For the annals of conspiracy theory: NIA, snajko

sesamechefAs you already know, the release of a semiprivate letter by ICTY judge Frederik Harhoff last week set off quite a storm. First of all it came on the heels of exasperation after one more round of surprise acquittals. Second, it added an inside source to the years of speculation about whether disillusion inside the Tribunal approached the level of disillusion outside it. Third, it came at a time when events like the “Bebolucija” in Bosnia-Hercegovina suggested that citizens were getting a little more sick than usual of the useless nationalist politicians they have been instructed that they have to live with. But all of these facts have to do with things like justice, peace, reconciliation, the lives of victims, ordinary people living in the region. Nothing that international elites are likely to get too excited about.

What got people moving was the perceived attack on a new direction in international jurisprudence and on the iconic status in a part of the profession of presiding judge Theodor Meron, described in the brief of the first defence lawyers to try to profit from this train wreck as “a judge of unimpeachable international reputation and renown.”  This got the attention of a part of the international law community dismayed at the dirty old public peeking in. And it exposed the division, as I have pointed out elsewhere, between advocates for the establishment of the rule of international law and advocates of its restriction. After all that time and work that went into marinating, there was a pretty good effort to offer a united front against the demeronisation of the Tribunal’s legacy.

It has been fun to watch the wagons circling. The main part of the activity has involved name-calling, in the form of the defenders calling the critics conspiracy theorists. This is a classic example of the straw man”  strategy in which one answers a critic not by responding to what the critic is saying but by inventing some other point and responding to that. It has also been a little fun to observe the way in which the charge against imaginary conspiracy theorists is more or less entirely led by interested parties.

But now we have our first real conspiracy theory! And it does not look at all like the ones that people who were imagining conspiracy theories had in mind. To be fair, it is not really the first one. There was this one  from some Russian dude that kind of meanders through a bunch of contradictions, then seems to settle on the idea that the conspiracy was to be critical of acquittals of indictees of the wrong nationality. Not very impressive! You get the feeling that this conspiracy theorist is not even trying.

A much more creditable effort comes from Luka Mišetić, the lawyer who led the defence for Anto Furundžija and Ante Gotovina before ICTY. This one has to be acknowledged as a conspiracy theory because it uses the word “conspiracy.” What’s even nicer is that it uses the phrase “joint criminal enterprise” as a synonym for “conspiracy.” This is great coming from a lawyer who knows that the convictions obtained under the theory of conspiracy at the Tokyo Tribunal could not be obtained anywhere else. Yet more fun – although the whole JCE thing is a conceit he is trying on for rhetorical effect, as authority for it he cites a trial judgement that he successfully appealed. But let’s grant the conspiracy theorist the privilege of using terms satirically and suspend disbelief for a little while, otherwise the story would have to end.

Here the conspiracy involves Florence Hartmann, Mirko Klarin, the ICTY prosecutors, Serbia, Carl Bildt, and something called “Nordic intelligence. (“Ja, I could give you my meatball recipe, but then I would have to kill you”). Evidence for their collusion is a photo with an insulting caption that shows the first two conspirators having a drink together. By the odd workings of coincidence, I do know when and where the photo was taken because it was a conference that I attended as well (together with about 200 other people). It was a nice conference, not secret or sinister or conspiratorial, but an opportunity for researchers, journalists, and representatives of a wide range of social groups to talk about reconciliation and transitional justice. Here is a report (also not secret) from the organizers.

Anyway, prosecutors, diplomats, journalists, a state, the chef from the Muppet Show – what brings these disparate forces together? According to the theory it was an effort to protect Carl Bildt from embarrassment. This is a little funny considering Florence Hartmann’s assiduously displayed concern for defending the reputation of Carl Bildt.

Unfortunately there is not any bread to go with this circus. What is the goal of the conspiracy? Apparently it is to offer public criticism of a public official discharging a public function. That does not really rise to the level of criminal activity, at least in most legitimate states.

Actually Mr Mišetić is fairly open about his purpose in offering up his conspiracy theory: it is that damage to the reputation of Meron puts the credibility of the appeals verdict in the Gotovina case, his greatest courtroom success to date, in danger. He’s right about that, but it points to the reason that interested parties make bad sources. He also seems to have something against Florence Hartmann, Mirko Klarin, and all Scandinavians, but whatever, other people’s personal lives.

