Kossovo Poem

There was a battle long ago,
Before America was dreamed and found
A battle fought and lost on Serbian ground
And known as Kossovo.

There was a Serbian king, Lazar,
Who, when offered earth or heaven by the Lord,
Led Serbians against the Turkish horde.
Chose an undying star.

Kossovo for five hundred years,
Was a battle never finished, till at last,
The mountains free, agony seemed to have passed
The place of skulls and tears.

But no, not yet may freedom go Redeemed.
Once more the Turks and heathen come
Across the broken bridge of Christendom
On the day of Kossovo.

Once more the hero calls to his men
And to unimagined armies from afar
And, by his death and by the undying star
Oh heaven, signals again.

And all the free have now one foe
And every freeman is a freeman’s friend
We come Lazar, to fight and win and end
Your battle, Kosovo.*

Witter Bynner
* Kossovo Day was widely celebrated in the West during the First World War.

Kosovo day

For Serbia

It has become necessary that the attention of the European governments be drawn to one circumstance which seems to be so slight that the governments do not even consider it their duty to notice it! That thing is the following: they are assassinating an entire people. Where? In Europe. Is there anyone to bear witness? The witness is one: the entire world. And the governments, do they see it? No, they do not.

There is something above peoples, which is actually below them: their governments. At certain moments, the nonsense becomes obvious: civilization rests in the people, barbarism in the governments. Is this barbarism intentional? No, it is professional. Things that the human race knows, the governments ignore. It is the government that sees everything through myopia, which is called the reason of state; the mankind looks at everything with a different eye, with its conscience.

We shall certainly surprise European governments by teaching them something, and that is that crime remains a crime; that neither the governments, nor single individuals are allowed to become assassins, that whatever is done in Europe, is done by Europe itself, and that all barbaric governments should be treated like wild beasts; we shall show that at this very moment, and in our close vicinity, slaughter is taking place, extermination; that fathers and mothers are slaughtered and little girls and boys sold into slavery; those children who are too small to be sold are being cut in half by sabers; that families are consumed in the flames of their own homes; that an entire town, Balak (Aleksinac), in only a few hours, was reduced from nine thousand people to one thousand three hundred souls; that in the cemeteries there are more dead than can be buried, so that to those alive, who have brought the slaughter upon their heads, the dead are giving in return the plague, which is just as well; we shall show to the European governments that pregnant women are having their bellies slit open so that their unborn infants may be killed; that dogs roam the streets biting on the sculls of raped girls; that all this is so terrible, and that only one gesture from the European governments would suffice to prevent it all from happening; that the savages perpetrating these crimes are terrible, but that the civilized men who permit this outrage, are abhorring.

The moment has come for us to raise our voices.

From all round the world appalled voices are being raised.

There are moments when even human conscience can take the stand and it orders governments to listen.

Governments are stuttering their reply. We are well acquainted with this stutter. They say: it is exaggerated.

Exaggerated, of course. The city of Balak was not exterminated in a few hours, but in a few days; they say that two hundred villages were burnt down, and in fact no more than ninety nine villages were destroyed; plague is being mentioned, and in fact it is the typhoid fever raging; all women were not raped, and neither were all the maidens sold, several of them did get away. The truth is that they were castrating prisoners, but it is also true that they were chopping their heads off, which alleviates the thing; the child of whom they said to have been thrown from the top of one spear to the top of another, was in fact pierced with a bayonet; there was one case, yes, but you say there were two, etc., etc.

After all, why did that people want to rebel? Why a group of men does not accept being treated like a herd of animals? Why?…etc.

This manner of covering up the crime only increases the horror of the whole thing. There is nothing more miserable that torturing public bitterness. Alleviations are incriminating. Here the slyness defends barbarism. Byzantium is making excuses for Istanbul.

Things should be called by their true names. To kill a man in the forest called Bondiska Forest or the Black Forest, it is a crime; to kill an entire people behind that forest, it is called diplomacy, but it is, nevertheless, a crime.

Only a greater one. That is all.

But does a crime, the bigger it gets, become smaller? Unfortunately, this has already become a law in history! If you kill six people, you are a Troppman; if you kill six hundred thousand, you are a caesar. To be great in evil, means to be powerful among men. The proof: massacre of St. Bartholomew, which was blessed by the Pope; Dragonnades, glorified by Bossuet; December 2nd, welcomed by the whole of Europe.

But the time has come for this old law to be replaced by a new one. No matter how dark the night may be, the horizon at the end must bathe in daylight.

Yes, the night is dark and the ghosts are starting to rise. After Syllabus, here comes the Koran; one Holy Gospel can go hand in hand with the other; iangamus dextras; behind one Holy See there rises the Divine Porta. Rome already gave us the Middle Ages, Turkey is just about now to give us its own mediaeval times.

Thus, the things have come to pass in Serbia. Where will they end?

When will the torture of this small heroic people be over?

The time has come that civilization should impose a magnificent prohibition on its governments.

But they will say: we are forgetting that there are “issues”. To kill a man is a crime, but to kill a people is an “issue”. Every government has its own issues. The Russians have Istanbul, England has India, France has Prussia and Prussia has France.

Here is what we say in reply:

The mankind also has its issue, and that issue is greater than England, greater than India and Russia, it is the infant in the wombs of its mother.

Let us replace political issues with human issues.

It is there that the entire future lies.

And the future will, no matter what is being done, come to pass. Everything is in its service, even crime! What a terrible servant.

The current developments in Serbia demonstrate that there is a need for the United State of Europe. Let instead of the disagreeing governments come harmonious peoples. Let once and for all put an end to the murderous empires! Let us put a stop to fanaticism and despotism. Let us break down swords in the service of illusion, and dogma waving the saber in its hand. Enough with wars and slaughters, free thought, free exchange; brotherhood of men. Is the peace really so difficult? European Republic, continental federation, this is the only political reality. Thinking points at this, and so do events. When asked about this reality, which is a necessity, all the philosophers agree, and the executioners with their evidence support that of philosophers. In its own way, just because it is so terrible, the savagery bears witness to civilization. Progress was signed by Ahmed Pasha. What the bestialities committed in Serbia put beyond any doubt is that Europe needs a single European nation, a single European government, a single enormous brotherly electoral cord, democracy in peace with itself, that all peoples should be brothers with Paris, as the cradle and the capital, that light becomes the capital of freedom. In a word, the United States of Europe. This is the aim, this is the harbor. Until yesterday, it was only the truth, today it is a reality, thanks to the butchers of Serbia. With thinkers of the killers. Evidence was first provided by genius, now to be repeated by monsters.

The future is God dismembered by tigers!

