The Edge of Madness

Delusions and Hysteria Rule the Frustrated Balkans

It has been eight years since the “Kosovo Liberation Army” openly received NATO support for its separatist war against Serbia; over 14 years since Washington and Brussels recognized the declaration of independence issued by the Muslim-dominated Bosnian government that plunged that country into civil war. In both cases, support from the “international community” produced far less than the leaders of Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians desired. Almost 11 years after the Dayton Accords, Bosnia is not a centralized, Muslim-dominated country. Seven years after KLA thugs rode into Kosovo on NATO tanks, that province is not yet independent from Serbia. The passage of time reinforces differences between wishful thinking and reality, creating cognitive dissonance and frustration that occasionally spill over into acts that can only be described as madness.

Trust and the Great Game

For years since the NATO occupation began, the separation of Kosovo from Serbia has been described as “inevitable” and only a matter of time. And yet, even though the Empire has put its military, diplomatic, and propaganda muscle behind independence, it doesn’t appear any more within reach today than it was this spring, when sham “negotiations” began in Vienna under the chairmanship of an Albanian partisan, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari.

Simon Tisdall, writing in the Guardian last Friday, blamed Ahtisaari for “giving the game away” on Kosovo by publicly stating the imposition of independence might be delayed because of Serbian and Russian opposition: “Moscow’s stance has little to do with resolving the Kosovo conundrum and a lot to do with the wider, ongoing geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West.”

(Perhaps that is why Ahtisaari and his ICG buddies lost their bid for the Nobel Peace Prize, although dubbed as favorites. The prestigious award went to a Bangladeshi banker who financed free enterprise.)

The day before, Agim Ceku was visiting London in the capacity of “prime minister” of Kosovo. After talking to British government officials, the former Croatian general and KLA leader told the press that “We trust the international community to drive this process through to the correct conclusion.” Just so no one has any doubts as to what this conclusion might be, Ceku added: “We need independence now because we are convinced that there is no other workable solution.” (Reuters)

Trust, do you? History is a graveyard littered with bones of peoples who “trusted” the great powers to do the right thing. Albanians think the right thing is independence, because they are 90 percent of the population, they are in de facto possession of the province, and they have the image of victims from the 1998-99 war. Serbs think the right thing is no independence, because they have a de jure claim to the province, because the Albanian majority was created through terror and ethnic cleansing, and because they are victims of the post-1999 occupation, however hard that’s been covered up. But the Empire doesn’t care either way. As Tisdall unwittingly reveals, the “game” is bigger than Kosovo, Serbs, or Albanians – it’s about the old rivalry between East and West, going back to the Cold War and maybe even as far as the 19th-century Great Game.

In opposing the separation of Kosovo, Moscow is seeking to protect its own interests, not those of the Serbs – regardless of Western propagandistic prattle about “ancient alliances” or “Slavic solidarity,” those dogs that never bark. In advancing the separation of Kosovo, Washington, London, Paris, and Berlin are pursuing their own imperial agendas – seeking to legitimize their 1999 aggression for one, on which rests their present claim to intervene anywhere, anytime, against anyone – without a second thought about the Kosovo Albanians, much less Serbs.

Ironically, it appears the Serbs are at a bit of an advantage here, if anything because they don’t have a powerful sponsor and don’t place their fate in the hands of Moscow, seeing as Russia has sold them down the river plenty of times in centuries past. Albanians, on the other hand, have persuaded themselves that the world owes them a debt (independence now, something else later perhaps), and proceed to make demands from that premise. Making demands of the Empire is a lucrative racket, if you can get it – and so long as it lasts.

The Bizarre and the Ridiculous

Many Bosnian Muslims are similarly frustrated with the “international community” for failing to deliver the centralized state supposedly promised in the Dayton Accords. Driven by belief that they were the righteous victims of the 1992-95 conflict, and that the world owes them a debt as a result, many Muslim voters supported militant nationalist Haris Silajdzic at the polls two weeks ago. Silajdzic’s campaign reveled in nationalist hysteria, mainly against the Bosnian Serbs but also against the small Croat community, trapped in an increasingly oppressive marriage of inconvenience called the “Bosniak-Croat Federation.”

Out of such hysteria come tabloid allegations that would make the editors of American tabloids laugh – but in Bosnia, they are taken perfectly seriously.

Sarajevo county prosecutor Oleg Cavka told AFP last Thursday that he was investigating Canadian Gen. Lewis McKenzie, first commander of the UN peacekeepers in Bosnia, for allegedly visiting a Serb-run brothel and raping Muslim women who were supposedly held captive there.

McKenzie angrily rejected the allegations, explaining that a smear campaign against him has been conducted by the Muslim government in Sarajevo ever since he urged the U.S. in 1992 not to intervene militarily in the Bosnian civil war. The rape allegations were taken from a “confession” by a captured Serb soldier who had been tortured into admitting to all sorts of things – all of which were later proven false. McKenzie wasn’t anywhere near Sarajevo when his alleged visit to the alleged rape-brothel allegedly happened.

Perhaps the final bit of cynicism was the claim that a photograph of McKenzie with four crying women showed his victims. In reality, they were four local women that worked for the UN staff, evacuated by McKenzie at the beginning of hostilities in Bosnia. The photo was from their tearful reunion several months later.

For 12 years, the Canadian government has shamefully refused to defend McKenzie, failing even to lodge an official protest with the Sarajevo authorities through their embassy, allowing these kinds of fabrications to periodically resurface and continue to smear the good name of one of their most experienced peacekeepers. This matches the treatment of Canadian soldiers who fought Croatian troops in the Medak pocket in 1993, witnessing atrocities against the local Serbs; their story was suppressed for years.

Perhaps seeing as how bringing up 12-year-old canards sold papers, Amir Pleho, a retired Sarajevo professor introduced as a biological warfare expert, made a claim to several dailies in Croatia and Slovenia this week that Slobodan Milosevic planned to build a nuclear bomb in the early 1990s.

“Milosevic’s [sic] wanted to build atomic bomb as he was well aware that possession of nuclear weapon would help him confront the world and put in motion the Greater Serbia ambitions,” according to Macedonian agency MakFax.

Serbian officials rejected Pleho’s allegations with a mixture of ridicule and disgust, calling it crass propaganda. Pleho’s story does sound like the plot of a cheap “techno-thriller” even Tom Clancy would have rejected as too shallow: secret Russian shipments, sinister Serb plots, and the good fortune of international sanctions and NATO bombs that saved the day. All sorts of seemingly incredulous plots have come true in the Balkans, but this does not appear to be one of them.

Unraveling “Realities”

At the end of the Cold War, exuberant imperialists in America and Europe thought they could change not just the face of the world, but the principles according to which it worked, through force and fear. For a while, in the Balkans, it almost looked as if they were right. It took carnage in the Middle East to demonstrate the error of their beliefs – an error they are still unwilling to acknowledge. People of the Balkans, who’ve constructed entire realities out of conflicting fabrications, are finding those “realities” increasingly fragile these days – and resort to even more fabrications, hysteria, and downright insanity to preserve them. If it weren’t so tragic, it would be hilarious.

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.