Self-determination for eastern Slavonia?

Chris Burford cburford at
Tue Aug 8 07:59:02 MDT 1995

Paul made detailed comments on my post on the right
of nations to self determination and denying it to Krajina.

We need to pick up the differences. But that should now obscure some
areas of agreement. Opposition of course to both Chetnik and Ustashe
militarism. And at least in the case of a former state socialist state,
a belief that nationalism is a blind alley.

Differences need to be clarified however on some aspects.

I would not agree with even the exception that Paul would permit to
justify sending the Yugoslav Federal Army into Slovenia after
the declaration of independence:

It would only be defensible were it an action by a workers state
supported by local working class elements to suppress counter revolution.

Although I accept Paul's scepticism about allegedly democratic
structures, I think there must be evidence that the receiving nation as a
broad whole is in favour of such an action, and it should not be imposed
by an outside military power because a minority group that regards
themselves as genuinely working class call for it. That is a recipe
for appearing to violate national rights, and whatever the short term
gains, that is counterproductive to the goalof  increasing unity of
working people against capitalism. [It is a recipe for an Afghanistan.]

Paul posted an exposure of fascist tendencies written by
anti-facists in Zagreb.

It is not a pretty account and I have no interest in
dismissing it. However it does not provide evidence that
Croat nationalism as a policy wanted to expel 600,000 Serbs
from its borders when it sought to secede from the Yugoslav

Such violent expulsions [not genocide] did have to be the counter policy of
Greater Serb Nationalism. That was what happened when they raised the
flag of independence from Croatia in Knin in 1991.

It is in this sense that I called Croatia a multi-ethnic civil

 People who had until that point been
Jugoslavs were now supposed to consider themselves citizens of
an overtly ethnic/sectarian Croat state. A state which moreover, by
its ideology and symbolism presented itself as the inheritor of the
Ustashi state, which state had a history of genocide comparable only
to that of Nazis.

I accept that this is psychologically divisive and oppressive, but we
have to get down to specific details of what human rights were lost
by Serbs in the province of Croatia (I know there have been important
human rights violations in western Slavonia, after its recapture).


The democratic solution to this would have been to have local plebicites
to determine which areas actually wished to seceed from Jugoslavia.
Given that neither the Croatian nor the Bosnian governments were willing
to countenance that, resort to arms in defence of self determination
was inevitable. Failure to recognise this right to self determination
on the part of the Croatian and Bosnian government played into the hands
of Serbian fascism and allowed the dominance of Chetnik groups within
Serbian territory in Bosnia.


This is the crunch and most important point between us. A nation must
have a stable continuing community, a common language, a distinct
territory, economic cohesion, and a collective character. Plebiscites in
small local areas like Krajina population of about a quarter of a million
are wrong assuming that the plebiscite is for the right to secede, which is
what Paul implies. The serbs in Krajina were part of the Serb
*nationality* in the province of Croatia. It is greatly against working
class unity that they should be oppressed in any way as they have now
been, but they did not have the right to secede.

The point actually illustrates how marxists should indeed not take an
abstract purely psychological definition of a nation. There is something
crazy about the putsch by the Krajinan Serbs in 1991. In order to try to
make their dream a reality they then had to expel their Croats.
4 years down the line reality intrudes that a civil power has to have
some sort of economic life yet the area was dislocated from the Adriatic
and the communication routes. In fact it obstructed them. It also might
need to be defended. The Bosnian Serb leader Mladic who makes jokes
about why Serbs would not rape muslim women, as a military man, is a
materialist enough to know that Krajina was indefensible.

The most significant thing is the dog that did not bark, Milosevic's
Serbian Socialist Party. On Thusday "Politika" the main Belgrade
daily paper and his mouthpiece blamed the Krajina and Bosnian Serb
leaders for leading their people into a blind alley. I believe that
such a significant postion, was not the result only of economic
sanctions against Serbia, which Milosevic is enough of a materialist not
to ignore, but because although marxism is degenerate in Yugoslavia,
enough people remember enough of a marxist approach to the national
question, on which we must hope some sort of peace can be stabilised,
and reconciliation built between working people.

I feel this is the overall goal and that Paul is a bit one sided in
stressing the horrors of Croat fascist tendencies and downplaying
even clearer fascist acts by the Greater Serb nationalists.

Although these fascist tendencies have caused great harm they do
not have staying power in the economic conditions of the late twentieth
century as the *main* policy of either the Croat or Serb states, which
have to have a policy of cooperation with western European capitalism in
the long term.

We must hope that all the forces of stabilisation, bourgeois and
proletarian and all in between, will work to prevent war over eastern

In a nutshell: eastern Slavonia did not have the right to secede either.
Because it is contiguous with the province of Serbia, one solution would
be to redraw the boundary, like Alsace Lorraine, between Germany and
France. But a better solution from a marxist point of
view would be an agreement between Croatia and Serbia, that the area
of eastern Slavonia should be one in which the local Serb *nationality*
has local autonomy within the province of Croatia, and that this is
linked with a confederal plan for the reconstruction of the lands of
the former Yugoslavia. Things will probably fall short of this, but it
would be the better goal.

Chris B, London

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