Daily Archives: April 6, 2010

Followup on Serbian Srebrenica condemnation

by Rhodri C. Williams

First of all, hope all my readers in countries that go in for Easter break (the otherwise sober Scandinavians are rather extravagant on this point) had a nice one. With the two month anniversary of this little blog coming up on Thursday, I was really pleased to see that hits remained relatively steady in my absence.

Meanwhile, in following up on my last post from last week, I thought it worth noting that the English translation of the Serbian Parliament’s statement condemning the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in neighboring Bosnia can now be downloaded in full (directly from here or if you prefer a bit of context, from the Parliament’s website, by scrolling down the right-hand column).

Beyond the general significance and the shortcomings of the resolution, discussed last week, the full text provides a few more specific points of interest. One is the preamble’s explicit recognition of Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity:

…Aimed at ensuring lasting peace and stability in the Western Balkans region, as well as further improvement of friendly relations among the states of the former Yugoslavia based on the respect for international law and territorial integrity and sovereignty of all member states of the United Nations, including Bosnia and Herzegovina…

While the limitation to UN Member States is a clear signal that Kosovo is not yet invited to bask in the warmth of friendly relations, this statement may in fact be the most significant passage of the text for Bosnia, in light of its protracted ethno-political stalemate. As noted in an article in this week’s Economist:

The underlying trends are good. As [Serbian Foreign Minister] Jeremic points out, virtually unnoticed in the uproar over the Srebrenica apology was a Serbian commitment in the resolution to Bosnia’s territorial integrity …. This comes at a time when Milorad Dodik, prime minister of the Republika Srpska, the Serb part of Bosnia, is talking openly about secession. “There can be no serious threat to Bosnia’s integrity as long as Serbia supports it,” says Mr Jeremic.

For those of us who have nervously watched debates over partition lurch through the post-Yugoslav political discourse during the past decade, the specific significance of this statement seems clear. Barring a fairly dramatic change of policy, this short paragraph has driven a stake into the heart of proposals such as that by which Serbia would annex Bosnia’s Serb majority areas as compensation for renouncing claims to Albanian-majority areas of Kosovo. Which, all in all, is probably a rather good thing.

Meanwhile, the third operative paragraph of the Resolution is also interesting in that it implies either a surprisingly subversive or a surprisingly clueless approach to Bosnia’s ethnic politics. The paragraph reads as follows:

The National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia calls upon all the former conflicting sides in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in the other states of the former Yugoslavia, to continue the process of reconciliation and strengthening of the conditions for common life based on national equality and full observance of human and minority rights and freedoms so that the committed crimes would never be repeated.

The curious aspect of this text is the fact that it mentions ‘national equality’ and ‘minority rights’ in the same breath, as though there were no tension between the two concepts. As observers of Bosnia, in particular, will note, the most numerically significant national minorities in Bosnia – the Serbs and the Croats – have vigorously resisted being labeled as such. These objections arise out of concern that minority status would somehow water down – rather than complement – the strict equality they and the Muslim Bosniaks – who comprise a plurality of the population – enjoy as the three ‘constituent peoples’ recognized under the 1995 Constitution incorporated in the Dayton Accords.

From this perspective, it could not have pleased nationalist Serbs in Bosnia that the text mentioned minority rights at all. The inclusion of this language may again have been indicative of a Kosovo-related subtext (given Serbian offers to recognize Albanian minority rights in exchange for retaining sovereignty – and criticism of the Kosovar Albanian majority for not protecting the local Serb minority). However, it comes at a particularly sensitive moment, with the Bosnian authorities facing the need to implement a recent European Court of Human Rights decision in which representatives of smaller minority groups not accorded constituent people status challenged the constitutional system of quotas that effectively barred them from higher office (for analysis of the decision, see the ECHR Blog here and the EJIL blog here).

While these may seem like relatively minor points, I would argue that they are not. The war in Bosnia that culminated with the horrific killings in Srebrenica could scarcely have happened without the active meddling of its powerful neighbors, Serbia and Croatia. In this context, the most appropriate way for Serbia to express its remorse for Srebrenica and ensure that such events cannot take place again may be a simple and clear renunciation of any further interest in destabilizing Bosnia’s fragile post-war repose.