May 26, 2003

The Folly That Is Europe
Aiming for the EU is a Mistake

Next month's summit meeting of European Union leaders in Thessalonica has prompted increasing speculation about the future role of the Brussels bureaucratic behemoth in Balkans affairs. The Empire is preoccupied with reshaping the Middle East – though if its Balkans "successes" are anything to go by, that's another developing disaster. Russia has pulled out, daunted by rising costs and waning influence. It seems as if the EU has a chance to make the Balkans its proving ground yet again. The last time it did so, in the early 1990s, the result was an unmitigated disaster. There is no indication this time would be any different.

Consider the advice of George Soros, the billionaire puppet-master of Balkan NGOs, to EU luminaries: give Kosovo independence, break apart Serbia and Montenegro, and abolish the Dayton Agreement in Bosnia in favor of a unitary state – then forbid any further changes in borders. It's a proposal that manages to be stupid, irrational, and anti-Serb at the same time, a no small feat. It also represents a position most Soros-funded NGOs have advocated for quite some time. Finally, it would not only not resolve any of the Balkans issues, but make them exponentially worse.

Europe or Empire?

There is some disagreement among European and American analysts as to the ultimate loyalty of the "Western Balkans": the New Europe or the American Imperium? There shouldn't be. Balkans leaders have shown loyalty to whomever they believe the strongest, and that is currently without question the Imperium.

In fact, rather than present an alternative to the hegemon, Europe is far more likely to remain its servant. Balkan leaders seem to know this, as they speak of "full integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures," an euphemism for NATO, as well as the EU. So, though Washington's recent efforts to bully its vassals into giving US troops immunity from war crimes prosecution were met with resistance in Croatia (and the expected obsequiousness in Bosnia), as part of "New Europe" Balkans satrapies are likely to be satellites as dedicated as Poland.

Economic Pipe Dreams

Last Thursday, leaders of Albania, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia appealed to EU leaders on the pages of International Herald Tribune, claiming that without the "integration" of the Balkans, Europe's unification would not be complete, and its security would in fact be threatened. To hear them say it, the EU is this Promised Land where all Balkan problems will be not so much resolved as dissolved in economic bliss. They could not be more wrong.

In their missive, the four leaders seek "effective ways of reducing the unacceptably high levels of unemployment and low investment" and the need to "find jobs for ordinary people who want a decent living wage for honest work." But Europe's unemployment levels are rather high, consequence of restrictive taxation and welfare programs that create disincentives to work and prosperity. Neither the EU bureaucrats nor the Balkans satraps really understand that people who want honest jobs are perfectly willing to create them, unless the government prevents them from doing so by forcing them into a completely useless "education," or setting tax rates that make honest work impossible, or both.

Best showcasing their arrogance and ignorance of economic matters is their claim that Balkans countries "have an educated and resourceful work force, but we need to know how best to deploy their skills." As if those skills were bombs to be "deployed," and that decision was the government's to make!

Commies Never Left

This execrable disdain for individual liberty, coupled with an equal disregard for private property, indicate that Balkan states are all too eager to embrace the variation of a system they've just escaped (or think they have, anyway). After the ravages of war, many of their people claim they'd lived better under Communism. To an extent, that is true: Communists knew better than to launch wholesale destruction and unrestrained plunder on the population that was their source of sustenance. Their heirs don't seem to suffer from that reservation.

The problem is that Balkans socialism was never really abolished. It "evolved" into Democracy rather peacefully, just before the "new" governments unleashed the social-democratic Succession Wars. The outer trappings of the system may have perished, substituted in places by the equally superficial trappings of nationalism, but its main principle endured.

Though "democratic" by declaration, Balkan governments lie somewhere between socialism and national-socialism. The bedrock of their political philosophy is that people exist to serve the State, and that needs of the State always trump those of the individual. Worse yet, there is no coherent set of values and principles any of those governments are founded on, save for a brutal Machiavellian "pragmatism."

None of this will go away if and when the "Western Balkans" joins the Union of European Socialist Republics (and some quasi-monarchies, too). If anything, it will become even more entrenched and difficult to defeat. And that explains the politicians' fervor for EU membership.

Protecting the Plunder

After the Nazi occupation, in 1946, the Communist "liberators" proceeded to "liberate" the people of Yugoslavia of their private property. Land, housing, factories, mines... everything was "nationalized," with a few exceptions such as shops and small farms. The notion that all this was the rightful property of the State survived the transformation of Communism on the eve of the Succession Wars. Balkan "presidents" thus treated their countries as their private fiefdoms, and their inhabitants as no more than medieval serfs. This treatment continues even today – unsurprisingly, as there has been no structural change in the prevailing political ideology.

This is exemplified in the process of "privatization." Rather than divest itself from plundered property, governments sold enterprises to investors and housing to residents, but retained ownership of the land itself – and in many cases, even the buildings. Moreover, the buyers were almost always government cronies. This is why one cannot trust Balkan governments when they proclaim a war on organized crime. They are organized crime.

In Croatia, Serbs who return after years in exile cannot reclaim their property, "given" by the state to Croat refugees. They have to fight a lengthy battle against the entire government apparatus just to get what is theirs, while the government insists it would be "unjust" to evict the squatters without providing housing for them. Besides being clearly aimed to discourage Serb returns, this policy reveals that Croatian rulers have little or no understanding of the principle of private property.

