Thursday, June 23, 2005
The film A Cry from the Grave was followed by a panel discussion of the history, significance, and lessons of the fall of Srebrenica. Panelists included journalist Mark Danner; Elvir Mujic, a Srebrenica survivor; and Jan Wilhelm Honig, author of Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime.
This program was presented in cooperation with the Heinrich Boell Foundation and made possible in part by the Helena Rubinstein Foundation.
JERRY FOWLER: Good evening, and welcome to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for our showing this evening of A Cry from the Grave. My name is Jerry Fowler. I am the staff director of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience, which addresses contemporary threats of genocide.
One of the aspects of the original vision of a national memorial to victims of the Holocaust was that it would contribute to preventing contemporary genocide. Elie Wiesel and the President’s Commission on the Holocaust in 1979 recommended that an integral component of any national memorial should be a Committee on Conscience that would address contemporary threats of Genocide.
The Museum opened in April 1993, and up to that time the idea of a Committee on Conscience had been set aside while the memorial and museum were built. By April of 1993, the war in Bosnia had been going on for a year, and the euphemistic term “ethnic cleansing” had entered the world’s lexicon.
There was actually a very dramatic incident at the Museum’s opening ceremony outside of our 15th Street entrance, which was attended by Holocaust survivors, veterans of the Armed Forces that had liberated the camps, over 60 heads of state, the entire United States Congress, and the president of the United States, Bill Clinton. Holocaust Survivor Elie Wiesel gave the keynote address, and near the end of his remarks, he stopped, he turned to President Clinton, and said, “Mr. President, there is something I cannot not tell you today. I have been to the former Yugoslavia, and I cannot sleep for what I have seen. As a Jew, I am saying you have to do something to stop the killing. Something has got to be done. People are dying; children are being killed."
That was in April of 1993. There was actually a moment of moral clarity inside the administration, and steps were taken to adopt a policy that would bring the war to an end. But they were not followed through on, and as we all know, the war continued for more than two more years. Before it was over in July of 1995, the world witnessed the worst massacre on the European continent since the end of the Holocaust, near the town of Srebenica.
It is the 10-year anniversary of that massacre that we are marking this evening. It is particularly important for the Holocaust Museum to mark that and to have tonight’s program to address the question of whether we have learned anything about protecting civilians. It was an event that, in effect, happened on our watch after this memorial was created and opened on the National Mall in Washington.
Before I hand it over to the Heinrich Boll Foundation, our cosponsors for this evening, I want to conclude by saying that today the world again is faced with the problem of responding to genocide in the African country of Sudan, in its Darfur region.
Whether what is happening is genocide or not is really not that important--there is an argument over that. We believe that it is a genocide emergency and said so last July. Just as we saw the international community seeking to manage the problem instead of solving it over ten years ago, it continues and it continues and it continues. People continue to die, and lives continue to hang in the balance.
So, as we think back to what happened ten years ago and the failure to protect civilians at Srebrenica, we should never lose sight of the fact that the problem of protecting civilians when they are targeted because of their identity is an enduring one; one that we are confronted with on an emergency basis today, even as we meet.
We are very honored, this evening, to be cooperating with the Heinrich Boll Foundation. I would like to acknowledge their support in making this program possible. I should also acknowledge as well the Helena Rubinstein Foundation, whose generous support was essential to having tonight’s program and to bringing some of our speakers who you will hear after the film.
Without further ado, I would like to introduce the executive director of the Heinrich Boll Foundation here in Washington, Helga Flores-Trejo, and ask her to make a few remarks.
HELGA FLORES-TREJO: Thank you, Jerry, and thanks to your team for this very important cooperation.
Dear Excellencies, dear guests, we are really very impressed and honored that so many of you showed up tonight to discuss a rather dark moment in very recent European history. However, we feel good that such a large number of people are prepared to remember, to expose oneselves and to discuss. So let me welcome you tonight to the film screening, A Cry from the Grave, and the following panel discussion.
