The Unraveling

The edifice of lies in the Balkans, built up by the Empire over the past decade and a half, is beginning to crumble. Croatia is wrestling with ghosts of World War Two, most recently awakened through a spat with Rome over atrocities against ethnic Italians, and a mysterious case of sugar packets with anti-Semitic jokes. Serbia is still being bullied into relinquishing the NATO-occupied province of Kosovo, while the ethnic Albanians who claim the province as their own are targeting NATO and UN officials and threatening renewed warfare if their demands are not met. Bosnia finally got a government, but it looks like the regime of foreign viceroys won’t be dismantled any time soon.

Both the United States and members of the EU got involved in the Balkans by championing premises and ideas that bore little or no semblance to actual truth. From the very first days of intervention – when the nascent EU’s bureaucrats ruled Yugoslavia out of existence – to NATO’s charter-trampling bombing of Serbia in 1999 and the subsequent occupation of Kosovo, Western powers have denied Balkans realities and sought to create new ones, whether by ballot, bullet or broadcast.

That web of deceit, woven and maintained for years by tireless repetition of myths and fabrications, now appears to be unraveling, and the ugly realities of the Balkans are beginning to strike back.

Manufacturing a Victim

Bosnia was in American headlines again last week, but not because of anything that happened there. On Valentine’s Day, a young man opened fire in a crowded mall in Salt Lake City, killing five and seriously injuring four people. The following day it was discovered that the shooter was one Sulejman Talovic, age 18, formerly of Cerska in Bosnia. Utah resident and conservative columnist Mary Mostert describes what happened next:

As soon as it was discovered that the murderer was not a “Utah Madman” but was, in fact, a Muslim from Bosnia, the word “massacre” was dropped from every headline. By Wednesday we were being urged to feel sorry for Suljeman Tavolvic [sic] because, according to the Associated Press report, his Bosnian friend Murat Avdic was “convinced the war in Talovic’s homeland somehow contributed to the Utah rampage, especially the 1995 slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Serb forces in the northeastern enclave of Srebrenica.”

One week later, the New York Times carried a moving feature about the bereaved Talovics, described as “saddened and bewildered” at their son’s killing spree and professing “no information on how Sulejman had obtained his weapons and ammunition.” There were no similar features about the families of Talovic’s victims.

Talovic’s motive remains unknown. Mostert and others have speculated the boy could have been attracted to militant Islam. The family categorically denies the killings were an act of Islamic terrorism, but are at a loss to offer another explanation. No one but the Salt Lake Tribune mentioned young Talovic’s juvenile criminal record.

Faced with a criminal belonging to the officially designated victim group, the mainstream media did the only thing they could: turned Sulejman Talovic into a victim himself. And the culprit, of course, would be those evil Serbs who killed his relatives and forced his family to flee. Mention “Srebrenica” and the story is a slam-dunk.

It doesn’t matter that the Talovics left Bosnia long before 1995, and had no connection with anything that may have taken place in Srebrenica; or that they had Croatian citizenship papers when they arrived to the United States in 1998, years after the Bosnian war ended. Sulejman’s own family doesn’t buy the “horrors of war” argument; his aunt, Ajka Omerovic, told the New York Times that “the Bosnian civil war alone as an explanation made no sense to her because all Bosnians had been ‘touched by war’ but had not committed crimes.” But this remarkable confession was buried at the bottom of the feature, while the AP’s sound bite about Srebrenica had already spun around the world five times.

Honest reporting about a mass murder in American heartland clearly took a back seat here to preserving the Official Truth about the Bosnian war. And some people, like Deseret News columnist Lee Benson, were outraged:

“I don’t care what he saw as a child in war-torn Bosnia. I don’t care how alienated he felt in his new country. I don’t care how difficult it was for him at school at recess. No one ever came close to treating that kid the way he treated those people that night in that mall.”

Voices like his remain muffled, though, as the mainstream press continues to describe Talovic as some sort of unfortunate victim driven to incomprehensible insanity by evil Serbs.

Responses to ‘Compromise’

The Empire’s march towards detaching Kosovo from Serbia proceeded this month, even as the “proposal” drafted by ICG board member and UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari met with rejection in Serbia and violence in Albanian-dominated Kosovo.

The legislature in Belgrade near-anonymously rejected Ahtisaari’s proposal, which they deem “contrary to the international law, gives Kosovo the attributes of a sovereign state, illegally laying the foundations of another independent state on Serbia’s territory.” Only 15 lawmakers, belonging to Cedomir Jovanovic’s LDP – which professes militant Jacobin politics and supports Kosovo’s independence – opposed the resolution.

In Pristina, several thousand Albanians rioted on February 10, pelting UN buildings with rocks. Rubber bullets and teargas stopped the demonstration, but two Albanians died and several were injured. The riots were organized by the militant group Vetevendosje, led by KLA sympathizer Albin Kurti. However, in another bizarre twist, it was ethnic Albanian police minister Fatmir Rexhepi and UN police chief Stephen Curtis who were punished; Rexhepi resigned, presumably under public pressure, and Curtis was fired by the pro-Albanian UN viceroy Joachim Ruecker.

After all this, Reuters reported, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer visited Kosovo last week and urged both Serbs and Albanians to accept Ahtisaari’s proposal “because there really is no alternative.” Scheffer also said that “KFOR will not tolerate any form of violence.”

Some Albanians beg to differ; several UN cars were blown up Tuesday morning, and a group calling itself the “UCK” (Albanian acronym for the KLA) claimed responsibility, and said the bombing was retaliation for the deaths of the rioters. In the meantime, one Albanian negotiator, in Vienna for the final round of Ahtisaari-led “talks” with Belgrade, threatened a new war if Kosovo was not given independence immediately.

KFOR has shown a remarkable capacity for tolerance in the past, especially concerning violence against Kosovo’s beleaguered Serbs. Is there any reason to believe things will be different this time?

Conjuring Consent

Meanwhile, the mainstream pro-Imperial media continue quoting nameless “diplomats” and “analysts” – as well as those sympathetic to the Albanian cause – to assert that Belgrade’s rejection of Ahtisaari’s plan is just a ploy to avoid responsibility for the “inevitable” independence. It is certainly possible that Moscow would go back on its widely publicized position of principle, but how likely is it, especially after President Putin’s speech in Munich? It is likewise possible that the leaders in Belgrade would give in to threats and bribes from the West, but how likely?

For all the air time and column space their pro-Imperial views are given, Jovanovic’s LDP and their ideological allies in the Serbian media and NGOs are a very small (albeit loud) segment of the Serbian society. Their views honestly don’t represent what most Serbs think about the issue. Anyone who bases their “analysis” on a premise that says otherwise will be wrong.

These days, one can read in The Guardian that “one of the most difficult problems in Kosovo is the presence of an estimated 100,000 Serbs…” The same article reports that one Denisa Kostovicova, of the London School of Economics, had put together a plan for the survival of those Serbs. Her brilliant advice? “Learn Albanian.”

Kostovicova may be familiar to readers of this column as the pseudo-scientist who last commented on the 2003 Serbian elections (her analysis of Serbian politics was then described here as “one of the worst and stupidest,” with good reason). Some things never change.

Desperately Defying Entropy

Insulated, by themselves, events in the Balkans – or the shooting in Salt Lake City, for that matter – don’t suggest much. Put together, connected by the web of deceit as well as the strands of denied reality, they paint a picture of an Empire desperate to preserve its fragile fiction, even as that fiction is violently falling apart under the unnatural pressure of facts.

The only regrettable thing about that is the violence. The Balkans have already had entirely too much.

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.