From the March-April 2012 issue of News & Letters:
World in View
Bosnian genocide 20 years after
by Gerry Emmett
April 2012 marks 20 years since the start of the genocide in the former Yugoslavia, 1992-1995. This was a deliberate, state-sponsored attempt by Serbian President Slobodan Milošević (and to a lesser extent Croatian President Franjo Tudjman) to destroy the multi-ethnic Bosnian society in which Muslims, Serbs, and Croats had co-existed peacefully. It is sobering to see how these events continue to affect us today.
Over 200,000 were killed in Bosnia, including 12,000 children, and up to 2.2 million people displaced from their homes. These crimes were aided by a one-sided, UN Security Council-imposed arms embargo that kept Bosnians from defending themselves. Many saw this barbarism as flowing from age-old hatreds released by the overthrow of Communist regimes.
To the contrary, as News & Letters held: “Nothing more exposes the lie of this fabrication than the fact that the very first shots fired in Sarajevo on April 6, 1992, were those fired against a mass demonstration of Serb, Croat and Muslim Slavs standing together against Milošević’s designs. No less than 200,000 marched together that month shouting, ‘We want to live together!’ Nor was it only in Sarajevo that mass opposition to the war erupted. In June there were huge demonstrations—nearly half a million—against Milošević in Belgrade itself.
“The destruction of the multinational heritage for which Bosnia was renowned was accomplished only by the conscious and deliberate campaign we have witnessed over the whole past year: the merciless shelling of every town and village Serbian missiles could reach; the starvation of thousands in besieged towns while food and medical supplies wait in trucks a few miles away; millions making forced marches to towns that might offer refuge, shelled as they walked and dying of exposure on the way; prisoner camps that match the Nazis’; and the unprecedented mass rapes of tens of thousands of women as a war policy….
“What Yugoslavia proves today is that World War II did not defeat fascism—nor indeed is that why that imperialist war was waged. ‘Free market capitalism’ and state-capitalism alike have always managed to co-exist with the new forms of barbarism that they disgorge. The only alternative is the total uprooting of this degenerate barbaric society and its reconstruction on new human foundations” (Olga Domanski, “Clinton capitulates to ‘ethnic cleansing,'” May 1993).
The Bosnians’ struggle to preserve their multi-ethnic heritage was heroic. Actions were inseparable from their meaning in a deep philosophic sense.
In 1995, the U.S.-brokered Dayton Accords created a partition of Bosnian territory that rewarded Serb separatists for their campaign of “ethnic cleansing,” instituting a kind of apartheid. The international courts have since proven indecisive. Outside of Srebrenica— the largest post-World War II massacre in Europe, in which 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered— the question of genocide has been left vague. This failure to grasp the meaning of Bosnia has had the most viciously reactionary consequences imaginable.
It has, over time, given birth to the dismal “clash of civilizations” thesis of Samuel Huntington. This was echoed—often by direct reference—in Al Qaeda’s rhetoric about “Crusaders,” a mirror image of Milošević’s appeals to medieval battles over Kosova. These continue to inspire anti-Muslim ideologues like mass murderer Anders Breivik, who desires genocide on a continental scale. His role models are supporters and apologists for the Bosnian genocide.
New atavistic urges were released into U.S. politics, from the rise of Milošević-supporter Patrick Buchanan, through the racist militia movement that bred Timothy McVeigh to today’s “birthers,” “truthers” and racist Neo-Confederates—people who illustrate Dr. King’s prophetic words that “the ultimate logic of racism is genocide.” Those Leftists who failed to understand the implications of Bosnia, imagining Serbia to represent an “anti-imperialist” force, also dipped their heads into this underworld of history and many have yet to come up for air. Today they are supporting al-Assad in Syria.
On a global scale, the destruction of Bosnia represented the crushing of hope for new revolutionary openings in a post-Cold War world. It made clear the rulers wouldn’t allow the collapse of Russian Communism to result in new human relations, but rather continued capitalist exploitation. When Marxist-Humanists declared that Bosnia was the test of world politics, we couldn’t know all the implications. But in 20 years’ retrospect, our collection Bosnia-Herzegovina: Achilles Heel of Western ‘Civilization’ (News & Letters, 1996) stands as a lasting contribution to understanding today’s world.