Friday, October 31, 2008

"Long Shadows" by Erna Paris

Once again, I have read the Bosnia-related section (in this case the penultimate chapter) of a book without taking the time to read the rest of it. While America Between the Wars was promising and seemed to develop a plausible thesis, I was hesitant to recommend the book since I only read the first hundred or so pages, and then skipped ahead to the section on the Kosovo war.

On the other hand, while I only read one chapter of Long Shadows: Truth, Lies and History, I feel fairly comfortable assuming that the rest of the book is as insightful and well-written as Chapter 7, "The Furies of War Revisit Europe: Yugoslavia and Bosnia." Paris is keen and sympathetic observer, a well-informed student of the crisis rather than a superficially knowledgeable voyeur like so many Westerners, and an excellent craftsman. While the book was published in 2000 and therefore

She also knows a telling quote when she hears it. Her portrait of Klara Mandic, a Yugoslav Jew who had been raised by a Serb Orthodox couple after her parents were deported in World War II, illuminates many facets of the bizarre mix of selective memory and historical revisionism that informed the revived Greater Serbia movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Mandic was one of the founders of the "Serbian-Jewish Friendship Society," the ersatz group created to bolster Serb nationalist propaganda about the ongoing "genocide" against the Serbs and to garner public support for Serbian claims in Israel.

Mandic was also a friend and admirer of Radovan Karadzic, and at one point in the interview she became very defensive and heated when Paris pressed her about the indictments against him. Her evasiveness and equivalence-drawing leads her to this telling statement:

"Besides, who speaks about other ethnic cleansing? Right after the Second World War Croatia wanted to be cleansed of Serbs. It took them fifty years, but they did it. And what about the United States? They fought a bloody war in Vietnam and I do not remember that the president was accused of being a war criminal! I ask you, who has the right to make accusations against anyone!"

Here, we have the Balkan revisionist mindset distilled to a single prevaricating paragraph. After a long string of praise for the Serb nationalist project, and some evasive avoidance of the topic of personal guilt on the part of the leadership of that project, she airily denied having personally "heard anything" or having been on the scene when any atrocities were alleged to have occurred. This is typical--we saw Diana Johnstone and Michael Parenti using the same tactic of endlessly questioning the evidence and implying that outsiders and non-participants are somehow unable to discern even an outline of reality from evidence. But Mandic takes this reasoning to the logical conclusion--nobody has the right to say anything about anybody.

The Balkan revisionist project is not only a defense of fascism in southeast Europe, it is an assault on the very foundations of internationalism and even on reason itself. The proponents of this ideology conceive of humanity as being forever trapped in static, isolated tribal pockets eternally suspicious of each other and utterly incapable of taking even the most tentative steps towards mutual understanding and tolerance. In their world, we are not allowed to trust anything but personal experiences within the confines of our own tribal domains. It is a bleak, static, and hopeless worldview, and those of us who are committed to a secular, reason-based, democratic, and cosmopolitan world must never give any ground to these reductionist troglodytes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bosnian Ambassador to United States to Step Down

No word on who is replacing Dr Turkovic, whom I have met on a couple of occasions. She was always gracious and impressive, and I can only hope that her replacement will be able to live up to her example.

Unfortunately, this is yet another event I cannot attend in person; Bosnians in the US apparently like to keep their weekends free! (In fairness to my job, I am always free to use my annual leave for events like this--I am saving every minute of my vacation time for a planned trip to the Balkans this summer.)

Here is the press release I received from The Bosniak-American Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina :

Dear Colleagues,

The Bosniak-American Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina cordially invites you to
the Capitol Hill reception to bid farewell to Her Excellency Dr. Bisera Turkovic, Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Her Excellency Dr. Biser Turkovic:
Final remarks as the Bosnian Ambassador to the United States of America.

Thursday, October 30, 2008 ::: 9.00 a.m. - 11.00 a.m. ::: The Goldren Room ::: Rayburn Building 2168

The Heinrich Boell Foundation sponsored the Catering for the event.

Friday, October 24, 2008

"America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11" by Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier

I read several chapters of the book America Between the Wars, a history of United States foreign policy from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 2001. The premise of the book is that 9/11 didn't really "change everything", but rather that the attacks that day finally focused American attention--not just the public, but the governing elite--on new realities which had been developing since the fall of Communism.

It is an interesting and worthwhile thesis, one which places the Balkan wars of the 1990s into a larger context. In the authors' opinion (which I share), the battle between internationalist/interventionists on one side and neo-isolationist/non-interventionists on the other defined this era, and the current debates over American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan must be viewed in the context of continuing the struggle from the immediate post-Cold War period.

