The white trucks and armored personnel carriers of the UN crawl back and forth with antlike diligence between Butmir airport on the western edge of Sarajevo and the headquarters of the UN peace-keeping force just inside the city limits. The dusty roads have been chewed up by shells of all descriptions. The UN vehicles contrast brightly with the few houses still standing, gaunt carcasses blackened by fire. The trucks are manned by teen-age Canadians who admit their shock at the fanaticism of the combatants in this war. Like everybody else in Sarajevo, UN personnel are the targets of artillery fire, which thunders sporadically during the day before joining a staccato chorus of automatic weapons fire after the curfew at 10 PM when tens of thousands of citizens go into the cellars for the night.
The UN presence in the Bosnian capital has guaranteed the arrival of over two hundred planes with emergency food supplies for 300,000 starving people in Bosnia’s capital. Yet the delight with which the UN was greeted has turned sour. The aid responds to only a small number of Sarajevo’s needs while the UN force of just over one thousand men has a mandate that barely goes beyond keeping the airport open. There has been hardly any improvement in the threadbare quality of life in Sarajevo since the airport was opened. Sarajevans still place their lives at serious risk by simply walking out of the front door and into the telescopic sights of the Serb snipers in the surrounding hills.
What has happened in Sarajevo is the most flagrant crime against innocent people to have been committed since Yugoslavia began to disintegrate in June 1991. When the Serbs attacked the town of Vukovar in eastern Croatia last autumn, the Croat authorities were able to keep open supply lines across the corn fields, replenishing the town’s food stocks and ammunition. For over two months in May and June 1992—until the UN deliveries began in early July—no food entered Sarajevo, and for several weeks people were unable to leave the city. Without the protection of a United Nations convoy (an understandably reluctant guarantor), to leave has often meant to die.
The city is defended by a makeshift army, the Bosnian Territorial Defense (TO), whose leadership is drawn from former officers of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), while its foot soldiers come largely from the lumpenproletariat and criminal fraternity of Sarajevo (no less heroic for this). In Bosnia’s towns, the territorial defense force is not exclusively made up of Muslims and Croats—Bosnia’s army has a high percentage of Serb soldiers; indeed its Deputy Commander, Jovan Divljak, is a Serb.
Ranged against the Bosnian Army are the forces of the self-proclaimed Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, among them a variety of irregular Serbian groups. Their weapons include a huge collection of JNA artillery, heavy and light, with more than enough ammunition for continual bombardment. The primary aim of the shelling is to intimidate the people of Sarajevo by systematically obliterating their town and reducing its population to a frightened pack of desperate scavengers.
The Sarajevans have been astonishingly resilient; they continued the rituals of their former life for as long as they were able. Until mid-May, they sat in cafés, chatting and drinking beer, with mortars exploding around them. The angry laughter of defiance heard everywhere was forced through their drawn faces, gaunt and coarsened by a pauper’s diet. During the past few weeks, the almost incessant shelling and bombing has meant that all except the fighters, politicians, medical staff, and journalists pass their days in shelters except for two hours in the morning. Then they emerge shortly after dawn, risking death from the artillery fire coming down from the nearby hills as they stand patiently in line for the only food left—often nettles or, if they are lucky, bread. Now the UN deliveries are mitigating the shortages but they continue to be severe. The slow starvation of Sarajevo has been as appalling as the city’s bombardment, which doesn’t spare a single block, or the terrorism of snipers, who pick off children and the wounded as well as adults.
As far as the government in Sarajevo is able to ascertain, just under 1,800 people have been killed in Sarajevo since the beginning of April. This excludes victims in Serb-held parts of the city and in some neighborhoods where the fighting has been so heavy that no survey of the dead has been possible. The same source says that a minimum of six thousand people have been killed elsewhere in Bosnia-Hercegovina, although these do not include any killed behind Serbian lines. The Serbs themselves have issued no figures for their casualties, although it is known that they have sustained heavy losses of life in Hercegovina to the west and Posavina to the north. Several thousand Bosnians are unaccounted for, presumed dead or in captivity. Thousands more are trapped in places where they are surrounded by heavy fighting or are under siege and suffering severe deprivation. Bosnian officials claim privately that the real number of dead now stands at about 50,000 (a by no means incredible estimate) but because their sole sources of information in many regions are local ham radio operators, they will not state this publicly. The number of dead killed during the war in Croatia is just over 30,000 (although many have cast doubt on the Serb figures contributing to this number because of several reports which claimed that the Yugoslav National Army did not register all its deaths).
In Sarajevo, several hundred deaths have already been attributed to the consequences of siege. If much larger amounts of aid do not arrive, then this figure seems likely to rise swiftly. “They have to starve us to death because they know they can never occupy Sarajevo,” Gavrilo Grahovac said to me rather airily. “They cannot get their tanks and heavy weapons into the center of town, and they know all 300,000 of us will fight to the end.” Grahovac is the director of Svjetlost, the most successful publishing company in the former Yugoslavia. He is a Serb, one among the roughly 90,000 who remained in Sarajevo to face the devastation side by side with their Muslim, Croat, Jewish, and Yugoslav neighbors.1
In Sarajevo these ethnic and religious groups have lived and worked together—particularly in the town’s light industries, such as car assembly plants—without serious conflict since World War II. They are resisting the forces commanded by Radovan Karadzic, the president of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, whose formation was first announced last November, a month after a plebiscite of Bosnian Serbs. The battle for Sarajevo is not a nationalist struggle between Serbs on the one hand and Muslims and Croats on the other. It is a struggle between the rural and the urban; the primitive and the cosmopolitan; and, above all, between chaos and reason.
