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More on Banac's "The Last Days of Bosnia?"
To the editors:

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.

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.

Branka Magas


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 war.

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.

Randolph Ryan

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 Bene[[caron]]s
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"
To the editors:

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.

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 project.

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 welfare reform.

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.

Lawrence Mead

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.

On Haiti

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 you to:
  • 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 4,000 deaths.
  • 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 current time.
  • 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.

Joanne Landy
Thomas Harrison
Jennifer Scarlott
Dorie Wilsnack
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

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