“Independent International Commission of Inquiry,” a literary review

Did we warn you? Well, yes, we did. In February 2019, when Dodik engineered the appointment of a couple of commissions to revise the history of war crimes committed in the violent redefinition of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a group of us released an open letter describing how we thought the effort would turn out. In it we outlined the difference between successful and unsuccessful investigative commissions:

In the best cases, commissions have succeeded in contributing credible information to the historical record and assisted in the process of building peace. In the worst cases, they have substituted for more ambitious programmes for achieving justice and have provided one-sided or selective versions of historical experience.

We drew on the experience of failed commissions in the region, some of which produced reports and some of which did not, to identify the shared characteristics of failed ones:

In general where initiatives in the region have failed, it has either been because a lack of public legitimacy or because of an appearance of partiality or insincerity. The worst efforts have been those which have attempted to trivialise crimes as “inevitable” byproducts of war, to dissolve them into the mud of relativisation, or to minimise them by broadening contexts to expand into a variety of irrelevant considerations. Common to every unsuccessful initiative is disrespect for the needs and experiences of victims.

And we offered a prediction about what the latest set of stunts by RS would produce:

The strategy here is to turn legitimate grievances into material for trivialising grievances suffered by others.

And now we have the first product, against which we can test our prediction. Nobody can be too happy about the fact that we were right.

The “Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Suffering of the Serbs in Sarajevo between 1991 and 1995,” appointed by some sort of appendage of Milorad Dodik in 2019, released its report (although it is dated October 2020) yesterday. The report has a lot of pages — 1420 of them if we want to be precise, although some of them are filler and some of them are blank. But don’t be too overwhelmed by the number of pages. The sections that actually discuss “the suffering of the Serbs in Sarajevo between 1991 and 1995” are fairly limited. They occur between pages 743 and 806, and to a lesser extent between pages 926 and 966. The rest of the report is concerned with other topics.

Let’s start with the suffering that is in the title of the report. Is there a case to answer here? Sadly, yes, there is. Particularly at the beginning of the war, when the defence of Sarajevo against its siege had to be organised, much of the work of marshalling and deploying force was taken up by criminal groups, who saw an opportunity to steal, extort, intimidate, perform idiotic hatreds, and generally be mean. They did target civilians of Serb ethnicity, abuse and kill some number of them, and generated protests from domestic law enforcement and international observers, much of which did not meet with adequate response on the part of state authorities. At the same time, it is worth remembering that the largest part of the departure of Serbs from Sarajevo was the work not of the people they thought of as their enemies, but of the people who promoted themselves as their supporters.

Does the report shed light on the incidents that provided with it with a title? Unfortunately, not a lot at all. They took a very small number of witness statements, and most of those were some from sympathetic politicians or politicians-manque rather than from victims. They added to these a modest number of statements made to a variety of other institutions over the past 25 years, which they included in an appendix. Otherwise what the report has to say about “the suffering of the Serbs in Sarajevo between 1991 and 1995″ is largely previously published material that was already known. Do we have new insight into the number of victims involved? No. Do we have new insight into the perpetrators and possible connections with higher portions of the chain of command? No. Do we have revelations of previously unknown cases? No. Has the report provided any of the things you might hope for from a pompously announced report? No.

So that is the balance of the 103 out of 1420 pages that actually deal of the topic. Yes, we did tell you so two years ago, but all the same, sorry, it is not much.

You may be curious, then, to know what comprises the remaining 92% of the text of the report. Well, let’s go chapter by chapter. Chapter 1 is titled “General Historical Introduction.” Imagine you have an undergraduate not too familiar with research presentations who wants to write about something that has nothing to do with the experience of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Ottoman period. You will tell the student to stick to the topic, and that they do not have to say anything about the Ottoman period. But the student will, possibly feeling conscientious, say oh no, I really have to give an overview of the Ottoman period. And they will proceed to give you 137 pages of the most amateurish summary of the Ottoman period, reconstructed from the most mediocre and tendentious history texts that you never assign for a good reason. Well, that’s Chapter 1.

Should we be more hopeful about Chapter 2, then? We should not. This is a bit of cod psychology that reads as though it was actually written by a cod. You think I am joking. but I am not joking. Imagine that an addled mind has somehow managed to weave together visions of Plessy, Ferguson, eugenicists, a sexed up version the MMPI they have actually called the “Slavic-Language Personality Inventory-360”, and what must be an extra large Big Pharma into a stream of semiconsciousness narrative. If you imagine this well enough there will be no need to read Chapter 2.

Moving on to Chapter 3. This chapter is about a plan to “re-establish a great Islamic state based on sharia law stretching from Morocco to the Philippines, thus abolishing present national boundaries.” Apparently the plan is spearheaded by Bakir Izetbegović. Scratch your head for a moment thinking of the wonderful couscous and adobo dishes that this great state could produce, and wondering that anybody might think that Bakir Izetbegović has ever had a political idea. Don’t spend too much time on either of these thoughts, you might fall into the hole.

Will things get better with Chapter 4? They will not. Here you will read about the way in which all of global media concentrated all of their energy on demonising Serbs, describing VRS as an aggressor for no other reason than the fact that they were. The exceptions to this included, who are to be honoured as defenders of truth, are comprised by a gaggle of charlatans too vile to name. The neat thing about this chapter is that it has some charts with numbers, which will be attractive to people who like numbers, unless they like numbers a lot and can see that this is not the way to use numbers.

Chapter 5 is the place where people who began reading the report because they thought they might find something about the topic signalled in the title would expect to find material related to the topic signalled in the title. And they do, sort of, beginning more than halfway through. Unfortunately the material that is offered is in general already known, is incomplete, and is served up tendentiously. The people who began reading thinking that there would be some material about the topic that is signalled in the title could be forgiven for giving up here.

This would be a mistake, because Chapter 6 is the highlight of the report. You will understand that expectations will have been considerably lowered by the time a reader has got this far. What makes it a highlight is a selection of small things: in general font sizes are consistent throughout the chapter and some attention appears to have been paid to typesetting. The person who wrote it appears to have some familiarity with the structure and syntax of a research presentation. The bibliography is, for once, in a recognisable bibliographic format. Melem za dušu, if you can ignore the fact that most of the material is off topic and the stuff that is on topic is misrepresented. But at this point you will take what you can get, won’t you?

Chapter 7 is conclusions. We don’t need to spend a lot of time on Chapter 7 because all of the conclusions are foregone.

The report has not got a lot of media coverage or other types of attention. This blog post is probably the most attention it will get. That fact is probably just fine, but you know, RS has (or does not have) another report coming. Heaven help us all.


Movie time: Dara in denial

The film Dara of Jasenovac was launched with as much publicity (a lot) as a regime-controlled media system can muster, promoted (unsuccessfully) as a candidate for the Oscars, and offered up (expensively) to a large public in a television broadcast premiere. It has produced a great deal of debate, much of it not about the quality of the film itself, but about the morality of producing a dramatic account of the genocide committed by the collaborationist Independent State of Croatia (NDH) between 1941 and 1945. There have been lots of passionate exchanges between people who have not seen the film about whether or not it should have been made, which are interesting in the sense that any set of questions and answers that both lack content can possibly be interesting.

No room for doubt exists at all on the question of whether Jasenovac and the events around it are important and deserving of commemoration. This was a massive crime, ideologically motivated, systematically planned, and brutally executed. Nearly every family in the region is directly or indirectly touched by it in some way. The fact that irresponsible and criminal political actors have spent much of the past thirty years abusing its memory and using it to justify a new set of crimes does not do anything to diminish the legitimate claims for recognition by victims and their descendants. The victims deserve good history to be written, good discussions to be engaged, and good films to be made.

This is not a good film.

The reason it is not good is not so much in the “anti-Croatian, anti-Catholic nativism” that Variety’s reviewer condemned it for. A visible effect of the film may have been to animate public contention between pseudonymous traders in the secondary victims’ market putting themselves across as Serbian or Croatian, but the script repeatedly buys insurance against the charge that it is anti-Croatian in the ethnic sense. How? Well, its insurance payments are conveniently cheap. In the opening segment a Croat mother rescues a child from a forced march. The camp guards appear to generally tolerate a couple of cameos by Diana Budisavljević (about whom a much better director made a much better film).  One of the nuns seems kind of concerned when her charges are about to be killed. So there you have it, the producers gave us some nice Croats.

So, does that mean that the director Predrag Antonijević is right when he says that it is an “anti-ustaša, not an anti-Croat film”? Well, the problem is that it is not all that anti-ustaša, at least not in any historically meaningful way.

There exists an ample literature about the ustaša movement and the short-lived “Independent State of Croatia” that operated for four years under the sponsorship of the Nazis. It was a nasty entity that intended, planned, and committed genocide. I mention this because promoters of the film like to make the claim that this bit of history is unknown, or has been repressed, or was silenced, or is systematically denied. These claims are demonstrably false. The crimes of NDH are well documented, widely memorialised, generally known, and the subject of a very considerable research literature, popular non-fiction, and cultural representations including novels, theatre performances, and films. Among the films it would be reasonable to include Branko Marjanović’s Zastava (1949), France Stiglic’s Deveti krug (1960), Eduard Galić’s Crne ptice (1967), and Lordan Zafranović’s Okupacija u 26 slika (1978), among others. Why point all this out? Because claims by nonguitarists who inexplicably call themselves “Prince” aside, the facts here are known by everybody who wants to know them, as well as by some people who do not.

In fact the whole script depends on the assumption that viewers already know a great deal, because it tells them nothing. Who were the ustaše and what motivated them? You won’t find out from this representation where they come from, what they did, or that they were a political movement at all. Instead you see them as a fairly small group of individuals who have some sadistic psychopathologies, that they manifest in a completely unsystematic way. Here and there they will shoot some people, julienne them with sheaf cutters, or whack them to death with hammers. The visual effect is impressive if empty necrophilia is your thing, but it is as far from “truth” about genocide as can be. If this were the way that killings were conducted in the camp there would be a few hundred victims, not 80-90,000.

