Thursday, January 31, 2008

Christopher Hitchens interview with Peter Robinson

This excerpt from an August 23, 2007 interview with Christopher Hitchens on the subject of withdrawal from Iraq is quite revealing of the left-wing "realist" school of thought. Note how Robinson refers more than once to "letting them sort it out," by force of arms. Notice how he freely acknowledges that this would lead to violence, death, and destruction. Most notably, at the end of this interview, by way of defending the point of view that it would be better to leave the people of Iraq at the mercy of sectarian forces, he brings up the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s--of which, it must be said, he seems to have very superficial knowledge.

A telling comment; and an example of why the battle over the meaning of the Yugoslav wars and the truth of the genocide in Bosnia still needs to be fought and is still worth fighting.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bosnjaci Net back online! is back online, despite the best efforts of Serb nationalist hackers working on behalf of Darko Trifunovic.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Darko Trifunovic--Srebrenica Denier

I haven't written anything on the case of the loathsome Darko Trifunovic, and rather than rehashing what others have written, I encourage you to read up on the story:

Daniel and Srebrenica Genocide Blog has followed the story, including this latest update.

I encourage all visitors to this blog to read Daniel's coverage of this troubling development in the ongoing Bosnian revisionist crusade against truth and reconciliation.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"How Bosnia Armed" by Attila Marko Hoare [3]

I repeat my recommendation of this excellent, well-researched, and readable account on the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This book is of interest to anyone curious to understand more about the Bosnian war; it should be noted that while the topic requires Hoare to cover certain military incidents and trends, it is not a military history of the war, but rather a study of the development of the ARBiH. Unfortunately, while the military story ends somewhat positively (against the odds, the ARBiH managed to prevent the absolute destruction of the country), the institutional story is much less ambiguous, and much more discouraging.

The ARBiH became a more effective fighting force in the final two years of the war, but it also abandoned its (admittedly always somewhat nominal) commitment to a multicultural, secular Bosnia. The army became an explicitly Muslim nationalist armed force. While that might not be a surprise to any reader familiar with the inevitable breakdown of interethnic cooperation in a vicious ethnic war; the point that Attila Hoare brings to light is how much of this process was a deliberate policy on the part of the leadership. He details how the control over the army by the civilian government was usurped by the SDA leadership; the army became a party army directly controlled by Izetbegovic and his party. The government was out of the loop, and the army's leadership instituted policies in line with SDA ideology.

Attila Hoare traces this depressing development adeptly. The breakdown in relations between ARBiH leaders and various non-Bosniak factions within the army and the government are painful to read; nor does the author shy away from detailing episodes of gross human rights violations by ARBiH units. The stubborn refusal to accept cooperation from friendly HVO factions after the outbreak of war between Herzegovina separatists and government forces defies understanding. And most depressing of all is Attila Hoare's contention that Izetbegovic and the SDA were, in the final two years at least, fighting for a Muslim ministate (or "parastate" in his apt phrasing, which he applies throughout the book to Herceg-Bosna and Republika Srpska as well) of their own, even while publicly maintaining a commitment to a unified, secular Bosnia. Ultimately, Bosnia was betrayed by their political leaders just as it was betrayed by an indifferent international community.

This does not suggest to me that intervention would have been less justified; if anything this breakdown in commitment to a unified Bosnia by the ruling party (as opposed to it citizens) only illustrates how in such situations the international community needs to intervene early rather than to wait for the situation to deteriorate.

Attila Hoare's brief Appendix on Osama bin Ladin and Al Qaeda is worthy reading, acknowledging the controversy over the mujahedin in Bosnia and then dismissing most of said controversy as overblown. This most likely will not have much effect on Bosnian revisionists keen to believe that the Bosnian government was an Islamist front bringing jihad to the Balkans. I'm quite certain he knows that mere facts are not enough to dissuade the likes of Diana Johnstone and Jared Israel; most likely he believes they are simply not worth the bother.

Again: I highly recommend this book.

Monday, January 21, 2008

"How Bosnia Armed" by Marko Attila Hoare [2]

Having now read two of the four chapters, I can unreservedly recommend this book to anyone who would like understand this dimension of the Bosnian war. In addition to the specific focus on the the institutional and political development of the ARBiH, however, this book also sheds some light on the confusion of Bosnia's early years, from the first free election up until several months after the war broke out. Attila Hoare illustrates how the defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina was severely hampered by institutional confusion at all levels; different agencies had troubles communicating, the leadership of the Presidency was slow to recognize the danger that the JNA posed to the nascent Bosnian state; many high-ranking officials had mixed loyalties or were outright traitors; and so on.

