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Bosnia: Model for a New Colonialism?

(Summer 1999)

From International Socialist Review, Issue 8, Summer 1999.
Downloaded with thanks from the ISR Archive Website.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

SINCE THE start of NATO’s air war against Yugoslavia, various Western officials have spoken openly of turning Kosovo into a military protectorate along the lines of Bosnia. Clinton has called the NATO/UN operation in Bosnia a model for what should take place in Kosovo: “What we did in Bosnia was functional.” Clinton is not alone. “[T]he only viable course is to use the Bosnian precedent and establish a NATO protectorate in Kosovo,” wrote the London Observer on March 28. No one should have illusions in what such an arrangement would mean. In the earlier part of this century, the biggest imperialist powers established protectorates in a number of countries. They asserted their right as “civilized” nations to rule over the local peoples until they were deemed capable of governing themselves.

“After this new war it must be clear that there is no military exit strategy from this region,” said UN Kosovo mediator Carl Bildt. “For NATO, the Balkans will now become the new central front, and an international military presence to guarantee peace there must be seen in the coming decades as something as natural as it was for NATO to have troops in divided Germany during the Cold War years.” [1] Bildt ought to know what he’s talking about: he served as former UN High Representative in charge of running the Bosnian protectorate.

The Bosnian protectorate stemmed from the November 1995 Dayton Accords, completed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, which ended the Bosnian civil war. The agreement between the major powers and representatives of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia placed Bosnia under the control of a NATO military force and various civilian institutions. An alphabet soup of foreign agencies – from the UN, to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – took over Bosnia’s day-to-day affairs. Four years later, international agencies show no signs of leaving Bosnia to its people. As the UN and NATO gear up for another similar operation in Kosovo, it’s worth reviewing their record in Bosnia.

A partition by any other name

Dayton established a Bosnia that is united on paper, but divided in practice. The agreement states that Bosnia is a single country, but divided into two “entities”: the Republika Srpska (RS) and the Muslim-Croat Federation. The two are divided by what is known as the interethnic boundary. In reality, the nationalist politicians that dominate each area – former war leaders and profiteers – want little to do with each other. The Muslim-Croat Federation – a shotgun wedding imposed by Washington – is a fiction. The Croat-controlled areas operate independently, using the Croatian currency, and are all but officially annexed to Croatia. Although Dayton calls for a joint Croat-Muslim military, the Croat and Muslim forces operate separately. They come together only to receive military training under a U.S.-sponsored program run by retired U.S. military personnel.

From the start, Dayton institutionalized ethnic division, creating a de facto partition of the region. Voters for the three-member presidency, for example, are not allowed to vote for anyone outside their community. Bosniaks (as Muslims are now called) are can only vote for one of the Bosniak presidential candidates. This, of course, has reinforced the domination of nationalist parties in each parastate. As a result, the same parties and leaders who launched the 1992–95 civil war dominate each enclave. The Party of Democratic Action (SDA), headed by Alija Izetbegovic, rules the Muslim enclave. Gojko Susak of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) rules the Croatian area. The Serbian RS is a battle zone between indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic’s Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) and various breakaway factions encouraged by U.S./NATO intervention. In short, behind the rhetoric, Dayton is designed to police segregated communities.

Militarily, Bosnia is policed by 35,000 NATO troops under the name “Stabilization Force” (SFOR, originally called IFOR). The executive and legislative power lies in the hands of the UN’s High Representative, a position currently held by Spaniard Carlos Westendorp, whose powers have increased over time in order to enforce the fiction of unity over a divided territory. Westendorp sits atop a massive colonial-style bureaucracy:

In all, there are perhaps 10,000 foreign nation-builders in Sarajevo alone; at least 40,000 others are scattered across Bosnia, including 35,000 soldiers from around the globe. A New Zealander sits as chief of the central bank. An ex-cop from Los Angeles is deputy chief of Bosnia’s international police force. Mr. Klein, a French-born American, serves as deputy in Sarajevo’s Office of the High Representative, or OHR, the closest thing Bosnia has to an executive branch. [2]

Employees of this massive foreign bureaucracy account for a third of all jobs in Bosnia and a third of its gross national product, according to the Soros Foundation’s Sarajevo office.

