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Slavoj Zizek: AGAINST THE DOUBLE BLACKMAIL

 

The top winner in the contest for the greatest blunder of 1998 was a Latin-American patriotic terrorist who sent a bomb letter to a US consulate in order to protest against the American interfering into the local politics. As a conscientious citizen, he wrote on the envelope his return address; however, he did not put enough stamps on it, so that the post returned the letter to him. Forgetting what he put in it, he opened it and blew himself to death - a perfect example of how, ultimately, a letter always arrives at its destination. And is not something quite similar happening to the Slobodan Milosevic regime with the recent NATO bombing? It is interesting to watch in the last days the Serbian satellite state TV which targets foreign public: no reports on atrocities in Kosovo, refugees are mentioned only as people fleeing NATO bombing, so that the overall idea is that Serbia, the island of peace, the only place in ex-Yugoslavia that was not touched by the war raging all around it, is not irrationally attacked by the NATO madmen destroying bridges and hospitals... For years, Milosevic was sending bomb letters to his neighbors, from the Albanians to Croatia and Bosnia, keeping himself out of the conflict while igniting fire all around Serbia - finally, his last letter returned to him. Let us hope that the result of the NATO intervention will be that Milosevic will be proclaimed the political blunderer of the year.

And there is a kind of poetic justice in the fact that the West finally intervened apropos of Kosovo - let us not forget that it was there that it all began with the ascension to power of Milosevic: this ascension was legitimized by the promise to amend the underprivileged situation of Serbia within the Yugoslav federation, especially with regard to the Albanian "separatism." Albanians were Milosevic's first target; afterwards, he shifted his wrath onto other Yugoslav republics (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia), until, finally, the focus of the conflict returned to Kosovo - as in a closed loop of Destiny, the arrow returned to the one who lanced it by way of setting free the spectre of ethnic passions. This is the key point worth remembering: Yugoslavia did not start to disintegrate when the Slovene "secession" triggered the domino-effect (first Croatia, then Bosnia, Macedonia...); it was already at the moment of Milosevic's constitutional reforms in 1987, depriving Kosovo and Vojvodina of their limited autonomy, that the fragile balance on which Yugoslavia rested was irretrievably disturbed. From that moment onwards, Yugoslavia continued to live only because it didn't yet notice it was already dead - it was like the proverbial cat in the cartoons walking over the precipice, floating in the air, and falling down only when it becomes aware that it has no ground under its feet... From Milosevic's seizure of power in Serbia onwards, the only actual chance for Yugoslavia to survive was to reinvent its formula: either Yugoslavia under Serb domination or some form of radical decentralization, from a loose confederacy to the full sovereignty of its units.

It is thus easy to praise the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia as the first case of an intervention - not into the confused situation of a civil war, but - into a country with full sovereign power. Is it not comforting to see the NATO forces intervene not for any specific economico-strategic interests, but simply because a country is cruelly violating the elementary human rights of an ethnic group? Is not this the only hope in our global era - to see some internationally acknowledged force as a guarantee that all countries will respect a certain minimum of ethical (and, hopefully, also health, social, ecological) standards? However, the situation is more complex, and this complexity is indicated already in the way NATO justifies its intervention: the violation of human rights is always accompanied by the vague, but ominous reference to "strategic interests." The story of NATO as the enforcer of the respect for human rights is thus only one of the two coherent stories that can be told about the recent bombings of Yugoslavia, and the problem is that each story has its own rationale. The second story concerns the other side of the much-praised new global ethical politics in which one is allowed to violate the state sovereignty on behalf of the violation of human rights. The first glimpse into this other side is provided by the way the big Western media selectively elevate some local "warlord" or dictator into the embodiment of Evil: Sadam Hussein, Milosevic, up to the unfortunate (now forgotten) Aidid in Somalia - at every point, it is or was "the community of civilized nations against...". And on what criteria does this selection rely? Why Albanians in Serbia and not also Palestinians in Israel, Kurds in Turkey, etc.etc? Here, of course, we enter the shady world of international capital and its strategic interests.

According to the "Project CENSORED," the top censored story of 1998 was that of a half-secret international agreement in working, called MAI (the Multilateral Agreement on Investment). The primary goal of MAI will be to protect the foreign interests of multinational companies. The agreement will basically undermine the sovereignty of nations by assigning power to the corporations almost equal to those of the countries in which these corporations are located. Governments will no longer be able to treat their domestic firms more favorably than foreign firms. Furthermore, countries that do not relax their environmental, land-use and health and labor standards to meet the demands of foreign firms may be accused of acting illegally. Corporations will be able to sue sovereign state if they will impose too severe ecological or other standards - under NAFTA (whic is the main model for MAI), Ethyl Corporation is already suing Canada for banning the use of its gasoline additive MMT. The greatest threat is, of course, to the developing nations which will be pressured into depleting their natural resources for commercial exploitation. Renato Ruggerio, director of the World Trade Organization, the sponsor of MAI, is already hailing this project, elaborated and discussed in a clandestine manner, with almost no public discussion and media attention, as the "constitution for a new global economy." And, in the same way in which, already for Marx, market relations provided the true foundation for the notion of individual freedoms and rights, THIS is also the obverse of the much-praised new global morality celebrated even by some neoliberal philosophers as signalling the beginning of the new era in which international community will establish and enforce some minimal code preventing sovereign state to engage in crimes against humanity even within its own territory. And the recent catastrophic economic situation in Russia, far from being the heritage of old Socialist mismanagement, is a direct result of this global capitalist logic embodied in MAI.

