Yugp again: Milosevich's misdeeds and the secession

Bryan A. Alexander bnalexan at umich.edu
Mon Nov 13 13:36:36 MST 1995

My apologies for the long delay in responding to this current stage in
the Yugo-debate.  I've been swamped with baby care and a grading frenzy.
The former has receded to a more manageable level (Gwynneth sleeps as I
type this, for example...) and the latter is over, since the classes I
teach are over (but not union negotiations, which have just begun - I'll
fill you all in if people ask).
	So: Lorenzo's response #3 contains a lengthy critique of
secession from Yugoslavia.  Having already raised issues of language and
ethnicity, he doesn't see fit to reiterate them, which is fine.  Instead
we move to new topics.
	Let me begin be reminding everyone that, as I've said before, I
oppose the Slovene and especially Croat states.  I'm not much of a fan of
the Bosnian state experiment, but it is clearly the least capitalist and
contained (past tense!) the greatest seeds for the types of changes
members of this list seek.
	1. Professor Penya argues that state oppression is not enough to
justify secession, raising the classic nationalist specter of "states
splintering apart," as if they were organisms whose members shared fluids
and connective tissue.  This is clearly an ideological position of the
age of nation-states, where supporters of a strong state advocate some
sort of unity or wholeness over against fragmentation.  Leaving aside the
easily verifiable fact that humans have the fine ability of being able to
live well in the most "splintered" states possible, we have the implicit
argument here for a powerful central state.  As an anarchist I naturally
oppose this; as one working in the Marxist tradition I cannot support
what is clearly a regime based on class exploitation.
	But surely the new states in Slovenia, Croatia, and BiH are also
such centralist horrors?  This is true for the first two (esp Tudjman's),
not so much for the third where, despite pro-Serb agitprop about Islamic
fundamentalism and mujahaydeen (yawn - just look at Izetbegovic's
"inflammatory" book), the government has been fairly decentralized and
pro-locality.  So why support them, or oppose their enemies?  Because
they represented a chance for something other than the Serb-led
monolith.  Lorenzo and I do not disagree on the oppressive character of
Milosevic's regime.  But short of a massive revolutionary tide (which
Milosevic crushed), I'm all for seccession as a strategy.  Separated
polities have a chance at creating new organizations, new modes of
resistance.  They can be fascist, liberal, whatever.  But they represent
greater possibilities.  Since I consider nationalism and the nation-state
delusion to be perhaps the greatest immediate source of barbarism after
the advent of industrial capital, I could care less about arguments over
nationalist justifications for the creation of new states.
	One last note: secession often demystifies statism.  Not always,
but often.  The ad hoc, rather than empyrean, nature of the state becomes
visible when a region births a new state, in all its contradictory and
inhuman splendor.
	And: let us set aside comparative horrors as further
justifications for statism?  Lorenzo points out a series of truly awful
regimes.  I favor flight from all of them.  I favored MOVE.  No state has
that sort of justification.
	2. But what about opposition to Milosevic within the federal
structure?  Surely this was a terrain of struggle?  Yes, it was - and the
battle was lost.  From the beginning of his campaign to subdue the
remaining Yugoslav states, Milosevic argued for tight, strong, central
state power.  This of course stands incontradiction to his stance towards
the Serb *people* (as opposed to state or nation), since one result is a
drive to rule nonSerbs.  Milosevic offered several explanations, the most
important being a) restore power of the federation and b) to protect
Serbs from nonSerb attacks.  The former is true only insofar as it
supported Serb and M's personal hegemony; the latter is an excuse for
attacking nonSerbs (the term 'ethnic cleansing' first appears as a *serb*
accusation against Albanians in Kosovo, ironically).  Towards these ends
of power Milosevic co-opted the Yugoslav federal army (first known in
September 1987; first demonstrated in JNA support of Milosevic during
Belgrade unrest, March 1990); purged and controlled the League of Communists while it lasted, and continued
to dominate the successor party (Socialist party of Serbia, December 1990);
reestablished state control over media; eliminated local autonomy (of
Kosovo and Vojvodina, for example, most thoroughly in March of 1989);
established federal martial law ( February 1990).  In short, Milosevic
