Hostage to Hubris

In March 2004, tens of thousands of Albanians rampaged across Kosovo for three days — looting and burning Serb villages and churches, killing those unfortunate to get in their path. Though the pogrom was compared to Kristallnacht and correctly identified as ethnic cleansing, within days the spin machine was in overdrive, and within two weeks the Empire was citing the pogrom as an argument in favor of declaring Kosovo — a Serbian province occupied by NATO in 1999 — an independent Albanian state.

Interestingly enough, some of the excuses made for the Albanian rioters at the time sound exactly like the present — day attempts to justify the rioters in England: frustrated youth, no jobs, lack of perspective… Yet the Albanians were clearly motivated by ethnic hatred; one doesn’t vandalize a church out of poverty, much less desecrate it while taking pictures with a cell phone. In any case, "independence" came in February 2008, and failed to bring the promised prosperity. Clearly, the surviving Serbs were to blame — specifically, the few that remained in the north of the province, under NATO occupation but resisting the establishment of Albanian rule.

On July 26, "Prime Minister" Hashim Thaci sent men to seize control of the border crossings with Serbia. Imperial forces in the province — UNMIK, EULEX, and the KFOR military mission — all tried very hard to look the other way, hoping Thaci could finish the job quickly. That didn’t happen. As usual, the Empire stepped in to pull Thaci’s chestnuts from the fire.

Law and Order

Thaci, accused last year by a European Parliament investigator of being an organized crime boss involved in everything from drug trafficking and sex slavery to forced organ harvesting (of Serb captives), now talks about the need for "law and order" in the north, and paints the Serbs living there as criminals, smugglers, and thugs. It would be both hilarious and ironic, if not for the fact that EU and Imperial officials agree with him.

Here is Philip Reeker, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, quoted by AFP: "Kosovo of course has the right as a sovereign independent country to extend its authority throughout the country. This is about the rule of law."

Earlier this week, Germany’s foreign minister Guido Westerwelle visited Pristina, to reaffirm Germany’s commitment to an independent Kosovo in its designated boundaries. For all the talk of "dialogue" and "peaceful and cooperative solution", Westerwelle called on all EU members to recognize Thaci’s regime as an independent state. It appears that in modern German, dialogue means "giving one side whatever it wants", and peaceful cooperation translates into "unconditional surrender." How comforting.

Perhaps the most problematic is the behavior of German Gen. Erhard Bühler, currently commanding KFOR, NATO’s occupation force in the province KFOR. Interviewed by the newspaper Tagesspiegel on August 4, Bühler openly agreed with the interviewer’s parroting of Thaci’s "law and order" spiel.

Strange Bedfellows

The problem with Bühler’s claim is that it represents an open violation of KFOR’s mandate, argues Gerard Galucci, former American diplomat who served in UNMIK, who has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of KFOR and EULEX conduct in Kosovo. Under UNSCR 1244, KFOR has no political mandate in the province whatsoever — any negotiations or customs controls are squarely in the domain of the civilian authorities, i.e. UNMIK (and after 2008, EULEX).

Both UNMIK and KFOR have repeatedly violated 1244 — indeed, recognition of Thaci’s "Republic of Kosova" is the biggest such violation — but Bühler’s conduct in this instance crossed into open outlawry. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the Serbs have to deal with German occupation troops for the third time in a century (and the previous two were bloody and brutal). One Slovenian blogger actually compared Bühler’s approach to the crisis to the 1942 Nazi counterinsurgency doctrine.

Furthermore, Bühler commanded the German contingent that "hid like rabbits" during the 2004 pogrom. And to top everything off, he is currently in a relationship with an Albanian woman, a former KFOR translator. Yet he dares say his impartiality and objectivity should not be questioned. Whose should, then?

Stumping for Thaci

In any case, the fact that Imperial officialdom (e.g. Reeker, Bühler) has Thaci’s back belies the argument that he somehow acted alone, or that his border attack came as a surprise. Yet that is precisely what Morton Abramowitz and James Hooper claimed in their August 3 essay in the National Interest. To hear them say it, the real problem is the "shadowland dominated by Serb paramilitaries" in the north and the "ethnic violence" once again caused by the Serbs.

Abramowitz is the grey eminence of U.S. foreign policy, founders of the infamous International Crisis Group, and one of the most fervent proponents of imperialism in the Balkans. Hooper, another former diplomat, used to run the Balkans Action Council in the 1990s and the ICG later on. Now he specializes in international lawfare.

Two weeks prior, the duo editorialized on Bosnia, arguing that the primary threat to its continued existence are the Serbs, and that everything would be sorted out of Serbia could be forced to recognize the independent Albanian Kosovo. Abramowitz repeated the argument on Radio Free Europe, an Imperial propaganda mill, on August 13.

Abramowitz and Hooper’s advice to Washington is the same as it’s been for the past twenty years: the Serbs are the problem, everyone else is the solution, and instead of trying to actually find a solution for the conflict, "try to shape a new reality" through coercion and lies.

National Narcissism

Times have changed, however. It’s 1999 no longer, and the reality — based community is fighting back.

Abramowitz and Hooper’s pronouncements on Kosovo inspired a strongly worded dissent by Ted Galen Carpenter, who called the Balkans interventions a "Rube Goldberg scheme". As for the recipe of more interventionism:

"Abramowitz and Hooper exemplify a national narcissism that is all too common in the American foreign — policy community. They casually assume the need for a U.S. leadership role without making the case why that should be necessary… Parochial quarrels in the Balkans do not come even within hailing distance of reaching the proper threshold for U.S. action. "

Another dissent came from Gordon Bardos, who did not criticize Abramowitz and Hooper by name, but instead went after the approach to Bosnia based on "fetishes and fantasies." Two days of reading the Bosnian newspapers, Bardos argues, would make it abundantly clear to anyone that Bosnia is a deeply divided society. Yet many self — proclaimed experts haven’t figured it out in two decades. He draws on several examples of how different ethnic groups in Bosnia see history, and points out that the fabled harmonious multiethnic Bosnia never existed — except in Western imaginations.

Bardos dismisses a long list of initiatives to "reform" Bosnia as "politically inane non — starters," illustrating them by the appropriately ridiculous American analogs. He concludes thus:

"Rather than accepting that Bosnia is a deeply divided multiethnic state and promoting stability there by building a political structure that corresponds to such a reality, we have spent the better part of twenty years repeatedly trying to build a centralized state based on a false understanding of the country and against the wishes of at least half of its citizens."


Though Bardos and Carpenter display a far greater understanding of the Balkans than the Imperial narcissists they take to task — Abramowitz and Hooper aren’t concerned with understanding, after all, only obedience — their perspective is missing one important piece. The Empire is by now so deep in the Balkans swamp, it cannot get out.

Intervening in — one might even say engineering — — Yugoslavia’s dismemberment was a way the American republic became the Atlantic Empire. The fantasy of multiethnic Bosnia was a cornerstone of the Imperial creation myth.

At any point between June 1999 and February 2008, Washington could have walked away from Kosovo and still call it a success. Directly assaulting international law by declaring it an independent state, however, eliminated that option. Something similar happened in Bosnia, where the Imperial "reform" push ended in blowback in 2006. In effect, Washington staked the future of the Empire on the dreams of Alija Izetbegovic and Hashim Thaci.

All this talk of law and order and sovereignty is a sham. Empire’s entire Balkans policy has been built on the Abramowitz doctrine: the absence of any principle, except power. That power is predicated on the continued maintenance of myths in Bosnia and Kosovo, which is only possible so long as the government in Serbia pursues the policy of unconditional surrender.

If and when that stops, so does the Balkans carousel.

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.