Central Europe Review Balkan Information Exchange
Vol 2, No 35
16 October 2000
front page 
our awards 
CER cited 
jobs at CER 
CER Direct 
e-mail us 
year 2000 
year 1999 
by subject 
by author 
music shop 
video store 


Duplicity Revisited
The similarities between Israel and Yugoslavia
Martin D Brown

The past week has seen major upheavals in both Serbia, with the ousting of Slobodan Milošević, and in Israel, as the peace process fails and the region teeters on the brink of war.

At first glance, there seem to be few similarities between the two, but I would suggest that the manner in which the international community has reacted to them illustrates a fundamental duplicity in international relations—a duplicity that undermines the very tenets of the "New Humanism" supposedly so prevalent in contemporary foreign affairs.

If nothing else, these events should provide a salutary lesson to the peoples of Eastern Europe. For these events sharply illustrate that, in the grand scheme of "Great Power" (admittedly an anachronistic term, but I know of none more suited) strategy and interest, the region hardly registers. Trouble in the Middle East swiftly reveals who is really interested in what, the sudden overthrow of dictatorial ex-Communists included—a point worth reiterating in case the dangling carrot of EU enlargement might have lulled some into thinking otherwise.

Why is this the case? Quite simply because trouble in the Middle East has global significance, but murder and mayhem in the Balkans does not. The break-up of Yugoslavia saw Europe dither for a decade as the Balkans burnt.

By contrast, a few weeks of disturbances in the Middle East has seen the world's statesmen flock to Israel to help mediate a speedy solution.

Coat-tails of American exceptionalism

Such comparisons can be taken further. On the one hand Serbia, a pariah state responsible for heinous crimes against humanity, is seen as fair game for blatant political coercion, crippling economic sanctions and violent intervention. On the other, Israel is free to act however she sees fit to protect her citizenry and her territorial integrity.

Riding on the coat-tails of "American exceptionalism," she is able to invade neighbouring countries at will, ignore the censure of the international community and suppress Palestinian protests with the full range of measures available to the state.[1]

I do not for a moment reject Israel's right to protect her national security, nor the necessity of such reactions in the past. I am merely highlighting the fact that, when attempting to do much the same, other states will quickly find the leash pulled tight by the international community.

One man's terrorist...

Whilst I wouldn't like to draw any direct parallels between Serbia's actions against the KLA in Kosovo and Israel's against the present Palestinian protests, there are some similarities. However, whereas Israel is a trusted ally of America, Serbia happens to be in a relatively unimportant part of the globe, has no advantageous natural resources and (unlike during the Dayton peace process) her political usefulness has long since passed.

Moreover, the influence of Serbia's erstwhile ally, Russia, who ultimately gave NATO an exit strategy from last year's "air display," can no longer compete in the New World Order against America's.

This difference is further illustrated by the strenuous efforts being made by some of the world's leading statesmen to find a peaceful solution to the present impasse in Israel. Compare this to the biased peace talks at Rambouillet and the inclusion of a blatantly unacceptable section in the proposal (Appendix B, paragraph 8) that demanded NATO be allowed to occupy Kosovo and have free access all across the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The Serbian Parliament's unsurprising rejection of this proposal and its demand that the OSCE and UN facilitate further negotiations were ignored. The West's cause thus "legitimised," the bombing started the next day.[2]

Revolution? What revolution?

Although the West has been quick to celebrate Vojislav Koštunica's victory over Milošević and another East European "revolution," the fall of the last Communist bastion too, Pat FitzPatrick gave short thrift to such suggestions in his article in last week's Central Europe Review, Delusions of Dominoes.

He's absolutely right, of course; the events of the last week do not constitute a "revolution" in Serbia. Indeed, as FitzPatrick persuasively argued, these developments represent continuity far more than change.

Indeed, we know it is not a "revolution," as it doesn't fit the criteria. The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines revolution as "Changes of the most fundamental type-transformations not only of the structure of government but of the whole polity. Such change is not limited to political life but transforms also the social order, the moral basis and the values of the whole society." [3]

The above processes have clearly not occurred in Serbia. The political institutions of the Federation remain, Koštunica's nationalism is well documented, he has already guaranteed that Milošević won't face trial in The Hague and promised that Kosovo will remain part of Yugoslavia.

