Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [16]



The Alija Izetbegovic of Parenti's book is a familiar figure to anyone conversant with Balkan revisionism and contemporary Serbian ultra-nationalism--an Islamic fanatic intent on imposing Sharia onto non-Muslims throughout Bosnia. Parenti's version of Izetbegovic is, typically, a Frankenstein's monster made up of quotes from Islam Between East and West and other equally context-free quotes from Western observers and so forth. The only new wrinkle Parenti adds--compared to Johnstone's very similar treatment--is that Parenti dwells for a page or so on Fikret Abdic, described as "one figure who behaved honorably throughout the war." Given Parenti's blind spot when it comes to the kleptocratic nature of Milosevic's and Karadzic's regimes, this soft spot for a Godfather-like opportunist is just about par for the course.

In spite of himself, however, Parenti has brought up some interesting issues. I have not yet found an English-language biography of Izetbegovic, who remains a somewhat difficult figure to understand. It is difficult to guess the man's motivations both before and after the outbreak of the war. More importantly, there is not enough information on the SDA as a whole available in English, but it seems clear that in many ways the party was more avowedly "Islamic" than the ethnic Muslims who voted for it. This is not to validate the ridiculous claims of Parenti, Johnstone, and others; instead, I believe that a more thorough accounting of the ideological debates within the SDA, as well as an objective study of Izetbegovic's policies and strategies during his years in power would not only help to flesh out our understanding of the era, it would also give readers the ammunition needed to deflate the menacing caricature of a cold-blooded Islamist unleashing gangs of mujahideen against the frightened Christians of Bosnia.

After the expected Muslim-bashing, the chapter peters out with more ravings against the privatization of the Muslim-Croat Federations infrastructure and economy. More plotting by those evil global capitalists, you know.

There is a boxed aside near the end of the chapter; this one is entitled "Who Wanted Peace in Bosnia?" The answer, of course, was...Slobodan Milosevic, who is contrasted to Izetbegovic. The setting is Dayton, at which--as is well known--Milosevic was quite willing to negotiate a peace treaty, even to give up the suburbs of Sarajevo to Izetbegovic, who is portrayed as being stubborn and belligerent because he wanted control over his own country. The lack of context (sure, Milosevic wanted peace in 1995--he didn't want to lose any more of what war had gained him) is expected and typical and not worth comment. What is worth comment is his source--Diana Johnstone.

The Balkan revisionists cite each other's works in a closed circle of mutually reinforcing citation. In fact, if one peruses the footnotes it does not take long to see that much of the "source material" for this book are the usual Balkan revisionist writers (Johnstone, Elich, Chossudovsky, Woodward, etc.) as well as some sources so blatantly biased and transparent in their propaganda intent that even Johnstone might have hesitated to rely to much on them--I am thinking especially of the website http://www.jasenovac.org/, an absolute masterpiece of revisionism in that the ostensible cause--commemorating victims of the Usashe genocide of World War II--is a worthy one, therefore putting critics in the position of seeming to argue against sympathy for Serb, Jewish, and Roma victims.

Why this is interesting is that, in the Introduction, he makes a point of claiming that:

"In any case, I want to point out that almost all the information used in this book emanates from well-established Western sources:"

which he goes on to list in rather exhaustive detail. It provokes a rather "methinks he doth protest too much" reaction, a reaction which a subsequent examination of his actual uses of the quotes and information he does actually (selectively) retrieve from such sources thoroughly vindicates. And while he does refer to a couple of "progressive" sources, he makes no mention of the myriad of not-so-mainstream (to put it kindly) sources he utilizes.

There were times when, reading Johnstone, I suspected that she might actually believe much of what she was saying. Parenti, though, is too transparent and thorough a dissembler of truth and information for that. Parenti believes so strongly in his version of the truth that he holds mere facts in contempt, and reassembles them as he sees fit.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

"A Problem From Hell" by Samantha Powers [1]

Note: Back from vacation, and I've ordered another copy of "Death of a Nation" through my Interlibrary Loan service. Still waiting for it to arrive; hopefully one will show up in the next two or three days. In the meantime, and in the interests of getting back to work, I'd like to consider a few aspects of a book I've been reading: "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide" by Samantha Powers.


