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 Notes on the role of Serbia in the Yugoslav conflict


This is an expanded version of a talk given to an informal political discussion group in London, Summer 2000. Written before the coup d'état which overthrew Slobodan Milosevic, it is in some respects out of date. In particular it should be possible to gain a much clearer idea of what happened in Srebrenica through studying the transcripts of various of the trials which have taken place in the prosecutors' court in the Hague. A note on the events which surrounded the coup d'état may be found here. A general chronology of events from 1989 to 1999 will be found here. A bibliography and notes will be found at the end of the essay.


My intention in this paper is twofold: to give a rough idea of how the events in Yugoslavia of the past ten or twelve years might look from a Serb point of view (and in this I have been very much influenced by the writings of the novelist and first president of the reformed Yugoslav federation, Dobrica Cosic); and to provide some comments of my own ­ comments that are based not so much on specialist knowledge as on what, given my experience of the analogous situation of Northern Ireland, seems to me to be probable. What I am not trying to do and would not dare to attempt, is to offer you the objective truth based on a sufficient, comprehensive survey of all the evidence.

The number of issues raised in this discussion is of course enormous, and in the space available to me my remarks will have to be summary and, necessarily, superficial. To put some order into my presentation, however, I would like to begin at the end, by presenting some of my general conclusions.

Which are:

1. that the conflicts which broke out in Yugoslavia in the late 1980s were the consequence of real and long-established divergences of interest and not of a madness or badness peculiar to the Serb people in general or to Slobodan Milosevic in particular.

2. that if the Serbs appear as the aggressors it is because, from a purely political point of view they had already lost by the time the war began. They were trying to reverse a fait accompli. This fait accompli was the disintegration of Yugoslavia as a single political entity, and its division into a number of virtually autonomous units. The war was a consequence of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, not the cause.

3. This disintegration of Yugoslavia was, for reasons I will come back to later, an enormous historical defeat for the Serbs. In the initial stages, although operating from a position of great political weakness, they were in possession of considerable military strength. It is hardly surprising that they tried to use that military advantage while they still possessed it to recover what had been lost politically.

4. Although the story of the intervention by the 'international community' (a term that should never be written without inverted commas) is complex in its detail, it is simple in its overall consequences. It prolonged the war until such time as the Croats, with German and American help, were strong enough to confront the Serbs and suppress the Serb autonomous province of Krajina. At the same time the whole process has marked a decisive advance in the power of the United States which has seen off any hopes of the emergence of Europe as an independent military power and established the right of NATO, under US control, to act independently of the crude legal structure established by the United Nations.

5. Serbia now finds itself in a position analogous to that of Iraq. It lies at the mercy of an enemy who is merciless. who is determined to humiliate it, and who will neither relax his grip to allow the country to breathe, nor deliver a merciful death blow. I will suggest that there is very little that can, or even should, be done politically or militarily to oppose the extension of US hegemony throughout the world; but that there is something to be done in the field of cultural and spiritual life; and that Serbia possesses resources in this domain which could enable it to set us all an interesting example.



I return to my first points which are to do, not with international politics, but with the internal affairs of Yugoslavia. And I will propose what will probably strike you as a very 'Serbocentric' view. This is that Yugoslavia was essentially a Serb creation, the consequence of a series of wars of liberation beginning with the Serb revolts of 1804, in opposition to two great Empires, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. These were wars of almost unimaginable horror, fought on the basis of a clear principle ­ that the loser would suffer massacre, expulsion, destruction of churches and of mosques.

The war against the Ottomans ended in 1912 when an alliance of Serbs, Montenegrins, Greeks and Bulgarians finally expelled the Turks from the area. The Serbs gained Kosovo and Macedonia. The recovery of Kosovo in particular was the fulfilment of a centuries old dream, equivalent to the recovery of Jerusalem by the Jews. In the Serb imagination the advance into the field where the battle of Kosovo had been fought in 1389 was one of the holiest moments of the twentieth century. The Battle of Kosovo was by tradition the moment when the Serbs were rendered powerless before the Ottoman Empire. Attempts to prove that the battle did not really have the significance attributed to it are, in this context, merely pedantic. The Battle of Kosovo (by a force greater than the force of the reconstruction of historical events, the force of one of the greatest of poems, the poem of the Grey Falcon [1]) has become the symbolic equivalent of an undeniable fact ­ the fact that for five hundred years the Serbs were subjected to Ottoman rule. A state of affairs which only came to an end once and for all, or so it seemed, in the war of 1912 and, in particular, with the capture of Kosovo.

Though this still left large numbers of Serbs under the domination of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in what is now Croatia and the Voivodine and Bosnia-Hercegovina.



Bosnia-Hercegovina had also been under Ottoman domination but the initial Serb victories of the first half of the nineteenth century had left it in a very vulnerable state and it was reasonable to assume that it too, with its large Serb population, would soon be 'liberated'. It was to forestall this possibility that in 1878 it was taken over by the Austro-Hungarian Empire against strong and violent opposition from the Serbs. The move was also opposed by the Bosnian Muslims, many of whom, however, soon came to the conclusion that, since the Turks could no longer protect them, rule by the Austrians would be preferable to rule by the Serbs.

There were, broadly speaking, as there are today, three populations concerned ­ Catholics (Croats), Muslims and Orthodox Christians (Serbs, even if, racially, many of these latter derived from the Vlachs, a people who had lived in Serbia prior to the arrival of the Slavs). At this time, though none of these peoples constituted an absolute majority in the area, the Serbs were the largest grouping and were also the most purposeful ­ the group with the greatest ability to act together in pursuit of a common 'national' cause.

Serb outrage at the occupation of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1878 was compounded when the territory was formally annexed to Austria in 1908. And this, together with the final expulsion of the Ottomans in 1912 ­ and the very savage war fought between Serbs and Bulgarians over Macedonia in 1913 ­ provides the context of the Austrian reaction to the assassination of the heir to the imperial throne, by a Bosnian Serb, in Sarajevo, in 1914. This was, as we all know, the spark that ignited the First World War. Historians have long agonised over the question of how such an insignificant event could have had such huge consequences. But for the people of the area concerned, the event was far from insignificant. In Austrian eyes, the Serbs were a small, vicious, anarchic people whose turbulent behaviour was threatening the stability of the whole area. No matter how many times the Serb government might profess its innocence and its good intentions towards the Empire (and it did so in extravagant terms) it was quite clear that the whole impetus of recent events led in the direction of a confrontation over Bosnia-Hercegovina. The more so if we realise that the Serb King, Peter, had actually, as a young man, taken part in the insurrection against the Turks in Hercegovina in 1875. Better to administer the necessary lesson now, when the Serbs were still exhausted after two wars that had been terrible even if they had been successful. [2]

The story of the First World War as it was fought in Serbia has been told by Cosic in his book, which I have read in French and only know in its French title, Le Temps de la Mort. It is an astonishing story, beginning with the defeat of two successive Austrian punitive expeditions ­ victories won against overwhelming odds and at a huge cost in lives, and followed by a devastating epidemic of typhus against which the country had no adequate means of defense. But the most astonishing part of the story is the defeat at the hands of a third punitive exhibition.

Essentially, the Prime Minister, Nikola Pasic, was convinced that a surrender to the Austrians would be the end of Serbia as a nation. Even if the allies were to win they could not be trusted to reconstruct the defeated country. Yet there was no possibility of victory, especially once the Austrians had been joined by the Bulgarians, anxious to gain what they believed to be their territory of Macedonia.

