Winter of Discontent

The Balkans Get Worse

by , January 23, 2010

Over the past several weeks, as Europe first shivered under record snowfall, then coped with the floods caused by the sudden thaw, politics in the Balkans seemed to take its cue from the weather. Relations between the shards of what was once Yugoslavia took a series of turns for the worse.

Croatia’s outgoing president, the always outspoken Stjepan Mesic, took his game to the next level earlier this week, threatening a military intervention against the Serbs in Bosnia. Both Belgrade and the Bosnian Serbs blasted his remarks as "warmongering." Mesic’s newly elected successor, Ivo Josipovic, invited the "President of Kosovo" Fatmir Sejdiu to his inauguration, and then expressed puzzlement when Serbian president Boris Tadic decided to pass on attending.

Tadic would normally bend over backwards for the sake of "neighborly relations," except that he needs all the political capital he can muster to ram through a parliamentary resolution declaring that Serbia condemns the "genocide" in Srebrenica. He made a surprise announcement about the resolution at an annual meeting of Serbian ambassadors in Belgrade, further stirring up the Serbian political scene already riled up by an acrimonious debate over joining NATO.

Meanwhile, NATO is getting ready to assist the Albanian government of the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo (styling itself an independent state since February 2008, with Imperial support) to crack down on Serb communities in the north.

Tumult in Zagreb

Croatian politics, rather sedate in comparison with other Yugoslav successor states, has been in a state of flux over the past month or two. The presidential election ended up being a contest between the Social-democrat Josipovic and his former party colleague, Zagreb mayor Milan Bandic. Josipovic, a jurist, composer and university professor, was a sharp contrast to the brash, boisterous Bandic, whose numerous gaffes were amply documented on YouTube and in the press. The runoff election on January 10 was a landslide for Josipovic, with over 60% of the total vote.

Ivo Sanader, former PM and ex-leader of the HDZ party, unexpectedly came out of his self-imposed retirement a week before the runoff to endorse Bandic — and was promptly expelled from the party.

Serbo-Croat relations have been frostier than usual for several months, especially following Zagreb’s enthusiastic support for the Albanian regime in Kosovo during the debate at the ICJ. Mesic’s comments earlier this week, however, positively iced them over.

Accusing the Bosnian Serb PM Milorad Dodik of pursuing a "dream of Greater Serbia" and seeking to partition Bosnia, Mesic told reporters in an informal conversation that he would’ve sent troops to "break the [Serb Republic] in half" in case of a Serb referendum on secession. Dodik and the government in Banja Luka have indeed been talking about a referendum, but as a way to strengthen the Dayton peace agreement, not break it.

Mesic’s comments were particularly inflammatory considering that the Bosnian Serbs were, in fact, blockaded in precisely the same fashion by Croat forces in the summer of 1992, causing much suffering. This lifeline between the Serb Republic’s two halves has been a sore point ever since the international arbitrators established a neutral Brcko District in 2000. Despite protests from Bosnia and Serbia, Mesic remained unapologetic.

Tadic’s Gambit

Serbian president Boris Tadic, normally all too willing to put up with abuse from Zagreb, had little choice but allow official criticism of Mesic’s statement, and snub Josipovic’s inauguration. Though organized political opposition to his rule is feeble to nonexistent, his approval ratings are low. His surprise proposal to adopt a parliamentary resolution condemning the "genocide" in Srebrenica looks likely to further deplete Tadic’s political capital. It is unclear why Tadic, usually obsessed with his public image, would embark on an adventure that would score him no political points. His explanation that "policies of recognizing the suffering of others and respecting the victims of others can gain credibility on the international scene" (B92) rings hollow. For almost a decade, Serbia has wallowed in self-abasement and issued apologies for the suffering actually or allegedly caused by Serbs. It did nothing to lessen the demonization of Serbs, both in the West and in the immediate neighborhood, nor did anyone else issue similar apologies for the suffering of Serbs. In fact, everyone has taken Serb groveling as vindication of their own policies, from Croatia’s Mesic and the Muslims of Bosnia, to Washington, Brussels, and the KLA in Kosovo.

Serbian media have quoted several European officials — notably Jelko Kacin and Doris Pack — who not only strongly endorsed the Srebrenica resolution, but also dismissed the demands of several Serbian parties to include the condemnation of crimes against the Serbs, whether in the same resolution or separately. Could it be that the resolution is being pushed not because of Tadic’s sense of morality, but to please the EU and NATO?

By the time Tadic announced his Srebrenica initiative, Serbia was already embroiled in a debate on NATO. Alliance membership isn’t officially on the table, and a binding parliamentary resolution from 2007 demands Serbia’s neutrality, but Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac (a senior official of Tadic’s party) has recently argued that joining NATO would be part of a "natural process" for Serbia and bring political and economic benefits. In response, a group of 200 public personalities put forth a petition that NATO membership had to be approved by a referendum. This prompted a hysterical campaign by NATO proponents in the mainstream media — largely beholden to the government — denouncing the referendum supporters as "retrograde" forces seeking to overthrow democracy (!).

The only reason Tadic is capable of surviving this turmoil is the impression his spin doctors have carefully nurtured in public that his regime is the only game in town, and that a policy of submission to the EU "has no alternative."

Crackdown

When Tadic was re-elected president, in January 2008 — an event that most likely triggered the Albanians’ declaration of dependence in Kosovo — he campaigned on a platform "Both Kosovo and Europe." This was meant to disarm his critics, who argued that giving up the occupied province would be the price of EU entry. Though events have since proved those critics right, Tadic has continued the charade for domestic political consumption. 

Most EU members have recognized the occupied province as an independent state. The UN mission that helped create a provisional Albanian government has since been largely replaced by a EU "law and order" mission, whose understanding of law and order has mostly involved setting convicted killers free.

Now, however, the EU mission, NATO and the Albanian regime have set their sights on eliminating the Serb enclave in the north of the province that continues to reject their authority. Hashim Thaci, leader of the terrorist KLA and now "Prime Minister of Kosovo," recently announced a strategy to "strengthen the sovereignty" of his government in the north, with the full support of the EU mission and NATO "peacekeepers."

In fact, NATO commander in charge of the region, Adm. Fitzgerald (USN), called the Serb authorities in the north a "cause for concern," since they were not approved by the UNSCR 1244! Neither was the "Republic of Kosovo," but that doesn’t seem to have stopped NATO or the EU, now has it? In fact, NATO and the UN mission have systematically violated 1244 since it came into effect. But now they care what it says? It appears, however, that this irony was completely lost on Adm. Fitzgerald.

Triumph of Hypocrisy

Once described as a compliment vice pays to virtue, hypocrisy has itself become a virtue in the world "order" created by the post-Cold War imperial America, starting with the Balkans but reaching all over the globe since. Judging by the tone set by the first three weeks of 2010, "truth" and "reality" are likely to remain largely imaginary concepts in the region, at least for the local political leaderships and their foreign overlords. How long that state of affairs can actually last without self-destructing is anybody’s guess.

Read more by Nebojsa Malic