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'White niggers' of the new world order

Eddie Veale on how and why America, Britain and Germany have constructed the Serbian demon

After the Iraqis, the Serbs; after Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic. In the eyes of the West, it seems that Serbia has become the latest big threat to world peace. As bloody civil strife in Croatia and then Bosnia has torn the old Yugoslavia apart, Milosevic's Belgrade regime and the 'irregular' Serbian forces have been turned into the pariahs of international politics.

American secretary of state James Baker has denounced the Serbs in Bosnia as 'completely outside the bounds of civilised behaviour'. Britain's John Major has backed Baker up. The new German foreign minister, Klaus Kinkel, has said bluntly that 'the Serbians are responsible' for the bloodshed. The European Community and the United Nations have each imposed sanctions on Belgrade, and Nato leaders have agreed that the military alliance has the right to intervene in a European conflict like the Yugoslav civil war.

'Murdering grannies'

Leading conservative intellectuals have dropped the old diplomatic language and let rip at the Serbs in tabloid style. So Norman Stone, Oxford professor of history, wants the West to arm the Croats and support the Bosnian Muslims, on the grounds that Milosevic is 'gangster-boss' of a 'communisto-fascist crusade', whose Yugoslav army is 'bullying and murdering grannies - on behalf of Serbian nationalism'.

Why are the Serbs being singled out in this way? Are they really such a special case of barbarism?

Milosevic is certainly a brutal, self-serving politician and the Serbian forces have certainly been responsible for many civilian deaths in Bosnia. But they do not hold a monopoly on 'bullying and murdering grannies' in the Yugoslav civil war. All of the various armies and factions have been responsible for atrocities. The Croatian leadership has been complicit with Serbia in the attempt to partition Bosnia. Yet only the Serbs have been subject to the wrath of the Western powers.

Western bias

Look beyond the borders of Bosnia and Croatia, and the frantic concern to condemn Serbia seems even more one-sided. While the Yugoslav conflict has grabbed all the headlines, the Armenians have been rampaging through Azerbaijan. Yet the Western governments and experts who are so keen to lecture the Serbs about violence have seemed far less concerned about the violent clashes further east.

At the same time as the British and Western media were full of terrible images of civilians being shelled by Serbs in Sarajevo, the Israelis were launching their worst bombing raids on the villages of southern Lebanon since they invaded that country in 1982. But there were no UN sanctions against Tel Aviv, and no Oxford history professors demanding that the West arm the Palestinians or the Shiite Muslims against Israel.

And in any case, who are James Baker and John Major to criticise anybody else for going 'completely outside the bounds of civilised behaviour'? These American and British statesmen presided over the Gulf War last year. During that conflict, the 'civilised behaviour' of the Allied forces ranged from the precision bombing of air-raid shelters to burying conscripts alive in the desert with bulldozers. Up to half a million Iraqis were killed in a war fought behind the banners of the United Nations.

New bogey

The image of Serbia as the new villain of world affairs has been artificially constructed by the Western powers for their own purposes. The Serbs, and the other peoples of the old Yugoslavia, have got caught up in the crossfire of the struggle for influence in the post-Cold War world.

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet bloc removed the old communist bogey, the Western elites have been trying to set up surrogate enemies, against which they can demonstrate their power and fulfil their self-appointed role as the champions of right. The Serbs are the latest people to be demonised for this purpose.

It is the latest round of Great Power politics, rather than the internal affairs of the former Yugoslav republics, which explains why Serbia has been singled out. The Serbs have been deliberately set up as the 'white niggers' of the new world order, and subjected to the sort of propaganda treatment which Western imperialists have usually reserved for Arabs or blacks - or, in the British case, for the Irish.

Bonn started it

The campaign to criminalise the Serbs began last year as a German initiative. The German government escalated the conflict in Yugoslavia by coming out in support of 'civilised' Croatia against 'barbaric' Serbia, and forcing the rest of the EC states to follow its lead. Germany used its intervention against the Serbs as a way of stamping its authority on the whole of Europe, and demonstrating that it was no longer prepared to act as a tame sidekick of the USA in international affairs (see R Knight, 'Croatia: Germany's Gulf War?', Living Marxism, December 1991).

This year, however, as the focus of the fighting has shifted from Croatia to Bosnia, the American authorities have taken over the leading role in the anti-Serb crusade. President George Bush, backed by Major, has pushed the UN into imposing sanctions on Belgrade and got Nato to fire warning shots at Serbia, in a bid to re-establish the waning authority of the USA within the Western Alliance.

Great Power rivals

The timing of the moves in May's diplomatic offensive against Serbia reveals the real motives behind American policy. On Friday 22 May, chancellor Kohl of Germany and president Mitterrand of France announced their intention to push ahead with the proposal for a 35 000-strong joint Franco-German army corps. Such a force would be an obvious rival to the US-led Nato alliance.

On the evening of that very same day, and after consulting with Major, US secretary of state Baker called upon 'the civilised world' to impose political and economic sanctions against Serbia. And if those sanctions eventually failed to have the desired effect, 'it would be my view to take a look at questions involving military matters'. Days later, the Nato governments agreed, under American pressure, to the principle of intervening militarily in future European conflicts. Not to be outdone, the German foreign ministry raised the stakes again by declaring that it had not yet ruled out an armed intervention in Bosnia.

Nato rules

The US administration had wanted no part of the campaign against Serbia when the Germans were leading the charge. Now, however, it has become a handy excuse for Washington (and London) to play up the importance of their military alliance, Nato, as against the emerging Euro-army run from Bonn and Paris. That is the main reason why Serbs have suddenly appeared all over our newspapers depicted as monkeys and mass murderers.

Perhaps the worst aspect of this whole affair has been the way that the old left has gone along with, and indeed tried to lead, the demonisation of the Serbs. Such left-wing Labour MPs as Ken Livingstone and Tony Benn have previously attacked Western governments for failing to impose sanctions on Serbia. As long as six months ago, the radical journal New Statesman and Society published an article calling for Britain to 'bomb Serbia'. And the editorial and letters pages of supposedly liberal papers like the Guardian and Independent now carry almost-daily attacks on the Serbs. This support from the left has helped to lend moral authority to the Western powers' self-serving crusade.

Where next?

Living Marxism has seen the unfolding conflict somewhat differently. An editorial back in the December 1991 edition noted the early attempts by Germany and the European right to scapegoat the Serbs, and concluded that 'if the West's latest propaganda campaign is pursued to its ultimate conclusion, Serbia may well suffer Iraq's fate of being blown off the map'. That fate has been brought a step closer by the latest round of Western power politics being played out primarily at the Serbs' expense.

We were promised that a peaceful 'new world order', would follow the end of the Cold War. That new era began with the destruction of Iraq, and has now moved on to an attempt to crush Serbia. Where will the West's 'peace dividend' strike next?
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 45, July 1992

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