What Pasic did was, so far as possible, to withdraw the entire male population out of the country, beginning with children between the ages of 14 and 18, who were required to retreat before the army. The withdrawal necessarily had to pass through Kosovo and then through Albania, subject to continual harrassment by the Albanian population (though in Albania itself, the ruler Essad Pasha received them sympathetically [3]). Thousands died as they retreated over the mountains in the middle of the winter. What was left was presented, as a most unwelcome gift, to their supposed allies, who had by this time written Serbia off and would have liked to forget the nominal reason for which they had gone to war in the first place (just as in the second World War the Polish government in exile became an embarrassment to the plans of Winston Churchill). I have no words to convey the power with which Cosic tells this story. He leaves untold, however, the equally remarkable story of how in 1916 this army in rags, with some British but much more French help, fought back again and eventually won everything they had lost and, perhaps unfortunately for themselves, much more besides. [4]

With this epic behind them (a story more terrible than the story of the British and even of the French sufferings during the war) it is small wonder that the Serbs and their longstanding allies the Montenegrins saw themselves as the liberators of the area; and had some difficulty forgetting that the other peoples ­ Croats, Slovenes, Bosnian Muslims and Albanians ­ had for the most part fought on the side of the Empire.

The main point of relevance for the recent disputes is that in Serb eyes the desire for union with the Serbs of Bosnia-Hercegovina had been the cause of the First World War and of everything they had suffered in the First World War. It was not, as one might imagine from reading the British press, a little thing got up by a couple of gangster politicians in the 1990s.



The existence of Yugoslavia ­ of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes ­ was, then, or could be seen as, the result of the Serb drive towards a state that would incorporate all the Serbs, a drive which had brought about the downfall of two great empires. There may be a great deal of hubris in the Serb claim to have brought about the fall of two great empires, but it is a claim no more unreasonable than the claim of Muslim fundamentalists to have brought about the fall of the Soviet Empire through the war in Afghanistan. Of course, theoretically, Yugoslavia was a state in which the different peoples (but especially the named peoples ­ Serb, Croat and Slovene) were equals. But in practice the Serbs had an overall majority and the country was ruled by a Serb dynasty. The essential contradiction of interests which was seen in the recent wars was established. The Serbs, spread as they were over the whole territory, had an interest in greater unity and centralisation; the other peoples, more concentrated in clearly defined territories, had an interest in greater degrees of local autonomy.

There could be one state in which the Serbs were united and possessed an overall majority and the other peoples were national minorities ­ the 'prison of the peoples' as it was characterised by the Comintern; or there could be several independent or federated states in which the other peoples enjoyed autonomy but the Serbs were reduced to a gaggle of separated national minorities.



I will pass lightly over the Second World War for the sake of coming to more recent events, simply observing the obvious: that this logic helps to explain why in the first instance many Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Kosovan Albanians saw the Germans and Italians as liberators. It also helps to explain why, again in the first instance, the resistance was largely Serb, and why the conflict between Royalist Cetniks and Communist partisans took on something of the character of a Serb civil war. And it goes some way towards justifying the transfer of support on the part of the allies from the Cetniks to the Communists, which otherwise appears to be a supreme example of Churchillian cynicism. The Cetnik idea could not be anything other than a Serb idea; but the Communist idea was capable of appealing to people from the other nationalities. By the end of the war, the Communist movement seemed to possess that elusive quality, a genuine Yugoslav national consciousness. But it should never be forgotten that the anti-Fascist and anti-Communist Cetnik movement (there was another, collaborationist, anti-Communist Cetnik movement) was the only distinctly national military resistance the Germans and Italians encountered in the area. And it has the remarkable honour of having been, pitted against enormous odds, the first of all the resistance movements. [5]

After the war, Yugoslavia was divided into six clearly defined republics ­ Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and Slovenia. The Voivodine, with its Hungarian minority, and Kosovo, with its Albanian majority, were established as provinces of Serbia, enjoying a certain degree of autonomy. In those early days the emphasis was on establishing Communist power and there was therefore a high degree of centralisation associated with the name of Aleksandr Rankovic, a Serb, Tito's second in command, widely seen as his likely successor. Rankovic was Chief of Police and, as such, had responsibility for settling scores with the old collaborationist tendencies and with the old Royalist Serb Cetniks; and he was also identified with the early efforts to collectivise agriculture and, after the break with Stalin in 1948, the purging of the (largely Serb) element that still supported the Cominform. Cosic has written of the exceptionally brutal means by which the Stalinists were suppressed and remodelled in his book Le Temps du Pouvoir (his hero, Ivan Katic, who has endured prison as a Communist sympathiser by the Royalists in the 1930s and by the Nazis, regards his imprisonment under Rankovic/Tito as the worst).

It is hardly surprising that Rankovic became unpopular and in the 1960s he was replaced as Tito's right hand man by the Slovene, Edvard Kardelj. Kardelj, under the general slogan of self management, initiated a programme of increasing autonomy for all the separate constituent elements of the Yugoslav federation. This reached its highest expression with the 1974 constitution, under which each of the entities ­ republics and autonomous provinces ­ had a right of veto over federal legislation. The overall process was a little attentuated by the strong central personal power of Tito and by the fact that all the different local leaders were obliged to express themselves in terms of a common ideology. Nonetheless the overall tendency towards the division of Yugoslavia up into its constituent parts was clear, and was denounced by Cosic in the 1960s.

Cosic had fought with the partisans and had been close to the centre of power after the war. He had acquired his reputation as a writer largely on the strength of a novel which I have not read and which again I only know through its title in French ­ Partages. This was largely a polemic against the Cetnik movement from the point of view of a committed partisan, a political perspective Cosic never lost. [6] He was also the author of Racines, which evokes the desolation and violence of an isolated Serb peasant community at the end of the ninetenth century ­ a novel which, rather surprisingly for a member of the Central Committee of the Serb League of Communists, turns on the theme of sexual impotence. His Serb nationalism is thus by no means simple and indeed, in the first instance, he presented himself as a determined opponent of all nationalisms, defending the Yugoslav idea against what he saw as the nationalist tendencies encouraged by Kardelj. He describes a conversation he had had with Kardelj which had shocked him deeply at the time in which Kardelj had argued that Yugoslavia was only a temporary structure and that the long term historical tendency would be towards a separation of the old Catholic elements (Croatia and Slovenia) which would turn to the West, and the old Orthodox and Muslim elements, which would turn to the East. For Kardelj, then, the faultines between the Catholic and Orthodox traditions was as fundamental as the faultine between Christianity and Islam, and would not be broken down by Communism. [7]

One may imagine that Cosic would have been the more shocked on hearing this given that he saw himself as representative of the European strand in the Serb tradition. The starting point for the great series of novels, Racines, Le Temps de la Mort, Le Temps du Mal (about the Communist movement at the begining of the Second World War) and Le Temps du Pouvoir is the confrontation between the old Serb radical peasant chieftain, Agim Katic, local tyrant, convinced that the Serb peasant is the equal of the European gentleman; and his son Vukasin, convinced that Serbia's future can only lie in overcoming the huge gap that separates it from European civilisation.

Writing I think about 1991, Cosic gave the following account of his thinking as a dissident:

'I had in fact understood about twenty years ago, with a great deal of suffering and sorrow, that Yugoslavia as it was at that time could not be saved as a community. I had thought, both as a writer and as a witness, about what needed to be done to guide this process of the ideological and political dismantling of Yugoslavia along a democratic and peaceful channel, based on principles of universal validity. I could envisage two possible outcomes: the way of destruction in which the secessionist element would lead the country into a civil, religious, inerethnic war, amounting in our land to a genocidal war; and the way that I named the 'scandinavisation of the Yugoslav space', the way of peaceful negotiation, agreements, the recomposition of frontiers and separation through plebiscites; that is to say, respect for the political wills of all the citizens of all the nations.

'Unfortunately, no-one supported my idea of scandinavisation. The worst way was chosen, and the responsibility for this choice falls largely on the shoulders of the European Community, which worked up the war through its truly disastrous policy, which has been the cause of enormous tragedies. This same policy is still at work as a promoter of conflict in Bosnia and Croatia.' [8]

What this means in practice was that the break-up of Yugoslavia was inevitable because of the secessionist ambitions of the Croat and Slovene leadership, but that it could be achieved by mutual agreement if the interests of the Serbs, turned from majority to minority, were recognised. The key phrase in the passage I have just quoted seems to me to be 'the recomposition of the frontiers'. If the break up occurred along the existing frontiers, the Serbs would find themselves in a position analogous to that faced by the Protestants in Ireland at the time of Irish independence; or, alternately, of that actually experienced by the Roman Catholics at the time of the establishment of an autonomous, Protestant-dominated state in Northern Ireland.

