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OMRI Pursuing Balkan Peace, No. 19, 96-05-14

Open Media Research Institute: Pursuing Balkan Peace Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Open Media Research Institute <>

Pursuing Balkan Peace
No. 19, 14 May 1996




    One of the more salient quotes to emerge from the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession came from a Danish army officer, who was serving with UNPROFOR in Croatia in 1993. He observed that "all sides are full of macho bull," and that it is necessary for the peacekeepers to use force from time to time to make their point and obtain compliance with their demands.

    And right he was. A cap-in-hand approach in political or military affairs does not command much respect in the Balkans, and that has certainly been evident in the former Yugoslavia since 1991. Western diplomats sent to obtain ceasefires or settlements tended to founder if they were not backed up by a strong sponsor who was willing to use force. At best, they obtained paper promises that were promptly broken, but more often they were limited to endless shuttling between the respective headquarters of "the warring parties."

    One story that underscored the cultural gap between the diplomats and the people they were sent to pacify reportedly came from a round of "proximity talks" held in a Western European city in the first years of the conflict. A negotiator, so the tale goes, had patiently spent a long and tiring day shuffling back and forth between the delegations, which refused to sit together and talk directly to each other in the same room. Later, after freshening up for dinner, he arrived in the hotel dining room. There he found that the former Yugoslavs -- who had known each other for years -- were sitting together at the same table, eating, drinking, laughing, and singing old political songs from the days of Josip Broz Tito.

    This negotiator's embarrassing lot was nothing compared to what happened to some other foreigners who did not understand what it takes to be effective in the conflict area. In late May 1995, the Bosnian Serbs took hostage hundreds of UNPROFOR troops from around the globe in an effort to pressure NATO into ending its very limited use of air strikes against Serb positions. The crisis eased only in mid-June, after Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's security chief, Jovica Stanisic, brokered a deal. In essence, the Serbs were spared further air strikes, and the hostages went free. The "international community" was made to look like fools, and Belgrade's key role in the conflict was underscored.

    Lessons of a different sort, however, followed in the summer and fall. In August, Croatian troops defeated the Krajina Serbs in just days, and, together with Bosnian government forces, they immediately pressed their offensive home against the Bosnian Serbs. On 28 August, Serb gunners hit Sarajevo's Markale market place and killed at least 37 civilians. This time, however, NATO's response was not to send in more negotiators to beg the Serbs to behave, but rather to launch Operation Deliberate Force. That mission involved air strikes -- including launching cruise missiles against the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Banja Luka -- and a robust response by the newly formed Rapid Reaction Force in the Bosnian capital. Meanwhile, the Croatian and Bosnian divisions closed in on Banja Luka.

    This time the result was not another paper ceasefire, but rather the Dayton agreement. Under it, NATO's troops -- now called IFOR -- had a strict mandate to enforce a ceasefire and achieve military disengagement and demobilization. All three sides quickly sensed that IFOR meant business, and NATO was pleased by their response. Any delays in meeting military deadlines set by Dayton were due more to the magnitude of the tasks at hand than to deliberate foot- dragging, NATO concluded.

    But the picture was very different regarding the civilian aspects of the treaty. Civilian deadlines came and went, but the "international community's" response recalled the days of UNPROFOR: diplomatic cajoling coupled with a marked reluctance to use force. IFOR's mandate was less specific than it was in military matters, and it commanders interpreted it in the most limited fashion possible. They refused to go after indicted war criminals, to enforce freedom of movement, to enable refugees to go home, to stop the plundering of towns slated to be transferred to another side, to require prisoners to be freed, etc., etc.

    In the end, the foreigners once again had to reap the political harvest of their failure to deal seriously with "macho bull." The OSCE drew up election rules that seemed to legitimize the results of "ethnic cleansing," rather than to promote the multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina proclaimed in the Dayton agreement. IFOR units sought to separate crowds of returning refugees from gangs of their hostile former neighbors, rather than take away the latter's sticks and stones and enable the former to go home. The International Police Task Force caved in to requests to expand the use of check points, even though Dayton is quite specific about freedom of movement (see ). This course of events has caused many to ask whether the international community has forgotten the lessons it should have learned in the course of the conflict, and whether Dayton will soon become a dead letter as a result. -- Patrick Moore


