the legal battle:


The Defendants' List of Documents:

[the next step - 22 November 1991]

Yugoslavia: explaining the issues

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

'Hands off Serbia!' demanded a recent issue of the next step. Our attitude to the Yugoslav conflict has caused some confusions. Are we taking sides with Serbia against Croatia? Do we consider Serbia to be more progressive than Croatia? Why do we not, like most of the left, support Croatia's rights to self-determination?

Our position in the Yugoslav war has nothing to do with the relative merits of Croatia and Serbia. Both republics are run by self-seeking bureaucrats with little concern for the people. Rather, our position flows from the understanding that the main problem in Yugoslavia is imperialism. While the initial impetus for conflict was the manipulation of ethnic rivalries by Stalinist bureaucrats, it is the differential impact of the market and the ideological needs of the West which have transformed a small-scale local squabble into an all-out war.

Croatia, which together with its neighbouring northern republic of Slovenia has benefited most from the market, has continually militarised the conflict in an attempt to drag the Western powers into the war. For the West, the war is playing an increasingly important ideological role: Western propagandists portray the struggle as one between the forces of 'civilisation' (represented by Croatia) and 'barbarism' (epitomised by Serbia). The consequence is that the war has become a rallying point for the European right while at the same time recreating the old East-West divide in a new form in the heart of Yugoslavia.

Our position of 'Hands off Serbia' signifies not support for the bureaucracy in Belgrade but opposition to the warmongers in London, Washington, Paris and Bonn. Our aim is to defend the people in the region whether Croatian, Serbian or other. In the context of the current war, we can only do so by opposing all foreign aggression against Serbia and by exposing the way the West is manipulating the war as part of a broader racist crusade in defence of 'Western values'.

We can better understand our analysis of the Yugoslav war by looking at how our position has shifted as the conflict has been transformed from a local squabble between two sets of Stalinist bureaucrats fighting for survival to an all-out civil war which has increasingly involved Western powers.

In the initial stages of the break-up of Yugoslavia the promotion of ethnic rivalry took its sharpest form in the denial of rights to the Albanian population of Kosovo, an autonomous province within Serbia. In March 1989 the Serbian government, led by Slobodan Milosevic, withdrew Kosovo's autonomous status. In an article entitled 'Bloodbath in Kosovo', the next step argued for the need to defend Albanian rights:

'Whatever form Albanian resistance takes, it is clear that their demands for equal rights in the Yugoslav federation are justified. It is equally clear that the Serbian bureaucracy led by Slobodan Milosevic is to blame for the bloodshed in Kosovo. The right of Albanians to full autonomy must be defended.' (7 April 1989)

As the disintegration of Yugoslavia proceeded apace, the next step pointed out that the issue was not one of a struggle for self-determination. Rather, the conflict had its roots in the attempt by different sections of the bureaucracy to effect a survival strategy:

'The origins of Yugoslavia's current difficulties lie in the competition among the six republics and two provinces for access to economic resources... The explosion of nationalism in Yugoslavia is the product of a fight for survival among bureaucrats who are all as bad as one another.' (5 July 1991)

As the Western media adopted an increasingly anti-Serbian position, blaming Belgrade for the move towards war, the next step had to moderate its initial hostility to Serbia by pointing out the role of the two rich northern republics in escalating tensions:

'If any section of the bureaucracy is to be singled out for special blame, it should be the Slovenian rather than the Serbian party... 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.' (5 July 1991)

There was nothing progressive, we argued, about the nationalist movements in Croatia and Slovenia:

'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.' (5 July 1991)

The reactionary nature of the struggle for secession led us to oppose the break-up of the Yugoslav federation:

'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 also serve to confuse and obscure the class struggle by pitting one national group against another.' (5 July 1991)

In response to the calls for Croatian and Slovenian independence, we argued instead for 'an all-Balkan 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' (5 July 1991)

At this stage, the main aim for the West was to 'bottle up the tensions in Yugoslavia and ensure that they do not spill over into the rest of Europe... That is why the West has by and large been firm in its insistence on the maintenance of a federal Yugoslavia' (12 July 1991).

We noted in the same article, however, that the West was already beginning to rethink its stance: 'Over the past week the West shifted the ground somewhat, putting more stress on the need to respect the rights of Slovenia and Croatia.' We noted too that Germany, which stood to gain most from the break-up of the federation, had been most vocal in its support for the two northern republics.

By September it was clear that the conflict had reached a qualitatively new stage and had become 'internationalised'. The impact of the capitalist market was to entrench the division of Yugoslavia into one between a 'Westernised' north and a third world-style south:

'The differential impact of the world economy has torn apart the country, created conflict between the rich north and the impoverished south and now lies at the heart of the war·In effect the old East-West division has been recreated in a new form - and now runs through the heart of Yugoslavia.' (27 September 1991)

The internationalisation of the conflict was particularly promoted by Croatia in an attempt to draw in foreign powers to further the division of Yugoslavia: 'Croatia has consistently broken ceasefires in order to militarise the crisis and force the European powers to take sides' (27 September 1991).

Further, Croatia was becoming increasingly important in the broader right-wing project of giving legitimacy to reactionary ideas which had been discredited in the past half-century:

'Croatia's fascist past is becoming normalised. The armed groups waging war on the Serbs openly proclaim their fascist links·Croatia is today becoming something of a symbol for far-right groups around Europe and a rallying point for their cause. After half a century during which the far-right has had to keep a low profile, it is using Croatia as a new focus for activity.' (27 September 1991)

Not only was Croatia becoming a focus for the right, but Serbia was increasingly targeted as a mortal threat to European civilisation:

'The conflict in Yugoslavia has served to unleash a wave of racism directed against the Serbs. The Western media has depicted the Serbs as backward, uncouth, undemocratic and unable to understand Western ways. The targeting of Serbs is part of a wider attack on all East Europeans for their inherent backwardness. The defence of Croatia is increasingly being portrayed as a defence of "European civilisation" against the barbarians.' (27 September 1991)

The scapegoating of Serbia was part of a broader attack on the non-Western world as a menace to 'freedom' and 'democracy'. The demonisation of the third world and Eastern Europe was an attempt by the West to compensate for the loss of the Soviet bogey which, in the postwar period, had provided cohesion both domestically and internationally for the capitalist world. By recreating the Cold War in a new form - the West v the third world and Eastern Europe, instead of the West v the Soviet Union - the rulers of the capitalist world hope to retain the benefits of the anti-Soviet strategy - the creation of an enemy in comparison to which Western societies look good, even at a time of profound economic and social problems.

The transformation of the Yugoslav conflict into a war between West and East shifted the focus of our arguments about the situation. The next step spelled out three specific tasks which we faced - 'to point out the roots of the war in the differential impact of the market'; 'to expose the racist crusade that lies behind the defence of Croatia'; and third to 'oppose all Western intervention in Yugoslavia, and more broadly in the Balkans' (27 September 1991).

The portrayal of the conflict as a 'frontier war' between West and East and the trends towards Western intervention have become more overt over the past month. The siege of Dubrovnik - Byron's 'pearl of the Adriatic' - has provided the ideal opportunity to press home the argument that the Serbs are out to destroy the Western way of life. The European Community has imposed sanctions against Yugoslavia and is debating the use of troops in the region. Britain, France and Italy have already agreed to send warships into Yugoslav waters under the pretext of creating an 'humanitarian corridor' for the evacuation of refugees. An article in the New Statesman compared Serbia to Iraq and called on the West to engage in a new Gulf War against the Serbs. In the face of these new attacks, we have responded by demanding 'Hands off Serbia!'.

The issue at the heart of the Yugoslav conflict is not Croatia versus Serbia but the attempt by the capitalist world to gain legitimacy for its system by recreating the East-West divide and by normalising the politics of reaction. Anyone who stands for freedom, democracy and self-determination must necessarily take a stand against the racist crusade the West is organising against the East.

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