Diana Johnstone's Fools' Crusade

A Book Review by Louis Proyect

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 December 8th 2002, George Packer wrote the following in a New York Times Magazine article titled "The Liberal Quandary Over Iraq":

"Why there is no organized liberal opposition to the war?

"The answer to this question involves an interesting history, and it sheds light on the difficulties now confronting American liberals. The history goes back 10 years, when a war broke out in the middle of Europe. This war changed the way many American liberals, particularly liberal intellectuals, saw their country. Bosnia turned these liberals into hawks. People who from Vietnam on had never met an American military involvement they liked were now calling for U.S. air strikes to defend a multiethnic democracy against Serbian ethnic aggression. Suddenly the model was no longer Vietnam, it was World War II -- armed American power was all that stood in the way of genocide. Without the cold war to distort the debate, and with the inspiring example of the East bloc revolutions of 1989 still fresh, a number of liberal intellectuals in this country had a new idea. These writers and academics wanted to use American military power to serve goals like human rights and democracy -- especially when it was clear that nobody else would do it."

If George Packer's assertion is true, and I believe it is, then it becomes necessary to revisit the Yugoslavia events in the light of everything that has transpired over the past decade. As we move inexorably toward permanent warfare, naked imperialist rule and growing repression at home, the "turn" on the part of a broad sector of the left -- symbolized by Christopher Hitchens's mutation -- needs to be examined with a cold, clinical eye. The "humanitarian intervention" themes that were first raised on behalf of Bosnia crop up repeatedly. Not only were they used as an excuse to make war in the Balkans on two occasions, they have been used twice in Iraq as well. There are never-ending supplies of evil dictators, who are either the next Hitler or the next Stalin or a combination of the two, to unite the American people in Orwellian "hate minutes."

In the latest variation on this theme, some of the USA's highest profile leftists have lent their names to two petitions that basically support their country's right to fund and organize a counter-revolutionary movement in Cuba. The same kind of narcissism that allowed one signatory, Susan Sontag, to call for the bombing of Yugoslavia is now displaced to Cuba. One wonders how long it will take for her and her son David Rieff to demand a US military rescue in Cuba.

In the introduction to "Fool's Crusade", Johnstone puts forward the standard liberal narrative of Yugoslavia:
Yugoslavia was a "prison of peoples" where the Serbs oppressed all the others. It was destroyed by the rise of an evil leader, Slobodan Milosevic, who set out to create a "Greater Serbia" by eliminating other peoples in a process called "ethnic cleansing". Those other peoples sought to escape, by creating their own independent states. The Yugoslav army, actually Serbian, invaded them. In Bosnia, the invading Serbs tried to drive out the Muslims, who wanted to perpetuate an exemplary multi-ethnic society. The Serb ethnic cleansing killed 200,000 unarmed Muslims while the international community looked on and even prevented the Muslims from arming in self-defense. At Srebrenica, the United Nations allowed the Serbs to commit genocide. Only U.S. bombing forced Milosevic to come to the negotiating table at Dayton. The resulting agreement brought peace and democracy to multi-ethnic Bosnia. However, the international community had failed to save the Albanian majority in Kosovo from apartheid. In 1998 Madeleine Albright warned that NATO must intervene to keep Milosevic from "doing in Kosovo what he could no longer get away with in Bosnia". In January 1999, Serbian security forces massacred defenseless civilians in the Kosovo village of Racak, awakening the NATO governments to the need to act to stop genocide. After the turning point of Racak, the Serbs were summoned to peace negotiations in Rambouillet, in France. Milosevic stubbornly refused to negotiate. NATO had no choice but to start bombing Yugoslavia. Masses of Albanians were deliberately driven out according to a preconceived plan called "Operation Horseshoe". Finally, Milosevic gave in, and NATO liberated the Kosovars from their oppressors. Conclusion: from now on, humanitarian intervention constitutes a principal mission for NATO, as the military arm of an international community henceforth committed to protection of human rights.
After presenting this version of what took place, Johnstone says, "Almost everything about this tale is false." When much of the left was cheering the NATO war on Yugoslavia, another large section gave credence to the false story while drawing the line at intervention. For example, shortly after the government of Yugoslavia was overthrown by violent, rightwing gangs, Noam Chomsky compared this to the overthrow of South Africa's Apartheid system. It therefore comes as no surprise that he would have the same kind of myopia when it comes to Cuba.

Johnstone identifies a sharp disjunction between the movement against globalization that took shape in the 1990s and a widespread failure to see how that very process was at the root of the Balkans wars and the immiseration that has followed in its footsteps. It is easy for activists to respond to Chiapas; it was much harder to break through the propaganda and mystification over Yugoslavia where defense of the right of the Serb peoples to live in peace became tantamount to Holocaust denial.

Johnstone writes:
The sovereign nation is being broken down subtly by the pressures of economic globalization. It may also be undermined from within, by domestic insurgencies. In the post-Cold War world, the Carnegie Endowment study noted, "groups within states are staking claims to independence, greater autonomy, or the overthrow of an existing government, all in the name of self-determination." In regard to these conflicts, "American interests and ideals compel a more active role." This may go so far as military intervention when self-determination claims or internal repression of such claims lead to "humanitarian calamities." In the future, the authors announced in 1992, "humanitarian interventions will become increasingly unavoidable." The United States will have the final word as to when and how to intervene. "The United States should seek to build a consensus within regional and international organizations for its position, but should not sacrifice its own judgment and principles if such a consensus fails to materialize."
Indeed, just as WWI was launched in part to stop Hun atrocities, so are the wars of the last 10 years or so framed in terms of saving lives and upholding democracy. Unless the left learns how to distinguish between government propaganda and the true aims of an ever more aggressive imperialism, we will be useless. Diana Johnstone's book is a very good place to start.

