There’s scant evidence of Donald Trump’s victory last fall in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), a country of 3.5 million, forged in Ohio at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1995.
Although the president declares (as he did last month in Iowa), “We went into other countries to tell them how to run their countries,” as though it’s a bad dream from the past, U.S. career diplomats roll on as though 2017 were the Obama administration’s ninth year in office.
The American Spectator has explored how George Soros and his Open Society Foundation staged a friendly takeover — friendly because the U.S. Government was a willing target — of U.S. foreign policy institutions in the Balkans from Skopje, Macedonia to Tirana, Albania to Athens, Greece.
The leftwing octogenarian’s ongoing influence is difficult to understand, but especially absurd in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where three ethnic groups with strong religious identity — Bosnian Muslims, who self identify as “Bosniaks”; Orthodox Serbs; and Catholic Croatians or Croats — comprise a fragile democracy.
Deliberate Political Dysfunction?
Instead of offering dispassionate advice, like an influential older brother eager to see a younger sibling mature, the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo regularly hectors the country’s leaders and citizens; promotes new rights for sexual minorities while chastising constitutionally-recognized minorities for running (constitutionally-recognized) schools; and plays a dangerous game of favoritism, advancing the Muslim community over Croatians and Serbs, to the detriment of all.
As a result of U.S. and European Union (EU) policies, radical Islam has burrowed into BiH, Croats are being driven out, and Serbs are increasingly allying with Russia.
Evidence that some Bosniaks have become dangerously radicalized — living, please note, in the heart of “New Europe” — came last week when Turkish authorities interrupted a suicide bombing planned by an Islamic State jihadi carrying a BiH passport.
With potentially tragic consequences, the Trump administration has given a failed foreign policy more oxygen by leaving Obama diplomatic hands in place.
And indifference toward a turbulent place is unwise, especially when jihadi terrorists, now being disbursed from Iraq and Syria, are looking to blend into the proverbial woodwork and existing safe havens in BiH put them on Europe’s doorstep.
BiH Cardinal Vinko Puljic has long pointed to the Dayton Peace Accords, as the source of the country’s problems: “Divide the country and then pretend it is one nation? This is deeply illogical.”
He bluntly told an Italian newspaper two years ago, “This state does not work.”
Political dysfunction might have been baked into the recipe from the start: observing Clinton administration machinations in BiH, Alfred Sherman, an adviser to Margaret Thatcher, concluded that U.S. policy relied on “lying and cheating, fomenting war in which civilians are the main casualty, and in which ancient hatreds feed on themselves.”
President Donald Trump promised something new, so an anatomy of the Bosnia and Herzegovina status quo is in order.
To appreciate the Dada-esque quality of U.S. policy in BiH, requires backing up 25 years.
A particularly ugly war engulfed the county between 1992 and 1995, which broke out soon after the Croat and Muslim communities voted for independence from Yugoslavia in a referendum boycotted by Serbs.
Although most analysts consider the Serbs the violent protagonists, Croats and Muslims turned on each other (after starting out as allies) and in some places, Bosniak factions fought other Muslims.
“What happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war depends on where you were in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war,” says Gordon Bardos, a Balkan politics and security specialist. “It was that complex.”
The U.S. negotiated a truce (the Washington Agreement) between the Croats and Bosniaks in 1994, which led to the creation of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Federation comprised of ten autonomous cantons with a capital in Sarajevo.
A year later, a NATO bombing campaign targeted Serb positions and leveraged three-party negotiations.
At the bargaining table, Slobodan Milosevic, president of what was left of Yugoslavia, represented the Bosnian Serbs since their own leaders were considered too toxic. President Alija Izetbegovic, who negotiated for the Bosnian Muslims, was well known to have radical Islamist roots, having created a Muslim Brotherhood-style organization in 1941. Croatian President Franjo Tudman represented the third constituent nation.
The delegations were sequestered on a military base outside Dayton, Ohio, for three weeks, together with European observers. (One factor driving the deal was Bill Clinton’s upcoming presidential reelection campaign; he wanted a Bosnian peace treaty on his achievement list.)
“Painful compromises were made. Not one group was completely happy,” explains Bardos.
Richard Holbrooke’s detailed account of the Dayton end game makes clear the Bosniaks were the most obstinate, and came closest to blowing up the negotiations, while Milosevic made the most dramatic concessions.
