Saturday, August 13, 2005

The National Question and the Collapse of Yugoslavia

The National Question and the Collapse of Yugoslavia

by Michael Karadjis

The constitution of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, set up following the revolution that drove the Nazi occupation forces out of Yugoslavia in 1945, begins “The nations of Yugoslavia, proceeding from the right of every nation to self-determination, including the right to secession…” This was a formally correct, from the Leninist standpoint, approach adopted by the new Communist regime led by Tito.

In reality, this formal structure, while a huge advance for national rights over capitalist Yugoslavia, masked a growing Serbian domination of the federal bureaucracy and military high command, just as official socialism masked the rule of a Stalinist bureaucratic caste as in the rest of Eastern Europe. Essentially what occurred in the late 1980s was the culmination of this clash between Serb domination, pushed in a more naked way by the capitalist restorationist forces under Milosevic, and the official national equality of the federation.

In response to this Serb nationalist drive from the centre, the other nations of Yugoslavia began exercising their constitutional right to self-determination, first declaring their “sovereignty,” calling for the federation to became a looser confederation, and finally, when all else failed, holding independence referendums.

For Marxists, support for the right of Yugoslav nations to self-determination, regardless of their leaderships, should have been a fairly straightforward position, and not only because it was consistent with the Yugoslav constitution. Yet, for various reasons, a large section of the left either opposed it outright, essentially supporting the drive by the Milosevic regime to supposedly “hold Yugoslavia together,” or at best put an equals sign between the nationalism of the Serb regime, trying to strengthen its domination, and the nationalism of the other nations, trying to throw it off.

The peculiarities of the Yugoslav situation which led to these conclusions can be summarised as follows:

Firstly, there is the general confusion about whether the right to self-determination still applies in socialist states. What if the oppressed nations have pro-bourgeois leaderships that aim to break up the socialist state allegedly defended by the leaders of the oppressor nation?

Secondly, this problem was then transposed onto the Yugoslav situation in an incorrect way. It was assumed that the Yugoslav federal government and the Serbian Republic government were “defending socialism” while the Croatian, Slovenian, Bosnian and Macedonian leaderships were more pro-capitalist. However, these assumptions are false.

Thirdly, it was commonly stated that Croatia and Slovenia were the “rich” republics who wanted to look after their own and not help the poorer republics. In trying to forcibly hold the federation together therefore, the Serbia regime was allegedly caring for the poorer republics.

Fourthly, it was assumed that western imperialism wanted to “break up” socialist Yugoslavia, and so naturally “encouraged secession” among the other republics. It was alleged that the “rich” republics would then be in a position to join the European Union without the weight of the poorer south.

Fifthly, this is all mixed with a view of history that, for much of the left, cannot help seeing “Serbs” as a whole as progressive and “Croats” as a whole as genetically fascist, due to conflicts in World War II half a century earlier. Apart from the non-Marxist view that entire nations are one thing or another, rather than being divided into different social classes and political currents, this was also a completely false reading of what happened in World War II.

A schema is then presented in which socialist Serbia tries to maintain a socialist, united Yugoslavia against imperialist backed, pro-capitalist rich republics eager to jump the queue and join the EU. The entire schema is completely false.

No Self-Determination Under Socialism?

Recognising that the balance of class forces was against the working class in the Baltic states in 1918, Lenin chose not to send the Red Army of the young Soviet republic in to help the Communist forces in these republics, where right wing regimes came to power. The Bolsheviks did not believe socialism could be imposed on the barrel of a gun; only the working classes in those states could carry out this task.

In the 1930s, following the degeneration of the Russian revolution and the revival of Great Russian oppression by the Stalinist regime, the issue again arose of the position revolutionaries would take towards movements for self-determination in the oppressed non-Russian republics. Trotsky’s view was clear. Calling for a “united, free, and independent workers’ and peasants’ Ukraine,” Trotsky pointed out that it was precisely the denial of the right to self-determination of the Ukraine by a “Communist” regime that has shifted the Ukrainian national movement to “the most reactionary Ukrainian cliques,” who had won over a section of the Ukrainian working class. On the other hand, an independent Ukraine would become “if only by virtue of its own interests, a mighty southwestern bulwark of the USSR”(1).

Yugoslavia’s Nations

There was no Yugoslavia at the beginning of the century, and no necessity for that particular state to arise, just as Marxists see no particular reason for it to exist today, other than the will of its peoples. Rather, the Balkans were a collection of many different peoples, fairly interspersed. The whole region had been under the Ottoman Empire for 500 years, but in the course of the nineteenth century, independent bourgeois states had arisen in Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. A great swathe of the Balkans remained under Ottoman rule, including present day Albania, Kosova, Macedonia, Thrace, Bosnia and the Sanjak. In 1908, the Austro-Hungarian Empire seized Bosnia, and in 1911, years of resistance by the Albanian people allowed them to set up a state on a part of Albanian ethnic territory. In 1912-13, the rest of the region was taken over by Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia, oblivious to ethnic realities. Thus Serbia now incorporated the Slavic Muslim Sanjak, Kosova with its 80 percent Albanian majority, and 40 percent of Macedonia, with a solid ethnic Macedonian majority.

These borders drawn by force were officially recognised by the imperialist powers at the London Conference of 1913. Serbia was seen as a key ally of the British-French-Russian imperialist bloc in its impending clash with its German-Austrian rivals. Meanwhile, living under the Austro-Hungarian yoke were other south Slavs, the Slovenes, Croats and now Bosnians. In their own freedom struggle, the idea had emerged of the unity of all South Slavs, in a “Yugoslav” state. In practice this meant that these Hapsburg-ruled Slavic nations would unite with the expanded Serbian monarchy.

This “Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes” was proclaimed in 1918 under Anglo-French auspices. It was a classic prisonhouse of nations. Macedonians were declared “South Serbs” and a ruthless campaign of forced assimilation continued for the next twenty years. Montenegro, which had been a small independent state, was abolished as a state and came under direct Serbian rule. Its population is ethnically Serb, but with a strong sense of their own identity. Similar oppression was directed against the Slavic Muslims of Bosnia and Sanjak, thousands of whom were driven to forced exile in Turkey.

The worst excesses occurred in Kosova, where the Albanian majority were not Slavic at all, and even worse were Muslim, in a land that Serb nationalists declared the cradle of their nation due to the presence of a large number of medieval Orthodox churches. While modern day Serb nationalists like to make the ridiculous claim that “Kosova has always been Serbia,” according to one reading of Turkish statistics of 1911, of the 912,902 residents of the Vilayet of Kosova, 743,040 (80.5 percent) were Albanians and 106,209 (11.5 percent) were Serbs (2). According to a more generous reading, Ottoman statistics put Orthodox Serbs at 21 percent of the population, still an absolute minority, and Austrian statistics in 1903 put it as high as 25 percent, the maximum claimed by any source (3). The discrepancy in claimed Ottoman figures is almost certainly due to the fact that the Ottomans did not do censuses of ethnic groups at all, but only of religious affiliation – ‘Orthodox’ was assumed to be ‘Serb’ by those reading the statistics.

The Albanians furiously resisted the occupation. The Serbian monarchy was pitiless in its suppression - according to the investigators of the Carnegie Commission, referring to the period immediately after the Balkan wars in 1912-13:

“Houses and whole villages reduced to ashes, unarmed and innocent populations massacred en masse, incredible acts of violence, pillage and brutality of every kind - such were the means which were employed by the Serbo-Montenegrin soldiery, with a view to the entire transformation of the ethnic character of regions inhabited exclusively by Albanians” (4).

Another account was given by Lazer Mjeda, the Catholic Archbishop of Skopje, who noted that in Ferizaj only 3 Muslim Albanians over the age of 15 had been left alive, and that the population of Gjakova had been massacred despite surrendering. He described the scene in Prizren, which had also surrendered peacefully in the hope of being spared what was happening elsewhere in Kosova:

“The city seems like the Kingdom of Death. They knock on the doors of the Albanian houses, take away the men and shoot them immediately. In a few days the number of men killed reached 400. As for plunder, looting and rape, all that goes without saying; henceforth, the order of the day is: everything is permitted against Albanians, not only permitted, but willed and commanded” (5)

Between the two World Wars, the Albanian population dropped by half, with around 400,000 people forced to Albania or Turkey. The Yugoslav and Turkish regimes made a pact, as Turkey wanted to use the Muslim Albanians to colonise eastern Anatolia as an outpost against its own oppressed Kurds and Armenians. Albanians were ruthlessly uprooted: in one example, the entire Albanian population of upper Drenica (6,064 people) were dispossessed of their land in 1938. Some 15,000 Serb families - representing some 70,000 people, or about 10 percent of the total Kosova population - were moved in from Serbia proper as colonists and given large properties. Of 400,000 hectares of arable land in Kosova, these colonists were awarded 100,000 hectares. In 1928, Serbian official Djorje Krstic boasted that colonisation had boosted the percentage of Serbs in Kosova from 24 percent, which he claimed for 1919, to 38 percent (6).

In 1929, Serbian King Alexander dissolved parliament and the fiction of the state of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In its place was simply a unitary Yugoslavia, which the Serbian monarchy ruled with an iron fist. This resulted in increasing oppression of the Croats as well, who had previously been at least officially equal in the state. Croatian resistance was led by parties such as the Croatian Peasants Party, led by Stefan Radic, who was assassinated in parliament in 1928. Later, a right-wing nationalist group, the Ustashe, began gathering support among Croatian emigres, and gained support from Mussolini’s Italy. Ironically, the reason Mussolini was in conflict with Yugoslavia was that he had designs on the Dalmatian coast. Just how far the Ustashe was from an organization truly aiming at Croatia’s national liberation is revealed by the fact that Ante Pavelic, the Ustashe leader, agreed well in advance of World War II to cede the Dalmatian coast, part of Croatia, to Italian imperialism.

World War II

In World War II, a gigantic resistance movement against Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia swept across every part of the country, led by Tito and his Communist “Partisans.” The Communist Party advocated a new Yugoslavia, one based on an equal federation of Yugoslav nations, to replace the Serbian-ruled Yugoslav monarchy. The Partisans were drawn from all nations of Yugoslavia. While the initial group was composed largely of Serbs and Montenegrins, it rapidly spread beyond them, especially following the rapid crushing of a Partisan revolt in Serbia in late 1941. From then, the overwhelming bulk of resistance activity occurred in Bosnia and Croatia. According to Yugoslav statistics, at the height of the war in late 1943, there were 122,000 Partisans active in Croatia, 108,000 in Bosnia, and only 22,000 in Serbia (7). Of course, many Partisans in Croatia and Bosnia were ethnic Serbs. However, in Croatia 61 per cent of the Partisans were Croats, 28 per cent Serbs and the rest other nationalities (8). While figures don’t exist for Bosnia, it’s clear that a large proportion were Serbs, but a large proportion were also Muslims, as they were being slaughtered by all sides, and only the Partisans promised a Bosnian republic within their new proposed Yugoslav federation. The Muslim clergy in 1941 issued resolutions condemning atrocities being carried out by Croatian Ustashe and Serbian Chetniks, and explicitly condemned persecution of Jews and Serbs by the Ustashe (9).

While there is debate about the total numbers who died in World War II, the two most authoritative Yugoslav estimates were those made by the Serb Boguljub Kocovic and the Croat Vladimir Zerjavic, who both came out with figures of a little over a million people in all parts of Yugoslavia, both military and civilians. In both cases, the estimates of the numbers of Serbs among these is close to half the total, around 500,000, around 200,000 Croats and around 100,000 Muslims (10). With the slight differences between the two estimates, it appears that Serbs and Bosnian Muslims almost equally suffered the highest losses per head of population compared to the other nationalities.

