Thursday, August 31, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter One [12]


This long (24-page) section, which concludes Chapter One, is a sustained assault on Bosnia itself--the multicultural ideal it represented, the historical and cultural integrity of the country, its Western allies and sympathizers, its Muslim leadership, its right to self-defense, and so on. Having already claimed that the borders of the republics were meaningless administrative boundries drawn by the communists (the same communists who created the 'traditional' distinction between "nation" and "nationality"), Johnstone has already taken the first step towards dismissing the legitimacy of Bosnia and Hercegovina; she now procedes to throw anything she can think of in hopes that at least some of it will stick. Her arguement isn't logically consistent or overburdened with a sense of fidelity to fact, but it sure is wide-ranging. Besides the EU, NATO, the faithless Slovenians and proto-fascist Croatia, and the imperialst USA, we can now add Western journalists and liberal intellegensia, the Islamic world, and Israel to the cast of characters lined up against the misunderstood Serbian leadership.

In this section, Johnstone will indulge in more than a bit of Islamophobia, redefine the meaning of the word "genocide", seriously entertain the division of Bosnia between the actively nationalist-led countries of Croatia and Serbia as being in the best interests of the Muslims of Bosnia, and flat-out lie about easily quantifiable statistics. It's quite an epic piece of work. I have two days--tomorrow and Thursday--to get through it, if I'm going to finish this chapter before I have to return this copy of the book. While I generally make at least a token attempt to craft my posts in essay form--or at least with some semblence of compositional continuity, mostly likely I'm going to have to simply throw out quotes with commentary as I go through the section. Any larger themes or underlying misconceptions or distortions will have to wait until later.

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter One [11]


This second section of Part 5 looks at the ill-fated commission set up by the EU to determine criteria for recognizing former Yugoslav republics as independent nations.

This commission's work has been widely criticized, and the aggressive role Germany played in hastening the process of premature recognition is well-documented. It is Johnstone's evident wish to assign a disproportionate degree of responsibility to the Commission and the EU; however, since these bodies do share a considerable burden the differences in emphasis might not be worth the effort in confronting (despite all evidence to the contrary, I am trying to keep this as brief as possible!).

It is worth noting, however, that even here Johnstone explicitly sides with the Serbian leadership, detailing their case that the republics did not have the right of self-determination not only because they were mere administrative units rather than 'nations', but also because units of a federal state did not have the right of secession from the federal government. The idea that the Serbian leadership was actually fighting for a smaller Yugoslavia, rather than Greater Serbia, is therefore more than a matter of semantics.

Thus Johnstone has explicitly embraced the logic that a federal government has the right to claim authority over the determination of the redrawing of new international boundries, becasuse the old boundries were meaningless, even though those same boundries are adminstrative borders of that very same federal government. Needless to say, she does seem troubled by the contradiction. Nor, it seems, does she stop to consider what, exactly, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was if its borders were being explicitly redrawn along ethnic borders determined by Serb demographics.

I am not arguing that borders, international or otherwise, can never be redrawn, or that they should be imposed in defiance of the will and well-being of the people directly affected. But Johnstone's legalistic arguement is not concerned with such larger issues. She wants to convince the reader that the same Yugoslav system that suppressed a healthy dialogue about national differences and the bloody history of the country even while subverting individual identity to an increasingly ossified collective national identity was somehow the solution, rather than an important contributing factor, to the breakdown of civil order and peace in the early 1990s.

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter One [10]


This section deals with the role played by the new European Union in the breakup of Yugoslavia. It is far from controversial to note that actions and positions taken by the EU at that time were usually either ineffective or detrimental. Johnstone reiterates this point, with less hyperbole than usual--in this case, the facts are in her favor, so she mostly sticks to them. That doesn't mean she completely avoids patronizing generalizations about those groups she finds distasteful (the "richest of the republics"--Croatian and Slovenia; pro-Western Yugoslavs), but reality conveniently provides her with a Western bogeyman at this point in the narrative, and so she lets the story do her dirty work for her.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Fools' Crusade," Diana Johnstone, and ethnic nationalism, Conclusion

Johnstone performs a neat trick by using the Serbo-Croat terms "narod" and "narodnost" instead of "nation" and "nationality"; by doing so, it is much easier to get away with distorting and overstating the particular nuances that mark the concept of 'nationalism' in the Balkans. BThe nationalism developed by many Balkan nations is, as mentioned, something of a work in progress, defined as much by the other as by any established sense of self. The distinction between a nation, which had Yugoslavia as it main political home, and a nationality, which had a political home in another country, was a Yugoslav innovation, not a traditional Slavic or Balkan distinction.

