Ex-Yugoslavia: What Can Be Done?

Two academics, two activists, and a Peace Magazine editor discuss the possibilities for intervention, and the lessons to be learned in ex-Yugoslavia. Barry Stevens facilitates this discussion with Edith Klein and Slobodan Drakulic, Research Associates at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Toronto; Dieter Heinrich, Erecutive Committee member of the International World Federalist Movement; and Dean Mercer, Greenpeace and Peace Brigades activist. Barry Stevens is a Toronto-based screenwriter, an editorial committee member of Peace Magazine, and long time peace activist.

By Barry Stevens (moderator)

BARRY:

What is happening in Bosnia seems to be sort of a recurring nightmare, containing echoes of other wars and conflicts in this century and even before. It seems that Yugoslavia is presenting a microcosm of the world now that the bipolar nuclear threat has receded. It raised questions that I didn't think were being dealt with fully enough by the peace movement, or by the media. I thought that we might start with comments about the historical conflict, be-fore we get down to the question of what kind of intervention, if any, is appropriate.

SLOBODAN:

During the cold war the leading Western powers and the international organizations were freezing the existing borders and the socio-political organizations within them. "The New World Order" starts with changing the borders or disallowing changes, but with no recognizable pattern. In Yugoslavia, for example, everything is seemingly up for grabs, but there is this firm hand that doesn't allow changes from a certain point on.

EDITH:

I think that the Yugoslav conflict became a kind of bargaining chip in the European community's internal disputes. We now know that the decision by Germany to recognize Slovenia and Croatia early on, well before the rest of the European community was ready to, were critical defining moments in this conflict. Those diplomatic gestures had disastrous results.

BARRY:

What is perhaps not very well understood in North America is the relationship of Germany to Yugoslavia. Historically the fact that the Germans recognized Slovenia and Croatia without much guarantee of minority rights was a tremendous red flag for Serbia. For instance in Now Mag there was an article about the "alleged" slaughter of Serbians by the fascist Ustasha. My understanding is that that is more or less a historical fact.

EDITH:

In the early reporting of this conflict there was usually reference to the fact that Croatia had been a Nazi puppet state where this slaughter took place during the Second World War. That slowly disappeared.

DIETER:

We can see now in retrospect that Germany's unconditional recognition of Croatia was a mistake. The peace movement could focus on this, on what to do about recognition of new states. With the cold war behind us there is an upwelling of democratic thinking. People are claiming the right to self-government and self-determination and it's become very hard to deny people these rights, especially people whose nations have been taken over at some point through processes which we now regard as illegal. On the other hand, it seems now Croatia's refusal to grant minority rights has exacerbated the situation by feeding into the fear of Serbs that they might then be persecuted by majority Croats, and feeding back into the whole cycle of hostility and conflict. I think that one lesson we might learn is that the international community has no obligation to recognize a new country unless its regime is democratically legitimate and part of that legitimacy is human rights protection for minorities.

BARRY:

But the dialogue on that seems stunted. There seems to be a celebratory romanticism about the freeing of the captive peoples-unless of course it happens in our own home.

DIETER:

Well this is one of the most important peace issues for the next quarter century anyway. Because as people come to political consciousness and see what's happening in other parts of the world, they may form a sense of national consciousness and question the legitimacy of the existing borders. So we could have a crisis on the scale of Yugoslavia blowing up in half a dozen places in the near future and possibly scores of places over the next few decades.

DEAN:

Just a question about establishing principles on an international basis. In India and Sri Lanka the English dailies talk a lot about the West's interest in imposing a moral system through the U.N. and the IMF and all these institutions. Human rights organizations become part of this whole package of interventions in other societies. I'm not sure if the U.N. becomes an appropriate mechanism.

EDITH:

I think that the peace movement might profitably turn its attention to debating this moral order issue: "what is a democratic system, how do we recognize it?" in terms that are not specific to a particular cultural setting. You know in Canada we're absolutely obsessed with this issue right now. We don't necessarily know how to create a democratic order, let alone to impose our ideas on the rest of the world. So I think that debate is a first step. As to whether the U.N. is the appropriate place to do this, I think the U.N. is an anachronism.

BARRY:

An anachronism in the sense that it's presently constituted, or the idea of a world forum or a world legislature?

EDITH:

As it's presently constituted, the ways in which it makes decisions, the membership balance, the Security Council. It's a punitive body. It is not a conflict resolution, negotiation-oriented body. And as far as I'm aware the expulsion of Yugoslavia is a precedent. I think that that move, along with a number of other resolutions with respect to the Yugoslavian situation, clearly illustrate that the U.N. is not sensitive to the issues that are at stake in the Yugoslav crisis. It doesn't know how to handle them, hasn't got the right cultural sensitivities. And I think this is where the peace movement can say in a non-partisan way-look we've got to debate these issues, we have to discuss them openly.

