Sunday, February 19, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [14]

Chapter 5 [continued]

The next section considers the nationalist character of the Bosnian political system, the organization of major political parties along nationalist/ethnic lines, and the role these factors played in leading the country into war.

In a general way, Glenny is absolutely correct--the major political parties in Bosnia were organized on explicitly national lines, and this was a major obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the breakup of Yugoslavia. But he gets a lot wrong, too--and the manner in which he does so might reveal a shortcoming in his perspective.

Although he acknowledges that Tito played a cynical balancing act by "enforcing communal life on the three communities using repression, and if necessary, violence." Yet he does not dwell at length on the political and constitutional ramifications of this policy, which was carried out in a federation in which nations were the constituent pieces of the polity.

Instead, he blames the "three communities" in Bosnia for creating exclusive national parties, as if this happened in a vacuum--as if the nationalist fervor sweeping all of Yugoslavia wasn't the most salient fact in the creation of political parties in a failing state which regarded the citizen first as a member of an officially recognized nationality. And he ignores that there were other parties not organized along ethnic lines, but the structure of the constitution hampered their ability to attract support.

And finally, he holds the Muslims especially accountable as the SDA was formed before either the Bosnian SDS or the Bosnian branch of the HDZ. This seems to be a very selective use of context and perspective. This would be bad enough if it weren't for the fact that in his discussion of the way political punishment was meted out to individuals of each national group in something not like a quota, he writes this:

"Similarly, if a Moslem fundamentalist were sentenced (as the President Alija Izetbegovic was, following the publication of his theses on an Islamic state), then a Serb and a Croat would soon hear the prison gates closing behind them."

The larger point he is making in the passage that sentence is from--that Tito's tactic was both a gross violation of human rights and ultimately ineffective because it left the wounds of World War II to fester--is not a problem. But anyone who knows the story of the Bosnian War, and of the rhetoric surrounding it, knows that the claim that Izetbegovic was an Islamic fundamentalist is both loaded and very problematic. Surely Glenny knew, even in 1993, that Serb nationalists fanned fears of a bogus Islamist state rising in Bosnia to both radicalize Bosnian Serbs and to justify their campaign to whomever in the international community were willing to buy it. Even if Glenny believes that Izetbegovic was a fundamentalist--again, hardly a point beyond dispute--he had to realize that this bald statement would color readers perceptions.

This tendency to zero in on events in Croatia and Bosnia without considering the larger context continues to be troubling.

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