Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Goebbels Gambit

This is a tale of two experiments, one deliberate, and one incidental - but both quite interesting.


Back in February, two Serbian artists decided to mock the political establishment (both the regime and the "opposition"). They did so by joining the Democrats, Serbian Democrats, Progressives, Socalists, Liberal Democrats, United Regions and another, minor party - all at the same time! To all these parties, they offered a "marketing program" which was entirely plagiarized from a 1928 treatise by Joseph Goebbels, called "Knowledge and Propaganda". Until the duo made their deception public, no one had figured out the Goebbels connection, nor did they realize these "bright young things" were prostituting themselves to a half-dozen parties all at once.

That in itself is quite a story, demonstrating empirically that Serbia's mainstream political parties are callous as well as clueless, obsessed with gaining power at all cost. I'm not really surprised that nobody recognized the Goebbels treatise, though. Few know much about Hitler's chief propagandist save for the fact that he was the Reich's minister of propaganda, and fewer still have read any of his work. Furthermore, a lot of the manipulation techniques he wrote about and used are still in use around the world, because they are effective. Sad but true. Also, expecting the Serbs to remember history - which has been systematically corrupted by a succession of regimes over the past 70 years, if not more - is a tall order these days. Even Americans routinely fail the Hitler test.

But the way this story ended up being reported is an experiment as well - one that concerns journalism, rather than politics. Imperial propaganda mills such as RFE and B92 set the tone, suggesting that Serbs like Nazi ideas. Inter Press Service actually headlined its story "Nazi Propaganda Gets a Makeover in Serbia." While technically true, it misses the point, doesn't it? Instead of the story being how two young artists pranked the mainstream political establishment, it ends up tarring the Serbs (yet again) with the Nazi brush.

Left out of the story was the notable fact that nearly all the parties that got pranked are part of the establishment created by the October 2000 coup, which was organized, financed and managed from Washington. This includes the Socialists, who in 2008 accepted Imperial dominance and signed a pact with the Democrats. The Progressives came into being when a former Radical leader defected to the "Empire is great" camp. One would think it might prove embarrassing for the Empire if its "democratic progressive social liberal democrats" turned out to be Nazi sympathizers, if unwittingly. Then again, maybe not.

The one exception are the Serbian Democrats - a party whose leader once fronted the 2000 coup, but which has opposed the Empire ever since. While they don't take marching orders from the U.S. Embassy like everyone else, they haven't been terribly effective, either - preferring to strategically withdraw from confrontations and more given to sulking than leading. Their leader translated the Federalist Papers, so they should have known better than to like the disguised Goebbels tract.

Finally, note that two parties that don't take orders from Washington are absent from this list: the Radicals and Dveri. Ironically, it is these two that get labeled (unfairly and inaccurately) as "clerical fascists", "hardline ultranationalists" and "right-wing extremists", by both the Western and the Empire-controlled Serbian media - while it is Empire's favorite Serbs who express enthusiasm for Nazi techniques repackaged as "democracy".

So you see, it's a bit more complicated than both the pranksters and the presstitutes would have you believe. But that's hardly "news," is it?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Twice the Winners" of WW2

In April 1945, with the Soviets and their Yugoslav Communist allies approaching, the Ustasha (Croatian Nazis) tried to exterminate the surviving inmates of their principal death camp complex. The 760 women at the adjacent camp of Stara Gradiska had already been massacred. Of the 1,000-plus men in Jasenovac, 700 chose to risk a breakout on April 22. Only 90 of them succeeded.

Communist authorities were happy enough to declare the Ustasha enemies of the state, but made every effort to suppress the exact extent of their atrocities, for the sake of "brotherhood and unity" in the new Yugoslavia. Yet there is no question that a genocide happened. There was clear intent, manifested in speeches, official proclamations and laws of the "Independent State of Croatia" (NDH) There were the countless pits in Herzegovina and Dalmatia, where butchered Serb civilians were disposed of until Italian outrage put a stop to it. By then, the Jasenovac complex had become operational, with death camps not just for men, but for women and even children. German sources suggest anywhere between 750,000 and one million dead, between the pits and the camps.