    One of the shakiest aspects of the Dayton system is the Croat-Muslim federation. President Franjo Tudjman on 11 May hosted a meeting in Zagreb with his Bosnian counterpart Alija Izetbegovic, Bosnian Prime Minister Hasan Muratovic, Bosnian Federation President Kresimir Zubak, and federal Vice President Ejup Ganic. They reached an agreement on a pilot program for the return of refugees to four central Bosnian towns: Muslim-held Bugojno and Travnik, and Croat-held Stolac and Jajce. Another measure called for Bosnia to have a temporary duty-free outlet to the sea through Ploce in Croatia, and for Croatian vehicles to be able to transit Bosnia's coastal strip at Neum, which cuts Croatia into two. Izetbegovic told Onasa news agency, moreover, that Bosnians do not need visas for Croatia. All sides sounded optimistic after the meeting, international and regional media reported. But these latest accords sound very similar to previous measures that were agreed upon but remained empty words thanks to bad faith, mistrust, and the opposition of local warlords. In another development, the Croatian embassy on 7 May denied Bosnian media reports about alleged secret talks between Tudjman and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Onasa stated. The embassy said the reports are part of a local smear campaign against Croatia's policy toward Bosnia, and that the authors' ultimate goal is to destroy the Croat-Muslim federation. -- Patrick Moore


    And nowhere are Croat-Muslim tensions more pronounced than in Mostar. Izetbegovic asked the EU's administrator, Ricardo Perez Casado, to change the rules for 31 May municipal elections, Reuters reported on 11 May. As it stands, only current residents of Mostar can vote, thus penalizing a huge number of its displaced Muslim citizens (to say nothing of the Serbs). No party from the eastern, Muslim-held part of Mostar presented a list of candidates by the 10 May deadline, thus fulfilling an earlier threat to boycott the elections unless the rules are changed. Izetbegovic said that all citizens of Mostar should be able to vote at Bosnian diplomatic missions abroad or by mail. He asked that the EU and OSCE finance the travel of those who want to come home to vote. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    The international community's High Representative Carl Bildt briefed EU foreign ministers on 13 May on the situation in Mostar following the Muslim decision to boycott the vote, AFP reported. Bildt's spokesman in Sarajevo said Bildt "prefers a late election to a premature one," seeing "serious problems" posed by the lack of freedom of movement. However, the foreign ministers reportedly fear that any delay in Mostar could throw off the entire voting schedule in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It could also encourage people elsewhere to force their demands by threatening boycotts. The ministers recommended that Peres Cassado try by all means to hold the election on schedule. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Returning to the fate of the settlement as a whole, the man most responsible for the Dayton accords, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, said that the Dayton structure could collapse and the partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina be the result. He blamed the Serbian, Muslim, and Croatian sides, but singled out the Serbs for not removing from power indicted war criminals Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic. Holbrooke doubts that fighting will resume, but feels that "the Europeans" have hamstrung the civilian side of Dayton by insisting on multiple chains of command, AFP reported on 12 May. Holbrooke also repeated his earlier criticism of the U.S. Congress for not coming up with promised funding to help implement the peace. -- Patrick Moore


    Nor is Holbrooke the only one who feels that something is seriously wrong. The UN human rights investigator for the former Yugoslavia on 9 May said there is a need for a second high-level conference to address all questions not answered by the Dayton peace accord, Reuters and Nasa Borba reported. Rehn's main concern is for the estimated 30,000 missing persons in Bosnia, and also for the 200-300 identified mass graves. She said all parties in the conflict and the Contact Group should be involved in a sequel to the Dayton gathering, which she will propose to Bildt. Other issues which have yet to be resolved according to Rehn include freedom of movement within Bosnia, the return of refugees, and the removal of landmines, AFP reported. Rehn also expressed concern over Kosovo, which is under tight Serbian control but which has a more than 90% ethnic Albanian majority. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    In addition to Ms. Rehn, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata was in the region recently, completing a visit to Bosnia on 9 May, news agencies reported. She said that it is unrealistic to set dates for the return of refugees: "deadlines are not the way we can deal with this mission." At best, she expects that about 500,000 people can go home this year, most of whom are currently staying in the region. The UNHCR had earlier wanted to resettle in 1996 about 900,000 out of 2.4 million refugees and displaced persons. Germany, Slovenia, and some other countries have set down timetables for the refugees' return based on the schedules envisioned in the Dayton agreement. The civilian portions of that treaty have been so unevenly implemented, however, that resettlement plans based on it are less than realistic. Austria has extended the deadline for refugees to leave there from June 1996 to August 1997, Reuters noted. -- Patrick Moore


