Skip to main content
May 29, 1995
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 191
Milosevic's Dilemma

To B-H Or Not to B-H

by Nenad Stefanovic

When US representative in the Contact Group for Yugoslavia Richard Frasure negotiated with Slobodan Milosevic there were serious indications from Washington and other political centers in the world that a final agreement on the recognition of B-H borders was going to be reached. Encouraged by the allegedly positive signals, British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd claimed that Milosevic's final recognition would open the door to negotiations and a solution to the most serious European crisis after World War Two. Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic expressed his Government's readiness to sign a several-months-long cease-fire on recognition. That the whole thing had gone pretty far was confirmed by pleas from Pale (Bosnian Serb political center) to Milosevic not to betray and "not recognize that which couldn't be recognized in 1992", because this would practically mean that the "Serbs were the only guilty party for the war", as Republic of Srpska President Radovan Karadzic put it.

What took place during the week-long negotiations between Milosevic and Frasure and why all this diplomatic thunder didn't produce any rain, will probably be explained one day in the memoirs of the US diplomat who negotiated for the longest single period with the Serbian President. It wasn't possible to learn much from the domestic state media except that Frasure and later the Russian Contact Group member Alexander Zotov, arrived in Belgrade only to disappear to Karadjordjevo.

The first explanation which followed Frasure's return to Washington was that Slobodan Milosevic had asked for too much this time - the total lifting of sanctions and not just their suspension for 200 days, which was all that the USA was prepared to offer.

In some subsequent interpretations of the Milosevic-Frasure meeting, it was possible to hear that the Serbian President's main demand was that the right to succession be recognized to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and that its membership in international organizations be clearly defined. This was something that the USA was not prepared to accept. According to other interpretations, things got stuck because Milosevic insisted on guarantees that Washington wouldn't use sanctions for blackmail in future, and these were the 20% of the negotiations that Frasure didn't manage to agree on. "It is quite possible that an agreement wasn't reached this time because of the lack of trust on both negotiating sides", said professor of the Belgrade School of Law Vojin Dimitrijevic talking to VREME. "In international law, as in life, nothing can be achieved without trust. In this case none believe in a gentlemen's agreement - the international negotiators don't believe that Yugoslavia will keep its word for the next 200 days and the Yugoslav side doesn't believe that sanctions won't be introduced after the 200 days have passed. Those on our side who are negotiating have been taught that the West and the Latins must never be trusted. On the other hand, the other side also believes that it is negotiating with the descendants of Communist apparatchiks, inhabitants of the Balkans who are hypocrites and like to cheat."

The regime fears that it could be tricked in the end, but this doesn't necessarily mean that Milosevic might not recognize B-H soon if he is happy with the price. In the event that the borders are recognized, Belgrade will not recognize B-H President Alija Izetbegovic, who said recently that "Milosevic had privately recognized them", and that he was just searching for a good explanation now. At the same time, it is assumed that when the time for the final "recognition" does come, it won't be made by Milosevic himself. He prefers the role of prompter, and the honor, according to the Constitution, will very likely go to Federal Prime Minister Radoje Kontic. From the international-legal aspect none of this is controversial. By accepting the Contact Group's plan and allowing foreign monitors on the border along the Drina River, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has gone a long way in the direction of recognizing Bosnia-Herzegovina.

From the international-legal point of view, there don't seem to be any significant obstacles to recognizing B-H, just as it is even more obvious that the reasons for the postponing and vacillating must be looked for at the so-called "internal plane". The failure of Frasure's mission can be linked to many things, mostly to the lower price concerning sanctions and the exceptionally bad timing of such a decision. Diplomatic pressure to recognize B-H gained in intensity immediately after events in Western Slavonija which left scars and the unpleasant impression that the brethren across the Drina River had been abandoned.

Slobodan Milosevic needs time to figure out the depth of the scars on the "Serbian national being" which would result from an eventual decision on the recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina and how much propaganda would be needed to make them heal. It will probably be easier to deal with the arguments put forth by a part of the opposition from the "national bloc" who claim that recognition won't change things. The opposite line can be taken here - "If nothing is going to change for our Serbs over there, then why shouldn't we recognize the state?"

It will be a bit more difficult to neutralize the radical wing of the national bloc. Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj has announced a big rally for mid June in Belgrade with the idea if unsettling the regime and demanding early elections.

Apart from the need for more deliberation with regard to recognition, Knin and Pale have announced the imminent unification of the Republic of Serb Krajina (RSK) and the Republic of Srpska (RS) by the end of the month. The announced unification sounds far more serious this time than on previous occasions when Belgrade managed to prevent such a move.

Two days before the announced unification of the RSK and the RS, the Federal Assembly will hold a closed session. It has been said that a declaration on the negotiating process could be adopted, one which would be broad enough to subsequently justify concrete moves in recognizing the former Yugoslav republics. Without the presence of television, Seselj's protest and disagreement won't amount to much. This means that the Socialists have a safe majority in the Assembly.

© Copyright VREME NDA (1991-2001), all rights reserved.