Issue 69 of INTERNATIONAL SOCIALISM JOURNAL Published Winter 1995 Copyright © International Socialism
At a banquet in London last May the Croatian President, Franjo Tudjman, drew a sketch on the back of his menu card. It was a map of Bosnia as he predicted it would look in ten years time, partitioned between Serbia and Croatia. The dinner gathered together various heads of state and other dignitaries to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of VE Day (to which Tudjman, was invited despite his pro-fascist sympathies). Few of them--including Tudjman, himself--could have predicted that the war in the former Yugoslavia was about to take so dramatic a turn against the Bosnian Serbs and that only months later the sketch map would bear a much closer resemblance to reality.
Events in the former Yugoslavia have moved so fast in recent months that the balance of forces in the region has changed completely. Calls for Western intervention and for arming the Bosnian government have been heeded by the US and its allies with predictably bloody consequences. The relative weakness of the Bosnian government's military forces has been largely overcome by NATO air strikes which destroyed many of the Bosnian Serb defences. The displacement of the Krajina Serbs and Bosnian Serbs represents the biggest movement of refugees in Europe since the Second World War. There are more and more stories of atrocities against Serbs, although most of them tend to get very little publicity in the Western media, in strong contrast to the stories of atrocities committed by Serbs against Muslims or Croats.
Dreams of the Serb nationalists of a Greater Serbia have turned to nothing as Serbs have been ethnically cleansed from whole swathes of Bosnia and Krajina. The Serbian government has not lifted a finger to help them.
The shift in the balance of forces has led to the latest peace plan, brokered by the Americans and cementing the current ethnic partition of the region. The peace deal allows a state which is 51 percent Croat-Muslim federation and 49 percent Serb. But there is little doubt which state will be dominant in the federation. As The Economist puts it, 'Mr Tudjman can probably have his cake and eat it: he can win Western plaudits for backing the Bosnian federation, knowing that despite its nominal independence and multi-ethnic constitution, it is likely to consist of little more than a Muslim statelet and a Croat statelet, and to be dependent on Croatia itself'.1
The reversal of Tudjman's fortunes has been made possible by one crucial element: the intervention of the Western powers, especially the US. The latest phase of the war has quite clearly seen Bosnian and Croatian forces on the ground moving in step with the wishes of the US. The Bosnian government offensive to drive a wide corridor between Sarajevo and most Bosnian territory and Croatia's attack on Western Slavonia have both taken place alongside increased NATO intervention. So NATO jets attacked Serb positions at the end of May shortly before the Bosnian government launched its offensive. The Croatian invasion of the Serb area of Krajina--called Operation Storm recalling the Desert Storm invasion during the Gulf War--began soon after the conclusion of a military pact between the Croatian and Bosnian governments which was witnessed by the US ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith. The September Bosnian-Croat offensive against large chunks of Bosnian Serb territory was greatly helped by the destruction of the Bosnian Serb 'nervous system'--their defences and ammunition dumps--by NATO air strikes.Despite much talk heralding peace, the most likely outcome is still instability and war, leading to misery for the vast majority of ordinary people of every nationality who have to live in the hell that the various republics have become. One journalist compared the current situation in Eastern Slavonia (which borders Serbia proper and which Tudjman has made noises about invading) with the situation just before war broke out in 1991: '[War in Eastern Slavonia] will seem as certain as the war of 1991 seemed more than four years ago, when politicians crowed about peace and distraught villagers waited for war'.2
The resurgence of Croat and Bosnian government forces and the decisive intervention of the US have vindicated those who argued that this is a war in which socialists should not take sides. It is a war of repartition which, by definition, will discriminate in turn against different sections of the population simply because of their ethnic origin. In such circumstances, the intervention of the Western imperialist powers can only make things worse. The events of recent months have borne out this view. However, there are many on the left who almost wilfully ignore recent developments, preferring to continue to paint the Serbs as 'fascist aggressors' and the Muslims, and to a lesser extent Croats, as innocent victims. Taking such a view means accepting fairly uncritically many of the nationalist views of the Croatian and Bosnian governments.'3
So the recent suffering of the Krajina Serbs and many Bosnian Serbs has left many people cold. The Independent's editorial for 7 August, after Tudjman's blitzkrieg victory in the Krajina, began:
Former Labour Party leader Michael Foot wrote three weeks after the invasion, 'The idea that the Croatian authorities were suddenly themselves adopting a policy of ethnic cleansing was a wicked lie'.5
Some liberals and left wingers have always seen the Muslims as the victims in this war. Indeed, some of them have even seen Croatia as the underdog. 'Serb aggression' has been blamed on the whole Serb population rather than on the nationalist military and political leaders. Such politics leave their advocates disarmed in the face of the many reports of atrocities in Krajina and the Bosnian Serb areas in recent months, and of a refugee problem on a massive scale, with an estimated 250,000 Serbs on the move since August, and without any sense of solution to the war.
'Siding with the victim' should in logic now lead such people to demonstrate some sympathy and support for the Bosnian Serbs. Instead much 'respectable' liberal opinion is prepared to turn a blind eye to atrocities and injustices, including some of the worst ethnic cleansing of the war.
