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Mike Haynes

Theses on the Balkan War

(Summer 1999)

From International Socialism 2:83, Summer 1999.
Copyright © International Socialism.
Copied with thanks from the International Socialism Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

1) Capitalism is inherently a competitively expansionist and therefore conflict ridden system

The 20th century began with war in the Balkans and it is finishing with war in the Balkans. In the years between the first Balkan War that broke out in 1912 and NATO’s war with Serbia in 1999, more wars have occurred, resulting in more military and civilian deaths, than in any other period in history. At each point it has seemed as if the 20th century, which potentially offered so much, has trampled hope down in the most brutal and nightmarish way. Its record as the ‘century of extremes’ is being carried through to its last days and the dawn of a new century.

Conflict, warfare and conquest seem to have been an ever present part of human history. The rise of the first class societies took collective control of human affairs away from the many and gave it to the few, who looked with envy on what their neighbouring rulers had. At the same time, they strove to protect their own property both from the equal avarice of their neighbours and the threat from those below who might rise against them. But capitalism has given this struggle a new intensity. Firstly, it has built competition for profits, resources and markets into the heart of the productive system itself. Secondly, through its continual technological revolution, capitalism has imparted a dynamic of military change not present in earlier societies. Thirdly, through the way in which capitalism has contributed to the development of a world of nation states, it has helped to divide the world and to consolidate the institutions of the state, and allow its huge resources to be mobilised in the fight for world power.

The forms of capitalist expansion have evolved over time, intensifying as capitalism has developed, so that the destructiveness of conflict has been more terrible in the 20th century than any other. In this process the early developing capitalist powers were able to conquer large parts of the rest of the world. By 1800 some 35 percent of the world’s land surface was, or had been, a colony of a European power. By 1878 this figure had risen to 67 percent and by 1914 to 84 percent. [1] This led many to reduce the expansive drive of capitalism to formal colonialism and to equate formal colonialism with imperialism. This was a mistake. The expansionism of capitalism preceded formal colonialism and has taken many other forms. Formal colonialism, on the other hand, proved more transient with the widespread decolonisation of empire after 1945. Imperialism was, and is, something more. Imperialism is a modern phenomenon and it expresses the way in which the central axis of international competition is subordinated to interstate competition, with military force an ever present factor. The struggle over formal colonies was a part of this, but by no means the whole. [2] Instead the central axis of international competition was now over the control of the heartlands of the world economy. It was this that led to the First World War, the Second World War and the Cold War. Today these factors remain present. Despite talk of a ‘globalisation’ which transcends the boundaries of nation states, state power and military power cannot be relinquished. They remain essential ingredients underpinning the pseudo-‘global’ forms, helping to direct the process of international competition.

The optimism that the end of the Cold War might lead to a new world order has been shown to be false. The hope that it would release a peace dividend that would enable a new generosity in international relations has been belied by experience, as some of us sadly predicted it would. [3] Though the arms burden has declined, there has been no outpouring of aid to Eastern Europe, no new ‘Marshall Plan’. The result has been that the burden of change has fallen on the broad masses of the population, wrecking lives across the old Soviet bloc in general and in one of its poorest components in south eastern Europe in particular. According to the World Bank, the number of people living in poverty (defined as having less than $4 a day) in the former Soviet bloc has risen from 14 million in 1990 to 147 million in 1998. [4] Worse still, the advanced countries have continued to reduce further the miserly sums they devote to aid to the even poorer areas of the world. The OECD countries are rhetorically committed to an aid target of 0.7 percent of their output. In 1990 they gave 0.35 percent, and by 1997 the figure had fallen to 0.22 percent, with the United States under this heading giving 0.09 percent of its output, a figure in startling contrast to the expenditure devoted to destruction. [5]

2) In the period 1945–1989 this conflict appeared to take the form of a Cold War between the military alliances of NATO and the Warsaw Pact representing two qualitatively different sides. But this idea obscured the similar roots of conflict on both sides and it enabled the US and Russia to make wider interventions under the guise of the East-West conflict

Already at the beginning of the 20th century the US had emerged as the most powerful capitalist economy in the world, but at this point it did not have a world role commensurate with its growing power. The fundamental imperialist clashes therefore took place in Europe both in 1914 and 1939 in the form of conflict between a British led alliance and a German led alliance. In the first instance the US intervened in 1917 to tip the balance in favour of the British led alliance. In the second instance, when the US came into the war in 1941, its power quickly made it the dominant force in the alliance. The result was that in 1945 it was in absolute and relative terms the most powerful economy in the world with, on some calculations, 50 percent of world manufacturing output. It now had a role of global leadership to match. This produced a degree of friction with Britain and France – powers in relative decline which still hankered after their old role. But this was minimised as a result of a more fundamental clash that now emerged with another former wartime ally in the anti-Hitler alliance, Russia. The result was the Cold War that lasted until 1989.

On both sides the Cold War was claimed to be something different from earlier imperialist clashes. Russia claimed to be socialist, though Stalin’s regime and its successors developed on the ashes of the aspirations to real socialism as dictatorships with great power designs of their own. For their part, propagandists in the US and Western Europe claimed that their side of the Cold War was motivated by an attempt to halt Soviet imperialism and totalitarianism where they stood. For them, the Cold War was ‘the brave and essential response of free men to Communist aggression’. [6]

The arguments were smokescreens obscuring the rapacious way in which both sides acted in their own interests and against the populations they claimed to defend. Those who argued that the point was to support neither Washington nor Moscow, but to take an independent stand and challenge both, were right then as they are right now – no matter how difficult the stance is to take.

But this is not to say that the Cold War was a clash of equals. Throughout there remained a fundamental imbalance of power. If the US was a global power in fact and name, the USSR was only a global power in name. In reality it was a regional power with some global aspirations but no means to achieve them. The dismissive phrase that was later attached to it – ‘Upper Volta with rockets’ – was a woeful mischaracterisation of its economic power, but it captured in an exaggerated form the imbalance with which Russian leaders had to deal.

But the fact that the clash of interests could be presented as a global ideological clash – especially by US apologists – meant that friends could be rewarded and enemies penalised on an international scale as part of the fight against Communism, even though the real motivation, sometimes only half consciously understood by US leaders, lay elsewhere. In most of Western Europe, however, the democracy that had been achieved through past popular struggles, though limited, looked – and was – far superior to the forms of dictatorial rule that existed in the Eastern bloc, and not surprisingly, when people there got a chance to vote with their feet, in 1989 and beyond, in so far as the choice was ‘West’ or ‘East’, they chose ‘West’. But this did not stop the US and its ‘democratic allies’ in Europe supporting the existing fascist dictatorships in Spain and Portugal, a succession of unpleasant regimes in Turkey, and encouraging military rule in Greece between 1967 and 1974. Beyond the boundaries of Europe, support for brutal regimes and intervention under the guise of the Cold War produced an even more sorry record to shame those who believed that their ‘pro-democratic stance’ invested them with moral supremacy over the dictatorships of the East.

3) When the Cold War ended it produced a more unstable world, but one in which new justifications had to be found for selective intervention in terms of a moral crusade against demonised opponents

When the Cold War ended it briefly appeared as if the basis for a new world order had been laid. Formal colonialism was now largely in the receding past. The great ideological divide in Europe and the wider world had disappeared with the triumph of the market, and in Fukuyama’s famous phrase ‘history’, in the sense of the great clash of principles, ‘had ended’. Democracy would not fight democracy. States based on the market and private property – linked by global business – would not fight one another. To popularise the idea some even talked of the ‘McDonald’s effect’ – no two countries with a McDonald’s restaurant, it was claimed, had ever gone to war against one another. Henceforth there would only be residual conflicts with leftovers of the old order. [7]

But far from being more stable, the post Cold War world has turned out to be less stable. The Cold War had, to an extent, produced a degree of international discipline – supported by the leverage of the US-USSR in their respective spheres of influence. Now this disciplining factor disappeared. Worse still, the less stable conditions in the world economy, accompanied in places by the strains of transition crisis, acted to inflame local antagonisms. Beyond this the big powers in general, and the US in particular, still needed to act to allow competitive expansion to continue and to deal with truculent states and minorities who refused to conform to the terms on offer.

For this to carry support at home, new justifications or reworked old ones had to be developed to support the deployment of power. Contrary to what is often imagined, earlier examples of imperialist action were rarely justified in terms of naked self interest. The claim was always that they served a higher purpose. Kipling’s famous poem The White Man’s Burden, where he gives advice to a US awakening to the first realisation that it has a global role, recalls this in its famous opening verse:

Take up the White Man’s burden –
Send forth the best ye breed –
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need

The First World War was, of course, famously conducted for ‘humanitarian’ ends on both sides, as was the Second World War. It is often not appreciated that when fascist or quasi-fascist states acted they were no less anxious to cloak themselves in altruistic humanitarianism. When Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931 the formal justification was to save the Manchurians from ‘Chinese banditry’. When Mussolini invaded Ethiopia it was to bring the benefits of Italian civilisation. Hitler was no less adept at the argument, marching into Sudetenland to save the Sudeten Germans from ‘Czech nationalist bullying’ but intending to ‘safeguard the national individuality of the German and Czech peoples’ and ‘filled with earnest desire to serve the true interests of the peoples dwelling in the area’. [8]

But now, after a Cold War invested with an apparently even nobler purpose and with what are deemed to be fickle mass electorates – it has become even more important to present the deployment of power and influence, of intervention (however selective, one sided and brutal in practice) as motivated only by benign intentions, benevolence, democracy, humanitarian concerns. It also became important to demonise your enemies to justify your actions even though, perhaps only months before, they had acted as your ‘client’ leaders or men ‘with whom you could do business’. Thus international terrorist conspiracies were invented; pariah state supporters of terrorism isolated; drug states vilified; fundamentalist states made the objects of new crusades and ethnic nationalists seen as the recalcitrant leftovers of a past era.

And as this happened, as in other propaganda wars, it became more and more difficult to distinguish between the real atrocities and the imagined ones, to distinguish between the atrocities to which ‘we’ turned a blind eye (East Timor in Indonesia – perhaps 250,000 dead – or the ethnic cleansing of Kurds in Turkey where in a 15 year period an estimated 4,000 villages were destroyed, 30,000 killed and as many as 3 million displaced), atrocities which we looked at full in the face but bemoaned ‘our’ impotence to intervene in (Rwanda), and those which came to embody grounds for intervention as a new ‘moral imperialism’ (Iraq, Serbia).