The ignoring of the impressive Croatian contribution to the resistance by both left and right historians since World War II is all the more glaring when it is considered that Tito himself was a Croat, and current Croatian president Tudjman, whatever his right-wing sins today, was a Partisan leader in the war, and his brother was killed by the Ustashe. The last Yugoslav federal president, the Croat Stipe Mesic, had much of his family murdered by the Ustashe, even if in Yugoslavia’s dying days Milosevic scandalously slandered him as Ustashe and blocked his presidency.

Just as Partisans existed among all nationalities in Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia, so did collaborators. There were two main puppet states, the Ustashe in Croatia and the Nedic regime in Serbia. The Ustashe regime was called the “Independent State of Croatia” (NDH), but was neither independent, nor a state, nor in Croatia. Virtually the whole of Croatia’s Dalmatian coastline was annexed outright by Italian imperialism, and part of Croatian Slavonia given to pro-Axis Hungary. On the other hand, the whole of Bosnia was incorporated into the ‘NDH’, giving the Ustashe gangs the task of controlling this difficult mountainous region for the Nazis. The whole NDH was then divided into a German-occupied north and an Italian-occupied south.

While many Croats, after years of Serbian oppression, may have initially welcomed the idea of an “independent state,” the shine wore off rapidly. The sheer brutality of the Ustashe in its genocide against Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and Muslims and terror against Croat opponents, along with its willingness to hand over parts of Croatia, rapidly turned the mass of the Croatian population against it. Estimates of its support base among Croats range from as low as 2 percent to “barely exceeding 5 percent” of popular support, or “less than 10 percent of politically active Croats” (11) heavily based among returned émigrés. Indeed, so small was their support that the Nazis initially did not want them as their clients, despite their like-minded ideology, and approached the leader of the majority-backed Croatian Peasant Party, Vladko Macek, who refused to collaborate and was later imprisoned by the Ustashe.

Approximately half of all war-time deaths in Yugoslavia were in the NDH, where the genocidal attack on the Serb population in particular led to their historic national catastrophe, including but not exclusively at the notorious Jasenovac concentration camp.

The regime of Serbian General Nedic contained the core of the pre-war Serb monarchial state. As the Nazis invaded in 1941, 545 prominent Serb leaders, businessmen and bourgeois intellectuals issued an “Appeal to the Serbian Nation,” calling for collaboration with the Nazis in order to fight the nation’s real enemy, communism (12). Its terror was similarly unlimited, and Belgrade was the first city in Europe to be declared “Judenfrei” (free of Jews). Muslims, Albanians and Gypsies were also important targets.

Aside from the Nedic regime’s own armed forces, the Serbian State Guard, it also had at its disposal several paramilitary groups, including the ‘Chetniks’ of Kosta Pecanac, ultra-right Serb nationalists who supported the eventual return of the Anglo-American backed Serbian monarchy but for the time being advocated collaboration with the Nazi occupiers against the Partisans, and the openly Serbian-Nazi ‘Zbor’ of Dimitrije Ljotic. Together these forces put some 30,000 troops at the disposal of the Nazis in Serbia, which was seeing relatively little resistance activity.

There was also a Chetnik movement theoretically independent of Nedic, led by Draga Mihailovic, operating more in the NDH. This Anglo-American backed Serb nationalist movement advocated the return of the pre-war Serbian royal family. These Chetnik forces, outside of Nedic’s control, initially opposed collaboration and fought against the Ustashe regime, as their aims for a Greater Serbia conflicted with the Ustashe aims of Greater Croatia. However, when the Croatian Partisan movement sprang up in Dalmatia, resisting the Ustashe-approved Italian annexation of Croatian territory there, the Italian occupiers began using the Chetniks against the Croatian Partisans. Before long, the Chetniks’ main war was against the Partisans, and they eventually became full-scale collaborators with the Nazis. Mihailovic was executed after the war by Tito’s regime for collaboration.

The program of even these ‘independent’ Chetniks was fascist in its own right, advocating the elimination of the Muslim population, and they massacred tens of thousands of Muslim villagers. Their aims were outlined as follows in 1941: “To cleanse the state territory of all national minorities and anti-national elements” and “to create a direct continuous border between Serbia and Montenegro and between Serbia and Slovenia, by cleansing Sandzak of its Muslim inhabitants and Bosnia of its Muslim and Croatian inhabitants” (13)

Serbian Domination of Post-War Yugoslavia

The new federation after 1945 consisted of six republics (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro), and two provinces (Kosova and Vojvodina), which both had autonomy within the Serbian republic. Each major nation had its own republic or province. Four republics - Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia - were clear nation states, while Montenegro was something of a second Serb republic. However, only Slovenia was relatively nationally homogenous, all the other republics having a mixture of nationalities alongside the dominant group. Borders were established as fairly as possible, but the very mixing of nationalities made it impossible to establish purely national states. Hence many Serbs, Croats, Muslims and Albanians lived outside of their assigned states. In the case of the republic of Bosnia, which was completely mixed between Muslim Slavs, Serbs and Croats, there was no dominant nation, though Muslims became the largest group.

Of the autonomous provinces in Serbia, Vojvodina had a slight Serb majority but with large Hungarian and Croatian minorities; in a sense its existence recognised the Hungarian “national minority,” not considered a “nation” because its nation state was Hungary. Similarly, Kosova’s autonomy signified the status of the Albanians as a “national minority,” whose nation state was Albania. However, there were some important differences. Firstly, unlike in Vojvodina, Albanians were the vast majority of the population of Kosova in 1945. Secondly, in sheer numbers, they were bigger than many of the “nations” of Yugoslavia, and growing.

Thirdly, Albanian Partisans had fought in World War II for the right to self-determination, including unity with Communist Albania. In the first major violation of the new impending federal order, Tito had gathered Serb Partisans together with large numbers of Chetniks (who came over following two amnesties declared by Tito in late 1944) and crushed the Kosovar Partisans. Tito and Albanian Communist leader Enver Hoxha had aimed for Albania to become part of the federation, which in Tito’s view would be a federation of all Balkan nations, not just those of pre-war Yugoslavia. As such, there could be no Kosovar republic, because it would eventually be part of the Albanian republic in Yugoslavia. As this never came to pass, Kosova was stuck in the highly unsatisfactory situation of autonomy inside Serbia. This lack of republican status, combined with Kosova’s drastically poorer position than all Yugoslav republics, made the Albanians an unambiguously oppressed nation in the new Yugoslavia.

While the new federation was a huge step forward for the other nations, it rapidly became Serbian-dominated at a political and military level in practice. The root of the problem was that Tito's regime was a Stalinist regime, where the new socialist economic base was saddled by a huge central apparatus with massive privileges, as in other Eastern European states, despite a number of more liberal aspects.

It is this bureaucratic nature of the regime which explains why the formal equality of nations after 1945 eventually degenerated, once again, into Serb domination, if not to the extent of capitalist Yugoslavia. Since the bureaucracy was based in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, it became more Serbianised, while the lack of democratic structures meant that people living in the other national regions were not able to exercise political power and make decisions at the centre.

Serbs, around 40 per cent of the population, made up 78.9 percent of personnel in the federal administration, Croats made up only 8 per cent, all other groups less (14). Serbs also made up around 70 percent of the military officialdom of the Yugoslav Peoples Army (JNA) (15). Croats made up only 15 per cent, while the remaining 15-20 per cent was left for Slovenes, Bosnians, Albanians, Macedonians and smaller groups. Albanians, with 8 percent of the population, were only 1 percent of officers.

Similarly, within the Yugoslav League of Communists (LCY), between 50 and 60 per cent of members were ethnically Serb, though admittedly this had declined from well over 60 per cent earlier (16). Given that it was the only legal party, its composition reflected the relations between nationalities. Croats were 23 per cent of the population, and in 1946 made up 31 per cent of the LCY, reflecting their big role in the resistance. However, by 1978, this had fallen to 17 per cent, well below their percentage of the population. All the non-Serb nations had even smaller percentages.

Tito's new constitution in 1974 had both positive and negative aspects. On the positive side, the formal rights of the different republics were strengthened, and above all, Kosovo and Vojvodina had their autonomous status within Serbia upgraded to a far higher level. This followed a huge upsurge in the Albanian national movement in the late 1960s, calling for republic status for Kosova. While still formally in Serbia, the two provinces were now directly equally represented in the federal government, rather than via Serbia. Like other republics, they had their own Territorial Defence Force, a kind of decentralised, partisan style popular militia set up in 1968 throughout Yugoslavia. They had their own Central Banks, Provincial Assemblies and High Courts. In addition, the Albanians got their Pristina University, so they could begin to train their own people for jobs in the provincial administration till then mostly staffed by minority Serbs.

In addition, around this time, Muslims (mainly in Bosnia and the Sandzak region of Serbia) were officially recognised as a distinct nation within Yugoslavia, as were Gypsies (Rom), the only country in the world to do so. Bosnia officially became a tri-national republic of Serbs, Croats and Muslims.

However, this decentralisation being combined with a lack of democracy, plus economic rule by the market in Yugoslavia’s system of “market socialism,” essentially gave more power and economic decision making to the local bureaucracies rather than the local people. This gave the various republican bureaucracies, including in Serbia, more of a base for nationalism, and helped increase economic disparities between republics. At the same time, it did not diminish Serbian domination at the federal level. On the contrary, by transferring important functions to republic capitals, it left federal jobs to local Serbs and upwardly mobile Serb immigrants from poorer regions (17). Ironically, this growing irrelevance of the federal government did not result in a reduction in the size of the federal bureaucracy - on the contrary, employment in the federal administration was growing at 16 per cent annually, in contrast to 2.5 to 4.5 per cent for the country as a whole, in the early 1980s (18).

Before this bureaucratic decentralisation, Tito had made sure it didn't develop into a democratic one by carrying out a massive purge of oppositionists within the party and state in the early 1970s, including much of the new generation of leaders. While Croatia gained more bureaucratic autonomy in 1974, an autonomy movement there in the early 1970s called the Croatian Spring, led by the Croatian Communists, was crushed, and henceforth the Croatian republic government became dominated by ethnic Serbs. In Croatia, only one in twenty Croats were LCY members, while one in nine from the Serb minority were (19). 40 per cent of Communist Party members and 67 per cent of the police force were Serbs (20). Where no other parties exist, party membership was an indicator of who had power.

Rich Republics?

While these figures show that political and military power had been taken by Serbs, it is often pointed out that in terms of economic power, Croatia and Slovenia were the richer republics, while in the south, Kosova, Macedonia, Bosnia and Montenegro remained chronically poor and underdeveloped. Hence, Croatian and Slovenian demands in the late 1980s for more control over their own economic wealth is often interpreted as the rich republics wanting to look after themselves and not distribute anything to the poorer republics.

Actually, the label of “rich” republics, as applied only to Slovenia and Croatia, was a sleight of hand, given that according to most analyses, Slovenia’s wealth per capita was nearly double Croatia’s, whereas Croatia was only slightly ahead of Serbia/Vojvodina. Virtually all analyses agree: for example, Slovenia with 8 per cent of the population accounted for 17 per cent of the GDP, more than double; Croatia with 20 per cent and Serbia proper with 24 per cent of the population accounted for 26 and 25 per cent of the GDP respectively, not much different. The three poor republics (Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro) had a GDP percentage well below their share of the population, while Kosova’s GDP precentage was only one quarter of its share of the popuation, again revealing its absolutely oppressed state (21). Serbia hence was one of the “rich” republics; the fact that its main victims, Kosova and Bosnia, were far poorer shows that the Serbian bureaucracy had the same competitive nature as its Croatian and Slovenian counterparts, but its domination of the federal government and JNA enabled it to do in practice in a far more dramatic way what its rivals could only dream of - by suppressing these poorer regions it was able pillage them.

