the legal battle:


The Defendants' List of Documents:

[the next step - 5 July 1991]

Yugoslavia: the dangers of disintegration

The legal documents so far:

The original letter from ITN's solicitors

Statement of Claim from ITN

The Defence

Two-Ten Statement in Open Court

The Reply

>The Defendants' List of Documents

The engagement of tanks and fighter aircraft in combat in Slovenia marks the first major military conflict (with the exception of the revolts in Eastern Europe in the fifties and the continuing war in Ireland) in Europe since the Second World War. Within a few weeks of the end of the Gulf War, the eruption of inter-communal strife in Yugoslavia is another indication of the character of the new world order emerging at the end of the Cold War. As the response of the European Community indicates, trends towards the break-up of Yugoslavia threaten not only pogroms throughout the Balkans, but grave instability extending into the heart of Europe.

The conflict in the Balkans cannot be dismissed as a quarrel in a distant country which has no consequence for Europe. The tanks and troops on the streets of Ljubljana and Zagreb are only an hour or so away from Austria or Italy. The fear that the conflict could spill over the borders of Yugoslavia has sent EC ministers scurrying from Brussels to Belgrade trying to engineer a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

The origins of Yugoslaviaâs current difficulties lie in the competition among the six republics and two provinces for access to economic resources. Yugoslavia has a federal government, a common currency and a national football team but economic and political autarchy has long been the order of the day. Competition for resources among the republics has been exacerbated by the extreme inequalities between north and south.

Living standards in the northern republics of Slovenia and Croatia and the province of Vojvodina are close to those of their Western neighbours in Austria and Italy. Though Slovenia contains only eight per cent of Yugoslaviaâs population, it accounts for 25 per cent of its gross national product and 30 per cent of its hard currency exports to the West.

The affluent lifestyles of the Ferrari-driving elites of Slovenia and Croatia are beyond the wildest dreams of the inhabitants of the southern republics of Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia and the dusty province of Kosovo. Income per head is six times as high in the north as in the south. In the province of Kosovo, unemployment is more than double the national average of 20 per cent and wages do not stand comparison with those in the north.

The republics of Slovenia and Croatia have long complained about the burden of subsidies to their poorer southern neighbours. Quarrels over the redistribution of resources among the republics have been a longstanding source of conflict among the competing regional bureaucracies. Local party and state officials in Slovenia and Croatia have objected to the transfer of resources in the form of development aid, budgetary supplements, federal projects and natural disaster relief to the southern republics.

Accusing other republics of being backward and lazy, the Slovenians and Croatians have pursued a host of protectionist measures to keep revenues and investment at home. From time to time there have been trade wars between the republics, especially since the early eighties when the economy slumped and competition for resources became more intense. The local bureaucracies organised Îbuy nationalâ campaigns, urging their populations to boycott firms and goods from outside their republics.

In recent years the conflict over resources has come to focus on the question of the financing of the federal budget. There have been disputes about whether the richer republics should continue to provide monies for national defence, for development aid and for agricultural investment to the poorer regions. The conflict divided the republics between those who were resisting redistribution and those who were demanding more.

Over the past 20 years, Slovenia and Croatia have sought greater and greater autonomy so that they can hold on to their own Îearningsâ and prevent them being redistributed elsewhere. They have increasingly demanded that they should have sovereign control over their budgets, legislation and territorial defence forces. By the mid-eighties, Slovenia and Croatia were refusing to pay their share to the federal budget, and by 1989 they were threatening to secede unless they got a confederal constitution that gave them full sovereignty.

In the eighties, the competition for resources among the republics acquired a nationalist form. The impetus for this development came from within the Stalinist bureaucracy, which began to pursue a survival strategy based on creating popular support by appealing to nationalism. The shift towards economic reform and market solutions within the bureaucracy encouraged this nationalistic strategy.

By the start of the eighties, Yugoslavia was in the throes of a severe economic crisis. The federal state was liable for a debt of $20 billion, productivity was plummeting, inflation was out of control and confidence in the dinar had collapsed. The Yugoslav bureaucracy turned to the market for salvation. There were few disagreements about the reforms needed: an end to government subsidies, a restructuring of enterprises, currency reform and efforts to attract foreign investment. The debate was only about how the reforms should be implemented.

Predictably, the Western republics wanted more economic and political decentralisation, while the southern republics favoured more centralised control. The leaderships of Slovenia and Croatia interpreted Serbiaâs enthusiasm for the market as a devious plan to impose a strong central government. They claimed this would lead to a redistribution of the profits made by Slovenia and Croatia to the impoverished and inefficient republics in the south.

To survive the shift to the market, the bureaucracy set out to win popular support and consolidate a power base. Each regional bureaucracy began to articulate its interests in the language of nationalism. In Serbia, the fear of losing control led the bureaucracy to fight for its survival by channelling economic resentments in a nationalist direction. In Slovenia, the party sought to secure its future by demanding greater control of economic resources. For all sections of the bureaucracy, in Slovenia as much as Serbia, nationalism was seen as a lifesaver.

