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Berlin Congress of 1878 still in force in the Balkans

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Aegean theater of the Antique Greece was the place of astonishing revelations and intellectual excellence – a remarkable density and proximity, not surpassed up to our age. All we know about science, philosophy, sports, arts, culture and entertainment, stars and earth has been postulated, explored and examined then and there.

Simply, it was a time and place of triumph of human consciousness, pure reasoning and sparkling thought. However, neither Euclid, Anaximander, Heraclites, Hippocrates (both of Chios, and of Cos), Socrates, Archimedes, Ptolemy, Democritus, Plato, Pythagoras, Diogenes, Aristotle, Empedocles, Conon, Eratosthenes nor any of dozens of other brilliant ancient Greek minds did ever refer by a word, by a single sentence to something which was their everyday life, something they saw literally on every corner along their entire lives. It was an immoral, unjust, notoriously brutal and oppressive slavery system that powered the Antique state. (Slaves have not been even attributed as humans, but rather as the ‘phonic tools/tools able to speak’.) This myopia, this absence of critical reference on the obvious and omnipresent is a historic message – highly disturbing, self-telling and quite a warning.

One of the famous Buddha’s wisdoms states: ‘Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.’

Does the Europe’s East have a reason to wake up angry or it should rather remain depressed and insecure, between self-pitying and self-blaming? As known, logic does not change emotions, but if perception changes emotions change too. That is why the fact building and decisive research matters, firstly to determine the truth and then to (re-)design value.

Macaulayistic twist to Southeast

The EU has secured itself on the southeastern flank, too. But, why does it matter? Residing between ancient Greece and ancient Rome, between Constantinople and Vatican, this flank of Europe also known as the Balkans is situated in one of the most fascinating locations of the world. It is a cradle of the eldest European civilization– thus, it is more than symbolically important. This antique theater is a place of the strong historio-civilizational attachment, the credibility and authenticity bond of Europeanness and its Christendom. And, our home, is always both, a place and the feeling. Less esoteric but equally important is the fact that the Balkans actually represents, along with the MENA-Caucasus, the only existing land corridor that connects any three world’s continents.Therefore, it is an absolute imperative for the external/peripheral powers to dominate such a pivotal geo-economic and geopolitical theater by simply keeping its center soft. That means that the core geographic sector has to be fragmented, isolated, depopulated and antagonized (e.g. by pre-empting, preventing or hindering the emancipation that may come through any indigenous socio-political modernization and economic diversification). This is the very same imperative, which has remained a dominant rational of inner European and Asian machtpolitik for centuries.

In the course of last few centuries, the Balkans was either influenced or controlled by Russia on the east (also by the Ottomans), Turkey on the south and center, Austria on the north and northwest, with the pockets of Anglo-French influence, too (Greece, Serbia, Albania). This reads that ever since the late 17th century (precisely, from 1686 when Russia joined the Holy League, and past the subsequent 1699 Treaty of Karlovci), the peripheries kept center of the Balkans soft, as their own playground. The only (pre-modern and modern) period when the center was strong enough to prevail, marks the time of the Balkans’ Bismarck: Tito of Yugoslavia.

Presently, the Eastern Balkans (Romania & Bulgaria) is cutoff from any Russian influence by being hastily admitted to the Union (2007). Turkey is contained by Greece (1980) and Cyprus (2004), and is waiting on the EU doorstep for decades without any clear prospect to join.[1] All that, as if it follows the old rational of the 1814 Vienna Congress as well as the Bismarck’s dictatum to Andrássy at the 1878 Congress of Berlin. Reinvigorating these geo-economic and strategic imperatives, present-day Austria – highly assertive, beyond any proportion to its modest size – does not hesitate to add and shed emotional charge: it is nearly neuralgic on the Turkish EU accession, Russian presence or inner Slavic strength.

(It was not by chance that nearly all of the main European military campains outside the Russian front conducted by the Nazi occupator during the WWII –from Kozara to Drvar– were taking place exclusivelly in Bosnia – a core of the Yugoslav antifascistic front. Simply, who controls center– Bosnia, controls pretty much the rest of the Balkans, and from there the access to Black Sea, Caucasus–Caspian as well as further to the Afroasian proper, too. It was also not accidental that Austrian arogant imperial occupation of Bosnia and its subsequent brutal and illegal annexation was one of the key diplomatic challanges from the Berlin Congress until the WWI outbreak. This careless Austro-Habsburg colonial expropriation of Bosnia has only accelerated, escalated and magified the forthcoming WWI slaughterhouse, in which southern and western Slavs were forced or decived to kill each others and other eastern Slavs. Southern Slavs will readly butcher themselves – as useful idiots – for the benefit of Central Europe soon again, in 1940s and 1990s.)

