Yugoslavia, Washington and the `Balkanisation' of Bolivia

By Michael Karadjis

I feel forced to write to correct some confusion that has been circulating regarding the current US ambassador to Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, who has been supporting the so-called ``autonomy'' referendum by the Bolivian oligarchy.

A continuous line has come out that Goldberg ``has experience in partition'' because he allegedly participated in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. This tends to be a secondary point alongside a more general point that erroneously compares actual oppressed nations, such as the Kosovar Albanians, the poorest people in Europe, who have striven for independence for over a century, with the rich oligarchy of low-lands Bolivia, engaged in an imperialist-backed destabilisation of the Bolivian revolution.

Along with Kosova, some also list Tibet and other examples of so-called ``secessionism'' as being related to the Bolivian oligarchy's campaign. One feels compelled to add Palestine, Eritrea, Bangladesh, East Timor, Aceh, Tamil Ealam and other national liberation struggles by oppressed peoples just to make it consistent.

Much more could be said on the unscientific nature of such comparisons, but the essential point is that when Lenin was advocating the right of oppressed nations to self-determination he would have been surprised to see people a century later managing to confuse this with any ``right'' of oppressor classes to the same.

If struggles by oppressed nations and oppressor classes are now going to be all lumped together as ``secession'', perhaps we ought to go back to the long ``struggle'' of the white Rhodesian elite against Britain, and declare it fundamentally similar to the struggle of the black Zimbabwean masses against that elite –- both advocated ``secession'' from Britain.

The claims about Goldberg and the Balkans appear aimed at fitting out this false comparison with a coordinator. If the same bad guy, now stirring up the Bolivian oligarchy to ``secession'', previously also pushed for ``secession'' of nations of the former Yugoslavia, then this proves how wicked those peoples of the Balkans were for struggling for self-determination against an oppressive regime.

The problem is, it is a house of cards. According to one such article, by Marina Menéndez Quintero (``Bolivia Is One Sole Nation'') in the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde:

``The activity of US Ambassador Philip Goldberg — who was an assistant of Richard Holbrooke, identified as one of the strategists in the disintegration of Yugoslavia — and whose arrival in Bolivia is related to the break out of the first separatist actions...''

Similarly, we read:

``Between 1994 and 1996 he was Special Assistant to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, one of the strategists behind Yugoslavian disintegration ... Goldberg, recognized as an expert in stoking ethnic or racial conflicts and his experience in Bosnia’s ethnic struggles preceding the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, would be key in Bolivia'' -- Roberto Bardini, ``The Ambassador of Ethnic Cleansing'', May 3, 2008, http://machetera.wordpress.com/2008/05/03/the-ambassador-of-ethnic-cleansing/.


Let's look at the chronology. Yugoslavia broke up in 1991-92. At that time, Goldberg's boss Holbrooke, a Democrat, was nowhere near either the then US Republican government, or the Balkans, so could hardly have been a ``strategist behind Yugoslavian disintegration''. In any case, the US Republican regime of George Bush senior strongly opposed the ``secession'' of the non-Serb Yugoslav republics, and supported ``the unity of Yugoslavia'' to the bitter end. It was full of folk like Eagelburger and Scowcroft (and Kissinger just behind the scenes) up to their eyeballs in Yugoslav commercial and other connections.

US State Secretary James Baker went to Belgrade in June 1991 on the eve of Croatia's independence referendum –- also the eve of the Serb-dominated ``Yugoslav'' army's massive six-month bombing and ethnic-cleansing war against that republic -– and declared the US was for the maintenance of ``the unity of Yugoslavia'' by all means, and called the Croatian and Slovenian referendums ``illegal and illegitimate''. A clear green light to Milosevic to launch his war. Even after the following six months of slaughter, when the EU and Russia finally recognised the constitutionally legal independence of the two republics in January 1992, the US still refused for several more months.

Clinton's Democrat regime did not take power until January 1993, by which time the former Yugoslav federation was long gone. Now there was a horrific war going on in Bosnia, one of the now independent former republics, as Serbia and Croatia and their Bosnian proxies ethnically cleansed the Bosnian Muslim plurality of the population from vast areas of that country in order to partition Bosnia between them. The EU obliged with one after another ethnic partition plan to recognise this ethnic cleansing. The idea that these ``Bosnian ethnic struggles'' of 1992-95 could have ``preceded'' the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1989-92, as suggested above, is quite a leap of faith.

