Thursday, March 29, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Five [2]



A Balkan history lesson that picks and chooses its facts carefully, this section traces the history of Albanian-Serb relations in Kosovo with an almost believable facade of even-handedness. Out of context, these six pages very nearly approximate a serious and objective summary of early Albanian nationalism in Kosovo.

Johnstone acknowledges that the incorporation of Kosovo into the modern Serb nation-state was a 20th-Century phenomena, and her assertion that the Albanian state that emerged after World War I was too institutionally immature to incorporate all Albanian-speaking territories is at least plausible. Were that she so even-handed and historically grounded in the rest of this book.

She even acknowledges the bloody consequences of the Serb takeover of Kosovo--although (and this is telling of her point of view) without the graphic anecdotes and damning hard data that she deploys when the victims in question were Serbs--to the point where even I was half-willing to believe that the woman may only be misguided rather than dishonest and sinister. And then, without a change in tone, she shifts emphasis ever so slightly, and her true nature comes through.

She wants to discount the importance of the writings of Vaso Cubrilovic, who wrote dispassionately and bluntly about the rationale for, the logistics of, ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. To this end, she deploys some very valid points--there is nothing he suggests which had not recently been put into practice in the Balkans, and his ideas hardly shocked European sensibilities at the time. And, furthermore, some elites in Albania and Turkey were receptive to his ideas.

So far, so good, or at least not so bad. It is only fair to put his comments and the actions of the government of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes into the context of time and place. But then she goes further; and this is where the illusion of objectivity and fairness slips away:

"Cubrilovic was thinking primarily in strategic terms and saw future Albanian irredentism (whose rise he foresaw) as a threat to the viability of the Yugoslav state. This was cold realipolitik rather than emotional racism."

[As always, underlined text was italicized in the original.]

So ethnic cleansing is an acceptable strategy if it is deployed as part of realipolitik on behalf of the state, rather than as "emotional racism". This is on behalf of the same Belgrade regime that Johnstone previously claimed subverted the interests of the Serbian people, mind you.

In case the reader feels I am exaggerating, Johnstone goes on to document his suggested strategies--ethnic cleansing by various means (including terror) was his stated goal. More to the point, since Johnstone validates the logic behind his strategy, one expects her to condemn his methods all the more. She does not. She notes that his plan was inspired by what he saw as a far too Western-influenced strategy carried out by the government in Belgrade. She smugly notes that this shows that the Serbs were, contrary to the label given them in the 1990s, not historically wedded to an ethnic cleansing project. As I noted just above--suddenly, The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was Serb-controlled. When it's convenient for her argument, that is.

The section ends by noting that thousands of Serbs and Montenegrins were driven from Kosovo during World War II, and that Tito refused to allow them back in order to appease the Albanian majority. This was tragic and unfair; typically of Johnstone, instead of stepping back and viewing this as part of the larger tragedy of the Balkans--a region where local coexistence has been all too often thwarted by outside interference stirring up inflated national differences--she frames the matter in crude terms of Serbs victimized by brutal Albanians.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Five [1]


This is the last chapter of the book, with only an eleven-page conclusion to follow. I will most likely be briefer and less comprehensive with my reviewing from here on out--this chapter is as tedious as the previous chapter; the only difference being that while Chapter Four was all about Germans (both in Germany and Austria), Chapter Five boils down to 58 pages of Albanian-bashing. Would that be Shqiptarphobia?

Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but there it is. The first three chapters of this book were somewhat interesting, in a bizarre way--Johnstone's convoluted defense of collectivism and ethnic nationalism under the guise of progressive/radical politics and anti-imperialism, while neither convincing nor intellectually honest or sound, at least bears the faint whiff of a genuine anti-establishment, contrarian viewpoint.

As I have noted from time to time in this blog, there is a danger that ill-informed progressives and well-meaning left-of-center idealists might be willingly duped by her clumsily seductive appeals to reflexive anti-American/NATO/Western sentiment. Johnstone is selling reactionary poison, but she tries her best to package it as progressive medicine.


