Date: Mon, 31 May 1999 00:52:40 -0500 (CDT)
From: colin s. cavell <>
Subject: SACP: The real story behind the dismembering of Yugoslavia
Article: 66008
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

Original location:

The real story behind the dismembering of Yugoslavia

By the Communist Party of South Africa, Umsebenzi, April 1999

The SACP has joined many progressive organisations across the globe in condemning the illegal US-NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. This war has nothing to do with minority rights and everything to do with imperialist power politics. This kind of politics has created the conditions for all kinds of elite, chauvinistic and separatist movements throughout the region, including those in Serbia. We must not fall into the trap set by the incessant US-NATO propaganda and adopt a simplistic analysis and response. Rather, we must understand the real causes behind this ongoing human tragedy, learn the relevant lessons and act accordingly.

A Hidden History

Since the official dismemberment of Yugoslavia began in the early 1990s, the world had been fed a constant stream of conventional wisdom presenting the conflict in the Balkans as being the result of aggressive nationalism. Endless arguments and analyses have told us this has all been the inevitable result of historical ethnic and religious tensions. No mention is ever made of the economic and social causes of the conflict. No big headlines about the role of international finance capital, no panel discussions centred around the strategic interests of the USA and Germany in laying the groundwork for the disintegration of Yugoslavia. And, certainly, no recognition of how this hidden history has gone a long way in stoking the ethnic and social conflicts that are now on display in Yugoslavia.

After the defeat of the occupying Nazi forces in 1945 by Yugoslav partisan forces, led by General Tito, the state of Yugoslavia was formed by bringing together the various regions (Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia) into a system of Federal Republics. Charting a path that was neither beholden to the USSR or the West, Tito was able to forge both political and economic stability by combining a strong, federal state alongside economic and social autonomy for the various republics. As a result, Yugoslavia was able to become a regional industrial power and create a multi-ethnic society. From 1960-1980 GDP growth averaged 6,1%, medical care was free, the literacy rate was 91% and life expectancy was 72 years. After a decade of western economic intervention and five years of disintegration, war, boycott and embargo, economies are prostrate, industrial sectors dismantled.

To understand how this all came about, we need to go back a few years. In a secret 1984 US National Security Directive, the Reagan administration advocated expanded efforts to promote a ‘quiet revolution’ to overthrow communist governments... while reintegrating the countries of Eastern Europe into a market-oriented economy. This agenda had already been actively pursued by the international finance wing of US transnational capital—the IMF—in the early 1980s. In conjunction with the new Yugoslav political elite that had come to power after the death of Tito, the IMF's macroeconomic reform set Yugoslavia on a path of a gradual dismantling of the industrial sector and the welfare state. Debt restructuring increased foreign debt and enforced currency devaluation decreased standards of living. This was followed by more shock therapy—freezing of wages, price rises etc.—and IMF control of the Yugoslav Central Bank ensured the crippling of Yugoslavia's ability to finance social and economic programmes. Financial resources that were supposed to be channeled to the various republics and provinces instead went to paying the debt, effectively cutting-off the financial lifelines of the republics and feeding secessionist tendencies.

The overall imperial objective was to subject the Yugoslavian economy to massive privatisation and dismantling of the public sector. In turn, this sounded the death knell for the system of socially-owned and worker-managed enterprises that had flourished all across Yugoslavia for over three and a half decades outside of capitalist control and influence. Sections of the political elite, particularly the intelligence and military sectors, were co-opted into supporting such objectives in return for the political and economic security offered by Western powers. By the end of the 1980s, the results spoke for themselves—mass privatisation of the financial sector, mass bankruptcies, the non-payment of wages, nearly 2 million jobs lost and over 2000 industrial enterprises liquidated. By 1991, GDP growth had declined by 15%.

Divide and Rule

Not surprisingly, this had a disastrous effect on the political and social cohesion of Yugoslavia. Despite mass opposition to the social and economic disintegration by workers from all ethnic groups, the 1990 elections saw separatist coalitions taking power in most all republics. Cooperation with the central federal authority in Belgrade virtually ceased. Within the Serbian republic, the autonomy of areas like Kosovo were revoked, further fueling the social and ethnic distrust that had been building throughout the 80s. Opportunistic leaders on all sides began to deliberately foster social, economic and ethnic divisions, to strengthen their own hands. Militias, loyal to separatist leaders and parties appeared, further widening ethnic splits as well as hastening the fragmentation of the workers movement.