Genocide is not, as it appears to be in the film, a whimsy of a few whack jobs playing dressup. It is organised and systematic. To give an example, the commission of the genocide in Srebrenica (which, as nationalists will eagerly point out to you, had fewer victims than Jasenovac) involved 25,083 identified participants,  including the people who actually conducted the murders, people who transported victims, people who provided supplies of various kinds, and people who destroyed and altered evidence afterward. Have a look, for example, just at the section of the Mladić trial judgement concerning “burial operations” (here, it begins on page 1574), to get a sense of the scale of mobilisation required just to hide evidence once the crime has already been committed. It is a process that cannot be reduced to a few people and their personal characteristics or emotional conditions. To try to reduce it to that is to trivialise both the scale of the crime and the experience of the victims, to say nothing of grossly narrowing the perpetrators’ scope of responsibility.

In representing the camp itself, the crimes of the ustaše are similarly minimised. There is a stark contrast with the visual style typical of Holocaust films, as a lot of the 2.3 million the director got from public funds was spent on gussying up the production values. There’s lots of lush Slavonian landscape, bucolic farmland, lighting in the Ernest Dickerson palette. The camp quarters are spacious and uncramped, and the warm relationships that develop between the inmates and their solicitous capos are only intermittently interrupted by the visits of guards who pirouette their way through as if they were on a catwalk. The inmates must have a daily laundry service that keeps them permanently uppa druppa with fresh and unwrinkled handkerchiefs.

It goes without saying that this visual rendering of the camp bears no resemblance at all to Nazi-era camps, neither in reality nor in film. A scene of imprisoned children playing a football match suggests the possible influence of an earlier cinematic abuse of Jasenovac, Istina (2016) by the contemptible propagandist Jakov Sedlar.

The bits that represent original contributions by the creators of the film are maudlin, and just awful: ustaše who are so excited by the killing they run off to schtup in car, a kid peeing on Vjekoslav Luburić’s shoe, Ante Vrban constantly eating fruit like some sort of fascist Rastafarian. These innovations will not turn out to have been iconic contributions to the cinema of genocide.

Is there anything good about the film? Well, as noted above, it is visually quite impressive. And there are several actors who succeed, at least partly, in their ongoing battle against the disservice that the scriptwriters did to them.

And as for what is bad about it? Raging condemnations of propaganda aside, it leaves a strange impression. Yes, there is enough random and sadistically depicted killing to satisfy anybody who may have doubted that fascists were really, really bad. But all of it is so thoroughly decontextualised that no insight is offered into the fact that the killing took place as a part of a system, and that this system was promoted on the level of ideas, drew on a sustained supply of materials and personnel, depended on a military and economic sponsor, and was defeated. The scenic elaboration of the camp further undermines any effort to identify with the experiences of people who found themselves in it, while the complete absence of character development makes it impossible to establish any emotional contact, either with the people you are supposed to be crying for or are supposed to be crying about. It’s gossamer violence by cardboard perpetrators. It uses, and in the final analysis betrays, the victims.


For whom Nobel tolls

pera-na-mjestu-zločinaWhen Peter Handke got the Nobel prize for literature, reaction was immediate. Večernje novosti, Serbia’s answer to the Daily mail, rushed in with an interview in which Handke declared that he is „pleased that Serbs are happy because of me.“ In most of the rest of the world attention was concentrated on Handke’s role as a promoter of genocide and his second-place finish in 1999 as „international moron of the year“ (first place went to Charlton Heston).

What is Peter Handke’s contribution to literature? A bad boy of theatre back when that was fashionable, he wrote a couple of pretty good novels and assembled some truly outstanding film scripts for Wim Wenders in the 1970s and 1980s. The work that resulted made both of them international celebrities, and while Wenders went on to continue producing great films, Handke retreated into a life of luxury and intellectual laziness. The reason that all of the focus of the discussion is on his sloppy and superficial political engagement is that it is many years since he has done anything meaningful in literature.

So let’s talk about that political engagement. The wars that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia were seized as an opportunity for self promotion by a whole gaggle of fading academic celebrities who cared fuck all about Yugoslavia. Like most of the rest of them, Handke staked his claim by choosing one of the abhorrent sides. Unlike most of the rest of them, he chose the side where the competition for publicity was thinnest. Croatia had in its menagerie film celebrities (Martin Sheen), popular music icons (Chris Novoselić), even a genuine philosopher (Alain Finkielkraut). Bosnia and Herzegovina fared a little more weakly, collecting a chorus line of media-oriented intellectual poseurs (Bernard-Henri Levy) and doing a good deal better on the musical front. Serbia really had to scrape the bottom of the barrel, having to pretend for years that a nonentity whose principal accomplishment was shoplifting (one Danel Schiffer) was some sort of intellectual quantity, until there stepped into their garden Noam Chomsky to develop some kind of tortured explanation about how the atrocities that were being committed fit beautifully with the faux-anti-imperialist slogans he had been listlessly repeating for decades. Handke could step in front of that open goal with no anxiety at all.

His resulting intervention, A journey to the rivers, competes for the title of the most regrettable dross to be written about the Balkans with Robert Kaplan’s Balkan ghosts. Unlike Kaplan, whose interlocutors are opinionated taxi drivers and lusty nuns, Handke says he is „drawn“ to the country „least known to me“ and proceeds to learn nothing by talking principally to his two translators and a gaggle of regime-sponsored writers. Mostly the book repeats slogans that were recited to him by his hosts, and it also describes some rivers which, in contrast with Handke’s arguments, hold water. The book is representative of the genre of foreign authors known in the Balkans as padobranci, who turn up knowing nothing with a conclusion already formed, and leave a short time later knowing no more but armed with a few quotations from the small number of people they met who confirmed their prejudices.

The work coming out of his little genocide safari has been described both by admirers and detractors as „pro-Serbian,“ but describing it this way requires equating a nationality with the most repulsive people who claim it. Handke’s sympathies were never with people in Serbia but with the leaders of the violent regime of the 1990s. Svetlana Slapšak offers a good summary of just which Serbs Handke is taking to be representative. The writer:

…erases all of the Serbs who do not correspond to his Miloševićesque imaginarium. These others do not exist for him. I read in this the flatulence of the coloniser, the self-decared saint of small peoples, who acts like he is opposing great powers by defending small criminals and their accomplices [….]

To see in the Serbian people only Milošević’s world and to notice nothing else disqualifies Handke as a writer and an intellectual. The point is not about ideas and political sympathies, but about a serious lack of observation, knowledge, feeling, or the impulse to love the oppressed and victims more than tyrants and abusers. […] Handke has seriously insulted Serbia, it could be said with a pathetic intonation, because the only thing he saw was the brutal face of power, and he equated it with the people.

Naturally a writer whose principal hobby is courting controversy enjoyed the revulsion his nonsense kicked up. A big part of his 1996 book was dedicated to denying the genocidal killings in Srebrenica. His reply to the peole who pointed out that the corpses of the victims provided evidence that his contentions were false was anatomically improbable: “You can stick your corpses up your arse.”

Nonetheless his spilling of GMO conceptual seed on fallow ground caused a thousand flowers to bloom among Milošević’s crackpots. In 2000 he was awarded the Braća Karić prize, endowed by some doughy folksingers who somehow founded a bank. In 2012 he was made an honorary member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. In 2015 he joined such luminaries as Kim Il Sung, Edward Gierek, and Norodom Sihanouk as an honorary citizen of Belgrade. He enjoys the unique distinction of being adored by people whose cultural orientation inclines them to hate his literary work, and scorned by the people who like it.

So we can sum up the literary career that is being rewarded: until around 30 years ago, this person did indeed produce, as the Swedish Academy says, „influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.After that he did some other stuff that stressed some very particular specificities of human experience with a good deal more emphasis on the specificity than on the human.

Unsurprisingly, there has been a good deal of debate as to whether this record makes a person deserving of a Nobel prize. Your answer to the question depends on what you think the prize is for. We can dismiss immediately the romantic idea that its purpose is to identify something like “the greatest writer in the world.” That individual does not exist. More realistically, there is a set of a few hundred writers in the world whose output is distinguished enough that they can be thought of as plausible candidates for the prize. Every year the judges choose among them, in a choice that is best thought of as a kind of intervention. Sometimes the prize is meant to draw attention to an issue, or to the literary output of some part of the world. Sometimes it is meant to move a writer from relative obscurity to global fame. And most of the time it functions a lot like the Oscar for “lifetime achievement,” in which the public is reminded that somebody who was already well known is not yet dead. In all cases, the literature Nobel is probably best thought of as providing a kind of auxiliary service to publishers’ marketing.

Occasionally the judges will make a creative intervention. Probably the most interesting recent example is the award of the prize to Bob Dylan in 2017. Not a great writer by any measure, Dylan has over many, many, many (many!) decades written an enormous number of songs, which range from sublime (“Tangled up in blue”) to execrable (“Quinn the Eskimo”). The prize was meant not to point to the quality of the writing, but to the artist’s contribution to a large-scale reconception of the ways that people think about the relation between popular art and public culture. Oher prizes have amounted to interventions that raised the prominence of a region’s cultural production (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Naguib Mahfouz) or drew attention to political issues (Nadine Gordimer, Czeslaw Milosz).

This year’s award was possibly of that type, with the accent on issues related to identity. In that sense it is telling that at the same time that Handke received the prize, it was also awarded to Olga Tokarczuk (formally she was awarded the prize for last year, since at that time the committee was too busy doing sexual harassment to get around to much else). Presumably the award was meant to show evenhandedness, by recognising at the same time a writer whose well researched and sensitive explorations call national exclusivity into question, and another one who indulges in slapdash adventurism in the service of genocidal propaganda.

