True Colors

Revelations in Kosovo, Bosnia

As the long, hot summer in the Balkans draws to an end, political tensions are spiking along with temperatures. Kosovo Albanians and their foreign backers are anxious to force the issue of the occupied Serbian province’s final status in their favor, and are growing frustrated with Belgrade’s stubborn refusal to surrender the territory voluntarily. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, failure of the constitutional amendments earlier in the year that would have redefined the country’s structure of governance has made the upcoming general elections a major battlefield in the struggle for power among Bosnia’s ethnic communities. Under such enormous pressure, and stakes running high, the actors in both dramas are letting their masks slip, baring their fangs, and showing their true colors.

"Submit or Leave!"

Political rhetoric in Bosnia is getting uglier as each day brings closer the October elections. The surprise success of Haris Silajdzic’s crew of rejects in defeating the constitutional reforms this spring, and the complete lack of any punitive action by Bosnia’s foreign overlords – who have, in the past, conducted massive purges of Bosnian Serbs for far less – has emboldened Silajdzic’s "Patriotic Bloc" to step up its anti-Serb rhetoric. Attempting to preserve his party’s dominance among the Muslims, Sulejman Tihic, leader of Alija Izetbegovic’s SDA, decided to outdo Silajdzic. Last Wednesday, Tihic issued a written statement in which he criticized Bosnian Serb leaders for entertaining "delusions" about self-determination. Bosnia was indivisible, he averred, and inevitably on the path to a centralized government:

"Those who don’t like it, who are still dreaming of a failed project of Greater Serbia, or some Serbian state in Bosnia, can go somewhere else, but they can’t take with them an inch of Bosnian territory." (AKI)

Serb leaders immediately fired back. Tihic’s fellow member of the Presidency Borislav Paravac said Bosnia wasn’t Tihic’s private property, to do with as he pleased. Prime minister of the (Bosnian) Serb Republic Milorad Dodik said that Serbs, as a constituent people, had exactly the same right to Bosnia as Muslims or Croats. "In Tihic’s statement one can easily recognize an Islamic concept which sees Bosnia as its exclusive right," said Dodik.

Over a decade after the peace treaty signed in Dayton, Ohio, ended the civil war, the conflict between Bosnia’s ethnic communities over the very nature of their country is nowhere near resolution. Several months ago, an experienced Serb commentator said that it was the Muslims destroying Bosnia, with their irrational belief that they owned the place, and that Serbs and Croats had to either submit or leave. Tihic’s statement goes a long way toward validating his analysis.

Predictably, international coverage of Bosnia’s political conflict remains skewed. Even three days after Tihic’s statement, the New York Times chose to omit any mention of it, focusing on Dodik’s supposed inflammatory rhetoric. Dodik’s sin? That he was "sick and tired" of Muslim rhetoric and politics declaring all Serbs as war criminals.

The Times reporter also neglected to mention who blocked the passage of the constitutional amendments, leaving the uninformed reader with the obvious implication it was the Serbs; nor did he note that of the two entities within Bosnia, it’s the Muslim-Croat Federation with "10 regional authorities, each with their own police forces and education, health, and judicial authorities."

Ethnic relations in Bosnia are on the ragged edge, to the point where some are speculating another war is possible. That may be unlikely – but one thing is for certain: there is no peace among Bosnia’s communities, and there can’t be so long as one is bent on dominance and disregard of the others.

"A Burden to Pay"

Meanwhile, the Serbian government has made a startling discovery: Martti Ahtisaari, the UN-appointed mediator of the talks on the future status of Kosovo, is biased against Serbs!

They somehow managed to overlook Ahtisaari’s participation in the 1999 "negotiations" that persuaded Slobodan Milosevic to trust NATO enough to let its troops into Kosovo – which the Alliance promptly turned over to the rampaging KLA – and his subsequent Board membership in the International Crisis Group, a pro-Empire think tank that’s championed Albanian separatism for years.

But according to the Serbian government negotiators, the first inkling they had of Ahtisaari’s "bias" was Aug. 8, when he told them that Serbs bore collective responsibility for what happened in Kosovo. The statement was made public this past weekend. Belgrade has since protested, and even hinted at the possibility of requesting Ahtisaari’s recall.

The Finnish envoy "indirectly confirmed" his words, telling reporters after his visit to occupied Kosovo that "Every nation in the world has a burden for which it has to pay" and that "leaders in Belgrade must face a historic inheritance and accept responsibility for the past years." (AKI) "The historic inheritance cannot simply be ignored and must be taken into account when the future status [of Kosovo] is determined," Ahtisaari said.

At the same time, the new Kosovo viceroy, Germany’s Joachim Ruecker, added fuel to the fire with an interview to a German daily, claiming that "Belgrade hardliners" were to blame the Kosovo Serbs weren’t "integrating" into the Albanian-dominated provisional government. Speaking to another daily, Ruecker also said the solution of Kosovo’s status was "predictable," suggesting the inevitability of independence.

Against this background, an "unidentified perpetrator" bombed a café in the Serb-majority part of Kosovska Mitrovica on Sunday, injuring nine people. One of the victims was a British policeman, another a pregnant Dutch woman. One ethnic Albanian youth was arrested.

Belgrade authorities condemned the attack as terrorism, adding that statements like Ahtisaari’s and Ruecker’s opened the way for such violence against Serbs. A history of such violence in the province suggests that it would have happened anyway – but Imperial officials always try to make it more palatable to the West, transforming Albanian terror into understandable "revenge attacks."

The Serbian Enigma

Both the Kosovo Albanians and the Bosnian Muslims, not to mention those in the Imperial establishment who support their agendas (whether out of conviction or convenience), tend to regard Serb rhetoric as bellicose but ultimately empty, confident that with time and enough compulsion, the Serbs will accept imposed solutions both in Bosnia and in Kosovo. After all, did not the current prime minister of the Bosnian Serb Republic first come to power through Imperial subterfuge, aimed at placing "moderates" in power to facilitate their centralization agenda? And are not both the current prime minister and president of Serbia products of the DOS "revolution," sponsored by Washington and Brussels to get rid of Slobodan Milosevic? Therefore, would it not be reasonable to expect that, for all their protestations, they will eventually roll over and accept their designated fate?

That may well be the case. But the other possibility, one that is not taken seriously in Sarajevo, or Pristina, or Washington, or Brussels, is that the Serbs may truly be sick and tired of being shoved around, demonized, humiliated, extorted, and accused of atrocities (often falsely) by people who have themselves done far worse. If this is so, then the constant badgering, berating, pressuring, and verbal and physical abuse aimed at Belgrade and Banja Luka will not only not bring peace, but make any sort of lasting resolution of Balkan conflicts highly unlikely.

Read more by Nebojsa Malic

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.