Making the Balkans Connection

In two commentaries this past week, Empire’s Balkans adventures were brought up in connection with the planned invasion and occupation of Iraq. They didn’t say, though they could have, that the new UN resolution paving the way for weapons inspectors was akin to the establishment of Kosovo Verification Mission, tasked in 1998 with finding a pretext for attacking Serbia. Nor did they say, as they could have, that an attack on Iraq would be just as patently illegal and illegitimate as the 1999 bombing of Serbia, or the occupation of Bosnia and Kosovo, or the way Macedonia was forced to cave in to terrorist demands.

Instead, both articles made a case that the real problem with the Balkans – and Bosnia in particular – was not Imperial intervention gone too far, but intervention not gone far enough. One was a commentary by Russ Baker on, a site affiliated with The American Prospect. The other was a staff editorial in USA Today, America’s largest-circulation daily.

A Statist Paradigm

One could understand a liberal imperialist, but what to make of the nation’s most widely read daily when it seems to criticize the Emperor’s anytime-soon war on Iraq for its lack of proper imperial enthusiasm in Bosnia? Such vacuous arguments are fairly typical in what could be termed the "liberal" circles in the US and Europe, but in all honesty plenty of so-called "conservatives" think the same way. No matter the nature of the problem, whether at home or abroad, the solution is always government intervention. And if that intervention isn’t working, the reason is obvious: the government isn’t trying hard enough.

There is, of course, much acrimony between the "left" and "right" regarding the methods of intervention, but never regarding the principle itself. It is an argument about the details of using power, not about power itself. That is something sacrosanct, untouchable. Precious.

To the people who actually have to live in the nightmare laboratory of Empire’s making, things might look slightly different, of course.

Bosnia’s British Bulldozer

Referring to Bosnia, USA Today speaks of "U.S. and allied efforts to bring peace and democracy to the devastated nation." Bosnia already has democracy, and it’s getting worse by the day. As for peace, it was forced by Richard Holbrooke’s bombs, and is kept by several thousand heavily armed NATO troops and a British viceroy.

The way viceroy Ashdown tries to build peace and democracy, one almost wishes for the return of open warfare. He is pushing for a strong central government in a place that has too much government at every level already. He is also seeking to stimulate economy and investments through establishing pseudo-governmental committees and introducing new taxes. The unabashedly pro-Empire IWPR calls him the "British Bulldozer," no doubt as a compliment.

One does not have to be an economist to see that Ashdown is wrong, and that his policies would only make things worse. The exhausted and brainwashed residents of Bosnia can’t even make that simple observation. Even if they could, what recourse would they have? Having invited the Empire over, they have surrendered to its absolute power in exchange for promises of a better future. Instead, they’ve lost even the present. And USA Today thinks this is not enough?

Despair by Proxy

Even places that aren’t under direct Imperial occupation have their share of misery. Serbia is still in a political, economic, social and even spiritual limbo, as Empire’s mercenaries run amok in the government. Wrecking the already devastated economy and society even further wasn’t so hard for Zoran the Foul and his cohorts; five decades of socialism had done most of the prep work, and NATO bombs tore down even the pretenses that kept things together.

Having twice botched the New Order’s essential religious ritual of democratic worship, Serbia will go to the polls again in two weeks, this time with a slightly better chance of electing a president. It is highly unlikely, however, that the election would bring any meaningful change. Zoran Djindjic’s main rivals have neutralized their message by agreeing to support his regime in a compromise settlement of the parliamentary crisis last week. Even if they didn’t, their political position is still too much inside the Statist spectrum. Vojislav Kostunica may be for a limited government, but seems quite content to let the government itself set those limits.

Both Djindjic, Kostunica, and many others talk incessantly about "reforms". But the one essential reform, from which prosperity might have even the most basic chance of not failing, would involve defining property rights. That, however, would diminish the role of government as the arbiter of disputes in a murky sea of property claims, and reduce its now-absolute power to something a bit more manageable. Which is why it won’t happen any time soon.

Certainly, an Imperial interventionist could argue that Serbia is beset by problems precisely because it is not under direct Imperial control. Not a few pro-Imperial intellectuals in Serbia have advocated occupation and mass brainwashing, a "de-Nazification" (in their words) that would purge the society. Given that they see people as no more than things, objects to be molded and manipulated by power, they certainly qualify for some "de-Nazification" themselves.

A Desert Called Peace

For the Statist argument to make any sense, the success of Imperial intervention has to be in direct correlation with its degree. By that standard, the most successful and effective Imperial intervention since the end of World War Two would be Kosovo. Enough said.

Or is it? Can it ever be enough, really? Reports of savagery and evil rampant in this occupied province have long since become a Stalinist statistic, in the sense that nothing comes as a shock any more.

In spite – or because of? – the presence of over 30,000 NATO troops, more than 100 Orthodox Christian churches in the province have been destroyed over the past 3 ½ years. Two more were demolished this weekend, by "unknown persons." Kosovo’s viceroy Michael Steiner immediately "condemned" the destruction, as did the puppet Albanian Prime Minister, Bajram Rexhepi. Having thus congratulated themselves on their sensitivity and verbal commitment to peace and justice, they will stand by and do nothing to stop further acts of terrorism in the province. Their "stern condemnations" will certainly prevent further attacks, just as they’ve prevented the previous 110, or the ethnic cleansing of some 300,000 non-Albanians under NATO troops’ noses, or the looting and torching of their homes…

Destroying all semblance of order, or justice; elevating brutality to a way of life; closing one’s eyes to heinous crimes: these are the hallmark of Empire’s "peace" and "democracy" if Kosovo is indeed a success. A desert, called peace.

Foolish Illusions

For all their misguided faith in statist intervention, both the USA Today editors and Russ Baker at least tried to connect the Empire’s Balkans misadventures with what is about to happen in Iraq. Not many others can connect the dots, even that badly. It is very likely that the Empire will use the Balkans as a template for its future conquests, as it becomes increasingly obvious it seeks to dominate the entire world – and has admitted as much, openly.

Anyone who believes this would not necessarily be a bad thing should take a Serb name and move to Kosovo immediately. They will quickly be disabused of their foolish illusions – that is, if they survive.

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.