- (August 2014)
A Lesson from Serbia for Ukraine.
In 1999 NATO bombed Serbia to stop the ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo by Serbia's military and militias. A few hundred Serbs were killed.
Kosovo eventually declared independence. Some Serbian enclaves remain in
Kosovo and they never recognized the new government. De facto Kosovo is still
partitioned in a Serbian and an Albanian zone. The government of Serbia has
vowed to never recognize the independence of Kosovo, the homeland of the
Serbian nation that ended up being populated by Muslims.
Traveling through Serbia and Kosovo today is educational since something
similar is happening in Ukraine, although nobody really wants to bomb there.
What is left in Serbia is a strong dislike of the USA. A Serb reminded me
that Serbs never killed a single citizen or soldier of the NATO countries.
Not before the NATO bombing (hence no justification for it) and not after it
(no revenge/reprisal after all the killing and destruction caused by NATO).
Serbs are mostly kind, very polite, well-behaved, educated people. It is hard
to imagine them as enemies. They can tell you heartbreaking stories of when
the bombs were coming down, the children were screaming and the parents didn't
know where those bombs would fall. It was a terrifying experience. And this
was coming from the brothers of Western Europe and the cousins of North America.
Of course, Western Europe and North America had a different view of the facts:
Milosevic, his army and thousands of Serbian fanatics were committing genocide
in Kosovo after having done so in Bosnia, and this time NATO was determined
to stop them. On the other hand the average Serb saw Milosevic's aim (if not
his methods) as correct: unite all ethnic Serbs under one nation. The
collapse of Yugoslavia had left Serbs displaced inside Croatia and Bosnia,
a legacy of borders that had been decided when they were all part of the same
country. Foreigners can understand that part, but it is difficult for
foreigners to justify the attempt to kill and expel thousands of people from
Kosovo simply because they (Albanian-speaking Muslims) had become the majority
in what used to be a purely Serbian region. Serbs still don't see it this way
and in fact can't understand why Christians would stop Christians from
expelling Muslims. There are probably thousands of Serbs that secretely enjoyed
the images of 2001, when Muslims hit the USA. To them the USA now knew how it
feels to be bombed, and, even better, to be bombed by Muslims.
It may sound surprising that 15 years later Serbs still blame NATO instead of
their own Milosevic for all that happened to them. But such is nationalism:
it can turn the nicest people into monsters, and it did (more than once, and
not only in Serbia).
The facts, however, are now educational. On one hand there is Serbia's
lasting resentment against the USA (surprisingly Serbia doesn't seem to
hold the other countries of NATO as responsible as the USA). Having heard
what they think, i doubt this will go away any time soon.
On the other hand, Serbia has been left behind. Croatia and Slovenia are now
members of the European Union. The "americanization" of Serbia is no less
visible than the one of, say, Panama: people wear blue jeans and t-shirts
(with a particular preference for anything that refers to the USA), fast
food is ubiquitous, young people are more likely to speak English than
Cyrillic is disappearing, rapidly replaced by Latin characters.
The euro is accepted virtually everywhere.
And, yes, Serbia has applied for membership in the European Union, a fact
that will almost certainly imply some kind of recognition of Kosovo's
One country stood by Serbia during the 1999 bombings: Russia. Serbs are
certainly grateful: this is the one place in the world where posters of
Putin are not mandated by the government, but hung enthusiastically by
ordinary people. However, Russia is rapidly being forgotten. Serbia is
looking west, not east.
The situation in Ukraine might be different in terms of the forces that
are involved and the severety of the killing, but some elements are
similar. By siding with the new Ukrainian government, that Russians widely
see as illegitimate, and by opposing the Russian annexation of Crimea,
that Russians widely view as a historical part of Russia, the West has
already alienated the entire Russian nation. It now risks alienating also
the Russian-speaking half of Ukraine, that is rarely interviewed on North
American television. The West is again neglecting, or, better, refusing to
listen to, the ethnic element: people who speak the same language and have
blood ties that go back centuries, want to live together, not under a
government that speaks a different language and has closer ties to other
nations (eastern Ukraine used to be part of Poland, Lithuania and even
Needless to say, there are countless cases in the world in which a region rose up against its "legitimate" owner and tried to either secede or join a neighboring country. The West does not have a record of being consistent in dealing with these cases. When in 1988 Armenia invaded Azerbaijan's Karabakh to "protect" the Armenian majority that lives there, the West did not impose sanctions on Armenia and put pressure on Azerbaijan to end the war that ensued. Why is it ok for Ukraine to send the army to regain the secessionist pro-Russian regions, but not for Azerbaijan to use military force to regain its pro-Armenian region?
Both the West and Russia stand to lose. Instead of a win-win situation this
is likely to become another lose-lose situation like Serbia.
inevitably drift towards the European Union. Russia will inevitably lose
control of it. Other countries that have sizeable Russian minorities
are getting scared that Russia might foment trouble within their borders too
(and that includes the only two allies that are left to Putin, namely Belarus
On the other hand, Russian-speaking Ukrainians will inevitably
consider it an injustice that they cannot join Russia. In both Serbia and
Ukraine (and in Iraq and many other places) the West shows a stubborn
determination to preserve the existing borders, no matter how many people
oppose them and are willing to die to fight them.
In both Serbia and Ukraine (and in many other parts of the world) Russia
ends up losing more and more power and influence.
Is there any winner?
TM, ®, Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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