Yet now, more than ever, it is becoming apparent that there can be no winners apart from the nationalist leaders, the ruling classes who back them and the imperialist powers. The losers are those, from whatever background, who favour democracy, multi-ethnicity or any form of socialist solution to the problems of the region.
The invasion of Krajina
The latest phase of the war began last May when Muslim and Croat forces started new military offensives in order to seize back land which the Serbs took at the beginning of the war four years ago. The Croat invasion of Western Slavonia in May was in many ways a dress rehearsal for the invasion of Krajina in August. In June the Bosnian government went on the offensive too in order to ensure a corridor of land between most of its territories and Sarajevo. Then came the Bosnian-Croatian military pact, midwife to the Croatian army's invasion of the Krajina.
Krajina means, literally, frontier--the buffer zone on the edge of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire peopled by Serbs who had traditionally backed the Austrians against the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Today the area and its main town of Knin are strategically important to Croatia, lying between the capital Zagreb and the coastal resorts. The Serb dominated area wanted to remain with the former Yugoslavia when Croatia declared independence in 1991. The invasion this summer was to destroy the Serb republic of Krajina and to drive the vast majority of its Serb inhabitants to flee either to Bosnian Serb territory or to Serbia itself, as they feared (accurately) that the war would follow them east and northwards. The traditional Serb population in this Serb dominated area of Croatia were turned out of homes and farms. The invasion was completed within days, with devastating consequences. An estimated 150,000 Krajina Serbs were on the move in front of the advancing armies. The effect of the military pact between Croatia and Bosnia became clear: the invasion allowed the Muslims to break the siege of the Bihac pocket in north western Bosnia, while Croatia went ahead with its offensive.
The Croatian army recaptured a Serb dominated area populated by Serbs for over 300 years. Krajina Serbs were forced out through a campaign of atrocities which led to the biggest single displacement of population of the war. Serb villages were looted and burned, farm livestock was killed and there were many instances of killings of older Serbs and anyone else who was left in the area. The motives of the Croatian army were clear. The Washington Post reported that 'human rights observers said the burning of homes and killing of livestock are designed to dissuade Serb refugees from returning'.6 A United Nations spokesman was reported as saying two weeks after the invasion, 'Krajina is literally ablaze. There are villages which were turned into a living hell by the Croatian army. We have lists of villages where as many as 80 percent of the homes were torched.' Another observer said that an estimated four fifths of buildings in the Knin area of Krajina had been damaged 'by organised burning and looting' on the part of Croatian army and civilian police.7
The reaction of the Western media, echoing their rulers in the respective countries, has been to turn their backs on such atrocities. There have been no calls for air strikes against Croatia, no indicting of Tudjman, or his generals for war crimes against a civilian population (unlike the treatment meted out to the Bosnian Serbs) and indeed a denial that many of the worst atrocities have even taken place. As The Economist commented ironically just after the invasion:
The Krajina Serbs were right to fear for their lives. The Croatian authorities have denied looting, pillaging and killings by their troops--blaming any atrocity which is backed by hard evidence on 'uncontrolled elements'--but eyewitnesses on the ground tell a different story. Within days of the Croatian army victory, civilian Croats driving cars with Zagreb number plates were seen looting empty homes near Glina in Krajina.9 Serbs were not only driven out of areas which had been their home for generations, but signs were changed from the Cyrillic (Serbian) script to the Latin (Croatian) one, and Orthodox churches were destroyed.
Reports coming out of Krajina rapidly demonstrated that even worse events were taking place. The journalist Robert Fisk filed a series of reports in the Independent which are notable for their honesty. His reports paint a devastating picture of ethnic cleansing fuelled by sheer terror. For example, Fisk reports on 4 September 1995 how every house in the town of Kistanje had been destroyed by the Croat army. He quotes a confidential document from the European Union assessing the situation in the region which, as he says, speaks for itself:
Fisk also records a United Nations report which details the deaths of a whole number of elderly Serbs in Krajina and his personal encounter with three Croatian soldiers engaged in burning and looting a Serb farmhouse.11
The invasion of Krajina marked a turning point. It began the offensive which spread throughout western Bosnia displacing tens of thousands more Serbs, thus putting the Croatian and Bosnian government forces clearly at an advantage in any subsequent carve up of land.
The incredible speed with which the Croatian forces took Krajina gave the military and the politicians the confidence and the impetus to go further. The Croatian and Bosnian military launched the attack on the Serb held lands of western Bosnia, thereby setting about redrawing the boundaries of the Bosnian republic. They achieved by force in a matter of weeks more than had been achieved in the previous year.
