(ROME-BELGRADE) NATO seems to find Serbia’s autonomy outrageous, its semi-neutrality unacceptable, its modernity anomalous and above all its path to progress dangerous. For North Atlantic Treaty planners and schemers, Serbia—maverick, outsider, rebel—is an infectious disease to be eradicated. Serbia must be chained, normalized and integrated with the rest of Europe as are most southeastern European lands. Serbia’s neutral existence is an affront, an obstacle to a final solution of the thorny Balkan conundrum.
What terrible threat does Serbia pose? One wonders. It seems that Serbia’ very existence is a threat to the New World Order. You just never know what those rebellious Southern Slavs will do next. Untamed, all they think about is enjoying life. Dancing and drinking, the Belgrade slogan. Belgrade, voted the world’s Number One Party City. Endless bars and cafés, its great rivers, the Danube and the Sava. Its blasting brass bands. Joyous Serbs, living the present, but not forgetting its recent brutal past.
Bulgaria to Serbia’s southeast is subjugated, NATO and U.S. military bases marking its landscape. The huge city-like bases in Germany for 100,000 troops are no longer necessary. America is “reconfiguring its footprint”—that is, reviewing global deployment of troops in order to be capable of applying military force anywhere rather than just sitting in place. More mobile bases. Lily pads, they are called in military jargon, bases from which troops hop from one to another.
Like frogs hopping from water lily to the other, U.S and NATO soldiers and mercenaries are jumping on demand (JOD) from one to another of a growing number of the empire’s foreign bases. Frogs equal battle-ready troops. Saudi Arabian restrictions on the use of U.S. bases there resulted in the construction of the Qatar lily pad. The air war against Serbia and the theft of its historic territory of Kosovo made possible the creation of a giant lily pad-state there. (Cf Camp Bondsteel) Lily pads-military bases now dot Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech Republic, northwards to the Baltic States, across the Black Sea to Georgia, another lily pad-state, to lily giant pad-state Iraq, and on to Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. The circumference of the Earth is the only limit today to U.S. military expansion but the moon and Mars are not excluded from military Strangelove ambitions and dreams.
According to NATO strategy these joyous Serbs need a lesson in realism. “We of NATO want to help them learn to live democratically and in true freedom.” Even if temporary chains are required to educate them. A good shock is needed to shake them out of their lethargy. These unruly and lazy peoples are lacking in ambition. They don’t even attempt to exploit the oil and minerals lying under the surface of their lands.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen admits that “for understandable historical reasons there might be some skepticism in Serbia regarding a relationship with NATO. Might be some skepticism, he says! “My mission is to see all countries in the Balkans integrated in the Euro-Atlantic structures of NATO and the EU.” NATO insists that since Serbia is a European nation, its future can only lie within the European community … that is, in warlike NATO. All the other Balkan countries are already normalized and integrated. Or the process is underway.
However, there is that small matter of the NATO 98-day air war against Serbia in 1999, a little over a decade ago, to be absorbed. NATO bombing of a major European capital city. Feature that! And then also the minor matter of the U.S. theft of the key Serbian province of Kosovo, declaring its independence, then recognizing it diplomatically and transforming it into a NATO military-intelligence, lily pad stronghold.
Serbs do not forget. War by the West against Serbia, by the way, is not new. Nazi Germany destroyed Belgrade in World War II. Italian Fascism treated Communist Yugoslavia viciously both during WWII and in its aftermath. In the 1950s the city of Belgrade still lay in ruins just as did the cities of defeated Germany. The West at the time then partially boycotted Tito’s Communist Yugoslavia even after it broke with the USSR. The Italian extreme right still today holds powerful grudges and prejudices against Serbia as the heartland of Yugoslav Communism.
Public opinion in Serbia hasn’t forgotten NATO’s unilateral decision to wage war against it. Despite Belgrade’s partially pro-Western government, surveys show that two-thirds of Serbians oppose NATO membership. Chiefly because planes of the NATO alliance departing from air bases in Italy bombed worker-managed factories in Serbia allegedly in order to put a stop to President Milosevic-led Serbians’ cruel crackdown on ethnic Albanian rebels in breakaway Kosovo. NATO-USA bombed what remained of Socialism in East Europe to make way for the multinationals.
That NATO’s intentions were humanitarian, Serbs are convinced, is bullshit.
Since then relations with NATO have improved somewhat, even though Belgrade—which has close ties to Russia—adopted a policy of military neutrality in 2007.
Twelve years have passed since NATO sent its bombers of death over Belgrade and Nish. Serbs have not forgotten. Opposition parties organize manifestations in their maltreated though joyous capital city. Nationalists oppose contacts with NATO and the very idea of a scheduled NATO summit right in the capital of Belgrade. “Shame for the country and the nation.” The ruins that NATO left behind are still there. A reminder of the real nature of NATO.
“Never in NATO,” says former Serbian Premier Kostunica, recalling the NATO bombing as does every Serb. Today nationalists point out the similarities between the bombardment of Tripoli and those of Belgrade in 1999. The Serbian Foreign Affairs Minister, Vuk Jeremic, says that “citizens of Serbia are not indifferent to the bombing in Libya. We have seen the sufferings of civilians in the attacks on us. Therefore we feel solidarity with Libyans.”
Any actions of the pro-western government in Belgrade alarm Moscow. Premier Putin on a recent visit to Belgrade stressed that Moscow does not want Serbia in NATO. “If NATO installs its missiles in Serbia,” he said, “Russia will be obligated to direct its nuclear potential against Serbia.”
