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Imperialist Roots of the War in Yugoslavia

By Jim Genova, People's Weekly World, 12 August 1995

UNITED NATIONS - The war in the former Yugoslavia is one of the most complex and controversial crises in recent years. The cause of the fighting and its subsequent duration is often blamed on "centuries of ethnic and religious hostility." However, the actual roots of the crisis are directly tied to present-day political and economic realities.

The leading imperialist powers (the U.S., United Kingdom (U.K.), Germany, France) have been involved in the Yugoslav conflict from the beginning and played no small part in sowing the seeds of war and division. They did not stumble into a conflict from which they are having a difficult time extricating themselves. They had a clear plan to dismember Yugoslavia, undermine its socialist system and gain control over its material assets. In addition, the conflict between pro-capitalist forces and the pro-socialist working class within Yugoslavia had sharpened significantly since the 1960s.

What has complicated the situation is the rivalry between the imperialist powers, each of which set its own goals and conducted its affairs with one eye on Yugoslavia and the other on its rivals. The ethnic and religious differences within Yugoslavia were exploited by the imperialist powers to further their own ends.

Because of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's ambiguous relationship with its socialist neighbors, the country became a ready target for undermining socialism throughout the region and was used as a test case for the destruction of the Soviet Union and other multi-ethnic states.

Yugoslavia had developed extensive trade with the West and accepted large loans from the International Monetary Fund. By accumulating billions of dollars in debts, while spurning most assistance from the socialist countries, Yugoslavia became increasingly subject to the political and economic diktats of the West.

This relationship partially motivated the Yugoslav government to restructure its economic and political system in 1965. The Communist Party was transformed into the League of Yugoslav Communists (LYC) and the six republics of which Yugoslavia was comprised gained greater poltical and economic autonomy.

Pro-socialist forces within Yugoslavia viewed the reforms as an honest attempt to address the grievances of the various ethnic and religious groups and lay the basis for closer unity. However, imperialist forces and pro-capitalist elements within Yugoslavia used the reforms to pull the republics apart.

By 1990, Croatia had become the wealthiest of the republics, conducted millions of dollars in trade with the West (especially Germany and Austria) and had a large private economic sector. By contrast, its southern neighbor Bosnia-Hercegovina had become the poorest and had little external trade. Serbia's economy was increasingly oriented to the East as relations with the Soviet Union improved in the 1980s.

Shortly after Yugoslavia began to disintegrate in 1991, U.S. Rep. Henry Gonzalez, investigating a banking scandal which involved the Reagan and Bush administrations' supplying of arms to Iraq, came into possession of CIA documents which exposed a concerted plan by the U.S. government to subvert the Yugoslav economy.

This was done through the Yugoslav banking system which had been partially privatized by the late 1980s. The central agent was Lawrence Eagleburger, George Bush's deputy secretary of state. Eagleburger, as head of the "consulting" firm Kissinger Associates, was director of Ljubljanska Banka, American subsidiary of Yugoslavia's largest bank, from 1986 to 1990. During his tenure, Ljubljanska Banka became embroiled in YugosIavia's largest ever banking scandal, according to the CIA documents, which Gonzalez publicized, the bank issued over $ 1 billion in false promissory notes "leaving Yugoslavia on the brink of political and economic collapse."

While the U.S. undermined the economy, Germany and Austria worked a different game. In 1990, the Yugoslav People's Army discovered arms caches from Austria and Germany in caves and mine shafts throughout Slovenia and Croatia. Paraphernalia found with the weapons indicated that they had been shipped to underground nationalist and fascist paramilitary outfits, like the Ustashe in Croatia.

Beyond their overt Cold War political aspirations, the imperialist powers found Yugoslavia an attractive economic plum ripe for the picking. Yugoslavia is dotted with coal and bauxite mines. It was one of the largest coal producers in Europe before the breakup. The Dalmatian coast, now controlled by Croatia and patrolled by the U.S. Navy, is rich in oil and natural gas deposits.

Geographically, Yugoslavia is situated right in the middle of a proposed oil pipeIine that would run from Iraq to Germany. Successive German governments have pushed the idea of such a pipeline since the early part of the century and Chancellor Helmut Kohl recently raised the proposal again when the German government announced at the U.N. last month that it had reached agreement with Croatia to allow the pipeline to run through its territory.

This explains Germany and Austria's rush to recognize Slovenia and Croatia's independence shortly after they conducted illegal referendums on June 25, 1991, which Serbians and other forces loyal to Yugoslavia and socialism boycotted. As Croatian Serb leader Milan Martic told reporters at an Aug. 3, 1995, press conference, "We never seceded from Yugoslavia."

Bosnia held a sham referendum and declared independence on Feb. 29, 1992. It was boycotted by over half the population, including large numbers of Muslims and Croats.

Throughout three years of unremitting warfare, which has destroyed Bosnia's economy, killed over 200,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless, the fighting has retained an essentially anti-imperialist nature.

The Bosnian government has forged a close alliance with the U.S. and Croatia (governed by fascistic elements tied to Germany and Austria). Furthering these ties, the U.S. Congress recently voted to violate the U.N. imposed arms embargo on the former Yugoslav republics. Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kans.), a 1996 presidential candidate, has incessantly called for arms to be sent to Bosnia and now Croatia in the wake of its recent massive offensive.

The Serbians insist that they are still part of Yugoslavia. They have never wavered in their one demand - union with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

However, as a result of the war, Bosnia has become largely "de-classed." The economic disruption and dislocation of such large sections of the population have made it easier for bourgeois ideology, in the form of rabid nationalism, to penetrate and take hold on all sides. Because the production process has been destroyed, it is increasingly difficult to identify with one's class. Instead, ethnic and religious loyalties have been substituted for class loyalties. This is the principle cause of the atrocities that have been perpetrated by and against all sides.

Serbia's economy, although hamstrung by U.N. sanctions, is functioning and the class struggle continues to shape its internal political struggle. The Socialist Party retained its parliamentary majority in recent elections and Communist parties function in all the former republics. In fact, the Communists became the second largest party in Slovenia's 1994 elections. In Croatia and Bosnia, the Party is outlawed and functions underground in alliance with pro-Yugoslav forces.

Recent disputes over the "mission" in Bosnia arise from the conflicting aims of the imperialist powers. Germany (which, as a result of the struggle for Bonia, has altered its constitution to allow military activity overseas) is anxious to have paramount controI over the proposed oil pipeline and extend its political influence in the Balkans.

The U.K. and France, which provide the bulk of the nearly 40,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Yugoslavia, seek to block Germany's expanding dominance in Europe. They are among the leading voices in favor of preserving the U.N.'s peacekeeping role. Should they pull out, France and the U.K. could lose its leverage with Germany in Yugoslavia.

The U.S., wary of its declining position in the world economy vis a vis Germany and Japan, opposes any moves that would strengthen Germany's economic position. The U.S. has worked assiduously at prolonging and dictating the course of the war. A case in point is last spring's sabotage of the peace process. Just as all sides had agreed on a partition of Bosnia, President Clinton announced that the U.S. would no longer help enforce the arms embargo. This inspired the Muslim government to reject the plan, believing that U.S arms would soon flow to Bosnia.

The Yugoslav Communists say the only lasting solution to the war is the reunification of Yugoslavia on the basis of working class unity and socialism. However, this cannot happen so long as the imperialist powers hold sway in the conflict.

Sources: United Nations Information Department, International Monetary Fund Bulletin. U.N. Mission of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Rep. Henry Gonzalez, (D-Tex.)

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