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Balkan Strategic Studies

February 1994 / March 1994

Self-Determination or Inviolability of Borders? Inconsistent Application of Principles is Killing

By T. W. ("Bill") Carr, Associate Publisher.

The Helsinki Accords enshrine and protect the right of all peoples to self-determination. They also enshrine and protect the inviolability of existing sovereign borders. The United States and many Western European states have alternately applied one principle, and then the other, as it suits their current policies. But the result has been to create irreconcilable situations and, more importantly, the prospects for vast unrest throughout Europe, Eurasia and elsewhere. Associate Publisher T. W. ("Bill") Carr puts the pieces together.

Published in:
Defense & Foreign Affairs
Strategic Policy

Issue 2,3,

For fair use only
Published under the provision of
U.S. Code, Title 17, section 107.

In the carpet of conflict currently laid across the former Yugoslavia are a number of interrelated threads, woven over the centuries by the rise and fall of past empires, each of which was colored by differing religions and cultural values. From the Slav Orthodox Christian kingdoms, and the Austro-Hungarian Catholic and Ottoman Islamic empires, to the fascist Axis powers of World War II and Tito's post war communist federation, each administration left an indelible mark which cannot easily be erased from the minds of the people in the former and current Yugoslavias.

Today, however, Western political fashion is that self-determination is the only criteria for nationhood. Following the demise of Soviet communism and the start of German re-unification, Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany constantly stated -- during the Spring and Summer of 1991 -- that Slovenia and Croatia had the right to exercise self-determination under Principle eight of the Helsinki Accords. At the time, however, he omitted to mention Principle Three of the Helsinki Accords, which specifies the inviolability of existing [obviously - EXTERNAL, international] borders in Europe. Only later, after the recognition of Slovenia and Croatia had been achieved against the wishes of other EC member states, did Chancellor Kohl cite Principle Three of the Helsinki Accords. He used it against Serbia (or, in fact, the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) when the Yugoslav Federal Forces went into action to prevent further "ethnic cleansing" of Serbs by Croatian units in the Krajina region and other areas of Croatia -- areas within which Serbs constituted the majority of the local population -- but which had been deemed by the international community to be within the newly-recognized boundaries of Croatia.

Herein lies the key point behind all the current conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Which principle in the Helsinki Accords takes precedence?. Is it to be Principle Three, safeguarding the inviolability of existing European borders, or Principle Eight, which enshrines the right of self-determined?

In most normal European situations there is no problem; both principles can apply with equal weight because most ethnic groups live within their own national borders. Such conditions do not exist in the former Yugoslavia. For example, almost 30 percent of Croatia (as presently created by violating the borders of Yugoslavia), is land where Serbs have been the majority population for centuries. The [Serbian] people in these areas voted for self-determination, democratically expressing a wish not to leave Yugoslavia. They resisted being forced into President Franjo Tudjman's Croatia, a nation which had previously murdered an estimated 700,000+ Serbs in 1941-45, and commenced ethnic cleansing again in 1991. The UN had to intervene, placing the region under UN protection, a situation which still applies in March 1994.

Conditions are replicated in Bosnia-Herzegovina, an area which has never been a nation, but which was recognized as such at the behest of the US and a German-dominated EC. Deeming it to be a unitary nation state, the Western powers again violated the borders of Yugoslavia, and ignored the right to self-determination of the Serbs who constituted 33 percent of the population, and who owned in excess of 66 percent of the land mass of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Western powers have applied Principle Three and Principle Eight at random as befits their own policy objectives at any particular moment. This is seen by the Serbs as being grossly unfair, building within them a deep resentment against the West, particularly the US and Germany. Most Serbs -- official and private citizens alike -- cannot see any logic in the West's one-sided actions, other than a desire to destroy the new Yugoslavia. Their resentment became bitter after the imposition of UN sanctions. By any normal logic, if Yugoslavia was to suffer UN sanctions, then so should Croatia which continues to deploy up to 40,000 Croatian troops (67,000+ by some accounts) in Bosnia-Herzegovina almost two years after Yugoslav Forces withdrew (in May 1992).

