Condi vs. Putin on Bullying Belgrade

“Rice Holds Serbia Responsible”

(February 23.) The Reuters headline reads: “Rice holds Serbia responsible for US embassy attack.”

Reading this I couldn’t help thinking about the ultimatum delivered to the Belgrade government in July 23, 1914 by representatives of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Yes, I know it’s a stretch and we’re not in a similar crisis (yet), but I can’t help noticing even distant historical parallels.

Recall from high school history class that Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Bosnia on June 28 by Gavrilo Princep, a member of the Serbian minority in Bosnia. Bosnia’s mixed population of Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats, and Muslims had been under Austro-Hungarian administration since 1878.

In the Herzegovinian Rebellion of 1875 peasants — Serbian and Croatian serfs of Muslim beys or overlords — in what was then Ottoman Turkish territory rose up in protest of unbearable tax burdens. Serbia, technically still part of the Ottoman Empire but independent de facto since 1868, and the tiny Princedom of Montenegro intervened on the side of the rebels, and were soon joined by Russia, Romania and Bulgaria. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878 Bosnia-Herzegovina was ceded to Vienna. The Ottoman Empire retained formal overlordship, but in 1908 Austria-Hungary (over considerable protest by Serbia and Russia) annexed the state outright.

Gavrilo Princep was a Pan-Slavist, a member of the secret Black Hand society committed to the ideal of a Yugoslavia or “state of southern Slavs:” Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Montenegrans, Slovenians. Perhaps he thought that killing Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia would abet that cause. If so, maybe he was right: just 18 million deaths and four years later, as one of the many outcomes of the “Great War,” the “Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes,” was proclaimed, renamed in “Kingdom of Yugoslavia” in 1929.

We need to remind ourselves that World War I started as a confrontation between Serbian nationalists, and imperialists delivering ultimatums while meddling in the Balkans.

The message from the Austro-Hungarians to Belgrade in July 1914 held the Serbia government responsible for the attack on their archduke:

“The Royal Serbian Government . . . has [since the annexation of 1908] tolerated the criminal machinations of various societies and associations directed against the [Austro-Hungarian] Monarchy, unrestrained language on the part of the press, glorification of the perpetrators of outrages, participation of officers and officials in subversive agitation, unwholesome propaganda in public education, in short tolerated all the manifestations of a nature to inculcate in the Serbian population hatred of the Monarchy and contempt for its institutions …”

Accusing the Serbian government of complicity in the assassination, hatched (it alleged) in Belgrade, the message then presents 10 demands. Most pertain to curbing “propaganda against the Monarchy” by Serbian journalists and officials, and demanding cooperation in prosecuting those responsible for hostile actions against Austria-Hungary. But the fifth (and most important) requires Serbia “[t]o accept the collaboration in Serbia of organs of [the Austro-Hungarian government] in the suppression of the subversive movement directed against the territorial integrity of the Monarchy.”

Serbia then, in a generally reconciliatory message, denying any responsibility for the assassinations (“the crime”), offered to “hand over for trial any Serbian subject” that Vienna could prove was involved. To the fifth demand it responded:

“[The Serbian government does] not clearly grasp the meaning or the scope of the demand . . that Serbia shall undertake to accept the collaboration of the representatives of [Austria-Hungary], but they declare that they will admit such collaboration as agrees with the principle of international law, with criminal procedure, and with good neighborly relations.”

In other words, the Serbs rejected occupation. This rejection offered Austria-Hungary an excuse to invade.

Flash forward to March 1999, when Condoleezza Rice’s predecessor, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, offered Serbia another ultimatum. She ordered the Yugoslav army out of the Yugoslav “breakaway” province of Kosovo. The “Rambouillet Agreement” signed by U.S., British, and Kosovar Albanian separatists that month further demanded that NATO forces receive “free and unrestricted access throughout [Yugoslavia] including . . . the right of bivouac, maneuver, billet, and utilization of any areas or facilities as required for support, training and operations.”

Agree to that, Belgrade was told, or we will bomb you.

