The conviction of former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) reminds us of a brutal conflict in which atrocities were committed by all contending parties, including the West with a NATO air assault of 78 days’ duration in which hundreds of civilians were killed.
As nobel-prize winning English playwright Harold Pinter described it: “The NATO action in Serbia had nothing to do with the fate of the Kosovan Albanians; it was yet another blatant and brutal assertion of US power.”
Based on the wholesale demonization of the Serbs that ensued both during and after a conflict which resulted in the destruction and dismantlement of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), you would think the Serbs were both the cause of the conflict and the only side engaged in it. Such a rendering of what stands as one of the most tragic episodes in the history of the Balkans is offensive not only to those who suffered but also to the truth.
The destruction of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) was the overarching crime inside of which every other crime and atrocity committed in the course of the conflict must be understood. The attempt to elide this wider crime, to focus instead on the atrocities carried out in the conflict that followed, is no accident. For what we are dealing with is Western imperialism red in tooth and claw; and how in the case of the former Yugoslavia the West succeeded in exploiting the regressive nationalist and ethnic fissures that have long criss-crossed the Balkans to achieve its objective of dismantling the last socialist state in Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Under the constitution of the SFRY said nationalist and ethnic fissures were successfully sublimated in favor of a common Yugoslav identity around which its citizens could cohere and unite to forge a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state, which for decades stood as a beacon social and economic justice. In this respect it proved eminently successful in the post-war period.
The problems to beset Yugoslavia came on the back of the debt crisis that engulfed the country in the 1980s. Under Tito’s leadership Yugoslavia the had embarked on an overly ambitious program of hyper-investment with the objective of developing its poorer regions, raising living standards, and effect the modernization of industry and infrastructure. The program was rolled out under the auspices of the model of workers’ self-management, which had been established in the 1950s to decentralize the management of industry to the factory floor, thus giving ordinary workers a stake in the running of the economy and, with it, the socialist system which underpinned it.
However the economic autonomy provided under self-management included the ability to borrow for investment. Borrowing by the 1970s had gotten out of control, with the abundance of cheap credit and money swirling around the economy leading inexorably to hyperinflation. The result on the back of the resulting debt crisis was economic recession, in response to which the richer and resource-rich parts of the country began to resent subsidizing its poorer regions. We see a similar pattern when it comes to the economic basis of the Catalan independence movement from Spain today, of which more later.
A process of growing ethnic tensions, exploited by nationalist parties, culminated in a unilateral declaration of independence by Slovenia in 1990 on the back of a referendum that was conducted in violation of the SFRY constitution. Croatia followed suit with, crucially, the independence of both being recognized by the West — thus setting in train the conditions for the brutal conflict that resulted when the central government did as any sovereign government faced with secessionism would and sought to impose its writ.
Returning to Catalan independence, here we are obliged to make a brief detour to raise the glaring double standards of the West in its recognition of secession when it emerged in the former Yugoslavia, and its refusal to recognize it in the case of Catalonia from Spain in recent times. The stench of hypocrisy abounds when you consider this, constituting as it does more evidence that where the West is concerned national sovereignty is only respected when it comes to its allies or those states that are strong enough to resist its violation in pursuit of wider strategic and economic hegemonic objectives. It is the ethos, per a latter day Roman Empire, of might is right — the very same that lies at the root the international order in our time, regardless of the lofty and vacuous platitutdes tirelessly peddled by Washington and its allies when it comes to democracy and human rights.
Writer and political science Professor Susan L. Woodward put it astutely: “In recognizing Slovene and Croation independence, the European Community [forerunner to the EU] was not only creating new states but dissolving an existing one — Yugoslavia.”
During World War II, Hitler’s hatred of the Serbs was only exceeded by his hatred of the Jews. British historian Anthony Beevor reveals that during the war the fascist dictator “was bent on vengeance against the Serbian population [over its anti-Nazi stance]. Yugoslavia was to be broken up, with morsels of territory given to his Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Italian allies. Croatia, under a fascist government, became an Italian protectorate, while Germany occupied Serbia.”
The irony is that though Hitler may have failed in his objective of breaking up Yugoslavia, the West succeeded in the same objective five decades later.
By John Wight/Sputnik