Dictatum of 1878 still in place

In an attempt to control the core sectors of the Balkans, Austria jealously keeps the highest post in the Office of High Representative for Bosnia in its hands.[2]At the same time, it is the main protégé of Croatia’s bid for the EU membership (2013). Deindustrialized, depopulated, over-indebted and increasingly de-Slavicized, Croatia of relativized and silenced antifascism – for that matter, of course, further fortifies the Austro-influence deeper in the Balkan proper.

The rest of the Western Balkans is still finishing the dissolution of Yugoslavia, by forming the ever smaller, incapacitated un-greened and depopulated mini nation-states. (The prevailing political culture of the Western Balkans is a provincial, anti-intellectual, xenophobic and irresponsible anti-politics). Less than a decade after President Tito’s death, the tectonic changes in the Eastern bloc have caused the dramatic change of geopolitical position of Yugoslavia and the NAM. The external players and the local élites which they chose to boost and cooperate with, had silently agreed that for the amortization of revived Anglo-French, Germanophone, Russian and Turkish (traditional), and the US (non-traditional) projections on the region, the Southern Slavs should (de-industrialize, erode, agonize, incapacitate, de-Slavicize, rarify, and) live in far more than two states. In the absence of compromise among the major external geopolitical projectors, the area still undergoes the fragmentational erosion, being kept (like once upon a time Germany) as a soft center for strong peripheral pressures. Additionally, this is the best way to keep Turkey away from Europe and – at the same time – Russia from the exit to warm sea of south-east Mediterranean.

Bosnia is the best example of such an external intrusion, and of the outer powers which purposely set a dysfunctional governance there. No wonder, the only surviving state of the multiethnic constituency anywhere from Adriatic to Pacific, Bosnia suffers enormous external pressures. Although assertive, none of the Four + the US wants to prevail in this core sector of the Balkans and solely take a burden. Each of them simply wishes to keep its presence strong enough as to observe and deter others.[3]

Nevertheless, ever since the Antique Roman times, the Southern Slavs territories (even all of the Balkans) have always existed within the larger multinational entities (be it Byzantium, Hungary, the Ottomans, the Habsburg Empire or Yugoslavia) – hardly ever in more than two states. Accommodation to a life in the numerous nano nation-state-alikes is a historical novelty. Therefore, it could be only a transitory stage for the Western Balkans.[4] The lasting solution may appear with the return to a historical legacy –life in a larger, multinational entity.

In short, Atlantic Europe is a political powerhouse, with two of three European nuclear powers and 2 out of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, P-5. Central Europe is an economic powerhouse, Russophone Europe is an energy powerhouse, Scandinavian Europe is all of that a bit, and Eastern Europe is none of it. Even more, some parts of Eastern Europe have to wear a strait jacket of past centuries, of past feudal settlements.

This is to understand that although seemingly unified; Europe is essentially composed of several segments, each of them with its own dynamics, legacies and its own political culture (considerations, priorities and anxieties). Atlantic and Central Europe are confident and secure on the one end, while (the EU and non-EU) Eastern Europe as well as Russia on the other end, insecure and neuralgic, therefore, in a permanent quest for additional security guaranties.      

“America did not change on September 11. It only became more itself” – Robert Kagan famously claimed.[5]Paraphrasing it, we may say: From 9/11 (09th November 1989 in Berlin) and shortly after, followed by the genocidal wars all over Yugoslavia, up to the Euro-zone drama, euthanasia of Greece, MENA or ongoing Ukrainian crisis, Europe didn’t change. It only became more itself – a conglomerate of five different Europes.

Post scriptum

Europe victimizes the weaker, and then passionately hates its victims. If so, why the strong always resides in West and its victim is in the East? Is this statement a bit exaggerated? Is this worth of any consideration at all?