The Army was formed of a fusion between the Tito-era Territorial Defense (TO) Militias and the SDA-affiliated Patriotic League (PL) militias; defections from the JNA would bring in the bulk of the experienced senior leadership of the new army. The tension between these different groups was often severe; they were steeped in different institutional cultures, but also brought contradictory political baggage. The TO leadership tended to be more in favor of a secular, multi-cultural force, while the PL leadership naturally tended to favor overt Muslim nationalism. Add to this the former JNA officers who brought strong Titoist ideology with them, and you had a fractured force often at odds with itself.

I am giving a very simplified version of the story, of course, and Attila Hoare has done a fantastic job of filling out what could be a drab, sterile tale of bureaucratic infighting into a fairly compelling narrative. His intimacy with the region and his fluency in Serbo-Croat were a major asset, as he was able to carry out numerous interviews with some of the important players in the story; their stories help flesh out his account and give it a human dimension it might otherwise have lacked.

I will continue my brief review of How Bosnia Armed after I finish the second half.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"How Bosnia Armed" by Marko Attila Hoare [1]

Marko Attila Hoare has written extensively on Bosnia and the Balkan wars; you can access many of his recent articles through his own blog: Great Surbiton. Of special note, given the emphasis of this blog, is this article (linked from Balkan Witness):

The Left Revisionists

which I have read and re-read many times over the past couple of years while struggling to articulate my own critique of left-wing Balkan revisionism.

I am now reading How Bosnia Armed, his study of the development, history and, and institutional structure of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH). Hoare's knowledge and the depth of his research is impressive, and he certainly benefits from being fluent in Serbo-Croat. The book is briskly written and concise--Hoare keeps to the subject at hand, and as a result this book is both focused and brief.

In the Forward, Brendan Simms--author of Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia--notes that the book sheds light on the months and years leading up to the outbreak of war, when the Serb nationalist leadership was deliberately and systematically preparing for ethnic war while the Muslim and pro-Bosnian population had no inkling of what was in store. This is a strong refutation of Diana Johnstone's gross exaggerations about the SDA's preparations for war, if nothing else.

Simms also notes that the book examines the effect of Western policy on the development of the ARBiH; specifically, on the ultimate failure of the army to live up to its early--if somewhat (but not entirely) symbolic--secular, multicultural ideal. The depressing reality is that as the ARBiH became a more organized and formidable fighting force, it became less and less a truly Bosnian army, morphing into more explicitly nationalist-Muslim institution. However, it never became as "Islamist" army; an important distinction, and if Hoare does nothing other than decisively refute this revisionist claim, his book will have preformed an important service.

In his Introduction, Hoare touches on some of the same points Simms made, while more precisely defining the parameters of his study; while he will touch on the development of the Army of the Serb Republic (VRS) and the Croat Defense Council (HVO), this is not a study of the military history of the war or a detailed study of all the actors in that struggle. He is interested in the dual institutional history of the ARBiH, which was developed both from the Tito-era Territorial Defense militias and the Patriotic League cells developed after the ascent of the SDA. He is also interested in how the SDA leadership dealt with the conflicting aims of being a Muslim nationalist party in charge of a secular, multifaith/multiethnic republic, and how that tension affected the development and institutional structure of the ARBiH.

He also discusses "the role of foreign mujahedin [his spelling] and the truth about bin Laden's alleged involvement." Given some other recent developments in the region, having a well-researched, definitive study of Al Qaeda in Bosnia is of vital importance.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Srebrenica Memorial Quilt--Update

The Srebrenica Memorial Quilt has grown since I first posted about it in October, and will soon be moving from St. Louis to Boston:

AdvocacyNet Update on Srebrenica Memorial Quilt

The exact dates have not been announced yet; I will pass those along once I know.

I you have not done so already, please check out Bosnian Family's website:


If you are considering making a donation to the Srebrenica Memorial Quilt, please remember that not only does the money go to a worthy cause, the quilt is also a work of advocacy. The ultimate destination will be Washington, DC--the larger the quilt is by that point, the more of an impression it will make on legislators.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Islamic Fundamentalism in the Balkans

The latest development in a disturbing story:

Trial of Wahhabi Extremists in Serbia Begins

Before I go on, a disclaimer: I do not believe that most Muslims in southeast Europe are fundamentalists, or radical Islamists, or nascent jihadists. Not even close. Nor do I for a second believe there was any credence to Serb nationalist claims that they were fighting a defensive war against a revived caliphate inside Europe's own borders.

However, the danger from the ongoing presence of even a small group of militant Wahhabi fanatics in the region is greater than simply giving Balkan revisionists and anti-Muslim nationalists some post de facto justifications for the crazed rhetoric and worse of over a decade ago. The specter of radical Islam in the Sandzak and/or Bosnia could not only provide ammunition for Orthodox and Catholic nationalists, but could feed very real--and justifiable--fears among ordinary Christians who might not otherwise engage in or be responsive to nationalist hate-mongering.

