The Balkans: The independence will be supervised

I was reading an EU journal today, I think it was the Frankfurter Rundschau, when a curious article attracted my attention. European defense ministers are meeting in German town of Wiesbaden to discuss “State Building in the Western Balkans”. Javier Solana is going to be there, as well as his Excellency the General Secretary of NATO. The central problem these European gentlemen are going to confront is the set of “challenges to state-building in Western Balkans”. Although the so called negotiations over Kosovo’s independence are still going on- the real ones between Europe, the US, and Russia, and the formal ones between the colonial elites of Serbia and Kosovo- one of the points for discussion is how to organize the independent Kosovo. Here we encounter a new definition of what negotiations mean in civilized Europe: the purpose of negotiations among the “small nations” is to negotiate until you reach the decision that has already been made by the important euro-nations. It also seems like there are going to be 2,500 soldiers in Bosnia instead of 6,500. That’s good. But the article ends with a rather grim prediction: “difficult times for the state building in western Balkans are ahead”.

I think that I understand the part about new geography. The label “Western Balkans” is the latest of the attempts to deflect the subversive anti-colonial connotations of this misbehaving peninsula. Renaming the Balkans has a long and fascinating history. From Austro-Hungarian balkanologists to State Department experts of today, from South East Europe to Western Balkans, the idea was always the same: to debalkanise the Balkans, for which purpose a more neutral language is useful. US President Clinton was very clear about the fact that “Europe has no other option but to bring the entire area of South-East Europe into the European family…. and debalkanise the Balkans once and for all”- even if this takes “bomb[ing] the fuckers”. (Richard Holbrooke)

One could ask why is this so necessary. Experts seem to be in agreement , it is because of the savage and barbarian ways of the people in the Balkans, ways that need to be tamed and civilized. However, they disagree about the source of “innate savagery”.  According to Robert Kaplan, author of the Balkan Ghosts, it is the absence of light: “This (the Balkans) was a time-capsule world: a dim stage upon which people raged, spilled blood, experienced visions and ecstasies. Yet their expressions remained fixed and distant, like dusty statuary.”

Others, like one famous British journalist, blame table manners: “The ferocity of the Balkan peoples has at times been so primitive that anthropologists have likened them to the Amazon’s Yanamamo, one of the world’s most savage and primitive tribes. Up until the turn of the present century, when the rest of Europe was concerned as much with social etiquette as with social reform, there were still reports from the Balkans of decapitated enemy heads presented as trophies on silver plates at victory dinners. Nor was it unknown for the winners to eat the loser’s heart and liver… The history books show it as a land of murder and revenge before the Turks arrived and long after they departed.”

Author of a wonderful book Inventing Ruritania, Vesna Goldsworthy, calls this line of argument “racism of nuance”. I agree with the racism part, but have to say that I don’t see a nuance. Goldsworthy cites one former UN representative in Kosovo who wrote in The Guardian that governing Kosovo is like “dressing a child: you give it the trousers of economy, the shirt of education, the jacket of democracy, etc. And all the while, the child wants to run out and play outside in its underpants. If we let it, it could hurt itself”. Could the underpants be at the root of the Balkan problem?

Simon Winchester would disagree. He thinks it is something that has to do with the mountains: “Just what was it that had marked out this particular peninsula, this particular gyre of mountains and plains, caves and streams, and made it a byword, quite literally, for hostility and hate? What forces were really at work here?…The two (i.e. mountain) chains smashed into one another to create a geological fracture zone that became a template for the fractured behavior of those who would later live upon it.” And just like “these strange and feral Balkans” – is outlandish and unlike the rest of Europe, its inhabitants, “the wild and refractory peoples of the Balkans,” are fundamentally (and anthropologically!) different: “One might say that anyone who inhabited such a place for a long period would probably evolve into something that varied substantially, for good or for ill, from whatever is the human norm.” Sounds convincing.

