"Unbounded" morality ultimately becomes counterproductive even in terms of the same moral principles being sought. The law of diminishing returns applies to morality.
- Thomas Sowell
There is a story about Robespierre that has the pre-eminent rabble-rouser of the French Revolution leaping up from his chair as soon as he saw a mob assembling outside. "I must see which way the crowd is headed," he is reputed to have said, "For I am their leader."
People who exercise violence in the pursuit of what they hold to be just causes are alternately known as "terrorists" or "freedom fighters."
Such groups share a few common characteristics:
(1) A hard core of idealists adopt a cause that, in most cases, entails the liberation of a group of people. They base their claims on history (real or hastily concocted), on a common heritage, on a language shared by the members of the group and, most important, on hate and contempt directed at an "enemy." The latter is, almost invariably, the physical or cultural occupier of land the idealists claim as their own.
(2) The loyalties and alliances of these people shift effortlessly as ever escalating means justify an ever shrinking cause. As both the enemy and the people tire of the conflict, the initial burst of grandiosity inherent in every such movement gives way to cynical and bitter pragmatism.
(3) An inevitable result of the realpolitik of terrorism is collaboration with the less savory elements of society. Relegated to the fringes of political discourse by the inexorable march of common sense, the freedom fighters naturally gravitate toward like minded non-conformists and outcasts.
The organization is criminalized as drug dealing, bank robbing and other forms of organized and contumacious criminality become integral extensions of the struggle. A criminal corporatism emerges that is structured but volatile and given to internecine donnybrooks.
(4) Very often, an unholy co-dependence develops between the movement and its prey, as it is in the freedom fighters' interest to have a contemptible and tyrannical regime as their opponent. If not prone to suppression and convulsive massacres by nature, acts of terror perpetrated by the terrorist movement will deliberately provoke even the most benign ruler to abhorrent acts of retaliation.
(5) The terrorist organization will tend to emulate the characteristics of the very enemy against which it fulminates most. Thus, all such groups are repellently authoritarian, execrably violent, devoid of human empathy or emotion, suppressive, ostentatious, trenchant and often murderous.
(6) It is often the freedom fighters themselves whom, in the most egregious manner, compromise their own freedom and that of the people they claim to want to liberate. This usually comes either through collaboration with the derided enemy against another competing group of freedom fighters, or by inviting a foreign power to arbitrate. Thus, they often catalyse the replacement of one oppressive regime with another that is both more terrible and entrenched.
(7) Most freedom fighters are assimilated and digested by the very establishment against which they fought or, if they are successful in their struggle, come to the same end as the founders of new, privileged nomenklaturas. It is then that their true nature is exposed. Inveterate violators of basic human rights, they often transform into the very demons they helped exorcize.
Most freedom fighters are disgruntled members of the middle class or the intelligentsia. They bring to their affairs the merciless ruthlessness of those who have lived sheltered lives. Mistaking compassion for weakness, they show none as they unscrupulously pursue self-aggrandizement and enjoy the ego trip of sending others to their deaths. They are the stuff of which martyrs are made.
Borne on the crests of circumstantial waves, they lever their unbalanced personalities and project them to great effect. They are the footnotes of history that assume the role of text - and they rarely enjoy the unmitigated support of the very people they seek to liberate.
Even the most harangued and subjugated people find it hard to follow or accept their would-be liberators' vicissitudinous behaviour, shifting friendships and enmities, and the violence of the conflict.
In this series of articles, I will study four such groups which operated in the tortured Balkan region, starting with the the Croatian Ustaša , and then proceeding to the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) in Macedonia and Bulgaria. I next will examine Serbia and its Union with Death, known as the "Black Hand", before concluding with the latest mutation of violent Balkan dissent, the UCK, better known internationally as the KLA, the Kosova Liberation Army.
Sam Vaknin, 8 May 2000
The Union of Death debate:
Over the coming weeks, CER will publish a series of articles by Sam Vaknin on Balkan groups variously considered freedom fighters or terrorists.
Published alongside these articles will be direct responses to Vaknin's analysis and alternate viewpoints. CER readers are also invited to write in with their responses and reactions and those which add intelligently to the debate will also be published.
The author is General Manager of Capital Markets Institute Ltd, a consultancy firm with operations in Macedonia and Russia. He is an Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.
DISCLAIMER: The views presented in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgements of the author.