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Peter Hadden

Yugoslavia – disintegration and slaughter

(August 1992)

From Militant, August 1992.
Transcribed by Ciaran Crossey.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Daily our television screens present pictures of the slaughter and terrible suffering of the people of Bosnia, especially those trapped in its capital Sarajevo. The fighting in Bosnia, where over 1.5 million people have already fled their homes, is just one further chapter in the complete disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Now only Serbia and Montenegro of the six republics in the old federation remain under Belgrade rule, As the process of disintegration continues there are the ingredients for more Bosnia’s, more Sarajevo’s.

The seeds of this conflict are to be found in Yugoslav history. The state was founded – as an artificial entity – by the victorious capitalist powers after the First World War. At first it was dominated by Serbia, then by a reactionary Croatian regime which co-operated with the Nazis to rule the country during the Second World War.

When Marshall Tito and his partisans took power after the war they did so as liberators and with massive support from the working class and peasantry of all nationalities. However, despite his political break with Stalin in 1948, the society established by Tito was modelled on the Stalinist regimes of Russia and Eastern Europe.

Nationalisation and a plan of production, despite the bureaucratic control, did allow for a significant economic development for a period of several decades. Serbia experienced an average annual industrial growth of 9.4% between 1952 and 1983. This growth was uneven and a huge gap in development remained between the republics, especially the more prosperous northern republics of Slovenia and Croatia and their poor cousins to the south like Macedonia and the autonomous region of Kosovo in the Serbian republic.

This meant that the potential for an explosion of national tensions was ever present, especially if economic growth should be checked. In recent years, especially during the 1980s, the same limitations of Stalinism which brought about the collapse of the regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe also began to undermine the ruling bureaucracy in Yugoslavia. Tito’s death was a further factor in bringing the underlying problems, especially the tensions between the ruling bureaucracies of the six republics, to the fore.

Faced with the economic crisis sections of the bureaucracies, as with their East European equivalents, began to look to the West, to capitalism and the market for a way out. In Croatia and Slovenia openly pro-capitalist regimes came to power who sought to break the ties with Belgrade.

The Serbian ruler, Milosevic, on the other hand, relied mainly on whipping up Serbian nationalism, hoping to use this, plus the might of the Yugoslav army with its Serbian officer corps, to hold the state together.

Verbally he also defended the old economic regime although in practice an independent Serbian state would also be forced along the road of capitalist restoration. In June 1991 the federal army backed by Serbia invaded Slovenia. Then in July Serb nationalists backed by the army began the conflict in Croatia partially because of local resistance, partly because of dissent in the army, but also due to opposition to these wars among sections of the population of Serbia, the Serbian dominated army was forced to abandon any hope that it could hold the old federation together.

Instead it became a matter of grab what you can from the disintegration, especially on the part of Milosevic and the autocratic pro-capitalist government of Tudjman in Croatia. These regimes determined in particular to annex ports, pipelines and other strategic resources, and to use whatever force necessary to do so.

Bosnia with its ethnic mix of Muslims, who make up 44% of the population, Serbs 31%, Croats 17% and others lies between Serbia and Croatia. For over a year Milosevic and Tudjman have been privately negotiating the carve up of Bosnia between them. Neither was prepared to accept the outcome of Bosnia’s referendum earlier this year which produced a 90% pro-independence vote, although this figure was inflated by a Serbian boycott. The initial response of the Bosnians, including the local Serbs and Croats was to come together to resist. In this territory there had been decades of peaceful co-mixing of the communities, especially in Sarajevo where hardly an apartment block was entirely ethnically ‘pure’. Even now the mainly Muslim ‘territorial force’ defending Sarajevo does contain other nationalities.

No Lasting Peace

However, with no organisation to cement this unity it has largely come apart, under the military blows of the Serbian and Croatian forces and their nationalistic paramilitary militias. Whatever the immediate outcome of the fighting it will not bring lasting peace. The result is that a greater Serbia and a greater Croatia are brought face to face this will provide the basis for future conflicts.

More particularly the seeds of ongoing conflict are being created in the displacement of the Muslims. 44% of the population of Bosnia, the Muslims are now in control of only a shrinking 5% of the territory. Many of them have fled to the newly formed Croatian region of Hercea-Bosnia, where despite Croatia’s posturing as an ally of the Muslims, the new government contains not a single Muslim. The fact of this newly displaced group of people, like the Palestinians in the Middle East, can only be a future source of instability and violence.

Sarajevo will not be the last storm in the dismantling of Yugoslavia. Elsewhere there exists the potential for new Bosnia’s, new Sarajevo’s. There is Kosovo whose Albanian population will not continue to accept rule by he Serbs, especially now that the balance of other non-Serbian republics has gone. Also within the Serbian republic there is a 250, 000 minority concentrated in the Sandzak region in the south-west, who could revolt at the treatment of the Bosnian Muslims and against their own inclusion in Serbia. 20% of the population of Macedonia are Albanian.

In the autonomous region of Vojvodina the half million Hungarian minority increasingly look to Budapest not Belgrade. As the conflict spreads there is the possibility of surrounding powers, such as Albania, Greece, and Bulgaria, being drawn in.

Economic crisis will exacerbate all these tensions. Macedonia has a monthly inflation rate of 200%, 40% unemployment and last year suffered a fall in industrial production of 18%.

Serbia has runaway inflation. The introduction of a new dinar has brought only chaos with currency unavailable and many shops reduced to giving change in goods rather than money. Industrial output is down 30% and there is growing opposition to Milosevic, although to date this has largely had a reactionary, even royalist, coloration.

Slovenia which opted for capitalism has found no panacea. There, inflation runs at 40% a month and last year industrial production fell by 15%. The capitalist powers survey this wreckage with horror. Here is the reality of the ‘new world order’ proclaimed by George Bush on behalf of US big business. The preference of all the major capitalist powers, with the partial exception of Germany who wished to dominate a separate Slovenia and Croatia, was for a unified Yugoslavia.

They were terrified of the chaos which would result from break up and also of the knock on consequences in Czechoslovakia, the rest of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, not to mention the encouragement of nationalism in formerly stable states in Western Europe.

Now the West are forced not only to give recognition to the new states but also to consider direct military intervention. The purpose of any western intervention would be no more –humanitarian than was the bombing of Iraq, but would be to try to stabilise the situation, if necessary by propping up autocratic regimes in both Serbia and Croatia. Air strikes by US planes or a naval bombardment of Serbian positions are possible but the western powers are extremely reluctant to send ground troops. The officer commanding the Canadian United Nations force at Sarajevo airport bas estimated that 40,000 troops would be necessary just to hold Sarajevo. Western governments would fear that they could get bogged down in an interminable and bloody conflict and so will seek other options before they would commit themselves militarily.

Yugoslavia is a warning to the working class of the world as to what the future holds now with the collapse of Stalinism and the growing impasse of capitalism. For the peoples of what was Yugoslavia the only road forward lies in the creation of a genuine socialist federation of the region as a part of a European socialist federation.

In Bosnia the only way out is through the unity of the working class which was displayed at the outset of this conflict. Armed defence linked to a programme for a democratic socialist Bosnia and appeal to both Serb and Croat forces could begin to cut across the reactionary nationalism and the genocidal tendencies which exist.

The alternative is further bloodshed, permanent instability, the emergence of autocratic local capitalist states, and the domination of the entire area by the major capitalist powers. The key to preventing this lies with the working class of what was Yugoslavia together with the working class of the region who, provided they had a leadership, could come together, even in the teeth of the conflict, to fight independently for their own interests.

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