Friday, October 02, 2009

"In Harm's Way" by Martin Bell [5]

Chapter 3: The Road to War

Two points in this short chapter (after opening with his first entry into Bosnia, shortly after listening to a Serb officer brag about the 2 million shells his forces had used to reduce Vukovar to rubble).

First, Bell is convinced that the German-led recognition of Slovenia and Croatia was the primary trigger responsible for unleashing the Bosnian war. This point gets kicked around revisionist circles quite a bit, so it's tempting to dismiss it out of hand. But Bell is clearly no revisionist; his concern seems genuine and based not on any paranoid conspiracy theories about the "rise of Germany" but on a realistic and sympathetic--if rather myopic--reading of the situation.

For Bell was right to note that many observers at the time realized that recognition of Slovenia and Croatia was likely to 'encourage' Bosnia to declare independence itself, and that such a declaration would be violently opposed by the radicalized Serb minority and its nationalist leadership. However, Bell commits the error of beginning the story of the war in Bosnia when he arrived; the context of Yugoslavia's demise does not figure into his equation. While he is willing to consider the reaction of Bosnia's Serbs (that is to say, their political and military leadership and a radicalized minority within the Serb population) to independence, he does not stop to consider what the alternative was. Namely, for two minority ethnic groups to remain as cowed prisoners within Milosevic's Greater Serbia. Bosnians chose independence not because they were eager to break Yugoslavia up; they sought it because staying was not a reasonable option.

But they didn't have the guns or heavy artillery or the military infrastructure to inflict pain and death on their neighbors, so evidently an injustice against them might have been more palatable. This is unfair to Bell, who clearly had no love for Serb nationalist war aims, or for the Milosevic regime. But putting the blame of Germany for "encouraging" Slovene, Croat, and Bosnian Croat/Bosniak secession ignores the crucial issue of why they wanted to leave in the first place. Given the reaction of Serb forces after independence was declared, was it really fair to blame these people for not wanting to leave under Belgrade's boot?

The second issue he brings up is in regards to the lack of a British diplomatic presence in Sarajevo; an important issue for a BBC reporter and British citizen, but what is interest here is the anecdote he shares about Douglas Hurd's visit to Sarajevo. Bell quite clearly conveys dismay at Hurd's lack of interest in the plight of Sarajevo's citizens and in his seeming unwillingness to go out of his way to talk to the people, to listen to them, to find out what they are thinking and to understand what they were going through.

There are certain passages in this book which revisionists like Diana Johnstone could cherry-pick for their own purposes, but Bell quite certainly does not share their mission.

1 comment:

Srebrenica Genocide Blog Editor said...

Sorry for divulging from the topic, but your link to "Mazowiecki Report" is dead. I am trying to read a copy of his report where he correctly estimated the number of dead at 200,000.

Mazowiecki is a former prime minister of Poland and a Jewish survivor of Nazi concentration camps.