Paris, August 29, 1876
Victor Hugo
Rappel (1876)

Refugees and Rebellious Bosnia

The Bosnian insurgents hold already in their possession mountain strongholds, embracing over 1,000 square miles, are fairly armed, and, as I believe, capable not only of holding their own without foreign assistance, but ultimately, perhaps, unless thwarted by foreign intervention, of forming a new free State — a little Bosnian Montenegro — in the north-western angle of the province.

Finally, as to Turkish promises and paper constitutions, the fall of Midhat will have already prepared your readers for the intelligence that the Turkish Government has not dared to promulgate the new Constitution in Bosnia in the native language, and that, so far as Western Bosnia is concerned, the Government of Samboul has practically ceased to exist. The country not in the hands of the insurgents is terrorized over by the dominated caste of native Mohametan fanatics, the begs and agas, and their (in Bosnia still half-feudal) train of murderous Bashi-Bazouks, who have cast off the last semblance of obedience to the Central Government. In the country about Travnik and Banjaluka, the worst horrors of Bulgaria are repeating themselves at this very moment. I have before me the following details from a source of which you may absolutely rely. The outburst of fanaticism at present desolating that already desolated part of Bosnia, had its origin among the dregs of the Mohametan population of Travnik, the ex-capital of this country. One gang of these ruffians numbering about a hundred made its way to Banjaluka, and since the end of last month robber bands of these fanatics have been making inroads into the Christian villages whose inhabitants had not fled the country. As to the number of persons actually murdered, it is impossible at present to obtain details. In a single village, however — Zupa, by Banjaluka — there were six such assassinations; many have been cruelly beaten, and other outrages have been committed of which I cannot write. The worst is, that in the depths of winter a large and peaceful population have been scared from their homes, and are either hiding in the forests or have crossed the frontier. The Agram papers raise the number of this fresh exodus of refugees to 5,000, but this is probably an exaggeration, and I have been careful to accept nothing on the authority of Croatian and Dalmatian journals. The fact which I wish to impress upon my readers is that, so far from the refugees returning to their burnt homes, their numbers are rather augmenting; and even while I write this, news reaches me of fresh arrivals of refugees at this place from Glamoč; these, however, on their own showing, were driven forth by no particular act of barbarity, but simply by hunger and misery.

Tišovo, Free Bosnia, February 10

There are some five hundred insurgents encamped in the neighborhood of Despotović’s head-quarters: those I saw were fairly clad, some in Montenegrin fashion, well armed, and seemed to want for nothing. The insurgents, however, under Despotović’s command are scattered at present over a wide area of country, forming an irregular mountainous triangle between the Austrian frontier and the Turkish fortresses of Kulen Vakuf, Kliuč and Glamoč, the chief bulwark of which to the east is the great mountain mass of Czerna Gora, or the Black Mountain; so that there literally exists at the present moment a little Bosnian Montenegro.

It was to exploring the whole of this difficult country and to visiting the other principal insurgent camps that I has resolved to devote the following days; and I was lucky in securing the services of the ex-commander Golub Babić, who is still chief Vojvoda of the insurgents and their most trusted leader, as my guide and escort. I was also accompanied by Atanasija Smilianić, a young but exceedingly brave warrior, of a famed and noble Dalmatian race, and who spoke German tolerably well.

I was mounted on a sure-footed Bosnian pony, and, with no more deadly weapon than a walking-stick, set forth with my escort armed to the teeth to explore a country as little known to Europeans as the wilds of Asia; the Mohamentan Effendi, of whom I took leave, grimly expressing a hope that I would call on some friends of his at Petrovatz, as they had vowed a vow to hang the first Englishman they set eyes on! Obviously we are loosing our popularity in Bosnia, and indeed the Effendi explained that among Bosnian Begs, who have lost a good deal of property during the present troubles, the English are peculiarly hateful, many of them declaring that they would never have fought against the insurgents at all if they had not been sure of English help. This is to be regretted, as the fanatical raid of these Begs on the Christian population of this part have been attended with terrible havoc and ferocious deeds of cruelty.

It was already twilight when we caught sight of our day’s destination, the village of Veliki Tišovo, perched on a rocky knoll on the side of the ‘pole.’ Here is another insurgent camp containing over four hundred armed men who, as we approached, formed in line and received us with another military demonstration.

Here, as elsewhere, the men are hearty and hopeful and are armed with serviceable breechloaders, and the village they occupy lies in such a secure position that it has never been visited by the Turks. We are received into the hut of Pero Kreco, the local Vojvoda, and glad enough I was to seat myself before his blazing pine-logs, for the cold in these highlands is intense. We were feasted with excellent broth and mutton, and a very jovial evening was enlivened with some songs about the Sultan by no means complimentary in their character.

I am much struck at the difference between the men here and the Bosnian rajahs that I remember still under Turkish yoke. They are incomparably less degraded, whether that so short an enjoyment of freedom has already elevated their character, or that the mountaineers of this part have always been superior in physique to those of the more central districts and of the Possavina, or lands about the Save, where the inhabitants are a smaller race and are contemptuously spoken of by the Bosniacs themselves as “frogs”. The people about here are Pravoslav in their religion to a man, whereas in the more central and northern districts, with which I had been previously better acquainted, the population was largely Catholic; and it has often been remarked that the Pravoslavs or Orthodox in Bosnia are more manly and moral than the Latins. The Pravoslav grasps his congregation by the hand; the Romish priest leads them by the nose. The Pravoslav pope is obliged to be a married man, which itself is a good thing, for it is to be observed as an odd coincidence that the only regions in Bosnia in which prostitutes are to be found are those where Romish priests are plentiful.

Here I heard an instance of those revolting practices which, with many other evil relics of mediaeval feudalism or importations of Asiatic barbarism, still survive among the Slavonic Begs of Bosnia. Mili Kotor, a peasant of Grahovo, near here, was captured by one of the Mohametan landlords and his Bashi-bazouk retainers, and forced to swallow large quantities of salt and water. In a mill at Sterminitza may be seen any day by those who are curious as to these monstrosities of barbarism a man who was tied face foremost to a tree and worried by dogs while the Beg sat by and smoked his chibouk.

