From Sun Sep 1 13:22:16 2002
Date: Sat, 31 Aug 2002 11:36:57 -0500 (CDT)
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Subject: German invasion in Yugoslavia
Article: 144374
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German invasion in Yugoslavia

By Eve-Ann Prentice, The Spectator, 24 August 2002

Belgrade—The Serbian traveller was incandescent at the communist-style red tape which ensnared him when he went to buy a Yugoslav Airlines ticket. You deserve to be sold off to Lufthansa, he shouted at the girl behind the counter.

In a land rich in expletives, that was perhaps not much of an insult, but the man at least exposed the growing unease in Yugoslavia over a new Germanic invasion in the country. What the Austro-Hungarian empire and then the Nazis failed to win by force of arms in the first and second world wars—supremacy in the Balkans—Germany is now about to achieve by money and stealth.

German companies have bought much of the Serbian media, including 50 per cent of the former pillar of communism, the daily newspaper Politika, and taken a stake in TV Kosova, the broadcasting outlet set up by Slobodan Milosevic's daughter, Marija. Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung has invested 25 million euros in Politika, and the biggest European publishing house in Germany, Grunner & Jahr, has bought 49 per cent of the Belgrade tabloid Blic. Another German company has expressed interest in buying up the water utilities in Montenegro, the mountain republic which with Serbia makes up what remains of the Yugoslav federation. This month, the German government also decided to donate ten million euros for the reconstruction of central-heating plants in the cities of Belgrade, Nis and Novi Sad.

On the same day the airline passenger was ranting at Yugoslav Airlines, a Serbian doctor looked rueful when I asked him how his eight-year-old son was faring in English lessons at school. The gynaecologist stroked his child's head.They don't teach them English any more, he said.Instead he is being taught German. Add to this the fact that Germany's old wartime ally, Croatia, has published a map which inadvertently contains little nibbles of Serbian territory in the north, and you may understand why Serbs are feeling even more paranoid than usual.

In a region where history is never consigned to the dustbin, ancient hostilities are dusted down almost daily. Old photographs of fathers, brothers, grandfathers and cousins remind both Serbs and Croats of the loved ones they lost in the second world war—when the Serbs rescued British airmen and thousands of Jews from the German and Croatian fascists - and later, in the 1990s civil war.

Now new rumblings of discontent can be heard; Vojvodina, the flat, northern, breadbasket province of Serbia, comprises 60 per cent Hungarians, who are showing signs of wanting to go their own way. There is another Germanic root here: remember the Austro-Hungarian empire? Vojvodina also borders Croatia, the two territories separated by the mighty Danube. But a recently published official map of Croatia showed a frontier which encompassed the river and took in nearby Serbian towns and villages such as Apatin and Sonta. The Croats said it was just a slip of the pen.

Tensions between Serbs and Hungarians in Vojvodina may come to a head on 1 September, when the town of Subotica commemorates the day that the Austro-Hungarian Empress Maria Theresa granted it the status of a royal free town in 1779. Usually, one member from each ethnic group there receives a merit award each anniversary for outstanding contributions to society. This year Serbs are angry because none of them will receive an award, only Croats and Hungarians.

In late July there was a skirmish on the border between Croatia and Vojvodina when Serb soldiers opened fire too close for comfort to a boatload of Croatians sailing down the Danube at Backa Palanta. The Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic, was forced to apologise, but the Croats have retorted that saying sorry is not enough. That same weekend, a former Serbian television presenter and pop star, Zoran Tomasovic, was at a family funeral near the Vojvodina town of Kovilj, when he and his relatives were shouted at by roadside vegetable traders and told togo back to Serbia.

All this might be perceived as a little local difficulty were it not for the old Serbo-Germanic antagonisms. The Serbs of Vojvodina will not forget the bitter Croatian civil war of 1991-92, or the ethnic cleansing of more than 200,000 Serbs from the Krajina area of Croatia in August 1995, not least because tens of thousands of these Serb refugees are now living in Vojvodina. Nor can they forget that it was Germany which helped propel Croatia into civil war in 1991. The then foreign minister in Bonn, Hans Dietrich Genscher, pressed Britain and other Western European countries to recognise Croatia as an independent country even before the government of Franjo Tudjman had met the usual criteria for independence, such as having secure borders and a free press. The Croatian civil war broke out days later.

With presidential elections being held in Yugoslavia in late September, Serbs are also only too aware that their Prime Minister, Mr Djindjic, has closely allied himself with the Germans and is a personal friend of Chancellor Schroeder. Latest opinion polls for the presidential race put Mr Djindjic well down in the field with 8 per cent of support, while the current Yugoslav President, Vojislav Kostunica, and the deputy premier of Yugoslavia, Miroljub Labus, have 22 per cent each.

Germany's deepening involvement is just one result of years of interference in the Balkans, masquerading as assistance, by Messrs Blair and Clinton - and later Bush. Essentially, Yugoslavia was torn apart by a series of bloody civil wars which have had close parallels with the Northern Ireland conflict. There have been vile and dark deeds perpetrated by all—as well as innocent victims on all sides, whether Muslim, Croat, Kosovo Albanian or Serb.

The West, however, led in large part by Germany, would have us believe that all these interventions, which we paid for, were initiated in Croatia, then Bosnia and finally Kosovo and Serbia to protect the innocent. And for the innocent, readeveryone except the Serbs. To suggest the contrary is, of course, to be portrayed as a Serb-loving monster. What the West, especially Germany, Britain and America, do not want is any close scrutiny of the legacy left by the years ofcompassion-based involvement in the region. German economic supremacy is only part of the equation.

One of the biggest and best-kept secrets is that Bosnia, far from being a settled nation, is now a hotbed of hardline mujahedin. Islamic fighters from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan went to the republic during the civil war of 1992-95 and many are still in the country today. Last October, for instance, just weeks after the cataclysm of 11 September, the British and American embassies in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, were forced to close for five days after the building was besieged by angry Muslims protesting at attempts by Western forces to deport suspected Islamic terrorists in the region to Cuba.

Kosovo is a mess: the few Serbs still living there have to stay within tightly guarded enclaves or risk death at the hands of ethnic Albanians under the very noses of the world's so-called peacekeepers. Last week about a dozen UN peacekeepers were hurt when hundreds of ethnic Albanians went on the rampage in the town of Decane because the UN had arrested one of their number on charges of murder and torture. Such incidents are rarely covered by the Western press, and for that politicians in Whitehall and Capitol Hill must be grateful—the mayhem does not fit the picture of the Kosovo success story they would like us all to believe. Huge amounts of heroin meanwhile reach London via Kosovo; and kidnapped girls are bundled off to the brothels of Europe, including Soho, courtesy of Albanian gangs.

In a typical, but little-reported, sign of how the West still treats Serbia and Serbs, the US Senate this month threatened to reduce aid to development projects in Serbia by the amount spent on similar institutions in Kosovo, according to the Serbian deputy prime minister, Nebojsa Covic. So continued and increasing German investment is likely to be encouraged by Herr Schroeder's friend Zoran Djindjic.

Serbian airline passengers have a disconcerting habit of applauding when their pilot lands the aircraft, almost as if they hardly believe he can achieve the feat until it is accomplished. If Lufthansa ever does take over Yugoslav Airlines, the clapping may become a thing of the past.