*NATO & the Humanitarian Dismemberment of Yugoslavia

Bagra USA

On March 24th, 1999, NATO launched its 78-day round the clock aerial assault on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia without the approval of the United Nations Security Council. Over a thousand NATO warplanes delivered over 2,000 airstrikes in nearly 40,000 sorties, dropping over 20,000 bombs over the former Yugoslavia, killing thousands of civilian men, women, and children, as well as upwards of a thousand Yugoslav soldiers and police.[1] [2] [3] NATO employed weapons considered criminal by international law such as depleted uranium and cluster bombs.[4] [5] [6] [7]

The popular narrative is that is that the Western powers dropped these bombs out of humanitarian concern, but this claim falls apart once the distorted lens of Western saviourism is dropped and actual facts are presented. In truth, NATO intervention in Yugoslavia was predicated on the imperialist, colonialist economic and ideological interests of the NATO states, masquerading for the public as a humanitarian effort, that in fact served to dismantle the last remnant of socialism in Europe and recolonize the Balkans. This becomes apparent when the economic interests and actions of the NATO bloc in the decades leading up the breakup are analyzed, when what actually occurred during the intervention is further explored, and when the reality of life in the former Yugoslavia in the aftermath of the ‘humanitarian’ intervention is more closely examined. It becomes clear that the most suffering endured by the Yugoslav people since Nazi occupation was the result of the actions of NATO with the United States at its helm.

As the Ottoman Empire crumbled in the late 1800s, the other empires set their eyes on Turkish possessions in the Balkan peninsula. The Slavs of the Balkans struggled for independence, aided by the Russian Empire. In response, the Western powers attempted to prop up the Ottomans to circumvent the growing Russian sphere of influence. Eventually the Great Powers called the Congress of Berlin to redivide the Balkans amongst themselves. Leon Trotsky wrote of this process:

The states that today occupy the Balkan Peninsula were manufactured by European diplomacy around the table at the Congress of Berlin in 1879. There it was that all the measures were taken to convert the national diversity of the Balkans into a regular melee of petty states. None of them was to develop beyond a certain limit, each separately was entangled in diplomatic and dynastic bonds and counterposed to all the rest, and, finally, the whole lot were condemned to helplessness in relation to the Great Powers of Europe and their continual intrigues and machinations.[8]

Borders were strategically drawn across artificial ethnographic lines in a process that came to be known as ‘Balkanization’. The newly independent Bulgaria had its interests in Macedonia, which was still Turkish, whereas Serbia’s interests laid within Austro-Hungarian borders, and Romania’s to the north in Russia and Hungary. Therefore, Pan-Slavism was no longer a viable uniting force within the Balkans against empire. Nonetheless, leaving the peninsula in this semi-liberated state could merely delay the inevitable and eventually war would break out in the First and Second Balkan Wars, followed by the First World War. In the wake of these wars the first Yugoslavia would finally be born. It would last until World War II, when fascist occupation once again divided the Balkans. Many regions were annexed by the Axis empires outright, while Croatia was expanded and transformed into a Nazi puppet state. The Yugoslav people once again rallied behind the banner of Pan-Slavism and the dream of the re-establishment of a multiethnic state – this time led by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, aiming to expel fascism and establish a socialist Yugoslavia. In 1945, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was built around six socialist republics and two autonomous provinces in Serbia. The right to self-determination of all nations was guaranteed. The state provided education, employment, healthcare and housing, and most importantly, ethnic tensions ran at an all time low as nationalism was stamped out in favour of ‘brotherhood and unity’ between nations. Unlike the Eastern Bloc countries, Tito’s Yugoslavia took a more open approach to foreign policy and established relations with the West and the capitalist bloc (at the expense of their relations with the USSR). This friendliness with the West would sow the seeds for the demise of Yugoslavia.

