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Opinions Archive 1999
The Kosovo war: the beginning of a new century

Aleksa Djilas

On Tuesday, March 23, at about 11:30 p.m., NATO Secretary General Javier Solana authorized NATO's military command to begin with the bombing of Yugoslavia. I was convinced that to achieve the greatest intimidation effect, the bombs would start falling immediately, and in hugh numbers. But the supreme allied commander in Europe, Gen. Wesley Clark, waited until the next evening; probably because the U.S. embassy's charge d'affaires hadn't yet left Belgrade.

Immediately after Solana's speech, a friend with whom I was watching television and I went to his home to tell the news to his wife. When we arrived there, she was already asleep. We decided to wake her up believing that she would object less to us waking her up than to us failing to inform her. Also, it wouldn't be good for her to be completely taken by surprise when the bombs start to explode.

When she entered the sitting room still not properly awaken, a thought struck me: "When she fell asleep, it was peace, but when she woke up, it was war. The war with which the 21st century began." I was overwhelmed by a powerful feeling of being a witness to something entirely new, that I and all of mankind were for the first time watching the appearance of new historical forces that would shape the future.

Historians divide centuries into long and short. The 19th century began as early as 1789, with the French Revolution (or maybe even in 1775, with the American Revolution), and ended with World War I. The 20th century began as late as 1917, with the October Revolution, and ended in less than one hundred years - in 1989, with the Fall of the Berlin Wall. If the 21st century indeed began with NATO's attack on Yugoslavia, that those ten years between 1989 and 1999 do not belong to any century. Maybe that decade filled with futile hopes of a peaceful and harmonious world in the wake of the Cold War, does not even deserve anything better.

Historical centuries, as opposed to those from the calendar, are marked by crucial events and social processes: the 19th century saw the surge of the bourgeoisie, liberalism, class struggle, imperialism; the 20th - worlds wars, Communism and Fascism, and liberation of colonies.

What, then, would the century that has just began look like? Though I am convinced that it is already here, I do not find it easy to describe. It seems as if cruise missiles and NATO aircraft have brought to Yugoslavia not this unborn century, but its ghost, untouchable, unheard, elusive. Only its vague features can at present be discerned.

One of them is that U.S. public opinion is much less humane than was once believed. Before this war, many informed people claimed that U.S. public opinion would stand up to any bombing that would cause numerous civilian casualties (for instance, more than one hundred), especially if they come from a European country which does not endanger U.S. interests. While I am writing this, the tenth week of the bombing is in progress, and the civilian death toll in Yugoslavia is nearing the figure of 1,500. Though the U.S. public, and even the media, are not indifferent, there are still no large-scale protests.

At the same time, the United States of America, which in the first several decades of the new century will be the only super power, is worrying more than ever before about the safety of its soldiers and seeks to be victorious without a single fatality. When three U.S. servicemen were captured, and released after several weeks, the U.S. media paid much greater attention to them than to the daily killing of dozens of Serb and Albanian civilians. U.S. promotion of human rights throughout the world will appear hypocritical to many because of this way of waging war in which the lives of Americans are valued much more than the lives of others.

To avoid aerial attacks like those NATO launched against Yugoslavia, a number of countries in the future will increase their military budgets. They will spend genorously when purchasing and producing anti-aircraft rockets and -- aware of the sensitivity of the U.S. and other western countries when the lives of their own nationals are in question -- they will develop weapons capable of killing numerous soldiers and civilians, primarily medium and long range missiles with biochemical and nuclear warheads. Thus the arms race will become one of the most prominent features of the onset of the 21st century.

In a conversation pregnant with mutual threats, Khurshchev once told Kennedy: "A poor man does not fear fire." This was not the whole truth, because the Russians were afraid of nuclear war, though less than the Americans. The present, enormous fear of the U.S. and western countries of the loss of their own lives will make much weaker countries equal to them, especially if these countries do not jeopardize the West's vital interests.

In NATO countries, presidents, prime ministers, foreign and defense ministers, diplomats and generals claim that this is not a war, but a "humanitarian intervention" launched to ensure respect for human and minority rights, and carried out in the name of national, religious and cultural tolerance. They like to add they have much respect for the Serbs and Serb culture -- President Clinton even said that Serbs are "a great European nation."

Simultaneously, however, there has been no nation since World War II in the West that was written about with such hatred as were the Serbs. It seems as if a complete turn had occurred in western culture and now, instead of "political corectness," that which sociologists call "essencialistic opinion" -- viewing the policy of one nation as a consequence of this nation's inferior culture, and even of this nation's evil nature -- has returned. Such an approach to a policy of "others" was rather common in Europe on the eve of the First and Second World Wars. While listening to the rumble of the century approaching us, we have to ask the following question: Who will be the next victim of this school of thought? Will not the nations of the West begin to use such words to describe each other?

Before the bombing, Serbia was an industrial country; now, it is much less so, and when the war ends, maybe it will become a chiefly agricultural country. Many skilled workers from Kragujevac, Valjevo, Novi Sad, Cacak, Nis, and other heavily damaged industrial cities are returning to the country to work the land. Will in the future the U.S. and NATO subjugate other nations by destroying their economies?

When a U.S. B-2 "stealth" bomber, worth over two billion U.S. dollars, which departs exclusively from a base in Missouri, hit with several bombs the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, from the point of view of international law it was a U.S. attack on Chinese territory. Even before that, China viewed the bombing of Yugoslavia with great concern. There was no U.N. Security Council authorization for the attack and it was against the U.N. Charter, the Final Helsinki Document from 1975, and many other international agreements, and therefore China believed it was creating a precedent that would serve to threaten its own sovereignty and territorial integrity one day.

After the attack on the embassy, NATO's war against Yugoslavia became the main topic of the Chinese media and China's foreign policy. Up to then, countries of eastern Asia showed interest in Europe primarily as a large market. Now the largest country among them, China, is entering European policy because of this war.

Since its founding in 1949, NATO has never faced such great opposition in the world as it faces today, while the present anti-American sentiments bring to mind the days of the Vietnam War. Indeed, the majority of the world population is against the bombing of Yugoslavia. This has been confirmed by public opinion polls in Ukraine, Russia, China, India, Japan, entire Latin America, most countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, even in a number of Muslim states (for example in Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Siria), and in most countries in northern, southern, and eastern Europe.

During her third term as British prime minister, Margaret Thacher used to occasionally refer to herself as "we." Now, Tony Blair declares the views of his own governement and the U.S. administration as the position of the "international community." Similar arrogance is rather noticeable in other NATO countries. It is beyond doubt that it will be even stronger in the coming century, and that it will face growing opposition in the world.

For the first time since the Roman Empire, the West is unified under the leadership of a single power -- the United States of America. This power is so much stronger than other western countries - militarily, economically and politically alike -- that not one of these countries dares to even think of rivalling it, while owing to U.S. hegemony, they cannot come into a conflict among themselves. However, western countries unified under the U.S. mantle are a greater threat to the rest of the world than they have ever been before.

(The author is a sociologist and a political commentator from Belgrade)

Source: Beta Press

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