Eastern Europe paid disproportionately heavy price in WWII. Again, like no other part of the continent, it suffered again in 1990s and 2010s. Some further analogies are highly disturbing: The unbearable suffering of population in Croatia and Bosnia during the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia in 1940s, was even surpassed – especially in Bosnia – during the bloody Yugoslav implosion of 1990s. (Eastern Ukraine in mid 2010s, too.) Europe largely stood still, insisting on ‘neutrality’ in this intra-Slavic slaughterhouse, for several years (1991-95). Ultimately, Belgrade was a target of cruel air-raid twice; the first time on 06th April 1941 by the German planes – which marked the Nazi attack on Yugoslavia, and in 1999 with German and other half dozen nations sending their planes for that bombing campaign.

For the past 70 years the only European capital to be a victim of massive air-raids was Belgrade. Before that, the last European capital bombed was Hitler’s Berlin of 1945.

 


[1]Why is the biggest and richest city of Europe, Istanbul, (still) outside the Union? Does it illustrate a Huntingtonian fact that the EU is not as multi-religious multilateral system as its younger (twin) brother – ASEAN, but only a nest for the western Christian Ummah? True, but not completely. The last spot of Europe with both economic and demographic growth is Turkey. Just one more European country also has a steady economic growth – Russia. Another commonality is that both are outside the system which portrays itself as a truly Europo-cosmopolitan and pan-European. There was another time when Europe claimed to have a comprehensive multilateral setting, while keeping two pivotal powers outside the system– interwar period. No wonder that the League of Nations did not prevent but, on contrary, only accelerated the pre-WWII events with its ‘system error’, (in)action and lack of outreach. Clearly, the selective security systems, if too long a static and rigid, are becoming part of the problem not the solution.    

[2]Like no other European country, Bosnia is administratively occupied state that does not exercises its full sovereignty. Its status is somewhat between the Berlin Congress’ ‘mandate’ given to the Habsburgs over Bosnia, or the International Mandate over Palestine between the two WW, and the current standing of Western Sahara, which is a non-decolonized territory, and as such listed by the UN as the Non-self-governing territory. Hence, colloquially known as the Colonial Office, OHR (Office of the High Representative) is the (US military base induced, the 19th century Congress look alike) ‘internationally’ set body with the supreme (legislative) prerogatives and highest executive (political) powers in the country. Disproportionate to its powers is the very poor achievement of the OHR. This non-UN-, non-OSCE-, and non-EU mandated office is increasingly criticized for its shadowy influence and opaque decision-making. Many high-ranking Bosnians will quite openly admit that the top OHR officers are rather promulgating their respective national commercial interests in Bosnia than working on the very OHR mandate to stabilize the country. Whatever is true, the slim results are really worrying. Since its inauguration in 1995, the post of the chief OHR executive – High Representative (nicknamed as Colonial Governor), is dominated by Atlantic-Central Europe – 6 out of 7 individuals. With the tasks considerably smaller but of the earningsclose to those of the UN Secretary General, monthly income of the High Representative is €24,500 plus additional benefits (unpublicized), and is of course free of taxation. In the meantime, the country scores the highest European unemployment rate of close to 40%. Interestingly, Austria managed – like no other state – to get the top OHR post twice, and to stay in that office for already 9 out of 19 years. Domestically, this Alpine Republic is regularly criticized for its dismal score on protection of minorities, especially the south Slavic minorities such as Croats and Slovenes. Austrian regional authorities even ignored the strict orders of its own Constitutional Court to install the bilingual Slavic-German signs. Moreover, one of the powerful regional Governors even entered into a defying, humiliating and elsewhere unthinkable public debate with the Austrian Constitutional Court President. (This was yet another confirmation that Austria – on its subnational level – very often maintains a one-party rule, with the same individuals in power for several decades, without much of a restrain or control.) Amazingly enough, this is the country whose former President Kurt Waldheim was present at the worst atrocities against civilians in northwest Bosnia (Kozara and Neretva, notorious Operation Schwarz I and Schwarz II) during the WWII as the Military Intelligence Army Officer of Hitler’s Reich. (For the successful genocidal Slavic-race cleansing of sick and wounded, pregnant or women with minor children, and elderly by the German forces in Kozara in summer 1942, future Austrian president –member of the Nazi party since 1939 and holder of the Iron Cross since 1941 – was outstandingly decorated with the Silver Medal of the Crown.) Waldheim became the Austrian state president after his Nazi past was reviled. So far, he remains the only western head of state who got a lifelong entry bar from the US. Finally, this was the first and only country ever under the EU sanctions (for inviting its far-right political party to the coalition government in 2000). Austria was strongly condemned and sharply politically isolated by all EU members, but not in a devastated and terrified Bosnia, where it continued to keep the post of the High Representative all throughout that period.          

