The Myths of Yugoslavia - Part III
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
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The views presented in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgements of the author
12. The Disintegration of Yugoslavia was inevitable
Milosevic came to power (1987-9) on waves of popular support
for his rabid nationalism and fake anti-establishment credentials. His
first actions were directed at the Kosovo Albanians. He revoked their autonomy
by altering the constitution. He demolished the educational and legal infrastructure
of the region. And he applied bloody force to suppress street protests.
Combined with the IMF's pressure to repay maturing loans - the other republic watched the phoenix of Serb dominion with horror and indignation. Kosovo was the undoing of Yugoslavia a few times over its long history - and it proved up to its historical reputation. Hitherto fringe nationalist parties emerged as viable alternatives in both Slovenia and Croatia as a direct result of the suppression of Kosovo. The 1990 "shock therapy" (composed of a wage freeze and a hike in the general price level), the cutoff of American aid pending republic-specific elections and the populist, grievances-orientated electoral campaigns that ensued - sealed Yugoslavia's fate.
When Franjo Tudjman won the elections and a May 1991 plebiscite on a neo-Ustashe platform and symbols, with a two thirds majority, the Serbs prepared for war. They cordoned off their regions and refused to allow ballot boxes in. They began to arm (the JNA was helpful in this) and they teamed up with Milosevic who had his own Great Serbia (and even greater personal profit) in mind.
The US - as it is wont to do - inadvertently stoked the flames but pleading with all parties to maintain "territorial integrity". This conflicted directly with both German views on the matter and with weighty German investments in the region. It urged the EU to recognize the breakaway republics. It would not be the last time the West spoke in (at least) two voices.
Technically, the Serbs started the war everywhere.
13. The Serbs started it all
The JNA invaded Slovenia immediately after it declared
its independence (only to suffer heavy and disgracing losses at the hand
of hastily organized militias). The Serbs in Kraijna expelled their Croat
neighbours having declared independence. The JNA invaded eastern Croatia.
Serb artilery demolished Vukovar. These were undoubtedly the first acts
But atrocities against both warriors and civilians were commited by all parties involved. Serbs, Croats and Moslem Bosnians all engaged in mass expulsions, slaughter, rape and mass executions with fervour, zeal and glee. The Serb did so more visibly and, perhaps, more numerously. But the guilt is shared. The demonization of the Serbs only served to alienate them further and enhanced their paranoiac seige mentality. It was not conducive to making peace and it might have prolonged the war unnecessarily.
14. The West acted too late and too hesitatingly
The West may have acted ignorantly - but definitely not
too late or too hesitatingly once the war started. The European Community
held a peace conference in the Hague as early as September 1991. It failed
because Milosevic insisted on a Greater Serbia dream. With the entire might
of the JNA behind him ,he might have felt invincible. Then, between October
1991 and February 1992, international mediators, both European and American
secured 15 (!) ceasefires, none of them too effective, admittedly. The
last one, organized by the eminence grise Cyrus Vance involved UN troops.
Unfortunately, these valiant efforts were coupled with some pretty dumb moves such as recognizing Croatia in December 1991 and thus incensing Serbia to insanity. This was German finesse at its apex. In June 1992 this insult was coupled to the injury of a UN imposed unilateral embargo on Serbia (though an arms embargo applied to all parties equally - thus preserving Serb superiority in weapons).
15. The Bosnians were the fiercest enemies of the Serbs and Serbia suffered its worst defeat there
When it all began, the Bosnians actually opted to remain
within a Yugoslav Federation. They were the only ones - together with Macedonia
- who seemed to have no design on independence. Negotiations commenced
between Belgrade, the local Serbs, the Muslims and the Croats. These negotiations
were interrupted by a referendum in which Muslim and Croat Bosnians voted
for secession while the Serbs abstained en masse. The leadership of Bosnia
did not want to hold the plebiscite. It was forced to do in emulation of
Croatia and Slovenia and in response to the growing rumble of street protest.
The lines of the emerging war coalitions have emerged clearly. Izetbegovic's
first post election government actually included Serbs. But Milosevic was
fanning the flames. He regarded Bosnia as easy prey and an integral part
of Serbia and he intended to use the local Serb populace as pawns on his
ever more bloodied board. Izetbegovic's Muslim-nationalist past did not
The Serbs clearly won the ensuing war. They controlled an ethnically cleansed swathe of Bosnia equal to 70% of its surface area. Moreover, they linked to Serb-dominated zones in Croatia. And the West (notably, President Bush) seemed to acquiesce despite Serb atrocities commited in dedicated rape camps and execution sites. The army of the emerging Republika Srpska incorporated JNA units, replete with their heavy armour. They were supported with food and supplies from Belgrade.
Even Mate Boban's Croat forces did not succeed to reverse this uninterrupted streak of luck and success. They fought a few successful but rather meaningless battles before the imposition of the Vance-Owen partition Peace Plan was introduced and accepted by them and by the Muslims. The Serbs rejected it in their makeshift parliament.
And then the Croats turned on their Muslim collaborators in places like Mostar. They hoped to secure a larger Croat space and the Serbs seemed to comply by standing aside. Conspiracy theories abounded among the Muslims but the reality was a division of Bosnia between Serbs and Croats, even as fighting broke out between the compatriots of these new-found allies on Croatian soil.
16. The war brought to power the most extremist and radical leaders in each of the countries involved
Milosevic was not the most radical Serb politician. He
was very often criticized by the likes of Vojaslav Seselj for betraying
the Serb cause. Extremist parties won handsomely in Serb elections and
held many seats in the national parliament of Serbia. The same can be said
about Croatia. Franjo Tudjman - while an authoritarian Ustashe sympathizer
- was nowhere near the neo-Nazi nostalgia of Dobroslav Paraga. Both Seselj
and Paraga had their own para-military formations which fought each other
Izetbegovic did publish an "Islamic Declaration" (for which he was jailed in 1983) - but he also was no Moslim fanatic or fundamentalist.
All sides were bound by shady dealings in drugs and weapons. The real conviction and vocation of all the leaders of the region was - and still is - crime.
17. The Kosovo conflict was a direct result of Serb suppression
In general, this is true. The Albanian population - especially the young and the educated - felt at a deadend. But the direct trigger was the fact that the Dayton accord which regulated the relationship between Yugoslavia (Serbia), Croatia and Bosnia - failed to mention Kosovo even once, let alone relate to its specific problems. Pacifists and pro-Westerners like Ibrahim Rugova lost their clout and authority overnight. The resulting vacuum was filled by the KLA - a guerilla cum drugs group which embarked upon the path of armed resistance by killing policemen and blowing up their police stations all over Kosovo. There is no doubt who started the Kosovo ball rolling, technically speaking. But one must never forget that it Serb oppression that led to the formation of the KLA in the first place. The Serbs retaliated by torturing and "disappearing" Albanian prisoners. Following an attack by the KLA in February 1998 (in which 4 officers died) - the Serbs embarked on a scorched earth and ethnic cleansing policy. The rest is history.
18. The Rambouillet Accord
Not a myth this time. It called for Serb capitulation
on various issues including free passage in Serbia of foreign soldiers
and airborne vehicles and a referendum to decide the secession of Kosovo
in three years time. Milosevic could have never accepted this. The West
knew it but believed that he will surrender to a threat of force - the
same force used in Bosnia in 1994-5. The West was wrong.