The former Yugoslavia – independence and the fate of minorities – part six
TransConflict is pleased to present the sixth part of a chapter of “Confronting the Yugoslav controversies – a scholars’ initiative”, entitled “Independence and the Fate of Minorities (1991-1992).”
By Gale Stokes
Gojko Mišković, one of the collaborators in the Scholars’ Initiative, testifies how thoroughly Karadžić’s hostile approach had penetrated the discourse in Bosnia by mid-1991. In August of that year, Mišković participated in a meeting of representatives of twenty political parties from around Yugoslavia. The meeting was organized by his party, the Democratic Party [of Serbia], and took place in the Hotel Ilidža near Sarajevo. Here is how he describes the meeting:
The entire atmosphere of the meeting was electric, like before a major storm on the open sea. . . . [After the meeting came to order about thirty minutes late],Velibor Ostojić, head of the delegation of the Serbian Democratic Party of Bosnia and Hercegovina (SDS), was the first to speak. Even the delay in the opening of the meeting drew his vehement and contentious rhetoric. Probably unnerved by the fact that he had to make a presentation, he made it clear in a raised voice that the SDS and the Serb people would not accept any concessions or compromises, because they were on their own turf (svoji na svome). As the strongest and the most prepared they were in a position to thwart plans for the independence of Bosnia and Hercegovina. While he was speaking, the delegations of the Serbian Socialist Party . . . and the Communist Union of Montenegro showed their support by nodding their heads. Immediately Ostojić’s “dearest enemies” [the representatives of the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Hercegovina—HDZ BiH—and of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action—SDA] responded in the same contentious way, after which [others] refined and supplemented the argument. The news we heard the next morning from a tearful Dr. Gordana Hajduković (SDP Hrvatske) that the JNA and Serbian territorial troops had shelled her native Osijek dealt the final blow to efforts to conduct calm discussions. The next round of talks three weekends later was a complete fiasco and total failure.
“The main reason that predetermined the failure of the discussions,” Mišković believes today, “was the hostile and contentious tone of the representatives of the SDS, which had the character of a war cry from Serbian heroic epics: either get out, or submit (il’ se skloni, il’ mi se pokloni).” Surely not by coincidence, a telephone conversation between Milošević and Karadžić taped at about
the same time as the party meeting in Sarajevo confirms that the Serbs had already decided to use force in Bosnia. “You’ll get everything, don’t worry. We are the strongest,” Milošević tells Karadžić. “Don’t worry. As long as we have the army, nobody can do anything to us.” Some in the West originally believed that Karadžić and the other Serb leaders were “rational people with whom one could argue, negotiate, compromise, and agree. In fact, they respected only force or an unambiguous and credible threat to use it.” As Edward P. Joseph put it, “No degree of assurance to the Serb minority in either Croatia or Bosnia could likely have deterred Milošević from deploying the arsenal of Yugoslavia for his aims.”
Franjo Tudjman, while on some occasions more willing to listen to admonitions and advice from the Western powers than Karadžić, was almost the equal of Karadžić in his nationalism, but of course on behalf of Croats. “He has one purpose in life,” remarked Lord Owen, “to control all the territory that he believes historically belongs to Croatia—and to that end he will use any means.” At the first meeting of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), Tudjman said ominously, “The NDH [Independent State of Croatia during World War II] was not simply a quisling creation and a fascist crime; it was also an expression
of the historical aspirations of the Croatian people.” In the months from the time of that statement until the election of 1990 brought Tudjman to power, one of the most notable features of public life in Croatia was the vitriolic nature of Tudjman’s campaign. Susan Woodward notes that this was important not because it was unique—Milošević achieved his power by similar outbursts against Kosovar Albanians—but because it played a role in defining how far in the direction of inflammatory prejudice it was permissible to go. Shortly after his election, Tudjman moved to rehabilitate those who served the fascist regime of the Independent State of Croatia; streets and squares were renamed in honor of supporters of that regime; and purges of Serbs from Croatian police forces spread even to the dismissal of Serbs in commercial ventures. Larger questions of how to approach the transition that Croatia was undergoing in its social, economic, or ethnic dimensions never became the focus of his regime. Neither did Tudjman see cooperation with educated urban Serbs who might have stood as a counterweight to the Krajina Serbs as worthy of interest, thus leaving moderate Croatian Serbs in no-man’s land between Milošević’s nationalism and Tudjman’s narrow
vision of Croatia’s future.