But in fact the Serb position was more radical, since only fifty years previously (thirty years, if we take the 1974 constitution as the turning point), the Serbs had been the victims of an outright attempt at genocide.

The massacres of the Serbs, especially in Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo, have been shrugged off in some of the recent literature as a matter of little consequence; and much effort has been put into showing that the Serbs'own idea of what they had undergone during the Second World War has been wildly exaggerated. At the time of the LM libel trial, Ed Vuillamy of The Guardian complained that all the evidence of genocidal tendencies among the Croats produced by supporters of LM came from 50 years previously. [9]One wonders, however, if he would have used the same argument if it had been Jewish/German relations that were under discussion. The LM libel trial (and I will come to the specific issue of this trial ­ the Serb atrocities in Bosnia, shortly) almost coincided with the David Irving trial. The people who accused Irving of an offence against the sacred rights of memory were often the same people who accused the Serbs, and the writers for LM, of raking over the ashes of the past.



But in fact the Serbs did not need to go back fifty years to have reasons for apprehension as to what might happen to them as national minorities under the domination of the other Yugoslav peoples. They had an example closer to hand, in the case of Kosovo.

In the 1990s, so the papers informed us repeatedly, the Serbs only constituted around 10% of the population of Kosovo. What was not emphasised so readily, however, was that this small percentage was the consequence of a long process of ethnic cleansing dating back to the Second World War. At the beginning of the Second World War, the Serbs claim they were in a majority in the region. If this is true it must immediately be acknowledged that it was at least partly the consequence of a concerted effort at colonisation over the previous twenty years ­ the only period in which Kosovo was ever, at least since the Middle Ages, under unrestrained Serb rule.

Be that as it may, the Serbs during the war were exposed to a policy of expulsion and massacre on a very large scale; and at the end of the war, the expelled Serbs, who were by no means all recent colonists, were not allowed to return.

This decision may be understood. What little Albanian support there had been for the partisans had been gained by a promise that Kosovo would not be returned to Serbia, a promise that was promptly broken, at least in appearance. Kosovo became a province of Serbia, but although, in the Rankovic days, it was largely dominated by Serbs, it was never meaningfully a part of Serbia. The task of the government of Kosovo was to remould a rebellious people, to make them into Yugoslavs and Communists through a combination of terror and incentive. In these circumstances, the return of the expelled Serbs, or the assertion of a real union with Serbia, were complications that the Communist authorities could do without.

Cosic was one of the first public figures, back in the 1970s, to make an issue of what was happening to the remaining Serbs in Kosovo. By that time, Kosovo was to nearly all intents and purposes independent of Serbia and under an Albanian administration. The priest Athanasius Jevtic, whose 'Kosovo file' is a relentless chronicle of acts of persecution, major and minor, suffered by the Kosovan Serbs, insists that the transition from Rankovic to Kardelj was not such a radical watershed, and that the process had been continuous since the war. [10]

The fact of the decline of the Serbs as a proportion of the population of Kosovo is not in dispute. In the 1970s, according to official figures, it was 25%; by the 1990s, it was 10%. There is a great deal of dispute over what these figures mean ­ the extent to which they are due to diminution of overall Serb numbers, or simple increase in Albanian numbers (including a large influx of refugees from Albania itself); or the extent to which the departure of the Serbs, which was undoubtedly occurring on a large scale, was voluntary or involuntary. But whatever else needs to be said, the thesis that the Serbs were under a relentless pressure to get out is, at the very least, credible.

Kosovo, I have already said, is to the Serbs what Jerusalem is to the Jews ­ it is seen as the cradle of the nation and the symbol at once of its greatness and of its sufferings. The territory is, or was, covered throughout by remnants of its Serb and Orthodox past. But to the Albanians all that is no more than the symbol of an alien and oppressive power. The Serb desire to incorporate Kosovo is, not unnaturally, experienced by the Albanians as a threat. Clearly the last thing the Albanians want in their midst is a Serb population, or relics of a Serb past that might provide a justification for the claim that Kosovo is part of Serbia. And clearly the means by which a majority can make a minority in their midst feel unwelcome are manifold and do not necessarily require recourse to spectacular, or even illegal, means. An accumulation of little incidents, each one petty in itself, is quite sufficient. And, especially once a fully Albanian administration was established, the Serbs had few means of redress, so long as the means employed were not too gross. Under the 1974 constitution, the Serb parliament had no right to interfere in the internal affairs of the parliament of Kosovo. In fact the situation provides an interesting example of what is known in Britain as the 'West Lothian question' (and there is a certain irony in the fact that the man who posed the 'West Lothian question', Tam Dalyell, is one of the honourable handful of MPs who opposed the war on Yugoslavia). Although the Serb parliament could not discuss the internal affairs of Kosovo, Kosovo was represented in the Serb parliament, so that representatives from Kosovo could have their say in the internal affairs of Serbia.



Cosic recognised the Croats and Slovenes as national communities who would, unfortunately in his eyes but necessarily, require their own state. He had a similar attitude to the Albanians. He declares that he had long recognised that a greater Albania, incorporating parts of Kosovo and of Macedonia, was a historical inevitability. Throughout the 1990s he was an advocate of the partition of Kosovo, a solution which would appeal to me in principle though I cannot imagine where a suitable line of partition could be drawn. He did not, however, regard the Bosnian Muslims as a national community. One of his objections to the 1974 constitution was that, in the case of the Muslims, it treated a religious identity as a national identity. I do not know his views well enough to know what national identity he would have ascribed to the Muslims, or how he would ideally have seen the future of Bosnia-Hercegovina once the process of Croat and Slovene separation got under way. [11]

The existence of the Bosnian Muslims is the only basis for seeing Bosnia-Hercegovina as a distinct national entity with its own right to self determination. There is no social or historical basis for the 'multi-ethnic' or, more accurately, multicultural or multinational Bosnia universally proclaimed by the British press and cultural élite. There are, simply and obviously, three peoples in question: Croats, Serbs and Muslims. The Serbs identified historically with Serbia, the Croats with Croatia. The existence of exceptions, even many exceptions, does not alter the general picture. Many Muslims ­ like many Croats and many Serbs ­ had been enthusiastic supporters of the Yugoslav multicultural idea and some could hope that something similar could be realised in Bosnia-Hercegovina. But, despite the best efforts of Noel Malcolm to show (in his Bosnia ­ a Short History) that Bosnia had a longstanding distinct moral existence, it is clear that the demand for an independent Bosnia had never siezed the imaginations of more than a small minority of each of the three communities involved.

The position of the Bosnian Muslims is clearly very difficult. They are the largest of the three peoples concerned, but this is only a comparatively recent development. Historically it was the Serbs who were the largest of the three communities. When Cosic's characters in the first half of the century use the term 'Bosnjak', they are almost always referring to Serbs. Even now the Muslims do not constitute an overall majority. They are outnumbered by the Croats and Serbs combined. But whatever quarrels might divide Croats and Serbs elsewhere they had few grounds for disagreement over Bosnia-Hercegovina, once Slobodan Milosevic had renounced the idea of keeping the whole territory in the reformed, Serb dominated, Yugoslav federation. Hence the negotiations between himself and Tudjman, which have been almost universally interpreted not as what they clearly were ­ attempts to reach a reasonable agreement to avoid bloodshed between the two peoples concerned ­ but as evidence of each man's deviousness and lack of principle.

The Muslims lacked military force and were unable to claim that they were a distinct national community with a right to the whole territory of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Their reluctance to be incorporated into a Serb dominated remnant of Yugoslavia or into a federation with Croatia was certainly understandable, yet they could not win independence within the frontiers of a viable national territory by their own unaided efforts.

