When Bosnia was Divided in Graz

Only a month had passed since the beginning of the war in Bosnia when the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić meet with new strong man in the Bosnian Croat HDZ Mate Boban for a secret meeting at the Graz airport on 6 May 1992. At this point, the HDZ was still formally a coalition partner to the Muslim SDA in the Bosnian government, but this alliance was quickly unraveling. It was thus that this meeting was officially “secret”, even though the Austrian media, including the state broadcaster ORF, and later the international press reported extensively from this event. The content of this meeting remained silent, as there was no official announcement and the Croat delegation left the five hour meeting without speaking to journalists. Karadžić however revealed to reporters and, as the Austrian daily “Die Presse“ notes on 7.5.1992,  that the talks focused on the “cantonization of Bosnia”. Already at the time, Austrian tabloids speculated, as it turns out rightly, whether the meeting had as its goal the partition of Bosnia.

Karadzic at the Graz Airport, 6 May 1992

The meeting in Graz between Boban and Karadžić follows an earlier, better known meeting between the Serbian and Croat preisdents, Slobodan Milošević and Franjo Tudjman, in March 1991 in Titos old hunting lodge where both had already agreed on the partition of Bosnia. How much Karadžić and Boban received the backing of the two republics also became obvious as Karadžić arrived with the plan of the Yugoslav government and Boban with a car of the Croatian authorities.

So what did Boban and Karadžić agree on in Graz? Despite speculation about the partition of Bosnia by media and frequent reference to the agreement during trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the content remains largely unknown. Neverthless, the Bosnian daily “Oslobodjenje“ proved to be well informed a few days after teh meeting, correctly identifying the content of the agreement. The agreement itself was later published by the Croatian politician Zdravko Tomić. Austrian journalists noticed that the Croat and Serb delegation focused on a large Bosnian map showing the demographic distribution. The Agreement indeed focused on drawing a line of division between Croat and Serb spheres of influence in Bosnia, effectively dividing the country without the third and largest community being represented at the table.

Croat and Serb representatives do not agree on all matters in Graz. While Karadžić considers the river Neretva the border between Serb and Croat territories in Herzegovina, the Croat delegation supports the border of the 1939 Croat banovina instead. In the North of Bosnia the two delegations agree on the division of territory along the strategically important Posavina corridor that connects the region around Banja Luka with Serbia. The Agreement concludes that „as a consequence of what has been agreed there is no reason for further armed conflicts between Serbs and Croats on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina “.

Kleine Zeitung, 7 May 1992

The Agreement does not in a single word mention the Muslim population (not to mention anybody else). This is particularly absurd when dividing Mostar, the scene of intense battles between Croat and Bosnian government forces just a year later. The agreement notes that Croats claim all of the city, while Serbs see the Neretva river once more as the line of division.

During his trial at the ICTY Karadžić noted the importance of the agreement as it largely put an end to the Serb-Croat conflict. Similarly the well respected Serbian journalist Miloš Vasić noted in 1993 that the Grazer Agreement constituted „perhaps the single most important document of the Bosnian war“, as it enabled the Bosnian Serb army to focus on Muslim targets and prepared the ground for the two side war against the Bosnian government in 1993.

The maps on which the nationalist leaders drew new borders have been rolled out before Graz: The European Community represented by Portugese diplomat José Cutileiro suggest the creation of ethnically defined cantons already in February 1992 at the insistence of nationalist politicians. The division of Bosnia also had been decided already in 1991. In Graz, however, new borders were drawn for the first time and one conflict, the Croat-Serb one in Bosnia, came to an end so that the overall war would continue much longer. The consequence of the agreement was the Croat-Muslim war within the war which only came to an end in 1994 with the Washington Agreement, a prerequisite for the Dayton Peace Agreement.

