The disasters of December 15-16, 1991 and April 6, 1992 and its consequences

By Johan Galtung

Germany, meaning here the former foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher (and behind him the chancellor, Helmut Kohl, and Alois Mock of Austria) were the key responsible for the recognition of Croatia and Slovenia 15 January 1992, actually agreed upon 16 December 1991, and of Bosnia-Herzegovina 6 April 1992.

There were enough clear warnings, however. Lord Peter Carrington, then the EC negotiator, wrote in a letter of 2 December 1991 to Hans van den Broek, foreign minister of the Netherlands, then President of the EU (then still EC) Council of Ministers:

“There is also a real danger, perhaps even a probability, that Bosnia-Herzegovina would also ask for independence and recognition, which would be wholly unacceptable to the Serbs in that republic in which there are something like 100,000 JNA troops, some of whom have withdrawn there from Croatia.  Milosevic has hinted that military action would take place there if Croatia and Slovenia were recognized.  This might well be the spark that sets Bosnia-Herzegovina alight”.

And from Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, then Secretary General of the United Nations, in a letter to him of 10 December 1991:

“In his report to me today, Mr Vance has described widely expressed apprehensions about the possibility of premature recognition of the independence of some of the Yugoslav republics and the effect that such a move might have on the remaining republics.  Leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia were among the many political and military figures who last week underscored to Mr. Vance their own strong fears in this regard.  More than one of his high-level interlocutors described the possibly explosive consequences of such a development as being a “potential time bomb”.

Genscher then argued his position to de Cuéllar 13 December 1991:

“Refusal to recognize the republics who want their independence can only lead to further escalation of the violence of the People’s Army because they will see in this a confirmation of their politics of conquest.  I would like to point out that for Europe, after the Final Act of Helsinki and the Paris Charter, the borders are inviolable and cannot be changed by force.  The EC has for that reason demanded respect for the inner and outer borders of Yugoslavia.”

Pérez de Cuéllar’s response to Genscher of 14 December 1991:

“Let me recall that at no point did my letter state that recognition of the independence of particular Yugoslav Republics should be denied, or withheld indefinitely.  Rather, I observe that the principle of self-determination is enshrined in the United Nations Charter itself.  The concern that I continue to have relates to the prospect of early, selective and uncoordinated recognition.”

And de Cuéllar points out to Genscher that the Twelve (the EU, then EC, foreign  ministers) had stated in a Declaration 8 november 1991 that “the prospect of recognition of those Republics wishing it, can only be envisaged in the framework of an overall settlement”,
and, referring to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, that “early selective recognition could result in a widening of the present conflict to those sensitive areas.”

These are strong, and prophetic, words against Genscher’s position.

We shall never know what would have happened without the recognition as independent countries of these internal parts of former Yugoslavia. But to believe that the Serbs in Croatia, and the Serbs and Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina would have accepted living under what they see as Ustasha or Islamic/Sharia rule is either extremely naive, or – granting deep German acquaintance with Yugoslavia and the Balkans – Machiavellian.  They knew perfectly well that in this area there are people with an extremely violent tradition (Ustasha Croats, “Grenzer” and hill Serbs, Bosniak Muslims). Was the bloodletting perhaps calculated?

At exactly the same time as a Yugoslavia policy with catastrophic consequences was decided, the EU also negotiated the Maastricht Treaty on European Union. One seems to have been traded for the other: Bonn bought the others with “Maastricht currency”.  The union of one at the expense of the dis-union of the other.

England got Germany’s support for the exemption from the social dimension, and the less developed EU members, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Greece were bought with internal EC regional development funds (Andreas Zumach in Tageszeitung, 6 April 1993).  In the corridors of the EU there is mention of German support for the prolongation of the Common Agricultural Policy in return for the French agreement.  No doubt there must also have been another element in this sad deal:  German willingness to share economic deals (including reconstruction?) with others.

However that may be, the meeting is reputed to have started with 1-11 against Genscher, and ended with 12-0 in his favor.

Thus, the surface events seem clear; the problem is the underlying motivation. The need for a common EU foreign policy is clear.  But that could also have been brought about by Germany yielding to the others rather than vice versa, or by negotiating a compromise along the lines of Pérez de Cuéllar: not too early, not selective, not uncoordinated.  What were the German motives? Of course, a political act, like any human act, is the result of multiple motives. Here is one short catalogue:

– East Germany had emerged from communism, and Germany wanted to extend the pattern of “self-determination” to others who had been incorporated in a state/system against their will (Problem: how can one then deny self-determination to Serbs in Croatia, to Serbs and Croats in B-i-H, to Albanians in Kosovo/a, and so on?);