None of this is to deny that a real tension exists between the aspirations to guarantee all people basic human rights regardless of their state and the fact that the world is organised by states which claim sovereign immunity. The United Nations tried to act as an international forum for the resolution of this tension. It could not achieve this because it remained a prisoner of the interests of the big states. International law existed as something to regulate and protect the strong rather than the weak. For this reason socialists have always been suspicious of the claims made on behalf of the UN. But so long as states remained committed to the UN in however loose a way it at least existed as a formal restraint on any state or group of states arrogating to themselves in a completely anarchic way the right to develop their own self defining pretexts for intervention. Now the US-UK led NATO action has specifically removed such intervention from the formal sanction of the UN, allowing it to become a self defining pretext for any other state or group of states to use. To do this they will only have to quote the justification offered by George Robertson, the British defence secretary: ‘There can be no doubt ... that NATO is acting within international law. The legal justification for air strikes rests upon the accepted principle that force may be used in extreme circumstances without the [UN] Security Council’s express authorisation in order to avert humanitarian catastrophe’. [9]

4) Whilst the US has been prepared to intervene on its own in many conflicts, in the central area of Euro-Atlantic relations there has been a growing tendency to redefine and widen the purpose of NATO to orchestrate intervention

NATO was created primarily by the US and the UK as part of the Cold War in 1949. Its formal function, set out in Article 5 of the original Washington Treaty, focused on the Russian threat:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against all of them and ... that, if such an armed attack occur, each of them, in exercise of the right of collective self defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking ... such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force.

Article 6 then defined the geographical area to which this applied:

For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack: on the territories of any of the Parties in Europe or North America...on the territory of Turkey, or on the islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.

The organisation’s first secretary-general, Lord Ismay, more brutally defined NATO’s real role as keeping the US in Europe, keeping Russia out and keeping Germany down.

Even as late as 1991 an attempt to consolidate what is called the Alliance Strategic Concept formally held to this narrow definition of NATO’s role, saying that ‘the Alliance is purely defensive in purpose: none of its weapons will ever be used except in self defence’. [10]

But at the end of the Cold War the question arose as to why NATO should continue to exist at all. This question was at the heart of the development of a new strategic concept for NATO: ‘History shows that traditional military alliances disappear once victory has been won. But NATO did not disappear ... During the 1990s NATO has evolved to the extent that crisis management and conflict prevention are now its primary missions’. [11]

To understand how this happened it is important to realise that in a competitive world powerful states with similar interests have always needed to ally with one another to manage their joint interests, create a united front against other big states and police minor challenges to their detailed interests. Formally the UN exists as an organisation of all states to achieve this. Idealists therefore see it as the supreme expression of the collective interests of the community of states. It cannot, however, operate in this way. In many respects the UN is even weaker than its much maligned predecessor, the League of Nations. Not only does it lack its own forces but it was designed to give expression to the interests of the most powerful states. It can only act if the permanent members of the Security Council (the US, UK, France, Russia and China) are united, and since each member has veto powers it will never be able to act when their fundamental interests conflict. One logical way of resolving this problem would be to diminish the power of the Security Council in favour of a real decision making forum of all states, something which has sometimes been allowed to happen in minor matters. But this would mean that the big powers would then be constrained by the smaller powers including those that they might wish to act against. They have therefore no interest in allowing this to happen on a significant scale and, to the extent that the US has been a victim of such alliances on minor matters, it has punished the UN by withholding its contributions. [12] The UN can therefore only ever be impotent when the big powers clash; it can only act in a unified way when their interests coincide, which will more often than not involve action against smaller and more minor players in the world economy.

When the Cold War ended, therefore, these wider factors encouraged all members of NATO to look for a continued and redefined role for the organisation through which their military and other interests could be orchestrated. This led to new policies which had four dimensions to them:

  1. widening the European membership of the organisation, initially from 16 to 19;
  2. out of area actions with the unresolved question of how far afield NATO can operate – North Africa, the Middle East, the Caucuses or even wider? (NATO troops have already carried out training exercises in Kazhakstan);
  3. new forms of intervention – a rapid reaction force, the development of peacekeeping and policing roles, ‘humanitarian’ intervention;
  4. within NATO some attempt to rebalance its internal relations through an attempt to create a European Security and Defence Identity.

The internal debate over a European Security and Defence Identity has had a number of elements. One is the attempt to restructure the balance of effort in NATO. It is accepted throughout NATO that the US will continue to play the major role but there is US pressure for Europe to take up more of the burden. While NATO’s European armed forces number 2 million, those of the US number 1.2 million, but two thirds of NATO defence spending is undertaken by the US and the US has not only led but carried NATO’s past involvements. In the war on Serbia between 70 and 80 percent of the resources deployed and missions undertaken have been American.

This encouragement of a more ‘European defence identity’ in NATO has been welcomed by European leaders but they have been divided over its interpretation. For the British government and Tony Blair there is no question of it leading to an independent ‘European’ role. His vision is of a self financing European defence role explicitly subordinate to the US, what its pro-’European’ critics call the ‘Indian army of the Raj’ scenario by analogy with the way that Britain ran its empire in India using Indian troops financed out of taxes on the Indian population. The alternative view, more evident amongst the French and German leaderships, toys with a ‘defence identity’ in which ‘Europe’ would be more of an equal partner with the US.

Beyond this the idea of a ‘European defence identity’ has a broader ideological role. It is supposed to enable the creation of a ‘European security architecture’ which will include not only the old NATO core, but its new members and the currently excluded members who are part of the ‘Partnership for Peace’ of which the most important is Russia. This is supposed to lead to what Solana, the secretary-general of NATO, calls ‘a region of stability from Vancouver to Valdivostok’. [13] In addition this talk of ‘defence identities’ and ‘security architectures’ also helps to broaden terms on which NATO can intervene both on a wider European scale and beyond. If we take Solana at his word then, breathtaking and nightmarish though the idea might be, it is not illogical to suggest that guaranteeing such a zone against external destabilisation might mean that NATO’s southern flank could extend from Mexico to Beijing.

The debate on these broader issues was still going on as the Yugoslav crisis erupted. Even as NATO was mobilising, its propaganda magazine was being issued with an article by Helmut Schmidt which accepted a wider role but explicitly argued, ‘From a democratic standpoint, we urgently need a profound debate – similar to the quality of the euro debate that has taken place throughout Europe in the last few years – before fundamentally broadening or reshaping the aims of the Alliance’. [14] It seems likely therefore that one dimension of the Yugoslav crisis was that it provided an opportunity for NATO to decisively mark out on the ground its developing new strategic concept. It also enabled the internal debate to be short-circuited, ending what some have dismissively referred to as a ‘partnership for prevarication’.

5) Intervention in Yugoslavia came to be seen as a crucial test of credibility of the evolving NATO strategy and US capacity for ‘crisis management’

When Iraq invaded Kuwait the West’s formidable firepower was turned on Iraq and much of it still remains focused on that country today. By contrast far worse problems, including initially those in the former Yugoslavia, were ignored or even encouraged to fester. The very clear material interest that the West had in oil supplies provided an obvious explanation for these double standards. In the dismissive phrase of the 1991 Gulf War debates, to have ‘carrots rather than oil’ was to fall beneath of gaze of the West’s concern. The subsequent intervention in Bosnia and the sustained assault on Serbia in 1999 have led some to speculate that behind the rhetoric there are rather more substantial material interests at stake in the former Yugoslavia than ‘carrots’.

Given the fulsome declarations of humanitarian motivation that have underpinned the rhetoric of NATO, it is important to recognise that crude material self interest does exist in the form of the anxiety of arms manufacturers for sales, the needs of oil companies for secure pipelines across the Balkan region for oil from the Caspian Sea, the interests of Western business in the former Yugoslavia, the role of the IMF-World Bank, the pressure of expatriate groups in the US and so on. More broadly still, it appears that the US State Department has been under considerable pressure from US business and Wall Street to push increased access to global markets as part of its strategy for endorsing the benefits of ‘globalisation’ as an ever wider open door for US business. No less on the Serbian side the equally fulsome rhetoric which claims Kosovo as the historic birthright of the Serbs helps to obscure the material interests of the Serbian regime in the rich mines of Kosovo as well as the interests of local Kosovan Serbs in extending their control of land in the countryside.

But to conceive of NATO’s role in the Balkan War in direct material terms is to miss the wider role that Yugoslavia has come to play in the establishment of a world order under Western supervision – quite simply the former Yugoslavia, beginning as an irritant, became the test of credibility of US-NATO strategy and its capacity for what its propagandists call ‘crisis management’.

That the growing crisis in Yugoslavia in the 1980s might lead to explosive consequences was long feared if not fully foreseen by Western leaders. According to the former German leader Helmut Schmidt:

As far back as 1980, several European leaders, assembled for the funeral of Marshal Tito, concluded that this composite state, cobbling together at least eight nations and ethnic minorities and previously held together by the talented dictator and his brutal methods, would collapse in five or ten years at the most. No one suggested the possibility of Western intervention to deal with this, though there were certainly fears of Soviet military action. As it turned out, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia collapsed simultaneously. [15]

Yet despite this initial reluctance to get involved as the former Yugoslavia disintegrated, Western meddling not only failed to control this process but materially assisted it. At each stage of the process the West has been drawn in deeper. In the 1980s it had intervened primarily by economic methods. The World Bank-IMF complex encouraged austerity programmes which would guarantee the repayment of Yugoslavia’s large debt, even if they intensified the internal economic difficulties. Then as pressures leading to the break up of Yugoslavia developed the issue arose as to which states should be recognised and so granted legitimacy. Then the eruption of the Bosnian crisis eventually created the ‘need’ for direct intervention and Kosovo has seen this occur on a much greater scale.

Kosovo posed Western policy its sharpest dilemma. On the one hand there was recognition of the enormous weight Serb nationalism placed on Kosovo. One expert and policy adviser expressed the problem this way in 1992:

A poor, wretched land, Kosovo is important because the Serbs have deemed it so. Indeed, it cannot be emphasised too strongly that the future of Kosovo is non-negotiable as far as Serbia is concerned. The importance which the Serbs attach to Kosovo as the historic, cultural and spiritual centre probably knows no parallel except that of Jerusalem for the Jews, although even that comparison is inadequate since Jerusalem is a holy place for three religions. [16]

On the other hand there was also a long standing recognition that the predominance of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and past Serb oppression made the situation potentially as explosive as the Bosnian one internally and more explosive externally since it might spill over to help unravel the borders of the successor states to the old Yugoslavia and perhaps the Balkans more widely.