Indeed, this explains why Serb nationalist fears about the decline of Serbs in Kosova and Bosnia, relative to Albanians and Muslims, are baseless: Serbs emigrated from these poor regions en masse to wealthier north Serbia for economic reasons (as did Bosnian Croats to Croatia). Poverty stricken Albanians and Bosnian Muslims however had no ‘fatherland’ to go to. And of course the higher birth rates of Albanians and Bosnian Muslims, stripped of the racism, were due to their very poverty. Nearly 16,000 people per year left Bosnia in the 1950s and 1960s, most going to Serbia; they were fleeing a republic which, after Kosova, had the highest infant mortality rate in Yugoslavia, the highest illiteracy rate and the highest proportion of people whose only education was three years of primary school (22).

The fund for developing the underdeveloped regions, by which the richer north helped subsidise the poorer south, was apparently having the opposite effect, as the gap had widened and the south remained mired in poverty. Slovenia’s GDP by the 1980s was seven times as large as that of Kosova. The reasons for this are highly complex, partly due to what happened to prices throughout the world in the 1970s and 1980s - prices rose for manufactured goods, which were produced more in the developed north, and fell for primary products, produced more in the south.

However, another reason would seem to be the diversion of considerable republican funds to the central bureaucracy in Belgrade and the overbloated JNA. An example of the lavish lifestyle of the military officialdom is the fact that while the average income in 1991 was $400, the average army officer received $2300 monthly, an apartment, medical insurance, early retirement and a pension ten times the average (23).

As examples of the diversion of funds to Belgrade, in the late 1960s, Croatia created 27 per cent of national income and earned about 50 per cent of Yugoslavia’s foreign exchange, largely due to tourism on the Dalmatian coast, yet received only 15 per cent of new investments; while Serbia created 33 per cent (24) of national income and 25 per cent of foreign exchange, yet Serb banks controlled 63 per cent of total bank assets and 81.5 per cent of foreign credits (25). This naturally created suspicion about “helping the poorer republics.” Further, of the four poorer regions, only ethnically Serb Montenegro consistently “received well above its capital investment share” even as the shares of the other LDRs were reduced (26).

Hence while the local bureaucracies in Croatia and Slovenia strove to loosen bonds of solidarity, as they, like in Serbia, moved towards capitalism in the late 1980s, this was not the dominant view among the masses who they would need to win over. Rather, what did appeal more to the masses was growing opposition to diversion of their republican funds to pay for what they saw as an overbloated, Serb-dominated, irrelevant JNA, which ate up two thirds of the federal budget (27). This attitude strengthened following the JNA’s crackdown in Kosova from 1981 onwards, essentially acting only on Serbia’s behalf. Giving money to help the Kosovar economy is one thing; giving it to help Serb troops police the Albanians another. In 1989 Croatia and Slovenia withdrew their forces from the federal occupation of Kosovo (28). It is noteworthy that Slovenia first refused to continue funding the federal defence budget, not the fund for the south; and indeed, when Milosevic suppressed the Kosova assembly in 1989, President Kucan did indeed refuse to pay Slovenia’s share for Kosova through the federal fund, but rather sent it direct to the now illegal Kosova provincial government (29), far an act of solidarity rather than of greed.

Recentralisation and Serbian Nationalism

When Tito died in 1980, Yugoslavia had inherited a 20 billion dollar foreign debt amassed by the bureaucracy. The IMF and World Bank were brought in and laid down draconian conditions of austerity and free market radicalism to try to squeeze the debt out of Yugoslav workers. The Yugoslav federal government essentially became the internal agency of these imperialist financial institutions. While a description of the economic disaster brought onto Yugoslav workers is outside the range of this article, the point is that these conditions eventually helped pave the way for various bureaucratic nationalist warlords to explain the disaster to the workers of “their” nation as all being the fault of the “enemy nations” rather than the bureaucrats themselves.

Furthermore, this process was on top of an already highly deregulated form of “market socialism” which Yugoslavia had been experimenting with since the 1960s. This had already resulted in massive unemployment and other features which were absent from other East European socialist states. Hence there was nowhere further to go other than outright restoration of capitalism.

This process took hold in 1988-89, driven through by the federal governments of Mikulic and Markovic, strongly supported by the new Serbian republic government headed by Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic gathered around him the cream of Belgrade’s liberal economists into the “Commission of the Presidency of the Republic of Serbia: The Commission for Questions of Economic Reform” (30), in May 1988 to push for the further liberalising of the economy. Its main recommendations were further opening to foreign investment (Yugoslavs must overcome their “unfounded, irrational and...primitive fear of exploitation” by foreign capital according to Milosevic), including full foreign ownership rights, deregulation of the banking system, equality of public and private ownership, greater flexibility for enterprise managers in the “self-managed” enterprises to act without restraint by the workers and related policies long advocated by the IMF and the most advanced liberals. The Workers Councils were replaced by “Social Boards” controlled by the enterprise owners and creditors. Milosevic exhorted these Boards to “function on economic principles ... strive to create profits and constantly struggle for their share and place in the market” (31)

While much of the western left continues to insist that imperialism “broke up” Yugoslavia, this only reflects their continued illusions in bourgeois - not socialist - Yugoslavia. In reality, western powers continued to insist not only on the maintenance of Yugoslav unity to the bitter end, but in fact on the strengthening of the central apparatus. This was due to the demands of the IMF and World Bank for greater central authority to force repayment of the 20 billion dollar foreign debt, to carry out a “free market” transformation and privatisation of the economy, to overcome republican barriers to an unrestricted Yugoslav-wide market for the flow of western investments and goods, and to remove the republican veto on federal economic decisions dictated by the IMF (32). This stubborn insistence on centralisation eventually led to the Yugoslav break-up for the opposite reason - all the non-Serb republics could no longer bear the increasing weight of the central regime.

Political commentary in sections of the western media known to be close to government policy emphasised the need for greater central authority far more than any references to “democracy” which were made regarding other East European countries (33). The US Congress assessed that “some strengthening of federal powers” would be necessary and that “unless there is a reduction in those geographic barriers (ie republican borders), economic reform in Yugoslavia will have to wait. Such an eventuality could be catastrophic” (34)

This centralising push had an echo in the JNA, which was the strongest federal institution. The “hard-line” JNA strongly supported the neo-liberal economic reforms (35). In 1987-88 the JNA centralised its military command structure in mirror fashion, replacing the eight units based on republics with four which completely cut across republican borders.

After the IMF/federal government and the JNA, a third force was pushing for centralisation - the Serb nationalists. This was contradictory, given that Serbia is a republic itself, and nationalism would have a fragmenting rather than unifying effect. Yet the difference was Serbian domination of federal institutions - increased central powers meant increased Serbian power. This push for recentralisation thus struck at the very basis of the federation of equal nations.

Whereas the JNA argued for unity from a traditional Titoist point of view, the Serb bourgeois nationalist intelligentsia attacked the entire post-war Titoist order. In 1986, the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences released its “Memorandum” which claimed the “Communist-Croat alliance” represented by Tito had set out to destroy the Serb nation by imposing an “alien” (federal) Yugoslavia upon them, and that the division into federal republics divided up the Serb nation (36). What this reflected was the naked ideology of the growing Serbian capitalist class, wanting to free itself from the shackles of the ideology of “Communism,” “federation” and “brotherhood and unity.” As with all rising bourgeois classes, naked nationalism was the ideology that could best justify its attempt to seize control of as much of Yugoslavia’s resources as possible; it was also necessary to divert the Serbian working class from the enormous class struggle it was engaged in in 1987-88, in alliance with the working classes of all Yugoslav nations, against the IMF/federal government austerity regime.

In reality, the so-called “division of the Serb nation” worked to its advantage. As Serbian academic Vojin Dimitrijevic points out, the way such alleged division worked depended “on the play of political forces...from another perspective, the proliferation of “Serb” federal units offered a chance to the Serbs, or the Leagues of Communists dominated by them, to appear in the organs of the federation under various hats” (37). This not only applied to the two autonomous provinces and ethnically Serb Montenegro, but, as we have seen, even in Croatia where its 11 per cent Serb minority dominated the regime.

Unfortunately, this Serb nationalist propaganda, that the Titoist order “divided up the Serbs,” has rubbed off onto some on the left. For example, Peter Gowan writing in New Left Review (38) claims “the Serbs were split up between Serbia proper, Croatia, Bosnia, Vojvodina and Kosovo.” While admitting this was “more in form than in fact,” he claims that this division became “more of fact than of form in the context of Yugoslavia’s break-up.” In reality, the same points could be made about the division of the Croats between Croatia, Bosnia and Vojvodina, of Muslims between Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosova, and of Albanians between Kosova, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia (let alone Albania). The only reason the supposed rights of Serb minorities elsewhere became an issue was, firstly, because, independence would reduce their position from a privileged one to an equal one, something not the case with the other nationalities; and secondly, the fact that the Serbian elelment had overwhelming military dominance meant that they could force the issue about the Serb minorities in other republics.

The assault by the Milosevic regime on the federal order and the national rights of non-Serbs in 1988-89 needs to be seen in this context. Milosevic organised large crowds around the banners of Serbian nationalism in an “anti-bureaucratic revolution” which overthrew the Communist governments in the republic of Montenegro and the provinces Kosova and Vojvodina. Among the crowds in these demonstrations were expressions of openly bourgeois and reactionary ideology, seen for the first time since World War II - Chetnik, Royalist and Serbian Orthodox banners. Reflecting the increasingly reactionary climate being fostered, these rallies included slogan such as “Oh Muslims, you black crows, Tito is no longer around to protect you!” and “We love you Slobodan because you hate the Muslims” and “I’ll be the first, who’ll be the second, to drink some Turkish blood” (39) (Yugoslav Muslims are derisively referred to as “Turks” by Serbian, Croatian and Greek chauvinists).

Milosevic put his stooges in power in these republics/provinces, while the high level autonomy of the 1974 constitution was reduced in 1989. Autonomy was abolished outright in Serbia’s 1990 constitution. Nevertheless, the seats of the formerly autonomous provinces were maintained on the Federal Presidency, giving Serbia and its satellites four out of the eight votes, a permanent deadlock. The fact that this was in accord with the recentralisation pushed by the IMF and imperialism perhaps explains why there was little fuss made by western powers over this assault, and restoration of Kosovar and Vojvodinan autonomy was never one of the West’s demands over the next decade.

The Question of Kosova

The key issue in this new Serbian nationalist push was Kosova. The 1974 constitution had left both sides unsatisfied. While giving Kosova near republic status, the Albanian majority still aimed for full republic status, which it considered would be formal recognition of its equality with other Yugoslav nations. This was accentuated by Kosova’s dramatic economic situation, where unemployment hovered around 50 percent, two and a half times the Yugoslav average. In 1981, demonstrations at Pristina University were brutally crushed by the Yugoslav military, with considerable killing. Thousands were arrested. This was followed by years of repression. Albanians, while only 8 per cent of Yugoslavia’s population, made up 75 per cent of political prisoners in the 1980s (40).

This crackdown only demonstrated to the Kosovars how frail their “high level” autonomy really was, and hence intensified their push for republic status (and, amongst a minority, for full independence or unity with Albania). An array of far left underground groups sprung up in the 1980s, supported by Enver Hoxha’s Stalino-Maoist regime in Albania. It is from these groups that the core of the Kosova Liberation Army arose in the 1990s (41).

