The Balkans: State of the Union

There is one thing all the Balkan states have in common: they don't want to be a part of the Balkans. Ironically, that is precisely what makes them Balkan: stubborn, spiteful, almost surreal resistance to cooperation with one another. Of course, while each one of them thinks of itself as non-Balkan, it also always blames all the others to be Balkan. Then to establish mutual friendship with any other Balkan nation for each Balkan nation would be extremely prohibitive, because it would make them look so Balkan. Instead, they'd rather be occupied by a non-Balkan country: Serbs call upon Russians, Bosnians wail for Turks, and Croats would as of tomorrow swear allegiance once again to Vienna. If just Vienna would accept it! But nobody wants to occupy Balkans any more, because the Balkans nations incessant desire to submit to various foreign powers is matched only by their later identically incessant struggle to get rid of them foreigners: just look what they did in Bosnia as soon as IFOR landed - everybody, including Bosnians, was against them.

Therefore, I am not surprised with Tudjman's anti-Balkan-integration speech in Croatian Parliament. Tudjman is facing a difficult campaign this spring. Even his own party insiders privately admit that he might lose, that he is actually likely to lose. To talk against Balkan integration in Croatian Parliament is like to talk against crime in American Congress: it is a multi partisan issue on which everybody agrees. Croatian anti-Balkans sentiment goes beyond the arguments laid forward in the first paragraph: Balkan is a "B" word in a similar sense like Nigger is an "N" word in the U.S. It is a synonym for the dirty, lazy, knavish, furtive, underhand, Byzantine South. Croatia, together with Slovenia and Hungary, of all countries that World superpowers set geopolitically in the Balkans region, had truly a different history: instead of being occupied by Ottoman Empire, they were occupied by Habsburgs. Both empires were quite decadent at the beginning of this century when they finally collapsed, but the Ottoman Empire started to decay about two centuries earlier, leaving its provinces with poorly developed infrastructure and industry if compared to the Habsburgs monarchy provinces.

Consequently, not all of the Eastern Europe had the same start - as it is visible now, after the communist regimes, which were a great equalizer, are down: countries like Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary are catching up with the West quickly, getting invited to NATO and E.C., etc. - while countries like Romania, Bulgaria and Albania continue to linger in their own misery. People there live through a succession of governments that patently denies them rights to pursuit of happiness, freedom and sometimes even life. Not only that they never had democracy, but all those who ever ruled them stole their property to fill up their own pockets like common thieves. Therefore we can't expect that the people there would treat such governments any better than a pile of garbage: burn it.

Simply speaking: Croatia and Slovenia believe that they belong with Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic, and not with Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania. The "Yugoslav experiment" failed twice: even after 70 years of attempted transfer of wealth the differences between Yugoslav regions, acquired from their different histories, persisted - in the end of 1980s Slovenia and Croatia produced more than 45% of Yugoslav GNP with less than 30% of population and about 20% of territory. Obviously, nobody in Slovenia and Croatia would be eager to form another Yugoslavia. After all, this was the main reason for them to seek sovereignty and independence and they even went to war to achieve that. Croatia and Slovenia today are the countries with the lowest inflation and unemployment rate and still the highest per capita income in former Eastern Europe. Therefore, their anger towards Western geopolitical tailors, who continue to shove them in the same garbage bin with Bulgaria, Serbia and Albania - only because they were part of Yugoslavia - is not that shocking. Anybody who ever were to Croatian coast, still remembers the poor, drab Czech and Hungarian tourists, and can't believe that the West today sees those two economies as more developed.

There is of course an other end to it: Slovenia and Croatia profited from common Yugoslav market, labor pool and energy resources. So, pride be damned, they would profit again from either American or E.C. proposed South-Eastern-European trade agreement. Fears that this would lead them to a "new Yugoslavia" are, except if they are used solely as a political sound-bite, completely insane: Slovenia and Croatia are buying F16s these days. Croatia has perhaps the fittest armed force in the region between Hungary and Greece. They set the terms there. On the other hand it should be pretty obvious to them by now that they are not going to be invited to join E.C. any time soon, and that the reasons are political and obscure. So, they better make the best of what is offered. In any agreement the strongest party to the agreement will always have the most benefit (as it should be plain if you study NAFTA, for example), yet there will always be enough isolationists and xenophobes to block it.

