Monday, January 29, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [29]



The penultimate section of Chapter Three begins with this nuanced, informed statement:

"Everything that happens in the Balkans echoes previous events>"

Diana Johnstone, you will recall, constantly chides Western observers for making broad, uniformed generalizations about the region. Yet her book is littered with hoary cliches such as that opener.

The rest of the lengthy opening paragraph briefly relates, from her selective and biased point of view, the role of Bosnia's Muslims in World War II. I will give her credit--after the predictable mentions of the mufti of Jerusalem and the Handzar division, she closes with this one sentence:

"On the other side, Muslims were also recruited by the communist-led partisans, mainly based in Bosnia throughout the war."

I guess that counts for balance, although the implication is that only individual Muslims "were also recruited" without any leadership on their own part, while she names leaders and politicians among the Muslim elite who took fascist stands and actions.

At any rate, her motivation for that small concession to the complex reality of the situation isn't to exonerate the Muslims of Bosnia, but to emphasize how multi-faceted and confusing the war in Bosnia was. She is correct in noting this, as she is also correct when she points out that this is why it was the Republic with the most repressive and slavishly Titoist leadership after the war.

She then moves on to note that it was only in 1971 that "Muslim" became an officially designated nationality. She does have a valid, if narrow, point when she questions the legitimacy of a Muslim ethnicity. However, in order to truly investigate this question, one must address the uncomfortable reality that in the Balkans, religious identity and ethnic identify (with the notable exception of the Albanians) have gone hand in hand. Croats and Slovenes are Catholic, Serbs and Greeks are Orthodox, and so on. Any serious study of the region will need to address the problem of converts, or of people who were forced to decide their identity in the late 18th or early 19th centuries, when national identities were being solidified. This, clearly, is not a conversation Johnstone wants to have.

That is a theme which runs through the entire book; of more immediate concern is her subsequent assertion that the usefulness of an identifiable Muslim nationality with its own homeland in cultivating support from Muslim countries abroad (a widely acknowledged factor) actually became a drawback. She alleges that rather than primarily giving Yugoslavia leverage and clout with the Muslim world, the elevation of Muslims within Yugoslavia and their identification with the wider Muslim world actually gave Muslim fundamentalists leverage within Yugoslavia.

There is the seed of an interesting point here; by sharpening Slavic Muslims awareness of their "muslimness" and fostering them upon the wider Muslim world, Tito was encouraging their community to develop a more explicitly relgious, and less Slavic and Balkan, identity. This an avenue of potentially interesting and enlightening inquiry.

Needless to say, Johnstone doesn't follow it. Instead, she takes the much cruder and sinister position that Islamists from Saudi Arabia and Iran empowered alleged "fundamentalists" such as--you guessed it--Alija Izetbegovic. Johnstone is no longer merely implying that he was a fundamentalist fanatic, she now states it outright.

She then oddly confronts one of the key objections to the ethnic nationalism she has been championing throughout this book:

"There were very many people with no religion at all in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a small number of Jews and even Protestants, not to mention many families whose members were of different religious affiliation."

The obvious question is--how, then, can she propose to divide Bosnia between Serbs and Croats? How can she advocate carving the geopolitical entity of Bosnia-Hercegovina between two states of an explicitly ethnic-national character based on this same logic? Wouldn't the wisest solution--one she never, ever advocates--have been a unified Bosnia based on individual citizenship--the very form of government that Izetbegovic's SDA, however imperfectly and occasionally hypocritically, fought to defend?

She doesn't say. She dwells on the frequency of intermarriage and the popularity of the "Yugoslav" nationality in some parts of Bosnia, then even admits that it was the ethnic quota system of Yugoslavia which undermined such efforts at pluralism. She does not consider the ramifications of this among Serbs or Croats; the only negative consequence she is willing to consider is that many Bosnians felt compelled to 'become' Muslim.

The identification of Sandzak Muslims with Bosnia's Muslims and then with Bosnia itself is discussed, in sinister terms. The same dynamic applied to Bosnian Serbs and Hercegovina Croats--an obvious parallel--but she does not seem to recognize this.

The rest of this section compares Fikrit Abdic to Izetbegovic; Abdic is Johnstone's guy. He's the Muslim we're supposed to admire. His decision to lead a breakaway statelet and ally with Bosnian Serbs and separatist Croats against the Bosnian government and most Serbs is presented in the best possible light. I don't want to demonize Abdic too much, but he certainly doesn't deserve the hagiography she gives him here; he is practically a martyr in her telling. She often refers to "his people," indicating that she not only knew about his Don-like standing, but seems to approve.