Unnatz, in Free Bosnia, February 11

We left Tišovo about 6.30 this morning, and following another mountain pass, leaving on our left the great Chator, a two hours’ ride brought us to another ‘polje’ and the village of Preodatz. The Turks had never penetrated here, and one half of the village was still occupied by its inhabitants; the other half, however, had left, having no corn to sow, and are  now among the refugees at Stermnitza. So the cottages are empty and half ruined, for the fugitives have carried with them part of the wooden roofs for firewood. There are turbine mills over the little stream, but the millers have gone. In this village was an ancient graveyard, and an old cross overthrown and half buried in the earth. The people said that when the Turks first conquered Bosnia a marriage was going on here; that the Turks rushed in, killed the wedding guests and bridegroom, and carried off the bride, and that this cross was set up in memory of the tragedy. I had the cross raised, and discovered on its under side a very ancient Bosnian inscription; but though I have not yet succeeded in deciphering the runes, they are hardly likely to throw much light upon the legend. Beyond this was another monument of ancient Bosnia, the foundations of a church long destroyed; and on a peak above, perched as if by magic on almost inaccessible rocks, overlooking on one side a stream at the bottom of a stupendous chasm, stand the fine ruins of a castle dating from the feudal days of the Christian kingdom. Its massive tower looked down at present on wasted fields and deserted homesteads, and brought home to one in a singular way what the wretched serfs of Bosnia have suffered both in the present and the past.

Emerging on the valley of the Unnatz, I found a more fertile and friendly country than any I have yet seen in the liberated district of Bosnia. The beech trees were finer and the soul richer, and the village of Lower Unnatz itself, to which we now made our way, was as flourishing as any in this part of Bosnia before it was burnt and harried by the Turks. As it is, the devastation is cruel; the fields lie waste, and only a few huts, where the ‘cheta,’ or insurgent camp, is pitched, are still unburnt and surrounded by a little cultivation. On our way we made a slight detour to visit the remains of an ancient church that once rose on the other side of the valley, and the architectural fragments which I have discovered showed that in days before the Turkish conquest something of a higher civilization had penetrated into this remote valley.

About eleven hours from our morning’s start we arrived at the “cheta” of Unnatz, where we were received, as elsewhere, with military honors by a troop of about one hundred and fifty insurgents.

We were now welcomed into the hut of the local Vojvode, Simo Kralj, and here I passed an evening which carried one back to Homeric times. The evening meal was served, as elsewhere, on a round board, on which was first set a great bowl of boiled Indian corn, from which the assembled chieftains and their guests helped themselves by means of curiously ornamented wooden spoons. This was succeeded by lumps of mutton, which we picked off the board with our fingers, one at a time, and at intervals the host handed to each in turn a silver drinking cup of curiously antique shape filled to brimming with thick Dalmatian wine. The women and children, and those of less consequence, ate afterwards, and during the meal two women held torches of resinous pinewood above our heads. Then the “guzla”, the national lyre, was brought out, and a venerable minstrel played and sang the song of free Bosnia, for amongst this highly poetic people the insurrection has already its unwritten epics.

Then I stretched myself with the others on the hay that had been strewn, as an unusual luxury, for our common couch, and, with my feet towards the embers, prepared to pass from cloudland into dreamland; and last of all the chieftain, with patriarchal ceremony, spread a sheepskin over me against the small hours of the night.

Sir Arthur John Evans
Illyrian Letters (1878)

History in the Poem

It is worth noticing how national history, only when transposed into a poem, becomes national treasure and is committed to legend.

Everything that had happened before is almost entirely forgotten; the memory grips that last of the nation’s splendor and its tragic end. The tragedy is described in several extensive poetic cycles.

The first poetic cycle starts by describing Stefan Dušan. Although he was blamed for bringing about the fall of the Empire, by creating very large provinces, here we can see him surrounded with several distinguished Serbian families whom he has to treat tactfully. From the very start, they are depicted in such light as is required for the developments yet to come: the Jugovichi are proud and hot-tempered, the Mrnjavčevichi act in collusion with demons and fairies. We see that immediately after the demise of Dušan, the Mrnjavčević’s grabbed all the power. History says that this was to due to the incompetence of the weakling Uroš, who is described as a forty-days old child at the moment of the father’s death. But not all members of the Mrnjavčević family are prone to using force. That same family gave birth to the national hero, Marko Kraljević (Prince Marko), who fears no  one except God. He disputes the right to the throne both to his father and to his uncles, giving it to the one to whom it rightfully belongs. Can a hero be more splendidly described? By doing so, he brings upon himself both a blessing and a curse, both of which will come true, and this is an indication of the developments to take place in the future.

Marko is cursed to become a Turkish vassal. The second cycle, entitled Lazarica, recounts how the country fell under the Turkish rule. Just like history, the poem also mentions the discord and treason which resulted in the disaster. There is, however, a painful feeling of doom pervading throughout this poetic cycle, a feeling that the tragic outcome was somehow meant to be. The tragic outcome is also anticipated by Miloš, the most excellent, most handsome and noblest of all Lazar’s heroes; the prince also receives bad omens from celestial messengers and on the eve of the battle, he give communion to his army; nevertheless, the courage of combatants is no less splendidly glorified, and a terrible curse is pronounced on a prospective traitor. A moving description praises the death of those who have fallen in the battle.

Marko did not take part in the Battle of Kossovo; the poem does not say why. The third poetic cycle is dedicated to him. The poem described him not as a man like other heroes, but as some kind of prodigy; he lives a long life of a hundred and sixty years, and for as many years he rides his horse whom he feeds with the same wine that he drinks himself; on horseback, he sits like a dragon on a dragon; no sword can kill him, and neither can a mace or a club; he pursues the fairy who inflicted a deadly wound on his blood-brother, high through the skies, catches her with the bludgeon and refuses to release her until she begs to become his blood-sister and promises to help him whenever he is in trouble, as well as to heal his friend. Since the legend has equipped this hero so wonderfully well, what deeds are ascribed to him? He serves the Turks. Yet we see that the neighboring kings invite him for religious ceremonies at the same time when the Sultan calls him to join him in his warfare. Being well aware of his duties as a Turkish vassal, he chooses to go to the war. However, while serving the Sultan, he refuses to take injustice, unlike the others. When a vizier breaks his falcon’s wing, he kills both the vizier and hs twelve escorts; he takes revenge on his father’s assassin and then, still smoldering with rage, with his fur-lined coat turned upside down, bludgeon in hand, he enters the Sultan’s tent. The Sultan, scared, steps backwards trying to appease Marko with words and gifts. Nevertheless, all this does not change the fact that Marko served the Turks, which is related in a number of stories about his adventures. When everybody else refuses to do so, Marko has to fight in a duel with the Arab who has forced the Sultan to pay him the dues and give him a daughter in a marriage, then with a Rabanase of demonic powers who hinders sailing on the seas from his tower; Marko also goes to pilgrimage and takes part in the collection of the “harach” (tax imposed by the Turks). He goes with the Turkish army all the way to Arabia. Through Marko’s character, the people apparently epitomized its servitude to the Turks in the early stages of its slavery. According to ancient books, after the Battle of Kossovo Serbian army took part in Bajazet’s warfare almost every year; in the battle of Ankara it almost single-handedly save the life of Bajazet’s son Suleiman and the what was left of the defeated Turkish army. But if it assisted one Turk and had greatly aided the establishment of Turkish grandeur under Mohammed I, for other Turks it was no less dangerous: Seleiman and Mussa experienced it well. The people was full of immeasurable strength and unwavering courage, but nevertheless, it was in chains. This is something that the people shows through its hero, endowed with all the virtues in which the nation believed, comprising in his character, perhaps, all the glory of the heroes of the times gone by. The people was well aware of the historical course of events and the battle which brought about its slavery, but the long period of slavery after the battle could only be depicted as a myth. Some poems say that God, “that old slayer”, finally killed this invincible hero. It is a poem very naive and full of ecstatic feeling. Some others express hope that Marko is still alive. As the legend goes, when Marko saw the first rifle and realized that it had lethal power, he retired into a cave in the high mountain forest. His sword still hangs there, his horse eats moss and Marko is asleep. Only when his sword falls, and the horse has no more moss to eat, Marko shall wake up and return.

