Snapshots Of A Nightmare

Perhaps this description of Mordor from the film version of Tolkien’s classic is too harsh on the Balkans. After all, the peninsula is not a fountainhead of evil, merely a victim of its ravages and possession. A more apt comparison in this vein would be Moria: a crossroads once full of wealth and splendor, now dark, desolate and taken over by all manners of foul creatures. Either way, in this southern corner of Europe evil truly does not sleep, though it occasionally seems otherwise.

Though many have fled the Balkans in the past decade, those who remain – out of pride, stubbornness, or folly – face a "nasty, brutish and short" life in what Hobbes described as a "state of nature." Only in this case, the Leviathan is its cause, not its solution.

Despite all their disputes, hatreds, conflicts and misunderstandings, people of the Balkans share the same nightmare. And unlike the evil that has possessed them, there is no sign of anyone waking up.

The Bosnian Bungle

Imperial occupation and incessant meddling in the region are so self-evidently destructive they need no further expounding. Next to it, however, the worst enemies of the Balkans people are their own politicians.

Take for example the parliament of the Muslim-Croat Federation in Bosnia. By their very nature, governments take money from enterprising citizens and spend it on themselves and those they favor, often under the marquee of "common good" or "public services." Most governments realize that their subjects need to have money before it can be taken away from them. And though Bosnia has successfully defied all logic for years, this law of physics and economics simply cannot be circumvented.

BBC reported this week that the Federation parliament has launched an initiative to increase veterans’ benefits for those who fought for the Muslim regime in the 1992-95 war. Given that general elections are coming up in October, and that Muslim nationalists in both the government and the opposition are hoping to seize power, this move is but a naked attempt to buy votes of a large constituency. Only trouble is, the money isn’t there.

The Federation already spends a quarter of its annual budget, some $140 million, to pay veterans’ benefits. Most of that money seems to be coming from the IMF and the World Bank, in form of "favorable" loans. Now these institutions are threatening to stop further loans – as well they should. Financing social policy from national debt is a recipe for certain disaster, but no wonder the Bosnian politicians are spending frivolously. They see the loans as "free money" that someone else will have to repay down the road. This is a common problem in all democracies, but more so in those plagued by criminal stupidity.

On top of it all, the politicos also want to raise their salaries. Except for a handful of representatives who actually work for a living and have to lose pay when they attend lengthy and pointless debates in the Parliament, most of the members are professionals, living large on the backs of an impoverished, desperate populace (sounds familiar?). The more they talk, the more they waste everyone’s time, and the more frivolous and repressive legislation they pass, the more money they can take – money that comes either from plundering the Bosnians who work, or from mortgaging the future of their children.

Most of them deserve to be hung on lampposts long before the October election, but the likelihood of that is slim. Come October, a new gang of thieves will inherit Ali Baba’s den, and the looting will begin anew. Even Viceroy Ashdown, who sits so high and mighty in his white tower in downtown Sarajevo, does not dare challenge this madness. He knows better than to disturb the very nature of the game called power.

Same Old Story

While the Croatian economy stumbles and the country’s population shrinks, the government is yet again falling upon itself. Three weeks ago, Prime Minister Ivica Racan disbanded his cabinet and resigned over disputes within the ruling coalition. Within a week, President Mesic appointed a new Prime Minister: Ivica Racan.

Now a dysfunctional government should be a good thing, since then it can hardly do much harm to the people it normally plunders. But like everywhere else in the Balkans, the government controls just about every aspect of life and society. As usual, there is a sea of rules, laws and regulations designed to "help" the citizens and provide "law and order." In reality, they make it impossible to do business at all, let alone make a profit. Only organized criminals prosper, relying either on brute force or government connections (which sort of comes out the same). The rest are paralyzed by fear of government’s power.

Croatia thus languishes in the shadowland of stagnant or decaying economy, widespread crime, and poverty, waiting for a new government to "save" it from itself and "take it to Europe." This is causal confusion on two levels: first, in the naïve and dangerous belief that salvation comes through a government program; and second, in mistakenly believing that prosperity follows, rather than precedes, entry into the EU or NATO. How any country can believe that supporting a European bureaucracy and a tributary military force armed with expensive US weaponry would make it richer instead of poorer is anybody’s guess.

Ironically, Croatia fared the best of all combatants in the 1991-95 Succession Wars. It suffered very little war damage compared to Bosnia, and it was not under international embargoes like Serbia. Quite the contrary, it profited handsomely from Empire’s financial and military aid aimed to bolster an anti-Serb alliance. Despite all those advantages, it finds itself in the same economic basket as the rest of the peninsula. Given its statist frame of mind, that is hardly surprising.

Say "Stupid!"

But the worst-of-the-lot award should certainly go to the rulers of Serbia and Montenegro, who in less than two years managed to destroy what little survived after a decade of sanctions and war, and actually boast of this as an accomplishment! They’ve even managed to destroy their joint country, which now languishes in undead existence until a new Constitution can be put together.

