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 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.
Tudjman announced the offensive was only a
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
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,
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.
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,
of leadership from which NATO is now suffering, in regard to
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