Having established--or, rather, casually and disingenuously implied--that the "Muslims" of Bosnia were not a legitimate nationality, Johnstone then procedes to de-legitamize Bosnia and Hercegovina as a geopolitical unit. The next paragraph includes this section:

"The Serbian argument was that only the peoples who joined together to form Yugoslaiva could decide to take it apart. Self-determination was the right of the peoples, not of the republics, regarded as arbitrary administrative units, drawn by the communists without popular consultation."

So 'the Serbs', including the government in Belgrade (which was led by the renamed Communist--now Socialist) take the Yugoslav concept of 'nation/nationality'--a distinction based on national borders which were arbitrarily drawn up by the Allies after World War I--as fundamental, but dismiss the borders between the republics--drawn up by communists, remember--as completely arbitrary.

The submission of the individual to the group is especially severe at this point in her thinking--the "peoples" have the right to take Yugoslavia apart in 1991 because 'they' created it in 1919. Nationalities are not only singular designations for groups of individual people, but singular actors with continual characteristics that span decades, endowing later generations of ethnically and culturally related people with certain obligations and entitlements, but precious little individual autonomy. It is amazing that, at the end of the 20th Century, a presumably educated and cultured Westerner is seriously advocating redrawing borders based on religiously-defined demography. Unanswered is the question of whether or not these new, ethnic borders would need to be redrawn as populations shifted and moved; unaddressed is the criteria by which any particular area of land is determined to be 'Serb' or 'Croat' or 'Muslim.' People per square kilometer? Square acre? More? In many areas, the population was so mixed that only fairly large land units would have made sizable stretches of contiguous territory of on ethnic group.

Or, instead of larger land units, how about smaller? How else would you divide some of the cities of Bosnia? Although most, if not all, consisted of a majority of one ethnic group or another, in very few of them were the minorities insignificant. How would Johnstone have applied this logic to Vukovar, where neither Serbs nor Croats were majorities, but each made up well over a third of the population?

And finally, if the Slavic Muslims of Yugoslavia were not a real nationality, then what were they? While Johnstone gives the usual lip service to the notion that they were 'really' Serbs and/or Croats, she does not consider the implications of the strange notion that an ethnic or cultural group is not what they consider themselves to be. If Yugoslavia was made up of nations and nationalities, not republics, what was the place of Muslims in Yugoslavia, geographically as well as socially and politically. Johnstone doesn't seem to have considered this question. And if the borders were meaningless adminitrative boundries, to be replaced by boundries between 'nations' in the collective, ethnic sense, what was to be done with Bosnia? Johnstone has unwittingly raised this last unpleasant question. It should come as no surprise that she prefers not to answer.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

"Fool's Crusade," Diana Johnstone, and ethnic nationalism, Part 3

"The term narod as understood in the Balkans is extremely hard to grasp elsewhere and is a source of endless confusion and misunderstanding. Narod means a people with the cultural attributes of a nation--notably a common language. In Yugoslavia, the narodi were the peoples whose principal political home was in Yugoslavia: Serbs, Croats, Slovenians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, and, after 1970, a new "nationality" called "Muslims." In addition, a second term, narodnost (plural narodnosti) designated nationalities whose main political home was in another state: Albanians, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Turks, Slovaks, and so on. All enjoyed cultural rights, centering on the use of their mother tongue in schools, lawcourts, cultural establishments, and so on. Yugoslavia defined itself as a "multinational" country, not as "multi-ethnic" or "multicultural."

In the above-quoted paragraph, approvingly explaining the old Yugoslav distinction between 'narod' and 'narodnost,' Johnstone casually drops this line:

"...and, after 1970, a new "nationality" called "Muslims." "

In this seemingly throwaway line lies the key to understanding both how flawed the Yugoslav 'narod/narodnost' variant of collective identity was, and how intellectually dishonest and incurious Johnstone's approach to the problem is. The development of national identity by various Slavic groups in the Balkans is a relatively recent development, a process that was hampered by the political control and division of the area by the Ottomans, later the Austro-Hungarians, and intermittent Great Power interference.

The infamous border between the Catholic West and the Orthodox East, and then the overlapping division between the Christian West and the Muslim East, can best be understood not as absolute boundries between alien worlds, but rather as a tragic wound through a land inhabited by a hodge-podge of related peoples who might, under more fortuitous historcial circumstances, have developed a singular ethnic identity. It is possible to imagine a world in which the modern heirs Medieval Kingdoms of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria coexist with no more unbreachable cultural differences and deep-seated hostilites than currently exist between The Netherlands and the Flemish of Belgium.