CHAPTER ONE -- The Yugoslav Guinea Pig

Here Johnstone poses the question: "How did the Serbs go from being the heroic little people who stood up to empires and Nazis in defense of freedom, to being the 'new Nazis', pariahs of the Western world?"

The answer first of all requires that attention be paid to the underlying economic pressure that drove all Yugoslavs to desperate measures, including the Serbs. When the USSR began to collapse at the end of the 1980s, Yugoslavia was no longer needed as a kind of pro-Western counterweight to the Kremlin. With easy access to cheap credit cut off, the country began to succumb to a debt crisis of the sort that was ravaging most of the developing world. Long devoid of any serious commitment to revolutionary politics, the central government responded not by challenging imperialism, but by cutting jobs and social services. The economic crisis had the effect of eroding the social order and heightening nationalist resentment, particularly among the Croatians.

Although Franjo Tudjman had been a life-long CP functionary, he found it easy to remold himself as a nationalist when running for president of Croatia in 1990, especially since this earned him the support of the émigré community, including remnants of the fascist Ustashe movement. After his election, Serbs -- who made up 12 percent of Croatia's population -- were probably alarmed to see the Ustashe flag flown unabashedly in public once again. As a corollary to this symbolic display, the Tudjman administration began to fire Serb government employees and encourage violent attacks on people and property.

After the Serbs began to resist these encroachments, the western press responded by characterizing it as expansionism directed from Belgrade. As Malcolm X once said, the victim was turned into the criminal.

In September of 1991, over 120 Serbs living in the town of Gospic were abducted from their homes and murdered. It was an act calculated to have the same effect among Serbs as the Deir Yassin massacre in Palestine. They would no longer be safe in Croatia. Croatian human rights activists told Johnstone in 1996 that this was the first major massacre of civilians in the Yugoslav civil wars. Unlike Srebrenica or Racak, Gospic never became part of the litany of atrocities in the western news media or journals of "conscience."

In 1997 a disgruntled Croatian ex-cop named Miro Bajramovic decided to tell the world what really happened in Gospic. He said that the Croatian Interior Ministry sent paramilitaries to spread terror among the region's 9,000 Serbs. Johnstone quotes him as follows:

"The order for Gospic was to perform ethnic cleansing, so we killed directors of post offices and hospitals, restaurant owners and many other Serbs. Executions were performed by shooting at point-blank range. We did not have much time. The orders from headquarters were to reduce the percentage of Serbs in Gospic."

The International Criminal Tribunal (ICT), which went to all sorts of lengths to bring Milosevic to justice, has been lackadaisical about Croatian war crimes. After some of the Croatian soldiers who committed war crimes at Gospic came forward to present testimony to the ICT, they were not given adequate protection even after receiving daily death threats and having their cars firebombed. One of them, Milan Levar, was murdered by an explosion in the front yard of his Gospic home.

In June of 1999 Croatian courts acquitted 6 soldiers of war crimes committed at Gospic, including Bajramovic. In light of this, it is highly revealing that the chief Tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has decided that Croatian courts can render justice in the prosecution of war crimes. Alas, this has been the pattern all along. When Serbs react to murder, they are charged with "aggression."

After the secession of Croatia and Slovenia, it was only a matter of time before Bosnia-Herzegovina would be torn apart by the same contradictions. In all of the regions where Serbs were a minority, they saw their survival as a function of the continuation of the Yugoslav republic and protection by the federal army. Whenever they pressed forward in this manner, they were regarded as "expansionist" or worse.

From the very beginning, the USA tilted toward the Bosnian Muslim faction. In a highly enlightening review of the power politics behind this foreign policy initiative, Johnstone explains it in terms of developing ties to Turkey and oil-producing regimes in the Middle East. In addition, she provides some insights into class formation in Bosnia that go against the conventional thinking of Muslims as an oppressed nationality. Most of the high-profile Muslim politicians, including Izetbegovic, were scions of the families that enjoyed elite privileges during centuries of Ottoman rule. In elite circles in Washington and London, they were considered more reliably anti-communist than the Bosnian Serb descendants of downtrodden peasants.

While the State Department was developing a policy based on such bottom-line calculations, a number of intellectuals were already beginning to develop what Johnstone rightly calls "the Bosnia cult." They developed a romanticized version of Bosnian Islam that once again turned the Serbs into the "bad guys".

Susan Sontag's son David Rieff wrote that "Bosnia was and always will be a just cause" in the same fashion that people once wrote about the Spanish Civil War. For an entire generation of 60s radicals, the fight for Bosnia became a fight against fascism and genocide. In countries like France that were grappling with a sullen and resentful Islamic population driven to emigration by economic crisis, the sight of gentle, blue-eyed Bosnian Muslims playing musical instruments was comforting. They were "like us." "Multicultural" Sarajevo became a test tube for the kind of integration that was largely impossible in Western Europe, where skinheads had begun to victimize their own Muslim citizens. If France or Great Britain could not be made safe for Muslims, then military force could surely impose tolerance on a Balkan nation.

Unfortunately, "multicultural" Bosnia was largely a myth. By 1992, Croatian militias had already driven Serbs out of Herzegovina in an early act of ethnic cleansing that once again was largely ignored by the western media. As for Izetbegovic, the darling of Rieff and other western progressives, he was under no illusions. In a 1994 speech, he said, "Multicultural togetherness is all very well, but -- may I say it openly -- it is a lie! We cannot lie to our people or deceive the public. The soldier in combat is not dying for a multinational coexistence..."

Somehow, Izetbegovic's statement and the arrival of 5,000 former Afghanistan fighters in Bosnia escaped Rieff's attention, who continued to press for military action in order to prevent "genocide" in Bosnia. The Serbs were compared not only to the Nazis, but to the Khmer Rouge as well. In the course of his agitation for an imperialist rescue, he kept repeating the unverified figure of 200,000 dead Muslims. Former State Department official George Kenney finally tracked it down to Bosnian information minister Senada Kreso, who first circulated the figure -- hardly an unbiased source. Afterwards Kenney tried to come up with a more reliable amount, based on the Red Cross and other less politicized sources. For instance, a Stockholm-based research institute estimated that there were between 30 and 50 thousand casualties during the course of the civil war, but this included all sides. After concluding his survey, Kenney observed:

"In the words of the writer David Rieff, 'Bosnia became our Spain', though not for political reasons, which is what he meant, but rather because too many journalists dreamed self-aggrandizing dreams of becoming another Hemingway."

CHAPTER TWO -- Moral Dualism in a Multicultural World

This seeks to explain how the Yugoslavia wars became cast in Manichean terms, with the Serbs representing darkness and evil and all their adversaries as goodness and light. This requires her to examine in some detail the role of the media in fabricating three key elements of a narrative that would effectively condemn the Serbs as the Nazis of our era: concentration camps in Bosnia and rape as a political tool.

The question of concentration camps in Bosnia became hugely controversial after Living Marxism magazine (LM) ran an exposé in 1997 that charged an ITN television team from Great Britain supervised by Penny Marshall with using falsified footage. Using an image of an emaciated Muslim "prisoner" named Fikret Alic behind barbed wire, the reporters claimed that this amounted to a new Auschwitz. Among the British reporters was Nation Magazine contributor and anti-Cuba petition signer Ian Williams, who was working for England's Channel Four at the time. This is also the same Ian Williams who told radicals in the audience at a recent Socialist Scholars Conference panel on Orwell, including me, that "Wait until the war starts, then you'll see all those WMD's that Saddam has stashed away."

The caption for story number 17 in Project Censored top 25 stories in 1999 was "U.S. Media Promotes Biased Coverage of Bosnia". For documentation, the project included the LM article as well as Diana Johnstone's "Seeing Yugoslavia Through a Dark Glass" that appeared originally in Covert Action Quarterly. (http://www.covertaction.org/full_text_frameset_65_01.htm)

Attempts to find the Deichmann article on the Internet will be in vain, since a libel decision against LM initiated by Marshall and Williams in a British court resulted not only in the quashing of Deichmann's article but in the liquidation of LM itself. In claiming that barbed wire did not surround Fikret Alic but rather a nearby tool shed, Deichmann went against the grain of prevailing liberal opinion in Europe. He paid dearly for this, but nowhere near as much as the Serb people.

Leaving aside the question of whether Fikret Alic was behind or in front of some barbed wire, the real issue was how this image was used to drive home the message that the Serbs were running concentration camps throughout Bosnia on a scale not seen since Hitler. The simple truth is that by the summer of 1992 all sides in the civil war -- Serb, Muslim and Croat -- were setting up prison camps for people they considered threats to their territorial control. According to the International Red Cross, in the autumn of 1992 a total of 2,692 civilians were being held in 25 detention centers. Of these, Bosnian Serbs held 1,203 detainees in 8 camps. The Muslims held 1,061 captives and the Croats 428. This hardly amounts to Auschwitz, by any stretch of the imagination.

In January and February 1993, the French-based Médecins du Monde used the ITN pictures as part of a vast publicity campaign costing $2 million that resulted in the distribution of 300,000 posters throughout France. Half of them showed Milosevic side by side with Hitler, accompanied by the caption, "Speeches about ethnic cleansing, does that remind you of anything?" Bernard Kouchner, former head of Médecins sans Frontières, was an ex-CP'er who became an outspoken advocate of "humanitarian interventions." His tireless efforts on behalf of NATO beneficence earned him the top spot as UN administrator of Kosovo in 1999.

It didn't take long for the US press to exploit these themes themselves. Pulitzer Prizes were awarded to reporters who could come up with the most grizzly Serb atrocity tale. First on line at the trough were Newsday's Roy Gutman and the New York Times's John Burns who won a joint award in 1993. David Rohde of The Christian Science Monitor picked up his Pulitzer in 1995. All of them filed reports that were riddled with the kinds of errors that got Jayson Blair fired from the newspaper of record on May 11, 2003. In retrospect, it seems that the Big Lie on behalf of the imperialist crusade against the Serbs was certain to enhance one's journalistic career rather than torpedo it.

Rohde got his award for "discovering" a mass grave near Srebrenica. Not speaking a word of Serbo-Croat, he told his readers that he found what amounted to a smoking gun: a human femur and tibia scattered among the area delineated within US satellite photos. How did he find this needle in a haystack? Like the New York Times's Judith Miller, he tells us that a little birdie told him: "I had the locations of the graves marked on a map...which I got from a US intelligence source."

In addition to writing propaganda about Serb "death camps," Gutman specialized in the rape as political weapon story. On August 9, 1992 he filed a story titled "Bosnia Rape Horror" that relied on the testimony of a single 16-year-old girl that supposedly was repeated in the "tens of thousands". Gutman also relied on the information provided by Jadranka Cigelj, whom he described in Newsday as a "lawyer and political activist." Cigelj supposedly witnessed nightly beatings and rape at a Serb prison camp in Omarska.

Gutman conveniently omitted the exact character of Cigelj's political activism. Johnstone points out that "Cigelj was a vice president of Croatian president Franjo Tudjman's ruling nationalist party, the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) and was in charge of the Zagreb office of the Croatia Information Center (CIC), a wartime propaganda agency funded by the same right-wing Croatian émigré groups that backed Tudjman. The primary source for reports of rape in Bosnia was Cigelj's CIC and associated women's groups, which sent 'piles of testimony to Western women and to the press'." She adds:

"The CIC benefited from a close connection with the 'International Gesellschaft fur Menschenrechte' (International Association for Human Rights, IGfM), a far right propaganda institute set up in 1981 as a continuation of the Association of Russian Solidarists, an expatriate group which worked for the Nazis and the Croatian fascist Ustashe regime during World War II. In the 1980s, this organization led a propaganda campaign against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, accusing them of running camps where opponents were tortured, raped, and murdered on a massive scale."