She closes with a brief discussion of the Muslim civil war in Bihac; in the context of her discussions about Muslim nationhood and Izetbegovic's alleged fundamentalism, her intent when mentioning that "foreign mujahidin" took part in the final assault against Abdic's forces could not be clearer.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [28]



The previous section concluded by noting that the Ustashe went into exile after World War II ended. Johnstone picks up the story of the right-wing Croatian emigre network of well-funded extremists, terrorists, and activists from there. It's hardly an uplifting story, but neither is it as completely obscure as Johnstone makes it out to be.

Which is typical of her approach throughout the book--the audience Johnstone is writing for is certainly not comprised of specialists or even people with a prior interest in the region. Her entire strategy boils down to this--she assumes (hopefully, I would think) that she knows more about the region than her region. Much, much more. This might explain some of her unwarranted arrogance and self-proclaimed grasp of nuance and context which most of us ignorant Westerners presumably lack. If one were a young, idealistic leftist of a certain type, predisposed to think the worst of Western actions and rhetoric, this book might very well seem impressive, with a broad scope of knowledge and a detailed analysis of issues. If some ideal reader like that wanted to know more about the wars in Yugoslavia, something beyond the coverage done by major Western broadcasters and publications, this book might very well appear to be authoritative, or at least worthy of respect.

Alas, Ms. Johnstone. Most anyone reading this blog knows a little more about the region than would be ideal for your purposes.


Which is my way of saying I'm really tempted to skip this part. It's yet more 'Ustashe-as-epitome-of-Croatian-nationalism' history by selective anecdote; a strategy she seems to have settled quite comfortably into. If you don't know about Tudjman's Ustashe leanings, his connections to the nationalist emigre communities which nurtured dreams of resurgent Croat nationalism, his background as a nationalist agitator in the 1970s, or of the distasteful--when not downright despicable--rhetoric of his government once he came into power in Croatia...well, if you don't know that, I'd be very surprised that you're reading this blog.

It's not that she gets the facts wrong in this section, even though there are the usual distortions and disproportional presentations of isolated incidents. Nor do I believe that it is not important to understand the role played by extreme Croat nationalism in Bosnia, especially in Hercegovina.

Diana Johnstone is in no way interested in putting the war in Bosnia in context; this section was not written to enlighten or instruct, but rather to distract and shift blame. And once again, she ignores chronology completely--the ideal naive reader she hopes for knows all about the resurgence of nationalism in Croatia, but has no idea about the rise of Serbian nationalism coming from Belgrade, and infecting the ethnic Serb communities in Croatian and Bosnia.

I trust that any reasonably informed reader already knows all this. If so, you're overqualified to read this book.

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [27]



A short section, worthy of little if any commentary. Beginning with the true-enough observation that people often don't hate the other who are different but rather the other who, in many ways, are very similar (putting aside the issue of causation), she proceeds to extrapolate one more criticism of Croatian nationalism from this unexamined bit of insight.

Essentially, her point is that Croatian nationalism was not a "broad liberation movement" like that of their poor, pig-farming cousins the Serbs, but rather a "fairly narrow effort to gain prestige within a hierarchical order." Remember, the Croats developed their national identity in the context of being a subject people of the Catholic Hapsburg Empire. Johnstone believes that there is a hierarchical order of nationalisms as well, and the Serbs are much higher up the chain the snobbish, elitist Croats, who upon independence were, in her telling, dismayed to find themselves lumped in with all those dirty, Orthodox Slavs to the south.

Of course, it is easy to find bigoted, racist, and elitist statements by leading Croats, including Ante Staveric, the founder of the Croatian Party of Rights. Establish a direct line between the chauvinism of Staveric to the outright insane bigotry of Pavelic, demonstrate that many hard-line Ustashe went into exile after World War II, and you've got yourself one sinister-looking piece of damning evidence.

That's about it for this section, which is only two pages long. Again, I have no love for the Ustashe or its ideology. I shouldn't have to make that disclaimer, but in Johnstone's version of history I must--all Croatian nationalism, in her version of history, revolves around the Ustashe. Croatian nationalism, in her telling, was a direct line leading the Pavelic's regime. All Croatian history after the War was simply a long period of waiting before Croatia's true nature would again reveal itself.

One last note--it's very distressing how lively and focused Johnstone's prose is in this section; her writing is much more direct and less cluttered with unrelated trivia. I fear she is enjoying this dragging through the muck just as much as I find it depressing.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [26]



In this section, Johnstone addresses the role the Catholic Church played in the Ustashe regime. This is, no doubt, not a pretty story. The Ustashe regime was nauseatingly pious, and the Vatican certainly did not seem overly concerned about the atrocities being committed at least partially in the name of Catholicism.