    Meanwhile, the issue of war crimes has also been in the news. Bosnian government forces freed two Serbs following a ruling by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia that there is no reason to hold them on suspicion of war crimes. The Serbs thereupon released three Muslims and a Croat they had been holding, Onasa reported on 8 May. Elsewhere, IFOR commander U.S. Adm. Leighton Smith said that the Serb people "as a whole basically carries the blame for the atrocities that occurred in this war. What the Serb population needs to do is to bring the people to justice who were the cause of the atrocities, so that the blame is shifted from the Serb population to the individuals who were responsible." IFOR has been under criticism for its reluctance to hunt down war criminals. Turning to another international body, the OSCE said that the continued presence of indicted war criminals on Bosnian territory is a great potential danger to the elections, which the Dayton treaty says must be held by mid-September. The OSCE's current chairman, Swiss Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti, argued that "the fact that [indicted war criminals] remain complicates the process of creating a climate without violence and intimidation, which is a pre-requisite for the holding of elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina," Reuters reported on 9 May. In The Hague, some charges have been dropped against Dusan Tadic, the Bosnian Serb who is the first indicted war criminal to stand trial. Potential witnesses had been intimidated into not testifying, Die Presse noted. Tadic has new company in his prison, however, because Zejnil Delalic was handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on 8 May, Onasa reported the next day. He was arrested in Munich in March and is the first Muslim to be sent to The Hague. His lawyer is Edina Residovic, who was the public attorney at the 1983 Bosnian trial of "Islamic fundamentalists." -- Patrick Moore


    Back in the Bosnian capital, a 100-strong group of young Muslims on 8 May stopped Bosnian Serbs at the entrance of the Sarajevo suburb Hadzici, while elderly women stopped them from visiting a suburb cemetery, AFP reported. Under the Dayton accords, there is a right to freedom of movement throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. Federal police are supposed to ensure security for any Serbs wanting to visit areas where they used to live. Meanwhile that same day, the first regular bus service linking two suburbs belonging to different entities was launched. This was the line between Lukavica and Ilidza, Oslobodjenje reported. Bus services across the lines of separation are planned also for Mostar, Zenica and Banja Luka, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said. The initiative for the bus links came from Sadako Ogata, and is meant to encourage freedom of movement between the Federation and the Republika Srpska. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Turning to the sensitive area of eastern Slavonia, a key issue for the Serbs is an amnesty for ordinary Krajina Serb soldiers. To this end, the Croatian government adopted an amnesty law together with a program of peaceful reintegration of eastern Slavonia, Baranja and western Srijem on 6 May. The amnesty covers those who committed criminal offenses under Croatian law other than war crimes and takes effect on 15 July. Croatian officials have said the amnesty will not apply to the self-declared president of eastern Slavonia, Goran Hadzic, and to an additional 14 Serbs. Hadzic has been sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison for war crimes . He and three other Krajina Serb leaders were charged in a 1993 trial with ordering long-range rocket attacks on Croatian towns along the Adriatic coast, in which several civilians were killed and dozens wounded, Reuters reported on 8 May. A state prosecutor's spokesman said Hadzic was also suspected of committing crimes during the siege of Vukovar. Hadzic was an early president of the Republic of Serbian Krajina who was later replaced by more radical nationalists. He resurfaced as a relative moderate in April, when he was elected "president" of eastern Slavonia in a purge of Serb nationalist hardliners orchestrated by Milosevic. Hadzic has since made conciliatory pledges of cooperation in the region's transition to Croatian authority. Meanwhile, the highway, linking Belgrade and Zagreb was opened for traffic on 7 May. -- Fabian Schmidt