Bosnia has retained the socialist property laws almost entirely. In Sarajevo, for example, real estate development remained for the longest time under effective control of Alija Izetbegovic's son, Bakir, head of the Urban Planning Commission. When socialist-era apartment towers were privatized, only the actual apartments were sold off – not the buildings themselves, or the land they were on. Those are still in legal limbo, causing the already shoddy infrastructure to fall dangerously into disrepair. Residents of pre-1945 buildings are in limbo as well, because current laws on real estate ownership (!) forbid their privatization while the Restitution Bill is being blocked by the viceroy.

Serbian regime is equally reluctant to restore plundered property to its rightful owners. Doing so would "cost the government money," as it would need to compensate owners whose properties have been modified and cannot be returned outright, and definitely lose the potential to profit from selling the property. (Notice the assumption that the government has a "right" to profit from plunder!) Instead, the regime is offering the surviving plunder victims (the Communists shot tens of thousands of "enemies of the people" after "liberating" them) the utterly worthless 30-year government bonds. Serbia's Democrats have run up a huge international debt already and stifled any potential for economic growth through confiscatory taxation, so it's hard to see where the money to pay those bonds would come from. No wonder the claimants are rejecting the offer out of hand. The government, on the other hand, is in no hurry to "lose" money  when it can "make" money by selling off its plunder.

As An Aside…

This situation also reflects on the plight of Kosovo, as "government property" is now being redistributed by the occupying authorities to Albanian claimants, on spurious grounds at best. Because the UN and NATO chose to interpret the Kumanovo armistice as unconditional surrender, they've assumed the right to administer "state property" in Kosovo as the "property of the state" of Kosovo, for all intents and purposes.

But Belgrade doesn't think of Kosovo as illegally occupied; this would imply some adherence to principle, and that is so very 1999 for the modern politicians. Rather, they try to argue that the occupiers aren't enforcing their own officially proclaimed goals of multi-ethnicity, human rights and democracy. Since the occupiers can define those any which way they want – and do so – this policy is futile. Furthermore, even Belgrade's legitimate objections are dismissed and derided by UNMIK. So much for the vaunted "partnership" with the "international community." Oh yes, that equality and respect in world affairs are just around the corner. Any day now.

Servant Mentality

The desire to join the EU isn't altogether irrational. Weak-minded people often seek more powerful they can follow – or in the case of Balkan leaders, they are sought out by the powerful as willing servants. The leaders see joining the EU and NATO as the equivalent of finally being a "part of the gang." Plus, the Eurocracy would protect their power and privilege. The people, conditioned by decades of government education, see a panacea for all their economic problems, a source of "free money" and salvation from their own corrupt rulers (oh, the irony!). They do not realize that money is never free, or that their current rulers will still be in charge.

The Real Reforms

From Zagreb to Skopje, Balkan leaders talk incessantly of "reforms" and determination to join the EU. All those "reforms" accomplish is strengthen the government: "rule of law" often means a police state, while "tax reform" translates into more rapacious plundering. There was no fundamental reform of the state, and there cannot ever be, because the government is by definition incapable of reforming its own nature. No, what they really mean is reforming the people into more pliable servants of the government.

The past decade has clearly demonstrated the fruits of such an approach. Governments cannot produce anything, least of all economic development. They only consume, whether money, lives, resources, honor, courage, sanity, or hope.

To be fair, it is entirely possible that some politicians may honestly believe they are trying to do good for their people. But even if they realize that government is the biggest obstacle to anything resembling prosperity, the amount of power those governments have right now would tempt a saint. And there are very few saints in the Balkans.

About Freedom

All this discussion on the merits of Europe, or the Empire, really comes down to this: there is no prosperity without freedom. There can be no freedom without choice. The EU, and the Empire, have done everything in their ever-increasing power to make sure no one can make choices they don't approve of – and by definition, there will be fewer of those as time goes by.

So, freedom is slavery; ignorance is knowledge; war is peace. "1984" truly came, albeit on a statist (and hence inefficient and delayed) schedule.

After fighting so long for liberation (though at times, not necessarily liberty), the Balkans are now clamoring to be enslaved. A proud group of nations has become broken, pathetic shadows of their ancestors – whose very culture and traditions they are now being compelled to renounce in the name of false prosperity.

This is insane. Suicidal. Ludicrous. Misguided. Just plain wrong, any which way you slice it.

For shame.

– Nebojsa Malic

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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. His exclusive column for appears every Thursday.


Archived Columns

The Folly That Is Europe

Lies Reporters Tell

Worshippers of Power and Violence

After 'Liberation,' Democracy

Empire's 'Liberation'

Bolsheviks in Belgrade

Seeking Scapegoats

The Argument of Force

Alley of the Damned

Death of a Manager

From Kosovo to Baghdad

Genocide Games

Excuses and Justifications

Yugoslavia's End

Balkanizing the World

A Chauvinistic Farce

The 12 Months of Christmas

More Dirty Lies

Democratic Destruction

Forged Memories

Making the Balkans Connection

Remembering the Obvious

Empire's Playground

Casus Belli

Forward to The Past

The Unbearable Futility of Voting

A Global Balkans

Triumph of the Will

The Day Nothing Changed

Illusions of Truth and Justice

More archived columns by Nebojsa Malic

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