Bosnia still needs solidarity

Submitted by AWL on 3 April, 2009 - 8:12 Author: Chris Reynolds

I am writing this article on 26 September [1995]: it is best to specify the day, so quickly and dramatically have been the reversals in ex-Yugoslavia over the last two months. At the end of July, Serbia and its Bosnian-Serb understudies were on the offensive. On 11 and 25 July they overran the Muslim enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa in eastern Bosnia, massacring thousands. On 19 July they launched a big offensive against the north-western Muslim enclave of Bihac. It looked likely to fall. A Bosnian government drive to break the siege of Sarajevo, in June, had failed. Western leaders muttered about cutting their losses and withdrawing the UN troops.
Croatia had reconquered Western Slavonia on 1-2 May, but Serb armed forces still held about a quarter of Croatia, including key communication links.
Then, on 4-6 August, Croatia reconquered the Krajina. The Serb armed forces did not fight, but instead led tens of thousands in flight to Bosnian-Serb territory and to Serbia. The Croatian authorities, declaring blandly and hypocritically that the Krajina Serbs could stay or leave as they wished, followed up by razing Serb villages and killing Serbs who had stayed behind.
On 30 August NATO started a major bombardment of Bosnian-Serb armed positions. The Bosnian and Croatian armies followed up with a big offensive in western Bosnia, taking about 20 per cent of the country’s whole land area and breaking the isolation of Bihac. On 20 September the Serbs lifted the siege of Sarajevo. The Americans are pushing hard for a ceasefire and a diplomatic settlement.
All assessments of the war must be checked against the new events. In the first place, Croatia’s role has changed. In June 1991 Croatia declared independence and started improvising an army. By September, the Serbian-controlled ex-Yugoslav army and Serb militias had conquered one-third of the country, driving out Croats. Croatia was the oppressed nation, Serbia the oppressor.
Now, however, Croatia has consolidated and reinforced its army, with US aid. In 1993 it seized a large chunk of Bosnia. Today, it stands against war-ruined Serbia as a rival proto-imperialism.
As for the UN/NATO intervention — some people on the left are crying “UN/NATO out!” because, they say, the UN and NATO are waging imperialist war against the Serbs. Others raise the same cry with the opposite argument: that NATO is gaining leverage to impose a settlement which legalises the bulk of the Serbs’ gains from conquest and ‘ethnic cleansing’.
The second assessment is more accurate. The Bosnian-Serb chauvinists are to have 49 per cent of Bosnia under the current American plan, and no-one has threatened Serbia itself. The US in Bosnia, like the other big powers, wants to restore the quiet necessary for profitable trade and investment. Should any socialist or even radical-democratic political force emerge, they will stamp on it ruthlessly.
The US has been, in patches, more aggressive against Serbian imperialism than the European powers only because it is more concerned than them about its relations with Muslim countries. The difference has been very limited. Even if the US has provided a little covert military assistance to the Bosnian government, it has maintained the embargo which prevents the Bosnian government getting heavy weapons: the vote by the US Congress to lift the embargo was so hedged around as to have no short-term practical import.
Socialists therefore cannot endorse, support, or encourage the UN/NATO intervention. If we are to make ourselves clear, however, we cannot cry “UN/NATO out” without explaining the alternative in the name of which we oppose the UN and NATO. Sarajevo relieved by a NATO offensive designed as a lever for an imperialist carve-up is bad; Sarajevo still besieged is worse.
Given the forces in play, what are the possibilities now? Already the US has forced the Bosnian government into a subordinate relationship with the Croatian government which seized and “ethnically cleansed” a large chunk of its territory, through the Croat-Muslim Federation. The American plan now is to slot that federation into another federation, with a Bosnian-Serb statelet.
This carve-up will be unstable. The dividing lines will be arbitrary, with hundreds of thousands of embittered refugees on all sides. A solid peace requires a multi-ethnic democracy in Bosnia, and a democratic federation of nations in the whole region, with full rights for minorities. But how can that be achieved?
According to Socialist Outlook and Workers’ Press the current Croatian/Bosnian offensive is the “liberation” of Bosnia. If pushed far enough, it is the road to the restoration of multi-ethnic Bosnia; it is the progressive alternative to UN/NATO intervention.
To break the isolation of Bihac, and enable people to return to their homes in towns like Jajce, is good. Military defeats for Mladic are welcome because they increase the chance of peace: in fact, no peace offering the Bosnian Muslims any real national life would be possible without such defeats. But most of the gains have been made not by the Bosnian but by the Croatian army, and some in areas which have been Serb-populated for centuries. The Croatian army has as grisly a record of ‘ethnic cleansing’ as the Serbian; its aim is not to restore multi-ethnic democracy in Bosnia, but to carve out territory for itself.
Both in the Croatian Krajina and in western Bosnia, the Serbian forces have fled without fighting. This must be a calculated decision by Belgrade — and the fact that such a decision could lead to such a rapid collapse shows that the Croatian-Serb and Bosnian-Serb statelets were primarily artefacts of Belgrade, rather than of the local people. Conquests with the whole Serb population fleeing are, however, an adjustment of the likely partition of Bosnia, not an advance towards restoring an integrated multi-ethnic Bosnia.
For socialists, our prime concern is Muslim-Croat-Serb working-class unity, on a programme of consistent democracy — self-determination for all nations, autonomy for all local minorities, equal individual rights for all residents everywhere regardless of nationality. Until a sizeable contingent of Muslim, Croat, and Serb workers has been united on that programme, all talk of restoring multi-ethnic Bosnia is empty. Indeed, even if tomorrow the workers should take power in Sarajevo, in Zagreb, and in Belgrade, they would still have huge problems dealing with the millions of disoriented and embittered refugees, and and they would be foolish to try to reimpose multi-ethnic integration by decree. Tuzla, dominated politically by the Social-Democrats (ex-CP), retains the strongest elements of multi-ethnic democracy in Bosnia; but even there, the floods of “ethnically cleansed” refugees from the countryside have created great difficulties in Muslim-Serb relations.
A Bosnian army general, Arif Paseljic, summarised the military issues soberly in late 1993, and the two years since then confirm his assessment. “At the beginning... we insisted that we were fighting for a unified, multi-ethnic Bosnia, because we were fighting in alliance with the Croats and there was the possibility of victory together against the aggressor. Then it became clear that the Croatians were pursuing other aims... Now we are fighting for the basic survival and existence of the Muslim people. We would now accept a just settlement of divided territory for all the three warring peoples, and with access to the sea... The substance of the war is now to secure a fair territory for the Muslim people, and for any other nationalities who want to live with us and are welcome to do so...” (Quoted in Ed Vulliamy, “Seasons in Hell”, pp.339-40).
The effective partition of southern and western Bosnia into a Croat statelet and a mainly-Muslim one, loosely united in the Croat-Muslim Federation, is an evil. Socialists and democrats would fight for common institutions, for free movement of people, for the reintegration of the town of Mostar, which has been divided by Croatian force so that one side of the river is Croat, the other Muslim. But for the Bosnian army go to war to reconquer the Croat statelet would be militarily suicidal and politically unable to achieve anything except moving the partition line. The same principle applies with the likely Bosnian-Serb statelet. The path to reunification must be primarily political, not military.

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