Solving the ‘Serbian Question’

It was only a matter of time before someone said it: "[A]n old question haunts the continent: Where should the borders of Serbia lie?" So began Roger Cohen’s commentary in the International Herald Tribune on Tuesday, titled "The Serbian Question, Still on Europe’s Plate."

Though the wars of the 1990s – which he blames squarely on Slobodan Milosevic’s "destructive vision" – are over, the "issues behind the killing are not yet resolved," Cohen says. "Fundamental decisions will have to be made soon – about the nature of Bosnian society, about Kosovo, and about the future of the truncated federation of Serbia and Montenegro."

Cohen is carefully vague, but the article makes it obvious what the "solution" is likely to be. Total centralization of Bosnia and the separation of Kosovo and Montenegro – the Morton Abramowitz platform, to the letter – are presented as almost inevitable.

Kosovo as Paradigm

Cohen, like the rest of the Western press, frames Kosovo in simple terms: "Serb minority" versus the "overwhelming Albanian majority" that demands independence. One conclusion clearly follows from the terminology: "An adjustment of borders may have to come one day."

The only thing shocking here is Cohen’s admission. The Empire’s official propaganda arm, Voice of America, considers Washington "sympathetic towards independence" in a report indicating all Albanians are united on the issue. In just a few days, the Albanians will come out and vote for a new provisional government, an institution created under the "constitutional framework" by a UN viceroy in 2001.

Some may argue that the UN had no mandate to create a virtual state in occupied territory where it was only authorized to provide "substantial autonomy." That’s true. It is also true that the armistice signed by NATO and the Yugoslav military was not an act of unconditional surrender, though NATO treated it as such. It is also true that NATO and the UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) are in violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which provides cover for the occupation that resulted from an illegal war of aggression. And it is also true that nobody cares – especially not the UN and NATO. The Empire does not obey treaties; it creates them to demand the obedience of others.

When the beleaguered Kosovo Serbs announced they would disobey the Empire and not participate in the elections, both they and the government in Belgrade faced enormous pressure. Prime Minister Kostunica declined to coerce his compatriots in Kosovo, but President Tadic caved in.

Not surprisingly, UNMIK praised Tadic’s choice. So did the UN, Brussels and Washington. "Participation will allow the minority community to have its voice heard," said viceroy Jessen-Petersen last Wednesday, and was echoed by the State Department spokesman the following weekend.

Of course, the reason Kosovo Serbs are boycotting the election – Tadic’s plea notwithstanding – is that their voice has not been heard since 1999, despite them bending over backwards to collaborate with the UN/NATO occupiers. Serb participation is not really about anyone having a voice, but about lending legitimacy to the occupation regime.

Absence of Resistance

In the remainder of Serbia, official resistance to the rape of Kosovo is virtually nonexistent. Serbia’s dominant political parties all come from the same bloc supported by the Empire in the fall of 2000 to overthrow the government of Slobodan Milosevic. They know the Empire’s definition of "reformers": those who stay bought; all others are denounced as "ultra-nationalists."

President Boris Tadic is a reformer, all right. The Empire has doubts about Prime Minister Kostunica, but then no one can say for sure where he stands – probably not even Kostunica himself. The AP casts Tadic as a brave pro-Western voice and Kostunica as part of "those supporting the hardline policies of confrontation by Milosevic and his loyalists." But the truth is rather less dramatic. Kostunica’s political quarrel with Tadic is "over how far to bend to Western wishes" (Reuters), not whether.

Last week, Tadic condemned Kostunica’s policies of "not doing anything" as "extremely inefficient and dangerous for our national interests." That implies his policy of unquestioned obedience is beneficial. But is it? It does not seem to appease the Hague Inquisition. It only emboldens the advocates of Kosovo independence. Satisfying one set of demands only brings out another: that’s the way with successful extortion.

