Bosnia and Herzegovina: Old trick of divide-and-rule doesn’t work any more

[We strongly recommend this article, as it highlights the return of class solidarity across the ethnic divide in the former Yugoslavia.]

At the recent Srebrenica massacre commemoration in the Potočari Memorial Centre, the victims’ families turned against the politicians present, and Bosnian crowds directed loud whistles and curses at the same politicians.

The tragic massacre of between 6-8000 Muslim men in Srebrenica by the Serb forces under the command of Ratko Mladić, on July 11th1995, which is widely considered the culmination of the atrocious four year civil and religious war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has ever since been traditionally used by the Bosniac and Serb bourgeoisie as a valuable propaganda resource for promoting religious and national divisions between the Bosniac and Serb population. The former exploited the annual commemoration of the victims, as a way of reminding the Bosniac people just how much they should be afraid of their “genocidal” and “blood-thirsty” Serb neighbours, while the latter denied that genocide over Bosniacs ever took place, hiding behind the “defence of the Serb national interests” in Bosnia.

This relationship was more symbiotic than anything else, giving each faction of the nascent Bosnian bourgeoisie a monopoly over “national interest” and making sure the working people were held tightly in line under their own national and religious banners. The Srebrenica massacre commemoration was also an excellent photo-op for many foreign diplomats and statesmen, including peace-loving people like Paul Wolfowitz, who, several years ago, started his address to the crowd there with the traditional Muslim greeting “selam aleykum”, while, at the same time, a few thousand kilometres to the East, the Anglo-American imperialist forces were murdering Iraqi and Afghan civilians by the thousands.

Srebrenica was where “the good Muslim” was to be found – Muslim the Victim, loyal and grateful to their Western protectors for staying alive, willing to do anything to prove their European character and their dedication to the ideals of Western democracy. Srebrenica seemed like the poster-place for Fukuyama’s “End of History”. There was no talk of class struggle whatsoever, just national unity and devotion to the neoliberal order and its protectors.

However, as the capitalist crisis deepened and the class struggle was back on the agenda worldwide, it was only a matter of time before the Bosnian people, regardless of their religion or nationality, would awaken from the social coma brought about by the capitalist restoration in the 1990s. As the crisis deepens in Bosnia, and the ruling elite becomes more and more cynical in their attempts to manipulate the masses through fear, the Bosnian working class, including the families of those murdered in Srebrenica, are beginning to see their leaders for what they are – a bunch of gangsters, full of hot air, who destroyed their country, plundered its industrial resources and brought about the kind of poverty and disarray which was thought in the old socialist times to have been permanently done away with.

One strike after another has started to appear in Bosnia, on both sides of the administrative lines which divide the Serb Republic (not to be confused with Serbia) and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – the two national statelets, known as “entities”, which today constitute the country. Often strikers from both sides have even exchanged solidarity letters. Last year, the ruling class was shocked to see solidarity even among the civil war veterans from both sides – Bosnian army veterans decided to give part of their pensions to their Serb counterparts, who were still fighting with the government in Banjaluka (the administrative centre of the Serb Republic) over theirs. It became more and more obvious that the old divide-and-rule tricks were not as fruitful as they were in the past.

This year, the rulers and their foreign sponsors were in for another surprise from the masses – and on the day of their perfect end-of-history-type ceremony, of all places. This July 11th, at the Srebrenica massacre commemoration in the Potočari Memorial Centre, the victims’ families demanded that no politicians give speeches. When that was ignored, the masses reacted with loud whistles and curses directed at the leaders of Bosnian bourgeois parties, and someone even threw a bottle at the head of the Commemoration Organization Committee. The loudest whistle was reportedly received by none other than the American ambassador to Bosnia!

The working peoples of Bosnia have a long and proud tradition of class struggle. Bosnia was where Tito’s Partisan movement had the biggest base of support, where, along with Western Serbia, the first European Nazi-free territories were established by the Communist Party, and where the foundations for the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) were laid. It is also where the collapse of the old planned economies in Eastern Europe came in the bloodiest and cruellest of ways, bringing with it genocide and fratricidal conflict between the people with the same language and culture, but different religion. It is, therefore, understandable, that there was a period of severe social shock, which kept the working class of this country pacified for over 20 years.

It would appear that this pacified period is nearing its end, however. The Bosnian masses are awakening again, and letting their current masters – foreign and domestic – know they won’t be used as pawns for their schemes any further. As Marxists we welcome these events as a sign of the times ahead, where the fires of Bosnian and Yugoslav revolutionary traditions may light up once again.