Another Imperial Purge

The Tyrant of Bosnia struck again Thursday: almost six months after the last purge of such kind, Imperial viceroy Paddy Ashdown has launched another, proscribing officials, confiscating property and threatening further repression if the Bosnian Serb authorities failed to comply with near-impossible demands by next April.

The pretext this time, just as this summer, was that the Bosnian Serb Republic (Republika Srpska, RS), has failed to arrest the suspects wanted by the Hague Inquisition. However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that this is an excuse presented by Ashdown as a cover for the continued forced centralization of Bosnia. Accusing the RS of violating the Dayton Peace Agreement by not "cooperating" with the ICTY lets Ashdown and the Empire cover up their own violations of the DPA, which are legion.

Empire’s ongoing efforts to overturn the peace agreement’s provisions and "reintegrate" (i.e. centralize) Bosnia-Herzegovina have now reached a point where the continued survival of the settlement that ended the 1992-95 civil war is very much in doubt.

A Three-Pronged Attack

Compared to June’s count of 59, the nine purged officials this week doesn’t sound like much. But unlike the earlier exercise of Imperial powers, this effort was not aimed at people so much as the institutions of the RS. Also, this time Ashdown’s accomplices did most of the heavy lifting.

Standing at his side at the Sarajevo press conference Thursday was Douglas McElhaney, the U.S. ambassador to Bosnia, who announced that his government was freezing the assets of the SDS, and banning SDS leaders – as well as those of its coalition partner, the PDP – from entering the U.S. Since PDP leader Mladen Ivanic is Bosnia’s foreign minister, this will make it nearly impossible for him to do his job. It’s hard to believe this effect was not deliberate.

Furthermore, commander of the EUFOR occupation troops, British General David Leakey, said his forces would close down a major RS military base in Han-Pijesak, because of "evidence" that war crimes suspects may have visited the premises last summer.

"I have no other option but to act, as every week new evidence of obstruction comes to light," Ashdown told the press speciously. The "evidence" in question consists of allegations aired in the Muslim daily Dnevni Avaz, which has long enjoyed a cozy relationship with Ashdown’s Office of the High Representative (OHR). General Ratko Mladic’s supposed appearance in Han-Pijesak, as well as his ostensible continued employment with the RS military, were both Avaz "discoveries."

An editorial in another Sarajevo daily, Oslobodjenje, praised the joint appearance of three major representatives of the "international community," terming this a "united front against the RS." This certainly appears to be the case.

Words from Washington

The Ashdown-McElhaney-Leakey assault got heavy artillery support the following day, as the U.S. Department of State spokesman Richard Boucher left no room doubt as to where Washington stood on the matter. Said Boucher:

"The United States strongly supports High Representative … Paddy Ashdown’s actions of December 17 to reform institutions in the Republika Srpska that have obstructed full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal…

"The United States remains committed to helping Bosnia and Herzegovina assume its rightful place as a full member of the Euro-Atlantic community. Elements within the Republika Srpska are impeding progress towards this goal… Its failure to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia constitutes a fundamental breach of the Dayton Accords. It is clear that systemic changes to the Republika Srpska police and security structures are necessary to overcome this obstructionism."

A "fundamental breach"?! Only if one makes the extreme reasoning leap between the posited presence of some elements in the RS military and police that supposedly sabotage efforts to arrest war crimes suspects, and the assertion that these efforts are condoned or even directed by the RS government. Such reasoning is tenuous at best, and at worst completely outlandish. There is nothing "clear" about this, except perhaps Washington’s determination to blame the Serbs for denying Bosnia its "rightful place" in the Neues Weltordnung.

The Strange Case of Police Reform

Earlier in the week, there was speculation that Ashdown’s purge would focus on police reform. At the present, there is no central police authority in Bosnia; instead, both the RS and the Muslim-Croat Federation (FBiH) have their own police ministries. An international commission set up to reform this arrangement – for whatever reason – recommended Wednesday that both ministries should be replaced by a "single structure of policing under the overall political oversight" of the central government.

According to this proposal, Bosnia would be broken into "Local Policing Areas" without regard to entity borders. There is also a provision for "community oversight" by "local elected officials, members of the judiciary and community leaders." There is no place in the plan for entity governments. The recommendations were based on Ashdown’s edict from earlier this year, and recommendations by the EU, but the commission in no way addressed the incompatibility of all this with the Bosnian Constitution.

