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Ch. 14 Civil War in Yugoslavia 1991-2001. Imperialist discord and ethnic cleansing

posted 13 Aug 2012, 09:27 by Admin uk

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting

on its shoes.1

Mark Twain

The ethnic cleansing that took place in Yugoslavia is often put down to ancient hatreds re-surfacing. However, over the centuries, the south­ern Slavs (Yugoslavia means the country of the southern Slavs) have been subjected to a number of foreign occupations, and have frequently joined together to fight the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.2 Likewise Josip Tito, president of Yugoslavia until 1980, united Yugoslavs of all na­tionalities in a struggle against Hitler’s Germany.

It was the bureaucratic rulers of various Yugoslav republics, who after Tito’s death, laid the basis for destroying this traditional unity. But the deci­sive reason for ethnic cleansing was disagreements among greedy imperial­ist powers. This has been effectively hidden by a veil of lies about the civil war in Yugoslavia.

The Yugoslav bureaucracy brings nationalism to life

In 1989, Milosevic reduced the autonomy of two of Serbia’s regions – Voy­vodina and Kosovo. This ran counter to Tito’s policies. By ensuring that the various republics were all kept strong, Tito had sought to guarantee equality between nationalities. This policy was now turned on its head. The Serbian leaders, in claiming their republic’s right to absorb these two autonomous provinces, had dealt the federation a death-blow.

The main reason for this madness was that the economies of Eastern Eu­rope began to experience severe problems in the 1980s. After the Second World War the state-controlled planned economy led to rapid economic development. Growth at 11-13% a year was higher than any West European country, despite the absence of democracy. But the bureaucratic nature of the plan lead to greater and greater problems, especially after 1973 when Yugoslavia was forced to borrow from the IMF as a result of the oil crisis. The IMF demanded and got a decade of ‘frugality’ during the 1980s. The bureaucracy desperately cast around for ways of rescuing themselves and their privileges.

As Serbia played a key role in the federation, bureaucrats in other parts of Yugoslavia started to feel threatened. In response to Serbian nationalism, they began developing a Slovenian, Croatian, Macedonian, and in time a Bosnian nationalism. They had some popular support for this policy as people saw how badly Milosevic had begun to treat the Albanian minority living mainly in Kosovo.

In May 1990, Franjo Tudjman was elected president of Croatia. Of the 4.7 million people living in the republic at the time, 600 000 were Serbs. Even be­fore the election, Tudjman had declared that one of his first priorities on tak­ing office would be to ‘remove’ a number of Serbs employed in the Croatian civil service, the police and the media. “There are five or six times as many as there should be,” he said. He dreamed not only of cleansing Croatia of Serbs but also of extending Croatia’s borders. Bosnia, he argued, was an essential part of a geopolitical unit with Croatia. At the time, Croats made up just 20% of the Bosnian population; 30% were Serbs and 40% Muslims.

Like Tito, Tudjman enjoyed appearing in public in a white uniform with oversized epaulettes, and he was happy to have compliments heaped on him by Croatian public officials, such as the ‘Prometheus of Croatia’ and ‘Reviver of Croatia’s Patriotic Spirit’. He took a firm hold on the Croatian media. He also praised the Ustase government of the 1940s as “a manifes­tation of the Croatian people’s yearning for a sovereign state.” 3 Tudjman denied the Holocaust, and claimed that only 900 000 Jews died. He took the view that these deaths would not have occurred had the German army triumphed over the Soviet Union, which would have paved the way for “a geographical solution” of the Jewish question. A “reserve” could have been established in eastern Poland or in Madagascar.4

There was no great difference between Tudjman and Milosevic (or for that matter between Tudjman and Slovenian leader Milan Kucan or Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic). Tudjman and Milosevic were equally responsible for the war that broke out between Serbia and Croatia following the latter’s declaration of independence. Later, Tudjman and Milosevic made a secret deal in 1991 to divide Bosnia between them.5

Germany goes its own way

Neither the EU nor the US was prepared to recognise Croatian sovereignty, but Germany did, and eventually got the EU to do so too. This revealed another dimension of the new world order. While the United States’ military might is greater than ever, its political superiority is no longer of the same magnitude. During the Cold War, the US was the undisputed leader of the capitalist world. The big Western powers stood united under American leadership against their common enemy. But following the collapse of the Soviet Union, imperialist powers became increasingly split. The fact that American political supremacy is being called into question by other imperialist powers is due not only to the fall of the Soviet Union, but also to the United States’ weakening grip on the world economy. Although the US is still a heavyweight, its share of world production has declined since 1945. In 1950, the country accounted for 40% of the world’s GDI (Gross Domestic Income), while in 1990 the figure was down to 23.5%.6

For the first time since the Second World War, Germany decided not to adopt the same stance as the other imperialist powers on an important issue in the international arena. The country had undergone a period of rapid economic growth, East and West Germany were reunified, and via the EU the country dominated Europe. Germany had traditionally regarded Croatia and Slovenia as part of its sphere of influence, while Serbia mainly belonged to the Russian sphere. The German government wanted to regain its influence in Croatia and Slovenia.

Former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher describes in his memoirs a meeting he had with Slovenian president Milan Kucan. When Kucan spoke of Slovenia’s drive for independence, Genscher had not op­posed the idea, but simply urged him to “proceed slowly”.7 Both before and after this meeting the EU had officially expressed its opposition to the partitioning of Yugoslavia. Nascent trade wars tend to express themselves in political conflict.

In June 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence. This im­mediately led to armed clashes with Yugoslav government forces as Bel­grade refused to recognise the breakaway. In December 1991, Germany became the first country to recognise the two as independent states. The commission that the EU had set up to examine the Yugoslavia question had not even had time to present its report. The German government swiftly declared the Croatian regime to be champions of democracy in Yugoslavia. The fact that Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman was a known denier of the Holocaust was not considered relevant. The true nature of the regime was concealed. A German committee of inquiry led by Christian Tomaschat concluded that the way Croatia protected minorities was “of exemplary importance for the continuing protection of minorities in Europe”.8

Once it had recognised Croatia and Slovenia, Germany worked hard to persuade other countries to follow suit. A breakthrough came when it man­aged to get Britain to recognise Croatia in exchange for British exemption from the social chapters in the EU’s Maastricht treaty.9 Once Britain had swung behind Germany, the rest of the EU and the US reluctantly gave their support as well.

Britain, France and the US were not opposed to the government in Serbia, although they since then have portrayed Milosevic as the greatest villain im­aginable. They considered him the best guarantee of stability in Yugoslavia, as he was the regional strongman. In point of fact, these big powers gave him a certain amount of support, by introducing an arms embargo under UN auspices against all the federal republics. Serbia controlled most of the old Yugoslav army, and as no-one was to be supplied with new weapons (although in practice weapons poured into both Croatia and Serbia), it held an advantage. Serbia eventually defeated Croatia.

By the time an UN-sponsored ceasefire was agreed in 1992, Serbia had taken over a third of Croatia’s territory. The UN stepped in with a peace­keeping force, but did little more than patrol the new borders. In contrast to their mission in Iraq, the UN troops were not there as peacemakers, but as peacekeepers. Everything they did was to have the consent of all parties involved. It was an impossible task, but how could it be otherwise when the United Nations was anything but united?

Inevitable ethnic cleansing

The next step in the escalation of ethnic conflict came in March 1992 when Bosnia’s leading bureaucrat, Alija Izetbegovic, proclaimed Bosnia an independent state. He did this partly because he feared growing Serbian dominance, but he also hoped to exploit the fact that the war had weakened both Serbia and Croatia, enabling the Bosnian establishment to take a larger slice of the cake.

Izetbegovic was an Islamist. As a 22-year-old, he had published a news­paper entitled Mujahid (‘The Warrior’), and in 1983 he had been jailed for writing The Islamic Declaration, which included the statement: “Peace or co­existence between the Islamic faith and non-Islamic institutions is not pos­sible”. During the 1990s, his party’s slogan was “In our country, with our faith”, and he accused Western financiers of “diluting the Islamic essence” in Bosnia. When he died in October 2003, the International War Crimes Tribunal was investigating the extent of his responsibility for the intern ment and murder of civilians during the war.10 Bosnia was not a nation. There were no linguistic, religious, or historical grounds. Nor was there a national consciousness. Ethnic groups were closely integrated. Most were good neighbours and celebrated one another’s religious holidays. The Mus­lims were highly secularised. They drank alcohol and dressed as Europeans. When fundamentalists arrived from Iran and Libya at the beginning of the war to support their Muslim brethren, the Bosnian Muslims found their behaviour totally unacceptable.

