Inke Arns on Wed, 07 Apr 1999 11:32:28 +0200

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Syndicate: Slavoj Zizek: Against the Double Blackmail

[dear friends, this arrived through Moscow and Vienna yesterday; a shorter
German translation was published in Die Zeit, 31 March 1999. Greetings, -i]


Slavoj Zizek

The top winner in the contest for the greatest blunder of 1998 was a
Latin-American patriotic terrorist who sent a bomb letter to a US consulate
in order to protest against the American interfering into the local
politics. As a conscientious citizen, he wrote on the envelope his return
address; however, he did not put enough stamps on it, so that the post
returned the letter to him. Forgetting what he put in it, he opened it and
blew himself to death - a perfect example of how, ultimately, a letter
always arrives at its destination. And is not something quite similar
happening to the Slobodan Milosevic regime with the recent NATO bombing? It
is interesting to watch in the last days the Serbian satellite state TV
which targets foreign public: no reports on atrocities in Kosovo, refugees
are mentioned only as people fleeing NATO bombing, so that the overall idea
is that Serbia, the island of peace, the only place in ex-Yugoslavia that
was not touched by the war raging all around it, is not irrationally
attacked by the NATO madmen destroying bridges and hospitals... For years,
Milosevic was sending bomb letters to his neighbors, from the Albanians to
Croatia and Bosnia, keeping himself out of the conflict while igniting fire
all around Serbia - finally, his last letter returned to him. Let us hope
that the result of the NATO intervention will be that Milosevic will be
proclaimed the political blunderer of the year.

	And there is a kind of poetic justice in the fact that the West finally
intervened apropos of Kosovo - let us not forget that it was there that it
all began with the ascension to power of Milosevic: this ascension was
legitimized by the promise to amend the underprivileged situation of Serbia
within the Yugoslav federation, especially with regard to the Albanian
"separatism." Albanians were Milosevic's first target; afterwards, he
shifted his wrath onto other Yugoslav republics (Slovenia, Croatia,
Bosnia), until, finally, the focus of the conflict returned to Kosovo - as
in a closed loop of Destiny, the arrow returned to the one who lanced it by
way of setting free the spectre of ethnic passions. This is the key point
worth remembering: Yugoslavia did not start to disintegrate when the
Slovene "secession" triggered the domino-effect (first Croatia, then
Bosnia, Macedonia.); it was already at the moment of Milosevic's
constitutional reforms in 1987, depriving Kosovo and Vojvodina of their
limited autonomy, that the fragile balance on which Yugoslavia rested was
irretrievably disturbed. >From that moment onwards, Yugoslavia continued to
live only because it didn't yet notice it was already dead - it was like
the proverbial cat in the cartoons walking over the precipice, floating in
the air, and falling down only when it becomes aware that it has no ground
under its feet. From Milosevic's seizure of power in Serbia onwards, the
only actual chance for Yugoslavia to survive was to reinvent its formula:
either Yugoslavia under Serb domination or some form of radical
decentralization, from a loose confederacy to the full sovereignty of its

	It is thus easy to praise the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia as the first case
of an intervention - not into the confused situation of a civil war, but -
into a country with full sovereign power. Is it not comforting to see the
NATO forces intervene not for any specific economico-strategic interests,
but simply because a country is cruelly violating the elementary human
rights of an ethnic group? Is not this the only hope in our global era - to
see some internationally acknowledged force as a guarantee that all
countries will respect a certain minimum of ethical (and, hopefully, also
health, social, ecological) standards? However, the situation is more
complex, and this complexity is indicated already in the way NATO justifies
its intervention: the violation of human rights is always accompanied by
the vague, but ominous reference to "strategic interests." The story of
NATO as the enforcer of the respect for human rights is thus only one of
the two coherent stories that can be told about the recent bombings of
Yugoslavia, and the problem is that each story has its own rationale. The
second story concerns the other side of the much-praised new global ethical
politics in which one is allowed to violate the state sovereignty on behalf
of the violation of human rights. The first glimpse into this other side is
provided by the way the big Western media selectively elevate some local
"warlord" or dictator into the embodiment of Evil: Sadam Hussein,
Milosevic, up to the unfortunate (now forgotten) Aidid in Somalia - at
every point, it is or was "the community of civilized nations against...".
And on what criteria does this selection rely? Why Albanians in Serbia and
not also Palestinians in Israel, Kurds in Turkey, etc.etc? Here, of course,
we enter the shady world of international capital and its strategic interests.

