Monday, September 27, 2010

"Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" by Silber and Little [10]

Part Three: The Explosion of War

Part Three consists of three chapters which detail how the actual outbreak of hostilities in the former Yugoslavia, first in Slovenia and then in Croatia, and how the international community, most notably Europe, responded.

Chapter 12: "The Hour of Europe Has Dawned" Slovenia's Phony War, June-July 1991

Slovenia's 10 day long "war" of independence is now rightly regarded as a brilliantly-executed piece of political theater carried out by the Slovene and Serb leadership, with the JNA (and the people of Slovenia) largely in the dark as to the real game being played. Another party left out of the loop was the European Community, who sent a "troika" of leaders to Yugoslavia, where they managed to accomplish two things--"force" the Yugoslav leadership into concessions they already planned on making; and revealing just how naive European leaders were for the responsibilities of international diplomacy of this sort, and how fundamentally they misread the situation in the former Yugoslavia. The Europeans never seemed to grasp that the warring parties had clearly-defined goals and rational--if not moral--reasons for resorting to using armed force. The likelihood that European diplomacy was up the task was slim from the very beginning.

Chapter 13: "An Undeclared and Dirty War" The JNA in Croatia July-December 1991

While the war in Slovenia was a largely bogus and stage-managed affair with a pre-determined outcome, the war in Croatia was an all-too-real preview of the even greater horrors to follow in Bosnia. The use of heavy artillery against settled areas, followed by paramilitary forces; the cynical manipulation of the United Nations in order to consolidate gains; ethnic cleansing--it all happened in Croatia. Soon, it would all happen again, at greater extent and over a much longer period of time, in Bosnia.

Chapter 14: Yugoslavia A La Carte Lord Carrington's Plan September 1991-January 1992

This chapter details the failed efforts led by Lord Carrington to get what became known as the "Carrington Plan" agreed to by the various republic leaders, as well as other European diplomatic initiatives, most notably the Badinter Commission, which was driven by German diplomatic pressure on the rest of the EC and which ultimately made the Carrington Plan--which Milosevic at any rate was not going to accept--a moot point. In the meantime, Cyrus Vance was able to broker another deal, one which brought "peace" to Croatia in exchange for a de facto ethnic partition; i.e., the Serbs agreed to let the UN do the dirty work of policing the border between the Serb-controlled areas of Croatia and the rest of the republic.

By the end, the independence of Slovenia and Croatia had been recognized, that of Macedonia was held up by Greek protests (which still reverberate today), and Bosnia was faced with the choice of declaring an independence it was ill-equipped to defend, or remaining in a "Yugoslavia" which by this point was rather nakedly a "Greater Serbia." The Badinter Commission's findings were duly ignored by the EC in the interests of political expediency and deference to German insistence (the commission had rejected Croatia's application), and Lord Carrington's plan was forgotten.

What this chapter makes clear is that his plan was not nearly as ill-conceived, unrealistic, and morally vacuous as many of the famous Western-designed plans for Bosnia which were to come. Carrington understood that the republics--not ethnicity--needed to be considered the constituent units of Federal Yugoslavia. This is the main reason his plan was rejected by Milosevic. His plan also demonstrated how far the international community was willing to go to assuage Serb fears and concerns, contrary to later propaganda claims that the Serbs were being railroaded by an "anti-Serb" international community.


This concludes Part Three. Part Four: Bosnia, is next.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" by Silber and Little [9]

Chapter 10: The Descent Into War Croatia and the Serbs February-June 1991

The situation in Croatia continued to deteriorate, as neither the SDS nor the HDZ were seriously interested in working out a peaceful compromise. The Tudjman government was playing a game of brinksmanship without being fully prepared, even as the Slovenians were much further along in their quiet preparations.

Tudjman and the HDZ took more and more provocative moves to challenge and threaten the breakaway Serb areas even as the SDS consolidated its hold over Serb majority areas through a combination of propaganda (which the HDZs extreme rhetoric helped legitimize) and strongarm tactics against moderates within the Serb community. In Slavonia, it took a sustained campaign of nationalist intimidation to force out the moderate leadership of the not-yet radicalized Serb natives.

In the meantime the JNA began to get dragged into the conflict, slowly morphing into a de facto "Greater Serbia" army in the process. The SDS began a clever strategy of taking provocative actions, egging the Croatian government into a response, which would then justify intervention by the JNA, which would move in to come between the two parties, thus demarcating more territory for separatist Serbs.

Chapter 11: Conversations of the Deaf The Last Chance Squandered May-June 1991

Last-ditch, half-hearted efforts at constitutional reform, and perfunctory and half-baked diplomatic signals from the United States gave only faint and illusory hope that war could be averted. Izetbegovic of Bosnia and Gligorov of Macedonia tried to convince the other republic leaders that it was not too late to avert war by reconfiguring Yugoslavia into what would be called an "asymmetrical federation", but the Croat and Serb leadership were not truly interested in the plan.

US Secretary of State James Baker and Ambassador Walter Zimmerman both gave the warring parties the same mixed messages, which ultimately added up to one clear message--the West was simply not paying that much attention.

Some of the concerned parties were sincerely interested in averting war, but they were not the parties in a position to do so. It was too late.


