Croatia Offensive Expands War In Balkans

By Greg Rosenberg, Militant, Vol.59 no.19, 15 May 1995

War flared anew in the Balkans with the expansion of large-scale fighting into Croatia on May 1. The regime of Croatian president Franjo Tudjman unleashed 3,000 of its troops, backed by warplanes, tanks, and heavy artillery against forces commanded by rightist Serb leader Milan Martic in the Western Slavonia region of Croatia. In response, Martic's troops, allied with the Serbian regime in Belgrade, began shelling the Croatian capital of Zagreb, a city of 1 million people, with cluster bombs. The bombardment killed 5 and wounded 121 on the first day of shelling May 2.

These events shattered the permanent cease-fire reached between Zagreb and forces allied with Belgrade in March 1994. The 1991 war in Croatia left the rightist bands linked to Serbia in control of nearly one-third of Croatia. Ever since, Tudjman has agitated for retaking the territory.

The fighting in Croatia threatens to widen the five-year-old war throughout the area that was once Yugoslavia. It began only hours after the expiration of a four-month cease-fire between the Bosnian government of Alija Izetbegovic and rightist forces in Bosnia headed by Radovan Karadzic. Diplomatic coercion by the imperialist powers failed to get an extension of the cease-fire, which was punctuated throughout by numerous shellings and battles.

With the shattering of the Stalinist apparatus represented by the League of Communists in the former Yugoslavia in 1990, rival gangs of would-be capitalists draped themselves in nationalist flags and launched a series of wars and massacres to grab more land and riches for themselves. In Bosnia alone, some 200,000 people have been left dead or missing. Millions of working people were forced to flee their homes, either to other parts of the former Yugoslavia or to elsewhere in Europe.

‘Go all the way this time’

Tudjman announced the offensive was only a limited policing action, but Croatian radio aired patriotic songs and messages urging the army to go all the way this time.

Croatian troops rolled up the Zagreb-Belgrade highway, seizing control of the road and other points in Western Slavonia. A Serb commander agreed May 2 to surrender to the Croatian army and hand over weapons to troops deployed under the United Nations flag, and forces controlling the town of Okucani agreed to surrender to UN troops.

Tudjman declared victory on the second day of the offensive, stating that The action of the Croatian police and army is closed. Few, however, subscribe to that view, noting that Zagreb's attack will have wider ramifications.

Tudjman added that all Croatian citizens of Serbian descent would be guaranteed respect of their human and civil rights. But thousands began fleeing southwards into Bosnia to escape advancing Croatian troops. In 1993, the Croatian army carried out its own massacres of Serbs near the Adriatic coast.

Earlier this year, the Croatian government had threatened to order the expulsion of all troops in Croatia under the UN flag. Zagreb came under heavy pressure from Washington, Paris, and Bonn to prevent this.

At a meeting with U.S. vice president Al Gore in Copenhagen, Denmark, March 12, Tudjman agreed to allow 8,500 of the 12,000 so-called peacekeepers to stay, provided their deployment would make it harder for the bands linked with Belgrade to receive arms from Serbia and parts of Bosnia. Gore hailed the announcement as a major step away from war and towards peace.

Zagreb's offensive leaves it in control of one of the four enclaves taken by forces loyal to Belgrade during the 1991 war. The bands led by Martic are allied with those of Karadzic in neighboring Bosnia. These groups were originally organized and supplied by the Serbian regime, after efforts to use the Yugoslav army to block their rivals in different republics from breaking away failed in 1991. The goal of these forces was, and still is, to absorb areas in Croatia and Bosnia where populations of Serbian origin predominate, into a Greater Serbia.

Karadzic is threatening retaliation for the offensive. In anticipation of this, Croatian warplanes rocketed the sole bridge connecting Western Slavonia to territory controlled by Karadzic's forces in Bosnia May 1.

Fighting mushrooms in Bosnia

With the expiration of the Bosnian cease-fire, fighting has mushroomed there as well. UN officials reported more than 2,600 explosions at the front lines on May 2 alone. Repeated efforts by the governments of the United States, France, Britain, Germany, and Russia—known as the Contact Group—to force a settlement have failed. The Bosnian government rejected an indefinite extension of the cease-fire, saying this would consolidate Karadzic's claims on the 70 percent of Bosnian territory his forces control. The Bosnian government continues to make efforts to break the siege of Sarajevo, which still faces attacks from rightist snipers.

Confronting the threat of a war engulfing the Balkans and spilling into other parts of Europe, Paris, London, and Moscow have recently said they may withdraw troops deployed in Bosnia under the UN flag.

Paris, which has 4,200 troops in Bosnia, is under increased pressure to show results. Thirty-six French soldiers have been killed in Bosnia, two of them during the run-up to the first round in the French presidential elections.

An April 12 editorial in the London Financial Times, advancing a familiar theme in the big-business press, complained of, the lack of leadership from which NATO is now suffering, in regard to Bosnia.

The apparent inaction of the NATO powers, however, has little to do with their leadership capacity. As the war widens throughout Bosnia and Croatia, the conflicting interests of the imperialist powers, as well as Moscow, come to the fore. Each is maneuvering to gain economic, political, and strategic military advantages over its rivals in the Yugoslav war.

Moscow, for example, continues to fight the efforts by the other Contact Group members to maintain the embargo against the Serbian regime, its ally in the region. In April, Russian general Alexander Perelyakin was expelled from his position as UN commander of two battalions in Croatia. UN officials accused the general of allowing soldiers, weapons, and fuel to flow from Serbia into Serb-occupied Krajina.

While the Serbian regime has been the most aggressive in promoting the war, none of the gangs running any of the former Yugoslav republics speaks for the interests of working people. Ideology has been dispensed with in favor of money, noted an article in the May 8 New Yorker magazine. Small oligarchies masquerading as popular tribunes are busy stuffing their pockets—placing their relatives in diplomatic sinecures abroad, or creating private armies for a final showdown.