Friday, June 25, 2021

Ignore the lessons of Yugoslavia at your peril

or, why 'Balkanization' isn't what you think and "retreat to hold" strategy is doomed to fail

On this day, 30 years ago, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence and the slow and violent death of Yugoslavia officially began. My American readers may not care about this quaint historical fact, except they should. As someone who lived through the demise of Yugoslavia, it's my duty to warn them there are entirely too many similarities between what happened there and what's afflicting their own country right about now. 

Yugoslavia, too, believed in diversity as strength (called "brotherhood and unity") and "equity" (equality of outcomes, achieved by elevating some and denigrating others). There, too, everyone was equal - but the ruling politicians were more equal than others. There, too, inflation and national debt were spiraling out of control.

The political system was a version of Communism adapted by Dear Leader Josip Broz Tito, who was 11 years dead by that point. The country was divided into six "republics" - and one of them was subdivided further , with two provinces carved out - and ruled by a Presidency, a council of eight. Things were already falling apart, but once Germany reunited and Communism failed across eastern Europe, all of a sudden ethnic nationalism flared up.

What I'm going to say next will probably go against what you've read in the news, seen on CNN or learned from "history" books. I don't care. I know what happened because I was there. My goal isn't to relitigate whose cause in Yugoslavia was just (the rest of this blog speaks to that) but to address the argument of some Americans along the lines of "Balkanization is the way! Get out of cities, move to the countryside, form communities with like-minded people, build our own society there, etc." Because I don't think that will work. Let me explain why. 

In June 1991, the republics of Slovenia and Croatia moved to secede. The Yugoslav presidency was deadlocked on how to react, with one of the key votes being the representative of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a weak-willed Serb whose mysterious and murky elevation to that position over a better qualified candidate suddenly became clear. In the power vacuum, the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) - where Marxist indoctrination trumped warfighting ability - decided to send a small, lightly armed force of fresh conscripts to "restore constitutional order" on the border between Slovenia and Austria. Due to their rules of engagement, they were ambushed and massacred by Slovenian militia.

At this point, the political leader of Serbia (Slobodan Milosevic) makes the biggest strategic mistake: he decides to let Slovenia go. On a moral level, that may have been the correct choice, as keeping the Slovenes in Yugoslavia by force seemed wrong. Yet by doing so, Yugoslavia's sovereignty and survival were effectively forfeit.

Yugoslav military intelligence actually managed to infiltrate the Croatian government and secretly film them buying weapons from Germany and preparing for war. The footage was aired on national television. But instead of sending a force to occupy Zagreb, arrest those involved as traitors and crush the rebellion in its infancy, Belgrade did... nothing.

When Croatia seceded, it was the local Serbs - who made up a majority on about a third of its territory, and had suffered a genocide during WW2 when Croatia was an ally of Nazi Germany - rose up and counter-seceded. This was not done on orders from Belgrade, and the Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) was never under Belgrade's direct command and control. This will prove important - and fatal - later on.

At this point, it's important to note that Croatia was not fighting a "war for independence," as Zagreb claimed. The Croats' right to secede from Yugoslavia was obviously not contested - not by the disintegrating federal government, not by Milosevic, not even by the local Serbs. While doing that might have given them the upper hand from the standpoint of international law, instead they chose to dispute only the amount of territory Croatia could claim as its own. Naturally, the Croats seized the vacated high ground and claimed they were victims of "Yugo-Serbian aggression."

The JNA actually got dragged into the conflict when Croat militias attacked their garrisons. When the JNA defended itself - de facto siding with local Serbs - the cries of "aggression" redoubled. The final ceasefire line, negotiated by the UN in late 1991, saw the Army and the Serbs in control of territories that mostly had a Serb majority.

By then, however, the Badinter commission - a bunch of European lawyers that appointed itself the arbiter of Yugoslavia's fate - had decided that the country was "in dissolution." Though the Yugoslav constitution said its PEOPLE had the right to self-determination, the commission said no, it was was the REPUBLICS, not people, and their borders were to be considered international ones.

