The demise of the USSR in 1990-1 was quickly followed by the splintering of Yugoslavia as rival imperialisms sought to draw different parts of it in their orbit. The Internationalist Workers’ Group article which follows reminds us of one particular horror of the war that followed.
August 30th marked the 25th anniversary of the US bombing of Bosnia under the name of "Operation Deliberate Force". The US Air Force along with US naval aircraft staged over 2,000 sorties over the Serbian inhabited parts of Bosnia. The bombing targeted roads, bridges and anything that could provide food or medicine to the population. It marked the first air bombardment on that scale since WWII. This humanitarian imperialism was repeated again when the US helped the Kosovo Liberation Army ethnically cleanse the Serbs out of Kosovo. Unlike typical gunboat diplomacy or the bullying required to keep nations unfortunately placed in American imperialism's "backyard", US intervention in the wars in the former states of Yugoslavia began to step on the toes of imperialist powers who have historically considered the entire region to be their imperialist "backyard". The ethnic partition of the former Yugoslavian republics was initiated by the US, Germany and the other powers of the "better than thou" west. The proposal to divide the former Yugoslavia was the primary proposal from the US from 1991 on. It was this situation that the great powers, US foremost among them, had created. It marked the return of German imperialism and the start of other western powers to push their influence eastwards.
If there was ever an argument for why nationalism is a wholly reactionary force in the world one need only look at the history of the Balkans. It is no less true today than it was a hundred years ago. Both the creation and destruction of Yugoslavia were products of the redivision of the world in competing spheres of imperialist influence with the same powers destroying the country they helped create. Nationalism is a trap for workers, regimenting them in an artificial national unity that serves the interests of predatory bourgeois powers. In the present period where capitalist powers are moving towards ever greater conflicts the possibility for a direct confrontation between nuclear armed imperialist powers becomes a less unthinkable reality where every litttle war becomes a potential stepping stone towards a more generalized conflict between imperialist powers.
With the end of the reign of Hashim Thaci in Kosovo, and the ongoing attempts of the government in Montenegro to pretend that the people who live in that country aren't actually Serbian, the EU and the US basically forcing Macedonia into calling itself "North Macedonia", and more unusual events highlight the continuing social disaster that was the result of the breakup of Yugoslavia. The imperialist fault lines that run through the Balkans became a touch point for the current climate of hostility between American and Russian imperialism. Kosovo was brought under the rule of a human organ trafficking, drug dealing "lumpen-bourgeoisie" and came to house the key US military base of Camp Bondsteel.
A newly reborn German imperialism helped kick off the carve up of the former Yugoslavia with the recognition of Slovenia. The US, UK and Germany provided assistance to the Croatians when they forcibly expelled the Serbian population from the Krajina region of Croatia. It was the largest single ethnic cleansing episode of the war. The Croatian nationalists, like their Ustasha forebears, killed anyone too old, or disabled to flee. Alija Izetbegović, the convicted Nazi collaborator ruler of Bosnia, carried out his own massacres and forced relocations of Serbs and Croats. Meanwhile Serbian nationalists did the same to the Bosnians. As the slaughter progressed during the course of the civil war, the Serbian nationalists aggressively moved to carve out as much turf as possible. Shelling the city of Sarajevo for four years from 1992 to 1996 left over 13,000 dead and over 50,000 injured.1 The first siege of a city in Europe since the end of WWII gives a sense of the ferocity with which the factions of the bourgeoisie pursued their interests in the course of the carve up.
When Kosovar separatists of the KLA began to set up checkpoints and extort money from people at gunpoint in 1998, the Serbian government balked at full independence and moved against it, American imperialism attacked. The agreement that the Serbian government was forced to sign would've turned all of Serbia into a zone where the US military could go anywhere and do anything they wanted. The US had previously made assurances to the Russian government that NATO (basically the US) would not move any further eastwards. Thus when the western powers commenced the eighty day punitive bombing of Serbia and turned Kosovo into an American colony, the Russian imperialists felt betrayed. This gave rise to a consensus among the dominant fractions of Russian capitalists at the helm of the Russian state that their national interests were not being adequately represented by the Yeltsin government as the US was continuing its imperialist expansion at their expense. One of the current aims of US imperialism in the Balkans is to promote ideas of a Greater Albania project to put pressure on countries to relent and bow to US demands. Gaining a foothold in the Balkans allows the US to help Afghanistan sell heroin to Europe and gives US soldiers a reason to guard poppy fields in Afghanistan.
All the Balkans were a testing ground for America's depleted Uranium p238 weaponry, which today includes bombs, artillery shells, missiles and small arms munitions. The oxidized dust found its way into the Aegean and Adriatic seas. Pediatricians throughout the Balkans have long spoken of the elevated rates of child cancers and birth defects found throughout Serbia and the surrounding countries. Just as the Balkans were a testing ground for weaponry, to imperialism it is a stepping off point that can lead them to further confrontations elsewhere. Indeed the Bosnian nationalists had a brief moment of reckoning during the Bosnian "spring", with mass protests that turned the headquarters of the ruling nationalist party into a ruin. In February of 2014 things came to a head after a series of long running disputes over layoffs, privatizations and unpaid wages. The various cantons of Bosnia are ruled as an ethnic nationalist bourgeois kakistocracy. It represented the first major non-nationalist struggle since before the breakup of Yugoslavia. A form of popular assembly called plenums emerged. While workers initiated the struggle, the assembly form remained more open and cross class in nature. The demands of the struggle were great and the plenums created in the course of the struggle ran out of energy. Such events however, can represent a positive body of experience that workers could learn from in future struggles. The graffiti on the walls of the government building in Tuzla bore the memorable slogan "death to nationalism!"
As we have written throughout the years, nationalism is a death trap for the working class. This is starkly apparent for those parts of the world that exist on the fault lines of the great imperialist powers. Nationalism holds a strong attraction, particularly when there are no other political options. The historic betrayals of Social Democracy and Stalinism helped fuel a situation, where in a historic crisis of capitalism, national ideology isn't just the dominant ideology but the only ideology. Nationalism exploits fears and perceived grievances to fuel conflict and drown out any sign of class solidarity and struggle in national chauvinism. This reactionary ideological excrescence of the bourgeoisie can be defeated. The Russian Revolution showed that this national discipline can be broken by a determined and organized working class. Thus we call for the demobilizing force of revolutionary defeatism and internationalism, as it is the only known antidote to the sickness of nationalism.
Yugoslavia: Titoism to Barbarism in Internationalist Communist 11
- 1E. Tabeau, J. Bihak, and N. Loncaric. "Death Toll in the Siege of Sarajevo, April 1992 to December 1995: A survey of mortality based on eight large data sections. Report prepared for the case of Slobodan Milosevic - Bosnia and Herzegovina. Demographic Unit, OTP. ICTY. IT-02-54. August 18, 2003.