The Balkans' Phlegm and the Anima
An Impressionistic Canvass

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

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Written: July 11, 1999

The Calamity

It often rains in Skopje nowadays. Sudden, thunderous outpourings of acidulous and gluey fluid. People say it is the pollution from 12,000 tonnes of bombs dropped 20 km from here. The unions warn of a hot autumn. The omens are ominous. It looks like an economic crash rather than a soft landing. Tony Blair was here a while ago. He photo opportunities with photogenic refugees and promised the soft spoken and dreamy eyed Prime Minister of Macedonia 20 million British Pounds. The money never came. Blair's promise went the way of thousands of other promises made by the good and the mighty throughout the history of this melancholy part of the globe. Emir Kusturice compared the Balkans to an island, drifting listlessly, receding wedding music in the background. It is heart rending and often provokes in me a tsunamic pity, an earthquake of goodwill. The locals are adept at using this resonance, at taking advantage of foreigners vulnerable to their music, to their costumes, to their rustic shrewdness. In 1963, upon the occasion of a particularly malicious earthquake which levelled Skopje - they rebuilt it from generous foreign donations. The message sank in: foreigners love disasters, natural and manmade. Foreigners are willing to shell hard currency for this indulgence. The harder the catastrophe - the harder the currency. Thus, calamities became an export industry, a major earner of foreign exchange, the opportunity of a lifetime for a few in exchange for the misery of the many.

The Aftermath

Music drifts in with the fragrances of decaying blossoms and with corpulent mosquitoes. The fragmented echoes of animated discussions. People here talk with their whole bodies. They lean forward and touch their conversants. When they meet or depart they kiss each other on the cheeks and hug passionately. It was, therefore strange to see the body language of the octogenarian president of Macedonia with his much younger Albanian counterpart. They stood apart and made diametrically opposed declarations about the future of Kosovo. Watching the old communist apparatchik Gligorov, I was reminded or Milosevic when he announced the Serb victory in operation Allied Force. He stood so rigid, as though about to break and leaned towards the camera, creating an eerie fish lens effect. Balkanians are not proud people, they are adaptable. But, in an effort to compensate for a deep set inferiority complex, they react with vanity and narcissism. Co-existence here has never been an easy proposition and the Americans forced strange bedfellows upon each other. Accustomed to the imposing ways of superpowers, the Balkan bowed its head. But it is a contemptuous gesture. Balkanians aim to win through their surrender. They always harbour hidden agendas. Knowing this, they are also paranoid but, as distinct from the classic pathology, they do have enemies. The Balkan will wait until America joins Rome and Turkey. The only commodity it has aplenty is time. So now Gligorov and Mejdani shake hands but they both know the long knives are drawn. They both will wait for the intruders to depart, which will them go on with that traditional pastime of Balkan rulers: slaughtering each other.

The War Chests

Thaci found himself with plenty of returning refugees, meddlesome peacekeepers and houses burned to their basements. He also found himself with very little money. Rugova and Bukoshi, on the other hand, have access to funds but very few adherents. Rugova's decline did not start in March 1999. It started long ago when he objected even to peaceful student demonstrations (which the Serbs found tolerable). It was then clear that if there ever was any distinction between his pacifism and traitorous, collaborationist cowardice - it has long vanished. People deserted him in droves and in Rambouillet, it was Thaci who headed the Kosovar delegation, not his elder rival.

So now Thaci needs money. One way is to collect taxes, as Rugova did. Another is to monopolize the business interests of Kosovo. He set himself upon this task no less ferociously than he did fighting the Serbs. In collaboration with Albanian politicians (government supporters) and with Macedonian politicians of Albanian descent, he began to take over lucrative trades and economic activities both in Kosovo and in its neighbours. The Berisha (Albanian opposition) crowd regard him as an imminent danger. They believe his aim is to become the President of a Greater Albania comprising Albania and Kosovo (though not Macedonia, a new found and perhaps short lived ally). This is a recipe for a civil war, the second one within two years in Albania. The first one erupted after the life savings of one third of the population were squandered by a cronyist group of investment houses in pyramid schemes.

The Spoils

The Greeks are grabbing Macedonian property: real estate, banks, factories, a refinery, perhaps the Macedonian Telecom. They pay outlandishly cheap prices. The Macedonians are on their knees, reduced by the war to a loosely connected network of bartering businesses. While plundering, the Greeks do not refrain from political arm twisting. They vetoed Macedonia's application to become the centre of the reconstruction of Kosovo and then proceeded to propose Thessalonika (Saloniki) - a proposal adopted by the EU. They also refuse to call Macedonia by its constitutional name, forcing the impossible acronym FYROM on the international community. The next logical target is Serbia. To the Greek businessmen, Kosovo is lost due to the brutal treatment of Albanian refugees in Greece and the expressed pro-Serb sympathies of the Greek main street.

Thus, strange, chimeral alliances emerge. They are likely to prove as ephemeral as their predecessors, to melt away in the searing heat of the Balkanian summer. But while they last they give one pause. The Russians and two NATO members, Greece and Italy, are likely to defy America and enthusiastically embark upon the lucrative reconstruction of devastated Serbia. Financed by German money through the inefficient and corrupt money transfer mechanism known as the EU, German businesses are not likely to tolerate this Christian Orthodox monopoly. They will join the fray, to America's increasing dismay and chagrin. American firms, on the other hand, will probably not be allowed to undo the damage their government wrought. Left out of the game, America will try to spoil it. It might well succeed, for it controls the strings of the American purses known as IMF and World Bank. Americans never hesitate to bully and to blackmail where money is involved.

The Russians are preparing to supply Serbia with new military technology as do other rogue states. Greece is secretly negotiating with Iran. Serb leaders visit Iraq. Russians are meeting North Koreans. So do the Chinese. Russian aircraft breach NATO's airspace. The Europeans are hastily forming their own defence alliance and finally appointed Mr. PESC, the long awaited EU foreign policy supremo. The ramblings of a new cold war (the world against the USA) are clearly audible to the attentive ear. In the margins more minor players such as Israel position themselves to counter what they regard as dangerous liaisons between Pakistani, Afghani and Albanian Islamic fundamentalist, terrorist cum drug concerns (sometimes in the guise of aid organizations). Bin Laden is in the area. Every secret service, every crime organization, every terrorist group, every liberation movement, every weapons dealer, every drug pusher are here, eager not to miss the unfolding action.

These wrangles will surely depress investors appetites. They will not increase the pledges in bow tied donor conferences either. Good money (investments and international aid) rarely follows bad one (crime and weapons trading, for example).

The Balkan countries stand to get a small fraction of the magnificent and magnanimous and generous promises made to them in the heat of the battle. The Balkan will be forgotten because it refuses to reform, because it is obstreperous. The number of officials visiting will decline. The journalists will beat a path to other blazes. The local politicians, pampered by the likes of Clinton and the CNN will revert unwillingly to their petty squabbles and ragged local papers. In a few months, it is will all seem like a mirage. It will all sink into the fertile soil of this luscious region, fertilized by countless bodies and bloody rivulets. The great togetherness will evaporate leaving behind the putrid fumes of re-emerging, centuries-old, grudges and suspicions. The people will complain. The leaders will thieve and collaborate with organized crime. The criminals will prosper. The farmers will toil their land and intellectuals will conspire. It is the Balkans where nothing changes.

And nothing ever will.

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