What's Left

July 21, 2003

Was the US behind the single greatest act of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia?

By Stephen Gowans

It was one of those peeks into what really happened that are occasionally glimpsed long after anyone cares, like finding out after the invasion of Iraq that the US and Britain had already begun aerial operations to pick apart Iraq's defenses long before the invasion had begun, at a time both countries were denying they had already made a decision to go to war ("U.S. Moved Early for Air Supremacy: Airstrips on Iraqi Defenses Began Long Before Invasion, General Says," The Washington Post, July 20, 2003). Those who saw the news reports may have raised their eyebrows, but the reports were too obscure to have flitted, even briefly, across the consciousness of most (even ardent) newspaper readers. The secret, though technically out, remained a secret, lost in the deluge of other news, bereft of any urgency for being about an event that had happened months before.

So who's going to care about something that happened almost eight years ago?

"In early August 1995," writes researcher Gregory Elich, "the Croatian invasion of Serbian Krajina precipitated the worst refugee crisis of the Yugoslav civil war. Within days, more than two hundred thousand Serbs, virtually the entire population of Krajina, fled their homes, and 14,000 Serbian civilians lost their lives." ("The invasion of Serbian Krajina," NATO in the Balkans: Voices of Opposition, International Action Center, New York, 1998.)

This was Operation Storm, "the largest single act of ethnic cleansing of the Yugoslav civil war," according to Even Dyer, a journalist with CBC Radio. "And yet not one person has been arrested and brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia" ("Croatian atrocities being forgotten: Cdn. Officers," CBC News, July 21, 2003.)

The popular mythology about the Yugoslav civil war is that it was the Serbs, led by Slobodan Milosevic, who embarked on a program of ethnic cleansing to create a greater Serbia. Milosevic is on trial at the Hague Tribunal, facing genocide charges.

So it should strike a dissonant chord that:

The Tribunal says the evidence is circumstantial, but senior Canadian soldiers, including
a general who commanded peacekeeping forces in the area of Operation Storm, say they suspect the real reason for the Tribunal's inaction is that Western governments were in the background pulling the strings.

For example, Argentina provided artillery to the Croats, despite a UN embargo on supplying materiel and even though their own troops were in Croatia as peacekeepers.

And a private US military contractor, Military Professional Resources Inc (MPRI), headed by a former US Army Chief of Staff, likely planned the operation.

Canada's Major-General Andrew Leslie says he doubts the Croats could have pulled off Operation Storm themselves. "That was done by people who really knew what they were doing."

Leslie's colleague, Major-General Alain Fourand, agrees. He says he suspects it was MPRI that was behind the operation.

The MPRI Web site, according to CBC news, "points to an article in which the Croatian government praised the job MPRI has done for it."

There is much that is misunderstood about the Yugoslav civil war, and the Hague Tribunal.

For one, the Croats were a lot closer to the image of Nazis than the Serbs were, though it was Serbs who were portrayed, for propaganda reasons, as successors of Hitler's fascists. After the breakaway Croat republic violently seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991, Franjo Tudjman, the country's president, began to resurrect symbols of Croatia's Nazi puppet state past. According to Elich, "the Croatian fascist(s) murdered as many as one million Serbs, Jews and Romani" during WWII.

And the Tribunal is funded in part by billionaire financier George Soros, who has a long history of underwriting programs to destabilize countries whose markets are closed, or partly closed, to Western investment. Once a renitent government is ousted, and a Western friendly regime is installed, Soros swoops in to buy up state assets at fire sale prices. Soros is said to have his eyes on the massive Trepca mining complex in Kosovo, worth an estimated $5 billion. The Hungarian émigré spent $100 million to oust Milosevic, who presided over a largely socially owned economy ("The billionaire trader has become Eastern Europe's uncrowned king and the prophet of an 'open society." But open to what?" New Statesman, June 2, 2003.)

The US and Germany began supporting secessionist forces in Yugoslavia after the collapse of Communism in the former Soviet Union, when the Yugoslav federation refused to be brought wholly into the Western orbit. Former Communist countries were undergoing a spate of privatization. But, according to Neil Clark, "Over 700,000 Yugoslav enterprises remained in social ownership and most were still controlled by employee-management committees, with only 5% of capital privately owned." ("The quisling of Belgrade," The Guardian (UK), March 14, 2003.) The West aligned itself with Alija Izetbegovic in Bosnia, who wanted to makeover the multi-ethnic republic as an Islamic religious state, though Bosnia had a large non-Muslim, including Serb, population. And Tudjman, the West's favorite in Croatia, reeked to heaven of fascism and anti-Serb fanaticism. But both were useful as instruments to tear apart the federation and deliver it, piece by piece, into the hands of the West, and its corporate sector.

Later, secessionist in Kosovo would be encouraged, trained, and bankrolled by the West, sparking a civil war that furnished NATO with a pretext to launch a "humanitarian" war, and ultimately, the ouster of Milosevic, working through its proxy, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia.

The atrocities of August 1995 are now largely forgotten in the West, and while they seem to be old news, they do shed light of recurrent patterns that can be glimpsed today. The West's penchant for precipitating crises that can be used as pretexts for intervention in countries that seek to pursue an independent course hasn't abated. And it's all too common for victims of Western-backed aggressions to be portrayed as the aggressors themselves. North Korea, for example, is now widely understood to be a hostile nation, even though it is the US that shows every indication of being hell-bent on resuming a war with the impoverished country it has never entirely renounced. Cuba, Belarus, Zimbabwe, part of a complement of nations George W. Bush has designated "captive nations," along with North Korea ("Bush blacklists Zimbabwe, Cuba," news24.com, July 19, 2003) are portrayed as brutal, repressive, regimes, though the reason they're demonized has everything to do with their inhospitable orientation to the global capitalist economy dominated by the United States.

That too was the Serb's offense, in the eyes of the West, which is why there ever was an Operation Storm, why there's a Star Chamber at the Hague, and why MPRI won't soon be facing war crimes charges.

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