Committee Of Correspondence

Bosnia After the Elections

Misha Glenny
10:13 a.m.  Monday  9/16/96 

       The first results are through in the Bosnian election and (surprise, surprise) the nationalist candidates are doing brisk business.
       After the last elections in 1990, the three main parties, the Muslim SDA, the Serb SDS, and the Croat HDZ, were all responsible in varying degrees for the internal collapse of Bosnia which prefaced the war.
       Most people in Bosnia-Herzegovina are fully aware where responsibility lies. So why are these three symbols of war succeeding again after all the harm they have wrought?
       To understand it, it is important to remember what sort of state the Bosnians are voting into being.
       Carl Bildt, the European responsible for the civilian implementation of the Dayton Agreement, has called Bosnia “the most decentralized country in the world.”
       And herein lies the problem.
       In the history of modern Europe, there has never been a state quite like that envisioned by the Dayton Agreement. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a tiny country with just over 4 million inhabitants, almost half of whom are refugees elsewhere in Europe. Dayton divides it into two “entities,” the Serbian Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation. Even if the common institutions governing these entities are properly established after the election, the Dayton agreement affords the entities such wide-ranging autonomy as to make central government virtually redundant. The Dayton Agreement also permits the existence of three hostile armies on Bosnia’s territory, each associated with a particular national group.
       Seen in this light, the oft-repeated determination of the international community to prevent the Serbian Republic from seceding and joining Serbia proper is a principled enough stand but in practice irrelevant–as an entity it can do anything it likes, bar formal secession.
       For all the flowery rhetoric about a unified Bosnia in the Dayton Agreement, the details of the document make it clear that this will never be a coherent state. Serbia and Croatia will always maintain a controlling interest in some areas.
       The fuzzy partition which Dayton encourages also ensures that the nationalist parties will succeed in any elections because they are the only ones who can guarantee stability to a deeply traumatized electorate. The elections are a “remarkable day,” as my co-panelist Madeleine Albright has put it, not because they further democracy in Bosnia but because they consolidate peace.
       Bosnians, however, will only sleep soundly when they consider that peace definitive. One round of elections, though perhaps a step in the right direction, is just a cautious start. It will take many years for the contours of that peace to become clear. And for that reason, IFOR, the NATO-led force in Bosnia, has to stay well beyond December’s deadline for a pullout.
       Even among some of President Clinton’s most senior advisers, it is common knowledge that there will have to be a follow-on force of some sort with American participation. Would it damage the President’s re-election chances so much if the administration just came clean and admitted what is, in diplomatic circles, an open secret? Warren Zimmermann
11:40 a.m.  Monday  9/16/96 

       The Dayton agreement wouldn’t have been possible without the use of American power, and a nonviolent future for Bosnia after the elections won’t be possible without the continued presence of American troops. Dayton produced a cease-fire in Bosnia that still survives, though it’s constantly threatened. Apart from that, however, the trend lines in Bosnia have been negative. Refugees have been intimidated from returning to their homes, freedom of movement has been limited, the media remain in the untender hands of ethnic nationalists, ethnic cleansing continues, and Bosnia’s two most prominent indicted war criminals–the Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic–continue to wield power.
       There’s a real danger that the elections will accelerate these trends, however much we may hope that they’ll curb them. If the nationalist parties win big, they will be able to claim “democratic” legitimacy. The separation of ethnic groups will probably continue. The Bosnian Serbs (who hate the idea of a united Bosnia) and possibly the Bosnian Croats will have enough power in the new central institutions of the Bosnian state to immobilize them. Refugees will hesitate to return, leaving over a million Bosnians outside their country. And–worst of all–Bosnia will soon be effectively partitioned into three ethnically hostile entities.
       A multi-ethnic, unified Bosnia was the main objective of America’s late but effective intervention a year ago. Surely it’s worth our continued involvement to try to keep that objective viable. What will it take? I believe it will take two actions on the part of the U.S. government. The first would be a decision to continue the presence of the NATO force–with U.S. participation–beyond the one-year deadline. Bosnia is not yet ready to run its own affairs; it would be an act of Western negligence to leave it in the lurch. Second, the NATO force should be ordered to be more assertive–for example, to arrest Karadzic (not an impossible task) and to do more to ensure freedom of movement and of the press. The numbers of NATO troops could be reduced if their mission were more focused on these more political tasks. A reduction of the force would also make its presence more sustainable for a longer period of time; I would suggest at least until the next–and hopefully more democratic–elections two years hence.
       Continued NATO, and U.S., presence in Bosnia won’t guarantee a positive outcome there. But early withdrawal will certainly guarantee an acceleration of the trend toward partition and renewed violence. Madeleine Albright
3:59 p.m.  Monday  9/16/96 

