Pogroms have once more rocked the Balkans. This time, rioting Kosovar Albanians destroyed Serbian homes and burned Orthodox churches. The enlightened West looked on with a mixture of bewilderment and indifference. People have become so accustomed to humanitarian catastrophes in the Balkans over the past decade that they now regard them as par for the course.
This latest crisis in Kosovo is not unfolding in the midst of a civil war, however, nor as the result of the nationalist policies of Slobodan Milosevic or some other local dictator. The pogrom occurred in a province that has been run by the UN and controlled by NATO troops since 1999. It occurred after the creation of transitional structures in accordance with Western guidelines, after elections were held for a new parliament, after countless conferences devoted to rebuilding the region, and so on. It is now obvious that none of this has worked. Western intervention has not solved the problem, it has merely modified it.
Despite this, the West remains unwilling to accept any blame for turning the Balkans into a permanent disaster zone. Throughout the 1990s it was common practice to blame everything on the Serbs. Not on the Milosevic regime, mind you, but the Serbian people. The portrayal of Serbs as rapists and aggressors became as much of a clichÃ© in Western liberal propaganda as the suffering Orthodox Slavic brother had been in Russian nationalist mythology. Serbs were the stock villains in
As soon as events in
It is indicative that even Russian public opinion has not been roused to any great extent by the latest news from Kosovo. Five years ago, Russians worried themselves sick over the fate of their Serbian brothers. When the
Nothing comparable has occurred this time around. The government has limited its response to a series of restrained, toothless and utterly incomprehensible statements. Even opposition politicians don’t seem terribly upset. Consumed in their own squabbles, most seem not to have noticed that the latest crisis has happened at all. Even the most die-hard nationalists no longer have time to stick up for their Slavic brethren.
In the 1990s, Russians put the Serbian theme to good use in domestic politics. The myth of a small heroic people was contrasted to the glaring impotence of official
Vladimir Putin’s first term solved the crisis by very different means:
In Western Europe, a significant portion of the liberal and even left-wing politicians who applauded the bombing of
It wouldn’t take much. The point is not that the West backed the wrong side in the conflict. Serbian nationalists are no more decent and honorable than the Albanians who incite riots and murder. In feuds like this there are no good guys, just the bad and the very bad. And determining who is who with any certainty is impossible.
Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the