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.


Anonymous said...

"The arms embargo aided the Bosnian Serb Army and Milosevic, and she knew it then."

Everybody knew it then, but the World did not care. Why would anybody care about Bosniaks, about 2 million Muslims of Bosnia? The World wanted us out of Europe. They knew well what the arms embargo would do to us, but they did not care.

Has the World become more compassionate since the Srebrenica genocide? Not really. There is an ongoing genocide in Darfur right now, and the World sits silent.

People like you, Shaina, Owen, et al are all making a tremendous contribution for the defence of human rights. But the World sits silent. And that's exactly why "we" need to stay active and keep human rights in the forefront of blogging and other media.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the books that I found most interesting.

Because the articles were written overtime, it allows us readers to get the feeling of how the environment in Yugoslavia deteriorated.

The part dedicated to the praxis members (ljubomir tadic, etc) is particularly revealing, due to the tone which they use to react to her criticism, which in fact confirms her point.

For my work it was really useful, because I always try to reconstruct on my mind the 'movie' of how things happen.

Anonymous said...

This sounds as if it will be interesting. Hopefully it will provide some insight into the contribution of structural issues such as centralisation vs devolution, socialism vs state control vs private enterprise, to the impetus behind the Greater Serbia project.

Anonymous said...

Spotting and Dumping the Criminal Mind
"...Consider Dostoevsky's analysis of the criminal mind in his masterwork `Crime and Punishment': The criminal assumption is that one has the right and authority to take or confiscate values earned by others so long as someone else has a need for those values."
The Criminal Mind is a mode of thinking that lays the responsibility for taking care of oneself onto others. A person with a criminal mind constantly projects that others owe him something -- be it money, a job, happiness, love, or anything else of value.
You, and your fellow Serbs pretend that you didn’t do anything wrong:
You didn’t humiliated nobody, you didn’t steal nobody, you didn’t tortured nobody, you didn’t raped nobody, you didn’t kill nobody, you didn’t stab nobody, you didn’t shoot nobody, you didn’t kidnapped nobody, you didn’t took the home of nobody you didn’t took the property of nobody, you didn’t took the land of nobody ….
This is the way a Criminal Mind can think. Even the worse criminal tries to justify his self before committing the crime. The same way you are thinking too.
And if the victim react to protect his self in self defense, and hurts you, then you label your prey or victim as an aggressor. What really happen to Croatia?
Along with Slovenia, Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia on June 25, 1991, which triggered the Croatian War of Independence. The Serb population living in border areas of Croatia revolted, supported by the Yugoslav army, and the ensuing months saw combat between various Croatian and Serbian armed forces. During this stage of the war, the independence of Croatia was recognized by the international community, while the Serbs proclaimed their own state, the Republic of Serbian Krajina. The Yugoslav army, controlled by Serbia, armed local Serbs turning them from “innocent civilians” to paramilitary forces. With the direct support of the Yugoslav army these Serb paramilitary forces committed unspeakable crimes against local Croats innocent civilians and put them in the ran. By 1992, troops were entrenched, and so called Republic of Krajina was cleansed from the Croat population, resulting in hundreds of thousands Croat refugees that were displaced and moved to the Croatian side, and more than 20000 dead. The war ended in 1995, when the Croatian Army successfully launched two major offensives to retake the rebel areas by force, leading to a mass displacement of the hundreds of thousands local Serbs from those areas into Serbia and Republika Srpska. Those local Serbs had completed the metamorphosis from innocent civilians, to paramilitary forces and to professional criminals and terrorist. A peaceful reintegration of the remaining Serbian-controlled territory in the eastern part of the country was completed in 1998 under UN supervision, and 130000 from 250000 displaced Serbs reportedly have returned. And if all of this wasn’t enough, Serbian Nation did it again to Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosova and are ready to do it again …