Balkan Holocaust: Preventing genocide from

Bosnia to Kosovo and beyond
By Javed Mohammed: Author of From Bosnia with Love

Genocide is not newto the Balkans or the twentieth century. Besides two world wars, these places have triggered much death and destruction. After the Holocaust we collectively said “Never Again.” But Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Darfur have shown us that genocide can happen again. The history of the former Yugoslavia and its republics is replete with conquest, violence and wars. Ottoman Muslim rule extended from Istanbul toward the west and Serbia. In the battle of Kosova in 1389, the Turks routed out the Serbs. The land that the Turks occupied – Bosnia – came under Ottoman rule and many of its citizens became Muslim. Although Serbia was brought under Ottoman control as well, it remained primarily Christian. Over time, the Serbs developed many myths about Muslims and sought to avenge this defeat. As all empires rise and fall, so did the Ottomans. Due to various factors, Muslim rule over the region came to an end in 1878 as the empire slowly collapsed. Bosnia and Serbia then came under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There were undercurrents of rebellion and some groups started aiming toward the unification of the southern Slav states. This state of affairs lasted until June 28, 1914, when a Bosnian-Serb assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife; both had been visiting Sarajevo. That triggered World War I.

After the war ended in 1918, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was created – a monarchy formed as the “Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes”. There was much infighting and the dominant Serbs and Croats fought over the rule of Bosnia. The ensuing unrest and political turmoil gave Axis forces a ready reason to invade Yugoslavia during World War II on April 6, 1941. The Nazis ceded Bosnia to its puppet state of Croatia. The Croatians formed paramilitary groups called the Ustashe, resulting in the widespread persecution of millions of people, including Bosnians, Serbs, Jews and Gypsies. The Serbs took up arms against the Nazis and Croatians by joining paramilitary units called Chetniks. In the process, Bosnian Muslims and the small Jewish population were persecuted from both sides. Bosnian Muslim paramilitary units then joined Axis powers to protect themselves, but no matter which side they took, they were caught in the middle. At the same time, under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslav communists started their own multiethnic resistance – the Partisans – who fought both the Axis powers and Chetniks. The Allies supported the Partisans and due to their military successes, the Partisans went on to form the leadership of the newSocialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. By the end of World War II in 1945, the seven states of Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Slovenia and Kosova were ruled under a loose federation called Yugoslavia. The new country, although ruled by Serbs in Belgrade, tolerated its diverse population under Tito’s communist leadership. When Tito died in 1980, the federal government transitioned into a rotating presidency among all the

republics. When it was Serbia’s turn for the presidency, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic led the federation. During his term, Milosevic instituted a harsh crackdown on the non-Serb constituents. In the early 1990s, some of the states sought independence, starting with Slovenia and Croatia, which were immediately recognized by the West. Milosevic opposed the independence of Croatia because it had a significant Serb population and vast natural resources. Serbia attacked Croatia and the Balkan war started. The United Nations, backed by the European Union, stepped in and negotiated a peace settlement. In early 1992, Bosnians held a referendum on whether to secede from Yugoslavia and become independent. When the majority of the population voted in favor of seceding, Serbia launched a full-scale war by arming the Serb population in Bosnia. Croats and Bosnians formed a coalition to fight the Serbs, but that alliance quickly broke down. Before Yugoslavia began to break up, the Bosnian Territorial Defense Force (the home guard) were ordered to turn over armaments to the Yugoslav National Army (JNA). The JNA also took over Bosnian tanks and artillery, and put the weapons directly into the hands of the Serb militias. Most, if not all, of the Serb police defected to the Serb side. The Bosnian government now had to build an army from scratch. Ordinary citizens of Sarajevo were organized into units by blocks and neighborhoods. While this was going on, the JNA was strengthening the Bosnian Serbs. The goal of the Serbs was to ethnically cleanse Bosnia of its Bosnian and Croat population. Besides military warfare, the JNA used every means possible to expel civilians from their homes.

Presidential orders for rape and pillage of the civilian population were passed down on to the troops. Chetnik militias received their orders directly from the upper echelons of the Serb government and military leadership. This included President Slobodan Milosevic and the Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. On the western Croatian front, strongman leader and President Franjo Tudjman mimicked the crimes of the Serbs against the Bosnians. The Bosnian nationalist party, the SDA, represented the Muslims, Croats and Serbs who supported an independent, democratic and multicultural Bosnia. The SDA learned, through its intelligence that the Serb nationalist party, the SDS, was organizing paramilitary groups to force non-Serbs out and reconnect with the Serbian motherland. The Serbs had the fourth largest army in Europe as well as vast stocks of munitions. The Muslims tried to build their own paramilitary structure called the Patriotic League and the Green Berets with support from the SDA. The Berets were not a single entity but a loose coalition of armed cells built around popular or selected leaders. However, once the Bosnian Territorial Defense Forces handed over all arms to the JNA, the Bosnians had little to defend themselves. The Serbs and Croats committed genocide and the Western powers chose not to aid Bosnia and just looked on. Unlike the genocides of the past, this one happened in real time as the world watched it unfold on their televisions. In 1995, after almost three years of fighting and genocide, Western nations mediated a peace agreement known as the Dayton Accords, signed in Dayton, Ohio. The European Union’s David Owen (former British Foreign Secretary) and the United Nations’ Cyrus Vance (former U.S. Secretary of State) came up with

the peace plan. The settlement in effect broke up Bosnia into two ethnic republics. The Republika Srpska (RS) was formed in the east and north for Bosnian Serbs. The rest was given to a Bosnian-Croat federation called the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It divided Bosnia into 12 parts, leaving the heart of the country, Sarajevo, as a U.N. enclave disconnected from the rest of the country. While peace started to dawn on Bosnia another conflict was brewing in Kosova. Kosova a small republic to the south of Serbia and North of Albania was an independent province under Tito. However, in 1989, Milosevic revoked its autonomy. Kosova’s almost 2 million population was predominantly Muslim and shared the same ethnicity as neighboring Albania. The West with their Dayton Accords chose to ignore Kosova, thus setting the stage for a second genocide in the same region. Similar to other Yugoslav states, Kosova declared independence in 1991. Milosevic sent the Serb police and army to rein in the Kosovars. Only Albania recognized Kosova while the rest of Europe ignored the new country. By not recognizing Kosova, Europe implicitly gave the Serbs permission to turn Kosova into a police state. The Serbs forbade Kosovar-Albanians from speaking their own language and selecting their own leaders. Gradually, the youth became frustrated with the harsh measures taken by the central and local governments, and decided to take up arms. The Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) was born with an initial contingent of between 15,000 and 17,000 fighters. Although their numbers and ammunition was no match for the Serbs, the Kosovars had a fighting spirit. They lacked experience – most fighters were just

young men protecting their families and homes – but through guerrilla warfare, the KLA managed to control more than 40 percent of the land. Later the Serbs started gaining the upper hand and the KLA lost territory as well as a lot of fighting men. Once again a campaign of rape and pillage was started by the Serbs against the Kosovars. This triggered the mostly Muslim population to leave enmass in huge refugee convoys. To avert another disaster the West stepped in. Although NATO and U.S. forces only enforced a no-fly zone in Bosnia, in Kosova they started a high-tech, low-risk air bombing campaign against the Serbs. The rationale was to prevent the war in the Balkans from rippling through Europe. Without ground reinforcements, the bombings had a negative effect. Bombs were being dropped in civilian areas and no one was quite sure who was behind the strikes, the Serbs or NATO. While the U.S. bombed Serb targets by night, the Serbs took revenge on Kosova by day. In the first five days of the bombing, the Serbs had expelled almost half a million Kosovars from their homes. More than 100,000 people were driven out of Prishtina, the capital. The KLA tried to help trapped refugees by creating a corridor through which they could pass, but it desperately needed the help of U.S. Apache helicopters. The Apaches never left the Tirana airstrip. Due to NATO policy, they just conducted routine training and observation missions. In addition to the wholesale execution of tens of thousands of Bosnian and Kosovar men, the women in the region were victims of a brutal and organized rape campaign. Rape was used as an instrument of war to demoralize and humiliate the population. The rape of

these women had a clear political objective – the systematic “cleansing” of the Muslim population. These violent acts were not random, opportunistic occurrences during war; they were proved to be based on orders from Belgrade. The directive to rape Muslim women was sent to the JNA and police, who passed them down to the militias. The real number of casualties in Bosnia and later Kosova will never be known. But after the war in Bosnia, popular estimates say that out of a population of more than 4 million in pre-war Bosnia, 2 million were displaced. More than 200,000 people were killed, and a reported 50,000 women were raped. Similarly in Kosova, with a pre-war population of around 2 million, more than a million were displaced. Women paid a heavy toll. On one side, they were losing their parents, husbands and sons. On the other, they were paying the price of war with their dignity and honor. Tens of thousands of women were captured and held for months as slaves in rape camps. The Serb captors wouldn’t release women until they were so late in their pregnancies that they couldn’t have an abortion. The captors were creating a generation of “little Chetniks” - a euphemism for children fathered by Serbs. Those women who didn’t become pregnant were still scarred for life. For Muslim women, cultural taboos prohibited most from speaking about their trauma. They hid behind a wall of silence and many became suicidal. For the unmarried, they lost hope of getting married and building a new future. For the married women, their experiences ended their marriages. Ironically, as the Bosnian conflict unfolded, U.S. President Bill Clinton attended the opening ceremony of the Holocaust Memorial in Los Angeles. The

European Union, the United States and the United Nations were responsible for tying the hands of the Bosnians and then the Kosovars by disarming them and placing an arms boycott on the region. This boycott affected primarily the Muslims. These actions helped facilitate another 20th century holocaust. In the same timeframe close to one million people were massacred in Rwanda. Whether it be in Bosnia, Kosovo or Rwanda, the words “Never Again” carried little weight. After the Dayton Accord in 1995 Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided as a country into two entities: Republika Srpska (a predominantly Serb territory) and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (a predominantly Muslim-Croat territory.) Kosovo in 2008 again declared its independence from Serbia. At the time of this writing in 2010 although recognized by some countries its legal status as a nation is being considered by the International Court of Justice. The court ruled that Kosovo's declaration of independence was not in violation of any applicable rule of international law. However, it is still not being accepted by Serbia. The scars and trauma of genocide are deep. Let us pray and hope we never again have to face another genocide anywhere in the world, period.


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