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<nettime> Saving private Havel

The official Bastard-statement on the war in Yugoslavia
by Boris Buden (editor in chief, Zagreb/Vienna)

Titel: Saving Private Havel

New graffiti is to be seen these days in bombed Belgrade. SLOBO KLINTONE
(Slobo, you Clinton!). This simple but poignant message reveals the abyss
in which a genuinely democratic stance has fallen since the beginning of
the NATO military campaign against Yugoslavia. It illustrates not only the
political deadlock of the democratic option: the intrinsic impossibility
of a choice between the front-lines of two antagonistic sides; or an
extremely dangerous folie a deux, which has developed its own dynamics of
escalation without predictable consequences. The truly witty
identification of the two leaders of the belligerent sides also indicated
to what extent they are related on a much deeper level. In an open letter
addressed to his friends in Yugoslavia two days after the first bombs
fell, the Slovenian publicist Lev Kreft emphasised the hopeless situation
of Serbian democrats "wedged between Sloba and Bill," by the way he
related his vision of Clinton walking the streets of Pristina and saying
to the Albanians: "As long as I am with you, no one should dare to beat
you." People acquainted with the recent history of the Kosovo crises are
familiar with Kreft's allusion. On April 24, 1987 in Kosovo Polje, a
Serbian dominated suburb of Pristina, Milosevic bellowed this phrase to a
crowd of Serbs protesting against Albanian oppression. The police,
controlled by Albanian officials used night-sticks to break up the crowd,
but Milosevic, at that time the head of the Serbian Communist Party,
stepped out to protect them. This phrase "enthroned him as a tsar",
according to M. Solevic, one of the leaders of the Kosovo Serbs. Looking
back, this phrase changed the course of events that have culminated in the
NATO attack on Yugoslavia. But how can we understand what really happened
there? During his famous speech in Kosovo Polje Milosevic called the
Kosovo Serbs: "You should stay here. This is your land. These are your
houses. Your meadows and gardens. Your memories. You shouldn't abandon
your land ... " He appealed neither to some kind of communist ideology nor
to national values, but rather invoked universal human rights. The famous
switch from communism to nationalism did not occur directly. There was a
"humanitarian mediator". Milosevic offered to protect the rights of a
minority oppressed by a majority, and under the auspices of the given
constitutional framework of Albanian autonomy, the majority had the state
on its side. For Milosevic the system was too narrow to cope with the
problem, and therefore he stepped outside of it. His solution was to be
found "either through the existing institutions or not. On the streets or
inside, by populist or elite methods." This was the start of Milosevic's
so-called "anti-bureaucratic revolution": encouraging the solution of a
political problem by ignoring the "bureaucratic obstacles" inherent in a
given institutional system. The analogy between the way Milosevic and
Clinton treat similar political problems is obvious. Was it not the
humanitarian argument - instead of a clear political objective - that has
been used by NATO to justify its military intervention in Yugoslavia? Have
the interventionists not ignored the legal, institutional framework of the
UN Security Council, the UN Charter and consequently international law?
Both Milosevic and Clinton have done the same: they identified some
fundamental human right, hegemonized it, bypassed an "obsolete"
institutional framework and acted. In this respect, one could say that
Milosevic already has won the war. He lured NATO into playing his dirty
game. The breakdown of former Yugoslavia showed us all how dangerous this
kind of game can be. It was Milosevic who started to ignore the Yugoslav
institutions in 1987, to undermine their authority, and ultimately to
demolish them. What are the dangers of a world-wide "anti-bureaucratic
revolution" today, set into motion by NATO? This remains to be seen.

