all words: Toni Ti
all photos from the premiere: Blink OfAnEye
22-year-old Serbian director Boris Malagurski, dubbed the “Serbian Michael Moore,” aims to “take a critical look at the role the US, NATO, and the EU played in the tragic break up of a once peaceful and prosperous Yugoslavia.” From the trailer, The Weight of Chains appears to be a conspiracy theory-esque expose on the Balkan War, which is considered the bloodiest and most gruesome war in modern Europe since WWII.
Instead, it is a sprawling, often meandering, hodge-podge of arguments, which ultimately, had they been presented in a more coherent fashion, might have been persuasive, but combined with the often-gratingly blatant bias of the film maker, the message at times gets lost in the delivery. More specifically, Malagurski employs a quippy sarcastic tone in his voice-overs that instead of sounding factual sounds …well… incredibly petulant and snarky and, at times, too amateur for the gravitas subject matter. The film is rife with odd concatenations of subjects jammed together that occasionally smack of him implying causality instead of correlation. Not to mention certain parts are downright groan-inducing like “Nationalism, what nationalism! There was no nationalism or ethnic hatred in Yugoslavia. It was all peace and daisies!”
The Weight of Chains begins with the obligatory history lesson—picture Tito’s Yugoslavia. A multi-ethnic state, with a mixed economy of private capitalist enterprise and state-run industries. Malagurski points out Yugoslavia is flourishing—6.1% GDP growth, 90% literacy rate, a country that is a model of development and, he argues, a thorn in the side of Western and US powers in its recalcitrant orientation [Serbia was a part of the non-align movement and definitely outside the realm of Soviet influence] and its blend of semi-socialist and free market principles. Malagurski does an excellent job of covering the complex history of the region, briefly hitting upon something of tremendous significance—that the brutal reign of the Ottoman Empire left behind a lot of Muslims of Slav ethnicity who had been forcefully converted to Islam. The tension between these Bosniacs and the Orthodox Serb population cannot be ignored as a factor in the ethnic clashes as the 90s, yet is barely mentioned as an aside here.
At this point in the movie, we got into some fairly odd concatenations and jumping back-and-forth chronologically. Malagurski hones in on Directive 33, passed during the Reagan administration in 1984, intended to “sponsor democracy,” essentially a euphemism to cover up a series of consequent policies of tremendously negative economic implications for Yugoslavia. Through your typical fill-in-the-blank US hegemonic economic chicanery tactics [you know the kind], the creation of the G17 party in Yugoslavia, essentially meant that the country’s economy lay squarely in the hands of puppet economists guided by US interests. “Privatization through liquidation” became the name of the game—a picture all too common in the former communist countries–and combined with rising unemployment [up by 20%] in the 1990s and the IMF’s invention with austerity measures and debt, led to the devastation of the economy. Politicians fanned the flames of discord, whipping up nationalistic frenzy among the very desperate population. It is at this point that Malagurski starts making some really questionable arguments. He includes the story of many local heroes—people who refused to go along with the violence, turn against their neighbors, and who fought back against the murderous rhetoric. While these stories are incredibly inspirational and no doubt veritable, the film somehow makes it seems as though the fires of ethnic hatred were fanned entirely from outside the country by Western interests—reductionistic at best. At some point, he almost glosses over the Srebrenica massacre and brushes off “ethnic cleansing” accusations as again, mere propaganda from the West, meant to demonize the Serbs.
He even delves into the brutal amount of casualties on all sides of the war in a sort of “see, everyone did it” way—while I am sure Malagurski does not aim to “exonerate” anyone, in his effort to claim that the US had a strategic interest in painting Serbs as the aggressors, it is as though the broad stroke of “everyone attacked everyone” does not really do historical facts justice. He is correct, however, in pointing out that US’ bombing of Serbia during the later years of the war in defense of Kosovo is a sordid, dirty mess of a story at best. His knowledge of Kosovo is clearly very thorough and as a tool of persuasion, it serves the film really well to include that specific segment to illustrate the US’ questionable motives. Nevertheless, on the overall, spending 30 minutes on Kosovo and barely mentioning what really happened in Srebrenica leaves me questioning the director’s choice in taking this approach. While the movie itself is not necessarily meant to be about the war [but if not, then why only bring up specific segments and leave others untouched?], completely ignoring the absolute inhumanity of things like rape centers, concentration-like labor camps, the siege of Sarajevo [longest siege in modern history, complete with snipers gunning down civilians] and some of the other especially gruesome parts of the war and glibly chalking it up to Western liberal media propaganda is also not a perfect approach. Detailing the US support of KLA and various other unsavory Kosovian corrupt politicians and warlords adds a lot of fuel to the argument of US geostrategic interest play; outlining just what constituted the bombing campaign on Serbia was also very trenchant—namely bombing factories, the power and telecommunications grids, with the express purpose of then allowing US firms to take over.
In the final segment of the film, Malagurski sets his sights on the EU and NATO. Briefly put, the EU tends to spell a *lot* of economic trouble for the countries in it, with its various regulations, which force the farmers of one country to stop producing their products and instead import the very same ones from other EU countries and through various subsidization schemes, cause a lot of businesses to close and unemployment to skyrocket. The fact that the debts of all of the former Yugoslav countries have grown 10 fold is also a staggering statistic. So, The Weight Of Chains rings the alarm bells and asks what does it really mean to become a part of the EU and NATO.
The Weight Of Chains is a very important film—it brings up a lot of issues the public may not be aware of, but it almost tries to do too much. In trying to cover too much ground, it feels like it is jumping from fact to fact without following a coherent story trajectory. It is very engaging and thought-provoking, but it could have also done with a sterner editor’s hand. The film also features an impressive cast of pundits, generals, and political figures including economist Michael Parenti, Ret. Maj. Gen. Lewis Mackenzie, Form. Amb. James Bissett, Prof. Michel Chossudovsky, and Prof. Sunil Ram, among others. It’s a documentary so of course it has a bias and a slant, but at too many junctures in the film, it is really questionable what Malagurski is trying to say. For example, in one segment where he interviews 10 or so people who mention how much things were better in the former Yugoslavia, one has to wonder what is the purpose of this nostalgia…what is he trying to show? It can be quite baffling at times.