BRINGING DEMOCRACY TO BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
By Gregory Elich
In the popular imagination, the Western presence in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina is seen as a selfless humanitarian effort. NATOs mission, it is believed, is to inculcate democratic values in an uncivilized and ignorant people. Behind the fašade of Western peacekeeping in the Balkans, though, lies a darker reality. The benevolence of a Western civilizing mission in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina is never questioned. Yet an examination of NATOs peacekeeping operation reveals a colonization of the region as deep and thoroughgoing as any seen in the 19th century. As NATO continues to destabilize Yugoslavia, the last stubborn holdout in Eastern Europe against subordination to Western domination, NATO has succeeded in expanding its colonization to Yugoslavias Kosovo region, at enormous cost to the people of the Balkans. Bosnias experience under NATO occupation provides the model for the new Kosovo. An eventual Western-backed secession of Kosovo is probable, but will not alter the provinces new role of dependency.
Establishing Western Values.
Few question the assertion that Western intervention is bringing democracy to the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but what is the real nature of this intervention, which has assumed many forms, both direct and indirect? Under terms of the Dayton peace agreement, Bosnia-Herzegovina consists of two entities, the (Serb) Republika Srpska (RS), and the Muslim-Croatian Federation. Throughout the civil war, the Muslim-Croatian Federation was seen as a client state, and indeed, the Federation itself was a result of an agreement forged under Western pressure. More direct intervention, though, was necessary to place the Republika Srpska under Western control
The first task the West faced following the war was the dismantling of the existing governing structure in Republika Srpska, and in this task the West found a pliant partner in RS President Biljana Plavsic, a right-wing monarchist. In November 1996, Plavsic, who had frequently complained that the RS Army was riddled with "reds", issued a decree dismissing over 100 leftist officers. There was considerable Western involvement in determining who would be dismissed and who would be promoted in their place. Prior to the decree, Colonel Milovan Milutinovic warned that "some of our generals are being visited by foreign representatives, at the request of our state organs, and offered leading positions in the army " (1) When the dismissed officers balked at their removal, Interior Ministry special police units blockaded army barracks, some army buildings had their water and electricity turned off, and the progressive army-run Radio Krajina was closed down. Army Headquarters responded with a statement denouncing these moves, saying they were "carried out by the Interior Ministry against the army on orders from foreign mentors," and pointing out that "a NATO spokesman publicly said that anything that weakens the unity of the RS Armys Main Headquarters and the army itself is in NATOs interest." (2) Combined pressure from the Interior Ministry and NATO eventually forced the resignation of these officers on November 28.
Plavsic next turned on the civilian governing structure. In January 1997, after weeks of failed efforts to obtain approval from the Peoples Assembly for her choice of premier, Plavsic waited until opposition deputies walked out of an Assembly session to push through her surprise nomination of another man, Milorad Dodik, as premier. Carlos Westendorp, chief of Western civilian operations in Bosnia, immediately hailed the appointment, and NATO troops were dispatched to surround the Interior Ministry in a belligerent show of support. The selection of Dodik was an interesting one, as his party held only two seats in the Assembly. How did a man whose party was barely represented in the Assembly gain the nomination? The instantaneous Western show of support for the last-minute appointment hints that the selection may not have been entirely Plavsics. Several months beforehand, a report in the Bosnian Serb press alleged that Dodik "is under the direct control of the U.S. intelligence service, the CIA," and that some deputies "say that he has already travelled abroad several times for consultations and direct instructions." (3) The effusive praise Western leaders have since lavished on Dodik lends support to the accusation.
