A Different Endgame

Three days from now, citizens of Serbia will head to the polls and cast their ballots for their preferred candidate among the seven. Between the media and the pollsters, there is an expectation that no candidate will get the necessary majority in the first round, and that the second round will be decided between the incumbent, Boris Tadic, and his perennial challenger, Tomislav Nikolic. Tipping the scales in that case would be the voters sympathetic to Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, currently precariously allied with Tadic but sharing many views with Nikolic, especially concerning Kosovo and the EU.

In fact, this election will be a referendum of sorts on Serbia’s future course. Nikolic is openly pro-Russian, even though he does not (as some allege) advocate isolation from the EU. He also firmly believes in keeping the occupied province of Kosovo inside Serbia. Kostunica largely shares these positions, although he remains declaratively in favor of EU membership. Tadic, on the other hand, gives good lip service to Serbia’s integrity, but continues to believe that EU membership "has no alternative." He is also handicapped by the Western-fostered perceptions that he is "their man" in Serbia, and that he would acquiesce to a separation of Kosovo.

Contrast this with the upcoming elections in the U.S.: not only are there no clear front-runners yet, the policies they offer are but slight variations on the Imperial theme. With one notable exception, everyone is running for Emperor and promising more of the same, just somehow "better" because the "right people" would be in charge. Come November, Americans will have less of a choice concerning their future than Serbia.

Threadbare Determination

But, isn’t Serbia’s future whatever the Great Powers decide it would be? Certainly, if one listens to the State Department, now is the right time to forcibly detach Kosovo from Serbia. Across the ocean, Germany is supposedly firmly committed, and Slovenia – whose secession and illegal recognition in 1991 ignited the Yugoslav Wars – is now chairing the EU and favoring an independent "Kosova" as well.

Even so, assuming the Empire and its European allies are actually the ones to decide on Kosovo… why are they waiting for Serbian elections, then?

It is easy for Washington to be resolute, when the EU is expected to foot the bill. Even the best-case scenario envisioned by the Empire sees Kosovo as some sort of European dependency, not an actual state. Not only would there be a major breach of international law against Serbia, but this sort of "solution" would also fail to satisfy the Kosovo Albanians.

Voices of Dissent

American and European officials have repeatedly claimed that separating Kosovo would not set a precedent. The "reality-based community" of some six billion people begs to differ.

Arguments against the madness in Kosovo come from all over. Former U.S. Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger (once a champion of anti-Serb intervention), called the planned carve-up of Serbia "deeply distressing" (Voice of America). A commentator in Czech Business Weekly called EU’s Kosovo policy "insane." Charles Tannock, British Conservative MEP, recently questioned the wisdom of antagonizing Russia and creating a precedent with Kosovo. Retired USN Admiral James Lyons warned of a possible "train wreck" with Russia over a "Taliban-like state" of Kosovo. Even the Serbophobic commentator Helle Dale of the Washington Times seems to be having second thoughts now.

Perhaps the most surprising in its honesty was the report by Michael Levitin in the latest edition of Newsweek, titled "Sorry, not interested." At long last, Newsweek‘s reporter explains that Serbian politicians aren’t just playing; Kosovo is serious business:

"With so much at stake, the West must ask itself whether a free (sic) Kosovo is worth further humiliating a volatile, Russia-backed Belgrade in the heart of the Balkans. This is one small, poor Eastern state that the EU may eventually want more than it wants the EU."

That’s worth repeating: the EU may want Serbia more than Serbia wants the EU.

Shifting the Balance

The Eurocrats may have thought that signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia would foreclose Belgrade’s options to resist a takeover of Kosovo. The signing is scheduled for January 28, in between the first and second round of presidential elections, and is universally assumed to be a boost for the pro-EU Tadic. Except that Prime Minister Kostunica has already said that sending a EU mission to administer Kosovo would be a clear breach of the SAA, turning Brussels’ carrot into Belgrade’s stick.

On January 18, the Serbian government is supposed to finalize the sale of the state-owned oil corporation, NIS, to the Russian giant Gazprom. Finance minister Mladjan Dinkic – who has lorded over the Serbian economy since October 2000 – opposed the deal, and favored Austrian and Hungarian proposals. Moscow then released FSB documents showing Dinkic and his tycoon friends had embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars from the Serbian treasury. Dinkic had claimed to be hunting for the missing millions that Milosevic’s government had allegedly stolen and squirreled away in Cyprus; if the Russian charges are true, Dinkic actually used that money to set up a bank in Moscow, which bankrolled penny-buyout privatization bids by government-connected tycoons.

Dinkic and his G17-Plus party are key allies of President Tadic.

Moments of Decision

The Empire’s course is a bit like the Titanic‘s: it cannot turn on a dime, even if it wished to do so. It is hard to tell whether the arguments raised in recent days against the carve-up of Serbia are indicative of a broader sentiment in the West, or just a few voices in the wilderness that just happened to be published now. That is, if one believes that anything published in the mainstream media in the West (or in Serbia, for that matter), "just happens."

More so than in previous years, Serbian election results will make a real difference, both in that country’s future and that of the West. Nine years since a fabricated massacre started NATO on the road to aggression, it is possible that the Empire’s Kosovo gambit has finally failed.

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.