[3]By far the largest EU Delegation ever run is the Mission in Bosnia (Delegation of the EU to BiH). As the Mission’s staff kept increasing over the last two decades, so did the distance of Bosnia from any viable prospect of joining the Union. Many around are bitterly joking if the Mission’s true mandate is a watchful waiting – in fact – to hinder, and not to assist the EU integration. According to the UN and ICTY (Intl. Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia), Bosnia has suffered genocide on its territory – the worst atrocities on European soil since the end of WWII. Judging the speed of admission process offered to Bosnia, seems that the EU does not like its victims. Sarajevo 20 years after is a perfect litmus paper: This wrecked country is an EU barometer for the ethical/moral deficit of the Union and its member states!

[4] Bosnia as a habitual mix of cultures, ethnicities and religions has a historical legacy and strong quality of integration, a cohesive spill-over potential for the region. Therefore, instead of conceptual politics after the war, the territorial anti-politics (with the confrontational political culture) was at first externally imposed by the so-called Dayton Peace Accord, and further on strongly encouraged and supported in everyday practice for nearly two decades. It is clear that any conceptual, therefore inclusive politics, would sooner or later end up in a reconciliatory, integrative approach. Perpetuating the areal anti-politics in Bosnia aims at keeping the former Yugoslav (political, cultural, economic and territorial) space separated, antagonized – fragmented into little xenophobic and inward-looking quasi nation-states. Moreover, as the only surviving (last) state of the multiethnic constituency anywhere from Adriatic to Pacific, Bosnia has to remain purposely dysfunctional. Slavs elsewhere have to be painfully reminded that a single-ethnos based, nano-to-small sized nation-state is the best option for them.

[5] Kagan, R. (2004) Of Paradise and Power, Vintage Books (page 85)

Modern Diplomacy Advisory Board, Chairman Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member Professor and Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies contact: anis@bajrektarevic.eu

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Indo-European rapprochement and the competing geopolitics of infrastructure

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Current dynamics suggest that the main focus of geopolitics in the coming years will shift towards the Indo-Pacific region. All eyes are on China and its regional initiatives aimed at establishing global dominance. China’s muscle-flexing behavior in the region has taken the form of direct clashes with India along the Line of Actual Control, where India lost at least 20 soldiers last June; interference in Hong Kong’s affairs; an increased presence in the South China Sea; and economic malevolence towards Australia. With this evolving geopolitical complexity, if the EU seeks to keep and increase its global ‘actorness’, it needs to go beyond the initiatives of France and Germany, and to shape its own agenda. At the same time, India is also paying attention to the fact that in today’s fragmented and multipolar world, the power of any aspiring global actor depends on its diversified relationships. In this context, the EU is a useful partner that India can rely on.

Indo-European rapprochement, which attempts to challenge Chinese global expansion, seeks also to enhance multilateral international institutions and to support a rules-based order. Given the fact that India will hold a seat on the UN Security Council in 2021-22 and the G20 presidency in 2022, both parties see an opportunity to move forward on a shared vision of multilateralism. As a normative power, the EU is trying to join forces with New Delhi to promote the rules-based system. Therefore, in order to prevent an ‘all-roads-lead-to-Beijing’ situation and to challenge growing Chinese hegemony, the EU and India need each other.

With this in mind, the EU and India have finally moved towards taking their co-operation to a higher level. Overcoming difficulties in negotiations, which have been suspended since 2013 because of trade-related thorny topics like India’s agricultural protectionism, shows that there is now a different mood in the air.

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, had been scheduled to travel to Portugal for  a summit with EU leaders, but the visit cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the European Commission and Portugal – in its presidency of the European Council – offered India to hold the summit in a virtual format on 8 May 2021. The talks between these two economic giants were productive and resulted in the Connectivity Partnership, uniting efforts and attention on energy, digital and transportation sectors, offering new opportunities for investors from both sides. Moreover, this new initiative seeks to build joint infrastructure projects around the world mainly investing in third countries. Although both sides have clarified that the new global partnership isn’t designed to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the joint initiative to build effective projects across Europe, Asia and Africa, will undoubtedly counter Beijing’s agenda.  

