Intervention and anti-imperialism

Chris Burford cburford at
Mon Apr 12 05:19:03 PDT 1999

Comments and replies to Jim H

At 09:04 10/04/99 Jim Heartfield wrote in reply to DL:

>I certainly would not want to leave out of
>account the prior hostility Serbs felt towards the Albanian Kosovars.
>However, these ethnic tensions would never have gotten any more violent
>than those in other parts of the world - but for the
>internationalisation of these conflicts. The key Western powers in
>London, Washington, Bonn and Paris introduced new motivations and
>inducements to greater separation. The message to Yugoslavia's
>minorities was, 'break away and you will get Western recognition and
>western aid'. That was an irresponsible intervention that turned ethnic
>tension into ethnic war.

This covers up the fact that Milosevic won the election on a platform of confronting the Kosovans, and in 1989 he removed their autonomy. This apologises for his chauvinism, by making out it was the responsibility of western imperialists.

It is in surprising contrast to the article from LM that Jim H forwarded entitled "History of Kosovo" which details Serb oppression of the Albanians.

>I don't deny that there is Serbian chauvinism in the rump republic of

Do you deny it is in the driving seat?

>My point is that Western intervention makes those ethnic
>tensions greater, not less.

In the short term confronting fascism makes it more difficult for liberals in that country, true. How does one confront fascism successfully? By appeasing it?

> It is not just, but it is predictable that the Yugoslav forces
>would have attacked the enemy to hand, lacking the firepower to attack
>the enemy in the skies.

Do you deny the accuracy of comments that the Serbs told the Albanians in Kosovo that they were looking forward to the NATO attacks so that they could sort the Albanians out? Do you deny that the speed of departure of the deportees suggests a prior plan and not just that the occupying forces had edgy nerves?

Do you deny that many clearances had happened before the NATO attacks, and that the politics from which this war sprang, were already clear?

>I really am amazed sometimes at what pricks Americans are when it comes
>to wars. I realise that America has never been subjected to a bombing
>raid, but you really should try to think about what that might feel like
>- and then ask how rational you would be in that situation.

Probably more rational than if I was ordered out of my house, the roof blown off and I was ordered to leave my country past bodies lying on street corners.

>The only thing that is clear to me is that you have a racial view of
>what the people of the Balkans are like. The people of the Balkans are
>various. To your mind they seem especially prone to ethnic hostility -
>but if you stood back a little from your own prejudices you would
>recognise that it is you that is especially prone to ethnic hostility.
>You want to stereotype all people in the Balkans, but the vast majority
>of people there are not involved in any kind of militia activity, or
>nationalist politics - they are, like people all over the globe
>disengaged from the activities of their governments and local

So how come that it is the fault of *western imperialism* that the Milosevic government is behaving like fascists, social fascists to be precise since they are socialist in name but fascist in deed?

DL has a non-materialist explanation of conflict in the Balkans. The roots of Serb fascism lie in a reactionary notion of the nation, after the time of rising capitalism when the nation was a progressive social formation. They are trying to defend their economy on an embattled nationalist state basis, whereas they have no choice long term other than to join the multi-ethnic superstate of Europe.

(That does not mean that I think they should be *coerced* to do so: they should be coerced to stop coercing Albanians by means of terror to leave their homes.)

>> When you say is responsible for "engendering" the political
>>fragmentation of Yugoslavia, you really mean that the West was responsible
>>for *encouraging* that breakup. "Engendering" implies that the West can
>>control the intent of the warring factions and that is not true. Could the
>>West "engender" the breakup of the United Kingdom? The obvious truth is that
>> there never was a politically stable Yugoslavia.
>Yes but you fail to realise that unstable Yugoslavia does not add up to
>Warring Yugoslavia: you need the promise of support to national
>minorities to do that. In Croatia, the US military trained the army that
>dispossessed tens of thousands of Serbs from there homes. Now the US is
>paying for military training for the KLA and bombing Belgrade. Does that
>not count as engendering division?

This is a whitewash of the main aggressor in the former Yugoslavia. Certainly there were strong fascist features to the Tudjman regime which I pointed out at the time a number of times. But the war of aggression was launched by Serb nationalists on multi-ethnic Bosnia.

