Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter One--a note on the use of sources

I rambled a little in the previous two posts--Johnstone is at her best in that particular section, doing a more artful job than usual of shifting the focus from well-documented acts of aggression to supposedly more fundamental and ominous political moves somehow coded by historical grievances so that ignorant Westerners didn't see the real meaning.

It's easy to see why Johnstone so favors Woodward's interpretation of events--Woodward argues that the real culprits were underlying economic stresses. As if genocide were a natural and inevitable reaction to a drastic shift to a market-based economy. It's so much more sophisticated and nuanced to look for root causes and paradigm shifts than to crassly point fingers at paramilitary death squads and overtly nationalist appeals to unite a scattered ethnic group regardless of borders or demographic realities.

Johnstone gets a lot of mileage out of being considered something of an expert on the region, yet she clearly gets her facts second-hand, and very selectively. Not being a native of the region or a Serbo-Croat speaker, I can't fault her for relying on second-hand sources, of course; it is her disingenuous use of those sources we are concerned with here. In Chapter One, she references "Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" by Laura Silber and Allan Little some five times. I got my copy for a few dollars at the local used bookstore near my house. It is easily available.

Here's a quote from this section of Chapter One:

"On 9 January 1991, full taped proofs of Spegelj's operations were set before a meeting of the Yugoslav presidency. It was clear that "by now the Croatian countryside was bristling with weapons that had been secreted or stolen from JNA warehouses or smuggled across the Croatian-Hungarian border."* It could not be denied that creating a separate army was an act of high treason and a step toward civil war. The government of any country would be expected to combat such moves."

The portion of the above quote which is in quotes and followed by an asterisk is a quote from Silber and Little's book, and it is an accurate quote. To say that it is taken out of context is a little misleading--as noted previously, Johnstone simply ignores all the events leading up to this moment. Such as the fact that one reason Croatia was smuggling weapons was because the JNA--on orders from Belgrage (although acting to some degree on its own--succession of the Republics and multiparty elections were both threats to the orthodox Communist military after all)--had previously confiscated the weapons of the Croatian TTerritorial Defense forces, as it had done in Slovenia. The Territorial Defense units were as much a part of the Yugoslav system as the army, but Johnstone doesn't even bother to call them by name.

Again, note that this event is in January of 1991. By this time, the crisis in Yugoslavia, drummed up and manipulated by Milosevic from Belgrade, was nearing the boiling point. Yet Johnstone presents this moment as if it were a confrontation completely created out of thin air by resurgent Croatian xenophobes and reborn fascists.

Johnstone's chutzpah doesn't end there. Three pages later, she quotes Silber and Little again--this time derisively, as typical voices of ignorant Western anti-Serb misinformation:

"From this position of compromise, [this follows a rather tortured explanation of the supposed virtues of the Balkan concept of 'narod' as opposed to more prosaic Western concepts of nationality; it might warrant a seperate discussion]neither insisting on preserving Yugoslavia intact nor accepting Croatian independence without satisfying the Serb minority, Milosevic has been widely blamed for the break-up of Yugoslavia and all the conflicts that followed. March 1991 has been described as "the decisive month", when "Milosevic set the country on the course to war."* "

Yes, once again the asterisk denotes a quote from Silber and Little. Johnstone is, of course, free to disagree with her sources even as she mines their works for information; I have read a book or two about Bosnia which contained useful and instructive information even as I rejected the books arguement. But the way in which she quotes rather frequently--and deceptively--from this book even while side-stepping the authors' rather dispassionately argued main point hardly commands respect.

And, unbelievably, she returns to Silber and Little again in the very next paragraph!

"Memories of Ustashe massacres of Serbs were vivid. Tudjman rebuffed attempts to obtain guarantees of rights for the Serb population."*

The footnote directs the reader to page 97 of Silber and Little's book. What they say on that page--and elsewhere--is rather more complicated and less black-and-white than Johnstone portrays. Silber and Little haven't sidestepped the issue of the HDZ's jingoism and insensitivity to Croatian Serbs. But what Tudjman did was to draft a new constitution that dropped the mention of Serbs as a constituent nation of the Republic of Croatia. Not a good development; but not the same thing. The SDS in Croatia had been seeking autonomy, not a mere 'guarantee of rights,' something which--along with ALL activities of the SDS in Croatia--Johnstone conveniently neglets to discuss.

By the way, I do recommend "Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" to readers. It is a far more balanced, well-researched, and honest account of the issue than one could hope for from our Ms. Johnstone.


Owen said...

I know almost nothing about Laura Silber but I've been familiar with Allan Little's work as a journalist for twenty years and he is an exceptionally honest and intelligent journalist (like his wife Sheena MacDonald). Johnstone would need to have a pretty impressive record for me even to contemplate trusting her judgment rather than Little's.

Kirk Johnson said...

Comparing Silber and Little's well-documented, even-handed, dispassionate--but not callous--account to Johnstone's duplicious screed is quite a stark contrast.

Anonymous said...

Srebrenica Genocide revisionists quote themselves - there is circle of revisionists who constantly quote each other in references. It's simple as that.

Kirk Johnson said...

Yes Daniel, that's true--but by doing so they weave a self-referential web of lies and obfuscation that needs to be addressed.

I've met well-meaning people who have been taken in by arguements by people like Johnstone and General MacKenzie. These lies need to be uncovered and called out.

Katja R. said...

2 k.j. I find that talking to people who are convinced by that whole self refering bunch can be a real challenge. I find that some of them are not at all open to objective evidence.
Part of the problem is that there is no ability to debate properly, which means being able to look at another side for at least a few minutes.
Part of that skill is the skill of evaluating sources, and being open to many sources.