These are not exaggerated claims. Sarajevo lies not only at the geographical heart of the former Yugoslavia. It is the center of the historical tensions which have already shattered the peace in Croatia to the north and threaten the stability of a cluster of states in the southern Balkans—Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, and now Macedonia—which surround the territory of the former Yugoslav republic. Sarajevo stands squarely on the historical dividing line that ran through both Yugoslavia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, on each side of which Rome and Constantinople staked out their territory after the Great Schism of the tenth century. Sarajevo is the point at which Catholic, Orthodox, and Islam meet, in the middle of the shifting imperial borderlands which separated Habsburg and Ottoman for over five centuries. The most bestial war in the Balkans was fought between 1941 and 1945 and yet, while the city has suffered horribly during times of conflict, in peacetime Sarajevo is the most inspiring example of cosmopolitan coexistence in the region. Before the present war Bosnia-Hercegovina was known as the Switzerland of the Balkans. In no other city, not even Istanbul, did the Orient and the Occident coexist so impressively as in Sarajevo.
For over three centuries, the imperial administrations of Vienna and Constantinople set up elaborate military defenses in the region. The peasants in these districts were never encouraged to farm their land, a tradition maintained by the Communists, as the region’s strikingly low regional living standards show. Instead local people were raised as fighters, and were regularly called upon to defend or conquer territory on the periphery of Croatia and Serbia, or in Bosnia-Hercegovina itself. The gun-slinging culture in Hercegovina and the adjoining Krajina2 district in Croatia is not a product of the blood feuds endemic in Montenegro or Albania. The addiction to fighting is in part a legacy of the military strategy of the two great Balkan powers, Austria and Turkey.
When the Soviet Union expelled Yugoslavia from the Cominform in June 1948, Tito reacted by strengthening Bosnia’s military defenses; he thought Bosnia’s geographical position at the heart of Yugoslavia and its mountainous terrain would create severe obstacles for any attacking army. Believing that Yugoslavia could be threatened by invasion from the west and from the east, Tito transformed Bosnia-Hercegovina into a huge fortress capable of resisting foreign aggression long after Zagreb, Belgrade, or Skopje had fallen. Although Bosnia-Hercegovina makes up only one fifth of the territory of Yugoslavia, 60 percent of the country’s military industries and installations are concentrated there.
The Orthodox Serb population of Bosnia, which makes up 31 percent of the republic’s 4.3 million people, is mainly rural and spread across the northern, southern, and eastern border regions, while the Muslims dominate in the industrial towns. The Catholic Croats, 17 percent of the population, live in two relatively compact territories, western Hercegovina, i.e., in the southwest part of the republic, which lies immediately to the east of the Dalmatian coast, and the northern region of Posavina bordering on Croatia. Just under two thirds of Bosnia’s military industries were situated in Muslim and Croat districts.
Although the outcome was hardly foreseeable in the 1940s and 1950s, Bosnia became stuffed with huge supplies of weapons—artillery, tanks, rifles, and large amounts of ammunition—much of which are now being used by the 40,000 regular JNA troops under Serbian command and the thousands of irregulars who claim to be independent of the government of Serbia’s President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade but have no trouble getting access to the stockpiles of arms controlled by Serbian officials in Bosnia.
Because of the Belgrade government’s heavy investments in military bases and supply depots in Bosnia, the leaders of the JNA have long believed that they have more vital interests in Bosnia-Hercegovina than in any other republic. In recognition of the dangers this implied, the president of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Alija Izetbegovic, issued last autumn an urgent appeal to the European Community peace conference in Brussels and the United Nations to consider financing the peaceful transformation of the JNA in Bosnia-Hercegovina from a conscript army with a bloated officer corps into a tightly organized professional force. He convincingly argued that if the current officer corps of the JNA was not assured of its future and the continuation of its privileges, then war in Bosnia would follow, with destruction on an enormous scale. To Europe’s lasting cost, Izetbegovic was entirely ignored.
If Sarajevo falls, then the Balkans will lose its one major center in which large numbers of people from different national groups have shown that multicultural cooperation and self-defense are possible. Even now the psychological effects of the siege have weakened Sarajevo’s spirit of tolerance drastically. My friends in Sarajevo, who until six weeks ago were bearing their misery with fortitude, have become resigned, depressed, and angry. It is not simply that they feel abandoned by the outside world. They are suffering from malnourishment, exhaustion, and intense stress caused by the snipers and the bombardment. The increasing shortage of water and the uncollected piles of rubbish have greatly undermined their dignity.
Political authority in the city is being steadily usurped by the militia and police who engage in corrupt practices such as the forced requisition of property. Arbitrary arrests have been reported from all parts of the city while in a most disturbing development some (but not all) Sarajevo Serbs have been issued with official documents confirming that they are “loyal citizens of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina.” One lawyer of mixed Serb-Muslim parentage told me that “Bosnia is already dead. Even if we manage to defeat the Serbs, the Bosnian government will be hostage to the criminals who are now administering the city. The longer the siege goes on, the more likely we will defeat one totalitarian regime, the Bosnian Serbs, only to replace it with another run by the Muslim Green Berets, who are as nationalist as the Serbs and Croats.”
