Friday, February 27, 2009

"The Destruction of Yugoslavia" by Branka Magas--Part Three

Part Three: Milosevic Assails the Federal Order (1988-89)

I fear I am not doing Magas or her book justice in this drawn-out and rather slapdash review. The problem may be that the book is so dense with detail, yet so drawn-out chronologically (as a natural by-product of being a collection of articles written over a period of 12 years total) that a summary is very difficult to pull off at the length I've chosen. I feel that a longer review would be tedious, since I would merely be giving a page-by-page recount of information presented in the original text, so perhaps for this section and perhaps the following two a brief synopsis will suffice. And let me add--the book is well worth reading.

Magas has already alluded to the class aspect of the breakup of Yugoslavia, but in this section the analysis is even more focused on this theme. As I noted before, it is very odd indeed that the growing rupture between the working class and the Party in Yugoslavia has not been noted in more Western sources. Most notably, it is remarkable how Left-revisionists have deftly avoided this elephant in the room while defending "socialist" Yugoslavia from its alleged Western tormentors.

Magas drills this point home again and again--it was the working class of Kosovo who took up the banner of struggle against the centralization campaign by Serbia and Milosevic. One of the ironies of this period was not the fact that the Federal government of Yugoslavia authorized military force against citizens in violation of the Constitution--that was merely a tragedy, and another sign that the Federal Government increasingly existed only as a hollow shell. The irony was that the Federal Government took this drastic action against citizens who were defending the existing Constitution and the existing institutions of the State!

Besides her adept analysis of the betrayal of the working class by the party, and of the essentially democratic and legitimate struggle of the Kosovar Albanians, Magas also does a fine job of illuminating the rift between Milosevic, and Stambolic and Pavlovic, and of the final battle for control of the Serbian Party.

I cannot do justice to the rich detail the three articles in this section have to offer; I can only encourage the reader to read them for yourself. I will briefly review the final two sections as well, and then move on to another project.

New House Resolution (H. Res. 171) on Bosnia and Herzegovina in U.S. Congress

Courtesy of Bosniak American Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina, here is a link to the text of House Resolution 171 (there is a link to a .pdf file at the bottom of the page--click "Read More" at the bottom), which calls for Constitutional reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It is encouraging that Bosnia has not completely been forgotten. I encourage my American readers to contact your Representative expressing your support for this resolution, and to encourage him or her to continue the pressure.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Breaking News: Milan Milutinovic Acquitted; Others Found Guilty

Short story from AP

Marko Attila Hoare on Seymours "The Liberal Case for Murder"

While I am in the middle of reviewing his mother's book, historian Marko Attila Hoare has tackled yet another in a long line of books adding to the genre of Bosnian/Balkan revisionism and Srebrenica Genocide denial literature. You can--and should--read his thorough demolition of what seems to be yet another example of this dreary, incestuous (revisionists always, ALWAYS quote each other), morally suspect school of disingenuous polemic here. I have some other works of this revisionism in my sights, but Dr. Hoare has pretty systematically made any commentary I would add redundant at best.


I apologize that it has been over a week since my last post on The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracking the Breakup 1980-92. I can only promise that I have not abandoned the project, I simply have been busier than usual lately. I will be posting on Part Three in the next day or two.

Also, in my original post on the book I said I would be writing four posts on the book, one for each Part. Which sounds sensible, except that the book has five parts, not four. Hopefully nobody who read that is already familiar with the book was concerned that my American edition was abridged!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"The Destruction of Yugoslavia" by Branka Magas--Part Two

Part Two: Interregnum (1980-88)

Part Two essentially covers the same time frame as Part One, but instead of focusing on events in Kosovo, the focus here is on the reaction of the post-Tito state to growing economic and social unrest, and on the growing rift between the Party and the working class.

We being with the death of Tito and the resulting fears of threats both external (which seem to have rightly not been considered as dire) and internal--specifically the danger of nationalism, and the dire economic situation the country found itself in. These twin dangers were not unrelated, as republican bureaucratic elites found that nationalism was an effective device to shore up their own power in reaction to economic fear and uncertainty. In the meantime, the working class was increasingly disconnected from the Party and shut out from any considerations of how to deal with the deteriorating economic conditions. With the Federal center weakened and more and more political power devolved to the republics (and more and more economic power devolved to local bosses like Fikret Abdic), the Party proved to be bankrupt of new ideas and of any ability to rally the working class to the cause of Yugoslav unity. Instead, repression and reaction, in hopes to squelching dissent and social disorder until the country somehow, some way managed to recover economically.

