Recently, the Croatian government issued an angry statement saying that the continuation of NATO’s air raids in Yugoslavia jeopardizes the Croatian economy: Thousands of Western tourists will cancel their bookings at the beach hotels on the spectacular Adriatic coast of Croatia and go to Spain or Morocco instead.
The Adriatic coast of Croatia is uncomfortably close to the area affected by the current bombing, and a misguided missile, a sleepy pilot or a confused computer can easily bring disaster to the territory of any neighbor of Yugoslavia. Loud and indignant, though entirely selfish, Croatia’s protest is just one sign of the growing discontent and fear caused by NATO’s controversial interference in the Balkans.
The leaders of the alliance have repeatedly expressed NATO’s readiness to proceed with the bombing until it brings positive results. Yet, their statements look bizarre if not irresponsible when the bombing has only aggravated the situation in the area.
The first and most serious result of NATO’s air raids is that now we can bury any plans for a democratic and peaceful Serbia. There is hardly a Serb left who harbors warm feelings for the United States and its allies, no matter what Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic does or did. By devastating Serbia, NATO has made Milosevic an absolute monarch, who now enjoys support even from his former political adversaries.
If by some extraordinary luck a missile hits Milosevic’s stubborn head and he departs the land from which he has created so much trouble, any new Serbian leader will be forced to take a militant anti-Western, anti-Albanian and antidemocratic stand. Quite a few armchair strategists in American academia are saying that “after the war” Serbia should be democratized by the West just like Germany after World War II. This is a shaky argument, however.
Germany had been defeated on explicitly foreign territory, atrociously conquered by the Nazis, striving for world dominance. Germans were obviously in the wrong and that’s why they eventually took the “punishment” pronounced by the Allies. What is going on in Yugoslavia is a postimperial tribal struggle, and as the example of India and Pakistan proves, there is no “right” or “wrong” cause in a postimperial mess.
Kosovo Albanian extremists are just as bad as the Serb ones. The people of Serbia will never understand why the West is discussing Balkan politics in black-and-white terms. Therefore, it will be impossible to persuade the people in Belgrade to change “just as the Germans have.”
Milosevic is not a Hitler, Serbian nationalism is not Nazism, and Kosovo is not Czechoslovakia. Milosevic is just a local tribal ringleader, Serbian nationalism is not worse than that of Catholics and Protestants in Ulster, and Kosovo is just the European analogue of Kashmir.
The current war in the Balkans has made sure that from now on Albanians and Serbs will never live in peace. If the Albanians are to return to Kosovo, this will be only under direct Western military protection. But will NATO troops be able to shield every Albanian from the fierce hatred of the Serbs – and vice versa? Can Kosovo be turned into a permanent NATO protectorate?
What about the fate of Albanians right now? Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing was very bad, but with the bombing going on, enraged Serbs are capable of totally massacring Albanians — and let us not pretend it is only their fault. By the way, Albanians forced to flee do not have bright prospects in the West to look forward to: The life awaiting them is a bleak existence in refugee camps with hardly any opportunity to find a permanent asylum in any of the NATO countries. Free soup and warm blankets are helpful, but they will remain with the status of a permanently displaced person.
Another result of NATO’s reckless and ill-calculated interference is the escalation of the conflict. So far this escalation has been mostly diplomatic, but growing mistrust and suspicion among such nations like Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey and Croatia are already bad enough. If to add to this Russia’s angry growl, Israel’s deep anxiety and the delight of dictators in the Middle East, the potential for future aggravation of tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean looks terrifying.
In other words, the results of the bombing so far have been disastrous for everybody — except Milosevic. The only good thing that might emerge from the bombing would be Montenegro’s secession from Yugoslavia: If that happens, Serbia would be totally cut off from the Mediterranean. But it is also clear that if Montenegro decides to secede, it may pay for its independence dearly since the Serbs have nothing to lose.
The only way to get rid of the nationalist regime in Belgrade is to occupy Serbia (after all, Milosevic himself can be taken care of by the CIA). However, the success of such a venture looks problematic.
First, no government and no leader imposed on Serbia by the West will survive the withdrawal of NATO troops. Thanks to U.S. President Bill Clinton, any manifestation of pro-Western sentiments has become impossible in Serbia for the next 10 years at least. Second, if NATO ground troops get involved in Serbia, this is not going to be a Desert Storm-like walkover. Yugoslavia is one of the very few countries of Europe which the Germans were not able to control during World War II even though they occupied it. The militant spirit of Yugoslavian warriors plus awesome local mountains rendered the Germans helpless; the army which had conquered Paris, proved unable to crush Yugoslavian guerrillas.
By now, Serbia has been waging war with its neighbors for roughly 10 years. It does not look like the nation feels any sort of war fatigue. Serbian nationalism is very robust — look what has been going on in Kosovo. The 10-year war has brought the Serbian economy to collapse, but this is hardly a reason for glee. The living standards and conditions of the Serbs have plummeted so low they have little more to lose. This is why promising more air raids or the landing of NATO troops is unlikely to scare them.
It is easy to blackmail the prosperous bourgeois: Promise air raids against Switzerland and you might get all the Zurich gold. But it is purposeless to threaten paupers with material losses.
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