February 7 , 2002

Exercises In Wishful Thinking
Balkans in Empire's shadow

In the past several weeks, news from the Balkans has grown scarce, overshadowed by reports of disasters elsewhere and apprehensive analyses of the Emperor's Big Speech from last Tuesday. Alas, this does not signal the arrival of peace and prosperity, but merely a calm before some new storm can arise. Balkan winters being harsh and hostile, most of the physical fighting waits till the spring. Politics, however – the continuation of war by other means, as Clausewitz would have said – is by nature an indoor activity, and thus exempt from the elements.

The few news snippets that managed to find their way onto the net only confirm that the ongoing political war in the Balkans is far from over, and shows no sign of calming down.


Not surprisingly, Macedonia offers the most striking portent of clear and present danger waiting in the wings of winter. As Macedonian political parties fragment under the fallout from the disastrous Treaty of Ohrid, their Albanian opponents are actually unifying – around Ali Ahmeti, leader of the UCK bandits, no less. Additionally, Arben Xhaferi, still the senior Albanian politician in Macedonia, in a recent interview sought to disabuse the Macedonians of any notion that the Ohrid surrender would actually spell an end to Albanian demands.

If Macedonians resist new Albanian demands, the rumors of war come spring might be more than just corridor-talk of idle European political hacks.


Nary a peep has been heard from Kosovo recently, though problems with electing a local "president" and replacing the outgoing UN governor had received quite a lot of press coverage earlier. The new governor, Michael Steiner, was appointed on January 21st, but little has been heard about him since. Similarly, there is still no "president of Kosovo," as Albanian parties seem unable to reach a power-sharing deal even with the gentle persuasion of Imperial envoys.

One thing that did get reported was the arrest of two Kosovo Albanians in Pristina, on January 28. After lengthy preparation by the NATO occupiers, the two were arrested on charges of murdering fellow Albanians loyal to the Serbian state during 1998 and 1999. Reuters broke the story on January 29, but it seems to have disappeared since.

The development makes certain sense in the twisted logic of Kosovo's overlords. Since everyone just knows that only the Serbs did the killing in Kosovo, Albanians could be nothing but innocent victims or – at best – mistaken, angry vigilantes attacking the remaining Serbs (who probably deserve it anyway). To suddenly discover that Serbian claims from 1998-99 (before NATO's attack) were true and that the KLA really did kill Albanian civilians whose only sin was associating with the Serbian and Yugoslav governments, would blow a hole in NATO's official history big enough to sail the Sixth Fleet through. Yet it seems the KLA assassins who did such work continued to practice on Hashim Taqi's political opponents – namely Ibrahim Rugova's party officials – to the extent that began to bother Rugova's foreign backers. Last week's arrest was probably a warning to Taqi and the rest of the KLA not to push any further. The real story got out by accident and, well, the rest is blissful oblivion.


The ever-so-slow unraveling of NATO's Kosovo myth must have been judged as beneficial to its designated villain and his persecutors. It must have galled the best and most loyal agents of the Hague Inquisition to read that their case against Slobodan Milosevic does not hold water. After pretending to have given him a fair hearing, they decided to merge the trials for Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo into one big ball of pseudo-legalistic yarn.

Chief Inquisitor DelPonte argued that the trials should be combined since the conflicts in all three regions were parts of Milosevic's "criminal enterprise" to create a "Greater Serbia." Needless to say, DelPonte hasn't the slightest intent to offer any evidence proving the supposed "Greater Serbia" was ever more than a wet dream of anti-Serb propagandists. Not only is the assumption of guilt quite enough for the Inquisition, but its decision to bundle the trial is a de facto validation of DelPonte's sick fantasy.


How long before it becomes obvious that DelPonte & Co. have overstretched their imagination in the cases of Bosnia and Croatia as well? Empire's role in both those conflicts is based on myths similar – if somewhat less developed – to that of Kosovo. Allegations of "Serbian aggression" can in both cases be easily refuted, and further delving into the truth would strip bare the unpleasant evidence of Croatian forces' doings in Krajina, Slavonia, Herzegovina and Central Bosnia, none of which their "advisors" and sponsors care to hear.

Though the regimes that led the secession of Croatia and Bosnia in the early 1990s are officially out of power now, their leaders dead or retired, both states continue to be hostages to the myths surrounding their creation. This has proven a powerful obstacle to the current Croatian government in its attempts to purge the state apparatus of those loyal to late president Tudjman's authoritarian chauvinism. It has also posed immense challenges to the new government of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat Federation in dealing with "guests" from Islamic countries that the Izetbegovic regime invited in 1992-95 to fight a jihad for a "multiethnic" Bosnia.


Ironically, because of its success in ethnically cleansing its Serb population and disenfranchising its few remains, Croatia can survive the deconstruction of Tudjman's statehood paradigm. Bosnia is in a different position altogether. Almost ten years after the Izetbegovic regime decided to proclaim independence (provoking a war), members of Bosnia's three main ethnic groups still live in separate historical universes.