Ironically, this last point suits NATO and the international community perfectly, as they are determined to preserve the principle of uti possidetis and prevent Kosovars from self-determining—a desire that was conspicuous by its absence when Europe was dealing with Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

The point is, of course, that the West desperately wanted it to be a revolution, so that it can invite Serbia into the democratic family of nations and thus "forget" about the troubles over the last decade. A revolution would conveniently solve all these problems and allow attention to be concentrated elsewhere—somewhere more important.

Wither EU expansion?

What, then, will be the outcome? One thing is certain: more effort and time will be expended in trying to find a solution to the troubles in Israel than to finding a solution to the situation in the Balkans. More money will follow, too.

But there may be other, unintended and unwelcome results as well. The EU summit in Biarritz is supposed to finalise the community's intentions on enlargement prior to December's Treaty of Nice. But much attention will have already been diverted to the troubles at the other end of the Mediterranean-not least since the French, the current holders of the EU's presidency, have a deep interest in events in Israel.

Moreover, if, as some doom merchants prophesise, (See The Guardian's Warning from history points to crash) the Middle East crisis is prolonged and widened, it could trigger an economic recession. Thus, a hesitant EU might find it even more difficult to promote the costly enlargement process to an already sceptical population.

Seems like old times

Perhaps the most ominous developments in Israel are the attacks on symbols and signs of ethnic co-existence and a shared past. As bad as the mob slayings of soldiers and pictures of helicopter gunships bombarding civilians are, it is the attacks on Jewish and Muslim holy sites and enclaves that portend a deeper problem.

Send this article to a friend

Now we are hearing talk that the two sides can no longer live intermingled with one other. To my mind, such talk heralds the possibility of the physical removal of populations, of physical separation.

These are matters that Eastern Europe, especially the former Yugoslavia, the Czech Republic and Poland, are, sadly, all too familiar with. Forced population transfers, so long the preferred method of solving ethnic complications in these corners of the world, might soon be making an unwelcome comeback in the Middle East.

Martin D Brown, 16 October 2000

This is a revised version of an article which appeared on the Blue Ear Forum

Moving on:


1. This, of course, is nothing new. The Israeli historian Avi Shlaim charts Israel's relations with the Arab world and her policy of dealing from a position of unassailable strength, a policy he that argues has long scuppered any lasting peace in the region. The Iron Wall, Penguin Press, London, 2000.

2. For a comprehensive and critical examination of these events see Masters of the Universe? NATO's Balkan Crusade, edited by Tariq Ali, Verso, London, 2000, which includes essays by Susan L Woodward, Edward Said, Oskar Lafontaine and Noam Chomsky. Also G M Tamás, "The Two Hundred Year War. Searching for the origins of the Kosovo conflict—in the eighteenth century."

3. See also the definitions of the third generation of revolutionary theorists Eisenstadt, Trimberger and Skocpol et al. A good synopsis of their ideas can be found in Goldstone, J, "Theories of Revolution," World Politics Vol 33, No 2, January 1980, pp 425-453.


Pat FitzPatrick
Reappraising Relations

Tom Gallagher
Return of the Poet

Magali Perrault
Nuking the Neighbours

Sam Vaknin
Parasitic Economics

Martin D Brown
Duplicity Revisited

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Roads to Roma

Wojtek Kość
Here He
Comes Again

Mel Huang
Lithuanians Vote

Andrea Mrozek
Visiting Auschwitz

Peter Hames
The Best Czech
Film Ever

Oliver Craske
The Uninvited

Martin D Brown
Czech Historical Amnesia

Dejan Anastasijević (ed)
Out of Time

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Oil Scandal

Sam Vaknin
After the Rain

Press Reviews:
Andrea Mrozek
Re-emerging Debates

Oliver Craske
Redrafting History

The Arts:
Židas Daskalovski
Strange Folk


CER eBookclub Members enter here