All Quiet on the Bosnian Front

The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia has just wound up 24 years of operations with a grisly fiasco. At its last session, the Bosnian-Croat warlord Slobodan Praljak committed suicide in the courtroom by drinking poison after his 20-year jail sentence was upheld.

A few days earlier the Bosnian Serb ex-general Ratko Mladić was dragged from the court screaming insults as he was sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide in the Yugoslav war of the 1990s, including the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.

Meanwhile the Dayton agreement of 1995, setting up a Bosniak-Croat Federation and a Bosnian Serb Republic within the unified state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, has not brought the country together politically. So, with no acknowledgement of justice by the villains, no consolidation of democracy and continuing obstruction by selfish politicians, the international media have hastened to write off the whole peace-making process as a failure.

But it is not. The International Tribunal did call bullies, fist-bangers and mass murderers to account. It is surely good that Serbian ex-President Slobodan Milošević and the Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić were given long sentences (as were a lesser number from other ethnic groups). The court stood up for the principle that the rule of law is for everybody, worldwide. And it gave voice to large numbers of victims who could testify in public.

Within Bosnia-Herzegovina, politicians still divide bitterly along ethnic lines, but the stirrers tend to be the Bosnian Serbs. Throughout the Yugoslav conflict, aggressive Serbian expansionism has been a root cause. Westerners tend to default to a middle-of-the-road opinion that Balkans are all incurably quarrelsome. But this is a facile view. It has constantly been the Serbs who pushed to expand, hoping that the disintegration of Yugoslavia could lead to a Greater Serbia.

I felt this when I went into northern Bosnia this summer. After crossing a border announcing entry into the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, another much larger sign 100 yards further on proclaimed “Republika Srpska”. Forty miles down the road I was puzzled to see the same sign again, even though there had been no indication that I had left that entity. Precisely that shows that Dayton is working. Under Dayton, the Serbs can put up signs, but they are not allowed to delimit borders. I realised that after a few kilometres I had unknowingly entered Bosniak-Croat Federation territory, and then left it again. In practice the signs of »Republika Srpska« serve no purpose – they are nothing more than loud propaganda.

In one part of the Bosniak-Croat area, the black gravestones look typically Croatian, but a bit further on they are Muslim, as are the names on shops. The Muslim part is more prosperous: I visit a gleaming new factory working overtime to fulfill international orders for its polished walnut furniture. All impossibly complex, you may think. But actually this is a patchwork of local communities and customs co-habiting well enough at the grass-roots.

Young Bosnian Croats who fled during Serb ethnic cleansing generally did not return, since they could integrate into Croatian diasporas in the West. Some older Bosnian Croats however do come back. A friend who lived much of his life in Slovenia has inherited the home of his mother, who was evicted by Bosnian Serbs during the war. After Dayton, the Serbs had to return it to her, and now my friend is building a smart new house nearby. The countryside is beautiful, and his pension will go much further here than in Slovenia. Food is cheap and delicious, especially the legendary Bosnian plums, as are the slivovitz and the beer.

In a café I order “Turkish coffee.” My host whispers: “You can’t say that in this place. It’s Serb!” But both he and the waitress chuckle at my discomfiture. “Around here, we get on OK with each other,” he says.

Time CAN heal, and people’s wellbeing does not necessarily depend on politicians. People can make reconciliation happen quietly on the ground, and in Bosnia-Herzegovina many of them are. Efforts by the international community to facilitate this have therefore not been in vain.[pullquote]Buy a friend a Christmas gift subscription to our paper magazine[/pullquote]

Marcus Ferrar


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

17 Comments on All Quiet on the Bosnian Front

  1. Yes, it’s good that Milosevic, Mladic, etc. paid at least something for their crimes but what about psychopaths like Naser Oric, a Bosnian-muslim warlord whose forces ethnically cleansed the Srebenica area of Serbs between 1992-1995? The photos of what his men did still make me sick. He walked free from Le Hague the other day. It seems that “international justice” is whatever our dear old globalist rulers want it to mean.

  2. I am not as cynical as you about the weaknesses and evils of human nature. Under Tito, the various Yugoslav nationalities got on tolerably well, despite being different. I know a fair number of older citizens of ex-Yugoslavia, and the one thing they seem to agree about is that in the old days they could live at peace with each other. Many still have that ideal, and I admire them for it.

