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.

1 comment:

Srebrenica Genocide said...

What strikes me as shocking is that these authors are constantly trying to find a balance and more often than not, they tend to spread them evenly. If everybody is at fault, then nobody is at fault.

The besieged Bosnian cities were bombarded by Yugoslav People's Army and Serb forces. Who killed Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats trapped in these cities under the siege?

Serb Army killed thousands of Bosniaks and Serbs in the besieged cities like Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zenica, Maglaj, Gradacac....