The US ignored the massive human rights violations of the Kosovar Albanians in the 1980s due to the nature of Yugoslavia’s key role in western strategy in the Cold War as a bulwark against the Warsaw Pact, given Yugoslavia’s independence from the Soviet bloc. According to the US Congressional Research Service: “...(while) human rights in Kosovo and elsewhere in Yugoslavia has been the subject of US concern in the past, its relative importance was reduced by many other factors… the USA saw Yugoslavia as a symbol of differences within the communist world. Its human rights policy seemed liberal in comparison with the countries of the Warsaw Pact, while its foreign policy was one of non-alignment” (42)

On the other hand, the Serbian bureaucracy and the nationalist intelligentsia who had released the “Memorandum” began a countermobilisation of Kosovar Serbs in the 1980s with the exact opposite aim to the Albanians - to abolish Kosova’s autonomy, or at least to reduce it to a meaningless pre-1974 variety. In particular, they believed, correctly, that there was a contradiction between Kosova being autonomous within Serbia yet having many features of a republic. In 1986, Vojislav Seselj (today leader of the extreme Chetnik Serbian Radical Party) demanded this contradiction be fixed, through reduction of autonomy, because, as he saw it, the contradiction could be interpreted as Kosova, as a federal unit, having the same right to secession as the republics. Seselj had also called for the abolition of the Bosnian republic and its partiton between Serbia and Croatia - clearly a nationalist ahead of his times.

The reason a considerable percentage of the Kosovar Serb population was able to be mobilised was that it did indeed have “grievances” - like those of white South Africans after the end of apartheid. High level autonomy, and particularly the Pristina University, had resulted in a growing percentage of jobs in government and administration being taken by Albanians. While still not equal to the Albanians’ percentage of the population, nevertheless, this was a big change given that these jobs had previously been the preserve of Serbs. This in the context of Kosova having such high unemployment was a perfect environment for nationalists. The economic flight of Serbs to greener pastures in northern Serbia and Vojvodina was interpreted as flight from an alleged campaign of violence by the Albanians.

Like in the US Deep South, the centrepiece of this propaganda was an alleged campaign by “backward, Muslim” Albanians to rape Serb women. Official statisitcs, however, showed that rape was at a lower level in Albania than in more advanced Serbia and Slovenia, and the overwhelming majority of victims were Albanian women. The larger families which poorer Albanians tended to have was interpreted as a deliberate strategy to outbreed Serbs, in the same racist manner as the larger families and faster population growth among Lebanese Muslims, Palestinians, or Irish Catholics has been interpreted by their oppressors.

Following the bloody crushing of the heroic Kosovar miners, who, bearing portraits of Tito and red flags, led the working class resistance to Milosevic in 1989, a state of apartheid has existed in Kosova. Albanians were expelled from all jobs in public administration, all Albanian police were sacked, only Cyrillic script was allowed in official dealings, thousands of doctors and teachers were sacked and the federal army completely occupied Kosova. Thousands of Albanians have been hauled before the courts on the most trivial of charges; a state of complete lawlessness has characterised the relations between the Serbian occupation authorities and the mass of the population, a situation inevitably leading to the rise of armed resistance a decade later.

This openly racist treatment of Albanians was part and parcel of a far deeper anti-Muslim ideological crusade by the Serb nationalist movement and the cream of its writers and intellectuals, including figures such as future prime minister Dobrica Cosic, and Vuk Draskovic, now head of the moderate Chetnik and monarchist Serbian Renewal Party (SPO). It was alleged that Tito merely “created” the Muslims as yet another part of his devious project of “destroying the Serb nation” by setting up a federation. The repression in Kosova and the later genocide of Bosnia’s Muslims were presented to the world as Serbia being in the frontline of western Christian civilisation against the “Islamic threat.” The Muslims and Albanians were called “Turks” and presented as continuers of the Ottoman Empire.

The Serbian Chetnik Movement was formed in 1990 by Draskovic and his best man, the racist Vojislav Seselj, but several months later Seselj split due to what he perceived as Draskovic’s moderation and preference for peaceful struggle, and formed the extremist Chetnik Serbian Radical Party (SRS). As Draskovic’s party, now called Serbian Renaissance Party, had the largest forces and were thus more of a threat to Milosevic’s rule, the latter promoted the more extreme wing of the Chetniks, and Seselj became a coalition partner of Milosevic’s ‘Socialist Party’ from 1991 to 1993 (and later from 1998 to 2000). In 1992 came full resurrection, when a monument to World War II Chetnik leader and collaborator Draza Mihailovic was erected with huge attendance his wartime headquarters in Ravna Gora.

In a direct link not just to Mihailovic but to actual wartime Serbian Nazis, Father Momcilo Dujic, a prominent Orthodox priest who had been a member of the Nazi Zbor movement of Ljotic, and was tried in absentia in Yugoslavia in 1947 for being head of an SS unit but not extradited from the US, personally promoted Seselj to the title of ‘Vojvoda’ (Chetnik warlord) on June 28, 1989. Dujic ordered Seselj to “expel all Croats, Albanians and other foreign elements from holy Serbian soil.”

The Croatian and Slovenian Reaction

Far from rushing headlong into independence declarations, the first reaction of the other republics was to appease Milosevic’s fire. Thus in October 1988, the federal presidency, with the votes of all the republics, accepted constitutional amendments reducing the provinces’ autonomy. However, when Milosevic then pushed it through violently against the will of the Kosova asssembly in 1989, thus violating the constitution, other republics began to worry that they may be the next victim. Further, there was large scale class solidarity with the Kosova miners expressed throughout Yugoslavia. Under such pressure, the Slovenian government, League of Communists, trade unions and entire population mobilised in a united front in defence of Kosova in March 1989.

As Milosevic and the federal Markovic government tried to push IMF-backed constitutional changes in 1989 to strengthen federal powers over the republics, Slovenia came up with its own opposite amendments, reaffirming Slovenian “sovereignty” (consistent with the Yugoslav constitution) and proposing the loosening of federal powers, effectively turning Yugoslavia into a confederation of sovereign states. The Croatian government, on the ther hand, said little throughout 1988-89; this was known as the “great Croatian silence.”

In October 1989, Milosevic demanded that his travelling Serb nationalist circus, which had been organising “anti-bureaucratic revolutions” in other republics and provinces, be allowed to travel to Slovenia to hold a “Truth Meeting,” as Serb nationalist gatherings were called. When Slovenia refused, Serbia imposed trade and economic sanctions against Slovenia – the first break in the inter-Yugoslav market since 1945. After the abolition of Kosova’s autonomy and the crushing of the Albanian workers, this extraordinary move represents the next major assault on Yugoslavia, and the first step in which the Serb nationalist logic began crossing the bridge from forcibly ‘strengthening’ the federation to openly attacking it.

However, following Markovic’s introduction of an even more drastic IMF austerity and privatisation package in January 1990, which virtually stripped the republics of any cash, the three dominant republics went into revolt in their opposite directions. Part of this was fierce competition between the ruling elites over the spoils of privatisation.

The assertion often heard on the left that Croatia and Slovenia were more pro-privatisation than Serbia or the federal government is incorrect. In fact the federal government was the radical privatiser; all three republics slowed it down to keep it under their own control. As late as 1996, the World Bank complained about the fact that Croatia’s privatisation had “virtually stalled” and that the bulk of heavy industry was still in state hands (World Bank, Trends in Developing Economies, Croatia, 1996). Similarly, Slovenia had only sold 200 of the scheduled 1500 enterprises slated for privatisation by that time by 1998.

In Serbia, the League of Communists changed its name to Serbian Socialist Party, claiming to be based on west European social democracy, while in practice being based on the principles of pre-World War II Serbian reaction and the Chetnik tradition. A new constitution reduced Kosova and Vojvodina to mere provinces of Serbia like any other. Ominously, the constitution declared Serbia’s right to intervene in other republics “to defend Serbs.” It was declared that “border changes” may be necessary if republics secede. If a recentralised, Serb-dominated Yugoslavia could not be achieved, the push was on for a “Greater Serbia.” On the one hand, such a Serbia would tightly keep control over the Albanian, Muslim, Croat and Hungarian minorities within Serbia and the former autonomous provinces, yet on the other hand would incorporate the Serb minorities in Croatia and Bosnia, wherever they existed in a majority or a minority, any land deemed to have previously been occupied by Serbs, and any strategic territory to connect up these disparate areas, no matter who lived there. The Montenegrins and Macedonians were considered to be bogus nations who were in reality Serbs, so their republics would also be part of Greater Serbia. Only Slovenia, which had no Serb minority, and most of Croatia, would be free to leave this “Yugoslavia.”

Croatia and Slovenia held elections in April 1990, in both cases the League of Communists losing to Centre-Right coalitions. The new governments officially put forward a proposal for the transformation of the federation into a confederation. They let it be known that if Milosevic continued to obstruct such a process, they would declare independence. In December 1990, Slovenia held a referendum on independence in which around 90 percent voted in favour. Slovenian leader Kucan made it clear it would be activated in six months if no progress was made. In any case, in a secret meeting in January, Milosevic let Kucan know that he had no problem with Slovenian independence as long as Slovenia put up no obstacles to Greater Serbia. In June 1991, Croatia had its own referendum, with 94 percent of the population voting in favour.

For Marxists, such unambiguous expressions of the popular will for self-determination mean we support that right, regardless of our own opinion of whether or not its a good idea, and regardless of the nature of the leaderships. To oppose it in practice can only mean support for the “right” of the dominant nation to maintain others in their boundaries by force. It was not in the interests of Serb workers for them to massacre Croat workers to force the latter to stay in their state against their will; on the contrary, the only way Serb workers can ever break free from the ideological shackles imposed by their own ruling elite is to recognise the right of Croat and other workers to self-determination, including the right to form their own independent state. Even if Serb workers mistakenly thought there was something intrinsically progressive about maintaining the particular shape of Yugoslavia, regardless of who was ruling it, they would be unlikely to convince Croat workers of such views by bombing them.

Nevertheless, there were a number of difficult issues. The first was the nature of the regime of Franjo Tudjman and his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). Like Milosevic, Tudjman was a former Stalinist bureaucrat turned nationalist. He was routinely referred to by Milosevic (and many western leftists) as a revival of the Ustashe, despite having been a Croatian Partisan who fought the Ustashe.

Nevertheless, it was widely felt by Croats that their secondary position in Yugoslavia resulted from they as a nation being unfairly singled out as disproportionately responsible for crimes by Nazi collaborationist forces. As such, a certain nationalist symbolism returned under Tudjman - as under Milosevic. The most controversial was when the traditional Croatian chequerboard became by itself the new flag of Croatia. This flag had been used for hundreds of years in Croatia, and had even remained as part of the flag of the Croatian republic within Titoist Yugoslavia. However, many minority Serbs saw it as a “Ustashe” flag, as the Ustashe had also used the chequerboard as part of their flag. Naturally, neither the republic flag under Tito, nor the new full chequerboard flag, included the large ‘U’ over the chequerboard that was specific to the Ustashe. However, the anxiety was not helped by Tudjman’s rapid changing of street names along nationalist lines, his rather direct methods of reversing minority Serb domination of the police and media, and his bigoted statements (43). The regime was right-wing, nationalist and anti-Communist. Marxists would oppose the regime. However, it was up to Croatian workers to change it, not up to the equally reactionary regime of Milosevic to stop Croats having the government they voted for.

The other complex issue was the 11 percent Serb minority, some 600,000 people. Much has been made of the transformation of the Serbs in Croatia from officially a “nation” to a “minority” under Tudjman, and allegations made about the denial of their right to use Cyrillic script. However, Croatia’s constitution of December 1991 proclaims Croatia to be the “national state of the Croatian nation and the state of members of other nations and minorities who are its citizens: Serbs, Muslims, Slovenes, Czechs, Slovaks, Italians, Hungarians, Jews and others…” This clearly describes the Serbs as another of Croatia’s nations. Article 12 states that “The Croatian language and the Latin script shall be in official use…In individual local units (ie where another group forms a majority) another language and the Cyrillic or some other script may, alongside with Croatian language and the Latin script, be introduced into official use…” Article 15 states that “Members of all nations and minorities shall be guaranteed freedom to express their nationality, freedom to use their language and script, and cultural autonomy” (44). Notably, Tudjman also offered the post of vice president to Jovan Raskovic, leader of the nationalist Serb Democratic Party (SDS), and Croatia’s constitution allotted 13 percent of parliamentary seats to the Serb minority.

