bosnia report
No. 10 April - May 1995
A Visit to Sarajevo
by Adrian Hastings

I visited Sarajevo in the second week of April on the invitation of the Serb Civic Forum. I had long wanted to go to Sarajevo. A Serb invitation was the ideal opportunity to do so because I, like other people who have stood up to defend Bosnia from aggression and genocide, have been absurdly labelled 'anti-Serb' and accused of 'demonising the Serbs'. No one in Sarajevo speaks of being besieged by Serbs. They are besieged by 'Chetniks', the local name for nationalist Serb Fascists.

Perhaps the most distinguished Bosnian Serb alive is Professor Berberovic, the geneticist and a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is one of the founders of the Civic Forum. Unfortunately he could not be present at its meeting of 9 April, as one of Karadzic's snipers had shot him while he was crossing a Sarajevo street a few days before. He is recovering in hospital.

There were 425 delegates from different parts of Bosnia present at the forum. No fewer than a hundred had come from Tuzla, 50 from Zenica, 15 from Mostar, but most were from Sarajevo. There were even messages of support read out from Serbs within the isolated 'safe areas' of Bihac and Gorazde; there were also messages (not read out) from people inside the police state of Radovan Karadzic. Some 80 Serbs had come from outside the country as observers to offer their support; 38 of these were from Belgrade, the others from Croatia, Montenegro, Germany and elsewhere. Only once before have any Serbs from Belgrade been able to visit beseiged Sarajevo to express their solidarity with the victims of the aggression of President Milosevic, and they were only six in number. This time the very large delegation included politicians, academics, writers and housewives and it was a particular pleasure to talk with them.

The forum was chaired by Mirko Pejanovic, a member of the Bosnian Presidency. Many of the delegates were in the uniform of the Bosnian Army and identified themselves as belonging to such and such a corps and coming from Maglaj, Tuzla or elsewhere. As one remarked to laughter at the end of a rather short speech : 'I am not a good speaker but I am a good fighter'.

The concern voiced by speakers seemed to me reducible to four. The first was a total commitment to an historic Bosnia existing within its pre-war frontiers, pluralist in culture but single in government, a country without majorities but with equal rigjts for all its citizens. The continued existence of thousands of Serbs in Sarasjevo, Zenica, Tuzlla and elsewhere proves that this remains a viable goal and gives the lie to all those who assert that the war has madeÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ it impossible for the communities to live together. The fact that under the huge pressure of genocidal aggression they have continued to do so proves not only that it remains possible but that, for most Bosnians, it is the only possibility they can envisage. The Bosnia they love would not be Bosnia if it was not a mix of Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim traditions.

The second concern was that Karadzic and the sort of police-state he represents should be totally opposed. The Bosnian Serbs of the Civic Forum are fighting not only for Bosnia but against Fascism and against the huge record of criminality for which the Karadzic regime is responsible. Their third stated concern was dismay that the West quite deliverately ignores their existence and chooses to regard Karadzic as the one representative of Bosnian Serbs. In fact he represents a criminal minority. Even the leader and founder of his own party, Vladmir Srebrov, he has held in prison since the start of the war. One wonderwswhether the international mediators, or even Amnesty, have ever seriously endeavoured to secure Srebrov's release.

I cannot imagine that Dvid Owen, given his sustained determination to legitimise Karadzic and deligitimise President Izetbegovic, has ever been very interested in the fate of Srebrov or the very existence of the hundreds of thousands of Bosnian Serbs who refuse to be subservient to Karadzic. It is harder to understand why the Western media have been equally uninterested in the Civic Forum. It was hardly reported in the press. When the BBC's represenative in Sarajevo asked if I might speak about it on the radio, London declined. When, back from Sarajevo, I at once wrote an article on it for The Guardian, it was quickly refused. The key to the whole abysmal Western failure in Bosnia has been acceptance of the myth that Karadzic represents Bosnian Serbs and that, in consequence, the war is one between the principal population groups in Bosnia and not one of external aggression reinforced by the collaboration of a group of criminals.