To stabilise this situation, therefore, Western leaders were happy to go to Belgrade to do deals with Milosevic and, as the tension mounted, to denounce Milosevic, the Serbian side and the Kosovo Liberation Army, which had been formed in 1993 to conduct a more radical and, if necessary, violent campaign to defend the oppressed Kosovan Albanian population. A succession of UN resolutions called on both sides to reduce the level of conflict. But such appeals had little effect on either side. As the crisis developed, Western leaders and NATO had to decide between doing deals with Milosevic and making an example of him.

The threat to make an example of the Serb leader had been made as early as 1992 when George Bush apparently warned Belgrade that ‘in the event of conflict in Kosovo caused by Serbian action, the US will be prepared to employ military force against Serbs in Kosovo and Serbia proper’. [17] Since every deal that failed to stick was seen as a mark of failure the balance began to tip against Milosevic and Serbia. This was helped by Milosevic’s own inadequacies as a nationalist leader. He was not the only Yugoslav leader to come to power trying to play both a reformist and a nationalist card. Tudjman in Croatia had done the same and in the process woken just as many local fears about Croatian aggrandisement as Milosevic raised locally about Serbian aggrandisement. But Tudjman better managed not to rock the boat with the West. Milosevic and his group played their cards with much less finesse and, however well this may have gone down with Serb nationalism, it served only to create more Western suspicion of him and his power base.

So far, therefore, from being able to offer a constructive way out of the crisis by helping rebuild a shattered region, Western leaders were trapped in a series of ever narrowing options. In the summer of 1998 awareness of the worsening situation in Kosovo led to NATO renewing the threat of air attacks on the Milosevic regime. This forced a retreat in the autumn of 1998, as it had done earlier in Bosnia. Milosevic agreed to allow international observers into Kosovo and agreed to pull out Serb troops. But Serbian repression continued and the KLA fought back. Then in early 1999 the discovery of a massacre by Serbian forces at Racjek either appears to have convinced key figures in the Clinton administration that the time had now come to move, or provided them with the excuse they were looking for. While internal debate continued, pressure was put on the KLA to accept the Rambouillet Accords which required Serbia to allow NATO to police a peace – a demand which was highly unlikely to be acceptable to the Serbian leadership and which led eventually to the Serbian rejection of the accords and war.

The National Security Council in the US and wider policy circles reviewed what Clinton called ‘a bunch of bad options’ and apparently believing that there might be a ‘hot Spring’ in Kosovo they decided, after some last minute prevarication, that they could wait no longer and that they had now to carry out their threat to make an example of Milosevic whatever the resulting costs.

Undoubtedly they were helped in this by their recognition of more particular interests. No doubt too key ‘hawks’ like Madeleine Albright might have played an important role in tipping the balance. But to explain what happened in these terms is to localise the problem and to miss its wider logic that derives from NATO’s attempt to police a competitive world in its interests and on its terms.

6) NATO made a major miscalculation about the ease with which its objectives could be attained

It is a commonplace of military strategy in the 20th century that it is necessary to strike hard, fast and at full strength to achieve your objectives. If successful, such a blitzkrieg tactic can create chaos for the enemy, demoralisation and a speedy surrender with minimum casualties to your self. Locally air strikes and ground troops should be combined fully and in quick succession. There is every indication that in narrow military terms this was the NATO High Command’s view of the ideal military scenario in Kosovo.

But at the same time there appears also to have been a widespread belief among both political and military leaders that a demonstrative military action might be enough to achieve a humiliating Serbian retreat and so establish NATO’s authoritative capacity to deploy minimum military force to achieve the maximum political ends. NATO operated, in Madeleine Albright’s words, with the view that its objectives would be ‘achievable in a relatively short period of time’. [18] The faulty intelligence on which this disastrous miscalculation was based need not detain us. It led to an underestimation of the air power needed (it took ten days to reach the level of intensity of the first night of the Gulf War), and it woefully encouraged the Serb regime by portraying the campaign as ‘self limiting’ in the refusal to deploy ground troops.

The result was catastrophic. Whatever Milosevic’s intentions before the withdrawal of OSCE monitors, this signalled the impending attack while the effective breathing space that was created allowed the mass of the Kosovan population to be driven out through the combined impact of fear of the bombs, fear of actions of organised Serb forces and fear of the actions of ad hoc Serb civilians and paramilitaries. The victims of Milosevic’s brutal nationalism became the victims of the incompetence of NATO’s brutal power politics. Secondly, the huge refugee movements created an enormous destabilisation in neighbouring Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro – precisely the effect on Serbia’s neighbours NATO claimed its action would avoid. Thirdly, the bombing solidified support for Milosevic in Serbia itself (and even more amongst the remaining Serbs in Kosovo), partly through the natural effect of a regime under attack coming together on reactionary terms and partly through the possibilities it afforded him to continue his destruction of all forms of opposition as, in effect, NATO traitors and betrayers of the national interest. [19] Finally the failure of NATO to achieve its objectives quickly in such a visibly incompetent way threatened the credibility of NATO, Britain, the US and their supporters far more than the original crisis.

Ironically it was this very fact that drew the NATO alliance more closely together. The open admission of NATO defeat by an otherwise tinpot leader of a tinpot state in the backward Balkans would have devastating consequences for the US, NATO and the West:

Failure will not just ensure that despots everywhere take heart. NATO is not serious, they will say. It has no stomach for a fight. When the fate of innocent Kosovars is in the balance that is bad enough. When Western national interests are at stake it will be grave indeed. [20]

More immediately failure would put at risk the sometimes precarious coalition governments in some NATO member countries (for example, Germany). Failure would also threaten the governments of the NATO members closest to Serbia which were in an even more difficult situation (Italy and Greece), and also put a question mark over states like Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia that have been denied NATO membership and the promise of first wave EU membership, but to whom the carrot of some eventual linkage has been held out if they support the action. [21] Doubts were therefore suppressed and even those realists inside and outside the policy making circles who were critical of the original errors nevertheless insisted that the war had to be prosecuted to a visible victory for NATO. As one put it, ‘We are committed to a policy that is quite frankly idiotic but which in a way would have to be continued to save some credibility’. [22]

Yet it is equally clear that the contradictions of a NATO victory will be no less devastating for the region, as we shall note in more detail later. On a global scale the ever widening ramifications threaten to set in motion a new round of tensions with implications barely foreseen at the start of the conflict. From the point of view of those who believe in the rightness of might this, however, will be acceptable if it ensures that the US can operate on a wider world scale with the continued support of its European allies.

7) In resolving these difficulties the interests of the wider Balkan peoples, the mass of the Serbian population and the mass of the Kosovan population will take second place to doing a deal with the Serbian leadership

The West claims that this is a humanitarian action designed to stabilise Kosovo, Serbia and the wider Balkans in the interests of the people there by bringing a local rogue government into line. But this is belied by the process that led to war, the way the war is prosecuted and the way it will be ended.

So far as the cause of the war is concerned, the collapse of Yugoslavia was underpinned by growing economic crisis and international debt in which the response of the West was to pressure first the Yugoslav government, and then its successors, to impose policies of ‘structural adjustment’ or more accurately an impoverishing process of readjustment which increased want and resentment on a huge scale while enabling Western loans to be repaid.

More specifically, so far as the Kosovans themselves are concerned, the callousness of Western policy is reflected in the indifference to the refugee problem. While we might allow that the enormous scale of the problem could not have been foreseen, the fact remains that not only was there no real planning for any significant movement but prior to the start of the war the refugee problem that already existed had been neglected. In September 1998 – eight months before the start of the aerial war – Kofi Annan officially reported for the UN on the earlier conflicts saying:

The hostilities triggered a dramatic exodus of the civilian population from Kosovo. According to the statistics of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of refugees and displaced people in the province amounts to 230,000 people, 60,000 of whom have chosen to leave Kosovo. Under considerable pressure brought to bear by the international community, the Serb authorities have taken action to attract the refugees back to their permanent places of residence, offering them material aid. However, this has elicited a tepid response from the Albanian population, which is suspicious of Serb guarantees. Humanitarian aid deliveries to Kosovo have so far been unequal to the situation on the ground. [23]

Once the war was under way the prime consideration was, contrary to NATO’s protestations, neither the Kosovan population nor the Serb population but the destruction of the infrastructure of the Serbian state – if necessary at the expense of both the Kosovan and Serb populations. This did not simply flow from errors which were inevitable in any scenario. NATO may well have tried to err on the side of civilian safety within the terms of its rules of engagement but these were set in such a way as to make this concern for civilians a marginal issue – good for propaganda but little else. NATO’s real military policy was well characterised by Carl Bildt (the ex Swedish prime minister who played a leading role in the Bosnian ‘settlement’) as being ‘one of minimum risk to itself and maximum risk to those it was supposed to protect’. [24]

This has been reflected in the reluctance to commit ground troops for fear of casualties; the form of the air war which has involved high altitude bombing for fear of risking the air crews, guaranteeing ‘mistakes’ and high levels of ‘collateral damage’ (or the mass destruction of civilian buildings with attendant deaths); and finally the gradually widening of the definition of what is a military target. [25]

So far as the bombing is concerned it remains for us to restate that ‘smart bombing’ is a myth. Firstly, as in the Gulf War, the vast majority of bombs dropped are not merely old bombs but often more deadly versions such as bombs tipped with depleted uranium and cluster bombs which leave a legacy of what are land mines by another name. [26] Secondly ‘smart bombs’ are only as ‘smart’ as the intelligence information that goes into their targeting and this is often at fault. [27] But in addition the oft quoted Pentagon data from the Gulf War suggests a high failure rate for ‘smart weapons’ with only a 60 percent success rate for laser guided bombs and only a 53 percent success rate for cruise missiles.

NATO policy can also be judged in terms of the treatment of refugees once the war had begun. While Western politicians were happy to have a photogenic day out in the camps, the real levels of aid that have been given have been pathetically inadequate not only to the task but in comparison to the military costs. As the Macedonian interior minister Pavle Trajinov bitterly remarked, ‘They declare that they want to help the refugees but is it enough just to come to the camps, take photos with the refugees, and then tell the whole world, “See. We’ve done so much for the refugees”?’ No less can policy be judged in terms of the unseemly wrangling over the movement of refugees in which the most disgraceful role has been played by Britain. As Trajinov put it, ‘We’ve seen it before in other places, and it’s happening here. They pass judgement on how the refugees are being cared for. At the same time, they come up with 300 excuses why they themselves shouldn’t [take any refugees]’. [28]

At the time of writing it is not clear whether ground troops will be used before a ceasefire but it is already clear that the bombing has been intensified, widened and stretched so as to set the economies of both Serbia and Kosovo back a generation. Two scenarios now exist. One is an early ceasefire with a peace treaty with the Serbian leadership based on an assurance that NATO will achieve its major military objectives. The second is a widening of the war to achieve this through the use of ground troops. The common premise of both scenarios is the same greater intensification of the aerial campaign to bring a repentant Serbian government to heel or to prepare the way for enforcing that on the ground.