thoroughly strengthened and controlled the federal state.  We know that
he used that power for further domination and cruelty.
	How was this opposed?  Not very well.  No other politician strove
for such hegemony, save perhaps federal PM Markovic who, after becoming
PM on the last day of 1988, had some successes (most popular politiciam
through the Yugoslav polity, 1989-1990); yet could not either create a
capitalist economy, satisfy the IMF, or side with workers - he was the
last federalist of note, and his failure coincided with a popular loss of
faith in the federation.  Remember that inflation soared from 120% in
1987 to 200% in 1988 to still higher in 89 and 1990.  The federal
government actively sought the destruction of AgroKomerc, Bosnia's one
economic success.  The number and scope of strike continually rose.  In the
minds of the overwhelming number of Yugoslavs, by the start of this decade the
federation had failed as an economic unit.  No federal political parties
of note garned a following, not Markovic's Alliance of Reformist Forces
no the military party that seconded it.  But secession was not the first
response: Macedonian, Slovene and Croat politicians and intellectuals long
argued for
a confederation that would allow local economic development to sidestep
federal obligations (like massive IMF debts) and have the flexibility to
try new economic strategies.  A confederal solution was possible
(although not without problems!); its proponents lacked the strength to
establish it.  Political pressure for this would be more like the
efforts flies exert against spiders, or flesh against shotgun
pellets.  Milosevic had played the
game fast and well, ending up with nearly all the cards - save secession.
	(Then again, the federation was the victim of the IMF's power.
This global Fund repeatedly forced austerity plans and "shock therapy" to
generate revenue for debt repayment (October 1987, spring 1989, as
examples).  I'm unclear about the IMF stance re: Milosevic, and will
report when I find out more.)
	3. Problems occurred with the secession process, and it's hard to
support such haphazard, majoritarian motions.  Of course.  (Not as if
Milosevic ever gave a fig for minorities, save to underpay and murder
them, eh?)  The fleeing states, esp Croatia and Bosnia, didn't take into
account their Serb minorites.  In an abstract sense this is true, and
reprehensible.  Yet these minorities were forming military units supplied
openly from Serbia and the JNA.  Milosevic from 1988 on began to enflame
and coordinate Serb nationalist demonstrations ("meetings") through much
of former Yugoslavia.  The summer of that year saw Belgrade-orchestrated
rallies in Vojvodina of such strength that a pre-Milosevic-control
federal authority saw fit to condemn and order suppressed (significantly,
the Serb republican parliament openly denounced this order and voted
their "people's allies" blatant support); these demos brought down the
local party, which was then replaced by pro-Belgrade forces (October
1988).  "Meetings" of between 10,000 and one million participants
beginning in July of 1988 drove the Montenegro Politburo from office
(January 1989; replaced by pro-Milosevic forces) and forced the Kosovar
parliament to subsume its authority and autonomy to Serbia (March 1989).
Around the time of George Bush being sworn in as President Slobodan
Milosevic achieved control of 1/2 of the Yugoslav federal presidency.
This nationalist movement replaced the massive labor agitation of these
very years, a process not dissimilar to the ones our fascism seminar has
noted.    This highly successful strategy of nationalist agitation in
support of local coups continued.  In December 1989 Serb rallies began to
occur in Slovenia, largely consisting of nationalists shipped in from
Serbia; the Slovene president closed the republican border against them.
The strategy shifted in Croatia and Bosnia: there Belgrade began
organizing and arming local Serb communities in early 1990; these groups
began to agitate for local autonomy (which I supported), yet also
initiated cycles of violence with police and security forces - these
confrontations and killings escalated into civil war, fully under
pressure from Serbia.  These armed militants threatened election
violence, and walked out of the voting in Bosnia.  This does not excuse
electoral majoritarianism, but makes the picture more accurately reflect
minority behavior.
	4. As for the encirclement issue - I agree that the Croats have
formed their own iron curtain.  But Milosevic has done this better than
anyone in order to perfect his hegemony.
	To be continued...

Bryan Alexander
Department of English
University of Michigan

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