Serbia Past and Future

EDITORIAL, 12 Feb 2010

#100 | Johan Galtung

Beograd:  The NATO attack May-June 1999 left scars still not healed, like the bombed out Ministry of the Interior (Israelis want to invest in a hotel at that site).  But the place is as vibrant with culture and restaurants-cafes and intellectualisms of all kinds as ever.  An enviable resilience.  Orthodox optimism?

Processing the past is not easy.  This authors’s summary of Serbian history adds up to three words: defeat, retreat, return.  There is the abrahamic idea of Chosen People with a Promised Land from Genesis, focused on today’s Kosovo-Kosova.  Hypothesis: whatever else happens, there will be some kind of return.  To put this author’s cards on the table I see only one relatively stable equilibrium not maintained by violence and the threat thereof(1):

* an independent Kosova in the name of self-determination,

* with a Swiss type constitution and a flexible number of cantons,

* maybe three Serbian cantons in the North and close to Pristina,

* each canton governed in that nation’s idiom as a federation,

* with open borders to the key motherlands Serbia and Albania, and

* those three countries woven together in a confederation.

The present “independence”–using a Finn as an instrument for US-Western goals is not sustainable–based on three points:

*the Serbs need a bombing,

*stop Rugova by all means, he could lead to a peaceful solution,

*present Serbia with an ultimatum: independent Kosova with a major US base and a possible pipeline, or bombing of Beograd.

It insults the Serbian basic identity need linked to territory, A “peace treaty” insulting basic needs is no peace treaty, but a recipe for future uprisings.  A policy of greed, not for pace.

But that is for the middle range future, for the immediate future is Serbian membership in the EU and in NATO, the “North Atlantic” treaty organization, operating under the mantra of “out of area or out of business”.  The allies bombed Serbia, Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan, with no evidence either of “Operation Horseshape”, nor that 9/11 came from Afghanistan, nor of Iraq WMD.

Today Yugoslavia is referred to by the “international community” as West Balkan.  A badly chosen term given: (a) the Balkans as the “unquiet corner”–invaded by the Hapsburgs and the Ottomans leaving so many faultlines behind–(b) the Balkans as a jungian shadow where the West can deposit, project, its own  inclinations, and (c) when the “unquiet” comes up, one can trust the big boys to rush in to pick up the spoils–or vice versa.

And Serbia stood in the way by not being a conduit for the wilhelminian bourgeoisie expansion plans into the Balkans, to Istanbul and beyond, to Baghdad.  And Tito did the unforgivable: he made Yugoslavia relatively independent through nonalignment, gave it some unity, and much greatness.  When Yugoslav politicians like a Leo Mates spoke, the world was listening.  When Yugoslav philosophers like the Praxis group were speaking the academic world listened, like to my friend Mihajlo Markovic who just passed away at the age of 87.  Tito died in 1980, the Cold War died ten years later, and with it that niche between West and East, North and South, that Yugoslavia had occupied with such a talent.

Tito had shortcomings, and one was the limited capacity of northwest Yugoslavs to comprehend the southeast, like Kosovo-a.  The post-Tito outcome was confusion, inability to pick up the Rugova soft policy so as to forestall the KLA used by the USA.  The result was the 1999 war, showing how easily NATO could be mobilized for what the USA or Anglo-America wanted: Serbia tamed, privatized, cut down to size; as blind to history as Austrians to the annexation of BiH in 1908 as background for Sarajevo 1914..

The US map was the Cold War map, Serbia as the Soviet Union, Beograd as Moscow, communist of course, Croatia as Poland like restless Muslims down South to be helped.  But one thing is strong centrifugal forces, quite another to take a stand against one.

For Serbia to join the European Union makes sense, like for Norway and Iceland as the US Empire used for security is declining and falling.  Inside EU a loose Yugoslav community could emerge–visa and border controls already abolished–and a reborn Nordic community.  They would both have affinities to build on beyond EU.

But to join NATO would be a major mistake, for four reasons:

[1] NATO is out of theater and out of business.  They solved neither BiH nor Kosovo-a, and may find their tomb in Afghanistan, like a couple of empires did and do.

[2] Article 5 has the usual definition of an alliance, an attack on one is an attack on all, and elicits joint action against the perpetrator. The most likely target is the USA.  With 244 military interventions in other countries, 74 after the Second world war, there are in all likelihood very many 9/11s in the making. To be in NATO means agreeing to killing Afghans, Iraqis and “terrorists” all over, like in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen.  The West and Russia intervened violently after 1830 in 26 Muslim countries so there are 21 more to go, with serious grievances.  Serbia really wants to fight on behalf of the West-Russia in all those places?

[3]  Serbia will be enticed into NATO by being offered hardware and expertise, probably at a level lower than the USA will offer Croatia.  The argument will be that money can be saved on the budget, and investments will be flowing.  Their investments, for their purposes, yes; but for sustainable Serbian policies?

[4]  To be a non-NATO hole surrounded by NATO members is less absurd than to make the same mistake as the neighbors by joining an organization started in 1949 to contain the Russians, and the “allies” as allies. The US trick is to turn a bombed-out country into an ally so that next time some part of former Yugoslavia becomes restless Serbia knows what to do: bomb it!  A good idea?

[5]  NATO membership is used by the USA to control EU.  Good idea?

What is the alternative?  An old answer, a hole surrounded by four EU members and three NATO members: Switzerland. A new answer: Turkey, now getting unstuck, making remarkable steps forward as a peace-builder with Kurds, neighbors like Syria and the Armenians and the Bulgarians and the Greeks–loosening the ties to more remote countries like Israel and the USA.  As non-aligned–not neutral, that means not having a stand, meaningless in the present world–Serbia could be a peace-maker.  With its neighbors, and they are several.  Raise to the occasion, dear Serbia!


(1) See 50 Years: 100 Peace & Conflict Perspectives, TRANSCEND University Press 2008, Chapter 27;

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 12 Feb 2010.

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