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1. Patterns of Serbian Violence


THE FOLLOWING CHAPTERS DISCUSS THREE distinct arenas of Serbian state violence. The first is Bosnia during 1992 and 1993, when Serbian officials tacitly encouraged semi-private Serbian nationalists to engage in ethnic cleansing as part of an undercover effort to secure disputed lands. The second arena includes ethnically mixed regions of Serbia known as the Sandžak and Vojvodina. In both regions, the Serbian state blocked Serbian national radicalism to a certain extent, capping levels of private Serbian paramilitary violence. The third arena is Kosovo, where Serbia moved from ethnic policing in 1990–97 to ethnic cleansing in 1998–99. Serbia's style of violence in Bosnia, Sandžak/Vojvodina, and Kosovo diverged because these three were very different sorts of institutional settings. Before launching into a detailed discussion of each arena, however, I begin with a theme common to all three: Serbia's nationalist resurgence in the 1980s and early 1990s.

In 1979 the Yugoslav economy began to crash, plunging the country into political and economic crisis. The economy had been heavily dependent on Western credit, so when repayment conditions tightened, the national debt skyrocketed. These economic pressures metamorphosed into nationalist struggles, however, largely due to Yugoslavia's federal arrangements, which generated tendencies toward nationalist conflict.

Over the years, Yugoslavia's communist party[1] had responded to domestic calls for political liberalization by decentralizing the country along republican lines, granting progressively more powers to individual party branches in each of the country's six republics, as well as to the two autonomous provinces within Serbia, Kosovo and Vojvodina. By the late 1970s, decentralization had spawned a loosely allied set of republicanbased territorial oligarchies, each of which enjoyed significant autonomy. Inter-oligarchy conflicts tended to become nationalist, however, because each republic (with the exception of Bosnia) was associated with one of Yugoslavia's constituent nations.[2] By devolving power to the republics and then defining them in national terms, the Yugoslav leadership had inadvertently hardwired nationalism into the federal political system. Conflicts between regional bureaucracies could easily escalate into national struggles whenever republican leaders mobilized their bureaucracies and public opinion.[3] With only a weak federal structure cutting

across republican boundaries, there was limited opportunity for the emergence of an all-Yugoslav identity.[4] Although the communist party as a whole was committed to suppressing nationalist sentiment, its efforts were constantly undercut by the country's built-in drift toward nationalist conflict.

Serbia's unique administrative position within socialist Yugoslavia generated particularly strong incentives for nationalist mobilization. In 1974, Yugoslavia's rulers finalized a new constitution codifying amendments made during the 1967–71 period, giving significant powers to Serbia's internal provinces, Vojvodina and Kosovo, which were granted a vote in federal and republican forums. Thus Serbia, unlike other republics, was unable to fully control its own territory and was often contradicted by Kosovo and Vojvodina in federal forums. Serbian nationalists also complained that ethnic Serbs were punching below their proper political weight because many of their number were scattered throughout Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Vojvodina. Although (according to Serb estimates) ethnic Serbs comprised some 40 percent of former Yugoslavia's general population, some Serbs complained that these numbers were not matched by concomitant political power at the federal level. In the words of sociologist Veljko Vujačić, Serbia was an "incomplete hegemon" despite the central role it had played in Yugoslav politics earlier in the century.[5] As nationalist Serbian intellectuals often argued, Serbs had suffered enormously during the last 200 years, first in wars against the Ottoman occupiers, then in World War I battles with the Habsburgs, and finally in World War II struggles with the Ustaše, the fascist Croatian party.[6] Yet despite these sacrifices, the nationalists said, Yugoslavia's communist-created political system kept Serbia down.

Tensions between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo highlighted Serbia's perceived predicament. Kosovo holds a central place in Serbian history, national identity, and literary thought as the heart of the medieval Serbian empire, the site of Serbia's most symbolically important (albeit practically insignificant) battle with the Ottomans, and the place from which some Serbs fled into exile in the seventeenth century.[7] Between 1945 and 1966, Kosovo's Albanians were often ruled harshly by a Serb-dominated communist party branch, but after 1968, decentralization permitted ethnic Albanians in some instances to gain the upper hand, creating a tense atmosphere for members of the province's ethnic Serb minority. In the early 1980s, Serbian discontent was exacerbated by the economic crisis and ethnic Albanian efforts to transform Kosovo into a full republic. Some local Serbs already felt discriminated against in the

distribution of public resources and feared that if Kosovo became a republic, their plight would only worsen. Increasingly, a number of Serbian journalists and writers published articles alleging that ethnic Albanians were waging a deadly campaign of violence, harassment, and terror against Kosovo's Serbs.[8] As a result, the Serbian communist leadership in Belgrade felt trapped. If it cracked down on ethnic Albanians, other republics would accuse it of national chauvinism, and if it curtailed the province's autonomous powers, Yugoslavia's broader federal balance would be disrupted. If the party failed to support Kosovo Serbs, however, leaders would face bitter condemnation from Serbian patriots and nationalists. As the leadership dithered, Kosovo's Serbs launched a rare and highly successful social movement. Aided by nationalist intellectuals and concerned parliamentarians in Belgrade, Kosovo Serbs managed to radicalize the Serbian political environment, pushing their grievances to the forefront of Serbia's political stage.

Increased debate in Belgrade over Kosovo dovetailed with the heightened profile of Serbia's nationalist counter-elite, a diverse group of dissidents who had long criticized the Yugoslav communists for oppressing Serbia, suppressing democracy, and downplaying communist atrocities during and after the Second World War.[9] Prior to the mid-1980s, this group consisted of disunited strands of nationalists, radical Marxists, democratic liberals, Serbian patriots, and others, but toward the mid- 1980s, these strands began to coalesce in an increasingly cogent nationalist critique of communism and Yugoslav federalism. In particular, leading intellectuals wrote prolifically about once-taboo subjects such as Serbian suffering and longing for national and territorial unity. Writers even began to depict World War II Serbian royalists in a more positive light, casting doubt upon the communist party's official version tagging royalist četnici as fascist collaborators. Although these views violated the communist party's ban on national chauvinism, Belgrade had a tradition of intellectual tolerance, and Serbia's post-Tito leadership was loathe to wrangle with the increasingly popular nationalists. The nationalist revival encouraged the Kosovo Serb protest movement; the counter-elite wanted to weaken the communists, and Kosovo Serbs wanted the authorities to defend their rights. Together, the two pushed Serbian politics rightward, generating a groundswell of anticommunism, patriotism, and increasingly radical nationalism.

The Serbian communist party branch was thus simultaneously engaged in internal debates over Kosovo, inter-republic struggles, and the broader Yugoslav economic crisis. Then, a faction led by party functionary

Slobodan Milošević launched a bid for party supremacy, at a time when Serbian nationalist critiques played an increasingly central role in intraparty discussions.[10] Milošević argued in party forums that Serbian republican rights were being violated and that the existing leadership was not fighting back. Some of Milošević's opinions were made public, and his use of the nationalist counter-elite's arguments resonated with many in the broader Serbian public. Milošević's faction ultimately came to power in a 1987 party vote overturning the old guard and appointing Milošević party secretary, and soon after, he mounted a broadbased campaign to revitalize the party and coopt nationalist themes. His efforts included direct appeals to Serbian popular opinion, a tactic hitherto ignored by Yugoslavia's more conservative communist leadership. Helped by Serbian activists from Kosovo, a reinvigorated Serbian communist party organized street rallies stressing the urgency of fighting for Serbian political rights, as well as the somewhat contradictory need to return to communism's early years, when altruism and sacrifice were central motivating themes. In mass rallies termed an "antibureaucratic revolution," Milošević attacked the traditional party bureaucracy for complacency and selfishness. More concretely, he criticized the independent provincial party leadership in Kosovo and Vojvodina for crippling Serbia through obstructionism during federal votes, and failing to defend legitimate ethnic Serb and republican interests. Milošević soon managed to revoke many of Kosovo and Vojvodina's constitutional powers, promising that Kosovo Serbs would no longer be subordinate to ethnic Albanian communist party cadres. In so doing, Milošević satisfied one of the Serbian nationalist counter-elite's most pressing demands.

Although analysts tend to see Milošević's efforts purely in nationalist terms, his message was in fact more complex. As Serbian political scientist Slobodan Antonić argues, Milošević adopted a Janus-faced style in which he stressed a return to communist fundamentals for one set of supporters and promoted Serbian national rights for another. "At each public appearance," Antonić writes, "Milošević displayed both faces."[11] According to sociologist Veljko Vujacćic, Milošević fashioned a unique left-right combination, which broadened his appeal to include Serb citizens from across the political spectrum. By coopting the nationalist counter-elite's message, Milošević captured much of their popular appeal.

In the period immediately preceding the 1990 collapse of Yugoslav communism, the Serbian communist party branch had thus become an energetic, popular, and confident group. It had preformed well during the

antibureaucratic revolution, demonstrated its popular appeal, proved its nationalist credentials, and distanced itself from the stigmatized old guard. Unlike communist successor parties in other Yugoslav republics, Serbia's Socialist Party survived the 1990 multiparty vote with enough support to lead Serbia into the new multiparty era.[12]

At the same time, post-1990 voting patterns and opinion polls suggest that patriotic and nationalist sentiment was relatively strong in Serbia. During 1990–93, for example, ethnic Serbs consistently voted for selfconsciously Serbian parties. Small non-nationalist or non-Serbian parties fared relatively poorly, [13] suggesting that ethnicity was the best predictor of voting preferences.[14] According to a poll by the Belgrade Institute for Social Sciences, "Intolerance and national homogenization" became "important characteristics of political life in Serbia after 1989," with a 1993 finding of "hyper-patriotism" among 67 percent of the voting public.[15] Another poll revealed that 89 percent of the republic's ethnic Serbs viewed ethnic Serbs favorably, compared to 81 percent disliking ethnic Albanians, 75 percent disliking Muslim Slavs, and 74 percent disliking ethnic Croats.[16] A similar 1995 poll demonstrated only minor changes.[17]

Toward the end of 1991, when the specter of Bosnian independence loomed large, concern within the Serbian republic for the fate of Bosnia's ethnic Serb population increased. A 1992 poll indicated that 50 percent of respondents within the Serbian republic supported extending political and material assistance to ethnic Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia. In 1993, 56 percent favored creating a league of ethnically Serb states, including the Bosnian Serb–held territories.[18] In the same year, 75 percent of the Serbian public thought its government's attempts to protect ethnic Serbs living in Bosnia and Croatia were a priority or a highly desirable goal, and 68 percent thought Bosnian Serbs should keep all or most of the land they had conquered during the 1992 fighting.[19]

There is no reliable polling data on public attitudes for the 1980s, and we cannot definitively say that ethnic Serbs in the early 1990s were more nationalistic than before. It seems likely, however, that Yugoslavia's breakup, the antibureaucratic revolution, the Serbian nationalist revival, and perceived external security threats made ethnic Serbs increasingly experience feelings of antagonism toward their non-Serb neighbors. Although contested, nationalism was clearly a powerful force in Serbian political life.

Ironically, however, popular commitment to democracy in Serbia also grew stronger during the 1990–93 period. How does rising Serbian ethnocentrism square with increased popular commitment to democratic

rule? Analyst Nicholas Miller, for one, argues that Serbian voters were democratically united in favor of aggressive nationalism. "While Serbian politicians differ on many important economic and political issues," Miller says, "the national question is not often one of them."[20] Although Serbia might have been internally democratic in the early 1990s, he argues, the "democracy that most Serbs honestly espouse is collective and exclusive." Miller, in other words, suggests that Serbian democracy for ethnic Serbs was offset by their contempt for ethnic others.

There was, however, some real disagreement among Serbs over concrete policy choices. Aleksander Pavkovich distinguishes between the "Serbian national idea," defined primarily as support for Serbian political and territorial unification in the early 1990s, and "Serbian national ideologies," or strategies aimed at achieving national unity.[21] Whereas no explicitly Serbian party could afford to abandon the notion of Serbian unification, card-carrying nationalists expressed substantial differences over the best possible ways to achieve that goal, including disagreements over where the borders of a unified Serbia should lie.

There is polling data to support Pavkovich's notion, suggesting that while the ethnic Serbs in Serbia proper broadly supported Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia and did not want non-Serbs in Serbia to gain too much power, they also disagreed over how best to achieve those goals. In October 1992, shortly after the first wave of Bosnian ethnic cleansing peaked, over 60 percent of ethnic Serbs supported dialogue and mutual concessions with Serbia's own ethnic minorities, including ethnic Albanians, Croats, and Muslim Slavs. Only 14 percent thought the state should respond with the energetic use of force to "any attempt by minorities [within Serbia] to change any aspect of their present position." Over 60 percent supported prosecution of Serbian ultranationalists seeking to evict Croats from their homes in Vojvodina.[22] A 1995 survey of ethnic Serbs living in Serbia found only limited support for pushing ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo, a remarkable finding given the ethnic cleansing campaign launched against Albanians in 1999. Only 17 percent of 200 persons polled favored Albanian depopulation, and 62 percent supported a solution that left ethnic Albanians in their homes and governed by the same laws that applied to Serbs.[23] The Serbian public was also of two minds when it came to the use of force in Bosnia. In 1990, well before the Bosnian war began, a survey showed only 24 percent believing "Serbia" should be militarily redefined to include any territory where ethnic Serbs lived.[24] In October 1992, only 2.6 percent thought that Serbia should send arms and men to support the Bosnian

Serbs, and a similarly small percentage favored direct military intervention in Bosnia by the newly reduced, rump Yugoslavia army.[25]

Serbia's political leaders also voiced divergent views on policy, ranging from nationalist ultra-radicalism to quasi-liberal moderation. The radical hard edge was spearheaded by Vojislav Šešelj, a former anticommunist dissident whose Serbian Radical Party consistently sought to outflank Milošević's Socialists from the right. The Radicals performed well in the 1992 elections, polling 22 percent of the popular vote to Milošević's 29 percent.[26] Throughout the early 1990s, Šešelj consistently used inflammatory language to advocate Greater Serbia positions, arguing that the delineation of Serbia's western borders was the country's main challenge and supporting the use of force, either by the Yugoslav federal army or Serbian republican forces, to expand Serbian territory.[27] Šešelj also advocated a hard line against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, calling on the government to crush unrest with "all possible means"[28] and threatening non-Serbs with deportation.[29] He proposed granting Bosnian Muslims only 18 percent of Bosnia's territory, keeping the rest for Bosnia's Serbs, and using "all means" to crush Bosnian Muslim "fundamentalists."[30]

A second militant voice was that of Vuk Drašković, a famed writer who launched some of the first attacks on the Serbian communist party's alleged mishandling of the Kosovo conflict. Later, Drašković distinguished himself by being the first prominent actor to introduce blatantly anti-Islamic rhetoric into modern Serb nationalist discourse and was among the first to use anti-Muslim language publicly in the Sandžak, the partially Muslim area within Serbia and Montenegro.[31] In 1989, Drašković began promoting Greater Serbia, but then reversed course in 1991, warning it would prove impossible to divide Bosnia along ethnic lines and protesting the Croatian war.[32] By early 1992, Drašković was simultaneously a nationalist and an antiwar activist, complaining the fighting had ruined Serbia.[33] Dobrica ćosić, another prominent nationalist and anticommunist, was also ambivalent, although unlike Drašković, he never publicly protested the war. ćosić advocated Serb unity and support for Bosnian Serbs in Belgrade, but never specified how he would handle the presence of non-Serbs and never used the violent terminology of Vojislav Šešelj. The Belgrade nationalist counter-elite, in other words, did not speak with one voice when it came to translating Serbian nationalism into concrete policies.

Milošević, the ex-communist leader, developed a synthesis of socialist and nationalist ideas, alternately invoking a return to early communism

and emphasizing Serbian national rights. Milošević's rhetoric was often ambivalent, never clearly advocating war and ethnic cleansing, but never fully supporting peace and nonviolence either. In 1990, Milošević promised to give "material and moral support" to ethnic Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia, but said nothing explicit about military aid.[34] He also did everything he could to rhetorically separate himself from events in Bosnia, promising to fully respect non-Serb rights in Serbia. In 1990 Milošević attacked radical nationalists, calling Drašković and Šešelj "hotheads"[35] and keeping public distance from them and other extremists throughout the early 1990s, even while tacitly using them as paramilitary enforcers.[36] According to political scientist Zoran Slavujević, Milošević's Socialists were "consistently inconsistent," voicing nationalist concerns one week and using the language of multinational tolerance the next.[37] Milošević himself never clearly articulated his preferences, keeping the public guessing as to how far he might go in support of Greater Serbia. As sociologist Eric Gordy notes, Milošević can rightly claim to have never publicly advocated the nationalist positions articulated by his colleagues and allies.[38]

Despite the rise of nationalism in popular discourse, in other words, there was no clear public consensus over how best to achieve Serbian national goals. The ultranationalist right used harsh language suggestive of ethnic cleansing, but others adopted a less militant line in public. Milošević's rhetorical caution exemplifies this ambivalence. Serbia's leadership was indubitably nationalist, but that did not translate into a consistent bundle of clear policy choices. To understand why ethnic cleansing took place in some areas but not others, we must examine the diverse range of institutional settings in which Serbian nationalist discourse, and its subsequent violence, was embedded.


2. Bosnian Frontier Formation

Bosnia was transformed into a frontier in the spring of 1992 when it escaped formal Yugoslav control and won international recognition of its independence. Serbia had by then become the dominant player in the collapsing Yugoslav federation, and international acceptance of Bosnian sovereignty meant that the republic was slipping from Serbia's formal political orbit. The result was not true Bosnian independence, however, but rather frontier-like status vis-à-vis its powerful Serbian neighbor. Bosnian actions played a key role in this process, but similar challenges to Serbian concerns were occurring elsewhere, including in Kosovo and the Sandžak. It was Western support for Bosnian sovereignty that proved crucial, transforming Bosnian efforts into a successful bid for independence. In their support, Western powers were vaguely well meaning, hoping to prevent war by prohibiting Serbian cross-border intervention. These commitments were not backed by military muscle, however, and no Western troops were deployed to enforce the new Bosnia-Serbia border.

Serbia's official links to the region were thus severed by international fiat, which denied Serbian (or Yugoslav) juridical sovereignty over Bosnia. Had this not been the case, Serbia might have occupied or annexed portions of Bosnia, building an infrastructural regime of power. International insistence on Bosnian sovereignty blocked that option, however, and Serbia responded by covertly backing frontier-style ethnic cleansing. This chapter discusses why Bosnia was able to attract international support

for its independence, despite international norms militating against secessionism.[1]


The Bosnian frontier emerged in full form on April 6 and 7, 1991, when first the U.S. and then the European Community recognized its sovereignty.[2] Until late 1991, Bosnia's largely Muslim leadership was reluctant to demand independence, realizing the move would provoke war. Prior secessionist successes by Slovenia and Croatia made it difficult for Bosnia to stay put, however. These two northern Yugoslav republics had begun their own escape soon after Yugoslavia's first multiparty elections in 1990–91, with first Slovenia and then Croatia declaring the intention to secede. Yugoslav federal troops intervened first in Slovenia during summer 1991, but Western European diplomats quickly intervened, convincing Yugoslav generals to withdraw. Soon after, tensions erupted into fighting in Croatia, with some federal troops lending a helping hand to local Serb militias. European mediators intervened yet again, and in December 1991, a European arbitration commission accepted requests by the Slovenian and Croatian republican governments for international recognition of their territorial sovereignty. UN peacekeepers were deployed to monitor a second Yugoslav federal withdrawal.

Bosnia's Muslim leadership sought European recognition on December 23, 1991, over the objections of Bosnian Serb leaders hoping to remain in the slimmed-down Yugoslavia. Bosnian Serbs could not understand why, if Yugoslavia's territory was being divided up, they couldn't take part of Bosnia with them. The international insistence on dividing up Yugoslavia according to its old republican boundaries seemed to them irrational and unjust, privileging republican rights over those of nations, and placing ethnic Serbs in Bosnia at a distinct disadvantage.

Why were Slovenia and Croatia so eager to secede? Above all, the broader Yugoslav drift toward nationalism, centered largely on the country's republican entities, was affecting all political units in the federation, but Slovenia and Croatia also had strong economic incentives to secede. Slovenia, as the richest and most likely to gain European Community membership, was particularly eager to rid itself of the other, less successful, Yugoslav republics, and the Slovenian communist party was the most explicitly pro-sovereignty in the mid-1980s. The Croatian party branch was also intrigued by the notion, but its commitment to secession developed later, largely due to the legacy of 1967–71, when the

party purged an earlier generation of nationalists from its ranks. Toward the end of the 1980s and in 1990, however, Croatian nationalists earned increasing popular support. Croatia faced economic incentives similar to those of Slovenia, and both republics were made anxious by the tone of Milošević's antibureaucratic revolution.

Slovenian and Croatian secessionism was also part of a broader Eastern European phenomenon. The end of the Cold War had made it seem possible for some formerly communist states to join the European Community, generating massive pressures throughout the region. Within Yugoslavia, this resulted in inter-republican competition, with each portraying itself as more "European" than the others.[3] Discourse in Slovenia and Croatia reflected this phenomenon as Catholic politicians portrayed themselves as more civilized than the Orthodox Serbs, whom they characterized as an unsophisticated and violent people "corrupted" by their long subjection to Ottoman rule.

In 1990, Yugoslavia's first multiparty elections gave secessionists enormous energy. As a plethora of new parties jostled for popular support, each republic's political agenda was swept toward nationalism and secessionism, leading to a spiraling security dilemma. Ethno-nationalist sentiments on all sides fed off each other, and as activists within each group prepared to confront the others, levels of mutual threat and suspicion increased.[4]


Little of this would have mattered had the international environment not been unusually conducive to the breakup of socialist Yugoslavia. A set of unique circumstances had emerged in the early 1990s, creating a window of opportunity for the northern Yugoslav republics.[5] Slovenian and Croatian elites skillfully took advantage of that window, maneuvering with great skill to maximize Western European support for their independence. The more republican elites pushed, the larger the international window became.

