“The occupiers of a country are never popular, either those who want to stay forever or those who are dying to get home.” Jane Flanner was writing about the American occupation of France in 1945, which, having helped free the country from Nazi terror, had a better chance of popularity than most. The occupation of Bosnia by 60,000 NATO troops, mostly US, French and British, has no such advantages.
Probably for most people in Bosnia any peace that gives them and their community some secure territory is preferable to continuation of the atrocious four-year war, unleashed by Serbian imperialism, which turned over half the country’s people into refugees and killed maybe one in ten. But all the communities are likely to clash with the occupation troops.
“NATO officials” have already let the press know that they “privately” agree with the US colonel who was publicly ticked off for calling the Bosnian Croats “racist motherfuckers” and making it clear he thought no better of the Bosnian Muslims (Bosniacs) and Serbs. The arrogance built into imperialist military machines will be one cause of conflict. Hundreds of thousands of refugees on all sides, uprooted, traumatised, and bitter, will be another.
The Croat-Muslim federation, set up in March 1994, is a foundation-stone of the new order in Bosnia, but over the two years since 1994 the Bosnian-Croat leaders have made it clear that they prefer to grab as much territory as they can rather than operate this federation loyally. In the Bosnian-Serb territories, it is not clear that NATO will be able to find any effective and cooperative local agency of government with which to work. And some newspapers have suggested that the first clash will be with the Bosniacs, as the NATO troops move to suppress the freelance Muslim militias.
A classic historical study, Robinson and Gallagher’s Africa and the Victorians, showed that Britain’s 19th-century colony-grabbing in Africa was as much pull - Britain being dragged in directly when the local ruling groups on which it had preferred to rely for informal domination crumbled - as push. Some of the chief factors operating then do not operate now in Bosnia, notably the contradiction between trying to rely on pre-capitalistic elites while simultaneously extending capitalist economic relations. But the NATO troops look likely to be in Bosnia much longer than the year they have scheduled.
Progress depends on socialists in the Bosniac, Croat and Serb communities establishing links and uniting workers round social demands (public works at trade-union rates of pay and under trade-union control, for example) and a consistently democratic programme (free federation; full individual rights for all residents, regardless of nationality and religion, everywhere). Their hope must be that disgust at the bloody fiasco of the last five years will soon lead to the Milosevic tyranny falling in Serbia and new working-class politics being able to emerge there. Their fear must be that the huge military machine occupying their country will stamp hard on any working-class or democratic organisation.