Goldberg arrived on the scene in 1994. As explained, between 1994 and 1996, Goldberg was special assistant to Holbrooke, then Clinton's chief of Balkan diplomacy. And in this capacity, Holbrooke certainly was an architect of partition: not of Yugoslavia, but of Bosnia.

Holbrooke's crowning achievement was the 1995 US-engineered Dayton partition plan of Bosnia, which ended the war on Serbian terms. In half of Bosnia, a ``Serb Republic'' was recognised, despite Serbs being only 30% of the population, and despite this territory having been ethnically cleansed of about 1 million non-Serbs, about half its pre-war population. This included the whole of eastern Bosnia, formerly overwhelmingly Muslim in population, which had suffered genocide at the hands of Milosevic's thugs in 1992. Holbrooke's ``peace'' plan recognised this genocidal disappearance of this Muslim majority (along with 1700 mosques destroyed to make sure no-one suspected the Muslims were ever there).

Holbrooke's partners in the Dayton crime were Milosevic and his Croatian partner Tudjman, in fact it is often called the Holbrooke-Milosevic-Tudjman plan. The biggest losers were the Bosnian Muslims and mixed-heritage Bosnians, who had fought to retain a multi-ethnic constitution, reflecting the multi-ethnic reality that had been Bosnia, and the population spread of Muslims throughout the mixed republic.

Even Srebrenica, a Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia which had just been overrun by Serbian general Mladic in July 1995, a couple of months before Dayton, where 8000 Muslim captives were summarily slaughtered in Europe's largest massacre since World War II, was ceded to the Serb Republic.

Even worse, Holbrooke has been accused of having given the green light for the Bosnian Serb army to take Srebrenica. In a 2005 interview with the French magazine Paris-Match, he admitted his initial instructions from national security adviser Anthony Lake were to sacrifice the three remaining Muslim ``enclaves'' in East Bosnia –- Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde –- to the Serb nationalists. He has long claimed he rejected pressure to abandon Gorazde, leaving the question of the other two unclear. The same issue of Paris-Match had an interview with the chief prosecutor of the Hague Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, Carla del Ponte, who claims that Western officials held a meeting with Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic in 1995, to discuss the plans to seize Srebrenica.

The reason for such dealing was that the US felt the map to divide Bosnia 50/50 needed first a little ``tidying up'' (which was also the Bosnian Serb leadership's condition for signing Dayton) –- and a Muslim ``enclave'' still rudely sticking out into east Bosnia, from where all the rest of the Muslim population had been expelled, was considered too untidy.

So the dismemberment of Bosnia, not Yugoslavia, appears to be Goldberg's major experience in partition and dismemberment.

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However, while still unrelated to the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, the Bardini article also makes another assertion about Goldberg's career. It says that ``after serving as Deputy Chief of Mission in Santiago de Chile between 2001 and 2004, Goldberg went once more to the Balkans to head the Kosovo mission, where he worked until 2006 to break away Serbia and Montenegro''.

However, it would be quite a remarkable achievement if he had really worked to break Serbia and Montenegro apart, given that US policy was to oppose separation, and to the last moment advocated Montenegrins vote against separation in their referendum. The US State Deptment even invited the four leaders of the anti-independence Montenegrin opposition coalition to Washington for official talks in the month just before the referendum. The Montenegrins did not take this US advice (or the even more forceful EU advice).

Indeed, why would the US want separation? At the time, the US was the fifth-biggest investor in Serbia; especially after buying Serbia's major steel plant; by contrast, after Montenegrin independence, much of Montenegro's coastline, and its only significant factory, a huge aluminium plant, along with a connected bauxite mine, were bought up by Russian oligarchs. Between them, the aluminium plant and bauxite mine account for nearly one-fifth of Montenegro's GDP.

A final assertion comes from Roger Burbach, who claims that during his Kosova mission of 2004-6, Goldberg ``played a central role in orchestrating Kosovo's independence from Serbia, which it had been a province of for centuries'' (``United States Maneuvers to Carve Up Bolivia with Autonomy Vote'', May 5, 2008, http://globalalternatives.org/node/86). (Just as an aside, Kosova was conquered by Serbia in 1913, that is less than a century ago, against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants, who were then and are now Albanians. In all that time it has never held the people down in any way other than repression -– that is a straight out fact. It is unfortunate for an astute commentator such as Burbach to be speaking about Kosova being a province of Serbia ``for centuries'', an invention of the Serbian Orthodox and Chetnik ultra-right, a view rightly rejected for 40 years by Titoist Yugoslavia.)

