Déjà Vu in the Balkans

“The Balkans,” wrote Hector Hugh Monro (known to literature by his pen name, “Saki”) “produce more history than they can consume locally.” It was shortly after Saki wrote these words that the Balkans produced a lot of history indeed, history that they needed the rest of the world to help them consume. For in 1914, the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, Serbia, this initiating World War I. Even today, nobody is sure why the death of one man should have led to the death of millions, the complete re-arrangement of the map of Europe, and the rise of the Soviet State in Russia. Nevertheless, the Balkans seem to have that kind of effect on history, and they have been having that kind of effect on the world ever since a minor Macedonian king by the name of Philip used his Balkan base as a platform by which to conquer ancient Greece. His son, Alexander, would conquer everything between Greece and India.

The Last Crusade ended in Macedonia with the victory of the Turks over the Christian Alliance at the Battle of Nicopolis in 1396. From there, and for the next three centuries, the Turks advanced into Europe, only being stopped at the very gates of Vienna in 1683. The long Turkish occupation left the Balkans divided religiously and ethnically. Serbia gained its independence from a weakened Turkish Empire in 1804, and after World War I, the Turks lost what little remained of her Balkan territories. But they left behind a fractious land, divided between Muslims, Catholics, and Greek Orthodox.

After the demise of Communist rule in what was then called “Yugoslavia,” the Balkans blew themselves apart in a long civil war. It was a war characterized by “ethnic cleansing” and atrocities on both sides. For reasons unclear to this author, Bill Clinton and NATO decided to intervene on the side of the ethnic Albanians and bombed Serbia into submission in an illegal and undeclared war. The war did not end the suffering of the peoples of the Balkans, as the Muslim “ethnic cleansing” and persecution of Christians continued in Kosovo, and continued as the American an NATO “peace-keeping” force looked on without doing anything; 2,000 Serbs have been killed and dozens of villages and Churches burned and looted. Since the end of the war, the United States has treated Serbia as occupied territory, and has been angling to set up a Muslim state in Kosovo. A few days ago, just that happened, and the breakaway state of Kosovo was immediately recognized by the United States and various European governments.

Bill Clinton could get away with his war because Serbia's chief international backer, Russia, was in disarray and too weak to do much about it. Today, however, the situation is reversed. It is the American Army that is stretched to the breaking point and the American Treasury that is empty, while the Russians are awash in petro-dollars, their army is strong, and Putin is spoiling for a fight to demonstrate the newly-resurgent power of Russia; he dreams of the “glory days” of empire (both Tsarist and Soviet) when Russian was (or imagined herself to be) a super-power. He is not likely to let his allies, the Serbs, go down as they did last time. Nor are the Serbs likely to acquiesce in the loss of Kosovo. They consider the area intrinsic to their nation and their history. It was in Kosovo, on the Field of Crows, that the Serbs lost their independence to the Turkish Muslim empire in 1389. That sounds like a long time ago, but it is part and parcel of their history, and they will not peacefully give it up. Moreover, they believe, and not without reason, that their fellow Serbs are being persecuted in their own lands.

Who is “right” in this conflict? Well, that is not for me to say. This is a question the people of that area must work out for themselves. I have not been appointed to be their judge. The issue is not worth a single American life nor a single American dollar. Nor is it worth a super-power conflict. We have already been through that in this area, and the results were not good. The Serbs and their close neighbors and allies, who have real and abiding interests in this dispute must work it out as best they can.

The mobs in Belgrade blame the Americans for the current situation. They are not far wrong. The best way to insure that Balkans do not, once again, export their excess history is to stay out of fights that do not concern us. The easy victory from the bombing of Belgrade is not likely to be repeated this time, so long as the Russians are willing to back their allies. This looks depressingly like the situation in 1914. Would a war break out over this issue? I do not know, but it is not worth the risk of finding out. Nor do we have standing in the area; the Serbs do not want us their, and we have not the authority to judge between them and their neighbors. The best way to avoid such a terrible déjà vu is to simply refuse to play the game.


Jovan-Marya Weismiller, T.O.Carm. Friday, February 22, 2008 at 8:31:00 PM CST  

Mr Médaille,

Unfortunately, the US and its allies began 'playing the game' when Bill Clinton launched his terror campaign against the Serb nation in 1999. Now, Bush has backed himself into a corner. He thought his blatant violation of international law, the UN Charter and Security Council Resolution 1244 would be effectively uncontested because the US is the 'big kid on the block'. Now that it is becoming obvious that the Serbs, Russia and many countries who have their own problems with separatism will not simply accept the diktat of Washington, I'm sure the Administration is scrambling to find an 'exit strategy'.

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