Tuesday, May 02, 2006

How careless discrimination creates war crimes

One of the most successfull strategies in wars is the incitement of each other's minorities. The Allied forces used this trick with great success in World War I and the result was the creation of a number of new states, including Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary. The Allies were indulgent towards their new states and gave them more than the ethnic borders justified. Czechoslovakia got Sudetenland with the argument that the old borders of Bohemia shoulf be respected and Poland got the so called "Polish Corridor" because it wanted access to the sea.

Both areas were populated mainly by Germans, who would have preferred to stay with Germany or Austria, but the Allies determined differently. The situation was most painfull in Sudetenland. Allready on januari 1919 the Czech president Masyrek had said (in an interview with Le Monde) that the German population was the result of immigration and that only very loyal Germans had a future in Czechoslovakia. For the rest he expected that the German element would fastly disappear. This announcement of an assimilation or emigration policy did not have any effect. In september of that year the Treaty of Saint-Germain definitively allocated the area to Czechoslovakia.

Many elements of this period are very reminiscent of the present situation in former Yugoslavia, including a strong Czech lobby in the US and France insisting on keeping as much Germans as possible in Czechoslovakia in order to weaken Germany.

Sure, the Czech government had signed a treaty in which it promissed to protect its minorities. But this did not prevent them from a policy of Czechization and from pursuing a policy that changed the Germans from the richest population group into poverty. But the real danger was in the long term. Only a piece of paper protected the Germans from a hostile government. And for anyone who has studied history this is a very poor protection. In 1945 it would prove to be insufficient indeed when they were actually chased from their homes. The Allies - including those in the West - knew it would happen and did not object in any way.

It is usually believed that the cruel behaviour of the Germans in Poland and the Sovjet-Union during World War II was a consequence of a theory that saw the Slavs as Untermenschen. I believe it is the other way around:

For the Czechs the Treaty of Saint-Germain may have been just a matter of nationalism. But for the Germans it was a matter of survival. Allocating Sudetenland to a country that made it clear that it wanted to purge them was a crime that must have made an enormous impression on a man with a sense of history like Hitler. I believe that the obsession about Lebensraum and the dislike of the Slavs was a direct consequence of this situation. The Untermenschen theory was a just a justification for an existing feeling when it was translated in policies.

The situation in former Yugoslavia has many similarities with that after World War I. Here too we see the Allies playing the ethnic game in order to weaken an enemy - in this case the "communist" Milosevic. And in this case too the Allies tend to give the new states more territory than strict ethnic criteria would allow them.

Tudjman was brutally clear about the Serbs. During the 1989 elections he made his infamous remark that he thanked God that his wife was neither a Serb nor a Jew. And on Serb complaints about discrimination he asked why they didn't go to Serbia if they liked it better there.

Yet the international community insisted that the Krajna and the other Serb-majority areas should stay with Croatia. For the international community it was just a matter of making a good treaty that guaranteed minority rights. But for the Serbs no treaty could make up for the fact that they would live on borrowed time in a country that would use the first available excuse to throw them out.

I think this explains much of the war crimes. While the Croats and the Muslims lived in a world where the international community would interfere if the situation got too much out of hand the Serbs lived in an existential void. If they didn't defend themselves there was no hope.

In Kosovo the international community is once again in the same situation. It is clear to everybody that many Albanians want all Serbs out and that there is a big chance in 10 years no Serbs will be left in Kosovo. Yet the international is moving forward with the same cynical opportunism as in Sudetenland and the Krajna towards a solution that will give the Serbs - even those in the Serb-majority north - only some token guarantees that are bound to be worthless in the long term.

I am worried about the despair and distrust that this will leave. I cannot predict the future, but it certainly has the potential to be very destabilising, both for the Balkan and the rest of the world.

Like it or not, ethnicity is the only valid argument for creating new states nowadays. All other arguments come down to the use of force - whether it is by barbarian soldiers or polished diplomats.