Johnstone--in a discussion where she is otherwise painfully slavish about adhering to the logica and wording of the Yugoslav designations--reverts to the (allegedly less nuanced) English word "nationality," and puts it in quotes to boot. The implication is clear; "Muslim" was an artificial designation, and therefore they were not a 'true' nationality.

In this case, she has a point; but not for the reasons she is implying. "Muslim" is an artificial designation, but given the logic of the ideology that Johnstone herself is defending, it is not a false designation.

By identifying the "narod" and "narodnost" as the consituent pieces of the republic, Yugoslavia pushed the limits of immature Balkan nationalism to its limits. Medieval states had come, and mostly gone, in the region. Nations kingdoms and ethnic groups and tribes had been torn between Rome and Constantinople, and then Mecca for centuries. Centuries of rule by neighboring empires shifted groups of people across old boundries, yet the suppression of ethnic and cultural identity in both the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires, along with the difference in status awarded to Muslim Slavs compared to their Orthodox and Catholic brethren, tended to undermine any sense of pan-Slavic feeling which might have transcended tribal and religious differences.

So the national identities which began to take shape in the late 18th and early 19th centuries tended to focus on religion, and on emotional and historical connections to long-vanquished Medieval states; a connection that was self-consciously cultivated, although these were histories steeped in myth and selective remembrence. The nationalism that began to rise in the region after Serbia's independence in 1804 looked to the distant past in order to discover a golden age, and a homeland, to reclaim.

At the same time, the specific period that each national group looked were not the same; the boundries of different states at their height overlapped greatly, as did the religious identity of the inhabitants of different areas. It is true that the Slavic Muslims of 17th Century Bosnia most certainly did not call themselves "Muslims," at least not exclusively. It is also most likely true, however, that the Roman Catholics of Bosnia did not uniformly, or even in large numbers, consider themselves "Croats." Nor would a 17th Century Orthodox Bosnian automatically consider himself a "Serb."

The long process by which Catholic Bosnians 'became Croat' and Orthodox Bosnians 'became Serb' is anything but clearcut or absolute. And over the centuries, the issue has become confused by continued demographic movement (people moved around a lot throughout Balkan history; this element of frequent, large-scale movements of peoples is frequently underestimated when the history of the region is casually studied). Serbs from Serbia moved to Bosnia, living among the Orthodox and strengthening the link between 'Serbness' and Orthodoxy. And among Muslims, there has long been migration between Bosnia and the Sandzak; whereby Muslims from Serbia moved to Bosnia, where it was their 'Muslimness' which gave them entrance to local culture.

As Bosnian Catholics became Bosnian Croats, and Bosnian Orthodox Christians becamse Bosnian Serbs, even as Croat came to equal Catholic and Serb came to be synomous with Orthodox, what of the Slavic Muslims of Bosnia and Serbia? What were they?

The answer, in the second half of the 20th Century, was to codify what was already a de facto designation.

Yugoslavia was made up of national groups; those national groups were presumed to have firmly delineated characteristics; and religious homogeny (with the exception of Albanians) was a necessary characteristic of a of these nationalisties. By insisting that fluid, porous boundries between closely-related groups defined by overlapping ethnic and relgious differences become impermeable and rigid, nationalism as it developed in the Balkans did not provide conditions for the kind of inclusive, secular nationalism that the demographic balance of Bosnia required. The explicit use of "Muslim" as an ethnic, rather than merely religious, designation was simply an official recognition of demographic realities. There were a few million Slavic Muslims who were simply 'not Serb' or 'not Croatian' or whatever.

For those of us who embrace individual rights and civic nationalism, it does seem like a bad compromise. But given the cultural and legal constraints, there were worse options. One of which was for a few million Slavic Muslims to simply not 'be' anything. Or, optionally, that they were 'really' something else. Croats or Serbs who had been led astray by the Ottoman masters.

Neither of those options is very palatable; however, the devil's bargain was made. "Muslim" was a nationality. And there had been no medieval Muslim state in the area of Yugoslavia. Where was their homeland?