The bureaucracy's survival strategy enjoyed some success at first. Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's campaign against the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo, and his championing of the poor south against the prosperous north, brought the Serbian party back to life. Meanwhile, in Slovenia the party's demands for greater autonomy produced a dramatic improvement in its popular standing.

The explosion of nationalism in Yugoslavia is the product of a fight for survival among bureaucrats who are all as bad as one another. But if any section of the bureaucracy is to be singled out for special blame, it should be the Slovenian rather than the Serbian party. Without exception, mainstream commentators have placed the blame for the escalation of the conflict squarely on the shoulders of Serbia's party boss Slobodan Milosevic. But Slovenia's former party leader and current president, Milan Kucan, was the first to up the stakes by wrapping himself in national colours and pressing for more autonomy for his republic.

The impetus for the rise of nationalism in recent years began in the more privileged republics of Slovenia and Croatia. It first became the vocabulary of politicians in the northern and western republics long before Slobodan Milosevic accomplished his putsch in the Serbian party in 1987. It was the Slovenian and Croatian party bureaucracies which first began to beat the nationalist drum in the eighties, and forced the issue to a head by threatening to secede unless they got their way.

Serbian nationalism has its roots in the economic backwardness of the region and has played on popular resentment against the richer northern republics. When Milosevic became leader he promised workers a higher standard of living and economic security as Yugoslavia moved towards the market. He put himself forward as a man who understood the problems of ordinary people and who spoke their language, in contrast to the colourless bureaucrats of old who had always caved into the demands of the other republics.

The difference between Kucan and Milosevic is that the former has survived because Slovenian nationalism has been seen to deliver on its promise of economic prosperity, while the latter has lost his power base because Serbian nationalism has been unable to live up to its promises of economic improvements. This is not a political conflict between the pluralism-loving peoples of the north, and the centralism-disposed peoples of the south, as many Western commentators suggest. The conflict was never about politics: it was about power and how to hold onto it.

The current crisis in Yugoslavia cannot be understood as the result of rival claims for national self-determination. There is nothing progressive about the nationalist movements in Slovenia and Croatia. They do not express a striving for democratic rights. Indeed they do not even talk about democratic rights. They are simply concerned with seeking more local power and autonomy for their own administrations at the expense of the central authorities.

Even now, it is clear that Slovenia and Croatia do not want to go all the way and break away from Yugoslavia. They would prefer to negotiate some sort of confederal arrangement. They want the best of both worlds: to remove the burdens of federation and yet to maintain its benefits too. Their declarations of independence were probably designed to strengthen their hand in the confederacy negotiations rather than to force the issue to a conclusion.

The leaderships of Slovenia and Croatia neither express genuine popular nationalist aspirations, nor are they capable of running their republics as independent economic entities. The two republics are more dependent on the Yugoslav market than some nationalists admit. Their economies are so integrated with the Yugoslav economy - 30 per cent of Slovenia's goods are exported to other parts of the country - that secession would cause considerable damage to the living standards of people in the two republics.

Secession would be a retrograde step from the point of view of the peoples of Yugoslavia and the Balkans as a whole. If Slovenia and Croatia secede from the federation they will unleash a process of fragmentation which can only have divisive and dangerous consequences. It will act as a spur to national conflict elsewhere in the country, where the mix of ethnic groups is complex. It would antagonise minorities such as the Serbs in Croatia and provoke ethnic tensions throughout the region. It would also serve to confuse and obscure the class struggle by pitting one national group against another.

The break-up of Yugoslavia would benefit nobody. The fragmentation of the region along geographical and ethnic lines could lead to inter-communal strife and bloodshed on a vast scale, as in the past. Indeed, the spectre of Balkanisation is something that fills the West with dread. If Slovenia today questions its borders within Yugoslavian federation, tomorrow it may question its borders with Austria, which contains a substantial Slovenian minority. Once one of the borders drawn up at the First World War is questioned, the whole framework of European nation states comes into question. The situation in Yugoslavia is an extreme case of the social disintegration which threatens all of Eastern Europe as economic catastrophe generates frustration and ignites nationalist passions. This is the downside of the triumphalism that greeted the collapse of the Stalinist order in 1989.

Because of the negative consequences for the working class, in Yugoslavia and in Europe as a whole, we are against the secession of Slovenia and Croatia from the Yugoslav federation for the reasons given above. We are also opposed to any form of Western intervention. We favour an all-Balkans federation, as the best solution to Yugoslavia's problems and the best way to focus attention on the real problem in the region: the arrival of the market system and the transformation of the Stalinist nomenklatura into a new capitalist class. 

back to The Defendants' List of Documents