My understanding is that, though the Muslim leader, Alia Izetbegovic, may have wanted a unified Bosnia under Muslim control, he knew that he could not achieve it. He had actually signed with the Croat and Serb leaders an agreement, brokered by the European community at Lisbon which, however unfavourable it may have been to the Muslims, might have averted the war. [12] But he was more or less forced by international ­ mainly German and American ­ pressure into holding a referendum on independence. He was led to believe that as head of an internationally recognised state he would have international support. The referendum result in favour of independence was deceptive. Only the Muslims genuinely wanted it; the Croats supported it as a means of detaching Bosnia-Hecegovina from Yugoslavia preparatory to detaching the Croat parts and attaching them to Croatia. The Serbs boycotted the referendum, interpreting it, understandably enough, as a declaration of war.

Of course 'the Croats', 'the Serbs', 'the Muslims' were not as homogenous as they may appear from this account. There were Croats who genuinely supported an independent Bosnia-Hercegovina. They were defeated militarily by the Croat separatists. [13] There was a small minority of Serbs, mainly concentrated in certain areas of Sarajevo, who supported an independent Bosnia-Hercegovina. Most importantly, however, the Muslims themselves were divided. The man widely regarded as the father figure of Muslim nationalist consciousness, Muhammad Filipovic, had come to an agreement with Milosevic. [14] The leader of the main Muslim party, the Social Democratic Alliance, Fikret Abdic, favoured an agreement with the Serbs and formed a pro-Serb Muslim army in his stronghold round Bihac in Western Bosnia, a drama that eventually resulted in the expulsion, at the hands of a government army, into Serb-held territory, of some 30,000 Muslims living in the area. [15]

Izetbegovic's policy, resulting in a war fought simultaneously against the Croats and the Serbs, was a desperate gambit that could only ever have succeeded with strong international support. The Muslims were at first unarmed and, unlike both the Croats and the Serbs, they had no sympathetic neighbour to arm them. Yet the government, duly recognised by the 'international community' as legitimate, was subjected to the same arms embargo as their enemies, now defined as rebels. This was a piece of the most breathtaking cynicism. But the 'international community' was still far from ineffective. They intervened sufficiently to prevent Sarajevo and the so-called 'safe havens' ­ Srebrenica, Bihac, Zepa, Gorazde (the sixth, Tuzla, was in fairly clearly defined Muslim territory) ­ from falling. Their fall, especially that of Sarajevo, would have ended the war. As it was, the Serb forces were tied down in sieges which could never come to a resolution. They could not take the towns, but nor could they afford, militarily, to raise the siege. In declaring these areas to be protected zones, the 'international community' made no provision to prevent them from being used for military purposes by the Muslim forces. Sarajevo was the seat of government and, notionally at least, the nerve centre of the Muslim military effort. Tuzla was garrisoned by the Muslim Second Army. Srebrenica also had a substantial army presence which on several occasions broke out and destroyed the Serb villages that surrounded it. Bihac was garrisoned by the Muslim fifth army, which eventually broke out and destroyed the Muslim forces of Fikret Abdic. Gorazde had an important munitions factory. All these are considerations which got little attention as the general picture of the Serbs wilfully and maliciously starving civilian populations was broadcast about the world. [16]

The Muslim-Croat war was as vicious as the Muslim-Serb war. Ivo Goldstein's History of Croatia states that 10,000 Croats and a larger number of Muslims were killed in it. [17] Yet eventually the United States managed to broker a Muslim-Croat alliance as the only means by which the Serbs could be challenged (despite the fact that the Croats in Bosnia-Hercegovina had no quarrel with the Serbs). The alliance established the Muslim and Croat parts of Bosnia-Hercegovina not as a fully independent state but as part of a federation with Croatia ­ the sort of relationship that could have been had from the start with Serbia. From that point on the Muslim situation ceased to be hopeless, though it was still hardly very desirable, dependent as they were on the very people who had only recently been massacring them. The resolution, such as it was, only came when the Croats were strong enough to expel the Serbs from the Krajina area of Croatia in what is generally recognised as the single largest and most dramatic piece of ethnic cleansing in the entire war. It was only on the back of this spectacular act of genocide that the 'international community' felt able to raise the siege of Sarajevo through massive bombing of the Serb positions, thereby opening the way for the Dayton agreement. Whether the position in which the Bosnian Muslims found themselves after the Dayton agreement is better than the position in which they would have found themselves, tens of thousands of lives previously, had they kept to the Lisbon agreement or had they remained within the Yugoslav federation as many of them wanted, remains, I think, an open question.



It would of course be wrong to leave the present discussion without saying a word about Serb atrocities.

In the Summer of 1992, when the 'international community' had imposed independence on Bosnia-Hercegovina knowing that this would lead to a state of horrific fratricidal war, the Serbs possessed the means of waging war and the Muslims were largely defenceless. Under these conditions the Serbs swept all before them. It was at this time that they were definitively established in the European imagination as the villains of the piece. The two most terrible charges brought against them were rape on a very large scale and the interning of Muslim males in intolerable conditions.

It seems to me very probable under the circumstances that rape would have occurred on a large scale, the more so because this is a feature of almost all the accounts I have seen of interethnic war in the Balkans ­ usually accounts of Serbs being raped by Turks. That an atmosphere of collective madness prevailed, well suited to bringing out the worst in the peoples involved, is obvious, the more so because the Bosnian Serbs at the time were not an organised army. The Yugoslav army had, under pressure from the 'international community' been obliged to withdraw. I remember at the time being very surprised at what seemed to me to be the irresponsible weakness displayed by Slobodan Milosevic in agreeing to this. Of course the army left behind its Bosnian Serb members and a large amount of its weaponry, but not its ability to act as a centrally controlled, coherent and disciplined force. The war was fought by those who felt motivated to fight it, which is to say, to a large extent, by a disorganised mob in an atmosphere of general hysteria. We have as it happens a record of this atmosphere in the very powerful Serb film Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (when the history of Serb culture in the second half of the twentieth century is written, the period of Slobodan Milosevic's rule may well have the appearance of a little golden age). I therefore find the prevalence of rape probable, but the notion that it was a centrally directed, deliberate policy highly improbable. And the suggestion that it was directed by Slobodan Milosevic or Radovan Karadzic I find utterly absurd. [18] And as so often in this story I find that the conditions that made it probable were largely those that had been imposed by the 'international community'.

I would advance a similar argument with regard to the prison camps. The LM trial turned on the question as to whether or not a photograph of Muslim prisoners had been faked to make their condition appear worse than it really was. The question appears to me to be quite beside the point. I am fully persuaded that the conditions in these camps was little short of hell. I am persuaded of this because I do not see how it could have been otherwise.

The war was a war for territory and the aim of the Serbs was, quite clearly and inevitably, to create a coherent and defensible territory. This involved taking towns and villages which had large populations of Muslim men of fighting age. What were the Serbs to do with them? They could release them, in which case they would go to the strengthen the Muslim forces; they could kill them; or they could put them in camps.

But although the Serbs were initially the best equipped force in the war, they were still an impoverished, disorganised army fighting with an absolute minimum of means. Any help they received from Serbia itself had to be clandestine because of Milosevic's desire to keep up an appearance of complying with the conditions imposed by the 'international community'. It was barely sufficient to maintain and feed their own forces never mind create properly and humanely run prisoner of war camps. Such camps would tie down large numbers of men, involve major expenditure on fortifications, on beds, on sanitation, on food. Without those means, which the Serbs simply did not possess, the only way to hold large numbers of potentially energetic and highly motivated men in captivity was through brutal terrorism, calculated to break their spirits. The only other option short of returning them to the war on the enemy side was to kill them. All this is so obvious that it is embarrassing to have to write it and yet I never saw these considerations mentioned at the time that the condition of the camps was being talked about all over the world. It certainly never occurred to anyone to congratulate the Serbs on choosing the difficult option of camps over the easy one of simple killing. The Croats and Muslims soon found themselves faced with exactly the same dilemma, once they started winning victories. But in the early days only the Serbs were winning victories so ­ since the international press seems to be incapable of thinking in terms of the practicalities of war and can see only wilful moral badness ­ the Serbs took on the appearance of the people who started a policy of atrocity and the equivalent actions of the Croats and Muslims appear as a response.