The problem is that politicians in both Slovenia and Croatia lack courage and leadership. If Tito waited for NATO and E.C. to take him, Yugoslavia would look like Albania by the time of his death. No, he said fuck Stalin and fuck NATO, let's play them both. He made his own "bloc" - non-aligned - which of course today is obsolete since there are no "blocs" any more. Yet, Yugoslavia at times attained the Western levels of standard, and - through the freedom of travel - even an illusion of liberty. The U.S. is always on a lookout for emerging regional powers. Yugoslavia was such a regional power. It had a "friendly", secular leader with a big sway over other Balkan countries. With the collapse of Yugoslavia, the Balkans lost its regional power and became a crisis spot. Crisis spots are bad news for corporate capitalism. They are good for cowboy capitalism, though. But you can't expect large legitimate corporate investments and you certainly can't expect E.C. or NATO to come and take you in. They all want STABILITY. They all want a regional power which would guarantee that stability. Since, Yugoslavia/Serbia is apparently not fit for the role any more, and nobody else claims it (because everybody else wants to take their country somewhere else from the Balkans), there is a power vacuum in the Balkans, and, as it is known, the nature abhors vacuum. However, we just have heard a Croatian president saying that he doesn't want to take the role. He is too old and too sick, probably.

Yet, his regime does have time to spend on little mind-games: Radio 101 is now granted the concession, BUT this is pending that they solve the ownership quandary, so we are back at the square one. There is of course no ownership quandary: Radio 101 is owned 75% by its employees and 25% by the City of Zagreb - but this is heavily disputed by HDZ supporters who will probably bring it to the court in following months. As a largest single shareholder, City of Zagreb, obviously holds a big stick here. Yet, HDZ lost City of Zagreb to the opposition - and the Radio 101's problems started around that time: Tudjman simply refuses to allow that his political opponents get their hands on the most listened radio station in the largest Croatian city, as he refused to let opposition Mayor take the office. I just wonder if it ever occurred to him that this would be the behavior of a typical Balkan leader.

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Following their attendance of Clinton's inauguration Belgrade Student Protest leaders were taken on a tour around the U.S. conspicuously skipping New York, leaving Human Rights Watch and Open Society Institute handlers pretty disappointed. It is as if they intentionally did not come here so that they would not be associated with Soros. Their tour was organized by a Serbian-American group who took them around to Serbian cultural centers where there were organized fundraisers, the beaten path taken by Tudjman and other Croatian anti-communist leaders in 1990 (of course they were handled by Croatian-American groups and taken to Croatian cultural centers). Tudjman collected 6 millions dollars in six months of touring the U.S., Australia and Germany.

New York also has a large Serb community and a Serbian center, but perhaps they are not the same political affiliation as the Serb-American group that took students around. In New York - if they appeared - they'd be invited to speak at NYU, Columbia, HRW, OSI. Of course there would be a fund-raiser for them and probably a party. From some e-mail responses to my announcement about them coming and requesting that somebody, preferably from Belgrade, throw a party for them, I gathered that their stardom (and they are stars now after a month of CNN Headline News) is not taken entirely serious.

It is also evident that they are now becoming politically astute, so they are setting priorities, and those priorities are money and support among Serbs, instead of the often counterproductive support of the various American NGOs. NGOs are not needed now when they have the American government open support. Or at least they think that way. Do they really believe that we all bought that they are anti-war and non-nationalist just because Clinton invited them to his inauguration?

It is not surprising that they concluded that there is no use of NGOs. You can't eat their reports, and their moral support and a pat on the shoulder will not keep you out of prison, whereas if you end there, they'd write a cute report about you. The Croatian opposition had the same experience before. The Bosnian government can tell you stories about that, too. I already said once that, in my opinion, Western NGOs are self-serving entities that are created to employ all those law school graduates from fine families who either don't want to be lawyers (because it's so uncool) or are too incompetent to be lawyers. So, I don't blame Student Protest leaders for dissing NGOs. However, it was not particularly smart to do that. They should have sent at least one of them to attend those events in New York. Why? Because the Belgrade Student Protest leaders that avoid OSI and HRW and instead spend their time in Serbian cultural centers, which just a few years ago held fundraisers for Raskovic, Babic and Karadzic, will not make particularly favorable media response. I can already see Chris Hedges bouncing around his New York Times office shouting: "I was right, I was right, they are all damn Nazis."

