The Republic of Srpska is situated in the central part of Balkan Peninsula (South-East Europe) within the borders of former Yugoslavia
The Serbs, Christian Orthodox by religion, had lived for centuries in what is known as Bosnia and Herzegovina. Up to the seventh century they formed the overwhelming majority of the population. The Catholic Croats have, to this day, always constituted a minority. The medieval Bosnian state was headed by a Serb dynasty, with links to the Nemanjic dynasty in Serbia. A historic change occurred when the Ottoman Turks invaded and subjugated the Balkan peninsula in the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. A considerable part of the Bosnian population, predominantly Serb, but also some Croats, adopted Islam, the religion of the conquering Turks, after the fall of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1463. The reasons for this conversion were pragmatic: to avoid the fate of the Serbs who had refused to identify with the invader, to escape persecution, harsh taxation, and otherwise unbearable conditions of life imposed by the Turks.
Over the centuries of Ottoman rule, the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina failed to develop a sense of separate nationhood. They remained Slavs speaking Serb or Croat, their collective consciousness resting solely on Islam. Nor did they ever become the absolute majority of the population, the Serbs and Croats together comfortably making up a substantial Christian majority, which remains the case today. In the nineteenth century, after four hundred years of misrule, the Turks began their final withdrawal from the Balkans. In Serbia, a series of revolts against the Turks established a Serb principality. Between 1875 and 1878 the Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina also revolted. In 1878 the Congress of Berlin established the independence of Serbia and Montenegro, while Bosnia and Herzegovina was placed under the administration of Austria-Hungary. The Austrian administration, fearing a resurgent Serb movement, deliberately favoured the Muslim part of the population, even attempting, without any success, to promote a Muslim "Bosniac" nation.
In 1908, Austria-Hungary formally annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, causing a major European crisis that narrowly avoided a general war. By this time the political aspirations of the Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina had been very clearly spelled out: union with Serbia, the mother country. Then, as today, the Serbs demanded merely that they be allowed to exercise their right to national self-determination. On 28 June 1914, in Sarajevo, a group of local Serb patriots carried out the assassination of the visiting Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an act which sparked off the First World War. During the war the Serb civilian population suffered terribly at the hands of the Austrians who had introduced concentration camps. Local Muslims gave them plenty of support, enlisting as volunteers in the Schutzcorps. From the ruins of the Habsburg Empire there emerged in 1918 several successor states, among them the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, to be renamed Yugoslavia ("The land of the South Slavs") in 1929. The Serbs had given up their state, as did the Montenegrins, in order to live together with the Croats and Slovenes in a bigger state, all on the assumption that different South Slav peoples were in fact tribes belonging to the same nation.
The first Yugoslavia was a short-lived state, its political life characterized by the growing rift between the Serbs and the Croats.
By the spring of 1941 Hitler's Germany destroyed this experiment in living together and at the same time opened up the Pandora box of ancient hatred. There followed a genocide against the Serbs, taking place in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Two Million and a half Serbs were slaughtered, in JASENOVAC and other nazi death camps. The main perpetrators were the Croats, allied to Hitler within the so- called "Independent State of Croatia", a grotesque Nazi puppet state run by the ultra-nationalist Ustashe. However, the Bosnian Muslims also played their part, being in collusion with the Ustashe and, indeed, with the Germans. Thus one of the SS divisions in Bosnia was the so-called Hanjar division, made up of the local Muslims, and notorious for the atrocities committed against the Serbs. To the latter, the Muslims became synonymous with the Ustashe. Marshal Tito's communist partisans ended up as the victors in a series of Yugoslav civil wars that took place between 1941 and 1945. Significantly, most of the partisans were Serbs from Croatia and Bosnia who joined the communist-led resistance movement as the only available refuge from the genocidal onslaught by the Croats and the Muslims. There is a sense in which, therefore, communism in Yugoslavia was made possible by the Croat-Muslim wartime policies. Postwar Yugoslavia, like the prewar one, failed to solve the problem of national rivalries and enmities. Tito ruled with iron hand, however, and there was a semblance of stability and even prosperity associated with the image of his regime. Neither was true. The communists manufactured prosperity by increasingly indebting the country abroad, while political stability, including inter-ethnic relations, was maintained by the simple method of political repression. In a country that was nationally as complex as Yugoslavia, Tito attempted to maintain a balance by deliberately weakening the largest single nation: the Serbs. In Serbia, this was done, for example, by giving territorial and political autonomy to the Albanian minority living in the province of Kosovo. In Macedonia, the communists invented a new "Macedonian" nation, complete with its autocephalous church. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a new "Muslim" nation likewise came into being, in 1966. The Yugoslav Constitution of 1974 established the country's six republics within a federation that was to all intents and purposes a confederation. All this was nation- building from above, an artificial injection of national consciousness among peoples with a poorly developed sense of constituting distinct communities. Still, Tito's policies worked.
