Committee Of Correspondence

Bosnia After the Elections

Warren Zimmerman
10:32 a.m.  Friday  9/20/96 

       Herb Stein asks for suggestions on what should be done in Bosnia. In the short run, we should follow the physician’s mantra–above all do no harm. That means doing nothing that encourages ethnic cleansing and partition, plus doing what we can to stimulate cooperation between the three ethnic groups. Part of this, as I noted earlier, is keeping the NATO (and U.S.) troops there, rebuilding homes, guaranteeing free movement, and encouraging a non-nationalist and independent press. This also means opposing actions such as the Germans proposed yesterday–to force their 300,000 Bosnian refugees back, even if it reinforces ethnic cleansing by settling them in Muslim areas rather than in places they used to live. Should we arm the Muslims? Yes, but we need to understand that, if mismanaged, this could rekindle the war.
       The above represents little more than a holding action to let time dim hatreds and cause people to focus on their own self-interest and on the reality that they can’t escape living with other nationalities. The postponed municipal elections–may they not be rescheduled soon–and especially the big elections in two years will test whether time is actually helping to ease tensions and build cooperation. In the long run, it can only be the growing application of democracy–not just democratic elections but also democratic behavior–that will preserve Bosnia as an integral and tolerant society. For the United States, one side of the coin is patience; the other side is continued commitment. Madeleine Albright
11:50 a.m.  Friday  9/20/96 

       As everyone has noted, economic reconstruction is a vital key to the development of robust and stable democracy in Bosnia. We have committed over $500 million to these efforts and work is already underway.
       An emergency shelter program is helping accelerate the return of displaced families to their own homes. Over 500 housing units have already been completed in a program that will provide shelter for several thousand people in 44 villages in Bosnia. The program has allowed families to resume or undertake agricultural and other activities and this is helping to revitalize war-torn communities.
       The Municipal Infrastructure and Services Program will finance the repair and reconstruction of basic economic infrastructure like water and sanitation services, electricity, communications, transportation systems and community facilities such as health clinics and schools. The employment generated by these activities will put former soldiers into civilian jobs. A US firm has contracted to manage the overall program and all construction and repair work is being carried out by Bosnian contractors. We expect the program to generate some 40,000 jobs.
       A Bosnian Reconstruction Finance Facility has been established and is aimed at increasing the employment of the general population, refugees and demobilized soldiers by providing quickly disbursed loans to viable enterprises from food processing to light manufacturing. Over $8 million in loans have already been approved including for producers of roofing materials, a clothing firm and a furniture plant.
       US expertise is also helping Bosnia in the overall transition to a market economy–from privatization to taxes and budgeting. Indeed, my friend and colleague, Ron Brown, was successfully working to boost private-sector investment and involvement when his plane crashed last May killing him and a number of U.S. businessmen who were exploring opportunities in the region. Misha Glenny
5:19 p.m.  Friday  9/20/96 

       I think the most important thing that governments and electorates in both the United States and Europe have to appreciate is that we are all in Bosnia-Herzegovina for the long haul. The Dayton Agreement has created a state whose constitutional base is entirely novel in modern European history. It is going to take a long time to see if this base is capable of functioning or not and it will require the most sophisticated mix of sticks and carrots if we are to see it succeed.
       But we cannot ignore the fact that the electorate of Bosnia and Herzegovina has generally supported the forces of partition. Croatia has already recognised Bosnia and it seems likely that Milosevic will do the same. If the Serbian President takes that step, it will provide a significant boost to Bosnia. It means that however much Krajisnik and the SDS proclaim their goal of unification with Serbia, Belgrade will actually resist such a union. Pressure also needs to be applied to Tudjman and the Croatian state in this respect.
       It is worth noting that there are other problems in the immediate region. The question of Serbs returning to Croatia remains unresolved although Ambassador Galbraith has told me that he considers a successful resolution of this question to be extremely important. Croatia has not yet assumed control of Eastern Slavonia, currently under U.N. administration, and that could create some serious, albeit localised problems. In addition, Serbia must be reintegrated back into the European mainstream without too much delay.
       I think we must realise that democracy faces an uphill struggle in all three states (Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia/Montenegro) as do the independent media, minority rights etc.
       So great care is required and I would wholeheartedly back Warren Zimmermann’s observation that Germany’s decision to return 300,000 refugees to Bosnia is precisely the sort of hasty response that the international community should avoid.
       I would like to end on an uncharacteristically optimistic note. Two weeks ago, Slobodan Milosevic signed the same document as the leader of the Albanians Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova. This agreement allows for the return of Albanians into state schools which are currently administered by Belgrade. I detect that there is a growing willingness on the side of the Serb and Albanian leaderships to solve the issue of Kosovo (and, one hopes, with the Macedonian leadership the related question of the Albanians in western Macedonia) by negotiation and not through a ghastly repetition of the wars in the north which have destroyed the lives of millions of innocent people (from all nationalities) beyond most of our comprehension in the West. Madeleine Albright
5:27 p.m.  Friday  9/20/96 

