Bosnia - Four months after the Dayton agreement, what "peace"?

Apr/May 1996

News footage keeps coming in, showing the on-going battle for the control of the suburbs of Sarajevo which used to be the strongholds of the Bosnian Serb forces. Today this battle is no longer fought with guns and rockets but by setting houses on fire in order to force the Serb population out of an area which is meant, under the peace agreement, to come under Bosnian control. Therefore months after the final settlement, the "ethnic cleansing" is still carrying on.

In this respect the example is set by the highest spheres. The emergency "crisis summit" which had to be held in Rome on February 18 between the Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian leaders, to get them to confirm that they will comply with the Dayton Agreement on Bosnia, illustrates the fact that the peace which this agreement is supposed to institute is precarious, unjust and a source of future conflicts.

The "American Peace"

It was the intervention of the United States which was the decisive factor in the ending of the fighting in the former Yugoslav federation, in mid- October 1995, after three and a half years of slaughter, and in the signing of the Dayton Agreement on November 23, 1995.

For a long time the US attitude to the war in Bosnia was extremely cautious. The leaders of the main imperialist power were clearly in no hurry to get involved in the Bosnian hornets nest. This was certainly not the first time the US had waited for a war to determine the balance of forces - and for the belligerent parties to wear themselves out - before engaging its own troops. Why risk the lives of American soldiers when the American public is isolationist and has still to forget Vietnam and, more recently, the military shambles in Somalia? Besides, on behalf of what political solution was it to intervene?

It was far better for the USA to leave the European powers to run the risk of getting bogged down in the situation. And so they did. The failure of the European forces, intervening under the aegis of the UN, soon became blatant. At bottom, however, for the small imperialist powers of Europe, the main thing was to play whatever role they could on the ground in order to maintain their chances of keeping zones of influence in the region. On the other hand, it was all the more difficult for them to agree on a political settlement, and above all impose it, due to their rivalries and the particular ties they all had with the various states which have emerged from the break-up of Yugoslavia.

The US decision to speed things up and reach a rapid settlement was obviously partly linked to the coming American presidential election. Clinton needed a diplomatic success. But he was only able to move in this direction without sparking off angry reactions from the Republican opposition because the initiative suited American imperialism. Some three years of war had established and confirmed the balance of power on the ground, worn out the warring parties and demonstrated the impotence of the European powers, creating a situation where the main protagonists in the war, the leaders of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia, had every reason to seek a settlement. All that was needed was a referee with the political clout and military means to impose a solution which had already been more or less mapped out in the fighting.

The United States could now, without too many risks, step onto the scene as the master of the game.

Throughout the autumn of 1995, American officials stepped up the pressure (with still restricted, but heavier bombings of Serb positions, particularly around Sarajevo, and a marathon round of diplomatic tours and meetings) to reach the agreement which was signed, after much difficulty, at Dayton in November.

From the point of view of the local nationalist leaders as well, the moment was ripe for starting serious negotiations. By accepting the American proposals, Milosevic (whom Clinton had called a "bloody tyrant", while he was portrayed by the American administration as a "war criminal" for over two years) won international recognition along with Tudjman. In addition Milosevic won the lifting of economic sanctions against Serbia and a strengthening of his position.

A new military balance of power, brought about with a considerable helping hand from the Germans and Americans, had allowed the Croat and Bosnian Muslim sides to face up better to the domination of the Serb forces. The Croatian army had won back Krajina from the secessionist Serbs in early August and practically regained its authority over the whole of Croatia, while an unprecedented offensive by Croatian and Muslim forces in Bosnia in September saw them regain a considerable part of the territories which had previously fallen under Serb control - and without meeting with any resistance from the Serbian army. There was thus a "rebalancing" of forces which made a compromise settlement possible.

It is striking that, whereas the Serb forces had seized nearly 70% of the Bosnian territory virtually from the beginning of the war, the new situation in Autumn 1995 left them with only 49%, the remaining 51% being recovered by the Croat-Muslim alliance - i.e. exactly the percentages provided for in the territorial share-out plans sponsored by the West.

The "ethnic cleansing" campaign was intensified over the same period, with the consent of the UN contingent, as territories were won by one side or the other: by the Croatian army driving the Serbs out of Krajina; by the Serbian militias as they seized the enclaves of Srebenica (where journalists saw the leaders of the UN forces joining General Mladic for a drink) and Zepa, exterminating tens of thousands of "Muslim" inhabitants; and even by the Croat-Muslim forces in their advance into western Bosnia.

In short, all of this took place as if the final military operations had had no other purpose - under the protection of the American leaders, who were careful not to intervene - other than to "finalise" the return of territories (and, with them, the barbarous transfers of populations demanded by the ethnic programme of the war leaders), in short to "finalise" the slicing up of Bosnia written into the "peace plan" which the American leaders were now promoting.

