Theatre of the Bizarre
twelve years ago, someone had written a book about the Balkans
wars that contained even a tenth of what has actually happened
since, they'd have been laughed right out of every publishing
house in the world. Truth, as Mark
Twain remarked, really is stranger than fiction. That,
alas, does not prevent so many events in the Balkans from
seeming as if they rolled right off the pages of some cheap,
trashy pulp novel. Here are just a few scenes from this theatre
of the bizarre.
days ago, a court in southern Serbia convicted
an Army reservist of a war crime: murdering two Albanian civilians
during the 1999 NATO attack. Ivan Nikolic was originally
charged with murder, but the indictment was amended
in an effort to show compliance with Imperial demands for
"cooperation" on war crimes issues.
of politics, anyone in Serbia who wants to maintain any shred
of sanity is better off without it. Denizens of Serbian political
life are so self-absorbed, so out of touch with reality, and
obsessed with power (how to get it and how to keep it), that
they've long since transcended earthly logic.
minister Bozidar Djelic is thus preparing a tax program based
on the notion that any property and any activity, economic
or otherwise, exist for the sole purpose of providing income
for the state. Though this has been the long-held belief of
politicians since time immemorial, Djelic is one of the first
to flaunt it. Points for honesty, but definitely not for intelligence
or moral fiber.
Mihajlovic, Serbia's top cop who could make a brilliant career
investigating just his own shady past, has just tried to remedy
his reputation as an incompetent fool by announcing that the
police had "indications" of a plot
to assassinate public figures and destabilize the government.
According to this brilliant mind, the recent gangland-style
killings of two police and intelligence officials are all
part of a vast conspiracy to topple the government that does
a fine job of doing so all on its own. Little wonder that
in Serbian jokes, police officers are the proverbial blonde.
its remaining Serbs live in reservations
and most of its non-Albanians have been in exile for over
three years now, Kosovo's Albanian "prime minister" still
hopes for independence
of the NATO-occupied province within the next three years.
Former KLA member Bajram Rexhepi has certainly learned to
mouth the platitudes of democracy and multi-cultural tolerance,
but neither he nor any of his colleagues seriously believe
in the return of some 200,000-plus people expelled since the
beginning of the occupation. Nor do they believe the occupation
itself must cease – quite to the contrary, they want the NATO
troops to stay and guarantee the "stability" of their power.
refugees are completely irrelevant to judging Kosovo's standards
of "democracy." All the media and humanitarian attention they
have not received over the past three years certainly
seems to support such thinking. And naturally, Serbs live
in ghettos for their own protection. Just consider what happens
to Albanians whom their compatriots find less than loyal to
Accused of "collaborating" with the Serbs, an entire Albanian
family was brutally murdered in Glogovac last June. This week,
eight Albanians were arrested by the UN occupation
authorities, and charged with the murder. Among them are three
members of the UN-funded "Kosovo Protection Corps,"
a paramilitary racket for the retired KLA.
of this should detract from Mr. Rexhepi's desire to see Kosovo
as an independent Albanian state, on account of its democracy
is, of course, a piece of the Balkans that has been under
Imperial dominion the longest – and it shows. Bosnia has lapsed
into a world where the concepts that seem utterly insane are
regarded as progress.
there are only a few voices of
indignation when Viceroy Ashdown announces that he could
run Bosnia much better if it weren't for those pesky Bosnians.
Nor does it seem strange when the reporter for Empire's paper
of record doesn't seem to have anything better to do than
cliché about Radovan Karadzic, the man the Empire loves
to hate, but just can't get its hands on. In addition to at
least ten phrases worn out by constant abuse over the past
decade, the New York Times report from Eastern Bosnia
contains such gems as this:
being paid compensation for having the locks blown off their
doors, they loathe the NATO-led Stabilization Force, viewing
it as yet another occupying power."
of course anyone in their right mind should just gush with
love for people who occupy their country, blow their doors
open in the wee hours of the morning and ransack their quiet,
peaceful village. They did get paid, after all…
the other hand, Empire's seasoned reporters are completely
baffled when facing reality. Only Agence France-Presse reported
on Monday's arrest
of a man who just happened to carry a high-power sniper rifle
on a visit to a city the SFOR commander was visiting at the
same time. The SFOR commander happens to be an American, Gen.
