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:. . The Balkans:. . Bosnia


A number of points about the three-year war in Bosnia-Herzegovina need to be clarified--and freed from journalistic shorthand and popular misconception--if we want to understand exactly what happened in the Balkans in the early 1990's.

Sometimes one hears, for instance, that the Bosnians were politically radical Muslim "fundamentalists" who did not believe in the values of a pluralistic society. This notion is patently false. But even spending too much energy discussing the religion of the Bosnians (and other peoples of the area) can be counter-productive, because it sets up dividing lines between people. All human beings deserve just treatment and respect for their civic rights regardless of their religious affiliation.

Another important myth is the so-called "equality of blame" thesis. This belief holds that all the warring parties in Bosnia- Herzegovina share equal blame for starting the war and for committing atrocities during the war. It cannot and should not be denied that all three armies did attack civilians and commit atrocities during the war. But Western governments and human rights observers are also agreed in assigning to the Serbs the biggest share of the human rights violations in the war. Many people also hold the Serbs--or rather, their local leaders, encouraged and supplied by Serbs outside Bosnia--responsible for the beginning of hostilities in April 1992. Reasonable people can, of course, disagree over whether, for instance, international recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina hurt or helped its chances to avoid civil war, but there is no reason to say that the Bosnians "got what they deserved," which is what the equality of blame thesis says. This misconception also made it harder for Western governments to intervene decisively on the side of the Bosnian Muslims, since Western public opinion was for a while confused about which side was actually in the right. Photo courtesy of UNHCR Media and Public Affairs Unit

A final myth about the fighting in Bosnia is that it has been caused by "ancient ethnic hatreds." What people often mean by this is that they are confused by the region's history or that they do not think outside countries (such as those in the UN or NATO) should get involved. If disputes are labeled "ancient," then they seem intractable, and we seem off the hook for not trying to contain or help solve them. The fact is that, although Bosnia has been the scene of significant national rivalries over the centuries, the only real bloodbaths there occurred in this century; it was during World War II that the region was wracked by invasion and civil war, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers. Communist Partisans fought Serbian Chetniks, and both groups fought the Italians, the Nazis, and the Croatian fascists, known as the Ustashe. These memories were still vivid in people's minds throughout much of the Tito era (1945-1980), and they were not properly explored by scholars or atoned for by politicians. The mutual fears engendered during World War II proved to be valuable ammunition for the various republics' nationalist leaders, each of whom had a different plan for dismantling Yugoslavia.

 






 


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Who Are the Bosnians..|..History of Bosnia to 1918..| Bosnia within Yugoslavia, 1918-1992..|..Bosnia and the Breakup of Yugoslavia..|..The War in Bosnia, 1992-1995..|..Bosnia Today..|..Issues Affecting the Future of Bosnia..|..Myths about the Fighting in Bosnia
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