And now the prize question: Can anyone think of a reason why citizens in the region affected by this would look at a small group of people engaged in fingerpointing and namecalling games and imagine that their fates are in the hands of an irresponsible, self-absorbed clique whose members don’t give two fucks about them? Best answer gets a drink bought by me at the amusingly named club of čika Luka’s choice. We could even take a photo.

Update: Aren’t we lucky, here’s another conspiracy theory. The folks who were anticipating conspiracy theories really did not guess well where they would be coming from.


Today’s dictionary of ideology: “Lawfare”

strategijaSo where do professional goals and practices in international law intersect with efforts to provide legal protection to victims of conflict-related violence? You might think it is a silly question: don’t all practitioners in international law share the goal of providing the protection of international law? The ultraquick answer is no, they do not all have the same orientations, the same sympathies, or the same employers. Some of them want to establish and expand legal protection and some want to limit it.

Since these two groups are fundamentally opposed in terms of what they are trying to achieve, it is not too surprising that they should frequently try to discredit one another. It’s not much of a challenge to discredit projects that have the mission of exempting violence from legal oversight, of course. But what about the other side? Well, what if you were given the opportunity to argue that people interested in protecting civilians while you are fighting are strategic tools of the enemy? The opportunity has been provided, and it traces its origins to the effort of right-wingers to redefine the world after the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York.

Enter one very modern major-general (a brigadier-general actually, but it doesn’t scan). Speaking at Harvard University in the aftermath of the attack in 2001, Charles Dunlap (he was a colonel then), asked:

Is warfare turning into lawfare? In other words, is international law undercutting the ability of the US to conduct effective military interventions? Is it becoming a vehicle to exploit American values in ways that actually increase the risk to civilians? In short, is law becoming more of the problem in modern war instead of part of the solution?

Funny I should ask, General Dunlap answers himself, before going on to quote approvingly two people who agree with his contention, to the effect that

…a “new” kind of international law is emerging that is “profoundly undemocratic at its core” and “has the potential to undermine American leadership in the post-Cold War global system” ….”If the trends of international law are allowed to mature into binding rules,” they state, “international law may become one of the most potent weapons ever deployed against the United States.”

He defines this tendency as “lawfare” and offers a definition:

Lawfare describes a method of warfare where law is used as a means of realizing a military objective.

And Dunlap identifies non-governmental advocates of international law as the prime perpetrators. He has some more words about them too:

…Americans are inclined to be wary of those NGOs who purport to speak – literally – for the “world” on political issues, including LOAC [law on armed conflict]. Too often NGO positions look like political agendas. With respect to LOAC, it must always be kept in mind that NGOs are not political entities equivalent to sovereign nations; rather, they are no more than self-selected, idiosyncratic interest groups that are not accountable to any ballot box. This perspective is sometimes ignored, to the detriment of LOAC development and interpretation.

Consequently (?), Dunlap tells us, “there is an undeniable element of anti-Americanism in international law as it is developing today.” The danger can come from the application of law to violations, or it can come simply from people knowing about violations, as the good general instructs us:

The velocity of today’s communications capabilities presents real challenges to democracies as well as to those governments that, if not truly democratic, nevertheless depend upon support from constituencies that have access to globalized information sources. When television airs unfiltered, near real-time footage of what appear to be LOAC violations, complications result.

Or to put it another way,

The traditional US approach to accomplishing victory – and the one LOAC endorses – focuses on the military element and seeks to diminish the enemy’s armed strength. America’s challengers focus on the people element and seek to diminish the strength of their support for the military effort.

Now, General Dunlap wanted to defend some things in labeling the legal critique of military activity as “lawfare.” On a general level, he wanted to defend targeting civilian objects. On a level more specific than that, he wanted to defend the bombing by NATO of the Radio-Television Serbia headquarters in Belgrade:

Apparently relying on evidence that indicated that RTS broadcasts whipped up ethnic hatreds for years, Air Commodore David Wilby, a NATO spokesman, insisted, “Serb radio and TV is an instrument of propaganda and repression … It is … a legitimate target in this campaign.” His statement is consistent with US legal thinking. [ellipses in original]

He pointed a finger at NGOs as a collective (and Human Rights Watch in particular) as carrying out interest-damaging “lawfare” by criticizing the attack, and of course conveniently overlooked that the attack had no effect on either propaganda or military communication, and that the 16 people who were killed in the attack were technical employees of the television who had no control over editorial or any other policy. The concurrently developing doctrine of (enemy!) force protection enters into Dunlap’s calculation as well, since he contends that large numbers of opposing soldiers were spared at the cost of “small, albeit regrettable, numbers of civilian casualties.”