Forward into the better past

At this point we should perhaps recall the famous aphorism (attributed to
Winston Churchill) about democracy: the worst of all possible systems, but
there is no other which would be better. Certainly an attempt to act
politically or militarily to protect or promote human rights in a
sovereign country where they are being violated by the state itself could
be always blocked in the Security Council, due to the "conflict of
interests" among its members. In other words, there is always some kind of
antagonism which cannot be completely resolved, and this makes the
Security Council the worse of all possible security councils. But do we
have a better one? NATO has treated UN institutions in the manner which
Bolsheviks treated the democratic institution of parliament - as a
bourgeois club where genuine rights have no chance of being recognised and
will be blocked by some particular class interest. Therefore, the
Bolsheviks eliminated the parliament, and the consequences thereof are
today usually summed up under the concept of totalitarianism. They did it
in the name of some common good, of course, in the same manner in which
NATO is demolishing the institutions of international law today. However,
NATO is acting as much in the favour of the so-called common good as the
Bolsheviks did, and it represents an instance of universal human rights,
just as the Serbian Communist Party leader Milosevic did 12 years ago in
Kosovo Polje. This fact should be obvious to the world public. After all,
how can one claim to be a protector of minority rights after having
provided extensive military and political support for severe oppression of
some other minority, like the Kurds? Even if the use of force has to be
recognised as a justified means of achieving democratic goals, how can one
bomb Belgrade without bombing Ankara? Why not bomb Moscow because of
Chechnya, or Peking because of Tibet? "Why can't we do to our Albanians,
what Turks have done to their Kurds?" may seem to be a peculiar
justification, but as long as the opponent's position is untouched by the
universality of justice as well, there does not appear to be an
appropriate answer to this cynical question. There is always a particular
political goal which should be considered beyond all the humanitarian
rhetoric. What is then the political objective of the NATO intervention in
Yugoslavia? As far as we know, this ought to be a political autonomy for
the Albanians within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: something they
already had under the Tito Constitution of 1974 and which was taken away
from them by Milosevic in 1989. NATO wants to give this institutional
framework back to them. As a political project, this endeavour is a
historical scandal: nineteen of the most advanced liberal-democratic
states of the world bombing an ex-communist one to reinstate a communist
political status quo ante. NATO is bombing its political way into a better
past. How can this desperate political eclecticism be understood? Why has
NATO turned communist or "Yugo-nostalgic," now that it is really too late?
The pre-1990 Yugoslav Federation (which actually was a confederation) in
which Serbs accounted for no more the 37 % of the entire population was
the only realistic institutional and political framework for the political
autonomy of Kosovo. Under democratic conditions in that Yugoslavia, a
politician such as Milosevic never would have had a chance to win an
election with a Serbian nationalist program.

A dwarf, not a giant

This political nonsense of the NATO military engagement in Yugoslavia
reveals its very sense. Bombs are not falling to enforce some political
solution. They ARE this political solution. After only a week of bombing
president Clinton stated explicitly what the objective of this bombing
was: victory. Whatever this means politically. There is no political
strategy behind NATO. Its members have never made a choice between two
contradictory principles: state sovereignty or national
self-determination, both they have chosen to recognise and violate at the
same time. NATO is without a global democratic solution for this dilemma:
one that can claim universal validity, challenge the existing world order,
and insist upon its radical reform. This circumstance explains best why
NATO cites "humanitarian causes" as a motive for military intervention and
not the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? For the "humanitarian
cause" is the highest possible level of universalisation, that the USA and
its NATO-allies can afford, not merely a rhetorical excuse for the
promotion of some dirty power interests, as so many leftists claim today.
There is no so-called hidden agenda of the NATO military action in
Yugoslavia: an alleged plan to control the Central Asian oil over
Kosovo-crossroad or even to seize the gold which, as is rumoured, has
recently been found there. The old-fashioned materialistic fantasy about
politics as a superstructure of some basic economic interests doesn't help
us to understand the true motive of the NATO intervention. Rather it
suppresses its real political meaning in the same way as the humanitarian
rhetoric does. For what is hidden behind the both is not an insatiable
imperialist giant, but a poor, frustrated and confused political dwarf.
Nothing expresses this fact better then the ever-larger waves of moral
scandalising over the tragical fate of the innocent victims of war and
genocide. The real scandal today, at the end of 20th century is not the
fact that people are being expelled from their homes, raped and killed
before the eyes of a helpless democratic audience, (in view of our own
historical experience made in this century, this is rather trivial) but
the truth that this democratic audience and its political representatives
still don't have any political answer to this challenge. The ideological
purpose of the humanitarian approach is then to represent war as some kind
of natural catastrophe. It naturalises social and political phenomena and
in a way that blocks any kind of rational political engagement. It leaves
only two actors on the stage of history: an anonymous mass of innocent
victims and a couple of pathological monsters. To help the one, means to
exterminate the other. Concrete political antagonisms, the whole
battlefield of political concepts and their protagonists no longer appear
on the scene. This distorted picture of a particular historical situation
is completely at odds with reality, but of course not with needs of those
who have produced it. As a genuine ideological fantasy it serves its
purpose even if it is extremely contrafactual. That what everybody could
perceive as a simple lie - "We bomb Milosevic. Not Serbian people"- proves
to be a very useful lie for both: for those who are bombed as well as for
those who bomb. For it makes Serbian people retroactively innocent, i.e.
not responsible for all the atrocities either committed by war criminals
living undisturbed among them or induced by the politicians freely elected
by those same people. On the other hand, it buttresses the illusion that
people in a democratic system never make a false choice. And if they make
one, it is always due to a "lack of objective information". If Serbs in
Belgrade would know what their soldiers and policemen are up to now in
Kosovo, i. e. brutal ethnic cleansing, they wouldn't allow this to happen.
Unfortunately, the evil dictator has robbed them of free media, and has
thus turned them into innocent victims of manipulation. Of course, it is
the western democratic audience who gives much more credence to this naive
illusion then the Serbs themselves. It helps them to suppress perhaps the
severest trauma of democracy - the fact that there is no hundred percent
reliable fuse which can completely protect democracy from its regression
into some kind of totalitarianism. In the whole ideological edifice "free
media" play only the role of the so-called subjective factor. If the
system works is thanks to them. If it doesn't, there is its failure to be

