2006-11-14

Clueless in the Balkans, fall 2006 edition

When I was an intern at the Open Society Institute in 1997-98, my boss, Arthur Helton, had me draft letters to Bob Gelbard, the Dayton czar of the Clinton administration. They often started, "Dear Ambassador Gelbard, Bosnia is at a crossroads." Today, Bosnia really is at a crossroads. The best indication for that is that even the EU has noticed.

Yesterday, EU defense ministers met to discuss troop reductions in peacekeeping missions (read: Congo and Bosnia, with customary good timing).
"A decision to reduce troop strength is under consideration," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told the meeting. "The situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina allows this."
Source: AP, Concern over Kosovo delays EU decision on cutting Bosnia force, International Herald Tribune, November 13, 2006

But then he went on to say that a decision should not be taken before next month, and actual withdrawal not begin before February.

If the situation in Bosnia "allows" troop reductions now, why wait till February? Because the UN has just postponed its imposition of a Kosovo status until after the Serbian elections, to be held at the end of January. Solana's people must have forgotten to brief the current EU presidency on these things, though:
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, who chaired separate EU foreign ministers talks with Ahtisaari, said the U.N. envoy's decision to delay would not harm efforts to bring lasting stability to the Balkans.

"We are not afraid it will destabilize the situation," he told reporters.

In other, related news, Bosnia's High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling, a man who spent his entire period in office trying to undo as much as possible the legacy of robust international action in Bosnia, is now calling on his overseers in the "Peace Implementation Council" to think twice before confirming the decision, taken last June, to close down his office by June next year. (The PIC meets in February for that purpose; many observers thought it would just rubber stamp the closure without much debate.) The OHR is scared that its entire exit strategy of having an association deal with the EU signed soon is about to collapse since the Serb Republic is reneging on its part of and agreement on police reform. Next step: the EU will define down the "non-negotiable" principles of the reform (which had already been agreed last year) to make a "deal" possible. The first to suggest that option? None other than the High Representative, who -- with a straight face -- told a press conference last month that he had never heard of the idea that police regions should cross the entity boundaries except around Sarajevo.

Watch this space for more weaseling from the OHR and the EU.

18 comments:

blahblahblah said...

RS is not rejecting "police reform". Framing the argument in such a way is totally biased. Who could ever say they're against reform? What RS is against its own police force being forcibly abolished.

Why should RS accept that - supposedly to meet EU standards - when current EU states have separate police forces for various territories? Take Germany - each Land has its own Landespolizei and Minister of the Interior. So RS has to have less rights in BiH than a Land does in Germany, to meet "European standards"?

No, this is just another attempt at majoritisation and unitarisation in BiH, and a country cannot be built on conflict. The people who were afraid of being in a permanent minority in Yugoslavia after Slovenia and Croatia left are the same people now trying to establish a permanent majority in BiH. They've learned nothing and forgotten nothing, I guess.

Anonymous said...

A nice counterpoint that overlooks the single biggest obstacle in this reform issue: the RS police was founded by war criminals and it still bears their heavy legacy.

The intl community did not take the riskier option of abolishing all wartime military factions and parties, which would have done away with SDA/HDZ/SDS in 1995/96. Since Dayton legitimized their legacy, the only other acceptable venue to move past the criminal legacy is: reform. And the past ten years of RS obstruction of police reform (and refugee return and so on) have been partly an effort to protect the (profitable) wartime legacy of Karadzic and Mladic.

In short, one cannot talk about "biased" police reform without talking about the crimes that the very police was founded on.

Bg anon said...

I'd add to the comment by anonymous by saying that much of the contingent of police in the countries of the former Yugoslavia were the criminal and state security element. Many of them participated in activities not at all consistent with human rights standards - so much of the argument used with regard to the region in the 1990's.

There is nothing new in that. And of course each bureacracy will try to resist itself being abolished.

Still, I didnt realise that Schwartz Schilling was so unpopular in some quarters - interesting.

blahblahblah said...

anonymous, your argument makes no logical sense. If the RS police is full of corruption and war criminals, why does including its members in a BiH wide police force solve the problem? If that is the case, the police should be purged of such people, not abolished. Your problem and solution have no logical connection between them.

