Europe after KFOR

The ethics of 1945 have returned. Once again US (and British) troops are cheered as liberators in Europe, by a population who had lived in fear of their lives. The left in Europe can no longer hide behind the excuse, that NATO strategy would not work. It worked. KFOR has entered Kosovo victoriously, and ended the atrocities of the Serb forces - without losing a single soldier. NATO supporters would say, that to oppose the entry of US troops into Kosovo, is like opposing the entry of US troops into Dachau. True. So is it not time for Europe to re-assess the ethics of 1945?

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US troops at the liberation of Dachau, April 1945

The Kosovo war has changed Europe more than '1989'. If you want to understand that, think of Tony Blair as BRD-Chancellor in 1989. Months of bombing of the DDR, thousands of dead, the infrastructure in ruins, TV studios bombed, no water or electricity, clouds of poisonous gas from the burning chemical plants, attacks with special bombs on Pankow and the Normannenstrasse, and finally the triumphal entry of NATO troops into Leipzig and East Berlin, greeted by cheering crowds of hungry people.

Post-KFOR Europe is a Europe of aggressive and confident liberalism and neo-liberalism. No more waiting for Velvet Revolutions: now it is the military who enforce democracy. And that is not a contradiction: historically, democracy in Europe did not come "from the people". Apart from the original democracies, it was usually enforced from outside. Democracies seldom go to war with each other: instead they attempt the 'democratic conquest' of non-democracies. The neo-liberal market democracies can now do that without opposition in Europe.

So 'Kosovo' is 1945, not 1989. Daniel Goldhagen, at least, sees this clearly. In A New Serbia, he proposes for Serbia what the US did to western Germany: liberal market-democracy enforced by military occupation. The images from Kosovo emphasise the analogy with 1945. NATO soldiers stand beside the burnt bodies of atrocity victims, NATO soldiers are greeted by cheering crowds.

The great difference is that there is only one liberating force, bringing one ideology. In 1945, Stalin sent 5 million soldiers for the final campaign against Germany. In 1999, Russia sent 200 soldiers to Pristina, and they had to beg British soldiers for water. The NATO can confidently claim continuity with the 'liberators of 1945': and of course that was what Joschka Fischer, Tony Blair, Robin Cook and Rudolf Scharping said. No others can compete for recognition as liberators: the NATO saved the Kosovo Albanians, NATO alone.

So now we have a Europe, where leaders such as Tony Blair believe they have a moral right to rule. They no longer see their ideology as a political preference, but as a moral absolute. They see market democracy, if not as the absolute good, then at least as the answer to absolute evil. They identify its opponents increasingly with defenders of dictatorship and atrocities, or simply as Nazis. In other words, market-democratic governments are less and less legitimised, by the claim to embody the will of the people, but more by the claim 'Us or Auschwitz!' The Atlanta Jewish Times gave the best explanation, for the repeated comparisons between Kosovo and the Holocaust:

"Why the comparisons to the Holocaust? In a world of moral relativism, the Holocaust has become the symbol of absolute evil and hence the cornerstone of all values."
Not just leaders, but a majority in western Europe believes, that the society in which they live, is the answer to that absolute evil. Their leaders are ready to kill for this belief, and the majority accepts this as legitimate. What state could have a better legitimation? What better political triumph than that of Tony Blair: to militarily defeat a industrialised state without losing a single soldier; to save more than a million people; and to enter Kosovo in triumph before the eyes of the world.

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Prisoners at Dachau cheer US troops, April 1945

In contrast, the opposition to the war in Europe brought nothing but stupidity. Some opponents retreated into a defence of the nation state and national sovereignty. Other tried the opposite approach: they complained that the NATO was not defending Tibetans or other favourite minorities. But since NATO discovered that new technology can defeat large armies without battle losses, perhaps they will. With a military superiority unique in history, the temptation to 'do another Kosovo' will be great. Africa is full of secessionist movements, which would gladly accept US support. Bombing campaign, liberation by US troops, cheering crowds, new pro-western ally. It is stupid and inconsistent, to argue against intervention, by asking for more intervention.

The hope in some third force has also been exposed as an illusion. The war showed that the opposition in Serbia was not an 'alternative' to Milosevic and the NATO. It became simply an instrument of the NATO: in the KFOR protectorate it will be an instrument of the OSCE. Especially the so-called 'independent media' failed completely as a third force. Within weeks Radio B92, the favourite of west European intellectuals and artists, was broadcasting from NATO aircraft. The Pristina newspaper Koha Ditore was simply bought by the British government, when its staff fled to Albania.

