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Jewish Journal

Bosnia genocide unrolls in scroll of shame

By Paul Kujawsky

August 6, 2008 | 11:31 pm

Radovan Karadzic has been arrested. He faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity before the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague. It's an occasion to recall the genocide in Bosnia and the shame of those who did not prevent it.

When Yugoslavia broke up into its constituent nations in the early 1990s, Yugoslav Communist Party leader Slobodan Milosevic reinvented himself as a Serbian nationalist. He called on all the Serbs in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia to form a single state. In Karadzic, he found a willing henchman.

Karadzic was the leader of the Bosnian Serbs. Until the war, Bosnia was an ethnically mixed state of Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims. Karadzic's mission was to create an ethnically pure Serbian space in eastern Bosnia that could be assimilated into a "greater Serbia." In the war that followed, the euphemism "ethnic cleansing" entered the unholy vocabulary of genocide.

The war raged from 1992 to 1995. It was an ethnic war; a religious war; a war against people, property and culture; a war of irredentism; a war of savagery and barbarism; a war of shame.

First in the scroll of shame are the Serbs themselves. While not alone in perpetrating war crimes in Bosnia, they excelled. They let themselves be swept up in the spirit of fascism.

In Bosnia, they murdered and destroyed like beasts. In Serbia, they cheered. The voices in opposition were too quiet, too few.

Even today, too many Serbs regard Karadzic, Milosevic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, as heroes instead of war criminals. Many greeted the capture of Karadzic with dismay. He might be free still, were his dispatch to The Hague not a condition for Serbia's accession to the European Union.

Shame on the United Nations. When the war began, it imposed an arms embargo on all sides to the Bosnian war. The Bosnian Serbs continued to receive arms from the Yugoslav army. The Bosnian Muslims had nothing. Thus, the United Nations did not merely equate the aggressors with the victims -- it favored the aggressors in the guise of evenhandedness.

The Bosnian genocide included the murder of some 7,000-8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica by Serb forces. Despite the fact that Srebrenica was a U.N.-designated "safe area," Dutch peacekeepers stood aside and did nothing to protect the Bosnian Muslims from the Serbs.

Shame on America. President George H.W. Bush did nothing to intervene. During the 1992 campaign, candidate Bill Clinton criticized Bush for his inaction. Then Clinton was elected -- and did nothing. A stream of excuses poured out of Washington, while the agony of the Bosnian Muslims went on.

When Clinton was finally roused to action, two weeks of bombing brought Serb aggression to an end. This showed how heart-rendingly easy it would have been for earlier intervention to save scores of thousands of lives.

Shame on NATO. For over a decade, while it patrolled Bosnia after the war, it failed to arrest the indicted Karadzic. At various times, his location was known, but the political will to seize him was missing. It is even said that the NATO powers quietly agreed to let him be, fearful of the repercussions.

Shame on the Jews? It is possible that the Jews have the least reason to be ashamed. When there were rallies and protests to support the Bosnian Muslims, Jews were in the forefront. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was a leader in the Senate effort to end the U.S. arms embargo against Bosnia.

At the 1993 dedication of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel turned to President Clinton and said, "Mr. President, I cannot not tell you something. I have been in the former Yugoslavia last fall. I cannot sleep since for what I have seen. As a Jew, I am saying that we must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country. People fight each other, and children die. Why? Something, anything must be done."

Putting war criminals on trial doesn't bring anyone back to life, doesn't return a single refugee to his home. Evil must be fought before the thousands or the millions die, not merely deplored or put on trial afterward. If we don't really believe this, we should stop saying, "Never again."

Paul Kujawsky is a member of the board of directors of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles. He can be reached at kujawsky@pacbell.net.

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