There is no suggestion, however, that NATO is prepared to invade Serbia and impose a different government on the country. This means that any deal must be with Milosevic or, if he is killed or removed, with a leader whose power base derives much of its support from his acceptance of the Serbian nationalist agenda. Therefore, even if a more amenable leader appears or Milosevic backs down and agrees to the creation of a largely independent Kosovo (whether greater or smaller), the full claims of either side will not be achieved or explicitly defeated but only supported/suppressed by superior force. Despite the war induced talk of a ‘generous peace’, there is absolutely no indication that the NATO countries are prepared to commit the massive long term aid necessary both to restore and improve the situation as well as to commit the military resources to police the peace.

8) So far from it being the case that social democracy and liberalism has a record of opposing Western imperialism, they have played a key role both in legitimising it and in leading it in times of conflict

The enthusiasm with which the war has been taken up by most liberal, social democratic and Green leaders in the NATO countries has come as a surprise to many on the left, as a considerable number of these leaders had only a few years before been prominent in peace movements. It is important to understand therefore that this is no momentary aberration. When confronted with past crises and wars, liberal and social democratic leaders have not only supported their governments but played a leading role in them. The scale of the betrayal in the First World War is too well known to require rehearsing. But the signs of this betrayal were already in the air before 1914 – social democracy’s ‘internationalism’ only existed when it could be made to coincide with ‘national interests’. ‘Social democracy can never be anti-national,’ the French socialist leader Jules Guesde told the Balkan socialist Christian Rakovsky on the eve of 1914. [29] That key European leaders of the newly developed Green parties should similarly fail the test of war at the end of the 20th century is no less surprising given the nature of Green politics and the more benign view of the role of the state and parliamentary government that it shares with liberalism and social democracy.

The idea that all of these groups would have a more resolute anti-imperialist position today than in the past rested on a misunderstanding of recent history. In particular the anti-war movements in the US and Europe that developed in the 1960s over Vietnam and against the Second Cold War were very much a product of the unravelling of the US assault on Vietnam. Creditable though the opposition to this war was, it cannot be allowed to obscure the fact that in origin the Vietnam War was similar to other wars this century in being a ‘liberals’ war’. This was so not only in the sense that the liberal hero Kennedy played a leading role in its escalation, defining it ‘a righteous crusade’, but also in the way in which the liberal establishment initially swung behind it in the US, supported by the social democratic establishment in the West. This position reflected their earlier role in not merely endorsing but propagandising the Cold War. It was only when the Vietnam War began to go dramatically wrong and a peace movement developed outside these circles put pressure on them that they began to vacillate.

The role that left of centre political forces have played and continue to play in capitalism’s wars can be explained in two main ways. One is their belief in the need to work within the system to change it, a view which means that in the short run they must accommodate themselves to its logic and assume the trustworthy character of capitalism in general and its institutions and leaders in particular. Their criticisms, doubts and hesitations are therefore only ever partial and they remain trapped by the logic of power – a logic that is manifested in an acceptance of the limited choices that capitalism’s conflicts appear to create as well as the institutions that condition these choices.

But there is a second strand to the relationship of the left to capitalism’s wars. It is often mistakenly assumed that the best interests of capitalist states are represented by the forces of the right. This is sometimes the case, but it is far from always so. Although the exact link between foreign policy and domestic politics and economic forces needs to be analysed on a case by case basis, as a generalisation we can say that the narrowness of the vision of the right often creates a space in which the policies of liberalism, social democracy and even the Greens, better reflect capitalism’s needs. Faced with foreign policy conflicts the right tends to fracture. One part – usually the most backward – is often isolationist. Another section, priding itself on its realism, does not oppose action in principle, but wishes to tie it narrowly to its perception of the ‘national interest’, which may often paralyse action.

But, as we have argued, although capitalism is built on a competitive world of states it cannot just exist as an anarchical society. It is here that liberal and social democratic forces with an ostensibly wider vision of the ‘national interest’ can play a crucial role in developing the global institutions of capitalism and enforcing their domination or at least the domination of those institutions like NATO that they can control.

9) The intensity of the national question in the Balkans is the product of the late development of capitalism and the interests of the Great Powers in having a fragmented and competitive state system there

Many outsiders who look at the Balkans see a seething cauldron of irrational ethnic hatreds, which they would do well to steer clear of in person and also to steer clear of intellectually. But the Balkan peoples are no different from those anywhere else in the world and the enormous instability of the region is simply explicable in terms of the interaction of three factors.

The first is that this whole area was for centuries part of the Ottoman Empire (the word ‘Balkan’ derives from the Turkish for high range – reflecting the way the area is made up of mountains interspersed with broad plateaux). As part of the Ottoman Empire the region escaped the process of nation building that took place in Europe from the 16th century onwards. From the 15th century to the 17th century the Ottoman Empire was the most powerful political force in the world, controlling lands the size of the old Roman Empire whose eastern capital, Constantinople, the Ottomans took over. From the 18th century onwards, however, the Ottoman system began to fall into decay and this accelerated in the 19th century so the empire became, in the Russian Tsar Nicholas I’s famous words, ‘the sick man of Europe’. All of the major states in the Balkans derived from fragments of the Ottoman Empire (supplemented by fragments of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires). As children were taught in late 19th century Britain, the Ottoman Empire ‘has, from 1672, been gradually dwindling ... Kingdom after kingdom, state after state, has been cut out of it by Russia and Austria, with the consent of the other Great Powers’. [30]

In the 19th century the internal and external enemies of the empire condemned its rule as the ‘Ottoman’ or ‘Turkish’ ‘yoke’, attacking it as an ‘uncivilised’ and ‘barbarous’ ‘Asiatic’ relic in Europe. As central control weakened and in some areas it became hard to distinguish local rulers within the empire from bandits, ‘the yoke’ did come to lie more heavily. But in general terms the key thing to understand is that in comparative terms, throughout its history, Ottoman rule was relatively loose. In the West, for example, when Spain was unified in 1492, within a century Jews had been expelled (with an important community fleeing to sanctuary in the Ottoman Empire, including its Balkan lands) and so had the Muslims, and the Inquisition had done its worst.

There was nothing to compare to such attempts at expulsion and forced homogenisation under Ottoman rule. Instead Ottoman rulers were happy to allow different religions to develop and local peculiarities to exist provided that they did so in an ordered way and the resulting communities paid their dues to the empire. They therefore created a structure of rule which involved relatively autonomous and religious led organisations. So successful was this that at the high point of Ottoman power, despite later claims of forced conversions, some groups voluntarily converted to Islam and willingly identified themselves with the empire’s aspirations. [31] Overall though it was the compromise with localism that was important because this allowed local traditions and differentiation to develop and be maintained at a time in which in western Europe they were being much reduced by the operations of capitalist development and the state. [32] Some 19th century romantic nationalists would claim that these traditions extended back to the glories of an imagined medieval independence and, in some instances – Greece or Macedonia, for example – even farther back to the glories of the ancient world. But these genealogies of nation were as spurious as those invented in western Europe around Robin Hood, William Tell, Joan of Arc and so on.

The second element in the instability of the Balkans was the eruption of capitalism in the 19th century. This came first as a demonstration effect. The economic development of western Europe, and more particularly the romantic vision of the French Revolution as the ‘self proclamation’ of the nation and of the ‘nation in arms’, encouraged stirrings among intellectuals within the Ottoman Empire but also, more importantly at first, in the expatriate communities on the borders of the empire. [33] Where Britain and France had gone before, they argued, now an independent Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and so on could go in the future. Amongst the mass of the population who were peasants and whose life was bounded by their locality, such visions of national freedom had little resonance. [34] For them to be generalised a second element was needed in the form of the arrival of capitalism on the ground and the manipulation of state power to encourage the process of national identification. In the second half of the 19th century capitalism began to more fundamentally transform eastern Europe in general and south eastern Europe in particular. But while it began to unravel the old relationships and to create new ones, it failed to produce the prosperity that the nationalists hoped independence would bring. [35] The economic gap (measured roughly in output per head) between western and eastern Europe grew from around 20 percent in 1800 to perhaps 60 percent in 1860 and 80 percent in 1900. The overall levels of ‘national’ integration were also lower than in the west. But there also developed a marked pattern of uneven development with some regions developing faster and becoming more closely linked in a positive way to the world economy. [36] This enabled local differences to be played on and interpreted as part of a pattern of superiority and inferiority, domination and oppression, a pattern that soon trapped the new states that emerged from the Ottoman Empire. ‘Building the nation’ inevitably therefore involved a twin process of inclusion and exclusion.

To this was then added the third element – the interests of the Great Powers – Britain, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary and then from the 1870s Germany and Italy. As the ‘sick man of Europe’ the Ottoman Empire was ripe for picking off. [37] Russia (driving to the south and trying to accumulate more land, looking for an outlet to the Mediterranean and therefore eyeing control of Constantinople and the Straits, and playing on mythologies of Slav solidarity) had a major interest in its destruction. Numerous wars therefore took place between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. [38] But the last thing the other Great Powers wanted was that Russia should either seize or control land. These powers (Austria-Hungary, Italy) aspired to a strategic position that would allow them to dominate the others (Britain, France, Germany). Britain in particular was concerned with the threat both to its interests in south eastern Europe and more importantly to its strategic interests in the route to India through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. It was this that created the famous ‘Eastern Question’ that figured so prominently in the history of Europe between 1850 and 1945, but which for a period the Cold War division of Europe would turn into a half forgotten historical curiosity for most of the world. As one British expert told the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London in 1924, ‘The Balkan problem, we must not forget, is not which town shall be Serb and which Greek ... but which European race shall eventually hold the gate of Europe and Asia and control Europe’s destiny’. [39]

The resulting power plays were sometimes breathtaking. At one point Russia would move against the Ottoman Empire, ‘supporting the Slav peoples’. Then it would decide whether its interests lay in the empire’s weakened survival rather than its complete destruction. Then it would turn against it again fearing that the newly independent Balkan states might themselves become too independent and challenge its interests in the region. [40] No less Britain and France viewed the Ottoman Empire with suspicion as the oppressor of Christians but then backed it as a better guarantee of their interests in the Balkans and the wider Mediterranean than a region controlled by Russia. Then, as demands for independence grew from different groups in the Ottoman Empire, this involved encouraging the fracturing of the Balkans into competing states (Balkanisation) which were often mutually hostile to one another and which could be played upon to secure the rival interests of the powers. As the competition increased, each of the powers, supplemented from the 1870s by the newly formed Italy and Germany, tried to maintain a grip on some part or other of the Balkans. German imperialism in particular began to look in a south eastern direction as its power grew before 1914 and then again in the 1930s under Hitler as it vied for the position of dominant power in the region. In the 1920s Mussolini paved the way for him and then acted as a truculent junior partner.

