Decision in the Balkans

It appears that the fate of the American Empire will not be decided in Iraq, however strange that may sound. Body counts, rising costs and intelligence revelations keep showing that Iraq is an obvious fiasco; it would be more than easy to campaign on that point and oust the Bush administration come November, but for one thing. Doing so would hurt not only Bush, but the cause of the Empire, and that is anathema to foreign policy heirs of Bill Clinton who support the Kerry-Edwards campaign.

Instead, the advocates of Empire who came into their own under Bill Clinton are seeking to restore its faded prestige by going back to the Balkans, the site of their perceived triumph. Once again, the southeastern corner of Europe will have a pivotal role in modern history. Democrats’ success could revitalize the wavering Empire, just as failure could help it implode. Either way, though, things are about to get bad for the tortured and tired denizens of the Balkans.

Waking From Hibernation

Contrary to hopes and promises, Bush never repudiated Clinton’s policies in the Balkans, for the same reasons the Democrats are now not challenging Bush’s in Iraq. Instead, his administration chose to place the Clinton policies into hibernation, satisfied to maintain the status quo and continue the Clinton agenda by inertia. Obviously, it also used the precedents of Bosnia and Kosovo to launch a war of aggression against Iraq. As the Iraq adventure went sour, the Balkans project was dusted off earlier this year.

More and more, Empire’s advocates hearken back to the days of “successful” interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, which indeed seem downright cheerful when compared to the gritty reality of the bloodshed in Iraq. Interviewing Bill Clinton last week, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour – who was made a star by “advocacy journalism” in Bosnia – waxed poetic about Bosnia and Kosovo as a contrast to Bush’s implied mishandling of Iraq.

So though a President Kerry would continue to fight in Mesopotamia, if there is a President Kerry, his first show of force would likely be on the ground his policy advisors consider more familiar. Chris Deliso made this argument superbly back in June, and his analysis is a must-read.

Two Flashpoints

There are two major unresolved issues in the Balkans today, both consequences of Imperial intervention and when taken together, mutually exclusive. One is the ongoing existence of Bosnia under the peace agreement that forced it together yet kept it partitioned; for the past eight years, Imperial viceroys have sought to gradually abolish the partition. The other is Kosovo, a province occupied by NATO and the UN on behalf of ethnic Albanians who have ethnically cleansed it of nearly all others and demand to be granted independence.

Though officially neutral, the Empire supports both unitary Bosnia and independent Kosovo. Yet the principle of sacred borders that keeps Bosnia together is somehow not valid when it comes to Serbia, of which Kosovo is a province. Nor is the self-determination that is supposedly applied to Albanians of Kosovo a principle when it comes to Serbs or Croats of Bosnia. Much tortured reasoning has been developed to make the Imperial position seem rational, but it still defies comprehension. So the tactic has now shifted to considering each case separately, so as to avoid the unpleasantness of logic.

Kosovo: Push for Separation

The best example of this is the recent interview with Morton Abramowitz, a powerful though somewhat secretive U.S. diplomat and founder of the International Crisis Group (ICG), for the Serbian weekly NIN. First off, Abramowitz wishes for the return of Democrats to power, particularly former Balkans kingmaker Richard Holbrooke, and predicts a Kerry administration would “seek the resolution of the Balkans situation much more aggressively.”

Long a supporter of Kosovo independence, arguing for it even in the midst of the March pogrom, Abramowitz claims it is inevitable – and unrelated to any sort of principle. Practicality is the name of the game, and the only practical solution is an Albanian Kosovo. He pitches it to the befuddled Serbians as the price of joining the EU Leviathan – something they ostensibly desire: “If it wants to be a part of the EU, Serbia must give up Kosovo.”

Abramowitz’s push for Kosovo independence is just one of many in the aftermath of the Albanian pogrom that left the UN occupation mission in tatters this March. Last month, the German government sponsored an “off the record” conference in Berlin dedicated to “rethinking the Balkans,” where one of the guests was Hashim Taqi, leader of the terrorist KLA and now a major political player in Albanized Kosovo. And last week, at the meeting of EU foreign ministers, Austria and her former subjects presented a policy proposal giving Albanians more authority and promising Serbs vague autonomy. Last, but not least, a major German think tank just published a report claiming the number of Kosovo Serbs displaced by Albanian ethnic cleansing is much lower (65,000) than reported (250,000); according to the European Stability Initiative (ESI), this means that the eventual return of expelled Serbs to Kosovo could be much more feasible, but also completely irrelevant.

Bosnia: Force and Trickery

In his interview to NIN, Abramowitz dismissed theories that Bosnian Serbs could win independence as compensation for separating Kosovo from Serbia:

“…Bosnia is a result of the Dayton agreement which we have to honor, and this question will not be opened. That would mean our approval of ethnic cleansing and everything we fought against. Bosnia is a quasi-state, I agree. [But] the Serb republic is a horrible creation of Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic….”

This position involves a logical paradox, wherein the Dayton agreement is at the same time held inviolable and abominable; the former, when it guarantees Bosnia’s statehood, the latter when it qualifies it through the existence of the Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation. Abramowitz is neither the originator nor the sole practitioner of such twisted thinking. Bosnia’s current viceroy, Paddy Ashdown, certainly qualifies as its champion, systematically destroying Dayton while claiming to be defending it. Less overt but still within the category is U.S. Ambassador Robert Beecroft, just retired from heading the OSCE mission in Sarajevo, who in his farewell address promoted the idea of a unitary, post-modern Bosnia.