On June 28, 1997, Plavsic dismissed Interior Minister Dragan Kijac. Five days later, in violation of the constitution, she dissolved the Peoples Assembly. Western officials were quick to back Plavsic, and David Foley, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) announced that the Assembly "no longer exists." A diplomatic source in Sarajevo admitted, "The Americans have probably pushed Plavsic to act in such a way." (4) The matter was referred to the Constitutional Court, which ruled against Plavsic. The ruling was simply brushed aside, as U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin asserted that "challenges to [Plavsics] actions are not legally valid," and that Serbs who fail to comply with Western demands are "stupid." (5) A report in the Yugoslav press alleged that three weeks prior to the crisis, "$5 million of the promised $30 million" were deposited into a Swiss bank account in Plavsics name. "The funds were transferred from the United States," according to "top-level civilian and military security sources" in the Republika Srpksa. The report claimed that "the transaction is directly linked to Biljana Plavsics recent political activities " Many of the people Plavsic appointed to work in her office came from abroad, "most of whom are supporters of the royalist movement" the report continues. ( 6 ) The Ministry of Internal Affairs revealed that it had "announced our plan to take legal measures" against one of these employees, Aleksandr Pavic, "on the well-founded grounds that he was working for a foreign intelligence service," and that the Ministry had warned Plavsic on "several occasions" of "intelligence activities" by members of her staff. (7)
In the first of many such actions, on August 20, 1997, NATO troops, supported by U.S. Apache helicopter gunships, seized police stations in Banja Luka, ejecting police officers. NATO directly hired new policemen, who began training under Western police instructors. UN police spokesman Liam McDowall said of the training classes, "We basically let them know what is expected of a normal police force; not a socialist police force, not a wartime police force, but a police force of a normal democratic society." Evidently, police forces in "normal democratic societies" are dismissed, recruited, and trained by foreign powers.
Four days later, NATO began its campaign to impose censorship on media in Republika Srpska. A transmitter near Banja Luka was reprogrammed to turn the signal over to Plavsics control, and two days later NATO troops seized a Serb Radio-TV transmitter near Bijeljina. As NATO forces surrounded Bijeljina and blocked all access roads to the city, thousands of citizens turned out in a mass demonstration. Low-flying NATO helicopters harassed the demonstrators. The next day, NATO forces took another transmitter near Doboj and arrested its staff. Each of the seized transmitters was turned over to Plavsics control. At 4:00 AM on August 28, NATO troops moved into the town of Brcko. Air raid sirens sounded an alert, and thousands turned out in a demonstration. Demonstrators fought NATO troops with sticks and rocks, while NATO troops fired tear-gas canisters and warning shots. Tanks and armored vehicles were sent into the town, but were eventually forced to withdraw after seventy of them were damaged. Infuriated, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana warned that NATO "will not hesitate to take the necessary measures, including the use of force, against media networks or programs" critical of Western intervention. Further threats and pressure constrained opposition, and by the end of November, NATO had completed its systematic seizure of Serb radio and television transmitters and police stations.
Western officials announced in April 1998 that they were organizing a tribunal to monitor and govern media in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The tribunal not only arrogated to itself the power to shut down radio, television and newspapers that voice criticism of NATOs occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also the authority to write laws regulating broadcasting. Simon Haselock, spokesman for Western civilian operations in Bosnia claimed, "Its not about censorship," but what else is it when foreign powers dictate what media can and cannot say, and revoke the licenses of media which voice alternative viewpoints? What else is it when elected representatives are not permitted to write laws regulating broadcasting in their own nation, but must have these laws written and submitted by foreign powers? Was it not censorship when the tribunal ordered Television Kanal S in the RS to "immediately cease broadcasting" on April 14, 1999? According to the tribunal, Television Kanal S did not carry Western news programs, and committed "a serious violation" when it broadcast a message from Sarajevo University students in which citizens of the RS "were invited to join the students in a peaceful protest" against NATOs bombing of Yugoslavia. (8)
Western policy in ruling Bosnia-Herzegovina is direct and heavy-handed. On December 17, 1997, Westendorp simply imposed a new citizenship law after the Bosnia-Herzegovina parliament failed to meet his arbitrary 48-hour deadline for passage of the law. (9) Similarly, he unilaterally imposed a new Western-designed flag and Western-designed and produced currency, the "convertible mark". Political candidates have been stricken from election lists on the flimsiest excuses. In the November 1997 election, the OSCE election commission eliminated three candidates of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) because posters of former RS president Radovan Karadzic had appeared. The SDS was not permitted to replace these candidates. The following year, nine candidates of the Serbian Radical Party were deleted from election lists because a television station in neighboring Yugoslavia broadcast an interview with the partys presidential candidate, Nikola Poplasen. During the same election, two SDS assembly candidates were disqualified because, as a spokeswoman for the OSCE said, "twice at [an election rally] an SDS supporter held up a portrait of Karadzic." The OSCE also eliminated four assembly candidates of the Croatian Democratic Union and the mayor of Orasje because of "biased" television reports in neighboring Croatia. If television reports in an adjacent nation result in a biased election, how much more biased is that election when foreign powers dictate whom voters may or may not vote for? (10) Western officials reacted angrily when Poplasen unseated Plavsic in the September 1998 election, and immediately began to pressure him to appoint Dodik as his Prime Minister. According to Poplasen, he was also pressured to "break off relations" with Yugoslavia, and when he refused to do so, was subjected to hostile Western actions. (11) Such disobedience brought a swift response, and on March 5, 1999, Westendorp issued a statement declaring the removal of Poplasen from office "with immediate effect." (12) The primary justification given was Poplasens insistence on choosing whom he would nominate for the post of Prime Minister. This coup detat by decree deposed the legally elected RS president. No pretence of democracy is made. Western dictate is "democratic," simply by virtue of being Western.
On the same day that saw Poplasens removal, Robert Owen, Western arbitrator for the status of the town of Brcko, announced a decision that effectively split asunder the RS. The two halves of RS were held together by a narrow three-mile wide strip, in which lies Brcko. The decree removed Brcko from the RS and created a special district to be held jointly by the RS and Muslim-Croatian Federation. Under terms of the decree, Bosnian Serb armed forces cannot move from one half of their territory to the other without permission of NATO. The decree also specifies that Brcko may at any time be transferred from a "non-complying entity" and placed "within the exclusive control of the other." (13) The decision was met by universal Bosnian Serb rejection, and US envoy Robert Gelbard wasted no time in wielding the heavy club of discipline, declaring that "the territory of Brcko could still revert to the entity which is in compliance." (14) Following Dodiks resignation over the Brcko decision, Western officials scrambled to talk him out of it. As Gelbard explained it, progress on plans to privatize state assets "is really due to Dodiks leadership." (15) It was not long before Dodik withdrew his resignation and announced his acceptance of the Brcko decision.
Wild West Justice.
The International War Crimes Tribunal has proved to be a useful political tool for NATO, enabling it to seize, or even murder political enemies. On January 30, 1996, two leading Bosnian Serb generals, Djordje Djukic and Aleksa Ksrmanovic, were asked to meet with Western civilian and NATO officials in Ilidza, at that time, a Serbian suburb of Sarajevo. There was no meeting. A trap had been set, and both men were seized and imprisoned by Bosnian Muslim soldiers. According to a British officer, the kidnapping was a result of NATO passing information to Bosnian Muslim forces. A high-ranking Western European intelligence source revealed that the DIA [U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency] was behind the seizure. "The DIA took a fantastic quantity of bugging and surveillance equipment there," he said. "The vehicle in which the Serb officers were travelling was followed from the air." For the DIA, he added, the generals were "the most valuable sources of information. Also do not forget that a not at all negligible number of The Hague investigators are CIA and DIA members." (16)
Two weeks later, the men were transferred to The Hague, where they were subjected to repeated interrogations and pressured to accuse other Bosnian Serb officials and officers of crimes. Djukics lawyer said, "It was suggested to Djukic that the court would have a better understanding for him in the future if he testified," and tribunal spokesman Christian Chartier said that the fate of the men "very much depends on what they might tell us." (17)
Both men refused to talk, and punishment was swift in coming. On March 1, Djukic was charged with the "crime against humanity" of being "assistant commander for logistics," including such heinous acts as "proposing appointments of personnel" and "issuing orders relating to the supply of materiel for units of the Bosnian Serb Army." In a pique, chief prosecutor Richard Goldstone said he indicted Djukic because of his refusal to talk. (18) Not even as flimsy a charge as this could be concocted against Krsmanovic, who was held without charge for several more weeks of interrogations. At the time, Djukic was suffering from an advanced case of pancreatic cancer. Despite his pain, interrogation sessions continued unabated, but he refused to talk to the end. In late April he was released to return to his family, where he died on May 19.
On July 10, 1997, a joint American-British operation swooped down on two Bosnian Serbs, despite the lack of a public indictment against either man. Four NATO members gained entrance to the Prijedor Medical Center by claiming to deliver a Red Cross package, and arrested the hospitals director, Milan Kovacevic. The arrest provoked an angry demonstration by 400 of the hospitals medical staff and several hundred citizens. Former Prijedor security chief Simo Drljaca was less fortunate. As he returned from fishing, dressed in a bathing suit, to enjoy breakfast with family and friends, NATO troops burst upon the scene. A witness recounts, "Music was playing. I was sitting. Then suddenly I heard screams: Simo, Simo! I turned around. Soldiers were armed I saw Simo getting up. At that moment, I heard bullets being fired and they fired at him. Then I saw Simo laying down on sand near a beach. He was laying on his side and shaking. Then a soldier came close to him and fired another bullet at him and finished him off." (19)
Another NATO ambush took place on January 10, 1999, targeting a car occupied by Dragan Gagovic and five children from his karate class. One of the children, Sonja Bjelovic, described the ambush: "We ran across iron bars on the road. Dragan braked to stop the vehicle, because we could not pass then we heard shots. Our coach said, down, you can be hit. He tried to protect us and pass around the iron bars. However the car was hit, tires went flat and it overturned. I saw our coach covered with blood." Another child, Milica Dzokovic, reported, "When the coach told us to go down I hid under the seat and closed my eyes. When I opened my eyes I saw the coach covered with blood and gun-barrels pointed at us." (20)
Covert Involvement and Military Aid.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, "The CIA station in Bosnia is now reputed to be one of the largest in the region." (21). By early 1996, the total number of CIA operatives active in the region had risen to 2,500, almost half of whom were stationed at the agencys regional headquarters in Tuzla. (22) The DIA is very active in the region, working in close cooperation with the CIA. These agencies not only engage in intelligence gathering, but also shape events, both directly and indirectly. Most of the international organizations present in Bosnia are dominated and run by American officials. Local news reports are "reshaped", that is, censored, by American officials, and compliant media receive Western financing, largely through the US Agency for International Development (USAID). A report in the Yugoslav press claims that in 1996, approximately half a million dollars were funnelled to media in the RS and Federation. (23)
The implementation of the US Train and Equip plan has pumped more arms into the region, posing a risk to peace. Under the plan, the US has already supplied Federation forces with tens of thousands of M-16 assault rifles, over 100 armored personnel carriers, several dozen tanks, over 100 155-mm howitzers, communications equipment, helicopters, and myriad other weapons. Arms supplies from other nations have also been arranged by US officials, and one shipment alone, from the United Arab Emirates, consisted of 50 French AMX-30 tanks and 41 armored vehicles. (24)
The plan also provides for American and Turkish training of Federation forces. The Pentagon has contracted with Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI) to conduct training. MPRI had earlier successfully trained the Croatian Army in preparation for its brutal invasion of Krajina, in which over 200,000 Serbs were driven from their homes in a matter of days. Training sessions include the use of advanced battle simulation computer software, as was used in preparation for Desert Storm. Funding was also provided to open arms factories in the Federation. In all, eight Federation arms factories operate under NATO supervision, and a Federation defense ministry spokesman announced that half of these factories produce 122mm howitzers for its army. (25)
Officially, American officials assert the dubious proposition that Equip and Train is necessary to ensure peace. Quietly, they know exactly what they are doing. Asked by a Bosnian Muslim journalist about the Western reaction were the Federation to invade the RS, a "high-ranking Western diplomat" admitted, "We would officially condemn, but we would understand and we would probably not undertake any efficient steps This is exactly what we expect." (26) "The question no longer is if the Muslims will attack the Bosnian Serbs," warned a European NATO commander, "but when." Alarmed at the extent of the Federation military buildup, Russian commanders passed NATO satellite photos of Muslim training camps to Bosnian Serb generals. According to information received by a Western diplomat, "The Bosnian Serb generals were stunned. The mood in the room was very black." In the event of an attack, a high-ranking NATO commander said, "We also expect most all of the Serbs [in the RS] to be driven into Serbia..." (27) NATO currently shows no inclination to go beyond holding the threat of invasion over the Bosnian Serbs as a useful tool for influencing policy in the RS. There is little doubt, however, that the Muslim-Croatian Federation would receive the go-ahead from NATO for an invasion, were the RS ever to display too much independence and recalcitrance in response to NATOs demands. The Train and Equip plan is a two-edged sword, and in April 1999, US envoy Robert Gelbard temporarily suspended the program in order to effect a policy change. None of the parties involved - Bosnian Croatian officials, Bosnian Muslim officials, or Gelbard - are entirely forthcoming about the issues involved.