This did not prevent Cigelj from becoming a feminist heroine. She was feted by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Women Make Movies in a 25 city tour that featured a documentary "Calling the Ghosts: A Story of Rape, War and Women."

In response to all of the atrocity stories flowing out of Bosnia, the United Nations launched an investigation that unsurprisingly corroborated the lurid reports penned by Gutman and others. The original president of the committee was Frits Kalshoven, professor of humanitarian international law at the University of Leiden in Germany. An Egyptian-American named Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, whose sympathy for the Muslims was obvious, replaced him. Notwithstanding the propaganda consensus that Serbs were using mass rape as a political weapon, Kalshoven concluded:

"Terms like 'genocide' came all too easily from the mouths of people like Bassiouni, an American professor of law, who had to establish a reputation and to work on fund-raising. In my opinion these terms were way out of line. 'Genocidal rape' is utter nonsense. 'Genocide' means extermination, and it is of course impossible to exterminate people and make them pregnant at the same time. It is a propaganda term which was used against the Serbs right from the start, but I have never found any indication that rape was committed systematically by any of the parties -- and I understand by 'systematically', on orders from the top."

CHAPTER THREE -- Comparative Nationalisms

In this chapter Diana Johnstone deals with the national question. For many Marxists, especially those from a Trotskyist tradition, Milosevic was another Stalin trampling on the rights of oppressed nationalities. Backing the independence of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and -- finally -- Kosovo became a litmus test for Leninists. The Militant newspaper, for example, described Kosovo as being under the thumb of chauvinist overlords in much the same fashion as Puerto Ricans being dominated by the USA:

"In the Yugoslav constitution of 1946, Kosovo was given only limited regional autonomy. Although important gains were made in the area of language and education, the key area of internal security and all managerial appointments were to be controlled from Belgrade. Using the pretext of suppressing Albanian irredentism, longtime chief of the Federal Police Alexander Rankovic, ordered police pressure on Albanians to emigrate. Between 1954 and 1957 some 195,000 Albanians left for Turkey."

To say the least, The Militant's characterization of the Titoist system as heavy-handed Stalinist centralism not only falsifies the way the system worked but what drove the secessionist impulses of the 1980s and 90s. While Tito was bureaucratic, he was not a centralizer. He continually resorted to methods of decentralization, including "workers' self-management" in the economic sphere. Closely related to this policy was a tendency to strengthen the powers of the constituent republics and autonomous regions against the central Federal government. Both of these "radical" practices eventually contributed to the implosion of the nation. As soon as the economic benefits afforded by a special relationship to imperialism began to unwind, the various components of Yugoslavia began to flee a sinking ship. When Lenin spoke in favor of national self-determination, he had socialism in mind. The fracturing of Yugoslavia has done nothing except strengthen capitalism. This is something the Marxist left has to come to terms with at last.

The first republic to bolt from Yugoslavia was Slovenia, which had been seduced by the capitalist charms of its neighbors immediately to the west, especially Austria and Italy. Johnstone cites an increasing affinity between Slovenian intellectuals and Western European leftists, whose attention was being drawn increasingly to German Green type issues such as disarmament, feminism, human rights and the environment. In this changing climate, opposition to Belgrade's power, especially its army, was seen as a vanguard of democratic progress in the spirit of a renewed "civil society." The old Titoist vision of workers' self-management and trans-national solidarity had gone out of fashion.

The Slovenian intelligentsia, who defined their agenda in the pages of Mladina (Youth), were as recognizably "one of us" to the Western Europeans as the blue-eyed Bosnian Muslims. In article after article, they lambasted the Yugoslav army which was suppressing "democratic civil society." The hero of the anti-army movement was Janez Jansa, a leader of the "Alliance of Socialist Youth of Slovenia," who was pushing to "modernize" the organization by dropping the word "socialist" from its name. After Jansa was arrested for stealing a secret military document that purportedly detailed plans to contain a domestic uprising, he became an icon to the German peace movement.

Jansa's defenders saw the conflict as a simple one of democratic modernization versus conservative repression. A closer examination would reveal a different reality. The Slovenian modernizers sought to be freed from the constraints of the federal state. With only 8 percent of the population, they contributed 20 percent of the federal budget. Slovenia's deliverance would come through the free market and improved job opportunities for college-educated urban professionals. Ironically, this milieu resented the money being "wasted" on Kosovo and regarded all of the Eastern peoples of Yugoslavia, either Albanian or Serbs as unwelcome country cousins. In June 1991, Dr. Peter Tancig, the Slovenian minister of science, send out a mass e-mail to the world's scientists that tried to explain the "mess" in Yugoslavia. One on side was a "typical violent and crooked oriental-bizantine [sic] heritage, best exemplified by Serbia and Montenegro." On the other side was a "more humble and diligent western-catholic tradition."

Fast-forwarding a couple of years we discover that Janez Jansa, the darling of the German peace movement, had gone through a remarkable transformation that would anticipate Joschka Fischer's. After the former anti-militarist icon became Slovenia's defense minister, he oversaw the clandestine import of weaponry into his country, most of which was sold illegally to Croatia.