This time the German government was not as anxious, as in the case of Croatia and Slovenia, to defend the right of nations to self-determination. This time it was the United States that acted hastily, despite the fact that American intelligence agencies unanimously agreed that if the US recog­nised Bosnia, it would explode.11 Hans-Dietrich Genscher comments sourly: “The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina – the second Yugoslav war – began later, and it was not Germany that initiated recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina. On the contrary. In early March 1992, Washington proposed that the US and the EU act in unison.”

The US government did not wish to be left without a voice in a crumbling Yugoslavia, and was therefore prepared to take the risk that Bosnia would indeed explode.12 The US and the EU recognised Bosnian independence. The new state immediately began to fall apart. Those parts of the old Yugo­slav army that were stationed in Bosnia stayed there, re-named themselves the Bosnian-Serbian Army and proclaimed an independent Serbian repub­lic, Republika Srpska. Serbia immediately attacked Bosnia. At first, Croatia provided support to Bosnian Croatian armed groups in Bosnia, but in 1993 it attacked Bosnia directly. The UN arms embargo made it impossible for the Bosnian government to defend itself. In contrast to Croatia and Serbia, it had little opportunity to breach the embargo. The country was surround­ed by Croatia and Serbia, and had very limited economic resources.

In the space of 60 days following independence, tens of thousands of people died, mostly Muslims, and a million people were forced to flee. The civilian population lived under constant threat, and the only defence they could count on was that of ‘their’ nation’s army. In such circumstances, nationalist sentiment spread like wildfire. By the time peace arrived, over two million people had fled, half the Bosnian population.

The imperialist powers disagreed on how to handle Bosnia. This dissen­sion was reflected in a number of votes at the United Nations. In 1993, for instance, the US (and a number of Muslim countries) sought to lift the arms embargo against Bosnia, but not against Croatia and Serbia. The pro­posal was rejected by the Security Council due to the opposition of Britain, France, Russia, China, and others. Because of these differences, the UN managed to produce a record amount of documentation about the conflict. During the 18-months period from the outbreak of hostilities in Bosnia, the Security Council adopted 47 resolutions, and the Council President is­sued 42 written statements. It was an attempt to paper over the differences between the imperialist powers.

One plan after another was put forward in search of peace. These ranged from proposals to separate the ethnic groups to proposals to force them to live together. Both methods would have simply fostered further antago­nism, the first by legitimising the split into ethnic groups, and the second by forcing one ethnic group to accept the rule of another group’s power-crazed leaders. The UN could not suggest any other alternative.

The UN betrays Srebrenica

The UN established a number of safe areas. These were towns, such as Srebrenica, where Bosnian Muslims were in a majority, but where the sur­rounding population comprised Bosnian Serbs. Under an agreement be­tween all parties, these areas were to be demilitarised and left in peace.

In August 1993, a new plan was presented – the Union of Three Republics Plan. Bosnia was to be partitioned into a Muslim, a Croatian and a Serbian republic. Amazingly, in order to make the borders straighter, the UN was prepared to hand over some of the safe areas to the Serbs, and other areas to the Bosnian Muslims. The plan was rejected by Izetbegovic.

The Bosnian Serb leaders decided to implement the plan themselves, in their own brutal fashion. Srebrenica was a Muslim enclave in an area domi­nated by Serbs. When it was captured by Serbian forces, unarmed Bosnian Muslim men and boys were abused and killed indiscriminately. The soldiers hit them with cudgels, forced them to kneel in prayer in the Muslim fashion, and then shot them.13

Srebrenica had been designated a safe area by the UN, which was thus obligated to protect its inhabitants. But the small, lightly armed Dutch UN force stationed there, Dutchbat, had no chance, and repeated requests for air support were denied at various levels of command. As the UN had dis­armed the local people, they were unable to defend themselves. Around 6 000 were executed in Srebrenica.14

The UN itself estimates that up to 20 000 people died in or around its ‘safe areas’. A tragic and monumental fiasco.

The imperialist powers exploited and reinforced the nationalist monster unleashed in Yugoslavia. They were unable to agree on how to return the beast to its cage, so things were simply allowed to run their course. Ethni­cally cleansed, geographically integrated areas were the inevitable result.

