November 8, 2001

Death by Protectorate
The Balkans' Lesson for Afghanistan

It has been four weeks since the war against Afghanistan began, and already the B-52s are carpeting Taliban frontlines with an assortment of weapons, including the largest conventional bombs in the world. Despite the Taliban's failure to surrender as expected, the US and UK are already speculating about making Afghanistan a UN protectorate, probably under US military occupation, upon their assumed eventual victory.

So the New War is nothing new, after all. Afghanistan is being bombed the same way Serbia was in 1999, only then it had lasted for 78 days, the B-52s were deployed much later (without effect), and there was a different official explanation for a mass exodus of refugees. Furthermore, the original goals of both campaigns (forcing Milosevic to sign the Rambouillet ultimatum/forcing the Taliban to extradite Osama Bin Laden) were quickly abandoned after the enemy failed to cave in after a week.

The plan to occupy Afghanistan, and "protect" what is left of its people through a Bosnia/Kosovo-style colonial regime, is entirely consistent with this re-fighting of the last war. Having suffered through two decades of warfare and repression, the Afghans can now look forward to these two most shining examples of benevolent imperialism. If they could read and watch the news this week, this is what they would see.


Being a Kosovo Serb these past three years has been no easy task. Those who endured almost fifty years of Albanian violence, and survived the NATO bombing and the subsequent KLA terror, found themselves living in ghettos, surrounded by barbed wire and guarded from the KLA by those very same NATO troops that had brought the KLA to power. Killed on their farms, on the streets for speaking Serbian, blown to bits by bombs detonated under refugee buses – often in plain sight of NATO's guards, who never bothered to find the perpetrators – Serbs nonetheless refused to leave their homes in Kosovo and surrender the occupied province to the Albanians.

Last year, the UN occupation authorities (UNMIK) organized elections for local authorities. Serbs boycotted the vote, contending that voting while being subjected to pogroms and held in concentration camps was pointless and offensive. Albanians cheerfully participated, campaigning for independence and spending millions of foreign taxpayers' dollars which funded the futile exercise. Futile, because one year later nothing in Kosovo has changed whatsoever. Serbs are still indiscriminately killed, they still live in ghettos and ruins surrounded by barbed wire, while even ordinary Albanians are being terrorized by "former" KLA turned "respectable" citizens – some of whom ended up on a US terrorist list just before Black Tuesday. It has been mentioned previously that UNMIK seems to consider arson and terrorism as legitimate means of political expression. Since drug, weapons and slave trade continue undeterred, one could also assume that UNMIK considers them legitimate economic activities – though, since the UN charges import tariffs on goods from unoccupied Serbia (but not Macedonia or Albania), this can hardly be seen as support of free trade.

No worries, though, since the very same UNMIK has decreed everything to be just fine. Kosovo now has an UN-imposed Constitution, and in nine days will have elections for a "legislative assembly." Yes, elections. Again. Only this time, UNMIK has managed to force the "democratic" government in Belgrade to betray the Kosovo Serbs, and order them to vote. All in the name of democracy and human rights, of course.


Chief imperial satrap for Kosovo, Hans Haekkerup, doubtlessly applied all the diplomatic skills acquired as Denmark's Defense Minister to persuade Serbia's commissar in charge of Kosovo, Nebojsa Covic, to "strongly recommend" to the Kosovo Serbs to take part in UNMIK's splendid little election. Covic and Haekkerup signed an agreement to that effect in Belgrade on Monday.

Read the agreement, though. It reaffirms UNMIK's "unchallenged authority," agrees with UNMIK's claim that the occupation authorities have done everything to make Kosovo a multiethnic paradise, and pledges unconditional Serb support to the occupation of their territory. Yet Covic, a spineless flunky of Serbia's statist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, had the gall to say this represented a "beginning of Serbia's and Yugoslavia's return to its territory of Kosovo." In his own words, Serbia is "entering an important process." Of what? Rhetorical futility?

This agreement, much like the treaties the US Congress made with the Native Americans in the 19th century, is worth less than the paper it was printed on. Like other "agreements" American and European diplomats made with Balkans politicians, it will last only as long as UNMIK wants, and only its portions that serve UNMIK's purposes will see any implementation.

If there ever was a clear-cut case for boycotting elections – that are being used as a means of bestowing undeserved legitimacy on the state – Kosovo is it. Fortunately, Kosovo Serbs seem to think so as well.


Confirming yet again the flexibility of "agreements" in the Balkans are recent events in Macedonia. The troubled country is still struggling to implement the monstrous Treaty of Ohrid, shoved down its incompetent leaders' throats, at Albanian militants' gunpoint, by the US, EU and NATO.

Less than two weeks ago, Macedonian politicians managed to make a deal with the Empire to amend the potentially lethal provision of the Treaty that would have stripped Macedonians of nationhood in their own country. Now, members of the parliament representing one Albanian political party have threatened to boycott the vote on this key amendment, thus derailing the new Constitution. Macedonians who objected were immediately criticized by the Western press as "hard-liners," "nationalists," and threats to peace. Meanwhile, Macedonian police are increasingly becoming targets of the officially "disbanded" and "disarmed" Albanian militant group, UCK.

