The Albanian rump state in the Serbian secessionist province of Kosovo, in reality nothing more than a satrapy of the European Union, on Sunday declared unilateral independence via a declaration likely composed by apparatchiks at our own State Department. The news scarcely came as a surprise to me, inasmuch as Western policy has not only been fixed, but has tended to exhibit a peculiar inertia; even policies obviously deleterious to the medium and long-term interests of the West, policies worse even than crimes - mistakes, in the words of Srdja Trifkovic - will be persisted in, perhaps precisely because of their very perversity. Such is the cause of independence for the Albanians of Kosovo, a territory which is kept from the roster of failed states solely by the presence of NATO forces and American and EU diplomatic functionaries, who provide the modicum of stability that the Kosovo Liberation Army, a band of brigands and terrorists, could never provide. The sordid reality of Kosovo is that of a mafia state ridden through with jihadists, flesh merchants, gun smugglers, drug runners, and irredentists nostalgic for the halcyon days of the Ottoman Empire, when Albanian and Bosnian Muslims were the local jackboots trampling the necks of Balkan Christians - all right under the noses of NATO and the EU. In point of fact, given that the ostensible rationale for the illegal intervention in 1999 was the prevention of ethnic cleansing, and given that Western security forces simply looked the other way as their wards largely cleansed the province of its Serbian population, a longstanding ambition of the local Albanians, one might be forgiven for speculating that these seemingly negative aspects of the situation are features, and not bugs, for America and the EU.
However, let us take a few steps back from the exigencies of the situation, which, with the massive street demonstrations in Serbia against the declaration and the Western endorsement thereof, has now escalated to an attack on the American embassy in Belgrade.
My interest in the region, and the geopolitical rivalries pursued therein, dates to the Autumn of 1994, which I spent as an undergraduate at Messiah College, in Grantham, Pennsylvania. During those first few days of orientation, my roommates and I chanced to meet a fascinating young woman with an Eastern European accent, who turned out to be Serbian. How a Serbian Orthodox girl came to attend Messiah College is a bit of a mystery to me, but she was there, all the same. I did not have the opportunity to speak with her at any time during the remainder of the semester, though one of my roommates did; hence, towards the end of finals week, when she stopped by our block of dorms to say her goodbyes, I was somewhat surprised to hear that she, like I, was planning to transfer out of Messiah. Her reason was that she could no longer endure the abuses heaped upon her by fellow students, who considered her Orthodox faith sub-Christian, and her people nothing more than a race of savage animals; it was easily discerned that this otherwise indomitable personality had been profoundly affected by fellow students, who merely parroted the tendentious reporting of the American media at the time, according to which the Serbian people were uniquely at fault in the renewed Balkan civil wars, savage ethno-religious nationalists mercilessly victimizing helpless Bosnians, Croats, and others. The complexities and subtleties of the situation eluded the media, as they did the students, who added a little verbal colour to their discussions. There was indeed an informal campaign of demonization, and, in retrospect, when reporting accords so perfectly with American strategic ambitions, well, one is given pause. The episode was hardly unprecedented in American history, as witness the demonizations of German-Americans in WWI, among other shameful eruptions of crude, nationalist prejudice.
Understand: this young woman who, like so many from that part of the world, had endured much, and was quite steely, was in tears as she related this to us. A small thing, perhaps; but I have never forgotten it. When reporting is as tendentious as reporting on the Balkans was at the time - and still is - we are often meant to have hatreds stoked and directed upon certain objects, which are usually far away and therefore abstract to us. This, after all, is what nationalism, in Lukacs' sense of the term, does, and it is immensely useful for unifying a fractious people around common external enemies and hate-figures. Except when they are not so far from us, and are made tangible. Then, the hatred can become all too personal.
That said, the current debacle has many origins, and is worthy of extended, discursive treatment, which I assume will be given it in due time. Kosovo is emblematic of the West's desire to curry favour with the Islamic world, its self-loathing effort to placate the implacable, to demonstrate by means of favour in one place that resented policies elsewhere cannot be so bad after all, and that Muslim opinion should reconsider openness to the West. We are supposedly destined, after all, to dwell in an integrated world, and so ways must be found of propitiating the Muslims.
Kosovo is also emblematic of the postmodern, post-national tendencies of modern Western political formations and ideologies, a sacrament of the negation of traditional identities and loyalties - at least for post-Christian, Western peoples. As such, it is also an enactment, a fore-presentation, of the coming dramas of European politics generally, as John Zmirak notes over at Taki's Top Drawer, with reference to the original NATO war on behalf of Albanian separatism:
The Europeans were enacting a little drama in their heads, acting out a mystery play intended to teach a lesson to their descendants: The lesson was “You will never act like this. You will not resist. When the Moslems come to power, you will go quietly and cooperate.” The French, the English, the Germans who endorsed America’s attack had admitted that the lights of their societies would soon go out, and they were quietly setting the timer.
