Thursday, March 17, 2005

Insult Them and They Will Come

As has been widely reported (see, for instance, here and here), the European Council decided Wednesday to postpone the opening of EU accession talks with the Republic of Croatia. The decision follows the assessment by chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte that Croatia has not done enough to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, notably in the case of the Croatian General Ante Gotovina. General Gotovina has been indicted by the Tribunal but remains at large. I do not want to enter here into the complexities of this case, which involves the Tribunal prosecuting General Gotovina for his execution of an operation – the Croatian Army’s 1995 “Operation Storm” – that the leading western Powers involved in Balkan diplomacy, in effect, condoned at the time and even facilitated. Indeed, “Operation Storm” – during which some 100,000 to 250,000 Serbs were expelled from Croatian territory – would not have been possible had not UN peacekeeping forces shortly before been redeployed from the hypothetical cease-fire line between Croatian Serb and Croatian government forces to Croatia’s external border.

Be that as it may, I want here merely to call attention to a remark attributed by Le Figaro in its Wednesday edition to an unnamed European diplomat and apparently made in response to Ms. Del Ponte's findings: “Croatia has just shown that contrary to what it maintains it is still very much part of the Balkans.”

The remark is symptomatic of a contemptuous attitude toward the inhabitants of the Balkan Peninsula that I am afraid is all too common among European officials. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is racist. If a European diplomat had said, for instance, “Rwanda has just shown that contrary to what it claims it is still very much part of Africa”, no one presumably would have any trouble recognizing this. I am reminded of the German diplomat Hanns Schumacher, who in 1998, while a high-ranking official in the international administration in Bosnia, had this to say in conversation with the since defunct German weekly Die Woche: “Whatever has been achieved, we have had to beat the Bosnians to do it.... Humanity has evolved from one-cell organisms by way of reptiles to standing upright. This state [Bosnia] is still at the reptile stage.”