However, what if these were just fine words, masking in reality oppression of the Serb minority? For Marxists, in the abstract, the Serb minority should have the same right to self-determination as the Croat majority, meaning their right to declare autonomy, independence or union with Serbia, if they wished. Many leftists believed that, if they grudgingly accepted Croatia’s right to self-determination, the Serb minority must have the same right, and they interpreted the Serbo-Croatian war of 1991 through this prism.

However, reality was not that simple. Regardless of Tudjman’s tactless symbolic moves, his regime was not in any position at that point to actually oppress the Serb minority. To suggest it did is to ignore who actually had armed power in Yugoslavia. Straight after the Croatian and Slovenian elections, the JNA had seized the arms of the Territorial Defence Forces of the two republics, yet another violation of the federal constitution. By contrast, the JNA was funelling arms to the right-wing, pro-Chetnik, Serb Democratic Party, which was engaged in an armed campaign for autonomy of the “Krajina,” a part of Croatia with a Serb majority of 69 percent. The only attempt by Tudjman to bring the province under control was thwarted by the JNA. Hence far from a peaceful campaign for autonomy being suppressed by Tudjman’s forces, in fact the JNA was using its massive armed superiority to rip out a part of Croatia.

As a majority in the Krajina, the Serbs had a right to autonomy. Notably, they held their referendum on autonomy in August 1990, before Croatia had put proposals for confederation of Yugoslavia. However, the referendum (simply “Vote to Decide Serb Autonomy: For/Against”) had no clear territorial dimension. Until then, Raskovic had merely spoken of “cultural autonomy,” which was then granted in December’s constitution. The Krajina leaders also declared independence from Croatia in March 1991, before Croatia declared independence in June.

There were many problems with autonomy gaining a territorial dimension, apart fom the 30 per cent Croat minority. Some Serb majority areas, such as Korenica, opposed territorial autonomy, and these areas were brought under SDS control by force. Later, Croat majority areas in the Krajina were also conquered and the Croat population expelled. The problem was, Krajina, the only part of Croatia with a Serb majority, was separated from Serbia by the entire republic of Bosnia, and hence could not in practice unite with Serbia; at the same time, it was situated right on Croatia’s main road and rail links between Zagreb and the Dalmatian coast. If it was cut right out, it would be devastating for Croatia’s economy, and the Krajina leaders made a point of cutting these links. Likewise for those Serbs in the areas who needed to forced to heel to the SDS, as in Korenica, their position was logical: given the lack of perceivable “oppression,” their economic situation was more dependent on maintaining good relations with Croatia as a whole, rather than playing some game for distant Serbia. Krajina itself had no economic value whatsoever: for Milosevic the Krajina Serbs were cannon fodder who had the double value of ideological warfare combined with a strategic position from which to surround his real intended victim: Bosnia.

Those who view Tudjman’s “refusal to grant autonomy to the Serbs” as a major contributor to the 1991 war miss the point that active autonomy in Krajina was an established fact that Tudjman could do little about. There would have been no need to go to war over it. War did not result from any Croatian attack on Krajina. Even at the outset of the war, on August 1, 1991, Tudjman declared support for an actual autonomy plan, that went beyond “cultural autonomy.” In much left commentary, the Krajina Serbs become equivalent to to Kosova Albanians; however, this not only misses the point of who really had the arms to oppress, but also that Kosova was not just an issue of minority rights but of the violation of the constitutional rights of an existing federal unit. In Krajina, by contrast, new and messy borders which did not exist would have to be drawn.

Rather, a better comparison would be with the oppression of the Croat minority in Serb-controlled Vojvodina, and of the Muslim minority in the Sanjak region of Serbia. While much fuss is made over the autonomy referendum in Krajina, little has been said of the autonomy referendum held by the Sanjak Muslims in August 1991, which was ignored by Serbian authorities. The Sanjak Muslims were subsequently subjected to Chetnik terror and large numbers fled to Bosnia. If the somewhat imaginary “oppression” of the Krajina Serbs was a reason to oppose Croatia’s right to independence, as proposed by large parts of the left, did that mean that the oppression of Albanians, Muslims, Croats and Hungarians in Serbia should have meant the denial of Serbia’s right to independence? In reality, only massive Serb military superiority allowed them to make their case more of an issue.

In any case, Krajina had little to do with the war of 1991, which was a war of conquest for Greater Serbia. The massively armed JNA flattened virtually defenceless Croatian cities far from Krajina. Historic Dubrovnik, a south Dalmatian city with a 2 percent Serb population, was continually bombed. Vukovar, a historic multi-ethnic (Croat majority) city on the Danube was completely levelled by a three month siege, during which large numbers of local Serbs fought in the Croatian army aganst the barbaric attack. Far from Krajina being attacked, Krajina itself expanded into Croat majority areas, while two other regions far from Krajina were also conquered for the ‘Serb republic’. In one of these, Western Slavonia, Serbs were a majority in only one of its eleven districts. The other, the most populous region, Eastern Slavonia, which includes Vukovar, had a population of 647,000, of which only 14 percent were Serbs, yet this is where the main theatre of war was, because this region bordered on Serbia and had oil deposits. Chetnik forces joined the JNA in large numbers here, finally resulting in the ethnic cleansing of half a million Croats. Serbs made up a total of about 25 percent of the population of the three regions as a whole. Yet even with all three regions, Serbian forces only controlled 45 percent of Croatia’s Serbs - the majority lived with Croats throughout Croatia.

In late 1991, as Croat forces managed to get their hands on some arms, they were able to take part of the conquered territory, particularly some Croat majority areas in East Slavonia, and allow some Croat refugees to return. Yet even after this counter-offensive, Serbs remained a minority of 35 percent in the part of East Slavonia still remaining under their control when the war ended. In West Slavonia, the two sides eventually did a swap: the JNA withdrew from the northern part of West Slavonia where there were more Serbs, who were subsequently driven out by Tudjman’s forces, while keeping hold of the southern part closer to the Bosnian border, despite Serbs being an absolute minority there. Thus even with Croat reconquests, some 250,000 Croats remained ethnically cleansed at the war’s end.

The massive onslaught and brutal ethnic cleansing led to a predictable brutal revenge when Croat forces reconquered regions, intensified due to the similarly reactionary and chauvinist nature of the Tudjman regime and its paramilitaries. During the war, a Ustashe militia also arose and aided the most reactionary elements among the HDZ, but at this point Tujman’s regime remained hostile, jailing its leader and even organising the assassination of the Ustashe military leader (in sharp contrast to Seselj’s place in the Milosevic regime). In the later 1990s, however, as the reactionary nature of Tudjman’s regime deepened, more and more elements of the Ustashe were gradually incorporated into he new state project.

Nevertheless, while defending the right of Krajina Serbs to autonomy in districts where they had a majority and that freely chose it, regardless of their right-wing chauvinist leadership, Marxists also had to defend Croatia, regardless of its right-wing chauvinist leadership, from this war of conquest and ethnic cleansing by Greater Serbia, especially in the main theatre of war in Eastern Slavonia.

Imperialist Policy Towards Yugoslav Collapse

What of the charge that imperialism encouraged secession in order to break up “socialist” Yugoslavia? Of course, even if that had been the case, that would not alter the right to self-determination. If imperialism wanted to encourage someone to secede, it would find much more fertile ground if the nation was nationally oppressed. If that new nation then came under imperialist influence, it would be up to the workers of that country to come to understand imperialist exploitation. Once again, the oppressors’ bombs and tanks would not do the trick.

But in any case, this view of imperialism is a complete fantasy. As we saw, the IMF and World Bank strongly pushed Yugoslav recentralisation. In particular, the US, the EC, Britain and France endlessly insisted throughout 1990 and 1991 that Yugoslavia remain united. Even proposals for a looser confederation, which may have saved Yugoslavia, were rejected, as they were in total opposition to the IMF’s needs. When Tudjman visited the White House in October 1990 to gain US support for the Croat-Slovene confederation proposal, he was told “coldly” by Bush’s National Security Adviser, Brent Snowcroft, and “permanent adviser” Henry Kissinger, that the US supported the maintenance of Yugoslav federalism and unity “at all cost” (45). Kissinger, Snowcroft and Bush’s Assistant Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, all had important business connections with Yugoslavia. During the 1991 war, the major western intiative was to impose an arms embargo on Yugoslavia, which prevented the disarmed Croats from getting arms, while the Serb-dominated JNA was one of the largest military forces in Europe.

From 1990 through to the outbreak of war in mid-1991, the US and EC released a deluge of statements stressing support for Yugoslav unity, despite what it meant in practice. The Council for Cooperation Between the EC and Yugoslavia in December 1990 declared support for the progress made “in the direction of a free market economy” and the “preservation of the unity and territorial integrity of the country,” such conditions leading to “Yugoslavia’s closer integration within a European framework” (46) The EC and US also advocated elections based on “one person, one vote” be held “at a federal level” (47), which not surprisingly was backed by Milosevic and opposed by Slovenia because with the numerical dominance of Serbs, the federal government would no longer be federal. The State Department issued a public statement yet again affirming support to the “territorial integrity” of Yugoslavia, declaring it “shall not encourage or reward secession” and that any “dismantling of Yugoslavia is likely to aggravate rather than solve ethnic tensions” (48)

In May 1991, the EC committed itself to provide $4.5 billion in aid, dependant on Yugoslavia remaining united. The IMF clearly put the strengthening of federal powers as a condition for new money (49). A week earlier, the EC had declared that maintenance of Yugoslav unity was a prerequisite for Yugoslav membership of the EC - on the very day after the Croatian referendum in which 94 per cent of voters favoured independence (50). Italian Foreign Minister Gianni di Michelis made this clearer, telling Borba that no one in Croatia or Slovenia should be under the illusion that entry to the EC would be eased by secession from Yugoslavia - that only a “united” Yugoslavia could hope to enter a “united” Europe (51).

Some in the west were more open about their support for a military solution to achieve this all-important “unity.” London’s Financial Times, which normally registers British Foreign Office opinion, claimed “the army now believes the imposition of a state of emergency is one of the few options available...(its) role in this agenda should be clear. It should immediately disarm all paramilitary groups...Once order has been restored, it should withdraw to the barracks...” (52)

On the eve of the Serbian-Yugoslav attack on Slovenia and Croatia, in June 1991, US Secretary of State George Baker visited Belgrade and insisted absolutely on Yugoslavia’s “territorial integrity and unity,” calling any unilateral secession of Croatia and Slovenia “illegal and illegitimate” which would “never” be recognised by the US – often seen as a “green light” for Milosevic to go in the offensive. On June 23, the EC unanimously voted not to recognise Croatia and Slovenia, and “to refuse all high level contacts,” if they seceded (53). The next day, it signed an agreement with Yugoslavia to lend it more than 700 million ECUs until 1995. NATO Supreme Commander, John Galvin, told Politika that NATO would not intervene in any Yugoslav war.

The following day, the two republics declared independence. One may question their timing, in the light of all these clear statements from western powers. However, to declare independence in such a context of overwhelming pressure to do the opposite reveals how completely fantastic are the claims by Yugo-nostalgic leftists that the west “broke up” Yugoslavia.

