West’s idea of self-determination, hypocrisy at its best

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
ARCHIVE PHOTO: The main post office building in the town of Uzice, (C) some 200kms southwest of Belgrade, is seen destroyed after last night's NATO air strikes May 9 © YUGOSLAVIA OUT
When Yugoslavia was destroyed and broken up with the active participation of the West, the world was told it was in the interests of self-determination. Pity then that the same principles do not apply when it comes to Crimea or the Republika Srpska.

One of the most grievous crimes of the 20th century was the break-up and fragmentation of Yugoslavia, a sovereign state located in the heart of Europe that was underpinned by values of solidarity, mutuality, and justice. Despite the propaganda unleashed in support of its fragmentation, Yugoslavia would not have been destroyed without the active and determined role of Western governments intent on carrying a neoliberal economic and ideological assault on every last vestige of socialism in Europe.

When Germany recognized Slovenia and Croatia’s independence in 1991 it did so in violation of Yugoslavia’s sovereignty and constitution. The country had found itself beset by nationalist centrifugal forces that had erupted in the wake of sustained efforts by the West to destabilize the country and see it dismantled in service to free market orthodoxy.

Under the Reagan administration, US National Security Decision Direction 133 - (NSDD 133) – entitled ‘US Policy Towards Yugoslavia’ – was drawn up in 1984, laying out plans for a US sphere of influence in Southeastern Europe.

Yugoslavia was vulnerable to the fluctuations of the global economy due to the extensive borrowing it undertook from the West throughout the 1960s and seventies to fund investment in its industrial base and help maintain its high level of social provision in health, education, housing, etc. The global recession that swept the world in the 1970s, leading to a spike in US interest rates, had the effect of decimating export markets, leaving debtor nations such as Yugoslavia exposed and unable to service their external debt commitments. In response, and in return for a bailout package, the IMF demanded the restructuring of the Yugoslav economy in order to prioritize debt repayment.

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A man walks down a road where Albanian and U.S. national flags have been put up ahead of the first anniversary of Kosovo's independence in the town of Kacanik, southeast of the capital Pristina February 15, 2009. © Hazir Reka

The ensuing economic downturn fed the previously mentioned centrifugal ethnic and nationalist forces throughout the country, culminating in the passage of the US Foreign Operations Appropriations law 101-513 in 1991, which contained a section concerning Yugoslavia stipulating that all aid, loans, and credits would be halted unless elections were held within each of the six component Yugoslav republics with regard to their membership of Yugoslavia.

The ethnic conflict that erupted and continued throughout the nineties was a bloody, cruel and brutal affair, with atrocities carried out by all sides. The Serbs, led by Slobodan Milosevic, resisted the break-up of the country and were consequently depicted in the West as evil incarnate, intent on ethnic cleansing and genocide. Serb nationalism certainly came to supplant the objective of maintaining Yugoslavia as a sovereign state, but this was in the context of a conflict that followed its own ugly trajectory with the unilateral declaration of Slovene and Croat independence. Later charges of genocide against the Republic of Serbia were investigated and dismissed by the International Court of Justice in February of this year.

NATO military intervention, in the form of an air campaign against the Serbs in 1998 lasting 78 days, killed over 2,000 civilians and saw hospitals, schools, libraries, and homes destroyed. It was a campaign waged without the sanction of the United Nations, exposing the West’s commitment to international law as a sham. As of yet none of those responsible for NATO’s air war against the Serbs has been put on trial for war crimes.

The air campaign was triggered over concerns regarding Kosovo, hitherto a province of Serbia that was home to a majority Albanian population, which as with other ethnic groups within the by now disintegrating state of Yugoslavia, began to demand separation and employing violent means, under the banner of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), to get it. Kosovo was placed under UN administration, preparatory to it becoming an officially independent sovereign republic in 2008, recognized by the ‘international community’, which has long been code for Washington and its various allies and satellites.

The reason we should keep these events in mind is that today the Republika Srpska, a semi-autonomous Serb region of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is moving towards a referendum to determine whether it should become independent from Bosnia and instead become part of the Republic of Serbia. Unlike Kosovo in 2008 this particular referendum is being resisted by the US and the EU, who in a joint statement, drawn up without any hint of irony, have declared that it would be “an unconstitutional attempt not to reform but to undermine and weaken those authorities, and would thus pose a direct threat to the sovereignty and security of the country as a whole.”

The West has form in this regard, of course. Recall how when it comes to the Crimean referendum, held in March 2014, the West declared it “unconstitutional” and thereby illegal, proving once again that if hypocrisy was an Olympic sport, Washington and its European allies would dominate the medals podium every four years. The toppling by force of the last legitimately elected Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovich in February 2014, an illegal and unconstitutional violation of Ukrainian democracy and sovereignty given the role of the EU and US in supporting it, will go down as the point at which the mask of democracy was removed from both.

The days of the world being divided into those who are allowed to demand and deny the right of states to self-determination, as and when they see fit, and those who are not are over. Democracy and organized hypocrisy are two different things. Confusing one with the other is the product of an imperialist mindset that belongs to the 19th rather than the 21st century.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.