Seeking Scapegoats

Despite the insistence of high Imperial officials, it is obvious that after two weeks of fighting, the un-American war is going rather badly. Instead of gleefully surrendering, Iraqis are (gasp!) defending not so much their leader as their country. The same happened four years ago, during the attack on Serbia, when all but a few hardcore quislings shoved aside their animosity for president Milosevic and condemned the NATO aggression. Of course, the Empire learned all the wrong lessons from its Kosovo campaign, but that was to be expected. Those who are convinced of their power to force reality to fit their preconceptions naturally assume this liberates them from the laws of logic.

With the growth of that power, perceived or real, the pretense of reason slowly vanished. In 1999, NATO pretended to be negotiating an armistice with Serbia, but behaved as if Belgrade had capitulated. Now Reichsmarschall Rumsfeld openly demands unconditional surrender of Iraq. If power means never having to say you’re sorry, being the Empire means never having to explain.

When reality comes back to shatter this conviction, the Empire’s fiction-weavers then try all the harder to will it out of existence. Its pompous arrogance mired in the sands of Iraq, it is lashing out at the supine, conquered Balkans – both as an example to others, and as an outlet for frustrated aggression.

Blame Bosnians

Since the blame for failure of US war plans cannot possibly rest on the people who actually drew them up, or so the reasoning goes, someone else must take the fall. If finding a suitable scapegoat also helps further a policy agenda, so much the better. This week’s shakeup in the Bosnian Serb republic, then, should not have come as a surprise.

Bosnian Serbs are the ideal scapegoat. They’ve been demonized for so many years as "genocidal aggressors" and bloodthirsty murderers of innocent Muslims, few would dare defend them. In October last year, there was a lot of noise about the alleged arms trade between a Bosnian Serb aircraft repair combine and Iraq. The International Crisis Group even attempted to accuse the Serbs of "arming Saddam," but the report was dismissed as exaggeration. Now that Iraq dared fight back, ICG’s drivel and these old accusations have been given new prominence.

Seventeen Serb officials have already been charged with criminal acts, but that wasn’t enough. Despite the Foreign Minister’s protests, the Viceroy’s office hinted the Serb president of Bosnia, Mirko Sarovic, was about to be dismissed for his alleged involvement in the ‘affair’. Rather than face Imperial dismissal, Sarovic resigned Wednesday morning.

Did the Bosnian Serbs, and Serbia, really "arm Saddam"? The Empire doesn’t know, hasn’t released any solid proof, and doesn’t really care, either. The allegation is useful for clobbering the Bosnian Serb government and blackmailing Belgrade, so who cares if it’s true or not? Not when everyone knows that accusations are the proof of guilt – just look at the Hague Inquisition!

Road to Extortion

While the Bosnian Serb Republic writhes under a barrage of Imperial hostility, Serbia is facing a new set of extortionist demands from Washington. Colin Powell’s quickie visit, heralded as support to Djindjic’s successors, was easily recognized as new pressure to deliver "war criminals" to the Inquisitors. Wary of a potential backlash against its chosen quislings in Belgrade, as they purge the country of opponents with dictatorial glee, Washington demands assurances its orders will be obeyed. True to form, the Belgrade Bunch jumps to please.

Belgrade authorities could just as easily refuse to pass or butcher local laws for Empire’s benefit – but they won’t. Lacking local support, they need to stay in Imperial favor. Right now, too, sending more heads to the Inquisition is a convenient way to get rid of potentially troublesome rivals at home, just as it was for Croatia in 2001. And if any of the current Belgrade nabobs decide to rebel in the future, the Empire can always invoke ICG’s specious argument about "arming Saddam." In the rush to prostrate themselves before the Emperor’s envoy, they haven’t even realized they were being snookered.

Jacobins Reincarnated

Even as they are being set up as potential scapegoats by the Empire, the Belgrade Jacobins are scapegoating their political opponents in a relentless and ongoing purge. The two alleged kingpins of the criminal syndicate that supposedly assassinated the Prime Minister three weeks ago were "shot while resisting arrest" last Thursday. It saved the government the expense of a trial, and the effort of actually proving its claims. Suddenly, the scope of the investigation was widened to include all the supposedly political murders of the past five years, and lay the blame at the "Vast Milosevic-supporter Conspiracy."

The body of Milosevic’s former party boss, Ivan Stambolic, was found last week in a quicklime pit, 30 months after his disappearance in 2000. Stambolic, a cause celebre among Belgrade’s pro-Imperial intelligentsia, had denounced his former protégé during the Balkans wars, and was living in quiet retirement when he vanished. He was obviously executed, and the authorities have already pointed a finger at Milosevic’s wife.

But why would Milosevic, or anyone close to him, execute someone as politically harmless as Stambolic, but leave Djindjic, Kostunica and the rest to successfully overthrow the government? That’s a question no one in Serbia is asking, partially because that would be forbidden under the ongoing state of emergency. Besides, the Jacobins allege that Milosevic’s supporters actually did kill Djindjic. This is no mere war on organized crime, but a glorious revolution, aimed at purging "mobsters, war criminals and followers of the old regime," all rolled into one.

The latest victim of this insanity was retired general Nebojsa Pavkovic, arrested Tuesday under a flimsy pretext of Army participation in an unspecified murder attempt. Pavkovic commanded the Third Army in Kosovo in 1999, successfully preserving most of its assets and manpower in spite of 78 days of NATO bombing.

In addition to persecuting members of the Milosevic government, the Belgrade authorities are purging their own allies who dare show independence. This weekend, they expelled Cacak mayor Velja Ilic and his small but feisty party, New Serbia, from the ruling coalition, on grounds of "false statements."

The only thing missing from this portrait of modern Jacobins is the guillotine. But given that Justice Minister Batic advocates the reinstatement of the death penalty, this French revolutionary instrument might not be far behind.

For Power’s Sake

Projecting blame and taking frustrations out on the powerless is entirely typical for an empire. They can have political undertones and hidden agendas, but don’t have to. Serbs are the scapegoats of choice in the Balkans, but that does not mean others are spared. Two Bosnian Croats were convicted by the Inquisition on Monday, for their alleged war crimes against Muslims in and around the city of Mostar. They may be guilty, for all we know, but the Inquisition’s procedures make that impossible to judge. What’s more important for the Empire is that now the Inquisition can claim it’s not anti-Serb ("Look, we just convicted Croats, OK?"), and that this can be used as yet another vapid argument that the Empire favors Muslims.

Meanwhile, in Kosovo, NATO occupation troops arrested a former KLA commander, alleging he was a "threat to security." Fatmir Mahmeti was the vice-president of the KLA veterans’ association. These are the same people Senator Lieberman said were "fighting for American values" in 1999, and on whose behalf Kosovo was "liberated" from Serbia.

The coat of rhetoric blanketing Empire’s Balkans adventures has frayed long ago. All that remains is naked force, power for power’s sake. This is the glorious "victory" in the Balkans: a nightmare of hypocrisy, injustice and deceit. It is hard to imagine the ‘victory’ in Iraq will be any different.

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.