  3. I wonder why this tribunal has never punished the horrible Albanian terrorist Hashim Thaci who had as much blood on his hands (if not more) than Slobodan Milosevic. I also wonder why Albanian bandits continue to persecute the few remaining ethnic Serbs in Kosovo in complete impunity.

  4. Hello Salisbury Review!

    I’ve been coming here often for the last couple of years or so, to find always quality, well-researched conservative opinion. Never been disappointed.

    But what is this poorly argued, rose-tinted-glasses, feel-good panegyric to present-day Bosnia up here, now?
    Have you been hacked? Infiltrated maybe?

    Please Salisbury Review, don’t become another National Review!

    Please find here below more complete and accurate related information and background on the subject:

  5. The former Yugoslavia business was not like the Holocaust. Outside the fantasies of Nazis, the Germans were in no danger from the Jews. But in former Yugoslavia, each side killed and raped and ethnically cleansed up to the limits of its power. The Serbs had more power – numbers, state apparatus – so they did a more than the others.

    The real success of The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia is in lining the pockets of lawyers.

    • I don’t go for this moral equivalence. The Germans invaded and occupied Yugoslavia, not the other way round. The Partisans who opposed them were not just Serbs, but people of all the other Yugoslav nationalities too.

  6. Hands up!
    Who thinks that the M-invasion/insurgency can be held back, and eliminated, without casualties in large number?
    For clues, look at how Mr Lincoln saved the Union.
    Nicey-Nice, Kissy-Face, and Win-Win do not apply in Real Conflict.

    • Well, Harry, I know too little about the conflict discussed here to make an informed contribution, but I sense that I’m on the same page as you, given that the item conveys a strong hint of ‘Multiculturalism Works!’, which is something I do not believe. Give it time and I’m sure the rifts will reappear.

    • Yes Ancient, very true, in my opinion. Awful misconception of the what that situation was about, by Western leaders who should have known better.
      What were the payoffs to the principals to act so badly?

    • The Serbs were not the only Yugoslavs allied with Britain during the war. The Partisans included fighters from all Yugoslav nationalities. Also, one should remember that for reasons of anti-bourgeois Communist dogma, British liaison officers were often treated with disdain and hostility by the Partisans.

  7. If you view the history of former Yugoslavia purely in terms of what happened in the 1990s, it’s fair to say that the Serbs were the most aggressive. But that is to see it without any historical context whatsoever. The struggle of the Serbs against Islam and the Ottoman Empire goes back to the C14th. There is no room here to set out the horrific suffering of Serba and Christians more generally over hundreds of years in the Balkans. Bulgarians, Armenians, Greeks, Macedonians and Serbs too, or to set out what was done to the Serbs by the Croats at Jasenovac during World War 2 or the part played in the SS by Bosnian Muslims.
    The Serbs may have been seeking revenge for their own suffering, but if you researched and knew enough about their suffering over 600 years, perhaps you’d cast your net a little more widely.

    • A fair historical point. But any sense of wrongdoing and suffering from previous centuries does not justify territorial aggrandisement, ethnic cleansing and massacres at the end of the 20th century. Under Tito, the various peoples of Yugoslavia got on with each other tolerably well, and the state functioned quite well.

      • Ethnic and religious hatreds come and go like the tides, but they never go away, witness Ireland, Russia/Ukraine, India/Pakistan, Sunni/Shia, even Buddhist Burma/ “Rohingyans”.
        They are suppressed by brutal dictators like Tito, only to emerge again.

        Good walls make good neighbours.

  8. “A few days earlier the Bosnian Serb ex-general Ratko Mladić was dragged from the court screaming insults as he was sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide in the Yugoslav war of the 1990s, including the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.”

    Rightly so….. and the U.N.’s culpability; Dutch peacekeepers specifically?

    • Well, the small, outgunned force of Dutch UN peacekeepers shamefully failed to try to protect the people of Srebrenica, and later the Dutch government acknowledged this and resigned as a gesture of atonement. However it was Mladic and the other Bosnian Serbs who actually massacred the men and boys. Theirs is the principal responsibility.