The US claimed a major victory on July 19 when Radovan Karadzic finally stepped down as leader of the Bosnian Serbs. The resignation from public life of all those indicted for war crimes by the Hague Tribunal was a key part of the Dayton accords signed last December.
Karadzic’s resignation from the Bosnian-Serb presidency and the leadership of his Serb Democratic Party (SDS) is being portrayed as the removal of the final obstacle to the Bosnian elections set for September 14. It is significant that Karadzic’s resignation was announced in Belgrade following talks between Richard Holbrooke, the US official who negotiated the Dayton accords, and president Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia. Milosevic has long denied having any authority over Karadzic and the SDS, but was able to persuade him to give up his position quickly enough when necessary. Despite international recognition and respectability conferred upon him as a signatory to the Dayton accords, Milosevic is actually the biggest criminal of them all. This is an undeniable fact which others - particularly the western powers - find it convenient to ignore, even in the face of damning evidence. Documents showing Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military chief, to be a serving officer of Milosevic’s Serbian army were published in the European press earlier this year. Milosevic’s military general staff are also known to have planned and ordered the capture of Srebrenica by the Serbs in July 1995, after which thousands of Muslim men were hunted down and summarily executed.
One of the weapons Holbrooke used to persuade Milosevic to order Karadzic to resign was probably a threat to highlight Milosevic’s own role. But the negotiations were by no means a one way affair. Milosevic was not negotiating from a position of weakness, for Karadzic’s resignation had become vital for the US’s own credibility as well. Milosevic could also have threatened to disrupt the Bosnian elections, which are also crucial to the US. Clearly then, he was in a position to make demands.
Just what the US conceded remains to be seen. It probably included economic and other aid to Serbia, and may also have included a promise that the strategic land corridor of Brcko in northern Bosnia will be given to the Serbs. Under the Dayton agreement, its possession is to be decided by arbitration. The US may also have promised not to arrest Karadzic and Mladic to stand trial in the Hague. This is important to Milosevic as Mladic’s trial, in particular, could reveal damaging information about his own role. Notably, the agreement brokered in Belgrade made no mention of Mladic. In fact, Karadzic’s resignation is of only limited importance. He will almost certainly continue to be involved behind the scenes in his ‘capital’, Pale, just a few miles ouside Sarajevo. The people who have taken over from him are his close allies. Biljana Plavsic, who has taken over as ‘president’ of the ‘Serb Republic’ was Karadzic’s deputy, and Aleksa Buha, who replaces Karadzic as head of the SDS, his ‘foreign minister’. It also remains to be seen just how meaningful the ban on Karadzic’s involvement in elections, and on public and media appearances, will be.
As far as the elections are concerned, Karadzic’s involvement or non-involvement is irrelevant. The real issue is not the participation of certain individuals. The problem is that the elections will take place in the context of Dayton’s legitimization of the Serbs’ aggression and genocide, and will serve to make the partition of Bosnia permanent. It was, of course, for precisely this purpose that the Dayton accords included a provision for elections. The supposed ‘minimum conditions’ for elections - which have not nearly been met - were always a smokescreen to disguise their true purpose. With or without Karadzic, the victory of the SDS in the ‘Serb Republic’ is assured. The SDS controls the police, the media, the bureaucracy and all economic life. Even Serbian opposition to the SDS is vigorously suppressed.
The supposed right of all Bosnians to return to their pre-war homes is a cruel joke under these conditions. Few Muslims who escaped from the Serb-captured areas have even attempted to return home. Once the SDS’s dominance has been conferred `democratic’ legitimacy, the way will be open for the region to be formally integrated into neighbouring Serbia. Few Bosnians doubt that the Serbian-controlled areas of the country are effectively a part of Serbia already.
Elections in the rest of Bosnia are likely to echo those held in Mostar last month, when the Croats voted solidly for the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), while everyone else supported the SDA of president Alija Izetbegovic. The fact that the Croats see the Muslim-Croat federation as a stepping stone for integrating the rump Bosnia- Herzegovina into Croatia has become increasingly apparent. The HDZ has refused to abolish the mini-State of ‘Herzeg-Bosnia’ in western Bosnia-Herzegovina, which it established during the war, and has taken every opportunity to disrupt the working of the federation. In Mostar, the HDZ boycotted the new council when it became clear that the SDA would have a narrow majority. Like the SDS and Milosevic, the HDZ has close links with Franjo Tudjman of Croatia.
The Muslims’ position, meanwhile, remains weak. They have no outside friends, and are forced to rely on the limited, self-serving cooperation offered by the Croats and the west. The federal institutions for which elections will take place in September - including a rotating three-man presidency representing all three peoples - are ostensibly intended to re-integrate Bosnia-Herzegovina into the multi-national State which existed before the war broke out. This, of course, will not happen. There is much debate among Muslims on the best way forward, but there is no correct answer because Dayton does not address the right question.
Whatever route the Muslims take, they will not be permitted to win. It must be remembered that the war in Bosnia began with Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman meeting in secret to plan the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina despite their differences in other areas. Neither’s ambition has changed. For both, the framework established at Dayton, elections and all, constitutes just another strategy for achieving this common goal.
Muslimedia - April 1996-August 1996