Where Johnstone goes overboard is not in her condemnation of the Vatican's complicity in Ustashe crimes--this may be the first time, after 148 pages, where Johnstone and I actually agree on something--but in her typical failure to examine the wider context.

The Catholic Church was, as any reader of her book should know, rather chummy with fascist and far-right authoritarian regimes in places other than Croatia. While it's true that Pavelic and his government called forth the spirit of earlier Crusades against heretics, such rhetorical flourishes should not distract us from the wider issues at hand.

Her claims that the Ustashe regime was a direct rebirth of Franciscan persecution of Christians in the Middle Ages is strained, to put it mildly. Her assertion that the Bosnian Church were Bogomil heretics is mistaken, although this misconception is rather widespread and she really cannot be faulted for it. However, she also claims that the Orthodox Christians of Bosnia were Serbs, a very debatable point at best. It is doubtful that the Orthodox Christians of medieval Bosnia thought of themselves as Serbs; not all of them at least. Once again, she makes a direct connection between modern nationalism and pre-modern ethnic/religious identity.

The paragraph I have been discussing closes with this curious quote:

"Elsewhere esteemed for their unworldly pacifism, the Franciscans of Bosnia-Herzegovina (whose stronghold is in the district of the recent "miracles" of Medjugorje in western Herzegovina) acted as a virtual military order to propagate the official doctrine of the Church against both the heretics (Bogomils) and the "schismatics" (Greek Orthodox, that is, Serbs). In those border territories of the faith, along the East-West border with Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church sponsored a militant aggression in total contrast to the meek, ecumenical attitudes displayed in other times and places."

So you have Johnstone making the implicit claim that all Orthodox Slavs in the western Balkans were Serbs, centuries before the onset modern nationalism and the development of modern national identities. But what is more striking about that passage is the final sentence--Johnstone might be the only person in the world who thinks of the medieval Catholic Church as having been meek and ecumenical. This is the same church she was damning for Crusades against multiple heresies, after all.

The rest of this short section continues in the same vein, going over the details of the Ustashe campaign of forced conversions and fanatically relgious rhetoric. Not much to say--it's a horrible chapter in history, and most anyone interested enough in the region to bother with my blog most likely knows about the hell on earth that was Jasenovac. As I said in my previous post--I hesitate to dwell too long on the distortions and selectivity of Johnstone's version of events in Ustashe Croatia because I do not want to counter her callousness to the victims of the Bosnian war with an implied indifference to the victims of Ante Pavelic's insane campaign against Serbs and others. Suffice it to say--Johnstone does nothing to illuminate or understand the horror of that time. Instead, she feeds the fires of resentment by wallowing in exaggerated notions of a quasi-myth papist plot.

Monday, January 22, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [25]



I don't have a lot of time tonight. Fortunately for me, this section won't take much time.

The "obscure fratricide" refers to the barbarous Ustashe regime during World War II. I'm going to assume that anyone reading this blog already knows enough about the subject; no need to reiterate that not-so-obscure bit of history here. Johnstone--normally breezy and glib with the details of history--is painfully detailed and anecdotal in this section. Rather than the broad outlines of events from Slovene and Croat history, we get specific dates and events here. It goes without saying that her version of Yugoslavia's WWII was a black-and-white struggle between fascist Croats and their Muslim allies versus heroic, anti-fascist Serbs.

I feel dirty writing stuff like the above paragraph; it makes me sound dismissive and callous to the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the Ustasha regime. I don't wish to convey that impression. However, the one-sided, grossly oversimplified version of history Johnstone is peddling here is stifling and claustrophobic; it is nearly impossible to change the subject from the victims of Ustasha terror without appearing unfeeling. To point out that only a minority of Croats supported the Ustasha, or that the quisling Serb regime in Belgrade was also guilty of atrocities against Jews and others, or that the civil war between Partisans and Chetniks was multi-faceted and involved members of all the ethnic groups fighting on all different sides might only seem to clutter the table.

Johnstone throws the corpses of the Serbs and others murdered by the government of Ante Pavelic on the table like the most obscene of trump cards. Her willingness to indulge in the pornography of war at the expense of the convoluted reality of the time (where's her 'nuance' now?) is infuriating and insulting. And, ultimately, not worth discussing.


That's pretty much it for this section. In the next post, we will examine the point she makes at the end of this disagreeable little history lesson--the involvement of the Catholic Church in the Ustasha reign of terror.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [24]



In the previous post, Johnstone gives a truncated version of the process by which the Serbo-Croat language was codified. She is not incorrect to note that the process of nationalization very often involves a standardization of various related dialects into a centralized national language; her error (a deliberate error, I am certain) is to suggest that this process somehow takes on a life of its own and can, to some degree, dictate identity to the population in question. Even as she acknowledges that the process is a self-conscious one driven by a national elite, she contradicts that insight with the implication that the Croats were going against the stream.