There is a kind of balance in making an award to somebody who enriches a debate and somebody who cheapens it at the same time. It’s the kind that was demonstrated by Donald Trump when, on seeing a confrontation between anti-racists and neo-Nazis, he opined that there were “very fine people on both sides.”


Now, the post-Mladić era: Four thoughts

CORAX-Ratko-MladicThere are a lot of questions to be considered in the aftermath of the delivery of the ICTY’s last trial verdict. Here are some thoughts on four of them.

1. Genocide

The full text of the verdict has not yet been published. When it is, it will probably be somewhere around a thousand pages requiring careful reading. In the meantime it will be necessary to divine what can be divined from the eleven-page summary.  Most attention will go to the judges’ reasoning on count 1, for genocide beginning in 1992 in six municipalities. On this count the chamber decided to acquit Mladić, but did convict him of several counts of crimes against humanity. It will be interesting to see their reasoning in detail. According to the summary, they did find on the one hand that “certain perpetrators […] intended to destroy the Bosnian Muslims in those Municipalities as a part of the protected group” but did not agree that “the targeted part constituted a substantial part of the protected group.” So they found intent (which the chamber in Karadžić did not) but introduced a standard of scale (which is drawn from the Genocide Convention, but is new in court decisions).

Writing in Balkan Insight, Jelena Subotić described the acquittal on the first genocide count as a shame and a missed opportunity.”  To the degree that this is the case, it is so because the opportunity that has been missed is the opportunity for the court to offer, from an authoritative position, an interpretation of what the conflict was about, and that the purpose of some of the combatants (VRS and their sponsors in particular), was to forcibly change the population in order to bring it in line with their horrifying ideas. They did not take the opportunity, leaving the ICTY with a bizarre narrative, that there was a war that lasted three years during the course of which one genocide took place toward the end, which did not correspond to the overarching goals of any participant. As Florence Hartmann points out, “no genocide in history happened over five days in summer. Genocide is a process.”

Overall I would tend to agree with these critics: it would have been both desirable and sensible to see a conviction on the first count of genocide. At the same time, having reviewed the evidence in detail, it is not difficult to understand why the judges saw a qualitative difference between the municipalities and Srebrenica. The difference relates not only to the scale but also to the purposiveness of the violence and multiple declarations of genocidal intent. And it probably bears observing (again) that a conviction for crimes against humanity is not at all a cop to minor charge.

Context is important here. There is not a lot of jurisprudence on genocide, and the issue is young. Although the Genocide Convention came into force in 1951, nobody was convicted under it by an international court until 1998, when Jean-Paul Akayesu was sentenced. Aside from the convictions for Srebrenica, international courts have been hesitant to deliver convictions for genocide – the subtext of nearly every verdict seems to be “please do not bring us a lot of genocide cases.” A result of this has been a growing gap between what social scientists consider to be genocidal processes and practices (which is sometimes very broad) and what lawyers consider to be genocide (which is consistently very narrow).

If the problem were only a legal problem, it would be nearly meaningless. The substantive difference between genocide and crimes against humanity is small enough that it is worth asking why it is necessary to have genocide as a legal category at all (personally I am not fond of the concept, as it recapitulates the bigots’ habit of reducing people to their ascribed ethnic identities). But it is not a legal problem; it is a political one. The reason there is insistence on the category of genocide is that creates a status of victimhood that can be transformed into political capital. A basic review of Marx (by way of Bourdieu) tells us that the difference between money and capital is that capital is money that takes on a life of its own. As with any life, we may want to ask ourselves whether it is the life we want.


2. The international character of the conflict

Another point on which we will want to see the full reasoning of the judges relates to the involvement of the Republic of Serbia in the violent establishment of Republika Srpska. While the judges in the Karadžić case explicitly rejected the contention that Serbia participated in the joint criminal enterprise, the Mladić judges did so implicitly, by not naming names (in the summary at least – we have yet to see the full verdict). But they did it with an interesting exception. In discusing Mladić’s culpability for the genocide in Srebrenica, they said: „He was in direct contact with members of the leadership in Serbia and members of the General Staff of the army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to ensure that the military needs of the VRS were met.”

The fact is that the Tribunal has not staked out a clear position on the involvement of neighbouring states in the violence in the violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the cases where they had an opportunity to stake out a clear position, those of Momčilo Perišić and of Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović, the effort fell victim to Theodor Meron’s bizarre legal experimentation. There is no recourse in the Perišić case, but there may yet be a resolution in the case of Stanišić and Simatović, which has been sent back for retrial. In the meantime Meron’s Rosemary’s baby of a legal standard has been rejected by every court that has reviewed it.

This leaves a strange anomaly in the Tribunal’s narrative. The only instance in which they have a ruling determining that a neighbouring state intervened in the violence is in the Herceg-Bosna case, where the trial verdict names officials from Croatia as participants in the joint criminal enterprise to establish an ethnically homogeneous entity in Herzegovina (there are similar implications in the Blaškić  and Kordić cases). This case is set for its appeal verdict next week, and we will see whether this finding will stand.

A judicial record that shows intervention only by the side that intervened less makes for a problematic historical record. It is a good sign as to why you do not want to leave the business of generating social and historical accounts to lawyers, any more than you want a sociologist or historian defending you in court.


3. «Serbs»

In their closing arguments, Mladić’s defence made an effort to argue that by charging Mladić the prosecution was charging all Serbs. They did this not metaphorically but literally, arguing that:

The Prosecution wants to assert strict liability for everyone who is Serbian and everyone who had any position within legitimate Serb government, civilian and military organs

And seeking to:

remind the public, of which the non-Serbian portion of the public have perhaps already convicted our client in their minds upon reading of the indictment, that the Prosecution’s indictment and policy of collectively blaming all Serbs of being part of a JCE and then blaming General Ratko Mladic for all crimes ever committed by any Serbs, known or unknown, is inappropriate.

Politicians from pro-genocide parties tried a similar approach after the delivery of the verdict. This ranged from the retroactively moderated Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić, who said the day of the delivery of the verdict was “a difficult day,”  to outre rodent flinger Boško Obradović and secondhand tobacco dealer Milorad Dodik,  to whom Mladić is a “hero.” The syntagm was repeated in international media where people who know better were once again told that “Serbs” think this, “Bosniaks” think this, and all that Balkan Ghostie bla bla bla.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the cross burning. The exotic peoples declined to conform to the stereotype. Except for somewhere between 20 and 30 people who turned up for a support rally in Belgrade. Outside of the wilfully misinformed, a lunatic fringe, and a small coterie of people holding political power, Serbs like everybody else in the world are perfectly well aware of who Ratko Mladić is and what he did. They neither like him nor feel represented by him. The idea that vicious nationalists are authentic representatives of national cultures is an ugly stereotype that has to die.

What do the nationalist authoritarians know and understand about Serbia and Serbian culture? Have they understood the important cultural inventions of Borislav Pekić and Danilo Kiš? They have not. Do they know why Jelena Šantić spent the last years of her life resisting their aggression? They have no clue. Do they understand the inspiration that Aleksa Šantić took from sevdalinka? They thought of that lyricism as their enemy. Did they understand a word or a note that Disciplina Kičme and Boye were trying to tell them? Nisu smeli doživeti tu radost njihovih lepih pesama. Did they know anything of the original contributions of Yugoslav and Serbian theorists to the development of Balkan feminism at a time when the rest of the Communist world marginalised the questions involved? No, they made sexual violence a part of military strategy. Do they know who Ksenija Atanasijević was? They never met an educated person they did not want to liquidate.

Their understanding of Serbs is drawn from an unctuous melange of the mediocrities who supported them and Ljotić-era myths. The caricature that has been produced out of it has, sadly, come to be equated with a „Serbian perspective“ among similarly clueless internationals. Their power over media and cultural institutions has meant that this perverse mythomaniacal parody of an actually existing culture is promoted everywhere. To blame their crimes on the Serbs that they imagine but do not know is like blaming the murders committed by the serial killer David Berkowitz on the „Sam“ who existed in his head.

These people have fuck all to do with Serbs, aside from the fact that they have been holding them hostage for the last 27 years. They do not like Serbs, they do not treat them well, and they do not respect them.


4. Justice and Closure

Everybody who has observed the ICTY has had moments in which they have been critical, sometimes very critical, of its work. But in this case, something has to be said. Sometimes the Tribunal does some things right. This trial was done right. It was a well organised trial, with minor disruption, good quality of evidence and argument, and ample opportunity for the presentation of a comprehensive defence. The verdict was, if not satisfying to everybody, understandable. And the life sentence given to the defendant was consistent with the overwhelming character of the evidence and the obvious gravity of the crimes. Although there may be reason to be disappointed with the acquittal on the first genocide count, the maximum sentence seems to have compensated for this, and there has not been the level of complaint that was heard after the delivery of the Karadžić verdict. It is possible to say that justice (of an imperfect kind) has been done.

The reason this does not bring closure to the experience is that justice does not begin and end with putting a convict in prison. The consequences of the crimes that were committed still dictate a large part of the daily experience of many people in the region. The multiple efforts to conceal evidence of crimes mean that many people’s fates remain unknown. Years of perpetrator-based justice that involved communication with state authorities and neglect of victims mean that needs arising from the violence are still unmet. The absence of meaningful political change means that power is still held by people soaked in complicity. The lack of candour about facts and public engagement means that myth and ideology have planted their butts on the seats that should be occupied by history, dialogue, and understanding.

For years politicians believed that courts would do the cultural and political and spiritual work that had to be done instead of them. They cannot and will not. The last charged suspect has now been sentenced, and no healing will come to any of these societies until attention is redirected to uncovering facts, to repairing damage done to people, to open dialogue unpoisoned by the ideologues, and to mutual recognition. Sad svi na svoja radna mesta.