This partition of Bosnia was in fact almost a carbon copy of the plans previously proposed, to no avail, by the European leaders, which were themselves based on earlier agreements between Milosevic and Tudjman. But fundamentally, it reflected more or less the balance of power established on the ground.

A ludicrous partition

Despite the official dogma claiming that Bosnia was to retain its state borders as they were when it became a member of the UN, in May 1992, the Dayton Agreement confirms its carving up. It is a supposedly federal but in reality fictional state, split into two entities - the Bosnian Croat- Muslim Federation and the Serbian Republic of Bosnia. Each of these entities has its own autonomous existence and its own constitution and army. And each of them will be free to establish special links with one of the neighbouring states - i.e. Croatia or Serbia.

In an additional aberration, these two entities are in reality three. What is officially known as the Croat-Muslim "alliance" cannot disguise its conflicting nature, not least because of the existence of the miniature Croat state set up in Herzegovina (Herzeg-Bosna) - with its own army, currency, flags, etc - by the ultra-nationalists who are linked with Zagreb rather than Sarajevo. And they have no intention of submitting to a common leadership with the "Muslims" they were fiercely fighting only a year and a half ago.

Izetbegovic's Bosnia is reduced to an enclave covering less than half of the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, situated between two buffer zones which are theoretically under its sovereignty but are dependent on Serbia and Croatia respectively.

And the presence of occupying troops responsible for safeguarding the "American peace" superimposes another kind of division, making a true monstrosity of the arrangements concocted by the imperialist leaders. The whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina is in fact divided between NATO forces (no less than 60 000 troops) in three sectors, respectively under American, British and French control - sectors which themselves overlap different "ethnic" areas probably as a result of secret deals between these three powers.

With demarcation lines, no man's lands, corridors, enclaves and towns split down the middle, Bosnia is now a jigsaw puzzle reflecting the balance of power both between the local nationalist militias and between the imperialist powers themselves.

Is this at least better than a continuation of the war? Of course, it is. But it is also a way of perpetuating conflicts and institutionalising divisions, and it is a way of making the situation unbearable for the peoples involved.

A few warlords like Karadzic and Mladic will (perhaps) be thrown to the lions and put to trial to give a semblance of morality and justice to Clinton's intervention. This kind of mascarade may also offer the advantage of improving Izetbegovic's standing. For, as he has said himself, he needs a victory. Having failed to free Sarajevo with his army, the trial of a few Serb murderers at the International Court of Justice in The Hague could help him to get the population to swallow the pill of a bitter peace. But the court in The Hague may content itself with the three men it already has under trial. In any case, apart from these (possible) exceptions, the leading nationalist bandits promoted to the rank of key men in the peace settlement, like all the imperialist leaders, have many reasons to be satisfied with the present settlement of the crisis. Not so for the population, though.

A fragile and threatened peace ...

Obviously, the end of a war which involved the systematic use of terror against civilian populations, is a relief in itself. The slightest truce during all these years of horror was a relief, and the beginnings of a return to a more secure life for the masses is obviously welcome.

Having said that, it is also easy to understand that the population should greet this not only with relief but also, at the same time, with scepticism and with very limited enthusiasm.

For one thing, everyone realises that this peace is extremely precarious.

The dogs of war have bowed to the wishes of the Americans, but only for the time being. The areas of tension three months after Dayton have not disappeared. An illustration of this is given by the fact that American officials keep having to intervene over the situation in Sarajevo and Mostar, which are still not reunited, and may not be in the foreseeable future.

On the one hand, the Serbs in Pale are advocating the division of Sarajevo, wanting to retain control of "their" neighbourhoods (while at the same time organising the evacuation of their own populations) - the neighbourhoods from which they besieged the town for over three years. On the other hand, the Croat ultra-nationalists of Bosnia wish to make Mostar, where they also carried out their own "cleansing" within the Muslim population, the capital of their "Herzeg-Bosna" region. Mostar was to be reunited on January 20 and Herzeg-Bosna officially dissolved, but this has not been implemented and the European Union representative in the area - who described these Croats as "a particularly nationalist bunch" - has withdrawn from the scene and handed over to a representative of Bill Clinton.

How can one envisage a viable "Croat-Muslim Federation" under these conditions, with a micro-state within a micro-state at loggerheads with each other?

Similarly, the Croat leader Tudjman is in no hurry to get these "ultras" in Herzegovina to give way, and he was even arrogant enough to give a promotion to General Blaskic, despite the fact that he was declared a "war criminal" by the international authorities. Milosevic, meanwhile, is playing an ambiguous game with his own "ultras", Karadzic and Mladic. He has abandoned them to a certain extent, but he is not handing them over, and is allowing them to continue their operations with regard to Sarajevo.