The other major accusation brought against the Bosnian Serbs is of course the massacre at the fall of Srebrenica. This was something of a convenient massacre which the 'international community' used quite deliberately to distract attention from the expulsion of the Serbs of Krajina, a massacre that enjoyed the 'international community''s support. [19]

People who have read about the Srebrenica massacre without paying much attention to the details will doubtless have the impression that the Serbs stand accused of massacring thousands of male civilians. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, Srebrenica, under UN protection, was home to a substantial Muslim fighting force, a force accused by the Serbs of having itself engaged in massacres of the surrounding civilian population on those occasions when it broke out of its encirclement.

There are, so far as I can see, two main charges brought against the Serbs. According to the first, at the fall of the town a section of the Muslim army surrendered and were promptly taken out and executed. If it is substantiated it is of course a very serious charge. I have one detail from accounts sympathetic to the Serbs which may corroborate and help to explain, though not to excuse, it. This is that many of the Serbs who entered Srebrenica came from the locality and were carrying lists of Muslim soldiers accused of particularly vicious actions in previous incidents. [20] It is possible ­ but I am by no means asserting that it happened ­ that these might have been singled out and summarily executed.

The other accusation concerns a section of the Muslim army which did not surrender. The figure of seven thousand men has been mentioned (it should be noted in parenthesis that numerically the Muslims may have outnumbered the Serbs, the Serb advantage lying in their weaponry). These seven thousand tried to escape to Tuzla but were caught in an ambush, or a series of ambushes, in which half of them were killed. The rest got through.

In this case we are talking, at the very worst, of the massacre of an army which, though in retreat and with very few means of defending itself, was still at war. Those responsible for the massacre of the retreating Iraqi army on the road to Basra (and I am not referring to the recent accusations from Mr Hersh that the massacre continued after the formal Iraqi surrender) are hardly in a position to complain about that. Again, I have no pretentions to knowing the truth of the matter but it may be interesting to quote a Serb account of what happened which seems to me on the basis of what knowledge I have to be credible:

"According to intelligence of the Army of Republika Srpska, around six thousand Muslim conscripts have not joined the convoys for evacuation, but instead continued armed resistance, or tried to force an outbreak through the Serb lines of defence in the direction of Srebrenica ­ Kravica ­ Konjevic Polje ­ Cerska ­ Tuzla.. Skirmishes with this group [...] have continued for the next twenty days in the district of Konjevic Polje ­ Cerska ­ Udrica. A large number of Muslim fighters were killed during the attempt to break through the lines of defence of Bratunac and Zvornik, or during clashes between their own competing factions. Part of the fighters surrendered ­ a small number, two hundred ­ and they have been transferred as prisoners of war to the military prison of Bjeljina. The larger part, around four thousand, reached the territory of the municipality of Tuzla. It is impossible to give exact estimates of the number of Muslim soldiers that died because the fighting took place over a large area and in different directions." [21]

The apparently farfetched detail of Muslim factions fighting each other ('clashes between their own competing factions') is strangely corroborated by an apparently even more farfetched detail in one of the Muslim accounts: that the Serbs sprayed the Muslims with a hallucinogenic gas which caused them to mistake each other for the enemy. [22]

But the main point that should be retained here is that the events at Srebrenica concerned, not the relations between Serb military and Muslim civilians, but relations between two armies; and that a large section of the Muslim army, consisting of several thousand men, had not surrendered but was attempting to break through Serb lines.



Before I move on to the last part of this presentation, which will be a brief discussion of the role played by the 'international community', I would like to say a few more words about Kosovo.

I have already indicated why Slobodan Milosevic, with almost unanimous enthusiastic support among the different Serb peoples, suppressed the autonomy of Kosovo. He was trying to reverse a process that was already far advanced and that was leading ineluctably to the full separation of Kosovo from Serbia. An important feature of this process was the steady wearing away of the Serb population in Kosovo.

Many Albanians, especially students of course, were dissatisfied with the slow pace of the moves towards full independence, and there had been serious riots in 1981. These were put down with considerable violence by the Albanian-dominated government of the time. Tim Judah quotes a member of that government as saying that they were particularly anxious to suppress the revolt because they believed that most of what the students were demanding had already been achieved and that the students, by making an issue of it, were jeopardising that achievement. [23]

After the supression of Kosovan autonomy, the Serbs stand accused of expelling Albanians from positions of authority in all walks of public life, including the health service and schools. But the situation, so far as I can judge, is not as simple as it appears. The Serbs, with barely any exceptions other than those such as Cosic who favoured partition, saw Kosovo as an integral part of the territory of Serbia ('Old Serbia', as it is called in Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon). The Albanians, almost without exception, wished it to have its own existence as a distinctly Albanian territory ­ as notionally a part of Serbia but outside Serb control; as a fully independent republic, either within or outside a federation equivalent to that of the old Yugoslavia; or as an integral part of Albania, an ideological correct option which was, nonetheless, unattractive when Albania was under the rule of Enver Hoxha. [24]

The Albanians naturally refused to recognise the suppression of their autonomy. Which means that they refused to recognise the authority of the government of Serbia. Which means that they refused to recognise the validity of documents ­ including contracts of employment ­ issued by the government of Serbia. In other words, there is considerable room for discussion as to the extent to which they were expelled from public life and the extent to which they wihdrew from public life. [25]

The same situation can be seen in the history of Northern Ireland. When the government of Northern Ireland was established, the Catholic population, almost unanimously, refused to recognise it, to the extent that teachers refused to accept pay cheques issued by the new government. [26] Did the absence of Roman Catholics from the civil service, from the police and from the state school system signify discrimination by the state against Catholics or discrimination by Catholics against the state? In Northern Ireland considerable pressure was put on any Catholic who may have thought of cooperating with the state; and in Kosovo, the boycott of the state was organised by a powerful nationalist movement, the LDK, which was by no means a simple mirror image of its mild mannered, eccentric, pacifist public face, Ibrahim Rugova.

Throughout the 1990s, the LDK built an alternative state, complete with its own systems of health, education and taxation. The Serbs made little if any effort to prevent it. By the mid-1990s, it has been said, the Serbs controlled the public sector of life in Kosovo and the Albanians controlled the private sector. Given the state of public finances at the time and the amount of money that was coming in from Albanian Kosovans working abroad, it is not at all certain that the Albanians had the worst of the deal. [27] The apparent absence of Albanian military activity under the circumstances is surprising especially given the Albanian tradition which is anything but pacifist. One can only assume that the Albanians were inhibited by fear of an overwhelmimng Serb reaction.

When outright rebellion did break out, in 1998, it was concentrated in the Drenica valley, an area that would be called in Northern Ireland terminology, 'bandit country' ­ country that was a law unto itself and had caused considerable difficulties for all previous administrations including the Albanian government of the 1980s. [28] The 'international community' did not intervene openly until after the rebellion had been put down, brutally and with great difficulty, but successfully. The 'international community' then required that the Serbs withdraw all additional forces from the area. Which they did, with consequences that were so predictable that one can only wonder why the Serb leadership agreed to it ­ not the first time in the whole story one has been surprised at Slobodan Milosevic's willingness to comply with unreasonable demands made by the 'international community'. On this occasion, naturally, the guerrilla element, the 'KLA', which had been expelled, came back again and the whole process of the war took off again ­ thus incidentally preventing the large number of refugees who had fled their homes during the Summer and Autumn fighting from coming back in the Winter.

