Back to the Balkans?

Is the Balkans back in Washington vogue? After a couple of seemingly isolationist years (that were, of course, nothing of the sort) when the limelight was on the Middle East, there’s been a renewed push by the forces of punditry to get the peninsula back on the Imperial agenda. Underneath dire warnings and venomous denunciations lies a hunger to revisit the scene of Clintonian triumphs as the Great Bush Adventure keeps foundering in the sand. Triumph of the Radicals in the recent Serbian parliamentary election may have provided the opportunity, but it is unlikely the renewed interest in the south-eastern corner of Europe is unrelated to the politics of the upcoming American election.

With Wesley Clark actually boasting about his “accomplishments” in Kosovo and inching ahead in polls, raising the Balkans issues could be a way to support his candidacy. If he were ever elected, Heaven forbid, chances are he would resurrect the policies of intervention in all their cruise-missile glory. On the other hand, if all the caterwauling manages to sway the Bush regime to get Clintonesque on the peninsula, the shills would still be happy. They care little as to who holds the reigns of power, long as he leads in their desired direction. Right now, it seems that direction is back to the Balkans.

The Two Rants: Abramowitz…

According to an op-ed by ICG’s godfather Morton Abramowitz, which appeared in the Washington Post on Christmas Day (as celebrated in Serbia), America’s alleged inactivity in the Balkans threatens to undo all the “successes” of the previous regime, and urgent action is needed.

Apparently, even though “much effort and treasure have been spent on trying to help produce decent, functioning states,” the “stench of Slobodan Milosevic’s rule still pervades Serbia” enough that a “rabid nationalist party led by an indicted war criminal” threatens to ruin everything the noble Americans and their European allies have wrought over the past decade.

Abramowitz also rants against the Serbia-Montenegro union and bemoans the fact that Kosovo was not given independence immediately after its forced detachment from Serbia. He blames those on American and European policy-makers, additionally making an absurd accusation that western governments “largely avoided putting conditions on their aid and coddled the democratic forces.”

Say again? Granted, Abramowitz’s pet regime in Podgorica may have been a recipient of unrestricted US largesse, but Serbia, Croatia and even Bosnia have known nothing but blackmail and extortion for years. Even Zoran Djindjic had complained bitterly about not receiving the promised 30 pieces of silver.

If it seems Abramowitz has an axe to grind, that’s because he does. In addition to being one of the US-sponsored advisors to the KLA delegation in Rambouillet, he is also the founder of the International Crisis Group, which advocates a re-centralized Bosnia and independence for an Albanian Kosovo and a de-Serbified Montenegro.

…And Silber

A near-identical call could be heard six days later, on the pages of The New York Times/International Herald Tribune, where Laura Silber, chief political advisor to George Soros’ Open Society Institute, was adamant: “America must act.” Not only is Serbia in a “backslide,” Kosovo is still not independent and Bosnia is not yet fully centralized. According to Silber, this is an inexcusable disaster, and must be remedied forthwith.

Not surprisingly, Silber’s arguments echo Soros’s own. They are also incoherent. Just as an example, she criticizes the Dayton Constitution as creating a Bosnia “hamstrung by layers of overlapping and contradictory constitutions, laws and administrations,” but supports a proposal “reducing” the current thirteen governments to twelve!

Such an argument against the present arrangement’s cost and efficiency does not hold water, for one simple reason. If efficiency were truly an issue, common sense would dictate that centralization should begin from the eleven governments of the Muslim-Croat Federation. But this is somehow never entertained seriously, and any consolidation of the Federation into two ethnic units is seen as “partition” instead. The real goal is to abolish the Serb Republic, which compared to the Federation runs remarkably smoothly, by dividing it into cantons or provinces – in effect, creating more inefficiency, only now easier to control from Sarajevo or Washington.

None of this should come as a surprise. Silber’s claim to expertise stems from co-authoring “Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation,” a hateful little pamphlet that blames all the Balkans ills on Slobodan Milosevic.

The Great Hunt

Meanwhile, in Bosnia itself, NATO’s occupation forces launched another futile hunt for Radovan Karadzic, wartime president of the Serb Republic wanted by the Hague Inquisition on charges of “genocide.” In cruel winter conditions, they raided the town of Pale for two days, ransacked private homes, churches and hospitals, held people hostage and eventually arrested one former police officer on vague suspicions. Needless to say, they failed to find any trace of Karadzic, but declared yet another “success.”

Armed raids by occupying forces can never be civil, but NATO seems to enjoy poking the Bosnian Serbs in the eye every chance it gets. In addition to Americans and Britons, this weekend’s raid was conducted by German, Bulgarian and Italian troops – just like in the good old days of WW2. Their ancestors knew how to organize a proper hunt back then, complete with paratroopers and armored columns. Of course, they had failed just as badly…

Besides the desire to validate its Balkans interventions by capturing and putting on trial one of the men it has designated a villain, there are signs the Empire may also be seeking to “bag” Karadzic for the sake of appeasing the world Muslim opinion. However hard they may try, the endeavor is a waste of breath. It seems the prevalent Muslim opinion on Bosnia and the West is already well-established, and there is no room in it for acknowledging American intervention. Indeed, it is often denied entirely.

Nonetheless, voices claiming that Bosnia is an example of the US “helping Muslims” are still raised from time to time, and Washington’s commitment to the Muslim vision of Bosnia remains constant. Such ongoing support of causes connected to the jihad seems to stem from belief that militant displays of Islam could be harnessed for Imperial purposes – a notion as dangerous as it is misguided. One thing is clear, at least: Bosnia and Kosovo are proof that the “War on Terror” is both bogus, and a far cry from a “crusade.”

Not Done Yet

There are few reasons for the Bush regime to listen to exhortations by Abramowitz and Silber. For whatever reason, the Balkans has not been the preferred foreign policy battlefield of the current US government. Trying to make it into one now would offer too many potential pitfalls, and few discernible benefits, what with the former Yugoslavia being treacherous political grounds on the best of days. Also, it would look too much like a retreat from Babylon, and play neatly into the hands of Candidate Clark. Anything is possible, though.

Whatever the White House decides, one thing is a given: the Empire isn’t done with the Balkans.

Not by a long shot.

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.