Friday, August 26, 2005

Yugoslavia and the National Question Following Break-Up: Bosnia, Kosova, Croatia

Yugoslavia and the National Question Following Break-Up: Bosnia, Kosova, Croatia

National Self-Determination in the Balkans and the Middle East: What About When More Than One Nation Inhabits the Same Spot?

By Michael Karadjis


1. Right to Self-Determination, the Asia-Minor Catastrophe, Cyprus and Palestine
2. Titoist Yugoslavia and the Bosnian ‘Post-Capitalist Nation’
3. Alleged Different Interpretations of the Right to Self-Determination in the Break-Up of Yugoslavia
4. Croatia and the right to self-determination
5. Reactionary ethnic dismemberment of multi-ethnic Bosnia
6. Imperialist Intervention Against Bosnia
7. The Right of Return in Bosnia and Croatia
8. Kosova – The Right of Return and the Right to Self-Determination

This essay arose out of a discussion on the Green Left Discussion list ( about issues related to the national question in the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. In particular, given my recognition (in common with most of the left) of the right of the Kosovar Albanians to self-determination, the question arose of to what extent the Serb minorities in Croatia and Bosnia, and the Croat minority in Bosnia, should have the same right, in which case the Serbian nationalists in Croatia and Bosnia and Croatian nationalists in Bosnia were fighting for ‘national liberation’. In my response below, I show that this ignores the difference between oppressor and oppressed, ignores the ethnically mixed nature of the regions in question, and is at odds with the actual realities in these conflicts. As an introduction to the question, I will look at Marxist attitudes to certain other historical conflicts where the populations were ethnically mixed.

1. Right to Self-Determination, the Asia-Minor Catastrophe, Cyprus and Palestine
Despite the Luxemburgian tendency among sections of the left today to dismiss the Leninist view on the right of nations to self-determination as being no longer relevant, this paper will not aim to get into these polemics. On the contrary, I start from the standpoint that the right of nations to self-determination is not only fundamental to Leninist and socialist politics, but also simple common sense.

Trying to militarily suppress peoples who inhabit largely contiguous areas to prevent them from their right to exercise their statehood is unlikely to succeed, violates fundamental norms of proletarian internationalism, and can only lead to catastrophe to all concerned, regardless of the allegedly “progressive” nature that some may grant the oppressor regime or the “reactionary” nature that they imbue to the oppressed. Attempts for a quarter, a half or a full century to suppress struggles of Palestinians, Kurds, Kosovar Albanians, Kashmiris, Eritreans, Timorese, Tamils, Irish, Basques, Chechens, Moros etc are strong enough evidence of that. The worry that the issue may give an opening to imperialist countries to intervene not only does not alter this, but strengthens its importance – it is precisely violations of the rights of oppressed nations that give these openings.

One of the problems, however, is how to apply these general principles in cases where populations are mixed, as in Palestine, Bosnia, Cyprus etc. In an ideal world, we would advocate that they remain mixed, live together in peace, working class unity! The realities of capitalism, however, tend to pull peoples apart. In some cases there is clearly an oppressor nation, while in other cases there is not, but in all cases if a socialist movement is not powerful enough to fight bourgeois nationalist tendencies, then catastrophe, ethnic cleansing and partition results, as we have seen between Greece and Turkey in 1922, India and Pakistan, in Cyprus, Bosnia etc.

With the break-up of the Ottoman Empire in the early twentieth century, for example, there were many Greek communities in what is now Turkey and Turkish communities in what is now Greece, while in the remaining Ottoman-held parts of the Balkans, a great mixture of nationalities coexisted. The Balkan socialist parties informed the eighth congress of the Second International in 1910 that 'a free federation of all the Balkan republics' was the only proletarian solution, and at the Belgrade conference, the Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Turkish and Romanian Social Democratic parties agreed on this view. It was accepted by the Second International in 1911 and endorsed by Lenin, and a Balkan Socialist Federation was founded at an illegal conference in Bucharest during World War I.

However, while this was a correct proletarian ideal, the reality was that the Turkish national bourgeois state was consolidating itself out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire, first under the ‘Young Turks’ and then under Kemal Ataturk after 1919, and the Greek national bourgeois state, which originally formed from a revolt against the same Ottoman empire, was consolidating in its main ethnic areas and ready to lash out in expansionist schemes for the ‘Megali Idea’, ie the ‘Big Idea’ of a ‘Greater Greece’.

At the same time, new small bourgeois states in the Balkans like Bulgaria and Serbia had similar expansionist aims. Allying with Greece, the three countries attacked Ottoman remnants in Europe in 1912-13 (Macedonia, Thrace, Kosova etc) and subjugated non-Greek, non-Serb and non-Bulgarian peoples (particularly Macedonians and Albanians) to violent repression, forced assimilation and ethnic cleansing. These conquests were blessed by the imperialist powers with whom they were allied in World War I. In 1918, the first ‘Yugoslavia’ was set up as a ruthlessly Serbian-dominated capitalist state, when the expanded Serbia of 1913 joined together with Croatia and Slovenia which had been freed from the defunct Austro-Hungarian empire.

Following Ataturk’s revolution that overthrew the Ottoman Empire and established modern Turkey in 1919, the new regime was confronted with imperialist hostility and a campaign to divide it amongst the various imperialist powers. With open British encouragement, the Greek nationalist regime of Venizelos attacked deep into Turkey, attempting to establish the ‘Megali Idea’ via claiming to defend the rights of the Greek minority. However, the invasion went far beyond minority areas and even came close to Ankara.

The attitude of Greek Communists of the early 3rd International was to oppose adventure into Asia Minor, and advocate a socialist federation of the Balkans including Turkey, with full rights for all minorities and the rights of ethnically compact regions to join ‘motherlands’. However, to the extent that a socialist federation of equal peoples was not about to happen in reality, they proposed that all ethnically disputed or mixed regions have the right to a referendum on whether to join the Greek, Turkish or other states (‘The Anti-War Conference of Thessaloniki in 1918’, in ‘Without Borders: Anti-War Pages’, Anti-War Anti-Nationalist League, Athens, 1993). While no solution is perfect, this was the best internationalist position in the circumstances. Of course, that is not what happened as capitalist barbarism triumphed with the expulsion of 1.5 million Greeks from Turkey and 500,000 Turks from Greece and the consolidation of two bourgeois national states, both of which maintain ruthlessly chauvinistic regimes and dominant ideologies to this day.

A much later expansion of this catastrophe was the failure of the Communist slogan ‘Greek and Turkish workers unite’ in Cyprus and the attempt to create an independent multi-ethnic republic there, with the Greek colonels coup and Turkish invasion of 1974 leading to complete ethnic partition along lines which did not previously exist. While then issue is far too complex to deal with here, again there was a conflict between bourgeois nationalist and proletarian orientations. When the struggle against British colonialism broke out in the 1950s, the Greek nationalist leadership of the majority Greek population fought not for independence, but for ‘Enosis’, or union, with Greece. This was supported by the US, trying to break up the British empire, and seeing the strongly right-wing Greek regime as a dependable client. This naturally was opposed by the Turkish minority, and the Turkish nationalist leadership, with support from Britain and Turkey, instead put forward the slogan of ‘Taksim’ or partition. Only the slogan of independence for a multi-ethnic Cyprus could have avoided the catastrophe, and this was the only way the two peoples could exercise self-determination in a democratic rather than catastrophist way. The Communist Party (AKEL) had this orientation, but very inconsistently; when independence resulted anyway, it was soon torn apart by the bourgeois chauvinist forces.

Today in the Middle East, Israel has been carved out as a colonial-settler state which now serves as a national state for the Israelis, a nation that did not previously exist, but was formed by migrating people of the Jewish faith from various nations. Where they formed their nation in 1947-8 was not empty, they had to ethnically cleanse the majority of the Palestinian population to create a ‘Jewish’ state. Quite a separate issue from the post-1967 occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza, which had been left out in 1948, is that the ‘Jewish’ character of this ‘1948 Israeli’ state can only exist as long as the Palestinian refugees are denied the elementary democratic right to return to their homes, and the Palestinian minority remaining are denied equal rights.

Therefore, we cannot support a ‘right to self-determination’ for the colonial settler stratum of Israelis (and any other Jew in the world under the ‘Law of Return’) where this ‘right’ is expressed as the right to displace other people. If Palestinian refugees returned there would be as many or more non-Jews than Jews and therefore if normal bourgeois-democratic rules apply, there would be no ‘Jewish state’. That is why nearly all of the organised left, with the curious exception of Workers’ Liberty, has long supported the original program of the PLO of a ‘democratic, secular Palestine’ where Jews, Christians and Muslims (and for that matter atheists and whoever) live together with equal rights, including rights to develop their cultures etc. The transitional stage of supporting a Palestinian mini-state, as envisioned by the PLO, does not negate this, because this call is together with continually calling for the right to return of refugees to ‘Israel proper’ as well.

In other words, the reality on the ground does not allow for a territorial division into two ethnic states without recognition of ethnic cleansing. Aside from the peculiar situation of Palestine, where the oppressor nation was formed in this particular way, there are other situations where the only democratic alternative, and certainly the only alternative that could be supported by socialists, was similarly a democratic, secular, multi-ethic state, aiming at maintaining and strengthening whatever unity the working classes had achieved via their living together. One of the most obvious of such places was in the former Yugoslav Republic of Bosnia.

2. Titoist Yugoslavia and the Bosnian ‘Post-Capitalist Nation’

Tito’s Communist post-1945 Yugoslavia was an attempt – bungled and bureaucratic to be sure – to bring different nations together in the form of a federation and under the ideological slogan of proletarian ‘Brotherhood and Unity’. This included the right of each national group – except the Albanians in Kosova – to have its own republic within the federation, with a right to self-determination including secession if it chose.

There were two main anomalies, both in regions with large Muslim populations. One was Kosova, where Albanians – though the third largest nationality in the federation – were denied a republic and instead were granted mere autonomy within the Serb republic. Even this autonomy did not amount to much in the first 30 years, but after Tito’s new 1974 constitution autonomy was upgraded, though they were still denied the formal equality of a republic. This was combined with the economic level in Kosova being around a quarter of the Yugoslav average. As Tito’s Yugoslavia made enormous socio-economic advances, becoming a highly industrialised country by the 1960s with living standards approaching the west, Kosova remained unambiguously part of the 3rd world. All this was combined with the fact that the Albanians, who had been ruthlessly conquered in 1913 by bourgeois Serbia with Anglo-French backing, had never accepted incorporation into either this first Serb-dominated capitalist ‘Yugoslavia’ or the second, Communist Yugoslavia. Thus in every respect, Kosova was unambiguously an oppressed nation within Yugoslavia, for which we support the right to self-determination, including either independence or union with Albania, as the people choose. And as the bulk of Albanians, whether in Albania, Kosova, or as minorities in north-west Macedonia, south-east Serbia or parts of Montenegro, live in largely compact majorities over a contiguous region, this right to form an Albanian state covering all these peoples, if they wished this themselves, was feasible and supportable, regardless of whether we thought it was the best solution to the Albanian problem.

The second anomaly was in Bosnia, where Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats, and Bosnian Muslims – all speaking the same language but divided by religion, culture and national identity – lived either in mixed communities in many cities or in mixed localities, or in localities with a dominant group but which were interspersed among others dominated by another group. Thus this republic had no one dominant nation, and was officially a republic of all three nations. This was possibly the best proletarian solution in the circumstances.

However, as industry developed and an urban working class grew, the “three nations” in Bosnia living next to each other in the same blocks of units, working together in the same factories, producing for the same economy, intermarrying and producing mixed children, were becoming “one nation”: Bosnian, or ‘Yugoslav’. There was a category called ‘Yugoslavs’ in the census, but was not encouraged, possibly due to below the surface Serbian and Croatian nationalist sentiments, who both had a claim on Bosnia. A large percentage of ‘Yugoslavs’ in earlier surveys were Muslims, before Tito recognised their own ‘nation’ in the 1970s, but it also included mixed Bosnians and Serbs and Croats who associated more with the Yugoslav ideal.

In my opinion, the Bosnian nation was a kind of ‘post-capitalist’ nation formed via the real unity of the working class in the region where they were most inter-mixed. While the ‘Yugoslavist’ ideal did not succeed throughout Yugoslavia, it came closest to success in the Bosnian working classes in Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zenica etc, the big industrial cities of the central Bosnian region.
This fact, plus the very ethnic mix throughout the country, was a crucial aspect in how Marxists viewed the national question as Yugoslavia broke up and Bosnian independence was posed. But before that, we need to briefly look at the national question as it had unfolded before that in the break-up of Yugoslavia.

3. Alleged Different Interpretations of the Right to Self-Determination in the Break-Up of Yugoslavia

One alleged difference of interpretation of the right to self-determination of Yugoslav nations was over whether this right applied to the constituent republics in their present borders, or to the constituent peoples, hence implying a change of borders. It is alleged that the Serbian nationalist leadership under Milosevic advocated the right of ‘peoples’ rather than that of the republics, in order to claim Serb minority populations in Croatia and Bosnia for part of a greater Serbia which would keep the name ‘Yugoslavia’, if republics like Croatia and Bosnia exercised their right of self-determination and seceded. Therefore these other republics should be partitioned between their Serb populations and others, based on the alleged principle of the right of the constituent ‘peoples’ rather than republics.

This may sound very democratic, but there were a number of problems and inconsistencies. The medievalist, reactionary Serb nationalist movement headed by Milosevic, Draskovic, Seseljand others was in fact applying the exact opposite principle everywhere else that it could – and it could due to the overwhelming domination of the central apparatus and military high command by Serbs, and thus the use of the Yugoslav military for nationalist Serb aims. When the autonomy of Vojvodina – a multi-ethnic province within Serbia (which, like Kosova, had federal representation) – was crushed in 1988, merely being incorporated into ‘Serbia proper’, there were no allowances made for the right of northern half of the province, which was dominated by its Hungarian, Croat and Slovak minorities, to form another republic or maintain its own autonomy.

More seriously, Kosovar autonomy itself was crushed in the blood of dozens of striking Albanian miners in early 1989. Clearly, if it was the ‘peoples’ principle that was to apply, Milosevic and co would have shed northern Vojvodina and almost all of Kosova (aside from the fact that Kosova should have been a republic anyway, so would have had both ‘rights’, of majority people and of republic). The Kosovar Albanians organised their own unrecognised referendum in 1990, and 99 percent of Albanians, the great majority in the province, voted not for a return to some “autonomy” nonsense under Milosevic’s jackboots but for independence. All imperialist powers comprehensively ignored this declaration of independence by the Kosovars, and the apartheid Milosevic imposed on them, for the next decade, and continue to oppose their universal demand for independence.

It is curious that many on the left, due to some strange nostalgia for what they think was only Serb Partisan resistance to the Nazis in World War II (in fact all nationalities included both Partisans and collaborators), oppose this right of self-determination for the absolute Albanian majority in Kosova, yet call for the right of Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia to have their own states or unite with Serbia. This is inconsistent to say the least, and so the question I am here answering in reverse should in reality be for them to explain.

But furthermore, these same leftists almost never refer to the autonomy referendums among the Muslim minority in the Sanjak region of Serbia and Montenegro in 1991, and that of the Albanian minority in the Presevo valley of south-east Serbia in 1992. Both these referendums were comprehensively ignored by Milosevic and the “international community”, as well as by the pro-Serbian wing of the left, despite their heavy focus on referendums among minority Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia.

Surely, if “the Serbs” (which many confused leftists apparently think is the name of a territorial region rather than a scattered ethnic group) in Croatia and Bosnia had the right to split from their republics and join Serbia, then they should also grant this right to Albanians where they live as a compact majority in the Presevo valley in south Serbia, contiguous with Kosova, to unite with Kosova (and Albania if they choose)? And they should also recognise the same rights for the Sanjak Muslims, where they live as a majority community in a region which would almost cut Serbia off from Montenegro, to autonomy, independence or union with Bosnia, as they might choose? And of the Vojvodina Hungarians to autonomy or unity with Hungary, or the Vojvodina Croats and Hungarians to autonomy or unity with Croatia. In fact, they say nothing about whether they support the right of these minorities to dismember the Serbian republic, in the same way as they advocate the dismembering of the Croatian and Bosnian republics, or in some cases openly oppose this same right for non-Serbs as they demand for Serbs.

4. Croatia and the right to self-determination

Getting back to self-determination for republics rather than ‘peoples’, what of the right of Slovenia and Croatia to self-determination? The Serb nationalist movement had no problem with Slovenia, as there was no Serb minority there. In fact, they also had no problem with Croatia, as long as they could seize regions from Croatia for Serbia, on the basis, allegedly, of self-determination for ‘peoples’, while supporting the idea of Croatia doing the same with Croat minorities in Bosnia. Alleged enemies Milosevic and Tudjman met in April 1991 to organise the partition of Bosnia between Serbia and Croatia. However, many in the western left – an entirely different group to the far-right Serb nationalist movement which some of them tailed – believed Croatia did not have this right, because they believe that Croats are genetically wicked people due to their confusion between nations and political currents in World War II half a century earlier.

First of all, despite this odd “left” position, let us affirm that, in principle, Croats have the same rights as everyone else, to self-determination up to independence. The fact that Croatia was not an oppressed nation like Kosova is not relevant here. Croatia and Serbia were both highly industrialised sections of former Yugoslavia, both with highly modernised agricultural sectors in the most fertile parts of the country.

It is true that many Croats saw themselves as oppressed, because of the overwhelming domination of the central Yugoslav apparatus and military hierarchy by Serbs, the extensive domination even of the Croatian League of Communists by the Serb minority (in a country where this was the only legal party and party membership was the route to jobs in officialdom), the domination of the Croatian republic police force by the Serb minority etc. On the one hand, Yugoslavia did have many of these Serb-dominated aspects; on the other hand, the institutional set-up under Titoism was based on theoretical equality. There was an active tension between the two.

Was Croatia thus oppressed, and Serbia an oppressor nation? I would not put it that way. Serbs, like Croats and Muslims, were mostly workers and agricultural proletariat, and there was no Serbian national bourgeoisie. However, this Serb domination of the bureaucracy in an era when the bureaucracy was in the process, as elsewhere in E. Europe, of transforming itself into a capitalist class, must be taken into account

With the unravelling of Yugoslavia and the ongoing destruction of the Yugoslav federal set-up by Milosevic and his reactionary, violently anti-Titoist nationalist movement, including sacking the governments of Montenegro, Vojvodina and Kosova, control of the central state and of the massive military machine could have been turned into the creation of a state, like bourgeois Yugoslavia in 1918-41, where the Serbs became the oppressor nation. Other nations had the right to escape from this if they found no other solution (and if no multi-ethnic, proletarian alternative was able to resist Milosevic).

(One participant in the discussion, named Jim Yarker, tries to make Serbs the oppressed by bringing up ancient history: “The agrarian reforms undertaken in the 1st Yugoslavia (ie in 1918) in fact distributed land from a mostly Muslim landed gentry in Bosnia to Serb sharecroppers.” This is the same kind of irrelevancy as pointing out that the British in Sri Lanka long ago favoured the Tamil minority to help rule over the Sinhala majority, as if to say therefore the Tamils should be damned for ever after, though they were clearly the oppressed in post-independence Sri Lanka. The same participant also brought up the fact of the Kurds being used by the Ottomans in the Armenian genocide as somehow relevant to the debate on Kurdistan in the 21st century. For some on the left, the Serbs’ “600 year struggle against the Ottoman empire,” where the latter takes the form of living Bosnian Muslims and Albanians, is the centre of modern Balkan politics, mimicking the right-wing Chetnik-inspired Serb nationalist ideology).

Nevertheless, if Croatia had the right to self-determination, then surely I must also answer whether the Serb minority in Croatia had the same right as the Croat majority to independence, whether the left should have supported their right to set up the Serb Krajina republic, and Serb republics in Western and Eastern Slavonia, three regions of Croatia taken over by the Yugoslav army and massively armed Croatian Serb rebels in 1991.

Firstly, I believe Serbs had a right to autonomy or independence in the Krajina region, on the simple basis that it had a Serb majority – based on the same principles that I put at the beginning about the Asia Minor catastrophe. This is despite the fact that Serbs were a majority of only 69 percent – much smaller than the majority status of Albanians in Kosova – and the far-right SDS (Serb Democratic Party) leaders ethnically cleansed the Croat minority of 60-70,000 people from the Krajina, an abominable act that we must oppose despite supporting a general right to self-determination. The SDS was the Chetnik-inspired party set up by Milosevic cronies in Croatia and Bosnia to steal minority Serb support away from the Croat and Bosnian Communist Parties, which had had the support of all nationalities, including Serbs, based on their opposition to national chauvinism.

As for the small enclave of western Slavonia, the region taken over was overwhelmingly Croat in composition, resulting in the ethnic cleansing of another 100,000 or so Croats. There was not one region in all western Slavonia with a Serb majority, so the SDS had no right to conquer it as a ‘Serb state’. However, one problem was that the part of this region with more Serbs was further away from the border of the Bosnian Serb ‘republic’ it was carving out around Banja Luka in northern Bosnia. So late in the 1991 war, the Serboslav army (the ‘Yugoslav army’ was by now completely Serb at both the officer level and among the ranks) ordered the withdrawal of its troops from the northern sector of Western Slavonia, where there were more Serbs, allowing the ethnic cleansing of 70,000 Serbs by the Croatian armed forces, while keeping the southern part, where Serbs had not formed a majority in any one of the eleven municipalities. Meanwhile, even those expelled Serbs were not re-settled in the southern part of Western Slavonia, but sent to another region, Eastern Slavonia, where they needed more Serbs because they were also in a minority there, but was more strategically important because this was the only of the three reasons bordering Serbia. Confused? No doubt. But clearly enough, ‘self-determination’ had nothing to do with it.

As for Eastern Slavonia, the population of the whole region originally conquered in 1991 was only 14 percent Serb, and making this region a ‘Serb state’ meant the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Croats. Late in 1991, Croatian armed forces and nationalist militia managed to take some of this back and drive out the Serb minority, but at the end of the war, the ‘Serb state’ still covered a region that was only 30-35 percent Serb, so some 100,000 Croats and tens of thousands of other non-Serbs remained expelled.

Thus the carving out of a ‘Serb republic’ in Croatia meant the expulsion of some half a million Croats, the big majority of the population of the three regions altogether, and even as Croatian forces retook some of it by late 1991, there remained at least 250,000 Croats ethnically cleansed. It is astonishing that the great majority of the left, even the better sections of the left who later sympathised with Bosnia’s Muslims and have no sympathies for Serbian reaction, almost never make mention of the right to return of hundreds of thousands of Croats brutally expelled by the ‘Serboslav’ army and its SDS creation from various parts of their own country, including Croat-majority regions, in 1991. This is despite the fact that they almost always, when talking about the Balkans, correctly condemn Croatia’s ethnic cleansing of 150,000 Serbs when it retook the region four years later, as if this later terror was not directly connected to the former. Croats are simply not politically correct.

The importance of Croat-majority Eastern Slavonia is that here is where the bulk of the Serbo-Croatian war of 1991 took place, as it was strategically on the Serbian border but inconveniently populated by the wrong people. The famous 3-month siege and destruction of the historic multi-ethnic, Croat-majority city of Vukovar was in Eastern Slavonia, as was the systematic destruction of Croat Osijek, later recaptured by the Croatian forces. Vukovar, with its Croat majority, became part of the ‘Serb republic’. Was this ‘self-determination for the Serbs’? Did the Croat majority have the right of return to Vukovar? Why did ‘self-determination’ for Serbs involve destroying the largest industries, where Serb and Croat workers had led militant multi-ethnic strikes and demonstrations against IMF-Milosevic austerity drives? In reality, it was such symbols of proletarian multi-ethnic unity that was exactly what Serbian reaction aimed to destroy. As for the similarly massive Serboslav army bombardment of historic Dubrovnik on the Dalmatian coast, its population was about 2 percent Serb.

THIS was the war – Vukovar, Osijek, Dubrovnik etc. Harping on about Krajina misses the point that this was not a major area of war in 1991, except where the Serb nationalist forces there actually lashed out to conquer many other Croat-majority regions within Krajina, such as Kijevo, which they more or less completely destroyed. This ethnic cleansing was not only of villages inside Serb-majority areas, which would have been more or less inevitable, but also of entire Croat-majority regions inconveniently situated so as to prevent all of “Krajina” being in one solid piece.

To be sure, after the SDS had expelled the one third Croat minority from Krajina, and the two-thirds Croat majority from Slavonia, these expelless became a force which the Croatian regime and Croatian chauvinist militia could also mobilise, which led to terrorist acts like the brutal massacre of Serbs at Gospic on the outskirts of the Krajina in late October 1991, following 3-4 months of massive slaughter and large scale ethnic cleansing of Croats by the Serboslav army. However, there was no concerted Croatian attempt to re-take Krajina during that war, it had effective autonomy; it was guarded by the major military/police/security formation dominating Croatia – not the lightly armed Croat territorial defence forces, but the massively armed Serboslav army.
The fact that most of the war was actually where the Serboslav army and SDS were conquering Croat-majority regions but not where Serbs lived as a majority in Krajina tells us about the real relationship of forces and who was oppressing who in practice.

However, Serbs, to be sure, had good reason to revolt against Tudjman’s reactionary chauvinist regime, which was more or less a carbon copy of that of Milosevic, except appearing on the scene three years later. Tudjman’s blatant chauvinism, combined with the return of some symbolism which reminded Serbs of the genocidal Utsashe regime of World War II (even though Tudjman had been a Croatian Partisan) and the links the regime was creating with various far-right Croat exile leaders, naturally propelled a certain sector of Serbs in the direction of Milosevic and SDS chauvinism, likewise derived from reactionary World War II Chetnik antecedents.
What both Milosevic and Tudjman represented was the rising pro-capitalist forces within the national bureaucracies, expressing themselves in the language of bourgeois nationalism as they attempted to divide Yugoslavia between them. Just as Serbian chauvinism was first and foremost anti-Albanian and anti-Muslim, Croatian chauvinism was initially anti-Serb, soon taking on the same anti-Muslim nature as its Serbian cousin as they joined forces in Bosnia.

Therefore, the fact that regions with overwhelming Serb majority wanted autonomy or independence or the right to join Serbia was understandable and justified (and the same right should have applied to regions of Vojvodina that wanted to join Croatia, though Croatia did not have the same power to push its will), as there was little room for multi-ethnicity crushed between two national chauvinist giants, in the same way that the Asia Minor catastrophe and the Cyprus catastrophe resulted from being crushed between Greek and Turkish nationalism. However, was it the best road for Croatian Serbs?

Supporting the RIGHT of Krajina Serbs (obviously not Slavonia) to separate does not make it a good idea. Krajina could not join Serbia because it was the furthest point within Croatia from the Serbian border, inconveniently separated from the fatherland by the entire republic of Bosnia. It was an economic wasteland on the Dinaric ranges, of no more than 150,000 Serbs, so had little basis as an independent state without good relations with Croatia surrounding it. It contained only one quarter of Croatia’s Serbs, and all three conquered zones contained only 45 percent of Croatia’s Serbs. Most Serbs lived in cities like Zagreb, working and living with Croats. The conquest of a third of Croatia weakened Croatia’s remaining Serb minority against Tudjman’s chauvinist regime, by cutting out its major concentrations. There was a large Croatian Serb constituency opposed to both the chauvinism of Tudjman AND of Milosevic and who furiously condemned the attack on Croatia and ethnic cleansing and conquest. This working class Serb constituency, which found a natural ally in Croat opponents of Tudjman, like the former Communist, now Social Democratic, Party, was gravely weakened by the triumph of reactionary separatism led by the far-right SDS, which consolidated the reactionary chauvinism of the Tudjman regime.

Even where Serbs were a major concentration in the Krajina, they were only part of a cynical game. The fact that Milosevic allowed Tudjman to overrun this region in 1995, without putting up even the pretence of a fight (despite the Krajina Serb leadership being massively armed with napalm and cluster bombs which they had liberally used against Bosnian Muslims), as part of a greater Milosevic-Tudjman-US deal to partition Bosnia and the region in a ‘neater’ way, is evidence that Milosevic and co. had cynically set up the Krajina Serbs for this later catastrophe, being merely a bargaining chip in the meantime – they were simply in the wrong area to be really of interest as part of greater Serbia.

But getting back to 1991, as Croat forces went on the offensive attempting to re-take some lost ground late in the year, the confrontation lines inside Croatia were frozen in favour of Serbia and its clients by US intervention in the form of the Vance Plan in early 1992, named after former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.

This US intervention against Croatia reflected US policy. Till the outbreak of war in July 1991, all imperialist governments, including Germany, insisted absolutely on maintaining the unity of Yugoslavia “at all cost”. IMF policy dictated strengthening the central government against the republics in order to better suck out the massive debt and drive through an austerity and economic liberalisation program, being driven by Milosevic. Despite common left perceptions, as Germany was the largest investor throughout all Yugoslavia, its interests were strongly opposed to break-up of its zone, civil war, economic turmoil and new borders cutting free economic activity across the region. However, the US, UK and France feared the newly united Germany and gave strong support to Milosevic and the centralisers, partly, in my opinion, to consolidate a greater Serb ‘Yugoslavia’ bloc to stem the German advance.