Samantha Powers was a correspondent who covered the war in Bosnia and the violent dismemberment of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, prior to becoming executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Her experiences in Bosnia, and the things she learned, inspired her to examine the underlying factors that prevented the United States from assuming a leadership position in confronting an obvious affront to Western values as well as the peace and stability in post-Cost War Europe which a neutral observer would assume would be in America's interest. That inquiry led to this book.

Powers' book is a lengthy and well-researched examination of (as she explains in the Preface):

"America's responses to previous cases of mass slaughter."

Her research was intensive and thorough, but this was mostly necessary in order to flesh out the story and strengthen her case, because:

"It did not take long to discover that the American response to the Bosnian genocide was in fact the most robust of the century. The United States had never in its history intervened to stop genocide and had in fact rarely even made a point of condemning it as it occurred."

The resulting book is an examination of specific American responses to the genocides in Armenia, Nazi-occupied Europe, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Kosovo. She argues that there are underlying similarities between the official US responses to these atrocities, which were varied across time and place, as well as on the ethnic, relgious, and cultural identity of the victims. In the Preface, she summarizes the main points. The first sentence of each point is quoted below:

"Despite graphic media coverage, American policymakers, journalists, and citizens are extremely slow to muster the imagination needed to reckon with evil."

"It is in the realm of domestic politics that the battle to stop genocide is lost."

"The U.S. government not only abstains from sending its troops, but it takes very few steps along a continuum of intervention to deter genocide."

"U.S. officials spin themselves (as well as the American public) about the nature of the violence in question and the likely impact of an American intervention."

I will summarize the book in coming posts (even while continuing with the Parenti review/rebuttal) but for now--and to illustrate how directly this book connects with the themes of this blog--I will only quote the final paragraph of the Preface:

"Before I began exploring America's relationship with genocide, I used to refer to U.S. policy towards Bosnia as a "failure." I have changed my mind. It is daunting to acknowledge, but this country's consistent policy of nonintervention in the face of genocide offers sad testimony not to a broken American political system but to one that is ruthlessly effective. The system, as it stands now, is working. No U.S. president has ever made genocide prevention a priority, and no U.S. president has ever suffered politically for his indifference to its occurrence. It is thus no coincidence that genocide rages on."

Sobering words. The 500-plus pages of text which follow more than justify the harsh verdict she has rendered.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Srebrenica--12 Years Ago Today

I doubt very much I would need to remind any readers of this blog what happened in eastern Bosnia 12 years ago today.

The Bosnian embassy in Washington DC held a candlelight vigil this evening...I am ashamed to admit that I allowed some errands I had to run after work to take up more time than they should (nothing I could avoid, but I only have myself to blame for poor time management), so I was not able to attend and stand in solidarity. I hope there was a good turnout. The weather and what I heard was bad DC area traffic might have kept some people from making it.

It is important to commemorate atrocities such as this, but only if we remember why they must be remembered--there is still justice to be served, and lessons to be learned. And we all must hope that, someday, the world will stand together and say--with conviction, purpose, and resolve, "NEVER AGAIN."


