The Last Division


February 27, 2008 11:27 | By John Wight

John Wight on the West's shameful role in Yugoslavia's break-up. Kosovo has finally declared independence from Serbia. Mainstream TV news bulletins broadcast scenes of euphoria and celebration on the streets of Kosovo.

Very different images were transmitted from Serbia - scenes of riot police formed up in numbers in front of the US embassy in Belgrade to protect it from protesters hurling missiles and chanting Serb nationalist slogans.

Recognition of Kosovo's independence is expected to be announced by Germany, Britain and the US, while Russia and Serbia have already condemned it.

Inevitably, those well-worn words, "freedom and democracy," have once again been brushed down and rolled out by commentators to describe Kosovo's declaration of sovereignty.

In truth, Kosovan independence merely represents the final stage in the break-up of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the last socialist country in Europe, in a process which began after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The six Balkan republics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia were brought together after the second world war in 1945 to form the socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito, a Croat who led the communist partisans against the nazi occupation of the Balkans and the old monarchist kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Between 1960 and 1980, Yugoslavia enjoyed a period of sustained economic growth that funded its commitment to social and economic justice. Free health care and education was provided as a right for all of its citizens regardless of ethnicity, as was the right to work, a living wage, affordable housing and utilities, and 60 per cent of all industry was state owned and run.

As a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, which was made up of nations that refused to be subsumed into either the Soviet or Western blocs during the cold war, Yugoslavia had influence and prestige on the international stage.

Tito was an astute and a respected leader committed to the principle of self determination and to the forging of alliances with the world's developing nations for mutual advancement.

Yet, despite Tito's refusal to be subsumed into the Soviet bloc, Yugoslavia remained safe from capitalist penetration while the Soviet Union existed as a countervailing force to US-led imperialism.

As soon as the Soviet Union collapsed, however, this protective cloak was removed and the die was cast.

Fuelling the impressive economic growth enjoyed by Yugoslavia during the '60s and '70s was its decision to borrow heavily from the West in order to invest in industry and the production of both export and consumer goods.

This proved a disastrous course, as it rendered Yugoslavia's economy vulnerable to the fluctuations of global markets. As a result of the world recession of the 1970s, export markets contracted with the result that Yugoslavia's export production dried up along with its ability to service its debts.

As a result of this debt crisis, the IMF demanded a restructuring of Yugoslavia's economy to prioritise debt repayment. Stuck between the hammer of indebtedness and the anvil of continued borrowing in order to subsidise its commitment to the provision of education, health care, housing and social security for its citizens, by the late 1980s, the Yugoslav economy was in free fall.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, central banks moved in at the behest of policy-makers in Washington, London and Bonn. Determined to break up the last socialist country in Europe, they threatened to institute an economic blockade unless the Yugoslav government agreed to hold separate elections in each of its six republics.

This threat was enshrined in law in 1991, with the passing of the US Foreign Operations Appropriations law 101-513. A section of this law relating specifically to Yugoslavia committed to cut off all loans, aid and credits within six months unless these elections were held.

Given the extent of US control over the IMF and the World Bank, this legislation was a de facto death sentence for the Yugoslav federal republic.

Its most devastating provision stipulated that only the forces within Yugoslavia deemed democratic by Washington would now receive funding.

Various right-wing factions in each of the six republics benefited directly from this provision and became the recipients of US largesse. It was a measure designed to bring to the fore and exacerbate differences along ethnic lines throughout the six republics that made up Yugoslavia and, in a climate of economic hardship, it was a measure which proved eminently successful.

Germany recognised the secession of Croatia in 1991. Civil war ensued. It lasted for the next eight years until a three-month NATO campaign of air strikes against the recalcitrant Serbs, who'd refused from the outset to toe the line and acquiesce in the break-up of the federal republic, brought it to an end.

Led by the intransigent Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian people were demonised for their refusal to bend the knee, with accusations of genocide and nazi-like atrocities being levelled against their military forces and against their government. After the war ended, Milosevic was arrested and charged with war crimes and genocide.

Of course, as in any war, and certainly in fratricidal civil wars, atrocities are committed by all sides involved. But the Serb people found themselves on the losing side and so on the sharp end of victors' justice.

During Milosevic's trial in The Hague, allegations of genocide were not proven. This was despite the scouring of the countryside, towns and villages, throughout the region for evidence in the form of mass graves and witnesses willing and able to corroborate such allegations.

In fact, before his premature death, which remains shrouded in mystery, Milosevic had managed to turn proceedings in the International Criminal Court into a trial of his accusers, successfully exposing their role and culpability in the break-up of his country.

As for the former Yugoslavia, with its collapse came the inevitable shock therapy in the form of the privatisation of all public services, utilities and state-run industries and, like a pack of rabid and hungry dogs around a carcass, the arrival of global corporations.

As night follows day, this resulted in severe economic hardship and the scourge of unemployment, which led directly to the dislocation of communities, mass migration to the West and, on the back of all this, the rise of criminal gangs involved in people trafficking, the sex and drugs trades and other illegalities.

Kosovo's declaration of independence completes the process of breaking up a nation founded as a vision of brotherhood, peace and unity in a region of the world traditionally beset by war and strife.

Along with the collapse of the Soviet Union before it, the break-up of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will go down as a dark chapter in human history and a setback in the ongoing struggle for human progress.

John Wight lives in Scotland, where he is active in left politics. This article first appeared in the Morning Star