What remains of the Graz Agreement? With more than three years of war with and some 100,000 victims, the borders Boban and Karadžić drew in Graz were drawn and redrawn, some changed, others remained the same. The border between the Croat and Serb dominated regions of Herzegovina is similar to the 1939 Croat banovina, as Croat negotiators in Graz had hoped. The Posavina region has remained under control of the Serb Republic, even if it is divided by the District of Brčko. More important than the maps is the idea that Bosnia should be divided along ethnic lines. Despite (or because of) the Dayton Peace Agreement and extensive international support for refugee return, most of Bosnia remains divided into ethnically largely homogenous regions. The Graz agreement is thus a reminder 20 years after its conclusion of the failure of international mediation and ruthlessness of nationalist “leaders” to divided lands without any consideration of the people living there. While Mate Boban died in 1997 and Radovan Karadžić stands trial in The Hague, their ideas, maps and plans remain alive.

(thanks to Nidžara Ahmetašević and Iva Komšić  for researching the background materials).

The surprising-unsurprising “Yes” for the EU in Croatia

The referendum on EU accession of Croatia gave a resounding “Yes” in favor of joining the EU. According to the final results, 66.27% of citizens who turned out voted in favor. The No vote got only  a third of the vote. Striking is that every county of Croatia voted in favor of joining the EU, even the most Eurosceptic region of Dubrovnik-Neretva stilled voted 56.93% in favor. The regional variation is thus not very great and there is no clear regional pattern except for the two southern regions of Split and Dubrovnik being more skeptical. Support was great in towns close to the EU, such as Varazdin and Cakovec, but also in poorer towns and regions like Slavonski Brod or Gospic. This suggests that the reasons for support were multiple. Opponents of the EU did not do well, even in strong-holds of more nationalist parties, such as in Slavonia where the HDSSB did well in parliamentary elections. Ironically, it would seem that the Euroskeptics did best on the Dalmatian islands of Brac and Hvar. For example in the two municipalities of Jelsa and Stari Grad on the Island of Hvar, support for EU accession was just above 50% (51.16% and 51.79% respectively). This would also suggest that rejection of the EU is less based on the nationalist arguments heard in the referendum campaign, but possibly on the sense of some tourist destinations that membership will not bring an tangible benefits. The few Bosnian Croats that voted (just over 6000, or 2.3% of eligible voters) endorsed EU membership with 87.85%.

The turn out in the diaspora was low, but so was it in Croatia itself. This somewhat puts a dent into the referendum results. Only 43.68% of eligible citizens voted. The low turn out is not unique to Croatia: elsewhere similar referenda often had an equally low turn out. Now it could be argued that the result is no surprise. No significant parliamentary party campaign against joining and even Ante Gotovina in custody at the ICTY endorsed the vote, undermining nationalist argument against accession. So no surprise? Well, there might not have been no surprise now, but only a year ago, Euroskepticism was high. Protests last year in Zagreb burnt the EU flag, even if protestors agreed on little else. For years prior, Croatia had become by far the most Euroskeptic country in the region. In 2009, according to the Gallup Balkan Monitor, only 26.2% of Croats thought the EU was a good thing, nearly half of the runner-up Serbia, in 2010 the number dropped to 24.8%. So were the numbers wrong? The referendum suggests two things about support for EU accession in the Western Balkans: First, citizens might be growing weary of the EU as negotiations drag on, once they are concluded, it is easier to warm up to the EU. Second, many citizens might not “love” the EU, but they consider it the least bad option. Thus among many “Yes” voters in Croatia today are surely also those who rather not take any chances, especially as the alternative remained unclear and potentially risky. Thus, even if support for accession is likely drop in the other countries of the region–as it so often dues in the accession process–this does not suggest that citizens will vote against membership at the end.

A semi-surprising outcome of elections in Slovenia and Croatia

Ballot Paper for the Croatian elections: evil and lesser evil

A few days a ago, I had the chance to discuss the outcome of the parliamentary elections in Slovenia and Croatia (see here for the podcast). The fact that the incumbents lost the elections was no surprise. Not only is the current economic climate across Europe such that incoming governments have little chance of winning elections, no matter whether they are from the left or right, but also opinion polls in Croatia and Slovenia had predicated a resounding loss of the governing coalitions and parties. The main surprise was the victory of Positive Slovenia led by Ljubljana’s mayor Zoran Jankovic and founded only six weeks ago.

A striking feature of both elections in Slovenia and Croatia is the decline of the extreme right. Even though both elections were fought under the impression of a severe economic crisis and popular dissatisfaction, the extreme right could not benefit. For the first time since 1992, the Slovene National Party did not win a seat in parliament. In Croatia, the extreme right was represented by a confusing number of incarnations of the Croatian Party of Right, winning an all time low of one seat (the Croatian Party of Right running alone and winning no seat, the Croatian Party of Right-Ante Starcevic running with the Croatian Party of Pure Rights winning one seat and another autochtonous Croatian Party of Right). For full results see the final report of the election commission.

Of course, this does not mean that there were no populists winning elections. The ruling HDZ campaign on nationalist themes (unsuccessfully), denying national legitimacy to the opposition. It also formed a regional coalition with the populist mayor of Split Zeljko Kerum. The winner of Slovene elections is a populist, although more of the center left and the second party, the Slovene Democratic Party of Janez Jansa is heavily drawing on populist themes and seeks confrontation on classic national-populist themes.

The new centre-left governments in both countries have daunting tasks ahead of them. They have to engage in painful economic reforms and not just make few changes, but alter the very structure of the economic system. Even if Slovenia has been government mostly by centre-left governments since independence and Croatia by conservatives, there is a broad shared social support in the countries for a state that provides extensive services, be it in regard to health and social benefits or for employment. Such a state seems in both countries currently no longer sustainable. Thus “slimming down” the state will be inherently unpopular and left-wing coalitions will be forced to pursue neo-liberal reforms. This will make it likely that both new governments—if Jankovic is able to form a coalition—will quickly become deeply unpopular. Unless they are able to turn a corner in terms of economic growth quickly, they both seem likely to be replaced at the next elections, or even earlier. There is in fact a sense of deja vue in both countries. In Slovenia, the coalition seems like to be sabotaged by the abuse of referenda—the strategy employed by Jansa’s SDS in the past. In Croatia, the uncompromising position of Jadranka Kosor on election night suggests that HDZ might try to sabotage the government from the streets, a successfully strategy of Ivo Sanader’s HDZ ten years ago. Now, it might not be over war crimes, but economic cuts. While it does seem likely that the new governments will become unpopular, it remains still unclear on what the alternatives will be. Jansa’s SDS seems to be struggling to be electable to a majority of Slovenes and HDZ will have to decide between just reinventing itself or finally reforming itself, if it can.

The Risks and Benefits of Ethnic Citizenship

Millions of people in Southeastern Europe are citizens of more than one state. Many acquired this status when they were gastarbajteri [guestworkers] in Germany, Austria and elsewhere in Western Europe; others received a second passport as they fled the wars that accompanied the disintegration of Yugoslavia. For some people, dual citizenship seems due to a quirk of fate: for example, their father may have been born in a different Yugoslav republic than they and held that republican citizenship when Yugoslavia was still a single country and when republican citizenship had no practical significance. Due to some long abandoned vestiges of patriarchal rules, today they have the right to a second citizenship of a republic they never lived in. Among the many ‘multi-citizens’ of Southeastern Europe there are probably a million who have received passports from countries they have never lived in. Hundreds of thousands of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina hold Croatian citizenship as a result of their ethnic Croat identity. Over 50,000 Macedonians also became citizens of Bulgaria after declaring themselves to be ethnically Bulgarian. Recently, Serbs from Bosnia (and elsewhere) have been able to become Serbian citizens by declaring their loyalty to Serbia—most prominently, President of the Serb Republic, one of the two Bosnian entities, and Milorad Dodik, who publicly submitted his request for citizenship to the Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić in 2007. Nearly a million Moldovan citizens have applied for Romanian passports and over 100,000 have been granted EU citizenship, on the grounds that they are descendents of former Romanian citizens who lost their Romanian citizenship when Bessarabia was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1944.

