Secession and War
weeks ago, reporting on the violent
arrest of a retired Serbian army colonel on war crimes
charges raised by the Hague Inquisition, Reuters and other
news media referred to the 1991 conflict as the "Croatian
war of independence." That term, however, is false.
defenders of Slobodan Milosevic see him as the Serbian Abraham
Lincoln, standing against the illegal secession of Slovenia,
Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Milosevic's own defense
at the Inquisition centers on the claim that he fought to
preserve Yugoslavia, not to destroy it. That argument is also
it is true enough that Milosevic was not Yugoslavia's destroyer.
Anyone in the Slovenian, Croatian and Bosnian Muslim leadership,
NATO, the European Community/Union, and the United States,
had a much greater hand in dismembering the old SFRY.
Milosevic did not fight to keep it together, either. Doing
so would have meant denying the right of self-determination
to Yugoslavia's constituent peoples (Serbs, Croats, Slovenes,
Macedonians, Bosnian Muslims and Montenegrins), which did
not happen. There was no Lincolnesque
attempt to "save" the Yugoslav Union by force. Facts
just don't support such a claim.
No Fort Sumter
June 27, 1991, the Yugoslav People's Army (YPA) "invaded"
Slovenia. Though Slovenian politicians and western media alike
romanticized the next ten days as a "war," in reality
it was a well-organized ambush of unsuspecting federal troops.
The General Staff had believed Slovenians would back off after
a show of force, and sent in only lightly armed, unprepared
recruits. They even informed the Slovenian leadership of the
"invasion." The ensuing massacre was far worse than
the attack on Fort
Sumter, Lincoln's casus belli in 1861.
Belgrade did not muster a Grand Army, or even launch a second
"invasion," vowing to crush the Slovenian "rebellion,"
no: instead, the crumbling federal authorities accepted European
mediation and signed the Brioni Declaration, essentially recognizing
the secession of Slovenia. Ironically, the Serbian representative
in the federal Presidency backed the YPA withdrawal, while
Croatia's representative Stipe Mesic objected.
of Yugoslav republics also attended the Brioni talks, reflecting
the shifting focus of power away from the federal institutions.
Among them was, of course, Slobodan Milosevic. After the Declaration
was adopted, one of the European Community envoys, Hans Van
den Broek, said:
am very pleased after hearing yesterday from Mr. Milosevic
that he is in favor of the right to self-determination, that
he accepts that too, and that, in time it could lead to the
secession of certain republics from Yugoslavia. I was also
very pleased to hear that he does not deny the principle of
self-determination, but that he demands that such conclusion
be based on negotiations or a dialogue…"
Brioni, Federal troops began a retreat
not only from Slovenia, but from most of Croatia as well.
So much for invasion, then.
Real Secession Dispute
is important to realize that no faction in Yugoslavia had
a principled view of secession. According to the prevalent
Serb position, the Yugoslav constitution of 1974 allowed secession
under a specific procedure, which Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina
did not follow. That much is true. However, Serbia never challenged
secession on those grounds, but supported instead a "counter-secession"
of territories mostly inhabited by Serbs. Belgrade invoked
the Yugoslav union as the context for secession, claiming
that 2 million Serbs west of the Drina river have a right
to self-determination as well.
the other hand, the secessionist republics claimed the 1974
Constitution guaranteed their statehood and boundaries, arguing
that self-determination did not apply to people ("narodi"),
but only to administrative units ("republike").
decision to legalize the secession of republics, not nations,
led to the double standard in which over 2 million Serbs were
overnight turned into second-class citizens, interlopers in
their own towns, villages and homes. Having been victims
of genocide at the hand of Croats and Muslims in World
War Two, western Serbs were determined not to become their
Wars of Yugoslav Succession truly began on Easter 1991, with
a firefight between Croatian state police and local Serb militia
at the resort of Plitvice.
Despite accusing Serbia and the YPA of "aggression,"
the Croatian government actually fired the first shots. Within
weeks, Serb-inhabited territories within Croatia's administrative
boundaries became battlefields.
this first phase of the succession wars, the location of battlefields
indicates the nature of the conflict: with only one exception
(Dubrovnik), clashes occurred along Serb-inhabited areas.
Had it been a "war of aggression" or an "invasion,"
as alleged, there would have been a push by the YPA towards
seizing key Croatian towns. Quite to the contrary, many YPA
garrisons were caught off guard and besieged by Croatian militia.
