Berserkistan Navigator Silent Ethnic Cleansing
in Sarajevo

By Andras Riedlmayer

Monday, 3 June 1996

Point (Harvard University) -- This is nasty business and deserves to be called what it really is. It simply won't do, as the Bosnian govt official tries to insinuate, to say in one breath: "yes, it's a shame, but look what Serbs did to Muslims, at the no. of refugees we have to house etc." The fact that Muslims were driven out of their homes in Brcko or Banja Luka no more justifies their being planted in the homes of Sarajevo Serbs than the fact that Serbs were driven from their homes in Mrkonjic grad justifies their taking over the homes of Muslims driven out of Srebrenica.

People had all kinds of reasons for leaving Sarajevo during the war, and the Bosnian govt's 7-14 day deadline to reclaim abandoned apartments or forfeit them is just as much of a cynical ploy as Tudjman's legal maneuvers to seize the homes and property of Serbs who fled the Krajina and keep them from ever coming back.

The legal disposition of abandoned and alienated property at the end of a war is always a thorny issue -- half a century after the end of WW2, we're still seeing repercussions of this (e.g. in the case of Swiss bank accounts owned by Holocaust victims; of private art collections owned by Hungarian Jews seized first by the Nazis and then by Stalin as "war booty" etc.). I'd be curious to know to what extent the Dayton Accords address these issues.

Are such things governed by international conventions in general? or can local jurisdictions just do as they please (unless they're constrained in specific cases by the terms of peace treaties or other agreements)?

I don't buy the line that all sides are doing the same thing in Bosnia -- the methods, the pervasiveness, the extent certainly differ. But the operating principles are beginning to have some disturbing commonalities: policies that amount to officially sanctioned discrimination along ethnic lines (explicitly or in effect); ethno-ideological justifications ("our group deserves it because only we suffered - it's their group's turn to suffer now") neatly intersecting with the profit motives of certain members of the ruling party, their cronies and members of the military. Yes, refugees need housing, but I have neither sympathy nor patience for those who are cynically using the refugees' plight to advance questionable causes as well as their own pocketbooks.

"Yes, but..." will not do in this case, just as it won't do in Teslic or in Stolac.

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