In practice, this meant that the Serbs went from the legal and moral high ground (maintaining Yugoslavia as their homeland) to being minorities in Croatia and Bosnia - where its Muslim and Croat communities sought independence - and outlaws if they resisted. At the stroke of a foreign pen.

The Serbs in Bosnia agreed to independence (see the pattern?) but sought a power-sharing agreement by which the new country would be partitioned into ethnic cantons - like Switzerland - that would guarantee their rights. Croats agreed. Muslims, backed by the US, reneged on the deal after it had already been signed.

So what did the Serbs do? Instead of declaring the Muslim-dominated government illegitimate and its referendum illegal, they pulled back and basically abandoned several cities - most notably, the capital of Sarajevo. Their strategy was to stake out the territory where they were the majority and declared the Serb Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina (SRBiH, later known as Republika Srpska, RS). The idea was to leverage their military power to negotiate a political deal.

Belgrade had already implicitly recognized Bosnia's separation (again, perhaps the moral thing to do, but a strategic mistake), declaring the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, made up of Serbia and Montenegro. It didn't matter - foreign powers refused to recognize it as Yugoslavia's successor, and blamed Belgrade for "aggression" against Bosnia (!).

At this point, Muslims and Croats made a major tactical mistake: they attacked the JNA, which had been recalled and was retreating towards the FRY. Their officers later said this was in an attempt to capture the JNA's heavy weapons. In that, they mostly failed - but they radicalized the Serbs officers, NCOs and enlisted who might have otherwise stayed neutral to enlist in the Bosnian Serb military (VRS). One of those officers was Gen. Ratko Mladic, who took command from the ineffective JNA generals and proceeded to made quick work of Muslim commanders over the next three years. So it's not as if the Serbs were the only ones to make mistakes here.

As a consequence of Serbs giving up the moral and legal high ground, however, their situation was grim. Yugoslavia, built on some two million Serb lives over the two world wars, was gone. In less than a year, from June 1991 to May 1992, some two million Serbs went from being equal citizens of their own nation-state to being outlaws in their own homes. Their own RS and RSK were considered rogue states, while the separatists in Croatia and the Muslim government of Bosnia were internationally recognized as legitimate! That whole "let them go and hold our own in the countryside" worked out so well, didn't it?

It gets worse. By 1993, the US and NATO are openly involved, aiding Croatia and the Bosnian Muslims. Washington stops a war between Croats and Muslims - who had fallen out over territory - and forges them into an anti-Serb alliance. That's another example of their strategic error, as they thought it temporary but it's ended up poisoning their relations ever since. But for the US purposes, it worked perfectly.

UN peacekeepers were swept aside in May 1995, by US-trained Croatian troops, who overwhelmed the RSK enclave of Western Slavonia ("Operation Flash"). Then, in August, Croats launch a blitzkrieg against the rest of RSK. Neither the UN nor Yugoslavia lift a finger; it is said that Milosevic was either angry the RSK leadership was disobeying him, or was trying to disavow them to protect FRY proper. As we'll see later, it didn't work. With the RSK wiped out, the Croat troops move into Bosnia, while NATO launches airstrikes against the RS.

What happens then is an anomaly. The US sidelines the RS leadership by charging them with war crimes, so Milosevic would have to negotiate on behalf of all Serbs - thus validating the Narrative about the wars being "Serbian aggression." Yet by some miracle (if you read my review of Richard Holbrooke's memoir, you'll understand) he somehow manages to negotiate the Dayton Peace Agreement. The Muslims ended up being the reluctant ones in Dayton. They believed they could hold out and achieve "final victory" - i.e. destruction and expulsion of Serbs like in RSK - but the Clinton administration needed a peace deal right then and there, so it pressured them to sign.