10) Local nationalist movements have always tried to work with particular great powers to gain leverage against enemies backed by other great powers

The paradox at the heart of the nationalist argument in the 19th century and beyond has been that, although nationalist movements have spoken in the name of ‘peoples yearning to be free’, nowhere have they gained enough support from these people to achieve their objectives. Their best hope therefore lay in movements from above which have often met with at best incomprehension and at worst opposition from the local populations but which have been able to lean on the support of the Great Powers which could then tip the balance in favour of national independence.

Since, however, the Great Powers had (and have) interests of their own and have rarely failed to be conscious of the disastrous results that might occur (as they did in 1914) if they fell out amongst one another, they rarely allowed those demanding national independence to get all that they wanted. This left these competing nationalisms with an unfinished agenda for a Greater Greece, a Greater Serbia, a Greater Romania, a Greater Bulgaria and, later, a Greater Albania. These agendas involved seizing territory and people from both the Ottoman Empire and sometimes the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as well as from one another. But to win these aims favour had to be continually curried with the Great Powers in the hope that one or other of them would force the others to accept the realignment of territory. [41]

Greece, on the fringes of the Ottoman Empire and seen by the Western powers as both a stabilising force as well as the mythical inheritor of the glories of the ancient world, was able, with one major exception in the early 1920s, to play this game spectacularly well. [42] Romania too managed to expand its lands by using the crisis of the Balkan Wars, joining the right side in 1916 in the First World War, joining the wrong side in the Second World War but then switching sides before it was too late. Bulgaria by contrast lost out. Having been a victor in the first Balkan War it became the country that the others ganged up against in the Second Balkan War. It joined the losing side in the First World War and then made the same mistake in the Second World War and then, unlike Romania, changed sides too late for it to make a difference.

But if state formation under Great Power supervision created a pattern of conflict over claims to external lands, the same process created the basis for internal destabilisation as nationalist movements developed (and were often tacitly encouraged externally) which claimed the right to secede and join the ‘mother’ country. Inevitably this accentuated the internal ‘minority’ conflicts within new states where concepts of identity were insecure. One consequence of this in the inter-war years was that as nationalist movements were driven to the right the attraction of Italian fascism and then German Nazism as both model and ally came for some groups to be overwhelming. This happened in Albania with Italy and Croatia with German fascism. Appendix 1 sets out in detail the growth of the Balkan states, their wars and claims and counter-claims that led to the bloody history of the region as it was buffeted by these forces.

But another consequence was that as common lands were fought over by different groups startling shifts in the position of nationalist movements could occur. Here the Macedonian case is perhaps the sharpest. No land or identity has even more disputed. [43] The complexity is reflected in the way in which the term macédoine came to be taken up in 18th century France to mean a mixture, being applied then to macédoine de fruits (fruit salad) and macédoine de légumes (hotchpotch). It is also reflected in the competing conceptions of the Macedonian lands and their rightful location. In each case the search for some authentic Macedonia, deriving from some ancient lineage, makes no sense at all but is best understood in terms of the interaction of Great Powers and local states with dissident nationalist groups struggling to carve out a niche for themselves.

Greek nationalism has always claimed the title of Macedonia as part of the ancient heritage of the Greek state going back to Alexander the Great, and speculated on the lands that might define this heritage. An area of land and a people with leaders claiming to be Macedonian were incorporated into Yugoslavia in 1918 emerging with the breakup of the country as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This phrase is bizarrely the correct title of the new state because Greek protests prevented it simply being called Macedonia lest this tarnish Greek claims to hold that land. [44] From the late 19th century, however, an even stronger case was developed that Macedonia was part of the Bulgarian inheritance and the lands that were supposed to be associated with should therefore be part of Bulgaria.

From the 1890s, however, a nationalist movement developed, based in Bulgaria, that looked to an independent Macedonia within a Balkan federation that would unite all the supposed Macedonian peoples. Known as the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation, it had a long history of wrecking itself in internecine warfare and Bulgarian politics more widely as it allowed itself to be a pawn of wider interests inside and outside the region. Its history has some striking echoes in the early life of the Kosovo Liberation Army and offers a telling vision of what its future might be. As one critical account from a previous generation expressed it:

The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation was a perfect example of a degeneration of a peasant movement which began as a real revolutionary movement but whose leaders, instead of accepting help for their pursuit of their own policies, became willing to take such help and to pursue the policies of the giver of aid. The Comintern tried originally to steer the IMRO movement away from individual terror and into alliance with the mass movement of the workers. The terrorists fell out among themselves over this policy and murdered each other. Then the movement degenerated completely and became a bandit racket. [45]

These amalgams of Great Power rivalries, interstate conflicts and conflicts within states meant that while the best Balkan socialists supported the idea of national self determination as a general principle they could never simply and uncritically ally with national demands and nationalist movements. The result was that the most determined socialists were often abused and attacked by all sides as they stood out for a socialist solution that went beyond competing local interests and Great Power rivalry. And however real failings become visible with hindsight, there existed an admirable history of socialist argument and courage that is largely unknown in the West and which the socialist movement here, that often failed lesser tests, would do well to consider more seriously. In the Balkan Wars, for example, although some socialists supported their governments, many did not. Even more spectacularly in 1914, when the First World War broke ostensibly to protect Serbia from bullying by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Serbian socialists courageously denounced the war as an imperialist one and suffered terribly for this. What inspired them was not simply the general vision of international socialism but a recognition that there was no solution to the problem of the Balkans so long as it remained a prisoner of the Great Powers and competing local leaders willing to beat the nationalist drum for their own ends. Against the prospect of permanent tension, national conflict and warfare they offered a prospect in the form of a socialist federation of the Balkan peoples which they hoped would allow the creation of a society that could eliminate the destructive roots of national conflict by attacking its roots in both local and international capitalism. But, like so much else in 20th century socialism, this alternative hope for a union of free peoples was first to be distorted and then destroyed by Stalin and his supporters in Russia and the system that they eventually helped to impose in Eastern Europe after 1945.

11) Stalinism in Eastern Europe in general and the Balkans in particular suppressed interstate and intrastate conflict, but attempted to co-opt the nationalist agenda for its own purposes

The Russian Revolution acted as a beacon for discontent throughout Europe, and in the Balkans a significant part of the left saw in the internationalism of the Bolsheviks and in their revolutionary policies the beginnings of a politics that could break with the disasters of the past. [46] But tragic errors were made, most notably in Bulgaria in 1923 when the Communist Party stood aside as sections of the ruling class turned on each other before the victorious group then turned on the left. Similarly the international Communist movement gave support to dubious peasant based parties such as that in Yugoslavia which turned against the Communists when a better ally appeared in the form of the Yugoslav king.

The detail of these mistakes can be found elsewhere. [47] The point is that they were never corrected. As the revolution degenerated in Russia under Stalin’s leadership, mistakes were consolidated. The Communist parties in the Balkans, as elsewhere, became instruments of Russian foreign policy. In the Russia itself ‘socialism in one country’ became part of an ideology of national development in which, in foreign policy terms, the Russian leadership incorporated many of the earlier imperialist aims of Tsarist Russia. At the end of the First World War the various peace settlements had encouraged the consolidation of the Eastern European states as buffer states against Bolshevism. Now the Communist parties, under Russian guidance, were pushed to the left or to the right as it suited Russian interests. But essentially they tried increasingly to incorporate a nationalist policy arguing for an independence from the West that would take the Eastern European and Balkan states into what was portrayed as the ‘anti-imperialist’ camp. Instead of these states being the West’s buffer against Russia they would therefore act as Russia’s buffer against the West.

In 1944–1945 the Russian army was able to push Hitler’s armies back to Berlin. At first it appeared as if it might be possible to agree a new carve up of the Balkans between East and West. In the infamous informal percentages agreement Stalin and Churchill in October 1944 (half drunkenly) divided the Balkans between themselves. According to Churchill’s own account:

I wrote out on half a sheet of paper:

Romania: Russia 90 percent, the others 10 percent.
Greece: Great Britain (in accord with USA) 90 percent, Russia 10 percent.
Yugoslavia: 50 percent, 50 percent.
Hungary: 50 percent, 50 percent.
Bulgaria: Russia 75 percent, the others 25 percent.

I pushed this across to Stalin, who had by then heard the translation. There was a slight pause. Then he took his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back to us. It was all done in no more time than it takes to set down. [48]

But as the Cold War developed, Greece and Turkey were pulled into the Western bloc and Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia and Albania into the Eastern bloc. But in consolidating its grip on the region the Russian leadership had to look two ways – against the West and for signs of disloyalty in its new bloc. This latter problem became serious in 1948 as a dispute with Yugoslavia developed. Yugoslavia was the only country in the region where the liberation had occurred without major direct intervention by the Russian army and where the local Communist leadership therefore did not need to kowtow to Stalin. This led Russia to establish an early pattern of rule which was likened to a wheel. On the rim of the wheel were the satellite states-able on minor matters to communicate with one another but controlled by spokes from the hub and having in major matters to relate to one another through Moscow. In particular early discussions of the most limited kind of Balkan federal unity were crushed as they appeared to be dangerous to Moscow rule. [49] Instead the countries were divided from one another by Soviet rule and encouraged to adopt their own ideologies of socialism in one country which had the additional advantage that it provided, in the short run, a way for the new ruling class and the ruling parties to sink some roots into the local populations. In the longer run it produced ideologies which reproduced nationalist agendas. Officially they were ‘national in form, socialist in content’; in reality the socialist element was little more than ‘form’, if that, and it was the content that was nationalist. Ultimately though this was also to prove part of the downfall of the regimes, for their nationalism was compromised by their contamination with Russian interests.