The absolute majority living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, were the Serbs and the Croats. The Constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina reflected this inescapable fact: the Serbs, the Muslims, and the Croats were equal under the Constitution, whilst all major decisions could only be taken by consensus of the three.
Following Tito's death in 1980, nationalist passions were predictably let loose throughout Yugoslavia. As communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, it likewise did so in Yugoslavia as Tito's successors were unable to stop the march of freedom. Increasingly, too, they were powerless to stop the process of Yugoslavia's disintegration. In the late 1980s and early 1990s in Yugoslavia, anti-communism and nationalism were two sides of the same coin. In the minds of most people, freedom and even prosperity became inextricably connected with the advancement of narrow national interest. In the course of 1990 free elections were held in each of the country's six federal republics. Nationalist policies triumphed everywhere, irrespective of whether they were advocated and led by openly nationalist parties, or by ex-communists who had adapted quickly to the prevailing atmosphere. The November 1990 free elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina reproduced the general picture. The Croats had organized themselves round HDZ: Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica (Croat Democratic Community); the Muslims round SDA: Stranka Demokratske Akcije (Party of Democratic Action); and the Serbs round SDS: Srpska Demokratska Stranka (Serb Democratic Party). The election results proved all the other parties to be marginal. Far from ignoring the nationalist parties for the sake of preserving some ostensible "multi-national", "multi-cultural" harmony in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is a myth dreamt up by pro- Muslim propagandists in the West, the three nations extended overwhelming electoral support to the parties that promised to protect their national interests. Of the three, the SDS was the last to be established, the Serbs making that move only after it had become abundantly clear which way the wind was blowing among the other two nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A power sharing experiment began following the elections of November 1990. Apart from the Assembly and the Government, a collective presidency of seven members was also established: two Serbs, two Muslims, two Croats and one "Yugoslav" - in fact a Muslim (Ejup Ganic). Alija Izetbegovic, another Muslim, was merely the president of of this collective presidency, he was never President of Bosnia and Herzegovina as he subsequently claimed.
Izetbegovic's background is interesting. A member of the "Young Muslims" movement during the Second World War, he is also the author of "Islamic Declaration", a widely circulated pamphlet packed with Muslim fundamentalist propaganda, drawing attention to the faithful that coexistence is impossible between Islamic and non-Islamic institutions. This position of Islamic intransigence and plain intolerance naturally alarmed the Serbs. Equally alarming to them was the overtly Islamic folklore during the SDA election campaign: Islamic flags, costumes, music, etc. These were not the manifestations of a culture that was merely alien to the Serbs, they conjured up images of centuries of Turkish occupation. Undoubtedly, with such a high degree of political polarisation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was not a promising situation. While Yugoslavia still existed, however, there remained hope.
