Belgrade Says ‘No’

Empire Runs Into a Wall

It has been five years since hijacked airliners slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and much has changed since. The supposedly swift campaign of vengeance to root out Osama bin Laden from the caves of Afghanistan failed. The 2003 invasion of Iraq brought a quick victory to U.S. troops, but the ongoing guerrilla campaign has been bleeding them white ever since. At home, Americans are facing inflation, crushing debt, a political climate of fear, and a voracious “security” bureaucracy curtailing liberties left and right. The American Empire, announced by George W. Bush in thundering tones four years ago, is looking less powerful and less sustainable every day.

One place where the events of Sept. 11 should have resonated, but did not, has been the Balkans. After the initial shock, expectations arose that a “war on terror” would cause a reexamination of Clinton’s Balkans policies, in particular the support for radical Islamists among the Bosnian Muslims and the terrorist tactics of Kosovo’s Albanians. That has not been the case. Muslim nationalists have successfully torpedoed the U.S.-drafted constitutional amendments for Bosnia and are likely to do well in the coming national elections, further exacerbating inter-ethnic relations in that country. Meanwhile, the constant stream of terrorist attacks by Kosovo Albanians – culminating in the March 2004 pogrom of Serbs – drew not condemnation, but appeasement, as the UN abandoned its policy of “standards” and NATO occupiers openly declared support for the Albanian goal of independence. Washington and Brussels received an unpleasant surprise, however, when the authorities in Belgrade balked at accepting the planned carve-up of Serbia.

Boris Goes to Washington

Opposition to separating the occupied Kosovo from Serbia came not just from Prime Minister Kostunica, but also President Boris Tadic, whose willingness to serve the Empire approached laughable sycophancy on many prior occasions. A Washington Post editorial in July dismissed both as “addicted to poisonous nationalism” and expressed hopes that the Serbian people would “choose better leaders.”

Apparently missing the memo, Tadic came to Washington last week in what the media have labeled a “Kosovo offensive.” According to reports, during his three-day visit, Tadic was supposed to bring the Emperor a message from Belgrade that Serbia could not accept losing 15 percent of its territory. He did stay true to that part of his task, faithfully stating that Serbia would give the Kosovo Albanians unprecedented autonomy, but could not condone Kosovo’s separation.

However, Tadic did not take long to revert to form of an overeager puppy. In a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Sept. 9, he pledged loyalty to the “Transatlantic community” and declared that “[t]he eventual home of Serbia and of the whole Balkan region is in the European Union” and that “the only path to a secure and lasting solution to Kosovo passes through Brussels.” Tadic also expressed hope that “with America’s help” Serbia would “become an irreversible success story in a democracy-building exercise.”

After everything that has happened over the past five years with the U.S. – and over the past seven or so with Serbia – one might rightly ask if Tadic had been living in a cave somewhere. There is no “Transatlantic community.” The EU is not a functioning continental hyperstate. And the neocons that dominate both the Heritage Foundation and the Bush regime are at the nadir, not the zenith, of their power, as more and more Americans realize that His Most Elevated Majesty’s imperial ventures have made their country less safe and less free since That September Day.

“As Long as There Is Serbia”

While Tadic was singing paeans to the American Empire and Serbia’s “partnership” with it in Washington, Vojislav Kostunica was laying down the legal framework for Serbia’s defense of Kosovo. Presenting the report to the Parliament on the sham negotiations with the Albanians organized by the UN in Vienna over the past several months, the prime minister said that Serbia would never agree to independence for Kosovo. The full transcript of the speech is available online, but it is worth quoting some segments.

Commenting on the course of the negotiations, Kostunica said,

“[O]ur arguments were by far superior since they were based on the principles of justice, international law, democratic values, and European standards … it is the force of our arguments which is most probably the reason why there has been no progress whatsoever in the talks. Ethnic Albanians are simply not interested in serious negotiations, and are arrogantly secure in their belief that they have been given in advance something that does not belong to them….”

He rejected an imposition of independence with the following words:

“[A]ny imposed solution based on the use of force and legal violence would be nothing but clear and brutal seizure of our territory … such a seizure of territory has never occurred anywhere, and no country has ever accepted that, or could possibly do so.”

And this was a clear message to the international meddlers:

“[W]e, and not they, live in this region … those whose lives are in question know the true value of a good and viable solution compared to any premature, nervous, and forced decision.”

However, the entire speech boils down to this:

“Kosovo has always been and will always remain the constituent part of Serbia … as long as there is Serbia there will be no other answer.”

Kostunica’s proposal contained in the speech – that Serbia’s sovereignty over Kosovo be explicitly recognized in the new Constitution, now in the final drafting stages – was adopted by the lawmakers with 219 voting for, and only five against. (AP)

Albanians reacted to this with “scorn and ridicule,” reiterating that they hold the province in their possession, and that its separation is “inevitable.” But that only confirmed Kostunica’s claim that Pristina is not interested in negotiating.

Without Options

Trouble is, it doesn’t seem like Washington or Brussels are interested in negotiating, either. Having built their political and military empires on the premise of Serb guilt for Balkans wars, they are pushing hard for “finishing the job” in the only manner consistent with their own propaganda: carving up Serbia and creating a centralized, Muslim-dominated Bosnia-Herzegovina and an ethnically cleansed Albanian Kosovo.

But with the bulk of Imperial military forces tied up in Middle East, a fractured NATO and deeply troubled regimes in Washington, London, Paris, and Berlin, it does appear that Imperial threats of imposing a solution are just a colossal bluff. NATO was never able to take Kosovo by force in the first place, and has proven entirely unable – not to mention unwilling – to confront Albanian terrorism in the province ever since. How does anyone imagine they would be able to impose anything on either the Serbs or the Albanians?

Similarly, the imperial presence in Bosnia has lost so much of its credibility that it is hard to see them acting forcefully if the Bosnian Serbs decided to call a referendum for secession as a response to rising and blatant Muslim intolerance. Hysterical media may scream that Serbs are “threatening new war,” but it is obvious that if the war indeed comes, it will be Muslims firing the first shot. And then what?

The American Empire originally established its dominion in the Balkans and rearranged the region to its liking through a combination of lies, force, and intimidation. The lies no longer hold water. The force has been shown up in the deserts of Mesopotamia and the mountains of Afghanistan. And intimidation does not seem to work anymore, either.

Truth is, there is so much diplomatic and political pressure on Belgrade because the Empire cannot impose its will without the Serbs’ acquiescence. If it could, it would have done so long ago.

It is a grim position for the Empire, but one entirely of its own making.

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.