Monday, 8 March 2010

British politics, a dirty, dirty game.

I wasn’t going to write much about the resumption of Karadzic’s trial last week. It was all going to be fairly predictable and it was. The trial began on Monday which happened to also be a Bosnian National Holiday, their Independence Day, a fact not lost on the Serbs*. Karadzic asked for (and got) more time to prepare, but not before he managed to go on for two days in a speech designed more to remind the Bosnian Serbs of their greatness and less to prepare for his defence. He denied everything, calling the seige of Sarajevo and the events in Srebrenica myths and then called the war ‘just and holy’. I mean holy? Really? I’ve heard many opinions as to why Bosnia imploded in the early 1990s, but religion is most certainly not one of them. Most people I know here couldn't even be bothered to listen to what he had to say, it was all so predictable.

Of far more interest is what else was going on around that day.

For some time, the EU has been trying to encourage Serbia onto the road of EU integration. The biggest obstacle in its path to full membership has been its failure to bring about the arrest of Ratko Mladic, the leader of the Bosnian Serb forces during the war. Everyone thinks Serbia knows exactly where he is. Serbia say they are doing all they can to find him, but he never seems to be found. Either way, every now and then the EU feels that they need to throw Serbia a bone, something to make them remember that they do want to join the EU and to encourage them to continue behaving themselves.

So on the very same day that the Bosnian Serb Karadzic’s trial restarts, Serbia asks Britain to arrest a Bosnian Muslim whom they regard as a War Criminal. Britain, to its eternal shame, did so, arresting Ejup Ganic as Heathrow and detaining him as a prisoner. Ejup Ganic, the Bosniak Vice-President during the war, has already been investigated by the ICTY in The Hague, but no indictments were made, nor formal charges bought.

Essentially the charges revolve around Ganic's role in protecting Sarajevo from the JNA (the Yugoslav army, which essentially became the Bosnian Serb army, as the Bosniak's had to create their own armed forces to defend themselves from agression, particularly difficult as there was an international arms embargo on the region, so they could not buy the weapons that they needed to defend themselves against the heavily armed Serbs). For more information I recommend you read this article by the London based Bosnian Institute,  this post by Marko Attila Hoare**,  this by Amila Bosnae and finally this by the Srebrenica Genocide Blog (read the comments too)

The British Government has said that it was "just a case of the judicial authorities following their legal obligations" and they were not making a political statement at all. Try telling that to the thousands of protesters outside of the British Embassy in Sarajevo on Friday. They, like pretty much everyone else, see it as a way of appeasing Serbia for the trial of Karadzic.

Sometimes I'm ashamed of my country. They couldn't even get the right country. The arrest warrant for Ejup Ganic's arrest talks of crimes committed in Sarajevo in Serbia. Ethical Foreign Policy? The Bosnians are right to be furious. In the meantime we've been advised, as British citizens, to keep our heads down.

*The Serbs did not want independence, they were essentially fighting against Bosnia’s cessation from the then Yugoslavia. They don’t celebrate Bosnia’s Independence Day.

** the picture that Hoare uses in his post is of an event in Tuzla. Tuzla did manage to repel the JNA army and as such was spared the worst of the ethnic cleansing that afflicted the rest of north eastern Bosnia. This picture freaks me out though. Brcanska Malta is where I go scooting with the boys. I know it well. But every time we go there I find that I can see the burning tanks in the middle of the road.


Jo Beaufoix said...

I read. I don't know what to say except it is terrifying and awful. I hope you're ok.

Nina said...

The problem with this is who to arrest. 40 soldiers doesn't seem like a particularly significant figure when compared with genocide and ethnic cleansing.

However, life in Bosnia during the war was not a joke for Serbs either, particularly in the villages. People say "Well Serbs started it" which might be true, but I don't think it means the retaliatory violence on the population of the villages was made all right. It is impossible to compare life in Belgrade in the early 1990s with the siege of Sarajevo, but we absorbed many, many, many, many Bosnian refugees (some of whom were friends and family, and who along with the clothes on their backs brought back tales of such chilling violence that it still gives me nightmares).

Those people have long memories too, of assault and violence and murder and destroyed homes. I think from my experience of living in Serbia without some kind of gesture to show that a Bosnian criminal (whether he is the appropriate one or not) is being arrested, it is just going to create a deeper rift of bitterness.

Nina said...

The politics may be dirty, but in this case it is most likely smart. I am no expert in politics - but I am part-Serbian, and I was born in Belgrade, and I've got plenty of friends and family there so I still go back.

If you consider that from the Serbian perspective, the genocidal crimes against them (such as the explusion of the entire Serbian population from Krajina) was never condemned nor redressed (e.g. Hoare has written about it being "morally justified") it makes it easy for people to feel so deeply bitter and angry, and when they feel bitter and angry that's when it becomes a fertile ground for nationalism and all kinds of other stupidity because the Serbs start to feel like they are being made the scapegoats of the Balkans. (If you try and do research on the internet it is damn near impossible to find a piece of writing that doesn't either fall into a "Serbs are evil! They brought their genocide on themselves!" or a "We are the misunderstood martyred victims of conspiracy and Imperialist America!")

