Bosnian war

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Marcel Duchamp
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Nov 4 2009 21:55
Bosnian war

I am trying to make sense of certain events during the Bosnian war. Clearly, the war was partly a result of the external imperialist intervention of Germany and the US - which started early with the introduction of a devastating IMF austerity programme in the 1980s - as much as internal conflicts among Serb, Croat and Muslim groups following the collapse of the quasi-Stalinist state in 1990.

The US backed Izetbegovic's Muslim forces, of course. What was the British interest in Bosnia, however? As I understand it, the UK had traditionally supported the Serbian 'rump' state (and a Libcom poster has asserted that the British bankrolled Serbia during the conflict). However, the British news media relentlessly demonised the Serbs and many British politicians (notably Thatcher) supported the Croatian cause. Why was this? Did the UK simply come around to supporting the US cause (and Germany's client Croatia) once the ambitions of those powerful imperialisms became evident in 1993?

Also, and relatedly, I'd be interested in hearing views on Britain's rationale for sending troops to Bosnia in 1992 under the auspices of UNPROFOR.

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Steven.
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Nov 5 2009 18:11

Sorry, which Bosnian war you talking about? Do you mean the Kosovo war in 1999?

If so, we have a bunch of content here: http://libcom.org/tags/Kosovo-war

If you mean the previous one, there may be some articles in http://libcom.org/tags/Yugoslavia, but not got time to check myself first right now I'm afraid.

Marcel Duchamp
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Nov 5 2009 18:27

I mean the Bosnian war (1992-95), not the later Kosovo war.

Thanks for the links, Steven. I have read most of material in the Libcom library around this; but the precise nature of the British interest and involvement remains a bit unclear to me.

On a lighter note, I was chatting to a historian, no less, about Germany's support for Croatian 'independence' during the period. She informed me that Germany in the 1990s 'could not objectively be described as an imperialist power'. roll eyes

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Demogorgon303
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Nov 6 2009 11:05

This may be of interest: http://www.en.internationalism.org/wr/2009/329/karadzic

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Alf
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Nov 6 2009 13:51

Agree with Marcel's approach - locating the regional conflicts in the wider inter-imperialist conflict. During the war the ICC wrote quite a bit about conflict between the US and Britain over the latter's backing for Serbia, with the US complaining that Britain was directly obstructing its efforts to rein in Serb ambitions. I haven't got time to look for links on our site at the moment (apart from the one Demo just added) but maybe other comrades can help with this. Later on the Brits had to change their tune quite a bit and join in with the demonisation of the Serbs and support the US-led NATO bombing in 1999, or risk losing all influence in the area. But such sudden shifts shouldn't surprise us. Initially the US also were opposed to the break-up of Yugoslavia (ie, support for Serbia) when the Germans supported the Croats and Slovenians independence bid, but lacking any real links with Serbia they moved towards backing Bosnia and even Croatia against the Serbs. Incredibly complicated and no limits to the cynicism of the bourgeoisie....

Steggsie
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Nov 6 2009 15:58

Many thanks for these comments and suggestions; they're very helpful. I agree with Alf's post and I'm certainly not surprised by the lack of consistency in British foreign policy! A minor point is that, so far as I can tell, Britain's allegiances seem to have shifted well before 1999 - during the Bosnian war there was an outpouring of anti-Serb hatred across all the bourgeois media, from the New Statesman to the right wing press. So, yes, this was essentially a proxy war involving the major imperialisms, but I think that the UK was forced to dance to the US tune early on.

I agree with the framework and tenor of the ICC article; the trial of Karadzic is indeed a farce and a spectacle of the purest hypocrisy. If I may make one criticism, I actually think there's a problem with the assertion about 8,000 being murdered at Srebrenica and would ask where you are deriving this information from. Certainly, there were untold Serb atrocities (in response to Muslim atrocities - a point usually ignored in mainstream commentaries), but there is no evidence for the 8,000 figure, which simply became a rallying call for the eventual US-led bombings in 1995.