Nowhere, of course. Which was, with little exagerration, where Tudjman and Milosevic conspired to leave these non-peoples; these traitorous Croats and Serbs.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

"Fools' Crusade," Diana Johnstone, and ethnic nationalism, Part 2

"The term narod as understood in the Balkans is extremely hard to grasp elsewhere and is a source of endless confusion and misunderstanding. Narod means a people with the cultural attributes of a nation--notably a common language. In Yugoslavia, the narodi were the peoples whose principal political home was in Yugoslavia: Serbs, Croats, Slovenians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, and, after 1970, a new "nationality" called "Muslims." In addition, a second term, narodnost (plural narodnosti) designated nationalities whose main political home was in another state: Albanians, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Turks, Slovaks, and so on. All enjoyed cultural rights, centering on the use of their mother tongue in schools, lawcourts, cultural establishments, and so on. Yugoslavia defined itself as a "multinational" country, not as "multi-ethnic" or "multicultural."

[As before, the underlined words in the above text were italicized in the original.]

First, note right off that Johnstone refers to national groups as singular entities, with uniform traits. The tendency is not as pronounced in this particular excerpt, but I selected this paragraph for further review because we get Johnstone at her slavishly pro-Serb finest; regurgitating 'Balkan' terminology and definitions without so much as a glance at the history of Balkan nationalism, modern state development, (which, in the Balkans, I date from 1804, when Serbia won its indepedence from the Ottoman Empire), and ethnic identity.

For someone who has been called "the outstanding Left analyst of the Balkans" (we can thank Edward Herman for that quote), and who frequently resorts to historical precedents in order to justify or frame contemporary events in the region, Johnstone seems blissfully unaware of the the imperfect, and fluid, nature of national/ethnic identity in the region.

To speak of 'narod' as being "notably" defined by "common language" while drawing hard and fast distinctions between Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims is pretty laughable--a more honest and reflective (not to mention even marginally informed) observer might be expected to note that "Serbian," "Croatian" and "Bosnian" are all essentially creations of imposed, and rather arbitrary, divisions based on ethnicity. Linguistic maps referred to "Serbo-Croat" for a reason; we are concerned with easily intellible dialects of the same language. And in many cases, not even that much of a distinction can be claimed--there are dialects in Serbo-Croat, but they don't always follow ethnic divisions. Rather, the divisions were geographical, not 'ethnic,' in nature.

Since Johnstone has adopted the logic of her Serb nationalist allies--that ethnic nationality was the basis of the Yugoslav system, that Yugoslavia was a land of 'nations' and that only nations, not the republics, had the right to break it apart as a result--one might expect that she has thought through some of the implications of this line of reasoning. She presents herself not as an advocate of Serb ultra-nationalism, but as an informed, objective observer of the situation. Therefore, she should not feel compelled to defend or accept the troubling implications of 'narod' versus 'narodnost.'

What are these issues? In my next post, we will examine them.

Monday, August 21, 2006

"Fools' Crusade," Diana Johnstone, and ethnic nationalism

As I noted in my previous post, the book begins to edge ever closer to an outright endorsement of the logic of ethnic cleansing. That is a strong statement, and since she hasn't, as far as I know, ever openly stated that she supported ethnic cleansing in practice or theory, I should digress from my blow-by-blow account of "Fools' Crusade" to explain that statement.

Johnstone does not openly endorse the racist ideology that is was the intellectual foundation of the genocidal project in Bosnia. I can't even say for sure that she is aware of how far into pre-modern, tribalist thinking she has slipped.

Her fault is twofold: first, as a staunch collectivist of the old Left, Johnstone is prone to thinking in terms of group identity exclusively. She assumes, thoughout this book, that nations have characteristics, and that aggregate bodies of people 'feel' or 'believe' (singular, not plural) things and ideas as a group.

The second point on which Johnstones reasoning founders is her embrace of an imperfect, mythologized history of the Balkans--specifically, the Serbian version. Johnstone's status as a left-leaning expert on the region is laughable given how shallow and unexamined her assumptions about the region are.

We have a good example of both of these tendancies in her reason at one point, in section 3 ('Invisible Croatia'),

"The term narod as understood in the Balkans is extremely hard to grasp elsewhere and is a source of endless confusion and misunderstanding. Narod means a people with the cultural attributes of a nation--notably a common language. In Yugoslavia, the narodi were the peoples whose principal political home was in Yugoslavia: Serbs, Croats, Slovenians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, and, after 1970, a new "nationality" called "Muslims." In addition, a second term, narodnost (plural narodnosti) designated nationalities whose main political home was in another state: Albanians, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Turks, Slovaks, and so on. All enjoyed cultural rights, centering on the use of their mother tongue in schools, lawcourts, cultural establishments, and so on. Yugoslavia defined itself as a "multinational" country, not as "multi-ethnic" or "multicultural."

[In the original text, the terms I have underlined were in italics--since I've chosen to italicize all quotes from the book, the underlining is to indicate the emphasis in the original.]

