Blue Flower

The war in Kosovo and Yugoslavia is the subject of this essay by Anton Ljutic

Prof. Galtung's article presents the reader with two levels of analysis and argument.  In simplified terms, one level deals with the NATO onslaught on  Serbia and the other with "what next?". 

The former has been somewhat dated by events.  Nonetheless, portions of it  require comment, especially passages which liberally mix Prof. Galtung's  personal preferences with his analysis.

The article's title "The NATO War..." sets the stage, the implication being  that the war began with the NATO bombing and not nearly a decade ago.  Galtung's readiness to assign blame to, and his distaste for, the NATO  intervention is not a simple reaction against violence, but runs deeper and  reveals his anxiety about the role of the Americans in the new global  order.  It would be fair to say that this anxiety is shared widely and is certainly a concern of this author.  The unfortunate aspect of Galtung's  anxiety is that in order to condemn the Americans, he finds it necessary to diminish the magnitude of crimes committed by the Serbian war machine, as  when he writes, "Milosevic is ... essentially an administrator of very  unfortunate traits in the Serbian psyche".  Not so according to the
independent International War Crimes Tribunal.  Or, "(T)here are elements  of the mafia boss, but they are ubiquitous in these globalizing days". Does that mean that they are justifiable and should not be punished? 

The most outrageous statement comes later in the article when Galtung  advises "Equal recognition of the suffering and rights of all: They are all  victims, most of them more innocent than others, of a situation most nations would have found impossible."  I fail to understand who are those
"others" in "more innocent than others".  More importantly, the statement hinges on the ambiguity of the word "victims".  The Germans might have been victimised by the Nazi propaganda, but their divisions were the  executioners, not the victims.  Similarly, many Croatian and Bosnian Serbs  participated willingly in heinous executions and torture of their  neighbours.  Is it any surprise that they left in a hurry when their side  lost, or that they are leaving Kosovo in large numbers now that the
fortunes of war have turned against them?  Many, perhaps the majority, are  indeed "innocent victims" who merely stood by in silence watching their neighbours being disinherited or massacred.  But no small number actively  participated in the aggression, as information collected by the War Crimes Tribunal readily shows.  Indeed, the depth of indifference, if not hatred and intolerance, shown by their acts suggests beyond a doubt that a negotiated settlement was not in the cards.  The gap between the opposing Serb and Kosovar interests was far too wide, and the Serbs far too superior  in their ability (and readiness) to impose a solution.  As George Simmel pointed out, it's hard to negotiate with a lion.

My comments on the "what next?" portion will be brief and selective in view  of the limitation of space.

The key to Galtung's argument about steps to be taken to find a more permanent solution is found in the following passage, attributed to Perez de Cuellar: "be sure that any recognition is acceptable to  minorities, that  parts of Yugoslavia are dealt with symmetrically, and that there is a policy for Yugoslavia as a whole".

These are admirable principles.  But can they be implemented?  The first  problem is that demographic shifts and waves of migration tend to produce  pockets of minorities within minorities.  Any break-up of the larger entity  therefore inspires regional and sub-regional "separatist" strivings.  For example, Canada's Quebec is predominantly French.  Nonetheless, it has significant pockets of English speakers in distinct geographic regions and it also has a number of native groups who do not wish to live in a Quebec separate from Canada.  Quebec's right to separate is recognised by the rest of Canada.  Does that right to separate extend to sub-regions which have expressed a desire to separate from an independent Quebec and remain in Canada?

Early in the Yugoslav conflict the legal position that was taken was that  the 1944 internal borders, confirmed by the Helsinki agreement, must not be changed.   The result of keeping the borders intact was that pockets of relatively compact ethnic minorities remained in "wrong places": Serbs in Croatia, Croats in Vojvodina, Muslims in Serbia, and so forth.  Well reasoned arguments were put forward in the early 1990s to "swap" these people so as to minimise social tensions created by the wars.  Indeed, a  significant number of exchanges of property (and therefore people) have  been  recorded and might still be occurring.  But in certain cases the  sudden changes in the frontlines came too quickly for people to adjust other than by running away from homes they occupied for centuries.  These  are the Serbian refugees in Serbia, referred to by Galtung, who "were in  part driven out by the Croats/USA from Krajina/Slavonia August 1995". Galtung seems to believe that their plight somehow gave legitimacy to the Serb aggression in Kosovo: since the West had done nothing about their problem the Serbs felt that they could "do the same". 

But the "symmetry" which he sees in the expulsion of the Kosovars and of  the Croatian/Bosnian Serbs is an optical illusion at best.  While it is true that the wartime Croatian pro-Nazi state massacred thousands of Serbs,  Jews, and Roma, no mass graves of Serbs have been found since, no organised mass atrocities recorded, no known army dictates that the Serbs must leave.   All of these have been found and recorded with the Serbs as perpetrators,
from Vukovar to Srebrenica, and from Omarska to Kosovo.  As argued above,  the Serbs left because of (well grounded) fear that they will be held responsible for their wartime actions.

But the real problem lies in the fact that although the Serb refugees can  legally return to their homes in Krajina or Slavonia, not surprisingly very few have shown the inclination.  The international conferences and  committees cannot resolve the problem.  You can legislate the refugees' right of return, but you can't legislate their neighbours' tolerance of  their presence.  This, I believe, is the "bottom line" truth in Yugoslavia. 

Any reconciliation will be a matter of small steps.  It will be organic and  natural, and cannot be imposed from outside.  It is already in progress.  The Croats have been piping oil to the Serbs even during the war!  The Slovenes are eager to re-establish their eastern markets.  Macedonia,  Montenegro and Bosnia very much depend on the economies, transportation systems, and other amenities of their neighbours and ex-partners in the  federation.  Most importantly, all aspire to become part of Europe.  In the  words of a Belgrade journalist of Vreme, Roksanda Nincic:

I think the only possibility of turning Serbia into a normal country with a  normal democratic system and normal economic system will be to incorporate Serbia into the European family and bringing European standards into Serbia.

The idea of having "peace conferences" which would impose swapping of  territories and redrawing of borders (Galtung's points 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and  10) is paternalistic, pedantic, and doomed to failure.  If Galtung is sincere in his desire to open the process to the peoples of ex-Yugoslavia, then he must accept their judgement as to the right pace, timing, method,  and outcome.

The most important obstacle to the region's stability - the overwhelming  military power of Serbia and the Serb state's willingness to use it to  arbitrate disputes - has been largely removed.  I believe that if a poll
was taken among most of the peoples of  ex-Yugoslavia: the Croatians, the Bosniacs and the Herzegovinians, the Muslims of Sandjak, Kosovo and  Macedonia, and even the Montenegrins - they would fault NATO in one  respect, and one respect only: that its intervention didn't come sooner.

Anton Ljutic first read Johan Galtung's works as a student of political  science at Sir George Williams University in Montreal.  Alas, the Sir George Williams is no more, and Anton ended as a college instructor of  economics, not politics.  But he is glad to see that Prof. Galtung is still active and was thrilled when asked to write a response to the piece on NATO and the Kosovo crisis, not least because his roots are in what used to be Tito's Yugoslavia.