Monday, July 16, 2012

I. People and Places in the Bosnian war

People and Places

A Bosnian special forces soldier returns fire in downtown Sarajevo as he and civilians come under fire from Serbian snipers, on April 6, 1992. The Serbs were shooting from the roof of a hotel at a peace demonstration of some of 30,000 people as fighting between Bosnian and Serb fighters escalated in the capital of Bosnia-Hercegovina. (Mike Persson/AFP/Getty Images)

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the start of the Bosnian War, a long, complex, and ugly conflict that followed the fall of communism in Europe. In 1991, Bosnia and Herzegovina joined several republics of the former Yugoslavia and declared independence, which triggered a civil war that lasted four years. Bosnia's population was a multiethnic mix of Muslim Bosniaks (44%), Orthodox Serbs (31%), and Catholic Croats (17%). The Bosnian Serbs, well-armed and backed by neighboring Serbia, laid siege to the city of Sarajevo in early April 1992. 

They targeted mainly the Muslim population but killed many other Bosnian Serbs as well as Croats with rocket, mortar, and sniper attacks that went on for 44 months. As shells fell on the Bosnian capital, nationalist Croat and Serb forces carried out horrific "ethnic cleansing" attacks across the countryside. Finally, in 1995, UN air strikes and United Nations sanctions helped bring all parties to a peace agreement. 

Estimates of the war's fatalities vary widely, ranging from 90,000 to 300,000. To date, more than 70 men involved have been convicted of war crimes by the UN.

Serb police officer Goran Jelisic, shooting a victim in Brcko, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was caught, tried for war crimes, convicted, and sentenced to 40 years imprisonment. (Courtesy of the ICTY) # 

Alija Izetbegovic (1925 -2003 ) was the first President of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina after the terrible war in Bosnia. Alija Begovic was a Muslim activist and philosopher, and author of several books, most important being 'Islam between East and West'. During 1983-1988, he launched campaign against  the Communist rule of Yugoslavia. 

Begovic was a lawyer, moderate, lifelong anti-communist, and spent most of his time in office trying to save the lives of his fellow Muslims. He helped found the Party of Democratic Action, 1990; assumed presidency 1990; Elected chairman of Bosnia's three-person national presidency, 1996; and renounced presidency 2000.

Yugoslavia was a country in the western part of the Balkans during most of the 20th century. The Democratic Federal Yugoslavia was proclaimed in 1943 by the Partisans resistance movement during World War II. It was renamed as the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia in 1946, when a communist government was established. In 1963, it was renamed again to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). This was the largest Yugoslav state, as Istria, Rijeka and Zadar were added to the new Yugoslavia after the end of World War II.

The constituent six Socialist Republics and two Socialist Autonomous Provinces that made up the country were:  Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia (including the autonomous provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo which after 1974 were largely equal to the other members of the federation). Starting in 1991, the country disintegrated after the infighting between the constituent units and the racial, anti non Serb policies of the majority Serbs under president Slobodan Milošević. Worst sufferers of these wars were Bosniaks or the Bosnian Muslims.

At the NATO summit in April 1999, the member states approved a structure for "non-Article 5 crisis response," essentially a euphemism for war (Article 5 of the NATO charter provides for collective self-defense; non-Article 5 refers to an offensive military action like Yugoslavia.). 

According to the document, such an action could take place anywhere on the broad periphery of NATO's realm, such as North Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia, essentially paving the way for NATO's ongoing war in Afghanistan. This expanded role for NATO wasn't approved by any of the respective countries' legislatures, raising serious questions about democratic civilian control over military alliances.

Furthermore, the U.S.-led NATO war on Yugoslavia helped undermine the United Nations Charter and thereby paved the way for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, perhaps the most flagrant violation of the international legal order by a major power since World War II.

The occupation by NATO troops of Serbia's autonomous Kosovo region, and the subsequent recognition of Kosovar independence by the United States and a number of Western European powers, helped provide Russia with an excuse to maintain its large military presence in Georgia's autonomous South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions, and to recognize their unilateral declarations of independence. This, in turn, led to last summer's war between Russia and Georgia.