As in Kosovo, guns and bombs are perfectly legitimate when used by people who enjoy US and NATO support – in both cases, the Albanians – but they become unacceptable the moment they are even contemplated by Macedonians, or Serbs.


In the aftermath of September 11, several Islamic militants were arrested in Bosnia, some with Bosnian identity documents. Hundreds of mujahideen, some admittedly connected to Osama Bin Laden, still live in the country, unhindered. Settled in a village ethnically cleansed of Serbs, the militants defiantly claim: "Osama is our brother… we trust him more than anyone else."

The current government of the Muslim-Croat Federation has given them little reason to fear. The left-leaning, secular ruling coalition still includes many defectors from the militant Muslim party (SDA) whose leader, Alija Izetbegovic, invited the mujahideen during the 1992-95 war with Serbs and Croats. Izetbegovic and his idea – that he and the SDA single-handedly defended the Bosnian Muslims from Serbo-Croat aggression – are still revered by many Muslims in Bosnia, as well as sympathizers across the world. Izetbegovic himself denounced the calls to crack down on the mujahideen, claiming it was more important to pursue his Serb enemies, indicted by the Hague Inquisition for war crimes.

After Izetbegovic's statements – and International Crisis Group's recent characterization of the Serb part of Bosnia as a "genocidal creation" – the current Imperial satrap in Sarajevo, Wolfgang Petritsch, dutifully reacted by attacking the Bosnian Serb Republic (RS) this week.


According to Petritsch, the RS is "not pulling its weight" in the Bosnian state, "obstinately trying to go it alone" and "not supporting the central institutions," reported the BBC. Not only that, but the RS was "still too much trying to preserve its own autonomy," though it was "too small to be economically viable on its own."

Too much autonomy? Insufficient obedience to central government? Virtues to any decent libertarian, these are crimes and vices in the Most Enlightened Protectorate. Never mind that the Bosnian Constitution, written by its current occupiers, stipulates only a minimal role for the central government, or that last time anyone checked, Bosnia was not economically viable on its own. From Lisbon and Dayton to Kumanovo and Ohrid, agreements are there to be manipulated and used, then discarded as the Empire sees fit.

In today’s Washington Post, for example, one Richard Cohen recommends that the US launch a manhunt for two wartime leaders of the Bosnian Serbs, who stand accused of genocide against the Bosnian Muslims. Showing the Islamic world that the US was actually on "their" side in the Balkans would "give the Bush administration a debating point – not to mention a needed lift – in the propaganda war," Cohen says, even as he derides Muslims in general as delusional and extols the virtues of Joseph Stalin.

The Bosnian bloodbath was first abused to expand NATO authority, legitimize interventionism and create a precedent for occupation. It has now become propaganda chump change in the attack of killer moronic pundits.


Whether it chooses to maintain a pretense of independence, as in Yugoslavia and Croatia, or runs protectorates as in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Empire is still the ultimate arbiter of everything in the Balkans. Whomever the locals elect or appoint has little chance to last in power if they refuse to dance to the Emperor's tune. In the face of such helplessness, burdened with the aftermath of wars that in retrospect appear to have been quite futile, the Balkans "democracies" sink ever deeper into despair and poverty.

It almost seems too painful to remember that the Socialist Yugoslav federation was a prosperous country, a champion of independence and anti-colonialism, always believing in a better future.

What the former Yugoslavs so desperately need right now are such ideals: a hope for a better life, a hope for freedom – and the great responsibility that comes with it. They have had enough occupation, repression, exploitation and lies. Yet that is all they are ever going to get, so long as the Empire continues to hold the peninsula in its clutches.

If I were an Afghan, I would remember that.

Text-only printable version of this article

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, many of which have been published by the Serbian Unity Congress. His exclusive column for appears every Thursday.


Past Articles

Death by Protectorate

Perverted Justice

The Meanings of Madness

Arrogance of Power

Reflections on Revolution

War Without End

Battle in the Balkans

Intersections of Fate

Macedonia's Tragedy Masquerading as Farce

A Day to Remember

The Serbian Standoff

Macedonia's Futile Surrender

Murdering Macedonia

Rambouillet Repeated?

Empire's Willing Servants

Kostunica's Choice

Betrayal in Belgrade

The Empire Shows Its Hand

The Return of Kings

Meditations On The Edge Of The Abyss


Terms of Betrayal

Presevo – A False Victory

The Balkans: Land of Delusions

Enemies at the Gates

ICG's Blueprint for Destruction

Kosovo: Between Death and Taxes

Madness in the Mountains: Montenegro's Looming Secession

A House Divided


Empire at the Gates

Macedonian Maelstrom

Pax Americana

The Fourth Balkan War

Mayhem in Macedonia

Surreal Realm

Santayana's Curse

The Croatian Conundrum

March of the Black Eagle

Showdown in Belgrade

Out of the Shadows

With a Grain of Salt

Crusade's End

The Worst of Times

Moments of Transition

Déja Vu

The Crucible

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