A couple of quick points about the implications of this fascinating “lawfare” doctrine:

  1. Lawfare is conceived as an enemy strategy. That is to say that the reason the term is invented is so that it can be invoked against advocates of law in order to associate them with military opponents. Sometimes, of course, advocates of law might be associated with military opponents. But the global deployment of the term, in conjunction with Dunlap’s sweeping statements about the nature and orientation of NGOs, does not suggest a strong willingness to make distinctions.
  2. Lawfare occurs in “asymmetrical” conflict, in which one party is smaller and less well armed than the other. For Michael Schmitt of the US Naval War College, this means that the “disadvantaged party has an incentive to blur the distinction between its forces and the civilian population in the hope that this will deter the other side from attack.” This worries Laurie Blank who points to “the great fluidity between hostile persons and innocent civilians,” but if there is fluidity the “lawfare” analysts seem to have a consensus about the direction of the flow: it goes from innocence to hostility and consequently expands the pool of legitimate targets.
  3. Contesting lawfare requires the cooperation of (people in) legal institutions. On the one hand this means lawyers involved with military planning and target selection to try to prevent violations occurring (this is a good thing), but on the other hand it means reducing risk by opposing international courts and tribunals, and if their founding and operation cannot be prevented, limiting their oversight.

Going back to General Dunlap again, he tells us something that has been represented in the pattern of responses we have been able to observe in the debate since the ICTY initiated its series of exonerations of high-ranking suspects last November:

Too often it seems that civilian lawyers and/or humanitarian actors suffer from an insufficient understanding of the military consequences of their legal positions. This can lead to situations that serve to make the law an object of disdain for many in uniform.

But in the immediate post-9/11 environment, our general was optimistic (about the “many in uniform,” that is). As he put it:

Considering Americans’ willingness to sacrifice their own legal protections, they are unlikely to be overly demanding about the supposed legal rights of foreign belligerents.

I am pretty sure that Dunlap’s essay was never translated, but I wonder whether “supposed” would have been translated as “tobože”?

In a later reflection on coining the term, General Dunlap sniffed that “the term was always intended to be ideologically neutral.” But it is fairly clear that it was not. As the debate developed, the discourse on “lawfare” came to be used for a wide variety of purposes. Mostly it was used for the intended purpose, which was to discredit criticism of the techniques and particularly the targeting used in military operations like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. But another was to provide a justification for the targeting of civilian objects more generally. When a concrete instance that could have led to legal charges emerged, it was used more specifically – for example by law professor (and former State Department official) Laurie Blank, who excoriated the 2009 report by Richard Goldstone on violations of the laws of war in Gaza. Professor Blank borrowed Dunlap’s argument that the presence of civilians in an area of military activity transform them into legitimate targets (so residential buildings, cultural sites and religious buildings are fair game), but also dismissed Goldstone’s report more broadly as an example of … you guessed it, “lawfare”!

There is a lot that is fairly fascinating about the whole “lawfare” discourse, and it certainly speaks to me as a lover of neologisms and portmanteaus in particular. But aside from the fairly obvious inference that everyone will make that it represents an effort to delegitimate fundamentally legitimate activity by way of verbal disqualification (nothing new there, that’s what ideology does), I would emphasize two things: 1) it shows that people in the military establishment care what people think, which is actually kind of awesome, and 2) it shows that they put a lot of energy into stopping them from thinking it, which is actually kind of creepy.

By now the canny reader will be wondering, this was a nice little journey through the mind of a portion of the military-legal establishment, but what is it doing in a blog about Balkan politics and academics? It is because some interesting relationships emerge between the “lawfare” discourse and the reasoning used in the latest generation of ICTY verdicts that have been the object of so much controversy since the first of them was handed down in November, even more so since one of the judges, Frederik Harhoff, circulated a letter that became public raising his concerns about changes in the way that evidence is evaluated and the possible influence of (and on) the ICTY’s presiding judge.

There are a couple of places where the language of “lawfare,” even though it is not explicitly invoked, made its way into the reasoning of judicial majorities, one of them indirectly and one of them fairly directly.