Read the rest of the comment at: http://www.citsee.eu/op-ed/risks-and-benefits-ethnic-citizenship


Croatia’s EU prospects and voices from the past

The conclusion of negotiations between Croatia and the European Commission is great news for the region. After nearly six years of talk, this crucial period of EU accession for Croatia has been completed. There is little doubt that Croatia will manage to join within around two years due to the cumbersome ratification process (note for any politician in the region: if it takes 8 years for Croatia between beginning talks and membership, it’s unlikely to be faster anywhere else.

Now the question is how to “sell” accession to the current member states. Here, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in a commentary today [paywall] clearly heads into the wrong direction. The author writes “In some [European] capitals, the candidate Croatia is considered a Balkan country and a corner stone of Tito’s Yugoslavia.” He goes on to note that the “former Hungarian crown land is as central European as Slovenia and resisted Belgrade’s Serb hegemony.” While the comment notes that the difference between Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim sozialisation (whatever that means) is not a source of conflict in the EU, they are not irrelevant when it comes to national specificities (Eigenheiten). Implicitly, the comment suggests that Croatia completes the European Union rather than opening the door to the inclusion of the rest of the “Western Balkans”: Every inclusion is also an exclusion of those who are not joining at the same time. To argue that Croatia is joining due to its Catholic and central European nature is not only doing the EU a disservice which is more than a club of Central and West European countries, but it also challenges the process of enlargement over the past decade and serves cheap and rather dated Balkan stereotypes (recently revived thanks to the Greek crisis). Finally, it also throws an ugly light on the way on way the FAZ has been commenting on the dissolution of Yugoslavia exactly twenty years ago with offensive commentaries by Johann Georg Reissmüller which lacked any critical distance towards the Tudjman regime and in its blatant Balkan stereotyping.


Curb your mens rea

After recently returning from an excellent conference at Indiana University on the Milosevic trial and watching the open statement of Radovan Karadzic at The Hague this morning, a number of issues regarding the work of the ICTY and the writing of history of the 1990s come to mind.

As a scholar, the ICTY court records have become a treasure trove of documents and evidence on the events of the 1990s. Thus, even when working on topics not related to the wars, there is much data available which is of interest, from party documents of 1990 to entire books and memoirs. Just like a real treasure trove, the data is hard to find and has to be searched by defendant (for example in the Boskovski case alone there are 1828 statements, documents, etc. available) and if one is not an avid trial watcher it is not easy to know where to find what.

However, beyond the ICTY as a source, how to approach the court as a researcher? First, the ICTY asks different questions than many of us researchers ask. We are often less interested in direct criminal responsibility than in the larger social processes. However, even if we are, the standards of evidence for historians or social scientists are different than in a court. We hardly ever have our sources cross-examined and we accept that evidence and lines of reasoning are challenged later on by colleagues (even if we might not like it) while the court seeks to render a final judgment which will send somebody to prison for years. Thus, the role of scholarship is less about judging and more about assessing. This does not mean moral ambivalence and there is no doubt that scholarship, especially when dealing with Yugoslavia’s disintegration in the 1990s, has to assess responsibility. Scholarship does not need a guilty verdict against Milosevic at the ICTY to identify him to be responsible for much of the war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. While legitimate questions remain about specific instances, the overall picture is quiet clear.

Here emerges some discomfort: In the Milosevic case, the prosecution paid particular attention to the intention (mens rea), painting a picture of nationalism and commitment to Greater Serbia (a term I don’t find very helpful) to explain the acts perpetrated or ordered by Milosevic, Karadzic et al. Here there is an uneasy relationship between the work of a trial and scholarship. The prosecutor’s role has been to present a clear linear story of ideological commitment and crimes committed in accomplishing this goal. It is a narrative which nicely links motivation to acts. However, as scholar, I feel distinctly uneasy about such a linear narrative. In fact, I am reminded of a very different example from legal practice. Having provided some expert advice on asylum cases, a more experienced colleague told that in verifying the story of a refugees for its veracity key is to look out for inconsistencies and quirks in their story. These are not evidence of problems in their claims, but the opposite. If the narrative of persecution and flight is too straight forward, like it should be, alarm bells should go on. Human life is too complicated and, well, too individual to fit into the large narratives. What applies to refugees is also true for war criminals. It is less their long-hedged master plan which is convincing, but the opportunistic, short-term calculations which motivate crimes. Change and inconsistency rather than a clear strategy.  Furthermore, intention itself is very unsatisfying in a context when ill intent was very wide-spread. The key is who acted on it and who did not. If we take Vuk Draskovic’s statements in 1990 and 1991 (some even earlier), then his intentions appear much more dangerous than those of Milosevic and others. The commitment towards extreme nationalism, the hate speech towards other nations left little doubt about his intentions. Still, following a short engagement of his party’s paramilitaries in Croatia, he stopped supporting the war effort and became one of its main critics (more so than for example the currently governing DS in Serbia).

The current indictment against Karadzic and the opening statement by the prosecutor are largely encouraging in this regard as it does indeed focus on the crimes and not so much on the political pre-history. In court today, Karadzic tried to turn the prosecution’s case around by constructing a narrative of mens rea of the leadership of Slovenia, Croatia, the Bosnian Muslims and Croats and taking points from the prosecutions case and turning them around to replace his name with others. While the result was often a familiar conspiracy theory and distortion of historic events, there are legitimate disputes and conflicting arguments about the motivation to establish nation states and the dissolution of Yugoslavia. The fact that Slovenia and Croatia sought to leave Yugoslavia was understandable in the context at the time and there is certainly nothing to justify the use of force, but there are serious and legitimate political disputes at the heart of the Yugoslav conflict before it turned violent to which there is often no clear cut answer of right and wrong.

Thus, while the ICTY can contribute to the writing of history by disclosing chains of command, I am much more skeptical about the larger, linear narratives of mens rea which seem to run against the subtleties which scholarship has to identify.

Partisan songs in Croatia and Bosnia

While singing Partisan songs is still a scandal in Croatia, especially on election night, it is quiet ok in Bosnia.

Elections in Bosnia and foreign leaders

If you are in Bosnia these days and are not following what’s going on, you might be mistaken to think that presidential elections are occurring.

Candidate 1: Sarajevo, last weekend

Candidate 2: Banja Luka, last weekend
The good news is that there are no elections looming and neither Sanader nor Putin are running in them.

The bad news is that once more some are looking outside the country for help from other outsiders ruling the country.

In fact, the hysteria in RS and Serbia over Miroslav Ljacak’s imposition is out of proportion when reading the decision and actually remembering that in the past year more often than not, decisions were not taken in the Council of Minister of Bosnia due to the boycott of Bosniak members.

Never before have RS officials and Serbia react so hostile to any OHR decision over the past 12 years, suggesting that it is not really about the decision, but rather something to do with Kosovo.
See more here

The end of Feral

It seems like Feral Tribune has come to an end. Ironically, it is not Tudjman’s attempts to ban it through pornography tax but good old capitalism: The saying about the two certainties–taxes and death–seems closely intertwined in the case of Feral Tribune. Unable to pay back some huge tax bill from the Ministry of Finance, it stopped publishing. It’s harder in the post-authoritarian times with less clear targets, smaller battles to fight, but I hope Feral will also survive this latest challenge.

Chirping about evidence

When crickets become evidence… Jutarnji List reports that some have questioned the recently released recording of the meeting in Brijoni of Tudjman and the army to plan operation Oluja in 1995. According to the report there is no sound of crickets when Tudjman talks about the expulsion of Serbs, unlike elsewhere on the recording. In its comprehensive reporting, it also shares some information on crickets: they only chirp when its warmer than 25 degrees (in fact you can calculate the temperature by the frequency of the chirps) and they don’t chirp when they are in danger or they rest.
So if there was no chirping during during these statements, I would propose several alternative theories to that of a doctored tape: a) the crickets were exhausted and took a quick break; b) they thought they would be expelled next and as noted above, crickets in danger don’t chirp or c) there was an unexpected drop in temperature (a certain chill in the air so to speak) or d) they just didn’t want to be on the soundtrack to such a project…

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