Books on Bosnia & Herzegovina
Update No: 091 - (26/11/04)
Apology from the Serbs for Srebrenica
'The past is a foreign country,' said LP Hartley, the British novelist. The war
of 1992-95, however, is an ever-present reality in Bosnia, accounting for
innumerable refugees and a still dilapidated infrastructure. It is of
considerable moment, therefore, that the Bosnian Serb government saw fit to
issue an apology on November 10th for the 1995 massacre of 7,800 Muslim
civilians in Srebrenica, saying it 'shares the pain' of the victims' families.
The apology came after the government reviewed a Bosnian Serb commission's final
report on the worst massacre of civilians in Europe since World War II, reported
the Boston Globe, quoting the Associated Press, on November 11th.
'The report makes it clear that enormous crimes were committed in the area of
Srebrenica in July 1995,' the Bosnian Serb government said. 'The Bosnian Serb
Government shares the pain of the families of the Srebrenica victims, is truly
sorry and apologizes for the tragedy.'
Although Bosnian Serbs have long been blamed for the massacre, it was not until
this past June - following the Srebrenica commission's preliminary report - that
Serb officials acknowledged that their security forces carried out the
slaughter. The commission's final report has not yet been made public, although
the government has revealed some of its conclusions. Officials have said the
report acknowledges that the mass murder of 7,800 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian
Serb forces was planned.
The Bosnian Serb government said it was determined to 'face the truth about the
recent tragic conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina' and 'take decisive steps to force
all persons who committed war crimes to face justice.'
Several Bosnian Serbs have been indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in The
Hague, Netherlands, for their roles in the Srebrenica killings. Those who were
tried at the tribunal either surrendered or were arrested by NATO peacekeepers.
None were apprehended by the Bosnian Serb government. Most of the 20 fugitives
still sought on war crimes charges are presumed to be hiding in the Bosnian Serb
territory. They include the former Serb president Radovan Karadzic and his
leading general, Ratco Mladic. Until these two in particular are apprehended the
wartime chapter of Bosnia cannot be closed.
'Territorial Defence' of Bosnia
There is, indeed, a need to understand Bosnia's contemporary development in
the light of its recent history. This means taking into account the trends in
its power structures, above all its defence forces, since the Second World War.
The Partisans were a guerrilla movement in that conflict. The Communists formed
Partisan bands at the local level, according to local conditions, and gradually
bound them together into a unified army. The Partisans had a federal
organization. So there were separate Partisan staffs for Bosnia, for Croatia,
for Serbia, for Slovenia and so forth. At the end of the war, the federal
Partisan army was turned into a centralized JNA (JNA).
But, after Yugoslavia broke with the Soviet Union in 1948, an urgent threat
arose that the Communists might have to wage another guerrilla struggle, this
time against the Soviets. This danger seemed particularly acute after the Warsaw
Pact invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968. So Tito and the Communist regime responded
by organizing a system of 'Territorial Defence,' which was to mobilize the
entire Yugoslav population against an invader on the model of the Partisans.
Each republic had its own 'Territorial Defence' staff, and beneath that were the
staffs for the different districts, and beneath that were the staffs for the
municipalities and localities.
The decentralized system of defence was bound together by the Party. Once the
Communist regime fell, however, and the nationalists came to power, different
parts of the 'Territorial Defence' in different areas fell into the hands of the
different nationalist parties. So in Sarajevo, the 'Territorial Defence' fell
into the hands of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA); in Banja Luka,
the 'Territorial Defence' fell into the hands of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS),
and so forth. Yet they were all still formally part of the same military
structure. Initially, the three nationalist parties - the SDA, the SDS and the
Croat Democratic Union (HDZ) - ruled as a coalition. This meant that they shared
out state offices, and exercised joint control over the organs of Bosnian
defence. Thus the Staff of the 'Bosnian Territorial Defence' was headed by a
Serb; the Bosnian Defence Ministry was headed by a Croat; and the Interior
Ministry, controlling the Bosnian police, was headed by a Muslim. Thus, there
was a situation in which the defence of the Socialist Republic of
Bosnia-Herzegovina was divided between three political parties with very
After free elections in 1990 Izetbegovic and the Muslims were faced with the
problem of how to organize the defence of Bosnia, when there was a Serb in
command of the 'Territorial Defence' who was loyal to Radovan Karadžic and to
Belgrade, a Croat in command of the Defence Ministry who was loyal to Franjo
Tudjman, and so forth? How could the Republic be defended, when large parts of
the defence institutions were in the hands of hostile, anti-Bosnian forces? So
Izetbegovic and his followers did what their Serb and Croat nationalist
counterparts were also doing: on the one hand they took control of their share
of the official defence institutions; and on the other they organized their own,
covert paramilitary force that operated independently of the state institutions.
