Under the pressure of imperialism, the attempts to reach some kind of negotiated settlement of the Bosnian question have been stepped up, while the fighting on the ground continues, as each of the warring parties seek to seize an advantage.
It now seems most likely that a deal will be put together which will, in effect, seal the de facto division of Bosnia on "ethnic" lines, under the hypocritical pretence of a "Federation." Such a solution will solve none of the problems, and has an entirely reactionary character. It is a graphic demonstration of the impossibility of reaching a just and lasting settlement of the national question on the Balkans under capitalism or Stalinism.
From the outset, the Marxists explained that the break-up of Yugoslavia into its constituent parts was an entirely reactionary development, which was against the interests of all the national groups. As opposed to this principled class position, every other tendency in the Labour Movement capitulated to the pressures of chauvinism. They fell over themselves in their haste to back one or another of the warring ruling cliques. They did not see that each of these ruling cliques was pursuing a reactionary policy, and was aligned with one or another of the imperialist powers, in the time-honoured Balkan tradition.
The situation in Bosnia has changed since the beginning of the war. The key factor in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia was the manoeuvres of German imperialism, which egged on the Slovene and Croatian ruling cliques to split away, in the hope of expanding Germany's sphere of influence in the Balkans. It was the pressure of German imperialism that compelled the EU to recognise, first Slovenia and Croatia, and then Bosnia, which was never a nation, an act which inevitably led to a blood bath. The recognition of a completely unviable state by the EU provoked a war which could have been avoided.
In the event, the manoeuvres of Bonn boomeranged. They had not anticipated the bloody result. But it was the French and British imperialists who were forced reluctantly to intervene with ground troops in an effort to stop the conflict from spreading. The prospect of an all-out Balkans war, involving Greece, Turkey, Albania and Bulgaria, terrified the imperialists. This, and not any "humanitarian" considerations, was what dictated their actions, as we have explained many times.
For their part, the US imperialists' support for the Bosnian Moslems was partly motivated by their economic and strategic interests in the Middle East. But until recently, the "support" was mainly of a verbal character. Clinton's desire for success in the field of foreign policy to compensate for his growing unpopularity on the domestic front clashed with the reluctance of the Republican Congress to get embroiled with ground troops in a Balkan adventure. Hence the dithering of the USA in the initial period.
Afraid to commit its own troops, Washington preferred to act through the United Nations. The temporary weakness of Russia at that stage enabled US imperialism to put pressure on Moscow to accept the UN resolutions directed against Serbia, including sanctions. Yeltsin, as the chief representative of the nascent Russian bourgeoisie, desperate to obtain aid and investment from the West, behaved in a compliant and servile manner, accepting all the dictates of imperialism.
At this point, the (dis-) United Nations were completely under the control of the USA. Russia did not attempt to use its veto on the Security Council. But now the situation has changed. The economic catastrophe in Russia has produced a backlash in the population against the nascent bourgeoisie, reflected in the growing electoral support for the "Communist" Party. On the other hand, there is a growing ferment of unrest in the military caste, discontented with the loss of its power, income and prestige, and the repeated humiliation of Russia on the international stage. Yeltsin is sick and losing his grip on the situation. This has changed the balance of forces within Russia. This fact has consequences in international politics.
It is clear that for months the US have been quietly arming the Bosnian Moslems and their Croat allies, with the acquiescence of Britain, France and Germany. Washington put pressure on Izetbegovic to enter a so-called "Federation" with the Croats. This enabled them to make a successful military advance, but, in practice signifies the subordination of the Moslems to Croatia. Washington's intrigues prepared the way for a new and bloody escalation of the war in Bosnia, preparing the way for a diplomatic carve-up.
The renewed Moslem offensive led to the collapse of the so-called UN "safe havens." The UN just stood by and watched while the Bosnian Serbs overran Srebrenica and Zeppa. However, the Bosnian Serbs miscalculated when they attempted to achieve a complete victory over the Moslems and Croats.
