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How Not to Debate: My Reply to Agon Hamza (Concluding Part 2 of the Kosovo polemic)

With special thanks to MC, a LeftEast reader


For a rounded view of the Kosovo Question

It might be valuable, at this juncture, to go back to another key issue where there is a significant measure of agreement between my view and Hamza’s, even if Hamza is, much to my disappointment, so set on obscuring it.

For there is clearly agreement between us on Serbia’s shameful role as the oppressor of the Kosovo Albanians, ever since it occupied Kosovo in the First Balkan War of 1912 – and most recently during the appalling oppression of the 1990s.

There is also agreement between us on the internationalist duty of the Serbian Left in the light of this disgraceful history – to challenge the abject nationalist consensus on Kosovo, to oppose a nationalism replete with racist myths about Kosovo Albanians, and to oppose any political or military attempt by Serbia to ‘take back’ Kosovo in whole or in part.

Moreover, there is even a measure of agreement between us on what must be for the Serbian Left the distilled political expression of all these themes – the defence of Kosovo’s right to self-determination, that is, its right to independent statehood and recognition as such by Serbia.

At the same time – and here lies the real source of Hamza’s disagreement – we do have to acknowledge that the Kosovo Question today is not solely a matter of Albanian-Serbian relations.

Ever since the Kosovo War of 1999, another critical factor has bedevilled the Kosovo Question, one that, in Hamza’s Response, dare not even speak its name – the factor of US-led imperialism. Indeed, it is worth noting that the very term imperialism (let alone anti-imperialism) is absent from Hamza’s Response, an absence that is symptomatic of a broader failure to take a properly rounded view of the Kosovo Question.

Because if we are to treat this Question as the interconnected, if contradictory, whole it in fact is – and not as a jumble of discrete and disconnected parts – it follows that we need to integrate anti-imperialism into the concrete position we take on Kosovo.

For what we are dealing with here is not some incidental factor that can be relegated to the rank of merely subsidiary importance; quite the contrary, we are dealing with the most powerful and the most dangerous capitalist and imperialist force of our times – the uniquely global power of US-led imperialism.


US-led imperialism as a critical factor today

Let us recall why US-led imperialism is so critical a factor today. Ever since the end of the Cold War, the US has been the one and only imperialist power with a global military reach.

And despite its relative economic decline, the US remains the largest capitalist economy in the world, a position it seeks to maintain by exercising, in Badiou’s words, its “absolute military superiority”.[i] As he has also noted:

“The defence budget of the USA is higher than that of all the ‘great powers’ combined…There is here an impressive autonomy of the military factor, constituted around the motif of an irreversible disproportion between the USA and the rest of the world.”[ii]

And as we know only too well, the US has not hesitated to use, or threaten to use, the “enormous forces of destruction”[iii] at its disposal – in Iraq in 1991, in Somalia in 1993, in Bosnia in 1995, in Serbia and Kosovo in 1999, in Afghanistan in 2001, in Iraq in 2003. To this list we should add the “no-fly zone” over Iraq between 1992 and 2003, the relentless drone attacks in Pakistan since 2004, the numerous ‘anti-terrorist’ strikes here, there and everywhere, and the threats to Iran and Syria – “not to mention its persistent support for Israel in its relentless war against the Palestinians.”[iv]

No other imperialist power, neither Russia nor China, has undertaken, or threatened, military operations on so global a scale.

Moreover, we cannot in the Balkans ignore the epoch-making geopolitical somersault that also took place in Eastern Europe during these same years: the collapse of the Russian Empire and the Warsaw Pact, and the subsequent US-led incorporation of one Eastern European state after another into NATO and the EU.

There should be no illusions about the character of this incorporation. It was an imperialist incorporation, led and masterminded by the US in accordance with a planned policy of eastwards expansion to the borders of Russia. Its latest manifestation is, of course, the current crisis in Ukraine.[v]

It is in this key geopolitical context that we must place the US-led interventions in the Balkans of the 1990s, and the 1999 war against Serbia. Commenting that the official reasons given for this war were based on “an enormous bunch of lies”,[vi] Badiou has also explained:

“The war against Serbia served as a medium-scale test of the relationship of forces in the world after the collapse of the Soviet system and the end of the Cold War. The Americans wanted this war to humiliate the Russians, but without any direct confrontation, and to address a severe warning to the Chinese (who still believes that the US air force bombed the Chinese Embassy ‘by mistake’? Not the Chinese, in any case)….As a result, the war made NATO into the principal military apparatus on the planet, the world’s policeman in the service of the existing imperial order.”[vii] And by NATO, Badiou means “NATO (i.e. the United States)”.[viii]

