Monday, January 16, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [7]

Chapter 3 [concluded]

Chapter 3 concludes with a consideration of the role that Slovenia played in the final breakup of Yugoslavia; and of a portrait of the moderate Serb region of Glina, who were traumatized and radicalized by the actions of the HDZ and later by agents from the Knin SDS.

Neither of these brief accounts ring false; yet there seems to be something missing in Glenny's account. It is not incorrect to note that Slovenia's exit from Yugoslavia was in many ways hasty, that it forced Croatia to follow suit while unprepared, or that the Slovenes and Croats were backed by many European governments which didn't fully comprehend the seriousness of the situation. Yet at the same time, there seems to be very little awareness from Glenny of the fact that Slovenia was a small republic facing the very real specter of a Serb-dominated central state under Milosevic; he only mentions the economic disparities between the wealthier Alpine republic and its poorer neighbors to the south.

What seems to be in play here is that one of Glenny's strengths--he's a Serbo-Croat speaker who spent a lot of time on the ground and reported quickly--is also, if not exactly a weakness, at the very least has led him to narrow his focus just a little bit too much. For while the early part of this book demonstrated a solid grasp of recent political and economic events which fueled the crisis, in this chapter there seems to be a real disconnect between this larger context and the discrete local scenarios he describes.

In the case of the moderate Serbs around Glina; the larger story here is that the rise of nationalism and and nationalist politicians narrowed, and finally eliminated, the civic space in which is was possible to maintain a "Yugoslav" or non-ethnic identity. Ultimately, the Serbs around Glina were forced to join with the SDS because it was no longer possible to be anything but exclusively Serb.

I cannot shake the nagging feeling that Glenny is too hasty to shift the focus entirely to the heavy-handed, thuggish tactics of Tudjman's government; but at the same time Glenny had been so clear-headed in his analysis up to now it seems a bit unfair to be too quick to accuse him of downplaying the primary role of the Belgrade regime by engaging in some faux-objective 'even-handedness.'

What does seem to be clear at the conclusion of this chapter is that Glenny certainly regards the war in Croatia to have been much more of situation in which the Croatian government brought on the war just as much as the Yugoslav government did. This seems to fly in the face of his own admission that Tudjman, unlike Milosevic and the JNA, had not really prepared for war. It also raises the question--if Tudjman had been a wiser leader and the moderate wing of the HDZ had predominated, would the war in Croatia still have happened? Would it have been as brutal? And would ethnic cleansing still have entered the lexicon of the late 20th century? I am not at all convinced that the answers to any of these questions would be 'No'; and therefore, I have some serious reservations about Glenny's perspective.

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