Indeed, much of the tense relations between the United States and Russia over the past decade can be traced to the 1999 war on Yugoslavia. Russia was quite critical of Serbian actions in Kosovo and supported the non-military aspects of the Rambouillet proposals, yet was deeply disturbed by this first military action waged by NATO. Indeed, the war resulted in unprecedented Russian anger towards the United States, less out of some vague sense of pan-Slavic solidarity, but more because it was seen as an act of aggression against a sovereign nation. 

The Russians had assumed NATO would dissolve at the end of the Cold War. Instead, not only has NATO expanded, it went to war over an internal dispute in a Slavic Eastern European country. This stoked the paranoid fear of many Russian nationalists that NATO may find an excuse to intervene in Russia itself. 

While in reality this is extremely unlikely, the history of invasions from the West no doubt strengthened the hold of Vladimir Putin and other semi-autocratic nationalists, setting back reform efforts, political liberalization, and disarmament.

French troops of the United Nations patrol in front of the destroyed mosque of Ahinici, near Vitez, northwest of Sarajevo, on April 27, 1993. This Muslim town was destroyed during fighting between Croatian and Muslim forces in central Bosnia. (Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images) # 

The Yugoslav Wars were a series of wars, fought throughout the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995. The wars were complex: they were characterized by bitter ethnic conflicts among the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, mostly between Serbs (and to a lesser extent, Montenegrins) on the one side and Croats and Bosniaks (and to a lesser degree, Slovenes) on the other; but also between Bosniaks and Croats in Bosnia (in addition to a separate conflict fought between rival Bosniak factions in Bosnia). 

The wars ended in various stages, mostly resulting in full international recognition of new sovereign territories, but with massive economic disruption to the successor states.

Often described as Europe's deadliest conflicts since World War II, they have become infamous for the war crimes they involved, including mass ethnic cleansing.

Although tensions in Yugoslavia had been mounting since the early 1980s, it was 1990 that proved the decisive year in which war became more likely. In the midst of economic hardship, the country was facing rising nationalism amongst its various ethnic groups. At the last 14th Extraordinary Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia in January 1990, the Serbian-dominated assembly agreed to abolish the single-party system; however, Slobodan Milošević, the head of the Serbian Party branch (League of Communists of Serbia) used his influence to block and vote-down all other proposals from the Croatian and Slovene party delegates. This prompted the Croatian and Slovene delegations to walk out and thus the break-up of the party.

The Srebrenica Massacre, also known as Srebrenica Genocide, was the July 1995 killing of an estimated 8,000 Bosniak males, in the region of Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina by units of the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) under the command of General Ratko Mladić during the Bosnian War. In addition to the Army of Republika Srpska, a paramilitary unit from Serbia known as the "Scorpions" participated in the massacre.

The Srebrenica massacre is the largest mass murder in Europe since World War II. In the unanimous ruling "Prosecutor v. Krstic", the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), located in The Hague, ruled that the Srebrenica massacre was an act of genocide, the Presiding Judge Theodor Meron stating:

By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims [Bosniaks], the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the forty thousand Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica, a group which was emblematic of the Bosnian Muslims in general. They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.

The Srebrenica massacre was also confirmed as a case of genocide in the ICTY judgement "Prosecutor v. Blagojevic " and in the International Court of Justice judgement "Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro".

The United Nations had previously declared Srebrenica a UN protected "safe area", but they did not prevent the massacre, even though 400 armed Dutch peacekeepers were present at the time. The massacre included several instances where preteen children, women, and elderly civilians were also killed. The list of people missing or killed in Srebrenica compiled by the Federal Commission of Missing Persons so far includes 8,373 names.
Before World War II, major tensions arose in this region from the first, 
monarchist Yugoslavia's multi-ethnic makeup and relative political and 
demographic domination of the Serbs. Fundamental to the tensions were th
different concepts of the new state; the Croats envisaged a federal model 
where they would enjoy greater autonomy than they had as a separate crown land
under Austria-Hungary. Under Austria-Hungary, Croats enjoyed autonomy 
with free hands only in education, law, religion and 45% of taxes.