Badiou has, of course, been a thoroughly consistent opponent of US imperialism, not just of late, but throughout his political life. He opposed all the wars listed above, and more besides. To imply otherwise would be to misrepresent the unwavering principle of a lifetime. It is no accident, then, that it is Badiou who offers us this characteristically uncompromising statement:

“…today there cannot be the least political liberty, the least independence of mind, without a constant and unrelenting struggle against the imperium of the USA.”[ix]


US-led imperialism and conditional recognition of Kosovo

This, then, is why the Serbian Left cannot afford to limit itself to simply defending Kosovo’s right to self-determination. Although this would serve to fulfil our local internationalist duty, we would be failing to fulfil, in any concrete way, our wider internationalist duty to participate in the “constant and unrelenting struggle” against the uniquely global power of US-led imperialism.

Consequently, the Serbian Left should argue that Serbia must announce its immediate readiness to recognise Kosovo’s independence, with all that that implies vis-à-vis sovereignty and territorial integrity – on condition that the US-led West agree to the establishment of NATO-free zones in Kosovo and Serbia. The prior satisfaction of this anti-imperialist condition reflects the vast disparity of scale between the global power of US-led imperialism and the local power of the Serbian state.

At the same time, this position represents a resolute rejection of Kosovo’s current status, a colony that has been passed from pillar to post by the powers that be – from Serbia to NATO, from NATO to the UN, from the UN to the EU.[x] The EU remains in control, a fact that flies in the face of empty claims that Kosovo became ‘independent’ in 2008. This position therefore rejects the degrading colonial subjugation of the Kosovo Albanians, their miserable neo-liberal impoverishment, their ‘object victimhood’ tout court, all of which is ultimately guaranteed by the “enormous forces of destruction” wielded by the global power of US-led imperialism.

But this position also recognises that the threat Serbia continues to pose to Kosovo, not least via the Serb minority in the north, serves only to weld many Kosovo Albanians to the ‘protection’ the West offers – which is why, again, the Serbian Left must reject any compromise with Serbia’s claims on Kosovo by defending its right to self-determination.

In summary, given the concrete circumstances that pertain in Kosovo and Serbia today, the Serbian Left has to adopt a position in which the fulfilment of our internationalist duty to defend Kosovo’s right to national self-determination is inextricably and inseparably intertwined with the fulfilment of our anti-imperialist duty – and in which the fulfilment of our anti-imperialist duty is inextricably and inseparably intertwined with a defence of Kosovo’s right to national self-determination.

A conditional approach enables us to forge one, concrete, dialectical whole from what would otherwise be merely disconnected parts. And here we need to recognise that these parts – imperialism and nationalism – are not, in reality, disconnected; on the contrary, they are coiled around the Kosovo Question like snakes.


Hamza: Misinterpreting Lenin on national self-determination

But Hamza argues against this approach on the ground that Lenin supported the unconditional right of self-determination for oppressed nations. However, if by this Hamza seeks to claim that Lenin supported this right regardless of the concrete circumstances, he is unfortunately mistaken.

For while it is true that Lenin was a supporter of the right in most cases (which is why it was part of the political programme of the Bolsheviks), it is also true that he was not a supporter of the right in every case.

And this was because Lenin was aware that the cause of oppressed nations could in certain circumstances be championed and exploited by, in particular, powerful imperial forces that had very different, and in no way progressive, aims and goals.

Here Lenin drew on the position Marx and Engels had taken on the question of the nineteenth century national liberation struggle of the oppressed Slav nations of the Ottoman and Hapsburg Empires (including the Serbs, of course). For Marx and Engels had resolutely opposed this struggle, aware that it was repeatedly championed and exploited by the most powerful reactionary state of their day, Tsarist Russia, to advance its own expansionist goals.