Following the Mladić verdict, 22.XI.2017

I’ll be following the delivery of the verdict and surrounding events and making notes on it on this periodically updated post (what is popularly called a liveblog, I guess). For people wanting to watch the reading of the verdict, the courtroom video feed is here, and it begins at 10:00 (9:00 here in the UK). Check back occasionally for updates and comment.

First I will go walk my dog, who steals a snack from time to time but has never committed any genocides.

I’ll be timestamping updates, using GMT, so all you people in the non-Brexiting lands will think the updates were made an hour earlier.


Prediction time? It is probably never a good idea to make predictions, but when courts are in question, the best way to predict what they will do is to look at what they have done before. Here is the response I made to the Karadžić verdict, where the charges were very much like the charges in this case.

The defence basically had three arguments in this case: 1) an ideological appeal, 2) an attempt to deny the facts, and 3) an argument about responsibility. Let’s look at them one by one.

The ideological appeal was an effort to justify the crimes by asserting some elements of the context and character of the war. The judges will not take it seriously, as it is not a legitimate legal argument. The lawyers know this. It was an appeal to the regional media.

The factual argument was not offered substantively or seriously, and the defence experts were largely discredited. The defence offered a factual argument because they had to. They were aware that it would not get far given the overwhelming evidence.

The argument about responsibility is one that the judges will have to consider seriously. Basically it had two elements: 1) to deflect responsibility upward, and 2) to deflect responsibility downward. The upward part had limited application — it meant arguing that as a military commander he was not responsible for political decisions. Fundamentally this means arguing that if Mladić is not culpable for something then Karadžić is. The downward part meant arguing that crimes were committed by police or paramilitary forces, or by lower-ranking officers acting on their own (this is what is really meant when the specious contention is offered that “the whole people” is being charged). Here the prosecution was able to present good evidence that Mladić kept himself well informed and maintained a consistent chain of command.

The defence is also expecting a conviction. This is why they have spent the last several days playing games about the accused’s health and whether he would turn up for the verdict or not.


The prosecution has high stakes in this case, as it is the last opportunity they have to convince the judges to rule that the overall goals of the war were genocidal. This is the importance of the second genocide charge related to “the municipalities.” The effort did not succeed in the Karadžić case, which means that now you have the Tribunal offering a strange narrative that there was a three year war over a large territory where genocide occurred only once, in only one place.

One major difference between this case and the Karadžić case is that in this case the prosecution was able to present the evidence on burial sites and attempts to hide evidence of killings from lake Tomašica. This allowed them to use Prijedor as a dramatic example of genocidal process, and to trace events all the way from discrimination (the firings, the armbands) to persecution (the camps and torture) to killing (the burial sites). This will be persuasive to social scientists as a description of genocide. But we have to wait to see whether it will be persuasive to the judges.


Another difference between the Karadžić and Mladić cases involves the character of the accused. Karadžić was a grifter, whereas Mladić was a sadistic brute. This means that Mladić was not as cautious as Karadžić was in making his public statements, especially with regard to his intentions. Karadžić laid a ground for plausible deniability (albeit unsuccessfully). Mladić didn’t.


Consider supporting the Srebrenica UK charity. This is a group of people interested in maintaining the memory of events and working to prevent ethnic violence in the future. (Declaration of interest: I am chair of the charity’s academic advisory board).


Ratko Mladić showed up to hear the verdict after all. He is fiddling with his fingers and squinting in a very convincing performance of a poorly adjusted sociopath.


They are beginning with the municipalities charge. As in Karadžić, the court is affirming the facts as presented by the prosecution. But this does not mean that they will convict on the charge of genocide. They may, as they did in the Karadžić case, convict on crimes against humanity.

If this happens, many people will take it as a disappointment. This may or may not be justified. Which charge he is convicted of is an aretfact of what judges are prepared to do at a particular moment in time. The documentary record remains, and is open to other interpretations.


GUILTY of exterminations as a crime against humanity.


GUILTY of deportation and forcible transfer.


When Judge Orie says “the chamber found,” this means that the decision was unanimous. It indicates the overwhelming character of the evidence and effective management of the panel by the presiding judge. In his controversial decisions, Meron never got unanimous chambers.


Now, the genocide charge for the municipalities. “A majority” finds that there was genocidal intent in some municipalities. But that not all victims constituted a “substantial part” of the group to be destroyed.

This is the only charge on which there was any doubt as to how the Tribunal will rule. They are going to convict on all the other counts.


As expected, they are convicting on charges related to the establishment and maintenance of an atmosphere of terror in Sarajevo.


Now, the Srebrenica genocide charge. Having already convicted several of Mladić’s subordinates for genocide in Srebrenica, the judges will not fail to convict their commander.


Balkan Insight is also doing a live blog.


If you want to know more about Srebrenica, the Sense Agency has assembled a useful online exhibit: Srebrenica: Genocide in eight acts.


As expected, GUILTY for Srebrenica genocide.


Now to the specific responsibility of the accused.


Chamber finds that the overall JCE in the municipalities charge did not include genocide.


Ratko wants to go the toilet. Will he try to wash his hands?


They are taking a little toilet break, so to sum up so far: no surprises. They are not convicting on the municipalities charge, which will disappoint many people but was predictable.

It is important to keep in mind that the word of the judges is an opinion at a particular moment, and is not the last word. It is not the last word by judges, as both sides will definitely appeal. But more importantly, the contribution of ICTY is less in the collection of judicial opinions and more in the evidence it has collected and published. This evidence can be used to establish a number of facts outside of the realm of law, and build a comprehensive understanding of the events that accompanied the violence of the 1990s.

Some people will say that justice has been done and some will not. I would offer this: justice does not depend entirely on whether some people serve prison sentences or not. It depends also on what happens in the societies that remain affected by violence. Will people build and share complete and inclusive accounts of the past? Will the experience of victims be recognised and honoured? Will the necessary help be provided to the families that need it? Will people in positions of power put sincere effort into assuring that the conditions that lead to the kind of violence that happened do not emerge again?

So far the answers to most of those questions have been negative. It might be argued that an imbalance of attention meant that for years people concentrated on what perpetrators would be tried and convicted, and that this displaced attention away from the needs of people in the social environment. Justice depends a little bit on what happens to insane old Mladić and whether his hospital bed will be in a prison or outside of one. It depends a lot on what efforts people make and do not make to build an overall atmosphere of justice.


Ole Mladić is a slow pisser. If he killed as slowly as he pisses, people could have been much safer.


This marathon pisstake might be Mladić adopting the Šešelj strategy of disrupting proceedings by any means possible.


At the Nuremberg trials, special precautions were taken to reduce the risk of suicide by defendants.


Is the court going to have conclusions regarding the support given to VRS and its dependents by Serbia? The people writing the live blog at N1 note that the important names have not been mentioned.


The court is now back in session. Defence lawyer Ivetić says that Mladić has high blood pressure. Requests halt in proceedings or waiving of reading of the summary verdict. The request is not accepted.


Mladić is adopting the Šešelj strategy of repeatedly shouting “sve je lažno!,” etc. Judge Orie orders him removed from the courtroom. This is the defence implementing “Plan B.”


Orie assures everybody that Ratko has been provided with a sofa.


“He was in direct contact” with VJ and political leadership of Serbia. This is important, folks.


Note on the physical removal of Mladić from the courtroom: for a demented evildoer with hypertension, he’s a sprightly bugger.


Note is made of the fact that the killings documented in the famous Treskavica film were not committed by VRS.


N1 is reporting on the appearance of some pro-Mladić posters. I’ll state an opinion here: I think the perception that he has massive popular sympathy is a stereotype, and is probably overstated. This is probably a vocal minority. No national group is less or more evil than any other national group.


You hear Orie repeatedly saying “the chamber found”? That means that the presiding judge achieved consensus on centrally important issues. That is what a competent presiding judge does. Meron doesn’t.


Guilty on counts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11.

Not guilty on count 1.

Remember, we are still in early days of jurisprudence on genocide, and it has been restrictive so far. This may not always be the case.


“Most of the factors” raised by defence as mitigation “have little or no weight.” Life sentence.


Now it is time to wait for the release of the written opinion. This will probably be a very long document, but the part that will get the most attention is the judges’ reasoning on count 1, the “municipalities” genocide charge.



Today’s sneak preview: a short talk on decomposing legitimacy in the Balkans and elsewhere

Photo on 02-06-2017 at 09.15In keeping with the tradition of making spoken full texts available, this is the chat I will be giving this afternoon at this nice conference with our friends in Regensburg. If you have not been able to attend you can use it for vicarious enjoyment, and if you are here you can read along with me to achieve an effect of collective effervescence.

Don’t mourn, Balkanise! What the Post-Democratic West Can Learn from the Balkans

To begin, an apology. This title has already been used, as the title of a book of essays by Andrej Grubačić. It had fallen out of my memory, but maybe it is a sign that a good idea can never be used only once.

I’ll just put this slide with nice quotations on it up here so that you can have something to look at or to distract you if I get boring.


  • „Europeans accept democracy because they no longer believe in politics“ (M Mazower 404)
  • „The reason why fascisms come into being is the political and social failure of liberal democracy“ (Thierry Maulnier, in H. Rogger and E. Weber 1965:8)
  • “The sane man does not know that everything is possible.” (P K Dick, 1964)

As the surprising political events of the past year or so, have unfolded, we have had the opportunity to become familiar with an already fairly fixed set of diagnoses. There is a strong tendency to view events like the election of Trump and the passage of the Brexit referendum as rebellions, and to locate these rebellions in particular social spaces: older citizens, the rural population, communities that have suffered from deindustrialisation and long-term structural unemployment. The basic problems leafing to this rebellion have also been identified: illegitimate institutions. Self-interested parties. Policy that fails to serve public interest. Alienation.

We have faced these sorts of problems before. In his classic history of 20th century Europe, Dark Continent,  the historian Mark Mazower identified the emergent and unstable democracies of post-WW1 Europe as formalistic, elite-dominated, disproportionately concentrated on free trade and formal legality, and fatally unconcerned with social, human and emotional needs, which opened a large space into which totalitarian movements, such as fascism and Soviet communism, were only too happy to step. The invitation to draw parallels with contemporary democracies in his argument is only too obvious, but it seems as though it is only recently that a large number of analysts have felt inclined to take up this invitation.

But I might suggest that it has carried some resonance for a little bit longer for people who are engaged with the Balkans. The people who are at this meeting will not need another overview of the ways in which that part of the world has been witnessing inadequate, unresponsive, monopolistic political structures, and will already know about various ways in which fascist movements from earlier periods are being revived in various places. The people here also know about the creativity and vitality of social movements that have emerged in response, about their humour and about ways in which they have attempted to reconstruct the terms of political contestation. We might be able to say this: people in the Balkans face the same basic problem as people in the rest of the world. These problems may be more readily apparent in the Balkans, as the period of democratic development has been shorter and less successful, and there exists less superstructure to cover it over.

It has already become commonplace to observe a decline in the resonance of the concept of democracy on a global level. This has already been noticeable for a long time in some post-socialist states, in particular states in the Balkans where changes in regime type were not universally welcomed and were in many cases were followed by periods of violence. If we wanted to put this in terms of political theory we might say that democracy in the Balkans began to suffer early on from a deficit of «output legitimacy» — legitimacy based on  public assessment of the relevance and quality of the performance of institutions (Weiler 2012) – as political changes tended overall to make people’s life conditions worse rather than better. Already in 1994, Mikloš Biro was presenting results of surveys from Serbia on democracy and the concepts people associated with it: promiscuity, internationalism, anarchy, the names of (un)popular political opponents, „worthless freedom, and you don’t have anything to eat.“ Early on it was possible to observe that unwelcome social and economic conditions had an effect on the perceived legitimacy of political structures. The recent survey results indicating declining faith in democracy among young people on a global level tend to conform this early finding. It has become a commonplace that trust in representative political institutions – parties, parliaments, public officials – is declining overall. We might also note that a good portion of this trust is transferred onto prepolitical institutions, in particular military and religious authorities. The decline of trust is also, it has become painfully obvious, accompanied by an amplified resonance of appeals to fear: racism, nativism, exclusivism of all kinds.

So what have been the elements that have contributed to the set of outcomes that have had such a visible effect on „output legitimacy“?

  • Political Parties: self interest over public interest, tendency to attempt to establish monopolies, ideological and political emptiness, declining credibility and support. The establishment and entrenchment of pa permanent, parasitic political class, the fate of whose members is only loosely tied to election results. In Macedonia an effort to establish a permanent monopoly has failed, but elsewhere it is succeeding, and very clearly so in Serbia. To the degree that monopolies or oligopolies of this type succeed, they produce an overall erosion of accountability, with entrenched party leaders strongly inclined to the view the public as an annoyance that emerges to interfere with their business from time to time.
  • Elites: Ideal versions of the role of elites see them as educating and leading the public. We have strong evidence indiating what happens when elites fail to lead, and hide and manipulate instead. The present is marked by a yawning absence of communication between elites and the public. An earlier iteration of this phenomenon was described by Hannah Arendt: “history, which was a forgery anyway, might as well be the playground of crackpots” (1966:333). In the current iteration what we notice most is  displacement of communication with identity-based ideology structured around resentment and provocation (the Mitrovica train). The tendency of elites to take refuge in ethnic slogans and provocations is not coincidental, in post-conflict societies in particular.

To present it as a causal diagram:

Metastasis of a particular interpretation of history –> Transformation of history into fetish –>  Fear of evidence and enquiry –> Systematic violation of right to truth –> Acceptance and expectations that the public will protect elites from questioning, and elites will protect the public from truth. Effect: successful promotion of fear of truth produces a mechanism of hegemony.

  • Classes: If we want to say that the legitimacy of democracies was strongest in the period between the end of WW2 and the introduction of austerity, we might be able to suggest that what contributed to this legitimacy was the perception that the system was capable o providing decent living conditions to members of all socioeconomic classes, of coopting the threat of working class rebellion by integrating labour into the capitalist economic system, and of offering a promise of social mobility and integration to grous that had been excluded. An analogous argument could be made for state socialist systems in the Balkans during the period when they were functioning well (Bockman, Unkovski). We all know about the dominant changes in the capitalist system that have tended to expand over the past thirty years: precarity, wage pressure, necessity of multiple employment, wage inequality, structural employment. All of the problems that are recognisably a part of the global capitalist economy are experience more intensely on the peripheries of the capitalist economy. They are compounded by a set of economic policies that have been encouraged by outside actors including the EU, in particular the deand for privatisation of publicly held manufacturers and employers. A consequence has been the ossification of class divisions that had for a period been relatively open and flexible. The consequences of this for the functioning of democracy are reflected on the level of identity: people who are not encouraged to recognise one another are not likely to recognise one another as members of a shared community, and more likely to regard one another as competitors or opponents.
  • „Stabilitocracy“: a basic lack of interest by global influential political and economic actors in democracy and legitimacy. I will not get into an extensive discussion of «stabilitocracy» because I have a feeling that Florian may be talking about that. But I will point out a parallel between the kind o affirmation from outside that «stabilitocracy» promotes and what has come to be referred to since the emergence of figures like Farage, Le Pen, and Trump as «normalisation.» To paraphrase an old sogan of European oversight in Kosovo, this is a process of putting status before standards, and it undermines our institutions and erases the content of our political discourse. To refer to the slogan of a European political party currently facing an election challenge, we become «strong and stable» and empty, like a Chernobyl cooling tower.

If we detail all of these factors, it is not difficult to recognise parallels with the sorts of conditions that have led to the extremist and populist movements in other (less marginal) parts of the world that have gained everybody’s attention, in particular over the past year or so. Fundamentally the worst parts of it involve decay of legitimacy: a strong and growing feeling of alienation among people who feel that the dominant arrangement of political and economic power does not meet their needs, fails to serve their interests, damages their life chances, concentrates power in nondemocratic ways, engages in practices of systematic exclusion, and fails to speak to their concerns.

One of the most visible responses in the Balkans is embodied in an ongoing withdrawal from the formal institutions of politics, and a search for  alternate paths to legitimacy. This year’s presidential ections in Serbia were notable for the persnalised politics of the person who won, with the rest of the field distinguished by the absence of significant support for ANY party – the second place finisher was a non-party figure, the third-place finisher was a satirical candidate, and political party nominees ran far behind. In Croatia_s municipal elections there continued a visible shift of support from the established political parties toward local and class-based movements in. In Macedonia, the recent change in party control has been viewed as a shift away from authoritarian hijacking of demcracy, but is worth noting that the change in party control was initiated by direct democractic activity – the winning parties relied and took their guidance from citizen protests, to which they were secondary. And, of course, in Bosnia and Hercegovia, the plenum movement attempted (and briefly succeeded) in generating a channel for expression of citizen interest that circumvented party, state and substate institutions.

Concretely, what have been the responses to permanent crises of legitimacy in the Balkans?

  • The public has maintained its presence, and combined compulsory obedience with regular and strategic disobedience. (Serbia: the same people who voted for SNS came forward the same week to protest against it. There is no contradiction between these two manifestations of behaviour – in both cases peope were acting to protect a portion of the complex of interests in their lives).
  • People have not abandoned their intelligence and humour. Again an example from Serbia: a satirical candidate took third place in this year’s presidential election – behind the official authoritarian candidate and the conventional liberal candidate, but ahead of all of the candidiates building a platform on the basis of identity, chauvinism, and resentment.
  • People are circumventing systems that do not work. They are compelling parties to be subordinate to movements under the threat of irrelevance. In Macedonia, the party that will now lead the government was itself led to a more democratic position by protest forces that revealed the abuses to which it responded. In Croatia, emergent political movements at the local level (8% for «Zagreb je naš») are challenging the claims of political parties to exclusivity of representation.
  • People are defying demands that they be divided in traditionally populist ways, and expressing solidarity instead. This is especially visible in popular responses to crisis, as in the 2014 floods in Bosnia-Hercegovina, where citizens found means to bring assistance directly to people affected, avoiding state and local government structures that (particularly in Republika Srpska) divided territories and human beings into ethnonational categories in ways that the rising water did not.
  • Broadly, people are targeting the sources of their disempowerment.

Now, of course, these things are not all of the things that people are doing. I could also assemble a pessimistic story to tell, that would combine stories of people giving up, withdrawing, pursuing paths to emigration, buying into the most caricatured renditions of the ideologies that they have been served from the period of violent conflict onward. We can tell stories like this outside of the Balkans as well.

I would simply draw some parallels and make some distinctions with regard to ways in which people who do not want to go along with the authoritarianism that is emerging are responding in different parts of the world. The most important parallel is that the movements that seem to gain traction are ones that do not ignore the reasons that people have become dissatisfied with and alienated from a system that has, for concrete and understandable reasons, lost a good portion of its appeal. The most obvious difference is the degree to which, so far, in sites like the US and UK resistance has been based in legal and administrative institutions rather than outside of them (illustrations from the US are especially helpful: the development of endruns around monopolies of information began with employees of the National Park Service, and opposition to the recent decision to abandon the global climate change accords is being resisted by state and local governments). This is of course a reflection of a history in which the strength of institutions has, in multiple instances, showed itself to be capable of defending public interest against efforts to create a monopoly of power or to undo widely shared values.