The multiethnic and socialist Yugoslavia achieved a life expectancy of 72 years, near full literacy and averaged 7% GDP growth in the 60s.[9] Free medical care and education were provided, as was the right to an income and housing. Yugoslavia was temporarily tolerated by the west as a buffer between the Soviet sphere and Western Europe, but in 1984, the destabilization of Socialist Yugoslavia and the imposition of the market became official U.S policy with National Security Decision Directive 133.[10] After the failure of the Vietnam War, U.S foreign policy avoided direct intervention and instead opted for the funding of contras or the imposition of market reforms and ‘shock therapy’ via U.S dominated institutions such as the World Bank or IMF. Fortunately for the US, Yugoslavia’s ‘non-aligned’ stance in the Cold War meant it had been taking on IMF loans since the end of WWII, and by 1981 the SFRY had racked up nearly $20 billion in foreign debt. The IMF and World Bank demanded an economic ‘restructuring’. Neoliberal austerity reforms were imposed on Yugoslavia – wages were frozen, state subsidized pricing was abolished, worker-managed enterprises were dismantled and social spending was cut. The national wealth was directed towards debt payments as unemployment skyrocketed. The economic reforms “wreaked economic and political havoc… Slower growth, the accumulation of foreign debt and especially the cost of servicing it as well as devaluation led to a fall in the standard of living of the average Yugoslav… The economic crisis threatened political stability … it also threatened to aggravate simmering ethnic tensions”.[11]

Growth in industrial production shrank from 7% to negative 10% by 1990 as foreign capital and imports flooded the republics, smothering domestic production. In 1989-1990 alone the World Bank created 600,000 layoffs; an additional hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavs worked without pay for months at a time.[12] The IMF froze wages as inflation skyrocketed and by early 1990 real wages had dropped 41%.[13] Overall the IMF and World Bank programs greatly undermined the federation and fuelled ethnic tensions and secessionist movements which would tear Yugoslavia apart, namely by freezing transfer payments from Belgrade to the republics.[14] [15] As the IMF took control of the Central Bank and rendered the federal government almost completely powerless, secessionist movements began gaining traction in the republics. Germany, a NATO member, backed these secessionist movements in Slovenia and Croatia.[16] This included arms shipments and training. [17] Slovenia and Croatia were among the richer republics, and as the IMF imposed economic crisis worsened they became increasingly opposed to having to subsidize the poorer republics. In 1991 they both declared independence and were immediately recognized by Germany. The leader of the newly independent Croatia was one Franjo Tudjman, who wrote in 1989 that there was a need to “be rid of the Jews” and that Holocaust death tolls had been inflated.[18] The Western backed leader went as far as to hail the fascist Ustaše (Nazi collaborators, who established the first independent Croatia during WWII) and apologize for their crimes – namely the ethnic cleansing of Serbs.[19] The Krajina Serbs inside Croatia made clear that they wished to remain a part of the Yugoslav federation – they were not recognized by any NATO members. Tudjman’s Croatia followed in the fascist Ustaše’s footsteps and between 1991 and 1995 the US backed Croatia drove out half a million Serbs. In 1992 Macedonia also declared ‘independence’ and accepted occupation by US troops. In the same year fighting broke out in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the situation was more complicated – no single nationality held a majority. Nonetheless, the United States and Germany backed the Croatian and Bosnian separatists, providing training and arms, and thus fanning the flames of the conflict.[20]

The Western-backed leader of the Republic of Bosnia & Herzegovina[21] was Alija Izetbegović. Unlike Tudjman, he did not simply apologize for fascists; during WWII he joined the Young Muslims, a group which advocated for an Islamic Bosnia and collaborated with the Nazi SS. [22] He did not hide his desires for an Islamic state and declared “[t]he media should not be allowed… to fall into the hands of perverted and degenerate people who then transmit the aimlessness and emptiness of their own lives to others. What are we to expect if mosque and TV transmitter aim contradictory messages at the people?”.[23] Foreign Islamist fighters flooded the country, with passports provided by the Bosnian government. The only thing that was missing was Osama bin Laden himself – one Bosnian newspaper noted that “If bin Laden does not have a… passport, then he has only himself to blame. He should have asked for it in time”.[24] In 1992, the Carrington–Cutileiro plan proposed a degree of autonomy to the Bosnian Serbs in order to prevent war. After a meeting with US ambassador Warren Zimmerman, Izetbegović was convinced to withdraw his signature, and the Bosnian war broke out.

