Bombing Destroying Balkan Society, Environment


In the past few weeks, pictures of innocent civilians blown to pieces by “smart bombs” that made “mistakes” have been raising an increasing outcry from newspaper pages and television screens.

At the end of April, U.S. military officials announced that they were going to begin dropping “dumb bombs” on the rump Yugoslavia (which consists of Serbia and the tiny republic of Montenegro, as opposed to the six republics before the breakup of the country in 1991).

Some U.S. military officials have said they expect that if the bombing is continued, dumb bombs will soon amount to 50 percent of the explosives dropped on the country.

In any case, it has been clear for some time that the effect of the bombing as been essentially to create terror and to destroy the economy.

“The air war has halved economic output and thrown more than 100,000 people out of work,” Steven Erlanger reported in the April 30 New York Times, citing “Western-trained and independent economists.” According to the April 20 issue of the Budapest daily Nepszabadsag, Yugoslav officials estimate that five times as many have lost their jobs because of the bombing.

Erlanger continued: “Although it is difficult to estimate the cost of replacements and repairs if the war stopped today, the economists said, the damage has had greater effects on the gross domestic product than the Nazi and then the Allied bombing of Yugoslavia, which was a much more rural country during World War II.”

The justification that the U.S. rulers give for the economic bombing is that the factories hit belong to Milosevic’s cronies. However, most of the industrial complexes are in the hands of bureaucrats now converting themselves into capitalists.

The core of the industrial working class created by the noncapitalist economy in Yugoslavia has been employed in these complexes, which have also been the centers of attempts to form independent trade unions and working-class opposition to the rule of the degenerating Stalinist bureaucracy.

The independent union Nezavisnost has signed protests against the NATO bombings. Its leaders have noted in a number of statements that its members are being thrown out of work by the destruction of the factories and that the war is making it impossible to continue to function.

In its April 2 issue, almost at the start of the NATO bombing campaign, the Italian left daily Il Manifesto published an interview with a leader of Nezavisnost in a Belgrade factory. He said:

“The situation in Serbia is terrible. NATO bombs every night. At the same time, the situation is terrible for the Albanian people in Kosovo because of the Serbian army. We have always been against the war. That is why Milosevic hates us, and why we have had a lot of problems. But now they are much worse.

“Today we have stopped our trade-union activities. If we had not done so, it would have been very dangerous for our members and for us all.

“The NATO planes are not bombing the city and its people, but they are bombing military targets around the city and the factory. … Our four factories, where we had very strong trade-union branches, have collapsed in recent days-that is UTVA, Pancevo near Belgrade, the Racovica DMG near Belgrade, Sloboda in Racak, and Milan Blagojevic on West Serbia street.

“My factory is the DMB, and now it is no more. Along with me, 3000 engineering workers have lost their jobs.

“Although many of the workers had been laid off in Pancevo, the situation is similar there. NATO bombed for four nights and fired 10 cruise missiles. It is the same situation in other factories. Almost 10,000 metalworkers have lost their jobs and have no future. About 5000 of them were members of our union.”

On May 2, NATO planes bombed a major hydro-electric power station west of Belgrade, cutting off electricity to the Yugoslav capitol and other parts of Serbia. The New York Times correspondent Steven Erlanger pointed out that the strike was apparently connected to propaganda leaflets dropped by NATO planes:

“One leaflet that may have been a warning of the strike tonight, showed a picture of the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, with an arrow pointed backward. Above the president’s name it said, ‘No gasoline, no electricity, no trade, no freedom, no future.'”

NATO spokesman Major Jamie Shea made no bones about the purpose of the strike in his May 3 press briefing: “What we have done is demonstrate our ability to shut off the power system whenever we want.”

Serbs in general seem to have gotten the message that the strike was aimed against them. Erlanger quoted a Serbian woman who works for a Western news agency as saying, “This is not a military target. This is just trying to demoralize ordinary people.”

The bombing of Yugoslav TV stations obviously has the same purpose. It cannot stop Milosevic’s propaganda, but the sudden blacking out of TV screens sends a message of intimidation to the population.

The NATO leaflet’s threat of “no future” for the Serbian people may have referred also to the damage inflicted by the NATO bombing on the environment, the effects of which may be extremely long lasting.

Il Manifesto reported April 23 that the bombing of the Pancevo petrochemical plant not far from Belgrade had forced the evacuation of almost 90,000 people from the surrounding areas. Large amounts of toxic fumes reportedly billowed out of the shattered facility.

Toxic chemicals have also been spilled into the Danube river, the main waterway for the entire region. Danube shipping has already been stopped by the bombing of the bridges, which has left the river clogged with debris.

In its April 19 issue, the Greek daily Elevtherotypia reported that Yugoslav minister for the environment Jankos Zelenovic had raised an alarm about the possibilities of region-wide pollution. The article also quoted an official trade-union leader, Tomislav Banovic, as saying:

“The Danube and our other rivers will soon be polluted. We will not have any potable water. If it goes on like this, the catastrophe will be comparable only to Chernobyl.”

The Budapest daily Nepszabadsag published an article in its April 23 issue warning of the longterm environmental effects if NATO uses antitank shells lined with depleted uranium, as it did in the Gulf war.

Such ammunition is now a mainstay of U.S. antitank warfare. The Hungarian paper stressed the irony of trying to save the Kosovars by inundating Kosovo with radioactive material that will continue to pollute the area into the distant future.

The destruction of the social environment, however, is more immediate and potentially even more destructive. Social analysts have maintained that one of the major reasons for the long cycle of carnage in Cambodia was the social dislocation caused by the U.S. carpet bombing. It created a large layer of youth who lived from and for war.

Such a phenomenon has also been developing in Serbia since the onset of prolonged war in the region in 1991. It can only be accelerated by the NATO bombing now. Whatever happens to the population, the military and the paramilitary groups will be well provided for as long as any supplies remain.

Demoralizing the population and dislocating the society cannot create conditions for democratic reform but only for demoralization, cynicism, and resignation.

Nezavisnost leader Bojko Vunic told reporters for the U.S. left publication, The Militant: “Workers are the ones facing a disaster. NATO is also trying to destroy our dignity and instill fear.”

Nepszabadsag wrote that the worst effect of the bombing was its demoralizing effect on the population: “The worst worry is helplessness in the face of war.”

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