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Bosnia-Herzegovina: challenging the notion of civil war

By Osman Softic - posted Friday, 22 July 2005

The tragedy that occurred in Bosnia-Herzegovina to Bosnian Muslims between 1992-1995 at the hands of the Serbian perpetrators was not a “bloody and nasty civil” war, as so many misguided commentators and analysts usually define it. Although the conflict did contain some elements of civil war (the Bosnian Serb rebellion and subsequent Bosnian Croat rebellion against the legitimately elected and legally constituted government of Bosnia-Herzegovina), to try and simplistically define the conflict as a civil war is to reject the truth of what really took place.

The real cause of the tragedy and ultimate responsibility for the genocide and other atrocities that occurred, mainly against ethnic Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) but also other citizens loyal to the Bosnian state, must be properly attributed to the ultra nationalistic regime of the indicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and his fascist and ultimately genocidal policies of territorial expansion.

Furthermore, direct “on the ground” responsibility for genocide must also be attributed to Milosevic’s clients in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the former political and military leaders of the Bosnian Serbs who commanded the Bosnian Serb rebellion against the legitimate government in Sarajevo. The indictments issued by The Hague Tribunal for War Crimes are testimony to this claim.


Bosnia-Herzegovina: the victim of multiple aggression

To present a balanced view of the conflict it must be stated that support for the subsequent Bosnian Croats' rebellion against the central government of Bosnia-Herzegovina, instigated and supported by the Tudjman regime in Croatia, was at least partly inspired and encouraged by the successful and unchallenged Serbian conquests and policies of ethnic cleansing of Bosnia’s territory.

Croatia’s military involvement has usually, and I believe quite fairly, been regarded by some Western observers as an “opportunistic aggression”. Its consequences were detrimental to the preservation of the sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina and have added to the complexity of the conflict.

Although the scope and scale of crimes committed by the Tudjman regime in Bosnia were far lesser in comparison to the war crimes and genocide committed by the Serbian aggressor, they are not negligible.

Serbian aggression and genocidal policies against Bosniaks must therefore be viewed as a continuation of the age-old Serbian dream of creating “Greater Serbia” and not as Milosevic’s propaganda machinery claimed, “to preserve Yugoslavia as a multi-ethnic, albeit centralised state”.

Tragically, this propaganda line was initially accepted by the major European powers, primarily by the United Kingdom and France, who blamed the Bosnian side for provoking Milosevic by prematurely declaring independence and by seceding from the Yugoslav federation. The Bush Senior administration at the time also held a similar view. The latter had inadvertently assisted Milosevic by signalling that it would like to see Yugoslavia preserved as a unified country. For Milosevic, who was a shrewd and cunning politician and who knew quite well how to read the diplomatic signals, this practically meant the green light to proceed with his genocidal campaigns against the northern republics, particularly against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

When US Secretary of State James Baker, referring to the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, declared, “We don’t have our dog in that fight”, Milosevic interpreted it as sufficient assurance that even the remotest possibility of Western interference to stop his genocidal campaign was highly unlikely. He then proceeded with his military campaign to create an exclusive, homogenous and monolithic ethnic Serbian state along the fascist model. This attempted formation of the ethnically pure Serb “mega-state” is known as the “Greater Serbia”. It is still alive as an ideal, but has been dormant since it was weakened by the humanitarian intervention by NATO military forces in the wake of the Serbian atrocities against the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.


This Serbian nationalistic goal, which Milosevic clearly failed to fully accomplish, is still cherished by the current Serbian Prime Minister, Dr Vojislav Kostunica, and represents a serious threat to the peace and stability of the Balkans. It is particularly perilous to the survival of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a sovereign multi-ethnic state, not to mention the threat it poses to the survival of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims).

Let us bear in mind that during World War II, Bosnian Muslims were also subjected to genocide and the largest percentage of massacres and killings were committed by the Serbian ultra nationalist militias known as “Chetniks”, particularly in Eastern Bosnia.

The genocidal policies pursued by the Milosevic regime in Bosnia represent the most recent attempt by a Serbian leader to achieve a Serbian nationalist objective. How this could be accomplished was meticulously elaborated by the document titled Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and the Arts in Belgrade, known by its acronym (SANU).

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About the Author

Osman Softic is a Research Fellow at the Islamic Renaissance Front. He holds a BA degree in Islamic Studies from the Faculty of Islamic Studies of the University of Sarajevo and has a Masters degree in International Relations from the University of New South Wales (UNSW). He contributed commentaries on Middle Eastern and Islamic Affairs for the web portal Al Jazeera Balkans, On Line Opinion, Engage and Open Democracy. Osman holds dual Bosnian and Australian citizenship.

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