I quote this paragraph in its entirety not only because I want to confront the logic underlying the entire construct of thought, but also because it is interesting to see how far Johnstone will let the contradictions and troubling aspects of her thinking work themselves out on paper without, seemingly, troubling her in the slightest. In my next post, I will discuss, first, what Johnstone thinks she is saying, and then the logical and factual fallacies that undermine her position, here and elsewhere.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter One [9]


This section discusses the above question--were 'the Serbs' fighting for the former or the latter?

(Ever the tribalist, Johnstone never trifles with analyzing the political leadership of the Knin breakaway Serb entity--Milan Babic and Milan Martic merit all of one mention apiece in this book; neither of these solitary respective citations are in any section of the book dealing with the outbreak of war in Croatia or the rise of Tudjman and the HDZ).

As this chapter progresses, Johnstone ventures further and further down the road of ethnic nationalism and collectivism. The slide into a de facto defense of ethnic cleansing and is beginning to pick up steam in this section. The implicit pro-Serbian nationalism of her thesis is becoming more explicit, although she continues to present her views under the guise of disinterested, anti-establishment analysis.

This section contains a few howlers. Here's one:

"During the period of the Yugoslav break-up, Milosevic managed to co-opt Serbian nationalism, while keeping his distance from nationalist ideology. It may be suggested that he thereby prevented the rise of such a truly nationalist leader as Vojislav Seselj."

Given that Milosevic was instrumental is helping Seselj in his rise to power, and that for many years there was tactical cooperation between Milosevic--a master at keeping himself at a distance from the dirty work done on his behalf--and the Serbian Radical Party leader, 'it may be said' that it takes a hell of a lot of nerve to write crap like that with a straight face.

How about this excerpt from the final paragraph:

"Much more could no doubt be said about what was wrong with Milosevic. If using criminals for dirty tasks makes him a criminal, then he may be considered a criminal--but surely no more (or, rather, less) than the late President Tudjman of Croatia or President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia, widely regarded as a saint."

The reek of unsubstantiated innuendo is strong here. Of course, she is most likely referring to a variety of incidents, most of them well-documented (Johnstone counts on the reader having delved no further into the Yugoslav crisis than watching TV news and reading the occassional front-page story; she assumes a level of credulousness on the part of the reader that would be insulting if one was inclined to take her seriously), such as the Bosnian governments' initial reliance on gangsters and other underworld types for the defense of Sarajevo. And an entire book could be written on the level of black market profiteering and corruption that went on at, behind, and between front lines throughout the war.

But to examine any such incident in detail might risk putting the issue in context; it's all well and good to imply that the defense of Sarajevo was morally comprimised by having been carried out by gunmen, drug-runners, and other assorted thugs, but you run the risk of noticing that the forces attacking Sarajevo were suspiciously well-armed and equipped. One reason Milosevic didn't have to resort to using crooks to do his dirty work was simply because he had the resources of the original Federal government, not to mention the JNA, to work with.

I would also mention that I don't know many people who consider Izetbegovic to have been a 'saint,' although--unlike Milosevic--he at least isn't disqualified by virtue of having betrayed, and later most likely at least endorsed the murder of, his best friend and mentor.

Or how about this, a couple of sentences later:

"Unlike other, Milosevic was virtually forced to resort to extra-legal means to enable his country to survive despite severe economic sanctions."

Speaking of taking a lot of nerve--that Johnstone has the audacity to make this claim by way of comparison to the man who led Bosnia during the war is obscene. What, one wants to ask--no, demand of--her, were the hardships and obstacles Izetbegovic faced? Is she so blinded by her pathological support of Serbian ultranationalism that the glaring moral hypocrisy of this statement simply escapes her?

Friday, August 18, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter One [8]


It is not a secret that there were atrocities carried out against Serb civilians during the Yugoslav wars. Individual units of the Bosnian army, as well as individual soldiers, sometimes committed horrible crimes. The same was, unfortunately, true of some Croatian units and soldiers. Given the nature of the HDZ, it should come as no surprise that there were incidents which were more systematic and authorized; or that the Croatian authorities were less than forthcoming.

I'm going to sound callous here, perhaps, although I certainly don't intend to. There was a massacre of civilians at Gospic during the initial war in Croatia. Over 100--120 is the total as far as I know--Serb civilians were murdered by Croatian paramilitary forces in a campaign that was far from random or spontaneous. And although it was the bloodiest such incident, it was not the only one. Ethnic Serbs, and some non-nationalist Croats, were targeted.