You may wonder why a German organization in Washington invites you, with the Holocaust Museum today. Today’s event is part of a series of meetings and debates in the context of an exhibition that we opened last week in the United States Senate. The exhibition, Srebrenica: Remembrance for the Future, is a joint effort of various offices of the Heinrich Boll Foundation, the German political think tank with 21 offices worldwide that I am proud to represent here in Washington.
[The year] 2005 has been a year of anniversaries, especially for Germany. The Second World War, with all its destruction, ended 60 years ago and finally the German death camps were liberated. But 2005 also marked the tenth anniversary of the massacre in Srebrenica, where more than 7,000 boys and men were killed. This happened under the protection of the United Nations and, as Jerry said, before the eyes of the world.
Like no other recent event, Srebrenica became the symbol for the return of genocide in Europe, the incapacity of the European Union to vigorously react, and for the failing of the United Nations, whose peacekeepers stood by while masses were slaughtered.
For Germany, Srebrenica is also a very important date. Why? Because only after Srebrenica, the German public debate shifted. Before that, the consequences drawn from the Holocaust were to never have war again, to never have German soldiers involved in military actions.
Srebrenica changed this. Srebrenica raised the most dramatic dilemma: Would you support the protection of human lives even with military means? Or would you stick to an orthodox principle of pacifism? The debates were very fierce and controversial at that time, but Srebrenica led to a necessary and a legitimate intervention on humanitarian grounds. Therefore, Srebrenica is a political symbol and a turning point for European politics in a very broad sense. It was a wake-up call.
One of our panelists today, Jan Wilhem Honig, has asked a simple but chilling question that is very difficult to answer and has not lost any of its importance today. The question is, Why don’t we recognize genocide when we see it?
Why do we not recognize genocide when we see it? This is, ladies and gentlemen, what we are going to confront tonight. I am very thankful for you to be willing to confront it, too. Thank you, and thank you for participating.
JERRY FOWLER: Thank you, Helga. After the film, we will have our discussion with Elvir Mujic, Jan Wilhem Honig, and our special guest moderator, Mark Danner. Now we will show the film, A Cry from the Grave.
MARK DANNER: Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime is an extraordinary book that I have reviewed and written about. It is on sale in the lobby. I would urge you to look at that book because I think it is probably the finest account of what actually happened at Srebrenica.
I have to say, in watching this film, I had in mind the comment that Jerry Fowler quoted in his introduction, which is Mr. Honig’s comment: Why do we not recognize genocide when we see it? I had a lot of feelings while watching this film. One of them was that we very much did recognize genocide when we saw it, but it was very difficult, particularly for our leaders, to admit that we were seeing it.
I first glimpsed this extraordinary institution during a visit--I think it was before it opened in 1993--with Harris Silajdzic, who was the foreign minister of Bosnia at the time. He was followed around by cameras, and he spoke very eloquently about the genocide then going on in his country. This was 1993.
The notion, as Sandy Vershbow, then the NSC [National Security Counsel] staff member on Bosnia, put forward was that no one really dreamed that this could happen. As Srebrenica fell, I have to say because I remember vividly, it was just not at all true.
One of the stories, I think, about genocide is that at the time people tell themselves whatever they have to convince themselves that it will not happen, that steps they are taking because of reasons of real politik will not lead to massacres.
By 1995, it was very clear that if Srebrenica fell, there would be a great deal of killing. By then there had been three years of massacres in the Bosnian war. When Srebrenica almost fell in 1993--we saw some of the footage from 1993 in this film--there was a famous telephone conversation between David Owen, who was then one of the negotiators on Bosnia with Cyrus Vance, and Slobodan Milosevic in which Milosevic said very frankly that if that enclave fell there would be a bloodbath. This was two years before.
It also should be said that what happened in Srebrenica, it seems to me--and both of my colleagues perhaps would like to comment on this--is a kind of what the French call mise-en-abîme. That is, a small model of the Bosnian war writ large.