In June 1991 on the eve of the massive Serbian attack on Croatian cities, Bush’s Secretary of State George Baker had been in Belgrade, where he publicly demanded that Yugoslavia stay together “at all cost” and condemned the “illegal” independence referendums in Croatia and Slovenia, a green light to Milosevic. A couple of months later, UK Tory Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd visited Milosevic and recommended Yugoslavia put a motion for an arms embargo on itself to the UN, a motion strongly supported by the UK, the US and France. As Yugoslavia was the fourth largest military power in Europe, this prevented Slovenia, Croatia and later Bosnia from getting arms to balance the equation.

Germany was more realistic and began to see that the large-scale slaughter taking place had buried Yugoslavia, so began advocating recognition of Croatia and Slovenia to consolidate its share in the north. France and Germany advocated an EU peace-keeping force to stand between their respective allies, but this was vetoed by the UK which opposed European security arrangements independent of NATO. Germany recognised Croatia and Slovenia in late December 1991, as the war was coming to an end. Much talk about ‘early’ German recognition provoking the war is inconceivable nonsense – this recognition was 6 months after the Croatian and Slovene referendums overwhelmingly endorsed independence, and followed 6 months of Europe’s largest war and slaughter since 1945. Whatever illusions western leftists may have had, Croats were not about to rejoin a state that had just massacred 10,000 of their people. Moreover, German recognition was only 3 weeks ahead of EU and Russian recognition of the two states in January 1992 (though of course they were recognising a Croatia which had lost one third of its territory). However, the US insisted on recognising “only one government in the region of Yugoslavia” (ie Serbia) for months after EU and Russian recognition.

5. Reactionary ethnic dismemberment of multi-ethnic Bosnia

With the end of the Croatia war, Milosevic and Tudjman and their right-wing nationalist proxies in Bosnia turned to active cooperation, drawing up a plan for the partition of Bosnia, which was sandwiched between them. In early 1992, the European Union put forward this Serbo-Croatian plan as the Carrington-Cultheiro Plan for the ethnic dismemberment of multi-ethnic Bosnia.
Of this appalling imperialist plan to dismember a small country, Jim Yarker makes glowing references, demanding to know “Did you support the Cutilheiro Plan which would've averted war in Bosnia and which honoured the principle of self-determination equally for all its nationalities and which was initially supported by all the sides, and also Milosevic, and which was dashed when Izetbegovic reneged on it with U.S. encouragement?” The answer is I certainly did not support this outrageous imperialist intervention into Bosnia’s internal affairs.

Lord Carrington, representing the very pro-Serbian British Foreign Office, was on the Board of Henry Kissinger Associates, Kissinger’s multinational security consultancy which directed a lot of investment into Yugoslavia, particularly Serbia. When Bosnian leader Izetbegovic decided not to support this legalised imperialist destruction of his country, Carrington, the old English aristocrat, retorted that Izetbegovic was “a terrible little man.” Both Carrington and Kissinger were in full agreement with the view of a part of the left that the war was all Germany’s fault.

What of the amazing assertion that this imperialist plan “honoured the principle of self-determination equally for all its nationalities”?
This plan partitioned Bosnia into three ethnic-based “constituent units”, ie a Serb, Croat and Muslim state within a state. This was in conflict with the Bosnian reality described above – there were few contiguous areas with clear ethnic majorities, and in addition about a quarter of the population was ethnically mixed. In the 1990 elections, 28 percent of the population had voted for non-ethnic-based communist or social-democratic parties, regardless of whether they were Serb, Croat, Muslim or ethnically mixed, they wanted to live in a multi-ethnic, secular Bosnia. This plan thus disenfranchised 28 percent of Bosnians. The number of Bosnia’s districts with no ethnic majority was 25 percent of the total, with a population also about 25 percent of Bosnia. These populations were strongest within the working class and industrial centres. The ethnic partition thus cut up these mixed regions between ethnic states, a recipe for massive ethnic cleansing. Above all, this imperialist partition plan aimed at smashing up the Tito-era working class ‘Brotherhood and Unity’ where it was at its strongest and realest, in its Bosnian heartlands.

Aside from the mixed districts, even many districts with ethnic majorities were very tenuous. Yarker even comes close to admitting this, claiming Serbs “formed a demographic plurality over 60+% of Bosnian territory immediately before the civil war.” While this is a gross exaggeration, even the fact that he says “plurality” rather than “majority” (as Serb fascist leader Karadzic and his imperialist supporters like Britain’s Lord Owen or America’s General Charles Boyd liked to claim), indicates he is a bit more honest. Serb “plurality” means that there was also a non-Serb “plurality” in 60 percent of Bosnia, according to these figures. He does not explain why all these non-Serbs should be shoved into a ‘Serb’ state.

This concept of ‘plurality’ is also often described as ‘relative majority’. These terms are used to describe a MINORITY, but the largest of a number of minorities. Thus, if in a given region, Serbs make up 35 percent of the population, Croats 30 percent, Muslims 30 percent and mixed/other/Yugoslavs 5 percent, this is declared as having a ‘relative Serb majority’ or ‘Serb plurality’, and even though the MAJORITY of the population might be non-Serb, it becomes part of a ‘Serb republic’ in this schema. Of course there is a problem here – since Muslims made up 44 percent of Bosnia’s population, and were thus by far the largest minority, and are hence a ‘relative majority’, then according to this logic, all of Bosnia could be made a ‘Muslim state’, something no-one advocated.

Yarker kindly sent a map of Bosnia to the list showing ‘relative majorities’ in three colours, representing Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Such a map is quite useless. If all the areas with no ethnic majority were put onto the map in a fourth colour, the map would look different – about 25 percent of it would be this fourth colour.

Based on exactly the same 1991 census that his map was based on, but analysing the figures, we see that Muslims, 44 percent of Bosnia’s population, formed a majority (which simply means over 50 percent) in 31 of Bosnia’s 100 districts, Serbs (31 percent of the population), were a majority in another 31 districts, and Croats (18 percent of the population) were a majority in 13 districts. That leaves 25 districts with no majority, and in most cases so-called ‘relative majorities’ were very tenuous (eg Mostar was more or less evenly divided into three). A good article describing more of this detail overlooked in amoeba-type views of Bosnia, including the census details, is ‘How Not to Divide the Indivisable’ by Stjepko and Thomas Golubic and Susan Campbell, in Rabia Ali and Lufschultz, L (eds), ‘Why Bosnia? Writings on the Balkan War’, The Pamphleteers Press, Connecticut, 1993.

In the imperialist Carrington-Cultheiro partition plan, Muslims would form a majority of 56 percent in “their” canton, Serbs 61 percent in “theirs” and Croats 65 percent in “theirs,” leaving around two-fifths of the population in all three cantons minorities. The “Muslim” canton would contain only 64 percent of all Muslims in Bosnia, the “Serb” canton 48 percent of all Serbs and the “Croat” canton only 41 percent of all Croats. Yet we are assured that this recipe for disaster offered ‘self-determination” to all three nations and would have ensured peace! It is obvious that the massive ethnic cleansing that ensued was aimed precisely at carrying out this partition by the massively armed Serb nationalists and their by now relatively well-armed Croat nationalist allies.

What of the assertion that Serbs “formed clear majorities over large and contiguous areas of Croatian and Bosnian territory.” This all depends what you mean by “large” and “contiguous”. The main three regions of Serb-majority in Bosnia were Eastern Herzogovina in the south-east, the Banja Luka region in the north-west and the Bosnia Krajina region in the far west on the Croatian border. The only large region of clear Croat majority was Western Herzogovina, in the south west, situated between Serb-majority Eastern Herzogovina and Serb-majority Bosnia Krajina. These two Serb regions and one Croat region were situated along the west, on the Croatian border, on the backward and infertile Dinaric range.

Croat-majority Western Herzogovina was contiguous with Croatia, but the only Serb-majority region contiguous with Serbia-Montenegro was Eastern Herzogovina (plus a small tip of north-east Bosnia around Bijelina, with one third Muslims). It was in no way contiguous with the other two Serb-majority regions, and these two regions were nowhere near Serbia. In fact, the western Bosnia Krajina was the part of Bosnia furthest from Serbia, separated from it by the whole Bosnian republic; it was contiguous with the Krajina region in Croatia, with which it could have united; and while western Bosnia Krajina and the Banja Luka region to its north were joined, it was only by a very tenuous neck, almost cut by Muslim-majority and mixed regions (the neck is much narrower than in the map sent to the list when mixed regions are mapped separately). Moreover, Banja Luka itself, the “capital” of the “Serb” region, was in reality more mixed than “Serb” – its Serb majority was only 54 percent, and it seems to me that socialists in such an area would emphasise multi-ethnic solidarity rather than ‘self-determination’ for 54 percent of an urban population via expelling the 46 percent, a highly reactionary solution.

Given these realities, it should not be difficult for Marxists to see that maintaining maximum proletarian, multi-ethnic unity would have been the optimum outcome in Bosnia, and even if some clearly mono-ethnic parts broke away, maintaining a multi-ethnic Bosnia should have been possible over most of the republic. The opposite road was the bourgeois-nationalist road, the road of catastrophe as in Asia Minor, Cyprus, the Indian subcontinent, Croatia etc. Bosnia was squeezed between the two bourgeois-nationalist regimes in Serbia and Croatia aiming to eat it up, similar to Greece and Turkey in Cyprus, or Serbia and Croatia in Krajina and Slavonia. However, there were two differences. Firstly, there was also the third major ethnicity, the Muslims, who fitted into neither camp and had no ‘fatherland’; secondly, while average Greek and Turkish Cypriots lived together OK, they did not intermarry – Cyprus was still a more traditional society where different religions excluded this, whereas Communist Yugoslavia and Bosnia created a high level of secularisation in the working class heartlands and hence intermarriage was a significant factor. This meant there were greater chances of avoiding the catastrophist road advocated for Bosnia by Milosevic, Tudjman, imperialism, and a wing of the western left.