This other story also has its ominous military side. The ultimate lesson of the last American military interventions, from the Operation Desert Fox against Iraq at the end of 1998 to the present bombing of Yugoslavia, is that they signal a new era in military history - battles in which the attacking force operates under the constraint that it can sustain no casualties. When the first stealth-fighter fell down in Serbia, the emphasis of the American media was that there were no casualties - the pilot was SAVED! (This concept of "war without casualties" was elaborated by General Collin Powell.) And was not the counterpoint to it the almost surreal way CNN reported on the war: not only was it presented as a TV event, but the Iraqi themselves seem to treat it this way - during the day, Bagdad was a "normal" city, with people going around and following their business, as if war and bombardment was an irreal nightmarish spectre that occurred only during the night and did not take place in effective reality?

Let us recall what went on in the final American assault on the Iraqi lines during the Gulf War: no photos, no reports, just rumours that tanks with bulldozer like shields in front of them rolled over Iraqi trenches, simply burying thousands of troops in earth and sand - what went on was allegedly considered too cruel in its shere mechanical efficiency, too different from the standard notion of a heroic face to face combat, so that images would perturb too much the public opinion and a total censorship black-out was stritly imposed. Here we have the two aspects joined together: the new notion of war as a purely technological event, taking place behind radar and computer screens, with no casualties, AND the extreme physical cruelty too unbearable for the gaze of the media - not the crippled children and raped women, victims of caricaturized local ethnic "fundamentalist warlords," but thousands of nameless soldiers, victims of nameless efficient technological warfare. When Jean Baudrillard made the claim that the Gulf War did not take place, this statement could also be read in the sense that such traumatic pictures that stand for the Real of this war were totally censured...

How, then, are we to think these two stories together, without sacrificing the truth of each of them? What we have here is a political example of the famous drawing in which we recognize the contours either of a rabbit head or of a goose head, depending on our mental focus. If we look at the situation in a certain way, we see the international community enforcing minimal human rights standards on a nationalist neo-Communist leader engaged in ethnic cleansing, ready to ruin his own nation just to retain power. If we shift the focus, we see NATO, the armed hand of the new capitalist global order, defending the strategic interests of the capital in the guise of a disgusting travesty, posing as a disinterested enforcer of human rights, attacking a sovereign country which, in spite of the problematic nature of its regime, nonetheless acts as an obstacle to the unbriddled assertion of the New World Order.

However, what if one should reject this double blackmail (if you are against NATO strikes, you are for Milosevic's proto-Fascist regime of ethnic cleansing, and if you are against Milosevic, you support the global capitalist New World Order)? What if this very opposition between enlightened international intervention against ethnic fundamentalists, and the heroic last pockets of resistance against the New World Order, is a false one? What if phenomena like the Milosevic regime are not the opposite to the New World Order, but rather its SYMPTOM, the place at which the hidden TRUTH of the New World Order emerges? Recently, one of the American negotiators said that Milosevic is not only part of the problem, but rather THE problem itself. However, was this not clear FROM THE VERY BEGINNING? Why, then, the interminable procrastination of the Western powers, playing for years into Milosevic's hands, acknowledging him as a key factor of stability in the region, misreading clear cases of Serb aggression as civil or even tribal warfare, initially putting the blame on those who immediately saw what Milosevic stands for and, for that reason, desperately wanted to escape his grasp (see James Baker's public endorsement of a "limited military intervention" against Slovene secession), supporting the last Yugoslav prime minister Ante Markovic, whose program was, in an incredible case of political blindness, seriously considered as the last chance for a democratic market-oriented unified Yugoslavia, etc.etc.? When the West fights Milosevic, it is NOT fighting its enemy, one of the last points of resistance against the liberal-democratic New World Order; it is rather fighting its own creature, a monster that grew as the result of the compromises and inconsistencies of the Western politics itself. (And, incidentally, it is the same as with Iraq: its strong position is also the result of the American strategy of containing Iran.)

In the last decade, the West followed a Hamlet-like procrastination towards Balkan, and the present bombardment has effectively all the signs of Hamlet's final murderous outburst in which a lot of people unnecessarily die (not only the King, his true target, but also his mother, Laertius, Hamlet himelf...), because Hamlet acted too late, when the proper moment was already missed. We are clearly dealing with a hysterical acting out, with an escape into activity, with a gesture that, instead of trying to achieve a well-defined goal, rather bears witness to the fact that there is no such goal, that the agent is caught in a web of conflicting goals. So the West, in the present intervention which displays all the signs of a violent outburst of impotent aggressivity without a clear political goal, is now paying the price for the years of entertaining illusions that one can make a deal with Milosevic: with the recent hesitations about the ground intervention in Kosovo, the Serbian regime is, under the pretext of war, launching the final assault on Kosovo and purge it of most of the Albanians, cynically accepting bombardments as the price to be paid.

