1990s >> 1998 >> no-1121-january-1998

“Their Country Needs You”


At the moment we have adverts appearing on television, encouraging young people to join the armed forces, each one portraying the state killing machine as a force for worldwide benevolence.

The Air Force’s advert, which contains the above slogan shows scenes of helpless civilians, clearly meant to be in the former Yugoslavia, being helped by a British air force aid drop. Isn’t it lovely? “Join the Air Force, save the world.” But let’s look further into what the armed forces really are doing in the former Yugoslavia, and exactly how benevolent the military presence there is.

First, we have to penetrate the fog of media obfuscation and deceit on these matters. There are two big lies, that mutually reinforce each other. The first is the idea that the people of Bosnia are like mad dogs, driven by centuries of ethnic tension to hate and kill one another, and that it was only the suppressing force of the Titoist dictatorship that stopped this war from erupting sooner. How often have we seen British journalists on our screens resignedly despairing at the war, and wondering how people who used to be friends and neighbours could suddenly turn upon one another, and perpetrate such gross atrocities? How often have they glibly explained it away as part of ancient ethnic hatred, spreading back to the Middle Ages? This hides the real cause of the war, and thus protects those truly guilty from facing the accusation of responsibility.

The Second Big Lie follows on from this: that the only way to bring peace to the region was to return a suppressing force, and to enforce a deal upon the peoples there, a benevolent military intervention with the sole aim of bringing peace and rebuilding the devastated region; that “we” are only interested in helping the poor and afflicted of the region, and “our” military presence is a truly selfless act (just as the US invasion of Vietnam was a selfless act to bring peace and freedom there); their country literally does need us, and without us the mad dogs will be at one another’s throats once again.

Local power elites

To dispel the first lie requires a simple examination of the recent history of the former Yugoslavia. In the early eighties Yugoslavia was a relatively prosperous state-capitalist country, with strong, functioning federal institutions, and a decent welfare state. However, its economy was on the wane, and so it was forced to take an IMF loan, which came with an accompanying economic restructuring scheme that involved selling off state assets. Repaying the loan and meeting the interest payments meant that the state had to cut back on welfare benefits, as we have seen happen in so many other countries.

Many workers went without wages, the welfare institutions began to crumble, and as industry after industry began to falter an increasing proportion of the working population found themselves unemployed, leading to a strong degree of discontent. These are precisely the conditions in which hatred can find a good breeding ground, as desperate workers search around looking for someone to blame for their misfortune.

This situation need not have developed into war since working class hatred does not lead to war, it is the conflicting interests of the ruling classthat does this. As Yugoslavia became more and more impoverished the Federal government had less and less money, and began to deny funds to the regional state governments–a clear threat to the power elites of each of those states (since the power elite in a state capitalist country is dominated by the political bureaucracy, which relies on this money for its economic and power base). Economic impoverishment, plus a denial of their source of power, left the political elites with little room for manoeuvre. They hitched a lift onto growing popular discontent, and used the helplessness and despair of the workers to their own ends.

The spate of nationalist secessions (some of which worked to the favour of Western capitalist interests, such as Germany, which hastened to recognise the breakaway Croatia) brought the local elites into open competition for the region’s resources, and as is often in capitalism competition escalated to its ultimate expression, warfare. The so-called ethnic war in Bosnia was essentially a war over property (as all nation states are just an expression of property).

None of this in itself proves that the West is being anything less than benevolent by intervening in Bosnia. There are however, three very strong reasons why this intervention is based on more that simple kind-heartedness.

First, the need for regional stability. The chaos and potential danger of the Balkan war escalating and dragging other people in was too great. The potential for having even more refugees coming across the borders and flooding into Europe was too much for our masters to bear. As long as the region remained unstable and politically tense it was a threat to the local markets, and to our masters’ sources of profits.

Second, there are the power games of our masters: imperial spheres of influence. Each imperial nation/bloc has an area that the others recognise as its zone in which to operate, and traditionally Yugoslavia and eastern Europe has been the stomping ground of the USSR/Russia. Remember the way in which President Yeltsin warned against NATO military intervention? This was an area where his bunch of capitalists were supposed to be in charge. The US, however, have long had a policy of penetrating their influence into Eastern Europe, and since 1980, particularly Yugoslavia. In this respect the Western occupation of Yugoslavia is beneficial more to the US world political hegemony than it is to the inhabitants of that country.

Third, there is the usual and most elemental reason for any activity by capitalist powers: profit. As noted above, the Yugoslav economy had collapsed, and was now open to penetration by Western capital. Most of the former Yugoslavian states are heavily in debt, in fact Bosnia and Croatia will be heavily in debt until the middle of the next century, becoming debt-slave nations. British forces have been sent in to re-enforce Western entry into that sphere of influence, and guarantee their markets for British business.

Occupation

Bosnia is now effectively under Western occupation. The fig leaf of Bosnia’s democratic procedures falls apart very quickly under any form of scrutiny and shows itself to be an even greater pretence than elsewhere. Whilst there is a parliament, the supreme arbiter on the Dayton agreement, and therefore of any executive decision in Bosnia, is the Western appointed High Commissioner. Further, as part of the enforcement of the Dayton principles, foreign police (the IPTF–International Police Task Force) are being used rather than locally accountable forces. When a country is ruled by an appointed foreign bureaucrat, and their laws are enforced by foreign police, most people would call that colonial rule.

The amount of imperial penetration into Bosnia is even greater, because the local ruling class has been stripped of control over its own economy: all the financial institutions of Bosnia are Western controlled, and the Bosnia governments has no control over fiscal policy. Western capital is remaking Bosnia in its own image, and only when this is finished will it leave the new economy to run itself.

It is curious, given the importance given to the whole Bosnian war and its outcome by the Western media, how few of the details of Dayton were examined by mainstream journalists. We were told it would end the war, and that it would partition Bosnia, but the rest was left unexamined. Could there be some reason for this?

The Bosnian Serbs, and their “hard-liners”, have become the official enemy for daring to call the NATO force in Bosnia an occupation force. As far as Socialists see it the Serb hard-liners are just as bad and exactly the same as their imperial rivals, except they’ve lost out. So we now see them vilified in the Western media. At the moment there is a new film out in the US in which it is a Serbian terrorist that has got hold of the nuclear missile that the hero has to find. It makes a change from Arab terrorists. Serbian protesters in Bosnia are “thugs” while democracy campaigners in Belgrade are “demonstrators”. This is not to say that they are not, but to draw attention to the difference in treatment those who oppose and those who favour Western interests receive.

Western forces seized the transmitters to Bosnian Serb television, because it was “controlled by hard-liners”. It did this to ensure “fairness” in the elections there, because biased television was a threat to the victory of Plavsic, who the West supported. The amount of double-think required to report this must have been terrific: NATO is interfering in the elections, to ensure “fairness” i.e., that their chosen candidate had a better chance of winning!

Neither when NATO broadcast counter television signals from planes, nor when it shut down the television stations did Western journalists raise any objection based upon the freedom of the press. They just went along with the line that it was necessary to do this to protect the “peace process”. The truth is that NATO forces were being used to interfere in the elections to try to ensure a friendly government was put in place, and weaken the grip of a hostile local power elite, to ensure that Western market penetration could continue. Speaking of market penetration, Volkswagen have just opened up a factory in Bosnia, using the empty space in the Bosnian economy to get hold of cheap resources, and even cheaper, desperate, workers.

The Yugoslav war has been a twentieth century tragedy. The tragic heroes (the ordinary people) denied a voice, a role even, left just to die in silence while a whole cast of villains marched around the stage. There can be no doubts about who and what is to blame for this war. Behind the masks of kindliness worn by the villains of the piece lay the identical and twisted face of the god of Mammon, of capitalism. This war was a natural part of the continual war of capitalism, and its victims sacrifices to the cause of profit.

P. SMEET

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