The NATO powers (namely the U.S) had facilitated Slobodan Milosevic’s rise to power as president of Serbia in 1989 to further open up the Yugoslav markets, but the Milosevic leadership and the Yugoslav people refused to completely dismantle Yugoslav socialism in Serbia – as late as 1999, as much as 75% of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s (FRY)[25] basic industry remained publicly owned.[26] Over half a million Serbian workers engaged in massive walkouts and protests against IMF restructuring – often joined by Croatian, Bosnian Muslim, Roma, and Slovenian workers.[27] In Bosnia, a large number of Muslims refused to give up on the Yugoslav idea – rightly believing it was only way to keep the Balkans free from conflict.[28] Bosnian and Croatian Serbs clung to the Federation when Croatia and Bosnia declared independence. In the West this was spun as Serbian expansionism – Western media often parroted the claim that Milosevic wanted a “Greater Serbia”. In fact, the Serbs were simply holding on to what remained of Yugoslav socialism while the Federation was being ripped at the seams by foreign powers and their proxies. It became clear that socialism in Yugoslavia was resilient and was withstanding IMF restructuring and the conflict that came with it, NATO intervened militarily. 1992’s ‘humanitarian’ UN sanctions on Yugoslavia isolated the country economically. Per capita income fell to $700 per year, unemployment rose to 60%, Serb civilians endured a 37% increase in infectious fatalities and their caloric intake fell 28%. Most astonishingly, inflation reached 363 quadrillion percent.[29] No sanctions were placed on Tudjman’s Croatia, which in the same time period, with the support of private military companies composed of U.S veterans, ethnically cleansed nearly 200,000 Serbs through rapes, executions, and shelling.[30] [31]

When starving Yugoslavia didn’t end the conflict, NATO began bombing Bosnia into peace in 1994. The U.S brokered the Dayton Peace Accords in late 1995 between Yugoslavia, Bosnia, and Croatia – without the Bosnian Serb leadership present. Milosevic made many concessions – willing to do near anything to end the isolation of Yugoslavia[32] and agreed to the partitioning of Bosnia into a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serbian Republic – both became IMF/NATO neocolonies with a non-Bosnian “High Representative” appointed by the US and EU with full executive authority.[33] Radovan Karadžić, president of the Serb Republic, who still opposed secession, was forced out of power. A right-wing monarchist took his place and promptly purged the army, police, and government of any anti-NATO or leftist Serbs. Dissident radio stations were shut down and protests were suppressed with NATO armour.[34]

With all dissent crushed and the state purged of any officials not approved by the West, the transformation of Bosnia into a NATO colony was complete. A similar fate awaited the autonomous Serbian province of Kosovo. The ‘Kosovo Liberation Army’, which was recognized by the US State Department as a terrorist organization, received British and CIA training and arms.[35] The group received the majority of its funding – and many members – from the Albanian diaspora, Islamist fundamentalist groups, and the international drug trade. The KLA relied on drug trade, assassination, intimidation (of not only Serbs but also ethnic Albanians who opposed them), destruction of Serbian property (namely homes and churches), and other acts of ethnic cleansing of non-Albanians. The Milosevic government was provoked and cracked down the KLA terror, in turn it was portrayed as genocidal against Kosovar Albanians. At this point, the Yugoslav federation was still suffering from economic collapse and had no interest whatsoever in another war, let alone more NATO bombs.

