At the Crossroads

One of the principal arguments of advocacy journalists in the 1990s was that the "international community" had a duty to intervene in the Bosnian war to save the "multicultural" government in Sarajevo from the ethnically exclusive Serbs and Croats. This was a myth; the regime in Sarajevo was overwhelmingly Muslim, and led by an internationally recognized theorist of Islamic revolution. But it was a myth the nascent American Empire found convenient, and built into the foundation of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement.

Although Bosnia has historically been a home of Orthodox and Catholic Christians, Muslims and Jews, these communities never lived together, but rather side by side. They began intermixing only in the secular, socialist Yugoslavia, following WW2. As novelist and commentator Muhrem Bazdulj noted on October 19, on the pages of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje, prior to the 1990s conflict the communities in Bosnia had their distinctions, but were actually amazingly mono-cultural: they spoke what they considered the same language, and weren’t segregated.

If multiculturalism means parallel ghettoes, Bazdulj argues, then Bosnia today truly is multi-cultural. People live side by side, and not very happily. It is this concept that German Chancellor Angela Merkel rightly declared a failure. "Of all the ‘multis’ in vogue," wrote Bazdulj, "only the multivitamins remain."

A Rotten Compromise

Merkel’s condemnation of multiculturalism, in remarks to a party conference last weekend, was somewhat unexpected. Just last month, Merkel had joined the attacks on Thilo Sarazzin, a banking official who criticized Germany’s immigration policies. Germany Abolishes Herself, his controversial bestseller, argued that the failure to assimilate the overwhelmingly Muslim immigrants was threatening the immediate future of Germany. Sarazzin was hounded out of his job and kicked out of his party (the Social Democrats), but his arguments appear to have hit a mark.

Unlike, for example, the UK or France – whose immigrant populations came from the former colonies – Germany’s immigrants were a legacy of the "guest worker" program implemented after WW2 to make up for labor shortages caused by wartime casualties. Since these contractors weren’t supposed to stay, or bring their families along, there was no strategy or policy to assimilate them. This worked well until the 1970s, when the Turkish laborers began to bring in their families and ask for asylum, following a military coup in Ankara. Many former Yugoslavs did the same in the 1990s. With any discussion of the German identity under the cloud of Hitler and the Holocaust, the government in Bonn resorted to multiculturalism: in exchange for loyalty to the German state, the Turks were not required to assimilate into the German society. The result was a parallel Turkish society, which in some instances even embraced the militant manifestations of Islam.

Twilight of the Welfare State

Much of the critical work concerning Europe’s immigration woes has focused on the salient fact that Muslim immigrants do not appear willing or able to peacefully coexist with Europeans’ secular humanism. Politics of guilt, political correctness, cultural and political Marxism have all combined to preclude any debate as to why an Islamic takeover of, say, France, would be a bad thing. Politicians in Sweden are on the record as planning for the day when Swedes become a minority in their own country.

Another part of the puzzle, however, seems to have gone unnoticed. Namely, western Europeans love their welfare states. A concept originally developed in 19th-century Prussia, the welfare state manages the lives of its subjects from cradle to grave, in exchange for much of their income and service to the government. The system is capable of functioning, for a while, in societies where the populace has a stronger sense of duty than of entitlement. When entitlement wins out, however, the welfare state quickly becomes an unsustainable parasitic organism, wherein the indolent many live at the expense of the productive few. Temporary boosts to the productive populace through importation of immigrants tend to exacerbate the problem in the long run, as immigrants’ sense of entitlement quickly overwhelms any sense of duty (if one exists in the first place), and they become dependents of the state.

For the past ten days, millions of people have taken to the streets in France, disrupting traffic, business, fuel deliveries and flights to protest President Sarkozy’s proposed pension reform. The stopgap solution aimed at salvaging France’s exhausted treasury would raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

Under Tony Blair’s Labor government, the UK expanded its welfare state dramatically. Unable to support it much longer, the Cameron-Clegg government is radically trimming the budget, including major cuts to Britain’s armed forces.

Unlike Berlin, Paris and London have yet to address their immigration problem. Without that, their austerity efforts won’t amount to much. Soon, Europeans will have to face the stark reality. They can have a welfare state, or open immigration with multiculturalism – but not both.

Germany Rising?

Looming over it all is the question of whether the transnational institutions such as the EU and NATO will survive for much longer. The EU has been sorely tested by the 2008 financial crisis, and the resulting need to bail out Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland. As Germany was called upon for much of the bailout, many hard-working Germans feel like the proverbial ant beset by European grasshoppers.

When NATO was established in 1949, a British ambassador described its purpose thus: "Keep the Americans in, Russians out, and Germans down." The Soviet Union is long gone, the Americans can’t afford to stay in, and the Germans are increasingly reluctant to stay down.

The Balkans wars of the 1990s went a long way in freeing Germany from the stigma of WW2. The guilt and shame of the Holocaust were projected onto the Serbs, demonized in the German press as genocidal aggressors. Very few people noticed or cared when the Bundeswehr was deployed outside of Germany for the first time since 1945. Deployed to Bosnia as peacekeepers, by 1999 they were in Kosovo as occupation troops, while the Luftwaffe flew bombing missions over Serbia as part of NATO’s Operation Allied Force.

Though presented as a magnificent success for NATO, the Kosovo operation actually revealed the alliance’s limitations and shortcomings. Behind the victory celebrations was the embarrassing fact that NATO didn’t actually win the 78-day conflict by force of arms, but by diplomatic deceit. More to the point, the conflict demonstrated that only Americans had the capability to conduct the full spectrum of military operations; other NATO members were able to serve as auxiliaries at best. The Alliance hasn’t done much since, as evidenced by its symbolic presence in Afghanistan and refusal to take part in Bush the Lesser’s Iraq adventure.

Kanzlerin Merkel now talks of a need for immigrants to adopt a German identity. Her predecessor, Gerhard Shroeder, went on to work with the Russians on building a major pipeline through the Baltic Sea, over American objections. Merkel herself met with France’s Sarkozy and Russia’s Medvedev earlier this week, hinting at a new power axis emerging in Europe, beyond the traditional confines of NATO and the EU.

If This Goes On…

Against this background, EU’s top official, Herman van Rompuy, came to Sarajevo on Wednesday to hector the Bosnian politicians on the need for "reforms." Bosnia, said van Rompuy, needs to be "one country, speaking with one voice," before it is allowed to join the illustrious clubs headquartered in Brussels – EU and NATO. Yet such a Bosnia is no more possible than European welfare states with an ever-shrinking productive base.

Over the past 20 years or so, Bosnia has been a laboratory for nation-builders, interventionists, humanitarians, and activists the world over. They have tried every dogma and ideology dear to their hearts, from tribal democracy to multiculturalism and welfare statism. All have failed.

Today, Bosnia’s communities are divided as never before, poverty and crime are widespread, and thousands of people pay to see faith healer Mekki Tourabi, having exhausted all other avenues of improving their lot.

The question now is what will happen when Britain and France run out of money, the immigrants in Germany refuse to assimilate, and Mr. Tourabi’s hand-waving fails to accomplish anything. One thing is certain, though – things cannot go on like this for much longer.

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.