12) The fracturing of Yugoslavia in particular was a product of the manipulation of a growing social crisis by competing sections of the ruling class to divert conflict and to secure their control over the remnants of the old society

The pattern of uneven development characteristic of capitalism took on an especially sharp form in Yugoslavia. As early as 1910 it is estimated that the per capita income of Slovenia was three times higher than that of the area that is today Kosovo. [50] After 1945, although Yugoslav governments made gestures to deal with this uneven development that helped to underpin national antagonisms, the Yugoslav system in the long run ended up reproducing these inequalities. For those who believed that there was some kind of socialism in Yugoslavia the explanation for this was often attributed to the imbalance of plan and market elements. But more centrally planned economies in the rest of Eastern Europe failed to solve these difficulties and more market economies in the West also failed to fundamentally restructure national economies so as to eliminate the problem of uneven development within countries, let alone between them. [51] The real explanation for the perpetuation of these inequalities lay in the effect of three main factors – class, international military-economic competition and the nationalist character of the Yugoslav (and other) regimes.

Despite its pretence of socialism the Yugoslav regime after 1945 remained one built on the alienation and exploitation of the mass of the population. Those in control directed the system in their own interests. This involved not only pressure on those below, but conflict for control over resources at the top. Different internal wings of the Yugoslav ruling class competed with one another, taking advantage of the language of nationalism when necessary both to consolidate support and paper over social divisions within the constituent republics and as part of a bargaining process between them.

The impact of military and economic competition increased this problem. No country’s development takes place in a vacuum. After the split from Russia, Yugoslavia was caught between East and West, more nervous of Russia for much of the time and therefore accepting Western support but never really confident of European and US motives. To maintain Yugoslavia’s independence, therefore, the government had first to pursue a policy of rapid growth which meant that, whether in terms of ‘plan’ or market’, most resources had to be devoted to the areas of greatest return. This limited its ability to redirect resources on a large enough scale to make a serious impression on the problem of inequality. This was compounded by the strategic problem. Yugoslavia needed a strong military based on a strong military-industrial complex. But there was no point in locating this in areas that were vulnerable to outside attack. Ironically this meant that neither the more advanced nor the more backward areas benefited most from military expenditure, but an area in the middle. As Misha Glenny put it in 1992, believing that Yugoslavia was threatened by possible invasion from both East and West, ‘Tito transformed Bosnia-Hercegovina into a huge fortress capable of resisting foreign aggression long after Zagreb, Belgrade, or Skopje had fallen. Although Bosnia-Hercegovina makes up only one fifth of the territory of Yugoslavia, 60 percent of the country’s military industries and installations [were] there’. [52]

The third element was that Yugoslav governments, although they opposed local nationalisms, developed their own form of socialism in one country and therefore instead of challenging nationalism by real internationalism they challenged one form of nationalism with another form. The result was to legitimate the language and ideas of nationalism whatever the arguments about particular forms of it.

For a long period economic development allowed these tensions in the Yugoslav project (as elsewhere in Europe) to be submerged. But from the 1970s the impact of the decline in growth in the world economy began to affect the internal economy of Yugoslavia and to reinforce the latent tensions. Investment rates fell, unemployment and inflation rose and foreign debt accumulated to considerable levels. Austerity programmes became the order of the day as the government was encouraged to answer the demands of its financial creditors in the West.

By the 1980s these pressures were creating elements of radicalisation in the Yugoslav system. Milosevic understood better and earlier than most the triple value of nationalism as a means of diverting this discontent, as a means of consolidating his grip in his ‘own’ area, and as a means of strengthening his position in the infighting for the control of Yugoslavia’s wealth. But other leaders in other republics also soon realised that if they were to ride out what at first appeared as centripetal tendencies and then a forthcoming implosion they too had to build support in the same way.

13) There is no way in which state structures can be made ‘ethnically pure’ without ethnic cleansing. This is why all Balkan wars have been dirty wars on all sides

The images of the television news reports bring home the brutalities of ‘ethnic cleansing’ and etch its horror for us in the tear stained faces or in the silent incomprehension of the victims at the scale of the brutality that has been inflicted upon them. Yet as the black and white images of refugees and mutilated bodies in the newsreels of past conflicts this century also show, this is not a new phenomenon. War has always brought with it refugee trains – people are forced out or flee and fall by the wayside and die as support is insufficient and takes second place to military priorities or creates complications in which the belligerents or neutrals prefer not to involve themselves. War too brings rape and sexual degradation. Whether it has been used systematically in the Balkans remains unclear – that it is everywhere present is clear for it has been in existence on a massive scale in every war, known to specialists but tucked far away from the concerns of those who glory in the heroic side of military history. And so too is the history of ethnic cleansing. The term is new – the phenomenon is not. Stinking, disease ridden refugee camps of ‘cleansed’ peoples litter the history of the 19th and 20th centuries, as do the graves of those who never made it to their relative safety. The scale of this forced movement and its extent throughout Europe and not just the Balkans is often not appreciated but, as one recent survey puts it:

In the 19th century, involuntary migrations were counted in thousands and tens of thousands; the Balkan conflicts [of 1912–1913] increased their numbers to hundreds of thousands, and World War One generated millions of them ... The apogee of forced migrations came during World War Two and its aftermath when the uprooted were counted in tens of millions.

One estimate is that 60 million were displaced in the Second World War itself and another 20 million after it. This forced movement resulted in the ostensible partial ‘purification’ of the ethnic base of European states by reducing ‘national minorities’. These were reduced from 25 percent of the population of central Europe as a whole in the 1930s to 7.2 percent of the population in the 1970s. [53]

Not only have peace settlements rewarded such ethnic cleansing but they have often brought with them new rounds as people continue to be forced out or flee to escape location in a state that remains hostile to them and of which they might be rightly suspicious. Appendix 2 sets out some of the elements of the horrific process that this has created in the Balkans in this past century. It is solely concerned with the most identifiable movements of people, of ‘ethnic cleansing’ approved and unapproved. It says nothing of the deaths of those who died in the wars in the area or on the marches between countries.

What lies behind the sorry tale set out in Appendix 2 is the fact that state boundaries can never be drawn in such a way as to exclude all who are not of the right ‘national’ group and to include all who ‘are’. The attempt to try to homogenise states must involve complicity in ethnic cleansing.

But the contradiction is that to defend state boundaries also involves in nationalist terms defending the subjugation of people who may wish to assert their difference. It is here that the simple, naive endorsement of an unqualified abstract right to self determination for everyone also founders, for if every self defined national group has the right to demand self determination we are looking potentially at a process without end. If socialists must never support the subjugation of peoples, their support for self determination cannot equally be a support for endless ‘national’ conflicts.

State boundaries of whatever kind are all artificial creations that divide people – Serbs as much as Croats, Slovenians as much as Bosnians. But this applies too with just as much force to the state boundaries of the US, Britain and France or wherever. Indeed the talk of the myth of nation and common nature of humanity is not worth a penny or a cent or a centime if it does not start with the attack on such myths in the West and the unqualified support of the right of peoples everywhere to free movement including to the West – the litmus test on which so much spurious internationalism comes to grief. The internationalism that bespeaks the need to make interventions in the name of humanity becomes the nationalism that denies humans the right to move freely, that passes immigration laws, denies asylum, builds walls around Europe and finances the erection of barbed war fences and the deployment of gunboats to ensure that people cannot even come ashore. The argument about the artificiality of boundaries then becomes no more than a cover to advance the interests of the most powerful at the expense of those who are weaker.

In the case of the former Yugoslavia there is no logical path that can be picked through the claims and counterclaims that does not endorse some at the expense of the others. The brutality of the Milosevic regime cannot in any way devalue the truth of its argument that the borders of the old Yugoslavia were simple administrative boundaries that in key areas bore no necessary relation to what people perceived to be realities on the ground. It cannot obscure the fact that the entirely justifiable demand of the Kosovans to be free of the brutality of Belgrade is also the same right that the Serbs in the Krajina were denied, their right to be free of the Croats. The internationalism that is prepared to support the former and not recognise the latter (or to accept it but cast it aside in the interest of realpolitik) demonstrates its spurious character by this very act of denial. In so doing, it tolerates one kind of deportation rather than another and so builds up problems for future generations.

Arguments about self determination only make sense if they are part of a wider challenge to the policies that divide and rule people whether they come from local leaders or the big powers. That challenge should have come from a strong socialist movement in the former Yugoslavia, built around internationalism – attacking the politics of the leaderships in Belgrade or Zagreb and defending the rights of the oppressed everywhere. But the destructive power of the myth of ‘Soviet socialism’ in general and ‘Yugoslav socialism’ in particular has meant that no such socialist force existed when Yugoslavia collapsed. In its absence the peoples of the former Yugoslavia have again become the playthings of local nationalist leaders and behind them the interests, direct and indirect, of the bigger powers.

14) The impact of the war will further destabilise the Balkans for at least a generation

Every day the war has gone on, its ramifications have widened even without the disasters of NATO’s bombing failures. The immediate death toll in Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia from the actions of both sides will only be more accurately known when post-war investigations strip away the propaganda, but it seems likely to be substantial.

What is already clear is that in terms of physical destruction the war has been more damaging than the combined impact of Nazi and Allied bombing in the Second World War in the area and has wrecked much of the economic infrastructure in both Serbia and Kosovo. ‘Like Iraq, like Yugoslavia. Every day the definition of “military” subtly expands to embrace something we hadn’t thought of’, wrote one Western reporter who was observing the destruction. [54]

The evidence of past wars is that communications and transport can be relatively quickly restored and Western construction companies are already salivating at the prospect of the contracts that will come their way as ‘aid’ is sent to the Balkans – and then back out again to them. The reconstruction of the battered oil refineries, car plants, petrochemical works, engineering factories, even of the cigarette factory that has been destroyed, is another matter. So too is the reconstruction of the public facilities, the schools, the hospitals and the damaged housing stock.