We need to be very careful not to follow the bourgeois media here, I think. Remember, the British media at the time reported rape camps ands death camps (all Serb, of course). In fact, all 'sides' operated camps (there were more Muslim ones, in fact) and these were not death camps or rape camps (although murders and rapes were undoubtedly committed by all sides).

I'd recommend Edward Herman and David Peterson's article in The Monthly Review (2007) for more information about this. Diana Johnstone's Fools' Crusade (2002) and Michael Parenti's To Kill A Nation (2000) also have useful information and properly question the reporting of the Srebrenica massacre.

That said, I basically agree with the ICC reading of the conflict and its origins.

Marcel Duchamp
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Nov 6 2009 16:22

Sorry, but to clarify: Steggsie = Marcel. No deception intended. I changed my name after a long Libcom absence, but forgot to repress my alter ego.

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Demogorgon303
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Nov 6 2009 16:23
Quote:
Certainly, there were untold Serb atrocities (in response to Muslim atrocities - a point usually ignored in mainstream commentaries), but there is no evidence for the 8,000 figure, which simply became a rallying call for the eventual US-led bombings in 1995.

The 8,000 figure seems fairly common in all the (limited) literature I've read on the subject. Additionally, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia ruled as follows: "The Tribunal found that between 7,000 and 8,000 men were captured during the takeover of Srebrenica, then a United Nations "safe area," by Bosnian Serb forces -- under the command of General Ratko Mladic, General Krstic and several others -- and that almost all of these men were killed." - http://www.un.org/News/briefings/docs/2001/db080201.doc.htm

I'm not sure if that counts as a reliable source, but "when thieves fall out, honest men come by their own".

Marcel Duchamp
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Nov 7 2009 20:23

You're right that 7,000-8,000 is the magic number as far as mainstream commentators are concerned, but it's been subjected to a very serious battering by several 'radical' historians who I'd sooner trust than the ICTFY. Just a taste of this:

Herman on Johnstone, Balkans War

baboon
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Nov 7 2009 21:54

The overall context for the 1992 Bosnian war is inter-imperialist rivalries, but the particular context was the collapse of the Russian bloc, of which Yugoslavia under Tito was a member, though it had many links to the western bloc and was something of a buffer zone respected by both sides, ie, an invasion by either side would have probably meant all-out war. Things changed after the implosion of Russia and the (mostly) unwanted reunification of Germany, the latter tripping the war and making a push for the warm-water Mediterranean Sea. Imperialism doesn’t die in any country, it just simmers.

While Yugoslavia was more or less tied to Russia, Britain was the former’s second largest arms supplier. One of the major cornerstones of British foreign policy then and now is to confront German imperialism and Britain’s alliance with the Serb faction, the major faction of the Yugoslav bourgeoisie, favoured this policy. Barclay’s was involved in bankrolling the subsequent Milosevic regime (as it was with Saddam) and there were all sorts of links between the two allies: military, diplomatic, we can assume intelligence, and Owen, the British-imposed “negotiator”, was know as the “Serbian lawyer”.

Britain’s interest in Bosnia was to facilitate the Serb advance and Richard Holbrooke, the subsequent US envoy to the region, seemed to suggest on Newsnight a week or two ago, that Britain not only knew of the Serb advance but also the plans drawn up for the massacre of men boys – 8000 is the accepted figure, it may have been different. Prior to this, Britain, along with France, whose foreign policy towards Germany fitted in with Britain’s, had donned blue UN helmets in line with the fiction that this was a “humanitarian” effort, and facilitated the Serb siege of Sarajevo. These two countries, along with a weakened Russia, were eventually forced to submit to US imperialism but today nothing has been settled and rivalries are simmering in the Serb area of Bosnia today with “some European powers” on one side and the US on the other.

The complex specifics and manoeuvres of this particular stage of the Balkan War can be read in the ICC’s International Review no. 83. Can someone make a link please, I’ve got a bad leg.

Marcel Duchamp
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Nov 8 2009 10:13

Sounds like an accurate analysis to me, baboon, thanks.