       Saturday was a remarkable day for the Bosnian people. Barely a year ago, Bosnia was embroiled in a horrendous war that brought misery and suffering to millions of people and destruction and despair to towns and villages across the country. Cities like Sarajevo were besieged. Starving children risked snipers’ bullets to run for a little food. Hundreds of thousands of refugees were forced out of their homes and places like Sebrenica were the sites of some the worst war crimes since World War II.
       But on Saturday, the vast majority of Bosnians, including 80 percent of Bosnian refugees who voted by absentee ballot, participated in an election that begins the process of reconstruction towards a multi-ethnic nation. With their ballots, the Bosnian people have taken another step along the road to a Bosnian state with its own legitimate constitution, parliament, presidency, constitutional court and the other key government agencies of democracy.
       Last November, a U.S.-led team of diplomats brokered an end to the worst conflict on European soil in 50 years. In Dayton, Ohio, representatives from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro negotiated a peace agreement that guaranteed Bosnia’s borders and ended the terrible three-year conflict and threatened to spread further into Europe.
       The Clinton administration took the lead in resolving the Bosnia crisis because a peaceful settlement not only reinforces our country’s basic humanitarian values but is a smart investment in our national security.
       Twice this century we have been forced to fight in European wars that were not stopped early enough. That is one reason why we sent almost 20,000 U. S. troops to participate in the Implementation Force (IFOR), to guarantee the separation of forces during the fragile months after the cease-fire.
       We also recognized that enduring peace requires a vibrant “civil society” and a sound economy. That is why a parallel civilian operation is helping to develop the basic institutions that will ensure respect for national sovereignty, territorial integrity, the expansion of democracy, human rights, ethnic and religious tolerance. Right now, for example, over 200 American police officers are working as part of an International Police Task Force, training and monitoring local law enforcement so that tens of thousands of ordinary people can live and work protected by the rule of law.
       Of course the path to an enduring peace and final justice remains long and complicated. But the killing has stopped, the threat of regional escalation has subsided, reconciliation has begun, perpetrators of war crimes are being held accountable and millions of ordinary people in the Balkans have just demonstrated that they have a personal stake in a strong and prosperous democracy.
       Herb Stein
5:20 p.m.  Monday  9/16/96 

       In a day or two we will have results of the election to analyze it. For the moment the verdict seems to be that the election occurred without any of the disasters that might have occurred. All the panelists agree that there is still a long way to go. But I note a difference between Albright on the one hand and Zimmerman and Glenny on the other. The latter two emphasize the need for continued external military presence, including U.S. presence, whereas Albright is silent on that subject and emphasizes the continuing role of “a parallel civilian operation” to develop the institutions of a peaceful society. Perhaps the use of the word “parallel” implies the continuing external military presence. But all the panelists’ contributions leave me puzzled about the process by which Bosnia gets to be a peaceful unified nation. Continued military presence buys time, but what is to happen during that time? The kinds of institutions to which Albright refers are, I would think, difficult to inject into a country and the example of 200 American police officers gives me little encouragement. Two hundred American police officers cannot pacify southeast Washington.
       Do we have examples of factions as antagonistic as those in Bosnia becoming nations without one of the factions being dominant or some external force being exerted? Northern Ireland? Israel? How long did it take Italy to become a country? I ask these questions in all innocence. I would just like to hear the thoughts of our panelists.