I must sheepishly admit that while some of the errands that kept me in Northern Virginia involved family matters, I was mostly busy tidying up loose ends in preparation for a family vacation starting tomorrow. Due to this vacation, I will not be blogging for the next two weeks. I had hoped to at least finish my review of Chapter Six before leaving, but I simply refuse to stain the sanctity of today's remembrances with any discussion of Mr. Parenti. I will resume my review sometime later this month, hopefully with renewed urgency and focus. I do hope to have sporadic internet access while on the road, and will continue to follow the blogs of my comrades in combating Balkan revisionism and calling for clarity and justice in the former Yugoslavia.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [15]


Diana Johnstone twists and distorts facts and history to suit her ideological ends, but Michael Parenti seems to live in an alternate reality altogether. I originally believed that this review would be shorter and require less time than my review of "Fools' Crusade" because Parenti's motives were more obvious and his lies more blatant. Instead, I have found this task to be at least as difficult as reviewing most sections of Johnstone's book. She wrote her book as an attempt to "correct" what she saw as a biased and incomplete Western version of events in the former Yugoslavia. As a result, it was generally possible to juxtapose her version of events and her intellectual framing of the issues against verifiable facts and an articulated, generally accepted narrative.

Parenti is simply telling a tale, a narrative manufactured wholesale and accessorized with whatever facts, sensational data, and random anecdotes might flesh it out and lend it some authenticity. It is very, very difficult to grapple with such a slippery and amorphous text. Parenti doesn't play fair.


Chapter Six starts off with this dispatch from an alternate universe:

"Bosnia-Herzegovina represents another unhappy episdoe in the Western campaign to dismember Yugoslavia. After a protracted armed struggle between Croats, Muslims, and Serbs--aided and abetted by NATO bombings that helped break the Serbian defenses in 1995--Bosnia-Herzegovina was partitioned into two new "republics": the Muslim-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Republika Srpska (Serb Republic) composed of Bosnian Serbs."

Where to begin? We can dispense with any consideration of the first sentence--we already know that the entire premise of Parenti's book is that Yugoslavia was primarily destroyed from without by Western imperialist powers and global capitalists.

The next sentence is quite a piece of work--redefining the Bosnian war as a "protracted armed struggle" between three (presumably evenly-matched) ethnic groups is par for the course for Balkan revisionists, but adding the touch about NATO bombing breaking "the Serbian defenses" takes that fantasy one step further.

The final sentence is really over-the-top: the insane notion that it was at Dayton that Bosnia was partitioned goes beyond anything even Diana Johnstone is willing to claim, as far as I recall. Not only does this fly in the face of every known fact about the war, it also contradicts Parenti's own claims earlier in the book that Bosnian Serbs were fighting to stay unified to Yugoslavia (and, therefore, very much partitioned from the UN member nation of Bosnia).

One last point from this paragraph worth noting--Parenti's choice of words when describing the two entities of post-Dayton Bosnia. He describes the Republika Srpska as being "composed of Bosnian Serbs" rather than being comprised of 49% of Bosnia, or as encompassing the borders negotiated at Dayton, based on the territory held by the Bosnian Serb Army at the end of the war. It may only by a slip of phrasing, but I believe it is a telling one.

From here, the chapter goes in predictable directions--the Handzar Division of World War II stands in for the entire Slavic Muslim population, as it usually does in Balkan revisionist propaganda, and we are reminded of Izetbegovic's membership in the Young Muslims. Parenti is adamant that Izetbegovic was an Islamic Fundamentalist, and this accusation, combined with his allegedly right-wing politics, provide Parenti with a convenient monster. We shall see this imagined monster in action in the next post.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [14]



After three pages of "context," Parenti is finally ready to discuss contemporary events. Sort of.

"Between 1991 and 1995, the army of the newly proclaimed Croatian republic conducted its own ethnic cleansing operation, replete with rapes, summary executions, and indiscriminate shelling, driving over half a million Serbs from their ancestral homes in Croatia, including an estimated 225,000 Serbs from Krajina in August 1995 during what was called "Operation Storm." The resistance of the Krajina Serbs was broken with assistance from NATO war planes and missiles. "We have resolved the Serbian question," crowed Tudjman in a speech to his generals."

This paragraph is all the space that Parenti devotes, out of nine pages, to the four years of actual military conflict on Croatian soil during those four years. That's it. No mention of Vukovar, Dubrovnik, or of the actions and policies of the breakaway Knin regime. This paragraph is all we get.

