Sunday, December 19, 2010

"Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" by Silber and Little [14]

Chapter 21: Last-Chance Cafe The Rise and Fall of the Vance-Owen Plan January-May 1993

The Vance-Owen plan had many flaws, and I am not here to defend it. However, it did have two advantages which should be taken into consideration:

1) Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen seemed to recognize a harsh, infuriating, and disheartening reality--the West had no interest in a truly just or lasting solution for Bosnia. The nature of their plan may very well have been simply a concession to the political realities they were laboring under.

2) Unlike the Dayton agreement which would come a few years later, the Vance-Owen plan actually took the territorial integrity of Bosnia seriously. For all the faults of the central concept of partitioning Bosnia by ethnic cantons, the Vance-Owen plan at least scattered the Serb-assigned cantons so that they could not form a unified whole; unlike the de facto ethnic partition of the Dayton constitution, Vance-Owen undermined the geopolitical viability of Republika Srpska.

The plan famously divided Bosnia into 10 cantons--3 for the Bosniaks, three for the Serbs, two for the Croats, one for the Bosniaks and Croats to share, and Sarajevo as a "special status" canton. The Vance-Owen plan essentially signalled that while the West deplored the tactics of the Serb nationalists, the leaders of the "international community" accepted the premise that Bosnians would not be considered as individual citizens but as aggregate ethnic entities. The Vance-Owen plan itself would perish, but it defined how the West would deal with Bosnia from 1993 until the present day.

The chapter details the political "rise and fall" of the Plan, which was eventually rejected by the Bosnian Serb parliament* against the wishes of Milosevic--the break between him and the Bosnian Serb leadership was now open and would ultimately provide the diplomatic room for the West to apply some pressure between the government of Serbia and the Serb rebel government in Bosnia.

*My failure to capitalize "parliament" is deliberate; whenever possible, I seek to avoid giving the appearance of legitimacy to any of the institutions of the illegal Bosnian Serb Republic of 1992-1995.

Chapter 22: Beware Your Friend a Hundred-fold The Muslim-Croat Conflict 1992-1994

The Muslim-Croat War of 1993 (the dating here is an acknowledgement that the seeds of the conflict dated back to the beginning of the Bosnian war) is often treated as an unfortunate sideshow to the larger conflict. In some ways this is accurate--the group which had the most to gain were the nationalist Serbs, who were delighted to see their mutual foes turn on each other, simultaneously strengthening the hand of nationalist Croats who wished to see an ethnic partition of Bosnia between Croatia and Serbia while further isolating the Muslims even further. Those who criticize the Vance-Owen plan for its pessimistic vision need to remember that in the Spring of 1993, the Muslims of Bosnia very much looked to be on the verge of being wiped off the map.

They weren't, of course, but the price was steep; many Muslims would embrace a hardline, more explicitly Islamic approach as Muslims in general came to realize that they were truly on their own. Ultimately, too few Bosnian Croats were radicalized enough for the HVO to have its way, and of course Tudjman would soon realize he had more to lose by continuing to support radical nationalists while courting international favor. In the end, the conflict mostly served to hasten and intensify the ethnic division, radicalization, and mutual suspician that the Serb nationalist project had put into motion.

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