This Muslim paramilitary force was called the Patriotic League. Thus, there were
two institutions which the Muslim politicians were relying on to defend Bosnia:
on one hand the Territorial Defence, which was an official state institution,
and which was partially controlled by the Serb and Croat nationalists; and on
the other the Patriotic League, which was a purely Muslim paramilitary force,
operating outside the state. It was these two forces, the Territorial Defence
and the Patriotic League, which combined to form the Bosnian Army. This process
was not a straightforward one.
Bosnia-Herzegovina was a state, and a state is made up of bureaucrats,
policemen, army officers and other officials. These officials in principle stay
the same, regardless of which group of elected politicians is at the top of the
state at a given time. In the case of Bosnia, which had been a Communist state
for forty-five years, the state suddenly fell into the hands of a group of
anti-Communist nationalist politicians, many of whom had been dissidents in the
Communist period. Izetbegovic and other leaders of the SDA had been persecuted
by the Communists and spent years in prison. Yet suddenly they were at the helm
of a state made up of the very same policemen and bureaucrats who had been
persecuting them. At the top of the state, therefore, was Izetbegovic, who was
President of the Presidency; and various other members of the presidency and
government ministers who belonged to the SDA. At the bottom of the state there
was the Patriotic League, which was preparing resistance covertly, at the
grass-roots level. And in between, there was a bureaucratic state structure,
which Izetbegovic and the SDA had inherited from the Communists, which was
largely composed of Serb, Croat and Muslim former Communists.
Squaring the circle
Izetbegovic and the SDA therefore had to square this circle: They had to
ensure the military and political survival of their regime and the defence of
their territory and their constituents. The SDA were conservative Muslim
nationalists, and they took the line of least resistance. They concentrated
power in their own hands, on a purely Muslim basis, by co-opting bureaucrats,
policemen and army officers whom they considered loyal. This meant,
increasingly, abandoning any attempt to maintain Bosnian unity, abandoning the
Serb and Croat populations to the leadership of Belgrade and Zagreb, and to all
intents and purposes accepting the division of Bosnia. This made Izetbegovic and
the SDA the accomplices of Slobodan Miloševic's project to partition Bosnia.
Miloševic, for his part, built a Bosnian Serb army, and a Bosnian Serb 'state',
by using parts of the Bosnian state that were under Serb control. Thus, in
Serb-majority areas of Bosnia, local organs of government fell into the hands of
the SDS and the Territorial Defence forces fell into the hands of Serb officers
loyal to the SDS. Miloševic divided up the JNA, concentrating units of the army
made up of Bosnian Serbs on Bosnian territory. When the JNA formally withdrew
from Bosnia in May 1992, what this really meant was that the Serbian and
Montenegrin part of the army withdrew, but the Bosnian Serb part remained behind
and formed the basis of the Army of the Serb Republic. The Bosnian Serb part of
the JNA merged with the Territorial Defence in Serb-majority areas to become the
Army of the Serb Republic (VRS). So when we consider whether the Bosnian war was
a war of aggression or a civil war, it is important to remember that these are
not mutually exclusive terms. It was both a war of aggression and a civil war.
It was a war of aggression because Miloševic and Belgrade created the VRS,
using the existing JNA. But they were able to do so only because Bosnian Serb
nationalists had automatic control of state authorities and Territorial Defence
forces in areas of Bosnia with a Serb majority. When we talk about 70% of Bosnia
being under Serb occupation, this did not mean that Serb forces conquered all
70% of the country. Rather, the SDS established political leadership over
Serb-majority areas, then teamed up with the JNA.
