As the war criminal and genocider Rodovan Karadzic – handpicked for his position by Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic – finally receives something approaching justice, it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t just Serb nationalists who supported and excused him, Milsosevic and Mladic: a lot of the so-called “left” have some answering to do, as Stan Crooke explains below. The particular culprits here are the SWP, who a few years later started puffing themselves up as “fighters for Muslims”. At the time they refused to side with the Bosniac and Kosovar Muslims fighting Serb conquest, focusing their sympathies on Serbia as the victim of NATO. They quietly went along with those who anathematised the Bosniac Muslims (mostly secularised) as the catspaws of Islamic-fundamentalist conspiracy.
It’s come to something, hasn’t it, when (not for the first time) “communists” ally with fascists…
We’re talking SWP and their equally shameful, Chomskyite offshoots like ‘Workers Power’, ‘Counterfire’… and perhaps most notoriously, the so-called ‘LM‘ outfit (since reborn as ‘Spiked Online’ and ‘The Institute of Ideas’).
We republish, below, an article by Stan Crooke written just after the arrest of the Bosnian Serb general and war criminal Ratko Mladic in May 2011, and published in Workers Liberty’s paper Solidarity:
The “safe haven” of Sarajevo was besieged for 44 months by Serb forces, the longest siege in modern warfare. Serb forces stationed on the surrounding hills used artillery, mortars, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine-guns, multiple rocket launchers, rocket-launched aircraft bombs, and sniper rifles against the civilian population.
An average of 300 artillery shells a day hit Sarajevo during the siege. On just one day in 1993 more than 3,500 shells hit the city. Overall, an estimated 10,000 people were killed and another 56,000 wounded during the siege. 35,000 buildings were destroyed, including 10,000 apartment blocks.
Ethnic cleansing and war crimes were also carried out by the forces of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg Bosnia.
In February 1994 an American-brokered deal, the Washington Agreement, brought an end to the fighting between Bosnian and Croatian forces. In September 1995, NATO finally moved against Milosevic and his allies, in a month-long bombing campaign.
Workers’ Liberty commented: “Yes, the Western powers are hypocrites… But to reckon that NATO’s bombardment of Mladic’s siege guns calls for protest meetings, and Milosevic’s atrocities do not, is to condone Serbian imperialism… Sarajevo relieved by a NATO offensive designed as a lever for an imperialist carve-up is bad; Sarajevo still besieged is worse.”
Others on the left rallied to a “Committee for Peace in the Balkans” focused on denouncing NATO. They said NATO action was about “enforcing Western interests” on Serbia. Back in 1991, the SWP had disdainfully said “neither of the nationalisms currently tearing Yugoslavia apart has anything to offer”. It had maintained the same disdain towards the Bosniacs’ struggle against Serbian conquest and ethnic cleansing. It backed the anti-NATO campaign.
In fact, the NATO bombing paved the way for an American-brokered peace deal, the Dayton Agreement. It ended the massacres, and set up Bosnia-Herzegovina as a quasi-independent state, for most purposes a loose confederation between Serb and Croat-Bosniac units, with an external “High Representative” as overlord.
In the course of the war between 100,000 and 176,000 people had been killed. More than 2.2 million had fled their homes. 530,000 of them had managed to reach other European countries, despite the European Union responding to the outbreak of war by imposing a visa regime on Bosnians.
After the end of the fighting Mladic continued to live openly in the Serb-controlled area of Bosnia. In the late 1990s he moved to Belgrade. Only after the overthrown of Milosevic in 2000 did Mladic go more or less underground.
Meanwhile Kosova, an area under tight Serbian control but with a 90% Albanian-Muslim majority in the population, was stewing.
The Kosovar majority organised a virtual parallel society, with underground schools, hospitals, and so on, beside the Serbian-run official institutions.
The big powers opposed Kosovar independence, but pressed Milosevic to ease off. From mid-1998 Milosevic started a drive to force hundreds of thousands of Kosovars to flee the province. The big powers called a conference and tried to push Milosevic into a compromise deal.
Milosevic refused. NATO started bombing Serbian positions, apparently thinking that a short burst of military action would make Milosevic back down. Simultaneously the Serb chauvinists stepped up the slaughter and driving-out of Kosovars. After two and a half months of bombing (March-June 1999) the Serbian army finally withdrew. By then around 850,000 Kosovars had fled.
