Balkans vs. Imperial “Reality”

The last days of April saw the failure of two promises Balkans leaders had made to their Imperial overlords. In Bosnia, opponents of the constitutional reform managed to pull off an upset and derail the American-sponsored amendments. Meanwhile, Brussels and the Hague Inquisition demanded that Serbia track down, arrest, and extradite the former Bosnian Serb Army commander, Ratko Mladic, by May 1. When this did not happen, Brussels suspended negotiations with Belgrade on Serbia’s entry into the European mega-state.

In both cases, the Empire expected an easy victory. So far, Belgrade has always submitted to pressure at the last moment, and kept the Hague Minotaur well-fed – though never happy. In Bosnia, Muslims have always supported further centralization, Serbs could always be coerced, and the Croats were usually ignored. Only this time, everything the Empire has taken for granted blew right back in its face, showing that having influence over local tyrants does not always translate into blind obedience to imperial will.

Revenge of the Has-Beens

The last week of April, after a two-day session, the state legislature of Bosnia-Herzegovina voted on the proposed constitutional amendments, drafted in Washington, which would have given more power to the government and expanded the bureaucracy. The result – a narrow defeat – infuriated both the U.S. ambassador and the current EU viceroy, who criticized the vote as a “step back” from reforms to which there was “no alternative.”

The defeat smarts even more for being engineered by a motley collection of political has-beens, wannabes, and rejects – people who had left their respective political parties for the sake of personal gain. The most vocal opponents of the reform, the so-called “Patriotic bloc” led by rogue Muslim nationalist Haris Silajdzic, could not block the bill by themselves; it was the defection of five Croat delegates that swung the vote.

As befits an alliance of convenience and not conviction, opponents of the new constitution had different agendas. Croats who helped kill the bill did so citing fear of Muslim domination and lack of institutional protection, while Silajdzic’s followers argued for “wringing the Serbs’ necks” and considered the proposal insufficiently centralized for their vision. And the Serbs, who had consistently opposed centralization at the expense of their autonomy, backed the plan almost unanimously.

Will Washington and Brussels see this reversal as a clear consequence of their misguided and misplaced Bosnia policy over the past decade, which promoted the likes of Silajdzic and the “HDZ 1990” (the renegade Croat faction)? That, unfortunately, does not seem likely. Therein is the Empire’s ultimate failure in Bosnia.

Serbia’s Most Wanted

On May 3, the EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn suspended the talks with Serbia, at the urging of the ICTY’s head inquisitor. Carla Del Ponte maintains that Ratko Mladic, the wartime commander of Bosnian Serb forces, is hiding somewhere in Serbia, with the help of Serbian military, security, and intelligence. This may or may not be true – there’s certainly little to no evidence either way – but it is awfully convenient to those who wish to dismantle Serbia’s military and intelligence apparatus, deemed hostile to the Empire and the New Order it seeks to establish in the Balkans.

And while Serbian police busily raided suburban Belgrade and provincial towns, the deputy prime minister and head of one of the parties in the governing coalition quit his post. Miroljub Labus, head of the minuscule but powerful G17 Plus, accused his own government of having “betrayed the most important interest of the country” by not finding and arresting Mladic before the EU deadline. His attitude was shared by his coalition partner Vuk Draskovic, Serbia’s freelancing foreign minister, who used the situation to further his personal vendetta: “It is necessary to replace all security chiefs and the related Cabinet ministers,” he reportedly told the daily Blic. “They are the main culprits for the current situation, and they must be held responsible.”

A May 5 editorial in the New York Times-owned International Herald Tribune called Mladic a “manifest war criminal” and a “malignant tumor” that Serbia needs to get rid of, for “there should be no question in any Serb’s mind that the most promising future for the country is to find acceptance within Europe.”

Even though self-proclaimed “security experts” declare in pro-Imperial media that the government search is a farce, and that the general is probably hiding somewhere in Belgrade – parroting the words of Carla Del Ponte – there is really no compelling reason this government would shelter Mladic. Everyone, from Kostunica to Labus and Draskovic, has pledged their ultimate loyalty to Brussels on numerous occasions, and would sell their souls (if only they had any) to achieve annexation to the Leviathan.

At first, Labus’ resignation threatened to split the coalition and topple the government. Speculation in Belgrade was that Labus had made a deal with his old comrades in the Democratic Party and tried to bring down the government to help them into power; he had reportedly already secured a job with the World Bank and could not care less about Serbia. However, his party colleagues refused to leave their positions of power, while a new election would benefit the Democrats far less than the Radicals. Kostunica’s government may yet survive, because even its most vocal critics are deathly afraid of a Radical victory.

Contrary to the alarmist tone of domestic and foreign media reports, breaking off the EU accession talks won’t affect Serbia one bit. The only people profiting from closer ties with the Leviathan have been politicians and their cronies; if the reports are true, Labus will certainly not be any worse off as a World Bank bureaucrat. The Inquisition wants Mladic in order to fill the spotlight left empty by the passing of Slobodan Milosevic in March, so it could continue its agenda of demonization. That the general is still at large is a failure of the Empire and its Serbian servants, not Serbia itself.


Violence, propaganda, extortion, and bribes have managed to create a pretense of Imperial control and loyalty to Washington and Brussels in the Balkans. Just about any politician who wishes to hold power feels the need to profess a commitment to “Euro-Atlantic integrations” and “values.”

However, this is a region that has seen powerful empires come and go, and whose people are used to being oppressed and manipulated. Even the most loyal Imperial sycophant among the Balkans kleptocrats has an agenda of his own and believes he is using the might of the West to his benefit, rather than the other way around. Some, if they consider themselves sufficiently righteous and deserving, do not hesitate to bite their master’s hand.

Those who seek to shape reality by force and will may be able to bend it for a while, but they are ultimately powerless to break it. What defeats them is the same thing that gives them power: human nature. That is why the Empire has failed in the Balkans, why it is failing in Iraq, and why it will ultimately fail at home.

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.