More on Banac's "The Last Days of Bosnia?"
Ivo Banac's defense of Bosnia-Hercegovina (Boston Review, February/March
1994) rests on two premises which should not be, but are, controversial: the country's
historic individuality and the democratic mandate that led to its independence.
To anyone with a modicum of knowledge of the area's history, it has been an unwelcome
surprise to see the claims of the butchers of Bosnia -- that this state is essentially
illegitimate and that its disappearance, deplorable as the concomitant human suffering
may be, is historically rational and thus inevitable -- gaining currency in western
media. This achievement, of which Goebbels would have been proud, has undoubtedly
been facilitated by widespread ignorance of this part of Europe. The easy dismissal
of the democratic stakes in Bosnia, however, is far more difficult to understand.
This alone should send alarm bells ringing. The plain truth is that international
recognition of Bosnia-Hercegovina came in acknowledgment of the wish of its population.
The popular will was expressed through a referendum in which two-thirds of the
country's citizens voted in favor of independence. The referendum was carried
out at the request of the European Community, which also supervised its organization.
It should be stressed -- for this is frequently omitted to Bosnia's detriment
-- that the terms for recognition applied by the EC to Bosnia-Hercegovina were
exactly the same as those applied to all other republics of Yugoslavia (and even
more rigorous than those set for the republics of the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia):
existence of a democratically constituted government, conduct of a referendum
to test the will of the people, constitutional protection of minorities and human
rights. Bosnia-Hercegovina fulfilled all these conditions.
To the editors:
Contrary to the claims of Milo[[caron]]sevi'c and his followers, the referendum
was not invalidated by the fact that his armies had prevented a substantial number
of Bosnian Serbs from taking part in it, because it was the will of citizens rather
than of any particular ethnic group that was being ascertained. Given that Bosnian
Muslims form only 44% of the country's population, it would in any case have been
impossible to gain a two-thirds majority had not substantial numbers of Bosnian
Serbs and Croats also voted in favor of independence. The EC, USA, and UN all
knew parts of Bosnia-Hercegovina were under occupation when they accepted the
result of the referendum. International recognition, moreover, involved respecting
not only a democratically expressed popular will, but also the sanctity of Bosnia's
borders and the exclusive right of the government in Sarajevo to represent the
country at home and abroad.
The fact that western governments -- keen for peace at any price, provided it
be paid by Bosnians alone -- subsequently reneged on their earlier policy, endorsed
ethnic partition against which the Bosnians had voted en masse, accepted annexation
of vast tracts of the country by neighboring states, sought to reduce the government
to its Muslim component, and adopted the new-speak of "warring factions"
and "centuries of ethnic warfare" in order to avoid explaining their
volte face, does not alter these facts one little bit. It does mean, however,
that a far more powerful propaganda machine than Serbia could ever muster has
been set in train to sell falsity for truth.
To claim, as supporters of Milo[[caron]]sevi'c and the propagandists of this wretched
western sell-out (A.M. Rosenthal, Misha Glenny and others of that ilk) do, that
Bosnia's proclamation of independence was little more than a Bosnian Muslim trick,
involves jettisoning truth in favor of a lie and historical reality in favor of
a reactionary myth: that Bosnian Muslims are an invented nation, Bosnia not a
proper state, and its society essentially unviable because ethnically and culturally
diverse. It involves, at bottom, a cowardly surrender of democracy in favor of
fascism. That this polarity -- democracy versus fascism -- is what the whole thing
is about can be shown by comparing the inter-ethnic solidarity and cultural effervescence
that survives in Sarajevo, seat of an allegedly Muslim and perhaps even fundamentalist
government, after two years of heavy shelling, ten thousand dead, and one hundred
thousand wounded, with Karadzie-controlled Banjaluka, an ethnically-cleansed,
culturally-erased, terrorized city even though it has never been touched by military
action. Herein lies the difference between what Bosnia was (and remains) and what
the proponents of racial purity are trying to turn it into.
The obvious stares us in the face. If Bosnia-Hercegovina was only a semblance
of a state and society, then why does it still survive? Why, despite the ferocity
of the onslaught and the continued military advantage that the UN arms embargo
has ensured for its enemies, has Bosnia not surrendered? Myth and reality here
stand visibly at odds with one another, not for the first time. It is right and
proper to make a few historical comparisons here. The present regime in Belgrade
boasts of the Serbs' alleged single-handed resistance to German fascism in 1941-45;
yet the truth is that Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia surrendered within days of
being attacked, serious resistance was left to multi-ethnic Partisans and in 1945
Serbia itself was liberated from outside. For the British Foreign Office, the
Bosnian refusal to surrender is now the major irritant; but where would its little
gray men be today if the United States had not ensured a steady flow of food and
weapons to Great Britain in the early 1940s?
The solidity of Bosnia's historical integrity and democratic legitimacy, recognized
by Tito's Yugoslavia and validated in 1992 by a democratic vote of its citizens,
can be scientifically measured against the quantity of violence to which Belgrade
-- subsequently flanked by a suicidal Zagreb -- has subjected it over the past
two years. Unlike those of Britain, France, or indeed the Soviet Union in World
War Two, Bosnia's resistance is underpinned by no powerful or wealthy ally. What
is shameful is that this country is fighting its lonely war not just against a
superior military power, but also against an equally destructive force of racially-inspired
mythmaking on which western states have relied to provide an excuse in the eyes
of their own citizens for evading their international responsibilities.
The reason the issue of Bosnia-Hercegovina has become so intensely politicized
is precisely because it poses a very simple question to everyone: are you in favor
of democracy or fascism? In this debate between proponents of democracy and appeasers
of fascism, it is not the future of Bosnia alone that is being decided today.
To the editors:
Ivo Banac is right to say that Serb aggression and terrorism caused the war in
Bosnia-Hercegovina. He is also right that when western leaders speak of a "blood
feud," they are merely trying to slink away from their responsibility. But
I think Banac ducks the most interesting question: How should the world have responded
in the spring of 1992 when the terror began in earnest? Notwithstanding the diplomatic
errors of 1991, when the siege of Sarajevo began, everyone could see what was
happening, and there was no further excuse for delay. Banac skates through Bosnia's
history but falls through the soft ice: the question of Bosnia's viability as
a "unitary" state. That it had been recognized by the UN does not mean
it was viable. Banac more or less admits this: "How does one keep a complicated
entity . . . together?" he asks. He answers that the task is "extremely
complex," "immensely more difficult" given the agendas of neighboring
Croats and Serbs. He says that short of a "change of heart in the neighborhood,"
it would have required an international rescue. And then he declines to acknowledge
the form that rescue would have had to take.
True, a forceful European response in 1991 at the time of Vukova and Dubrovnik
and the downing of the EC helicopter might have frozen matters for a time. But
soon after the shelling of Sarajevo began, unitary Bosnia was finished. Once the
Serbs tested the waters of ethnic terror and the West did nothing but open the
airport, partition became inevitable within weeks.
The West's moral failure was not only in tolerating the terror shelling of a great,
cosmopolitan city, but also in failing to bite the bullet on the necessity (if
they weren't going to intervene) of partition. Partition and population transfers
would have been a bad precedent and a great embarrassment for the leaders of Europe
and the United States, but not nearly as bad as what happened while they tsk-tsked
and diddled. (Clinton's first mistake in office was to undercut the Vance-Owen
partition plan. He had no right to do that unless he was willing to contribute
a US contingent to a UN/NATO roll-back force.)
I agree with Banac that "safe havens" -- if that means eleventh hour
endorsement of shattered, shrinking enclaves, like Gorazde and Srebrenica -- are
a travesty. But I reject his concept of "international action." Standing
back and dumping weapons into a conflict, although an American art form, is a
rotten idea. Instead of stopping the dying it would have incalculably fueled wider
The real alternative was not gunrunning but taking responsibility for delineating
a minimally fair partition. That means protecting, economically supporting, and
defensively arming a viable safe haven (singular) of contiguous territory in central
Bosnia. And accepting the need to stick around for some years of trusteeship.
I think Misha Glenny's position was distorted by Lifschultz, the questioner, as
well as by Banac. Glenny opposed the use of force "if the aim is blurred."
An assertive protectorate over a viable Bosnian rump state (as opposed to leopard-spot
Gazas) was a clear objective. In any case, it has been my objective.
The Boston Globe
Ivo Banac replies:
Mr. Ryan wants me to acknowledge that the partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina, accompanied
by population transfers (the "humane transfers" of the sort that hapless
talked about in 1945), is a bad and an embarrassing idea whose time has come.