The contrast of these moves with Izetbegović’s efforts to mediate is almost as great as the contrast between Izetbegović and Karadžić. Indeed, Tudjman never really accepted Bosnia as a state. Instead he maintained a hope that it be divided with Serbia, with at best a small Muslim enclave around Sarajevo. In other words, Tudjman’s nationalist agenda seemed to consist of two goals typical of a nationalizing regime: first, to replace Serbs in positions of authority or of economic power with Croats; and two, to expand the borders of Croatia if possible. He succeeded in the first, but at the expense of alienating even moderate Serbs in Croatia, and he failed in the second, although he and Milošević had discussions that Tudjman hoped would lead to the partition of Bosnia. Beyond his national goals, Tudjman had ambitions to be recognized as a European leader. But his nationalist policies, as well as his bombastic style and love of pomp and circumstance, gave the impression to many of a comic opera ruler rather than a leader of substance. This reputation and appearance did not prevent him from providing hard-edged leadership for the Croats until his death in 1999.
‘Independence and the fate of minorities’ is a component of the larger Scholars’ Initiative ‘Confronting Yugoslav Controversies’ (Second Edition), extracts of which will be published on TransConflict.com every Friday.
42) Mišković email to Stokes, November 30, 2004.
43) Dusko Doder and Louise Branson, Milosevic: Portrait of a Tyrant (New York: The Free Press, 1999), 96. See also Josip Glaurdić, “Inside the Serbian War Machine: The Milošević Telephone Intercepts, 1991-1992,” East European Politics and Society 23, no. 1 (2009): 86-104.
44) Richard Holbrooke, To End a War, rev. ed. (New York: The Modern Library, 1999), 152.
45) Edward P. Joseph, “Back to the Balkans,” Foreign Affairs 84, no. 1 (2005): 118. Joseph continues: “It is hard to overestimate how essential the minority-treatment principle is for the Balkans.”
46) David Owen, Balkan Odyssey (London: Victor Gollanz, 1995), 74.
47) Quoted by Ejub Štitkovac, “Croatia: The First War,” in Udovički and Ridgeway 2000, 156.
48) Susan Woodward characterizes Tudjman’s campaign as full of “anti-Semitic and -Serb vitriol” in Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution After the Cold War (Washington: The Brookings Institution, 1995), 133.
The former #Yugoslavia – independence and the fate of minorities – part six – #Balkans – http://t.co/imMaFcNnq3
RT @TransConflict: The former #Yugoslavia – independence and the fate of minorities – part six – #Balkans – http://t.co/imMaFcNnq3
QUOTE: “At the first meeting of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), Tudjman said ominously, “The NDH [Independent State of Croatia during World War II] was not simply a quisling creation and a fascist crime; it was also an expression of the historical aspirations of the Croatian people.” ENDQUOTE
This cherry-picked quote, a favorite of Milosevic’s media and of Western apologists for Milosevic, is taken out of context. What is left out is of course that before, and after, the cited sentence plucked from an entire paragraph, Tudman assailed the Ustasha regime and its policies, and both Fascism and Nazism as ideologies.
Tudman’s point was that Croats wanted to and had the right to independence, especially in the face of Milosevic’s centralist-unitarist agenda that he was both threatening to and using force to achieve, at the expense of Croatia. Tudman was opining on the historical circumstances of WWII: were the Western powers to have before or during the war offered the Croats a free, democratic state – which over 90 percent of Croats voted for in the pre-WWII elections by voting for the center-left pacifist Croatian Peasant Party – there would have been no Ustasha movement coming to power in WWII and Tudman would not have been a Partisan under Tito, but a Partisan under HSS leader Vlatko Macek, as he and his family were HSS before the war.