One of the first things newly independent countries usually do is trying to prove their ethnic credentials. Minorities are marked as intruders without rights or as apostates who should be assimilated back into the nation. Ethnic territories outside the borders are claimed.

This nationalistic first phase of new nations has obvious risks for ethnic minorities. For that reason I believe that the international community should be careful that new nations are formed along ethnic lines.

Instead the intenational community has chosen a policy that declares some "historic" borders sacred. Behind this is usually some partiality on the international side. In the case of the Sudeten the policy was that Germany should be as weak as possible and that to achieve that as much Germans as possible should stay behind as minorities in neighbouring countries. It seems that the international community has nowadays a similar policy towards Serbia and the Serbs.

It is interesting to note that in all three cases local politicians feel a bit uneasy about the situation. The presence of the minority undermines their nationalistic claims. It would be political suicide for them just to give up the contested territory. But if the international community would exert some pressure they would be happy to use that as an excuse.

Treaties alone cannot protect minorities. Every nationalist knows the tricks to make life hard for minorities without violating the letter of those treaties. This varies from the subtle economic and linguistic discrimination in Sudetenland to the situation in Kosovo where the Serbs are denied the most basic police protection.

"Special circumstances" form a good excuse to push treaties aside altogether, as the Sudeten Germans experienced in 1945. If necessary, such circumstances can be created, as the Greeks in Turkey experienced in 1955 and the Serbs in Kosovo in march 2004.

With many ethnic conflicts in the world still waiting to be resolved it would be fortunately when the international community finally realized that it cannot pursue its personal grudges without great risk of the stability of the whole world.


Cvijus011 said...

Great article.

1. One also interesting thing that Holbrook recently stated was that Serbs in Kosovo-Metohija "should have their rights guaranteed". One question that appeared to me was if this is just a diplomatic trick to show that Holbrook after all wasn't fanatically against the Serbs, something in a manner "here, it's not as if we are not giving nothing to Serbs, here, you receive a couple of rights", cause as far as I know every human, no matter what its ethnic or any other background, should have its rights guaranted.

2. I liked your remark on Tudjman, but I would like also to add that he, the same as Milosevic, was a typical communist beaurocrat and a sell-out. In ´92 I think Lord Owen suggested the "Z4 Plan" that would give the Serbs all the rights that our government is now offering to the Kosovo Albanians. Tudjman accepted it because he was afraid of the strength that the Serbs at that moment had and to keep them under his umbrella without endangering any further his position, but the Serbs rejected it as they were aware of their strength at that time and what could they have achieved with it. My point is that Tudjman wasn't a man tied to his principles, but a typical communist beaurocrat just willing to hold his position. One simple proof is his photo with the uniform, exactly like Tito.

3. The irony of ex-YU was the allocation of borders to federal units, as the creator Milovan Djilas characterized them as "merely administrative borders with no ethnic conotations", but these borders came to be national borders and I wonder how accidental was it that Serbs were left divided in 4 states, in most of them being the minority? I don't want to have a victimization syndrome, but having worked in the Ministry for Human and Minorty rights of SCG, I analyzed a bit the history of the Serbian minorities abroad, and how come that the Croat and Slovenian minorities in Austria and Hungary received during ex-YU funds from Yugoslavia, whereas Serbs in Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary received nothing? What happened in the '90s was just a poison given by the ex-Yu communists and it would happen sooner or later. I don't blame the cause for which the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia fought, but I condemn the tools they used.

I hope I haven't bored you with my very long post

Friendly Greets


Wim Roffel said...

Hi Cvijus,

Thanks for the reaction.

1) As I wrote in the blog post, the international community always takes care that there is some nice treaty guaranteeing the rights of minorities. So Holbrooke can safely claim for such a thing. The question is whether such a treaty will really help or that it is just an excuse for the international community to claim innocence when things go wrong.