There is no excuse for such incidents. The fact that they occured after the outbreak of hostilities, including the brutal seige of Vukovar, of which Johnstone, predictably, has nothing to say, does not in any way mitigate this war crime.

The problem is that Johnstone discusses it in a vacuum--there has been no acknowledgement of the rise of Serbian nationalism, of the increasing belligerence of the Knin Serb leadership, of the disarmenant of the Croatian Territorial defense by the JNA, or, indeed, of the fact that the Gospic massacre occured while the war in Croatia was being waged. I run the risk of playing the same game the genocide deniers do--excusing one atrocity by claiming it was merely 'retaliation' for other, earlier atrocities committed by the other side.

But Johnstone, interestingly, isn't using that strategy here (although, at Srebrenica, the tit-for-tat, bad-things-happen-in-wartime line is the basis of her revisionist history). She is not bringing up the horrors of Gospic in order to excuse or justify JNA atrocities and aggression. As noted above, she does not even acknowledge such incidents. The seige of Vukovar is never mentioned in this book, for example. In Bosnia, Johnstone at least feels compelled to provide some sort of justification for and/or obfuscation of widespread atrocities against the Muslim population. In Croatia, the presumed heirs to the Ustasha regime require no such intellectual and moral reconfiguring. The Croats were nothing but resurgent fascists, and this one, decontextualized (there's a term the revisionists are very familiar with!) atrocity suffices to make the case for the Krajina Serb rebellion and the JNA invasion.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter One--a note on the use of sources

I rambled a little in the previous two posts--Johnstone is at her best in that particular section, doing a more artful job than usual of shifting the focus from well-documented acts of aggression to supposedly more fundamental and ominous political moves somehow coded by historical grievances so that ignorant Westerners didn't see the real meaning.

It's easy to see why Johnstone so favors Woodward's interpretation of events--Woodward argues that the real culprits were underlying economic stresses. As if genocide were a natural and inevitable reaction to a drastic shift to a market-based economy. It's so much more sophisticated and nuanced to look for root causes and paradigm shifts than to crassly point fingers at paramilitary death squads and overtly nationalist appeals to unite a scattered ethnic group regardless of borders or demographic realities.

Johnstone gets a lot of mileage out of being considered something of an expert on the region, yet she clearly gets her facts second-hand, and very selectively. Not being a native of the region or a Serbo-Croat speaker, I can't fault her for relying on second-hand sources, of course; it is her disingenuous use of those sources we are concerned with here. In Chapter One, she references "Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" by Laura Silber and Allan Little some five times. I got my copy for a few dollars at the local used bookstore near my house. It is easily available.

Here's a quote from this section of Chapter One:

"On 9 January 1991, full taped proofs of Spegelj's operations were set before a meeting of the Yugoslav presidency. It was clear that "by now the Croatian countryside was bristling with weapons that had been secreted or stolen from JNA warehouses or smuggled across the Croatian-Hungarian border."* It could not be denied that creating a separate army was an act of high treason and a step toward civil war. The government of any country would be expected to combat such moves."

The portion of the above quote which is in quotes and followed by an asterisk is a quote from Silber and Little's book, and it is an accurate quote. To say that it is taken out of context is a little misleading--as noted previously, Johnstone simply ignores all the events leading up to this moment. Such as the fact that one reason Croatia was smuggling weapons was because the JNA--on orders from Belgrage (although acting to some degree on its own--succession of the Republics and multiparty elections were both threats to the orthodox Communist military after all)--had previously confiscated the weapons of the Croatian TTerritorial Defense forces, as it had done in Slovenia. The Territorial Defense units were as much a part of the Yugoslav system as the army, but Johnstone doesn't even bother to call them by name.

Again, note that this event is in January of 1991. By this time, the crisis in Yugoslavia, drummed up and manipulated by Milosevic from Belgrade, was nearing the boiling point. Yet Johnstone presents this moment as if it were a confrontation completely created out of thin air by resurgent Croatian xenophobes and reborn fascists.

Johnstone's chutzpah doesn't end there. Three pages later, she quotes Silber and Little again--this time derisively, as typical voices of ignorant Western anti-Serb misinformation:

"From this position of compromise, [this follows a rather tortured explanation of the supposed virtues of the Balkan concept of 'narod' as opposed to more prosaic Western concepts of nationality; it might warrant a seperate discussion]neither insisting on preserving Yugoslavia intact nor accepting Croatian independence without satisfying the Serb minority, Milosevic has been widely blamed for the break-up of Yugoslavia and all the conflicts that followed. March 1991 has been described as "the decisive month", when "Milosevic set the country on the course to war."* "

Yes, once again the asterisk denotes a quote from Silber and Little. Johnstone is, of course, free to disagree with her sources even as she mines their works for information; I have read a book or two about Bosnia which contained useful and instructive information even as I rejected the books arguement. But the way in which she quotes rather frequently--and deceptively--from this book even while side-stepping the authors' rather dispassionately argued main point hardly commands respect.

