Monday, May 28, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [18]

Chapter 6: June 1992-June 1993: Beyond Hades

Glenny starts this chapter off by noting that for much of the modern era, warfare in the Balkans has involved a high level of violence against civilians; "ethnic cleansing" was not new to the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. This is  an absolutely true observation. He also argues against the perception "that these are wars fuelled by 'ancient hatreds', as the British Prime Minister, John Major, has characterized them." He argues that the international community crudely explained the wars as the product of inherent barbarism on the part of the participants, and that the Serbs have been portrayed as bloodthirsty primitives for whom the killing of civilians was the ends, not the means. This is also a true observation. As he puts it:

Our understanding of the war in BiH has, regrettably, been clouded by the level of suffering and the tendency of many witnesses to confuse the moral questions raised by the conflict with the political issues which caused it.


Glenny is raising an important point here; however, his application of this reasonable observation to the facts at hand is problematic, because he makes another distinction--and does so far too absolutely. His effort to explain the underlying demographic, historical, political and social tensions underlying the Yugoslav wars go too far; he draws the demarcation between those factors on he one side and the political manipulation of those fears by nationalist politicians and leaders too firmly. To be asked to completely separate the viciously racist rhetoric of the SDS from the understandable fears of the Bosnian Serb minority is going a step too far.

Granted, Glenny wrote this book in 1993. But he seems more interested in correcting Western misconceptions and media generalizations than in coming to any workable political solution to the fighting. Indeed, Glenny has already stated that once war in the Balkans has started, it must be allowed to run its course. Moreover, he seems loathe to blame the aggressors for much of anything other than excessive use of paramilitary violence. He seems to want it both ways--to argue that the source of the violence in Bosnia was political not social or cultural (I agree), yet at the same time to argue against any ultimate political culpability on the part of the primary aggressors. Needless to say, I do not agree with that.

I will directly address this concern in my next post.

1 comment:

Owen said...

The sense of queasiness that Glenny aroused in me was due to this sense that he was expressing the anxieties of ordinary Serbs but without being too concerned about the substance of those anxieties or who was responsible for whipping up their fears.