US opposed Kosovar independence

Did Goldberg ``play a central role'' in ``orchestrating'' Kosova's independence? In fact, through most of this period (2004-6), US policy remained opposed to independence.

The UN-led negotiations between Serbia and the Kosovar Albanian leadership only began in December 2005, late in Goldberg's term. In response, US Senate Resolution 237 (Voinovich, Lugar, Biden) made no mention of independence, but called on the negotiations to reach a ``compromise'' that satisfies the aspirations of the people both of Kosova and of Serbia, and stressed ``the anticipated discussions of the long-term status of Kosovo should result in a plan for implementing the Standards for Kosovo, particularly with regard to minority protections, return of property, and the development of rule of law as it relates to the improvement of protection of minorities, the return of internally displaced persons, the return of property, and the prosecution of human rights violations.''

Towards the end of Goldberg's term, the US began to hint for the first time that independence was one of the possible options. US UN ambassador, neo-con extremist John Bolton, noted in early 2006 that ``Independence is a possible outcome'', but stressed ``parties must be ready to engage on key issues, including minority rights, decentralization and the status of religious sites -- issues that will allow Kosovo to remain multi-ethnic regardless of its status.'' It is unlikely Bolton was being disingenuous in saying independence was only one option, because Bolton has since come out furiously opposed to US recognition of Kosovar independence (``Warning Light on Kosovo'', http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2008/0131_kosovo_rodman.aspx?emc=lm&m=212544&l=34&v=14967, and denounced the US State Department for allegedly pushing ``an anti-Serb policy for over 15 years now''.

In any case this had no influence on the position of the Kosovar Albanians, who had always striven for nothing less than independence, and had voted for it in their 1991 referendum by a margin of over 99 per cent.

US leaders were coming to understand that to prevent Kosova's independence would require a counterinsurgency war launched either by Serbia or NATO, and was gradually deciding this was not worth it, especially inside Europe, and so limiting, restricting some kind of ``conditional independence'' with large concessions to the Serb minority might be the best route. But even this was not yet official policy during Goldberg's term.

It was not until early 2007, well after Goldberg had left, that UN negotiator Marti Ahtisaari decided the talks had reached impasse and so put forward a plan for highly restricted ``supervised independence'' with significant autonomy for Serbs. Interestingly, the very restrictions imposed on Kosova's independence make it closely resemble the kind of ``state'' the US wants to negotiate for the Palestinians. It was only then that the US officially came out supporting that position.

But what of Goldberg himself? It is feasible that he may have secretly represented an already more solidly pro-independence faction in the US ruling class, and so went about ``orchestrating'' it in various undercover ways. But if so, no evidence whatsoever has been produced for such a scenario. Actually, he was instrumental in *pressuring* the Kosovar Albanian leadership to take part in status negotiations with Serbia at all; at the time, the Kosovar Albanians rejected this. Kosova Assembly speaker Nexhat Daci expressed the view that ``Independence is non-negotiable, not under any circumstances. Other things, all other issues should be negotiated with the international community and Belgrade; that includes the treatment of minorities, the lack of cooperation between minorities, the issue of free movement in the region.''(``US envoy to Kosovo says time has come to prepare for status talks'', text of report by Kosovo Albanian television KohaVision TV on 16 August 2005).

Goldberg however stressed that ``the status issue has to go through talks'' and stated: ``You know there are people who are saying this isn't going to be a negotiation. Well, it is. Even if you take as your premise a certain position in the final status, which we all know on this side [Kosovo] means independence, on the other side [Belgrade] means something else. There are still a whole lot of issues that flow from that. What are the rights and obligations of certain communities here; decentralization and how that will have an effect on the future of Kosovo; the north of Kosovo and what will happen there, because we all know that there has been a different reality there than in the rest of Kosovo.''