Reading between the lines, it is clear that the UN report on Srebrenica agrees that it that the catastrophe was due to disagreements among impe­rialist powers: “There are occasions when Member States cannot achieve consensus on a particular response to active military conflicts, or do not have the will to pursue what many might consider to be an appropriate course of action. The first of the general lessons is that when peacekeep­ing operations are used as a substitute for such political consensus they are likely to fail”.15

Croatia attacks Serbia

Shortly after the Srebrenica massacre in August 1995, another war broke out. Croatia had been massively rearming since the 1992 truce with Serbia. Germany had made sure that Croatia did not suffer from the sanctions that afflicted Serbia when the two states jointly attacked Bosnia in 1993-94. So Croatia had never had trouble raising loans to finance its arms purchases. It now attacked Serbia and succeeded in driving hundreds of thousands of Serbs out of their homes in the province of Krajina. Croatia thereby ac­quired an ethnically cleansed, geographically cohesive area (Croatia and Slov­enia are today the ethnically ‘cleanest’ republics in former Yugoslavia). When the Croatians sought to press on to Banja Luka, a Bosnian Serbian town in a Bosnian Serbian area, the Americans stopped them in their tracks.

This is how Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy in the region, described a meeting he had with Croatia’s president Tudjman on 17 September 1995:

“I told Tudjman the [Croatian] offensive had great value to the negotiations. It would be much easier to retain at the table what had been won on the battlefield than to get the Serbs to give up territory they had controlled for several years. I urged Tudjman to take Sanski Most, Prijedor, and Bosanski Novi, all important towns that had become worldwide symbols of ethnic cleansing. . . . Banja Luka , I said, was a different matter.

“As we spoke, the road to this largest Bosnian Serb city ap­peared to lie open to the Croatian offensive, although it was not at all certain whether the city could be taken. We knew that [Croatian Defence Minister] Susak wanted to go for it as quickly as possible. On the other hand, I told Tudjman, the city was un­questionably within the Serb portion of Bosnia. Even if it were captured, the Federation would have to return it to the Serbs in any peace negotiation. Finally, capturing Banja Luka would generate over 200 000 additional refugees. I did not think that the United States should encourage an action that would create so many more refugees. I concluded my comments with a blunt statement: ‘Mr. President, I urge you to go as far as you can, but not to take Banja Luka’.” 16

In November 1995, all parties signed the Dayton Agreement to end the war. The Security Council approved the agreement. The UN forces were pulled out, and tens of thousands of NATO-led troops took their place. A fragile federation of Croatian, Serbian and Muslim areas was established in Bosnia. A period of relative stability followed – until the next major conflict arrived, this time centring on Kosovo.

NATO bombs Serbia

Milosevic’s persecution of the Kosovo Albanians was pushing them into an armed struggle for Kosovan independence. The imperialists, therefore, had no choice but to clamp down on Milosevic, as an independent Kosovo could have had disastrous consequences. As Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov put it: “If a fire burns in Kosovo and spreads to Macedonia and Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, a major war could erupt in the Balkans.”17 An independent Kosovo would be able to link with Albania and form a Greater Albania. This in turn would split Macedonia, where the population was 40% Albanian. Greece had claims on Macedonia, as did Bulgaria. Tur­key, on the other hand, was on the side of Albania against its old arch-rival, Greece. A war might pit two NATO nations, Turkey and Greece, against each other.

There was also another reason for the bombing campaign. The US wel­comed a chance to seize the initiative in the Balkans. Previously, it had tend­ed to lag behind Germany and Russia, and to some extent behind France as well. Since the Gulf War, US arrogance had grown considerably. Now the Americans were prepared to act without the cover of the UN. However, these were not the reason given for bombing Serbia. Instead, the media in the west suddenly placed Milosevic on a par with Hitler.

Yugoslav and NATO representatives met at the palace of Rambouillet in France. NATO’s demands on the Yugoslav regime were nothing less than a complete provocation. They required NATO occupation, not just of Kos­ovo, but of the whole of Yugoslavia. NATO troops were to have access to the entire country, with no legal restrictions. NATO personnel were to be immune from legal process, and NATO was to have access to all telecom­munications, including TV broadcasts, free of charge. No government of a sovereign state would countenance such demands. Furthermore, the proposed agreement stated that:

“The economy of Kosovo shall function in accordance with free market principles”.18

So Milosevic rejected the de­mands and NATO dispatched its bomb planes to Yugoslavia.

For 77 days, NATO bombed Serbia. Swedish Social Democratic MPs Karin Wegerstål and Bengt Silfverstrand visited the war-torn country shortly after the bombing stopped.