       I want to end the week by congratulating the people of Bosnia. They have taken an impressive step forward for peace and stability in the region as they have taken responsibility for shaping a democratic future for themselves.
       Indeed, this election was a major victory for the democratic process. The election has at last provided the Bosnian people with the central role they deserve in their search for peace. For four years, their fate was debated by outsiders and overshadowed by a terrible war. Last weekend, dozens of political parties contested the election and gained legitimacy through their participation. The ballot was orderly, calm and free of violence. The Bosnian people demonstrated their determination to build a better future for themselves and their children.
       The national institutions created by the election must be consolidated as quickly as possible and we will work hard with all the parties to make sure that they function effectively. And we will continue to insist that Bosnia’s newly elected leaders meet their obligations including the obligation to maintain a unified Bosnia.
       As I said at the outset, this is the beginning and not the end of a long and difficult process. The United States will continue to remain committed and involved in doing all we can to assist the people of Bosnia rebuild their country in peace and prosperity. Richard Perle
5:39 p.m.  Friday  9/20/96 

       I have tried to interest others on the Committee, and SLATE readers, in the issue of U.S. policy toward Bosnia. This is because, unfortunately for the Bosnians, I fear that their survival, even in their much diminished territory, depends on what the United States does.
       At a minimum, Bosnia will depend on the United States to protect it from predatory attacks from the Serbs who have set aside for tactical purposes but by no means abandoned their dream of a “greater Serbia.” There are two ways we can protect them. The first, and the one I prefer, is for the Administration to honor the president’s pledge to equip and train a Bosnian self-defense force. The second is for the United States and its allies to constitute a permanent protection force.
       The problem with the first option is that there is little reason to believe the president will in fact provide the Bosnians with the training and equipment they need to provide for their own defense. What we have seen thus far is half-hearted and, on the part of many parts of the American administration, downright hostile. How else can one explain the Pentagon price-gouging the Bosnians on the meager store of weapons they have been willing to ship to Bosnia under authority enacted over their opposition by Bob Dole and Joe Biden in the Senate? While the administration will deny it, they are failing to supply the minimum requirements for a Bosnian self-defense force. If war breaks out there once again, the Clinton administration will bear a heavy responsibility.
       The problem with the second option is that neither the United States nor its allies can be counted upon to fight to protect the borders of what remains of Bosnia-Herzegovina. If the United States can’t even come up with the weapons with which the Bosnians might defend themselves, it is absurd to expect they will commit American combat forces to the defense of Bosnia.
       I have obviously failed to interest others on the committee in this issue since no one has chosen to address it, and certainly not the only person capable of doing something about it, Ambassador Albright. Madeleine, if you’re still online, how about letting them know in the White House that a weak and defenseless Bosnia will be carved up and obliterated, that there’s still time to do something about it. Herb Stein
5:59 p.m.  Friday  9/20/96 

       I am not going to try to sum up this discussion. I did a little of that yesterday. I want to thank the panelists for an instructive program. I think that our viewers and I have learned several things. We have learned to appreciate the basic fact that the amount of bloodshed has been sharply reduced. We have learned that the elections are not even, to paraphrase Churchill, the end of the beginning but are in the early stages of the beginning of a movement towards a multi-ethnic democracy. We have learned that the well-informed people on our panel agree that the multi-ethnic democracy is a worthy and not-impossible goal. We have a better picture than I, at least, had of the efforts on the civilian side to establish democratic, unified institutions.
       I am struck by something else that comes out of our discussion. That is how hard it is for a person who is not a specialist to get even the slightest grasp of what is going on in Bosnia and, I suppose, dozens of other places and subjects. The ordinary media treatment of such subjects assumes that the reader knows much more than he does and immediately retreats into partisan debate. When I tried to prepare for this discussion I searched the Internet for the word “Bosnia” and discovered this simple fact–the area of Bosnia in square miles. Then by consulting the almanac I discovered that the area of Bosnia is about equal to the area of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. That gave me a better picture of Bosnia than I ever had before.
       The world that a responsible citizen feels he ought to know about has become terribly complicated. I don’t think our usual sources are doing a very good job in explaining it to us. I hope that we have done a little. I thank the panelists for the expertise and diligence they have brought to this enterprise.
       Next week we will discuss, “Are the Polls Polluting Politics?” Our panelists will be:

  • Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard.
  • Eleanor Clift, contributing editor of Newsweek.
  • Arianna Huffington, nationally syndicated columnist.
  • Howard Kurtz, media reporter for the Washington Post.