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Mladen Ancic: Who made the mistake in Bosnia

Written 02.12.2009. 15:36
Modern history (some of it as recent as yesterday's front page news), is, because of its implications for the present, surely the most sensitive amongst all historical topics. Something which seems certain today can be shown to have been completely wrong and a case of failed judgement after new facts, unknown documents or somebody's memoirs, come to light. But things can look like this only if certain events (which look to be turning points) are observed in isolation. If we focus away from the single event which was the big news and we look at it in the context of a global trend , we can more safely and accurately draw conclusions from it.

One of such occurences which has to be observed outside of the context of an exclusive news, is the policy of the Croatian leadership towards the crisis and the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There is constant debate concerning this question in the Croatian society, and the policy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, was, so to speak, the key reason for the split in the leading political party , and a permanent stumbling block between the country's leadership and the greater part of the political opposition. A brief reminder - the leadership opted for a clear and a transparent policy towards everything that was happening in Bosnia since the outbreak of the crisis. The key underlying theme of that policy, was and remained the support for the part of Croatian national corps which lives in that country in an effort to ensure territorial autonomy and an affirmation of its constituent position. In other words: from the begining, the support was given to the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in order to defend and ensure the complete control of that part of the territory where they represent the majority, and then, from that position to approach negotiations for the internal organisation of that country.

The opponents of this policy represented the attitude where the constitutive position of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina was in any case guaranteed by the constitution, and according to them, it was unneccessary, even counterproductive to insist on the principle of the territorial autonomy. In other words, those that hold this view, concluded that this policy, which insists on the defence of the territories where the Croats are a major element, only serve to antagonise the Bosnian Muslim side. They maintain that the policy led by the Croatian leadership was the main reason for the breaking out of the Muslim- Croatian conflict in 1993. If an alternative policy had been taken from the start by the Croatian side, the one that called for the defence of the existing constitutional-legal position on the whole teritory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a strategic aliliance could have been struck with the Bosnian Muslim side (often it was spoken about a "natural alliance") against the Serbian, the agressor's side.

Even at the first glance it's easy to conclude that this is an almost academic discussion about a question to which there is no simple answer. In fact, the answer to this set doubt is not possible to achieve if we don't take into account the position of the other, Bosnian Muslim side. As every alliance needs active cooperation of both sides, it is obvious that this kind of a partnership isn't possible without a minimum consensus. It remains an open issue how to interpret certain statements and spoken words - should we take statements at their face value without critically examining them or should we pay more attention to actions rather than words. In precisely this context, we need a reminder, (although many of us remember it very well), of the statement by Mr. Alija Izetbegovic dating back to the period of the fiercest Serbian agression on Croatia, by which he called on his followers to be passive, declaring how the "Croatian-Serbian conflict" (his "explanation" of the nature of the aggression) "isn't our war". In the period of the worst agression on Vukovar, when even the blind knew what was going on, Mr. Izetbegovic claimed on Sarajevo's TV that there was no difference between the Serbian and the Croatian side, that it is in fact all propaganda, and he praised local Sarajevo's media (mostly under the Serbian control then) who represented everything what's happened in Croatia as "civil war".

Explanations that even today reach Croatian public (not to mention the public of Bosnia and Herzegovina) elucidate that this kind of behaviour was an attempt by the Bosnian Muslim leadership to avoid conflict on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However an attentive observer could have even then seen clearly that the attitude of the president of the rotating presidency of Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina had rather poor repercussions among the local Croats. A direct consequence of his conduct was the accelerated process of decomposition of the social and ethnic/national fabric of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The process advanced very quickly, so that by the end of 1991, the crew of Sarajevo's TV-station was not allowed to enter the parts of Bosnia which were Croat majority areas (not to mention the parts of the Republic with a Serb majority - the places from where the war against Croatia was being fought). By all means, the complete destruction of the social fabric cannnot all be declared as a consequence of statements, not even actions of a certain political leader or wider circle surrounding the leader. However, the fact remains that, as far as the Bosnian Muslim side is concerned, there was not a single move directed to stop the process of destruction.

Today, the situation is observed from a different point of view. Substantial new evidence, in form of written memoirs, belonging to Bosnian Muslims that took part in the events concerned, is at our disposal.

First of all, it is simply not possible any more to argue the idea according to which all of these and similar attitudes and actions of Bosnian Muslim politicians were only naive strivings to prevent the breakout of war in Bosnia. It is enough to read the printed memoirs of several of the highest ranking officers of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina or high ranking Sarajevo officials to realize that there weren't really any misunderstandings of the situation or naive perceptions of events. It is also glaringly obvious for all to see that incompetence and dilettantism were thriving amongst the Bosnian Muslim political elite, and as a result, the Bosnian Muslim people paid a heavy price.

The situation becomes quite clear after closer scrutiny of a substantial interview given by the commander of Muslim armed forces, Mr. Sefer Halilovic in the spring of the last year, 1995, for Sarajevo's monthly magazine "Dani". This former major of the Yugoslav Army has stirred up a lot of controversies in the past. Mr Halilovic was at one time even withdrawn from the position of the chief commander of the Muslim "Armija Republike Bosne i Hercegovine" (Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina) and he remained under house arrest for a period of time. Today, Mr Halilovic is the first man of "Bosanska Patriotska Stranka" (Bosnian Patriot Party), which almost exclusively gathers Muslims from Sandzak (a majority Muslim region in Serbia), from where he himself hails. The political platform of the party practically ignores the Dayton Peace Accord, considering that it destroys the concept of the "civil state" for which Mr. Halilovic and like-minded individuals fought for from the beginning.

