broken Bosnia remains
Alan Little, BBC News 17 September 2008, Bosnian
18 September, 2008
In a powerful report from today's B-H, the BBC's
former correspondent in wartime Bosnia describes how the country is
being left behind by its former assailants on the path to European
integration, and how 'Radovan Karadzic got much of what he set out to
In the old days we would trot along to see Radovan
Karadzic often. He would see us at the drop of a hat. He was affable,
jocular, hugely confident that what he was doing was right. From time to
time he would roll out his maps. There were lines separating the Serb
Republic (Republika Srpska) in Bosnia from the rest. There was a line
through the heart of Sarajevo - these quarters for the Muslims, those
for the Serbs. The term 'ethnic cleansing' was not invented by the
foreign journalists he courted so warmly. It was how his own followers
described what they were doing.
Republika Srpska is the land that Radovan built.
Ethnic cleansing was the means by which he achieved it. Go back there
today and you see, starkly, that while the ideologues and architects of
the policy are, for the most part, behind bars, the foot soldiers of
ethnic cleaning are still at large. They are still, in many cases, at
their desks in the town halls and police stations across Bosnia.
Mirsad Tokaca runs Bosnia's Research and Documentation
Centre. It collates evidence of crimes committed during the 45-month
war. He believes there are between 3,000 and 5,000 war criminals who
should face prosecution. The Hague tribunal has restricted itself to a
few dozen 'big fish' and has said it will issue no more indictments.
Bosnia's own state-wide war crimes court came into existence three years
ago and has so far brought prosecutions against about a hundred people.
The local courts are supposed to prosecute local war
criminals. They do not.
Where it started
Bijeljina, in north-eastern Bosnia, is where it all
started. On 31 March 1992, a paramilitary unit led by the feared Zeljko
Raznatovic - known as Arkan - crossed the river from Serbia and
unleashed a reign of terror. Civilians were shot dead in the street.
Prominent Muslims were rounded up, and some of them murdered. The Muslim
(Bosniak) population - tens of thousands of people - was driven out.
Eighteen years on, only a small proportion of those
who were expelled have gone back, despite the legal right to do so.
Saalem Corbo is one of the returnees. He remembers how Arkan's men
rampaged through the town. And, he says, they had local help.
Mirko Blagojevic, a Bijeljina Serb and head of the
Serbian Radical Party in the town, formed and led his own paramilitary
unit, according to evidence presented to the Hague tribunal. 'He knew
where the prominent Muslims in the town lived,' says Mr Corbo. 'He led
Arkan's troops to their houses so that they could be rounded up. Few of
Jusuf Trbic is one who did survive. 'Mirko Blagojevic
came to my father-in-law's house at 1600 on 1 April,' he told me. 'He
was with Arkan's men. They took me to Arkan's headquarters and told me I
had to make an announcement on local radio instructing all the Muslims
to surrender their weapons. 'But I didn't know anything about weapons.
They held me all night and beat me. 'Ten times they took me outside and
told me they were going to kill me. It was a terrible experience.'
Mirko Blagojevic is not a convicted war criminal. No
case has ever been brought against him, far less proven. He is not hard
to find. He has enjoyed a long career as an elected politician in the
years since the war ended. He emphatically denied co-operating with
Arkan's men. He denied all the allegations made by Mr Corbo and Mr
Branko Todorovic runs the Helsinki Committee for Human
Rights in Bijeljina. He said only two war crimes trials had been brought
by local prosecutors since the war ended - and both of these were
against Muslims who had co-operated with Serb guards in a concentration
camp. The Bijeljina courts, by the way, have jurisdiction over the
Srebrenica area, where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered in a few
days in July 1995. 'We live with the former war criminals, we see them
every day in the streets,' says Mr Todorovic.
Why does it matter?
The ethnic partition of Bosnia endures. The Dayton
agreement of 1995 ended the war. But it divided Bosnia into two,
ethnically defined entities - Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat
The leaders of Republika Srpska long ago abandoned
their original dream of union with Serbia. They have accepted some of
the symbols of Bosnian statehood - a common currency, a shared passport,
The one truly successful example of reintegration is -
ironically - in the army, where former Muslim, Serb and Croat enemies
now serve alongside each other. Beyond that, there is little that is
truly Bosnian. The entities, not the Bosnian state, have real executive
power. The Bosnian state barely functions. It is incapable of carrying
out the reforms that Bosnia desperately needs.
And so as Croatia and Serbia continue their respective
journeys to the European mainstream - to EU and possibly Nato membership
- Bosnia, still broken, still paralysed, is being left behind, and is in
danger of sinking further into corruption, poverty and organised crime.
Look at Republika Srpska today and it is hard to avoid the conclusion
that Radovan Karadzic got much of what he set out to get.