Even the JNA’s attack on Slovenia on June 25 did not end the chorus. In the UK House of Commons, Mark Lennox-Boyd, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, declared that “the Yugoslav federal army might have, under the constitution, a role in restoring order if there were widespread civil unrest” (54). When one MP claimed the right emphasis should be to call for a reformed Yugoslavia rather than “just blandly supporting the present attempts at imposing unity,” Lennox-Boyd replied “We and our western partners have a clear preference for the continuation of a single Yugoslav political entity - those words are carefully chosen...” (55). In similar vein, US ambassador to Yugoslavia, Warren Zimmerman, believed that “it wasn’t accurate to talk about a JNA “invasion,” since the JNA was in its own country” (56)

Reading the article by Peter Gowan, you may be mistaken into believing that there was a major imperialist bloc, opposed to the US-UK-France bloc, who wanted to break up Yugoslavia. “The forces eager to see the break-up of Yugoslavia through independence for Slovenia and Croatia were the Vatican, Austria, Hungary, Germany and, more ambivalently, Italy” (57) It is unfortunate that his footnotes for this section, with this rogue’s gallery list, are from John Zametica, a paid publicity agent for Radovan Karadzic’s Bosnian Serb gangster “state,” and a key link between Karadzic and the British ruling class. The supposed role of the Vatican says little about imperialist policy, except perhaps for feudal “imperialism.” The attitude of Hungary’s bourgeois nationalist Antall regime, which had its eyes on Vojvodina, says even less. Austria had long borders with Slovenia, and may have had a particular economic interest quite separate from other imperialist states, yet Gowan’s only evidence, apart from obscure quotes from Zametica, was that Austria’s open support to “democratic rights” in the two republics.

As for Italy, there was nothing ambiguous. Italian Foreign Minister Gianni di Michelis made this clear, telling Belgrade journal Borba in May 1991 that no one in Croatia or Slovenia should be under the illusion that entry to the EC would be eased by secession from Yugoslavia - that only a “united” Yugoslavia could hope to enter a “united” Europe (58). Italy has since remained among the closest of west European imperialist states to Serbian and “Yugoslav” interests.

It is the charge that a newly united Germany “encouraged” Croatia’s secession that has led to the most enduring left fantasies, especially as it can be simplistically related to a version of World War II (59). For example, in Susan Woodward’s mammoth Balkan Tragedy, many pages are devoted to German assertiveness (60), without, however, being able to reveal a single fact previous to the outbreak of war in June 1991. In fact, just before that, German Foreign Minister Genscher gave one of the strongest speeches supporting Yugoslav unity at the CSCE meeting in Berlin on June 19-20 (61).

That is not to deny the expansion of German economic interests throughout Eastern Europe, including Yugoslavia, or to argue for German innocence. Rather, it is precisely because Germany was the dominant economic power throughout Yugoslavia, not just in the northern republics, that the last thing it wanted was a break-up of this market, economic turmoil and new state barriers. Even if it had traditionally stronger links with the north, as long as Yugoslavia remained united, there was no barrier to its further expansion.

These links, however, no doubt made Germany more sympathetic once the war began and all hope of maintaining unity died. It is certainly true that this growing assertiveness by Germany in late 1991 was a factor in its US-UK-French rivals steadfastly opposing this recognition push. Yet while it has often been stated that Germany railroaded the rest of the EC into recognition, and that that this recognition was “premature,” in fact a grudging and belated acceptance of reality of Yugoslavia’s death is a more realistic explanation for the change. The JNA attack on Croatia had continued relentlessly since July; after Vukovar, and finally the beginnings of a Croatian fightback late in the year, it would have been difficult to imagine forcing Croatians back into “Yugoslavia.” By the end of the year a ceasefire was in place and UN troops moving in; EC recognition of Croatia and Slovenia finally took place on January 15, when the war had definitely ended. Germany’s sin - its attempt to establish itself in the inevitable new states - was merely recognising the republics three weeks ahead of schedule, on December 23. The US steadfastly refused to follow the EC into recognition, attempting for a couple of months to maintain the myth of “Yugoslavia” in order to stem the German advance.

While it is often stated that the EC recognised Croatia without heed to the rights of the Serb minority, the Badinter Commission into recognition noted that Croatia had confirmed its acceptance of the provisions of the Carrington Plan for Yugoslavia relating to “special status” for minorities, ie the Serb minority, and had for the most part incorporated them into the new “Constitutional Law of Human Rights and Freedoms and Rights of National and Ethnic Communities or Minorities in the Republic of Croatia” passed by the Croatian parliament on December 4, 1991, while nevertheless calling on Croatia to further “supplement” this law (62).

Bosnia and the National Question

Rather, what the EC recognised was a truncated Croatia. Under the US-inspired Vance Plan (former US Defence Secretary Cyrus Vance was acting for the UN), UN forces moved in to freeze the confrontation lines in Croatia, essentially leaving SDS forces in control of a third of Croatia, cleansed of its Croat inhabitants. But more crucially, Vance also allowed the JNA, by now clearly a Serbian rump, to take all the heavy weaponry, which had been the property of all Yugoslavs, into Bosnia, where it was about to be used in an infinitely more destructive way. This signalled joint US and EC policy at the time to maintain Bosnia, Macedonia and Kosova inside the Serb-dominated rump “Yugoslavia.”

These states nevertheless applied for recognition. Kosova was simply ignored, as the EC used the excuse that it had not constitutionally been a full republic and therefore had no right to secession under the Yugoslav constitution. This was despite the 97 percent vote for independence in Kosova’s 1991 referendum. Macedonia’s bid was blocked by EC member Greece’s virulently nationalist campaign, focusing on the republic’s alleged “theft” of a Greek name and incorrectly accusing it of irredentist claims against the Greek part of geographic Macedonia. While Serbia initially opposed Macedonia’s independence, even proposing it be partitioned between Serbia and Greece, it eventually settled down to a pragmatic acceptance of Macedonia as it got bogged down in Bosnia. Several years later, the US and EC recognised the state under the cumbersome name of “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.”

In Bosnia’s case, the EC attempted to hold up the process by pushing a crude ethnic partition plan, the Carrington-Cultheiro Plan, of March 1992. This plan had essentially been drawn up by local Serb and Croat right-wing nationalists, both backed by Milosevic and Tudjman. With Croatian semi-independence, the two nationalist regimes essentially joined forces over the next three years in an open attempt to divide Bosnia between them.

While the Bosnian government and army remained multi-ethnic, the Serb and Croat nationalist forces fighting it aimed to set up essentially racist, ethnic exclusivist, ‘Serb’ and ‘Croat’ republics in large parts of Bosnia which they were to ethnically cleanse of the inconvenience of other people, mostly Muslims, living there. The Croatian chauvinists were simply the Croat wing of Tudjman’s HDZ (though another wing of the HDZ rejected Tudjman and maintained its ministers in the multi-ethnic government), while the Serb chauvinists were the Bosnian wing of the pro-Chetnik Serb Democratic Party (SDS) which had wreaked havoc on Croatia. Its leader, Radovan Karadzic, explained in late 1991 that if Bosnia became independent, the Muslims “would disappear from the face of the Earth.” In 1993, the main street in the sector of Sarajevo under the control of the SDS was renamed Draza Mihailovic Street, after the World War II Chetnik leader; by contrast, in government-held Sarajevo, the main road still proudly bears the name ‘Tito Street’. Along with Karadzic’s SDS and its massively equipped armed forces, the genocidal attack on Bosnia’s Muslims was joined by an array of violent ultraright paramilitaries direct from Serbia, including Seselj’s own ‘Chetniks’ militia, the ‘Tigers’ militia of mafia warlord Arkan, and the ‘White Eagles’ militia of Mirko Jovic, head of another Chetnik party called Serbian Popular Renewal, who declared “we are not only interested in Serbia, but in a Christian, orthodox Serbia, with no mosques or unbelievers.”

Karadzic’s SDS, like the HDZ, had been part of the multi-ethnic Bosnian government until April 1992, supposedly representing the Serbs. It is difficult to accept the Serb and Croat nationalist claims that they were being “forced” to live in a Muslim state and to “become” minorities when their own parties were an equal part of the government alongside the Muslim-dominated Party of Democratic Action of President Izetbegovic. In April 1992, the SDS quit the government and began using its massive military arsenal to destroy the country whose government it was till then part of. When the SDS quit, Serbs from the Social Democratic Party (former Bosnian Communist Party) and another secular party, the Reform Party, stepped into the government to maintain Serb representation. These secular parties had received 28 percent of the votes in the 1990 elections, nearly as many as the SDS and far more than the HDZ, underlining the fact that not only could Bosnia not be reduced to ‘Serbs, Croats and Muslims’ but neither could its political parties be reduced to three communalist organizations.

For imperialism, the role played by the formerly united Yugoslav state, as the enforcer of stability in the region, was now taken by the two major bourgeois states emerging out of the wreck of Yugoslavia. The whole three years, the EC and finally the US pushed one or another ethnic partition plan, continually demanding the multi-ethnic Bosnian government accept its own partition as demanded by Milosevic and Tudjman. The whole time, they also enforced, with their navies in the Adriatic Sea and their armies in the occupying UN force, an arms embargo on the disarmed republic, under genocidal attack from Serbian and Croatian nationalist forces, the former using all the heavy weaponry granted them by Vance.

While the EC’s partition plan had aimed at holding up Bosnian independence, the issue was forced by the US in a dramatic policy reversal in March 1992, suddenly launching a push for recognition of Bosnia. In reality, this policy switch was related to a growing inter-imperialist conflict between major EU states and the US over the issue of the continuing relevance of NATO versus the push for a Europe only security sysytem in the post-Cold War. Suddenly coming out more aggressively against Milosevic, and helping push Bosnia into the abyss, played into the needs of asserting NATO’s new relevance.

However, it had nothing in reality to do with defending Bosnia. Having pushed for Bosnian independence, after stacking the military situation against Bosnia, the US sent nothing but loud rhetoric to aid the Bosnians once they came under massive Serbian attack in April 1992.

The question arises, who had the right to self-determination in Bosnia, the Bosnians as a whole or its separate Serb, Croat and Muslim national components? Peter Gowan is clear on his answer, claiming there was no Bosnian nation, so the component nations had the right to self-determination; he then accuses the US of essentially denying the right to self-determination to the Serb and Croat minorities. By implication, the EU was on the right track with its partition plans.

This has two major problems. Firstly, while there was officially no Bosnian nation - Bosnia was constitutionally a republic of the Serb, Croat and Muslim nations - it had in reality come into existence. The Bosnian cities and in particular the Bosnian working class were by now clearly an entity of their own. People of the three groups lived together in the same apaprtment blocs and worked together in the same factories and mines, producing for the same economy; they intermarried to a very large degree. If you are part Serb, part Muslim and part Croat, which “nation” do you belong to? For a large number, their own answer, hence their own national identity, was obvious: Bosnian. The constitution had lagged behind the reality.

The Bosnian nation was expressed in the instituions of the state. The presidency consisted of two Muslims, two Serbs, two Croats and one “Yugoslav” (which in Bosnia’s case had the specific meaning of “Bosnian”); the Bosnian army was led by one Serb, one Croat and one Muslim general; large numbers of Serbs and Croats fought in the multi-ethnic Bosnian army alongside Muslims against Serb and Croat national chauvinist forces. Indeed, the Bosnian general who led the three and a half year defence of Sarajevo from the Chetnik assault was an ethnic Serb himself, and second in command of the whole Bosnian army. As equal partners in the state, the Serb and Croat nations neither experienced oppression in independent Bosnia nor the threat of it. Clearly, Bosnia as a whole had a right to self-determination.

The other problem was where to draw dividing lines. Any map showing which areas had Serb, Croat and Muslim majorities shows a thoroughly interspersed patchwork, and even these “majorities” were usually tenuous. Interspersed between them was about a quarter of the Bosnian landmass which had no ethnic majority at all. The EC partition plans were a recipe for massive population transfer - ie ethnic cleansing. Imperialism was well aware of this: it was precisely the continuing existence of the Communist era “Brotherhood and Unity” among the Bosnian working class, embodied in these multi-ethnic institutions, that imperialism wanted to smash with these plans.