The various players on the international stage were paralyzed for very different reasons. The United States--the Clinton Administration--had pledged itself not to accede to ethnic cleansing. Thus, the United States was paralyzed to make a deal in which it would hand over the eastern enclaves to the Serbs, which of course eventually happened but because of massacre.
The French and the British, to some extent, were paralyzed because they had troops on the ground, and they feared that if there were air strikes their troops would be taken hostage. That is true of the Dutch as well.
A deal was made about a month before this massacre happened, in which the French general essentially agreed that he would not allow air strikes, and it was in some way a go-ahead for the taking of Srebrenica.
I am going to ask a couple questions here, but I want to point out some things that happened since this film was produced, I believe, in 1999. During this time, of course, General Krstic has been convicted in The Hague. During this time, thousands of those corpses that you saw stored in the salt miles of Tuzla have been identified. During this time, General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic have gone free. They have not been arrested, although it is generally agreed that their whereabouts are not a secret within Serbia. And finally, during that time--in fact, in the last three weeks, at the beginning of June--a videotape was shown of the abuse of six Bosnian Muslim prisoners, and the killing of four of them was actually shown on Serbian TV. The perpetrators of those killings were actually arrested, and it might be some kind of turning point within Serbia, where a majority of the population still profess disbelief that the Srebrenica massacre happened.
Before we get to your questions, I am going to turn first to Mr. Mujic to thank him for coming here tonight and to ask him simply to comment on this film and what he has thought and seen at this point, ten years later.
ELVIR MUJIC: Thank you. My name is Elvir Mujic. Yes, I am from Srebrenica, born in 1977, and I lived through the worst days of my life from 1992 until 1995. I have seen so much through Srebrenica. I ended up in prison camp in Serbia, and thanks to the Red Cross, I was eventually sent to the United States.
This film is really very hard to see because I remember what happened there, and I have seen so much. I have lost so many members of my family--my brother, a couple of brothers-in-law, and many other family members. What I can remember ten years prior to this date is horror. That is the best word to describe it.
I was 17 years old in 1995 when the war finally ended. Going back there last year--I have been to Potocari, the memorial center--I walked through that cemetery and saw many names of my classmates that were killed in that war. That was really hard.
MARK DANNER: What do you feel at the anniversary, ten years later? I look back on this film and have very mixed feelings. I am at once very grateful to the Holocaust Museum and the Heinrich Boll Foundation for gathering us here tonight. But I also feel a kind of anger because I think that much of what seems to be revealed now, we knew at the time. We tell ourselves in retrospect that our policy makers were essentially ignorant of things that they were not ignorant of. When you look back and then see yourself here at an event like this, ten years later, what do you feel it serves? What do you feel the use of it is?
ELVIR MUJIC: I am thankful and lucky to be here today to talk about my city and talk about what happened so that we will not forget and will not allow something like it to happen ever again, anywhere in the world. I have to be thankful to all the people that have supported me in being here today. I have to thank the Branch family. I have Paul Branch here, the son of the family that I stayed with for eight years going through school at Washington State University. That gave me the chance to be here today working for the Embassy of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I have to thank everyone from the embassy--Ambassador Igor Davidovic and everybody else. I feel happy that I have the chance to talk here at the Holocaust Museum, but at the same time, I am very sad because so many of my family members and friends are not here today.
MARK DANNER: Let me ask Jan Wilhem Honig a question. Do you feel confident that such a thing could not happen again? Is that the lesson of what happened at Srebrenica?
JAN WILHEM HONIG: I do think that that is one of the major effects of the Srebrenica massacre. I think that after the Holocaust and the Second World War, two generations of people grew up with the ideal of “Never Again” and believed so strongly that it would not happen ever again.
I remember from my own education in Holland that it was a firm, implanted idea that the Holocaust was such a terrible thing, it was such a powerful thing, that it would not happen ever again. As soldiers, my generation was sent over there with a job to do. We went there with the firm belief that they would never really see that sort of thing happen, and certainly not before their eyes. I think that the effect of the Srebrenica massacre is that we have become more skeptical about these things and that we know that they can happen again.