Magas notes, more than any other Western source I've read, how much the Polish coup and the resistance of Solidarity in Poland influenced and inspired events in Yugoslavia in the early 1980s. There were demonstrations and petitions in support of the Polish workers, and sometimes the Yugoslav state reacted repressively in reaction, including the mysterious death of Radomir Radovic, an activist worker who had a long history of fighting for workers' rights.

This occurred within the context of a broad campaign of increasing repression throughout Yugoslavia, as even meetings of intellectuals and academics were raided and banned, and participants often arrested, and sometimes incarcerated.

At this point, Magas considers the severe, almost punitive, measures the IMF imposed on Yugoslavia as a result of its enormous foreign debt and continuing economic decline. This is important, because many Left-revisionists have argued that these pressures by the IMF represented the sharp end of the wedge designed by Western interests to dismember Yugoslavia and it socialist economy. While their analysis is ridiculous on the face of it--they have little other actual evidence to support such a claim, even if one can believe that western financial interests desired to the violent disintegration of a nation which owed them so much money, and which possessed resources and an infrastructure which were of much more value intact that war-ravaged--it also ignores the fact that these economic problems were very real, and were not merely the product of Western conniving. Yugoslavia's economy was failing, and the political class lacked the will or the ability to rise above individual Republican interests in order to formulate a coherent, effective response. The alienation of the working class from the Party only furthered the problem--the response of the state was repression, denial, and wishful thinking.

One of the fatal weaknesses of Tito's rule was that he simply sucked all the oxygen out of the room, so to speak--there was no room in the political sphere of the country to consider the difficult realities that the deteriorating economic situation presented; the cumbersome collective presidency that Tito bequeathed to his beloved Federation after his death made it virtually impossible for a coherent, national response to these difficulties to be formulated, much less implemented. The Yugoslav press continued to report on the unpleasant realities the ruling elite and the Party continued to ignore, but the repression of strikes by worker in Bosnia and Macedonia by their respective republican governments--with no intervention on the side of workers by the Party, and no involvement by the Federal government--only underscored the continuing deterioration of the federal center and the growth of increasingly nationalist-leaning Republic governments. The Serbian crushing of unrest in Kosovo--without protest from the Federal government--further demonstrated how power was there for the taking, if unscrupulous demagogues were willing to fan the flames of nationalism, calling for "unity" in the face of unaddressed economic decline.

Decentralization was now a problem, turning republic governments into institutional conduits for nationalism and sectarianism, even as economic decentralization led to the creation of local bosses like Fikret Abdic even as it did nothing to strengthen the position of workers within "socialist self-management."

The campaign against Slovenia in the Serb press only underscored what was at stake--nationalism could be a tool for greater democratic freedom, as Slovene elites fought to maintain their republics political power within a Federation in which an otherwise desirable centralization was in actuality a front for Greater Serb hegemony. The increasing hostility towards the Slovene leadership from an increasingly Serb nationalist-controlled central government, as well as the growing belligerence of the Serb Republican government, in this period is another context which revisionists and Serb nationalist apologists routinely ignore when blaming Slovene separatism for the breakup of the country. Magas makes it quite clear that Yugoslav "unity" was, by the late 1980s, nothing but a sham.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"The Destruction of Yugoslavia" by Branka Magas--Part One

Part One: The Kosovo Watershed and its Aftermath (1981-87)

In the short introduction to this section, Magas notes that, with the imposition of martial law on Kosovo in April 1981, "it was clear that the country as a whole had reached a watershed." A member of the Yugoslav Federation was being treated as a hostile, occupied territory, and security forces were firing on demonstrators, the majority of whom were teenagers. She also notes that there was virtually no public protest from the Yugoslav public, even from the editors of the highly-regarded journal, Praxis. Her shame drove her to investigate the situation; her ignorance of Albanian history drove her to research.

