Sunday, February 26, 2012

Week off from blogging

Due to personal factors, I won't be blogging this week. I anticipate returning to the regular schedule next Sunday.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [14]

Chapter 5 [continued]

The next section considers the nationalist character of the Bosnian political system, the organization of major political parties along nationalist/ethnic lines, and the role these factors played in leading the country into war.

In a general way, Glenny is absolutely correct--the major political parties in Bosnia were organized on explicitly national lines, and this was a major obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the breakup of Yugoslavia. But he gets a lot wrong, too--and the manner in which he does so might reveal a shortcoming in his perspective.

Although he acknowledges that Tito played a cynical balancing act by "enforcing communal life on the three communities using repression, and if necessary, violence." Yet he does not dwell at length on the political and constitutional ramifications of this policy, which was carried out in a federation in which nations were the constituent pieces of the polity.

Instead, he blames the "three communities" in Bosnia for creating exclusive national parties, as if this happened in a vacuum--as if the nationalist fervor sweeping all of Yugoslavia wasn't the most salient fact in the creation of political parties in a failing state which regarded the citizen first as a member of an officially recognized nationality. And he ignores that there were other parties not organized along ethnic lines, but the structure of the constitution hampered their ability to attract support.

And finally, he holds the Muslims especially accountable as the SDA was formed before either the Bosnian SDS or the Bosnian branch of the HDZ. This seems to be a very selective use of context and perspective. This would be bad enough if it weren't for the fact that in his discussion of the way political punishment was meted out to individuals of each national group in something not like a quota, he writes this:

"Similarly, if a Moslem fundamentalist were sentenced (as the President Alija Izetbegovic was, following the publication of his theses on an Islamic state), then a Serb and a Croat would soon hear the prison gates closing behind them."

The larger point he is making in the passage that sentence is from--that Tito's tactic was both a gross violation of human rights and ultimately ineffective because it left the wounds of World War II to fester--is not a problem. But anyone who knows the story of the Bosnian War, and of the rhetoric surrounding it, knows that the claim that Izetbegovic was an Islamic fundamentalist is both loaded and very problematic. Surely Glenny knew, even in 1993, that Serb nationalists fanned fears of a bogus Islamist state rising in Bosnia to both radicalize Bosnian Serbs and to justify their campaign to whomever in the international community were willing to buy it. Even if Glenny believes that Izetbegovic was a fundamentalist--again, hardly a point beyond dispute--he had to realize that this bald statement would color readers perceptions.

This tendency to zero in on events in Croatia and Bosnia without considering the larger context continues to be troubling.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [13]

Chapter 5 [continued]

Only a brief post this week; graduate school is a demanding mistress.

Glenny briefly recounts the story of an almost immediately aborted conference of parliamentary parties held in Vojvodina and organized by the Democratic Party of Serbia.

It does not go well, as calls for Albanian and Hungarian translators--it is explained that nobody in the party is able to speak those languages, it isn't a deliberate slight, while they are able to provide Slovenian and Macedonian translators--lead to calls for a Croatian, and then Bosnian, translators as well. Glenny explains that Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians all speak Serbo-Croat so that these "demands" are absurd jingoistic posturing. And he is correct. The conference, of course, is doomed.

In the next section of the chapter, Glenny discusses the ethno-national alignment of Bosnia's politics and political parties, and then the role that foreign recognition played in unleashing war. I will most likely consider the former in the next post, and save the post after that for the former, as this is conviction which I have serious reservations about but wish to consider in depth.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [12]

Chapter 5 [continued]

There is a brief respite in the chapter, during which Glenny visits a pub located at the geographical center of a Yugoslavia which was already breaking apart; named, quite aptly, 'The Centre of Yugoslavia.' The owner tells Glenny that he's not going to change the name because "What else can I call it? The Centre of a Ghost State?"

This anecdote sets the stage for a brief discussion of national identity in Bosnia. Glenny notes that even at this late date, a significant minority still considered themselves Yugoslav; but more depressingly, he also notes that by this point the national designation of 'Bosanci' had died out, replaced first by 'Bosnian Serb', 'Bosnian Croat', and 'Bosnian Moslem*'. Ultimately, the 'Bosnian' prefix was dropped.

What this meant for a viable "Bosnian" national identity was clearly not good. Glenny goes on to explain that Bosnia had never been an independent state since the Middle Ages, and that it's continued existence--and I do give him credit for acknowledging that Bosnia has a long history as a distinct geopolitical entity--it has only been able to survive under the protection of some larger polity--the Ottomans, the Hapsburgs, and Yugoslavia.

He goes on to say that, after the independence of Slovenia and Croatia--he continues to regard Western support for their secession as the primary direct cause of the actual war--Bosnia was left with three choices, none of them good and none of them universally supported. Whether to stay in a truncated Yugoslavia and fight against Serbian hegemony, accept Serbian hegemony under direct control of Belgrade, or declare independence and reap the whirlwind of violence to come--there were no good choices, and none that the country as a whole could rally around.

Glenny's stance here is increasingly troubling--he regards Milosevic as a monster and sympathizes with Bosnia's plight, but he is adamant that nothing could be done by the West. He recognizes the provocations that Belgrade makes but then focuses mostly on the missteps and outrages made by his opponents. Glenny simultaneously says that nothing could be done, yet he assigns blame to the West for supporting Croatia and Slovenia, and to the leadership of those two republics for somehow not placating the same Milosevic whom he has aptly described as a sociopath bent on tyranny.

*I should probably acknowledge that Glenny uses the British 'Moslem' rather than the American 'Muslim' throughout the book. Even though I'm not quoting him directly here, I am paraphrasing his words rather directly and therefore am transcribing his spelling in this case.