Then there is the refugee problem. There is no prospect that the mass of refugees will return to the homes that they have left. This has not happened in Bosnia and it will not happen in Kosovo even if NATO achieves its widest objectives. In the Bosnian case, since the December 1995 Dayton Accords which effectively divided Bosnia and made it a UN/NATO protectorate, 75 percent of the 2 million displaced persons have not returned. Within Bosnia four main factors militate against return: fear of persecution in disputed areas; the destruction of housing stock, estimated at 60 percent; the legacy of land mines with some estimates as high as 2 to 3 million; and the dire economic and employment situation, with per capita income at two thirds of its 1990 level, but achieving that in part because of aid, as industrial production is 20 percent of its 1990 level. In Kosovo similar factors will be at work. Some will go back to their homes. Others will return but to other homes, possibly in the cities, near the NATO bases, to new camps and overcrowded slums. Still others, perhaps tens of thousands, will stay in camps either side of the Kosovo border in Europe’s new ‘Gaza strip’. [55]

The protectorate that NATO will create will itself become a new source of instability. Internally there will still be an aggrieved Kosovan population living in part on Western largesse, such as it will be, parasitic on serving the needs of Western forces stationed there but also disdainful of NATO’s failure to deliver their real liberation. Perhaps too there will be a small population of Kosovan Serbs no less embittered against both the Kosovan Albanians and NATO. Across the border in Serbia, forced to retreat or be defeated, will be a population facing a bleak future with intensified grievances about NATO’s actions and what will be portrayed as ‘favouritism’. And, as in Iraq, the legacy of the war will be there not only in the memories, not only in the everyday view of the destruction that has not been remedied but in the aftermath of continuing deaths from environmental pollution, depleted uranium, unexploded cluster bombs and so on.

Beyond the immediate area of Kosovo and Serbia the ramifications will remain too. There is the uncertain position of Albania – already wrecked by a brutal ruling class that the West backed after 1989 because they embraced the free market with such alacrity. These selfsame heroic Albanian apostles of the free market established pyramid schemes that fleeced the whole population. When the bubble burst Albania was quickly dumped by its Western enthusiasts, save for a cynical aid effort whose sole motivation was to keep poor Albanians in Albania rather than allow them access to Europe. Then there are Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia – what of them? Or even Croatia caught between a triumphalism that the Serbs are ‘getting it’ and fear that it is suffering too as vital tourist revenues plummet, with prospects for the future dim. And what of Bulgaria and the other Danubian states? They neighbour the areas of conflict and have had their trade and economies disrupted by the blocking of the Danube and by the sanctions that they are expected to impose on Serbia.

No doubt some aid will be swung to all these, but it will not be enough. Nor will the foreign investment that was supposed to be private enterprise’s contribution to the area be any more likely to come than it has in the past. Moreover in aid terms the key word is ‘swung’, for though there might be some increase in the aid budget simply to help resist chaos, part of it, on past performance, is bound to be redirected from other areas. The plans for EU expansion are now in chaos, as what appeared to be a central European and Baltic thrust which could ignore the south now at least has to consider south eastern Europe, not as part of a serious programme for EU entry, but as a competing and constraining area of interest.

Then there is Russia. Its economy has been firstly wrecked by the transition and then overwhelmed by the financial aspects of the economic crisis that developed in 1998. Even before the crisis in the Balkans developed, its leaders feared that NATO expansion was directed against them – an opportunity to take advantage of Russia while it was down to ensure that it would never be able to get up. The effect of the war has been to consolidate a huge opposition bloc and to give new authority and legitimacy to the right, offering confirmation of some of their wildest fantasies.

And the consequences have rolled on. Even before the start of the war informed observers were worrying that the crisis and NATO’s determination to impose a more aggressive ‘out of area’ policy might have even wider implications beyond Europe. One aspect of this has been the pressure to increase the level of arms spending to 3 percent for all NATO members which if carried through would begin to ratchet up global military spending and do nothing to assist the arguments for disarmament elsewhere. [56] But perhaps more important than this is the indirect impact NATO’s action might have on the arms race in Asia. Who can now trust the US and NATO to act, or not act, for it is the US-NATO bloc that now appears more than ever as the destabilising element in the international system. Consider, for example, the arms race between India and Pakistan. This has in part been provoked by India’s uncertainty about the extent of Western support for them as the ‘world’s largest democracy’.

Instead Western policy has seemed to offer as much support or more to Pakistan and China – two countries with which India has had tense relations. All the more need, it is suggested, for India to have its own ‘deterrent’. In its heart of hearts, is the leadership of India any more confident of Western support today? On the contrary, the West’s willingness to intervene on such a massive scale on terms that it defines without the formal sanction of the UN seems likely to encourage doubt and suspicion.

But this policy has done nothing for relations with China either. Even before the bombing of the Chinese embassy, Chinese fears about the character of US-NATO policy had been growing. The bombing of the embassy has confirmed these. Thus the US and NATO have alienated a supposed ‘friend’ in the form of India to placate a supposed ‘enemy’ in the form of China, only to destroy whatever credibility they had gained there. The issue here is less the short term impact than the potential long term one. Diplomats are skilled at papering over cracks and massaging the public image. They are less skilled at repairing the deeper damage that breeds distrust and conflict and sets in motion processes that build more tension into inter-state relations.

15) No politics which does not challenge both the local ruling classes and the international ruling classes offers any way forward

There is a tendency to believe that when policies go badly wrong they do so because of mistakes or poor leadership and can be rectified by better policies and better leadership. The pressure to believe in the ultimate goodness of the system in which we live is considerable. If it is not a question of good versus bad, then it is the ‘not so bad’ versus the ‘much worse’.

This illusion affects not only people in the West, but those who look to the West for support like the KLA. If only they cloak themselves in the Stars and Stripes or Union Jack then they will get the aid that they need to realise their dream. What NATO’s Balkan War shows is that none of our rulers can be trusted because what drives them to act are motives that are in fundamental contradiction with the real needs and interests of humanity. What hope does NATO offer after its role in Kosovo-Serbia? What hope does Milosevic offer, or the rest of the Serbian leadership? What hope does Rugova or the moderate Kosovan Albanian leadership offer?

To create an alternative it is necessary to develop the different approach from below that real socialists have always argued for. But this alternative has to be built around fighting oppression and exploitation wherever they exist. Real unity can never come about from the denial of real grievances. Even less can it come about if those grievances are merely treated with fine words and gestures. Building the confidence that can overcome national hatred will not be easy. It requires workers and socialists in the oppressing country to fight for and make real sacrifices for workers and socialists in the oppressed country, otherwise they will be swept aside by the forces of national hatred. They too must respond in kind, but the burden falls overwhelmingly on those in the oppressor country, for it is there that the root of the problem lies and it is there that a solution can be found. This means in the West and in Europe there is a need to attack the very basis of NATO’s power. In local oppressors like Serbia it means an opposition that is not seduced by nationalism but resolutely attacks it in all its forms to the extent of being prepared to argue for self determination – only then can the foundations of an alternative be laid.

There is always the temptation to hope that someone else will do this hard work for us. But what NATO’s Balkan War shows is that more than ever it is necessary to develop this alternative in the West, for it is here that the power lies for our rulers to create global chaos and it is here that the power lies to reverse the process by reining them in and overturning them. Only this can create an opportunity to use the wealth of the world for the people of the world – it is this that is the real and only humanitarian policy.

Appendix 1 [57]

Appendix 2 [58]


1. D.K. Fieldhouse, The Colonial Empires: A Comparative Survey From the Eighteenth Century (London 1982).

2. Indeed those who bother to read what Lenin said will see that he dates the imperialist era from the time when the process of colonisation had been completed.

3. See M. Haynes, The Rhetoric and Reality of Western Aid to Eastern Europe, European Business and Economic Development, vol. 1 no. 2 (September 1992), pp. 13–18.

4. World Bank, World Development Indicators Report, quoted in The Guardian, 27 April 1999.

5. OECD, Development Cooperation 1998 Report (Paris 1999).

6. This is Arthur Schlesinger’s famous characterisation of the liberal view of the Cold War – see his Origins of the Cold War, Foreign Affairs (1967).

7. There are several McDonald’s restaurants in Belgrade.

8. I have drawn these quotations from an essay by Noam Chomsky circulated on the internet.

9. The Guardian, 6 April 1999.

10. Quoted in R. de Wijk, Towards a New Political Strategy for NATO, NATO Review (Summer 1998), p. 15.

11. Ibid., p. 15.

12. And in so far as small powers ally with Security Council members the veto then operates. The Security Council has 15 members, ten of which rotate. Power lies with the five permanent members, each of which has veto powers. There is therefore no real accountability to the General Assembly. It is not often appreciated that the most frequent users of the veto in the Security Council have been the US and the UK. In the period from 1976 to the start of the Kosovan crisis in March 1999 the US used its veto 60 times, Britain 19, France 11, Russia 8 and China twice.

13. J. Solana, The New NATO, The Guardian, 22 April 1999. Solana saw the 50th Anniversary NATO Summit as putting ‘the finishing touches to the new NATO: an Alliance committed and designed for enhancing stability and security for the entire Euro-Atlantic area through new mechanisms, new partnerships and new missions, well into the 21st century.’ J. Solana, The Washington Summit: NATO Steps Boldly into the 21st Century, NATO Review (Spring 1999), p. 6.

14. H. Schmidt, The Transatlantic Alliance in the 21st Century, NATO Review (50th Anniversary Commemorative Edition, 1999), p. 23.

15. Ibid., p. 23.

16. J. Zametica, The Yugoslav Conflict (International Institute of Strategic Studies, Aldelphi Papers, London 1992), p. 25.

17. This is according to the New York Times as reported in The Guardian, 26 April 1999. The warning was issued on 24 December 1992.

18. In interview on US television on 24 March as reported on Panorama, BBC1, 19 April 1999.

19. Veran Metic, editor of the opposition radio station B92, banned by Milosevic at the start of the war, illustrated the dilemma of the Serbian opposition by quoting the opposition mayor of Nis: ‘Twenty minutes ago my city was bombed. The people who live here are the same people who voted for democracy in 1996, the same people who protested for 100 days after the authorities tried to deny them their victory in the elections. They voted for the same democracy that exists in Europe and the US. Today my city was bombed by the democratic states of the US, Britain, France, Germany and Canada! Is there any sense in this?’ Matic commented, ‘NATO’s bombs have blasted the germinating seeds of democracy out of the soil of Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro and ensured that they will not sprout again for a very long time’ (The Guardian, 14 April 1999). Earlier he had speculated that NATO plans did not see the Serbian opposition as an ally – it preferred there to be no opposition since this allowed demonisation. NATO’s aim was ‘to destroy and silence all alternative democratic voices and peace initiatives in order to make Yugoslavia a European Iraq and a pariah state for the next ten years’ (The Guardian, 5 April 1999). Whether or not NATO was quite this cynical in intention, this was certainly the immediate result of its policy.

20. The Economist, 3 April 1999.

21. Several off target NATO bombs had fallen in rural Bulgaria, for example, but the government nevertheless fought off local opposition to get agreement to open Bulgarian air space to NATO. This decision had just been obtained when, to the government’s consternation, a NATO missile dropped into a suburb of Sofia.