This opening section sets the stage and the tone--Albanians are a fierce, primitive, violent, unloving, vengeful, savage race who have had their viciousness and aggression codified and validated by their conversion to Islam. Am I exaggerating? If I am, it is not by much.

In the first three pages, we are informed that Albanians have lived in the Western Balkans "since time immemorial, without organizing an Albanian state until less than a century ago." The implication is clear--they are a primitive people, outside of the norms of civilized Europe. Her depiction of Albanians is little different from the racist caricatures that imperialists of previous centuries utilized to legitimize their colonization of the Third World.

I don't dispute the facts she uses to paint this picture--there is such a thing as the "Kanun" (orally transmitted code of behavior), and Albanians continue to organize themselves into clans and tribes right into modern times. And the institution of the blood feud does survive to this day is some parts of Albanian society. We shall see what Johnstone tries to make of these facts in later sections.

For the rest of this section, she dwells on the conversion to Islam by the majority of Albanians, who then served the Ottomans as oppressors of the Christians in the Balkans.

I think you can see where this is going.

As it ends, Johnstone has noted that Albanians remained under the rule of feudal nobility eager to hold on to their power and status under the Empire. The end of Ottoman rule meant that this ruling class looked for a new Empire to join, in order to suppress national aspirations and maintain their aristocratic status. And this, she assures the reader, means that Albanians have remained "attractive clients for empires attempting to gain a foothold in the Balkans by using the classic methodss of divide and rule."

She has nothing to say about Albanian peasants (many of whom were Catholic and Orthodox), which is a strong warning that the hyperbolic generalizations are only going to get worse.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bosnian National Team Scores Road Win In Euro Qualifier

Not all the news from Bosnia is gloomy or negative as of late--the faltering campaign to qualify for Euro 2008 just got a boost this weekend with a 2-1 victory on the road at Norway:

Bosnian Team Snatches All Three Points in Norway

My good friends the "BH Fanaticos" were in full-on Ultra/Hooligan form, forcing a 37 minute game delay by bombarding the field with flares (slightly injuring Bosnian keeper Adnan Guso, who managed to go on and play a very good game), but fortunately no one was hurt. I'll forgive their over-zealousness, given that enthusiasm for Bosnia's national team is something of a new phenomena. Hopefully, this encouraging display of attractive, positive football by a young team with lots of potential might encourage some non-Muslim Bosnians to at least consider supporting the national team rather than Serbia or Croatia.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The International Court of Justice Verdict--Serbia Not Guilty

I have been meaning to weigh in on the ICJ Verdict of February 26. Roger Lippman was kind enough to email me a copy of this article by Peter Lippman, which has already been reviewed at the always-informative Bosnia Vault blog.

Lippman is, in the main, right on. The most damning part of this verdict was that it concluded that genocide was only committed at Srebrenica. I understand the focus on the issues of intent and responsibility, but this is the most serious shortcoming of the court's ruling. I understand the desire to set the bar extremely high as far as assigning guilt and responsibility (although "understand" shouldn't be read as "unquestioning agreement"), but the court was not free to rewrite history or reinterpret the meaning of the term "genocide."

The court had an opportunity to weigh in in a manner befitting a clarification of the historical record. Unfortunately, they failed miserably.

So for the most part, Lippman speaks for me, although unlike him I do see a silver lining. Oddly enough, that silver lining was echoed by not-my-favorite-writer-on-Bosnia Misha Glenny in this article from The Guardian.

I disagree with Glenny much of the time, and he seems awfully quick on the draw with his preemptive "I am not a Serb apologist" disclaimer at the beginning, but there is a germ of a good idea in this article, if you look hard enough (I had to squint--but it's there).

Glenny is correct to note that this verdict will remove the justification for a continued martyr complex by Serb nationalists; they no longer can hide from their own culpability behind the self-aggrandizing myth that they are being persecuted by the outside world. Bosnia's future depends, to a very great deal, not only on its relations with Croatia and Serbia but on popular opinion in those two countries. Bosnian Serbs, for the foreseeable future, still look to Serbia for much of their cultural and social orientation. A Serbia which is hostile and resentful toward the Bosnian government and the Muslim plurality will surely poison relations between ethnic groups in Bosnia to a degree that its fragile and tenuous stability cannot manage indefinitely.