I am afraid that I cannot agree. As often happens, time has overcome Mr. Ryan's
embarrassing bit of humanitarianism. The Croats were brought to abandon the bad
idea of partition and Mr. Tudjman is trying to convince everybody that he was
always embarrassed by humane transfers. A further bit of pressure will not only
lift the siege of Sarajevo, it just might make a convinced anti-partitionist of
Mr. Milo[[caron]]sevi'c and his sidekick Dr. Karad[[caron]]zi'c. What is the point
of all of this? Humanitarians of the Ryan and Glenny type will never grasp that
"corrections of history" are not only bad and embarrassing, but hopelessly
stupid, provocative, and inhumane. Mr. Milo[[caron]]sevi'c learned a lot more
history from the Potsdam signers and their concept of "humane transfers"
than is generally recognized. Good fences and "viable safe havens" (read:
apartheid patchworks) do not make good neighbors. Only a sense of common history
makes good neighbors. That is not only a thought for Bosnia, but also for Boston.
Lawrence Lifschultz and Rabia Ali reply:
In an age when some of us are still striving to resist apartheid and its variants
or the concept of an "ethnically pure" state, Randolph Ryan's letter
is an extraordinary document. Ryan on essential matters stands alongside Misha
Glenny who has aptly been described by Ivo Banac as a "representative of
all the good partisans of civil rights who find resistance to national inequality
more distasteful than the causes." We are told by Mr. Ryan of The Boston
Globe that "once the West did nothing" then Bosnia's "partition
became inevitable within weeks." What Ryan does not acknowledge or apparently
grasp is that the form of intervention which Europe and the United States
selected as their own denied Bosnia the means to resist territorial aggression.
In Ryan's vocabulary, Article 51 of the UN Charter which guarantees a member state
the right of self-defense is reduced to a matter of "gun running." He
is more concerned with the prospects of a "wider war" than the consequences
a new "containment doctrine" has had for a largely unarmed and defenseless
population. By denying the Bosnians weapons of self-defense the war has imploded
upon them. Despite Ryan's sense of historical inevitability, a determined resistance
in Bosnia continues to the various forms of partition which European, American,
and UN diplomats passed about as a solution. There are thousands of Bosnians fighting
against a system which Kemal Kurspahic has called "enforced apartheid,"
and they will not settle easily for any agreement which tries to impose such an
arrangement upon them.
Instead, Ryan offers a romantic nostalgia for the divisive Vance-Owen proposals
which even Vance disavowed as Owen took the proposal toward a form of partition
which would validate the territorial gains of ethnic cleansing. One can only wonder
what Ryan's reaction would be if the Bosnian Army ever gained sufficient strength
to retake areas which had been ethnically cleansed and was able to provide security
for peoples of all nationalities in Bosnia to live as equal citizens. It is impossible
to detect in Ryan's position any proposal which might free the Bosnians from existing
international shackles so that they can become their own defenders.
Ryan claims we have distorted Glenny's position. May I suggest that he read Glenny's
piece in The Nation of July 12, 1993. "Let's get a few things straight
about the lifting of the embargo," wrote Glenny. "First, it is the quickest
way to guarantee the total liquidation of Bosnia's Muslim population. The Serbs
and Croats are both bitterly opposed to it." Horrors! If Radovan Karadzic's
Serbian followers and Mate Boban's Croatian disciples (who have distinguished
themselves by rehabilitating that earlier European innovation, the concentration
camp) oppose lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia, then by all means let us not
offend these men. Indeed, let them get on with their deadly business. Perhaps
we might even adopt their proposals for partition like Owen did last June!
But Ryan is a charitable man. Once "a minimally fair partition" has
been delineated he is prepared to establish a protectorate and he accepts that
the international community may "need to stick around for some years of trusteeship."
He tells us nothing about what would be "minimally fair." He fails to
note that in Bosnia a majority of the electorate voted in 1990 for parties who
are opposed to partition and that with good reason they may not consider any partition
to be "fair." But once a partition is somehow arrived at Ryan would
at that late hour agree to "defensively arming a viable safe haven (singular)
of continguous territory in central Bosnia." He has "fairly" given
eastern Bosnia to Greater Serbia in the style Sudetanland was once "given."
Let us hope the people of Bosnia will one day be in a position to reject the charitable
concerns of men like Ryan.
More on Fraser's "Reinventing the Welfare State"
Nancy Fraser wants to enlist us in thinking about political possibilities that
leap beyond the current debate about welfare reform (Boston Review, February/March
1994). She considers alternatives for the sweeping reconstruction of the welfare
state, and concludes with a synthesis that she thinks would be just, humane, and
feminist. I am for it. But visionary reforms alone do not arm us to do battle
in the actual and nasty politics of welfare reform. We need not only ideals, but
a sense of strategy, of how to take steps through the quagmire in the right direction.
Otherwise, discussions of ideal welfare systems can entice us away from the muck
of real world welfare politics.