Noting the stand Marx and Engels had taken “against the power and influence – or, it might be said, against the omnipotence and predominating influence – of tsarism”, Lenin observed that, “It was for this reason, and exclusively for this reason, that Marx and Engels were opposed to the national movement of the Czechs and South Slavs.”[xi]

To cater for situations such as these, Lenin was careful to qualify his support for self-determination. As he wrote, “…our unreserved recognition of the struggle for freedom of self-determination does not in any way commit us to supporting every demand for national self-determination.”[xii]

Lenin argued that every case of national self-determination had to be judged concretely to assess what part it played in the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggle as a whole.[xiii] And just as it would have been an error for Marx and Engels to isolate the struggle of the oppressed Slavs from the wider struggle against Tsarist Russia, so today it is no less an error to isolate the struggle of the Kosovo Albanians from the wider struggle against US-led imperialism. To treat national self-determination apart from the whole context of our struggle misinterprets Lenin and its political role for the Left.

Hamza is of course right that “the repetition of old formulas in different situations and contexts simply doesn’t work”, but equally it would be wrong not to appreciate the value to be drawn from looking at how, in the past, this classical tradition of the Left addressed these difficult issues.

So the real question is how to remain creatively faithful to the spirit of this tradition in different situations. The conditional approach I argue for is a concrete attempt to do precisely that. It seeks to synthesise and transcend the two usual approaches of this tradition – support for self-determination and rejection of it – by means of a clear anti-imperialist condition. In this way, it represents an attempt to turn the Kosovo Question in an anti-imperialist, as well as an anti-nationalist, direction.

But at the same time it is an attempt to unblock another obstacle to turning the Kosovo Question in this direction by opposing Serbian nationalism – whose threats weld Kosovo Albanians to the West – by committing the Serbian Left to defend Kosovo’s right to self-determination. In this way, it also becomes possible to pursue the key goal of Lenin’s support for this right, to give concrete political form to internationalist friendship between our two nations as a stepping-stone to the Idea of a Balkan Federation – where we can, together, become self-determining subjects.

Let me now turn to some of the other points Hamza makes.


Hamza: Žižek as an occasional pro-imperialist pragmatist

Hamza’s other principal defence is to argue that Žižek supported the US-led bombing of Serbia and Kosovo in 1999 for “pragmatic” reasons, in order to stop Serbia’s oppression of the Kosovo Albanians. Several points need to be made here.

The first, of course, is that this is not quite how Žižek put it at the time, as I showed in Part 3 of my Critique. Then, his position was distinctly equivocal, betraying a tortuous tension between opposing the NATO bombing and supporting it. In this light, Hamza’s defence has a retrospective feel to it, for if Žižek was so convinced of the pragmatic need for the mighty (the combined forces of US-led Western imperialism) to bomb Serbia and defend the Kosovo Albanians, then why, at the time, did he not seem so sure?

To add to this confusion, Hamza admits that by taking this pragmatic approach Žižek “sacrificed a theoretical consistency for a practical/immediate solution.” This can only mean one thing: that to be consistent in theory, Žižek should have opposed the NATO bombing in practice. Does not Hamza here confirm one of the central arguments of my Critique – that there is a clear contradiction between what Žižek theorises and what he practises?

But most importantly of all, the validity of this pragmatic approach needs to be assessed in wider terms.

Take, for example, Žižek’s approach to the mass ethnic cleansing of some 200,000 Krajina Serbs from Croatia in 1995. In Part 3, I pointed out how Žižek had cut the following two, for him inconvenient, sentences from a Badiou quotation that implicitly levelled the charge of hypocrisy at supporters of the NATO bombing of Serbia:

“When, armed to the teeth by the Americans, the Croats swept down on the Krajina, where the Serbs were the majority, there were two hundred thousand Serb refugees in a few days. Did we see the dignitaries of our ethical journalism propose the immediate bombing of Zagreb?”[xiv]

I asked then: did Žižek propose the immediate bombing of Zagreb in 1995?  And I ask now: did he sacrifice “a theoretical consistency for a practical/immediate solution” in order to stop the ethnic cleansing, or enforce its reversal? Did he make a “pragmatic” decision for the sake of these victims?

I know of no record that he did, just as no other supporters of the NATO bombing of Serbia did. And nor did the anti-imperialist Left, then or in 1999, for it alone remained true to its opposition to external intervention in the Balkans, and rightly so.

But the key question posed by Operation Storm for the occasional pro-imperialist pragmatism advocated in Žižek’s defence is this: what yardstick can be used to judge when to be “pragmatic” about imperialist military intervention, and when not? Hamza argues that “no universal yardstick” can be relied on to make these judgments. All we can do, according to him, is to judge “pragmatically and contextually”, that is, on a piecemeal case-by-case basis.

