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.


Owen said...

Kirk, sorry to go off at a tangent but I felt I had to share this one with you.

I was - as I confess I occasionally do, without great relish - visiting and came across an interview of Diana Johnstone by Boba Borojevic.

I gulped when I read this:

[Borojevic: Although there is no evidence to back the genocide charge in Srebrenica, the mainstream media and the Western politicians do not want to hear any other argument.]

"That does not make any sense to me. Even if you take the worst-case scenario the fact that the Serb forces allowed women and children to leave Serbrenica – and they wanted to leave by the way – it is presented as a sort of deportation. But the living conditions were terrible in Sreberenca and the people were clamoring to get out. I just do not believe that you can commit genocide by saving the lives of women and children," said Johnstone."

I'm speechless.

Owen said...

It's OK, I wasn't going too far away from the subject. The concluding paragraph of Borojevic's artilce gives the last word to Johnstone's explanation of why she wrote Fools' Crusad:

""What made me write the book really was this indignation over the lies. I have worked as a journalist and been around journalism for a quite a while and I know journalists who have been there longer than I have, and who said this was the most extraordinary case of propaganda and lies they had ever seen. I just felt absolutely obliged to try to combat these lies, because this sort of distortion of historical truth is terribly dangerous for everybody. Of course the first victims of this are the Serbian people who are treated like monsters because of these lies, which identified them with Nazis and so on. But in the long run this is dangerous for everybody," concluded Johnstone."

Kirk Johnson said...

If you go way back into the archives of my blog, you'll see that I discussed that very interview--it's what inspired me to go ahead and read Fools' Crusade for myself.

Good find, apparently great minds really do think alike!

And yes, I was speechless when I read it--the level of revisionism and denial in that interview is staggering. Some people I know casually wonder why I still spend time discussing and studying the war in Bosnia when there have been, and still are, other tragedies in the world--you know, "Isn't it time to move on?" I don't think most people realize that there is still a concerted campaign of disinformation and revisionism going on even today.

Kirk Johnson said...

Wow, it's been longer than I thought--I actually talked about that interview in June, not July. And I never finished discussing it, either--I started on Fools' Crusade and never looked back.

Wow, I've spent a long time on this book. I still plan on tackling Parenti's "To Kill a Nation" next.

Owen said...

"a concerted campaign of disinformation and revisionism going on even today" - including at Wikipedia Srebrenica Massacre, where most of my energy has been going recently.

I can certainly understand how that article would have triggered a determination to respond.

Shaina said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Shaina said...

Deleated my first post (I wish blogger would allow one to edit; instead of having to delete).

I'm sure that the thousands of women and kids living hand to mouth in internal refugee camps without the financial or emotional support of their male relatives would appreciate Johnstone's sensitive take on the matter.

And isn't it a bit hypocritical of Johnstone to view expulsion of the Serbs under Operation Storm as a war crime; but the expulsion of the women & children from Srebrenica as apparently an act of humanitarian concern?
Oh! if only Gen. Mladic would come out of hiding to accept his Nobel Peace Prize!

All snarks aside; Johnstone's little passage shows two major flaws with her thinking.

1. Genocide does not require one to kill all members of a group. Apparently Johnstone and Gen. MacKenzie have read a different version of the Genocide Convention than I have; because there is absolutely no provision that says one has to target for death men, women, and kids. In fact, there is scholarship on a specific subset of genocide-gendercide; where one gender is specifically targeted for destruction.

2. And whatever their motives; somehow "humanitarian" does not seem to be one of them. If they were so "humanitarian" why then would the VRS purposely target the enclave for starvation-especially when it is the very young and very old who disportionately die due to a lack of nutrition or who subcome to illness either directly or indirectly related to lack of foods and medicine? Not to mention the fact that there were several reported incidents of rape and murder of the expelled population on their way to Tuzla by VRS soldiers. Somehow, the word "humanitarian" does not come up in my mind.

In her second paragraph; Johnstone seems to reiterate the mantra of Serb victimhood that had been sucessfully co-opted by the ultra-nationalist lobby.
It is amusing though that Johnstone is apparently so worried that the entire Serbian people will be painted as "Nazis" given her habbit of painting all Croats and Bosniaks in a negative light.

Shaina said...

BTW: I certainly hope I didn't leave the impression in my previous post that what happened during "Storm" wasn't a war crime. My view is completely the opposite.

Kirk Johnson said...

I didn't get that impression at all, Shaina.

You make an excellent point. Johnstone makes the implicit claim that anything short of the Holocaust is somehow not a genocide. Which is ridiculous and just not true, but awhile ago I wrote a post on her attempt to redefine the term "genocide" to her own liking. So we shouldn't be surprised. Dismayed and offended, but not surprised.