Gordon Bardos shared a little known, tragic story about a thwarted peace agreement the year before Hell descended on much of the country.
In 1992, Izetbegovic foiled a near treaty: the “Lisbon Agreement,” a tri-ethnic solution partitioning BiH into cantons, was brokered by Portuguese diplomat José Cutileiro on behalf of the Conference of Europe.
The Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats signed the federalization scheme in Lisbon, but after meeting in Sarajevo with U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia Warren Zimmerman, Izetbegovic reneged. He rightly concluded time — and the U.S. — would deliver a better deal.
“The Lisbon Agreement and the Dayton Accords are so similar,” observed Bardos, “the main difference is the death of over 100,000 people” between 1992 and 1995.
The Dayton deal ended the savagery, and all three groups signed the General Framework Agreement, hammered out in Dayton, on December 14, 1995. The new country’s constitution was an annex to the peace treaty.
What made the agreement possible was extensive power-sharing at the federal level (a three-headed presidency with leadership rotating every eight months, for example) and deep recognition that each community would run its own affairs locally, including decisions about education — to the point that Bosnian Serbs got their own mini-state within the state, Republika Srpska (RS), despite initial U.S. opposition.
But this fragile deal has been systematically undercut since the early 2000s, when the U.S. Government turned its attention almost entirely to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Middle East.
More recently, inattention became outright hostility toward BiH’s crucial balancing act: U.S. policy under the Obama Administration, heavily influenced by the priorities of George Soros and his Open Society Foundation, have openly antagonized Croats and Serbs while promoting a Bosniak vision of a unitary state that collides with the decentralized polity created in Dayton.
Priority: LGBTI Rights
Ideology is often irrational. How else to explain why the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo consistently antagonizes the BiH people?
First, the embassy supports numerous programs critical of BiH and the conservative traditions of its three peoples.
A fact sheet on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)/BiH website condescendingly intones, “Many vulnerable groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) — women, national minorities and the LGBTI population, in particular — are often denied human rights.… Various forms of discrimination permeate all sectors of BiH society.”
Secretary of State Tillerson can’t possibly think this subjective and insulting analysis, dated April 17, 2017, amounts to letting a country run its own affairs.
“Equality for All: Civil Society Coalition Against Discrimination” is USAID’s $2.3 million 2014-2018 response, with 15% in matching funds from the Open Society Fund–Bosnia and Herzegovina (OSF) founded by George Soros — although OSF participation was recently erased from the USAID website.
Another USAID program to promote LGBT rights is the $3.4 million “Marginalized Populations Support Program.” Without evidence, the project description makes the breathtakingly derogatory stab: “BiH society continues to abhor the idea of homosexuality and most institutions ignore discrimination or violent acts against LGBT persons.”
Who got this massive award? A group known as KULT, the Institute for Youth Development, founded in 2010 as an outgrowth of OSF programs targeting youth.
Under Obama, the U.S. government provided “soup to nuts” advocacy for LGBTI+ rights.
The National Democratic Institute, with taxpayer money, surveyed the LGBTI community in Bosnia and found 51% experienced discrimination “because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”
USAID grantee “Rights for All” (Prava za sve) advocated for: the “Law on Gender Equality,” the “Law on the Prohibition of Discrimination,” and the “Law on the Life Partnership of Persons of the Same Sex” to address this perceived discrimination.
And USAID declares it “stands at the forefront of the fight for full and equal rights for LGBTI citizens in BiH” in a fact sheet updated May 2, 2017.
High-profile hijinks have underscored the U.S. Government’s LGBT priority. Beginning in 2013, the rainbow flag was projected onto the embassy’s facade for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
In 2016, the U.S. paid to light up the BiH History Museum with rainbow colors, while flying the LGBT flag on embassy properties in Sarajevo and Banja Luka, RS’s administrative center.
U.S. Ambassador Maureen Cormack even turned the flag into a personal fashion statement, incorporating its colors into her outfit.
In December 2015, she gave a speech marking the 1948 signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declaring the U.S. Government’s “first” priority as standing with LGBTI community members in BiH “who have been abused, harassed, discriminated against, or have lived in fear.”
Obviously, no one at the U.S. embassy gave a damn that these loud, antagonistic displays were offensive to many Christians and Muslims alike.
Punish and Humiliate
Marijan Knezović, 21, is a conservative Croat activist, university student, and blogger who attended a USAID-funded summer program in Sarajevo in 2015 organized by the Youth Initiative for Human Rights.
