Notes from an Imploding Empire

Yugoslavia's Last Days

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

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Written: October 5, 2000

I live in the outskirts of an imploding empire. Fuzzy human figures, bloodied in black and white, lynch senior politicians in full view of cameras. The parliament building is smoking. When empires die - and Yugoslavia has always been a Serbian empire - they do not explode. They reverberate and rumble and collapse upon themselves. They shed gangrenous organs - molested provinces, mutilated colonies and rageful subjects. They constrict and fold and crumble, often with deafening silence. An obituary of dust and sepia photographs.

But the shock-wave front of violent convulsions, political contortion and geopolitical extortion never stops. It hits the nucleus, the kernel of empire. The British Empire may have commenced its ugly disintegration in India and Palestine - but it is bound to end it in Scotland and in Wales (perhaps even in London). Rome was obliterated by the very forces it unleashed in its contraction. The USSR gave way to Russia only to have Russia, in turn, confront rebellious regions and republics. Serbia is threatened by the distant echoes of the death of Yugoslavia.

When the nucleus is threatened - people resort to all manner of self-interested intolerance. The apocalyptic horses of chauvinism, nationalism, corruption and genocide often rear their heads on such occasions. Hence the Yugoslav wars of succession, from Slovenia to Kosovo.

Serb politicians - Kustonica not excepted - are fervent nationalists. They differ on tactics, never on strategic goals. Milosevic is being deposed because he failed - not because he tried. Nationalism is a profitable proposition in the dilapidated rump of Yugoslavia. Patriotism and villainy have never been more closely allied. Ultra-nationalism wins elections. Its proponents loot the state with full impunity. "Elections" in Yugoslavia are called when two criminal gangs attempt to re-define their turf. Kustonica is nothing but a soft-spoken version of  Milosevic. The West is in for the nastiest surprise.

Milosevic will go. He may well lose his life (and his whole family) in this last stand. Kustonica (or someone wilier) may yet replace him. But the inexorable historical process of this imploding empire will not desist. The Albanians of Kosovo will not accept this unexpected setback in their plans for independence (and the surreptitiously appropriated foreign aid that comes with statehood). As I have written in this space in June 1999, Milosevic was their best ally, their symbiont. With their main cohesive factor gone, they will turn upon each other and, more so, upon the un-accommodating West. KFOR and UNMIK are the Albanian's new enemies, the only thing standing between them and a Serb-less future. This realignment of alliances is likely to yield the most outlandish collaborations - for instance, between those faithful to Milosevic and Seselij and the former KLA.

And then there are the Montenegrins. Ruled by yet another mafia, they also crave the spoils of statehood. Yet, the West is likelier to lavish aid and credits on a united Yugoslavia then on the isolated smuggling post that Montenegro is. There's more to gain by returning to the fold. I have no doubt, therefore, that Montenegrin independence is as short-lived as its arch-enemy, Milosevic.

Yugoslavia will survive. Reduced to writhing remnants of their former selves, all empires do. Milosevic will soon be a distant memory. A low-key war will simmer in Kosovo for years to come. Another cadre of politicians will loot the state and strip it of its assets. Whomever replaces Milosevic will go to war with neighbours near and far. It is the nature of the Balkan. Mismanagement, corruption and venality - the growth industries of this accursed region - will thrive. As they have always done - and always will.

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