SLOBODAN:

If you analyze the development of the so-called civil society in Slovenia, you'll see that the first civil society movement, the Slovenian Alternative, was the beginning of the ethnic society which Slovenia is now. Try to get citizenship in Slovenia and you'll discover that it is not as hard as Kuwait but it's much harder than any other hard place if you're not ethnic Slovenian. We even had ethnically coloured feminism which related poorly to other feminisms in Yugoslavia. If alternative groups cannot collaborate and communicate across ethnic borders then there is something wrong with them. I can understand the Slovenian government having a problem with the Serbian government, but surely Slovenian pacifism should be able to communicate normally with Serbian pacifism.

BARRY:

That was so even before the fighting started?

SLOBODAN:

Yes, we had difficulties well before. Back in 1981-82, for example, we were accused of hiding a young Slovenian student who was accused of having said something in the student papers in Slovenia. Our group, which included both Slovenians and Serbo-Croatians, had a debate about what to do for her. The Serbo-Croatians wanted to defend her, on principle. But the Slovenians said instead that they would plead guilty, and negotiate with the Slovenian government for a suspended sentence. Now here you have your oppressive system, within which the Slovenian opposition will negotiate with the Slovenian government, but will not close ranks with the Serbo-Croat opposition. In such a case we are talking not of the formation of civil society but of ethnic society. When that moves towards nation building you are not building a nation-state but an ethnic state.

DIETER:

Maybe the Canadian peace movement needs to discuss the question of ethnicity and nationalism behind all this. Partly because of the defence of our own culture next to the United States, there has been a tendency in Canada for the word nationalism to acquire positive connotations. But it very quickly becomes a horrible thing, especially when it is genetically based and becomes the basis for violent conflict with others. We should become more critical of people who claim rights on the basis of nationhood and of nations who want to claim certain collective rights. We need to begin to see that we are all members of a global society, part of one body of humanity. We should all be looking at things that we have in common and not things that divide us; especially historical differences, that go way back into the past, that have very little relevance to the present and the future. The future is the same for all of us, if we don't deal with certain global crises such as the disappearance of the ozone layer, the rate of global population growth and the diminishing of resources.

EDITH:

That's very true. But I think that in the Balkan context it's irrelevant, and until it's recognized as irrelevant there will be no conflict resolution. It reminds me of when my mother used to say, "you must eat this because people are starving elsewhere in the world," and I couldn't figure out what possible relevance that had to my really hating whatever food I was being asked to eat. You are talking about people in Russia, in Ukraine, in Serbia, who will quite happily get into an airplane or a helicopter and divebomb into a nuclear power facility, without any thought of what potential disaster this will cause.

BARRY:

Are there any conditions where any outside power should intervene militarily in what was once Yugoslavia.

SLOBODAN:

The U.S. has no moral right to intervene in Bosnia-Herzegovina if the L.A. riots had any reason to happen.

DIETER:

It's not as if you have to be morally perfect before you can make a moral statement. You only have to be better than the next guy.

SLOBODAN:

I am talking about one specific group: the State Department of the United States which may invade Bosnia-Herzegovina with an army.

BARRY:

Isn't there a European potential there too?

SLOBODAN:

Hundreds of American planes and a scattering of European and Canadian ones- that's how it was in Iraq. If you remove the international face the American army would have fought on its own. I think one should intervene as a peace keeper. I don't think one can do it as a government.

DIETER:

There are two issues involved-one is whether military intervention is right under any circumstances. The other is how it could be carried out. I think if it's going to happen it should not be done by the United States. And the fact that the United States is always supplying the better part of the U.N. military force is one of the ways in which the U.N. is anachronistic. We need to restructure the United Nations so that it has greater control of its own forces.

Sometimes a calculated military intervention can bring about a resolution of a conflict that is enduring and that results ultimately in a greater peace. For instance, the allied intervention against Nazi Germany. That has left a legacy of enduring peace among the countries of Western Europe which had been at war for hundreds of years. However I am certainly am not convinced that at this point in Yugoslavia, military force would achieve anything.

DEAN:

I am in that camp of people who fairly religiously refuse the use of violence as a way of settling disputes. I wonder when you consider the Second World War if it's reasonable to take into the calculation that there were millions of dead afterwards. The problem with using violence is that you apply your force, and then you find out that in fact it was a much more complex story and the difficulties were more deeply rooted.

BARRY:

So one should always pull back from using any sort of military force? Even ii it was clear that this conflict escalated to some situation of genocidal slaughter?

DEAN:

In terms of my involvement, yes. If there are people in the local situation who are going to take up arms to protect themselves, I have no right to say that that is a wrong thing to do.

BARRY:

That raises a point regarding arms embargos. The Bosnians have complained that the arms embargo affects them disproportionately and that the Serbian forces have the resources of the Yugoslav federal army paid for partly by Bosnian taxes and partly by U.S. taxes. Some journalists that I've read, Gwynne Dyer and Christopher Hitchins among them, have argued that they should be given access to arms.

EDITH:

The idea of arming the other side to make it a level playing field is just...

SLOBODAN:

I suggest we should have perpetual, twenty-four hour cameras in that case. We can watch it live as it happens.

