The Destruction of Yugoslavia
excerpted from the book
by Michael Parenti
The Michael Parenti Reader
City Lights Books, 2007, paperback
In 1999 the White House, with other NATO countries in tandem,
launched round-the-clock aerial attacks against Yugoslavia for
seventy-eight days, dropping 20,000 tons of explosives, and killing
upwards of three thousand women, children, and men. All this was
done out of humanitarian concern for Albanians in Kosovo-or so
we were told. Many of the liberals, progressives, and other leftists
of various ideological leanings who opposed President George W.
Bush's destruction of Iraq (rightly so) were the same people who
supported President Bill Clinton's destruction of Yugoslavia.
How strange that they would denounce a war against a dictator
and torturer like Saddam Hussein yet support a war against a social
democracy like Yugoslavia. Substantial numbers of liberals and
other "leftists" were taken in, standing shoulder to
shoulder with the White House, NATO, the CIA, the Pentagon, the
IMF, and the mainstream media when it came to Yugoslavia.
In the span of a few months, Clinton bombed
four countries: Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq intermittently, and Yugoslavia
massively. At the same time, the United States was involved in
proxy wars in Angola, Mexico (Chiapas), Colombia, East Timor,
and sundry other places. And of course U.S. forces continued to
be deployed around the globe, with hundreds of overseas support
bases-all in the name of peace, democracy, national security,
U.S. leaders have been markedly selective
in their "humanitarian" interventions. They have made
no moves against the Czech Republic for its mistreatment of the
Roma ("gypsies"), or Britain for oppressing the Catholic
minority in Northern Ireland, or Israel for its continual repression
of Palestinians in the occupied territories, or Turkey for what
was done to the Kurds, or Indonesia for the slaughter of over
200,000 East Timorese, or Guatemala to stop the systematic extermination
of tens of thousands of Mayan villagers. U.S. leaders not only
tolerated such atrocities but were often complicit with the perpetrators-who
usually happened to be faithful client-state allies dedicated
to helping Washington make the world safe for the Fortune 500.
Why then did U.S. leaders suddenly develop such strong "humanitarian"
concerns regarding Yugoslavia?
Yugoslavia was built on an idea, namely
that the Southern Slays would not remain weak and divided peoples,
squabbling among themselves and easy prey to outside imperial
interests. Together they would compose a substantial territory
capable of its own self-development. Indeed after World War II,
socialist Yugoslavia became a viable nation and something of an
economic success. For many years it had a vigorous growth rate,
a decent standard of living, free medical care and education,
a guaranteed right to a job, one-month vacation with pay, a literacy
rate of over 90 percent, and a high life expectancy. Yugoslavia
offered its multi-ethnic citizenry affordable public transportation,
housing, and utilities, with a not-for-profit economy that was
almost entirely publicly owned, although there was a substantial
private sector that included some Western corporations.
Whether Yugoslavia thereby qualified as
socialist in the eyes of all left intellectuals is not the question.
It was far too socialistic for U.S. policymakers, not the kind
of country that free-market global capitalism would normally tolerate.
Still, it had been allowed to exist for 45 years, useful as a
nonaligned buffer to the Warsaw Pact nations. But once the Soviet
Union and the other communist regimes were dissolved, there was
no longer any reason to have to tolerate Yugoslavia.
The dismemberment policy was initiated
by Germany, the United States, and other Western powers. Yugoslavia
was the one country in Eastern Europe that would not voluntarily
abolish its public sector and install a free-market system, the
one country that had no interest in joining NATO or the European
Union. The U.S. goal was to transform the Yugoslav nation into
a cluster of weak, dependent right-wing polities whose natural
resources would be completely accessible to multinational corporate
exploitation, including the enormous mineral wealth in Kosovo;
with an impoverished population constituting a cheap labor pool
that would help depress wages in Europe and elsewhere, and whose
petroleum, engineering, mining, fertilizer, pharmaceutical, construction,
and automobile industries would be dismantled or destroyed outright,
thereby offering no further competition with existing Western
U.S. rulers also wanted to abolish Yugoslavia's
public-sector services and social programs-just as they want to
abolish our public-sector services and social programs. The ultimate
goal was the privatization and Third Worldization of Yugoslavia,
as it is the privatization and Third Woridization of the entire
world, including the United States itself. Much of the Yugoslav
economy remained in the not-for-profit public sector, including
the Trepca mining complex in Kosovo, described in the New York
Times as "war's glittering prize ... the most valuable piece
of real estate in the Balkans... worth at least $5 billion"
in rich deposits of coal, lead, zinc, cadmium, gold, and silver.'