 In the years leading up to the Yugoslav wars, relations among the republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had been deteriorating. Slovenia and Croatia desired greater autonomy within a Yugoslav confederation, while Serbia sought to strengthen federal authority. As it became clearer that there was no solution agreeable to all parties, Slovenia and Croatia moved toward secession. 

By that time there was no effective authority at the federal level. Federal Presidency consisted of the representatives of all 6 republics and 2 provinces and JNA (Yugoslav People's Army). Communist leadership was divided along national lines. The final breakdown occurred at the 14th Congress of the Communist Party when Croat and Slovenian delegates left in protest because the pro-integration majority in the Congress rejected their proposed amendments.


A Muslim militiaman looks for snipers during a battle with the Yugoslav federal army in Central Sarajevo on Saturday, May 2, 1992. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)

A Serbian soldier beats a captured Muslim militiaman during an interrogation in the Bosnian town of Visegrad, 125 miles southwest of Belgrade, on June 8, 1992. (AP Photo/Milan Timotic) # 

Bosnian Croat soldiers taken as prisoners pass a Bosnian Serb soldier after surrendering on the central Bosnian mountain of Vlasic June 8. About 7,000 Croat civilians and some 700 soldiers fled to Serb-held territories under heavy Muslim attack. (Reuters/Ranko Cukovic) # 

122mm heavy artillery of the Bosnian government, in position near Sanski Most, 10 miles (15 kilometers), east of Banja Luka, opens fire at the Serb-controlled town of Prijedor, on October 13, 1995. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic) # 
A top sniper, codenamed "Arrow," loads her gun in a safe room in Sarajevo, Tuesday, June 30, 1992. The 20-year old Serb who shoots for the Bosnian forces says she has lost count of the number of people she has killed, but that she finds it difficult to pull the trigger. The former journalism student says most of her targets are other snipers on the Serbian side. (AP Photo/Martin Nangle) # 

Bloodstains cover the wreckage of patients' rooms at Sarajevo's Kosevo Hospital on June 16, 1995, after a shell slammed into it killing two and injuring six. (AP Photo) # 
A Bosnian Muslim woman cries on the coffin of a relative during a mass funeral for victims killed during 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, whose remains were found in mass graves around the town of Prijedor and Kozarac, 50 km (31 miles) northwest of Banja Luka, on July 20, 2011. (Reuters/Dado Ruvic) # 

Zoran Laketa poses for a picture in front of a building destroyed during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, after an interview with Reuters, in Mostar, on April 2, 2012. Laketa epitomizes the complexities of the Bosnian conflict that kept the West dithering over intervention in the face of mass ethnic cleansing. Twenty years since the start of the war, ethnicity is still a deep dividing line - no more so than in Mostar, where Croats hold the west bank, Muslim Bosniaks the east, in an uncomfortable co-existence that has resisted foreign efforts to promote reintegration. (Reuters/Dado Ruvic) # 

a territorial conflict between local Bosniaks and Croats backed by Zagreb on 
one side, and Serbs backed by the Yugoslav People's Army and Serbia on the other. The Yugoslav armed forces, which had disintegrated into a largely Serb-dominated military force opposed the Bosniak-majority led government's agenda for independence and along with other armed nationalist Serb militant forces, attempted to prevent Bosnian citizens from voting in the 1992 referendum on independence to prevent Bosnia from legally being able to secede.

This did not succeed in persuading people not to vote and instead the intimidating atmosphere combined with a Serb boycott of the vote resulted in a resounding 99% vote in support for independence. On June 19, 1992, the Croat-Bosniak war broke out. The Bosnia conflict, typified by the siege of Sarajevo and Srebrenica, was by far the bloodiest and most widely covered of the Yugoslav wars. 

