Yugoslavia’s Lessons Learned

Spanish philosopher George Santayana famously wrote that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." But what of those who can?

Over and over, in the past few weeks, Yugoslavia has been on the lips – and minds – of Russians and Ukrainians, as the crisis in Ukraine threatens to erupt into full-scale civil war. In his four-hour TV conversation with the Russian public in mid-April, for example, Vladimir Putin mentioned how the West dismembered Yugoslavia so it could do what it wanted with the pieces. The "Maidan" demonstrations and the coup of February 22 followed a script developed in 2000 to subjugate Serbia. Mainstream western propaganda has certainly followed the pattern of hysterical hatred previously reserved for the Serbs, to the point where snippets of actual reason stand out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Similarities do not stop there. The Empire demanded the elected government not act against the violent "Maidan" demonstrators, just as it demanded from the federal Yugoslav government not to defend the country from separatists. But as soon as their stooges were installed in power, the Empire instructed Kiev to "establish the authority of the state." Perhaps along the same lines as Croatian 1995 "police actions" in UN protected areas.

The problem both the Kiev junta and its Western backers have encountered, however, is that Russia is not playing to their script. Though all over the south and east of Ukraine the local population has refused to submit to the government in Kiev – much like Serbs in Croatia, for example – attempts to accuse Russia of "invasion" fizzled spectacularly. In any case, there has been no need for Russian intervention, as the Ukrainian Army has until recently refused to fire on their own civilians – who would stop the junta’s tanks with their bare hands, just like the Kosovo Serbs a few years ago.

So the junta resorted to atrocity.

The Odessa Massacre

Last Friday, May 2, , soccer hooligans and "Right Sector" thugs – a Nazi militia acting as enforcers of the current regime – attacked a camp of peaceful protesters in Odessa. They forced the protesters into the Trade Union House, and set it on fire. People trying to escape the conflagration were shot, or clubbed to death. At least 46 people were killed, possibly more.

The junta blamed "rebels" for the arson and murder; allegedly the "Right Sector" mob was "attacked" by masked men wearing red armbands – alleged to be "pro-Russian militants." However, video evidence clearly showed them working with the police.

It wouldn’t have been a first such false-flag provocation to set up a "Right Sector" attack; back in February, just as the government had capitulated to EU demands, the Maidan protesters (and police!) were fired upon by mysterious snipers. This provided a pretext for "Right Sector" and other militants to seize government offices and establish the current "provisional" regime.

The Odessa atrocity may have been calculated to intimidate those Ukrainians opposed to the junta, as well as provoke an angry Russian response. After all, the West has repeatedly resorted to atrocity porn as justification for interventions – in Yugoslavia (Bosnia, Kosovo), Libya and (albeit unsuccessfully) Syria.

Sure enough, there was a lot of anger in Russia. Instead of lashing out, though, Moscow stayed silent.

Breaking the Frame

There is a phrase that offers crucial insight into the way the Atlantic Empire works: "perception management." That is how the Imperial officials "create reality" – not so much by actually creating facts, but by spinning perceptions of the public so it would accept the desired frame of reference. The mainstream media in the Empire always maintain rigid frame control, using a carefully designed vocabulary of phrases and descriptors, making it difficult (if not impossible) to even think outside of the Official Truth.

Thus "everyone knows" the Serbs were murderous, genocidal aggressors who attacked everyone around them for absolutely no reason except atavistic hateful bigotry – because the media have constantly told them so, and allowed no dissent. Likewise, the current situation in Ukraine is entirely the fault of Evil Russians, who want to reestablish the Soviet Empire and undo all the goodness that NATO has achieved in the past two decades since the "end of history."

Time and again, however, Russia has exploded Empire’s attempts at perception management. Russian media have aired recordings of U.S. diplomats managing their stooges in Kiev, and EU officials discussing the snipers as part of the junta. Meanwhile, the all-listening NSA has not produced a single shred of evidence of alleged Russian involvement in Ukraine. Not one.

No wonder the Imperial government hates Russia’s English-language broadcaster RT.

A Surprise Twist

Bear in mind that the Empire doesn’t give a damn about Ukraine, or its people – just as it never really cared about the ethnic Albanians, even as it basked in their atavistic adulation. They are tools, things to be used and, when they stop being useful, discarded. "Junkyard dogs," as one US diplomat described Croatians many years ago. The purpose of setting fire to Ukraine is much the same as fanning the flames of Bosnia: to give NATO a purpose, keep Europe under Washington’s heel, and further encircle and weaken Russia.

So when Vladimir Putin responded to the Odessa massacre not by sending men and tanks across the border – as both the Empire and many Russians hoped he would – but by proposing a truce, it was a move as brilliant as it was baffling.

After meeting with the head of the OSCE on May 7, Putin called on Kiev to "cease immediately all military and punitive operations in southeast Ukraine." He also called for release of all political prisoners, and "direct… genuine, full-fledged dialogue between the Kiev authorities and representatives of southeast Ukraine" that would give the people a chance to see "that their lawful rights in Ukraine really will be guaranteed." To that end, Putin also appealed to the people of the southeast to "to hold off the referendum scheduled for May 11, in order to give this dialogue the conditions it needs to have a chance."

Judo Statesmanship

No doubt the Western media will try to spin this as Moscow "caving in". But is that so, or is this yet another bit of political judo Putin seems so good at?

First, he rejected the Western-imposed frame, declaring the notion that Russia was a party in the conflict, and held the keys to solving it, to be "a trick thought up by our Western partners [that] does not have any grounds in reality":

No sooner do our colleagues in Europe or the US drive the situation into a dead end, they always say that Moscow holds the keys to a solution and put all the responsibility on us. 

Putin deftly avoided being forced into the "invasion" narrative, placed the responsibility for events in Ukraine squarely onto the junta and its sponsors – where it belongs – and asked them to do what is essentially impossible.

There is simply no way the current regime in Kiev could even notionally agree to guarantee the rights of everyone in the country – not after it sent tanks against Slavyansk, not after the massacre in Odessa, not after two decades of forced "Ukrainization" and SS marches. Yet Putin just made them an offer they can’t refuse. And what happens when they, inevitably, fail?

All these years, Moscow has been studying Yugoslavia so it could avoid the same fate, while Washington, London, Berlin and Brussels have "learned nothing and forgotten nothing." They have absolutely no clue what they are up against.

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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.