Partition cannot sustain peace: The UN may keep the streets of Sarajevo calm, but not indefinitely, says Mary Kaldor

Click to follow
IN SARAJEVO the ceasefire is holding. But no one is celebrating. It is partly because it was achieved through a massacre. It is partly caution. And it is partly because it has come too late: after nearly two years of siege, the famous 'spirit of Sarajevo' is ebbing away.

There are still people and groups who resist the war by defending secular culture. Haris Pasovic, the director of Sarajevo's theatre, is full of projects. The independent media survive despite shortages of everything, especially paper - a lively young people's magazine and independent radio stations. But more and more people, especially the young and educated, want to leave and forget. And there are signs of Islamisation, like the teaching of Arabic, though these are still remarkably undeveloped.

The market-place massacre induced a collective sense of shock. It was as if all the tragedies of the past two years had come to the surface. 'The whole city was crying,' one woman said. It was irrelevant who had fired the fatal mortar. After all, the Serbs have been shelling from the hills since the war began. Hearing the shifty responses from officials on both sides, I had the feeling that either side could have been responsible and that neither was sure they had not done it.

The ceasefire, which was negotiated before Nato's ultimatum and included the withdrawal of heavy weaponry, was the result of this collective shock and might have held even without the added threat of air strikes. When it was agreed the UN commander, General Sir Michael Rose, refused to accept signatures to the agreement on the grounds that signatures were meaningless: so many ceasefire agreements have been signed before and so many have been broken.

The most likely outcome of the ultimatum is a divided city under international military protection. The presence of French troops on, ironically, the Bridge of Brotherhood and Unity that divides Serb-held Grbavica from the rest of the city, is a remarkable sight. Violence will be reduced but sniper fire will continue. The city will remain under siege - there will be fighting all around, access will continue to be restricted to the air, and it will still be almost impossible to leave. The term used to describe the process is 'easing the siege'.

Air strikes are less likely. The Serbs have the least interest in breaking the ceasefire. They have got most of what they wanted in this part of Bosnia-Herzegovina and had already agreed in principle to a UN administration for Sarajevo. They have compensated for the humiliation of the ultimatum by defying the no-fly zone and intensifying their attacks on Bihac. The Bosnians (the Muslim-led government) have the most to gain by breaking the ceasefire. One scenario is that air strikes could lead to a new phase of the war in which the international presence on the ground is withdrawn, the arms embargo lifted and the Bosnian army tries to reconquer the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina with Western air support.

This scenario, however, runs counter to the logic of what is happening in Sarajevo and to the positions of the European Union, the UN and Russia. If the ceasefire is broken by the Bosnians, the order for air strikes is unlikely to be given.

Many people within the UN machinery are hopeful that this is a turning point and that, if the ceasefire holds, a peace agreement is close. If Mostar can also be brought under international military protection, then the international community can go on to negotiate an overall agreement.

In effect, such an agreement would sanction the ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina into a greater Serbia, a greater Croatia, and a rump state Bosnia. Give or take a few details - such as access to the sea and the return of refugees to towns in Serb- or Croat-held territory that used to be dominated by Muslims under the supervision of Unprofor - it can be argued that the Bosnian government has more or less accepted this. Hence the military logic of partition both in Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole will determine the political outcome.

But, I wonder, how many times have we been told that peace is near? The fresh fighting in Bihac may be a harbinger of further conflict. This war has had the longest ending of any war, the Feral Tribune, a critical newspaper in Croatia, argued this week. It started ending even before it began. Ethnic partition cannot be a long-lasting solution; it is a recipe for continued fragmentation and violence. The power of each warlord depends on a permanent war psychosis.

Even if an agreement is signed, it is unlikely to last. Moreover, the notion of preserving Sarajevo and Mostar as international military protectorates, or of returning refugees within an ethnically divided region, seems implausible.

Is there an alternative? Ethnic partition is based on the assumption that the war cannot be solved by outsiders and that ethnic hatred is deep-rooted, especially after two years of war. My impression is different. Most people do, even now, want to live together; they blame nationalists, gangsters and warlords, not their friends and neighbours who happen to come from different ethnic backgrounds. They support the nationalists out of fear and ignorance, a subservient mentality nurtured during the totalitarian years. They need help to find a viable political solution.

If the UN could build on the military protection of Sarajevo, to disarm the population, establish a civil administration that would reconstruct the city and allow people to move freely within the city and enforce throughways so that the city can be opened, this would provide space for multi-ethnic political alternatives to develop.

The same approach could be extended to Mostar, Tuzla, and other so-called safe areas and might gradually extend to the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In parallel, the idea of a UN transitional authority or a temporary international protectorate for the whole of Bosnia- Herzegovina could be revived as a new international negotiating platform in the talks.

Last week's events represent the most hopeful international initiative in this war so far. They could turn out to be just an episode in the continuing saga of international complicity in ethnic partition. They could be the prelude to further escalation of the war. Or they could be a turning point - the beginnings of a more principled international intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The author is reader in contemporary European studies at Sussex University.

(Photograph omitted)