The only slightly troubling thing for me is why the British media, pretty much from the start of the war, largely adopted an anti-Serb position when most of the British ruling class backed the Serb/ian cause. Thatcher also supported anti-Serb action early on; I guess she may have been motivated in this by her US connections? As has been said, it was complex situation and perhaps we need to see the British state as divided over the issue of which horse to back.

I do take issue with the framing of the Srebrenica massacre and the 8,000 claim, if only because it became a lynchpin of the argument for the 1995 bombings and continues to structure bourgeois reporting of the war (and the current Karadzic trial). Largely on the basis of this, the Serbs were presented as genocidal maniacs, etc., whom 'the West' had to intervene to stop - an argument with disturbing similarities to the 'anti-fascist' justifications for allied intervention in World War Two. Last time I checked, the ICC had views on that subject wink

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Demogorgon303
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Nov 9 2009 09:57
Quote:
I do take issue with the framing of the Srebrenica massacre and the 8,000 claim, if only because it became a lynchpin of the argument for the 1995 bombings and continues to structure bourgeois reporting of the war (and the current Karadzic trial). Largely on the basis of this, the Serbs were presented as genocidal maniacs, etc., whom 'the West' had to intervene to stop - an argument with disturbing similarities to the 'anti-fascist' justifications for allied intervention in World War Two. Last time I checked, the ICC had views on that subject.

You may or may not be right about the "8,000 claim", but I don't agree with the argument you present here at all. The fact that a particular massacre is used for propaganda value by an opposing bourgeoisie doesn't, in itself, cast doubt on the massacre itself.

As you say, the Allies used the atrocities committed by the Central Powers in WW2 as justification for their intervention. This doesn't mean that those atrocities didn't happen. Communists don't minimise the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps at all - what we do is point out Allied complicity and the atrocities that they committed.

Incidentally, according to the International Committee on Missing Persons 6,186 individuals have been identified as "genocide victims" on the basis of DNA evidence from remains in the mass graves.

Quote:
The only slightly troubling thing for me is why the British media, pretty much from the start of the war, largely adopted an anti-Serb position when most of the British ruling class backed the Serb/ian cause. Thatcher also supported anti-Serb action early on; I guess she may have been motivated in this by her US connections? As has been said, it was complex situation and perhaps we need to see the British state as divided over the issue of which horse to back.

I think it's also possible to view it in terms of the ruling class covering their tracks, as well. The sorts of massacres that were occuring in a European country, formerly a popular holiday destination, are a lot more difficult to hide than the actions of unsavoury allies in "far away places with far away names". Also, we have to take into account the double-game Britain was playing, quietly opposing the US while not being able to step too far out of line without risking serious repercussions.

Undoubtedly, however, there were serious divisions within the ruling class at the time. The drama of Thatcher's removal, the shock win of Major in the 92 election followed by 5 years of dramatic instability within the Tory government driven mainly by the "Eurosceptics", was all indicative of a bourgeoisie struggling to find a new orientation in the post-cold-war world.

Marcel Duchamp
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Nov 9 2009 20:54

I said that the 8,000 claim is highly problematic to put it mildly and depends on all sorts of factors that have to do with propaganda as much as forensic science. I didn't claim that there weren't deaths at Srebrenica or that 'atrocities... didn't happen'. You can't turn this into holocaust denial (although whether 'genocide' is the mot juste when bigger slaughters such as that in Iraq are not described as genocide, is an interesting question). Maybe it was my phrasing that was misleading, but I'm certainly not suggesting that the propaganda value of Srebrenica for the US means that it didn't happen!

I am simply suggesting that the massive propaganda value Srebrenica has accrued should make us cautious about accepting bourgeois claims about it. One of those claims, incidentally, is that what happened at Srebrenica was analogous to the Nazi Holocaust - a very dangerous parallel to draw in all sorts of ways and one that was predictably exploited to the max. I also suspect that the ICMP report is open to interpretation: the ethnicity of bodies discovered is indeterminate and contains Serbs as well as Muslims, soldiers killed in the heat of battle as well as civilians, bodies of those killed earlier and in surrounding areas as well as Srebrenica, bodies of civilians killed by the SDA in false flag operations and blamed on Serbs, etc.

