Doing Harm – OpEd

Bakir Izetbegovic should make public any new evidence he has relating to his appeal of Serbia’s acquittal regarding the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide. In detail. Now.

By David B. Kanin*

The law does not rule – anywhere. It enables, obstructs and bounds behavior and it provides sugar coating for various versions of the Melian Dialogue. Stronger and richer interests do what they can; the weak suffer what those interests and the law permit. An acquaintance presented me a granular, legalistic justification for Israel’s ”sovereignty” which served as a casuistic rationalization for its behavior and diplomatic strategy. The arguments were irrelevant; the underlying message of the message was that Israel, as a fact of conquest, settlement, and diplomacy legally can do whatever it wants to the Palestinians, who simply have no place in the story.

In the Balkans, appeals by conflict protagonists to international law follow the same practice of using litigation and legalism to score propaganda points and strengthen internal cohesion, even as various scorpions on all sides get ready for their next dance. Different personalities use legal arguments to define and justify communal interests of co-ethnics and clients and de-legitimize the interests, behavior, and even the existence of adversaries whose vilification is necessary to their narratives. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, like other courts involved in the judicial algae bloom of the past few decades, has served mainly as a stage devoted to reinforcing communal divides.

Bakir Izetbegovic is deepening the damage done to the region by this unfortunate legalism by appealing the result of Bosnia’s failed effort to assign guilt to Serbia as a whole for the genocide committed by Bosnian Serbs against 7-8000 Bosniak men and boys in 1995. Rather than let the deadline for such an appeal pass, he has chosen to make the usual cry for “justice” as an excuse to play to his patronage network and domestic political audience.

He has done so in a particularly unfortunate manner by bypassing his Serb and Croat colleagues on Bosnia’s collective presidency; both reject the notion he can act unilaterally for the Bosnian state in this matter. He also controversially has engaged Bosnia’s agent involved in the original case to carry Bosniak water again. It is not clear the agent, Sakib Softic, still has legal standing to act on behalf of the country’s dysfunctional collective institutions.

Therefore, as things stand, this latest squabble simply reinforces the evidence that Bosnia, as constructed in 1995, was not, is not, and is not going to be a viable society. Its mutually distrusting communities (and that distrust is pervasive, not just a phenomenon affecting sclerotic elites or old-fashioned nationalists) can engage this issue using the well-trod, almost comfortable pattern of acting out mutual antipathy.

Izetbegovic also is providing a tangible boost to Bosnian Serb strongman Milorad Dodik. Dodik has been relatively quiet in response to Izetbegovic’s grandstanding, letting rival Bosnian Serb politicians vent general outrage at Izetbegovic’s effort at collective vilification. The effort to reverse the 2007 decision strengthens Dodik’s argument that Bosnia’s Serbs should leave Bosnia; given that Bosnia’s transatlantic overseers long ago chose to accept the decision by non-Serbs to escape a collapsing Yugoslavia, is it not hypocritical for them to oppose what repeated election results and public opinion surveys suggest is the strong abhorrence many Bosnian Serbs feel toward their forced attachment to the stillborn Bosnia? Dodik’s insistence on celebrating a Bosnian Serb Republic National Day in January originally appeared provocative and a little silly; thanks to Izetbegovic’s legal provocation it now looks much more reasonable.

Of course, this issue could still turn, depending on whether there really is any new information relevant to what happened in 1995. If Izetbegovic has found clear evidence Belgrade participated in the mass murders of 1995 he should publicly and immediately display it. He should not hide his hand behind legal excuses or procedural obfuscation, or promise to tell all in court at some indefinite point in the future. The law is not as important here as is the impact of reopening this wound on the already tense set of situations in the Balkans. If the Milosevic government was a party to this crime, it is important that every actor and audience in the region see the proof of it laid out and explained. On the other hand, if Izetbegovic either has nothing new to reveal, or has dredged up something amenable to multiple reasonable interpretations, Bosnia’s various audiences should know that too.

Whatever the case, this incident proves that, no matter how often Bosnia’s fragmented actors have demonstrated that the Dayton construction does not and will not work, there always is room for new insults clearly aimed at communities as a whole, not just individual perpetrators of this or that outrage. In addition, the effort by the Big Man at the head of Bosnia’s main Bosniak political party/patronage network to rip off this scab underscores the basic condition within which the artificial Bosnia operates; no matter the level or substance of differences between Bosnia’s Serbs and Croats, those communities each have more problems with Bosnia’s Bosniak plurality than with each other. Izetbegovic’s unilateral move not only is a boost to Bosnian Serb secession, it also justifies the Croats’ demand for their own entity. This supposedly legal appeal reinforces the fact that there is no civic Bosnia, no functioning Bosnian state, and no basis for inter-communal trust or law-based society.

*David B. Kanin is an adjunct professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University and a former senior intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.


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TransConflict

TransConflict

TransConflict was established in response to the challenges facing intra- and inter-ethnic relations in the Western Balkans. It is TransConflict’s assertion that the successful transformation of conflict requires a multi-dimensional approach that engages with and aims at transforming the very interests, relationships, discourses and structures that underpin and fuel outbreaks of low- and high-intensity violence.

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