The arrest last week of Ratko Mladic, the former head of the Bosnian Serb army, was greeted with jubilation by the media.
Mladic, labelled “the Butcher of Bosnia”, will be brought before a criminal tribunal in The Hague.
He is to answer for the deaths of thousands during the siege of Sarajevo and Srebrenica during the Bosnian War of 1992-1995.
His arrest has given the media an opportunity to recycle the official account of the break up of Yugoslavia and the bloody ethnic wars that followed.
Our leaders argue that Yugoslavia disintegrated because of ancient ethnic hatreds—most evident in the Serbians who wanted to create an ethnically pure “Greater Serbia”.
They said that “humanitarian intervention” by Nato forces was the only way to restore “order”.
But the West bears a heavy responsibility for the Balkan tragedy.
The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, created in 1945, was made up of six republics—Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro—populated by 22 different ethnic groups.
These groups were not located in neat geographical areas. So in 1991 Muslims made up 44 percent of Bosnia’s population of 4.5 million, Serbs 31 percent and Croats 17 percent.
For much of the post-Second World War period people lived in relative harmony and saw themselves as Yugoslavians. The rights of each group were guaranteed by the federal state.
But by the end of the 1980s Yugoslavia was in deep economic crisis.
Sections of the county’s ruling class used racism and nationalism to build alternative power bases and to split a powerful working class resistance movement.
This strategy was most successfully adopted by Slobodan Milosevic, a Serbian apparatchik of the ruling Communist party, who mobilised Serbian nationalism against the Muslims of Kosovo.
Ethnic politics were taken up by Croat leader Franjo Tudjman spreading anti-Serb racism and by others across the country.
The more economically developed states within Yugoslavia wanted to break away. Western political intervention accelerated and distorted the process.
The German ruling class began to reassert their former regional domination, encouraging Slovenia and Croatia to split from Yugoslavia, and giving them formal recognition in 1991.
Having encouraged the break up of Yugoslavia, the European Union dictated the form it would take.
An arbitration committee decreed that the old borders of the states that made up Yugoslavia were valid but that the ethnic enclaves throughout each region did not have a right to self determination.
This laid the basis for succession based on a logic that asked, “Why should I be a minority in your state when you can be a minority in mine?”
It was this rationale that lay behind the wars that characterised the break-up of Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1995.
In some places —such as Slovenia and Macedonia—succession was relatively peaceful. But in Bosnia and Croatia, which had a substantial ethnic mix, it was much more violent.
The Western powers sided with the emergent ruling classes in the newly independent states, setting them in opposition to the rump Yugoslavia—in effect now Serbia.
Western propaganda presented the Balkan tragedy in terms of “bad” Serbs oppressing the rest of the region. That made Western military intervention easier to sell.
Operation Deliberate Force pitted 400 aircraft against the Bosnian Serbs.
It remains the largest single military action in Nato’s history. The air attacks on Serb forces by Nato fighters ended the wars in Bosnia and Croatia in 1995.
Most people in the West accepted the actions as necessary and just.
This set a precedent for the “humanitarian” interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
The break-up of Yugoslavia allowed nationalist monsters like Ratko Mladic to thrive.
But there were butchers on all sides of the conflict. Mladic, like Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic before him will go in front of an international tribunal in the Hague.
However Croatia’s notorious president Franjo Tudjman will not.
He was feted by the West as the respected leader of a new country, despite having ethnically cleansed 200,000 Croatian Serbs from the area.
The reality is that the Hague isn’t for allies of the West, irrespective of the blood they’ve spilt.