Sunday, December 10, 2006

"Fool's Crusade" Chapter Three [8]



This section of part 1 ("From State-Building to State-Breaking") reveals just how deeply Johnstone has drank at the well of Serbian nationalism. She has embraced the biased and mythic version of the formative years of the Serbian state whole-heartedly. I mentioned a few posts ago when I began my review of this chapter that while she compares her versions of Serb, Croat, and Slovenian nationalism in this chapter, she does not have a section on Bosnian nationalism because she does not believer there is such a thing. There are no "Bosnians" in her telling.

In the first sentence, Johnstone unwittingly exposes the flaw in her own thesis:

"At the 1878 Congress of Berlin, the Great Powers astounded the Serbs by assigning Bosnia-Herzegovina not to the Serb rebels who had fought to liberate it from the Turks, but to Austria-Hungary as a "protectorate." "

How does one "liberate" a country by annexing it? Note that the Bosnian population at the time was largely split between Catholics and Muslims--the Orthodox population of Bosnia (note that I refer to Orthodox Slavs rather than Serbs) was a much smaller percentage of the population at the time. So Bosnia and Hercegovina was "liberated" by outsiders from a neighboring country who had ever intention of incorporating its territory into their own nation-state.

The answer to this conundrum is simple:

"The Hapsburg Empire's foremost authority on Serbia and Bosnia was a Hungarian aristocrat, Benjamin von Kallay, who had written an authoritative history of the Serbs in which he stressed that: "Bosnia is a Serbian land, the people in it are of Serbian nationality, and even the Muslims themselves are Serbs." Without outside interference, the merger of Bosnia and Serbia would have been only a matter of time."

So a Hungarian writing about Serbs gets the definitive word on Bosnian nationalism? Really? Although von Kallay was, as she notes, assigned to govern Bosnia by the Hapsburg regime--and so, therefore, one could reasonably argue that his views on the matter are quite relevant to the matter--Johnstone leaves it at that. There are no other views presented on the matter; as far as she is concerned, it's settled--Bosnian Muslims are "really" Serbs; no matter what they think. These are the same "aristrocratic Muslims" (her phrase--you could read this entire book up to this point and fail to learn that there were many Muslim peasants, not to mention a sizable Christian upper class, in Ottoman Bosnia) that the "Serb peasants" were liberating the Balkan Christians from.

The implications that the Muslims of Bosnia were "really" Serbs contains some sinister implications. The final sentence is both chilling--there is nothing in her analysis that suggests there is anything wrong with the annexation of Bosnia by Serbia even today--and ironic: Bosnia had never been considered part of Serbia, not in medieval times or afterwards, so the idea that the "merger of Bosnia and Serbia" is anything but the product of "outside interference" from a Bosnian perspective is absurd. Just because Johnstone does not use the words "conquest" and "annexation" does not alter the reality of what we are discussing.

The subject of developing a national identity is complex, and worthy of consideration in the Balkans, where nationalism came late, religious identities often co-existed with ethnic identities, and the formation of the nation-state was delayed by the existence of multi-ethnic empires.

Too bad Johnstone has absolutely no interest in the nuances of this issue. After two chapters of a maddening, amoral neutrality that views atrocities through gray-tinted glasses, she has abruptly discovered a world of stark contrasts and black-and-white distinctions. In this brief history of Serb nationalism lie the seeds of genocide. Johnstone has already argued--with no proof, of course--that Bosnia, as a historically valid geo-political entity, does not exist. Now, she is arguing that Bosnians themselves do not exist.

You cannot commit genocide against a non-people. The most extreme claims of Serb nationalists--that Bosnian Muslims are merely "rebellious Serbs" who have renounced their heritage--now have a Western champion.

Her conception of national identity is simplistic and ill-informed. If that were all it was, I would not be so concerned with it, and I would not have devoted 8 posts so far to the first four pages of this chapter. However, I cannot overstate how disturbing the implications of this section are. Her logic is only valid if one accepts a version of Balkan history where ethnicity is fixed and rigidly defined, and where group identity can somehow carry through DNA even when a cultural, social, or--in this case--religious group have come to conceptualize an alternate identity.

I need to close this for now; I hope to return to this subject refreshed and more persuasive and articulate. But for now, let it be said: Diana Johnstone is implicitly accepting the logic of fascism.


Owen said...

"You cannot commit genocide against a non-people. The most extreme claims of Serb nationalists--that Bosnian Muslims are merely "rebellious Serbs" who have renounced their heritage--now have a Western champion."

That's a pretty significant point you've made. J's historical analysis doesn't quite mesh with eg Mladic's pronouncements on the issue of genocide but it's useful to see it as coming from the place from which the more philosophically inclined perpetrators of genocide set out.

Anonymous said...

The Bosnian Muslims mostly were of Croatian origin, Bosnia was a land inhabited by Croats, and there weren't significant numbers of Serbs in Bosnia until the Turkish conquest. This is easy to determine by looking at 'deftar' which were Turkish censuses. These censuses contained a lot of detail for the times, and included religion in the statistics collected.