To the editors:
I want therefore to make three points, to suggest bridges between the real and
the impossibly ideal. The first is that while Fraser is right to say that all
rich nations are in the throes of postindustrial changes in labor markets and
families, the consequences for welfare programs have been quite different. In
fact, only in the United States has there been a sustained assault on these programs,
and particularly on means-tested and unemployment-tested programs. This point
is crucial because it argues that politics matters. Welfare policies are formed
as much by the variable politics of different countries as they are by largely
similar postindustrial structural conditions.
My second, related point is that, flawed though they are, the welfare programs
inherited from the era of industrial capitalism have made a large difference in
postindustrial social patterns. In countries where the programs are more comprehensive
and more generous, wages at the lower end of the market are not plummeting, poverty
is not deepening, income polarization is not spinning out of sight, unions still
matter, and so on. In other words, flawed programs can be better or worse. In
the United States, they are worse, and getting still worse, with dramatic consequences
for economic and political inequality. If the ultimate goal is a just, humane,
and feminist welfare system, the immediate and emergency issues are program coverage
and benefit levels.
My third point, and I think Fraser would agree, is that the current furor about
welfare reform in the United States is moving us further and further from her
ideal models. All sorts of archaic schemes to harass welfare mothers are being
devised by state politicians, from learnfare to healthfare to wedfare to workfare.
There is ample experience which proves that this sort of "reform" results
mainly in the harassment of welfare recipients. The larger effect is to create
a political spectacle in which poor black women are the central players, the new
Willie Horton of state politics. The Clinton Administration's promise to "end
welfare as we know it" is more of the same, a policy promise invented on
the campaign trail, and handy whenever the President needs to feint to the right,
but certainly irrational in a labor market with too few jobs, and in any case
far too costly ever to emerge from Congress except as a miniature demonstration
In sum, big visions are certainly interesting, and may be useful, if we can hinge
them to the difficult and small steps made possible by actual politics.
Frances Fox Piven
Graduate School and University Center, City University of New York
Click here to return to the Boston Review Forum, Reinventing
the Welfare State.
To the editors:
Nancy Fraser's article is gracefully written, but I was saddened to read it. It
suggests that feminism simply dismisses the interests of men. No feminist should
object to welfare as it now is. AFDC does not exist, as Fraser suggests, to prop
up the ideal of the "male-headed household." After all, it has allowed
mothers to live without reliance on men. Nor does popular criticism of welfare
stem from feminist feeling. Rather, taxpayers, both men and women, object to paying
welfare mothers to stay home when they have to work. Fraser simply does not address
this concern. All the models of welfare she discusses would leave welfare mothers
the option not to work. None, therefore, would be taken seriously as a basis for
Would the models be fair, even if they were politic? Fraser believes "Universal
Breadwinner" would condemn women to an unequal competition with men in the
workplace, given their greater distractions at home, while "Caregiver Parity"
would let them stay home but deny them respect equal to men's. She wants an "Integration"
model whose purpose is "to induce men to become more like women are now,"
that is, to balance paid and carework with neither taking precedence.
But why should men become like women? Fraser claims that men "free-ride"
on women's labor in the home. Some do, but men could equally claim that some women
free-ride on them on the job, by taking more time off to deal with family concerns.
It would be no more fair to men to make them give up the primacy of their careers
than it would be fair to women to make them all work full-time as if they had
no families. The best family policy treats the sexes as somewhat alike.
Require women on welfare to work, but less than men typically do, in deference
to their larger family responsibilities.
Male political thinking largely ignored women but served their interests in most
ways. In western societies built on those ideals, most women can raise their families
in security and, if they choose, enter the world of careers alongside men with
something like equal opportunity. Most women can get enough income from working
and the government to dispense with husbands entirely. That women should have
such powers and claims is entirely proper in male terms.
But in Fraser's version, feminist thinking does not serve the interests of men.
It denies the value of their commitment to tasks outside the home, which is typically
greater than women's. It leaves them nothing distinctive to do other than impregnate
women. Even more than welfare itself, Fraser's article suggests how far women
have given up on men in this society.
Visiting Professor of Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
Click here to return to the Boston Review Forum, Reinventing
the Welfare State.
Nancy Fraser replies:
Lawrence Mead believes that the current welfare system is more than fair to women
and that women free-ride on men as much as men free-ride on women. He misses the
central point of the feminist critique: virtually all of men's work is recognized
and compensated in wages and social insurance benefits; much of women's work,
in contrast, is not. Mead also claims that my "Integration" model would
be unfair to men because it would deprive them of any distinctively masculine
activities "other than impregnat[ing] women." In fact, my approach would
increase men's options -- by giving them the freedom to reject or reinvent masculinity.