If the principle is that areas with an ethnic majority have the right to autonomy, that had already been agreed to by the Bosnian government in October 1991. If it means they have a right to independence or to join their respective “fatherlands,” the reality is that there were very few areas of any size, let alone adjoining their “fatherland” borders, that could have exercised this right (63). Hence, the right of Bosnian Serbs and Croats to self-determination was never an issue in the war; rather, it was a war of conquest and genocide, where the two regimes, above all the massively armed Serbian regime, conquered as many areas as they could, regardless of ethnic composition, and expelled over two million people and leaving over 100,000 dead - in both cases mostly Muslims. It was the right of self-determination of the Muslims and of the Bosnians as a whole that was violated.

Appearing to take the moral high ground against partition, the US dropped this once it took control of the situatiion in 1994, presenting its own more extreme partition plan. The ‘Contact Group’ of imperialist powers plus Russia was set up to split Bosnia 51-49 percent between a ‘Muslim-Croat Federation’ and a Serb Republic (‘Republika Srpska’). Miloseivc and Tudjman were in complete agreement with the US plan, as they had been with former EC plans, and the Croatian chauvinist forces had been crushed by the Bosnian army in late 1993 so had little bargaining power to say no, though they objected to the implication that they would have to give up their racist Croat state of ‘Herzeg-Bosna’ and live in a federation with the hated Muslims. Tudjman figured even if Herzeg-Bosna disappeared, with half its territory ceded to the Serb chauvinists, the other half of Bosnia would have little choice but to fall under the unofficial suzerainty of Croatia.

The Bosnian government put up its own ethnically fairer plan but it was rejected by imperialism, so Izetbegovic was led kicking and screaming into formally accepting the partition of his country. However, there was a sticking point: while Milosevic was enthusiastic about handed victory by the US, the right-wing extremist SDS forces which controlled the actual Serb military machine in Bosnia, led by Karadzic, rejected the plan. In their rejection, they were backed by Seselj in Serbia, whose SRS was kicked out of Milosevic’s coalition.

Why would the Serb chauvinist deny themselves this victory? There are two reasons. Firstly, even though 49 percent of Bosnia for their own ethnic exclusivist state was a victory (far better than their 30 percent share of scattered population), they had control of 70 percent of the country due to overwhelming military superiority – given the imperialist arms embargo against Bosnia, sheer arrogance led the SDS to ask why they should withdraw from any conquered territory. For imperialism, however, the essentially 50-50 split was necessary to ensure the stability of balance between Serbia and Croatia, while also leaving just enough space for the defeated Muslims so that they would not be squeezed into ‘Gaza in Europe’ with all its implications.

Secondly, the SDS dropped feelers that it may be willing to go down to 49 percent, if that part was at least “cleaned up.” As it was it was still “messy” – within Chetnik-controlled East Bosnia, which was formerly overwhelmingly Muslim in composition, there were three ‘enclaves’ – Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde – still under the control of the Bosnian army, where tens of thousands of ‘cleansed’ Muslims had taken refuge. The SDS wanted them out of the way. In return it was willing to give up the barren, sparsely populated ‘Bosnia Krajina’ in the far west – despite it having the most solidly Serb population in Bosnia, it was too far away, bordering Croatian Krajina, but the furthest point from Serbia within Bosnia. This region could thus be ceded to effective Croatian control.

This was the backdrop to the seizure of Srebrenica and Zepa in July 1995, without a whimper from the imperialist UN troops “protecting” these “safe zones.” When Chetnik General Mladic led his troops into Srebrenica in July, some 8,000 men and boys were taken captive and killed over the next few days in the largest massacre in Europe since World War II. Even after this genocide, as the Chetniks then marched into Zepa, NATO released a stern warning that there would be action against the Chetniks if they later marched into … Gorazde.

The US-inspired Dayton Accord of November 1995 represented the most complete version of partition, with a fully fledged Bosnian Serb republic (Republika Srpska) set up on 49 per cent of Bosnian territory, with its own army, in territory from which a million non-Serbs had been expelled. The main difference between this partition plan and all previous ones, including the US-backed Contact Group plan since 1994, was that now the just-conquered Srebrenica and Zepa were also included in Republika Srpska, as if nothing had happened, solving the SDS’s concern with “messiness.” It is hardly too cynical to suggest the US needed the Srebrenica genocide in order to be able to get the Serb chauvinists to sign onto the US partition plan by giving them everything they wanted.

While much has been written in the bourgeois media about Milosevic having been “defeated” in “four disastrous wars,” the outcome of the Bosnian war was in fact an outright victory for Milosevic and his Serb nationalist movement. Half of a UN member state had been transformed into a new Serb republic. The fact that it remained within a loose Bosnian confederation, and hence had an international border separating it from Serbia, was more in form than in fact, as the growing merger of the economies of Serbia and Republika Srpska demonstrates. If many Serbs also left the other half, which had been transformed by the US from the legal Bosnian government unoccupied region to a “Muslim-Croat federation,” this was also a victory; the aim the whole time had been to carve a Serb state out of Bosnia, and indeed those Serbs who do attempt to maintain a multi-ethnic existence with their Muslim and Croat neighbours in the other half are regarded to be traitors by the Serb nationalists.

In the context of formalising the division of the region with Croatia, Milosevic no longer had any need for the conquered territories in Croatia itself, least of all the Serb majority Krajina, which was economically worthless and territorially far outside the Serbian zone in the new more stabilised ethnic borders of the region. Hence when Tudjman retook the Krajina in August 1995, and expelled its entire 150,000 Serb inhabitants, killing around 1000 people (64), Milosevic and his Chetnik commanders there neither made any attempt at military resistance, nor made much of an issue about it. This is despite the massive armed strength of the Krajina Serb forces, who had been using napalm and cluster bombs against Bosnian Muslims in neighbouring Bihac. Hence it is also a myth that the catastrophe of the Krajina Serbs represented a defeat for Milosevic; they were never seen by Milosevic as anything but cannon-fodder, as a look at a map will show. Their demise was the result of an agreement.

In addition, for Tudjman, getting back the Krajina and all legally Croatian territories was his bottom line: the US-imposed Dayton plan for Bosnia, while legalising a ‘Serb Republic’ over half that country, abolished the ‘Croat Republic’ that Croatian chauvinists had set up in around a fifth of Bosnia. While the entire partiton was first and foremost a defeat for multi-ethnic Bosnia, and especially for its Muslim population, the abolition of ‘Herzeg-Bosna’ and the continuation of “federation” in half the republic was a sop to the Muslims and multi-ethnic forces. The hard-line Croat chauvinists see this as a major defeat, and Krajina was the minimum quid pro quo.

The figure of 150,000 Serbs expelled from Krajina is based on census figures (65). In addition, another 15-20,000 Serbs were expelled several months earlier in an equally brutal attack by Croatian forces to retake Western Slavonia. To these 170,000 Serbs can be added another 50,000 Serbs expelled by Croatian forces from ‘Bosnia Krajina’ just acros the border when they continued their campaign into that region. The expulsion of these 220,000 Serbs is very close in number to the expulsion of some 230-250,000 Croats from the occupied regions of Croatia in 1991-92., which the pro-Chetnik lobby ritually ignores. Moreover, even this ‘symmetry’ takes no account of the 200,000 Croats expelled from Bosnia, mostly from the Posavina and Banja Luka regions in north Bosnia. Many of these people are now settled in homes of the expelled Krajina Serbs. UNHCR now reports that some 100,000 Serbs have returned to Croatia, but the hardest part has been in the Krajina region itself. One important reason, apart from obstruction by the Croatian government, is that the Posavina Croats settled there are unable to return to their homes in Republika Srpska. Meanwhile, the largest number of Bosnians who cannot return to either Republika Srpska or the former Herzeg-Bosna, where Croat extremists are still in effective control, are Bosnian Muslims.

The Place of Kosova in Greater Serbia

However, the exact borders of the new Greater Serbia were still unclear, this being a major source of continuing instability for the Serbian ruling class. As Vojvodina had a slight Serb majority, the abolition of its autonomy had remained fairly stable; much of the Croat minority had fled, and the Hungarian minority remained quiescent in this wealthy region. While Montenegro had remained firmly within the new “Yugoslav” federation, it was a republic in its own right, officially separate to Serbia, something which the ruling elite aimed ultimately to rationalise. Differences began to emerge between the Serbian and Montenegrin elites more over policy than any feeling of separate Montenegrin “ethnic” identity. And despite the victory of Republika Srpska, even the official international border remained an issue to be resolved in the long term.

But more serious than all this was Kosova. How could the new Greater Serbia, constructed on an unambiguously ethnic basis, continue to rule over an area which was 90 percent Albanian? Continued Serbian rule could only be a source of permanent instability.

When Milosevic finally abolished the fiction of the old Yugoslavia in 1992, setting up a new “Federal Republic of Yugoslavia” between Serbia and Montenegro and a new bourgeois constitution, the oppressed Albanians had no say in the matter, as their autonomy had already been suppressed. Hence Kosova’s inclusion in the new Yugoslavia was constitutionally invalid.

Nevertheless, when Kosovar resistance leader Ibrahim Rugova asked to be invited to the Dayton conference, to include Albanian grievances in peace discussions, he was rejected. While recognising the Bosnian Serb gangster “republic,” the US also officially recognised the borders of the new “Yugoslavia,” hence including Kosova.

It was this rejection which led to the upturn of the Albanian struggle in 1996-97. Then, the revolutionary uprising in neighbouring Albania in 1997 gave a boost to a new armed struggle led by the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), as a flood of cheap weapons from looted Albanian armouries coalesced with increasing Kosovar frustration with the failure of the peaceful resistance road of Rugova.

For imperialism, however, Serbian control of Kosova was part of the Dayton regional balance. Furthermore, any move towards independence for Kosova was seen as a major threat to the stability of other bourgeois regimes in Albania, Macedonia and throughout the southern Balkans, which it was feared would spill over to NATO members Greece and Turkey. This was all the more of a threat if carried out by an armed liberation movement outside of imperialist control. Hence the statement in Pristina in February 1998 by US envoy Robert Gelbard that the KLA “is, without any question, a terrorist organisation,” was clearly a green light for Milosevic to crack down.

The problem was, Milosevic’s brutal tactics of destroying and emptying villages only drove thousands of Kosovars to the KLA. The upsurge of the Kosovar struggle also drove the Serbian elite sharply to the right, and Seselj and his fascistic Radical Party (SRS) was brought back into the ruling coalition for the first time since 1993. The Radicals had long had the goal of “solving” their Kosova “problem” by expelling the Albanian population. Imperialism came to see that it would need its own troops in Kosova to bring stability to the region, to avoid the threat to stability from either a KLA victory or the dangerous solutions proposed by the Serbian ultra-right. While doing this, it continued to insist that Kosova cannot have independence (or even republic status apparently) but only what is in fact a weaker form of autonomy than that which Kosova enjoyed before 1989. For imperialism autonomy within Serbia is seen as the best way of stabilising the situation there without border changes which may further destabilise the region.

However, for the Serbian ruling class, the aim is not so clear. While autonomy is preferable to independence - and indeed, the US-drafted Rambouillet autonomy codifies some of the very restrictions on autonomy initially proposed by Milosevic in 1988 - the stabilisation of an ethnic state may require shedding as much of this troublesome Albanian population as possible. Throughout 1998, voices were again raised among the Serbian intelligentsia for the partition of Kosova, in particular by Dobrica Cosic, the intellectual “father” of modern Serb nationalism.

The problem remained how to draw lines and how to physically separate Kosovar Serbs and Albanians. The 1999 war, involving brutal NATO terror bombing and an unimpeded Serbian genocidal drive to expel the Kosovar Albanians from their country, appears to have achieved this result. It appears virtually impossible for the two peoples to live together in mixed areas. The most dramatic effects were seen in the exodus of a large part of the Serb population following the war’s end, fearing revenge from returning Albanian refugees, from Albanian dominated regions.

