CROATIA SAVED BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
VIEWPOINT FROM LONDON
by Brian Gallagher
The Croatian Herald 21 November 2003
Croatia is again taking half the blame for the war in
Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). Ex-Yugoslav Prime Minister
Ante Markovic at the Milosevic trial has spoken of a
deal between Milosevic and the late President Tudjman
of Croatia to divide BiH between themselves. The death
of ex-BiH president Alija Izetbegovic has also brought
out similar accusations. This perception of Croatia
has done much damage to the country. Whatever deals
may or may not have been made does not reflect the
reality of what actually happened; Croatia and Croats
in BiH saved the country. The Croatian government
should recast Croatia as the saviour of BiH.
It is alleged that in early 1991 Milosevic and Tudjman
agreed to divide BiH between Croatia and Serbia. This
may or may not be true. If it is, then clearly
Milosevic misled Tudjman. This division was to be
peaceful. The plan may seem disagreeable, but it
cannot be construed as a war crime.
Far more importantly the deal was off the moment
Serbia attacked Croatia. Significantly, Milosevic's
forces attempted to assassinate Tudjman by bombing his
palace in an air strike in October 1991. It is hard to
believe that Tudjman would have agreed to his own
Common sense dictates that this alleged deal is
meaningless - and more likely a way for Milosevic to
hide his true intentions from Tudjman by telling him
what he may have wanted to hear. Milosevic may have
strung that out with Tudjman for years after, if we
believe they kept in contact one way or the other. But
in any event, reality on the ground demonstrates there
was no actual 'carve-up'.
When the Serbs attacked BiH the first people to resist
were the Croats who had established some military
forces - the Croatian Defence Council (HVO).
Izetbegovic in Sarajevo had failed to prepare. On the
contrary, he invited the Yugoslav army into BiH.
Indeed, prior to that he gave invaluable assistance to
Serbia in its war against Croatia. During that war the
Serbs destroyed the Bosnian Croat village of Ravno.
Izetbegovic did not react.
Had it not been for the HVO, BiH would have been
overwhelmed almost immediately; there would be no BiH
today. If there was some deal between Milosevic and
Tudjman to divide BiH then why exactly did the HVO
fight the Serbs? Should not all their efforts have
been against the Muslims (Bosniaks)?
The Muslim-Croat war is frequently cited as evidence
of Croatia's bad intent towards BiH. But here things
are changing. Charles Shrader's superlative new
history of the conflict effectively rubbishes the
entire idea of a carve-up by establishing that it was
the Bosniak side that started the war in order to
cleanse Central BiH of its Croats. Shrader also points
out that the transit of arms via Croatia to BiH, the
continued co-operation of HVO and BiH forces
throughout the Muslim-Croat conflict - let alone the
fact that Izetbegovic placed his family in the safety
of Zagreb - is not exactly consistent with a carve-up.
Shrader is a respected American military historian.
Further, his book is published by the reputable
American Texas A&M University press's Eastern European
Studies. These studies have an editorial board which
contains people sympathetic to the BiH state, and who
were critical of Tudjman. In other words, this is a
book that is credible and cannot be dismissed as Croat
Zagreb should use this book to defend itself against
allegations of aggression against BiH. Indeed, given
Sarajevo's assistance to Serbia during the war against
Croatia, Zagreb has grounds to accuse Sarajevo of
collaborating with Serbian aggression. Despite that,
thousands of Bosniaks were accepted as refugees in
Croatia. If Croatia were an aggressor on the level of
Serbia why would Bosniaks seek refuge there? And why
would Croatia accept them - especially when it had its
own refugees to contend with.
The Muslim-Croat war was over in 1994 - with many
Croats 'cleansed' from Central BiH. Croat and Bosnian
forces then devoted all efforts against the Serbs. In
1995, Croatia launched Operation Storm. Croat forces
recaptured last swathes of its territory. In the
process, the beleaguered Bihac pocket in BiH was saved
from a Srebrenica style fate. Serb forces were rolled
back and peace in BiH was achieved. 49% of BiH was
given to the Serbs, not as part of any
Tudjman/Milosevic deal - but by the international
It was not Izetbegovic who saved BiH as has been
stated in tributes to him. The alleged
Milosevic/Tudjman deal as described by various
including Paddy Ashdown and Ante Markovic, bear no
relation whatsoever to what happened on the ground. It
was the Croatian Army, and the HVO that saved BiH.
Croatia should inform the world of this reality - or
face a future equated to those who besieged Sarajevo
and slaughtered thousands at Srebrenica.
My 'Viewpoint from London' column appears fortnightly
in the Australian 'Croatian Herald' and thereafter at
© Brian Gallagher