Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Walt Whitman was a bad poet, but he might have made an excellent American statesman, something like an effeminate Madeleine Albright, who can switch from one basic principle to the next with a duplicity that even the dewy-eyed fairy godmother of the battlefield would have admired. In the course of a day, she can be lecturing the Republika Srpska of Bosnia on the rights of Muslim and Croat minorities; then, without batting a reptilian eye, she can champion the right of the Albanian majority in Kosovo to gain autonomy, which will inevitably entail the right to expel (or exterminate) the Serb minority that has clung to its ancient land in the face of over half a millennium of persecution and ethnic cleansing.
Perhaps in their hearts, many statesmen are really bad poets: they prefer lies to truth and rely on poetic license as an excuse for incompetence and incoherence. I have been trying to figure out American foreign policy in the Balkans for six years, and the best I can come up with is that we are hostage to special interests—the Croatian and Albanian lobbies obviously, Arab oil interests, and (strange as it seems) the Israelis, who have found a way of doing something to please the Muslims. The United States and Israel, in other words, are making the Serbs pay the price for what we are doing to Muslims in the Middle East.
But even bribery and cowardice do not fully explain the zeal of the American foreign policy establishment and the media it controls. Their minds are already formed in globalist categories to see nationalism, Christian piety, and attachment to tradition as the last vestiges of a savage old world that must be rooted out, no matter what the cost, and although the Albanians and Croats are, each in their own way, as atavistic as their Serbian neighbors, it is the Serbs who have historically been predominant in the region, and it is the Serbs who sing the loudest songs about their heritage and their destiny. The globalist elites hate the Serbs for the same reason that they hate all real Americans who wish to preserve their traditions, their religion, their identity. This point was rammed home to me on the SFOR base in Sarajevo, where American soldier-girls lugged their lard-bellies, huffing and puffing, up the steps to the cafeteria—an oasis of bad cooking—where the bulletin boards featured (on paper of U.N. blue) advertisements for Black History Month.
The Balkans were heating up again early this year: riots in Kosovo followed by a Yugoslav crackdown followed by an American crackdown, renewed talk of Montenegrin independence, Bosnian Muslim threats over the postponed Breko decision. By March, Boris Yeltsin’s intoxicated hints about World War III breaking out over Iraq seemed more likely to be realized in Europe.
In tripartite Bosnia, the Muslims are no longer content with the cards they were dealt in the Dayton Accords: so far, they have been disappointed in the expectation that a liberal interpretation of the agreement would improve their hand. The Republika Srpska remains divided between the old warlords of Pale, who exploited their political ineptitude—they never devised a tax system, much less a strategy for victory—as an excuse for massive corruption, and the democratically elected government of President Biljana Plavsic, a staunch Serb patriot whose sense of justice and integrity has been misinterpreted as proof that she is a Quisling who would betray her country to the United States.
Kosovo is, for the moment, an even more serious question. We saw last year what Albanians can do to each other if they are allowed to go on a rampage (to say nothing of the crime waves Albanian immigrants have inflicted on Europe and the United States), and this violence is nothing compared to what they will do, with a little air support from their American friends, when the Shiptar begin to riot in Macedonia and Greece.
Meanwhile, the Hungarians of Serbian Vojvodina are clamoring for their autonomy, and their cousins in Slovakia are pressuring the Slovak government to demand autonomy for Kosova (notice how many American journalists, by the way, are adopting the Albanian pronunciation of a purely Slavic word—from kos, blackbird—that means nothing in Albanian). The Slovaks, who have had the chance to bear the gentle yoke of imperial Hungary, are quick to understand that the call for a greater Albania being heard in Kosovo (and echoed by Albanian spokesmen in the United States like former congressman Joseph DioGuardi) will soon reverberate in harmony with demands for a Greater Hungary that will include parts of Serbia, Romania, and Slovakia.
Caught in a three-way bind—Albanians, Hungarians, and the American-backed jihad in Bosnia—the Serbs see the handwriting on the wall, and the letters are not Gyrillic. The mood in Belgrade is deep depression. No gypsy bands play in the streets, no one sings patriotic songs in the cafes. The gray buildings seem silent—”bare ruin’d choirs, where no birds sing.” Since the United States quashed the demonstrations last year by reaffirming its support for Milosevic, people do not know where to turn.
Srdja Trifkovic arranged a dinner in Belgrade with Serb intellectuals, and over a first course of bull’s testicles and Vranac (a Montenegrin red wine), Dragomir Acovic (architect, Rotarian, and royalist) observed with a cheerful gloominess that the Serbs “are dying as a nation and dying as a people.” Acovic, a man of affable wit and vast erudition, must also know that quite apart from his nation he belongs to a dying breed of civilized men who will never fit into the New World Order. He has good reason for despair: the “ex”-communists still hold his family’s property, and he knows that more than one of the so-called opposition leaders is willing to sell out to Milosevic.
When I point out the parallel with the mood in 1865 of defeated Southerners, who thought that God was punishing them for their lack of faith, Dusan Batakovic (research director of the Institute for Balkan Studies) quips, “I always sided with the losers in America—Indians and Southerners.” Such sympathy is natural for Serbs who have been subjugated by Turks, Hungarians, Austrians, Germans, and Americans, and whose great national myth is their failure to defeat the Turks at the battle of Kosovo in 1389.
The general pessimism is shared by Dr. Vojslav Kostunica, leader of the Democratic Party, virtually the only major political party that has preserved its reputation for integrity. Kostunica takes a gloomy view of Serbia’s political future, and his prediction that one or another of Milosevic’s opponents will lead his party into the government is fulfilled within two weeks.
Serbian politics is complicated by the rioting in Kosovo. Imagine the situation in the United States if Mexican immigrants became a majority in Texas and, aided and abetted by Mexico, plotted a violent insurrection. When police arrest one of the terrorist leaders, the insurgents riot in San Antonio, and when the governor calls in the National Guard, the international community threatens sanctions.
The Mexicans—or rather, to drop the analogy, the Albanians—are pursuing a two-tier strategy. They insist they are open to dialogue, but the only question they are willing to discuss is the timetable for independence. The crackdown, although completely justified from the standpoint of law and order, was a bad move, as Kostunica points out, since it had the effect of reversing the progress Serbia had been making in the international community.
Milosevic, who lost the Krajina and bargained away Sarajevo, is now in a position to lose the ancient heartland of the Serbs, and Kostunica ruefully concludes: “One always hopes that Milosevic will learn from his mistakes, but one is always disappointed.” Asked if the leader may be conspiring with the Americans—as it sometimes appears—Kostunica points out that Milosevic simply cannot afford to pay the price. The loss of Kosovo will be a greater blow to his government than even the debacle in the Krajina, where U.S. military intervention paved the way. for a Croatian offensive that expelled whatever Serb civilians managed to escape. Milosevic’s rise to power began when he took up the cause of the downtrodden Kosovo Serbs, and because the Albanians refuse to vote, he can count on 35 “cheap” deputies elected by Serbs who are naturally loyal to their champion. The career that began in Kosovo may end there as well. Still, despite Albright’s threats, Slobodan Milosevic’s shelf-life has not yet expired.
Turning to the Bosnian question, Kostunica has deep reservations about the government of Biljana Plavsic, who may not be strong enough to stand up to both her domestic rivals (who control the World Bank’s purse strings and can even impose their own choice of ambassadors). The problems in Bosnia, he says, are moral landmines.
Just getting to Banja Luka can be a problem, since the international bureaucrats, as part of their effort to divide the Serbs and construct a multi-ethnic Bosnia, now insist upon a visa for foreign travelers entering the Republika Srpska from Yugoslavia. Like most of the Republika Srpska (RS), Banja Luka is swollen with refugees, and the city has 70 percent unemployment. Streets at mid-day are thronged by able-bodied men of all ages, who ought to be at work.
I came here with Srdja Trifkovic and Professor Ronald Hatchett (retired Air Force colonel and former disarmament negotiator) primarily to speak with Biljana Plavsic. I hoped she would give us an hour; in the end it was more like seven.
Mrs. Plavsic had been a professor of microbiology at the University of Sarajevo before the troubles in Bosnia broke out. In 1990 she became an SDS (Serbian Democratic Party) deputy for Banja Luka. Later, as vice president, she was known for her fish-or-cut-bait position, telling her colleagues that they either had to win the war as quickly as possible or sign the best deal the West was willing to give. In the end, after the Americans bombed their military and civilian infrastructure to pieces—killing many civilians who were foolish enough to live near bridges—they had to accept a worse deal than, for example, the Vance-Owen plan.
