Hamlet in Belgrade

By Nebojsa Malic
Monday, 29 Oct 2012

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What is one to make of Belgrade’s baffling behavior? Could it be that the new government has stumbled upon a formula to withstand Empire’s pressure without actually confronting it, or are they merely so epically inept that their madness looks like there’s a method in it?

In describing Balkans politicians, the Western media have abused the term "extremist" so much, it has just about lost all meaning. What has been extreme lately, however, is the weather: after a Narnian winter with record snowfall, the peninsula was hit by a Saharan summer with record highs and a prolonged drought. Rising taxes have further driven up the prices of food and fuel, in a region already frustrated by years of domestic misrule and foreign abuse. This may sound like a recipe for a revolution, yet there are no hints of one, anywhere.

Local elections held in Bosnia on October 7 reshuffled a few county chiefs, and resulted in the first hijab-wearing mayor in Europe. Yet the vote did little to resolve the vicious stalemate between the two major Muslim parties, so the country’s political deadlock continues.

A controversial meeting between Serbian PM Ivica Dacic and Hashim Thaci, "Prime Minister" of Kosovo – a province of Serbia occupied by ethnic Albanians and declared independent in 2008 – passed almost unnoticed in Belgrade. In Kosovo, however, proponents of union with Albania clashed with riot police, raging against Thaci’s "treason."

Could everyone’s minds be addled from the extreme weather, or two decades of living in a badly constructed virtual reality?

Snakes and Handshakes -- The Albanian rioters are at least consistent: Vetevendosje has diligently fulfilled its rule of anchoring Kosovo Albanian politics over the years, its demands making everyone else seem downright reasonable. Yet it means a lot to Hashim Thaci to have a sit-down in Brussels on even terms with the Serbian PM, considering he is still wanted on charges of terrorism, and under international investigation for a long list of criminal activities by his underlings.

What is far less clear is why the Serbian PM agreed to the meeting. In addition to chairing the cabinet, Ivica Dacic is in charge of all Serbian police, so his duty was to have Thaci arrested. Instead, he went to Brussels for a chat and a handshake with the KLA "Snake". When former President Tadic shook hands with Thaci in July, most Serbs reacted with fury. Dacic, however, spun his meeting as a chance to give Thaci a piece of his mind, and reaffirm Serbia’s refusal to recognize the breakaway Albanian regime.

Whatever his problems at home, Thaci knows what he wants and where he stands. The Serbian government, however, is trying to be all things to all people: appearing to be the replacement quislings in the eyes of the Empire, while convincing their own angry electorate they are really fighting for their benefit.

To Maybe or Not To Maybe -- This has created a particular kind of cognitive dissonance, in which the government bears an uncanny resemblance to Shakespeare’s waffling prince of Denmark. They reject the European and Imperial demands "if made officially," promise to fulfill them anyway, then tell the Serbian public how those demands aren’t really what they very clearly are. Even in death ground, they press on and trust subterfuge, ignoring Sun Tzu’s advice to fight.

On the other hand, their non-response has proven strangely effective. From the statements and counter-statements of various diplomats, commissioners, special rapporteurs, envoys and even the "NGO" activists serving the Imperial cause, no one quite knows what to make of the government’s incoherence. It is hard to decide whether this is stupidity in action, or weaponized confusion.

"Homophobia" and "Racism" -- Two years ago, the Tadic regime threw its weight behind the "Pride Parade." While thousands of police battled thousands of rioters, Western ambassadors strolled down the deserted streets of Belgrade at the head of several hundred "activists." Most actual GLBT organizations bowed out, wisely realizing they were being used as bait by both the Empire and the government. But 10-10-10 was a very near-run thing, and the following year the parade was canceled.

This year, the activists scheduled their parade for October 6 – the symbolic "day after" the anniversary of the 2000 "democratic" coup. The government waited until a few days prior, then banned it, using the laws put in place by the Tadic regime (with Imperial support, no less) to suppress public gatherings of dissenters. Then, for good measure, it deployed 2000 riot police to protect a distasteful "art exhibit" by a Swedish artiste. After several days of fury in the public opinion, the exhibit was ordered to close. Sure, the commissars, ambassadors and activists complained, but the law was the law.

With charges of "homophobia" unable to stick, that left the fallback position: racism. At an under-21 soccer game against England in Krusevac last week, a fight broke out on the pitch and one English player was ejected for misconduct. The player, Danny Rose, claimed the Serbian fans targeted him with racist chants and noises. The British media accepted Rose’s accusations at face value, launching a vitriolic campaign of Serbophobia resembling the racist rants of the 1990s. The former regime would have issued a simpering apology. Not so this one. There was no word from the embassy in London (which might be for the best, considering), but basketball star Marko Jaric criticized the hysteria on Twitter, while the Serbian Football Association (FSS) challenged Rose’s claims by posting a video from the match.

There are, of course, many incidents of inappropriate chanting and violence among the soccer fans in Serbia. Why just the other day, fans of the majority-Muslim team from Novi Pazar unfurled a banner that said "Long Live the Yellow House", after the reported site of organ-harvesting by the KLA.

Method in the Madness -- So, what is one to make of Belgrade’s baffling behavior? Could it be that the new government has stumbled upon a formula to withstand Empire’s pressure without actually confronting it, or are they merely so epically inept that their madness looks like there’s a method in it? The former may be giving them too much credit, and the latter too little.

Assuming, arguendo, that this is deliberate – it is unclear what exactly they hope to gain. If they wish to buy time to get Serbia in order, they ought to be about it. The EU may well implode, but not soon enough. And whatever the outcome of the election for Emperor, it is extremely unlikely that Washington’s Balkans policy will change no matter who sits in the White House.

It makes one wonder whether they ever actually read the play. Because while Hamlet’s waffling and complicated plan eventually succeeded in avenging his father, it also got him killed, and Denmark delivered to Fortinbras.