Review: “To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia” – Michael Parenti

“To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia” by Michael Parenti is the best book on the Balkan wars I have ever read. Parenti is my two favourite authors (the other being Victor Perlo), and this is probably my favourite book by him. Anyone interested in the Balkans and NATO’s aggressive expansion since the overthrow of the USSR needs to read this book.

Although marketed to Western audiences as a humanitarian intervention against Serbian atrocities, the US and NATO had been interfering in Yugoslavia’s internal affairs long before any Serbian atrocities. In 1984, the Reagan administration in the US issued National Security Decision Directive 133, which called for the support of “quiet revolutions” in communist Eastern Europe. This involved supporting reactionary secessionist leaders and their movements in Yugoslavia. The US threatened to cut off all aid to Yugoslavia unless elections were held, but only within the various republics and not at the federal level, inflaming inter-ethnic tensions. The US National Endowment for Democracy and other CIA fronts supported the electoral campaigns of pro-West, anti-Serb, and anti-socialist leaders in the national republics. At the same time, countries such as Germany and Austria sent arms shipments and military advisors to secessionist leaders in Croatia and Slovenia. German military instructors even engaged in combat with Yugoslav troops. By 1991, a European conference on Yugoslavia declared its support for “sovereign and independent republics” within Yugoslavia, effectively repudiating Yugoslavia’s sovereignty.

Alongside US-NATO support for right-wing secessionist leaders was the IMF-imposed fiscal dismemberment of Yugoslavia. In the 1960s and 1970s, Yugoslav leaders had made a catastrophic error in borrowing money from the West, and by 1991 Yugoslavia’s international creditors were in complete control of domestic monetary policy. Under the IMF-imposed structural adjustment and capitalist shock therapy, transfer payments from the federal government to the national republics were cut, leaving the republics to fend for themselves. As Chossudovsky wrote:

By cutting the financial arteries between Belgrade and the republics, the reforms fueled secessionist tendencies that fed on economic factors as well as ethnic divisions, virtually ensuring the de facto secession of the republics. The IMF-induced budgetary crisis created an economic fait accompli that paved the way for Croatia’s and Slovenia’s formal secession in June 1991.

Between 1991-1992 Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia, and the US and its NATO allies hastened to recognize the right to self-determination of these republics. The secession and subsequent US-NATO recognition of these republics led to a bloody cycle of violence that ravaged the Balkans. Under the Yugoslav constitution, the will of a republican majority could not override the equally valid will of a constituent national minority within that republic. The large Serb population inhabiting Croatia and Bosnia had a constitutionally protected right to self-determination and overwhelmingly wished to remain within the Yugoslav federation. US and NATO recognition of Croatian and Bosnian self-determination was, therefore, an implicit rejection of the right to self-determination of the large Serb population inhabiting these republics.

Moreover, the secessionist leaders supported by US and NATO were violently opposed to sharing power with constituent national minorities. Although Slobodan Milošević has frequently been compared to Hitler, it is more appropriate to compare Hitler with the secessionist republican leaders supported by the US and NATO. In Croatia, the US and NATO’s ally was President Franjo Tudjman. In 1989, Tudjman wrote how “the establishment of Hitler’s new European order can be justified by the need to be rid of the Jews” and how “Genocide is a natural phenomenon in harmony with the sociological and mythological divine nature.” As independent Croatia’s first president, he appointed Nazi collaborators to government posts, adopted the currency and emblem of Nazi-controlled Croatia, and boasted to his generals that the Serbian question had been resolved after the war. With NATO-supplied weapons and aerial support, the Croatian military under Tudjman ethnically cleansed the republic’s Serb population, “replete with rapes, summary executions, and indiscriminate shelling, driving over half a million Serbs from their ancestral homes in Croatia,” Parenti writes. In Bosnia, the US and NATO’s ally was President Alija Izetbegovic. During WWII, Izetbegovic was a member of the pro-Nazi Young Muslims, which recruited Muslims to serve in the Nazi SS. Izetbegovic intended to transform Bosnia into a fundamentalist Islamic state, claiming “Islamic society without an Islamic government is incomplete and impotent.” Months before the outbreak of the war, his fundamentalist militia waged a civil war against more moderate Bosnian forces and, according to a White House estimate, ethnically cleansed 100,000 Serbs before the war.

Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia naturally armed and organized themselves in defense against ethnic cleansing and massacres by Croat and Bosnian militias. These Serbs were supported by the Yugoslav People’s Army, which took active measures to ensure the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia against US-NATO-supported aggression. This is not to deny that the Serbs and Yugoslav troops committed horrible atrocities, but I haven’t seen evidence that what atrocities were committed could be classified as “genocide”. The US and NATO and their fascist proxies are responsible for the conflict. Once war starts, it develops a momentum of its own. Moreover, US-NATO countries or their allies have committed comparable and even worse atrocities without there ever being a genocide tribunal, such as in the Philippines, Indonesia, Colombia, Sri Lanka, or the British in Northern Ireland or the Russians in Chechnya. In Canada, Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act and suspended civil liberties because the FLQ kidnapped two people, killing one. How would Trudeau have responded if Quebec armed itself with foreign weapons and ethnically cleansed its non-French population?