	According to the "Project CENSORED," the top censored story of 1998 was
that of a half-secret international agreement in working, called MAI (the
Multilateral Agreement on Investment). The primary goal of MAI will be to
protect the foreign interests of multinational companies. The agreement
will basically undermine the sovereignty of nations by assigning power to
the corporations almost equal to those of the countries in which these
corporations are located. Governments will no longer be able to treat their
domestic firms more favorably than foreign firms. Furthermore, countries
that do not relax their environmental, land-use and health and labor
standards to meet the demands of foreign firms may be accused of acting
illegally. Corporations will be able to sue sovereign state if they will
impose too severe ecological or other standards - under NAFTA (which is the
main model for MAI), Ethyl Corporation is already suing Canada for banning
the use of its gasoline additive MMT. The greatest threat is, of course, to
the developing nations which will be pressured into depleting their natural
resources for commercial exploitation. Renato Ruggerio, director of the
World Trade Organization, the sponsor of MAI, is already hailing this
project, elaborated and discussed in a clandestine manner, with almost no
public discussion and media attention, as the "constitution for a new
global economy." And, in the same way in which, already for Marx, market
relations provided the true foundation for the notion of individual
freedoms and rights, THIS is also the obverse of the much-praised new
global morality celebrated even by some neoliberal philosophers as
signalling the beginning of the new era in which international community
will establish and enforce some minimal code preventing sovereign state to
engage in crimes against humanity even within its own territory. And the
recent catastrophic economic situation in Russia, far from being the
heritage of old Socialist mismanagement, is a direct result of this global
capitalist logic embodied in MAI.   

	This other story also has its ominous military side. The ultimate lesson
of the last American military interventions, from the Operation Desert Fox
against Iraq at the end of 1998 to the present bombing of Yugoslavia, is
that they signal a new era in military history - battles in which the
attacking force operates under the constraint that it can sustain no
casualties. When the first stealth-fighter fell down in Serbia, the
emphasis of the American media was that there were no casualties - the
pilot was SAVED! (This concept of "war without casualties" was elaborated
by General Collin Powell.) And was not the counterpoint to it the almost
surreal way CNN reported on the war: not only was it presented as a TV
event, but the Iraqi themselves seem to treat it this way - during the day,
Bagdad was a "normal" city, with people going around and following their
business, as if war and bombardment was an irreal nightmarish spectre that
occurred only during the night and did not take place in effective reality?

	Let us recall what went on in the final American assault on the Iraqi
lines during the Gulf War: no photos, no reports, just rumours that tanks
with bulldozer like shields in front of them rolled over Iraqi trenches,
simply burying thousands of troops in earth and sand - what went on was
allegedly considered too cruel in its shere mechanical efficiency, too
different from the standard notion of a heroic face to face combat, so that
images would perturb too much the public opinion and a total censorship
black-out was stritly imposed. Here we have the two aspects joined
together: the new notion of war as a purely technological event, taking
place behind radar and computer screens, with no casualties, AND the
extreme physical cruelty too unbearable for the gaze of the media - not the
crippled children and raped women, victims of caricaturized local ethnic
"fundamentalist warlords," but thousands of nameless soldiers, victims of
nameless efficient technological warfare. When Jean Baudrillard made the
claim that the Gulf War did not take place, this statement could also be
read in the sense that such traumatic pictures that stand for the Real of
this war were totally censured...

	How, then, are we to think these two stories together, without sacrificing
the truth of each of them? What we have here is a political example of the
famous drawing in which we recognize the contours either of a rabbit head
or of a goose head, depending on our mental focus. If we look at the
situation in a certain way, we see the international community enforcing
minimal human rights standards on a nationalist neo-Communist leader
engaged in ethnic cleansing, ready to ruin his own nation just to retain
power. If we shift the focus, we see NATO, the armed hand of the new
capitalist global order, defending the strategic interests of the capital
in the guise of a disgusting travesty, posing as a disinterested enforcer
of human rights, attacking a sovereign country which, in spite of the
problematic nature of its regime, nonetheless acts as an obstacle to the
unbriddled assertion of the New World Order.

