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The following article and interview appeared in Left Business Observer #89, April 1999. They retain their copyright and may not be reprinted or redistributed in any form - print, electronic, facsimile, anything - without the permission of LBO.

For a related polemic on the war, click here.

A very European war

Robert Hayden is the director of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. This is an edited version of an interview that Doug Henwood conducted with him on WBAI, New York, on April 15, 1999.

Some critics of this war say it has no grand imperial design -- it's just humanitarianism run amok. What do you think?

I think that there is a grand imperial design. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, NATO has announced a new doctrine under which it would be permitted to operate outside of its area to defend what it defines as its interests, including the Middle East and South Asia. If that doesn't sound like imperialism I'm not sure what does. Certainly the idea of eliminating Russian influence from the Balkans is part of what's driving this. And you can see this in the U.S. insistence that NATO has to occupy Kosovo -- it can't be any other international force -- which is actually a hardening of positions that are quickly softening in other parts of NATO. The United States is driving the war. The U.S. wanted the war in the first place -- it's got it, and is insisting on keeping it going.

Why does the United States want the war?

That's an interesting question. We do have the sheer incompetence of the Clinton administration in foreign affairs, and specifically Madeleine Albright, and this is where the moral crusade comes into it. Madeleine desperately wanted to bomb the Serbs, and she's got that.

Why'd she want that? Personal passion?

I'm not quite sure, but it's clearly a personal passion. You'll remember she was the one who was saying "What's the point of having this magnificent military if we never use it?," and she really does have a thing about Milosevic. Now granted, Milosevic is an evil thug, there's no question about this. He's a dictator, and a particularly evil and brutal one, but guess what: even though things were bad in Kosovo before this action took place -- before this aggression took place, let me be specific -- they weren't nearly as bad as they've been since then. And of course the humanitarian justifications are ludicrous. One of the triggering events for this bombing was the massacre of 45 ethnic Albanians by the Serb army in February. NATO just massacred that many plus half again yesterday. Apart from the terrible consequences for the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo -- which is a direct response to Bill Clinton's assault on Serbia...

Warmongers say the Serbs had this up their sleeves all along and the bombing just accelerated it, and while there may be asualties in the short run they're preventing even greater disasters in the long run.

No, quite to the contrary, they're provoking larger disasters in the long run. Look, the Balkans are being destabilized day by day. The longer this war goes on the greater the chances for a general Balkans war, which would probably grow into a general European war and that could become a world war. What the administration is doing is insane. The purpose of the war is now to fight the war. When you hear former secretaries of state saying "Well, we've gotta win it," what does that mean? What does it mean to win it when every scenario we have for winning it destroys southeastern Europe? It's the same logic that led us to destroy southeast Asia. Nobody's talking about the consequences to the entire region of this -- the devastating economic consequences, the devastating ecological consequences. The U.S. is again using depleted uranium bullets. The University of Skopje in Macedonia is reporting that radiation levels are three times their normal levels. When we see NATO blowing up oil refineries on the largest river in Europe, the ecological damage caused by that is enormous. But of course NATO doesn't care.

But it's all surgically targeted, this is humanitarian bombing!

Here's a humanitarian figure for you: the casualties among Serb civilians in the first three weeks of this war are higher than all of the casualties on both sides in Kosovo in the three months that led up to this war, and yet those three months were supposed to be a humanitarian catastrophe.

The number people of killed in Kosovo last year was about 2,000, right?

The figure usually given is about 2,000 dead in Kosovo in a year and a half. Next to Rwanda or Indonesia, that's minimal. If you look at the casualty figures caused by Turkish military options against the Kurds, not only in Turkey but across the border into Iraq, they're many times greater than the casualties to the Kosovo Albanians. This is not to say that it was pleasant for the Albanians in Kosovo. Quite the contrary. I've been to Kosovo, I've talked to the Albanians, I know those people. It was a very bad situation they were living under, but it was not a situation that could be addressed by military means.

Where did this all come from? People blame the Serbians, call them the new Nazis, perpetrators of a new holocaust.

Oh, the new holocaust, isn't that sickening? That's an insult to the people who died in the Holocaust. They played the genocide card because they wanted you to think "Auschwitz," but you didn't have cattle cars going into a concentration camp. You've had people being forced to leave their homes and go over a border into a new homeland. Now this is brutal, but it is as European a process as you can get in the 20th century. The immediate model for this action seems to have been the Croatian expulsion of a quarter-million Serbs from Croatia in 1995, a Croatian military exercise done with an army that had benefited from American military training, American military intelligence, direct American military support in the beginning, and all the political cover you'd ever want from the USA. That's exactly what the Kosovo operation looked like on the ground. That gives the administration a problem: if what happened in Kosovo was genocide, then what happened in Croatia was genocide, but since the U.S. helped organize what happened in Croatia in '95 that would make the Clinton administration an accomplice to genocide.