Probably, the rocket attack on Sarajevo was a mistake of the Serbs. In any case, it is quite evident that the imperialists were looking for a pretext to teach the Bosnian Serbs a bloody lesson. The Sarajevo atrocity provided them with a convenient excuse. They launched a hue and cry against the Serbs, while pointedly ignoring all the atrocities perpetrated by their own allies. The US airforce heavily bombed the Serbs, partially crippling their forces, and preparing the ground for the Croat-Moslem counter-offensive.
The US bombing gave Tudjman the green light to attack Krajina. Probably, there was some kind of secret deal struck with Milosevic to avoid the intervention of the Yugoslav (Serb) army at this point. Krajina was allowed to fall, with a catastrophic exodus of 200,000 Serb refugees. The Croat army in the occupied territory carried out the same brutal policy of ethnic cleansing against the Serbs who had inhabited Krajina for 300 years as had earlier been perpetrated by the Serb Chetniks. There is absolutely nothing to choose between them.
The revolting hypocrisy of the imperialists was shown by the fact that the US special envoy in Zagreb, Richard Holbrooke, publicly denied that there was any ethnic cleansing in Krajina, despite the fact that there is a confidential UN report which catalogues the systematic murder of Serb civilians (mainly old people) who remained behind and the burning of Serb villages by the Croatian regular army.
Despite the demagogic promises of Zagreb that the Serb refugees will be allowed to return to Krajina, the facts show otherwise. Tudjman immediately moved to abolish the 13 seats in the Croatian parliament reserved for the Serb minority. A delegation of the US Democrat Party's Institute for International Affairs reported that "The change in the law presupposes that Serbs who have recently left Croatia due to war conditions (!) will not return." (The Independent 27th of October)
The Bosnian experience provides an excellent example of what happens once the class standpoint on the national question is abandoned. Just as the different imperialist powers have their puppets in the ex-Yugoslavia, so the right and left wing reformists have come out on the side of one group of gangsters or another. Former Labour leader Michael Foot recently published an article praising the Croats to the skies and indignantly denying any suggestions that these heroic champions of Liberty were involved in "ethnic cleansing." In this, he merely repeats the propaganda of the bourgeois press, which in turn merely repeats the lying propaganda disseminated by the CIA.
Foot is no better or worse than all the other reformist leaders internationally who have no position independent of imperialism in foreign policy, just as they have no position independent of the ruling class at home. One thing follows logically from the other.
At least the position of the reformists has a certain logic. The same cannot be said of the lamentable spectacle presented by the pseudo-Marxist sects who appear to be obsessed with the need immediately to leap to the support of one or other reactionary nationalist gang. Some supported the Serbs, others the Croats, still others the Moslems. Not one of them maintained a principled internationalist class position. As a result, they inevitably end in a mess.
The unspeakably reactionary Croat ruling clique which proudly speaks in the name of the fascist Ante Pavlic and oppresses and murders Serbs and Moslems, are the agents of German imperialism. They are organically incapable of playing anything but a counterrevolutionary role in their drive to create Greater Croatia. Their recent easy victories (made possible only because Belgrade chose not to intervene) have puffed them up, and may induce them to attempt to retake East Slovenia by force if they cannot get it by negotiation. The Americans are desperately trying to restrain them.
Washington is under no illusions that, if the regular Yugoslav (Serb) army were to intervene, the Croats would get a bloody nose. In an attempt to get the sanctions lifted, Milosevic did not lift a finger to save Krajina. But a Croat attack on East Slavonia would be a very different proposition. Apart from the mineral wealth of the area, it would be a threat to the security of Yugoslavia to have the Croat army on its borders.
The Serbian ("Yugoslav") regime is no more progressive than the Croat one. Their brutal oppression of other nationalities gave the excuse for the ruling cliques in Slovenia and Croatia to break away. They have used the most bloody and ruthless means to pursue their reactionary policy of Greater Serbia, backed by reactionary Great Russian chauvinism which is striving to re-establish its position in the Balkans.
