Balkans ‘Success’ Stories

True Stories of ‘Failed States’

So often is it necessary to describe and decry all the iniquities of Imperial occupation in the Balkans, it is easy to lose track of other reasons for which the peninsula is important. Advocates of Empire often justify their pronouncements by mentioning what they call “failed states.” Successors of the former Yugoslav federation certainly qualify for that description, as do Albania, Bulgaria and Romania, to varying extent. Yet calling them “failures” is misleading – perhaps deliberately. For any one of them is a clear example of what the very concept of The State stands for, in its pure, unadulterated form.

Exemplary Democracies

Whereas modern parliamentary democracy developed in the West through trial, error and often violence, it has been virtually unknown in the Balkans. The peninsula was not completely free from Ottoman rule until 1912, and from Austria-Hungary till 1918. In the crisis of parliamentary democracy that followed the Great War, none of the Balkans countries fared any better than their Western European allies. They were parliamentary monarchies all, with just enough parliamentary politics to render the relative advantages of monarchy meaningless. Then came fascism, either in form of alliances with Hitler and Mussolini or occupation. Riding on Soviet tanks, socialism followed soon thereafter.

For 45 years, the socialist State remade societies and governments in Yugoslavia, Albania, Romania, and Bulgaria. When it finally collapsed in 1990, few of the old traditions – political or social – survived, except as myths. Having lost everything, they adopted the trappings of democracy without any of the traditions, precedents and cultural values that made it functional in the West. Stripped to its primeval basics and run by people with few (if any) scruples, democracy has shown its real face in the Balkans like nowhere else in the world – not even the successor states of the former Soviet Union.

As such, the peninsula is a political scientist’s dream. But for its residents, it is a never-ending nightmare.

Hague Update

A stunning turnabout took place last week at the Hague Inquisition. Summoned as a prosecution witness, Radomir Markovic, former head of Serbian State Security (SDB), unequivocally refuted all the Inquisition’s allegations against Slobodan Milosevic. He testified that his witness statement was doctored by the Serbian authorities to indicate things he neither said nor did. Finally, he claimed he was tortured while in Serbian police custody, and offered money and a new identity if he would falsely testify against Milosevic. Since Markovic has never stated he would testify against Milosevic, the prosecution’s decision to call him as a witness is inexplicable – unless they believed Markovic would indeed incriminate Milosevic to save himself. They were wrong yet again.

As the flustered and angry Inquisitors broke off the cross-examination, the “trial of the century” went into summer recess on a decidedly sour note for the prosecution.

Democracy à la DOS

Nowhere is this more obvious than in Serbia, where vestiges of socialism held on the longest and pure democracy was only introduced less than two years ago. A coalition of 18 political parties – none with a clear political profile, few with any agenda except power, and all with “democratic” or “democracy” in their name – seized power in a relatively bloodless coup on October 5, having claimed electoral victory over Slobodan Milosevic and his coalition partners. Two months later, Zoran Djindjic became Prime Minister of Serbia after the DOS coalition won another election on the coattails of Vojislav Kostunica – indeed, using his name on the ballots.

Ever since, Djindjic has been expanding his authority and accumulating power, while Vojislav Kostunica slowly disappeared like the dysfunctional federation he presided over. Step by step, Djindjic undermined the Constitution, the law, and the institutions of government he did not control. The seizure and extradition of Slobodan Milosevic last year sidelined the Yugoslav Supreme Court. With the help of the Hague Inquisition and its threat of war crimes indictments, he won over the Yugoslav Army’s Chief of Staff – whom Kostunica then sacked. Meanwhile, Kostunica’s party (DSS) was gradually pushed out of the ruling coalition. Last month, Djindjic loyalists took half its seats in the Parliament alleging the DSS was “boycotting sessions.” When the DSS appealed, the Supreme Court ruled in its favor. As a response, Djindjic’s henchmen officially threw DSS out of the DOS coalition and claimed all its seats in the Parliament.

A coalition throwing out the party that installed it in power? This is absolute abuse of even the basic forms of democracy, let alone any meanings the system may have acquired over the centuries. But it did happen in Zoran Djindjic’s Serbia, where everything serves a personal power agenda – with full Imperial blessing, of course.

