“Uzivajte u ratu, uzivajte,
O braco moja i vojnici,
Jer mir ce’ biti gori . . . “

(“Enjoy war, enjoy,
Oh my brothers and soldiers,
because peace will be worse . . . “)
—An old Serbian war song

There is a belief among the peoples of the Balkans that war on the peninsula is cyclical and inevitable. Peace has been the exception at this crossroads of foreign interests, and the present hiatus will end—soon—if the current “peace process” continues.

Just as the internal administrative boundaries of the former Yugoslav state contributed to the current conflict, the present internationally delineated boundary of Bosnia perpetuates destabilization. The Serbs of Bosnia have a cultural identity but lack the statehood they sought through war. The Muslims have a state but are searching for an identity, wavering between Islamic fundamentalism and a homogeneous Bosnian nationalism. The collective memory of this new state includes some interesting historical revisionism and unusual claims to the diverse nature of the Yugoslav federation from which they fought to secede.

Peace is not merely the absence of war. As Balkan observer General Charles G. Boyd cautioned, “We have to see things as they are, not as we wish them to be.” For example, the seemingly neutral and logical terms of the Dayton Accords for the return of refugees have been used selectively as a tool for increasing regional influence, notably of the Muslims. The strategic town of Brcko, in the narrow Posavina corridor which links the two parts of the Bosnian Serb Republic, is a prime example. NATO officials discovered that the Muslims returning in 1996 were in reality armed forward units of the Bosnian Army. The Sarajevo regime has used this tactic in other locations too. It has even relocated refugees in desperate conditions to create a humanitarian crisis as grounds for military action against disarmed Serbs.

The return of refugees has also been limited by mandate. While the Serbs are berated for not allowing Muslims and Croats to return to their former homes in eastern and northwestern Bosnia, no provision is made for the more than 600,000 Serbs expelled from what Croatia claimed as its sovereign territory. (The State Department’s press statements reach almost comical proportions, lambasting the Serbs for not allowing Muslims to return to homes that no longer exist.) Nor are Serbs allowed to return to any of the towns in Bosnia of which they once were sizable and often majority constituents. Many of the Serbs from these areas, as well as those from Croatia, inhabit the housing that the Sarajevo regime desires. Unfortunately, the ethnographies of this region have changed, and the current approach will only heighten tensions. The policy seems to be a stepping-stone towards the expulsion of the remaining Serbs and the creation of a Muslim-led state.

Much as the suffering of wartime Sarajevo was manipulated as a tool to gain foreign support (or military aid), the appearance of diversity and tolerance is used to claim moral authority. On all sides, there are those who are willing to swear allegiance to the Bosnian “state.” The reasons include a reluctance to abandon homes, provincial rather than ethnic loyalties, intermarriage (some 20 percent of the populace), and common experience, such as Serbs in Sarajevo suffering under Serb shelling. Serbia — unlike the now homogenous Croatia —is by far the most tolerant of the former republics, with large communities of Croats, Muslims, Albanians, Gypsies, and other ethnicities, while Sarajevo is arguably the most tolerant area in Bosnia, owing largely to its cosmopolitan nature rather than that of the regime. Like other regions in Bosnia, tolerance of minority populations exists when the majority of them have been expelled.

The war atrocities in the Balkans were indeed horrific. But as U.N. investigations (such as the reports on Croatian assaults against Serb areas) have revealed, this cruelty was committed by all parties. One member of the international teams investigating mass graves in Bosnia estimated their number at around 800, containing roughly 65 percent Muslims, 30 percent Serbs, and five percent Croats. Noticeably absent were NATO-led exhumations in the Krajina region where the percentage of Serb fatalities was disproportionately higher. Yet even if these figures are accepted at face value, the Hague Tribunal’s indictments are applied with weighted measure: Serb Milan Martic is indicted for rocketing Zagreb and killing a half dozen people, while Croat Tomislav Mercep (whose special units butchered Serb civilians) was awarded a medal and appointed Mayor of Vukovar. The duplicity is so transparent that even those who might benefit from it have voiced consternation. “It’s insane to indict Karadzic and not Izetbegovic,” a Bosnian Muslim and former Yugoslav diplomat stated. “If Americans are going to behave as imperialists, they should at least be evenhanded.”