	However, what if one should reject this double blackmail (if you are
against NATO strikes, you are for Milosevic's proto-Fascist regime of
ethnic cleansing, and if you are against Milosevic, you support the global
capitalist New World Order)? What if this very opposition between
enlightened international intervention against ethnic fundamentalists, and
the heroic last pockets of resistance against the New World Order, is a
false one? What if phenomena like the Milosevic regime are not the opposite
to the New World Order, but rather its SYMPTOM, the place at which the
hidden TRUTH of the New World Order emerges? Recently, one of the American
negotiators said that Milosevic is not only part of the problem, but rather
THE problem itself. However, was this not clear FROM THE VERY BEGINNING?
Why, then, the interminable procrastination of the Western powers, playing
for years into Milosevic's hands, acknowledging him as a key factor of
stability in the region, misreading clear cases of Serb aggression as civil
or even tribal warfare, initially putting the blame on those who
immediately saw what Milosevic stands for and, for that reason, desperately
wanted to escape his grasp (see James Baker's public endorsement of a
"limited military intervention" against Slovene secession), supporting the
last Yugoslav prime minister Ante Markovic, whose program was, in an
incredible case of political blindness, seriously considered as the last
chance for a democratic market-oriented unified Yugoslavia, etc.etc.? When
the West fights Milosevic, it is NOT fighting its enemy, one of the last
points of resistance against the liberal-democratic New World Order; it is
rather fighting its own creature, a monster that grew as the result of the
compromises and inconsistencies of the Western politics itself. (And,
incidentally, it is the same as with Iraq: its strong position is also the
result of the American strategy of containing Iran.) 

	So, precisely as a Leftist, my answer to the dilemma "Bomb or not?" is:
not yet ENOUGH bombs, and they are TOO LATE. In the last decade, the West
followed a Hamlet-like procrastination towards Balkan, and the present
bombardment has effectively all the signs of Hamlet's final murderous
outburst in which a lot of people unnecessarily die (not only the King, his
true target, but also his mother, Laertius, Hamlet himelf...), because
Hamlet acted too late, when the proper moment was already missed. So the
West, in the present intervention which displays all the signs of a violent
outburst of impotent aggressivity without a clear political goal, is now
paying the price for the years of entertaining illusions that one can make
a deal with Milosevic: with the recent hesitations about the ground
intervention in Kosovo, the Serbian regime is, under the pretext of war,
launching the final assault on Kosovo and purge it of most of the
Albanians, cynically accepting bombardments as the price to be paid. When
the Western forces repeat all the time that they are not fighting the
Serbian people, but only their corrupted regime, they rely on the typically
liberal wrong premise that the Serbian people are just victims of their
evil leadership personified in Milosevic, manipulated by him. The painful
fact is that Serb aggressive nationalism enjoys the support of the large
majority of the population - no, Serbs are not passive victims of
nationalist manipulation, they are not Americans in disguise, just waiting
to be delivered from the bad nationalist spell.

	More precisely, the misperception of the West is double: this notion of
the bad leadership manipulating the good people is accompanied by the
apparently contradictory notion according to which, Balkan people are
living in the past, fighting again old battles, perceiving recent situation
through old myths... One is tempted to say that these two notions should be
precisely TURNED AROUND: not only are people not "good," since they let
themselves be manipulated with obscene pleasure; there are also no "old
myths" which we need to study if we are really to understand the situation,
just the PRESENT outburst of racist nationalism which, according to its
needs, opportunistically resuscitates old myths...  

