Sunday, July 03, 2005

In Defence of Multi-Ethnic Bosnia 1995

War in Bosnia and the Australian left
Comment by Michael Karadjis

The war in Bosnia seems to be causing widespread confusion on the left.
To cite a few examples, a wildly inaccurate article in the June 7 1993 issue of the Guardian claimed that the US and other Western powers “encouraged secessionists in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia” and “set out to destroy the united Yugoslavia”. The article claims it is only “the resistance of the Bosnian Serbs” that prevents the complete break-up of Yugoslavia, and this is why they are being “demonised in the west”. Among other fantasies in the unsigned article, the Serbs have the backing of a section of the Muslim population, and it is claimed that Muslims are only 33% of Bosnia's population (they are in fact 43% while Serbs make up 30%).

This confusion is replicated in a letter to (Green Left Weekly (June 28) by C.M. Friel which asserted that GLW supports “the dismemberment of Yugoslavia” like reactionaries such as Reagan. Friel is apparently caught in a time warp, claiming that the “international ruling class” is imposing sanctions on Serbia “so as to prevent the normal functioning of a socialist economy”.

A more “balanced” view is represented in the June 2 Workers News, which claims that “all sides have blood on their hands”. The genocide against Bosnia's Muslims is equated to the desperate attempts by the Bosnian government to regain some of the territory that has been conquered by the fascist forces.

Just in case anyone thought this head in the sand approach was truly even handed, the article states that Croatia and Bosnia have no right to self-determination, because their existence is unviable (like East Timor?) outside a united Yugoslavia. The alleged “rush” to recognise these new republics by the West is blamed for the war. The Guardian article cited above also makes the false claim that these new republics were granted “immediate recognition by western countries”.

These papers point to the “extreme right-wing nationalist” regime in Croatia while failing to mention the similar extreme right-wing nationalist regime in Serbia, and duck the issue of the far more progressive multi-ethnic Bosnian government, which includes the former Bosnian Communist Party, merely parroting the Western media's frame-up of it as a “Muslim” government.

Here I want to take up six points at the heart of this confusion.

1. That the secession of Croatia and Bosnia led to the break-up of a united Yugoslavia.
In fact it was the right-wing nationalist regime of Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic which set out in 1987 to destroy the multinational Yugoslav federation and replace it with a “Greater Serbia” by uniting all lands where any Serbs lived (even in a minority) and forcing out everyone else.
The Kosovo region, inhabited by Albanians, had its autonomous status abolished and has since suffered under horrific occupation. Before the coming to power of Tudjman in Croatia, and long before Bosnian independence, the Serbian regime was encouraging and arming fascist forces among the Serbian minorities in these two republics and setting up armed “states within a state” which were already expelling non-Serbs. Years of this impossible situation led to Croatia and Slovenia declaring independence in 1991; even then, Bosnia still held on to its ideas for a looser Yugoslav federation until April 1992, when the pressure of Greater Serbia made this dream impossible.
Genocide was openly talked about. Bosnian Serb fascist leader Radovan Karadzic (head of the pro-Chetnik Serb Democratic Party which leads the war to destroy Bosnia) stated as early as late 1991 that if talk of Bosnian independence continued, one of the three peoples there (i.e. the Muslims) would “disappear from the face of the Earth”. His colleague in Serbia, Vojislav Seselj from the Chetnik Serbian Radical Party, a coalition partner in government with Milosevic, suggested in parliament the best way to solve the Croatia problem was to “cut the throat of every Croat.”

2. That the Serbian regime and its Bosnian Serb allies are defending a united Yugoslavia against the secessionists.
The Yugoslavia of 1918-41 was a Serb-dominated tyranny that no-one on the left supported. However, postwar Communist Yugoslavia, led by Tito, was, for all its imperfections, an attempt to create a union of six autonomous republics (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia), to which Tito added Kosovo and Vojvodina in 1974.
Milosevic and his fascist allies have destroyed this Yugoslavia in favour of an ethnically pure Greater Serbia and completely revived Chetnik ideology as state ideology. The Bosnian government has been fighting to defend the last remnants of multinational Yugoslavia: Bosnian cities such as Sarajevo and Tuzla where Serbs, Croats, Muslims and mixed Bosnians struggle side by side to preserve such a society against the fascist forces trying to wipe out its last embers.

3. That the West is trying to destroy “socialist” Yugoslavia.
Even long before Milosevic, Yugoslavia had a peculiar form of “market socialism” which gave it the distinction of having more unemployment than anywhere in capitalist Western Europe.
But it was Milosevic who completely “opened up” the Yugoslav economy, launched privatisation, leading to massive inflation, unemployment and slashing of living standards. The largest capitalist empire in the Balkans is owned by a Serb, Boguljub Karic, who owns mining, oil, banking and telecommunications interests, and built his house next door to his best friends, Milosevic and his wife. Serbia was in the vanguard of East European capitalist restoration. This was before the equally pro-capitalist regimes were elected in other Yugoslav republics.

