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.