I am delighted that Frances Piven shares my vision of a just, humane, feminist
welfare state. I in turn share her concern about formulating a strategy that can
help us get from here to there. A strategy focused exclusively on defending AFDC
in its present form is unlikely to succeed today, in my view, given the intense
scapegoating of "welfare mothers." The strategy I prefer is aimed at breaking
down the "us" versus "them" mentality that currently stigmatizes and isolates
the poor. That is in part why my article redescribed the welfare crisis as a crisis
that jeopardizes the well-being of all working people. I prefer to stress
that virtually every woman is at risk of becoming a single mother, and virtually
every wage-earner is at risk of unemployment. So we all need new postindustrial
social protections. In this climate, it may prove more strategic to think big
than to think small.
Click here to return to the Boston Review Forum, Reinventing
the Welfare State.
To the editors:
Your readers may be interested in the following open letter to President Clinton:
President Bill Clinton The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington, D.C.
20500 Dear President Clinton: It has been more than two years since the overthrow
of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti, and more than one year since your
election to the presidency here. In that time, military repression of the Haitian
people has intensified -- killing, torturing, and imprisoning thousands of innocent
Haitians and sending many more thousands into hiding, while you have broken your
own campaign promises concerning Haiti and Haitian refugees. During the election
campaign, you pledged to make the restoration of President Aristide to Haiti a
priority, and you criticized President Bush's policy of forcibly repatriating
Haitians fleeing their country. Then, after being elected, and even before being
inaugurated, you announced that you would continue President Bush's policy of
returning fleeing Haitians without screening for refugee status. You used the
same justification as your predecessor, declaring concern for "the tragic loss
of life" of would-be Haitian refugees, while returning them directly to the dock
at Port-au-Prince where they are processed, fingerprinted, and at times jailed
by the Haitian police. Meanwhile, your professed support of President Aristide
has wavered. While avoiding strict enforcement of the embargo aimed at the Haitian
military and wealthy elites that sponsored the 1991 coup, your administration
has repeatedly pressured Aristide to make unwarranted concessions. Aristide has
made several such concessions -- such as an amnesty for political crimes and dropping
his original prime minister to replace him with a more moderate one. Nonetheless,
Aristide is portrayed by the US government as the intransigent one. At the same
time, you fail to condemn the Central Intelligence Agency's ties to the Haitian
military, and the CIA's use of falsified information in its ad hominem
attacks on President Aristide. We wish to express our solidarity with the Haitian
people in their continuing struggle for democracy and social justice. We urge
- Keep your campaign pledge to end the forced repatriation of Haitians attempting
to flee their country; end the Coast Guard and naval blockade trapping Haitians
in their country; instruct the Attorney General to enact Temporary Protected
Status for Haitians in the United States. The spectacle of Cubans rightfully
being welcomed as refugees upon arrival on US territory while Haitians are
turned back to face brutal reprisals must end immediately.
- Express your unequivocal support for the return of President Aristide to
Haiti; put an end to statements suggesting that Aristide's future is "clouded"
if he refuses to make further concessions to the military; end pressures on
Aristide to expand his government to include those with close ties to the
military that overthrew him.
- Call for the immediate resignation of Lt. General Raoul Cedras, Col. Michel
Francois, and the Haitian military high command; end pressure on President
Aristide to expand the amnesty promised for political crimes (a promise made
under US pressure) to a blanket amnesty covering all crimes committed during
and since the coup. Not only is the broader amnesty not made available by
the Haitian constitution, but those who seek it are responsible for an estimated
- Condemn the Central Intelligence Agency for its attempt to undermine declared
US policy toward Aristide; instigate a full investigation of CIA and other
covert involvement with the Haitian military, both in the past and at the
- Expand the freezing of assets and suspension of US visas to cover all coup
backers, military officers, and their political allies, and urge other nations
to do the same. The current list of those subject to such US restrictions
is quite limited; for example, it does not include Jean-Jacques Honorat, one
of the chief architects of the 1991 coup, or individuals in Haiti who have
hired a Washington lobbyist to defend the coup regime.
- Work with the United Nations and the Aristide government to ensure that
humanitarian exceptions to the embargo bypass the military and go directly
to the Haitian people.
Campaign for Peace and Democracy
To add your name to the above letter, please contact the Campaign for Peace
and Democracy, P.O. Box 1640, Cathedral Station, NY, NY 10025. Tel (212) 666-5924.
Fax (212) 662-5892.
Click here to return to the Boston Review Forum, The
Last Days of Bosnia.
Originally published in the April/May 1994
issue of Boston Review