Committee Of Correspondence

Bosnia After the Elections

Misha Glenny
11:39 a.m.  Tuesday  9/17/96 

       In response to Herb Stein’s question, I would reiterate that the Dayton Agreement in principle accepts an unprecedented degree of autonomy for the three communities in Bosnia as to render central government virtually redundant.
       It is true that Dayton does envision the creation of common institutions in order to give Bosnia the appearance of a coherent Bosnian state. And even though neighbouring Croatia has already recognised Bosnia and Serbia’s president, Slobodan Milosevic, seems on the verge of doing the same, the influence these two powerful neighbours will exert on Bosnia through the Croat and Serb minorities is bound to reduce further the jurisdiction which the government in Sarajevo can have over the entire Bosnian territory.
       In the 20th century, the international community has generally accepted solutions based on the division of European countries along national lines (Turkey and Greece in the 20s; post-war Poland and Czechoslovakia; Cyprus). It is also interesting that nobody has protested against the fact that the Israel/Palestinian deal is posited on the principle of separate states for the two communities.
       However, few European countries can boast such a complex demographic mix as Bosnia. The continuing international military presence MAY allow the hostile and frightened communities in Bosnia to realise that their long-term prosperity can only be secured by economic cooperation. The international civilian presence can encourage but cannot enforce this process.
       The maps of Dayton do not amount to a rational economic topography of a divided country. This means that if the troops were to pull out as early as December, there is a high probability of localised, bloody wars aimed at ironing out partition. In particular, the western area around Banja Luka threatens to become a brutal three-way struggle.
       However, there can be no big war in Bosnia anymore because the regional power centres of Zagreb and Belgrade (Presidents Tudjman and Milosevic) are in broad agreement about some form of Bosnian partition. Squeezed in between, the Muslims have neither the financial nor the military potential to challenge that Serbo-Croat consensus. Their only hope would be open military support from the United States which, I would aver, is virtually unthinkable.
       This means that the maintenance of troops in Bosnia is a decidedly unglamorous solution for the international community. In no sense can it guarantee the restoration of a unitary Bosnia, which is very difficult to explain to a domestic public because the goal is vague and negative. But I believe this is a case where the humanitarian issue of preventing localized wars must take precedence over the domestic considerations of NATO and other IFOR member countries. Richard Perle
3:11 p.m.  Tuesday  9/17/96 

       The toughest thing about being an ambassador is the pressure to propagate a party line, no matter how absurd. How else can one explain Madeleine Albright’s ludicrous contention that the Bosnian election, which should never have taken place under prevailing conditions, “begins the process of reconstruction towards a multi-ethnic nation”? In fact, it almost certainly is another step toward the partition of Bosnia into ethnically distinct (“cleansed,” as some Serbs like to put it) mini-states whose prospect for survival, much less multi-ethnic harmony, is tragically dim.
       Saturday’s election took place under circumstances that could not possibly have advanced the cause of a multi-ethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina, not least of all because the Dayton accord provision allowing people to return to their homes has been massively violated. Elderly refugees attempting to return home have been driven off by violent mobs–often in the stately presence of a muscle-bound, indifferent IFOR, whose principal purpose has been to avoid any risk to itself even if that means becoming a feckless bystander to the dissolution of the Dayton promise.
       The tragedy of Bosnia-Herzegovina–the shelling of civilians, the mass murder of men, women and children who sought safety in “safe” areas protected by NATO forces under United Nations auspices, the failure of Dayton to protect its multi-ethnic premise–is shared widely by Bosnians and the international “community.” But while most of the international community has been cynical about its unwillingness to stand up to Serb aggression and genocide (remember James Baker’s appalling remark that we didn’t “have a dog in that fight”?), the Clinton Administration, as Madeleine Albright’s opening remarks remind us, has been full of self-congratulatory compassion combined with ignominious retreat whenever there was the slightest price attached to high-sounding rhetoric. Thus candidate Clinton, who rightly attacked George Bush for his failure to take action when the Serbs launched their aggression, quickly abandoned his campaign promise to lift the embargo that kept the Bosnians hopelessly outgunned and led directly to their slaughter. Even now, President Clinton, who promised at Dayton to equip and train the Bosnians so they might defend themselves when they are again attacked (as they surely will be if they remain weak), has yet again abandoned a solemn pledge and allowed a hopelessly inadequate training and equipment program to languish dangerously.
       Ambassador Albright understands all this and I have no doubt that if she were president we would have an honest and robust policy supporting physical security and progress toward a multi-ethnic democracy in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But she isn’t and we don’t. Herb Stein
3:23 p.m.  Tuesday  9/17/96 

       I don’t understand what the prospect for “a multi-ethnic democracy” in Bosnia can be if one ethnic group has to be armed to defend itself against another ethnic group. However, I leave that to the political-military experts.
       Several of the comments have referred to economic relations as the glue that might hold Bosnia together. But Bosnia, about the size of West Virginia and with a population of less than 5 million, cannot be a very prosperous society in isolation. Are any special economic relations contemplated among Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia? If there are, and even if there are not, one can visualize a situation in which, because of proximity and personal relations, the Bosnian Serbs do business mainly with Serbia and the Bosnian Croats do business mainly with Croatia. In that case economics may be divisive rather than unifying. Probably the best economic condition for the political unity of Bosnia would be for Bosnia to have open, non-discriminatory relations with a broader region, including not only Serbia and Croatia, but also Hungary and Austria. (Back to the old empire.) Is anything like that in the cards? Warren Zimmerman
4:17 p.m.  Tuesday  9/17/96 

       I’d like to respond to Herb Stein’s provocative question: Just what do we buy with an extended Western civilian (and I hope military) presence? Misha Glenny has clearly outlined the nationalist dangers awaiting, however the elections turn out. Like Misha, my expectations are minimal. The best we can hope for is a Bosnia with a continuing cease-fire, barely breathing central institutions, and a long, tension-prone process of reconciliation. To achieve even this, three things are necessary. First, the nationalist stranglehold on the three ethnic groups must be broken. Second, the Serbian and Croatian leaders, who have conspired in the past to divide Bosnia between themselves, must keep their hands off it. And third, the Bosnian people must decide that they’ve had enough of war.
       Continued Western presence can affect all three of these factors. If the NATO military forces arrest the major indicted war criminals and insist on freedom of movement–two Western failures before the election–then Bosnians who oppose nationalism will feel emboldened. Similar action should be taken to encourage freedom of the press. As for Serbia and Croatia, the West has an array of incentives and penalties, mostly economic, it can deploy. Finally, only the Bosnian people can elect a peaceful future, but continued Western support–plus pressure where needed–can influence their choice. Bosnia is like Herb Stein’s examples of Northern Ireland, Israel, and 19th-century Italy in that the lesson is the same–life is better for everybody if there’s racial tolerance instead of conflict. Many times in the past the different Bosnian ethnic groups practiced that tolerance, most recently between 1945 and 1990. They can again. It’s a long shot, but it’s worth the modest extra effort required of the West.