When the Western powers repeat all the time that they are not fighting the Serb people, but only their corrupted leaders, they rely on the (typically liberal) wrong premise that Serbs are victims of their evil leadership personified in Milosevic, manipulated by him. The painful fact is that the Serb aggressive nationalism enjoys the support of the large majority of the population - no, Serbs are not passive victims of nationalist manipulation, they are not Americans in disguise, just waiting to be delivered from the nationalist spell. On the other hand, this misperception is accompanied by the apparently contradictory notion according to which, Balkan people are living in the past, fighting again and again old battles, perceiving recent situation through old myths... One is tempted to say that these two cliches should be precisely TURNED AROUND: not only are people not "good," since they let themselves be manipulated with obscene pleasure; there are also no "old myths" which we need to study if we are really to understand the complex situation, just the PRESENT outburst of racist nationalism which, according to its needs, opportunistically resuscitates old myths. To paraphrase the old Clintonian motto: no, it's not the old myths and ethnic hatreds, it's the POLITICAL POWER STRUGGLE, stupid!

So, on the one hand, we have the obscenities of the Serb state propaganda: they regularily refer to Clinton not as "the American president," but as "the American Fuehrer"; two of the transparents on their state-organized anti-Nato demonstrations were "Clinton, come here and be our Monica!" (i.e. suck our...), and "Monica, did you suck out also his brain?". This is where the NATO planners got it wrong, caught in their schemes of strategic reasoning, unable to forecast that the Serb reaction to bombardment will be a recourse to a collective Bakhtinian carnivalization of the social life... And the Western counterpoint to this obscenity is the more and more openly racist tone of its reporting: when the three American soldiers were taken prisoners, CNN dedicated the first 10 minutes of the News to their predicament (although everyone knew that NOTHING will happen to them!), and only then reported on the tens of thousands of refugees, burned villages and Pristina turning into a ghost town. Where is the so-much-praised Serb "democratic opposition" to protest THIS horror taking place in their own backyard, not only the - till now, at least, bombardments with relatively very low casualties?

The atmosphere in Belgrade is, at least for the time being, carnivalesque in a faked way - when they are not in shelters, people dance to rock or ethnic music on the streets, under the motto "With music against bombs!", playing the role of the defying heroes (since they know that NATO does not really bomb civilian targets). Although it may fascinate some confused pseudo-Leftists, this obscene carnivalization of the social life is effectively the other, public, face of ethnic cleansing: while in Belgrade people defiantly dance on the streets, three hundred kilometers to the South, a genocide of African proportions is taking place.

It is interesting to watch in the last days the Serb satellite state TV which targets foreign public: no reports on atrocities in Kosovo, refugees are mentioned only as people fleeing the NATO bombing; the overall idea is that Serbia, the island of peace, the only place in ex-Yugoslavia that was not touched by the war raging all around it, is attacked by the NATO madmen destroying bridges and hospitals... So when, in the nightime, crowds are camping out on the Belgrade bridges, participating in pop and ethnic music concerts held there in a defiantly festive mood, offering their bodies as the live shield to prevent the bridges from being bombed, the answer to this faked pathetic gesture should be a very simple one: why don't you go to Kosovo and make a rock carnival in the Albanian parts of Pristina?

In the recent struggle of the so-called "democratic opposition" in Serbia against the Milosevic's regime, the truly touchy topic is the stance towards Kosovo: as to this topic, the large majority of the "democratic opposition" unconditionally endorses Milosevic's anti-Albanian nationalist agenda, even accusing him of making compromises with the West and "betraying" Serb national interests in Kosovo. In the course of the student demonstrations against the Milosevic's Socialist Party falsification of the election results in the Winter of 1996, the Western media who closely followed the events and praised the revived democratic spirit in Serbia, rarely mentioned the fact that one of the regular slogans of the demonstrators against the special police forces was "Instead of kicking us, go to Kosovo and kick out the Albanians!". In today's Serbia, the absolute sine qua non of an authentic political act would thus be to unconditionally reject the ideological topos of the "Albanian threat to Serbia."

In the last years, the Serb propaganda is promoting the identification of Serbia as the second Israel, with Serbs as the chosen nation, and Kosovo as their West Bank where they fight, in the guise of "Albanian terrorists," their own intifada. Thew went as far as repeating the old Israeli complaint against the Arabs: "We will pardon you for what you did to us, but we will never pardon you for forcing us to do to YOU the horrible things we had to do in order to defend ourselves!" The hilariously-mocking Serb apology for shooting down the stealth bomber was: "Sorry, we didn't know you are invisible!" One is tempted to say that the answer to Serb complaints about the "irrational barbaric bombing" of their country should be: "Sorry, we didn't know you are a chosen nation!" One thing is for sure: the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia will change the global geopolitic coordinates. The unwritten pact of peaceful coexistence (the respect of each state's full sovereignty, i.e. non-interference in internal affairs, even in the case of the grave violation of human rights) is over. However, the very first act of the new global police force usurping the right to punish sovereign states for their wrongdoings already signals its end, its own undermining, since it immediately became clear that this universality of human rights as its legitimization is false, i.e. that the attacks on selective targets protect particular interests. The NATO bombardments of Yugoslavia also signal the end of any serious role of UN and Security Council: it is NATO under US guidance that effectively pulls the strings. Furthermore, the silent pact with Russia that held till now is broken: in the terms of this pact, Russia was publicly treated as a superpower, allowed to maintain the appearance of being one, on condition that it did not effectively act as one. Now Russia's humiliation is open, any pretense of dignity is unmasked: Russia can only openly resist or openly comply with Western pressure. The further logical result of this new situation will be, of course, the renewed rise of anti-Western resistance from Eastern Europe to the Third World, with the sad consequence that criminal figures like Milosevic will be elevated into the model fighters against the New World Order.