Her initial reporting in Kosovo recognized that socio-economic factors, not inherent fascist tendencies as so many Left-revisionists have maintained, were the driving factors behind the rise of Albanian nationalism in Kosovo. She also recognized that Kosovar Albanians, and the left-wing Yugoslav students who for a time supported their cause, were fighting not to destroy Yugoslavia but to establish Republic status for Kosovo.

When she had completed her research on Albanian history, the result was the lengthy 1983 article "Kosovo between Yugoslavia and Albania." This article artfully summarizes the situation for readers unaware of the historical background, Yugoslav constitutional and political structures, and then-current demographic realities, much of which would be very familiar to readers of this blog. However, Magas comes from a Leftist tradition, and she examines events and institutions through that framework.

She notes that Albanians found it necessary to subjugate all other national considerations in the interests of unity in the early days of national development, in light of expansionist pressures from Serbia and Montenegro. Therefore, Albanian nationalism developed a high degree of unity, but at the cost of delaying all other social developments. The 'internal class struggle' was stunted at this early stage of national development.

Also, while most Western observers recognize that the rebirth of Yugoslavia as a federal republic of nations was the creation of Tito and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (later renamed the League of Communists), it is rarely explained that each individual nation was specifically vested in the new socialist federation by virtue of participation in the revolution and the resistance.

Furthermore, she argues that the failure of the Balkan Socialist Federation, which would have united Yugoslavia with Albania and possibly Bulgaria, was a crucial development in creating the later crisis, by delaying a proper resolution of the status of Kosovo and Yugoslavia's Albanian minority for several years, and finally allowing the province to be subsumed into Serbia, and for the Albanian nationality to acquire what seems to have been second-class status among the nations of Yugoslavia. Other minorities, of course, had a similar status, but the fact that half of the Albanian population was in Yugoslavia made this situation rather different than that of, say, the tiny Bulgarian minority in far eastern Serbia. In short, Tito and the Party leadership kept waiting for the creation of the Balkan Socialist Federation to resolve a number of national and demographic issues, so that no deliberate strategy was instated at the outset of the new political order.

Finally, Magas recognized even then that the "nationalism" which was already infecting Yugoslavia's politics was in large part a creation of decentralization--the bureaucratic elites of the individual republics found that appeals to their respective national majorities were effective tools to mobilize support and deflect criticism. Yet, the future would show that centralization was a devil's bargain, since any attempt to revive the Federal center would in practice strengthen the Serb republic government, which under Milosevic would use "centralization" as a cover for Greater Serb expansionism.

Her fears that the Yugoslav Left opposition were not going to side with the cause of Kosovo turned out, of course, to be well-founded, but while she was perceptive to recognize the danger that the Kosovo situation posed for the future democratization and even survival of the country, it would take some time for the failure of the Left in Yugoslavia to overcome, or even recognize, the dangers of nationalism and centralism to become obvious.

Ultimately, of course, many of the prominent editors of the once-proud Praxis would ultimately disgrace themselves by signing on to an anti-Albanian petition in 1986, as part of the same campaign which produced the infamous "memorandum" from Serb Academy of Arts and Sciences of that same year. In the final article, "Nationalism Captures the Serbian Intelligentsia", she reproduces the anti-Albanian petition mentioned above, and then follows with her September 1986 article "The End of an Era" in which she decries the signing of that petition by three former editors of Praxis, and explains in plain language why the claims of this petition are ridiculous and its demands outrageous and dangerous.

Those three--Zaga Golubovic, Mihailo Markovic, and Ljubomir Tadic--responded directly to her article in a letter to the "Editorial Collective" of Labour Focus on Eastern Europe, which had published her article. Their response was lengthy and maintains a tone of exasperated faux-'reasonableness' which would be familiar to readers of Diana Johnstone. And Magas then includes her reply, which is factual, systematic, comprehensive, and devastating. Considering that no small fraction of this blog has been devoted to similar work, I can only admire the completeness and clarity of her deconstruction of such dissembling.

Her concluding paragraph is worth quoting:

"Thus what above all moved me to write 'The End of an Era' was a real concern that, if such well-known socialists as Zaga Golubovic, Mihailo Markovic, and Ljubomir Tadic were to join the nationalist cause, all hope of seeing the emergence of a genuinely democratic alternative to the present quagmire of bureaucratic and nationalist discord would be set back."