Your rhetoric seems to focus on the past. What's happened has happened, and we could spend all day blackening "the other side". However, at the end of the day, these things have to be compromised on and RS simply will not give up its police force unless coerced. I'm sure all decent people don't want BiH to be a country in which the minority is constantly outvoted and coerced by the plurality. If Bosniak politicians really want a BiH of all its citizens, in fact and not merely on paper, they could try respecting the other two nations BiH also belongs to.

Anonymous said...

estavisti, your claims seem to ignore some of the key terms of the present debate in B&H. let's be clear:

1) RS police does in fact still have many war criminals. Just today, Radovan Stankovic, who was an RS policeman in Foca at the time of his arrest in 2002, was sentenced to 16 years of jail for war crimes in that area. Many more lower level perpetrators are in the RS police force. All of this is public knowledge and you can get a good sense for this if you look through the IWPR archives.

2) As it currently stands (i.e., not in the past), RS has not made a systematic attempt to purge such war criminals from its middle and lower ranks and institutions. Aside from a few instances of coerced cooperation, for ten years the RS leaders have consistently evaded attempts at reforming the structures which nurture criminals.

3) Since RS has not and is not acting (again in the present tense) to purge these criminals from the police forces, the police structure itself must be redrawn and reformed. That way, the conditions will be set for a more accountable police force. Isn't having an accountable and fair police force in the interest of progress for all citizens?

and estavisti, I must say that for someone so quick to react to the "rhetoric of the past," you yourself have no problem resurrecting fears of B&H "majoritization" at the expense of the Serb minority? A strange argumentative tactic in discussing police reform, which should (in my opinion) be about creating a fair public force accountable to all citizens... Something which certainly does not exist in the RS.

blahblahblah said...

I'm talking about what's happening now. You claim to be in favour of what the citizens want - so you agree with a referendum in RS on this issue then, as has been suggested?

bytycci said...

The decision not to withdraw troops, has to do more with the Kosovo situation. If Serbia decides to do something crazy, like attack Kosovo, NATO/EU will need troops in the region.

Anonymous said...

TK and Anonymous: While you certainly have a point about Republika Srpska in general and the RS police in particular, the fact is that the "West" - OHR and EU institutions - handled this one badly. The Bosnian Serbs were never going to agree to a fully unified police, or a police structured along the lines of the armed forces.
Even integrating the military was (is) a bitch, and RS politicians only accepted the reform after lots of foot-dragging, probably realizing that the average Jovan wouldn´t much care about a small, non-conscription force. The police is an institution much more important to citizens´ daily life - RS voters´ daily life, as they see it.
And then, pretty much everyone remembers the developments of 1991. The police can always serve as a reserve force.

Estavisti: Well, it seems to me that OHR etc. are trying to outsmart the Bosnian Serbs. Which is all right - Serbs (actually, all sides) have had their share of outsmarting the "internationals". The easiest way ahead is probably to quietly shut down the police reform in exchange for some equally quiet concessions on other issues.
You´re suggesting a referendum. Wouldn´t it be sort of pointless, just like various other recent referenda in Ex-Yu?
Speaking of which, I think the West could take some courage and use the Montenegrin referendum as a precedent for a similar one in RS - on, well, appropriate terms. After all, a 66% threshold is hardly rare when it comes to constitutional questions...in case you wonder, read the poll numbers.

Christian

ida ridge said...

1) RS police does in fact still have many war criminals. Just today, Radovan Stankovic, who was an RS policeman in Foca at the time of his arrest in 2002, was sentenced to 16 years of jail for war crimes in that area. Many more lower level perpetrators are in the RS police force. All of this is public knowledge and you can get a good sense for this if you look through the IWPR archives.

Bosnian Muslim run courts have convicted Serbs of crimes they didn't commit in the past.

Serbs were convicted of killing two Muslim brothers who were both found alive and well after the war. The brothers served in the Bosnian government army in Sarajevo throughout the war.

There is no DNA evidence of rape presented at all.

Serb women made the same exact accusations and sent them to the UN security council before the Muslims started with the rape camp propaganda. The Serb reports are of better quality and with DNA evidence in which a woman had a baby and did name the rapist father.

Serb women mostly don't get their day in court against the Muslims who raped them or presided over the camps.

