Balkan Strategic Studies

June 30, 1993

The Bosnia-Herzegovina Crisis Is Finding Its Own Level, One Outsiders Fail to Understand

The shape of society in Bosnia-Herzegovina is emerging from the fog of war. But the shape which emerges is not what the West planned for or understands. Clearly, however, it is emerging as a workable modus vivendi.

The seemingly intractable Balkan crisis showed signs that it was taking a path toward resolution in June. Ironically, there was considerable reluctance in many of the foreign ministries of the European Community (EC) and other states to accept that this was progress. Certainly, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl attempted to derail the peace process, and widen the conflict, in the former Yugoslavia by pushing fellow EC leaders into arming the Bosnia-Herzegovina Muslim community. The response to the German initiative was a proposal that Germany's principal ally in the Balkans, Croatia, should be the subject of United Nations sanctions for its part in widening the war.

Such a move would place Croatia under the same economic hardship as Yugoslavia. Croatia, however, has a less viable indigenous economy at present, and would buckle far more rapidly than Yugoslavia under the weight of sanctions. As well, the move would damage Germany's credibility in the Balkans still further. EC leaders now privately -- although often not quietly -- express their anger at Germany's role in forcing the EC into premature recognition of the independence of Slovenia and Croatia, thus precipitating the current war. And Germany's current economic plight makes it less able to wield pressure on the smaller EC states to support its Balkan policies than was the case a year earlier.

Where is the process moving?

Firstly, it is clear that the United Nations' Vance-Owen Peace Plan is dead. The plan had envisaged for Bosnia-Herzegovina a complex cantonal arrangement with which none of the three major communal groups were happy. It therefore merely contained the seeds of future conflict.

Secondly, the Bosnia-Herzegovina Muslim community is severely split. It has become apparent to the EC and UN, finally, that the Muslim community in the country is, in fact, several Muslim communities, with different leaders and aspirations. Alija Izetbegovic, who headed the collective presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, is now not seen by all Muslims as the leader of a Bosnia-Herzegovina independent Muslim state. He is now merely a leader. Indeed, he is no longer legitimately President even of Bosnia-Herzegovina. His presidency was due to rotate to another member of the collective presidency in December 1992. The leadership post, however, was never passed on. Izetbegovic's extreme politics and his attempts to bring all of Bosnia-Herzegovina under a radical Islamic government are now seen to have gone against the grain of many Muslims in the region.

Moderate Islamic states which were keen to support Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina have now halted much of their funding and arms aid. Iran, Izetbegovic's principal ally, appears to have cut its support significantly. Turkey, which pumped in arms and mercenaries to support Izetbegovic, has also cut its aid. Much of this is due to the death on April 17, 1993, of President Turgut Ozal, who had seen support of the Bosnian Muslims as a significant lever in Europe. He had also been forced into the position by the fact that Iran had "outflanked" Turkey by taking the Islamic lead in Europe.

Thirdly, the Croatian community in Bosnia-Herzegovina have, for many months, acted as though Bosnia-Herzegovina no longer existed. Or if it did, then it was of no consequence. Bosnian Croats have, or are eligible for, Croatian passports. The Croatian parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina are totally and effectively integrated into the Republic of Croatia. Great Croatia exists, de facto. It is, as the US saying goes, "a done deal". This has already meant that Bosnia-Herzegovina no longer exists, in real terms, as a sovereign independent state as it was conceived and recognized following the collapse of the old Yugoslavia.

The move by the Zagreb Government to bring the Bosnia-Herzegovina Croatian territories into the Republic of Croatia makes it difficult for it to protest on moral grounds over the referendum within the Serbian enclave of Krijena -- inside the recognized borders of Croatia -- which decided that Krijena should merge with the Serbian part of what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina and, possibly, later with the Republic of Serbia in what is now the (new) Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

What would remain of Bosnia-Herzegovina, then, would be a number of Muslim enclaves. The largest and most viable of these is the 500,000 population area led by Fikret Abdic, a long-time rival of the leader of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Muslims, Alija Izetbegovic. The collective presidency had said that Ejup Ganic, a Muslim member of the Bosnia-Herzegovina collective presidency, would head the delegation to the Geneva peace talks in late June. But in the end it was Mr Abdic who headed the delegation in reality, and it was clear that he was prepared to negotiate with the Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs who wanted to end the unworkable structure of the state.

On June 20, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban met in Montenegro and agreed that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be transformed into "a confederation, with some form of association based on the freely expressed will of all three peoples". The question remains: where, then, is all this going?

* Bosnia-Herzegovina, as noted, will probably not long survive as a sovereign independent state;

* Greater Croatia has already come into being, and incorporation of the Croatian parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina will be officially acknowledged and recognized within the foreseeable future;

* The various Serbian communities of Krijena and Bosnia-Herzegovina will probably seek some form of confederation with or within the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, although retaining autonomous government;

* Some of the Muslim cities and enclaves in Bosnia-Herzegovina will probably seek accommodation to become autonomous, self-governing units within an association with Yugoslavia. Those Muslim enclaves which remain "independent" would have to develop a modus vivendi in the same way that, say, Monaco has with France.

Such developments presuppose the collapse of the Izetbegovic radical wing of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Muslims. And there is clearly bloodshed to come before the package settles into place. But what shocks and confuses EC observers is that the "implacably hostile" foes in the region seem to be working toward their own solution. The economic sanctions against Yugoslavia now seem all the more irrelevant to the solution of the crisis.