The authors essentially view events strictly in that framework, so the Dayton agreement is considered a "success" since the war was ended through American leadership, and improved the Clinton administration's standing globally and domestically. Little to nothing is said about Bosnia itself. Kosova gets rather more attention, since the war was, after all, Clinton's from the get-go, and the authors spend more time examining some of the ambiguities of the entire operation.

Time being in short supply for me lately, I did not finish the book, but I was pleased to see that, at the very least, the authors connected the dots between American involvement in the Balkans in the 1990s and current debates over humanitarian intervention, multilateral versus unilateral international actions, the limits of state sovereignty, and so forth.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Paddy Ashdown and Richard Holbrooke: Bosnia Needs Our Attention

Former High Representative for Bosnia Paddy Ashdown and former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke coauthored a plea for greater Western engagement in Bosnia published in today's issue of The Guardian:

A Bosnian powder keg

The headline unfortunately plays on certain well-worn cliches about the region; but this is a polemic, and anything which helps get the attention of the Western (including the next US administration) is a good thing.

"Islam in Europe": Professor Ermin Sinanovic

[I regret that I will be unable to attend this discussion, but if you are in the Washington DC area tomorrow I encourage you to check it out]

The Bosniak-American Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina cordially invites you to
a Capitol Hill briefing with Prof. Ermin Sinanovic.

Islam in Europe:
Institutionalization, immigration, and integration.

Thursday, October 23, 2008 ::: 2.00 - 3.00 pm ::: Rayburn Building 2255

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Play "Honey Brown Eyes" to be performed in Washington DC

Dear Colleagues,

The Bosniak-American Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina cordially invites you to
the play performance of Honey Brown Eyes at Theater J.

Honey Brown Eyes:
BAACBH Fundraising Event

Thursday, October 26, 2008 ::: 3.00- pm ::: 1529 16h St., NW, Washington, D.C.

Bosnia, 1992. A Serbian soldier confronts a woman he might have known and is faced with a terrible choice, while a member of the Bosnian resistance takes refuge in what he thinks is an abandoned apartment. Unlikely partnerships emerge in this play of heart breaking humanity and stunning relevance.

The purpose of the event is to enable four Bosnian-American students, who survived the war in Bosnia from 1992-95, to intern on Capitol Hill through the BAACBH Summer Educational Internship Program.

At 4:45 pm, following the matinee performance, the Artistic Director's Roundtable will discuss Women and Children in the Wars of Man: Giving Voice to the Unheard, including Elmina Kulasic, the Executive Director of the Bosniak-American Advisory Council, as a panelist.

Artwork by Natasa Keys, a young Bosnian-American, will be featured on the outside of the theater.

If you would like to contribute to the fundraiser, you may purchase tickets through the BAACBH website donation page ( Donation on the left side) for $60.00 with the difference going towards the educational program. Tickets will be held at the entrance.

Regular tickets for this play can also be purchased through Theater J at (800) 494-TIXS for $53.00.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Faith At War" by Yaroslav Trofimov

I haven't read the entire book, so I hesitate to recommend it based on only the final chapter, but Faith at War: A Journey on the Frontlines of Islam, from Baghdad to Timbuktu by Yaroslav Trofimov concludes with a depressing but balanced look at the influence of Wahhabi extremism and hardline Islamist proselytizing in Bosnia.

Trofimov is a keen observer, and one of the most telling details comes when he notes that actual nature of the Saudi-financing mosque rebuilding efforts post-Dayton:

"Rebuilding in Bosnia, the Saudi way, turned out to be more like destruction. The austere Wahhabi ideology holds frescoes and paintings to be un-Islamic, and considers elaborate gravestones and Sufi tekke, prayer lodges, a common sight in the courtyards of Bosnian mosques, to be miscreant abominations. Saudi-financed rebuilding of mosques damaged in the war usually consisted of bulldozing the cemetaries and the tekkes--many dating back to the Middle Ages--and refashioning the ancient mosques in a graceless Saudi style."

And so on. The details of the architectural rape of the Begova Dzamija are painful to read, and infuriating to reflect on. This should not have happened. It needs to be said yet again--when their existence was first threatened, the Bosniaks first turned to the West. When we did nothing, only then did some of them choose to follow the example of the jihadists in their midst.

Trofimov also details the Bosnian connection with Al Qaeda, and the role that the Bosnian war played in providing a training ground for future jihadists, including two of the 9/11 hijackers. He also interviews some radicalized Bosnian Muslims who are as anti-American and anti-Semitic as any Arab mujahideen. The abandonment of Bosnia by the West, and the ferocity of the mostly Arab mujahideen volunteers made quite an impression on some of Trofimov's interview subjects.

