Saturday, April 07, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Five [6]



This section is eight pages long, yet contains very little substance. Perhaps that it is due to the subject matter, which is a difficult one for Johnstone--the nonviolent resistance movement among Kosovar Albanians in the 1990s, under the leadership of Ibrahim Rugova. To her credit, Johnstone acknowledges the Albanian tactic of nonviolent resistance at the beginning of this section, even though she feels obligated to mention the large number of blood feuds thus canceled or at least suspended as a result (we mustn't allow ourselves to forget the essentially primitive and violent nature of Albanian society, after all). She even describes this accomplishment as "impressive." And then she spend the following seven pages doing her best to undermine any positive implications of this accomplishment.

The gist of her criticism is that the Albanian resistance movement was fundamentally different from other, more celebrated resistance movements in that the Albanians weren't fighting for their rights within the system, but were secessionist in nature. This is true, as far as that goes--they did set up alternate institutions, and there is little doubt that independence (or union with Albania proper) was the goal of many, probably the majority. Johnstone could have compared the Kosovar Albanians to the Kurds of northern Iraq in that case; I do not believe the parallel could have escaped her. As it is, she does not mention that possible parallel.

We're then treated to a litany of examples of how insufficient and inferior the health and educational institutions that the Albanians set up were, especially compared to the existing Serbian institutions already in place. I believe I've already noted this, but it bears repeating--Johnstone is echoing the rationale of colonialism in this chapter with her repeated condemnations of allegedly insufficient and faulty Albanian institutions. The patronizing tone of these sections, which both implicitly and explicitly suggest that Albanians are culturally and even tempermentally ill-suited for self-government, suggest that the Kosovo was, by all rights, a "colony" of Serbia and that Albanians would have been well-advised to accpe the civilizing influence of their masters. In a book which purports to assail neo-imperialism, this is an odd approach, to say the least.

At this point, she blithely suggest that Serbs were looking for a way out of Kosovo, and that partition was suggested as a way to let the Albanians go! The brazen disregard for context is glaring here--to prove her claim, she quotes Serbian novelist and arch-nationalist Dobrica Cosic. This is his ONLY appearance in the book; nothing has been mentioned of his role in the rise of Serb nationalism in the 1980s or of his intellectual contributions to the ethnic cleansing project of the 1990s. He is presented as a concerned intellectual, observing the problem from afar and from despair, hoping only to bring peace to a troubled region and and end to endemic ethnic conflict between two peoples. The hypocrisy of this approach is staggering--considering how she completely ignored Cosic up to this point, the reader might suppose she simply chose to sweep him and his role in events under the rug.

Yet, this is not all that surprising at all--Johnstone treats reality as a carefully scripted play or movie, so the characters in the Yugoslav drama serve as nothing but props to be brought on when their presence is useful, and carted offstage when they no longer serve the desired narrative.

She concludes by noting the growing importance of NGOs and Western observers and organizers in Kosovo. It is not clear whether Johnstone believes that crafty, scheming Albanians played these naive dupes like fools, or that these organizations served as advance troops in the Western imperialist invasion. At the beginning of this chapter, Johnstone claimed that the peculiar circumstances of Albanian nationalism made their culture a convenient and useful beachhead for imperialist powers seeking a beachhead into the Western Balkans. So I suppose we are to assume a master conspiracy, with the Kosovar Albanian leadership playing to the sympathies of their Western benefactors in order to jockey for more power and autonomy.

Johnstone wraps all this in a cloying concern for the Serb minority in Kosovo, which might be believable if she weren't so determined to avoid placing any iota of blame for the troubles in Kosovo on the leadership in Belgrade. I would suspect that Kosovar Serbs know, deep down, that they were betrayed and let down by Serbia's government. And while I can understand why a scared Serb in Pristina or Pec or elsewhere in Kosovo might reflexively blame all ethnic Albanians for his or her plight then and now, there's no excuse for Johnstone--safe in the civilized, secular West she criticizes so glibly--to give in to similarly knee-jerk, bigoted generalizations.

Her concern, at any rate, is not with the fate of Kosovo per se. The spread and growth of Western NGO's gave the "Great Powers" the toehold they needed, as well as the proxies on the ground to give the purportedly one-sided reports of the situation that NATO countries would need to justify military action against Serbia.

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