Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Just for the sake of getting a post in before the end of August...

As noted before, between graduate school and family matters, I just have not been giving this blog the attention that I used to. I realize that the sun continues to rise in the east, and that nobody turns to "Americans for Bosnia"* for breaking news on Bosnia or expert analysis, but all the same I do know that a handful of people who do care about the issue would turn here from time to time and for that reason alone I feel obligated to keep this blog going. I would hate to feed into any notion that the world has "moved on."

But over the past couple of days, I've had an exchange on the subject of Syria with an acquaintence, and in the course of the discussion I brought up the parallels with the situation in Bosnia in the 1990s. It was immediately clear that his understanding of what happened in the former Yugoslavia is fundamentally different from mine. Specifically; like many well-meaning progressives, he has accepted the narrative that the war was about "ancient hatreds" and that there were no clear distinctions to be made between the different actors.

And so I was I reminded that the battle over the history of the Bosnian conflict is not yet won. There is still work to be done, and for those of us with any investment in the argument over the meaning of the Bosnian war, we really cannot pretend that it's OK to stop talking, writing, reading, and advocating for a rational and fact-based history of the conflict. Allowing the revisionists, apologists, "anti-imperialists", nationalists, and tribalists to have the last word would be a moral abdication. So I apologize for my relative inactivity, and in spite of my busy personal life and current doctoral studies, I will do my best to reengage with the literature and the dialogue around it.

*Truth be told, I wish I could rename the blog. When I first started, I really didn't have an idea exactly what I'd be doing, but I vaguely intended some sort of advocacy and outreach. Now that the blog has morphed into "book reviews from the perspective of a reasonably informed layman", I realize that the name is not only ridiculously overreaching, but also inaccurate. But hey, legacy and all that.


J. C. said...

Great post Kirk, I truly appreciate all that you have done.

Anonymous said...

This may not be relevant here, but here it is!
I am a Serb from Bosnia. I was 14 going 15 when the war in Bosnia started. My grandparents, and their parents, as well as their parents all come from Bosnia. Over 150-200 years of my Serbian family line, that I can trace back in time, has always lived in Bosnia. I had never had a relative in Serbia before 1992. I was a true Bosnian Serb.
In the spring of 1992, at the age of fourteen, living in a town populated mostly by Muslims (almost 90%) I was forced to understand that I, a Serb girl, was an aggressor in the land of my grandfathers. Aggressors invade, and I was on the land of my ancestors, I did not invade anyone, I did not kill anyone, my family did not hurt anyone, so I wondered what made me an aggressor.
In May of 1992, as the small conflicts turned into big conflicts, my father decide to get his family out of the town. There were many incidents in town and any Serb simply walking between two buildings or from a parking to the building was accused of some form of treason against Bosnia. Along with the conflicting idea of 'aggression', I had to deal with the idea of treason that was manifested in a simple stroll around the neighborhood. All those 'strollers' and 'aggressors' had one thing in common: they were all Serbs.
My father could not take all of his family members out of town at the same time: "If they see us all leave together, they may take us for investigation" my father said. Who is "they" I wondered. What investigation?
I was first. My father and I walked for about 8-10 km. We managed to pass all the check points by using a fake story that my dad was taking me to take care of my sick aunt who lived in another town nearby.
In a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, I was forced to abandon my life and the land of my ancestors. I swallowed the flame of unbeknownst anger and left. I would never come back.
My mother and sister joined me next day at the aunt’s house who was well and fine. My father returned to our hometown to take care of the property. He had built a new house and managed to retire at the age of 42. It was impossible for him to abandon his life and property like that. After all, he was on the land of his late father, and everyone knew his family. "It is a small town; everyone knows my family. Nothing will happen to me. I will be fine" he said.
He returned to our hometown while my sister, mom and I together with thousands of other Serbs traveled to Serbia where we were to live as refugees for next six years.
Many months later I would learn that a few weeks after my dad got us out of our hometown, he was captured by his neighbors, those that knew him well, school friends, those that he trusted, those that would later name themselves Bosnjaks . As he was working in the garden we together planted that spring in front of our newly-built house, he was approached by his ‘friends’ and taken to a concentration camp for Serbs for a simple reason of being a Serb.
Eight months would pass by before I would hear anything about my dad, but I did hear. He was alive. He was coming to see us.
Once a proud Bosnian Serb, now a homeless refugee, in the cold January night of 1993, she was standing on the street in Belgrade, Serbia waiting for her father. He appeared out of steep and dark road climbing toward her. He was my dad, but his face was no longer his face.
His eyebrows somehow dropped, hanged and his once big open blue eyes were now almost closed as if he no longer could look at the world in the same way. His months in a Bosnian concentration camp for Serbs, and our destiny for being Bosnian Serbs would be our ticket for America in 1998 and our way to an American citizenship.
Many Serbian refugees that arrived to the USA between 1993-2000 have a similar story. In fact, more Serbs than Bosnians and Croats together have been granted asylum and refugee status in America because they have been persecuted for religious and ethnic reasons.

