Lost in Translation

Unlike Sofia Coppola’s charmingly discombobulated film, there is nothing funny or charming about the way the Imperial “order” is crumbling everywhere, from the Balkans to Babylonia. Driven by a devastating mix of arrogance, ignorance, malice and stupidity, foreign occupiers in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo strain to keep their grip on power, but are actually losing it – along with whatever is left of their sanity.

The Gunfight at Mitrovica

Three dead and a dozen wounded are the result of the latest explosion of violence in occupied Kosovo. Only this time, Serbs and Albanians had nothing to do with it. Both the victims and the perpetrators belonged to the UN police force. One Jordanian man and two American women were killed, while six other Americans and an Austrian (five of them women) were seriously injured and treated at the hospital in Serb-inhabited northern Mitrovica. Four Jordanian policemen were arrested, and face investigation. Almost all involved were recent arrivals to the mission, lacking training and experience of working with different nationalities.

“Let’s see how they try to spin this one,” said one Kosovo resident (Balkanalysis). And so they did. The shooting was labeled a “tragic incident,” UN spokesmen repeated they “do not know the motive,” and viceroy Holkeri was once again “shocked and dismayed” – just as he was after the Albanian pogrom in March.

While the exact details of the shoot-out are still murky, many reports mention the speculation that the shootings were a result of an argument over the Iraq war. Whether this is true or not – and given the vehemence of official UN denials, it probably is – it does appear as if Iraq has become the sort of polarizing issue that defines America’s relationship with other nations.

Meanwhile, Kosovo’s separatist Albanians rejoice at this further deterioration of the occupation mission. Their March onslaught fractured the military component (KFOR), creating resentment between national contingents as each reacted differently. Now the civilian police, which learned the hard way not to trust their Albanian colleagues, are imploding from within.

Of course, Albanians would like the occupiers to leave and guarantee that Serbian authorities will not return. Last month’s rampage soured many UN and NATO personnel on the second idea, though, and that may come back to haunt the Albanian militants in the long run.

Lord Ashdown’s Raj

While the occupation forces in Bosnia don’t seem to be afflicted with quite the murderous madness of those in Kosovo, there is plenty of lunacy to go around. Bosnia’s foreign tyrant, viceroy Ashdown, has launched another witch-hunt among the Bosnian Serbs, accusing people left and right of “supporting war criminals.”

Having stomped all over the Bosnian Croat nationalists, culminating in last months’ war crimes charges for most of their wartime leadership, Ashdown has focused again on his favorite enemy, the Bosnian Serbs. Two weeks ago he cut off public funding to the ruling Bosnian Serb party, claiming it used the money to help “war crimes fugitives” and demanding they prove the opposite. Last Wednesday, NATO troops ransacked a radio station owned by Sonja Karadzic, daughter of one of the wanted Serb leaders, also on charges of aiding and abetting,” but no evidence. Ashdown also bullied all of Bosnia’s leaders to pledge to “demonstrate political will to cooperate” with the Hague Inquisition.

Yet Ashdown publicly fired the head of the Serb Republic’s office for cooperation with the ICTY on Friday, as well as the army Chief of Staff, for “obstructing an investigation into Srebrenica.” This is the investigation ordered by Ashdown last fall, with the aim of forcing the Bosnian Serbs to confess to “genocide” of which the Izetbegovic government accused them. While the truth about how many people died after the fall of Srebrenica (and how) is crucial, neither Ashdown nor his protégés in Sarajevo are the least bit interested in finding it. They’ve already made up their minds, and any disagreement with their pet theory – as the firings demonstrate – will be met with swift reprisal.

The Great Disconnect

It just so happens that this week the Hague Inquisition ruled in the appeals hearing of a Bosnian Serb general convicted of “genocide” in Srebrenica, revising the prior judgment and reducing his sentence. But while reducing General Krstic’s supposed involvement to “aiding and abetting,” they maintained (without actually establishing the facts, ever) that what happened in Srebrenica was indeed genocide.

As befits the media coverage of the Inquisition, and its pathological aversion to truth, reports from the Krstic hearing were filled with the mandatory comparisons of Serbs with Nazis and Srebrenica with the Holocaust, and reiterations of the numbers of people killed (“up to,” “almost,” and “nearly” 8000, or thereabout). An AP report that called the decision “historic” also included the allegation – not quoted from the decision, but rather presented as uncontested fact – that “wives and families [of the men killed] were deported to clear the way for the creation of a Greater Serbia under the (sic) Milosevic.”

Some history, indeed.

