Bosnia: Never forget Srebrenica - learn the lessons for today!
Nina Gunić, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), August 2012, www.the.communists.net
The massacre in Srebrenica in July 1995 is seen today as the most serious war crime in Europe since 1945. Approximately 8.000 Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) were executed in the most brutal way in Srebrenica and buried in mass graves. Many of the bodies were not found until today.
If one is dealing with the events in Srebrenica (and in particular if one has lost relatives from the family and friends), the atrocities seem unimaginable and it is hard to control a wave of grief and rage. Srebrenica has become the highest expression of the atrocities against our people and leaves no one indifferent. But as justified as it is to have such feelings, and as important as it is to be in solidarity with all those affected, regardless of one’s own background: In order to prevent events such as the massacre in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina in the future, it is necessary to understand why it happened and what lessons can be learned from this for the future.
On the events in Srebrenica
Srebrenica is a town in the east of Bosnia and Herzegovina (close to Serbia). In 1991, more than three-quarters of the residents were Bosniaks. At the beginning of the war in Bosnia in 1992 Srebrenica was attacked on 17th April by Serbian nationalist militias (led by the so-called "Tiger", which were under the command of the criminal Željko Ražnatović called Arkan). Arkan's Tigers were feared because they stood for the highest brutality against civilians as well as mass rape and who employed particularly humiliating methods.
After Arkan's troops had invaded, they were in a short time driven back by the Bosnian militia under the command of Naser Orić. But the success was short-lived, as Srebrenica was then encircled and besieged by Serb forces. The city was systematically starved, for almost a whole year no relief supplies arrived.
Orić - a Bosnian hero?
Orić is regarded as a hero by many Bosnians, who organized resistance against the threatening massacre. In reality, Naser Orić is a sad symbol of the weaknesses of the opposition and anything but a hero. He was trained as a police officer of the Serbian police unit. Bad enough but worse, he was then stationed in Kosovo where he was to conduct raids and racist acts against the oppressed Kosovo Albanians on behalf of the Serbian Ministry of Interior (up to 1991). Orić even made career to become a bodyguard of Slobodan Milošević, the bourgeois-nationalist Serbian President, who was responsible for the chauvinist wars of conquest of Serbia against the other former Yugoslav republics (and also for the slaughter of Bosniaks in Srebrenica in 1995).
Orić broke with Milosevic in 1992 and fought on the Bosnian side. In Srebrenica, he preached three years the resistance forces would never abandon the city. However, shortly before the mass murders took place, he escaped in a helicopter! Now, an orderly retreat can actually be a necessary step in the resistance. But such a retreat should not mean to deliver the masses to the butcher. And certainly such a retreat should not lead to a total surrender and retreat into private life, as it was the case with Orić.
This example of a "hero" demonstrates that the real heroes, the fighting working class masses, themselves must create their heroes. It also shows what it means to have a resistance militia led by a revolutionary party that embodies the experience and the courage of the revolutionary struggle, and which can put under pressure by the soldiers of the militia. Such a revolutionary party must be able to apply the right tactics in the struggle. Likewise, it must also make sure to replace bad leaders of the militias quickly. A revolutionary party would have provided political commissars who checked every officer, every militia leader and all other commanders. Especially those political commissars, chosen by the revolutionary party, are extremely important to be able to make immediately known and prevent any betrayal of the revolutionary line by military officials.
What would a revolutionary party have done?
The resistance in Srebrenica reflects the impact of the extremely late development of Bosnian nationality. Certain nationalities in the former Yugoslavia had already developed fully (including the Serbian and Croatian) or developed over such a long period of time due to the massive national oppression (such as the Kosovo Albanians).
In contrast, the national identity of Bosniaks existed at best only in embryonic form before the outbreak of war. In former Yugoslavia, religion had a very low priority among the Bosniaks (which only later, in the course of the war, became the main criterion of the Bosniak identity). Bosnia was one of the countries with an extremely strong mixing of the three main nationalities (Bosniak, Croatian, Serbian). Accordingly, the Bosniaks had no organized army to the extent as the Croats or Serbs had, since the two sides had the support by the respective states and their armies.