–  Germany was united 3 October 1990; “that which belonged together was growing together” was the theory.  Why should others not benefit from the same, like Slovenia and Croatia finding their place in Central Europe (Problem: but then Serbs, Croats and others in ex-Yugoslavia may say exactly the same);

– Germany was again in a position to play a major role, liberated from extreme carefulness eastward and submissiveness westward; willing to tell the world who is a major power (and a major chancellor and a major foreign minister) in Europe;

–  Events were happening in one of their classical spheres of interest, the Southeast, the other being in the East: Poland, Ukraina, Russia.
The Berlin-Ankara-Baghdad axis had, possibly, played a role in the investment, including arming of Saddam Hussein (impossible without the consent of Bonn).  Good relations with Turkey were endangered by neo-Nazism; a pro-Muslim policy in B-i-H, and in Kosova was needed, like for the US after Gulf.

But more fundamentally, Serbia had always been in the way of German dominance of the Balkans. Yugoslavia emerged for the first time after the defeat of Germany in the First World War and for the second time after the defeat of Germany in the Second World War, as if they were locked counter-cyclically.  After reunification Germany was strong; not surprising Yugoslavia were weak. Then, Slovenia and Croatia were old religious and political friends.  The problem was Serbia, the strongest part, with its record of conflict with Austria-Hungary and Germany.  And already the appointed enemy.

But what did Germany want?  An economic periphery in lands trained in German by the Hapsburg and by tourism, a Hinterland, no doubt. Possibly general political-military influence, and more particularly a buffer zone between Germany/EU and two potential centers of conflict: Russia and Turkey.  Austria seems to encourage this type of policy reminiscent of the Hapsburg empire; possibly also with an element of revenge for the 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo. For both of them wir sind wieder wer – we matter again – must have played a role.  Also for Genscher personally given his major role in engineering the exodus from DDR in 1989.  In short, economic considerations may have played a minor role relative to the rest.

This German-Austrian policy needed EU legitimacy, and they got it. History proceeded along the lines – “road map” we would say today with a much discredited word – laid out that might. So it was a success, except for the blood on twelve pairs of hands, particularly Genscher’s and those behind him.  Shed by a Yugoslav Civil Society, paying for the schemes of EU State and Capital.

Yugopolitical, Europolitical and Geopolitical Implications

First, the epicenter, B-i-H. Take the Dayton agreement as an example. Was it a conflict transformation to the worse or to the better, following the massive violence of Operations Storm and Flash in August 1995?  A “peace enforcement”, essentially based on US Air Force, in a NATO setting, hitting Serbian logistics (1) avoiding any massacre of US troops on the ground (the US nightmare) at the expense of a massacre of Serbian civilians from the air (the Serbian nightmare).

To save civilians from a continued intra-Yugoslav massacre might have been a step forward, but the problem is whether the process solved the triple problem after all wars, R3: Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Resolution of the conflict.

As to reconciliation: the only method attempted out of 1245 is the juridical/punishment approach, using the International Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, ICTFY, in the Hague. But these war crimes have much in common with crimes of passion in domestic law. They come out of the individual and collective personality under very special circumstances, meaning that neither individual nor general prevention is unlikely to work. As the people who brought about those special circumstances, foreign and Yugoslav leaders, will remain unpunished (except for Milosevic), a strong feeling of injustice will accompany any sentence, and also play right into the special Serbian psychology of martyrdom.

Doing nothing after such atrocities is as unacceptable as having done nothing to stop them.  Whether they prevent future atrocities, and whether punishment gives a feeling of comfort, even if only short-lasting, to the bereaved, is another issue.   It may be a necessary, but is certainly not a sufficient condition for reconciliation in a B-i-H built on a festering wound.

As to reconstruction: work is being done to rehabilitate body and mind of victims and bereaved (2);  Rebuilding is a major and lucrative business (US$ 40 billion have been mentioned for B-i-H). Restructuring is interpreted as institution-building (3) by the outside, meaning vertically; and of re-culturation, questioning myths of all parties, nothing is heard.  And – the basic point remains.
Even if the psychotherapy of trauma should work for some victims and bereaved what has to be healed goes beyond traumatized individuals.  This is not only a question of actor healing but of relation healing, between perpetrator and victim; and of community healing in badly wounded communities that once were functioning in spite of, or even because, they were nationally mixed.
As to resolution: what is being done to solve the underlying issue?  And what new issues are being created in the process?  Let us focus on the former, in the light of the goals of the actors.

The Dayton Agreement divides the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in two entities, the Bosniak-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Republika Srpska. The construction is artificial at all levels, imposed from above and the outside, (4) with no plebiscites. (5)  The basic point, that the three nations do not want to live together, is demonstrated every day.  Independence for the Bosnian Serbs beyond autonomy, including the possibility of a (con)federation with Serbia, is seen as “rewarding aggression”; to impose internal borders as external borders is not seen as aggression – a case of victor’s justice.