There is an acrid taste associated with the near-perfect organization of such fundraisers. For example, as if somebody used a magic wand, opposing Croatian emigree factions were at that time (end of 1989) driven together and, after 40 years of hate and disgust against anybody that came from Yugoslavia, herded into Croatian cultural centers, where they just kept signing fat checks to Tudjman and his aides. Communists were still in power in Croatia, but again as if by providence, Tudjman, who just a few months before was a non-person without a passport, was neither arrested nor anybody bothered to tax his funds. Then Tudjman won and Communists became the second largest bloc in the parliament. All this sudden spontaneity is mathematically probable as a black hole hitting the Earth in April. I am divining from my crystal ball now: I see opposing Serb emigree factions suddenly falling in together and writing fat checks to a group of choice, and I see that group winning elections and I see "Socialists" getting in as a good second. But whose choice is it? Balkan is a place of mysterious ways. Things are often the opposite of what they appear to be.

To me the most amusing detail is the use of word TOGETHER in the region where everybody just watches how to stab somebody else in the back: in Croatia we have HDZ - Hrvatska Demokratska ZAJEDNICA: Croatian Democratic Union, and in Serbia we have emerging political power of ZAJEDNO (Together). Union and Together have in Croatian/Serbian/Bosnian the same root, however: ZAJEDN (which would mean "for the one", "everybody for one thing").

For example a friend of mine just complained to me how she got screwed by B92. Good grief. Wasn't that the only remaining oasis of decency in the evil empire of the late Khazars gone mad? So, she and that other guy were for years corespondents for B92 from the US - she covered New York and he covered Washington DC. She did it for quite a longer time. Of course, B92 didn't pay a dime. He, however, was also a correspondent for some big Yugoslav newspapers (and as such probably a ranking member of the Communist Party). With the change of winds, he dropped the Party and remained just a simple Serb, and with being a Serb increasingly becoming a burden, he schmoozed himself in among the Soros people. Now, the time has come for B92 to pick a correspondent from the US, a real one who'd get paid, and they picked up him. She is pissed. But this does not come to me as such a surprise: after all B92 is financed by OSI, so it seems logical that the people affiliated with OSI and in position to be correspondents would enjoy the priority.

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War crimes tribunal chief prosecutor held a press conference in Sarajevo, where she said that Serbs from Republika Srpska agreed to cooperate on all issues regarding the war crimes EXCEPT for extradition of the indicted war criminals. Cautiously, she agreed with the reporters, that there is not much left to cooperate about with Republika Srpska once we exclude the request for extradition of the war criminals living there.

It is outrageous enough that the current government of Republika Srpska does not discourage local officials of preventing refugees to return to their homes as it was stipulated by the Dayton agreement. It is shameful that it was allowed that the people who participated in the former government of RS, which perpetrated all those admittedly heinous crimes, are today forming the new RS government. Obviously they will never be willing to extradite their former colleagues and bosses. That's if the Allies allowed Germany to keep a Nazi government after 1945 and then expected that government to extradite Goering.

Biljana Plavsic should be warned that she is going to be indicted for being an accomplice to war crimes (which would mean that he'd have to step down from the power), if she and her government do not comply wit the International War Crimes Tribunal requests.

Meanwhile, Bosnian foreign minister was invited to Germany. In Bosnia today however everything comes in triplicate: like a holy trinity. So, Bosnian foreign minister is actually comprised of three human beings - a Bosnian Muslim, a Serb and a Croat who are supposed to travail the world together like Three Stooges. The problem arose when the Serb part of the Bosnian foreign minister decided to book a separate flight. Bosnian Muslim part of Bosnian foreign minister got very upset about this and canceled the visit. Germans gave up.