes from Yugoslavia or Kosovo secedes from Serbia it is considered normal, but when a Christian area wants to secede from a Muslim area it would be considered a big conspiracy of Christians against Muslims. Sounds like nonsense to me.
- Before World War II many countries had territorial claims. It was a heritage of the colonial expansion when there was enough for everyone to grab in Africa and Asia. Countries that missed the colonial tried it closer to home. Germany became obsessed with Lebensraum and contracts for minerals from the Balkans. Italy "needed" South Tirol for defense. Czechoslovakia "needed" (and got) Sudetenland for wealth and defense. Many countries thought that they didn't have enough and made trouble with their neighbors (Yugoslavia suffered from this as Bulgaria, Hungary and Italy were financing terrorism among its Croats and Macedonians). And so on. After World War II it was decided that this was a very bad way to deal with each other. Free trade and open borders were offered as better solution. And now Pećanin tells us that the Muslims somehow "need" the territory of the Serbs and the Croats. Sounds rather strange to me. If he somehow claimed that the Muslims didn't get a fair share of Bosnia it would be worth considering, but this is absurd.
- Would a split-up of Bosnia bring radical Muslims to power as the article claims? I don't think so. There nothing evil in giving everyone his share. And what would converting to radicalism help the Bosniaks?

In fact I believe that it is one of the first things we should do with Bosnia: talking about a split as an acceptable solution for a country that never really existed. Just as Montgomery says, a split would need extensive negotiations and international guarantees. But removing the taboo is an essential need for solving Bosnia's problems. It even increases the likelihood that Bosnia will stay together because negotiations will finally involve give-and-take from both sides instead of one-sided pressure on the Serbs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"the reward of ethnic cleansing argument is an old one. But it ignores that ethnic cleansing happened on all sides."

Ethnic cleaning was perpetrated primarily by Serbia, and we must never forget that "Republika Srpska" was created by Serbia killing and expelling the Bosnians.

Srbenica lies inside "Republika Srpska" territory. Not many Bosnians there, are there? The famous massacre was typical of how Serbia made "Republika Srpska" Serbian.