Chief among these international factors was Yugoslavia's declining geopolitical significance. During the Cold War, Western allies were committed to Yugoslavia's territorial integrity as a bulwark against Soviet expansion. This, of course, was no longer a priority after the Soviet collapse. Second, Western Europe was becoming an increasingly autonomous political actor, with special emphasis on the newly united Germany. With the United States preoccupied with the Gulf War and

post-Soviet crises, an explicit burden-sharing agreement gave Western Europe priority over relations with Eastern Europe, and Germany was central to this effort. Thus if Slovenia and Croatia could gain allies in Germany, they would be well on their way toward securing Western support for independence.

The third change was the increased salience of two key themes in European political discourse. German unification and the later Baltic independence movements had promoted the theme of "small states liberating themselves from communist hegemonies," and Croatia and Slovenia worked hard to portray their desire for independence within that context. Their representatives argued that the non-Serbian republics were being oppressed by the Belgrade-based Serbian communists, who were unwilling to set them free. They also emphasized their commitment to nonviolence, easing Western Europe's fears of postcommunist violence. Thus when Yugoslav federal forces swung into action in Slovenia and then Croatia, they seemed to be crossing a West European red line, transforming Serbia and the Yugoslav army into perceived aggressors. Key European decision makers saw Croatia and Slovenia as oppressed states struggling to liberate themselves from violent communists, not as secessionists bent on disrupting the international legal system.

Still, neither Croatia nor Slovenia would have been able to take advantage of international conditions had they not enjoyed support from key constituencies within Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. In those countries, allies lobbied for Slovenian and Croatian liberation and in Germany, successfully pushed the government into recognizing Slovenian and Croatian independence. The politics of recognition became enmeshed in domestic German struggles, with Slovenian and Croatian independence being compared to German reunification efforts. This interpretation was boosted, in turn, by Germany's Croat émigré community, Vatican lobbying, and media support. Yugoslav dissolution had become entangled in German domestic politics, with important ramifications for all former Yugoslav republics.[6]

Once the Bosnian fighting began, Western players and an array of international organizations protested Serbian cross-border intervention. In May 1992, the UN Security Council accepted Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia into the General Assembly as full member states, confirming earlier U.S. and European actions.[7] The Council condemned both Croatia and Serbia for their Bosnian interference and demanded that the (by then) Serbian-controlled Yugoslav federal army be withdrawn, disbanded,

or disarmed.[8] Throughout April and May, however, Western intelligence services, reporters, and human rights groups amassed evidence of continued Serbian interventions, and on May 30, 1992, the Security Council ordered UN member states to cut commercial ties with Serbia and Montenegro, the only two republics left in the Yugoslav federation.[9] The West and the UN took Bosnian sovereignty seriously enough to impose sanctions, but would not send troops to police Bosnia's new borders. Serbia was not unmoved by these measures, launching an immediate effort to publicly disengage from the Bosnian conflict even while maintaining covert links.


Angered at Western support for Bosnian sovereignty, Belgrade tried to make the best of a bad situation. If Bosnia was now a foreign country, then Serbia hoped it could evade responsibility for Bosnian fighting. Belgrade thus tried its best to convince external critics that it was disengaging from its troubled neighbor, strengthening the frontier creation process initiated by international recognition of Bosnia's sovereignty.

In many ways, the situation and Belgrade's response to it represented a continuation of communist-era norms of republic mutual noninterference.[10] Decentralization had created strong inter-republican boundaries, with each maintaining its own communist party branch, central bank, governing agencies, and internal security services. Although federal agencies bore overall security responsibility, individual republics controlled events on their own turf. Serbian security services could operate in Bosnia only in violation of Yugoslav law and tacit domestic norms. When the Bosnian war began in April 1992, this noninterference norm was strengthened by international recognition.

In March 1992, Serbian officials signaled their intent to leave Bosnia to its own devices by announcing a plan to create a new Yugoslavia out of Serbia and Montenegro.[11] Throughout March, officials discussed the new country's constitution while studiously avoiding mention of Bosnian Serbs.[12] A new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) was officially created on April 27, and its leaders promised they harbored no irredentist aspirations.[13] By the end of May, Belgrade officials were explaining to UN officials that they had no jurisdiction in Bosnia, and no ability to affect Bosnian combatants.[14] On May 20, the day the UN Security Council imposed punitive sanctions, Serbia's ruling Socialist Party said it was

maintaining "full solidarity" with Bosnian Serbs but was also committed to avoiding any intervention in Bosnian affairs in an effort to preserve the "heart of the Serbian people."[15]

Belgrade officials regularly contrasted Serbia's putative ethnic harmony with Bosnia's vicious ethnic war. "National freedoms, equality and inter-ethnic tolerance are … the strategy of Serbia,"[16] one top official promised, and the new Yugoslav federal assembly vowed that minorities would enjoy vigorous human rights protections.[17] On May 20, remarkably, the Yugoslav presidency ended the official state of war declared twelve months before, saying that the country's national security problems had been resolved.[18] As accounts of Bosnian ethnic cleansing intensified, Serbian president Slobodan Milošević proudly noted that in Serbia proper, ethnic minorities were not being forced to flee, because "integrity and property [are] not endangered here."[19]

A third disengagement tactic included Serbian efforts to mark its new boundaries with Bosnia. Two weeks after Bosnian independence, the new federal Yugoslav customs agency designated official border crossings between Serbia and the new Bosnian state, noting that cross-border travelers would henceforth require passports or identity cards.[20] A week later, the agency announced it had established full customs control over Yugoslav territory and was restricting transportable items.[21] Travelers were warned by Borba, a popular Belgrade daily, that they could cross only at designated crossings, [22] while Politika, a pro-government paper, wrote that special federal border units would soon begin patrolling Yugoslavia's new boundaries.[23]

A fourth and crucial step was Belgrade's withdrawal of the Yugoslav federal army from Bosnia, dividing the force into a new Yugoslav army, composed of ethnic Serbs from Serbia and Montenegro, and a Bosnian Serb entity, consisting solely of ethnic Serbs from Bosnia. Earlier in 1992 the army had been reluctant to withdraw into Serbia or divide into two units, promising it would remain in Bosnia for as long as Bosnian Serbs so desired.[24] International pressure had forced a shift in policy, however, and on May 4, 1992, rump Yugoslavia announced it would complete its troop withdrawal within fifteen days.[25] The new FRY military, one leading official promised, had no further business in Bosnia.[26] In reality, some 80 percent of the old federal army's soldiers reportedly remained in Bosnia, since senior officers had mostly deployed Bosnian Serbs to the region early on.[27] As a result, officials explained they had not really left "the Serb people in Bosnia-Herzegovina to the mercy of the Croat-Muslim paramilitary formations."[28]


Fear of Western military strikes was a key reason for the army's withdrawal.[29] In April, the progovernment Serbian daily Politika warned of a Gulf War–style "Balkan Storm" aimed at pushing Serbia out of Bosnia, [30] while NIN, a popular Serbian weekly, observed that "official Belgrade, confused and frightened, is now displaying a desire to avoid any serious confrontation with America and its principal allies, at any cost."[31] The Yugoslav vice president said he feared a military attack, warning of air strikes rather than ground troops.[32] The Yugoslav air force commander anticipated attacks from NATO air bases in Italy and the Sixth Fleet, urging Serbs to fight back "to the last person" if necessary.[33] Military specialist James Gow, moreover, notes that in the spring of 1992 "it was widely believed both in Western Europe and in certain parts of Yugoslavia that an intervention force was under discussion … it was certainly taken as a real cause for fear [in Belgrade]." [34] Belgrade's decision to withdraw federal troops from Bosnia sought to reassure Western audiences that the new Yugoslavia would respect Bosnia's territorial integrity.

All this was entirely consistent with what Serbian officials had been publicly telling international diplomats all along. During negotiations over Bosnia in February and March 1992, Serbian officials told Western negotiators that while they opposed Bosnian sovereignty for fear of compromising Bosnian Serb rights, they would never intervene militarily to enforce their views. Serbia's role in the Bosnian crisis, Milošević assured a UN mediator, "can only be a constructive one, because our commonly known stand is that we support a peaceful solution of this crisis."[35] On another occasion Milošević promised that Serbia would cooperate with the UN, since Serbia was itself part of that "world organization" and wanted to abide by its rules.[36] Hoping to appear internationally cooperative and fully respectable, official Serbia consistently denied any intent to use force in creating a Greater Serbia.[37]

Serbian officials also denied encouraging or permitting cross-border paramilitary involvement in Bosnia. Irregular Serbian formations were entirely illegal, according to the Serbian prime minister, and the government was making every effort to prevent "armed individuals" from entering Bosnia.[38] The "occasional appearance of armed individuals and groups," another official said, is a "marginal phenomenon subject to strict control."[39] As reports of paramilitaries crossing into Bosnia escalated, Milošević emphatically stated that the Serbian republic was in full control of its territory and that it was effectively blocking all attempts by

would-be paramilitaries to cross the border into Bosnia.[40] This effort was even rhetorically supported both by ultranationalist Vojislav Šešelj, who vowed his followers were in no way involved in Bosnia, and by another key paramilitary leader, Željko Ražnatović, popularly known as Arkan.[41] Throughout the spring and summer of 1992, when Serbian cross-border paramilitary activism was at its height, Serbia repeatedly stressed its commitment to blocking irregular forces.[42]

Serbian officials even began to criticize Bosnian Serb leaders, especially their well-publicized shelling of Sarajevo.[43] On May 30, the Serbian government said those responsible for indiscriminately shelling Muslim neighborhoods should be punished, complaining that Bosnian Serb bombardments caused great bitterness in Serbia.[44] The Serbiandominated Yugoslav presidency protested Bosnian ethnic cleansing, [45] and two days after the UN imposed sanctions, demanded that Bosnian Serbs cease all bombardments of Sarajevo.[46] Shortly after, the rump Yugoslav assembly condemned all forms of ethnic cleansing and called on the Bosnian Serb leadership to rein in Serbian irregulars.[47]

Bosnian Serb leaders cooperated, telling observers they were fully independent of Serbia. In March 1992, Radovan Karadžić, leader of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), warned Serbia to keep out of Bosnian affairs since "accusing Serbia has become the fashion." Bosnian Serbs, he said, needed nothing more than Serbian moral support, noting that Milošević "does not even know about many of our actions."[48] Although Bosnian Serb leaders originally hoped to join Serbia and Montenegro in the new Yugoslavia, they soon backed off, realizing this was not possible in the short run. Instead, they called for an independent Bosnian Serb state.[49] Karadžić categorically denied planning to link Bosnian Serb lands with Serbia, saying the newly created borders between Bosnia and Serbia would remain unchanged.[50] As the fighting intensified, Karadžić rejected claims of Serbian involvement, saying he and his colleagues were "avoiding contacts" with Belgrade.[51] Asked whether Milošević might disown him because of Bosnian Serb actions, Karadžić replied that since he was not a member of the Serbian state, he could not be disowned. He was answerable, he said, to the Bosnian Serb people only.[52]

The Bosnian Serb leadership was thus willing to assume responsibility for the war and ethnic cleansing, refusing to publicly implicate Serbia. Although Western powers had forced Bosnian sovereignty on unwilling Serbs, political elites on both sides of the new border quickly gave way, publicly accepting the division between Serbia proper and Bosnian

Serbs. The result, however, was a clandestine, cross-border Serbian effort to bolster the Bosnian Serbs' military and political position.

During spring 1992, Bosnia slipped from formal Yugoslav (and de facto Serbian) control through a combination of its local and international efforts. Due in large part to Slovenia and Croatia's remarkable ability to gain Western support for their independence, Bosnian sovereignty became a very real possibility. A unique confluence of events had overturned the Western-dominated international community's typical aversion to changing international borders, and Bosnian requests for sovereignty were ultimately granted in April 1992. Although both Bosnian Serbs and Serbia proper were firmly opposed to Bosnian independence, they pursued very different policies, at least at the rhetorical and diplomatic level. Bosnian Serbs declared their intent to create their own mini-state on parts of the old Bosnian republic and went to war to secure territorial and military dominance. Serbia and its junior federal partner Montenegro, by contrast, expressed their willingness to accept international fiat. They claimed that they no longer were involved politically or militarily in Bosnia's affairs, and that they were determined to prevent the infiltration of Bosnia by Serbia-based nationalist paramilitaries. The border between the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Bosnia, Belgrade said, would be respected as a legitimate international boundary. Although Serbia had little intention of respecting that border in practice, its rhetorical commitment to Bosnian sovereignty confirmed the new country's exit from Serbia's official domain of control, creating conditions for a new, frontier-like setting vis-à-vis Serbia. Serbia and its junior federal partner, Montenegro, exercised substantial de facto influence over Bosnian events in 1992 and 1993 while simultaneously pursuing plausible deniability of that involvement vis-à-vis its own citizens and international observers.


3. Ethnic Cleansing
on the Bosnian Frontier

Serbian disengagement from Bosnia severed overt links between Serbian nationalism in Bosnia, on the one hand, and Serbian (and Montenegrin) state organizations, on the other. Within Serbia proper, nationalism was promoted, upheld, or maintained by the police, the interior ministry's state security agency, and the newly reduced federal Yugoslav army. Those agencies could not function openly inside Bosnia, however, generating a demand for alternative organizational forms satisfied by the Serbia-based paramilitaries, local Bosnian Serb crisis committees, and clandestine cross-border agents. These bodies filled the gap between Serbian territorial aspirations, which transcended Serbia's official borders, and the global norm of sovereignty, which bottled Serbia up within internationally recognized lines. Given Western efforts to uncover evidence of Serbian intervention in Bosnia, these frontier agencies had to keep their distance from Belgrade, granting them substantial autonomy. In return, however, they forfeited claims to international acceptance or long-term stability. Once Serbia reintegrated into the international system, it disowned its frontier allies, exposing some to international stigmatization, isolation, and even war crimes prosecution. Paramilitaries thrived in Bosnia's frontier-like setting, but disappeared once institutional conditions changed.



The paramilitary phenomenon appeared first in the summer 1991 battles between local Serb militias and Croat republican forces.[1] A typical newspaper article described the former Yugoslavia as a "land where former football hooligans and neo-fascist ganglords run riot with assault rifles and mortar bombs instead of boots and bottles."[2] Another talked about a "bizarre assortment of soldiers of fortune, self-styled dukes, guerrillas and local warlords,"[3] while a third spoke of "the Duke, the King of Slavonia, Captain Dragan … and many other colorful characters.… They govern, plunder and defend their patches of land in exchange for fairly nominal pledges of loyalty to distant governments." The paramilitaries, this account argued, had become "cult heroes in their local towns, mopping up unemployment among the jobless youth and, as a result, winning far more popularity than their leaders in Belgrade and Zagreb."[4] By the end of the Croatian war, paramilitaries on all sides of the conflict had made a tremendous impression on journalists and citizens alike. Units such as Kapetan Dragan's "Ninjas from Knin" (Knindže), Željko Ražnatović's "Tigers" (Tigrovi), Mirko Jović and Dragoslav Bokan's "White Eagles" (Beli Orlovi) and "Dušan the Mighty" forces (Dušan Silni), and Vojislav Šešelj's "Chetniks" (čentnici) became household names.

When the Bosnian war began in April 1992, reports of Serbian paramilitary activities accelerated. As a typical account reported, the Bosnian war "is being waged by a kaleidoscope of militias, armies and freelance groups. Accurate numbers are impossible to ascertain, loyalties overlap, and who really controls whom, if anyone, is a moot point."[5] Journalists were eager to discover links between paramilitaries in Bosnia and Serbian officials in Belgrade, because the West had spoken out strongly against direct Serbian cross-border intervention. Hinting at a Belgrade-Bosnian connection, one British daily wrote that as

Bosnia is ripped apart at its ethnic seams, a notorious band of Serbian veterans of the dirtiest fighting in neighboring Croatia is leading the assault. The warlords, usually products of Belgrade's underworld, are television celebrities, icons of national heroism for many Serbs, and powerful players on the republic's political stage.… Fighters annexing territory for the self-styled Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina declare their allegiance to "Arkan," "the Duke," or Jović—two underworld figures and a political thug. But the militia also provides a front for crack [Serbian] professional soldiers masquerading as local volunteers.[6]


Many experts believe the paramilitaries played a key role in ethnic cleansing, particularly along the Serbian border with eastern Bosnia. One comprehensive UN study, for example, found that reports of atrocities co-varied with the number of individual paramilitaries in a given region. The report identifies fifty-five different ethnic Serb paramilitary groups and sixty-seven different municipalities in the former Yugoslavia that experienced ethnic Serb paramilitary activities, the overwhelming majority of which were in Bosnia.[7] These irregulars were often the first troops to engage Bosnian Muslim and Croat civilians firsthand, and it was during this time that many killings and other atrocities occurred. The Yugoslav federal army, which was officially in Bosnia until May 14, 1992, lent artillery and logistical support to the irregulars, but kept its direct involvement in the dirtiest events to a minimum. Federal regulars often surrounded Bosnian Muslim villages, cutting them off from the outside world, but reportedly preferred to leave actual village occupations, mopping-up, and civilian abuses to paramilitary fighters.[8] Once the federal army withdrew into rump Yugoslavia, leaving the new Bosnian Serb army behind, that pattern continued.

The paramilitary moment in Bosnia was short-lived. By the end of 1992, the Serbia-based paramilitaries were being squeezed out by regular Bosnian Serb forces, which no longer tolerated the existence of unruly, semi-autonomous forces. According to Colonel Dragutin, a military advisor to the Republika Srpska administration in 1997, all "self-organized defense units" were disbanded on Bosnian Serb territory by August 1992.[9]

Most of the Serbia-based paramilitaries clustered around charismatic individuals associated with extreme Belgrade nationalists. Men such as Mirko Jović and Dragoslav Bokan of the Serbian National Defense Party (SNO; Srpska Narodna Odbrana), Vojislav Šešelj of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS; Srpska Radikalna Stranka), and Vuk Drašković of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO; Srpski Pokret Obnove) were all politically active national figures, as well as energetic paramilitary organizers. Jović and Bokan formed the White Eagles and Dušan the Mighty groups at the end of 1990; Šešelj created the Serbian četnik Movement, first in 1990 and then later, with official support, in 1991; and Drašković created the Serbian National Guard in 1991.

A fourth key organizer, Željko Ražnatović (Arkan), was in a category by himself. Although he later displayed minor political ambitions, Arkan initially had no autonomous political base and was not a member of the nationalist counter-elite, although he adopted some of their symbols.[10]

Instead, Arkan was reportedly close to Yugoslav intelligence services, Serbian state security, and perhaps even to Slobodan Milošević himself, setting him off from the other paramilitary leaders, who saw themselves as Milošević's rivals. Building initially on supporters of the Belgrade soccer team Red Star, Arkan founded the Serbian Voluntary Guard (Srpska Dobrovoljacćka Garda; referred to also as the Tigers) in October 1990. According to one analysis, Serbian state security officials originally asked Arkan to create the Tigers to monitor the other Serbian paramilitaries.[11]

Most of the larger, Belgrade-based groups were first created in 1991 to fight alongside the Yugoslav Federal Army and local Serb militias in Croatia. According to some reports, the groups were integrated into the federal army's battle plan in 1991, and as one observer notes, the alliance between the formerly communist Yugoslav army and the nationalist paramilitaries "marked a major shift in the ideological orientation of the army … to one which accommodated groups dedicated to the Serbian nationalist cause."[12] Although there were tensions between the regular and irregular forces, they apparently overcame their differences during key operations, such as the November 19, 1991, conquest of the Croatian town of Vukovar. When the Croatian war ended, some paramilitaries demobilized, only to reemerge once the Bosnian fighting began in spring 1992. According to two Belgrade journalists, Serbian irregulars fighting in Croatia had their own separate organizational structure that was "different than the organization of regular army units. They had their own special platoons, units, battalions and divisions. They appointed their own commanders in the field.… They had different insignia from the military … they had their own flags and emblems, and they always went to church before battle."[13] Belonging to the most radical strands of Serbian nationalism, the paramilitaries' official ideology was fiercely anticommunist, populist, and strongly right wing. Their leaders vowed to defend ethnic Serbs from genocide in Croatia and Bosnia, saying they were only doing what the Serbian state itself was afraid or unwilling to do. Since Serbian police or Yugoslav troops were not adequately protecting ethnic Serbs, these self-styled patriotic volunteers felt obliged to step in.

During 1991–92, the Belgrade-based militia leaders spoke of the need for a new Serbian army to replace the communist-tainted federal force in order to protect diaspora Serbs. Although the irregular commanders agreed to work with Milošević temporarily, they regarded his Serbian Socialist Party as an incompetent ex-communist band unwilling to resist

Western pressure. Although the regime provided them with weapons, money, and a territorial base within Serbia, it could not be trusted. Milošević's Socialists, for their part, encouraged paramilitary sallies into Bosnia as a way of contributing to the Bosnian Serb war effort and bolstering their nationalist credentials without openly flouting Western directives.

The Croatian and Bosnian wars provided a unique opportunity for Serbian nationalists such as Drašković, Jović, Šešelj, and Bokan. Most had their headquarters in Belgrade, but they recruited widely throughout Serbia and Montenegro, sending busloads of volunteers to the front lines. The most effective organizer was Vojislav Šešelj, who received significant support from the Socialist regime until a 1993 dispute. Šešelj reportedly sent 5,000 men to Croatia and as many as 30,000 to Bosnia, although some experts use lower estimates.[14] According to another source, Arkan's Tigers had between 1,000 and 1,500 combat personnel.[15] Other groups seem to have mustered a few thousand all told, with their ranks fluctuating over time and space.

