Friday, August 29, 2008

Bosniak American Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina

Although I have included a link to the website for quite some time, I believe I have never written a post featuring the Bosniak American Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina. (Oddly, I also just today realized I have never registered to receive the organizations' email newsletter!)

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting with the recently appointed Executive Director, Elmina Kulasic, who was kind enough to give me some of her time in order to outline what projects and events BAACBH is preparing over the next several months. It was an impressive menu of cultural and political presentations; I will alert readers to upcoming programs in due time and will provide as much personal coverage as possible--hopefully I will be able to attend all of these events.

If you haven't visited the BAACBH website recently, I encourage you to do so--there has recently been more activity and from what I was told last night the pace of activity should continue to increase. Further updates to follow--there is one even planned for next month.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Serbian Muslim Community Commits Act of Stupidity in name of "Tolerance"

Even as Random House caved in to fears of Muslim anger over the planned publication of a novel on Muhammed's child wife, a Belgrade publisher has taken similar action due to complaints from Serbia's Muslim community leader:

Serbia Withdraws Book amid Muslim Anger

This is exactly not what is needed; and shame on the leadership of Serbia's Muslim community for playing up fears of Muslim "anger" and outrage; not only is this a blow against freedom of speech, it only reinforces stereotypes about Islam that nationalists use against normally moderate Slavic Muslims. A very depressing and disheartening episode all around.


Well, it appears that the Grand Mufti is happy with the publisher's decision to cower in the face of religious extremism:

Serbia’s Muslims Hail Withdrawal of Book*

This quote was particularly disturbing:

"Zukorlic assessed this was a good opportunity for the people, regardless of their religious beliefs, to point out the fact that there are values which are not subject to marketing and which must not be desecrated."

Freedom of thought is not possible when some ideas--and yes, some "values"--are considered untouchable and beyond criticism or discussion. This is a bad day for democracy in Serbia and for Islam in the Slavic world.

*It should be noted that, just as Serb nationalist extremists shouldn't be allowed to speak for all Serbs, it's not clear how many of Serbian Muslims actually agree with this pious asshat.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Michael Dobbs Illustrates that the Lessons of Bosnia Haven't Been Heeded by all

One of the strongest motivations for continuing this blog 13 years after Dayton is my strong conviction that the issues raised by the Bosnian war, and the values and ideals at stake, had and continue to have relevance beyond the western Balkans. Whether we are discussing the role of religion, ethnic nationalism, and international law certainly can applied far from Sarajevo; dynamics of state building, ethnic self-determination, nationalism both positive (as a state-building ideology) and negative (as an expression of jingoism and a return to tribalism); and the conflict between notions of sovereignty and ideal so international justice--the echoes of Bosnia still reverberate.

It is distressingly clear that even here in the West there is anything but a clear consensus on what the Bosnian war was about or even what happened; despite intensive media interest and an impressive body of literature analyzing the war in detail, many glib and thoughtless generalizations regarding the conflict remain in currency. This is troubling enough for anyone working towards reconciliation and political reform in the region, but when the flawed analytical framework many Western opinion-makers and statesmen is applied to current crises, the possibility unfortunately exists for ill-conceived policies and interpretations to become a new, unquestioned status quo conventional wisdom.

With the above in mind, it is distressing to note that, in the wake of the current crisis in Georgia (where Russian aggression under the pretense of "peacekeeping" is facilitating the further dismemberment of a former Soviet colony-turned-independent democracy), it is common for pundits and observers of a decidedly "realist" bent to temper the criticism of Russia's actions with dispassionate "evenhandedness." Georgia, we are told quite often, has brought this on itself.

The degree to which the blame is placed on Saakashvili and his state varies from pundit to pundit, but one of the more forceful (in tone if not in persuasiveness) variants of this line of argument was featured in the August 18 Washington Post, in the Op-Ed 'We Are All Georgians'? Not So Fast by journalist and author Michael Dobbs. With his undeniable background in covering the region (he covered the collapse of the Soviet Union for the same paper in 1991), it's not surprising that Dobbs talks a good game. But while he may have a personal history in the region, his argument is neither coherent nor persuasive.

What is striking for a student of the Bosnian conflict is how neatly Dobbs' reasoning and even his rhetoric parallels that of the Western relativists and non-interventionists in the early 1990s. Dobbs may know a lot about how Communist federations fall apart, but he hasn't thought very deeply about the aftermath.

He begins by noting that many in the West had drawn parallels between Russian actions in Georgia and Nazi German annexations prior to the outbreak of World War II, and also to the Brezhnev Doctrine of the Soviet period--only to dismiss both parallels pretty much completely. Instead, he tells us, the crisis in Georgia is

"...better understood against the backdrop of the complicated ethnic politics of the Caucasus, a part of the world where historical grudged run deep and oppressed can become oppressors in the bat of an eye."

Where have we heard this before? Once again, the affairs of some little-understood mountainous region are far too complicated for outsiders to grasp--yet that "complexity" (just like in the Balkans, we were told)--boils down to age-old, irrational hatreds among intermixed peoples where everyone and no one is at fault, and todays "good guys" are tomorrows "bad guys." Just like Balkan revisionists, Dobbs uses gross simplifications (i.e., 'Those people are full of hate and they are turning on each other without warning or purpose constantly') as a tool with which to scold outsiders for not grasping "complexities".