In one very limited sense, Hamza is right that no such “universal yardstick” exists. He cites Syria and Ukraine as ‘perplexing’ examples, but these are only the tip of the iceberg. Similar issues arose in all the cases I have listed: Iraq in 1991 (to reverse Iraq’s brutal invasion of Kuwait), Somalia in 1993 (to stop the raging civil war), Bosnia in 1995 (to stop the mass killing), Serbia in 1999 (to stop the appalling oppression), Afghanistan in 2001 (to overthrow the Taliban because of Al-Qaeda and 9/11), and Iraq in 2003 (to overthrow the brutal Saddam Hussein).

In which of these cases would it have been right for the Left to support US imperialist intervention, and which not? And as soon as this question is posed, the trapdoor swings open to a deadly imperialist game of weighing up the interminable pros and cons of intervening. The related problem is that by supporting one war for an allegedly ‘humanitarian’ reason, it becomes difficult to oppose the next war for some apparently similar reason, and so on in a self-defeating and unstoppable regress. The net effect, in the end, is to give succour to those whose goal never wavers – to wage more imperialist wars.

But in two wider senses, Hamza is surely wrong, for two “universal yardsticks” do exist here, one imperialist and the other anti-imperialist.

The first “universal yardstick” is the one that has actually counted as the driving force behind intervention in all these cases – the false and despotic ‘universalism’ that is US-led capitalist and imperialist geopolitical and geoeconomic interests. Assessing cases on a piecemeal case-by-case basis means failing to see what clearly threads them together as an interconnected whole.

For it is precisely because these cases are threaded together on the basis of ruthlessly overriding interests, that the second “universal yardstick” comes into play – the true and liberating universalism that finds expression in the duty of the anti-imperialist Left to oppose US-led imperialist military intervention whenever and wherever the threat of it arises.


Hamza: The fallacy of “Your enemy’s enemy is your friend”

Another argument Hamza uses is one commonly heard against the anti-imperialist Left: that, by opposing imperialist intervention, one becomes a tacit friend of the target of that intervention. Hamza’s charge against me (and Badiou) is that, by opposing NATO’s bombing in 1999, we are “necessarily [led] to the tacit endorsement of the aggressor’s nationalism” (Hamza’s italics), that is, to endorsing Serbian nationalism. But of course, this does not follow.

Would it be right, I wonder, to charge those who did not propose the immediate bombing of Zagreb in response to Operation Storm of necessarily endorsing the Croatian nationalism of Franjo Tudjman and his regime? I think not, but why would Hamza, whose logic this is, think it wrong to make this charge – against Žižek, for example?

In fact, there is no necessary link between opposing imperialist intervention and endorsing its opponent. It is possible to oppose both; to coin Žižek’s phrase, we can ‘refuse to choose’.

Which is precisely what Žižek himself argued at one point during the Kosovo War. In his article ‘Against the Double Blackmail’ (repeated in From Myth to Symptom),[xv] he wrote:

“What if one should reject this double blackmail (if you are against NATO strikes, you are for Milosevic’s proto-Fascist regime of ethnic cleansing, and if you are against Milosevic, you support the global capitalist New World Order)?”

Finally, let me quote one of the most trenchant responses to this type of spurious charge. It comes from the pen of Alain Badiou:

“I want to reiterate here that I have no whit of sympathy for Gaddafi, any more than I did (contrary to the lies that accompany me here and there) for Milošević when we were bombing Belgrade, for Saddam Hussein when the Americans were putting Iraq to fire and the sword, or for the Taliban regime when NATO descended on it. But I am categorically opposed to the principal brigands of the contemporary world… concert pulling the confidence trick on us, with the quavering voices of their media ideologues, of ‘morality’ and ‘democracy’, in order to go and crush remote, weak countries, conduct their interminable wars, and profit from these circumstances to establish themselves there, plunder the local resources, and set up permanent military bases.”[xvi]


Hamza and my use of Badiou

Another claim Hamza makes, among others,[xvii] is that I misrepresent Badiou, though he provides no evidence for this view. He does, it is true, attempt to use the following quotation against me from Badiou’s article, ‘On the War against Serbia: Who Strikes Whom in the World Today?’ It reads:

“The worst thing is not that philosophy is linked to bloody and daring undertakings. For in this case it remains, even when in extreme error, on the side of invention, on the side of the genius of the weak, on the side of a power to come. The worst thing is to link it, purely and simply, to the arrogance and the self-satisfaction of the master in place.”[xviii]

But who is “the master in place” Badiou is referring to here? Hamza wants it to mean Serbia in Kosovo; if so, he wilfully ignores the content of Badiou’s article, which he simultaneously describes as “very weak” and “lack[ing] the minimal knowledge of the historical-political conjunctures in the Balkans…” (while accusing me of failing to appreciate how “conjuncture-oriented” Badiou’s work in fact is).