In 1941, there were 2 million Serbs in territories claimed by the NDH. In 1991, there were almost as many in the same territories - now claimed by Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Yet the overall population of Yugoslavia had grown from just over 15 million in 1948 (after the war and genocide) to 23.5 million in 1991. You do the math. 

Today the Croatian leadership - President Josipović, Prime Minister Milanović and speaker of the parliament Šprem - visited the Jasenovac memorial and swore that "fascist, Nazi and Ustasha ideas will never again" hold sway in Croatia. Well, why should they, having served their purpose?

The few Serbs remaining in Croatia live in fear and face constant abuse and discrimination. Yet when they tried to rebel against Franjo Tuđman's Ustasha revival in 1990, they were branded "aggressors" and the Empire funded, trained and supported their destruction - specifically, "Operation Storm," the mass ethnic cleansing campaign of August 1995. Since the anniversary of "Storm" is a national holiday in Croatia ("Homeland Thanksgiving Day"), the very same officials who were in Jasenovac today will see nothing wrong in celebrating come August. 

It brings to mind the words of Josipović's predecessor, Stjepan Mesić, who once said
"in the Second World War, the Croats won twice and we have no reason to apologize to anyone... We won on 10 April [1941] when the Axis Powers recognized Croatia as a state, and we won because we sat after the war, again with the winners, at the winning table." (BBC Monitoring; December 10, 2006)
Sure enough, in 1945, the Communist leader Tito "punished" Croatian atrocities by creating a large Croatian republic in the federated Yugoslavia. In 1991, with the backing of Berlin, Vienna and the Vatican, Franjo Tuđman declared this republic an independent state. Croatia was admitted to NATO in 2009. Next year it will be joining the European Union. American weapons, propaganda and diplomacy served the same Croatian agenda in 1991-95 as Hitler's had half a century prior. 

Lest there be any doubt as to the character of that "Croatia as a state," here are just three wartime posters (more can be found here) testifying to the relationship between Zagreb and Berlin:  

"United Europe fights in the East", poster for the 1942 exhibit in Zagreb. Nazi eagle, center; Croatian checkerboard over to the right 

"Great Leaders Adolf Hitler and poglavnik Dr. Ante Pavelić call on you to defend your homes - join the volunteer Croatian SS!" And yes, that's a mosque over on the right, and one of the SS is wearing a fez.

"A German victory is a victory for Europe: the German-Croatian brotherhood in arms"
All this ought to make you wonder who really won WW2.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

An April 2012 guide to Serbian Politics

My newest column on this weekend deals with the upcoming elections in Serbia. Due to considerations of space and time, however, I couldn't elaborate on the parties and candidates involved, just mention them in the broadest of strokes. So, here is a handy guide to who's who of politics in Serbia at the moment.

The Democrats

Boris Tadić, currently the President of Serbia, is also (quite improperly) the head of the Democratic Party (DS). He narrowly won the presidential election in January 2008, which was rightly seen by the Empire as the go-ahead for proclaiming the "Independent State of Kosovo".

Following that announcement, in February 2008, the Democrats ran in the general election as the senior partner in a coalition called "For European Serbia", with banksters (G17+) and two regional separatist outfits. The coalition didn't get enough votes to form a government, until July when - in a stunning turn of events - they were joined by a coalition led by the Socialists. Given that the Socialists had run on a platform openly opposing the Democrats, this resulted in a government no one had actually voted for - except for the U.S. and EU ambassadors involved in its creation.

Originally set up by the well-meaning opponents of Communism, the Democrats quickly turned into a haven for old Communist cadres purged by Slobodan Milošević (e.g. Dragoljub Mićunović). In 1994, Zoran Đinđić, a Frankfurt School graduate with a PhD in coup d'etat, took over as party chair.

