'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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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