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Sooner or later we pay

Posted by Helen Sunday, July 10, 2005

It is an interesting coincidence (or, perhaps, not) that the London bombings occurred just as we are preparing to remember the tenth anniversary of the biggest single massacre in Europe since 1945: Srebrenice. That word has entered the roll-call of shame in European history and is one of the many dark blots on the UN’s score card.

Just to remind our readers: In 1993, in the midst of the brutal war in Bosnia, Srebrenice, a Muslim town whose population had increased because of Bosniaks (Muslim Bosnians) fleeing from other parts of the country or being forcibly “cleansed” from their homes, became the first UN-guarded "safe" enclave.

One condition the UN forces, whose track-record in that war left a great deal to be desired, tried to impose is that complete disarming of the Bosniaks. This was not entirely successful and there were various skirmishes.

The main role of the UN troops in various parts of Bosnia seemed to be to be taken hostage by the Serb army and militia and the release of those hostages was predicated on no air strikes. That may well have been part of the reason for the events of June-July 1995.

Radko Mladic’s troops surrounded Srebrenice, which was “protected” by 600 Dutch peace keepers. They were supposed to have requested air protection but this was not forthcoming. In effect the peacekeepers abandoned the population of Srebrenice, many of whom tried to escape and were shot as they did so.

The most horrific development followed in July, when men and boys aged 14 and above were separated from the rest of the population and marched off. With the exception of one or two survivors they were never seen again.

Their bodies were, though. They had all been shot and recently discovered video tapes have given chilling evidence of the brutality of those killings.

The whole sequence of events caused a good deal of anguish in the Netherlands, where there was an enquiry and the government resigned in the wake of a damning report. The UN, as expected, just shrugged the whole episode off.

The Srebrenice massacre was the worst episode in what was a peculiarly nasty war during which Yugoslavia fell apart. Throughout the various manifestations: short war in Slovenia, a rather longer one in Croatia and the long and brutal one in Bosnia, the EU and the member states effectively supported Milosevic and the Serb government.

From the very beginning of the disintegration (1989) the EC, as it then was, assured the Americans gleefully that they should not interfere. As the Luxembourg Foreign Minister, the egregious Jacques Poos, put it: “This is Europe’s hour.”

And a very dark hour it was, too.

The European countries stuck to the arms embargo, which guaranteed that the Serbian army had supremacy in arms, as it simply took over whatever the Yugoslav army had had.

It was worse than that. The EC for several years maintained, as the conflict raged, that Yugoslavia must stay together as a federal state. The leaders were, of course, in the throes of turning the EC into the EU, another federal state and they did not take kindly to the fact that both the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were disintegrating.

It was not until 1992 that Slovenia and Croatia were recognized as separate countries at the insistence of Germany, which had broken ranks with the other EC member states, who were busy working out a common foreign policy at the expense of the people of former Yugoslavia.

This did not, incidentally, start the war, which had been raging in Croatia for several months before that. By the time of the recognition, Vukovar had been bombed to smithereens and when the city was taken, the notorious Arkan’s irregular forces cleansed it thoroughly.

The Serb army retreated from Croatia and, effectively, handed over its arms to the Bosnian Serb militia. In an EC-supervised referendum the Bosnians voted for independence and in April 1992 it was recognized as such by the EC.

And then? And then the EC, which transmogrified into the EU, did nothing while the Serb army and various militias conducted a war of attrition. The arrival of UN troops did not mitigate the situation as my account at the beginning indicates.

Calls for the lifting of the arms embargo were rejected, among others by the then Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, who wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph, explaining that it would be a bad idea to have “level killing fields”. That phrase probably marks the nadir of British foreign policy and diplomacy.

Mr Hurd, incidentally, on retiring from politics and taking up an exalted postion with NatWest, returned to Serbia with the intention of negotiating a loan to Slobodan Milosevic.

These sorry events have come back to haunt us, not just because of the anniversary of Srebrenice but because of the fact, mentioned by Mark Steyn in an article on Friday, that many of the British and European Muslims who have been involved in recent terrorist activity, were radicalized by the events in Bosnia.

As far as these young men were concerned, the Bosnian Muslims had been abandoned to their fate by the Europeans. Ironically, of course, it was eventually the Americans leading a NATO contingent who imposed some kind of order in the region and stopped the bloodletting.

The Europeans, on the other hand, who now posture as the friends of Islam, stood back and even aided Milosevic.

Mark Steyn is not entirely accurate in his assertion that nobody could have predicted that the events of Bosnia would radicalize Muslims in many parts of Europe. Not only did some people realize the danger but they wrote about it at the time. We paid no attention. Now we are paying in another coin.