There is still a considerable risk that war will break out again, starting in Mostar or elsewhere. Probably not while the NATO troops are still there, but the peace may not extend beyond the US presidential election, next November.

... A deadly peace for the populations concerned

Even assuming, however, that the situation will stabilise over a longer period, the peace will only be an armed peace, with the states at loggerheads with one other, oppressing their minority populations and in fact oppressing the whole population under their control.

The Croat leader, Tudjman, has given a telling indication of what the attitude of these regimes to minorities is likely to be. As soon as his army had retaken Krajina, driving out the majority of its Serb population, a decree was issued announcing the placing under government authority of property belonging to Serbs who had left Croatia, with no possibility for them of recovering this property in view of the deadlines and administrative obstacles imposed (in particular, because the Serbs living in the Croat territories controlled by the Serb secessionist militias do not have valid Croat identity papers and must obtain a visa to enter Croatia...).

On the electoral level, a new law concerning parliamentary elections reduced the number of seats reserved for the Serb minority from 13 to 3, without waiting for any census or possible return of those who were obliged to leave. On the other hand, Croats who are citizens of the neighbouring country of Bosnia have been incorporated in the electoral body of Croatia, and the whole of the Croat "diaspora" has 12 seats.

The fact is that three quarters of the Serbs who lived before the war in Croatia, and not only those in Krajina, have left the country, driven out by intimidation or terror (there are apparently now only about 130,000 Serbs in the whole of Croatia, or less than 5% of the total population, as opposed to 600,000 in 1991 on the eve of the war). The Croat leaders have thus to a large extent achieved the ethnic "homogenisation" of their state. However, one can easily imagine the feelings of fear and insecurity among what remains of the Serb community in Croatia, and among other non- Croats in the country.

Serbia, for its part, remains multi-ethnic, given the size of the Albanian population in Kosovo and the existence of the Hungarian minority in Voivodin. But not only do the forms of autonomy set up under Tito and abolished by Milosevic remain abolished, with national rights trampled under foot, but the more or less successful attempts by Belgrade to forcibly settle the Serbs driven out of Croatia or Bosnia in these regions are heightening tensions still further.

Bosnia, finally, is no longer the close mixture of peoples it used to be. The communities are now grouped in roughly homogenised national ghettos, for the barbaric reason that the borders made official by the Dayton Agreement coincide exactly with the regrouping of populations imposed by force of arms.

The nationalist leaders on all sides have for years systematically spread hatred, entrenching a divide of blood, in order to kill any idea of the possibility of a common life between peoples despite their centuries-old cohabitation. They will continue to fan the flames. Already the Serb roughnecks of Pale are busy terrorising the Serb inhabitants of "their" areas of Sarajevo who would otherwise be prepared to stay there and resume a common life with the rest of the population.

In short, peace or no peace, the different people in power will quite naturally reinforce their military- and police-based regimes and their policies of controlling and stirring up populations, in some cases against a minority and in others against the "enemy" next door, or to support claims over territories placed under different control, or to defend themselves against this type of claim from others.

A real stabilisation in the Balkans is not conceivable on the basis of the monstrous jigsaw puzzle which has emerged from this war and from this peace settlement, not least because the micro-entities which comprise it are not economically viable.

They are not viable, for one thing, because of the consequences of years of war. According to one report on the war in Bosnia issued by the World Bank in December, 200,000 people were massacred and the same number of civilians injured, the majority of them children. A third of hospitals and two thirds of all homes were damaged. Infant mortality has doubled since 1990. At the same time, household income has fallen by 75%. Everywhere there are infrastructure problems concerning water, gas, electricity and transport.

At present, nine people out of ten depend on humanitarian aid for their survival. Industrial production has fallen to 5% of its level five years ago.

Nor should one forget the consequences of the war in other parts of former Yugoslavia, in Serbia-Montenegro, Macedonia, etc.

Yugoslavia was of course a poor country, with great regional disparities in resources and standards of living, but there were nonetheless channels of distribution, exchanges and relative compensations which operated on a nationwide basis. All these channels have been broken. The complementary economic relationships which had been established have been destroyed, and the additional territorial divisions - the enclaves, for example - will certainly not make things any better! The new mini-states have no chance of being able to keep their heads above water by themselves.

A discrete battle has already been underway since the war broke out in Bosnia, in 1992, to share out the heritage of former Yugoslavia, and in particular to get hold of Yugoslavia's currency and gold reserves abroad, and grab a share in state property. The IMF, for its part, always eager to serve the interests of its imperialist members, has already assessed (also since 1992) the distribution of Yugoslavia's foreign debt, the repayment of which it is intent on demanding!

In addition, on top of the inextricable situation of wretched "ethnic" micro- economies, a small-scale dollar economy is emerging, helped along by the presence of 20,000 American soldiers, with the devastating financial and social consequences seen in other parts of the world like Somalia or Haiti.

This armed "peace" which is being set up, festering with poverty and countless areas of tension, is also marked by another potential cause of conflicts, superimposed and intermingled, namely the competing appetites for profit of the different would-be capitalist "rebuilders", from Europe in particular. Using their armed forces in the country, (as they did before when they wore blue helmets) they are engaging in a struggle for influence in Sarajevo. The repair of infrastructure offers enticing prospects for profit, backed up by the additional guarantees provided by the Western states, especially as it will be possible to employ cheap labour. Each one of the three Western armies has its own "special affairs" or "civil affairs" bureau to chase after contracts on behalf of its own national companies.

In this free-for-all, the political representatives of the French capitalists are being particularly accommodating to Milosevic's Serbia (a considerable market with a population of around ten million, nearly half the total population of former Yugoslavia), especially as the German leaders, for their part, are the near-official protectors of Croatia and Slovenia, while the British are busy trying to make profit out of everyone. The French leaders, in particular, seem to have learnt a lesson from the period which followed the Gulf War. They have taken the initiative to establish as heavy a presence as possible before the powerful resources of the American army and envoys impose their law.

For a different future, the need to get rid of the nationalist leaders and their armed gangs

This is the kind of peace the imperialist order is capable of generating: one based on the balance of armed power and the law of the jungle, an armed peace, a peace of poverty, a ruthless peace, for the peoples involved. This is a peace in which these peoples will be under the iron rule of the bands of nationalist murderers responsible for maintaining capitalist order, under the supervision of the western powers.

No doubt, from their cynical viewpoint, the imperialist leaders - not to mention the former Yugoslav warlords - have "corrected" history by putting an end to the interpenetration of peoples characteristic of the Balkans. This "correction" was not the result of alleged centuries-old hatreds which suddenly set these peoples against one another. To claim such nonsense is nothing but a self-interested lie. No, this "correction" was imposed by guns and fire.

It was the desire of the politicians in former Yugoslavia to break up the country and establish strongholds for themselves, in the struggle for power after Tito's death, which caused the war. And this well-nurtured and premeditated desire almost immediately received the blessing of the leaders of the imperialist powers. It may be the case that Milosevic, who was manipulating the leaders of the Serb militias in Bosnia, and Tudjman, who was manipulating the Croatian militias in Bosnia, were at times outflanked in their bloody nationalism by their protégés. But in any case, in the situation of intermingling of peoples and nationalities which was the case in Bosnia in particular, the objective of consolidating "nation states" had to involve ethnic "cleansing" operations. And it was easy for the nationalist leaders in Belgrade and Zagreb to point to the right of their co-nationals to self-determination to counter any attempt to create a multi- ethnic state in Bosnia, in effect a reduced version of Yugoslavia. It was all the more easy as the Bosnian leader Izetbegovic only began to call the multi-ethnic tune when the balance of power was shifting against him. His previous Islamic line was no less reactionary or threatening for minorities than the chauvinist violence of the Serb and Croat leaders.

The present disaster was in reality an integral part of the competing plans of those aspiring to power.

In order to stir up their peoples, they used resentments inherited from the past, deliberately nurturing and exacerbating them for the purposes of their foul cause, with the criminal indulgence of many intellectuals.

It would have been possible to seek something else, to have a different policy, based, on the contrary, on the traditions of coexistence, mutual enrichment and solidarity between Balkan peoples, on people's aspirations to fraternity and to a better life - traditions and aspirations which are just as real, just as solid and lasting, and which hold so much more promise for the future.

When they started the war, the different ex-Yugoslav nationalist leaders dared to invoke the "right of peoples to self-determination", when for them it was just a question of their rival aims to be able to determine the fate of the peoples in question. The rights and freedoms of peoples are certainly not advanced by yet more borders which tear apart families and friends, or by massacres and exoduses. On the contrary, they are advanced by the organising of a society in which each people could flourish, amid collective respect for differences and cultures inherited from a long past. It is almost a statement of the obvious to say that the interpenetration of peoples can be a source of immense wealth for all their members.

A policy opening up such a prospect will not develop under the guidance of imperialism, but on the contrary in the struggle both against imperialism and against the nationalists.

Until then, whenever the imperialists and their various servants speak of "peace settlements", the settlements in question will be no more than unviable dead ends where the profiteers dance on a powder keg.