A Mockery of Reason

From its very beginning, the Yugoslav crisis has vexed both the people of the western Balkans and the world powers intervening in the region. Almost 14 years of efforts by all to reach some sort of solution, all the self-congratulatory and optimistic rhetoric aside, have resulted in repeated failures, often of catastrophic magnitude. That is true of most actors; neither the Empire nor the locals have a monopoly on blunders.

Why, after all this time, does the Balkans crisis appear no closer to a solution? The answer could be deceptively simple: problems were wrongly identified, the issues mistakenly framed, the right questions never asked. When action proceeded from false premises and deceptive arguments, how could the result be anything but a mess? Indeed, the reality of today’s Balkans is so riddled with folly, it is a wonder things aren’t much, much worse.

Pointless Quarrels

It has been known for some time now that the US-led NATO occupation mission in Bosnia was supposed to be handed over to an EU force at some point next year. However, how exactly that would be accomplished remains a point of fierce contention.

In the March 5 edition of their weekly Balkan Report, the official US propaganda outfit Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty harshly criticized the official German propaganda outlet (Deutsche Welle) for daring to suggest the US should pull out of Bosnia completely. The RFE/RL journalist accused the DW commentator of “almost breathtaking arrogance,” for suggesting that “the country that took the lead to end the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession to dare to want to remain in Bosnia to pursue terrorists and war criminals.”

Truth be told, there is more “adolescent petulance” in this criticism of the Germans than anything they could have possibly said. Besides, Americans in Bosnia are not really after terrorists, and no one’s a “war criminal” till proven guilty in a fair trial. At least the commentator finally called the Yugoslav wars by their rightful name.

The issue is more serious that some journalistic feud. Apparently, there is real disagreement between Americans and Europeans about the mission takeover. “We cannot end up drying the dishes while the US runs the show,” quotes the Financial Times one EU diplomat. Washington appears to want just that, as long as it can withdraw troops it needs for other wars and hold the Europeans responsible if anything goes wrong. It seems even the Soviet-wannabes in Brussels aren’t that stupid.

Meanwhile, Bosnia itself is contorting in pretzels trying to live up to conflicting expectations of its foreign occupiers and ambitions of local politicians. Its governing triad barely managed to agree on a joint defense minister, per NATO’s demands, only to find out the Alliance considered him unacceptable. The first candidate, who was a professional and may have satisfied NATO’s whims, was rejected after a media campaign accusing him of wartime misdeeds. How they plan to appoint the joint military commanders, who by definition had to have substantial wartime experience (and on opposite sides, obviously), is anybody’s guess.

Of course, no one is questioning the wisdom of having a centralized standing army in the first place, or the continuing foreign occupation, whether EU or NATO. The people of Bosnia – though not necessarily its politicians or Empire’s paid enablers – would be much better off if the outside force maintaining their stillborn pseudo-country on life support just went home. Right now, the memories of war are fresh enough few will want to fight again. Bereft of outside help or hindrance, left to their own devices, the people of Bosnia would have a powerful incentive to reach some sort of modus vivendi with each other, together or apart. But rational as that may sound, it is not going to happen.

A Tale of Two Indictments

Meanwhile, the Hague Inquisition continued its march to madness. It has been known in the past for transparently fake efforts at even-handedness, usually involving indictments of Croatian officers for atrocities against Serbs. The indictments are trumpeted loudly, but the trials never seem to get under way. And all eyes turn to Serbia, from which a new extradition is expected.

So last weekend, two Croatian generals – Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak – were indicted for their role in the 1995 operation that resulted in the mass exodus of Serbs from Croatia. The authorities in Zagreb apparently understood the role they were meant to play, and acted accordingly. Justice Minister Vesna Skare-Ozbolt announced Monday that the two generals would surrender voluntarily. Now, as the press has speculated and as it was probably intended, the pressure will be on Belgrade to act the same way, without any regard for the difference in circumstances. And why should there be any, since the difference seems to escape most people?

Even if Croatia’s definition of the 1991-95 war is challenged at the ICTY – which it won’t be, as that would complicate the already precarious doctrine of Serb Guilt – its legacy will remain secure: Croatia’s control over all territory it claimed in the old Yugoslav Federation, and the reduction of Serbs to demographic and political insignificance.