US-NATO humanitarianism revealed its true self after the 1995 Dayton Accords. Bosnia became a virtual colony of the US and NATO. Under US-NATO control, Parenti writes,

Bosnia-Herzegovina became a Western colonial protectorate. Western officials imposed most of the fiscal and monetary policies. Western intelligence agents operated at will throughout the society. The media and the schools were cleansed of any dissident viewpoints. If any groups were to organize and agitate for an end to debt payments, or a return to socialism, or complete independence from Western occupation, SFOR, the NATO-stabilization forces in Bosnia, was ready to deal with them.

That “the Western powers put aside indirect forms of neo-imperialism and opted for direct colonialism” in Bosnia is most clearly evident in the Serb-inhabited Republika Srpska. US-NATO forces denied the Bosnian Serbs the right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, independent media, free elections, and every other fundamental human right. In response to crowds angrily protesting against media censorship, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana went so far as to announce that NATO “will not hesitate to take the necessary measures, including the use of force, against media networks or programs” critical of NATO. “For all intents and purposes,” writes Parenti, “Republika Srpska became a NATO colony. Its citizens were free to pursue only those policies pleasing to their imperialist overlords, free to listen only to media programs and elect only candidates approved by NATO. By definition, the free-market reforms and NATO domination were equated with democracy. And by definition, any resistance to such rule, even by duly selected RS representatives, was deemed hard-line, anti-reformist, and anti-democratic.”

In other words, the US and NATO supported fascists with arms and weapons who ethnically cleansed Serbs from their republics. When Yugoslav forces retaliated, the US and NATO battered Yugoslavia and imposed a colonial regime on Bosnia that was more oppressive than under Milosevic. This might seem irrational, but empire is not irrational. The Bosnian War enabled the US and NATO to achieve their ultimate objective: the Third Worldization of Bosnia. Bosnia’s “state-owned assets, including energy, water, telecommunications, media and transportation, were sold off to private firms at garage-sale prices. Essential health services fell into a state of neglect, and the economy as a whole remained in a sorry condition.” US-NATO forces forced Bosnians “to reconstruct the shattered economy along free-market economy lines, including significant privatization and close cooperation with the World Bank.”

But this wasn’t enough for US-NATO leaders. What was left of Yugoslavia, i.e., Serbia and Montenegro, still refused to be Third Worldized. For Western free-marketeers, an unacceptable state of affairs continued in Serbia: 75% of Serbia’s industry remained publicly owned as late as 1999. These publicly-owned industries needed to either be privatized or destroyed. As Parenti writes, “a massive aerial destruction like the one delivered upon Iraq might be just the thing needed to put Belgrade more in step with the New World Order.”

The US-NATO needed a new pretext to bomb Serbia — this was Kosovo. Parenti makes a convincing case that Kosovo was far from requiring a humanitarian intervention:

As an autonomous province of the Serb republic, Kosovo enjoyed far more extensive rights and powers within the FRY than were allowed national minorities in any Western European state or the United States. Kosovo was allowed to have its own supreme court and its own Albanian flag. University education was in Albanian, with Albanian textbooks and teachers. There were also Albanian newspapers, magazines, television, radio, movies, and sporting and cultural events. All education below the university level was exclusively in Albanian, a language radically different from Serbo-Croat. With only 8 per cent of Yugoslavia’s population, Kosovo was allocated up to 30 per cent of the federal development budget, including 24 per cent of World Bank development credits.

The terrorist activities of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) deliberately undermined Kosovar-Serb relations. The KLA attacked police stations, Serbian villagers and farmers, government officials, and professionals, all to provoke conflict between Albanians and Serbs. Even moderate Albanians were terrorized and murdered if they didn’t support the KLA. These attacks continued for more than a year before triggering a concerted response from Yugoslav authorities. As even a UN court ruled, Serbian troops did not carry out genocide against ethnic Albanians during Milosevic’s campaign of aggression in Kosovo from 1998 to 1999.

Just like in Bosnia, the objective of US-NATO bombing was not human rights, democracy, or humanitarianism, but the Third Worldization of Serbia. Besides supporting an organization that the US itself considered a terrorist organization only a few months before, the US and NATO’s agenda to Third Worldize Serbia was most clearly evident in its choice of targets. In what Parenti describes as “privatization by bombing,” NATO humanitarian bombing targeted Serbia’s economic and cultural capital:

NATO’s attacks revealed a consistent pattern that bespoke its underlying political agenda. The Confederation of Trade Unions of Serbia produced a list of 164 factories destroyed by the bombings — all of them state-owned. Not a single foreign-owned firm was targeted. As I observed on a trip to Yugoslavia shortly after the war, the huge, state-run Hotel Yugoslavia was made uninhabitable by NATO missiles, while the corporate owned Hyatt Hotel, with its all-glass facade — as inviting a target as any mad bomber might want — suffered not a scratched window-pane. Buildings that displayed highly visible rooftop signs that advertised Panasonic, Coca-Cola, Diners International, and McDonald’s, the latter replete with immense golden arches, survived perfectly intact.

The NATO bombing targeted only publicly-owned schools, libraries, telecommunications, energy and transportation infrastructure, factories, theaters, hospitals, and clinics, as well as historical sites, cultural monuments, museums, and churches — “something not even Hitler did.”

Considering the current conflict in Ukraine and NATO’s involvement in it, this book is a powerful indictment of NATO, the world’s largest terrorist organization. Everyone should read this book.

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