23 October 2012

Tim Judah Out-Nonsenses Himself

The most enjoyable side benefit of the debt crisis impacting the EU has to be the opportunity to observe the distress it is causing its cocky and authoritarian supporters. Take Tim Judah, for example, a reporter from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, but who is better known for his Balkan-themed works of dilettante, bubblegum history, which have won him a wholly undeserved reputation for balance and sobriety on the account that his fare was about 2% less toxic than the poison served up by his still more successful colleagues, the likes of Christine Amanpour and Ed Vulliamy. Judah's beloved EU is in trouble, and it shows. Distressed as he must be, he has penned what is probably his most embarrassing piece to date.

In the piece, spurred by the recent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU, Judah admonishes "those who are against it [the EU]". Like a teacher who who implores children to not engage in food fights, but to think of 'poor starving children in Africa' instead, Judah implores Union Europeans to think why the poor "ex-Yugoslavs" appreciate the EU so much, and to support this institution on their behalf, or for the same reason these simpler "ex-Yugoslav" people do. Yepp, it's condescending as hell and the problems with it hardly stop there. Let us address them in order.

First there is the presumptuous title: "Ex-Yugoslavs Know Why EU Deserves a Nobel Prize". Having made a career of writing myths about Yugoslavs and misnarrating their quarrels Judah now thinks he may speak in their name. As an actual "ex-Yugoslav" I can say I do not see that the EU deserves any peace prizes. I can, however, say I believe the EU and the Nobel Prize deserve each other, both being completely worthless. Most of all I think it is not the place of a British hack to try to speak on my behalf.

Judah begins the body of his text by drawing a parallel between anti-EU dissent and nationalism that "ripped apart the former Yugoslavia":
"The bile that has poured from so- called euro-skeptics since the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to the European Union is not surprising. To a journalist who has covered the Balkans for more than two decades, it is also reminiscent of the nationalism that ripped apart the former Yugoslavia. Back then, though, no one spoke of Yugo-skeptics."
Here Judah implicitly draws a parallel between the European Union and Yugoslavia. Naturally, this means having to gloss over the crucial role in ripping apart Yugoslavia that was played by the EU itself. Judah attempts to draw a moral alignment between the former Yugoslavia and the EU, when the EU's actual alignment when it counted was with the "Yugo-skeptics".

He follows up with a desperate howl of a man who has found himself on a losing side of an argument and wants to shut down discussion before this is made apparent to all. Apparently unable to counter their points Judah laments that the critics of the EU in member states are not finding themselves demonized and dismissed out of hand:
"Today, if Serbs, Croats or Albanians used the language of anti-Europeans further west, they would be labeled extreme nationalists and a threat to stability, without so much as a blink of an eyelid."
Consider this is a statement given in a piece attempting to shame the Union Europeans into being more like the allegedly Union-appreciating "ex-Yugoslavs". Judah would actually find it preferable if conditions in Union Europe were such that anti-EU dissent was met with high-pitched accusations of "extreme nationalism" and "threatening stability". He would like it better if the opponents of the EU were not afforded the benign label of 'Euro-skeptics' and the associated access to polite media, but were vilified without a second thought, just as would any "ex-Yugoslav" nationalists not to the West's liking.

As far as Judah's claim that an independent-minded politician from the Balkans may not escape being labeled as an 'ultra-nationalist' and a threat is concerned, that is true as far as it goes. Trouble is Judah forgets to mention where exactly they may find themselves vilified in this manner. The answer is in the reports of Western diplomats, the Western media, the reports of Western-funded NGOs, and a few of the most militant of Western-owned local media outlets and nowhere else.

Judah would like to pretend ordinary people in the space of former Yugoslavia have the same reaction to any of their politicians who would favor an independent course of action for their country as the circles he moves in. Actually it has been established on many occasions that is not the case. Between the "No to EU" campaign in Croatia, the past electoral success of the Radical Party in Serbia (2003, 2007, 2008), as well as the fresh electoral successes of the vilified (but technically pro-EU) Milorad Dodik in Bosnia and Herzegovina and of the former substitute Radical leader Tomislav Nikolić in Serbia it should have been clear by now numerous "ex-Yugoslavs" have far different ideas about what constitutes a moderate and sensible political option than do their would-be overseers in the West.

Judah makes the claim that in the countries of the former Yugoslavia "you have to be pro-European to get elected", which is exceptionally misleading. What is actually the case is that in these countries it is not possible to vote for anyone who is not pro-EU. Particularly in Serbia and Croatia, the two largest and most important successors to Yugoslavia, there has for a very long time now been a very strong constituency for a non-EU course. The latest poll from Serbia has the support for EU membership at 47% and opposition at 35% (in Belgrade it's 40-41).* Since it is a foregone conclusion Croatia will join the European Union next year, such polls are no longer taken there, but before that the support for the EU in Croatia was at times even less than it is at present in Serbia.

Then it is not the case the electorate will not vote for someone who is not in favor of EU membership. It is the case a large part of the electorate has been crying out for just such a political option to come into being, but no one has dared step up and tap into the support for continued independence.** The truth is not that politicians have to be pro-EU or they may not be elected. The truth is that because the EU is so popular among politicians who are uniformly in favor, the real people who are vastly more skeptical about membership do not get the option to vote for someone who is not pro-EU.

It is not surprising then that to illustrate just how appreciative of the EU the poor, instability-weary "ex-Yugoslavs" are Judah turns to politicians. In the next segment of the article Judah informs the reader he rang up two Balkan officials, one in Croatia and one in Macedonia. The functionary from Croatia he spoke with turns out to be none other than the Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vesna Pusić. The very same Minister Pusić who on the eve of the Croatian referendum on joining the EU caused a scandal when she warned Croatia's pensioners that voting against the EU may cost them their pensions. Yes, that's how worried Croatia's political elite had been that given the poor state of support for the EU the referendum could return a vote against membership.

Judah shows no sign of being aware of this episode on the path of Croatia's joining the EU, but it is doubtful he would care if he were, seeing he reveals himself to be an even bigger alarmist than Pusić. Where the Croatian minister only raised the specter of the government not paying out pensions, Judah raises the specter of war.

Judah thinks it's "dangerous" and a "shame" that "people in Western Europe no longer imagine war as something that’s real." This makes "the work of the europhobes and the extreme nationalists easier", which is problematic because without the EU or something like it "the chances of conflict -- armed or by other means -- would be greater". Well, I do imagine the fact that people in Western Europe correctly do not think a war breaking out on their doorsteps is realistic, makes the work of scaremongers like Judah much more difficult. You know that plausible pro-EU arguments are running out when its proponents, to try and prop it up, have to resort to as laughable and desperate argument as tying peace in Europe to its survival.

Beside, the EU is not actually a force for peace, whether abroad or in Union Europe. As mentioned above, it poured gasoline on the fire in Yugoslavia. It is, to this day, exerting effort to subvert the Dayton peace accords to enact further, destabilizing centralization in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as effort aimed at realizing Albanian control of the Serb-populated north of Kosovo. It
enacts sanctions against vilified "rogue" states, and has caused friction between the countries of the European north and of the European south.

The only thing that diminishes the significance of the EU as a factor of instability is that it, fortunately, lacks the self-assuredness to act boldly. Consumed by doubt in its own ability and legitimacy, the European Union on the international scene, only ever acts in a timid, half-hearted and sluggish manner, so that the consequences of its horrible deeds are relatively less than if it were bursting with confidence, animated, and sincerely assured of its virtue.

In the end, of course, it turns out the real reason for Judah viewing the EU favorably is not peace, but power. What really upsets Judah about the prospect of the dissolution of the European Union is not fear of conflict. It is the prospect of European powers, if disunited, having less influence in world affairs:

"Hostility to the EU project is especially unfortunate now, when Europe’s share of the world’s population and economy is shrinking. It seems obvious that that at such a moment of decline relative to unpredictable new powers, unity is strength. Twenty-seven or more countries each standing in splendid isolation would mean 27 mostly irrelevant countries, of which only six would have a population larger than the 23 million strong municipality of Shanghai."
Judah talks about "27 mostly irrelevant countries" as a bad thing, but the last time Western Europe was really relevant it spammed the world with colonialist "civilizing missions" and associated repression in what we now call the Third World. Between that, the two World Wars, and the military adventurism of European powers in the present European irrelevancy should be hailed as a good thing and long overdue.

Finally, I should also say that somewhere in the text, stuck between the vilification of anti-EU dissenters as "europhobes" and fear mongering about future European wars is Judah complaining:
"One hundred years ago this month, war erupted in southern Europe. I tried to interest various editors in stories about the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, to mark the moment. ... No one was interested."
While we may have to wait for complete Western European irrelevancy for a while longer, at least the complete irrelevancy of Tim Judah seems to be much nearer in comparison. Judah having an increasingly harder time finding editors who think his bubblegum history is worth publishing? Well that's another thing Judah laments, but the rest of us should hail as long overdue.

*The polls (conducted by a Western-sponsored NGO) also reveal the greatest opposition to the EU is to be found among the younger age cohort aged 30 and less. Among students 54% are opposed to membership, and only 36% in favor. The poll confirmed once more the public in Serbia perceives the United States as their greatest foe, followed by Germany and Albania, and Russia as their greatest friend, followed by Greece and China.

Crucially it revealed that among the voters of the largest party in Serbia (the Progressive Party, the tamed and US-embassy-cowed offshoot of the Radicals), there are more opponents to membership in the EU than there are supporters. So actually in direct contrast to what Judah claims, where the party leading the ruling coalition is concerned more often than not its stance on the EU is a hindrance to voting for them, and not part of the appeal.

** The exception being Vojislav Koštunica and his DSS in Serbia, but they did it at a too late time after they had spent themselves as a political force.

1 comment:

  1. Having just published a lengthy piece touching on the Balkan Wars, I have zero sympathy for Judah being unable to find a favorable editor.

    My impression from a recent trip to Serbia is that the presstitutes are desperately seeking a way to remain relevant. Looks like their "EUropean" colleagues are having the same problem.

    Keep up the good work!