As some of you might have seen, we ran an opinion piece last week calling for international intervention in Syria, in light of similarities with Bosnia in the early 90s. The authors were two Bosnians that I met in Sarajevo recently, and one of them, Reuf Bajrovic, sent me the article last week. Though TOL rarely, if ever, publishes pieces that predominantly deal with a country outside of our traditional coverage region, we felt that the authors made some cogent arguments and we learned ourselves that, for some, the debate around intervention in Syria has been very much informed by the Bosnian experience.

I exchanged a few emails with Reuf and learned about the authors’ personal motivations in penning this piece, which was also published in the Spanish daily El Pais:

This article came about as a result of emir and mine mutual disgust at cnn talking heads’ messages that the more arms there are in syria the more ppl will get killed. i grew up in turkey and usa a frustrated young man in the early 1990s listening to similar kind of crap used as a justification for the arms embargo imposed on army of bih. obviously, emir’s story is a bit darker than mine in that respect and the images of homs were his daily routine for about 3.5 yrs in srebrenica.

As we discussed an intervention that had actually happened (Libya), I was surprised to hear Reuf say that Bosnia had supplied the swing vote during the UN Security Council resolution that authorized military intervention against Gaddafi’s regime. With Reuf’s permission, I’m reprinting his (unedited) words here:

As you know, i was [Social Democratic Party head Zlato] lagumdzija’s advisor when the libya thing happened and bosnia was on the security council. to make matters more interesting, the bosnian ambassador in un is an sdp guy and it was up to lagumdzija and sdp to decide whether bosnia would support the unsc resolution that ultimately led to the bombing. us and the west had 8 out of 15 votes and had bosnia not voted the intervention would never have happened. 

i was strongly in favor of the bombing, so was lagumdzija, but there were ppl in sdp at that time, like there are now, who thought that the fact that there was no intervention in bosnia in the 90s was motivated by a lack of oil. i think that the average bosnian will more often than not think that it was not primarily the human rights concerns that pushed the west to bomb the colonel. 

lagumdzija and myself went to the white house last year to meet with tony blinken, nat sec adviser to biden, and he expressed great appreciation that this administration had for bosnia’s support for the unsc resolution. both blinken and samantha power framed libya as a human rights issue and talked about the right to protect. 

i’m telling you all this because i feel like the us made the right decision on libya primarily because of what was not done in bosnia which helped frame the resp to protect argument. the bosnian public will give the americans the benefit of the doubt if the talk is walked in syria, like it was in libya, or kosovo. 

bosnian media, like the bosnian ppl, are still on the fence. doing something about syria would help convince them that our suffering in the 90s  (which motivated us to vote against our short term economic interests and support bombing the colonel) was not in vain and that the us is more a country of woodrow wilson than machiavelli.

In the end, 10 countries voted for the resolution, and five abstained. A total of nine votes were needed, and Bosnia was the 9th and Portugal the 10th, Reuf said. “Portugal did not want to be the 9th vote and they decided to vote for, only after BiH explicitly stated that they were going to vote for,” he said.

I didn’t follow the UN Security Council vote closely enough to know if Bosnia’s role was truly known at the time, at least beyond the decision makers concerned with the mechanics of the vote.

But I wonder if the Libyan people today realize how much their country’s destiny may have been affected by a group of sympathetic Bosnians at that crucial moment of decision.

Jeremy Druker

Jeremy Druker is the executive director and editor in chief of Transitions Online. Twitter: @JeremyDruker Email: jeremy.druker@tol.org

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