John Sylvester. The man who sported the sniper rifle happens
to be a Bosnian Muslim with alleged organized crime and even
terrorist connections. Of course, any notion that the arrested
gunman might have planned to shoot Gen. Sylvester, and any
speculation that the assassination would have then been blamed
on those evil Bosnian Serbs who just hate SFOR for its peacekeeping
goodness, will be dismissed as purely ridiculous. This is
Bosnia. Logic need not apply.
New York Times reporter with a fondness for clichés
might be somewhat excused since he did not do it first, or
alone. A colleague of his used every cliché in the bag when
on the anniversary of Slobodan Milosevic's arrival to
the Hague Inquisition's dungeons. Then again, the Inquisition
is a paragon of Empire's efforts in the Balkans, and a place
where logic – or law – mean even less than in Bosnia, or Kosovo.
is thus possible for the Inquisitors to appear reasonable
when they trim their list
of accusations against Milosevic from 66 to some unspecified,
smaller number. However, as Richard Holbrooke reminded everyone
so kindly a few weeks back, it takes only one to imprison
Milosevic for life. Being reasonable, then, is not an explanation,
and neither is a desire to stick to what can be proven, as
their mouthpiece suggested. If the Inquisitors tossed out
everything they couldn't prove, there'd be nothing left of
the indictment. More likely, they are focusing on charges
for which manufacturing "eyewitness evidence" will be least
again, given the quality of their witnesses, that might not
help either. Recently they all seem to be people with vested
interest in seeing Milosevic hang, from NATO's high-ranking
generals to European diplomats who
were heavily involved with the Kosovo crisis. Openly justifying
the NATO attack and blaming it exclusively on Milosevic, they
also "think," "feel" and are "left with impressions" that
the former Yugoslav president was guilty as sin. Aren't witnesses
required to know anything any more?
most ludicrous recent development at the Inquisition, however,
has nothing to do with the Milosevic trial. In an effort to
defend Croatian General Ante Gotovina, charged with command
responsibility for killing 150 Serbs during Croatia's 1995
blitz, a Croatian lobbying group has proposed
charging former President Clinton as well. Since the US
helped Croatia plan and execute the operation, they reason,
if there were any crimes its commander-in-chief must be held
responsible. The irony here is manifold. Far more than 150
Serbs were killed in "Operation Storm," which was also a violation
of the 1991 interim peace agreement and an invasion of UN-protected
territories (which strangely no one has ever protested, least
of all the UN). Besides, the Croatian World Congress didn't
really mean to imply Clinton was guilty of war crimes. What
they were really trying to do is exculpate Gotovina by putting
him under the umbrella of Imperial immunity. If he was serving
America, how could he possibly be a criminal?
all this, fiction writers ought to be rightly worried. Their
ability to make up plausible plots in this or some other world
is routinely surpassed by the paid peddlers of reality.
western nor local journalists have acquitted themselves well
in the Balkans crisis. After all, that's where "advocacy journalism"
came into its own, with the remarkable "discovery" of genocides
and mass rapes that never let the utter lack of evidence get
in the way of a good story. If it bled, it led the evening
news – so what if the blood belonged to someone else? These
are the very people who heard a phrase "ethnic cleansing"
(first used by a Kosovo
Albanian communist official in 1987) describe an expulsion
of Serbs from western
Croatia, then claimed the phrase and the "criminal plan"
behind it were invented by Serbs.
are also the people who line up to testify at the Hague Inquisition's
trials, knowing that "helping convict war criminals" looks
great on a resume. Except, of course, when they refuse. Problems
crop up when the ungrateful, presumptuous Inquisition just
insists they speak their bit. Cue self-righteous indignation
and injured whining of poor, misunderstood reporters who have
helped and praised the "court" so much, and this is
how they are repaid?
of a sudden, people who still glorify the Inquisition for
its pursuit of "justice" are protesting its methods, which
in this case aren't even especially extra-judicial – not compared
to the treatment of the accused, at least. It's the principle
of the thing, they claim: journalists should be above the
law. Hard to believe, isn't it, that the words "ICTY" and
"principle" can be used in the same sentence by self-respecting
individuals who claim special status as the conscience of
remember: this is the Balkans, where everything is possible
and fact is much stranger than fiction.