So, the trick is in the implicit suggestion that some diplomatic guarantees are enough. No need for autonomy or border changes.

2) I am not that negative about Tudjman. His priority was an independent state for the Croats. He was a realist and was prepared to compromise on some territory with a Serb majority that he did not control. I do not believe that that characterizes him as a sell-out.

3) Describing the post 1945 borders as "merely administrative borders with no ethnic connotations" sounds to me like an exageration. They were composed by commission in 1945 and you can see both historical and ethnic influences in their decisions.

My point is that I do not believe that borders that at one time have been drawn under specicific circumstances (a centralized dictatorship) should automatically be considered good for completely different circumstances (an independent state with a nearly rascistic view on minorities). In Western countries provincial borders are sometimes changed too. So why should it be taboo when similar demands are made in much more extreme conditions elsewhere in the world?

Anonymous said...

Dear Wim –

According to the 1981 census, a map of ethnic composition and respective distributions among the Ex-Yugoslav republics resembles a badly sewn-together patchwork quilt. In fact, Slovenia was the only Ex-YU republic to comprise of any clear and decisive ethnic majority within its so-called administrative borders.

Croatia had its sizable Serbian majority (not an absolute majority, however) in the Krajina and Baranja regions. There is also a sizable Serbian minority within the greater Zagreb metropolitan area. Before the forced redistributions of ethnic groups took place in Bosnia; Bosniaks, Croats, Hungarians, and Serbs held ethnic majorities in often seemingly haphazard patches all throughout the administrative borders of that former republic.

The Ex-YU republic of Serbia has its own ethnic pockets. Hungarians hold an ethnic majority in Northern Vojvodina while Bosnjaks are a majority in the Sandzak region in Southwestern Serbia, in an area which borders Montenegro and Kosovo.

And, the Northwest corner of the former republic of Macedonia has an Albanian majority.

There is little doubt that the failure to keep Yugoslavia intact can be attributed to multiple political missteps made by the various forces in power within and outside of its former borders. In theory, the haphazard ethnic pockets, which existed predominantly in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia, would have appeared to present a compelling argument for some kind of loose but unified arrangement among those republics. However, any non-violent endeavor to redefine the administrative borders of all three republics would have resulted in the creation of highly complex borders (and something akin to gerrymandered congressional districts in the United States).

Therefore, it would have been in the best interest of Milosevic, as well his supporters, to avoid the border issue and to promote diversity and overall unity among the various ethnic groups through non-violent means. Such a position might have discouraged the nationalist thrusts in Kosovo, Slovenia, Macedonia, Croatia, and Bosnia. More significantly, his behavior would have presented a clearer moral equation to Europe and the West.

And, Milosevic could have easily continued to capitalize on the moral advantage of Serbia’s widely-perceived position during World War II. Instead he, like many of his supporters, chose to inspire fear, hatred, and possibly revenge for the alleged and real crimes committed against Serbs during that time by the Croats, Albanians, and Bosnjaks. Without the protection of ethnically pure Serb regions might afford, was Milosevic implying that similar crimes would be committed against the Serbs forty-five years after the end of World War II? By the 1990s, EU membership would appear to have been a far more compelling trend than the Fascism of the 1930s and 1940s. Aside from his lack of savvy and foresight, Milosevic was not a coalition-builder nor did he appear to promote unity in his words or actions.

Various Serb paramilitary groups and the Serb-led YNA led the first large-scale and decisive military efforts to forcibly redefine the so-called administrative borders in the former Yugoslav republic of Croatia in 1991. The breadth of Milosevic’s support in this endeavor will undoubtedly continue to be the subject of conjecture and debate for years to come. Nevertheless, these successful Serb-led military actions led to the temporary de-facto partition of Croatia, and more importantly they may have unwittingly set up a model for subsequent secessionist movements within the administrative borders of Serbia and Bosnia. The most significant attribute of the short-lived Serbian Krajina republic was the homogeneity of its population, which existed in that form only after the forced expulsion of the Croatian population.