When Croatian nationalism exploded in the 1980s, there was very little to inspire leftists. The modern movement saw itself as fighting for the recognition of the "rights" of the medieval Kingdom of Croatia, which had been absorbed by Hungary in 1102. It was always torn between the Serb revolutionary nationalist movement of the late 1800s and the Hapsburg empire, which always sought a Slavic outpost to pursue its ambitions. When the Hapsburgs ended up on the losing side in WWI, it made the choice easier for the Croat nationalist leaders. By becoming part of the new nation of Yugoslavia, they would avoid the heavy reparations imposed by Versailles.

After Hitler invaded Yugoslavia, Croatia was detached from the country. While it lost portions of the Adriatic coast to Italy, it was awarded the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Under Ustashe rule, Croatia set out to develop a racially pure state. On May 14, 1941, over 700 Serbs were rounded up in Glina and taken to the local Orthodox Church. After the doors were locked, Ustashe gunmen killed everybody inside. The total number of Serbs who died in such fashion will probably never be known, but it is at least 700,000. It is, therefore, not surprising that Serbs began to demand protection from the federal government after Tudjman demonstrated an affinity for the Ustashe. What is surprising, however, is the willingness of some Marxists to regard this as Serb expansionism.

CHAPTER FOUR -- Making of Empires

If there is one continuing theme in Diana Johnstone's "Fool's Crusade," it is how florid sounding phraseology about peace, civil society and human rights became the cover for the first war on European soil since the defeat of Hitler. Ironically, the impetus for this war came from the new Germany itself. While cloaked in the rhetoric of NGO's, the German state's true motive was expansion of its geopolitical influence over the Balkans. She characterizes this aptly as a singular blend of "ideals and interests" -- and personified by the rise of Joschka Fischer, the German Green Party leader.

By 1991, when Yugoslavia began to unravel at the seams, a hate campaign in the German media was already in full swing. In the influential Frankfurter Allgemene Zeitung (FAZ), editor Joann Reissmuller denounced the "the Serbo-communist power called Yugoslavia", or "Belgrade Serbo-communism" that held a "Greater Serbian-communist knife at the throat" of the Slovenes and the Croats. Reissmuller's racist hysteria was often framed in terms of anti-fascist rhetoric such as the time he warned the "civilized world" against the Serb's "master race madness." This propaganda was written at exactly the time when Serbs were being massacred in Croatia under the banner of a crypto-Ustashist movement. The liberal Der Spiegel was not much better. It had a cover article on July 8, 1991 devoted to "Serb terror" and depicted Yugoslavia as a "prison of peoples" trying to free itself.

Considering the Nazi massacres of Serbs during WWII, this kind of demonization was appalling. One might have expected the German Greens and other anti-Serb leftists to be more sensitive to this kind of smear campaign.

What accounts for this monomaniacal drive to destroy Yugoslavia? Johnstone explains it in terms of an almost ritualistic purification for the trauma Germany suffered when it ended up on the losing side of two world wars. Indeed, a leading policy-maker named Rupert Scholz linked the question of Yugoslavia with the need "to overcome the consequences of World War I." By enlisting Germany on behalf of a crusade to "liberate" Yugoslavia, it would be possible to kill two birds with one stone. Not only would humanitarian ends be realized, Germany would become a "normal power" in the process.

Johnstone identifies a peculiarity in German thinking about nation-state formation that can be found from Kaiser to Hitler to Joschka Fischer and that would explain to some degree the zeal for dismantling Yugoslavia. In succinct terms, the nationalist intelligentsia in Germany has a history of favoring states built on a racial or ethnic basis. While obviously most closely associated with the Third Reich, it was first articulated in the waning days of WWI when Chancellor Max von Baden submitted a paper to the Kaiser titled "Thoughts on Ethical Imperialism." (Sounds familiar, doesn't it?) Von Baden saw Germany as protector of 'Randvolker' (peripheral peoples) in Europe. In the name of protecting the weak and the helpless, the support of ethnic claims in neighboring and hostile states would weaken their host and facilitate the spread of German influence. Of course, when those 'Randvolker' are German minorities, it is all to the better.

This policy was pursued not only by Hitler, but by the "enlightened" Weimar Republic that preceded it. In neighboring Poland and Denmark, 30 million Reichsmarks were spent to buy up real estate and businesses that were ultimately used on behalf of German 'Volksgruppen' in what the Foreign Ministry called 'Kampf um den Boden' (struggle for land).

This trickle turned into a full-scale flood after Hitler took power. It provided the excuse for the invasion of both Czechoslovakia and Poland, as well as the absorption of Alsace. In Franz Neumann's "Behemoth," a study of Nazism, the strategy is described as follows:

"Nothing could be more frank. Self-determination is merely a weapon. Take advantage of every friction growing out of the minority problem. Stir up national and racial conflicts where you can. Every conflict will play into the hands of Germany, the new self-appointed guardian of honor, freedom, and equality all over the world."

It was not just German minorities who were "rescued" by Nazi humanitarian interventions. The Nazis surveyed all of Europe in pursuit of other regional populations that could be drawn into their orbit, including the Bretons in Brittany.

Not long after the end of WWII, Germany once again took up the cause of 'Volker' or small nationalities. In outfits like "The International Association for the Defense of Threatened Languages and Cultures", founded in 1963, the oppression of Croats and Slovenes was weighed and remedies considered, among which was the "right to independence" of the two republics.

Once the Berlin Wall fell and the two Germanys united, the nationalist intelligentsia gained a new hearing from a newly emboldened ruling class anxious to reassert itself. A parliamentarian named Rupert Scholz put forward some proposals in a 1995 paper titled "The Right to Self-Determination and German Policy" that basically followed in the volk-state tradition. Now that Germany was reunited, many "lesser" nationalities could be expected to turn to the new power for support. Furthermore, Germany should not shrink from "military operations on behalf of oppressed nationalities," especially those groaning under the Serb heel.

