“We pulled a fast one. We transferred every Bosnian Serb in the Yugoslav army to Bosnia. We provided the Bosnian Serbs with an army, we promised to pay all their costs and their paramilitaries’ costs. They were the specialists in terror.”
Ellensburg Daily Record, p.4
By Georgie Anne Geyer
5 January 1996.
WASHINGTON — Over the last four years of the war in Bosnia, those proudly “neutralist” Europeans and Americans who steadfastly refused to act there had two arrogantly sure reasons for their hesitation. One, we could not know who was really guilty there, but nevertheless, two, everybody was just as guilty as everybody else.
The battle cry that emerged from this “wisdom” was, not surprisingly, a rousing, “Just do nothing!”
This mind-set — which now reaches far beyond Bosnia to the post-Cold War foreign and defense ministries of most of Europe — was supported by a tragic absence of broad foreign reporting on the war that would have laid bare such fatal and craven foolishness.
But now, any mystery about what really happened is dispelled, at least for those people who care to know. The vehicle for knowing is an unlikely one: a television documentary probably seen by only a limited number of people. Yet the Discovery Channel’s “Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation,” which ran every night during the last week in 1995, will go down in the history of war as “the” cover-age of that thwarted land.
There before our eyes was every political protagonist, on every side, in every savage massacre, at every cynical “peace” table: Yugoslav army commanders and paramilitary rampagers, dithering Bosnian politicians and double-faced Croat defense ministers, the buried dead and the mutilated corpses. All told their stories matter-of-factly, as though discussing the budget cuts in Washington or perhaps a strike negotiation in Paris. This extraordinary documentary says it all.
In case you doubt: From the very beginning, the “don’t act” group kept wringing its hands about the question of whether Serbian President Milosevic was arming the Bosnian Serbs. Wonder no more.
The film has old communist Borisav Jovic, Milosevic’s cold-eyed right-hand man, telling calmly how they were too clever to use the Yugoslav army to destroy Bosnia in order to create “Greater Serbia,” and so “we pulled a fast one.” (The guy doesn’t even smile when he says this.) “We transferred every Bosnian Serb in the Yugoslav army to Bosnia. We provided the Bosnian Serbs with an army, we promised to pay all their costs and their paramilitaries’ costs. They were the specialists in terror.”
If that is not enough, next you have Vojislav Seselj, the barbaric Serb paramilitary leader himself. He is all dressed up in a suit, of course, as befits this, his meeting with history. He appears reasonable, a little like the professor of Marxism he was. He says calmly: “Every time, it was Milosevic who personally asked me to send my forces. Milosevic was in total control. Our best combat units were from Serbia.” Why, the kind Serbian president even gave them guns and barracks, he went on to say, as though such kindness would surely be its own reward.
And then there is the message from Milosevic to Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic, ordering the beginning of the shelling of undefended Sarajevo: “Shell the presidency. Shoot at slow intervals until I tell you to stop. Shell them until they’re on the edge of madness.”
The Sarajevans were indeed soon on the edge of madness, with “friends” like Belgrade and London, for soon neutralists of Europe were mentally building up these rustic, untrained, drunken Serb paramilitaries into great Serb guerrilla fighters from World War II. Yet, here, on television is the always well-coiffed Bosnian Serb psychiatrist/leader Radovan Karadzic, saying calmly that from the very beginning of the war in 1991, “I know that if the West had put in 5,000 troops to cut our corridors, we Serbs would have been finished.”
There are so many fascinating themes here that one stumbles in trying to do them justice. Still, the major themes revolve around Milosevic’s and Jovic’s manipulation of the road to Greater Serbia — and thus more power for themselves — through that Byzantine/communist manipulation they know so well. An important minor theme is a responding Croatian perfidy: Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, for instance, admits here to his shameful meetings with Milosevic to carve up Bosnia. but that remains a distinctly minor theme in the “Greater Serbia” story.
So, what is there left to say, besides to express the wish that the Discovery channel will show, and reshow this remarkable series. And I do have one other special favor to ask of whatever gods of peace still exist in this world.
I would like to beg that every single one of the “Don’t do anything” club, regardless of race, creed or national origin, be forced to watch this series until they at last “get it.”