For the Bosnian Croats the situation is worse: if they want union with Croatia they first have to break out of a federation made to counter the Serbs, (6)  and then break out of B-i-H.  That might leave the Bosniaks with a small but viable city-state. Why not?

To prevent this the recent High Representative Paddy Ashdown, an English politician, declared as his goal a Bosnian-Herzegovinian personality no longer voting along “sectarian” lines but maturing into the type of political spectrum found in his home country, the United Kingdom.  However, 800 year after the English started conquering Ireland, and more particularly after the birth of the UK of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801, and even more particularly after it has shrunk in 1922 to the UK of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, there is still no clear UK personality in sight.  Just to the contrary, the centrifugal forces prevail, with devolution to Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh based on a clear will to be ruled by one’s own kind.  True, like for the Swiss there is an overlayer.  But that over-layer is far too thin and too imposed from the outside to work in B-i-H.  Perhaps Mr Ashdown should have trained on the UK personality before he tried his heavy hand on the B-i-H?

Something similar applies to Yugoslavia as a whole.  To prevent ethnic cleansing by doing exactly that, driving the Serbs into Serbia from all corners of Yugoslavia, is lousy politicking, not politics. By and large Slovenia is the only problem solved. The fiction that “internal borders can become external borders”, and “Yugoslavia, please disintegrate along administrative borders” still prevails.

A decision propagated by the Holy Trinity of USA the Father, EU the Son and NATO the Holy Spirit does not becomes true in its consequences just because a handful of people often refer to themselves as “the international community”. No process for accommodating nations and borders to each other has been proposed, meaning that most problems remain unsolved and that the violence will be reproduced with a new generation oblivious of the horrors, but not of revenge. Is Dayton really a peace agreement?

Third, Europe.  There must have been be satisfaction in Germany, Austria and the EU: the Slovene-Croat-B-i-H side they supported “won” (not so strange, the big boys were on their side). All are independent, fully recognized countries, one is already an EU member, the one that started the violence, the others possibly on their way into European institutions, dependable (7) economically and politically, and militarily.  If B-H is glued together, dominated by the Bosnia-Croat majority, then Germany won World War II and Austria World War I, even if both of them will have to share the “victory” with the rest of EU.  Neither of them could have achieved this alone, not even Germany, indicative of what kind of common foreign and security policy the EU is developing.(8)

The objection would be that even if their political, economic and cultural-historical goals were achieved, the EU did not succeed in stopping the bloodshed.  But perhaps that came second? In a sense their common policy was the worst possible: premature, selective recognition with no policy for Yugoslavia as a whole, without any adequate peacekeeping to control the violence bound to be the result of a policy against so many nations.  All the other three combinations would probably have been better.

The Turks and the Muslims did second best: no EU membership yet (problematic for Muslim and Slavic Orthodox countries anyhow).  But the Slavic Muslims have some kind of Bosnia-Hercegovina, and the Albanian-Muslims are on the way to get their Kosova.

The Russians were the losers, not only in the sense that the party they supported, the Serbs, lost, but also in the sense that they were not recognized as equals in all military and civilian settings dealing with Yugoslavia, except in OSCE and the UN Security Council.  The major actors, however, were USA, EU and NATO.

Fourth, the World.  Maybe the major geopolitical post-Cold War implication of Yugoslavia was this almost total failure to solve any real problem, to be followed up in the Gulf wars, in Somalia, in the “war against terrorism”, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and whatever comes next.  Yugoslavia was only the beginning, a significant watershed.

A component of this was the failure to take the two fault-lines in the European construction dividing Europe in three: a) the Germanic/Latin Catholic/Protestant part, b) the Slavic/Orthodox part, and the c) Turko/Muslim part seriously.  Thus, Orthodox Romania, Slavic Orthodox Bulgaria and Muslim Turkey are still on the waiting list for EU membership – and Russia is not even on that list. Romania and Bulgaria are less important, but not the exclusion of Russia and the possible exclusion of Turkey.

The prediction therefore is that the Yugoslav debacle might, just might, serve as a catalyst for a Russian Union, with Russia, Belarus, (the Orthodox part of) Ukraine and (the northern part of) Kazakhstan, possibly including Bulgaria, and a Turkish Union, with Turkey, the six ex-Soviet Muslim republics, and possibly Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In other words the ECO countries constituted in November 1992; 10 million square kilometers with 300 million in habitants.  With the anti-Islamic policies of USA-EU-NATO the probability is above zero.  The outer circle of Table 1 may themselves be the victim of acting according to the logic of the inner and middle circles.