In February, the Perišić appeals chamber judgement found that “the provision of general assistance which could be used for both lawful and unlawful activities will not be sufficient, alone, to prove that this aid was specifically directed to crimes of principal perpetrators” – a finding echoed by the trial chamber in the Stanišić-Simatović case, which “recalls the Appeals Chamber’s holding that in most cases, the provision of general assistance which could be used for both lawful and unlawful activities will not be sufficient, alone, to prove that this aid was specifically directed to the crimes of the principal perpetrators.” The finding is consistent with the lawfarists’ intent on protecting commanders and policymakers as far as possible from accountability for the consequences of their activity, and to limit liability to cases where there is an explicit intention to commit crimes (as opposed to failure to assure that they will not be committed, or knowledge of the likelihood that crime is a probable result). What it appears to require is a presumption that all war aims be regarded as legal – calling them into question is lawfaring.

Maybe more interesting is the reasoning of the appeals chamber in the Oluja case. A group of military lawyers filed a “friend of the court” brief that concentrated on the development of a standard to distinguish legal from illegal targets. The appeals chamber decided not to admit the brief as the association of the signers with one of the parties to the case disqualified them as “friends of the court,” but it is clear to any reader that the majority decision adopted much of the reasoning used in the brief.

The brief argued that imposing concrete limits on shelling targets “will subject military commanders to a standard of care that is impossible to satisfy and operationally untenable.”

What makes the standard impossible is those perfidious civilians, or as the amici wannabes put it, “Amici fear that adoption of an unrealistic operational standard will, in future conflicts similar to the one before the court, result in noncompliance with IHL balancing standards which may ultimately increase the risk of casualties among the civilian population by incentivizing efforts to immunize lawful objects of attack by co-mingling them with the civilian population and requiring commanders to comply with an impossible standard.”

Otherwise “the commander should benefit from the presumption that his orders and actions fully complied with obligations established by international humanitarian law.” This would serve the purpose of “protect(ing) commanders from unjustified criminal responsibility based on orders resulting from necessarily hasty preparation.”

The first of those arguments resembles quite closely the argument justifying civilian targets in Gaza that (look higher up on the page) had been offered by “lawfare” advocate Leslie Blank – who was, coincidentally, the first signer of the brief.

Let’s put this into a bit of context. What is being played out at ICTY is not a competition over what nationality the judges like the least (as a lot of domestic right-wingers across the region have liked to argue), and it is probably not a sign of direct pressure or lobbying (as Judge Harhoff implied in his letter). It is a competition between rival visions of how legal regulation relates to military activities and the policies, accompanied by a consciousness of what an outcome in favour of the capacity would imply. For now it is a competition that states and militaries are winning, and victims are losing.


Victim of the BH political parties

protesti jmb 0506 (2)These parasitic politicians are as useless as can be, at everything except killing babies.


He’ll Hoff and he’ll Poff and he’ll blow your court down

54875_01_360Well, this has been an interesting week! After the pretty surprising not guilty verdict in the Stanišić and Simatović trial, a bunch of media were interested in explanations of how it was possible for the Tribunal to find (like it did in the Perišić case) that creating, training, arming, financing, housing, providing personnel and managing covert communication for paramilitary forces that commit crimes does not constitute a connection to the crimes. I was one of the people who offered responses, but there were many others as well, including Iva Vukusić, Srđa Popović, Saša Ilić, Sandra Orlović … there was a lot of critical reaction, I could go on.
There was a little bit of a counterreaction to the critical analyses of the verdict. Stanišić and Simatović’s lawyers published a piece arguing that criticism of the verdict amounted to undermining the right of the accused to a fair trial. A former human rights lawyer tied criticism by human rights activists (and people who sympathise with them) to a feeling of jilted love when verdicts failed to go their way, and claimed that ICTY’s narrowing standards of evidence were in fact nothing new. But the really fun part came from people who picked up on the point that there was a community of interest between judges who adopt restrictive standards of responsibility and states desiring a free hand in shelling stuff and using proxy forces. They decided that pointing out a relation between law and policy is “conspiracy theory,” and decided that this was a good way to defend the ethereal purity of the legal profession by way of terminological dismissal. There’s not much point in making a denial once someone has called you a conspiracy theorist (Your denial is just a sign that you are part of the conspiracy! And you would deny it, wouldn’t you?), but maybe it is at least worth pointing out that the etymology of the word conspiracy (let’s do it loosely as “breathing the same air”) might be used to suggest that what we are talking about when we talk about this disagreement is quite possibly in large part a conflict of approaches and worldviews, and maybe of professions as well.
The professions bit could possibly be the most interesting. As many people have been arguing over the years, when history-defining grievances and crimes are at stake, it is not entirely reasonable to expect legal institutions and procedures – even, if we want to go hypothetical, very good ones – to bring justice, peace, understanding and mutual recognition. This is in a greater measure the job of politics and culture, and one of the great failures of the post-2000 period is the way that politics and culture in large measure ran away from the table in fear, hoping that ICTY would do the job of establishing historical truth and encouraging dialogue instead of them. That was never going to happen even under the best conditions, but with worse conditions in place a lot of people are confronted with a lot of painfully open questions.
There is perhaps another interesting dimension to the conflict between the professions. Lawyers and researchers are both in weird and incestuous communities that trace their origins to the priesthood. Probably they descend from different parts of the priesthood, though. Lawyers come out of the tradition of priests who intercede between man and God, and their practice is founded on affirming their special relationship to ultimate authority and declaring in the interest of the people they represent, “I am right.” Researchers come out of the tradition of priests who try to elaborate and make sensible the mysteries of the world, and their practice is founded on making information available and excitedly shouting “Isn’t this interesting?” A lot of differences derive from these distinct approaches, but maybe the most important difference here is that the two professions do not share the same tendency to defend one another and close ranks.