4. That the Bosnian Serbs are fighting for their land in Bosnia and have their own right to self-determination.
The forces led by Karadzic occupy 70% of Bosnia, yet Serbs make up only 31% of Bosnia's population. Despite this, the fascists control less than half of Bosnia's Serbs. The rest live either in the big cities together with Muslims and Croats, under government control, or have fled to Serbia proper in order to avoid the filthy war. The Milosevic regime has often forced these people back to Bosnia to join the militias.
These Serb nationalist militias call themselves “Chetniks” after the right-wing Serbian monarchist forces which fought against Tito's partisans during the Nazi occupation, and often collaborated with the Nazis. Even then they were known for their grisly slaughter of Muslims. They were the mirror image of the Croatian Ustasha, which collaborated with the Nazis and massacred Serbs, Jews, Muslims and Roms (Gypsies). In fact, the “pro-Serb” and “anti-Croat” wing of the left ought to meditiate on the fact that these Chetnik Serb forces are allied to the right-wing chauvinist Bosnian Croat forces in their joint attempt to carve out ethnically pure ‘Serb’ and ‘Croat’ states and destroy multi-ethnic Bosnia.

5. That the Western powers “immediately recognised” the new republics.
In fact the rivalry among imperialists led to conflicting views of what to do. Before the outbreak of the Serb-Croatian war in July 1991, no western country supported independence of the republics, including Germany. Although the Croatian referendum in June 1991 saw a 94% vote for independence, and although this was followed by six months of massive bombing of Croatian cities by the Serbian army and ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Croats from one third of Croatia, still there was no recognition of Croatia.
However, given its links to Croatia and Slovenia, Germany recognised earlier than others that the enormous war and killing taking place would make it impossible for any ‘Yugoslavia’ to be forced together again, so began advocating recognition of the two republics. Finally, 6 months after the Croatian referendum and 6 months after the largest slaughter in Europe since World War II, Germany recognised Croatia and Slovenia 3 weeks before the EU was due to recognise them. It is debatable whether or not this was ‘rapid’ recognition.
Meanwhile, the US, right through the Serbo-Croatian war and into the first few months of 1992, steadfastly opposed self-determination and stated that it recognised “only one state within the boundaries of Yugoslavia.” Even Russia had recognised Croatia and Slovenia at the same time as the EU, several months before the US.
In recognising Bosnia in April 1992, the Western powers attempted to make a condition the ethnic “cantonisation” of the republic, which played perfectly into the hands of the Serb and Croat nationalists in Bosnia. Clearly, Yugoslavia had ceased to exist long before the recognition of Bosnia.

6. That the imperialist powers have openly intervened on the side of Serbia's opponents in the Yugoslav “civil war”.
For all the bluster and the UN troops, now standing by calmly observing the “ethnic cleansing” of Srebrenica, the West has essentially not raised a finger to help the Bosnian victims of genocide. Normally, when the US wants a war because imperialist interests are threatened, it can whip up enough horror stories; in the case of Bosnia, it would only need to tell the truth. Compare three years of fumbling to the US rapid holocaust against Iraq when the right-wing regime there, for its own reasons, did in fact threaten imperialist interests.
While Serbia does not threaten imperialist interests, there are certainly differences between the imperialist powers and the Bosnian Serb fascists: above all, every Western plan to dismember Bosnia along ethnic lines has given the Serb nationalists 50% of Bosnia, whereas Karadzic and his forces want to keep the 70% they have conquered by force of overwhelming military superiority.
The West wants some stability for investments, and they see a balance between Serbia and Croatia as the best bet, hence basically support their aim to partition Bosnia between them. However, if the Karadzic forces keep 70 percent, there will be little left to both please the Croat nationalists and also allow a minimum of living space for the Muslim majority. The West knows there will be no stability if the Bosnian Muslims are forced into such a small area that a Gaza would be created in Europe. Nevertheless, the West also recognises that the Serbian regime will be the main force in the future stable order.
That is why the most effective forms of Western intervention favour the Serb nationalists. All the Western plans to dismember Bosnia along ethnic lines have been opposed in principle by Bosnia's government but supported in principle by the Serb and Croat militias and Milosevic and Tudjman. The Serb nationalist militias only demand more territory from the plans. Notably, Milosevic, who some leftists think is some kind of ‘socialist’, is in complete agreement with the West on this; it is the most openly right-wing and Chetnik forces in Serbia and Bosnia that oppose the plans from a chauvinist-extremist point of view.
Secondly, the West imposed a criminal arms embargo against Bosnia's government, despite the fact that Serbia inherited all the massive weaponry from the former Yugoslav army, the fourth largest in Europe, and that Serbia makes its own arms.
Every Western power at every step of the way has refused to end this real intervention. They know that with around 120,000 troops, a properly armed Bosnia would easily clear up 70,000 fascist militia.
Every other people in the world has the right to defend itself, yet no-one on the Australian left except GLW, the Democratic Socialist Party and Resistance, has called for ending the imperialist arms embargo, ie the major imperialist intervention in Bosnia.
With 200,000 Bosnians killed and 2 million expelled from their homes, the left cannot afford confusion about attempted genocide. And to mislabel the perpetrators of that genocide as defenders of socialism is both tragic and absurd.

No comments: