of Forgotten Wars
column has claimed before, not so long ago, that what happened
in the Balkans had significant implications
for events elsewhere in the world. From the International
Criminal Court based on the Hague Inquisition, to advocates
of overt imperialism emboldened
by the "success" of Balkans interventions, waves generated
by Yugoslavia's violent implosion are reaching the farthest
shores sometimes as a slow, steady tide, sometimes as a
such example is the recent appointment of a Finnish pathologist,
Ranta, to the UN team that is supposed to investigate
the allegations of a massacre
in Jenin. Dr. Ranta played a major role in fabricating the "massacre" in Racak, which served
as a pretext for NATO's aggression in Kosovo three years ago.
February 1998, a battle between Serbian police and Albanian
separatists in Racak was witnessed by OSCE monitors and an
AP television crew, who traced the police force's every step.
Dr. Ranta's team of forensic pathologists, which conducted
an investigation at the behest of NATO, claimed the Albanians
killed in the battle were really victims of a massacre by
Serb forces just as US diplomat William Walker and the Albanian
KLA had accused. Soon thereafter, NATO attacked Serbia.
the full report of Dr. Ranta's team was not released until
two years after the war, in 2001. It parroted the claims
of NATO, the Hague Inquisition and Ambassador Walker, but
most of its contentions have been roundly refuted.
That is definitely something to keep in mind if and when Dr.
Ranta ever reaches Jenin.
For Success Or Disaster?
in the course of the 1990s Balkans wars,
claims of atrocities, mass rape, siege of civilians, ethnic
cleansing and genocide have all been used as weapons of war
ever since, with considerable success. (Since Black Tuesday, they were
joined by an all-encompassing excuse of "fighting terrorism,"
but the verdict is still out on whether that will prove as
effective.) It is forgotten, though, that many such easy victories
turned out to be recipes for disaster, or at least fell considerably
short of their intended goals.
such events, whose anniversaries occurred this week, are perfect
examples of policy decisions which helped shape the Balkans
tragedy of the past decade, and proved less than welcome for
their initiators. Now largely forgotten, they were crucial
developments in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia.
Blitzkrieg: A Devil's Bargain
May 1, 1995, Croatian forces launched a blitzkrieg operation
(codenamed "Blitz," no less) against the UN-protected Serb
area of Western Slavonia. It turned out to be a general rehearsal
for the attack (codenamed "Storm") that would destroy virtually
all Serb presence in Croatia a few months thereafter.
Croatian forces tanks, air force and infantry rolled over
the surprised Serbs and the UN monitors with ease, facing
only token resistance. Within 24 hours, Operation Blitz
was over and Western Slavonia was in Croat hands. Its
Serb inhabitants sought refuge across the Sava river, in Bosnia.
used in Blitz were very different from anything the
Croatians had used before. Soon it became obvious that stories
of American advisors training Croatian troops were no mere
rumors. MPRI, a Virginia-based mercenary
outfit that works for the US government, admitted involvement
but claimed to have been instructing the Croatian military
was meant by that became evident by late
July, when the Croatian Army launched an all-out assault on
Serb-inhabited areas, brushing aside the UN and killing hundreds.
Official reports spoke of 250,000 civilians fleeing for their
lives into Bosnia and Serbia, some of them shelled and strafed
as they trudged along the roads. Here and there, reports of Croatian atrocities
managed to get through. But they were drowned in the din of
propaganda about Serb atrocities, and claims of "Serb aggression"
against their own homes.
Tudjman's regime thus managed to realize the dream of a Serbenfrei
Croatia, something even the fascist regime of Ante Pavelic
failed to do in World War Two, and not for the lack of
trying. Ethnic cleansing and genocide were proven possible,
if one had the right patrons. But everything comes with a
In 2000, after Tudjman's death, the Hague Inquisition charged
several Croatian generals with war crimes some in relation
to Operation Storm in an effort to boost its credibility
and "impartiality" in preparation for demanding
the surrender of indicted Serbs. Croatian masses were furious,
but the government welcomed a chance to purge Tudjman loyalists
from the military and score points with the Empire.
believing Croatia could hold the Empire to its end of the
bargain, the attorney representing Croatia's former top general
at the Hague Inquisition recently said the US shared the blame
for any crimes in Operation Storm. The Inquisition, as expected,
brushed off the accusation and furthermore claimed there was
no evidence of US involvement as shocking a blatant lie
as any in its history. They should have but read the memoirs
of US envoy Richard Holbrooke (To
End A War), where he openly calls Croatians America's
hired to do Empire's dirty work in the Balkans.
the attorney and many in Croatia seem to have forgotten that
there can be no bargaining with the Empire; it cannot be held
to a contract, as it has the global monopoly on coercion.
