Bosnia shivers as ghost of nationalism returns
By Jeremy Bowen
BBC News, Sarajevo, Bosnia
Published 9 February 2022
A welcome sign greets visitors on a bridge in Sarajevo
On a sunlit winter afternoon, it is easy to imagine how life can be good in Bosnia. The pitched roofs of houses on the steep slopes of Sarajevo’s valley look like stacks of snow-covered cuckoo clocks. Children skate on an outdoor rink at one of the venues built for the Winter Olympics of 1984.
In the terrible war years between 1992 and 1995, when Sarajevo was besieged by the Bosnian Serb Army, I saw how bad, brutal, and short life could be here too. Bosnia-Herzegovina experienced bloodshed, cruelty and suffering that no-one had seen in Europe since World War Two. [This was an impression created by a mass of false propaganda generated by the Croatian and Bosnian information services, guided by US public relations agencies. Ridiculous claims were made that upto 250,000 had died during the first 6 months of the war. Western journalists, few of whom spoke Serbo-Croat, took all such claims at face value. There was no siege of Sarajevo – access to and from the city was only cut off when the Bosnian Muslim government wanted to make a propaganda point. Bosnian Serb guns were placed on the hills surrounding the city to protect the Serbs who had remained in the city. Bosnian Muslim guns were also in place. The worst part of life in the city was that, on most days, there were routine exchanges of shelling between the two sides.]
The worst single atrocity happened in Srebrenica in the east, where Bosnian Serb soldiers killed more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys over a few days in July 1995. Bosnian Serb wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are both serving life sentences for genocide and crimes against humanity. [Absolutely no hard evidence to substantiate this figure has ever been made available. The Hague Tribunal reached its judgements solely on the basis of verbal reports of findings delivered by managers of the organisation entrusted with the gathering of forensic and DNA evidence for Tribunal prosecutions, the International Commission for Missing Persons. To ensure that primary evidence could not be accessed by the court, defence teams or anyone else, laws were passed in both Croatia and Bosnia to give the ICMP total immunity so that it could not be forced to hand over any of the primary evidence it claimed to have.]
Ratko Mladic may be in jail but his legacy remains
Perhaps that should have been the end of it. The war ended in 1995 with an agreement thrashed out at a US Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio. It froze the conflict rather than settled it. [The only good thing about the Dayton agreement was that it brought an end to fighting – ironically on terms slightly worse for the Bosnian Muslims that those they could have had two years earlier when, under US pressure, they withdrew their signature from the so-called Lisbon agreement. The US and its allies lost no time in making arrangements, through the the US organ the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe), to disadvantage Republika Srpska at every turn. Successive UN High Representatives (all appointed by the US President) – withheld funds from RS, used their powers to remove RS leaders from office, and forced the RS to produce a report on Srebrenica that was written by a Bosnian Muslim to an anti-Serb prescription set down by the High Representative.]
A big force of peacekeepers, and a High Representative with powers to pass laws made sure the deal stuck, but the world moved on some time ago. [The world hasn’t moved on at all. Dayton was always doomed by the insincerity of the western powers].
The problem for Bosnia is that it did not.
On 9 January a parade in Banja Luka, the de facto Serb capital, brought Bosnia’s problems into sharp focus.
Paramilitary police marched through the streets to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the declaration of Bosnian Serb independence in 1992, as Yugoslavia was breaking up and Bosnia was tumbling towards all-out war.
Bosnian Serb police marked their national holiday last month
Presiding over the parade was Milorad Dodik, welcomed by the Americans after the war as a “breath of fresh air”, but now seen as a Serb strongman who does not hesitate to raise the ghosts of the past. [Or a leader doing his best to fight for the interests of his people against an intolerable dictatorship?] One of his close allies is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Mr Dodik emulates aspects of Mr Orban’s right-wing nationalism.