CHAPTER THREE: COMPARATIVE NATIONALISMS
THE FIRST BOSNIAN PROTECTORATE [continued]
The rest of this section marks the point at which Johnstone's discussion of Serbian nationalism veers from being biased and myth-obsessed towards pure weirdness. After a brief, one-paragraph discussion of the assassination that triggered World War I, she marks her sudden turn from shameless proselytizing to bloodless abstraction with this remarkable piece of unexamined generalizing:
"In the early years of the twentieth century, the Serbs were admired in the West for their patriotism, stoic courage, love of poetry, and laconic sense of humor. A century later, the West despised what it once admired. In the 1990s, the dominant Western power was more favorably inclined toward state demolition than state-building."
Where did that come from? Where does she get this stuff? I've read Johnstone and Michael Parenti, both of whom believe that the West--and the USA in particular--plotted long and hard to dismember Yugoslavia, and I've yet to see any convincing evidence. I guess one must take it on faith.
As for the West's about-face in their attitudes towards Serbs, there are two things to note. For one thing, perhaps the West was wrong to make sweeping generalizations about a national group; the Serbs were not, to put it mildly, the only non-Western ethnic group that Westerners ascribed particular national characteristics (some more complimentary than others) in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
Also, it must be noted that Johnstone has pushed supposed Western attitudes towards the Serbs to center stage; it is no longer enough for the Serbian state and ethnic Serbs to be caught on the wrong side of a sweeping post-Cold War neo-liberal realignment of political and economic power. No, now 'the Serbs' are center-stage in this little drama.
Then the weirdness starts; it is, frankly, a little difficult to even review this section. And it's weary, dull work to type it all out. Essentially, she claims that Serbs were "state-builders"--who worked towards creating a 'territoy-oriented' nation-state--while all other Yugoslav peoples were "state-breakers" (she names the Croats as an example) who:
"...stressed "identity" and differences, tending toward exclusion of those not like themselves."
Of course, when you conveniently consider Slavic Muslims, for example, to be "really" Serbs, it helps, no? It is clear from this section--from this entire chapter, for that matter--that Johnstone has no understanding of the fractured and ambiguous development of national identity in the western Balkans. Anybody who has read a little about the region is aware that national identities were often fluid and remained unfixed and ill-defined well into the modern period. Research has revealed that the people we now think of as "Serbs" or as "Croats" often did not identify themselves as such.
Such a nuanced understanding of the issue wouldn't be hard to acquire, were one the slightest bit inclined to do so. Is is surprising that Johnstone based her brief Serbian history on a book written in the mid-19th Century? It was not for lack of more modern, reliable, research-based sources, I am quite sure.