MARK DANNER: I think it is interesting to point out that the aftermath of Srebrenica is very mixed. On the one hand, we look at The Hague, and we see that the certain people responsible--including generals--have been punished for what happened there.
On the other hand, we look at the map and we realize that the town, as the movie pointed out, is an ethnically cleansed town. And the result of war was, to some degree, to validate the ethnic cleansing that was at its heart.
While Ambassador Vershbow was speaking in the movie, he said that when he was a National Security Council official just after the massacre, Srebrenica’s future “seemed pretty gloomy." He was talking about the United States government just before the massacre: “We were already then considering that some kind of swap for at least the smaller of the eastern enclaves for more territory would be wise.” That is, trading Srebrenica and ethnically cleansing it diplomatically for parts of the area around Sarajevo.
Tim Judah, who wrote the book The Serbs, another very good book on this, suggested that the Americans “were discreetly suggesting that Srebrenica should be exchanged for territory elsewhere,” which told the players involved that in the American government, “far from reversing ethnic cleansing, a decision had been made that more was needed.” In order for a settlement to be reached, the eastern enclaves had to be handed over in one way or another to the Serbs. The American government was unable to do that as part of an explicit deal because it would have meant essentially capitulating and validating ethnic cleansing, but the effect of this massacre was, in fact, to hand over this enclave to the Serbs and to make the deal that eventually happened at Dayton possible. So the results here were very mixed. On the one hand, punishment. On the other hand, validation and the agreement itself. Would you agree with that?
JAN WILHEM HONIG: I would agree with that, that the immediate effect of Srebrenica is that it galvanizes the international community to intervene in the conflict with force and end it, which is a positive result. On the other hand, one can debate about whether the Dayton settlement has merit, but at the least its merit is that it ended the conflict.
Another effect of Srebrenica is that it did enable international action into Kosovo. For instance, in 1999, which again had mixed results and mixed effects, and still lots of people dying. It is, in some ways, a step forward that an international action was achieved.
MARK DANNER: It is important to point out that the wonderful kind of tick-tock account contained in the film of the fall of the enclave gave the impression that some kind of inability or almost incompetence was responsible for the lack of air strikes to protect the town. But in fact, this was really a matter of policy--the Dutch and French opposed air strikes--but those air strikes did not come, not because a fax machine was broken or the right form was not filled out, but because the Western governments opposed protecting Srebrenica with air strikes.
JAN WILHEM HONIG: Absolutely. A key factor, which is underplayed in this documentary--if I have a criticism, then it would be this--is the political context: the Western governments in particular were unwilling to use force. They were unwilling to get involved in a war in Bosnia. That made them hesitate about the use of air power because that would be something that could lead to escalation and their involvement in the war.
That hamstrung the UN operation on the ground and General Jean Pierre was unable, therefore, to make the decision to give the kind of air support that might conceivably have stopped the Serb attack. That should have been explained a little more carefully in this film.
MARK DANNER: I was struck by the line within the movie by one of the people working to exhume the graves that skeletons are easier to work with. That, in fact, when we look at these things in retrospect, they seem very clear.
There are villains, there are people who did nothing, there are active villains, and we feel that there are lessons learned. We feel our own satisfaction in hearing about this now, understanding it, and feeling that in some way, it will make us better and more likely to decide otherwise in the future.
The question is, and I will ask both of my colleagues this, How specifically do you think this--the example of Srebrenica--would change or has changed international behavior and, in particular, the behavior of the United States?
ELVIR MUJIC: Well, I have to say that I hope that we learn from Srebrenica’s mistake that action should be taken on time. Obviously, Bosnia was in war since 1992, and the United Nations acted in 1993. Srebrenica or any other massacre should not happen; it should be acted on early in time.
JAN WILHEM HONIG: If one takes a look at the broader sweep of history, I think that one must know that the way we think about the world, the way we think about war, the way we think about human rights has developed significantly. And the pace has even quickened quite a bit since the end of the Cold War.