Hamza is dismissive for one reason: Badiou’s article was a sustained and unrelenting attack on the US-led NATO bombing of Serbia and those ideologues who sought to justify it. From the context, therefore, it is very clear that by “the master in place” Badiou was referring to US imperialism.

In any event, Hamza’s point is woefully misdirected. I have no wish to see any “master in place” in Kosovo other than one: the Kosovo Albanians themselves.

In fact, I do not misrepresent Badiou on these issues; quite the contrary, as my copious quotations from his various works here and in my Critique show.

As further proof, I would refer readers to the summary of Badiou’s views on the Balkans provided by his close friend and translator, Peter Hallward, in his book Badiou: A Subject of Truth (for which, rather fittingly, Slavoj Žižek wrote the Foreword):

“In a situation like that of the former Yugoslavia, for instance, Badiou maintains that a lasting peace will come not through external intervention, and still less through a carving up of territory according to ethnic states, but instead through a concerted, popular movement against all ethnic, linguistic, and religious essentialisms, in a common state that counts all people as one.”[xix]


Hamza and Žižek’s “primitive bar-room politics” of ethnic partition

There is, however, one area to which Hamza pays only fleeting attention. This is surprising given that it was a central theme of my Critique – Žižek’s support for ethnic partition in the Balkans. What is more, when Hamza does fleetingly address it, he leaves us confused.

For on the one hand, Hamza accuses me of showing Žižek “supposedly regress[ing from universalism] into ethno-centric reasoning” (my italics), implying that he disagrees that ethnic partition is an example of “ethno-centric reasoning”, as I argued in Part 1 of my Critique, or that it contradicts internationalist universalism, as I argued in Parts 2 and 3. But Hamza does not explain why, nor provide any evidence for this view. It is rather difficult to see what his reasons or evidence might be.

On the other hand, however, Hamza does admit that there are “clearly theoretical inconsistencies” in Žižek’s advocacy of ethnic partition. But again, he does not explain what they are, nor expand on his own well-recorded, if indirect, disagreement with Žižek on the matter. It seems to me that these issues could have been usefully explored further, including, above all, the logic of ‘pragmatism’ Žižek uses to justify ethnic partition – and which Hamza now adopts to justify Žižek’s occasional pro-imperialism.[xx]

It is absolutely vital that these issues are addressed, not least because Žižek has expanded on his views, literally, by expanding the scope of his partitionist ambitions in an interview he gave to Al-Jazeera Balkans in 2012.[xxi] Here, I must record my special thanks to a LeftEast reader, whom I know only as MC. In a response posted to Part 2 of my Critique, MC provided the link to this important interview, which confirmed some of the points I had made about the wider implications of Žižek’s grand partition plan.

In particular, the interview confirmed my supposition that Žižek contemplated the partition of Macedonia; for here he raises the “very dramatic” possibility that a “new Albania/Kosovo” could also get “some small part of Macedonia”.

It also confirmed my supposition that Žižek contemplated the partition of Bosnia; for here he explains, “I would reshape the borders a little – I, ok, who am I? – the international community, let’s say – and even let Bosnia-Herzegovina at least break into two, one part could perhaps be some kind of protectorate, [with] Republika Srpska annexed to Serbia.”

Note that Žižek did not propose annexing Bosnian Croat areas to Croatia, though this would be ‘logical’ too given his partitionist premises. And reminiscent of his call for “foreign help”, which I noted in Part 2, is Žižek’s reference here to the enabling role of “the international community”, an expression Badiou has forcefully derided as a “very strange concept”[xxii] that “in fact designates the Americans and their various servants.”[xxiii]

However, I was wrong about one point. In Part 2, I assumed that Žižek’s plan for the partition of Kosovo with Serbia involved the territorial exchange of the Preševo Valley in South Serbia, which has an Albanian majority. But in his Al-Jazeera Interview, Žižek proposed something much more ambitious.

