Saturday, December 02, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [3]



I left off in the last post with the following quote:

"Serb opposition to dismantling Yugoslavia was inevitable considering the Serbs' population distribution and political history."

On the face of it, it might seem that this is not an unreasonable statement. Yugoslavia had existed as a country for a little over seven decades; the vast majority of its citizens knew nothing else. And if ethnic Serbs felt a sense of unity and belonging, a breakup of Yugoslavia along the borders of the republics would certainly divide ethnic Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia from Serbs in Serbia, proper. So, the Serbs would be split between three different countries, rather than united in one.

Despite the eminently reasonable tone of this section, there are some unexamined assumptions underlying it which Johnstone and other defenders of the Greater Serbia project (which, her somewhat clever "Smaller Yugoslavia" theory aside, is what we're talking about) accept without question.

One assumption is obvious--is this necessarily a bad thing? Is there something intrinsically bad about an ethnic group being divided between different countries?

Remember that, in the Balkans, demographic fluidity has been the norm; people have always moved around a lot. Ethnic Serbs were widely dispersed throughout the Western Balkans. It is worth noting the the Krajina Serbs were settled outside of Serbia by the Hapsburgs. And putting aside the issue of how Orthodox Bosnians 'became' Serb, it is no secret that other moved into Bosnia from Serbia.

Knowing these facts--and they are well-known--it is troubling that Johnstone and her allies are so willing to adopt the "All Serbs in One State" mantra when they damn well know that Bosnian and Croatian Serbs knowingly left Serbia. You simply cannot have it both ways.

The ancestors of the Croatian and Bosnian Serbs most certainly did not consider these questions when they relocated from where they had come from. People moved within the Ottoman Empire and between the frontier regions between the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires for a variety of reasons, but consciously defining the borders of some future nation-state was not one of them.

Johnstone's historically unfounded assertion that the republic borders of Tito-era Yugoslavia were meaningless administrative boundaries is not only inaccurate, it also fails to address the question of how to draw borders that are, in her opinion, legitimate. This begs the question--where should the borders be, and on what criteria should they be based? Contemporary demographic realities? History? For the Serbs, the answer appears to be: Both, or either, depending on which answer claims more land. Johnstone simultaneously claims that the Serbs of Bosnia have the right to remain in the same state as the Serbs of Serbia because they are Serbs, while maintaining that Kosovo, despite the demographic realities, must remain a part of Serbia because of the Serbs' historical ties to it.

Which leads me to the other underlying assumption--that the concerns of the Serbs were paramount. The Serbs were, as noted, widely dispersed throughout the Western Balkans, including many areas which have never been considered part of Serbia proper. In order for them to remain in the same state, non-Serbs in any area where a sizable number of Serbs live must either be included in that state, or they must leave their homes. And this, in spite of the well-documented historical fact that many Serbs live outside of Serbia, and had done so for centuries before the founding of Yugoslavia.

At the risk of sounding glib, I'll close this post with the observation that Johnstone seems to believe that the Serbs (her construct of a single, homogeneous ethnic group with a singular national consciousness, that is) can, and should, have their cake and eat it too. That, after the conquest and demise of the medieval Serbian state, individuals would move around the Western Balkans for centuries and then, at the close of the Twentieth Century, declare that their right to live as a unified people trumped all other demographic realities and historical and cultural claims.

And Johnstone sees nothing wrong, inconsistent, or dangerous about this.


Shaina said...

Great post as always. I'm reading Silber & Little's "Death of Yugoslavia"-which is very informative btw; and one of the aspects described in the book is the idea of "nationhood" v. the status of the republics. Many ultra-nationalist Serbs, and Croats, believed that only the nations had a right to seceed from Yugoslavia, and since they didn't consider the Bosnian Muslims to be a nation, but rather, Muslim-Serbs or Muslim-Croats, they had to right to seceed.
I have a feeling Johnstone will also make the same argument, denying the nationhood, history of the Bosnian Muslims in Bosnia.

Kirk Johnson said...

Good catch, Shaina. And you are quite right--as you will see once I get through this chapter, she does not even acknowledge that such a things as 'Bosnian nationalism' exists. In Chapter Three, she does a section of Serbian nationalism, one on Slovenian nationalism, and one on Bosnian nationalism. She very explicitly argues that there is no such thing as Bosnian nationalism or Bosnians, period.

Kirk Johnson said...

And Silber and Little's book is excellent. I believe I've already mentioned this, but it's worth noting that Johnstone frequently quotes from their book; yet somehow she manages to avoid grasping their very different interpretation of events.

Shaina said...

I do remember you mentioning that again. And if Ms. Johnstone had actually read the entire book in context, instead of pulling random quotes here and there, taken completely out of the context they were written in, I'm not sure how in the world she could even pretend that Silber & Little support her argument.
But, she is not the only person who has used this technique. The author of "To Kill a nation" has used a very similar technique. He somehow managed to completely distort Richard Holbrooke's view of the war that he very plainly, put forth in his book, "To End A War" Of course, frequent use (and abuse) of the elipses makes it possible.

Kirk Johnson said...

I have read parts of "To Kill a Nation," and am seriously considering reviewing it in the same page-by-page manner after I finish this book.

You have pointed out in some of your earlier comments how truly nutzoid Parenti is. You're right--he can make Johnstone seem almost reasonable. Although, frankly, part of that might simply be because his book is shorter and, therefore, blunter. He comes right out and says some of the outrageous things that Johnstone chooses to imply through carefully marshalled--and decontextualized--anecdotes and information.