The Destruction of Yugoslavia

excerpted from the book

Contrary Notions

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, and humanitarianism.

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 producers.

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 separatist parties.

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 capitalist enterprises.

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 as saviors."

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 theirs."

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 years later.

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 success.

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