“It was supposed to be about democracy and tolerance, but it wasn’t,” remembers Knezović. “It was all talk about homosexuality, transexuality, gender this and that, abortion. It was disgusting because it was an attempt to indoctrinate participants.”
“So I wrote about this experience [in a local newspaper] and said, ‘They are imposing their views on us, which are not consistent with what the majority of people in Bosnia Herzegovina think,’” he said.
The day after his column was published, Knezović was at the U.S. consulate to get a visa, intending to spend one month in Chicago perfecting his English.
He noticed his article on the desk of a consular officer.
His visa application was denied.
“American values should favor freedom. I was just expressing my opinion!” Knezović exclaimed in a phone interview with The American Spectator.
“But [Ambassador] Maureen Cormack doesn’t want Croats or Serbs to express themselves, or decide who we want representing us, or what to believe,” he continued.
BiH Croats have the right to hold Croatian citizenship; thousands have used this belongingness to leave BiH for jobs and school in the EU.
With an unemployment rate over 25% last year (and youth unemployment over 68%, one of the highest rates in the world) according to the World Bank, it is no surprise that Catholic Church figures show an annual outflow of Croats; the BiH Croat population has declined by some 45% since the war.
No Go for Chicago Consul General
The U.S. Embassy appears to have multiplied conflicts related to representation, education, and equal treatment of the three peoples, rather than calming them, especially since current Amb. Cormack arrived.
Knezović mentioned a specific incident that infuriated the Croat community in BiH last year involving a Croat citizen appointed to serve as consul general to Chicago.
Ivan Šušnjar was approved by the BiH presidency — all three — to serve as consul general in Chicago, where a significant Croatian community lives.
Soon after his name was made public, a campaign against him flowered in Sarajevo, the capital city where most NGOs are based.
“Mr. Šušnjar is not a fascist, in fact he’s gay friendly, but he is Croatian, which makes him suspect in the eyes of some,” explains Knezović.
Other analysts say Šušnjar was rejected by the embassy because he supports creating a new, third Croatian entity within BiH, a political solution favored by some Croats who feel increasingly marginalized by the Bosniak majority.
“Croats are politically conservative, for the most part. A few years ago, Šušnjar criticized the Obama Administration, and for that he was denied an appointment,” said Knezović, who thinks one reason the U.S. Embassy consistently sides with the Bosniak community is the embassy’s location in Sarejevo, a Bosniak-dominated city.
“We do not feel like we are creators of our own destiny, and when we decide something, here comes the U.S. Embassy…to screw us,” the young journalist said ruefully.
BiH’s conference of Catholic bishops identifies one of the major problems with the country’s political evolution as being the excessive power exercised by external figures.
The Office of High Representative (OHR) was created in Dayton to help with policy implementation but its role was hugely expanded by the international Peace Implementation Council. It now functions as a sort-of external dictator with the power to bypass parliament, dismiss public officials, and negate judicial decisions too. Seven European diplomats have served in the office since 1995.
In a statement issued earlier this year, the Catholic Church warned of “the imposed, controlled, and administered chaos in the unfairly organized, dysfunctional, and excessively expensive state creation” dictating terms of life for citizens of BiH.
Following Catholic social doctrine, the bishops believe decision-making should occur at the most local level — a political philosophy the Dayton Accords was supposed to enshrine, but hasn’t as a result of OHR amendments to the Constitution and U.S. Government attempts at social engineering under the last administration.
Currently, of the Federation’s ten cantons, five are majority Bosniak, three are majority Croat, and two have a mixed population based on a contentious 2013 national census that found the Bosniak population has a slight national majority of 50.1%.
Valentino Grbavac’s Unequal Democracy: The Political Position of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, published last year by the Institute for Social and Political Research based in Mostar, BiH, traces post-Dayton discrimination against the Croat population and explains how OHR decisions, especially pertaining to electoral law and education, have made Croats second-class citizens.
The U.S. Government under the Obama Administration played a particularly pernicious role harming Croat and Serb interests in education reform — a negative role Amb. Cormack continues.
As Grbavac explains in Unequal Democracy, BiH can only function as a multi-ethnic, federal system with local autonomy over education, because the worldviews of its constituent nations are so divergent.
The country was ruled by foreign powers for most of its history. For example, most of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territory was part of the Ottoman Empire for over 400 years (1463-1878).