And it is worth noting that these bearded thugs are, after all, on trial at least partially because they threatened to kill the mufti in the area. As always, the majority of the victims of Islamist violence are other Muslims. The rise of Wahhabi Islam in the region would only be bad for Slavic Muslims there.

So a thorough and unforgiving crackdown on these religious fanatics on the part of local Muslim authorities wherever they appear would not only send a strong, and comforting, signal to Serb, Croat, Macedonian, and other non-Muslims in the Balkans; it would also be doing their own societies a big favor. Violent religious extremists are simply outside the pale; it does a secular, liberal civil society no favors to attempt to compromise or negotiate with medieval fundamentalists. A fragile and vulnerable civil society like in Bosnia or the Sandzak simply cannot afford to waste too much time learning this lesson the hard way.

And while this story is from the Sandzak, not Bosnia, we should not ignore the stronger communal sense of "Muslimness" which was tempered in the fire of genocide over a decade ago. The ties between the two regions and two populations are not insignificant.

As the years pass, the foolishness and recklessness of the decision to allow foreign jihadists enter the country and fight for Islam during the darkest days of the Bosnian war becomes tragically clearer. It is true that the number of mujahideen and their military importance has been inflated by Serb nationalists and some Balkan revisionists; it is true that they often clashed with native Bosnian Muslims who were too secular and not properly "Islamic" enough to suit their jihadist guests; and it is true that their attempt to take over and remake Bosnian culture essentially failed. However, they managed to establish a small foothold. Now it appears that that small foothold is still holding on.

Bosnia's Muslims paid a dear price in their valiant struggle to preserve a secular, liberal, cosmopolitan democracy against a vicious assault by ethnoreligious fundamentalist fanatics. How cruelly ironic it would for their society to be corrupted by a religious fundamentalist movement from within.

Friday, January 11, 2008

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [15]


This short chapter eloquently makes a case not only for the legitimacy of Bosnian culture, but of its worth. Bosnia was a bridge, Sells argues; the Croat nationalists of "Herceg-Bosna" knew what they were doing when they destroyed the elegant Stari Most bridge in Moster. Ian Paisley, the thuggish Ulter Unionist leader, once contemptuously said (I am paraphrasing here) that "Bridges make traitors." If one is devoted to a diminished and sterile notion of culture and cultural identity--one in which the individual is defined primarily by membership to a group, and furthermore in which the group is defined by hard and fast distinctions versus the "other"--then this is true. Bridges lead to communication and exchanges, which then lead to intermingling and a loss of "purity." The desirability of "purity", then, must never be questioned.

The Wounding Sky

Bosnia has been defined for centuries by the mixture of different peoples and faiths; Orthodox, Catholic, and Bosnian before the Ottoman period, and then Orthodox, Catholic, Islam and then Judaism (both Sephardic and Ashkenazi) after. Sells describes the Bosnian tradition of the sevdalinka love lyrics, which were written in Cyrillac, Latin, and Adzamijski script. The complex mix of gender roles in the sevdalinka, in which a woman poses as a man singing to her male lover (and which were often actually performed by male singers) parallels the complex, multilayered development of this lyric tradition.

Sevdalinkas were composed in all the languages of the Empire--Persian, Turkish, Arabic, South Slavic--and were often translated from one to another. The precious manuscripts recording this unique aspect of Bosnia's heritage were destroyed when Serb gunners deliberately targeted the Oriental Institute.

Sells writes:

"Bosnia has a culture rich in transitions and translations. Those looking for the essence of culture and language in ethnic, racial, or religious purity will find Bosnia incomprehensible. On the other hand, those who see culture as a creative process that by its very nature involves intermingling and creative tension among different elements will treasure Bosnia-Herzegovina."

Unfortunately, many in the West failed to grasp this.

The Execution of Culture

"In the fall of 1995, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger proclaimed that "there is no Bosnian culture." The context for Kissinger's claim was his proposal that Bosnia should be partitioned between Serbia and Croatia and the Muslims (and presumably anyone else who did not want to be part of ethnically pure Greater Croatia and Greater Serbia) should be placed in a "Muslim state." Partitioning Bosnia and putting the Muslims in a religious ghetto was the original goal of the Serb and Croat nationalists."

Other than again supporting the axiom that one can never go wrong disagreeing with America's most distinguished indicted war criminal, what can one say in response to such dismissive rubbish?