But since I've been misunderstood above, let me be clear: none of this is to exonerate the Serb faction - or any of the bourgeois forces prosecuting and supporting these atrocities - in the slightest and I agree that we should emphasize how all the bourgeois powers collaborated in these horrors. At the same time, we should recall those small but important reminders of ongoing class struggle and internationalism, as expressed, for example, in the mutiny of 'Serb' troops at Banja Luka.

I also agree with your final paragraphs. The complex, even conflicted media reporting of Bosnia in Britain no doubt reflected the delicate balancing act required of the Major government.

baboon
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Nov 9 2009 20:52

With due respect to the dead of the whole Balkan War of the 90s I don’t think it really matters if the number of men and boys killed at Srebrencia was eight hundred or eight thousand. We are certainly talking about thousands and I can’t understand why this issue is important in the scheme of things. What’s important for me is the role of the UN and all the major powers involved.

As to what the bourgeoisie says and does: the Prime Minister of Britain at the time, John Major, didn’t say we are going to send an army to the Balkans in order to confront German imperialism and in doing so we will attempt to carve out a sphere of influence in this vital region by ruthlessly assisting our Serbian allies in any way we can whatever atrocities they commit. In fact, we will facilitate those atrocities through the displacement of our forces, our diplomatic activity and the role of our secret services. No, he said, we are intervening in the region because of our humanitarianism.

The overall interests of, British imperialism in this case, doesn’t have to be understood and shared by every British journalist and reporter and I remember ferocious arguments going on in the press about supporting the Serbs or not, the validity of the Serb “death camps” and so on, one aspect resulting in a court case. But, like the exact amount of Bosnians killed at Srebrencia, this is completely secondary to the analysis of the role of British imperialism (all imperialisms) at the time.

I don’t think that the British state was at all divided over the issue of supporting the Serbs in this war – just cautious and obviously mendacious in its presentation. The elements of the British state which mattered here were absolutely united – and ruthless, and, in essence, British foreign policy in relation to the Balkans is still more or less the same.

I certainly agree with the point of Marcel that all the local gangsters involved were tarred with the same brush; the Croats, the Bosnians, the Serbs and then the Albanian factions. For example, suspicions were aroused at the time about the possible involvement of the Bosnian military in the Sarajevo market bombing which was put down to the Serbs. All these factions, manipulated and moved by the larger powers, were involved in murders, massacres and atrocities often involving their own populations.

Marcel Duchamp
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Nov 11 2009 13:33

I agree with you, baboon, that the precise numbers don't really matter in the grand scheme of things. It's easy to end up in a ridiculous position if you fixate on numbers (during the Second World War, the Nazis killed 6 million, the Allies only, say, 4 or 5 million, so the Nazis were the real villains, etc.). On the other hand, the numbers played an important propaganda role and we saw a ludicrous inflation of death toll estimates throughout the war; and you do mention the 8,000 figure yourself in the article.

I guess on reflection I'm inclined to agree with you that the British state - or at least, as you qualify it, the parts of the state that 'mattered' - wasn't divided over supporting the Serbs; there were certainly elements that were extremely exercised about the potential cost, however, and therefore about over-commiting militarily.

Yes, the discussion of media coverage is secondary to the geopolitical analysis - but it just happens to be an aspect that I'm particularly interested in. Despite the British affiliations with Serbia, most of the elite journalists in the UK (like Ed Vulliamy) were pretty rabidly anti-Serb. Sure, not all journalists have to 'line up' and a little pinch of oppositional rhetoric makes for a nice democratic garnish, but those journalists who questioned the prevailing Serbophobia were marginalised. I don't think any of that contradicts your analysis in the slightest, I just find it interesting. Demo's explanations above could well account for the apparent disjunction between state aims and media reporting.

Anyway, thanks; the discussion has helped me to clarify some points.

baboon
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Nov 10 2009 20:02

Just a post-script to the above.