That said, the rest of Glenny's article is about what you would expect from him. His point of view is founded on his deep-seated conviction that outside intervention is situations like Bosnia are naive and doomed to fail; by referring to the Lord's Resistance Army as an example of realpolitik in action, he shows his cards--it would be child's play for a well-armed NATO force with a mandate to use force to handle the Lord's Resistance Army, but unfortunately we know all too well that the international community is more than willing to "let Africans handle problems in Africa," as we did in Rwanda and as we are doing in Darfur.

Glenny doesn't acknowledge this, because to do would be to bring up his opposition to intervention in Bosnia in the 1990s. His argument is that in situations of international human rights violations, putting justice ahead of politics is impossible because you have to deal with the perpetrators of these crimes in order to defuse the crisis. A point of view which makes sense--as long as you accept the premise that the international community must always stand aside and leave the locals to their fate.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Four [13]



And now to the final section of this chapter. With this post, I can finally say adieu to this incoherent mess of crackpot theories posing as analysis. Apparently, 13 is sometimes a lucky number!

However, before I examine that section, I would like to briefly revisit the previous section, if only to emphasize how ridiculous and tenuous Johnstone's ridiculous conspiracy really is.

Although most of this section focused on the figure of Otto von Hapsburg (who, despite her best efforts, simply fails to live up to the sinister figure she tries to create), in the final few paragraphs she briefly details the placing of other members of the dynasty in Austria, Hungary, and Croatia. I only mentioned this, without documenting exactly how this placement was done. That was probably a mistake on my part--while I was right to dismiss this entire section as hogwash, I do the readers of this blog a disservice by not documenting her lunacy on this particular point. You have plodded through Johnstone's inanities with me, so it is only fair that I share the opportunity to have a laugh at her expense.

Here, then, is her description of one of the three prongs of the sinister Hapsburg plot to regain the throne throughout Mitteleuropa:

"Otto's second son, Georg, took up residence in Budapest in 1993, obtained Hungarian citizenship as Gyorgy, and says he looks forward to representing Hungary in the European Parliament once that country in turn joins the European Union. Meanwhile, the young Hapsburg sits on the board of the National Museum (site of his royal wedding reception) and directs programming for a popular Hungarian radio station."

My God--the horror! He's already got his feet in the door of the National Museum! Can the overthrow of Hungary's nascent democracy be far behind?

The joke is, indeed, on Johnstone. But she's a humorless oaf, clueless about her own desperation. The final paragraph of this section begins with this quote:

"The disintegration of Yugoslavia was encouraging to this hypothetical restoration in a number of ways."

And there you have it--the woman who cautioned against accepting the veracity of first-hand accounts of gang rape has just spent several pages of her book discussing a "hypothetical restoration." Good Lord. I don't know how her brain handles all the intellectual acrobatics necessary to keep this charade of an analysis going.


So, other than Germans and a "hypothetical restoration" of the Hapsburgs, who else is a member of the vast anti-Serb conspiracy?

Why--the Vatican of course!

Yes, the Catholic Church was the enemy of the Serbs because it didn't like to see the Western Balkans slip from Catholic rule and fall under the dominance of an "Orthodox monarchy." Which, of course, ceased to exist before World War II. But never mind. Johnstone also throws the pre-WW II Soviet opposition to Yugoslavia's existence into the mix, just to spice things up.

Does she update either of these factor to reflect the six decades of Yugoslav history after World War II? Don't be silly. And at any rate, her interest, as always, is not to honestly evaluate her "evidence" but rather to subversively guide the reader towards the predetermined conclusion. Which, as it turns out, leads us back to Germany--the final paragraph briefly touches on the post-WW II period, only to point out that Yugoslavia was "once again" trapped between a hostile Vatican and a hostile (after the break with Stalin) Moscow. Conservative German Catholics, we are assured, were prime movers n the crusade to undermine Yugoslavia's socialist regime. We are assured that:

"The reunification of Germany in the form of a takeover of the Democratic Republic by the Federal Republic marked the victory of this strategy."