Đinđić and the Democrats came to power through DOS, a coalition created by the National Endowment for Democracy as an experiment in "astroturf revolution." DOS stood for the "Democratic Opposition of Serbia" (though in practice, it was opposition to Serbia). Đinđić was the coalition's campaign manager and became the PM of Serbia in December 2000. Following his assassination in 2003 - which was blamed on former Special Forces and a shadowy organized crime syndicate, but questions about it remain - the DOS and the Democratic Party were taken over by the people Đinđić had purged as rotten or incompetent. Following a bad electoral defeat in December 2003, the Democrats recovered by electing Boris Тadić, a psychologist formerly in charge of the postal service and the military. Тadić became President of Serbia in mid-2004.

While only controlling a third of the legislature themselves, the Democrats have a chokehold on the media: the entire advertising spectrum in the country is controlled by agencies run by Тadić's advisor Srđan Šaper and high-ranking DS official Dragan Đilas (who is also the mayor of Belgrade). But back in 2000, they had to take a back seat to Vojislav Koštunica - the only candidate NED managed to find that seemed decent, among the 18 pocket parties whose leaders were either unpopular or outright reviled.

The Other Democrats

Koštunica was once a Democrat, too - but split off in the early 1990s, unhappy with the DS position on Serb national interests (i.e. that none existed). He named his splinter the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and stayed on the sidelines of politics, teaching law and translating the Federalist Papers. As the figurehead of DOS, he stood for Yugoslav presidency in September 2000. He didn't win, but that was soon made moot: the plan called for DOS to claim election fraud and overthrow the government through mass protests. As part of these protests, DOS agents stormed the Parliament and torched the ballots, making it impossible to ascertain the actual results of the vote.

Arguably, Koštunica helped Serbia avoid civil war by negotiating a transfer of power with Slobodan Milošević. He also refused to remain a figurehead and let Đinđić rule, which resulted in the next two years being a constant struggle for power between the two. Đinđić won, kicking the DSS out of DOS and its legislators out of the parliament; he even destroyed Yugoslavia so Koštunica would be out of a job. But then he was killed, and his cronies fumbled so badly that they were kicked out of power in 2004.

Prime Minister from 2004 to 2008, Koštunica succeeded in bringing about a new Constitution and thwarted Imperial designs to some extent. On the other hand, he kept the banksters running the economy and outright traitors running the foreign ministry. Koštunica reneged on a deal with the opposition Radicals and caved in to Imperial pressure to form a "democratic" government with the DS in 2007, which resulted in the electoral fiasco of 2008 and the triumph of Тadić. The DSS is going at it alone this May, campaigning on the ultimate beta platform of "neutrality."

The Socialists

Once the Communist Party, then the League of Communists, they changed their name to the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) in 1990. Their victory at the first multi-party election in 1990 wasn't due to communism, though, but to their leader's defense of Serb rights in then-Yugoslavia. Slobodan Milošević rose to power in the late 1980s by hammering the old, cowardly Communist leadership for pandering to separatism and anti-Serb chauvinism within the country. Smeared by the West as the "Butcher of the Balkans" (which he wasn't), Milošević frustrated Empire's attempts to dominate Serbia, until his ouster in October 2000. His last speech to the nation warned of the Imperial threat, but he was so demonized by that point that the people were unwilling to listen. He was arrested on spurious charges in May 2001, and on June 28 that year sent to the Hague Inquisition. There he died in 2006, before the end of his show trial.

Milošević's successor at the head of the party was his former spokesman Ivica Dačić. The SPS was a silent partner in Koštunica's first government, but kept running afoul of the Empire. Maybe that factored into his decision to make a pact with the Democrats. The "legitimacy" thus gained with the Empire was paid with betraying Milošević's legacy, party principles and the electoral platform. It also resulted in SPS officials landing many cushy government jobs; Dačić himself ended up in charge of police, becoming Tadić's chief enforcer. May 6 will show whether the Socialists' voters think that was worth it.

On an interesting aside, Dačić's deal with the Democrats represented a sort of reconciliation of the old Communist factions; the old guard defeated by Milošević in 1987 had mostly joined the DS. Only this time, obviously, the anti-Serb line they represented had emerged triumphant.

