Dialogue: Drifting with the Current

— E. Haberkern

I WAS DISAPPOINTED but not surprised to see Against the Current join the Hate Week campaign against "the Serbs." What I did find shocking in your editorial of November-December 1992 ("In Defense of Bosnia," ATC 41) was the casual way in which the anti-imperialist tradition of the left was dropped.

For some inexplicable season the editorial opposed a U.S. ground invasion—which doesn't seem to be in the works anyway—while blaming the Europeans for not making a "decisive response" by bombing Serbian warships. This makes no sense. If you accept the right of the European powers to intervene and impose a settlement why not the power best equipped for the job?

What if tomorrow Clinton takes your advice along with that of Anthony Lewis, Anna Quindlen, Newsday and the other liberal hawks and just bombs the bejeezus out of Serbia—presumably with smart bombs left over from the Gulf War? Will you attack him for doing what you urged on the Europeans? Or will you applaud?

Against the Current is following along the path that a number of former New Left anti-war activists started on when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait Like Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic is a nasty piece of work FranjoTudjman and Alija Izetbegovic (presidents of Croatia and Bosnia respectively—ed.) are no prizes either.

What distinguishes Miosevic and Saddam Hussein is that, for largely accidental reasons, they have stepped over bounds drawn for them by the masters of the "New World Order? (Doesn't anybody remember that the fascists originally popularized that phrase?) Dictators as brutal as Hussein or Milosevic have been pampered by Washington and others as long they towed the line.

Whatever you think of the demand of the Serb minorities in Bosnia and Croatia for self-determination, if you support the use of force, military or economic, by Washington and its allies to dictate the internal politics of other countries you abandon the democratic principles on which a socialist foreign policy is based. Precisely because the United States is being urged to intervene, however, American liberals and leftists have to take a stand on the issues involved in the civil war.

To call, as your editorial does, for the defense of Bosnia, is to support the suppression of the right to self-determination of approximately one-third of the population. The referendum on independence clearly indicated that the overwhelming majority of the Serbs did not want to become part of an independent Bosnia.

There was no democratic vote to dissolve the Yugoslav federation. Had there been such a vote the results might well have been against the breakup and it might not have followed ethnic lines. All the Bosnian parties were against the recognition of Croatia initially. They understood that a multi-ethnic Bosnia was only possible in a multi-ethnic Yugoslavia.

What people were faced with was a fait accompli Tudjman and Milosevic had already divided the country along ethnic lines using the bureaucratic mechanisms left them by the old Stalinist machine People saw no alternative except to save themselves in a country that was breaking up.

The Right of Self-Determination

Even if you think that the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia are frenzied nationalists driven by paranoid fantasies bred in along ago war (that was WWII—the good one) the fact is that they make up  higher proportion of the population of Bosnia than Muslims and Croats together comprised in the old Yugoslavia. If the Croats and Muslims had the right to secede from Yugoslavia how can you deny the Serbs their right to secede from Bosnia? The right of self-determination, like any other right, is not a reward for good behavior.

But, in fact, the Serbs are not paranoid. The fascist party is the third largest party in Croatia and the largest party, Mr. Tudjman's party, openly claims the heritage of the fascist state. That heritage is one of a "völkisch" state in which only ethnic Croats are first-class citizens.

The "ethnic cleansing" of the Serbs had already begun by the time the European Community came to discuss the issue That was one reason why the Badinter report recommended against recognition.

Did the Croatians have the right to go ahead anyway and exercise their right to self-determination? Of course. And by the same token the Serbian minority had the right to resist.

That the Serbs have reacted brutally is true even if you allow for the usual exaggeration and outright lying. But the Irish Republican Army and the Palestine Liberation Organization have committed bone-chilling atrocities in their time, and that has not prevented socialists and liberals from supporting the rights of the Catholics in Northern Ireland or of the Palestinians.

This is clearly a case where the decision to exercise the right to self-determination was a bad one. But this case also demonstrates why the defense of the right of self-determination is a practical necessity and not only something required by principle. Clearly, the only solution in Yugoslavia and the Balkans in general is a multi-ethnic and democratic society. The main obstacle to that is the bitter ethnic hatreds that have sprung up out of this war.

Paradoxically, it is only the mutual recognition by the various minorities of each other’s rights that can make possible a multi-ethnic solution. As long as the Muslims, Croatians and those Bosnians who do not identify with any ethnic group try to hold the Serbian minority captive the bloodletting will go on. Far from being a disastrous concession to Great-Serbian madmen the "cantonization" of Bosnia offers the only hope for an end to the nightmare.

Unfortunately, many people who should know better are fronting for cynical politicians with their own agenda and calling for outside intervention. If it comes—whether by air, land or sea—it will prolong the war and the eventual outcome will be little different from what it would be if the Yugoslav factions negotiated a truce themselves.

American imperialism will have once again demonstrated that it is the final court of appeal. All ethnic groups in the Balkans will be encouraged to seek outside aid rather than reach a political agreement themselves. Like the Middle East the area will remain unstable and the United States and others will be constantly tempted to intervene.

Clinton and the neoliberals clearly intend to overcome the Democratic Party's and Clinton's personal "Vietnam Syndrome" one way or another. For them the Bosnians are merely a pretext, just as the Kurds were for Henry Kissinger.

March-April 1993, ATC 43

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