We can only wish, too late, that more on the Left had been listening at the time.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"The Destruction of Yugoslavia" by Branka Magas--Introduction

Left-wing journalist Branka Magas began covering events in Yugoslavia in 1980, in order to track changes in the country after the death of Tito that year. As a result, when the country was destroyed by war in the early 1990s, she was one observer who was not only not surprised, she had a pretty good idea what the underlying causes to the countries agonizing death were.

In 1993, Verso books published a collection of her articles on Yugoslavia from her initial reporting through to the then-still raging war, The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracking the Breakup 1980-92. There are 31 articles collected in this volume, which is divided thematically and chronologically into four sections. I intend to review each section over the next four posts, in order to convey the general sense of her reportage as well as touching on some of the themes she grapples with; themes which unfortunately either did not figure into most Western reporting on the war, or which were used to undermine the case for intervention.


The book begins in 1992, with the war in Bosnia underway, Croatia dismembered and divided, Kosova under martial law and Macedonia living in fear of falling victim to ethnic war itself. Magas pulls no punches in describing the situation, and she makes it clear that the empty noises Western powers were making about humanitarian concerns did not fool her for a second. The arms embargo aided the Bosnian Serb Army and Milosevic, and she knew it then.

She also recognizes that a significant element of the Western Left was getting the situation all wrong; blaming German recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, living in naive nostalgia for the old Yugoslav state without clearly recognizing what centralization meant by that point in time, and so forth.

Magas means to reorient the Left's response to the breakup of Yugoslavia by understanding how it came to be, without being swayed by the superficial socialism of Milosevic or indulging in knee-jerk anti-Western romantic mythologizing of nations and peoples. She understands that Milosevic used nationalism as an ideological tool, something which should be an obvious point but which many revisionists use to confuse criticism of Serbian government actions by showing that the Belgrade regime was not "really" nationalist.

The rest of this Introduction continues to build the argument that, as she puts it, "Yugoslavia did not die a natural death; it was destroyed for the cause of a Greater Serbia." There is nothing in these few pages which would surprise any regular reader of this blog; I only wish to touch on it in order to establish that Magas, even in 1992, clearly recognized the general sequence of events which have long been recognized as a factual and honest account of the political and military events which brought war first to Slovenia, then Croatia, and finally to Bosnia.

The final section of the Introduction (excepting the acknowledgments) begins with this paragraph:

"In 1980, I decided to research the history of Yugoslavia's formation, in order to prepare for the changes to be anticipated after Tito's death. However, study of Yugoslavia's birth in 1981, its speedy decline, and its rebirth after 1945, soon came to merge with examination and assessment of events that seemed to be heading irresistibly towards a final disintegration, not only of the system of 'socialist self-management' but of the country itself. Although the two dimensions of the crisis formed part of the same process, so cannot be separated in physical time, the present book does register the gradual shift from a preoccupation with the fate of 'socialism' in Yugoslavia to a concern with the fate of the country as such."

It is remarkable that so few Western mainstream accounts of the breakup of Yugoslavia have dealt with the specific ills of the socialist system, and of the problems the country faced in an explicitly left-wing context given that it was a socialist federation only two generations removed from a genuinely revolutionary national transformation. This book remains a welcome exception to that rule.

Friday, February 06, 2009

"Jasmin's Heart" Blog

I suspect that most readers of this blog have long been familiar with Jasmin's Heart, and for that matter, I have been reading it for some time now, but until today I never included a link to it. While "J.C." is more interested in art and culture rather than the politics and history which this blog is concerned with, Jasmin's Heart is a worthy Blog which touches on Bosnia and Bosnian issues from time to time, and I would be delighted if I managed to bring it to attention of a few new readers.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

"Bosnia Vault" replaced with "Blogging Balkanistan"

My online comrade Shaina has suspended work on her long-running Bosnia Vault (which she is thankfully leaving up for archival purposes), in order to focus on her new project, Blogging Balkanistan. I encourage all readers to follow her to her new home.


I apologize for my infrequent posting as of late. If it hadn't been for having Peter Lippman's journal entries to pass along, this blog would have been all but defunct for the past two months or so. Indeed, I have been somewhat disengaged from this project and Bosnian/Balkan issues for the past few weeks, but I am happy to report that I am getting back into the swing of things. Expect a couple of book reviews in the immediate future, and I fully intend to be more active in monitoring and commenting on recent events in the region.