But none of this would have been possible without the NATO air strikes. The combined Croatian and Bosnian Muslim armies far outnumbered the Bosnian Serbs even before this latest offensive, with an estimated 65,000 active troops plus another 15,000 reserves in the Bosnian Serb army, while the Croatian army alone has 105,000 active and 120,000 reserves, and the Bosnian Muslims have another 160,000. The Bosnian Serbs have traditionally been better equipped--although they are now matched by the Croats in many areas, and outgunned by the combined weaponry of the two allied armies. US mercenaries have been used to train Bosnian troops in a 'boot camp' for the army. The Croatian army also receives training from a US firm, Military Professional Resources of Virginia, which sends retired US army officers to teach at the Zagreb military academy.12
The NATO bombing was decisive in establishing the dominance of an already numerically superior force, with increasingly good training and better equipment, by wiping out their enemy's defensive equipment. NATO launched its air strikes in early September following the shelling of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb artillery. This provided the pretext which the Western powers needed to bring the war to what they hoped would be its final phase. The battle begun in Western Slavonia in May could be ended only if the already strengthened Croatian and Bosnian armies could be helped decisively by what one journalist described as 'a fearsome display of military superiority' which only the Western powers could provide.13
The NATO tactic was not simply to push the Bosnian Serbs back from Sarajevo; in addition it was to fatally weaken them just as the Croatian and Bosnian armies were advancing. NATO aircraft flew a total of 3,400 sorties attacking 56 targets with 350 aiming points within them.
In public the Western powers urged the Bosnian and Croatian governments not to take advantage of the bombings. In practice, however, their advance could never have been so swift--moving through western Bosnia until they were within a short distance of the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Banja Luka--without the air strikes and without the tacit acceptance of the NATO powers that these could only benefit the enemies of the Bosnian Serbs.
The peace process
As the war in former Yugoslavia took a more bloody turn so the latest round of 'peace talks' got under way in Geneva. But in the short term the background to the talks saw the different powers in the former Yugoslavia fighting to gain and retain as much land as possible. The fighting has achieved what diplomacy was unable to do and the Bosnian Serbs were forced onto less and less land: 'The UN estimates that in the past month or so the proportion of land held by the rebels [Bosnian Serbs] has fallen from around 72 percent to around 55 percent', wrote one journalist, Emma Daly, in mid-September.15
The formal peace plan--with 51 percent to the Croat-Muslim federation and 49 percent to a Bosnian Serb republic--represents a military fait accompli. The US sees this as vitally important. It has intervened to ensure that the Bosnian Serbs were sufficiently on the defensive that they would have to come to the negotiating table. The Bosnian government has had to rely heavily both on NATO air strikes and on the militarily superior Croatian army to take much of the land they have conquered in recent months. There were reports just before the ceasefire of the Bosnian Serbs regaining small areas of land, with the Bosnian government's army finding it difficult to hold its lines.
Those who hope that the settlement brokered by the US will result in a lasting peace are more than likely to be disappointed. Most importantly, the proposed deal itself merely reinforces the ethnic divisions exacerbated by the war. As one diplomat put it, 'If the peace sticks, what we've got is Greater Serbia, Greater Croatia and the Muslims as a self governing minority in Greater Croatia'.16 As the article in which this source was quoted goes on to say,
The ceasefire was from its very inception likely to cause still further ethnic cleansing. The day after it came into effect it was reported that, 'Some 40,000 Serb refugees were moving east last night towards Banja Luka from the newly fallen towns. At the same time, thousands of the remaining Muslim residents of Serb held northern Bosnia had been forcibly expelled across the front lines by Serbs'.18 There were an estimated 20,000 Muslims around Banja Luka until the ceasefire, all of whom were expected to be forcibly moved.
In any case, the deal is unlikely to work even in its own terms. There is still much dealing to be done, for example over Sarajevo, where Bosnian Croats want their own special sector of the city and the Serbs want it partitioned. The Bosnian government wants it intact as the capital city of Bosnia. Also much disputed are the narrow corridors of land which link the Muslim held Gorazde to other Muslim areas, and the Brcko corridor which links Serb areas in eastern Bosnia with Serb areas in the north round Banja Luka.
The plan is for a Peace Implemenentation Force to go into Bosnia to replace the discredited UN forces, many of whom will be withdrawn. These UN troops at present number around 28,000; the PIF will comprise 60,000 troops of whom one third will be US troops--and the total force is planned to be under US military command, although in the name of NATO. This represents an escalation of outside intervention, not a decline, with all the problems that entails. As one commentator spelt out:
None of the parties directly concerned is particularly happy with the deal. The initial ceasefire came and went as all sides jockeyed for control of more land. The Bosnian government has taken advantage of its favoured position vis-a-vis the US government to hold out for more of its demands. For example, in the days before the original ceasefire date of 10 October 1995, the Bosnian government insisted on 'a tough NATO response' to violence in the Tuzla area as one of its conditions for the truce.20
The Croatian government will be happy with the Croat-Muslim federation which has control over the majority of Bosnia. But Croatia's expansionist aims have still not been satisfied. The army's success in the invasion of Krajina over the summer prompted calls for Croatia to take Eastern Slavonia, the last remaining Serb controlled area of Croatia. The area borders directly onto Serbia and there are fears that this would result in war between Croatia and Serbia. The UN inspired ceasefire there expires in November and Croatia has said that it will take the region forcibly if 'peaceful reintegration' is not achieved by then. Retaking Eastern Slavonia was one of the main themes of the recent election campaign in Croatia.