So the lesson is that the alternative between the New World Order and the neoracist nationalists opposing it is a false one: these are the two sides of the same coin - the New World Order itself breeds monstrosities that it fights. Which is why the protests against bombing from the reformed Communist parties all around Europe, inclusive of PDS, are totally misdirected: these false protesters against the NATO bombardment of Serbia are like the caricaturized pseudo-Leftists who oppose the trial against a drug dealer, claiming that his crime is the result of social pathology of the capitalist system. The way to fight the capitalist New World Order is not by supporting local proto-Fascist resistances to it, but to focus on the only serious question today: how to build TRANSNATIONAL political movements and institutions strong enough to seriously constraint the unlimited rule of the capital, and to render visible and politically relevant the fact that the local fundamentalist resistances against the New World Order, from Milosevic to le Pen and the extreme Right in Europe, are part of it?

What all this means is that the impasse of the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia is not simply the result of some particular failure of strategic reasoning, but depends on the fundamental inconsistency of the very notion of which this intervention relies. The problem with NATO acting in Yugoslavia as an agent of "militaristic humanism" or even "militaristic pacifism" (Ulrich Beck) is not that this term is an Orwellian oxymorom (reminding us of "Peace is war" slogans from his 1984) which, as such, directly belies the truth of its position (against this obvious pacifist-liberal criticism, I rather think that it is the pacifist position - "more bombs and killing never brings piece" - which is a fake, and that one should heroically ENDORSE the paradox of militaristic pacifism); it is neither that, obviously, the targets of bombardment are not chosen out of pure moral consideration, but selectively, depending on unadmitted geopolitic and economic strategic interests (the obvious Marxist-style criticism). The problem is rather that this purely humanitarian-ethic legitimization (again) thoroughly DEPOLITICIZES the military intervention, changing it into an intervention into humanitarian catastrophy, grounded in purely moral reasons, not an intervention into a well-defined political struggle.

Furthermore, what we are witnessing today is the strange phenomenon of the blurred line of separation between private and public in the political discourse: say, when the German defense minister Rudolph Scharping tried to justify the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, he did not present his stance as something grounded in a clear cold decision, but went deep into rendering public his inner turmoil, openly evoking his doubts, his moral dilemmas apropos of this difficult decision, etc. So, if this tendency will catch on, we shall no longer have politicians who, in public, will speak the cold impersonal official language, following the ritual of public declarations, but will share with the public their inner turmoils and doubts in a unique display of "sincerity." Here, however, the mystery begins: one would expect this "sincere" sharing of private dilemmas to act as a counter-measure to the predominant cynicism of those in power: is not the ultimate cynicist a politician who, in his public discourse, speaks in a cold dignified language about the high politics, while privately, he entertains a distance towards his statements, well aware of particular pragmatic considerations that lay behind these high principled public statements? It thus may seem that the natural counterpoint to cynicism is the "dignified" public discourse - however, a closer look soon reveals that the "sincere" revealing of inner turmoils is the ultimate, highest form of cynicism. The impersonal "dignified" public speech counts on the gap between public and private - we are well aware that, when a politician speaks in the official dignified tone, he speaks as the stand-in for the Institution, not as a psychological individual (i.e. the Institution speaks THROUGH him), and therefore nobody expects him to be "sincere," since that is simply NOT THE POINT (in the same way a judge who passses a sentence is not expected to be "sincere," but simply to follow and apply the law, whatever his sentiments). On the other hand, the public sharing of the inner turmoils, the coincidence between public and private, even and especially when it is psychologically "sincere," is cynical - not because such a public display of private doubts and uncertainties is faked, concealing the true privacy: what this display conceals is the OBJECTIVE socio-political and ideological dimension of the decisions, so the more this display is psychologicaly "sincere," the more it is "objectively" cynical in that it mystifies the true social meaning and effect of these decisions.

The crucial feature of the postmodern ethnic fundamentalism is thus double: on the one hand, it is "reflexive" nationalism, a reflexively CHOSEN one, no longer the immediate relating to a national substance; on the other hand, it does designate the return to absolute immediacy - but, as Hegel would have put it, as the result of a long process of mediation - say, the stupid skinhead who beats up foreigners just for the fun of it IS the restored immediacy, the result of the total reflexivization of our daily lives.

