TransConflict is pleased to present part six of a chapter of “Confronting the Yugoslav controversies – a scholars’ initiative”, entitled “Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995”, which “aims at describing causes, features, and consequences of ethnic cleansing as a policy in Bosnia-Hercegovina during the war.”
By Marie-Janine Calic
The position of Bosnian Croats was a bit more complex. Whereas many Croats living in scattered communities across central Bosnia accepted the territorial integrity of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, both their leadership and the homogeneous Croat population concentrations along the Bosnian-Croatian frontier did not. On 12 November 1991 the Croatian Community of the Bosnian Sava Valley was established in Bosanski Brod. The same day, representatives of the Hercegovinian and the Central Bosnian HDZ concluded a working meeting with the decision to direct their efforts toward the unification of the Croat people and to prepare for military actions. Six days later Croat leaders of various municipalities met in the western Hercegovinian town of Grude, where they founded the Croat Community of Herceg-Bosna (HZ-HB), which was defined as a political, cultural, economic, and regional entity. On 3 July 1992 the Croat state of Herceg-Bosna was officially proclaimed. Thus, while the Bosnian Croat leadership was ostensibly committed to assisting the Bosnian government in defending the republic’s territorial integrity, there were many among them who anticipated the republic’s partition and union with Croatia if the opportunity arose.
Whereas the SDS had a single objective and the HDZ enjoyed two options, the SDA had no agenda aside from preserving a single Bosnia. Indeed, the subsequent charge by Serb propaganda that the Bosniaks planned to commit genocide against them was refuted by the SDA’s failure to prepare for an armed conflict until the eleventh hour.
Against the background of irreconcilable views and complementary contingency plans among political leaders about the future constitutional setup of Bosnia-Hercegovina, tensions increased constantly throughout the winter of 1991–1992. They reached a peak after the 29 February and 1 March 1992 referendum on the republic’s independence, which was held at the EU’s request. Despite the boycott of the Serb SDS, 63 percent of the Bosnian citizens, mostly Muslims and Croats, voted in the referendum, 99 percent of whom supported an independent and sovereign Bosnia-Hercegovina. The independence of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina was recognized on 6 April 1992 by the European Community, and on the following day it was recognized by the United States and Croatia.
In early March 1992, both SDS and SDA members erected barricades and checkpoints in Sarajevo. Forces loyal to the presidency seized strategic buildings and military equipment, while the SDS gradually took control of much of the city’s western and northern suburbs. Following the international recognition of Bosnia-Hercegovina as a sovereign state on 6 April 1992, there was extensive gunfire, and both sides were shelling military and civilian targets within Sarajevo. Snipers deliberately targeted civilians. On 27 May 1992 Bosnian Serb mortar shells killed sixteen civilians and injured more than one hundred others standing in a Sarajevo breadline (see chapter 6, “Safe Areas”). By September 1992, UNPROFOR had confirmed that the Bosnian Serb Army had created “siege conditions” in the Bosnian capital.
Violent outbreaks also occurred in many other parts of Bosnia-Hercegovina in early April 1992 and quickly escalated into a major armed conflict. Serb armed forces undertook massive ethnic cleansing operations in order to consolidate territorial gains. Within a couple of months, hundreds of thousands of people were on the move, and several tens of thousands were killed; a clear majority of the dead and displaced were Bosniaks.
Violent incidents had erupted even earlier in the ethnically mixed town of Bijeljina in northeast Bosnia. On 31 March 1992, local Serbs provoked armed clashes with the Bosnian Muslim Patriotic League and police and by 4 April had taken full control of the town, which was key to the Serb proclaimed Semberija and Majevica Autonomous Region. On 4 April, President Alija Izetbegović issued the order for general mobilization of the Territorial Defense and declared a “state of imminent war danger” on 8 April 1992.
‘Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995′ is a component of the larger Scholars’ Initiative ‘Confronting Yugoslav Controversies’ (Second Edition), extracts of which will be published on TransConflict.com every Friday.
Previous parts of the chapter ‘Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995’ are available through the following links:
32) Marko Attila Hoare, How Bosnia Armed (London: Saqi Books, 2004), 47. For RS media claims, see Final Report of the UN Commission of Experts, Annex V: The Prijedor Report, S/1994/674/Add. 2 (Vol. 1), 28. December 1994, 9, para. 13; Christopher Bennett, Yugoslavia’s Bloody Collapse: Causes, Course, and Consequences (New York: New York University Press, 1995), 184; Roy Gutman, A Witness to Genocide (New York: Lisa Drew Books, 1993), ix–x; David Bruce MacDonald, Balkan Holocausts? Serbian and Croatian Victim-Centred Propaganda and the War in Yugoslavia (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), 237.
33) Benjamin Rusek and Charles Ingrao, “The Mortar Massacres: A Controversy Revisited,” Nationalities Papers 32, no. 4 (2004): 830, 836–37, 846.
34) International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of Former Yugoslavia since 1991, Case No. IT–98–29–T, 5 December 2003, Prosecutor v. Stanislav Galić, Judgement and Opinion, para. 185–205, http://www.un.org/icty/galic/trialc/judgement/index.htm, accessed 10 October 2008. On the siege of Sarajevo see also Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Russian and European Analysis, Balkan Battlegrounds: A Military History of the Yugoslav Conflict, 1990–1995, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2002), 152–54.
35) United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General Pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 53/55 (1998), The Fall of Srebrenica, para. 6, www.un.org/peace/srebrenica.pdf,accessed 10 October 2008 and at http://www.xs4all.nl/~adampost/Archive/SR/sr_002.htm, accessed 10 October 2008.
36) CIA, Balkan Battlegrounds, 1: 135.