Issue 189 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 1995 Copyright Socialist Review

Reluctant soldiers

Air strikes by NATO forces against the Bosnian Serbs show how deeply the West is prepared to intervene in the war raging in former Yugoslavia. Sabby Sagall reports on the resistance
A mother protests

From the outbreak of war in former Yugoslavia in 1991 anti-war movements arose. In Belgrade in March 1991 tens of thousands of students and workers marched against repression and for democracy. The high point of a week of mass action saw half a million people occupy the city centre. The Centre for Anti-War Action was established in July. It organised demonstrations, rock concerts and it led a March for Peace around the Yugoslav parliament. In April 1992, after the war had spread to Bosnia, it organised a demonstration opposing it, and 100,000 participated in a concert proclaiming, 'Don't count on us'.

In 1993 some 1,500 people took part in a demonstration in Belgrade marking the first anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo. Serbian television denounced the protesters as traitors. A bi-monthly magazine, Republika, was published with a circulation of 5,000 as well as leaflets, posters, advertisements and general media publicity, aimed mainly at students and intellectuals. The aim of all these activities was to mobilise against the war and to send a message of solidarity to all those resisting it.

The Anti-War Campaign of Croatia was also founded in 1991 when hostilities in the Slavonia and Krajina regions of Croatia were in full swing. It too published a bi-monthly magazine, Arkzin, which continues to report on anti-war initiatives. It campaigns for the rights of conscientious objectors and defends Serbs thrown out of their homes by right wing Croatian militias.

There have been significant workers' actions against the effects of the war in both Serbia and Croatia. In Serbia in July 1993 thousands of workers went on strike demanding payment of wages owed: 18,000 miners, 10,000 chemical workers and also engineers. In August 1993 it was estimated that 10 percent of Serbian industry was on strike at any one time.

In Croatia in March 1993 there was a half hour general strike, called by the Independent Trade Unions, a warning to the government to take note of collapsing living standards. It was supported by 50 percent of the workforce and resulted in Croatian president Tudjman dismissing his government. Also journalists and printers on the paper Slobodna Dalmacija went on strike against a takeover by the state.

Meanwhile, unemployment continues to rise, the rate now standing at 18 percent. And the 1995 military budget will consume 41 percent of government expenditure. Recently, there have been a number of short isolated strikes, also over non-payment of wages, particularly among textile and shipbuilding workers.

In May 1992 the UN Security Council imposed economic sanctions against Serbia. In January 1994 hyperinflation was running at a daily rate of 97 percent. There are severe shortages of food, fuel and medicines, a rapidly falling currency and a 50 percent unemployment rate. Half the country's industrial capacity remains idle and nearly a million workers in Serbia and Montenegro are on 'compulsory holiday'.

A further indication of the growing unpopularity of the war has been the increasing rate of desertion and draft dodging among Bosnian Serbs. A recent report by the Institute for European Strategic and Defence Studies quotes Yugoslav army sources criticising the flight of military age Serbs from safe areas in Bosnia. By early 1993 at least 53,000 registered, and many more unregistered, draft age Serbs from Bosnia and Croatia had moved to Serbia, despite intensifying pressure on them to take up arms. By the autumn of 1993 the Bosnian Serb military courts had issued some 2,500 warrants for desertion.

It was recently reported that up to 60,000 military age men have fled to Montenegro. In Banja Luka in September 1993 there was a mutiny when 1,000 armed soldiers took control of the town and arrested the local clique. They demanded a crackdown on war profiteering, improved welfare for soldiers and their families, and immediate elections. The rebellion struck a chord with townspeople and local trade unionists. The rebels received many messages of support from other Bosnian Serb regions.

Large scale anti-war movements have often begun with small groups voicing opposition on a purely pacifist basis. The current military escalation is likely to intensify war weariness to the point where a revival of anti-war activity could connect with the economic misery felt by the mass of ordinary people.

Into the abyss

Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic beats the drum of nationalism and completes the seizure of the predominately Albanian province of Kosovo, in the south of Serbia, after sending in his troops in 1989. Serbs launch a mass chauvinist campaign and then state terror against the Albanian speaking minority in Kosovo. There is little protest from Western leaders.

Milosevic and Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman meet in March to discuss dividing Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Milosevic uses this to return to Belgrade to quash the opposition movement that had erupted. This allows the war to go ahead against first Slovenia and then Croatia.

Croatia declares independence from former Yugoslavia in June. It comes under less critical scrutiny than its Serb counterpart, reflecting its powerful Western supporters--including the entire German political establishment.

On taking office Tudjman adopts the flag of the wartime pro-Nazi Ustashe, purges Serbs from public sector jobs and replaces Serb with Croat policemen in the predominantly Serb parts of Croatia such as Krajina.

War breaks out as the Serbian led Yugoslav national army supports rebels among Croatia's Serbian minority.

In January Croatia loses Krajina, almost one third of its territory, to the Serbs and accepts a ceasefire patrolled by UN forces.

In April war begins in Sarajevo between, on the one hand, the Serbs, and on the other, the Croats and Muslims (although mainly led by Muslim forces).

Guardian journalist Ed Vulliamy reports on 'detention' camps run by Croatians. UN officials acknowledge the existence of Muslim camps run near the city of Sarajevo. Vulliamy also states that the western Hercegovinan city of Mostar has been 'ethnically cleansed'. Over 75,000 people have been removed from the city by the official Croatian army, the HOS (the openly fascist militia), and the Muslim units, all of which have been supplied with German weapons.

