Sunday, January 15, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [6]

Chapter 3 [continued]

Next, Glenny goes to Croatia. This entire chapter is something of a morbid travelogue, in which he visits several republics as well as Kosovo on the eve of the war; his account of his stop in Zagreb is of a piece with what he has written before, including both a sadly touching meeting of a committed Yugoslav intellectuals of a variety of ethnic backgrounds, and a depressing account of the ubiquity of Croatian nationalist iconography.

But, prior to this, Glenny begins his account of the mood in Croatia on the eve of war with a discussion of the Borovo Selo incident, in which 12 Croat policemen and 3 Serb civilians were killed in an incident which many Croats considered the beginning of the war, and which Glenny decided was the result of Croat provocations. His obvious determination to make this point, at some length, is slightly troubling.

I am not arguing that he is necessarily wrong, at least on narrowly technical grounds. Not wanting to rehash his version of events at greater length than his account, I'll simply note that Borovo Selo is a town near Vukovar in Slavonia; and that responsible local authorities had worked out a fragile truce between Serbs and Croat/HDZ authorities. Central to this truce was that Croat police would not enter the area, which was controlled by Serbs.

Unfortunately, some Croatian police did come in, apparently under orders from regional HDZ leaders cynically looking to stir up more violence and create a pretext for aggression.

The problem here is that Glenny seems too quick to present this incident as some sort of balance; the paragraph which opens the section of the chapter on this incident closes with the sentences:

"Although I had always considered the HDZ a dangerous organization, I believed Milosevic to be the evil genius of the Yugoslav crisis. Borovo Selo was to instruct me in the ways of Croatian nationalism which, when activated, proved a formidable counterpart to its Serbian opponent."

This seems a little hasty a move to some implied "middle ground" in which we quickly forget that while Tudjman and the HDZ were certainly doing much to stir up genuine--and understandable--fear among Serbs, it was Milosevic who was quietly preparing the army and its proxies for real war. While the Croatian police who were captured and killed (three of whom were mutilated and probably tortured) were indeed sent to violate an armistice, the fact remains that they were operating in Croatian territory.

Glenny's account suggests the possibility that he may be so solicitous towards the Serbs in other republics that he is too quick to focus on their immediate situation at the expense of the larger context.

However, at this point in the narrative it is worth pointing out that the war hasn't started yet. The horrors of Vukovar are coming, but they haven't arrived yet. Glenny seems to protest too much in this section--up until now we have heard nothing really about him, but suddenly we learn that he, personally, has been attacked both for allegedly being too pro-Croatian and for being too pro-Serb. I have no doubt that he is telling the truth, so far as that goes. However, his decision to interrupt the narrative in order to dwell on this point at some length raises a concern or two. An author who pauses in his story to assert that he has been attacked for being too unbiased should not be surprised if at least some readers wonder why he suddenly protest so much.

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