Grim legacy of the war on Bosnia

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Khadijah Ali

Rajab 11, 1433 2012-06-01

News & Analysis

by Khadijah Ali (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 4, Rajab, 1433)

The long-suffering people of Bosnia-Herzegovina received two items of bad news last month amid grim reminders of the 20th anniversary of the Serbian-led war that had caused 200,000 Bosnian deaths.

On May 17, the chief judge, Alphons Orie, presiding over the war crimes trial of Ratko Mladic in the Hague, postponed the trial indefinitely due to “technical errors” by the prosecution. Mladic, the Bosnian-Serb commander, is facing 11 war crimes charges, the most notorious of which is the July 1995 massacre in Srebrenica where more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were murdered in cold blood. Next month, thousands of Bosnian families will go through the heart-wrenching ritual of burying newly discovered bone fragments of loved ones in graves where some of their remains are already buried. This is the direct result of the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica in which Mladic was the principal perpetrator.

Three days later (May 20) Tomislav Nikolic, a former ally of the Serbian mass murderer, Slobodan Milosevic, won election to become president of Serbia. Nikolic is a hardcore Serbian nationalist and his close association with Milosevic that he now claims he has abandoned, sent shudders down the spines of most Bosnians. Milosevic died of a heart attack in his comfortable cell in 2006 during his war crimes trial at the Hague. The final figure in the criminal trio — Radovan Karadzic — was apprehended in 2008 and brought to the Hague to face war crimes charges. His trial continues.

Nikolic’s rise to the presidency reconfirms that the Serbs continue to harbour expansionist dreams that they want to achieve through mass murder. Serbian racism was the root cause of the suffering inflicted on the Muslims of Bosnia during the 1992–1995 war. Nikolic refuses to accept Kosova’s independence, insisting it is part of “greater Serbia.” Serbian nationalists had used their defeat at the hands of the Turks in Kosova 600 years ago (1389ce) as a pretext to whip up mass hysteria and launch the war against Bosnia. The Serbs continue to refer to the Bosnians as “Turks” and indulged in such demonic practices as “ethnic cleansing” during the war, as if the Bosnians were unclean (this is also what the Zionists are doing in Palestine).

While the people of Bosnia were trying to digest the twin setbacks (indefinite postponement of Mladic’s trial and Nikolic’s victory in Serbia) suffered last month, they continue to live with the consequences of the war that formally ended in December 1995. Its grim legacy, however, continues to haunt the Muslims. The country is divided along ethnic lines, thanks to Serbian chauvinism. Territory occupied by the Serbs from which the Bosnian Muslims were forcibly evicted (these were the lucky ones because they survived rather than being slaughtered, literally, like animals) is called Republika Srpska. The Serbs refuse to accept the jurisdiction of the central government in Sarajevo. Thus, the Serbs’ ill-gotten gains through war remain in place in the north, south and central Bosnia.

Ethnic divisions continue to bedevil the ruling structure in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The country is governed by a three-member presidency made up of each of the ethnic groups — Bosnian, Serb and Croat. While each member is elected by popular vote to serve on the presidency for a four-year term, the office rotates among the three every eight months. Thus, few long-term decisions can be made because of inbuilt political instability. This is the direct result of the Dayton Accords signed on December 16, 1995 whereby the war on Bosnia was formally ended.

Bosnia-Herzegovina has access to the Adriatic Sea only through the goodwill of Croatia, another antagonist that was allied to Serbia initially but changed its stance much later in the war. Unemployment in Bosnia stands at 43.3%; it is even higher (47.1%) in the 15–24 year age group. Again, this is the direct result of the legacy of the war. Bosnia’s industries are either idle or work at reduced capacity. People survive on agriculture or by working in the service industry. The country also exports metals, timber and other natural resources but these are not sufficient to overcome the recurring deficit.

Bosnia’s plight cannot be properly understood without examining the role of various parties in the war. In addition to the Serbs, and to a lesser extent the Croats, the West also played a major role in facilitating the genocide of Muslims in Bosnia. As soon as the Serbs launched their war in March 1992, the West through the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on all protagonists. This suited the Serbs well since they had all the weapons because most military bases were located in Serbia. Most senior military officers were also Serbs. Thus, at a stroke, while appearing neutral, the West essentially tied the hands of the victims — the Bosnian Muslims — to prevent them from defending themselves.

Two episodes among many others reveal how the West systematically went about assisting in the genocide of the Muslims in Bosnia. In May 1993, British Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind was invited to participate in the inauguration of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. During his US visit, he was asked why the West was opposed to lifting the arms embargo against Bosnia? Rifkind’s response is revealing. “We do not wish to lose control,” he said in a matter of fact manner. Imagine Rifkind, the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania who was in the US for the inauguration of a museum to remember the slaughter of Jews at the hands of Nazis during the Second World War, did not want the Muslims of Bosnia to defend themselves at the hands of the Serb criminals 40 years later!

What control was Rifkind referring to? There was a deeply laid plan that the West would not allow the emergence of a Muslim majority state in the heart of Europe. Thus, preventing the Bosnians from defending themselves was part of this plan to enable the Serbs to continue the genocide to decimate Bosnia’s Muslim population. Some statistics would help clarify this point. Of Bosnia’s total population 4.622 million today, only 40% are Muslims. Prior to the start of the war in 1992, Muslims were nearly 50% of the population.

Figures for the total number of Bosnians killed during the war vary but it is generally accepted that at least 200,000 were murdered. This represents 11% of Bosnia’s Muslim population. The comparable figures for the US would be 38 million Americans killed in three years. It is not difficult to imagine the US reaction if such large numbers of Americans were killed. After all, official figures for the 9/11 deaths stand at 2,823. For this, the US invaded two countries — Afghanistan and Iraq — and slaughtered more than 1.5 million people. Neither the Afghans nor the Iraqis had anything to do with the attacks of 9/11. Yet, in the case of Bosnia, they were denied even the right to self-defence.

As Serbian attacks intensified and Bosnian civilian casualties mounted, the Americans floated the idea of “safe havens.” Again, the arms embargo was not lifted but it was proposed that Srebrenica would be designated a safe haven. This was done through UN Security Council resolution 819 passed on May 19, 1993. A few months later, through another UN resolution (number 824), five more cities — Sarajevo, Gorazde, Tuzla, Zepa and Bihac were added. The UN promised to protect the civilian population of these cities. Far from protecting them, the Serbs escalated their attacks.

This led in May 1994 to another resolution to send troops under UN command to protect Bosnia’s civilians. While the UN called for 34,000 troops, it pointedly excluded any troops from Muslim countries alleging that they would favor their co-religionists, the Bosnian Muslims. Troops from Western countries were to be deployed but only 7,600 were committed. Thus, while Muslim countries were willing and eager to commit troops, the West would not allow their deployment but they themselves would not do so either in sufficient numbers to make a difference. Even the deployment of UN troops in the so-called safe havens came with a condition: the Bosnians must surrender all their weapons. This was done ostensibly to prevent any provocation of the Serbs. For the West, not provoking the Serbs was more important than preventing the genocide of Muslims.

The “safe havens” turned out to be shooting galleries. The killing of Bosnians did not stop. Instead, this led directly to the massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995. The Dutch contingent that was tasked with defending the civilian population simply looked on as the Serbs went about killing Muslims. Here was the UN “peacekeeping” effort at its best! The Dutch advanced the excuse that their 369 troops were not enough to prevent the Serbs from carrying out their gruesome crime. When the UN Security Council passed resolution 836 in May 1994 to deploy peacekeeping troops, it carried the promise that the safe havens would be protected “using all necessary means, including the use of force.” When the crunch came, the UN troops just stood by and let the Serbs perpetrate genocide.

The people of Bosnia continue to live with the legacy of that grim war at the end of the 20th century. After the Second World War, the phrase “never again” became fashionable. Bosnia shows that this does not apply to Muslims. Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Kashmir reinforce the point that Muslims will find no protection under any Western or international law. They must defend themselves or face the prospect of being decimated one by one.

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