Europe will either die or be reborn in Sarajevo
Jun 25, 1995, Cannes, Alexander LangerWe went to Cannes to demonstrate in front of the presidents and prime ministers on behalf of Bosnia Herzegovina. “Let’s stop all this neutrality between aggressor and victim, let’s open the gates of the European Union to Bosnia, it’s time we changed direction!” There weren’t very many of us, just a couple of thousand and from Italy it was mainly Pannella’s Radicals. The vast majority of those who display solidarity for former Yugoslavia didn’t know anything about it and maybe didn’t even want to.
From Spain on the other hand, lots of people came, especially from Catalonia; from France there were a lot of groups, but hardly anybody from Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Great Britain or Germany. Many MEPs had signed, the majority of the Greens and the Radicals, significant numbers of Christian Democrats and Socialists, a few exponents of the left, several representatives of berlusconian Europe (“Forza Europa”, which has now been integrated into the Gaullist party), Liberals and Regionalists. There are a lots of important names amongst those who had signed, from ex UN-commissioner José Maria Mendiluce (a Spanish Socialist) to Otto von Habsburg, from Daniel Cohn-Bendit to Corrado Augias, Francisca Sauquillo, Michel Rocard, Arie Oostlander, Giorgio La Malfa, Pierre Carniti, Glenys Kinnock, Antonio Tajani, Catherine Lalumière and Bernard Kouchner. But only about 20 actually came to Cannes on 26th June 1995. Over 100 Bosnian refugees who wanted to come to Cannes from Italy were blocked at the border at Ventimiglia: “See, once again Europe doesn’t want us!”, was their bitter comment. A demonstration at the border at least made their intentions visible.
After the demonstration in the square, we were received by Jacques Chirac in person. A dozen of us were allowed in to meet him and the Foreign Minister, Hervé de la Charette, half an hour before the summit started. In answer to our appeal, Chirac replied that yes, lifting the siege of Sarajevo, was a priority, but that there were no good guys or bad guys and that one shouldn’t make war. The Belgian Green MEP and I looked at each other, both of us pacifists from way back – how strange that it should be the neo-Gaullist President, who only a few days before had announced the resumption of French nuclear testing in the Pacific, who was practically accusing us of being warmongers!
This is what so many of us worked out and signed:
“After three years all of us, whether humble or powerful, have to look on at a daily life that has been rendered banal by a war in which the targets are women, children and the elderly, victims who have been deliberately targeted by snipers that are out of range or hit by deadly howitzers that fire from out of nowhere.
It has taken three years and above all the taking of some UN troops as hostages, an act without precedence in the history of the international community, for the political leadership and the European media to recognise the fact in this war there are both aggressors and those who have been attacked, criminals and their victims.
Three years of pointless political “neutrality” which has removed any shred of credibility for us the Bosnians might have had, and any respect there may have been for us in the eyes of the aggressors.
And now we have reached the point of no return.
We have to either accept the consequences of this and reinforce our presence – a mandate for UN troops, taking a firm stand in front of the aggressors - and in the end refusing to be part of the strategy of cleansing and homogenisation of the Bosnian population, or we give in to the unacceptable blackmail of the Bosnian-Serb forces, withdrawing from Bosnia and inflicting upon the United Nations its most humiliating defeat right when it is celebrating 50 years since it was founded.
Today, more than ever, we have to arm ourselves with dignity and values and above all repeat that “never again” which has resounded throughout Europe since the end of the Second World War.
Today, more than ever, we have to defend ourselves in Bosnia against those who are pushing for religious or ethnic cleansing as a political ideal, and imposing it by means of crimes against humanity.
If our present situation is the result of the disorganised, renunciatory and contradictory policies of our governments, then blame can also be laid at the door of the European Union, which has remained silent, impotent and absent.
Europe should bear witness and react!
What we need is for Europe to finally guarantee the integrity of Bosnian territory and the safety of its borders. But as that is no longer enough to regain the credit which it has largely used up, the European Union now needs to show that it has a degree of courage and political imagination so far without precedence in its history. Europe can do it, Europe has to do it. It owes it not only to the Bosnians but also to itself, because that is a condition of its rebirth.