Much less, however, was said of where Serb paramilitaries, backed by French NATO troops, are preventing the return of Albanian refugees to their homes in the north. There have been several media reports on the division of Kosova’s second biggest city, Mitovica, between north and south of the river. These reports invariably refer to the north of the city as the “Serb sector,” masking the fact that its population was 80 percent Albanian before the war. The armed Serbs there have declared the whole of Kosova north of there to the Serbian border a Serbian zone.

What is rarely reported, however, is what is there. In the north of Mitrovica is the Trepca lead-zinc-gold-silver-cadmium industrial complex, worth 5 billion dollars, the largest mining and metallurgy complex in the Balkans. It is this material wealth, not the lofty propaganda about Kosova being the alleged cradle of the Serbian nation, that is what the Serbian ruling class really wants to hang onto. It was also at Trepca that Albanian miners made their heroic stand against Milosevic in 1989, resulting in the sacking of 13,000 Albanian workers.

Of course, there are medieval Serbian monasteries in Kosova, which returning Yugoslav troops will be sent to guard. And even the very status of Kosova as autonomous rather than as a republic means that however much “self-government” the Albanian majority exercises, ownership of resources is still officially vested in the Serbian republic (which has been busily trying to privatise them, including a stake by a large Greek company in Trepca - a process held up only by the unstable situation that NATO occupation hopes to address). Hence in theory, even partition may not be necessary for Serbia to maintain ownership of Trepca - but the partiton moves ensure it just in case. Like Israel and its devolution of “self-government” to Palestinian population centres while controlling ressources, Serbia would prefer to get rid of the people and keep the resources. For Kosovars, the loss of the Trepca complex would doom hopes for viable self-determination more than the destruction unleashed by the war has. For imperialism, de facto but not official partition means the best of both worlds - separation of peoples, making them easier to control and stabilising the situation, combined with maintenance of international borders.


(1) Trotsky, L, “Independence of the Ukraine and Sectarian Muddleheads,” July 22, 1939, in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1938-39).
(2) Turkish statistics of 1911, quoted by The Institute of History, Pristina, “Expulsions of Albanians and Colonisation of Kosova,” Pristina, Indeed, the Supreme Command of the Serbian III Army did a census with similar results on March 3, 1913, ibid
(3) Malcolm, N, Kosovo: A short history, New York University Press, 1998
(4) Quoted from ibid, p. 254, from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Report of the International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars, Washington 1914, pp. 148-186.
(5) Ibid, p. 254.
(6) ibid, p. 282
(7) Ivan Bajlo, Strength of NOV and POJ, , based entirely on official Yugoslav sources: Vlado Strugar, Jugoslavija 1941-1945, Beograd: Vojnoizdavački Zavod, 1969; Nikola Anić, Sekula Joksimović, Mirko Gutić, Narodnooslobodilačka vojska Jugoslavije, Beograd: Vojnoistorijski Institut, 1982
(8) Ibid.
(9) Phillip Cohen, Serbia’s Secret War, Texas A & M University Press, 1996, p. 101
(10)Boguljub Kocovic, The Victims of World War II in Yugoslavia, Libra Books, London, 1985; Vladimir Zerjavic, Yugoslavia’s Population Losses During World War II, Yugoslav Society for the Study of Victims, Zagreb, 1989. Both being good Yugoslavs writing just before the onset of the new medievalism in Serbia and Croatia, it is notable that the Serb Kocovic estimated a slightly higher Croat death toll, while the Croat Zerjavic estimated a slightly higher number of Serb victims.
(11) Lampe, J, Yugoslavia as History, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 193, 204. According to Matteo J. Milazzo (The Chetnik Movement & the Yugoslav Resistance, Baltimore, Maryland and London, 1975), the Ustashe itself claimed to have “at most about 40,000 ‘followers’, or barely 6 percent of the population.” As Phillip Cohen notes, of the total 6.6 million population of the NDH in 1941, when you take out 1.9 million Serbs and 900,000 Muslims, we are left with under 4 million Croats – of whom 40,000 is actually about 1 percent (Cohen, footnote 52). Perhaps the 6 percent estimate was of wider popular support beyond ‘followers’. Incidentally, where Lampe (above) claims under 10 percent support of “politically active Croats,” he claims the Ustashe had 12,000 members in 1941, ie, about 0.25% of the Croat population of the NDH.
(12) Cohen, P, p. 33, Appendix A, with full list of names and positions and titles.
(13) Documents on the Treason of Draga Mihailovic, State commission for the documentation of crimes by the occupiers and their collaborators, Belgrade, 1945.
(14)Cigar, N, Genocide in Bosnia, Texas A&M University press, College Station, 1995, p212, quoting Ekonomska Politika, Belgrade, January 27, 1969. Also, Veselica, M, The Croatian National Question, London, 1980, p12, giving the figure of 73.5 percent.
(15)According to all surveys. See, for example, Hashi, I, “The Disintegration of Yugoslavia,” in Capital and Class, no. 48, Autumn 1992, p73, table from Vreme, July 15, 1991, showing 67 per cent of officers being Serb or Montenegrin (compared to their 39 per cent of the population) and another 7 per cent being “Yugoslavs,” half presumed to be Serbs. The charge that the lower proportions of Croats and Slovenes were due to their allegedly better economic opportunities compared to Serbs would be hard to reconcile with this table showing only 1 per cent of Albanian officers, compared to their 8 per cent of the population, Albanians being far and away the poorest group in Yugoslavia.
(16)Hashi, op cit, p73
(17)Woodward, S, Balkan Tragedy, The brookings Institution, Washington, 1995, p109
(18)Woodward, S, Socialist Unemployment, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1995, p356, quoting Zagreb daily Vjesnik, September 8, 1982
(19)Veselica, op cit, p12
(20)Malcolm, N, Bosnia; A Short History, Papermac, London, 1994, p216
(21)Vovou, S (ed), Bosnia-Herzegovina - The Battle for a Multi-Ethnic Society, Deltio Thiellis, Athens, 1996, table on p19

(22)Malcolm, op cit, p202, from 1971 census
(23)Anderson, J, “The Price of Balkan Pride,” in The Washington Post, December 29, 1991
(24)Figure for all Serbia, including provinces
(25)Plestina, D, in Allcock, Horton and Milivojevic (Ed), Yugoslavia in Transition, Berg publishers, New York, 1992, p140
(26)ibid, p144-46
(27)Gow, Legitimacy and the Military, Pinter Publishers, London, 1992, p105
(28)ibid, p103
(29)Woodward, Balkan Tragedy, op cit, p115
(30)Cohen, L, Broken Bonds, Westview Press, Boulder, 1993, p55-56
(31)Foreign Broadcast Information Bulletin-Eastern Europe (FBIS-EU), p39
(32)Woodward, op cit, p59
(33)According to The New York Times, “the political will to carry it (economic reform) through has failed because of the absence of a political centre of power,” Kamm, H, “Yugoslavia Unglued,” in The New York Times, October 11, 1988, A12; The London Financial Times in an editorial claimed “The economy is bent out of shape in many ways, partly to do with its fragmentation...along the lines of the country’s eight republics and provinces...and partly to do with the vaunted system of self-management,” Editorial, Financial Times, July 29, 1985. Neither had anything to say about democratic reform
(34)US House of Representatives, Committee on Small Business, Economic Restructuring in Eastern Europe: American Interests, 101st Congress, First Session, September 1989, p12
(35)But it despaired of the ability of the government to carry them through. Defence Minister Branko Mamula warned in 1983 that while the JNA strongly supported “economic stabilisation,” (ie the IMF program), he found it “difficult to understand...the slowness and certain inconsistencies in implementing the agreed policy and the widespread phenomena of giving preference to partial interests at the expense of general, Yugoslav ones,” Gow, J., Legitimacy and the Military, p74, quoting Mamula from Narodna Armija, December 22, 1983.
(36)Magas, B, The Destruction of Yugoslavia, Verso, London, 1995, p199, 201. The Memorandum demanded that the Serbian nation must now re-establish its full “national and cultural integrity...irrespective of the republic or province in which it finds itself.” In particular, Kosovo must be crushed, to prevent the ongoing “genocide” against the local Serbs.
(37)Dimitrijevic, V, The 1974 Constitution as a Factor in the Collapse of Yugoslavia or as a Sign of Decaying Totalitarianism, European University Institute Working Paper RSC No. 94/9, Florence, 1994, p24
(38)Gowan, P, “The NATO Powers and the Balkan Tragedy”, New Left Review, 1999
(39)Cigar, op cit, p. 34, quoting Danas, February 7, 1989, p. 33
(40)Amnesty International, Yugoslavia’s Ethnic Albanians, New York, 1992
(41)These groups included the Movement for the National Liberation of Kosova, the Group of Marxist-Leninists of Kosova, the Red Front, the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) of Yugoslavia, and the Movement for an Albanian Republic in Yugoslavia
(42)Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, November 2, 1989, p19
(43)Like his famous statement that he was glad his wife was neither a Serb nor a Jew.
(44)The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, December 22, 1990

(45) Letica, S, A Memoir of the Visit to the White House, September 25, 1990, in Cushman, T and Mestrovic, S, Ed., This Time We Knew, New York University Press, New York, 1996, pp 182-185

(46) EC-Yugoslavia: Annual Meeting of the Council for Cooperation, EURO News, no 72/1990, p2. Further, at the Luxembourg meeting of the EC on March 26, 1991, the EC declared its support for a “united and democratic Yugoslavia” as part of the “new Europe.” The same month, US President Bush wrote to Markovic expressing continued support to his government, Yugoslav unity and economic reform.

(47) ibid; also Zimmerman, p55

(48) Almond, op cit, p40.

(49) As Markovic was told personally by the Director General of the IMF, Mr. Camdessy, Review of International Affairs, Belgrade, April 19, 1991, p21

(50) Almond, op cit, p47; also Review of International Affairs, Belgrade, April 19, 1991, p21

(51) Almond, op cit, p43

(52) Financial Times, London, May 8, 1991, editorial

(53) Almond, op cit, p48

(54) Hansard, House of Commons, col 1138, June 27, 1991

(55) ibid.

(56) Zimmerman, op cit, p143
(57) Gowan, op cit, p4
(58) Almond, M, Europe’s Backyard War, Mandarin, London, 1994, p43
(59) See for example Pilger, J, Distant Voices, Vintage, London, 1992, pp213-219, where he erroneously claims that Germany’s “natural market” extended only to Slovenia and Croatia and hence encouraged them to “dissociate” from Yugoslavia; Gervasi, S, “Germany, the US and the Yugoslav Crisis,” Covert Action, Winter 1992-93, pp45, 64-65
(60) Woodward, op cit, pp183-89
(61) It was after this meeting that US Secretary of State George Baker visited Belgrade and insisted absolutely on Yugoslavia’s “territorial integrity and unity,” calling any unilateral secession of Croatia and Slovenia “illegal and illegitimate” which would “never” be recognised by the US.
(62) Opinion No. 5 on the Recognition of the Republic of Croatia by the European Community and its Member States, Paris, January 11, 1992

(63) Perhaps the East Herzegovina Serbs and the West Herzegovina Croats were the only exceptions

(64) Just before this, the Krajina rulers rejected a US-Russian offer of high level autonomy, including keeping their own army!

(65) The anti-Croat, pro-Serb nationalist lobby has always played up this event, by bolstering the numbers of expelled Serbs to 300,000 or more, virtually any number that enters their heads. The purpose of this hyperbole is to make the ridiculous claim that this was “the largest act of ethnic cleansing in the whole Balkans,” which has been repeated ad nauseam. This would be news to 2.7 million Bosnian refugees.