I am from an ethnically mixed family and so is my husband. He is a Croat born and raised in Serbia where his grandparents emigrated after being imprisoned in the Jasenovac Camp during WWII (grandfather was Serbian, grandmother was Croatian - she wouldn't give him up so off to the camp they went!) and the wounds of all this run deep.

Serbs do feel like they have absorbed more than their fair share of discrimination and grief - and people can argue about statistics, but the emotion is fairly real and until something is made to redress the hurt, it is going to be difficult for people to calm down and look forwards instead of the past.

It is hard to maintain a balanced perspective on the war in Yugoslavia because the urge is to make someone the bad guy. It is difficult to say "What we did was awful, and what was done to us was awful too" but without it, the flames of dangerous things are fanned. I don't know whether Hitler would have succeeded in Germany to the extent he did if the national spirit of the people hadn't been so low and ready to embrace the shiny promise he brought.

I suppose the other parallel is the Israelis and the Palestinians. Another discourse where people feel compelled to demonise and side with one or the other exclusively, and that in my experience breeds madness. I am part Jewish, I have often been to Israel and I have never walked away with a sense of anything other than that a people against whom so much injustice had been perpetrated, were in their fear perpetuating a massive injustive of their own.

It is difficult to sit in the middle of polarities. I am not a popular person because I can see the case for both sides. But that's how I'm wired, so I guess I'll continue to be unpopular and stay away from politics as much as I can because from what I have seen ALL politics is profoundly manipulative and a dirty, dirty business indeed.

I hope the latest bout of madness goes dormant soon, and that you and your family are all right.

Anonymous said...

Nina, the death of 40 soldiers in captivity is certainly significant and cause for just concern. The point is that what is happening at the moment is that the Serbian government is exploiting those deaths for its own political purposes and obscuring the reality of how they occurred.

The number of soldiers killed in the specific incident for which Ganic might be held responsible seems to have been less than ten. The other deaths are supposed to have occurred elsewhere in Sarajevo, in the aftermath of the Yugoslav/Serb attempt the day before to seize control of the city in a sudden raid with tanks and armoured cars and the kidnapping of the Bosnian President at the airport.

While negotiations were in progress to exchange Izetbegovic for the captives an angry crowd appears to have got out of control and in some sort of shoot-out the wounded soldiers were killed by persons apparently unknown in apparently disorganised conflict.

The real point is that this incident had already been investigated by the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, who found no grounds for proceeding against Ganic. With the winding-up of the ICTY any further legal actions are supposed to be dealt with, as I understand it, on the territory of jurisdiction (in this case Bosnia, since the killings took place in Sarajevo), after discussions between the countries concerned.

So essentially Serbia were just trying their luck and hoping that the Brits would be asleep at the wheel (the Foreign Office geographers never seem to have noticed that the Serbian request located Sarajevo on Serbian territory!). The fact that it happened on the opening day of Karadzic's trial was not a chance event. Branka Margas has written a very cogent analysis arguing that this is another aspect of the campaign of equalisation - crimes were committed on all sides, on one side the siege of Sarajevo on the other the Sarajevans'/Ganic's "murder" of captive Yugoslav soldiers, etc.


Anonymous said...


I'm very sorry Nina, I agree that the innocent Serb victims of the war do deserve to have their story heard, but that simply won't happen as long as the Serbian campaign of propaganda continues to occupy the centre of the stage, and I'm afraid it's still got a lot of legs, at least as long as there's a chance of Karadzic and above all Mladic escaping conviction and so Serbia avoiding the prospect of being held to account for its involvement.

You're right, it's not fair on those who themselves suffered, but the blame needs to be laid at the door of those responsible, and along with them their careless dupes, like a British government whose courts service couldn't even deliver the right prisoner to the bail hearing.

I am amazed how forbearing Bosnians are. I haven't heard of any Britons being threatened even after the stirring up of all the memories of how terribly we let them down during the war. Hopefully Fraught Mummy and offspring will have nothing more to cope with than intensified granny glares. But I hope the Embassy will come up with some form of apology to you all for the screaming incompetence that ever allowed this to happen and exposed you all to the possible risks of this situation.

angelsandurchinsblog said...

Be grateful for living in interesting times? Hmmm, perhaps too interesting in your neck of the woods. Interesting post, and interesting comments - thank you for helping break it all down for those, like me, living with our heads in the sand.

Gappy said...

Informative post. Informative comments.

Thank you for educating me on the realities of the situation in present day Bosnia.

Surely it is a disaster for humanity if these Serbian army leaders are allowed to escape justice for the atrocities they committed.

Of course there were Serbian victims of the war too, and they deserve to be heard, but we can't pretend that Serbian forces were not the main aggressors, or that there were equal casualties on all sides.

I have read a fair bit about the conflict in the Balkans and it has chilled me to the bone.

What I find so deeply frightening is that somewhere inside all of us must be the capacity for committing or colluding with such horror. How else do you explain the involvement of many ordinary citizens in such atrocities - not only in the former Yuogoslavia, but in Nazi occupied Europe, and in Rwanda too.

nappy valley girl said...

