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To the Editor of GEO Newsletter:

After reading the Nov.-Dec. Issue in which an article by Branko Horvat was published [“Self-Management and the Fall of Yugoslavia”], I wrote a scathing rebuttal of the Croatian-nationalist propaganda that seemed to insinuate itself in that piece. It seems that my response got lost in the shuffle, but as I have since learned of GEO Newsletter’s interest in [promoting dialogue] examining this issue, I have contacted a friend of mine, Greg Elich, a journalist whose articles on the Balkans have been published in Covert Action Quarterly and elsewhere. Using his responses to the Horvat article as a basis, I would like to submit the following rebuttal:

Horvat (H) (p.3): “...we have to understand why it was tactically necessary to dissolve Yugoslavia, because of historical reasons relating to nationalities. The so-called nations of Yugoslavia were unfinished nations . . .”

Elich (E): I assume the point was that each nationality (other than Serbia and Montenegro) did not have a period of independence in its history prior to the creation of Yugoslavia in 1918. That does not mean a national culture cannot “develop.” . . .

H: (p. 3) In Serbia they don’t know that Serbs were responsible for this war.

E: They persist in believing what they experienced themselves, rather than what Western propagandists tell them—that is, Westerners who have no idea what happened somehow do not convince people to reject what they saw with their own eyes and to instead believe what those Westerners say.

H (p.5): “Aggression by Milosevic: he embarked on his campaign against Croatia.....”

E: [Horvat] is talking about 1991, when Croatia seceded and immediately attacked Yugoslav Federal troops stationed in Croatia. As Croatia, like all the other republics, was part of Yugoslavia, it was natural that there were military bases stationed there. When Croatia announced its independence, Croatian forces (which had been secretly armed by the West: tanks, artillery, automatic rifles, uniforms, etc.) blockaded Federal troops in their barracks, firing mortars and automatic rifles at the bases. Many Federal troops were killed in the process.

Also, Milosevic did not “embark” on a campaign. He was not president of Yugoslavia in 1991. He was only president of Serbia, with no authority to make such decisions regarding the country as a whole. Tudjman came to power in 1990— one year before secession— his speeches and rallies were filled with the most extreme nationalism and hostility towards other ethnic groups.

H: (p.5) “During World War II, Croatia and Bosnia provided the majority of Partisans ...”

E: True, although many partisans came from the republics as well. But the author is being intentionally misleading. The majority— but by no means all— of those from Croatia and Bosnia who joined the partisans were Serbs who lived in those republics. ... There were plenty of Croats and Bosnian Muslims, too, but more Serbs from those republics.

H (P. 5): “In Croatia, nationalism was financed by an external Ustashe— that is, a group of émigré fascists. There is documentation of collaboration between Tudjman and Milosevic during this period.”

E: “financed by external Ustashe”— quite true, that statement. This funding began well before the war— so not a “reaction” to the “campaign.” [The discussion about collaboration] is a claim often made in Croatia and by some Western writers, because Tudjman himself claimed this, in order to pretend that he had backing for some of his actions. The only problem is that there is not a shred of truth to this. I’ve been reading through the transcripts of the ICTY trial, and Paddy Ashdown brought this up, saying that Tudjman drew a map of Bosnia on a napkin, showing the division of Bosnia between Croatia and Serbia, something that Tudjman claimed was done with Milosevic and this justified his interventions in Bosnia. ... [Milosevic denies this.]


Ken Freeland

Houston, TX

Editor’s reply: We hope that we are catalysts for constructive dialogue and provocative thinking through this newsletter, and invite all our readers to correspond with us and comment on or respond to the articles we print. We expect the same high level of respectful dialogue from our authors, as well as the readers’ responses, as we do of ourselves and give in these pages. Events and history in countries in the former Yugoslavia, as elsewhere, are sensitive and multi-faceted. We try to do justice to all the sides, and printed Ken Freeland’s letter in that spirit. Keep the dialogues flowing.

Note to the readers: For those readers who do not know him, Branko Horvat is probably the most well known of all Yugoslav economists. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize, and has been a visiting professor at many universities around the world. He is the leading economic theorist on the Yugoslav self-management system from within Yugoslavia. He co-edited, with Mihailo Markovic and Rudi Supek, the two-volume collection, Self-managing Socialism (1975), a classic collection of texts on self-management and cooperation. Among his other books are: Towards A Theory of Planned Economy (1964), An Essay on Yugoslav Society (1969), Business Cycles in Yugoslavia (1971), The Yugoslav Economic System: The First Labor-Managed Economy In The Making (1976), and The Political Economy Of Socialism: A Marxist Social Theory (1982).

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