A Desperate Push

The Empire Tries to Browbeat Serbia

Last week, representatives of the Contact Group met in New York and agreed with the chief UN negotiator on Kosovo that the talks concerning the status of the occupied Serbian province were stalled. The Group – a self-appointed committee of what a century ago would have been called the Great Powers – authorized Martti Ahtisaari to draft a proposal for resolving the province’s status. The political and media consensus in Washington, Paris, London, Berlin, and Rome has it that Kosovo would become an independent state, ruled by its ethnic Albanian population, with some form of foreign presence. However, Moscow is still opposed to this, and so is Belgrade.

Ahtisaari – NATO’s errand boy during the Alliance’s 1999 aggression, then board member of the strongly pro-Albanian, intervention-mongering International Crisis Group – followed up on his unapologetic pronouncements of collective Serbian guilt with a claim that Belgrade was being “particularly stubborn” about surrendering 15 percent of its territory. Taking this as gospel, Reuters reported additionally:

“The Contact Group has said a decision should be made this year, mindful of growing Albanian impatience and the risk of fresh violence. As if to underscore the point, a blast overnight destroyed the Kosovo interior minister’s car.”

A spike in terrorist attacks by Albanian militants throughout the occupied province met with the predictable wall of silence by the UN and NATO occupiers. Kosovo’s latest UN viceroy, German Joachim Ruecker, actually threatened the few remaining Serbs, saying that UNMIK would “resolutely prevent Serbian intentions to secede the northern part” of the province. Kosovo’s territorial integrity, said Ruecker, was sacrosanct – meaning that Serbia’s was not.

This week an American envoy visited Belgrade to put forth more threats and demands, once again bringing up the issue of the Hague Inquisition and Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic. Meanwhile, the mainstream media have rediscovered the Serbophobic hysteria of the 1990s, accusing Belgrade of “manipulating the Bosnian Serbs” and “reviving Milosevic-era policies.” All the heat that can be brought to bear is on Belgrade now, intent on forcing Serbia to agree to what no self-respecting nation could ever accept. The behavior of its leaders since the coup that toppled Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000 had convinced officials in Washington and European capitals that Serbia had no self-respect anymore. Now they are finding out, to their chagrin, that this impression may not have been entirely accurate.

Delusions of Power

The U.S. Department of State sent Undersecretary Daniel Fried to Belgrade this week to pressure the Serbian authorities on finding and arresting Ratko Mladic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb army wanted by the Hague Inquisition on charges of genocide. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told him that while Belgrade was eager to “fulfill its international obligations,” his government’s position on Kosovo was firm: “It is necessary to respect international law, particularly the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity” of countries.

Fried, however, replied that Washington desired a quick resolution of the Kosovo issue. “I have yet to hear any argument why delay would help,” he told reporters. That’s perhaps because he refused to listen, much as any other Western “diplomat” who has come to Belgrade in the past decade or so. There are plenty of coherent arguments against Kosovo’s independence, and even more against deciding the status of the occupied province at this particular juncture. The only reason Washington is in a hurry is that Emperor Bush is desperately looking for a foreign policy victory.

One argument the “democratic” authorities in Belgrade have tried to use against Kosovo’s separation doesn’t actually hold water; it’s the claim that doing so would guarantee the electoral victory of the Serbian Radical Party (which they paint as the devil incarnate) and would “endanger democracy” in Serbia. Daniel Serwer, head of the Balkans program at the government-funded U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington and another outspoken advocate of Albanian independence, dismissed such talk with the editorial equivalent of a Gallic shrug. Writing for the noxious propaganda outfit IWPR, Serwer said last week that Radicals coming to power soon would be a blessing to champions of Kosovo’s independence:

“[I]t would be far easier for the international community to settle the Kosovo question with the Radicals in power. No one could then expect the Kosovo Albanians to remain in a common state with Serbia. Letting the Radicals take the rap for losing Kosovo would be much better for Serbian democracy than pinning that responsibility on more democratic political forces.”

By these he means the G17 Plus and the Liberal Democrats, ex-Communists now fanatically loyal to the Empire and the ideology of “modernity.” Considering them the future of Serbia, Serwer concludes: “Serbs will resent the loss of Kosovo, but it is not a vital national interest and they will get over it.”

But it so happens that Kosovo is a vital national interest, as there is a lot more to it than just 15 percent of territory, or international law, or ethnic cleansing. There’s history, and culture, and tradition, and spirit – things that Mr. Serwer may no longer value himself, and therefore assumes no one else does; or worse yet, resents anyone who does. The Serb commitment to Kosovo was last iterated – unfortunately – by the inarticulate Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, who told a Kosovo Albanian daily that separation of the occupied province would result in new violence (AP). While he probably meant that handing a victory to Albanian expansionists might provoke their further aggression (Macedonia, Presevo valley, Montenegro, etc.), his remarks have already been interpreted as if it would be Serbia starting a new war to “reconquer” Kosovo.

Rediscovering Serbophobia

As part of the campaign to pressure Belgrade into surrendering Kosovo, the mainstream media in the West seem to have resurrected the Serbophobic language of the 1990s. Reuters’ “analysis” of the situation in Bosnia pending the Oct. 1 elections got everything exactly backwards, and reveled in the most crass stereotypes of the war. Using anonymous “diplomats” and pro-Imperial “analysts” (such as Senad Slatina, formerly of the ICG), Reuters claims that “Bosnia’s Serbs are talking of secession in the campaign for the Oct. 1 election because Serbia is using them as a lever.” Furthermore, according to Slatina – quoted by approvingly by Reuters – it is Bosnian Serb rhetoric about the referendum that is creating a “serious political crisis.”

The Associated Press follows in the wake, claiming that the 1992-95 war started because of “Serb hopes” to secede, and that these hopes were nurtured by the partition in Dayton.

Rank nonsense, all of it. It was Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic who destroyed Bosnia’s fragile consensus democracy, unilaterally declaring independence despite Serb opposition. It is the Bosnian Muslims – “Bosniaks,” as they pretentiously label themselves – whose hopes of a centralized, Muslim-dominated Bosnia have been nurtured the past 11 years, thanks to “reforms” implemented against both the letter and the spirit of the Dayton Agreement by Bosnia’s international overlords. And it is the Muslim “patriots,” led by former Izetbegovic crony Haris Silajdzic, calling for the abolition of the Serb Republic and the centralization of Bosnia under a “citizen government” (dominated by the plurality Muslims, of course) that’s unraveling what little peace there has been among the country’s ethnic communities over the past 10 years.

It gets worse, though. Finding eager collaborators in Serbia’s Jacobin “reformers,” the AP has claimed that Serbia is “reviving Milosevic-era policies and rhetoric” concerning Kosovo. Extensively quoting Cedomir “Cheda” Jovanovic, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party and the country’s leading Jacobin, the agency insinuates that Serbian leaders are threatening to use force in Kosovo. In fact, it was the Radical Party leader who challenged the government to back up its rhetoric on keeping Kosovo with a willingness to defend Serbia’s borders with guns if need be – thus illustrating the weakness of Serbia’s armed forces after five years of “democratic reforms.”

Meanwhile, Voice of America calmly reported that Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha urged the independence of Kosovo, without any accusations of “Greater Albania” or condemnations of such crass meddling into a neighbor’s internal affairs.

Intransigence, Indeed

Empire’s failure in the Balkans has largely been a function of fallacious assumptions. First, the decision-makers in Washington and European capitals convinced themselves that the conflict among Yugoslav ethnic groups was the fault of Serbia, and blamed it on the persona of Slobodan Milosevic. They created a mythical, media Milosevic, pouring into him the Western archetype of a villain, and using him to attack Serbia with sanctions, threats, and eventually bombs.

Milosevic’s political enemies who replaced him – with Empire’s generous funding, planning, and training – in the October 2000 coup were convinced themselves that the Serbs bore collective guilt for the Yugoslav wars. For several crucial years, they gave in to every Imperial demand, abandoned every principled argument, and engaged in what can only be described as unsolicited groveling. This convinced the Empire that Serbia was weak, completely devoid of self-respect, and liable to be pushed around any which way. Daniel Serwer’s beliefs about Serbia’s national interests reveal just this sort of erroneous assumption. Naturally, once the humiliations had crossed a certain line and the authorities in Belgrade rediscovered their spine – to however minuscule a degree – the Empire howled that this was unforgivable intransigence. In any “normal” country, what Vojislav Kostunica and Boris Tadic are doing would be considered far short of what should be done in defense of one’s territory, laws, and dignity. So used has the Empire become to kicking Serbia around, it is at a loss about what to do when Serbia refuses to take it any more. Its first impulse, illustrated by the diplomatic and propaganda offensive, is to keep kicking.

Yet Serbia still stands, somehow.

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.