The ultimate paradox of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia is thus not the one about which Western pacifists complain (by bombing Yugoslavia in order to prevent ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, NATO effectively triggered a large-scale cleansing and thus created the very humanitarian catastrophy it wanted to prevent), but a deeper paradox involved in the ideology of victimization: the key aspect to take note of if NATO's privileging of the now discredited "moderate" Kosovar faction of Ibrahim Rugova against the "radical" Kosovo Liberation Army (not only does KLA get no help, but even its financial assets are blocked, so that they cannot buy the arms and are thus exposed to the onslaught of much better equipped Serb army and slowly decimated). What this means is that NATO is actively blocking the only and obvious alternative to the ground intervention of Western military forces: the full-scale armed resistance of the Albanians themselves. (The moment this option is mentioned, fears start to circulate: KLA is not really an army, just a bunch of untrained fighters; we should not trust KLA, since it is involved in drug trafficking and/or is a Maoist group whose victory would led to a Khmer Rouge or Taliban regime in Kosovo...) In short, while NATO is intervening in order to protect the Kosovar victims, it is at the same time well taking care that THEY WILL REMAIN VICTIMS, not an active politico-military force capable of defending itself: even if NATO will eventually occupy the entire Kosovo, it will be a devastated country with victimized population, not a strong political subject. What we encounter here is again the paradox of victimization: the Other to be protected is good INSOFAR AS IT REMAINS A VICTIM (which is why we are bombarded with pictures of helpless Kosovar mothers, children and elder people, telling moving stories of their suffering); the moment it no longer behaves as a victim, but wants to strike back on its own, it all of a sudden magically turns into a terrorist/fundamentalist/drug-trafficking Other...

A report by Steven Erlanger on the suffering of the Kosovo Albanians in The New York Times (May 12 1999, page A 13) renders perfectly this logic of victimization. Already its title is tell-taling: "In One Kosovo Woman, An Emblem of Suffering" - the subject to be protected (by the NATO intervention) is from the outset identified as a powerless victim of circumstances, deprived of all political identity, reduced to the bare suffering. Her basic stance is that of excessive suffering, of traumatic experience that blurs all differences: "She's seen too much, Meli said. She wants a rest. She wants it to be over." As such, she is beyond any political recrimination - an independent Kosovo is not on her agenda, she just wants the horror over: "Does she favor an independent Kosovo? 'You know, I don't care if it's this or that,' Meli said. 'I just want all this to end, and to feel good again, to feel good in my place and my house with my friends and family.'" Her support of the foreign (NATO) intervention is grounded in her wish for all this horror to be over: "She wants a settlement that brings foreigners here 'with some force behind them.' She is indifferent about who the foreigners are." Consequently, she sympathizes with all the sides in an all-embracing humanist stance: "There is tragedy enough for everyone, she says. 'I feel sorry for the Serbs who've been bombed and died, and I feel sorry for my own people. But maybe now there will be a conclusion, a settlement for good. That would be great." - Here we have the ideological construction of the ideal subject-victim to whose aid NATO intervenes: not a political subject with a clear agenda, but a subject of helpless suffering, sympathizing with all suffering sides in the conflict, caught in the madness of a local clash that can only be pacified by the intervention of a benevolent foreign power, a subject whose innermost desire is reduced to the almost animal craving to "feel good again"...

Therein resides the falsity of the otherwise admirable Tariq Ali's essay on the NATO interventionin Yugoslavia: "The claim that it is all Milosevic's fault is one-sided and erroneous, indulging those Slovenian, Croatian and Western politicians who allowed him to succeed. It could be argued, for instance, that it was Slovene egoism, throwing the Bosnians and Albanians, as well as non-nationalist Serbs and Croats, to the wolves, that was a decisive factor in triggering the whole disaster of disintegration." The correct insight and the incredible naivety are here closely intermingled. It certainly is true that the main responsibility of others for Milosevic's success resides in their "allowing him to succeed," in their readiness to accept him as a "factor of stability" and tolerate his "excesses" with the hope of striking a deal with him; and it is true that such a stance was clearly discernible among Slovene, Croat and Western politicians (for example, there certainly are grounds to suspect that the relatively smooth path to Slovene independence involved a silent informal pact between Slovene leadership and Milosevic, whose project of a "greater Serbia" had no need for Slovenia). However, two things are to be added here. First, this argument itself asserts that the responsibility of others is of a fundamentally different nature than that of Milosevic: the point is not that "they were all equally guilty, participating in nationalist madness," but that others were guilty of not being harsh enough towards Milosevic, of not unconditionally opposing him at any price. Secondly, what this argument overlooks is how the same reproach of "egoism" can be applied to ALL actors, inclusive of Muslims, the greatest victims of the (first phase of the) war: when Slovenia proclaimed independence, the Bosnisn leadership OPENLY SUPPORTED the Yugoslav intervention in Slovenia instead of risking confrontation at that early date, and thus contributed to their later sad fate. So the Muslim strategy in the first year of the conflict was also not without opportunism: its hidden reasoning was "let the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs bleed each other to exhaustion, so that, in the aftermath of their conflict, we shall gain for no great price an independent Bosnia"... (It is one of the ironies of the Yugoslav-Croat war that the legendary Bosnian commander who successfully defended the besieged Bihac region against the Yugoslav army, commanded two years ago the Yugoslav army units which were laying a siege to the Croat coast city Zadar!).