The Bosnian Serbs fought for – and got – a piece of land to call their own. Croats have changed their war objectives so often, there is no way to judge whether any of them were achieved. Muslims, on the other hand, have every right to be displeased with the present situation. They fought for a unified state with a Muslim majority, and definitely not an ungovernable patchwork of federations, republics and local fiefdoms, occupied by NATO troops and ruled by an Austrian viceroy.

Because the Dayton peace effectively torpedoed Alija Izetbegovic's dreams of a monolithic Bosnia, his ideological successors are doing everything in their power to repudiate Dayton and resurrect the dream. If successful, they could destroy the fragile tissue holding the festering wounds of war in stasis, and plunge the land into another round of bloodshed.

For the fundamental issue of the war – whether there should be a Bosnia at all, and if yes, how – was never resolved, either by arms or by words. It was simply ignored and swept under the rug, seen as irrelevant to the Empire's mythological view of the conflict. For over six years, Bosnia's languishing existence has been blamed on corruption, loose war criminals, insufficient government powers and lack of foreign aid, but no one has ever bothered to point out the obvious, fundamental flaw of Dayton – that for many people it was not salvation, but defeat. Having missed the point, Bosnia's various "benefactors" have tried to change the situation through increasing application of statist tyranny, with predictably pathetic results.

Meanwhile, one is left with a distinct impression that Bosnia's foreign occupiers know perfectly well that the entire structure they imposed by force would inevitably collapse if they left – and consequently, find themselves in no hurry to actually leave.


Serbia's descent into madness has, if anything, accelerated this winter. Electricity bills have soared hand-in-hand with power cuts, in a disgusting display of the old government trick called "distract-and-plunder." While the people are distracted by midwinter power shortages and the prospect of freezing – or by trying to comprehend the sudden 300% increase in utility bills – the government gets a free hand to sell most Serbian enterprises to foreign investors for pennies on the dollar, while lining its pockets with the utilities' profits. As in elsewhere in the Balkans, Serbian utilities are state-owned, and what good is a monopoly when it can't be used for extortion?

Those who did have power this past week could gasp in shock as Serbia's current finance minister Bozidar Djelic actually praised the successful policies of Bill Clinton in the Balkans. Given that Djelic is a rich émigré who made his money by plundering Russia in the service of Western financiers, and that the regime to which he belongs is willing to pull out all the stops in courting the approval of Serbia's former executioners, this is hardly unexpected. That should say something about the state of Serbian affairs, in and of itself.


All this points to a depressing realization. Even if Imperial occupation disappeared overnight – and it won't – there would still be a mountain of trouble for former Yugoslavs to cross. Perhaps as a legacy of decades of confusion, no one there seems to know what they want. Instead, they offer their people fancy-sounding delusions such as "partnership" with the Empire. They claim membership in the EU would solve economic woes, thus putting a vastly overrated cart before the nearly dead horse. Most of all, they seek solace in the sanctity of two buzzwords, "free market" and "democracy." Not only are their policies conducive to neither, but the two concepts happen to be mutually exclusive.

Much has been said and written about the need to understand and accommodate others. Yet that is hardly possible without first knowing and understanding oneself. If the Balkans could get rid of the Empire's jackboot, if its inhabitants prove able to rediscover or reinvent their collective and individual identities, and if they succeed in creating communities built on freedom, not force or servitude, then their future just might look better. It is by no means guaranteed. But it would be a good start.

Text-only printable version of this article

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, and contributed to the Independent. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia and Serbian politics, many of which have been published by the Serbian Unity Congress. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Thursday.


Archived Columns

Exercises In Wishful Thinking

Ten Years in the Twilight Zone

Wastelands of Imperial Reality

Off to a Bad Start

Operation Enduring Stupidity

Balkans Christmas – All Year 'Round

A Trojan Horse in Belgrade

Where the Shadows Lie

Republic Day

Surrender in Kosovo

A False Choice for Kosovo

Death by Protectorate

Perverted Justice

The Meanings of Madness

Arrogance of Power

Reflections on Revolution

War Without End

Battle in the Balkans

Intersections of Fate

Macedonia's Tragedy Masquerading as Farce

A Day to Remember

The Serbian Standoff

Macedonia's Futile Surrender

Murdering Macedonia

Rambouillet Repeated?

Empire's Willing Servants

Kostunica's Choice

Betrayal in Belgrade

The Empire Shows Its Hand

The Return of Kings

Meditations On The Edge Of The Abyss


Terms of Betrayal

Presevo – A False Victory

The Balkans: Land of Delusions

Enemies at the Gates

ICG's Blueprint for Destruction

Kosovo: Between Death and Taxes

Madness in the Mountains: Montenegro's Looming Secession

A House Divided


Empire at the Gates

Macedonian Maelstrom

Pax Americana

The Fourth Balkan War

Mayhem in Macedonia

Surreal Realm

Santayana's Curse

The Croatian Conundrum

March of the Black Eagle

Showdown in Belgrade

Out of the Shadows

With a Grain of Salt

Crusade's End

The Worst of Times

Moments of Transition

Déja Vu

The Crucible

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