Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Kosovo Polje Speech

There are various editions and translations of this speech out there--in order to defuse any accusations of bias, I chose to link to the website of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic. I hate to give these clowns any publicity, but I'm choosing them because:

a) any Balkan genocide deniers reading this can't pretend I'm using an "anti-Serb" source, and
b) it doesn't hurt to shine a light on these people from time to time.


Pro-Milosevic Website Links to Speech

The BBC translation is in two parts as a .pdf file--feel free to read it and the U.S. version.

You will notice right away that, indeed, this is not a fire-breathing, Nuremburg-rally-worthy call to bloodshed. This isn't a bad trick on Johnstone's part; a reader who is only vaguely familiar with the events in question might have expected to read the words of a Balkan Hitler, or at least a Goebbels. Again, the 'Nazi' parallels are regretable, because they are so imprecise. Hitler believed in Aryan racial superiority and the evil nature of Jewish people. Milosevic believed in whatever would help him gain, and then hold on, to power in Yugoslavia, and then Serbia.

The political, social, and economic situation in Kosovo does not warrant a mention at this point; the only thing that seems to matter is what Milosevic said that day; not the people he was speaking to, not the time or place.

One of the perceived injustices the Serb nationalists often refer to was the 1974 Constitution, which gave Kosovo and Vojvodina autonomy. There is no reason to doubt that this change weakened the power of Serbia in relation to the other republics; indeed, this was most likely the main reason the change was made. Serbia was by far the largest and most populous of the six republics, and the capitol was located there as well. The loss of two large areas--with their populations--was compounded by the fact that these two regions often voted against Serbian interests.

While this must certainly have been unpleasant for the ruling elite, it requires a serious glitch in your sense of perspective to read this tale of political maneuvering, backroom deals, and apparatchik duels as the epic struggle for survival that the radical nationalists portrayed.

Johnstone knows she's got 200-plus pags of changing the subject and moving the goals, so sometimes she just takes a breather and hopes the reader doesn't think too much about the unfounded assumptions that litter her work on the former Yugoslavia. If the reader stops to consider that in the repressive, tense, and volatile atmosphere of Kosovo, on the 600th anniversary of the battle of Kosovo Polje, this was a provocative, loaded speech...well, then the reader has thought about such questions a lot more than Johnstone apparantly has.

Or the reader might wonder about this:

The reassertion of Belgrades control over Kosovo was important the the rising nationalist movement. In 1989 struggle over the autonomy was heating up--an important detail one might to keep in mind when Milosevic speaks of being "in Serbia" while standing in Kosovo.

Or, finally, this:

Milosevic was the President of Serbia at the time; a country with several sizable minorities even without the two million Albanaians Milosevic's state was seeking to subdue politically and culturally (not the mention the Hungarians and Romanians, for example, of Vojvodina). Yet he speaks as the leader of the Serbs. Johnstone doesn't merely ignore the inconsistency; as we have seen, she doesn't even acknowledge that to be the President of Serbia is not the same thing, literally or conceptually, as being the leader of the Serbian people 'wherever they may live.'

So Milosevic refers to Kosovo as being part of Serbia even as his police and paramilitaries are repressing and undoing Kosovar autonomy; he presents himself as a tolerant, cosmopolitan progressive while playing the part of a tribal leader; and he calls for the unification of an ethnic group across national borders. And Johnstone sees nothing nationalistic in this.


Shaina said...

I really dislike it when politicians make the Nazi allegory. i.e. Dictator X is the New Hitler. Dictator X's army are worse than the Nazis. etc.

I understand why they do it, it makes a good sound bite; and let's face it, the Nazis are the measuring stick for evil.

I think that the Nazi connections can actually backfire, because people associate genocide so strongly with the Holocaust, everytime there is a genocide that doesn't reach the Holocaust proportions, there are going to be people who deny that it is a genocide.

Kirk Johnson said...

Exactly. This rhetorical overkill plays into the hands of people like Johnstone.

Shaina said...

By the way, thanks to the link to the Free Slobo website. It provided me with quite a laugh (probably not the intention the webmaster had in mind). I particularly liked the "Milosevic: A Prisoner of Consciousness" article. Too bad AI couldn't have come to his rescue. But, then again, they were probably swaped by requests to help find the thousands of missing people in Bosnia as a result of peace loving Milosevic.
I was suprised the website didn't have a montage of highlights from Milosevic's life to the tune of "Wind Beneath my Wings." We did however get a lovely photoshop image of a pensive looking Milosevic with the obligatory mourning candles.

Kirk Johnson said...

Yes, that website is a goldmine of unintentional--if grim--comedy. Honestly, it reads like something "The Onion" would put together.