QUOTE: “In the months from the time of that statement until the election of 1990 brought Tudjman to power, one of the most notable features of public life in Croatia was the vitriolic nature of Tudjman’s campaign. Susan Woodward notes that this was important not because it was unique—Milošević achieved his power by similar outbursts against Kosovar Albanians—but because it played a role in defining how far in the direction of inflammatory prejudice it was permissible to go. Shortly after his election, Tudjman moved to rehabilitate those who served the fascist regime of the Independent State of Croatia; streets and squares were renamed in honor of supporters of that regime; and purges of Serbs from Croatian police forces spread even to the dismissal of Serbs in commercial ventures. ENDQUOTE
There are several problems with this argument. First, it is based on the Titoist apologist Susan Woodward’s far too lengthy apologia for Tito and Milosevic. Second, that apologia rested heavily on the politically charged rantings of foreign leaders and diplomats that stood quietly during Milosevic’s rise and more or less lobbied for his victory (the most important attempt to ensure it being the immoral and irrational arms embargo which guaranteed Milosevic’s military supremacy), as well as direct quotes from Milosevic’s massive media propaganda apparatus – the only semi-free media in Serbia at that time was B92 and even that fell victim to (and has since become a mouthpiece for) nationalist-expansionist Serbian propaganda.
The canard about squares or streets being named after WWII leaders was and remains just that, a canard. It was not government policy (HDZ itself was staffed by a large amount of former WWII Partisans and post-war Communist elites), but rather municipal policy left to local village, town and city governments to decide, and it (actually naming of streets and squares after WWII figures associated with the Ustasha regime) was limited to very few locales, mostly villages. It was not a massive social phenomena but a very rare exception to the rule. What is absent from this rabbit hole argument, is that Marshal Tito Square remained unchanged the duration of Tudman’s presidency, and this alone turns the rabbit hole “argument” that spins the exception to the rule – streets being named after WWII Ustasha or NDH cultural or literary figures – on its head. If the main square of Croatia was named after Tito, then there was no “rehabilitation” of NDH, especially state sponsored and or enforced.
The NDH “rehabilitation” argument is itself a red herring. The Communist political and academic elites during and since Communism have continually argued that any scholarship questioning the blatantly propagandistic, inaccurate and many times entirely forged Communist historical narrative as “rehabilitation of NDH,” when in reality, it was and is scholarship on long-taboo subjects.
Finally, the “purging” of Serbs is also a canard. First it does not address the fact that Serbs were 11.5 percent of Croatia’s population yet a) 47.5 percent of the Communist Party of the Socialist Republic of Croatia – which translated into all sectors of directorship over the entire economy and state-owned businesses b) over 40 percent of Croatia’s police (that figure almost was doubled in Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, where they were 70 percent of police) c) over 50 percent of Croatia’s intelligence services d) over seventy percent of the professional YPA, reserves and territorial defense stationed in Croatia.
Croatian Communists who did not recognize the new government and democratic changes were purged en mass as well – and they were slightly larger in number than Serbian Communists in Croatia who lost their positions. This means that the purges were entirely political, not ethnic.
It also is important to remember that Milosevic’s intelligence services were more or less openly arming nationalist Croatian Serbs starting in 1988 (ending only in August 1995 – with the exception of the Podunavlje region, where Serbia’s arming of Serbs there ended with the Erdut Agreement – the arming of Bosnian Serbs by Belgrade began in 1989) – and the police, intelligence services and YPA / Reserves / TO did nothing to disrupt it, meaning that they were not doing their jobs and could not be trusted.
