A New York Times reporter was stunned when a thunderous applause echoed in a Belgrade cinema in 1996 during a scene in the movie Independence Day, in which a deadly ray from a flying saucer shattered the Congress building and then the White House. The author of the report from Belgrade “captured” a very important detail at that time, which portrayed the political mood in Serbia in the first year after the Balkan wars, in which Serbia officially never participated. He certainly expected sighs of fear and sympathy with the destruction of Washington under the invasion of aliens, but “Kozara” then resonated with enthusiasm that at least someone put those Americans in their place. Even the “little green men” on the movie screen.
Even after 25 years, he would not have sent a different text from Belgrade, if, for example, the “Kozara” cinema was still open and if, for example, the Taliban newsreel about entering Kabul was shown in it. Given how part of the politically interested public in Serbia reacted to the events in Afghanistan, it would not be a surprise if the city cinemas resounded with applause on the scenes of the Taliban’s triumph. If humans can cheer even against their own kind in the war against aliens, why not be against the Americans when they fight against their own according to biology, even if they are Islamic extremists.
In recent years, the number of people in Serbia who consider America as the enemy of their country has been declining, but there are still about 40% of them (Institute for European Affairs), two years ago that hostility was felt by every other Serbian citizen. So, almost half of the population still has no dilemma that America is the enemy of Serbia, and if we add to that all those indifferent or those who do not see Americans as enemies, but also not as Serbian friends – there are almost full cinemas satisfied that after 20 years of “forcing democracy” killed an American cow in some distant Afghanistan.
Malice due to the American withdrawal from Afghanistan is rolling among Serbian users of social media, and it is also present in the life of “high” politics and mainstream media. Analytically, it does not go beyond satisfaction due to the loss in the neighboring livestock, mentioned also in the popular catchphrase. The other side (the Taliban) as the American antipode in the Afghan catastrophe almost no one talks about. It doesn’t matter – a quarter of a century ago, aliens, today Islamic extremists, it is important that Americans lose.
The inconsistency in political thinking here has clinical proportions, and the case of Afghanistan, although it has nothing to do with Serbia, is a serious alarm signal due to the huge misunderstanding of the world around Serbia. Such a misunderstanding of important historical events in the last few decades has been tragic for the country.
First of all, any satisfaction, let alone observing with pleasure American and allied withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is in abundance in the Serbian public space these days, is at the same time accepting an alternative to the American presence in Afghanistan, and the alternative is civilizationally frightening. Religious fanatics, armed to their teeth, followers of a perverted, militant and corrupt (per)version of Islam, ready to return the medieval social regime to the 21st century. At the same time, is a strong anti-American sentiment (legitimately) possible with the penetration of the most backward and repressive ideology that the modern world has seen?
Second, how is it possible to accuse America for decades of being a world policeman, an aggressive empire that overthrows regimes around the world and imposes its model and at the same time accusing it of being self-centered because it left Afghanistan, leaving the people at the mercy of the Taliban? In other words – is America or is it not a world policeman, that is, is it good or bad?
Furthermore, if a large number of people in Serbia believed that the era of Donald Trump would bring a turn in world politics, and even embraced him as a friend of Serbia, “our man”, how did they miss that he signed that the United States would withdraw from Afghanistan? He did not sign it with the pro-American government in Kabul, but with the Taliban back in February last year, leaving his successor Biden to do so until May 31 this year. The deal with the Islamists, which Trump called “historic”, was removed from the website by his Republican Party these days. Out of shame.
How is it possible that even in the Afghan case, the malicious mantra about the unsuccessful American imposition of its model of democracy on people who want to preserve their specifics is repeated? Serbian “analysts” talk a lot about that. All right, this American effort failed in Afghanistan, and what is left as an alternative? Stoning women who work or move unaccompanied by men, or refuse to hand over their underage daughters to liberators as sexual prey?
What are we going to do with the confusion about things that could have something to do with Serbia? The refugees for example. Can someone, at the same time, be happy about the American defeat and angry that it will bring thousands of Afghan refugees to the southern and eastern borders of Serbia? Yes, the same refugees that the same political thought in Serbia speaks of as a security problem, a risk to children and property, a threat to our way of life. Decide – are you either gloating over the American army that is “fleeing” and accepting Afghan refugees as your own, or are you angry with the Americans who brought a river of migrants to Serbia with their departure? It can’t be half. From one historical situation, we cannot choose only those consequences that suit us, they must be accepted in their entirety, with all the good and bad sides.
What are the TV people thinking about these days while they are relentlessly repeating the worn-out phrase about Afghanistan as the “tomb of empires”, because it was not conquered by the British in the 19th, the Soviets in the 20th, and now the Americans in the 21st century? Are these recommendations that we should admire the heroism of the unconquered people of Afghanistan, a country whose economy is based on the production of heroin, and 80% of its budget comes from foreign aid? A state in which war is a permanent state, and peace is an illusion, a society in which the richest people are corrupt military generals because war is the biggest business? To celebrate the heroism of the people whose hundreds of thousands have been fleeing their homeland headlong for decades, and in recent days holding on to the wheels of planes on takeoff?
The American withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years is one of those historical events that will determine relations in the world in the long run. One of those whose full understanding is vital to us, because its consequences will reach Serbia very quickly, faster than we think. It is worrying if we treat it guided by prejudices, stereotypes and a black-and-white image, which was installed here only a few years before the mentioned screening of Independence Day in the Belgrade cinema “Kozara”. And which, unfortunately, is still very much alive and influential today. It would be enough, for a start, to give a chance and full attention to the speech of US President Biden on the crisis in Afghanistan. To miss those 18 minutes, in which the American policy in Afghanistan in the previous 20 years is summarized, its motives and interests to deal with that country at all, to spend a thousand billion dollars on it and sacrifice thousands of its people, and after all that to withdraw and announce what this will mean in the future would be an unforgivable mistake in understanding both the past and the future. And in order for Biden’s speech to be fully understood, the words of his famous predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt from 1941, when he motivated his nation to resist the totalitarianism that conquered the world, must be kept in mind: “Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory”.