The fact that we sit here ten years after Srebrenica, that we feel bad about it, is an indicator. If one compares that with a situation 50, 100, 150 years ago, when interventions for humanitarian reasons were unthinkable, there has been progress that we now consider human rights a centerpiece of our foreign policies.
We may not act upon this properly but we feel that we should, and the pressure to do something has increased enormously, particularly in the past 15 years. That is progress. It is still not perfect, but things are changing.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
MARK DANNER: I have some questions here from the audience. This first one is for Elvir. What do survivors want today? Justice, revenge, identification of the missing? What do survivors want?
ELVIR MUJIC: Obviously, survivors want justice. That is number one. Number two, they want their loved ones to be identified and buried properly.
MARK DANNER: Excuse me--how would you define justice? What is justice exactly?
ELVIR MUJIC: Justice to me is when the people that committed crimes are held responsible, caught, and put where they should be. Then, those who sacrificed through the war and those that were killed can go on in peace. When those responsible for war crimes are held accountable for what they have done, that is basically justice.
MARK DANNER: Do you see justice at all in the political sense? That is, return of property and people returning to their homes?
ELVIR MUJIC: Obviously that is a basic, but the returns are not easy. Today in Srebrenica, there are hardly any people who have returned to their homes. Their homes were destroyed and have not been rebuilt. They have no jobs and no opportunity to restart their lives, so they are not planning to return. Obviously they would love to return if they had these opportunities, but I do not think it will happen.
MARK DANNER: How can we force the world to act to end conflicts worldwide when there is no political or financial benefit to doing so? It is a very broad question. Do you want to try that?
JAN WILHEM HONIG: I guess one has to have some faith in democracy, that you have some influence over your governments. It would also include that, as individual citizens, we think a bit about where money is invested, where your country develops interests, and how that balances out with other foreign policy interests. It’s a very broad, difficult question, but one needs to be an informed and active citizen and try one’s best to influence one’s government.
MARK DANNER: Perhaps one could flip the question on its head and say, “What were the interests of the West in the Balkans in the early ’90s and why was what was done, done?” That is, the peacekeepers on the ground. Why was there this enormous gap between what the West was willing to do and what it would have taken to actually end the war?
JAN WILHEM HONIG: The interest of the West in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia in general was a moral one. Terrible things were happening there. The West, the democratic West, felt bad about that and wanted to do something.
At the same time the Western interest, the national interest, was to protect its own citizens. If you find that in order to do something about your moral outrage you have to put your own citizens at risk, the balancing act becomes a very difficult one, which governments did not quite work out.
MARK DANNER: There was a phrase that was used in Sarajevo in ’93, ’94, and ’95 when I was there to describe Western policy. They called it “feeding the dead.” In other words, there were food shipments coming in, people were being fed by the West, peacekeepers were there to guarantee that food was getting into the besieged town, but nothing was being done to actually protect their lives. And I have always remembered that expression, “feeding the dead.”
I have a couple here for Elvir. First of all, having lived through the events depicted in the film, what do you feel was left out of this account?
And secondly, what apparatus currently exists to support survivors--widows, children, and men? What do you think was left out of the movie, and what’s being done to support survivors?
ELVIR MUJIC: First of all, not everything was covered in the film, but this was a short time to show everything. I have to say that this film is good, and it is pretty much what was happening there.
MARK DANNER: Do you feel there were things that were absolutely essential or important that were not in the film?
ELVIR MUJIC: I don’t really have a comment on that.
MARK DANNER: The other question had to do with supporting survivors, I assume in Bosnia.
ELVIR MUJIC: Obviously, those people that have survived should be awarded at least a job, to be able to start some kind of normal life and support themselves. I know it is very hard after you lose loved ones to stop thinking about it, but we have to live and move forward with the support of people inside and outside.
MARK DANNER: We have a couple of very broad questions here that I think are important.
Why did the West allow this to happen? We know they allowed this to happen, but why?
