Bosnia's Untenable Peace

Article excerpt

"Ethnic cleansing," that most deadly of contemporary euphemisms, is the perpetrator's language. In practice, it is genocide--a plan, coordinated from above, to exterminate the Muslim population of Bosnia. Looked at up close, all the attempts at obfuscation, at calling the wars in Bosnia civil wars or tribal wars, evaporates into thin air. One glimpse at the decimated villages or besieged towns reveals the wars for what they were: genocidal wars to divide Bosnia-Hercegovina between the Serbs and the Croats, leaving the Bosnian Muslims (and the possibility of multi-ethnicity) dead or, at best, in ghettos.

Yet the American-brokered peace forged in Dayton, Ohio, denies these realities, instead overseeing partition and ethnic cleansing. U.S. leaders, as Ivo Banic writes, have "abandoned the substance of an integral, multinational Bosnia." The Dayton Peace Treaty, signed in Paris on December 14, 1995, legitimizes the fruits of genocide, rewards the aggressor, and leaves the victims prisoners of their enemies. Despite the facade of a "sovereign and integral" Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, the peace treaty establishes an independent Serb Republic, the Republika Srpska, with veto power over all decisions of the nominal central government. The Muslim/Croat Federation, which now covers 51 percent of the territory, is a fiction of U.S. negotiator Richard Holbrooke, with little or no meaningful existence or viability. Both the Republika Srpska and Herceg-Bosna (the Croat parastate in Bosnia) are allowed "special relationships" with their respective co-nationalists.

The Dayton plan thus accepts and codifies the ethnically based, forced purges of populations. And the treaty's proviso that refugees will return to homes which they left via concentration camps, rape camps, or on pain of death is about as likely as Jewish rehabitation of the Pale of Settlement.

In Mostar, there was no celebrating over the signing of the Dayton Peace Treaty. Mostar remains a divided city living in an armed truce. The Dayton Peace Treaty and its provisions for reuniting the city seemed a cruel joke and a bizarre fantasy in this charred, bombed-out landscape. During my visit to that city, which began the day of the signing, I saw at best a feeling of relief on the devastated faces of Mostar's 120,000 residents. When asked, citizens on both sides of the bloody border claimed that they are neither happy nor unhappy about the peace, only glad that the killing that produced 2,500 deaths, 20,000 wounded, and 30,000 exiles among their townspeople has ended. For the Muslim Bosnians, forced by ethnic cleansing into East Mostar, it is a bitter and unjust peace that rewards the aggressors who drove them from their homes.

Mostar, in southwestern Bosnia, offers an uncompromising example of the conflict's genocidal intent. This broken city stands at the heart of the Muslim/Croat Federation, the American-brokered accommodation that theoretically represents a counterweight to the Republika Srpska, and is supposed to guarantee the territorial integrity of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina. According to the Dayton Peace Treaty's annex on Mostar, this town--fratricidally divided through two wars and a year of siege--will be reunited, will have a sine municipal government, will have freedom of movement and free elections, and will see the return of those expelled from their homes. One glance at the rubble and heavily patrolled internal border reveals the distance between Washington and Bosnia.

This city experienced a unique brutality in a war of unimaginable violence. Here "ethnic cleansing" took place, but after it stopped, the two sides remained in place to face each other. Mostar lived this war in all its visceral varieties. First, there were nine months of Serb shelling from the surrounding hills, against which the Muslim and Croat residents fought together. Then, after a six-month lull, the fratricidal bloodletting began again. In the Croat-Muslim War of May 1993 to March 1994, much of the fighting involved house-to-house, hand-to-hand combat. …