November 7, 2002

Remembering the Obvious
Mementos of Imperial Occupation

If memory is what defines an individual, history is what defines a nation. Just as personal memory is colored by individual perceptions, collective memory – history – tends to be colored by the perceptions of those who record it. However economy of scale, and the differences between the collective and individual mind, make manipulating collective memories much easier than those of an individual. And since memories are so important to one's identity, the amount of effort spent in manipulating history is not at all surprising. As George Orwell put most succinctly, "He who controls the past, controls the future."

Independence of former Yugoslav states, the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, and the Albanian Expansion have all prompted a furious flurry of historical manipulation, by the locals as well as the Empire – whose fingers were in the Balkans pie all along, after all. Perhaps the most notorious examples are certainly the "short histories" of Bosnia and Kosovo, penned by quasi-historian Noel Malcolm, but there is an entire cottage industry dedicated to Balkans "histories," most of which are dreadful yet morbidly amusing propaganda pamphlets.

The Proverbial Elephant

This is a serious topic, and worth discussing at length. But one cannot seriously analyze contemporary attempts to manipulate Balkans history ignorant of the climate in which they take place. And there is one aspect of modern Balkans, crucial to that climate, that is assiduously being ignored by historians, politicians and journalists alike. It lords over the Balkans like the proverbial elephant in the room: no one can avoid the impact of its presence, but no one dares mention the inconvenience.

The Empire is everywhere.

Certainly, every so often someone complains that the foreign proconsuls aren't doing what that someone would like them to do. But the very fact of their presence – and the legitimacy of their presence – is seldom challenged.

This is not short-term memory loss. Everyone still remembers the wars, the suffering, the privation, and the burning hatred all too well. But the memory of Empire's arrival seems to have been repressed, probably because of Imperial power's ubiquitous presence. So here are just several reminders of what intervention and occupation have wrought.

A Disturbing State of Mind

The most recent conquest is a good example. Conventional wisdom has it that Macedonia avoided a bloody ethnic war by giving its Albanians "greater civil rights" last year in the Treaty of Ohrid. The fragile peace has been maintained through the presence of a small NATO force, and an international envoy. True, a full-scale ethnic war was prevented. But peace has remained elusive. Violence continues, whether by bombs and bullets taking lives, or by renaming of city streets.

Just a month ago, after the ritual offering to the gods of democracy, bandits who fought for state-funded parallel Albanian society were rewarded by becoming part of the Macedonian government. Cynics have already dubbed it the "guns-and-roses" regime, connecting the symbols of Albanian separatists and Macedonian socialist-democrats. Throughout Macedonia, a parallel Albanian society is being established, at the expense of already impoverished Macedonian taxpayers.

As Christopher Deliso excellently described it, Greater Albania may not yet be a physical place, but in Macedonia, it is already a state of mind.

The Empire not only made all this possible, it has actively labored to make it a reality. The consequences are more than apparent, yet no one dares point a finger at the chief culprit.

Blowback in Bosnia

Bosnia, of course, is where the Imperial march really started, back in 1995. While there was some significant interference in the Balkans much earlier, it was in the summer of that year that the Empire crossed certain boundaries and began imposing its will directly.

Under the terms of the Dayton Peace Agreement, extorted from the warring parties (some more, some less) in November 1995, Bosnia became a quasi-protectorate of the Empire. Back then, it went by the sanitized moniker "international community," still widely used by Balkans political drones.

The occupation of Bosnia has been comparatively gentle, since the Empire did not scrap the last vestiges of international conventions until 1999 and Kosovo. Nonetheless, foreign proconsuls have consistently violated both the letter and the spirit of the Dayton Agreement, in the name of upholding it. Well, why not? They give the same treatment to their constitutions at home, and who ever heard of respecting treaties with savages?

These days, reports out of Bosnia have focused on results of the recent elections and the allegations that Bosnian Serbs gave military aid to Iraq. Amidst the hullabaloo, two news items were barely noticed as they slipped by.

Last Wednesday, the US ended an almost seven-year program of training and equipping the Bosnian Muslim military. The program, administered by a mercenary outfit MPRI, was part of a bribe to obstinate Muslim leader Izetbegovic, so he would approve the American-crafted peace proposal. The program was technically conditional on the Muslim regime deporting all foreign Islamic militants, the mujahideen, who fought on its side during the 1992-95 war. Izetbegovic "solved" the problem by giving them citizenship. The program went on; many mujahideen stayed.

A day after Train-and-Equip officially ended, US troops detained a local Muslim, armed with a rocket launcher, who allegedly spied on their base in northern Bosnia. He lived in a village settled by the "naturalized" mujahideen. There was no word whether the rocket launcher was Made in the USA. But the man… who knows?

Ghettoes of the Damned

No examination of Imperial presence in the Balkans can bypass Kosovo. It is the black hole of the region, a place from which most Imperial power stems and one where it is most acutely felt. It is also worth noting since it is being touted as an example of future Imperial adventures.

The last weekend of October, the occupation authorities organized another local election, with the goal of providing a pretext for further moves towards an independent, Albanian-dominated Kosovo. Last year, before a general election, the former viceroy managed to make a deal with the authorities in Belgrade and the remaining Kosovo Serbs, promising he would help the return of some 200,000-plus Serbs and others expelled at the outside of UN-NATO occupation by the "liberated" Albanians. After the Serbs voted, and became decorative fixtures in an Albanian-run government, the viceroy abruptly resigned. His successor did not feel obligated by the agreement. Again, one does not make treaties with savages…

In fact, the new viceroy came down hard on the remaining Kosovo Serbs, whose continued existence outside Albanian domination the Empire has deemed the gravest threat to its authority in the province. While risible at first glance, and especially when considering the publicly proclaimed Imperial goals, such an analysis makes sense. Free Serbs demolish the myth of Albanian tolerance and the occupiers' alleged efforts to build a "multi-ethnic" province. Ergo, they must be crushed.

In exchange for their participation in local polls this year, the viceroy promised – contrary to all his earlier pronouncements – that he would entertain an option of Serb self-government in certain areas, what was deemed "decentralization." But this time, the Serbs were not fooled by empty promises, and stayed home.

The viceroy then did what he wanted to all along: he refused to even contemplate Serb self-government, and blamed the Serbs themselves for any misfortune that may now befall them.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

It Began Thus

Since this trip down Memory Lane ends in Kosovo, it is only fitting to finish by a reminder of a recent event that made the present grim reality of the province possible.

Four years ago today, the Kosovo Verification Mission was deployed; ostensibly, to monitor the pledge president Milosevic gave ambassador Holbrooke that Yugoslav forces would not attack Albanian separatists. Belgrade authorities likely had little hope that Albanian bandits would stop their attacks, but perhaps believed, naively, that the KVM would witness these attacks firsthand, and thus end months of trumped-up charges of "excessive force" and "Serb brutality."

It is now known that the KVM was pure subterfuge: a vanguard for NATO bombers and occupation troops. Its head, US ambassador William Walker, was instrumental in fabricating the story of the Racak "massacre." The story, in turn, enabled the Empire to send the Rambouillet ultimatum to Belgrade and, once it was predictably refused, let slip the dogs of war.

The rest, as they say, is history.

– 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

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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