bosnia report
New Series No. 9/10 April - July 1999
West fights its own creature
by Slavoj Zizek

Yugoslavia did not start to disintegrate when Slovenian `secession' triggered a domino-effect (first Croatia, then Bosnia and Macedonia). It was already at the moment of Milosevic's constitutional reforms in 1987, which deprived Kosovo and Vojvodina of their limited autonomy, that the fragile balance on which Yu goslavia rested was irretrievably disturbed. From that moment onwards, Yu goslavia continued to live only because it had not yet noticed it was already dead - it was like the classic cartoon cat that walks over the precipice, floats in the air, and falls down only when it becomes aware that it has no ground un der its feet. From Milosevic's seizure of power in Serbia onwards, the only ac tual chance for Yugoslavia to survive was to reinvent its formula. Either it would be a Yugoslavia under Serb domination, or there would be some form of radical decentralization - from a loose confederation to full sovereignty of the country's units.

* * * * *

Recently, one of the American negotiators said that Milosevic is not just 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 Serbian aggression as civil or even tribal warfare; initially putting the blame on those who immediately saw what Milosevic stood for and for that reason desperately wanted to escape his grasp (see James Baker's public endorsement of a `limited military intervention' against Slovenian secession); supporting the last Yugoslav prime minister Ante Markovic whose programme, in an incredible case of political blindness, was seriously considered as the last chance for a democratic market oriented unified Yugoslavia; and so on? When the West fights Milosevic, it is not fighting its enemy, one of the last points of resistance against the lib eral-democratic New World Order; rather it is fighting its own creature, a mon ster that grew as a result of the compromises and inconsistencies of Western policy itself.

So, precisely as a Leftist, my answer to the dilemma `To bomb or not to bomb?' is: not yet enough bombs, and they are too late. Over the past decade, the West has followed a Hamlet-like procrastination towards the Balkans, and the present bombardment in effect has all the marks of Hamlet's final murderous out burst, in which a lot of people die unnecessarily (not just the King, his true target, but also his mother, Laertes, Hamlet himself . . .) bÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ecause Hamlet has acted too late, when the proper moment has already been 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 hesitation over a ground intervention in Kosovo, the Serbian regime, under the pretext of the war, is launching a final assault on Kosovo and purging it of most Albanians, cynically accepting the bombing as the price to be paid. When the Western forces all the time repeat that they are not fighting the Serbian people, but only their corrupt regime, they rely on the typically lib eral false premise that the Serbian people are just victims of their evil leadership personified in Milosevic - that they are manipulated by him. The painful fact is that Serbian aggressive nationalism enjoys the support of the large majority of the population. No, the Serbs are not passive victims of na tionalist 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 peo ple is accompanied by an apparently contradictory notion according to which Balkan people are living in the past, fighting old battles anew, perceiving con temporary situations through old myths. . . One is tempted to say that these two notions should be precisely reversed : 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, oppor tunistically resuscitates old myths.

* * * * *

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 West's counterpoint to this obscenity is the more and more openly racist tone of its reporting: when three American soldiers were taken prisoner, CNN dedicated the first 10 minutes of the News to their predicament (although every one knew that nothing would happen to them!), and only then reported on tens of thousands of refugees, torched villages and Prishtina turned into a ghost town.

Where is the much-vaunted Serb `democratic opposition' to protest against this horror taking place in their own backyard, rather than just against the (till now at least) relatively low-casualty bombing? In the recent struggle of the so-called `democratic opposition' in Serbia against the Milosevic regime, the truly touchy issue is its stance towards Kosovo: so far as this issue is con cerned, the large majority of the `democratic opposition' unconditionally en dorses 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 in the winter of 1996, against the fal sification of the election results by Milosevic's Socialist Party, 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 reject unconditionally the ideological topos of the `Albanian threat to Serbia'.

Slavoj Zizek is Senior Researcher at the Institute for Social Studies, Ljubljana, and one of the best known contemporary Slovenian social theorists: six of his books have been published in English


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