Murder by instigation and proxy is also a crime. Srebrenica is one example. Muslim forces under the command of Nasser Oric launched attacks against Serb villages from what was supposed to be a demilitarized, U.N.-protected Safe Area. This diversionary force was tactically successful in drawing overextended Serb forces from primary confrontation zones. Despite an estimated 1,000 Serb casualties and 30 villages sacked, the Muslims demanded U.N. protection from the “aggression” of Serb retaliatory fire. In what bears the hallmarks of a covert American operation, Oric received Iranian weapons smuggled into the Safe Area in 40 pound flour bags of humanitarian aid. (The Serbs reportedly further fell for the bait when American and British diplomats encouraged them to “settle the territorial dispute on the ground.”) Overrun after heavy fighting, as many as a thousand Muslim males were rounded up and summarily executed: an atrocity by any standard, but one much less horrific than accounts of it by the media. A similar level of brutality was committed a month later by the American-backed Croatian Army, when it sacked the Serbian Krajina: this time, no histrionics and no indictments.

It is a remarkable accomplishment of the international press corps that the ethnic group which now constitutes the largest body of refugees can be demonized for committing the majority of ethnic cleansing. Indeed, many events of the Balkan War were plays behind the stage. In what was largely a commercial conflict, perhaps second in recent memory only to Chechnya, several front lines around Sarajevo were fixed by mutual agreement of military officers involved in black marketeering. These racketeers traded everything: consumer goods, weaponry, factories, even people. UNPROFOR personnel participated widely as middlemen, much to the organization’s discredit.

Boundaries were redrawn when politically expedient. Under international threat, Serb leaders west of the Drina surrendered enormous tracts of territory, and politicians kept their positions and affluence at the expense of thousands of casualties among their constituents. But in lieu of partition—the most logical solution—there are options other than military expansion by the Sarajevo regime. Case in point: the Dayton Accords provided for freedom of movement; subsequently, mobility has increased, and families and friends have been reunited. Some Serbs are returning from Serb territory and abroad to live in Sarajevo, and others stayed in its environs acquired by the Dayton Accords. Some describe life there as “infinitely better” than among their kinsmen in Serbia. Serbs in these areas have also reported favorably on the professionalism and impartiality of the new Federation police forces—a credit to them, and to their international monitors. Additionally, the multiethnic local staff employed by the NATO-led force have helped to build confidence in the possibility of coexistence.

The Republika Srpska, compared to Sarajevo, is like a Third World country; the evidence of economic deprivation and political isolation is everywhere. Wages average a third of those in the Federation, yet the Republika Srpska receives only two percent of the humanitarian aid, though its needs are much greater than the Federation’s.

The Serbs could be given further incentives to participate in a tripartite Bosnian Federation. What prevents them from cooperating is the fear of living under the Muslim extremist plutocracy that the United States has so enthusiastically supported. One requisite for lasting peace, therefore, is a change in leadership in the Sarajevo regime, which the United States could easily arrange. A second requirement is that either top level Croats and Muslims are indicted for their crimes (making the Tribunal truly impartial and lending it legitimacy) or a general amnesty is offered (however unpalatable that might be for domestic American consumption). Third, Serbian security should be protected by their own territorial defense forces and joint police forces. Bosnian Serbs should also have true veto power over policies that affect them and enjoy the same special relationship with Serbia that the Croats of Bosnia have with Zagreb. And however late. Federation forces should be limited to defensive, rather than offensive, capabilities. The rhetoric about balancing power in the region is too often a crass attempt to negate Serb defenses. Forcing the Serbs to live under the Muslims will not work: forcing the Muslims to cooperate with the Serbs can. The shotgun marriage of the Dayton Accords cannot succeed, but the Muslim-Croat marriage of convenience could. Show the Serbs that they are secure, encourage investment and economic cooperation, and ethnic reintegration can occur.

Reconciliation has occurred among even more polarized and brutalized populations in recent memory, and it can occur in Bosnia, if given a chance. From the beginning, the United States has held the keys to creating a climate of peace. Instead, we seem to be maneuvering for a resumption of conflict that will justify the perpetuation of our own regional satellite.