And homogeneity of population would now appear to be an essential element of this now-established secessionist model for the rest of Ex-YU. Bosnia remains irrevocably divided along lines of virtually ethnically pure majorities. The Serbian republic of Krajina was effectively dissolved by Operation Storm in 1995, which enabled the return of Croatian refugees but facilitated the expulsion of the Serbian population. The status of the diminishing Serb minority in Kosovo is now in jeopardy. The somewhat evenly-divided population of Montenegro votes on statehood this month. And, there are secessionist movements well under way within the Hungarian region of Vojvodina and in the Bosnjak region of Sandzak.

If these secessionist movements meet with any success in Serbia and Montenegro, there will be additional awkward divisions within its current administrative borders. Whether the government of Serbia will have the support of international community in thwarting these burgeoning movements remains to be seen.

In any case, the initial 1991 Serbian strategy (whether or not it enjoyed wide support among the Serbian population) of militarily resolving grievances regarding the administrative borders within Ex-YU would have appeared to set an unfortunate precedent and subsequent chain of events, all of which may affect the shape of Serbia in its most recent incarnation.

Best Regards,


Wim Roffel said...

Hi Jim,

I find you very optimistic in what was possible in Yugoslavia in 1990.

The economy was in a free fall through endless IMF "cures". And EU membership seemed decades away.

Even a perfect leader might not have kept the country together. The most he might have got was a peacefull dissolution.

Yugoslavia was a country with enornmous differences between the republics. Yet the central government had lost most of its authority, both because of the pot-Tito government structure and because of the IMF. It didn't help either that the central government left the initiative to democratisation to the republics.

Croat and Slovenian nationalism is the type of nationalism that you find in many western countries: rich provinces wanting to keep more for themselves. The traditional reaction is to give them most of what they want and they are content. But in the case of Yugoslavia this probably would not have worked because there was the promise of fast EU membership if they became independent.

When Milosevic came to power nationalism already had reached a high degree of intolerance. Serbs had been leaving Kosovo and Croatia for many years because they found the climate untolerable. In Kosovo ethnic murders happened regularly and in Croatia they seemed to start too under Tudjman.

Milosevic became so popular under Serb voters because he was the first politician in power to denounce this nationalism.

When Tudjman declared independence he forced the issue. The Serbs could react either by resigning to whatever Tudjman had for them in thought - or they could fight. Unfortunately the West welcomed the independence declaration. They didn't immediately recognize Croatia but they made it clear that in time they would. This made keeping Croatia in an unrecognized limbo - the only alternative for the Serb side - impossible.

And so it was civil war. And ethnic civil wars unfortunately nearly always result in "clean" areas. You don't need Milosevic for that.

Anonymous said...

Dear Wim –

If all of the ethnic groups in Ex-YU followed the model of the Serb-led YNA and paramilitary groups in Croatia in 1991, none of the Ex-YU republics will escape attempts by ethnic minorities for secession and the probable redefinition of borders, aside from Slovenia. And, none of the remaining Ex-YU republics would have benefited, in terms of viability, from border reassignments based on ethnic majorities.

Had Krajina Serbs been allowed to secede from Croatia, that country would have been cut in half, with the rebel Serb republic blocking all major roads and railways linking Northern Croatia to Southern Croatia, which is exactly what occurred from 1991-1995. In the long run, Serbs in the Krajina region would have more effectively addressed their grievances and concerns had they brought them to the EU, which is the club that Croatia so desperately wants to be a part of.

Without the ethnic cleanup-act which took place in Bosnia, there would have been random patches of various ethnic majorities all throughout that former republic. It would have been impossible to appease any ethnic group in that area with new and viable borders.

And, Serbia itself stands to lose its current northern border if the Hungarians of Vojvodina succeed in their goal of reuniting with Hungary. The Bosnjaks of Sandzak have held elections for autonomy which could lead to a partition in Southwestern Serbia. And you are already aware of the Kosovo issue.

