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After Bosnia, Macedonia? Or Kosovo? As the former Yugoslavia continues to unravel, Joan Phillips pins the blame for the conflicts on the machinations of the various Western powers

Who lit the Yugo powder-keg?

'The Kosovo file should remain open', said the Albanian writer, Ismail Kadare, recently. 'The Balkans are changing rapidly each week, each month. Nothing is permanent.' (Zeri i Rinise, 3 October 1992) Kadare was urging the Albanian government to be patient in pursuing its claim to Kosovo. Even if Albania did nothing, Kadare implied, Kosovo's status as a province of Serbia could not be taken for granted forever, and it might yet fall into Tirana's lap. The danger of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia spreading across the Balkans is now greater than ever.

Since Slovenia and Croatia were recognised as independent states a year ago in January 1992, the Yugoslav federation has been falling apart fast. And now that the war in Bosnia is reaching an endgame, with the republic being carved up between the Croats and Serbs, everybody is wondering what's going to happen next. Will Kosovo be the next killing field, or will it be Macedonia?

In response to the bloodletting in Bosnia, and the catastrophes waiting to happen in Kosovo and Macedonia, the voices calling for Western intervention are growing louder. An editorial in a recent issue of the liberal New Statesman and Society called for action to save the Muslims in Bosnia and prevent the war spreading further south. 'The need is for a new internationalism', urged the editorial, 'one in which the dread of war no longer leads to a complete renunciation of action' (20 November 1992). The editorial summed up the prevailing liberal view that something needs to be done to stop the slaughter.

But is Western intervention the something that needs to be done? Hardly. The carve up of Bosnia between Croatia and Serbia should not obscure the West's overriding culpability for the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, Bosnia included.

There was never a Western gameplan to carve up Yugoslavia. Indeed, when the conflict there began the European powers were scared that any change to the borders of Yugoslavia could destabilise the entire continent. Those living within the borders of Yugoslavia also had some presentiment of what would happen if any republic left the federation; which is why the leaders of Bosnia and Macedonia at first pleaded with Western capitals not to recognise the independence of Slovenia and Croatia.

However, the fissures that were growing in the Western Alliance sealed the fate of the peoples of Yugoslavia. The end of the Cold War had led to the collapse of the old balance of power and a breakdown of the old rules of international diplomacy.

As the international situation has become more unstable, all of the major capitalist powers have been jockeying for position in the New World Order. It is in this context that Germany decided to assert its authority over Europe and to stake a claim to world power status by making an issue of recognition for Croatia and Slovenia. In doing so, it turned the local tensions in Yugoslavia into the focus of global rivalries among the Western powers.

Petty rivalries

From the moment Germany broke ranks, Western interference in Yugoslavia escalated. With every move they have made since, the Western powers have made matters worse. It was Germany's intervention which made all-out civil war between Croatia and Serbia inevitable; and it was the subsequent involvement of America which ignited the conflict in Bosnia. The dynamic of disintegration set in motion by Western support for the secessionist states has been spurred on by every further act of Western intervention.

There were no issues of high moral principle at stake in the West's attitude to Yugoslavia. On the contrary, the Western powers were driven only by petty rivalries.

From the start, Washington suspected the German foreign minister, Hans Dietrich Genscher, of playing a double game. A Washington-based diplomat told The New Yorker, 'We were urging the Croats and Slovenes through Walter Zimmermann (the US ambassador in Belgrade) to stay together. We discovered later that Genscher had been in daily contact with the Croatian foreign minister. He was encouraging the Croats to leave the federation and declare independence.' (24 August 1992)

Former US state department official Francis Fukuyama later made it clear that Washington, as well as France and Britain, regarded Germany's moves in Yugoslavia as a bid for great power status: 'French and British fears of a German power play in Croatia are precisely what prevented the European Community from taking strong action early in the Balkan crisis.' (Guardian, 9 September 1992)

Lesser evil

By the summer of 1991, Germany had nailed its colours firmly to the Croatian mast. Why did the rest of the EC fall into line? At the time there were genuine fears that if Germany recognised Croatia, France would take sides with Serbia. The prospect of a return to great power politicking in the Balkans, and the re-emergence of client states, filled the Europeans with dread.

They concluded that recognition was the lesser evil. The alternative would be a showdown with the Germans, and a split in the Western Alliance. Both the French and the British decided that it was better to follow Germany's lead. At the Maastricht summit on 16 December 1991, EC members agreed to recognise both republics, which they did on 15 January 1992.

But then a peculiar thing happened. The Americans, who until then had been the strongest advocates of keeping Yugoslavia together, suddenly became the strongest advocates of independence for Bosnia and the loudest critics of 'Serbian barbarism' - a propaganda line which had previously been the preserve of Germany. It was clearly a case of the Americans interfering in Bosnia to reassert their own authority and get their own back on Bonn. In April, the USA recognised Bosnia, escalated the crisis, and the fighting there began in earnest.


Then another strange thing happened. France, which had previously been the chief exponent of the do nothing approach to Yugoslavia, became the chief advocate of doing more. The French president, Francois Mitterrand, made a flying visit to Sarajevo on 28 June 1992 and demanded that the Western powers break the siege of the city by supplying relief aid.

Mitterrand's visit was part of the game of one-upmanship which all of the Western leaders were now playing in Yugoslavia. For all of them, Yugoslavia had become the test case of their pretensions to be world powers. Washington was furious with Mitterrand, seeing his gesture as a stunt aimed at upstaging George Bush. Sniping among the major powers became the hallmark of the Western intervention in Yugoslavia.

The British have been the most ambivalent about interfering in Yugoslavia. As the weakest of the Western powers and the one most rooted in the old order, Britain has most to lose from anything which shakes up the global status quo. However, once everybody else got involved in the conflict, Britain was sucked in too, fearful of being left out in the cold. Almost despite itself, Westminster is being propelled towards further intervention. So while John Major says he won't send more troops to Bosnia, he has warned that Britain would treat any Serbian aggression against Kosovo or Macedonia as an invasion to be met with force.

Western intervention has made things worse in Yugoslavia in two ways. Western sponsorship for the secessionist states of Slovenia and Croatia encouraged other republics to opt out of Yugoslavia too, and then further Western intervention raised the stakes at every stage. In this sense, the West engineered the disintegration of the entire federation by setting in motion a chain reaction stretching from Slovenia in the north to Macedonia in the south.

Great power proxies

The intervention by the Western powers has also encouraged other states - from Albania and Bulgaria to Greece and Turkey - to become involved in the conflict, in an attempt to get a piece of the action and improve their own standing in the Western-run world order. Now the West's latest diplomatic manoeuvres over Macedonia threaten a conflagration involving most of the Balkan states.

As Germany cements its relationship with Turkey, and Greece looks for an ally in America, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that these two regional competitors could become the proxies for the tug of war between the great powers. Just to make things worse, the Western powers are fuelling an arms race between Greece and Turkey by arming both sides to the teeth.

What can we conclude? That a whole country has been destroyed primarily because of the power struggles in the Western camp. That thousands of people have been killed, tens of thousands wounded and millions made homeless to satisfy the cynical ambitions of the various Western powers. That Western diplomacy has turned Yugoslavia into a powder-keg. And that Western intervention is the last thing we should be calling for as a solution in the Balkans.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 51, January 1993

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