The US ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, has desperately tried to broker a deal which allows the Croats to regain control of the area after a period of transition. However, the Serbs want this period to be five years rather than the 18 months favoured by the Croats, and, having witnessed the experience of the Krajina Serbs, they may be more than reluctant to come to any peaceful agreement.21
The Bosnian Serbs have found themselves forced onto the defensive in recent months, and have been in no position to go on the offensive in terms of territory or demands. Serbia has done nothing to help them, and its President Milosevic has been instrumental in agreeing to the peace talks.
The international implications of the deal are no more encouraging. The US feels that it has done well in Bosnia. Peter Galbraith describes the Croat-Muslim federation as 'the cornerstone of our policy in the region'.22 But there is unease among many of the other powers. Russia in particular has felt completely squeezed from an area where previously it had some influence. It also feels that NATO is playing too big a role in the area. Russian nationalists have urged Russian President Yeltsin to do more to help ethnic Serbs, and the Russian Duma has passed a resolution calling for the lifting of UN sanctions against Serbia and for imposing an embargo on Croatia. Hence the West's desire to pull Russia in more closely to the proposed peace, expressing a wish to use Russian troops in the Peace Implementation Force.
Britain has been dragged along in the wake of the NATO air strikes and US diplomacy, but is disturbed by the diminished role of the UN, and its own lack of an independent voice in the maelstrom which is Bosnian politics. France under Chirac has taken a more aggressive stand than under the Mitterrand presidency. But both powers find themselves unhappy to be in the shadow of the US.
None of the powers, except possibly the Americans, are at all certain that the latest deal will succeed. But they see no real alternatives. The collapse of the former Yugoslavia has been aided and abetted by the various Western powers using incredibly cynical manoeuvres. Recognition of the independent states of Slovenia and Croatia by the most powerful EU state, Germany, at the end of 1991 helped to push the different republics to all out war and ensure that Bosnia would be carved up. This recognition came despite warnings that it was premature from, among others, the UN secretary general, Perez de Cuellar. Although Germany's decision was allegedly based on recognising the independence of any who wanted it, in fact the German government refused to recognise another ex-Yugoslav republic, Macedonia, because fellow EU partner Greece was opposed to such a move.
Britain was persuaded to support the recognition of Croatia in return for generous German backing on the Maastricht Treaty opt out.23 So the recognition came from a newly united Germany determined to make its diplomatic mark on the European scene, backed by a British Tory prime minister desperate to appease his own party and convince them that he was not making too many concessions to a federal Europe!
Since then the various Western powers have backed different warlords for their own particular ends. They have backed Milosevic and the Serbs when they thought this was the chance of holding the former Yugoslavia together--under however nasty a nationalist regime. Now the major powers are prepared to back Croatian expansionism as a means of preserving 'peace' in the area, and all in the name of the underdog, the Bosnian Muslims. However, this means ignoring the atrocities committed by their current allies. So it is that an EU report about widespread Croat atrocities in Krajina is unlikely to be made public. As The Guardian says:
The UN has taken a similar double standard approach. A recent statement on atrocities in Krajina 'was mild, saying only that the UN was "seriously concerned" for ethnic Serbs left in Krajina. A diplomatic source had an explanation for the tone: "Croatia is far too important geopolitically at the moment for the UN to make a fuss".'25
These statements simply sum up the complete cynicism with which the West has intervened. It has brought the region no nearer to real peace, and has been prepared to tolerate atrocities as long as they fit in with Western interests. The result of Western intervention has meant that things have become much worse. The latest peace deal presents no answer to those in the region who want a multi-ethnic and peaceful solution.
The biggest bully in the Balkans
The increasingly dominant and most ruthless player in the whole region is the US government. The latest stage of the war has been engineered and directed by and in its interests. The US ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith--son of the establishment liberal J K Galbraith--has played an absolutely central role in getting the Croatian and Bosnian governments together, persuading them into military alliance and then federation, ensuring that the Western powers are prepared to back this federation while keeping the Russians on board in the whole peace process. Galbraith has acquiesced and indeed encouraged the invasion of Krajina. His reference in the Croatian airlines magazine(!) to the Krajina Serbs as 'so called local Serbs', despite their having lived in the area for hundreds of years, gives some feel of the US determination to ride roughshod over reality in order to get their way, regardless of the human cost. According to the Washington Post:
It is clear that the present US envoy who has brokered the peace, Richard Holbrooke, has only been able to do so because the ground has been laid by the brutal escalation of the war in recent months. In short, the Bosnian Serb leaders have been forced to the negotiating table very largely by US efforts aimed at strengthening their opponents and putting pressure on their allies. So while Milosevic put pressure on the Bosnian Serbs up to two years ago, limiting their supplies from Serbia, at the same time, 'Mr Galbraith cracked Muslim and Croat heads together and told them they would never recover territory lost to the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia unless they stopped fighting each other and formed a common front... with Mr Galbraith's encouragement, Croatia built up a well-trained and well-equipped army capable of taking on the Serbs'.27
The US has been busy elsewhere in the region. It again was responsible for the deal in September this year between Greece and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. The region has been a source of anxiety and instability since the break up of Yugoslavia, when Greece, backed by Serbia, refused to recognise any state taking the name of Macedonia. The new deal allows Greece to recognise the republic, but under a different name. The US, which has 1,000 of its troops stationed on Macedonia's border with Serbia, is also linking the Bosnian peace deal with recognition.
