The mainstream media today often seem incapable of sustained attention or precise study. Papers concentrate on one or two “major news stories” at a time and neglect regular, steady reporting on all regions of the world.
So when major crises do force themselves onto the front pages, they invariably appear as “surprises” and “sensations”. And what is happening now in and around Kosovo is a good example of a story that, put in the right context, is neither surprising nor sensational.
When the post-Stalinist, state capitalist dictatorships of Eastern Europe crumbled around 1989, most allegedly “communist” leaders and former dissidents alike embraced Margaret Thatcher’s style of policymaking – slashing welfare provision and privatising state assets.
The result was an economic collapse on a scale unprecedented in the history of industrialised countries. This was soon followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the incorporation of East Germany into West Germany, amounting to an annexation.
Next came the break-up of Czecho-Slovakia and then the dismemberment of the Yugoslav federation actively sponsored by the United States, Nato and the EU.
Out of the chaos a new world order emerged – an extension of the old one, but equipped with the belief that capitalism no longer had enemies and that proletarian resistance was done for. The only adversary remaining was obsolete nationalism and conservative peasant religion, especially Islam.
Any resistance, however muddle-headed, hopeless and counterproductive, had to be crushed without mercy by the mighty legions of the US and Nato. That way a lesson would be offered to anybody claiming to be unhappy with the new dispensation.
It soon become clear that the West would not tolerate any medium-sized regional power emerging in the former “Eastern Bloc”, and certainly not the Serbian nationalists led by Slobodan Miloević.
The reformed “communist” leaders of the Soviet Union capitulated to Western demands, but with the clear understanding of a few points. There would be no US military bases in former Soviet republics and other Warsaw Treaty countries, no such country would join Nato or the EU, and Russian minorities left behind in those countries would be protected.
All these promises were openly or tacitly granted by the victorious Western powers – and all of them were broken in the most blatant manner.
The aggressive and insolent humiliation of Russia continues (and is adroitly mined by tinpot dictators such as Russian president Vladimir Putin). Secessionist and separatist moves are encouraged everywhere in the regions formerly dominated by the Soviet Union. Chaos and mayhem are actively fomented.
The Serbs were the great losers in this game. Make no mistake – Serb troops committed awful atrocities. This is beyond dispute. But the only truly successful “ethnic cleansing” or purge was implemented against them, with the wholesale expulsion of the Krajina Serb minority from Croatia, the greatest displacement of people in Europe since the Second World War.
The Kosovo conflict started as retaliation against an armed ethnic Albanian insurrection that had combined with a – to my mind – perfectly legitimate civil disobedience movement.
A deal was brokered by the West, which hosted talks at Rambouillet on the outskirts of Paris. During these talks the US presented the Serbian delegation with an ultimatum – the sort of usually put by the winner of a war to the losing side.
This was the infamous Protocol B, which demanded jurisdiction for “peacekeeping” Nato armies in Serbia, rights of judicial and police inquest for Nato functionaries, immunity and impunity for Nato soldiers, billets and material support for the troops, total subordination of local authorities, and no time limit for the Nato occupation.
It left it unclear whether Nato would only occupy Kosovo or move into Serbia proper as well. It amounted, when addressed to a sovereign and independent state, to a declaration of war. As such, it was rejected by the Serbs.
The bombing of Belgrade, the Serb and Yugoslav capital, soon followed. Only then was Kosovo attacked by the Serbs, with ensuing panic and terrible suffering. Miloević’s power has collapsed – and Kosovo remained under Nato occupation, now supplanted by an EU administration.
Kosovo was definitively separated from Serbia. So the question of its “independence” from Serbia does not arise in practice – it has been a separate entity for a long time now. But it is not independent of Nato or the EU. And it was not this “independence” that was declared last month.
The unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo’s parliament, which made plain what has been plain enough to start with, was nothing but the symbolic humiliation of a hungry, desperate and isolated Serbia – and it was intended as such.
The scandal is not so much the declaration itself, but its immediate recognition by the “international community”. The only countries that dare not toe the line are those themselves afraid of their own ethnic minorities, such as Romania and Slovakia.
In fact, some ethnic Hungarian minority politicians in Romania have already qualified Kosovo’s independence as a “precedent”.
The lesson is taught – whoever does not fit in the new world order will be punished and excommunicated. This does not absolve Serbian nationalists from stupid and short-sighted politicking, but it should not make us forget the other scandals and human rights abuses across the states of the former Eastern Europe.
There are the “erased people” in Slovenia – legal residents from the former Yugoslavia who were made to lose their rights and were illegally expelled. There are ethnic Russian minorities in the Baltic states suffering apartheid – no rights, no vote, no working permit.
There is appalling ethnic chauvinism becoming officially sanctioned in a number of new EU member states. Premier Vojislav Kotunica of Serbia is not the only nationalist head of government in Eastern Europe – nor is he by any means the worse.