Chris Burford cburford at
Sat Jul 22 00:08:38 MDT 1995


I have been heartened by the number of other contributions about Bosnia,
and feel liberated from a preoccupied personal disgust with British
Foreign policy.

I think the further contributions highlight a number of points. I agree
with Lisa's criticisms about an abstract concept of neutrality. It is
philosophically an idealist and static concept, that fails
for example to take into account the material reality that at the start
of hostilities the Serbs were able to take control of the lions share of
the Yugoslav federal armaments, and the effect this has had on civil

I agree with I think Jukka that we cannot expect the bourgeois
governments to follow a very principled policy and that we must consider
as a key question why it has been difficult to create a popular campaign
or even a pressure group?

I also agree with Carrol that generally it is easier (not easy at all in
fact but at least easier!) to campaign against our government's doing
something than to campaign for them to do something. But in the thirties
and forties there were campaigns to press the western "democracies" to
support the legitimate republican government of Spain against the fascist
putsch, and during the second world war to start a second front, to aid
the soviet union. These campaigns were not only progressive in
themselves but helped to educate people about the wider significance of
the struggle.

When we are faced with such clear appeasement of fascist aggression, I
think the task is clear even if it is difficult and even if some or
perhaps all of us subscribing to this list, would be unable personally
to devote time to it.

I think Howie has a good point about the position of democrats and
left wingers in former eastern Europe. We are largely in ignorance of
them, and I suspect that is not accidental. No doubt through the internet it
would be possible to make contact but in broad terms it is typical that
the news media present the story in terms of the manouevrings of the
great powers and not the story of the reconstruction of collective life
in the rebuilding of, say, a town in Bosnia with the cooperation of
people of different ethnic groups.

At this moment of time and of ignorance I think we have to ask ourselves
whether we have faith in the existence of large numbers of basically
well-disposed people, people with some sympathy for socialism and
cooperation, and perhaps some knowledge of genuine marxism from former
membership of the League of Communist of Yugoslavia. We have to ask
ourselves whether the US brokered peace between Croats and Muslims in
Bosnia was purely selfish or whether it must have come about partly
because of a commitment to democratic working of the people of those

We have to work on the rational assumption that there is a local basis
for a democratic policy of human rights and cooperation, which in the
better areas may even still have a socialist character.

If we could pursue internet connections my bet is that policy statements
could be found from within Bosnia of this nature, and some of them
would partly have been shaped by people who would still think of them-
selves as marxist.

Great Nation Realipolitik

And now back to the critique of the ruling classes. The news has come
through of the results of the London conference. No genuine marxist
analysis can be simplistic, but I read it as broadly supporting the
cynical appeasement line of the British Foreign Office with a shift only
in tone towards more open critism of Serb aggression. The shift was
signalled by Major's opening speech, which perhaps showed some bending
to domestic politics, since with the British government reshuffle,
Portillo, darling of Mrs Thatcher, has been made Minister of Defence.
Nevertheless British objectives were largely achieved as could be
predicted from trying to decide action by consensus at a conference so
large as to include the Soviet Union.

The Serbs have only to delay their attack on Gorazde for six weeks,
meanwhile two safe havens have fallen, Bihac is surrounded and the
torture of the inhabitants of the biggest safe haven Sarajevo with random
deaths and mutilations through artillery shells, continues. There is no
commitment to stop any of this.

The British FO headed by Rifkind, who chaired the conference emphasised
the tragedy of the UN withdrawing, but the UN are there only as an
abstract token of peaceful hopes, and so that they can witness how many
Bosnians are killed each day. While the FO warns how awful it would be
if British troops were taken hostage, we can be sure that one of the
most efficient contingency plans they have in place is to use the SAS
to cover the evacuation of the 300 Fusiliers in Gorazde even faster
than the French are prepared to send in 1000 troops to defend the place.

But one principle that we can define here is that we are not particularly
interested in imperialist troops being sent in, under any flag. We are
interested in local populations having the right to defend themselves,
provided they respect civil rights and do not infringe the rights of
other people to defend themselves. There are many contradictions
involved in that, but the broad perspective is simple and reasonable.

What then is going on when the great powers hold a conference in London
to dither about Serb fascist aggression? It must link up for us with an
analysis of the politics of the whole post Soviet Eastern Europe. The
reason for not offending the current Russian regime too much
even despite its atrocities in Chechenya, is

a) access to its markets, however limping the capitalist boom has been.
b) on the basis that if we are too hard on Yeltsin, the openly fascist
Russian right will come in. In other words the pace is dictated by
appeasing not only the Serb fascists but the Slav fascists. And the
reason why it would be impossible not to appease the Slav fascists
indirectly is that the only alternative to supporting a Yeltsin type
regime in Russia would be to have dialogue with forces with socialist and
former communist connections, who have reservations about the benign
unseen hand of the market and the not so benign and overt hand of the

By the chance connection between Slav fascism and Serb (southern Slav)
fascism, I do not want to imply some vindictive anti-Slav policy, but I
think in the turmoil of Eastern Europe we must distinguish between those
groupings that have emerged and survived on a policy emphasising
cooperation, and tolerance, regardless of national divisions, and those
that have played an oppressive national card. Even though the picture
may be mixed in cases, it could be supported. One of the strongest
arguments in favour of the Chechens, as I heard the story through the
media is that there was no hint of serious discrimination against ethnic
Russians even as the Russian army advanced on the capital in which many
of them lived. Indeed by the broadly correct handling of contradictions
between the two nationalities there was virtually no evidence of Russians
living locally calling for the Russian invasion.

And if Jeff asks me why I am more opposed to the fascist Serbs than to
Bosnians, Slovenes and Croats, even though, as Nello points out, the
western European governments had their own self-interested reasons
for supporting the breakup of Yugoslavia, I would say if I were to
give any one reason, the totally unacceptable treatment of the Albanians
in Kosovo by the Serbs.

Jeff's attack on Tim, therefore seems to me probably unfair on many
counts, but it does have the merit of bringing up to this very date
the strategic issues that faced would be marxists before the
first world war and before the second world war.

If this list is serious about analysing theory to link it with practice,
we ought to be able to handle this argument with passion but also with

Chris Burford, London

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