ichael . benson on Thu, 24 Jun 1999 14:16:46 +0000

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Syndicate: re: Johnstone's "great" articl

Diana Johnstone writes about American-origin myths about democracy 
and free markets being "added to the Serbian and Albanian myths to 
form a fictional screen making reality almost impossible to discern, 
much less improve" -- and then she proceeds to pour an amphora's 
worth of cliche-ridden leftist myths into the bubbling brew, just to 
blast us in the face with an even more malodorous smoke-screen. Her 
half-baked allegations about western "designs on potential pipeline 
routes to Caspian oil" (well, oil has to be in there somewhere, 
doesn't it -- even if it's inconveniently far away?) and 
"methodolog[ies] for expanding NATO as an instrument to ensure US 
hegemony over the Eurasian land mass" entirely ignore the long 
waiting list of countries in the region who are doing everything they 
can to join both NATO and the EU. They do so not because of old-style 
methods like military coercion but because of the illusion of 
prosperity and security that these institutions seem to provide. 

Johnstone's various texts are dangerous because their multiple 
footnotes and sense of being overstuffed like a fat sofa with 
research, balanced textual sources, etc. imparts a seeming 
knowledgeability about the region on her part -- a knowledgeability 
which can then be divorced from her self-evidently pro-Milosevic 
political agenda. Combined with the uncompromisingly doctrinaire, 
retro-knee-jerk lefty ideology through which she views the world, all 
of this reassures a confused left that many of their eternal verities 
remain -- well, both eternal and verities. "Aha!", they can say to 
themselves in relief after reading Johnstone: " 'one of us' who also 
happens to be a Balkan expert says so. Therefore, we can believe it!" 
They can then in good conscience stop trying to understand the 
reality of the situation, park their critical facilities in the 
long-term lot, and resume viewing NATO as satanic war-mongers, and 
anyone fighting that organization as heroic struggling partisans 
deserving of our full support (and not incidentally, "socialist" 
partisans-- even if in an inconveniently *national* context). 

By this logic any pretext for the NATO air strikes is a flimsy tissue 
of lies and propaganda; the new, unprecedentedly center-left 
leadership of NATO couldn't possibly give a toss for the Kosovar 
Albanian refugees, it's all an excuse to test new bombs and impose 
the Triumph of NATO's Will. As for the civilian Kosovar Albanians who 
have been hounded out of their homes and terrorized to the edge of 
sanity, they are actually the victims of unscrupulous nationalist 
extremists (read: the KLA), who of course had to be opposed by Serbia 
by any means necessary.  Meanwhile the intolerable conditions which 
gave rise to the disorganized, outgunned, last-resort KLA are totally 
ignored. (In fact, fire-breathing Johnstone completely fabricates the 
dismal reality of the KLA situation in saying that an ever-devious 
NATO armed the KLA in advance so that they would shoot Serbian 
policemen, "describe the inevitable police retaliation as 'ethnic 
cleansing,' promise the rebels that NATO will bomb their enemy if the 
fighting goes on, and then interpret the resulting mayhem as a 
challenge to NATO's 'resolve' which must be met by military action". 
It all sounds almost plausible -- until one considers that it's 
totally divorced from reality. What weapons the KLA has are largely a 
direct result of the civil unrest in Albania two years ago as a 
result of the collapse of state-sponsored pyramid investment schemes; 
during the resulting chaos, the arms depots of the Albanian Army were 
opened and the weapons distributed to all comers.) 