The US tactic is to deploy a combination of bribery and brute force which will make all the players accept the existing division of land in Bosnia which corresponds relatively closely to the peace plan. US military superiority will do the rest. They fear what they call a 'Berlin style solution' in Bosnia where different segments are policed by their respective international supporters--for example, the Russians in Bosnian Serb territories. To this end, they are willing to pull the Russians onto their side--even talking about creating a NATO peacekeeping body which consists of the 16 NATO countries plus Russia. Peace through strength seems to be the US slogan. It and its allies want:
The Financial Times reported recently that Richard Holbrooke 'does not see any contradiction... in mediating the peace while... training, and even re-equipping, the Bosnian army.' At the same time, he is trying to get the Muslim fundamentalist volunteers inside the Bosnian army to leave the country.29
Whether the US and its allies will be able to enforce the deal remains an open question. But there is no doubt that the misery, chaos and divisions which at present exist in former Yugoslavia will not be helped by such intervention. Rather it is likely to strengthen many of the nastier elements in each respective ethnic group. Certainly the US has had no qualms about backing policies and methods which are a very long way from the peace and democracy which it publicly professes.
Should the left take sides?
The demand to take the side of Bosnia in this dispute has been widespread on the left. But any serious evaluation of the various Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian authorities reveals similar features: politicians and party bosses who have been prepared to use nationalist rhetoric in order to bolster their support and to strengthen their own and their supporters' positions; relatively small if extremely unpleasant groups of brutal nationalists and ethnic cleansers who have used rape, torture and killing to get their way and who have often been at least covertly sanctioned by their 'respectable' political leaders; and the mass of ordinary people who have lived in some sort of peaceful coexistence with members of other ethnic groups for decades, and who now face the choice of fleeing for their lives, leaving homes and possessions behind, or of seeing their erstwhile neighbours and friends having to flee.
These are the real victims of this war and theirs is a suffering of which the Western rulers know little and care even less. Given this, it is astonishing how even now there are individual stories of decency and humanity. But any chance of nurturing that decency is rapidly and surely being squeezed out in the name of revenge, or 'sticking with one's own', or having to back one particular ethnic group.
Those media commentators who only highlight the atrocities of one group and ignore those of the others are simply helping to shore up the nationalism and ethnic hatred. Misha Glenny begins one of the chapters of his The Fall of Yugoslavia with three separate personal descriptions from a Croat refugee in Zagreb, a Muslim refugee in Sarajevo and a Serb refugee in Belgrade. All are completely horrific and all could apply to any of the ethnic groups.30 Glenny is extremely critical of the nationalists on all sides, and has a strong distaste for the Serb nationalists, but this does not cloud his judgement about the facts. Indeed, he argues repeatedly that the Serbs are systematically treated unfairly in the Western media.
He points out, for example, that despite the idea that the Serbs are the main aggressors in the region, the Croats too should have had UN sanctions imposed on them in 1992, since they were in violation of a UN resolution. Instead they received only a slap on the wrist, enabling their economy to perform much better than Serbia's.31 He also points out that 'the majority of UNPROFOR members and aid workers who have died during this conflict have been the victims of Muslim units and, to a lesser extent, Croat ones'.32 The reason they have got away with this, says Glenny, is that they have won the propaganda war in the Western media. They have constantly used this sympathy to launch attacks which are barely reported; when Serbian nationalists have retaliated--often in a brutal fashion--this is condemned by the West without the original attack being mentioned.33 The same is true when it comes to questions of killings, rapes and other atrocities, when much more space in Western newspapers is devoted to the crimes of the Bosnian Serbs than to any other. But what of the various regimes themselves?
It is commonplace on the left to regard the Serbian state as by far the most dictatorial of the three players in the war. Indeed some even regard it as fascist. Actually the regime is unpleasant, right wing and nationalistic--although this does not distinguish it in qualitative terms from that of Tudjman in Croatia. But it is far from being a fascist regime, where the working class movement has been totally crushed. Its leader, Slobodan Milosevic, is a nasty, right wing, careerist politician who has used nationalism and war in order to strengthen his position and to isolate liberal or left wing opponents. But the nationalism of Milosevic is much more opportunist than it is deeply ideological. In the late 1980s he managed to deflect political and industrial protest which was resulting from the economic crisis in the former Yugoslavia by playing the nationalist card. When the crisis caused by trying to hold the confederation together led to moves for independence from the various republics, Milosevic greatly exacerbated fears that Serbs within Croatia and Bosnia were under the most dire threat and so helped to fuel further national antagonisms. However, he also took a pragmatic view towards the independence of the republics. By January 1991:
It was to this end that he held a meeting with Tudjman, before war broke out where the two men agreed secretly to partition Bosnia between them, and after which Tudjman triumphantly claimed that he had doubled the size of Croatia.35 Now, four years later, many people believe that there has been a further understanding between the two men, as a result of which Milosevic has 'turned a deaf ear to calls for help' from the Krajina and Bosnian Serbs.36 Before the Croat invasion of Krajina, tanks, artillery and top officers controlled by the Krajina Serb military were withdrawn, leaving the population defenceless. Whether this was with the collusion of Milosevic or the Yugoslav army, the JNA, is not known. But certainly Milosevic has done little in recent months to help the Serb refugees and has been extremely compliant with Western demands over the peace process.
