The Destruction of Yugoslavia

by Michael Parenti

The U.S. national security state--which has been involved throughout the world in subversion, sabotage, terrorism, torture, drug trafficking, and death squads--is now launching round-the- clock aerial attacks against Yugoslavia out of humanitarian concern for Albanians in Kosovo. Or so we are asked to believe. President Clinton has bombed four countries in recent months: Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq repeatedly, and now Yugoslavia massively. The U.S. is also involved in proxy wars in Angola, Colombia, and various other places. U.S. forces are deployed on every continent and ocean, with 300 major overseas support bases. All this in the name of peace, democracy, and humanitarianism; all to defend unspecified "U.S. national interests" abroad, all to keep the American people safe from would-be adversaries who supposedly are just waiting to pounce upon us.

If Clinton were so worried about oppressed minorities, as he pretends to be about the Albanians, perhaps he would consider bombing the Czech Republic for its mistreatment of the Romany people (gypsies), or Britain for oppressing the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland, or the Hutu for the mass murder of a half million Tutsis in Riwanda--along with the French who were complicit in that massacre. Instead he seems not to have noticed these wrongs.

The White House should consider launching "humanitarian bombings" against the Turkish people for what their leaders have done to the Kurds, or the Indonesian people because their generals killed over 200,000 East Timorese, or perhaps Clinton should pulverize Guatemala City for the Guatemalan military's systematic slaughter of tens of thousands of Mayan villagers. In such cases, however, U.S. leaders not only tolerated such atrocities but were actively complicit with the perpetrators-- whose primary dedication has been to help Washington make the world safe for the Fortune 500.

Why then is the United States waging an unrestrainedly murderous assault upon Yugoslavia?

The Third Worldization of Yugoslavia

The dismemberment and mutilation of the Yugoslav federation is part of a concerted policy initiated by the United States and the other Western powers in 1989. Yugoslavia was the one country in Eastern Europe that would not voluntarily overthrow what remained of its socialist system and install a free-market economic order. The U.S. goal has been to transform Yugoslavia into a cluster of weak right-wing principalities with the following characteristics:

U.S. policymakers also want a Yugoslavia whose public sector services and social programs are abolished. Why so? For the same reason they want to abolish our public sector services and social programs. The goal is the privatization and Third Worldization of both Yugoslavia and the United States. Yugoslavia was built on an idea, as Ramsey Clark once noted, namely that the Southern Slavs would not remain weak and divided, falling out among themselves or easy prey to outside imperial interests. United they could form a substantial territory capable of its own economic development. Indeed, after World War II, multi-ethnic, socialist Yugoslavia became a viable nation and something of an economic success. Between 1960 and 1980 it had one of the most vigorous growth rates: a decent standard of living, free medical care and education, a guaranteed right to a job, one month free vacation with pay, a literacy rate of over 90 percent, and a life expectancy of 72 years. Yugoslavia also offered its multi-ethnic citizenry affordable public transportation, housing, and utilities, with a not-for-profit economy that was mostly publicly owned.

This was not the kind of country global capitalism would normally tolerate. Still, Yugoslavia was allowed to exist for 45 more years because it was seen as a nonaligned buffer to the Soviet Union and the other Warsaw Pact nations.

Yugoslav leaders in the late 1960s and 1970s sought to expand the country's industrial base and increase consumer goods both at the same time. This was to be accomplished by borrowing from the West. But with IMF loans came an enormous debt, and then IMF demands for restructuring, a harsh austerity program that brought wage freezes, cutbacks in public spending, increased unemployment, and the abolition of worker-managed enterprises. Still, much of the economy remained in the not-for-profit public sector, including the rich reserves of minerals and other natural resources in Kosovo and other provinces.

Then came another blow. In November 1990, the Bush administration pressured Congress into passing the 1991 Foreign Operations Appropriations Law, which provided that any part of Yugoslavia failing to declare independence within six months would lose U.S. financial support. The law demanded separate elections in each of the six Yugoslav republics, and mandated U.S. State Department approval of both election procedures and results. It also required that aid go only to the separate republics, not to the Yugoslav government. In fact, aid went to those forces whom Washington defined as "democratic," meaning small right-wing, ultra-nationalist parties. Reactionary and fascist organizations not seen in 45 years suddenly reemerged with all sorts of money and arms at their command.

