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Bosnian Genocide: Narrative of Balkanization or religious nationalism

Voice Of Times

Published : Sunday, 17 October, 2021 at 12:00 AM  Count : 614

Bosnian Genocide: Narrative of Balkanization or religious nationalism

Bosnian Genocide: Narrative of Balkanization or religious nationalism

In 1990, as Yugoslavia collapsed, the first multiparty elections were held. These elections created nationalist parties intent on perpetuating ethno-national identities and causes. By 1992, war was being imposed through Serbian and Croatian nationalists seeking to expand into "greater" national territory. In the coming years the perpetrators of "ethnic cleansing," displacement, mass atrocity, and genocide, were rewarded by the international community at the Dayton Accords in 1995. Dayton ended the war, but then imposed an ethno-nationalistic portioned Bosnia.

A "tycoon class" of nationalist leaders continues to enrich themselves through corruption supported by poverty, fear, insecurity, and the promotion of divisive ethnic identities. The hate didn't exist before; it was artificially installed. It was all so unbelievable at first. The emphasis on ethnicity and exclusion was so strong that ethnic hatred became normalized. There is also the ideology of religion and nationality. Never has there been more religion and less faith. National and religious identities are openly used as weapons in the political arsenal.

There had been a denial of Bosnian genocide that is rooted in Serb and Croat religious nationalism and Islamophobia. Unresolved and manipulated memory continue to haunt the Balkans. It is a fundamental mistake, however, to accept the narrative of "Balkanization" as an intractable "truth" of people living here. Balkanization implies that people are separated by exclusive group identities that make them prone to war and to live in perpetual hostility. This construct is a relatively recent development articulated by 19th century nationalism and reinforced during and after the war by corrupt leaders.

One of the difficulties in learning about what happened here in the 1990s is realizing that this narrative is used not only to promote exclusive ethnic identities and destroy the multi-ethnic and pluralistic identities of Bosnia; it was/is also accepted as the justification for the world to turn away. Accepting a construct such as "Balkanization" reduces our understanding of what was and is possible. There are competing tensions between exclusive nationalism as well as the opposite; a respectful sharing of multi-ethnic and multicultural identities.

The Bosnian War that occurred between 1992-1995, witnessed a period of displacement and ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats by the Bosnian Serb army and paramilitary forces. During the war, the Srebrenica massacre started on July 11, 1995 when Commander Ratko Mladi? occupied the town of Srebrenica. Thousands of Bosniak families sought refuge with the Dutchbat, a Dutch battalion under the UN forces that had been deployed following the upheaval during the Bosnia War, believing that the area under their control was a safe zone.

The Bosnian War was characterised by bitter fighting, indiscriminate shelling of cities and towns, ethnic cleansing, and systematic mass rape, mainly perpetrated by Serb, and to a lesser extent, Croat and Bosniak forces.Serbs, fearing Muslim-Croat domination, wanted a link with Serbia, which the others believed would simply mean being swallowed in a 'Greater Serbia'. All three armed themselves to the teeth, the Serbs having the advantage that Yugoslav regular army garrisons in Bosnia were Serb-led.

The disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991 threw the southeastern and central Europe in chaos and led to violent inter-ethinic wars in the region over the next few years. In many ways, the violence perpetrated against Bosniaks or Bosnian Muslims during the Srebrenica massacre was a result of this regional conflict. According to some researchers, this massacre was the worst atrocity against civilians in Europe since the Holocaust.

Turkish private individuals and groups financially supported the Bosnian Muslims, and some hundreds of Turks joined as volunteers. Greatest private aid came from Islamist groups, such as the Refah Party and IHH. As a NATO member, Turkey supported and participated in NATO operations, including sending 18 F-16 planes.

Large numbers of Croats and Bosniaks were forced to flee their homes by the Army of the Republika Srpska, large numbers of Serbs and Bosniaks by the Croatian Defence Council and Serbs and Croats by the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Beginning in 1991, political upheavals in the Balkans displaced about 27,00,000 people by mid-1992, of which over 700,000 sought asylum in other parts of Europe.

In September 1994, UNHCR representatives estimated around 80,000 non-Serbs out of 837,000 who initially lived on the Serb-controlled territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina before the war remained there; an estimated removal of 90% of the Bosniak and Croat inhabitants of Serb-coveted territory, almost all of whom were deliberately forced out of their homes. It also includes ethnic cleansing of non-Croats in the breakaway state the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia. The ICTY convicted several officials for persecution, forced transfer and/or deportation, including Momcilo Krajisnik, Radoslav Brdanin, Stojan Zupljanin, Mico Stanisic, Biljana Plavsic, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia that investigated war crimes that occurred during the conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s, found that efforts had been made by the Bosnian Serb army to remove bodies from these mass graves to other sites in an attempt to conceal the extent of the crimes and killings. This removal of bodies made it difficult to identify victims and investigations by the tribunal showed that in many cases, body parts of the one victim were found in different graves due to this displacement. The tribunal said that this indicated that the killings of the Bosniaks were premeditated and had been extensively planned.
Avik Gangopadhyay, an author, critic and columnist, writes from Kolkata, India

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