And a very much connected question: Please briefly discuss the problem of setting up enclaves, which attract refugees and cannot, given the mandates, support or protect them.
They are two huge questions and I will say a couple words, and you both can comment if you would like.
The first is that the enclaves were set up in 1993 partly at the urging of Madeline Albright, the United Nations, and other American officials to prevent the fall of the eastern enclaves.
One of the very large problems that they brought up was the fact that nations of the world--and particularly of Europe--were not willing to contribute troops that were needed to protect them. So the troops themselves--first the Canadians in Srebrenica and then the Dutch--in a sense became hostages, tripwires.
That is, the troops were there. If the Serbs attacked the West, it was thought, would be obliged to respond because the troops were there. It had the opposite effect in that the fact that the troops were there and that the Serbs were willing to take them hostage, and they showed their willingness to do this, led the West--and particularly the Europeans--to be unwilling to use the air power that they would have had to use to protect the enclaves.
At bottom, you know, there is a line that Richard Holbrooke told me, I think it was in 1994, that the United States had a highly moral policy. It would not agree with ethnic cleansing, but deep down, it was morally hypocritical because it would not do what it needed to do in order to actually prevent ethnic cleansing and to prevent the war. So the United States stood aloof with a morally high-minded policy, and the Europeans had troops on the ground that, in effect, became hostages and ended any possibility for real action on the part of the West.
And I think the last element of this analysis is that the eastern enclaves had to be handed over and were not tenable because they were very close to Serb territory proper as Muslim enclaves. In a final settlement, they almost certainly had to be handed over to the Serbs. The United States, in particular, was not willing to do that and to say it had done it because it would have been, then, agreeing to ethnic cleansing. That is my answer to a very, very broad question.
JAN WILHEM HONIG: Yes, again it comes back to the unwillingness by the West in particular to contemplate the use of force. The numbers of troops actually does not matter too much. It is about, “Are you willing to threaten and eventually use force?”
It is often said that if there had been 35,000 troops--which is recommended at some point, again--they would have been protected. But if one thinks about that, it would be harder. It would be the absolute logistical nightmare to supply those troops, and the hostage problem would only have increased. In retrospect it is quite amazing that Western governments ever took the Serb threat to kill hostages seriously.
Imagine if the Serbs had actually done that. They threatened to do it in May, June 1995 in a big hostage crisis. They threatened again to kill the 30 or so Dutch soldier-hostages in July 1995. If they had actually done that, it would have been quite clear that the reaction of the international community would have been that force could be used and there was quite a bit of reliable evidence that the Serbs never seriously contemplated doing this.
MARK DANNER: At the end of the day, the real factor here is that at bottom, Western governments did not want to be involved in the war in the Balkans. That is, involved with troops on the ground. The United States did not, and the Europeans did not either.
JAN WILHEM HONIG: Yes, but the United States, in particular, did not. President Bill Clinton felt that the Europeans were not very keen on it. There was a willingness to contemplate it if the United States was willing to contemplate it, and if the United States was not, the rest of the West would not either.
MARK DANNER: Yes. I think I should point out that we have been assuming in the discussion that what really led to the eventual American intervention with heavy air power in the fall of 1995 had to do with Srebrenica, and I think that is part of it. It is also true that an election was coming up in the United States and the Europeans had said that they were going to withdraw their troops, the French in particular. The United States was committed to supporting that kind of withdrawal militarily. That is, President Clinton was faced with a situation where he would have had to get involved militarily in some way, and if he was simply supporting the withdrawal of the French, of the NATO troops, it would have been involved militarily in the Balkans to support a complete failure. So there was this larger American political side as well.
I have a question for Elvir: Can you ever forgive the Serbs?
ELVIR MUJIC: That is a hard question. Obviously, I have lived through Srebrenica and I will never forget Srebrenica, but I cannot blame all Serbs for Srebrenica because not all the Serb people are guilty of this. They are individuals, and obviously--for those that commit the crime--they are seen as very negative in my mind. But forgiving? What else can you do?