Shocking to think that Britain is in such collusion. And how appalling for you to have to keep your heads down. Keep safe.

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

I was v interested to read Nina's perspective on all this too. it's good to hear a reasoned debate & different views. I am also impressed you can spell all the names;o) Seriously, thanks for writing, I hadn't heard any news for a few days, am off to catch up now1

Anonymous said...


The ICTY indicted Ante Gotovina for crimes committed in the Krajina, so you can't really say it overlooked Operation Storm. Nor has it failed to consider attacks on Bosnian Serb villagers - Naser Oric was arrested, convicted and acquitted on appeal, remember?

Heather said...

I had no idea it was all so bad out there. I hope you are okay. Thinking of you.

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Jo B - We're fine, there are no problems in Tuzla. But it does demonstrate how politics has real meaning to many peoples lives. There is a real anger here about this.

Nina - Thank you so much for commenting. You are right to highlight that this war was a war in which atrocities were committed on all sides. It is also true that to marginalise the Serbs has the potential to create bitterness and potential for future problems. I believe this is why the Serbs have been encouraged to become a part of the EU and now have the right to visa free travel (unlike the Bosnians). The real problem that I have with the arrest of Ganic is the timing. To me it looks like someone wanted to placate potential problems with the Serbs so looked to arrest someone, anyone almost, irrespective of who, so that there was a counter balance to the resumation of Kardzic's trial. And whatever the politics, things should only happen when they are right not because it is politically beneficial to do so. Like I said, thanks so much for commenting, you were right to highlight that this is not a one-sided issue. PS - you have one of the most interesting and varied backgrounds I've ever come across! Must be fascinating.

Owen - thanks as ever for your informative comment. We are absolutely fine, no hint of a problem here in Tuzla. Like you say, the Bosnians are remarkably forbearing and have only been welcoming and generous to us at all times (bureaucratic officials notwithstanding, but that is their standard operating procedures, we are not getting any different treatment to anyone else).

A&U - The old Chinese curse. I wanted to post about this (although my political posts are never as popular) because I think it is important that British people realise the impact that our government's actions have. If you want to know more then give me a shout and I'll direct you to a load of other reading material...

Gappy - You must read 'The Key to My Neighbour's House' by Elizabeth Neuffer which addresses exactly this issue. It is a very readable book, although its content is disturbing:

NVG - There are no problems up here in Tuzla. Not living in the capital does have its benefits after all.

Paradise - Glad you found it interesting. I agree, Nina's comments were very helpful.

Anon - You are right to point out that Croats and Bosniaks have been tried for crimes against Serbs. Thank you .

Heather - As I said to Nappy Valley Girl, it is mainly in Sarajevo. There are benefits to not being in the capital city. We've had no problems at all.

Gappy said...

Thanks for the book recommendation. Will order it. x

Iota said...

Always so interesting to read your take on these things.

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Gappy - do, it is excellent.

Iota - Glad you enjoyed it. I never know if anyone wants to read a rant about Bosnian politics, but as it is my blog I'll write it anyway!

Damir said...

interesting post and I agree with you. The Ganic case is something which should not of been brought up anyway, as he was "acting president" at the time when Alija Izetbegovic was kidnapped by the Serbian-Montingeran army (known as the JNA) at the time. There was supposed to be a prisoner exchange however clashes of gunfire broke out and this had nothing to do with orders, just a few Bosnian militamen who are angry about the Serbian shelling of Sarajevo the previous day.

With regards to Tuzla, I can understand your picturing of the burning tanks there. I am a Bosnian refugee now living abroad, my family had to leave our village in North-East Bosnia as it was being heavily bombarded by Serb Artillery and tanks, after leaving our village we got to Tuzla and all we saw was the same JNA troops who were bombarding us getting out of their bases preparing for some sort of martial law. Very scary times, and like you stated the Defenders of Tuzla did the rightfull thing by attacking the JNA, as it spared their city from being surrounded like Sarajevo.

neil craig said...

"I’ve heard many opinions as to why Bosnia imploded in the early 1990s, but religion is most certainly not one of them."

That is an extraordinary comment. I take it you didn't notice that the war was between Moslems, Othodox Serbs & Catholic Croats. I could certainly agree if you had said there other darker forces at work but to say religion was not invioled seems to be willfull nonsense.

Regarding Ganjic - is it your contention that the massacre of Yugoslav soldiers under a UN brokered truce did not take place or that Ganjic was not in command of the Bosnian Moslems at the time. If both of those are clearly established, as seems to be the case there is undeniably a case to answer of mass murder. Wht do you say it is shameful that the British government should not break the law to prevent him facing trial? If the Guilt for war crimes is created by committing war crimes - if the NATO funded ICTY refused to prosecute that in no way gives him a bye to murder it simply proves the ICTY to be corrupt & racist. It was certainly shameful that the obscene genocidal child raping organlegging Nazi war criminals who make up virtually the entirity of the British government assisted in genocide by him & so many others but there is nothing shameful in bringing pro-Nazi mass murdering war criminals to justice.

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