That U.S. leaders planned to dismember
Yugoslavia is not matter of speculation but of public record.
As early as 1984, the Reagan administration issued U.S. National
Security Decision Directive 133: "United States Policy towards
Yugoslavia," labeled "secret sensitive." It followed
closely the objectives laid out in an earlier directive aimed
at Eastern Europe, one that called for a "quiet revolution"
to overthrow Communist governments while "reintegrating the
countries of Eastern Europe into the orbit of the World market.
In November 1990 the Bush Sr. administration
managed to persuade Congress to pass the 1991 Foreign Operations
Appropriations Act, which provided aid only to the separate republics,
not to the Belgrade government, and only to those forces whom
Washington defined as "democratic," that is, free-market
In 1992. another blow was delivered. A
freeze was imposed on all trade to and from Yugoslavia, bringing
recession, hyperinflation, greater unemployment, and the virtual
collapse of the health care system. At the same time, the IMF
and other foreign creditors mandated that all socially owned firms
and worker-managed production units be transformed into private
One of the great deceptions, notes Joan Phillips, is that "those
who are mainly responsible for the bloodshed in Yugoslavia-not
the Serbs, Croats or Muslims, but the Western powers-are depicted
None other than Charles Boyd, former deputy commander of the U.S.
European command, commented in 1994: "Much of what the Croatians
call 'the occupied territories' is land that has been held by
Serbs for more that three centuries. The same is true of most
Serb land in Bosnia .... In short the Serbs were not trying to
conquer new territory, but merely to hold onto what was already
The Serbs were the designated enemy probably because they presented
the biggest obstacle to the breakup of Yugoslavia. They were the
largest ethnic group in the federation, the one most committed
to keeping the country together, and with a working class that
was most firmly socialist.
Are we to trust U.S. leaders and the corporate-owned news media
when they dish out atrocity stories? Recall the story about the
five-hundred premature babies whom Iraqi soldiers laughingly ripped
from incubators in Kuwait, a tale repeated and believed throughout
the Gulf war in 1990-91, only to be exposed as a total fabrication
We repeatedly have seen how "rogue nations" are targeted.
The process is predictably transparent and not very original.
First and foremost, the leaders are demonized. Qaddafi of Libya
was a "Hitlerite megalomaniac" and a "madman."
Noriega of Panama was a "a swamp rat," "one of
the world's worst drug thieves and scums," and "a Hitler
admirer." Saddam Hussein of Iraq was "the Butcher of
Baghdad," a "madman," and "worse than Hitler."
Demonization of the leader then justifies U.S.-led sanctions and
military attacks upon the leader's country and people. What such
leaders really had in common was that each was charting a somewhat
independent course of self-development not in compliance with
the dictates of the global free market. 6i
In keeping with this practice, Yugoslav
president Slobodan Miloseviç was described by Bill Clinton
as "a new Hitler." Earlier he had not be considered
so. Initially, Western officials, viewing the ex-banker as a bourgeois
Serbian nationalist who might hasten the break-up of the federation,
hailed him as a "charismatic personality." Only later,
when they saw him as an obstacle rather than a tool, did they
begin to depict him as the demon who "started all four wars."
This was too much, even for the managing editor of the U.S. establishment
journal Foreign Affairs, Fareed Zakaria. He noted in the New York
Times that Miloseviç who rules "an impoverished country
that has not attacked its neighbors-is no Adolf Hitler. He is
not even Saddam Hussein."
Miloseviç was elected as president
of Yugoslavia in a contest that foreign observers said had relatively
few violations. As of the end of 1999, he presided over a coalition
government that included four parties, while opposition parties
and publications openly denounced him and demonstrated against
his government. These facts went almost unnoticed in the U.S.
news media. To reject the demonized image of Miloseviç
and of the Serbian people is not to idealize them or claim that
Serb forces were faultless. It is merely to challenge the notions
fabricated to justify NATO's aggression against Yugoslavia.
While professing to having been discomforted
by the aerial destruction of Yugoslavia, many liberals and leftists
were convinced that "this time" the U.S. national security
state was really fighting the good fight. "Yes, the bombings
don't work. The bombings are stupid!" they said at the time,
"but we have to do something." In fact, the bombings
were other than stupid: they were profoundly immoral. And in fact
they did work: they destroyed much of what was left of Yugoslavia,
turning it into a privatized, deindustrialized, recolonized, impoverished
cluster of mini-republics, submissive wards of the free-market
global empire. For U.S. foreign policy it was another smashing