She makes this implication more explicit in the next paragraph:

"Since language had prevailed over religion in unifying Germans in a single state, why couldn't a single language unify Catholics and Orthodox who, unlike the German Catholics and Protestants, had no history of bitter religious wars to put behind them?"

This is actually a very good question (although it ignores the question of Muslim Slavs completely), but Johnstone makes no sincere effort to address it. If she had wanted to do so, she could have compared the very notable differences between the German situation versus the South Slav situation. It would not be hard to note the very different circumstances between the two scenarios. But to do so would require a sincere commitment to honest inquiry and and a genuine willingness to have her preconceptions challenged. So she says nothing further about the German example; she merely insinuates a false parallel and moves on.

Instead, she again draws her overly simplistic contrast between the Serb situation--nationalism being nurtured and developed by a newly independent state--versus Croatian nationalism, which was developed within the confines of the Hapsburg Empire. She falsely claims that Croats had no desire for true independence, a deliberate misrepresentation of a nationalism being developed by a minority within a multinational empire which had a much firmer grip--and more Great Power support--than the Ottomans had over the peripheral Balkan lands where the Serbs had won their independence.

She dismisses Croatian appeals to their medieval past while ignoring that Serbs--and many other national groups--also founded their modern nationalist movements on connections to a distant past. She claims that Croatian nationalism was uniquely "legalistic" in nature, because of the claims regarding the rights of medieval Croatia under Hungarian rule. She also claims that Yugoslavism was essentially a Croatian invention, created with a Western audience in mind, while Serbs were focused on a liberation struggle of all the South Slavs (the "Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes" name). This is another gross oversimplification of the debate within both Serbia and Croatia, of course. Johnstone seems to imply that the "Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes" title was somehow more appropriate--we already know she believes Bosnians, Macedonians, and Montenegrins are "really" Serbs. As for Albanians, Roma, Jews, Hungarians, and so forth, she has nothing at all to say.

After World War I, Yugoslavia became a reality. Johnstone assures us that it was doomed from the start because

"The fatal misunderstanding was that the Serbs, whose leaders had been reluctant to form Yugoslavia to begin with, took seriously the project of building the unified state once it was established, while the Croats, whose leaders had promoted the idea, saw it as only a temporary expedient and subsequently tore it down."

To the extent that this analysis is true, it still ignores the expansionist nature of Serbian nationalism and the tendency to see the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes as a Serb-dominated state; a just reward for their lead in South Slav self-determination. As for the Croats, Johnstone wants to have it both ways--damning them for being trapped within a Hapsburg Empire that stifled and suppressed their national aspirations, while simultaneously damning them for using Yugoslavism and the opportunities of the postwar peace to leverage as much independence as they could win. The Serbs were noble liberators of honest intentions; all the other peoples of Yugoslavia were ungrateful, scheming pretenders of uncertain or illegitimate national identity.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [23]




In the last post, I briefly analyzed Johnstone's selective understanding of nationalism, an intellectual tool she uses to create artificial contrasts between Serbs and Croats. Let's break it down now:

As already noted, the first paragraph of this section contrasts the rise of Serb nationalism during the revolt against Ottoman rule versus the rise of Croat nationalism within the safety of the prosperous Hapsburg Empire. Or so she says. The oversimplifications in this contrasting portrait are many, but I will set them aside for now.

Let's break it down from there:

The second paragraph begins with this sentence:

"If in the 1990s Croatian secessionists dismissed Yugoslavia as "an artificial creation," [no citation of the quoted phrase, as per her usual tactic] "the irony is that it was primarily a Croatian artifice."

She expands on this provocative point for all of about three sentences, and leaves it at that. It goes without saying--if you don't know much about Balkan history, this is not the book to look for balanced information. Her point is not to honestly examine the genesis of the Yugoslav ideal, but to smear the Croats, who were only interested in improving their position within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As if this is any sort of indictment. But anyway...

"After seven centuries of submission to Budapest, the awareness of a "Croatian" identity was uncertain."

But five centuries of submission to Ottoman rule did not have the same effect on Serbs, Bulgarians, Greeks, and others? The Hapsburg Empire was a multiethnic empire the same as the Ottoman Empire, and the subject peoples all shared the Roman Catholic faith. Johnstone is remarkably uninterested in this comparison.

"Only the area around Zagreb was known as Hrvatska, or Croatia."

