National Sections of the L5I:

The class struggle in Bosnia

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A monstrous crime is being perpetrated against the Bosnian people. Jan Roth analyses the situation, and argues that only working class internationalism can save Bosnia from ethnic partition.

The Bosnian Muslims have been engaged in a just struggle against genocide and for their very existence since Autumn 1992. That struggle is in acute danger of defeat—not just at the hands of the Serb and Croat militias and the arms embargo imposed by the Western imperialist powers, but at the hands of the Bosnian government itself.

The dominant political force in the Bosnian camp is the SDA (Party of Democratic Action). Founded in 1990 by Izetbegovic, it is a bourgeois Muslim party committed to the restoration of capitalism.

Izetbegovic understood from the outset that to restore capitalism he would need to ally himself with imperialism, particularly the European Union (EU). The SDA wanted to rebuild a Muslim dominated state without destroying the multi-ethnic communities. Their leaders knew that anything other than a multi-ethnic Bosnia would mean mass persecution and genocide for the Muslims.

But the very idea of Muslim dominance in a multi-ethnic capitalist Bosnia is completely utopian. Why? Because the masses’ justified hatred of inequality, poverty and privilege will be diverted into national hatred unless an internationalist party puts working class power on the agenda.

Izetbegovic initially provoked mistrust in the non-Muslim communities by purging other ethnic groups from top administrative positions and promoting ‘his’ people. At the same time the SDA’s naive belief that they would receive imperialist backing made them completely unprepared for war.

This gamble paralysed the Izetbegovic government. There are serious indications that the SDA leadership refused to try to break the siege of Sarajevo because they hoped to provoke a NATO intervention. The politics of the SDA weakened the fight in other ways as well. Many Serbs and Croats fought and still fight with the Muslims against Serbian and Croatian progromists. They do so because they want to maintain a multi-ethnic community, and to defend their friends and families of all religions and ethnic groups. There remains strong support in the urban Muslim population for a multi-ethnic society.

But the SDA leadership are incapable of gaining the trust of the mass of Serbs and Croats in Bosnia, the only guarantee of a multi-ethnic state. On the contrary, Izetbegovic’s policy of subordination to imperialism has led to his acceptance of partition.

On 15 September 1993 he signed a secret agreement with the Serb nationalists, in which he accepted that the Bosnian Serbs and Croats should unite with their “motherlands” and supported the Owen-Stoltenberg partition plan.

Izetbegovic’s policy is deeply contradictory. On the one hand he wants to fit in with the imperialists’ terms. But at the same time he has always hoped for a renewed alliance with the Croats.

But in the medium term a smaller version of a multi-national Bosnia is impossible. The destruction and partition of Bosnia has an inherent dynamic: persecution and the displacement of hundred of thousands. This inevitably feeds chauvinism. What is more, the dominant factions within imperialism are still not prepared to back Bosnia against Serbia and Croatia.

These contradictions have led to increased pressures on the Izetbegovic group. The right-wing faction in the SDA is becoming stronger. This Islamic fundamentalist group dominates the influential Muslim Assembly, and has its regional stronghold in the central Bosnian region around Zenica. The military forces under their influence, like the el-Jihad Brigade, are relatively small, but have been responsible for a reactionary “ethnic cleansing” campaign.

Their goal is to reconquer all Muslim areas and create an Islamic state. They rely less on Western imperialism than on material support from Islamic states in the Middle and Far East. They are benefiting from the growing disillusionment among Muslim refugees and peasants in central Bosnia. But their weakness lies in the strong secular and multi-ethnic traditions of the urban Muslim population.

In the army the officer corps is secular and multi-national. Together with mixed working class communities, especially around Tuzla and Sarajevo, they are still fighting against pogroms and partition.

In Tuzla, for example, there are still workers’ detachments, like the miners’ brigade, fighting the Serb militias. But they are led by secular restorationist forces like the Reformist Party (led by former Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Markovic) and the Social Democratic Party (the former Stalinist party). They control the local council in Tuzla and have significant influence in the II Army Corps. But they are drawing ever closer to the SDA regime in their preparedness to accept imperialist terms for a peace deal, clinging to the utopia of a rump Bosnia as a UN protectorate.

These two oppositions—the right and the left—proved strong enough to stop Izetbegovic’s capitulation to the Owen-Stoltenberg plan. But the political weakness of the multi-ethnic wing, and the weak roots of the fundamentalists in the army, enabled the Izetbegovic group to organise a political counter-offensive.