However, Milosevic may be pushed to the limit by the refusal of Croatia and Bosnia to accept the agreed parameters of the peace plan, with the Croat army still threatening invasion of Eastern Slavonia as this journal went to press, while both Bosnian and Croat armies are pushing for further territories up to and including the Serb stronghold and now teeming refugee centre of Banja Luka. 'The despatch [to Banja Luka] from Belgrade of the warlord Zeljko "Arkan" Raznjatovic and his ferocious Tigers, suggests that... Milosevic finally has drawn a line in the sand around Bosnia's second city'.37 Whether this turns out to be the case, support for the Bosnian Serb leadership now comes much more from the far right and the Orthodox church patriarchy than from Milosevic and his supporters. The church has described the president as a 'godless communist' and last year Milosevic vetoed a church sponsored bill to restrict abortion.38
The state over which Milosevic presides is by no means the monolithic Serb nationalist entity that is often portrayed as being. As the Washington Post puts it:
Milosevic senses that people in Serbia are war weary, and that they want sanctions against them to be lifted. The fall in the level of GDP per head among the Serbian population has been dramatic since the war began. This has had serious effects on living standards, with many people forced to sell smuggled goods on the streets of Belgrade to make any sort of living.40 There are severe food, fuel and medicine shortages and a 50 percent unemployment rate.41
But the impact of the huge number of refugees flooding into Serbia itself, plus the sense that the Serbs are getting less and less out of the peace deal and that they are constantly reviled in the Western media, plus the fact that economic sanctions are bringing real hardship to millions of people, all means that Milosevic can strengthen his support.
Croatia today enjoys favoured status with both the US and the EU. It is on the fast track to membership of the EU, which means that it receives military, financial and other material help from the Western powers. Its leader, the former Communist boss Franjo Tudjman, is determined to establish a dominant Croatia in the region at the expense of the Serbian state's influence, but also no doubt at the cost of his current allies, the Bosnian Muslims. Tudjman, egged on by Croatian emigres who returned at the time of independence four years ago, has been willing to use the trappings of the pro-Nazi wartime Ustashe regime which spent four years battling against the partisans in the very same areas in which fighting now takes place. In particular, the chequerboard flag is enough to strike terror into the hearts of many Serbs who suffered terrible repression at the hands of the Ustashe during the Second World War.
This does not seem to cause Tudjman much disquiet. He is known for his view that the Holocaust was much exaggerated and for his statement, 'Thank God my wife is not a Jew or a Serb'.42 The well known Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal has said that Croatia's 1,200 Jews are living in fear.43 A recent video issued in Zagreb, entitled Five Years of Croatian Freedom portrays him in a white uniform with huge epaulettes reviewing military hardware from the back of a jeep. The video describes Tudjman, as the 'igniter of the drowsing spirit of the fatherland'.44
The state over which Tudjman presides is now the most 'ethnically clean' state in the former Yugoslavia. It is estimated that over 90 percent of its population are now Croats, compared with 78 percent in 1991.45 Not only have the vast majority of the country's Serbs now left but there are also signs that Croatia is putting up barriers to Muslim refugees, despite its alliance with the Bosnian government. Muslims attempting to escape Bosnian Serb areas have been refused entry into Croatia and so have been trapped on the Bosnian side of the border. Those forced out of areas such as Banja Luka by the Bosnian Serbs have received little help from Croatia. A report in late August said that:
Recently Tudjman, told the French paper Le Figaro that Croatia would gladly assume the burden of 'civilising the Muslims' after the war, and that Tito's greatest mistake was to grant the Muslims national rights in the 1960s.47
The Croatian state has very limited opposition within it. The editor of one of the country's newspapers, Globus, was ousted after the invasion of Krajina. The editor claimed that the reason for this was the paper's 'lack of sufficient patriotism' in covering Operation Storm.48 It is clearly hard for dissenting voices to be heard in the atmosphere of jingoism that has existed in Croatia in recent months. The state dominates the media. Although there are opposition parties, 'for the time being at least they are all singing the same tune. The Social Liberals' leader, Drazen Budisa, declared it was not the time to criticise, but a "time to rejoice".'49
Yet this militaristic and nationalist state--described by an opposition political commentator as a modern Sparta--is one which has been feted and aided by the West and which is being groomed for membership of the EU. The IMF and World Bank, as well as the EU, are willing to lend Croatia money. And funds have already been flowing into the coffers of Croatia's reserves from rich returning emigres. Last May the country's national bank reported $1.6 billion foreign reserves, compared with $600 million in 1993.50 The fact that Croatia has avoided Western sanctions and has been able to quite openly flout the arms embargo--creaming off an estimated 20 to 30 percent of weapons designed for the Bosnian government--has widened the gap between it and its rival Serbia:
Even so, unemployment is rising and military spending this year is estimated to run at 41 percent of government expenditure.52 Tudjman, called an election a year early to improve the majority of the ruling HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union), making it more dominant in parliament. Just to try to make sure, Tudjman, pushed through a new law which allows Croats abroad--mainly in Bosnia--to vote. At the same time, the electoral status of Croatian Serbs has been reduced, since only three seats for national minorities are guaranteed in the parliament, as opposed to the previous 13.53 Even US observers have been appalled at the lack of democracy in Croatia. 'Reserving almost 10 percent of all seats to people living permanently outside of a state is unprecedented' according to Washington's National Democratic Institute's report on the election.54 In the event, Tudjman's HDZ did not get the required two thirds majority to make constitutional changes, thus showing that there is less support for Tudjman, than has been thought.