The EU and its allies have a common interest in presenting an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative, which will contain Chinese investment efforts to dominate various regions. Even though the EU is looking to build up its economic ties with China and signed the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI) last December, European sanctions imposed on Beijing in response to discrimination against Uighurs and other human rights violations have complicated relations. Moreover, US President Joe Biden has been pushing the EU to take a tougher stance against China and its worldwide initiatives.

This new Indo-European co-operation project, from the point of view of its initiators, will not impose a heavy debt burden on its partners as the Chinese projects do. However, whilst the EU says that both the public and the private sectors will be involved, it’s not clear where the funds will come from for these projects. The US and the EU have consistently been against the Chinese model of providing infrastructure support for developing nations, by which Beijing offers assistance via expensive projects that the host country ends up not being able to afford. India, Australia, the EU, the US and Japan have already started their own initiatives to counterbalance China’s. This includes ‘The Three Seas Initiative’ in the Central and Eastern European region, aimed at reducing its dependence on Chinese investments and Russian gas. Other successful examples are Japan’s ‘Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure’ and its ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy’. One of the joint examples of Indo-Japanese co-operation is the development of infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The partners had been scheduled to build Colombo’s East Container Terminal but the Sri Lankans suddenly pulled out just before signing last year. Another competing regional strategy is the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC), initiated by India, Japan and a few African countries in 2017. This Indo-Japanese collaboration aims to develop infrastructure in Africa, enhanced by digital connectivity, which would make the Indo-Pacific Region free and open. The AAGC gives priority to development projects in health and pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and disaster management. 

Undoubtably, this evolving infrastructure-building competition may solve the problems of many underdeveloped or developing countries if their leaderships act wisely. The newly adopted Indo-European Connectivity Partnership promises new prospects for Eastern Europe and especially for the fragile democracies of Armenia and Georgia.

The statement of the Indian ambassador to Tehran in March of this year, to connect Eastern and Northern Europe via Armenia and Georgia, paves the way for necessary dialogue on this matter. Being sandwiched between Russia and Turkey and at the same time being ideally located between Europe and India, Armenia and Georgia are well-placed to take advantage of the possible opportunities of the Indo-European Partnership. The involvement of Tbilisi and Yerevan in this project can enhance the economic attractiveness of these countries, which will increase their economic security and will make this region less vulnerable vis-à-vis Russo-Turkish interventions. 

The EU and India need to decide if they want to be decision-makers or decision-takers. Strong co-operation would help both become global agenda shapers. In case these two actors fail to find a common roadmap for promoting rules-based architecture and to become competitive infrastructure providers, it would be to the benefit of the US and China, which would impose their priorities on others, including the EU and India.

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The Leaders of the Western World Meet

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The annual meeting of the G7 comprising the largest western economies plus Japan is being hosted this year by the United Kingdom.  Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister has also invited Australia, South Korea, South Africa and India.  There has been talk of including Russia again but Britain threatened a veto.  Russia, which had been a member from 1997, was suspended in 2014 following the Crimea annexation.  

Cornwall in the extreme southwest of England has a rugged beauty enjoyed by tourists, and is a contrast to the green undulating softness of its neighbor Devon.  St. Ives is on Cornwall’s sheltered northern coast and it is the venue for the G7 meeting (August 11-13) this year.  It offers beautiful beaches and ice-cold seas.

France, Germany. Italy, UK, US, Japan and Canada.  What do the rich talk about?  Items on the agenda this year including pandemics (fear thereof) and in particular zoonotic diseases where infection spreads from non-human animals to humans.  Johnson has proposed a network of research labs to deal with the problem.  As a worldwide network it will include the design of a global early-warning system and will also establish protocols to deal with future health emergencies.

The important topic of climate change is of particular interest to Boris Johnson because Britain is hosting COP26  in Glasgow later this year in November.  Coal, one of the worst pollutants, has to be phased out and poorer countries will need help to step up and tackle not just the use of cheap coal but climate change and pollution in general.  The G7 countries’ GDP taken together comprises about half of total world output, and climate change has the potential of becoming an existential problem for all on earth.  And help from them to poorer countries is essential for these to be able to increase climate action efforts.