He devotes roughly the same amount of space to the revival of the kuna as the unit of currency (after claiming that the new government was "set up with the help of NATO's guns") and the checkerboard emblem, which he falsely describes as a Ustashe symbol, even though he then acknowledges that the design was a traditional Croat design. The Ustashe, it should be noted, added a large "U" to that design. He is correct that the revival of such symbols, combined with the sinister and vulgar rhetoric coming out of Zagreb, was certain to send ominous signals to non-Croats (primarily Serbs) in Croatia; were his account not so one-sided and myopic he might have created the opportunity for substantive debate rather than hysterical incitement.

And so it goes; a dreary accounting of some of the gruesome and despicable acts of Tudjman's regime and it's heinous appeals to implicitly or even explicitly fascist sentiment. All of which deserve serious attention, but in a measured, balanced fashion. Parenti mixes various ugly details without discrimination or context. He makes claims such as "Serb-hating was abundantly evident during Tudjman's reign," a typical example of Parenti's tendency to wallow in rhetorically heated phraseology.

In the end, Parenti implies that Tudjman was a tool of Western financial powers, who gutted his own economy and poisoned his society with resurgent fascism, leaving his nation an economic and social wreck with nothing to show but the blood on its hands. People who have visited the Croatia of today might have a very hard time recognizing the country they see with the grotesque nation of Parenti's imagination. And concerned observers who would like to focus more attention on the sins of the HDZ during the war most likely will wish Parenti had turned down the intensity of his outrage a few notches, so that the rest of us can hear ourselves think.

Monday, July 02, 2007

"To Kill A Nation" by Michael Parenti [13]


Having acknowledged some of the troubling issues surrounding Croatia, Tudjman, the HDZ in both Croatia and Bosnia, and the lingering poison of Ustashe nostalgia, let us now consider Parenti's far less balanced and nuanced consideration of Croatia during the 1990s.


Parenti and Johnstone share many underlying assumptions about events and realities in the Balkans, but they also operate under a similar overriding assumption about their intended readership; they assume--or, more likely, they hope--that the reader is not particularly well-read on the subject. Aside from being able to pass off biased or even incorrect information as fact without fear of challenge, and being able to decontextualize at will, they also rely on a sense of astonishment and outrage at "revelations" which should be common knowledge to anyone with even a modicum of interest in the historical context of the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Which means this--the first three pages of this chapter consists of a brief rehash of Franjo Tudjman's fascist past. This is not news to most people, but that doesn't stop Parenti from presenting this portrait of who he strangely names "the White House's man-of-the-hour" as a devastating expose. His summary of the Usatshe years is predictably gruesome and devoid of nuance. Parenti shares Johnstone's penchant for ethnic collectivism, so any indication that the Ustashe only represented a minority of Croats is missing in his version of history. Indeed, I suspect that Parenti would be incapable of acknowledging the complexities and ambiguities of individual affiliations and actions during such a conflict.

Perhaps I am not expressing myself well; Parenti's disingenuous analysis is so devoid of balance and nuance, not mention factual comprehensiveness, that it becomes nearly impossible to find a coherent position to critique. Parenti is not making an argument or developing a thesis, he is merely waving the bogeyman of resurgent fascism in the reader's face, seeking to incite revulsion and shut down critical faculties.

I will resist the urge to respond in kind. In my previous post, I considered the importance of acknowledging and examining the sins of Tudjman and the HDZ during the Balkan wars. Wallowing in the horrors of World War II is not the path towards unlocking the political motives of cynical autocrats and hate-driven nationalists in the 1980s and 1990s. Let me state--I absolutely agree that Franjo Tudjman was a thug, a Holocaust denier (Parenti's outrage about this point is repulsively ironic, given later chapters of Omarska and Srebrenica), and on the whole a toxic and destructive factor in the Bosnian war.

I will not indulge Parenti's crude rhetoric any further. In the next post, I will continue with the rest of the chapter, where Parenti begins to consider contemporary issues.