Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [23]

Epilogue 1996: Return to Purgatory

This epilogue was written a few years after the rest of the book; triggered by the end of the war, obviously, but Glenny begins his return with news of the mortar attack of February 5, 1995. Given that the rest of the book came to a close in 1993, quite a bit has happened since then. However, Glenny does not try to summarize the rest of the war. Rather, he picks up where things stand now and takes it from there.

His account of this event was written at the time, and Glenny very explicitly accepts the validity of General Rose's claim that the shell was fired by Bosnian government forces. He does not himself opine one way or the other. He also does not consider the possibility that the incident was simply a statistical probability given that the Bosnian Serbs had lobbed thousands of shells at the city, day in day out, for years.

At any rate, the main result of all this was a new cease-fire, and that both the United States and Russia got more involved. Glenny speaks highly of the unilateral Russian decision to occupy part of Sarajevo to keep the Bosnian government forces in check. Again, the moral and legal ramifications of an international community taking such action against a UN-member state fighting an insurgency are not discussed here. I suspect Glenny doesn't take such issues seriously.

The Russians, he argues, help create a situation in which shelling stops for awhile and Sarajevo becomes almost normal. Of course this situation cannot last, and Glenny himself admits that the cease-fire deteriorates over time and that no progress towards either peace or justice are made. These questions, again, don't seem relevant to him.

Ultimately, he credits the United States and Russia with forcing an alliance of convenience between the Muslims and the Croats in Bosnia. The result of this--and here I think Glenny is absolutely correct--is that Croatia becomes a direct beneficiary of resulting US support. The Bosnian government no longer has the leverage with Washington, even within its' own borders, that it used to.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [22]

Epilogue 1992: The Revenger's Tragedy

This short epilogue to the first edition summarizes the situation in the Balkans in 1992 and the potential for further conflict and instability in the region. One cannot blame Glenny for failing to see the future, but all the same this section is dated and subsequent events largely supplant the concerns articulated here.

In the next post, I will begin reviewing the much longer 1996 Epilogue.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [21]

Chapter 6 [concluded; pp. 223-234]

This chapter concludes with an extended discussion of the Vance-Owen Peace Plan, which Glenny thought quite highly of. He rightly notes that the "Geneva Conference on Yugoslavia took its work extremely seriously" and that both Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen "set about their work with gusto." The complexity of the negotiations, and the multiplicity of parties involved certainly deserves mention. But while doing so, he also includes a footnote [page 224] which contains the following aside:

"In one of of its least inspired appointments, the United Nations named Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the former Polish Prime Minister, head of the commission investigating human rights abuses in the former Yugoslavia. Whoever came up with the bright idea of selecting a leading lay Catholic intellectual for a job which involved talking to the Serbs should mug up on his or her European history."

There is plenty wrong with this statement. To begin with, any pretense at drawing a distinction between individuals with a group identity versus the group as a collective singular seems to have been abandoned; were human rights being committed by individual Serbs, Croats and Moslems, or by "the Serbs", "the Croats" and "the Moslems"?

Secondly, the deference given here to "European history" is the same flawed reasoning which accepted the idea of "ancient hatreds" in the Balkans. Simply because the conflict between Catholicism and Orthodoxy has been a factor in conflict between Croats and Serbs (indeed, crucial to defining these respective groups) it should not automatically follow that the rest of the world is bound to filter all interactions in the Balkans through that confessional filter. Or, indeed, that Serbs and Croats should.

Thirdly, it strikes me as rather counter-productive to imply that the prejudices and bigotries of the most paranoid and xenophobic sectors of one particular group should dictate the personnel involved in an activity related to impartially investigating serious crimes committed by members of several groups including that one.

Finally, there is nothing to suggest that Mazowiecki was particularly unqualified for this job for any other reason than being a Catholic intellectual--and a Catholic from outside the region, from a country with no particular involvement in Balkan matters. Mazowiecki was a poor choice simply for being a Catholic intellectual. It seems telling that Glenny chose to make this aside in a footnote, and that he does not detail why knowing "European history" would enlighten the reader as to why the former Prime Minister was such an affront to "the Serbs."

