Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracking the Break-Up; 1980-1992

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracking the Break-Up; 1980-1992

Article excerpt

The Destruction of Yugoslavia: Tracking the Break-Up; 1980-1992

By Branka Magas. Verso, London and New York, 1993, 366 pp. List: $22.95; AET: $17.95

The value of this superbly documented book lies in its clarification of how and when the greatest holocaust since the Nazis began. As to who destroyed Yugoslavia, the author places the blame clearly on Slobodan Milosevic and the Serbs who began a war of territorial conquest, the first in Europe since 1945.

The Second World War cost the country 10 percent of its people, yet at the end of it Yugoslavia emerged united. Its new ruler, Marshal Josip Broz Tito, had one of the longest incumbencies in modern times. Soon after Tito's death in 1980, Milosevic became the undisputed leader of Serbia.

Only a year later, Milosevic and the Serbs started armed aggression in Kosovo, whose non-Serb inhabitants were not eligible for citizenship in the successor state now under construction--Greater Serbia. Yugoslavia's constitution specified that it was a federation of equal nations, but it was Milosevic's plan to change the country's internal balance of power in favor of Serbia.

Branka Magas, a Croat journalist who has painstakingly documented the events of 1980 to 1992, reminds us that under Tito Yugoslavia had been a nation of six republics and two autonomous provinces, both within the Republic of Serbia. One of the provinces was Kosovo. Kosovo occupied some 4 percent of Yugoslav territory and had 8 percent of the population, some 2 million people. While some Serbs live in Kosovo, the overwhelming majority are indigenous Albanians. Kosovo, in fact, is home to almost as many Albanians as is the nation of Albania itself. Most Albanians are Muslim.

Due to the size of its population, Kosovo's leaders sought by public demonstrations to have its status changed from province to republic. Rather than grant them more independence, however, the Serbs tried to deny the Kosovo Albanians any autonomy at all. Serbia suspended all government bodies and dissolved the Kosovo parliament, all in defiance of the Federal Constitution of 1974. Serb officials sacked Albanians from all positions of responsibility, replacing them with Serbs. Serbs closed down Albanian-language radio and television in Kosovo and they began a rule of oppression and terror in Serbia's "occupied territory."

By playing the Kosovo card, writes Magas, "Milosevic was able to place himself at the head of the emergent nationalist-conservative coalition, crush the liberal opposition and--by forging `unity' within the party--satisfy also the morbid fear of the central apparatus that the party was losing control over political life in the republic. From now on, all criticism of the party leadership was presented as an attack on Serb national interests."

The tragedy of Yugoslavia, writes the author, is "not so much about what happened in the distant past." Rather it's about "the fanning of state- sponsored nationalism." It's been a case of Milosevic's Serbs treating other Yugoslavs--most particularly Muslim Yugoslavs--as an enemy who must be "cleansed" or, more plainly, eradicated. In his territorial conquests, Milosevic counted on the West to aid him. And, says Magas, the West has actually done so. "By failing to distinguish between victim and assailant, the West has become an active participant in Serbia's aggression."

The United Nations arms embargo has meant intervention in favor of Serbian aggression. The embargo "gave Belgrade's forces an advantage in Croatia," and had "an even more catastrophic effect in Bosnia. …

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