The Guest Column

6th October 1996

Prospects for peace in Bosnia

by Stanley Kalpage

In 1991 Croat and Slovene, two of the six provinces in the former Yugoslavia, declared their independence. When Germany recognised the new republic of Croat, the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia had begun. The Yugoslav National Army allowed the secession of Slovene after ten days of battle but entered Croat to help the Croatian Serbs to seize territory for themselves.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (often referred to as Bosnia for short) was the next battleground. Bosnia had a mixed population, 40 percent Muslim, 32 percent Serb, and 18 percent Croat. When Bosnia declared its independence, fighting broke out between the Muslims, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia, each trying to grab as much territory as possible to form its own mini-state.

Franjo Tudjman, president of Croat, had told Ambassador Zimmermann of the United States that: "the Bosnians are dangerous fundamentalists, and they are using Bosnia as a beachhead to spread their ideology throughout Europe and even to the United States. The civilised nations should join together to repel this threat. Bosnia never had a real existence. It should be divided between Serbia and Croat." That is probably why the international community looked on, unwilling to agree on effective action as the civil war in Bosnia intensified.

Croat, Slovene and Bosnia were admitted to the United Nations on 22 May 1992. It did not take long for Macedonia to claim recognition as an independent state. A dispute had arisen with Greece over the use of the name 'Macedonia', which also exists as a province in Greece. Eventually, Macedonia was formally admitted to the United Nations on 8 April 1993 as 'the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia'.

Elections in Bosnia

Despite the difficult logistics to move people to the polls it is estimated that more than 60 percent of Bosnia's voters exercised their vote. The leader of the Muslim National Party of Democratic Action, Alija Izetbegovic, had emerged narrowly ahead in the presidential polls and is likely therefore to be the first president of the Republic of Bosnia for a two-year period. Under the new arrangements, the three-member presidency is expected to govern by consensus.

Not unexpectedly, a dispute has already arisen as to the validity of the polls. The electoral registers in some places have contained more voters than estimated in the 1991 census. There has been a backdrop of intimidation, fraud and rigging and certain errors detected in the counting. Little media freedom existed during the election period. Doubts have been cast on the earlier pronouncement by the international group that the elections were "free and fair". In fact many observers are of the view that this is only the calm before the storm and that there will be a renewal of the fighting after the NATO forces leave Bosnia before the end of the year. A voter's insightful comment: "People are voting, not to sort out the peace, but to settle the war."

During the election campaign, the Bosnian Serbs, who would prefer to live in a separate mini-state, which they call Republika Srpska, have indulged in secessionist rhetoric. Similarly, the Bosnian Croats would like to live in a separate Herceg Bosnia, an enclave of their own.

War crimes and ethnic cleansing

War crimes suspects were still at large during the election campaign although in terms of the Dayton agreements they were debarred from offering themselves as candidates. Radovan Karadic, the Bosnian Serb leader, and his military commander, General Ratko Mladic, have been indicted for war crimes by the International War Crimes Tribunal, established at the Hague since 1991. They have been charged with crimes against humanity, including ethnic cleansing and genocide. But in their own Republika Srpska they are heroes. During the election campaign, Karadic was replaced as temporary leader by Bilijana Plavsic, hard liner who told a large meeting of her Bosnian Serb supporters during the campaign that the aim of her party, the Serb Democratic Party, was "the creation of a united Serb state in the Balkans."

Bosnia was the site of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II. All sides are reported to be guilty of atrocities in the Bosnian war but the Serbs probably more than the others. Most perpetrators were Serbs, most victims Muslims. These war crimes included murder, rape, bombardment of civilians, destruction of mosques and churches, confiscation of property - all committed in the name of 'ethnic cleansing' - designed to create homogeneous ethnic enclaves.

What next?

The elections in Bosnia are the first flawed but necessary steps to creating new democratic institutions in a war-torn country. However, it is a moot point as to whether the newly elected parliament and the three-man presidency will work harmoniously together. The Serb and Croat nationalist parties which have been returned in strength in their respective assemblies may turn towards secession.

It is up to the US and her European allies to use a mixture of diplomacy and the threat of sanctions to discourage separatism or other violations of the Dayton accords. The elections have been certified by the western electoral monitors led by Robert Frowick of the US in terms of the Dayton accords. The UN Security Council has revoked international trade sanctions against the former Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), imposed in 1992 for their role in fomenting the war in Bosnia.

The elections are only part of a process to secure peace in Bosnia. The NATO forces, in some kind of follow-up presence, should remain well past the December deadline when they are due to pull out.

A welcome development at week's end is the signing of an agreement between the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic and the Bosnian president, Alija Izetbegovic, establishing full diplomatic relations between the two countries with a request by Milosevic that the allegations of genocide be withdrawn.

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