Orwellian Balkans

Last week’s purge of Bosnian Serb officials by viceroy Ashdown has touched off a political meltdown in the country. Senior Serb officials are resigning left and right, jeopardizing the continued functioning of the current central government, while the general public is trying to guess whether a major revision of the 1995 Dayton Agreement is really in the offing, or whether this political crisis will blow over as others have before. All the media are in full spin mode, and diplomatic gloves have come off entirely. Nine years after the fighting ended, it is becoming clear that the war never did; it only changed venues.

Events in Kosovo only underscore the absurdity of what is happening in Bosnia, and vice versa. Logic seems to have gone out the window, replaced by brute force and power for its own sake. As 2004 draws to a close, the prospect of continued Balkans conflict escalating into actual violence seems increasingly a possibility. But in the world whose self-appointed peacekeepers can get away with wars of aggression based on obvious lies, should that really come as a surprise?

Tyrannizing Bosnia

Though Paddy "Norton-sub-Hamdon" Ashdown’s latest act of tyranny seemed less severe than earlier ones, it targeted more than just the nine proscribed officials: the continued existence of the Bosnian Serb Republic, and with it Bosnia as defined by the Dayton Constitution.

Naturally, the "high representative" of the Empire denies violating the Constitution, but in a most perplexing manner. As he told the BBC, "[I]t would be illegal for me to do things that were unconstitutional or contrary to the Dayton agreement." While true, this is also completely nonsensical. It doesn’t answer the question: is he physically capable of doing something illegal? Unless Ashdown is an Asimovian robot, the answer is most certainly "Yes." Yet he’d have everyone believe that since it would be illegal – and therefore, he suggests, impossible – for him to violate Dayton, anything he does cannot by definition be illegal. The high representative is so high, he’s infallible! Delusions of grandeur are one thing, but this is simply insane….

Some of Ashdown’s other statements also suggest the viceroy is completely out of touch with truth and logic. For example, he told The Guardian: "No one can tell me [the Serb Republic’s] failure to capture a single war criminal in nine years is anything other than a deep laid intention not to capture them," even though this was manifestly untrue, and in any case was entirely his conjecture, not fact. Similarly, he invoked the figure of 250,000 killed in the war, a number decisively debunked recently.

Sane or not, the viceroy has powerful friends: the EU, its peacekeeping mission, and the U.S. government. Actually, it was Washington that escalated Ashdown’s latest purge into a political meltdown, by banning top Bosnian Serb officials from traveling to the U.S. This resulted in the resignations of the current Bosnian president and foreign minister, both ethnic Serbs, as they could no longer do their jobs properly. The prime minister of the Serb Republic resigned Friday.

But by Monday, Serbs "backed off" from confrontation with Ashdown, claims Reuters, in what appeared to be an attempt at saving whatever is left of their autonomy from the viceroy’s wrath. None of the resignations were withdrawn, nor have new resignations been ruled out, but there doesn’t seem to be a readiness to make a stand against what is manifestly a tyranny.

"Democracy" in Kosovo

For all the fuss the Empire is making about the supposed problem of "war criminals" in Bosnia, its occupation administration in nearby Kosovo isn’t concerned in the least about a suspected war criminal and terrorist becoming prime minister. In fact, viceroy Jessen-Petersen said outright that blocking the nomination of Ramush Haradinaj to the post would be "saying no to democracy."

Since when has democracy trumped war crimes charges? And would that excuse work for the Bosnian Serbs? Not in a million years, and Jessen-Petersen and his bosses know it all too well. But they don’t care. Not only that, but the UN occupation authorities continue to insist that the handful of Serbs left in Kosovo, brutalized by Haradinaj’s thugs (among others) for the past five-plus years, join the "political process" that has so far only benefited their tormentors.

Meanwhile, the same media that see nothing incongruous in this continue to assert that "10,000 people died in Kosovo, mostly ethnic Albanians" – another claim that bears no relationship with reality, just like the Bosnia numbers. Any claim of Serb-perpetrated atrocities is taken at face value, while the indicted-in-detail Haradinaj is merely "accused of alleged war crimes" (AP).

Even some of Empire’s supporters aren’t comfortable with Haradinaj. The International Herald Tribune, European conduit of the New York Times, dared obliquely suggest Monday that Haradinaj might be a "poor choice." But as German weekly Der Spiegel has noted, despite the detailed charges against him, Our Man Ramush has a deep well of support in Washington’s corridors of power. There is a chance Haradinaj might be indicted by the Hague Inquisition, but it’s tantamount to that of Slobodan Milosevic being acquitted, and for the same reason.

So while the issue of "war criminals" is used to dismantle the arrangement that ended the war in Bosnia, a man who boasted of committing atrocities and actually commanded terrorists gets to play statesman.

Go figure.

A Case of Selective Existence

Overshadowed by the ruckus in Bosnia, and generally by its far more flamboyant bastard cousin and neighbor, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled last week on the lawsuit filed by Yugoslavia (now Serbia-Montenegro) against NATO members who attacked it in 1999.

According to the ICJ’s verdict, since Yugoslavia was not a member of the UN at the time, it had no standing to file a suit, and the court "has no jurisdiction to entertain the claims" by its government. In effect, because then-Yugoslavia was not a UN member, it cannot sue other UN members for violating UN laws. Such as, say, the one against aggression.

However, the ICJ has already ruled it did have jurisdiction in lawsuits brought by the wartime Izetbegovic regime in Bosnia, and the Tudjman regime in Croatia, accusing Serbia of aggression and genocide. So, Yugoslavia exists when it is sued, bombed, partitioned, blockaded, and sanctioned – but not when it tries to assert its rights under international law to defend from such actions. Obviously, this is quite absurd. Belgrade is trying to overturn that decision, and now seems to have quite a case. That is, if the ICJ rules in a manner consistent with its own logic. In this modern world, that is becoming quite a tall order.

The "Abramowitz Doctrine"

All of this points to a disturbing conclusion. What seems to govern events in the Balkans under Imperial rule is something that, for lack of a better term, could be termed the "Abramowitz doctrine": a complete absence of any principle that would be valid for all. Indeed, a complete absence of any principle at all, except power.

Completely different rules are in force for Serbs and for Albanians, or Bosnian Muslims; certainly, no external rules whatsoever apply to the Empire, in any of its manifestations. What "rules" that exist are made by Imperial viceroys, commanders, envoys, commissioners, and advisors, on the spot and without any need (or regard) for internal consistency. The ends – ultimately elusive, but hiding under the platitudes of "justice" and "Euro-Atlantic integration" – justify any and all means, while any resistance to them is a priori considered criminal.

Law is non-binding upon the Self-Righteous. Treaties are of no consequence. Neither is logic, for that matter. Understanding is not required, only obedience. This is the Balkans in 2004, not the Orwellian dystopia of 20 years prior, but still the same: a boot, stamping on a human face, forever.

Today the Balkans, tomorrow the world?

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.