Secession – Different Rules Applied in Yugoslavia


Bosnia- Herzegovina has been decreed by the United Nations and the EC to be “a sovereign and independent nation”, to use the words of Lord Owen.

Yugoslavia was a state made up of many nations, the three major ones being the Serbs, the Croats and the Bosnian Muslims. The Croats and Muslims voted to secede from Yugoslavia, detaching regions from the state in which there large numbers of Serbs. The UN and the EC eagerly recognised these secessions as independent and sovereign states, and decreed that Yugoslavia had ceased to exist as a sovereign state. But they have now decreed that the principle which justified the Croat and Muslim secession from Yugoslavia may not be availed of by the Bosnian Serbs with regard to the “sovereign and independent nation” of Bosnia.

Bosnia has never been an independent state. There is no evidence that the incongruous Croat/Muslim majority which voted for independence has any capacity for conducting a liberal and tolerant state. What evidence there is suggests the contrary. Croatia and Bosnia were a state for three years in the early forties, by the special favour of Adolf Hitler, and its main activity was an all-out attempt to get rid of all the Serbs, either by killing them outright, or making Catholics of them.

[They also killed large numbers of Jews and Gypsies.]

Yugoslavia functioned as a state for seventy years under Serb guidance and there was no genocide. And in two World Wars the Serbs fought alongside those states which are now called “the West” by the BBC. When a Yugoslav Government early in 1941, under Croat influences, made a Treaty of alliance with Hitler, that Government was overthrown by a Serbian revolt and the Treaty was repudiated. Hitler then felt obliged to invade Yugoslavia. He was welcomed into the Croat regions but had to fight the Serbs. This delayed his invasion of Russia by five weeks, causing the German Army to be caught by the Russian winter before it had achieved its objective. And that was the all-important event in World War 2.

Churchill’s bizarre conduct of affairs is finally coming under the scrutiny of ‘respectable’ historians. His most bizarre act was to compel the King of Yugoslavia to dismiss the Government which had resisted Hitler and to install in Government Titoites who had facilitated the German invasion.

Serbia is now seen by bourgeois enthusiasts as the last stronghold of Communism in Europe. If that is so – and the matter is doubtful – then it needs to be said that Communist government was not imposed on Yugoslavia by the Serbs or the Kremlin. Communist government was imposed on the Serbs by Churchill’s Government acting in support of Tito’ s Partisans. The Kremlin kept up relations with the old bourgeois Government of Yugoslavia long after Churchill had transferred British allegiances to Tito.

Bosnia is Yugoslavia in miniature.  It is made up of the three main nationalities whose detestation of one another made Yugoslavia fail as a state in the long run. But the antagonism of nationalities is more intimate and less subject to mediating influences in Bosnia, which has none of the characteristics of a state, than it was in Yugoslavia.

The principle being applied in this case is that an administrative region of a state may secede as a whole but that no part of it may break off and stay with the original state on the ground of national identity.

But this is contrary to the principle applied in Ireland, which was a single, tightly organised, administrative region of the UK until it seceded. The Irish secession was recognised by Britain in 1921, but at the same time a part of Ireland was allowed to secede from the secession and return to the UK. Ireland was much closer to being a nation than Bosnia is. And yet the major British parties, which agree in denying a Serb right of secession from Bosnia, also agree in granting a right of secession from Ireland to the Ulster Unionists. (“Unification by consent” works out as a right of separation.)


This is part of an editorial that appeared in January 1993, in Issue 33 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.  The first part, about the Labour Party, is no longer very relevant, though you can read it from the PDF.  The third, about Iraq, is a separate web page.

You can find more from the era at and