Just at the time German imperialism was rediscovering itself, important figures in the German left were beginning to dispense with the foolish pacifist illusions of their youth. Although the Green Party was devoted to peace, ecology, feminism and grassroots democracy, Johnstone points out that Joschka Fischer was not a typical Green. He was a Maoist street fighter who joined the Greens after the sectarian movements in Germany imploded in the 1980s, just as they had in the USA. As "war minister" of his organization's combat unit, Fischer trained his comrades in street-fighting tactics. His journey from ultraleftism into warmongering reformism was a well-traveled one, considering the path of other sixties radicals who would soon learn how to "work within the system."

He was joined by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who became famous as "Danny the Red" in the May-June events in France, 1968. After he moved to Frankfurt, he joined the "Realo" faction of the Greens that unlike the misty-eyed "Fundis" showed a readiness to compromise principles in order to win elections.

In 1994, after the war in Bosnia took a bloody turn for the worse, the German big-business press and bourgeois politicians began to call for a war against the Serbs. They dragged figures like Fischer and Cohn-Bendit in their wake. Johnstone describes their role in the sorry march toward war:
The highly controversial question of German participation in military intervention against Bosnian Serbs was a burning issue in December 1994. At that time, Chancellor Kohl was arguing that, on the one hand, because of the suffering caused to the people of Yugoslavia in World War II by the Wehrmacht, Germany should stay out; but, on the other hand, "precisely because of German history we cannot evade our responsibility" to contribute German Tornado fighter planes to "humanitarian intervention." At that time, the Social Democrats and Greens were overwhelmingly against such intervention. The exception was Cohn-Bendit, who dismissed Green objections as "ridiculous" and found original arguments to support Kohl's position. He claimed that the peoples of the world would revert to nationalism if they saw that the international community was failing to defend the "little multicultural Volk" in Bosnia -- overlooking the regrettable fact that the "multicultural Volk" was split into warring factions unlikely to be reunited by Tornados flying to the aid of one against another.

At that time, Fischer was still arguing that Germany should stay out. But by the following August, Cohn-Bendit was able to announce that his friend Joschka was "on the right path," even though he still opposed sending in German soldiers. But, predicted Cohn-Bendit with remarkable clairvoyance, "Once Fischer is foreign minister, he won't be able to maintain this position." Ambition was having its effect. On 6 December 1995, the historic question of sending German armed forces to intervene outside the NATO area came before the Bundestag. By then, the Green parliamentary group was split on the question of sending troops into Bosnia. As Green spokesman, Fischer was in the early stages of the transformation that would make Cohn-Bendit's prediction come true. The rhetorical hinge by which Fischer led the gradual swing from one "moral obligation" to its opposite was a profound moral dilemma allegedly afflicting the Green conscience: a "genuine conflict of basic values." On the one hand, "non-violence;" on the other, the need to help people survive. Over several years, Fischer developed variations on this theme of a dilemma between "values." In a sharper version, the value of "non-violence," or "pacifism," was pitted against the need to "combat Auschwitz," or "genocide," posited as a special German obligation.
As it turns out, Cohn-Bendit's appetite for war was shared by some names we have become familiar with in recent weeks. In an open letter that was addressed to "The United Nations, President Clinton, and the Congress" and that appeared in the March 4, 1993 New York Review of Books, a citadel of neoliberal imperialism, demanded that the "cruel arms embargo" imposed against Bosnia be lifted (an embargo that Johnstone characterizes as largely ignored). In addition to Cohn-Bendit, the signatories included Ariel Dorfman, Erika Munk, Jennifer Scarlott, Joanne Landy, Ken Worcester, Manuela Dobos, Michael Lerner, Peter Weiss, Thomas Harrison, and Todd Gitlin. All of these luminaries have the additional distinction of signing the Campaign for Peace and Democracy's (CPD) anti-Cuba petition.

CHAPTER FIVE -- The New Imperial Model

We now have arrived at the fifth and final chapter of Diana Johnstone's "Fool's Crusade," a postmortem on the war in Kosovo.

In contrast to sections of the radical movement that superimposed their own ideologies of liberation on "plucky" Albanians, Johnstone takes an unsentimental view of the Albanian society and culture. This involves at the outset a consideration of the importance of blood feuds as part of the 'Kanun' (orally transmitted code) among the clans that reside in the province's mountains. Even among themselves, the "Shqiptars" (a more common term than Kosovar or Albanian) would carry out vendettas from generation to generation. Johnstone writes:

"The male members of the victim's family are under obligation to kill the person responsible, or any male member of his family. To escape revenge, the men in a family caught in a blood feud may remain housebound for years, while their women carry out the tasks necessary for survival. This custom is reflected in the form of the typical Albanian rural home -- a wall-enclosed compound, which can serve as a defensive fortress."

On the face of it, this does not appear to be fertile soil for the growth of a socialist movement. Largely as a result of the failure of a coherent Albanian national movement to emerge, the region became part of Yugoslavia after the end of WWI. Johnstone does not really try to whitewash the record of Belgrade's role in assimilating Kosovo and even compares it to Zionism or other colonialisms.

But is it fair to judge Titoist Yugoslavia from this perspective? There is a tendency to view the Albanian nationality through the prism of other oppressed groups such as the Kurds. For example, in a 1999 Z Magazine interview, Noam Chomsky said, "Or consider Turkey, a neighbor to the former Yugoslavia. By a very conservative estimate, Turkish repression of Kurds in the 1990s falls in the category of Kosovo." Unfortunately, there seems to be as much forethought in this comment as there was when Chomsky added his name to the CPD's anti-Cuba petition.