MARK DANNER: I have a question, I think, from the same questioner. If things would have been vice versa--Muslims killing Serbs and Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina--how long would it have taken for Western Europe and the US to react?
ELVIR MUJIC: That is something for the West to decide.
MARK DANNER: That is very diplomatic. I can tell you work in the embassy. I guess we are the West. Or at least the Dutch--let’s let the Dutch decide.
JAN WILHEM HONIG: I do not think it would have made much difference whether it was the one side or the other side. This is one conflict where I think that the particular nature of the combatants--whether they were Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, or a particular political preference--it did not make that much difference.
MARK DANNER: I want to press you just a little because you did have Mitterand having this rather romantic idea of the Serbs, you had the Christian Democrat connections in Germany to the Croats, and there were these interesting ethnic holes in this war. Do you think it really made no difference? It is hard to answer this question, but...
JAN WILHEM HONIG: It may have made some difference, but I do not think it made an absolutely fundamental difference. In the end, people did begin to identify more and more with the Muslims as victims. That happened quite quickly actually which, according to these sort of cultural stereotypes, should not have happened.
MARK DANNER: Another question here: What is being done now to capture Mladic and Karadzic? Who is responsible, who had the duty to capture them, and what is the reward?
JAN WILHEM HONIG: It is up to all of us to capture him. It is a requirement of every citizen of the world to capture him if he or she has an opportunity to do so. The efforts actually are being stepped up quite a bit, and although I cannot say this with complete confidence, I think that there is a reasonable chance that Mladic will appear in The Hague very soon. It depends on how the political situation within Serbia and Yugoslavia shifts, but things are moving. I do believe time is running out for him finally.
MARK DANNER: It should be said that we have had reports in the past that he was about to be arrested. It is generally thought that it would not be that hard to find him or Karadzic.
Certainly I think the film that I mentioned earlier--the video that was shown in Serbia--may have a salutary effect in shifting political opinion, perhaps in the move by the Serbian government to arrest several of the perpetrators who were shown in the film. Having said that, we have heard repeatedly that Mladic was on the verge of being arrested. It has not happened, and I will personally only believe it when I see it.
Have any changes been made to the United Nations policy regarding the ability of peacekeeping troops to actually protect people in these conflicts and wars since Srebrenica, Rwanda, et cetera? This is a very vicious series of questions. Let’s talk about the peacekeeping.
JAN WILHEM HONIG: In terms of changes, one thing to bear in mind regarding the United Nations is that the United Nations is made up by nations who are sovereign states. They make the mandates that are given to the troops, so they all decide, and particularly the United Nations Security Council, where the United States is a major member. If they decide that troops can be sent somewhere with a firm mandate then it is possible for them to use force. Mandates depend, however, on the situation, which has shifted and shifted.
MARK DANNER: Perhaps we could be more specific. Several of the questioners referred to Darfur. Can one see any of the shadow of this event--Srebrenica, Bosnia in general, and perhaps Rwanda--on what is currently being done and not being done when it comes to Sudan?
JAN WILHEM HONIG: The shadow is there. I do not think Colin Powell would have used the word “genocide” without the shadow of Rwanda and Srebrenica. What is being done is remarkably little still. Darfur is an example of imposing as well. You are too easily fazed by a conflict; you find it very difficult to try and understand what is happening on the ground.
With Bosnia, the pattern and nature of the war was pretty clear (if not in 1992, then certainly by 1993) and it was fairly easy to predict things in the Balkan conflict. In 1995 you could sort of see with a reasonable degree of certainty where things would be moving and what would be happening. Still, it took us a very long time, and it certainly took governments and politicians a very long time to understand what was going on. The same is true with Kosovo.
Look at Iraq now--the whole town here--the government bodies still seem to be struggling to an alarming and surprising degree with understanding what the nature of the conflict is. One also tends to exaggerate the problem. Once the problem becomes exaggerated, inaction often follows.