All of this combined to lay the basis for the recolonisation of the Balkans. Although there was some disagreement between the US and Germany over whether or not to encourage the immediate break-up of Yugoslavia, it was not long before Germany was actively encouraging both Slovenia and Croatia to secede. Both new states were then quickly recognised by Western powers and this provided the pretext for the outbreak of war between Croatia, Bosnia, the rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and Serbian nationalists resident in the republics.

The war only served to institutionalise what had already become a reality—the total breakdown and dismemberment of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. By the time of the Dayton Accord, the imperialist objective of undoing Yugoslavia's experiment with market socialism and workers self-management and replacing it with weak new states beholden to the dictates of the free market had been accomplished.

As one progressive analyst accurately stated in 1995—At stake in the Balkans are the lives of millions of people. Macroeconomic reform has destroyed livelihoods and made a joke of the right to work. It has put basic needs such as food and shelter beyond the reach of many. It has degraded culture and national identity. In the name of global capital, borders have been redrawn, legal codes rewritten, industries destroyed, financial and banking systems dismantled, social programmes eliminated. No alternative to global capital... will be allowed to exist.

Current realities

Once the break-up of the former Yugoslavia had been accomplished, the imperialist agenda of dealing with its remaining elements—Serbia and Kosovo— was always going to follow, more or less, along the same lines. The general strategy, as evidenced by what had happened prior to the outbreak of overt conflict in Kosovo, was to finish the job of balkanisation. After failed efforts by the Western powers to persuade and cajole Serbian nationalists, like strongman Slobodan Milosovic, into accepting their subordinate status, US-NATO militaristic machinery and propaganda was, once again, sent into overdrive.

Playing on the very ethnic, social and economic divisions that their own policies had stoked, the intelligence services of the Western powers actively encouraged the use of Kosovo and Albania as a conduit for hard drugs—the proceeds of which served to finance the purchase of arms and military training for the newly formed, secessionist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Simultaneously, there was a concerted campaign to demonise all Serbs as puppets of a crazed Milosovic, a tactic that served to blur the legitimate criticisms and progressive opposition directed at Milosovic and the corrupt political elite in Belgrade. Of course, this militaristic and propaganda onslaught covered over the role of the western powers in creating the present situation in the Balkans.

The depiction of their actions as a means to protect human rights and give humanitarian aid to the predominantly Muslim Kosovars is pure invention. Indeed, the pretext of protecting human rights has become a rallying cry for the imposition of imperial domination and hypocritical moralism across the globe. We only need to look as far as Turkey and Iraq to see how much the West cares about Muslim people, or as far as Rwanda and East Timor to gauge western human rights concerns. Likewise, the present bombing campaign is an exercise in political hypocrisy, contravening the very international law and rules supposedly adhered to by the civilised West, whilst simultaneously using these as vindication for the bombing and painting all Serbians as barbarians. All the while, such actions exacerbate ethnic narrowness and encourage national chauvinism on all sides. As if this were not enough, the West shows an incredibly selective memory when it comes to charges of ethnic cleansing—conveniently whitewashing the cleansing of over 600 000 Serbs from Croatia in 1995, by the US-trained and backed Croatian army.

Besides the transparent desire to continue the US-NATO push eastwards, prodding an insecure and presently weak Russia in the process, there is also the geopolitical importance of the Balkan region as the crossroads between Western Europe and the oil rich Middle East and Caspian basin. Above all, the present bombing of Yugoslavia serves to ensure the non-existence of rival economic/political systems, as in former Yugoslavia, and submission of what is left to the dictates of free market capitalism.

The knock-on effects of the bombing will ensure, that, in the aftermath, Western political and economic might will attempt to dominate the showcase efforts to reconstruct what has been destroyed. The degree of environmental, physical and human destruction caused by the very military action now being engaged in, to protect and free those who never asked for this, will then be dealt with on terms chosen by the superior military/political powers. Making money will be the primary concern as well as to ensure that there will be no alternative to the free market solutions that will be imposed.

The imperialist war has to be stopped. In particular, the following demands must be made: