Saturday, August 29, 2009

"Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict" from Greenhaven Press [4]

Chapter 2: Is Ethnic Violence Ever Justified?

And then the wheels come off...

As in Chapter 1, there are five "pro" essays ('Yes: Ethnic Violence is Justified') and five "con" essays('No: Ethnic Conflict is Not Justified'); these are rather stark choices and the criteria seems rather open-ended. Considering that the essays in Chapter 1 wrestled with some fairly nuanced concepts, the reader cannot help but be disappointed by the crudeness of this rhetorical framework. The mere inclusion of an essay within the "pro" or "anti" section will be an editorial statement of sorts; what choices did the editors make?

Well, the very first essay gets us off to a depressing start: "Ethnic Warfare in the Former Yugoslavia Protects Serbs" by Momcilo Selic, an essay which manages to cover quite a few of the typical justifications trotted out by the fascist apologists--a smattering of history, a studied ignorance of Belgrade's role in fueling and harnessing the violence and instability in the region, frequent noting of the "Muslimness" of the Bosniaks and the obligatory the-Croats-were-fascist-in-World-War-Two "context," and so forth. It's what one would expect from an essay with such a dubious title, and it does not fail to deliver.

The next essay? "Bosnian Muslims Have the Right to Use Violence" by Muhamed Sacirbey. Yes, it has already come to this--both Selic and Sacirbey are essentially arguing self-defense as "ethnic violence," and the fact that the editors include these two essays together without editorial judgment or explanatory commentary is a powerful "commentary" itself. The reader must decide for him or herself who to believe here; most likely, the editors prefer us to believe neither. This is a masterpiece of "both sides were at fault" argument without explicitly saying so.

The company Selic and Sacirbey are keeping makes it difficult to conclude otherwise--"Violence Against Israel Is Justified to Free Palestine" by a member of Hamas; "Violence by the Irish Republican Army Is Justified" by an anonymous member of the Provo IRA; and finally "Violence Is Justified to Protect the Purity of the White Race" by some white supremacist neo-Nazi scumbag. The final word from the "pro" camp is by an avowedly racist anti-Semite who rants against the "Zionist Occupational Government" and white men who commit "race treason." This, the editors seem to feel, is the rhetorical level that Bosnia's ambassador to the United Nations fits in with.

This is all the more maddening when one reads the title of the first essay in the "con" section: "Serbs Have Committed Heinous War Crimes" by Lawrence S. Eagleburger. This is somehow an argument against...what, exactly? Is Eagleburger asserting something Sacirbey did not?

And the next essay is "Mass Rapes Committed by Serbs Are War Crimes" which, again, hardly seems to be "about" anything unless one wishes to state, for the record, that the mass rape of women because of their ethnicity is wrong. Not a brave, or particularly controversial, stance.

It is impossible to untangle the editorial decisions guiding this chapter; unless, as I stated, one sadly concludes that the editors both bemoaned the violence engulfing Bosnia at the time of publication, and steadfastly refused to see through the cloud of "ethnic conflict" they failed to adequately define or analyze.

Monday, August 24, 2009

"Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict" from Greenhaven Press [3]

Chapter 1: Is Nationalism Beneficial?

This chapter is evenly split--five 'pro' articles and five 'con.' One implicit theme in this section is the ambiguity not only of how we define nationalism, but also whether or not there are different types of nationalism. In general, it seems that the writers in the 'pro' camp believe that there can be positive, even liberal, strains of inclusive nationalism, or that nationalism can be a positive oppositional ideology for an oppressed or disenfranchised group--even as they acknowledge the possibility that nationalism can have negative and destructive consequences.

On the other hand, the 'con' writers seem to recognize only the most negative, xenophobic, and reactionary forms of nationalism; there seems to be little room for a concept of liberal nationalism in the essay by Ernest Erber, which concludes with this paragraph:

"AS we come to the end of the 20th century, the democratic left should see the nation-state, separatist self-determination and nationalism as road blocks to the progress, if not the survival, of humanity. We should begin with fierce opposition to all forms of nationalism--theory, doctrine, politics, and movement. It has outlived whatever usefulness it had and, like an unburied corpse, its continued presence contaminates the body politic wherever it is tolerated."

This seems to be a progressive and enlightened statement of cosmopolitan inclusiveness; but the harsh realities of the world as it is have a way of throwing ideological certainties out of whack. While I may hope for a world without borders, that hopeful future is some distance away and in the meantime the nation-state--hopefully increasingly bound by an international body of law intended to hold states responsible for the human rights of its citizens--remains the least-worst socio-political entity we've managed to successfully implement. The proper purpose of the state is to defend the economic interests of the citizens of the polity, to defend and respect their human rights, their property rights, and so on. The nation-state is not perfect, and the "nation" like all conceptions of human groupings is limited and far from universal; but it is far superior to any tribal notions of defining 'us versus them', nor does nationalism need to be as reductive as any purely ethnic or 'racial' definitions of inclusiveness.