In a Memorandum to the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, in January 1993, the US Serbian Unity Congress stated: "The Serbs want the same right which the world has recognised for other Yugoslavs (eg: Slovenes and Croats), to live together in their own national state, or in one single autonomous unit of a larger political entity. The Serbs fought for that right in the First World War, they were granted it by their political allies (France, UK, Italy, US), and gave it up when asked for form the original Yugoslavia in 1918. They now insist on taking out of Yugoslavia the internationally-recognised Serbian territories (as agreed in the London Treaty of 1915) they originally sacrificed to form Yugoslavia. In particular, the Serbs reject the partitioning of former Yugoslavia along the lines imposed by Hitler in 1941, and reimposed by Tito in 1945 [ie: internal administrative boundaries -- Ed.] . . . This is unacceptable because, first it reduces one half of Serbs to the status of national minorities in states that openly threaten their nationhood and even their physical existence: and second, it isolates rump Serbia from its traditional geopolitical alliances."

The memorandum went on to state, "The Serbs view their role in the on-going civil war as strictly defensive-preemptive. They are not invaders of anybody's territory but defenders of their own homesteads where they have lived for centuries."

The night killings

Unquestionably, the Bosnian Serbs in their "defensive-preemptive" actions have been trying, with varying degrees of success, to force from Serb territory the Moslems living in urban townships such as Tuzla, Srebrenica and Maglaj. These Muslim urban enclaves within Serb-owned countryside, have been subjected to siege and intermittent bombardment in an attempt to force the inhabitants to leave for sanctuary in Muslim-held territory.

Little attempt has been made by the Serbs to actually take the towns by frontal assault. Although saving the lives of young Serbs, their protracted siege tactics have given the Western media many opportunities to present the Muslims as helpless starving victims of Serb aggression and "ethnic cleansing".

In a 1993 interview, Biljana Plasic, the Bosnian-Serb Deputy President of Bosnia-Herzegovina, spelled out to me the reasoning behind their actions.

She said: "After all the underhanded betrayal by President [Alija] Izetbegovic prior to the illegal recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina by the US and EC, and the subsequent slaughter of Serbs in the border regions with Croatia . . . in which Izetbegovic colluded with the Croats . . . there can be no living together in multi-ethnic communities."

"There has been too much bloodshed. There are too many killings to be avenged on all sides. How can we sleep soundly ever again in the same village with people who previously came by night to kill Serbs while they slept? There is only way forward. There has to be a separation of the people into three areas."

"Three cohesive land areas where each ethnic group can live and practice their own religion. I am not happy about what is necessary and I wish we could reach a swift agreement with the Muslims to exchange territory and population without any further fighting. Every time we try to talk with them about exchanging people they refuse. They are expecting the United States to intervene against us with force, so they keep on holding Serbs hostage inside their towns, and they go on fighting and staging events for media like CNN, the BBC and The New York Times," Mrs Plasic said.

"One thing is for sure, no matter what happens, we are not going to live under the domination of Muslim extremists. Better to fight than give in to such people. They would only kill us anyway. Perhaps in a hundred years from now our great grandchildren may once more live together in harmony."

The Balkan ethnic powderkeg

Throughout the Balkans there exist many potentially-explosive situations similar to those current in the former Yugoslavia. The Helsinki Accords principles of self-determination and inviolability of borders are lying in wait to trap the unwary, or to be exploited by countries pursuing their own self-interests.

In northern Serbia, south of the border with Hungary, is a large Hungarian population living in Vojvodina. Just to the east, in Romania, in an arc curving from Timisoara, south to the port of Orsova on the Danube, lives a very large Serb population. This area of Transylvania was originally Serbian until sold to Romania by a Serbian Duke in the second half of the 18th Century. Northeast of this Serb-populated region in Romania is another area of Transylvania housing more than two-million Hungarians. Overall, this northern belt, stretching from Slavonski Brod and Osijek (Serb areas of Croatia) in the west, through the Vojvodina region of Serbia, and eastwards across Transylvania along the Romanian-Hungarian border, is probably the most ethnically diverse in the Balkans. The potential for territorial disputes and "ethnic cleansing" is enormous.