A number of smaller fighting groups were also formed by lower ranking political entrepreneurs from Serbia.[16] The Yellow Wasps, for example, were a group of some sixty men who came together in spring 1992 to fight in Zvornik, a Bosnian border town. One of their commanders was a judo teacher from Šabac, a town near Belgrade, while the other was his auto mechanic brother. Both had fought in Croatia with Vojislav Šešelj's forces, but when the Bosnian war began they decided to organize their own autonomous group. In addition to targeting Zvornik's Muslims, they also reportedly extorted wealthy local Serbs, angering the Bosnian Serb authorities.[17] Bosnian Serb forces eventually cracked down on the Wasps, forcing them back to Serbia.[18] Another example is that of Dušan Petrović, an ethnic Serb from Serbia who established himself in the eastern Bosnian town of Višegrad after fighting in Croatia.[19] Petrović later said that he had worked closely with local Bosnian Serb army commanders and Yugoslav army officers in Serbia. "We got everything" from Yugoslav army bases, Petrović explained, including "arms, camouflage uniforms, and food." In return, Petrović's men occasionally guarded convoys running between Serbia and Višegrad. Petrović's group was eventually forced to close down by another smalltime paramilitary leader, Milan Lukić, commander of Višegrad's č etnik Avengers. "Lukić wanted to take my group from me," Petrović recalled, "but I resisted." Petrović refused to join Lukić, he said, because Lukić was a freelancer, fighting outside the control of the Bosnian Serb army.

"We fought bravely under the army," Petrović said. "We didn't want to be under Lukić." Lukić, for his part, reportedly recruited his fighters from a café he owned in Obrenovac, a Serbian town near Belgrade. Lukić's original cadre, according to one study, "consisted of relatives, colleagues, and individuals recruited from the clientele of his café."[20]

The ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian town of Zvornik, located just over the river from Serbia proper, illustrates the paramilitaries' effect on Bosnia. Zvornik, a town of some 80,000, was approximately 60 percent Muslim in early 1992 and was strategically important because it commanded a major artery leading from Serbia proper into Bosnian Serb territory.[21] On April 8, the day after European recognition of Bosnian sovereignty, ethnic Serb paramilitaries attacked Zvornik, crossing the border from Serbia proper. The initial assault was led by Arkan's irregulars, the Serbian Voluntary Guards, and Arkan himself was reportedly in charge, appearing to some witnesses as if he was independent of both local Bosnian Serb authorities and nearby Yugoslav federal troops. The second assault wave included less elite paramilitaries such as the Serbian četnik Movement and the White Eagles.

Obrad, a Serbian reporter from the Serbian daily Politika, was on the Serbian side of the river when the fighting began. He followed the second wave into Zvornik, recalling that the paramilitaries "looked like a bunch of gangs. All the scum of Serbia were there, and it was total chaos."[22] Obrad made his way to the office of Zvornik's territorial defense chief, Marko Pavlović, the man theoretically in charge of the local Serbian military effort. Pavlović was all but powerless, however, since none of the paramilitaries felt obliged to follow his instructions. "I felt almost sorry for him," Obrad said. "He didn't have any of his own men and the paramilitaries weren't listening to him. They were a bunch of bandits, threatening him as well."

The paramilitaries quickly subdued Zvornik's Muslim resistance, looting and killing civilians. Arkan's troops were more disciplined and professional, leaving the town soon after its conquest. New irregulars came and began searching empty homes more thoroughly for valuables. Differences arose between the local Serb authorities and the paramilitaries. The authorities were issuing safe passage permits to Zvornik's Muslims, encouraging them to flee in a relatively orderly manner. The paramilitaries did not respect the permits, however, grabbing civilians as they exited the police station, ripping up their passes, physically abusing them, and even taking some to impromptu detention camps. According to one report, "The various para-military units maraudering [sic] around

Zvornik all had unlimited freedom of action (terrorizing the civilian population, randomly performing executions and arrestations [sic])." Refugee testimony indicated that the "paramilitary units only accepted the authority of their own respective ‘leaders, ’ … [while] many of the less strictly organized para-military groups regarded their complete freedom of action as a kind of ‘remuneration’ for their work."[23] Obrad noted in his diary that several paramilitary commanders active in the Croatian fighting had reappeared in Zvornik.[24] There was "Miroslav, from Šešelj's paramilitary, who was commander of a big unit," as well as "Pedđa, from Arkan's unit." Obrad estimated a total of some 5,000 Serb fighters dispersed through the town and surrounding villages. In areas where fighting had ended, Serb irregulars were loading trucks with looted refrigerators and other appliances. Obrad noted a hierarchy of looters, with Arkan's men enjoying preferential access to the most lucrative assets, such as gold and cash. Next came the Serbian četnik Movement and White Eagles, who seized the larger appliances. Bringing up the rear were local militias and the smaller Serbia-based paramilitaries, who were forced to settle for whatever remained. "These guys stripped the wires out of the walls and dismantled windows and door frames," Obrad said.

The Zvornik ethnic cleansing model was repeated throughout the spring and summer of 1992, as paramilitaries from Serbia proper swept through eastern Bosnia, beginning with northern towns such as Bijeljina and then moving south along the Drina River toward Zvornik, Foča, Goražde, and Višegrad, as well as numerous smaller villages. From their bases along the Bosnia-Serbia border, men from the larger paramilitary formations sallied forth to join smaller local militias, jointly consolidating Bosnian Serb military power in much of eastern Bosnia and forcing out much of the Bosnian Muslim population.[25]


The Bosnian Serb crisis committees, or Krizni Štabovi, were created from fragments of former Bosnian municipal governments. Although analysts often focused on Serbian political elites in capital cities, these were often removed from events on the ground during the first part of the war. Communications were poor and many areas were virtual islands, cut off from Belgrade or Pale by irregular transportation and military blockade. Northwest Bosnia, for example, was isolated by Bosnian Muslim troops from Serbia and much of eastern Bosnia until the summer of 1992, when Serb troops broke through. As Balkan specialist Susan Woodward notes,

"Competing militias and gangs marauded, only loosely linked to centers of command and control," and "lack of communication affected the command and control of both the Bosnian Serb and Bosnian government armies and emphasized the dominance of local territorial forces."[26] Nothing resembling a smooth, centralized state structure existed in the emerging Bosnian Serb republic during the spring and summer of 1992. During the first months of the war, regional power was often shaped by the crisis committees, which served as focal points for local leaders of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), municipal officials, territorial defense officers, [27] local police, and even commanders of nearby Yugoslav federal units. Crisis committee members also occasionally met and worked with local Bosnian Serb paramilitary leaders.[28] The latter were distinct from the Serbia-based irregulars, who were linked to Belgrade and whose geographic scope was much broader. The crisis committees could flourish only on the frontier; had the Republic of Serbia not been obliged to publicly disengage from Bosnia, Serbian military and political power likely would have been concentrated in Belgrade. The crisis committees were vehicles for local Bosnian Serb political or military strongmen who might never have become prominent if Serbia had directly and openly dominated Bosnia with its own troops. Owing no direct allegiance to Serbia and maintaining only sporadic connections to central Bosnian Serb political leaders, the crisis committees presented themselves as the authentic, grassroots voice of the Bosnian Serb nation.

The Bosnian Serb Autonomous Regions

The crisis committees emerged from the Serbian autonomous regions (Srpske Autonomne Oblasti), Bosnian Serb municipal coalitions created chiefly by Serbian Democratic Party activists in 1991 and early 1992.[29] Local government in Bosnia, like elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia, was a highly organized affair with a mayor, municipal executive committee, legislative assembly, police chief, and local territorial defense coordinator. The municipal coalitions were founded in autumn 1991, when Bosnian Serb activists responded to the Croatian fighting by creating their own political structures. At the center of each of five autonomous regions was a large municipality, typically controlled by the Serbian Democratic Party, which was then joined by other nearby Serbmajority municipalities or by Bosnian Serbs living in Muslim-majority municipalities.[30] In Olovo, for example, a Muslim-majority municipality in central Bosnia, Bosnian Serb political activists declared in September

1991 that the town's Serbian Democratic Party branch had voted to join the Romanija autonomous region, "following a poll and meetings held in Serbian villages."[31] The Olovo municipality was controlled by the Muslim Party of Democratic Action, [32] but local Serbian Democratic Party activists nonetheless planned to attach Olovo to the Romanija autonomous region.

At first, Bosnian Serb leaders rejected separation from Yugoslavia, viewing the federation as sole effective guarantor of ethnic Serb security and rights. The Romanija autonomous region spokesman, for example, announced that the "Serbian people will never allow any separation from their homeland of Serbia."[33] Three other autonomous regions declared in October 1991 that they would not recognize laws made in Sarajevo, but would instead respect Yugoslav law.[34] In November 1991, the Serbian Democratic Party organized a plebiscite in which Bosnian Serb voters elected to stay in Yugoslavia.[35]

When Serbia began to disengage from Bosnia in early spring 1992, however, Bosnian Serb leaders shifted gears, pressing instead for an independent state alongside Bosnian Muslim and Croat entities.[36] According to Nenad Kecmanovic, a former Bosnian Serb politician, "Independence and the notion of a separate state came very late in the game. The first idea was simply to stay in Yugoslavia and to have recognized control over certain areas inside Bosnia."[37] When the European Community recognized Bosnian sovereignty on April 7, 1992, Serbian autonomous region leaders gathered to declare independence, calling their new state the Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, later renamed Republika Srpska.[38]

Creating the Autonomous Regions

Each autonomous region had a central crisis committee controlling lower-tier committees at the municipal and submunicipal levels. The result was a pyramid of Bosnian Serb functionaries tied together by their common loyalty to the Serb national cause, linked only loosely to Serbian Democratic Party headquarters, and even more loosely to Belgrade. The crisis committee network was interlaced at every level with a hodgepodge of police, territorial defense, army, and paramilitary forces. Although the police and territorial defense were nominally under the Bosnian government and the Yugoslav federal army, they drew closer to local Bosnian Serb leaders as the crisis unfolded.

The Bosnian police had begun to dissolve into ethnically pure units

after nationalist parties ran in Bosnia's November 1990 elections. Local governments often came under the sway of one or another ethnic group, and then maneuvered to create ethnically loyal police units. On March 31, 1992, the fledgling Bosnian Serb interior ministry announced the creation of all-Serbian "public security centers" for each of the five autonomous regions.[39] A newspaper sympathetic to the Sarajevo government described the move as a "putsch" by Serbs in the Bosnian police, demonstrating that "the Serbian Democratic Party is determined to round out its own state in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Whoever has the police in a particular area exercises authority de facto." The autonomous regions and their new security centers, the paper charged, were using classical "revolutionary methods" to grab hold of disputed territory.[40] In municipalities where Serbs were a majority and already controlled the local government, Muslim officers were often fired or marginalized, and in areas where Muslims dominated, Bosnian Serb police officers often formed independent units.

Local Serbian Democratic Party activists, often linked to crisis committees, occasionally created militias of their own. In the northwestern town of Banja Luka, for example, local party activists organized the Serbian Defense Forces (Srpske Odbrambene Snage), also referred to as the Red Berets. Stanica, a local political activist and former Bosnian Serb army intelligence officer, explained that the Serbian Defense Forces had been a small "popular force aimed at enforcing public security in Banja Luka."[41] She said they were given weapons by the Serbian Democratic Party, which was intent on "arming the people for self-defense." An additional source of power for crisis committees were local paramilitaries organized by businessmen and political entrepreneurs, who contributed to the national cause while also protecting their assets in an uncertain environment. In the Banja Luka area, for example, a well-known businessman, Veljko Milanković, recruited and armed the Wolves from Vučjaka (Vukovi sa Vučjakaa).[42] By his own account, Milanković was a financial backer of the Serbian Democratic Party, and when fighting began in Croatia, Milanković sent the Wolves to support Serb fighters, moving them back to Bosnia when tensions there mounted.[43] Their first Bosnian operation, Milanković said, was the occupation of a local television transmitter, allowing the Serbian Democratic Party to replace broadcasts from Zagreb and Sarajevo with news from Belgrade. The Wolves' commander said his activities were coordinated with the head of the Bosanska autonomous region, its information minister, and the local police chief, all of whom were crisis committee members.


Milanković portrayed himself as a patriot, but Major Stanko, a Banja Luka–based former officer in the Bosnian Serb army, saw things differently. "Only riffraff and thieves" joined the Wolves, Stanko alleged, attracted by the prospect of looting. "Those men had joined up early to steal during the Croatian fighting," he charged, "and wanted to continue the same here by stealing from Muslims."[44] Stanko's view was seconded by Nikola, a low-ranking Bosnian Serb soldier from the Banja Luka region who said that although the Wolves had fought bravely in Croatia, they later engaged in ethnic cleansing in Banja Luka.[45] Stanica, the former Bosnian Serb intelligence officer, said that the Wolves' main function was to guard Milanković's property and business interests. "It was a chaotic time," she explained, "and rich men like Milanković wanted to protect their money."[46]

A detailed study of wartime events in two Bosnian towns—Doboj and Teslić—revealed extensive links between crisis committee functions, local paramilitary commanders, and Serbian Democratic Party activists.[47] The study claimed that local Bosnian Serb political leaders, police chiefs, party leaders, officials, and civilians had established an "underground mafia-type network" in the early stages of the war, noting the central role of Milan Ninković, president of the Doboj town branch of the Serbian Democratic Party and head of the municipal executive council. Ninković, the study charged, was a principal organizer of ethnic cleansing in Doboj, maintaining contacts with paramilitaries through his brother, who managed two local businesses and procured weapons. In the town of Teslić, the report said, Milovan Mrkonjić, chief of the local territorial defense, was one of five ethnic cleansing organizers working with commanders of local paramilitaries such as the Red Berets and "Predo's Wolves."

Crisis Committees and the Ethnic Cleansing of Prijedor

The ethnic cleansing of Prijedor municipality is one of the betterdocumented examples of forced displacement by Bosnian Serb crisis committees.[48] During the first months of the war, Prijedor, situated deep within the Bosanska Krajina autonomous region, was cut off from Serbia proper and other Bosnian-Serb areas, and initial ethnic cleansing efforts were done mostly by local forces. The 1990 municipal elections had left the Muslim Party of Democratic Action in charge of Prijedor's municipal assembly, although the Serbian Democratic Party gained a significant portion of assembly seats.[49] Muslims were therefore in positions

of local authority, controlling the Prijedor police force and radio station, while ethnic Serbs were the majority in many surrounding villages. By early 1992, most of Prijedor's neighbors had joined the Bosanska Krajina autonomous region, isolating Muslim-controlled Prijedor. The nearby town of Banja Luka was not only the capital of Bosanska Krajina, but also a thriving center of Serbian Democratic Party activity and a major headquarters for the Yugoslav federal army, which was increasingly pro-Serbian.

Tensions mounted during 1991, especially after fighting began in nearby Croatia. In February 1992, Prijedor's Serbian Democratic Party activists created their own parallel municipality and a crisis committee composed of retired policemen, teachers, the owner of a local transportation firm, and the head of the local Serbian Democratic Party branch.[50] Bosnian Serbs also created an autonomous police force led by Simo Drljača, an ethnic Serb officer and crisis committee member who created a series of all-Serb security centers, separate from four existing Muslim-controlled police stations. According to a local Bosnian Serb paper, Serbian Democratic Party activists asked Drljača to create the new force in late 1991, and after "half a year of illegal work," Drljača had created thirteen new police stations and mobilized "1,775 well-armed persons" willing to "undertake any difficult duty in the time which was coming." On the night of April 29, 1992, Drljača's men seized the central police station, the radio transmitter, and municipal headquarters.[51] According to one Bosnian Serb leader, the action sought to preempt an impending Bosnian Muslim attack. The local Yugoslav federal army commander quietly supported the coup, although publicly he said events in Prejidor were an internal municipal affair over which he had no jurisdiction.[52] According to UN researchers, the Prijedor crisis committee was "an instrument of gaining complete control" over Prijedor, for arming local Serbs, blocking Muslim communications, and mobilizing men into the nascent Bosnian Serb army. Its most important function, however, was to persistently argue "that the Serbian people as such were threatened by the non-Serbs."[53] Once the coup was over, the crisis committee expanded to include the head of the local Serbian Democratic Party branch, the local Yugoslav army commander, the new territorial defense commander, the new chief of police, the new mayor, the president of the local Serbian Red Cross, and managers of local, state-owned industries.[54] The new committee thus drew together diverse strands of local power, with the Serbian Democratic Party assuming political leadership, the police and territorial defense providing coercive manpower,

and the Yugoslav federal army providing weapons and a secure environment. Drljača later said relations between his policemen and the Serbian Democratic Party were "satisfying" during the coup, since "everyone did his job," but later soured when the party tried to infringe on police authority. Relations first with the Yugoslav federal army and then with the new Bosnian Serb army, conversely, were always "excellent."[55]

Muslims were forced out of Prijedor municipality through a variety of mechanisms. The Muslim territorial defense forces in the nearby village of Kozarac, for example, were attacked by local Bosnian Serb paramilitaries and Prijedor territorial defense troopers, reportedly with support from the Yugoslav federal army. Muslim villagers were sent to nearby detention camps, and survivors of that experience were later deported.[56] In Prijedor town, displacement was more gradual. Muslims were first fired from their jobs and ordered to wear distinctive armbands, and were later arrested and sent to camps. Men were interrogated and questions about armed activities and political plans were accompanied by torture and, in some cases, murder. Physical conditions in the men's camps were atrocious. Muslim women, elderly men, and children were sent to other locations where conditions were slightly better.

UN investigators are unsure who, precisely, was overall leader of Prijedor's ethnic cleansing. The detention camps were clearly under the local police, although some military police from the new Bosnian Serb army were involved as well. At one point, the UN report charges the Yugoslav federal army with overall responsibility for events, saying the crisis committee had been appointed by the military.[57] Elsewhere, however, UN investigators suggest the crisis committee was in charge, while on still other occasions, they argue for Serbian Democratic Party responsibility. Clearly, all these bodies played major roles, but the identity of the person or agency controlling events, if there was one, remains unclear.


Confusion over who was in charge of ethnic cleansing in Prijedor mirrors the larger confusion over command-and-control within the entire Serb war effort in Bosnia. Was Belgrade directly responsible for the ethnic cleansing, as so many allege, or was it organized locally by Bosnian Serb extremists, as the Serbian state's defenders argue?

The previous chapter discussed vigorous Serbian efforts to publicly disengage from Bosnia, but given broad Serbian nationalist sentiment, Belgrade also felt compelled to remain supportive of Bosnian Serbs. Although

some of Slobodan Milošević's colleagues might have been willing to cut the Bosnian Serbs off, the Serbian far-right opposition, as well as a significant constituency within the ruling Socialist Party itself, felt differently. Serbian leaders groped their way toward a solution, fashioning a series of plausibly deniable, clandestine connections to Bosnia. When Western analysts saw through the ruse, Serbia's leaders were unpleasantly surprised, having failed to comprehend the full extent of Western intelligence-gathering abilities, which diplomats would not divulge for fear of compromising their sources.[58]

Much effort has been devoted to proving the role of Belgrade in general, and Slobodan Milošević in particular, in planning and executing the ethnic cleansing. From a legal point of view, the extreme difficulty of this effort is frustrating. Sociologically, however, the difficulty is telling: The very fact that the Serbian leadership's responsibility is difficult to prove suggests that secrecy and plausible deniability are what made the ethnic cleansing policy feasible, appropriate, and cost-effective for the Serbian regime in 1992–93. At the time, Serbia was intent on regaining its international legitimacy, and this required that it try to appear uninvolved in the Bosnian fighting.

