In a lifetime of being boggled by the American press, I don't believe I've ever seen anything as baffling as their rote insistence that the last ten years of war in the Balkans were caused by "dictatorship," for which the solutions were "democracy" and "multiculturalism."
Folks, democracy is what caused the mess. Multiculturalism works fine ... under a real dictator, like Tito. He had multiethnic Yugoslavia locked down tight, nice and peaceful. But when the inhabitants got more say in their lives, they started killing each other. They wanted democracy. But they knew that to have it, they needed mono-ethnic states.
When the old multiethnic Yugoslavia cracked up, the rest of the world recognized the phony borders that Tito had concocted to minimize the size of the Serbian administrative unit within his empire. This left large numbers of Serbs living outside Serbia, where they were exposed to their historic enemies. The great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn explained it all in The Times of London in 1997:
The bloody Yugoslav tragedy has unfolded before our eyes (and is it over yet?) To be sure, blame for it lies with the Communist coterie of Josip Broz Tito, which imposed an arbitrary pattern of internal borders upon the country, trampling on ethnic common sense, and even relocating ethnic masses by force. Yet blame lies also with the venerable community of Western leaders, who — with an angelic naiveté — took those false borders seriously, and then hastened at a moment's notice, in a day or two, to recognize the independence of several breakaway republics whose political formation they apparently found to be advantageous. It was these leaders, then, who nudged Yugoslavia toward many grueling years of civil war; and their position, declared as neutral, was by no means such.
Yugoslavia, with its seven estranged peoples, was told to fall apart as soon as possible. But Bosnia, with its three estranged peoples and vivid memories of Hitlerite Croatians slaughtering up to a million Serbs, had to remain united at all costs - the particular insistence of the United States Government. Who can explain the disparity of such an approach? THE MARCH OF THE HYPOCRITES, The Times, 21 August 1997
Democracy requires trust—that the other members of your democracy won't vote to despoil you. That's utterly lacking in the Balkans, where nobody trusts anybody they aren't related to. And for good reason. Each and every ethnic group has the blood of its neighbors' ancestors on its hands.
Democracy also needs a "settled distribution of property." Britain's modern parliamentary system dates from the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This permanently confirmed Henry VIII's theft of the Catholic Church's properties, thus ending 150 years of turmoil. But everyone in the Balkans is convinced that somebody from another ethnic group stole valuable land from his father or grandfather or great-great-great-grandfather. These suspicions are usually accurate. (Of course, everybody conveniently forgets that the land he lives on was usually stolen from somebody else too.)
Human beings have a remarkable capacity for forgiving the murder, rape, or enslavement of their forefathers. But not the theft of real estate. As the real estate agents tell you, "They ain't makin' anymore of it." And, along with associated grievances, it doesn't go away.
All this was well understood in the West during the century between the Glorious Revolution and the framing of the American Constitution. But it's been forgotten since, because we don't need to worry much about who owns what anymore. You don't have to worry that your house will be handed back to the descendants of the Indians who used to camp there. Your property is secure because the white race decided to steal the vast majority of the land from the red race, and then not worry about it much anymore.
That's why our leaders and media couldn't understand what was clear to the peoples of the Balkans: Tito's bogus borders left only two alternatives - redraw the borders or ethnically cleanse them.
Instead, we just decided that the Serbs were Evil. So, we had years of carnage in Bosnia until they finally ended up with a de facto three-way partition anyway. Franco Tudjman solved the problem in Croatia by ethnically cleansing all the Serbs. Kosovo was and remains a fiasco.
The good news is that, in the northern Balkans, we now are closer to normal (i.e. ethnically-homogenous) nation-states. Slovenia is a nice little European country. Croatia is calming down now that the Serbs are gone. They've at least stopped killing each other in Bosnia now that they have borders of sorts.
But in the southern Balkans, the process of redrawing borders and/or ethnically cleansing populations could go on for years. The Montenegrins are restive under Serbian rule. The Albanians are looking to jerry-rig a greater Albania comprised of the present country of Albania, Kosovo, and parts of Macedonia. There are an enormous number of people in Bosnia who have very good reasons for killing other people in Bosnia as soon as the peacekeepers go home. There are many people in Serbia who will be bitter unto the 7th generation for being ethnically cleansed, with no financial compensation, from Croatia and Kosovo
If the West wanted to intervene in 1991, it should have stepped in, as at the Congress of Berlin in 1885, and redrawn the borders to match the ethnic reality on the ground. Give Serbia those chunks of Croatia and Bosnia where its people lived, but take away southern Kosovo where few Serbians lived. Croatia would get parts of Bosnia, with the Muslims in Bosnia left with a small but homogenous republic.
That still would have left numerous ethnic pockets on the wrong side of the new borders. The West should then have sponsored ethnic cleansing. Sounds harsh? Population exchanges between Greece and Turkey in the early Twenties are what led to three-quarters of a century of peace between those inveterate brawlers.
To make this ethnic cleansing orderly, humane, and not conducive to the permanent bitterness that endangers peace, the rich nations of the West could have poured in $20 billion or so to pay for relocation. Buying out 7,000 Israeli homeowners in the Sinai peacefully and permanently solved that potentially explosive problem when Israel had to hand that peninsula back to Egypt after the Camp David accords. Buyouts would have worked in the Balkans too.
Okay, nothing works truly well in the Balkans. But it's hard to imagine that it could have proven worse.
October 30, 2000