Needless to say, the RS authorities rejected this arrangement on constitutional grounds. Viceroy Ashdown replied it was "unfortunate that the Serb Republic representatives … felt unable to agree to this concept of modern policing." As if modernity was an issue!

But when the purge came, there was no mention of police reform. Instead, Ashdown cited NATO’s repeated refusal to admit Bosnia into its "Partnership for Peace" program, under the excuse that the RS has not arrested any "war criminals." Certainly, displeasing NATO and preventing Bosnia to join the ranks of this aggressive alliance is a war crime in itself, is it not?

None of this means the viceroy has given up on centralizing law enforcement; he is determined to ram it through the Bosnian legislature before the end of the year. But "obstructing police reform" doesn’t sound as sinister as "protecting war criminals." And when one is on a mission to trample law and logic, good propaganda is everything.

‘To Them, We Are Objects’

Earlier this week, RS president Dragan Cavic did not hide his frustration with Ashdown’s policies in an interview with the Serbian weekly NIN, calling the coming purge "an absolutely needless exercise in brutality, interventionism, imperialism and supremacy."

Yet Cavic’s interview was a revealing exercise in cognitive dissonance. On one hand, the surrender or arrest of war crimes suspect was an inevitable necessity, he said, not open to discussion or political considerations; but on the other hand, "the RS is always at fault. We do something, we get punished. We don’t do something, we get punished anyway. They must know that if we’ll get punished no matter what, then we won’t do anything." Even though doing nothing is emphatically not an option, and the Empire has been using the war crimes issue as purely political.

Cavic also refused to believe that Ashdown harbored a personal grudge against the RS, but he claimed that "part of the international community harbors a deep distrust of Serbs in general, no matter who represents them. To them we are objects, not subjects." One would think that Ashdown, known for his adulation of the late Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic – who also thought of Serbs as objects – would easily fall in this category. Ah, but remember: Ashdown has the power to remove Cavic and strip him of all rights and property; he can hardly afford to anger the viceroy.

He does, however, point out the allegations that the RS is doing nothing to arrest war crimes suspects are spurious. For nine years, it has been SFOR’s responsibility to arrest suspects, one in which they’ve failed miserably and repeatedly. "They don’t want to acknowledge that SFOR has had shameful failures," Cavic said. "Not one of their actions was anything but a complete screw-up. God forbid anything like that happened to us."

When Ashdown and SFOR began insisting that RS authorities began hunting for war crime suspects, a bungled raid in April this year resulted in one innocent death and a tremendous political and media backlash. As Cavic said, they are damned if they do, damned if they don’t. And it’s hard not to think they were forced into such a situation on purpose.

Resistance has already begun. Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic resigned Friday, telling reporters he was sick and tired of being bullied. "I do not wish to be a servant to the international community, or obey their whims," Mikerevic told the Serbian press.

Abolition by April?

According to Al-Jazeera, Ashdown threatened to "take measures that deal directly and powerfully with the assets and the institutions of the Republika Srpska" if NATO rejects Bosnia’s PfP membership again in April. There is little more than Ashdown can do short of abolishing the RS outright, and that may be exactly what he is planning.

Notice, however, what is going on here: even if Karadzic and Mladic were somehow seized before April, that doesn’t mean NATO would accept Bosnia’s application. It can simply cite another excuse for rejection, such as "inefficiency of government structures" or some such, and provide the viceroy with a pretext he hopes for. Since Ashdown has the unequivocal support of both Brussels and Washington, odds are overwhelmingly in favor of the RS disappearing come April, no matter what its leaders do.

President Cavic claims Ashdown does not have the authority to abolish the Serb Republic. But every viceroy so far has done so, one cut at a time, and the count is getting awful close to a thousand. On paper, the RS is protected by the Dayton Peace Agreement and the Constitution contained therein. In practice, the DPA is dead letter, and there are no obstacles to its abolition. If the United States, the world’s first constitutional republic, could not preserve its own Constitution from being trampled by Empire-seeking rulers, the Bosnian Serbs are naïve if they believe their constitution – imposed by the U.S. to begin with – is immune from such fate.

Unless Ashdown and the Empire are somehow stopped, next year may well see the end of the Serb Republic, and with it, the Bosnian peace.

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 debuted in November 2000.