The dismal fact of a decade of unsuccessful pacifism and non-violent 
protest in Kosovo under Ibrahim Rugova -- a pacifism which only led 
to the Serbian boot being planted ever more firmly in the Kosovar 
Albanian face -- is dismissed in this world-view. Johnstone writes 
that the "establishment in the autonomous Kosovo of the 1970s and 
1980s of separate Albanian cultural institutions" was the first 
mistake made by a liberalizing Titoist Yugoslavia -- a view entirely 
in keeping with that of the most hard-line Serbian nationalists, and 
one that justified the brutal apartheid-style regime imposed on 
Kosovo by Milosevic on the region in the late 80's. "Rather than 
developing the critical spirit", Johnstone writes, "they [the Kosovar 
Albanians] developed narrow ethnocentricy." (sic) What kind of 
half-baked mumbo-jumbo is this? Is it not possible to believe that 
this nebulous "critical spirit" -- which Johnstone posits as the 
essence of enlightenment -- in fact led directly to greater 
aspirations for self-determination? The same steps which Johnstone 
says led "not to reconciliation between communities but to their 
total separation" should presumably also not have been made in the 
case of Slovenia, Macedonia, Bosnia, and Croatia, not to mention 
Vojvodina. Johnstone's thesis is that these republics and autonomous 
regions had and continue to have no right to leave Yugoslavia -- no 
matter what draconian conditions Belgrade imposes on them. 
(Incidentally, she also ignores the right to self-determination 
granted to all the full republics in the 1974 Yugoslav constitution.) 
She writes that "Bilingual comparative studies could and should have 
been a way toward mutual understanding as well as an enrichment of 
universal culture" but, remarkably, fails to note Belgrade's 
imposition of an across-the-board requirement that all education in 
Kosovo take place in the Serbian language, that Albanians be 
systematically excluded from all institutions of higher learning, not 
to mention from health care, the mass media, etc. "Instead, culture 
in the service of identity politics leads to mutual ignorance and 
contempt", she writes -- her blinkers firmly in place as she ignores 
the abysmal record of the Milosevic regime in this regard. 

Further, Johnstone believes she has located a devious conspiracy to 
demonize the Serbs in western news organizations. It is orchestrated 
by (but certainly not limited to) a baton-wielding Christiane 
Amanpour. Evidently the model of journalistic objectivity herself, 
Johnstone thus sees her way clear to dismiss the fine work of Roy 
Gutman of Newsday and John Burns of the Times, both of whom risked 
their lives for years to report the truth of the Serbian rampage in 
Bosnia. The fact that Amanpour recently married State Department 
spokesman James Rubin is also darkly cited as further evidence of a 
conspiracy. The astoundingly high Milosevic body-count over the last 
decade is dismissed as the product of ten years of conspiratorial 
efforts by the West to destabilize and destroy Yugoslavia. In her 
view, "massacres can easily be perpetrated... or 'arranged' ", in 
order to justify intervention. Why did the West want to do this? In 
order to crack Balkan territories open to carnivorous capitalism, 
pave a road to the distant Caspian, and enslave the Southern Slavs to 
the American Way -- some such crap. Anyone who has a working 
knowledge of the over-time efforts put in by the craven politicians 
of that very same West to stay as far away as possible from the 
Balkan disaster over the last decade can only view this last part as 
laughable. In fact, Bush-and-Clinton, Major, Mitterand and company 
should probably have gotten together to write a new text book on 
post-modern appeasement techniques -- in which the appearence of 
action cloaks a total unwillingness to take the political risks 
necessary to counter Serbian (or for that matter, Croatian) 
territorial conquest in Bosnia. 

This view also ignores the long line of Central and Eastern European 
nations eagerly flagging themselves, practically waving their hands 
for attention, and queuing up to try to join this same West which is 
allegedly trying to conquer the Balkans by force. Force is 
evidently not necessary -- and in fact the EU seems to be 
devising more and better ways to keep these nations out of its 
comfortable prosperity-zone for as long as possible. As for 
the Caspian oil pipeline business, even the most cursory look at the 
relative positions of Serbia and the Caspian on a map quickly renders 
it laughable. Further, in Johnstone's picture of events, any 
responsibility of Milosevic Serbia for creating an 
ever-more-perilous succession of crises, for fomenting a 
blood-thirsty nationalism spiced with the need for territorial 
conquest and ethnic purity -- the very essence of *national* 
socialism -- is discounted as a distortion of the truth. By her 
logic, the Serbs were fighting for a unified Yugoslavia and 
confronted at every turn by traitors: the fascist Croats, 
self-centered money-hungry Slovenes, and Moslem mujahadeen Bosnians 
in a conspiracy to conquer Central Europe, build mosques in Vienna, 
etc. The Serbs, in short, were actually fighting for Europe and 
European values -- even as they brutally shelled Sarajevo from the 
high surrounding hills, murdered thousands at Srebrenica, set up rape 
centers, etc. And Europe ignored this, stabbing Serbia in the back at 
the very moment when Serbia was at the front lines fighting for it. 