	So, on the one hand, we have the obscenities of the Serb state propaganda:
they regularily refer to Clinton not as "the American president," but as
"the American Fuehrer"; two of the transparents on their state-organized
anti-Nato demonstrations were "Clinton, come here and be our Monica!" (i.e.
suck our...), and "Monica, did you suck out also his brain?". The
atmosphere in Belgrade is, at least for the time being, carnavalesque in a
faked way - when they are not in shelters, people dance to rock or ethnic
music on the streets, under the motto "With poetry and music against
bombs!", playing the role of the defying heroes (since they know that NATO
does not really bomb civilian targets and that, consequently, they are
safe!). This is where the NATO planners got it wrong, caught in their
schemes of strategic reasoning, unable to forecast that the Serb reaction
to bombardment will be a recourse to a collective Bakhtinian
carnivalization of the social life... This pseudo-authentic spectacle,
although it may fascinate some confused Leftists, is effectively the other,
public, face of ethnic cleansing: in Belgrade people are defiantly dancing
on the streets while, three hundred kilometers to the South, a genocide of
African proportions is taking place... And the Western counterpoint to this
obscenity is the more and more openly racist tone of its reporting: when
the three American soldiers were taken prisoners, CNN dedicated the first
10 minutes of the News to their predicament (although everyone knew that
NOTHING will happen to them!), and only then reported on the tens of
thousands of refugees, burned villages and Pristina turning into a ghost
town. Where is the so-much-praised Serb "democratic opposition" to protest
THIS horror taking place in their own backyard, not only the - till now, at
least, bombardments with relatively very low casualties?

	In the recent struggle of the so-called "democratic opposition" in Serbia
against the Milosevic's regime, the truly touchy topic is the stance
towards Kosovo: as to this topic, the large majority of the "democratic
opposition" unconditionally endorses Milosevic's anti-Albanian nationalist
agenda, even accusing him of making compromises with the West and
"betraying" Serb national interests in Kosovo. In the course of the student
demonstrations against the Milosevic's Socialist Party falsification of the
election results in the Winter of 1996, the Western media who closely
followed the events and praised the revived democratic spirit in Serbia,
rarely mentioned the fact that one of the regular slogans of the
demonstrators against the special police forces was "Instead of kicking us,
go to Kosovo and kick out the Albanians!". In today's Serbia, the absolute
sine qua non of an authentic political act would thus be to unconditionally
reject the ideological topos of the "Albanian threat to Serbia." 

	One thing is for sure: the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia will change the
global geopolitic coordinates. The unwritten pact of peaceful coexistence
(the respect of each state's full sovereignty, i.e. non-interference in
internal affairs, even in the case of the grave violation of human rights)
is over. However, the very first act of the new global police force
usurping the right to punish sovereign states for their wrongdoings already
signals its end, its own undermining, since it immediately became clear
that this universality of human rights as its legitimization is false, i.e.
that the attacks on selective targets protect particular interests. The
NATO bombardments of Yugoslavia also signal the end of any serious role of
UN and Security Council: it is NATO under US guidance that effectively
pulls the strings. Furthermore, the silent pact with Russia that held till
now is broken: in the terms of this pact, Russia was publicly treated as a
superpower, allowed to maintain the appearance of being one, on condition
that it did not effectively act as one. Now Russia's humiliation is open,
any pretense of dignity is unmasked: Russia can only openly resist or
openly comply with Western pressure. The further logical result of this new
situation will be, of course, the renewed rise of anti-Western resistance
from Eastern Europe to the Third World, with the sad consequence that
criminal figures like Milosevic will be elevated into the model fighters
against the New World Order. 

	So the lesson is that the alternative between the New World Order and the
neoracist nationalists opposing it is a false one: these are the two sides
of the same coin - the New World Order itself breeds monstrosities that it
fights. Which is why the protests against bombing from the reformed
Communist parties all around Europe, inclusive of PDS, are totally
misdirected: these false protesters against the NATO bombardment of Serbia
are like the caricaturized pseudo-Leftists who oppose the trial against a
drug dealer, claiming that his crime is the result of social pathology of
the capitalist system. The way to fight the capitalist New World Order is
not by supporting local proto-Fascist resistances to it, but to focus on
the only serious question today: how to build TRANSNATIONAL political
movements and institutions strong enough to seriously constraint the
unlimited rule of the capital, and to render visible and politically
relevant the fact that the local fundamentalist resistances against the New
World Order, from Milosevic to le Pen and the extreme Right in Europe, are
part of it?

i n k e . a r n s __________________________ b e r l i n ___
49.(0)30.3136678 | |
mikro: | Syndicate Network:

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