Bosnia's Serb faction led by ultra-nationalist Radovan Karadzic promised independence for all Serb areas of Bosnia from the majority-Bosniak government of Bosnia. To link the disjointed parts of territories populated by Serbs and areas claimed by Serbs, Karadzic pursued an agenda of systematic ethnic cleansing primarily against Bosniaks through genocide and forced removal of Bosniak populations.


"Srebrenica: A Town Betrayed" follows interviews and revelations by Bosnian-Muslim investigative journalist Mirsad Fazlic, who doesn’t appreciate the fictitious, black-and-white version of the Bosnian war that is perpetuated by the international community and by Bosnian officialdom, which still honors wartime president Alija Izetbegovic as a national hero when Fazlic and others know he was the opposite. The film really begins only at the four-minute mark, and its main shortcoming is the ubiquitous, stubborn marriage to the notion that the number “7-8,000 killed” is anything other than a concoction that the world has been working backwards for 16 years to make seem real.

Among numerous of the film’s jaw-dropping revelations — including the fact that the humanitarian convoys which the Serbs were allowing to pass to Srebrenica were being intercepted by Bosnian “hero” Naser Oric and sold on the black market (and including Srebrenica police chief Hakija Mehovic describing the meeting at which the Bosnian leadership floated a proposal by Bill Clinton that 5,000 Srebrenica residents be sacrificed) — are the following:

1. “Mladic had four tanks and 400 men. In reserve he also had 1600 armed locals. But Mladic didn’t trust them since they lacked discipline and would use every opportunity to revenge [Srebrenica warlord] Oric’s attacks on the villages. The Serbs were outgunned by NATO’s fighter aircraft, 450 Dutch peacekeepers and Oric’s 5,500 soldiers.” (The first fact is important as a contradistinction to the Mladic that has been presented to the public, and there is more in the film in that regard. The latter factoids are important to illustrate that Srebrenica was set up for the Serbs to overpower, with the Muslim side “winning by losing,” as Nebojsa Malic calls it.)

2. In reference to the 50 Serbian villages that were being attacked by the Muslims of Srebrenica: “Especially disturbing was a religious dimension to the killings. Men were castrated in an anti-Christian gesture of circumcision. Pregnant women were disemboweled with cuts in the form of a cross. Some people were crucified, nails driven through their hands.”

3. “In April 1993 military chiefs from both sides — General Sefer Halilovic and General Ratko Mladic — signed a UN plan for Srebrenica and the other cities to become demilitarized zones. The Muslims promised on their side to stop the aggression against the Serbs around the enclaves and against the 15,000 Serbs still living in the capital Sarajevo.” (The Muslim side naturally didn’t hold to their end of the bargain, but what makes the excerpt exceptional is the word “aggression” for once attributed to the correct side of the Bosnian war.)

The fighting in Croatia ended in mid-1995, after the Croatian Army launched two rapid military operations, codenamed Operation Flash and Operation Storm, in which it managed to reclaim all of its territory except the UNPA Sector East bordering Serbia. Most of the Serbian population in these areas became refugees, and has been the subject of war crimes indictments by the ICTY for elements of the Croat military leadership. The remaining Sector East came under UN administration (UNTAES), and was reintegrated to Croatia in 1998.

In 1994 the U.S. brokered peace between Croatian forces and the Bosniak Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the successful Flash and Storm operations, the Croatian Army and the combined Bosniak and Croat forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, worked together in an operation codenamed Operation Maestral to push back Bosnian Serb military gains. Together with NATO air strikes on the Bosnian Serbs, the successes on the ground put pressure on the Serbs to come to the negotiating table. Pressure was put on all sides to stick to the cease-fire and finally negotiate an end to the war in Bosnia. The war ended with the signing of the Dayton Agreement on the 14 December 1995, with the formation of Republika Srpska as an entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina being the resolution for Bosnian Serb demands.

Next: Naser ORIC is threatening to reveal the truth about Massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica

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