Dayton pulled a partial victory from the jaws of defeat. While the RS leadership was angry that Milosevic gave up "too much" territory - including all of Sarajevo - they eventually realized that Dayton gave them recognition as a legitimate political entity within Bosnia.

Meanwhile, the RSK was a total loss. Even the eastern region bordering with FRY was eventually handed over to Zagreb, "reintegrated" into Croatia. Two thirds of the Serbs living there pre-war had been expelled, and any who thought of returning - mostly the very old - harassed and abused.

Being a "key factor of peace" in Dayton didn't save Milosevic, though. In March 1999, the US launches an attack on Serbia itself and occupies Kosovo, on behalf of ethnic Albanian separatists there. Because suddenly the Badinter opinion is irrelevant and the law is whatever NATO says it is.

The Serbs complain this is unfair and point to a UN resolution (1244) that says Kosovo is part of Yugoslavia. So the Americans organize a "color revolution" in Belgrade in October 2000, get rid of Milosevic, and have him put on trial for war crimes - where he dies under mysterious circumstances, without a verdict, in March 2006. Two months after his death, the US-backed regime in Montenegro rigs the independence referendum and the last vestige of Yugoslavia is officially abolished.

Macedonia (aka FYROM, now North Macedonia) got some UN peacekeepers in 1992 out of fear of "Serbian invasion" that never materialized. Instead, its service to the West was repaid by forcing it to federalize in 2001, after US-backed Albanian separatists claimed a third of its territory. Again, some rebellions are more legitimate than others. Might makes right, etc.

While the sordid history of Yugoslavia's demise is an object lesson in the perils of making deals with foreign empires to fight your wars - only to realize that you were used to fight theirs, and to hell with your goals - that's cold comfort to the Serbs, or the point I set out to make about the merits of the "retreat and Balkanize" strategy.

Remember, at no point did it occur to anyone in the Serb leadership to deny Slovenes, Croats, Bosnian Muslims or "Macedonians" their independence (Albanians were different; they had a nation-state next door, and were trying to claim historic Serbian lands). The prevailing thinking every step of the way was "we'll retreat and regroup and try to preserve our own and maybe they'll leave us alone, and if they don't we'll fight until they do."

How did that Grand Strategy work out? Objectively speaking, overwhelmingly poorly. Dayton was an outlier, obviously. And even Dayton didn't really end the war, but only its kinetic dimension. Since then, the Muslims have endeavored to dismantle the RS and create a centralized state by means ranging from lawfare and leveraging foreign support to tactical demographics (targeted resettling of internally displaced people) and even a rigged census.

Croats and Albanians did not stop until they claimed all the territory they could, and expelled or killed all the Serbs living there that could be a "disrupting factor." As I just described, the Bosnian Muslims are still working on it. The "let them go we'll protect the Serbs' minority rights" backfired spectacularly in Montenegro as well, where the NATO-backed regime embarked on a campaign of aggressive nation-building and historical revisionism intended to turn the once-proudest part of Serbdom into a new group identity that's rabidly anti-Serb.

THIS is why I am skeptical of Americans who believe some kind of peaceful separation and Balkanization of their own country is, or may, be possible. Once you cede legitimacy to the other side, especially an enemy that has no intent or incentive to leave you alone - but seeks to either subjugate or eliminate you outright - you lose the war even before the first bullet is fired.

Believe me. I was there.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Kosovo: Still an Evil Little War

March 24, 1999 is a date that rightly lives in infamy. On that day, NATO launched an unprovoked war of naked aggression, violating its own charter and international law, while claiming to be on a "humanitarian" mission.


For 78 days, the outnumbered and outgunned Yugoslavia (which would later be split into Serbia and Montenegro) resisted, turning back ground attacks from Albania, capturing a trio of US soldiers, and even shooting down a F-117 "stealth" bomber. In the end, abandoned by all and threatened with carpet bombing, the government in Belgrade accepted a compromise armistice - which NATO immediately tore up, letting the Albanian separatists terrorize the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo.

