A common, guttural cry of "Eureka" echoed as the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans emerged from the Communist steam bath. It was at once an expression of joy and disbelief. That the West should be willing to bankroll the unravelling of a failed social experiment that was freely entered into exceeded the wildest imaginations. That it would do so indefinitely and with no strings attached was a downright outlandish fortuity.
Accustomed to Pavolvian interactions, adept at manipulating "the system," experts in all manners of make-believe, the shrewd denizens of the East exercised the reflexive levers of the Great Democracies. They adopted stratagems whose sole purpose was to extract additional aid, to foster a dependency of giving, to emotionally extort. In one sentence: they learned how to corrupt the donors.
The most obvious subterfuge involved the mindless repetition of imported mantras. Possessed of the same glazed eyes and furled lips, the loyal members of a perfidious nomenklatura uttered with the same seemingly perfervid conviction, the catechism of a new religion. Yesterday, Communism—today, "capitalism," unblushingly, unhesitatingly, cynically. Yesterday, a recondite dictatorship of the proletariat or, more often, a personality cult—today, "democracy." Yesterday, brotherhood and unity—today, genocidal "self determination." Yesterday, genocidal inclinations—today, a "growth and stability pact."
If required to bark in the nude in order to secure the flow of unsupervised funding (mainly to their pockets), these besuited gentlemen would have done so with self-sacrificial ardour, no doubt. When it dawned upon them that the West is willing to pay for every phase of self-betterment, for every stage of self-improvement, for every functioning institution and law passed, this venal class (the so-disant "elite" in government, in industry and academe) embarked on a gargantuan blackmail plot.
The inventors of the most contorted and impervious bureaucracies ever have recreated them. They have transformed the simplest tasks of reform into tortuous, hellish processes, mired in a miasma of numerous committees and deluged by cavils, captious "working" papers and memoranda of stupefying trumpery. They have stalled and retraced, reversed and regressed, opined and debated, refused and accepted grudgingly.
To pay and to appease
The very processes of transformation and transition—a simulacrum to begin with—acquired an aura of somnolent lassitude and the nightmarish quality of ensnarement. And they made the West bribe them into yielding that which was ostensibly in their very own interest. Every act of legislation was preceded and followed by dollops of foreign cash. Every ministry abolished was conditioned upon more aid. Every court established, every bloodletting firm privatized, every bank sold, every system made more efficient, every procedure simplified, every tender concluded and every foreign investor spared, had a tariff. "Pay or else ..." was the overt message, and the West preferred to pay and to appease, as it has always done.
The money lavished on these "new democracies" was routed rather conspicuously into the private bank accounts of the thin layer of vituperable "leaders," "academics" and "businessmen" (often the same people). One third cigarette smugglers, one third uncommon criminals and one third cynical con artists, these people looted the coffers of their states. The IMF—this sanctuary of fourth-rate economists from third world countries, as I am never wont of mentioning—collaborated with the US government, the European Union and the World Bank in covering up this stark reality.
They turned a common blind eye to the diversion of billions in aid and credits to mysterious bank accounts in dubious tax havens. They ignored fake trading deals, itinerant investment houses, shady investors and shoddy accounting. They expressed merely polite concern over blatant cronyism and rampant nepotism. They kept pouring money into the rapidly growing black hole that Eastern Europe and the Balkan have become.
They pretended not to know and feigned surprise when confronted with the facts. In their complicity, they have encouraged the emergence of a criminal class of unprecedented proportions, influence and penetration in many of the countries within their remit.
To qualify to participate in this grand larceny, one needed only to have a "sovereign state." Sovereign states are entitled to hold shares in multilateral financial institutions and to receive international aid and credits. In other words, sovereignty is the key to instant riches. The unregenerate skulks that pass for political parties in many countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans (though not in all of them—there are exceptions) carved up the territory. This led to a suspicious proliferation of "republics," each with its own access to international funds. It also led to "wars" among these emergent entities.
Recent revelations regarding the close and cordial co-operation between Croatia's late president, Franjo Tuđman, and Yugoslavia's current strongman, Slobodan Milošević—ostensibly, bitter enemies—expose the role that warfare and instability have played in increasing the flow of aid (both civil and military) to belligerent countries. The more unstable the region, the more ominous its rhetoric, the more fractured its geopolitics, the more money flowed in.
It was the right kind of money: multilateral, not multinational, public or private, and it was deliberately ignorant—not judiciously cognizant. It was the "quantum fund," capable of "tunnelling" (as the Czechs called it)—vanishing in one place (the public purse) and appearing in another (the private wallet) simultaneously. Even the exception, the never-enforced sanctions against Yugoslavia, served to enrich its cankerous ruling class by way of smuggling and monopolies.
But why did the West collaborate in this charade? Why did it compromise its goodwill, its carefully crafted institutions, its principles and ethos? The short and the long of it is, to get rid of a nuisance at a minimal cost. It is much cheaper to grease the palms of a deciding few, than to embark on the winding path of true and painful growth. It is more convenient to co-opt a political leader than to confront an angry mob. It is by far easier to throw money at a problem than to solve it.
It was not a sinister conspiracy of the Great Powers, as many would have it. Nor was it the result of foresight, insight, perspicacity or planning. It was a typical improvident European default, adopted by a succession of lacklustre and lame American administrations. It enriched the few and impoverished the many. It fostered anti-Western sentiments. It provoked skirmishes that provoked wars that led to massacres.
To reverse it would require more resources than should have been committed in the first place. These are not forthcoming. The West is again misleading and deceiving and collaborating to defraud the peoples of these unfortunate netherlands. It again promises prosperity it cannot deliver, growth it will not guarantee and stability it cannot ensure. This prestidigitation is bound to lead to ever-larger bills and to the attrition of good will of both donor and recipient. Never before was such a unique historical opportunity so thoroughly missed. The consequences may well be as unprecedented.
Sam Vaknin, 11 September 2000
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