Visions of Control

At one extreme, critics view Milošević as the sole architect of Bosnian ethnic cleansing, managing the bulk of the deadly process.[59] The image these critics promote is of a smoothly functioning death machine spreading out from Belgrade to individual far-flung Bosnian camps and killers. Military analyst Milan Vego, for example, argued that although Belgrade authorities did their best to muddle events, there was in fact an unbroken chain of command running from the Supreme Defense Council in Belgrade, through the Yugoslav army's General Staff, down to the Bosnian Serb army.[60] A similar interpretation was offered by a leading U.S. war reporter in Bosnia, Roy Gutman, who said the death camps, mass killings, and rapes were all planned in detail by the Yugoslav federal army and Slobodan Milošević.[61] Milošević, Gutman says, was in charge throughout, despite efforts to hide his involvement through the federal army's withdrawal.[62] At the other end of the spectrum are vehement denials offered by Serbian leaders, who argued from spring 1992 on that Serbia had nothing to do with Bosnian Serb actions, paramilitary activities, or ethnic cleansing. A third interpretation rejects both extremes, suggesting instead that although Milošević encouraged and supported

the Bosnian Serb war effort, he only set the general tone by providing guidance and weapons. Sonja Biserko, the head of Belgrade's Helsinki Commission for human rights, believes that "Bosnia got away from Milošević; I think he started something he didn't know how to stop."[63]

Bosnia was a confusing place in 1992, with a multitude of paramilitaries, army units, and local leaders wielding political and military power. The confusion may have been carefully crafted to mask centralized control, but may also have reflected the actual state of affairs, in which, as one UN team wrote, "regular armies in the process of constituting or reconstituting themselves could not [remain in] control until they had reached a sufficient level of organization."[64] According to Nataša Kandić, director of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center and a noted war crimes investigator, there "may in fact be no one chain of command" for the Bosnian atrocities.[65] Investigations are especially difficult because there are no written orders available for scrutiny. "Can you imagine anyone stupid enough to write down an ethnic cleansing order?" asked Boro, a veteran Belgrade war correspondent. "Everyone knew this was a crime. You will never find an official or officer who put his name to an order to kill or ethnically cleanse."[66]

Serbia's Military Line

We may never know with certainty which particular vision of Serbian control is correct. A group of journalists and experienced war observers, however, have developed a plausible scenario known as the Military Line (Vojna Linija) hypothesis. It argues for the existence of an unofficial network of ruling Socialist Party members, interior ministry officials, and army officers, all of whom held positions of power and supported the general goal of advancing Bosnian Serb interests and pushing Muslims and Croats out of Serb-held areas. This circle was an unofficial policy group and its activities were never documented, regularized, or legitimated by the wider Serbian body politic. In late 2001, international war crimes investigators indicted former Serbian president Slobodan Milošević for genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and their charge sheet is essentially a summary of the Military Line model, with some added details.[67]

The Military Line was first discussed in print by Tim Judah, a Belgrade-based British correspondent.[68] In Judah's words, it was an informal group of senior Serbian republican security officials and individuals within the Yugoslav federal army (the JNA) who sought to help ethnic

Serb organizations, first in Croatia, and then in Bosnia, carve out their own enclaves. Eventually, these areas were to be annexed to Serbia or a slimmed-down Yugoslavia. Julian Borger, another British reporter, wrote that the Military Line was a parallel chain of command allowing Milošević to privately control Serb-based paramilitaries and Bosnian Serb forces.[69] According to both journalists, the group's main coordinator was Jovica Stanišić, then head of the Serbian interior ministry's clandestine service, known as state security, or SDB (Služba Državne Bezbednosti). His chief aides were Radovan Stojičić (also known as Badža), an officer in the Serbian ministry of interior's uniformed public security, and Franko Simatović (known as Frenki), a senior officer in the plainclothes state security agency. The two men reportedly trained and armed the Serbia-based paramilitaries and even traveled with them to the battlefields in Croatia and Bosnia. Borger writes that Stojičić, Simatović, and other key leaders stood at the apex of a pyramid coordinating Belgrade's plans in Bosnia and Croatia, while Judah adds the names of two key Yugoslav federal officers, General Andrija Biorčević, commander of the Novi Sad Corps, and Colonel Ratko Mladić, commander of the Knin garrison.[70] British reporter Julian Borger also stressed the role of Mihalj Kertes, a leading member of Serbia's ruling Socialist Party, who distributed guidance and weapons to Serbian Democratic Party officials in Bosnia and Croatia. Misha Glenny, a third British journalist, added more details on Kertes' activities, writing that in 1990 and 1991, Kertes ran a major weapons distribution program, shipping "hundreds of thousands" of weapons and boxes of ammunition on lorries into Bosnia, with special emphasis on Bosanska Krajina and eastern Herzegovina.[71]

Borger's article was based on interviews with anonymous informants and Branislav Vakić, a Serbian Radical Party legislator and former paramilitary commander. Vakić, like other Radical Party members, publicly broke ranks with Milošević in 1993, accusing him of betraying the Serbian national cause. According to Vakić, Serbian officials such as Stojičić and Simatović helped supply, train, and coordinate Radical Party irregulars in Croatia and Bosnia. Vakić made similar claims in an interview with Serbian newspaper reporters, asserting that the Radicals had supplied thousands of volunteer fighters with fuel and uniforms given to them by Yugoslav military police and naming a string of helpful federal officers and Serbian interior ministry officials.[72]

Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Šešelj lent credence to the Military Line hypothesis, telling Serbian newspapers his men had relied heavily on the Serbian interior ministry during the war. His volunteers, Šešelj

said, belonged to "special units" of the Serbian police under the command of Kertes and Simatović.[73] Šešelj elsewhere supplied other crucial details, saying Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević "gave us money and munitions and volunteers from Serbia and Montenegro and told us to fight for greater Serbia,"[74] and that all Serbian forces in Bosnia were directly commanded by the Serbian president.[75] In 2001 further evidence from Milošević himself appeared to support Šešelj's claims. Soon after his arrest by the international war crimes tribunal, Milošević claimed he had diverted Serbian government funds during the Bosnian war to finance Serbian militias in Bosnia and Croatia.[76]

I found fragments of additional evidence supporting these claims. A former U.S. State Department official involved with Bosnia, for example, said he believed the 1992 ethnic cleansing campaign was directed from Belgrade by Serbian state security. In the first months of the Bosnian war, he said, "state security operatives fanned out across Bosnia initiating, leading, and controlling the fighting in different districts."[77] The United States had satellite imagery and radio intercepts in support of his claim, he said, but refused to specify details. Boro, the veteran Belgrade war correspondent, painted a similar picture. "State security sent men to each Bosnian municipality looking for trusted persons who would act as allies," he explained. "These ‘trusted persons’ would be told that the area needed to be secured for reasons of convoy security or military strategy, and that as a result, the Muslims needed to be cleared out." At times, local police chiefs ran the operations, while on other occasions, hospital directors or mayors were the major coordinating figures. "You'll never find one method or one chain of command for ethnic cleansing," Boro explained, "because in each area, the person or group responsible for carrying out the ethnic cleansing was different. Each commander used a different method based on the different tools he had."[78] Aleksandar, a war correspondent for Vreme, a liberal Serbian weekly, said state security typically recruited men with assets such as warehouses, trucking companies, or municipal jobs. "Those people were most useful because they could store weapons and provide vehicles when necessary," Aleksandar explained.[79]

Miroslav, a young man who fought with an elite Serb military unit in Croatia, recounted an experience supporting Aleksandar's account of Belgrade's clandestine mobilization and coordination efforts.[80] In early 1991, Miroslav said, a local merchant in his village was recruited by Yugoslav federal military intelligence agents as their local contact. "I don't know why he was chosen," he said. "Perhaps because they trusted him,

or because he was generally respected by everyone." The merchant organized a local group of men who trained together in 1991 in preparation for fighting with Croat republican forces. Every week, Miroslav recalled, the group would go to the woods where they would be met by a representative of Yugoslav military intelligence, who occasionally delivered a truckload of weapons. Although Miroslav's experiences took place in Croatia, similar mechanisms may well have been used in Bosnia.

The most compelling evidence for Serbia's cross-border role, however, came directly from Daniel Snidden, an Australian Serb with a military background who trained Serbian militias in Croatia.[81] Snidden said Serbian state security agents approached him in Belgrade during 1991 and requested that he assess the potential of local Serb militias in Croatia. Later, state security asked Snidden to organize a training course; his trainees, schooled at the "Alpha center" in the Serb-held Krajina region of Croatia, became elite members of the local ethnic Serb army, and some even volunteered to fight in Bosnia. In a separate conversation, Colonel Stevo, one of Snidden's aides, claimed Snidden's fighters were directly controlled by Serbian state security. The men were given official state security identification cards and dog tags, Colonel Stevo said, and Snidden himself received his orders directly from Belgrade.[82] "Other units may have been under the local Serb authorities," Colonel Stevo claimed, "but we were the direct responsibility of Serbia."

Most of the men recruited by Serbian state security were not as glamorous as Daniel Snidden, who later ran a famed veterans' assistance group in Belgrade. Dragutin, a former truck driver, was at the very bottom of the Military Line's network.[83] When I met him in early 1997, Dragutin worked for another and much smaller veterans' association in Belgrade, lobbying the Serbian government on behalf of former paramilitary fighters. Prior to that, he said, he had fought in Croatia and Bosnia. In a series of meetings, Dragutin gradually revealed details about his recruitment by Serbian state security, explaining they originally approached him "because my father had been a police chief in his town." He said state security was searching for men whom they could trust to fight for the Serbian people, and were recruiting heavily among Dragutin's acquaintances in 1990–91. "Everybody was either an agent, working part time for state security, or pretending to be an agent," he recalled. Some men were true patriots, he said, but others simply sought war booty. "People said you could make money in the field," Dragutin explained. I learned more details about Dragutin's activities from Tomo, an ethnic Serb from Krajina who said he had worked for local Serb military

intelligence in Croatia. Tomo said he had met Dragutin several times during the war while the latter made truck deliveries for Serbian state security.[84] "There were lots of guys like him," Tomo said, "working either for state security or KOS [Yugoslav federal army intelligence], driving around the country, delivering things and helping make things happen."

Dragutin's tale underlines the importance of the Serbian police for the Military Line. His father had been a police chief, making him visible and trustworthy to state security recruiters, but recruitment was not just limited to the sons of trusted officers. Journalist Julian Borger interviewed a former Belgrade police chief who said Serbian convicts were occasionally recruited to fight in return for reduced sentences.[85] His claim was supported by Miroslav Mikuljanac, a Borba reporter who said he met former convicts on Serbian Radical Party busses heading toward the Croatian fighting in 1991.[86] The men were told their sentences would be cut if they fought and had been sent so quickly to the front that "they hadn't even been given a chance to call home and tell their mothers." Mikuljanac accompanied the Radical Party irregulars from Belgrade to Croatia, where they received Yugoslav army weapons and joined other ethnic Serb fighters at the front.

Obrad, the Serbian journalist, explained that when the fighting began, Serbian police "turned to the people they knew best for help: informers and criminals."[87] It was a natural move, in many ways; secrecy was of the utmost importance, and the criminal underworld was particularly well suited to the work. Borivoje, a respected Belgrade criminal defense lawyer, said the Serbian police had "slowly crossed the line from working with informers to gain information about criminals, to recruiting informers to act as paramilitaries outside of Serbia."[88] Borivoje's argument was supported by Belgrade's former police chief, who told British journalist Julian Borger that "in using criminals, for example as informants, there is always a narrow line you walk along. The police here crossed that line by a mile."[89]

Bosnian Serb Lobbyists in Serbia

Not all Serb support for the Bosnian Serb military effort flowed through criminals and underworld agents, however, and not all of it was initiated by the Belgrade regime. The Serbian national enterprise was immensely popular in some quarters, and many covert cross-border links were generated by Serbian citizens concerned for Bosnian Serbs' well-being. Serb

politicians and intellectuals such as Dobrica ćosić, the famed writer, pressed the Bosnian Serb case in Belgrade, lobbying the ruling Socialist Party to supply Bosnian Serbs with food, fuel, and other items. Bosnian Serb supporters viewed Serbia's official disengagement as a terrible betrayal of cherished co-nationals in dire need. Indeed, some activists did more than send humanitarian supplies. The Belgrade-based Association of Bosnian Serbs in Serbia, for example, was allegedly a clandestine conduit for arms and men, as well as food, fuel, and clothing. The group's board included some of Serbia's leading public figures, including executive director Gojko đogo, a famed nationalist poet. đogo was reportedly an unofficial Bosnian Serb representative in Belgrade, speaking to Milošević on their behalf, mobilizing support in the Serbian press, and perhaps even helping to send paramilitary fighters.[90] đogo himself, however, refused to speak about the issue, saying only that "some things should be reserved for a discussion years from now."[91] The association had branches across Serbia, based in municipal offices, sports halls, and other public facilities. During the war, it collected money, blankets, clothes, and medical supplies, coordinating what đogo called a "tremendous" popular response. đogo said his association enjoyed support from all Serbian political parties, including Milošević's Socialists. "The regime has their spies in our association," he said, "but we have our spies among them as well."

Through the Military Line, top Serbian officials generated a network capable of transferring influence and coercion from Serbia into Bosnia. Secrecy was vital because the West had designated the Bosnian border as a sovereign boundary, barring Serbia from openly intervening. Secrecy also provided Serbia with plausible deniability, which in turn facilitated an ethnic cleansing policy for which the Serbian government hoped it could evade responsibility. Plausible deniability was bolstered by the chaos and confusion caused by the breakdown of normal state controls, and the emergence of a frontier-style institutional environment in Bosnia. Although a slim coordination chain appears to have stretched from Belgrade to Bosnia through the Military Line and its lower-ranking operatives, the extent of Belgrade's actual control over individual events remains unclear.

To some degree, Serbia's ties to Bosnia were actively constructed by the Serbian regime, but to some extent, they existed sui generis. Here, the regime's contribution was to tolerate the continued existence of those ties and to lend a helping hand when possible. In the spring and summer of

1992, Serbs in Bosnia and Serbia were connected through multiple links, and it would have required substantial political effort to sever those ties entirely.[92] Together, Serbian state and society helped construct a complex cross-border network that linked Serbian core to Bosnian frontier, despite conditions of breakdown and chaos. The next chapter explores repertoires of nationalist violence within the Serbian core, where the state pursued a radically different set of policies toward non-Serb populations.


4. Ethnic Harassment
in the Serbian Core

The ability of institutional settings to shape repertoires of state violence was dramatized in 1992 and 1993 when Serbian paramilitaries returning home periodically from Bosnian fighting behaved quite differently within the borders of the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). Although local, republican, and federal officials all permitted and perhaps even encouraged the ethnic harassment of non-Serb minorities living in Serbia and Montenegro, they blocked Bosnia-style ethnic cleansing by paramilitaries. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the Sandžak and Vojvodina, two ethnically mixed areas along Serbia and Montenegro's western borders.

The Serbian state prevented mass expulsions on its own territory and that of Montenegro (which was then largely under Belgrade's sway) because it enjoyed high levels of infrastructural power in its domestic sphere. Non-Serbs in Sandžak and Vojvodina did not launch armed rebellions or carve out semi-autonomous zones, and Western powers did not grant sovereignty to would-be non-Serb secessionists. The Western argument was that since the Sandžak and Vojvodina were internal regions within Serbia and Montenegro, not republics, they were not entitled to independence. With its empirical and juridical sovereignty over these areas assured, the Serbian state worked to prevent private Serbian nationalists from using Bosnia-style methods within the Serbian core. As noted in Chapter 1, strong and well-functioning states are loathe to permit violent paramilitary freelancing on their own territory, and Serbia

was no different. For similar reasons, the state would not violate its own laws by engaging itself in ethnic cleansing. Serbia was less troubled by ethnic harassment, on the other hand. It disciplined terrified minorities and encouraged some to flee, but did not trigger acute criticism from local and international human rights monitors.

Serbia's non-use of ethnic cleansing in its core territories was remarkable given powerful incentives in favor of ethnic cleansing. In the early years of the Croat and then Bosnian wars, Serbian nationalist passions were running high, semi-private paramilitaries were mobilized, and Serbian state-supported ethnic cleansers were active against Muslims and Croats living just beyond Serbia's official borders. Yet despite all this, ethnic minorities in the new Yugoslavia were neither massacred nor forced en masse from their homes, in marked contrast to the plight of their co-nationals in Bosnia. The Serbian core had molded Serbian nationalism to fit its own logic of appropriateness, smoothing down its sharpest edges to avoid international and domestic criticism. The impact of this on the lives of non-Serbs was tremendous. In 1992 and 1993, the boundary between Serbian core and Bosnian frontier was, quite literally, a border between life and death.


The Sandžak, divided between Serbia and Montenegro, is a mountainous region bordering on Bosnia with a population of some 500,000 split between Muslim Slavs, ethnic Serbs, and Montenegrins, with Muslims officially comprising slightly over 50 percent.[1] Strategically, Sandžak links Albania and Kosovo, to the east, with Bosnia, to the west. During the Bosnian war the region was a favorite jumping-off point for Serbian paramilitaries, who used its small, mountainous roads to quietly slip into Bosnia. Paradoxically, however, these gunmen did not systematically attack Muslims in the Sandžak itself.

Had institutional settings not mattered, Serbian officials are likely to have encouraged Serbian irregulars to ethnically cleanse the region. Authorities worried that a thriving Sandžak Muslim secessionist movement, allied to the nearby Bosnian Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), might eventually form the centerpiece of the so-called Green Belt, an allegedly hostile, Muslim-controlled arc encircling Serbia on three sides. As one Serbian military journal warned, Muslim Slavs coveted Sandžak as "the important link of the Muslim chain that should connect the Islamic centers Sarajevo and Istanbul."[2] Sandžak, moreover, was Serbia's only


Map 3. Within the Serbian core: The Sandžak

[Full Size]
land link to the Adriatic Sea, and if Sandžak's Muslim secessionists were successful, Serbia's strategic position could be gravely endangered.

Serbian fears of Sandžak secession and rebellion were not entirely unfounded. Sandžak's Muslims, like those of Bosnia, identified themselves politically as members of Yugoslavia's Muslim nationality, implying that

at least some of their number believed in their right to territorial selfdetermination.[3] During Yugoslavia's 1990 multiparty elections, Muslims in both Sandžak and Bosnia had voted heavily for the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the Muslim nationalist party, whose leader, Alija Izetbegović, said Bosnia had legitimate territorial interests in Sandžak and encouraged Sandžak Muslims to demand autonomy from Serbia and Montenegro.[4] Between 1990 and 1992, when the Bosnian war erupted, the SDA's definition of "Bosnian territory" occasionally referred to the Sandžak, [5] and some of the party's most committed activists came from the mountainous region.[6] In October 1991, the party organized a Sandžak referendum in support of autonomy and the right to secede, [7] and in March 1992, a leading Sandžak Muslim politician openly threatened secession if Serbia refused to grant the region autonomy.[8] Throughout 1992 and 1993, the Sandžak SDA branch pressed for greater territorial rights, including autonomy and/or secession. It was only some years later, after consistent Western disinterest, that political activists quietly dropped secession from their agenda. The specter of Sandžak secession in the early 1990s, therefore, was quite real.

In Belgrade, the Serbian nationalist counter-elite had their own reasons for supporting Sandžak's ethnic cleansing. As was true for Kosovo, nationalists cherished Sandžak as a historical center of Serbian culture, politics, and religion, fearing that a politically self-confident Sandžak Muslim community posed a major threat to Serbia's heritage. During the 1980s, nationalist spokesmen such as Vuk Drašković placed Sandžak's Muslims high on their list of enemies, warning in February 1988 of the alleged "rage of offensive and intolerant Islam in Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Sandžak," as well as of the "vampire rebirth of" Islamic law and the "Jihad strategy of creating an Islamic state in the Balkans."[9] In 1990, Drašković organized a large demonstration in Novi Pazar, Sandžak's unofficial capital, warning Muslims their arms would be "cut off" if they dared raise a non-Serbian flag.[10] As Serbia's rulers became increasingly nationalistic themselves in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they increasingly referred to Sandžak as an integral part of Greater Serbia. Both Serbian officials and private Serbian nationalists, in other words, had reason to resent the Muslim presence in Sandžak, a fact recognized by concerned international actors when the Bosnian war began. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) urgently deployed monitors to the region in 1993, responding to repeated warnings of impending genocide by Sandžak's Muslim leaders.[11]

Sandžak's Muslims, in sum, conceived of themselves as a distinct political

community, sought territorial self-determination, and appealed to Western powers for succor. Given these circumstances, ethnic cleansing would appear to have offered a quick and easy solution for Serbia and the newly reduced Yugoslav federation that it led. If paramilitaries could have quickly pushed Sandžak's Muslims out through Bosnia-style violence, state officials would have resolved a thorny strategic problem and placated the Belgrade nationalists. The Sandžak attacks might have been explained away or even partially concealed amidst the fog of war, as the Bosnian conflict was then raging only miles away. Belgrade's decision not to engage in ethnic cleansing in the Sandžak, therefore, is an empirical puzzle requiring explanation.


As noted above, a key difference between Sandžak and Bosnia was the former's inability to attract Western support for sovereignty. When combined with the lack of a credible Muslim insurgency in the Sandžak, this kept the area under Serbian infrastructural control, maintaining the integrity of the Serbian core. Western powers did extend some human rights oversight, however, reinforcing the Serbian state's tendency to project an image of law and order in its own territory. In response to complaints by Sandžak leaders, Western diplomats repeatedly expressed their interest in human rights conditions in the area, pressing the authorities to restrain private Serbian nationalists and reign in Serbia's police forces. The results, some Sandžak leaders believe, were life-saving: "If we hadn't managed to attract international attention to Serbian actions here," said Nedim, a Party of Democratic Action leader, "we would have been killed or driven out of our homes."[12] Nijaz, another party activist, explained that before the war, "the Western world had no idea there were Muslims living in Sandžak." But when the Bosnian fighting began, "they learned of our existence, and began to visit. Parliamentarians from all over the world came, learning that we lived here and that our rights were being violated. We had contacts with the Red Cross, the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and many visits from international embassies." That internationalization, he said emphatically, "was the only reason we weren't cleansed."[13] According to these activists, international engagement with Sandžak through the human rights norm served as a crucial brake on Serbian nationalist ambitions. International actors were determined to grant sovereignty only to former Yugoslav republics, not to internal regions such as Sandžak,

but as an integral part of the Serbian core, Sandžak triggered Western human rights interest, with non-trivial results.


State-tolerated violence in the Sandžak never rose above the level of ethnic harassment, a terrifying phenomenon that nonetheless did not entail Bosnia-style forced displacement, sexual violence, and massacres. Paramilitaries, as noted above, used Sandžak as a rear base during 1992 and 1993 because of its proximity to eastern Bosnia and its remote, mountainous terrain. Far from Belgrade-based diplomats and journalists, Serbian irregulars could quietly cross the Bosnian border, hiding their violation of Serbia's official zero-tolerance policy on paramilitary infiltration. As fighting continued through 1992, however, the paramilitaries' increasingly resented exempting Sandžak's Muslims from attack. The Muslim population on both sides of the border shared family ties and political affiliations, some Sandžak Muslims had gone to Bosnia to fight, and Serbian nationalist rhetoric did not distinguish carefully between Muslims in Serbia/Montenegro and those in Bosnia. More importantly, perhaps, many of Sandžak's Muslims owned prosperous shops and businesses, presenting the paramilitaries with a tempting economic target. From the paramilitary perspective, it was unclear why they should pursue two separate policies for what was essentially the same group of people.

Local police, municipal authorities, and Serbian state officials, on the other hand, felt somewhat differently. Sandžak was located within the Serbian core, and paramilitary freelancing would violate Serbian law, disrupt central state control, and attract unwanted international attention. State and paramilitary interests converged on Bosnia, in other words, but diverged in the Sandžak. As state representatives and paramilitaries tacitly negotiated the boundaries of acceptable anti-minority violence in the Sandžak, practices of ethnic harassment emerged. The state tolerated and perhaps even encouraged low-level violence against Sandžak's Muslims, but refused to let the Serbian irregulars go too far. When they threatened to seize control of Sandžak territory and take blatant action against local Muslims, the state felt compelled to crack down.

Pljevlja's Aborted Paramilitary Coup

Events in Pljevlja, a small Sandžak town near the Bosnian border, are a case in point. The government allowed Serbian irregulars to use Pljevlja

in 1992 and 1993 as a staging ground, providing them with access to local Yugoslav army barracks and, allegedly, to weapons. When Pljevlja's irregulars intimidated and harassed local Muslims, moreover, local, republican, and federal authorities turned a blind eye, hoping perhaps that the violence would force Pljevlja's Muslims out. Once the paramilitaries took more resolute action, however, seizing control of the town and announcing their intent to force Muslims out en masse, the Serbiancontrolled Yugoslav authorities sent reinforcements and swiftly defused the attempted coup. Pljevlja's Muslims were frightened and suffered material loss, but they were not killed or forcibly evicted from their homes in large numbers.

Pljevlja's central paramilitary organizer in 1992 and 1993 was Milika (čeko) Dačević, leader of the Pljevlja branch of the Serbian četnik Movement. "There were many paramilitaries at that time in the town," recalled Dino, a local Muslim political leader, "but čeko brought them all together."[14] In addition to his charismatic appeal, čeko's ties to the Belgrade-based nationalist radical, Vojislav Šešelj, seemed crucial. "čeko was Šešelj's designated man in Pljevlja," recalled Stevo, a Montenegrin journalist, "and was also close to the Serbian ministry of interior."[15] This very agency, it will be recalled, was home to the plainclothes Serbian state security apparatus, linchpin of the Belgrade-to-Bosnia network. C ć eko, in other words, was a middle-tier operative of the clandestine Serbian Military Line.

Estimates of čeko's following vary from dozens to thousands. Zoran, Pljevlja's mayor throughout the 1990s, insisted that čeko had successfully mobilized only a "few dozen unemployed people, riff raff from Pljevlja and from all across Serbia."[16] Muslim leaders in the town, however, put the numbers at several thousand. čeko himself claimed in an interview to control 4,000 men, including Bosnian Serb fighters from across the nearby border.[17] čeko used Pljevlja as his rear base, according to the same report, traveling "regularly to the town of Goražde, just 40 miles away in Bosnia," returning "with loot to sell in the local market, including video recorders and refrigerators."

Zoran, Pljevlja's mayor, dismissed čeko as a local troublemaker bent on stirring up anti-Muslim violence, saying the paramilitary leader was a "criminal and a pathological thief" who falsely presented himself as defender of the Serbian people, "but really only cared about stealing the homes and businesses of Muslims." Milan, one of Zoran's senior aides, called čeko "an ignorant, uneducated man who attracted stupid and violent criminals."[18] He recalled that čeko used to "scream that all the

Turks [a derogatory term for Muslims] should get out, or be killed. He was trying to stir up the least educated, the unemployed, into attacking the Muslims." čeko's favorite saying, according to the mayor, was that "Pljevlja was a small town, and that there was only room for Serbs, not Turks." čeko, it seemed, wanted to apply Bosnian frontier logic to Pljevlja, resisting distinctions between Muslims living in the Sandžak and those in Bosnia. Muslims were Muslims, and they should be forced out. Serbia and its smaller federal partner Montenegro, however, felt differently, distinguishing between Muslims on the Bosnian side of the border, whom čeko was entitled to attack, and Muslims on the Yugoslav side, who were off-limits.

Muslims from Pljevlja believe that in 1992 and 1993, čeko was politically influential at the local level. "čeko did as he liked in town, and the state could do nothing about it," said Dino, the Pljevlja Muslim political activist. "Even the mayor was afraid of him." The authorities would not criticize him in public and did not protest when čeko's irregulars threatened Muslims in the street, smashed their store windows, and gave strident anti-Muslim speeches. It seemed that in the summer of 1992, čeko's power was even beginning to rival that of the mayor. "Increasingly, it looked like Pljevlja and the surrounding areas belonged to čeko and others like him, not to the state," recalled Stevo, the Montenegrin journalist then covering events. As one Western reporter wrote at the time, "While the police say they could arrest him [čeko] … if they wanted, he and his followers appear to do what they like. For example, despite a line of several hundred cars for gasoline at the local station—which had a sign up saying no gasoline was left—Mr. čeko was able to go straight to the front of the line where he was immediately, and deferentially, served."[19] Some Muslim leaders recalled that čeko even warned he might "annex" Pljevlja to the adjacent Bosnian Serb state, adding that they believed many of Pljevlja's policemen supported čeko's beliefs.

The irregulars, or perhaps some of their local sympathizers, soon began a campaign of nighttime bombings aimed at Muslim businesses. "The Serbs wanted us out," said Dino, the local Muslim political activist, explaining that the "state, čeko, the mayor, everyone, wanted no Muslims in Sandžak at all, and especially not in Pljevlja, so close to the border." Some Muslims feared that ethnic cleansing was about to begin. Nusret, a prominent local Muslim businessman, said that "the state first fired Muslims from state businesses, then accused us of being disloyal secessionists, and finally turned to čeko, telling him to terrify us into fleeing

with his bombings. If that didn't work, they were planning to kill us."[20] Yet while local authorities may have privately hoped the Muslims would leave, they did not tolerate open attacks on the Yugoslav side of the border, since that would contradict Belgrade's efforts to portray the new federal Yugoslavia as an orderly, law-abiding area. The paramilitaries appeared to understand this constraint, if only instinctively, targeting their bombs so as to cause no casualties. The nighttime bombings terrified local Muslims, but did not trigger a vigorous state response.

In early August 1992, however, čeko's men went too far, triggering a state crackdown. The drama began with čeko's arrest by local policemen for a minor infraction. When his fighters learned the police might hold čeko overnight, they launched a coup. "It was a very precise military operation," recalled Senad, an official in Pljevoja's local Muslim aid agency.[21] "They seized the radio station, cut communications, blocked the roads leading into town, and even put machine gun nests in the hills above the town." Pljevlja's Muslim population was terrified, hiding in their homes as irregulars in the street shouted slogans against the police, the Yugoslav federation, and Muslims. "čeko's men were demanding that we leave and that our homes be given to Serbs," Senad claimed. "They wanted this place to look like Bosnia, where Muslims' property and lives are worthless." Pljevlja seemed on the verge of slipping into frontier-like status, and a wave of deadly, Bosnia-style ethnic cleansing seemed poised to begin.

The state's response, however, was both swift and unequivocal. Momir Bulatović, then president of Montenegro and Slobodan Milošević's close political ally, flew to Pljevlja in a helicopter, accompanied by a high-ranking officer of the Serbian-controlled Yugoslav army. The two men negotiated with čeko in the mayor's office while Yugoslav military reinforcements were deployed around town. Yugoslav federal president Dobrica ćosić, a famed Serbian nationalist and intellectual, provided moral support and pressed Vojislav Šešelj, čeko's political superior in Belgrade, to counsel restraint. The combined pressure worked, and the paramilitaries de-escalated in return for čeko's release. Federal forces continued to patrol the area, gradually reasserting central state control. čeko's fighters continued to sally forth into Bosnia, but refrained from threatening Pljevlja's Muslims too openly. Some local Muslims fled but most remained, and no homes were destroyed or looted.

The attempted coup was a dramatic illustration of the state's resolve to block ethnic cleansing in the Serbian core. čeko and his men were cross-border predators, attacking Muslims in Bosnia with Serbian and

Yugoslav federal support. Inside Serbia and Montenegro, however, local, republican, and federal officials were uncomfortable with blatant rampages against Sandžak's Muslims. Seeking to uphold Yugoslavia's lawful image at home and abroad, officials felt constrained to suppress openly predatory paramilitary activity in their own backyard. They were willing to tolerate nighttime bombings, but would not permit more drastic measures. Officials had effectively had set a cap on anti-Muslim violence in Pljevlja, preventing it from rising above the level of ethnic harassment. When čeko's men threatened to physically tear Pljevlja from the core and attach it to the Bosnian frontier, the state cracked down. The border thus functioned as a signaling mechanism, defining different areas for ethnic cleansing and harassment. Two institutional settings had been created—a Bosnian frontier and a Serbian core—and they powerfully shaped Serbian repertoires of state violence.

Priboj Municipality

Pljevlja was not the only Sandžak border town where cross-border paramilitaries pushed the envelope, attacking small numbers of Sandžak Muslims in a tacit process of negotiation with local and national authorities. Priboj, an ethnically mixed municipality located directly adjacent to the Serbia-Bosnia boundary, witnessed several cases of paramilitary intimidation and even murder. The most deadly attacks, however, took place in remote corners distant from Priboj town. By keeping to the municipality's geographic margins, the paramilitaries made a concession to state officials concerned with preserving the integrity of Serbia's core.

I visited Priboj after first interviewing Muslim political leaders in Novi Pazar, the unofficial Sandžak capital, for whom distinctions between violence in Bosnia and the Sandžak were problematic.[22] To emphasize the intensity of Sandžak Muslim suffering, the leaders equated their community's fate with that of Bosnia's Muslims. "In 1992 and 1993, a nationalistic, dictatorial Serbian regime did not want to see Muslims living in the Sandžak," explained Sead, a leading Muslim politician in the Sandžak.[23] "They did everything they could to kill us, murder our people, and thus force us to flee. What they did here is similar to what happened in Bosnia." As Dzenan, a Novi Pazar human rights activist said, "The state pretended that it was at peace, not at war, but they conducted a genocide right here in the Sandžak. They did it in Bosnia, and they did it here."[24] For Novi Pazar's Muslim political activists, the parallels with Bosnia were clear: Muslims were attacked in Bosnia to force

them from their homes, and Muslims were victimized in Sandžak for similar purposes.

Interestingly, however, both men realized the evidence did not entirely support their claims. Their hometown of Novi Pazar, for example, was still a Muslim-majority city in 1997, signaling the Sandžak had not been emptied of its Muslim population. Muslims had been intimidated, marginalized, and discriminated against, but most remained alive in their homes. Total wartime casualty figures for Sandžak's 200,000 Muslims, after all, were only a few dozen. To resolve this apparent contradiction, the leaders encouraged me to travel to Sandžak's border regions, including both Priboj and Pljevlja. "Go there and you will see proof of the Serb genocide," Sead urged. But the very fact that I had to go to Sandžak's border with Bosnia signaled that anti-Muslim violence inside the Serbian core was heavily influenced by institutional settings. Although Muslims throughout Sandžak were intimidated and harassed, evidence of direct violence could be found only along the border, where Serbian core met Bosnian frontier.

Once I visited Priboj, moreover, I found the violence was even more targeted, discriminating, and calibrated then I had imagined. Not only was it restricted to Sandžak's border regions, but it had focused sharply on Muslims who fell into one of two categories: persons caught by paramilitaries as they strayed onto Bosnian territory, or persons living in remote border villages. Other Muslims were untouched, although many feared for their lives, were humiliated by anti-Muslim propaganda, and lost their public sector jobs. Local Muslims had suffered enormously but had not experienced the same repertoires of violence encountered by their co-nationals living nearby in Bosnia.

In Priboj, I was told that a Belgrade-based Serbian paramilitary, the White Eagles, had recruited heavily among local Serbs during 1992. The town's proximity to the border, moreover, had made it something of a gathering place for other Serbian irregulars. Priboj town's 12,000 Muslims, who represented less than a third of the overall population, were acutely aware of the paramilitaries' presence. Sejo, a local Muslim politician, recalled that 1992 was a "terrifying period. Nationalist paramilitaries were everywhere, marching in the streets with their guns and uniforms. They cursed us and made all kinds of horrible statements about us."[25] Safet, a Priboj café owner of Muslim origin, recalled paramilitaries being "everywhere, often drinking and eating in the town. If they saw a Muslim in a café, they would say to the owner, ‘Why do you allow Turks in here?’ And if they saw a Muslim and Serb together in a café, they said to the Serb, ‘Why are you drinking with filthy Turks?’"[26] Mehmet, another

Priboj Muslim leader, said the town was then a place of "state terror. Muslims were being killed without any compunction. Those socalled paramilitaries were all over, but in reality, they were an arm of the state."[27] According to a Western reporter visiting Priboj in November 1992, local Serbs believed Muslims were terrorists, while Muslims felt terrorized by ethnic Serb paramilitaries. In Priboj, he wrote,

hate letters are circulating among Serbs.… "Serbs, you must leave Muslim cafes because they are preparing cocktails that will make you sterile," reads one of the hate letters. "Each Muslim has been assigned his own Serb to liquidate." … The main Serb paramilitary force around Priboj is the White Eagles, a Belgrade-based group that last spring led assaults on Muslim towns in Bosnia. In August, an elderly man in … Višegrad, eighteen miles northwest of here, gave a detailed account of having watched members of the White Eagles take Muslim residents to a bridge, kill them and throw their bodies in the Drina river.[28]

Yet while Priboj was a site of anti-Muslim intimidation and harassment, the violence never escalated into ethnic cleansing. Despite the paramilitary presence, anti-Muslim propaganda, public sector discrimination, and border proximity, Muslims were never killed within Priboj town itself.

Individual Muslims were abducted and/or killed in the general vicinity of Priboj, however, in particularly remote geographical corners. In choosing these sites, the attackers signaled their actions should not be interpreted as severe challenges to the Serbian core's integrity and law-andorder image. As long as the nationalists did not kill their victims deep within Serbia's domestic sphere, Sandžak officials could keep up legal appearances. In what follows, I describe two types of paramilitary attacks on the margins of Priboj municipality: hit-and-run raids by "unidentified gunmen" on remote Muslim villages, and paramilitary abductions of Muslim commuters who strayed onto Bosnian territory.

Hit-and-Run Raids

In early October, 1992, gunmen rampaged through Sjeverin, a remote Muslim village adjacent to the Bosnian border, wounding scores and causing substantial property damage. Hundreds of villagers fled, walking on foot through the mountains to Priboj town. "The Muslims' flight," a reporter wrote, "alarmed the federal authorities in Belgrade, committed to preventing the spread of ethnic cleansing across the Bosnian border. Yugoslav federal troops were ordered to reinforce special police units assigned to push the Serb irregulars out of the border villages.

"[29] Gunmen launched a second hit-and-run attack on February 18, 1993, firing mortars at Kukurovići, another remote village. Three Muslims were killed, others were wounded, and the village's 1,000 residents fled to Priboj town, telling Serbian human rights workers that their assailants were Yugoslav federal reservists trying to push them away from the Bosnian border.[30] Serbian officials denied the charge, saying the attackers were paramilitary infiltrators from Bosnia.[31] The government sent reinforcements but said it was impossible to entirely seal the remote area to infiltration from Bosnia.[32] By focusing on remote border villages, the attackers—regardless of their true identity or patrons—were carefully avoiding a blatant challenge to Sandžak's law-and-order image. As long as the attackers did not descend from the mountains into Priboj town itself, the integrity of the Serbian core remained relatively intact.


The second category of attacks-on-the-margins is even more illustrative of the power of institutional setting. In 1992 and early 1993, gunmen carried out two highly publicized abductions of Sandžak Muslims near Priboj municipality, seizing a total of thirty-eight men. Although the evidence is slim, it is widely believed by local Muslims that the men were subsequently killed. Significantly, the abduction sites were carefully chosen so that they took place on slivers of Bosnian territory protruding into Serbia. The victims had strayed across the slivers because of the Bosnia-Serbia boundary's circuitous trajectory, which forced commuters to briefly pass through what had become in 1992 sovereign Bosnian territory.

The first kidnapping took place on October 22, 1992, when a commuter bus en route to Priboj from a small border village was stopped by paramilitaries as it crossed Bosnian territory. The gunmen searched the bus and forced off seventeen Muslim passengers, carting them off in a truck allegedly belonging to an ethnic Serb in nearby Priboj town.[33] The second attack took place on February 27, 1993, in Štrpci, a small village where the Belgrade-Bar railway briefly dips into Bosnia. The gunmen boarded the train, searched for Muslim passengers, and pulled off twenty-one persons, who then disappeared without a trace.[34]

Many observers suspect Milan Lukić, commander of a White Eagle contingent in the nearby Bosnian town of Višegrad, of organizing both abductions.[35] His precise motivations remain unclear, but observers offer different, equally plausible, theories. Some say Lukić hoped to use

the men for a prisoner swap that went bad, while others say he hoped to ransom the prisoners off. Still others argue that Lukić, together with powerful patrons in the Belgrade establishment, were trying to drag Yugoslavia into the Bosnian war. Many Muslims in Priboj think the abduction was a tacit threat signaling them to flee the region. Newspaper reports say Lukić came to Bosnia from Serbia early on in the war, embarking on a spate of killings of Bosnian Muslims and Serbs who tried to restrain him. The paramilitary leader appeared to enjoy close relations with Serbian and Yugoslav federal officers based near Priboj, who supplied him with weapons and other logistical support.[36]

Lukić's relations with the Republic of Serbia and the new Yugoslav federation were complex, however, exemplifying patterns of both cooperation and conflict. Although the paramilitary commander had powerful patrons in Serbia, other officials seemed concerned lest Lukić import Bosnia-style methods into the Sandžak.[37] Yugoslav federal forces had a sharp confrontation with Lukić right after the October 1992 Sjeverin bus abduction, for example, arresting him over the protests of his men, who vowed to kill local Sandžak Muslims in retaliation if Lukić was not set free. According to a local Serbian reporter, "Fingers were on the triggers all night" as paramilitaries tensely negotiated with government forces.[38] Lukić was released and was later seen traveling regularly between Bosnia and Yugoslavia, stopping off in Priboj. Still, he seemed to respect the integrity of the Serbian core, ensuring his next abduction again took place in Bosnian territory.

The official response to both kidnappings was sensitive to the institutional terrain in which they had occurred, tacitly rewarding the paramilitaries for their restraint in the Serbian core. In an interview, Predrag, Priboj's former mayor, stressed that the attacks took place in Bosnia, not Serbia, and that they were therefore not his responsibility. "Those terrible attacks were tragic," Predrag said, "but it is important to remember they did take place in the sovereign territory of another country. We can't be responsible for that."[39] At the time of the incident, Predrag told local Muslims, "The kidnapping happened on the territory of an internationally recognized state over which we have no jurisdiction."[40] As one Serbian parliamentarian noted approvingly, "Bosnia-Herzegovina is a recognized country. Therefore, it is legally difficult to launch an investigation on its territory."[41] The Serbian justice minister also noted that the abductions had taken place on the territory of "another state which is recognized and sovereign," and where "Serbia had no jurisdiction."[42] Slobodan Milošević took care to address the abductions himself,

emphasizing legal limitations posed by the kidnappers' use of Bosnian territory. "The moment I learned about the kidnapping," Milošević told Muslim representatives, "I personally contacted the highest authorities of … [Bosnia-Herzegovina] and received their firmest assurances … that the kidnapped citizens should be found and returned and … that the culprits should be caught and brought to trial." The problem, Milošević stressed, was that the Serbian police were "powerless on the other side [of the border]."[43] In emphasizing their inability to investigate crimes that took place inside Bosnia, Serbian authorities were essentially turning the tables on the international community, which had recognized Bosnian independence against their wishes. If Bosnia was now its own country, how could anyone hold Belgrade responsible for crimes committed on the wrong side of the boundary?

The Sandžak abductions received significant domestic and international publicity, compromising the Belgrade authorities' law-and-order image. Sandžak Muslims demonstrated in front of local officials' offices, demanding information and protesting in Belgrade and the Montenegrin capital.[44] Antiwar groups in Belgrade rallied to the cause, using the abductions in their own struggle against Serbian nationalism. Local papers of all political persuasions carried the story, which remained a mainstream Belgrade news item throughout 1993 and 1994. In response, Serbian officials reassured the public they were doing everything they could to locate the missing men, even though matters were complicated by the fact that the crimes had occurred on sovereign Bosnian territory. Slobodan Milošević promised he would move "heaven and earth, leaving no stone unturned" to find the abducted persons, and Husein, a Muslim political activist from Prijepolje, recalled that "everyone from the president on down made it very clear that they took this case seriously."[45] The republican governments of Serbia and Montenegro created investigative commissions and checked with Bosnian Serb authorities, but allegedly unearthed no new information. Sandžak Muslim leaders suspect that government officials know who the kidnappers are but refuse to prosecute for fear of revealing clandestine state ties to cross-border paramilitaries.

Serbian officials were discomfited by kidnappers' public challenge to their law-and-order image. Explained Jasmina, a Belgrade journalist and human rights investigator,

At that time, it was very unusual for twenty people to disappear like that in Serbia. You must understand how major an event it was. We were not at war, according to the government, and we were not involved in the Bosnian

fighting. It is very important to realize that the people who disappeared were Serbian citizens, even if they were Muslims. Serbian citizens!! Milošević promised the families of the missing he would turn over heaven and earth to find their relatives. Given the circumstances, he of course had to say that.[46]

Thus the same state that clandestinely helped organize ethnic cleansing in Bosnia felt obliged to publicly explain what actions it was taking to address the abduction of thirty-eight Muslims from Serbia proper.

The Serbian government had helped cross-border irregulars displace, wound, and kill thousands of Muslims inside Bosnia, but inside Sandžak, only 50 Muslims were killed out of a potential 200,000 victims. Both Muslim communities lived in Serb-controlled space, but their fates proved vastly different due to the effects of institutional setting. Belgrade's commitment to Serbian nationalism and covert cross-border operations was coupled with its desire to project an orderly, lawful image in its domestic sphere, and this had dramatic repercussions for repertoires of state violence. The Serbian-Bosnian border powerfully shaped Serbian conduct by separating Bosnian frontier from Serbian core.


In Sandžak, non-Serbs were cowed by private Serbian paramilitaries, but in Vojvodina, an ethnically mixed province near Belgrade, non-Serbs were intimidated by the local equivalent of Bosnia's crisis committees. As was true in the Sandžak, the Serbian state blocked nationalists in Vojvodina from developing into full-blown, Bosnia-style ethnic cleansers. This trend is perhaps best illustrated by events in Hrtkovci, an ethnically mixed village in the province. In the summer of 1992, Serbian nationalists created a local version of the Bosnian crisis committees to force ethnic Croats from their homes, and while many did eventually leave, the Serbian radicals did not use Bosnian-style violence, resorting instead to harassment. Ethnic Croats suffered tremendously, but like their Sandžak Muslim counterparts, were spared Bosnia's frontier horrors.

Vojvodina, one of Serbia's richest regions, had been ethnically mixed for centuries. According to the 1991 census, 57 percent of its residents were ethnic Serbs, along with 22 percent Hungarians, 7 percent Croats, and 14 percent other.[47] Vojvodina was incorporated into Yugoslavia from the Habsburg empire after World War I and was designated in 1945 an "autonomous province" within Serbia. In the late 1980s, however, Vojvodina, along with Kosovo, was subjected to Serbian administrative

centralization, and a new 1990 constitution revoked many of Vojvodina's powers.[48] In reaction, a handful of Vojvodina activists began to lobby for "cultural autonomy." And while they insisted they had no secessionist intentions, Belgrade authorities resented their claims as precursors to secession. Vojvodina bordered Croatia, Serbia's arch-enemy, as well as Hungary, which had supplied weapons to Croatia during the 1991 fighting.[49]

Occasional secessionist appeals from Vojvodina radicals reinforced the authorities' fears.[50] These attracted no international support, however, and territorial independence was never on any credible political agenda. Like Sandžak, moreover, Vojvodina offered no armed opposition to Serbian rule, leaving the state's empirical and juridical sovereignty entirely intact.


Thousands of Serbs fled the Croatian fighting in late 1991, settling in Vojvodina at the Serbian state's request.[51] Hrtkovci, a Croat-majority village located some thirty-five miles west of Belgrade, was slated to accommodate several thousand refugees. Before the influx, some 2,600 of the village's 3,800 residents were ethnic Croats, but tensions soon mounted as the ethnic Serb population grew. Rumors spread that Belgrade officials had told displaced Serbs to evict Croats from their homes. Hrtkovci's Croats were on occasion threatened with beatings and even death if they refused to flee.[52] Children were harassed in school, a few night-time grenades were thrown into Croat gardens, and fistfights erupted in public places. A similar pattern emerged in several other Croat-majority villages. "Croats here were terrified," recalled Father Dejan, an official in Novi Sad's Catholic church. "They kept coming to see me and asking what to do. Within weeks or months after the Serb refugees arrived, the Croat population had begun to flee."[53] The intimidation first began in the villages of Slankamen and Beška, and then moved on to Hrtkovci.

In Belgrade, Vojislav Šešelj was a key supporter of the Vojvodina eviction efforts, arguing in May 1992 that the solution to Serbian refugees' housing problems was "to give them the addresses of the Croats in Serbia, and to give the Croats the addresses of abandoned Serb houses in Croatia. Then a population exchange will take place, even if under pressure."[54] Such plans were blatantly illegal, of course, and officials from Serbia's ruling Socialist Party condemned them harshly.[55] Still, there were

reports that Šešelj's representatives met Serbian refugees at the border, helping them to identify Croat homes for eviction.

Unofficially, some Serbian officials appeared to tacitly support Šešelj's eviction campaign. Father Dejan thought that national security considerations were paramount; Serbian state security, in particular, he said, feared that Vojvodina's Croats would become a fifth column.[56] Stanimir, a senior member of Vojvodina's anti-nationalist party, the League of Vojvodina Social Democrats, believed the evictions sought to change the province's electoral balance of power. "It was straight electoral politics," Stanimir claimed. "Milošević wanted to get rid of anybody whom he couldn't trust to vote for him."[57]

Tensions crested in Hrtkovci after a large, Šešelj-led rally in the village on May 6, 1992, when nationalist spokesmen demanded in no uncertain terms that local Croats pick up and leave. Thousands of Serbian Radical Party supporters, including many recent Serbian refugee arrivals, attended, according to Father Dejan, and many "marched in full četnik uniform."[58] One speaker went so far as to read out the names of alleged Croat traitors, warning them to flee Hrtkovci as soon as possible.

"Soft" Ethnic Cleansing

As we saw in Chapter 3, the Bosnian Serb crisis committees operated quite differently than the Belgrade-based paramilitaries. The latter were external actors loyal to national Serbian figures, functioning outside the normal structures of state and municipal authority. Paramilitaries used violence of the most direct kind, displaying little interest in local laws, regulations, or other bureaucratic tools. The crisis committees, by contrast, emerged from existing local authorities, relying on mechanisms of local administration and governance to enforce ethnic cleansing. Whereas the Sandžak town of Pljevlja had experienced a failed paramilitary coup, Vojvodina's Hrtkovci village was home to an aborted nationalist crisis committee.

Hrtkovci's crisis committee experience was created when the head of the local Radical Party branch, Ostoja Sibinčić, was elected chief of the local council in 1992 with the help of Serb refugees from Croatia. Local councils were on an administrative tier below municipalities, encompassing either neighborhoods or villages. After Šešelj's May 1992 demonstration, Sibinčić organized a new vote for council leadership and was elected its leader, granting him substantial administrative power. "The local police were either cooperating with him or were scared of

him," recalled Father Sreten, a local Catholic priest.[59] "He did what he wanted, said what he wanted, and no one could stop him." What Sibinčić desired above all was to force out Hrtkovci's Croat population and to move Serb refugees into those homes. According to the Novi Sad priest, Father Dejan, Sibinčić was "one of many fingers belonging to one hand in the region," that of Radical Party leader Vojislav Šešelj. "In every village with Croats there was a kind of Sibinčić. In one village, it was the chief of police. In another, it was head of the local council. In each place, another person carried out the plan of ethnic cleansing."[60] In July 1992, Sibinčić changed Hrtkovci's name to Srboslavci, or Serbian Glory, and his supporters sprayed anti-Croat slogans and broke windows in Croat homes.

Surprisingly, however, Sibinčić's activities triggered a substantial degree of resistance from some ethnic Serbs. Hrtkovci was a relatively large village and enjoyed close ties to Novi Sad, the provincial capital; as anti-Croat measures escalated, a Hrtkovci member of the nationalist but anti-Milošević Serbian Renewal Movement contacted the League of Vojvodina Social Democrats in Novi Sad, pleading for support against Sibinčić's campaign. The Social Democrats had earlier polled some 20 percent of Vojvodina's votes, and therefore constituted a local political force of some note. "We sent faxes to Western embassies, newspapers, Belgrade antiwar organizations, and talked with government authorities," recalled Stanimir, the Social Democrat politician in nearby Novi Sad.[61] Croats and anti-nationalist Serbs from Hrtkovci, in other words, used Vojvodina's League of Social Democrats to trigger international human rights scrutiny, just as Muslim activists had done in the Sandžak. Sovereignty for Vojvodina was not on the international agenda, but human rights monitoring was.

International human rights reflexes were swift. In summer 1992, Western reporters descended on Hrtkovci, writing a flurry of articles on the impending spread of ethnic cleansing to Vojvodina.[62] The Serbian press then picked up on the story. First, the Serbian daily Borba published several lengthy articles, and then other mainstream media followed suit, prompting a delegation of Belgrade intellectuals to mobilize and meet with federal officials and visit Hrtkovci, where they spoke with Sibinčić, local police, and residents. Most importantly, perhaps, longtime Serb residents of Hrtkovci joined the protests, publicly defending their Croat neighbors and blaming Sibinčić and the recent Serb refugees from Croatia for the troubles.[63]

In August 1992, the combined pressures bore fruit. Serbian police officers

arrested Sibinčić and four Serb refugees from Croatia, charging them with illegal firearm possession and disturbing the peace. On May 5, 1993, Sibinčić received a six-month suspended sentence. Another nationalist received a three-month suspended sentence, while three others were cleared of all charges. The sentences were light, but they sent a message to Sibinčić and his colleagues in Vojvodina, warning them to tone their methods down. Yet while Sibinčić's most blatant intimidation efforts subsided, his harassment campaign ultimately worked. By the end of 1992, most of Hrtkovci's Croat population had fled.

Still, though Sibinčić and his allies had pushed many Croats from Vojvodina, the modalities of their displacement were quite different than in Bosnia. Only a handful of persons died in the process, and the eviction campaign was not accompanied by Bosnia-style atrocities. There were no concentration camps in Vojvodina, no large-scale murders, rapes, or torture. Hrtkovci's Croats did experience physical and psychological threats that prompted them to flee, but it was "soft" ethnic cleansing, as Nataša Kandić, director of Belgrade's Humanitarian Law Center, termed events.[64]

Serbian repertoires of violence shifted from Bosnia-style violence to "soft" ethnic cleansing as a result of Vojvodina's institutional setting. Vojvodina, like Sandžak, was part of the Serbian core, and no major international actor claimed otherwise. Vojvodina residents did not mount an armed rebellion, unlike their Kosovo counterparts in 1998–99, appealing instead to international human rights monitors. As a result, Sibinčić and his fellow Serbian radicals knew they could not count on state support if they initiated a wave of Bosnia-style violence. Once his threats against Croats were publicly condemned, moreover, Sibinčić's freedom of maneuver was further reduced. Opponents of Sibinčić's ad hoc crisis committee discovered opportunities for meaningful political protest, since they lived in a country then eager to project a clean-hands image to the world and its citizenry. Protestors could approach the press, officials, and foreign embassies and complain about Sibinčić's actions, and it was in the state's interests to respond, at least partially. As a result, ethnic harassment, rather than ethnic cleansing, was Vojvodina's dominant repertoire of violence.

The potential for Bosnia-style ethnic cleansing in the Sandžak and Vojvodina endured throughout 1992 and 1993. During those years, paramilitaries from Serbia proper repeatedly crossed from Serbia into Bosnia and back, unleashing a wave of death and deportation against Bosnia's

non-Serbs. Within Serbia and Montenegro proper, however, these same men acted quite differently. Whereas the Serbian state secretly encouraged ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, it prevented similar efforts within the Serbian core itself. There, Serbian officials did not eliminate nationalist violence altogether, but did reshape its contours dramatically, pushing it toward ethnic harassment, a pernicious but quite different phenomenon from ethnic cleansing.

Why did the Serbian state differentiate so sharply between Serbia proper (and Montenegro), on the one hand, and Bosnia, on the other? Had Serbia tolerated ethnic cleansing within its own internationally recognized territory, it would have risked its domestic credibility and claim to international legitimacy. Serbia would have had to openly acknowledge it had lost its monopoly over violence to private actors, or would have had to publicly acknowledge its use of ethnic cleansing on its own behalf, violating both domestic laws and international norms. In either case, important institutional rules would have been violated, compromising the state's claims to legitimacy at home and abroad. In 1992 and 1993, Serbia still cared deeply for its image. By 1998–99, as the next chapter demonstrates, issues of international image became less salient for Serbia due to serious challenges in Kosovo. In the early 1990s, however, Serbia was still hoping for integration into the Western-dominated international community, and was still genuinely concerned with avoiding responsibility for ethnic cleansing in its own territory.

Conclusive proof will have to await opening of Serbian state archives or interviews with key officials, but it is likely that many Serbian efforts to cap nationalist violence at ethnic harassment were produced by deliberate, conscious policy choices. There must have been discussions in the ruling Socialist Party, the Serbian interior ministry, and elsewhere, in which the costs and benefits of allowing private notionalists to operate inside Serbia were discussed and weighed. At the same time, however, it is likely that the Serbian state often reacted instinctively to subdue the nationalists. As paramilitaries or homegrown crisis committees emerged within the Serbian core, state bureaucrats mobilized the police, judiciary, and other law enforcement agencies to suppress nationalist freelancers, to project a law-and-order image, and to transform repertoires of nationalist violence.

Public protests and the media played a key role in triggering these mechanisms for defending the institutional integrity of Serbia's core. Had the Štrpci kidnappings or Hrtkovci expulsions never been publicized, Serbian officials are not likely to have mobilized the police, army, and judicial

system to divert the nationalists. This was perhaps clearest in Vojvodina, where two isolated villages with no outside political support—Slankamen and Beška—were quickly and quietly cleansed by Radical Party activists. It was only when Sibinčić began his activities in Hrtkovci that tolerance for outright violence stopped. Some Hrtkovci residents had allies among opposition parties in Vojvodina's capital, Novi Sad, and these politicians took courageous actions that helped trigger international and domestic scrutiny of the Hrtkovci events.

The push toward ethnic harassment did not always require political struggle, however. Unlike their counterparts in Bosnia, it seems unlikely that Serbian Radical Party activists inside Serbia ever seriously contemplated creating concentration camps in Vojvodina. And while paramilitary leaders such as čeko Dačević may have considered massacring Muslims in Sandžak's border towns, there is no indication that he, or any other paramilitary leader, ever seriously considered doing the same in the rest of the Sandžak region, in areas further from the Bosnian border. Thus the logic of what was possible and appropriate in the Serbian core was also determined through deeply internalized, taken-for-granted operating routines.


5. Kosovo's Changing
Institutional Fate

In spring 1999, Serbia attempted to ethnically cleanse Kosovo because the province had become an internal frontier. Through a combination of local armed insurgency and international diplomatic and military action, Serbia's infrastructural power in the province was severely undermined, prompting its resort to extreme despotism. Although many observers had anticipated such a campaign since the early 1990s, Serbia had waited until the decade's end to make its move; until March 1999, Kosovo had been a ghetto within Serbia. Like Sandžak and Vojvodina, Kosovo remained firmly lodged within the Serbian core for most of the 1990s, granting Serbian authorities both juridical and empirical sovereignty over the contested area. Once ethnic Albanian insurgents and Western powers launched a combined and intense challenge to Serbian sovereignty in 1999, however, Kosovo seemed poised to exit Serbia's orbit. Kosovo was "externalized," much as Bosnia had been in 1992, leading to similarly awful results.

Full-scale ethnic cleansing in Kosovo was triggered by the NATO air war on March 24, 1999. As NATO warplanes struck at Serbia's heartland, Yugoslav federal troops, Serbian police, and sundry paramilitaries began to expel ethnic Albanian civilians with devastating efficiency. The heaviest outflow occurred between March 31 and April 8, 1999, when Serbian forces expelled roughly 400,000 ethnic Albanians.[1] By early June, over 863,000 persons, representing almost half of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population, had fled or been driven across provincial borders,

while another 500,000 were displaced within the province itself.[2] During spring and early summer 1999, Serbian troops killed an estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanian civilians and insurgents, [3] while NATO bombs slew some 500 Serb civilians and 600 troops.[4]

Were it not for the importance of institutional settings, Serbia is likely to have ethnically cleansed Kosovo much earlier. Ardent Serbian nationalists had begun complaining bitterly of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian threat as early as 1981, when demonstrations in Kosovo favoring republican status for the autonomous province had rocked the country.[5] During the late 1980s and early 1990s, moreover, the plight of Kosovo's ethnic Serb community was central to the Serbian nationalist revival, providing justification for Slobodan Milošević's anti-bureaucratic revolution and administrative centralization. Despite powerful anti-Albanian sentiments, however, the Serbian state comprehensively forced Kosovo's ethnic Albanians out only years after the rise of Serbian nationalism and the beginning of Yugoslavia's wars. An analysis of Kosovo's changing institutional fortunes can explain this delay.


Kosovo's institutional setting went through three distinct phases. In tracing changes over time rather than space, this chapter differs from its predecessors, which contrasted coterminous Serbian violence in different locales. Kosovo's first phase lasted from 1989 to 1997, when Serbia bolstered its grip over the province and deployed methods of ethnic policing. A second, transitional, phase began in 1998, when ethnic Albanian guerrillas threatened Serbia's empirical sovereignty by capturing pockets of rural territory for short periods of time. The third began in spring 1999, when Serbia was expelled from the international community and a combined NATO and ethnic Albanian assault fundamentally threatened Serbia's juridical and empirical sovereignty.

It is vital that we recognize the very different Serbian repertoires of violence in each phase. During the first period, Serbia stuck to ethnic policing in Kosovo, despite its simultaneous use of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Kosovo's predicament in this period, in other words, resembled that of Vojvodina and the Sandžak. During the second phase, Serbian troops displaced as many as 300,000 persons, but still did not escalate to fullscale ethnic cleansing.[6] Despite widespread rural suffering, the bulk of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians remained in place, and Kosovo's urban areas remained largely undestroyed.[7] It was only in the third and final phase

that Serbia used Bosnia-style methods in Kosovo, seeking to comprehensively empty the province of its unwanted population. It is only by clearly distinguishing between each of these three periods that we can identify the precise causes of Serbia's varying violent repertoires in Kosovo.


Serbia began to tighten its grip over Kosovo in the late 1980s during Slobodan Milošević's campaign for territorial and administrative centralization. In 1987, Milošević's Kosovo allies purged the local communist party branch of rivals, and in 1989, the central party branch in Serbia initiated sweeping changes to the province's constitutional status, essentially revoking its autonomy. In April 1990, the party dissolved Kosovo's provincial interior ministry altogether and fired its 4,000 ethnic Albanian police officers.[8] Soon after, Serbian authorities disbanded Kosovo's parliament and declared a state of emergency. In July 1992, Belgrade abolished the province of Kosovo, creating a new territorialadministrative unit, Kosovo-Metohija, or "Kosmet." Kosovo was now fully incorporated into Serbia's newly centralized administrative structure, bolstering the state's infrastructural control. Kosmet's parliament was composed chiefly of ethnic Serbs, since ethnic Albanians boycotted elections and refused to serve in Kosmet bodies. Instead, they recognized the authority of Kosovo's former parliament and participated in a host of unofficial governing efforts in education, health, and foreign affairs.[9]

In 1990, Kosovo's former ethnic Albanian parliamentarians convened to declare Kosovo a full Yugoslav republic, a move not broadly recognized either within the federation or internationally. Had Kosovo succeeded on this count, it might have been eligible for secession and international recognition. In May 1991, parliamentarians elected Ibrahim Rugova, head of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), as Kosovo's new "president," a post not recognized by Serbian authorities in Belgrade.[10] When Slovenia and Croatia demanded international recognition of their own independence in 1991, ethnic Albanian politicians followed suit, organizing an autumn referendum in support of sovereignty. In May 1992, privately organized elections gave the Democratic League a majority in the province's unofficial assembly, and League representatives pressed Western countries to recognize Kosovo's sovereignty. The province remained tightly controlled by Serbia, however; Kosovo Albanians

continued to pay Serbian taxes, and Albania was the only country to recognize Kosovo's independence. At that point, Kosovo did not launch an armed insurrection against Serbia, leaving the latter's juridical and empirical sovereignty intact. Kosovo remained firmly controlled by Belgrade, and like Sandžak and Vojvodina, experienced police-style repression, not ethnic cleansing.

The Albanian Electoral Boycott

Serbia's tight embrace of Kosovo held hidden dangers for the Belgrade regime, however, since ethnic Albanians were also Serbian citizens with the right to vote. With an estimated 800,000 eligible voters, Kosovo might have played a key role in internal Serbian politics, perhaps even helping to defeat Milošević's Socialist Party. The Democratic League promoted a comprehensive electoral boycott, however, hoping to delegitimize Serbian rule, which it viewed as an illegal occupation. Even had the League been interested in cooperating with Serbia's anti-Milošević opposition, it would have been hard-pressed to find compatible allies, since many of Milošević's rivals were just as nationalist and suspicious of ethnic Albanians as the ruling Socialists. As prominent Kosovo politician Adem Demaçi noted in 1996, "We know that if Albanians entered the [Serbian] parliament, which would mean legalizing our occupation, we could jointly with the opposition bring down Milošević. But the irony is that what these small [Serbian] opposition parties offer to Albanians is still worse."[11] Ethnic Albanians in Kosovo were largely uninterested in working with either Serbian politicians or Serbian electoral processes.[12] Indeed, many believed that as long as Milošević remained in power, their chances of earning international support for their independence remained high.[13] The Democratic League's electoral boycott had far-reaching implications. Only 15.6 percent of voters in Kosovo's capital Priština participated in the 1993 national elections, compared to 61.3 percent for Serbia as a whole. But since most Priština voters were ethnic Serbs supporting Milošević's Socialists, the regime received a significant electoral assist from the ethnic Albanians' boycott. The Socialists gained twenty-one parliamentary seats from only 60,000 Priština votes, compared to sixteen seats from 255,071 votes in Belgrade, meaning that the boycott had effectively reduced the electoral price of a Socialist seat in Priština to 2,855 votes, compared to almost 16,000 in Belgrade.[14] With Milošević's party earning only 123 of 250 Serbian parliamentary seats, Kosovo's electoral windfall was an important part of the Socialist Party's victory.


Empirical Sovereignty: Serbia's Monopoly of Violence

Without an effective monopoly over violence, however, Serbia's efforts to administratively tighten control over Kosovo would have come to naught. Juridical sovereignty might have lent Serbia some ability to dominate, but an effective armed challenge might have easily undercut its control. Until 1998, though, there was no real ethnic Albanian insurgency, and Serbian forces effortlessly kept the province under central control. Serbia's efforts in this were greatly aided by the LDK's commitment to unarmed resistance, a decision largely prompted by Serbia's 1990 confiscation of Kosovo's territorial defense armory.[15] As Democratic League leader Ibrahim Rugova explained in 1993, "The police have become Serbianised and Serbian militia units have moved into our region," creating a situation in which the "balance of forces is so lopsided we don't have the means for defending ourselves." Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, Rugova said, had therefore "opted for a peaceful course to show, in particular Europe, that we're not helping to destabilise the Balkans."[16]

Rugova's position then seemed quite reasonable to many, as nonviolent protests had brought the Berlin wall down shortly before and had secured independence for the Baltic states. Kosovo's leaders appeared optimistic that similar results could be achieved against Serbia. The Bosnian example, moreover, demonstrated that armed struggle was an entirely risky proposition. LDK leaders therefore chose passive resistance, hoping their reward would eventually come in the form of Western recognition of Kosovo's sovereignty. In the short term, however, Serbia's grip over the province tightened.