Thousands died in the war. Tens of thousands have died since, from cancers caused by depleted uranium dust. Most non-Albanians were ethnically cleansed from Kosovo, and the province turned over to warlords and organized crime. In 2008, the province illegally declared independence, which is not yet recognized by the UN.

Thanks to the shameless propaganda and spin, the Kosovo War is considered by most American politicians to be a great success and even a shining example of virtue in the "liberal world order" the US is upholding through its military might. Only one candidate in the 2016 election dared disagree with that conventional wisdom even a little; once elected, he ended up sticking with the inertia of US policy, delivering a pointless "normalization agreement" that did something Israel, a bit for the "personal project" of the Clintons, and nothing at all for the US. He was then replaced by an establishment warmonger.
 
Since the war, Serbia has served as the test bed for the first "color revolution" (October 5, 2000) and turned into a failed state ruled by a succession of servile slugs, each worse than the one before. The Atlantic Empire continued to enable Albanian aggression, in hopes of rekindling its romance with dar-al-Islam even as it bombed and invaded Iraq, Libya and Syria and fomented revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere that claimed even more Muslim lives.

Yet the Kosovo War served as a wake-up call for Russia, which had until then lionized the West even as it was being robbed blind and buried alive by Western "democratizers" and their domestic helpers. Within six months of NATO's land grab, Vladimir Putin was at the helm in the Kremlin. The rest, as they say, is history.


It is tempting to declare the saga of Kosovo over, 21 years after the war, as the quisling regime in Belgrade is busily recognizing the Albanian land grab. But the Atlantic Empire wouldn't be the first to write the Serbs off and declare them conquered and beaten, only to see them rise again. 

Next year in Prizren. The East Remembers.

(If this sounds familiar, it's because you may have read an earlier version here)

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

A tale of two civilizations, or why there is hope


Last month, after the coronavirus-delayed Victory Parade in Moscow marking the 75th anniversary of the triumph over Nazi Germany, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to nearby Rzhev to unveil a new monument.

The 25-meter memorial pays homage to uncounted Soviet soldiers who perished in the Rzhev salient between 1941 and 1943, in bitter fighting described as a "meat grinder." The monument was reportedly entirely crowdfunded, designed by young architects, and depicts a soldier turning into a flock of cranes.


Cranes have a powerful symbolism in Soviet and Russian memory of WW2. A 1957 film about the suffering of civilians is named "The cranes are flying," and the flock of birds seen in the sky bookends the plot. A decade later, Dagestani poet Rasul Gamzatov will write "Cranes," a heart-rending poem about fallen soldiers turning into white cranes. It was set to music in 1969, and recorded by actor and singer Mark Bernes shortly before he died of cancer. Hence the cranes, you see.

Shortly before the Rzhev monument opened, Putin also unveiled the grand cathedral of the Russian Armed Forces, at the heart of a new WW2 museum outside Moscow.
Meanwhile, the "greatest country in the world" that is fond of deriding Russia as a "gas station with missiles" is undergoing a Cultural Revolution-style purge of monuments, revision of history and destruction of memory. 

It may have started with century-dead Confederate generals, but quickly escalated to Union generals, Catholic saints, Christopher Columbus, and even the founding fathers of the American republic. Absolutely nothing is sacred, and everything must be torn down in the name of intersectional social justice or something. 

The irony is that, insofar as the monument-toppling revolutionaries have an articulated agenda beyond destruction, it's race-based Communism. Russia went through that starting a century ago, and though it took a while, it has obviously recovered rather well, as physical evidence shows. So, there is hope. Nothing is inevitable. One just has to be willing to learn from the mistakes of others, lest they be repeated. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

On 'historical grievances,' or how to ask the wrong questions

My latest commentary piece for RT (I have my own page there now, you should check it out) tries to explain why the rift between Poland and Russia over recent history is insurmountable. It's not about the history itself, but how the two countries approach it - from two completely different perspectives that are mutually exclusive.
I'd like to add some context to what I said there, not because it's necessary for the argument I made - because it stands just fine on its own - but because I know it will reflexively be denounced as "Russian propaganda" because of where it was published.