A remarkably uninteresting and ignorant 'insight,' considering that, for example, "France" was not the name of most of "France" when French nationalism was being developed. We could say the same for Russia, Spain, Germany, and so forth. This is really a useless and stupid point, but I don't bring it up merely to demonstrate how desperate and unfounded Johnstone's critique is. It should be noted that she does not apply this same criteria to Serbian nationalism--Serbia proper never incorporated all the areas where ethnic Serbs lived. For the purposes of this blog, it's most relevant to note that the border between Serbia and Bosnia--the Drina River--has been recognized as such for centuries, dating back to the High Middle Ages. The medieval kingdom of Serbia, like the medieval kingdoms of Bosnia and Hrvatska, was smaller than its modern-day incarnation.

"Like the Serbs, the Croats spoke a language derived from Slavonic, but whereas the Serbs had a Church that used and enhanced their language, the Catholic clergy suppressed the vernacular in favor of Latin."

Of course, this was true for every Catholic nation, but never mind that. The key here isn't just that she has found what she fancies to be yet another contrast between Serb and Croat which is unfavorable to the latter; it also allows her to get in a dig at the Catholic Church.

She continues with this selective examination of the importance of dialect and language codification:

"As a result, Croatian drifted into divergent regional dialects."

Very oversimplified. There were several dialects throughout the area encompassed by modern-day Serbia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, and Croatia. These dialects are geographical and often cross ethnic lines. Serbs outside of Serbia no more speak a standardized dialect of Serbo-Croat than any of the other Slavs in the area.

"Unification of the Croatian literary language was accomplished by choosing to favor the dialect that coincided with literary Serbian as it had been standardized by the poet and scholar Vuk Karadzic (1787-1864) in the first half of the nineteenth century. Just as modern Italian was based on the Tuscan dialect to facilitate Italian unification, modern Serbo-Croatian provided the southwestern Slavs with a single common language. This helped to unify Croats themselves, before turning into a source of resentment on the part of the Croats who wished to distinguish themselves from the Serbs."

We will consider the implications of that final passage in the next post.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [22]



In this section, Johnstone summarizes the first 900-1000 years of Croatian history in three quick pages. With a focus on the development of Croatian nationalism, of course. And what is the nature of Croatian nationalism? While the Slovenes are dismissed as elitist, money-grubbing sellouts, the Croats are ungrateful pretenders whose nationalism is half-baked and cowardly, compared to the heroic Serbs next door.

Cue the trumpets...


While the Serbs rose up from squalor and oppression to fight a working-class revolt of the peasants against their perfidious Muslim overlords, the Croats schemed and plotted in the comfort and safety of the Catholic Hapsburg Empire. That, anyway, is the gist of the first paragraph.

The rest of the opening section of part 3 is a triumph of selective history and what can only be a deliberately clueless summary of the development of Croatian nationalism--clueless because, while the (selectively gathered) facts she deploys are not, on the face of it, inaccurate, they are deployed to bolster a biased and ignorant reading not only of Croatian and Serbian nationalism, but of the phenomena of nationalism itself.

We encounter Johnstone at her most disingenuous here; raising questions against one side of an argument while blatantly failing to apply the same rigorous standards of proof against the other. While grossly oversimplifying the process by which Serbian nationalism developed, she puts the development of Croatian nationalism under a microscope--while ignoring evidence that the development of national identity was never a straightforward, clear-cut, or organic process. Rather than lie about the complexities and contradictions of the Croat experience, she rather more cleverly ignores the same in the experience of the Serbs and others.

We shall see this process at work in the next post.

Monday, January 15, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [21]



This final section of part 2, "Slovenia: The End of Solidarity," gets in one final snide shot at the anti-militarism of the Slovenian ruling elite. Similar to the previous section, there's less than meets the eye here.

The first paragraph notes that independence for Slovenia meant the loss of privileges by JNA army staff and their families. Yes, Diana Johnstone seems to believe that a primary motivation for Slovenia's secession was a run on real estate--the homes of career officers and staff. Apparently, she feels the eviction of JNA staff from their state-owned homes was a human rights catastrophe. I don't wish to trivialize the genuine hardships such actions certainly had on the families involved, and the loss of pensions she also cites counts as a genuine hardship and tragedy in my book. But her outrage at the loss of access to state-owned assets by high-ranking military personnel contrasts rather badly with her indifference to many of the victims of the Yugoslav conflicts.

She goes on to note that the Yugoslav army was designed for defense, and that many people in the army sincerely believed in the Yugoslav ideal and in the Titoist slogan of "brotherhood and unity." All of which is true, but hardly of central importance. The country was breaking up, being torn from the inside by inflamed nationalist passions insufficiently restrained by a federal government ill-equipped to function without Tito at the top.