The pretext for the ultimatum imposed at the Rambouillet conference (either surrender unconditionally or be bombed) was that the Serbs, by returning additonal police and army to Kosovo, had broken the terms of the ceasefire of Autumn 1998; yet all observers ­ and by this time the situation was being observed by the OSCE, the component of the 'international community' that can most credibly be presented as an impartial body ­ are agreed that, in the initial stages at least, the major provocations were occurring on the Albanian side. [29]

Anyone with a sense of history will of course be tempted to compare the Rambouillet ultimatum with the Austrian ultimatum to the Serbs that sparked the First World War. The British government at that time took the view that no self respecting sovereign government could have accepted the terms of the Austrian ultimatum. Yet these were mild compared to the terms of the Rambouillet ultimatum. The Austrians wanted Austrian investigators to have full freedom to investigate the assassination of the Archduke inside Serbia; they were not insisting on the right to occupy Serbia, or even a part of Serbia, militarily. The Rambouillet ultimatum was the more sinister when we realise that Kosovo was to be, as it has been, divided into five zones, including an Italian zone and a German zone with all the echoes that might evoke of the settlement imposed by the Germans and Italians during the Second World War. It was almost exactly as if the Germans were to be invited to participate in an international force to resolve the conflict on the West Bank of the Jordan.

The House of Commons select committee report on the war (if it can be called a war when war was never declared) has conceded that the Serb government could not possibly have accepted the terms that were imposed on it at the negotiations at Rambouillet. This is a huge confession which, if we lived in a society in which rational political debate occurred, would have created a major scandal. It is, however, slightly beside the point. It has to do with the scarcely believeable clause that gave NATO forces free access to the whole area of Yugoslavia. [30] This clause was not, however, the main sticking point in the negotiations. One is tempted to think that it had been kept in reserve to provide an occasion to begin the bombing in the unlikely event of Mr Milosevic's accepting the main principle of the document. Which was NATO occupation of Kosovo.

It is important for us to know why we went to war. President Milosevic was prepared to accept a UN occupation of Kosovo. He refused to accept a NATO occupation. A NATO occupation would have entailed an effective surrender of sovereignty. But a UN occupation would certainly have been sufficient to prevent major atrocities. Our reason for going to war was, then, this: to establish a NATO presence in Kosovo (Mr Milosevic saved face a little bit, not very much, by ensuring that in the end NATO was theoretically present under the auspices of the UN). But there are many indications that as far as the United States was concerned the war was an end in itself ­ that Mrs Albright, for reasons of her own, was looking for an excuse to bomb Serbia.

Faced with such an ultimatum, the Serb government was placed in a position in which it was virtually impossible to avoid an all-out confrontation with the most powerful (in the purely physical sense of the term) military force the world has ever seen. That was, to say the least of it, an extreme and difficult situation, rendered the more difficult because the war would have to be conducted in the midst of a hostile population. It is easy to imagine that anyone who found himself in such a situation would feel absolved of all normal considerations of moral restraint; and equally easy to imagine the temptation to do the one thing that could be done relatively easily ­ get rid of the hostile population. If we adopt a policy which is calculated to drive a people mad we must share a large part of the moral responsibility for the consequences of that madness.



Which brings me to the last of the questions I want to consider. What have been our motives in all this ­ 'our', in the sense of British citizens, citizens of Europe, and members of NATO? Have we been operating on the basis of simple self righteousness and vindictivenes, as one might imagine from the rhetoric that has been used of international principles and the punishment of evildoers? Or is there a serious political purpose behind our actions?

I have suggested that the peoples of the Balkans had reasons as good and comprehensible as peoples normally have for going to war with each other. I have concentrated on the Serb reasons but I hope I have said nothing that would indicate disrespect for the motives of the other peoples concerned. These rational and perfectly understandable wars were, however, complicated from the first by the presence of a body which lumbered around like a village idiot who, however much he may be despised, was dangerous and heavily armed and required to be treated with kid gloves. The village idiot was, of course, the 'international community.'

The 'international community' has no existence as a distinct moral entity but the term is used to cover several different groupings, principally, in this case, the European community, the United Nations and the United States. The European Community and United Nations are, as genuinely international bodies, made up of different nations with conflicting ideas and interests. Only the United States was really in a position to formulate and pursue a coherent policy. Within the European community, Germany too seems to have formulated and pursued a coherent policy. But these were both national, rather than international, initiatives.

The international initiative attempted to follow not a coherent interest but a principle, very understandable in the context of a Europe in which most of the frontiers can be and have been disputed: the respect for existing frontiers. This principle seemed at first to favour the Serbs as guardians of the unity and integrity of Yugoslavia. The Serbs however abandoned that role after their half hearted attempt to prevent the secession of Slovenia. We may note in passing the apparent ease with which President Milosevic allowed the secession of Macedonia, though control over Macedonia had been the issue over which thousands of Serbs had previously died in conflicts with Bulgaria.

The abandonment of the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia should have resulted, as Cosic had long been arguing, in a renegotiation, complete with plebiscites, of the frontiers of the Yugoslav republics and autonomous provinces. Cosic was, as I have mentioned previously, the first President of the reduced Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro). He was actually President at the time of the worst excesses committed by the Serbs in the early stages of the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina. He and the Prime Minister of the Yugoslav Federation, Milan Panic, soon fell foul of Slobodan Milosevic who engineered a vote of no-confidence against them. One of the issues was undoubtedly that Cosic was arguing for the renegotiation of frontiers while Milosevic had accepted the 'International community's' principle of the non-violability of what had been the internal frontiers of Yugoslavia. [31]

The 'international community' in its European aspect attempted without great success to devise settlements within the straitjacket imposed by this principle. But at some point, the United States seems to have recognised that the failure of the European community provided an opportunity for establishing, under the cover of NATO, and at a time when a large part of the former Warsaw pact was pathetically anxious to prove its loyalty to the NATO idea, a permanent and massive US presence in this strategically sensitive part of the world. Why should the US want such a presence? Why should the Sun shine? Why should the oak tree grow? Quite simply the need for constant expansion is part of its nature.

The drive of the United States towards world domination ­ the aim so often ascribed to the villains in American superhero comics; and to Hitler, whose ambitions were modest in comparison ­ can now be seen clearly as one of the major structuring ideas of the twentieth century (its main competitor being the rise and fall of Communism). It has about it something that is 'fatal' ­ of the nature of Fate. Some individuals seem to be consciously in tune with it, most particularly the extraordinary Franklyn D.Roosevelt, the outstanding political figure of the twentieth century; or the rather less extraordinary Madeleine Albright in whom, however (and in this she is not alone) it takes on something of a European character. [32] In general, however, it seems to transcend individual intentions, to happen almost of its own accord.

I question whether it is possible, or even in principle desirable to oppose it. In a dangerous neighbourhood, dominated by warring gangs and protection rackets, weak individuals such as ourselves have an interest in seeing one of the rackets, usually the biggest and most brutal, winning a decisive monopoly of power and thereby imposing a sort of peace. And it has to be admitted that the credible alternatives thrown up in the course of the twentieth century ­ Fascism and Communism, for example, or Islamic fundamentalism ­ have not revealed themselves to be a great improvement, though their evils are of a different nature.

We only have to think seriously about what needs to be done to develop a credible military and political opposition to realise how impossible it is and the extent to which it could only be done by converting entire peoples into military machines. There is however a great deal that can be done on the spiritual and cultural plane, through the development of values that are radically different from those that are being promoted by the influence of the United States. For example, in refusing what may be regarded as the key US myth of the conflict between the good guy and the bad guys ­ the good guy who does not want conflict but who, when it is forced upon him by the unrelieved wickedness of the bad guy, is able to command a force of almost supernatural proportions. And so wins. It is the reverse of the Serb myth of the grey falcon on the field of Kosovo, in which the good guys choose defeat ­ terrible, crushing defeat ­ for the sake of the "Kingdom of Heaven".

One of our guides in developing an alternative view is, or could be, I believe, Dobrica Cosic. Reading Cosic it suddenly struck me that the Serbs can be described as a fortunate people. Fortunate because, in the person of Cosic, the immense suffering and loss of the twentieth century has been turned into an idea, a literary expression. It has acquired a form. And this is no slight thing. Cosic has almost done for the defeats of the twentieth century what the poet of the Grey Falcon did for Serbia after the Battle of Kosovo.

