By Anis Bajrektarevic
Aegean theater of the Antique Greece was the place of astonishing revelations and intellectual excellence – a remarkable density and proximity, not surpassed up to our age. All we know about science, philosophy, sports, arts, culture and entertainment, stars and earth has been postulated, explored and examined then and there. Simply, it was a time and place of triumph of human consciousness, pure reasoning and sparkling thought. However, neither Euclid, Anaximander, Heraclites, Hippocrates (both of Chios, and of Cos), Socrates, Archimedes, Ptolemy, Democritus, Plato, Pythagoras, Diogenes, Aristotle, Empedocles, Conon, Eratosthenes nor any of dozens of other brilliant ancient Greek minds did ever refer by a word, by a single sentence to something which was their everyday life, something they saw literally on every corner along their entire lives. It was an immoral, unjust, notoriously brutal and oppressive slavery system that powered the Antique state. (Slaves have not been even attributed as humans, but rather as the ‘phonic tools/tools able to speak’.) This myopia, this absence of critical reference on the obvious and omnipresent is a historic message – highly disturbing, self-telling and quite a warning.
One of the famous Buddha’s wisdoms states: ‘Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.’
Does the Europe’s East have a reason to wake up angry or it should rather remain depressed and insecure, between self-pitying and self-blaming? As known, logic does not change emotions, but if perception changes emotions change too. That is why the fact building and decisive research matters, firstly to determine the truth and then to (re-)design value.
Macaulayistic twist to Southeast
The EU has secured itself on the southeastern flank, too. But, why does it matter? Residing between ancient Greece and ancient Rome, between Constantinople and Vatican, this flank of Europe also known as the Balkans is situated in one of the most fascinating locations of the world. It is a cradle of the eldest European civilization– thus, it is more than symbolically important. This antique theater is a place of the strong historio-civilizational attachment, the credibility and authenticity bond of Europeanness and its Christendom. And, our home, is always both, a place and the feeling. Less esoteric but equally important is the fact that the Balkans actually represents, along with the MENA-Caucasus, the only existing land corridor that connects any three world’s continents. Therefore, it is an absolute imperative for the external/peripheral powers to dominate such a pivotal geo-economic and geopolitical theater by simply keeping its center soft. That means that the core geographic sector has to be fragmented, isolated, depopulated and antagonized (e.g. by pre-empting, preventing or hindering the emancipation that may come through any indigenous socio-political modernization and economic diversification). This is the very same imperative, which has remained a dominant rational of inner European and Asian machtpolitik for centuries.
In the course of last few centuries, the Balkans was either influenced or controlled by Russia on the east (also by the Ottomans), Turkey on the south and center, Austria on the north and northwest, with the pockets of Anglo-French influence, too (Greece, Serbia, Albania). This reads that ever since the late 17th century (precisely, from 1686 when Russia joined the Holy League, and past the subsequent 1699 Treaty of Karlovci), the peripheries kept center of the Balkans soft, as their own playground. The only (pre-modern and modern) period when the center was strong enough to prevail, marks the time of the Balkans’ Bismarck: Tito of Yugoslavia.
Presently, the Eastern Balkans (Romania & Bulgaria) is cutoff from any Russian influence by being hastily admitted to the Union (2007). Turkey is contained by Greece (1980) and Cyprus (2004), and is waiting on the EU doorstep for decades without any clear prospect to join. All that, as if it follows the old rational of the 1814 Vienna Congress as well as the Bismarck’s dictatum to Andrássy at the 1878 Congress of Berlin. Reinvigorating these geo-economic and strategic imperatives, present-day Austria – highly assertive, beyond any proportion to its modest size – does not hesitate to add and shed emotional charge: it is nearly neuralgic on the Turkish EU accession, Russian presence or inner Slavic strength.
(It was not by chance that nearly all of the main European military campains outside the Russian front conducted by the Nazi occupant during the WWII –from Kozara to Drvar– were taking place exclusively in Bosnia – a core of the Yugoslav antifascistic front. Simply, who controls center– Bosnia, controls pretty much the rest of the Balkans, and from there the access to Black Sea, Caucasus–Caspian as well as further to the Afroasian proper, too. It was also not accidental that Austrian arogant imperial occupation of Bosnia and its subsequent brutal and illegal annexation was one of the key diplomatic challanges from the Berlin Congress until the WWI outbreak. This careless Austro-Habsburg colonial expropriation of Bosnia has only accelerated, escalated and magnified the forthcoming WWI slaughterhouse, in which southern and western Slavs were forced or decided to kill each others and other eastern Slavs. Southern Slavs will readly butcher themselves – as useful idiots – for the benefit of Central Europe soon again, in 1940s and 1990s.)
In an attempt to control the core sectors of the Balkans, Austria jealously keeps the highest post in the Office of High Representative for Bosnia in its hands. At the same time, it is the main protégé of Croatia’s bid for the EU membership (2013). Deindustrialized, depopulated, over-indebted and increasingly de-Slavicized, Croatia of relativized and silenced antifascism – for that matter, of course, further fortifies the Austro-influence deeper in the Balkan proper.
The rest of the Western Balkans is still finishing the dissolution of Yugoslavia, by forming the ever smaller, incapacitated un-greened and depopulated mini nation-states. (The prevailing political culture of the Western Balkans is a provincial, anti-intellectual, xenophobic and irresponsible anti-politics). Less than a decade after President Tito’s death, the tectonic changes in the Eastern bloc have caused the dramatic change of geopolitical position of Yugoslavia and the NAM. The external players and the local élites which they chose to boost and cooperate with, had silently agreed that for the amortization of revived Anglo-French, Germanophone, Russian and Turkish (traditional), and the US (non-traditional) projections on the region, the Southern Slavs should (de-industrialize, erode, agonize, incapacitate, de-Slavicize, rarify, and) live in far more than two states. In the absence of compromise among the major external geopolitical projectors, the area still undergoes the fragmentational erosion, being kept (like once upon a time Germany) as a soft center for strong peripheral pressures. Additionally, this is the best way to keep Turkey away from Europe and – at the same time – Russia from the exit to warm sea of south-east Mediterranean.
Bosnia is the best example of such an external intrusion, and of the outer powers which purposely set a dysfunctional governance there. No wonder, the only surviving state of the multiethnic constituency anywhere from Adriatic to Pacific, Bosnia suffers enormous external pressures. Although assertive, none of the Four + the US wants to prevail in this core sector of the Balkans and solely take a burden. Each of them simply wishes to keep its presence strong enough as to observe and deter others.
Nevertheless, ever since the Antique Roman times, the Southern Slavs territories (even all of the Balkans) have always existed within the larger multinational entities (be it Byzantium, Hungary, the Ottomans, the Habsburg Empire or Yugoslavia) – hardly ever in more than two states. Accommodation to a life in the numerous nano nation-state-alikes is a historical novelty. Therefore, it could be only a transitory stage for the Western Balkans. The lasting solution may appear with the return to a historical legacy –life in a larger, multinational entity.
In short, Atlantic Europe is a political powerhouse, with two of three European nuclear powers and 2 out of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, P-5. Central Europe is an economic powerhouse, Russophone Europe is an energy powerhouse, Scandinavian Europe is all of that a bit, and Eastern Europe is none of it. Even more, some parts of Eastern Europe have to wear a strait jacket of past centuries, of past feudal settlements.
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This is to understand that although seemingly unified; Europe is essentially composed of several segments, each of them with its own dynamics, legacies and its own political culture (considerations, priorities and anxieties). Atlantic and Central Europe are confident and secure on the one end, while (the EU and non-EU) Eastern Europe as well as Russia on the other end, insecure and neuralgic, therefore, in a permanent quest for additional security guaranties.
“America did not change on September 11. It only became more itself” – Robert Kagan famously claimed. Paraphrasing it, we may say: From 9/11 (09th November 1989 in Berlin) and shortly after, followed by the genocidal wars all over Yugoslavia, up to the Euro-zone drama, euthanasia of Greece, MENA or ongoing Ukrainian crisis, Europe didn’t change. It only became more itself – a conglomerate of five different Europes.
Europe victimizes the weaker, and then passionately hates its victims. If so, why the strong always resides in West and its victim is in the East? Is this statement a bit exaggerated? Is this worth of any consideration at all?
Eastern Europe paid disproportionately heavy price in WWII. Again, like no other part of the continent, it suffered again in 1990s and 2010s. Some further analogies are highly disturbing: The unbearable suffering of population in Croatia and Bosnia during the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia in 1940s, was even surpassed – especially in Bosnia – during the bloody Yugoslav implosion of 1990s. (Eastern Ukraine in mid 2010s, too.) Europe largely stood still, insisting on ‘neutrality’ in this intra-Slavic slaughterhouse, for several years (1991-95). Ultimately, Belgrade was a target of cruel air-raid twice; the first time on 06th April 1941 by the German planes – which marked the Nazi attack on Yugoslavia, and in 1999 with German and other half dozen nations sending their planes for that bombing campaign.
For the past 70 years the only European capital to be a victim of massive air-raids was Belgrade. Before that, the last European capital bombed was Hitler’s Berlin of 1945.
- Why is the biggest and richest city of Europe, Istanbul, (still) outside the Union? Does it illustrate a Huntingtonian fact that the EU is not as multi-religious multilateral system as its younger (twin) brother – ASEAN, but only a nest for the western Christian Ummah? True, but not completely. The last spot of Europe with both economic and demographic growth is Turkey. Just one more European country also has a steady economic growth – Russia. Another commonality is that both are outside the system which portrays itself as a truly Europo-cosmopolitan and pan-European. There was another time when Europe claimed to have a comprehensive multilateral setting, while keeping two pivotal powers outside the system– interwar period. No wonder that the League of Nations did not prevent but, on contrary, only accelerated the pre-WWII events with its ‘system error’, (in)action and lack of outreach. Clearly, the selective security systems, if too long a static and rigid, are becoming part of the problem not the solution.
- Like no other European country, Bosnia is administratively occupied state that does not exercises its full sovereignty. Its status is somewhat between the Berlin Congress’ ‘mandate’ given to the Habsburgs over Bosnia, or the International Mandate over Palestine between the two WW, and the current standing of Western Sahara, which is a non-decolonized territory, and as such listed by the UN as the Non-self-governing territory. Hence, colloquially known as the Colonial Office, OHR (Office of the High Representative) is the (US military base induced, the 19th century Congress look alike) ‘internationally’ set body with the supreme (legislative) prerogatives and highest executive (political) powers in the country. Disproportionate to its powers is the very poor achievement of the OHR. This non-UN-, non-OSCE-, and non-EU mandated office is increasingly criticized for its shadowy influence and opaque decision-making. Many high-ranking Bosnians will quite openly admit that the top OHR officers are rather promulgating their respective national commercial interests in Bosnia than working on the very OHR mandate to stabilize the country. Whatever is true, the slim results are really worrying. Since its inauguration in 1995, the post of the chief OHR executive – High Representative (nicknamed as Colonial Governor), is dominated by Atlantic-Central Europe – 6 out of 7 individuals. With the tasks considerably smaller but of the earnings close to those of the UN Secretary General, monthly income of the High Representative is €24,500 plus additional benefits (unpublicized), and is of course free of taxation. In the meantime, the country scores the highest European unemployment rate of close to 40%. Interestingly, Austria managed – like no other state – to get the top OHR post twice, and to stay in that office for already 9 out of 19 years. Domestically, this Alpine Republic is regularly criticized for its dismal score on protection of minorities, especially the south Slavic minorities such as Croats and Slovenes. Austrian regional authorities even ignored the strict orders of its own Constitutional Court to install the bilingual Slavic-German signs. Moreover, one of the powerful regional Governors even entered into a defying, humiliating and elsewhere unthinkable public debate with the Austrian Constitutional Court President. (This was yet another confirmation that Austria – on its subnational level – very often maintains a one-party rule, with the same individuals in power for several decades, without much of a restrain or control.) Amazingly enough, this is the country whose former President Kurt Waldheim was present at the worst atrocities against civilians in northwest Bosnia (Kozara and Neretva, notorious Operation Schwarz I and Schwarz II) during the WWII as the Military Intelligence Army Officer of Hitler’s Reich. (For the successful genocidal Slavic-race cleansing of sick and wounded, pregnant or women with minor children, and elderly by the German forces in Kozara in summer 1942, future Austrian president –member of the Nazi party since 1939 and holder of the Iron Cross since 1941 – was outstandingly decorated with the Silver Medal of the Crown.) Waldheim became the Austrian state president after his Nazi past was reviled. So far, he remains the only western head of state who got a lifelong entry bar from the US. Finally, this was the first and only country ever under the EU sanctions (for inviting its far-right political party to the coalition government in 2000). Austria was strongly condemned and sharply politically isolated by all EU members, but not in a devastated and terrified Bosnia, where it continued to keep the post of the High Representative all throughout that period.
- By far the largest EU Delegation ever run is the Mission in Bosnia (Delegation of the EU to BiH). As the Mission’s staff kept increasing over the last two decades, so did the distance of Bosnia from any viable prospect of joining the Union. Many around are bitterly joking if the Mission’s true mandate is a watchful waiting – in fact – to hinder, and not to assist the EU integration. According to the UN and ICTY (Intl. Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia), Bosnia has suffered genocide on its territory – the worst atrocities on European soil since the end of WWII. Judging the speed of admission process offered to Bosnia, seems that the EU does not like its victims. Sarajevo 20 years after is a perfect litmus paper: This wrecked country is an EU barometer for the ethical/moral deficit of the Union and its member states!
- Bosnia as a habitual mix of cultures, ethnicities and religions has a historical legacy and strong quality of integration, a cohesive spill-over potential for the region. Therefore, instead of conceptual politics after the war, the territorial anti-politics (with the confrontational political culture) was at first externally imposed by the so-called Dayton Peace Accord, and further on strongly encouraged and supported in everyday practice for nearly two decades. It is clear that any conceptual, therefore inclusive politics, would sooner or later end up in a reconciliatory, integrative approach. Perpetuating the areal anti-politics in Bosnia aims at keeping the former Yugoslav (political, cultural, economic and territorial) space separated, antagonized – fragmented into little xenophobic and inward-looking quasi nation-states. Moreover, as the only surviving (last) state of the multiethnic constituency anywhere from Adriatic to Pacific, Bosnia has to remain purposely dysfunctional. Slavs elsewhere have to be painfully reminded that a single-ethnos based, nano-to-small sized nation-state is the best option for them.