He stressed the need for Kosova to have a better policy towards the Serb minority: ``The majority needs to accept that there are minorities here, who have every right to live in safety, security, with their own language, with their own culture. That, in many ways, is part of the decentralization effort to assure that by putting a policy behind the rhetoric. I think that the institutions need to be more welcoming of minorities and more willing to offer opportunities to people. I think safety and security is not yet what we would like.'' (``US Mission Head Talks To RFE/RL About Province Status Issue'', http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2005/09/a4954fe1-7758-473f-814e-78a4db685f41.html)

All gloss to cover a devious plan to ``give'' Kosova independence anyway? Perhaps, but I've seen no evidence to the contrary. These statements suggest that Goldberg was fully in line with US policy at the time, which had not yet made a clear decision either way. Until then, the US had always opposed the democratic right of the Kosovars to self-determination, to not be shoved back under the rule of a state that recently tried to annihilate them. It was only gradually emerging from this dead-end.

The point about these statements where they refer to rights for the Serb minority and decentralisation (i.e. Serb autonomy) etc. is not that we should believe any supposed ``humanitarian'' intent in them, but rather this was now the propaganda for the US keeping control. Just as the US had falsely invoked ``humanitarian'' concern for the oppression of the Kosovar Albanians by Serbia to justify its terror-bombing war in 1999, so since then it falsely invokes ``humanitarian'' concern for the oppression of the Serb minority by the Albanians in order to justify a decade of NATO and UN occupation of Kosova and denying it independence, and now posing huge restrictions on its independence, to be policed by continuing NATO and EU occupation.

What we have therefore is accusations regarding separating Kosova from Serbia which appear unclear and unlikely, accusations regarding separating Montenegro and Serbia which are considerably more unlikely if not impossible, and accusations regarding orchestrating the disintegration of Yugoslavia which are a straight chronological impossibility.

But that the key period when Goldberg was at the Balkan desk of Washington's leading Balkan negotiator Holbrooke was the period when his leader was centrally involved in the racist partition of Bosnia which recognised the Serbian ethnic cleansing and genocide of Bosnia's Muslims by granting a purified ``Serb Republic'' on half of Bosnia's territory. And, perhaps by accident, this partition actually has more in common with the partition he is now engaged in in Bolivia, because the Bosnian Serbs were not an oppressed nation in Bosnia, but on the contrary, the most powerful section of population, politically, economically and militarily. However, even this analogy still does not fit: Serbs were not an oppressed nation in Bosnia, but they were a nation (one of the three consituent nations in the Bosnian constitution), unlike the Bolivian oligarchy.

National question

A final point can be added regarding the broader issue of the incorrect comparison. It is no accident that the Bolivian oligarchy is mainly focused on ``autonomy'' rather than outright ``independence''. Obviously not that they have any more right to the latter either, of course. But it is better for their purposes to advocate ``autonomy'' because the whole point is they are not a nation and do not see themselves as one, they are a reactionary part of the Bolivian nation aiming to overthrow the revolution in their nation.

And the great irony of this is that if one did want to make absurd comparisons with a national question in a different part of the world, then what Serbia offered Kosova, that Kosova rejected in favour of independence, was ... ``autonomy''! Which interestingly enough is also what Indonesia offered East Timor in 1999 -- the referendum was ``autonomy'' versus independence, not ``subjugation to Indonesia'' versus independence. And what Israel has offered the Palestinians for decades in place of a Palestinian state is ``autonomy''.

Not that autonomy is a bad thing if accepted by the people at stake, just that if you make unscientific comparisons, they at least ought to be with the same thing. In all these cases, the oppressed nation rejects autonomy because they don't trust a regime that has oppressed them for ages to rule them in any way, and in the case of Kosova, because autonomy was precisely what they previously had that got ripped up. Still, nothing much to do with Santa Cruz in any case.

Yet if these people writing these things really do think that the entire Kosovar Albanian nation is nothing but an oligarchic counterrevolutionary cabal (against which revolution I don't know), then they should be warning Serbia's right-wing regime against its offers of autonomy. It should instead advocate a war of bloody suppression; or failing that, it should prefer full separation so that the counterrevolution is less able to undermine the government. ``Autonomy'' would appear the worst option.

[Michael Karadjis is the author of Bosnia, Kosova and the West: The Yugoslav Tragedy: A Marxist View. Published by Resistance Books, 2000, 256 pp, $24.95. He is a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective of Australia. An earlier version of this article appeared on the Bolivia Rising site.]