Michael Benson on 6 Oct 2000 17:37:10 -0000

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Some thoughts on Belgrade

[also to syndicate]

1. Listening to Kustunica's lengthy interview on TV Serbia last night, I 
suddenly realized that extent to which the madness of the last decade -- 
a madness that consumed an entire country and took hundreds of thousands 
of lives -- was the extension of the pathologies of one diseased, 
brilliantly cunning, and utterly ruthless man. The question arises of 
whether there even would have been armed conflict anywhere in the former 
Yugoslavia if he hadn't stabbed his mentor Stambolic in the back in 
1987, and seized control of the Serbian socialist party. Would 
Yugoslavia still exist? Or if not, would it have been an amicable 
divorce, as with the Czechs and Slovaks? I think more likely the latter 
-- and in that maybe I underestimate the Balkans (always a dangerous 
move). But I remember very clearly the mood in Slovenia in 1989 and '90. 
The majority of Slovenes thought it was too risky to go the way of a 
separate state. Then Milosevic's group seized two thirds of the entire 
federal budget of Yugoslavia during the course of one weekend -- and I 
could almost palpably hear a majority of Slovenians click over to the 
other side as they came to a simultaneous realization that it would 
always and forever be impossible to work with a Serbia under the control 
of that man.

As for Croatia, I very much doubt that things would have come to war if 
it hadn't been for the constant and consistent moves by the Serbian side 
to relentlessly fan the ashes of nationalism. After Milosevic 
consciously started that fire in Kosovo in '88. Tudjman was always 
reactive, not active. But that's another discussion.

Kostunica's moderation, obvious intelligence, and most of all, repeated 
emphasis on legality and the rule of law (and what's permissible 
constitutionally -- he is after all a constitutional lawyer) is like a 
window opening in a room that has grown exceedingly stuffy over the 
course of a decade and a half. Not to mention the blood on the floor. 
Even if I disagree with him on the issue of the Hague. 

2. Watching corpulent Eagleburger, the former US Secretary of State and 
one-time ambassador to Yugoslavia, on TV last night, I could feel my 
gorge rise. (Great name, b.t.w., for an ambassador, isn't it? Not to 
mention a secretary of state?) This is a man who, under Bush, was more 
than ready to declare to the world that the massacres that were taking 
place in the former Yugoslavia were an internal matter, or Europe's 
business, and in any case the US wasn't at all interested in getting 
involved. (I believe his actual phrase was "this is a swamp into which 
we shouldn't wander", or some such.) Now here he is on TV delivering 
himself of the opinion that we should look the other way while Milosevic 
is given asylum somewhere, presumably in some country like Belarus -- 
and this at a time when it was already clear that Milosevic seems to 
have lost all ability to fight back, and is therefore at the mercy of 
what the opposition wants to do with him! Eagleburger belongs to the 
Kissengerian school of realpolitic, in which moral considerations are 
scorned as the territory for wimpy liberals, presumably because K 
qualifies as one himself (something rarely mentioned during the course 
of that Pinochet-in-London episode last year). The presupposition that 
Milosevic retains some possibility to fight is supposedly the rationale 
for letting him get away -- but there's no evidence that he has that 
ability. Which just goes to show that Eagleburger is either getting 
increasingly inept in his old age, or simply thinks that apprehending 
war criminals is a bad idea.

3. Kostunica paints the Hague tribunal as being a US puppet court, even 
though the US has consistently refused to hand over the results of its 
high-tech spying on Bosnian Serb military communications over the last 
few years (and despite the US resistance to setting up a permanent 
international war crimes tribunal, which would have the possibility of 
trying US war criminals as well. Let's not forget that Kissinger's still 
alive...) On the other hand, CNN's guy Alessio Vinci says that Kostunica 
isn't making it a "high priority" that Milosevic be handed over to the 
Hague -- which makes it seem like he's only holding his cards close to 
his chest while M remains at large, and might consider it. My strong 
view is that Serbia will never recover its balance and the possibility 
of returning to something like normality unless it hands of Mladic, 
Karadzic, Milosevic, and the other mass murderers (Seselj, for example). 
It would be too much to hope that they could be tried in Serbia. It 
would also be interesting if TV Serbia opens its airwaves, for example, 
to a program like the BBC's "Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" (Allen 
Little and Laura Silber). But it will take a long time to undo the 
damage done by 13 years of relentless nationalist propaganda (see point 

4. If Kosovo came up in the Kostunica interview, I didn't hear it 
because CNN cut away early. But clearly this is bad news to the Kosovo 
Albanians (sorry, I can't bring myself to use one of those 
politically-correct "Kosov@" spellings). I'm afraid that the West, 
pushed by the French (who don't want their collaboration with Karadzic 
brought into an open court) will now move rapidly to forgive and forget 
the Bosnian butchery and decade-plus of apartheid crimes in Kosovo. Part 
of this will involve a re-think of the status of Kosovo, which in any 
case is in a kind of bureaucratic purgatorio state, with the jury out on 
if they will be ushered back to hell or allowed a shot at 
self-government. My own view is that the Serbs gave up any right to 
Kosovo with their behavior there since 1988. Not to mention the 
demographics -- even before the war last year.

5. I happened to be in Belgrade, waiting for two months for a Soviet 
visa, when Milosevic seized power in '87. I'll always remember the 
panicky atmosphere in the city at that time -- not because of Milosevic, 
but because the inflation was so radical that you could clock the dive 
of the dinar by the hour. There were long lines at every store as people 
desperately tried to amass basic staple foods before the prices doubled 
or tripled during the course of a single day. Now we're at the other end 
of the story, but the economy is if anything much worse. If he is really 
well and truly gone, Serbia will still have to be in a kind of intensive 
care ward for years. Having spent quite a bit of time in Croatia 
recently, I saw for myself how ravaged the Croatian economy and sense of 
self is after Tudjman -- and in Serbia, as I said, it's much more grim. 
If this guy really did spend his ninth life, clearly it's cause for 
celebration. But Serbia will never really recover until it becomes 
candid with itself about the extent of its willing complicity in his 
madness. In that sense, it's a similar situation to the one facing 
Germany in 1945 -- only the Serbs are already in a better position, 
because they got rid of him themselves. Or are they? It took the 
victorious allies who imposed "de-nazification". Who will do that in 

6. Meanwhile, whatever happens, a celebration's definitely in order.

Cheers, MB

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo@bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime@bbs.thing.net