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
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
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
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
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.
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
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)
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
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