It’s No Longer 1999

After several years of enjoying near-unchallenged world hegemony, in 2006 it began appearing as if the U.S. Empire had suffered a series of setbacks. The true extent of this "long defeat" became obvious in 2007, as the fruitless Iraqi occupation continued to produce death and destruction, a rickety economy collapsed on the home front, and a rival power arose in the East.

When the Democrats took over the U.S. Congress at the start of ’07, one of the less-noticed consequences was the increased focus on the Balkans. The year began with a screed by the new head of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), calling for action against "opponents of new Kosovo." Biden turned out to be a harbinger of things to come; both the Democrats and the White House really got into the notion that this was still 1999, which proved to be a miscalculation of great proportions.

Setting the Stage

Around the time American voters put Biden’s party in control of the Congress, Serbia held a constitutional referendum, which resulted in a general election in January. Gains by the Democratic Party of president Boris Tadic were understood in the West as a sign that Serbia would submit on the issue of Kosovo. EU foreign policy commissar Javier Solana expected a "nice, soft landing." Within weeks, Empire’s envoy for Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, presented his proposal for the occupied province’s final status: independence under a NATO/EU protectorate.

Despite clear warnings from 2006, up to this point few policymakers in Washington actually believed that Serbia and Russia would persist in their opposition to the separation of Kosovo. It was to prove a fateful miscalculation.

The leadership in Belgrade, far from being pliant, rejected Ahtisaari’s plan. On February 10, Russian president Vladimir Putin gave a now-famous speech at a conference in Munich, blasting the American empire for aspiring to global hegemony. From there onwards, 2007 would be a long, futile struggle of the Empire to impose Ahtisaari’s dream in Kosovo against Serbian and Russian opposition.

Collision Course

As Empire’s frustration grew, the friendly make-up began to flake off. In April, Germany’s ambassador in Serbia threatened the country’s further dismemberment if it did not cooperate, while a U.S. Congressman appealed to "jihadists of all color and hue" to note America’s commitment to creating an Islamic state in Europe.

Russia responded by killing the Ahtisaari plan on the East River. Nothing to it, the Imperial pundits declared, confident Moscow would change its mind at the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany. Nothing doing. The hapless Emperor then invited Vladimir Putin on a fishing trip, only to find out Moscow wasn’t bluffing. By July, Empire’s Kosovo policy was a wreck.

That was a chance to cut losses and attempt to salvage an honorable exit from the Kosovo quagmire. But all too many powerful people had invested heavily into the Bank of Collective Serbian Guilt, and could not forfeit their deposits any more than the sub-prime lenders could forfeit their "investments." The Empire chose to escalate. Moscow called its bluff in September, announcing that Kosovo was one of the "red line" issues, on which there was no retreat.

Now certain that Ahtisaari’s proposal would never make it through the Security Council, U.S. and UK diplomats in New York tried to salvage Ahtisaari’s proposal by offering a four-month deferment. While the Serbian government offered several models of functional autonomy as practiced elsewhere in the world, Albanian separatists abjectly refused to consider anything short of independence, content to run out the clock. On December 10, the talks were officially called off; however, attempts to reactivate the Ahtisaari plan were stymied. At this point, sponsors of the separatists are once again waiting for elections in Serbia – presidential, this time – to try and declare independence without the UN. Once again, they are relying on the assumption that Boris Tadic and the Democratic Party would accept the fait accompli. Even if the assumption about their ultimate loyalties is right, the elections’ outcome is far from certain.

The Verdict

Another sign of the changing times came in March, when the International Court of Justice in The Hague (not the sham ICTY, but the actual World Court) acquitted Serbia of spurious charges of genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The verdict came out of the blue for most people, used to seeing the Serbs railroaded before the courts that did Empire’s bidding. The World Court itself had previously ruled Serbia had no standing to sue NATO over the 1999 bombing – but could be sued by "Bosnia" (in actuality, only one faction in the civil war) for events that allegedly took place in 1993. The March verdict was still dodgy, in that it accepted certain assertions made by the ICTY as established truth, but it was nonetheless a body blow for professional victims and hate-mongers in the Balkans.

Dead Ends

Increasingly unable to impose its whims as law any longer, the Empire has tried to browbeat the Serbs into accepting their designated lot. For a period of time following the October 2000 coup, Serbian leaders would do anything Washington and Brussels commanded; sometime in the summer of 2006, that definitely changed. The World Court verdict took some wind out of Empire’s sails, but did not silence the atrocity propaganda in the mainstream media. Despite evidence coming to light that revealed KLA involvement in the Albanian exodus and the doctored estimates of deaths in 1999, the agitprop mills continued to tell of "10,000 Albanian civilian deaths" and "Serbian oppression."

At one point in the game, the "non-governmental organizations" and "human rights" groups in Serbia – lavishly funded by the Empire – tried to help out by manufacturing a "Nazi" menace. Despite considerable media furor, nothing came out of it. The "Serbian Nazis" meme simply did not take.

The Sinking Ship

Parallel with the threats, Serbia was also getting promises. The idea of trading Kosovo for faster EU accession had been discretely suggested for months; in December, British PM Gordon Brown and France’s President Sarkozy actually made it openly – only to see Serbia’s officials dismiss it as an "indecent proposal."

Though a majority of Serbians still favors eventual EU integration (sans the "Atlantic" part – support for NATO, never big to begin with, is now marginal), it has not escaped their attention that Europe’s shiny ship looks to be foundering. The Belgian crisis, at the very heart of the EU Leviathan, plays out like a familiar re-run to the former Yugoslavs.

Wars Without End

Twelve years after the Dayton Agreement ended the military phase of its civil war (it has very much continued politically) Bosnia still cannot find peace. Its foreign viceroys have near-absolute power, though they preach democracy and human rights. The former Yugoslav republic remains torn between its feuding communities, and trapped by the incongruities of post-modernity. Even here, the Empire’s grip is loosening; this year was the first time that the viceroy’s absolute power has been successfully challenged.

More people are also awakening to the fact that militant Islam has played a role in Balkan conflicts. Unfortunately, the mainstream media have done their best to cover up the Balkans connection to an alleged plot against the U.S. military in New Jersey this spring, or the Valentine’s Day massacre in Salt Lake City. The "War on Terror" seems all but forgotten, a slogan of convenience to line up popular support behind some other wars, for other causes.

Moments of Transition

Kosovo – and the Balkans conflicts in general – have become a crucial issue for the Empire by its own choice. No one forced Bill Clinton to intervene, or George W. Bush to endorse his predecessor’s Balkans agenda. America went into the Balkans quagmire thinking it would be a good way to advance its global hegemony project. Instead, it is reliving the fate of every empire that had the misfortune of dabbling in the region.

Deluded by their worship of power, the imperialists have fatally misunderstood what – and who – they were dealing with. The reversal of their fortune in the Balkans over the course of 2007 certainly had a lot to do with the demonized and vilified Serbs refusing to be bullied any more. It was not some great Serbian leader that rallied them, though; from Bosnia to Kosovo and Belgrade, Serb demonstrators throughout this year brandished photos of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. More than anything else, that was a sign Joe Biden and his fellow imperialists were wrong; it is definitely 1999 no more.

What comes next is anybody’s guess.

Read more by Nebojsa Malic

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.