AGAINST THE DOUBLE BLACKMAIL

                                                                                 Slavoj Zizek
 

   It is easy to praise the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia as its first intervention in a country with full sovereign power.  Isn't it comforting to see NATO forces  intervene not for any specific economic or strategic interests but simply because a country is cruelly violating the elementary human rights of an ethnic group?  Isn't this the only hope in our global era – for some internationally acknowledged  force to guarantee that all countries will respect a certain minimum of  ethical (and, one hopes, also health, social, ecological) standards?

   However, the situation is more complex, which is apparent from the way NATO justifies its intervention:  The need to defend human rights is always accompanied by vague but ominous references to "strategic interests."  The story of NATO as the enforcer of respect for human rights is only one of two coherent stories that can be told about the recent bombings of Yugoslavia.  A glimpse into the second story is provided by the way the Western media selectively elevate some local "warlord" or dictator into the embodiment of Evil: Slobodan Milosovic, Sadam Hussein, the unfortunate (now forgotten) Mohammed Farah Aidid in Somalia -- at every point, it is, or was, "the community of civilized nations against..."  And on what criteria does this selection rely? Why  Albanians in Serbia and not also Palestinians in Israel, Kurds in Turkey?  Here, of course, we enter the shady world of international capital and its strategic interests.

    According to Project CENSORED, the top censored story of 1998 involved the Multinational Agreement on Investment (MAI), a half-secret international pact to protect the foreign interests of multinational companies.  The agreement will undermine the sovereignty of nations by assigning power to corporations almost equal to those of the countries in which these corporations operate. Governments will no longer be able to treat their domestic firms more favorably than foreign firms.  Furthermore, countries that do not relax their environmental, land-use and health and labor standards to meet the demands of foreign companies may be accused of acting illegally.  Corporations will be able to sue sovereign states of they impose strict ecological or other standards; under NAFTA (which is the main model for MAI), the Ethyl corporation is already suing Canada for banning the use of its gasoline additive MMT.  The greatest threat, of course, is to developing nations, which will be pressured into depleting their natural resources for commercial exploitation.

   Renato Ruggiero, director general of the World Trade Organization, is already hailing the MAI, elaborated and discussed in a clandestine manner with almost no public discussion or media attention, as the "constitution of a single global economy." With its disregard for economic sovereignty, the MAI is the obverse of the much praised new global morality that prevents states from crimes against humanity  within their own territory.  One product of this new global capitalist economy is the catastrophic situation in Russia, which is not a legacy of old socialist mismanagement but a result of policies embodied by the MAI.

   How, then, are we to think of these two stories together, without sacrificing the truth of either? What we have here is a political example of the famous drawing in which we recognize the contours of either a rabbit head or a goose head, depending on our mental focus. If we look at the situation in a certain way, we see the international community enforcing minimal human rights standards on a nationalist, neo-communist leader engaged in ethnic cleaning, ready to ruin his own nation just to retain power. If we shift the focus, we see NATO, the armed hand of the new capitalist global order, defending the strategic interests of capital in the guise of a disgusting travesty, posing as a disinterested enforcer of human rights while attacking a sovereign country.

       However, what if one should reject this double blackmail (if you are against NATO strikes, you are for Milosovic's proto-fascist regime of ethnic cleansing; and if you are against Milosovic, you support the global capitalist World Order)?  What if this very opposition – between enlightened international intervention and ethnic fundamentalists and the heroic last pockets of resistance against the New World Order—is a false one? What if phenomena like the Milosovic regime are not the opposite of the New World Order but rather it symptom, the place where the hidden truth of the New World Order emerges?   Recently, one of the US negotiators said that Milosovic is not only part of the problem but rather the problem itself.  But wasn't this clear from the very beginning?  Why, then, the interminable procrastination of the Western powers -- playing for years into Milosovic's hands: acknowledging him as a key factor of stability in the region; mis reading clear cases of Serbian aggression as civil or even tribal warfare; initially putting the blame on those who immediately saw what Milosovic stands for and' for that reason, desperately wanted to escape his grasp; supporting the last Yugoslav prime minister, Ante Markovic, whose program was, in an incredible case of political blindness, seriously considered to be the last chance for a democratic, market-oriented, unified Yugoslavia, etc., etc.? When the West fights Milosovic, it is not  fighting its enemy, one of the last points of resistance against the liberal democratic New World Order; it is rather fighting its own creature, a monster that grew in large part as a result of the compromises and inconsistencies of Western politics.  (Incidentally, it is the same with Iraq: Its strong position is also
the result of the US strategy of containing Iran.)

      In the past decade, the West has followed a Hamlet-like procrastination toward the Balkans, and the present bombardment has all the signs of Hamlet's final murderous outburst, in which a lot of people unnecessarily die (not only the King, his true target, but also his mother, Laertes, Hamlet himself...} because Hamlet acts too late, when the proper moment has already-been missed. So the West, in the present intervention, which displays all the signs of a violent outburst of impotent aggression without a clear political goal, is now paying the price for years of entertaining the illusion that one can make a deal with Milosovic: The Serbian regime is, under the pretext of war, launching the final assault on Kosovo to purge it of most of its Albanian population.

When the Western powers repeatedly claim that they are not fighting the Serbian people but only their corrupted leaders, they rely on the (typically liberal) false premise that Serbs are victims of their evil leadership as personified in Milosovic. The painful fact is that virulent Serbian nationalism enjoys the support of a large majority of the population—no, Serbs are not passive victims of nationalist manipulation; they are not Americans in disguise, just waiting to be delivered from the nationalist spell. Such misconceptions are accompanied by the apparently contradictory notion that Balkan people are living in the past, fighting old battles, perceiving recent situations through old myths. One is tempted to say that these two cliches should be turned around: Not only are people not "good)" since they let themselves be manipulated with obscene pleasure, but there are also no "old myths" that we need to study if we are really to understand the complex situation, just the present outburst of racist nationalism, which' according to its needs, opportunistically resuscitates old myths. To paraphrase the Clintonian motto: No, it's not the old myths and ethnic hatreds, it's the political power struggle, stupid!

      On the other hand we have the obscenities of Serbian state propaganda: It regularly refers to Clinton not as "the American President" but as "the American Fuhrer"; two of the slogans in the state-organized anti-NATO demonstrations are  "Clinton, come here and be our Monica!" (i.e., suck our...) and "Monica, did you also suck out his brain?" This is where the NATO planners got it wrong: Caught in their schemes of strategic reasoning, they were unable to forecast the Serbian reaction to bombardment. On Serbian satellite state 1Y which targets the foreign public, there are no reports on the atrocities in Kosovo; refugees are mentioned only as people fleeing the NATO bombing. The overall idea is that Serbia, the island of peace, the only place in the former Yugoslavia that was not touched by the war raging all around it, is being attacked by NATO madmen destroying bridges and hospitals.

     The atmosphere in Belgrade is, at least for the time being, carnivalesque in a fake way—when they are not in shelters, people dance to rock or ethnic music on the streets, under the motto "With music against bombs!"Although it may fascinate some, this obscene carnivalization of social life is the other, public face of ethnic cleansing. In the recent struggle of the so-called "democratic opposition" in Serbia against Milosovic's regime, the truly touchy topic is the stance toward Kosovo: The large majority of this opposition unconditionally endorses Milosovic's anti-Albanian nationalist agenda, even accusing him of making compromises with the West and "betraying" Serbian national interests in Kosovo. In the course of the student demonstrations against Milosovic's Socialist Party falsification of the election results two and a half years ago, the Western media, which closely followed the events and praised the revived democratic spirit in Serbia, rarely mentioned the fact that one of the regular slogans of the demonstrators against the special police forces was "Instead of kicking us, go to Kosovo and kick out the Albanians!" In today's Serbia, the absolute sine qua non of an authentic political act would thus be to reject unconditionally the ideological topos of the "Albanian threat to Serbia."

    Recent Serbian propaganda is promoting the identification of Serbia as the second Israel, with Serbs as the chosen nation, and Kosovo as their West Bank where they fight "Albanian terrorists," their own intifada.   They went as far as repeating the old Israeli complaint against the Arabs: "We will pardon you for what you did to us, but we will never pardon you for forcing us to do to you the horrible things we had to do in order to defend ourselves!" The hilariously mocking Serbian apology for shooting down the Stealth bomber was, "Sorry, we didn't know you were invisible!" One is tempted to say that the answer to Serbian complaints about the "irrational, barbaric bombing" of their country should be: "Sorry, we didn't know you were a chosen nation!"

   One thing is certain: The NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia will change the global geopolitical coordinates. The unwritten pact of peaceful coexistence (respect for each state's full sovereignty—i.e., noninterference in internal affairs—even in the case of the grave violation of human rights) is over. The NA70 bombardment of Yugoslavia also signals the weakening of any  serious role for the UN and Security Council: It is NATO, under US guidance, that has effectively pulled all the strings. Furthermore, the silent pact with Russia that held till now is broken: Under this pact, Russia was publicly treated as a superpower and allowed to maintain the appearance of being one, on condition that it not act as one. Now Russia's humiliation is open, and any pretense of dignity is unmasked: Unless Russia is involved in a peace settlement in a meaningful way, it can only openly resist or openly comply with Western pressure. The logical result of such a situation will be, of course, the renewed rise of anti-Western resistance from Eastern Europe to the Third World, with the sad consequence that criminal figures like Milosovic will be elevated into model fighters against the New World Order.

     Because the New World Order itself breeds the monstrosities that it fights, the protests from the reformed Communist parties all around Europe voicing solidarity with Serbia and condemning NATO bombing are misdirected. These protesters are like caricatured pseudoleftists who oppose a trial against a drug dealer, claiming that his crime is the result of social pathology of the capitalist system. The way to fight the capitalist New World Order is not by supporting local protofascist resistances to it but by focusing on the only serious question today: how to build transnational political movements and institutions strong enough to constrain seriously the unlimited rule of capital and to render visible and politically relevant the fact that the local fundamentalist resistances to the New World Order, from Milosovic to Le Pen and the extreme right in Europe, are part of it.