Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [16]

Chapter 5 [continued]

(Picking up where I left off...)

It is true that Izetbegovic was careless when he led Bosnia towards independence without making preparations for war. Yet Glenny throws far too much of the blame at the feet of the Bosniak President. Furthermore, Glenny simultaneously acknowledges that Bosnia's tripartite Presidency was an "absurd fiction", yet criticizes Izetbegovic and the international community for ignoring the Serb demands to continue it, describing them as "both just and reasonable."

It is not clear why he regards those demands as "just and reasonable." It is hard to ignore the feeling that Glenny has either not thought deeply about the ramifications of the ethnic-identity basis of the constitutional system, or he accepts it as the best system for Bosnia.

There is a disconnect in Glenny's account between "the Serbs" and the actual actions of the Bosnian Serb leadership; in his account, there is a clear line between the "just and reasonable" demands of an ethnic group versus the morally reprehensible actions of the political and military actors acting on behalf of that group.

And when the war finally breaks out, he continues to focus on the mistakes and strategic missteps of Izetbegovic, as if the forces arrayed against him are anonymous forces of nature rather than military and paramilitary units operating under political, ideological, and military direction. Glenny does not dignify the demands and concerns of the Bosnian Serbs, but he does seem to regard them as the "baseline" upon which the political calculations of others must be based. This might have been strategically wise given the political and military realities, but Glenny presents this point of view as a moral imperative, not a strategic necessity.

Glenny certainly is not blind to the war crimes committed by Serb forces; nor is he wrong to point out that there were a multitude of factors leading up to the war. But he has an unfortunate tendency to segregate a discussion of the legitimacy of Serb concerns and fears from the political and social dynamics which fueled and harnessed those societal factors. This is tricky terrain, because I truly appreciate Glenny's concern for the ordinary Serbs who were caught up in the maelstrom which was not of their own making. The grotesque media narrative about primitive, bloodthirsty Serbs was not a delusion of his--far too much reportage turned the war into a simple morality tale, with all Serbs cast as villains.

But it's hard to know what to make of a passage like this:

The case of the Serbs has often been misrepresented and their genuine fears and concerns dismissed when they should not have been. But the behaviour of Karadzic, the Arkanovci and other paramilitary groups, and the JNA in Bosnia-Hercegovina destroyed their reputation abroad. No injustice had been perpetrated against the Serbs of Bosnia or of Serbia to justify this rape of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

One has to ask--in Glenny's opinion, what level of violence and depravity was justified? I recognize that is not what he means to say--the man is far too decent and humane to contemplate any sort of blood libel against anyone. But the implicit logic of this chapter seems to be heading towards such an ugly question. You can only blame the victim for stumbling into war for so long before your outrage at the excessive violence he then suffers seems to be beside the point.


Srebrenica Genocide said...

Micha Glenny is one of those authors who are careful what they say; in other words, Misha Glenny is scared of criticism others may have of his opinion. That is exactly why he is so genuinely 'concerned' about the well-being of the Serb side who was armed to the teeth and who committed 95% of all war crimes in Bosnia. But, why 'demonize' Serbs? Misha Glenny seems to take a stand that Serbs suffered equally or nearly equally as Bosniaks (Muslims). So, put a little bit blame on both sides and you get balance. Well, that is not balance, but revisionism. Serbs are responsible for 95% of all war crimes. They shelled and sniped 1 million Bosniaks in the besieged enclaves (for comparison, not even 1 Serb-held city was bombed or shelled by Bosnian army and not even one Serb-held city was besieged during the war!). Misha Glenny is a bankrupt revisionist who is kissing Serbian ass when he should not have to do that.

Owen said...

"Glenny presents this point of view as a moral imperative, not a strategic necessity." That I think summarises the unease I always felt about where Glenny was coming from.