The G7 members are also concerned about large multinationals taking advantage of differing tax laws in the member countries.  Thus the proposal for a uniform 15 percent minimum tax.  There is some dispute as to whether the rate is too low.

America is back according to Joe Biden signalling a shift away from Donald Trump’s unilateralism.  But America is also not the sole driver of the world economy:  China is a real competitor and the European Union in toto is larger.  In a multilateral world, Trump charging ahead on his own made the US risible.  He also got nowhere as the world’s powers one by one distanced themselves.

Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen is also endorsing close coordination in economic policies plus continued support as the world struggles to recover after the corona epidemic.  India for example, has over 27 million confirmed cases, the largest number in Asia.  A dying first wave shattered hopes when a second much larger one hit — its devastation worsened by a shortage of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and other medicines in the severely hit regions.  On April 30, 2021, India became the first country to report over 400,000 new cases in a single 24 hour period.

It is an interdependent world where atavistic self-interest is no longer a solution to its problems.

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Revisiting the Bosnian War

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Genocide is not an alien concept to the world nowadays. However, while the reality (and the culprit) is not hard to profile today, history is ridden with massacres that were draped and concealed from the world beyond. Genocides that rivaled the great warfares and were so gruesome that the ring of brutality still pulsates in the historical narrative of humanity. We journey back to one such genocide that was named the most brutish mass slaughter after World War II. We revisit the Bosnian War (1992-95) which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 100,000 innocent Bosnian citizens and displaced millions. The savage nature of the war was such that the war crimes committed constituted a whole new definition to how we describe genocide.

The historical backdrop helps us gauge the complex relations and motivations which resulted in such chaotic warfare to follow suit. Post World War II, the then People’s Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina joined the then Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. Bosnia-Herzegovina became one of the constituent republics of Yugoslavia in 1946 along with other Balkan states including Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. As communism pervaded all over Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina began losing its religion-cultural identity. Since Bosnia-Herzegovina mainly comprised of a Muslim population, later known as the Bosniaks, the spread of socialism resulted in the abolition of many Muslim institutions and traditions. And while the transition to the reformed Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1963 did ease the ethnic pressure, the underlying radical ideology and sentiments never fully subsided.

The Bosniaks started to emerge as the majority demographic of Bosnia and by 1971, the Bosniaks constituted as the single largest component of the entire Bosnia-Herzegovina population. However, the trend of emigration picked up later in the decades; the Serbs and the Croats adding up to their tally throughout most of the 70s and mid-80s. The Bosnian population was characterized as a tripartite society, that is, comprised of three core ethnicities: Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats. Till  1991, the ethnic majority of the Bosniaks was heavily diluted down to just 44% while the Serbian emigrants concentrated the Serbian influence; making up 31% of the total Bosnian population.

While on one side of the coin, Bosnia-Herzegovina was being flooded with Serbs inching a way to gain dominance, the Yugoslavian economy was consistently perishing on the other side. While the signs of instability were apparent in the early 80s, the decade was not enough for the economy to revive. In the late 80s, therefore, political dissatisfaction started to take over and multiple nationalist parties began setting camps. The sentiments diffused throughout the expanse of Yugoslavia and nationalists sensed an imminent partition. Bosnia-Herzegovina, like Croatia, followed through with an election in 1990 which resulted in an expected tripartite poll roughly similar to the demographic of Bosnia. The representatives resorted to form a coalition government comprising of Bosniak-Serb-Craot regime sharing turns at the premiership. While the ethnic majority Bosniaks enjoyed the first go at the office, the tensions soon erupted around Bosnia-Herzegovina as Serbs turned increasingly hostile.

