Age of Absurdity

"Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; 
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere 
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 
The best lack all conviction, while the worst 
Are full of passionate intensity."

Thus wrote W.B. Yeats in the aftermath of the Great War. Now known as the First World War, it was hitherto unprecedented in size, scope, and extent of the devastation it wrought. Yet only 20 years later, another war surpassed it in ferocity. The blood-dimmed tide was indeed loosed upon the world. Though some may have wishfully contemplated the end of history, the century that began with Europe’s last summer is still with us.

Germany’s founding Chancellor, Bismarck, famously predicted on his deathbed that the next major war would be sparked by some "damned foolish thing in the Balkans." Not caused, mind you – the kingdoms and empires of Europe had needed precious little excuse to war with each other over the centuries. Just ten years after Bismarck’s death, Austria-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina set in motion the events that would result in the prophecy being fulfilled.

Almost eighty years hence, the Empire of our time chose to assert itself in the very same corner of the world. But though its technology was different, its "diplomacy" and premises were all too familiar for those who still remembered the Hapsburgs. This delighted some, while proving fatal to others.

The Restless Thralls

Then, as now, the role of chief antagonist was assigned to the Serbs. But while in 1914, Serbia was a small kingdom whose fortunes were on the rise, in 1991 the Serbs were a dispersed, discombobulated component of a crumbling post-Communist Yugoslavia. Not surprisingly, the Serbs of 1914 were better at fighting the invaders – but the conquerors of the 1990s worked in different ways. What they could not accomplish with bombs and proxy troops, they achieved through subterfuge. Having conjured a narrative of the Balkans Wars to give it legitimacy, the Empire had to conquer Serbia – and keep it that way. So, from October 2000 onward, the Serbs have been ruled by governments more or less in thrall to Washington and Brussels.

The linchpin of this setup was the Democratic Party, once a marginal political force elevated to power by the engineered coup in 2000. When its leader and Empire’s principal operator, Zoran Djindjic, showed signs of straying from the script, he was assassinated; the actual circumstances of his murder are still a mystery. From 2004 onward, the Empire’s interests were championed by Democrats’ new leader, Boris Tadic.

Last month, Tadic’s bid to remain in power met with a surprise failure at the polls. The Empire didn’t seem to mind too much, since his successor swiftly came to Brussels promising submission. But Tadic’s ouster was a cataclysm for a legion of Imperial servants in Serbia, from Democratic Party apparatchiks to mainstream media mavens.

The Democrats clung to the hope that the results of parliamentary elections – which the new president chose not to challenge, fraudulent as they may have been – might still keep them in power. Those hopes were dashed this past week, as their former coalition partner chose to switch sides.

Reshuffling the Narrative

The Socialist Party didn’t bother the Empire in 2008, when its  decision – aided by incentives from Washington, London and Berlin – to join the Democrats made possible an overtly pro-Imperial government. Back then, the Socialists were praised as a visionary, all their "sins" from the era of The Evil Milosevic forgotten and forgiven. Today, they are once again "Milosevic’s party" and "nationalists" (in Empire-speak, the opposite of "democrat"). Look at some of the headlines:

“Milosevic protégé to lead Serbian government” (Reuters). “Ex-Milosevic aide now Serbia’s new government chief”  (Reuters again). "Socialist to lead nationalist government” (AFP). "Milosevic’s allies return to power" (AP, via WaPo).

As most authors of these reports have indigenous names, it is hard to believe they are willfully stupid. There is no way they have forgotten overnight that Dacic was in charge of law enforcement in the previous cabinet, and thus very much in power. It’s simply incredible that this is what passes for mainstream journalism.

Until recently, however, it was assumed by the Democrats and their supporters in the media that Dacic would stay a loyal junior partner and help Tadic set up a "cohabitation" arrangement in which Nikolic would be a figurehead president while the Democrats would continue "doing everything they can” to please the Empire. Instead, Dacic made a deal with Nikolic’s Progressives and became Prime Minister. So the narrative had to be adjusted, facts be damned.

Believers and Mercenaries

For all the noise made in the Imperial mainstream media, on account of both Nikolic and Dacic, note that both of them have gone to great lengths to pledge fealty to Brussels and Washington. Both have reinvented their political identities at least once, to better fit Empire’s ever-shrinking parameters of acceptability in Serbian politics. The only purpose of media hysterics over their alleged "nationalist" past would be to try and ensure they were "honest" quislings – i.e. that they stayed bought. Because unlike Tadic, who groveled before the Empire because he honestly believed in its greatness, those two do it out of self-interest, a sentiment notoriously subject to shifts depending on circumstances.

That makes is particularly ironic that the Empire is throwing around terms such as "nationalists" and "moderates" to describe the Democrats, Progressives and Socialists – labels almost entirely devoid of meaning any more. For the past twelve years, Serbian politics has never been about democracy, socialism, progressivism or (largely nonexistent) conservatism, but only about power. Much like Empire’s take on the Balkans, in fact.

Out of Sight

The Atlantic Empire emerged from the post-Cold War world in no small part due to its Balkans crusade. The notion of the Atlantic Empire as the knight in shining armor, riding its winged steed around the world and stamping out genocides everywhere, came out of myths conjured to justify interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo. Though the desire to establish hegemony at missile-point has since led the imperialists to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, the pattern and precedent were set in the Balkans. Without exception, talking heads will invoke Bosnia and Kosovo whenever the public needs to be prepared for another "humanitarian" bombing, or bring up Serbia when launching a new "color revolution."

While Empire’s expeditions have suffered setbacks in various places, reality stubbornly resisting to be reshaped by Washington and Brussels’ wishful thinking, the very heart of its claim to power – the Balkans interventions – remains largely unchallenged. Yet even the remaining voices in the wilderness warning about the pitfalls of imperialism have long since forgotten the Balkans, preferring to focus on the Arab world and Israel.

By doing so, however, they often slip right into Empire’s frame of reference, despite its obvious absurdities. For example, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the terrorist-ridden rebellion in Syria are somehow blamed on Israel’s alleged manipulation of Washington, while downplaying Empire’s fascination with militant Islam and its relationship with Saudi Salafists. And some submit to the temptation to project the blame for the Great War onto Western Europe’s quintessential Other, the Orthodox Christians of Russia and Serbia.

But in the absurd age where "democracy" is whatever the Empire says it is, "freedom" means killing foreigners by the million while creating a police state at home, and daring to fight for one’s own survival and sovereignty is declared "fascism," it is hardly surprising that the only two nations that entered the Great War purely in self-defense would be blamed for its cataclysmic outcome, while the empires that started it escape scrutiny.

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.