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Europe, Germany, Italy

The crisis in the Balkans reflects Europe’s failure

Forget Berlin – to see the dark side of Europe we must look to Bosnia, the first victim of Friedman’s “shock therapy” on the Continent, says Emilio Molinari

If someone in the European elections wants to understand a little more of the dark side of the European Union, of the Fiscal Compact and the 3% budgetary constraint, it should stop looking at Berlin. It should take a week off and spend it in Bosnia, in Zenica, Tuzla and Sarajevo in particular, where protests, this time social and by workers cut across the divisions of war and ethnic cleansing.

To go to Sarajevo is to travel in history. Where 100 years ago the gunshot of Gavrilo Princip gave way to the two world wars, we have seen the rise of Europe ‘s laissez-faire capitalism, nationalism and the failure of social democracy. The century of the great massacres, but also the ideas of the liberal constitutions and vows to make Europe a continent united in peace and without racism. In Sarajevo the century started and in Sarajevo it also ended, in the rubble of the dream of different cultures living together.

A visit to the Balkans would be to journey into the omissis of democrats and the Left. It would be a return to neo-liberalism and the bad conscience of a Europe that always sees itself as so civilized, and ever more fascinated by the Central European and Germanic superiority. It would bring us back to the very Italian, provincial beliefs that civilization and democracy are always found in the north, and the Balkans are a black hole, a barbarism to ignore. But the Balkans are closer to us Italians than Paris.

A forgotten region

The Balkans are not in the itineraries of the people of the Left, of democrats, we are not conscious of this region, nor interested. They are erased as places inhabited by humanity. You go to the seaside in Croatia or hunting in Bosnia, but without seeing. If we want to see something, we and our kids go to London, Berlin, Paris, Barcelona. Bosnia is the place where, if you stop and look in the mirror, you see the hidden ugliness of the European soul. You see the tears, the great fault lines of the history of the Continent that meet and overlap. Those looking for European identity must go to Sarajevo amid the rags that still live today, and in memory of the many cultures that have made it: Greek, Roman , Slavic, Ottoman, Central European, Jewish, Italian, Gypsy.

In February of 1994 I began my journey into Bosnia, along with Agostino Zanotti and Michele Nardelli and many young people; we were part of a stream of visiting Europeans, messengers of reconciliation, of another Europe, ambassadors of local democracies. It was a trip we repeated several times, passing along all the roads through the midst of a Bosnia that was still smoking ruins, real and metaphorical, in the midst of the faces of war criminals.

Who is to blame?

Miles after mile we had long discussions among ourselves, trying to understand the meaning of the tragedy that struck our eyes, mind and heart, the systematic destruction of one neighbours by another, and the refugees. Was it worth asking: who is to blame?

The collapse of communism? The lifting of the lid maintained firmly in place by Tito, which for decades had hidden ancient hatreds? The failure to debate the conflicts of the past? Organized crime and political corruption, born in the belly of the apparatus of communism? The countryside’s hatred of the cities? The sell out by intellectuals to the new ethno-religious in power?

We were looking to blame the former Yugoslavia in the past, the failure of the world beyond the “curtain”. All these things are true, relevant, and should not be hidden or justified as a “Western plot”. But if we had been able to grasp the weight of the will of the European neoliberals in those events, we would have understood how they were, in different and new forms, the anticipation of the current economic and social disasters we see today in the EU, in Greece, in Italy. We did not ask why, while the German mark was the only unifying element across the warzone.

Europe’s responsibility

We would have taken a different view of the responsibility of Germany, the Vatican, European political parties, environmentalism and even some of the figures of the Italian pacifism that encouraged  the separation of Slovenia and Croatia from Serbia, and then Bosnia, where the separation was impossible.

We would have understood that at that time Europe was applying Milton Friedman’s “shock therapy” through which you impose on citizens the “structural reforms” that would otherwise face resistance. That the break up of Yugoslavia was the means to impose budget cuts, privatization of industry, liquidation of publicly enterprises and services, the sale of natural heritage. And everything that anticipated today’s current events.

We could already see in our travels among fresh rubble, the large trucks full of logs from forests laid waste, in the traffickers of toxic waste looking for landfills, factories dismembered and sold at the price of scrap to the multinationals.

Land and water grab

Today you can see it in the assault by Italian and German companies, with the dams, the water, the beautiful rivers of Bosnia, the mines and steel mills privatized, workers laid-off in droves, unemployment, the sale of land. A water and land grab, the silent hoarding of the waters and land on our doorstep, which now extends to Greece, to Italy and our artistic and natural heritage, which became policy in the European directives and in the Blueprint, the European water plan that announces the monetization of all water: the rivers, the lakes and the groundwater of the European Union.

Twenty-two years ago, in Bosnia, the European will to hold together all the cultures of the origins was put to the test, we placed a bet that we ourselves, the founders of the European Union, were able to transform it into a living community of peoples, no longer that of competition, of wars, nor vassals of the strongest economic powers or transnationals. The bet was lost and greed won.

That’s why you should go to Sarajevo to seek out the metaphor of the failure of the EU, our political parties, our arrogant modernity, the blindness and the logic of German power, which once again is laying waste. To return to the Miljacka bridge in Sarajevo, or the Neretva bridge in Mostar, in order to rethink Europe, not as a union of states, but as a community of peoples and common goods.


Translation by Revolting Europe

Emilio Molinari was an MEP for the Democrazia Proletaria – a radical Left formation established in the 1970s that later fused into Communist Refoundation party in 1991 – and he has been a strong campaigner against the privatisation of water. 

Michele Nardelli was also active in Democrazia Proletaria and later local politics in Trentino, helping establish the Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso a research centre, as part of his commitment to solidarity with the people of the Balkans and interest in the region. 

Agostino Zanotti has been active in solidarity with the people of the Balkans and is a survivor of a murderous attack on a humanitarian mission by Bosnian soldiers in May 1993.

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope


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