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:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and Henry the First: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail