Sunday, July 03, 2005

In Defence of Multi-Ethnic Bosnia 1993

Bosnia: who are the guilty parties?
(late 1993)
by Michael Karadjis
Two million Bosnians have been driven from their homes, and hundreds of thousands are dead. Nearly ninety per cent of Bosnia is under occupation by militias sponsored by Serbia and Croatia which openly aim to split the republic between them. This is despite the fact that Serbs only account for 30 percent of the population and Croats a mere 17 percent, while Muslims make up some 43 percent and the remainder are so completely mixed that they can only be called ‘Bosnians’. Further, many Serbs and Croats are still fighting together with their Muslim and mixed brothers and sisters against this apartheid and genocide launched by Serb and Croat chauvinist militias.
In other words, the Serb and Croat chauvinist forces have only been able to conquer such a large proportion of the country due to overwhelming military superiority. Yet the western powers continue an arms blockade against the Bosnian government.
Western governments are also still pushing various apartheid schemes to split the republic on ethnic lines. Following the collapse of the Vance-Owen plan to split Bosnia into ethnic cantons in early 1993, the western powers concluded that even more extravagantly pro-Serbian schemes were necessary.
The first was the idea to allow the Serbian and Croatian chauvinist militias to keep all the land they had conquered, while Bosnia's Muslims, around half the population, would gain UN “protection” in “safe havens” in a number of isolated, bombed out, besieged, overcrowded cities.
These “safe havens” then underwent weeks of further siege, bombardment and strangulation by Serbian Chetniks while the UN sat and watched.
The de facto alliance between the Serbian and Croatian militias came out into the open, with a western-backed initiative by these forces in mid June 1993 to split Bosnia into three ethnic states. This was known as the ‘Owen-Stoltenberg’ Plan after the chief EU and UN negotiators. Britain’s Lord Robert Owen continues to represent the most extravagantly pro-Serbian nationalist positions, reflecting the policy of the Tory government.
Bosnian President Izetbegovic refused to attend a partition conference in Geneva organised by Serbia, Croatia, their local thugs in Bosnia and the European Community. Chief negotiator Lord Owen and other European leaders pressured the Bosnian government to “accept reality” and agree to the partition of the country. Even without the participation of the legal Bosnian government or anyone representing the Muslim and mixed communities, this European-Serbian-Croatian self-appointed team proceeded to draw up a plan to dismember the country anyway.
Bosnia's various communities are scattered in every part of the republic. The Bosnian government is completely correct to claim that the borders of such ethnic states would be “drawn in blood” and that ethnic cleansing would be stepped up.
Sarajevo professor Naza Tanovich-Miller wrote in a recent letter to US President Clinton: “Divide what Mr President? Divide houses and apartment buildings, divide streets and villages, divide towns and cities, divide homes and bedrooms? By the 1990 census 25% of Bosnian marriages are mixed, i.e. 1.2 million people are families of mixed faiths. Where should they live Mr President?”
According to Ilhana Nurkic from the Australian Bosnian and Herzegovinan Community Association, even the talk of three states is a farce. She points out that Serbian and Croatian nationalists have launched joint operations and captured a number of towns in the very heart of Bosnia, such as Zepce and Maglaj, which were never in any Serbian or Croatian zone on any of the partition maps.
US and Europe
Two years ago, the UN Security Council banned arms sales to all sides in the Yugoslav conflict. This affected everyone except Serbia, which inherited the massive military arsenal of the former Yugoslav People’s Army, the fourth largest military force in Europe, in the ‘Vance Plan’ to end the Serbo-Croatian war of 1991 (named after former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance who negotiated this plan). Serbia also produces its own weapons. Factories in Serbia and Serbian-occupied Bosnia are still pumping out arms and ammunition.
When Germany, which has a special economic relationship with Croatia and Slovenia, broke US-European ranks and recognised these two republics at the end of 1991 following 6 months of massive bombardment of Croatia by the by-then exclusively Serb ‘Yugoslav People’s Army’, the US was opposed, seeing a strong Serbia as a counterweight to German-influenced Croatia.
Britain and France were also wary of German ambitions. Hence it is hardly surprising that these two governments have maintained the most steadfastly pro-Serbian policy throughout the Bosnian war. An indication of the rivalry was a major article in the German Frankfurter Allgemeine in early 1993, which revealed that before the war in Bosnia began, “Great Britain and France had notified Serbia that they would not intervene”.
Meanwhile, a number of well-publicised “secret” meetings between the Serbian and Croatian governments and their militias in Bosnia in early 1992, following the end of Serbo-Croatian hostilities, produced a deal to partition Bosnia between them. In fact, Serbian leader Milosevic and Croatian leader Tudjman had met as early as April 1991 to discuss the partition of Bosnia. It was in the same spirit that the European Union insisted that Bosnia be divided into ethnic cantons in early 1992 as a condition for recognition – the first EU partition plan, known as the Carrington-Cultheiro Plan, was thus drawn up even before ethnic cleansing began, so cannot be called an attempt to “recognise reality” as the later plans have attempted to be sold.
This inter-European dealing between UK- and French-backed Serbia and German-backed Croatia, just after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, was increasingly leaving the US out of the picture. This further came to a head with the announcement in May 1992 by Germany and France of plans for a 35,000 strong “Eurocorps”, a European army independent of NATO. A 180 degree change in the US position, with fierce new anti-Serbian rhetoric, began straight after this announcement.
However, this rhetoric did not lead to any actual US support for Bosnia, or even a US lifting of the criminal arms embargo. As the purpose of the rhetoric was more related to the emerging US-EU rivalry of the post-Cold War than to any real concerns with defending Bosnia, US policy then underwent about a dozen policy shifts -- as one European UN diplomat put it, “US policy on Bosnia consists of a perpetual policy review.”
Before coming to power, Clinton criticised Bush for not taking action on Bosnia, and then proceeded to take an even softer approach for several months. Suddenly in April 1993, he again upped the rhetoric, pushing for air strikes and, for the first time, the lifting of the arms blockade against the Bosnian government. Both were opposed by the European states, who were trying to push through the Vance-Owen partition plan.
Since when, however, does the US need European permission to do anything?
Arms blockade
The arms blockade, preventing the besieged victims from defending their own cities, has been the most consistent form of US-European intervention in the Yugoslav conflict for the last two years.
According to Ilhana Nurkic, Bosnia could easily raise an army of 200,000, the only problem being lack of weapons. Discouraging any influx of volunteer fighters from the Islamic world, Miles Ragnz, an adviser to Bosnia's UN mission, declared, “We certainly don't want any foreign force to come into our country and fight, because we are ready to fight for ourselves. In Sarajevo alone we have 200,000 ready and able men and only 3000 rifles.”
By contrast, according to Ian Traynor in the Guardian, “the Bosnian Serb army is about 70,000 strong, with 300 tanks, 180 armoured vehicles and up to 40 combat aircraft and helicopters. It has a vast array of heavy artillery and weapons ... If it runs short, there are abundant supplies in Serbia.” As for the Bosnian Croat militia, Traynor estimates they have “some 50,000 troops, amply supplied with anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons, a few dozen tanks, at least two aircraft, and some heavy guns. Zagreb keeps the Bosnian Croat forces well-stocked with modern machine guns and ammunition.”
Even these figures for the sizes of the nationalist militias include large numbers of fighters from Serbia and Croatia. If Bosnia's borders with Serbia and Croatia were sealed, and the arms blockade on Bosnia were lifted, it would easily be able to deal with the nationalist militias.
For the western mass media, there is no Bosnian government, merely “Muslim forces” and a “Muslim-led government.” Yet according to Nurkic, Serbs still make up 17% of the Bosnian army, and estimates range up to 30% (and 15% Croats).
As Nurkic points out, it is hard to make such estimates because most people call themselves Bosnian, whether their religion is Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim or whatever.
Right-wing militias
Likewise, the forces fighting against the Bosnian government are not merely “Serbs” and “Croats” but rather militias based on extreme right-wing political parties. The Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), whose fighters call themselves Chetniks after the fascist forces who fought against the partisans in World War II, is the main force responsible for the genocide in Bosnia. Its constant shelling of Sarajevo and other cities kills Serbs as well as Muslims and Croats.
In Serbia itself, young people are no more interested in fighting for the Chetniks than are most of the Bosnian Serbs. Despite the atmosphere of repression and hysteria, only 24% of young men obeyed conscription orders in 1992 -- only 12% in Belgrade. Meanwhile, half the Serb population of the part of Bosnia controlled by the reactionary SDS have fled to Serbia to try to escape being drafted into that party’s genocidal war against their neighbours.
The policies of the similarly reactionary nationalist Croatian Democratic Forum (HVO), linked to the Tudjman regime in Croatia, in joining the Chetniks to carve up Bosnia, are a stab in the back of the thousands of Croats ethnically cleansed by the Chetniks -- but then the HVO has been responsible for similar cleansing against both Serbs and Muslims. A smaller militia has also emerged explicitly modelled on the Ustashe, the World War II brutal fascist regime installed in power by the Nazi occupiers.
After declaring its own “state” in Bosnia in mid-1992, the HVO rapidly moved to ethnically cleanse Muslims in western Hercegovina and central Bosnia, as it tried to wrest control of these regions from the Bosnian army. Three thousand Muslims were expelled from the town of Prozor. A more concerted wave of HVO ethnic cleansing was launched in early May 1993, with thousands of Muslims being expelled from Mostar and Novi Travnik.