Reshaping the Economy.
The heart of Western policy in the region is the promotion of Western corporate interests. In late 1996, a "peace implementation conference" was held in London, during which much of Bosnia-Herzegovinas future was forged. According to a report by the Press Association, the conference "won a commitment from the Bosnian leaders to reconstruct the shattered economy along free market economy lines, including significant privatization and close cooperation with the World Bank." (28) Laws are penned and imposed by Western officials. Less than one year after the conference, Haris Silajdzic, co-chair of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Council of Ministers, announced that "US Finance Secretary David Lipton will come here bringing draft laws on privatization at the state level" to be submitted to the Assembly for vote. Existing draft laws on property relations and privatization, he said, "will be modified according to regulations the US finance secretary will bring." (29). Last July, Westendorp founded a commission to manage the privatization process in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Each privatization, including prior actions, is subject to review and approval by Western commission officials. (30)
In the RS, an earlier law on privatization had been implemented. On December 4, 1997, Robert Farrand, of the Office of the High Representative, issued an "Order on Privatization," in which he mandated a "delay" of the RS privatization process, "so that international assistance could be provided to make it a credible process leading to successful transition to a free market economy," adding that "current RS legislation on privatization lacks a sound technical framework and in its current form can lead only to large scale fraud " (31) Looking beyond the vague nature of the complaint, and ostensible concern about "fraud," what actually motivated the order suspending the law? Documents from the American Embassy in Sarajevo paint a more honest picture: "In the RS, the privatization framework is being overhauled and will create more opportunities for involvement of potential foreign investors," adding that a "fundamental flaw" of the previous process "was the allocation of 47 percent of companies shares to seven government-managed funds." Clearly, the "fraud" that concerned Western officials was that Western corporations could not dominate the process and seize the best assets. The embassys documents reassure investors that "The new RS government has pledged to overhaul the privatization framework and annulled all previous privatization laws. Assistance is now being provided by the World Bank and USAID to develop new laws similar to those adopted by the Federation." Western officials shape privatization in the RS, as they do in the Muslim-Croatian Federation, to favor the interests of Western investors.