Another goal of U.S. policy has been ideological and media monopoly. In 1998, in what remained of Serbian Bosnia, the last radio station critical of NATO policy was forcibly shut down by NATO "peacekeepers." The few U.S. news outlets that reported this incident performed some impressive mental gymnastics to explain why silencing the only remaining dissident Serbian station was necessary for advancing democratic pluralism.

Still, Yugoslav television remains in the hands of people who refuse to look at the world as do the U.S. State Department, the White House, and the corporate-owned U.S. news media. Yugoslav television journalist Nevenka Jovicic told me that she once asked the U.S. ambassador, "What do you want from us?" And he replied "Your television system."

Yugoslavia allowed--until the NATO bombings began-- opposition radio stations and dissident publications. Over twenty political parties had their own newspapers. There are more opposition parties in the Yugoslav parliament than in any other European parliament. Yet the federation was repeatedly labeled a dictatorship. Slobodan Milosovic was elected three times, twice as president of Serbia and more recently as president of Yugoslavia, in contests that foreign observers said had relatively few violations. Yet he is called a dictator.

In 1992, another blow was delivered against what remained of Yugoslavia: international sanctions. Led by the United States, a freeze was imposed on all trade to and from Yugoslavia, with disastrous results for the economy: hyperinflation, mass unemployment of up to 70 percent, malnourishment, and the collapse of the health care system.

Divide and Conquer

One of the great deceptions, notes Joan Phillips, is that "those who are mainly responsible for the bloodshed in Yugoslavia--not the Serbs, Croats or Muslims, but the Western powers--are depicted as saviors." While pretending to work for harmony U.S. leaders have supported the most divisive, reactionary forces from Croatia to Kosovo.

In Croatia, the West's man-of-the-hour was Franjo Tudjman, who claimed in a book he authored in 1989 that "the establishment of Hitler's new European order can be justified by the need to be rid of the Jews." He further asserted that only 900,000 Jews, not six million, were killed in the Holocaust. Tudjman's government adopted the fascist Ustasha checkered flag and, for its army, the straight-arm Nazi salute.

Tudjman presided over the forced evacuation of over half a million Serbs from Croatia between 1991 and 1995, replete with rapes and summary executions. This includes the 200,000 from Krajina in 1995, whose expulsion was facilitated by attacks from NATO war planes and missiles. Needless to say, U.S. leaders did nothing to stop and much to assist these atrocities. Tudjman and his cronies now reside in obscene wealth while the people of Croatia wallow in economic misery. The Croatian leadership has imposed a tightly controlled one-party press on the new "democracy." Anyone who criticizes the president risks incarceration. Yet the White House hails Croatia as a new democracy.

In Bosnia, the U.S. supported the Muslim fundamentalist Izetbegovic, an active Nazi collaborator in his youth, who wants to establish a religious Islamic republic (for Muslims only), and who has called for strict Islamic control over the media. Bosnia is now under IMF and NATO regency. It is not permitted to develop its own internal resources, nor allowed to extend credit or self- finance through an independent monetary system. Its state-owned assets, including energy, water, telecommunications, media and transportation, are being sold off to private firms at garage sale prices.

Meanwhile, the Serbian segment of Bosnia had its democratically elected president removed by NATO troops because he was thought to be a "hardliner" against free market reforms. This too was reported in the press as a necessary measure to advance democracy.

In Kosovo, we see the same dreary pattern. The U.S. gives aid and encouragement to violently right-wing separatist forces such as the self-styled Kosovo Liberation Army, only a year ago considered a terrorist organization by Washington. The KLA has long been a prime player in an enormous heroin trade that reaches to Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Norway, and Sweden. The KLA has no social program other than the stated goal of cleansing Kosovo of all non- Albanians, a campaign that had been going on for some thirty years, during which time the non-Albanian Kosovo population (Serbs, Romany, Turks, Macedonians, and others) has shrunk from some 60 percent in 1945 to about 25 percent in 1998.