In this context of a near-absolute disconnect from reality when it comes to Western (and Eastern, why not say it) perceptions of Bosnia, it is only fitting that the London Independent chooses Marcus Tanner, an IWPR editor and rabid Croat apologist, to cover the unveiling of a reconstructed bridge in Mostar, a medieval Ottoman treasure deliberately destroyed by a Croatian tank gunner. Tanner does mention the fact – even he cannot ignore it – but somehow finds a way to blame the Serbs, even though they were completely ethnically cleansed from Mostar during the war.

From the forcible unification of Bosnia to the false multi-ethnicity in Kosovo and “democracy” at gunpoint in Iraq, the misnamed “international community” has officially committed itself to goals it does not seriously believe in, that are not in the least rational or plausible, are actively hostile to all or most people on the ground, and deliberately defy all international and natural law. Is it really a surprise that their novus ordo is crumbling?

A Wasteland of Alternatives

While that collapse is both welcome and inevitable (eventually), there is a disturbing dearth of alternatives among the locals. Decades of socialist thought, followed by nationalism and subjection to whimsical foreign despotism have just about managed to destroy any proclivity for individual liberty in the Balkans. Nearly all political forces have bought into political, social and economic fallacies dominating the West today, all of which revolve around the near-omnipotent government pretending otherwise. The political discourse is filled with ill-defined or empty terms such as “democracy,” “integrations,” “human rights,” “civil society” and “social justice,” all serving as a cover for tyranny, arbitrary violence and plunder. Most former Yugoslavs claim to desire things they do not comprehend in the least, opening themselves to further victimization by power-hungry politicians not only in their capitals, but also in Brussels and Washington.

Bosnia’s foreign overlords continue to push Alija Izetbegovic’s dream of a centralized state, either not realizing or not caring that it conflicts with Bosnia’s secession from a multi-ethnic, centralized Yugoslavia, or that it would involve Muslim domination – a throwback to Ottoman occupation the Serbs and Croats have resisted by force and are likely to do so again. Even those in Bosnia who oppose Izetbegovic yet favor a centralized state have so far failed to formulate a proposal voluntarily acceptable to non-Muslims.

Similarly, as much as the media and the KLA insist that Kosovo has an Albanian majority that would “never” accept return to Serbia, that violence-created fact is irrelevant. That province was stolen by force and trickery, in clear and confessed violation of every single international law applicable. If its “independence” is recognized, as Albanians demand, the Empire may well announce there is no law but that of the gun.

Oh, wait…

Might Makes Right?

That “might makes right” does seem to be the belief of many Imperials who prowl the Balkans – and Mesopotamia – otherwise they would not be there. Perhaps the best example is a British private sent to reinforce the hapless occupation forces in Kosovo, after last month’s Albanian pogrom. Writes Scott Taylor, Canadian military reporter and author of Inat and Diary of an Uncivil War:

On a fast patrol through Pristina, Pte. McWilliams of the Gloucester Regiment expressed his personal opinion on the March 17 crisis. “I don’t know why the Serbs don’t get the message. They are not wanted here, so they should go back to their own country,” he said.

When it was explained to him that Kosovo still officially remains an autonomous province of Serbia, the young British soldier replied: “You can’t claim what you can’t defend.” (Halifax Herald, April 19)

That the NATO intervention forcibly stopped Serbia from defending Kosovo from the KLA, or that he – as an occupier (and clearly not wanted) – ought to go home himself, probably never crossed the soldier’s mind. Nor is he likely aware that he just said, in effect, “What you can’t seize and keep by force doesn’t belong to you.” The Empire’s creed, if there ever was one.

That power seems in decline now, an inevitable consequence of entropy accelerated by unfathomable stupidity of its wielders. But it can still do much harm, and its effects are likely to linger for a long time to come.

Tremble, Beloved Country

Any good translator knows that misinterpreting as little as a word or a phrase could have disastrous consequences, from a ruined parlor party to international warfare. So what to make of people who have misinterpreted – and deliberately, it is increasingly apparent – intelligence dossiers, or for that matter, entire histories?

The power they sought was immunity from consequences of their own actions – the kind no one can ever attain. Now they find themselves tragically trapped within the edifices of their own lies, with reality exploding everywhere around them. It is tempting to pity them, but for the legions of despondent locals driven to despair by the power-seekers’ machinations. Even if the Empire gets bodily tossed out of its ill-gained overseas acquisitions, its leaders only stand to lose power and prestige (neither of which they really had, anyway). People who actually live in Bosnia, Serbia (especially Kosovo), Macedonia – and, of course, Iraq – are at risk of losing their lives, along with everything they’ve ever owned that may have somehow survived the previous decade. So while pity is appropriate, so are the words of Thomas Jefferson:

“God who gave us life, gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever….”

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.