And in Kosova now, if the US were arming the KLA they are not doing it very effectively. On the contrary one of the imperialist features of US intervention has been the creation of illusions that they would act on behalf of the Kosovans who were to remain passive.

There is no comparison in the aid the US has given the Kosovans and the aid they gave the fundamentalists in Afghanistan.


And directly in reply to me:-

>Date: Sat, 10 Apr 1999 21:00:15 +0100
>To: lbo-talk at
>From: Jim heartfield <jim at>
>Subject: Re: Intervention and anti-imperialism.
>In message < at>, Chris
>Burford <cburford at> writes
>>I do not know the point that Jim H is making abour the suspension of
>>democracy in Bosnia. I do not know the details or the underlying policy.
>>Perhaps for bad and discreditable reasons Bosnia wished to secede from the
>>Yugoslav federation. My understanding is that the Serb nationalist response
>>was to attack to split is and dominate as much of the land as possible in
>>ethnically pure territories. The Croats then moved to grab other areas. Am
>>I wrong in that?
>I am a bit surprised that you have not interested yourself more in the
>fascinating political experiment that has been undertaken in Bosnia. Now
>under the rule of the OSCE, UN and Nato, its constitution contains some
>truly intriguing features.

I doubt if either of us is too surprised that I have not interested myself more.

>First the Dayton Agreement puts all powers ultimately in the hands of
>the UN High Representative; the governor of the central bank is
>constitutionally barred from being a citizen of Bosnia (!) and is
>appointed by the IMF; all elections are run by the OSCE, which has final
>decision over the eligibility of candidates, and publicity (see below);
>Annex 1-A to the Dayton agreement gives Nato complete control of
>military activity within the state, article IV giving the IFOR forces
>'complete unimpeded movement' throughout Bosnia; Finally the citizens of
>Bosnia are constitutionally barred from changing their own constitution,
>leading Michel Chossudovsky to ask the pertinent question whether it
>could even be called a constitution.
>The powers of the OSCE and the High Representative in determining the
>outcome of elections has been used freely. The OSCE ruled not only that
>candidates who opposed the Dayton agreement would be automatically
>barred from standing, but that those who did not openly express their
>support for it would also be disciplined. Furthermore, the OSCE acted
>against television stations (generally Serb ones) who failed to endorse
>The details of the bastard constitution of Bosnia and its dictatorial
>powers over the Bosnian people can be seen in
>David Chandler, Bosnia: Faking Democracy After Dayton, Pluto Press,
>also worth reading is the chapter on Bosnia in
>Chossudovsky, Michel, The Globalisation of Poverty: Impacts of the IMF
>and World Bank Reforms, Zed Books (1997)
>Of course this kind of cancellation of democracy under Western
>domination is never examined. And yet this is the regime that the West
>is seeking to impose no upon Kosovo. Independence, anyone?
>Jim heartfield

I am not impressed by Jim H's adulation of bourgeois forms of democracy. As we all know from our direct experience, quite apart from theory, the degree to which any constitution gives democracy is very limited in the sense of power for individuals to change their lives. The reality for example in Britain is that we do not really have the power to alter the financial market interest rates. Even if the Chancellor of the Exchequer took this power back from the Bank of England, he could not dare to go much outside what the IMF thought good practice.

I find Jim H'a use of emotive words like "bastard" and "dictatorial" disingenuous. He knows that there was a war of aggression by Serb nationalists against a multi-ethnic state. He knows it is alleged that 200,000 muslims were killed. He knows about the massacres in places like Srebrenica.

He also knows as a marxist or former marxist (I do not understand the full reasons why LM changed its name from Living Marxism) that a state is a machine for stabilising society in the interests of the ruling class, by force. If any sort of state structure was to be possible in Bosnia after the genocide there, some force had to be imposed. The provisions are clearly ones to take controversial powers away from the domination of one communal group against another.

They also give class dominance to finance capital, as in many western states. But if he thought that Bosnia should have been a socialist state, then the people who claimed to be Serbian socialists were going a funny way about building working class unity, by letting one nation oppress another so destructively.

Jim H wants peace on the Balkan aggressors terms, not just out of helplessness and indecision. He clearly feels a commitment to support the claims of Serb nationalism versus Albanian nationalism. It that because Serb nationalism has a socialist label? - because if so it is all the more dangerous.

Chris Burford


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