The Lunatic Fringe

Čedomir Jovanović started out as a "student protester", back when he was studying drama in 1996. He soon became a confidant of Đinđić's, and ended up the PM's parliamentary whip and go-to guy for shady deals (liaisons with organized crime syndicates, arresting Milošević, etc.). Eventually he became so much of a liability, Đinđić quietly sidelined him - but after the PM's assassination in March 2003, Jovanović roared back into power. At the end of 2003, DOS suffered a crushing defeat at the polls, and Jovanović suffered a similar defeat in the bid to lead the Democrats.

Desperate to avoid having to work (he eventually got that acting degree, somehow), Jovanović first set up the "liberal democratic faction" within the DS, then spun it off as an actual party in 2005. He quickly established himself as Empire's favorite Serb, advocating unconditional obedience to Washington and Brussels. His hatred of everything Serbian - though he once styled himself a nationalist - can be partly explained by the influence of Latinka Perović, a Serb-hating Communist historian purged by Tito in the 1970s for being too loony (and that's saying something), and partly by the present profitability of such a position. Thanks to the backing of the Empire and its "NGO" cultists, Jovanović enjoys a media presence disproportionate to his actual political strength.

Recently, Jovanović's "Reversal" (Preokret) initiative was joined by Vuk Drašković, the most infamous chameleon in Serbia. Once a raging Communist, Drašković reinvented himself in 1990 as a nationalist, creating an image cobbled together from Communist propaganda stereotypes about the WW2 royalists. He is best known for trying to lead a street revolt against Milošević in March 1991. Having refused to join DOS, Drašković saw his party (SPO) nearly disappear, but made a comeback in 2003, when he became Foreign Minister in Koštunica's cabinet. After a disastrous mandate, he reinvented himself again - this time as the most fanatical supporter of NATO and the Empire.

Basically, the task of "Reversal" is to anchor the Democrats to the Empire, while enabling them to pretend they have freedom of action. The Democrats have also made alliances of convenience with ethnic minority and separatist parties, promising them privileges and entitlements, and even parts of Serbia. This includes the ethnic Hungarians in the northern province of Vojvodina (a legacy of Tito's strategy of dividing Serbia), though separatism there is actually driven by Nenad Čanak and his "League of Social-democrats" (LSV) and the regional Democrat leadership. The Democrats also seek support with the Muslim separatists in the southwestern region of Raška (also known as the "Sanjak"), whose mufti, Muamer Zukorlić, is running for president (!).

The Banksters

The economic platform of DOS was developed by "experts" of the G-17, a collection of international banksters of Serbian origin with "transition" experiences of serving the Empire in places like Russia and Poland. Over the past decade, they have successfully dismantled most of Serbia's economy, achieving what neither the UN blockade nor NATO bombs could. While G17 is still around, its former leader jumped ship some months ago, to establish the "United Regions" (URS) party. He hopes everyone will forget how he despoiled the country for a decade and lied through his teeth, and believe he is now a champion of the provincial farmer.

The Radicals

A minor opposition party during the 1990s, the Radicals became the principal opposition to DOS following the October 2000 coup. Led by the outspoken Vojislav Šešelj, the party publishes a newspaper called "Greater Serbia" and firmly opposes the Empire, NATO and the EU.  Šešelj was such a thorn in the DOS side that Đinđić actually asked the Hague Inquisition to indict him for anything and take him away (long a rumor, this was confirmed last year by Wikileaks). He has been imprisoned since 2003, eventually standing a sham trial for "inciting hatred" (i.e. hate speech). A verdict is expected in May.

Though it would routinely win the largest chunk of votes in any election since 2000, the SRS could never claim victory. No other party dared form a coalition with them, because of the immense pressure from the Empire, which dubbed the Radicals "undemocratic" and "ultranationalist" (whatever that means).

Šešelj's deputy, Tomislav Nikolić, ran the party in his absence. He was twice narrowly defeated in presidential contests, following hysterical media campaigns predicting apocalypse unless a properly "democratic" candidate won. In 2007, he became speaker of the parliament for all of three days, until PM Koštunica caved to Imperial pressure and backed someone else. It remains unclear whether the Radicals had offered an alliance to Koštunica in 2008, but rather than contemplate a coalition with them and the  Socialists, he called a general election - thus paving the way for a total Tadić takeover.

