COURTSIDE: Bosanska Krajina Trial

Expert witness debunks Western myths about "ancient tribal hatreds" of Balkan nations

COURTSIDE: Bosanska Krajina Trial

Expert witness debunks Western myths about "ancient tribal hatreds" of Balkan nations

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

The prosecution's expert witness in the trial of Radislav Brdjanin and General Momir Talic, accused of genocide in Bosnian Krajina of north-west Bosnia, last week spoke of the popular Western myths about the alleged intrinsic violence of the Balkan peoples.

"The most popular but grossly oversimplified explanation for recent history of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the notion that its past is characterised by ancient tribal hatreds," said Robert Donia, an American historian.

Donia said it was only in the early 1990s that the idea appeared that the South Slavs were "animated by primordial mutual hostility", had been "killing themselves for centuries and living in permanent hatred", and were "incapable of peaceful coexistence in the same land".

It was popularised by Western diplomats and observers who wanted "to avoid engagement in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia", he said. It was also embraced by Western journalists covering the Balkan wars in the 1990s, to support the notion that their subjects were "exotic, primitive, colourful, unpredictable and truly different from the average civilised Western reader or


Finally, the idea found favour among Balkan nationalist leaders and intellectuals who "wanted to present history as a series of repressions and acts of violence committed against their people".

Donia focused his analysis on the Bosnian Krajina, where Brdjanin had been president of the crisis staff and Talic was commander of the first Krajina corps.

He said the creation of parallel organs of authority in the region, with the aim of bringing it under exclusive Serb control, began in April 1991 with the foundation of the Community of Municipalities of Bosnian Krajina, which changed that September into the Autonomous Region of Krajina.

The Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, and its "institutional surrogates" as Donia qualified the Serbian "assemblies", "crisis staffs", "war presidencies" and other bodies created with the aim of the take-over of power, were clear winners in the struggle to control the region by the summer of 1992.

Donia assessed SDS strategy as "intransigent but also far-sighted, for it undermined the nascent state of Bosnia at the municipal level", by changing the municipal borders and creating regional associations under exclusive Serb control, "while SDS leaders continued participating in the republican organs of Bosnian government until the spring of 1992".

Preparing his expert analysis, Donia studied documents seized by tribunal investigators from the SDS, the crisis staff, municipal assemblies, police and headquarters of the Krajina corps. He said he was "shocked" how "rarely, or not at all, non-Serbs and their status are mentioned in the ... Republika Srpska documents".

Donia concluded that "the consequences of rule by the network of SDS-dominated institutions were clear by late summer 1992: the RS was transformed from an area of mixed population with Serb-majority communities into a territory with few non-Serbs".

The prosecution claims that in the Bosnian Krajina, this "transformation" took place by genocide. The trial continues.

Vjera Bogati is an IWPR special correspondent at The Hague and a journalist with SENSE News Agency.

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