By Michael Djordjevich
Together with the Middle East, the border lands of southeast Europe known as the Balkans have been a region of the world where seminal events and trends in human history have taken place. It has been called many names, including "the powder keg of Europe" or "the graveyard of empires." The conflicts in the region have also been a mirror of history.
Long before Samuel Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations," in the period between the 14th and 19th centuries, the incessant ebb and flow in the conflict between Islam and the West took place in the Balkans. Early in the 20th century, Serbian gun shots in Sarajevo ushered in World War I, Communism and Nazism. At the end of the century, Bosnian Muslim fundamentalists fired gun shots in Sarajevo, killing several Christian Serbs at a wedding party and began a bloody war in Bosnia among Christian Serbs and Croats and Muslims. This war may have well reflected in earnest the renewed clash of civilizations.
The Berlin Wall fell at the end of 1989. The Soviet Union imploded and the end of Communism as a global force followed. Balkan countries joined the trend. However, the pivotal and largest state, Yugoslavia, rapidly descended into a bloody civil-religious war and dissolution. This decade-long war at the end of 20th century mirrored a number of important political, legal, religious and geopolitical precedents for the post-Communist world. Of particular significance are those involving America, the European Union and the United Nations.
At first, the United States favored the preservation of Yugoslavia, or at least its peaceful and orderly dissolution. Changing this position abruptly, America did not oppose Germany's drive for the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and then sided with Islamists in Bosnia. Secretary of State James Baker said "we have no dog in this fight" -- but in the end America was the top dog in the fight.
The international community's engagement in the Balkans have so far been a textbook illustration of the dangers of contradictory policies, chronic indecisions, confusion and ignorance about historical forces in play, double standards and flawed precedents. America was not prepared for the peace and the role of the only superpower in the world. Our leadership has failed in this task so far.
Apparently, not much has been learned from this experience. We could replace the location, inserting Iraq instead of the Balkans, and the aforementioned assessment would be similar today.
The Balkan mirror also shows the impotence and irrelevance of the United Nations. Any country and any people would be foolhardy to place their destiny in the hands of this inept institution. With America's complicity, the United Nations did nothing when its embargo on arms shipments was violated by Iran sending planeloads of arms to Bosnian Muslims. Subsequently, when veteran jihadists came to the country to fight Serbs, the West was also supportive.
The Serbian province of Kosovo has been ethnically cleansed from Serbs, Roma and other non-Albanians while 150 churches and many medieval monasteries have been destroyed during 10 years of U.N. governance.
The mirror showed the duplicitous methods by which world media influenced world opinion. With few exceptions, it has abused its power and professional responsibility, failing to heed Ed Murrow's admonition to examine all sides of a story and aim to elucidate, not advocate. It did the latter and in general continues to advocate an Islamic agenda in Bosnia and Kosovo.
The Balkan realities also show a great adaptability of Islamists to present a worldly, democratic face. Readily accepted by the West, Bosnian leader and fundamentalist Islamist Alija Izetbegovic was tolerated and praised as a democrat. Nevertheless, in his book "The Islamic Declaration" Izetbegovic asserted absolute validity of dominance of Islam: "There can be neither peace nor coexistence between Islamic religion and non-Islamic social and political institutions," he wrote. Later in the war, Mr. Izetbegovic was influenced and financially and militarily supported by fundamentalist Islamists (including Osama bin Laden). Similarly, some Kosovo leaders, previously called terrorists and thugs by U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard, are now afforded respect in the United Nations and elsewhere.
The ugliest and most dangerous reflection in the mirror is that of double-standards. As we are facing challenges and dangers of radical Islam and terrorism worldwide, let's not dismiss the Balkan experience. Our policies must contain moral dimensions. International agreements, legal precedents and evenhanded treatment of warring people were not followed in the Yugoslav tragedy. If we are to get out of the Middle East quagmire we must change these policies. Failing to realize that by endeavoring to resolve complex problems by double standards, we more often than not double them in the end.
In addition, the Balkan Mirror has provided important and troubling reflections upon Islam and the new world (dis)order.
Michael Djordjevich, an American of Serbian origin, founded and was the first president of the Serbian Unity Congress.