What has triumphed in Europe in this century is the concept of nation-state, in which the nation, which is an ethnic group in American terms, gets the state, which is a territory and a government. The nation is sovereign. So the Germans are sovereign in Germany, and if you are not an ethnic German, you may be living in Germany but you are not part of the sovereign body. Most of Europe is set up in this way. What won in the free and fair elections in Yugoslavia at the end of Communism was the ethnic state, and that required moving populations. The areas that were mixed in the former Yugoslavia have become unmixed, and Kosovo is the last stage in this.

Why was the region able to live in relative peace for 40 years, and then slide into this civil war?

The Tito regime operated under the principle of brotherhood and unity. The basic assumption was that all the peoples living in the former Yugoslavia were so closely related and intermingled that they had to live together or you'd have a catastrophe. And both of those premises are correct. You could see this in the rising intermarriage rates in the former Yugoslavia up until the very end. But unfortunately that's not what people voted for. They voted for Slovenia for Slovenes, a Croatia for Croats, a Serbia for Serbs, Macedonia for Macedonians. Bosnia presented a problem for this. The idea that the nation gets the state only works if there's a majority ethnic nation, and there wasn't one in Bosnia. The largest group was the Muslims with 43%, but the Serbs and the Croats, with 51% of the Bosnian population between them, never accepted incorporation into a Bosnian state and don't accept it now. So how do you get a state when over half your population rejects inclusion in it?

The 12% of the population of Croatia in April 1991 that was Serb is down to less than 3% now; half a million Serbs have been forced out of Croatia. Bosnia is not a state, it's three ethnically purified mini-states, a Croatian one, a Muslim one, and a Serbian one, each of which is now more than 90% homogenized. And this is what's happening in Kosovo.

Why the disintegration from unity into ethnicization? Economic crisis?

There was a protracted economic crisis in the former Yugoslavia in the 1980s which turned into a political crisis. But what has happened is the triumph of a European ideology. I was living in Yugoslavia in the 1980s and we all thought that the social democrats were going to win and we were appalled that they didn't. The nationalists won. That's what wins in Europe in the 20th century. Americans find this hard to understand. There's no place in the United States with the possible exception of some of the larger Indian reservations where you can link territory and ethnic group. That's the way Europe is. There's one place in North America where you can link territory and ethnic group and that's Quebec. Quebec is a classic European nationalist movement. The history of the 20th century in Europe has been one of massive population transfers.

So what can be done about the Yugoslavian situation?

The war needs to end now. The only thing that is keeping the war from ending now is the Clinton administration. It would end with a stand-in-place agreement in which NATO would stop bombing the Serbs and the Serbs would stop attacking Albanians.

Warriors say the Serbs would never agree.

The Serbs would agree to that. The Serbs agreed to an international force even before NATO began this aggression. They say this because they don't want the Serbs to agree to it. They don't want to offer that. Clinton has been determined to have Kosovo occupied by NATO, which the Serbs will not accept. Even before the bombing began the Serbian parliament voted to accept an international presence. There are very clear indications the Serbs would accept an international presence but not a NATO presence. Then of course that keeps things solid on the ground, though it lets the refugees come back, though not necessarily to exactly where they lived before. The political solution, I've been arguing, has been the partition of Kosovo, in which the Serbs would keep the northern 20%, and the Albanians would get the rest as a protectorate, and probably joining the rest of Albania after about five years. There would have to be some provision for redrawing the borders of Macedonia.

Is there any way to get beyond this idea of ethnically pure national states?

No, that's how Europe works. Show me the exceptions. There's Belgium, but that's actually two ethnically pure areas except for the capital, Brussels, loosely linked together. Switzerland is several ethnically pure areas more tightly linked together, but that's it.

Sounds like Europeans are guilty of the tribalism they accuse "primitive" peoples of.

Absolutely, except they call it nationalism. You call it tribalism in Africa, nationalism in Europe, communalism in South Asia -- racism in America, but it doesn't take the territorial form in America that it does in Europe.

What's the administration's goal in this? How will they know if they've won?

That's an excellent question, and I don't know the answer. The goals that Clinton set out when he began this war were to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, stabilize the Balkans, and have the side benefit of solidifying our relations with the democratic Russians. Believe it or not, that's what he said. We have provoked a humanitarian catastrophe which gets worse by the day and we are destabilizing the Balkans with every airstrike. What does winning mean? We don't know, and they didn't know when they started. Remember, before this war began, the consequences we have now seen -- the Serbian attack on the Albanians, the destabilization of Macedonia and Albania -- this was all predicted by the military and the CIA, and the administration ignored them. To make it even worse, I had heard five days before this assault began, that while Clinton was committed to bombing, they had no idea what they were going to do once the bombs started to fall, unless Milosevic conveniently ran up the white flag, which nobody who knew anything ever thought would happen.

Did Clinton think the mere sight of B-52s would cause the Serbs to fold?

Your choice is that the Clinton administration has been grossly incompetent or grossly callous. There is no third choice, though those two are not mutually exclusive.

And how seriously have the Russians been alienated?

Completely. Remember, we told the Russians not to fear NATO expansion because NATO was a purely defensive alliance. Guess what, that purely defensive alliance has mounted the first unprovoked aggressive war in Europe since the Blitzkrieg.

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