The year 1992, scheduled to be a milestone on the road to European unity, has seen Sarajevo and other Bosnian cities slowly bombarded to pieces and their inhabitants starved before the television eyes of the world. It has seen two million Bosnian Moslems threatened with Europe’s first genocide since World War II, most already driven deliberately from their homes by massacre, rape and terror, thrown into concentration camps, or made refugees within their own country or outside it. All this has occurred with the full knowledge of the outside world, which is also quite aware of the identity of the perpetrator, who has been perfecting such procedures for over a year now in occupied Croatia, including in zones formally under un jurisdiction. The year has seen Bosnia’s legal, multinational government holed up in Sarajevo, treated as a mere ‘warring party’, and pressed to surrender by Western governments eager for peace at any price. Short-sighted and cynical, divided among themselves, determined to avoid intervention, and seeking an eventual accommodation with the military strongman of the Balkans, these governments have settled for ‘humanitarian’ palliatives that amount to little more than a prolonging of the victims’ agony. These are the same governments that protested loudly about ‘ethnic cleansing’ only when the reality was exposed by their media, months after they first learned about it. At the same time, they maintained an embargo on the arms which alone would enable the Bosnian government to repel the aggression, reassert its authority over the whole territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and create conditions for the expelled population to return.

The year 1992 has also, it must be said, seen a Western Left largely silent before, if not actively complicit with, these crimes: a Left content to parrot the disinformation so artfully disseminated by their foreign offices; too indolent or ignorant to distinguish between fact and propaganda; and quite ready to accept the easier, essentially racist, interpretation, facilitated by centuries of world domination, that Balkan—or all Eastern—peoples (frequently referred to as ‘tribes’, rarely as real nations) are somehow genetically programmed for violence and thus equally to blame for the cataclysm. There can be no excuse this time that ‘we didn’t know!’; for everyone knows what is happening. The search is thus on for reasons to justify inaction. For example, nostalgia for the Yugoslavia created by the Partisans—a Yugoslavia finally buried in June 1991 when a so-called People’s Army outside legitimate political control attacked Slovenia, a nation-state of the Partisan-created federation. Or, a repugnance at nationalism that makes no distinction between mobilization behind an expansionary chauvinist project and mobilization in defence of national sovereignty—even national existence—under military assault. Or, resentment of Germany, ignobly fostered by weaker post-imperial powers like Britain and France for their own petty purposes, and yet more ignobly echoed on the social-democratic and even Marxist Left. Or, the fetishization of supranational states in the East by the very people who fear them like poison in the West. Above all, perhaps, cynical indifference to the democratic rights of other peoples, which can be airily traded away for this or that minor tactical or pragmatic consideration borrowed from the repertoire of their own governments: ‘Why couldn’t they have waited?’; ‘It was all the fault of the Germans, pressing for recognition’; ‘Bosnia-Herzegovina was never viable as an independent state’; ‘Ethnic cleansing is dreadful, but they all do it you know’; ‘Once the lid came off. . .old ethnic passions. . .goes back to World War II. . .goes back centuries. . .warring factions. . .competing nationalisms. . .’—the obscurantist litany is unending.

There is, however, another voice with which the Left can respond to events such as those that have been unfolding in the former Yugoslavia. It did not, after all, get things quite so wrong in the former Soviet Union, when for the most part—despite clinging to hopes that Gorbachev would succeed in negotiating some new common arrangement—it responded to the August Coup (in whose success, incidentally, Belgrade had invested great hopes) with the fundamental recognition that unity enforced by brute military might was a far worse option than break-up. That, above all, is the message of my book, The Destruction of Yugoslavia.footnote Written over the ten years leading up to Yugoslavia’s bloody demise, most of it is—was—guided by the belief that an understanding of the forces tearing the federation apart might help keep it together. The last part, however, beginning with the ‘Requiem’ I wrote when that hope had been comprehensively dashed, is inspired by a new and different commitment: to the future viability of the legitimate successor states of the former Yugoslavia—a future that offers the best, indeed the only, hope of a democratic development for all the peoples of what was once a far-from-artificial state, born of a genuine revolution, a country that was not fated to disintegrate but which has nevertheless been destroyed.

Tito’s death in 1980 marked a point of no return for Yugoslavia. Although the occasion witnessed an authentic outpouring of Yugoslav patriotism, the country had in fact already entered a period of dramatic and potentially disintegrative change. Yugoslavia stood at a crossroads. One path led towards democratization, the other towards repression. Which path would be taken? The forces favouring the second soon showed their hand: firstly in 1981 in Kosovo, where force was used against student-led demonstrations; and then in 1984 in Belgrade, where intellectuals were put on trial for taking part in unofficial debating societies. Subsequent events proved, however, that the decentralization upon which the country had embarked in the more optimistic 1960s—embodied in the 1974 Constitution—in fact precluded the federal party and state organs from acting as effective instruments for conservative reaction, spearheaded as it then was by active and retired army and police chiefs. Though that decentralization—a devolution of powers to the republics and provinces—was not accompanied by any significant loosening of the ruling party’s monopoly of political initiative, it did allow a greater public airing of differences between the constituent states, hence also of alternative views within those states. If Yugoslavia was to be united on a neoconservative platform, it would have to be recentralized first.

The neo-conservative project changed radically with the capture of power in Serbia by Great Serb nationalists. In the mid 1980s, Belgrade became the headquarters simultaneously of a new Yugoslav unitarism and of a ‘Serb national renewal’. The history of Yugoslavia appeared now to be running backwards: the more the Serb nationalists embraced the cause of ‘Yugoslavia’, the more anti-federal that Yugoslavia of theirs became—and, inevitably, the greater was the resistance to it in other parts of the country. National coexistence would henceforth be threatened not only by power struggles within the institutions of the federal state, but also by the readiness of the new Serbian regime headed by Slobodan Milošević to use extra-legal means—mass mobilization on an ethnic basis—to destroy the 1974 Constitution. The aim was not merely to return to the pre-1974 situation, but to revise completely the postwar settlement based on the principle of national equality. Belgrade sought nothing less than the destruction of the federal arrangement—in the name of a ‘strong federation’! By proclaiming its right to speak not only for Serbia but for all Serbs in Yugoslavia, by seeking to redefine internal borders as purely administrative, by erasing the autonomy of the provinces, the Belgrade regime negated the very foundations of the second, federal, Yugoslavia. Milošević thus emerged as the spokesman not simply of a conservative backlash, but for the cause of counter-revolution in the Yugoslav lands. What is more, this counter-revolution was armed and ready, if defied, to resort to war. Serbia’s annexation of Kosovo and Vojvodina was the first instance in postwar Europe of alteration (obliteration) of recognized political borders by force. By the end of the 1980s—before multi-party elections ever took place—it had become clear that, unless Milošević was stopped, Yugoslavia was doomed either to become a Greater Serbia or to fall apart.