In the article quoted above, we say words to the effect that all the major powers were involved in the Balkan conflict with the exception of China and Japan – who were too far away. This is not strictly accurate and it’s indicative of the imperialist can of worms opened up by the end of the Cold War, that Chinese imperialism was actively involved, if not with “boots on the ground”.

On March 27, 1999, a US F117 Stealth bomber was shot down over Serbian territory by a Serb rocket. It is possible that this was a lucky shot but that is extremely unlikely. Stealth bombers are not entirely invisible and if ordnance can lock into their co-ordinates it’s possible to shoot them down. At the time, only 4 countries had access to such co-ordinates: the US, Britain, Israel and China. On May 7, 1999, the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was bombed by Nato forces. The US lamely called it an error. The building was extensively damaged, 3 journalists were killed and 20 diplomats wounded. It was an unprecedented and deliberate attack on a foreign embassy. Even if China wasn’t involved in the Stealth bomber incident, the Chinese embassy was a centre for supporting the Serb military not least in electronic warfare.

I think that this further underlines the deepening of inter-imperialist rivalries that was spawned by the collapse of the Russian bloc and the specific development of Chinese imperialism that is obvious today in Latin America, the Indian Ocean and Africa.

baboon
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Feb 7 2011 17:28

Just a post-script to the post-script above: A couple of weeks ago, during a trip by US diplomats, the Chinese released news of the inaugural flight of their new stealth fighter, the Chengdu J-20.
AP quotes that "Balkan officials and other experts said China could have gleaned knowledge about the technology from a US F-117 Nighthawk jet shot down over Serbia in 1999".
Admiral Komazet-Loso, Croatia's chief of staff during the Kosovo war said that Chinese agents "were criss-crossing the area where the F-117 disintegrated, buying up parts from local farmers" ... "We believe the Chinese used those materials to gain an insight into secret stealth technologies ... and to reverse-engineer them". A military consultant in the region, Zoran Kusovac, said that the Milosevic regime regularly shared captured western equipment with its Russian and Chinese allies.

The Chinese stealth bomber will be a direct threat to the American navy, particularly its aircraft carriers operating in the Yellow Sea. But it's some years away from going into service. In the meantime, closer to deployment by the Chinese, is a new type of intermediate ballistic missile that directly threatens US naval movement, including its aircraft carriers, in the Taiwan Strait. China and the US are engaged in an accelerated and expensive arms race.

baboon
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Feb 9 2011 16:42

Meanwhile, back in the Balkans... the national liberation government of Kosovo:
In 1999, during the US-backed war for Kosovan independence, Senator Joseph Lieberman declared: "The United States of America and the Kosovo Liberation Army stands by the same human values..." How right he is. Recent wikileaks detail that the US ally, pawn if you like, in the war, the KLO, as out and out gangsters. It details their involvement in the murder of civilians and the sale of those civilians internal organs on the black market. It shows their involvement in the heroin business which is absolutely integral and growing within imperialism world-wide. And it shows their head man and currrent Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci as the boss of a "mafia-like" organisation which is the most violent group in Kosovan politics and which has been trained and assisted by the CIA and British intelligence. This war was "A battle between good and evil" as Tony Blair put it and the "good" - democracy - has worked so well that recent elections saw the turn-out in one area of 149%!

The leaked NATO documents show that the US was well aware of Thaci's links to the Albanian mafia for years and their number one politician and part of Kosovo's official delegation to Strasbourg, Xhasit Halibi is himself deeply involved in heroin, arms smuggling, prostitution and likely a murderer.

The Balkans remain, and will remain, a running sore of gangsterism and imperialist rivalries, with the US continuing to back the Kosovans although, or probably because, the situation is becoming more unstable and untenable, particularly in relation to the norther Serb enclave. The Russians are backing the Serbs with their own "national liberation" and Britain seems to be playing a double game to me with interests in both camps. Britain is also blocking Germany's main ally Croatia (nationally liberated) in its attempt to join the EU which has brought it into confrontation with US policy here.

gypsy
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Feb 9 2011 17:01

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