This is the end of Part Two; I apologize that this review has taken so long. The real reason isn't that I think the text is difficult to follow--anything but. I have been going chapter by chapter for the very simple reason that it has been years since I've read this book and I wanted to re-read it for the review. Which normally wouldn't be a problem, but with graduate school and other claims on my time it's been a slow process. I will try to pick up the pace and get this project moving a little quicker.

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" by Silber and Little [8]

Chapter 9: "If we don't know how to work, at least we know how to fight"

Further subtitled "The Decisive Month", this chapter details political events in March of 1991. The opening two sentences summarize the import of these events:

"March was the decisive month. Milosevic set the country on the course to war."

That is really what this chapter is all about--the grubby details elaborating the process by which Milosevic took off the gloves, and, in certain select company, the mask of being bound by legality and of maintaining any pretense to Yugoslav unity. Faced with mass uprisings and the possibility of the people turning against him, the man who a few short years earlier had claimed the mantle of Serb nationalism by telling the Serbs of Kosova "nobody should dare to beat you" sent the riot police to beat the Serbs of Belgrade, even as his deputy Jovic was trying to strongarm the collective Presidency into authorizing the JNA to take military action against dissent. Reading this chapter alone makes one wonder how Balkan revisionists are able to maintain the fictions their delusional versions of Yugoslavias' demise require.

This chapter is crucial not only for the portrait of Milosevic nakedly throwing Yugoslavia under the bus and declaring himself committed to a de facto Greater Serbia; it also undermines the propoganda that he was merely following the dictates of public passion of the Serb people. It is worth noting that at the moment when Yugoslavia teetered towards war, the Serbs of Serbia stood against him and forced him to play authoritarian strongman.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

"Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" by Silber and Little [7]

Chapter 8: "You've Chosen War"
The Arming of Slovenia and Croatia, April 1991-January 1991

This chapter details efforts by the newly elected governments of Slovenia and Croatia to arm themselves. The JNA--which now viewed TOs as a danger to national unity in republics with multiparty elections--had already disarmed the TO (Territorial Defense) forces in Croatia, and made moves to do the same in Slovenia; although largely successful, the Slovenes managed to halt this move before it was completely sucessful. Small-scale smuggling was organized to augment the remaining stash of mostly small arms.

In Croatia, where the TO had largely already been eliminated, smuggling was carried out on a much larger scale. The JNA, unwilling (under the wavering leadership of Kadijevic) to take decisive action without orders from the Federal Presidency, watched with growing alarm as domestic spying accumulated damning evidence of what Croatia was up to.

The collective Presidency would ultimately never give Kadijevic the go-ahead he desired for legal legitimacy. While Milosevic had four of eight votes, Macedonia stayed out and Bosnia stuck to its guns and refused to give the JNA the majority it needed.

In the meantime, Milosevic was moving towards embracing the idea that nations--but not republics--had the right to leave Yugoslavia. He still paid lip service to Yugoslav unity, but this was increasingly a tactical position, not an inflexible belief. He would begin to move away from a strategy of keeping Yugoslavia united and towards a plan to keep all ethnic Serbs--and the land they lived on--united in one state. And he would begin the process of turning the JNA away from its traditional mission of defending Yugoslavia towards becoming, in mission and makeup, an instrument for creating Greater Serbia.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

"Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" by Silber and Little [6]


Chapter 7: "The Remnants of a Slaughtered People"

The Knin Rebellion, January-August 1990

The chapter opens with a sobering anecdote; Milan Babic, the future SDS heavyweight, recounts how he was taught as a child that the scar on the old tree outside their house had been cut by the local Ustasha member who had come to kill his father, who was then only 12 years old. His father was lucky to escape with his life, and the complicity of local ethnic Croats became part of Babic family lore from then on.

There are a few notable things about this story. First, it is by no means an anomaly--ethnic Serbs in the Knin area were frequently the victims of Ustashe atrocities. Secondly, the Babic family legend about the scar in the mulberry tree was also typical, in that it represented the sort of folk history about World War II which contradicted the official Titoist history, and which was passed along secretively within communities, families, and ethnic groups. Thirdly, the fact that Milan Babic was so personally affected by this story should not obscure the fact that he was born 15 years after the incident. There were certainly many stories which could have been passed on to him and other members of later generations, but the story of the murderous Croat neighbor was the one which he remembered most. This, too, was no anomaly in Tito’s Yugoslavia.

The rest of this chapter recounts the growth of the Serb Democratic Party in the Krajina, the former frontier region of Croatia where most of Croatia’s ethnic Serbs lived, and where memories of Ustashe terror had been both passed down and kept alive; fertile ground for nationalistic ideologues to recruit. Tudjman’s clumsy nationalistic sloganeering only fanned the flames. By the time Milosevic shrewdly and discretely moved in to put Belgrade’s support into the mix, the Krajina Serbs were already well on the way towards being radicalized, organized, and armed.

The first armed confrontations between the nascent regime in Zagreb and the fledgling statelet based around Knin (which would soon grow much larger) ended without bloodshed or even any shooting. But it was still an armed confrontation; Milosevic was one step closer to abandoned an effort to dominate Yugoslavia and beginning to carve out an exclusively Serb state from its corpse instead.