Izetbegovic appointed Silajdzic as the new prime minister, sacked army chief Halilovic and purged the army, replacing critical officers with SDA loyalists. Silajdzic gave his support to a Franco-German proposal for partition—more land for the Bosnians in exchange for lifting the sanctions on Serbia—at the beginning of December. The newly appointed army chief, Delic, came out in favour of continuing the war in the short term to get a better position in the negotiations. Now Izetbegovic and his place-men are preparing terms for a final carve up of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But a reactionary peace deal is not inevitable. Several factors will decide the outcome, the first being the reaction of the Bosnian working class. It would be no surprise if the first reaction of many Bosnians is sheer relief at any cease-fire, irrespective of the terms.

But class organisations still exist. The trade unions and workers’ brigades in Tuzla are still fighting for a multi-national Bosnia. The Serbian soldier uprisings in Banja Luka and Priedor showed the possibility of building a class opposition to the bosses on all sides.

A second factor is the political situation in Croatia. It is possible is that Croat leader Franjo Tudjman will be overthrown. Adoption of the Bosnia-Croatia confederation plan means a fundamental change in the strategy the Croatian leader has been pursuing over the last twoå years. He could be replaced by a bloc comprising sections of the army’s General Staff and the opposition, which has always opposed the carve up of Bosnia.

In the last two weeks Tudjman’s ruling HDZ party has split, leaving him with a parliamentary minority. His opponents claimed he was still too soft on those who have pursued a war against the Bosnian Muslims. The opposition forces have a genuine interest in an alliance with the Muslims. For them, the Serbs are the main enemy.

The third factor is the Serbs. Their leader Milosevic will have to overcome the resistance of some Bosnian Serb forces to the signing of any peace deal. And even if he succeeds, he has still got to deal with the disastrous state of Serbia’s economy. This was the reason for Serbia’s aggressive expansionist policy in the first place.

Whatever peace deal Milosevic is prepared to sign, a renewal of the war in Bosnia by the Bosnian Serbs—or even a war against Croatia—is entirely possible. If Milosevic opts to turn Serbia’s guns to the south, towards Macedonia and Kosovo, in a desperate bid to divert the anger of the masses away from their domestic problems, then he risks sparking a regional conflagration. Everything depends on the development of working class struggle in Serbia against the Milosevic government.

But the decisive factor is the role of Western imperialism. The imperialists face two alternatives. The more they intervene in Bosnia—whether politically or militarily—the greater will be the risk of getting dragged in to a new explosion of the war, and even of increasing tensions between the USA and Russia.

But the less they intervene, the greater the threat that the settlement negotiations will break down. The Serbian offensive on Gorazde was a case in point. While a short term truce is possible, the explosive mixture of national oppression, large amounts of weaponry and the acute crisis in Serbia points to an eventual breakdown of any peace deal.

The Washington agreement between the Bosnian and the Croatian governments is an obstacle to the rebuilding of a multi-ethnic Bosnia. It is designed to prepare for a new, reactionary, war against the Serbs.

Thus the plans for a UN administration in Sarajevo and the UN/Russian conditions for the opening of Tuzla airport are totally reactionary. They increase the power of the imperialists and their allies in the Russian government to enforce a reactionary settlement and deprive the Bosnian working class of any say in the running of their country.

While Croatian military support for the Muslims would not alter our defence of Bosnia, a full scale war of a Croat/Muslim federation against Serbia would be just as reactionary as the initial fratricidal conflict between Serbia and Croatia in 1991.

However in the unlikely event that imperialism launches a full scale war against Serbia, then the international workers’ movement would have to rally to Serbia’s defence, as the best way of preventing the imperialists from imposing their plans on the region. Obviously this would not stop socialists from standing for the defence of all communities against pogroms.

The danger of a sell out by Izetbegovic means that working class resistance in Bosnia must focus on the overthrow of the regime. It must be replaced by a workers’ government based on militias and councils of the multi-national working class.

The Serb soldiers’ uprisings in September and the growing unrest in Bosnian cities shows the possibility of mobilising workers against war profiteers and corruption. Socialists should fight for the building of price-control committees, workers’ control of production and services, and public control of all municipal and state institutions.

A workers’ government would fight any form of imperialist intervention. It would fight against Serbian and Croatian nationalists—not with a Muslim “national” programme but an internationalist and socialist one. It would seek to undermine Serbian and Croatian support for pogromists and reactionaries.

The truth is that revolutionary socialists are the only consistent defenders of the multi-ethnic tradition. To keep that tradition alive means rallying the working class of the whole region to the defence of the Muslims against genocide, opposition to national chauvinism and the restoration of capitalism on all sides, and the fight for a Socialist Federation of the Balkans. That is the only basis on which the principles of national self-determination and economic integration can co-exist.