Is there no one in Serbia who would pursue a logical policy: defend the country’s integrity and independence, demand that the Empire cease meddling and return the illegally occupied Kosovo? Seems not. Such a policy would serve Serbia, and the present leadership serves only Brussels and Washington. This is why European and American policymakers can engage in plotting "solutions" to the "Serbian question." The Serbs don’t seem inclined to stop them.

"Thesis Reversal"

Roger Cohen’s article ends with a comparison that is ominous, yet entirely consistent with the way the Empire has been casting the Balkans conflict:

"An attempt to keep [Kosovo] within Serbia may in the end merely prolong the Serbian question. It was only with the resolution of the German question that peace came to Central Europe. As long as the Serbian question festers, the Balkans will remain unstable."

What Cohen is referring to here as the "resolution of the German question" is somewhat unclear. He could be talking about the reunification of Germany in 1991, but it neither brought peace (since Germany immediately fomented conflict in Yugoslavia), nor does it fit into the theme of the article; partition, not unification, is on Cohen’s mind.

The other option is the horrendous ethnic cleansing of almost 12 million Germans after 1945, often from lands they had inhabited for centuries. The victors justified this as "revenge" for Nazi atrocities; the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kosovo in 1999 and the subsequent terror against the remnant has been consistently described as "revenge attacks" by Cohen’s colleagues in the press. In the eyes of the Empire, Serbs can never be victims of ethnic cleansing – only perpetrators.

But while Hitler’s Germany claimed territories in Eastern Europe (including, interestingly enough, Serbia) by the "right" of conquest, the Serbs did no such thing in Yugoslavia. They actually had rights, both as founders of the first Yugoslavia and oft-abused partners in the second, guaranteed by the Yugoslav Constitution and a host of international treaties and conventions. These rights were flagrantly violated by the seceding regimes in Ljubljana, Zagreb and Sarajevo, and their EU and U.S. sponsors.

How is it not "aggression" to forcibly separate territories from a country (again, in violation of international treaties) but it is "aggression" when the two million people living in those territories object? How can it be considered "aggression" to defend one’s country against a terrorist separatist movement, as Slobodan Milosevic did in Kosovo, but entirely legitimate to actually start a war and occupy Kosovo on behalf of that terrorist movement, as NATO did?

And yet, most of the mainstream Imperial view of the Balkans is one gigantic "thesis reversal" of this kind.

One Alternative

After the projected amputations, Cohen would see the resulting Serbia handed over to the EU: "Where empires – Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian or communist – once ruled, the EU would step in, a benign deflator of nationalist extremes." However, the EU is an empire, or an adjunct to one, and has a record of maliciously inflating nationalist extremes in the Balkans.

Although the EU is being forced on Serbia as the "only choice," becoming a tributary to the Brussels Leviathan does have alternatives. Take for example Iceland, the wealthiest place in Europe despite its small size, population and scarcity of natural resources (which is not a problem for Serbia): it has grown prosperous precisely because it has not joined the EU.

"Icelanders believe that self-government is the natural condition for a sturdy, free-standing citizenry. They understand that there is a connection between living in an independent state and living independently from the state. They have no more desire to submit to international than to national regulation. That attitude has made them the happiest, freest and wealthiest people on earth." (The Spectator, Oct. 9, 2004)

Why is this so difficult to understand?

What’s Next?

Cohen’s commentary is just the latest in a continuum of fiction, but perhaps the most forthright since Richard Holbrooke’s memoir. Only the deliberately dim can claim ignorance now: Serbia is to be dismembered, starting with Kosovo and ending who-knows-where, in the interest of "Balkan stability."

Rhetoric notwithstanding, the current crop of politicians in Serbia is either oblivious to this threat, or believes it inevitable and therefore not worth fighting. If the Serbian people lack the will to resist the fate Empire has chosen for them, it is very hard to argue they don’t deserve it. Is something truly a crime if the victim consents?

But then, from Dayton to Kumanovo, such "consent" is just what the Empire has been after all along.

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.