The UN High Representative can remove politicians from office, shut down media outlets and force through legislation when the parties cannot agree. Westendorp exercised his powers most recently by removing from office Nicholas Poplasen, the newly elected president from the RS. Poplasen’s support for the absorption of the RS into Serbia placed him in Westendorp’s crosshairs.

Westendorp takes his job as Bosnian dictator very seriously. He once told a Bosnian periodical that if Bosnia’s elected officials cannot “agree about some decisions, for example the passports, the license plates, the flag ... I will stop this process of infinite discussions. In the future it will look like this: I will give them ... a term to bring a certain decision, that is to agree about some decision. If they do not, I will tell them not to worry, that I will decide for them.” [3]

The High Representative’s power extends even to the rewriting of Bosnian history. A year ago, Westendorp announced that his office was dissatisfied with the textbooks used in Bosnia because they were either “nationalistic,” “Marxist” or too “anecdotal.” He therefore implemented a “Textbook Review Project” to remove “offensive materials” from textbooks used in primary and secondary schools. This action angered the local population and played into the nationalists’ hands. As David Chandler, the author of an excellent study of the Bosnian protectorate, wrote in a recent op-ed piece:

The Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims have all had their autonomy restricted, and their political parties and media emasculated by international vetting and censorship. They have seen their institutions overruled and undermined by international edicts acted upon by the international community’s High Representative, who is empowered to draw up legislation and to impose it against the will of all three ethnic constituencies. The reaction against such high-handedness has inevitably strengthened ethnic identities. [4]

The colonial bureaucrats have failed to create any viable institutions of governance over Bosnia as a whole. On the contrary, the High Representative’s powers have expanded, and Bosnia’s Dayton-implemented political institutions have become more impotent. Dayton has papered over – and helped to deepen – the de facto division of Bosnia. By denying the peoples of Bosnia any means to change their circumstances, the “international community” has strengthened the nationalists’ hold over each enclave. Nationalists exploit the peoples’ natural hostility to the occupying power, turning that sentiment to their advantage.

The saga of Biljana Plavsic

If there is any doubt about this assessment, a look at the liaison between the U.S. and former RS president Biljana Plavsic makes it clear. In early 1997, Plavsic met with U.S. diplomats and announced that she was breaking with SDS leader Radovan Karadzic and forming a new political party. With Western backing, she initiated a political campaign attacking corruption. Serb nationalists loyal to Plavsic, centered in the Bosnian city of Banja Luka, feuded with nationalists around Karadzic, based in Pale. In 1997, SFOR troops, shoring up Plavsic’s power base, disarmed Banja Luka police loyal to Karadzic. U.S. troops tried to take over the police station in the strategic town of Brcko in order to hand it to officers loyal to Plavsic. They also intervened to close down media outlets that supported Karadzic.

Portrayed in the U.S. press as a “moderate” alternative to Karadzic, Plavsic is anything but. A violent nationalist committed to an ethnically “pure” Serbian state, Plavsic has been a member of the ultranationalist SDS from its inception. Nicknamed by fellow Serbs “the Iron Lady” (after former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher), she was a loyal lieutenant of Radovan Karadzic during the war.

Plavsic is an outspoken supporter of ethnic cleansing, saying in 1993, “I would prefer completely to cleanse eastern Bosnia of Muslims. When I say cleanse, I don’t want anyone to take me literally and think I mean ethnic cleansing. But they’ve attached this label ‘ethnic cleansing’ to a perfectly natural phenomenon and characterized it as some kind of war crime.” Her favorite wartime hero is Zeljko Raznjatovic – or “Arkan” – whose paramilitary Tigers participated in the most horrific acts of ethnic cleansing in the entire war. She once embraced this notorious butcher, calling him “a Serb hero.”

