FRI, 15 APR 1994 20:17:50 GMT
Summary: Why did the Serbs decide to stand up to the entire world precisely on account of Gorazde, why haven't they retreated, as they had in the case of Sarajevo? Gorazde is a Moslem enclave in eastern Bosnia, where before the war the majority of population were Moslems (68.7% Moslems and 24.7% Serbs). It is situated about twenty kilometers from the border with Serbia and cuts a sort of corridor that exists between those territories in Bosnia and Herzegovina which are under the control of the Serbian forces. The Serbs thought that they could succeed in exchanging Gorazde for some other territory, e.g. a part of Sarajevo. The Serbian politicians fear territorial integration of the Moslems in the FR Yugoslavia with those in Bosnia. The visit of Radovan Karadzic to Serbian soldiers around Gorazde, filmed by TV cameras, is the sign that the Serbs will not give up Gorazde so easily.
AIM, BEOGRAD, April 13, 1994
The bloody Bosnian - Herzegovinian drama of the conflicts around the Moslem enclave in Gorazde is reaching a kind of a political climax. The international community used force as an argument for the first time, while the Serbs are now faced with the ultimate choice - to withdraw or to persevere on the present course. From such a point of view, the conflict of the Serbs with the UN , i.e. USA and NATO is of primary importance in these events, with the Moslems playing only a supporting role. Their clashes with the Serbian forces are only the repetition of what has already been seen, with new loss of life and mutual reciting of the already worn-out political platitudes about an honourable struggle for "one's" nation, home, state, freedom.
It is evident that the Bosnian Serbs have, somewhat, unexpectedly decided not to surrender, but to stand up to the whole world at any cost, precisely in Gorazde, which they avoided doing, for example, when they had been threatened by bombardment, if they did not withdraw heavy artillery from the Sarajevo surrounding. Naturally, there are deep military - strategic, but also political reasons for such a decision.
It should be borne in mind that before the latest Serbian offensive, Gorazde was a relatively wide Moslem area cutting deep into the eastern Bosnia, which the Serbs consider their own. It physically divides eastern Bosnia, which is under the control of Mladic's forces from eastern Herzegovina, which is also under the Serbian control. Elimination of this enclave, which in time also became an exceptionally strong Moslem military stronghold, is of primary strategic importance for them. In essence, this is a corridor of sorts, similar to the one that passes through the northern Bosnia and Herzegovina and links a large Serbian region in the west Bosnia with the rest of the Republic of Srpska and Serbia, i.e. Yugoslavia.
In addition, Gorazde is located only some twenty kilometers from the border with Serbia and Yugoslavia as the crow flies and, which is very important, is inclined to Sandzak, a region in Serbia mostly populated with Moslems, which in recent years have noticeably strived towards achieving autonomy, and even forming a separate federal unit. The Serbian generals and politicians, both in Belgrade and on Pale, strongly oppose any geographic or political rapprochement between the Moslems from Serbia and Moslems on the other side of the Drina river. They see this as a threat to the political and military stability.
The Serbian military and political strategic experts are also deeply convinced that in their efforts to weaken Serbia as the strongest state born after the break up of former Yugoslavia, the western countries actually want to create conditions for the linking of Moslems from Sandjak and those from Bosnia. With the already rather sensitive situation on Kosovo (where the majority population is also of Moslem religion), this would totally destroy the "southern flank" of the Serbian national state.
The decision of the Bosnian Serbs to show that they will not give in in the case of Gorazde despite everything, is not accidental, and even less a product of the proverbial Balkan stubbornness. It is a logical consequence of the political strategy which proceeds from the assumption that a national state is the only solution for the Serbian nation, and that such a state must have a stable and integral territory.
Ever since the break out of the war in Bosnia, the strategic target of the Bosnian Serbs was to live in a common state with their own "blood-brothers" in Serbia and Yugoslavia. For them Pale, a small place some fifteen kilometers from Sarajevo, is only a symbol of these aspirations, and Belgrade the true capital city. Seemingly they have therefore easily agreed to remove the artillery encirclement of Sarajevo, which they still see as the Moslem center. After they have done this, they have definitely given up ambitions to get a much larger part of the Bosnian territory than they control at the moment, and have turned to consolidating the territories they lay claim to.
Quite naturally, Gorazde came first. The leadership of the Bosnian Serbs, as it seems, believed that the west will understand this change in orientation and that it will not strain the situation too much. In this, they probably relied on the need for the soonest possible establishment of peace, hoping that Goraze, taken or surrounded by a strong circle, could be exchanged for some other region, for example, a part of Sarjevo. The fact is that at the very outset of the Serbian offensive against this area, the competent authorities from the international community were rather reserved. The UNPROFOR Commander for Bosnia, general lt. Michael Rose, for example, relatively easily agreed with the suggestion of the Serbian leadership that he should not go to Gorazde, although it is hard to believe that he had no information on what was going on there. The American administration also showed some reservations at the beginning , which only convinced the Serbs even more that they were doing "the right thing".
Surely enough, the Moslem side either knew or anticipated such Serbian plans. Aware that it had no sufficient forces to resist the Serbian offensive it, as confirmed by the UNPROFOR sources, expedited the whole affair, by attacking first. The Moslems, rightfully as it turned out, counted on the international community not to allow a safe area to get into the Serbian hands so easily, hoping for that finally, the West would intervene with military forces. In this, they had enough strength to forestall the "blitz action" of the opposite side and prevent it to take the region of Gorazde with military force in just a few days, thus leaving UN and NATO sufficient time for the organization and preparations.
The obvious "wandering" of the UN, when it comes to the motives for undertaking air operations, also points to the conclusion that in the case of Gorazde primarily strategic and political reasons were "at play", not the humanitarian ones. The reason given on Sunday were sufferings of the civilian population and destruction of the city, while on Monday it was explained that the reason were the risks the peace force members were exposed to in the city itself. The second one already includes certain military - political elements, and is deprived of humanitarian aspect. Even the media gave rather modest coverage of the mass sufferings of the civilians, emphasizing the fact that the zone proclaimed as safe by the UN was attacked.
Thus, this once small and peaceful Bosnian town, with 37 thousand inhabitans, out of which 68.1% Moslems and 24.7% Serbs, became a military - political bargaining counter. The crisis created around it could easily mark the definite failure of any idea on Bosnia and Herzegovina as a common state of three nations which live intermingled on its entire territory, but also the end of an idea on the imminent establishment of civic state communities on the territory of former Yugoslavia.
It is rather difficult at this moment to forecast with certainty what will happen next. The withdrawal of Serbs to the positions they have controlled before March 30, should not be expected, but it is realistic to suppose that they are prepared to halt their military advance. On Tuesday Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs, followed by TV cameras inspected Serbian positions around Gorazde, thus showing that the Serbian aspirations regarding this area are not only an expression of the present political needs, but a more lasting orientation. Indeed, this city is already under tight encirclement and, as soon as the roads are opened the civilian population will leave it in haste, as they once left Srebrenica.
It is equally difficult to imagine the situation in which NATO would undertake new air strikes in order to make the Serbs retreat. The experience to date shows that strong reasons are needed for such attacks - renewed artillery attacks on the city, flaring up of the fightings or a direct attack on the UNPROFOR forces. The Serbs are wise enough not to do any of that, but such a situation does not suit the Moslems who were left as losers. Therefore, already on Tuesday, they tried to provoke a new conflict, by opening mortar fire on the Serbian positions. General Rose strongly reacted to this, and even Bill Clinton found it necessary to react, asking the Moslems not to take advantage of the presence of international forces for the improvement of their military positions.