    The Sandzak region is another sensitive area. It is divided between Serbia and Montenegro but borders Bosnia and has a Muslim majority. The Association of Unemployed Citizens in Sandzak has charged that Muslims in the region have increasing difficulties in finding work, Beta reported on 28 April. The Association estimates that between 30,000 and 40,000 people -- most of whom are Muslims -- are currently unemployed. No clear figures are available, however, because the historic region is now divided between the two republics, each of which keeps its own statistics. The area has altogether about 380,000 inhabitants, as reported in the 1991 census. According to that survey, it appears that the Muslims constitute a slight majority, but Muslim nationalists put the figure as high as 80%. The Association points out that most people looking for jobs have given up any hope of finding work and adds that the discrimination against Muslims in the job market is compounded by the "police repression by the regime in Belgrade and Podgorica." The Association also claims that most people sacked since 1992 have been active members of Muslim organizations. -- Fabian Schmidt


    Moving on to Belgrade, Milosevic has recently been pressured by international officials to follow up on the commitments he made at Dayton. Reuters on 7 May reported that Bildt met with the Serbian leader and was quoted as saying: "we are all concerned. I have stressed to President Milosevic that he has a responsibility ... in a number of ways. He has an obligation under the peace agreement and we talked about that." Bildt reportedly said he discussed a number of issues, including matters pertaining to The Hague tribunal, but did not elaborate. -- Stan Markotich


    Meanwhile acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Kornblum also visited the former Yugoslavia, stopping in Belgrade where he met with Milosevic for three hours on 7 May. Kornblum said that the reimposition of sanctions against the Republika Srpska and rump Yugoslavia may be possible as a last resort if those parties fail in their compliance of the Dayton accords, Nasa Borba reported on 9 May. -- Stan Markotich


    is how Monitor on 3 May headlined its published interview with Vladan Vasilijevic, a faculty member at Belgrade University, whose expertise is focused on sociology and criminology. Vasilijevic points out what is now common knowledge: namely, that those responsible for the wars in the Balkans are in Belgrade. He also addressed the question of whether or not "the Serbian people have the collective strength to own up to the reality that there are war criminals among them." He replied that there are "circles ... that have the intellectual and moral strength, but they are not, at least for now, in the majority of [expressed] public opinion." Vasilijevic argues that the evidence pointing to guilt in the uppermost ranks of the Serbian leadership, to Milosevic, is mounting. Vasilijevic insists such publications as Borisav Jovic's own book on the collapse of Tito's Yugoslavia is enough to implicate Milosevic. Jovic, a former deputy chairman of the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia and an SPS co-founder, was sacked in November 1995, likely largely because of that book. Finally, Vasilijevic, in a section sub-headed "Goebbles Was an Amateur," reminds his audience of the pivotal role that media manipulation by Belgrade authorities played in fanning the flames of war. -- Stan Markotich


    Part of the legacy of the war engineered by Belgrade is a large and angry ethnic Serb refugee population throughout rump Yugoslavia. In Montenegro alone, there are currently 45,619 registered refugees and displaced persons, according to the Montenegrin Commission on Refugees. This figure represents an increase of some 5,000 individuals since August 1995, with most of the more recent arrivals coming from Krajina and those "parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina which are now under Federation control." Refugees and displaced persons comprise some 7.3% of Montenegro's total population, Beta reported on 22 April. In a related development, Beta also said that the UNHCR office in Podgorica has undertaken a limited repatriation program. Any individual refugee or displaced person in Montenegro may now opt to resettle in a community where they have friends or family. UNHCR representatives stress, however, that any "mass repatriation programs... [will wait for] the authorities in the Republika Srpska and the Federation to adopt amnesty legislation." -- Stan Markotich


    According to a law passed in 1993, all citizens of the then still self- proclaimed Republika Srpska had to exchange their old Yugoslav papers for new ones. But rarely does anything happens as planned in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Until now, only very few people fulfilled this obligation. It's not that they did not want to travel. On the contrary, after the war, the single most evident shared dream is to get out; not necessarily for good, but just to spend a little time somewhere where problems are less familiar. Maybe just a day in a place where one can buy a fridge, or a sweater more fashionable than those that have been laying around in boxes since before the war. Or maybe with a week or two you can spend time with old friends who had left and family members who may have had more luck. And with the approaching summer, it is normal to want to drive to the coast to see "whether the sea is still there."