Yugoslavia, born out of World War I, had been falling apart for eight years. The dream of southern pan-Slavism had given way to long-dormant nationalisms and the nightmare of ethnic cleansing. The Serbs, with the largest member-state in the Yugoslav federation, had watched Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia secede. Now the U.S. and its allies were demanding that Belgrade give up Kosovo, the Serbian Jerusalem, the Serbian heartland.

Belgrade was willing to restore the autonomy, the de facto republic status Kosovo had enjoyed until 1989. It was willing to accept UN peacekeeping forces in Kosovo. It had the year before accepted unarmed Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) forces. But it was not willing to give NATO unbridled access to the roads and airspace of all that remained of Yugoslavia. The “scope of the demand” (to again cite the 1914 Serbian reply to Vienna) was such that no sovereign state could accept.

But the spin in the U.S. corporate press was well expressed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour: “Milosevic continues to thump his nose at the international community.” The U.S.-dictated “agreement,” rejected by Russia and Yugoslavia, was depicted as a reasonable international consensus. Belgrade, which had maintained neutrality between NATO and the Warsaw Pact for decades, naturally resisted an unlimited alliance presence in its territory. But the logic of this stance was obscured by the anti-Serbian propaganda relentlessly unleashed by the U.S. press and the statements of U.S. officials charging the Serbian state with responsibility for mass murder in Kosovo. It later became clear that the charges were wildly overblown, while attacks upon Serbs, their property and holy places were generally ignored by those demanding U.S. military action.

That action killed about 500 civilians, according to Human Rights Watch. Since the bombing ended and NATO occupied Kosovo, thousands more have died in anti-Serbian pogroms. Between June 1999 and March 2004, by one estimate, over 3,000 perished in ethnic-based violence in Kosovo. Over 200,000 Serb have fled their Kosovo homeland since 1999.

It’s taken all that infliction of suffering to finalize the humiliation of Yugoslavia, born in 1918. It’s taken all that to cut out its heart, the site of the Battle of Kosovo Polje against the Ottoman Turks in 1389. (Kosovo Polje by the way was also the site of a pogrom against Serbs that killed 28 people in March 2004. “Kristallnacht is under way in Kosovo,” declared a UN official at the time.) It’s hardly surprising that angry Serbian youth would attack the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, enraged at the speedy U.S. recognition of Kosovo independence.

In the wake of that expression of outrage the U.S. secretary of state issued a veiled threat to Belgrade. “They had an obligation to protect diplomatic missions,” fumes Rice (who has no problem raiding an Iranian consulate in Iraq), “and, from what we can tell, the police presence was either inadequate or unresponsive at the time. We do hold the Serb government responsible. We’ve made that very clear. We don’t expect that to happen again.”

But it probably will happen again. And anyway, if Rice can hold the Serbian government responsible for the attack on the U.S. embassy, the Serbs can surely hold the U.S. represented by that embassy responsible for multiple attacks on their country. Serbian security forces will demand to remain in the north of their Kosovo province. Albania, which hopes to join NATO this year, threatens to take action if Serbia attempts to partition Kosovo. There will probably be more violence, more blowback from the 1999 war, more fingers pointing blame, more imperialist ultimatums.

While Condi talks tough to Serbia, what does Serbia’s powerful ally, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, say (as it were) in reply?

“The precedent of Kosovo is a terrible precedent, which will de facto blow apart the whole system of international relations, developed not over decades, but over centuries. [The Americans] have not thought through the results of what they are doing. At the end of the day it is a two-ended stick and the second end will come back and hit them in the face.”

This from a man who understands something of the history of the Slavs, the Balkans, the horrific wars twentieth-century wars in Europe, and the infinitely cruel potentialities of U.S. imperialism. I’m no Putin fan, but I think he’s assigned blame appropriately. He’s holding Washington responsible for what happens next. He might state (like Rice) that he doesn’t “expect it” — another provocation of NATO at his doorsteps — “ to happen again.” But how can there not be follow-up since the Kosovar Serbs are going to refuse inclusion into what they see as a bastard state; the new government in Pristina is likely to challenge Serbian “secessionists” with force; and Albania threatens to de-recognize existing borders between itself, Serbia and Macedonia with its large Albanian minority? There will be hell to pay for this “dangerous precedent.”