All of this was easily foreseeable, and has tremendous implications, drawing on thousand years of enmity along all sides of the triangles, some of which is enacted in ex-Soviet Union today, and between Christians of various kinds and Muslims.  Add to this greed and impatience, particularly in Austria-Germany, multiplied by the usual Western coefficient I x A = Ignorance x Arrogance.

How does the USA figure in this picture? What are the conclusions others will be likely to draw from “Yugoslavia”?

Politically, to submit to US bids for leadership and ask for their intervention as soon as possible, “to save lives”.  The USA has confirmed its position as the hegemons’ hegemon by beating the runner-up, the EU/WEU complex. Even France occasionally asks them.    Militarily, however, both the Yugoslav and the Gulf wars have have taught potential aggressors never to assemble vast amounts of military hardware in any one place. And the Yugoslav war must by necessity lead to new ways of organizing logistics, the C3I, more dispersed, less hardware and electronics, more human, software.

In other words, the little war, the guerilla, called “terrorism” by the West, has been developed further, to higher levels.  The Peoples’ Army, JNA, capitulated in Kosovo, possibly one the last capitulations in the history of warfare. Guerrillas never capitulate.  They may take a break or even be broken. And then reincarnate – like in Algeria.

Economically, the sanctions stimulated enormously a quaternary sector of the economy: black markets, clandestine production and smuggling out of all proportions. When  normal roads to livelihood for the country and the people are blocked by sanctions, then the illegal becomes legitimate and becomes a habit. But that is only half the story. Any sensible government will try to make their economies less trade-dependent so that they can survive sanctions better.  A major trend in some years?  Probability above zero.

Culturally, even in a secularizing world religion serves to identify people. Even non-believers are a little believers, preferring – as mentioned, given the risks involved – faith even if God does not exist to non-faith if God exists.  The war is likely to stimulate faith in both losers and winners.  Including the USA.


1. T. W. Carr, “When UNPROFOR soldiers were killed by the Croats, and were being used as human shields to deter the Krajina Serbs from shooting at advancing Croatian troops, US Air Force ground attack aircraft went into action. Not as one would expect to attack the Croatian force, but rather they attacked and destroyed a “Serb radar system”, which the US spokesman claimed had locked onto the aircraft.  It turned out of course that the ground installation hit and destroyed by the US aircraft was the Serb communication centre linking the area under Croat attack around Knin with other parts of the Serb Krajina”.

2. See Johan Galtung, Violence, war and the aftermath: Dynamic pace-building.  On visible and invisible consequences of violence – And what to do about them; Paper prepared for the War-torn Societies Project, UNRISD, Geneva, 1995.

3. However, characteristically, the 150 pages of the Dayton Agreement do not mention “conscientious objectors”, “deserters” and the “disobedient” with a single word.  Not only victor’s justice, but military justice, with the possibility that “today’s deserters may suffer the same fate that the deserters from the German Wehrmacht were faced with, who – condemned more than 50 years ago – are still waiting for their rehabilitation”.  More important than reducing violence in a war through non-participation is the protection of the military as institution. (From the Petition to the Presidency of the  OSCE, by the European Civic Forum, Basel, 17 February 1996.)

4. More particularly, ” “Reconstruction” largely consists in developing Bosnia-Herzegovina, as a divided territory under NATO military occupation, with macro-economic policy entrusted to the international financial institutions, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the US Treasury.  Of strategic importance to Western economic interests, however, is the territorial partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina under the Dayton agreement”.  From Chossudovsky, op.cit.  Deposits of oil and coal have been identified in a region which was a primary battlefront between Serbs and Croats Summer 1995.

5.  At the table in Dayton, Ohio were only three Yugoslavs, two of them (Milosevic and Tudjman) not even from B-H; Izetbegovich being the only one and his term as legally elected president had elapsed long time ago (January 1992).  A “peace” made with these three persons has some of the quality of a European peace in 1939 made by Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin (the Steel Pact and the Hitler-Stalin pact).

6. But with three elections, one for each entity, and one for the totality.  Let us see what the rate of voter participation is, usually a good indicator of the legitimacy of a political process.

7.  On the other hand, the Bosnian Croats declared their separate state Croatia Herzeg-Bosnia on July 2 1992 (Republika Srpska was declared on April 8 1992, the day after the US recognition of April 7, which came one day after the EC-German recognition on April 6 – the 51st anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941.

8.  Thus, “In Slovenia’s first multi-party government following secession from Yugoslavia, no less than six ministers were of German descent”, T. W. Carr, “German and US Involvement in the Balkans: A Careful Coincidence of National Policies?” Symposium on the Balkan war, Chicago, August 31 – September 1, 1995.  Carr also states that a key Catholic organization gave Croatia $US 2 billion loan in 1990 (freeing up resources to buy arms). As Carr points out, “There is no “conspiracy theory” in this: merely the reappearance of a geopolitical pattern”


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