Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ghost of Srebrenica reappearing

It is more than a decade since one of the bloodiest events of European history happened in Srebrenica, Bosnia - Herzegovina. And while Srebrenica women still mourn after their slaughtered fathers, husbands and sons, the event is often being abused by politicians. Recent statement of the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov that "Russian leadership decided not to leave its peacekeepers to their fate [in Georgia], not to allow... ethnic cleansing as it had happened in Srebrenica." is one fine example of that.

One cannot go by this statement without noticing an amazing hypocrisy behind this statement. Indeed, the Russian claim of several thousand killed civilians (reported numbers after the end of the war are around one hundred) has proven as a huge exaggeration in order to justify the invasion. But there are also strong evidences that Georgian intentions were not only to regain control over rebel province of South Ossetia but also expel Ossetian population. The fact that Georgian made a "humanitarian" corridor in order to let civilian population to leave province is definitely a signal of it. On the other hand, Russian "peacekeepers" in Georgia did not prevent ethnic cleansing, but only channeled its direction. The remaining ethnic Georgians are leaving South Ossetia as well as Abkhazia, leaving destroyed homes behind. Russian military forces are most probably not directly involved, letting Ossetians and Abkhazians do the dirty work themselves. But all this is just continuation of events in 1993, when Russians let or even sponsored expulsion of about 250.000 ethnic Georgians from Abkhazia, which by then represented majority population of the province. In bloody post-Soviet wars between different ethnicities in Europe, in which all sides' aim was annihilation of the enemy population, Russian "peacekeeping" forces have never prevented annihilation, but have instead controlled which population is to be annihilated according to their strategic interests.

Recalling Srebernica events reveals another, even greater hypocrisy. For that we have to remind ourselves again of the events surrounding encircled Srebrenica area. The area with several thousand Bosniak civilians and negligible fighting potential was declared safe zone by UN and protected by Dutch NATO forces. Disregarding international law and humanitarian causes, it was mercilessly overcame by Serbian forces, followed by the slaughter of at least 5000 Bosniak civilians, among them children and women. However, Russia was much more than just a mere observer of the events: Supporting Serbian side morally and diplomatically makes Russia accessary to the Srebernica genocide.

However, Lavrov makes one disturbing message that relates specifically to Europe. Despite the area of Srebrenica is in the middle of Europe, the UN mandate was - ironically - accomplished mainly because of the US determination to stop the bloodshed. And despite UN mandate and superior NATO training, Dutch forces retreated without firing a single shot before advancing Serbian forces. Lavrov statement indeed sends one valid message: The Europe had all that is necessary, political mandate as well as military resources, to stop genocide in Srebrenica ... and it failed. Due to its impotence, from now on Russia shall take matters in its hands.

What is this Lavrov's message telling us? After break up of Soviet union and Yugoslavia, several ethnic wars erupted in Europe. With Russia on its knees, USA and western Europe enjoyed practically undisputable diplomatic and military hegemony over the World. Any yet they did practically nothing so stop these wars, allowing weak Russia to handle matters according to its own selfish interests. And even if there was clear public and political desire to stop slaughter, European nations were reluctant to use military pressure in support of it. The question is, why do one has arms if one is not prepared to use them, not even as a viable threat? There is no wonder why European public requests reduction of military expenses and even questions the mere sense of the NATO in a situation when the only function of expensive killer machines seems to be promenading at state holidays or support American military actions.

In fact, after 60 years of peace under NATO umbrella, most of the western Europe takes freedom and liberty for granted. But as history teaches us, this freedom is potentially under threat in every single moment. One cannot be too cautious: Nobody anticipated that the march of a weak German army into chanting Austria 70 years ago could possibly endanger freedom of the whole Europe. Russia cannot be compared to Hitler's Germany, but its move into Georgia was similar in one thing: it is simply the test of European indulgence. Russian activities seen in Georgia could be easily stepped up next time. Russian-driven Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 already provide a precedence. Because of its first-hand experiences eastern Europe is painfully aware of the fact that Europe must take greater responsibility in matters of European security and act on basis of mutual solidarity. Hopefully, western European nations will realize that too, before it will be too late.

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