The New Propaganda,
The Betrayal of Bosnia
excerpted from the book
by John Pilger
Vintage Books, 1993, paper
THE NEW PROPAGANDA
September 15, 1991
John Major's skillfully managed tour of
the Far East recalls to mind the anonymous radical song circa
1820: 'What land has not seen Britain's crimson flying, the meteor
of murder, but justice the plea.' Major's toasting of Li Peng,
the accredited mass murderer, was in keeping both with British
imperialist tradition and present-day Western Stalinism. True,
Major's career has been mostly as an apparatchik, although the
keenness with which he engaged in the recolonisation of the Middle
East and the slaughter of tens of thousands of Iraqi conscripts
and civilians suggested he was made of stronger stuff. His journey
to China for the purpose of offering alliance and reassurance
to those who ordered the massacre in Tiananmen Square and the
crushing of the democracy movement, guarantees his prominent place
above the mausoleum of the 'new world order'.
None of this is surprising. The symbiosis
of the actions and endorsements of grey men with bloody repression
is well documented. Chamberlain fawned over Hitler; Kissinger
unleashed the equivalent of five Hiroshimas on Cambodia; Bush
dispatched several thousand Panamanians as the precursor of his
'famous victory' in the Gulf. And all were attended by a fellow-travelling
media. Major's Chinese exercise, amoral by any normal standards
of human behaviour, was routinely misrepresented as an heroic
'bullying stand' on behalf of human rights. That Major's concern
for human rights did not extend to Hong Kong, where he has the
power directly to influence policy on democratisation, was not
considered important and was widely suppressed. The posturing
of the old Soviet Stalinists was celebrated within similar fixed
boundaries of public discourse.
Western Stalinism is by far the most insidious
variety. In a democracy, manipulation of public perception and
opinion is, by necessity, more subtle and thorough than in a tyranny.
Major's China trip is a case in point. Contrary to the managed
headlines, its aim was to reassure the Beijing regime that the
Western imperialist powers had no intention of disturbing the
state of capitalism in Hong Kong by allowing genuine democracy
to take root. China, after all, is the paragon of what the dissident
Russian writer Boris Kagarlitsky has called 'market Stalinism';
that is, an economic state in which there are consumer goods in
the shop windows, growing unemployment, depleted public services
and a totalitarian regime. Even that most inspirational of China's
revolutionary achievements - its system of barefoot doctors -
is being swept aside by privatisation drawn from the same Thatcherite
model that is undermining the National Health Service in Britain.
The new propaganda differs from the old
only in the technology of its conveyance. It says that, following
events in the Soviet Union, a market economy and democracy are
indivisible and that the unrestrained forces of Western (and Japanese)
capitalism equal freedom and life. This supersedes the Cold War
refrain of the Russian Threat, which allowed the United States
to construct its economic and strategic empire following 1945.
As Paul Flewers wrote in the Guardian:
'People really believed that unless they backed their capitalist
rulers, Soviet troops would be marching down the street... Classic
interimperialist rivalries which caused two world wars were suppressed,
and war was mainly confined to the Third World. Socialism has
largely been defined as Stalinism, and consequently capitalism
has to a large extent been legitimised."
Like my generation, the young today are
being subjected to the same old routine in a different guise.
The crumbling of Stalinism in the Soviet Union will increasingly
be used, as the repressive nature of Stalinism itself was used,
as a propaganda weapon against those who seek social change principally,
an end to the scourge of poverty.
This works on two levels. In the tracts
exalting the 'freedoms' of the market, much is made of the violent
history of communism. Nothing is said about the victims of expansionist
capitalism. While millions died at the hands of Stalin and his
successors within the Soviet Union, millions more were blood sacrifices
in wars of imperialist competition. Several million died in a
'small war' in Indo-China. The blood-letting of apartheid in South
Africa was underwritten by Western capital. In the Middle East,
Anglo-American interests demanded the retention of feudalism and
the dispossession of a whole people, the Palestinians.