While we (meaning the internationalist left) specifically defended the Muslim population who were subsequently subject to genocide by both Serb and Croat chauvinist forces, our orientation was never to support any kind of ‘Muslim’ republic, but to defend multi-ethnic Bosnia. Bosnia was run by a multi-ethnic government, with a Presidency consisting of 2 Muslims, 2 Serbs, 2 Croats and a Yugoslav; the military high command consisted of one Muslim, one Serb and one Croat – the general leading the defence of Sarajevo for three and a half years against Serb chauvinist assault was himself an ethnic Serb. In major cities like Sarajevo and Tuzla, large numbers of Serbs and Croats remained and took part in the defence of multi-ethnic Bosnia against Serbo-Croatian chauvinists throughout the war; the multi-ethnic Trade Union council in Tuzla was prominent in the defence of the city and of Bosnia. Prior to the full outbreak of war, the government consisted of all the major ethnic and non-ethnic parties; when the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) pulled out of the government in April 1992 in order to commence destroying the country it had till then been a partner in governing, their ministers were replaced by other Serbs from non-ethnic based parties.

It is thus important to emphasise that the three sides fighting were not “Serbs, Croats and Muslims” as the western media endlessly parroted and as “leftist” apologists for Serbian reaction parrot as well; the three sides were the Serb and Croat chauvinist militias with the expressed aim of creating ethnically pure Serb and Croat states attached to the fatherlands, and the internationally recognised, multi-ethnic Bosnian government with an expressed aim of maintaining a multi-ethnic republic.
It may be objected that, while weaker, the Bosnian bureaucracy was also on the capitalist path and the leading Muslim-based party, Izetbegovic’s Party of Democratic Action (SDA), was as bourgeois as the Serb Democratic Party and Croat Democratic Union. This is true, but without a ‘fatherland’, with a scattered population, and not being a majority (being only 44 percent of the population), the aspiring Muslim bourgeoisie simply could not have a viable ethnic-chauvinist plan. Simple bourgeois self-determination for Muslims coincided with the need to preserve a multi-ethnic Bosnia, coinciding with the proletarian need. There was simply no possibility of creating a ‘Greater Bosnia’ project. On the contrary, to the extent that a wing of the SDA did eventually accommodate a more ‘Muslim nationalist’ wing, it could only mean a ‘smaller Bosnia’, which played into the hands of the more powerful Serb and Croat chauvinists, because it meant accepting a degree of ethnic cleansing of Muslims, and being shoved into a little Muslim mini-state between Greater Serbia and Croatia. This is precisely the ‘solution’ the Bosnian government, the SDA most of the time, the non-ethnic based opposition, the trade unions and supporters of multi-ethnic Bosnia fought against.

However, to the extent the proletarian, multi-ethnic road may not have been possible everywhere, or that left and progressive Bosnian forces may not have been strong enough to convince all Serbs and Croats of this course, was there a case for self-determination for those unconvinced in regions of clear ethnic majority? Was there a case for supporting the right of Bosnia’s Croats and Serbs to either form fully autonomous statelets, independent states or to unite with Serbia or Croatia?

As with the Croatian case, it depends – we need to specifically look at the regions. In general, I support the right in principle where ethnic groups were in a very clear majority, although I am rather concerned about “majorities” of just over 50 percent, as in Banja Luka. Where Serbs had the clearest majorities, in Eastern Herzogovina, they could feasibly have joined Serbia (or more likely Montenegro), and next door, the Croat majority in Western Herzogovina could have joined Croatia. On the other side of Bosnia, however, in western Bosnia Krajina, the Serbs could only have joined Croatian Krajina, in a new Serb state consisting of a mere 200,000 people along a rugged infertile mountain range separated from Serbia by the entire republic of Bosnia; they could not have joined Serbia in any practical sense, so probably some form of autonomy would have been preferable. Still, if they could in no way be convinced, yes I still support their right to independence in principle, because not supporting it would mean supporting the right of someone else to overrun it by force.
The problem is, none of this has anything whatsoever to do with the actual war that took place in Bosnia. There was no fighting at any stage of the war within Eastern Herzogovina, or Western Herzogovina, or the western Bosnia Krajina region. There was never any attempt by the Bosnian government’s forces to seize any of these regions from the Serb and Croat chauvinist militias that ran them with the aid of their two powerful fatherlands. The question in fact is a complete furphy.
The war consisted of the massively armed Serb chauvinist forces – with the entire weaponry of the former Yugoslav army at their disposal – and their Croatian chauvinist allies striking out well beyond these regions to seize much of Bosnia – Muslim-dominated or ethnically mixed – for their ethnic chauvinist states, by carrying out massive ethnic cleansing/genocide against the Muslim population, as well as against Serb and Croat populations in the ‘wrong’ zones. THIS was the war.

The Serb chauvinist state, called ‘Republika Srpska’ (RS), seized 70 percent of Bosnia, and the Croat chauvinist state, Herzeg-Bosna, seized some 10-15 percent, leaving the Muslim and mixed majority of the population squeezed into 10-15 of the country, or fleeing overseas. The refugee population reached nearly 3 million people.

Let’s look at what the actual war entailed. In the Banja Luka region, where Serb ‘majority’ status was most tenuous but which had already been seized by the Serboslav army the previous year (1991), long before the ‘official’ beginning of the war, the fighting consisted of subjugating Muslim and mixed regions around its outskirts, doubling the size of the ‘canton’, and carrying out massive ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Croats, putting them into death camps like the famous Omarska etc. Thus this region was forcibly united along a wide area with the western Krajina region to its south-west, though still disconnected from Serbia. Muslim populations were pushed into the town of Bihac in the far north west where they experienced a three year brutal siege.
Secondly, almost the whole of eastern Bosnia, north of eastern Herzogovina, was overwhelmingly populated by Muslims with clear majorities. This was the region along the Serbian border, the west bank of the Drina. So since to create a greater Serbia, they would want it connected to the fatherland, and since most of the region was inconveniently populated by the “wrong” people, a major part of the war was the conquest and massive ethnic cleansing of eastern Bosnia. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims were driven from their homes in the east, to the central region or to one of three small towns within the east that managed to hold out under three years of relentless siege and bombardment by surrounding Serbian chauvinist forces – Srebrenica, Zepa and Goazde.
Even with conquering and cleansing the whole of eastern Bosnia and hence the land adjoining Serbia, this was still not connected to the Banja Luka region. So the third major part of the war was the offensive to create a “northern corridor” through the Brcko and Posavina regions, north of proudly multi-ethnic, government-held Tuzla. The problem was that this region was inconveniently populated overwhelmingly by Muslims and Croats, who therefore had to be ethnically cleansed and put in horrendous death camps like that in Brcko.
The fourth part of the war was the offensive by the Croat chauvinist state in Western Herzogovina into ethnically mixed central Bosnia, rapidly doubling its size and ruthlessly ethnically cleansing the Muslim half of the population. Here the Serb chauvinists came to the aid of their Croat allies, as they both spent many months jointly besieging Muslim-dominated Zenica, Travnik, Vitez etc.
The fifth part of the war was, even after having conquered most of Bosnia, the Serb chauvinist forces continually laid siege for three and a half years to Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zenica, Srebrenica, Zepa, Gorazde, Bihac and a host of other government-controlled urban centres with Muslim or mixed populations, firing massive doses of artillery into them on a daily basis, killing civilians on an enormous scale, to force a surrender.

None of this had anything whatsoever to do with defending the main Serb or Croat majority regions which they had conquered and cleansed at the outset of the war, or in fact over the six months before the official start of the war.

This should caution those who, due to understandable confusion or ignorance of the complexities of the region, prefer the intellectually dishonest cop-out of “three ethnic groups fighting each other”, the “Balkans are like that” and other essentially racist views, which dominated the bourgeois media and much “left” discussion through the war.

However, some may still not feel satisfied with this, feeling that it does not clearly prove there was oppressed and oppressor in this war. In that case, what needs to be asked is why the Serbian chauvinist forces were able to take over so much of the country, where they were not the majority. The answer shows that this was not a war between three equal ethnic militias. If that had been the case, there still may have been war, but it would have taken more the form of skirmishes over borders, and we would have been correct to be neutral.

6. Imperialist Intervention Against Bosnia

The absolute superiority of the Serb nationalist forces was due to the fact that the Serbian republic (still called ‘Yugoslavia’) inherited the entire military arsenal of the former Yugoslav army, and this, as well as Serbian troops, were put at the disposal of the Bosnian Serb chauvinists, who therefore were not merely another militia. More interesting is why Serbia got control of the entire Yugoslav army arsenal, which had, after all, been the property of all Yugoslav workers, all of who had paid taxes for it.

The key here goes back to the famous Vance Plan, which ended the Serbo-Croatian war in late 1991. Cyrus Vance, former US Secretary of State, was closely connected to the pro-Yugoslav ‘mafia’ that ran George Bush I’s administration, including Eaglebuger, Scowcroft and Kissinger. Vance was on the Board of General Dynamics, which at the time had a multi-billion dollar contract with the Yugoslav Army to develop the Super Galeb fighter aircraft.

The Vance Plan demanded that all the heavy weaponry of the Yugoslav army that Milosevic had deployed in Croatia was to be returned to ‘Yugoslavia’ under the control of the ‘Yugoslav army’, even though at that time, Croatia and Slovenia were no longer part of that state, and the Yugoslav army had lost all its non-Serb soldiery and officers, ie, it had become the army of the Serb republic. Croatia protested that the weaponry should be put temporarily under international control to be divided between the republics, but in reply claimed to have received “threats and ultimatums from Vance and others” insisting that the ‘Yugoslav’ army now be able to take all its massive heavy weaponry into Bosnia, which was still considered part of ‘Yugoslavia’. Croatia correctly suggested that the Serboslav army would use this weaponry on Sarajevo and other Bosnian cities in the same way they had used it on Vukovar and Dubrovnik. Yet this transfer of hundreds of tanks and fighter planes and thousands of artillery pieces and hundreds of thousands of pieces of weaponry into Bosnia went ahead, even though prominent SDS leaders like Karadzic had made it abundantly clear they intended to make the Muslims “disappear from the face of the Earth.”

Vance and the US government, like Carrington and the UK government at the same time, knew perfectly well what they were doing. But even worse was the fact that throughout the next three and a half years of war in Bosnia, this overwhelming military superiority of the Serbian nationalist forces - who were supplied, armed, financed and whose officers were paid by the Serbian (“Yugoslav”) government in Belgrade – was cemented by the criminal arms embargo imperialism imposed on the region, which in practice meant imposed on the Bosnia defenders.
The result, of course, was the ethnic cleansing, massive killing and cultural genocide of Bosnia’s Muslims by allied Serb and Croat chauvinist forces. Aside from the arms embargo, the other major western policy throughout these years was to try to impose one ethnic partition plan after another down the throat of Bosnia – the Carrington-Cultheiro plan, the Vance-Owen Plan, the Owen-Stoltenberg Plan, the Contact Group Plan and finally the US-imposed Dayton Plan.

It is true of course that US leaders, in a sudden 180 degree turnaround in March 1992, encouraged Izetbegovic to reject the imperialist Carrington partition plan. In my opinion, this was one of the opening shots of the post-Cold War EU-US conflict, particularly given the emergence of a Franco-German alliance which in early 1992 announced the setting up of a new security force to rival NATO, the ‘EuroCorps’. France being a traditional sponsor of Serbia and Germany of Croatia could further express their unity via supporting the joint Serbo-Croatian plans to partition Bosnia. By the same token, however, as the leaders of Europe, they were also concerned about the possible rise of Muslim radicalism if the Muslims were squeezed into too much of a corner, if the plans led to Gaza in Europe; hence Germany also put pressure on Croatia to ease its war on Bosnia, while France wavered between pro-Serb initiatives and strongly supporting the arms embargo, and at other times rather strong assertions of French military power to pressure Serbia.
Britain’s Tories were so fanatically pro-Serbian and anti-Muslim that it appears UK imperialism, as head of the UN committee negotiating the Yugoslav conflict at the time, attempted to grab the initiative to create a more powerful UK-Russia-Greece alliance via a dominant Serbia in the Balkans as a means of undermining the Franco-German bloc; in particular, the UK was concerned to prevent the Franco-German bloc from forming an economic and military alliance with Russia to dominate the continent. Britain was the most ardent defender of the arms embargo, of the most vile partition plans, and the most ardent opponent of any military intervention, including by its US ally, even though in the same years the UK took active part in ongoing US aggression in Iraq. Britain’s Lord Carrington, Lord Owen, Foreign Secretaries Douglas Hurd and Malcolm Rifkind, Prime Minister John Major and General Rose were all among the most energetic collaborators with Serbian chauvinism and its actions throughout the war.

The US began adopting the complete opposite position from the UK in undermining the Franco-German balance in Europe, suddenly from around May 1992 beginning to engage in a lot of aggressive sounding anti-Serb rhetoric, to reassert the importance of the US as head of NATO to the ‘security’ of Europe, though the contrast between the aggressiveness of the rhetoric and the outright US opposition to any action was as stark as could possibly be.

Izetbegovic of course hardly needed much encouragement to reject the Carrington plan to dismember his country. The US, while encouraging this rejection for its own imperial reasons, had no intention of coming to Bosnia’s aid in the ensuing Serbian blitzkrieg, but to merely use ‘principled’ opposition to scuttle EU partition plans to grab the initiative from the EU. When it did, it imposed its own worse partition plan after three and a half years of slaughter. Since Jim Yarker applauds the EU partition plan of 1992 which gave the ‘Serb republic’ 44 percent of Bosnia, he should be even more grateful to the US for later granting the ‘Serb republic’ 49 percent of Bosnia in a much more contiguous region.

Meanwhile, throughout the war, Bosnia was occupied by the UN, meaning British and French imperialist troops, setting aside six towns and cities as “safe” areas, where hundreds of thousands of dispossessed Muslims flooded into, creating giant ghettoes. They were supposedly “safe” because the Serb-Croatian chauvinists were not supposed to attack the civilian populations inside them, but nevertheless they did, on a daily basis, for years, so they were not “safe” at all. However, the imperialist occupiers tried to make them safe for the besieging chauvinist forces by further disarming the Muslim or mixed populations in these cities, while making sure no further arms got in, as they were part, alongside their Adriatic fleets, of policing the criminal arms embargo. Izetbegovic several times demanded the imperialist UN occupation get out, lift the arms embargo, and if some difficult to defend Muslim pockets still needed protection, the Islamic Conference Organisation offered to send their own forces, but of course such a threat of greater Islamist influence in Europe was exactly what the imperialists most feared.

In other words, imperialist forces occupied Bosnia and the Adriatic, enforcing an arms embargo that put Bosnia at massive disadvantage with respect to the chauvinist forces, in order to try to force the Bosnians to accept the partition of their country as demanded by Milosevic and Tudjman! One would think that anti-imperialists should be opposed to such blatant imperialist occupation, colonialism and classic UK-style partition politics, but instead we had a section of the left go completely off the rails in support of Serbian chauvinism and Islamophobia.

At the height of this imperialist offensive against Bosnia, Lord Owen, representing the UK Foreign Office, and his EU colleague Stoltenberg, invited Milosevic, Tudjman, and their two quisling chauvinist paramilitary leaders in Bosnia, Karadzic and Boban, to jointly draw up the Owen-Stoltenberg partition plan in mid-1993, awarding 52 percent of Bosnia to a “Serb Republic” and 18 percent to a Croat one. Yet IZETBEGOVIC – head of the legally recognised Bosnian government – WAS NOT INVITED TO ANY OF THESE MEETINGS. Was this not the most arrogant imperialist intervention? Meanwhile, Owen also paid off the Muslim puppet Abdic in western Bihac to collaborate with the partition of Bosnia and attack fellow Muslim forces in the region (the following year he was routed by Bosnia’s historic 5th Corps).

This UK policy was so aggressively anti-Bosnian that some 50 percent of delegates at an EU conference in Autumn 1993 voted to condemn British policy. Meanwhile, France and Germany, though sponsors of the Serbo-Croatian partitionists, recognised that regional stability within “their” Europe would be threatened by the UK’s extreme anti-Bosnian policy, so they modified the plan by releasing their own version of it, expanding the ‘Muslim state’ to 33 percent within same the partition plan, while offering to release sanctions on Serbia if it could pressure its SDS Bosnian tools to agree to cede a little of the conquests to the Muslims.

Fortunately, Bosnian forces gradually built up a supply of light arms from capturing them and from Iranian circumvention of the imperialist arms embargo, and by the end of 1993 had smashed the Croatian chauvinist forces in the south. To prevent the Bosnians, in the glory of victory, from bringing in greater numbers of Muslim forces or arms from the Middle East to turn on the Serb republic next, Washington drew up a new partition strategy. Against the opposite inclinations of both the multi-ethnic Bosnian forces and the Croat chauvinists, Washington in April 1994 hammered them together in a ‘Muslim-Croat federation’ in the regions controlled by these forces. The aim of setting up this was to abolish multi-ethnic Bosnia – by definition a ‘Muslim-Croat federation’, despite the 200,000 loyal Serbs still living in government-controlled regions, must recognise the Serb Republic carved out by the far-right SDS forces of Karadzic. This new US plan also avoided the problem of a potential small, landlocked, unstable ‘Muslim state’ which the UK-sponsored partition plans, in their aim of giving maximum away to Serbia and Croatia, unwittingly led to, squashed between the ‘Serb’ and ‘Croat’ states.

From April 1994 onward, the conflict became one of drawing exact border lines for these two states partitioning Bosnia. Washington arrived at the figure of a 51:49 percent split between the M-C federation and Republika Srpska (RS), which was a deal dramatically in favour of the latter, half the country being offered to less than one third of the population (in fact less than a quarter were living there at the time). Milosevic and Tudjman both immediately supported this deal, but Izetbegovic needed much greater pressure to reluctantly comply. However, Karadzic and the Serbian fascistic Right under Seselj’s Serbian Radical Party broke with Milosevic on this and rejected any compromise, even though it was in their favour. They figured why should they withdraw from the 70 percent of Bosnia they had conquered, due to overwhelming military superiority, and go down to 49 percent, when on the ground the lightly armed Bosnian army still gave them no challenge.

Therefore, the US began to turn a blind eye to a stream of Iranian weapons passing through Croatia to the Croat and Bosnian forces in Bosnia, with the aim of exerting pressure on RS to pull back to stable partition lines. This was the famous US circumvention of the imperialist arms embargo. The problem is, who gave the US the right in the first place to control whether, and how much, any weaponry gets through to besieged Bosnia? It was imperialist forces imposing the arms embargo; without their armed forces occupying the region, there would be no embargo. Without the embargo, masses of weaponry would have flooded in from Iran and other Muslim countries to the Bosnian government, and of course there was nothing the imperialist powers, whatever their differing tactical approaches, wanted less than this. Before 1994 there were plentiful examples of not only British and French, but also US forces actively preventing shiploads of Iranian arms from reaching the Bosnians. THIS is intervention.

The fact that in the later part of the war the US partly circumvented the imperialist embargo is not so much intervention, but rather partially stopping its own intervention – unless anyone thinks the US had the right to be there checking what arms get in. Intervention in fact continued, consisting of the fact that the US did not allow these Iranian arms and fighters to freely reach the Bosnians in the quantities chosen by the Bosnians or Iranians. The reason was that, without an embargo, the Bosnians may have chosen their own solution, rejecting partition outright, or at least regaining a larger part of former Muslim and mixed regions from RS. But the US solution was the 51:49 percent partition, which they saw as a guarantee of regional stability. Therefore, by attempting to control the quantity of Iranian arms going through Croatia – which had the same partitionist aims as the US and Milosevic – it allowed Croatia to take the best arms and only leave the Bosnians with enough to pressure RS but not enough to impose a Bosnian solution.