12 time

Allegations of mass expulsions of the Albanian population by ‘Serbian’ (Yugoslav forces) began to surface, but a OSCE monitor reported no international refugees and only a couple thousand internally displaced before NATO bombing. Hundreds of thousands of Albanians would be displaced by NATO bombs, as were 100,000 Serbs (who were supposed to be the perpetrators of the genocidal ethnic cleansing).[36] One Albanian woman crossing into Macedonia put it bluntly and told a news crew “There were no Serbs. We were frightened of the bombs.”[37] Allegations of systematic, mass rapes and ‘possible sites of mass graves’ were made. One NATO spokesperson alleged that the 200,000 Albanian women in refugee camps amazingly gave birth to 100,000 babies in the span of 60 days, apparently due to ‘Serbian mass rapes’. Genocide allegations were popular; vastly different figures of 100,000, 500,000, 225,000, and 10,000 dead or missing were made by the U.S, NATO, UN, Kosovo and various NGOs. The FBI carried out an investigation across the “largest crime scene in the FBI’s… history” in June 1999. They found not hundreds of thousands of bodies, but 200 total across 30 sites.[38] Of course, the Yugoslav army, and especially Serbian paramilitary groups did carry out massacres and rapes – but nothing on the level of the systematic and genocidal allegations that were made to justify bombing. In fact, NATO committed a slew of war crimes in the 1999 bombing campaign – the bombing was illegal from the very beginning and was launched without the approval of the UN Security Council.

The 1995 and 1999 NATO bombings aided ethnic cleansing of Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. Cluster bombs were dropped on highly populated urban areas. NATO estimated 350 would be killed in the bombing of an office building in Belgrade housing TV and radio stations, and political parties – the bombs were dropped anyway. NATO insisted afterwards that the civilian deaths were ‘unintended’. NATO jets bombed a refugee convoy, killing dozens of non combatants, first trying to pin the attack on Yugoslav forces before retreating and claiming it was an ‘accident’. When a hospital was bombed, the only excuse NATO could muster was that it was actually a military barracks. Journalists who visited immediately after found only the remains of civilians and a hospital in ruins.[39] State owned and only state owned firms and factories were bombed, as were state owned housing projects, water supplies, railroads, bridges, hospitals and schools. This amounted to “privatization by bombing.”[40]A Spanish NATO pilot confirmed that NATO jets were “destroying the country, bombing it with novel weapons, toxic nerve gases, surface mines dropped with parachute, bombs containing uranium, black napalm, sterilization chemicals, sprayings to poison the crops and [more]”, going on to call it “one of the biggest barbarities that can be committed against humanity.”[41]

The situation in the former Yugoslavia has not improved since the NATO’s ‘democracy’ bombs were dropped. The FRY finally collapsed in 2006 and the Balkans have been Balkanized once again. ‘Yugonostalgia’ has swept across the Balkans – many remember the days of the SFRY as ones where they lived better.[42] [43] [44] As many as 81% of Serbians believe they lived best in the age of socialism.[45]  Similar trends exist in Slovenia, Bosnia, and Macedonia. [46] [47] [48] A ‘Yugoslav’ identity persists in the Balkans. [49] In the wake of the tons of depleted uranium dropped on the former Yugoslavia, there has been a spike in leukemia and cancer.[50] [51] Serbia is still host to hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced peoples. The neocolonial protectorate installed in Bosnia has proved hugely unpopular – many call it a ‘failed state’. Corruption is rampant and economic growth is slow. In a 2013 survey, half the respondents chose the word “lethargic” to describe their current state of mind – less than 15 percent used positive words such “optimistic” or “content”.[52] The citizens of Bosnia and Kosovo see their governments as corrupt, and worse still see government efforts to curb corruption as essentially useless. The anniversary of Milosevic’s death is still honoured across Serbia – he is seen as a man who stood up to the NATO forces that would soon destroy their country.[53] Anti-NATO demonstrations in the country gather thousands, if not tens of thousands in the streets.[54] Many Serbs still wish to see NATO punished for war crimes during the bombing campaigns – it seems NATO imposed democracy has not been accepted with open arms in the Balkans.

