Thursday, November 04, 2010

"Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" by Silber and Little [12]

Chapter 16: The Gates of Hell The Outbreak of War in Bosnia April 1-10, 1992

This chapter opens with a moving and illuminating episode from the opening days of the war, then backs up to recount the opening of full-scale warfare in and around Sarajevo. It is clear from the narrative that, up until this point, Izetbegovic had not fully grasped how much danger his country, and his fellow Muslims, were in. Balkan revisionists and apologists for the Serb nationalist project conveniently forget that this "Islamic fundamentalist" was completely unprepared for armed conflict of any kind.

Chapter 17: The President is Kidnapped May 2-3, 1992

This chapter recounts, in detail, the infamous incident where the JNA apprehended President Izetbegovic and his companions at the Sarajevo airport. This event was revisited inthe news in the past few months when Serbia tried, and failed, to have former member of the Bosnian Presidency extradicted for his role in this affair.

The details here are important, and the book makes a convincing case that the entire incident, which ended with an ambush by Bosnian militiamen and left several dead, was simply the tragic result of some incredibly poor decisions made in the middle of a confusing war. It is worth noting that the JNA forces in Sarajevo were under the command of an old-school general who was not on board with the Greater Serbia project--he would be relieved and replaced with Ratko Mladic--yet another detail which illustrates how confusing the situation on the ground was.

Also of interest to readers of this blog is how this incident, more than anything else, seems to have turned Canadian General Lewis MacKenzie into a de facto ally of the Bosnian Serb government. His initial anger and disgust with the Bosnian government forces was understandable, but his failure to put the incident into context, to recognize his own role in the tragedy, or to realize that trapped in Sarajevo as he was he was--much like the rest of the Western world--unable to see the greater horrors unfolding in the rest of Bosnia--are not.

Chapter 18: The Cleansing The Summer of 1992

While much of the Western world was unaware of what was going on in the rest of the republic, that would soon change. This chapter details both the "ethnic cleansing" of Bosnia as well as the stories of the different journalists who helped bring them to light; all this in the context of hundreds of thousands of refugees bringing incredible and grotesque horror stories which quite often were simply not believed. All this also in the context of an international reaction which chose to regard the war as a humanitarian, not a political crisis (an illusion the West would cling to far beyond the point at which this politically convenient fiction could stand up to the light of day); the authors point out that the creation of refugees was not a by-product of the war, it was the entire point.

The incidents in this chapter are infamous, and well-known to any reader of this blog. The discovery of death camps by Roy Gutman of Newsday, and then the reporting of ITV, should be news to nobody here. Still, the fact remains that there are revisionists who need to believe that these things simply didn't happen. It is crucial, then, to remember that reliable and sober reportage on these atrocities existed from the early days of the war, and that these accounts have stood the test of time and the rigor of analysis and second-guessing. Parenti, Johnstone, Chomsky and the rest don't want to know it. But we are not free to pick and choose which reality suits our ideological purposes.

1 comment:

Owen said...

That's an interesting point about the possibility that MacKenzie's pro-Serb stance stems from this episode. It's possible, but his cavalier attitude on so many issues of wider concern suggests that basically he's prone to sympathise with decisive command structures that implement rapid solutions to situations on the ground. His interventions in relation to various scandals within the Canadian military and his unpleasant public attitude towards Dallaire suggest that this incident would only have been incidental to him finding himself more in sympathy with his VRS interlocutors rather than the ArBiH. The motives that have locked him into ongoing support for the Serb cause and genocide denial have to be left to speculation for the time being, until he's prepared to answer questions.