February 28, 2002

Of Hubris, Heretics, and Hermits
The real Balkans madness

Empire's absolute power and inherent goodness have been asserted most vigorously over the past decade, often through cluster-bombing anyone who dared stand in its way. To ensure a worldwide understanding that its rulers and legions can do no wrong, it has gone to great lengths to demonize, murder or otherwise destroy any heretics who claimed otherwise, no matter the cost in lives of "collateral damage" – which was, of course, always "regrettable" and "unintentional." Because the Empire said so.

Surely, the most famous heretic of the moment sits in the dock at the Hague Inquisition, fighting a massive quasi-legal, media and political machinery with nothing more than sharp wit and a sharper tongue.

If All Else Fails, Omit

How successful he has been is best illustrated by the deafening silence from the media jackals who had spent the last two weeks howling about the "triumph of justice" and "a new era in international law." Incensed at first that Milosevic even dared challenge their claim to Official Truth, and confounded by his quick demolition of the first two prosecution witnesses, the masters of mendacity decided to cut their losses and run.

After the first two days of cross-examination, reports from the "tribunal" became comparatively scarce, reduced largely to regurgitations of accusations made by various witnesses and the charges leveled against Milosevic. Conveniently omitted was any mention of Milosevic's cross-examination skills, which have already managed to exclude one major witness, utterly demolish three more, and cast doubt on the veracity of others. Having already convicted Milosevic in the court of public relations, they are determined not to allow inconvenient facts to interfere and confuse their populace.

Facts: Whatever We Say

Thus protected by this wall of ignorance, the Inquisition can focus on its appointed task: to rewrite Balkans history. And while the Inquisition is just getting started, its patrons are hard at work on the ground, making sure the reality created there closely matches their desires, and no heretics question the Official Truth.

In Bosnia, laws mean exactly what the occupiers say they mean – no more, no less. In Macedonia, borders and international treaties must bow before omnipotent Imperial generals. In Kosovo, murders of Albanians – most often by other Albanians – are heinous crimes, while murders of Serbs are merely "incidents." And in Serbia, saying things that make the government look bad are close to being blamed on the "axis of evil." Such rampant madness leaves one few choices: pretend everything is fine and accept whatever the Truth of the Day might be; become a heretic and speak out, risking the Empire's towering might; or leave the place, physically or mentally, and seek a more normal universe elsewhere.

Running For the Hills

Most who go for the last option choose to remove themselves physically, abandoning the Balkans for a life of immigrant laborers in Empire's more prosperous holdings – or even the Empire itself. One man, however, did it in a different, most peculiar way.

Ilija Panicic was found by British peacekeepers in the forested mountains of western Bosnia last week, having spent six years in the wild with berries for food and only a mountain bear for company. The former shepherd thought the war was still going on.

Given Bosnia's state of affairs – no pun intended – Panicic sounds positively rational. Fact is, in the mind of most Bosnian citizens, the war really isn't over. Most Bosnian politics is focused on building a stronger state – squandering what few resources can be plundered from the impoverished populace and guaranteeing years of plunder and poverty to come. Protection of property, as beneficial and essential to normal life as state is hostile and detrimental, is the last thing on anyone's mind. Laws that might help that protection are routinely violated, overruled or abused, often by the occupation authorities themselves. Suddenly, berries, bears and harsh winters in Bosnian mountains don't sound so bad.

Depends On What You Mean By "Murder"

Kosovo's new viceroy no doubt appeared regal by berating the Albanians for dragging their feet on electing a puppet government. Yet while Herr Steiner was garnering media points, life in Kosovo continued pretty much as normal. Serbs solemnly marked the anniversary of the terrorist attack on a refugee bus. Of three Albanians suspected of the attack, two were released by occupation courts, while one "escaped" from the US fortress-base of Camp Bondsteel. 

Occupation authorities in Kosovo are also obsessed with building a State – albeit one in which they hold absolute power. Already there are moves to abolish the self-governing Serbian enclaves and put them under the authority of "elected" Albanian officials, so as to eliminate "parallel government structures." Though parallel structures are praised when Albanians use them to challenge Serbia, they are anathema to Kosovo's current rulers. Any challenge to their supreme power, however symbolic, becomes instantly intolerable.

While destroying the last remnants of Serbian political organization, though, they are continuing to overlook the rampant trafficking in drugs, arms and sex slaves, or the equally rampant violent crime. This past Friday, an elderly Serb woman was gunned down on the street, her assailant expending the entire ammo clip of an AK-47 assault rifle. A Serb church in Mitrovica was set on fire the preceding Sunday. The perpetrators remain at large, as usual.

When arrests do occur, they are usually for crimes against Albanians. Two Serbs were arrested in Mitrovica last Thursday morning, on suspicion of killing an Albanian in riots two years ago. The arrest drew protests from the embattled Serb community. Similar protests took place in Pristina a week before, but this time Albanians protested the arrest of two Albanians, charged with killing other Albanians in 1998. Go figure.

Campaign Season

Nor do troubles in Kosovo stay confined to that wretched stretch of territory. An American general commanding the eastern occupation zone recently incensed Macedonian authorities by dismissing the treaty between Skopje and Belgrade on regulating their border – which included Kosovo. Apparently, since the treaty would complicate the lives of a few Albanian farmers in the good general's jurisdiction – and since the Empire's might trumps any action by lowly vassals anyway – the border between Macedonia and Kosovo should be wherever the good generals say it is.

In all honesty, the Empire has been ignoring Macedonia's northern – and western – border ever since it descended on the peninsula in late 1998 in preparation for the attack on Yugoslavia. NATO troops in Macedonia are absolutely immune to local laws. So, in effect, are most Albanians, who practically control the border with Albania and Kosovo (which is, consequently, not much of a border).

If the Macedonian government complains too loudly, it will be accused of "obstructing peace" – as the Treaty of Ohrid is called in official-speak. On the first anniversary of the Albanian rebellion, February 25, Reuters chose to air the insidious suggestions of the – who else? - ICG, that a new war depends on whether a conflict serves the interest of "those in power." That is, the Macedonian government. At the same time, a report in the British press claims the Albanians have rearmed thanks to Afghan heroin profits, and are ready to go.

March is traditionally the beginning of campaign season in the Balkans. We will find out soon enough. 

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen…

No report on Balkans madness would be complete without the mention of current government in Serbia. Its eighteen components and countless appendages continue to flail about incoherently, singing praises to themselves while the country sinks into the mire largely of their making.

Never mind that unemployment is close to 50%, or that the new EU proposal for a joint state with Montenegro (which both sides find loathsome) might be a back door for a protectorate. What really matters is that The Economist celebrates Zoran Djindjic's politically correct, "tidy Teutonic mind," presenting him as some sort of "good German" for the 21st century; or that The New York Times is enchanted with the charms of "liberated" Belgrade, whose bombing into the Stone Age it vigorously advocated just three years ago. The ultimate ironic twist might just be that Germany is lending Serbia money to repair and upgrade a power grid devastated by NATO, and used by the current regime to rob the people blind with outrageous and often fraudulent bills.

One almost wishes for the Serbian equivalent of western Bosnia mountains – bears, berries and all.

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

Of Hubris, Heretics, and Hermits

Masters of Mendacity

The Trial

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

Dιja Vu

The Crucible

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