Sells dryly notes that the strongest refutation of Kissinger's statement came from Karadzic, Mladic, and the Serbian nationalists themselves, who put a great deal of energy and resources into destroying all traces of this allegedly non-existent culture. Also, there is this story:

"A Serb army officer entered the home of a Sarajevan artist, who happened to be Serb. Among the works of art, he saw a piece that depicted a page from the Qur'an. Infuriated, he had all the artwork taken out into the street, lined up, and shot to pieces with automatic weapons fire."

In order to justify the destruction of a people, you must first destroy their legitimacy. Sells recounts other episodes of genocide throughout modern history to illustrate the general truth of this observation. And then he concludes this section with a paragraph which manages to articulate something I have been grappling with for almost two years in this blog--the reason why Bosnia's fight should have been America's fight. One very big reason I believe American values were under attack in a small republic in southeast Europe in the first half of the last decade of the 20th Century. Allow me to quote the paragraph in its entirety:

"Like culture in the United States, Bosnian culture cannot be defined by the linguistic and religious criteria of nineteenth-century nationalism. Just as Americans share a language with the British and Australians, so Bosnians share a language with Serbs and Croats. Just as the United States has no single, official church, so Bosnia is made up of people of different religious confessions, and within those confessions, vastly different perspectives. If Bosnia has no culture, then the United States has no culture. If Bosnia should be partitioned into religiously pure apartheid states, then the same logic lead to the idea, proposed by the Christian Identity movement, that the United States should be divided into apartheid states of different races and religions."

Creation in the Fire

Sells recounts the art exhibition "Expo/Sarajevo 92" which was organized during the siege. He explains the great risks the artists had to take just to travel back and forth to the studio, and that the artists chose to make engravings because they are reproducible; a 'lucky' shell from Sarajevo's tormentors could destroy the display but not the works themselves. Those artists continued to create, to draw from Bosnia's rich, textured history and culture, and to celebrate life even while the world expected to nothing more than meekly survive and cower before those who wanted to carve the living body of Bosnia into neatly segmented, sterile, dead entities. The enemies of Bosnia, and the indifferent enablers of the West, wanted to believe that Bosnia would be defined by walls; those artists demonstrated yet again that it is rather defined by bridges.

A Dance

The book ends with this brief, almost poetic section. A Bosnian family--they are Serbs--living in North America throw a party for another Bosnian family who are moving to another city. The invite all the Bosnians they know--Serb, Croat, Bosniak. Everybody eats, drinks, talks, laughs. And then a sevdalinka is played. Dancing begins.

They are able to forget that they are Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim. In this bittersweet reunion mixed with farewells far from home, they reconnect with their culture. Away from the burden of being of one ethnoreligious group, they are free to be Bosnians.


That is how the book ends. I highly recommend it; at only slightly over 150 pages it is a quick and easy read. It raises important questions about the role faith will, can, or should play in a secular, cosmopolitan democracy in the 21st Century. I suspect we will be revisiting these and related questions in my blog and in many other forums in the near future.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Greater Surbiton: Marko Attila Hoare

Thanks to Daniel at Srebrenica Genocide Blog, I just discovered this blog by Marko Attila Hoare:

Greater Surbiton

I have quoted from articles by Hoare before, and I have at least a couple of his three books on my "short list." Many of the entries have also appeared as articles in other places, including Bosnia Institute.

I have a lot in common with Hoare; I am also "of the Left"; for me as well, the war in Bosnia was a turning point in my political affiliations. As the war progressed, I became more and more convinced that Western military intervention was both necessary and justified. Yet only a few years earlier, I had opposed the Gulf War because opposing US military intervention in foreign countries was what people like did, right? Yet there it was, the very real possibility that the use of US military force overseas might be the proper and just option. I was forced to concede that the Left had utterly failed to recognize the true nature of ethnoreligious fascism in the former Yugoslavia.

While I do identify with Hoare, I in no way claim to be as accomplished as he is. Besides his three published books, his blog provides links to many of his previously published online articles. I am now catching up on his blog, and hope to have more to say about his work once I have read up. And now I will move his books to the top of that "short list."

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [14]


Passive Violence and False Humanitarianism

"Western policy makers also manipulated the language of pacifism to justify an arms embargo against the Bosnians while refusing to use force to help them."

This is well-known to any reasonably informed observers of the Bosnian war; Sells notes dryly that the same Western governments engaged in and authorized arms sales to countries all over the world. Furthermore, he rightly notes that those same governments had

"...a moral and legal duty to uphold Article 51 of the UN Charter guaranteeing the right of a nation to defend itself, as well as the 1948 Geneva Convention requiring all signatory nations not only to prevent genocide but to punish it. By refusing either to allow the Bosnians to defend themselves or to use NATO power to defend them, these leaders engaged in a form of passive violence, setting the parameters within which the killing could be and was carried out with impunity."

