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War and Peace in Bosnia. No imperialist solutions!

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Dave Stockton assesses the west’s options after the Bosnian Serbs’ rejection of the Vance-Owen plan

Bosnia-Herzegovina is like the Hell of Dante’s “Inferno”. It has many circles each lower and more horrific than the next. For nearly two months its people have been hanging on the edge of yet another fearful precipice.

Three more terrifying alternatives face them. One possibility is that the brutal forces of the Bosnian-Serb statelet headed by Ratko Mladic will complete their genocidal assault on the fragmented Bosnian Muslim and multi-ethnic enclaves.

The second alternative is that Clinton will order an aerial bombardment of the Serbs that will throw a spark into the Balkan Powder keg, although the implementation of this option is held back by the divisions between the US and EC, as well as the divisions within Europe itself.

The third, and the favoured alternative of imperialism, is that the Bosnian Serbs could be forced into signing up to a peace agreement.

Far from being a progressive solution the ill-fated Vance-Owen plan was from its inception a recipe for “ethnic cleansing”, unjust by any democratic, let alone working class standards.

From the moment the Vance-Owen map was published a series of violent Croat-Muslim conflicts broke out and Ratko Mladic began the first Bosnia-wide co-ordinated campaign to seize the northern corridor and to eliminate the enclaves in eastern Bosnia.

Two months ago there was a large enclave, around Cerska. But Serb militias conquered Cerska in March, killing hundreds and forcing out 10,000 Muslim inhabitants who then swelled the refugee population of Srebrenica to over 30,000.

Then it was Srebrenica’s turn. The siege of Srebrenica began in April 1992. No food convoys or UN humanitarian aid reached the city until November. By 18 April—with nearly 3,000 dead and over 14,000 wounded—Srebrenica was a conquered city, passing over to effective Serb political control if not yet military occupation.

If the Vance-Owen plan were ever to be realised on the ground it it will entrench ethnicity and appointment as an everlasting system. Its provinces are given a Lebanon style system of governors, chosen according to ethnic group with only Sarajevo retaining a multi-ethnic character.

It neither separates the nationalities on a democratic, sovereign state basis nor does it allow for the mixing of peoples—the unity of workers on a class basis. It freezes all the reactionary horrors of the last two years and would, in turn, unleash another round of forced population transfers, “low intensity” guerrilla warfare and terrorism.

The Bosnia envisaged in the plan is not a “state” in any meaningful sense of the term; there is to be no common legislature, no general judiciary, no state army, probably no central bank or common currency. In short, the Vance-Owen plan is a plan for the permanent division of the country. Their only desire is that it can prevent the Serb and Croat held territories from being absorbed into their respective “motherlands”.

As far as the reactionary nationalists are concerned the plan is a complete non-starter. The plan obliges the Serbs, who have won over 70% of Bosnia on the battlefield (particularly eastern Bosnia around Srebrenica, Gorazde and Foca), to give these back to a Muslim dominated province.

They also have to abandon their attempts to conquer a “corridor” in northern Bosnia to link Bajna Luka and the Krajna to eastern Bosnia (and Serbia). Virtually every one of the ten areas contains a significant minority population. The enclaves are not to be entered by the forces of the majority nationality so in reality these are likely to remain armed to the teeth to defend themselves against their new rulers.

Faced with the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 it was suicidal for the Bosnian Muslim community to follow the utopia of “national independence” advocated by Alia Itzetbegovic. In his intoxicated drive for EC-recognised independence he drove many Serbs and Croats into the hands of the nationalists. The Serb boycott of the independence referendum doomed Bosnia to civil war.

At the start of the war in Bosnia the LRCI supported neither the Croat-Bosnian government nor for the Serb’s. We recognised the right of every community, Muslim, Serb or Croat or, indeed, integrated and mixed areas, to defend themselves against ethnic cleansing.

But we argued that workers should not align themselves with the war aims of any of the three leaderships or with the “victory” of any of them. Each of their solutions to Bosnia’s problems was reactionary.

Events in the autumn of 1992 altered the situation with regard to the Bosnian Muslims. The collapse of the Muslim-Croat alliance and the secret deal between Serbia and Croatia to carve up Bosnia made it clear that the character of the war had changed. For the Muslims and their other ethnic allies—the Gypsies, the mixed populations, the non-nationalist Serbs and Croats—it became a war against national, political and social oppression; a war against genocide.

The regime of Alia Itzetbegovic was not thereby transformed into a progressive force. He remained a protagonist of “Muslim ethnicity” and a willing accomplice of imperialism in restoring capitalism in the region.

Nevertheless, the Bosnian government cannot be seen in any way as the favourite, let alone the main tool or instrument of imperialism. Imperialism, through the UN, has imposed an arms embargo that effectively disarmed them.

The Bosnian Serbs had limitless supplies of weaponry, inherited from the Yugoslav army, shipped in from the large scale Serbian armaments industry. The Croats too have been armed by Germany. It was Bosnian Muslims who were specifically disarmed by this embargo.