If Sarajevo is the geographic heart of Yugoslavia and has come to stand for the possibility of coexistence in Bosnia, the two other wars afflicting the republic are rather different. The understandable fascination of the world press and television for the plight of Sarajevo has generally obscured the equally dramatic events happening elsewhere in Bosnia-Hercegovina as Serb and Croat nationalists struggle to divide up the republic between them.
At the end of March, Radovan Karadzic ordered his army of Bosnian Serbs to begin a campaign to carve out a giant crescent from the northern, eastern, and southern regions of Bosnia, defined by four of the republic’s great rivers—the Una, the Sava, the Drina, and the Neretva. The result is a war provoked by Serb expansionist forces against largely ill-equipped Muslim units, and it has led to the killing and expulsion of the Muslim populations of many cities, with the political support of Milosevic and the military backing of the Yugoslav People’s Army. The war began on April 1 in Bijeljina, a town with a large Muslim minority which is close to the Serbian border.
During the attacks on Bijeljina and Zvornik, hundreds of Muslims were butchered by the paramilitary organization controlled by Zeljko Raznjatovic, who is known simply as Arkan, the most charismatic leader of the Serbian volunteers, whose violent activities over the past year have been financed by Milosevic himself. Once reports of the crimes committed in Bijeljina and Zvornik reached surrounding areas, tens of thousands of Muslims took flight to avoid the advancing Serb killers. This allowed Karadzic’s soldiers simply to walk in and assume control of what had become ghost settlements. Where the warning of Bijeljina was not heeded and the Muslims stayed to fight, the Serbian volunteers pillaged, looted, and organized mass executions of civilians.3
In presiding over these bloody events, Radovan Karadzic aims to establish an independent Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, a new entity that would also provide a link between the Serb enclave of Krajina in Croatia with the Serbian motherland. Even though Serbian leaders say they have renounced their dream of a Greater Serbia, this plan is still being put into practice, albeit in a Machiavellian way. Karadzic demands that the Serbs of Bosnia-Hercegovina, with 31 percent of the population, should control 65 percent of the republic’s territory. He tries to justify this claim by saying that the predominantly rural Serbs are dispersed through large parts of the republic.Why this gives him the right to expel Muslims from regions in which they are a majority, he does not say.
The war in the south, which is being fought mainly between Muslims and Serbs, is accompanied by other, largely ignored wars between Croats and Serbs in Posavina in the north and in the distinct territory of Hercegovina in the southwest. In these regions the two sides are committed to dividing up the republic and they are fighting to define the borders separating their communities. Posavina, dominated by Croats, forms a barrier between the Serb-dominated areas in western and eastern Bosnia and by extension between Serbia proper and the Krajina. In order to overcome this, Karadzic wants to drive a Serb-controlled corridor through Posavina. Although Serbs and Croats agree on the ultimate aim of territorial division, they are in permanent dispute about the lines to be drawn.
A similar conflict is going on in Hercegovina. Despite being joined with Bosnia for over five centuries, Hercegovina still has a distinctive character. Here some of the most pugnacious Serbs and Croats are engaged in ferocious fighting along the Neretva River. Croats from the exceptionally poor, mountainous region of western Hercegovina, which lies largely to the west of the Neretva River, have been the most reliable supporters of nationalist and fascist movements in Croatia proper. They consider themselves the greatest Croat patriots and consider the association with Bosnia an insult. “There are only three things which grow in western Hercegovina,” one hardened Croat fighter said recently, “stones, snakes, and ustashas,” a reference to the fascists who ran Croatia and western Hercegovina during World War II.
The Serbs of eastern Hercegovina, operating from the military base of Nevesinje, are equally militant. Many of the most radical politicians in Serbia proper, like the fascist leader, Vojislav Seselj, come from this region. As one local Serb told me in February, a month before fighting broke out in earnest there, “unlike those cowards in Belgrade, we do not feel restrained by such concepts as minority rights.”
Croat and Serb nationalists have believed for many decades that the Muslims are dangerous heretics and that Bosnia-Hercegovina should be split between Serbs and Croats. This was the idea underlying the agreement signed in early May in the Austrian town of Graz by Radovan Karadzic and Mate Boban, the leader of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) in western Hercegovina. Despite the agreement, the Serbs and Croats have found it impossible either to overcome the desire to exterminate one another or to decide on the borders that would divide them. Article 1 of the Graz Agreement states that “in Mostar, the Serbian side considers that the border is the Neretva River, and the Croatian side considers that the whole city of Mostar is included in the Croatian unit.” Both the Croats and Serbs conveniently forget that Muslims make up the single largest national group in Mostar, the capital of Hercegovina.
