Sunday, December 30, 2007

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [9]


Serb Jerusalem

I wrote earlier that since this book was aimed at a non-specialist audience, it does cover some ground which should be very familiar to any reader of this blog. This section, which briefly recounts the history of Kosovo in the modern era--specifically in relation to it incorporation into first Serbia and then Yugoslavia--is important in building Sells' thesis, but contains little if anything I need to summarize for this blog's readership.

Two points, however, are worth mentioning. One is that Sells quite accurately notes that the hysterical charges of widespread anti-Serb atrocities and organized Albanian genocides against ethnic Serbs in Kosovo did not match the available data. This is not to say there were no tensions between Serbs and Albanians in the region; nor do I mean to dismiss the seriousness of what incidents of violence and vandalism which most certainly did occur. What is crucial is to note how the propaganda and political rhetoric did not match the reality of events. In fact, the disconnect was enormous.

Secondly, Sells documents how the contemporary turmoil in Kosovo was linked to the medieval past; the remains of Prince Lazar were taken on a tour of the region even as language borrowed from The Mountain Wreath was used to address the "problem" of ethnic Albanians (Sells touches on the Serb nationalist myth that hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians came from Albania proper and should be sent back 'home'); in this way the distinction between the 'betrayal' of Slavic Muslims and the threat posed by genocidal Albanians was blurred. Also, the rhetoric of the time emphasized betrayal and false signs of friendship and trust, as Njegos' poem dismissed the Bishop's qualms about his Muslim neighbors--and, Serbs were told, don't forget that Judas was, after all, close to Jesus, who trusted him. There was no possibility of trusting the Muslims--their protestations of peaceful intentions were, after all, just a mask.

Return of the Ustashe

This section also covers familiar ground; the Serb nationalist rhetoric blaming all Croats for the atrocities of the Ustashe regime and the hysterical rhetoric utilized to stir up fears of a revived Ustashe genocide in the 1990s; Stepanic and Tudjman are both called to task for their shameful denials of Ustashe atrocities.

Sells also covers the frequent propaganda tactic of using the Handzar SS Divisions as "proof" of the pro-Nazi sympathies of all Bosnian Muslims during the war, as well as claims that Albanians were collectively guilty for collaboration with the Nazis. And even as Lazar's bones were taken to Kosovo, they were also paraded through Bosnia even as the tormented ghosts of Jasenovac were being revived with ever-increasing fervor. Sells rightly notes that the ambiguities of the war years were grossly simplified and distorted by Serbian nationalists. He closes with this observation:

"Accompanying the procession of Lazar's relics in Bosnia was a proclamation about enemies of "long-suffering Serbs": "We will do our utmost to crush their race and descendants so completely that history will not even remember them." "

Appropriating the Passion

This section sketches a portrait of Serbian cultural discourse on the eve of the Yugoslav wars, when the different strands of mythic history, racist paranoia, martyr complexes, and well-nurtured historical grievances came together to tie the Albanian 'threat' and the Bosnian Muslim 'menace' into a single Islamic/anti-Serb genocide which needed to be met with preemptive violence.

Sells documents the degree to which this fervor had poisoned Serb society at this time with several examples, including the crudely racist cartoons of Milenko Mihajlovic, some of which were published in the Literary Gazette, the official journal of the Association of Serbian Writer. He also reports how fears of a demographic disparities caused by the higher birthrate among Muslims triggered various responses, some ridiculous--such as the Orthodox Church offering medals to Serb mothers for having children--and some sinister, such as the Serb artist who stated that any Serb woman who refused to have a child every nine months should turned over to mujahidin.

And so on; any reader of this blog surely already knows what Sells is leading up to here--that the fabricated claims of planned genocide against Serbs became a coded call for acts of genocide by Serbs against Muslims and also Croats. He details the insane, circular logic of ultranationalist Serbs quite well. The rise of Milosevic, who harnessed his political future to the rising tide of belligerent nationalism, was all too predictable. The mad logic of nationalism merely needed an important figure to take the reins and unleash the carefully cultivated passions and hatreds of millions of Yugoslavia's citizens.

In the Crosshairs of the Sniper

At the beginning of this book, Sells had mentioned that one graduate student had been killed trying to save the collection of the National Library. In this short, concluding section, he reports that in December of 1993, that student's father walked out of his house with no regard for his safety, calmly allowing a sniper to take leisurely aim and end his life. Sells end this chapter with this paragraph:

"Those crosshairs were a nexus of myth and symbol: the Christ killer myth constructed in the nineteenth century and brought back into the present through the 600th anniversary of Lazar's death, a fabricated genocide against Serbs in Kosovo, and manipulation of Serb suffering in World War II to indict all Croats and Muslims and install fear that another genocide was imminent. Yet the rifle sights were not enough to cause the shot. Someone had to load and distribute the guns and give the order to fire."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [8]



The "race traitor" theme of The Mountain Wreath was reiterated and strengthened in the 20th Century in the works of Nobel-Prize winning author Ivo Andric, most notably in his most famous work, The Bridge on the River Drinia. In that famous work, Andric memorialized an ideology which he clearly believed all his adult life--that conversion to Islam turned Slavs into Turks, and that those who converted were weak and greedy. The honest and hardworking remained Christian.

Andric's other writing also dwell on the "betrayal" of Slavic converts. Andric wrote admiringly of Njegos' work and on the ideology of The Mountain Wreath, which he described as communicating "the voice of the people." The people, he made clear, demanded the annihilation of Slavic Muslims.

The graphic description of the impalement of a Serb man is the centerpiece of the novel--a powerfully moving scene, although too many observers (not to mention far too many of Andric's Serb readers, and presumably Andric himself) overlook the fact that impalement was a form of punishment used by many Christian rulers and polities in the region as well--Vlad the Impaler being the most infamous example.

Sells give Andric credit as a creative writer--he acknowledges that the impalement scene has great power, and also notes that Adric is skillful at using folklore, nationalist myth, and his own narrative abilities to weave powerful works of fiction. The entombment of two Christian babies in the bridge of the title serves as a literary metaphor rather than a crude piece of anti-Turk baiting. If Andric had written crass pulp or sensationalist, kitschy dreck instead of substantial, well-crafted fiction, he wouldn't have had such a powerful and lasting impact on the continued development of modern Serb nationalism.

Time and the Passion Play

Vuk Karadzic's descendant, Radovan Karadzic, frequently enjoyed making a display of his professed love for Serb folk culture as well as his pride in his famous ancestor. Ignoring the fact that gusle epics were a common feature of both Muslim and Serbian folk culture, he frequently appeared with a gusle player and Serb soldiers to sing folk songs about Kosovo and Serb unity. He claimed those songs as belonging to "his" people, which certainly excluded Muslims. He lauded his famous ancestor Vuk Karadzic, who had

"...reawakened the spirit of the Serbian culture that had been buried in the memory of the Serb people during long centuries of Turkish occupation."

Nationalist myths employ a circular logic, retroactively claiming direct ties to a mythic past and then showcasing stylized elements of that idealized past as 'proof' of an ostensibly organic connection. The rather more recent genesis of that mythology is then recast as a rebirth or rediscovery of a long-dormant continuity.

But how was this admittedly potent national myth able to tie Slavic Muslims to the curse of Kosovo in the 1990s? Such toxic myths alone are not sufficient to explain the explosion of genocidal fury against Bosnian Muslims. In the next chapter, Sells examines events in Kosovo in the 1980s, and how those very contemporary tensions were fused with nationalist mythology.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [7]


Extermination of the Turkifiers

This section examines the famous masterwork of 19th Century Serb literature, The Mountain Wreath by Njegos. This lengthy poem celebrates the slaughter of Slavic Muslims on Christmas Eve, most likely based on a actual event from the previous century.

Njegos' work begins with Bishop Danilo

..."brooding on the evil of Islam, the tragedy of Kosovo, and the treason of Vuk Brankovic>"

The poem repeatedly refers to Slavic Muslims as "Turks," by which it is implied that by converting to Islam they have changed their race--and, therefore, betrayed their own. Bishop Danilo is slowly convinced to unleash his warrior by the chorus, which reminds him of the essentially evil nature of Islam and Muslims, and of the betrayal of Brankovic. Interestingly, one of the "temptations" which must be overcome is the actual character of the Muslims he knows. The character of the individual does not matter--the Muslims are blasphemous by nature of what they are, irregardless of their individual character.

After the slaughter, the warriors go directly to communion--they are not required to first take communion. The annihilation of an entire community of Muslims is not a sin which needs to be forgiven, but a sacred act itself. As Sells points out, usually the concept of a "baptism in blood" refers to the victim being baptized. In The Mountain Wreath, however, the killers are the ones who are sanctified by the shedding of blood. The victims are damned.

So by the second half of the 19th Century, Slavic Muslims were trapped between two incompatible conceptions--on the one hand, they were considered "Serb" since Karadzic had defined all speakers of what he considered "Serbian" to be Serbs; yet the popularity and influence of Njegos' powerful poem ensured the rapid growth of the belief that all Serbs were, by definition, (Orthodox) Christians.

At the same time, the feast day of Saint Lazar was recognized as an official saint day and was included in church calendars. Shortly thereafter it was combined with the feast day of Vid.

The process by which the religious, the cultural, and the historical would be combined into one unified mythology was well underway.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [6]


The Curse of Kosovo

It would not be a bad idea to print up thousands of laminated cards with the first two sentences of this section and send them to as many politicians, journalists, intellectuals, policy wonks, and activists as possible:

"Western policy makers maintain that the conflict in the Balkans is "age old." Yet contiguous ethnic and religious groups throughout the world have old antagonisms."