QUOTE: Larger questions of how to approach the transition that Croatia was undergoing in its social, economic, or ethnic dimensions never became the focus of his regime. ENDQUOTE
This is untrue. Tudman offered Croatian Serbs more or less the same autonomy Kosovar Albanians had in Kosovo before Milosevic staged his coup there and brought in a neo-apartheid regime. Tudman also offered Jovan Raskovic the Vice Presidency.
All of this was rejected outright. The problem with the above-claim is that it ignores the entire trajectory of Milosevic’s regime, his media, and the role of the Serbianized YPA (both General Staff and regular army) that was entirely focused on either a) Crushing Croatia outright and installing a puppet regime with Stipe Mesic, Josip Boljkovac and Josip Manolic in control (see Blagoje Adzic’s memoirs) b) Taking all “historic” Serb lands in Croatia as well as either Zadar, Sibenik or Dubrovnik as a coastal city.
There was no reasoning with Milosevic or his “Krajina” quislings. They rejected all common sense peace agreements outright.
QUOTE: Neither did Tudjman see cooperation with educated urban Serbs who might have stood as a counterweight to the Krajina Serbs as worthy of interest, thus leaving moderate Croatian Serbs in no-man’s land between Milošević’s nationalism and Tudjman’s narrow vision of Croatia’s future. ENDQUOTE
See the above response.
QUOTE: Indeed, Tudjman never really accepted Bosnia as a state. Instead he maintained a hope that it be divided with Serbia, with at best a small Muslim enclave around Sarajevo. ENDQUOTE
That certainly does not explain Croatia being the first country to recognize B&H, Tudman’s Croatia being the location where the first two professional Army Corps of the Army of B&H formed on, Croatia’s assistance to the AB&H and HVO in organizing the defense of B&H from the YPA and VRS (over 80 percent of what is now the Federation was held or liberated by the HV and HVO), the Croatian Community of Herzeg Bosna taking in 220,000 Bosniak refugees with Croatia taking in another 500,000 Bosniak refugees (providing clothing, food and shelter to the women, children and elderly and providing uniforms, military training and arms to the Bosniak men) – Croatia’s arms, ammunition and humanitarian aid flowed to the Bosniaks and AB&H the duration of the war, even during the peak of Bosniak aggression against the entire Croatian community of Central Bosnia, North Herzegovina and West Mostar.
QUOTE: In other words, Tudjman’s nationalist agenda seemed to consist of two goals typical of a nationalizing regime: first, to replace Serbs in positions of authority or of economic power with Croats; and two, to expand the borders of Croatia if possible. ENDQUOTE
Both claims are flimsy at best. The first claim of course doesn’t even recognize the disproportionate over-representation Serbs had inside of Croatia in all sectors – the CP itself, local government, Republic government, banking, media, the economy (specifically state-owned firms), police, intelligence services and of course the military – nor does it acknowledge that many of these Croatian Serbs who were in these positions of power due entirely or at a minimum partially to their mere membership in the CP were openly siding with Milosevic and his “Krajina” puppets. Also absent from the narrative is the fact that Milosevic’s intelligence services were illegally and quite openly arming radical Croatian Serbs starting in 1988, and that the police, intelligence and military in Croatia did nothing to stop it. This was a very real threat to national security. Also absent from the narrative is the fact that Croatian Communists were also purged, in greater numbers as they were more numerous. The purges were against the Communist regime relics that refused to acknowledge democratic changes or the new government.
That more people were purged from Croatia’s civil service, media, state owned companies, police, intelligence services, and military by the 2000 coalition government than by Tudman in 1990 seems to still escape many regional experts.
QUOTE: He succeeded in the first, but at the expense of alienating even moderate Serbs in Croatia, ENDQUOTE
This is false. Most moderate Serbs supported SDP after 1990 and did not take up arms against non-Serb neighbors.