Johnstone, in short, has swallowed the very essence of Serbian 
propaganda -- hook, line, sinker, and a few grubby fingers from 
Milosevic's right hand as well. She then regurgitates this whole mess 
on your table, complete with a side order of well-crafted 
Euro-leftism which she evidently learned in the Greens fighting the 
deployment of Perishing missiles in the 80's. The latter was a very 
worthy effort and battle, as are the ideals of the left -- but it 
doesn't excuse this kind of blinkered apology for Serbian fascism. 
Johnstone is dangerous because her tunnel vision serves to give the 
left a very bad name exactly at a time when new thinking is required. 
As Joschka Fischer asked after being hit in the face by a paint bomb 
at the Greens convention last week: "Me, a war-monger? What next, are 
you going to nominate Milosevic for the Nobel Peace Prize?" A 
thorough reading of this and other Johnstone texts leaves me with the 
very real sense that she would in nominate the man for a Nobel Peace 
Prize. (Well, why not? They gave one to Henry Kissinger, 
after all!) 

One problem here would seem to be that the left is manifestly 
uncomfortable with being in power. The fact of its winning elections 
and earning power immediately gives grounds for accusations that 
those leading the way to that victory are in fact traitors who have 
betrayed leftist ideals. Obviously partial not just to Serbian 
war aims but also to their rhetorical justificatory techniques, 
Johnstone invokes the middle ages -- specifically, the Crusades -- 
and identifies a "sacralization" of war "largely facilitated by a 
post-communist left which has taken refuge in moralism and identity 
politics to the exclusion of any analysis of the economic and 
geopolitical factors that continue to determine the macropolicies 
shaping the world." What she appears to be calling for is a leftist 
version of unsentimental Kissengerian realpolitik, actually. And we 
are left to believe (no pun intended) that the Western European left 
when Soviet Communism ruled Eastern Europe was more ideologically 
clean and pure of motive. Well, it's true that they it was unsullied 
by being out of power. I would suggest that, like so many Slovenians 
and Croats, Johnstone seems to be nostalgic for her youth and the 
thrilling unity derived from fighting a single identifiable 
monolithic state power -- socialism for the Slovenians and Croats, 
cold-war totalitarian capitalism for Johnstone. In this way 
revolutions eat their children and prove the adage that the victory 
of any political force happens at the exact same moment that it 
splits into a thousand pieces. 

The fact is that at the dawn of the new millennium we are confronting 
a new situation, where the resources of NATO have in fact been 
committed -- however tentatively -- to war against a self-evidently 
criminal Balkan national socialist oligarchy which has reduced much 
of this part of the world to a smoking ruin over the last ten years.  
What is reprehensible is not the declared goals of that alliance but 
the fact that it took the West, which so loudly trumpeted its values 
of human rights and democracy for all the long Cold War decades, this 
long to attempt to protect the victims of Milosevic Serbia. I'm not 
saying that self-interest isn't involved. Clearly, the Western powers 
were looking at the catalogue of humiliations and appeasements 
provided by the Bosnia fiasco -- and then the final expensive 
necessity to intervene anyway -- and trying to come in early enough, 
and with enough force, to avoid a repetition of that scenario. 
Anyone who can claim (as Dejan Sretenovic did last Friday on 
syndicate) that the misery of the Kosovar Albanians started with the 
Nato airstrikes simply is living in the same fantasy land as 
Johnstone. Thousands of refugees were already living under 
plastic sheeting in the hills; there was even a typically 
cynical, manipulatory Serbian government formula leaking out of 
Dedenje which declared that "a village a day keeps NATO away." 
What has happened is that, with these Slobo Machiavellian 
machinations not keeping NATO away -- mostly due to hard-won 
knowledge derived from Serbian behavior in Bosnia -- the pace of 
ethnic cleansing was radically stepped up. But laying the 
responsibility for that at NATO's door is, it seems to me, willful 

Of course, just as Czeslaw Milosz warns in his epic poem 'Child of 
Europe', trees -- no, entire forests -- of falsehood can be grown 
from small seeds of truth. So Diana Johnstone can pepper some grains 
of reality into her texts in order to impart an aura of legitimacy 
onto her efforts on behalf of Milosevic Serbia. "The fact remains 
that there really is a very serious Kosovo problem", she writes. 
Thanks for the word.

Michael Benson  <michael.benson@pristop.si>
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