"This strategy" being the utilization of a Polish Pope to undermine Communist rule in Eastern Europe. And so, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact turns out to have been nothing but a plot to return the Catholic nations of Eastern Europe to the German sphere of influence. Except for the Catholic parts of Yugoslavia:

"But from the viewpoint of the Catholic German rollback, Yugoslavia was not ahead but behind, a bit of unfinished business."

Not content with rewriting Bosnian, or even Yugoslav, history, our Ms. Johnstone is now rewriting the entire history of the end of the Cold War as crypto-fascist Teutonic/Catholic takeover of East Europe.

And it is on that truly bizarre note that, without any further explanation or clarification, Chapter Four ends.

Any question?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Four [12]



My entire review of "Fools' Crusade" has been premised on the notion that Johnstone's ideas need to be dragged out into the light of day and exposed. It hasn't always been fun, and I do sometimes wonder if this entire project hasn't been an exercise in overkill, but for the most part I think it's been worthwhile. Her ideas have found enough currency in certain fringe circles that the risk of further contamination is at least worthy of concern. I have well-meaning friends who have internalized at least some of the revisionist history of the Bosnian war; I once had to play the part of scold at a party when an acquaintance quoted "some Canadian military guy from NATO" on the subject of intractable ethnic hatreds in Bosnia, and the impossibility of applying guilt to any one party. This person was willing to listen when I explained who General MacKenzie was and why one shouldn't take his commentary at face value.

The left-revisionist view of the Bosnian war (brilliantly summarized and rebuked in this article by Marko Attila Hoare, taken from the website Balkan Witness), while marginalized, poses a real danger to developing a clearer understanding of the past and building a better future. The left-revisionist distortions play on left/liberal/progressive sympathies and biases, framing their distorted version of events in terms of anti-imperialism, anti-war, and (and Johnstone explicitly does from page one of this book), anti-globalism. Johnstone and her like-minded peddlers of this debased and withered pseudo-radicalism know which buttons to push and which keywords to drop into the text. Throw in some references to past US actions in Central America, access to oil, and subtle hints of a fascist conspiracy against Serbia and you will surely find some willing, if not necessarily well-read or particularly reflective, young progressives willing to believe the worst. If you can drop sinister hints about support for an "Islamist government" even as the powers that be can't seem to pin bin Laden down, and you've got yourself the makings of an imperialist war project that simply must be resisted.

Perhaps I'm being too cynical and glib. Or perhaps I'm just angry because I am a (no longer so young) left-liberal progressive, and it disgusts and outrages me to see the language of liberation and human rights defiled in the service of two-bit fascism and drearily tribal collectivism. And it is this very outrage which has fueled me as I have patiently and systematically reviewed, to this point, 192 pages of Diana Johnstone's vile book. I make no claims to the quality of my writing or my analysis, but I do hope that by having taken her to task and left the record of one non-specialist's experience with the book, I have done some small part to undermine the edifice of disingenuous analysis and deliberate misinformation she has constructed.

That said, with the last seven pages of Chapter Four I appear to have reached a point of diminished returns; her analysis has wandered so far off the track that it simply isn't worth the time and effort required to rebut them. Suffice it to say--in part two of Chapter Four, she argues that the surviving members of the Hapsburg aristocracy are partially responsible for the Yugoslav wars. And yes, she seems to be serious. Otto von Hapsburg, she contends, had enough sway over German public opinion that he was able to push the German government into "war" against Serbia. And, what's more, the Hapsburgs have set themselves up in Croatia, Austria, and Hungary as potential princes if--I'm not making this up--Europe reverts to monarchical rule in the post-Communist era.