Nebojsa Malic (the “Ann Coulter” of Republika Srpska), and his contingency have nothing but contempt for the pro-western Boris Tadic. However, Tadic’s willingness to work with the EU, the West, and the surrounding republics will probably behoove Serbia in resolving these secessionist movements and ultimately pave the way for Serbia’s entry into the EU.

Idealistic though it may have seemed in conception, the retention of Ex-YU was only advantageous to the Serbs, who enjoyed an overall majority in combined republics of Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia. Keeping the randomly-dispersed Serbs in one country should have been enough incentive for Milosevic, as the leader of the majority population, to encourage unity, commonality, diversity, and cooperation rather than ethnic division and war.



Wim Roffel said...

Dear John,

I thought I had made a case for the fact that there was major intolerance all over Yugoslavia and that for that reason Yugoslavia's chances of staying together were small from the beginning.

Even Slovenia had its ethnic intolerance as you will know if you know the case of the "erased".

It would have required a very skillful Serb leader to convince his people to wait (in front of abuses) 15 years for EU membership. And that in the context of a new democracy without strong established parties where populism still is strong.

As for Croatia being cut in two: it is already cut in two by Bosnia. And just as now with Bosnia there would be ways to live with it. Besides, the Krajna would very probably have given up some of its territory as a price for recognition. They were extended beyond their ethnic borders. And last but not least: Croatia is now nearly finished with its new highway that is much closer to the coast.

I would like to put opposite your "if only Serbia had" an "if only Europe had". Just suppose that Europe had not taken the position that the borders between the republics were sacred and had not declared Yugoslavia a "state in dissolution". In that case Tudjman would have agreed on some border changes (it was now his price for EU support that he did not) and the conflict would have lasted much shorter. Also Bosnia would have thought twice before declaring independence without some basic agreement with its Serb population.

The Serbs would have fared better under a better leader. A smarter leader might have acceded to the EU demands in order to get the best possible result. But we should not forget that it was the EU that was most out of line with its position.

Best regards, Wim

WARchild said...

Hello Wim,

On what grounds do you come up with this statement: It is clear to everybody that many Albanians want all Serbs out and that there is a big chance in 10 years no Serbs will be left in Kosovo? Who is everybody? It is clear (oops!) that Jim doesn't think so. I agree with you that Serbs are not loved much in Kosova (do you expect otherwise?), but those that attack and damage them are a very small minority or teenagers as was the case in March 2004. Without reconciliation between the two ethnicities, that small minority will continue to endanger Serbs because no Albanian will raise the voice and report such attacks. That's why I consider reconciliation and independence to be crucial for the multiethnic Kosova. The war, which in the eyes of the Albanians has gone unpunished, is the elephant in the room and people are being asked by the world to forget about it. That’s not the way it works.

I understand you’re concerned for the fate of Serbs but separation doesn't bring cooperation or co-existence. Bosnia is a very good example as you have noted in your blog. Gerrymandering in America (thank's for the term, Jim) is a less lethal example that such splitting will create fault lines and extremists rather than defense lines for the protection of minorities. If we continue to structure Kosova as "us" vs. "them", as you suggest, then we are in deep trouble. It would be a signal that north of Iber belongs to Serbs and consequentially the rest belongs to Albanians.

One of the problems with Serbs in my country is that they don't identify with it and are in turn considered a fifth column used by Belgrade to hold Kosova back. K-Police is young and weak, but Serbs joining it will make it stronger. So far they haven't done it as one would presume from somebody genuinely worried about their security.

Theoretically I'm not against your solution. But if it happens, check back with me to see it taken all the way to Albanians in Macedonia, Montenegro and Southern Serbia (or Eastern Kosova, depending on your perspective).