At any rate, Glenny assures that the Vance-Owen Peace Plan was "an exceptionally good document" which was misunderstood or misrepresented by its critics. His claim that it was never intended to be a final solution to the war but rather a mechanism to end the military conflict seems reasonable--except that he doesn't bother to offer any framework for what a more just and permanent settlement would be, or how one would move on from the terms of Vance-Owen to get there.

Glenny is quick to point out that while the plan didn't give the Bosnian government (whose legitimacy and UN membership he generally ignores or dismisses) the centralized state it wanted, it didn't give the Bosnian Serbs everything they wanted, either. This seemingly fair-minded approach ignores the elephant in the room--the fact that by partitioning the country into ethnic sections and then negotiating over the boundaries between them, the plan already accepted the ethno-nationalist logic the Bosnian Serb campaign was based on, even if it did deny them union with a Greater Serbia and cost them some of "their" territory. (Glenny is mum on the legitimacy of the claims of an avowedly ethno-nationalist entity on formerly multiethnic territory). The Croats did well under the plan--the only criticism Glenny can really muster is that it might have been better to force them to give up some land to "the Moslems" (so much for the Bosnian state) so that there would have been three 'losers' and no clear 'winners.'

At this point, Glenny returns to blaming the West for interfering in Bosnia; this time for not supporting the Presidential candidacy of Panic against Milosevic. Yet at the same time, he argues that naming Milosevic as a war criminal helped him. His victory was considerable, two-to-one in the end, so it's hard to see how Western support for Panic could have swung the result the way he explicitly argues it could have--particularly when Western attacks on Milosevic get blamed for hurting Panic.

At this point, he argues that Milosevic, Tudjman, and the Bosnian Serbs were ready to make peace, and the Izetbegovic government was ready to embrace Vance-Owen because it was their last chance to hold on to anything. And then, Glenny argues, the incoming Clinton administration and other foreign powers ruined everything by undermining Vance-Owen at that very moment. His belief that the plan was actually going to provide a framework which by the warring parties would be willing to settle without any further outside intervention seems pure fantasy, but this is what he argues-even as he goes on to note that the plan helped legitimize Croat control of land which led to an escalation of hostilities between the HOV and the ABiH. It it quite telling that he left this factor out of his earlier discussion of the Croat-Muslim war of 1993 and instead included it here.

This is where Glenny leaves off (there are two epilogues written later which I will review in upcoming posts). The civil war in central Bosnia between Croats and Muslims "proves" that arming the Bosnian government would only make the war worse because they would commit just as many atrocities if given the chance (the difference between the larger war aims of the parties is ignored--Glenny, remember, believes that once started Balkan wars must be allowed to play out following their own sadistic logic).

I was going to conclude my review of this final chapter with some analysis, but I simply don't have the stomach. This is the last actual chapter of the book, and by far the most troubling.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [20]

Chapter 6 [continued--pages 210-223]

Glenny recounts how the expose of concentration camps in Bosnia drove the international community into some kind of action, along with the infamous bread-line massacre of May, 1992. Glenny argues that nobody knows who was responsible for the mortar attack which killed dozens, almost fatalistically dismissing the incident as more grist for competing Serb and Muslim "mythology of war." Given that his account was written in 1993, I can almost forgive him for ignoring the obvious fact that it was the Bosnian Serbs who had been lobbing thousands of rounds of heavy ordnance into the city for the duration, and that mortars are imprecise weapons. Almost, but not quite.

He then moves on to condemn the United Nations for its resolutions on the situation because of the double-standard--while it ordered all outside forces to leave Bosnia, it treated Croat forces differently than Serb forces. He states that the "Croats were not involved in the wholesale slaughter which the Serb forces indulged in. But that is not the point--they were in violation of the UN resolution and, were the Security Council being consistent, should also have had sanctions imposed on them." This concern for the fairness of sanctions in the face of a one-sided war of genocide is another indication that Glenny has walked too far down the road of "fairness" and "balance." His concern for the ordinary people of Bosnia is admirable, and his reaction to the sometimes hysterical and often grossly oversimplified media distortion of the war is not without merits, but by this point in the narrative he has gone too far towards false equivalency. He completely decouples the sordid details of the war from the larger political and military narrative he seemed to grasp quite well in the opening chapters.