The party is still officially run by Šešelj, who is also running for president by way of his wife, Jadranka.

The Progressives

Following the establishment of the Democrat-Socialist government in 2008, Nikolić split from the Radicals and in 2009 formed the Progressive party (SNS). It is unclear what their actual platform is. The Progressives are basically telling whoever listens whatever they want to hear: e.g. friendship with Russia to the patriots, EU integration to the EUrophiles, "partnership" with the U.S. to fans of the Empire. They aren't even terribly original: their slogan - "Let's get Serbia moving" - was outright copied from the disgraced former PM of Croatia.

The Progressives are a parliamentary party even though they've never actually participated in an election. This is possible due to the seemingly paradoxical Serbian electoral law, which considers the parliamentary mandates as belonging to individuals, even though they are allocated to parties based on the voting results. Consequently, when Nikolić left the SRS, a number of Radical legislators switched allegiance to him, and kept their seats. So even though they claim to be the principal opposition to the government,  because they've never stood for election the extent of their support is impossible to gauge.

Mockingbirds and Believers

Understandably, many in Serbia are revolted at the shenanigans of the political class, the lack of moral compass and complete depravity of which might be forgivable if they at least let the country eke out a living. Instead, the politicians live lives of obscene wealth and privilege, while more and more common people scavenge from garbage bins. With everyone but the Radicals choosing to serve the Empire in one way or another, and the Radicals becoming obsessed with their Progressive heretics, a large vacuum in Serbian politics opened up, simply begging to be filled.

Some have chosen to make a mockery of the existing system. "None of the above" (NOPO) registered as a party of the Wallach minority, exploiting the lower threshold loophole of the electoral law and just about guaranteeing the election of its leading candidate for legislature: Đorđe Vukadinović, analyst, columnist and pollster. Once a strong critic of the Empire and its servants in Serbia, Vukadinović has been notably softer on the current coalition, going so far as to endorse its disastrous capitulation on Kosovo as a wise and statesmanlike policy. His election will have shown the system to be a joke - but as this is already common knowledge, it is unclear what else  it will accomplish.

And then there are Dveri. Officially the "Movement for the life of Serbia," they claim they aren't a party in the classical sense of the word, but rather a family. Originating as an Orthodox Christian student society (their name refers to the sacred doors to the church altar), they organized as a political force late last year.
They are entirely unlike any other party in the country, in a number of ways. That alone ought to recommend them, but in their program they also call for far less government meddling into people's lives (not an end to it altogether, but it's a step in the right direction), reforming the system entirely, prosecuting banksters and oligarchs, liberating the country from foreign domination and ending the campaign against Serbian language, culture, history and traditions that has been going on for a lifetime.

It is almost inevitable that they will be dubbed "Orthodox fundamentalists" and "ultranationalists" and "right-wingers" and a number of other choice derogatory terms used to smear opponents of Empire's "democratic" favorites. Because they really do threaten to upset the proverbial apple cart.

So, who will win?

It depends on many things. First, how many people will actually get out and vote - and how many will give in to the regime's message of despair and not bother. Of those that do vote, the question is how many have lives that depend on the current system - government or public jobs, contracts that depend on bribes to those in power, etc. - and have a vested interest in seeing it survive. How many will vote for the sideshows created to bamboozle the voters, such as the "Peasant and Worker Party" led by a NATO lobbyist pretending to be a populist patriot? Who will count the votes, and not whether there will be voter fraud, but how much of it? Last, but not least, it depends on what the Empire has planned for after the votes are counted, e.g. a replay of the 2008 surprise super-coalition or something like it. Note also that the Empire may not be the only outside power with a vested interest in Serbian politics that is both willing and able to influence things.