The principle of not changing borders by the Europeans was suggested for a very good reason. You can’t split something like Bosnia into two or three clean parts without ethnically cleansing those parts in the process. Justifying the clean up that Serbs in Krajina did based only on an ambiguous statement by Tudjman and massacres that they had endured during WWII by a puppet government of Croatia has to be the biggest irony of the previous decade. Serbs set time and again to stop the disasters and they only made them more certain in the process.

Wim Roffel said...

Hello Warchild,

That small minority was 50.000 people according to UN estimates. That is 2.5% of the population. And if you subtract women, children and old people, it is even a much larger percentage of the population.

I am not in favor of gerrymandering. But I think that you have to be realistic. The ethnic border is the Ibar. Mostly this was so already before the war. You cannot expect the Serbs who live north of the Ibar to integrate in Kosovo's Albanian-majority society. I believe that that should be recognized with either a change of border or great autonomy.

The situation south of the Ibar is different. There people live mixed and will have to live together. But I do believe some temporary extra measures for their safety are needed.

As for the police: can you imagine that Serbs who see how partial the KPS operates don't want to join and see the whole multi-ethnic stuff as a facade?

Will border changes also be demanded in Macedonia, Kosova Lindore and Montenegro? I am quite sure that new unrest there is already being planned - just as the previous unrest in Macedonia was already planned in 1999. A border change in Kosovo will be used as just one more argument.

But I do not believe that it can be used as an excuse. I am a firm believer in the state as the fundament of the international order. And I do believe that states have great autonomy in "internal affairs". So if Kosovo becomes independent it will be so because Serbia grants it independence. And in doing so it has the right to make demands - including border changes. This is a different situation from that in the neighbouring countries.

Serbia might even be prepared to give up Presevo in exchange for Northern Mitrovica. But it is the international community with their "no border change" doctrine that blocks this.

I had the impression that the Serbs were "not loved much" already long before the war. So I doubt whether solving war crimes alone will solve this problem. As you may have read in my previous blog, I consider this a problem of respect, not of love. We have to go back to the notion that most Serbs are normal people just as most Albanians. And that normal people - allthough they may occassionally get swept up in nationalistic intoxication - are tolerant people who are perfectly capable of living together with others.

The problem with war crimes in Kosovo is that it seems that the Serbs and Serbia have to solve it themselves. There seems little commitment to solving war crimes in Kosovo. It is more valued as a tool to keep Serbs under pressure than as something that has to be solved. The internationals have put the processes in Kosovo under close scrutiny after Momcilovic and similar cases showed how it had gotten out of hand. In The Hague the situation isn't much better. Milosevic made a great show out of putting away Albanians as inreliable witnesses. A standard question would be something like "was there UCK in your village?". Many Albanians would give "no" as the politically correct answer. After that Milosevic only had to show some pictures to prove the opposite.

Tudjman was a historian who rewrote history into something where the Ustasha's were decent people and the communists war criminals. He built monuments and named streets after people who until then had been seen as war criminals. You can hardly blame Serb nationalists for using this as a reason to attack Croatian nationalism.

But this was not what the conflict in Croatia was about. It started with many Serbs losing their jobs and being discriminated in many ways. One of the tools was the "loyalty declaration" that later would also be used in Kosovo. Another was the take-over of Serb-controlled enterprises like the Plitvice lakes. Why do you think Milosevic later behaved in a similar way in Kosovo? Because he had learned from Croatia that the international community accepts that kind of behaviour.

I am not justifying ethnic cleansing or other war crimes. I am just saying that the Serbs in Croatia had good reasons to try to secede.

Best regards, Wim

bg anon said...

Thanks Wim this is interesting.

Probably you didnt have time (or the inclination to go into detail on Western governments re Yugoslavia) but I think what you have written about the Krajina gives the impression that the Croats had support for independence.

As Im sure you know this wasnt the case initially. The Bush Senior administration, British govt and the French govt initially supported Yugoslavia.

You have a point about international support and the Serbs though, although Bosnian Muslums will also argue how beleagued they felt with no 'mother' state to assist them.