There is, however, a more crucial problem that one should confront here: the uncanny detail that cannot but strike the eye in the quote from Tariq Ali is the unexpected recourse, in the midst of a political analysis, to a psychological category: "Slovene egoism" - why the need for this reference that clearly sticks out? On what ground can one claim that Serbs, Muslims and Croats acted LESS "egotistically" in the course of Yugoslavia's disintegration? The underlying premise is here that Slovenes, when they saw the (Yugoslav) house falling apart, "egotistically" seized the opportunity and fled away, instead of - what? Heroically throwing THEMSELVES ALSO to the wolves? Slovenes are thus imputed to start it all, to set in motion the process of disintegration (by being the first to leave Yugoslavia) and, on the top of it, being allowed to escape without proper penalty, suffering no serious damage. Hidden beneath this perception is a whole nest of pseudo-Leftist prejudices and dogmas: the secret belief in the viability of Yugoslav self-management socialism, the notion that small nations like Slovenia cannot effectively function like modern democracies, but necessarily regress to a proto-Fascist "closed" community...

So what should the Serb "democratic opposition" do? Let us recall Freud's late book on Moses and Monotheism: how did he react to the Nazi anti-Semitic threat? Not by joining the ranks of the beleaguered Jews in the defense of their legacy, but by targetting its own people, the most precious part of the Jewish legacy, the founding figure of Moses, i.e. by endeavouring to deprive Jews of this figure, proving that Moses was not a Jew at all - this way, he effectively undermined the very unconscious foundation of the anti-Semitism. And is it not that Serbs should today risk a similar act with regard to Kosovo as their precious object-treasure, the craddle of their civilization, that which matters to them more than everything else and which they are never able to renounce? Therein resides the final limit of the large majority of the so-called "democratic opposition" to the Milosevic regime: they unconditionally endorse Milosevic's anti-Albanian nationalist agenda, even accusing him of making compromises with the West and "betraying" Serb national interests in Kosovo. For this very reason, the sine qua non of an authentic act in Serbia today would be precisely to RENOUNCE the claim to Kosovo, to sacrifice the substantial attachment to the privileged object. (What we have here is thus a nice case of the political dialectic of democracy: although democracy is the ultimate goal, in today's Serbia, any direct advocacy of democracy which leaves uncontested nationalistic claims about Kosovo is doomed to fail - THE issue apropos of which the struggle for democracy will be decided is that of Kosovo.)

In NATO-Yugoslav war, we thus have a double Realitaetsverleugnung: on the one hand, NATO fantasy of war without casualties, surgical operation; on the other hand, the faked carnivalization totally disconnected from the reality of what goes on down in Kosovo.

When the Western powers repeat all the time that they are not fighting the Serb people, but only their corrupted regime, they rely on the typically liberal wrong premise that the Serbian people are just victims of their evil leadership personified in Milosevic, manipulated by him. The painful fact is that Serb aggressive nationalism enjoys the support of the large majority of the population - no, Serbs are not passive victims of nationalist manipulation, they are not Americans in disguise, just waiting to be delivered from the bad nationalist spell.

More precisely, the misperception of the West is double: this notion of the bad leadership manipulating the good people is accompanied by the apparently contradictory notion according to which, Balkan people are living in the past, fighting again old battles, perceiving recent situation through old myths... One is tempted to say that these two notions should be precisely TURNED AROUND: not only are people not "good," since they let themselves be manipulated with obscene pleasure; there are also no "old myths" which we need to study if we are really to understand the situation, just the PRESENT outburst of racist nationalism which, according to its needs, opportunistically resuscitates old myths...

So, on the one hand, we have the obscenities of the Serb state propaganda: they regularily refer to Clinton not as "the American president," but as "the American Fuehrer"; two of the transparents on their state-organized anti-Nato demonstrations were "Clinton, come here and be our Monica!" (i.e. suck our...), and "Monica, did you suck out also his brain?". The atmosphere in Belgrade is, at least for the time being, carnavalesque in a faked way - when they are not in shelters, people dance to rock or ethnic music on the streets, under the motto "With poetry and music against bombs!", playing the role of the defying heroes (since they know that NATO does not really bomb civilian targets and that, consequently, they are safe!). This is where the NATO planners got it wrong, caught in their schemes of strategic reasoning, unable to forecast that the Serb reaction to bombardment will be a recourse to a collective Bakhtinian carnivalization of the social life... This pseudo-authentic spectacle, although it may fascinate some confused Leftists, is effectively the other, public, face of ethnic cleansing: in Belgrade people are defiantly dancing on the streets while, three hundred kilometers to the South, a genocide of African proportions is taking place... And the Western counterpoint to this obscenity is the more and more openly racist tone of its reporting: when the three American soldiers were taken prisoners, CNN dedicated the first 10 minutes of the News to their predicament (although everyone knew that NOTHING will happen to them!), and only then reported on the tens of thousands of refugees, burned villages and Pristina turning into a ghost town. Where is the so-much-praised Serb "democratic opposition" to protest THIS horror taking place in their own backyard, not only the - till now, at least, bombardments with relatively very low casualties?

In the recent struggle of the so-called "democratic opposition" in Serbia against the Milosevic's regime, the truly touchy topic is the stance towards Kosovo: as to this topic, the large majority of the "democratic opposition" unconditionally endorses Milosevic's anti-Albanian nationalist agenda, even accusing him of making compromises with the West and "betraying" Serb national interests in Kosovo. In the course of the student demonstrations against the Milosevic's Socialist Party falsification of the election results in the Winter of 1996, the Western media who closely followed the events and praised the revived democratic spirit in Serbia, rarely mentioned the fact that one of the regular slogans of the demonstrators against the special police forces was "Instead of kicking us, go to Kosovo and kick out the Albanians!". In today's Serbia, the absolute sine qua non of an authentic political act would thus be to unconditionally reject the ideological topos of the "Albanian threat to Serbia."