Maybe if President Clinton had been handed a similar quote in 1993 instead of a copy of Balkan Ghosts by Robert Kaplan, he might not have spent the next few years desperately dodging the burden of American leadership.

[As an aside--it wouldn't hurt if more than a few policy-makers were to receive a copy of this statement with "Palestine" in place of "Kosovo" as well.]

Sells goes on to note that conflict between Croats and Serbs has actually mostly been confined to the 20th Century. He acknowledges that the conflict between Serbs and Slavic Muslims does date from the Ottoman period, but goes on to qualify this:

"However, the development of the Kosovo story in which Slavic Muslims and Serbs are ancient and fated enemies is more recent; it was constructed by nationalist Serbs in the nineteenth century and projected back to the battle of Kosovo in 1389, and then back further, even to the very creation of the universe. It is this rather recent national mythology which was revived in the late 1980s in Yugoslavia."

This is crucial, and Sells goes on to develop his argument; first by noting that--contrary to what many believe--the battle of Kosovo was not "the central theme of Serbian epic." For centuries, Serb folk mythology had focused on Marko Kraljevic, a Serb who served as a vassal of the Ottomans. Kraljevic was a more nuanced figure, who sometimes fought against and sometimes for his Ottoman masters. This certainly reflects the ambiguous position of the Christian subjects of the empire; as Sells puts it he

"...served as a figure of mediation between the Serbian Orthodox and Ottoman worlds."

It was in the nineteenth century when the new "ancient" mythology was developed. Sells summarizes the career of Serb folklorist Vuk Karadzic, who collected and standardized Serb folk literature which became the canon of Serb nationalism. Two aspects of Karadzic and his career need to be kept in mind.

First, he saw "Serbian" as a linguistic designation--all speakers of "Serbian" (which to him included all the dialects regarded as Serbo-Croat in modern times) were to be considered Serbs, regardless of religious identification. He was a pioneer in collecting the folk literature of these various unwritten dialects and therefore was taking a leading role in defining the national language.

Keeping in mind that a language is "a dialect with an army," this leads to the second relevant point--that Karadzic was doing his work while the independent state of Serbia was coming into being, establishing its independence from the Ottomans, and looking to expand its influence and geographical extent through the region. Karadzic was defining a new national culture in the contexts of the rise of a new, aggressive state searching for a unifying national mythology.

Karadzic began the process by which the battle of Kosovo became central to Serb national myth when he published the "curse of Kosovo," in which all Serbs are called to fight at Kosovo or suffer the curse of having no progeny, no descendants. He also added a new emphasis and focus on Milos Obilic, who assassinated Sultan Murat.

Stil, the poems Karadzic collected did not focus on Kosovo as much as he clearly wanted to, keeping in mind that nineteenth century Serbia was very much interested in expanding into Kosovo and Macedonia. The full mythologizing of Prince Lazar and the battle of Kosovo would occur in the second half of the century, in Serbian art and literature. A common motif from that period was of Lazar at a Last Supper, surrounded by his knights including his betrayer Vuk Brankovic. Obilic's death at the hands of the sultans bodyguards after he has killed Murat even though Lazar mistakenly accused him of betrayal was to represent the ideal for all Serbs to follow. Unfortunately, this mythic folk version of a historical event became a template by which contemporary events would be interpreted.

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [5]


Bosnia in Myth and History

As before, I will assume that readers of this blog do not require a tutorial on the fundamentals of Bosnian history. Sells does an adequate job summarizing the relevant facts for the uninitiated, beginning with the migration of various Slav-speaking tribes into the Balkans, and the conversion to Christianity a few centuries later. He also explains how the division between the Roman Catholic sphere and the Eastern Orthodox sphere bisected the region, the rise of Serbia as a medieval power, and touches on the paucity of written evidence from medieval Bosnia. In Bosnia, he explains that Orthodoxy and Catholicism vied for influence, even as there was the indigenous Bosnian Church. Interestingly, he repeats the now-discredited theory that the Bosnian Church was Bogomil, only to concede that this conventional wisdom has been refuted a couple of pages later.

He then briefly introduces the Ottoman conquest, which leads to the key question--How and why did so many Bosnians convert to Islam? This is a problematic question, of course, but first Sells confronts the way in which this question has played out in western Balkan nationalism:

"For Croat and Serb nationalists, only the weak and the cowardly converted to Islam; conversions to Islam must have been the product of force or opportunism Such a a mythology is just as distorted as its implied counterpart mythology, that the Slavs who converted to Christianity in the ninth century did so without any economic or political pressures or enticements>"

I would argue that the issue is even more complicated than this, for a reason which is usually ignored by Balkan nationalists of all stripes and their supporters--the frequent movement of individuals and groups of peoples around the region throughout history. Nailing down who lived where when is very difficult in the Balkans, which only compounds the difficulty of determining who the "Bosnians" of the Middle Ages actually were. The same goes for the Serbs, the Croats, etc. Still, we do know that the Slavs of Bosnia converted to Islam in higher numbers than elsewhere in the region. What is important for our purposes here is to note that Serbian and Croatian nationalism both ascribe sinister and contemptible motives to these conversions.

While Sells does not touch on the issue of migration, I must admit that this conditional would be covered by the larger and more fundamental point he makes next.

"...[E]xposed as historically untenable are the national myths that ethnic groups are or ever were stable entities that remain fixed down through the centuries, or that the Ottoman Serbs, Catholic Croats, and Muslims of Bosnia today are direct descendants through stable ethnoreligious communities of ancient Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim ancestors."

If this simple, but profound, insight were to gain traction both among the people of the Balkans and among outside observers, the entire superstructures of the various nationalisms of the region would come crashing down. One can only take the ridiculous claims of Radovan Karadzic and his ilk even slightly seriously if the obvious truth of Sells' concisely-worded analysis is ignored.

He goes on to note that:

"The various loyalties in Bosnia were complex and shifting, and conversions followed many patterns. Orthodox Christians converted to Catholicism, Catholics converted to Orthodox Christianity, Orthodox Christians and Catholics converted to Islam. Some Muslims converted to different forms of Christianity."

The world is a complex place, and human nature being what it is people do things for various reasons and motives. This should be obvious, but nationalists are the most toxic and base of collectivists, and accepting the reality of life's complexities and nuances is simply unacceptable to the ultra-nationalist mindset.

Sells wraps up this section by noting that

"The final mythic figure of Croatian and Serbian religious nationalism is the evil Ottoman. No occupied nation thinks kindly of its colonizer and the Ottomans were no doubt capable of cruelty and oppression. Yet the stories of Ottoman depravity at the heart of nationalist mythology cannot match the evidence."

He goes on to detail some of said evidence, but again I will assume my readers do not need a refresher course in basic Bosnian/Balkan history. I will add that the resentment of being "colonized" in most cases was most likely post de facto, by a few centuries in fact, as there was no "national identity" among most of the peoples conquered by the Ottomans at the time.

He concludes:

"In the nineteenth century, the three myths--conversion to Islam based only upon cowardice and greed, stable ethnogreligious groups down through the centuries, and complete depravity of Ottoman rule--became the foundation for a new religious ideology, Christoslavism, the belief that Slavs are Christian by nature and that any conversion from Christianity is a betrayal of the Slavic race."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [4]


The Christ-Prince Lazar

Sells discusses the centrality of the Good Friday story to Christianity, and then describes the long-standing tradition of Passion Plays, which bring the suffering of Jesus alive to his believers and which serve to break down the temporal barriers between the audience and the events being enacted. The strong emotions evoked were often directed at the actors portraying Jesus' betrayers, and these passions have often been harnessed for both good and evil throughout history. All too often, those passions have been directed at Jews, who were blamed by the masses and the Church in Medieval times for killing Christ.

Serb nationalism, as Sells then notes, is built on a mythology which portrays Slavic Muslims as Christ killers. Considering that Islam was founded a good six centuries after the Crucifixion, how is this possible? The answer is in the myth of Prince Lazar, the Christ-King of medieval Serbia.

I will assume that any reader of this blog knows the story of the Battle of Kosovo and the attendant mythology. At this point, it becomes even clearer that Sells is well-attuned to the real issue--rather than spend time on the actual historical record (such as it exists) or attempting to create a believable, fact-based account, Sells realizes that the crux of the matter lies in more recent history. Specifically, in 19th Century Serbian nationalism and the mythology created to support it. As he writes:

"During the nineteenth century, Serbian nationalist writers transformed Lazar into an explicit Christ figure, surrounded by a group of disciples, partaking of a Last Supper, and betrayed by a Judas. Lazar's death represents the death of the Serb nation, which will not be resurrected until Lazar is raised from the dead and the descendants of Lazar's killers are purged from the Serbian people. In this story, the Ottoman Turks play the role of the Christ killers. Vuk Brankovic, the Serb who betrays the battle plans to the Ottoman army, becomes the Christ killer within. In the nationalist myth, Vuk Brankovic represents the Slavs who converted to Islam under the Ottomans and any Serb who would live with them or tolerate them."


I will leave off here and pick up my review of this chapter in the next post. As an aside, I will note--and I very much doubt that this insight is original to me--that one problem of the former Yugoslavia is that the different national groups suffer from very bad history. All too often, observers glibly note the historical baggage and grievances in the Balkans, without going on to acknowledge that more often than not the "history" under which the people of that region labor is heavy on myth and light on objective, rational, fact-based analysis. As a personal anecdote, I have spent quite a bit of time in Bulgaria, where people--including academics, historians, and politicians--routinely talk about the Ottoman or Turkish "yoke," meaning the centuries of Ottoman rule. It is clear to an outsider that this characterization represents 19th century nationalism more than actual historical experience; yet this is the "history" which young Bulgarians are still raised on. The nearly-forgotten Bulgarian campaign against its ethnic Turkish minority in the early 1980s was a precursor of the much bloodier breakup of Yugoslavia less than a decade later, and was a product of the same type of mystic, paranoid, racist "history" which fuels contemporary Serb nationalist determination to avenge imagined medieval atrocities.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [3]


Who Are Bosnians?

