29 November 2011

Serbian Public and the EU

Level of support for EU membership in Serbia, October 2007 - October 2011

A survey of public opinion that was recently conducted in Serbia revealed support for EU membership in the country has finally tanked. As late as June this year the level of support stood at 60.8%, but has since dropped to 47.4%. Even so, with 37.5% opposed, supporters of membership in the EU still claim a ten point lead over those opposed. So then the Serbs, nonetheless, remain pro-EU and all is good in the world for Brussels? Well, not really.

Asked if they would support Serbia establishing the closest ties with Russia possible 59.3% answer in the affirmative, while 21.2% are opposed. That means those in favor of stronger links with Russia claim a thirty-eight point lead over those opposed. EU membership may be popular, but links with Russia are more popular still.

82% of Serbs think of Russia as a country friendly to Serbia, while 5.1% claim it is a country hostile to Serbia. 27.7% see the European Union as an entity friendly to Serbia and 42.1% see it as an entity hostile to Serbia. 20.7% see Germany as a friendly power and 55.7% as a hostile power. 11.5% see Great Britain as a friendly power and 65.9% as a hostile power. In other words, sympathy for Russia is wider than the number of those who see the benefit in close political ties with Moscow. Meanwhile support for EU membership does not imply that Serbs believe Western European powers, or even the EU, wish Serbia well.

What is more citizens of Serbia are skeptical EU membership would benefit Serbia to any great extent. 45.4% express agreement (23.2% agree strongly) with the statement that EU membership would bring Serbia more harm than gain while 43.2 percent disagree (18.6% disagree strongly). So then, what explains the situation where the people of Serbia continue to support associating with hostile states in a possibly hostile supranational entity they are no longer willing to automatically assume is tantamount to a better life? The reason is the influence of argument of appeasement.

Many in Serbia believe they have been and continue to be punished for the fact their political leadership in the 1990s did not show sufficient eagerness to join Euro-Atlantic integrations. Some of them believe that if Serbia were an EU member — and thus a nominal member of the club of western states  — it would be less likely that Americans and Western Europeans would act against it. Both because they would be less inclined to do so and because they would have less room to act in such a way.

Naturally, that one part of support for EU membership comes from people who desire it just because they believe Serbia in the EU could breathe more freely, means support for making concessions in order to join the EU is nowhere as strong as the figure of people in favor of membership could lead one to believe. 9.2% would be fine with Serbia "ceasing to support" the Serbs in the north of Kosovo if it meant getting EU candidate status in December — 75.5% want none of that.

28 November 2011

What Worth Kosovo?

Army of Yugoslavia in orderly withdrawal from Kosovo, 1999

In Serbia there is a thesis that Kosovo was lost in 1999. The point of the thesis being the province should be written under losses and forgotten about so that Serbia may turn to transforming itself according to the wishes of Brussels and Washington in the territory it still controls.

It is not an openly stated thesis of the government, which claims to be in pursuit of mutually exclusive goals of defending Kosovo and moving towards Euro-Atlantic integrations simultaneously. It is a thesis of a junior government party, the NGO crowd and a coterie of commentators who are tasked with moving the dialectic and tend to say what the government only thinks.

It is a curious thesis considering that the Kosovo War ended with Washington legally binding itself to respect Serbia's sovereignty in Kosovo by voting in UNSCR 1244. It is true that the Americans could not be expected to intend to abide by the 1999 settlement, but then it was up to Belgrade to do all it it could to nonetheless preserve as much of it as possible. This is exactly what the current regime in power in Serbia never intended. If Kosovo should be lost for Serbia it will not be because it was lost in 1999, but because after 2000 Serbia was largely run by people who wished it had been lost then.

It is plausible that just remaining a state capable of autonomous action may have proved sufficient for Serbia to deter the occupiers from assaulting the original settlement, as this would have carried a risk of unwanted incidents with potential for escalation. Certainly KFOR would be more reluctant to undertake actions like the current assault against the four municipalities in the north of Kosovo if Serbia were known to be ready to issue a demand for KFOR to desist and to dispatch hundreds of Serbian police (something envisioned by the UNSCR 1244) to the north if its calls were not heeded. Particularly if it had not dismantled and purged away much of its army after 2000 so that it still had something to potentially back the police with.

Counter-intuitively as this may sound in one critical aspect the NATO occupation of Kosovo actually enhanced Serbian position vis-a-vis the alliance. During the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 NATO faced a problem of how to hurt an enemy whose army was camouflaged, had dug in, and had no need to conduct large scale troop movements or concentrate its forces. It resolved the problem by going after civilian targets instead. Serbian forces faced the opposite problem of how to hurt an enemy that is content to bomb civilian infrastructure and will not drop bellow 15,000 feet. After it was conclusively shown that the Army of Yugoslavia would not be able to protect the civilian population from a redoubled effort of NATO against their livelihoods, or even to exact a price on NATO for conducting it, Yugoslavia negotiated an armistice. NATO occupation of Kosovo that followed, however, gifted Serbia the capacity to inflict damage on NATO and should have resolved the basic strategic problem Serbia had faced in 1999.