Mostar provides a useful illustration of the nightmarish spiral provoked by the outbreak of war in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Until now Muslims have been fighting alongside their Croat allies against the Serbs in this once beautiful Ottoman town where the two wars, the Serb-Muslim war concentrated largely in eastern Bosnia and the Serb-Croat war in Hercegovina, coincide. However relations between Muslims and Croats were bound to deterioriate once the hardline Croat leader, Mate Boban, announced the formation of a Croatian region in Hercegovina and Posavina on July 3. Although the combined Bosnian-Croat command has driven out the Serbs from Mostar, the Bosnian government is now disputing this territory with the Croats and has declared Boban’s Croat Community of Herceg-Bosnia “illegal and illegitimate.” Despite their fragile defensive alliance, there have been three armed clashes between Croats and Muslims over munitions’ depots during the Bosnian war. These are unlikely to be the last. The obsession of three communities with the drawing and redrawing of maps is one of the central reasons why the quintessentially mixed town of Mostar has suffered so much destruction.
The dizzying mixture of different religious and national groups in Bosnia-Hercegovina, combined with its pivotal geographical position, has meant that peace there has historically always been assured by the good offices of a single, outside party. For five centuries, the Ottomans of the Sublime Porte were the mediator, and for four decades, between 1874 and 1914, Vienna acted as policeman although the Habsburgs badly misjudged the force of Serbian nationalist resentment in Bosnia in 1914. As Yugoslavia’s fledgling democracy veered toward conflict in the 1920s, the royal dictatorship in Yugoslavia ensured stability while until last year the Titoist federation maintained a shaky balance among the different republics. Between 1941 and 1945, the equilibrium broke down completely and the savage crimes committed there during the war years were more brutal than any others in the region.
When Yugoslavia began to disintegrate in 1991, two factors combined to make it likely that Bosnia would have to relive the frightful wartime experience. As Communist Party control declined in Bosnia during 1990, three national parties emerged to replace it—the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) led by Radovan Karadzic, the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) led by Alija Izetbegovic, and the Croatian Democratic Union–Bosnia-Hercegovina (HDZ-BiH) headed by Stjepan Kljuic. Bosnia’s first democratic government was made up of a coalition of all three parties and it was designed to keep the already tense relations between the three communities from deteriorating further. But during the next ten months, the coalition revealed that it was no genuine coalition at all; throughout the republic, district by district, the Muslims and Croats developed informal and formal alliances against Serb representatives. No side can be exempted from blame for the fragmentation that took place; but the Serbs were the first to pose a serious challenge to Bosnia’s integrity by creating autonomous regions in Bosanska Krajina and eastern Herce-govina which were followed by a number of others elsewhere.
The tendency of the peoples of Bosnia-Hercegovina themselves to break up along national lines played into the hands of nationalists in Belgrade and Zagreb. On March 17, 1991, Croatian President Tudjman and President Milosevic met in Karadjordjevo in northern Vojvodina and struck a preliminary agreement on how Bosnia-Hercegovina would be divided between them. President Tudjman foolishly believed that the dismemberment of Bosnia would both prevent war in Croatia and satisfy the nationalist fantasy of a Greater Croatia which he shares with many of his countrymen. President Milosevic, for his part, was keeping his main weapon—the heavy Serbian military presence in Bosnia—loaded and ready for the killing that was later to take place. The plan to split Bosnia undermined stable government for the following twelve months, until war finally broke out.
The war’s greatest victims have been the Muslims of Bosnia-Hercegovina. They have been unfairly attacked by both Serbia and Croat leaders as the vanguard of Islamic fundamentalism in Europe while, of course, the intense fundamentalism of parts of the Catholic and Serbian Orthodox churches is not considered a danger. The Muslims in Bosnia-Hercegovina are a largely secular people. Until Tito decided for his own political reasons in the early 1970s to elevate them to the status of a Yugoslav “nation,” they were considered to be a minority with little influence. The Muslims are Slavs, neither ethnically nor linguistically distinguishable from Serbs or Croats; they have no external power center such as Belgrade or Zagreb to which they can turn for material, political, or spiritual aid, and they have not had much success in organizing themselves as a national movement.4 Many Muslims incline toward certain characteristics of either Serb or Croatian culture—in their dress and eating habits, for example—and Serbs and Croats refuse to relinquish their dangerous belief that Muslims remain at heart Orthodox and Catholic Christians who will inevitably return to the fold, if not willingly then with persuasion.
The international press tends to present the war in Bosnia as a simple struggle between pernicious, aggressive Serbs on the one hand, and innocent Muslims and Croats on the other. When the UN Secretary-General’s office and several foreign missions in Belgrade and Zagreb have accurately accused Croatia of seeking to take over a part of Bosnia-Hercegovina, these charges have been dismissed by the Croatian government with blustering indignation. More seriously, on June 15, when President Tudjman reached a formal agreement with President Izetbegovic on military cooperation between the two republics in order to drive back the Serbian aggressor, the effect was to give legitimacy to the Croatian Defense Councils in Bosnia-Hercegovina. President Izetbegovic denied that the agreement with Zagreb was anything but temporary, however, and the Bosnian government’s suspicion of Croat intentions has since been confirmed by the creation by the Bosnian Croats on July 3 of the Community of Herceg-Bosna, which in effect strips Sarajevo of its authority over Croat regions of the republic. However, with his back against the wall in Sarajevo, Izetbegovic is aware that Muslim forces alone are not sufficient to break the siege of the capital. This can only be done, if at all, with Croat backing.
Still, no alliance in the Balkans is ever permanent, particularly since Croatia, with 17 percent of the population of Bosnia-Hercegovina, wants control over some 30 percent of Bosnian territory. The Serbian expansionists have claimed 65 percent. This would leave the Muslims, who make up 44 percent of the republic’s total population, with only 5 percent of Bosnia-Hercegovina. (Zdravko Grebo, professor of law in Sarajevo, remarked that the Croats and Serbs seem determined on creating “a Muslim reservation in the center of Bosnia for the benefit of Western tourists.”)
After Western diplomats had accused Zagreb of sending in units of the Croatian army to Hercegovina, the Croatian government loudly denied this was the case; then Croatian television later the same day proudly broadcast the news that Mostar had been liberated by the Croatian army using multiple rocket launchers which formerly belonged to the Nationale Volksarmee of East Germany. These are not weapons readily available to the poor, uneducated peasants of western Hercegovina. When I traveled through western Hercegovina in mid-May, the region to the west of Mostar was swarming with regular Croat soldiers, and most shop owners would accept only Croatian dinars, not the Yugoslav dinars, which are theoretically the only legal tender in Bosnia-Hercegovina. By the end of June, moreover, the Croat Defense Councils had established howitzer and mortar positions on Igman hill, just twenty miles south-west of Sarajevo.
Notwithstanding Croatia’s complicity, however, its military activity is overshadowed by the horrifying Serbian aggression in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The campaign by the Serb irregulars and the JNA in eastern Bosnia and the siege of Sarajevo have conferred on Serbia the status of international pariah and have made it the object of punitive sanctions voted by the UN Security Council. These will undoubtedly accelerate the processes of decay and violence within Serbian society and hasten the political demise of President Milosevic. Pressures from the UN and the European Community have now enabled relief flights to land near Sarajevo but it is questionable whether they will soon end the fighting there or elsewhere in Bosnia-Hercegovina, or reduce the possibilities of war breaking out in Kosovo, the southern Serbian province with a large Albanian minority.
That Slobodan Milosevic poses special dangers to the Balkans was apparent during the all-night session of the Serbian League of Communists’ Central Committee in the autumn of 1987, when Milosevic first assumed control of the organization. With his remarkable capacity to cajole, manipulate, and intimidate, Milosevic turned on his old friend and political mentor Ivan Stambolic, accusing him of responsibility for the fate of the Serbian and Montenegrin minorities in Kosovo, who, many Serbs then claimed, were ill-treated by the two-million-strong ethnic Albanian population.
Stambolic was, in fact, one of the officials responsible for ordering the suppression of Albanians’ rights in Kosovo until 1987, but ethnic Albanians carried out this repression. Until Milosevic assumed power, Kosovo had its own partly independent Communist Party, and its bureaucracy had access to considerable funds earmarked for underdeveloped parts of Yugoslavia; these were largely squandered not by Serbs but by the ethnic Albanian quislings who administered the province. In the 1974 constitution, Tito had granted the Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo augmented powers in order, among other reasons, to counter what he regarded as the dangerous self-confidence of the Serbs, which threatened the delicate national balance he was trying to maintain.
This is not to deny that ordinary ethnic Albanians had a miserable time—of course they did. But even after the riots of 1981, Albanians willing to co-operate with the Belgrade regime had their own bureaucracy and their own privileges within Kosovo. (Azem Vllasi, an Albanian oversaw the prosecution and imprisonment of hundreds of young Albanians after the disturbances.) Milosevic undermined Ivan Stambolic by denouncing this policy of limited self-rule. Having assumed the leadership of the Serbian League of Communists, he then proceeded to strip the Albanians of their power by annulling Kosovo’s autonomy. In doing so, he mobilized literally millions of Serbs in a hysterical campaign to assert Serbia’s absolute, albeit illegal, authority in Kosovo and by implication in the rest of Yugoslavia.
Milosevic thus consigned the consensual politics of Tito’s Yugoslavia to the historical dustbin. Until 1987, the Titoist system preserved a shifting balance among the republics, by maintaining a relatively weak Serbia at the expense of the other republics. Still, Tito would have been in difficulty if the Serbs had felt excluded, and so Serb politicians were often in positions of power in Croatia, Bosnia, Vojvodina, and Kosovo, as well as in the federal government in Belgrade. Tito’s system could only function if overt nationalism and the active participation of the masses in politics were both prohibited. Milosevic broke both taboos in 1987.
Following the elections of advocates for independence in Slovenia and Croatia of April 1990, it became evident that the Yugoslav federation would have to be thoroughly revised if it was to survive. The victory of President Tudjman in Croatia clearly threatened Yugoslavia’s existence. In order to impose his own solution of a unitary Yugoslav state with a centralized government in Belgrade, Milosevic announced the principle that has since been the basis of continual bloodshed—that Serbs have an inalienable right to live in a single state.