Other areas, perhaps with even greater potential for ethnic conflict, are Kosovo and the Sanjak region of Yugoslavia. Here the problem is an explosive mixture of religion and nationalism with roots reaching back in remote history and the Tito era. Adjacent to Kosovo is Muslim Albania from whence came 95 percent of the present day population of Kosovo. Tito's parents were from Croatia and Slovenia, and during his Administration, Tito maintained power in Yugoslavia, not by just holding back economic development within Serbia, but by taking positive action to counter the strength of ethnic Serbs; a strength which is derived from the size and geographical spread of the Serbian population.

He moved Serbs out of their religious heartland Kosovo, the place where they had fought their most historic battle against the Ottoman Turks. At the same time, Tito encouraged Albanian Muslims to move into the area vacated as a means of soliciting favour from Middle East Muslim countries. When subsequent discriminatory action and violence drove Serb families out of Kosovo he did nothing to prevent the exodus. Today a situation prevails where US officials say that if Serbia "invades" Kosovo then the West must attack Yugoslavia using the full might of NATO. It seems these officials do not realise that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia. How can a country attack itself?

In effect what they really mean is that self-determination is paramount; Principle eight overrule Principle Three of the Helsinki Accords. This is the direct opposite of the situation in the Krajina, where the same officials say Croatia's Hitler/Tito-generated borders are paramount; Principle Three overrrules Principle Eight. Is it any wonder the Serbs feel aggrieved and are bewildered by Western logic, or rather the lack of it? Just like the Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Albanian Muslims draw encouragement from Western statements and threats against Yugoslavia over Kosovo.

British politicians such as Paddy Ashdown, leader of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, warn constantly that if the West does not "stop Serbian aggression in Bosnia and Croatia", then Kosovo will be Serbia's next target for aggressive "ethnic cleansing". Such a domino theory is not valid in the Kosovo situation. Trouble will only erupt as a result of provocative action by the Muslim population within Kosovo, or from outside interference. In such circumstances, Yugoslavia has a choice of action. It can withdraw from its own territory, or it can take forceful action to suppress civil unrest, knowing full well that the latter will result in heightened media attention on a massive scale, followed by political demands for the UN Security Council to take military action against Yugoslavia.

A "Greater Albania"?

In addition to migration to Kosovo, large numbers of ethnic Albanians moved east into what was then the Yugoslav region of Macedonia (now an independent state), while others moved northwards and now form a Muslim enclave in the Sanjak area of Yugoslavia. An analysis of actions in this region indicate that Albania harbours a desire to create a Greater Albania. To the existing state would be added the western part of what is now the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), a strip of northern Greece from Igoumentsa on the Adriatic coast eastwards to Kastoria and Florina, plus Kosovo and westwards to include the Sanjak in Yugoslavia.

On March 12, 1994, Germany announced that 30,0000 Serb refugees would soon be repatriated to the former Yugoslavia on the grounds that they did not qualify for refugee status. Significantly, none of the refugees to be repatriated have passports from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, indicating that they are, in all likelihood, Albanians. Intelligence reports reaching Defense & Foreign Affairs indicate that intermingled among these 30,000 will be some 5,000 "Serbian" Albanians from Kosovo who have received military training at an abandoned US military base at Landstule in Germany. Their task is to move into Kosovo where they will be joined by fellow Kosovo-born Albanians who have been receiving military training at a Saudi-funded "refugee camp" established in Albania in June 1993. The true purpose of the Albanian refugee camp was revealed to BBC World Service correspondent Misha Glenny in July 1993 by a Bosnian Muslim Commander in Sarajevo.