The outrage that informed such books as David Rieff's Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West was primarily fueled by similar observations. The slightly condescending indifference towards the practical and moral implications of this faux pacifism. Sells notes that most Western churches and religious groups were complicit in this campaign as well.

The catastrophic consequences of what Sells aptly terms "passive humanitarianism"--struggling mightily to get food to civilians while leaving them at the mercy of their heavily armed tormentors--is also discussed. And Sells briefly mentions a couple of infamous incidents--the use of Muslim rape camp slaves by UN officials, and the cooperation between UN peacekeepers transporting Dr. Hakija Turajlic and his murderers.

Moral Equalizing

I doubt any readers of this blog will need a refresher course on the moral equalizing ("There are no saints in this war"; "All sides share some of the blame") frequently indulged in my Western pundits and politicians in their never-ending efforts to avoid their moral and legal responsibilities. The list of incidents and statements Sells includes is damning but hardly comprehensive--Stoltenberg repeating the Serb nationalist line that Muslims were "really" Serbs; Owen claiming that 60% of pre-war Bosnia "belonged" to "the Serbs"; Susan Woodwards pseudo-objective claims that the entire conflict was due to impersonal factors and and organizational breakdowns; and so on. And of course Peter Brock's Foreign Policy article, which gave Bosnian revisionist an actual article in an actual, reputable mainstream publication which to cite ad nauseam.

National Interests

Sells notes that many Western leaders made the Kissingeresque realpolitik claim that the USA and other NATO members had no "national interest" in Bosnia. He notes how international indifference to the Palestinian problem in the wake of the 1947 war still haunts us today; he also argues that indifference in Bosnia most likely emboldened Hutu extremists in Rwanda (although, of course, the "realists" would most likely respond that we had no national interests in Rwanda, either). He also points out that indifference to the plight of Bosnia's Muslims almost certainly lent credibility to Islamist and jihadist claims about Western hostility to Islam and Muslims. And what is the cost of allowing religious violence to succeed?

He closes with an over-reaching claim that some arms-producing nations might actually welcome the instability that acquiescence in Bosnia's destruction might unleash. This smacks too much of paranoia and conspiracy theories for my taste; I would have preferred for Sells to have left this paragraph out of the final draft.

Not Two Cents

The title of this final section comes from Thomas Friedman's callous and stupid comment "I don't give two cents about Bosnia. Not two cents. The people there have brought on their own troubles." Sells' verdict on this statment is concise and accurate:

"It marks the logical end of moral equalizing, the equating of the victim and the perpetrator and the devaluing of both."

Sells notes that Friedman was only stating in bald terms what many in the West were implying with comments about "Let them keep on killing one another and the problem will solve itself." Sells' argues that the solution to such moral vacuousness is to replace the general with the specific, to give the suffering a human face, such as the famous picture of the young Bosnian woman who hung herself after the fall of Srebrenica. That picture was cited by Senator Dianne Feinstein, who had been against US involvement in the region. As Sells puts it:

"It was what the picture left unsaid that allowed the senator to look beyond the linguistic masks of "warring factions" and "guilt on all sides" to the reality that this young woman was most likely not warring, not guilty, not an ancient antagonist or hater, and that her act was "not the act of someone who had the ability to fight in self-defense." "

Sells concludes by noting that it is difficult to make moral distinctions in a religious genocide since so much of our moral thinking is grounded in religious teachings to begin with. Religious leaders and teachers, he concludes, have an obligation to

"...better understand and more clearly explain the full humanity of those who embrace other religions and the variety and richness within other traditions. Another response is to begin with a basic premise--that needless, willfully inflicted human suffering cannot and should not be explained away."

How sad that after thousands of years of organized religion, such simple and fundamentally decent proposals still need to be put forward.


This concludes Chapter Six. In my next post, I will consider the final chapter.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [13]


Much of this chapter consists of material which should be agonizingly familiar to any reader of this blog. I will summarize many of these sections quickly, trusting that my readers know enough to flesh out the details I pass on; "The Bridge Betrayed" is a worthy book, but much of the content which is unique to it, and which reflects Sells' strengths, has already been covered in the preceding chapters. In this chapter, Sells considers Western complicity in the Bosnian genocide. Understandably, he felt obligated to make his case for that complicity, so this chapter contains a great deal of detail certainly familiar to those of you reading this blog. I will spend very little time on those details, and focus my attention on Sells' contention that different irrational--and often unspoken--biases in the West among both politicians and the general public contributed to this complicity.

Arming the Aggressor

Sells states that:

"A weapon is not a particular tool or device, but a disparity between one tool and another."