* * * *

(February 24.) Reuters now reports that Serbia’s minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, in what is perhaps a response to Rice, assigns responsibility for the embassy attack rather differently than the U.S. secretary of state. Paraphrased by Reuters, he suggests the “United States was to blame for this week’s attacks on foreign embassies in Belgrade . . .”

Samardzic declares: “The U.S. is the major culprit for all troubles since Feb 17. The root of violence is the violation of international law. The Serbian government will continue to call on the U.S. to take responsibility for violating international law and taking away a piece of territory from Serbia.” Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica adds, according to AP: “If the United States sticks to its position that the fake state of Kosovo exists…all responsibility in the future will be on the United States.”

Take responsibility, Rice demands of Serbia. Take responsibility, Serbia backed by Russia demands of the U.S. There’s a fundamental disconnect here between historical perceptions. The official American one is deeply distorted by the Clinton-era disinformation campaign used to justify the Kosovo War, and by the cultivated depiction of the U.S. as the virtuous victim of embassy attacks (most nobaly the Iranian “embassy hostage crisis” episode in 1979-81) and terrorist actions undertaken by people who supposedly “hate our freedoms.” No U.S. presidential candidate is going to challenge this misrepresentation of the origins of the current crisis. U.S. policy will be to stabilize Kosovo, draw it into the NATO fold alongside Albania, and maintain the massive Bondsteel military base it has established in Kosovo. But Serbian and Russian policy will try to thwart these objectives. History does not really repeat itself, and this is not 1914. But it’s a good time to revisit that history, consider the near-term possibilities, and organize opposition to further U.S. aggression in the Balkans.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Gary.

18 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Rasid said on February 26th, 2008 at 10:45am #

    Serbia didn’t “watch Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia secede”. Remember those tanks and paramilitary pouring across Drina River to Bosnia? Remember Vojislav Kostunica, current Serbian PM, on the hills surrounding Sarajevo, with a Kalashnikov in his hands? Remember Srebrenica, perhaps? Don’t blame others for Serbia’s wrong moves, which resulted with the country compared to Nokia today: getting smaller every day.

  2. Michael Kenny said on February 26th, 2008 at 2:46pm #

    Bear in mind that, in fact, the present situation actually suits everybody! The Kosovo Albanians get to declare their independence but don’t actually have to govern their state. The Serbs get rid of Kosovo without having to concede anything. The EU avoids having to admit one or more new Member States while the Treaty of Lisbon is still being ratified. Russia has asserted itself as a major player on the European scene and down the road, Kosovo will serve as an excuse to explain the loss of Chechnya, Dagestan and points East. NATO has an excuse to bring its troops home from Afghanistan and the US has Kosovo as an excuse to explain away the latter event.

    A typically European solution! A package with something in it for everyone. Nobody loses!

  3. N. G. Warenton said on February 26th, 2008 at 7:09pm #

    Excellent article and very factual. The author has a complete grasp of what has been and what is now going on in the Balkans. I applaud this article. Sheds a much needed calm report on the recent events in the area. I tire of hearing crude and ignorant rants from people who do not have any expertise or credentials in the study of History.

  4. Darien said on February 26th, 2008 at 9:15pm #

    Good commentary!
    The fact is that the USA is destabilizing the entire world, especially antagonizing the Russians. This seems to be the ultimate goal of the West, to destroy Russia, a move that will eventually turn the world into a smoldering cinder.
    Rice certanly is a total idiot, scolding the Serbs for the burning of the US embassy. I certainly would have reacted the same if, say California was handed over to the Mexicans (which is not far off).
    Bush is the most incompetent leader since Nero. His failure to play fair and sensible has not only turned the world against him (and the USA), but also the American people.

  5. denk said on February 26th, 2008 at 9:44pm #

    what cheek condi !!
    belgrade should have sued the usa in the world court for crimes against humanities…
    “If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, ‘Hey, Slobo, what’s this all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?”

  6. Alex said on February 27th, 2008 at 3:14am #

    Excellent article, thank you. More wisdom and knowledge is what is needed. USA used to have excellent diplomacy in history. Now, it is all let’s get pragmatic and participative, but I rule. The message they send to Serbia is: we say one third of your country should become independant, it will never be Serbia again, we say you will be responsible for any future attacks to our embassy, but hey we are your friends. Is there any logic in this message? From the Serbian view, this is not nobody loses situation, it is the opposite.