YPA was not fighting to preserve the integrity of the
SFRY, or to prevent Croatia from declaring independence. Yugoslav
defense minister, Army General Veljko Kadijevic, said
as much in 1993.
the end of 1991, the fighting in Croatia was suspended under
the "Vance Plan," a temporary arrangement placing
Serb-held territories under protection of UN peacekeepers,
and the YPA retreated again. Over the next few years, Croat
forces launched limited attacks on Serb pockets, until the
in the spring and summer of 1995.
the spring of 1992, the war moved into Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Responding to parliamentary abuses by the ruling Muslim and
Croat parties, the ruling Serb party set up a separate republic
and threatened secession in case of a unilateral declaration
of independence. The declaration came on April 5, 1992, and
so did the war.
the end of April, the original chaotic
melee between Muslim and Croat militias and Croatian regulars
on one side, and Serb militias and the remnants of the YPA
on the other, began taking an organized shape. Again, this
belies the cries of "aggression" from Sarajevo,
as all sides in the conflict suffered from an appalling lack
conflict was certainly transformed by the proclamation of
the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on April 27, 1992. The
establishment of a new Yugoslav state was a clear recognition
that the old has met its demise. Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina
and Macedonia were all implicitly recognized, even if their
borders and governments specifically were not. But to Zagreb,
Sarajevo, and the increasingly interested foreign governments,
that made no difference whatsoever. The conflict dragged on
for three years, stymied by Serb refusal to accept a unitary
Bosnian state and the Muslim refusal to consider anything
initially supported the western Serbs in the Wars of Succession,
by 1995 Slobodan Milosevic sold them down the river. Not only
did he ignore the Croatian offensive which displaced over
400,000 people (all in all), but his negotiating tactic in
Dayton consisted of appeasing both the Muslims and US envoy
Holbrooke. He wanted to be known as a peacemaker, but
that desire would be shattered by the looming specter of Kosovo
just three years ahead.
re-examination, contemporary information indicating that
Lincoln and his lieutenants wanted war is resurfacing. But
who was the Yugoslav warmonger? Again, Milosevic is universally
blamed. Yet both Croat and Muslim leaders did not hide their
desire for war.
would not have been a war had Croatia not wanted one,"
said Franjo Tudjman said in a May 24, 1992 speech in Zagreb's
main square. "We decided that only through war could
we win Croatia's sovereignty. That is why we had a policy
of negotiations while we established our armed forces."
The video of this speech was shown during the Milosevic "trial,"
and mentioned in the cross-examination
of Stipe Mesic, now president of Croatia.
on February 27, 1991, Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic
declared: "I would sacrifice peace for a sovereign Bosnia-Herzegovina,
but for that peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina I would not sacrifice
Death of a Nation, p.211)
and Izetbegovic were well aware that their political goals
were attainable only through war. Tudjman knew his vision
of Croatia could not be put in place while some 600,000 Serbs
resided within its boundaries. Less than 100,000 scattered,
poor and elderly Serbs remain in Croatia today. Izetbegovic
had a vision as well: Bosnia ruled by Islamic
law, but he had little support for such an extreme program.
By provoking a confrontation with the Serbs, Izetbegovic rallied
Muslims to his cause and aimed to neutralize the Serbs
as a political and military impediment to his vision.
leaders counted on foreign military intervention to aid their
endeavors, and predicated their political and propaganda
activities upon that assumption. Tudjman was eventually
successful, while Izetbegovic found his goals somewhat disrupted
by the constraints
recently that Abraham Lincoln's style, in both law and
politics, was to yield so many points as to seem reasonable,
then insist on the issue crucial to him. He couched his intransigence
in conciliatory language. Slobodan Milosevic was the exact
opposite: he talked hard, but conceded everything. His record
is that of surrender: Brioni (1991), the Vance Plan (1992),
Vance-Owen and Owen-Stoltenberg plans (1993), the Contact
Group (1994), Dayton (1995), the "Holbrooke Agreement"
(1998) and finally Kumanovo (1999).
Slobodan Milosevic was definitely no Lincoln. Whether Milosevic
should have been a Lincoln is another issue. Given
politics, definitely not. Furthermore, he would have failed
even if he tried to be. The 1991 Yugoslavia did not resemble
the 1861 United States in almost any regard. But that is a
topic for another day. Ironically, Milosevic is accused of
acting like Lincoln by some of Lincoln's fiercest worshippers.
Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi, as the Romans would
all this screams "revisionist history," so be it.
At a time when everything seems based on deception, the world
needs all the revisionism
it can get.
all, truth liberates.
Please Support Antiwar.com
520 S. Murphy Ave., Suite #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form
contributions are now tax-deductible