Johnstone imagines she has caught Slovenia's elite in a hypocritical bind when she notes how eagerly the leadership embraced the possibility of joining NATO. The revamping of the military to meet NATO standards means that local, territorial defense is no longer to be a priority of Slovenia's military.

Well, what of that? The idea is that NATO members look out for each other, and that individual nations, particularly the smaller ones, should no longer focus their resources on (hopefully) redundant defensive forces. Johnstone ignores the obvious rationale behind membership in a military cooperative pledged to mutual defense of its members. It would, indeed, be wasteful and counter-productive for a small member state to focus on autonomous defense of its sovereignty in such a situation. But I doubt very much that she cares about the reality of the situation. It simply provides her with more material with which to insinuate without any constructive argument emerging.

This section--and the part on Slovenia--concludes with the observation that the secession of Slovenia set the stage for a far bloodier conflict in Croatia. This is true enough; it is also an observation made by just about every observer and student of the conflict. Johnstone could have saved the reader a lot of time had she skipped her facetious analysis of Slovenian nationalism and merely stated so.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [20]



One notably theme running throughout Johnstone's book has been the viciously condescending snideness applied to the victims of the war; Slobodan Milosevic receives far more empathy than Muslim rape victims. This second section of Part 2 "Slovenia: the End of Solidarity" is essentially four pages of pointless and irrelevant innuendo disguised as an expose. The theme of this section appears to be "Let me throw in any stray fact which might shed a bad light on the Slovenes."

Her first point is that Slovenian nationalism is what she calls "bureaucratic nationalism," which means that it was driven by an entrenched elite. The entire first paragraph points out that Slovenia is a small country, so independence allowed the republic's political, economic, and cultural elites to suddenly become big fish in the new big pond of independent Slovenia. Once again, the sophisticated and nuanced Ms. Johnstone is shocked and appalled to discover that sometimes, political and business leaders do not act entirely out of altruism and idealism.

The second paragraph claims that Slovenia's transition to democracy (which she puts in quotes--no explanation why) "had much in common with that of Serbia." The parallels she draws are legitimate if, considering that we are considering two republics in the same country, rather unsurprising--politicians were usually former Communist Party leaders, she notes, although why this should be surprising in a formally one-party dictatorship is not explained. She does attempt to slip in an aside about "nationalist dissidents who had been jailed under Tito" who joined the ruling coalitions; in Slovenia's case she names the previously mentioned Janez Jansa; in Serbia's--Vojislav Seselj. Nice equivalence there. Of all the things I can think of to call Seselj, "dissident" is pretty low on the list. Technically true or not, it is clear that is yet another example of her ceaseless efforts to create false equivalences.

Another insinuation she makes--both Milan Kucan and Janez Drnovsek were former Communists, yet nobody in the West complained about this like they did with Milosevic. The point, of course, is to imply that the real problem with Milosevic was that he was a socialist; a common Bosnian revisionist theme.

The next trivia she throws out is the case of Andrej Bajuk, the Argentine expat brought in to be part of the new Slovene government. After noting his right-wing credentials (ties to the Junta in Argentina; ties to conservative Catholicism), she briskly notes that the government he was to join after gaining citizenship was voted out of office, and he was gone. No matter--she gets to smear the Slovenes as fascists by proxy. Or so she seems to believe.

The final two pages concern Slovenia's involvement--led by Jansa, the former anti-militarist turned defense minister--in arms smuggling and covert arms sales to the Croats and Bosnians. The Slovenes apparently made out like bandits. It's not the most inspiring reading; but one wishes Johnstone could summon a fraction of the outrage she displays at Slovenia profiting from violating the UN arms embargo against all of the former Yugoslavia (which, naturally, benefited the well-armed Serbs at the expense of the ill-prepared Bosnian government; and which was applied to all the former republics even after the breakup of Yugoslavia, to which it was originally applied) when she discusses moral outrages like Srebrenica. I have remarked on this many times before, but it bears repeating--for all her pretensions to sophistication and hard-headed thinking, Johnstone consistently displays a naivety about international relations which makes her very hard to take seriously.

As for the snideness I mentioned above, here is the closing paragraph of this section:

"Slovenia, reported the New York Times in March 2000, is described by experts as "a jewel," "a chocolate box," or "Eastern Europe's best-kept secret." Indeed, Slovenia has its secrets, and if they are the best kept, it may be that interest is widespread in keeping them."