Therefore, let us all go to Cannes to demonstrate in front of the presidents and prime ministers that:
· the Security Council resolutions, particularly those which guarantee free access to aid for victims, have to be applied;
· the siege of Sarajevo and of the other encircled towns has to be raised and the safety zone protected effectively;
· the UN troops must not be withdrawn and their mandate should not be restricted. On the contrary, the international presence in Bosnia should be reinforced.
· faced with would-be-neutral politics we are on the side of those who have been attacked, i.e. the victims;
· in the spirit of solidarity that should animate the Europe that we want, the internationally recognised Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina should be immediately invited to become a full member of the European Union.
Europe will indeed either die or be reborn in Sarajevo.”
Tuzla, May 1995
The city of Tuzla was attacked exactly one month before: a generation was wiped out; over 70 young people were killed while out taking a stroll, hundreds of other youngsters were wounded. Four days earlier, I had said goodbye to the Mayor, Selim Beslagic (a Muslim and a reformist, i.e. a Social Democrat), after having accompanied him and MP Sejfudin Tokic, a member of the same party, for several days round Strasbourg, Bolzano and Bologna. Mayor Beslagic and the “civil, not ethnic” administration of Tuzla, as they proudly define themselves, are universally recognised as a point of reference for peace and cohabitation, of democracy and tolerance. Anyway, the day after the shelling of his city, Mr Beslagic faxed me a copy of his message addressed to the UN security council asking me to pass it around the European Parliament. “You are standing by doing nothing, while a new style of fascism is shelling us: if you do not intervene to stop them, those of you who can, then you are their accomplices, how is it possible that you don’t realise this.”
And if in Strasbourg, Bolzano and Bologna we had worked with our guests towards the opening of a “local democracy embassy” in Tuzla (there is already one in Osijek) and to going on with other projects (waterworks, spare parts for factories, de-ionisation plants, youth exchanges etc), there suddenly didn’t seem to be much point or hope in doing this: what was the point when the aggression served to spread ethnic hatred in Tuzla, like had happened in Mostar?
Can anything be done?
Certainly, there are no easy solutions, and just looking behind you doesn’t help much either. You won’t find much agreement between those who, like me, are convinced that Europe has acted extremely badly in favouring the disintegration of old Yugoslavia and those on the other hand who have enthusiastically welcomed the new proclamations of independence (including those on the left: the magic phrase “national self-determination” had a strong resonance in many democratic and leftwing circles).
Therefore you need to find the dividing line which helps to choose who and what to support and who and what to oppose. This line wouldn’t separate Serbs from Croats, or the “Muslims” from both, but rather it could be something else: the distance which separates the various ethnic exclusivity policies (cleansing, expulsion, national homogeneity, ghettos, discrimination and oppression of minorities, ethnic or religious integration and so on) from those of living together, of democracy, of law, of the possibility of being different but anyway of being part of a common order with the same sense of dignity and the same rights, and without having to feel that being part of a minority has to be a disgrace that sooner or later you have to flee from by creating a grouping in which you are the majority.
To head in the direction of what you can do to rebuild the conditions for living together, there are a few important steps, all of which naturally include the fact that you have to work not for, but with, the former Yugoslavians. A proposal: the more a policy manages to convince and unite all democratic Serbs and Croats, Bosnians and Macedonians, Albanians and Slovenians, Hungarians and Istrians, the more credible such a policy will be.
Therefore, the following should be taken into account:
· Re-establishing the value of human rights: we shouldn’t be surprised at the insistence of so many citizens of former Yugloslavia on the international Tribunal for crimes against humanity. The separation between individual responsibility and ethnic or political generalisations and the supremacy of human rights over the will (and consequently eventual protection of the weak against the strong) is of crucial importance. How often has Eastern Europe asked “What are the European norms, what are European standards?” while addressing one problem or the other! What is needed is a law that hasn’t just been thought up and imposed by the strongest.
· The most efficient peace policy today is the offer of integration: the simple invitation “come and join us” works better than any other peace proposal or peace plan. The craving the east Europeans have to be part of NATO can be easily explained as a search for security (and let’s face it, NATO has managed to placate both Greeks and Turks at the same time!). If you want to promote peace in a region where the previous system of cohabitation has disintegrated, then the most credible solution is that of coming together under one roof: a roof, however, which is larger and less conditioned by the respective enemies. This is why the doors to Europe should be opened to all countries for former Yugoslavia, provided they choose to live together rather than in ethnic exclusiveness, in a democratic state rather than an ethnic one (obviously this possibility implies working hard to build the European roof, and that the European Union as such evolves rapidly in that direction).
· Offering the most support to those who seek dialogue, to those who reintegrate: all the so-called peace treaties have, in reality, reinforced the warlords, legitimising their leadership and consolidating their power while marginalising their democratic opponents. On the other hand, nothing, or hardly anything has been done to support the forces of dialogue, or reintegration, of looking for a common solution. The actual “prizes or incentives for integration” (bonus) need defining as do the sanctions for ethnic exclusion (malus); support, for example for those communities which allow refugees back or those groups which organise pluri-ethnic or pluri-religious initiatives or those media which also include what “the other side” have to say, and so on. Also supporting those who have deserted from conflicts, those who have withdrawn their personal commitment from war (and they deserve political asylum for this) should be part of this strategy. We need dialogue to work and to bring recognition and support with it, while ethnic exclusion on the other hand should attract sanctions and have negative consequences.
· The maximum support should therefore be given to the various organised networks which rebuild links: from networks of students and professors to the twinning of cities, from human rights committees to media organisations. Much could probably also be done amongst emigrants from former Yugoslavia.
· The role of preventing conflict: there are pre war situations today where the violent explosion of the conflict could, perhaps, still be avoided (Kosovo, Macedonia, Vojvodina .....) but which would need much attention focused on them, a strong international presence and intense political and civil help. In these cases what is needed is to influence the way in which things evolve in one way or another, and nothing should be too complicated or too “expensive” to be tried, given that in any case armed conflict would bring with it high human, political, economic and material costs. Supporting those who promote living together in these regions and discouraging ethnic exclusiveness should be given a high priority today when promoting peace.
· Why not organise at least part of those involved in voluntary work into a European civilian Peace Corps? By now there are thousands of volunteers who have expressed their solidarity with former Yugoslavia, who have built up knowledge and experience over the years. Many of them are frustrated at being a bit like the Red Cross which can only help victims, without doing anything to stop the war. Nowadays voluntary work has a strong political flavour, many volunteers are not content with the role of stopgap which is what they actually do. Why not transform this wealth of experience into a European civilian Peace Corps, suitably recognised and organised, and employed by the European Union to carry out civilian tasks of prevention, mitigation and mediation of conflicts, with responsibility lying with the politicians, by means of monitoring, dialogue, all to be carried out throughout the territory, as well as promoting reconciliation or at least rebuilding contacts and negotiation and so on? The European Parliament recently (18.05.95) came out in favour of such a European civilian Peace Corps and nothing could resemble it more than the rich, diverse experience of European volunteers for former Yugoslavia, who have developed extraordinary skills, initiatives, competencies and shared their generosity across virtually all countries.
There is still a “but” and it is that “but” which brought about the appeal in Cannes. If there is no clear signal that aggression does not pay and that it is not permissible for anybody to start conquering territory and the consequent ethnic homogenisation, then all other civilian efforts are shattered and are wasted. In Sarajevo the word “Europe” is associated with the word “Chetnik”, and nothing in European politics leads us to think that it really prefers democratic states to ethnic ones.
Those who do not want to take this state of affairs into consideration, continue to place Karadzic and Izetbegovic on the same level, and wave the very start of dialogue between moderate Bosnians and moderate Serbs from Pale as evidence that there is an alternative to what is called militarisation of the conflict.
Sejfudin Tokic is one of the promoters of this dialogue. He is on the same side politically as that Selim Belgasic who reminds us that those who do nothing against “the fascists who attack us, is their accomplice”. How on earth can we continue to blather on about the UN and the OSCE as the future architects of peace and security, if UN troops are taken hostage and their mandate only allows them to use the force necessary to protect themselves and their fellow soldiers?