The drama of Serbia and Kosovo is a mystery play intended to instruct the Europeans of the future: you are to hate that you are, that you are everything that you are, and, indeed, that you are not the Other, who is entitled by everything that you are and have been to rule over you. And when the Other comes for you, you are to go quietly.
In that piece, Zmirak references the differential birthrates of Albanians and Serbs, arguing, essentially, that demography settled the territorial dispute decades ago, such that it was all over but for the waiting. There is much to be said for this, though it is also worth observing that the Twentieth Century history of the region was rife with overt political attempts to hasten the process, to disfavour the Serbs and induce them to depart the province; the political logic of Yugoslavia, in brief, was to keep the (untenable) unitary state together by keeping the Serbs down. Demography, in other words, may be significant, but it is not everything.
Demography, however, does disclose broader cultural tendencies which bear upon the respective futures of conflicting peoples. Children require sacrifice on the part of parents; rearing them is not merely a matter of keeping faith with one's ancestors, or of hope for the future, but also - or, rather, these are aspects of one and the same thing - an ascetical act in the broadest sense. Asceticism, self-sacrifice, the sublimation of desires, affects, drives, is the prerequisite of civilization, and is ultimately inseparable from a proper appreciation of that great congress of the living, the dead, and the yet-to-be. That those who are either our adversaries, or merely forces of primal disorder, grasp this more profoundly than we do, and live it out, says something about us - about the inheritors of what was once Christendom - that is less than flattering. Damning, actually.
Kosovo, however, is more than a symbol of Western self-betrayal, self-loathing, and civilizational exhaustion, though it is all of these things. Kosovo also has something to do with the geopolitical struggle between America and the European Union, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other. These issues have been touched upon previously, and the recent declaration of independence does not retire, but rather intensifies, all of these factors. Consider the following, from James Poulos' defense of Kosovo independence as a sort of geopolitical "why not?", an exception to international law that will not precipitate further exceptions:
Sitting midway on Europe’s youth/porn/whore/slave Garter Belt, running from Tallinn to Bratislava to Zagreb and then doglegging back through Kosovo and Macedonia to disappear somewhere in a crack house at the mouth of the Danube and then reappear in Dubai, Kosovo is ideally situated as a main hub in the pipeline that feeds Europe’s foul longings. The biggest obstacle to Europeanizing Kosovo is of course the Kosovars themselves, for whom there is little point in finally working free of Serbia only to rejoin it on purportedly equal terms as a Euro-Federal Sub-Administrative Unit. So for some time they will work, and work well, as a conduit to everything the EU is designed to frown at and categorize and task force and ultimately sort down to the syringe but never eradicate and hardly dent.
Meaning finally that Kosovo will help Europe turn a profit — and that the ‘law gradient’ between Serbia, which will soon be overrun and ruled by Western banks, Western credit, and Western capital, and Kosovo, which will remain a wild-west petri dish located just kilometers away, will function as one of the world’s preeminent studies in postmodern geopolitics.
The European Union and the United States have been endeavouring to housebreak, to domesticate, Serbia, breaking her of her atavistic attachments to national history, identity, and sovereignty; indeed, the carrot of EU accession has been offered as an enticement to Serbia to acquiesce in the amputation of Kosovo, and it was assumed that the Serbian president Tadic would offer formal denunciations of independence for the province, while eventually resigning himself, and through himself, the nation itself, to the 'inevitable', after which would follow the glorious age of European integration: a normal nation, prosperous and materialistic, its past a theme-park for holiday-makers, but nothing living and vital - a dessicated husk, in other words, lavishly adorned in decay, like the remainder of Europe. And the symbols of that integration, as always, would be the primitive accumulation of native commons by foreign multinationals, the usual panoply of Western-government-backed development loans, with the interest payments the tribute demanded by the postmodern form of empire (postmodern politics is not solely about post-nationalism, but also concerns the transnational structures, politico-economic, which transcend the discarded narratives of the nation-state), and the inevitable strings that such finance capitalism brings.
Which brings us to Charlie Szrom, writing in the Weekly Standard:
Yet pretenses of defending international law or analysis pointing to traditional ties hide the real reason for Russia's position: Serbia lets
Russia project power and accrue profit in Southeastern Europe. Russian-Serbian trade has spiked, and Russian corporations have begun snatching up Serbian assets at bargain-basement prices. Vladimir Putin has even acknowledged this, calling it "natural that a resurgent Russia is returning [to Serbia]."
Trade between the two topped $2.6 billion in 2007, a 22 percent increase over 2006 and a 56 percent increase from 2005. Much of this exchange has been in energy imports from Russia, the country with which Serbia has its largest trade deficit.
When Serbia opened up the bidding for the assets of its national oil conglomeration, Naftna Industrija Srbije, Belgrade's favoritism led to enormous Russian profits. A number of companies--Hungary's MOL, Poland's PKN Orlen, Russia's Lukoil, and Romania's Rompetrol--made offers for the group late last year.