Among his compatriots, Milosevic was certainly popular. Most of Yugoslavia’s twelve million Serbs believed that their people had suffered enormous losses while fighting on the victorious side in both world wars. Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia), to which Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, belonged, stood for the liberation of Bosnia from Austro-Hungarian rule and unification with Serbia. During World War II, many Serbs believed their victory would mean that the Serbs in Croatia would never again be at the mercy of an independent Croat state. Yugoslavia presented many Serbs with an adequate solution to their aspirations for a nation-state. Not only did Serbs see the blood of their fathers betrayed by Croatia’s declaration of independence, but, ignoring Germany’s postwar history, they became convinced that Bonn’s support for Croatian independence heralded the resurgence of fascism throughout Europe—“the fourth Reich,” as it was called by the Serb press last year. They could not believe that the British and later the Americans would follow Germany’s lead in recognizing Tudjman’s regime. Moreover, like most East Europeans, Serbs suffer from the post-Communist confusion5 which leads them to support nationalist politicians while also distrusting their promises. Despite their sense of having been betrayed by the US, the British, and the Germans in the aftermath of Titoism, the Serbian population has also been increasingly skeptical of Milosevic and the jna leadership for dragging them into a war which had no clearly defined aim and appeared unwinnable.
By the time Radovan Karadzic’s forces launched their attack in Bosnia-Hercegovina in April 1992, a political rift had taken place among the Serbs—between those in Croatia and Bosnia known as precani, and those from Serbia, the srbijanci. The Serbs of Croatia and Bosnia were only interested in securing weapons and political support from the government in Belgrade for their war efforts. The Serbs in Serbia were no doubt sympathetic to the plight of fellow Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, but large numbers nonetheless believed that the war in Croatia had little to do with them, except that tens of thousands of their sons and brothers had been killed or wounded on the battlefields of Croatia. Meanwhile, Milosevic absurdly insisted that, except to offer spiritual support to the Serb fighters, Serbia had no part in the war in Croatia, when it was obvious to everyone that Serbia was directly supporting both the jna and Serb irregulars there.
After the ceasefire and peace plan worked out by Cyrus Vance, the UN’s special envoy, came into effect in Croatia in January, the subsequent decision of the United States and then of the European Community to recognize Bosnia-Hercegovina as an independent state made the internal tensions there all the more acute. The German-led decision in December last year to recognize Croatia had made war in Bosnia virtually inevitable; this left President Izetbegovic with no choice but to apply for recognition of an independent Bosnia, since it would have been politically impossible for him if Bosnia were to remain in a truncated Yugoslavia dominated by Milosevic. Once recognition was granted, Radovan Karadzic carried out his threats to enforce Serbian autonomy by military means. Milosevic then made the mistake which is now likely to cost him his political future—he approved the plan of Serbian aggression against Bosnia-Hercegovina which in turn led the UN to impose sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro, the two republics that now make up the new Yugoslavia.
Just before the UN’s decision, Milosevic attempted to wash his hands of the blood in Bosnia, proclaiming that the new Yugoslavia would not include Bosnia-Hercegovina, an implicit recognition of the latter’s independence. He also withdrew all the Serbian citizens serving in the jna in Bosnia; but since between 60 percent and 80 percent of recruits in the Bosnian jna are Serbs from Bosnia, this was a public relations gesture with little impact on the army’s capacity to fight.
Until now, the sanctions have not had the desired effect. They have, however, weakened Milosevic beyond the point of political survival. One by one, his erstwhile supporters, both passive and active, have filed past him to spit on his achievements—the Church, the Army, the Serbian Academy of Science; even his wife, the sociology professor Mirjana Markovic and a prominent Communist, recently launched an attack on Milosevic’s organization, the Serbian Socialist Party. As his power slowly crumbles, Milosevic should beware the rich Serbian tradition of regicide.
Should Milosevic fall in the near future, as many in Serbia now believe he will, the legacy he leaves behind threatens to deepen the Balkan crisis still further. A political struggle over the succession has already broken out between two former political allies, Vuk Draskovic’s Serbian Renewal Movement and the Democratic Party of Dragoljub Micunovic. Draskovic has surrounded himself with an assortment of nationalists, Christian democrats, and monarchists, who celebrated the return of Crown Prince Alexander to Belgrade on June 28 with a mass demonstration which lasted an entire week but failed to secure its main aim, Milosevic’s resignation. Draskovic now shows nothing but disdain for his former coalition partner, Micunovic, whom he denounces as a Social Democrat, a Bolshevik, and a liberal follower of the Praxis groups of reformist intellectuals who were suppressed by Tito.
For his part, Micunovic is putting together a curious coalition made up of some Democratic Party activists (others have joined Draskovic), disaffected members of Milosevic’s party, and Serbia’s liberal intelligentsia. This political struggle echoes in some ways the wartime animosity between Chetniks and Partisans. The army and the Serb irregulars, who now regularly engage in gangster-style shootouts in Belgrade restaurants, are negotiating with all the political forces for their loyalty.
The Crown Prince himself has expressed his desire to return as a constitutional monarch, although he has overestimated monarchist sentiment in Serbia and has tied his political future too closely with that of the volatile Draskovic. The division between the monarchists and the republicans may by now be unbridgeable, particularly since the calamitous economic situation in Serbia makes rational political negotiation almost impossible. Inflation runs currently at 102 percent per month while industrial production in the first quarter of this year was down 30 percent from the same period a year ago. Following the imposition of sanctions, the Serbian Chamber of Commerce expects it to drop another 40 percent in the next quarter. The many paramilitary organizations within the republic are determined to hold onto the privileges Milosevic granted them in return for their services on Croatian and Bosnian battlefields. Serbia has never been closer to civil war.