MARK DANNER: Yes, I think perhaps it should be emphasized that this turned into a very complex diplomatic and military problem that developed over a number of years. It is very hard to answer a broad question like that, sitting here on this stage. I would urge you to look at the Honig and Both book Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime to look at my piece, and David Rohde also has a very good book on Srebrenica that is in print, I believe, from Farrar, Straus. Underlying all of these complexities was a basic unwillingness of the parties on both sides of the Atlantic to get involved in a ground war in the Balkans.
Secondly, I think, it is fair to say there was an assumption on the part of most European and American leaders. When this war started, the first Bush Administration was in power and had a couple of significant officials. Larry Eagleburger and Brent Scowcroft, who were very high up and who had personal experience in Yugoslavia, essentially believed that the Serbs would win quickly, and the best thing the West could do was to get out of the way. That assumption, of course, did not turn out to be true, but I think you see, when you look back at the quotations--particularly from the Bush Administration--that there was an assumption on their part that we should just not be involved; the Serbs were going to win. The best thing for everybody was to just let them win. The Europeans then became involved, essentially feeding the dead, as the Sarajevans put it. There was a kind of horrible involvement of the West, in which the West did not prevent the war, but instead witnessed it on the ground and fed the dead.
I have a question here. The lift-and-strike policy was first formulated in May 1993 (this is at the beginning of the Clinton Administration), and then it was shelved. Would it have stopped the war if it had been adopted? Why wasn’t it adopted? This is very relevant to what we are now discussing. The Clinton Administration then came in, and they had made very good comments during the campaign. All of you will remember the film in August 1992 from Omarska in which you saw these concentration camp victims in Northern Bosnia behind barbed wire, emaciated figures. It was an extraordinary thing to actually see a concentration camp on film and to read reporting by Ed Vulliamy, Gutman, and various others from within these camps.
Governor Clinton had said, “When I get into office I am going to do something about this.” And those promises really overshadowed his entire presidency because when he did get in office, he was asked by one of his aides, “Do you really want to be like Lyndon Johnson and sacrifice all of your ambitions for a foreign war that very few people care much about?” He then proposed lift-and-strike. The idea was to lift sanctions on Bosnia and let them get weapons and strike with air power if the Serbs tried to overrun them. The Europeans objected to this (they had troops on the ground) and a kind of paralysis ensued which, to some degree, served both parties. That is, Clinton did not want to intervene and the Europeans perhaps did not want him to. Do you think that is fair to say?
JAN WILHEM HONIG: I would become undiplomatic, but the lift-and-strike policy was stupid. There is no other way--
MARK DANNER: We like it when you’re undiplomatic.
JAN WILHEM HONIG: It is lifting the arms embargo, arming the Bosnians to fight and suffer, in effect, and then believing that air power could actually meaningfully influence the conflict. It shows the misunderstandings of the nature of this particular war. It also shows the unwillingness to really engage with the conflict, which would have necessitated doing some dirty work yourself.
MARK DANNER: You are assuming that that was actually a real policy, that the Clinton Administration actually wanted to undertake that. I guess I am assuming the opposite, which is that they did not push it very hard, but it became a very useful fallback position to say, “We have a policy, lift-and-strike. Alas, the Europeans will not agree to it. Therefore...”
JAN WILHEM HONIG: There is some truth in that, but the lift-and-strike policy did not last for a very long time. However, it was taken quite seriously for a period of time.
MARK DANNER: I think we are coming to our end here.
JERRY FOWLER: I know you have a lot of questions. It always happens that we don’t get to all the questions but we have come to the end of our time.
Before we conclude, one thing I wanted to say is that on July 11th, we are going to open a special photographic display right outside of this auditorium called “Abandoned at Srebrenica: Ten Years Later.” It will have photographs by Bosnian photographer Tarik Samarah, and he will be here to speak at 2 p.m. on July 11th, along with Swanee Hunt, who has written a book about Bosnia. I encourage all of you to come back.
With that, once again, I would like to thank our partners at the Heinrich Boll Foundation for helping make this evening possible and then ask you to join me in thanking our excellent panelists.