Thursday, June 21, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [6]


I wish I were a better prose stylist, if only so I could more righteously scoff at the awkward syntax of this opening sentence:

"Unlike most nations, Yugoslavia was built on an idea, Ramsey Clark once noted."

Any high school English teacher could tell you that the sentence would read better as:

"Ramsey Clark once noted that Yugoslavia, unlike most nations, was built on an idea."

It may be a direct quote from Clark, in which case it should probably read:

"Ramsey Clark once noted "Unlike most nations, Yugoslavia was built on an idea."

Either option is preferable to the original. But perhaps Parenti has a good reason for the clumsy construction of the opening sentence of Chapter Two; perhaps deep underneath his sense of righteous superiority lies some shred of respect for truth and honesty and integrity. Maybe, in spite of himself, Parenti subconsciously realizes that there is something shameful and disingenuous in using a comment by Ramsey Clark to illuminate Yugoslav history.

Perhaps. But I doubt it. I don't think Clark is in here accidentally, any more than Gregory Elich and Barry Lituchy are the Balkan "experts" mentioned first in the Acknowledgments by chance, or that somehow Joan Phillips of Living Marxism is the "journalist and filmaker" quoted in Chapter One. No accident at all.


At any rate, the idea that Clark was referring to was "Yugoslavism", a somewhat progressive strand of nationalism that was later more or less co-opted by Tito; Parenti wastes not a word on pre-WWII Yugoslavia. Parenti approvingly lists some of the social and economic accomplishments of the socialist Federation (which were not negligible), and then states:

"This was not the kind of country that global capitalism would normally countenance."

And so, with the end of the Cold War, "global capitalism" but Yugoslavia in its crosshairs. This is standard left-Balkan revisionism, but it is remarkable how Parenti does not even bother finding biased sources for his accusation that the US set out to

"transform the FRY into a Third World region, a cluster of weak right-wing principalities with the following characteristics:"

The characteristics are: being incapable of acting independently of US control; natural resources open to exploitation by international corporations; the population impoverished in order to create a literate and skilled by desperate labor pool; the dismantling of the industrial infrastructure in order to remove competition to Western firms. And, of course, completely dismantle the public sector and social services. That's quite an ambitious plan--pity that Parenti doesn't share his copy with the reader. I would be very curious to learn how he knows all this.

Parenti, like Diana Johnstone, cribs from Susan Woodward's "Balkan Tragedy" to retell the sad tale of Yugoslavia's descent into debt to Western creditors and the IMF. We are asked, again, to believe that this very real--but hardly apocalyptic--economic crisis precipitated the wars of the 1990s. The inefficiencies and deficiencies of Communist Yugoslavia's system are simply not considered at all. Evil Western bankers had the Yugoslav government by the pursestrings and they squeezed until they could get no more blood. At least that is the intended impression.

There is another of those "box asides" at this point; a segment from an NPR broadcast featuring an administrator from USAID and a delegate from the European Commission discussing the likelihood of involvement of the US and European private sector in the economic reconstruction of Yugoslavia. I suppose if I were an orthodox Communist this would all be terribly ominous.

Woodward, as far as I know (at some point I will need to tackle her book), believed that Western economic intervention was a factor in sparking the wars; Parenti, like most Left Balkan revisionists, prefer to imagine that such intervention was the primary policy of the US and its allies. So while she blames IMF austerity measures for helping to destabilize Yugoslavia and create a social crisis, Parenti and company believe that this is the key to understanding the entire mess.

So at the end of the chapter, Parenti summarizes the situation in two paragraphs which manage to ignore all else that went on in the Western Balkans during the decade of the 1990s. The second to last chapter starts with this sentence:

"By 1991, the international creditors were in control of monetary policy."

That paragraph goes on to claim that the country was actually divided up by these creditors--his authority on the subject is fellow revisionist Michel Chossudovsky. And then the next paragraph, like any text by a Balkan revisionist, follows a narrative with no temporal constraints and floats from one decontextualized 'fact' to another in service to a predetermined theme. Here are some excerpts:

"Through all this, the Serbian Republic was to prove especially troublesome." "In the 1990s the rump Yugoslav federation...continued to prove refractory." "As late as 1999, more than three-quarters of its basic industry was still publicly owned."

It's as if there was nothing of interest other than privatization going on in the former Yugoslavia during that period. And if I were to look for a fact about Serbia that was relevant to the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo during that period, I don't know if the the percentage of the national economy still under centralized control would be the first thing to leap to mind. But, in Parenti's warped view, this rather uninteresting fact is all the proof the reader should need to prove that Yugoslavia was bombed in 1999 in order to privatize its economy.


There is a second boxed aside at the end of this chapter, entitled "Not Cleansed Enough", and this one doesn't even bother to find facts to twist and misrepresent. Parenti makes note of the streets and buildings in Belgrade which still bear Communist names. Parenti writes

"Surely, I thought to myself, as I read such street signs, US leaders will not leave this country alone until those names are changed to "IMF Avenue" and "Morgan Trust Way", or at least renamed after some orthodox saints or reactionary military heroes of yore."

Gosh, I bet Parenti is a hoot at parties--"IMF Avenue"? The labored unfunnyness of that crack in cringe-inducing. What is funny, in a cyncial way, are the second pair of options. It is simply laughable that he would think it would be American overlords--rather than truly reactionary Serbian nationalists--who would rename streets after Orthodox saints and, say, Draza Mihailovic.

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