Although all these opinions of illustrious experts are very illuminating, in my opinion it is George Kennan who came closest to the truth. Kennan was a key figure in the US policy of containment, and one of the first and foremost US Balkan experts. He had recognized History as a crucial difficulty that civilized Europeans and Americans are up against:

“What we are up against is the sad fact that developments of those earlier ages, not only those of the Turkish domination but of earlier ones as well, had the effect of thrusting into the southeastern reaches of the European continent a salient of non-European civilization that has continued to the present day to preserve many of its non-European characteristics, including some that fit even less with the world of today than they did with the world of eighty years ago… “

Kennan is quite right to point out two factors: one is the ethnic and cultural mix of the Balkan peoples,  a “Macedonian salade”, a peninsula always much more diverse and tolerant of diversity then the (rest of) Europe. The other factor is it’s stubborn refusal of what is forced upon us as “Europe” and “civilization”. If we are to try to identify some of the most important aspects of the history of the Balkans, we cannot but point out the persistent vision of a surprisingly consistent utopia, of a decentralized communal society, in perpetual struggle against centralization, colonization and cultural norms imposed by it’s civilized western “other”. Debalkanisation of the Balkans assumes the attempt to eradicate the history of this world turned upside down, a decentralized and fragmented world of anti-colonial struggles, heretics (“bogumili”), maritime and land pirates (“hajduci” and “uskoci”), rebels and revolutionaries, anti-authoritarians, Romanies, self-governed communities, socialist federations, partisans and anti-fascists. Balkanisation is indeed all about fragmentation, but it is not (only) ethnic fragmentation: balkanisation implies resistance, and a decentralized and federated alternative to the violent centralization of States and Empires. This is why balkanisation needs to be arrested and Balkans renamed and “debalkanised”.

But what is “state-building”? This appears to be, to me at least, a new concept. In yet another article, in yet another EU journal, I have discovered that the art of state-building is insperable from “good governance”: It involves ”…good governance based on the rule of law, human rights, and civil liberties; a free-market economy; pluralistic democracy; and above all, socio-cultural changes and acceptance of new values and responsibilities across the board”. The essence of state-building is, reads the article, “the concept of good governance and good society”. The essence of good society is “free market and pluralistic democracy”. The vehicle to a good society is civil society. The civil society is everyone who agrees to listen to the international community. The civil society must be educated by the international community. The international community is everyone “including governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, development and aid projects, etc”. – who “is facing the challenge of transforming itself in accordance with the requirements of different countries’ transformation processes.” For these processes to work we need a strong state: “ a strong state is essential to the success of the liberal-democratic project in the developing world, as Francis Fukuyama notes in his State Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century…“ The author of this article, state- architect Pajic, who served as a senior legal adviser to the International Crisis Group’s Bosnia office, is a fan of Tolstoy: “the opening sentence of Anna Karenina may apply to Bosnia: “All happy families are alike, but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.” He proceeds to ask: “What makes Bosnia different and unhappy?” A naive native would think that it has something to do with the presence of occupying forces in his country. But this is too simple of an explanation. You might end up being called a conspiracy theorist by The Guardian.

According to Ian Williams from The Guardian, the solution for Bosnia is integration, Dostoevsky-style. “Perhaps even more responsibility rests with those at Dayton who rewarded the ethnic cleansers with control of half of Bosnia, including Srebrenica. Even though the Republika Srpska is rushing to apologize for the massacre, its very existence in the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina enshrines the apartheid principles of the ethnic cleansers. It is well past time to revisit the whole ramshackle arrangement, and integrate the country.”

If the integration is a state-building project for Bosnia, for Kosovo it is a supervised independence. Kosovo, which is according to Timothy Garton Ash, not under occupation but in limbo (sic), needs to be independent, not because this is just or legal, but, this is according to state-architect Pedy Ashdown (on BBC), for ethical reasons, as ”Serbia has lost it’s moral rights to rule Kosovo”. The best way, says Garton Ash, is to accept the Ahtisaari plan – the one that both the Serbs and Albanians reject (Kosovo Roma are never asked anything) : “Martti Ahtisaari, the UN secretary general’s special envoy for the future of Kosovo, has come up with an impressive set of proposals for moving out of limbo. His plan may not actually use the word independence, but everyone understands that it would give Kosovo independence. However, this independence would be supervised and constrained by a so-called International Civilian Representative, and backed up by an international military presence.”


Revolution will be televised, independence supervised, and everything will be advertised (in The Guardian!)