Keeping in mind that this book was written for an audience not necessarily well-versed in the subject--this section is not a history of pre-Yugoslavia Bosnia, but rather a brief explanation of post-WW II Yugoslav history, an explanation of the republics, and the different main populations of Yugoslavia. Sells does a good job of focusing on the key issue in modern Bosnian history--the competing claims of Serb and Croat nationalism on the Orthodox and Catholic populations outside of their respective republics. Also, he notes that both Serbian and Croatian nationalism are explicitly religious--being a "Serb" means being an Orthodox South Slav, in other words.

What Cannot Be Said

In this section, Sells considers how the very enormity and awfulness of the crime of genocide makes it less, rather than more, likely we will be able to acknowledge it and confront it. He points out that the final wave of ethnic cleansing against Muslims occurred in the Banja Luka area in late 1995, after the international outrage over Srebrenic and after NATO had already committed to assisting the joint Croat-Bosnian government offensive against the Bosnian Serb army. Sells notes that NATO could have spoken out against these new, last-ditch atrocities, but chose not to.

The Euphemism

The "euphemism" is the word "ethnic" in "ethnic cleansing". Sells reminds the reader that Serbs, Croats, and Slavic Muslims all descended from the same tribes which settled the area in the sixth century. Religious identity is the sole determiner of "ethnicity."

Sells also notes that the identification as "Muslim" was extrinsic. The victims at Omarska were not there for any particular actions, beliefs, or statements. Nothing they did condemned them in the eyes of Serbian nationalists; they were Muslims, and that was guilt enough. Sells concludes this section by writing:

The term "ethnic" in the expression "ethnic cleansing," then, is a euphemism for "religious." It entails a purely extrinsic yet deadly definition of the victim in terms of religious identity; the intrinsic aspect--in the form of religious mythology--becomes the motivation and justification for atrocities on the part of the perpetrator."

The Realm of Omarska

This section details the methods of ethnic cleansing, the extent, and points out the fact that unlike the seige of Sarajevo and the infamous massacre at Srebrenica, most ethnic cleansing went on in isolated rural areas and town and cities behind Serb lines, where international observers and reporters were kept out. Little in this section would be new or novel to any reader of this blog, but for the intended audience, in 1996, this perspective was important to keep in mind.


The title of this section makes the subject clear--this is a brief account of the use of deliberate mass rape and rape camps in the genocidal program against Bosnian Muslims.


The subject of this section is obvious. Unlike many well-intentioned but ill-informed observers, Sells not only has read the Genocide Convention, he also understands Lemkin's intent--he explicitly notes that genocide does not exclusively refer to campaigns of complete annihilation like the Holocaust. This key point--that the essence of genocide is that violence is directed against individuals "not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group"--is a crucial distinction which has tragically been blurred almost beyond recognition in the present day.

Therefore, Sells rightly notes that the international community dearly needed to believe that the war was the product of "ancient hatreds" or that all parties were equally guilty so that the true horror of what was going on every night on their TV screens did not have to be processed and understood for what it was.

Religion and the Ideology of Genocide

This concluding section is two paragraphs long. I will quote it in its entirety:
"Many deny a religious motive in the assault on Bosnia and upon Bosnian Muslims in particular and in the three-year refusal by the major powers of the Christian world (Britain, France, the U.S., Canada, Germany and Russia) to authorize NATO power to stop it or allow Bosnians to defend themselves. This book explores religious dimensions of the genocide. The focal point is a national mythology that portrays Slavic Muslims as Christ killers and race traitors. When that national mythology was appropriated by political leaders, backed with massive military power, and protected by NATO nations, it became an ideology of genocide.

"Ideology of genocide" means a set of symbols, rituals, stereotypes, and partially concealed assumptions that dehumanize a people as a whole, justify the use of military power to destroy them, and are in turn reinforced by the economic, political, and military beneficiaries of that destruction. It is the development and function of this ideology of genocide that the succeeding chapters will explore."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [2]


Rain of Ash

Sells begins his account of the Bosnian War not with Srebrenica, or Omarska, or with scenes of water-pail toting Sarajevans dodging sniper bullets; rather, he begins with the shelling of the National Library; the deliberate and systematic destruction of that repository of Bosnian history and culture. This is quite right, and very appropriate.

For anyone not familiar with this book, it needs to be kept in mind that it was published in 1996 and presumably was being written just as the war was drawing to a close. Coming after the end of hostilities, the book is not a piece of advocacy or reportage; neither is it work of history or retrospective analysis, since Dayton was still a relatively recent occurrence and there hadn't been time to collect information, documents, and interviews in the country. Rather, Sells was determined to illustrate the importance of religion and religious beliefs in the destruction of a mutliethnic/multi-confessional society; and also to debunk the conventional wisdom about "ancient hatreds" as well as other myths.

Keeping this in mind, I hope the reader will understand if I skim quickly through some passages in this book; not only did Sells write this book 12 years ago, he also wrote it as part of a series "Comparative Studies in Religion and Society". Therefore, his target audience cannot be expected to have had more than a cursory knowledge of events in Bosnia and Yugoslavia in the early 1990s outside of nightly news broadcasts and mainstream press coverage. Sells reiterates a lot of territory which will be old hat to anyone reading this blog. I shall not spend much time summarizing his account of events.

Back to the destruction of the national library...

To repeat--I think this is an excellent choice by Sells. While I certainly believe that human lives are more important than old books and that any innocent life is worth more than even the rarest manuscript, no aspect of the Bosnian war more starkly illustrates the genocidal nature of the assault against the sovereign nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina than the war against the physical manifestations of its history and culture.

It is telling that while revisionists like Diana Johnstone and Michael Parenti are often willing to consider civilian deaths in Bosnia (even though their analysis is rarely honest or complete), neither "Fools' Crusade" nor "To Kill A Nation" dealt at all with the systematic destruction of mosques in Serb-held areas, or with the deliberate destruction of first the Oriental Institute and then the National Library in Sarajevo. I think they know that bringing such incidents into their warped narratives would be a losing proposition for their revisionist project. While it is unfortunately possible to sell some people on the notion that widespread civilian deaths, while "unfortunate", were merely the inevitable product of ruthless "ethnic conflict" and inflamed hatreds rather than of a systematic campaign of destruction. It is much harder to explain away the dynamiting of every mosque in Serb-held areas after active combat had ceased, or to invent even a far-fetched rationalization for the intentional destruction of a library with no military value, but incalculable cultural worth.

The inferno and debris that resulted from that nihilistic act of barbarism is the "Rain of Ash" of this section's title. From page one, Sells is on the right track.


I will continue my review of Chapter One in the next post.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [1]

Having finished "Balkan Idols" a couple of weeks ago (I apologize for the long delay between posts), it would be appropriate to review another book which analyzed the religious dimension of the Yugoslav wars--The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in Bosnia by Professor Michael Sells.

Published in 1996, the book is somewhat different in emphasis from Perica's book. While Balkan Idols focused on religious institutions, The Bridge Betrayed focuses on religion and religious beliefs in and of themselves. There will, of course, be much overlap between the two.

I will begin my review in the next post. On a side note, while searching for the record for this book, I could not help but notice the great number of book published in the past two years or less which ostensibly study the influence of Islamic extremism in Bosnia. Also, now sells a sympathetic English-language biography of Ratko Mladic.

In case anybody think this blog, and others like it, are kicking a dead horse--the battle against Balkan Revisionism is far from over.

Friday, November 30, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [27]


The Balkan Nightmare Continues [and my closing thoughts]

This final, concluding section isn't as dire and fatalistic as the title suggest, but that is really not saying very much. Perica lets a ray of light penetrate the rather pessimistic prognosis, but that ray comes from outside the region; from the rest of Europe, which--he hopes--has changed from the days of Metternich and Bismark and the cowardly indifference of the 1990s. He hopes that the gloomy Balkan fatalism of Andric and Krleza just might no longer be fully justified.

Much of this chapter is slightly dated, although unfortunately not enough. This book was published in 2002 and therefore Perica is describing the situation slightly over half a decade ago. I will not cover the details as I assume most readers of this blog already know; for the purposes of covering the theme of the book I will note that Perica has little good to say on the role of religious institutions in the post-Dayton period. For the most part, prominent religious figures continued to nurture the respective myths and grievances of their particular ethno-religious community. There were, of course, exceptions--most notably the Franciscans of "Silver Bosnia" whose ecumenical outreach is all the more striking when compared to the crude nationalism and bigotry of the Herzegovina Catholic clergy.

Monuments, shrines, churches, and other religious buildings and sites continue to provide ready-made flashpoints for violence and conflict. None of the national churches have truly given up on their particular dreams of a purified homeland for "their" people.

And so on; Perica is mostly recapping the major issues from the book here. It is not an optimistic outlook except for the above-mentioned hope that a truly "new Europe" awaits, holding out the promise of EU membership and more. Perica notes that the Europe of the EU is very secular, little troubled by religion, run by internationally-inclined institutions. Europe, he wants to believe, is no longer content to sit idly while poisonous dysfunctions rot the new states of the western Balkans.

I wonder what Perica would write in an updated edition of this book were he to undertake such a task. I fear he may believe that his troubling book ended on too optimistic a note.