All these legends are not recounted in a continuos series, but are contained in various poems, each of them having a separate focus; they have never been elaborated or put together by the creative mind of one poet, but yet they are all pervaded with an unvaried tone and spirit, the one and only popular perspective of the world, at the same time poetic and, apparently, one can not fail to perceive in them some supreme form of unity of the general subject matter. In this way the people, in the legend which is always alive and always young, keeps up the memory of its one-time greatness and the loss of its independence.

Leopold von Ranke
Serbian Revolution (1829)

The Western powers and the collapse of Yugoslavia

The forces eager to see the break-up of Yugoslavia through independence for Slovenia and Croatia were the Vatican, Austria, Hungary, Germany and, more ambivalently, Italy. Since the mid-1980s, the Vatican and Austria had started an active campaign in East Central and Eastern Europe to rebuild their influence there and by 1989-90 the Vatican was openly championing independence for Slovenia and Croatia. By 1990 Austria’s government was equally open. In the words of a study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Austria had “a remarkably open and sometimes brazen policy aimed at helping Slovenia and Croatia in their efforts to leave the [Yugoslav] Federation.”  The Austrian media denounced what they called ‘Panzer Communism’ in Yugoslavia and ‘primitive Serbs’ while the Austrian government went so far as to include the Slovenian Minister for External Affairs, Dmitri Rupel, in Austria’s own delegation to a CSCE meeting in Berlin. Although Austria presented its drive for Slovenian and Croatian independence in terms of ‘democracy’ and the ‘democratic rights’ of the Slovenians and Croatians, such concerns were hardly uppermost in the Austrian state, given the fact that for decades Austria had, according to Zemetica, “been striving to assimilate the Slovene minority in the Klagenfurt Basin and the Croats in Burgenland” and “had been flagrantly and consistently brushing aside its obligations towards minorities under the 1955 State Treaty.”

The real goal of Austrian policy was to expand Austria’s regional influence since it “saw the Yugoslav crisis as an auspicious moment for self-assertion” In the summer of 1991 the EC was finally prompted to warn Austria that if it continued its energetic efforts to break up Yugoslavia it would be excluded from eventual EC membership but even that threat did not stop Austrian efforts.

The Hungarian government of Jozef Antall, elected in the Spring of 1990, adopted a policy very much in line with that of Austria, but with additional Hungarian goals vis a vis Serbia’s Voivodina Province. As Zametica explains, the Hungarian government, during the Yugoslav crisis, consistently favoured and covertly aided the secessionist struggle of Slovenia and, particularly, Croatia. The Kalashnikov affair of early 1991 revealed that wide sections of Hungary’s officialdom were implicated in the illegal and large scale supply of weapons to Croatia.

Hungary was secretly supplying automatic assault rifles to Croatia in late 1990. And in July 1991, at the very height of the crisis between Serbia and Croatia, the Hungarian  Prime Minister declared that the international treaties designating Hungary’s southern borders with Serbia and in particular with Voivodina were treaties made only with Yugoslavia. This, he said, was an ‘historical fact’ which ‘must be kept in view’. And, referring to the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, Antal spelt out just why Hungary was so vigorously supporting Croatia’s secession: “We gave Vojvodina to Yugoslavia. If there is no more Yugoslavia, then we should get it back.”

These manoeuvres by Austria and Hungary to break up Yugoslavia were, of course, then overshadowed by the German government’s drive to derecognise Yugoslavia through giving recognition to Slovenia and Croatia. The German government’s open championing of Yugoslavia’s break-up did not occur until the late Spring of 1991, but long before that both Slovenia and Croatia were getting encouragement from Bonn for their efforts. The German campaign has usually been explained by Kohl’s domestic electoral interests. But the weakness of this explanation lies in the fact that it was Foreign Minister Genscher – not a Christian Democrat – who seems to have been the driving force behind the German policy. And there was thus a focused and co-ordinated coalition involving Austria, Germany, Hungary and the Vatican all pushing for the same goal: Yugoslavia’s break up.

In 1990 the CIA was warning the Bush administration that Yugoslavia was heading for civil war within 18 months. The dilemma was well brought out by a journalist at a press conference given by Secretary of State Baker on 5 July 1990 in Washington. The journalist asked: “I noticed in the remarks that you made today that were distributed to us, you expressed some concerns about the situation in Yugoslavia. Now, how does conditionality apply to the kind of problem that you have described in Yugoslavia, which is less to do with the central government and more to do with the different republics. It is not clear whether Belgrade could deliver some of the things that you want. How will that be judged?”

Baker, normally laconic, replied with some feeling but more evasion: “The question you raised is a very, very good question. There will have to be some serious thought given to the degree to which you look at the republic level as opposed to looking at the central government level. And you are quite right. There are some things in some countries with respect to which the central government can deliver on; and in other countries that cannot be done.”

But the US government as a whole opted for the priority of the Shock Therapy programme over Yugoslav cohesion.  Thus was the internal dynamic towards the Yugoslav collapse into civil war decisively accelerated. The only European states which did have a strategic interest in the Yugoslav theatre tended to want to break it up.

It would be wrong, of course, to suggest that there were no other, specifically Yugoslav, structural flaws which helped to generate the collapse. Many would argue that the decentralised Market Socialism was a disastrous experiment for a state in Yugoslavia’s geopolitical situation. The 1974 Constitution, though better for the Kosovar Albanians, gave too much to the republics, crippling the institutional and material power of the Federal government. Tito’s authority substituted for this weakness until his death in 1980, after which the state and Communist Party became increasingly paralysed and thrown into crisis. But if the Western powers had been remotely interested in putting the interests of the Yugoslav people first, they had adequate levers to play a decisive role, alongside Yugoslavia’s federal government, in maintaining the country’s integrity. Instead, the Western powers most interested in Yugoslav developments actually assisted, politically and materially, in bringing about the collapse.