Turkish repression against the Kurds means first and foremost the violent campaign against a language. Amir Hassanpour, a leading Kurdish scholar, has written in "Nationalism and Language in Kurdistan":

"Physical violence and separation from one's own family were some of the other methods used in Turkish schools to prevent the student from speaking Kurdish. Students were also punished for speaking their language outside the classrooms during the breaks. Boarding schools were established in 1964, in order to isolate students for the greater part of the year and to encourage them to forget their mother tongue."

Nothing like this ever happened to Albanians in Yugoslavia. From the time of the birth of Tito's Yugoslavia, not only was there an attempt to raise literacy levels throughout the republic, but in the native language of all the peoples. Johnstone claims, "Despite a severe shortage of able to provide a instruction in Albanian, serious efforts were made to educate the Albanians of Kosovo, including girls and women, in their own language." (Her source on this and many other matters of fact is Miranda Vickers's excellent "Between Serb and Albanian: a History of Kosovo," a reliable source despite Vickers's open advocacy of Albanian nationalism.)

Also, according to an Albanian professor at Pristina University in 1981, "not a single national minority in the world has achieved the rights that the Albanian nationality enjoys in Socialist Yugoslavia." Only the Hungarians in Romania and the Swedes in Finland had their own universities, but neither had the kind of autonomy enjoyed by the Albanians.

To continue the false analogy with the Kurds one step further, it is commonly acknowledged that the Ankara government withholds development funding for the Kurdish region. However, Belgrade introduced electrification, paved roads and sewages systems into Kosovo for the first time in its history.

Despite such efforts, Albanian resentment grew. Even though it was progressive to allow Albanians to be taught in their own language, there were negative side effects. Since written Albanian was a relatively new phenomenon, there were no large-scale libraries in Kosovo that could serve education and technical advancement. Schooling in Serb would have provided greater access, but at the expense of nationalist resentment. Such are the contradictions of the national question in Yugoslavia that mattered little to European and North American radicals who projected their own schematic understandings on a poorly understood terrain.

But no amount of affirmative action could make up for centuries of underdevelopment and a retrograde paternalistic social structure. Unemployment and illiteracy not only remained deeply entrenched but accelerated during the financial crisis of the 1980s. When Kosovo began to erupt in secessionist protests, Belgrade began to crack down. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the confrontation was most often viewed as a variation on the Turkey-Kurdish conflict.

Once this view became popular in the world of Western NGO's, there was little that Yugoslavia could do to reverse the perception, just as there is little that Cuba can do today to reverse the perception in this milieu that it is a totalitarian dungeon. The only thing one can hope for is that the radical movement can view such things impartially. Given the defection of a large part of the left into NGO liberalism, our work seems cut out for us today.

The job of demonizing Yugoslavia fell to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) just as it had a decade earlier in Nicaragua. The editor of Kosovo's main newspaper, which had become the beneficiary of NED and Soros Foundation largesse, announced that Kosovo had become "the world's biggest non-governmental organization." With NED funding, the Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedom circulated reports worldwide condemning Serb repression. Because the goal was secession, the reports had a one-sided character. In light of its historical record, is it of any wonder that Cuba would crack down on an NED inspired opposition? What is truly of wonder is the inability of people like Noam Chomsky to take this record into account before signing petitions on a half-cocked basis.

NED funding made it possible for the Council to support a network of 2,000 volunteers in the province while its inflammatory reports went out unimpeded to a score of human rights agencies and the media. Despite all this, Kosovo was characterized as being in the grips of a fierce repression that was likened to either Hitler's or Stalin's -- or in some quarters, a combination of the two.

After NATO's war began, the Council continued to be the main source of "human rights abuses" in the west. It was joined by high officials of the German government, who felt free to make up atrocity stories of the same kind that marked recent media coverage of both wars in Iraq. Not only did defense minister Rudolf Scharping claim that a genocide was in progress in Kosovo, it appeared to be carried out with a relish that might have even shocked the Nazi high command: "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..."

In the aftermath of the ouster of the Serbs, the Milosevic government found itself the target of the same "human rights" intervention that had served NATO's goals in Kosovo itself. The USA openly poured money into coffers of rival parties, such as the one led by Zoran Djindjic, the recently assassinated politician who spearheaded privatization and austerity. The NED lavished millions of dollars on "Otpor" (Resistance), a youth group that expressed no other goal except to be "normal" on western terms. When the west is making war and enforcing economic hardship against "abnormal" forces in one's country, it is no wonder that many will seek this kind of normalcy. In Nicaragua, this is what Reagan called "crying uncle."

In the first round of Serb elections on September 24, 2000, Milosevic failed to gain re-election but his rival Kostunica failed by 2 percent to achieve the 50 percent required for victory. Instead of following Yugoslav law, he encouraged the NED-funded opposition to take to the streets in a "democratic revolution." In practice this meant storming and setting fire to the parliament building, a so-called "symbol of the Milosevic regime." Images of this violent attack were depicted in an endless television loop reminiscent of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue. If this wasn't enough, a gang of thugs was bussed in from the town of Cacak, whose fiercely anti-Communist mayor Velimir Ilic openly boasted the deed and described his activists as "ex-parachute troops, former army and police officers as well as men who had fought in special forces." Some of these commandoes had undoubtedly fought in Croatia and Serbia, where the same kind of reckless and violent behavior on behalf of "ethnic cleansing" was now winning them plaudits from exactly the same panoply of "human rights" leftists who had urged military intervention to stop Serb aggression in the first place.


In her discussion of the Albanian lobby in the United States, Johnstone makes it clear that the Balkans policy was very much a bipartisan affair. Although the prime mover in this lobby was a Republican named Joseph DioGuardi, who was of partial Albanian descent, it also tapped into the Clinton campaign through the auspices of Ilir Zherka, an Albanian-American. Although the Clinton campaign was anxious to court the ethnic vote, no Serbs were invited to apply.

