There is a saying in the former Yugoslavia, that morning foretells the day. In other words, the way something begins portends how it will end. The accuracy of this proverb is somewhat dubious. If taken to heart, it would mean that 2002 – though just beginning – is likely to end badly. A MURDER MYSTERY Following the Julian calendar, Orthodox believers throughout the Balkans gathered this Monday to celebrate Christmas. Yet morning never came for Dragoslav Markovic, owner of a shop in eastern Kosovo town of Kamenica. He was blown up by a hand grenade, in his shop, on Christmas Eve. Occupation authorities first claimed the grenade was thrown into the shop, then said that Markovic had tripped a wire and set off an elaborate booby-trap. The Serbian government's commissar for Kosovo, the usually pro-NATO Nebojsa Covic, criticized the UN and NATO authorities for failing to beef up security in Kosovo during the holidays, despite the Albanian threats of violence. Faced with Serb outcry over the death, and Covic's uncharacteristic condemnation, the UN quickly came up with another version of the event: Markovic blew himself up, ineptly handling the hand grenade that somehow materialized in his shop. If true, this would make Covic look like a buffoon, Kosovo Serbs would appear needlessly paranoid, the Albanians would be utterly blameless – indeed, slandered and injured! – and the UN police, plagued with corruption and sex scandals, would appear professional and serious. Truth, apparently, is whatever it needs to be. RUMORS AND STUPIDITY The UN and NATO's three-ring circus in Kosovo is in desperate need of some credibility right now. Last week saw the abrupt resignation of its head, former Danish defense minister Hans Haekkerup, for "personal reasons." Unconfirmed reports indicate that Reichskomissar Haekkerup angered some militant Albanians over the last few months, and received death threats from them as a result. Confirmation, however, is highly unlikely even if the rumors are proven true. It would be too damaging to UNMIK and NATO's reputation. Another rumor has it that Haekkerup will be succeeded by the experienced German Michael Steiner, who formerly assisted the UN/NATO Reichskomissar in Bosnia, then became the German chancellor's personal foreign policy advisor. In the meantime, Haekkerup's post of viceroy is occupied by an American bureaucrat. It is doubtful that even the most competent viceroy would be able to control the immeasurable stupidity of his bureaucrats, though. Just last week, UNMIK distributed thousands of fake Euros through an Albanian newspaper, aiming to acquaint its subjects with Kosovo's new currency. However, it failed to mark them as samples, practically releasing counterfeit Euros into the occupied province's notoriously criminal economy. THE GREAT BANK ROBBERY To UNMIK's credit, it is not the only stupid, incompetent and often evil government in the world. Indeed, most governments embody all three characteristics as part of their job description. A specific example, however, can be found just a bit further north, in Serbia. In a move commended by the IMF, World Bank, and most of the Empire, ministers in the Yugoslav government allied with Serbia's Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic closed the four largest banks in Serbia. Refusing to take responsibility for the closure, the Yugoslav finance minister resigned last Thursday. According to Yugoslavia's central bank, the four commercial banks were insolvent and burdened with billions of dollars in debt. As usual, the truth is a bit more complicated. The banks were not private, but government enterprises, and their losses were really a consequence of government policies. Many employees barricaded themselves in their offices, refusing to leave and accusing the government of acting on the Empire's orders. Some genuine libertarians have bluntly accused the Djindjic regime of destroying the domestic banking system to make room for foreign commercial banks. It goes without saying that many such banks would pay substantial bribes in exchange for favored status granted by the government... In the entire hubbub, no one bothered to reflect on the fate of bank customers, whose meager possessions were effectively expropriated by the state they trusted to protect them. THE UNFOLDING COUP So far, every time Djindjic's confederates have seized more power – whether by shattering the Constitution, destroying the Supreme Court or staging a coup in the Parliament – President Kostunica's party has condemned the move, had its officials in the affected branches resign, and then done absolutely nothing. With every coup and every resignation, Djindjic has amassed more power and Kostunica has been further removed from it. Most of the governing coalition has already thrown its support behind Djindjic, sensing the real power in the land. Through his allies and vassals, the Prime Minister now controls the judiciary, the police, foreign affairs, the parliament, finances – indeed, just about everything except the military. It is still loyal to Kostunica, though only as long General Pavkovic stays at its helm. Djindjic has been pushing hard to have Pavkovic replaced, and Kostunica has actually resisted. But with most of the power already in Djindjic's hands, and the Hague Inquisition eager to accuse Pavkovic of "crimes" in Kosovo during NATO's 1999 attack, Kostunica may be fighting a lost battle. With some help from his outside friends, but mostly through his own ruthless cunning and Kostunica's ineptness, Djindjic is poised to seize absolute power in Serbia any day now. MORSELS OF ENCOURAGEMENT Between murders, coups, crime, plunder, and ever-present lies, 2002 has not started out well. But unexpected encouragement comes from Bosnia, of all places. Even as this dysfunctional dystopia struggled into another year of precarious existence, there were no less than two signs that its peoples are beginning to regain some of their formerly discarded self-respect. AWAKENING DIGNITY Bosnia's central government has requested that the United States arrest and extradite former Sarajevo regime official Mohamed Sacirbey, on charges of embezzling some $600,000 in state funds. Though a US citizen, Sacirbey served Alija Izetbegovic's government as Ambassador at the UN (1992-96, 1998-2000) and Foreign Minister (1996-98). If the Empire really believes its own rhetoric about the importance of Bosnia's central government, then Sacirbey will soon be on his way to a Sarajevo jail. That is a big "if," however. A SPARK OF DEFIANCE Another ray of sunshine comes from Bosnia's Serb Republic (RS), which celebrated its 10th anniversary yesterday. After years of silently suffering the vitriolic attacks of the International Crisis Group (ICG), the ruling Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) struck back this past weekend, dismissing the ICG an "informal group of lobbyists" with no right to formulate the Empire's policies or pass judgment on matters in Bosnia. Of course, it is precisely ICG's "informality" that enables these lobbyists to propose measures the Empire would love to embrace openly – but is held back by whatever shreds of international dignity still remain. However naпve and ineffective, this criticism nonetheless indicates that some Bosnians are no longer in the thrall of the Empire's busboys – and that is always encouraging. AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT It will, naturally, take far more effort to free the benighted Balkans lands from Imperial occupation and poisonous influence, and even more to cure these societies from the deadly affliction of repressive government. Yet each small act of resistance is a good start, and each voice of responsibility is a flicker of light in the darkness. It is worth remembering that the proverb from the beginning of this text has never been conclusively proven.
On December 14, President Putin holds his annual Q&A session with Russian and foreign journalists. This conference is considered to be the beginning of his presidential campaign