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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


The War in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina 1991-95.
Branka Maga? and Ivo ?anić (eds.)

London: Frank Cass, 2001
xxxi + 383pp. Biblio. Hb: Ŗ34.50/$62.50 ISBN O-7146-5204-0. PB. Ŗ19.50/$26.50 ISBN 0-7146-8201 ?2

The wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) were the largest seen in Europe during the second half of the 20th century. This volume examines, in particular, the military and international dimensions of these conflicts. Academics from the area and further afield, along with military participants, and political figures, presented papers at a 1998 conference in Budapest which are published along with the accompanying discussions.

When the volume was first published in Zagreb and Sarajevo, it quickly sold out. Much interest was generated in revelations which had been slow to emerge during the conflict itself. Stjepan Mesić, today President of Croatia, described how, in his encounters with top officials of the Yugoslav army (JNA) in 1991, he was able to see how the force was ceasing to be committed to a multi-national state and increasingly prepared to throw its lot in with Slobodan Milo?ević and his bid to recentralise Yugoslavia around Serbia.

Several military commentators are at pains to counter the view that the JNA was a formidable military force, a widely-held viewpoint which encouraged the view among Western policy-makers that little could be done to prevent a strong Serbia emerging triumphant from the conflict.

Martin ūpegelj, Croatia?s first defence minister, claims it became ?a heap of weapons without soldiers? in 1991. Serbs in Serbia were notoriously unwilling to fight in conflicts beyond the frontiers of their republic, especially after the siege of Vukovar in late 1991 when this Danubian riverfront town (previously one of the most ethnically-mixed in the whole country) was captured at the cost of 5,000 lives.

Civil-military rivalries were a problem in Croatia and Bosnia as the ruling party sought to politicise the armed forces, one result, it is argued, being a weakening of their military effectiveness. In the Republic of Srpska (Serb-controlled Bosnia), similar conflicts erupted between officers with a communist formation and right-wing nationalist politicians.

Much evidence is provided for the collaboration between Franjo Tudjman, President of Croatia from 1991-99 and Milo?ević even after both their countries were at war. They both agreed to partition BiH and were prepared to accomplish the goal through ?a radical destruction of the social order there?.

The Croatian contributors argue that the war Tudjman mounted against Bih in 1993-4 was profoundly damaging for their own country. More Croatian soldiers were killed there than in all other theatres of war added together. ūpegelj publicly branded it at the time as ?an unjust war?; he argues that if, instead of fighting each other, the Croatian and Bosnian government forces had closed ranks, they would have been strong enough to drive Milo?ević?s forces back to the borders of Serbia by the end of 1992. As it was, such disunity enabled a militantly nationalist state to be consolidated on Croatia?s eastern frontier, something that poses a threat to its long-term security. There is also despondency about the departure of Serb populations from the Krajina area of Croatia, areas which it is reckoned will not be repopulated for 50-100 years.

This volume is weakened by the absence of Serbian commentators, but this defect is balanced by a readiness of the Croatian and Bosniak contributors to fiercely criticise intolerance in their own camps and to refrain from depicting the Serbian populace in Serbia proper or outside it in stereotypical terms. It provides much new information about how the poorly armed Croatian forces were able to halt the JNA in 1991, and how the defenders of Sarajevo were able to hold out against even more striking odds in the years that followed.

It is currently the best account in English of the military dimensions of the wars in the former Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1995, the testimonies of Croatian and Bosnian participants requiring a revision of commonly-held judgments about crucial aspects of the conflict.

Tom Gallagher, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford

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