Monday, May 28, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [18]

Chapter 6: June 1992-June 1993: Beyond Hades

Glenny starts this chapter off by noting that for much of the modern era, warfare in the Balkans has involved a high level of violence against civilians; "ethnic cleansing" was not new to the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. This is  an absolutely true observation. He also argues against the perception "that these are wars fuelled by 'ancient hatreds', as the British Prime Minister, John Major, has characterized them." He argues that the international community crudely explained the wars as the product of inherent barbarism on the part of the participants, and that the Serbs have been portrayed as bloodthirsty primitives for whom the killing of civilians was the ends, not the means. This is also a true observation. As he puts it:

Our understanding of the war in BiH has, regrettably, been clouded by the level of suffering and the tendency of many witnesses to confuse the moral questions raised by the conflict with the political issues which caused it.

Glenny is raising an important point here; however, his application of this reasonable observation to the facts at hand is problematic, because he makes another distinction--and does so far too absolutely. His effort to explain the underlying demographic, historical, political and social tensions underlying the Yugoslav wars go too far; he draws the demarcation between those factors on he one side and the political manipulation of those fears by nationalist politicians and leaders too firmly. To be asked to completely separate the viciously racist rhetoric of the SDS from the understandable fears of the Bosnian Serb minority is going a step too far.

Granted, Glenny wrote this book in 1993. But he seems more interested in correcting Western misconceptions and media generalizations than in coming to any workable political solution to the fighting. Indeed, Glenny has already stated that once war in the Balkans has started, it must be allowed to run its course. Moreover, he seems loathe to blame the aggressors for much of anything other than excessive use of paramilitary violence. He seems to want it both ways--to argue that the source of the violence in Bosnia was political not social or cultural (I agree), yet at the same time to argue against any ultimate political culpability on the part of the primary aggressors. Needless to say, I do not agree with that.

I will directly address this concern in my next post.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [17]

Chapter 5 [conclusion]

The final nine pages of this chapter do not add much--in terms of analysis--to what has come before, although it must be noted that Glenny always writes well and demonstrates a genuine concern for ordinary Bosnians of all nationalities. One point he does make--nationalist violence in Bosnia has historically been stirred up by outside powers (competing empires and nations; in this case Croatia and Serbia); he also states that once nationalist violence has been stirred up it takes outside intervention to separate the warring parties and enforce peace. Considering that the only example he gives is World War II (in which the "outside intervention" was provided by the Communist Yugoslav government for which many Bosnians of all nationalities fought), it's problematic to make such a blanket statement. But we can forgive Glenny for this generalization, since his larger point is to emphasize that international involvement will be necessary to help enforce a stable lasting peace after the fighting is over.

But that raises another issue--Glenny's opposition to international involvement to end the fighting, which he does not address here but which is a matter of record. This chapter ends with a glum, fatalistic portrait of a completely broken country in which the state and civil society have simply ceased to function, and a modern capital city now resembles a morbid set from a post-apocalyptic movie. He believes that nothing can stop the fighting, and so therefore nobody should try. It's a tragic story he tells, but it is unclear what the reader is to learn from it. 


This (finally!) concludes my summation/review of Chapter 5; there is one chapter and two Epilogues to go.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [16]

Chapter 5 [continued]

(Picking up where I left off...)

It is true that Izetbegovic was careless when he led Bosnia towards independence without making preparations for war. Yet Glenny throws far too much of the blame at the feet of the Bosniak President. Furthermore, Glenny simultaneously acknowledges that Bosnia's tripartite Presidency was an "absurd fiction", yet criticizes Izetbegovic and the international community for ignoring the Serb demands to continue it, describing them as "both just and reasonable."

It is not clear why he regards those demands as "just and reasonable." It is hard to ignore the feeling that Glenny has either not thought deeply about the ramifications of the ethnic-identity basis of the constitutional system, or he accepts it as the best system for Bosnia.

There is a disconnect in Glenny's account between "the Serbs" and the actual actions of the Bosnian Serb leadership; in his account, there is a clear line between the "just and reasonable" demands of an ethnic group versus the morally reprehensible actions of the political and military actors acting on behalf of that group.

And when the war finally breaks out, he continues to focus on the mistakes and strategic missteps of Izetbegovic, as if the forces arrayed against him are anonymous forces of nature rather than military and paramilitary units operating under political, ideological, and military direction. Glenny does not dignify the demands and concerns of the Bosnian Serbs, but he does seem to regard them as the "baseline" upon which the political calculations of others must be based. This might have been strategically wise given the political and military realities, but Glenny presents this point of view as a moral imperative, not a strategic necessity.

