April 25, 2002

The Balkans: Democracy Triumphant
Abundance, Not Absence, Of Democracy Caused Bloodshed

"Democracy" is a word most often used, and abused, in today's world. It is seen as a solution to all problems and a practice bestowing its practitioner with an aura of almost-divine righteousness, while those accused of lacking it are quickly declared evil beyond comprehension. It is routinely asserted as the best and even only possible system of government, and any opposition to such a notion is deemed a despicable heresy.

Heresy it is, since belief in democracy has become a form of religion, with all its dogmatic trappings and a zealous following engaged in a holy war. Just one of the battlefields in that high crusade, the former Yugoslavia, offers a clear example of democracy run amok.

From the Empire to its lowly vassals in the Balkans, just about everyone agrees that the former federation's problem is a lack of democracy. Yet they are all absolutely wrong. The problem with Yugoslavia's successors is that they have exemplified democracy at its purest, and most destructive. Like a cancer, it spread through the peninsula and brought death, devastation and despair to everything it touched.

The Path of Darkness

There is no space in this column to deal with all themisconceptions of  democracy. For that, one can read an aptly-named book Democracy: the God That Failed, by Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe of the Mises Institute. Basically, Hoppe argues, the State is an enemy – not defender – of civilization; democracy is much worse than the absolute monarchies it replaced (and how!); and the modern Western democratic welfare-state is not the summit of social evolution, but rather a very dark blind alley.

Though the book is based on theory and logic that Hoppe says transcend particular historical experiences, such experiences are in no short supply.

Serbia: With A Vengeance

Take Serbia, for example. Slobodan Milosevic rose to power as a proponent of greater democracy in the former Yugoslav federation, deriding the Communist apparatus of which he was himself a member and relying instead on the masses. A decade of war, however, combined with Empire's incessant pressure and overt aggression, made the masses who once listened to Milosevic by the million turn on him and bring to power a new democratic government in October 2000.

Since then, taxes have soared; the economy has collapsed even further; the highest laws of the land were violated or perverted by their sworn protectors; life and property became less secure than ever; and the cultural values of the Serbian people have been exposed to incessant attacks by the government, its fellow-travelers and outside sponsors. These days, Serbia represents nothing so much as a land of the lotus-eaters, its people lost in a world of illusions that are slowly killing them.

Those who advocated democracy in Serbia overlooked its one fatal flaw. Just as there is no such thing as individual freedom within a democratic country, there is no such thing as sovereignty in a democracy-dominated world. As the state has power over individuals, so does the Empire over its vassals. They can only be willing servants, like the current regime, or unwilling, like its predecessor. If not, there is always the Hague Inquisition.

Montenegro: No Tomorrow

Democracy, says Hoppe, is by nature living in the now. There is no tomorrow for its short-term leaders, who are credited with astounding foresight if they can see as far as the next election, let alone beyond it.

Such an absence of perspective is chiefly responsible for the collapse of Montenegro's government last week. After the regime in Podgorica agreed to kill off Yugoslavia and enter a new association with Serbia, some of its members who stood to lose from the settlement resigned in protest. These are the ministers who stood to gain power and influence from an immediate declaration of independence. The agreement engineered by NATO's own former Butcher of Belgrade Javier Solana, and recently ratified by both Serbian and Montenegrin parliaments, requires that Montenegro refrain from such a declaration for three years.

Never mind that Montenegro's regime kept all of its current power, while effectively killing off Yugoslavia and securing automatic recognition of independence in three years without a messy referendum they might have easily lost. Three years are an eternity to the zealots of democracy, who want the power now. Their voters, whom they promised independence, might mind being lied to – but that is the least of their problems, as voters can always be manipulated.

Bosnia: Running Amok

Claiming to represent the will of the people is hard enough when there are only one people in question. When there are three, it is impossible – but it doesn't stop people from trying, with predictably disastrous results.

Bosnia went to war because of democracy. Ethnic parties that came to power in Bosnia after the 1990 election all had "democratic" in their names: Croat Democratic Union (HDZ), Serb Democratic Party (SDS),  and the Muslims' Party of Democratic Action (SDA). Together, they took democracy to its most extreme: the will of their voters led to forcible relocations, combined with property seizures and murder on a large scale. Ethnicity and party membership became synonyms, voting mirrored census results, and politics transcended taxes and plunder to become a game of life and death.

In every election since the war save (partly) the last, ethnic democratic parties won the popular vote. In those instances where their leaders challenged the will of a higher democratic power, the Empire, its viceroy in Bosnia simply removed them from elected office. But by and large, they have had a free run in their respective fiefdoms.

Last Friday, the outgoing viceroy of Bosnia imposed a set of key constitutional amendments on both its component entities. The amendments were meant to enforce the ruling of the Bosnian Supreme Court giving "equal rights" to all ethnic groups through a system of quotas.

There is a lengthy back story to all this, filled with paradoxes, ironies and hypocrisy. At its core is the persistent wartime pipe-dream of unitary Bosnia, which sought to assert itself through demolishing the Serb Republic's right to existence via the Supreme Court. The court obliged, its Muslim and foreign justices democratically overruling the dissenting Serbs and Croats. What resulted was a set of constitutional amendments, proposed by the viceroy and cheered by such reputable agents of Empire such as the ICG, boiling down to ethnic quotas in public office based on the 1991 census.

The amendments were then democratically accepted (though slightly modified) by the Serb Republic's parliament, and democratically ignored by the Muslim-Croat Federation's. In the end, the higher democracy of the viceroy trumped both, again, and imposed the original proposal without discussion.

After a decade of war and peace, Bosnia is expected to go back to 1991 and pretend nothing happened. Those who believe that reality could be changed by a vote ought to try commanding the tide sometimes.

Empire: The Metastasis

In the Balkans, democracy has resulted in war, wholesale plunder, and mad lust for power – and those just by Empire's vassals. The Empire itself, now… that's democracy on a whole different scale.

Democracy usually metastasize into dictatorship, when the rulers' lust for power becomes too great for whatever constraints were originally imposed on it. The former Yugoslavia, again, is a prime example. Yet a large enough state, powerful enough, will go right on to become an empire. It is no longer simply practicing democracy, it seeks to impose it on all others.

As the ultimate arbiter of what democracy is and isn't then, it assumes the right to determine the level of democracy in other nations, deciding which elections are democratic and which are not simply by the utility of their outcome. To impose its democratic will, the Empire often uses means decried as "undemocratic." Yet as the will of the majority, assumed or real, is self-legitimizing, no means are really "undemocratic" after all. Not even nuclear holocaust.

The God That Failed

Deceived by promises of salvation without responsibility and freedom without thought, the masses that helped bring democracy into being have been its greatest victims. Their new God has demanded millions of blood sacrifices, and has shown no inclination to stop despite being dutifully obliged. If only they could remember why they converted to this new religion and realize that their God has failed to live up to any of those promises, there might be hope yet that those who embraced democracy will come to their senses. Until then, the Failed God will demand more blood, and its desperate, deluded worshippers will keep granting that wish.

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

The Balkans: Democracy Triumphant

Shadows of the Past

All the Wrong Lessons

Bosnia Revisited

Once Upon A Country

A Superbly Organized Crime

Bitter Balkans Ironies

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

Déja Vu

The Crucible

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