“We have seen totally bombed-out factories, oil depots blown apart, ruined roads, railways and bridges. We have spoken to en­gineers who have described the difficulty of keeping Belgrade’s power supply going after all the bombing. We have spoken to parents about how they tried to allay their children’s terror dur­ing the attacks.

“In Nis, we saw what remained of the bombed-out university, the effects of splinter bombs (!) on an emergency clinic at the local hospital, the vegetable market that had been bombed in full daylight, a bombed-out tobacco factory, a bombed-out oil depot and so on. Some 40 000 workplaces had been totally destroyed in this city alone.”19

The US and NATO cited humanitarian grounds for the destruction – the need to protect the Kosovo Albanians from Serbian terror. But Karin Wegerstål and Bengt Silfverstand noted:

“The overwhelming bulk of the human suffering and material destruction that can be seen in Kosovo occurred after 24 March (1999). This has been suppressed, to justify NATO’s war of ag­gression. What the bombing was supposed to prevent, it caused instead, in infinite measure.”

This view is confirmed by Colonel Bo Pellnäs, a Swedish peace negotiator in the Balkans and the Belgrade representative of the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe).

“Despite the massacre in Racak20, it would be wrong to claim that mass expulsions were taking place in Kosovo, or acts of genocide, before the war broke out. Such claims are patently absurd as the OSCE had twelve hundred observers stationed there.”21

Despite NATO’s superiority in terms of resources, the outcome was hardly what US president Bill Clinton had foreseen. For a start, Milosevic’s posi­tion in Yugoslavia was strengthened during the actual bombing. The op­position, which had previously been very active, came out in support of him. Those who did not were forced to remain silent. A Serbian journalist, Dejan Lukic, put it like this: “We’re all behind Milosevic now, whether you like it or not. Thanks to your bombs, he has become a national hero, to the opposition as well.”22 Colonel Pellnäs shares this assessment.

“It could be argued that the bombing imposed a severe mental strain on the Serbs, who up to then had not been directly af­fected by the fighting in the Balkans, and that it consequently hastened the transfer of power in Serbia. But you could equally well argue – and perhaps to better effect – that Milosevic would have been removed from office even earlier if the war had not come along and actually strengthened his position for quite some time.”23

NATO propaganda sought to portray the Serbian people as a whole as brutes. In the final stages of the war, NATO probably realised that it could not be won, and the bombing degenerated into a campaign of terror against the civilian population. The aim was to punish the people for their unwill­ingness to obey NATO and get rid of Milosevic.

Moreover, NATO planes failed to crush the Yugoslav army. They bombed both the Swedish and the Chinese embassies, Kosovo Albanian refugees and Bulgaria, but were still unable to get at the Serbian forces. NATO did not dare bring in ground troops, partly because they feared becoming embroiled in a new Vietnam War and partly because the NATO countries could not agree. The alliance was already split. In Greece and Italy in par­ticular, both of which were NATO members, there were massive protests against the bombing war. It was Russia that finally ensured Yugoslavia’s sur­render in the negotiations to end the war. Without Russian backing, Milose­vic realised he could not continue fighting. The US for its part was not yet prepared to go it alone. Milosevic remained in power. It was not until the working class took matters in its own hands that Milosevic was removed. And they accomplished it swiftly.

The working class brings down Milosevic – without bombs

At the elections held in September 2000, opposition leader Vojislav Kos­tunica triumphed. Milosevic, however, refused to concede the election and step down. The following eye-witness report explains what happened next.

“From the early morning hours, one could hear the sound of numerous horns from cars, trucks and buses pouring into down­town Belgrade from every highway. Apart from national sym­bols and anti-Milosevic slogans, many of them proudly waved their trade union flags. Word on the street was that they came to the capital in order to finish up what they had started a few days earlier, when most of the factories in Serbia had been shut down and a general strike announced.

In 1996, people had also flowed into the squares in all the big cities across the country, demanding justice and calling for all-out civil disobedience. Then, middle class professionals and the student movement were at the core of events. Local small busi­nesses, cinemas, theatres, schools and universities responded to the opposition calls and went on strike immediately, but industry remained untouched by these movements.

This time the wave of strikes went deeper. Fewer than 100 factories were working across the state. It started with public transport and garbage collectors and culminated in the coun­try’s most important coal mines in the Kolubara district. This particular strike threatened to leave half of the country without electricity.