The new Croat-Bosnian Muslim alliance

An intelligence picture is taking shape regarding US diplomatic moves during mid-March 1994 in brokering a peace between the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Croats and Croatia. There now seems little doubt that, contrary to the publicly stated US view that this is a first step towards peace in the former Yugoslavia, the unstated (and possibly de facto) US aim is to create what amounts to a Muslim-Roman Catholic alliance capable of taking on the Orthodox-Christian Serbs militarily in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Knin and Krajina, the disputed territories along the Serbian/Croatian border. Over the past 18 months, the US has taken a firm grip on Albania (see Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, October-November 1993: "Albania has come to resemble an American training academy. The poorest country in Europe is fast becoming an American colony.").

In the Balkans, the US Government, in collusion with the German Government, appears to be forging a Croat-Muslim alliance in order to bend the Serbs to its will.

Arms have also been flowing into the alliance countries from Germany and many Islamic countries. [See Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy issues from December 31, 1992, to January 31, 1994, and The Arms Transfer Tables in this edition. Substantial additional transfers of weapons into Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are also know to have occurred during this timeframe.]

Other reports which added to the intelligence picture included one by Robert Fox, Bosnian correspondent of the London-based newspaper, The Daily Telegraph. He reported on December 29, 1993, that the Bosnian Muslim Handzar division had moved into the mountainous region around Fojnica: "Up to 6,000 strong, the Handzar division glories in a fascist culture. They see themselves as the heir of the Ss Handzar division, formed in 1943 to fight for the nazis." Fox goes on to quote UN officers: "Surprisingly few of those in charge of the Handzars in Fojnica seem to speak good Serbo-Croatian. Many of them are Albanian, whether from Kosovo [the Serb province where Albanians are the majority] or from Albania itself." Fox states that UN sources on the spot told him: "The Handzars are trained and led by veterans from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The strong presence of native Albanians is an ominous sign. It could be that the the seeds of war are spreading south via Kosovo and into Albania, thence to the Albanians of Macedonia."

Fox himself believes that "hardline elements of the Bosnian Army, like the Handzar, appear to have the backing of an increasingly extreme leadership in Sarajevo, represented by Mr Ejup Ganic, Foreign Minister, Mr Haris Silajdzic, Prime Minister, and Mr Enver Hadihasanovic, the new Army chief'.

Recent Events

When the Sarajevo market place massacre happened at 12.02 hrs on February 5, 1994, the US immediately used the event to move the UN Security Council into issuing a 10 day deadline ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs to pull back their heavy artillery and mortars from the hills above Sarajevo, or face NATO air strikes. At the time, the UN Commander, British Lt.-General Sir Michael Rose, said it was not possible to say which side had fired the alleged "mortar round". However, it has been alleged by a number of unnamed UN sources that a subsequent confidential UNPROFOR technical report showed it was more likely that the Muslims staged the event to evoke UN military action against the Serbs.

A letter from EC peace mediator Lord Owen to EC foreign ministers, containing statements that the Bosnian Muslims were probably behind the event was shown by French Television 1 on February 18. When challenged by the French authorities, TF-1's Washington-based reporter, Ulif Gose, and TF-1's Foreign Affairs editor, Bernard Volker, stuck by their report that said an UNPROFOR investigation had shown the mortar was fired some 1.5 kilometres inside Muslim lines, a notification of which Lord Owen had repeated in his letter to the EC foreign ministers.

Despite all this, and a continued denial of any involvement by the Bosnian Serbs, the US has continued to blame only the Serbs, and pressed ahead with its so-called peace brokering alliance of Croats and Muslims.

[Defense & Foreign Affairs' evidence of this incident is that, in fact, the explosion may have occurred as a result of a ground-placed device, planted in the Muslim marketplace by Hizbollah mercenaries on behalf of the Izetbegovic Government, and not as a result of a mortar attack. See January 31, 1994, edition.]

