John Pilger wrong on former Yugoslavia

Image removed.

Kosovans displaced by Milosevic's serb-chauvinist regime.

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By Chris Slee

March 27, 2015 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- In his article, "New threats of war and fascism",[1], John Pilger rightly denounces the history of US military intervention around the world. But he gives a distorted account of the events leading up to NATO's war against Serbia in 1999. He fails to recognise that the previous actions of the Serbian government created the conditions which made NATO's attack on Serbia possible.

The Serbian-chauvinist regime of Slobodan Milosevic had provoked a rebellion by the Albanian population of Kosova [also referred to as Kosovo]. It had also alienated most of the other nationalities of the former Yugoslavia. This left Serbia isolated when NATO attacked.

Pilger condemns the "criminal record" of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA), but seems to absolve the Serbian government of any wrongdoing.

Serbian chauvinism

In reality Serbian chauvinism, promoted by the Milosevic government, was central to the breakup of Yugoslavia. The formation of the KLA was a response to the chauvinist politics of the Serbian regime.

Pushing aside the previous Serbian Communist Party leadership, Milosevic had come to power in Serbia in 1987 on a wave of chauvinism directed against the other nationalities, particularly the Albanians of Kosova.

At that time Kosova had its own provincial government. Kosova was defined by the Yugoslav constitution as an "autonomous province" within Serbia. Milosevic wanted to end Kosova's autonomous status. Peaceful protests by the people of Kosova against this move were violently repressed.

Following the Serbian takeover, the Albanians of Kosova were treated as second-class citizens. Many were dismissed from their jobs and replaced by Serbs. The result was that some Albanians took up arms to fight for an independent Kosova.

Milosevic used the Serbian army as well as paramilitary groups to carry out a reign of terror in Kosova. Pilger downplays the violence of the repression, citing the failure of the FBI to find any mass graves. But a US government agency such as the FBI is not the best source of information on atrocities in Kosova.

The Humanitarian Law Centres of Belgrade and Kosova have carried detailed research, and have documented the killing or forced disappearance of 13,517 people between 1998 and 2000. Of these 10,415 were Albanians, of whom 8661 were civilians.[2]

Milosevic was responsible for the Kosova war, as well as contributing to the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. (He was not the only leader to blame, but given Serbia's military predominance, he was the main culprit.)

Milosevic also began the privatisation of Serbian industry (something Pilger does not mention), and hence was initially viewed very favourably by Western leaders and the International Monetary Fund. His promotion of ethnic hostility undermined working-class resistance to neoliberal policies.

US war

But after Milosevic had done the dirty work of promoting chauvinism, thereby contributing to the breakup of Yugoslavia, the United States government sought to remove him. They wanted a new Serbian government, with leaders who were less discredited by involvement in ethnic violence, but who would continue and deepen the pro-capitalist economic polices that Milosevic had been implementing.

It is not unusual for the US rulers to encourage the overthrow of a regime they have previously supported, if it has outlived its usefulness. The Diem regime in Vietnam is an example Pilger would be very familiar with. Saddam Hussein is a more recent example. He was an ally against the communists in Iraq, and against the Iranian revolution, but he too outlived his usefulness, resulting in the US invasion of Iraq to remove him.

Similarly, Milosevic's repression in Kosova gave the US a pretext to wage war on Serbia. The Serbian defeat led to growing discontent with Milosevic, who was overthrown shortly afterwards. The US was also able to occupy Kosova and ensure a pro-imperialist regime there.

In the 19th century, Lord Palmerston said that British imperialism had neither permanent friends not permanent enemies, only permanent interests. The same applies to the US today.

[Chris Slee is a member of the Socialist Alliance of Australia.]



2. The report is summarised at