Imperial Policy in Action

Judging by news coming from the Balkans this past week, the usually languid days of summer were anything but. Bosnia underwent another major centralization effort, while Serbia-Montenegro signed a treaty giving free passage through the country to the alliance that bombed it just six years ago. There is talk of fresh unrest in Kosovo. It also appears that the terrorist attacks in London have spurred, at long last, an effort toward investigating the long-alleged terrorist connections in Bosnia, but the wall of denial protecting the Official Truth about the Balkans wars is still standing.

This could be Washington’s "new" policy at work, seeking to wrap up "unfinished business" in the Balkans before going on to other places. But the footprint of Empire’s boot in the region doesn’t seem to be getting any smaller.

Rights of Passage

The American press did not report it, but on July 19, Serbia-Montenegro signed a treaty with NATO giving the Alliance unrestricted rights of passage on its territory. The news came as a shock to the Serbian public, still resentful over NATO’s aggression more than six years ago. Some papers even recalled that back in 1999, there was a similar provision in the infamous Rambouillet ultimatum, the Annex B, which the Milosevic government justifiably rejected.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer rubbed in the humiliation at a follow-up press conference, declaring that the 1999 war was "fully justified," and that a "closer relationship" with NATO was Serbia’s way of avoiding being a "lonely dissenter dwelling on perceived historic injustices."

No one has exactly expected any form of repentance from NATO officials over what happened in 1999. It may have been a naked act of aggression, in clear violation of international law and NATO’s own charter, but the Alliance was allowed to claim victory and faced no punishment for its actions. Careers were built, peerages won, books sold, and campaign funds raised on the strength of NATO’s "famous victory" in Kosovo, and it is inconceivable to anyone connected to it to think of it any other way.

What boggles the mind is the willingness of Scheffer’s hosts, the Serbian authorities, to accept NATO’s self-righteous proclamations, let alone sign a treaty granting the Alliance access to their territory after everything that has happened. This acceptance is the key enabler of Imperial arrogance. The nerve and cheek of NATO leaders involved in the 1999 aggression is easier to understand when one realizes that their targets appear to have embraced them with no ill will. After all, Javier Solana, Scheffer’s predecessor who directed the bombing, is the founding father of present-day Serbia-Montenegro.

In the aftermath of the treaty’s signing, the Serbian authorities have tried very hard to create an impression, if only among their own people, of a partnership with the Empire. To everyone else, it has been clear as day that Serbia is merely shining the boot stomping on it.

New Model Army

Another Balkans event went largely unnoticed in the Western press: a proposed military reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina that would create a unified military from the three opposing armies from the civil war that ended a decade ago. Only Transitions Online covered the announcement, with predictable exuberance at the prospect of "normality" only centralized governments can provide.

It turns out that last year’s establishment of a centralized defense ministry was but a half-measure, leading to full centralization of Bosnia’s armed forces. That this directly contradicts the country’s Constitution, adopted as part of the Dayton peace agreement in 1995, is seemingly no one’s concern. Dayton has been violated before, by none more so than the international viceroys charged with its implementation, so one more violation is the norm, not an exception. It is likely the military reform – in the form of a constitutional amendment – will be easily ratified in the parliament, opening the way to further modifications of the Dayton accords; all in the name of "fulfilling requirements" to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace and the EU, of course, which have somehow become Bosnia’s ultimate political and military objectives without so much as a debate.

One of the reasons the "reform" proposal will likely succeed is that it abolishes the draft in favor of a volunteer military. The draft – legacy of the Communist national defense strategy – has been reviled since the beginning of the war, when hundreds of thousands were held hostage (or even killed) as potential combatants. After the war, issues arose when oaths of allegiance to Bosnia were demanded of Serb and Croat conscripts who fought against the idea of centralized government. Contrary to the TOL reporter’s fears of Serb obstruction, it was precisely the Serbs who proposed ending the draft last year, during the first round of military centralization. It was the Muslim leadership that rejected this so vehemently even the international advisers backed off.

Abolition of the draft is a small step for liberty in Bosnia, but the tyrannical idea of a centralized state will profit from it. The military itself is irrelevant; those who do enlist or receive commissions will likely serve NATO and the United States in far-off battlefields, at Empire’s expense. The real target here is Bosnia’s fragile political arrangement, held together by the tattered Dayton framework. Every "reform" so far has destroyed another piece of Dayton, putting in its place the "multiethnic," centralized government whose inability to function fairly had caused the civil war to begin with.

Distorted Images

In the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo, there are hints of more trouble ahead. During last week’s visit, EU foreign policy commissar Javier Solana criticized the Albanians for "stalling" the process designed to give the impression of democracy and order, a prerequisite for UN approval of final status talks. There are now reports that viceroy Jessen-Petersen is considering sacking a deputy prime minister of the Albanian provisional government over alleged involvement in political assassinations. Meanwhile, Adem Demaqi, longtime Albanian separatist leader now styling himself a "political analyst," has threatened another pogrom if Albanian demands for independence are not met.

One cannot escape the impression that criticism of Albanians is concerned primarily with the possible bad press their violent ways may create, interfering with the carefully nurtured image in the West of them as innocent victims of bloodthirsty Serbs. Such proclamations were common in the aftermath of last year’s pogrom, when the spin machine pushing the cause of "independent," Albanian Kosovo was working overtime.

Of course, the biggest thorn in Empire’s side is the persistent refusal of Kosovo Serbs to participate in the occupation government and somehow legitimize their extinction. Hardly a report goes by without a mention of Jessen-Petersen’s demand that Serbs participate, usually echoed by whichever Imperial official is visiting Kosovo that day. But so far, both the Kosovo Serbs and the government in Belgrade have resisted such pressure. Even Serbian president Boris Tadic – who once called for Serb participation – seems to have changed his mind.

Even the New York Times‘ editors appear confused by what is going on in Kosovo. A story by their correspondent Nicholas Wood appearing in the July 25 edition of the Times paints a generally optimistic picture, with Serbs and Albanians playing confidence-building games under the patronage of Western NGOs. The following day, the NYT-owned and -operated International Herald Tribune carried the same story, only edited to have a markedly different tone. Gone were the confidence-building games; instead, the story dwelled more on how Albanians boycott their Serb neighbors, intent on seeing them gone from Kosovo. In this version, the status solution sought by the UN was proving "elusive."

Wishful Thinking

Empire’s criticism of Albanians, however mild and ridiculous in comparison with the extent of misdeeds committed in Kosovo since the occupation, has been taken by the political establishment in Belgrade as a sign of shifting favors in Washington. Nothing could be further from the truth. Empire’s political platform has been spelled out clearly in May, and hammered home by the Srebrenica propaganda blitz in July. There is no reason to believe that Washington has suddenly changed its mind. The people of Serbia, eager to escape their Empire-imposed pariah status, may be desperate enough to believe any yarn their treacherous leaders spin out of thin air, but that doesn’t make such fantasies anything more than delusional, wishful thinking.

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.