Another convenient incident to help move US policy forward occurred when it was alleged that two USAF F-16 fighter aircraft had shot down four "Serbian" Super Galeb ground-attack aircraft caught attacking a Bosnian-Muslim munitions factory. Two other "Serbian" Super Galebs escaped by fleeing into Croatian airspace. There is doubt that this incident ever took place. There are a number of questions never answered in any of the reports at the time, or subsequently. Why was it not disclosed which airfield the "Serbian aircraft" flew from and returned to? Surely the Boeing E-3A AWACS can track all movement over the entire fomer Yugoslavia? That is the reason for their deployment. Secondly, why did UNPROFOR monitors based at Bosnian Serb airfields not identify which airfield the aircraft operated from? Thirdly, why has the media not shown the wreckage of the four aircraft shot down? This should not be a difficult task when the AWACS and US fighter crews could pinpoint where the "Serb aircraft" were downed. There is also the point that the Bosnian Serbs have consistently said they have not lost any aircraft.

When a senior Italian Government Minister was asked during an interview whose aircraft were involved, he replied it was of no importance; only the outcome mattered.

One can only conclude there is considerable doubt about the validity of the reports of the incident; even it did happen, there are still unanswered questions as to the ownership of the attack aircraft. It would not be normal for Bosnian Serb aircraft to flee into Croatia -- hostile enemy territory -- to escape US fighters. They would gain increased protection by fleeing into Yugoslavia, not Croatia. Only Croatian aircraft are likely to flee into Croatian airspace.

US Balkan policy and the Helsinki Accords

The US was humiliated by the Yugoslavs on three occasions recently. On the first occasion, the Serbs rejected a Serb-born American, Milan Panic, as the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia. Secondly, US Secretary of State Warren Christopher was totally rejected in his overtures and demands made to Belgrade during his visit there in 1993. And, finally, so too was State Department Special Envoy Ralph Batholomew when he issued dire military threats against Yugoslavia in 1993. The US Government is now firmly entrenched in its anger toward Belgrade, and is clearly involved in some discreet strategic moves to further isolate the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, even though it has complied with all the requirements of the United Nations for a lifting of the UN sanctions. The US appears to be preparing to resist any lifting of the UN sanctions.

Longer term, the US seems to be staking out a position in the Balkans, possibly because the situation in the former Soviet Union is so uncertain. Russian President Boris Yeltsin's health is very poor and he is unlikely to be in power much longer, which will probably result in a more nationalist leader taking over. The US and Germany are competitors on the global scale, but at present in the Balkans at least, there appears to be collusion. Germany is exerting influence over its traditional area of Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, while the US takes care of Albania, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey.

The US Government appears to use the right of self-determination and the inviolability of international borders purely for furthering US policy, both short-term tactical, and longer term strategic. In the Balkans, the US Government is not consistent when applying the principle of self-determination to the Muslims and Croats on the one hand, and the Serbs on the other. The two principles also appear to be interchangeable in terms of application and importance.

A relevant parallel to watch will be the US Government's reaction to the unfolding situation in Northern Ireland. There is no doubt that, under international law, Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom. Neither is there any doubt that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland have expressed a democratic wish to remain a part of the UK. If, however, one goes back in history, ignoring the present position of the province in the UK, and holds a referendum in the whole of Ireland, then probably a majority would be in favor of Ireland becoming a unitary state. Take the logic one step further and hold the referendum across the whole of the UK and Ireland, both north and south, and the outcome is not predictable. Would a self-determination vote result in the Republic of Eire (Southern Ireland) being forced to once again become part of the UK?

The parallel in the former Yugoslavia between the Bosnia-Croatia-Serbia-Kosovo situation and the UK-Northern Ireland-Eire situation is very real.

For domestic political reasons, US President William Clinton was prepared to risk US-UK relations to some degree by allowing the leader of the outlawed Irish Republican Army's political wing, Sinn Fein, Jerry Adams, to visit the US to present the case for the terrorist organization. Similar situations involving self-determination could arise in the future in the US itself with the Hispanic populations in Florida, southern California, Texas and elsewhere.

These groups, given time and a high birth rate, could demand the right to self-determination as "suppressed peoples, suffering under white American domination". Their cry would be little different from the of the Muslim Albanians in Serbia's Kosovo.

End quote.


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