The Vance Owen plan confirms the Bosnian Muslims as the main victims; while they are awarded more land than they now hold the Muslims—who represent 44% of the population—will be allocated much less than one third of the land.

Support for the Bosnian Muslims in no sense means that people should endorse all actions their militias may take. Our support is critical. We do not pretend that their forces have committed no atrocities.

As recent events around Vitez show, all sides remain capable of ethnic cleansing. And all ethnic cleansing must be condemned. But after the fall of Jaice and Prozor the war was transformed into one primarily aimed at the destruction of the Bosnian Muslims as a community.

The fatuous argument that both sides carry out atrocities may comfort priests, petit-bourgeois moralists and sectarians.

For Leninists approaching the national question, the task is to say who is systematically oppressed, who is fighting a justified war of national defence, who is fighting a war for national privileges and aggrandisement?

When the war itself became a war of survival revolutionaries had no option but to side with the Bosnian Muslim forces. We are in favour of their victory against their enemies to stop their further displacement and to recover the areas from which they were driven and had control. Moreover, we support their right to return to all homes and villages from which they have been expelled.

Yet in no circumstances can we support the intervention of western imperialist forces, in the shape of the UN and NATO. When the UN troops went in it did not defend working class communities and only acted to enforce the reactionary plans of the imperialists. That is why we do not support calls emanating from the windbags of Social Democracy for intervention.

The imperialists’ current dithering over intervention has real material roots. Imperialism has not yet adopted the political goal of smashing Milosevic, for several interrelated reasons.

First, Tudjman has resolved to reconquer every inch of Serb held territory in Croatia. Western intervention would signal the start of this and the imperialists would find themselves in alliance with the fascist HOS militia.

Secondly, an anti-Serb intervention would split NATO and the EC, destabilising the whole region. Greece fears expanding Turkish influence in the Balkans. It has refused to allow Turkish planes to overfly the country to implement the no-fly zone in Bosnia. At the same time a faction of its government is covertly pro-Serb because of the Macedonian question.

Thirdly, Serbia remains a strong military power with its own arms industry which could not be simply bombed and fought into submission like Iraq without enormous overhead military and political costs to the west. An older generation of imperialist politicians recalls that the Serbs (and the Greeks) held down and defeated some of Nazi Germany’s best divisions in a bloody guerilla war.

However, the recent display of imperialist indecision faced with these potential costs emboldens the Bosnian Serb leaders—Mladic and Karadjic—and may lead them to press on with their arch-reactionary project of seizing all but the Croat dominated west of Bosnia.

Such a total flouting of the will of the US, the EC and the UNO could force the bickering allies to take some sort of punitive military action in Bosnia, not out of compassion for the victims of genocide but to defend imperialist “law and order” worldwide.

In that situation workers the world over should have no hesitation in denouncing it, campaigning for troop withdrawal and giving critical support to those fighting the imperialist presence.

Given Milosevic’s compliance with the Vance-Owen plan any initial intervention would likely be a limited air attack on Serbian Bosnian emplacements.

This would not in and of itself constitute an attack on the Serbian degenerate workers’ state but such action should be condemned and any action by the Bosnian Serbs to defend themselves should be supported. However, such an attack would not in nor of itself change the character of the war in Bosnia and oblige us to renounce our defence of the Muslims.

In the meantime the working class has to face the fact that there are no easy solutions to the conflict. To stop disaster now may be impossible. Revolutionaries have to address this situation by drawing a class line in the conflict, refusing to be drawn into the orgy of national chauvinism, and preparing for the moment when exhaustion with the hate and carnage forces workers to look to a revolutionary alternative, just as they did at the end of the First and Second World Wars.

Immediately we can and must campaign for the lifting of the imperialist blockade on all the warring participants. It is in fact an arms blockade of the Muslims only, since the Muslims have no heavy weapons and cannot make them.

The economic blockade of Serbia, on the other hand, hits the Serbian workers. It closes more factories and increases the ranks of the desperate lumpenproletariat who flood to join the chauvinist militias and the parties such as Vojeslav Seselj’s Serbian Radical Party.

Workers should actively seek to mount solidarity with the Muslims fighting to defend themselves, so they are not driven into the arms of US senators and ex-Prime Ministers who call for a lifting of the arms embargo.

We have to campaign vigorously for the right of the refugees to enter the EC and other European states. Workers should announce that all the refugees of this war are welcome!

We say to the hypocritical liberals and Social Democrats; if you want to do something for the Bosnians then call for the opening of the borders to refugees and provide homes, food and clothing for them until they want to go home.

We have to spell out to a whole generation of youth, not only in Eastern Europe but in the west, a fact that is becoming blindingly obvious: the imperialist new world order is a hell without end.

If capitalism is allowed to survive—with its poisonous racism and nationalism, its military machine, its hypocritical politicians—horrors like the Bosnian conflict will proliferate and draw millions into the holocaust.