Bosnia-Hercegovina slides toward war

March 4, 1992

By Linda Paric

Whatever the outcome of the referendum on independence held on February 29 and March 1 in Bosnia and Hercegovina, many fear that a long and bloody war will be the final result.

In a republic one-eighth the size of Victoria, there are more than 140,000 Serbian soldiers and Chetniks (Montenegrin and Serbian right-wing royalists).

Wedged between Croatia and Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina has 4.2 million inhabitants made up of Muslims (43.7%), Serbs (34.1%) and Croats (17.3%).

According to Bisera Tukovic, a member of the Presidency of the (Muslim) ruling Party of Democratic Action, "the only option for survival is a sovereign and independent Bosnia-Hercegovina that gives the same civil rights to all the people". She adds that if 51% of the people vote for independence, recognition from the European Community is only a matter of time. Bulgaria and Turkey have already recognised the republic.

The leader of the Serbian Democratic Party of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Radovan Karadzic, maintains that the referendum is a war option that threatens the Serbs. The "threat" has never been explained, but the Serbian leaders want all Serbs to live in one country. The formula, "where there are three Serbs a Serbian nation, connected to the motherland, must be created", was worked out by Dobrica Cosic, a writer, poet and extreme Serbian nationalist. In accordance with Cosic's formula, in December the Serbs unilaterally declared the Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Another option offered by the Serbian leaders is the carve-up of Bosnia-Hercegovina. They would cede a small part of Hercegovina to Croatia. There have been reports that Croatia had agreed on a carve-up. The Croatian government has distanced itself from this even though the Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, has called Bosnia-Hercegovina an "artificial creation".

According to Tomislav Bosnjak, spokesperson for the Australian Croatian Communities Council and secretary-general of the Croatian National Congress, Croatia wants "an independent and sovereign Bosnia-Hercegovina with territorial integrity".

Here the Croats are in agreement with the Muslims, but the Croatians believe that a high level of local autonomy for the three national groups is essential. The Muslims say there will be equality for all the groups in an independent Bosnia-Hercegovina.

The Croatians have been the main losers in occupied Bosnia-Hercegovina. In eastern Hercegovina six Croatian villages have been completely destroyed and in north Bosnia another two. While the president of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Alija Izetbegovic, maintains there is no war in his republic, concentration camps, run by the Serbian army, are full of Croats from eastern Slavonia. Most of the attacks on Croatia are launched from this republic.

The government is paralysed, with no control over most of the republic. No government officials have been allowed into the destroyed Croatian villages. Truckloads of bombs are stopped by the police, only to be waved through by the army.

While its soldiers and "volunteers" from allied Montenegro occupy the republic, Serbia declared a total ban on all exports to Bosnia-Hercegovina in October. There are many refugees from the towns and villages destroyed or occupied in neighbouring Croatia. Many peasants have been too scared to work their empty fields. The Serbian soldiers and Montenegrin volunteers are looting food and sending it to their own republics. The unemployment rate is over 50%, and food is more expensive than in war-torn Croatia. Inflation has been fuelled by a flood of worthless Yugoslav dinars, printed in huge quantities to pay for the Serbian war effort.

All of the people of Bosnia-Hercegovina are paying a heavy price. There is a possibility of widespread bloodshed that generations will not cure. Serbs in the republic might reflect on the words of the prewar Serbian leader in Croatia, Svetozar Pribicevic, who said that the Serbian leadership acts towards the Serbs outside Serbia "like a master towards his dog. When he needs a dog's bark, he unleashes it. When he thinks the dog has barked enough, the master chains the dog to his post and leaves him to die."

While the three sides talk in Lisbon under European Community sponsorship, Serbia is blocking deployment of peacekeeping forces.

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