Milosevic's dirty war of conquest

Wednesday, September 25, 1991

By Michele Lee

On August 28, the village of Kijevo (population 1000), a Croat enclave in the middle of the so-called Serb Autonomous Region of Krajina, ceased to exist, having been razed to the ground by the Yugoslav army deploying aircraft, tanks and howitzers. Following a 12-hour bombardment, the population fled to the nearby mountain of Kozjak, pursued by the vengeful aircraft. The village was then looted and set on fire.

A British TV cameraman filmed an army officer tearing up the board with the village's name and stamping on it with his boots to the cheers of the men around him — men under the command of Martic, once a local police chief and member of the League of Communists and now the Krajina strong man.

Characteristically, the destruction of Kijevo had been promised two days earlier in the Belgrade press. The village's only "crime" was that, like so many other villages and towns, it spoiled the image of a Serb-only "Krajina".

Kijevo proved beyond all doubt that the war raging on the territory of Croatia is a war of conquest designed to create a greater Serbia extending over parts of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Vojvodina, Kosovo, Montenegro and northern (at least) Macedonia.

If Croatia falls, the war will spread into the rest of Yugoslavia. Indeed, it is already being extended into Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Having failed to recentralise Yugoslavia under Serb hegemony, Milosevic's regime, aided by the chiefs of staff, has opted for a Greater Serbia. It welcomed the coup in the Soviet Union above all because it feared that the new Union treaty transforming the Soviet federation into a confederation of sovereign states would be used as a model for Yugoslavia, since it is more or less exactly what Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia had been advocating for a year.

This was openly stated by Mihajlo Markovic, Milosevic's main spokesperson. The Serbian regime does not wish to be part of any structure that it cannot dominate.

Milosevic has justified the wholesale incorporation of other republics and provinces by his concern for the fate of Serb minorities. This is how Hitler once justified the annexation of Austria, the partition and occupation of Czechoslovakia and the attack on Poland.

The methods used to destabilise these countries prior to attacking them were the same: official protests, mobilisation of a section of the minority, blocking of any alternative to war and assurances to the European powers that this was the way to a lasting peace.

Serbia does not have the clout of Hitler's Germany, and its victims are "only" small local states. Yet, unless the Serbian regime is stopped and stopped soon, the war will engulf the whole of Yugoslavia and spill beyond its borders.

Why should Serbia, its neighbours will ask themselves, be the only one allowed to expand? 600,000 Serbs living in Croatia form a much smaller percentage of the total population than 2.5 million Albanians living in what used to be Yugoslavia, or 2 million Hungarians living in Romania.

Pressure on the Hungarian government to protect the Hungarian minority in Yugoslavia (thousands of whom have already fled into Hungary) is growing by the day.

The Albanian intellectuals in Kosovo speak of a Serbian-Albanian war in 1992 as inevitable. There are many such potential claims throughout central and east Europe.

After Kosovo, Slovenia and Croatia will come Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such facts as that 90% of the Kosovo population is Albanian, or that only 17% of the population of the Croatian province of Eastern Slavonia — scene of the most intense fighting over the past month — is Serb make no difference.

Nor does it matter that the "Krajina" is an ethnically mixed area, which does not even border on Serbia; that Bosnia-Herzegovina is in the majority non-Serb; that 70% of the inhabitants of Montenegro declared themselves non-Serb at the last (April 1991) census; that northern Macedonia contains only a handful of Serbs. In the eyes of the Belgrade regime these are all "ethnic and historic" Serb lands. This means war now and war in the future.

In those parts of other republics earmarked for inclusion into Greater Serbia, the conflict cannot but escalate into total war, targeted directly and in the main against the local population. A BBC report of the army attack on the Slavonian town of Osijeck describes the devastation of this city of 150,000 people by incessant bombardment from heavy artillery and air attacks. The city is being systematically destroyed, and there are many civilian casualties. The targets are all civilian: hospitals, schools and ambulances trying to reach the wounded and dead.

The war being waged by Serbia and the Serbian-dominated army is a classic "dirty war" of the kind practised by CIA-funded armies in the Third World. Its aim is twofold: to expel from the designated area the "wrong" (that is Croat) population, and to break the will of the population as a whole, thus enabling Serbia to establish its "peace".

Milosevic's strategy is unlikely to work, since it offers nothing but slavery to at least two-thirds of the Yugoslav population — indeed, to all of them, since such a "peace" could only be maintained by a military dictatorship.

What is unique about the Serbian regime — at least as far as contemporary Europe is concerned — is its particular combination of strident nationalism with a recidivist Stalinist ideology, embedded above all in the only structures of the Yugoslav "Communist" state that managed to escape the process of democratisation: the Serbian Communist Party and the army high command.

The seeds of the current war were sown in December 1989, when the Croatia followed the Slovene example and decided to hold multiparty elections — a decision which, in turn, led to multiparty elections elsewhere in Yugoslavia.

Unable to prevent multiparty elections, the Stalinist mafia opted for a different strategy. In Serb-inhabited areas of Croatia, an immediate local rebellion against the new government was organised by local Communist structures aided by the army, which supplied them with weapons.

This gave birth to the Knin "Krajina", whose territory was then extended step by step using threats and manipulation of the population's fear of the unknown.

Something similar also happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where in every municipality with a Serb majority — relative or absolute — the political control was established by strong-arm action. This was then used as a basis to create two further Krajinas, which immediately declared themselves independent of the Bosnian government.

As in the case of the Croatian Krajina, these new structures were immediately militarised, preventing any possible challenge to the new regime, either by the non-Serb minorities or by Serb opponents. The same pattern has since been applied to areas of Eastern Slavonia controlled by the army and local Chetnik [Serb nationalist] units.

Milosevic is counting on European political confusion and inertia to implement the plan for a Greater Serbia (possibly under a Yugoslav name) shorn of all undesirable nationalities — Albanians, Croats, Hungarians, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Muslims — in accordance with the old recipe: kill one third, expel one third and assimilate one third.

Every attempt to form an alternative model for Yugoslavia — as a confederation of sovereign states — has been sabotaged by Milosevic's Serbia. This is why no peace conference will succeed unless and until this regime is defeated.

Its downfall can be envisaged only as the result of a combination of efforts: an economic and political isolation of the regime in Belgrade by Europe as a whole, which would aim to underpin and support resistance by the threatened republics and provinces, and, equally important, the growing rejection of war in Serbia itself.

The recognition of every one of Yugoslavia's federal members as a sovereign state in its own right, and within its borders as defined by the last (1974) Yugoslav constitution, and safeguards for the rights of national minorities living within them, form the sole basis for a lasting peace. It is also a precondition for a new, voluntary association of the peoples of Yugoslavia.
[Abridged from International Viewpoint.]