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.