October 31, 2002

Empire's Playground
Balkans Scandals Are Deadly Experiments

The Serbs are arming Saddam Hussein's drive for world domination.


If it sounds like a plot of a pathetic spy caper, that's because it does. But even Hollywood flacks, who habitually insult the intelligence of American moviegoers, would never dare stoop this low. It just wouldn't sell. Unsurprisingly, this particular plot was written in Washington, where no one cares a whit about the audience. After all, they have no choice but to listen and obey.

Imperial potentates greatly respect the power of human gullibility, but they also know its limitations. Once in the right frame of mind, people will believe the most outrageous things – but only up to a point. Rabid warmongering propaganda may have succeeded in confusing Americans to the point where most of their opposition to invading Iraq – or conquering the world, for that matter – is technical in nature, but it still exists. Lo and behold, to carry them over that threshold of disbelief comes a scandal: "Iraq-Serbia."

Bombs And Missiles Imaginary

Having hit a snag in their efforts to resurrect Saddam Hussein's nefarious reputation they'd crafted in the early 1990s, Imperial City producers decided to bring in a 'supporting villain' that might still be fresh in people's minds.

"US Says Two Serb Firms Are Helping Iraqis," declares the Washington Post, adding four days later, "New Yugoslav-Iraqi Ties Alleged: U.S. Says Defense Firms Developing Cruise Missile for Baghdad." The Guardian, always eager to score a few Serb scalps, chimed in: "Serbs Helping Iraq Build Cruise Missile, US Says," announced an October 28 headline.

The best lies always contain a kernel of truth. It is entirely plausible and probably true that both the Bosnian Serbs and Belgrade had done business with Iraq at the time when they were both under a US-sponsored UN blockade, and maybe even after that. The old Yugoslavia had traded with Iraq a lot. So did Britain, France, China, Russia, and not the least of all, the US. But spare parts for aircraft engines don't make a good plot point, especially since the Iraqi air force hasn't flown in years.

Enter a ship full of powder, originating in Montenegro and impounded by Croatian authorities. The mysterious powder, US officials claim, is fuel for cruise missiles the Wicked Serbs have been developing for Evil Saddam!

Of course, there is a theoretical possibility that the charge might be true. But it makes no sense. If the Serbs had the technology to build cruise missiles, wouldn't they have used it by now? Some such missiles could have definitely come in handy during the NATO attack in 1999, for instance. Just as, if that uranium fuel seized from Vinca Labs a few months back really had been bomb-worthy, Serbia could have joined the nuclear club years ago – and NATO would have found someone else to occupy and abuse.

Curiously, the New York Times – usually a rabid Serb-baiter – took a decidedly low-key approach to the matter. "Yugoslav Aides Are Fired for Sale of Fighter-Jet Parts to Iraq," avers an October 24 article, noting that the case "appears to focus on the violation of the United Nations arms embargo rather than the military significance of any sales."

Maybe those were hypothetical missiles Saddam "might" use one day…?

Uncontrollable Fallout

More instructive is the way the charges have been met in Bosnia and Serbia. The government in Belgrade, always overeager to please its masters, has sacked several high-ranking officials in charge of the defense industry, and promised "full cooperation" – whatever that means. Tuesday's Belgrade daily Glas Javnosti reported an optimistic prediction by one Prvoslav Davinic, Serbian coordinator for the Balkans Stability Pact, that the scandal would accelerate Serbia's entry into NATO's Partnership for Peace program, because a crackdown on arms dealers would demonstrate its commitment to NATO.

The Pact was established after the Kosovo War, to bring all the Balkans vassals into Empire's fold. Obviously, anyone associated with it would lead in the worship of Imperial overlords – but Davinic's attitude is reflected by most Serbian government officials. They know which side their bread is buttered on, and it's not the side of the Serbian people…

In Bosnia, where the entire sordid affair started, Muslim politicians are using the affair to again call for abolition of the Serb Republic. A commentator for Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje minced no words in calling the Serb Republic "a paradigm (sic) of aggression, genocide, war profiteering and plunder."

Even though Viceroy Ashdown shares their desire for a unified Bosnian State, he apparently decided to curb their enthusiasm, by reportedly suggesting that some Muslim and Croat factories have engaged in not-so-legal arms trade as well.