Considering the totalitarian aspects of most universal social conceptions (whether religion or Communism), the nation-state is about the best we've been able to come up with so far. Once considered against the imperfect reality of the human condition today, Erber's uncompromising stance begins to look less like staunch idealism and more like unforgiving dogma.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Washington Post Story on Bosnia Crisis

Old Troubles Threaten Again in Bosnia

The good news, I guess, is that at least a major newspaper is keeping Bosnia in the public eye.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict" from Greenhaven Press [2]

The Introduction starts us off on a good note; the first sentence of the second paragraph at least acknowledges that ethnic violence is not some purely organic element of certain uncivilized societies, but rather something which must be prodded and nurtured by political, military, social, and media elites.

"Today, many extremist right-wing leaders and politicians, bent on building or keeping political power, spout Hitler-like propaganda to fan ethnic hatred and violence and to blame minorities for domestic problems."

But while the editor's critique of the phenomena of ethnic violence seems sound, I am concerned that they saw nothing else in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia but ethnic violence. They do not spell this out--I am inferring from the choices made for inclusion, as well as the framing thematic questions for each chapter. However, the closing paragraph of this short Introduction contains this chilling statement:

"Ethnic conflicts or wars are never completely resolved unless they end in genocide. Ethnic hatreds thus tend to simmer, often ready to erupt when demagogues preach racist lies."

There are many possible political solutions to ethnic conflicts which are conceivable if one accepts this logic; it is also true that there are certain political solutions which are essentially dismissed if one accepts such logic. We shall see where this volume takes us.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict" from Greenhaven Press [1]

In 1994, as part of its ongoing "Current Controversies" series, Greenhaven Press brought out a volume of essays and articles under the title Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict.

The Foreward stated:

"The purpose of the Current Controversies series is to explore many of the social, political, and economic controversies dominating the national and international scenes today. Titles selected for inclusion in the series are highly focused and specific."

This is true; the series included other titles as specific as "Police Brutality" and "The AIDS Crisis." The editors also promised that the contemporary material would be supplemented with historical documents and other data, in an effort to ensure that the volume would not quickly go out of date but would rather provide a useful research tool for years to come.

This was an admirable project (and Greenhaven continues to produce several series along the same lines to this day), and one can only applaud their commitment to help readers to "sort through the plethora of opinions accompanying today's major issues, and to draw one's own conclusions".

But in the case of Bosnia, and the Yugoslav wars in general, this is a problem, because as we know there is a concerted campaign of distortion regarding the historical record, and a great deal of confusion--some of it honest, some of it contrived--surrounding the entire period. Unfortunately, there is not a "Bosnia consensus", not to the degree that there is about many other conflicts and historical events.

Therefore, it will be interesting to see how the editors dealt with this particular issue; given the publication date, there is little surprise that Bosnia took up much of the attention in this volume.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Short Note on Editorial Policy

After thinking long and hard about it (seriously--these comments have been sitting in my "Dashboard" for about two months now) I deleted, rather than publish, two comments from the same Anonymous reader, both of which were in response to my post on Bosnia being shut out of the EU Visa regime while Serbia was allowed in.

The comments weren't particularly vile (although the passing comment that the genocide in Rwanda was a "real" genocide suggests that the author has, shall we say, strong biases at odd with reality), but neither were they insightful, or mindful of the context of the issue.

I have stated in the past that I will approve just about any comment (the moderation was simply to weed out spam) and so I had a hard time bringing myself to reject these comments, since the language was rather tame and there were no overt expressions of hatred or racism. However, the internet is a big place, and anybody is free to start their own blog expressing whatever ill-formed opinions they hold. I have come to the conclusion that I am under no obligation to treat all opinions equally, and from now on I will delete comments I find to be ignorant, ill-formed, or just plain stupid, and I will do so without apology.


On another note, I do expect this blog to start getting busier any day now. I plan to start another chapter-by-chapter book review, and the previously mentioned Bosnia bibliography has not been forgotten.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Greek journalist sued for writing about the presence of Greek paramilitaries in Bosnia

With the kind permission of Daniel Toljaga, I am republishing the following interview which was originally posted on the official website of The Congress of North American Bosniaks. Thanks to Daniel for permission to republish his excellent--if disturbing--interview. This story merits continued scrutiny.


On 27 July 2009 Mr. Stavros Vitalis, representing the Panhellenic Macedonian Front, filed a libel suit against the acclaimed journalist Mr. Takis Michas, best known for his authorship of the book “Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic’s Serbia.” He is suing the journalist for describing- in the daily “Eleftherotypia” - Greek mercenaries as “paramilitaries who took part in the slaughter in Srebrenica.”

Mr. Vitalis is one of the leading Greek volunteers who have admitted taking part in the Srebrenica genocide. But, that’s not how he sees it.

In a statement distributed to the media, he claimed that the Greek volunteers who fought in Bosnia under the command of General Mladic were there in order to help the Serbs “who were being slaughtered by international gangs that were also stealing their houses, their country and their dignity.”

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Mr. Michas, thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview. To begin with, what is the Panhellenic Macedonian Front that has filed this suit against you through its representative Mr. Vitalis?

