Radovan Karadzic: The politics of ethnic chauvinism

Submitted by cathy n on 25 August, 2008 - 8:32 Author: Editorial, Solidarity, 21 August, 2008

The capture in Belgrade of Radovan Karadzic, who bears political responsibility for the murder of many thousands of Bosnian Muslim civilians in the mid-1990s, undoubtedly reflects the “turn to the west” of the current Serbian government. He had been living and working in Belgrade, protected by other Serb nationalists.

It is good that he has been captured and good that he will be punished. The pity is that the relatives of his victims in Bosnia won’t have the chance to hang this mass murderer!

The western governments will not be looking forward to having what happened in Bosnia in the mid-90s raked over at Karadzic’s forthcoming trial. The NATO powers which had some troops on the ground did not defend the Muslims and hindered them from defending themselves.

NATO soldiers stood idly by while the Serb militias, drunk on nationalism, massacred men, women and children. The west put an embargo on arms, thereby hindering the Bosnian Muslims from defending themselves: the Serbs were well-supplied with arms from the old Yugoslav state arsenals.

NATO’s shameful role then prepared NATO for the serious intervention it made in 1999 to stop the Kosovar Albanians from being massacred.

Two aspects of what happened when the Yugoslav state disintegrated should be kept firmly in mind by socialists, one of them exemplified by Karadzic.

The first is that civilised states can quickly give way to foulest barbarism, former fellow citizens turn into murdering ethnic-national-religious warriors.

For instance in Belgium now the state teeters on the brink of disintegrating into its French-speaking Walloon and Dutch-speaking Flemish components. Brussels is a mainly Walloon city surrounded by a Flemish population. It is scarcely conceivable that Belgium — though there was Walloon-Flemish conflict there during World War Two — should go the way of Yugoslavia, that Brussels might become a Srebrinica. Certainly it is inconceivable that the other European states would allow it to.

Before the breakdown of Yugoslavia it was inconceivable that Srebrinica should become “Srebrinica”.

What happens in ethnic-national conflicts is that the reckless militants and chauvinists set the agenda: if you are targeted because of your ethnic-national-religious identity by chauvinists on the “other” side, you will be driven for survival to your own “side”, whose militants do to people on the other side what was done to you.

The same tacit alliance between Israelis and Palestinians has been a major factor in recent Israeli-Palestinian relations.

The second aspect worth underlining is that Karadzic, a psychiatrist by profession, was by all external criteria a highly civilized human being… Evidently, it counted for nothing. This mind-doctor’s head was full of medieval glories of the Serbs and of the long wars of Christians and Muslims in the region. Many of the Nazi mass murderers were “civilized” bourgeois.

The lesson for socialists is: “anti-imperialist” militants are often the most reckless chauvinists.

The only militancy socialists can rely on and should support is working class militancy in the cause of socialism and working class unity across such tragic divides as that in Bosnia.

During the Bosnian conflict of the mid-90s, while much of the left, including ourselves, opposed the embargo on arms that left the Muslims to be slaughtered, the biggest organization, the SWP was “neutral”. As Trotsky said of some people during the massacres of the 1913 Balkan wars, they “picked their noses” as mass murder was done by men drunk on chauvinism.

Then during the 1999 Balkan war the SWP went whole hog for the murderous Serb chauvinist government of Slobodan Milosevic, engaged in driving out and murdering Albanian Muslims in Kosova. The SWP has since become “the best fighters for Muslims”. It will be interesting to see what they say of Karadzic’s arrest. Will they denounce it as “capitulation” to NATO by the Serb government?

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