Vol 0, No 33
10 May 1999
B A L K A N   E N C O U N T E R:
The Black Birds of Kosova
Dr Sam Vaknin
The real war over Kosovo hasn't even started yet. When NATO coerces Yugoslavia into submission, when the smoke clears and the charred remains of corpses and houses cleared - then the REAL conflict will erupt. It will be a conflict between moderate Albanians (as represented by Ibrahim Rugova) and radical Albanians (as represented by the KLA). And it will be bloodier by far. The West should have respected the Balkan way of conducting affairs: it should have left them to slaughter each other in peace.
This is because this new type of war can never be decided, not even by way of weapons. It is a clash of cultures, a battle enjoined by civilisations. And it cuts across the Kosovars as sharply as it separates the West from Yugoslavia. Thus the Kosovo war will be continued by the Kosovars themselves, because they, too, are culturally split along the same inflamed lines (Liberal versus Non-liberal).
"But, surely," - you would say - "there is nothing new about THIS". But there is.
In the past, nations or clusters of nations or tribes went to war ONLY in order to protect national or tribal or group interests. More food, more space, control over important lines of transport and communications, access to markets, women, the elimination of a foe or a potential foe, loot, weaponry - hard, cold interests were at the heart of all armed conflicts.
Culture and religion were used as fig leaves to disguise the true nature of wars. The colonial wars of the 18th and 19th century were ostensibly fought with the aim of educating the savages, converting them to the right religion and bestowing upon them the blessings of civilisation. Mineral wealth, routes of transport, strategic vantage points - were all presented as secondary afterthoughts or side benefits. This is the way it was presented to the public. The truth, of course, was absolutely the opposite.
The Kosovo conflict is the first war in history where what you see is what you get. Europe in general and NATO in particular have no interests in the godforsaken piece of land known as Kosovo and Metoxhia. It is not strategically located: it is all but inaccessible. It is poor (except some minerals of which there is a world glut). It is not strictly "European". It is partly Moslem and allied with the likes of Iran, Osama Bin Laden and Albania. It involves a small number of people (1.8 million).
Operation Allied Force is NOT about the defence or furthering of self-interests. It is about conflicting cultures.
The West is trying to impose its culture - liberal and capitalist - upon other societies. Whenever popular opinion (even if expressed democratically and peacefully) does not conform to Western values - the West does its best to undermine the choice as well as the chosen. The West's definition of a legitimate regime is very peculiar and not very rigorous logically. A legitimate regime is one chosen by the people providing its values are Western values or closely conforming to them. All other regimes - no matter how strongly upheld by free public opinion - are not legitimate, are even considered illegal and can be deposed and disposed of with moral impunity.
Khomeini came to power on the crest of a wave of unprecedented popular support and he supplanted a cruel and corrupt dictator. Milosevic was freely elected by a majority wider than Clinton's. In Algeria and Turkey freely elected Islamists governments were toppled (or prevented from taking office, in the case of Algeria) by the army with the West's enthusiastic, though mute, consent. This "Allende Syndrome" is in play now in Kosovo.
It is politically very incorrect, I am sure, to say that only a small minority of humans adhere to Western values (and most of the adherents only pay lip service to them). Human rights are an alien concept in Africa and the Balkans. Individualism is an alien - even repulsive - concept in China, Japan and most of South East Asia. Competition is a value derided in most parts of the world. Income disparity and the toleration of abject poverty as an inescapable consequence of capitalism (the "Anglo-Saxon Model") is rejected even in Continental Europe itself. Freedom of Speech is much more curtailed in France than in the USA. Privacy is less respected in the USA than in France. Western values are not universal even in the West.
The nations and societies of the Balkans are used to solving their problems by employing ethnic cleansing, armed brutality, suppression of civilian population and decimation of the elites of the enemy. This is not a value judgement. It is a statement of historical fact.
Bulgaria has done it to its Turkish citizens as late as 1995. It used to be the same (and much worse) in Western Europe until 1945. Nations - like human beings - have a growth trajectory. It cannot be hastened or imported. It must grow from within, by integrating experiences, including painful and traumatic ones. Peaceful co-existence often follows and is the result of a devastation so great that no other alternative but peaceful co-existence is left. Any foreign intervention serves only to exacerbate the situation by increasing the number and intensity of inter-ethnic grudges. The seeds of the current conflict in Kosovo were sown by the Ottoman Turks as early as 1912. Foreign interventions tend to boomerang in the Balkans. Actually, they boomerang everywhere. Ask Israelis how they fared in the Lebanese quagmire.
The West should have respected the Balkan way of conducting affairs and resolving differences. It should have left them to slaughter each other in peace. These are young nations, having been freed from all foreign occupation only as late as 1945 after centuries of subjugation. They need to learn from their OWN experiences. They need to reach the point of exhaustion beyond which there is only peaceful co-existence. Violence solves nothing; on the contrary, it just reinforces the Balkan conviction that he who carries the big stick has justice on his side.
But how did this apparent transition from interest-wars to culture-wars transpire?
Indeed, the transition is only now apparent. The key is the transformation of culture from something ethereal and transcendent - to a strong self-interest as any other. Once culture became an asset to protect, cultural wars were certain to erupt. Thus, it is still self-interest at the basis of it all, but this time, the self-interest protected and furthered is cultural dominance and hegemony.
It started rather innocuously and inadvertently. The Americanization of the world was perceived to be the historical equivalent of the Pax Romana. This was a false analogy. The Pax Romana was rampant pluralism. The Pax Americana is rampant homogeneity.
Then the West (notably America) suddenly realised the economic dividends on cultural homogeneity (as evident in various forms of intellectual property - movies, music, software, TV, internet).
Culture, the oft neglected step-sister of economics, became an INDUSTRY. A money spinner. It was well worth the West's while not only to sell mass-produced culture to homogenised markets - but to make sure that these markets were peaceful, stable, accessible and free. If necessary, this was to be secured by force.
Paradoxically, in this age of moral relativity and political correctness - the West is ashamed to admit that this is a cultural war, in which one of the parties is trying to impose its cultural values on the other for utterly utilitarian reasons. Instead, the war is presented as a matter of national interest of the "old-type".
But then what is the "old-type" of the national interest of the USA, Europe, EU and NATO? Isn't it the preservation and immutability of existing borders? The suppression of irredentist and separatist movements? The abolition of terror? The prevention of large scale dislocations of endemic populations? And if so, wasn't the best way to ensure all the above simply to allow Milosevic to cruelly and ruthlessly eradicate the KLA and intimidate the local population into submission?
Hasn't the West adopted these very tactics (of encouraging local bullies to suppress and even eliminate local restive populations) in Latin America in the 70s and 80s and in Africa in the 60s and 70s? Didn't the West (wisely) turn a blind eye on China, Russia, Israel, Iraq (prior to 1990) and others only recently when they did to their population what Milosevic did not dare to do to his?
The Kosovo war is clearly contrary to any conceivable "old-type" self-interest of the West. It costs the West dearly and will cost it even more - and not only in monetary terms. The loss of prestige, moral standing, world support, economic resources, world trade (the blocking of the Danube) far outweigh any possible rendition of the old-school "national interest". It is the protection and propagation of the West's culture that is at stake, replete with human rights, civil rights, capitalism, individualism and liberalism. It is a defining war - not only militarily (the future of NATO) but also culturally (the identity of the future global market).
Poor Milosevic, look what he got himself into.
Dr Sam Vaknin, 10 May 1999
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