The examples he gives are true, and I have no quarrel with mentioning that the Abkhaz and the Ossetians were ill-treated in the immediate aftermath of Georgian independence (although 1991 hardly seems "age-old" to me). However, Dobbs goes on to place blame on Georgia for the rashness of recent actions without, crucially, recounting the history of Russian interference between the atrocities of 1991 and a few weeks ago. And his criticism of Saakashvili for not being as democratic and liberal as the West had hoped carries far too much weight--while all that is true, Saakashvili is the democratically elected leader of a sovereign nation, and he really has offered a new autonomy deal to the separatists. Furthermore, his concession that

"The restoration of Georgia's traditional borders is an understandable goal for a Georgian leader..."

is much more backhanded than the tone implies, since it is not only the 'traditional' borders Saakashvili is attempting to restore, but the proper, and internationally accepted borders of the modern Georgian state.

To be fair, Dobbs is under few illusions about Russia and its intentions--he does not let Putin and his lackeys off the hook. When it come to US complicity, however, he seems to forget that Georgia is an independent nation--he argues that the US gave mixed signals since we claim not to have encouraged the Georgian offensive in South Ossetia yet have been offering Georgia NATO membership. I am not naive enough to ignore that the offer of NATO membership could, as he stresses, embolden the Georgian government, but the implication of an either/or relationship between those two statements is not as direct or clear as he seems to believe. Finally, he notes that

"It is difficult to explain why Kosovo should have the right to unilaterally declare its independence from Serbia, while the same right should be denied to places such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia."

This is a real issue which deserves an answer--but there are answers out there; I have little confidence that Dobbs has been actively seeking them.

And then, in the final two paragraphs, he abruptly shifts gears to note that our military is stretched to the limit and we have little diplomatic leverage in the world right now. He declares that

"...our ideological ambitions have greatly exceeded our military reach in areas such as the Caucasus, which is of onlhy peripheral importance to the United States but of vital interest to Russia."

So when all is said and done, it boils down to realpolitik and post-Cold War spheres of influence. "Ancient ethnic hatreds" and "complex" local conditions are just so much sand to throw in our faces.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

One Final Salute to the "Finding Karadzic" Blog--a job well done

Since 2004, a poster by the name of "Balkan Ghost" has been doggedly chronicling the ongoing efforts to bring Radovan Karadzic to justice. As we know, recent events have now, thankfully, made this blog an anachronism. I have maintained a link to his blog, Finding Karadzic for quite some time and will continue to do so. Earlier this week, Balkan Ghost announced that he is happily calling it quits on the blog. If you have never checked out his excellent work, it is still up; if nothing else, I encourage you to leave an appreciative comment on his final post.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Hopeful Signs

By now, most of you are already aware that indeed CNN appears to have used footage of a riot in Budapest in its 'coverage' of the evidently none-too-impressive protests over Karadzic's extradition.

No doubt the nationalists, the revisionists, and the apologists see this as yet more proof of a grand conspiracy against the Serbian people; while it no makes such people feel important to imagine that Serbia is the focus of so much effort and energy on the part of a monolithic Western cabal, the real question over here is whether this was an honest mistake by some CNN staffer who simply cannot distinguish one small Balkan and near-Balkan country from another, or whether this is another example of the mass media doctoring the news to make it "sexier".

At any rate, far from being "proof" of an ongoing anti-Serb movement, there is actually a very different, and much more hopeful, lesson to be drawn from this. From the Southest Europe Times come this collection of blog and forum posts from Serbia:
Karadzic's trial: a new chapter for Serbia?

It should be noted that some apologists and revisionists actually used those riots as proof of Serbian determination to resist cooperation with the tribunal, and of ongoing Serbian hostility to what is frequently portrayed as Western aggression. Yet, now those same people will no doubt be claiming that the CNN deception is proof that Serbs are being demonized. Meanwhile, the tempest in a teapot that the Radicals pathetically tried to stir up is another illustration that more and more Serbs are ready and eager to move on from the dead-end politics of the 1980s and 1990s.


Sarah from the wonderful Cafe Turco has a comrade and frequent collaborator from Serbia, Jelena Markovic, whose blog Invisible Sights is absolutely worth your time. As my final parting thoughts before I really leave for vacation, I encourage all of you to check out her site as well. I will be adding it to my blogroll.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Karadzic's "Invisible Advisor"

Can there be any doubt that the "invisible advisor" Karadzic referred to when he first appeared before the tribunal is supposed to be God? Since I am an atheist there is no reason for me to be offended that Karadzic thinks God is in his corner; what irritates me is that this sanctimonious display of piety will most likely move at least a few otherwise disinterested observers. You can always get good press by playing the faith card.

Referring again to my post on Jimmy Carter's interaction with Karadzic, it's worth noting that while Carter went to Bosnia seemingly without having read even the most cursory reports on the situation there, he had somehow stumbled across a quote in which Karadzic claimed that "The Bosnian Serbs have only two friends: God, and the Greeks." Carter noted that "[t]his was a fairly accurate statement at the time we received his letter."

Perhaps the pious peanut farmer will be moved by Karadzic's faith in the Almighty. Personally, I'd want a lawyer.


Not only have I been away from blogging for over a week, but I will not return for at least a week, more likely two--we have a vacation planned and then we are hosting company for a few days. I will keep up on Bosnia-related news as best I can, and if time allows I will try to comment on ongoing events. In the meantime, I encourage all of you to check out the usual suspects--i.e., the blogs and websites I link to, where my comrades do their good work and where I get much of the information I count on.