In western Europe itself, anti-war protests were small, and had no effect on the course of the war. Part of the peace movement converted to support for the NATO. And although western Europe has a large and complex 'civil society', that had no effect either. It is not an alternative to market democracy, it is part of it. Anyone who thought, that selling Greenpeace t-shirts prevents wars, has been disappointed. (Anyone who thought, that Green Parties prevent wars, has been even more disappointed).

So it is not surprising that 'Europe' has also been humiliated. No-one thinks it unusual that mass graves in Kosovo will be investigated by the FBI. 'Europe' can offer no alternative, either for mass murders or for their investigation. It is reduced to a dependency, with American police officers, and American judges, in English-speaking courts - an example repeated in many areas of society and culture. But in any case there is no separate entity 'Europe'. There are nation states: either allies of the United States, or financially dependent on allies of the United States. In some countries, 'politics' consists of the government and the Soros Foundation. The only political 'alternatives' with large support are unattractive: ethno-nationalism, cultural retreats such as pan-Slavism, the religious-conservative rejection of the consumer society, or the radical Islamism among Muslim migrants. No surprise then, that neo-liberals like Bodo Hombach and Peter Mandelson can design the future Europe. Before Mandelson resigned over a financial scandal, they began the manifesto now published by Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder: Europe: The Third Way/Die Neue Mitte.

The outlook for the next 10 years in Europe is: a combination of increasingly radical neo-liberal restructuring, increasingly conformist and market-oriented societies, liberal expansionism in eastern Europe by military force or the threat of force, fixing of the number of states and their boundaries by the USA, incorporation of east European states as second-class aid-dependent members of the EU, consolidation of political power in Europe in the hands of an English-speaking elite, an underclass excluded from all political process, construction of a backward-looking 'museum-Europe' identity, acceptance of Anglo-American liberalism as the source of political ethics, the beginnings of a European constitution copied from the US Constitution - and all this without any serious opposition to these processes. And so long as the majority in Europe thinks the only alternative to this is Adolf Hitler, gas chambers, mass graves and rape camps, there will be no end to this trend, and no innovation.

So what about this terrible choice? The entry of US troops into a concentration camp in 1945 can not be described as 'liberation', any more than the NATO has 'liberated' Kosovo. They did not come to bring 'absolute freedom' (if such a thing exists). They came to bring a political, social, and ethical system to western Europe. It was not 'foreign' culture, since it originated in European thought. At first Germany was excluded from this plan, but as the Cold War started it too was included. The point is, the United States and its allies brought this Europe, to replace Hitler's Europe. So although Europeans were not liberated in the sense of being 'absolutely free', there was a historical choice in 1945. Now they face similar choices.

Which would you choose, thousands of prisoners starved in Dachau, or the free market economy? It is no use complaining that you would like a third option. The US Army did not offer a third option. Which would you choose, mass murders in Kosovo or the free market economy? It is no use complaining that you would like a third option. The NATO does not offer a third option. Which would you choose, the Third Way or certain death for Albanians unprotected by British troops? It is no use complaining that you would like a third option. Tony Blair does not offer a third option.

Like you, I have no power. Like you, I do not determine which choices are offered to me. I can only answer yes or no, to the questions. So I thought about these questions, during the Kosovo war, and my answers are these:

  • I would not accept a free market economy in Europe, in order to save thousands of prisoners from starvation in Dachau.
  • I would not accept a free market economy in Europe, in order to prevent mass murders in Kosovo.
  • I would oppose the implementation of the neo-liberal Hombach/Blair/Schröder manifesto Europe: The Third Way/Die Neue Mitte, even if that meant certain death for Albanians in Kosovo.
After all, I put no-one in a concentration camp. I shot no Albanians. I have fulfilled my moral responsibility to the victims, by not joining the SS or Serbian paramilitary groups. I have no extra moral obligation to vote for Tony Blair or Joschka Fischer, or support their policies, or support the presence of US troops in Europe. If this planet can only be neo-liberal or Nazi, then a morality of cynicism and indifference is the best. When you see another mass grave on television, ask yourself "By what logic does this oblige me to support the society in which I live?"

If the US troops who liberated Dachau, or KFOR in Kosovo, had brought a perfectly good and just world, then perhaps there would be some obligation to support their actions. But neither the free market, nor any form of liberal society, are good, let alone perfect. So despite all the claims, there are no moral obligations involved. It is ultimately political bluff, to demand support for a political and social order by reference to atrocities, however appalling. The 'ethics of 1945' are shocking propaganda about horrible events, but still propaganda. However it is all very successful as politics, and Tony Blair and Joschka Fischer especially are very clever politicians. But, clever as they are, they have no answer when their bluff is called. I suggest you try that.