EDITH:

One good suggestion that I heard was to go in and disarm everybody, to remove all weapons from Yugoslav soil, to seal the borders.

SLOBODAN:

Which would require an overwhelming intervention.

EDITH:

Yes. And you'd run the risk then of not having impartial officers. When you have all these weapons in the hands of an intervening force the likelihood of some sort of violent episode is that much greater. So this is a fantasy.

DIETER:

I think the problem is that if you intervene, your intervention is almost certainly going to favor one side or the other. I agree that if there is going to be an effective military intervention then it has to deal with the armaments reaching that society. The U.N. again is the place where 2 mechanism for disarming a population has to be developed. They would have to do it virtually house by house, block by block. That means intensive control of the population for the purposes of surveillance, which may be a very welcome thing if it means you are less likely to get shot.

BARRY:

It is beginning to evoke images from South Central Los Angeles and the helicopters flying over with searchlights.

EDITH:

Oh, it's a fantasy.

SLOBODAN:

If we are talking about disarming populations, we should look at who arms populations. Throughout 1990 and 1991, Germany was arming Slovenia and Croatia. That's called subversion by any normal standards. That's like someone arming a separatist government of Quebec from the United States. The same countries that could now intervene in that situation were encouraging each and every separatism to develop in the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in 1990-91.

DIETER:

One of the few things that has put a damper on the fighting in ex-Yugoslavia has been intervention by the international community. Many more people would be dead today, had the multilateral community not intervened.

EDITH:

Actually the argument is now being made that the presence of peacekeeping forces in Croatia allowed the Croatian government to concentrate troops of their own in Bosnia, escalating the fighting.

DIETER:

Any intervention is going to favor one of the parties involved. The real question you have to ask is, without the intervention, would there be more or fewer people dead?

SLOBODAN:

I think if the European community hadn't intervened, the federal army sent by Milosevic in June of 1991 would have defeated the territorial defence of Slovenia in July and there would have been federal elections by August or September. Yugoslavia would be in place now. The losses would have been maybe a few hundred lives, maybe less, but no more; because Slovenians did not have anything like adequate defence forces.

Baker was there in June, 1991 and said publicly to the then Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Markovic that he supported Yugoslavia's integrity. According to my sources he also indicated that a swift democratic action like a pro-democratic anti-separatist coup, using the military, would be acceptable. Several days later the Yugoslav army tried to oppose an armed uprising led by the Slovenian minister of defence (who used to be a pacifist), Janez Jansa. But three days into the conflict federal authorities lost American support. In other words the Americans were saying: if you can squash them fast you are in the right, if you can't you're in the wrong. What kind of logic is this? Bully-boy.

I'm coming to Dieter's point, that we're talking about tribal issues while we have the planet crumbling under us, the sky splitting. The old world order would have said yes, we have more important things to deal with than the nation-state and ethnocracy.

DIETER:

Barbara McDougall has floated the idea of investigating the war crimes in Yugoslavia and creating an international criminal court in which some of the protagonists in former Yugoslavia might be tried. This is an idea that the peace movement might seize on because it is a tool to solve such problems in the future. Behind these groups are individuals, some of whom are committing crimes against international law by inciting genocide, race hatred, or actually planning and executing these crimes through the machinery that they control. These people should be identified as individuals and held to account in some kind of forum.

BARRY:

The docket would fill up with every national leader on the globe.

DIETER:

I hope we could get enough consensus to deal with the worst ones. If the leaders knew that such a mechanism existed, that would have an immediate tonic effect on their behavior.

EDITH:

I'm not quite as optimistic about such a solution. The fact that the proposal came as a response to the Balkan conflict casts doubt on what the real agenda is here. Peacekeeping is an ad hoc kind of activity, it's like the morphine that is supplied to the heroin addict. It doesn't make the problem go away.

Peacekeeping is an unbelievable source of pride for Canadians, to the extent that, if we didn't have peacekeeping, Canadians would have nothing to be proud of. There is no alternative that's better. An international war crimes court that happened to be proposed now in the Balkan con-text is not it. It plays on the visual impact of ethnic cleansing. The world is crying out for a punitive, harsh way to deal with that and what better way than to have a public trial/execution? Let's deal with this problem so we don't have Ukrainians ethnically cleansing Ukraine and Latvians ethnically cleansing Latvia and Estonians ethnically cleansing Estonia.

DIETER:

I agree that we can't just reach for punitive solutions. On the other hand we need to think strategically. We should seize on the criminal court idea because it's a useful mechanism to have on the international scene. It could deter these kinds of conflicts in the future.

DEAN:

How would this tribunal mechanism play into your analysis of the emerging order? It seems that it would be abused, probably.

SLOBODAN:

It's a question of who holds the power to appoint judges. The justice is the justice of the king. In this case we'll have Barbara McDougall's mistakes . I don't want to live with them. I could accept a court where Noam Chomsky would preside. Let's face it, Canada took sides in this conflict. Don't tell me about impartiality after you have taken sides.

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1992

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1992, page 24. Some rights reserved.

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