Read Catherine Lovatt's article Montenegro: The next Balkan conflict? first
To the Editor:
Looking at the conflict between Montenegro and Serbia that has continued with varying intensity—peaking in March to June of 1999—in an oversimplified context is necessary for the sake of journalistic brevity. But looking at the conflict with lofty pseudo-omniscience leaves out the fine-grained detail that is the complexity of human relations.
The key to understanding human relations is in the discernment of general rules of behavior among people. However, by describing these relations in terms of aggregate national blocs of humanity in constant competition with other such institutions, the ideo-sphere of the world's inhabitants is reduced to the kind of mechanical understandings that are the best tools of propagandists and politicians in the imperial realm of decision-making and execution.
Yugoslavia was made up of more than 24 million people of Southeastern Europe. It had an organized and centrally coordinated economy based on public ownership of both state and industry, in ideological opposition to Western (US / NATO) values of private corporate ownership and control of the state and the public—both in the West and around the world.
Bit by bloody bit, Germany, the United States and the rest of the gang have been there to stoke the flames of war by imposing economically devastating sanctions, arming various groups to undertake violent struggle against the federal authorities and coordinating massive ground assaults and air operations, all the while pointing to Serbian barbarity as a constant rationale for more NATO aggression.
Although Serbs have been the target of a blizzard of media-manufactured dehumanization and demonization, the truth is that Serbs are no more barbaric or inhumane than anyone else.
More recently, Yugoslavia was made up of 12 million people—mostly Serbs, but also people of other nationalities. It still had a socialist economy in name, but in reality it was a pariah state, its people isolated from the rest of the world not by their own actions, but by the hand of politicians far removed from the negative consequences of their own behavior.
The enemy is not just a person, but a set of ideals shared by those in the political class, though common people are targeted physically and psychologically for punishment.
NATO pushed far beyond the limits of civility in the attempt to extinguish the Yugoslav opposition to the Western mode. History, if the future is just, will condemn not only the heavy-handedness of the Milošević regime, but also the violence perpetrated against all the people of the Balkans by Western leaders desperate to rationalize NATO's existence and its implications for Wall Street and Washington, DC.
Montenegro was targeted by NATO and bore an influx of refugees from the intense and hellish bombardment in Kosovo, which would have been entirely avoidable if NATO and the Western war-makers had truly wanted peace.
Seeing that NATO's attacks were of great political benefit to Milošević in some circles, Montenegro wanted protection, as the regime retrenches and is perhaps targeted for another round of bombing, or even a ground invasion, by NATO.
I wonder what poll Lovatt consulted in asserting that "Milošević has majority support in Serbia." The majority of people in Serbia support living a life without fear of dictatorship from Belgrade or Brussels. Neither regime is giving them any reason to believe in their future. Perhaps a majority of people do support Milošević out of fear. I find it highly unlikely, however, since data puts Milošević at no more than a 20% overall approval rating.
Another conflict building
Yugoslavia is now surely on the verge of further conflict—a predictable result of the continued isolation and punishment of the people of Serbia and Montenegro.
If Milošević succeeds in his bid for enthronement, and if the West continues to offer domination and control instead of friendship and cooperation, Montenegro and Kosovo may get their "independence," like the other former Yugoslav republics, probably under NATO protection.
Serbia would then become like Iraq, a damning indictment of imperial political machinations. Why should NATO make friends with Serbia when NATO needs an enemy, and when Serbia still clings to key vestiges of socialism that impede the market potential of southeastern Europe?
If NATO were truly interested in peace, it would be spending as much money on the rebuilding of Kosovo as it did on bombing it. It would also lift the sanctions against Serbia and submit its own leaders to the same standards of justice appropriate for indicted war criminals.
Perhaps as a result, the Milošević regime would not be able to hold the people of Yugoslavia in fear, and a new state would be created. But if the West offers more threats, intimidation, violence and punishment, NATO may be in business for quite some time to come—and what a waste that would be for everyone.
Catherine Lovatt responds:
Slap-bang in the middle of what has become identified as the Eastern Europe-Western Europe divide, the Balkans have historically been a veritable hot spot. The complexities of the region can be examined in many ways, ranging from the political to the anthropological, the economic to the social, from the psychological to the physiological. Each method of examination is no better or worse than the other and each will reveal many interesting perspectives. The expanse of Balkan history, particularly in relation to the countries that comprised both former and present-day Yugoslavia, is complex and immense, and it cannot be covered in its entirety in one news analysis article.
General rules of human behaviour are as much open to interpretation as the general rules of behaviour of the national group. In Yugoslavia, the very fact that the population has been defined by nationality has helped determine the many resentments that each group now faces. To disassociate from the impact of these definitions would be a mistake. The very presence of "the other" has led to the development of a "them-and-us" attitude. This is how the members of each group define themselves.
On an everyday level, definition by "the other" may lie in the recognition of small quirks like taking one's shoes off before entering the house. On a national level, the differences can be translated into something much more devastating, generally through propaganda and manipulation as a source of political power. Milošević and his cronies appear to be following this tactic.
Communist Yugoslavia guided by the hand of Tito saw the vague acknowledgement of a collective Yugoslav identity. Implemented from above, this identity began to crumble after Tito's death in 1980, when latent nationalisms, which had been bubbling under the surface, began to be resurrected at the hands of regional leaders, of whom Milošević was one.
In the West, as with every country behind the Iron Curtain, ideological differences between the two poles of Europe were exaggerated. One only has to look at early James Bond movies to see the obvious Communist villains against the victorious Capitalist West. Each side provoked the other in the conflict of NATO versus the Warsaw Pact. The disintegration of the ideological structure surrounding Eastern Europe and the consequent disintegration of the Warsaw Pact saw the majority of countries replacing their Communist ideals with what they perceived as the "Western ideal": democracy and the free market.
The causes of isolation
The leaders of the new Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro after the violent departure of Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia and the peaceful exit of Macedonia) chose a different route: socialism in name, nationalism in nature. This choice has resulted in isolation and has left the field open for provocations to continue. Montenegro now wants to join their former Yugoslav cohorts, but with memories of atrocities and violence inflicted on other nations they are opting for a process of creeping change.
It is true that the West is not without responsibility for the continued isolation of Yugoslavia, in particular of Serbia, and they are not without blame for their heavy-handed involvement in the Kosovan conflict—a conflict that should never have been allowed to go as far as it did. Perhaps one could even say that they have added to the tensions and violence. But it is easy to blow both points of view out of proportion.
NATO and the Western leaders didn't just march in. The talks in Rambouillet attempted to reach a solution, but failed. They could not prevent the NATO bombings when streams and streams of Kosovan Albanians were forced from their homes and pushed over national boundaries in escaping Serb aggression. Was NATO just going to let this happen? Should they have let this happen? If they had left well enough alone, maybe today we would be haranguing them for not intervening sooner.
The whole issue of NATO involvement in the Kosovan conflict raises issue upon issue, of which the most pertinent is perhaps: what role does NATO have now that the Iron Curtain has dissolved? The way things are going, NATO seems to be playing more of a humanitarian role than anything else—as guardian of human rights across the globe. But then again, who decides that human rights are being abused and what right do they have to make that decision? In Kosovo, the abuse of human rights was obvious.
Forcing support for Milošević
In Serbia, personal freedoms are also restricted. Not everyone supports Milošević, and those who don't can find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Fear clearly plays an important role in forcing support for the Milošević regime. One only has to look at the crackdown on independent media organizations and the recent police raid on student activists in Belgrade to see Milošević's aggressive attempts to stamp out opposition. Of course, Milošević cannot be the only individual responsible for such actions, but he is the figurehead and the president of Yugoslavia. Ultimately, as the head of the nation, responsibility does lie with him.
Although at the time of writing Milošević did not numerically have majority support, he had unified and reliable support. The opposition in Serbia was disorganized, fractious and content with concentrating on their own little battles—after all, any opposition to Milošević and his political cronies would surely end in imprisonment, wouldn't it?
In light of the elections, scheduled for 24 September, the majority of opposition parties have managed to put their squabbles to one side and unite to defeat Milošević. It now turns out that Vojislav Kostunica is ahead in the polls. An opinion poll published by the Institute for Social Sciences in the weekend of 2 August revealed that 52 per cent would vote for Kostunica and 31 per cent for Milošević (a rise of about ten per cent for Milošević since the last published poll by the Centre for Policy Studies in late August). This, however, has not stopped Milošević from gaining 1.5 million signatures in support for his presidential candidacy, no matter how dubious they seem.
Serbia has become isolated in the Balkans, and the West have added to this isolation, but the extremism of the Serb political regime and a continued abuse of human rights has only pushed them deeper into their isolation. That is something largely of their own making. Ordinary Serbs may not be in agreement with the regime, but Milošević clearly maintains support, forced or real, and this support appears to be rising. However, the newly united opposition may be a tough challenge.
NATO is a military organization and, since the collapse of Communism, it no longer has an enemy. But Yugoslavia is not the substitute. Instead, NATO has had to redefine its role as a global security force. NATO and the UN, through their peacekeeping missions and security zones, may not be doing such a great job. Perhaps they can be held partly responsible for antagonizing tensions between the various nationalities of Yugoslavia, perhaps they have intensified the situation through their heavy-handedness and sanctions. Perhaps they could do more to rebuild Kosovo, but the fundamental problem is found in Serb political and national goals.
Kosovo would still have called for a greater degree of autonomy, if not independence, and Yugoslav forces would still have fought the Kosovan Liberation Army, with or without NATO intervention.
The way in which antagonisms are mounting between Serbia and Montenegro, which is also pushing for independence from Yugoslavia (a decision which is theirs alone), conflict could quite easily be on the cards. That was the point of "Montenegro: The next Balkan conflict." The article discussed changes in the Yugoslav constitution and how that raised the friction between Montenegro and Serbia. Kosovo is a similar case, but still a whole different story.
Catherine Lovatt, 11 September 2000
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