And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and hell followed with him. And Power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death and with the beasts of the earth.
—Revelation, Chapter 6, Verse 8
Four apocalyptic riders threaten the illusory neoteric respite in bloody Balkan affairs speciously achieved lately. With Tuđman gone and Milošević at bay, the jejune West celebrates among the smoking ruins of the quondam prosperous Yugoslavia. But not for long. The conflagration is at abeyance and its next cycle will dwarf all that has preceded it. And then there is the fifth horseman.
A puppet in command?
The "second October Revolution" brought Koštunica—a virtual unknown—to power. He was backed by what passes in Serbia for opposition (read, the disenfranchised crime gangs). But this unholy alliance will not last beyond the December elections (should it last that long and should the elections not be postponed due to convenient "national emergencies"). A rift is opening and a conflict brewing between Koštunica and his alleged puppet masters, chief among the Đinđić.
Habitually, the West keeps asking the wrong questions. Why Milošević is not brought to international justice is less perplexing. Why he is not barred from political activity is the real enigma. Vicious Balkan tongues begin to cast Koštunica in the role of an interim Milošević puppet. "Wasn't Koštunica a virtual nobody from nowhere prior to his incredible ascent to supreme power?" "Didn't Milošević astound the world by succumbing to him without as much as a show of despondence?" "Wasn't it all pre-orchestrated, kind of another 'Gorbachev coup'?"—they whisper. They even go as far as predicting a unity government (Koštunica and Milošević), should the Albanians plunge Serbia into another civil war.
The plot thickens by the day. The inevitable is unfolding in Kosovo. Raffish Albanian extremists enjoin the Serb police forces and military at the southern fringes of Serbia. The latter's Pavlovian violent response is sure to escalate the conflict. The West helplessly reprimands the very armed and rambunctious demons it has unleashed, mortified at their audacity—to no avail.
A spate of murders of Albanian moderates inside the nascent Kosovar state is likely to effectively annul the results of the mock local elections in October. The region—and Western Macedonia with it—is down a slippery path. With its hordes of bloated bureaucrats, mountebank bankers and coxcomb politicians, the West copes with the self-inflicted Augean task of sorting out the Balkans by making extempore vacuous promises combined with empty harrumphs.
Neither its carrot of wheedling persiflage nor its stick of turgid impotence are credible. When fighting breaks, the eroded and inept forces that pass for sedentary NATO will find themselves the targets of villain and rescued alike, the common enemy of the wily and indomitable denizens of these blood-drenched plains.
This is the first horseman.
Bordering this flashpoint is the tiny smuggling haven of Montenegro, the spurned mistress of the West. The Montenegrins face an impossible choice with a divided mind. To be a cosseted asset one day and a bumptious liability the next, is not an easy transition in the best of times and both Montenegrins and Kosovars are not likely to accept it graciously. The West is bound to discover the long memory and even longer knives of the allies it deserts so peremptorily. Denuded of financial aid and the media fig leaf that covered their cupidinous delinquency and skulduggery, the Montenegrins can either break decisively from Serbia—or succumb to its overweening embrace. It is a Hobson's choice. Should it choose the former route, a civil war is inexorable. Yet, the same result is guaranteed, should it choose the latter.
This is the second horseman.
The West's protectorate in Bosnia-Herzegovina is shrivelling. There, its beleaguered officials applied a unique brand of enlightened absolutism—arbitrary sackings of democratically elected nationalist politicians, overruling of democratically adopted laws by ukase, Rambo style shoot-outs in the random hunt for war criminals and all.
Not surprisingly, this has succeeded only in alienating the people and casting all moderates as quislings. The backlash was evident in the abysmal failure of the ideals of clement reason and ethnic co-existence in the last elections. While paying lip service to the defunct Dayton accords, the fusty puppets of Karadžić and his creed ascended in both the Croat bit of the improbable Croat-Muslim Federation and in its nightmarish sister, Republika Srpska. The West, enamoured of its own abstractions and confabulations, seems to be inured to the recurrent and thundering message that Bosnia is an untenable and tenuous proposition. An eruption is afoot.
This is the third horseman.
The new leaders of the new Croatia are adept at singing the tunes the West likes to hear. They keep their distance from their Bosnian-Croat brethren with the same unmitigated zeal that they applied to the
This is the fourth horseman.
And then there is Vojvodina. Populated by business-like Serbs and civil Hungarians, it never really felt like part of Serbia, the rustic and bombastic. Restless Magyars across the border seek to force Serbia to make amends for dolorous injustices real and imaginary. Nationalist politicians agitate, secret services clash secretly, journalists remonstrate, the province does flourishing (though often illicit) business with Hungary and spawned a small but intellectually influential independence-minded movement. It is a Kosovo in the making, saddled by historic animosities no less intense. It is seething, though in a cultured, Austro-Hungarian manner.
This is the fifth, dark, horseman.
The protean Balkan nations have perfected the art of backstabbing. They now consider Serbia to be a vanquished, effete and submissive nation, kow-towing to the West's demands and attuned to its every whim. In other words: in an ideal condition to be pulled asunder. How wrong they are. And what a dear price they—and the West—are going to pay for this fateful misreading of the Serbs.
Sam Vaknin, 4 December 2000
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.
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