Thus Johnstone takes a parting shot at a sinister conspiracy which exists only in her own mind. The hyperbole is laughable.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [19]



I can't shake the feeling that this review has become bogged down; perhaps this is because I'm trying, and failing, to get to the core of Johnstone's argument against Slovenia. I have concluded that there isn't much of an argument to detect. In the interests of moving on, I'm going to summarize the remaining four pages of this section in a more perfunctory manner than I have been. Johnstone has her criticisms of the Slovene leadership and the Slovene people in general, but they are, frankly, mostly petty gripes which fail to add up to a coherent, believable critique. Therefore, I won't quote much, either.


Janez Jansa, a leading Slovenian opposition figure from the late 1980s, is introduced in a short paragraph which Johnstone seems to have written so she can point out how he tried to have the word "socialist" dropped from the name of the "Alliance of Socialist Youth of Slovenia." Jansa's claim to fame, at least here, was his involvement in the theft of a secret military document. Johnstone has nothing to say about the document or the case against Jansa and his colleagues; she only wants you to know that their cause was taken up by Western human rights organizations. She notes that their anti-militarism was certain to be popular in "the atmosphere created by Germany's big 1980s peace movement," which performs the neat trick of damning the Slovenes for being too pro-Western and she gets to bring the evil Germans on stage as well.

The Slovene complaints that wealthier, more free-market oriented Slovenia was being stifled and exploited by the centralized economic system, and that its wealth was being siphoned off to fund underdeveloped regions in the south are worthy of discussion--one could argue that while those complaints might have been legitimate, such an imbalance is inevitable in a large nation. Some regions are going to do better than others. Most Americans realize that Montana gets more in federal tax dollars than it pays in. Needless to say, Johnstone is not interested in a sincere discussion of the pros and cons of the Slovene argument.

Instead, she claims that this complaint applies "primarily to Kosovo," which while possibly true (I wonder about Macedonia as well), ignores the elephant in the room which she never mentions; the seat of the Federal government was in Belgrade, the capital of the largest republic, which was poorer and less dynamic economically than Slovenia.

At any rate, she accuses the Slovenes of duplicity, claiming solidarity with Kosovar Albanians after the unilateral elimination of Kosovos' autonomy by the Serbian Republic while refusing to contribute to the development fund. Of course she portrays Serbian actions at this time as part of Milosevic's "constitutional reforms" while ignoring the gist of Albanian grievances, which she dismisses as "secessionist" without elaboration.

One quote worthy of mention:

"From the Serb viewpoint, the Slovenian support to people in a region they would not even deign to visit on account of its "backwardness" was nothing but a totally hypocritical way to promote Yugoslav disintegration in pursuit of their own narrow interests, which had nothing to do with the Kosovar Albanians."

By this in her book, Johnstone has so deeply drank from the well of collectivism--to the point where she assigns corporate identities to ethnic groups, that she quite naturally, and without explanation or citation, is willing to assign thoughts and prejudices to these collective bodies. And, for the umpteenth time, why the quotes around "backwardness"? It's not a quote. In this case, Johnstone seems to be paraphrasing a collective Serb impression of a collective Slovene inclination.

At any rate--the Slovenes smartly chose Western-friendly tactics while Johnstone makes the following claim:

" Serbia the reform movement went into the streets in mass demonstrations supporting Milosevic's program of constitutional reform."

Well, that's one way to put it...


She goes on to compare the slick, Western-friendly Slovenes playing on Western sympathies while successfully smearing Serbian "reformers" as backward communists and dangerous nationalists intent on subjugating the peoples of Yugoslavia. Which, of course, had absolutely no basis in reality. The most important aspect of this section is that while she attributes all Slovene actions and rhetoric as being directed by a manipulative elite, Serbian actions at the time are portrayed as reflecting grassroots origins. There was a strong and sizable anti-Milosevic and pro-democracy element in Serbian society even during Milosevic's salad days before war and deprivation began to corrode his support, but you wouldn't know it from reading this book. All Serbs think, act, and feel alike--and Milosevic merely followed their bidding.

Meanwhile, the conniving Slovenes portrayed themselves as civilized Catholics against a decadent, oriental/Byzantine East. Not a very flattering aspect of the Slovene struggle, but the former Yugoslavia had no shortage of xenophobic and jingoist rhetoric; while such talk is always regrettable and never desirable, all such comments need to be put in context. The Slovene rhetoric, while distasteful, was merely designed to justify a pulling away. There was no desire for partition of a republic and the concurrent expulsions of populations in Slovene plans or nationalist discourse. Johnstone, of course, has not to this point in the book had a word to say about Serbian nationalist claims of Islamic fundamentalists plotting jihad in the cafes of Sarajevo.