Transparency of evil

Certainly Serbs in Belgrade know enough about ethnic cleansing of
Albanians in Kosovo, at least, no less then they knew about what happened
to Vukovar or later in Sarajevo. In that sense they don't differ from
Croats who are well-aware of the fact that 400 000 Serbs were forced to
leave Croatia over the last ten years and of their 24 000 burned homes;
who know by name their own war criminals with whom they live in peaceful
coexistence without ever thinking of prosecuting them. Croats - with some
exceptions, albeit ones without any real significance for the political
situation - have never asked their Serb compatriots to return back, nor,
for all that matter, would Serbs ask the expelled Albanians. If there is
some lesson to be learned from the Yugoslav disaster, then it is about the
full transparency of evil. Nothing has happened in these to date ten years
of war what hadn't been "entirely predictable", and what hadn't been even
announced in advance. Why then such common outcry over the genocide in
Kosovo now after the same practices have been closely followed all over
former Yugoslavia for almost a decade? Why hadn't there been an outcry
before the war ever has started, when today's President of Croatia Tudjman
published his book with the idea that a genocide could have entirely
positive consequences because it "leads to an ethnical homogenisation of a
given nation and therefore ... to more harmony ..."? A politician
endorsing such idea was financially, politically and later militarily
backed by the countries now most engaged in the NATO war campaign in
Yugoslavia. Both Tudjman and Milosevic had outlined the later ethnic
cleansing in Bosnia even before the war in Slovenia (1991) have ever got
underway, and this, too, is a well-known fact. Those who for instance ask
why it is that today's Pol Pot of the Balkans, Slobodan Milosevic, still
yesterday was accepted everywhere as a reliable negotiator, we could reply
by asking a more cynical question: What is actually wrong with Pol Pot
since it was the United States which protested against the Vietnamese
military intervention in the Red Khmer's Kampuchea.