From 1999 to 2008 Kosova was under UN rule. During that period there were a number of persecutions of the small remaining Serb minority in Kosova. In 2008 Kosova declared independence.
Far from being converted by the war into a crushed semi-colony of some big power, Serbia benefited from its defeat. In October 2000, following rigged elections, Milosevic was ousted by mass protest in the streets, and Serbia’s chauvinist frenzy began to dissipate.
Dispute on the left over the Kosova war was sharper than over Bosnia. Workers’ Liberty said that, while we could not and did not endorse NATO, the main issue was Kosovar self-determination. The SWP and others threw themselves into a “Stop The War Campaign”, later recycled for use over Afghanistan and Iraq and still in existence.
“Stop The War” here meant “stop NATO and let Milosevic have his way”. On Milosevic, their main message was that he was not as bad as painted; and on Kosova, that the reports of massacre were probably exaggerated, that nothing could be done about it anyway, and that the Kosovar revolt was undesirable because it could destabilise the whole region.
Michael Barratt Brown, a veteran socialist economist, was typical of a whole school of thought on the left claiming that the driving force in what he called “The Yugoslav Tragedy” was a conspiracy by Germany in particular, and the West in general, to gain “control over the oil supplies of the Middle East”.
He wrote “Once Croatia’s independence was recognised … war between Serbs and Croats was assured inside Croatia.” In fact the big powers pressed the subject peoples of Yugoslavia not to declare independence. Germany was less convinced about that than other states, but even Germany did not recognise Croatia until six months after the outbreak of war. And why shouldn’t states recognise Croatian independence demanded by over 90% of the people?
Consistently, Brown wrote of the actions of Milosevic and the Serbian government as if they were mere responses to the actions of Bosnian and Croatian nationalists, rather than the expression of an aggressive regional imperialism.
“Nationalists in Serbia followed enthusiastically where Slovenes and Croats had led”, he wrote, but he praised the “federal” army, which had already committed a succession of war crimes by the time Brown wrote his book, as “the one remaining force representing Yugoslavia”, and one which was engaged in “a state-building project.”
In To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, published in 2000, Michael Parenti argued that the West’s hostility to Milosevic was triggered by the Serbian government’s commitment to the defence of the country’s “socialist heritage”:
“After the overthrow of Communism throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia remained the only nation in that region that would not voluntarily discard what remained of its socialism and install an unalloyed free-market system… The US goal has been to transform Yugoslavia into a Third World region, a cluster of weak right-wing principalities.
“As far as the Western free-marketeers were concerned, these enterprises [in Serbia] had to be either privatised or demolished. A massive aerial destruction like the one delivered upon Iraq (in the first Gulf War) might be just the thing needed to put Belgrade more in step with the New World Order.”
In fact, the Serbian government pursued privatisation and pro-market policies of its own volition from the late 1980s, imposing cuts in public services and increasing social inequalities. And its old reformed-Stalinist structure was nothing to cherish.
After the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic in 2001, the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic said:
“Crimes were committed in Yugoslavia, but not by Milosevic. … His real offence was that he tried to keep the 26 nationalities that comprise Yugoslavia free from US and NATO colonisation and occupation.”
The chapter on the Bosnian war in The Liberal Defence of Murder, written by the SWP’s Richard Seymour and published in 2008, has similar arguments: Milosevic’s regime and its war crimes were not as bad as they were made out to be; the Bosnian and Croatian governments were not only at least as bad as that of Milosevic but were also guilty of the same kind of atrocities.
“In the run-up to that atrocity” [the Srebrenica massacre], he claimed, “a wave of terror, including rape, by Bosnian Muslim forces in surrounding areas had killed thousands of Serbs”.
The SWP itself, mostly, did not bother discussing the atrocities one way or another. It simply stated that NATO was “imperialism” and the job was to oppose “imperialism”. In other words, it put its opportunist concern to “catch the wind” of miscellaneous disquiet about or opposition to NATO military action in a region which most people knew little about above any internationalist concern for lives and freedoms in the region … (read the full article here).