Thursday, November 26, 2009

Zivela Bosna! - and a bit of history

JAJCE, capital of old kingdom, birthplace of republic, and below, Partisans of the Second Proletarian Brigade and Third Dalmatian Division being reviewed somewhere in Bosnia, 1943.

YESTERDAY, November 25, was Bosnia's national day, Dan državnosti, or Republic Day, and Bosnians celebrating will have been pleased that it was recognised by US President Barack Obama.

"On behalf of the American people, I extend my best wishes to all those who are celebrating the National Day of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our Nation stands with Bosnia and Herzegovina as it continues its journey from a war-torn past to a peaceful and stable future. I especially offer my congratulations to those in America that can trace their origins back to Bosnia and Herzegovina".

Only a small paragraph from a busy president, but then sometimes, little things mean a lot.

We may not normally make a big deal over particular days, as witness the way I missed this one till it and Obama's message were brought to my attention by a proud Bosnian friend in the United States. 'National' is not a word we like when it is used to pretend common interest between us and the boss, or we see corrupt politicians and lumpen thugs wrap themselves in the national flag. It is another matter however if your nationality, including you and your family, has had to fight for very existence.

Then again, sympathies apart, the independent republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina is barely 18 years old, its sovereignty restricted by foreign troops and the Dayton agreement, as well as the chunk carved out as Republika Srpska, and even its flag designed by a UN committee. What's so special about one day, anyway?

Well, it is important to realise that the full title of the national day is November 25, 1943.

It was late in 1943 that Yugoslav partisans established themselves in Jajce, amid the mountains of central Bosnia, and here they set up the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia, AVNOJ. Jajce had been the capital of the kingdom of Bosnia in the 14th century, but such sentimental considerations played less part than more pressing recent concerns in what the partisan leadership decided.

Bosnia and Hercegovina had been broken up into parts by the pre-war Yugoslav monarchy, and then mostly swallowed by the so-called independent Croatian state, NDH, set up by the Axis-backed Ustashe. These Croat fascists outdid the Nazis in savage murder of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, while in those parts of Bosnia where Serb Chetniks were active in 'ethnic cleansing', Muslims and Croats were massacred. The Nazis recruited a Muslim 'Handjar' division which also gained a reputation for atrocities. But in September 1942 there was a mutiny among Croat and Muslim soldiers whom the Wehrmacht had stationed in France. In Bosnia and Hercegovina people who wished neither to murder or be murdered by their neighbours were turning to the Communist partisans, as the one force that united different nationalities and did not engage in 'ethnic cleansing', concentrating, as Churchill noticed, on killing Nazis.

On November 25, 1943, the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia, with Tito at its helm announced that Bosnia and Herzegovina was to be a republic, with equality for its nationalities within a federal Yugoslavia. Interestingly enough, the Muslims were not yet recognised as a nationality, of which there were deemed to be five in Yugoslavia- Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Montenegrins and Macedonians (Kosovars were to be another problem!) - although there were Muslim partisan units. But Bosnia and Hercegovina was to be the sixth republic, shared equally. The conference's conclusions were later confirmed by the Yugoslavian constitution, and much later it became possible for Bosniacs to enter "Muslim" as their nationality if they so wished.

The Ustashe were outraged, declaring that Croatian territory was being taken from them by "Soviet imperialism"! Ironically, Stalin was not pleased either. He had warned the Yugoslav communists against turning AVNOJ into a government. The Soviet Union had raised and equipped a force of emigre Yugoslavs on its soil - and given them uniforms bearing the Royal Yugoslav crest! It was slower than the British to recognise and assist Tito's partisans.

But there it was, the logic of war had proved stronger than Stalinist bureaucracy in pushing the Yugoslav communists towards revolutionary actions for which they had not been theoretically prepared; and their effort to cope with the national conflicts led to them proclaiming Bosnia a state again, not to be fought over by its neighbours but shared by its peoples - in some ways a model for the future of Yugoslavia itself.

Alas as we know, with the fall of 'communism' , Bosnia was torn apart again, with the return of Ustashe and Chetniks, ethnic cleansing and genocide. We cannot pretend that the Bosnian government was blameless, let alone socialistic in its aims. But nor can we accept the attitude which ran from Tory Douglas Hurd through to the Socialist Workers Party, dismissing "all sides" in the Bosnian war as equally to blame. Hurd went from rejecting what he called an "equal killing field" , i.e. arms for Bosnia-Hercegovina, to doing business for NatWest Markets with Slobodan Milosevic. The SWP has gone from refusing to support Workers Aid for Bosnia('Muslims') to discovering something 'progressive' in political Islam. Still less can we forgive those who accepted the "socialism" of Slobodan Milosevic as reason to support Serb reactionaries, and pretended to honour the partisan tradition while collaborating with supporters of Radovan Karadzic and Vojtslav Seselj.

What did survive of the partisans' vision was in those Bosnians of whatever background who fought, like the Tuzla miners, or the Bosnian general Zivjak, an ethnic Serb, not for a Muslim Bosnia, let alone an Islamic state (which few Muslims would want) but for the multi-cultural Bosnia which they had known and in which they believed.

So what's in a day? Well, as we see in the discussion below, a week, or even four days, can be a long time in politics, especially if the events they commemorate were half a century, and two wars, apart.

"In the Federation (the Bosniak-Croat entity), 25 November is celebrated as Statehood Day. On this day in 1943, the Anti-Fascist Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ZAVNOBiH) adopted a resolution declaring Bosnia and Herzegovina an equal community of Serbs, Muslims and Croats. The Serbs deny the historical importance of this event, instead choosing to celebrate 21 November, the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995, when the Serbian entity, Republika Srpska, was established."

Zivela Bosna!

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At 11:42 PM, OpenID Owen said...

Thanks for speaking out against those who continue to minimise atrocities and deny the victims even the small consolation that the outside world acknowledges the truth of what they endured.


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