By the year 2000, Yugoslavia had been ripped apart with NATO bombs, IMF restructuring and ethnic conflict. Serbia was destroyed and the rest of the republics were transformed into neocolonies of the Western powers. The most popular narrative is that the West intervened in the region out of humanitarian concern – to stop genocide. However, this claim doesn’t hold up when actual facts are brought into play. In reality, the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia was not a humanitarian one; it was instead motivated by the colonial-imperialist, economic and ideological interests of the member states of NATO – namely the United States and Germany.

Although the bombing was dressed up as ‘humanitarian’, all it really served to do was dismantle all that remained of socialism in Europe and once again ‘Balkanize’ and colonize the Balkans. This truth becomes obvious upon a principled analysis of the economic interests and actions of the NATO bloc before formal intervention, an investigation into how the actual intervention was handled, and a look into the current state of the former Yugoslavia. The ‘humanitarian’ and ‘democratic’ bombs dropped on Yugoslavia resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars in economic damage which dramatically reduced the living standards of the Yugoslav people – the most damaging in the region since the Nazi occupation during WWII. The strategy of Balkanization and ‘humanitarian intervention’ has become the West’s (often through NATO) modus operandi; the same strategy of partitioning unified economically nationalist and independent states first exercised over Yugoslavia has also been practiced in Iraq, Libya, and now Syria. The results are always the same – a drop in living standards, a huge resentment towards the West and NATO from the populations of the targeted countries, and a profit for the imperialist powers.

Notes.

[1] W.J Fenrick, “Targeting and Proportionality during the NATO Bombing Campaign against Yugoslavia, “European Journal of International Law 12, no. 3 (2001), 489-502.

[2] Human Rights Watch, The Crisis In Kosovo, Report. (2000).

[3] “Stradalo 1.008 Vojnika I Policajaca,” RTS, February 11, 2013,http://www.rts.rs/page/stories/sr/story/9/Politika/1264384/Stradalo-1.008-vojnika-i policajaca.html. (accessed May 11, 2016).

[4] “UN: Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, 1977.” International Documents on Corporate Responsibility.

[5] Andrew Webster, “Hague Conventions (1899, 1907),” The Encyclopedia of War, (2011).

[6] “NATO Reveals Kosovo Depleted Uranium Use,” BBC News, March 22, 2000,http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/686593.stm. (accessed May 11, 2016).

[7] Helen Fawkes, “Scars of NATO Bombing Still Pain Serbs,” BBC News, March 24, 2009,http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7960116.stm. (accessed May 11, 2016).

[8] Leon Trotsky, George Weissman, and Duncan Williams, The Balkan Wars, 1912-13: The War Correspondence of Leon Trotsky, New York: Monad Press, (1980), 15.

[9] Michael Parenti, To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia. London: Verso, (2000), p. 21.

[10] Paul F. J Aranas, Smokescreen: The US, NATO and the Illegitimate Use of Force. (New York: Algora Pub., 2012).

[11] Sean Gervasi, ‘Germany, the US, and the Yugoslav Crisis, Covert Action Quarterly, No. 43, Winter (1992-93): 42.

[12] World Bank, Industrial Restructuring Study: Overview, Issues, and Strategy for Restructuring, (Washington, D.C., June 1991), viii

[13] Gervasi: 44

[14] Michel Chossudovsky “Dismantling Former Yugoslavia, Recolonizing Bosnia.” Capital & Class 21, no. 2 (Winter, 1997): 1-12.

[15] Parenti, To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, 21

[16] Ibid., 25

[17] Ibid., 27

[18] Franjo Tuđman, Franjo Tudjman on the Jews: Excerpts from the Book: “Wastelands–historical Truth” (Place of Publication Not Identified: Publisher Not Identified, 1989).

[19] Memorandum on the Violation of the Human and Civil Rights of the Serbian People in the Republic of Croatia. (Place of Publication Not Identified: Publisher Not Identified, 1995).

[20] Parenti, To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, 31

[21] The economic crisis brought on political changes – a multi party system was introduced and the republics began dropping ‘Socialist’ from their names.

[22] Ibid., 51

[23] Ibid., 53

[24] Diana Johnstone, Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2002), 62.