“While some see the Ottoman Turks as villains and enslavers, others think that they were a relatively positive force in the region that brought Islam and progress to Bosnia and Herzegovina,” writes Grbavac.
That’s why the BiH constitution gives each canton control over education and curriculum — even some municipalities have this authority, if a Croat-majority town is in a Bosniak-dominated Canton, for example.
However, the OHR established a federal education ministry ruled unconstitutional by BiH’s Constitutional Court — a decision ignored by the OHR, which tries to create international pressure for a one-size-fits-all form of education.
In her first month on the job, Amb. Cormack jumped into the fray, siding with those trying to undo Dayton’s hard-fought consensus.
She wrote a blog bemoaning the fact that Serbian, Croat, and Bosniak students are “segregated” from each other.
However, as Valentino Grbavac observes, this is not a case of segregation, but rather a case of students studying in their own language and according to the curriculum of their own nation, which is a fundamental human right encouraged and protected in all pluralistic and federal countries.
BiH’s arrangement of institutional plurality, also practiced in Switzerland, Belgium, and Canada, protects the “collective rights” of Serbs and Croats; Advocating a unitary, centralized system (including a national educational curricula) benefits Bosniaks, the most numerous nation in BiH. This would be akin to advocating for abolishment of state rights and local education in the U.S. in favor of a centralized system run from Washington.
The dispute between a federalist, decentralized viewpoint and a national-level solution has moved to a new arena: The European Parliament, although EU institutions tend to side with the statist approaches say observers.
Critics note that Amb. Cormack promotes a common national school curriculum — a position prominently supported by the leftwing as well as Islamic political parties — despite Croat conviction that such a national program would selectively favor a Muslim worldview, obliterating Catholic tradition and history.
This bias is underscored by a USAID and Soros’ $1.43 million “Education for a Just Society” project, designed to “facilitate change” in the BiH education system using a “holistic approach” because the status quo “perpetuates ethnic and other divisions.”
Both, Republika Srpska (RS), and Croat leaders complain bitterly about U.S. partisanship in this area.
As a former senior State Department expert on stabilization noted, “Amb. Cormack’s activities reflect how much the Obama White House politicized our foreign policy to advance a controversial social agenda and, in the process, undermined the U.S. Government’s traditional honest broker role. The only way to restore our credibility in the region is to replace our Ambassadors there and start afresh.”
While the Croat community generally considers the U.S. Embassy antagonistic toward its interests, Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik goes so far as to call Amb. Cormack and her bosses at the State Department the “enemy.”
The U.S. Government imposed sanctions on Dodik earlier this year, forbidding his travel to the U.S. and freezing his American assets — which don’t exist, according to the president.
In response, Dodik declared Comark persona non grata in Srpska, and barred her from visiting the entity, which covers 49% of BiH territory, by Dayton’s design.
What triggered the sanctions was RS’s celebration on January 9 of a national holiday, which coincides with an Orthodox holiday.
The BiH Constitutional Court ruled the holiday (as well as a referendum on independence supported by Dodik) unconstitutional. So in this case, the U.S. affirmed a BiH Constitutional Court decision.
Yet, the U.S. Government failed to sanction — or even call out — Bosniak leaders who rejected a key Constitutional Court ruling designed to prevent Muslim voters from using a tactic to select pro-Muslim Croatian parliamentary representatives that effectively disenfranchises the majority of Croat voters. The U.S. has not made any gesture at settling the electoral law dispute, which disenfranchises Croats.
This sort of double standard on the part of the U.S. embassy infuriates both Croat and Serbian communities.
At a press conference last January, Dodik described the current U.S. Embassy as “arrogant… pro-Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim), militarist and anti-Serb.”
He also called on President Trump to remove Amb. Cormack for meddling in BiH’s internal affairs.
Six months later, Cormack is still in post and Dodik has moved his autonomous republic closer to Russia, which, importantly, shares Serbia’s Orthodox faith.
Dodik explained his attitude succinctly last month to Politico.eu: ““Russia hasn’t asked
anything from me, or to do anything impossible.”
“But when I go to Brussels, when I went to Washington previously, pressure was put on me and on many other politicians from here as well. So what’s natural?” the president asked.
“Is it natural that you go somewhere where you are welcome, or to go somewhere where the pressure is put on you?” Dodik asked rhetorically.