A one-page summary of the Slovene 'war' of independence follows; she mostly sticks to the basic facts and lets Warren Zimmerman make the point that the Slovenes had pulled off an enormous PR coup internationally; the real issue of Slovene culpability for the beginning of the war, and the indifference shown to the fate of the rest of Yugoslavia by their actions, gets no real discussion in Johnstone's book. She merely wants us to know that Slovenes were arrogant, elitist snobs with lots of German friends.

And so the first section of part 2, "Slovenia: the End of Solidarity" comes to a ho-hum conclusion.

The next section, "Success Stories," will be the topic of my next post.

Friday, January 12, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [18]



The previous post closed with a quote regarding the importance of the military as a unifying institution in communist Yugoslavia. Although one might question the legitimacy of a tradition of "brotherhood and unity" being held together by a very large and well-armed military, Johnstone's point is not baseless. Every institution has an institutional culture, and the JNA was largely staffed by officers who truly believed in Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav ideal. And military service was one way in which Yugoslavs of different national groups were mixed together and forced to interact without the familiar comfort of their homes and 'their people.'

However, if one is to turn to the military as the sole defender of national unity when the leaderships of the different geopolitical units are intent on breaking up and separation, not 'brotherhood and unity,' is the direction the political winds are blowing, then what response to the crisis can one legitimately expect? It is one thing to turn to the military as an institution capable of reinforcing and indoctrinating a sense of unity during peacetime or when such unity is a realistic political possibility. It is quite another to turn to the military to hold the country together when it is breaking apart.

Which is not to say it would always, in all cases, be wrong to use the military to hold a country together. But Diana Johnstone implies these issues without actually addressing--or even acknowledging--them.

Furthermore, she ignores the other half of the Yugoslav military system--the territorial defense forces, which did NOT encourage inter-republic mixing, and which, much more than a standard standing army, did have the potential to militarize society.

At any rate, the important point, for Johnstone, is that the Slovenes were insincere and dangerously anti-unity. Also, and most ominously from her point of view, they were pro-Western. As we will see in the next post.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter Three [17]

[Well, after a too-long break, I have another copy of Ms. Johnstone's magnum opus, and I'm feeling well enough to do more than lay on the couch watching movies and sports, and taking my supper through a straw. It hasn't been a banner year so far.

At any rate, let's pick up where we left off...]



When we left off, we were considering the following quote:

"In the late 1980s, attractive young Slovenian intellectuals toured Western European capitals to alert human rights activists and anti-militarist journalists to the dangers of Yugoslav militarism. These youthful Slovenes spoke in terms of the values shared notably by German Greens, such as pacifism and human rights."

You can almost hear her sharpening her knives, can't you? Those "attractive young" intellectuals just must have been too good to be true, don't you think? And those Greens they allegedly resembled the most? Cue the orchestra--GERMANS!

She elaborates on this theme a little more; pointing out how the anti-militarist youthful idealists of Slovenia appealed to Western liberal sentiment since they seemed so 'like us.' They said all the right things, opposed all the same evils (death penalty, nuclear power, etc.), and so forth. Most notably, they opposed the militarization of Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav People's Army, the prime instrument of that process. The reliance on localized militia units and the ability to mobilize enormous numbers of soldiers--this was the fourth-largest army in Europe, remember--is not news to any regular readers of this blog, I'm sure.

Let's see what devious undercurrents Johnstone has detected:

"In Yugoslavia, anti-militarism had implications not necessarily obvious to foreigners, since it was aimed at an army that was the last strong Federal institution holding the country together..." "Universal military service was the principal "melting pot" in multinational Yugoslavia, the guardian of the spirit of "brotherhood and unity," the repository of the anti-fascist tradition going back to the wartime partisan struggle."

The image of "brotherhood and unity" being defended by the fourth-largest army in Europe is a curious one, but we should resist the urge to be too glib in dismissing Johnstone's reasoning here. There were many generals in the JNA who truly believed in Tito's vision and who, therefore, had to be removed so that Milosevic had a mainly Serb--and nationalist Serb, at that--leadership at the helm.

We will consider this quote further in the next post.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Soccer Helps Young Bosnian Make His Way In USA

I'm still waiting for my latest copy of "Fools' Crusade" to arrive in the mail--it was shipping last week, but "Library Rate" brings a whole new meaning to "snail mail." I'm itching to get back to it.

In the meantime, here's a piece about a promising young Bosnian-American from the Major League Soccer website:

Soccer A Comfort In The Face Of War

It'd be nice if the kid gets a shot at going pro (if for no other reason than the soccer fan in me wanting to see more immigrants in MLS!), but mostly it's another refugee-turned-immigrant story. Another reminder that the effects of the war live on.