Archive for the ‘Bosnia’ Category

Bosnia: A Short History

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

Bosnia: A Short History by Noel Malcolm

Noel Malcolm’s work Bosnia: A Short History is a brief, yet expansive, history of the Eastern European country, inextricably linked with the devastation in the former Yugoslavia. However, Malcolm approaches the region from a much different perspective than many of his contemporary scholars. Malcolm perceives the region not as an inevitable cauldron of political instability and violence, rather as one that was plunged into violence, counter to most of it history. Malcolm’s observations are comprehensive, drawing on all sorts of academic disciplines, like archaeology, to demonstrate his thesis. Ultimately, Malcolm concludes the aggression evident in the region is NOT a result of “ancient, tribal loyalties” but rather as a result of pre-meditated Serbian propaganda and aggression. (more…)

Padriac Kenny’s Carnival of Revolution

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

By Laszlo Taba

Kenney, Padraic. A Carnival of Revolution:  Central Europe 1989 (2002)

                I have been waiting to read A Carnival of Revolution all semester. I read it for another of Dr. Kelly’s classes, and this time around I enjoyed it more and found it more thought provoking than before, especially after all of the readings and class discussions this semester.  I will keep my general comments about the book brief, as everyone in the class has read it.

                Kenney describes the Central European revolutionary movements in an interesting way. Unlike other books discussed this semester (Eastern Europe in Revolution), Kenney does not confine his discussion to top down analyses that focus on elite politics or economies. He approaches the revolutions from the bottom up, on revolutionary movements and even on single individuals.  For instance, in chapter one he introduces Wladyslaw Frasyniuk. Frasyniuk was an important member of Solidarity and played an important role in the revolutionary movement in Poland, but he is not as well known as, say, Pope John Paul II or Ronald Reagan. (more…)

Matt Hobbs – Glenny’s “The Fall of Yugoslavia”

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Trying to conceive of European metropolitan capitals and bucolic rural countryside as the setting for vicious genocide and internecine conflict at the close of the twentieth century can cause cognitive dissidence for those who have seen the Continent in casual tourism. Mental images in collective memory of the world wars leave grainy, black and white images of destruction and physical suffering, safely removed by decades of time. The breakup of the Yugoslav republic in the 1990s, however, challenged these conceptions by throwing stark light onto struggles of incredible violence and ferocity, enacted very publically in a part of the world which, while certainly not Paris is London, was certainly no backwater.


Impending Train Wreck in the Balkans

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Former U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (the man who brokered the Dayton Accords ending the war in Bosnia), has a column in today’s Washington Post in which he describes the impending train wreck in the Balkans.

According to Holbrooke, the nightmare scenario goes like this: The EU-US-Russia working group on Kosovo announces that it has failed to find a solution to the problem of Kosovo’s status. Following that announcement, the elected government of Kosovo will declare independence and be recognized by the US and the EU, but not by either Serbia or Russia. Egged on by the Russians, the Serbian region of Bosnia would then declare it’s independence, thereby abrogating the Dayton Accords and significantly increasing the likelihood of renewed war in Bosnia. And, just for good measure, the Russians will, Holbrooke asserts, use the situation in the Balkans as a precedent for encouraging two regions of the Republic of Georgia to declare their independence, possibly leading to more conflict there.

The losers in this scenario?

  1. Everyone in Bosnia regardless of nation, because none of the three nations of that state stand to gain from the renewal of the war there;
  2. Serbia, because no government in Belgrade can sit on the sidelines while Kosovo declares its independence and war breaks out again in Bosnia. Serbian military (or even logistical) intervention in any subsequent fighting will derail any hope that Serbs have of joining the EU in the next decade or two, leaving Serbia as the potential permanent pariah of Europe;
  3. The EU and the US, because eight years of peacemaking in Kosovo and twelve in Bosnia will have been derailed and NATO will once again be fighting in a war it wants no part of;
  4. The peoples of Georgia who will have to revisit the wars of the early 1990s that left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands as refugees.

The winners? That’s easier–Russia.

I wonder when the Serbs are going to figure out that Russian policy in the Balkans has never been about what is or isn’t good for the Serbs–not in the 19th century, not in the 20th century, and now not in the 21st century. Russian diplomats, whether in 1878, or in 1914, in 1941, or the 1990s, have blustered on about the kinship between the two “Slav brothers”, but when the rubber hit the road, the Russians have left the Serbs high and dry again and again and again.It’s a virtual guarantee that they will do so again in this case.