Also bear in mind the Serbian tendancy to dream of 'mother Russia' coming to the rescue. We know in real terms it was cheap platitudes coming from the Russians but those in Serbia still remember the supposed Slavic union touted by Milosevic and some funcitionaries from Russia and Belorussia who expressed a serious interest in this.

I share your concern and doubts about the situation in Kosovo.

I would say that it isnt ethnicity iteslf that is the valid argument for new states. It is the thread (real or imagined) that binds people into communities but it is the self determination of the majority principle that is the argument.

I think its also true that historic borders are becoming less and less sacred all the time as the self determination principle undermines this.

A majority that was until yesterday a minority within a country, effectively has the right to call a vote and rename the country - as long as there is no objection by the international community.

This is a subject that must be tackled in all seriousness sooner or later. Although quite obviously there will be some real right wing types who have a hidden agenda to discredit any minority who may be growing more numerous in a given state or country.

Wim Roffel said...

Hello BG Anon,

Croatia's initial support came from Germany, Austria and Hungary. And at least part of the initial reluctance of the US and the UK to recognize Croatia was just theatre. Just recognising some part of a country as independent is a clear break of international law, so they waited for some excuse.

At the time that the war started Croatia had a well-equipped army. They could never have built this without the cooperation of other countries.

My position on creating new states is:
- don't do it, because it nearly always results in some mess
- if you really need to do it do it the correct way: respect ethnic borders and minority rights.

I do not believe that historic borders are becoming less relevant because of some principles. In my opinion the major factor is language. When a country gets more developped language becomes more important for getting jobs and linguistic minorities will be more inclined to seek self determination. At the same time however they will be also under more pressure to assimilate.

But even so it is often war and conflict that really quickens ethnic polarisation. Just look at Afghanistan and Iraq.

You say: "A majority that was until yesterday a minority within a country, effectively has the right to call a vote and rename the country - as long as there is no objection by the international community."
I think that this is nice in theory, but does not work in practice. On the legal level nearly all countries have a constitution that needs 2/3 of the votes to change. On a more practical level you have the situation that the relation between ethnic groups is a process of continuing negotiation. You can not just say: now we are majority and we are going to dictate.

Anonymous said...

wim I dont think it was all theatre there is recorded evidence in the form of parliamentary documentation and statements by British government ministers which were quite clear.

The conservative government not only had doubts about the break up of Yugoslavia but were also anxious to thwart Germany who were establishing themselves as the leader of Europe and keen upon excercising their foreign policy muscles.

You can read about how the British traded away the existence of Yugoslavia concerning Mastricht and German and British parliamentary representation in the European Parliament.

All international policy is based upon self interest of nation states. Thats clear so I think its innacruate to say they were looking for some excuse.

Bush senior and Jim Baker also made statements although they didnt have much self interest in supporting the maintainance of Yugoslavia with the ending of the Cold War. That doesnt mean they were looking for an excuse.

The story is different with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton who had more specific reasons to persue policies that helped break Yugoslavia to pieces.

That theory is what is happening in Kosovo and is happening in Montenegro. It happened in Bosnia too. I dont believe that what happened in the Balkans is so exceptional from the rest of the international system. In fact what happened in the Balkans is probably because of the failings of that international system including the principle of self determination.

Apologies, dont have more time to give a more comprehensive reply

Wim Roffel said...

Brittain had quite a few diplomats involved. Some made a good impression on me - some not. But I will concentrate on the US for now.

I can remember very well how US politicians talked about Yugoslavia at that time. One day they would be friendly and talk about the unity of the country and a few days later some other official would fiercely attack Yugoslavia or its leaders for being communists.

In an an article by US ambassador Zimmermann in Foreign Affairs he describes how - before he was sent to Yugoslavia - he discussed with Eagleburger what the line of his job would be. Just a fragment:

Finally, I was to reassert the traditional mantra of U.S. support for Yugoslavia's unity, independence, and territorial integrity. But I would add that the United States could only support unity in the context of democracy; it would strongly oppose unity imposed or preserved by force.

