Quo Vadis?

Another year has gone by, bringing no relief to the embattled people of the former Yugoslavia. Same as before, it has been a year of direct and political violence, plunder and extortion, with the ever-present Empire occasionally flexing its muscles to remind the restive vassals it was still the boss. Shards of the former South Slav federation continue to struggle in the aftermath of succession wars, international embargoes, societal meltdowns and even global terrorism.

As 2003 drifts to a close, several simmering Balkans issues remain unresolved. Croatia has just seen a restoration to power of a party that ruled it through the Succession Wars. Serbia will choose a new parliament and government for the first time since the October Coup overthrew Slobodan Milosevic. Meanwhile, efforts continue to establish its occupied province of Kosovo as an Albanian-dominated state. Bosnia continues to slide back towards centralization, one of the root causes of its bloody civil war. Macedonia continues to walk the tightrope of ethnic quotas imposed by the capitulation at Ohrid. What lies ahead, in 2004?

Croatia’s "Sanader Restoration"

Three years after losing power, the resurgent party of the late Franjo Tudjman is back at the helm in Zagreb. Much has changed since 2000, though, both within the HDZ party and in Croatia itself. Gone are the heady days of 1995, when Tudjman was America’s "junkyard dog" and Croatia could do no wrong. Zagreb is just another vassal now, one expected to bow and obey like the others.

The previous government waffled on giving Washington immunity from the International Criminal Court, and wasn’t able to rebuff the shrill demands of the Hague Inquisition to extradite the "Hero of the Homeland War," General Ante Gotovina. Gotovina commanded the forces that expelled most of Croatia’s Serbs in a 1995 military operation supported by the US, and many of his backers complain bitterly that he should not be penalized for doing Washington’s bidding. Furthermore, the Empire is now playing dumb and chiding Croatia for violating the "human rights" of expelled Serbs, as if unaware of its own role in the entire affair.

It is to be expected that the Empire will pressure the new government on all these issues, if nothing just to establish who is calling the shots. As a reminder, the official media recently demonstrated to Zagreb the kind of bad press usually reserved for the Serbs. Schoolyard bullying passing as international relations – that is the sad fact of life in the 21st century.

But to be fair, Croatia has some vocal apologists in Washington, and does not have to struggle with anywhere as much as its neighbor to the east.

Serbia’s Choices

The most populous of Yugoslavia’s successor states, Serbia is also the most unstable. After the 2000 coup that ousted Slobodan Milosevic from power, it fell into the grip of an autocratic Prime Minister who proceeded to destroy all institutions of government for the sake of personal power – but always claiming he was doing it for the greater good. Zoran Djindjic was so successful in his quest for power that when he was cut down by a sniper bullet, Serbia had no president, a rump parliament, and a union with Montenegro so loose it may as well have been nonexistent. His followers quickly declared martial law, proceeded to arrest thousands and crack down on "thought crimes" such as journalistic inquiry. But the outrage over Djindjic’s murder did not translate into long-term support, and by early fall, the DOS regime was falling apart. After another failed presidential vote, it could no longer survive.

Polls in Serbia are notoriously inaccurate, so it is not at all clear who might triumph in the parliamentary election three days from now. The Empire dreads and loathes the potential success of the Radicals, as do its friends and servants in Belgrade. Milosevic’s Socialists, allegedly finished, may win as many mandates as the late Djindjic’s Democratic Party. Combinations that include a coalition of the Democrats, Vojislav Kostunica’s Serbian Democrats, and the neo-Keynesians of G-17 are mostly wishful thinking. There has even been talk of restoring the monarchy, unfortunately tainted by misguided political motivations.

It may be tempting to support certain people, parties and policies just because the Empire opposes them. That, unfortunately, does not mean their ideas and convictions are any good – just not good enough for Washington and Brussels. Whoever wins, a government will be elected; and it will have such power and influence over every aspect of life, yet be completely at the mercy of the Empire, that nothing good can come of it. But electing someone who does not dance to an outside tune could be a step in the right direction.

Whither Kosovo?

Begun in June 1999, the occupation of Kosovo on behalf of the Albanian separatists continues, as does the violence against the surviving non-Albanians:

"It was on behalf of [the UCK] that the US scrapped the NATO charter and violated international law by committing naked aggression against a sovereign state, and occupying one portion thereof. That occupation has gone on for over four years now, and has resulted in over 200,000 ethnically cleansed non-Albanians, at least 112 destroyed churches and monuments of culture, and constant terror against the remaining non-Albanian population. This happened because of, not in spite of, some 60,000 NATO troops who occupied Kosovo. That’s half the troops occupying a much-bigger Iraq. The UCK-led violence was not only not prevented, but legitimized by holding elections for a “president,” and “parliament” of Kosovo. The UCK itself was re-organized into the “Kosovo Protection Corps,” paid by the UN/NATO to deal with ‘disaster relief.’ But the only disaster in Kosovo was of NATO’s own making." (from The Lost Terror War)

Even as undercover British reporters uncovered a terrorist weapons ring, Washington has pushed forward a new initiative to achieve "standards" for deciding the "final status" of Kosovo. The way they were worded by the province’s UN administration, Albanians have only to maintain a pretense of tolerance with politically correct rhetoric, and they are guaranteed independence in 2005. Protests by local Serbs and Belgrade have met with the usual dismissals.

There has never been any doubt that Albanians are united over the issue of claiming Kosovo. If NATO and the UN – dancing to the tune from Washington, of course – actually support the Albanian cause, there isn’t much that Serb protests can accomplish. But there really ought to be a way to stop this creeping amputation, an affront to civilized international conduct if there ever was one.

Bosnia’s Slippery Slope

The passing of Alija Izetbegovic in October had surprisingly little effect on the Bosnian political scene, testifying to the staying power of his ideology. The expected power struggle within his SDA party appears to be taking place in private. With the current viceroy firmly on their side, as his eulogy for Izetbegovic demonstrated, there is little danger of the SDA losing its grip on power. Endorsements from former American potentates didn’t seem to hurt, either.

Gradually demolishing the Dayton constitution, Bosnia’s occupying viceroys – often with the help of local authorities – continue to drag the hapless country towards becoming a centralized state. Each new violation is justified by a perceived greater good. Establishing a standing conscript army under central command is thus supposed to help Bosnia join NATO some day, even though there is no benefit in such a membership. Forcible integration of intelligence and security agencies is supposed to help fight crime and terrorism – but the biggest criminals run the security apparatus, while certain intelligence services help terrorists daily. Now a special "war crimes court" has been established, and already there are calls for a centralized police force to enforce its rulings.

The slope towards centralism gets more slippery by the day. Instead of a bigger state, or more of it, people of Bosnia need just the opposite. But robbed of possessions, hope and dignity, they continue mistakenly placing their trust in politicians and force.

Macedonia Mired

Some 2 million Macedonians enter 2004 still in the shadow of Albanian territorial and political claims. The 2001 Treaty of Ohrid has been institutionalized, establishing ethnic quotas and special treatment as a fact of daily life. The recently completed census will in all likelihood usher a new round of games over ethnic percentages in government employment.

Albanian militants have lowered their profile, but remain active. Foreign presence is still substantial. Various NGOs are eating away at the fraying fabric of society, and further upsetting the already precarious economy. The Empire controls local authorities to various degrees, ensuring their cooperation and compliance. Much like its northern neighbor, Skopje was not allowed to defend its territory and constitution – indeed, it was forced to capitulate – but was encouraged to send a unit to assist the occupation of Iraq.

Efforts of Empire’s agents to disarm the populace have been only partially successful, but the real problem is not the presence of so many weapons, but the readiness and desire to use them.

Balkans and the Empire

Throughout 2003, the Empire has remained a major factor in Balkans politics, even as the Mesopotamian mess commanded more of its attention and resources. It continued to threaten and demand, as well as use the precedents it created from Yugoslavia’s carcass (albeit without a shred of consistency, as could be expected). Another "revolution" was engineered, in the Caucasus, using the script developed in 2000 for Serbia. Even as it schemed to detach Kosovo from Serbia, it prepared to accept the Serbian quislings’ offer of troops for Afghanistan.

Wishful thinking about changes in US policy after 9/11 does not seem to be borne out in reality. While Bush II has been nowhere nearly as aggressive in the Balkans as Clinton, the overall policy has remained the same. Absolute obedience to every whim is still demanded of Belgrade, and to some extent even Zagreb, while the militants in Sarajevo and Pristina get away with a slap on the wrist, if that. Washington may be drawing down its troop presence in Bosnia and Kosovo, but there is no sign it intends to abandon its political influence in the area.

Finally, the new grand strategy for American foreign relations seeks to reshape the world into a semblance of today’s Balkans, using intervention methods pioneered in Bosnia and Kosovo.

No Triumph for Tyranny

Across the Balkans the same story is playing out: abused by their own authorities as well as the Empire, people turn to politicians and violence – whether direct or institutional – to solve their problems. Yet all that does is deepen the despair.

However clear the answer may seem from here, it is far from obvious to them. Long have they been pawns of the government, in servitude to the state. Not just the words, but the very concepts of freedom, honor and justice have lost their meaning. Until it is rediscovered, there will be little but abstract hope, and 2004 will look just like 2003 and the years before.

It was just a century ago that people of the Balkans fought ferociously for their freedom, so much that one simple act of tyrannicide ended up shattering the world of Imperial Europe. Have the horrors of the 20th century killed that freedom-loving streak in Europe’s southwestern corner? That is truly hard to believe.

If people truly wish to stop being treated as cattle, they should stop behaving as such. And when by some chance that forlorn faith in freedom is found again, no matter by how few, there will be no victory for despair, no triumph for tyranny. And the new year, this one or the one thereafter, will truly be better.

Here’s to hope.

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.