In contrast, the frequently repeated observation that «democracy is all about procedure» is likely to apply in environments where institutions are well established and relatively strong. It applies less well in environments where (for example) the election of a presiding officer by a majority of the members of parliament can be prevented by means of an attack by armed thugs. In cases like that the location of democracy is less in the institutions and more in the streets, the contradictions and failures of democracy are more readily apparent, and the spirit of democracy is tangible.




The Less you know: «Foreign Affairs» stakes somebody else’s claim to the Balkans


chaplin-giphyNobody knows what to expect in international policy from the incoming Trump administration (there! I said it!), least of all the people involved in it or the profoundly ignorant Mr Trump himself. There have been early indications that the incoming US president wants to align foreign policy with Russia and to provoke an entirely unwanted confrontation with China, and he seems to have developed a fondness for death squads in the Philippines. As far as the Balkans are concerned, we don’t know much, except for a weird incident during the campaign when a minor out of work actor faked an interview with a Serbian magazine that had Trump echoing many of the sophisticated and refined views of Vojislav Šešelj. The most we can say so far is that Mr Trump’s recruitment of a team of far rightists, sabre-rattlers and Russian agents indicates a change of international policy orientation will probably be under way. But nobody can project with any precision what the character of that change will be – which means the policy press is bound to be filled with suggestions from people looking to fill some ears of appointed officials and some pockets  of their own.

So in steps one Mr Timothy Less   (No, you haven’t heard of him, and yes, there’s a reason for that), with a contribution to Foreign Affairs magazine titled «Dysfunction in the Balkans.»  He wants Western policymakers to «radically change their approach» to the region, and has some radical ideas. Shall we read the article together? Oh, let’s.

The author starts off with a list of factual claims about the situation. In the first paragraph (NB: the quotations below are just about the whole text of the first paragraph) he claims:

  1. «In Bosnia, the weakest state in the region, both Serbs and Croats are mounting a concerted challenge to the Dayton peace accords” – This state may or may not be “the weakest,” but while the activities of nationalist parties-in-power can be interpreted as a “challenge to the Dayton peace accords,” the people mounting the challenge do not admit to this. Rather they are happy to interpret Dayton selectively to extract advantage from it. Mounting a challenge would require proposing an alternative, which would require capable and responsible politicians, which these folks are not.
  2. “In Macedonia, political figures from the large Albanian minority are calling for the federalization of the state along ethnic lines” – This is not a resolution proposed by any party in Macedonia. All of them benefit from a powersharing agreement reached in Ohrid in 2001 (here it is) which provides considerable political and material advantages and opportunities for profitable dealmaking for parties representing (sort of) both major ethnic groups.
  3. “In Kosovo, the Serb minority is insisting on the creation of a network of self-governing enclaves” – The creation of self-governing enclaves was agreed between the governments of Serbia and Kosovo in Bruxelles in 2013 (here’s the text). Its implementation has been obstructed, but the initiative does not come from “the Serb minority,” which is as marginal to the activity of one government as it is to the other.
  4. “In Serbia’s Presevo Valley, Albanians are agitating for greater autonomy” – If the existence of a proposal that has little support and is headed nowhere is “agitating,” then maybe they are. “Cogitating” would be a more suitable word.
  5. “In Montenegro, Albanians have demanded a self-governing entity” – This is not a demand articulated by any ethnic Albanian party in Montenegro with any measurable degree of meaningful support.
  6. “And in Kosovo and Albania, where Albanians have their independence, nationalists are pushing for a unified Albanian state” – This is not the position of the government of Albania or Kosovo, or of any relevant political actors in either of those two states.

So that’s the first paragraph, designed to create an empirical framework that is based on six false claims and no true ones. As the author himself puts it, “sound and fury.” But not to drag out the counting of factual inaccuracies – there are loads of them, and any decently informed person who has read the article has already noticed them. What is the point of making these claims? Mr Less wants to argue that there is massive “dissatisfaction with the multiethnic status quo” and that the best way to approach this is to “recognize the legitimacy of these demands,” whether they actually exist or not. If you were cynical (You are, aren’t you? I knew it.) you might say that the article is an effort to latch on to the bigotry and xenophobia that have become dominant in global politics and harness them to a specific Balkans-focused agenda. What agenda would this be?

The first major argument is that multi-ethnic communities are by definition nonviable. As the author puts it, “multiethnicity in the region is a beautiful idea and a miserable reality,” which imposes “forcible coexistence for the sake of an abstract ideological goal.” Multiethnic communities, in his view, “cut across the most basic interests of the emerging minority groups” (NB: Mr Less has the interesting habit of using the word “minority” when he means “majority”). And he develops the further hypothesis that multiethnicity is an import product in the Balkans, cooked up by European policymakers who were guided by “an ideological conviction that nationalism was the source of instability in Europe.”

Now, anybody with even a passing knowledge of Balkan history knows that these claims are silly. Multiethnicity is not an abstract idea shipped over from Washington or Brussels but is the fundamental characteristic of all Balkan societies and cultures, and the basic source of their richness, productivity and strength. But this perhaps matters very little. As another Westerner with pro-Nazi sympathies, Henry Ford, put it, history is bunk.” The article is intended to make policy proposals, and policy proposals are not about what happened in the past but about what the author wants to happen in the future. So let’s have a look at what he wants to happen.

Fundamentally, the author suggests that policy to date has lacked “pragmatism” in failing to recognise “the underlying source of instability in the Balkans: the mismatch of political and national boundaries.” And so he wants to encourage “border changes in the region,” arguing that Washington should support the internal fragmentation of multiethnic states where minorities demand it.” What sorts of border changes does he have in mind? He helpfully provides some examples:

“Serbia would have to let go of Kosovo, minus the north, but the compensation would be the realization of a Serbian nation-state in the territory where Serbs predominate. Albanians would similarly have to give up northern Kosovo. More problematic, Bosniaks and Macedonians would need to accept the loss of territory to which they are sentimentally attached and without any significant territorial compensation.”

So basically he is arguing that Washington and Brussels should adopt as their own the maximal demands of nationalist whack jobs in the region and dedicate themselves to establishing Greater Serbia, Greater Croatia, and Greater Albania. But heaven forbid the author should be unreasonable. He recognises that “There is no question that undoing the existing settlement would be complicated,” and “Inevitably, there would be difficulties and risks.” These are deliciously understated ways of acknowledging the concrete risk of genocide. He does not see the creation of monoethnic populations as falling within the capacity of regional militaries, paramilitaries and goon squads, however. He proposes that “Washington and others may also have to deploy peacekeepers to uphold the borders of the expanded Albanian, Croatian, and Serbian states.” As indeed they would.

The author describes his proposal as “A radical new approach.” It is certainly radical, but it is hardly new. The use of force to create ethnically homogeneous political communities is at least as as old as the states that emerged out of the wreckage of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires from 1878 onward. It was a basic element of the policy of Nazi occupation in the region, enthusiastically carried out by their local partners in the Ustaša and Četnik movements who knew a homology of interest when they saw one. In their worse moments the Communists were not loath to take it on, imagining they could eliminate a source of conflict by expelling ethnic Italians and Germans. And of course it was the basic policy goal of ethnonationalist warlords in the 1990s, who made an effort to implement it through forced expulsion, sexual violence, intimidation, imprisonment, destruction of cultural and religious property, and genocide.

We can perhaps say two things about this radical old approach. One is that every time anybody tries to implement it the consequences are horrific, because the only way that “political and national boundaries” can be made to match is through the exercise of large-scale violence. The other is that in spite of the numbers of victims produced, none of these orgies of depravity have ever achieved their stated goal. Either you know it is an awful idea or you don’t. Mr Less is absolutely correct in recognising that the current fashion is not to know this.

The proposal is offered in the spirit of an observation that “the debate on the Balkans has been dominated for far too long by Western diplomats and academics” and other people who actually know and understand things. What can we make of it? If we understand to whom the article is directed and why, there is a message here: expect more Less. Be wrong. Be dangerous. Be deadly. These are apparently ideas whose time has, once again, come.







When you say “newspaper,” you think “cloak and dagger”: Politika’s baffling palace coup(s)

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 17.05.03Everyone will tell you, Politika is the oldest newspaper in the Balkans. They say it is influential too, but this is probably an exaggeration. Of the remaining people who actually read newspapers, more seem to prefer the lurid tabloids chock full of conspiracy theories (Politika does okay on that count) and assorted body parts of people who are recognisable from television. So what is the grey mass good for? Well, like “newspapers of record” in other countries, it is a place where editors perform the boundaries of what officials think people ought to know about, where respectable-seeming people give a pretty gloss to whatever line of thinking is dominant at the moment, and where folks who want to cement their wobbly positions in some future elite display their fetishes. It also has a surprisingly good –literate, diverse and comprehensive – arts and culture section on the weekends. Ah yes, and its weather predictions and death notices are impressively accurate.

Politika’s editor, Ljiljana Smajlović, has developed a habit of entering and leaving that job in strict covariance with the strength of her political connections. Last week she caused a minor subset of exquisitely tweezed eyebrows to raise when she announced her resignation. Her obliquely worded letter informed readers that:

My resignation is a protest against a management that prevents the editor in chief to independently direct the journalists

and suggestively notes that:

…real editorial freedom does not exist in those places where the editors have been completely disempowered and the management acts without control.

There is nothing in the text, or in the ones that followed, that specified how she was prevented from independently editing the paper or where those places are where the management acts without control (or, more importantly, who this “management” is). So nobody will be surprised that the decision was followed by a lot of speculation. A bit about the speculation below, but there is something more fascinating.

As soon as the editor announced her resignation – as a part of the same article, in fact – the paper, which she continues to edit, began a campaign with the goal of persuading her to change her mind or for the resignation not to be accepted. Early on in the campaign, it was joined by the Association of Journalists of Serbia (UNS). This wholly independent organisation offering its support to Ljiljana Smajlović is headed by Ljiljana Smajlović. It competes for authority with the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia (NUNS).

Today is, as those of you follow calendars will already know, Sunday. This is the day when newspapers put out larger editions that stress their chosen themes for the week, and Politika is of course no exception. The lead story is about high school students choosing to go into trades rather than continuing their education, but the columns on the side tell you all you need to know about the paper’s priorities: two essays of praise for the editor and her stellar character, and sandwiched in between them an interview with the leader of the main ethnic Serb party in Croatia, mostly about EU accession. So who is praising Smajlović now, and what are they saying?

The leading item comes from sometime film director Emir Kusturica, who made exactly two good films (one in 1981 and one in 1985) and then spent the next thirty years marketing predigested stereotypes about the Balkans to an inexplicably delighted French public. Recently he made news by claiming that he is the victim of an endless witch hunt  (fun fact: in the Balkans they hunt witches by hurling massive quantities of public money at them). Today he says in a text that is mostly hyperbolic praise for the editor that Politika is:

Simultaneously in the service of freedom and of the state

adding that:

In difficult moments it is apparent who is a hero and who is an eccentric poltroon and how much a wise editor can in turbulent moments be helpful to our cause. And our cause is founded on the state and on principles, but also on freedom!

So, there you have it. Freedom.

Kusturica’s effort got reinforcement from the curious Željko Cvijanović, a journalist with an interesting/uninteresting past whose main activity has involved trying to make the shift from being Radovan Karadžić’s in-house mouthpiece to securing a similar position in a recognised state. Cvijanović makes an appeal for the state to resume ownership of the paper, which would presumably guarantee that regardless of the character of any government, it would continually maintain its subservient ideological role.

A few other people got into the act. There’s Matija Bećković, a fellow who always wanted to the national poet in the spirit of Constantine Cavafy or Vaso Pashë Shkodrani, but who is notable principally for wearing a funny hat. For good measure and completeness, here are a couple more – one guy who prescribes Politika for the maintenance of psychological health, and one who compares its quality to the other things you can buy at a kiosk (chewing gum?).

What is fascinating about the whole publicity campaign, in which the editor who resigned has for days dedicated large chunks of the front page to people “spontaneously” begging her not to resign, is that no ordinary reader will be able to discern what it is about.

Is it about politics? Who knows, but I will say probably not. Politika has traditionally been a place for people close to state structures and the political right to market their opinions, and is not in the habit of straying from that position much. When it does it is in the direction of more pronounced extremism, and the role of Politika in the 1990s in promoting the rise of Slobodan Milošević and his quasilegal elite, together with ethnic hatred and violence in general, has been thoroughly documented. In that regard Ljiljana Smajlović has continued, with a slightly larger dose of respectability, in the footsteps of her predecessor Dragan (“Electricity”) Antić.

One of the characteristic features of Politika under Smajlović has been a series of feature columns by a rotating cast of writers (none of them are very good, and none of them lasted very long) attacking writers for independent media and a whole set of personalities associated with the long-dormant “Other Serbia,” a loose association of anti-war and anti-regime intellectuals from the 1990s (I wrote about them here a while ago) . The most recent assemblage of texts involved a series trying two present two live historians and one dead philosopher as “autochauvinistic.” In short, there is nothing in the political direction of the paper under its editor that sets it apart from the dominant tone of media in the country, which has nothing that sets it apart from the dominant tone in the 1990s, except that then the offerings were more diverse. Emir Kusturica may think Politika is “critical,” but you could fit the things that Emir Kusturica thinks into a couple of heavily subsidised fake historical sites.

So to the degree that politics is involved, it is not anything that anyone would recognise as substantive politics. This is partly because in an environment where everything is about politics it is equally true that nothing is about politics, and partly because due to the successful work of Politika and similar outlets over the last few decades, there is no substantive political disagreement about anything in the media mainstream.

There may well be another kind of politics involved, however, if we keep in mind that the politics of media is business and that the business of politics is media. As the state council against corruption in Serbia warned several times (twice in 2011, here and here, and once in 2015 here), major media in the country are owned by unknown actors, shell companies, and networks with no mechanisms of accountability. Since the German publisher WAZ decided it wanted out of the domestic marketplace in 2010, it looks as though an assemblage of political entrepreneurs and economic operators have been trading back and forth. This happens in an environment in which the government shows evident favour to a few media outlets whose editors have personal connections in positions of power, and where there is an occasional effort to bring discipline to the rest.

The whole vague business with an editor resigning, engaging a campaign to prevent her own resignation, and assembling a gaggle of dubious figures to intervene is probably best understood outside of the context of substantive politics and inside the context of “deep” politics where lucrative favours are traded. But the promise of understanding does not amount to much after years of assiduous effort to keep the facts unknown.


FYRUK? Ukoslovakia? Herceg-Engleska?

It has become mildly popular, in the wake of the disastrous referendum in which a small majority of a deliberately misinformed public voted to advise the UK government to leave the European Union, to draw parallels between the future of the UK, which would certainly not survive such a dramatic move, and the recent past of the states of the former Yugoslavia.

There are a few similarities, which might as well be noted. The first of them is that decisions deeply affecting the fate of a great many people were decided after bitter, ethnocentric populist campaigns in a referendum. The second is that they led to the rise into prominence of bizarre and clownish figures from the political margins who would never have a chance if they had to face an informed public or oppose a responsible and engaged elite. And of course the third is that we were able to witness established parties and figures which gave every appearance of being established and cast in stone melt and dissipate as quickly as butter in a skillet awaiting the arrival of a fate-cursed egg.

But there are, after all, more differences. The chronological difference that matters is that in the case of the former Yugoslavia, referenda were demanded by outside actors, undertaken when conditions had already become unsustainable, and regarded as paths to resolution. In the case of the UK the referendum derived from the ongoing social crisis, but predated (by an hour or so) the political crisis. The practical difference that matters is that by the times referenda were held in the Southeast European states, there were already armed groups prepared to affirm or reject the outcome. In the UK, for better or worse, violence has been mostly restricted to small groups of people inspired by the rabble-rousers willing to engage in acts of heroic sacrifice like shooting an MP as she walked out of a library, painting vulgarities on a Polish cultural centre, and sending threatening notes to schoolchildren.

The interesting material is in the space between elements that are similar and elements that are different, where we can see a diverse set of political and social forces trying to push events in one or another direction. The loony right wing of the Conservative party, which Mr Cameron thought he would marginalise in his ham-libidoed miscalculation, is gearing itself up to claim a mandate to govern that it does not have even its own party. Conspirators in the Labour party are doing their best to assure that if the Conservatives go down they will not go down alone. Meanwhile both in London and in Bruxelles a chorus of voices is trying to affirm by repetition the claim that an advisory referendum carries with it inevitable legal finality.

Much of the dispute about whether the outcome of the referendum has to be transformed into basic change – for the worse – in political structures derives from the UK’s idiosyncratic legal system. Its defenders decribe its functioning as an «unwritten constitution,» in which the absence of established rules is compensated by a tradition of interpretation. This contention depends in the first instance on the maintenance of basic stability and continuity in the system, but much more than that on the (invalid) assumption that all participants in the system share similar values and goals. A vocal plurality of EU officials are demanding that the UK government invoke Article 50 of the EU Charter, which would set the actual process of exit in motion. This demand is motivated by a fear of extended uncertainty and the perception that the referendum results reflect a public will that has been expressed and cannot be changed. Inside the country, there is debate over whether invoking Article 50 can be done by the prime minister or must be voted by Parliament, whether the move requires consent of all of the constituent units of the UK, and whether any parliamentary decision could be blocked by the unelected chamber of the parliament or by judicial review.

The principal dilemma here is one that existed in the former Yugoslav cases, but was resolved in those instances principally by force: that is that there are a number of ways of preventing the collapse of the system that are legal, but only one that is legitimate. The legitimate way is to dissolve the parliament and hold new elections, which IF they were won by a party or a coalition pledging a new referendum on the basic of new circumstances and risk, MIGHT result in a repeat of the referendum with a changed result (there are at least five preceedents for this in the short history of EU-related referenda). Vetoes of various types, whether from Scottish parliamentarians, judges or «lords,» are simply tricks that would not address fundamental issues. Legally it could be argued that in a representative system members of parliament have both the authority and the obligation not to follow public opinion when it threatens the integrity of the state, but the political risk of doing this is high enough, and the level of courage among parliamentarians low enough, that this is unlikely to happen. Assuming that the use of force does not shift from thug to systemic scale, this means either new elections or a drawn-out period of confusion, paralysis, weak legitimacy, and decay.

It may be that the most important similarity between the recent violent restructuring of the former Yugoslavia and the coming dissolution of the UK (which will be mostly non-violent, with the violence concentrated on marginalised populations who media and public opinion will systematically ignore) is the parallel set of causes. The earlier set of incidents took place in a part of the world where the managers of a hegemonic ideology had lost the trust of the public and the will to defend their ideas. The present events have their root in a clumsily expressed but similar type of public rejection, in which the greatest proportion of working class support for exit came from people who saw their vote as an act of «rebellion,» and who perceived their own interests as ignored in a political and economic system that over a long period disinvested in their livelihoods, withdrew support for their social needs, and symbolically treated them as marginal. In both instances high levels of social dissatisfaction resulted in the emergence of new political orders which would marginalise the people who supported them even further.

If people in our profession were cynical and self-seeking, they would be pleased with this course of events. Lots of jobs for Balkanologists and involuntary specialists in acquises communitaires and other such strange creatures! Mostly, though, we are not, because we know a little bit about the effects of manufactured disorder, socially approved violence, and recombinant structures of hatred.



A sneak preview: “Revisiting postsocialist teleology”

A little text for our friends in Novi Sad tomorrow. Mind you, I still have to make the slides.