This succinctly expresses the reality behind the context-free "reasoning" which supported the placement and the continuation of the United Nations arms embargo, which of course preserved the gross imbalance in military capabilities and essentially doomed the Bosnian government and its army. Sells also notes that it was dishonest to label the violence of the first few months of the war a "civil war," since the "conflict" mostly consisted of well-planned, ruthlessly executed assaults on unarmed or virtually defenseless civilians by heavily armed military units.


This section details many of the ludicrous and irrational charges made by Serbian and Croatian nationalists, and their international allies and enablers, against the Muslim community of Bosnia and its leadership (particularly Alija Izetbegovic and the SDA). The hysterical charges of Islamic fundamentalist jihads, plans to abduct Serb women for harems, and so forth.

Sells also notes that academics added pseudointellectual commentary to the propaganda war, creating mystical, half-baked generalizations about the nature of Islam and Islamic culture.

"Orientalism" refers to the otherness of 'the East,'; Sells argues that as ridiculous and easily refutable most of this propaganda was, it fed into subconscious European/Western biases and fears regarding the Oriental "other" presumably at their doorstop.


"Bosnian Muslims are also objects of a dehumanizing discourse about Balkan peoples which portrays Bosnians as Balkan tribal haters outside the realm of reason and civilization."

That opening sentence explains the theme of this section nicely; Sells does a good job of briefly illustrating various examples by which the West has dismissed any possibility of constructive intervention in Bosnia through such dismissive reasoning. The cliched fears of "ancient Balkan hatreds" still inform much of what little debate on the region still goes on today, unfortunately. Sells rightly singles out Robert Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts as one example. Sells also notes that another myth of the Balkans--of the fierce, unconquerable Serb warrior--helped justify inaction.

Balkanism as a Mask

Balkanism was one of the 'mask' Western leaders would don in order to put a psychological distance between themselves and the reality of Bosnia in the 1990s. Sells argues that Bill Clinton donned the mask of Balkanism after taking office. Even though candidate Clinton had argued forcefully for intervention, once in office he and many other members of his administration began speaking of intractable hatreds, centuries of continuous conflict, and of the necessity of containing the violence rather than stopping it.

After Srebrenica, the Dole-Lieberman bill forced his hand--suddenly, the impossible was very possible. Sells notes that Strobe Talbot, in the wake of Dayton,

"denounced the idea that the Bosnia tragedy was the inevitable result of "ancient hatreds."--the Balkanist stereotype that had been propounded by the same administration for two years."

Of such hypocrisy is American leadership made.

Sells ends by noting that after Clinton took off the Balkanism mask, it was utilized by the "isolationist wing" of the Republican party for the 1996 elections.


I will continue my review of this, the penultimate chapter of the book, in my next post.

Friday, January 04, 2008

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [12]


Bridge Keeper

This section begins the chapter on the role of Croatian nationalism in Bosnia with a brief history of the Stari Most bridge in Mostar, and its destruction at the hands of HDZ extremists.

Europeanizing the Bosnians

Tudjman spoke of Croatia's task of "Europeanizing" the Slavic Muslims of Bosnia; this was a euphemism just like "ethnic cleansing" and meant essentially the same thing as that more infamous phrase. This chapter briefly sketches Tudjman's anti-Semitism, proto-fascist tendencies, and the deceit and betrayal of Mate Boban's breakaway Croat republic in western Herzegovina. Again, the material in this section should be quite familiar to any reader of this blog.

The Madonna

A brief description of the Marion apparition at Medjugorje; and of the initial rivalry between the HVO and the HOS; the eventual combining of the two and of Tudjman's complete betrayal of his Muslim "allies."

The Convoy of Joy

More depressing--and again, all too familiar for most of my readers--details sketching the rest of the Croat-Bosnian Government war of 1992-1993. The "convoy" of the subtitle was a humanitarian convoy 'allowed' to pass on to Tuzla, only to be trapped and ambushed once it had passed HVO lines.

This section also details how Tudjman and his government continued to stoke the fires of Christoslavism from a Catholic perspective, and how intolerance against Muslims in Croatia proper grew. The section ends with an explanation that it was Western pressure on Croatia which ended the fighting, strongarming the Croatian leadership into accepting the Croat-Muslim Federation.

The Madonna and the Concentration Camps

This lengthy section recounts the power struggle between the more moderate members of the Croatian Catholic clergy--Bishop Kuharic of Zagreb, Archbishop Puljic of Sarajevo, and others, against the extremist Franciscan clergy of Herzegovina. The proliferation of Nazi and far-right regalia at Medjugorje, the open support of Herceg-Bosna extremists by local Franciscans and vice-versa; the contempt Tudjman showed for international justice when he promoted General Tihomir Blaskic after Blaskic had been indicted by the ICTY...all of this is covered. The section ends back where the chapter began--with the destruction of the bridge, by which Tudjman symbolically cut his ties to the "Orient" which supposedly held Croatia hostage, 'outside' of a particular conception of 'Europe.' Sells wonders of any of the pilgrims who heard the Virgin of Medjugorje and her calls for world peace could also make out the pitiful screams of the Muslim victims of HVO-directed genocide.

