Bosnian War: a Very Costly Delay

"There is a moment that returns to me again and again. An old man emerges from a wood and makes his way towards where I am standing. The lovely green valley has tipped into autumnal browns and it is a cold, damp morning.

The old man is one of 40,000 people driven from their homes in the central Bosnian town of Jajce, and they have been walking for two days to reach safety.

The Bosnian war gave to the lexicon of conflict a grotesque new euphemism: ethnic cleansing. These are its latest victims.

I asked the man how old he was. He said he was 80. May I ask you, I said, are you a Muslim or a Croat? And the answer he gave me still shames me as it echoes down the decades in my head. I am, he said, a musician.

It was a rebuke to the convenient ethnic shorthand to which we reporters reduced the lives of fully rounded, blameless and accomplished human beings.

The Western democracies misread the war. For years. It was ancient ethnic hatreds. It was all sides equally guilty. It was the Balkans. There was nothing that could be done.

Graves of Srebrenica's Bosnian Muslim victimsThe 1995 Srebrenica massacre triggered more robust Western intervention

It wasn’t so. The refugees were not fleeing fighting. For the most part there wasn’t any fighting - the military imbalance was far too great in most places for that.

There was, instead, a huge military machine that went from municipality to municipality driving people from their homes. Many thousands were murdered; still more were detained in concentration camps where some were tortured or raped.

Costly delay

The war lasted 44 months. On average 100 people died every single day, for more than three and a half years. In a country the size of Scotland.

The Western democracies watched in anguished indecision until a single atrocity - Srebrenica - pushed the world to act. But Srebrenica was different only in scale from what had been happening for more than three years.”

(Source: BBC)

Bosnia Sarajevo Bosnian War ethnic cleansing Srebrenica