Everything that happened that day grew directly out of the gen­eral atmosphere and the initiative came from the people. Op­position leaders got ‘caught off guard’ and were pretty hesitant and got left behind in the beginning. The masses probably made them go further than they imagined in their wildest dreams.

People organised spontaneously and took over crucial buildings. Most ‘private’ TV stations and newspapers that were also controlled by the regime were freed without much trouble. Na­tional Television was guarded by the police for a short period of time, after which they scattered. Many of them took off their uniforms and joined the masses, others desperately tried to stop the crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets (real shoot-outs were also reported).

‘Rioting’ and’ looting’ was reported all around, however the tar­gets were obviously not chosen according to the level of material gain. Foreign observers may not understand this, but each object that was torn down had some kind of symbolic significance. For example an exclusive perfume shop in the centre of the city was looted because it is believed that it belongs to Milosevic’s son. The parliament represented political oppression, and the National TV building represented media propaganda and lies upon which this system had laid its foundations. They were both burned to the ground. The local police station was not spared either. Unknown quantities of weapons were taken from this station before it was set on fire.

By the evening most of the battles had already been won. ‘Bel­grade is ours!’ could be heard from thousands of throats. Anger slowly transformed into happiness and rioting into celebration.  People started to debate and organise among themselves spon­taneously. Some of them took things out of the parliament and TV building and continued to destroy what was left of it; others claimed that things should be collected in one place and saved because they are all ‘our things’ and we’re going to need them in the future.

Opposition organisers and politicians finally re-appeared and started to make speeches to ‘calm down the masses’. Vojislav Kostunica (the opposition presidential candidate) was an­nounced as the ‘new president of the country’ and people greeted him with cheers. During his speech a spontaneous chant started to come from the crowd: ‘Let’s go to Dedinje!’ (‘Dedinje’ is a residential area where most of the high profile bureaucrats and army generals live, including Milosevic). The people felt that it was time to seize the moment and ‘go all the way’ while the enemy was still breathless. Kostunica assured the crowd that it was all over; that there was no need for further fighting and that the police wouldn’t intervene.”24

Other eye-witnesses have reported the similar things.

“ A revolutionary crowd with its spirit up can do anything, and policemen or soldiers, who are merely armed with guns, quickly understand that they can’t do much against that kind of thing. I first guessed that the revolution would succeed when I saw a line of 13 armed policemen trooping nervously into the offices of an opposition party and being greeted with cheers and back-slapping after they’d decided to come over to the demonstra­tors.”25

These accounts show that it was through the determination of the workers that Milosevic was removed in a matter of days. They did what the Western powers had been unable to do in spite of their more or less unlimited mili­tary resources and the billions they had paid out in bribes.

These days in Belgrade show something else as well. A handful of opposi­tion politicians can kidnap a movement they played little part in, and they themselves were afraid of. Their first task was to remove the working class from the stage of history and to salvage the substance of the old order after the working class had destroyed its symbols and removed Milosevic.

Had the power of the working class instead been harnessed to achieve a socialist society it would have put an end to ethnic violence in Yugoslavia, just like the coming to power of Tito after the Second World War had.

The first and deadliest ethnic conflict in the region was during the Second World War, when the German Nazis established a vassal state, Croatia. The Croatian Nazi organisation Ustase was allowed to do as it wished. Its goal was a Greater Croatia, and its members were prepared to kill all Serbs and (what are now) Bosnians who stood in their way. Their actions and ideas were paralleled by the Chetniks, former soldiers of the old Serb-dominated royalist army who established guerrilla bands, and whose goal was an ethnically pure Greater Serbia. An estimated 1.7 million people died in Yugoslavia during the Second World War, most of them as a result of the crimes committed by these two organisations in their sectarian struggle. Yet in the middle of this bloodbath, unity developed across ethnic lines. By 1945, Tito’s forces were victorious because “they also offered an ideal – a dream of ‘brotherhood and unity’ – that would link the nations or peoples of Yugoslavia.” 26

After the war, Yugoslavia became a federation comprising the republics of Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Montenegro. The Yugoslav population became increasingly inter-ethnic. Serbs, Croats, Albanians, Slovenians and other ethnic groups lived as neighbours, and inter-married. To ensure that the Serbs did not dominate the country, Tito saw to it that economic resources were channelled fairly to all republics. Croatia and Slov­enia became the most developed regions of Yugoslavia. National conflicts were confined to squabbles between different sections of the bureaucracy, as they sought to assert themselves within the federation.