Incidentally, this went hand in hand with continuous arms supplies to Serbia from US allies Israel and Greece, the latter the main NATO imperialist power in the region. “Mossad was especially active and concluded a deal with the Bosnian Serbs at Pale involving a substantial supply of artillery shells and mortar bombs”, the Sarajevo population being “perplexed to find that unexploded mortar bombs landing in Sarajevo sometimes had Hebrew markings,” according to the Dutch report into Srebrenica. Neither Israel nor Greece was warned about this by the US, presumably seeing them as an indirect conduit to the Serbian ruling elite. Meanwhile, even while skimming off these Iranian arms directed to their alleged Bosnian allies, the Bosnian Croat chauvinists continued to sell oil and arms to the Serbian chauvinist forces.

The main problem with the partition maps was that they were still not very “neat” – there were too many Muslims or Croats too close to Serbia and too many Serbs close to or inside Croatia, in regions distant from both the fatherlands and the regions of Bosnia planned for partition. To solve this problem, extra ethnic cleansing on both sides was needed. Tudjman’s famous map he drew for Paddy Ashdown in March 1995, with an ‘S’ through Bosnia divided into Serb and Croat halves, was to be the basis of a future stable partition of the region between Croatia and Serbia. Such an equal partition between the two dominant powers was in imperialism’s interests of stabilising the region. Both the Bosnian aim of a multi-ethnic whole Bosnia, or at least regaining larger non-Serb majority regions for a ‘fairer’ partition, and the extreme Serbian Right’s aim of keeping 70 percent of Bosnia and one-third of Croatia, were considered threatening to a stable partition.

In eastern Bosnia, the ‘neatness’ strategy meant allowing Serbian chauvinist forces to eliminate Srebrenica and Zepa, islands of Muslim refugees within an otherwise ‘cleansed’ region. So Serbian forces eliminated these enclaves in June 1995, ethnically cleansing another 70,000 Muslims for eastern Bosnia, and in the process cold-bloodedly murdering 7-8000 Muslim men and boys who had been captured, the most horrific massacre in Europe since 1945. These were both UN “safe” areas where the UN had disarmed local fighters and was supposed to “protect” the Muslims.

At the other end of the region, Serbo-Croatian regional partition meant allowing Tudjman to eliminate the Krajina region controlled by Serbian nationalists, ethnically cleansing the 150,000 strong Serb population (he had 3 months earlier taken back Western Slavonia, driving out its 15,000 Serbs). Tudjman continued the advance into western Bosnia, taking the western-most Bosnian Krajina region from the Serbian chauvinists, handing to the Croat chauvinists, even through this region was overwhelmingly Serb. Some 50,000 Serbs were driven out of this region, so that Croatia and the Bosnian Croat state could have a solid block of contiguous territory, like that Serbia and RS had established over north and east Bosnia.

All this extra ethnic cleansing allowed the US-Milosevic-Tudjman Dayton partition plan to be signed in October 1995, ending the war. However, before that, the Bosnian government nearly threw a spanner into the works.

As Croatian forces advanced, the Bosnian Muslim forces of the Bosnian 5th Corps were able to break out of Bihac where they had been permanently besieged for over 3 years by both the Bosnian and Croatian Serb ‘Krajina’ forces (including with napalm and cluster bombs). Now they began advancing and regaining formerly Muslim majority and mixed regions in north-western Bosnia.

At this point, the US intervened to smash up the massive RS military machine which had been besieging Sarajevo and other cities for years. It is important to note that this decisive US intervention occurred after Serb chauvinist forces were already being pushed back.

Izetbegovic released his own plan for a united multi-ethnic Bosnia with autonomous regions, rather than full republics, where ethnic majorities existed, such as for Serbs in the Banja Luka region. His plan did not allow Serbian chauvinists to keep ethnically cleansed eastern Bosnia or the northern corridor, hence violating the Dayton partition understanding. More seriously, the Bosnian 3rd Corps also advanced from Tuzla into the northern corridor, aiming to retake this formerly overwhelmingly Muslim and Croat region from RS. For RS, this cleansed region was all that territorially united its eastern and northern conquests. If Bosnian forces could retake this region, as they were justified in ethnic terms doing, it would have meant there could be no real Serb ‘republic’, but more likely autonomy for regions like Banja Luka cut off from Serbia.
At this point, Croatia, which had now seized Muslim majority Jacje in central Bosnia, cutting Bosnian forces in Sarajevo off from those in Bihac, quit the offensive in order to not give any more aid to the advancing Bosnian forces, as this would upset the soup Tudjman had made with Milosevic and Holbrooke. The US intervention at this point – an intervention that could easily have occurred any time within the last three and a half years – was designed precisely to show who was boss. The US and UN continually demanded the Bosnian army halt its advance, which threatened to go beyond the magic 51 percent allowable to the M-C federation, but Bosnia refused, over and over. The US finally announced that whoever was threatening the ceasefire would be subject to attack, meaning now the Bosnian army. The Bosnians thus saw decisive western intervention for the first time in the war only as they were for the first time advancing – and it cut off their advance.

Republika Srpska was legalised by the US-imposed Dayton partition plan. US intervention legalised this ethnic-based state which was built on the expulsion of a million non-Serbs from the region it covers. By recognising RS, the US Dayton plan legitimised genocide.
Jim Yarker claims that “these entities (ie the Serb ‘republics) born of an obvious Serb expression of self-determination were targeted for destruction by Western imperialism” in “the spectacularly successful Nato-backed offensives which drove Serbs by the 100's of 1000's out of the Krajina and other parts of Bosnia and Croatia, helping make Serbs displaced from these regions. What a tribute to the Serbs' "massive military superiority".

This is completely disingenuous. Firstly, there is no disagreement that the Croatian army’s reconquest of the Krajina and the western Bosnian Krajina in late 1995 were acts of ethnic cleansing by a chauvinist regime in regions of Serb-majority, and they drove 200,000 Serbs from their homes (plus another 15,000 driven from former Croat-majority Western Slavonia a few months earlier).

However, what much of the left refuse to recognise, or simply hide from, is the fact that these reconquests also allowed some 150,000 Croats to return to their homes from which they had been driven in these regions – and in fact even with these reconquests, around another 100,000 Croats were still not able to return to their homes in Eastern Slavonia. Unfortunately, for some of the left, this need not matter because they view Croats to be mere human filth, but to other internationalist-minded leftists, the fate of previously displaced would have some relevance. That does not of course justify the actions of the Croatian regime, but it points to the fact that previous ethnic cleansing may well beget reverse ethnic cleansing as others return when they find the strength. Marxists justify neither but point to the original destruction of class solidarity as the key problem leading to later similar acts.
Secondly, this ethnic cleansing of 215,000 Croatian and Bosnian Serbs was an exact swap for the 200,000 Croats ethnically cleansed from Republika Srpska, principally from the Banja Luka region and the northern ‘corridor’. In fact many of these Bosnian Croats are now in the houses of the Krajina Serbs. They cannot return to an ethnic Serb state run by the same army that carried out the genocide, and this then hilds up the return of Serbs to Krajina.

Moreover, this swap was clearly the plan of both Milosevic and Tudjman, and was “imperialist-backed” precisely to the extent it fitted into the overall regional partition scenario dictated by the US at Dayton. However, while the training of the Croatian army by private US military contractors is a well-established fact, I do not see the rapidity of the Croatian advance as having a lot to do with it. Even very lightly armed Croats and Muslims in Bosnia and Croatia had held out longer when they fought to keep their land. The fact that the Krajina Serb Chetnik leadership, which had only very recently fired napalm and cluster bombs on Bosnian Muslims in Bihac and also cluster bombs at Zagreb and a number of Croatian cities, did not manage to fire a shot at the Croatian forces to defend a piece of territory where they were the majority, was the result of the Milosevic-Tudjman deal. Krajina and the western part of Bosnian Krajina were distant from Serbia and thus strategically and economically worthless to it, but were strategic to Croatia; the northern ‘corridor’ from where large numbers of Bosnian Croats were cleansed from was unimportant to Croatia but vitally strategic to Republika Srpska. All this should be obvious to anyone that looks at a map.

The Dayton partition plan ending the war not only allowed the Croatian chauvinist militia, as part of the ‘Muslim-Croat federation’, to keep the western part of Bosnia Krajina, which had been overwhelmingly Serb, it also allowed Republika Srpska to keep the just-cleansed and slaughtered Muslim Srebrenica and Zepa regions, along with the rest of already ethnically cleansed Muslim eastern Bosnia, and allowed RS to expand the northern ‘corridor’, previously Croat and Muslim. Moreover, by allowing a fully fledged Serb republic in half of Bosnia, it marked the Serb nationalists as clear victors, as this had been their strategic aim; by contrast, the Croat nationalists, who had also wanted a ‘Croat republic’ were denied one, while the Bosnian government forces, who wanted a multi-ethnic Bosnia, had it smashed, and if some Muslim nationalists had wanted a Muslim republic, they were also denied one. While Serbia got a fully fledged satellite in half of Bosnia, Croatia had to be satisfied with an unofficial hegemony over the other half, and Croat nationalists with unofficially keeping control of the regions within the federation they wanted for their ‘state’.
Dayton allowed not only Croatia to consolidate control over most of “its” own territory, but also allowed Serbia to maintain control over Kosova. The attempts by the Kosovar political leadership, which had waged a peaceful struggle for a decade, to be represented at Dayton were rebuffed by the US; for a new generation of Kosovar Albanians growing up in the despair of Serbian occupation, they could see that using enormous violence and committing genocide were very successful for Bosnian Serbs, gaining them a republic with virtually independent powers within Bosnia, whereas their peaceful struggle had gained them nothing. The rise of the KLA was inevitable. Of course we don’t even have to mention the continuing refusal to acknowledge the repression and ignoring of referendums of the Presevo Albanians, the Sanjak Muslims and the Vojvodina Croats and Hungarians - that was all “Serbian” territory to imperialism and Milosevic.