The future of what was once Yugoslavia is now wholly in doubt. Despite the valiant efforts of the United Nations’ peace-keeping forces in the four Serbian-occupied zones of Croatia, the war there is breaking out again. The Croatian government has made it plain that if the UN is unable to disarm the Serb irregulars and guarantee the safe return for Croats expelled from their homes, then the Croatian Army will do this instead. Inside the Serbian zones, Serb civilians, squeezed between Bosnia in flames and a hostile Croatia, are suffering from malnutrition and disease. The conditions in the Serb enclaves, which are governed by primitive Serb warlords, are reportedly as bad as in many parts of Bosnia. Nonetheless, the local armies have sworn to fight any Croatian encroachment on this territory. They may soon have their chance. In late June two Croat brigades entered the cease-fire zone and Croat forces fired shells into the city of Knin, the Serb stronghold. Under UN pressure, the Croats have since withdrawn from their positions in the zone.
The war in Bosnia is also spreading. With almost two million displaced people from Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, the humanitarian problems caused by the conflict have assumed enormous dimensions. The refugees, Muslim, Serb, and Croat alike, are mainly women, children, and old men. The men of fighting age have remained in Bosnia, many having fled to the hills in anticipation of a long, debilitating guerrilla campaign. In view of the merciless struggle being waged in Bosnia, it would be extremely difficult to prevent the outbreak of a full-scale conflagration between Serbia and Croatia should fighting begin again in Croatia’s disputed territories.
Politicians in the former Yugoslavia as well as the German and Italian foreign ministers now say that only military intervention can suppress the conflagration in Bosnia-Hercegovina. In view of European disunity and military weakness, the only power that now seems capable of organizing such an intervention is the United States (a former Yugoslav defense minister told me that to secure Sarajevo and its environs alone would require a land force of some 40,000 men), although to judge by President Bush’s most recent statements it is highly unlikely that Washington would agree to this.
So far as a political settlement is concerned, Bosnia can survive as a sovereign state only as a protectorate of the United Nations. This would mean taking effective steps to demilitarize Bosnian territory, a policy that most nations in Western Europe and the United States would regard as both prohibitively dangerous and expensive. However, such a posibility should not be ignored just because it is ambitious, since it now seems unlikely that the fighters in Bosnia-Hercegovina, if left to their own devices, will stop. A plan for a UN protectorate based in Sarajevo has been put forward by Milan Panic, the naturalized American who has become prime minister of the new Yugoslavia. A similar plan was first suggested by liberal opposition parties in Sarajevo but until now President Izetbegovic has been reluctant to approve it since he would have to give up his own power if it were carried out.
On July 12, Radovan Karadzic countered with a suggestion that the United Nations create a Green Line, as he called it, between Bosnian and Serb forces. While decorating his rhetoric with disingenuous pacifism. Karadzic hopes thereby to consolidate his territorial gains in the same way as Milosevic intended when he accepted the deployment of UN troops in Croatia. On the same day that Karadzic made his proposal a heavy artillery force under his command continued its demented bombardment of some 60,000 pathetic, starving people in the town of Gorazde, some forty miles southeast of Sarajevo.
Having set in motion the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, Serbian nationalism now also threatens to spread chaos in the southern Balkans. The Albanians of Kosovo held their own unauthorized elections for a new parliament in May, and they have announced their intention to set up their own administration, including a police force. After being suppressed systematically for several decades, the usually cautious Albanians have been persuaded by Serbia’s growing weakness to act on their own, although their leader, Ibrahim Rugova, remains a significant moderating influence on separatist aspirations. The Serbian government responded to the Kosovo elections by surrounding the “parliament” in Prishtina in June on the day it was due to convene. It is hard to imagine a peaceful solution to the problems of Kosovo. If war breaks out in Kosovo, then Europe may well see its first Balkan conflict since 1913, for President Berisha of Albania has sworn to defend his kinsmen in Kosovo.
War between Serbia and Albania would be bad enough. A greater threat is posed by what is happening in Macedonia, the former Yugoslavia’s southernmost republic, whose recognition is being blocked in a cavalier fashion by Greece, which believes the name “Macedonia” to be exclusively Hellenic property. The other members of the European Community and the United States have demonstrated considerable cowardice in refusing to recognize Macedonia, a republic of two million people, of whom over 30 percent belong to national minorities, that threatens nobody, despite the rather hysterical claims of Greece to the contrary.
Macedonia depends on Belgrade for its financial survival, but the banking links between the Serbian capital and Skopje have now been blocked. Economic privation is increasing the strain of relations between Macedonians and the 400,000-strong Albanian population in western Macedonia. Greece has clearly suffered from the wars in Yugoslavia, which have cut the main land route between northern and southern Europe, and Greek claims deserve some consideration. The Macedonians might compromise by calling their new nation the Slav Republic of Macedonia; but Greece cannot justifiably dictate to the government in Skopje what Macedonia should call itself, particularly since this is likely to worsen the conflicts in the region.