What applies for Miloševic and the Bosnian Serbs also applies for Tudjman and
the Bosnian Croats. The HDZ established political leadership over the local
authorities and Territorial Defence forces in Croat-majority areas, and used
them to establish the Bosnian Croat army, the Croat Defence Council (HVO). The
situation was slightly different where the Croats were concerned, because the
Croatian leadership formally recognized the Bosnian state and started out
formally as its ally. The HVO was recognized as a legitimate wing of the Bosnian
armed forces. Even when full-scale war broke out between Bosnian and Croatian
forces in 1993, there remained parts of the HVO that continued to cooperate with
the Bosnian Army. Nevertheless, very quickly, as the war got under way, the
three nationalist parties were working to partition Bosnia between themselves,
in collusion with Miloševic and Tudjman. The international community, for its
part, was also working with them to partition Bosnia. This led to the federal
structure consecrated by the Dayton Agreement of 1995, by which Bosnia's
politics and defence arrangements still abide.
Given the many successes of the peace process since then and the constant
reform of laws and institutions over the past few years, the urgent question is:
why is Bosnia-Herzegovina stagnating, and what can be done to change this
The most striking feature of governance in Bosnia-Herzegovina right now is its
passivity in the face of a growing social and economic crisis. It is suffering
from a combination of severe industrial decline and widespread rural
underdevelopment. These deep structural problems are legacies of fifty years of
authoritarian development, and are not dissimilar to those found in other parts
of post-communist Europe. What sets Bosnia apart is a vacuum of credible
policies in the most critical development areas: industrial policy, agriculture,
natural resource management, spatial planning, education and social welfare.
Though Bosnian governments are aware, in general terms, of the scale of the
crisis facing their country, their policies are often little more than broad
statements of good intentions. They are not based upon hard information, or any
real analysis of the problems. They are not developed in consultation with the
groups they are supposed to help. They do not affect what public institutions
actually do. Nor do they affect the way public money is actually spent.
This passivity is in itself a legacy of authoritarian development. Bosnia's
political elites have a tradition of looking to outsiders to provide the
policies and resources for development. There is widespread distrust of
participatory policy-making - the intense process of debate, compromise and
constituency-building among different interest groups that characterises the
democratic process. Political elites seem to prefer a style of politics where
the public interest is determined by experts, outside the political process.
This attitude is reinforced by weak mobilisation of interest groups and low
expectations of government on the part of ordinary citizens. As a result,
Bosnian governments at all levels are not under strong pressure to improve their
performance. This dynamic produces governments that are unresponsive,
unaccountable and often strikingly out of touch with the society they are
supposed to serve.
This deep distrust of policy making through bargaining and compromise among
different interest groups constitutes Bosnia's authoritarian temptation. It has
been reinforced by the intrusive nature of international engagement in Bosnia,
and by the peculiar political economy of the post-war period. The traditional
dependence on external funding has shifted to the reconstruction programme,
while the international mission now takes the role of the external policy-maker.
To move towards Europe, Bosnia-Herzegovina needs to overcome its authoritarian
temptation and embrace a genuinely democratic political process. For the
international community, this means leaving responsibility in the hands of
elected governments, rather than feeding old habits of dependency. For the
European Union, it means offering Bosnia the kind of support offered to
candidate countries like Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. The sooner this happens,
the sooner Bosnia-Herzegovina will truly set out on the path towards Europe.
Central Profit Banka eyes 3rd place
HVB Central Profit Banka wants to reach the third position in the banking sector
in Bosnia, the bank's CEO, Alexander Zsolnai, said recently, Banka magazine
The bank, which emerged after the fusion of HVB and Central Profit Bank, enjoys
a 9 per cent market share, its assets being worth 380m Euro. Zsolnai said that
by the end of the year the bank's market share would climb to 10 per cent, while
its assets are projected to grow by 30 per cent in 2005 and by 20 per cent in
2006. The bank would double its assets by 2007, Zsolnai added.
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