Not for long. In June 1992 Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia. A short phoney war in Slovenia was succeeded by an extended bloody conflict in Croatia. Yugoslavia was in the process of disintegration. The clouds of war, inevitably, began to gather over Bosnia-Herzegovina, too. The Muslim SDA party had already begun preparing for conflict, establishing an armed wing called "The Green Berets" as well as a similar organisation named "The Patriotic League". Some Muslims looked for ways to avoid an armed clash with the Serbs. In August, the liberal-leaning MBO Muslim party concluded with the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and, also with Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the SDS, the so-called "historic agreement", whereby the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina would remain in a rump Yugoslavia. These negotiations had begun with Izetbegovic's blessing, but once the agreement was reached, he immediately withdrew his support. A genuine opportunity to preserve peace was thus destroyed. It became increasingly apparent during the unfolding months what Izetbegovic and his SDA were after: an independent Bosnia and Herzegovina dominated by the Muslims. The fact that Slovenia and Croatia were at this time recognized by the European Community played its role in the calculations by the Muslims. Undoubtedly, they did not wish to live in a rump Yugoslavia run by Belgrade. But this strategic aim to attain independence began to be attractively packaged to a largely ignorant western audience as an attempt to save the "tradition of harmony and tolerance" in a "multi-ethnic", "multi-cultural" and "multi-religious" Bosnia and Herzegovina. At best a sick joke, this argument nevertheless fell on many receptive ears abroad, where a daily diet of propaganda in the media had already created a climate of unrestrained anti-Serb hysteria. The Serbs, for their part, had not the slightest desire to live as second-class citizens in a potentially Islamic Bosnia and Herzegovina, constitutionally separated from their ethnic brothers in Serbia and Montenegro.
The decision of the Bosnian Serb deputies to leave the joint assembly and declare a separate constitution, in
January 1993, was made against this general background. The call by Izetbegovic for a referendum on independence on 1 March, provided further proof that the position of the Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina was seriously threatened: a Muslim-Croat alliance could always outvote the Serbs. Moreover, the decision to hold a referendum went directly against the constitutional principle of consensus among the three equal, constituent nations. The referendum was thus tantamount to a declaration of war. In the event, it was a farce as the Serbs predictably stayed away from it, while the Muslims and Croats came up with the expected majority. The Croats, of course, voted tactically. Much like the Serbs, even more perhaps, they feared a Muslim-ruled independent Bosnia and Herzegovina. Hence they had already set up their own state structure of Herzeg-Bosnia in western Herzegovina and Central Bosnia. However, voting in favour of independence ensured for them the first vital step of complete separation from the rump Yugoslavia - the next step would be to separate from Bosnia and Herzegovina itself.
The last chance for peace came later in March, in Lisbon, when on the 18th the Serbs, Muslims and Croats all accepted a European Community peace plan that would transform Bosnia and Herzegovina into three constituent units within an independent state. Izetbegovic had personally agreed to this. No sooner had he returned to Sarajevo, however, he flatly rejected the plan (known as the Cutilliero plan, because the Portuguese diplomat who had presided over the negotiations) after he had received US encouragement to persevere in his quest for independence without any concessions to the Serbs. This, in retrospect, represented a crime against peace. Peace was only possible through compromise. Izetbegovic and the Muslims chose to ignore this truth. The war broke out soon thereafter, the fate of Bosnia and Herzegovina definitely sealed by the act of formal international recognition on 7 April.
From April 1992 to November 1995 the country was at war: a classic civil war, fought along ethnic and religious divides. Like any civil war, it had its international backdrop. The Serbs received encouragement and help from Serbia and Montenegro, the Croats from Croatia, and the Muslims from the United States and the whole Islamic world. The myth that it was a "war of aggression" (i.e., the Serbs waging aggression from presumably across the border) was created by the Muslims and their fellow propagandists in the west precisely in order to cover up the fact that the fighting was a profoundly local affair.
