Daily Archives: 6 June 2006

Threat of Numbers, Democracy, and Ethnic Cleansing

Threat of numbers also weighed heavily in the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995. Ethnic cleansing was committed by all major actors in Bosnia – Serbs, Croats, and Muslims – but the greater part of the ethnically cleansed population was victimized by the Serbs. As a consequence, the Bosnian Serbs will be emphasized in the following account. In contrast to the preceding cases [British encouragement of the Irish famine and emigration during the 1840s and 1850s, and newly independent Poland’s attempt to drive out Germans and Jews during the 1920s and 1930s], the Srebrenica massacre incorporates a clear genocidal element within the overall ethnic cleansing.

The demography of Bosnia-Herzegovina underwent a dramatic change in the decades preceding the Yugoslav wars. In 1961, Muslims constituted only 26 percent of the population of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with the Serbs comprising 43 percent. By 1991, virtually a complete reversal had occurred with the Muslims rising to 44 percent and the Serbs dropping to 31 percent. Many Serbs had migrated from Bosnia to Belgrade or other locations inside Serbia proper. A differential birth rate between Muslims and Serbs also favored the former. Thus, from a near majority in 1961 or at least a large plurality, the Serbs now were a distinct minority. One group’s former dominance was exchanged for a secondary status. And all of this was in addition to the genocidal elimination of a large portion of the Bosnian Serb population by the fascist Croatian Ustaše (with some Bosnian Muslim collaboration) in alliance with Nazi Germany.

In Tito’s Yugoslavia under single-party Communist rule, such a reversal of fortune, however dramatic, would not necessarily yield a commensurate diminution of influence. However, by the early 1990s, more than a decade after Tito’s death, democratic reforms ensured that ballots would count very heavily in the power distribution. The desire for electoral victories and the resulting power gain stoked the nationalist fires…. Indeed, ethnic cleansing, and its genocidal corollary, had its roots in a democratization process associated with the emergence of sovereignty in the new post-Cold War period. According to the Badinter Arbitration Commission and the European Community (EC) support of its ruling, international recognition of national sovereignty required a referendum of the residents of a given territory on their choice of a state.

Military control was not sufficient; a vote was required. Thus, the only guarantee of eventual incorporation of a stategically or economically desired territory within the borders of a state was the conformity of the (ethnoreligious) identity of most of the residents of that territory with that of the incorporating state. Ethnic cleansing, therefore, became a preferred modus operandi to maximize the security of the emerging state.

SOURCE: The Killing Trap: Genocide in the Twentieth Century, by Manus I. Midlarsky (Cambridge U. Press, 2005), pp. 129-130

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