At the same time, the resistance against the attack of the Bosnian Serb army was not a purely Bosniak resistance. While Croatian and Serbian militias were strictly national character, the militia of the Bosnian resistance was multinational. Their multinational character was clearly one of the most impressive strengths of the Bosnian resistance.
But the Bosnian resistance suffered from the fact that at its head stood the bourgeois government of President Izetbegovic. This government wanted to reintroduce capitalism and turn the country into a semi-colony of the Western imperialist powers. So instead of building a workers 'and peasants' army and lead the just war of liberation to success, Izetbegovic disorganized the resistance, sold shortly before the war countless weapons to the Serb nationalist militias (!) and hoped for the support of the EU. These bourgeois politics of the Bosnian government disarmed the resistance politically and militarily.
Due to the completely false hope of protection by the West, the leadership of the resistance in Srebrenica agreed tragically to hand over voluntarily all their heavy weapons (!) when in 1993 UN peacekeepers demanded this in return for the promise to protect the city. What a tragic mistake! As widely known, the UN troops in Srebrenica didn’t raise a finger to defend the people. Instead, the UN troops were engaged on the black market and used Bosnian women as prostitutes. A symbolic expression of the imperialist and sexist arrogance of these UN parasites was the graffiti of a famous Dutch soldiers in Srebrenica: "No teeth ...? A mustache ...? Stinks like shit ...? A Bosnian girl!" (see also the popular poster of Bosnian artist Šejla Kamerić). When the Serbian nationalist forces of General Ratko Mladić finally invaded Srebrenica, the UN soldiers helped them in the separation of the Bosnian population by gender, so that they could easily kill the men and rape the women. A famous example is also the photo, where the commander in chief of the Dutch UN troops, Thom Karremans, is toasting Mladić and sipping champagne. Srebrenica teaches us that oppressed people should never rely on the imperialist powers, and that the UN is a useless puppet of the great powers.
The complete surrender of Bosnian resistance forces in Srebrenica with the flight of their leaders shortly before the massacre was a continuation of treason not only to the interests but to the lives of the inhabitants of Srebrenica.
A revolutionary party in Bosnia would have organized the masses in the exact opposite direction. They had already equipped them from the beginning of the war with the right tactics. It would have put the focus on the immediate construction of armed militias, as multinational as possible. This would have been a militia of the workers and peasants, which would have put into practice what developed slowly and "naturally" during the course of the Bosnian War: The organization not only of men but also of women and youth in the armed militias.
A revolutionary party would have fought by politically means against the false and treacherous, petty-bourgeois leadership of the resistance under Orić & Co. without sacrificing any necessary tactical and military support to the existing forces in place. They would have to fight to convince every male and female resistance fighter. How? By systematic propaganda and agitation, as well as by their exemplary practice in the defense of Bosnia and the fight for a multinational workers' and peasants republic as part of a socialist federation of the Balkans.
National Identity and Religion
In various referendums the Bosnians declared themselves to a disproportional high degree by Yugoslavs. In no regional republic of Yugoslavia was the proportion of people who designated themselves as Yugoslavs as large as in Bosnia. Likewise, the Bosniaks were disproportionately high represented among the urban and proletarian population, while Serbs and Croats were more heavily represented among the rural population.
Despite these significantly lower development of the Bosnian national identity, the massive nationalist propaganda of the Belgrade government and the outbreak of the Serbian war of conquest, led to a reduction of the sympathy for a multinational Bosnia among the Bosniaks. They set the stage for a initially weak, but during the war rising, Bosniak nationalism in close connection with a massive upsurge of religiosity among the Bosnians in general and the Bosniaks in particular.
The national identity was defined more and more on the basis of religion. This was to a large extent due to the fact that several states, whose official religion was Islam, stood on the side of the Bosnian resistance. Secondly, this was a reaction to the way, how Serbian nationalists recognized and selected the Bosniaks in the mixed Bosnia. For an example one of the methods of the Serbian nationalist militias for "proper recognition" of Bosniaks - which was also used during the mass murder at Srebrenica - to force all men and boys, regardless of their name (which is usually an indication of Bosniak roots) to take off their pants and underpants. Those who were circumcised were massacred (because Muslim men, as is also customary in Judaism, undergo circumcision).