Croats and Serbs from BiH offer numerous examples of how the Obama Administration, and its ambassador in BiH, routinely sided with Bosnia’s Muslims on key political issues, besides the embassy’s advocacy for a Bosniak-oriented curriculum.
When Amb. Cormack rejected the Croat consul general for Chicago, for example, she gave a press statement to Patria, a radical Muslim news agency owned by Bakir Alispahic, notorious for running an Islamist terrorist camp in the early 1990s.
Alispahic also issued passports and citizenship to jihadi foreign fighters, who came to BiH to fight on the Muslim side during the 1992-95 war. For his actions, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Alispahic.
The fact that the U.S. Embassy still trusts Alispahic creates profound distrust in the Croat and Serb communities.
Bias is also perceived in Amb. Comack’s regular engagement with Muslim-dominated leftwing parties such as Demokratska Frontal and Gradanski Savez, which favors a centralized system benefiting Bosniak interests.
Gradanski Savez’s leader, Emir Suljagic, is especially resented by Croats for his habit of denigrating Croats, even on Twitter, as Nazis, a reference to a World War II-era alliance beetween Germany and Croatia, in which Bosniak Muslims also participated. He’s also been a point man for castigating the Serb nation on Al Jazeera for example.
Another discrepancy between the way the constituent nations are treated — which the U.S. Embassy appears to condone by standing by, making no comment — is the Muslim public prosecutor’s use of severe post-war criminal laws in arresting Croats and Serbs for war crimes committed 25 years ago.
Less punitive pre-war laws are used to charge Bosniaks who committed crimes such as starving and executing civilian POWs.
Worse, the Sarajevo authorities refuse to root out an existing terror infrastructure in BiH territory that creates safe haven for jihadi fighters in training or returning from the Middle East.
Bosnian Jihadi Havens Threaten Europe
Gordon Bardos, an expert on security in the Balkans, confirmed in an interview with The American Spectator that the U.S. and NATO should be more concerned about the build up of radical Islam in BiH — a phenomenon the Obama administration steadfastly ignored, preferring to focus on dubious projects such as “producing a toolkit for drafting gender-balanced budgets and legislation,” for BiH ministries.
Bardos has compiled detailed documentation on links between radical Islam and Bosniak militancy in his 2014 article “Jihad in the Balkans: The Next Generation.”
“This goes back to ties Alija Izetbegovic cultivated during the war,” said Bardos, recalling that Western journalists from the Guardian and Der Spiegel witnessed Osama bin Laden entering Izetbegovic’s office in 1994.
According to Bardos, bin Laden received a Bosnian passport and visited at least three times in the 1990s, building a terrorist infrastructure. Two of the 9/11 jihadi hijackers had Bosnian links.
Political Islam and a pan-Muslim organization were lifelong dreams for the Bosniak founding father, Alija Izetbegovic, says Bardos. In fact, he was sentenced by the Communists to 14 years in prison for a fundamentalist treatise, the “Islamic Declaration” written in 1970.
“When he died in 2003, Izetbegovic had aligned Bosnia with [Turkish President] Erdogan, and the vision of a new caliphate,” Bardos said.
And who is today’s most prominent Bosniak, representing the nation in the presidency since 2010? Alija’s only son, Bakir Izetbegovic, who continues his nation’s special relationship with Turkey, increasingly a radicalizing influence in the region.
As a result of the relationships Izetbegovic senior cultivated with Saudi Arabia (which built and finances hundreds of Wahabbi mosques and clerics across BiH), and Turkey, between five and ten percent of Bosniaks have been exposed to radical Islam, experts estimate.
Thus, BiH had the highest per capita Islamic State recruitment rate of any European country as of 2015.
Now, some fear those chickens will come back to roost…
The Forum for the Study of International Terrorism announced earlier this year it considers Bosnia and Herzegovina the most likely safe haven for terrorists disbursed from Iraq and Syria.
This issue, too, has become a heated point of contention between the neighboring Republic of Croatia and Bosniak leadership.
Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic publicly highlighted the risk to BiH security of the “growing number of extremist groups” — which the minister of security in Sarejevo promptly rejected.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Cormack can be seen in President Bakir Izetbegovic’s office three months ago discussing “implementation of the reform agenda,” according to N1, the country’s CNN affiliate.
You can bet they aren’t talking about radical Muslim terrorism, but President Trump should send a diplomat willing to do just that.
(Our series, “Soros in the Balkans Under the American Flag,” will continue.)