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Balkan Report: July 15, 2005

15 July 2005, Volume 9, Number 21

WHAT FUTURE FOR BOSNIA? Most observers of the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina agree that there is room for improvement. That, however, seems to be where agreement both begins and ends.

It is perhaps not a wise idea to allow political agendas to be driven by anniversaries. This year, however, has lent itself to reflection on the current state of affairs in Bosnia because 2005 marks the 10th anniversaries of two important events in the 1992-95 Bosnian war: the Srebrenica massacre of about 8,000 mainly Muslim males by Serbian forces, and the U.S.-sponsored Dayton peace agreement that ended the conflict that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic began almost four years earlier.

In the years since 1995, Dayton has been widely credited with preserving the peace, but has come in for much criticism because of its alleged political shortcomings. There are essentially four models for reform under discussion, depending on what one considers the source of the purported dysfunctional nature of the state.

The first proposal calls for strengthening the already powerful Office of the High Representative (OHR), who is appointed by the international community, as a way of breaking the power of the nationalists. Such people led the Muslims, Serbs, and Croats during the war and subsequently remained in power through the ballot box and a series of networks linking politics, business, the security structures, and organized crime.

The second model calls for reducing and eventually eliminating the OHR in the name of democracy. The third proposal envisions scrapping the constitution included in the Dayton agreement and calling a constitutional convention to make a fresh start. The problem with models two and three is that they are likely to strengthen the nationalists' positions even further, since the nationalists are the best vote-getters. A nationalist victory would also result from the fourth model, which calls for giving up on Bosnia as a single multiethnic state and partitioning it along ethnic lines as the only "realistic" option (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 October 2004, and 25 March and 1 April 2005).

Germany's leading Balkan studies society, the Suedosteuropa-Gesellschaft (SOG, or Southeast Europe Association), recently co-sponsored two conferences dealing with Bosnia and its problems. The first gathering took place on 21-22 June in Munich under joint sponsorship with the European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI) based in Flensburg, while the second was a podium discussion on 5 July co-hosted by the SOG and Germany's international broadcaster Deutsche Welle at the latter's headquarters in Bonn.

Both sessions took place against a background of two developments. The first is the renewed international discussion about Bosnia's future pegged to the two major anniversaries that fall in 2005. The second trend is rising concern about the future of the "European perspectives" of the western Balkans following the failure of the referendums on the proposed EU constitution in France and the Netherlands (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 and 17 June and 1 July 2005).

In view of these developments, it was striking that few, if any, of the participants from the region called for a major revision of Dayton or its abolition. It seemed that the Bosnian politicians present in Munich were already preoccupied with the October 2006 elections, while the Bosnians in Bonn were wary of doing anything that might strengthen the hand of the nationalists.

Srebrenica-based Bosnian journalist Marinko Sekulic argued in Bonn that Dayton did not really end the war but simply transformed it from a military conflict into one conducted by other means. He noted that children attend three different school systems, learn from three different sets of school books, and are taught three different versions of the 1992-95 conflict.

For his part, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, who is the former international mediator in Bosnia-Herzegovina and now occupies that same position for Kosova, told the audience at Deutsche Welle that the OHR should not try to "teach democracy" because the OHR itself combines executive, legislative, and judicial functions in a very undemocratic arrangement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 2004). Some other participants, however, argued that even if Dayton is in need of some revising, the OHR served its purpose by leveling the political playing field to some extent.

It probably came as no surprise that neither conference reached any sort of consensus as to what to do about Dayton, if anything, even though Bosnia remains as prone as ever to ethnically-based thinking. It did seem clear in both gatherings, however, that the Bosnians were willing to take more responsibility for their own affairs than was the case a decade ago.

Perhaps the most striking differences between German and Bosnian participants in both Munich and Bonn came out in discussions about the EU and its role in the western Balkans. Almost all the German participants seemed keenly aware that the French and Dutch referendums had brought about a qualitative change within the EU that will make further enlargement very difficult, even if commitments to Romania, Bulgaria, and possibly Croatia are met.

Most participants from the western Balkans, however, seemed unconcerned by the two "no" votes and even tended to speak as though nothing had changed as a result of them. Those participants generally stressed the stabilizing role of the EU in the region and reminded their hosts of Germany's and the EU's promises of a "European perspective" to the countries of the region.

Such attitudes prompted one German to quip in regard to the former Yugoslavs that "they haven't noticed that a train has just run through the flat" and "all they're interested in is the money." Indeed, one Croatian businessman politely listened to the entire discussion in Bonn and afterward approached one of the German hosts with the comment: "The Americans come in [to the Balkans] and shoot things up, but what we need is long-term development. When are Germany and the EU going to start investing in earnest?"

Some Germans felt that their colleagues in the western Balkans do not understand the complex nature of what qualifying for EU membership actually involves in concrete practical terms. Those participants suggested that a status short of full EU membership might be best for the countries of the region. Other Germans argued that Brussels must send a clear, positive signal to those countries by speeding up the integration of Croatia and Macedonia. Such a move, those Germans maintained, is necessary if the EU does not want to undo what progress it has already made in the region and even generate new sources of instability. Failure to integrate the region will cost Brussels even more in the long run, as Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has repeatedly said.

Finally, some Germans warned that both the EU and the countries of the region are suffering from "tunnel vision" if they think that EU integration is a cure-all for the problems of the western Balkans. Such participants argued that this "naive attitude" has led many former Yugoslavs to accept almost any "reform" advocated by Brussels, and at the same time prompted many in the EU to think that the integration process is something inevitable and organic that will lead to all things falling into place. (Patrick Moore)

MARKING THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE SREBRENICA MASSACRE. About 50,000 people attended ceremonies on 11 July in Srebrenica and nearby Potocari in Bosnia-Herzegovina to mark the 10th anniversary of the killing of about 8,000 mainly Muslim males by Serbian forces in the worst single atrocity in Europe since the end of World War II.

A central aspect of the ceremony was the reburial of 610 massacre victims who have been recently identified from remains found in mass graves elsewhere. The memorial cemetery already contained the remains of 1,327 victims (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2005). Muslim women dressed in white stood alongside the green-draped coffins to lead mourning for their relatives. About 7,000 body bags still await analysis, and about 20 additional mass graves have yet to be exhumed.

Srebrenica is now a largely Serbian town with a fraction of its prewar population. Most young Serbs have left because their is little work to be had in what was once a center of mining and tourism. Some local residents blame unnamed "vested interests" in Banja Luka for preventing the relaunching of the town's potentially lucrative mineral water business. Local journalist Marinko Sekulic told "RFE/RL Balkan Report" that Srebrenica today is "the only town in Bosnia so poor that no Chinese traders will go to it."

Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim member of the Bosnian Presidency, said at the 11 July gathering that "the United Nations failed to protect the inhabitants of its safe haven," which led to the killing of about 8,000 mainly Muslim males by Serbian forces. He argued that the Dutch UN peacekeepers "surrendered [the victims] to the Serbian military forces from both sides of the Drina River, who committed genocide."

Tihic told the families of the victims that he has "no word of comfort for your pain and suffering. No one can bring back and replace your loved ones, either. The only thing we can do now is to do our best in finding the missing and killed ones -- to bury them with dignity -- and to punish those who are responsible for the crime. Particularly, the most-wanted war criminals [former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan] Karadzic and [former Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko] Mladic."

Former chief U.S. Balkans envoy Richard Holbrooke told the gathering that "Srebrenica was the failure of NATO, of the West, of peacekeeping, and of the United Nations. It was the tragedy that should never be allowed to happen again." U.S. President George W. Bush said in a written statement that "we...remain committed to ensuring that those responsible for these crimes face justice, most notably Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic."

Croatian President Stipe Mesic told reporters after the commemoration that he was surprised that Serbian President Boris Tadic, who also attended the meeting, did not apologize for the role of Serbian forces in the 1995 massacre (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 June and 1 July 2005). "I don't know why he did not do so," Mesic added. He said that it was good that Tadic attended the commemoration, but argued that it would have been far more significant if Tadic had apologized for the Serbian role in the war crime.

Before Tadic left Belgrade for Srebrenica, he had said that wanted to pay his respects to the victims, stressing that "Serbia's future depends" on the extent to which that country distances itself from war crimes committed in its name in the 1990s. Some nationalist politicians warned him not to apologize for anything in the name of other Serbs.

Rasim Ljajic, who chairs Serbia and Montenegro's National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, said in Srebrenica on 11 July that his country is ready to be a "stabilizing factor" during a time of change in the region.

A representative of the mothers of the victims of the massacre included in her speech to the commemorative meeting the words: "Long live Bosnia and Herzegovina, death to the perpetrators of genocide on this land." In response, Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic said that all people who committed war crimes must answer for what they did, adding that it is "tragic that some people have used the pronounce a death sentence on the Republika Srpska."

Meanwhile in the Serbian city of Cacak, several dozen people laid wreaths at a monument to innocent victims from all nations and faiths to show respect for the Muslim victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

In Belgrade, the Serbian parliament observed a moment of silence for Serbian victims of the wars of the 1990s and also for those who lost their lives in Srebrenica in 1995 and in London during the recent terrorist attack. Members of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) were not in the chamber at the time. Tomislav Nikolic, who heads the SRS parliamentary faction, charged that speaker Predrag Markovic called for the moment of silence without consulting the leaders of the various party factions in the legislature.

On 9 July, about 4,000 Serbs attended a Belgrade rally hosted by the SRS, at which a film was shown that portrays Serbs as victims of the conflicts of the 1990s. Those present in the audience included top leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church as well as leading defenders of Karadzic and Mladic.

Stasa Zajovic, who is one of the co-founders of Belgrade's antinationalist and antiwar movement known as Women in Black, told Berlin's "Die Welt" of 11 July that members of her group have been repeatedly threatened by SRS activists but do not let themselves be intimidated. She added that the Women in Black planned to send representatives to the commemorative meeting in Srebrenica. Zajovic charged that Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has effectively assumed leadership of the "fascist" tendencies in Serbia dating back to the rule of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic from the late 1980s to 2000. She stressed that Kostunica refuses to recognize that what took place in Srebrenica was genocide organized by the Serbian state.

And back in Srebrenica, one young local Serb told London's "The Guardian" of 11 July that the commemoration is a "publicity stunt" based on "figures [that] are exaggerated," adding that the commemoration takes no note of the "3,600 Serbs killed here." Another young Serb said that he has a picture of Mladic on his wall because "he's our military leader.... There's not a single document to show that Mladic ordered the killings." (Patrick Moore)

REVIEWING THE UN'S FAILURE AT SREBRENICA. As part of the United Nations commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica, a group of panelists discussed in New York on 8 July the chain of grave mistakes that led to the worst mass killings in Europe since the end of the World War II. Ignorance, slow action, and erroneous political calculations, the panelists said, gave Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces in July 1995 the opportunity to kill about 8,000 Muslim men and boys after they took over the town designated by the UN Security Council as a "safe area." The massacre in Srebrenica is widely considered a major fiasco in UN peacekeeping efforts.

Diego Arria, former Venezuelan ambassador to the UN and a member of the UN Security Council during the fateful events in Srebrenica, said that even now, 10 years after the massacre, he continues to feel like an accomplice to the killings.

"Today, walking here I felt like a witness to a crime, [one] must feel when they return to a place where largely crime was committed, in the [UN headquarters] building. So it is very uneasy personal feeling because I was part of the Security Council that actually looked the other way and assumed the responsibility for the death of thousands of people. The mayor of Srebrenica was holding on me and said 'Now we have the hope that the world is going to help us.' And the world looked the other way," Arria said.

Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein of Jordan was a UN official in Zagreb with responsibilities tied to Srebrenica. He says that Bosnian Serb leaders at the time were constantly testing the threshold of tolerance of the UN and NATO forces. Those leaders include indicted war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who are still at large.

Regrettably, Prince Zeid says, the UN and NATO attitude toward Bosnian Serbs' aggression was rather sheepish. "I think most of us began to perceive that our repeated resort to the threats of the use of close air support or air strikes started to resemble a toothless tiger. Every time we would employ the threat, and this was something that was borne out in the Srebrenica report, the [UN] secretary-general report on Srebrenica, we never made complete use of the threat. We would threaten the Bosnian Serbs with air strikes, the air strikes would be carried out, and then we would go to great lengths to explain to the Bosnian Serbs that we were forced to do this as an action of last resort, we didn't really mean to hurt them," Zeid said.

Panel participants said that Srebrenica's bloody example taught the global community an important lesson on the need to respond resolutely to systematic attempts to terrorize, expel or murder an entire people. But they also noted that the UN fell short in its analysis for the failure in Srebrenica.

"There has never been a discussion in the UN on this issue. When the report of the secretary-general was produced there was a perfunctory discussion of it or rather there was series of statements in the [UN] General Assembly and that was it, we put it to rest. We've never had a thorough discussion on the conclusions reached on the assessment of the Srebrenica report. And are we liable to commit the same mistakes and errors when faced with complex situations like this in the future? I think absolutely [yes]," Zeid said.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed in his 1999 report on the fall of Srebrenica that the international community as a whole must accept its share of responsibility for the ethnic-cleansing campaign that culminated in the killing of some 8,000 unarmed civilians in Srebrenica.

Professor Samantha Power of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy of Harvard University was a journalist in Yugoslavia during the time of Srebrenica events. She spoke about the unwillingness of the great powers to admit their share of responsibility for what happened.

"Srebrenica, I think, really underscores [that] there is such a huge margin of error in the margin of autonomy that the UN Secretariat has. So that's the one UN. The other UN is the [member] states. We have [U.S.] congressional investigations but how many now on 'oil-for-food' [corruption]? How many investigations we are going to have on the sexual scandals with the UN peacekeepers? Why do we have investigations on those scandals and not on Srebrenica and Rwanda within the U.S. Congress? [It is] because we were involved through the UN Security Council and why on earth would we want to look back on our complicities?" Power said.

Dr. Mirza Kusljugic is the current Bosnia-Herzegovina representative at the UN. He was in Bosnia during the 1992-95 war and spoke about the hopelessness that took over in the final months of the war. "I really felt hopeless for the first time at the end of the war. I felt betrayed and the people of Bosnia understood basically what was going on. Srebrenica was the final stage and the lack of will to stop the aggression and to prevent genocide against [Bosnian Muslims] against the Bosnian state was basically the reason why Srebrenica happened," Kusljugic said. (Nikola Krastev)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: All "Balkan countries should look toward Europe. The European Union [could] play an important role [in their future].... We have heard the statements of the EU leadership that the [negative] results of the referendums [on the proposed EU constitution] in France and the Netherlands and the recent [divided] EU summit will not affect its relations with its neighbors. We hope that this fully applies to the Balkan countries and that they will adopt a European outlook. This will be a vital stabilizer, considering the complex ethnic mix in the Balkans." -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Quoted by Interfax in Moscow on 8 July.