7. The Right of Return
Jim Yarker suggests it makes no difference that the exercise of ‘Serb self-determination’ was carried out via massive ethnic cleansing, “It shouldn't matter an iota in this whether there were forced population transfers by Serb militias or gangsters. After all, any serious reckoning shows that that was true of the other nationalities and of their leaderships (including the KLA)” and continuing with this same thread, “There is no *logic* and no *principle* for calling for the "right of return" for non-Serbs to the territory Republika Srpska *unless* one is also calling for the right of return for Serbs expelled from the territory of the other 51% of Bosnia, in the Bosniac-Croat federation, and *also* for the right of return for non-Albanians to Kosovo and the right of return for Croatian (and particularly Krajina) Serbs. There's no logic or principle to delegitimizing a political entity because there's been ethnic cleansing on its territory unless you're prepared to do so for all the others in the Yugoslav space, like independent Croatia, achieved over its current territory by substantial ethnic cleansing, like the Bosniac-Croat federation – same deal, like Kosovo, same deal.”

Of course I am in favour of the right to return of not only non-Serbs to Republika Srpska but also Serbs to the other half of Bosnia, to Krajina and to Kosova. The point is, however, if some 900,000 non-Serbs returned to Republika Srpska, their population would come close to equalling the total current Serb population of RS, and so it would not be a “Serb republic”, just as the return of Palestinians to ‘Israel’ would eliminate the basis of a “Jewish state” or for that matter the return of Greek Cypriots to the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” would mean there was no longer a “Turkish republic.” This is the problem of explicitly ethnic-based states formed via ethnic cleansing.

The return of Serbs to the other half of Bosnia, the ‘Muslim-Croat federation’ may not automatically have this same result, simply because RS had from the start taken over all Serb majority regions, all Serb ‘plurality’ regions, not to mention large numbers of Serb-minority regions, so there are not a really high percentage of Serbs to return. Moreover, a large body of Serbs always remained in the M-C federation, especially in the big cities, and have formed parties like the Serb Civic Council which represent their interests and support multi-ethnic Bosnia. There has also been a far greater percentage of Serbs returning to the M-C federation than non-Serbs returning to RS – several years ago, the difference was ten to one, and according to recent reports, the only big movements have been of Serbs, to western Bosnia Krajina districts like Glamoc and Grahavo.

Moreover, I am opposed to the ‘Muslim-Croat federation’ in principle, as were most within the multi-ethnic Bosnian camp – this was imposed by the US precisely in order to recognise RS as representing “Serbs”. That of course is why the proposal by the Serb Civic Council and other non-Serb allies that it be represented in international negotiations, rather than only Karadzic’s Serb fascists, and that the Serbs become the third recognised nation within the federation (ie that it become a Serb-Croat-Muslim federation), was rejected by the US and its allied Bosnian leaders, as these proposals would undermine RS and partition.

In other words, if all Serbs, Croats and Muslims returned to their homes in both RS and the M-C federation, and the racist structures of Dayton were eliminated in favour of democracy, then there would be no RS and no M-C federation, but merely two halves of multi-ethnic Bosnia, which may therefore soon find being in two halves rather pointless. In similar fashion, if Palestinians set up a democratic, secular mini-state in the West Bank and Gaza, and Israel (via some miracle) allowed the right of return of several million Palestinians, and racist structures were abolished in favour of democratic ones, we would have two democratic, secular states next to each other, which would soon find being in two states pointless.

Of course, if Krajina Serbs returned, it could threaten Croatia’s borders, which I have no attachment to, but you would need to remember that it would be 150,000 people in a wasteland distant from Serbia, so I reckon they may prefer some sort of autonomy, having had enough of a couple of decades of Serbian chauvinist cynicism which led them to their apocalypse. BTW, of 300,000 Serbs who were expelled or left Croatia over the years (over two-thirds expelled and the rest left due to chauvinistic pressures in the war atmosphere etc), some 100,000 have returned according to latest estimates. Also, it ought to be borne in mind that the return of the Croatian Serbs and of their properties is the number one demand placed on Croatia by the EU before accession to the EU can be considered. Finally, it is notable that the returned HDZ party (ie Tudjman’s party), which defeated the Social Democrats in 2003, has formed a government coalition with the Serb minority party on the basis of fully reintegrating Croatian Serbs – hence junking Tudjman’s program and carrying out the Social Democrat program that the latter never had the guts to do. This is not to laud them, it is simple bourgeois pragmatism – that is what the EU demands. Which should caution us from a lot of left nonsense about imperialism ‘supporting’ the Tudjman program.

8. Kosova - Right of Return and of Self-Determination

And of course I am also in favour of Serbs returning to Kosova, but again this is a red herring. By definition, Republika Srpska would not exist if non-Serbs returned, but if Serbs – one tenth of Kosova’s pre-war population - all returned, it would not abolish the right of the overwhelming majority of Kosovars (Albanians) to self-determination, including either independence or union with Albania. Some regions with Serb majority may want autonomy or union with Serbia, that is their right. What most ‘anti-imperialist’ apologists for Serbian nationalism fail to note is that it is the ongoing imperialist occupation that denies Kosova, like Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, self-determination, and the main excuse used by NATO for staying forever, is the need to protect the Serb minority from Albanian revenge and chauvinism.

Indeed, the main reason for the imperialist war in 1999 was to prevent the emergence of an independent Kosova. The actions of the Serbian regime were not only failing miserably to do this, but were having the opposite effect, boosting the KLA from a tiny group to a massive army of desperate people with nothing to lose of some 40,000 fighters by mid-1998. This large-scale instability around NATO’s southern flank, threatening the ‘nightmare scenario’ in the southern Balkans and even war between NATO allies Greece and Turkey, meant NATO could no longer ignore Serbian repression there as it had done for the last decade. Only imperialist troops entering Kosova would succeed in disarming rather than boosting the KLA and prevent the emergence of an independent Kosova, but as the idea of western troops within “its” Kosova came into conflict with Serbian nationalist ideology, Serbia had to be ‘taught a lesson’ by imperialism about who was boss. Teaching such a lesson via some “shock and awe” terror against Serb civilians also helped the US lay the groundwork for a new interventionist role for NATO, which was having its very symbolic 50th birthday in April 1999. Of course NATO did nothing to help the Albanians who then came under massive Serbian attack – NATO only hit 13 Serbian tanks in Kosova during the whole war, but plenty of civilian trains and bridges in Serbia.

Of course I oppose Albanian revenge and chauvinism, but as with the Krajina, it was more or less inevitable with no revolutionary parties to lead the struggle – following a century of oppression, a decade of intense repression and apartheid, and finally the ethnic cleansing of 850,000 Albanians and destruction of 100,000 homes by the Serboslav army in 1999, which used NATO’s air terror as a cover to terrorise someone else, it was to be expected that many returning Albanians would attack the Serb minority. Foolishly claiming that NATO’s actions led to the reverse ethnic cleansing of Serbs is the same as saying that ethnically cleansed Albanians had no right to return. The actions of many returnees were of course is reprehensible, though it must be pointed out that these actions are carried out by individuals or groups rather than by an organised state apparatus, as the Albanians are not allowed by imperialism to set up such a thing and the KLA was forcibly dissolved and disarmed; and as with Krajina, while both cleansings must be condemned, it is the original massive violation of proletarian ethnic solidarity by the Serbian oppressor regime that led to the later actions in response.

It is also not often noted that it was the NATO occupation forces that drew a line across northern Kosova, through Mitrovica, north of which Albanians could not return, in order to allow a region where Serbs could safely congregate. Under the circumstances, this is understandable, and Albanian chauvinists have themselves to blame; however, the rapidity of the NATO cordon-line, the choice of region to protect – the most economically valuable region – and the fact that NATO couldn’t care less about human rights, suggests this was the already understood partition strategy. This allows the Serb minority, effectively Serbia, to keep control of the Trepca complex, the most valuable mining and metallurgy complex in the Balkans.

If Kosova chooses independence, this northern region may choose to join Serbia, though the Serbian regime is also angling for another four regions, which it is currently discussing with the EU, though none would have Serb majorities without ethnic cleansing. The regions claimed by the Serbian regime cover some 30 percent of Kosova. However, then Kosova may put the question of Albanian majority regions in the Presevo valley in south-east Serbia.
“But this goes back to an old discussion and your comic book rendition of the Yugoslav conflicts in which only one side is doing the cleansing, firing the guns, etc.” I of course have no such comic book rendition of this war any more than any other war. “Both” or “all” sides fire guns in the Balkans, as they do in Palestine, in Iraq, in all theatres of Kurdistan, in Kashmir, in Mindanao, in Sri Lanka, in East Timor and elsewhere. The difference is the ability to distinguish the massive and systematic violence of the oppressor from the violence of the oppressed, even when aspects of the latter takes the form of “terrorism”, of attacking civilians etc. I condemn all such “terrorist” attacks when used by the oppressed, in all theatres, but I never put it in the same category as the systematic crimes of the oppressor.

Putting the crimes committed by Srebrenica Muslim leader Naser Oric against surrounding Serb villages, or of the Muslim 7th Brigade in central Bosnia against Croat villagers, on the same level as the massive crimes and ethnic cleansing carried out by the Serbian and Croatian war machines, that in the first place drove tens of thousands of vengeful Muslim refugees into holes like Srebrenica and Zenica, from where they later struck out, is the same as putting terrorist acts by Palestinians coming out of various holes they’ve been driven into or trapped in like Jenin or Gaza or Shatilla on the same level as the massive crimes of the Zionist state which drove them into these holes.

Nevertheless, reverse ethnic cleansing and reverse chauvinism from among the oppressed and terrorised when they get the upper hand here and there is also reprehensible and it goes without saying that it is anti-proletarian politics. All of this represents the limitations of the bourgeois nationalism that arose on the corpse of ex-socialist Yugoslavia. Only a new socialist working class unity can eliminate these chauvinist inheritances throughout the region. Such unity however can only be a unity among equals, meaning an unambiguous right of self-determination for the Kosovars, and the right of return of all peoples, meaning the abolition of the chauvinist Dayton partition of Bosnia, and the withdrawal of imperialist occupation troops from both countries. It is true that there is little hope of any of this for the time being, but the time to defend proletarian multi-ethnic unity was precisely when the major multi-ethnic working class concentrations were under attack in Bosnia in 1992-95, something some of the left did with honour and others lost their bearings and ended up peculiarly waving the flag for reaction.

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