It is hard to find a more duplicitous advocate of Bosnian unity than the late Alija Izetbegovic, Bosnian Muslim leader who had the world convinced of his commitment to multiculturalism and the citizen state even as he wrote Islamic revolutionary manifestos and worked on establishing an Islamic state. But there is one dissembler worthy of Izetbegovic’s mantle still alive and championing his goal.

Former prime minister Haris Silajdzic recently deadpanned in a BBC interview that the Dayton agreement was a result of international intervention “on the wrong side.” Even though he was in Dayton at the talks, pushing hard for a compromise that Izetbegovic was rejecting, Silajdzic seems to have convinced himself – and seeks to convince others – that in Dayton the U.S. did not really help the Muslims, but the Serbs! This goes contrary to all known facts, including Richard Holbrooke’s own account, in which he makes crystal clear his dislike of Serbs and sympathies for Muslims. Then again, Silajdzic’s greatest value to Izetbegovic’s cause has always been that he could utter the most brazen lies with a straight face, baldly asserting the exact opposite of reality without blinking.

Target: Serbia

Boris Tadic’s honeymoon in power did not even begin, before the first Imperial threats arrived. Elected by a slight majority with less than half the electorate bothering to vote, Zoran Djindjic’s political successor was served with U.S. demands four days before his inauguration.

Though his election was praised as a chance to secure Serbia for the Empire, and though he pledged loyalty to “Euro-Atlantic integration” and submission to all of Empire’s demands, it seems that Tadic will not be getting a break he expected from Washington and Brussels. Having obtained such great results in the past through extortion, violence and threats of violence, the Empire hardly sees a need to negotiate or even act polite now. After all, why would one be courteous to slaves, especially those who serve eagerly?

Though the Empire does its best to pretend otherwise, Serbia’s services are rather necessary in resolving the issues of Bosnia and Kosovo in a convenient manner. As a guarantor of the Dayton Agreement, Serbia could oppose its debasement. Similarly, as the rightful owner of Kosovo, which it only ceded temporarily and under duress, it can legally oppose any attempt to separate the occupied province. Such actions cannot realistically compel the Empire to desist, but they would make it rather difficult for the Empire to explain its actions – something it needs to do, as its hegemony rests on perception of righteousness as much as on the might of its weaponry. Thus, it is imperative that Serbia is politically broken into accepting, seemingly of its own free will, both the wanton centralization of Bosnia and the arbitrary separation of Kosovo.

Washington and Brussels know this may not be an easy task, but they have options for forcing Serbia to do their bidding. Albanians living in the Presevo valley, who launched their own war three years ago, could be “reactivated”; they were recently visited by top Albanian-American lobbyist Joseph DioGuardi. The separatist regime of Montenegro’s prime minister Milo Djukanovic is continuing to implement a “creeping secession” from the union with Serbia, well aware that putting the question to a referendum openly would result in a defeat. It could be that Djukanovic and the Kosovo Albanians have been emboldened by the prospect of a Democratic administration; after all, Richard Holbrooke has called for their independence as early as a year ago. And in the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina, minority Hungarians have claimed to be “endangered,” prompting U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos (a Democrat and Albanian advocate) to protest “anti-Hungarian violence.” Or was that the other way around?

Unity of Purpose

In a sense, whether Democrats and Republicans hold power has no major impact on the Empire itself. Republicans’ preference for Iraq and Democrats’ eye on the Balkans are merely choices of venue, rather than indications of some conflicting principles. It’s all about power, nothing more. One might wonder why anyone should bother voting, when they might cancel the elections and nothing would really change.

Similarly, there is greater agreement between Brussels and Washington over the Balkans than over Iraq, and tales of anything more than friendly rivalry between the two halves of the Empire are surely grossly exaggerated. Their “differences” in the Balkans are best illustrated by the “debate” between two think-tank directors, ESI’s Gerald Knaus and ICG’s Nicholas Whyte, earlier this month on IWPR. Quibbling over details concerning the extent of Imperial oversight and coercion in both Bosnia and Kosovo, both Knaus and Whyte were in absolute agreement about its intent: remaking the Balkans into something acceptable to the Empire.

The Democrats’ Gambit

It appears that the Kerry campaign aims to perpetuate the Empire by shifting its focus from the public disaster that is Iraq to a secret disaster that is the Balkans. The lynchpin of this plan is to secure the submission of Serbia, which would then enable the “resolution” of Bosnia and Kosovo to the benefit Empire’s current favorites. Serbians might be a much weaker opponent than the Iraqi partisans. Then again, they might not. History is not predictive of the future, but there has been more than one occasion when Serbs were figured for dead and gone, only to bounce back and deal the Empire of the day an unpleasant surprise.

In any case, if the Democrats’ gambit succeeds, the Empire will get a new lease on life and continue its policy of planetary interference. But if it fails, that will be an opportunity for millions of disgruntled Americans to realize that changing Caesars isn’t the way to restore the Republic; getting rid of Caesars is. Maybe then, with all the masks off, Americans could take back their country, and the repressed people of the Balkans could take back theirs.

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.