michael.benson on Fri, 13 Mar 1998 09:28:02 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> Re: Kosovo

Adrienne van Heteren writes:

     "I seriously do not understand where the thousands of
     demonstrators who were on the streets before, are now. Where are 
    the angry websites, the netcalls, the chats, the links etc. What  
   are you all doing now? Is this suddenly only a matter of nice but  
   marginal groups like Women in Black or the Peace School. Is     
   Kosovo too far away or too different? Or maybe simply not     
    important enough?"

I second the question, also seriously, and add another: How 
is it that after months of those continuous, telegenic protests, 
Milosevic (or should I simply say: that mass murderer) is still in 
power in the first place? I think it's unprecedented in modern 
history. What was that all about, anyway -- was it just a street 
party? A 'lifestyle choice?' How is it possible that half the 
'leadership' of these protests ultimately joined forces with 
Milosevic, presumably bringing their supporters with them? 

I'm sure that the street protesters of Bucharest and Prague, 
Warsaw and East Berlin -- people capable of seeing a real 
revolution through, people now essentially involved in trying to 
build some kind of reasonable representative democracy in states 
where the rule of law prevails -- can only shake their heads at the 
Belgrade example. It seems that the cynicism and sense of 
powerlessness runs so dismally deep in the Serbian body politic that 
even in the hour where victory was within their grasp, this so-called 
"opposition" called the whole thing off. As in: We were only joking. 

It's not very funny, however. 

'The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with 
passionate intensity." The ultimate 20th century statement, until 
the bitter end.

More than a decade ago, while living in Belgrade, I remember a 
species of joke in circulation which revolved around the question
of how best to get rid of the Albanian population in Kosovo. At the 
time, I remember thinking that it was probably just the local version 
of suburban American gross-out humor. Disgusting, racist, yes, but 
(relatively) harmless. It was only later that I realized that one 
person's joke can be another's very serious ideological program.

The most charitable explanation of the latest eruption of random 
shooting and eye-gouging in Kosovo -- this new harvest of 
women and children "caught in the cross-fire", as one particularly 
obscene police claim had it last week -- is that it only reconfirms 
that Serbia can boast the most manipulable population on earth. (And 
it's not as if there aren't plenty of other contenders). Serbian 
Television gives new meaning to Deleuze's observation that "language 
is a system of orders, not a medium of information." This is true 
despite websites, links, chats, mails, etc. -- or rather I should say 
it's as true there as anywhere else. (A glance at the poison 
circulating in "alt.cult.bosnia herzegovina" a couple years ago was 
enough to cure me of any misguided net utopianism.)

As for TV Serbia, one sobbing policeman's widow is seemingly 
worth a large pile of (unseen, invisible, civilian) Albanian 
bodies. I mean, after all, the Albanians are essentially subhumans, 
foreigners, the very definition of the "other", and plus they have 
too many kids anyway, don't they? Who let them onto our sacred 
soil in the first place?  

In case there is any question, it should be made clear that 
Kosovo suffers under a repressive system as brutal as apartheid, 
with a rigid exclusion of the "inferior" race from local government, 
public institutions, and schools. The police are direct instruments 
of this repression. One difference with South Africa, however, is 
that the Kosovar Albanians actually _had_ self-government as a 
semi-autonomous region under the intricate balance of power 
arrangements Josip Broz Tito engineered to try to keep Yugoslavia's 
ethnic groups more or less satisfied with their respective 
places in the scheme of things. It was one of Milosevic's 
opening acts -- in fact the moment when he discovered the power-rush 
of populist politics -- to begin the process of disrupting this 
delicate balance by taking Kosovo's autonomy away. And despite this 
outrageous act (which, in a preface to Western appeasement, 
was approved by all the other republics of former Yugoslavia), 
there's another difference with South Africa. Until very recently, 
Kosovars practiced a highly disciplined _non-violent_ resistance. It 
was only when certain elements of the Kosovar community realized they 
would be excluded from the '95 Dayton Agreement -- something which in 
effect meant the international community was abandoning them to their 
fate, i.e. domination by trigger-happy Serbian police -- that 
advocates of an armed response started to have any support.  

