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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.

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