So a breakup was seen as a serious option very early. This conversation was in early 1989 - before there was serious trouble.

Note that by international law a country has the right to maintain unity by force. By denying Yugoslavia this right the US made a split-up inevitable.

Note also the ease with which is talked about democracy. It ignores that the rules of democracy where subject of fierce debate in Yugoslavia. Should the central parliament be chosen directly or should the accent be at the level of the republics? In the end the US more or less imposed elections at the republic level. This also made the prospect for the survival of the country as a whole impossible.

There is also an interview by Zimmermann with the Croatian newspaper Danas. In this he explains that the recognition of Croatia has been delayed for tactical reasons. The translation is from a pro-Serb source, but it is perfectly in line with the Foreign Affairs article.

This position diplays a typical American "can do" attitude. It takes the process of separatism much too light. Changing borders has always a high risk of conflict. It brings to the top intolerant people who have always called for new borders. And it doesn't take much fantasy to see that in Yugoslavia with its violent history, mixed population and intolerant politicians the risk was very high.

What happening in Yugoslavia is exceptional. A government is denied the right to stop separatism and this separatism is even encouraged with promisses of economic aid and EU membership. Croatian and Slovenian separatism might have happened anyway, but the Montenegran separatists would have no case if there was no EU membership promise.

Just imagine that the US had followed a different course and plead for national elections for the whole of Yugoslavia according to one man one vote. And that it had plead for a reduction of the influence of the republics on the national government. Milosevic - being an opportunist - might very well have chosen to devote himself to that cause.

WARchild said...


In all your postings you forget that Yugoslavia was a federal system. As such, its different parts (inlcluding Kosova) had every right to further their narrower interests.
You are recommending that federal units should have given in to Serb centralist demands (personified in Milosevic) for the sake of not angering the bully.
Your quotes from US diplomats and beyond make perfect sense to me. The only way for a balanced marriage is for both parties to understand that if one of them is not respected, divorce is a way out. This is the safety valve in a relationship. You are recommending that the West should have ruled out the divorce virtually giving the wife-beater a free hand to go on with his work.

Looking back, Belgrade should have been bombed in in 1993. Think how many victims (Serbs included) would have been saved. Unfortunately, international diplomacy is far from perfect.

Wim Roffel said...


If you study the history of democracy you will find that many countries start with a system where the nobility from the different districts forms a council. That slowly develops to parliament where the representatives for the different districts are chosen by the local elite. And so you go on to one man - one vote.

So I consider the system that Tito left as a primitive system of local representation. It was obvious that it was time to replace this system with a better and more democratic system.

At the period I am talking about - 1989, before the wars started - there was still widespread support for Yugoslavia. So this was certainly not just giving in to centralist demands. In fact exactly the opposite was happening: the republics became stronger and usurped power from the central government. Slovenia and Croatia were using elections as a tool to strengthen their position versus the central government. And as a reaction others (inluding Serbia) did the same. The real question was whether this should be allowed to go on until the country exploded - or that some reform should restore the position of the central government.

That the separatists were successful in Croatia and Slovenia had nothing to do with being treated badly. The appeal was simple economics. They were subsidising the poor republics and if they got out they would be able to keep the money for themselves. Of course this was only half the story. But it helped the power hungry local elite to win the elections.

Why do you think that the nationalist leaders of Croatia and Slovenia were against national elections? Not because the Serbs would win. The Serbs were only 40% of the population. Their real fear was that it would show the widespread support for Yugslavian unity. It was easy to paint the Serbs as their adversaries - specially with a leader like Milosevic. It would be much harder to paint Yugoslavia as their adversary.

The Eagleburger-Zimmermann vision of democracy left the pro-Yugoslavs without a vote.

Best regards,