Why Giving the European Union the Nobel Peace Prize Was Wrong

Knowing what it did and didn't do to stop war in the Balkans, how can the EU claim it carried out a worthy diplomatic and military effort there?

Vlasenica-Banner.jpgMuslim women in the town of Vlasenica, in an ethnically Serbian part of Bosnia-Herzegovina, sit prior to an April 2012 mass funeral for victims of the Bosnian conflict. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

As the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced it had selected the European Union as the winner of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, a news story from Bosnia-Herzegovina reported the remains of 11 people had been recovered from a mass grave in northeastern Bosnia. 

The International Commission on Missing Persons said the bodies were found in shallow graves near Trnovo, and were believed to be Muslim civilians from the area of Vlasenica, a former Bosniak-populated municipality in eastern Bosnia where hundreds of war crimes were committed by Bosnian Serbs between May and June 1992. By the time those soldiers were done with their lethal handiwork, more than 3,000 Muslims had been killed and thousands more imprisoned -- in addition to the thousands who fled into exile with only the clothes on their backs. Within a month of the Serb takeover there in June 1992, there were very few, if any, Muslims left in Vlasenica.

Similar scenes played out in hundreds of other villages from Croatia to Kosovo. Men were routinely imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Women were tortured and raped -- a form of ethnic cleansing committed in the most violent and humiliating manner. Many rape survivors subsequently took their own lives, unable to tolerate the shame or overcome the deadening depression that took over their lives in those attacks' destructive aftermath.

In a decade of war in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, unspeakable crimes were carried out by armies, soldiers, and irregulars under the leaderships of Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman. Together and apart, they plundered, pillaged, and raped their way across Marshal Tito's highway of "brotherhood and unity" destroying lives, uprooting families and entire villages, in order ultimately to forge an independent state in Croatia during the first war. To be sure, crimes were committed by the army under Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, but there is no evidence of systematic abuse and atrocities approaching the level of the Bosnian Serb Army, known as the VRS, or Serbian Army, once known as the JNA.

Milosevic's march toward a "greater Serbia" was finally stopped by NATO aircraft that engaged in a 78-day bombardment of Serbia led by the U.S. Air Force.

These wars are notable for concentration camps, the systematic rape and enslavement of women, and a massive genocide in Srebrenica, where some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were executed and cast into open graves littering the countryside of eastern Bosnia. Mass graves of Kosovar Albanian victims dot the Serbian countryside. Milosevic and his cronies went to great lengths to hide them, including by burying 50 victims in a refrigerator truck that was dumped into the Danube River.

Prosecution of the most egregious of these crimes is handled at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague and in various national human rights and war crimes courts in the region.

These heinous crimes are familiar to Europeans.

That's what makes the Nobel Committee's selection of the EU as this year's Peace Prize laureate simply unbelievable to me. I read and re-read the citation: "for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe." Knowing what happened and did not happen to stop the wars in the Balkans, how can the EU claim it has carried out an honorable diplomatic and military effort in the Balkans?

Indeed, the late U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, who brokered the Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian war in 1995, once called the Bosnian war "the greatest collective security failure of the West since the 1930s." Surely Europeans bear major responsibility for telling the Americans to "butt out" of business in their backyard at the beginning of the Balkan unraveling. According to the late U.S. congressman Frank McCloskey's account captured in Samantha Power's book "Genocide:  The Problem from Hell," President Bill Clinton wanted to engage in a bombing campaign in Bosnia as early as 1993 but complained to McCloskey that he was effectively thwarted by British Prime Minister John Major, whose government obstructed all efforts to launch a military intervention under the auspices of the UN Security Council.

Now a political unraveling is unfolding in Sarajevo once again, calling into question this Nobel Peace Prize and its delusional citation. Indeed, the EU presence in Bosnia has persisted with weak, appeasing overtures to Milorad Dodik, the president of Bosnia's Serb entity, who has cried foul for months, repeatedly claiming that Republika Srpska will someday be its own country.

Through the Office of High Commissioner Valentin Inzko, the EU has repeatedly failed to stop an escalating war of words and deeds, resulting in continuous obstructions of federal governance in Bosnia, paralyzing its ability to function at all.

So when the EU accepts the Nobel Peace Prize in December, will it do so mindful of the 30,000 people who remain missing and unidentified in the Balkans? Will it accept this prestigious prize knowing that 20,000 to 50,000 women were raped during the Bosnian war? Will it acknowledge that European refugees from the Balkans fled the European continent to more than 80 countries around the world in the 20th century?

The most decent thing the EU could do now is to contribute a substantial portion of the Nobel Peace Prize's financial award to those humanitarian organizations that continue to support the survivors of three major wars on the European continent in the past 20 years. Until there is justice, there will be no peace, despite the Nobel Committee's belief to the contrary.



This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Presented by

Tanya Domi is adjunct professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, where she teaches human rights in the Balkans for the Harriman Institute. She served in the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1996-2000.

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