Sed non panem, circenses

One must suspect that rulers knew the secret to ruling the masses long before the time of Rome. Yet it was Roman leaders that coined the phrase “panem et circenses” (bread and circuses) to describe what the masses need to be content. What can one do, however, if the bread is in short supply? Give the masses entertainment, and pray the trick works.

With elections approaching, it appears the new/old Croatian government is desperately seeking to distance itself from a rather grim economic situation by blowing petty border disputes out of proportion in order to distract the masses.

First there was the conflict with Bosnia over a border crossing in the northern town of Kostajnica. Croatia claims to own a strip of land between the rivers Una and Uncica (Unchitsa), and insists the border crossing be set up on Uncica. The Bosnian Serb Republic, where Kostajnica is located, points to the Dayton Peace Agreement – signed by Croatia’s president Tudjman and ratified by the Croatian parliament – that puts the border on Una, leaving the Old Town of Kostajnica in Bosnia. To complicate things further, Muslim and Croat authorities in Sarajevo seem willing to accept Croatia’s claim if only to annoy their Serb countrymen, in a typical Bosnian cutting-off-the-nose-to-spite-the-face fashion.

The Kostajnica dispute was eclipsed by another incident this weekend, though, when a group of Croat officials attempted to land on an Danube river island controlled by Yugoslavia – but claimed by Zagreb – and was shot upon and boarded by a Yugoslav border patrol. Official Zagreb immediately flew into rage, demanding a written apology, sending a protest note to the Yugoslav ambassador, and rejecting Belgrade’s conciliatory statements. Adding to the hysteria, Croatian media even resurrected the old monikers for the Yugoslav Army from the 1991 war.

Claiming Kostajnica or Sarengrad Isle would matter none to the vast majority of Croatians, who remain paralyzed by a massive bureaucracy and controlled by a near-omnipotent government. It would, however, enhance the image of its current leaders in the eyes of the gullible masses who might mistake expansionist bluster for a sign of strong character, as masses everywhere are prone to doing.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Being the most absurd state in the Balkans, maybe even in the world, Bosnia has an enormous advantage over its neighbors when it comes to furthering absurdity and taking democracy to whole new levels of madness. This is, after all, a country with the highest government-to-people ratio (with no less than 15 parliaments!), the most frequent elections (every two years), and least economic achievement. This last is routinely blamed on the ravages of war, corruption, and even lack of state institutions (!), but the blunt truth is, Bosnia is suffocating under too much government. Six years and millions of aid dollars after the war, it is still a wasteland its inhabitants are longing to abandon.

Predictably, answers are sought in politics. One theory is that there aren’t enough young people involved in the government – though no one seems to seriously examine why. Yet another is that there aren’t enough women in the government. As a result, numerous women’s groups and foreign do-gooders are backing a new law against “discrimination, violence and sexual harassment” against women.

Instead of insisting on equality of all individuals and protection from the greatest violator of human rights – the government – Bosnia’s misguided reformers are adopting one of the worst ideas Europe and the United States ever came up with.

Any law designed to protect just one group of people is ipso facto a violation of everyone else’s rights and liberties. If it is to be just, a law must apply to all. Furthermore, “sexual harassment” defies legal principles, since it can only be defined in the eye of the beholder, and demands of the accused to prove innocence – something that is both legally and logically impossible. Even worse, the law seeks to help women by introducing quotas in government employment. This, of course, is ultimately degrading to women. Those who obtain employment through quotas will always be thought as less competent and unable to succeed on their own merits.

The worst thing of all is that the law is intended to be enforced “both in public and in private” – effectively meaning the government policing its people’s homes and bedrooms. Whatever little liberty there was in Bosnia, this law would completely obliterate – in the name of “human rights” and “progress,” of course.

No wonder the place is an irreparable mess.

All Is Politics

The Balkans states – and Yugoslavia’s successors in particular – are not in agony because they “failed” as states. Quite the contrary, they are entirely too successful at what states do: theft and violence. All the “experts” scratch their heads and try to figure out why the economy of the region is so deep in a rut, and they offer unconvincing answers: lack of human rights, lack of democracy, lack of law, too much corruption… All these perceived problems demand political solutions, since politics is all the “experts” can think of. The real problem, therefore, eludes the scope of their reasoning.

Why is there no justice, no liberty, no pursuit of wealth, or happiness, in the Balkans? Because there is only politics.

And that is the problem.

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.