After the Dayton agreement, Karadzic’s ally, Momcilo Krajsnik, was chosen to represent the Serbs in the three-man presidency of Bosnia, and Mrs. Plavsic was given the apparently lesser post of president of the RS. She took over a government with no taxation, no customs, an empty treasury, while the allies of Karadzic and Krajsnik were getting rich on bribery and corruption. Gangsters are usually willing to protect their investment, and there are rumors that there is something funny about the suicide of Vice President Nikola Koljevie (interviewed in the August 1995 issue of Chronicles), an honest man who was writing his memoirs. Koljevic’s decline and fall could be the subject of a postmodern tragedy; a scholar and idealist who saw all his noble dreams corrupted by men he trusted, a Shakespeare scholar who, as Sir Alfred Sherman observed, never understood Macbeth. Still, even for a melancholic scholar who had read Hamlet once too often, two bullets in the brain does seem excessive.
Democratically elected in 1996 as the leader of the newly formed Serbian National Party, Mrs. Plavsic brings a hardheaded pragmatism to her job as president, and even American officials have had to acknowledge that her government is a far cry from the comic opera proceedings of the Pale regime. Intelligent and principled, she has a mischievous sense of humor that she puts to good use in sticky situations. Arguing a point with the stubborn Klaus Kinekel, she told the German foreign minister, “You must be a Serb—only a Serb could be so hardheaded,” an oblique reference to so-called Lusatian Serbs in Germany.
She is, nonetheless, in a difficult position, having to deal not only with enemies in the Croat-Muslim federation and her former colleagues in Pale, but also with the hard-line regime of Slobodan Milosevic, who fears that the success of a democratic Republika Srpska will send the wrong signal to Serbs in Serbia and Montenegro.
As we speak, Mrs. Plavsic is waiting for the decision on Breko, a town originally allocated to the Serbs but still the subject of dispute. She does not think that, in the context of European union, a small Bosnian-Serb state is an absurdity. “A small compact Bosnian Serbia might thrive,” she says, “so long as it resists the imperial temptation. Pale’s mini-imperialism was fatalistic and destructive.” Her description conjures up a vision of a Serbian Slovenia, and she does not reject the comparison.
The Bosnian Serbs must learn to content themselves with half a loaf and stick closely to the letter of the Dayton Accords, without either cheating or surrendering their rights. “Let the Muslims and Croats cheat,” she says, “We shall be faithful.” But when an American diplomat (Richard Kornblum) came to her office and told her that she had to go beyond the letter and fulfill the “spirit of Dayton,” she replied with some heat that she did not believe in spirits or ghosts (the word is the same in Serbian) but would stick by the sanctity of contracts. I try to explain to her that the American diplomat is a leftist who is simply echoing the activist American judges who find laws in the spirit of the Constitution and the penumbra of the Bill of Rights.
Of herself, Biljana Plavsic says she has always been a patriot, not a nationalist, but she wonders if Americans will understand the distinction. When she asks us why Americans refuse to understand the Serbs’ problems in Bosnia, Ron Hatchett repeats to her what he heard from policymakers in Washington: “There are only ten million Serbs in the world, as opposed to one billion Muslims, who produce huge quantities of oil and offer vast markets for American business.” Almost indignantly she asks, “But why don’t they understand that we are ten million Christians?” And I try to explain that America, so far as its leadership is concerned, is a post-Christian nation.
It is hard for foreigners, who have always heard of America as one of the last Christian nations, to understand the animosity of our ruling class against the faith. A cynic might say that the real purpose of American education (and journalism and entertainment) is the de-Christianization of the people.
Of course, Orthodox Serbs are all too well aware of the communists’ persecution of the faith, and at a lecture in Montenegro, I am asked if the New World Order is a plot of the Freemasons. Another questioner, an Orthodox monk who edits a theological journal, wants to know if America’s anti-Christian bias goes back to the Civil War, when the New England deists and Unitarians conquered the trinitarian South. Shaking hands with me on the way out, Hieromonk Jovan Culibrk intones a few bars of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Mer returning to the United States, I read an article of his in which he compares Robert E. Lee with Prince Lazar (the doomed hero of Kosovo) and the tragic leader of Chetnik resistance in World War II, Draza Mihajlovic.
Montenegro is a strange paradox, an all or nothing land where atheist communists fought with religious zeal against the church, and yet today the Orthodox metropolitan archbishop may be the most widely respected man in the country. The metropolitan was kind enough to give us most of a day, and wherever we went, people came up to show him respect political leaders, businessmen, railway employees, street peddlers, college professors.
In fact, the surprising thing about Serb intellectuals is the number of them that are openly Christian. Biljana Plavsic, although a scientist, wears a cross around her neck, and on the walls of her office I count several religious images. Our conversation is interrupted by the message that the Breko decision has been postponed. According to the announcement, the decision would have gone against the Serbs, except for the progress Plavsic’s government has made in acknowledging the rights of Croats and Muslims. Although it is obviously blackmail, Plavsic is unconcerned, convinced, as she is, that the Serbs’ very survival depends on their strict compliance with Dayton. In fact, there are 18 non-Serbs among the 183 deputies in the RS parliament—a sharp contrast with the absence of Serbs in the other two legislatures.
Of course, the pressure is very one-sided. The next day Hatehett and I agree to go to Sarajevo to chat with the American ambassador about the situation. Ambassador Kauzlarich is an amiable man, who speaks highly of Mrs. Plavsic and acknowledges the tight spot she is in. Still, he complains, she ought to be flying the new Bosnian flag designed by the International High Representative, who apparently has too much time on his hands. The Westendorp flag is a cheerful Hallmark logo designed to offend nobody, inspire nobody. We point out that in our drive through the Croatian sections of the Federation, only the Croatian flag was displayed. In Sarajevo, of course, the Bosnian flag is acceptable because it represents Izetbegovic’s dream of a Muslim-dominated Bosnia, but in Croatian-held Bosnia, in the hilltop fortress over the ancient town of Jajce for example, the Ustasha checkerboard was flapping in the breeze. Jajce had been a mixed community, but Serbs without U.N. license plates would make a mistake if they stopped to take a peek at their former homes. Kauzlarich, an American of Croatian descent, persisted: “But the flag does fly in the Federation and not in the Republika Srpska.” In other words, nationalist Croats get credit for being liberal and accommodating, because they cannot prevent their Muslim allies from flying the Westendorp flag, but the Serbs’ failure to display the flag is a sign of intransigent nationalism.
There was nothing to be gained by antagonizing the ambassador. I did not even bother to point out that cars with Muslim and Croat license plates were common in the RS, while we were told —by U.N. representatives—that it was very unwise to enter the Federation with RS plates. What could happen? They could grill us for a few hours at an improvised checkpoint. Or they could let the air out of our tires. Or, if they had grounds for suspicion, they could make life even less pleasant for us. How unpleasant? In the four-hour drive back to Banja Luka, we must have seen nearly a dozen ruined Orthodox churches, most of them destroyed after the fighting was over. Some of the ruins have spray-painted graffiti celebrating the Croatian massacre of Serbs in the Krajina.
The next day we go to Mrkonjic Grad, a town named after the nom de guerre guerrilla days by Peter Karadgeordgevic, in his before he was made King Peter I. We drive past a ruined hotel. I ask the security officer who is escorting us if the Croats did this when they withdrew. “Yes,” he says, “but the hotel was owned and operated by Croats. The army wouldn’t let them stay; in fact, they rounded up most of the Croats in the area, put their furniture in trucks, and took them into Croatia.”
“The Croats are funny like that,” he explains. “In Banja Luka, the Croats are always asking me why we let the Muslims stay. ‘They stink of mutton fat. If we were in charge, we’d get rid of the lot of them.'”
In Mrkonjic Grad, the mayor takes us to the cemetery and shows us a mass grave which had contained a very few soldiers and many old people (now reburied after Orthodox funerals). When the Croatian army came in, the Serbs evacuated, and only 500 or so stayed behind. So far the townspeople have found 277 bodies of victims taken from their homes and “executed” by the army. It is a gray and windy Sunday, and the sloping graveyard is full of new graves and mourning relatives. I hardly notice when the mayor, a former high school teacher, stops to pat a monument and turns to hide his tears. Later we are told that the grave held his best friend from the army.
When international observers came to attend the opening of the mass grave at Mrkonjic Grad, the Serbs hoped that at last some recognition would be given to their victims, but it was not to be. As soon as the international humanitarians realized what the trench contained, they folded their tents and went away. One bitter particle of truth can upset the stomach of a man who has fed himself only on lies.
All poets are liars, Plato and Nietzsche claimed, and bad poets—humanitarians, statesmen, and journalists—tell the most banal lies. If a fact-or a human being—stands up to contradict them, then that fact or that human being must be eliminated. A dead Serb is like an honest Jew, a tolerant Southerner, or a hardworking black—a contradiction in terms that must be simplified, erased from the press release, stuck in a camp, or kept on welfare.
The Serbs are always and only killers, never victims, in the minds of the international observers who are writing political odes to celebrate the flag of multi-ethnic Bosnia flying merrily in the humanitarian breeze that blows through Jajce, symbolic proof that Bosnia really is one nation. That is, after all, their dream: one nation, one leader, one god—and Mohammed is his prophet.