The Radical Right

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Ramet, Sabrina P., ed. The Radical Right in Central and Eastern Europe Since 1989. Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.

Sabrina Ramet has pulled together a collection of essays discussing the variety of radical right political trends and organizations that have emerged in Central and Eastern Europe since the fall of communism.  This is really a collection of case studies on Central and Eastern European politics post 1989; Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, and Ukraine all receive treatment.  Ramet opens this collection with a chapter that attempts to nail down a definition for the radical right, and the characteristics of this movement.  The difficult nature of this task is demonstrated later as the multiple permutations of radical right politics take shape in the variety of different political, economic, and social settings of Central and Eastern Europe.  Essentially, Ramet takes a definition for organized intolerance (born from cultural irrationalism, intolerance for others, and anti-popular rule) and adds the desire for a return to the traditional values of the Nation/community, and the imposition of these values upon the entire Nation/community (Ramet acknowledges debate on the distinction between radical right and organized intolerance, and several contributors remark on the difficulty of using directionally based linear classifications for political movements.  This becomes evident in the case of Serbia and Hungary where the radical right is used to make the ruling parties appear more moderate). (more…)

Policing in Bosnia

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

Here’s a link to a story in today’s post about the difficulties of running a police force in multi-ethnic and still partially divided Bosnia. The first paragraphs say:

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia — The tip was vague but promising, like so many other recent leads that had failed to pan out.

“One of the accused could be attempting to cross the border near the village of Bratunac” was the message relayed to Dragan Milosevic, chief police investigator in Republika Srpska, the Serb-governed sector of Bosnia. “The accused,” Milosevic recalled in an interview, could have referred only to five Bosnian Serb fugitives charged with committing crimes against humanity during their country’s 1992-95 ethnic civil war.

Milosevic and two dozen of his officers proceeded to the small farming village, where they came upon a sickly-looking man in a baseball cap, walking alone on a dirt road. They recognized him as Zdravko Tolimir, a former Bosnian Serb commander who had allegedly helped lead the massacre of as many as 8,000 Muslim prisoners at Srebrenica in July 1995.

A Review of Bosnia: A Short History, Noel Malcom. -Matt Gravely

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

Noel Malcom’s Bosnia: A Short History traces the complex histories of the Bosnian people and past events throughout this tightly woven narrative. Malcom focuses on the time period starting at 1180 extending through the early-1990s. His argument is that throughout Bosnia’s rich history, many different people have settled on its land. Therefore, to exactly pin down what it means to be Bosnian, Serb, or Croat without resorting to using anachronisms, is much harder than it looks on the surface. Present day Bosnians may be able to trace their heritage back to Slavic, Celtic, Ottoman, Iranian, and Roman populations, just to name a handful.


Betrayed in Bosnia

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

Bosnia and Hercegovina: A Tradition Betrayed

by Robert Donia and Jonh Fine

As the title suggests, Bosnia and Hercegovina have been betrayed, but by whom, or what? The authors, Robert Donia and John Fine posit that Bosnia-Hercegovina was a country or region with a rich, long history of multi-religious and multi-ethnic culture which lived in peaceful cohabitation. They were betrayed not by internal ethnic or religious strife, but by their neighbors, especially the leaders of Croatia and
Serbia in 1990, who sought to further their respective nationalistic causes through a campaign of ethnic and religious hatred.

Donia and Fine argue that the long history of relative peace and cohabitation in Bosnia and Hercegovina existed for several hundred years, if not longer. The authors suggest that religion was not initially an identification of nationality. In fact, they claim that the inhabitants, whether they were Orthodox, Catholic or Muslim, were more intent on adapting to the current rulers by agreeing to change their religious affiliation so they could live in peace such as during the period of the Ottoman reign.  

The centuries of relative peace in Bosnia and Hercegovina were “betrayed” by more recent events, such as the rebirth and mild expansion of the Serbian nation in the 1800s, only to be checked by the Austrian annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1878. Underlying antipathy between Serbia and Austria led to the outbreak of World War I in which Yugoslavia was created. Although hope flickered for a multi-ethnic nation, the flame was snuffed out after Tito’s death in 1980. By the late 1980s, Milosevic and Tudjman were moving to fan the fires of Serbian and Croatian nationalism, respectively. These two leaders did so by misrepresenting history and successfully creating the evil “other” in a effort to unite under a nationalism based on hatred and revenge for wrongs of World War II.

The authors argue that contrary to what Milosevic and the press have characterized as a conflict born of centuries old hatred and religious rivalries, the reality is that the Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslims in Bosnia-Hercegovina had found ways to live peacefully among each other since at least the 14th or 15th century, and have even tried to find a peaceful resolution as the crisis grew in the early 1990s. The authors make an interesting argument that merits some consideration, especially in light of developments after the book was written in April 1994 with respect to the evidence of Milosevic’s war crimes. Donia and Fine’s use of demographic and census data significantly aided their argument for interpreting trends on urban and rural development and for explaining events in the 20th century, especially during the Tito years. Unfortunately for Bosnia-Hercegovina, the country was literally caught in the middle both geographically and philosophically.

Bosnia & Hercegovina – A Tradition Betrayed

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

In 1994, with the ethnic conflicts in Bosnia still raging, two authors and noted scholars of Balkan history, Robert J. Donia and John V.A. Fine, Jr., collaborated to write
Bosnia and Hercegovina, A Tradition Betrayed.

The main contention of the authors is that contemporaries, specifically those in Western Europe and in
America, had mistakenly bought into the nationalist propaganda that Bosnian Serbs, Muslims, and Croats had been at each others collective throats for centuries. The authors insist that the opposite is true; that the recent ethnic warfare is an “historical aberration” in

Part of the misunderstanding they say, was due to simple ignorance. But they believe that for some at least, this line of reasoning was merely a convenient excuse to avoid becoming entangled in a messy situation. As such, the authors had two immediate goals they hoped to accomplish: the first was to provide a truthful and understandable guide for the uninformed, and the second was by curing these outsiders of their ignorance, to remove their excuses for inaction and non-intervention.

Given the circumstances, time was obviously a foremost concern of the authors. And their passion and urgency on the subject is readily apparent.

Chapters 1-4 were written by Donia and cover Medieval Bosnia and most of the Ottoman rule of the territory. In chapters 5-11 Fine covers the end of Ottoman rule, the period of Austrian rule, Royal and then Socialist Yugoslavia, and finally the collapse of
Yugoslavia and the outbreak of war.  

When reading this book, the split from one author to the other is fairly obvious. The first four chapters are not nearly as specific as the rest of the book. There is not a single quote or even a footnote in any of Donia’s chapters. With few exceptions, the author references sources only in the very vaguest terms, usually saying only sources tell us that… without bothering to tell the reader which sources or how to confirm his assertions. This would be surprising enough if the book was intended to simply be an echo of the conventional wisdom of the day. And it is perhaps somewhat understandable given the likely time constraints of the production. But given that Donia’s stated goal is to prove that the conventional wisdom is flat out wrong, that everyone except him and Fine has been lured into a false understanding of the history, it is hard to understand the almost editorial style of the text.


By contrast, Fine’s chapters seem better sourced and less purely argumentative. He provides an informative narrative of how Bosnians went from a largely non-national, religious, and tolerant view of each other to hardened nationalism. The passages on ethnic strife during World War II are especially helpful in understanding this shift.

Bosnia in the news

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

Bosnia has been in the news a fair amount over the past few days and two of the stories attest to the continuing legacies of the wars of the 1990s. The first, from yesterday’s Washington Post is about the attempts by the Bosnia central government to expel from the country foreign fighters (mostly Islamic fighters who came to fight on the side of the Muslim forces during the war) who received citizenship after the war. It’s not clear from the story whether the government in Sarajevo is trying to expel this newish citizens because they are security threats to the state, whether it is because the United States and several European countries want them expelled and the government has a strong interest in good relations with the EU and the US, or because the presence of these men in the country is an ongoing irritant and public relations problem with the population of the Serbian regions of Bosnia.

The second story concerns the problems the continuing nationalist tensions in Bosnia are creating for an attempt to build a major highway from Hungary to the Adriatic via Bosnian territory. Serb-Muslim/Croat tensions over the highway have essentially stalled the project in its tracks with potentially serious economic consequences for all the citizens of Bosnia.

But not all the news is bad. It seems that the population of Tuzla has claimed the world kissing record. So even in a deeply divided society, there is still time for some smooching. According to the city’s mayor, “We cherish the philosophy of love and not hatred. Let the love revolution start from here.”