I agree with Glenny that the sanctions were ineffective and cruel to the people who deserved them the least. His account of the diplomatic efforts led by Lord Carrington and later Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen betrays more respect for, and faith in, Boutrous Boutrous-Ghali than a contemporary reader blessed with the benefit of hindsight most likely does. Even here, Glenny is able to simultaneously detail how peace talks involved Milosevic (who was able to neuter and get rid of Milan Panic and also keep Dobrica Cosic on a shorter leash) were key at this point, yet at the same time downplaying the role of Serbia in the war.

There are also some swipes at the Germans for taking less of an interest in Bosnia (there is justice in this accusation), as well as more observations that the Muslim-led government was not averse to playing to world opinion and using the victim card to shield military actions. This concern for honesty, integrity and playing by the rules in the face of a war of annihilation seems a serious case of misplaced priorities.

There are other incidents and observations, many of them poignant. Glenny is reported current events by this point, not recounting recent ones or providing interpretation. As noted in a previous post, this means that his interpretive framework is more predominant, and therefore more problematic.

I will consider the final 12 pages of this chapter in the next post.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [19]

Chapter 6 [continued]

Glenny is one among many observers who believes that Germany bears a great deal of responsibility for the Yugoslavia. It should be noted that he qualifies such as moral responsibility rather than direct political responsibility as Diana Johnstone rather clumsily tried to demonstrate (or, more properly, imply). Still, he believes that German recognition of Croatian and Slovenia--and not Bosnia-Hercegovina--damned Bosnia to war. He contrasts the German argument in favor of self-recognition for those two republics with its failure to do the same for Macedonia, concluding that "the German government acted not out of principle but out of self-interest."

This statement seems both obvious and remarkably unfair, given how much of Glenny's book is taken up with a counter-argument to the growing Western narrative which (rightly) pinned most of the blame for the war on the Serbian leadership, often by (wrongly) portraying the war as a primitive struggle between implicitly hostile and incompatible ethnic groups--and he often does so by insisting that there were rational, political calculations behind many of the military actions taken by the JNA, the Bosnian Serb Army, and Serbian paramilitary forces which were too often ignored by outside observers.

Again, this is a fair point but only if Glenny applies it evenly. There is nothing wrong with noting that German diplomacy might have shrouded short-sighted national interest in idealistic rhetoric, or that it might have had unintended consequences which reasonable observers should have anticipated. But once again, Glenny faults others for failing to take Serb actions or concerns into account as if those actions are both inevitable and without agency. In short, Glenny makes Serb nationalist concerns the "default" position which all other actors are expected to adjust to; and Serb political and military actions are reduced to Newtonian reactions to the errors and misjudgments of others.


After this discussion, Glenny moves on to the Croat-Muslim civil war of 1993 and then the concentration camps such as Omarska. Unlike his tendency to blame others for the actions of the Serb leadership (including the use of propaganda to create the climate of fear which he subsequently faults Muslims, Croats, and outsiders for ignoring), there is nothing in this account to give any help to Balkan revisionists. Glenny's account betrays no doubt that, say, the ITN reports were completely accurate and believable. Yet even here, he seems more concerned with the fact that the different sides argued about how many prisoners were actually in those camps than with the fact that they actually existed, and that the Serb-run camps were more systematic and were part and parcel of a broader military strategy rather than merely the sort of grotesque collateral damage one might expect when a vicious ethnic war is fought at the local level.

This chapter has been quite frustrating; for one thing, much of Glenny's account here is second-hand, so while the earlier parts were well worth reading because of his keen reporting, good writing, and undeniably humane identification with the ordinary people caught up in the conflict; here he is more interested in summarizing and interpreting the war for his audience. The nagging doubts the reader might have about his decisions of emphasis and focus are more likely to come to the forefront here.