The lava erupted in 1991 as the coalition government of Bosnia withered and the Serbian Democratic Party established its separate assembly in Bosnia known as ‘Serbian National Assembly’.  The move was in line with a growing sentiment of independence that was paving the dismantling of Yugoslavia. The Serbian Democratic Party long envisioned a dominant Serbian state in the Balkans and was not ready to participate in a rotational government when fighting was erupting in the neighboring states. When Croatia started witnessing violence and the rise of rebels in 1992, the separatist vision of the Serbs was further nourished as the Serbian Democratic Party, under the leadership of Serb Leader Radovan Karadžić, established an autonomous government in the Serb Majority areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The vision and the actions remained docile until the ring of independence was echoed throughout the region. When the European Commission (EC), now known as the European Union (EU), and the United States recognized the independence of both Croatia and Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina found itself in a precarious position. While a safe bet would have been to undergo talks and diplomatic routes to engage the Serbian Democratic Party, the Bosnian President Alija Izetbegović failed to realize the early warnings of an uprising. Instead of forging negotiations with the Bosnian Serbs, the Bosniak President resorted to mirror Croatia by organizing a referendum of independence bolstered by both the EC and the US. Even as the referendum was blocked in the Serb autonomous regions of Bosnia, Izetbegović chose to pass through and announced the results. As soon as the Bosnian Independence from Yugoslavia was announced and recognized, fighting erupted throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Bosnian Serbs feared that their long-envisioned plan of establishing the ‘Great Serbia’ in the Balkans was interred which resulted in chaos overtaking most of Bosnia. The blame of the decision, however, was placed largely on the Bosniak president and, by extension, the entire ethnic majority of the Bosniaks. The Bosnian Serbs started to launch attacks in the east of Bosnia; majorly targeting the Bosniak-dominated towns like Foča, Višegrad, and Zvornik. Soon the Bosnian Serb forces were joined by the local paramilitary rebels as well as the Yugoslavian army as the attacks ravaged the towns with large Bosniak populations; swathing the land in the process. The towns were pillaged and pressed into control whilst the local Bosniaks and their Croat counterparts were either displaced, incarcerated, or massacred.

While the frail Bosnian government managed to join hands with the Croatian forces across the border, the resulting offense was not nearly enough as the combination of Serb forces, rebel groups, and the Yugoslavian army took control of almost two-thirds of the Bosnian territory. The Karadžić regime refused to hand over the captured land in the rounds of negotiations. And while the war stagnated, the Bosniak locals left behind in small pockets of war-ravaged areas faced the brunt in the name of revenge and ethnic cleansing.

As Bosniaks and Croats formed a joint federation as the last resort, the Serbian Democratic Party established the Republic Srpska in the captured East, and the military units were given under the command of the Bosnian-Serb General, Ratko Mladic. The notorious general, known as the ‘Butcher of Bosnia’, committed horrifying war crimes including slaughtering the Bosniak locals captured in violence, raping the Bosniak women, and violating the minors in the name of ethnic cleansing exercises. While the United Nations refused to intervene in the war, the plea of the helpless Bosniaks forced the UN to at least deliver humanitarian aid to the oppressed. The most gruesome of all incidents were marked in July 1995, when an UN-declared safe zone, known as Srebrenica, was penetrated by the forces led by Mladic whilst some innocent Bosniaks took refuge. The forces brutally slaughtered the men while raped the women and children. An estimated 7000-8000 Bosniak men were slaughtered in the most grotesque campaign of ethnic cleansing intended to wipe off any trace of Bosniaks from the Serb-controlled territory.

In the aftermath of the barbaric war crimes, NATO undertook airstrikes to target the Bosnian-Serb targets while the Bosniak-Croat offense was launched from the ground. In late 1995, the Bosnian-Serb forces conceded defeat and accepted US-brokered talks. The accords, also known as the ‘Dayton Accords’, resulted in a conclusion to the Bosnian War as international forces were established in the region to enforce compliance. The newly negotiated federalized Bosnia and Herzegovina constituted 51% of the Croat-Bosniak Federation and 49% of the Serb Republic.

The accord, however, was not the end of the unfortunate tale as the trials and international action were soon followed to investigate the crimes against humanity committed during the three-year warfare. While many Serb leaders either died in imprisonment or committed suicide, the malefactor of the Srebrenica Massacre, Ratko Mladic, went into hiding in 2001. However, Mladic was arrested after a decade in 2011 by the Serbian authorities and was tried in the UN-established International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY). The investigation revisited the malicious actions of the former general and in 2017, the ICTY found Ratko Mladic guilty of genocide and war crimes and sentenced him to life in prison. While Mladic appealed for acquittal on the inane grounds of innocence since not he but his subordinates committed the crimes, the UN court recently upheld the decision in finality; closing doors on any further appeals. After 26-years, the world saw despair in the eyes of the 78-year-old Mladic as he joined the fate of his bedfellows while the progeny of the victims gained some closure as the last Bosnian trail was cased on a note of justice.

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