And, unbelievably, she returns to Silber and Little again in the very next paragraph!

"Memories of Ustashe massacres of Serbs were vivid. Tudjman rebuffed attempts to obtain guarantees of rights for the Serb population."*

The footnote directs the reader to page 97 of Silber and Little's book. What they say on that page--and elsewhere--is rather more complicated and less black-and-white than Johnstone portrays. Silber and Little haven't sidestepped the issue of the HDZ's jingoism and insensitivity to Croatian Serbs. But what Tudjman did was to draft a new constitution that dropped the mention of Serbs as a constituent nation of the Republic of Croatia. Not a good development; but not the same thing. The SDS in Croatia had been seeking autonomy, not a mere 'guarantee of rights,' something which--along with ALL activities of the SDS in Croatia--Johnstone conveniently neglets to discuss.

By the way, I do recommend "Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation" to readers. It is a far more balanced, well-researched, and honest account of the issue than one could hope for from our Ms. Johnstone.

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter One [7 continued]


I've already summarized the contents of this section in my previous post. In a nutshell, Johnstone portrays the rise of Tudjman and the HDZ as having occured in a total vacuum. The events in Kosovo and Serbia during the 1980s, the rise of Milosevic, the rumblings of nationalism coming from Cosic and the Serbian Academy; none of these things, apparently, meant much. In Johnstone's telling, Croatia rediscovered a fascist past and sought to restore the Ustasha regime beginning around 1990. For no reason, other than those Croatians are just bad people.

Again, it is not that these events did not happen. Nor is it false that the HDZ was needlessly provocative and belligerent. If I were a Serb in Croatia in 1990, I would have been nervous as well.

But while Tudjman certainly stirred the pot and made the situation worse, it is dishonest to portray resurgent Croatian nationalism as the driving factor behind the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Johnstone has not, at this point in her book, discussed Slovenia at all, other than one quick mention in this section. Yet at the time events in Croatia were very much reactions to, and attempts to keep up with, the leadership in Ljubljana. Politicians in Croatia were reacting to the same situations and events that the Slovenian leadership were dealing with. But there had been no fascist Slovenian government in WWII; small Slovenia makes a sad excuse of a bogeyman for Johnstone.

Monday, August 14, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter One [7]


In the universe Johnstone lives in, the rise of nationalist politics in Yugoslavia started with the rise of Franjo Tudjman and the HDZ in Croatia. Zagreb, not Belgrade, was the culprit. Johnstone begins her drumbeat of innuendo and ominous conspiracy-mongering (Nazis! Well-financed emigres! The Vatican!) in this section, early in Chapter One. Just to illustrate her remarkably skewed and disproportionate perspective, Dobrica Cosic merits exactly one mention in this book, on page 227!

It is no secret that Tudjman was a nationalist and a bully; his contribution to the events in Yugoslavia from 1989 until his death was to be reckless, belligerent, foolish, and cynical by turns. The tactics and rhetoric of the HDZ were intolerant and provocative in the extreme. Had the political leadership in Zagreb during that time been less jingoistic and possessed of even a modest quantity of moderating empathy, it is possible that the Krajina Serbs might have been less conducive to the music of Serbian nationalism coming from Belgrade. But in Johnstone's telling, the well-documented rise of the SDS and the radicalization of the Serb community in and around Knin simply didn't happen. The Serbs were simply reacting to events dictated by Zagreb.

Her use of sources and information in this section is quite telling, as we shall see.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Balkan Witness

Balkan Witness

I have linked to articles from this website in the past, but somehow I completely neglected to put a link to this excellent website on my sidebar. I have added it now, and I encouraged anyone who reads this to check it out. As I said, I have used this website many times. There is more content than meets the eye--the homepage is merely a portal; each link on it leads to a weatlth of links, arranged by subject. It is frequently updated, and includes a page of links just on Balkan genocide denial. Check it out.

I will be on vacation for the next eight or nine days and will be unable to work on my blog during this time. I have to return my copy of "Fools' Crusade" at any rate; but fear not, I have already placed another request from a different library; there should be a copy waiting for me when I get back. I also ordered "Balkan Tragedy" by Susan Woodward; hopefully I'll have time to examine it as well.

