Diplomats Gone Wild

When it comes to the former Yugoslavia (currently hiding behind the politically correct term "the Western Balkans"), normal rules simply don’t apply. International law is infinitely bendable, states can blink in and out of existence at one’s convenience, and conventions of diplomacy can be dispensed with. In Bosnia, for example, the U.S. and UK ambassadors now have more pull than the Imperial viceroy — who used to have the kind of absolute power the tyrants of yore could only dream of. The current coalition government in Serbia was brought together by envoys from Washington and London as well. For that matter, Washington has been pulling the strings in Serbia since October 2000, when a CIA-NED coup deposed Slobodan Milosevic and went on to become the template for "color revolutions" elsewhere in the world.

Since the 1990s, the Balkans have become a playground for power-drunk diplomats from Europe and America. Nowhere else in the world, not even in Afghanistan, do envoys of the Empire enjoy such power. Yet neither the envoys, nor the capitals they represent, seem to realize what they are doing is playing with matches in a tinderbox.

Love Thy Bomber

Last week, at a conference called "Serbia, Western Balkans and NATO — towards 2020," German ambassador to Belgrade said that Serbia joining the Alliance that bombed it in 1999 was not a matter of whether, but of when. Ambassador Wolfram Maas also reportedly said that the Serbs should teach their children that the bombing was just and necessary:

"I must criticize the Serbian government for still using the terms like ‘NATO bombing.’ Imagine walking down Kneza Milosa street [a place in downtown Belgrade where the bombed-out military and police HQ still stand] and your child asks, ‘Daddy, who did this?’ and you answer ‘NATO’. What, then, would you expect that child to think of NATO? As a young man in Germany, I saw ruins in my home town too, but I did not hate the people who did that, because there were people who could explain to me why they did it."

The notorious Roman emperor Caligula used to say, Oderint dum metuant — let them hate me, so long as they fear me. Fear is not enough for NATO, though. This instrument of the Atlantic Empire demands unconditional love from its victims. Nothing else will do.

And yes, while asking to be loved, Maas did just compare Serbia to Nazi Germany. German officials and the media have been doing this for almost two decades, perhaps seeking to emerge from under the cloud of Hitler and the Holocaust by projecting it onto the Serbs. Germany also used the Balkans conflicts to break its armed forces out of their post-1945 isolation; the Luftwaffe engaged in combat in both Bosnia and Kosovo, while the Bundeswehr were deployed as "peacekeepers."

In April 2007, Maas’s predecessor Andreas Zobel threatened Serbia with the loss of more territory if it continued to resist the plan to declare the NATO-occupied province of Kosovo an independent state. Official Belgrade bristled, and even sent a diplomatic protest to Berlin, but instead of expelling Zobel settled for a half-hearted apology.

Since then, however, the ambassador-installed regime did everything to make Zobel’s prediction become a reality. As if following instructions, they first gave the northern province of Vojvodina unprecedented powers, then set up "national minority councils," giving an official platform to the militant Islamic mufti, Muamer Zukorlic, to advocate an "autonomous Sanjak."

Any self-respecting government would bristle at Maas’s comparison with the Nazis. Remember, however, that this is a government that earlier this year embraced just such a comparison.

"Death to the State and Capitalism"

Compared to the excesses of her predecessors, Washington’s current envoy to Serbia, Mary Warlick, is downright demure. The most scandalous thing she has done so far was taking part in the "Belgrade Pride" parade on October 10, along with many other diplomats.

The march through downtown Belgrade was organized by the government. Far from promoting the rights of homosexuals, it abused them to deliver an object lesson in coercion to the still recalcitrant population of Serbia. In the end six thousand police battled some five thousand mostly young and angry rioters, while some three hundred politicians, diplomats, and professional activists from Serbia and abroad marched down the emptied Belgrade streets. One of them carried a sign that read "Death to the State and Capitalism," (photo) ironic given that the parade itself was a demonstration of statism at its worst. It is unclear what Warlick may have thought of the sign, if she noticed it at all.

The Curious Case of William Montgomery

Making waves isn’t just the province of standing ambassadors. No other envoy has made such a mark on the region as William Montgomery (Croatia, 1998-2000; Serbia, 2000-2004). Though he left under a cloud of scandal, Montgomery chose to remain in the region and write opinion columns from his villa on the Croatian coast. Officially, he is now just a private citizen. Yet he retained some ties to Foggy Bottom; the manuscript of his latest book, describing the U.S.-sponsored coup in 2000, was vetted by the State Department prior to publication.

After the Ovations: Struggling with Democratic Transition was just published in a Serbian translation. Its revelations, however, were nothing the Serbian public didn’t already suspect. The U.S. government was directly behind the "United Serbian Opposition," to the tune of $100 million? Old news. Much more interesting were his remarks to a Bosnian TV station earlier this week, when he said that Bosnia was an untenable country and its dissolution looked "realistic."

Montgomery’s quip prompted immediate denials from the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo, which reiterated Washington’s official commitment to the continued existence of the Bosnian state (as centralized as possible). It also drew denunciations from the viceroy’s office. But was Montgomery truly "off the reservation"? Last year, he stirred a similar storm of controversy with a New York Times op-ed, calling for (minimal) revisions to U.S. policies in the Balkans, Bosnia included. It is extremely unlikely a simple private citizen could get space in the NYT for a proposal the Imperial officialdom vehemently disagreed with. Which begs the question: who does Montgomery speak for?

From Dayton to Disaster

Fifteen years ago this week, peace talks began at the Wright-Patterson AFB outside Dayton, Ohio. It was the crowning achievement of Richard Holbrooke’s endeavors to threaten, bully, cheat, steal and bomb the way to a peace in Bosnia. In the end, he did end that war; but his callous disregard for the rules of civilized conduct also set a precedent that may well see the Balkans descend into another conflict, as soon as the strings holding up its current reality go the way of the Empire that put them in place. 

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.