Carnival of the Absurd

The Ongoing Balkans Hell

Compared to, say, Kyrgyzstan these days, news coming from the Balkans makes the region appear downright calm. As usual, appearances are misleading. Taken separately, reports from the region don’t mean much – but taken together, they paint a picture of a continuing descent into absurdity.

Like a scratched CD, the Imperial viceroy of Kosovo continues to repeat his mantra of Serb "participation" in the occupation. In a collaborative mood as of recently, Belgrade just might say yes; or so is the hope. Meanwhile, it takes al-Jazeera to point out the obvious behind a steady stream of low-intensity violence targeting both Serbs and the UNMIK occupiers. The viceroy in Bosnia continues his favorite sport of political purges, this time targeting the Croats while ignoring widespread abuses by Muslims. In short, for the Imperial hellhole that is the Balkans, everything is perfectly normal.

Violence and Wishful Thinking

The UN viceroy of Kosovo, Soeren Jessen-Petersen, visited Belgrade earlier this week, for talks with Serbian officials about opening "direct dialogue" with the separatist Albanians now controlling the occupied province. Jessen-Petersen also repeated his request for Serbs to collaborate with the occupation, even as he championed two pro-Albanian positions – no "partition" and no return to status quo ante bellum. As usual, Belgrade authorities proved incapable of issuing the simplest media statement that would advance their agenda (assuming there is one), calling the talks instead "engaging and constructive."

What exactly have they "engaged" in? Jessen-Petersen offers a glimpse: "Just four months ago I did not feel Belgrade was focused that the status talks would happen this year," he told AP. "The very focus on that I consider a welcome development."

Meanwhile, the separatist Albanians are busily implementing an agenda for seizing the "Holy Grail" of independence. With the help of sympathetic international officials such as Jessen-Petersen, they are doing everything in their power to create an impression of law-abiding, tolerant, democratic champions of human rights.

One such ploy is a "Memorandum of Understanding" for reconstruction of Serbian Orthodox shrines destroyed in the March 2004 pogrom (but not over 100 churches destroyed earlier!). The Memorandum has already caused havoc in the Serbian Orthodox Church, opening a rift between the Synod and the bishop of Kosovo. Albanians, on the other hand, can point to the Memorandum as "proof" of their tolerant bona fides and not actually lift a finger to rebuild anything they destroyed.

Exposed – by al-Jazeera!

Albanians aren’t leaving anything to chance, either. A steady campaign of bombs and beatings, just low-level enough (by Kosovo terms) not to attract media attention, has targeted both Serbs and the UN/NATO occupiers. However, at least one media house has caught on. Here’s a quote from the Qatar-based al-Jazeera (!) report on Tuesday:

"[A] pattern of almost daily acts of violence this month – some aimed at international officials – is worrying Kosovo’s UN overseers and the 18,500-strong NATO-led peace force.

"With no guarantee that Kosovo will become independent of Serbia, some UN officials say Albanian ‘extremists’ want to escalate tensions in the hope that they can stampede the UN into giving them what they want and getting out." 

Al-Jazeera ends the report with a quote from a UN source: "These young men don’t have anything to lose. All they’ve seen is that crime pays." Left unspoken, but palpable, is the fact that it’s the UN and NATO that made criminal violence profitable.

The Croats’ Turn

In the Empire’s other Balkans protectorate of Bosnia-Herzegovina, viceroy Paddy Ashdown once again engaged in his favorite form of political action, sacking the Croat member of the tripartite Presidium because he refused to resign in the face of corruption charges. Dragan Covic, representative of the ethnic Croat HDZ party, was indicted for allegedly accepting bribes while finance minister a few years back, but the case has not yet come to trial. Ashdown told Reuters his decision "was part of a wider ruling requiring that officials indicted by a court should step down in the future to preserve Bosnia’s international reputation."

What reputation? So far, Bosnia has a reputation for violence, corruption, ethnic hatred, and kleptocracy, all of them well-deserved. Neither the average Bosnian official nor Ashdown is by any stretch of the imagination an exemplar of honesty, integrity, or justice. He may be a baronet in Norton-sub-Hamdon, but Ashdown is a vicious despot in Bosnia – an omnipotent, unaccountable dictator whose whims are considered law.

Bitter Harvest

For their part, Bosnian Croats have every right to feel oppressed, especially since Ashdown is doing nothing at all to sanction the Muslims’ open disregard of the Bosnian constitution. In a far more serious threat to peace in the quasi-state than any campaign contributions Dragan Covic may or may not have accepted improperly, the Muslim nationalist SDA party has made a mockery of the constitutional requirement to secure equal representation for Serbs and Croats in the institutions of government – adopted in 2002, at Muslim insistence. Serbs have had virtually no representation in the Muslim-Croat Federal government for nearly two years. Now, as town and city governments are being set up after the local elections late last year, they are increasingly shut out of them as well. The SDA claims it is respecting multi-ethnicity: why, it has "Bosniaks," "Bosnians," and "Muslims" in office!

Ashdown – whose adulation of the late SDA founder Alija Izetbegovic has far surpassed even his colleague Jessen-Petersen’s saccharine praise of Ramush Haradinaj – has done absolutely nothing to curb the SDA’s abuses of power. He is, in fact, implementing a program of forced centralization that threatens to unravel the fragile peace among the Bosnian communities, and with the full support of Washington and Brussels, no less.

There is the inevitable element of irony in Ashdown’s most recent tyrannical act. It was the Bosnian Croats who enabled Izetbegovic’s SDA to usurp power and illegally declare independence in 1992; entirely against their own interests, but serving the HDZ regime in Zagreb, they supported Izetbegovic’s project of a Muslim-dominated, centralized Bosnia. Used and abandoned by Zagreb, Izetbegovic, and the Empire, they are now left to reap the bitter harvest of political miscalculation all by themselves.

Empire’s Playground

This steadily unfolding carnival of tragedy and absurdity follows the "logic" of Imperial policymakers, one that accepts no principle except power, and in which double- or triple-standards are the accepted norm. There are different rules for Serbs, Croats, Muslims, Albanians, or Macedonians. No rules whatsoever apply to the Empire, embodied in viceroys, "peacekeeping missions," and legions of near-governmental organizations. The "rules" that do exist are created on the spot by Imperial viceroys, commanders, envoys, commissioners, and advisers, without any need or regard for internal consistency.

Trying frantically to appease its Imperial masters, the Bosnian Serb government recently launched a campaign to track down and arrest its wartime officials wanted by the Hague Inquisition. "Either they go to The Hague, or we go to hell," says a TV ad. It’s catchy, but wrong; regardless of the "war criminals" and the Inquisition, both Bosnia and Kosovo have been hell for a while now. If the news is any indicator, that’s not about to change.

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.