In the Balkans, Same Old Evil

After spending some time virtually unnoticed, the Balkans is creeping back into the limelight. Events in the peninsula continue to develop along the policy lines drawn with blood and iron over the past decade, demonstrating that the forces intent on establishing an American Empire are active on more fronts than just the Middle Eastern quagmire. They may not be in the headlines, sure, but often enough it’s the secret developments that prove decisive in the end.

It only makes sense to watch the Balkans as an indicator of Empire’s determination. It has already served as a proving ground for unrestricted intervention, and continues to provide new precedents. What happened there between 1990 and 1999 is such an integral part of America’s rise to Imperial glory, it is nearly impossible for any supporter of the Empire to even re-examine, much less repudiate US policies and actions in the region. Conversely, any true opponent of Imperial America should do just that. Either way, the region needs to be watched. Carefully.

Attack of the Centralizers

Last Wednesday, Bosnia’s viceroy Paddy Ashdown issued a decree forcibly unifying the city of Mostar. Having cleansed it of Serbs in 1992, Muslims and Croats fought over the picturesque city for two years, destroying most of it in the process. In the end, Muslims held the eastern bank of the river Neretva, Croats the western. The division continued for 10 years. Now, per Ashdown’s orders, they have to make Mostar whole again.

Justifications for the move ranged from favorable opinion polls to the supposed savings of taxpayer funds, but the former can be easily fabricated and the latter is fictitious. Mostar’s citizens won’t pay a dime less in taxes just because they have only 35 councilors now, not 194; those 35 will simply control more plunder. No, the motive behind Mostar is to create a precedent for imposing forced coexistence on the rest of the country, one step at a time. Calls for such intervention have already been made.

The International Crisis Group, which advocates a centralized Bosnia, has hailed the Mostar decree and denigrated its critics. Both Croat and Muslim ethnic parties have complained about Ashdown’s decree. Croats, though in favor of unification, objected that Muslims got representation greater than their numbers merit. Muslims, opposed to unification in Mostar but favoring it in Bosnia overall, complained they didn’t get enough. Neither could recognize a principled argument if it punched them in the face. But is that a reason to impose unity, quotas and all?

Mostar is not the only battlefield in centralization wars. A recent proposal by a European think-tank to partially centralize Bosnia by abolishing one layer of bureaucracy sparked a renewed debate about the post-Dayton order. One commentary criticized the proposal for its methods, contending that Bosnians could come up with it, or better, by themselves. Yet another used it to call for abolition of the Bosnian Serb republic and mass re-education of its populace in mandatory political correctness.

Foreigners pushing for centralization of Bosnia usually champion it at home, and even those who propose partition of other Imperial conquests, such as Iraq, would balk at the division of Bosnia. Why? The idea actually makes no sense. Bosnia’s creation was a result of a forced separation from Yugoslavia; if ethnic dismemberment of Yugoslavia was appropriate, why would mere ethnic separation within Bosnia somehow be beyond the pale? The only reason Bosnia is kept together by force is that the Empire says so – and to question its orders is to question its supremacy, which clearly cannot be allowed.

Denial and Model Interventions

Nor can any re-examination be allowed in the case of occupied Kosovo, not even in the name of “war on terror.” Serbia’s top military spook told reporters Monday that al-Qaeda was active in northern Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. Whether because he spoke bureaucratese and not the sound-bite language of international PR, or because he was Serbian, Col. Stojanovic’s claims were dismissed by the few press outlets that actually picked them up. AFP also mentioned Stojanovic was alleged to be a war criminal. On the other hand, when Albania vehemently denied the accusations, reporters duly noted its absolute loyalty to the US. Few bothered to recall that the areas of alleged terrorist activity – Bajram Curri, Tropoja, Kukes – were the same region Tirana claimed out of its control a couple of years back, when the KLA used it as a base of operations…

Meanwhile, NATO’s top commander in Europe, General James L. Jones, told the Associated Press he saw Kosovo as “a testing ground for how [NATO] will operate in future missions around the world.” NATO “desires to be much more flexible and have a greater role on a global basis,” continued Jones, saying it was “wonderful to see this transition occur right here in Kosovo.”

There is something very, very wrong with using the words “wonderful” and “Kosovo” in the same sentence, more so if one’s a NATO commander ultimately in charge of the province’s military occupation. Jones must have referred to the role of European allies as the extension of US military might. Whether he wanted it or not, his “wonderful” also encompassed the wholesale ethnic cleansing, destruction of culture and private property, murder, arson and terrorism that have accompanied the occupation. And it must truly be “wonderful” to be able to bomb a country in explicit contravention of international law, commit a dozen or so war crimes, and get away with it – even brag about it.

A shining example to the world, indeed.

A Strange Definition of Freedom

Over a month after the parliamentary election, Serbia is still without a government. Vojislav Kostunica’s Serbian Democrats secured the backing of populists and Keynesian liberals, and almost reached an agreement with the formerly governing Democratic Party (DS), only to see it scuttled by DS obstinacy. Nearly unhinged, Kostunica was reported to be considering an alliance with Milosevic’s Socialists, if that would end the deadlock.

Further raising the political temperature were signals from Brussels that the EU was displeased with the delay in forming a new government, and the departure of US Ambassador William Montgomery, the shadow kingmaker of Serbian politics, who suddenly retired at the end of January. And then there is the World Bank, which announced last week that it would take the unprecedented step and consult with “politicians from the four pro-democracy parties which are expected to make it into the future Cabinet,” in the absence of a government.

No wonder Kostunica is going over the edge. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on him to establish a government that would in essence be the reincarnation of DOS – the motley crew of professional political vultures tasked with overthrowing Milosevic in 2000 and allowed to rampage through Serbia since. This “neo-DOS” would be barely strong enough not to allow the Socialists and Radicals into the government, and certainly in no position to resist Imperial demands, whatever they might be. Kostunica does not want a rerun of 2000-2003; he’s had too many bad experiences with DOS to go through it again. Given the current political constellation, he may not have a choice – unless he decides to make a deal with the Radicals and ensure Empire’s everlasting enmity.

It’s ironic, really. Including the Radicals in the government would be the democratic thing to do, because they did win the most votes in a free election. But the country that claims to champion “democracy” won’t hear of it. Some freedom. Some democracy. But as Lew Rockwell sarcastically noted, “So long as we obey, we are all free.”

Meanwhile, the people of Serbia wait for the other shoe to drop, not even bothering to realize that life can and does go on without a government – and a great deal better, in fact. If only they would; it’s a somewhat foreign concept to people steeped in 60 years of enforced statism, but not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

A Symptom of Empire

Centralization of Bosnia; denials in Kosovo; ultimatums to Serbia – nothing has changed in the US approach to the Balkans. It is still imperial. It also still fails to inspire anything but fear and loathing, in the Balkans as well as in the rest of the world. Provided the world needs American “leadership” in the first place – it seems to be doing just as badly with it as it does well without it – what it needs is an example, not diktat. And the example the US has been offering for the past decade or so is simply awful. Then again, this is not the America that once was, and that many people still believe exists.

Hope says that the transformation of the Republic into the Empire may not be complete, that some of that old America is still underneath; that there is a chance of stopping the descent into madness. Simply changing the Balkans policy won’t do it, but it would be a start.

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.