QUOTE: and he failed in the second, although he and Milošević had discussions that Tudjman hoped would lead to the partition of Bosnia. ENDQUOTE
The article above provided no evidence for the second premise. Other than speculation of what is a thought crime, there is not one document that shows in any way Tudman wanted to (or tried to) expand Croatia’s borders in B&H. If you are referring to the Karadjordjevo myth – where Tudman and Milosevic allegedly “divided Bosnia,” I have to point out a few logical inconsistencies in that myth.
The first is that the strong do not make deals with the weak at their own expense. Milosevic wanted, and the YPA had operational plans for and indeed carried out massive combined arms operations for, the entirety of B&H which was critical to [the Serbs] to control to a) Secure “Western Serbia” (the “Krajina”) b) Secure and be the geographic link to a “Serbian” Croatian coastal city. Milosevic had the open backing of China and the USSR, and the tacit banking of the US, France and UK. Germany favored Yugoslavia continue to exist until the fall of Vukovar. So Milosevic had a) The YPA and more or less, its entire arsenal b) Diplomatic support c) A very skillful and effective propaganda and misinformation campaign inside and outside of Yugoslavia. Tudman had armored grocery trucks and 30,000 AK47s. To even entertain the thought that the opportunist Milosevic would make his own opportunity for expansion even smaller is simply illogical. Also, taking into consideration that the Karadjordjevo meeting took place at the demand of the international community, that Izetbegovic was invited but did not show up because the fascist Vojislav Seselj claimed in Serbia’s state media two days before the meeting even took place that the meeting was to “carve up Bosnia,” it seems quite evident that the myth was itself generated by Milosevic and Serbian intelligence to a) Drive a wedge between the fledgling but natural Muslim-Croat alliance b) Equate Tudman’s goals with his own, a propaganda coup being that he was the architect and on-site-manager of Yugoslavia’s, and Croatia’s and B&H’s, destruction.
A second logical problem with the Karadjordjevo myth is the war in Croatia. It started unofficially in early March in Pakrac, when the YPA openly sided with the “Krajina” rebels, and officially on August 3, 1991 when the massive YPA assault on Vukovar began. You don’t fight a war with Serbia if you have a deal with it.
A third problem is Milosevic’s two attempted assassinations of Tudman, one in Benkovac in early 1991 and the second in October 1991. You don’t try to kill the guy you made a “sweetheart deal” with.
A forth problem is the YPA aggression and ethnic cleansing of Croats, and the YPA’s string of battlefield defeats on the territory of B&H by HVO and HV forces from May 1992 through to Dayton. If there was a “deal,” those engagements – which destroyed entire Serb army groups and demoralized Serb soldiers and civilians alike – would have never taken place.
So, in terms of Tudman’s alleged thoughts on the partition of B&H, they remain allegations – by everyone other than Tudman. There is either a written tract or text, a speech, and of course those are just thought until there is actual legislative attempts to do so.
Accusing Tudman of plotting or hoping to divide B&H is meaningless in terms of the context, namely, how Tudman and Croatia saved B&H and Bosniaks from being wiped off the face of the earth.
QUOTE: Beyond his national goals, Tudjman had ambitions to be recognized as a European leader. But his nationalist policies, as well as his bombastic style and love of pomp and circumstance, gave the impression to many of a comic opera ruler rather than a leader of substance. This reputation and appearance did not prevent him from providing hard-edged leadership for the Croats until his death in 1999. ENDQUOTE
Tudman was concerned with the fate of his nation and people. Everything else was trivial in his eyes.
That international diplomats who were trying to help Milosevic consolidate his expansionism had negative things to say about him is no surprise, as Tudman against all odds out maneuvered all of them and militarily and politically crushed Milosevic (who had everything in 1991 and achieved nothing – RS was saved not by his competence, but by UK, French, Dutch and Russian lobbying on his behalf to prevent Croatia’s forces from taking Banja Luka), and achieved every single strategic objective he laid out in less than a decade.
I am sure Tudman took all of those attacks as more feathers in his cap, as most Croatian citizens still do.
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