In 1991 the Western powers, led by Germany, gave their answer on the question of the Serb population in Croatia. They said Croatia should be entitled to independence on grounds of self-determination and within the boundaries of republican Croatia established within post-war Yugoslavia. Self-determination was established by the fact that a referendum of the Croatian nation had voted for independence. This was a formula for war between the Croatian nationalist government and Croatia’s Serb population because it violated the principles for handling the national question established in the post-war Yugoslav constitution: it denied the Serbs in Croatia their sovereign national rights.

Under that constitution the will of a republican majority could not override the equally valid will of a constituent nation. Thus the vote of the Croatian majority for independence could not override the rights of the Serb population which had to be equally respected. The political leaders of the Serbian population in Croatia organised a referendum on whether to remain within  an independent Croatia and the result was an overwhelming rejection. According to the Yugoslav principles Croatian independence should have been dependent upon a prior resolution of that conflict of rights and democratic wills.

But the EC states during 1991 ignored this, rejecting the Yugoslav idea that the Serb nation had rights equal to the Croatian republican will. Instead the majority of EC states adopted the view that the Serb population of Croatia should accept their status as a national minority within an independent Croatia. This approach should, of course, have implied that CSCE principles for protecting minority rights must be guaranteed before Croatian independence was recognised. But the Croatian government rejected the granting of such CSCE rights.

And the German government decided to brush this CSCE principle aside and recognised Croatia without any prior commitment by the Croatian government to adequate minority rights for Croatia’s Serbian population. This German position thus involved a double betrayal of Croatia’s Serbs: a betrayal of the Yugoslav principles concerning their rights and a betrayal of the CSCE principles concerning their rights. It was bound to drive the Croatian Serb population towards war under the leadership of Serb nationalism. And it led the American mediator Cyrus Vance to call the resulting war ‘Genscher’s war’, referring to the German Foreign Minister. This may be an exaggeration: it was also Tudjman’s and Milosevic’s. But it was Genscher who made it clear to the Croatian Serbs that they had nobody to depend on for their rights but the force of their own arms and those of Serbia.

As to why the German government took this stand is an issue which remains obscure. The line of German diplomats that it was driven by domestic pressures is not convincing since the Auswärtiges Amt [foreign office] led the whole drive. As we shall see, there were other interpretations at the time. But equally important is the question as to why the other EC powers were prepared to accept the German line.

Peter Gowan
The Twisted Road to Kosovo (1999)

US intervention: playing the Bosnian card against an emerging German sphere of influence

During 1991 the United States’s declaratory policy was one of supporting Yugoslav unity. But in reality the US stood back from the Yugoslav crisis, simply watching the chaotic manoeuvrings of the European powers on the issue. The US no longer had any significant national interest in Yugoslavia. But it was pre-occupied by one overriding European policy issue: ensuring that Western Europe remained firmly subordinated to the Atlantic Alliance under US leadership. And this was viewed by the Bush administration as a serious problem as a result of fundamental features of the Soviet collapse. First, NATO – the military cornerstone of the Alliance – had lost its rationale and there were moves in Western Europe (and the USSR) to build a new security order in Europe that would tend to undermine US leadership.

Secondly, the new United Germany, liberated from US tutelage, seemed to be building a new political bloc with France through the Maastricht Treaty with its stress on a Common Foreign and Security Policy leading towards ‘a common defence’. This seemed to be more than words since Germany and France were in the process of building a joint military corps, the so-called ‘Euro-Corps’ outside the NATO framework – a move that profoundly disturbed Washington and London. And thirdly, Germany’s drive in relation to Yugoslavia seemed to be geared not simply to domestic German constituencies, but to the construction of a German sphere of influence in Central Europe, involving Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia and perhaps later drawing in Czechoslovakia and eventually and most crucially Poland. This seemed to be the only explanation for the extraordinary assertive unilateralism of Genscher and Kohl, running roughshod over their EC partners in December 1991 and sending a signal to the whole of Europe that Bonn had become the place where the shape of the new Europe was being decided.

This was not acceptable to the Bush administration. As Eagleburger explained, Germany “was getting out ahead of the US” with its Croatian drive. In other words the US interpretation of Genscher’s drive to break up Yugoslavia was far from being that it was just a sop to Catholic domestic constituencies and the editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. In response to this challenge, the US administration decided to take over the political lead in the Yugoslav crisis.

But just as Germany’s various declared universalist norms and goals were in the service of not of the Yugoslav people but of German political influence, so the United States was not, of course, entering the Yugoslav theatre to calm the storms of war and provide new security for Yugoslavia’s terrified peoples. Quite the reverse. The Bush administration was entering the scene to push Germany and the European Union aside but it was going to do so by laying the basis for a new and much more savage Yugoslav war.

Washington’s chosen instrument for taking the lead was that of encouraging the Bosnian government to go for independence and therefore for a Bosnian war. Bosnian independence was opposed by the German government and the EC. They aimed to try to hold the rest of Yugoslavia together. The US administration decided to put a stop to that by launching a drive for Bosnian independence which got underway in January 1992 just as the EC was following Germany’s lead in recognising Croatia and Slovenia.

Germany had turned the internal Yugoslav crisis into its own problem definition: Europe must defend independent Croatia against Serbian/Yugoslav aggression. Now Washington would provide a new problem definition: Europe and the world must defend an Independent Bosnia against Serbian/Yugoslav aggression and, perhaps, if tactically useful, against Croatian aggression as well. Thus did the US enunciate the great norm that would eventually provide it with European leadership: self-determination for the Bosnian nation and defence of its independence against aggression.
Bosnia: A state without a nation

There was a factual problem with the American line: there was no Bosnian nation in a political sense or in a Yugoslav constitutional sense. There were, instead, three nations in Bosnia, none of which had a majority of the population. As of the 1981 Census Bosnia contained the following main national groups:

Muslims: 1,629,000
Serbs: 1,320,000
Croatians: 758,000
Yugoslavs: 326,000
Bosnians: 0

It was evident from voting results that the majority of Bosnia’s own population was not going to respect the authority of an independent Bosnian state. (The Croatian nationalist leaders had supported Bosnian independence but only to facilitate Bosnia’s being carved up). And it was equally obvious that large parts of that population would go to war rather than accept the state. The American government knew this perfectly well. So by pushing the Izetbegovic government to launch a drive for independence, the Bush administration was pushing for war.