One thing is for sure: the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia will change the global geopolitic coordinates. The unwritten pact of peaceful coexistence (the respect of each state's full sovereignty, i.e. non-interference in internal affairs, even in the case of the grave violation of human rights) is over. However, the very first act of the new global police force usurping the right to punish sovereign states for their wrongdoings already signals its end, its own undermining, since it immediately became clear that this universality of human rights as its legitimization is false, i.e. that the attacks on selective targets protect particular interests. The NATO bombardments of Yugoslavia also signal the end of any serious role of UN and Security Council: it is NATO under US guidance that effectively pulls the strings. Furthermore, the silent pact with Russia that held till now is broken: in the terms of this pact, Russia was publicly treated as a superpower, allowed to maintain the appearance of being one, on condition that it did not effectively act as one. Now Russia's humiliation is open, any pretense of dignity is unmasked: Russia can only openly resist or openly comply with Western pressure. The further logical result of this new situation will be, of course, the renewed rise of anti-Western resistance from Eastern Europe to the Third World, with the sad consequence that criminal figures like Milosevic will be elevated into the model fighters against the New World Order.

So the lesson is that the alternative between the New World Order and the neoracist nationalists opposing it is a false one: these are the two sides of the same coin - the New World Order itself breeds monstrosities that it fights. Which is why the protests against bombing from the reformed Communist parties all around Europe, inclusive of PDS, are totally misdirected: these false protesters against the NATO bombardment of Serbia are like the caricaturized pseudo-Leftists who oppose the trial against a drug dealer, claiming that his crime is the result of social pathology of the capitalist system. The way to fight the capitalist New World Order is not by supporting local proto-Fascist resistances to it, but to focus on the only serious question today: how to build TRANSNATIONAL political movements and institutions strong enough to seriously constraint the unlimited rule of the capital, and to render visible and politically relevant the fact that the local fundamentalist resistances against the New World Order, from Milosevic to le Pen and the extreme Right in Europe, are part of it?

SORRY, WE DID NOT KNOW YOU ARE THE CHOSEN NATION! CARNIVAL IN THE EYE OF THE STORM

The standard topic of critical psychiatry is that a "madman" is not in himself mad, but rather functions as a kind of focal point in which the pathological tension which permeates the entire group (family) to which he belongs finds its outlet. The "madman" is the product of the group pathology, the symptomatic point in which the global pathology becomes visible - one can say that all other members of the group succeed in retaining (the appearance of) their sanity by condensing their patholoogy in (or by projecting it onto) the sacrificial figure of the madman, this exception who grounds the global order of group sanity. However, more interesting that this is the opposite case, exemplified by the life of Bertrand Russell: he lived till his death in his late 90s a long normal life, full of creativity and "healthy" sexual satisfactions, yet all people around him, all members of his larger family, seemed to be afflicted with some kind of madness - he had love affairs with most of the wives of his sons, and most of his sons and other close relatives committed suicide. It is thus as if, in a kind of inversion of the standard logic of group sanity guaranteed by the exclusion of the "madman," here, we have the central figure who retained (the appearance of) his sanity by way of spreading his madness all around him, onto all his close relatives. The task of a critical analysis is here, of course, to demonstrate how the TRUE point of madness of this social network is precisely the only point which appears "sane," its central paternal figure who perceives madness everywhere around himself, but is unable to recognize IN HIMSELF its true source.

And does the same not hold for the predominant way the Serbs perceive their role today? On the one hand, one can argue that, for the West, Serbia is a symptomal point in which the repressed truth of a more global situation violently breaks out. On the other hand, within ex-Yugoslavia, Serbs behaves as an island of sanity in the sea of nationalist/secessionist madness all around them, refusing to acknowledge even a part of responsibility. It is eye-opening to watch in the last days the Serb satellite state TV which targets foreign public: no reports on atrocities in Kosovo, refugees are mentioned only as people fleeing the NATO bombing; the overall idea is that Serbia, the island of peace, the only place in ex-Yugoslavia that was not touched by the war raging all around it, is attacked by the NATO madmen destroying bridges and hospitals...

No wonder, then, that the atmosphere in Belgrade is, at least for the time being, carnivalesque in a faked way - when they are not in shelters, people dance to rock or ethnic music on the streets, under the motto "With music against bombs!", playing the role of the defying victims (since they know that NATO does not really bomb civilian targets). Although it may fascinate some confused pseudo-Leftists, this obscene carnivalization of the social life is effectively the other, public, face of ethnic cleansing: while in Belgrade people defiantly dance on the streets, three hundred kilometers to the South, a genocide of African proportions is taking place. So when, in the nightime, crowds are camping out on the Belgrade bridges, participating in pop and ethnic music concerts held there in a defiantly festive mood, offering their bodies as the live shield to prevent the bridges from being bombed, the answer to this faked pathetic gesture should be a very simple one: why don't you go to Kosovo and make a rock carnival in the Albanian parts of Pristina? And when people are wearing papers with a "target" sign printed on them, the obscene falsity of this gesture cannot but strike the eye: can one imagine the REAL targets years ago in Sarajevo or now in Kosovo wearing such signs?