However, Yugoslavia was never a socialist state. Tito came to power not at the head of a democratically organised working-class, but an undemocratic guer­rilla army drawn from the peasantry. He had a great deal of support and he broke with capitalism and nationalised the means of production, but control of economic planning and workplaces was firmly in the hands of a privileged bureaucracy. This left open the possibility of ethnic hatred re-emerging.

The international working class acts

The leaders of the international labour movement fell in line behind the im­perialists. Social Democratic governments in Europe gave their backing to NATO’s bombing of Serbia, just as they had earlier supported the bombing of Iraq. Nonetheless, compared to during the Gulf War, the rank-and-file of the Labour Movement protested strongly in many parts of Europe. In Greece, which is a NATO member, 97% of the population opposed the bombing – despite the fact that 55% were against Milosevic. Daily demon­strations were held around the country. The Greek Trade Union Confed­eration organised a four-hour strike in protest against the war. The Railway Workers’ Union publicly declared that if NATO intended sending ground troops and war materials to Yugoslavia, its members would make sure the Greek railways were not used for the purpose.27

Protests were also widespread in the port city of Salonika, which is used as a base for NATO operations. Several NATO convoys on their way to Macedonia were halted by angry demonstrators. In early May, demonstrators changed road signs so that a NATO convoy en route to Macedonia ended up in a vegetable market on the outskirts of Salonika. There, it was show­ered with tomatoes and other vegetables. In one district in Crete, where the Suba NATO base is situated, the local county council leader declared that he “could not be responsible for the physical well-being of the US soldiers.”28

In Germany, the powerful IG Metall union declared its opposition to the bombing. In Sweden, a campaign was launched by leading Social Democrats and party activists. Other parties and organisations were also involved, but Social Democratic ‘rebel’ MPs Karin Wegestål and Bengt Silverstrand lent the campaign weight. A demonstration in Stockholm in May drew 2 500 participants at short notice. All this showed that the potential exists. It shows that the internationalism of the working class is a force to count on, even when the Social Democratic party leaders are moving in another direction.

In addition, the protests of the European working class and its relatively close links to Yugoslavia had a further effect. Although discord among imperialist powers bares the main responsibility for the wars in Yugoslavia, they felt obliged to supply considerable resources to stabilise the situation in former Yugoslavia. After all, Yugoslavia is in Europe, close to the home base of several imperialist powers. In Africa things have been different. Although Africa is also the victim of imperialism and imperialist discord, it has been allowed to sink into a modern form of barbarism.


1 www.quotegallery.com/asp/ccategories.asp?parent=Truth

2 Jasminka Udovicki and James Ridgeway: Burn this house, 1997

Washington Post, 30 April 1990

The New Republic, 25 November 1991

Financial TimesSlicing Up the Bosnian Cake, 8 August 1995

6 Penn World Table 5.6, National Bureau for Economic Research, March 1997

7 Hans-Dietrich Genscher: Erinnerungen, 1995

8 ibid

Financial Times, 14 August 1999

10 The Economist, 25 October 2003

11 George Kenney, a senior official in the US State Department, in an interview in the

documentary, Yugoslavia the Avoidable War, 2002

12 Washington would later repeat this tactic in Macedonia. The EU expressed opposition

to independence on the grounds that democracy in Macedonia was flawed, but was un­able to stop it. Instead, the EU had to content itself with forcing upon Macedonia the absurd name of ‘the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’, or FYROM.

13 The UN Special Report on Srebrenica

14 The Netherlands institute for war documentation,http://www.srebrenica.nl

15 www.un.org/peace/srebrenica.pdf

16 Quoted in www.un.org/peace/srebrenica.pdf

17 Financial Times, 24 mars 1999

18 Se article 11

19 Svenska Dagbladet, 12 July 1999

20 In January 1991, about 40 Kosovo Albanians had been massacred in the village of

Racak. Some died fighting, but 23 were found executed in a ravine outside the village.

21 Dagens Nyheter, 8 February 2004. The observers were withdrawn three days before the

bombing began.

22 Guardian, 3 April 1999

23 Dagens Nyheter, 8 February 2004

24 Excerpts from an eye-witness account of the events of 5 October 2000 published on


25 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/959484.stm, World Affairs Editor John

Simpson, 6 October 2000

26 BBC: Tito’s Yugoslavia, 5 April 2003. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/


27 www.marxist.com/Europe/kosovo6.html

28 www.marxist.com/Europe/kosovo7.html