Plavsic is also an extreme racist, referring to Muslims as “genetically deformed material” – a claim her professional training as a biologist makes all the more outrageous. “We are disturbed,” she explained in 1994, “by the fact that the number of marriages between Serbs and Muslims has increased ... because mixed marriages lead to an exchange of genes between ethnic groups, and thus to a degeneration of Serb nationhood.” She shows an equal contempt for the mass of Serbian people, once musing, “There are twelve million of us [Serbs], and even if six million perish the other six million will live decently.” [5]

By manipulating RS politics on behalf of one right-wing nationalist against another, the U.S. showed it cares nothing about promoting interethnic harmony. Instead, it wants to find pliant politicians whom they hope will be loyal Western puppets. As Mohammed Filipovic, a philosophy teacher at Sarajevo University wrote:

Plavsic is politically no different from Karadzic. Perhaps she was not the author of the criminal policy, but she gave it her heartfelt support. She has not rebelled against a policy that, for instance, excludes Muslims and Croats from Republika Srpska ...

Western policy continues to prop up Tudjman, [Muslim president] Izetbegovic and [Croatian president] Zubak, continues to prop up the Pale crowd, continues to prop up Milosevic – all these people are its hostages. Some U.S. ambassador can always come and lecture Tudjman, while still keeping him in power. They will threaten Izetbegovic, but they will keep him in power. After all, it is much easier to manipulate a person who depends upon you and whose dark secrets are known to you. For this reason I think the West’s policy in our region is not correct. It is systematically designed to protect the interests of the present ruling structure. [6]

In the end, U.S. meddling strengthened the very forces it set out to undermine. U.S. officials promised to hand over some economic aid to the RS on condition of Plavsic’s success. This plan has completely backfired. In September of last year, Plavsic was voted out as RS president in favor of Nicholas Poplasen, a member of the neo-fascist Serbian Radical Party. Plavsic’s opposition was able, with complete justification, to taint her as a puppet for having called upon NATO in her struggle against Karadzic. In March 1999, Westendorp fired Poplasen.

But this doesn’t mean that ordinary Serbs are fond of Plavsic’s opponents. “No one likes these politicians in [the city of Pale, where Karadzic has his power base],” one farmer told the New York Times. “We know they are all getting rich. But this does not mean we will support Plavsic selling us out to the West. We know who our real enemies are. Besides, do you think she just found out about this corruption? She wants power just like the rest of them.” [7]

Balance of terror

U.S. post-Dayton military policy toward Bosnia also assumes that Bosnia’s ethnic groups will remain in separate zones, prepared to fight each other at any time. The U.S. committed itself to a “train and equip” program designed to arm and train the army of the Muslim-Croat Federation. The program, worth $400 million by the end of 1997, provides military training and hardware to the Croatian army. Military Resources, Inc., the same private company of retired U.S. military officers that trained the Croatian army, oversees the program. The aim seems to be similar to that which prompts the U.S. government to arm rivals Greece and Turkey to the teeth: to create a balance of terror.

The Serb republic of only 1.2 million people is economically the weakest entity in the federation. The cost of resuming military activities would push it even further backwards. Knowing this, Croat nationalists are content to let things stand because “although in theory absorbed into the federation, [they] still maintain de facto independence in most of Herzegovina and benefit from a secure economic position due to their control of major trade routes to the Federation and to their open border with Croatia.” [8]

The Muslim nationalists, with the largest military force – newly trained and equipped – may be the most likely to resume efforts to seize more land by force. At the end of 1997, the Bosnian Muslim media carried a discussion of just such a scenario. It debated whether, in the event of a NATO departure, the Federation’s increased military capacity might allow it to relaunch a territorial offensive against the RS. According to one Sarajevo monthly:

With the blessing of Alija Izetbegovic, a few months ago a multidisciplinary team of trusted people has begun work ... with the task to analyze as many as possible conditions which would occur with the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina ... Considered as an optimal solution in the given international circumstances is a state that would cover at least double the area of the territory which is now under the control of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. [9]

Though the article states that Izetbegovic and the SDA leadership believe that this new carve-up could be reached through negotiation, it is hard to see the possibility of such an outcome without a new war.

Refugee return

The Dayton Accords provided that refugees would be allowed to return to their original homes. But of the 2.3 million refugees and displaced persons, only 358,000 (16 percent) had returned home by the end of 1997. The vast majority of these were relocated to areas where they are part of the ethnic majority, not to their original homes. Only 45,500 had returned to areas in which they formed a minority. The Croat population has reached only a little over of half of its prewar level. Even after Dayton was signed, the transfer of minority populations continued. Thousands of Croats and Muslims have been intimidated into leaving their homes in the RS, and by the end of 1997, only 2,200 Muslims and Croats had returned. In Sarajevo more than 60,000 Serbs left the city, citing intimidation, threats and violence.

In dozens of cases, Muslim, Serb and Croat refugees attempting to return to areas designated as belonging to another group have been met with rent-a-mob hostility and violence orchestrated by local police and officials. In Dvrar, for example, returning Serbs were met with rioting and burning of homes in April 1998 by the Croatian nationalists who now dominate the city. Mostar, once a multi-ethnic center of Muslims, Serbs and Croats, is now a city divided by the Neretva River, with Muslims living on one side and Croats on the other side. Croats refuse to buy beer manufactured in the Muslim western part of the city.

”Ethnic re-engineering” has converted Sarajevo into a city where 70 percent of the population is of rural origin. Hundreds of thousands of people live elsewhere than their place of origin. This has created a political environment where many people back the main nationalist parties as a guarantee that they will not be removed from apartments and houses that once belonged to others. To quote Filipovic again:

[R]uralization is ... a basic instrument of rule. The ruling party in practice relies upon these people, they are its hostages, and this unfortunately has long-term consequences for political relations in this country ... But in Sarajevo public and especially political life is moribund, because most of the city’s inhabitants today are people from elsewhere who are totally dependent on the military power that allows them to stay. They live in other people’s apartments and the whole business is illegal ... The government attempts to deny the rights of the apartments’ real owners; it attempts precisely to legalize the vast usurpation that has taken place in this domain. [10]

Each nationalist ruling party discourages refugees of “their” ethnicity to return to their original, prewar homes, unless to do so would help strengthen the control of that party by preventing the “wrong” refugees from returning. The Muslim-dominated SDA has taken advantage of the influx of Muslims (many of them forced out of Germany) to relocate them in Sarajevo, even if they do not come from that city.

In practice, SFOR has done little to aid refugees, despite its mandate to assist refugees to return to their original homes. One year after Dayton was signed, a group of Muslim families from the Serb-controlled Prijedor region informed international officials of the location of their original homes. The officials then gave the list to the Serb police in Prijedor. Within 48 hours, the Muslims’ homes had been destroyed.

Economic quagmire

Intimidation and insecurity are not the only reasons that many refugees have not returned. In fact, many young people in search of better economic prospects have left Bosnia-Herzegovina, and hundreds of thousands of refugees have opted not to return.

Dayton was supposed to create an economic environment conducive to reconstruction, economic growth and the return of refugees. The new constitution agreed to at Dayton hands over the reigns of economic policy to the U.S.-controlled IMF and other financial institutions controlled by the biggest powers. The IMF appoints the governor of the Bosnian central bank. The governor cannot be a Bosnian. The London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) supervises all operations of public sector enterprises, as well as public sector restructuring, or privatization.

Over $5 billion in funds earmarked for reconstruction have gone into Bosnia. But the economy has yet to recover even to its pre-war level. More than half of the housing stock was destroyed during the war, and much of it has yet to be rebuilt. Even the OHR has conceded that “possibilities for people to return to their homes of origin are limited not only by their concerns about the security environment, but also by the lack of available housing, employment and social services, as well as the level of infrastructure and communications.” [11]

The Muslim-Croat Federation has experienced some growth, but it has yet to reach 1990 levels. The RS has received less than 5 percent of the reconstruction aid. Its economy has now shrunk to less than a quarter of its pre-war level. Official unemployment stands at about 60 percent in Bosnia. [12] In Banja Luka, the RS’s largest town, only 30,000 out of a population of 250,000 had jobs two years into Dayton. [13] In the past two years, total investments in Bosnia-Herzegovina equal only 4.7 percent of total donor aid. Without foreign aid, growth rates in Bosnia-Herzegovina would be about negative 1 percent. [14] The reality is that each statelet in Bosnia is not economically viable. Yet national divisions prevent the interregional economic cooperation to rebuild trade relations both inside and outside Bosnia.

At the top, the High Representative and his supporting institutions – the IMF, the World Bank, the OSCE – control the Bosnian economy. Underneath this, the same shady figures, profiteers and murderers who rose to the surface during the war continue to operate on the local level. As one Bosnian journalist wrote several months after the start of Dayton:

According to the currently accepted standards of Serbdom or Croatdom, the status of a prestige Serb or Croat is given to former criminals, persons from the bottom of the pit, marginal characters and primitives which have affirmed themselves in this war as murderers and pillagers. One of those, promoted through the media as the hero of the home war, killed Tudjman’s minister of tourism, paid with the sum of 15 thousand deutsche marks.

The guy would, probably, for a larger sum, accept to shoot Tudjman himself. Bosnia is absolutely abundant with these types. During the war, they have represented the striking fists of the militarized national parties, enriching themselves on the way through pillaging and contraband. Today, these are the local power brokers, who do not allow anybody to pass through, the leaders of the gangs which practically control the entire public life in their area. [15]

Dayton doesn’t challenge these people – it gives them a space to flourish. The leaders of the nationalist parties have themselves pocketed large amounts of the aid money, while ordinary workers go homeless and jobless by the thousands. The heads of the main political parties are often heads of major state-owned enterprises. For example, the vice president of the Muslim SDA runs the main utility company in the Federation.

But the alternative touted by the international managers – privatization – can hardly be seen as a solution. A quick look at Russia should quickly dispel that illusion. Privatization would mean the closing down of a number of companies and an even greater increase in unemployment. Moreover, it would do little to change the relations of ownership and control. As one report, entirely supportive of NATO’s occupation of Bosnia, noted:

In some ways the situation is especially bleak in Bosnia, as the breakdown in the rule of law during the war led to the criminalization of a substantial part of economic activity. Numerous politically connected business figures, in some cases simply Mafia gangs, have already made fortunes out of the wartime opportunities for smuggling, arms trading, etc. It is just such people, with their political and business connections who are likely to be best placed to take advantage of the privatization process to gain control of those assets which still offer the prospect of profit. [16]

It is these forces that NATO guns, IMF money and UN political maneuvering are bolstering.


In 1995, Western officials touted the Dayton Accords in terms strikingly similar to those they use to describe their plans in Kosovo today. The Dayton agreement would, they promised, help to reunite the fractured country, build an environment in which displaced refugees could return to their original homes and create the basis for real democracy in Bosnia. In reality, the Bosnian “model” represents nothing more than a NATO-policed cease-fire. The NATO/UN occupation of Bosnia has actually reinforced nationalist divisions, not healed them. In turn, Bosnia has then been used to justify the maintenance of indefinite NATO control for almost four years (and counting) beyond its original one-year mandate.

