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.


TeamSplashi said...

Thank you for making this blog and for spreading word about Bosna i Hercegovina.

Good luck , and please let me know if I can be of any help.

Anonymous said...

I was flipping through blogs and I ran across your review of a book on Albania and Kosovo. I am a bit better informed than the average American, but I am curious at the use of the term "ethnic cleansing". It has taken on a pejorative meaning now, but may be the original commentary is being taken out of context. What I see in the Balkans is an area of mixed nationalities and religions and an unwillingness to get along (this from an American of some Balkan heritage). How does one solve a problem like that? What is suggested is relocation, if done in a humane way, it is a swap of value for value, though the reality of demogogic rulers is to kick out those who aren't the same, hence "ethnic cleansing". The logic of the solution seems defensible, while the practice has been reprehensible. I myself can offer no solution, the best I can do is the "B" answer, what is wrong, and haven't yet heard or found the "A" answer, the solution. Good luck finding it.

Katja R. said...

The problem with so called peaceful exchange of populations is this, sometimes people don't want to leave a place where they have lived for centuries.
Another person acknowleges the cruelty of Yugoslavia in Kosovo in the early 20th century but justifies it as 'neccesary' out of 'realpolitik' that was Dame Rebecca West, who'se brilliantly written book has had a terrible influence on the Western views of the Balkans.

Owen said...

I'm sorry, Loren, reasonable solutions on paper bump into the reality of people's lives and feelings. I was "relocated", quite a long time ago now and with compensation, but nevertheless it was against my will and I'm still resentful about it.

Prevention is much better than cure - no condoning of demagogues who poke sharp sticks in old wounds and harness the resulting anger.