One of the most important lobbyists for the Kosovo cause, however, was a Croatian. Mira Radievolic Barrata, who went to work for Robert Dole in 1989, was credited for pushing Congress to lift the arms embargo against Bosnian Muslims, a key demand of Joanne Landy, Danny "the Red" Cohn-Bendit and other rightward-lurching members of the 1960s generation. Among Baratta's biggest boosters in Washington were some names that are no doubt familiar: Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Jeanne Kirkpatrick. Long before these characters had been identified as exclusively promoting Zionist interests worldwide, they had no problem raising support for the Muslim cause in Bosnia, whose field combatants included many of the same elements now demonized by the very same neoconservatives. As Perle himself was an adviser to the Bosnian Muslims in the Dayton Peace Talks, one can easily conclude that the only constant in all of this is dedication to US imperial interests, and not to any particular deity.

Although there has been emphatic denial in establishment quarters that material self-interest -- especially related to oil -- explained the wars against Yugoslavia and Iraq (less so in the latter case), it became very clear after the victory in the Balkans that long-term geopolitical interests were key. Nothing symbolized this more than Camp Bondsteel, a permanent base for US troops in Kosovo. This base dominates a strategic corridor in Kosovo guarding mountain passes and in close proximity to Thessalonika, a key Greek port.

Johnstone describes Camp Bondsteel as a self-sufficient high tech enclave. Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, whose CEO was Dick Cheney, supplies all the basics, including electricity, transport, fire department, etc. When George W. Bush chose to sign a bill that increased military spending by 1.9 billion dollars, he chose to commemorate it at Camp Bondsteel. So those who yearn for a return to the good old days of a Democratic presidency might give careful consideration to the way that all this played out during Clinton's term in office. When it comes to defending US long-term imperial interests, it is strictly a bipartisan affair.

Furthermore, if something like Camp Bondsteel and the Albanian lobby represent the convergence of class interests between the two major parties, so does the NATO victory itself represent the affinity between Europe and the United States. This old boys club has been around since the 1500s practically. Except for some unpleasantries in 1914 and then again in 1940, the imperialists have always stood on the opposite side of the barricades of the colonized. The Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema summed up this relationship as follows:

"The crisis of Kosovo created new networks of relations. For example, the daily teleconferences between the Foreign Ministers of five countries: the United States, Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy. With Kosovo, we entered such a group. It isn't written in any official document, but in fact, around Kosovo was born a sort of Club. It's difficult to define the rules of membership in the noble circle of the great, there exists no statute."

Only the French foreign minister, Hubert Védrine, found himself capable of striking a discordant note. He warned that the bloodletting in the Balkans was disturbingly similar to the "civilizing mission" of nineteenth century French imperialists and to the "white man's burden" celebrated by Rudyard Kipling. It is no accident that the bourgeois intelligentsia, including figures such as NYU's Niall Ferguson, has begun speaking openly of the benefits of imperialism to the benighted denizens of the South.

In a very real sense, the clock has been turned back to this period. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the old justification for imperialist intervention is no longer possible. Containing Communism has given way to a new set of rationalizations that were mobilized prior to October 1917. When the imperialists conducted "rescues" against the Mahdists, the Boxers or the Sepoys, the excuse was always about protecting innocent civilians and wiping out backward, atavistic revolts.

For those who have had a hard time figuring out why such a large swath of the left defected into the imperialist camp, we would remind them that history has a tendency to repeat itself -- hopefully not in a Viconian sense.

In a January 5, 1898 article titled "The Struggle of Social Democracy and the Social Revolution," Social Democratic leader Eduard Bernstein made the case for colonial rule over Morocco. Drawing from English socialist Cunningham Graham's travel writings, Bernstein stated that there was absolutely nothing admirable about Morocco. In such countries where feudalism is mixed with slavery, a firm hand is necessary to drag the brutes into the civilized world:

"There is a great deal of sound evidence to support the view that, in the present state of public opinion in Europe, the subjection of natives to the authority of European administration does not always entail a worsening of their condition, but often means the opposite. However much violence, fraud, and other unworthy actions accompanied the spread of European rule in earlier centuries, as they often still do today, the other side of the picture is that, under direct European rule, savages are without exception better off than they were before.

"Even before the arrival of Europeans in Africa, brutal wars, robbery, and slavery were not unknown. Indeed, they were the regular order of the day. What was unknown was the degree of peace and legal protection made possible by European institutions and the consequent sharp rise in food resources..."

Let's be clear about the division on the left that emerged with the wars in Yugoslavia, that continued with the recently concluded war in Iraq and that now figures in the Cuba petition controversies. It is fundamentally a problem of what was known commonly in the Marxist movement as 'social patriotism'. The tendency of some leftists, especially those who enjoy privileged positions as trade union bureaucrats, parliamentarians, professors and journalists, to tail end the foreign policy initiatives -- including warfare -- of their own bourgeoisie has been around since the earliest days of imperialism. Our task, of course, is to delineate clear class lines and mobilize working people and their allies to destroy this irrational system that threatens not only the people of the South but us as well. As Marx once said, as long as the Irish are unfree, the British workers cannot be free. Substitute Yugoslavia or Iraq for Ireland (still unfree) and the task remains the same.


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

Diana Johnstone And The Demise Of 'Yugoslavism' - Book Review by Gilles d'Aymery

The Balkans and Yugoslavia on Swans


Louis Proyect is a computer programmer at Columbia University and a long-time peace activist and socialist. He is also the moderator of the Marxism mailing list at www.marxmail.org. He writes a bi-monthly book review for Swans.

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

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

Diana Johnstone And The Demise Of 'Yugoslavism' - Book Review by Gilles d'Aymery

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

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The Cuba Petitions (Apr. 2003)

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Published May 26, 2003
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