  7. Lloyd Rowsey said on February 27th, 2008 at 7:31am #

    When the fires are too bright, I read through a glass darkly: John Wilkinson?

    I don’t think Professor Leupp anticipates or would appreciate a line-by -line analysis….

  8. Adnan said on February 27th, 2008 at 7:54am #

    As Rasid said, no Serbia was not watching others go, but it was using so called Yugoslavia’s Army and paramilitary gangs to impose Milosevic’s dictatorship over rest of the country. The army was only by the name Yugoslavia’s, since most of the officers were Serbs, and soldiers were conscripts forced to fight Milosevic’s wars.

    Gary why do you always skip 3 wars of aggression started by Milosevic (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Hercegovina), and concentrate only on forth? Your scientific method resembles one used by the theory of Intelligent design, pick facts you like, disregard everything else, and hoopla Eureka I discovered warm water.
    I pity your students, if you have any.

  9. hp said on February 27th, 2008 at 8:28am #

    “History is bunk.”

  10. Lloyd Rowsey said on February 27th, 2008 at 8:39am #

    History is more or less bunk. – Henry Ford

  11. Lloyd Rowsey said on February 27th, 2008 at 8:43am #

  12. Srbenda said on February 27th, 2008 at 2:52pm #

    Rasid and Adnan, let Professor Leupp’s article on KOSOVO (it was not about Bosnia) shed some light on the truth behind the blatant theft of Serbian holy land. If you want to rant about the war in Bosnia, go to another forum and cry all you want about the “wicked” Serbs. Republika Srpska is Serbia! Kosovo is Serbia! Bravo, Professor Leupp on your efforts to educate the ignorant masses about the truth on SERBIA’S KOSOVO!

  13. Ruben said on February 27th, 2008 at 8:24pm #

    Serbia’s holy land? In 21st century people are still talking about holy land.

    What I see in Kosovo is a territory that was occupied in 1912-13, by the Serbian military with the help of the Russians and the blessing of Europe. Read The New York Times of Dec 31, 1912 for the horrible massacres against the Albanian population in Kosovo.

    For more than 90 years the Serbs tried to colonize the territory and treated Albanians as second class citizens.

    Well, now they cannot do it anymore. The nation of Kosova is free and independent. The Serbs should bow their heads in shame for the massacres of the years 1998-99. Smart idea to move 800 bodies all the way from Kosovo to the suburbes of Belgrade. What did the Serbs do when this shameful act was discovered. Nothing. No regret, no public apology. Today, instead of bowing their heads with shame they still claim a territory they treated in ways Europe had not seen for at least 50 years.

  14. Martina von Altenburg said on February 27th, 2008 at 8:26pm #

    Well written, but history is biased. History is written by whoever the winner is. In this case it is the left.

  15. brian said on February 28th, 2008 at 2:50pm #

    A little known fact: that Ahtisaari was bribed by Kosovo mafia to gain them ‘independence’