27 November 2011

State Serbia

USAF F-16 and crew on a 'goodwill visit' to Serbia military base (2006)

Last month, days before KFOR would launch its most ambitious string of attacks against the roadblocks in the north of Kosovo, the president of Serbia told the embattled communities in the north that "Belgrade was firmly at their side, but that a solution must be found to allow KFOR to pass past the barricades". What can be made of a head of state who, at the height of a crisis involving his citizens and an occupying army, has as his driving objective to ensure privilege for the latter?

What has happened to make such an unnatural state of affairs a reality? Did some years prior American tanks roll into downtown Belgrade and install a pliant regime? Well, not quite. Serbia was subjugated, but not by force. It was defeated by subterfuge, without having fired a shot in its defense.

How in turn was it possible for a people as freedom-minded as any to lose it so easily? It turns out because they have a state set above themselves that can be used against them they can be checkmated with little expense. A people that could not be broken in war in 1999 were brought under Imperial domination a year later with suitcases of cash. Since 2000 the Empire has been able to make sure successive governments of Serbia would be, in whole or in part, made up of its clients.

What is more, Empire's position in Belgrade has never been more assured. Impressed with the ability of Washington to see patriotic parties thwarted — election results be damned — a part of oppositionists have sought its favor, so that now the Empire has in its pocket not just the government parties, but also the largest opposition party. Where 2008 elections were anticipated as an event that would finally rid Serbian government of Imperial influence — which they would have, but for US Embassy engineered defection of the Socialist Party of Serbia from the ranks of patriotic parties to the ranks of State Department clientele — it is apparent in advance the 2012 elections will change nothing.

What best illustrates just how far gone official Serbia is, is how utopian the eminently reasonable calls of the Serbs under occupation for the Serbian police and army to make a return to Kosovo sound in the present climate. With Serbia in the grip of collaborationists it would be beyond absurd to hope for it to deliver on the central promise of the nation-state — to defend its people against foreign threats.

21 November 2011

Stateless Serbia

Stateless in Serbia

I would like to provide more of a background to my statement in the last post that the north of Kosovo is among the freest places on the world, particularly since an area which is effectively stateless must be of interest to libertarians.

There are two state-like entities which lay claim to the area in question, however, neither of them is able to exercise power in it. Washington keeps out the police and the military of the Republic of Serbia and the locals keep out every single institution of the quasi-state governed from Priština. That leaves the area with a number of civilian state institutions of Republic of Serbia, but seeing the organs of compulsion of Republic of Serbia are out of the picture, the cooperation with the former is de facto voluntary. In other words while Republic of Serbia has a presence in occupied Kosovo, it is not the presence of a coercive state.

Looking to change this condition of statelessness of the four northern municipalities are the occupying forces. This July KFOR and EULEX moved to install Kosovo Albanian police to the crossings to unoccupied Serbia in the north and to enforce there the sort of border regime the government in Priština wants. There is no doubt this would have been just the first step in a larger effort to hoist an unwanted state upon the north had things gone according to plan.

They did not, however, go according to plan. The Serbs rose up and KFOR and EULEX proved utterly and totally incapable of extracting compliance by force. As there is not the slightest bit of compliance there is neither a state, merely the presence of dangerous, armed goons in government-issued costumes. Absolute resolution of the people of the four northern municipalities not to give way defines the danger the occupying forces represent. Since no one will bow down before them the occupiers' potential for violence presents a great risk for injury and tragedy, but poses no threat to freedom. The locals having determined they will take any injury before they will see NATO impose an unwanted state upon them have eliminated the possibility the occupying forces can act as an organ of state compulsion.

19 November 2011

No Surrender by Government

In the last two months in Kosovo there have been three ethnically motivated attacks that have resulted in a fatality. October 2nd father (51) and son (24) were gunned down leaving the son wounded and the father dead. October 20th three men were gunned down, with one of them killed. November 9th a group of young men rushing to the aid of their colleague who was being savagely beaten was sprayed with automatic fire leaving two of them wounded with one of the pair later dying.

What all three attacks had in common was Albanian assailants and Serb targets. The two attacks in October occurred in territories under the sway of the government in Priština and targeted Serbs who had shown signs of objecting to their property being usurped by Albanian neighbors. The last attack occurred in a mixed neighborhood in divided Kosovska Mitrovica. All told more than one thousand Serbs have been killed in occupied Serbia since the onset of NATO occupation, most of them immediately after its onset.

Clearly the remaining Serbs in Kosovo are in a truly unenviable position. Those in the part of Kosovo under control of Western-backed Albanian government in Priština live in tiny, scattered ghettos and are frequently harassed and tormented by the Kosovo Albanian police and many of their ordinary Albanian neighbors as well. Those in the north of Kosovo have so far escaped this fate, but are under assault of Western occupiers to extend their dependency in Kosovo northwards, presumably so that they too may experience the fate of Serbs in the rest of Kosovo — the inauguration of KLA rule in the form of mass expulsions followed by an extended agony of vandalism, extortion, and beatings for those who stay.

Nevertheless, at least the less unfortunate Serbs in Kosovo, those in the compactly Serb-populated north can also be envied. They can be envied their spirit and the freedom they have established for themselves in resisting all that would have them subdued by force — or by treachery. In an unlikely outcome the north of Kosovo in spite of all the force aligned against itself nonetheless finds itself among the freest places in the world. Its defiant inhabitants are subject to no state authority except that which they embrace willingly.

Attempted imposition of institutions of the Kosovo protectorate by NATO forces is being successfully fought off. Despite efforts of the occupiers to forcefully dismantle the barricades protecting the locals from the encroachment of an unwanted quasi-state they remain, as sturdy as ever. In the few instances where people guarding the improvised roadblocks were overpowered and the obstacles cleared, new barricades quickly replaced the barriers yielded. Effective peaceful resistance against the occupiers quite literally leaves them in control of no more than the soil under their boots and wheels.

13 November 2011

Paper Money Famine

Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II is a book by a science journalist Madhusree Mukerjee. It tells of British policy toward India in the Second World War and how it relates to the Bengal Famine of 1943.

Mukerjee reminds the reader that before the British conquest India was a rich land. Certainly the conquerors drawn to Bengal in the 18th century were of the opinion they were adding a magnificently wealthy possession to their empire. Under colonial rule, however, India and Bengal soon became synonymous for poverty and a frequent setting of famine.

During the Second World War the colony was made to contribute heavily to the British war effort. India's industries, manpower, and foodstuffs were made to serve requirements of the war the empire had involved itself in. This was merely the latest escalation in a long lasting exploitation of the colony. The British deemed their unwanted presence in India a service and therefore extracted "payment" for it from the colony in the form of the Home Charge. As the British obstructed the expansion of manufacturing in India lest it provide competition for their domestic industry, the export of agricultural produce presented the only way of realizing this transfer. Finally, since the empire set the transfer so high so much grain was extracted for export that the colony — which continued to produce more food than its need through the 19th century — was maintained in a condition of chronic malnutrition.

Unsurprisingly there was strong resistance to colonial rule that could only be overcome by large scale repression. As part of the August 1942 crackdown against the Quit India Movement alone more than 90,000 people were locked up and up to 10,000 were killed. Short on manpower the British at times resorted to attacking crowds with aircraft. In particularly rebellious districts authorities burned down homes and destroyed rice supplies. British India was not unlike an occupied land.

The book exposes the manifold causes of the Bengal Famine. To begin with mortality rate in Bengal under British rule was atrocious even in a normal year with some of that attributable to malnutrition. The immediate reasons why conditions deteriorated beyond this "normal" state of semi-famine was the catastrophic Midnapore Cyclone and the Japanese capture of Burma. The Cyclone storm and subsequent floods disrupted life and ruined crops and the loss of Burma severed links with an important source of rice imports to India. These two factors, outside British control, were probably enough for a disaster on their own, however, subsequent British policies made the crisis far worse than it needed to be.

Anticipating the possibility the Japanese could advance further, the British carried out a scorched earth policy in coastal Bengal, seizing rice stocks, motor vehicles, bicycles and boats. Seizure of boats was particularly disruptive as they normally represented the primary means of transportation and therefore of getting rice crops to the markets.

The loss of Burmese rice imports to India was not made up by imports from elsewhere, nor was India's obligation to supply British Indian troops abroad lessened. Instead, India was made to cover the loss of Burmese rice imports to Ceylon, Arabia and South Africa even though these territories were already better provisioned with food than India. Although in the years before the war India had become a net importer of food, importing at least one million tons of cereal per year — a figure that was not actually sufficient to cover its needs, but represented what it could afford to import after paying the Home Charge — the British now undertook to export food from India.

Anticipating food shortages that were certain to follow colonial administration moved to protect the strata of society most useful to the British Empire — administrators, soldiers and industrial workers. The way in which they supposed to do so was to buy up huge quantities of grain and store it for their use. It would acquire these stocks in the same way it acquired supplies for the war effort — by printing money.