The Foreign Investment Law, effective on March 1998, and applicable to both entities, "establishes the policy standards of promoting foreign investment and protecting foreign investors rights," an embassy document declares. "The Entities will amend existing foreign investment laws to conform to the state-level legislation." Western officials were thorough in ensuring their interests. The law "is progressive in terms of its final aim which is to promote foreign direct investment." It is stated that the law "protects the rights of foreign investors .there are no restrictions on foreign investment" except armaments and media, and "the entities are directed to establish progressive and favorable tax conditions that encourage foreign investment." Furthermore, the law "expressly forbids expropriation or nationalization actions against foreign investments." (32)
And what role is envisioned for the people of Bosnia? The American embassy has an answer for that, too. "Foreign investors can utilize low-cost labor (the lowest in the CEE [Central and Eastern Europe]) while gaining proximity and access to important markets in the EU [European Union] and the CEE." Bosnian people will have the privilege of joining the Third World. Because Bosnia-Herzegovina is essentially land-locked, access to the Adriatic Sea is an important prerequisite for exploiting this "low-cost labor." Despite strong Bosnian Muslim reservations concerning certain provisions, an agreement on special relations was signed with neighboring Croatia, in which the Federation was given free transit to and use of the Croatian port of Ploce. According to a report in the Croatian press, agreement from the Bosnian Muslim delegation came "as a result of pressure from the United States." (33) In preparation for the expansion of trade through Ploce, the World Bank has financed a $22 million project for the reconstruction of the main pier, and Sealand has won a grant from the US Trade and Development Agency to perform "a feasibility study on the development of container terminal facilities and the corridor from Ploce to Sarajevo (and eventually the Sava River)." (34) Following the removal of Brcko from the RS, Brcko Supervisor Robert Farrand signed an agreement for the U.S Trade and Development Agency to solicit bids from American firms to conduct a six-month feasibility study of the Brcko port, on the Sava River. (35)
When deemed necessary, Western officials have readily wielded threats in order to achieve their goals. A Western diplomatic source revealed that "in diplomatic talks behind closed doors, we are, sort of, intimidating [RS] politicians" with the possibility of invasion by Federation troops. "The tendency is to stimulate and open up economically" the RS, he added. "When, in some diplomatic efforts, we try to soften their stances, we always hint at their possible war defeat. We always use the illustration of Krajina." (36) Threats against the Federation are less aggressive, if no less effective. On November 10, 1998, the Contact Group, which oversees policy in Bosnia, and is chaired by the US, issued a statement threatening a cutoff of millions of dollars in aid to the Federation. An American spokesman bluntly stated that "the time has come and, in fact, is overdue for the governments of Bosnia to be making the transition and (they) should be making it rapidly to a sustainable market economy. We are prepared to cut off projects, programs, anything to get their attention " The spokesman demanded "much more progress on privatization" and foreign investment. (37)
NATO is establishing a permanent presence in the Balkans. NATOs savage bombing of Yugoslavia was motivated solely by the desire to establish a NATO-run colony in Kosovo. The Yugoslav government consistently called for return of all refugees, greater autonomy in Kosovo, and an international presence in Kosovo. The only divisive issue was the nature of that presence, with NATO insisting on its control of the province. NATO bases are being constructed in Zadar and Slavonski Brod, Croatia, and NATO is providing funds for Bulgaria to upgrade three military airfields to "NATO standards," although these airfields are currently sufficient for Bulgarias aircraft. (38) Whose planes, then, are these upgrades intended for, if not Bulgarias? A poor Bosnian Serb, Radoslav Skrba, wonders, "How is it that all these Western armies now have bases here? Could it be that it was their strategy all along? During the Communist time we were warned that the West wanted to come here and now here they are." (39)
"Bosnia Serb Party Sanctioned for Karadzic Picture," Agence France-Presse,
September 1, 1998.
"Nine Delisted for Bosnian Serbs TV Interview," Agence France-Presse, September 21, 1998.
"Bosnian Croat Candidates Disqualified by TV Bias," Reuters, September 4, 1998.
A Prlenda, "Weapons for Peace and Stabilization," Oslobodjenje (Bosnian
Muslim), November 22, 1996.
Nick Gowing, "Return to War," The Sunday Telegraph (London), December 1, 1996.
"Arms Shipment from Turkey Arrives in Ploce Port," HINA (Zagreb), July 26, 1997.
Srecko Latal, "United States Helping Rearm Muslim-Croat Army: Allies Object," Associated Press, May 23, 1996.
Nedim Dervisbegovic, "Bosnian Firms Produce Artillery with U.S. Aid,"
Reuters, October 17, 1997.
"U.S. Envoy Visits U.S-Aided Bosnian Army Factory," Agence France-Presse (Paris), September 5, 1997.
"Bosnia, Croatia Form Special Relations," UPI, November 22, 1998.
"Croatia Opens Up Key Port to Bosnia in Thawing of Relations," Agence France-Presse, November 22, 1998.
"U.S. Threatens Aid Cut," UPI, November 9, 1998.
"Contact Group Signals It Wants to Cut Bosnian Aid," Reuters, November 10, 1998.
Commission of Inquiry
c/o International Action Center
39 West 14th Street, Room 206
New York, NY 10011
phone: 212 633-6646
fax: 212 633-2889
initial inquiry program