Bosnia Remade: Ethnic Cleansing and Its Reversal

By Gerard Toal; Carl T. Dahlman | Go to book overview

Introduction
Ethnic Cleansing and Return as Geopolitics

The Bosnian war of 1992–1995 added a new term to the vocabulary of human suffering: “ethnic cleansing” (etničko čišćenje). The term is a hybrid of international and local uses, emerging in 1991 when officials of the new Croatian government and international aid workers promoted it as a description of Yugoslav army and militia actions against villages and towns inside Croatia. Its origins lie in military euphemisms like čišćenje terena (cleansing the terrain) used by extreme Croatian nationalist Ustaše forces during the Second World War and broader visions and practices in Western history.1 Nationalist Serbs in the 1980s used the term to describe what they alleged was an Albanian plot to create a “Serb-free” Kosovo. International journalists, UNHCR officials, and Western diplomats, mindful of the continent’s dark past, adapted and translated the term as “ethnic cleansing,” a vivid metaphor conveying the commitments of its perpetrators. The Bosnian war would globalize the term. A 15 April 1992 dispatch from Sarajevo citing an anonymous Western diplomat is the first time it is used in the New York Times. The reference describes a geopolitical campaign: “There is a lot of ethnic cleansing going on. The Serbs are trying to consolidate ground on the western side of the Drina.”2

The groupist language—“The Serbs”—conceded too much to the worldview of the perpetrators for the Drina campaign was the project of extreme Serb nationalists only, figures such as Radovan Karadžič and Ratko Mladić who had the backing of Slobodan Milošević’s government in Serbia. Ethnic cleansing was given ostensible meaning by a series of sociobiological and

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