BY ARGIRIS MALAPANIS
"I can hear warplanes flying over again as we speak," said Duci Petrovic in a telephone interview from his home in Nis, southern Serbia, May 11. "They've been dropping cluster bombs and missiles for the last five days. About 40 people have been killed and more than 100 seriously wounded here since May 7."
That's when U.S.-NATO bombers attacked the central market in Nis - the country's second-largest city and among Yugoslavia's most important industrial centers -as well as a nearby hospital, killing 14 people, all of them civilians.
"In the last three days they destroyed one of the bridges over the Varda river - the one near the bus station that a lot of people use to walk to and from work - a fuel station, and several houses. Where are the military targets? It seems that the American government is consistently hitting at civilians, everyday people, workers and students. And they are targeting working-class cities. Two nights ago we had the `honor' to be the only city bombed."
Nis is a union stronghold. More than 25 percent of the city's 80,000 wage workers, out of a population that exceeds 300,000, are organized by Nezavisnost (Independence), the trade union federation in Serbia independent of government control. The rest are organized by the government-sponsored Confederation of All Trade Unions of Yugoslavia. Nezavisonst was in the forefront of the successful protest movement in 1996-97 that forced the regime of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to reverse its anti-democratic annulment of municipal election results, which brought victories to an opposition coalition in 15 of Serbia's 19 largest cities.
Petrovic, a student at the University of Nis who helped organize the mobilizations two years ago in collaboration with Nezavisnost, said most of the bombing raids now take place in mid-day, just like the attack on the market and hospital.
Most of the discussion in Nis about the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, which has been the focus of much of the media coverage worldwide over the last week, has been taking place on TV, said Petrovic. "Ordinary people talk about what's happening in the streets here. People are more angry at NATO, at their arrogance. Many are more frightened."
A U.S. plane, reportedly a B-2 Stealth bomber, dropped at least three bombs that struck China's embassy, located in New Belgrade, about midnight on May 7. Three people in the embassy were killed and many more wounded. Bombs also destroyed the nearby Hotel Yugoslavia in that raid.
The attack, which U.S. officials claimed was a "mistake," sparked huge daily protests in Beijing outside the U.S. and British embassies and elsewhere in China for the following four days. It accelerated the collision course between Washington and Beijing and internationalized the war over Yugoslavia. The Chinese government of President Jiang Zemin demanded May 11 an end to the U.S.-NATO bombings before any negotiations over the future of Kosova could proceed. Moscow, which had joined representatives of the so-called G-7 countries in signing an agreement for an international "peace" force in Kosova just one day before the assault on the Chinese embassy, sided with Beijing on this demand.
The Clinton administration immediately rejected these proposals. "We are going to continue with prosecuting the air campaign until the NATO conditions are met, and that, and that alone will be the cause of any suspension of the bombing," said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.
In fact, as the assault passed the 50-day mark May 13, NATO kept escalating its air raids, flying 600 or more sorties per day, striking increasingly in broad daylight, and inflicting more civilian casualties in cities like Cacak and Nis in central and southern Serbia and towns in Vojvodina near the border with Hungary. NATO air commanders also announced they plan to use airfields in Hungary and Turkey to attack Yugoslavia, in addition to the Aviano air base in Italy and aircraft carriers in the Adriatic, in an effort to tighten the military encirclement of Yugoslavia and increase its isolation. According to Turkish newspapers, that country's premier, Bulen Ecevit, has ordered military facilities open to NATO flights for logistical support over Yugoslavia but Ankara has not agreed to use its bases for air strikes against Yugoslavia.
The bombings are a major factor in the continuing outflow of Albanians from Kosova, whose numbers now exceed 700,000. The region's pre-war population was 2.1 million people, 90 percent of them Albanian. As many Albanians expelled from Kosova, through the Milosevic regime's "ethnic cleansing" drive, told Militant reporters in interviews at camps in Montenegro, Macedonia, and Albania, the escalating NATO assault is largely to blame for this forced exodus.
Chinese embassy bombing
"The Chinese embassy is 500 meters from my house," said Oliver Kokic, a student at the University of Belgrade, in a May 11 phone interview. "We heard and saw it all happening. It was the worst night for Belgrade since the bombing began in March. They hit more than 10 targets. They dropped those new bombs with graphite shreds two and a half hours before they hit China's embassy. Power was cut off. Most of Belgrade was without electricity all night."
Kokic said most people in his neighborhood and others he knows don't believe Washington's claims that the bombing was another "accident" because NATO maps were supposedly outdated and had the wrong address for the Chinese embassy. "I can't say for sure it was done deliberately. But the whole affair has made things more complicated. Most people, including those of us who have criticized the regime here and demanded democratic rights, are less willing to accept what the USA wants. We said from the beginning we didn't want NATO troops in Kosova or other parts of Yugoslavia. People are less willing to accept them now. If you do that they'll reach Belgrade one day."