TAKIS MICHAS: It is a Greek nationalist political organization which also includes socialists and conservative former politicians. Up until now its central campaign theme has been its advocacy of the view that Macedonia along with everything related to it (history, symbols, etc.) is exclusively Greek.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: What exactly does Mr. Vitalis hope to achieve with this lawsuit?

TAKIS MICHAS: Bearing in mind that Karadzic’s trial will also be taking place next year, what they will be hoping is to create an alternative debate in which the substance of what happened at Srebrenica will be called into question. In other words, while the world is trying the war crimes perpetrated at Srebrenica, in Greece they will be putting the critics of the war crimes at Srebrenica on trial!

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Do you have any comments about the lawsuit and the press statements Mr. Vitalis has made?

TAKIS MICHAS: Yes. First of all Mr. Vitalis explicitly admits that Greeks (i.e. himself) took part in the planning and execution of the Serb “re-occupation” (as he calls it) of Srebrenica. As he says in his press statement “I was present with a group of senior Serb officers in all the operations for the re-occupation of Srebrenica by the Serbs”.

Secondly, Mr Vitalis admits that the recruitment of Greek volunteers for the war against the legitimate government of Bosnia took place with the implicit approval of the leading Greek politicians Andreas Papandreou and (to a lesser extent) Constantine Mitsotakis. As he puts it:

“The whole of Greece knows that the Greek volunteers had the broad support of Greek society as a whole as well as the support of politicians, mainly belonging to PASOK, because of the warm friendship between Andreas Papandreou and Radovan Karadzic. They also enjoyed the support of New Democracy, through the friendly diplomatic initiatives of Constantine Mitsotakis.”

This reinforces the point I have repeatedly made, namely that Greek support for the Serb war effort was not only moral, economic, diplomatic and political but also military.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Was Mr. Vitalis present during and after the fall of Srebrenica when Greek paramilitaries hoisted the Greek flag over the town?

TAKIS MICHAS: Well in his own statement he said that together with high ranking Serb officers he took part in all the operations that dealt with the “reoccupation” (as he calls it) of Srebrenica. Now as to whether he was physically present in the hoisting of the flag this is something that only Mr. Mladic knows (and perhaps Mr. Karadzic)!

DANIEL TOLJAGA: It is interesting that he publicly admitted being present himself “in all the military operations” related to the “re-occupation” of Srebrenica. Do you have any idea why Mr. Vitalis has not been investigated for possible war crimes?

TAKIS MICHAS: Because, as I have shown in my book, in Greece Serb actions during the war in Bosnia are not regarded as “crimes” but as “heroic deeds”. This applies to Srebrenica as well. No Greek government has made any statement at any time during the last 15 years explicitly condemning the killings at Srebrenica - this is a unique state of affairs for a European country.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: In the words of U.N. Judge Theodor Meron, who served as the President of the ICTY, Serbs - and I quote - “targeted for extinction the forty thousand Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica.” In your opinion, is Mr. Vitalis fully aware that the military operations he took part in resulted in the summary killings of more than 8,000 and the ethnic cleansing of approximately 30,000 people in July 1995? Is he aware that he took part in genocide?

TAKIS MICHAS: According to his own admissions, yes. However, just like Holocaust deniers, these people refuse to accept that mass killings took place in Srebrenica.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Your book revealed for the first time the presence of Greek paramilitaries in Bosnia. Why has Mr. Vitalis waited so many years since the publication of your book to file a suit?

TAKIS MICHAS: This is an interesting question. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that as I have hinted in other articles I am now in possession of confidential diplomatic documents that show the Greek authorities for the first time admitting the presence of Greek paramilitaries in Bosnia. Possibly they think that by putting pressure on me now they will prevent me publishing these documents. But this of course is only one explanation. There may be others.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Mr. Vitalis has claimed that the operations of the Greek volunteers “were widely endorsed by Greek society because of the warm friendship that existed between Andreas Papandreou and Radovan Karadzic.” To what extent did this friendship suggest that the government may have been involved?

TAKIS MICHAS: Obviously it involves government in the sense of knowing, tolerating and endorsing the open recruitment of Greek citizens with the aim of fighting against the legally recognized government of Bosnia. It certainly implicates the government of PASOK under Andreas Papandreou.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: I remember, and you also referred to this in your book, that leading Greek judges had publicly refused to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Considering that your right to a fair trial may be seriously impaired by the extreme ultranationalist atmosphere in Greece and the fact that Mr. Vitalis has announced that he plans to call leading Greek nationalist politicians as witnesses, I would like to know whether you intend to seek support from prominent international organizations that specialize in the protection of journalistic freedom?

TAKIS MICHAS: I will certainly be trying to spread the word. Judging from the lawsuit they have filed against me, I guess that from now on they will also be making the glorification of the Serb war effort in Bosnia one of their campaign themes.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Are you worried about the forthcoming trial?

TAKIS MICHAS: In any other European country this lawsuit would have been thrown out of court. But as I have said repeatedly Greece is not a normal European country. Given the spirit of extreme nationalism that permeates the country and the fact that Karadzic and Mladic are venerated as saints by the majority of the public and the political class, I have every reason to feel worried.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Thank you for taking part in this interview. We will be keeping a close eye on the progress of your case.