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ASEES 42nd Annual Convention

18th – 21st November, 2010
Los Angeles, CA (USA)

Caught in the Crossfire: The Situation of Others in the Yugoslav Wars of Succession

by Stefano Bianchini

The Europe and the Balkans International Network organized a round table at the ASEEES convention in Los Angeles, California, November 18-21, 2010. Based on the Convention Program Committee’s suggested general topic of war and peace, the round table promoted by our network focused on “War and Peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Are the Lessons Learned from Srebrenica?”.

The round table was chaired by network coordinator Stefano Bianchini (U. of Bologna) with speakers Florian Bieber (U. of Graz), Craig Nation (US Army War College, Carlisle PA) and Julie Mostov (Drexel U.).

The round table provided the opportunity to openly discuss a variety of issues.

Click to enlarge

Among the crucial questions asked by Florian Bieber were what made Srebrenica possible, to what extent was this event located in the past, and whether a war is still possible in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This risk was evoked by Croatian president Stipe Mesic at the end of his mandate and by the Bosnian social-democrat leader Zlatko Lagumdzija. Nonetheless, Bieber argued that there is non-evidence for a war scenario in the years to come: the military situation is profoundly different from 1991, the EU alternative exists and the memory of Srebrenica also contributes to preventing a new war. Moreover, Serbia has no interest in disrupting BiH as in the 1990s, since Belgrade is mainly focused on the EU accession process. In spite of all this, Bieber stressed the fact that the EU is divided on BiH and its pathway to EU integration. Meanwhile, local elites are still prone to confronting and exploiting ethnicity as a divisive issue. In conclusion, Bieber provocatively stressed that international efforts to resolve the conflict followed a similar rationale in times of both war and peace.

In sum, whether this is approach is effective or not remains to be seen: in any case many elements have lead to rather negative results.

Craig Nation in his presentation raised the key issue of the reasons leading to such a high level of violence. Referring to Mary Kaldor’s observations on wars increasingly directed against civilians, Craig Nation drew the audience’s attention to the respectable military education programs of Tito’s time, when “war law and military ethics” were taught at the military academy. Nation then raised the question of what happened in this regard when the country collapsed and the army (in this case the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) ceased to be a national factor. Professor Nation focused on the fact that in the Yugoslav case the war scenario was characterized by desertion and emigration, while militia and Serbian Special Forces were the main protagonists of war massacres and atrocities as they were operating outside the chief chain of command, albeit in cooperation with it. Moreover, he argued, international tools capable of dealing with these phenomena are still very weak and ineffective. This has been confirmed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), characterized by the protracted nature of trials and which has proved to be not impartial, whereas the International Criminal Court (ICC) lacks the full involvement of the US, the dominant world power.

All these elements point to viewing the level of violence within a context in which humanity disappears along with state collapse.

Julie Mostov focused instead on the gender dimension of violence. She noted that the events in the Yugoslav secession wars are chronologically too close to our time: the lack of prevention tools is still an issue and shows how politics has not yet learned how to cope with this drama. In particular, she argued that politics is still weak in addressing the “others”; there are no significant steps forward in understanding how gendering plays a role in atrocities as well as in considering the role of perpetrators and victims. On the contrary, Julie Mostov warned about victimhood and the political manipulation of individual frustration with the lack of justice, or simply with the painful loss of people’s own dear ones, as a result reproducing animosity and postponing reconciliation indefinitely. According to Mostov this approach shows there is still no clear understanding of the impact provoked by fixing identities, nor of the tools required to block the instrumentalisation of the drama for political purposes.

The debate that followed these presentations was vivid and dynamic: it touched on several aspects including the feeling of shame, how to inculcate it and whether the arrest of general Mladic will be a sufficient response in this respect. Other audience participants raised the issue of refugees and the forced movement of the population as a war goal. In the end, a vibrant discussion focused on war atrocities and their consistency with war aims and war rationale, prospectively oriented toward state partition and the impossibility of reestablishing any form of re-integration.

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it *
University of Bologna, Forlì campus

* Stefano Bianchini is President of the Center for Central-Eastern and Balkan Europe, and is Professor of East European Politics and History at the University of Bologna, School of Political Science “Roberto Ruffilli”, Forlì campus. He is also the scientific co-director of the European Regional Master in Democracy and Human Rights of the Universities of Sarajevo and Bologna, the director of the Institute for Studies on East Central and Balkan Europe, at the University of Bologna and currently Scientific Director of Interdisciplinary Master’s in East European Research and Studies.


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Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 December 2023 08:49  


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