Kokic said hundreds of Yugoslavs joined about 250 Chinese residents of Belgrade in a spontaneous march to demand the end of the bombing hours after the blasts ripped open the Chinese embassy compound.
In more than a dozen phone interviews May 11-12, other young people and trade unionists made similar points.
"The theory that the CIA had old maps is ridiculous for the largest spying agency in the world," said Dusan, a member of the Students Union of Yugoslavia in Novi Sad, Serbia's third-largest city and the capital of the Vojvodina region.
"I don't understand how people can make `mistakes' like that," said Branislav Canak, the national president of Nezavisnost, who lives in Belgrade. "I find it hard to believe especially after Clinton's explanations."
"They want to continue the bombing," said Bojan, another member of the Students Union in Novi Sad. "This now looks like it could go on for months, through the summer. Which country has ever been bombed into a democracy? None. It serves the interests of the American government to firm up its upper hand in Europe. It's the new world policeman who feels he can do whatever he pleases." Both Dusan and Bojan, who were leaders of the democratic rights protests two years ago, asked that their last names not be used.
Dusan and others interviewed said the crocodile tears by U.S. officials over the three Chinese killed in Belgrade are particularly insulting when Washington doesn't even mention the more than 1,000 civilians now dead throughout Serbia. There was hardly any mention in the U.S. media of the bombing of the market in Nis, he pointed out. "Contrast that to the worldwide media blitz when bombs hit a market in Sarajevo five years ago. The U.S. government simply used that to justify the NATO bombing of Bosnia. We opposed Belgrade's war in Bosnia and we worked against it. Now NATO is bombing us."
`We're at war with Serbian nation'
While bombings in and around Belgrade and Novi Sad eased over the last week, they have intensified elsewhere, especially in Nis. "Why did they use cluster bombs when they attacked the market in Nis?" Dusan asked. "They claimed they were targeting an airfield nearby and `missed.' But they didn't use cluster bombs when they bombed an airfield in Podgorica the other day. Cluster bombs are used to kill as many people as possible. They are going after working people."
Christina Rinic is a member of the metal workers union in Kragujevac who worked in the Zastava plant there. The auto manufacturing complex there, which employed 38,000 workers, was destroyed after repeated air raids about a month ago. Rinic pointed out that the pattern of the recent bombings shows the U.S.-NATO assault is concentrating on destroying factories and infrastructure in cities that have been union strongholds and where working-class resistance to the austerity and anti-democratic policies of the Milosevic regime has been strongest. These have included a May 11 attack at the center of Cacak in western Serbia, where four people died, as well as Kragujevac, Kraljevo, and several other cities. Cacak is a city where Belgrade was unable to shut down the local independent TV station because of overwhelming popular protests. "I am headed down to the basement after we hang up," Rinic said, as air sirens in Kragujevac sounded again the evening of May 11.
Milan Nikolic of the metal workers union in Belgrade and Branislav Canak pointed out that the ongoing attacks continue to take a tremendous toll on the ability of working people in Serbia to survive economically day-to-day. By the end of April, unemployment in Serbia had exceeded 70 percent. "No one can tell the extent of it now, in the middle of the war," Canak said May 12. "Industrial production has almost completely collapsed. Even the factories that are not bombed find it nearly too impossible to function because of lack of fuel and raw materials. Transportation is becoming more and more difficult as they bomb more bridges and highways."
What these workers and young people point out is acknowledged bluntly by some bourgeois politicians and pundits in the United States. "I am sorry about the Chinese embassy, but we have no reason to be defensive here," said Thomas Friedman, among the most prominent liberal columnists of the New York Times, in a May 11 article. "We are at war with the Serbian nation, and anyone hanging around Belgrade needs to understand that. This notion that we are only at war with one bad guy, Slobodan Milosevic (who was popularly elected three times), is ludicrous." Friedman said most Serbs are ardent nationalists and "hate Albanians" and that "such attitudes cannot be uprooted by simply invading Belgrade and ousting Mr. Milosevic from power." He argued that the Clinton administration should "stay the course: intensify the bombing and intensify diplomacy."
No deal out of G-7 meeting
This course has put into question whether the deal signed May 6 in Germany between Moscow and government officials from Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, and the United States - the G-7 countries - will lead to any settlement of the Yugoslav crisis as the big-business media claimed at the time.
The agreement called for "effective international civil and security presences" in Kosova to be endorsed by the United Nations and be well-armed; virtually complete withdrawal of Belgrade's forces from Kosova before return of the refugees; and for keeping the region within the borders of Yugoslavia with its own self-government.
The inter-imperialist conflicts that have fueled the Yugoslavia wars since the opening of the 1990s - and the collision course between Washington and its allies on one hand and Russia, China, and other workers states on the other - were apparent immediately, however.