The Soviet Stalinists were never in this
league; they were lousy imperialists beyond the sphere of influence
that Churchill and Roosevelt granted Stalin at Yalta. The West
and Japan, on the other hand, have capital and debt as their levers
Never before in history have the poor
financed the rich on such a scale and paid so dearly for their
servitude. During '. the 1980s, the Third World sent to the West
$220 billion more than was sent to them in any form. At the current
rates of interest, it is a mathematical impossibility for most
1 countries to pay off their debt. Many had to agree to 'structural
adjustment' by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund
(IMF). This has often meant the end of uncertain protection for
the old, young and sick and 'wage I restraint' in countries where
the difference between wage and peonage is slight.
Debt and 'market Stalinism' are to be
capitalism's greeting to the new Soviet Union. Capital will flow
at such a pace that the IMF is already having to 'structurally
adjust' Yeltsin's democracy. At the weekend I phoned Boris Kagarlitsky
in Moscow and asked him about this. 'Listen,' he said, 'you can
invest $1,000 here now and get $10,000 back immediately. And that's
just the exchange rate. We are the new Brazil, just waiting to
be Latin Americanised.'
On this side of the Atlantic, the new
propaganda concentrates on fortress Europe. The EC is the 'new
world', with open borders and markets, a hive of prosperous, liberal
energy - as long as you can get in. It is a fine illusion, for
in the wider world, economic inequality has reached the highest
point in human history; during the 1980s the number of countries
catching up the industrialised states, in per capita terms, fell
by three quarters. In other words, poverty has never risen as
The truth is quite simple: the rhetoric
of Thatcher and Reagan was false, the literal opposite of the
truth. Thatcher and her ideologues were brilliant propagandists
and social destroyers -. as those in Third World Britain and in
structuraily adjusted Africa, Chile and elsewhere bear silent
witness. It is, of course, not necessary to look at the world
through such a distorted prism. Socialism was never Stalinism:
socialist struggles gave liberal democracy much of its gloss.
The ignorant certainties are no less venal today than they ever
were, whatever their disguise.
THE BETRAYAL OF BOSNIA
May 7, 1993
If the Bosnian Serbs fail to implement
the latest 'peace plan', the Americans may still bomb the Balkans,
with the British. in tow. The last time this affiance took to
the air in strength, some 200,000 people were slaughtered, many
of them the very ethnic minorities whom President Bush claimed
he wished to 'protect'. The difference now is that even the turkey-shooting
generals know they can't get away with this one. Yet President
Clinton - fresh from giving the usual nod to the latest round
of Israeli 'ethnic cleansing' - believes that Caesar must make
a gesture 'to stop the killing'.
'Political language,' wrote George Orwell,
'is designed to) make lies sound truthful and murder respectable,
and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.' Regardless
of what the 'ethnic cleansers' have done to their neighbours in
former Yugoslavia, Western governments are also guilty; and the
renewed threat of American bombing adds a grotesque dimension
to an often secret Western policy of dividing Yugoslavia along
ethnic lines, dismantling it and eventually recolonising it.
The Balkans have many tragic distinctions.
Certainly, if ever a single issue has illuminated the difference
between expressions of public morality in the West and the 'pure
wind' of realpolitik, it is the fate of Bosnia. The semantics
of Douglas Hurd are now unacceptable to people watching the Balkan
horrors unfold on television. Public opinion has become more than
a fleeting force. Having been made witnesses to genocide, perhaps
for the first time, people want it stopped. But it can only be
stopped if its unstated causes, and the West's complicity, are
Western governments are not the hand-wringing
bystanders they pretend to be. From the beginning, the West has
backed the ethnic warlords and neglected the nonsectarian and
anti-war citizenry who represent the ideal of Yugoslavia; and
for all its flaws, the old federation offered at least nominal
constitutional respect to 'separate identities' and minority rights.
The West's support for the regime in Croatia and its encouragement
of Croatia's historical fascism is hardly referred to these days;
yet Croatia's president, the Hitler apologist Franjo Tudjman,
has been openly courted by Western governments, notably the German
government, while his soldiers and surrogates have been murdering
thousands of Serbs and 'cleansing' their communities, mostly out
of sight of the Western media.
Although Serbian forces inflict most casualties
now, it was the terrorising and disenfranchising of Serbian minorities
in Croatia by Tudjman's HDZ regime that precipitated the conflict.