Worst of all, this latest misfortune cannot be blamed on Serbs.
There aren't any left to speak of.
at Dobrovoljacka Street
May 2, 1992, the war in Bosnia took a fateful turn thanks
to a decision by the Muslim leadership to escalate the conflict.
For a month since Bosnia was recognized as an independent
state, following an unconstitutional referendum, Serb and
Muslim militias had skirmished
throughout the republic, staking claims on towns and villages
often in blood. Serb militias blockaded approaches to Sarajevo,
while the disintegrating Yugoslav Army was pulling out all
personnel native to Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, while
skirmishing with Croatian troops that entered Bosnia from
the north and south.
that time, Macedonian leaders negotiated the Army's withdrawal
from their republic and declared independence without firing
a shot. Alija
Izetbegovic, chairman of Bosnia's presidency and self-styled
"President of Bosnia" as the Presidency lapsed into dysfunction,
made the same arrangement. Then he changed his mind.
Izetbegovic's militia blockaded Army bases in several Bosnian
cities, he landed at the Sarajevo airport and was detained
by military police. Army commanders agreed to release him,
in exchange for the safe passage of their troops trapped inside
Sarajevo. The arrangement was mediated by the ranking UN officer
on the ground, Canadian Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, and
the account of the events was well-detailed in his memoirs
The Road To Sarajevo).
rode in one of the Canadian armored vehicles as they escorted
the Army convoy out of the city. They were stopped at a roadblock
in Dobrovoljacka Street, manned by militiamen loyal to Izetbegovic
but taking orders from his deputy, Ejup Ganic. With live TV
coverage of the standoff, they demanded Izetbegovic's release.
As soon as that was done, the Army convoy now detached from
its UN escort was ambushed. Several soldiers were killed,
many captured. The militia were drunk with victory, but their
joy was short-lived.
evening, the Yugoslav Army in Bosnia ceased to exist. Angry
at Izetbegovic's betrayal, humiliated by the Muslims, and
with most Serbian-born personnel already evacuated, it swore
loyalty to the Bosnian Serb leadership. In retaliation for
the attack on the convoy, the now Bosnian Serb Army sealed
off Sarajevo and launched a three-day artillery barrage. The
siege of Sarajevo had begun, the Bosnian War escalated, and
the rest is history.
are theories that Izetbegovic himself was innocent, and that
his deputy was really behind the Dobrovoljacka ambush. Perhaps,
but the decision to blockade the Army in the first place was
Izetbegovic's alone, and it abrogated the agreement he had
signed in Macedonia.
he thought the Army would be as impotent as it was in Croatia
the year before, when faced with blockades of its bases. Maybe
he thought it would surrender its weapons, as it had done
on several occasions in Croatia. Maybe he was hoping the international
support he relied on for recognition would protect him from
the Army's wrath. He was wrong on all counts, and the people
of Sarajevo and the rest of Bosnia paid the price.
Crime of Ignorance
few in the Balkans nowadays are capable of rationally analyzing
the events of the past decade. The wounds are still fresh,
the emotions still run high. Individuals, actions and policies
are defended or attacked by fiat, not through serious argument.
the people of the Balkans themselves seem unwilling or unable
to learn from their experiences, there is no reason for the
rest of the world to ignore them. Both these policies and
Empire's subsequent interventions
in the Balkans reveal patterns that can easily be replicated
elsewhere. Given the manifestly tragic consequence of Yugoslavia's
wars of secession and succession, however distorted they might
have been in the media, ignoring their lessons would not only
be stupid it would be a crime.