Keep in mind that I only link to active websites and blogs (although some are less frequently updated than others). All of the links I carry are well worth your time; I get much information and inspiration from all of these resources and their creators.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter One [6]


This section contiues to rely on Woodward's analysis of the economic situation in Yugoslavia in the 1980s and 90s. The economic stresses on society pushed people into blaming other national groups, and Yugoslavia certainly had deeply rooted ethnic prejudices.

But while Woodward's analysis is sober, informed, and illuminating, it should come as no surprise that Johnstone is selective in her utilization of the facts. She dismisses the 'myth' of Serbian dominance of Yugoslavia by pointing out that this had not been true "for well over a generation." This is the same Johnstone who holds present-day Croats accountable for the actions of the Ustasha regime in World War II, yet the longstanding fears of Serbian dominance in Yugoslavia are dismissed in one short paragraph. The history of the Serb state from 1804 on has been marked by attempts to expand at the expense of its neighbors; the post-WWI Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes quickly became a Serb-dominated dictatorship. Those fears were well-grounded; but nevermind--Johnstone only cares about historical context when it can be twisted to fit her thesis.

She has nothing good to say about the 1974 Constitution--which, as noted earlier, reined in Serb dominance by giving Kosovo and Vojvodina automomous status. She blames this constitution for crippling the Federal Government by shackling the nation with the rotating 8-man Presidency (one for each of the six republics and the two autonomous regions). In the very next sentence she complains that the two regions wielded veto power over the Serb Republic, making it impossible for Serbia to implement serious reform. An interesting point, but all this is rather pointless when one considers that the problem wasn't the creation of the two autonmous areas--would a rotating SIX-man Presidency have been significantly less cumbersome? The answer is: No, but it would have been more favorable to the Serb Republic.

This is a clever sleight of hand--she begins by discussing the structural weakness of Yugoslavia's central government--which was hobbled NOT by granting the 2 mostly Albanian citizens of Kosovo something approaching the status enjoyed by 600,000 Montenegrins and under 2 million Slovenes, but by Tito's absolute refusal to allow a viable successor, never mind an alternative, to his single-handed rule. Then, without missing a beat, she discusses the strength of Serbia within Yugoslavia as if this is of paramount importance.

In short, Johnstone dismisses the notion that Yugoslavia was dominated by the Serb Republic and its large population (while implicitly admitting that this had been true in the past), and then promptly begins building a flimsy arguement that the Serbs were being exploited and outmaneuvered in a Yugoslavia filled with ethnic groups hostile to Serbs.

And, of course, she ties it all in to the IMF and Western banks. It was their severe austerity measures that were destabilizing the country and inflaming nationalist passions--she even goes further and argues that Serbs were the least nationalist of the major ethnic groups. It is, to be kind, an 'interesting' interpretation of some very selective facts.

Here is the concluding paragraph of this section:

"A chain of causality led from the "debt trap" to the IMF reforms to the economic crisis of the 1980s to the nationalist explosion of the 1990s. But it remained invisible. All the troubles could be blamed on "nationalism," or an evil demon named "Milosevic". This is characteristic of the "globalization" process. Outside powers dictate policies, and local authorities take the blame for the consequences. Worse still, the troubles caused are transformed into further arguments for "globalization". National governments are discredited. Only the "International Community" knows what is best for everyone."

I wonder which 'policies' the IMF dictated in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995. This is simply an astonishing statement, explicitly turning context into causation, and setting the reader up to swallow the idea that the well-planned violent dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the acts of genocide there were nothing but tragic events put in motion by Western bankers and organizations. The mind boggles.


As a side note, here's a quote from halfway through this section worth repeating:

"Serbs were equated with communists, [to the outside world in the 1990s]to create the impression that the desire to escape from Yugoslavia was identical with the desire to escape from communism. This wildly misleading equation was well designed to appeal to the anti-communist prejudice of ignorant Western media and politicians."

Certainly some Slovenes, Albanians, and others tried the anti-commie line on Western audiences; wartime propaganda will use whatever works. However, Western reporters, politicians, and even the 'ignorant' Western public at large probably came up with their own conclusions about the war that was broadcast daily on TV news broadcasts. Unless Johnstone thinks that people, watching scenes of concentration camp survivors and breadline massacres, and reading about unspeakable tortures and other atrocities, thought to themselves "Those poor people, forced to live in a centralized economy." Not for the first time, you want to ask Johnstone what color is the sky in her world.