We'll bomb you into stone-innocence

"Only a stone is completely innocent," Hegel once wrote. If this makes any
sense then in politics. Neither the Serbs in Belgrade are innocent, nor is
the western democratic audience. The alleged innocence of both is only a
retroactive effect of a common depolitization taking place within a
humanitarian framework. In any case, humanitarianism today is not only a
new opium for people which makes them blind to the political meaning of
historical events. Its ideological use is of much greater importance. The
best example of this is the attempt to find some juristically plausible
justification for the military intervention in Yugoslavia, which according
to international law is illegal. Here the notion of "humanitarian
intervention" is used to argue that it is a matter of "custom and
practice". To be sure, "customs and practices" are never universal. They
vary according to different cultural identities. "Serbian genocide of
Albanians" is a crime against humanity only because it doesn't fit
European cultural standards - thus military intervention is called for. By
the same token, a "Turkish genocide of Kurds" is a peculiar Turkish custom
which depending on our interests we either support or sadly regret. Not
only democracy and justice are particular customs, war is one as well.
Instead of understanding its political logic, the West has throughout only
seen "people who have been fighting each other for centuries" in the
Balkans. War has been a part of their cultural identity and there was no
reason to intervene in it. One could recall the words of Marion Graefin
Doenhoff, who in September 1991 wrote on the front page of "Die Zeit": "It
would be crazy to intervene militarily in this Balkan chaos of one's own
free will. It would be pure madness. (...) But if they are determined to
vent to their Serbo-Croatian hatred, then one should leave them to it."
Far from being simply an excuse to further the cause of a military
intervention, humanitarianism even hinders it. That is why it always seems
that military interventions in former Yugoslavia come too late. They were
late because they were following a humanitarian logic, instead of a
political one. Thus, they don't prevent humanitarian catastrophes. They
actually produce them by making humanitarian sense of their political
nonsense. Kosovo today is the best example of this. Humanitarianism is the
last one conceptual framework of the practical universalism and in that
sense, it is only a symptom of the politics which has renounced all its
universal claims. The western democratic world, now represented by NATO,
is not capable of coping with the deepest crises of the world political
order. It lacks a global vision within which it would be possible to shape
the politics of human rights in keeping with its projected universal
validity. Thus the bombs on Yugoslavia are merely an ersatz for this
ideological and political failure. They are dropped not to save universal
human rights but to protect particular western customs, and what they
damage most is the already existing world order, granted rather imperfect
one, - but the only one we have. It obviously has to be changed, if not
revolutionised. However, feeble political NATO-mind is least able to do

A collateral gain

If the face of the inevitable victory of democracy in the wake of
communism's fall was ever visible, then it was the face of Vaclav Havel.
Ten years ago, he stood for all of the universal values of democratic
civilisation from Magna Carta to Frank Zappa. At that time he opened up
the perspective of a world-wide reinvention of democracy, extending much
further than the simple adaptation of the postcommunist countries to the
liberal capitalism of the West. In his Presidential Address given two
years ago in Washington under the title "The Charms of Nato" Havel was
enthusiastic about an America which assumes its responsibility for the
whole world. It should do it in the way which, as he said, "should embody
those premises that have a chance of saving our global civilisations ...
values that should be adopted today by all cultures, all nations, as a
condition of their survival." And he welcomed of course the decision to
include three Eastern European nations in NATO. These three countries,
Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic finally became members of the Western
military alliance, shortly before the first bombs fell on Belgrade. As a
consequence, the greatest personification of democracy in the recent
history was also drafted. Today when the bombs are falling on Belgrade the
brave soldier Havel obsequiously joins in. Do these bombs really represent
what he expected "to save our global civilisation"? Should they, as a an
appropriate means of solving our political problems, really "be adopted
today by all cultures, all nations, as a condition of their survival"? Can
they really save the hope for democracy, once personified by Vaclav Havel
- the last vivid symbol of a moral and political liaison between the
western world and the universal idea of democracy? It seems that democracy
has again lost its face. This in itself is not so bad. Moreover, this
could be the only "collateral gain" from the damage done to democracy by
the NATO military intervention in Yugoslavia. "Slobo, you Clinton!", marks
not only the radical impossibility of a genuine democratic stance.
Democracy's only chance lies in the fact that it has no more its fixed
place within the existing political framework, nor a recognizable
personification. Its meaning is freely floating again and can be caught
only by our imagination. It is up to us to reinvent its futur perspective.
And make use of that freedom here and now.

boris buden
engerthstrasse 51/10/16
a-1200 wien
tel. (+43 1) 3336174

boris buden
republike austrije 17/1
hr-10000 zagreb
tel. (+385 1) 3777866
fax. (+385 1) 3777867

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