Diana Johnstone And The Demise Of 'Yugoslavism'

by Gilles d'Aymery

May 26, 2003


Diana Johnstone, FOOLS' CRUSADE Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions, Monthly Review Press, New York, N.Y, 2002; ISBN 1-58367-084-X. $19.95 paper; 288 pp.

On May 21, 2003, the US Senior Senator of West Virginia, Robert Byrd, delivered one of his customary Senate Floor Remarks that began thus:

"Truth has a way of asserting itself despite all attempts to obscure it. Distortion only serves to derail it for a time. No matter to what lengths we humans may go to obfuscate facts or delude our fellows, truth has a way of squeezing out through the cracks, eventually.

But the danger is that at some point it may no longer matter. The danger is that damage is done before the truth is widely realized. The reality is that, sometimes, it is easier to ignore uncomfortable facts and go along with whatever distortion is currently in vogue. We see a lot of this today in politics. I see a lot of it -- more than I would ever have believed -- right on this Senate Floor." (See, http://www.senate.gov/~byrd/byrd_speeches/byrd_speeches.html)

Senator Byrd was addressing the various, always-changing claims made by the Bush Administration to launch yet another war against a defenseless sovereign nation, impoverished by over a decade of possibly the most drastic economic sanctions ever drafted against an entire people. He concluded his remarks with a prediction and a solemn warning: "And mark my words, the calculated intimidation which we see so often of late by the 'powers that be' will only keep the loyal opposition quiet for just so long. Because eventually, like it always does, the truth will emerge. And when it does, this house of cards, built of deceit, will fall."

Could someone, please, send a copy of Diana Johnstone's book, FOOLS' CRUSADE: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions, to the good senator? The book was simultaneously published in the fall of 2002 by Monthly Review Press in the U.S. and Pluto Press in the U.K. It is indispensable reading for anyone who wishes to understand the current state of affairs, for the events that led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the midst of civil strife opened the legendary Pandora's box that will take years, quite possibly decades, to close.

Chances are, Sen. Byrd never heard of Johnstone's book since it has received no coverage in the main press and has been avoided like the plague by the "loyal opposition" (Third Way neo-liberals, social-democrats, democratic socialists, utopian-anarchists, and the like). A search made by a friend of the 1,800 or so media venues archived in the Nexis database showed only one mention of the book in the notes of an article published in the Australian Financial Review ("Power Without Wisdom," by Scott Burchill, April 11, 2003).

Sen. Byrd was referring to Iraq, not the now-defunct Yugoslavia, or Serbia for that matter. But read his remarks, leave aside al Qaeda and change the country's name. Replace Iraq with Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, or Serbia... The similarities and the patterns are remarkable.

"[An] unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation, in violation of long-standing International law, under false premises . . . Ravaged by years of sanctions, Iraq [Serbia] . . . What makes me cringe even more is the continued claim that we are 'liberators.' The facts don't seem to support the label we have so euphemistically attached to ourselves . . . In fact, if the situation in Iraq [Yugoslavia] is the result of 'liberation,' we may have set the cause of freedom back 200 years . . . Despite our high-blown claims of a better life for the Iraqi people [Yugoslavs], water is scarce, and often foul, electricity is a sometime thing, food is in short supply, hospitals are stacked with the wounded and maimed, historic treasures of the region and of the Iraqi [Serbian] people have been looted [cf. over 100 churches, monasteries, historical monuments, blown to smithereens in Kosovo and Serbia] . . . Meanwhile, lucrative contracts to rebuild Iraq's [Kosovo's] infrastructure...are awarded to Administration cronies . . . The path of diplomacy and reason have gone out the window to be replaced by force, unilateralism, and punishment for transgressions . . . As if that were not bad enough, members of Congress are reluctant to ask questions which are begging to be asked. How long will we occupy Iraq [Bosnia, Kosovo]? . . . We cower in the shadows while false statements proliferate. We accept soft answers and shaky explanations because to demand the truth is hard, or unpopular, or may be politically costly . . . Nothing is worth that kind of lie -- not oil, not revenge, not reelection, not somebody's grand pipedream of a democratic domino theory."

A better life for the people

Croatia is an economic basket case, fast descending into Third World poverty; Bosnia, a Western protectorate, ever more divided in three constituent parts, is barely subsisting with the dwindling help of the International Community (do you remember this lofty club?); Kosovo makes do with the drug and prostitution trades, and foreign aid, while the UN is putting on the auction block 500 companies with terms, according to the Kosovo Trust Agency (a UN body) that will "ensure a very investor-friendly environment including regulations on foreign investment, repatriation of capital, the purchase of real estate and... the 99-year leases of land formerly used by 'socially-owned enterprises'." ("UN Launches Kosovan Sell-Off," BBC, May 23, 2003); and in Serbia... About 50 percent of the Serbian population lives at or under the poverty line. According to a research organization, the Center for marketing research Marten Board International (a partner of the British Market Research Bureau of London) two thirds of Serbian households spend between 76 and 100 percent per cent of their income on basic necessities like food, electricity, clothes, rent; more than 80 per cent of the Serbs spend most of the money for purchase of meat; and almost three quarters of the population can create no savings (Blic, Belgrade, May 24, 2003).

This grim situation does not make the news, does it? For good reason: the humanitarian caravan has long ago moved on to Afghanistan and Central Asia, soon to pack again and head for Iraq -- with its appetite whetted by ever more fertile grounds such as Syria, Iran, Zimbabwe, Cuba, etc. There is no Pulitzer Prize to be won any longer in the Balkans. Our intellectuals have resumed their bread-and-butter trademark, writing at length and debating the 'relative' or the 'fundamental' freedoms that are lacking in this or that country and therefore require their undiluted attention. They sign grand petitions against recalcitrant regimes that refuse to heed the moralizing proclamations of those "children of light." There are so many pressing issues at hand that little time is left to review the recent past and the consequences of the internationally illegal NATO military interventions in the Balkans or the internationally illegal US (and its 'coalition of the willing') war against Iraq.

Meanwhile, by and large gone unnoticed, Yugoslavia ceased to legally exist as a nation on February 4, 2003, replaced by a Republic of Serbia and Montenegro, with Montenegro's new government assuring that within three years at the most the country will secede from the Republic and become independent. Destabilization in Macedonia and the Sandzaq region in Serbia continues unabated with the overt goal of creating a Greater Albania; and on March 21, 2003, the US House of Representatives' International Relations Committee started a hearing on the Future of Kosovo, whose invited participants included Joseph and Shirley DioGuardi (Albanian American Civic League), Daniel Serwer (US Institute of Peace), William Walker (of Racak fame), James O'Brien (Albright Group) and Martin Vulaj (National Albanian American Council). Since 90 percent of Serb and other non-Albanian populations in Kosovo have been driven out of the province, the Committee did not feel necessary to invite personalities representing Serb views.

Then again, there is not much sympathy for the Serbs in the U.S. After all, were they not the ethnic cleansers, responsible for the Balkan wars? Were they not responsible for 200 to 250,000 deaths in Bosnia and 100,000 or more Albanians in Kosovo? And what about the dreadful concentration camps like Omarska and the infamous rape camps where tens of thousands of women had allegedly been raped? What about bucolic Sarajevo, a 'model' of multiculturalism, besieged, bombed, destroyed, and the Markale market massacre? And Srebrenica? Didn't 7,000 or 8,000 people get massacred in Srebrenica? What about Operation Horseshoe? And, and, and...

Maybe, instead of reciting this litany, it would be easier to ask: how many atrocities did the Serbs not commit?

The message that 'something horrible, not seen since the Nazi era, was happening in Europe' was rehashed again and again. Even the German defense minister would pass along horrendous tales of unbearable (and unsubstantiated) behaviors like the one he reported on 16 April 1999: "it is recounted that the foetus was cut out of the body of a dead pregnant woman in order to roast it and then put it back in the cut-open belly... that limbs and heads are systematically cut off, that sometimes they play football with heads..." (Johnstone's p 252) The Serbs, enraged nationalists, bent to create a "Greater Serbia," were committing genocide on a grand scale, in front of the world; a new holocaust was taking place in Europe.

Nothing is worth that kind of lie...the truth will emerge

Certainly, certainly, but Elie Wiesel, the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, was calling upon the conscience of the world. This abomination had to stop. Intellectuals, opinion makers, reporters, celebrities, all were concurring that the unfolding drama was Serbian-made. In the U.S., from The Nation to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal; from the main networks to Cable TV and radio stations; from Tikkun to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, The International War and Peace Report, and the hundreds of NGOs funded by western interests, the calls for military interventions were deafening the voices of prudence -- the latter, largely emanating from conservative circles, a few radicals and other oddballs, were quickly dismissed, discredited as Serb apologists and holocaust deniers, and finally merely ignored.

Even those on the left who have always been critical of US power and opposed to US military interventions were unable or unwilling to stray away from the mainstream and had to resort to creative intellectual contortions. Comes to mind ZNet position summarized by Michael Albert: "The bombing and any invasion by NATO/U.S. is criminal and immoral and must be ended. The ethnic cleansing by Milosevic and Serb troops is also criminal and immoral and must also be ended" (http://www.zmag.org/crisescurevts/navigatingkosovo.htm) -- a neither-nor position that has been repeated with Iraq (neither the U.S. nor Saddam Hussein) or Cuba (neither the U.S. nor Fidel Castro).

But one should not be too harsh with these good folks. The pressures to follow the line then as now were intense. To be branded with a scarlet letter of 'holocaust denier' could destroy reputations and careers... Sitting on the fence happened on the other side of the Atlantic as well. The French communist party whose members had a few ministerial positions in the socialist government first reacted by threatening to resign from those positions if France were to join the fray, before quickly coming to its senses and, with Occam's Razor flair, clarified its position as "Neither NATO Nor Milosevic." Of course, they kept their jobs...

For jobs were on the line indeed, as Diana Johnstone found out to her dismay; and she was not the only one. British Conservative and Professor of Political Economy at the University of Warwick, Robert Skidelsky, in a lecture he gave at the Royal Institute of Civil Engineers on June 14, 1999, recounted a debate he had with Michael Ignatieff in the June 1999 issue of Prospect. "[Lord Skidelsky] argued that the [Kosovo] war would make the world a more dangerous place." He went on to denounce the injustice and illegitimacy of the war, and expose the deeply flawed nascent doctrine of 'international community' and 'humanitarian interventions'. He concluded his presentation, ". . . in trying to revise [the international system] unilaterally, in terms of universalist principles which are not universally shared, we -- Clinton and Blair particularly -- have taken immense risks with the future of international relations, without having secured the long-term future of the Kosovars themselves. These risks may turn out well, but we should not count on it." Could any one have been more on the mark and as prophetic? Skidelsky, who serves on the Manhattan Institute Board of Trustees in company of other conservative luminaries such as William Kristol, Peggy Noonan and Fareed Zakaria, was also Principal Opposition Spokesman, Treasury Affairs in the House of Lords in 1998-1999. He lost the position due to his opposition to the Kosovo war. Dissent got quickly muffled then as it has been after 9/11, the US aggression in Afghanistan and the march to Gulf War II. Few people are willing to risk losing their perks and their positions when it becomes clear that their voices will be drowned out anyway under a barrage of conventional wisdom. So, no one should be particularly surprised by the likes of Todd Gitlin, David Corn, Marc Cooper, Nathan Newman, et al. There are book contracts to be signed, lectures to be given, other petitions to sign, Nation Magazine cruises to enjoy, and careers to attend to. Life simply goes on.

People, like Sen. Byrd and all honest minds, will gain much from reading Johnstone's Fools' Crusade. They will appreciate the quality and the analytical rigor of her work, with 400 notes covering 38 pages (US edition), which examines much ground left largely uncovered or obfuscated in the English-language studies of the Balkans -- with an indubitable purpose to put the story into perspective and to place these events within an historical context.

Readers will learn about the crucial role the European "Left," Germany and the European Community (known nowadays as the European Union) played, through legalistic shenanigans, national (imperial?) interests, and political expediency, to usher the violent disintegration of this multinational and multicultural nation. They will gather the facts that the Western powers, following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, no longer needed Yugoslavia. They will discover the web of lies and fabrications created by PR firms and émigrés' lobbies. They'll see how the U.S. took advantage of the power vacuum that the Europeans created. They will get familiarized with the subtle, yet fundamental distinctions among the various definitions of "peoples" in the Balkans (narod, narodi, narodnost, narodnosti), an understanding of which is primordial to grasp this tragic set of events. They'll discover that the very first "ethnic cleansing" (a totally distorted notion in a region inhabited by Slavs with a common language -- but three different religions) was conducted by Croats against Serbs, and that the very first massacre occurred in September 1991, in an obscure Croatian town named Gospic, when over 120 Serbs were savagely killed. They'll get a clearer comprehension of the Serb's primal reactions to the rise of Ustashe discourse and paraphernalia in 1990 Croatia, when its soon-to-be president, Franjo Tudjman, would openly advocate the extermination of the Serbs (this is critical information for an objective understanding of Serb reactions). They will discover that the concept of 'yugoslavism' originated first with Croat intellectuals, that the Land of the South Slavs was not an artificial concept and that the Yugoslav constitutional revision of 1974 had much to do with the demise of Yugoslavia. And they'll realize, keeping in mind Afghanistan and Iraq, that the Clinton War and the Bush Wars follow the same patterns and have the same objectives.

George Orwell once said, "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." For the sake of humanity, let us hope with the good senator of West Virginia that "the truth will emerge through the goodness of the people." Diana Johnstone's Fools' Crusade is an outstanding starting point.


Diana Johnstone, FOOLS' CRUSADE Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions, Monthly Review Press, New York, N.Y, 2002; ISBN 1-58367-084-X, and Pluto Press, London, U.K., Sept. 2002; ISBN 0745319505.

The book can be ordered on-line directly from Monthly Review Press at,
It can also be ordered on-line directly from Pluto Press at,

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FOOLS' CRUSADE: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions, by Diana Johnstone (Book Excerpt)

Diana Johnstone's "Fools' Crusade" - Book Review by Louis Proyect

Diana Johnstone On The Balkan Wars - Book Review by Edward S. Herman

The Balkans and Yugoslavia on Swans


Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.

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This Week's Internal Links

FOOLS' CRUSADE: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions - by Diana Johnstone (Book Excerpt)

Diana Johnstone's "Fools' Crusade" - Book Review by Louis Proyect

Diana Johnstone On The Balkan Wars - Book Review by Edward S. Herman

Selective Recognition and the Dismantling of SFR Yugoslavia - by Konstantin Kilibarda

Lessons From Yugoslavia: Blueprint for War? - by Jan Baughman

We Have The Right To Live - Interviews by Gregory Elich

Making War Out Of Nothing At All - by Aleksandra Priestfield

Embedding The Truth - by Deck Deckert

Courage And Cowardice - by Richard Macintosh

An Awful Lawful World: Who Wins, Who Loses - by Philip Greenspan

Accomplishments - Poem by Sabina C. Becker

My Appearances - Poem by Gerard Donnelly Smith


Published May 26, 2003
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