Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Fools' Crusade," Diana Johnstone, and ethnic nationalism, Conclusion

Johnstone performs a neat trick by using the Serbo-Croat terms "narod" and "narodnost" instead of "nation" and "nationality"; by doing so, it is much easier to get away with distorting and overstating the particular nuances that mark the concept of 'nationalism' in the Balkans. BThe nationalism developed by many Balkan nations is, as mentioned, something of a work in progress, defined as much by the other as by any established sense of self. The distinction between a nation, which had Yugoslavia as it main political home, and a nationality, which had a political home in another country, was a Yugoslav innovation, not a traditional Slavic or Balkan distinction.

Having established--or, rather, casually and disingenuously implied--that the "Muslims" of Bosnia were not a legitimate nationality, Johnstone then procedes to de-legitamize Bosnia and Hercegovina as a geopolitical unit. The next paragraph includes this section:

"The Serbian argument was that only the peoples who joined together to form Yugoslaiva could decide to take it apart. Self-determination was the right of the peoples, not of the republics, regarded as arbitrary administrative units, drawn by the communists without popular consultation."

So 'the Serbs', including the government in Belgrade (which was led by the renamed Communist--now Socialist) take the Yugoslav concept of 'nation/nationality'--a distinction based on national borders which were arbitrarily drawn up by the Allies after World War I--as fundamental, but dismiss the borders between the republics--drawn up by communists, remember--as completely arbitrary.

The submission of the individual to the group is especially severe at this point in her thinking--the "peoples" have the right to take Yugoslavia apart in 1991 because 'they' created it in 1919. Nationalities are not only singular designations for groups of individual people, but singular actors with continual characteristics that span decades, endowing later generations of ethnically and culturally related people with certain obligations and entitlements, but precious little individual autonomy. It is amazing that, at the end of the 20th Century, a presumably educated and cultured Westerner is seriously advocating redrawing borders based on religiously-defined demography. Unanswered is the question of whether or not these new, ethnic borders would need to be redrawn as populations shifted and moved; unaddressed is the criteria by which any particular area of land is determined to be 'Serb' or 'Croat' or 'Muslim.' People per square kilometer? Square acre? More? In many areas, the population was so mixed that only fairly large land units would have made sizable stretches of contiguous territory of on ethnic group.

Or, instead of larger land units, how about smaller? How else would you divide some of the cities of Bosnia? Although most, if not all, consisted of a majority of one ethnic group or another, in very few of them were the minorities insignificant. How would Johnstone have applied this logic to Vukovar, where neither Serbs nor Croats were majorities, but each made up well over a third of the population?

And finally, if the Slavic Muslims of Yugoslavia were not a real nationality, then what were they? While Johnstone gives the usual lip service to the notion that they were 'really' Serbs and/or Croats, she does not consider the implications of the strange notion that an ethnic or cultural group is not what they consider themselves to be. If Yugoslavia was made up of nations and nationalities, not republics, what was the place of Muslims in Yugoslavia, geographically as well as socially and politically. Johnstone doesn't seem to have considered this question. And if the borders were meaningless adminitrative boundries, to be replaced by boundries between 'nations' in the collective, ethnic sense, what was to be done with Bosnia? Johnstone has unwittingly raised this last unpleasant question. It should come as no surprise that she prefers not to answer.

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