    Of course there is Freedom of Movement and anybody in Banja Luka who has a car or can borrow one from a friend can simply drive to one of the better supplied federation towns like Zenica in what is, technically speaking, the same country. There are no check points left within the two entities. And in case a motorist runs into one of the traffic controls that the UN's International Police recently allowed local police of both entities to establish temporarily, it is enough to present pre-war papers in cases where new ones are lacking. At least this is what the Office of the High Representative, Carl Bildt, wants to see as a rule: "Freedom of Movement is a clear priority over the need for papers representing the new power structures."

    But not without reason, Bosnian Serbs do not fully trust such UN rules and assume that police authorities will set their own standards and regulations. The issue of documents and the handling of inter-entity travelers with old Yugoslav IDs or improper car plates was not on the top of the agenda to be debated between Bildt's office and the responsible representatives of the entities, but it has become a matter of growing concern. It can't be put off much longer and it is clear to just about everybody in the international community that this unresolved situation is inhibiting people from all sides from daring to test their right to Freedom of Movement.

    In a sense this reveals progress. Only weeks ago, hardly anyone in the country would have mentioned uncertainty over the suitability of old documents as the major reason for staying put. At that time they might have said that they were frightened by the other side and distrustful of its willingness to fulfill Dayton. But since then word of mouth has conveyed accounts of people who traveled through or into to the other entity and returned no worse for the experience. And so at least the idea of traveling freely is developing from fear and fantasy to resolution and deed

    There are still, however, real and psychological distances to be spanned, for instance in the minds of many Bosnian Serbs the possibility of " going to the Muslims" or " to the Croats" remains paralyzing. Instead, they can only contemplate a visit to the Big World, which for the time being can only mean Belgrade. Travel to the Yugoslav republic requires only an ID from a Bosnian Serb, while passports to get to the real big world are yet quite another thing. The Republika Srpska authorities do not at all like the idea of sooner or later having to issue a passport in the name of " Bosnia and Herzegovina," which would have on it in smaller print the designation "Republika Srpska" on it.

    But the interior ministry is unable to provide enough of even those simple ID's, and this is why they have become a valuable black market item. After several campaigns, the definite deadline for all citizens to obtain new documents was set for 15 April and then postponed until 1 May. Still, nothing has changed. Most potential travelers must apply for a special travel permit to cross the border to rump Yugoslavia - with the authorities knowing that those unable to present new ID's have to pay a DM 50 penalty on the spot or return. Understandably, the population is embittered: in 1994 and 1995, only 15,000 new ID's per year were issued, not the least because only four interior ministry clerks are working on this service. Not very different is the situation concerning car documents. It is very common that a citizen who finally has managed to get an ID and happily drives to the Yugoslav border is forced to leave his car right there and hitchhike further on because he lacks the requested car documents.

    There are, of course, always other solutions available. For example when, as recently, representatives of the RS authorities decided to get things going their way and to make some money by giving out 5,000 Yugoslav passports for DM 1,000 each. What they did not count on, however, was the fact that hardly anyone has DM 1,000 to spend, and that those who have money had long found their way through the bribery system and obtained whatever papers they wanted. But as everywhere, the lack of funds supports creativity. Very soon people found out that Yugoslav passports in obviously unlimited numbers can be bought for just DM 200 in Vukovar. Thus a city which does not have really good fridges, hairdryers or nice sweaters for sale became all of a sudden a favorite excursion site.

    Sometimes, very rarely though, even the death of a beloved aunt can help. In Banja Luka they tell how just before the war a woman named Alma died unexpectedly in middle age, leaving her rather meager belongings to her niece. The most valuable part of the legacy turned out to be a new foreign passport with a nice photo of the aunt. During the entire war many women from Banja Luka traveled on the untouched document. The niece, a woman named Bilijana, remembers how she handed it out: "it was life-saving and, honestly, it also was fun. But now I am sick of all these tricks, I want to live in a normal world again. And in a normal world a normal citizen has normal rights. And my right is to have a passport that allows me to travel to Belgrade or Paris or even New York." At the end Bilijana smiles and recalls Brecht. "How did he put it? And if the state does not like its people's wishes, well, then the state has to elect for itself a new people." -- Yvonne Badal in Sarajevo

    Compiled by Patrick Moore

    This material was reprinted with permission of the Open Media Research Institute, a nonprofit organization with research offices in Prague, Czech Republic.
    For more information on OMRI publications please write to

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