The Bosnian state is seen as the underdog by many in the West because it seems sandwiched between two aggressive warring powers. Yet there are crucial peculiarities in the make up of Bosnia which helps to explain some of its recent history. Before the war most people living in the region referred to themselves simply as Bosnians rather than adding Serb, Croat or Muslim.55
The multi-ethnic make up of Bosnia meant that any attempt at independence would create major problems. As Misha Glenny says:
The Bosnian Muslims found the choice of either staying in a much reduced Yugoslavia or being partitioned between Serbia and Croatia profoundly unattractive. They were therefore caught between a rock and a hard place when the former Yugoslavia broke up.
However, the idea that the Bosnian government is an innocent victim of aggression is impossible to sustain. In fact, the Bosnian president, Alia Izetbegovic, was the first to organise a political party for the Muslims along nationalist lines when the SDA was formed in 1990. It was described at the time as 'a political alliance of Yugoslav citizens belonging to Muslim cultural and historical traditions'.57 The SDA campaigned for the break up of the former Yugoslavia and for recognition of all six Yugoslav republics, saying that Bosnia could not remain in a Serb dominated federation.58
Various Muslim paramilitary organisations were formed in Bosnia once the war started, such as the Patriotic League and the Green Berets, who wore the official Bosnian coat of arms. Misha Glenny wrote of the Green Berets in 1992 that they 'have recruited from the criminal classes and the lumpen proletariat and they have already injected their own brand of corruption into Sarajevo's enforced war economy'.59
The Muslims have suffered, and continue to suffer, terrible atrocities. But they too have been guilty of ethnic cleansing, killing and rape.60 There is evidence that the state run from Sarajevo is decreasingly multiethnic. Bosnian television is run by an SDA member who is fervently in favour of a Muslim identity for Bosnia. Only Muslims in the SDA are able to rise high in the administration, media, army or business.61 The war's development has meant an influx into the towns of refugees from rural areas, who have very different values from many of the liberal ideals which dominated Sarajevo, and the return of exiles who have come back to fight for Bosnia and who reflect strong feelings of nationalism and ethnic identity.62
In recent months the Bosnian government and its supporters have become increasingly vocal and aggressive in their demands. It has long understood that it can get away with a great deal because of US backing and the way in which the Western governments see the Bosnian Muslims as innocent victims. 'Throughout the war, they have used this perception to undertake offensive actions and then portray themselves as victims'.63 But since the latest phase of the war brought the military alliance with Croatia, they have been even more confident.
Most recently, Bosnian government forces have been involved in continuing fighting in north west Bosnia, despite the ceasefire. Their aim is clearly to control the whole area up to and including Banja Luka. The army is determined to press the advantage it gained with the help of the stronger Croat army and the NATO air strikes. One of its generals was quoted as saying around the time of the ceasefire, 'Of course, we will respect the orders of our political leadership if they tell us to stop, but if we give up on going home, our people will never accept it'.64 But some of the area being fought over is land which was never 'home' to the Bosnian Muslims. 'Mrkonjic Grad, which fell [in October] was 77 percent Serb; Petrovac, Drvar and Grahovo, which fell to the Croats earlier on, were more than 95 percent Serb'.65
Recently the Bosnian vice-president demanded more than the 51 percent of territory offered to the Croat-Muslim federation under the peace plan, arguing that the Bosnian Serbs inside the Serb controlled areas now amounted to only 400,000 people--or 11 percent of the prewar population, compared to the 32 percent they had comprised before the war.66
These attitudes reflect the harder line taken by Bosnian leaders in recent months and mark a move away from multi-ethnicity and towards the Bosnian government trying to carve a bigger share of territory and influence. The government crisis which arose temporarily when the prime minister Haris Silazdic tried (unsuccessfully) to resign in the summer seemed to be caused by his resistance to this hard line, which is epitomised by his rival, the Bosnian foreign minister, Mohamed Sacirbey. Sacirbey is a Wall Street lawyer who was born in Sarajevo but has lived most of his life in the US. This former vice-president of the merchant bankers Security Pacific has made it his mission, first as Bosnian ambassador to the UN and then as foreign minister, to portray Bosnia as the underdog while at the same time pulling the US into the war on its side. 'He aims to "Americanise" the Bosnian conflict, drawing the US into a full scale war against the Serbs'.67 He has clearly been successful.
