Daily Archives: 7 June 2006

External Threats to Serbian Security, 1990s

Serbia, despite its domination of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA), had legitimate security concerns as the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia loomed on the horizon. The July 1991 accord at Brioni stipulated the withdrawal of all JNA units from Slovenia, thereby implying international recognition of that new state. As a consequence, Prime Minister József Antall of Hungary warned Serbia that it could not assume that its province of Vojvodina with its large Hungarian minority would continue to be part of Serbia. “We gave Vojvodina to Yugoslavia. If there is no more Yugoslavia, then we should get it back,” declared Antall, referring to the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. This verbal threat was supported by the earlier sale of at least 36,000 Kalashnikov rifles to the Republic of Croatia in 1990. Serbia, therefore, could legimately feel threatened not only by the newly emerging states of the former Yugoslavia, but by neighboring existing states as well.

German domination of the EC political decision making at this time raised perhaps even deeper security concerns for Serbia. The taking on of Croatian fascist symbols by Franjo Tuđman, the Croatian leader, as the Croatian state emerged, of course, was hardly reassuring to the Serbs. Memories of the mass murder of at least 500,000 Serbs by the fascist Croatian state in alliance with Nazi Germany during World War II were rekindled by Tuđman’s behavior.

The recent German unification and German emergence as the clear economic, even political leader of the EC made matters worse. After considerable lobbying by the Croatian and Slovenian leadership as well as by the Vatican, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister, emerged as an unequivocal supporter of Croatian and Slovenian independence. When the actual recognition, by Germany, of both new countries came on December 23, 1991 – with agreement of the remaining EC members, apparently bullied by the newly augmented Germany – the Western threat became palpable. With growing economic ties to Germany, the Slovenian and Croatian economies, already burgeoning relative to the remainder of Yugoslavia, and the presence of NATO nearby, the JNA and mainly its Serbian leadership would feel an imminent threat to the Yugoslav state….

Bosnia was also pivotal to the JNA. During the 1980s, 40–55 percent of the Bosnian economy was tied to military industries. “Sixty to 80 percent of the army’s physical assets (armaments factories, supply routes, airfields, mines and basic raw materials, stockpiles, training schools, oil depots) were located in Bosnia-Herzegovina. On the eve of the war, 68 percent of the federal army’s 140,000 troops were stationed in the republic. To the extent that the Yugoslav army was fighting a war for its own integrity and state, it could not easily be a neutral party in Bosnia-Herzegovina or abandon its own economic foundations.

A two-tiered threat to the Serbs emerged from Serbian numerical weakness within Bosnia coupled with the looming presence of the newly united Germany at the head of the EC. The end result of the military clashes and ethnic cleansing was a near-equal division of Bosnia between the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (the Bosnian Muslim–Croat Federation) holding 51 percent of the territory and the Republika Srpska (the Bosnian Serb Republic) occupying 49 percent with corresponding ethnic majorities within each. The two halves together formed the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but with rights of each half to affiliate with other political entities, if they so wished.

SOURCE: The Killing Trap: Genocide in the Twentieth Century, by Manus I. Midlarsky (Cambridge U. Press, 2005), pp. 131-132

One of Midlarsky’s major themes is that genocides evolve in response to many contingencies: feelings of prior national or ethnoreligious loss or betrayal, threats to communal security, ongoing defeat in war, validation of past massacres, and so on.

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