The following piece is based on an informative overview of the 90’s war between former Yugoslav states. It was not without flaws, some I’ve rejoined in the text, others I’ve outright omitted from the source cited at the bottom. Others may still remain. Nevertheless, here is what we present to you ….
The war in Bosnia was the most destructive conflict of those that shook the former Yugoslavia. A conflict whose crimes are dragged to this day by the tedious processes of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia. Turning a plurinational and diverse region into a cohesive nation state proved impossible, this war being a drama between attempts to depart and create a state. The Balkans is today still a hornets nest and tinderbox in its rawest form.
Nationalism arises in the ideal Yugoslav Republic
The diverse Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was considered, until the early 90’s, an example of idyllic inter-ethnic coexistence for the rest of Yugoslavia. However, the myth collapsed precipitously in the first multiparty elections (November 1990), when the nationalist Muslim, Serbian and Croatian forces overwhelmed the federalist and socialist options, as happened in Slovenia and Croatia.
The strong Muslim birth rate, together with its rejection of mixed marriages, had always raised mistrust among the other ethnic groups, who saw themselves in a shrinking minority in a region where they had historically been the majority. These fears were confirmed in the elections, given that, due to their demographic weight, the Muslims were the victors, with the Islamist veteran Alija Izetbegovic rising to the presidency. [ Muslim Bosniak leaders actually sued for peace, and Izetbegovic, a NATO/CIA crony, successfully worked against this – ed. JF ]
The voters opted for the identity options not only because of their nationalist charge, it was fundamentally a vote of no confidence against the ruling Communist League of Bosnia, stained after decades in power by corruption, gerontocracy, and the general waste caused by the government. Now, the emerging parties added several lethal ingredients including corruption but also ethnocentrism and a general state of misgovernment, fruits of their inexperience and weakness.
For its part, Western diplomacy acted erratically, initially advocating not to open the Bosnian question, but progressively felt more involved in the conflict as it intensified. In this change of opinion converged several interests: consolidate the New World Order after the collapse of the USSR, help the ‘democrat’ Muslims and Croats against the ‘Serbian neo-communists’, avoid a clash of civilizations and American electoral dynamics.
[ Not exactly – Western diplomacy had hatched the destruction of Yugoslavia in the late 70’s, a plan to go into effect upon Tito’s death, who was known to be in ailing health. The ‘nationalist’ leaders that sprang up in the 90’s were, barring few, all on the CIA payroll of sorts, long before Western diplomacy officially addressed the subject of the internecine conflict which they themselves spurned. – ed, JF ]
A stormy three-way independence
As Yugoslavia became linked and identified with Serbia, the federal sentiment was broken and the government of Alija Izetbegovic, just like the Croats and Slovenes, advocated creating a new state. On March 1, 1992, the Bosnian government called for an independence referendum backed by Muslims and Croats. With the favorable outcome in hand, Izetbegovic proclaimed independence on March 3, the new state being recognized on April 6 by the EU and the US. But the Serbs rejected both the referendum and the new situation, claiming the rights of a Serbian minority [ though a majority in the Republika Srpska region in question – ed. JF ] to decide to join Serbia, their nation-state.
At this point, it was evident that proclaiming independence was one thing and a reality that was quite different, even with a broad recognition of the international community. The new nation was extremely weak and unable to exercise either the monopoly of violence or control over the territory. It was an authentic pressure cooker plunged into disorder and ethnic divisions stirred by the voracity of its neighbors. The secret Serbo-Croatian pact to subtract their respective areas in Bosnia was in good standing, but Tudjman’s recently independent Croatia neither wanted to nor could oppose its Western allies, so it initially remained neutral.
The Serbs quickly formed a separate entity, the Sprska Republic, while the Croats began to profile a similar republic in the South that would later crystallize. They had no problem with the international recognition of Bosnia since such a de facto state did not exist.
War breaks out, Serbian offensive crashes in Sarajevo
With guaranteed Croatian neutrality, confused Western diplomacy, and the Federal Army with a free hand after the disasters in Slovenia and Croatia, Serbia considered that it was time to take the initiative. To this end, they dispatched Bosnian-Serb soldiers to the area, forming a motivated and prepared force of 80,000 soldiers under General Ratko Mladic. Thus, when independence was proclaimed, this force financed and controlled indirectly from Serbia would be the spine of the Sprska Republic, led by the improvised Serbian Democratic Party of the psychiatrist Radovan Karadzic. The Serbian objective was ambitious: to achieve a wide protective band that united the Serbian territories (Serbia, Krajina and the Sprska Republic) and corner the Muslims in a crowded central area, while Sarajevo was divided.