A word that frequently recurs in Cosic's writing is the word 'tragedy'. Aristotle describes tragedy as a fictionally induced experience of fear and pity that reconciles us to a process of destruction that is irresistable. Tragedy recognises this process as more than just the action of an enemy. We ourselves are part of the process and have contributed to it by our actions; and no-one, Cosic least of all, would deny that the Serbs have contributed to their own destruction.

In Cosic's novels, there are people who are more or less sympathetic but there are no outright villains. Everyone has comprehensible reasons for what they do. Even the police torturers are anxious to explain their actions by appealing to the novels of Dostoyevsky. The best, however, are doomed to failure, but that failure is invested with the quality of depth and, ultimately, with a sense of nobility, a nobility free of illusions. The same quality can be found in Solzhenitsyn whose great novel The Red Wheel (unquestionably the masterpiece of the twentieth century), gives form to the overall Russian experience of the Revolution. It is the quality we require to come to terms with the history of Europe in the twentieth century which is, essentially, a history of failure on everything other than the crudest material level.

We need to develop a tragic understanding able to embrace both the extremes of Fascism and Communism. We are disfigured by our inability to see these fundamental aspects of our European experience as anything other than, simply and without nuance, ridiculous and evil. If there is a lesson to be learnt from the Nazi experience it is the fearful consequences of the human instinct we all share for characterising whole peoples as irredeemably evil. The day will surely come when we will learn how to apply that lesson to the Nazis themselves.

Imagine, then, a Clint Eastwood film: the atmosphere of melancholy; the hero who reluctantly intervenes in a conflict that does not concern him (as the Americans might intervene in the Balkans, say, or the Middle East) and who resolves it in an apocalyptical frenzy in which the 'revelation' (the apocalypse) is his own supernatural prowess. A superhuman ingenuity which becomes in Mission Impossible a matter of super-human technical know-how.

This is the reverse of the tragic world view; and it is the tragic world view which I believe we need to sustain us as we pass, all of us, into the long night of American domination.









Jean-Christophe Buisson: Héros trahi par les alliés ­ le Géneral Milhailovic, 1893-1946, Eds Perrin, 1999
Noam Chomsky: The New Military Humanism ­ Lessons from Kosovo, Pluto Press, London, 1999
Mihailo Crnobrnja: The Yugoslav Drama, I.B.Tauris, 1994
Ivo Goldstein: Croatia, A History, C.Hurst & Co, 1999
Radovan Karadzic: La Bosnie, un enjeu tragique, L'Age d'Homme, Lausanne [I do not have document or date to hand]
Tim Judah: The Serbs, Yale University Press, 1997
­ Kosovo, war and revenge, Yale University Press, 2000
Vasilije Krestic and Kosta Mihailovic: Le "Mémorandum" de l'Académie Serbe des sciences et des arts ­ Réponse aux critiques et aux calomnies, L'Age d'Homme, Lausanne, 1996
Noel Malcolm: Bosnia, a short history, Macmillan 1994
­ Kosovo, a short history, Macmillan 1998
Slobodan Milosevic: Les années décisives (speeches, 1984-1990), L'Age d'Homme, Lausanne, 1990
Radovan Samardzic et al: Le Kosovo-Métohija dans l'histoire serbe, L'Age d'Homme, Lausanne, 1990
Dobritsa Tchossitch: Le Temps de la Mort ( 2 vols), L'Age d'Homme, Lausanne, 1991
­ Le Temps du Mal (2 vols), L'Age d'Homme, Lausanne, 1990
­ Le Temps du Pouvoir, Eds de Fallois/L'Age d'Homme, Lausanne, 1996
­ Racines, L'Age d'Homme, Lausanne, 1992
­ Un homme dans son époque (conversations with Slavolioub Djoukitch), L'Age d'Homme, Lausanne, 1991
­ L'effondrement de la Yougoslavie, L'Age d'Homme, Lausanne, 1994
Robert Thomas: Serbia under Milosevic, C.Hurst & Co, 1999
Rebecca West: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, 2 vols, Macmillan 1942
War 1914 ­ Punishing the Serbs, Uncovered Editions, The Stationery Office, 1999




1. Excerpts from the poem of Tsar Lazar and the Grey Falcon are given in Rebecca West: Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, vol ii (1942 ed) pp.293-4. Back

2. A selection of the British diplomatic correspondence concerning the origins of the First World War has been published by the Stationery Office under the title War 1914 ­ Punishing the Serbs. The selection includes the text of the Austrian ultimatum and the Serb reply. King Peter's part in the 1875 insurrection is referred to in Cosic: Temps de la Mort, t.ii, p.737. The King also made a translation into Serb of J.S.Mill's On Liberty (referred to in ibid, p.777). Back

3. 'Essad Pacha, though his power is precarious and threatened by the tribe of the Miridites, incited to revolt by Austrian spies and Catholic priests, is the only one in those days who is faithful to the Serbs; he does everything possible to help them, satisfies all that they ask. Essad Pacha and those generous Albanians who, though half starved, on the paths used by the Serb army and refugees, give a piece of corn bread and a bowl of milk, provide a shelter and keep the fire burning all night while the exhausted Serbs are sleeping, remind those who have been abandoned by their allies, that there are still people on earth capable of doing good.' Cosic, p.999, though he also describes the continued sniper fire and pillaging of hostile Albanians. Back

4. Judah: The Serbs, p.101, dismisses this in a paragraph which refers to the Serb army's 'victory at Kajmakcalon peak in 1916 and some other relatively modest advances.' Rebecca West, visiting the site, says : 'Here King Peter and Prince Alexander sat and looked at an amphitheatre of low hills before a wall of mountains and reflected that who took the peak called Kaimakshalan, which is also called the Buttertub, dominated the plains and that it must be taken, though it could not be taken. Their performance of this impossible task puts them among the great men of the world ...' (Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. vol ii, p.141). Back

5. For a sympathetic account of the Cetnik movement see Jean-Christophe Buisson: Héros trahi par les alliés ­ le Géneral Milhailovic, 1893-1946, Eds Perrin, 1999. Back

6. In a series of interviews given in the late 1980s and published under the title Un homme dans son époque, Cosic describes the rupture at the eighth congress of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia in 1964 between himself and his friend, the Croat writer, Miroslav Krleza, who supported the arguments of the Tudjman Institute for the Workers Movement defending the Croat role in the Second World War. Krleza among other things argued that the Croat army during the war was the army of a regular state and therefore superior to the Cetniks, who were only a 'chauvinist rabble'. In arguing against him that the Croat army were as bad as the Cetniks, it does not seem to have occurred to Cosic, then or at the time of the interview, to suggest that, as a resistance army, the Cetniks could be seen as morally superior to the Croats, who were engaged in the collaboration (Un homme dans son époque, p.120). Back

7. Un homme dan son époque, p.78. Back

8. Dobritsa Tchossitch: L'effondrement de la Yougoslavie, pp118-9 (it is included in a series of 'fragments d'articles, de notes de journal et d'interbiews, 1986-juin 1993'). Back

9. In The Guardian, 15/3/00. Back

10 Atanasije Jevtic: 'Calvaire du peuple serbe au Kosovo-Metohija (1941-1989)' in Radovan Samardzic et al: Le Kosovo-Metohija dans l'histoire serbe. Back

11 He says in L'effondrement de la Yougoslavie, p.70: 'I say it categorically: the unification of the Albanian people is a historical inevitability. As a Serb I consider that as a normal historical evolution and necessary perspective. As a Serb democrat, I accept and support this process but qualify it with the principles of democracy, justice and respect for the rights of the Serbs. All the public positions I have adopted confirm it; I am in principle ready to discuss the recomposition of the whole Yugoslav and Balkan space; but only if the rights of people to self determination are respected ...'
Of the Muslims by contrast he says (ibid., p.77): 'European politicians still haven't fully realised what happened in 1967 in Bosnia-Hercegovina when, by a decision of the Central Committee of the League of Communists, the Muslims were given all the prerogatives and rights of a nation, including, consequently, the right to their own state. Of all European politicians, only De Gaulle recognised the importance of this event. When he learnt that in Europe the Muslims had been proclaimed a nation in their own right he introduced to the order of the day for a session of his government, the problem of "the renewal of Islam in Europe" ...'
It should be noted that through the Committee for the Defence of the Freedom of Opinion and Expression which he helped to found in 1984, Cosic was active in supporting the rights of Croat and Muslim nationalists, including Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic. Back