The Republic of Srpska came into being because the Serbs in the former Bosnia and Herzegovina wanted it. In the Balkans, the search for statehood is the search for security. The Serbs remembered the Second World War and before. They were not going to be led to their slaughter like sheep again. They demanded, and got, the protection and organisation of the state. The war itself took some time before it got organized. Thus the Serbs had no Army structure until May-June. Far from being a precisely planned "war of aggression", the first weeks and months were characterized by complete chaos. Thereafter the front lines established themselves, and changed little for most of the time. Large-scale offensives and counteroffensives took a long time to prepare. Most of the Serb actions were counteroffensive in character, initially successful, some hugely successful, but their effects were always reversed by the concerted action of an "international community" rooting for the Muslims. The major offensives by the Muslims, such as that at Bihac in 1994 or around Sarajevo in 1995, were invariably smashed. The Muslim military, despite considerable international aid, did not achieve a single important victory against the Serbs throughout the war.
The international community, having made monumental blunders in extending early recognition to Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, made repeated efforts to stop the conflict.
One peace plan succeeded another: the Vance-Owen Plan; the Owen-Stoltenberg Plan; the Contact Group Plan. The Serbs, having already accepted the Cutilliero Plan, rejected the Vance-Owen Plan, accepted the Owen- Stoltenberg Plan, and vacillated over the Contact Group Plan, which was interpreted as a rejection. All these peace plans, however, had one feature in common, namely the acceptance of the obvious political reality that any peace project for Bosnia and Herzegovina would have to combine ethnic territorial separation within a new and fair constitutional deal. The Contact Group Plan went even further, in a sense, concentrating on territorial division at the expense of constitutional arrangements, thus recognizing the reality that people were dying in order not to live together in artificial constructions. There was a need, also, for a separate peace plan for the Muslims and the Croats, since a nasty war had erupted in Central Bosnia and around the city of Mostar between these erstwhile allies. In March 1994 the Washington Agreements established an uneasy Muslim-Croat peace in the shape of a "Federation" covering the Muslim-Croat territories - a constitutional device that to this day remains a dead letter. Global peace had to wait until November 1995. Then, all the regional protagonists assembled at Dayton, Ohio, for several weeks of intensive negotiations. Preceding this gathering was a period when NATO air forces engaged in a sustained campaign of bombing targets in the Republic of Srpska, crippling its communications infrastructure and enabling its enemies to make advances, especially in the western region where regular troops of the Republic of Croatia led the way in ethnic cleansing of age-old Serb territories.
The result of the Ohio negotiations was the "General Framework Agreement", initialed at Dayton on 21 November 1995 and signed in Paris on 14 December. At the heart of the Dayton peace is a new map: a line dividing Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat "Federation", with 49% and 51% territory respectively. The two countries are called "entities" and the line separating them the "inter-entity boundary line". The Dayton constitution envisages the creation of joint bodies for the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina (no longer the "Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina", just "Bosnia and Herzegovina"): a Parliamentary Assembly, a Presidency, and a Council of Ministers. The business of these joint bodies relates mainly to foreign affairs. In every other respect, the two entities are de facto sovereign states: each has its own constitution, assembly, government, presidency, judiciary, police, army, and so on. The question of the joint currency was fudged. Dayton thus divided Bosnia whilst, on paper, it kept open the possibility of its reintegration. It is the supreme achievement of US constitutional lawyers: you can interpret it any way you like. If Dayton is cynical, it is at the same time a fair recognition of the political realities on the ground.
The Republic of Srpska is fully committed to the Dayton Peace Agreement. The Serbs went to war in the hope that they would be able to stay together with their fellow Serbs in Serbia and Montenegro in one state. This has not proved possible for the time being. Dayton, however, guarantees them a sufficiently high degree of statehood to feel secure in a traditionally hostile environment. Throughout the war, and in its aftermath, the Serbs in the Republic of Srpska have felt a deep sense of grievance at having been painted the villains of the peace in the international media. They have an excellent cause, recognized at last by world diplomacy if not by the world media. Their leaders, their government, are in favour of everything that is now accepted as the only way forward: democracy in the political field, and the mechanisms of the free market in the economic field. The Serbs are an industrious, entrepreneurial people. They are also a deeply democratic society. They can, as they have done in the past, make a contribution to European civilisation.
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