Juridical Sovereignty and the International Human Rights Norm

Serbia's juridical sovereignty was bolstered by the West's disinterest in supporting Kosovo's claims for independence. As was true for the Sandžak and Vojvodina, the Western rationale was that only Yugoslav republics, not regions, were entitled to secede.[17] Shortly after its 1992 recognition of Bosnian independence, a U.S. representative declared that "Serbian actions in Kosovo represent one of the worst human rights problems in Europe,"[18] signaling her government's intent to apply the human rights norm to the region, not sovereignty. In subsequent years, international officials of various stripes all insisted that Kosovo must remain within Serbia, albeit with its autonomy restored and its residents'

human rights guaranteed. In December 1992, the United States strengthened its human rights commitments by warning Serbia of a military strike if it initiated Kosovo hostilities.[19] The American threat was not aimed at securing Kosovo's sovereignty, but at preserving a modicum of ethnic Albanians' human rights. Throughout the 1990s, Western diplomats applauded the Democratic League's restraint while avoiding any discussion of independence. The ethnic Albanian leadership was not invited to the 1995 Dayton peace negotiations on Bosnia, and Kosovo's self-declared state remained virtually unrecognized.[20] Western insistence on human rights for Kosovo, however, propelled nongovernmental bodies to organize myriad Kosovo activities around the human rights norm, and international agencies remained heavily engaged with the province through monitoring, information gathering, and transnational lobbying. The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, later known as the OSCE, sent human rights monitors to Kosovo in 1992, where they stayed until ejected by Serbia in July 1993.[21] Private groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International regularly visited Kosovo to gather information and write reports, pushing Western governments to confront Serbian abuses. "Since human rights violations are the one subject on which the international community is unanimous and vocal," one leading nongovernmental group noted, "human rights monitoring is given extremely high priority and attention in Kosovo."[22]

Ethnic Albanian politicians in Kosovo cheerfully cooperated with the human rights monitors, hoping their interest would eventually trigger international support for Kosovo's sovereignty. Many ethnic Albanians in Kosovo mistook Western human rights interest as tacit support for independence, a misunderstanding that continued at least until the 1995 Dayton conference.[23] Hopeful that the notion of an independent Kosovo might eventually gain broad global backing, the Democratic League resolved to continue with nonviolent resistance and appeals to international human rights monitors. Thus while Kosovo resisted incorporation into Serbia and lobbied vigorously for international recognition, it did not physically challenge Serbian military supremacy on the ground.

The Specter of Serbian Despotism

Although Kosovo's position within the Serbian political core led to policing, not war, many initially feared otherwise. "When diplomats look on the map for the next Balkan flash point," one journalist confidently opined, Kosovo "is where their finger falls," while another argued that

Kosovo's forced depopulation was next on Belgrade's agenda due to the proximity of international borders to Kosovo's population centers.[24] This concern was fueled by warnings from ethnic Albanian political leaders, who drew parallels between their plight and that of Bosnia. Ibrahim Rugova, for example, said in 1993 that Serbia's "ultimate goal" was to "create their own cleansed territory here in Kosovo, a territory without a people. They do not even want to have us as slaves."[25] Bujar Bukoshi, another top LDK official, wrote that Kosovo was potentially "more dangerous" than Bosnia, and that Serbian ethnic cleansing had begun in Kosovo "long before the first Muslim villages were attacked in Bosnia."[26] Yet since Serbia continued to use policing rather than Bosniastyle depopulation, ethnic Albanian politicians developed new terms to describe Serbian policy, including "institutionalized" or "quiet" ethnic cleansing.[27] As evidence, they pointed to the emigration of some 300,000 Kosovo Albanians during the 1990s to escape Serbian police repression, military conscription, and job-related discrimination.[28]

When it became evident that Serbia was not about to forcibly empty the province, however, foreign observers began to describe Kosovo as a "time bomb" that had failed to explode.[29] By 1997, the correlation between Kosovo's position within the Serbian core and police-style repression seemed solid, taking Kosovo off the West's crisis agenda. As one Kosovobased Western aid worker said in winter 1997, "Kosovo is no longer a major worry for us."[30] As long as Kosovo remained securely trapped within Serbia, ethnic cleansing seemed unlikely, and Western powers were content to call for improvements in Serbia's human rights record. Like Sandžak and Vojvodina, Kosovo seemed destined to languish indefinitely under Serbia's thumb, spared Bosnia-style destruction while experiencing a harsh, police-style regime of national domination. Arbitrary arrests, torture, press restrictions, house searches, and myriad bureaucratic harassments were widespread, but there was no violent ethnic cleansing.[31]

The Paramilitary Threat

The persistence of Serbian infrastructural power during this phase was highlighted by the failure of semi-private Serbian paramilitaries to carry out their threats. "Serbian ethnic cleansers [in Kosovo] are itching to have a go," the Economist observed in 1993, but were being held in check by a Serbian government concerned with international opinion.[32] Kosovo's position within the core was a barrier to private nationalist violence, much as it was in both the Sandžak and Vojvodina.


The threat of Kosovo paramilitary violence was persistent, however. In 1990, ultra-radical Vojislav Šešelj publicly voiced his support for ethnic Albanian expulsions, specifying later that 300,000 "illegal [Albanian] immigrants" should be forcibly removed.[33] In late 1991, he proposed organizing and arming ethnic Serbs in Kosovo for upcoming battles, and later that same year, the Serbian interior ministry did in fact distribute thousands of light weapons. By the decade's end, local Serbs reportedly held almost 75,000 government-issued rifles.[34] Other demonstrations of paramilitary fierceness included efforts by Dragoslav Bokan's White Eagles, who paraded through downtown Priština in April 1992 and then opened up a recruitment office;[35] Šešelj's četniks, who marched through ethnic Albanian villages in 1993;[36] and Arkan's Tigers, who drove through downtown Priština and Podujevo in 1995.[37] To maintain their credibility, the Belgrade-based paramilitaries publicly demonstrated their commitment to Kosovo's ethic Serb community, but Kosovo's institutional setting also constrained their actions, preventing them from using Bosnia-style methods. The resemblance to Sandžak is striking.

Displays of anti-Albanian sentiment crested just before Serbia's 1992 national elections, when Arkan and Šešelj campaigned heavily for the Serbian vote in Kosovo. Competing for the ultra-radical mantle, the two men pushed the political rhetoric to new and dangerous heights. Setting up base in Priština, Arkan drove through Kosovo with armed supporters, promising local Serbs he would aggressively suppress ethnic Albanian secessionists.[38] A "key element in Arkan's [1992 electoral] strategy," Miranda Vickers writes, "was to … mobilize support for a cleansing program," a theme also promoted by Vojislav Šešelj.[39] "Kosovo is Serbian and will stay Serbian," Arkan promised at one 1992 rally, vowing that "none of our sacred land will be given to the Albanians." More ominously, he warned that "those who look towards Tirana [Albania's capital] will be expelled."[40] Arkan and Šešelj's electoral successes among local Serbs in 1992 prompted ethnic Albanian politicians to warn again that ethnic cleansing was imminent.[41] Yet despite the threats and weapons, Serbian officials blocked paramilitaries from resorting to massacres or forced depopulation. With its sovereignty over Kosovo guaranteed, the state was unwilling to tolerate paramilitary freelancing.


In early 1998, Serbia's empirical rule over Kosovo was weakened by a surprisingly successful guerrilla movement, the Kosova Liberation Army

(KLA). The group had gradually made its presence felt during 1996–97, but became a significant force only in February and March 1998. Until that time, ethnic Albanians favoring armed struggle had been effectively marginalized by Rugova's Democratic League, but as Rugova's policies lost credibility, the radicals gained in strength. Kosovo's transition to frontier-like conditions, in other words, was nourished by Rugova's declining political fortunes and the collapse of his political strategy.

Like many post-Yugoslav parties, the Democratic League was a broadly based nationalist movement comprising both former ethnic Albanian communists and longtime anticommunist dissidents. As Serbian centralization efforts unfolded in the early 1990s, Kosovo's ethnic Albanians closed ranks behind the League, and for some years, the party's political hegemony was uncontested. Its position was weakened in 1995 following the Dayton peace conference, however, which ended the Bosnian war without reference to Kosovo's sovereignty.[42] At the same conference Western powers had recognized the Bosnian Serb region, Republika Srpska, as a non-sovereign entity within Bosnia, signaling to Kosovo Albanians that denials notwithstanding, the West tacitly rewarded violent secessionism, not restraint. Bosnian Serbs had fought and earned partial international recognition, but Kosovo received nothing.

Critics of the LDK had become increasingly vocal in 1994, with some demanding more vigorous (but still nonviolent) action against Serbian authorities.[43] In 1996, Adem Demaçi, a leading ethnic Albanian political figure, proposed combining more aggressive protests against Serbian rule with more limited political demands.[44] Rexhup Qosja, another nationalist iconoclast, also supported greater confrontation, but insisted on remaining committed to full Kosovo independence.[45] Demaçi and Qosja's critiques of the LDK strategy were uncommonly blunt, but they stopped well short of advocating armed insurrection.[46] Splits within the Democratic League itself appeared in 1997, with two key LDK leaders, Hydajet Hyseni and Fehmi Agani, joining Demaçi and Qosja in advocating for more aggressive political activism.[47]

Kosovo was soon to be enveloped in armed struggle, but for a brief moment in 1997, it seemed that the LDK's critics might unleash a more proactive wave of unarmed resistance against Serbia.[48] In September, thousands of ethnic Albanian students defied both the LDK and Western diplomats, demonstrating for the right to attend ethnic Albanian schools, and for the first time in seven years, protesters were back on Kosovo's streets, dramatizing their claims and challenging the Serbian authorities. Serbian police reacted with disproportionate force, but the protests attracted international

attention and raised local morale. The demonstrations continued during the fall, and one particularly brutal police response in December 1997 spurred prominent Serbs, including the Serbian Patriarch himself, to criticize the government's actions. In early 1998, however, student protestors were eclipsed by the rising KLA guerrilla movement.

The Origins of Kosovo's Armed Rebellion

During the early and mid-1990s, there was some indication that at least a handful of Kosovo Albanians were planning armed rebellion. In 1993, Serbian police arrested 100 men, including fifteen former military officers, charging them with creating a clandestine ethnic Albanian defense ministry for the shadow Kosovo state.[49] The authorities said the group was part of Rugova's LDK, but the League's leaders denied the charge. In 1994 and 1995, Serbian forces arrested an additional 400 persons, including dozens of former ethnic Albanian police officers, charging them with membership in a secret police force.[50] Human rights groups said the trials were unfair and relied on coerced information, but there seems to have been some merit to the Serbian claims.[51]

One small but important group was the Popular Movement for Kosova, or LPK, [52] which emerged from a 1993 split within the radical Popular Movement for the Republic of Kosova (LPRK), active since the late 1970s.[53] Supported initially by communist Albania, the LPRK began with a leftist critique of Yugoslav socialism, arguing it had become complacent. The LPRK's most pressing concern was self-determination for Kosovo, however, not social reform. Following the province's 1981 wave of demonstrations, Serbian and Yugoslav authorities arrested or forced into exile most LPRK cadres.[54]

In the early 1990s, a handful of LPRK activists initiated limited training exercises in northern Albania, some of which were reportedly coordinated with LDK official Bujar Bukoshi, then prime minister of Kosovo's Bonn-based government-in-exile.[55] From Europe, Bukoshi had more freedom than his colleagues in Kosovo to explore the potential for armed resistance. These early efforts soon petered out, however, and the training camps were disbanded. The dearth of arms, money, and international support seemed overwhelming. Would-be fighters had few modern weapons, and the Albanian authorities were unwilling to permit arms smuggling. Low-key training in remote mountainous areas was one thing, but weapons acquisition and cross-border infiltration into Kosovo was far too risky.


In 1993, the LPRK split into the Popular Movement for Kosova (LPK), rooted in Europe's Kosovo diaspora, and the National Movement for the Liberation of Kosova (LKCK), based more heavily in Kosovo itself. The Popular Movement seized the initiative, creating the Kosova Liberation Army during a secret 1993 Macedonian meeting.[56] Conditions were still not right for a serious armed effort, however, as the small KLA had few members, modern weapons, and no territorial safe haven alongside Kosovo. Although Albania was a logical platform for crossborder activities, the government remained unsupportive.[57] Albania's politicians were sympathetic to Kosovo's plight, but feared antagonizing Serbia as well as Western powers. Instead, they promoted both human and sovereignty rights for Kosovo in international venues, provided Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League with international connections, and helped open an LDK office in Tirana. In 1992, Albania's sympathies for Kosovo had been briefly bolstered by contributions to Albanian Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha, who won the country's first postcommunist elections. Soon after, however, Berisha backtracked to reassure Western diplomats, and in 1994, Berisha abandoned the notion of Kosovo independence altogether, throwing his support behind a plan for Kosovo's territorial autonomy within Serbia.[58]

Piercing Kosovo's Borders

The Albanian state's ability to block cross-border movements evaporated in spring 1997, however, when the country's popular financial pyramid schemes collapsed amidst accusations of corruption, mismanagement, and fraud.[59] Massive economic losses, coupled with popular disgust with Berisha's rule, sparked waves of antigovernment protest. The machinery of the Albanian state seemed to disappear overnight as crowds stormed municipalities, police stations, and military bases, flooding illegal markets with looted weapons. One estimate calculated 500,000 assault rifles offered at $100 per unit, [60] while another counted a million weapons at under $15.[61] Whatever the true price, Kosova Liberation Army fighters gained unexpected access to massive amounts of cheap, modern arms. Of equal importance, parts of northern Albania slid from central control, becoming an area where "armed gangs with assault rifles … roam freely," and where the "police and officials are corrupt or powerless."[62] Under such conditions, KLA activists could easily reinforce their presence along the Kosovo border.[63] Popular support for the KLA in Albania's north was widespread, as many locals had family

in Kosovo. For the first time, the pieces began to fall in place for the guerrillas: weapons, a secure territorial base, and access to Kosovo's borders.

The KLA Insurgency Begins

Serbia began to move away from ethnic policing only in 1998, when the ethnic Albanian insurgency finally began to disrupt Serbia's iron grip over the province. The KLA had assumed responsibility for attacks on ethnic Serbs as early as April 1996, earning them a "terror group" designation by Serbian and Western officials. Until 1998, however, the fighting did not take on serious proportions. Serbian officials counted thirtynine persons slain by ethnic Albanian guerrillas between 1991 and 1997, with the bulk of those coming in 1996 and 1997.[64] In 1997, the KLA informed Albanian-language papers it was the national liberation movement's "armed wing,"[65] and the organization's first public appearance came on November 28, 1997, at a funeral for an ethnic Albanian slain by Serbian police in a gunfight. Three masked men in military fatigues delivered a short speech favoring independence to 20,000 mourners and then slipped away, sparking widespread enthusiasm.[66] Serbian officials took the KLA threat seriously, jailing dozens for alleged military activities in 1997, but the Democratic League dismissed the group's attacks as Serbian provocations.[67]

Toward the end of 1997, local gunmen claiming KLA ties stepped up attacks in the Drenica region, chipping away at Serbia's monopoly over violence. In late January, Serbian police raided Donji Prekaz village, home to the KLA-affiliated Jashari clan, but were repulsed by gunfire. A larger Serbian force returned in early March, destroying the Jashari compound entirely and killing fifty-eight persons, including twenty-eight women and children.[68] Serbian forces launched similar operations in Likošane and čirez villages, killing twenty-six.[69] In each case, the police shelled residential areas, executed prisoners, and looted valuables. One Serbian officer reportedly acknowledged that security forces had gotten "out of hand," with more killings averted at the last minute by a senior commander.[70]

Serbian intelligence initially assumed the KLA to be a small guerrilla faction whose activities could be easily crushed. Belgrade leaders reportedly debated using specialized units, which would have granted the KLA political significance, or deploying regular forces, which would have played down the group's importance. The government chose the latter, but according to Zoran Kusovac, "The only tactics regular troops

knew was to pound any suspected ‘terrorist resistance' with all means available."[71] The result was a bout of spectacular brutality and, contrary to Serbian expectations, a dramatic upsurge in rebellious sentiment. The KLA had begun with only a few hundred members, drawing on a handful of extended families and activists smuggled from abroad. Once Serbia began killing civilians and combatants alike in early 1998, however, the group's ranks swelled dramatically.[72] This remarkable growth stemmed from a combination of factors. First, the KLA's political colleagues in the LPK had reportedly organized loose networks of supporters in Kosovo since 1993, and these became active once the fighting began. More importantly, the notion of armed rebellion apparently enjoyed considerable support in rural Kosovo, where the urban elite's preference for passive resistance had been discredited.[73] Third, the Drenica killings prompted entire social networks, such as extended families and rural LDK chapters, to enlist en masse. "Once the rebellion erupted," Hedges writes, "local LDK leaders immediately picked up weapons and became commanders of village units," while villages "formed ad hoc militias that, while they identify themselves as KLA, act independently."[74] As a result, intra-KLA coordination became a serious problem as autonomous groups sprang up wholesale throughout the countryside.[75] At the same time, however, the notion of armed struggle remained unconvincing for some key urban intellectuals, as well as some leaders of extended families.[76]

The KLA's initial funding reportedly came from drug trafficking, money laundering, and migrant smuggling, [77] with one source estimating in early 1999 that half the KLA's budget was drug related.[78] In March 1999, British reporters "established that police forces in three Western European countries … are separately investigating growing evidence the drug money is funding the KLA's leap from obscurity to power."[79] Although some of this was speculation based on the growing European prominence of Albanian-speaking drug traders, the Kosovo Liberation Army most likely did draw at least some funds from criminal activities.[80] The Serbian killings in Drenica, however, broadened the KLA's appeal among the large Kosovar Albanian diaspora, making it easier to raise legal funds there.[81] Until then, the 800,000 to 1 million strong community[82] had mostly donated to the LDK's fund-raising agency.[83] With money and arms becoming increasingly available, KLA convoys began infiltrating the Kosovo border from northern Albania, often in columns as large as 200 horses and 1,000 persons.[84] Between January and September 1998, according to the Serbian authorities, border guards killed

90 suspected KLA infiltrators and captured 947 rifles, 161 light machine guns, 33 mortars, 55 mines, 3,295 grenades, and almost 350,000 rounds of ammunition.[85] Serbian control over Kosovo's boundaries was beginning to slip, and a central pillar of Kosovo's ghetto status was crumbling.[86] A second threat to Serbian domination was the decline in its empirical sovereignty in Kosovo itself. Here, the KLA enjoyed some early successes in summer 1998, holding up to 40 percent of rural Kosovo for short periods.[87] At one point, "The asphalt belong[ed] to the Serbian security forces and forest paths to the UCK [KLA]."[88] This established the KLA as a political player to be reckoned with, but civilians paid a heavy price. With Kosovo no longer fully under Serbian control, Serbian forces began to shift from ethnic policing to cleansing.

Partial Ethnic Cleansing

Serbia's effort to retake lost areas began in May 1998 as troops sought to seal Kosovo's border with Albania by forcibly depopulating villages near the boundary line.[89] Some 15,000 civilians fled to Albania, a further 30,000 trekked into Montenegro, and others walked deeper into Kosovo. Serbian forces began a second offensive in late July 1998, assaulting KLA-held regions in the province's interior.[90] They retook Malisevo, one of two towns held by the Kosova Liberation Army, [91] and by mid-August, had recaptured much of the province's territory.[92] The KLA's retreat stemmed from inferior firepower and poor coordination, as the guerrillas were divided into three distinct and often acrimonious groups. As a result of the Serbian offensive, some 300,000 of Kosovo's ethnic Albanians fled into the surrounding hills. Serbian forces perpetrated several massacres, including two late September incidents in Gornje Obrinje and Golubovac.[93] Overall, Serbian forces killed some 2,000 ethnic Albanians, including both combatants and civilians, and destroyed or damaged 43 percent of homes in 210 rural communities.[94]

Most of the targeted areas, however, were suspected guerrilla transit routes or bases.[95] For the most part, Serbian forces did not kill or destroy in areas where they still enjoyed empirical sovereignty, such as Kosovo's cities, attacking chiefly peripheral areas held by the insurgents. Areas of fragmented authority became objects of localized ethnic cleansing or bloody Serbian reprisals, while areas of uncontested Serbian dominance remained objects of ethnic policing. The Kosovo ghetto was collapsing, but not entirely. Serbia still projected infrastructural power

in many heavily populated areas, sticking to ethnic policing rather than cleansing.

The International Human Rights Norm in Action

Following the embarrassment of their Bosnian failures, Western leaders were determined to be more forceful with Serbia over Kosovo.[96] NATO leaders repeatedly argued they must not be humiliated by Serbia, and roundly chastised Serbia for its excessively violent response to the KLA rebellion.[97] The six-country "Contact Group," composed of France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Britain, and the United States, issued increasingly tough warnings, threatening sanctions and even military action if Serbia did not accept mediation and negotiations. For the Contact Group, the preferred solution was an internationally mediated agreement for Kosovo's autonomy within Yugoslavia, which would sideline the KLA, reduce Serbian troop levels, and maintain Serbian juridical sovereignty over the province.