The intensity of the fallout comes as a surprise to the Imperials themselves, then. They forgot that, in the Balkans, nothing is simple. Even the tiniest attempts at manipulation create unexpected shockwaves.

Our Arms Traders, And Theirs

Take, for example, the infamous "Washington sniper," who killed ten people in the Imperial City just this month. On October 20, days before the arrest of a Gulf veteran suspected of the spree, Stacy Sullivan penned a paean to gun control for the New York Times, illustrating the ease of purchasing sniper rifles in the US by describing in great detail – and sympathetically – how Albanian expatriates armed the terrorist KLA in Kosovo and Macedonia. This is why NATO couldn't stop the smugglers, just as it had said back in 2001. It couldn't have deployed troops in New Jersey.

Isn't it ironic that the Empire is now in furor over alleged Serb arms trade with Iraq, though its own citizens were arming terrorists in the Balkans? But of course, the KLA were our terrorists…

The Future Is Now

This entire cheap melodrama about alleged arms smuggling diverts attention from other experiments in the Balkans Laboratory. For instance, expect new Imperial conquests to be treated with a heavy dose of democracy– a religious practice brimming with mysticism but utterly devoid of meaning – and elections, the main ritual of this strange religion. Bosnia has had seven, Kosovo three; one for every year they've been occupied.

And even if the ritual does not unfold exactly as planned, the Empire always makes sure it fits the predetermined outcome, even if some of the results need to be adjusted, as it is currently happening in Bosnia. Praising the elections, the outgoing head of the UN mission, Jacques Klein, shared this cheerful prediction with his bosses the Security Council last week:

"the nationalists' strong showing created 'a more challenging political environment that will require strong intervention and continued commitment' on the international community's part." (Reuters)

Strong intervention and continued commitment. Music to Empire's ears.

The Fate of Heretics

So important is the ballot religion, that anyone refusing to participate is deemed a heretic, persecuted and punished. Such is the fate of Kosovo Serbs, who boycotted last weekend's municipal election, having realized – albeit belatedly – that it would only legitimize Albanian domination of the NATO-occupied province. Refusing to go along with their captors is just about the only recourse they still have, since appeals to NATO's humanity, international law, UN resolutions, and common sense have all failed. But don't expect the Empire to understand.

A glimpse of its rage was apparent in a recent Reuters report about a political murder perpetrated by Albanians. Even though the elections serve to justify their claims for independence, some Albanians still honor the gods of violence when the ballot gods fail them. A former KLA leader was killed by his comrades a day after the vote, presumably for daring to represent a rival party. Yet somehow it's the Serbs' fault. Well, isn't everything?

The Serbs who did vote thus supported "hardliners skeptical of Serb-Albanian coexistence," while the boycott hurt "U.N. efforts to integrate Serbs into the political scene and overcome ethnic divisions threatening further violence." These are mere prevarications, of course. The real bald-faced lies go something like this:

"Ethnically motivated killings have diminished since the United Nations and NATO took control of the Yugoslav province three years ago."

Yes, that's exactly what the Reuters article said. No wonder it ended with a despicable comment that US bombing "ended a near century of Serbian dominance," lifted straight out of the KLA manifesto.

Today The Balkans, Tomorrow The World

Intoxicated by their apparent successes in the Balkans, Empire's mad scientists – social managers, to be precise – plot on, convinced somehow that they will succeed where everyone before has failed. Iraq is just the first step, the "cruise missile" affair just a casus belli. The Balkans, having served as a laboratory for experiments in Imperial intervention, will now become a template for the world.

For the unconvinced, there is Viceroy Ashdown's own confession, on the pages of the New York Times this past Monday:

"History will look back on our engagement in Bosnia and Herzegovina as the first faltering step toward a doctrine of international community. Bosnia will be seen as a new model for international intervention — one designed not to pursue narrow national interests but to prevent conflict, to promote human rights and to rebuild war-torn societies. We are already applying the lessons of Bosnia in Kosovo, East Timor and Afghanistan. Perhaps they will be applied in Iraq as well."

It almost makes this column seem superfluous.

– 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 Antiwar.com appears every Thursday.


Archived Columns

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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