As elsewhere, government is the be-all and end-all of existence in both Serbia and Montenegro. Its form is not as important as its function. Parliaments, presidents and prime ministers can come and go, but the plunder must continue unabated. For example, the state-owned Serbian Power Co. is mercilessly fleecing the people through fees and tariffs even its superior, the Energy Minister, could not understand. Every protest is met with a declaration that power is "too cheap," and needs to be charged at "European levels," for the power system to be profitable. Yet Americans, with far more appliances that hog electricity – such as laundry dryers and air-conditioners – pay far less for it than the tax slaves in Serbia.

But never fear, stalwart Serbs, the people who brought you the wonders of "freedom and democracy" (the way they see it) have far more important things on their mind – such as the upcoming elections. Just two days ago, Prime Minister Djindjic put forth his candidate for Serbian presidency, economist Miroljub Labus. He is expected to face the current president of undead Yugoslavia, Vojislav Kostunica, who true to his style has not yet decided if he’ll run. The choice between a dawdling lawyer and a quack economist is almost obscene under current circumstances. Better to vote for a guy in a monkey suit or someone who’s dead.

Meanwhile, Djindjic is securing Imperial support by shipping every member of the former government to the Hague Inquisition, which hopes for one final push to convict Slobodan Milosevic of war crimes. Even that is not going too well, as one of the witnesses refuses to testify without protection, another offers nothing but hearsay, and the third has refused to say anything for over a year.

If true, a recent story in a Serbian paper – quoted by the London Times – claiming that Milosevic’s daughter has joined the Montenegrin separatist movement must be the final proof of Serbia’s complete slide into insanity.

Brilliant Deduction

However naïve, stupid, corrupt, hateful or avaricious the locals might be, their foreign "protectors" are much worse – if nothing, because they claim they know better and are better. That’s what gave them the "right" to intervene, murder and occupy to begin with, right?

After a decade of intervention, occupation and "humanitarian aid" to the region, the UN and OSCE have now come up with a brilliant deduction: the presence of international troops and civilians creates a demand for prostitution and slave trafficking. Really? Before the Empire came, prostitution in the former Yugoslavia was much less of a problem than elsewhere in the former Socialist countries. For that matter, so were corruption, smuggling, drug- and gun-running, and the slave trade, which the Imperials hide under the euphemism "human trafficking." Come the wars, interventions and occupation, and – bam! – all these forms of "enterprise" spring up and thrive. Since the impoverished locals can hardly afford food, they obviously won’t be paying for sex they can get for free. But who does, then? Enter the UN’s amazing powers of deduction…

One would have to be pretty thick to ignore the obvious – too thick. And though stupidity is sometimes mistaken for evil, it’s pretty clear that in this case, they march together.

Kosovo Iniquities

Kosovo is already such a den of depravity that it cannot possibly get worse. Yet it does. Last week, Albanian villagers attacked and burned the monastery of St. Cosma and Damian in Zociste, just after the church service held under KFOR armed guard. Despite repeated requests and pleas by the Serbian clergy in Kosovo – whose cooperation the Empire has repeatedly used to legitimize the occupation – German and Turkish troops prevented the monks from visiting the ruined monastery. It does not take a genius to see that iniquities of this sort will continue as long as Kosovo is occupied, and as long as the remaining Serbs continue to support the occupation in naïve belief it might help their predicament.

Values, Or Lack Thereof

Just as they created a market for prostitution and slavery, Imperial interventions and occupation have made the Balkans fertile for all sorts of malice: warfare, to begin with, followed by mass murder, plunder, economic and cultural destruction. Nothing is safe from the greedy, hateful claws of Empire’s servants, even if it survived the Empire itself.

After 25 years of fascism, 45 years of socialism, and 10 years of warfare and Imperial occupation, there are hardly any values left in Balkans societies except avarice and hatred. The system in existence ensures that only those in whom these "values" run the strongest can rise to the top. If any cultural, economic and political heritage survived from that age before the great disasters of the 20th century, the talk of "human rights" and "democracy" is now wiping it out. There is already no one left alive who remembers anything resembling a life in freedom.

Death to Despair!

As long as Imperial occupation endures, this dreadful state of affairs will endure as well. Yes, much of the evil that plagues the Balkans is local in origin; Empire’s retreat will not end hatred and avarice by itself. But while it lasts, the occupation will continue to feed on them and nurture them at the same time, a malignant grip on the hearts and souls of all.

Fortunately, surrendering to despair is not an option. Though it seems the human mind and body can withstand more torture than one believes, even they must snap eventually and say "No more!" Depending on how stupid, lethargic, apathetic, misguided or deceived people are, they will continue to live the nightmare until they cannot stand it any longer, until the continuation of servitude becomes untenable. Then they will wake up.

There is no other choice.

Is there?

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 debuted in November 2000.