The Bosnian government quite rightly fears the expansionist intent of Croatia, but government leaders have opened the door to a Greater Croatia, in which eventually they too will prove the losers.
The various states involved in the conflict are all, to one degree or another, nationalistic and increasingly ethnically based. Socialists can find nothing to support in these regimes, and those who make the mistake of backing one side are increasingly finding themselves faced with contradictions as the supposedly multiethnic states become more 'cleansed' and more narrowly based. They also miss out on a range of opposition among the populations of each state who have reacted against being sold the empty promise of national glory and military success.
One of the most hideous aspects of war is the way in which governments, media and top military tend to act and speak on the assumption that 'their' population is totally behind them in the war, and that the 'enemy' population is equally behind its own rulers. The reality is usually very different. Of course it is true that there are times when jingoism and pro-war sentiments prevail among the mass of people, but for the majority of the time among the majority of people there is no glorification of war.
It is easy to understand why this should be when we look at the situation in former Yugoslavia. War there has involved the displacement of an estimated 2 million people, the death, rape, torture and other forms of barbarism inflicted on many thousands. Even for those who have escaped these horrors, day to day life for workers has been hard. And the threat of war is ever present.
But there has been opposition to the war. Indeed it can be argued that the war itself started as an attempt to dampen class struggle directed at the country's rulers and to turn workers against other workers and peasants of a different ethnic background. As the war began in March 1991, tens of thousands of students and workers marched in Belgrade against repression and for democracy; up to half a million occupied the city centre. After war spread to Bosnia in 1992, the anti-war movement in Belgrade organised a demonstration and a 100,000 strong concert against the war. In 1993 in the Serbian capital, 1,500 people demonstrated on the first anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo.'68
War weariness has also been evident in Croatia, where the Anti-War Campaign of Croatia was formed in 1991, and where there have been strikes including a half hour general strike against lower living standards in 1993. There has also been a rash of short strikes recently to recover unpaid wages.69
None of these adds up to a major campaign against the war, but that is hardly surprising given the terrible suffering in recent years, the destruction of lives and livelihoods. Equally, it is no wonder that nationalist and right wing ideas come to dominate among a wider layer of the population. But these ideas are not all powerful. But as grievances begin to build up, so many ordinary workers and peasants question the role of their leaders and the nationalist politics on which they are based. It is then that there is the possibility of alternative ideas coming to the fore, then that people begin to look to their interests as similar to those of other workers even across the ethnic divides. A recent Assignment television programme, introduced by the journalist Allan Little, showed one Krajina Serb who had been displaced to Serbia sending a video message to two middle aged Croats, themselves ethnically cleansed from Banja Luka, who were trying to take over his house. The message said that they should not feel guilty, because they were just victims--as were all ordinary Serbs, Croats and Muslims--of the nationalist rulers, and now they were having to pay the bill.70 It was a powerful testimony to ordinary people's ability to see through the nationalist propaganda of their rulers.
Perhaps this is not a typical sentiment, but the horrors of former Yugoslavia are drawing people to thinking about alternatives. Imagine the buffeting, physical and ideological, which has been the lot of the Krajina Serbs. They believed much of the nationalist rhetoric from their own leaders and the Serbian leaders. Now they are homeless, jobless, split up from their families, forced to live in the isolated province of Kosovo. This does not mean that all or most of them will draw socialist or left wing conclusions--but it does mean that the old certainties have broken down. For example, one Krajina Serb from Knin, now living in a Belgrade tower block, was quoted as saying: 'I don't want to throw any Croats out of their homes, but I would throw Milosevic out of his house for what he has done to us.'71
In the big cities of Belgrade and Zagreb there is opposition to the rulers from a wide spectrum of people. But the nature of war in its early and successful phase is that it silences much opposition. That can begin to change as circumstances change, and it is then that we can hold out hope for an alternative, class based solution to the problems of the region. We know already that, despite the warmongering, most people do not want war. For example, there are many recent reports of Bosnian Serbs of call-up age moving to Serbia to avoid the draft. Up to 60,000 have fled to Montenegro.
But the nationalist leaders, the UN and NATO, the Western powers have all acted to ensure that war has endured. As one commentator put it:
It need not be that way. But the alternative lies in the ordinary people who are suffering so much in this war understanding that their interests do not lie in backing their own ruling classes along national lines, but in fighting for a democratic, multi-ethnic society--which means fighting their own ruling classes, the cynical interventions of the Western powers, and all those (such as the far right and religious organisations) who want to divide them on ethnic or national lines. The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky was a journalist in the Balkans before the First World War, when, as now, war tore the area to pieces. In 1910 he wrote:
These are the options facing workers and peasants in the area. At present the first road is being followed, but with disastrous consequences. The only way to win democracy and multi-ethnicity is for socialists to reject the national solutions and to argue that only the second road provides any real solution to the problems that the Balkan people face.