She does her best to make this sound like a reasonable argument, but what we have here is the story of Otto von Hapsburg, a very intelligent and capable aristocrat and--as if this should be any surprise at all--a political and cultural conservative (why one should be surprised to find an aristocratic heir to a deposed monarchy to be something of a reactionary is not explained), who has dedicated his life to maintaining political and cultural ties in the Catholic lands his family once ruled. We can discuss the wisdom or the usefulness of his life's work, but it's quite a leap to go from that to stating that the Hapsburgs have positioned themselves for a restoration.

That von Hapsburg seems to be something of an elitist, a Catholic partisan, and a bigot against the Orthodox East only gives Johnstone something to work with. The family's real enough ties to Croatia are entirely understandable, yet Johnstone somehow seeks to convince the reader that these powerless if still well-connected nobles somehow wield the power to crush states and unleash war. If you're interested, this section covers pages 193-197, in case you want to check to make sure I'm not exaggerating.

So, to sum up--Johnstone believes that Yugoslavia was destroyed by a newly unified Germany, carrying out the revived foreign policy of the Third Reich, under the influence of the Hapsburg monarchy. And somehow this woman was able to find a publisher for this book.

Friday, March 09, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Four [11]



The saga of Joschka Fischer continues; apparently we are to believe that he is almost single-handedly responsible for Germany's decision to intervene in the Bosnian war. And by "intervene," we are to understand Johnstone to mean "revive the foreign policy of Nazi Germany."

In case it needs to be reiterated, the Nazis instituted a policy of genocide in Yugoslavia during the occupation, partially carried out by their proxies in Ustashe Croatia. Puppet regimes were set up, Jews were systematically annihilated, and ethnic Serbs were left at the mercy of Pavelic's deranged regime.

And, somehow, Johnstone wants to convince the reader to believe that this was, essentially, no different from the foreign policy of Gerhard Schroder. Correction--she doesn't seek to convince the reader at all, or at least not to any great extent. Despite the pretense she makes of laying out a case for a historical continuity of German foreign policy dating to Prussian times, she makes this incredibly hyperbolic claim without acknowledging how extreme it truly is. Serb nationalists who feel that Western observers of the recent wars overlooked Nazi and Ustashe atrocities against Serbs might want to consider how Johnstone's claims trivialize the true scale of this history.


Eventually, her bizarre fixation on the rise of Joschka Fischer leads us to this bizarre claim--the decision by Germany to send peacekeeping troops was a return to German imperialism in the Balkans. Yes, the German contributions to that woefully ineffective force in Bosnia and the decision to use air power to enforce UN no-fly provisions constitutes a repeat of Nazi foreign policy in the Balkans.

This section is long and meandering, but can summed up as simply this: Sending German air power to Bosnia was a psychological reminder of past atrocities. I have written previously about her tendency to give anthropomorphic qualities to collective groups; this section is a fine example. The implication is that Serbs as a group would be traumatized by the reappearance of German warplanes; in her world, "collective memory" is not a figure of speech but rather a literal phenomena.

She asks "why it must be German air power," when she has already acknowledged that newly reunified Germany was the most powerful country in Europe; the war in Yugoslavia was infamously hailed as the dawn of "the age of Europe." The US and the UN were more than happy to let the EC--and then the EU--deal with Bosnia for quite some time.

The above-mentioned anthropomorphism combines with some pretty sketchy pop psychology to produce a theory of that Germans transferred their guilt from World War II onto the "evil Serbs", a transference which necessitated military confrontation with a "new Holocaust." She has mixed her chronology quite a bit here--we're in Kosovo, in 1999 all of a sudden, without missing a beat--but why quibble with that? And anyway, the Albanians were, as you might remember, natural fascists and the inheritors of a Nazi client state just waiting for their Teutonic patrons to return in force.

And so part one of Chapter Four sputters to an end, with some admittedly ugly anecdotes of Albanians greeting German soldiers with Heil Hitler salutes and other fascist claptrap. Which provides Johnstone with a wonderful molehill on which to plant the flag proclaiming "Here is Mount Nazi!" She mixes and matches assorted quotes and scenes in order to create the illusion of a mass movement of Albanians flocking to sign up for SS all over again. I have to hand it to her; it's quite a spectacle. Given the widespread atrocities all over the former Yugoslavia, and the tens of thousands dead, it's quite a feat to locate the nexus of your outrage on a parade of liberated Albanians welcoming NATO troops in a parade.