    Far More Than “Shadows” — Gregory Copley: Ahtisaari’s Corruption Confirmed Beyond Doubt
    In July 14 exclusive interview with Belgrade daily Vecernje novosti, the President of the International Strategic Studies Association Gregory Copley confirmed that everything published about Martti Ahtisaari being bribed by the Albanian mafia to propose independence for southern Serbian Kosovo province is correct.
    “We have been investigating a number of corruption cases in the Balkans during the past 15 years. We have received a lot of information and heard rumors about corruption in the Martti Ahtisaari’s office, but we waited until we heard for the article published by the Banja Luka daily Fokus. That’s when we started our own investigation. Talking with the number of our sources, we confirmed that German Intelligence Service BND has indeed put this report together. Our report is created for the governments which are the only ones using the Global Information System. As far as I understand, it was leaked to the media,” said Copley.
    Ahtisaari’s Anti-Serbian Bias Evident from the Start
    QUESTION: Is the information about Ahtisaari being bribed reliable?
    MR. COPLEY: First of all, we have seen the BND report. We then inquired with our sources if we can get an independent confirmation about the Ahtisaari corruption. Few intelligence sources from different states involved in Kosovo process were either suspecting or had evidence about Ahtisaari’s involvement with Albanian organized crime.
    QUESTION: How long were you on Ahtisaari’s trail?
    MR. COPLEY: We have been observing him ever since he was appointed a UN special envoy for Kosovo status, because we knew he came to that post after working for the International Crisis Group, established by the financier George Soros. We also knew that Soros, as well as the ICG, is firmly backing the independence of Kosovo province. This meant that Ahtisaari obviously wasn’t an impartial person for this position.
    GIS Balkan Findings Considerably Different from the Picture Media Painted
    QUESTION: Has any particular government ordered the investigation of the Ahtisaari case?
    MR. COPLEY: Our association conducts independent investigations. We do not work for any particular government and that is why many governments trust our neutrality. We have conducted a large number of investigations pertaining to the Balkan events, the results of which were considerably different from the picture created by the media. This has made some of the governments skeptical, but most of them have now arrived at the position that our reports have been confirmed over time.
    QUESTION: In your experience, how much could a revelation such as this one influence the concrete politics?
    MR. COPLEY: We’ve had many requests for confirmation and for further information by the large number of governments and international organizations overseeing the Kosovo process.
    QUESTION: From the Serbian Government?
    MR. COPLEY: Not from the Serbian Government.
    QUESTION: From the American Administration?
    MR. COPLEY: All I’m going to say is — not from the Serbian Government, but from the large number of governments and the international organizations.
    U.S. State Department Acts Like the Albanian Terrorists’ Agent
    QUESTION: What do you expect now?
    MR. COPLEY: We expect the United Nations to evaluate Ahtisaari’s position. Unfortunately, it seems that the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon lacks the guts to acknowledge the situation created by the [Albanian terrorist] KLA threats of renewed violence. I am disappointed with the fact that the new UN Secretary General has no courage to clean his own backyard. This shows that there is a lot of corruption within the UN that also existed during the Ban Ki-moon’s predecessor.
    QUESTION: According to the Fokus article, it was the UN Secretary General that requested the investigation of Ahtisaari’s corruption?
    MR. COPLEY: Soon after he requested the investigation, he demanded quick resolution of Kosovo issue and he failed to undertake clear steps to suspend Ahtisaari, or to examine his work. He was obviously shocked by the initial accusations, which German intelligence confirmed beyond any doubts. But it should also be taken into consideration that Ki-moon is right now under enormous pressure — not just from the KLA which threatens the entire region with violence, but from the U.S. State Department which acts like the KLA agent in promoting Kosovo independence.

  16. brian said on February 28th, 2008 at 2:53pm #

    ‘Gary why do you always skip 3 wars of aggression started by Milosevic (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Hercegovina), ‘

    What evidence do you have Milosevic started any wars of aggression?

  17. Srbenda said on February 28th, 2008 at 3:24pm #

    You have no clue what you are talking about. 1912-13?? The Serbs came to the Balkans in the 7th century and had one of Europe’s most prosperous kingdoms until the famoust battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389 against the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire. Hey, did you hear me??? The 7th century, man! And you talk about 1912-13?? You are ignorant on Serbian history. You read a NY Times article and now you are an “expert” on Serbia. Yes, Kosovo is Serbia’s holy land! I’ve been there in the 80s. I saw first hand the beauty and grandeur of Serbia’s Orthodox monasteries and churches. Just go to Youtube and type in Kosovo-Serbia monasteries. I know where my family comes from. I know Serbia’s history. Did you know that Serbia fought on the Allied side in both world wars?? Do you know what side the Albanians fought on? Yes, they fought on the Nazi side. You disgust me with your “knowledge” of Serbian history. It is even more disgusting that with your first name (if that is your real name) you would side with the Muslim jihadists. Yes, the so called Kosovo Liberation Army is a direct branch of the Al-Qaida. Next time you have the audacity to “discuss” Serbia’s history, you better get educated before you spread ignorance on this web site.

  18. yelena said on July 29th, 2008 at 1:37pm #

    Excellent article and a very truthful one.