As it turned out, the people who rushed to defend the sanctity of the lawyers from the people they thought were conspiring to suggest a conspiracy kind of jumped the gun, because eventually the greatest scandal would be produced not by the outsiders who were analysing them but from within their own ranks (darn the priesthood and its intrigues anyway!). On Thursday Danish media published a letter that an ICTY judge, Frederik Harhoff, had sent “privately” to 56 of his nearest and dearest friends. Was it an inappropriate leak of an individual’s private thoughts? Let’s say that when a senior international official sends something around to a large number of people, he either intends for it to become public or is very bad at calculating probability, and although Frederik Harhoff is a professor of law and not mathematics, there is a nonrandom chance that he understands something about probability.
Everybody who follows these topics has already seen the letter (if not, here it is in Danish, English and Naški) so there is not any need to go into too much detail on its contents. In sum it complains about the shifting orientation of the Tribunal to the question of the responsibility of high ranking indictees. accuses presiding judge Teodor Meron of putting undue pressure on his colleagues, raises the question of whether the situation is the result of political pressure, and expresses worry about whether the practice of ICTY is consistent with professional ethics.
Does the letter prove anything? No doubt it offers evidence that at least one senior judge lacks confidence in the leadership of the Tribunal and has some serious doubts and a few suspicions. It does not provide evidence that the suspicions are grounded in more than coincidence, and Harhoff does not claim to have evidence of that. So in that sense observers are largely in the same situation they were in before the letter was released: we do not know about lobbying or other types of pressure, and if there are people who do know they are (for perfectly legitimate reasons) not saying. So if there really are any conspiracy theorists out there, this is not the smoking gun they wanted to find. For my part I don’t care for conspiracies and am inclined to think that if there is influence it does not come from crude strongarming but from the existence of a group of people who have goals, values and orientations to their profession in common.
The letter does give more concrete confirmation of something that we knew before pretty much only from gossip. It confirms the existence of a meaningful (but we do not know how large) level of discomfort among people inside the institution with the direction in which it is headed, the legacy it is likely to leave, and the leadership it has. That is to say, it demonstrates that there are people inside the Tribunal who think what a lot of observers outside think. The fact that it comes from a senior judge who is not known as a live wire gives it a bit of credibility, though its not entirely temperate tone maybe makes it a bit of a wash.

Unsurprisingly the news was greeted with high fascination. The SENSE news agency described it as a “bombshell.” The former OTP spokesperson Florence Hartmann called for an investigation of the issue and raised the possibility of verdicts being revised. Marlise Simons reported in the New York Times of a movement afoot among judges to replace Meron as the presiding judge when his term comes up in the fall.
On a side note, there has also been a bunch of chazzerai about anti-Semitism that I am not meshuggeneh enough to touch.
Is it a bombshell, a pretext for retrials, or the catalyst for a judicial revolt? Time will tell, but a good measure of scepticism is always in order. I am inclined to think it is both a little bit less and a little bit more than that.
First, it is a sign that the crisis of confidence in ICTY has spread from outside the institution to inside. The people who dismiss critics as a bunch of wild-eyed justice-obsessed hippie sans-culotte nonlawyers intruding into the comfortable sanctum really may want to start paying attention.
But possibly more to the point, the whole inside-baseball character of the dispute and the recurrent efforts to limit discussion tell us once again that the putative clients of the Tribunal are not at the centre of anybody’s concern. And it tells us again that if societies genuinely need the work of justice to be done, they have to cast their net broader than the courts.


