“The aim of propaganda was to split up Yugoslavia,” confessed former CIA agent Robert Baer in 2015. “I arrived in Sarajevo for the first time on the 12th of January 1991. I came by helicopter with three other agents. Our task was to observe Serbian terrorists who were supposed to attack the city. We got the information that there will be a number of terrorist attacks in the city due to the intention of B&H to withdraw from the former Yugoslavia. But that was a lie, our bosses had lied to us. Our primary task was to spread panic that there would be attacks among politicians.”
These disinformation efforts, which mirrored the CIA lies from just two years prior about how Chinese Minister Li Peng had been shot and how Deng Xiaoping was close to death, were even more effective than Washington’s efforts to manufacture destabilization surrounding Tiananmen Square. The 1989 “pro-democracy” protests in China, which were fully backed by the forces of counterrevolution, only brought the imperialists a dishonest (if widely effective) propaganda story about there having been a “massacre” by the PLA. The Yugoslavia propaganda brought the imperialists an actual reshaping of the geopolitical landscape, one that destroyed Europe’s last bastion of socialism and allowed neoliberal shock policies to bedevil a splintered Yugoslavia.
This was because after the failure of their counterrevolutionary attempt in China, the imperialists seemingly learned to add an extra element to their destabilization propaganda within Yugoslavia: ethnic hatred. It wasn’t enough for the CIA to get the nation’s people to believe their government was falling apart. The CIA also had to convince the masses that their very nation wasn’t worth defending, that the region’s contradictions between ethnicities were too severe for the borders to be able to continue to exist as they had prior. They had to convince Yugoslavians to despise each other.
This is how you kill a nation: by manipulating its people into believing that their fellow community members of differing ethnic backgrounds have committed unforgivable transgressions, and therefore must be dehumanized and killed. It’s the route the imperialists are taking in African countries like Ethiopia, where Washington is trying to incite civil war by backing a resurgence of the Tigray terrorist organization the TPLF (which the U.S. unsurprisingly refuses to even classify as a terrorist group). It’s what they’re doing in central Eurasia, where Washington has been similarly enabling the rise of the Uyghur ethnic nationalist terrorist organization the ETIM (which was suspiciously taken off the U.S. terrorist watch list last year).
To understand why we shouldn’t trust what the U.S. media is saying about Ethiopia, the Uyghurs, and other topics, we can simply look to Yugoslavia. It’s where, as the title of Michael Parenti’s book says, the imperialists managed “To Kill a Nation.” As writer Dragan Plavsic summarizes Parenti’s analysis of the charges of a Bosnian “genocide”:
Chomsky’s and Parenti’s attentions [after exposing contradictions in U.S. foreign policy] then turn to the Kosovo war itself. Their target is the claim that it was fought to prevent the mass ethnic cleansing of the Albanians by the Serb authorities. Parenti first debunks the myth that what was happening in Kosovo before the war was genocide. He quotes George Kenney, US policy adviser on the Balkans under the administration of Bush Sr: ‘The US government doesn’t have any proof of any genocide and anyone reading the press critically can see the paucity of the evidence, despite interminably repeated claims and bloodcurdling speculation.’ Parenti notes that there were plundering and summary executions by Serb paramilitaries, but rightly concludes that this was ‘indicative of a limited counter-insurgency’ typical of many conflicts across the globe.
Plavsic goes on to heavily criticize Parenti’s analysis on socialist Yugoslavia, charging that Yugoslavia was not socialist at all but a counterrevolutionary capitalist state. This narrative is just another instance of the tendency among Trotskyists like Plavsic to portray existing socialist states as illegitimate; Plavsic admits that the Serbian opposition, which according to Plavsic represented the true will of the people, had a “commitment to a free-market economy… [and] funding received from abroad, above all from the US.” It’s easy for Plavsic to decry Milošević’s repression of this opposition. But for an anti-U.S. head of state in the midst of a cold war which Washington was effectively continuing in Yugoslavia even after the Soviet Union’s fall, a strong security state was a practical necessity.
As Parenti has said about sectarians like Plavsic, it’s “No surprise then that the pure socialists support every revolution except for the ones that succeed.” And their exaggerated critiques of these successful revolutions assist the imperialists in spinning nation-destroying narratives.
As Parenti rightly concludes, the “Bosnian genocide” was not a genocide anymore than Milošević was a counterrevolutionary. It was an instance of wartime atrocities that were shared by the other sides in the Balkan conflict as well as by countless other forces. These atrocities were elevated to a “genocide” in the imperialist imagination, and were portrayed in this way only when it came to one side, purely because NATO had an interest in Balkanizing the nation. And that the side which became targeted with this absurd distortion was the side of the socialist leader Slobodan Milošević is entirely predictable.