Despite a market valuation estimated at between 1 and 2 billion euros ($1.5-3 billion) by most analysts, Russia's Gazprom purchased a 51 percent stake in NIS for just 400 million euros ($589 million) in late January. Gazprom enjoys close ties with the Russian administration: Putin's presumptive heir to the presidency, Dmitry Medvedev, is chairman of the firm's board of directors.
In December, when Russia made an initial bid similar to the final purchase price, Serbia's economic minister, Mladjan Dinkić, said, "This offer is humiliating . . . the property alone is worth 800 million euros ($1.17 billion) according to conservative estimates, excluding business or market share." Analysts inside and outside Serbia believe the prime minister overruled Dinkić and pushed the deal through anyway to reward Russia for its support on Kosovo.(Snip)
Most importantly, the NIS deal came bundled with a plan for Russia to construct the intermediate leg of its 550-mile South Stream pipeline project through Serbia. Carrying nearly 2.6 trillion gallons of natural gas a year to Europe from the Black Sea through Bulgaria, South Stream would force Serbia to rely on Russia for fuel supplies.
The pipeline would also cement Russia's control over the European market. The EU and the United States, hoping to blunt the Russian monopoly over the European energy market, plan to build a pipeline, known as the Nabucco project, to bring Caspian fuel from Azerbaijan through Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary.
South Stream would hobble such aspirations and cut out U.S. allies like Turkey and Romania. Its northern sister, the Nord Stream project, would bring fuel under the Baltic Sea directly to Germany, allowing Russia to cut off supplies to Central European states without interrupting supplies to their more economically and politically powerful counterparts in the West. Together, these projects would give Russia even greater control over the European energy market.
It may be recalled that foreign investment in Serbia's NIS was one of the issues mentioned in an earlier post on the betrayal of the magic of Western finance capitalism. The question that should be posed is simply that of why Serbia, in need of investment for the modernization of this enterprise, would consider turning to the very geopolitical formations that have throttled her at every turn since the early Nineties? Why wouldn't Serbia turn to Russia, and on favourable terms? Moreover, why wouldn't Russia, after the calamitous subordination to the West of the Nineties, wish to gain some degree of strategic leverage over the West through the construction of certain pipeline routes, the stymieing of competing routes, and, to put the matter gently, the use of energy as a tool of geopolitics? What must be appreciated is that these designs on the part of Russia are actually more defensive in nature than offensive, despite the ways in which they will be perceived in the West. According to Szrom,
Without Serbian cooperation, Russia would be forced to rely on more pro-Western states such as Romania. And without Serbia, Russia might not be able to head off Nabucco, which represents the greatest Western threat to Russia's energy strategy.
Resisting that energy strategy is important, according to Szrom, because "A Europe dominated economically and politically by Russia cannot stand up to Kremlin sponsorship of autocrats in Eastern Europe and Central Asia or Russian foot-dragging on international sanctions against an Iranian arms program." In other words, it is imperative, according to the foreign-policy establishment of the West, to resist this Russian strategy, not so much because such dependency can be destabilizing, but because, given such dependency upon Russian energy, the Western programme of regime-changes throughout Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Near East cannot be seen through. It is not the fact of dependency per se that bothers Western strategists, but what they will be prevented from doing: furthering the illusions of the end of history, the hegemonic fantasy of an integrated, global, democratic capitalist order. In other words, they seek, not to avoid dependency -indeed, they court it in other respects - but to pursue hegemony, to make the satrapy-status of Kosovo a template.
To this end, Szrom continues, the EU should
... join the United States in forming a unified policy on Russian energy that would accelerate the development of the Nabucco pipeline and liberalize trade with Russian energy companies. Prohibiting Gazprom from investing in European energy distribution networks until Russia opens up its own domestic network to foreign investment, as a September European Commission proposal urged, would be a good step in this direction.
The West should resist Russia, that is to argue, in order to pursue hegemony; and the strategy of resistance entails efforts to prise open the debate the Russians have recently closed: that of the status of the Roaring Nineties. It is a brilliant strategem, equitable on paper and pixels, but completely asymmetrical in practice; Russia will be permitted to invest in European energy distribution, on the condition that Russia permits a resumption, on the part of the West, of the economic practices of the Nineties. Russia cannot permit such investment, since the inevitable terms of the contracts would involve revenues disappearing into the West, depriving the Russian government of its (for now, at least) secure financial basis, leaving Russia open once more to the manipulations and ultimatums of the past. And Szrom undoubtedly knows this, because that is the point.
This is worthy of denunciation, not because we ought to admire the Putinist regime in its totality, but because hegemonism is unpatriotic, a deformation of the native love of place into a will-to-dominate, the subordination of the rational part of the national character to the spirited part, as though thumos, and not nous, is to rule. Empire is not merely the senescence of republicanism, its overthrow, but a disorder of the soul, individual and collective.