[25] The FRY was formed in 1992 to replace the SFRY after all republics except Serbia & Montenegro seceded.

[26] Parenti, To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, 22

[27] Ibid.

[28] Misha Glenny, The Fall of Yugoslavia, (London: Penguin, 1992), 19-24

[29] Ramsey Clark, NATO in the Balkans: Voices of Opposition, (New York: International Action Center, 1998).

[30] Parenti, To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, 44

[31] P.W. Singer, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry. (Cornell University Press, 2003), 119–125.

[32] According to American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, Izetbegovic, on the other hand, rejected “any form of compromise”

[33] Parenti, To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, 50

[34] Ibid., 58-61

[35] Ibid., 99, 102

[36] Ibid., 103

[37] Ibid., 131

[38] Ibid., 147

[39] Ibid., 120-121

[40] Michael Parenti, The Face of Imperialism, (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2011), 103.

[41] Parenti, To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, 123

[42] Rebecca Collard, “When We Were Yugoslavs: The Rise of Yugonostalgia”, Public Radio International, June 2, 2015,http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-06-02/when-we-were-yugoslavs-rise-yugonostalgia. (accessed May 11, 2016).

[43] “Ex-Yugoslavs Pine for Unity and Dignity.” BBC News, May 23, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7417328.stm. (accessed May 11, 2016).

[44] Dan Bilefsky, “Oh, Yugoslavia! How They Long for Your Firm Embrace”, The New York Times, January 30, 2008,http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/30/world/europe/30yugo.html?_r=0. (accessed May 11, 2016).

[45] “Serbia Poll: Life Was Better Under Tito.” Balkan Insight, December 24, 2010,http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/for-simon-poll-serbians-unsure-who-runs-their-country. (accessed May 11, 2016).

[46] Velikonja, Mitja. “”RED SHADES”: NOSTALGIA FOR SOCIALISM AS AN ELEMENT OF CULTURAL PLURALISM IN THE SLOVENIAN TRANSITION.” Slovene Studies 30, no. 2, (October 2008).

[47] Maria Todorova and Zsuzsa Gille, Post-communist Nostalgia, (New York: Berghahn Books, 2010).

[48] Sinisa Jakov Marusic, “Poll Finds Macedonians Nostalgic for Communist Era”, Balkan Insight, November 24, 2010,http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/macedonians-deem-communist-past-better-than-present. (accessed May 11, 2016).

[49] Anes Makul, and Heather Mcrobie. “Yugoslavs in the Twenty-first Century: ‘erased’ People.” Open Democracy,  February 17, 2011, https://www.opendemocracy.net/heather-mcrobie-anes-makul/yugoslavs-in-twenty-first-century-%E2%80%98erased%E2%80%99-people. (accessed May 11, 2016).

[50] Vesna Peric Zimonjic, “Fallout of Serbia Bombing ‘Continues to Kill’” Anti War, March 24, 2009,http://www.antiwar.com/ips/zimonjic.php?articleid=14450. (accessed May 11, 2016).

[51] Marlise Simons, “Radiation From Balkan Bombing Alarms Europe.” The New York Times, January 7, 2001,http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/07/world/radiation-from-balkan-bombing-alarms-europe.html. (accessed May 11 2016).

[52] Alexandra Stiglmayer, “Work in Progress: Bosnia 20 Years after Dayton.” NATO Review.

[53] “Supporters and Comrades Honor Milošević.” B92, March 12, 2013, http://www.b92.net/eng/news/society.php?yyyy=2013&mm=03&dd=12&nav_id=85118. (accessed May 11, 2016).

[54] “Over 10,000 Participate in Anti-NATO Rally in Serbia – Organizer (VIDEO).” Sputnik, March 27, 2016,http://sputniknews.com/europe/20160327/1037059522/nato-protests-serbia.html. (accessed May 11, 2016).

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By Shay Lafontaine (Canada)

Source: CounterPunch

04 May 1999, PRISTINA, Yugoslavia --- THE SITUATION IN PRISTINA --- Image by © CORBIS SYGMA

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