Peter Gowan
The Twisted Road to Kosovo (1999)

Introduction: The Yugoslav anvil for forging a new Europe

When NATO launched its attack on Yugoslavia two sharply opposing views of the significance of this action formed within Europe and across the world. Within part of the NATO zone – especially the Anglo-American part – the bulk of centre and centre-left opinion took the view that NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia marked the start of a new, norm-based order in Europe and more widely around the world. We could call this The Guardian view of the war, since that newspaper was one of the most articulate propagators of this view. The Guardian line was that NATO was at last taking human rights seriously. This the war would be good for Europe’s stable, norm-based development, provided, of course, NATO triumphed.
But in other parts of the NATO zone, such as Greece and much of Italy, in most Eastern Europe and more widely across most of the rest of the world, a diametrically opposite view of the significance of the NATO attack was expressed. NATO’s action was seen as precisely marking the end of the long efforts in the 1990’s to build a European security structure governing by collectively binding norms and rights rather than by power politics. We could call this the Ukrainian Parliament’s view since that body has expressed it most articulately. Ukrainian MPs, though sharply divided between left and right on many issues, united in the face of this NATO attack to pass a resolution for Ukraine to regain nuclear weapons. They explained that Ukraine had been persuaded by the American government to give up its nuclear weapons thought President Clinton’s insistence that the new European order was not going to be based on power politics but on rights and collectively binding norms: a law-based European order. But the attack on Yugoslavia, for Ukrainian MPs. demonstrated conclusively that these US arguments had been spurious. Hence, the Ukrainian parliament wanted to regain a nuclear deterrent which would be directed at no particular threat but simply at giving Ukraine a protection of its security and a voice in European affairs.
Many in the West may regard the views of the Ukrainian Parliament as not worth listening to. But this would be wrong for two reasons. First, because Ukraine is now the big strategic stake for the United States in it’s struggle for mastery in Europe. The current war in the Western Balkans is the prelude to the struggle for control of Ukraine. Those who doubt this should pay attention to the person who has been the mastermind behind the European policy of Albright and Clinton, Zbigniew Brzezinski. As long ago as last year, Brzezinski warned unambiguously that a democratic movement in Ukraine to enter a security pact with Russia would lead the US to try to stage a coup d’etat in this, the biggest country in Europe outside Russia. As he put it:
“In such a case, when the west would have to choose between a democratic or an independent Ukraine strategic interests – not democratic considerations – must determine the Western stance.”
And NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia is marking the earth move in Ukraine, sending shock after shock though its population of 50 million people.
This leads us to the second reason why we should take notice of the view of the Ukrainian Parliament. As Brzezinski’s words demonstrate, we should listen to Ukraine’s MOs because they are correct. The Clinton Administration has launched this Balkan war as part of a European strategy which involves subordinating all norms and norm-enhancing and enfocing structures in Europe to US power and US political goals. In the face of this US drive, some European states have influence over events and some don’t. Is there any person in Europe who believes that Ukraine would have had less capacity to influence the shape of the new Europe if it had been a nuclear power? Would a Ukrainian Parliament’s obsessive focus on, say, the Council of Europe and its norm-protection activities guarantee that country’s security against the will of the likes of Brzezinski and Albright? Surely we should be serious about such matters.
The NATO attack has occurred because, after a decade of manoeuvring and rebuilding its political sway in Europe, the United States government perceived a window of opportunity for a swift assertion of its hegemonic dominance though another Yugoslav war. The window was constructed by a uniquely favourable political configuration in Europe: yet another phase of Russian crisis and decline, and the French state’s repositioning of itself between Germany and the United States in a new partnership with Britain. ending the long period where Germany had been positioned between the United States and France. Now France could get out of its bind of having only one tactic in its European policy: trying to pull Germany over to French positions against the US. Instead, it had room for manoeuvre between Germany and the US. It could go against the US on Iraq and swing with it on, say, Yugoslavia. In short, France, instead of Germany, could be the West European pivot in the high politics of Europe. And Chirac would show how to play this game on Kosovo.
And the time was important for the United States in another sense too. Since the 1996 North Atlantic Council in Berlin, the West European states had given up their aspirations to be an independent collective organiser of the European political order, by agreeing that there would be no autonomous West European military instrument or policy-making authority: the US would have a veto. But this was an agreement only in words. For the US, West European subordination had to be anchored in practice Yet, in practical politics, the West Europeans were precisely threatening insubordination: threatening to build Europe as a political actor on the world stage through turning the Euro into a global currency challenging the dollar. This was the unambiguous ambition of the new German Finance Minister, Oscar Lafontaine, and there was even discussion with the Japanese government for a two-pronged attack on the dollar’s dominance. And, at the same time, West European governments were resisting US sovereignty through NATO over European affairs. No sooner had the US pushed Russia out of any effective voice in European politics though the form of NATO enlargement, than the West Europeans were bringing it back in via demands that NATO military action must have the sanction of a UN Security Council resolution. The attack on Yugoslavia would, it was hoped, cut through all such resistances to US hegemony, putting the Euro back in its place as a purely domestic European currency and putting the UN Security Council where it belonged as far as both the Senate and the Clinton administration were concerned: on the sidelines in the European theatre.
Not of this, of course, means that the Clinton administration is waging a covert battle to destabilise or undermine the West European states. Certainly not. It is offering them a significant place on the bandwagon of globalisation. If German big business – the real capitalist heartland of Europe of the US – will only go along with the US hegemony in Europe, it will be able to have a full partnership with the US in conquering the ’emerging markets’ of the world.But it must be what the Clinton administration calls a ‘strong partnership’, in other words, one under US leadership. This is not an unattractive offer to the big capitalist companies which exercise such political sway in the EU at present.
Part II of this issue of Labour Focus on Eastern Europe seeks to explain this power politics background to the NATO attack. But we can also see how the US assertion of hegemonic power is reconfiguring the whole institutional order in Europe during the course of the current war. People working in bodies concerned with strengthening rights abuses in Yugoslavia in recent years are discovering that their work has turned out not to be about assisting the peoples of Serbia to achieve a more secure future at all: it has actually been preparatory to a NATO air war against Serbia, a war to destroy the economy, the public utilities, the infrastructures of the civil life of the people of that country. For all we know, it could be followed by a NATO blockade like the Anglo-American blockade of Iraq, which has become a weapon of mass destruction of the Iraqi people. All the institutions supposedly designed to establish norms to be applies equally to all in Europe – OSCE agencies, the agencies for refugees, the council of Europe, the various UN bodies – have either been turned into agencies effectively subordinated to Washington’s will or have been brushed aside like the UN Security Council.