The Serbs have displayed remarkable resilience. After a century of fighting horrific wars; surviving several attempts to obliterate them physically and culturally; social engineering seeking to obliterate their identity, language, culture and history; demonization designed to crush their spirit; communism and banksterism nearly wiping out their economy and enterprise - they are still hanging on. Many others would have broken long ago.

It is tempting to make an apocalyptic appeal and say that, if the quislings triumph again, this might be the end of the Serbs. This might be what the Empire wants, and what its death cult - represented not only by the sycophantic politicians but also by the legions of "NGO activists" - tries to bring about. But I doubt they will succeed where far mightier forces have tried and failed.

Let's see what happens.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The Hurt Locker

Official history has the Bosnian War breaking out on April 5, 1992. There is some room to argue that a more appropriate date would be March 1, or March 26, or March 28. Certainly, the barricades I remember hearing about on April 5 didn't seem any different from the ones a month prior. Following the declaration of independence on March 1, there had been barricades, then a mass protest, followed by the panicked politicians negotiating, the barricades being dismantled, and the war averted - or so we thought.

We were wrong.

What began that day would end 1,326 days and some 100,000 deaths later. Nothing quite prepares you for a war on your very doorstep. Experiences from WW2 were useless - or worse, could get one killed. This was a different war. And even learning all the tricks didn't guarantee survival. Whatever Imperial propaganda may say, warfare is neither neat nor surgical.

No historical event is truly inevitable - just more or less likely to happen. At any time in March, or even through most of April, the Bosnian War could have been prevented, or stopped before it really started. Some people were pushed into it. Others did the pushing. In any case, it quickly spiraled out of control, morphing from a very local dispute about land and power into some sort of global crusade (or rather, jihad). Neither the ideologues of Empire, nor the jihadist firebrands, nor the media cared much about the actual Bosnian War; they all built up a Bosnia myth and used it for their own purposes.

Today, on the 20th anniversary of the war (which basically coincided with Europe's recognition of Bosnia's dubious declaration of independence - a fact that doesn't get mentioned much), media all over the world have Bosnia on their tongues - but it's the mythical Bosnia, the narrative collection of cliches and tropes and lies that can be used to justify nation-building, humanitarian bombing, invasions, occupations, terrorism, whatever. Open any newspaper today, and I guarantee you there will be an op-ed comparing Syria to Bosnia, with a message that the "international community" needs to "act now" and kill people in the name of saving them.

Rubbish, yes. But that sort of rubbish is aimed at the average reader, who hasn't exactly spent the past 15 years tracking reports about Bosnia (and other shards of what was once Yugoslavia), and cannot know that all the tropes being trotted out - mass rapes, death camps, genocide, vast conspiracy to commit ethnic cleansing, 300,000 dead civilians - have been conclusively debunked with cold, hard facts. But the Empire doesn't care about facts, only about the usefulness of the myth. There are countries to bomb, regimes to change, demonized subhumans to kill.

Meanwhile, in Bosnia itself, while some people are trying to mind their own business, work for a living and raise their children right, an entire media/government apparatus has a vested interest in keeping things firmly stuck in 1992. As long as the war continues, mentally if not actually, they have power and the privilege that comes with it. So they keep their own people trapped in a cruel spasm of hatred, fear and suffering - feeding on it, thriving while everything around them rots away.

From half the world away, and when I drop in to visit, I can see clearly what they are doing. But the people there, driven mad by fear and hatred, can't - even as the pain of it is quite literally killing them. It took me close to a decade to claw my own way out of this "hurt locker". There are millions still inside.

Contrary to protestations by well-funded Imperial stooges, "coming to terms" with the past and "moving on" doesn't mean embracing a convenient set of lies about it. Rather, it is about dealing with the world that is, and working towards a world that should be. Every survivor left a piece of their soul in that war.  The longer they stay in that mental prison of eternal 1992, the greater the odds they will lose themselves in it entirely.

Then, as now, they have a choice: embrace the myth and continue to self-destruct, or come to terms with reality and give themselves a chance to live, make peace, and heal. But it is something they have to do on their own. No one can do it for them - especially not the Empire, or "well-wishers" the world over, all of whom have a vested interest in their continued misery.