Under the guise of promoting peace, growth and democracy, NATO allies have ensured future war, permanent economic crisis and have transformed local political institutions into rubber stamps for the decisions of the UN High Representative. Despite the rhetoric, the accords have served to cement ethnic separation. The purpose of Dayton was never to help the peoples of Bosnia find a way out of the horror, but merely to put a large lid over the conflict. Underneath that lid, the seething tensions continue to bubble.

The Bosnian protectorate needs to be seen in its larger context, as part of the search to establish a new role for NATO through the establishment of a new military front across the Balkans that requires constant NATO preparedness – under U.S. leadership. Therefore, it is no accident that U.S. and Western intervention has exacerbated and encouraged nationalist rivalry. Ironically, though, their intervention, designed to create “stability” in the region, actually creates the conditions for deeper crisis and bloodier conflicts in the future.

In Bosnia today, there is exhaustion from war, hatred for the politicians that have profited from the bloodshed and ethnic cleansing, and despair at economic ruin and mass unemployment. But this is likely to express itself among ordinary workers as a disgust with politics, especially without a political alternative. The result is that the nationalists continue to dominate – even though, for example, in the fight between Pale (Karadzic) and Banja Luka (Plavsic), the Karadzic forces were only able to muster 1,000 people for a rally that was meant to demonstrate their popularity in the battle to oust Plavsic as president of the Republic. But the nationalists’ apparent weakness doesn’t translate into an alternative. In fact, the Dayton Accords and the UN High Representative’s manipulation of RS politics reinforces the nationalists’ position.

National division is not inevitable. Exhaustion and indifference can give way to bitterness and anger as it becomes clear what a disaster clinging to your “own” tiny national patch under the Mafia-like protection of national butchers and profiteers is. As one British socialist has pointed out:

A war like that in former Yugoslavia necessarily gives rise to vague desires for peace among vast numbers of people and to anti-government demonstrations. If these feelings can be fused with the struggles of workers against the cost of war and the effects of the economic crisis, then the wave of nationalism can be beaten back. [17]

During the first Balkan Wars of 1910–12, the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky argued that a Balkan region divided into a patchwork of tiny national states, each arming against the other under the banner of its own national interests, was a dead end. Each would be economically unviable, while the imperialist powers played one off the other in an endless drawing and redrawing of messy borders. The only alternative, he argued, could be found in a movement by the region’s peoples that rejected imperialist intervention and united in a Balkan Federation of equal republics. Today, this remains the only solution.

* * *


1. Russian Kosovo Envoy Heads for Belgrade, Reuters, 19 May 1999.

2. Quoted in David Chandler, Bosnia: Faking Democracy After Dayton (London: Pluto, 1999), p. 2.

3. Gary Dempsey, “Rethinking the Dayton Agreement: Bosnia Three Years Later,” Policy Analysis, Number 327, 14 December 1998.

4. David Chandler, The Lessons of Bosnia, LM, Issue 120, May 1999.

5. This and all Plavsic is quoted from Slobodan Inic, Biljana Plavsic: Geneticist in the Service of a Great Crime, Helsinki Povelja (Belgrade), November 1996, [No longer available online]

6. Feral Tribune (Split, Croatia), 10 November 1997.

7. Quoted in Bill Roberts, Stepped-up intervention leads to new clashes with Bosnian Serbs, Socialist Worker, 12 September 1997, p. 5.