For Kosovo the question is how long Belgrade can pretend that a 
territory with a 90 percent Albanian population is really part of 
Serbia -- despite the medieval Orthodox patriarchates and the 
hyper-mythologized, endlessly internalized Serbian defeat by the 
Ottoman Turks in Kosovo in 1389. That's 1389! The end result of 
this kind of blut und boden retrograde ideological/televisual 
programming was clearly visible in Bosnia: simply exterminate 
the "Turks" still occupying "Serbian" land (and never mind that in 
the end those phantom Turks were harmless cousin Srdjan, the 
football player, who a couple years back was eating pork and drinking 
slivo companionably with his Serbian relatives. Not to mention 
doing his obligatory stint in the Yugoslav Army). The problem is 
that those Turks are everywhere; they infest the landscapes of the 
mind, they are always and forever intent on Serbian martyrdom. 
They're the ongoing, superserviceable bogyman. One day they're 
secular Slavic Bosnian 'Muslims', the next they're dirt-poor 
Albanians struggling to get by under the most repressive conditions 
anywhere in Europe.  In the end, surprise surprise, what these 
phantoms are good for is keeping Milosevic firmly in power. And if 
not Turks, Serbian Television can always draw on its reliable stock 
of Nazi conspiracies stemming from contemporary Bonn/Berlin, or 
devious Catholic master plans being cooked up by witches and priests 
in St. Peters, etc, etc, etc, ad nauseum. 

These durable conspiracies would be a harmless enough pathological 
pastime for Serbia -- kitschy ghosts from central casting -- if it 
wasn't for the body count resulting from the fact that, one day in 
the early 90's, Serbia and Montenegro essentially "appropriated" the 
entire Yugoslav National Army. (An institution which, whatever one 
thinks of it, or of armies in general, had been built up at great 
cost over generations by _all_ the republics of the former 
Yugoslavia, to defend that non-aligned country from foreign 

Without the fireworks only this giant army could provide (meaning the 
shelling-to-splinters of Vukovar, the torching of priceless 
Dubrovnik, the years of inexorable Sarajevo death-toll, the 
Srebrenica massacres, the squalid ethnic ghettos), Serbia's national 
pathology might once even have earned some international sympathy. 
And I'm not talking about Russia here. It's far too late for that 
now, and not only because in its self-destructive course Serbia has 
found ample grounds to confirm and re-validate it's martyrdom 
complex. It's too late because of the mass executions, the rapes, 
and all the rest of the sordid recreational activities which will 
stain the name of Serbia for decades to come. By now any possibility 
of sympathy from the outside world has been, I think, replaced by a 
generalized wish that, if Serbia isn't capable of recognizing and 
trying to atone for the crimes that it has committed, or even capable 
of deposing the madman most responsible for initiating and 
planning those crimes -- well maybe they could simply go away, 
please, quietly if possible, and leave everybody, and especially the 
long-suffering Kosovars and Bosniaks, alone for a change. Or is this 
just more Turkish-German-Vatican propaganda?

One thing I'd like to make clear. When I refer to "the Serbs" 
or Serbia here, I'm not talking about the entirety of the Serbian 
nation, or demonizing an ethnic group. That would be making 
the same mistake that seems to repeat, like endlessly regurgitated 
sputum, down through human history. In fact there are many brave 
individuals who have shown themselves capable of moral clarity and 
tenacious activism in Serbia, and there are many more who "voted with 
their feet" at the beginning of the mess, and live now in a kind of 
disillusioned diaspora. What I _am_ referring to is a very real fluid 
aggregate, a liquid near-majority capable of almost voting 
pathological killer Vojslav Seselj into office because Milosevic 
didn't finish the job to their satisfaction. This manipulable mass, 
in my opinion, has long ago worn out any chance of redemption. 
And given Serbia's current behavior and policies, unfortunately this 
is what I have to mean when I say Serbia.

Finally, about Milosevic. It's too easy at this stage for the 
dominant population of post-Yugoslavia to just blame him, say "he 
did it", and walk away. That would be comparable to Communist East 
Germany blaming it all on the fascists, saying "after all, we were 
the good guys", and not even attempting to deal with the implications 
of German war crimes. That was part of the problem I had with those 
Belgrade street protests; it was too easy. Still, in the end it 
really _is_ all about Milosevic; specifically, his need to stay in 
power, and at all costs. From his perspective, since those costs are 
payable in human lives, which mean nothing to him, why 
would it be a problem to "spend" them as freely as all those 
mass-produced Yugoslav dinars instantly devalued by hyperinflation? 
If ever there was a case of the ends justifying the means, this is 
it. And the result is a shattered generation.  If there's any hope 
for Serbia, it will begin when a majority of the population 
recognizes the principle of the above mechanism, while accepting 
their share of the blame. 

Nettimers: regarding the above, I'm sorry to go "off-topic" 
here, if I did. I think it's because the Kosovars are caught in a 
very different net -- the kind that takes no prisoners. We have the 
luxury, after all, of simply logging off.

Michael Benson  
website: http://lois.kud-fp.si/kinetikon/ 

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