BY PAUL MAILHOT
The murderous conflict gripping the former Yugoslavia has intensified in the past few weeks. Orchestrated primarily by the forces backed by the Serbian regime in Belgrade, the war is widening daily. And imperialist powers from Washington to Bonn to Paris are jockeying for position to intervene.
In July, heavily armed forces under Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic overran two Bosnian towns - Srebrenica on July 11 and Zepa on July 25 - that had been designated by the United Nations as "safe areas."
There were numerous reports from Dutch soldiers in the UN force and from the thousands of refugees who fled Srebrenica that the Bosnian Serbs who captured the town executed unarmed civilians, raped women, and carried out other atrocities. In an interview after the fall of Zepa, Mladic dismissed these accusations, saying his troops would not rape Muslim peasant women because "we are too picky."
In all, Serbian forces expelled more than 30,000 people from Srebrenica. According to the Bosnian government, thousands of its troops remain in the hills surrounding Zepa and are said to be continuing to fight Serb forces there.
With the fall of Zepa, however, Gorazde remains the only area in eastern Bosnia under the government's control. War is raging over the northwestern Bosnian town of Bihac. And Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, is now under constant shelling from guns overlooking the city. During a three- day period at the end of July at least 20 people were killed and 75 injured.
The leaders of the Bosnian Serb forces have made it increasingly clear that they intend to press the war and attempt to capture all of the main towns under the contrl of the Bosnian government, including Sarajevo. "Sarajevo was a Serbian city," Karadzic recently told an interviewer. "We are not besieging it, we are defending our territory. Sarajevo is our second city after Belgrade." Mladic told the Belgrade weekly Svet, "By autumn we'll take Gorazde, Bihac, and in the end Sarajevo, and we'll finish the war in Bosnia."
The effects of the war have been devastating throughout Bosnia. In Sarajevo alone at least 10,000 people have died from shelling and sniper fire and 50,000 more have been wounded in the past three years. More than half of the prewar population of 450,000 have fled. Of the 280,000 who remain in Sarajevo, an estimated 100,000 came as refugees from villages taken over by Serbs.
"We never, until the war, thought of ourselves as Muslims," said Mikica Babic, a 32-year-old history teacher from Sarajevo. "We were Yugoslavs. But when we began to be murdered because we were Muslims, things changed. The definition of who we are today has been determined by our killers."
The workers and farmers of Yugoslavia mobilized to carry out an anti-capitalist revolution in the 1940s and establish a workers state. People of every nationality united to make the revolution, and began to narrow the extreme regional disparities in living standards that existed in the country. Over time, the Stalinist misleaders of Yugoslavia eroded those gains. With the shattering of the Stalinist apparatus beginning in 1990, those who sat atop the bureaucratic regime began to battle over territory and resources and exacerbate the divisions among working people in Yugoslavia.
Since then, Serbian forces have pursued the war, violating the right of Bosnia to national sovereignty and independence. Despite enormous military pressure and political isolation, workers, peasants, and others in Bosnia have resisted the onslaught, including many who are Serb and Croat but who identify their country as Bosnia.
Bosnia is economically and militarily weaker than Serbia. That country has a more developed industrial base, larger geographic area, and was the traditional center of the Yugoslav armed forces. This gives the Serbian forces a tremendous advantage.
Croatian government acts
The offensive by Serbian forces across Bosnia has prompted the Croatian government to give its military greater rein in the conflict in order to protect its interests and attempt to grab land and resources. Croatian president Franjo Tudjman recently sent heavy artillery to join in the fighting against Bosnian Serb forces in Bihac.
Croatian government acts
The Croatian government claims to have some 100,000 troops ready for war. A major military conflict is now brewing between Serb forces and Zagreb over the Krajina region of Croatia, which sits astride vital oil, rail, and road networks.
Washington is taking advantage of Croatia's widening role in the war to upgrade its ties with the Tudjman government. Fifteen U.S. military instructors are now stationed at the Defense Ministry in Zagreb training Croatian officers in the arts of war.
"The United States seems to be setting the markers for a new sphere of influence where the currency is pegged to the German mark and the sense of protection to Washington," wrote Alan Cowell for the New York Times. Last year, Washington and Zagreb signed a military cooperation agreement that provides for increased contacts between the U.S. and Croatian armed forces.
NATO forces threaten air strikes
After the recent Serb advances, imperialist powers are once again threatening air strikes against military forces involved in attacks on so called UN safe areas. Under an agreement announced August 1, UN military commanders can now call in air attacks by NATO forces without getting approval from civilian authorities in New York or Zagreb.
NATO forces threaten air strikes
The NATO commanders did not publicly spell out what would constitute an "attack."
NATO secretary general Willy Claes warned Bosnian government forces not to try to take advantage of the protection that might be afforded by threatened air strikes to try to advance their position. He urged "all parties to exercise restraint and to desist from military action."
Conflicting imperialist interests continue to make it difficult for the major capitalist powers to intervene militarily in the Bosnian conflict. It is a reflection of their weakness that no single imperialist power can take advantage of the situation yet to decisively advance their position in that region of the world.
At the same time the aggression of Serb forces trampling on the rights of the Bosnian people and the mobilization of more Croatian military forces for Zagreb's own economic and political reasons are widening the war and continuing to pull the imperialist powers into the conflict.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home