August 28, 2003

The Black Hole of Nation-Building
Bosnia's Ongoing Tragedy

by Nebojsa Malic

Sarajevo and Bosnia are "rising from the ashes," proclaims a recent puff piece by AFP. After a horrible war that drove millions out of their homes and cost hundreds of thousands their lives, the yarn goes, Bosnia is finally bouncing back. Well, it isn't. Bosnia's economy continues to founder, its demoralized people continue to flee, and its rapacious political class continues to bleed the people dry, under the benevolent gaze of Imperial viceroys who couldn't make it at home, but have god-like powers here.

The Sarajevo Film Festival, featuring several domestic features that followed in the Oscar-winning footsteps of Danis Tanovic, is rightly seen as a ray of hope. But no one seems to realize that the festival triumphed because it has been a private enterprise, one man's vision of culture and arts that stood to be profitable. Even as eager audiences snapped up festival tickets and one local feature left foreign blockbusters in the dust at the box office, filmmakers pleaded for government funding for their future productions. Thus a misunderstood free-market exception only confirms the statist rule.

A better illustration of misconceptions that govern today's Bosnia is hard to find. And yet… word came about ten days ago that someone in the state legislature actually tried to protect "human rights" by proposing to ban blonde jokes! Whether the story is true or not – and it could well be – Bosnia has been made the laughing stock of the entire world.

The 'European Raj'

Early in July, a European think tank issued a well-publicized report claiming that viceroy "Paddy" Ashdown has ruled Bosnia as the British ruled India in the 19th century, creating a "European Raj." The report sparked furious debate in Bosnia, and thunderous denunciations by Ashdown's staff, but hasn't changed the way things are run one bit.

Ashdown still rules by force majeure, drawing authority from the self-appointed Peace Implementation Council. With NATO occupation troops (SFOR) as his mailed fist, the conceited British politico does not see the need for a velvet glove. After all, what resort do Bosnians have if displeased with his decisions?

Yet he still rules with consent of the governed, grumble as they may, because of the peculiar power structure at work in Bosnia. Though nearly pure "democracy" in form, it functions as a sort of perverted feudalism. Political leaders of ethnic parties, national-socialist in program orientation, lord over their respective peoples while pledging allegiance to the Empire. They "protect" their people from the other two ethnic groups, using real and imaginary fears to refresh that point every so often. The people, in turn, look to the viceroy to protect them from their own leaders' depredations.

It doesn't take a genius to see that this intricate relationship is based on force, or that it fuses feudal power with modern, "democratic" notions of responsibility (i.e. little or none). Politicians are not accountable to their subjects, while the viceroy is not any way responsible to his vassals. Needless to say, these tyrants "protect" the people the same way Mafia racketeers do. It's the "protectors" that one needs protection from!

The best example of this are the viceroy's social engineering efforts.

Paradoxes of Forced Coexistence

Though the famous bridge in Mostar was physically rebuilt last week, the metaphorical bridges between communities remain in ruins. They cannot be repaired by force, only destroyed further.

Divided for a decade between the Croat West and the Muslim East, the capital of rocky Herzegovina might be forcibly unified by imperial decree next month. Muslim protests blocked the adoption of the new Charter in late July, and now the decision will most likely be imposed by Viceroy Ashdown.

The impasse was created by the Muslim SDA party representatives' refusal to integrate the city, as the greater number of Croats in the more prosperous West would then make them a minority. They also objected to the Croats' use of what they termed "token Serbs" to "outvote" them in committee sessions.

For those unfamiliar with Bosnia's recent history, this claim is the Triple Crown of irony. Namely, the SDA pioneered the practice of "outvoting" its ethnic rivals; it was how the infamous independence referendum was organized. It has also frequently used "tokens" – non-Muslims who for whatever reason sympathized with its nationalist agenda – as a PR stunt to claim legitimacy and fend of accusations of nationalism. Finally, the SDA has long championed integration and "reunification" in Bosnia, but only if Muslims would outnumber others, and hence hold "democratic" power.

About the only positive development in this affair is the revelation of the SDA's hypocrisy when it comes to integration. Forcing communities reluctant to live together to do so is a recipe for conflict, whether by forcibly integrating cities or public schools. The bitter taste of their own medicine is unlikely to make the Muslims realize how other communities feel towards their centralizing efforts, and everyone will lose yet another bit of their liberty to Imperial diktat.

And Your Mother, Too

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." This is particularly true when it comes to NATO's hunt for "war criminals" who still elude the Hague Inquisition. Almost every operation results in embarrassing failure. This time they raided the wake of Stana Mladic, who passed away early last week, looking for her son and former Bosnian Serb top general, Ratko. Perhaps guessing that Bosnia's occupiers would pull such a stunt, the general wasn't there. His mother was buried later that afternoon.

An official SFOR statement offered platitudes instead of an apology, saying that it was "in the best interests of all citizens of Bosnia and Hercegovina [sic] that SFOR fulfils its mandate." By barging into wakes?

Have they no decency? Well, no. One might argue that Mladic's wartime conduct wasn't particularly decent, either. But aren't those who claim the moral right to judge him for that supposed to actually be morally superior? Instead, their 'higher morality' grows from the barrel of Mao's proverbial gun.

Event Horizon

And that is really the point, isn't it? Reason has long since abandoned the hills and valleys of Bosnia, ousted by Hobbesian brutality. Coercion, which has caused most of Bosnia's problems in the first place, is seen as the only solution to them – a paradox if there ever was one. The former Ottoman "province of darkness" has become a black hole where all freedom, hope, and reason seem to vanish.

The state of Bosnia today demonstrates everything that is wrong not only with the Empire, but also with the ideology on which it is based. Nationalist-socialism and multi-cultist "human rights" nonsense that have been the basis of "nation-building" efforts have not – and could not have – resolved Bosnia's economic crisis, or the bitter ethnic and religious disputes left over from the region's turbulent past.

Iraq may be bloody and desolate right now, but it isn't hopeless. At least most Iraqis want the occupiers out before they can debate their country's future. After nearly 8 years of occupation, the people of Bosnia don't really know who they are any more, let alone what they want.

A little common sense would be a good start.

– 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.


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