"Balkan Idols" is a useful and important book. I have alluded to some of its structural flaws and have taken issue with certain specific claims and arguments, but overall Perica's research and study overwhelm any such concerns--this area of study was very necessary for the region. Understanding the role that religion and religious institutions have played and continue to play in the nationalism of the region is vital. Perica rightly notes that, all too often, religion gets a pass in world affairs--given great leeway, allowed to take credit for any accomplishments but never held accountable for its failings.

There is more to be said about this issue. I am very curious to hear from others about this book. I should disclose the fact that I am an atheist--it troubles me not at all to read that organized religions act in negative ways with destructive results. I have no problem accepting that premise. But most people are believers to one extent or the other--how can Perica and others who accept his thesis present this argument in a way which doesn't scare many people away?

I hope to revisit this issue again in another post in the near future.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [26]


The Myth of the Three Evils of the Twentieth Century and Other New Myths

Perica writes:

"The most crucial single characteristic of the religion under consideration is worship of history. History as the principal object of worship entails myths that facilitate coming to terms with various historical controversies coupled with the worship of the nation (or ethno-religious community). I would single out three sets of new myths that most critically affected the period under consideration and are likely to exert significant influence on future events in successor states in the former Yugoslavia. These myths could be named as follows:

1. The Deep Roots Myth
2. The Jerusalem Myth
3. The Myth of the Three Evils of the Twentieth Century"

For anyone who has followed my review of this book--or, indeed, anyone who has read even a little on the Balkan wars--the first two myths probably need little elaboration at this point. For the first, Perica notes that Serbian and Croatian nationalism emphasized an imagined, mythologized ancient past and a continuity between the contemporary "true" nation and that past, irregardless of the intervening centuries. These "deep roots" trumped any other nationalism or national identity--whether Yugoslav or Bosnian. This insight is not original to Perica; his contribution has been to illustrate how fundamental religion and religious institutions have been in formulating and maintaining this myth.

I cannot improve on this paragraph, quoted in its entirety:

"In sum, architects of the Deep Roots Myth have labored to create a "visible" link between ancient ethnic communities and nation-states founded after the collapse of communism and disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. Their favorite word is "tradition," which they perceive as something immutable in ever-changing history, created centuries ago yet somehow coming to us intact and unaltered. As they make people conscious of these allegedly immutable things that resisted the power of historical change and invite the people to "wake up" and "return" to their "genuine" identities, their chief aim is to profoundly alter the current situation in the society, culture, economy, government, identity, and mentality of the people. In other words, ethnic nationalists say that nothing has changed since the Middle Ages in order to change everything today."

The second myth--the "Jerusalem Myth"--is obviously about Kosovo, but Perica also claims that the ideal of a mythic homeland. He writes:

"The ruins of the former Yugoslavia are full of tombs and monuments of all sorts and all ages, sites of martyrdom, wailing walls and sacred centers both above and under ground, to which the damned groups want to return but cannot. What the Jerusalem Myth really narrates is a story about a land of ceaseless resentment inhabited by eternal losers."

There is some bite to that analysis, and also much truth.


Perica was less successful at convincing me of the importance of the third myth, which he spends several pages arguing and yet in its essentials can be reduced to this--the Vatican, which throughout much of the 20th Century clearly supported many far-right and fascist regimes and opposed any left-of-center political movements as a secular threat to its own authority, has made a concerted effort in the post-Cold War environment to reinvent its past. The Vatican's revisionist strategy is to claim that the Church steadfastly opposed all totalitarianisms--communism, fascism, and Nazism--equally.

This is interesting, since it suggests that the beautification of Stepanic had little to do with intentional stoking of Croat nationalism but rather was part of a wider, global effort to rewrite history. Stepanic's martyrdom at the hands of Tito was the only thing which mattered; his actions during the Ustashe years simply did not compute.

However, Perica has thrown the net pretty wide here; he also gets bogged down in an attempt to determine whether or not the Vatican has maintained a double standard in dealing with right-wing versus left-wing movements and governments. It is a worthy subject of study, but it seems to come out of nowhere, and takes us far afield from the western Balkans. That is not to say he is wrong, or that there is no connection between this line of inquiry and the primary topic of his book, but the sudden turn to ideological debates within the Vatican is rather jarring. Oddly, Perica claims that this third myth is possibly the most important of the three he has outlined; I feel it is the least important, or more accurately the least directly relevant. Considering how much intellectual terrain Perica has mapped out in this book, he is entitled to an occasional wrong turn.


I know I promised to wrap things up in this post, but the final section is several pages long, and I wish to give it enough attention and space, as well as adding some final thoughts of my own. I will review the final section of this last chapter in my next post.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [25]


The Myth of Religious Revival

After the fall of officially atheistic communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe, many predicted there would be a "religious revival" throughout the region. Superficially, the statistics bore this out--there was a huge rise in the number of people in most ex-Communist states professing religious beliefs and participation in/belonging to formal churches.

But a closer examination of the situation throws this "religious revival" in a different light--the growth was almost entirely in the official national churches, rather than among sects, cults, and other "bottom-up" spiritual movements. The "religious revival" in the former Eastern Bloc was almost purely "top-down." The official churches had led the fight against communism because they wanted to lay claim the the authority and assets of those atheist regimes for themselves. There was very little genuine theology or deeply-felt spirituality in this religious revival, contrary to Western assumptions.

To be frank, this section is somewhat disjointed and tries to cover too much ground. Perica attempts to link the discussion to a global rise in apocalyptic religiosity, with mixed results. I agree with much of what he says here--he rightly notes that religious organizations and institutions are quick to involve themselves in political and social debates without acknowledging that religion itself is often the problem. However, this and other larger points seem to come out of the blue; fortunately, his insights specific to the Balkans are premised on all which has come before, lending much credence to his conclusions, despite the far-ranging tangents he adds.

A Godly Idea in A Godless Regime: Religion and Yugoslav Communism

This section argues that Titoism, while still "by all means a part of the dark legacy of communism" was "less bad" than the competing nationalisms and ideologies available to the peoples of the western Balkans. By laying claim to the ideal of Brotherhood and Unity, Titoism forced the opposition to either make a nonviolent, alternative claim to that same ideal, or to undermine it and stand for division, intolerance, and hostility. While Perica initially seems to be waxing nostalgic for Titoism, he concludes by stating that Tito's rule was simply the "least worst" option which has so far proved workable.


Sorry for the long delay between posts--I will conclude my review of this final chapter in the next installment.

Friday, November 16, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [24]


Legitimization of the state through religion becomes an extremely complicated and treacherous undertaking in multiconfessional countries. This is even more true in a multiethnic state where ethnicity has been defined, largely or in part, by religion.

Perica writes:

"The making and unmaking of Yugoslav states as a case study, in general, and its religious dimension, in particular, offers scholars a kind of "laboratory" in which important findings and conclusions can be made. Here are some of those conclusions."

Multinational States and Legitimacy by Religion

Yugoslavia never achieved legitimization from the national churches. Both the Serb Orthodox and Croat Catholic churches desired centralized, "ethnically compact" (Perica's memorable phrase) states with the church as the official or at least de facto state religion. Perica also notes that, whatever the pro-unity sentiments and political leanings of Bosnia's Muslims, there can be little doubt that most Muslim clergy at least dreamed of a Muslim state in the western Balkans. The desire to create a "relgious monopolt" leads to authoritarianism and conflict with neighboring states and other faiths. Perica terms the Balkan variant of this side effect of the theocratic impulse as "ethnoclericalism."


"The concept of ethnoclericalism is the Balkan case's contribution to the recent scholarship dealing with religious fundamentalism, "religious nationalism," and various challenges to the secular state and western liberal though about religion. Key components of ethnoclericalism are the idea of ethnically based nationhood and a "national church" with its clergy entitled to national leadership but never accountable for political blunders as are secular leaders."

Perica notes that "ethnic churches" are "designed as instruments for the survival of ethnic communities." As a result, they require a sense of crisis and the fear of some external threat, real or imagined. They are loath to accommodate "outsiders" or liberal ideas. They favor centralized, authoritarian social and political structures, designed to protect the community from outside threats and maintain the social order under duress. They define the ethnic group as members of the national faith, and for this and the other reasons listed before favor close collaboration with the state. Church and State are not to be separated--they are equal ruling partners.

The clergy of the national churches must be members of the national ethnic group. This is true in Orthodox countries generally, of course--Orthodoxy has a long tradition of church-state synergy. But in Croatia, in modern times, this has also been true of the Catholic church; in Croatia, Croat saints are superior to "foreign" saints just as Serb saints are superior to all "foreign" saints in the Orthodox faith. And Bosnian Islam is also marked by a distinctively Balkan ethnic nationalism not found in most Muslim countries. For all their antagonism, the national churches of the former Yugoslavia are, in some fundamental ways, merely different variations on the same theme.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [23]


Jerusalem Lost: The Serbian Church, the West, and the Failure of the Serbian Revolution

"Since 1990, Serbs and Serbia have been at war not only with all non-Serbs in Yugoslavia but also with the West."

Serbian Orthodox hostility to the West predated any Western involvement in the Balkan wars; in fact, Perica dates this open hostility to Senator Bob Dole's April 1990 visit to Kosovo. Typically, Serbian observers portrayed his sympathy to Albanian complaints as hostility to Serbian interests.

The Russian Orthodox Church came to the aid of their Serbian counterparts throughout the crises of the 1990s. In 1999, the patriarch of Russia gave a speech at the temple of Saint Sava in which he decried Western actions in Kosovo as imperialist. Anti-Western sentiments exploded in Russia and Serbia in the wake of the NATO campaign. The rhetoric coming from the Serbian Church was hyperbolic and extreme--the USA was portrayed as Satanic, thoroughly evil, and anti-Christian. Tellingly, the Belgrade Journal Duga claimed that the US was intent of forcing the intermixing of peoples in America's own image; Serbia and Germany--the two primary champions of homogenous nationalism in this conspiracy theory--were to be undermined by the introduction of Muslim populations in their midst.

After the Serb withdrawal from Kosovo, the Church turned on Milosevic--for not having been nationalist enough. Supporters of the Serbian Orthodox Church who proudly note that Patriarch Pavle and others supported the ouster of Milosevic fail to note that they did so not because he pursued a nationalist agenda, but because he failed to achieve it.

Vojislav Kostunica has been friendlier to the church than Milosevic was, and has made more public displays of piety. The church has been rewarded with some concrete state measures--the Orthodox catechism was introduced to public schools. Other church-requested measures, such as the elimination of the Latin alphabet from schools and public life, and state salaries for clergy, await. Meanwhile, Protestant sects in Serbia protested some of the new measure, but have been ignored both by the state and the church. The Kosovo myth continues to fuel a vindictive, self-pitying nationalism in Serbia.

Orphans of Brotherhood and Unity

Perica begins this section by noting that many observers considered the Yugoslav wars to be inevitable, since the country was "artificial" and susceptible to ethnic strife. He takes exception to this conventional wisdom, noting that many Yugoslavs believed in the civic religion of Brotherhood and Unity. The generation which had grown up in Tito's Yugoslavia was vested in its success, and many urban youth were inclined to embrace the secular and tolerant values which a multiethnic/multi-confessional state required.

Unfortunately, that generation--making up the bulk of the best-educated of the nation's youth--have been, in Perica's sadly apt phrase, "orphaned" by the destruction of Yugoslavia both as a country and as an ideal. The million or so citizens who considered themselves Yugoslavs by nationality no longer could; many were forced to become one nationality or another. Even more tragically, many among them came to embrace the exclusive nature of their new ethnic identity.

While many of the best and brightest left the former Yugoslavia for good, the young people who remained began to realign their loyalties along ethnic lines. The percentage of young people who would consider marrying outside their ethnic group dropped; and in Croatia, the percentage of young people who left from formally ethnically mixed areas was higher than the national average.

Meanwhile, even as the economies of the new republics faltered and crime became institutionalized, the formerly excellent national sporting programs fell into decline. Individual athletes, trained under the old system, still managed to find success, but usually away from home.

The new phenomena of "Yugonostalgia" was one facet of the post-war period, as many in the former federation looked back fondly on the Tito era and Tito himself; in 1998 a poll in Croatia found that Croats had a higher opinion of Tito than of Tudjman. But it was too late.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [22]


After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Perica argues, the Cold War-era construct of "Eastern Europe" was replaced by "Central Europe" and "the Balkans." The Balkans, naturally, became known as a backwards and violent region outside the pale of the "real" Europe. The nations which came into being were not recognized as fully developed, proper countries--not without good reason, as nearly all of the ex-Yugoslav states descended into economic decline. Organized crime became institutionalized, as did political impotence and civic dysfunction. As he writes:

"And only the growing influence of myth and religion helped some people to believe that the new was better than the old."

The Catholic Church and Croatia's Return to the West

Perica notes that the Catholic church has twice had the opportunity to play a decisive role in forming a new Croatian nation-state in the 20th Century--during World War II, and in the early 1990s. In both cases, the church chose to support noxious, right-wing nationalist regimes which engaged in varying degrees of violence and persecution against other national and religious groups. In both cases, the regimes failed and were replaced. In neither case did the church repudiate the failed fascist regime, or engage in an honest assessment of events and its own responsibility. As Perica notes:

"Instead, like most religious organizations, Croat church leaders sought to substitute myth for history."

The Church actively supported the new nationalist regime in Croatia from 1990 onward. Tudjman and his party declared that the revival of Croatian independence and nationalism represented "Croatia's return to the West." Croats, according to the new myth, were being liberated from "atheistic communists and Orthodox Serbs." The Croats were going to turn their back on the primitive Balkans and "rejoin" the civilized, Christian (especially Catholic) Europe they believed they rightly belonged to.

They did a lousy job of it; much of this long section details how craven, hateful, and corrupt; and also undemocratic, sectarian, and anti-liberal (that is to say, un-Western) Croatia under the HDZ was. There is far too much information in this section for me to summarize without going on at length, but events and actions include:

-Terrorist attacks against memorials to the Partizan period and other symbols of multiethnic Yugoslavia;

-Purging books written in Cyrillac, as well as books by leftists, Serbs, pro-Yugoslavs, and even foreign authors "guilty" of atheism, socialism, or atheism (Mark Twain, Jack London, and Oscar Wilde were all banned) from schools and libraries;

-Establishing a commission to produce a "report" that claimed that the Ustashe committed few atrocities during the war, and those that were acknowledged were "reactions" to aggression by Serbs and other non-Croats;

-Official rescinding all verdicts by state courts against "innocent victims of communism and Croatian patriots." Known war criminals and pro-Ustashe terrorists were retroactively pardoned like everybody else;

-Various actions which served to establish the Catholicism as the de facto state religion, including actions which pointedly favored Catholicism over all other faiths;

-The HDZ and the Croat Catholic church collaborated in supporting the creation of the illegal breakaway state of Herceg-Bosna;

-The creation of an enormous, multi-layered state security apparatus.

The result was an economically devastated pariah state which was rejected by the West, run by an autocratic regime which was corrupt at the highest levels. The church was directly involved in corruption as well, serving as a conduit for transferring money out of the country and into secret accounts. Since these scandals threatened the integrity of the church itself, it should be no surprise that many voices from within the church spoke out in criticism of the Tudjman regime. But not enough voices; as Perica writes:

"Yet it is cold comfort for Croatian Catholicism to be somewhat less bad than Serbian Orthodoxy."

Eventually, economic disaster, international disapproval, and extreme corruption as well as Tudjman's death doomed the HDZ, which was replaced in the 2000 election by a left-leaning liberal government. At this point, the church could have embraced the opportunity to make a break with a sordid, nationalist past, and to truly embrace the "West" it had been rhetorically courting. It could have learned from the HDZ's failure--and from the failure of post-Yugoslavia Croatia--and reevaluated the ideology and mythic history it had been promulgating. Instead, the Church turned against the new, democratic government.

Slander against members of the new government (tellingly, the Croat Catholic church often labeled opponents as 'atheists') was followed by open support for indicted war criminals and more heated rhetoric.

Finally, there was an attempted coup organized by members of the HDZ, other right-wing groups and some military officers. The church did not official participate but many members of the clergy supported it; even some Bishops gave sermons openly challenging the legitimacy of the new government.

The church was also involved in a foiled attempt to revive the secessionist statelet of Herceg-Bosna in 1998, as well as in varied efforts--some of which were quite successful--to put nationalist clergymen in positions of authority, such as at the University of Zagreb.

In short, the Catholic church in Croatia protested the left-liberal, secular and democratic government of 2000 but supported the far-right Tudjman regime of the 1990s and the fascist Ustashe regime of the 1940s. Fortunately, the campaign to oust the post-HDZ government failed--as Perica notes:

"Thus, contrary to scenarios that would have sustained the myth of "The Thirteen Centuries of Christianity in the Croat People," it was not the Catholic Church that brought Croatia back in the orbit of Western civilization but a regime led by former communists that the Church had resisted in an attempted coup."

Thus did the national church of Croatia conclude its ignoble 20th Century.

Friday, November 09, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [21]


The Politics of Saint-Making

The Croatian Catholic Church never gave up on the campaign to legitimize and elevate Cardinal Stepinac. This section details various political moves made by members of the hierarchy to reinvent the Cardinal as a hero of the anti-fascist (and anti-Holocaust) cause. The Church attempted to reach out to Jews by simultaneously canonizing Edith Stein, a nun of Jewish descent who died at Auschwitz. However, the request to have Stepinac made a "righteous Gentile" was rejected.

In the meantime, the Serbian Church, in 1998, announced the canonization of new saints in response to the Stepanic campaign; these saints were from the World War II era and represented an effort to counter the Croat myth of Stepanic with a Serb myth of Jasenovac. The Tito-era of Brotherhood and Unity was recast by both churches as a historical aberration.

Religious Organizations and the International Peace Process

This section essentially documents one phenomena--attempts by religious leaders to play peacemakers and act as conciliatory actors in response to western pressure, especially peace activism by western (oftentimes Protestant) religious groups. A great deal of noise was made, and many leading clerics from all three of the main national churches said many of the "right" things. Yet, Perica concludes pessimistically that little came of such dialogue, and little should be expected in the immediate future. These proclamations were long on abstractions and short on concrete proposals. Lots of sweeping calls for "peace in the Balkans" without the specific language needed to promote such a peace.

Perica does note that many individual cleric from all three churches took early, principled stands against nationalist rhetoric and against the war itself; later, many others made sincere efforts towards reconciliation and ecumenical dialogue. However, they generally did so as individuals. The national churches as institutions, and groups within those churches (as well as the leaders of each church) either remained silent at best, or either actively supported nationalist politics or helped encourage fear and intolerance.

Perica concludes this chapter with the gloomy quote (from Sarajevo author Ivan Lovrenovic):

"The 1992-1995 Bosnian war may not have been a religious war. But the next one will be for sure."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [20]


"In all the successor states of the former Yugoslavia except perhaps in Slovenia, religion became the hallmark of nationhood."