While the Bosnian government has rejected all attempts to split Bosnia along ethnic lines, it is hardly surprising that some Muslim-dominated sections of the army have sometimes responded with their own ethnic cleansing. Aside from the desire for revenge, thousands of Muslim refugees have created a pressure to gain as much territory as possible before any “peace” is imposed over their heads.
In response to HVO ethnic cleansing, a unit of the Bosnian army recently launched an ethnic cleansing operation against Croatian villages around Travnik in central Bosnia, leaving many dead and forcing thousands to flee. While this gained prominent coverage, Nurkic reports that Bosnian President Izetbegovic called on the army to punish those responsible for any attacks on Croats, and called on the villagers to return. None of this was reported in the media.
Professor Naza Tanovich-Miller lays the blame for the situation squarely where it belongs: “By not lifting the arms embargo and by supporting apartheid [the plans to split Bosnia ethnically] ... by calling all sides equally guilty, [the western governments'] guilt is as great as the aggressor's.”

Sarajevo paper rallies the resistance
By Michael Karadjis
“It is now a year since the first shells fell on Sarajevo, marking in an explosive manner the beginning of the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina. At that time, very few thought that this war would expose Europe's impotence in imposing its own principles. But over the past 365 days, Bosnia-Hercegovina passed from the fire and was drowned in blood. For us in Sarajevo, it was also the great international myth of justice and truth that collapsed.”
So writes Zlatko Dizntarevits, journalist of the biggest and oldest newspaper still operating in Sarajevo after 14 months of siege of this heroic multi-ethnic city by the Chetnik-fascist forces of Radovan Karatzic, who are trying to impose an ethnically pure “Greater Serbia” on the city.
The newspaper, Oslobodenje (“Liberation”) was first published on August 30, 1943, giving voice to the resistance movement against the Nazi occupation of the region. Fifty years later, it finds itself playing much the same role.
Last June 20, Chetnik bombs hit the newspaper's building. Editor Kemal Koursbahits explains what happened: “... the flames were not extinguished before 6 a.m. However, the newspaper was ready for printing at five past six. The journalists struggled alongside the fire brigade to save the copy. The residents of Sarajevo had seen on television our building in flames. On the morning of June 21, everyone considered the appearance of the newspaper a personal triumph against the aggressors.”
Since then, the paper has been produced underground in an anti-nuclear shelter, without electricity, water or telephone, and with a dramatic shortage of paper. Before the war, it had a circulation of 60,000; now it is down to 4000. The number of pages has fallen from 20 to eight.
Despite this incredible situation, the paper lives on thanks to the dedication of the journalists and the support of the people. Koursbahits explains the
importance of this struggle: “This newspaper is one of the few institutions of Bosnia which has maintained the prewar image of the country: pluralist, with different cultures and nationalities in its bosom. Here we may be Serbs, Muslims or Croats, but above all we are journalists united by our work and by respect for the traditions of the newspaper.”
This struggle was rewarded when its April 6 issue was reprinted by 33 newspapers around the world, marking a year since the beginning of the siege. In addition, many newspapers have sent paper: a number of left-wing Greek journalists, for example, are trying to gather 100 tonnes of paper to send to Oslobodenje.
The newspaper further comments on various myths about the war, as expressed by Dizntarevits: “It is wrong to say that Serbs, Croats and Muslims are clashing in Sarajevo. It is equally wrong to believe that it's a clash of a religious character. And further wrong to talk of a civil war. The truth is that the population of Sarajevo is united against all those who aim to destroy a civilisation and to place the nation above humanity. For these people, nothing counts but the voice of blood and the fraudulent logic of genes. Their place is not in Sarajevo, a city- symbol of respect for personal freedom, independent of origin, opinion and national or religious discrimination.”
Referring to the imperialist-backed Vance-Owen “peace” plan to dismember Bosnia, Dizntarevits says, “The plan for the carving up of Sarajevo and Bosnia-Hercegovina along ethnic lines will provoke new clashes, equally bloody, which no-one will be able to control. Further, this chopping up will mean that borders in the future will be drawn by weapons, and that might will predominate over justice.”
The plan hands over 43% and 25% respectively of ethnically mixed Bosnian territory to right-wing Serbian and Croatian nationalist militias. Both aim to establish ethnically pure cantons, eventually to be annexed to neighbouring Serbia and Croatia, just as Serbia previously annexed a third of Croatia. Hence the plan recognises these conquests which have been made over the last 15 months, due to the West's arms embargo on the besieged Bosnian republic.

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