The charge that Milošević “helped foment discontent between Serbians in Bosnia and Croatia and their Croatian, Bosniak and Albanian neighbors,” as History Channel claims, also loses weight in light of the story’s full context. Whatever criticisms can be made of Milošević’s nationalist rhetoric, the main ones who fomented these ethnic tensions were the imperialists. As Parenti writes:
One of the great deceptions, notes Joan Phillips, is that “those who are mainly responsible for the bloodshed in Yugoslavia — not the Serbs, Croats or Muslims, but the Western powers — are depicted as saviors.” While pretending to work for harmony, U.S. leaders supported the most divisive, reactionary forces from Croatia to Kosovo. In Croatia, the West’s man-of-the-hour was Franjo Tudjman, who claimed in a book he authored in 1989, that “the establishment of Hitler's new European order can be justified by the need to be rid of the Jews,” and that only 900,000 Jews, not six million, were killed in the Hlocaust. Tudjman’s government adopted the fascist Ustasha checkered flag and anthem. Tudjman presided over the forced evacuation of over half a million Serbs from Croatia between 1991 and 1995, replete with rapes and summary executions…
In Bosnia, U.S. leaders supported the Muslim fundamentalist, Alija Izetbegovic, an active Nazi in his youth, who has called for strict religious control over the media and now wants to establish an Islamic Bosnian republic. Izetbegovic himself does not have the support of most Bosnian Muslims. He was decisively outpolled in his bid for the presidency yet managed to take over that office by cutting a mysterious deal with frontrunner Fikret Abdic.
But these efforts to manufacture ethnic tensions went far beyond installing racist leaders. Again, the imperialists weren’t there merely to change a political system, they were there to kill a nation. And this required poisoning the minds of the masses, required persuading them to hate and fear their own relatives and neighbors. The Balkanization process had to extend not just into the ruling institutions, but into the very psyches of those who got their futures ripped away from them. It had to be so much crueler, so much more personal, than simply a series of coups.
As anti-imperialist Balkans afficianado Julien Philippe has assessed in response to the Quora question of “Why is there so much hatred of the Serbs and Serbia on Quora,” there’s been a concerted, decades-long campaign to vilify the Serbs. One that’s gone hand in hand with NATO’s dismemberment of Yugoslavian socialism:
Imagine a Europe in which: the former local puppets of Austria-Hungary in WW1 and of the Third Reich in WW2, aka. the Croatian nationalists, later Bosnian Muslims nostalgic of the Ottoman times and sympathetic to Serbophobia, later Kosovo Albanians, and even later Montenegrin nationalists would try to secede from Yugoslavia, and embark with them more than 2,500,000 Serbs against their will…[with] propaganda calling upon the most noble values (freedom, democracy, human rights, pacification) in order to disguise these moves into positive policies aiming at bringing those values into Yugoslavia…the former allies and foes of both World-Wars allied against the Serbs, and the local puppets of the “foes” & losers of WW1 and WW2 were granted everything achievable out of destroying Yugoslavia, while the Serbs, aggressed parties and yet victors of both WW1 and WW2, were taken from them everything except central-Serbia and Vojvodina…Meanwhile, numerous foreigners, heavily brainwashed by the U.S/German/NATO war-propaganda of the 90s and post-war propaganda to legitimate retroactively those deeds, are taking their side, for they don’t know better and are too dumb to see through the whole shenanigan anyway.
You could say this is just Philippe’s opinion. And full disclosure, I just quoted a statement from within a forum, not from within a book. But it’s an entirely correct statement, one supported by those close to the events it discusses. How much should an opinion be doubted when it has the verification of a CIA agent who was involved in the Yugoslavia operations? Baer, who the Sarajevo Times reports concluded his confession by urging “people of the Balkans not to hate each other and to forget the past, which was just part of one great show,” backed up his statement by confirming the narrative manipulations alleged by Parenti and Philippe.
In a WebTribune interview on the psychological operations he describes, he explicitly admits that the CIA deliberately inflamed Serbophobia—a type of bigotry which Western intellectuals typically dismiss as nothing more than Serbian propaganda. But as Baer states, Serbophobia was and is real:
Many CIA agents and senior officers disappeared simply because they refused to conduct propaganda against the Serbs in Yugoslavia. Personally I was shocked at the dose of lies being fed from our agencies and politicians! Many CIA agents were directing propaganda without being aware of what they were doing. Everyone knew just a fraction of the story and only the one who created the whole story knew the background – they are [the] politicians.
In response to the question of “So there was only propaganda against the Serbs,” he answers:
Yes and no. The aim of the propaganda was to divide the republics so they would break away from the motherland Yugoslavia. We had to choose a scapegoat who would be blamed for everything. Someone who would be responsible for the war and violence. Serbia was chosen because in some ways it is a successor to Yugoslavia.
The imperialists are now replicating this tactic of picking out a scapegoat in regards to Ethiopia, which the U.S. wants dismantled for trading with China. In U.S. headlines, Ethiopia’s government is being entirely blamed for the country’s growing humanitarian crisis. Washington’s tightening sanctions on Ethiopia, and meddling efforts to resuscitate the TPLF, get no mention in these stories.
The Yugoslavia model of propaganda is also being directed towards the Communist Party of China, which the U.S. is accusing of “genocide” against the Uyghurs. We must expose the flimsiness and fraudulence behind this charge. If the imperialists can get away with this new Big Lie, central Eurasia could undergo the same ethnic conflicts and instability that they manufactured within the Balkans.
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