There is a silver lining, and that is that the seed of Wahhabi intolerance does not seem to have spread beyond a small minority. This book was published in 2005 and the Bosnia reporting was done sometime before then--even then, Trofimov notes that the society remained largely secular, and on his second trip he noted that what Bosniaks seemed to be pushing for was integration into Europe by way of EU membership, rather than turning its back on the West and huddling in the Islamist fold. Three-plus years after this book went to print, that still seems to be the case.

Yet, we know the extremists are still there, and some of them dared show their faces in public during the assaults on the Sarajevo Gay Pride parade. Bosnians--not just Bosniaks--still by and large want to join the West, to integrate into Europe. We do not have the right to keep them waiting forever, and books like this remind us that failures to act also have consequences.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Americans for Bosnia" Endorses Barack Obama for President

I had meant to post this earlier, but even though I might appear to be jumping on the bandwagon I still feel compelled to make a brief case for Americans interested in liberal interventionism and internationalism in general, and American involvement in Bosnia in particular, to support the Democratic nominee and his running mate.

It is true that, as far as the issues relevant to this blog, Obama is far from being the perfect candidate. I believe his opposition to the Iraq war, while principled, was based more on a narrow critique of the Bush Administration's admittedly clumsy preparations and rhetoric rather than a broader examination of the issue. And the senator has unfortunately given vocal support to the extremist Greek position on the ridiculous "issue" of Macedonia's name. His record does not suggest that he naturally leans towards the cause of liberal intervention. Indeed, earlier in his candidacy I was very much afraid that an Obama administration would be in many ways a return to the craven equivocation of Jimmy Carter. I was considering voting for John McCain, who has a much better record on Iraq and who was on the right side, ultimately, in Bosnia and Kosova.

I admit that I very much wanted to vote for Obama--I suspect he will be better equipped to handle the economic crisis we are in, and his political style seems to provide a viable way out of the dead-end, lowest-common-denominator politics of the past decade or more. His low-voltage, contemplative style could go a long way towards defusing the simple-minded talk-radio fueled hyper-politics which simply swamp any possibility of reasoned, thoughtful discourse in this country. But when it comes to Presidential politics, foreign policy is important to me, and earlier this year Obama did not stack up favorably against John McCain.

Then, the Illinois senator picked Joe Biden as his running mate, and suddenly I was looking at a ticket which included one of Bosnia's best friends in the Senate. Biden has been wrong about many things--I think he's just as wrong about Iraq as Obama is--but he's a smart guy who knows better than to argue with the facts on the ground. And his record on Bosnia and the Yugoslav wars speaks for itself. Now Obama had a running mate who knew which side deserves our support.

It wasn't enough that Obama picked a somewhat comforting VP; McCain pretty much sealed the deal when he picked possibly the worst running mate in modern political history. I cannot imagine what Sarah Palin's position on Bosnia would be, because I cannot imagine the woman has a serious, considered position on much of anything. Calling her a lightweight is an insult to lightweights. Calling her a joke is letting McCain off too easy, since he has given the proudly-ignorant/right-wing populist faction of the GOP a spot on his ticket. She is a sinister and malignant force in contemporary American politics, and she simply cannot be allowed into the White House.

By picking Joe Biden, Barack Obama signalled that he is serious about addressing his deficiencies and is serious about running the country. By picking Sarah Palin, John McCain signalled that he is serious about winning the election and little else.

Palin aside, I do feel that Obama has displayed the necessary flexibility, intelligence, and calmness needed to grapple with the issues the next President will face. Becoming Commander-in-Chief is a solemn responsibility and while I have no doubt that McCain respects and honors that duty, I sense that Obama does as well. Unlike Bill Clinton, I believe Obama has the inner confidence which will allow him to wield American military and diplomatic power responsibly and ably.

While President Obama may need the occasional nudge to keep him from deferring too much to the pacifist wing of the Democratic Party, I feel guardedly optimistic that he is the best hope for our country right now.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Please see the update at Srebrenica Genocide Blog

Daniel has received some new information about Srebrenica Genocide denier Marco van Hees--turns out, the scumbag wasn't even in Srebrenica at the time of the massacres! Please read the above-linked story for this updated information.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Recent Story on "El Mujahid" Division

In light of the recent sentencing of Bosnian General Rasim Delic, this article from International Relations and Security Network is quite timely:

Al-Qaida's Bosnian War Move

Consider some of the details of his case, such as being mocked in court by some of the very mujahidin he was accused of being responsible for. And then read this recent article, by Marko Attila Hoare:

A Tale of Two Generals

The unfairness of this rankles, as does the fact that fugitive war criminal Ratko Mladic is the subject of biography entitled Ratko Mladic: Tragic Hero. It would be difflicult not to consider the possibility that Delic is a victim, not of a conspiracy, but a misguided and slightly dissonant effort to manufacture a semblance of "balance" where none exists.