Diving From the Bridge

Sells introduces us to Amir Pasic, a native of Hungary who directed the rebuilding and renovation of Mostar in 1987. At the time of books publication, Pasic lived in Istabul, he still had the plans for the city, and he was planning on rebuilding it yet again. Whenever the conversation turns to politics or religion, he ignores the speaker and continues talking architecture and construction

In 1994, young boys in Mostar showed up on swimming trunks so that they could take part in the annual diving off the bridge into the Neretva River. The bridge was gone, of course, so they dived from the ugly modern temporary bridge as well.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [11]


The Serb Church and the Stepanic Syndrome

In Bosnia, the Serb Orthodox Church made the same mistake the Catholic Church made in Croatia during World War II; it became a servant of religious nationalist militancy. In many instances, Christian Serb clergy have supported the extremists who carried out the genocide in Bosnia and have given ritual and symbolic support to the programs of ethnic expulsion and destruction of mosques."

This section goes on to verify this strong opening statement for a very depressing and enraging several pages. Any student of the Bosnian war will know that the list of incidents and statement Sells provides--Orthodox clergy making racist claims about the true nature of Muslims, blessing troops after they had committed atrocities, visiting the sites of destroyed mosques, etc.--will be all too aware of similar incidents. Then again, this book was written in 1996; in 2008, no honest person can deny the involvement of the Serb Orthodox Church in Bosnia.

Sells closes this section by noting that Patriarch Pavle waited until very late in the war to speak out against human rights abuses committed by Serb forces, and then only in a very qualified manner, using the all-too-familiar "all sides are guilty" excuse. Sells wonders if this line of reasoning is somewhat based on the Christian notion of original sin, and if so, he posits this question:

"...if everyone is guilty, is anyone really guilty of anything specific? If everyone is guilty, is anything done to any person that is undeserved? Generalized guilt allows a convenient avoidance of the stubborn fact that in genocide, innocents suffer and their suffering is inflicted upon them deliberately."

Only Unity Saves the Serbs

Sells notes the revival of the symbol of the Orthodox cross with the four Cyrillic 'S's ('C') representing the slogan "Samo sloga Srbina spasava"; "revival" in the sense that the symbol became used more prominently and much more frequently than it had for many, many years. Sells notes that it was

"...natural for a former communist official, raised in the personality cult surrounding Marshal Tito, to move easily into another kind of personality cult."

Milosevic presented himself as the spokesman of Serb "unity"; in Serbian ultranationalism, "unity" means for one ethnic group to remain apart from and opposed to neighboring national groups, all of whom are out to get the Serbs. Rather than appealing to what is noble and expansive and welcoming in Serb culture, this slogan appeals to paranoia, fear, and hostility.

Sells rightly notes that while Milosevic later abandoned nationalist and ethnoreligious iconography and rhetoric, it most certainly does not follow that he had not tapped into genuine religious sentiments before. What follows is a short discussion of the nature of religiosity in the context of this book and ethnoreligious nationalism; as well as the varieties of modern fundamentalism and a consideration of how Serb and Croat nationalism would fit within any possible definition of fundamentalism.

Some of the "explicitly religious ideology of the violence", as he puts it, is detailed; including some of the songs Muslim prisoners were forced to sing. Sells concludes by soberly noting that we Americans--with our history of "ethnic cleansing" against American Indians, living in a country where much of the wealth was originally generated with slave labor, are in no position to claim moral superiority to Bosnian Serbs. I would like to believe that this qualification is unnecessary--it is the ideology hostile nationalism and the specific perpetrators of war crimes and genocide we are concerned with, not an entire people or a culture. Sells wants to close his chapter by returning to the example he began with--the Oklahoma City bombing by Christian white supremists. Bosnia, he implies, is what happens when civil order breaks down and the forces of tolerance, secularism, and reason are swept away by violent sectarianism, religious fanaticism, and irrationality.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

"The Bridge Betrayed" by Michael Sells [10]


In the opening section, Sells draws parallels between the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995 and the outbreak of genocidal violence in the former Yugoslavia a few years earlier. In broad terms, the two events were spawned by similar movements motivated by similar ideologies nursed in similar cultural/intellectual climates. The difference, Sells rightly notes, is that in the United States such extremist elements are, for the most part, highly marginalized, socially, culturally, and politically. In the former Yugoslavia, on the other hand, such elements had had access to--and even control of--mass media outlets; powerful backing in government and the military; and all too often the support of major religious institutions.

Creating the Perpetrator

Despite all that had been done to lay the groundwork for genocide, nationalists and their allies still needed to do more in order to unleash the monster of ethnic violence. Milosevic and his allies took many steps in the final months and years of Yugoslavia's existence to create the compliance and willingness needed in the general population.

The purge of the Serbian communist party, the betrayal of Ivan Stambolic, purges of the Yugoslav army in order to create a Serb-dominated (and nationalist-allied) force, and increasing support for and ties to paramilitary militias--these were some of the many steps taken at the Federal level in Belgrade.

At the grassroots level, the work of turning ordinary Serbs into soldiers for racial separation and hatred was carried out by more brutal and direct means. Sells documents a few incidents where ethnic Serbs were punished, imprisoned, tortured, and/or killed for refusing to commit acts of violence against their non-Serb neighbors, or for speaking out against the fascist violence. He also discusses the well-documented process by which Serb nationalists would try to provoke revenge killings by Muslims against Serbs in order to harden the divisions between the two groups.

Young soldiers were numbed to the violence they were ordered to commit by being plied constantly with booze. Muslim civilians were degraded by being held in concentration camps without adequate food, water, sanitation facilities or privacy. And, of course, the use of derogatory names such as "Turk" and "balije". The wide distribution of looted good tended to muzzle curiosity among Serbs about what was being done in their name since most people preferred not to think too deeply about where the looted goods in their homes came from. And the practice of opening concentration camps to local sadists with a grudge to settle spread the complicity in the killings throughout the community.

Militia leaders such as Arkan and Seselj weren't merely given extensive material and financial support; they were given control over civilian resources and markets as well, enabling them to muster support through patronage and access to staples and consumer goods.

Sells concludes this section by noting the ubiquity of masks and facepaint in the ranks of the Bosnian Serb army and its allied paramilitary squads--the masks:

"...transformed identities. Before he put it on, the militiaman was part of a multireligious community in which Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs, Slavic Muslims, Jews, Gypsies, and others had lived together. These were his friends, his work colleagues, his neighbors, his lovers, his spouse's family. Once he put on the mask, he was a Serb hero; those he was abusing were balije or Turks, race traitors and killers of the Christ-Prince Lazar."

The Forgotten Serbs

Sells rightly notes that the nationalists did not speak for all Serbs--as the frequency of their violence against 'bad Serbs' who wanted no part of the war of violence being waged against their neighbors bears out. He lists many examples of Serbs who--often at risk to themselves--showed kindness to their non-Serb neighbors, and took actions which saved lives. Bogdan Bogdanovic, the mayor of Belgrade, is one example.

Sells also notes that in 1995, most Bosnian Serbs did not live in Serb-controlled areas of Bosnia--not an insignificant number were still in the government controlled remainder of the country, and many more were in Serbia proper. Milosevic allowed the Bosnian Serb military and the militias access to refugee camps so that 'disloyal' Serbs could be rounded up--these were often sent to the front lines without proper military training as punishment.

Sells concludes with this example, which I must confess I was unfamiliar with:

"In Bosnian government areas, the Serb Civic Council was formed to work for a multireligious society and to articulate the concerns of those Serbs loyal to a multireligious Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Civic Council pointed out that the total number of Bosnian Serbs living under the control of the Republika Srpska was less than 50 percent; over 150,000 lived in Bosnian government-controlled areas and some 500,000 had fled abroad. The council criticized the international community for treating the religious nationalist faction as the sole representative of the Serbian people."

How outrageous and depressing it is to reflect that, despite having followed events in Bosnia with interest at the time, I had never once heard of the Serb Civic Council or of its alternate view of Serb ethnic citizenship in Bosnia. Then again--the Bosnian war would not be the last time Western observers would dismiss civil violence in an unstable society by pointing to violent, armed extremist groups as somehow representative of the larger social group they claimed to speak for. Think about that the next time a news anchor on TV describes what "the Shiites" or "the Sunnis" in Iraq want.


I will conclude my review of Chapter four in my next post.

"Crisis and reform: a turnaround in Bosnia?" by Peter Lippman

A great article by Peter Lippman from the openDemocracy website:

Crisis and reform: a turnaround in Bosnia?

If you haven't read Lippman--who has covered the region for years--before, you can find many of his articles at Balkan Witness (linked in the sidebar as well), which is operated by his brother Roger Lippman.

Lippman analyzes Bosnia's political situation and summarizes some of the various crises the government has been through over the past several months. Most encouraging is the cautiously optimistic note Lippman strikes at the end; the possibility that Bosnia's domestic politicians now have bought themselves some breathing room and are demonstrating a willingness to use the window of opportunity is quite a nice bit of optimism to begin 2008 with.