Pride Before the Fall

What is the state?

In the Lockean language of the U.S. founding documents, it is the apparatus of government "instituted among Men" to secure "certain unalienable Rights" such as "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". A more cynical perspective, informed by the experience of the 20th century, would term the state a protection racket writ large. Whichever language one uses, the state’s raison d’etre is to monopolize violence within a territory, for the ostensible purpose of protecting its subjects’ lives and property from depredations of anyone else, from within (criminals) or without (invaders).

It is intuitively obvious to even a casual observer that Serbia cannot rightly be considered a state, as it no longer fulfills any of its essential functions. Not only has its government relinquished sovereignty to the Empire, both in occupied Kosovo and the rest of the country, it has disavowed violence even as a means of self-defense. Furthermore, it has systematically violated civil and property rights of its citizens, often on behalf of foreign governments and corporations.

The Actual Precedent

Since establishing the "independent state of Kosovo" five years ago, the Empire and its allies have insisted that it was a sui generis case that would not establish a precedent for anyone, anywhere else. Within months, that assertion was proven invalid. Yet looking at this from another perspective, the Empire’s insistence made a modicum of sense; the Balkans precedent intended to be applied elsewhere wasn’t "Kosovo", but Serbia.

The destruction of Yugoslavia was supposed to establish Empire’s moral center, while having Serbia declare its rape consensual was to send a message to the world that resistance was futile. Both were manufactured perceptions labeled irreversible reality. For the illusions to persist, Serbia had to remain broken.

Traitor Two-Step

Having failed to break the Serbs by force, the Empire organized a political coup. For over a decade, a series of "democratic" regimes have dismantled the country to the point where it was deemed conquered. Then, to disarm any possibility of resistance, Washington suborned the formerly outspoken "ultra-nationalists" – now rebranded "moderate progressives" – and installed them in power to replace an increasingly unpopular puppet regime. The result was an uneasy triumvirate in which the "progressives" shared power with two former allies of the ousted Democrats.

Last month’s cabinet reshuffle saw the ouster of one of those allies – Mladjan Dinkic, the gray eminence of Serbia’s economic destruction – and a tilt in power at the expense of PM Ivica Dacic, in favor of the "first deputy Prime Minister" Aleksandar Vucic, leader of the "progressives."

Parallel with the power play, Vucic launched a media blitz, commissioning a profile in The Independent that fluffed him as the "man bringing Belgrade in from the cold". Promising the British would find his regime "reliable and supportive allies," Vucic praised his relations with London – and Washington. At one point, Vucic related how he once told US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that Serbia had been involved in – and lost – more wars than the US Neither is true, by the way, but the anecdote served to set up Vucic’s claim that the battles ahead of him "aren’t with guns and tanks, but the economy."

His regime’s most recent "success" has been the sale of Serbia’s air carrier, JAT, to the United Arab Emirates’ Etihad. More precisely, Belgrade assumed the air carrier’s debts, and gave Etihad a plum five-year concession in exchange for a paltry $100 million. Once profitable, JAT had been run into the ground by a variety of "democratic" governments following the October 2000 coup. Adding insult to injury, the Emirates were among the first to recognize "Kosovo" as an independent state, back in 2008.

With "Experts" Like These

Another plank of Vucic’s cunning plan was the notion of hiring Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former IMF boss disgraced by sex scandals, as an "expert advisor." According to Vucic, "We need these people who know more than us, and from whom our people can learn a lot" (Reuters). Given that his regime is already well-versed in both looting and pimping, the only remaining implication is that they wish to learn more about orgies.

Meanwhile, to replace the ousted bankster Dinkic at the Ministry of Finance, Vucic has turned to Lazar Krstic, a 29-year-old Yale BA and product of the State Department’s Serbian Youth Leadership Program. Before his cabinet posting, Krstic was employed at the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Pro-government media have hyped Krstic as a "genius" and "prodigy," though he has virtually no record to speak of.

Back in 2001, the first Empire-installed government actually employed a partner at McKinsey: Bozidar Djelic’s talent at looting the citizenry quickly earned him the moniker Derikozha, or "Flayer." Krstic appears set to follow his colleague’s philosophy: his plans, as quoted by the media, involve higher taxes and more of them.

Someone Else’s Tycoon

Any economist worth his salt, let alone a politician, ought to know that trying to extract blood from stone is a losing proposition. A dozen years of "reformist" governments have devastated Serbia’s economy more than the UN blockade and NATO bombing combined. The decision to unilaterally implement the SAA – signed then immediately suspended by the EU in March 2008 – to allow customs-free imports from the EU, has not only laid waste to Serbia’s budget, but devastated domestic industry and agriculture.

Around the same time as the puff piece in The Independent, a New York Times article covering the trial of a controversial businessman called Serbia the "land of graft". Media in Serbia spun it as praise of the "powerful" Vucic and his supposed dedication to root out corruption, but the actual piece was far more ambiguous, presenting the jailed billionaire Miroslav Miskovic almost as a victim of government heavy-handedness.

Miskovic’s prosecution was harshly criticized on the pages of Roll Call earlier this year, with the columnist Daniel Schneider accusing Vucic’s government of selectively targeting political opponents. Though Miskovic has been accused of benefiting from political patronage by both Slobodan Milosevic and Boris Tadic, it is far more likely that he – like every big businessman in the notoriously Hobbesian region – simply paid protection money to whoever was running Serbia. To put it another way, his sin wasn’t that he was a tycoon, but that he wasn’t Vucic’s tycoon.

While Evils Are Sufferable

Greed, whether for power or for money, may be the eventual undoing of this quisling government. The media have managed to spin their betrayal of Kosovo as a necessary sacrifice to secure a "normal life" and EU membership. Between the constant demonization of patriotism and promises of better living, the government has managed to control any simmering anger over the betrayal – so far. But what happens when, instead of the promised well-being, the Serbians wake up to yet another round of looting by their failed state?

Back in 1776, Jefferson wrote:

"… accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."

Yet there is a point at which the "long train of abuses and usurpations" makes those evils insufferable. That point is entirely subjective, and a seemingly trivial event can then set things in motion. Both the Empire and the quisling regime assume that the Serbs will not rise; that they will continue to suffer in silence indefinitely. Everything from history to human psychology indicates that this assumption is dead wrong.

And winter is coming.

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.