At the same time, one cannot ignore that this is yet another example of how collusion with Islamic extremists compromised Bosnia's honor; the sad fact that 70 seemingly unarmed Wahabbi youth were able to violently disrupt a well-publicized gay festival despite plenty of advance warning suggests that thus-far secular Bosnia is not immune to the appeal of fundamentalism in a time of confusion and insecurity.

Two Videos I Forgot To Share

Real quick, a couple of recent videos, which were forwarded to me, and I was too busy and/or addle-brained to immediately pass along.

First, Haris Silajdzic's recent speech at the United Nations:

President Silajdzic's speech at the UN

Also, Allan Little recently did a short (and rather depressing, I must warn you) report on Karadzic's legacy (i.e., the continued ethnic division of the country):

Allan Little on Newsnight

I tested both links yesterday and they still worked. Again, I must admit I've been sitting on each of them for a couple of weeks, so don't wait to long to check them out.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Magazine Gives Shout-Out to Bosnian Tourism

The Sept. 2008 issue of Conde Nast Traveller has a special report entitled "War and Peace", in which seven recently war-ravaged countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, are favorably profiled as desirable tourist destinations.

The issue is not yet available at the above website, but it is good to see the country getting some positive press coverage.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Genocide Denial Goes Dutch

Thanks to Daniel at Srebrenica Genocide Blog for the following update on a very troubling and offensive story:


The story focuses on Marco Van Hees, who seems to be the ringleader of the "Dutchbat III" group of 15 Dutch soldiers involved in Srebrenica genocide denial. The fact that these men are willing to add further shame to their record is almost numbing; it's almost--not quite, but nearly--impossible to muster any outrage against such an irrational act of betrayal and contrariness.

Daniel covers the story thoroughly, so I have nothing to add about the specifics. I do wonder if anyone out there has any insights into the psychology of someone like Marco Van Hees. The fact that he was present in Srebrenica, yet is able to claim a distorted and dishonest version of events, is troubling yet not difficult to believe--people often lie, and they often convince themselves to beleive a version of events which contradicts their own personal experiences. While unfortunate (to put it mildly), there is nothing extraordinary about Van Hees' ability to deny a horrible reality he should be bearing witness to.

It's not the ability of 15 or so Dutchbat soldiers to lie to the world, and seemingly to themselves, about a horrible atrocity they were witness to--and passive participants in--which puzzles me; rather, it is the motivation to do so which I cannot understand. I do have a theory, however, and I welcome any input from readers with more expertise, knowledge, and/or insight into individual and group psychology to correct, elaborate, or refute my (admittedly half-baked) notion.

Simply put, I believe that these few Dutch soldiers who have chosen to side with the fascist mass-murderers of Srebrenica are motivated at least partially from a feeling of powerlessness. I acknowledge that the more obvious answer would be that they are motivated by shame, and a desire to rewrite history so that their actions (and failures to act) in August of 1995 might seem more reasonable and justified. No doubt this plays a part, but I have read that violence is often a reaction to a feeling of powerlessness--a primal urge to lash out and assert control over a situation or perceived status.

The Dutch soldiers at Srebrenica, by a combination of factors both imposed and self-created, were passive pawns in a much larger game, and one can easily imagine the humiliation they must have felt. I realize I am not giving any attention to the incident where frustrated Bosniak soldiers inflicted casualities on the Dutchbat battalion in an attempt to force them to take a stand--that incident most certainly fueled some resentment on the part of the Dutchbat soldiers. And the stresses of being trapped in the enclave with thousands of desperate people of a different culture, language, and faith cannot be discounted.

Even acknowledging all that, I still contend that the humiliation inflicted on the Dutch soldiers by the Bosnian Serb forces, by General Mladic personally, and by the untenable position the UN and their own government had put them in--all of this contributed to a sense of powerlessness, and the dirty, desperate, and not always "grateful" Muslims who were nominally in their care were the most obvious, and easiest, targets for that frustrated rage to focus on.

At any rate, this is a story worth following. These foolish and dishonorable Dutch men will certainly provide ample ammunition for the Balkan revisionist crowd. We must be vigilant and tireless in response.