Islam and Muslim Nationalism in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Even as Slavic Muslims were being singled out for genocide by Serbian ultranationalists--and, for awhile, Croatian ultranationalists in western Herzegovina--Izetbegovic and the SDA pursued of a policy of "Islamicizing" the Muslims of Bosnia. Not to say that events and circumstances did nothing to politicize and "nationalize" the "ethnic Muslims" of Bosnia. Bosnians who wanted first to be Yugoslavs found that Yugoslavia was no more; then when they wanted to be Bosnians they found that "Bosnia" as nationality was no more as well; "Muslim" was all they had left.

While preaching secular tolerance and inclusion, Izetbegovic (who was much more of a fundamentalist Muslim than the vast majority of the Bosnian Muslims he ostensibly spoke for), and while fighting a war for the very survival of the multi-ethnic, secular and democratic republic he publicly defendig, Izetbegovic and the SDA

"...exploited such favorable international circumstances to launch an Islamic revolution aimed at creating an Islamic republic in Bosnia-Herzegovina."

By 1995, there were nearly 200 Islamic organizations operating in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including Hamas and Al Qaeda. The Islamic Community, once a staunch pro-Yugoslav organization, became a vehicle for the Islamization of Bosnian society. The SDA had replaced the moderate reis-ul-ulema Jakub Selimoski with the fundamentalist Mustafa Ceric; Selimoski (who admittedly might have had an ax to grind) would accuse Izetbegovic of turning the Serbian aggression against Bosnia into a civil war, and held the Bosnian President partly responsible for the Bosniak-Croat war of 1993.

It could be argued, however, that the process at work was less religious fundamentalism and more ethnic nationalism. Perica notes that school textbooks "glorified the Ottoman era." Many of the other actions of the new regime were sectarian rather than spiritual in focus. The government sponsored many official reburials and commemorations during the war. This process of Islamization continued after Dayton brought the fighting to an end.

Ceric proved to be a hardliner, opposing interfaith marriages and complaining about "Christian" content on state television during the 1998 Christmas season. He also encouraged Bosniaks to think of themselves as Muslims rather than Slavs, claiming that he had more in common with a Malaysian than an ethnic Serb or Croat from Sarajevo. And Ceric wasn't the only hardliner preaching at mosques.

The building of new mosques and other religious buildings picked up, funded by other Muslim countries. New Islamic and explicitly religious groups for Bosniak youth were also started up with foreign funding.

When Izetbegovic retired from politics, however, his campaign to sharpen the "Muslimness" of Bosnia's ethnic Muslims began to falter. The moderate success achieved by Haris Silajdzic's secular "Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina" in November of 2000 was just one sign that the secular and tolerant nature of Bosnian Islam was beginning to reassert itself; fundamentalism did not have deep roots in Bosnia.

The Madonna of Medjugorje and Croatian Nationalism in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia

Even as the Marian apparitions at Medjugorje became known to the outside world as "miracle" of "peace," Medjugorje became the spiritual capital of the ethnically cleansed Croat statlet of "Hercog-Bosna". The local Franciscans cozied up to the separatist leaders, giving them even more autonomy from the bishop and the official church hierarchy. Medjugorje became a cash cow and a center of vice and fraud.

The church had a difficult balancing act, attempting to temper the worst excesses associated with the growing cult and its patrons while not alienating Catholics from around the world who accepted the validity and the spiritual value of the apparitions at face value. Medjugorje, ultimately, played a decisive role in the establishment of an independent Croatia.

Religion and Nationalism in Other Successor States

While the Milosevic regime in Serbia proper kept its distance from the Serbian Church, this was not true in Republika Srpska, where the church became the de facto state church and efforts by Muslims and Catholics to rebuild religious building were blocked either by state action or by mobs. No members of the Serb clergy spoke out against war crimes committed by Serbs. More notoriously, of course, the church has quite surely helped Radovan Karadzic escape justice for over a decade now. And many Orthodox national churches have openly supported Karadzic's defiance.

In Kosovo before the NATO war, the church was also active in rebuilding and asserting itself, even as Milosevic's party hampered such efforts in Serbia proper.

In Macedonia, the Macedonian Orthodox church was involved in a power struggle with the Serbian Church, which had never recognized its independence. Confrontations were often hostile and rambunctious, with Serbian nationalist leaders taking part. Meanwhile, "Macedonian" nationality came to be defined as membership in the Macedonian Church.

And in Montenegro, a similar dynamic was at play as a nascent national church attempted to break away from the Serbian church. The Serbian patriarch spoke out forcefully against the Montenegran Church.


There are two sections left in this chapter; I will cover them in the next post.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [19]


The war in Bosnia not only took the lives of many people (mostly civilians) and left many more injured and approximately half the population displaced; it was also characterized by the destruction of religious buildings. The destruction was rather one-sided--over 1,000 mosques were destroyed, while nearly 200 Catholic churches and 28 Orthodox churches were also destroyed.

As Perica notes, religious institutions played an important role in fueling the ethnic conflicts which tore Yugoslavia apart:

"The three largest religious organizations, as impartial foreign and domestic analysts have agreed, were among the principal engineers of the crisis and conflict. Western analysts noticed religious insignia on the battlefield, prayers before the combat and during battles, religious salutes, clergy in uniforms and under arms; elite combat units labeled "the Muslim Army" or "Orthodox Army" accompanied by clergy; massive destruction of places of worship; forms of torture such as carving religious insignia into human flesh; and so on."

These obvious manifestations of religious influence only serve to illustrate the underlying reality--that the national churches bore a great deal of responsibility for defining and amplifying the fears which fueled the violence. Perica points out that Serb nationalists acknowledged that they struck first in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, but that they justified their actions as being proactive and defensive in nature, since they were reacting to the perceived threat of genocide at the hands of the "enemy nations" they lived among. And those threats were, by and large, articulated and justified by the Serbian Church. The same church that drew parallels between the fate of the Serbs and the Jews, between Kosovo and Jerusalem, and between Auschwitz and Jasenovac.

At the end of this short section, Perica adds that the Croats and the Muslim national churches also developed martyr-nation myths of their own.

Religion and Nationalism in the Successor States

Perica notes that:

"In all the successor states of the former Yugoslavia except perhaps in Slovenia, religion became the hallmark of nationhood."

He illustrates this point in the next few sections, which I will summarize in my next post.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [18]


The Collapse of the Interfaith Dialogue

Any hopes for a thaw in interfaith relations collapsed in the late 1980s, as Serb Orthodox Church rhetoric became ever more shrill and uncompromising. Church leaders continually turned down invitations to attend ecumenical functions, before finally (after some years of giving the cold shoulder) submitting the "Preconditions for Ecumenical Dialogue." The letter was full of extreme accusations about the churches alleged direct involvement in the Serb genocide, and demands for public demonstrations of remorse and acceptance of guilt. It is likely that Serb church leaders knew how outrageous these demands were, and were actually hoping to force the Catholic church to modify its support for the Macedonian church and for Kosovar autonomy.

The Catholic church, for its part, retaliated with renewed defenses of Cardinal Stepanic, and accusations that the Serb church was doing the dirty work of unnamed "certain politics".

In 1990, the regular interfaith ecumenical symposia was cancelled since Croat church leaders refused to attend in protest of the separatist Serb actions in Croatia. Ecumenical dialogue was at an end.

Untimely Commemorations

The first paragraph of this section summarizes the essential points well:

"From June 1990 to August 1991, the Serbian Orthodox Church carried out a series of commemorations in honor of "the beginning of the Second World War and the suffering of the Serbian Church and Serbian people in that war." Those commemorations came as a continuation of the September 1984 consecration of the Saint John the Baptist memorial church at Jasenovac. Thse religious events coincided with Slobodan Milosevic's so-called antibureaucratic revolution, that is, the Serb nationalist mobilization carried out through street protests and an aggressive media campaign. Concurrently, the Serbian Church's commemorations bred popular sentiments of pride and self-pity as well as a lust for revenge."

Incompatible Worlds: Serbs Call for Partition

In the 1980s and into the 1990s, Serbian Church leaders began to openly discuss the need for partition, specifically to provide a homeland for Serbs. While such calls generally carried qualifying comments that the rights of other national groups needed to be respected, the general tone was belligerent and uncompromising.

Not all of the rhetoric was strictly ethnic or exclusively about the Serbian people, but rather religious. The church made calls for the creation of an Orthodox sphere of influence or commonwealth as a "defense" against the Roman Catholic and Islamic communities. The Vatican was condemned as a stooge of Western or even "anti-Christian" forces.

Even as Tudjman and Milosevic met secretly to partition Bosnia between them, Catholic and Orthodox leaders met to discuss the same thing.

An Eye for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth: The Serb Call for Revenge

The Orthodox Church increasingly acted as an organizing force for Serb nationalism in Serb-populated areas in Croatia and Bosnia. The rhetoric employed was collectivist and apocalyptic, with calls for collective defense and, more ominously, for preemptive moves. In April 1991, Bishop Lukijan made a frequently-quoted "eye for an eye" statement, which went beyond calling for aggressive measures to ensure collective security and actually called for retaliation for historic crimes. The implications of the Church's focus on collective and generational guilt was now made explicit.

In this context, Vatican recognition of Slovenian and Croatian independence was seen as a provocation by the Serbian Church. Hostility to any dialogue with the Vatican continued after fighting ceased in 1995.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [17]


The War of the Churches

Relations between the Catholic and Orthodox churches by the late 1980s were at a level of mutual distrust and animosity reminiscent of the 1930s. Growing tensions in Kosovo and the rise of the Macedonian Church exacerbated the animosity between the Serb Church and the other two main national churches, as Serb religious leaders erroneously attributed Albanian separatism to Islamic fundamentalism, while the Vatican came out in support of autonomy for Kosovo while it also recognized and maintained ties with the Macedonian church.

The Churches and the World War II Controversy

The death of Tito provided the opportunity to openly and vigorously questions the dogmatic version of history that underscored the civic religion of Brotherhood and Unity. The most prominent manifestation of this was the "new Serbian history," which refuted the notion that the Ustashe movement was an aberration in Croatian history imposed by outsiders. These historians believed that the NDH government was "above all a very efficient instrument of genocide against Serbs, conceived in Croatia several centuries before the genocide took place." Croats were portrayed as implacably hostile to Serbs, and that any independent Croatia would automatically be a threat to Serbs within its borders.

Croat historians countered with their own version in which the genocidal nature of Ustashe crimes were downplayed and explained as reactions to Serb pressures. Tudjman, the preeminent historian of this school, also defended the role of the Catholic church during the war. The competing commemorations and other events of the 1980s can be seen as attempts by the Catholic and Orthodox churches of propagating these respective revisionist myths.

Forgive but Not Forget: Liturgy in the Concentration Camp

After Titos death, the Serb church attempted to lay claim to the legacy of Jasenovac, which under Tito had been interpreted as a memorial to the multiethnic Partisan struggle against fascism. The Serb church reinvented Jasenovac as one of the two centers of Serb spiritual life, the other being Kosovo--both were sites of martyrdom and victimization at the hands of hostile neighboring peoples.

In mass ceremonies at Jasenovac, the parallel between Serbs and Jews was explicitly laid out, with Kosovo as the Serb Jerusalem and Jasenovac as their Auschwitz. The Serb version of events vastly exaggerated the number of Serbs killed at Jasenovac while omitting any mention of the many non-Serbs (including many anti-Ustashe Croats) who also died there, with the exception of Jews, with whom the Serbs claimed an affinity.

As these events at Jasenovac became yearly events, the Serb church expanded its campaign to rewrite history and began holding other commemorations to the victims of the "Serb genocide" at sites of Partisan military heroism and loss--the church was eliminating the complex reality of World War II and replacing it with a new myth in which the Serbs had been systematically hounded by enemies; and those enemies were all the other peoples of Yugoslavia.

A Battle of Myths: The Yugoslav Auschwitz versus the Martyr Cardinal

The battle of the numbers of Serbs killed at Jasenovac and in the war in total continued to wage, with Croat historians putting the numbers very low and Serb nationalists putting the numbers impossibly high. Serbs sought to win over the opinion of Yugoslavia's small Jewish community, which required the history of Nedic's wartime quisling Serbia to be completely ignored and forgotten.

Some Yugoslav Jews took the bait, and did their part to help promote the Serb nationalist version of events. Meanwhile, "Archimandrite Jevtic accused Croat Catholic clergy and the Vatican of inciting a genocide against the Serbian people." Other Serb scholars and clerics echoed the belief that the Vatican either directed the genocide or had the power to stop it had it chosen to.

In response, the Croat Catholic church stepped up its defense of Cardinal Stepanic, arguing that he had actually opposed Ustashe atrocities and had saved many Serbs and Jews from death. This defense angered the Serb church, who believed that he had been made a saint because he was involved in genocide.

Disputes over Holy Places

Serb clergy laid claim to the ruins of churches and other religious buildings which had laid dormant for decades, and in some cases centuries. Services were held at various ruins in ethnically mixed areas, based on dubious or often unproven claims that this church or that monastery were "really" Orthodox. Doing so was a way of laying claim to an area both spiritually and historically, by way of showing that a given area has historically Serb.

Many of the massacres and other acts of violence against Croats in Croatia at the beginning of the war happened in towns and villages where such commemorations had been held and claims had been made. And one of the first acts in newly "liberated" areas was the destruction of Catholic churches.

Similar confrontations were organized by Serbian nationalists--including Vojislav Seselj and his Radical party--at contested holy sites in Macedonia and Montenegro.


In the interests of keeping this post at a manageable length, I will conclude my review of Chapter 9 next time.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

"Balkan Idols" by Vjekoslav Perica [16]

CHAPTER NINE: THE SECOND STRIFE Religion as the Catalyst of the Crisis in the 1980s and 1990s

This chapter consists of many short sections detailing various aspects of the years leading up to the wars. As the subtitle makes clear, Perica is no longer documenting how religious institutions helped to foster nationalist sentiment and sectarianism. In this chapter, the negative role that the various national religions played are explicitly described. Perica is beginning to take the gloves off.

The Clerical Offensive and the Regime's Last Stand, 1979-1987

By 1980, the regime recognized it needed new policies for dealing with increasingly active and restless religious institutions. Officials realized they would need to deal with a relatively light hand, although the regime continued to spy on religious institutions. The offices in charge of monitoring churches tended to be understaffed and rather placid, and there were few actual informants in place.

The hesitant and half-hearted nature of the governments efforts at control emboldened members of the clergy, especially among the Croatian Catholic and Serb Orthodox churches. In Bosnia the tensions were especially troublesome since the Islamic Community was also increasingly involved in nationalist agitating.

These efforts by the regime, which vacillated between sporadic repression and tolerance, ultimately did little to stem the nationalist tide.

A Promise of Peaceful Transition: Moderate Religious Policies and the Regime's Belated Democratization, 1988-1990

The Croatian espiscopate had an ambiguous relationship with the regime; despite all the nationalist agitating documented earlier, there was also some genuine pro-regime sentiment. Some members of the hierarchy argued that their situation was rather favorable compared to the Church in other socialist countries. The Vatican also sought to respond to overtures made by the regime. Relations between Belgrade and the Vatican improved, although attempts to set up a papal visit were sabotaged by the Serbian Orthodox church, which sought to place conditions on the Pope's involvement in any interfaith ceremonies--specifically pushing for a statement regarding Jasenovac.

Still, there were positive developments during this time. The regime continued to loosen restraints, and in 1989 and 1990 worship services were broadcast on television in every republic save Serbia. The Catholic espiscopate and the Serbian Holy Synod both released statement affirming support for the regime if it allowed for religious freedom; in both cases certain constitutional reforms were sought as well.

Ethnoreligious Realignment and the Multiparty Elections

The prospect of the first democratic, multiparty elections in the republics meant that religious issues became important campaign issues. In Croatia the government assigned Zdenko Svete to negotiate with the Catholic Church regarding power-sharing. His authority was limited, and his position was weakened further because while the Catholic bishops wanted concessions and wanted them right away, the Croatian government had its hands tied because it also needed to negotiate with the Serb Orthodox Church. Ultimately, the Church failed to support any non-nationalist or pro-unity parties; meanwhile, problems with the Serb Church intensified.

The Serbian Church in Croatia tended to focus almost obsessively on Jasenovac, demanding reparations for losses suffered as well as the above-mentioned demands for a papal apology. The church also gained a reputation for magnifying minor issues over land, buildings and resources into threats against Croatia's Serb minority.

The Catholic Church ended up supporting the HDZ and its new leader, Franjo Tudjman. Because Tudjman had made a name for himself as a historian refuting the "new Serbian history" (and downplaying the sins of the NDH and the Ustashe), he was certain to antagonize Serbs. It was his nationalist credentials which won him Catholic support in spite of his communist past.

The church and Tudjman worked together to rally support--especially financial support--from the Croatian emigre communities in the West. It was also at this period that the HDZ began recruiting from the criminal world just as was happening in Serbia (most infamously with Arkan).

The church's support might have been crucial to the HDZ's success in Croatian elections; it was even more crucial for the HDZ's fortunes in Bosnia. This should not be surprising, as all three of the nationalist parties dominated the election results in that republic. The Serb Orthodox church backed the SDS, and the SDA received a great deal of support from the Muslim clergy (the Islamic Community was more supportive of the Yugoslav ideal than either of its Christian competitors). Ordinary clerics were very supportive of the SDA and its fundamentalist wing, and the election campaign was marked by the appearance of green banners and other decidedly un-Bosnian Islamic trappings borrowed from other Muslim countries.

Ironically, in Serbia proper the Serb Church had less influence, as Milosevic kept his distance and even sometimes antagonized the church hierarchy. The new patiarch, Pavle, was openly critical of Milosevic. However, the church did strongly support nationalist parties, and continued to stir up panic and fear regarding the rise of Tudjman and the HDZs ascendancy.


I will consider the remainder of this chapter in the next post.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Srebrenica Memorial Quilt--how to support

In previous post on the quilt below, I included links both to the AdvocacyNet page on the project and the BOSFAM main page. In the interests of convenience, here's a direct link to the page at AdvocacyNet with directions on how to contribute:

Support the Srebrenica Memorial Quilt

Forty dollars is a very reasonable amount. Owen and Daniel are buying a panel, I need to find my wallet and do the same!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Jimmy Carter in Bosnia--1994

In 1994, former President Jimmy Carter took it upon himself to enter into direct negotiations with the illegal Bosnian Serb Republic leadership. The embarrassing cluelessness and staggering amoralism of his words and deed during this sordid episode were concisely exposed in an editorial, written in acid, from the January 9, 1995 issue of The New Republic magazine entitled "Merry Christmas, Mr. Karadzic." That article is not available for free from their website, but it is reprinted in The Black Book of Bosnia: The Consequences of Appeasement, a great collection of writings from their pages covering the war period which collectively serve as something of a relic of mid-90 liberal interventionism (albeit a frustrated, outraged, and ultimately defeated variant).

The shame of seeing a former US President sitting at a table with the two future butchers of Srebrenica, lending his prestige and legitimacy to their vile cause, should still rankle any honorable or even merely decent American. I am sure I am not the only one among us who has ever wondered, "What does Mr. Carter think of his actions then, given the benefit of hindsight?" Knowing about Srebrenica and Zepa, knowing of the growing body of evidence that the ICTY and the OSCE have accumulated, has Mr. Carter rethought his shameful decision to elevate those thoroughly dishonest, racist thugs to the level of statesmen?

Well, thanks to the recent publication of his book Beyond the White House: Waging Peace, Fighting Disease, Building Hope, we now have an answer, and it is neither uplifting nor surprising. The NR editorial described Carter's approach to negotiations thusly:

"For peace is never lasting or true when it is based on the belief that there is nothing worse than war; but that is Carter's belief. He practices "conflict resolution," a contentless approach to conflict, for which all parties in all conflicts are like all parties in all conflicts, and there are no conflicts that cannot be fairly ended by compromise."

This explains why his diplomatic venture had no lasting impact on events in Bosnia, and I suppose it at least helps us to understand why he announced at the time that his meeting with Karadzic represented "One of the rare chances to let the world know the truth." Carter can be forgiven for not knowing much about Bosnia or the Balkans; he cannot be forgiven for abdicating any sense of moral idealism in the single-minded quest for a peace agreement at any price. To say nothing of the smug self-righteousness which characterizes his self-serving account.


Carter begins his account by mentioning that in June of 1994, he was approached by New Hampshire state House speaker Chris Spiro and Serbian ambassador Milan Milutinovic, who delivered a personal message from Slobodan Milosevic himself requesting that Carter come to Belgrade to negotiate. Carter says that he declined because "I had no desire to become involved in the Balkans." Given what came later, this ranks as by far the wisest decision he ever made on the matter; pity he didn't stick with it.

Unfortunately, though, seven months later Radovan Karadzic offered Carter a second chance to stick his nose into a situation he had no interest in understanding, and this time he accepted the invitation:

"Early in December 1994, I received a handwritten letter from the Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadzic, requesting I meet with a delegation to explore ways for the Serbs to accept the latest recommendations of the International Contact Group (United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia). I was not very familiar with the political situation in the former area of Yugoslavia, although I had welcomed Marshal Tito to the White House for a formal visit."

Note that Carter mentions that the note from Karadzic was "handwritten"; suggestive of a thoughtful, civilized gesture. Given that the prose in this account is rather clipped and perfunctory, the inclusion of this detail is clearly meant to reflect positively on the mass murderer he would soon enough be commiserating with.

More serious is the seemingly innocuous mention that he was "not very familiar" with the situation in Yugoslavia; as if any reasonably informed citizen at the time was not cogent of the daily TV broadcasts and constant print journalism on the war. How could any person who makes international diplomacy his self-appointed mission have NOT known enough about the situation in Bosnia in the winter of 1994?

He goes on to describe Karadzic as

"...a poet and a psychiatrist who was accused of holding some UN hostages and was growing increasingly independent from Slobodan Milosevic, the elected ruler of the Serbs, who also sought dominion over the other provinces."

Apparently, Carter felt the need to prove he wasn't kidding when he wrote he was "not very familiar" with the situation. Karadzic was accused of "holding some UN hostages"? Well, yes, he was accused of that--along with masterminding mass murder, genocide, and the violent destruction of a sovereign nation. I don't know if the description of Milosevic as the "leader of the Serbs" is simply lazy language or if Carter unwittingly buys into the same collectivist mentality that Serbian nationalists embodied. Milosevic was the leader of Serbia, not of "the Serbs." And how interesting that Carter felt obligated to point out that Milosevic was elected. How neat--Diana Johnstone would be proud.

It gets worse--here is the next sentence:

"In April 1992, Bosnia had come to be recognized as an independent state, and Karadzic became the first president of the Bosnian Serb administration, with it capital in the mountain town of Pale."

This goes beyond whitewashing events--this amounts to a complete repudiation of reality. I have no idea what to say in response. If former President Carter really believes this, he is an idiot. If he does not believe it, then he is something much, much worse.

Carter isn't quite done paying homage to the Bosnian Serb "Administrator":

"As a Greek Orthodox Christian, he had reached out to fellow Orthodox countries and publicly stated, "The Bosnian Serbs have only two friends: God, and the Greeks." This was a fairly accurate statement at the time we received his letter."

Karadzic would no doubt be bemused to find out that he is Greek Orthodox, but other than this unconscious admission that Carter was absolutely clueless he could not have any complaints with Carter's characterizations. Carter was apparently too blinded by his own sense of moral equivalence to see this naked call for a pan-Orthodox crusade against other peoples for what it was; as for the implicit agreement with the notion that the Serbs--as their nationalist myths maintain--are a chosen people; the less said the better.

And so, Carter accepted the mission. He cleared it with the White House and the State Department. He assures the reader that Clinton encouraged his mission and wanted an immediate report afterwards. Carter gives no indication that there is something strange about the President of the most powerful country in the world taking such a passive role in events, but his lack of leadership on Bosnia was depressingly familiar by December 1994.

The details of the negotiations are not worth recounting, since Carter operated under the assumption that Karadzic was negotiating in good faith and that all the Bosnian Serbs wanted was a fair shake. Carter lists all the "concessions" he was able to win from the Bosnian Serb leader, who of course was very interested by that point in consolidating the ethnically cleansed territory his forces had won. Karadzic was trying to back the Bosnian Government into a corner, putting them on the spot so they could either accept an unjust "peace" or face international condemnation for refusing to sign. And Carter was the willing tool of this plot.

Carter then actually traveled to Bosnia after more meetings with various dignitaries, and after Karadzic appeared on CNN to repeat his promises to agree to a peace deal--Carter must not have been aware that he had made many such promises before. In Sarajevo he met briefly with Alija Izetbegovic, who "was skeptical about our mission and had some fairly harsh demands, but none that deviated substantively from the prepared text I had in my pocket." Carter did not, it seems, share the contents of that prepared text with Izetbegovic.

That was all the time he could spare for the actual President of the country; it was time to leave "war-ravaged Sarajevo" for Pale:

"Because the direct road was mined, our route was circuitous (a seventy-five minute drive to travel nine miles), through beautiful and undamaged farms, pastures, and mountain slopes reminiscent of the Alps."

Not even Michael Parenti could improve on this economical contrast between the Muslim President with his "harsh demands" and "war-ravaged" city accessible only be mined roads (mined by whom?) versus the peaceful, pristine land around the capital of the Bosnian Serb "Administration." Hey, there probably aren't very many Muslims in the pastures of the Alps, either.

Once he arrived, Carter was delighted that General Mladic and Mrs. Karadzic ("also a psychiatrist" he notes) were both in attendance. Carter mentions that he was stubborn about "substantive changes" but did allow for the inclusion of certain phrases such as "equal treatment of both sides" and "discussion of all issues." Given the context, these changes could only not be considered "substantive" if one accepts that the entire enterprise was a toxic, disingenuous fraud on behalf of ethnic cleansing from the start.

Carter insists he was able to get Karadzic to agree to drop his cease-fire demands down from the 12 months he had originally asked for to the 4 months Carter had been advised was the maximum that the Contact Group and Izetbegovic would accept. That Karadzic finally agreed to this was the only concession Carter either sought or achieved, and it wasn't his idea to begin with.

Then it was back to Sarajevo, where Carter presented the offer to Ejup Ganic (yes, he met with the Bosnian Serbs first) as essentially a take-it-or-leave-it offer. He told Ganic that he would go public and declare that the Bosnian Serbs had accepted peace and the Muslim-led government had refused.

And so Carter--or, rather, Karadzic--had the agreement. It sounded good on paper, and had it in any way reflected reality or the honest intention of the Pale regime it might have been worth the paper it was written on. And, pathetically enough, Carter still doesn't get it.

An interesting aside--on the flight out of Zagreb to Frankfort, Carter and his wife were "annoyed" when:

"...some duty-free Christmas presents were delivered to us in a Marlboro bag. I wrote Delta's CEO to complain about the airline's advertising cigarettes and urged him to ban all smoking on their flights."

Yes, the man who willingly acted as a stooge for a genocidal outlaw regime without taking the time to learn even as much about the war he was interfering in as any reasonably literate newspaper subscriber would know; the man who lacked the moral fortitude to take one hard look at the horrors being enacted all around him by the men he happily dined with; this same man took time out to write a letter protesting cigarette advertising on a bag. A bag containing free gifts. "Petty" does not convey the vacuity of such a man.

Is it any surprise that such a man still does not understand the implications of his actions? That he fails even now to grasp how wrong-headed his decision to negotiate on behalf of a tinpot fascist was? That at the end of this passage, he blames the international community for failing to meet the Bosnian Serbs halfway, letting his precious ceasefire slip away?

It is true; Carter ultimately faults the international community for continued warfare in the region; he concludes this short account by skipping ahead to Kosovo, where:

"A contingent of Albanian formed an armed force and contested control by Milosevic of portions of Yugoslavia. Although the Serbian response was at first fairly restrained, by mid 1999 hundreds had died in escalating retaliations, and more than 100,000 Kosovo Albanians were reported to have been forced from their homes."

So it wasn't just Bosnia that Carter knows little about. He does know enough to note that NATO dropped a lot of cluster bombs and toxic uranium bombs on "the Serbs," however. Which may be why he concludes with:

"It is interesting to conjecture about how many human rights atrocities, refugees, and deaths might have been avoided if our agreements and suggestions had been honored by the international community."

Mr. Karadzic thanks you, Mr. Carter.