My own people, the Serbs, have grappled with both sides of this discussion. For instance, the argument how "May 1945 wasn't liberation but the beginning of Communist occupation" has been persuasively made by many a Serb. I explored the reasoning behind it here, back in 2012. But there are important distinctions to be made here.

First of all, the only people in Eastern Europe who can plausibly make the claim that they did not deserve "Communist occupation" are those who did not join the Axis or contribute volunteers to the SS - so basically, Czechs, Poles and Serbs. That said, those three may want to reassess to which extent their plight resulted from trusting Britain, and maybe readjust their blame scale accordingly.

Even the rabidly anti-Communist Serbs don't have the kind of visceral hostility towards Russia displayed today in Czechia or Poland, because they understand that a) Russia is not the Soviet Union, b) ethnic Russians were among the most numerous victims of Communism and c) the USSR had at best a marginal role in bringing Communists to power in Yugoslavia. That last point is obviously not applicable to Czechs and Poles, but it matters.

Much is being made of Soviet "brutality" during the Cold War. Tell me, however, did the Czechs or Poles end up converting the script in which they write, or butchering their languages? Were they partitioned into new and hostile nations, with cultures and values intrinsically opposite to their own? Because that's literally what happened to the Serbs. Did the Soviets cover up the Nazi atrocities against Poles or Czechs, the way Tito minimized the Croatian genocide of Serbs? Even Katyn, the mass execution of captured Polish officers by Stalin's secret police, is nowhere close to the absolute or relative numbers of Serbs killed in the process of imposing Communism on them.

As I hope I've made clear, we'd have a quite a bit of "victim points" in the metaphorical bank. But the postmodern Western narrative in which being a victim is the fountainhead of virtue is alien to us, so we haven't rewritten our history around it.

Meanwhile, the Czechs and Poles were so eager for "freedom" that they rushed into the arms of the EU and NATO. That's not freedom or independence, that's just switching masters. The great irony is that the EU and NATO actually practice nation-destroying cultural, societal and linguistic engineering, the scale and scope of which would make the Soviets blush.

Let's not even get into the sheer hypocrisy of joining NATO in March 1999, even as it had the Luftwaffe launch its first bombing raids since WW2. You really don't want to have that discussion with me.

As for the Russians, I keep hearing from them the same kind of talk that has bedeviled the Serbs for decades, which can be best summed up as "What do we need to do for Them to stop hating us?" To which I try to explain that there is no right answer to what amounts to being the wrong question.

Even if it were somehow conceivable for a self-respecting Russian state to renounces the Soviet heroes of WW2 - which it absolutely should not - it will gain nothing by doing so. The "West" has a problem not with Communism or the Soviet Union, but with Russia itself.

Oh sure, Washington and Brussels talk about democracy, rule of law, freedom of the press, human rights, etc. But one, they don't actually practice any of that at home (and that's an argument I'd enjoy explaining in detail), and two, none of those existed in Russia of the 1990s, when President Boris Yeltsin literally sent tanks to bomb the parliament. Yet Yeltsin was beloved in the West, as was the weak, lawless, subservient Russia of his time. If that doesn't tell you something, I'll just be wasting time drawing you a picture. 

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Kosovo is Serbia


March 24 will mark the 21st anniversary of NATO’s occupation of Serbia’s Kosovo province, and so we reaffirm: Kosovo is Serbia. Serbia does not and will not ever recognize Kosovo’s claims of sovereignty. We call on NATO to end its occupation of Kosovo.