Describing the Kosovo situation as “completely irrational”, and prefacing his remarks with the warning that he was about to say “something terrible, akin to primitive bar-room politics, but it could perhaps be done”, Žižek proposed that in exchange for the Serb-populated parts of Kosovo, Kosovo could “get a little of the Sandžak.”

The Sandžak lies on the border with Kosovo and is split between Serbia and Montenegro. Its population is mainly Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) who are Bosnian speakers. Three of Serbia’s Sandžak’s six municipalities, and two of Montenegro’s six, have Bosniak majorities. But the Albanian population is less than 1% in all these municipalities except two, where it rises to about 5% in one and some 20% in the other, but in Montenegrin, not Serbian, Sandžak.

Two points need to be made here. The first is that there is no ‘logical’ reason why Žižek’s plan should not entail partitioning Montenegro too. The second is Žižek’s expansion of the boundaries of his partitionist logic into the territory of religion.

Žižek has been a sharp critic of identity politics in the West; in the Balkans, he clearly thinks it ‘logical’ and ‘pragmatic’ for identity politics to run riot. This really is “primitive bar-room politics” par excellence.


Conclusion: On the Serbian and Balkan Left

I do not want to say much more about Hamza’s indiscriminate and unconstructive diatribe against the Serbian Left. I have already replied (see endnote 3 of Part 1 of My Reply to Hamza). In any event, what Hamza says does not apply to Marks21 for the simple reason that Marks21 has been singular on the Serbian Left in its consistent determination to address the Kosovo Question and to do so concretely. We have never shirked our duty to oppose Serbian nationalism over the issue.

But on one point Hamza is right. We are very weak. The legacy of Stalinism (of which Titoism was a variant) weighs heavily on us, as it does on the Left generally in the Balkans (with the inspiring exception of Greece).

The pressing question we need to answer is how an authentic Left can be built so that we can begin to exert some appreciable political influence. One of the answers is that we have to be clear and consistent on two interrelated issues, those of imperialism and nationalism; and we have to oppose them in sufficiently concrete ways in order to cater for the concrete situations in which we find ourselves. Here, Badiou is a far better guide than Žižek.

As we seek to do so, the Idea of a Balkan Federation, which Badiou advocates with such zeal, must serve as our guiding light and our goal, for this Idea rests on the two pillars that an authentic Balkan Left cannot do without – anti-imperialism and anti-nationalism.[xxiv] Our recent history, and the present state of things, is surely all the evidence we need to convince us of that.



Dragan Plavšić is a member of Marks21 in Serbia and the co-editor, with Andreja Živković, of The Balkan Socialist Tradition and the Balkan Federation 1871-1915, London, 2003.

[i] ‘Fragments of a Public Journal on the American War Against Iraq’, in Polemics, London and New York, Verso, 2006, p.43 (Badiou’s italics)

[ii] Ibid. (Badiou’s italics)

[iii] Badiou, ‘Philosophy and the ‘War Against Terrorism’’, in Polemics, op.cit., p.28

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Lest I be misunderstood, I of course oppose Russian imperialism in Ukraine (just as I oppose Chinese imperialism in Tibet, for example). I am simply explicating the currently predominant role of US-led imperialism in the world today.

[vi] ‘On the War Against Serbia: Who Strikes Whom in the World Today?’, in Polemics, op.cit., p.67. Badiou was referring to the fact that the war was officially hailed as ‘humanitarian’, whereas it was, in truth, an opportunist act of imperial power projection designed to seal US-led expansion eastwards and NATO’s military pre-eminence, as his further commentary shows.

[vii] Ibid., pp.70-71

[viii] Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, London and New York, Verso, 2012,

[ix] ‘Philosophy and the ‘War Against Terrorism’’, in Polemics, op.cit., p.30 (my italics)

[x] A reality confirmed in fatal fashion in 2007 when, during a 60,000 strong Vetëvendosje! demonstration, two Kosovo Albanians, Mon Balaj and Arben Xheladini, were shot dead by UNMIK. No-one has ever been held to account for these deaths, a gross travesty of justice that has been taken up by Amnesty International.

[xi] ‘The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up’ (1916) in Questions of National Policy and Proletarian Internationalism, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1964 p. 144, also available at

[xii] See ‘The National Question in our Programme’ (1903) in On National Liberation and Social Emancipation, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1986, also available at

[xiii]  In ‘The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up’, op.cit., p.145, Lenin stated that “The several demands of democracy, including self-determination, are not an absolute…..In individual concrete cases, the part may contradict the whole; if so, it must be rejected” – as it was by Marx and Engels in the case of the oppressed Slavs of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires.