One of the reasons for concern and widespread attention of the mainstream media for my troubled region is the recent ruling of the International Court on Justice (ICJ) that Serbia  (those savages again!) is not responsible for the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica. This “unbelievable ruling” caused quite a bit of consternation among late-sipping western humanists. This is from a recent Chicago Tribune editorial: “under the international court’s ruling, Serbia has escaped the stigma of genocide and been relieved of financial obligation for the killings. The court pointedly did not absolve Serbia of political and moral responsibility, but it’s ruling is a disappointment. Many Serbs are, and will remain, in denial about the atrocities committed on their doorstep.” According to the former president of the International Crime Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, state-architect Antonio Cassesse, in his article for Italian La Republica this is a “legal genocide”.  Let’s hear from state-architect Ian Williams Dostoevsky again: “Judging from the behavior of Serb nationalist politicians and those who vote for them, there is only a slender likelihood of acknowledgement, let alone contrition, from a disturbingly large proportion of the population….The ICJ judgment on “Serbia’s role in the Bosnian genocide was, as the diverse comments on this site have shown, confusing. Its demand for proof of clear instructions from Belgrade to the perpetrators of “acts of genocide”, would have exonerated Adolf Hitler from the Holocaust – the even that inspired the genocide convention”.  Let’s bomb the fuckers again. It is interesting that Walter J. Rockler, a former Prosecutor at the Nuremburg War crimes trials, takes a very different position from  the EU-humanitarians and state-architects:

 â€œThe (1999) attack on Yugoslavia constitutes the most brazen act of international aggression since the Nazis attacked Poland to prevent “Polish atrocities” against Germans. The United States has discarded pretensions to international legality and decency. And embarked on a course of raw imperialism run amok… In reality, when we the self-appointed rulers of the planet, issue an ultimatum to another country it is “surrender or die.” To maintain our “credibility” we must crush any resemblance of resistance to our dictate, to that country.” In other words, what needs to be done is to prevent the spread of “balkanisation”. For balkanisation, like drinking latte,  is contagious.

In the conclusion of his Guardian musings on desirability of Kosovo’s independence, state architect Timothy Garton Ash, between few sips of latte, expresses an exciting viewpoint:

“Kosovo is many things to many people….Tell me your Kosovo and I will tell you who you are…Whatever else it is or was, Kosovo is today a small but vital challenge to the international community in general and the EU in particular… The EU now needs to be clear, united, forceful and strategic – four things it usually fails to be beyond its own borders.. If ever there was an issue which brings together European values…The way forward for Kosovo is not nation-building or even state-building, but member-state-building…Because only then will peace be secured in the Balkans and Europe be whole and free. As it approaches its 50th birthday this March, the European economic community that became a union has an extraordinary story to tell about the spread of peace, freedom and the rule of law.”


If this is your Kosovo, then you are a serious EU-intellectual.

European values are so complicated. I have just learned what state-building is, and now I have to grasp the concepts of nation-building and member-state-building. But, unlike Garton Ash, perhaps because I do not drink latte, but Turkish coffee, I don’t believe that the solution is to get “the Balkans into Europe“. Quite on the contrary, I think that we need to get Europe into the Balkans. As soon as possible. Together with the Yugoslav avant-garde artist Ljubomir Micic, I believe in the need of the “Balkanisation of Europe”. Ljubomir Micic, editor and critic, around whom a expressionist movement of “zenitism” coalesced in the 1920’s, created a concept of “Barbaro-Genius Decivilizer”, which proposed the Balkans as a point of origin for a new kind of civilization. The mission of Balkan “barbaro-genius,” is to oppose and overcome, to “balkanise,” its decadent Western other:

 â€œEuropean culture is cruel and cannibalistic. That is why Zenitists work on the balkanisation of Europe and want to expand… to all the continents in the name of the new barbarism, in the name of new people and new continents, in the name of a terrible struggle: East vs. West! The Balkan peninsula is a cradle of pure barbarism, which preaches a new brotherhood of men. That is the idea of our new culture and new civilization, which will come of a final clash between two old giants, the East and the West, whose urge to fight each other is in their blood.”

It is an ingenious, and typically Balkan cosmopolitan attempt to destroy what probably is the oldest dichotomy inherent to European universalism, the one between civilizers and savages, and to offer an alternative, as old as the Balkans itself, an alternative to nationalism, colonialism and capitalism. It is in this idea that Balkan people need to find the strength and orientation for a new politics for another Balkans. It should be a politics of a Balkan federation. A participatory society, built from the bottom up, through struggles for the creation of an inclusive democratic awareness, participatory social experiments, and an emancipatory practice that would win the political imagination of all people in the region. It is a politics that says unequivocally to the European Union, and it’s state-architects in Bosnia and Kosovo: get the hell out of here.


* Andrej Grubacic is an unreformed anarchist historian from the Balkan mountains. He can be reached at zapata@mutualaid.org




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