The Muslims have never presented any DNA evidence or paternity tests of rape, despite in this case they claim Radovan Stankovic did participate himself.

But there is no rape baby at all.

The Muslims are politically biased and will lie, exaggerate, cheat, perjure to push their agenda and propaganda.

blahblahblah said...

Christian, it's not me suggesting a referendum on the abolishement of the RS police, it's various politicians in RS. Why would it be pointless? It would let us know what "the people" actually think.

Ida, I largely agree with you, but it's dangerous to generalise. I may disagree with the majority of "the Muslims", but it's some Bosniak politicians that are the true problem, who don't seem to realise the war's over.

Anonymous said...

Hello, what a great post. I wanted to inform you about this site I came across that delves into the power of people using video technology to record human rights abuse. They recently posted on a topic I thought you'd be interested in regarding use of video for conflict resolution in the former-Yugoslavia: http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/2006/11/06/former-yugoslavia-can-video-play-a-part-in-truth-justice-and-reconciliation.

Anonymous said...

Estavisti, please excuse my sloppy writing.
Why do I think that a referendum on RS police would be pointless? The so-called international community is obviously not prepared to respect the majority´s wishes in this case. So rallying for a referendum would only serve to incite nationalist sentiments on both sides, while changing exactly nothing on the ground.

Christian

blahblahblah said...

When the will of the majority is explicitly expressed it's (theoretically) much harder to ride roughshod all over it, though that never stopped them before. Not pointless, if only so that historians can draw their own conclusions.

WARchild said...

Yes, the terror weapon of choice in ex Yugoslavia were the police, not the army.

I would rather give Serbs the army than the police. While there won't be another war anytime soon, a mono ethnic police force can make life hell for the unrepresented groups and go unnoticed. On the other hand, when the army leaves the barracks NATO can tell easily and destroy them.

vale said...

quote from "ida ridge" comment:
The Muslims are politically biased and will lie, exaggerate, cheat, perjure to push their agenda and propaganda.

is no one else bothered by this comment? or by the fact that the only response it was provoked was by estavisti who vaguely said: "Ida, I largely agree with you, but it's dangerous to generalise. I may disagree with the majority of "the Muslims", but it's some Bosniak politicians that are the true problem, who don't seem to realise the war's over."

personally, i think that ida's whole comment about invented rape was hateful. and i'm appalled that this is accaptable level of debate on this blog, which is usually intelligent and informative. but this?

Eric Gordy said...

Vale, yes, I am bothered by it. I hope if "Ida Ridge" comes back here, this pseudonymous person will be able to disagree using strategies other than racist nonsense.

ida ridge said...

"personally, i think that ida's whole comment about invented rape was hateful."

So, you are saying that claims of rape weren't ever used as propaganda? That the huge figures are true and verified?

Can you provide one case of DNA/paternity evidence used in court or wherever against an ethnic Serb soldier? Just one?

I've not ever heard or seen of DNA being used or presented to confirm rape. The media made claims of rape babies constantly.

Why aren't blood tests being done or even attempted? Surely there'd be some cases with evidence if the rapes against were a fraction of the claims.

I do know of a woman who worked with refugees mainly from the Balkans, and one man - a Bosnian Serb - was in severe pain and crippled due to sodomy in the Muslim-run prisons. The UN took pity on him and helped him get to the U.S. for surgery. She had some access to records, medical records or the refugees. She never spoke of the Muslims, men or women, needing medial treatment for torture/rape/sodomy. Nor did she speak of them have scars or evidence they were beaten, as she did the Serbs.

She also spoke of a Serb man who had had his face beaten in - and it was visible what happened to him - as it permanently disfigured his face and had caused facial bonestructure damage. He was beaten by Bosnian Muslims in one of their prisons during the war. He left the U.S. to return to Vojvodina (where he lived right after the Bosnian war) because there were too many of "them" (meaning Bosnian Muslims) here.

Eric Gordy said...

"Ida," this is the part of your original comment that is hateful:

"The Muslims are politically biased and will lie, exaggerate, cheat, perjure to push their agenda and propaganda."

The claims in your subsequent post about a lack of investigation and prosecution are simply false.

I will say this once: cut the racist bullshit or your comments, present and future, will be deleted.