The stronger the Bosniaks were suppressed due to any alleged or actual affiliation to Islam, the more many Bosniaks developed a real identification with religion.
What a revolutionary party would not have done
In such a situation a revolutionary party would have fought vehemently against emphasizing the religion in the war, as did the nationalist leaderships. It would rather have paid special attention to keep the troops multinational, especially since there such a natural tendency existed already. It would have undertaken a conscious recruitment campaigns among the non-Bosniak parts of Bosnia, which to a large extent opposed the war as well. It would not have said Yes and Amin * to religious propaganda and it would have opposed that the leaders of the resistance present themselves as the best Muslims of all Muslims.
A revolutionary party would rather have made propaganda for a correct understanding of class and oppression lines. It would be advocated to nationalize the economy and place it under the control of the workers. It would have checkmated the black market profiteers and war profiteers. It would have organized the resistance on class lines, i.e. it would have put the focus on the organization of proletarian brigades and would emphasize that the officers are mainly simple workers and peasants respectively are under their control.
A revolutionary party would have fought to mobilize the Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat neighbors in support of the Bosnian resistance forces and making them more receptive to the need for recognition and equality of the Bosniak national identity. It would have made it clear that any nationalism ultimately can only be defeated if the oppression systematically accumulated over years and decades is banished to the graveyard of history.
A revolutionary party had also never even asked for a second NATO, UN or other imperialist institutions to intervene. Utilizing the food or the weapons that come across the border for tactical reasons and because of a certain necessity - that is one thing and completely legitimate. But every revolutionary force in this war would have refused out of principle to demand the end of the war by an intervention of the imperialists.
Indeed the ultimately result of the NATO/UN intervention was that Bosnia emerged as a torn country from the war, marked with absurd borders and helpless at the mercy of the imperialist parasites.
A revolutionary party would have fought against the restoration of capitalism. It would, however, not called for the old Yugoslavia of Tito as an alternative, because that was a dictatorship by a layer of bureaucrats. It would rather advocated a multinational workers and peasants republic as part of a socialist federation of the Balkans.
Learning for Today
Srebrenica is the largest memorial for every male and female Bosnian workers, as well as Bosnian peasant – regardless of their nationality. It's a cruel scar in our history, which reminds us not to repeat past mistakes. No confidence for Stalinist and bourgeois nationalist leaderships, but building our own party, a revolutionary party. A party, that is organized amongst the masses of our class and the oppressed. A party, that draws the right lessons from the events. The war was a historic event that threw back not only our class brothers and sisters in Bosnia, but also in Serbia and Croatia. It made difficult for so many years and decades to mobilize for strikes, but also for mass mobilizations against the government, against the imperialist troops and other enemies. A traumatized working class, a weariness to fight against the real enemy, the ruling class - all this is part of the scar Srebrenica.
All this has to be overcome thoroughly today. Our class must rise like a phoenix from the ashes of her past and fight to make judgment of the real culprits, the real criminals of war: These are not those of our neighbors who didn’t want the war but were intimidated and had no real opportunity to organize against it. It is rather the leading politicians of all sections of the ruling class - the super-rich and big entrepreneurs, not only Serbian, but also Croatian and Bosnian. Especially the Bosnian politicians, especially Alija Izetbegovic made more than one prostration to the imperialist powers and betrayed the resistance even before it really started.
It also means not to fight for bringing the war criminals perpetrators to the bourgeois tribunal in The Hague which might meet discuss for many years and decades. They should be rather brought to a workers' Tribunal of male and female Bosnians. Such a workers Tribunal can make a fair judgment on the war criminals and make steps to break up the still existing hostile mood and mistrust among the people of Bosnia. It can help to make the step towards a united, multinational Bosnia, without torn absurd limits. It would be a Bosnia of all the workers and peasants on an equal and free basis: A socialist Bosnian federation as part of a socialist federation of the Balkans. Not a false pseudo-unity as it was the case in the time of the former Yugoslavia. But a federation based on workers 'and peasants' councils, built via the revolutionary overthrow of the ruling class through a socialist revolution. For such a future of freedom and true peace among themselves, it is necessary to organize now! Never forget means to make it happen never again!
* Amin is the equivalent in Islam to the Christian Amen