Demonizing the Serbs

The propaganda campaign to demonize the Serbs fits the larger policy of the Western powers. None other than Charles Boyd, former deputy commander of the U.S. European command, commented on it in 1994:

The popular image of this war in Bosnia is one of unrelenting Serb expansionism. Much of what the Croatians call 'the occupied territories' is land that has been held by Serbs for more that 3 centuries. The same is true of most Serb land in Bosnia. . . . In short the Serbs were not trying to conquer new territory, but merely to hold onto what was already theirs. The U.S. [has punished] one side in this war. It has supported the legitimacy of a leadership in the Bosnian [Muslim] government that has become increasingly ethnocentric in its makeup, single-party in its rule, and manipulative in its diplomacy. ... We say we want peace but we have encouraged a deepening of the war.

Why were the Serbs targeted for demonization? They were the largest nationality, and the one most opposed to the breakup of Yugoslavia. But what of the atrocities they committed? All sides have committed atrocities, but the reporting has been consistently one-sided. Grisly incidents of Croat and Muslim atrocities against the Serbs rarely made it into the U.S. press. Recently, three Croatian generals were indicted by the Hague War Crimes Tribunal for the bombardment and deaths of Serbs in Krajina and elsewhere. Where were the U.S. television crews when these war crimes were being committed? And John Ranz, chair of Survivors of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, USA, asks: Where were the TV cameras when hundreds of Serbs were slaughtered by Muslims near Srebrenica?

Are we to trust U.S. leaders and the corporate-owned news media when they dish out atrocity stories? Recall the five hundred premature babies whom the Iraqis supposedly ripped from incubators in Kuwait? A most improbable story that was repeated and believed until exposed as a total fabrication years later.

During the Bosnian war in 1993, the Serbs were accused of having an official policy of rape. "Go forth and rape" a Bosnian Serb commander supposedly publicly instructed his troops. The source of that report was never traced to any Serb. The commander's name was never produced. As far as we know, no such utterance was ever made. Even the New York Times belatedly ran a tiny retraction, admitting that "the existence of 'a systematic rape policy' by the Serbs remains to be proved."

Bosnian Serb forces supposedly raped anywhere from 25,000 to 100,000 Muslim women. The Bosnian Serb army numbered not more than 30 thousand or so, many of whom were engaged in desperate military engagements. A representative from Helsinki Watch noted that stories of massive Serbian rapes originated with the Bosnian Muslim and Croatian governments and had no credible supporting evidence. Common sense would dictate that these stories be treated with the utmost skepticism--and not be used as the bases for an aggressive and punitive policy against Yugoslavia.

Then there was the infamous Sarajevo market massacre. The Serbs were blamed for it, until the story leaked out on French TV that the U.N. knew that Muslim extremists had bombed Bosnian civilians in order to induce NATO involvement. It was discovered that the explosion did not come from an artillery shell but a planted bomb. Even international negotiator David Owen, who worked with Cyrus Vance, admitted in his memoir that the NATO powers knew all along that it was a Muslim bomb.

Barry Lituchy reports that the New York Times ran a photo purporting to be of Croats grieving over Serbian atrocities when in fact the murders had been committed by Bosnian Muslims. The Times printed a tiny retraction the following week.

We have seen how the leader of a designated rogue nation is demonized: Qaddafi of Libya was a "Hitlerite megalomaniac" and a "madman." Noriega of Panama was a "a swamp rat," one of the world's worst "drug thieves and scums," and "a Hitler admirer."

Saddam Hussein of Iraq was "the Butcher of Baghdad," a "madman," "psychologically deformed," and "worse than Hitler." Each of these leaders were charged with atrocities and acts of aggression then had their countries attacked by U.S. forces. What they really had in common was that each was charting a somewhat independent course of self-development or in some way not complying with the dictates of global free market finance and the U.S. national security state.

And now we have Milosovic, described as "a new Hitler," by Bill Clinton who learns his lessons well. Milosovic was not always Hitler. At first, the Western press, viewing the ex-banker as a bourgeois Serbian nationalist who might hasten the break-up of Yugoslavia, hailed him as a "charismatic personality." Only later, when they saw him as an obstacle rather than a tool, did they begin to depict him as a demon, the instigator of great war crimes who "started all four wars."