In what is this almost psychotic refusal to perceive one's responsibility grounded? During a recent visit to Israel, a friend told me a hilarious joke about Clinton visiting Bibi Netanyahu: when, in Bibi's office, Clinton saw a mysterious blue phone, he asked Bibi what this phone is, and Bibi answered that it allows him to dial Him up there in the sky. Upon his return to the States, the envious Clinton demanded of his secret service to provide him such a phone at any cost. In two weeks, they deliver it and it works, but the phone bill is exorbitant - two million dollars for a one minute talk with Him up there. So Clinton furiously calls Bibi and complains: "How can you afford such a phone, if even we, who support you financially, cannot? Is this how you spend our money?" Bibi calmly answers: "No, it's not that - you see, for us, Jews, that call counts as a local call!" The problem with Serbs is that, in their self-perception, they tend more and more to imitate Jews and identify themselves as the people for whom the phone call to God counts as a local call...

When the Western powers repeat all the time that they are not fighting the Serb people, but only their corrupted leaders, they rely on the (typically liberal) wrong premise that Serbs are victims of their evil leadership personified in Milosevic, manipulated by him. The painful fact is that the Serb aggressive nationalism enjoys the support of the large majority of the population - no, Serbs are not passive victims of nationalist manipulation, they are not Americans in disguise, just waiting to be delivered from the nationalist spell. On the other hand, this misperception is accompanied by the apparently contradictory notion according to which, Balkan people are living in the past, fighting again and again old battles, perceiving recent situation through old myths... I am tempted to say that these two cliches should be precisely TURNED AROUND: not only are people not "good," since they let themselves be manipulated with obscene pleasure; there are also no "old myths" which we need to study if we are really to understand the complex situation, just the PRESENT outburst of racist nationalism which, according to its needs, opportunistically resuscitates old myths. To paraphrase the old Clintonian motto: no, it's not the old myths and ethnic hatreds, it's the POLITICAL POWER STRUGGLE, stupid!

So where, in all this, is the much praised Serb "democratic opposition"? One shouldn't be too harsh of them: in the present situation of Serbia, of course, any attempt at public disagreement would probably trigger direct death threats. On the other hand, one should nonetheless notice that there was a certain limit that, as far as I know, even the most radical Serb democratic opposition was never able to trespass: the farthest they can go is to admit the monstrous nature of Serb nationalism and ethnic cleansing, but nonetheless to insist that Milosevic is ultimately just on in the series of the nationalist leaders who are to be blamed for the violence of the last decade: Milosevic, Tudjman, Izetbegovic, Kucan, they are ultimately all the same... I am not claiming, agains such a vision, that one should put all the blame on Serbs - my point is just that, instead of such pathetic-apolitical generalizations ("they are all mad, all to blame"), one should, more than ever, insist on a CONCRETE POLITICAL ANALYSIS of the power struggles that triggered the catastrophe. And it is the rejection of such an analysis that accounts for the ultimate hypocrisy of the pacifist attitude towards the Kosovo war: "the true victims are women and children on all sides, so stop the bombing, more violence never helped to end violence, it just pushes us deeper into the vortex..."

There is nonetheless another, more disturbing aspect to be discerned in this false carnivalization of the war in the Serb media. The usual Serb complaint is that, instead of confronting them face to face, as it befits brave soldiers, NATO are cowardly bombing them from distant ships and planes. And, effectively, the lesson here is that it is thoroughly false to claim that war is made less traumatic if it is no longer experienced by the soldiers (or presented) as an actual encounter with another human being to be killed, but as an abstract activity in fron of a screen or behind a gun far from the explosion, like guiding a missile on a war ship hundreds of miles away from where it will hit its target. While such a procedure makes the soldier less guilty, it is open to question if it effectively causes less anxiety - one way to explain the strange fact that soldiers often fantasize about killing the enemy in a face to face confrontation, looking him into the eyes before stabbing him with a bayonet (in a kind of military version of the sexual False Memory Syndrome, they even often "remember" such encounters when they never took place). There is a long literary tradition of elevating such face to face encounters as an authentic war experience (see the writings of Ernst Juenger, who praised them in his memoirs of the trench attacks in World War I). So what if the truly traumatic feature is NOT the awareness that I am killing another human being (to be obliterated through the "dehumanization" and "objectivization" of war into a technical procedure), but, on the contrary, this very "objectivization," which then generates the need to supplement it by the fantasies of authentic personal encounters with the enemy? It is thus not the fantasy of a purely aseptic war run as a video game behind computer screens that protects us from the reality of the face to face killing of another person; it is, on the opposite, this fantasy of a face to face encounter with an enemy killed in a bloody confrontation that we construct in order to escape the trauma of the depersonalized war turned into an anonymous technological apparatus. So is not the Serb carnivalization of the daily life also ein Abwehr-Mechanismus gegen die Kriegsmachinerie?

Tariq Ali, "Springtime for NATO," New Left Review 234 (March-April 1999), p. 70.

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