Thursday, February 21, 2008

Here We Go Again:
American Embassy Burned in Belgrade

The mess in what used to be "Yugoslavia" isn't exactly part of the war on terror. Just the same, I think today's events shed light on problems that America faces in the world.

Background: Yugoslavia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Dead Albanians

Here's a short, and over-simplified, background:
  • The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was cobbled together in 1918 - part of the nation-building craze that followed WWI
  • The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was re-named "Yugoslavia" in 1929
  • Josip Tito ran the place as an independent Communist state from 1945 to 1980
  • Tito died in 1980, and the Yugoslavia had a few other bosses for almost a decade
  • Slobodan Milosevic said that he was president of the Serbian Republic in 1989, and made it stick
    • Milosevic's ideas about Serbian domination of the area broke up Yugoslavia the hard way
    • Fighting resulted in Yugoslavia breaking into independent ethnic territories in 1991-92:
      • Croatia
      • Slovenia
      • Macedonia
      • Bosnia
    • What was left, Serbia and Montenegro, became the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY): with Milosevic as boss
    • Under Milosevic's orders, Serbia's military tried uniting ethnic Serbs in Serbia - and neighboring republics - in to "Greater Serbia"
    • Milosevic's plan succeeded in getting Serbia bumped from the UN
    • Serbian leader Milosevic eventually became president of FRY in 1997
    • 1998: a minor ethnic Albanian insurgency in Kosovo, a formerly autonomous Serbian province provoked, or provided an opportunity for, Serbian forces to massacre ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo, and kick the survivors out of the country
    • Some Albanians objected, NATO got involved (I told you this was over-simplified), and Serbia got bombed by NATO
    • As a result
      • Arrangements were made for Kosovo to become independent
      • Milosevic was accused of crimes against humanity, but died in The Hague before the trial could start
  • February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared itself independent of Serbia - jumping the gun on plans for independence eventually, but not now
Some Serbs didn't like it. I can see their point: what's the point in being a privileged minority (in Kosovo), or majority (in Serbia), if you can't throw your weight around and kill the occasional Albanian?

And yes, I'm being terribly unfair. Maybe. I said, "some Serbs," not "Serbs."

There are more detailed, and less colorful, discussions of Serbia and Kosovo in The World Factbook, and of Kosovo in Global Security's Military section.

Kosovo Independence, Serbian Protests, Five-Finger Discounts, and Protester Flambé

Last Sunday, Kosovo declared independence, some Serbs didn't like it, and now two floors of the American embassy in Belgrade have been burned.

A protester came out extra-crispy, and quite dead. His body was found in the embassy after it cooled off a bit.

Not all Serbs were at the accidental activist-roast at the embassy. Many more were at a rally, chanting "Kosovo is Serbia," and saying that they'd never give the province up.

It's not just American property that's getting trashed in Serbia and Kosovo. UN equipment is getting hit, too.

Some groups even broke into a McDonald's and "demolished the interior." More level-headed people ransacked shops, and liberated sporting goods, including running shoes and track suits, from a department store.

Perhaps we shouldn't be too hard on the protesters. Belgrade's emergency clinic says it treated more than 30 lightly-injured people: half of them policemen. The clinic's deputy chief said that the injured protesters were, for the most part, "extremely drunk."

What Does this Serbian Riot / Protest Mean for America?

By itself, today's violence is just more of the cost of doing business in a world of tiny nations and ancient feuds. My guess is that the American embassy was hit because America helped NATO keep Serbs from Killing Albanians in Kosovo.

Besides, it seems to feel good to hate America. I suspect it's because this country is big, successful, and doesn't have a habit of making life miserable for people (and their families) who engage in penny-ante vandalism of American property.

So, until America starts acting like a real oppressor, we can expect to see American embassies burned, and American flags burned. It's a compliment, in a way, to this country's civilized behavior.

An important point to note in Belgrade's big street party is that what's happening in Serbia doesn't seem to have a significant religious angle to it. From the looks of it, the Serbia-Kosovo / Serbian-Albanian is a feud between ethnic groups that probably goes back to a time long before the Hatfields' and the McCoys' ancestors emigrated to the new world.

Finally, it's well to remember that the world is full of territories that have a long, long backlog of mismanagement and hostilities. It will take time for them to get organized, and learn to cooperate with each other. Lots of time.
"The World Factbook" - Serbia
Global Security - Military - Kosovo Background
"Kosovo and U.S. Policy" Congressional Research Service (2007)
More at "Serbia and Kosovo, from a Croatian-Irish Point of View, and from Another Point of View" (February 22, 2008)


Unknown said...

You don't know shit about Europe, Balkans, Yugoslavia, Serbia and the so called independent Kosovo. If you're going to publish your oppinion at least you should document the issue, and so should the american government. That's why everybody hates united states (it should be written whithout majuscules because that's your status in the current world), because you just go and bomb everybody and think you know best.
The situation in the Balkans is much more complicated. Kosovo was subjected to ethnic cleansing more than once, that's why it became majoritary albanian. Tito didn't allow the serbian refugees to return at their homes. Before the second World War the majoritary population was serbian. And one more fact: the current albanian government is formed from former UCK members, the former terrorists.
I'm not a serb but the double standard with which the states that recognized kosovo's independence deal is sickening.

So, the conclusion is: read some history, and listen both parties before forming an oppinion, that's what a balanced person does, and regretfully your superficial government doesn't.


Anonymous said...

hello Monica its true the ethnic cleansing in Kosova happend many times from Serbes againts Albanians in 1887,1913,1968 if you want too say the facts give the dates and everybody can beileve you .But now nobody need your advise because people see and learn.They just fix some mistakes from the past.And all know the the thruth dont blind yourself,but move on now we have life to live and dont need this hatred against all world HARTIN

Brian H. Gill said...

abc and/or Monica,

Did I give the impression that I was particularly sympathetic toward the Serbian nationalist position? That was not my intention.

And, yes: I am aware that the situation in the area that was Yugoslavia is complex. I said that the outline I gave was simplified.

Too late, by the way: I have read some history.

Brian H. Gill said...


Thanks, I think.

The advice to avoid hatred is wise.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.