The offensive began at the beginning of April, when Serbian paramilitary groups went to assault the strategic locality of Bijeljina. The eastern areas adjacent to the Serbian border also fell rapidly, with Bosnian Muslims fleeing from Bijeljina to their historic enclaves.
While this was happening in the Northeast, the city of Sarajevo was on the verge of collapse, with the Serbian and Muslim neighborhoods in the hands of their respective militias. The threat of war and partition was the spark that caused the fire, when Islamist protesters who had taken the parliament were advancing on the Serbian offices of Karadzic, snipers shot down six of them. The Muslim government police quickly took control of the city, while the Serbs fled quickly to the adjacent hills, where they would continue to harass the capital.
The bloody siege of Sarajevo begins, April 1992
After its successes in the East and the North, the Serbian offensive ended up stuck in a disastrous armored assault on Sarajevo on May 2-3. Air support proved insufficient and the army’s headquarters ended up surrounded in the middle of a hostile city. In a curious incident during the assault, President Izetbegozic himself was taken prisoner when he landed at the city’s airport and his UN escort did not arrive. Finally, after dramatic negotiations and numerous problems with the uncontrollable Muslim militias, the president was exchanged for troops besieged in the city.
Unable to take Sarajevo, the Serbs decided to start a long and bloody siege, taking positions in the adjacent hills. For its part, the defense of the city remained in the hands of the local mafia networks, which raised their militias everywhere. The situation gradually worsened, while generating an important international revenue to the Muslim side.
Bosnia had survived the attack as a proto-state, but it was sunk in utter chaos, had lost much of its territory where Bosniaks were not an ethnic majority and where Bosnian Serb forces enjoyed local support, and it was the militias who had control over the terrain.
Western public opinion and international diplomacy (Resolution 757), spurred by the situation in Sarajevo and the terrible conditions in some detention camps where the press arrived, took sides, considering the Serbs the aggressors. The long shadow of the Second World War was extended by the conflict, all sides resorted to similes with Nazism to refer to their adversaries and, in various Western sectors inflamed with the easy victory in Iraq, the idea of intervening to avoid a “new genocide” in Europe.
To see this adverse international reality was a serious blow for Serbian diplomacy, convinced to go to negotiate peace from a favorable position after the offensive. However, the West was still not advocating intervention. It was concerned it would awaken the weakened Russia for attacking its Slavic brother, and President Bush already had enough laurels with the Gulf War. The EU representative himself emphasized to the Bosniaks that they did not dream of an intervention.
Western diplomatic bet was the Vance-Owen Plan, a solution that proposed to divide Bosnia into ten ethnic cantons, something that favored the Croats, but harmed Serbs and Muslims. In spite of this, the Serbian government of Milosevic accepted, since it closed the conflict and the international community granted him advantages, for example avoiding the harsh sanctions with which Serbia and Montenegro were threatened. However, the Bosnian Serbs, immune to international pressure and on their own motherland, refused to give up the territories proposed by the plan. Led by their leaders Karazick and Mladic, in a stormy local assembly, Milosevic was humiliated in front of the international community. As of this moment, the relations between Milosevic and the Bosnian Serbs was one of distrust and mutual rejection.
The plan that was carried out was the massive arrival of humanitarian aid, on which a large part of the population lived. However, given that the combatants lived on the backs of the civilian population, they also benefited.
In January 1993, Bill Clinton was installed in the White House, who considered that in the new unipolar world, the US could not stay out of European affairs, despite its Somali disaster. His interventionist zeal was reinforced by Yelstín’s coup d’état, which brought an end to the fear of Russian reaction, while the image of an attack on Islam that began to distill the situation was feared, as the growing mujahideen flowed in Bosnia. The pieces began to be placed in position to form a tortuous path that would lead to the Muslim counterattack, the irruption of the Croats and the final intervention of NATO against the Serbs.
Based on a piece from Descifrando la Guerra.