By Colin Foster
According to Alexander Ivanko, a UN spokesperson in Sarajevo, “the Bosnian Serbs are calling most of the shots. I’m sure there are some shots they are not calling. I just can’t think of them at the moment”.
Since the Bosnian Serbs seized 370 UN soldiers as hostages in late May (they released the last of them on 18 June), UN troops have moved out of Serb-held areas. They have given up any pretence of protecting the so-called “safe areas”. The Bosnian Serbs may have been given some promise of no more air strikes against them. And the big powers are talking about pulling out the UN troops altogether.
Ever since the eruption of Serb imperialism in the late 1980s started to trigger the break-up of Yugoslavia, the big powers have wanted quiet restored as quickly as possible for trade and investment, and not cared about democracy or the rights of small nations.
The Bosnian Serbs are not in fact calling all the shots. Despite the UN arms embargo, which operates one-sidedly against the official Bosnian army and should be lifted, that Bosnian army has mustered will and firepower for a counter-offensive. And in the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Banja Luka, according to Maggie O’Kane of the Guardian, “People are tired of the war... We know that we have too much territory, and we know we have to give some of it back”.
From war-weariness can be built democratic reconciliation and working-class unity against the warlords on all sides.
On what basis should socialists seek to end the war? There may have been a time when the restoration of independent multi-ethnic Bosnia was an operable programme, but now who would restore it? The official Bosnian army, now almost all Muslim, by overrunning the 70% of Bosnia which has been conquered by Serb forces?
Pieties about “aggression not being rewarded” have no grip on the situation. Although Sarajevo and Tuzla are reported still to be multi-ethnic to some degree, the three and a half years of war have pulled apart Bosnia’s three nationalities, which before were closely interlaced, into separate blocks. Reconciliation and reknitting of links has to start by recognising self-determination for each block — Serb, Croat, and Bosnian-Muslim, or Bosniac — while we also argue for full rights for all residents, regardless of nationality and religion, under all regimes. Support for the Bosniacs, as the victims of imperialism, has to be in that framework: they need to secure some minimally viable area in any settlement, and they deserve aid and reparations from the big powers and from Serbia to rebuild their economic life.