[xiv] ‘La Sainte-Alliance et ses serviteurs’, [The Holy Alliance and its servants] 20.05.1999, in French, available at Žižek unceremoniously junked these two sentences about Operation Storm from the very midst of the Badiou quotation he used in From Myth to Symptom: the Case of Kosovo, pp.20-21, though he referenced the article correctly, unlike Hamza, who in his Response wrongly sources it to Badiou’s ‘On the War against Serbia: Who Strikes Whom in the World Today?’ in Polemics, op cit., pp.62-72. Hamza also accuses me of “bring[ing] Badiou into the game”, a perplexing claim. Has he forgotten that Žižek did so in From Myth to Symptom, and that, in his very own essay there, Hamza quoted Badiou too?

[xv]  ‘Against the Double Blackmail’, 07.04.1999, available at See From Myth to Symptom, op.cit., p.40, for the same point.

[xvi] The Rebirth of History: Times of Riots and Uprisings, Verso, London/New York, 2012, pp.103-4

[xvii] Hamza also claims that I am, pace Hegel, a ‘beautiful soul’. In response, let me indicate what lies behind this claim by quoting Žižek’s fatuous use of this expression for the million strong demonstration in London in 2003 against the war in Iraq (I was on it): “The protesters saved their beautiful souls: they made it clear that they don’t agree with the government’s policy on Iraq. Those in power calmly accepted it, even profited from it: not only did the protests in no way prevent the already-made decision to attack Iraq; they also served to legitimise it.” So, Žižek suggests, it’s pointless to demonstrate against US-led imperialism (except, of course, to make you feel good about yourself) because you only end up legitimising it. This is a recipe for utter passivity. And what then of ‘pragmatic souls’ who really do legitimise US imperialism by supporting it from time to time? The wonderfully inspiring title of Žižek’s article was ‘Resistance is Surrender’, London Review of Books, 15.11.2007, available at

[xviii] ‘On the War Against Serbia: Who Strikes Whom in the World Today?’, in Polemics, op.cit., p.72

[xix] Badiou: a Subject to Truth, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis/London, 2003, pp.230-231 (my italics). Hamza’s and Žižek’s argument that Milošević’s Serbia ‘started it’ threatens to reduce matters to the level of the school playground. It is an argument that Lenin explicitly rejected in relation to the First World War. Instead, the Left has to assess the substantive political character of the competing parties, and it is on the basis of such an assessment that Badiou refused to take sides.  In this context, using a quotation from Žižek, Hamza argues contra Badiou that Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) nationalism was qualitatively different from Croatian and Serbian ones, allegedly because it ‘embodied’ multiculturalism and ‘clung’ to Titoist-style “brotherhood and unity”. The rhetoric of Titoism may well have lingered longer in Bosnia, but it did not linger long in the substantive political practice of Bosniak nationalism, which was as nationalist as that of its opponents.

[xx] On ‘pragmatism’ and its relationship with Žižek’s avowed ‘universalism’, Sean Homer has pointedly asked, rightly in my view, “how such pragmatism is different from the kinds of postmodern politics Žižek attacks”. See his ‘To Begin at the Beginning Again: Žižek in Yugoslavia’, Slavic Review, Vol. 72, No. 4 (Winter 2013), pp. 708-727 for a valuable critique of Žižek’s politics more generally.

[xxi] Recite Al-Jazeeri: Slavoj Žižek [Talk to Al-Jazeera], 18 May 2012, in BCMS (Bosnian/Croatian/Montenegrin/Serbian – not easy to say in any language), available at (my translation)

[xxii] ‘Fragments of a Public Journal on the American War Against Iraq’, in Polemics, op.cit., p.42

[xxiii] ‘On the War Against Serbia: Who Strikes Whom in the World Today?’, in Polemics, op.cit., p.69

[xxiv] In his Response, Hamza briefly signals his agreement with this Idea, but it is not at all clear how it plays a concretely substantive role in his thinking.

By Dragan Plavsic

Dragan Plavšić is a member of Marks21 in Serbia and is the co-editor, with Andreja Živković, of The Balkan Socialist Tradition and the Balkan Federation 1871-1915 (London 2003).”