One asks why Russia should stand up for Serbia? One recalls the long historical affinity between the two countries. Russia has long seen itself as the great protector of the Serbian people, traditionally due to their common Slavic background. Russia is the most powerful Slavic country and feels its duty is to protect struggling Serbia under attack from the West.
Russians, Serbs and other Slavic countries once shared a common belief called Pan Slavism. Pan Slavism meant that all Slavic countries shared a common heritage, as well as common language affinities. Russia long headed this movement. When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia in WWI, Russia entered the war also to protect their cousins.
Serbia once stood as the bulwark in southern Europe of Eastern Orthodoxy, which after the fall of Constantinople had its greatest champion in the ‘Third Rome’, Moscow. The Catholic Hapsburg Empire lay just to the west, as close as Croatia, while the Muslim Ottoman Empire occupied Serbia for centuries. In Serbia’s defense, the Russian Orthodox Church demonstrated the strong religious ties between the two countries when it inserted itself into the debate about Kosovo’s independence: “That act has unilaterally upset the balance in the world.”
The real reasons for Russia’s position on Serbia today are more pragmatic. Historically, everyone in the Balkans loves a good conspiracy theory. Today, especially the one that involves energy pipelines and military bases is not theory, but fact. According to NATO and its many intelligence agencies, Russians are plotting to create a thinly-disguised military base in Serbia. If true, that would be the Kremlin’s first new European base since the end of the Warsaw Pact, a natural response to NATO’s expansion in the region. For the reality is that every country around Serbia is either in NATO or wants to be.
The story of the Russian base started when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Belgrade last October. A new joint center for emergency co-ordination was to be created in the Serbian city of Nish. The site was to be on an all-but-unused airport there. Serbia’s Russian partner would be a powerful semi-military outfit whose activities include disaster relief, but allegedly with close ties with Russia’s security services.
Speculation mounted that the Nish facilities could be used for spying or military purposes. Nish is close to the point where Russia’s planned gas pipeline, South Stream, is to cross Serbian territory. The pipeline is a joint venture between Russia’s gas giant, Gazprom, and Italy’s energy company, Eni. The route crosses the Black Sea, enabling Russia to bypass Ukraine, seen as a troublesome transit country, and is to deliver gas direct to the Balkans, central Europe and Italy.
Serbia denies that Russia is opening a military facility. Officially Nish will not be a military base. Some eleven countries from the region were invited to a conference in Belgrade to discuss their part in the establishment of the logistics and training facility in Nish.
At the same time many observers now believe that oil, not worries about Serbian brutality or genocide in Kosovo, lay behind NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999, just as today in Libya. It’s the oil. Always the oil. After the war Americans built in Kosovo the huge military base, Camp Bondsteel. It appeared evident that the real purpose of the base was to safeguard the U.S. promoted AMBO oil pipeline that aimed to pump Russian and Caspian oil across the Black Sea, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania to Europe.
Militarization in Serbia is a valid consideration. This time however by Russia as a response to NATO occupation of the Balkans and East Europe. Serbia is a major buyer of Russian arms. Belgrade stands to receive from Russia a 10 billion USD loan, 3 billion of which to be spent on Russian arms to upgrade outdated Serbian defensive weapons. Russia also offers Serbia sorely needed fourth-generation jet aircraft.
The Serbian missile defense system which was practically destroyed during the war in 1999 showed that it was impossible to repulse NATO aggression with missile complexes developed during the 1960s and the 1970s. Serbia may now purchase two divisions of Russia’s renowned S-300 surface-to-air systems or an export variant of S-400.
Practically all radar stations in Serbia were also destroyed during the 1999 war. The country was deprived of the opportunity to control its own air space. There is every reason to believe that Belgrade will purchase Russian radar stations as well.
However, three billion dollars is not enough to modernize the air force, to rebuild the missile defense system and re-equip radar troops. Two divisions of Russian surface-to-air missile systems is not enough. What can two divisions do if the alliance can use hundreds of its fighter jets as it did in 1999? Nonetheless, Serbia is determined to rearm. Serbian rearmament is the result of NATO’s war on Serbia and the theft of Kosovo.
According to the Independent Military Survey newspaper, NATO would not impede Serbia’s initiative to rearm its armed forces with Russian arms. Even though part of the Belgrade administration wants to join NATO, the possession of Russian hardware was not an obstacle for other countries of Europe in obtaining NATO membership. Greece, for example, a member of NATO, buys S-300 systems from Russia.
The brutal reality however is that the EU and the USA would not welcome such a deal. Not for Serbia. NATO does not conceal its plans to separate Serbia from Russia. For the great secret across the world is America’s maniacal fear of Russia. Now, today, appear many such signs of a Russian renaissance in the troubled Balkans
On the other hand Serbs believe that their problems have not been solved. After the collapse of Socialist Yugoslavia, many conflict areas remained in Serbia. There’s every reason to believe that the NATO shield would not defend Serbia in the future in cases of serious conflicts. For the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) took the side of the Albanians in Kosovo and detached it, that is, stole it, from Serbia.
And lest anyone forget, bloody World War I began when the Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the Hapsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo. In Yugoslavia. In the Balkans. So, an eye on the Balkans, NATO-USA occupied. Except for lonely Serbia.
(*Thanks to Sergei Balmasov for his article in Pravda about Russia and Serbia.)
Gaither Stewart, Featured Writer on Dandelion Salad, Senior Editor of Cyrano’s Journal Online and The Greanville Post and Special European Correspondent for both, is a novelist, reporter and essayist on historical and cultural topics. His observations, often controversial, are published on many venues across the web. He’s based in Rome. Stewart’s latest novel is The Trojan Spy, a thriller and morality tale in the tradition of John LeCarré.