If war breaks out in Kosovo, an enormous number of refugees would flee to western Macedonia. Already there have been small-scale clashes between the Macedonian police and Albanian militants, who are demanding an autonomous western Macedonia. An influx of refugees would stretch the peace in Macedonia to breaking point. Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia have in the past all made claims to Macedonian territory. Macedonian minorities exist both in Bulgaria and Greece although both Sofia and Athens deny their existence. Turkey has promised financial aid to those former Communist countries in the Balkans who wish to cooperate with Ankara’s plans to create an economic zone including the Turkic-speaking states of the former Soviet Union and Iran. During his visit to Tirana in early June, Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel also offered military support to Albania in the event of a conflict with Serbia over Kosovo. The Greeks have observed the indefatigable diplomats of Turkey with rising concern. If action is not taken soon to calm down the southern Balkans, it may share the fate of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the disputed territories of Croatia.
The events in Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Moldova suggest that the misery of Yugoslavia is not an aberration, but has deep historical and structural causes that are visible in a variety of forms elsewhere in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Such national and ethnic conflicts will be exacerbated as the economies of most of the states of the region continue to decline. The single most urgent issue which must be addressed is the relationship between majority and minority populations in these countries. The United Nations’ operations in Yugoslavia are nothing more than temporary holding actions, albeit very expensive ones. They must be accompanied by a thorough political solution, concentrating above all on the agreed protection of minorities.
There is no reason to believe that the conflict in Bosnia-Hercegovina will fade away on its own. Germany, France, and Italy have indicated that they consider a major military in intervention in Bosnia might be undertaken to douse the fire while the United Kingdom and the United States have frequently expressed grave reservations about using land troops in Bosnia. Despite the difficulties of intervening militarily in the former Yugoslav republic, Western Europe and the United States must consider the international implications if the wars in Bosnia continue. Further destabilization of the Balkans will eventually affect Greece and Turkey, both members of NATO, while Greece is also a member of the European Community.
Beyond the surgical intervention needed in Bosnia—an intervention that would have to neutralize the military forces on all sides if it were to be effective—Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United States have a heavy responsibility to develop a mechanism which can both anticipate and solve problems leading to armed conflict in Eastern Europe. Unpleasant though it may be to some, minorities must be afforded real protection which can be enforced by outside authorities. If this inconveniences some Western governments with minority problems of their own, it is still a price they should be willing to pay. If they do not, the disease which has ravaged Yugoslavia will spread elsewhere, starting with the countries to the south.
—July 16, 1992
August 13, 1992
Even though Yugoslavia no longer exists, more than 10 percent of Sarajevans still describe themselves as Yugoslavs (according to the latest figures issued by the Bosnian government in Sarajevo). Zdravko Grebo, professor of law at Sarajevo University, says there is no easy solution to this identity crisis: “I cannot consider myself to be a Muslim or Serb all of a sudden—I have always felt myself a Yugoslav and there’s nothing I can do about it. That’s what I remain even though the country has disappeared and my nationality is almost entirely discredited.” ↩
The name Krajina denotes the swath of land controlled by the Habsburg Empire, stretching from Dalmatia to Transylvania and known as the Military District (in Serbo-Croatian Vojna Krajina). This enormous defensive strip was developed to stop Ottoman expansion into Europe and to launch offensives against the Turks. Serb fighters in pursuit of their own political struggle with the Sublime Porte in Constantinople had frequently collaborated with the invading Habsburg forces against the Ottoman army. In the wake of one such failed Habsburg assault in the late seventeenth century, Arsenije III, the Serb patriarch of Pec in Kosovo, led 30,000 families into the Habsburg Empire to escape the wrath of the janissaries, the peculiar social class which doubled as the Sultan’s elite fighting corps. From Vienna, the emperor, Leopold I, agreed to allow these Serbs religious freedom and a measure of self-government. In return for these privileges, the Serbs swore allegiance to Vienna and agreed to populate many parts of the Vojna Krajina as military colonists. The migration led by Arsenije III effectively established the territorial problems between Serbs and Croats which remain, all too evidently, unsolved to this day. ↩
The single largest documented massacre so far records the summary execution of five hundred Muslim men from Bratunac in Bosnia, although there have also been mass killings in Kozarac, Visegrad, Doboj, Foca, and elsewhere. In the Posavina region to the north, which is a largely Croat area, there are documented cases of Croat atrocities against Serbs. However, there is no question that the extent of crimes committed by Serb volunteers is far greater than those for which Muslims and Croats must bear responsibility. ↩
Most Muslims are Slavs (Croats and Serbs) who were converted during the five centuries of Ottoman rule in Bosnia, although doubtless there is a rich mixture of Turkish, Albanian, Jewish, and Egyptian influences as well, in view of the ethnic fluidity of Ottoman imperial structures. Before the collapse of Ottoman rule, the Muslims were identifiable as the land-owning aristocracy of Bosnia, that is, they were associated with class and religion rather than nationhood. They were not exclusive in this. It was only toward the end of the last century that Serbs and Croats of Bosnia ceased defining themselves exclusively as Orthodox Christians or Catholics and began to use their national names (in the more remote rural areas of Bosnia, the populations still define themselves by religion alone). ↩
As in Slovakia, for example, where-opinion polls before the recent election consistently registered over-whelming support for maintaining a federation with the Czech republic, while the same questionnaire revealed up to 85 percent support for Vladimir Meciar, the new prime minister, who specifically rejected a federal solution for Slovakia. ↩