The plight of the Bosnian Moslems has aroused the sympathy of many workers and young people internationally. Undoubtedly, they are the main victims of this bloody conflict. But, on the one hand, the Serb and Croat masses have also suffered, as we saw quite clearly in the brutal expulsion of 200,000 Serbs from Krajina. It is unworthy to distinguish between one set of atrocities as against another. That is the traditional method of cynical diplomats and journalists in wartime, aimed to blame one group and cover up for another. It is the duty of Marxists to cut through this vile deception and expose the real class interests which motivate the different belligerent camps.
The ruling clique in Sarajevo is, in reality, no better than its counterparts in Zagreb and Belgrade. The only difference is that it is too weak to enforce a similarly aggressive policy. Having provoked a catastrophe by its short-sighted policy of attempting to set up an independent state without any real base, Izetbegovic has thrown himself into the arms of US imperialism. Washington thus has a small client state in the area, willing to dance to its tune. The "independence" of even the rump statelet of Bosnia is thus completely mortgaged to its rich transatlantic uncle.
The intervention of the US airforce radically changed the balance of forces in the Bosnian conflict. But it is essential to realise that American air power on its own could not have settled the matter. The main factor was that Milosevic did not intervene on behalf of either the Krajina or Bosnian Serbs. But this situation may not last.
It is significant that the US intervention took place, not under the banner of the UN, but that of NATO, the first time in its history that it undertook such an operation. The reason is quite clear. The Americans realised that Russia was no longer prepared to tolerate military actions against the Serbs. They have therefore unceremoniously dumped the UN, and acted openly through NATO.
Without the support of Belgrade, the Bosnian Serbs were in a weakened position to resist the Croat-Moslem offensive. The latter's advance has brought about a position on the ground which is similar to the 50:50 division of Bosnia envisaged by the American "peace" plan. Clearly, the Bosnian Moslems would prefer the fighting to continue, in the hope of winning more land. But Washington understands the danger in pushing things too far. That is why they prevented the Croat-Moslem forces from taking the Serb stronghold of Banja Luka. Such a catastrophe would almost certainly have forced Milosevic to intervene.
The situation remains fraught with danger from the West's point of view. The decision to replace UN with NATO troops raises new problems. particularly the role of Russia. Russian foreign minister Kozyrev has already been removed for his too pro-Western stand. The Serbs are insisting that the only foreign troops they will accept on their borders are Russian ones. And the Russians have warned that they will not allow their soldiers to be under NATO's command.
The situation is a very uneasy one. However, since none of the great powers wants a war on the Balkans, it seems most likely that some kind of deal will be reached. Pressure will be put on Croatia not to attack East Slavonia, and on the Sarajevo government to restrain its troops. That said, the history of Balkan wars shows that puppets can sometimes act in a way not approved of by their foreign masters. It could not be excluded that, say, Tudjman might try a desperate gambler's throw in East Slavonia, which could unleash a ferocious war with Serbia proper. That would have a profoundly destabilising effect throughout the Balkans, raising the spectre of explosions in Kosovo and Macedonia, which is precisely what the West wants to avoid.
For that very reason, heavy pressure will be exerted by the US to prevent this. In addition, the war-weariness that now exists in all the populations will have an effect. Thus, the most likely outcome is that a deal will be reached. It is not hard to see that the main losers will be the Moslems. Forced by pressure of their American "allies" into a shotgun marriage with the Croats, the Moslems will find themselves second-class citizens in the alleged "Federation." Already the Croats have amended their constitution to give 12 of the 127 seats in their parliament to the approximately 291,000 Croats who live in Bosnia-Herzegovina, although these are supposed to be Bosnian citizens.
All this is a crushing answer to those elements on the Left who argued that it was necessary to support the Croats against the "Serb aggressors" or any other such combination, alleging "immediate, practical considerations." It is utterly monstrous to suggest that Marxists should give one shred of support to the reactionary nascent bourgeois regimes striving to divide the living body of Yugoslavia. No support for the bourgeois or the ex-Stalinist cliques who have brought nothing but war, death and misery to all the peoples of Yugoslavia! The only genuinely practical solution consists of an implacable defence of an internationalist class solution and the revolutionary struggle for a Socialist Federation of all the peoples of the area - the only viable lasting solution for the problems of the Balkans.