Bosnia and Herzegovina on the Map of the Battle Over Dominance in Europe
Traditionally for the republic which used to be a part of the former Yugoslavia, the March 1 Sarajevo celebration of the two decades of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence attracted Croats and Muslims but was completely boycotted by the local Serbian community. Croat representative to the tripartite presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Zeljko Komsic said on the occasion that the republic became an independent and sovereign country on March 1, 1992 in line with the will of the majority of its citizens, with his Muslim peer Bakir Izetbegovic adding, in a reference to the dissenting Serbian community, that eventually all of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina would learn to love it. Serb member of the tripartite presidency Nebojša Radmanović shunned the ceremony.
The confidence expressed by Bakir Izetbegovic, the son of late Bosnian Muslims’ leader Alija Izetbegović, appears unwarranted considering the story of the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On March 1, 1992 the administration of the republic which was at the time built into the Yugoslavian Federation claimed to have won an independence referendum, and within weeks from the declaration a civil war was raging across the ethnically divided newborn state, including its capital Sarajevo. While the exact death toll related to the conflict, the bloodiest in Europe’s post-World War II history, remains unknown, available estimates put it at around 200,000.
The 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina stands out as exceptionally ferocious even in the grisly context of Yugoslavia’s collapse which began with the secession of Croatia and Slovenia and lingers on in the form of the Kosovo crisis. The otherwise credible view that Yugoslavia was torn apart by ethnic and religious discord and that an array of external forces – the UN, NATO, the EU, and Muslim fundamentalist groups – contributed to the existing disintegration trend does not apply to Bosnia and Herzegovina where the US and Europe played the key role and deliberately did whatever it took to fuel the conflict.
Bosnia and Herzegovina galloped towards independence over a period of several months. In October, 1991, the republic’s parliament passed a sovereignty memorandum by a simple majority instead of the qualified majority normally required by the constitution. As the next step, in January, 1992 the secession supporters – an overwhelming majority of the Muslims and a large part of the Croatian community of Bosnia and Herzegovina – pressed for an independence referendum which, given the ethnic disposition in the republic where Serbs accounted for a third of the population, could not but sanction its withdrawal from Yugoslavia. The poll was held on February 29 – March 1 and already by the end of its last day the Sarajevo administration announced that its independence plan had been confirmed and the Bosnian Serbs, who opposed it having refrained from the vote, that they were ready to fight for their interests.
It became clear at the moment that the republic was sliding into a civil war, and several European politicians made attempts to prevent disaster. Great Britain’s Lord Carrington and Portuguese ambassador Jorge Cutileiro offered what seemed to be a reasonable solution when they suggested recasting Bosnia and Herzegovina into a confederation with strict power-sharing among the republic’s ethnic groups and the delegation of most of the administrative functions to local communities. With international mediation, Muslim, Croatian, and Serbian leaders – notably, Radovan Karadzic who was later held responsible for the bloodbath in Bosnia by the West – penned the deal on March 18, 1992 in Lisbon. The plan, however, was derailed when, at a secret meeting on March 28, 1992, US ambassador to Yugoslavia Warren Zimmermann urged Alija Izetbegović to revoke his signature and pledged full US assistance in having Bosnia and Herzegovina internationally recognized as a unitary republic. Izetbegović immediately annulled the agreement signed in Lisbon, recognition was granted to Bosnia and Herzegovina by the US, Germany, and other major Western powers shortly thereafter, and, predictably, fighting erupted in the republic.
Influential US congressman Tom Lantos took the wraps off the US agenda in Bosnia and Herzegovina when, in 2007, he cited the US diplomatic involvement in the republic as “yet another example that the United States leads the way for the creation of a predominantly Muslim country in the very heart of Europe”. In his own words, “This should be noted by both responsible leaders of Islamic governments, such as Indonesia, and also for jihadists of all color and hue”. Washington, therefore, knowingly opened Europe’s doors to radical Islamists by shifting on the Serbs the blame for the failure of the settlement in Bosnia and Herzegovina and throwing the US support behind the Bosnian Muslims whose forces counted in their ranks thousands of Mujahideen from North Africa, the Middle East, the US, Germany, and elsewhere. Bin Laden’s associate and Gama’at al-Islamiyya leader Anwar Sha’ban, for example, was known to have serially organized in Bosnia and Herzegovina the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) camps via which Arab and Egyptian militants flooded the Balkans, and the ominous al Qaeda head personally covered the expenses of the Mujahideen heading for Bosnia, the province which Islamists intended to convert into a kind of Afghanistan at the heart of Europe.
The US and NATO unilateralist meddling in Bosnia and Herzegovina echoed with a spread of destabilization over the entire Balkan region. The Balkans could be seen as a distant proving ground for the “limited war” technology from Washington’s perspective, but Europe’s course vis-a-vis Bosnia and, later, Kosovo was and remains in many regards self-defeating. No doubt, part of the explanation in the 1990ies was that Germany, in the wake of its national reunion, was pursuing serious interests of its own. The conflict in the region’s central Bosnia and Herzegovina presented Berlin with opportunities to either set up its own military outposts in the Balkans or to call for the relocation of the US military bases Germany was hosting since the Soviet era.
Bosnia and Herzegovina used to be free of Muslim fundamentalism until Rabita, a New York-headquartered NGO whose mission can be best described as the organization of pan-Islamist political and military support for globalization, gained inroads into the province in the late 1980ies. Way ahead of the war, Rabita planted in Bosnia and Herzegovina a network of bases which, in the humanitarian guise, served as entry points for radical preachers from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco plus helped sustain various paramilitary anti-Serbian groups. The activity was ideologically and politically coordinated by Alija Izetbegović – his treatise The Islamic Declaration, where Islam was proposed as the basis for identity and statehood steadily topped the reading lists of Muslim youths in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the aftermath of the 1995 Dayton deal, Washington was forced to try pushing at least some of the Mujahideen out the province and even asked Sarajevo to close the offices of notorious groups like the Saudi al Harmain. The administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina had to take into account that a faction of US congressmen were beginning to feel that Sarajevo’s contacts with downright international terrorists grew into a source of permanent embarrassment.
These days, the West increasingly puts to work in the world’s strategic regions the humanitarian intervention scenarios and subversion techniques tested in the Balkans in the 1990ies. Z. Brzezinski holds that, potentially, the Balkans are an important stake in the battle over dominance in Europe. Speaking of Bosnia and Herzegovina, it obviously stays ethnically divided and scarred by the bloody past conflict even two decades since rolling out its independence.