FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Drowning in the Balkans

by

Behind every calamity of nature lies a political response. Human communities eventually need to find the cause, the hand that made things worse, what might have been done better. The Bosnian and Serbian floods have made the opponents of the government hungry. The animal is wounded, and as the Balkans drowns, a dividend is being reaped. Whether the Prime Minister accompanies a rescue effort or not, there are criticisms; when he is not there, the opposition complain that he is invisible and indifferent.

In Serbia and Bosnia, crops have been destroyed by broken banks and failed barriers. Power infrastructure is being threatened. Mining has been disrupted, and the functioning of two hydro-power plants of the Serbian power utility company EPS halted. Unexploded land mines from the civil war of 1992-5 are also being disturbed. Sports stadia are being filled; tents and shelters erected. If governments can fold because of the price of foodstuffs, there is every reason to assume the same in the event of environmental calamity. Fragile states are often at the mercy, not merely of their governors, but the elements.

Then there is the sense of battle over how humanitarian, and effective, an effort can be. Help has been forthcoming from neighbours. Macedonia has been providing assistance. Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia have also added their presence, along with such EU states as Germany, Austria and Britain. Donations are streaming in, as are foot stuffs and water.

But it is Russian rescue efforts which have proven to be formidable, credited with saving thousands of lives. In one operation at Obrenovac, site of Serbia’s biggest power plant, 393 people, including 79 children were rescued. The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry (EMERCOM) despatched members of the Tsentropas airmobile team with a degree of immediacy last week, after a request from Belgrade for help was received.

There was even the suggestion that Russians did more than the Serb forces combined, giving a sense of woe as to where Serbia’s own prowess in civil protection had gone. The skills of the 76 or so divers with updated “equipment and techniques” on the part of the Russian rescue team, equipped with K-32 helicopters and Illyushin IL-76 aircraft, were praised.

In this effort, a political note has emerged. The Russians have been effective and enthusiastic, salutary to a long fraternal association with the Serbian state. The European Union has been half-hearted, even cold, asserting its bullying posture over admitting Serbia to the club, but indifferent to its times of need. In the words of Svetlana Maksovic, writing for the Serbian monthly Geopolitika, “many Serbian people are upset by the reaction, or lack of reaction thereof, of the European Union, especially after EU Foreign Policy Head Catherine Ashton did nothing more than send her condolences” (Voice of Russia, May 17).

A the Voice of Russia noted, almost with a degree of smug satisfaction, “The Russian Federation has been the first country to respond during the dire time of need of the Serbian people with many Serbians dismayed by the almost complete lack of response from the European Union and other countries.” Milica Djurdjevic, head of public relations with the patriotic organisation Srpski sabor Zavetnici, was adamant in praise about how Serbia “immediately received material help from our historical friends and allies from the Russian Federation.” Such a sentiment suggests that EU officials would be wise to front up to the way natural disasters figure in political narratives. Russia, as it has done in its interventions in Europe, is gaining plaudits.

The questions are gathering in number. Did the warning to evacuate come too late? In a sense, the lethargic, even complacent response to the floods could not be faulted – its scale took most by surprise. Many simply did not want to believe it. Rescuers who came up to some residents, urging them to leave, were rebuffed. According to Sinisa Mali, describing the early stage of the floods, “A man was refused to leave his home as suggested by rescuers and drowned overnight in Umcari.” Some residents of Obrenovac have shown similar stubbornness in terms of being evacuated, so much so that the Minister for Labor, Employment, Social Affairs and Veterans, Aleksander Vulin, has become desperate. Everything, he assures, is there for the evacuees. Don’t tempt fate.

In all of this, the meteorologists have become the new apostles of gloom, though on this occasion, their warnings of total submerging were treated as minor murmurings. The subtext in the response was that it could surely not happen. Stay in the homes and weather the storm.

The suggestion coming from weather watchers was not merely that the floods were the worst in 120 years, but in centuries. This is not the freak show of a malevolent divinity, the ‘act of God’ insurance companies like citing. This may well be standard fare, a recurring feature of a malevolent, angry climate that makes rescue and response efforts miniature in scale. In such cases, it is not merely the dams that burst, put the political will to maintain stability.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 27, 2017
Darlene Dubuisson – Mark Schuller
“You Live Under Fear”: 50,000 Haitian People at Risk of Deportation
Karl Grossman
The Crash of Cassini and the Nuclearization of Space
Robert Hunziker
Venezuela Ablaze
John W. Whitehead
Trump’s America is a Constitution-Free Zone
Ron Jacobs
One Hundred Years That Shook the World
Judith Deutsch
Convenient Untruths About “Human Nature:” Can People Deal with Climate Change and Nuclear Weapons?
Don Fitz
Is Pope Francis the World’s Most Powerful Advocate for Climate Stability?
Thomas Mountain
Africa’s War Lord Queen: The Bloodstained Career of Liberia’s Eleanor Sirleaf Johnson
Binoy Kampmark
Short Choices: the French Presidential Elections
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Monetizing My Mouth
Michael Barker
Of Union Dreams and Nightmares: Cesar Chavez and Why Funding Matters
Elier Ramirez Cañedo
“Let Venezuela give me a way of serving her, she has in me a son.”
Paul Mobbs
Cellphones, WIFI and Cancer: Will Trump’s Budget Cuts Kill ‘Electrosmog’ Research?
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
The Closing of Rikers: a Survival Strategy of the Carceral State
April 26, 2017
Richard Moser
Empire Abroad, Empire At Home
Stan Cox
For Climate Justice, It’s the 33 Percent Who’ll Have to Pick Up the Tab
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Machine Called Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
The Dilemma for Intelligence Agencies
Christy Rodgers
Remaining Animal
Joseph Natoli
Facts, Opinions, Tweets, Words
Mel Gurtov
No Exit? The NY Times and North Korea
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Women on the Move: Can Three Women and a Truck Quell the Tide of Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse?
Michael J. Sainato
Trump’s Wikileaks Flip-Flop
Manuel E. Yepe
North Korea’s Antidote to the US
Kim C. Domenico
‘Courting Failure:’ the Key to Resistance is Ending Animacide
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Legacy of Lynne Stewart, the People’s Lawyer
Andrew Stewart
The People vs. Bernie Sanders
Daniel Warner
“Vive La France, Vive La République” vs. “God Bless America”
April 25, 2017
Russell Mokhiber
It’s Impossible to Support Single-Payer and Defend Obamacare
Nozomi Hayase
Prosecution of Assange is Persecution of Free Speech
Robert Fisk
The Madder Trump Gets, the More Seriously the World Takes Him
Giles Longley-Cook
Trump the Gardener
Bill Quigley
Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing
Jack Random
Little Fingers and Big Egos
Stanley L. Cohen
Dissent on the Lower East Side: the Post-Political Condition
Stephen Cooper
Conscientious Justice-Loving Alabamians, Speak Up!
Michael J. Sainato
Did the NRA Play a Role in the Forcing the Resignation of Surgeon General?
David Swanson
The F-35 and the Incinerating Ski Slope
Binoy Kampmark
Mike Pence in Oz
Peter Paul Catterall
Green Nationalism? How the Far Right Could Learn to Love the Environment
George Wuerthner
Range Riders: Making Tom Sawyer Proud
Clancy Sigal
It’s the Pits: the Miner’s Blues
Robert K. Tan
Abe is Taking Japan Back to the Bad Old Fascism
April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail