Belgrade, April 7
Belgrade’s central square was occupied today. There were a few dozen tents, some chairs, tables, and a barbecue. And there was more. These people weren’t the usual hippies, occupying public space for a better world. They were nationalists, occupying Belgrade because they actually want to occupy Kosovo. Serbian nationalists have co-opted the Occupy movement’s most powerful symbol – the tent – because it signifies perseverance. It says ‘we are here and we ain’t leaving.’ And they linked it to their own symbols. National flags, military music, and orthodox icons of the holy virgin.
It was sickening. You do not want to be seen with these people. Everything about them warns you that they are dangerous. Give them a rifle, and they will happily march off to start killing Albanians, Croats, Muslims, Catholics, Gypsies, Jews, Gays, etc. Hell, they will kill each other if you can convince them that it’s for the good of the nation.
Unfortunately, this is easier than you might think. It is what happened in the late 1980s. Apart from the 1991 Gulf War, the Yugoslav wars were the first to be live televised. They were also the first wars that were in some sense caused by television.
After Milosevic’s 1989 Kosovo speech, the Serbian television started feeding nationalism to its viewers day after day, week after week, month after month.
By 1991, in the Serb view, the Croats had become Satan’s private bodyguard and the Bosnian Muslims were turned into their unholy subhuman sidekicks. Forty years of ‘Brotherhood and Unity’ had been unravelled by two years of effective propaganda.
I myself have heard Serbs say that the Bosniaks in Srebrenica had gotten “what was coming to them”. (Some ten thousand Bosnian Muslims were murdered by Serb forces in the ‘safe haven’ of Srebrenica. They were supposed to be protected by Dutch UN soldiers, but the Dutch were more interested in their own personal well-being. Under threat from general Mladic, they assisted in the separation of the men from the women and the kids. They were later celebrated by our future king William with a grand afterparty in Zagreb).
“Why did the Muslims got what they deserved?” I asked. The answer: “On Christmas day 1993, Muslims attacked the Serbian town of Kravica and massacred the population.” That was one. Another reason was because Muslims had been part of an SS division in World War 2 which had committed atrocities against Serbian partisans. Etc. etc. All the way back to 1389, the battle of Kosovo Polje.
The Balkans are suffering from a severe case of haemophilia. Blood doesn’t clot here. Never.
Throughout Belgrade you will find the date of 1389 in graffiti. For some nationalists, the battle of Kosovo Polje was the baptism of the Serbian nation, the blood that was spilled there made Kosovo irrevocably Serbian for ever and ever, amen.
This may sound ridiculous, and indeed, it is. British historian Eric Hobsbawm tried to compare this claim to something closer to home. It was, he argued, as if the Danes considered England to be forever Danish, because they settled part of the country in the Middle Ages. Or, my own comparison, it would be as if Morocco claimed Andalusia to be theirs, because it had been dominated by Muslims until 1492.
Nonsense of course, but some Serbians are literally dead serious. They are not going to get Kosovo back without a war, which will come some day, though I don’t see it happening for another generation or so.
And yet, however diametrically opposed I am to these nationalist lunatics, I still share their view that Kosovo independence is not a solution. Not for bogus historical motives, but a. because I don’t believe in borders, and more importantly b. because I think the international community is dangerously wrong in continuing to humiliate the Serbian people. They did the same thing to Germany after World War 1, and it caused nothing but trouble, like we all know.
So yes, this Balkan thing is far from settled. It probably never will be.
The positive thing is that the nationalist rally went almost completely abandoned. There were not even a thousand people present. Right now, the Serbs have other more pressing matters to worry about. High prices, inflation, unemployment, etc.
The negative thing is that it only takes a ruthlessly cynical leader and a few years of televised propaganda to convince the masses that all these problems are someone else’s fault, and that they will be solved once that someone else – and everybody like him – will “get what they deserve”.