Saturday, June 04, 2011

Lawrence Eagleburger and the Murder of Yugoslavia

Lawrence Eagleburger passed away today at his estate in Virginia, at age 80.

He had been Washington's envoy to Yugoslavia twice, spending seven years in Belgrade altogether. After retiring in 1984, he returned to the State Department in 1989, as James Baker's right hand. Eagleburger was acting Secretary for a while, and actually held the post for just over a month, from December 1992 to January 1993.

Today's NY Times obituary claims Eagleburger "was unable to keep Yugoslavia from dissolving" in the early 1990s. Well, here's an interesting question: did he even try?

Conventional wisdom has it that the Bush I administration supported Yugoslavia's survival, and only reluctantly changed its mind after "Serbian atrocities". Warren Zimmerman, the last US ambassador to Yugoslavia, claims that Washington supported Yugoslav unity, but not "if it were maintained at the expense of democracy or by force." That was at best facetious (isn't that precisely what Lincoln did?), at worst disingenuous: in the paragraph preceding that claim, Zimmerman explained the influence of Croatian and Albanian ethnic lobbies, which very much worked towards dismembering Yugoslavia.

Washington's official position - paying lip service to Yugoslav unity, openly opposing the use of force to preserve it, and talking about democracy and human rights - amounted to tacit support for the separatists.

The NY Times obit quotes Eagleburger's warning to the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, “You can’t hold Yugoslavia together by force.” But the claim that Milosevic tried to do just that is simply not true.

It was, in fact, Milosevic who supported the secession of Slovenia and Croatia -though not Croatia's claim to Serb-inhabited territories, at least not without rescinding the clause in Tudjman's new constitution disenfranchising the Serbs - and even tacitly recognized Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, by creating the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (consisting of Serbia and Montenegro) in April 1992. None of that mattered to the policymakers in Washington and several European capitals, who by then had decided to designate the Serbs as the principal villain of the Balkans drama, the better to cast themselves as heroes.

In 2008, Eagleburger gave an interview to Voice of America, arguing that carving out Kosovo from Serbia set a bad precedent. It was too little, too late - the precedent was already set, back in 1992, when the Badinter Commission decided that Yugoslavia had "dissolved", and Washington went along with this. By 2008, as well, there was a new generation at the State Department, which believed they could shape the world with their willpower, disdaining the "reality-based community" and all that.

Still, I'll always wonder whether people like Eagleburger and Zimmerman, with their extensive Balkans experience, could have contributed to things unfolding differently, rather than being accessories to the murder of Yugoslavia. Perhaps some day American historians and media will honestly re-examine their country's role in this sordid episode, rather than dismissing it as "the fault of those evil Serbs" - but I'm not holding my breath.


Eugene Costa said...

"Perhaps some day American historians and media will honestly re-examine their country's role in this sordid episode."

Seriously doubt it--the Americans haven't got their War Between North And South even vaguely accurate yet.

On the other hand, the Empire is on its last legs, so it may not matter what it gets straight.

Anyway, none of these officials were controlling events. They were doing what they sensed they were being told to do. And if they had not done it they would have been replaced. Milosevic and Yugoslavia were targeted for specific ideological, strategic, and economic reasons--all of which still pertain.

There is nothing Milosevic could have done to satisfy the demands that were being made. The goal posts were continually moved, as they were with Iraq.

Neither Milosevic nor Hussein seemed to realize this.

The Americans and their British sidekicks know exactly what they are doing in this. It is a tactic and they are trying the same with Libya.

After that? There are already hints who it will be, and one of them is Belarus.

But Serbia also is still a target and one predicts they will continue to move the goalposts in regard to the EU.

But why does Serbia want to be in the EU? The price will be very high.

Is all this inevitable? Not quite yet.

There is by the way an interesting article in Russia Today by a Russian totally bought by the British noting that with Mladic's arrest the Russians have now got over their Serbian "fixation".

It would be funny if it were not so sad and so sordid.

CubuCoko said...

Actually, most people in Serbia don't really want to join the EU; most of those that say they do, don't know why - all they have is a vague image of Candyland in which no one works and everyone is fat and happy, product of shameless government propaganda and nostalgia for Titoslavia. It is the current government that wants EU membership, since only by becoming EU bureaucrats can the current satraps keep both their ill-gotten wealth and their lives.

Who was it that made that argument on RT? I'm curious to see it.

Eugene Costa said...

Pardon--misspoke at Ria Novosti.

Konstantin von Eggert, "Russia’s Balkans obsession seems to be finally over":

Russia's obsession?

Anonymous said...

I think a few of the players, like Zimmerman and Albright, clearly had an animus against the Serbs, and were more than willing to be part of the project.

Anonymous said...

To whom it may concern:

First my apologies for posting this as a comment. I could not find any direct contact details for "Grey Falcon." Hopefully this comment will go into moderation and you will see the message there!

My name is Ariel Zellman and I am a Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science at Northwestern University in Chicago. Much of my research centers around the politics of identity and territory in the Balkans, particularly Serbia. I post much of my research on the Balkans on my personal research blog at

At present, I am running an online research survey (in Serbian) which examines the impact of different kinds of political speech on people's policy preferences. The survey is targeted at Serbs particularly in Serbia but can also include those in Montenegro, Bosnia, etc. You can find it at

Unfortunately I have had a bit of a difficult time disseminating the survey beyond my immediate friends and colleagues. I realize that yours is an English-content site, but would it be possible (or efficacious) for you to publicize my survey in some form? Or perhaps to tell your Serbian friends and colleagues about it? The work is purely academic, has no corresponding financial or political agenda, and participants can choose to enter a drawing for a free iPod Touch.

Any and all assistance would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

Ariel Zellman

Albert said...

Hello Mr.Malic. I am a second generation exiled yugoslavian living in Sweden and I just found your blog. Now I have a question about your nick.

I thought of the WWII song "Sivi Sokole" which is about the battle of Sutjeska which raged in the mountains of Montenegro. The song goes something like this "Gray Falcon old friend, give me your wings so I can pass over the mountain". So the question is if your nick in someway is associated with this song. Or if the Gray Falcon has some special symbolism in the Serbian mythology. In that case, what does it symbolise?



CubuCoko said...

The handle actually comes from the title of Dame Rebecca West's famous book on Yugoslavia ("Black Lamb and Grey Falcon"), which was itself inspired by the image from the first line of the epic poem "Propast carstva srpskoga", of a swift gray falcon bearing a missive for Prince Lazar of the Serbs, on the eve of the Battle of Kosovo.

Albert said...

Oh, interesting. I just ordered the book from Amazon. One of the joys of life is a good book to read for the summer vacation. Hopefully I will learn something about the homeland of my parents at the same time.