NATO’s occupation of Kosovo and its increasing militarization of the province is a threat to the world’s common security. Albanian occupation authorities continue their assault on human rights and fundamental freedoms, brutally silencing critics in civil society and the media, and curtailing religious freedom. Hundreds of individuals from Kosovo, including members of the Serb community, have been imprisoned by NATO-backed ethnic Albanian authorities – and some subjected to torture – for peaceful opposition to the occupation.

Members of the Serb community continue to experience unjustified raids on their homes and churches, surveillance and intimidation by occupation authorities, restrictions on cultural events, and the criminalization of their representatives. Occupation authorities severely limit religious freedom, target religious believers with bogus terrorism charges, and destroy Orthodox Church shrines. Serbia calls on the United States to free all Serbs wrongfully imprisoned in Kosovo in retaliation for their peaceful dissent and to end Albanian abuses of fundamental freedoms in Kosovo.

Twenty one years on, the US and NATO continue to rely on lies and disinformation in their failed attempt to legitimize the illegitimate. Their efforts are doomed to failure. The world will never forget NATO’s unprovoked invasion of Serbia. We condemn NATO’s illegal actions in Kosovo and its continued aggressive actions against Serbia, and will maintain sanctions against the US until NATO returns control of Kosovo to Serbia and fully implements its commitments under UN Security Council Resolution 1244.

(Inspired by this. Only the names were changed. See if you can spot the raging hypocrisy.)





Friday, January 03, 2020

Killing Soleimani

If you thought 2019 was suffering from a time-compression effect, where every day seemed like a month and every month a year, it looks like 2020 is going to be more of the same.

Last night, US helicopters or drones attacked a convoy outside the Baghdad airport in Iraq. The convoy was transporting several several leaders of the Iraqi Shia militia that Washington blamed for Tuesday's siege of the US embassy in Baghdad, but also Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of Iran. Later that evening, US President Donald Trump confirmed Soleimani was the target of the operation. Seems like several high-ranking militia leaders were just a bonus objective, so to speak.

I won't get into whether Soleimani was a terrorist - as the American Empire claims - or not. There is ample evidence that his forces contributed massively to the defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, however, and among the people celebrating his death are some of the vilest neocon warmongers known to humanity, including the crew responsible for the 2003 invasion of Iraq that was a prima facie crime against peace.

There is no doubt, however, that the hit was a quintessentially imperial act. What else do you call assassinating someone who is traveling openly with diplomatic papers, in a country where the US is not at war and its troops only have a tenuous legal pretext for being present? States care about sovereignty, legality and legitimacy; empires do not.

What's especially ironic is that, while he acts like the God-Emperor of memes abroad, Trump is the polar opposite at home, either powerless or unwilling to do anything - aside from tweeting - about the media-Democrat-Deep State complex that is relentlessly persecuting his supporters, or anyone who dares step out of the ever-shifting line they keep redrawing.

One would think the domestic "Resistance" would be a lot more circumspect with an Emperor that is willing to be this ruthless abroad, but they're not. That should tell you a thing or three about the real character of the Empire, and the extent of Trump's actual power.

Friday, October 11, 2019

'Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal'

Since at least 1945, the US has treated people around the world like pawns on the grand chessboard (as Darth Zbigniew titled his magnum opus). Yet time and again, I see leaders and entire nations convince themselves that this time it will be different.

That this time, they will get Washington to fight and win their wars for them, and then have their backs forever, because freedom and democracy and human rights, or whatever. That they are different, better, more deserving.

It may even seem like that's happening, for a while - a year, or four, or ten, or even twenty. But it never lasts. It can't. And each and every time, they curse Washington's sudden but inevitable betrayal, wondering why they had to suffer the sad fate of a used and discarded tool - not realizing that's exactly what they were to Washington, even as they thought it was the other way around.

Time and again, this happens. Because leaders and entire nations refuse to learn the simple truth that Empires have no friends, partners or allies - only vassals and victims.