Glenny certainly is not blind to the war crimes committed by Serb forces; nor is he wrong to point out that there were a multitude of factors leading up to the war. But he has an unfortunate tendency to segregate a discussion of the legitimacy of Serb concerns and fears from the political and social dynamics which fueled and harnessed those societal factors. This is tricky terrain, because I truly appreciate Glenny's concern for the ordinary Serbs who were caught up in the maelstrom which was not of their own making. The grotesque media narrative about primitive, bloodthirsty Serbs was not a delusion of his--far too much reportage turned the war into a simple morality tale, with all Serbs cast as villains.

But it's hard to know what to make of a passage like this:

The case of the Serbs has often been misrepresented and their genuine fears and concerns dismissed when they should not have been. But the behaviour of Karadzic, the Arkanovci and other paramilitary groups, and the JNA in Bosnia-Hercegovina destroyed their reputation abroad. No injustice had been perpetrated against the Serbs of Bosnia or of Serbia to justify this rape of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

One has to ask--in Glenny's opinion, what level of violence and depravity was justified? I recognize that is not what he means to say--the man is far too decent and humane to contemplate any sort of blood libel against anyone. But the implicit logic of this chapter seems to be heading towards such an ugly question. You can only blame the victim for stumbling into war for so long before your outrage at the excessive violence he then suffers seems to be beside the point.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Protest Letter Regarding Genocide Denier Michael Parenti

[Thanks to the Congress of North American Bosniaks for this Press Release, Following is the text of an open letter; the original is here.]

Dr. Sharat G. Lin
President San Jose Peace and Justice Center
48 South 7th Street, Suite 101
San Jose, CA 95112

Protest letter on behalf of Congress of North American Bosniaks (CNAB), representing the interests of Bosnian American and Bosnian Canadian citizens, the Institute for Research Genocide, Canada (IGC), the Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina (ACBH), Bosnian American Genocide Institute and Education Center (BAGI) as well as the Institute for Research of Crimes Against Humanity and International Law, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bosniak Cultural Association, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Dear Dr. Lin,

On behalf of survivors of the Genocide that took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), we are deeply concerned with your decision to host Dr. Michael Parenti as a guest speaker for the May 31st fundraiser.[i] Dr. Parenti, a self-proclaimed “Balkan Revisionist” and author of To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia explicitly denies that genocide, systematic rape of women and girls and ethnic cleansing ever took place in BiH.

Dr. Parenti places the blame on Bosniaks for the Genocide in Srebrenica and other massacres that took place throughout the war of aggression on BiH. As a result of his denial, Dr. Parenti has publicly disregarded that approximately 50,000 Bosniak women were raped during the three year war of aggression on BiH.

The rapes were in fact used as an official Serb policy for ethnic cleansing. To this day, his outrageous claims have not been supported by internationally accepted evidence but only by other genocide deniers. His conspiracy theories are in direct conflict with the official rulings by the International Court of Justice, the International War Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, as well as various declarations from the United States Congress and the European Parliament. We acknowledge the importance of freedom of speech, however, falsifying facts and denying genocide is unacceptable and deeply traumatic for the survivors and their families who continue to suffer due to the physical and emotional trauma they underwent. Hundreds of thousands of Bosniaks who survived the genocide in BiH have made the United States and Canada their second home; most of them having lost someone as a result of genocide and aggression. Dr. Parenti uses his writing to purposely hurt those who have survived genocide, and having him attend this event will send the wrong message to all genocide survivors. In addition, it will send a message that San Jose Peace and Justice Center supports Parenti’s genocide denial. We hope that you will agree that having Dr. Parenti speak would be highly inappropriate and contrary to the mission of your organization which strives to promote peace and justice.

All genocide deniers directly undermine peace and justice because the only way to peace and reconciliation is to acknowledge the truth and punish those responsible. Dr. Parenti’s work and constant expression of denial is damaging to the healing process of the survivors of the genocide in BiH and we urge you to stand up for justice and truth and reject all affiliation with Dr. Parenti and his work.


Haris Alibasic,
MPA President, Congress of North American Bosniaks (CNAB)

Professor Emir Ramic
Director, Institute for Research Genocide, Canada

Ajla Delkic, M.A. Executive Director, Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina (ACBH)

Dr. Smail Cekic Director,
Institute for Research of Crimes Against Humanity and International Law, University of Sarajevo

Dr. Senadin Lavic President, Bosniak Cultural Association “Renaissance”, Sarajevo

Sanja Seferovic-Drnovsek, J.D., MEd
Director, Bosnian American Genocide Institute and Education Center