The views expressed by the founder of the Patriotska liga (Patriotic league) and the first commander of the Army, in the longish interview can be regarded as typical for a whole layer of ex Muslim officers of the Yugoslav Army which, (after May 1992) expressed their loyalty to the government in Sarajevo. They represented the pillars of the Army created by the newly founded state. Bearing that fact in mind, it is more than indicative to analyse just how Mr. Halilovic explains events in the time of brewing of the Yugoslav crisis beginning from 1990. Mr Halilovic, at the time attended an army officer school of the Yugoslav People's Army in Belgrade and served in Croatia (Djakovo). According to his own words, he had the opportunity to observe "how Chetnik's ideology is forming in Serbia from Monday to Friday, and from Friday to Monday he watched how Ustasha ideology is taking shape in Croatia". Given the fact that Mr. Halilovic was an officer schooled in "the centers for brainwashing" pertaining to the Yugoslav Army, nothing more can be expected from his mental framework than stereotypic "partisan" black-and-white division: those who accepted Yugoslavia were positive and therefore acceptable, those against Yugoslavia could only be termed as "Chetniks" and "Ustashe", ie. extremist
Serb and Croat nationalists. Mr. Halilovic, already carrying this bag of convictions, could not help but feel the attitudes and words already stated by the president of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina as heaven-sent.

And really, the major (at the time) in May of 1991, by means of relatives in Sarajevo placed himself at the disposal of the political organization run by Izetbegovic and his "Stranka Demokratske Akcije" (Party of Democratic Action). In August of the same year he moved to Sarajevo permanently (of course, in the interview, he experienced "amnesia" of some sort, regarding his actions in the period from May to August of 1991, while he was still an active officer of the Yugoslav Army in Djakovo - material which may one day be interesting to the judicial system of the Republic of Croatia). After that period, he uses all the strength available to organize and create the "Patriotic league", a party militia organization in the classic sense of the word.

The fact that needs to be particularly stressed, neglecting many unimportant details, is that among numerous persons with whom he maintained contacts during this process and whose names are mentioned in the interview, there is not a single non-Muslim individual. Not even the Bosnian Minister of Defense of the period, Mr. Jerko Doko is mentioned. Doko was a man who belonged to the group of Croatian politicians who believed that unity with the Muslims is the only possible direction of the Croatian politics in Bosnia. Although Mr. Halilovic himself was the leader of a completely illegal party militia (which would later assume the name "Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina") that relied exclusively upon one of the three of Bosnia's constituent peoples, he, without any restrictions whatsoever, accuses the "Hrvatsko Vijece Obrane" - HVO (Croatian Council of Defense) as being exclusively a militia controlled by the "Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica" - HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union - the chief Bosnian Croat political party). At the same time he views his own position as completely legitimate and legal, claiming that it was upon him to organize "the concept of defense of Sarajevo and the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina".

Mr Halilovic's revelation about the definition of formulated structure of the "Territorial Defense" should be observed in the same context. It is the first millitary formation behind which stood legitimacy and legality of the Bosnian Presidency of the time. Congruently to the public proclamations about "multiethnic, multicultural and democratic nature" of the regime in Sarajevo, general Hasan Efendic was appointed a commander of the Republic's headquarters of Territorrial Defense in the beginning of April of 1992, the place of his substitute belonged to a Serb, a colonel Jovo Divjak, and the place of the chief of staff was given to a Croatian colonel Stjepan Siber.

These appointments, as the records would show later on, were only formality, conceived, as Mr. Halilovic explains, "because of legalization". A command conveyed by one of the ministers in the government of the time and coming from the highest political level , hence from Mr. Izetbegovic, to the leadership of the Patriotic league at the period of the performed appointments runs like this: "you just keep on operating and let them (Divjak and Siber) just sit there". Congruently to the order Mr. Halilovic continues to recall and explains "there aren't any problems, however until we acquire confidence in the people who are coming, we will not give information that might prove to be important".

Everything thus stated clearly defines the position of the Muslim political and millitary leadership at the time. There are official attitudes and public statements about "united, multiethnic, multicultural Bosnia and democratic principles". On the other hand, however, the action is reduced to complete disorder and chaos (parallel commanding structures between which confidence and communication do not exist!), usurpation and creating of parallel military machinery and authority as well as complete shoving and excommunication of everything that does not have Muslim characteristics. It is not difficult to prove how even at that time the information that reached Zagreb, that is the Croatian authorities and relevant political factors, presented the situation in Bosnia exactly as it was. However, Muslim rhetoric, that directly found its support in the heritage of "self-managerial socialism" mindset proved too attractive for a substantial part of participants belonging to Croatian political scene: Socijaldemokratska Partija-SDP (Social Democratic Party), a current in HDZ represented by Mesic and Manolic, Hrvatska Socijalno Liberalna Stranka-HSLS (Croatian Social Liberal Party) etc. After all, during the period of socialism what was being said was always more important than what was actually being done.

As far as the initial question is concerned, the one about correctness of the policy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina which was chosen by the Croatian authorities, it seems that after everything that has been said here, the question formulated in that manner loses its meaning. Having as a partner the Muslim authorities in Sarajevo in 1991/1992 - the only thing that could have been "agreed" on with them, would have been an agreement about the complete surrender of the local Croatian people.

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