The Forum's fourth concern was anxiety that the Washington Agreement for a federation between Muslims and Croats would in fact squeeze out the thousands of democratic Serbs who have been so central to the defence of Sarajevo in particular. Nothing is now more important than for Bosnia and its friends emphatically to reject the presupposition of the Contact Group Plan, which is that peace depends upon a division of the country in two halves: Serbs in one part, Muslim and Croats in the other.

For the Serbs of the Civic Forum do not believe that Karadzic wants any sort of peace. He and his immediate associates, such as Mladic and Koljevic, are far too deep in crime to survive, except in the circumstances of war. Named by the International War Crimes Tribunal as suspected of genocide, Karadzic can have no future outside a world of terror. He stands for the rights of nobody, certainly not the rights of Bosnian Serbs whose community he has devastated. For the Serb Civic Forum, it is President Izetbegovic alone who stands for their rights, because he stands as head of a legitimate Government for the rights of all Bosnian citizens without exception within a collective prsidency which includes represenatives of all three communities.

I was permitted to speak to the Forum. In April 1995, my thoughts inevitably went back to April 1945 and the death of Hans von Dohnanyi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and so many other Germans, killed in the last days of the Second World War precisely because they had struggled for a European and human ideal of justice and freedom against the tyranny of Nazism. I pointed out in my speech that it was natural for British eoploe to be opposed to Hitler and did not necessarily signify any great commitment to the ideas central to a civilised Europe. It was the German resistance to Hitler then, and is the Serb resistance to Karadzic now, which really demonstrate that commitment and are, therefore, of incomparably greater human value. Like German citizenshiÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ p then, so now Bosnian citizenship for Serbs has acrried with it both the burden and the glory of upholding a European standard which in the last three years the government of Western Europe have so conspicuously betrayed.

Bosnian Serb academics, politicians, businessmen and media people have in a very high percentage supported their legitimate government and the integrity of their country. Sadly, only the clergy have failed to do so. There are precisely two Orthodox priests left in Free Bosnia to serve the 200,000 Serbs there. One of these attended the forum. Recently, a delegation of the Civic Forum, led by a former major of Sarajevo, managed to visit Belgrade and appealed to the Patriarch to send priests to Bosnia. He refused to do so. There is in fact not a single bishop of the Serb Orthodox Church who has not supported the extreme nationalist movement and the attack on Bosnia. Today church leaders are drawing closer and closer to Karadzic, one of the greatest criminals of our time. One believer from Montenegro appealed to me to work for the expulsion of the Serb Orthodox Church from the World Council of Churches, and if the World Counil actually wished to do soemthing constructive for peace and justice in former Yugoslavia, that is what it would do. In circumstances of intense nationalism, a national church is always in greatest danger of betraying its religion; but few churches have ever gone further down that road than the Serb Orthodox Church in the 1990s. It is the refusal of ecumenical Christians in the West to recognise that depressing fact which has paralysed any wider Christian response to the trageday of Bosnia. It is also a betrayal of the many genuine Christians within that Church who are sick at what their leadership has done.

I went to Sarajevo on an UNPROFOR plane. The airport was closed next day and has remained closed almost all the time since. So I left on the only route that the Government of Bosnia itself actually controls - through the tunnel under the airport and up Mount Igman, climbing in the dark. It was an eye-opening experience. Torches and cigarettes were not allowed lest a Serb sniper might see us, and yet all my companions were Serbs. One young Belgrade writer actually pushed me in a small truck through the tunnel. It was a great pleasure to leave Sarajevo with a group of Serbs from Serbia, including members of Parliament, and some of the 'Women in Black' who demonstrate silently every week against the war on a street in Belgrade. For me it was also the final symbol of the truth that battling against Milosevic and Karadzic does not in any way whatsoever make one 'anti-Serb'.

Adrian Hastings is Emeritus Professor at the Department of Theology, University of Leeds and on the steering committee of the Alliance to Defend Bosnia-Herzegovina. This article was pub lished also in The Tablet, London, 5.5.1995.


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