US war leadership also casts a new light upon the European Union. Its institutions have been shown to be a political irrelevance, with no say whatever over the conduct of this war. Their role is to be transmission-belt institutions for the economic statecraft linked to the war, oil and other embargoes and the like. The political centre for deciding such matters is not actually the EU at all. It is the North Atlantic Council of NATO and, on that body, Turkey will carry far more clout than the European Commission and European Parliament and half a dozen EU member states combined. On the essentials of European politics, the European Union has turned out to be a bluff.
The European Union does also play an important symbolic role in the conflict. Every now and then, as in the Bosnian war, a European leader or Commissioner says that ‘one day you could join the European Union: there is a vision for your future.’ Joshka Fischer came out with that speech again near the start of the current war, as did Tony Blair, in an interview in Die Zeit: “To the democratic states around Serbia, and to a democratic Serbia itself, I want to offer the prospect of becoming a member of the EU, of NATO and thus the Alliance”. It’s an old, endlessly played tune in Eastern Europe. Even in places like Poland and Hungary people are getting rather sick of it. What Fischer will never give us is any dates, But as far as the Western Balkans is concerned, if not Poland and Hungary, the devastation and chaos produced by the war does suggest a definite date: it’s the Greek Kalends.
But the war also casts a beam of light on the big West European powers. They are themselves, during this war. simply political voyeurs, peering into the windows of the White House. For that is where the key decisions are being taken as to the continent’s destiny. Washington and nobody else will decide the terms of NATO’s exit from this war. Tony Blair may be able to catch more of the conversation in the Oval Office through his mobile phone link with Bill and Hilary. On the other hand, the German government’s views and interests will count for far more among the people in that Oval Office that Tony Blair. But Schröder, Blair and Chirac all wait upon the hegemon’s will. We can also be sure that British influence will count for less than that of Turkey in the calculus of the Clinton Administration. Britain really has nowhere to hawk its wares apart from the Washington Bazaar. But Germany and France will have a bigger say.
Washington’s decisions for Europe will be grounded on its perceptions of the American state’s European and global interest. The discussions in the White House on this subject are wide ranging. There will be the China factor and the World Trade Organisations issues, Moscow and how far to push the Russian state, the threatened destabilisation of Ukraine, the impact of the bombing on Serbian politics, the disintegration of Macedonia, the looming war amongst Albanians between the Berisha-Rugova axis and the KLA-Tirana axis, the Greek-Turkish daily confrontations over the Aegean, the squirmings of the West Europeans and so on.
Washington is also demonstrating its ability to reshape the domestic politics of Europe during this war. NATO is transforming the party systems of Western Europe into transmission mechanisms of the United States government’s objectives. The general approach of the West European states towards the Kosovo crisis during 1998 was to seek a restabilisation of the situation through a negotiated political settlement in Yugoslavia. The approach of Albright and the US government was to use Kosovo as an occasion for war. Washington manoeuvred with the British and French governments to have its war and has thus turned the whole Social Democratic apparatus in Western Europe into a transmission mechanism for a propaganda campaign on the rightness of NATO power politics: why it is right to kick aside the UN and to support a new European order in which a US-led NATO is the political sovereign. Not only that. The social Democratic leaders find that they must justify or excuse the destruction of the Serbian economy, the killings of Serbian civilians, the attempt to exterminate the Yugoslav conscript army. So the Social Democratic leaders find themselves using the language of dehumanisation of the Serbian people by killing them. They must explain that it is necessary to slaughter the staff of Serbian TV and destroy the welfare of the Serbian people. So without a care, the announce that Serbia’s political elites are genocidal mass murderers. This is a complete debauchery of public discourse in the service of the hegemon’s power politics. It opens the way to atrocious slaughter or murderous blockade of the Serbian population if Washington considers such options desirable.
One final point on the West European institutional impact of the launching of this war should be noted: the tight, practical and political integration of the armed forces and defence ministries of the NATO states under US command. This integration of state military capacities and personnel of the European states has surely been a key objective for the US in this war. NATO’s armed forces are being blooded as comrades in arms. The West European general staffs will be open mouthed with admiration for the Pentagon’s awesome war machine and will be pressing their governments to persuade the US government to do what it has done for the British: given them at least a taster of a few Tomahawks and some of the other smart weapons systems.
The impact of the war on Russia’s role in European politics has taken a form that we are now used to after the experience of the 1990s. Time and again, the USA has made moves to push Russia out of European affairs. They tried that early on in the Bosnian crisis, the whole NATO enlargement project was about that; and the current war was supposed to finally bolt the European door against Russia’s central involvement. Yet time and again, Russia has bounced back as the American administration has found that it could not exclude Russia. And this has happened again in the present war as the G8 agreement on terms for ending the war demonstrated Russian influence. Of course, the American bombing of the Chinese Embassy set off a chain of events that pushed the G8 agreement to one side, thus giving the US at least another week of blanket bombing to try to finish the job without Russia. At the time of writing, it is too early to see if that works. But the war once again raises the fundamental issue of whether the peoples and governments of Europe believe their security is enhanced by this US project of trying to push Russia out of the European scene.
There remains the question as to the role of Yugoslavia in the launching of this war. We argue in what follows that its role today is basically the same as it has been throughout the 1990s. With the collapse of the Soviet Block, Yugoslavia lost its strategic importance for any of the NATO powers except Turkey, Greece and Italy. But Yugoslavia’s descent into collapse have its people a great European political role because it became the theatre in which the various big powers could try to demonstrate their capacity to take command of European affairs. There was the German attempt at European leadership over Croatian recognition. There was also the excitement in the EC that the ‘Hour of Europe’ had arrived, as the EC Presidency announced in the summer of 1991: the EC was to take command of the Yugoslav embroglio. The EC Presidency was right: it did take command for about an hour. The United States would not allow it much more. The Bush administration saw to that by pushing for Bosnian independence and a Bosnian war. The EC tried to regain the initiative by brokering various peace deals. But Washington was not having such EC claims to be able to settle anything in Yugoslavia so it sabotaged one peace deal after another. Then, when the time was ripe, the Clinton administration made its big power play in the Yugoslav theatre to assert its European leadership through its Bosnian offensive in 1995 leading to Dayton. Through Dayton, the US bounced back into the heart of European affairs. The current war was to be the final use of the sufferings of the Yugoslav people for great power political goals: the use of aggression against Serbia as the anvil upon which the Clinton administration would forge the instruments of its European political hegemony. With every hammer-blow against the peoples of Serbia, the political structure of Europe would, it was hoped, be reshaped along hegemonic parameters. In this war we are watching to see which breaks first: the political handle on the NATO hammer or the anvil of the political will of the Yugoslav state. That contest is deciding what political order is to be forged for Europe.
In Part I of this issue we examine the ways in which the manoeuvres of the Western powers have impacted on the peoples of Yugoslavia during the 1990s. It is not an edifying story for those who believe that the Western powers are pre-occupied with the rights and welfare of Yugoslavia’s peoples.
And it is not a story being given a happy ending by the NATO powers in the current war. What that ending will be in political terms we can have no idea at the time of writing, for two reasons. First, because the NATO powers have astutely avoided producing any clear programme for Kosovo, Serbia, Yugoslavia, Macedonia etc. They are shrewdly playing such details as the fate of these populations by ear. The second reason is, of course, because the war continues, sending streams of political chain reactions around the planet every day.
But we can be fairly certain about two outcomes of this war. First, that young Kosovar Albanians, Serbs, Macedonians, Montenegrins and Albanians, as well as the dozens of other nationalities in Yugoslavia will try, in large numbers, to get out of the region for the next quarter of a century. They will be right to try. Is there a parent in Europe who would want their child stuck in the Western Balkans after this war for the next 20 years?
The second certainty, is that it will be very difficult for such young people to escape, if the NATO powers have anything to do with the matter. NATO leaders seem to love the phrase about Europe now being ‘whole and free’. For Western business and for NATO missiles, the phrase is largely true: they can roam anywhere across the continent acquiring or ‘depleting’ fixed assets at will. But it is not true for the people of South East and Eastern Europe and after this war it is going to be less true than ever. The only consistent policy of the NATO European powers towards these regions during the 1990s has been a determination to try to stop significant numbers of people from having the freedom to move around Europe as a whole.
Some imagine that the EU will offer the people of the Western Balkans a dramatic new economic deal. This is simply false. The best the Kosovar Albanians could ever hope for is a bit of public works, some temporary anti-poverty relief – the Bosnian got an average of 13 US cents a day on a temporary basis after Dayton – some encouragement for small business and complaints that the destitute peoples of the area are misbehaving themselves so much that the development panacea for the planet under globalisation, Foreign Direct Investment by the Atlantic multinationals, is simply impossible.
A genuinely new deal for South East Europe would involve reversing the entire globalisation programme of the Atlantic powers in that region and reorganising the European division of labour in Europe to give the region an effective insertion in the European economy. That was done for West Germany and Western Europe after the Second World war. But the entire effort of the West European capitalist states in the 1990s has been to keep that kind of operation firmly off the European agenda. Those who believe otherwise are simply out of contact with the reality of West European mercantilism and the Atlantic globalisation drive. The single strong goal of the war for the US as far as the Western Balkans was concerned was to further that drive by destroying the anti-globalisation politics of the Serbian Socialist Party – not to scupper the whole globalisation strategy for Eastern Europe for the sake of Albanians.
The question for Europe after this was is whether it supports what the US administration has achieved during the war: a political order for the continent controlled via NATO in Washington. The war will, of course, be followed by a flurry of activity to obfuscate this reality. There will be a talk of a new inclusive deal for Russia and Ukraine. There will be an outpouring of bombastic rhetoric about a new mighty West European Security and Defence Identity within NATO and the EU as a towering, independent political actor. The new President of the Commission has already started this talk of a European Army and the Commission being a European government. This is just rhetoric.
The read issues for post-war Europe are two: first, whether the two major East European states, Russia and Ukraine, acquire the same rights over European security issues as, say, Germany and France; second, whether the political and military institutions of US hegemony in Europe are replaced by new institutions to which NATO is subordinated. In short, the future of Europe will be decided by the question whether the hegemonic power structure which the current war was designed to consolidate will be reversed. If not, Europe could be in for a very grim future.
The present exclusion of Russia and Ukraine from integration into the structures of Europe pushes these two countries together. But the US has a strategic interest in stopping that. So it is likely to try to make a grab for Ukraine through a presidentialist coup and pull it into the Western zone. Will the Russian state try to stop that? If so, how? By military means, through a civil war in Ukraine? Or will a US power play just plunge the Russian state into a collapse? We don’t know the answers to these questions. Perhaps the current deep instabilities in these two Eastern states can persist for some years more without catastrophic consequences for Europe as a whole. But is it wise to leave Europe’s fate in the hands of people like Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright?
If it is not wise, then Europe’s current political structure built around US hegemony through NATO’s institutional sovereignty must be broken up. Some other over-arching political structure that can keep US power properly balanced and controlled must be constructed. The essential algebra of such a structure would involve France and Germany linking up with Russia and Ukraine and including both. One temporary joint action would be an absolute insistence that from now on NATO, be placed firmly under the control of the UN Security Council. But since Germany has no seat there, and Russia and Ukraine are outside NATO, that arrangement depends upon France for its anchorage. That is no secure anchorage at all, as this current war demonstrates. More radical measures need to be examined urgently. Since the US will not agreed to the OSCE being given a governing role over NATO and will not agree to a body like the Europe-Atlantic Partnership Council being given authority over the NAC, there is only one serious option: to break up the NAC for everything except so-called Article 5 issues – defence of the territory of the NATO states – and for France and Germany to link up to break with US authority and work towards a new security body for Europe. This should be coupled with an urgent campaign to reform the Security Council. It is absurd that the US should have two vetoes there – its own and that of Britain – while Germany has no seat. As the largest country in Europe and a pivotal state in Eurasia, Ukraine should also have a seat and would have a strong claim if it did restore its status as a nuclear power.
But is there really any will withing the key West European states to mount a challenge to a US-led Europe for the sake of a more secure Europe (rather than for grabbing a bigger chunk of this or that ’emerging market’)? This seems very unlikely. The EU states are capitalist formations, hungry for fresh streams of profits from the new, American-led imperial project of globalisation. This, and the sheer aggressive energy of the US at present, gives these EU states powerful incentives for just bandwaggoning with the Americans in the globalisation gamble. And both Russia and Ukraine have resisted being globalised. Only corrupt clans nested close to their power centres are fully plugged into the circuits of Atlantic finance capital. So there are powerful incentives for the Western powers to play rough with Russia: give us your oil, your gas, your minerals, all your economy, or else. As long as these peculiar gangsters clans tied to Western capital keeps their grip on the Russian state, the West has a chance of globalising Russia. But that means a further phase of squeezing the Russian state, weakening it and undermining the health and welfare of its people.
This is the world that the collapse of the Soviet Union has produced. Lasting solutions which can provide Europe with security seem to lie only through a long march to rebuild the strenght of the European labour movement and to reconstruct a trans-European left with a commitment to a norm-based future for the continent. That project will surely demand a firm grasp of the current realities. Unfortunately, the bulk of Social Democratic people in Western Europe have lost their grip on reality even to the point of supporting the NATO war. The prospects for European security do not look at all bright. The sufferings of the peoples of the Western Balkans may well be a foretaste of equal sufferings for very many more of the peoples of Eastern Europe, with ugly consequences for the rest of us as well.
Peter Gowan
The Twisted Road to Kosovo (1999)