While Croat officers are charged with specific atrocities, Serbia’s entire former political leadership is in the dock for a grand conspiracy to start the Succession Wars and commit atrocities against civilians, including genocide. Hinging on the outcome of those trials, to an extent, is the future of Serb-inhabited lands in Bosnia and the occupied Kosovo. Even though Tudjman’s regime planned to expel or kill all Serbs within the boundaries it claimed, which could be interpreted as genocidal intent, no one is seriously contemplating pressing such a charge. Croatia does not stand to lose any territory, and Zagreb seems to have written off the Bosnian Croats as an acceptable loss.

All the Wrong Questions

In addition to the mounting pressure to submit to the Inquisition, Vojislav Kostunica has other worries. Almost as soon as his government took office, it had to face what has appeared to be a well-orchestrated media campaign to discredit its members: The new Justice Minister was a judge during Communism, and sentenced a group of dissidents to prison term for “thought crimes”; a high-ranking clerk at the same ministry was a member of YUL, the neo-Communist party of Milosevic’s wife; and the new police minister appears to have robbed and vandalized a kiosk in 1981. Domestic and foreign reporters also maliciously noted that the new head of State Security had been arrested (though never charged with anything), in the martial-law aftermath of the Djindjic Assassination.

One would think that the pro-Empire critics of Kostunica’s government would embrace the judge, the clerk and the police minister, as their alleged misdeeds clearly make them more qualified for their jobs, not less. In a modern State these people advocate, judges are supposed to convict people of thought crimes, membership in leftist parties hostile to private property and individual rights is encouraged, and juvenile vandalism is clearly seen as training for enforcing the government’s will on the people through arrests and fines. Some worshippers of Democracy and Human Rights, who are among the loudest critics of Kostunica’s government, would gladly resurrect “hate speech” laws, ban political parties, and see nothing wrong in aggressive wars (i.e. NATO’s bombing of Serbia and occupation of Kosovo) even as they may bemoan the vandalizing of kiosks – as a crime against the State, mind you, not as a property violation.

From a rational point of view, the judge, the lawyer and the cop would have to be asked if they have changed their ways – i.e. what their beliefs are right now, and why – if they are to be trusted. No one in Serbia seems to be asking that question. It just doesn’t come to mind. Pity.

Rejected Proposals

While fending off ad hominem attacks on his appointees, Kostunica found time to float a proposal for establishment of ethnic cantons in Kosovo, as a way of protecting the remaining Serbs from the ongoing terror of Albanian militants. As expected, it was immediately rejected by the Albanians, even as they were busily pretending to care about dialogue so as to satisfy the farcical “standards” for independence set by UNMIK.

Just so that Kosovo’s Imperial occupiers didn’t get any ideas about seriously entertaining proposals from Belgrade all of a sudden, “someone” sent UNMIK a message – in form of a bomb-laden gym bag – on Sunday. It appears to have worked, for on Monday UNMIK head Harri Holkeri derided Kostunica’s proposal as “partition” and rejected it out of hand.

Given that Serbia has every right to demand the unconditional return of Kosovo under its sovereignty, since the UN Charter does not allow illegal occupation and forcible secession despite what Resolution 1244 may or may not say, the fact that Belgrade is offering ethnic partition and acquiescing to Albanian domination of the province is actually a significant compromise. That Albanians refuse to accept anything short of complete independence of the entire province, including the areas in the north not yet occupied and ethnically cleansed by the UCK, plus other parts of Serbia and even Montenegro, gives them an edge in any negotiation, as long as NATO and UNMIK stand behind them. They have no incentive to compromise, so they don’t. It’s that simple. But does anyone question the occupation itself, or NATO and UNMIK’s continuing presence? No. Again, a pity.

Infinite Stupidity

Extraditions to the Hague Inquisition, and the futures of Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo are all issues currently hotly disputed, by force and threat thereof as often as with words. But the questions seem to be framed wrong, and the premises misguided at best. The Empire has shown itself to be irrational. But whether encouraged or threatened by the backing of Imperial force, or seduced by irrational ideologies, Balkans actors are muddying the waters of their own swamp every day more. It should be noted, then, that reason can be mocked only at one’s own peril. Faulty premises combined with faulty logic provide exponentially faulty results. If the past 14 years – or 60, or 200 – haven’t been proof enough, one must ask, what will be? Sure, a saying goes that human stupidity is truly infinite, but is it really necessary to keep demonstrating its truthfulness?

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.