Even the managing editor of the establishment journal Foreign Affairs, Fareed Zakaria, writing in the New York Times, notes that Milosovic who rules "an impoverished country that has not attacked its neighbors--is no Adolf Hitler. He is not even Saddam Hussein." The Hague War Crimes Tribunal requested that the U.S. government provide it with the necessary documentation so that it might indict Milosovic as a war criminal. In more than a year, no such documentation has been forthcoming. Nor is proof necessary, for the Yugoslav president is indicted and convicted every day by the U.S. media, which faithfully follows national security state policy on such matters.

The process of repetition is so relentless that prominent personages on the Left now feel compelled to genuflect before this demonization orthodoxy, referring to unspecified and unverified Serbian "brutality" and "the monstrous Milosovic." Thus do they reveal themselves as having been penetrated by the very media propaganda machine they criticize on so many other issues.

To reject the demonized image of Milosovic and of the Serbian people is not to idealize them or claim they are faultless or free of crimes. It is merely to challenge the one- sided propaganda that has laid the grounds for NATO's destruction of Yugoslavia.

Up until the NATO bombings began in March 1999, the conflict in Kosovo had taken 2000 lives from both sides, according to Kosovo Albanian sources. Yugoslavian sources had put the figure at 800. Such figures reveal a civil war, not genocide. The forced expulsion policy began after the NATO bombings, with thousands being uprooted by Serb forces in those southern Kosovo areas where KLA mercenaries were operating. The bitter Serbian reaction seems to have been: "You invite death and destruction upon us, we'll drive you out and remove the KLA support base."

We should keep in mind that tens of thousands more are fleeing Kosovo because it is being mercilessly bombed by NATO. An Albanian woman crossing into Macedonia was asked by a news crew if she had been forced out by Serb police. She responded: "There were no Serbs. We were frightened of the [NATO] bombs." Some fifty thousand Serbian residents of Kosovo have taken flight (mostly north but some to the south). Are the Serbs ethnically cleansing themselves? Or are these people not fleeing the bombing?

The refugee tide caused by the bombing is now being used by U.S. warmakers as justification for the bombing, a necessary pressure to be put on Milosovic to allow "the safe return of ethnic Albanian refugees."

While Kosovo Albanians were leaving in great numbers-- usually well-clothed and in good health, some riding their tractors, truck, or cars, many of them young men of recruitment age--they were described as being "slaughtered." And Serbian attacks on KLA strongholds or the forced expulsion of Albanian villagers were described as "genocide." Experts in surveillance photography and wartime propaganda have recently charged NATO with "running a propaganda campaign" on Kosovo that lacks any supporting evidence. State Department reports of mass graves and of 100,000 to 500,000 missing Albanian men "are just ludicrous," according to independent critics.

In contrast to its public assertions to justify NATO's attacks, the German Foreign Office privately continued to deny that there is any evidence that genocide or ethnic cleansing is a component of Yugoslav policy: "Even in Kosovo, an explicit political persecution linked to Albanian ethnicity is not verifiable. . . . The actions of the [Yugoslav] security forces [were] not directed against the Kosovo-Albanians as an ethnically defined group, but against the military opponent and its actual or alleged supporters."

Ethnic Enmity and U.S. "Diplomacy"

Some people argue that it is not class but nationalism that is the real motor force behind these conflicts. This presumes that class and ethnicity are mutually exclusive forces. In fact, ethnic enmity can be enlisted to serve class interests, as the CIA tried to do with the Mung people in Vietnam and the Muskito Indians in Nicaragua. And as the CIA did in Bosnia. It is a matter of public record that the CIA has been active in Bosnia. Consider these headlines: The Guardian (Manchester/London), November 17 1994: "CIA AGENTS TRAINING BOSNIAN ARMY"; The London Observer, November 20, 1994: "AMERICA'S SECRET BOSNIA AGENDA"; The European, November 25, 1994: "HOW THE CIA HELPS BOSNIA FIGHT BACK."

