The New Propaganda,

The Betrayal of Bosnia

excerpted from the book

Distant Voices

by John Pilger

Vintage Books, 1993, paper

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 of control.

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 fast.

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.

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 understood.

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 Poland.

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 the abyss..

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, in Sarajevo.

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.

Distant Voices

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