22. The Observer, 18 April 1999 – the phrase is that of Johnathan Eyal.

23. United Nations, Report of the Secretary General relating to Resolution 1160 (1998) of the Security Council, 21 September 1998. My emphasis.

24. Quoted in The Guardian, 13 April 1999.

25. Despite their technological sophistication planes are vulnerable at low levels to the low technology fire of anti-aircraft guns. Four British Tornados were lost this way in the Gulf War.

26. Bombs are tipped with depleted uranium because it is heavier than lead or steel and can stand high velocities but it is also suspected of leaving a legacy of post-war civilian ill health from radioactive dust.

27. The bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade has made this obvious but it is worth recalling that previous US intelligence failures include the 1998 bombing of a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory wrongly identified as a chemical warfare factory. In 1991, in the Gulf War, the Al-Amiriyah civilian bomb shelter in Bhagdad was wrongly identified as a military command post and destroyed with the loss of several hundred lives. In 1988 the USS Vincennes identified an Iranian airliner as hostile and shot it down with the loss of all 290 lives of those on board.

28. Quoted in The Independent, 16 April 1999. For what it is worth we should remind readers that refugees with a well founded fear of persecution under the UN convention have a right to demand safety in any other country. The talk of quotas, however large, is not therefore an act of ‘generosity’ but a violation of international refugee law.

29. See Rakovsky’s autobiographical essay in C. Rakovsky, Selected Writings On Opposition in the USSR 1923–1930 (Alison & Busby 1980), p. 70.

30. J. Micklejohn, A New Comparative Geography (London 1889), p. 184.

31. Historical debate has raged over such conversions, because for nationalist historians they are central to the history of the ‘oppressed nation’ and therefore must have been forced. English relations with the Ottoman Empire in the 16th and 17th centuries throw an interesting light on the issue and perhaps reveal the real state of affairs because in a number of instances Englishmen abroad found the empire an attractive home compared to the England of their day – a powerful 16th century Ottoman eunuch, Hasan Aga, was Samson Rowlie of Great Yarmouth; in the Algerian part of the empire one Moorish king’s executioner turned out to be Abd-es-Salaam or Absalom, a former Exeter butcher; one General of the Janissaries was an Islamic convert known as Ingliz Mustapha (he had been born in Scotland). In 1606 the English consul in Egypt found Ottoman ways sufficiently attractive to convert to Islam. A half century later when Charles II attempted to pay the ransom for a group of enslaved sailors, his emissary found that they all refused to return to Restoration England. Having themselves converted to Islam they were now happily ‘partaking of the prosperous Successe of the Turks’. The positive toleration which continued to exist alongside the more negative aspects of the Ottoman Empire was reflected in the argument in 1798 of an Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem who suggested that the Ottoman Empire was a divine creation of god to protect Orthodoxy from contamination by the Catholic west.

32. See C. Harman, The Return of the National Question, in J. Rees (ed.), Marxism and the New Imperialism (London 1994).

33. See the excellent discussion in L.S. Stavrianos, Antecedents of the Balkan Revolutions of the Nineteenth Century, Journal of Modern History, vol. xix (December 1957), pp. 335–348. The first Greek newspaper was published in Vienna in 1790; a Serbian paper was also published there in 1791; the first printed book in Bulgarian was published in Wallachia in 1806. Novi Sad, then in the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was known as the ‘Serbian Athens’. Expatriate groups in the US and Europe today still exert a direct influence on internal Balkan politics.

34. Largely illiterate peasants with local visions – even their leaders often lacked the capacity to identify with the national cause and its myths, though the intellectual leaders of nationalism were happy to try to use them. In the Greek struggle for independence in the 1820s one scholar told the prominent peasant outlaw leader Nikotsaras that he was the equal of Achilles only to report that ‘Nikotsaras was deeply offended that he should be compared to an unknown. “What nonsense is this,” he replied indignantly, “and who is this Achilles? Did the musket of Achilles kill many?”’ – quoted ibid. Subsequently state education would make sure that national myths were commonly known. As one British source put it at the end of the 19th century (with considerable exaggeration given the actual spread of education in Greece at this time), ‘Schools have been established in nearly every village; and the little Greek boy learns whole passages of Homer by heart every week’ (J. Micklejohn, op. cit., p. 189).

35. See the discussion in M. Haynes and R. Husan, The State and Market in the Transition Economies: Critical Remarks in the Light of Past History and the Current Experience, Journal of European Economic History, vol. 27 no. 3 (Winter 1998), pp. 609–644.

36. D. Aldcroft, Europe’s Third World? The Peripheral Nations, in his Studies in the Inter-War European Economy (Ashgate 1997), pp. 196–197.

37. Our concern here is with the Balkan question but the Ottoman Empire at its height arched around the eastern Mediterranean including much of the Middle East and North Africa. Nearly 50 modern states emerged from its fragmentation – a process which everywhere involved the balancing of the competing interests of the Great Powers and the local leaders. For a full listing see G. Barraclough (ed.), Times World History Atlas (London 1978).

38. Russia was at war with the Ottoman Empire in 1735–1739; 1768–1774; 1787–1792; 1806–1812; 1828–1829; 1853–1856 (part of Crimean War); 1877–1878, 1914–1917 (part of the First World War).

39. E. Durham, The Balkans as a Danger Point, International Affairs (May 1924), p. 139, emphasis in the original.

40. At the end of the Second Balkan War Izvolsky, the tsarist Russian minister and diplomat, wrote from Paris in August 1913 of the defeated Bulgaria, Russia’s supposed pet Balkan state, ‘Events have taken a favourable course for us ... Had Bulgaria come out victor it would have been very disadvantageous and dangerous for us ... A great Bulgaria might have served as a base for ulterior Bulgar plans against Constantinople’ (quoted in E. Durham, op. cit., p. 143).

41. One term used to describe this is ‘irredentism’ – the advocacy of the ‘restoration’ of territory. The idea involves a ‘restoration’ since nationalists believe the land was always part of their ‘nation’. Irredentism derives from the Italian word irrendenta – unredeemed – and reflects the way in which Italian nationalists too laid claim to the restoration of what they believed to be Italian land on the other side of the Adriatic.

42. ‘Greece ... is the young rising power in the Balkan peninsula, and the one which has the greatest future before it’, a late 19th century British audience was told. ‘Turkey is the old, sinking, despairing, and dwindling power on the Peninsula; Greece the young, hopeful, and growing’ (J. Micklejohn, op. cit., p. 186, p. 188).

43. In the Ottoman Empire the lands of the now disputed area of Macedonia were considered to be incorporated into the three vilayets of Salonika, Monastir and, ironically, Kosovo.

44. 1992 saw huge nationalist protests in Greece about the creation of a separate state in the former Yugoslavia calling itself Macedonia. In March 1992 possibly a million marched in Salonica. In December 1992 another million or so were on the streets of Athens around slogans like ‘Macedonia has been Greek for 3,000 years.’ Socialists who stood out bravely against this hysteria were arrested.

45. J. Weber, The Balkans, Fourth International (June 1941), p. 145.

46. The Balkan Communist parties were often soon forced underground but in Yugoslavia, for example, in 1920, the Communist Party had some 60,000 members and in electoral terms was the third largest party with 12 percent of the vote.

47. See D. Hallas, The Comintern (London 1985) for a brief discussion of these errors.

48. W. Churchill, The Second World War, vol. vi (London 1954), p. 198.

49. See, for example, J.M. van Brabant, Socialist Economic Integration (Cambridge 1980), ch. 1 passim.

50. D. Aldcroft, op. cit., p. 197.

51. For an analysis of some of the components of this process see M. Haynes, The European Union and Its Periphery: Inclusion and Exclusion, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 33, no. 35 (1998), pp. PE87–PE97.

52. M. Glenny, Yugoslavia: The Revengers Tragedy, New York Review of Books, 13 August 1992, p. 38 – even more ironically for Serbia two thirds of these industries were located in the Moslem and Croat areas of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

53. D. Stola, Forced Migrations in Central European History, International Migration Review, vol. xxxi no. 2 (1992), pp. 324–341. It should be stressed also that this pattern is quite independent of the normal migration pattern.

54. R. Fisk in The Independent, 26 April 1999.

55. The refusal to allow larger numbers of refugees to leave the area is clearly not explained by the reluctance to ‘play Milosevic’s game’ so much as Western governments bowing to racist immigration agendas. There is also a fear that not only might the refugees not return from Western Europe but once there they might use it as a base for opposition to any settlement that failed to meet their hopes. As one Italian critic has put it, what governments fear is that ‘Kosovo’s “refugee bomb” can explode twice: creating within the European states the “Kurdisation” of the Albanians and a new disintegration within the Balkan countries’ (A. Ferrari in Corriere della Serra, 7 April 1999, quoted in The Guardian, 10 April, 1999). Details of the continuing plight of all refugees in the former Yugoslavia can be found on the UNHCR website.

56. ‘Defence spending levels below 3 percent of GDP are not adequate for Europe to play an important role in a system of collective defence’, L. Maria de Puil, European Security and Defence Identity Within NATO, NATO Review (Summer 1998), p. 8.

57. For an overview of the competing claims in the Balkans see H.L. Kostanick, The Geopolitics of the Balkans, in B. and C. Jelavich (eds.), The Balkans in Transition: Essays on the Development of Balkan Life and Politics Since the Eighteenth Century (Berkeley 1963). Kostanick’s account includes details of some more minor territorial disputes that I have excluded from this table for the sake of brevity.

58. This table focuses on the Balkans defined as Greece, Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and the lands disputed by them. Lest readers fall into the trap of thinking that ‘ethnic cleansing’ is a peculiar Balkan disease we should remind them that in the Second World War forced Balkan migrations were perhaps only 10 percent or more of total forced migrations. All figures are approximate. Those followed by a ? are even less certain than the others. The fact that none of these figures is known with any accuracy is itself a reflection of the way that victims literally ‘do not count’. They are what one historian calls the ‘unwanted’ of Europe in the 20th century. The table is drawn from D. Stola, op. cit.; D. Kirk, Europe’s Population in the Inter-War Years (Geneva 1946); E.M. Kulischer, Europe on the Move. War and Population Changes, 1917–1947 (New York 1948); M. Marrus, The Unwanted. European Refugees in the Twentieth Century (Oxford 1985); R.P. Magocsi, Historical Atlas of East Central Europe (Washington 1993); UNHCR website.

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