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed the battle is not yet won. best would be if those who love and cherish Bosnia-Herzegovina brought it back together, by peaceful means if possible, by military means if necessary, that this aberration of history called "republika srpska" is nullified, destroyed, dumped on the dust heap of history where it belongs, and the narrative that places the eblame squarely on the victims of aggression wil lbe as discredited as Nazism is.maybe then

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, your story is a sad one, and not the first I've heard how ordinary Bosnian Serb families were victims of the war. It's right we should be reminded of the fate that ordinary Serb families endured. Many Serbs resent the emphasis on the suffering of Bosniaks when their own experience is grim enough. But the problem is that so many of them are, perhaps naturally, unable, and often unwilling, to see what happened to them in the wider context of what happened across Bosnia.

Of course as that fourteen year old girl you were not an aggressor. But it was your misfortune to be living in a town where the majority population were sensing a growing threat from the political leaders of the indigenous ethnic community to which you belong who they knew to be working with and supported by Serbian politicians, with a common purpose.

Although you weren't an aggressor, it's hard to believe that you can't understand how in the circumstances, as a member of the group perceived to be working to promote communal insecurity, you might be seen as a suspect presence in your town.

You were fourteen. As a young teenager living in a provincial town you may not have been aware of the climate of uncertainty that Slobodan Milosevic was manufacturing among Serbia's neighbours. But surely your father would have read newspaper reports of the chilling threats being made by Radovan Karadzic in Sarajevo, and family and friends must have discussed that situation. Your account doesn't reflect that.

The fact that your father stayed behind in a predominantly Muslim town after he got his family out and that he ended up in a concentration camp points to his personal innocence of ill-intent. But his - and your - personal suffering doesn't alter the wider reality. Most reasonable observers don't deny that there were concentration camps run by Bosniaks in which Serbs were badly mistreated. But they're also aware that even the worst of these weren't part of an organised programme of territorial expansion, and the brutality and criminality with which they were operated was not at the level seen for example in the Prijedor camps.

I certainly feel sympathy for Serbs who have suffered traumatic life-transforming experiences that I am thankful I have never had to live through. But I'm still waiting for the day when one of the numerous Serbs who have complained to me that the outside world has no understanding of what they experienced mentions to me that they have any awareness of Keraterm, Koricanske Stenije or Bikavac. Instead they conclude the account of what they had to endure with an observation similar to yours about Serb refugees granted asylum in the US that suggests a level of communal victimhood that surpasses that of everyone else combined.

What your father endured commands my sympathy and respect. But I find it hard to go further than that.


Anonymous said...

Kirk, we all do what we can in response to the terrible experience of Bosnia. Getting on with everyday life is a hard enough job for most of us but no, we haven't "moved on", and I think most of us who benefited from - and sometimes even enjoyed - your blog would still stand behind you in rejecting the moral abdication you refer to. So thanks for whatever you mange - above all thanks for keeping the flag flying up there where it can still occasionally be seen.