Saturday, June 16, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [21]

Chapter 6 [concluded; pp. 223-234]

This chapter concludes with an extended discussion of the Vance-Owen Peace Plan, which Glenny thought quite highly of. He rightly notes that the "Geneva Conference on Yugoslavia took its work extremely seriously" and that both Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen "set about their work with gusto." The complexity of the negotiations, and the multiplicity of parties involved certainly deserves mention. But while doing so, he also includes a footnote [page 224] which contains the following aside:

"In one of of its least inspired appointments, the United Nations named Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the former Polish Prime Minister, head of the commission investigating human rights abuses in the former Yugoslavia. Whoever came up with the bright idea of selecting a leading lay Catholic intellectual for a job which involved talking to the Serbs should mug up on his or her European history."

There is plenty wrong with this statement. To begin with, any pretense at drawing a distinction between individuals with a group identity versus the group as a collective singular seems to have been abandoned; were human rights being committed by individual Serbs, Croats and Moslems, or by "the Serbs", "the Croats" and "the Moslems"?

Secondly, the deference given here to "European history" is the same flawed reasoning which accepted the idea of "ancient hatreds" in the Balkans. Simply because the conflict between Catholicism and Orthodoxy has been a factor in conflict between Croats and Serbs (indeed, crucial to defining these respective groups) it should not automatically follow that the rest of the world is bound to filter all interactions in the Balkans through that confessional filter. Or, indeed, that Serbs and Croats should.

Thirdly, it strikes me as rather counter-productive to imply that the prejudices and bigotries of the most paranoid and xenophobic sectors of one particular group should dictate the personnel involved in an activity related to impartially investigating serious crimes committed by members of several groups including that one.

Finally, there is nothing to suggest that Mazowiecki was particularly unqualified for this job for any other reason than being a Catholic intellectual--and a Catholic from outside the region, from a country with no particular involvement in Balkan matters. Mazowiecki was a poor choice simply for being a Catholic intellectual. It seems telling that Glenny chose to make this aside in a footnote, and that he does not detail why knowing "European history" would enlighten the reader as to why the former Prime Minister was such an affront to "the Serbs."

At any rate, Glenny assures that the Vance-Owen Peace Plan was "an exceptionally good document" which was misunderstood or misrepresented by its critics. His claim that it was never intended to be a final solution to the war but rather a mechanism to end the military conflict seems reasonable--except that he doesn't bother to offer any framework for what a more just and permanent settlement would be, or how one would move on from the terms of Vance-Owen to get there.

Glenny is quick to point out that while the plan didn't give the Bosnian government (whose legitimacy and UN membership he generally ignores or dismisses) the centralized state it wanted, it didn't give the Bosnian Serbs everything they wanted, either. This seemingly fair-minded approach ignores the elephant in the room--the fact that by partitioning the country into ethnic sections and then negotiating over the boundaries between them, the plan already accepted the ethno-nationalist logic the Bosnian Serb campaign was based on, even if it did deny them union with a Greater Serbia and cost them some of "their" territory. (Glenny is mum on the legitimacy of the claims of an avowedly ethno-nationalist entity on formerly multiethnic territory). The Croats did well under the plan--the only criticism Glenny can really muster is that it might have been better to force them to give up some land to "the Moslems" (so much for the Bosnian state) so that there would have been three 'losers' and no clear 'winners.'

At this point, Glenny returns to blaming the West for interfering in Bosnia; this time for not supporting the Presidential candidacy of Panic against Milosevic. Yet at the same time, he argues that naming Milosevic as a war criminal helped him. His victory was considerable, two-to-one in the end, so it's hard to see how Western support for Panic could have swung the result the way he explicitly argues it could have--particularly when Western attacks on Milosevic get blamed for hurting Panic.

At this point, he argues that Milosevic, Tudjman, and the Bosnian Serbs were ready to make peace, and the Izetbegovic government was ready to embrace Vance-Owen because it was their last chance to hold on to anything. And then, Glenny argues, the incoming Clinton administration and other foreign powers ruined everything by undermining Vance-Owen at that very moment. His belief that the plan was actually going to provide a framework which by the warring parties would be willing to settle without any further outside intervention seems pure fantasy, but this is what he argues-even as he goes on to note that the plan helped legitimize Croat control of land which led to an escalation of hostilities between the HOV and the ABiH. It it quite telling that he left this factor out of his earlier discussion of the Croat-Muslim war of 1993 and instead included it here.

This is where Glenny leaves off (there are two epilogues written later which I will review in upcoming posts). The civil war in central Bosnia between Croats and Muslims "proves" that arming the Bosnian government would only make the war worse because they would commit just as many atrocities if given the chance (the difference between the larger war aims of the parties is ignored--Glenny, remember, believes that once started Balkan wars must be allowed to play out following their own sadistic logic).

I was going to conclude my review of this final chapter with some analysis, but I simply don't have the stomach. This is the last actual chapter of the book, and by far the most troubling.


Anonymous said...

Is "intellectual" Glenny-code for "man of conscience"? Glenny is constantly asking for the Serbs' sensitivities to be taken into account without appearing to worry about hinting that there might be other people whose sensitivities should be considered.

Kirk Johnson said...

Owen, I honestly don't know. It's a really glaring comment, in that there are almost no footnotes in this nearly 300 page book. It's almost as if he knows it is such a nakedly biased statement that it wouldn't withstand scrutiny in the main text.