Something big comes this way

184480_10151695994523524_1233554755_nRemember the Nineties? It was an awesome time for essentialists. National chauvinists briefly got the upper hand in politics in the region, told knowledge-free internationals that their extreme politics were a product of nature (which functions differently in countries you know nothing about, dontcha know), and got away with it.
As a result we had years of apparently serious discussions about what was being done by “the” (insert nationality here) to “the” (insert slightly less despised but disparagingly pitied nationality here). One guy even had something close to a bestseller with it. Remember Robert Kaplan? He was a guy who talked to a bunch of taxi drivers who managed to persuade him that everything was caused by ghosts. Then he wrote this bizarre book that projected his fantasies about geography onto the faces of people he described. In between play sessions with his cigar, even the president of the United States read that book. Dependably, big news creates a good scene for charlatans.
That story about how everyone on a particular territory was always unified by the same bad ideas looked pretty saleworthy for a while. It certainly provided a useful lesson to predatory politicians: whatever you want to get away with, pitch it as a response to the nation being threatened. That way everybody will believe everything and nobody will demand anything from you, least of all that you respond to the public’s needs.
The nationalists’ claim to a monopoly on public sentiment was always bogus, but for a period it was a successful political strategy. If anyone was looking for a sign showing that it no longer is, look no farther than some key protests of the past month.

First in Belgrade, a group of right-wing parties joined up with a politicised faction of the Serbian Orthodox Church to organise a protest against the agreement that had been signed between Serbia and Kosovo. Not too many people turned up, but the ones who did were in for a surprise. One defrocked bishop offered a thinly veiled death threat to the prime minister, and a serving bishop acted as though the death threat had already been carried out, performing a funeral oratory for the government.
The response was not delight. The prime minister garnered a good load of sympathy by asking what God had done to deserve such earthly representatives. The head of the Church rushed to declare that neither he nor the Church had anything to do with the bishops’ shameful performance. In one analysis Sonja Pavlović characterized the overreaching of the bishops, following on a series of scandals involving shenanigans of all kinds in the Church, as a “death blow for the extreme right.” Meanwhile the satirists at had “hooligans abandoning the meeting in terror” following the bishops’ addresses.
There was a time in Serbia when hatred and fear provided a pretty reliable recipe for political success. It’s not working anymore, once people have been offered a chance for peaceful settlement and a bit of hope. The politicians who decline to learn the new rules can look forward to a long and well deserved sojourn in the wilderness.

Then this week in Bosnia citizens began making their point again. The catalyst was the health of Belmina Ibrišević, a three-month old girl urgently requiring medical treatment that is only available abroad. But she could not get it, why? Because she could not get a passport or an official medical record, why? Because the representatives of the two entities that make up the state have been unable to agree over control of the issuance of identity documents to new citizens, and have not issued these documents since February. First citizens in Sarajevo came to protest at the parliament, eventually surrounding the building with a human chain and telling the parliamentarians inside that they would be let out of the building until they resolve the problem. The parliament responded with a “temporary solution” that would allow an ID number to be issued to the baby girl in question. The protestors rejected the move and demanded that the parliament agree on a way for the state to accomplish the simplest and most essential job it has.
With dramatic exceptions, among them the chair of the Council of Ministers Vjekoslav Bevanda who surrounded himself with bodyguards and muscled himself out of the building to a waiting car, smacking concerned citizens out of the way, a good number of the parliamentarians were willing to comply with the protestors’ demands, particularly as groups of celebrities, artists, athletes and Sarajevo’s mayor came by to support the protest. A more dramatic exception was provided by a group of RS deputies, loudest among them Aleksandra Pandurević, who claimed (falsely) that the protest was aggressive and directed against Serbs, and who sought guarantees of security and armed escorts to get them away from their workplace. A group of special forces police made their way over from RS but thankfully any potentially awful incident that could involve them was avoided. Pandurević herself, together with her colleagues who claimed to be threatened, were ridiculed universally, by people of all nationalities in both entities.
Again, real interests were at stake. Nobody was prepared to believe that an expression of disgust at an entitled political class unprepared to protect (or even officially acknowledge) the state’s youngest citizens was anything other than what it was. The effort to turn it into a national incident failed.

If the old days ever were what they appeared to be, they are over now. The national game is up. When it worked it produced a generation of politicians who believed that firing up resentment and fear would give them a permanent hold on power. It’s ringing hollow and their permanent mark is fading. They have become objects of ridicule. They’re over.