12. There is a brief account of the negotiations at Lisbon in Silber and Little: The Death of Yugoslavia (pp.241-2). Under EEC pressure, Karadzic and Boban (the Croat representative) conceded the principle of a Bosnia within existing boundaries independent of both Croatia and the Yugoslav federation (which was at this time being reduced to Serbia and Montenegro); Izetbegovic conceded the principle of an internal division along ethnic lines. Judah also refers to the agreement and to Izetbegovic's change of mind in The Serbs, pp.201-2. Neither Silber and Little nor Judah consider very seriously the possibility that the agreement could have prevented bloodshed once the actual details of the partition came under discussion. In particular they both point out that the Serbs, with around 30% of the population were claiming over 60% of the land. Unreasonable as this may appear the explanation is that, as a largely peasant society, they did actually own about 60% of the land, as a result of the expropriations of the big Muslim landholders which had taken place in the inter-war period. Which poses the interesting question of what has happened to Serb owned land in territory not under Serb control since the Dayton agreement of 1995.
Another question that is posed in relation to the Lisbon agreement is the extent to which Izetbegovic' s change of mind was influenced by representatives of the US. Judah dismisses the suggestion. Sara Flounders in an article published as part of NATO in the Balkans: Voices in Opposition and on the International Action Centre website under the title 'The Bosnian Tragedy', says that it is generally accepted, giving as reference an article in the New York Times, 17/6/1993, which I have not seen. Back

13. Goldstein: Croatia, p.245. The Muslim/Serb war began in April 1992. Initially the Muslim and Croat forces enjoyed an uneasy and rather unnatural alliance, but the separatist Croat army ambushed its rivals and won a monopoly of the Croat military effort in August, thus openly unleashing the Muslim/Croat war. Back

14. Judah: The Serbs, pp 196-8. Judah shows that President Milosevic put a great deal of effort into trying to persuade the Muslims to remain in the Yugoslav federation. In this context he quotes Cosic as saying, in an interview in the journal Politika: 'A democatic federation of Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia would be rational and in line with the processes of European and world integration.' Back

15. Judah: Serbs, pp. 242-6. Back

16. 'In recent months the government forces have considerably increased their military activity in and around most safe areas, and many of them, including Sarajevo, Tuzla and Bihac, have been incorporated into the broader military campaign of the government's side.
'The headquarters and the logistics installations of the Fifth Corps of the government army are located in the town of Bihac and those of the Second Corps in the town of Tuzla.
'The government also maintains a substantial number of troops in Srebrenica (in this case a violation of the demilitarisation agreement), Gorazde and Zepa, while Sarajevo is the location of the General Command of the government army and other military installations. There is also an ammunition factory in Gorazde.
'The Bosnian Serb forces' reactions to offenses by the government army from safe areas have generally been to respond against military targets within those areas.'
­ Report of the UN Secretary General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to the UN Security Council, May 30, 1995, UN document S/1995/444, quoted in Flounders: The Bosnian Tragedy. Back

17. Goldstein, p.246. Back

18. L'Age d'Homme has published a long interview with Karadzic (La Bosnie, un enjeu tragique). I dislike his discourse on the Muslims whom he presents as a people psychologically deformed by the apostasy of their forebears, but his anxious and quite clearly sincere adhesion to the Orthodox Church makes it very unlikely that he would be capable of devising and putting into execution a policy of mass rape. Back

19. Judah, p.301, says that photographs alleged to show the creation of mass graves in the Srebrenica area in July 1995 were only released in August, to coincide with the attack on the Krajina. Back

20 'Serb soldiers, most of them living in this area, carried lists with hundreds of Muslims suspected to have committed war crimes. The arrests of Muslim men partly were of a selective character. "The Serbs knew the men" according to a Dutch UN driver. "They had complete lists and photos. They pointed them out amidst a crowd."' ­ René Grémaux and Abe de Vries: 'The Construction of a Trauma', originally published in Dutch in De Groene Amsterdammer, 13/3/96 and republished on the website under the title Was the Srebrenica Massacre a hoax? Back

21. Grémaux and de Vries, op.cit. Back

22. Judah: The Serbs, p.240. Back

23. Judah: Kosovo, War and Revenge, p.41-2. Back

24. Yet how perceptive Enver Hoxha appears to be now, in retrospect! Did we not all think his notion that the United States would want to sieze and dominate the Balkans was a product of sheer paranoia? Back

25. 'Here is the main factor, which no-one talks about: the Yugoslav Albanians' ambition to join themselves to Albania and create a "Greater Albania". The separatist ambition of the Albanian national movement is the very essence of their demand for the Rights of Man. From this ambition derives a practice of obstructionism in all spheres of social life: politics, culture, public education, economy, medias. For the problem is not that the Albanians have been deprived of rights, cultural, political or anything else. The problem is that they have them but refuse to make use of them. They boycott en bloc the society in which they are living: they do not recognise it. The problem is that they would like the programme of these schools to be taken from the Albanian state and to issue their certificates in the name of the "Republic of Kosovo" ...' Cosic (apparently writing in the early 1990s): L'effondrement de la Yougoslavie, pp.68-9. Judah says: 'In general, primary school children could continue to use their old school buildings and when there were also Serbian children within the buildings, they were either divided or a system of shifts was worked out. To a lesser extent, secondary school children could also use the old buildings, but a higher propotion of them had to be taught in private houses.' He confirms that the Albanian children were systematically taught hatred of the Serbs and that all school papers were stamped as 'Republic of Kosovo' (Kosovo, pp70-71). With regard to the health service he says 'half the doctors and medical staff in the state system remained Albanians.' He explains that these Albanians were not subject to the usual ostracism by the community because the private Albanian system could not afford equipment for the most elaborate operations. Back

26. An account of the early days of the Northern Ireland education system, very interesting with a view to understanding the problem faced by the Serbs in Kosovo, can be found in Donald Akenson: Education and Enmity ­ the control of schooling in Northern Ireland, 1920-1950, David and Charles, Newton Abbot, 1973. Back

27. Judah: Kosovo, p.81. quoting the Serb, Aleksandar Matijasevic, head of the Sociology and Philosophy department at Pristina University. Back

28. Judah, p.100, refers to the siege of a farmhouse which occurred in the Drenica Valley during the disturbances in 1981. It only ended when the government (the Albanian government) sent a helicopter to bomb the farmhouse. Back

29. e.g. 'I regret to report that most of the killings since the Holbrooke agreement have been carried out by the Kosovo Liberation Army. Since the Holbrooke package was signed, 19 members of the Serbian security forces have been killed. Five Kosovar Albanians are known to have been killed--all of them in the full uniform of the Kosovo Liberation Army.' Robin Cook in the House of Commons, 27 Nov 1998, Hansard col 441. See also David Morrison: 'Condemned out of their own mouths', Labour and Trade Union Review n° 87, August 1999. Back

30. 'The military annex of the Rambouillet proposals ... would never have been acceptable to the Yugoslav side, since it was a significant infringement of its sovereignty.' I have not at the time of writing managed to obtain a copy of the commitee's report and am quoting from Target (Newsletter of the Committee for Peace in the Balkans), Sept/Oct 2000. Back

31. I should admit that this does not feature in Cosic's own account of his disagreements with Milosevic, given after he had been removed in June 1993. Cosic says he had wanted a 'government of democratic union', a coalition of all the major tendencies, but had come up against violent opposition, especially from Seselj's Radical Party. Back

32. Through her father, Joseph Korbel, a member of the Czech government in exile during the Second World War, forced to leave Czechoslovakia again when the Communists took power. Zbigniew Brzezinski is another American Secretary of State who had his roots in a specifically Central European political tradition. Back