Vulliamy is also one of the first journalists to report on the Serb 'concentration camps' where there have been random executions and torture.

George Bush, John Major and other European leaders push the United Nations to impose sanctions on Serbia.

The Labour leader, John Smith, calls for limited air strikes against the Serbs, and even Ken Livingstone demands that troops be sent in, 'as many as it takes for as long as it takes'.

Atrocities are committed on all sides. In central and eastern Bosnia all three protagonists practise ethnic cleansing--the Muslims of Srebrenica against the Serb villages along the river Drina. The Serb bombardment of Srebrenica on Easter Monday is matched by the Croat bombardment of Doboj.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that full scale military intervention would require 500,000 Western troops remaining for ten years.

The Vance-Owen Peace Plan proposes the division of Bosnia-Hercegovina into a jigsaw of areas on ethnic lines. Croat, Serb, and Bosnian-Muslim. It is a recipe both for officially sanctioned ethnic cleansing and for continued conflict between the three sides.

The US puts pressure on the Muslims and Croats to fight their common enemy, the Bosnian Serbs. A Muslim-Croat federation is formed and, under current international proposals, would receive 51 percent of Bosnia. There is speculation about bringing the Serbs into talks.

This diminishes in April when Nato, following the orders of Clinton, sanctions the first ever air to ground attacks against Serb forces laying siege to Gorazde (a UN safe haven).

These are stopped almost immediately as the West fears getting bogged down in Bosnia--UN aircraft are shot down, UN forces come under attack and hostages are taken. This highlights the tensions among Western leaders split between those who want to commit more ground troops (British and French) and those against (Clinton).

Red Cross leaders complain that the West's military presence 'undermines the humanitarian effort'.

Croatia attacks Serb areas in parts of Croatia and the Bosnian army attacks Serb held areas in Bosnia.

US Congress passes a motion lifting the arms embargo of Bosnia.

Croatia invades the Serb area of Krajina, after being given the green light by the US. The war in former Yugoslavia has now gone on longer than the First World War, and no end appears in sight.

Map of former Yugoslavia

* Total prewar income of Yugoslavia=100

Gianfranco Fini, leader of the fascist National Alliance has campaigned for Italy to resurrect its claim on the Istrian area of former Yugoslavia. The government is divided on military intervention but has made Italian bases available for Nato.

Muslim president Alia Izetbegovic initially agreed to the partition of the country with Croatian president Tudjman and Serb president Milosevic. Weaker militarily than its neighbours, it has called for greater intervention by outside powers.
Prewar ethnic make up: Muslim 39 percent, Croat 18 percent, Serb 32 percent.
Prewar national income: 66 percent*.

Prewar ethnic make up: Montenegrin 68 percent, Muslim 13 percent, Albanian 6.5 percent, Serb 8 percent.
Prewar national income: 63 percent*.

Prewar ethnic make up: Albanian 74 percent, Serb 13 percent.
Prewar national income: 23 percent*.

Seeks federation with the Albanian populated province of Kosovo. Has a disputed southern border with Greece.

Richest republic with a quarter of prewar GNP and a third of foreign trade. First to declare independence with Austrian German backing.
Prewar ethnic make up: Slovene: 90 percent
Prewar national income: 205 percent.*.

Prewar ethnic make up: Macedonian 63 percent, Albanian 20 percent.
Prewar national income: 62 percent*.

Allied to the Muslims from 1991 to 1993. Launched offensive in April 1993 against the Muslims and enacted the 1991 secret deal with Serbia to partition Bosnia.
Prewar ethnic make up: Serb 11 percent, Croat 70 percent.
Prewar national income 130 percent*.

Prewar ethnic make up: Serb 54 percent, Hungarian 22 percent.
Prewar national income: 127 percent*.

Has supported breakaway Serb minorities in Croatia and Bosnia. Wants to incorporate Serb held areas of Bosnia.
Prewar ethnic make up: Serb 85 percent.
Prewar national income: 94 percent*.

Has backed the Croats and the Muslims against the Serbs and supports a greater Croatia. Republican Jesse Helms has called for the US to use the Muslims like they did the Contras in Nicaragua. Bosnian soldiers have been discovered with US M16 rifles.

Chirac has developed a more aggressive foreign policy; renewing nuclear testing in the Pacific and accusing other Western powers of 'appeasing Serbian fascism'.

Recognised Croatia and Slovenia in 1991. Croatia's largest trading partner. Armed the Croat army during the 1991 war with Serbia. Revised its constitution to allow the airforce to be deployed in Bosnia--the first such deployment since the Second World War.

Has sponsored every Western plan to repartition the area. Out of 11,000 applications Britain has granted full refugee status to only 25 asylum seekers from former Yugoslavia.

Has backed the Serbs, threatening to lift the arms embargo. Opposes Nato's eastern expansion. Has increased troop levels on its south western borders in breach of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty.

Has long standing territorial ambitions on Macedonia, bringing it into potential military conflict with Serbia.

Opposes an independent Macedonia claiming it is a threat to the territorial unity of the Greek state. Has strongly backed Serbia against both Bosnia and Albania. With Turkey is the most heavily armed power in southern Europe.

Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia
Have lined up with the US in backing the Bosnian Muslims. Declared in July that they would no longer respect the arms embargo.

Has strongly backed the Bosnians from the outset. Wants to build a zone of influence from the Balkans to the Turkic speaking ex-Soviet republics with the establishment of the Black Sea Economic Area. Engaged in a regional power struggle with Greece.

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