8. Bosnia: The Military Equation in Post-Dayton Bosnia, ICG Crisis Report 5, December 1997, [No longer available online]

9. Dani, April 1997.

10. Feral Tribune (Split, Croatia), 10 November 1997.

11. Quoted in Gareth Jenkins, Bosnia: The Great Carveup, Socialist Review (Great Britain), May 1999.

12. Tom Hundley, In Sarajevo, Chic Can’t Hide Failure of Bosnian Peace, Chicago Tribune, 12 October 1998.

13. Srpska, Jane’s Intelligence Review, September 1997.

14. Bosnia: Why Will No One Invest in Bosnia and Herzegovina? ICG Crisis Report 21, April 1999.

15. Svijet (Sarajevo Weekly), 27 June 1996.

16. Whither Bosnia? ICG Crisis Report 13, April 1999.

17. Chris Harman, The Return of the National Question, International Socialism 56 (Autumn 1992), p. 56.

* * *

How the U.S. Used Ethnic Cleansing
to Secure the Dayton Accords

The Dayton Accords represented one of a series of Western interventions in the former Yugoslavia. Germany’s 1991 recognition of Croatia’s independence, and later, the U.S. and Germany’s recognition of Bosnian independence, accelerated the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Western meddling guaranteed that Bosnia – with an ethnically mixed population of Serbs (31 percent), Muslims (44 percent) and Croatians (17 percent) at the time – would descend into fratricidal warfare. Neither Croats nor Serbs were willing to live in a Bosnian state dominated by Muslim leaders, and both Bosnian Muslims and Croats feared being part of a rump Yugoslavia dominated by Serbia.

In the three-way ethnic war that followed, Western intervention again reinforced ethnic division. First, they proposed various peace plans – to be negotiated with the warring nationalist butchers – that assumed some kind of ethnic partition of the country. Each time the U.S. or European powers put a proposal on the table, the warring sides actually stepped up their efforts to change the map of Bosnia. They sought to create “facts on the ground” to secure more ethnically pure territory for their side. Croat and Serb nationalists each looked to carve a piece of Bosnia to annex to their respective “home” countries, and Bosnian Muslim nationalists looked to U.S. sponsorship in their drive to expand their area of control over the country.

The road to the Dayton Accords reveals this dynamic. The peace agreement was signed only after Croatia, supported by the U.S. and having its military forces trained by retired U.S. military officers, drove 200,000 Serbs from their homes in the Serb Krajina area of Croatia. This ethnic cleansing campaign, called Operation Storm, combined with a massive NATO bombardment of Bosnian Serb territory and a successful Croat-Muslim offensive that retook 20 percent of Bosnia from Serb forces, brought Serbia to the negotiating table.

Western officials justified this policy on the grounds that only ethnic cleansing by Serbs counts as ethnic cleansing. U.S. Ambassador to Zagreb, Peter Galbraith, said of Operation Storm that it did not constitute ethnic cleansing because “ethnic cleansing is the specialty of the Serbs.” [1]

Then-European Union mediator in the former Yugoslavia, Carl Bildt, made a revealing statement after Operation Storm:

If we accept that it is all right for Tudjman to cleanse Croatia of its Serbs, then how on earth can we object if Yeltsin cleanses Chechnya or if one day Milosevic sends his army to clean out the Albanians from Kosovo? [2]

Croatia’s leader Franjo Tudjman – a Holocaust revisionist and anti-Serb racist – was the biggest winner in the war. Before war broke out, Bosnian Serbs outnumbered Bosnian Croats two-to-one, and the Serbs possessed the best military hardware. But by 1995, U.S. intervention on the side of Croatia had produced spectacular success for Tudjman. He had gained international recognition for Croatia and military training and backing from the U.S. and Germany, had secured the vast bulk of territory in Croatia by cleansing the Krajina of Serbs, and had annexed – in fact but not in name – 20 percent of Bosnia to Croatia.

Milosevic, on the other hand, was forced to sell out the Krajina Serbs (to whom he had long promised a “Greater Serbia”) and to rein in the Bosnian Serbs in return for international recognition and the lifting of sanctions against Serbia. In short, the Dayton agreement was achieved through U.S. support for massive ethnic cleansing – of Serbs.

* * *


1. Misha Glenny, The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War, 3rd revised ed. (London: Penguin, 1996), p. 281.

2. Misha Glenny, p. 285.

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