As for "ancient national enmities": when different national groups are living together with some measure of social and material security, they tend to get along. There is intermingling and even some intermarriage. But when the economy and the social fabric starts to go into a tailspin, then it becomes easier to induce internecine conflicts and social discombobulation. As already noted, in Yugoslavia the most retrograde separatist elements were given every advantage in money, organization, propaganda, arms, and hired thugs, while operating with the knowledge that they had the full might of the U.S. national security state to their backs.

NATO is in violation of its own charter, which says it can take military action only in response to aggression committed against one of its members. Yugoslavia has attacked no NATO member. Unable to get a mandate for war through the U.N. Security Council, U.S. leaders simply bypassed the United Nations altogether. And they have discarded diplomacy. Traditional diplomacy is a process of negotiating disputes through give and take, a way of pressing one's interests only so far, arriving eventually at a solution that may leave one side more satisfied than the other but not to the point of forcing either party into war.

U.S. diplomacy is something else. As evidenced in its dealings with Vietnam, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq, and now Yugoslavia, it consists of laying down a set of demands that are treated as nonnegotiable, though called "accords" or "agreements," as in the Rambouillet agreements. The other side's reluctance to accede to every condition is labeled "stonewalling," and is publicly misrepresented as an unwillingness to negotiate in good faith. U.S. leaders, we hear, run out of patience as their "offers" are "snubbed." Ultimatums are issued, then military destruction is delivered upon the recalcitrants so that they might learn to see things the way Washington does.

Actually, Milosovic accepted all the demands laid down in the Rambouillet agreements except one: he refused to hand over a large region of the Serbian Republic, i.e., Kosovo, to foreign occupation--nor accept the additional stipulation that these troops could move at will into any other part of Yugoslavia. Instead the Serbs offered to accept U.N. supervisors in Kosovo, a proposal that went unnoticed in the U.S. media until recently.

Many liberals are discomforted by the aerial destruction of Yugoslavia but are convinced that "this time" the U.S. national security state is really fighting the good fight. Liberals and even some progressives will say, "Yes, the bombings don't work. The bombings are stupid! But we have to do something." In fact, the bombings are other than stupid: they are profoundly immoral. And in fact they do work; they are destroying Yugoslavia and turning it into a deindustrialized, recolonized, beggar-poor nation of cheap labor, defenseless against capital penetration, so splintered and battered down that it will never rise again.

Consider the cry of pain sent over the Internet by Serbian environmental activist Branka Jovanovic: "Serbia is one of the greatest sources of underground waters in Europe and the contamination [from U.S. depleted uranium and other explosives] will be felt in the whole surrounding area all the way to the Black Sea." NATO chooses "extremely dangerous targets" including ones near nuclear reactors, nuclear waste storage facilities, and petro-chemical factories, including a chloride plant that still uses a technology similar to what existed in Bhopal. "It is not necessary for me to explain what the blowing up of one such factory would represent. Not only Belgrade, situated ten kilometers away, would be endangered but the rest of Europe too." "Four national parks have been bombed," Jovanovic notes, "national reservations" that make Yugoslavia "among thirteen of the world's richest bio-diversity countries." The depleted uranium missiles that NATO is using "will bring dangerous consequences to the health not only of soldiers but also of the whole population, and you know that toxins and radioactivity know no nationality or borders." Jovanovic then goes on to describe the shock and suffering of children and elderly people and the "humanitarian catastrophe" created by the NATO bombing that will have "severe consequences to the generations of people living in this country."

The same old arguments we heard with regard to Vietnam have resurfaced: "Well, we can't just pull out." In fact, U.S. leaders certainly can pull out, with just two words: "Cease fire!" and then another two words, "NATO disband." And yes, we, the real "we" do have to do something. Call the White House (202 456- 1111); call your misrepresentatives in the U.S. Congress; call and write to the various media, complaining of their awful coverage and the way they serve as mouthpieces for officialdom. Talk back, educate, organize, agitate, demonstrate.

Against the lies and homicidal violence, the thin frail voice of reason and democracy can become a mighty chorus and a strong resistance. We have seen it happen before and we can make it happen again.

Michael Parenti
May 11, 1999

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