U.S. president William Clinton said May 7 that the model for any peace settlement must be Bosnia. That republic has been under NATO occupation since 1995, with Washington, London, and Paris having divided its territory in three zones that their troops control. Russian troops are also deployed in the U.S.-run zone. But all the military forces take centralized orders by U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark, the NATO commander. The Clinton administration wants to maintain effective NATO control of any foreign military force that would be sent into Kosova no matter what its formal name is. French government officials, on the other hand, immediately argued that the Germany accord meant the United Nations Security Council should call the shots. Unlike in NATO, the Security Council's permanent members, including Paris, have veto power.
Washington, which has consolidated its position as the number one military and economic power in Europe on the blood and bones of the Yugoslav people in the 1990s, is not willing to go along with such demands.
This interimperialist competition is becoming more apparent both on the economic and military front. "Trade war looms over hormone beef ban as EU reiterates health fees," was the headline of an article in the May 13 International Herald Tribune. "The European Union is poised to set off a trade war by ignoring a Thursday deadline set by the World Trade Organization to lift its 10-year ban on foreign beef produced with growth hormones," the article said. "Both the United States and Canada have threatened to retaliate with punitive tariffs on European exports worth hundreds of millions of dollars."
On the military front, Paris and Bonn are continuing to pursue giving the European Union direct military powers. Defense and foreign ministers of the Western European Union (WEU), a nonfunctioning military grouping of 10 European governments who are members of NATO, met in Bremen, Germany, May 11. They discussed merging the WEU with the European Union.
In the meantime, Belgrade has not bowed to NATO's main demands, insisting it will not accept an armed NATO force in Kosova. A May 10 announcement that the Milosevic regime was carrying out a partial withdrawal of its forces from Kosova was immediately dismissed by Washington. Branislav Canak said May 12 that there are no indications from what's reported in Serbia that any large-scale military withdrawal from Kosova is under way.
Washington's course is sparking opposition among working people in a number of the neighboring countries, such as Macedonia and Bulgaria, where large protests against the NATO bombings have been held. In Macedonia NATO troops have been repeatedly attacked with hand grenades and rocks. The U.S. government's attempts to impose a Dayton-style solution in Kosova are also ratcheting up tensions with the governments of Russia and China. In the aftermath of the Chinese embassy bombing, there are indications that neither Moscow or Beijing are about to go along with the May 6 deal signed in Germany. Beijing has suspended cooperation on certain military matters with Washington and is demanding an official apology for the fatal assault on its embassy, severe punishment of those involved in the action, and a halt to the NATO bombing.
"Such impudence! To unleash a war on a sovereign state. Without the Security Council. Without the United Nations. It could only be done in a time of barbarism," exclaimed Russian president Boris Yeltsin in a May 6 encounter with the press that received little publicity. He later threatened to withdraw Moscow from any further diplomatic efforts over Kosova if Washington refuses to make any concessions. Russian oil tankers have continued to deliver oil to Montenegro, despite a call for an oil embargo by NATO and the EU, according to reports from a number of trade unionists in Podgorica and elsewhere in that republic.
Washington's course has also caused uproar among people in Albania, as it becomes clearer that any deal the U.S. rulers will try to impose excludes independence for Kosova.
"Albania's pro-west euphoria begins to fade," was the headline of an article in the May 12 Financial Times of London. "The outline framework agreement announced at last week's G8 summit... has come as a shock to most Albanians and Kosovars, who, perhaps naively, had believed Nato would secure the complete defeat of Mr. Milosevic and de facto independence for Kosovo."
A significant minority of citizens of Albania, especially working people in the south of the country, and Kosovars expelled by Belgrade's forces have already opposed the NATO bombing. "Europe and the United States are each pursuing their own interests in Kosova," said Albert Shyti in a May 12 phone interview from Vlore. "They don't give a damn about Albanians or the struggle for self-determination in Kosova. The bombing of the Chinese embassy shows the war will probably go on for a long time."
Within Yugoslavia, vanguard elements among trade unionists and students are continuing to pursue alliances with Albanians in Kosova and elsewhere to undercut both what the Milosevic regime is doing with the mass expulsions of Albanians and the justifications for NATO's assault.
In Belgrade, Branislav Canak said that Nezvisnost has been organizing regular meetings with leaders of the Students Union of Yugoslavia, Women in Black, and more than 30 other organizations that have campaigned against Belgrade's course. They are calling for an immediate cessation of the NATO bombing and a repatriation of all the Kosovars who have left the region. "We are trying to rebuild civic bridges, despite the tremendous difficulties in the middle of the war," he said, "though NATO is making communication very difficult with the bombing of roads, bridges, railways, and telecommunication centers." The latest initiative of these groups is to issue an appeal "to our Albanian friends" -union, student and other groups in and out of Kosova - for collaboration along these lines. Canak said earlier that the horrible drive to deport nearly half the population of Kosova "makes a strong argument that the Albanian people have a good case for their demand for self- determination."
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home