For every Serbian 'chetnik' there is a Croatian 'ustasha'. It
is only since the Croatians have begun to murder large numbers
of Muslims in the vicinity of British UN troops that the media
spotlight has found them and the full disastrous scale of Western
clientism has been revealed.
Tudjman's regime has been the beneficiary
of European intervention, which has been forced by Germany's new
expansionism. Once reunified, Germany began its economic drive
east and to dominate Mitteleuropa. 'It's our natural market,'
said the chairman of the East Committee, the German industrial
group promoting German takeovers in the East. 'In the end, this
market will perhaps bring us to the same position we were in before
the first world war. Why not?'
This 'natural market' extended to the
northern republics of Yugoslavia - Croatia and Slovenia. During
the Second World War, the Nazis installed a puppet fascist state
in Croatia. After the war, half a million Croats moved to Germany,
where their émigré organisations enjoy great influence.
In 1989, Milovan Djilas warned that 'In
some states [of Europe], for example Austria and Germany, there
are influential groups that would like to see Yugoslavia disintegrate
- from traditional hatred, from expansionist tendencies and vague,
unrealistic desires for revenge.
In February 1991, the Council of Europe
promoted Germany's separatist plans by linking economic advantage
to the Yugoslav federal government's 'restraint' in dealing with
the secessionist movements in Croatia and Slovenia." The
Tudjman regime was ready for this; violent anti-Serb demonstrations
were held in Split, giving a clear signal to Croat and Serb minorities
elsewhere to begin fighting for land and their lives.
The EC then compounded this by openly
threatening the federal government that future economic assistance
would depend on 'respect for minority rights'. Interpreted in
Yugoslavia, this meant that the secessions had tacit EC approval.
Indeed, once the Yugoslav army had deployed units throughout the
country, with the objective of holding the federation together,
the EC secretly threatened to cut off $1 billion in promised aid
In October 1991, the EC delivered the
coup de grace at a special conference on Yugoslavia at The Hague.
Behind a rhetorical veil of reasonableness, ministers gave de
facto recognition to the secessions by effectively abolishing
Yugoslavia. In its Draft Convention on Yugoslavia, the EC announced
that the republics 'are sovereign and independent with [an] international
identity' .49 As a former US ambassador to Yugoslavia, William
Zimmerman, told the New Yorker: 'We discovered later that [German
foreign minister] Genscher had been in daily contact with the
Croatian foreign minister. He was encouraging the Croats to leave
the federation and declare independence, while we and our allies,
including the Germans, were trying to fashion a joint approach.
Bosnia's leaders pleaded with the West
not to recognise the secessionist states, knowing that both Croats
and Serbs would then fall on multi-ethnic Bosnia. They argued
that whatever had gone before, the worst could be contained without
recognition. They were supported by the Macedonians who said that
they, like the Bosnians, would have no choice but to seek independence;
and that, in turn, would provoke Serbia. No EC minister sounded
a warning or reminded his colleague of what was an open secret
in Western capitals: that in March of that year, Tudjman and Slobadan
Milosevic, the Serb leader, although despising each other, had
conspired to carve up Bosnia between them as soon as the time
was right. And international recognition would be that time.
The momentum in Germany for recognition
was now well under way. Most of the German media concentrated
on Serb atrocities. By the time the European leaders met at Maastricht
in December 1991, a deal had been done in all but name.
The deal was that Germany would submerge
its most exalted postwar achievement, the Deurschmark, into a
common European currency if the German Croatia lobby was given
its way on recognition. This was never openly linked to the Maastricht
treaty itself; however, brokered by the French, it was a major
factor. To put a decent interval between Maastricht and the recognition
of Croatia and Slovenia, iS January 1992 was the date set for
the announcement. Two days after the Maastricht conference broke
up, on 18 December, Germany broke ranks and recognised Croatia.
No EC government publicly objected to
this opportunism. Neither Hurd nor Major said anything. Yet, at
a stroke, it made a mockery of European strictures to the developing
world on human rights and civilised behaviour. Set against what
has happened since in Bosnia, and is likely to happen elsewhere
as a result, recognition was an act of breathtaking irresponsibility.