For the conference: “Postsocialism: Hybridity, continuity and change”

Since 1989, discussion of the political future of Europe has been marked by a strong discourse of inevitability. This is an especially interesting time to revisit these discourses of inevitability, given recent events that are certain to have consequences for the identity and political direction of Europe, as well as for the role of the countries of this region in the context of Europe.

As it is not the topic of this discussion, it may not be appropriate to say much about the recent referendum in the UK and its surprising outcome. It might be enough to observe that it comes together with a whole set of indications that show us that both the political project of building of a Europe with a particular democratic and liberal character, as well as the states involved in that project, are fundamentally contested by meaningful parts of the population. These publics come both from the right and left of the political spectrum, and what unites them is a sense that people are neither served nor represented, and they are confronted with a system that falls short on measures of legitimacy from several points of view. In another generation we might have described this using terms like “alienation,” but there is more at stake here. The historian Mark Mazower, in seeking to explain the rise of totalitarian movements in the first half of the 20th century, noted that they were experienced in weak parliamentary states that failed to meet human needs: both material needs and needs on the level of meaning.


We can trace the development of “postsocialist” discourse to the beginning of the dismantling of state-socialist regimes in 1989. The dominant expectation at the time was that new regimes would develop into democratic states that would quickly integrate into a Europe that was increasingly multilateral and democratic, and where market economies were balanced by a strong commitment to the maintenance of social welfare and policies of equality.

It might be useful to point out some characteristic elements of this discourse:

–triumphalism and the sense that the Cold War had been “won.” This triumphalism was to a certain degree translated into policy as an approach to the development of states dominated by, at the maximal level, the assumption that major characteristics of emergent systems could be dictated, and at the minimal level, a general orientation of paternalism directed toward states and societies undergoing major structural change.

–the development of a mostly unelaborated doctrine of inevitability and a discourse of history which, to the degree that was elaborated at all, was elaborated by ideologists masquerading as scholars: Francis Fukuyama recasting Marx’s adaptation of Hegel (in a way reflective of what Daniel Bell had tried to do for a different purpose in an earlier generation) on the optimistic side, and Samuel Huntington developing a sophisticated repackaging of 19th century ethnic stereotypes on the pessimistic side.

–the simultaneity of the emergence of a political moment that provided an opportunity for the transformation of one set of states with the entrenchment of a consensus around neoliberalism in another set of states. It is meaningful that in countries like the US and UK, parties traditionally associated with the centre-left abandoned commitments to labour, redistributive policies, and social welfare, and that this was reflected in political realignments in other states, including France and Sweden.

–Monitoring, both on the part of international and state agencies and on the part of various institutions that communicate with the public.

Without going into tremendous detail, it is no great leap to say that this combination of factors gave a particular shape to the process of “transition.” It may be worth noting that the violent and contested character of political change in Southeast Europe had an intensifying effect, particularly on the paternalistic character of relations between the centre and periphery and on the asymmetrical character of power relations between established and emergent states. In a sense this could mean that we can say that all of the characteristics of the situation I have just outlined are true, but even truer for Southeast Europe.

So how has the process gone? There is more than enough space for an assessment, considering that we are talking about a series of changes that can plausibly be said to date back to 1989 (27 years ago), and for Southeast Europe maybe more plausibly to 2000 (16 years ago).


On balance it seems as though many of the dominant assumptions of “postsocialist” discourse have been shattered. The principal assumption – that the process would result in stable democratic states moving along an ever-intensifying path of integration with a secure democratic environment – seems especially to have been shattered.  For years it has been possible to speak of authoritarian systems or continuing violence and discrimination as “remnants,” as constituting some kind of “exception” or an unusual or extraordinary condition. When the number of “exceptions” is very large, it is not a deviation or an aberration but a dominant trend.

In states of Southeast Europe (visibly in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina) regimes with weak democratic legitimacy incline increasingly toward authoritarianism and are strongly contested by their own citizens. Similar moves toward authoritarianism are visible in other post-accession states (Hungary, Poland), while the rise of far-right movements and the entrenchment of neoliberal approaches across the entire continent has undercut Europe’s commitment to social welfare and equality.

So how can we explain the elements of the failure of post-socialist teleology? It would be possible to carry the search for explanations in a wide variety of directions, including the very probable one that the initial assumptions and orientations standing behind the project were in fundamental ways distorted by ideology and triumphalism. Without meaning to exclude other factors, it might be useful to concentrate on two factors that go some distance to generating an explanation. One of them is (mostly) external to the states of the region and the other is (mostly) internal. These two explanations are:



1) There has been an ambiguous role played by external factors deriving from a basic  contradiction at the heart of the European political project and the coditionality associated with it. On the one hand,  international institutions have been engaged in  promoting political procedures and institutions that tend in a strongly democratic direction (parliamentary democracy, media freedom, independent judiciary, recognition of minority rights, gender equality). The values standing behind these projects stand firmly within the positive tradition of political development in Europe, are enshrined in political documents such as the EU Charter, and constitute the most attractive incentive for political «integration» of emerging states for activists at the social and political levels. Fundamentally they carry with them the promise that the shift from authoritarian to democratic practices can be made permanent.

At the same time, the same international institutions and the same requirements of conditionality promote a set of economic practices (austerity, marketisation, privatisation, the systematic opening of domestic markets to multinational ownership and intervention) tending in an undemocratic direction. Taken together these factors have the effect of concentrating power in small groups increasingly alienated from publics, of disempowering labour and discouraging the satisfaction of social needs, and of constructing hard barriers between social classes that become increasingly distant from one another. In states where, like in the states of the region, political and economic power are strongly associated with one another, they have the effect of emptying political discourses, narrowing the range of political choices, and undoing many of the institutional democratic changes accomplished by the previously discussed set of conditionalities. At worst they have the tendencies to transform state structures into cartels in which access to goods in both the public and private sectors become conditioned on association with a political party.

If we look at particular spheres like media, we are repeatedly confronted with direct evidence of the consequences of the contradiction between formal democratisation and material neoliberalisation, both in the sense that we are witness to ever-increasing levels of concentration of ownership and access and in the sense that public dialogue is constrained by the perceived necessity on the part of media owners of developing close relationships with political parties in positions of power. The futility of outside intervention to control these effects is well demonstrated in Nidžara Ahmetašević’s research on television in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and the forms of collusive relationships that are produced in this process are well demonstrated in Tomislav Maršić’s research on the generation of media-party nexuses in Croatia.

2) The second factor has to do with the role of internal factors embodied in the failure to address legacies emanating from large-scale abuses of power and violations of human rights. This is of course an area that has been heavily researched by now, particularly in Southeast Europe.

The research on this topic is reasonably diverse, but it is possible to draw out a few general points that we could identify as agreed findings.

Possibly the major factor explaining this strangely mixed situation is the high level of continuity among prominent political actors and in institutions that carry a high level of prominence and social responsibility (media, education, culture, religion).

If we want to identify reasons why this situation presents a barrier to the development of the sort of democracy that was envisioned at the time of the development of post-socialist teleology, we would of course have no difficulty generating a very long list. But I would concentrate on a single reason: the basic condition for the kind of openness of decisionmaking to broad segments of the public that is a characteristic goal of democracy is the existence of a well-informed and critical public. The perceived need to discourage discussion and control the ability of information that is likely to endanger the prestige of elites retaining a position of power acts as a direct barrier to the development of an informed public. In effect it reverberates through institutions, education and media in particular, producing consequences of enforced uniformity, restricted knowledge, ideological approaches to history, and fear.

Here again I would concentrate on media in the recent period. We have witnessed intensive campaigns on the part of media close to ruling parties to disqualify any number of real and potential sources of criticism, whether these are institutions or individuals. These include organisation for the promotion of human rights and recognition of civilian victims in Serbia and Croatia, organisations investigating corruption such as KRIK in Serbia (these have been publicly interpreted as agents of international powers seeking to destabilise governments), embarrassing informal organisations such as disorderly football team supporters in Croatia (who prominent officials have sought to associate not only with Yugoslavia, but also, bizarrely, with a long-extinct Yugoslav political association from the 1920s – possibly indicating that disorder at football matches acts only as a pretext for raising an entirely different set of concerns), and all of the people participating in political protests related to the illegal practice of political power in Macedonia (who are verbally associated with a private foundation that is no longer active in the region).

All of these examples will be familiar with the audience here, and there is probably not much need to go into detail about them. The elements that they tend to have in common are these: 1) there is a discourse of threat, which 2) is expressed in terms of identity and security, and which 3) derives from the expression of orientation or the effort to make information available. That is to say that there appears to be a direct line that can be drawn between fear of historical legacies and the demonization of broad sectors of the public. Claims related to recognition of historical legacies and demands for justice do often take a moralistic form, but here we can see that they are also productive of patterns that tend to stand in the way of the development of an engaged and critical public sphere.


It might be possible to close with a final observation: we noted in the beginning of this presentation that a lot of the forces behind the development of post-socialist were ideological in form, and raised claims that had to do with both the superiority and the inevitability of a particular combination of institutional political pluralism and economic liberalism. We might add that many of the elements of democracy raised in this discourse are not characteristic of actually existing democracy as practiced in established democratic states. It might be possible to argue that they represent an idealised form of political goals that had not been realised in the states where they were created, and took on the form of experimental projects in some states where they were applied. This was possibly done because of the strength of an assumption – which turned out, unsurprisingly, to be false – that actors in the target states represented a kind of blank canvas and would not be conscious of very concrete local goals that could be placed ahead of abstract ideological goals. In retrospect it should probably not be surprising that actors in influential institutions were doing something that actors always do in parliamentary democracy, which is channelling the pursuit of particular and private interests through public institutions.

Are there lessons in this experience? There probably are, but it is hard to escape the feeling that many of them are obvious.