Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Not enough"

My commentary on Monday's ICJ verdict clearing Serbia of genocide charges will be up on tomorrow; in the meantime, there is a lot of good coverage up on the Byzantine Sacred Art blog.

I did want to share a memory from the war in Sarajevo, concerning some reactions to the verdict coming from Bosnian Muslims. For years, they've been convinced of the righteousness of their cause and their claim before the ICJ. Now that the court has said their "evidence" failed to prove their point, they reject the court itself and once again wallow in the wronged victim mentality.

Well, back in the early 1990s, after Alija Izetbegovic rejected yet another peace plan because it didn't give his regime enough land, a joke appeared in Sarajevo that went something like this:

Mujo and Suljo are sitting down, drinking coffee and smoking in proper silence. At some point, Mujo asks, "Suljo, what do you get when you add one and one?"
Suljo ponders for a moment, sips his coffee, shakes the ashes off the cigarette, and replies,"Two."
Mujo sighs, shakes his head, and says, "Not enough."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"Modern" Morality

Slobodan Antonić writes in Politika (Serbian original here):

... My "favorite" is the argument that says, "This isn't evil; the sooner we realize it's actually appropriate, the better off we will be!" Because, you see, "that's not ours anyway," and "who has ever actually been there," and "only priests and romantics care" and "queues in front of foreign embassies are a much bigger problem" and "they are actually doing us a favor," etc.

But when a NGO elitist says these words, he is really talking about himself. His mouth says "that's not ours anyway," but his eyes are betraying his thoughts: "that's not mine, so I don't care." His mouth says "who has ever actually been there?" but his eyes are going "I have never been there, so why would I care?" His mouth says "only priests and romantics care," his eyes are saying "I hate priests anyway, one church more or less, all the same to me." While his mouth says "queues in front of foreign embassies are a much bigger problem," his eyes are saying "why should I have to wait in those queues because of that damn Kosovo?" He considers it one and the same to "be modern" and "think only of oneself and money," and is now trying to persuade the rest of us that we should also be "modern," so we would feel as good as he does.

The hypocrisy of NGO "modernists," says Antonić, is best tested by the following hypothetical scenario: would they be as willing to give up one of the parking spots reserved for their SUVs, as they are willing to cede Kosovo? Ah, well, that's different, you see...

This is quotable enough, but Antonić offers another great passage in the same article:

Someone once compared the seizure of Kosovo with rape. The rapists are big and strong, the poor girl could get a beating if she resists too much, and maybe it is really better for her to give in. But for crying out loud, how can anyone say on top of that, "Oh be smart! Maybe they are rapists, but they are rich, powerful, you can't risk ruining your future relations with the, so don't dare complain. Think of your future, think of becoming a part of their rich and beautiful society tomorrow. Cry a little, then come back and smile as if nothing happened."

Can it really be like that? As if nothing had happened? Are you serious about the smiling? What if the boys get a desire to have a little bit of fun again? And what could one possibly say about those who jeer at the unfortunate woman, "Come on, sister, don't be conservative, the boys are doing you a favor, you need to be modern, enjoy the sex, and especially when the Big Boss goes on top of you. Then you have to be particularly enthusiastic, groan and sigh and scream - Yes! Yes! More!"

Yes, Big Boss likes to be the ladies' man. But dear Serbia, you don't have to put on an act for him. Cry freely. And most importantly, remember them all, both those who took their turns with you and those who jeered and cheered. Because one day...

Monday, February 05, 2007

Howling Mad

I've been writing columns about the Balkans for almost eight years now, and have always made the utmost effort to document every claim included there. If I recall correctly, my detractors have found only two factual errors in any of my columns. I once wrote that the indictment against Milosevic had been filed by Carla del Ponte (it was Louise Arbour). The other one was when I asserted that modern Croatian arms (chequy gules et argent) were the same as the World War Two arms of the Nazi-allied "Independent State of Croatia" - and an intriguingly well-informed Croat said this was patently false, because the WW2 arms were chequy argent et gules.

Alright, so that second case is more comical than truly illustrative - but the point I was trying to make is that I do my homework. If I am making a claim in any of my articles, I am doing my damnedest to provide some backing to it, preferably a source that can hold up to serious scrutiny, rather than assertions of the "everyone knows" variety. And it is such "history," often quoted in shrill tones by professional [insert ethnicity here] at events and in letters, that annoys me to no end. Worse yet, people spouting such pseudo-historical drivel are deeply convinced of its accuracy and allow that sentiment to pervade their, um, presentation.

Perfectly illustrating the point are letters and responses from Croats following the publication of Julia Gorin's article "When will world confront the undead of Croatia?" in the Baltimore Sun two weeks ago or so. Croats worldwide wrote to the Sun denouncing her piece as "Serbian propaganda" (right, because everything in the world is the fault of Serbs - the sentiment itself proving Julia's point that hatred of Serbs is not a thing of the past). Many wrote to Julia personally, using language so vile I admire her for having the fortitude to preserve the messages and post them online (latest post here, see her blog for more).

Julia Gorin's researched, documented article, could not be challenged factually. Therefore it became the subject of a firestorm of spitting and howling by people who "knew" the "actual truth" and spouted it free of Serbodiabolical constraints of proper English and decency. Even the polite letters were based on premises so ridiculously false, even I had a hard time believing there were folks who actually thought that way. And I'm supposed to be used to all manners of Balkans oddities, having lived there for almost 20 years and written about them since 1999.

Some years ago I would have been tempted to say "Well obviously their problem is ignorance... once they realize their beliefs are false, they would stop hating." Now I know better. Ignorance is the consequence of hatred, not its source. Those Croats who spat on Julia over the Internet, much as those Croats, Muslims, Albanians, or Serbs who have railed at me for years, don't just disagree with the message - they hate the messenger. Just look at the sheer number of hate-mail pointing out Julia is Jewish (thus proving her point even more...).

And it's not just the "uninformed" private citizens doing this. A couple years back, when I published on this blog the results of an ICTY-sponsored inquiry into Bosnian War deaths, a Reuters correspondent tried to discredit the scoop by calling it "reports circulating on Serbian weblogs" and "internet rumours."

Last week I was at the University of Michigan, at a conference about Europe and globalization. One of the panels was dedicated to the future of Kosovo, and it happened to be on the very day Martti Ahtisaari presented his plan to Belgrade and Pristina. I had the dubious pleasure of sitting on the panel with two top Albanian lobbyists in the U.S., who turned the session into their political rally (most of the audience were ethnic Albanians). Nothing I could say to that crowd would have made the slightest difference. All they wanted to know was what the world owed the Albanians for their centuries of suffering under the brutal, fascist, genocidal Serbs, and how dare anyone suggest any of the "history" presented by the lobbyists (or the people from the audience, which was often even more "flavorful") was anything but absolutely accurate?!

And then people wonder why there's hatred and war.