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."

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