The Europeans, wrote Sean Gervasi, 'turned a manageable internal
conflict into appalling fratricide'.
The West's role in Yugoslavia's suffering
is not confined to Germany's fait accompli. The fact that the
Bush administration waged economic warfare against Yugoslavia
has received little attention, yet the effect on ethnic tensions
has been devastating. In 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, pressure
was applied by Washington to all the former communist states to
follow the 'market' model. The usual 'market reforms' were demanded,
notably privatisation and conditions amenable to Western 'investment'.
Having already embraced. something of
a 'mixed economy' and being dependent on Western capital transfers,
trade and tourism, Yugoslavia had already fallen victim to a 'market'
recession long before the rest of Europe. Throughout the 1980s,
discontent had risen among working people, while those willing
to exploit ethnic tensions waited for their opportunity. In 1989,
the new federal prime minister, Ante Marcovic, went to Washington
and requested $1 billion in loans from the US and $3 billion from
the World Bank. When told of the scale of austerity his country
would have to accept, he warned that unemployment would increase
to 20 per cent and 'there is the threat of increased ethnic and
political tensions. .' The moment the Marcovic Government devalued
the currency and began to close 'unprofitable' state enterprises
and cut public services, 650,000 Serbian workers went on strike
and the plan collapsed. Yugoslavia was now on its own, denied
a fraction of the aid Washington gave to ideologically friendly
However, 'economic reforms' had begun
to take hold in separatist republics, as the Germans encouraged
Croatia and Slovenia to join the great 'European market' and to
'disassociate' themselves from Yugoslavia. The federation, noted
Gervasi, had 'walked a tightrope through the 1980s until economic
and political crisis, particularly the fall in the standard of
living, broke its balance. As rival ethnic groups shook the rope
and the state teetered, EC intervention helped push [it] into
When the Western allies recognised Bosnia
in 1992, there was no acknowledgement that Bosnia's pluralism
did not spring from some imagined independent state but from a
federal unit that was an integral part of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia.
Moreover, the date chosen for recognition was the anniversary
of the Nazi bombing of Serbia - a day when Serbs renew their cherished
self-image of heroic resistance against impossible odds. In Serb
nationalist eyes, here was the West partitioning their homeland,
having not long celebrated the end of the partition of Germany.
And now here was the Luftwaffe choosing the skies over Bosnia
for its first military operation since the Second World War. With
such disregard for national sensitivity, the West has smoothed
the way for rabid nationalism to exploit a past shared by decent
people and for the Serbian peace movement to be condemned as 'unpatriotic'.
In Russia, with its close ties to Serbia,
the spectacle of NATO forces, with German participation, bombing
Serbian targets, killing and maiming Serbian women and children,
might well have the kind of reaction that not even Boris Yeltsin,
the West's man, could stop. The First World War began, after all,
Even belated attempts by the EC to deter
the extremists promoting 'Greater Serbia' have been botched; the
policing of sanctions was considered farcical until recently.
And if sanctions are applied to Serbia, why are they not also
applied to Croatia? Ask any British soldier who has to carry the
incinerated corpses of the victims of Croatian fascism. That the
multi-ethnic Bosnians, especially those in the towns who have
demonstrated no desire to attack anybody, should have been denied
the means of defending themselves is absurd, and wrong. They stand
defenceless not only against Serbs, whose arms supplies are assured,
but against Croats, who through extensive émigré
connections and powerful foreign friends, continue to move large
shipments of weapons from Austria, Slovenia and Hungary.
Just as I believe the Cambodian people
should have arms in order to resist the Khmer Rouge, so the Bosnians
should have arms to resist those who would visit a version of
'Year Zero' upon them; and they are up against fascism on two
fronts. Breaking the Bosnian sieges with massive humanitarian
aid is essential; the use of force worse than useless. One turkey
shooter could ignite the rest of the Balkan tinderbox. The painful
moral and practical dilemmas faced in the region, scarred by the
legacies of competing empires, are not solved by Western so-called
statesmen, offering 'peace plans' that further provoke and divide,
and who seldom see the results of their culpability.
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