On March 9, 1998, the Contact Group warned Serbia to begin negotiations or face sanctions, but an April 1998 referendum in Serbia supported the government's refusal, triggering limited sanctions. In late March, the UN Security Council imposed a comprehensive arms embargo on Serbia and Montenegro.[98] After Serbia's May 1998 offensive, Western commentators increasingly discussed the possibility of air strikes on Serbian targets, and on June 15, NATO warplanes flew over Albania and Macedonia in a show of force. Western diplomacy intensified in August and September, both threatening and cajoling Serbia to cease military operations. The fate of the internally displaced civilians in Kosovo's hills was high on the international agenda as aid officials warned of a looming humanitarian catastrophe. Serbian representatives periodically signaled their willingness to negotiate, but Serbian ground forces continued their offensive.

In late September 1998, the Security Council ordered Serbia to cease its fire, withdraw troops, and begin negotiations. On October 16, Western threats produced a Serbian agreement to halt its offensive, withdraw some forces, and permit refugee return. Most importantly, Serbia agreed to allow some 2,000 unarmed OSCE representatives to monitor ceasefire compliance and human rights conditions in Kosovo. Although Serbian military forces had managed to retake much territory before the cease-fire began, Milošević's agreement to international observers cost him heavily at home, drawing the ire of Serbian nationalists.[99]


The OSCE monitors remained in Kosovo until March 20, 1999, Serbia withdrew some troops, and the fighting did die down. Neither side halted military preparations, however, using the time to organize themselves for a future offensive, with the KLA's mobilization in northern Albania and parts of rural Kosovo matched by a Serbian buildup along Kosovo's Serbian borders. "As far as one can tell," one analyst suggests, "neither side fully abided" by the October peace deal, and "the KLA quickly recovered from the battering it received from the Serbs in the summer fighting."[100] KLA ambushes against Serbian forces continued, while Serbian retaliations were brutal. One such retaliation in mid January 1999 was particularly noteworthy, killing forty-five persons in the village of Račak, many execution-style. The massacre prompted a U.S. ultimatum to Serbia: sign a Western-designed peace treaty in Rambouillet, France, or face NATO air strikes. When the Rambouillet summit failed, the OSCE withdrew its monitors.

Serbia's harsh offensive had triggered vigorous international human rights attention and threats of Western air strikes against Serbia. It did not, however, push the West to challenge Serbia's juridical sovereignty over the province, although increased discussion of an international military presence in Kosovo, coupled with vague promises to negotiate Kosovo's final status later on, signaled a tendency to drift in that direction. Still, Kosovo's Albanian leaders had failed to convince Western powers to substitute the sovereignty norm for human rights. Unlike Bosnia, Croatia, or Slovenia, Kosovo was still located within Serbia, and was thus unable to successfully lobby for international recognition.

Assessing Serbia's 1998 Violence in Kosovo

Although some dubbed Serbia's 1998 repertoires of violence "ethnic cleansing," they were in fact quite different than the violence to come. During 1998, Serbia did not seek to expel Kosovo's ethnic Albanians from the province altogether, choosing instead to raid villages suspected of supporting the KLA; in response, many villagers fled into the hills. Although this certainly was forced displacement of a sort, it did not amount to a wholesale ethnic cleansing effort. Most importantly, Serbian forces did not move against Kosovo's urban population. The state's monopoly over violence was threatened in several key rural areas and that, for the most part, was where Serbian efforts were focused. Thus by the fall of 1998, Serbian authorities were pursuing a bifurcated strategy in which piecemeal rural cleansing existed alongside ethnic policing in the

cities. This mixed approach was sparked by changes in Kosovo's institutional conditions, the most important of which was Serbia's increasing loss of empirical sovereignty over parts of the province. The Kosovo Liberation Army had created semi-autonomous pockets and pierced the Kosovo ghetto's walls, but Serbia's loss of control was sporadic and localized, as were its ethnic cleansing operations.

Another factor inhibiting full-scale ethnic cleansing was the Western world's unwillingness to cut Serbia off entirely. By insisting they still recognized Serbia's juridical sovereignty in Kosovo and by continuing to negotiate with Serbian officials, Western powers and international institutions signaled their acceptance of Serbia as part of the international community. This was expressed most powerfully in October 1998, when the OSCE sent unarmed monitors into Kosovo, thereby respecting Serbian rights over the province.

These monitors, however, created a major contradiction for international actors. Their job was to record events on the ground in detail, bringing the media, human rights organizations, and Western governments into immediate and intimate contact with the effects of Serbian state violence. With this level of proximity, it was difficult for Western governments to downplay Serbian human rights abuses in the name of stability. Given the power of international human rights norms and the density of human rights groups clustered around Balkan events, Serbian massacres were bound to excite tremendous international attention, pushing Western governments to take concrete action. The monitors brought the reality of Serbian massacres to key Western audiences in a way that was difficult to ignore.

There is little doubt that Serbian operations against suspected KLA supporters in 1998 and 1999 were entirely brutal affairs. At the same time, however, Kosovo suffered equally or less than other areas of the world during those same years.[101] Those conflicts did not have hundreds of human rights monitors on the scene, however, with a direct line to powerful diplomatic offices and Western journalists. The discourse and actors of the international human rights norm had by now fully enveloped and penetrated Kosovo and Western agencies concerned with Balkan events, transforming Serbian massacres into major international political events.


Despite its partial loss of empirical sovereignty over Kosovo, Serbia had not yet moved to full-scale ethnic cleansing by spring 1999, suggesting

that as long as Western powers recognized Serbian juridical sovereignty over the province, despotism was not an attractive option. Serbia, it seemed, still had too much to lose by pushing its own citizens out of territory that it lawfully ruled. Once Western powers questioned Serbia's juridical sovereignty over Kosovo by launching the air war, however, the region was no longer fully part of the Serbian core, and Belgrade lost all semblance of restraint. This is a controversial claim, as it suggests that NATO bears indirect responsibility for Serbian ethnic cleansing. It was hotly denied by NATO representatives, who say that Serbia was already in the process of ethnically cleansing the province when NATO intervened. Most available evidence, however, suggests otherwise.

The best data come from the OSCE, whose monitors were on the ground until four days before the NATO air war began. Its report says Serbian ethnic cleansing began in earnest when its monitors withdrew on March 20, and escalated dramatically when the air raids began.[102] A New York Times report makes a similar claim, saying the Serbian attack "kicked into high gear on March 24, the night NATO began bombing Yugoslavia."[103] My own interviews along the Albanian border lend credence to this view. According to dozens of refugees from Kosovo's urban centers, Serbian troops began emptying the region's towns for the first time on March 25. Drawing on my research, Human Rights Watch wrote on March 30, 1999, that "the Yugoslav government evidently made a decision over the weekend [of March 25–27] to ‘cleanse’ the region of ethnic Albanians."[104] Indeed, the rate of ethnic Albanian depopulation in April and May 1999 was ten times greater than during the most intense Serbian offensives of 1998.[105]

Western politicians and NATO officials were uncomfortable with these facts, as they suggested the air war endangered the very people they were trying to protect. On March 28, 1999, President Clinton denied the NATO bombings were accelerating Serbia's expulsions, and NATO officials said shortly thereafter that the air war had only pushed Serbian forces to speed up an existing expulsion plan.[106] As evidence, officials pointed to Serbian troop mobilizations in Kosovo in January 1999[107] and a secret Serbian plan, "Operation Horseshoe."[108] According to the German government, Belgrade devised Horseshoe in late 1998 and set it in motion during January 1999, months before the NATO air war began.[109] The plan allegedly ordered Serbian forces to begin attacking Kosovo from the north, east, and west, forcing the population to flee southward.[110] In June 1999, KLA soldiers and British reporters in Kosovo said they had discovered proof of Horseshoe amidst captured Serbian documents.[111]


The notion that NATO's intervention only slightly accelerated an ongoing Serbian expulsion campaign is radically at odds with Western intelligence assessments prior to the air war, however. In early 1999, U.S. intelligence officials believed that an upcoming Serbian offensive in Kosovo would be a limited attack. According to experts on U.S. military policy, the Central Intelligence Agency did not even "prominently raise the possibility" of systematic depopulation in the months leading up to the air assault. The commander of NATO's Serbia war operations agreed, saying, "We never expected that the Serbs would push ahead with the wholesale deportation of the ethnic Albanian population."[112] At least some U.S. officials continued to maintain this position after the NATO air war began, despite the embarrassment it caused their government. Five days after the air campaign began, a Pentagon spokesman said no one "could have foreseen the breadth of this [Serbian] brutality," contradicting his own president, who had stated one day earlier that the United States had intervened precisely because it knew a Serbian ethnic cleansing offensive was imminent.[113] In fact, the evidence suggests that prior to the war, most U.S. analysts believed Serbia would at the very worst expel some 350,000 persons from their homes, repeating their 1998 actions.[114] The dearth of humanitarian provision along Kosovo's borders lends credence to this view. According to UN relief workers, Western governments did not warn of a mass flow of refugees prior to the air war.[115] It is also true that no supplies had been pre-positioned along Kosovo's borders prior to the launching of NATO's air war.[116]

Was there, then, any Serbian expulsion plan at all? According to Serbian reporter Braca Grubačić, editor of a respected English-language newsletter in Belgrade, there was no preconceived plan. "There were vague ideas about expulsions" prior to the NATO attack, he said, but no premeditated ethnic cleansing scheme. Once the bombing began, however, Serbian troops and paramilitaries "just did it," since there was a broad Serbian attitude of "we'll fuck'em if they start."[117] This argument is indirectly supported by retired German general Heinz Loquai, who claims "Operation Horseshoe" was a German government invention aimed at legitimating its controversial participation in the Kosovo war.[118] According to Loquai, German intelligence obtained vague reports via Bulgarian security sources of Serbian plans for Kosovo and then repackaged the rumors as the full-blown "Operation Horseshoe."

The speed and efficiency with which Serbia carried out the expulsions, however, makes the notion of an entirely spontaneous effort seem unlikely. Serbian operations were too rapid, systematic, and coordinated to

have been thrown together, in the heat of war and at the last moment, by impetuous Serbian fighters. Some careful planning must have been in place before the air war, even as only one of several possible scenarios. A reasonable interpretation of events is that Serbian officers, like their counterparts worldwide, prepared different scenarios for different contingencies during late 1998 and early 1999. A substantial military offensive aimed at clearing certain pro-KLA areas of fighters and their civilian supporters is likely to have been prepared for spring 1999, as most Western intelligence officials seem to have anticipated. A broader and more comprehensive effort to empty Kosovo of all ethnic Albanians is also likely to have been on the drawing boards, however, just in case the opportunity arose. As I argued in the introduction to Part I, the Serbian national idea contained a bundle of multiple and conflicting interpretations, and there was no single, cohesive set of tactics for achieving Serbian national goals. Rather, there were multiple possibilities and interpretations, only some of which were translated into action at specific times by particular institutional settings.

Operation Horseshoe, or its functional equivalent, was set in motion in March 1999 because Kosovo's institutional setting had been dramatically transformed by NATO's determined military intervention. "NATO's bombing," a Brookings Institution study argues, "lifted a constraint on the Serb leader that may have been operative until that point. Before that point, [Milošević] had an incentive to keep NATO from attacking him. Once the attack was under way, however, he no longer had that same reason to hold back."[119] In institutional terms, the NATO air strike expelled Serbia from the Western-dominated "international community" and appeared deeply threatening to Serbia's juridical and empirical sovereignty over the province. Although Kosovo was still theoretically located within the Serbian core (a status NATO officially said it had no intention of changing), it appeared on the verge of escaping Serbia's orbit through a combined KLA/NATO effort. Kosovo's ghetto status was evaporating, transforming the region into a Bosnia-like "frontier." With the West finally bombing Belgrade, Serbia no longer could expect any benefits from holding back. It had been isolated from the Western-dominated international community and thus could not expect any gain from continuing to observe any vestige of norms against forced deportation.

Why, specifically, did Serbia pursue ethnic cleansing in Kosovo? First, the notion of changing the ethnic balance in disputed regions was a powerful strand of Serbian political discourse. Many in Serbia saw continued

Serbian rule over Kosovo as the only way to protect local ethnic Serbs and preserve the country's national heritage. Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, in this view, presented an acute political, military, and demographic threat. Beyond this fundamental point, however, Serbia seemed to have additional tactical considerations. First, it hoped to weaken NATO's resolve by destabilizing Macedonia and Albania.[120] With Italy, Germany, and other European countries fearful of being forced to accept more refugees, moreover, Serbian decision makers may have also gambled that the mass outflow might drive a wedge between the United States and its European allies. Third, Serbia hoped to defeat the KLA by reducing its pool of potential supporters.[121] Although in spring 1999 all areas of Kosovo experienced ethnic cleansing, pro-KLA regions were hardest hit.[122] And finally, Serbian military planners may have hoped to hinder a NATO ground invasion by crowding the roads with refugees. These tactical considerations all backfired, however, as televised images of refugees provided powerful justification for NATO's intervention, boosting popular support in Europe and the United States for the war.[123]

In previous chapters, we saw different manifestations of Serbian nationalism spread over different geographic locales. Chapter 3 discussed the most virulent manifestations of Serbian nationalism in Bosnia, arguing that the region's frontier-like setting led to ethnic cleansing. Chapter 4, by contrast, showed a less despotic manifestation of Serbian nationalism within the Serbian core, where semi-private paramilitaries and nationalist crisis committees were partially constrained by the Serbian state.

The events described in this chapter condense these experiences into one geographic locale, the disputed province of Kosovo, where institutional settings changed over time, not space. Between 1989 and 1997, Kosovo was firmly controlled by Serbia and was tightly integrated into the Serbian core. The West extended the norm of human rights to the province, but steadfastly refused to recognize ethnic Albanian pleas for Kosovo's independence. At the same time, there was a lack of a serious armed insurgency on the ground; the result of these combined circumstances was that Serbian empirical and juridical sovereignty was maintained. Although this left ethnic Albanians trapped under a harsh regime of ethnic policing, it also shielded them from Bosnia-style ethnic cleansing. As had been true in the Sandžak and Vojvodina, semi-private Serbian nationalists threatened extreme violence against Kosovo, but did not follow through with action—or not, at least, until conditions changed.


In 1998, Kosovo's institutional setting shifted dramatically following an effective ethnic Albanian insurgency threatening Serbia's empirical sovereignty over the province. Pockets of rural territory became no-go areas for Serbian forces, and KLA rebels managed to seize as much as 40 percent of the territory for a short time. Kosovo's ghetto status was disrupted, although not entirely dismantled, and Serbian ethnic cleansing was pernicious but piecemeal. Some rural areas were violently depopulated, but others were not, and Kosovo's urban concentrations were not touched. This all changed in 1999, when the withdrawal of OSCE monitors and the NATO air war cut Serbia off from its last ties to the world community and presented the regime with a serious challenge to its control over Kosovo. As had been true for Bosnia, the province was being dramatically and quickly "externalized" by Western action, and again, Serbia responded with ethnic cleansing. Having lost infrastructural control over Kosovo, ethnic cleansing, not ethnic policing, became Serbia's repertoire of violence.

Luckily for Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, the West had greater conviction in 1999 than in 1992. Whereas Bosnia was abandoned to its fate by vaguely well-meaning but entirely undercommitted Western powers in April 1992, Kosovo was not. NATO's intervention was indirectly responsible for the Serbian assault on civilians, but NATO troops eventually saw the task through and brought the refugees home. Some 10,000 ethnic Albanians paid with their lives, however, and hundreds of thousands had lost their homes and possessions.

Part I chronicled the rise of Serbian nationalism in the 1980s and early 1990s and the subsequent waves of state-supported or tolerated violence in Bosnia and Serbia proper. Those waves, however, were by no means uniform. Rather than seeing "Serbian nationalist violence" as a homogeneous phenomenon, I have sought to highlight the varieties in repertoires of Serbian state violence across different institutional settings. In Bosnia, Serbian nationalism led to ethnic cleansing during 1992–93, the first terrible year of the Bosnian war, but in the Serbian core, ethnic cleansing did not occur until 1998–99, and then only in Kosovo.

Contemporary Serbian nationalism contained both radical and more moderate strands. The most radical elements, which conventional Western wisdom has most come to associate with Serbia, defined membership in the Serbian community in purely ethnic terms and was committed to

establishing a Greater Serbian state. In that vision, non-Serbs had little hope of fair treatment. More moderate strands of Serbian political discourse were influenced by the longtime existence of a Serbian republic within the socialist and anti-nationalist Yugoslavia, and the insertion of that republic in a wider global context. For states in the post–World War II world, be they communist or liberal, membership in the global universe of moral obligation was at least formally defined by universalistic criteria, including notions of law and order and bureaucratic due process. This phenomenon was increasingly reinforced by global-level norms of human rights.

Serbian nationalism in the 1980s, like many similar ideologies, was an amalgam of both radical and moderate strands, or perhaps more accurately, of national-particularism and universalism. The two coexisted uneasily, and neither achieved lasting hegemony. Radical particularism was victorious in some areas at some times, while strands of universalism had the upper hand elsewhere. Within Serbia proper the state enjoyed unrivaled infrastructural powers, and was thus unwilling to let extreme national particularism reign supreme. Serbia's ethnic cleansing of areas under its juridical and empirical sovereignty would have demolished its identity as a modern, liberal, or socialist state, and would have led to its exile from the wider community of nations. Neither could the Serbian state abandon nationalism altogether, however, because the ruling elite maintained power through its legitimating discourse, and because a nationalist counter-elite was waiting impatiently in the wings. A Serbian government that openly repudiated the Serbian people and abandoned diaspora Serbs altogether risked sparking a substantial domestic political challenge.

In 1992 and 1993, a unique set of events created an institutional setting that led to a despotic regime of power in Bosnia, permitting the most radical strands of Serbian nationalism to predominate. The trigger was the ability of Slovenia and Croatia to win international recognition of their sovereignty, which paved the way for Bosnian independence. Once the West applied the norm of sovereignty, rather than human rights, to Bosnia, the stage was set for the creation of frontier-like conditions. In April 1992, Bosnia was internationally recognized as a sovereign entity distinct from rump Yugoslavia, composed of Serbia and Montenegro, creating two separate institutional entities. Western powers expected sovereignty would insulate Bosnia from Serbian nationalism, but the exact opposite took place.

By separating Bosnia from Serbia, the West provided the radical

strand of Serbian nationalism an opportunity to free itself from the constraints of international and domestic norms. Chaos reigned in Bosnia, but the new, Western-imposed border absolved Serbia from legal responsibility for events. As a result, Serbian nationalism could grow to its fullest and most awful dimensions. On the frontier, membership in the universe of moral obligation was defined by Serbian nationalists in purely particularistic terms, leading to the forced removal of non-Serbs from the newly sovereign Bosnia. The institutional setting facilitating this moment of ethnic cleansing was the frontier, while its mechanisms were the paramilitaries, crisis committees, and the covert, cross-border network linking Belgrade to Bosnia.

Inside the Serbian core, things were very different. Here, the Serbian state remained constrained by national and international norms, which, for a time, reinforced the universalistic strands of Serbian political discourse. With its infrastructural power still high and its juridical and empirical sovereignty ensured, Serbia allowed norms of responsibility, law, order, and universal citizenship to predominate.

Throughout most of the 1990s, communal membership in Serbia was a complex affair. Purely national criteria were still strongly supported, and many non-Serbs lived in a state of threat and discrimination. But as citizens of a Serbian state seeking to project an image of multiethnic harmony to itself and to the world, they could lay claim to protection of a sort from state authorities. Unlike non-Serb Bosnians, the non-Serb citizens of Serbia and Montenegro had a platform from which they could defend themselves. They had rights as citizens of the Serbian state, and these could not be entirely withdrawn without the collapse of the state's legitimacy on both the domestic and international fronts. In Kosovo, this system was undermined in 1998–99 due first to the KLA insurgency, and then to NATO's intervention. With both its empirical and juridical sovereignty over the province under threat, Serbia abandoned its remaining commitments to universalism and unleashed a cruelly intense wave of ethnic cleansing.

International diplomacy and norms played crucial roles in the entire process. Both the frontier and the core were internationalized arenas: On the Bosnian frontier, that internationalization took place through the rapid and surprising consolidation of Bosnia as a full-fledged sovereign state and the grafting of the sovereignty norm onto the Bosnia-Serbia border. Inside the Yugoslav/Serbian core, internationalization was already in place in the state's investment in its "citizenship" in the international community. Even non-Serb populations in Sandžak, Vojvodina,

and Kosovo were partially protected by international human rights norms. Internationalization held the Serbian state accountable for events in its territory, forcing it to restrain radical nationalism. On the Bosnian frontier, however, the opposite took place. In Kosovo, international human rights norms initially helped protect ethnic Albanians from forced depopulation, but as Serbian retaliations for KLA actions became increasingly brutal, human rights pressures forced the West toward military intervention.

Another possibility existed for dealing with the demographic and political challenges posed by non-Serbs in Bosnia, Kosovo, and elsewhere. If Serbs wanted to maintain a radically nationalist notion of communal membership without expelling the non-Serb population, they could have defined Muslims and Croats as subjects with few legal rights, creating a two-tier political hierarchy. Non-Serbs would have occupied the lower tier as subordinate subjects, being permitted to stay on their land, but with severely restricted political and legal rights. In order to create such a formalized two-tier system, however, Serbs would have needed at least the tacit permission of international forces, and more specifically, the large Western powers.

Part II deals with precisely one such system: Israel and the Palestinian territories it occupied beginning in 1967. Here, the Jewish-Israeli population, defined in purely ethno-national terms, controlled some 2 million non-Jews with few political and few legal rights. Palestinians were officially inscribed into the Israeli control system as subordinate subjects, leaving them trapped inside the bureaucratic fabric of the Jewish state, exposing them to harsh ethnic policing while simultaneously shielding them from ethnic cleansing. The institutional setting in which this took place was the Palestinian ghetto, whose construction and methods of operation are the topic of the following chapters.

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