This alternate history of Germany and the Balkans ends, rather blandly, with this little gem:

"In January 2002, after early resignations of the Frenchman Bernard Kouchner followed by the Dane, Hans Haekkerup, the post of UN administrator of the Kosovo protectorate went to a German, Michael Steiner, Chancellor Schroders former foreign policy advisor. Many things had changed in 50 years, not least the fact that Germany and the United States were now on the same side."

Where does one begin with such a statement? Had West Germany and the US not been "on the same side" for decades prior to this? Does she even care? I think not--when the next section begins, she immediately moves on from this crude statement. And by "moves on," I mean "moves back in time"--a thousand years.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Four [10]



Here's how this section begins:

"To pursue a Balkan policy so similar to that of the Third Reich, Germany had to convince itself and others that it was doing quite the contrary."

Even though the last section made the comparisons between Germany in the 1990s and the Third Reich explicit, I am still stunned that this is the benchmark she is setting. This is beyond hyperbole and even gross exaggeration; this is delusional.

And yet, she doesn't stop--she portrays the rise of the Green party as a smokescreen to hide Germany's Prussian militaristic heart from "the Russians and other victims of Nazi aggression" so that they would agree to German reunificiation. This obsession with past wrongs--and the assumption that later generations assume the guilt for the sins of their ancestors--explains a lot about her worldview.

She follows with a brief synopsis of the career of Green leader Joschka Fischer, who came to the party from a rather more revolutionary and militant far-left background. And was willing to make the sort of compromises necessary in order to hold high office. There might very well be something sinister in his rise to power, but her relentless focus on Fischer (who we've met before in the book) is absurd.

Then comes this quote:

"In 1994, the conflict in Bosnia took a new turn. Secretly armed by Islamic countries and supported diplomatically by the United States, the Bosnian Muslims were on the offensive in Bosnia itself, although the media studiously ignored Muslim attacks or military advances."

I remember CNN showing live footage of Bosnian Army movements during the failed offensive aimed at breaking out of Sarajevo. I don't know which media studiously ignored Bosnian Army activities during any part of the war, but it wasn't the Western broadcast media Johnstone loves to rail against.

Her gross exaggeration of the extent of Bosnian successes in 1994 is matched by the disproportionate emphasis she gives to the foreign mujahideen and their contributions to Bosnian military successes. I don't mean to discount their activities, neither their genuine military successes or the brutality of their means. I'm in record in this blog as disapproving of both the actions of the Islamist volunteers and the lax oversight the SDA-led government exercised over them. But the implication that they were somehow crucial to a mostly mythical change in military fortune is all out of scale to their true impact on events. They were a serious moral flaw in the Bosnian Government's cause. Johnstone studiously ignores the plank in her own eye while returning again and again to this splinter.

She goes on to imply that the siege of Sarajevo was not a siege at all (she is less explicit on this point than Michael Parenti), but rather a cynical facade maintained by the government in order to solicit Western sympathy. She then states that in 1994 "the Bosnian Serbs were on the defensive and more disposed than the Muslims to make peace," at which point we can safely assume that the reality train has left the station and left our dear Ms. Johnstone behind. There are grains of small truths and stray facts scattered throughout this giant edifice of distortion and deliberately myopic misrepresentations of ephemeral moments as fundamental shifts, but not nearly enough to justify such a wrong-headed interpretation of events.

One either gets it or one doesn't. For all her obsessive attention to detail when it suits her motives, Johnstone tends to lob statements like that without citation or elaboration. Her ideal reader won't know any better, or won't want to. The rest of us can only stare in disbelief.


I've been out of town for a few days. This is the final section of Part One, but rather than rush through the rest I'll return to it tomorrow. I want to get this review back on track and finish Chapter Four in the next few days.