Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Whose Bosnia ? Nationalism and Political Imagination in the Balkans, 1840-1914

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Review of Whose Bosnia ? Nationalism and Political Imagination in the Balkans, 1840-1914, Edin Hajdarpasic (Ithaca and London: Cornel U.P., 2015; pp. xii + 271. £34.00). Originally published by the English Historical Review.

Although Bosnia-Herzegovina has been the subject of a considerable amount of academic study in the past quarter century, this has been disproportionately focused narrowly on its recent history and politics and contemporary society – since 1992, and particularly since 1995.  Few have been willing to explore the country’s earlier history – for all that the events of the 1990s and after cannot be understood without a proper knowledge and understanding of this earlier history. It is therefore a pleasure to discover Edin Hajdarpasic’s study of nationalist ideas and texts in the period 1840-1914. Through extensive research into texts previously neglected by scholars outside of the former Yugoslavia, and even by many inside it, he provides a wealth of valuable new information. This work is richly illustrated with quotes by Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian authors which any true Bosnia specialist will find fascinating.

The author pertinently compares nationalism in Bosnia-Hercegovina to the popular video game Tetris, in which there is no definite or stable solution, but in which every solution adds a layer while throwing up new gaps that need filling, so that there is ceaseless motion and struggle. He denies that the nationalist imaginations of youth in Bosnia-Hercegovina before 1914 were a ‘ticking time-bomb’ leading teleologically to the Sarajevo assassination, instead repeating a quote from the Italian avant-garde writer Giorgio Manganelli, to describe them as ‘a ticking sound that simulates thought and measures out… hours which still do not exist, which have not yet begun’ (p. 160) – something that will hardly be controversial. Hajdarpasic in general does not give broad, sweeping conclusions; as the author notes, each of the chapters ‘can be read as a thematic essay in itself’ (p. 15), and is likely to provoke most interest for the observations it makes along the road.

This work is essentially an analysis of texts, which are mostly viewed in their own right, with relatively little wider contextualisation – almost as if there were ‘nothing outside the text’, as postmodernists are said to believe. This restricts the scope of the analysis. For example, the author notes that the poem ‘Sad Bosnia’ by Mate Topalovic had immense influence on the discourse of subsequent generations of politically aware South Slavs, in terms of establishing an image of Bosnia-Hercegovina’s suffering under foreign rule – first Ottoman, then Habsburg. This is an important observation. Yet there is almost no evaluation here of whether Bosnia-Hercegovina was indeed ‘sad’; i.e. of how oppressed and suffering or otherwise its population really was. Hajdarpasic discusses at some length the writings of Petar Kocic, a radical agitator on behalf of peasant economic rights and interests in the Austro-Hungarian period. Again, Kocic is a fascinating figure who has been almost wholly neglected by Western scholars of Bosnia, and Hajdarpasic is right to focus on him. But there is almost no actual discussion of what these peasant interests or peasant conditions might have been, or of how valid his ideas consequently were. Hajdarpasic puts forward the interesting thesis that ‘the Habsburg administration played a pivotal role in constructing Bosnian youths as an unstable – and possibly violent – political subject’ (p. 147); in other words, that the imperial regime’s nervous discourse became a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy that culminated in Gavrilo Princip and the Sarajevo assassination. But there is no proper consideration of the political, social or economic factors that might have produced an assassin like Princip, nor of the fact that he was acting as an agent of the Black Hand – an organisation established by army officers in neighbouring Serbia, with very different backgrounds to Princip’s; Dragutin Dimitrijevic-Apis, the mastermind behind the assassination, does not get a mention.

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What historical contextualisation that is given is not always reliable. Thus, Hajdarpasic claims that ‘Ilija Garasanin and Jovan Ristic took great pains to keep Serbia out of any potentially disastrous wars’ (p. 101), which is the opposite of the truth, since it was Ristic who engineered Serbia’s disastrous war with the Ottomans in 1876-77, while Garasanin had been dismissed as prime minister by Prince Mihailo in 1867, precisely because he wanted to drag Serbia into a suicidal war with them. The author claims that in the uprising of 1875-78 ‘no great national movement took place in Bosnia itself’ (p. 106), even though the uprising produced an all-Bosnian rebel assembly and government with concrete national goals. He claims in relation to the uprising that ‘there was no significant mobilisation of South Slavic youth for action in Ottoman Bosnia’, citing the examples of the United Serbian Youth and the Bosnian activist Vaso Pelagic, who he says ‘exercised little influence in his home province after his expulsion from Sarajevo in 1869’ (pp. 133-134). Yet activists of the United Serbian Youth, in particular those grouped around Svetozar Markovic, had been preparing for the uprising in Bosnia since 1871 and actively supported it once it broke out, while Pelagic himself played an active role in it. One of the most vocal supporters of the uprising, Markovic’s friend and follower, the young Nikola Pasic, was hardly an insignificant figure in Serbian history. Even Hajdarpasic’s own reference mentions ‘hundreds’ of Serbian, Croatian and Slovene youth joining the uprising (p. 244). Hajdarpasic cites Slobodan Jovanovic as someone who was ‘not enthused with the exhaltation of heroic action over the seemingly quiet everyday life’ (p. 153). Yet Jovanovic is a bad example, given he was a political ally of Dimitrijevic-Apis – war-monger, adventurer and regicide par excellence – and was subsequently part of the conspiratorial circle that overthrew the Belgrade government in March 1941 to plunge Yugoslavia into war with Germany.

Hajdarpasic has produced a work throwing valuable light on nationalist thinking in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one that will be a resource for all future scholars of the subject. It is to be hoped that the latter will further explore and develop the themes that it raises.

Saturday, 27 June 2020 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arnesa Buljusmic-Kustura’s ‘woke’ excuses for Jeremy Corbyn’s Balkan genocide revisionism

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Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s former leader, is a Balkan genocide revisionist. At the time of the NATO bombing of Ratko Mladic’s Bosnian Serb forces in 1995, shortly after the genocidal Srebrenica massacre, the ‘Committee for Peace in the Balkans’, of which Corbyn was a prominent member, published a statement that failed to condemn the genocide and instead condemned the NATO bombing. It complained that ‘The one-sided nature of NATO’s intervention is breathtaking’ and ‘Bosnian forces were reported by the Dutch UN commander in Srebrenica to have burned 200 Serb villages in the area surrounding the town, with no question of a NATO response.’

The Committee for Peace in the Balkans was co-founded by Corbyn’s close collaborator Diane Abbott and by Sir Alfred Sherman, an advisor to Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who made racist claims of a ‘European Islamistan in Bosnia and a Greater Albania’. The further activities of Corbyn as a member of this group have been documented by the investigative journalist Iggy Ostanin, whose work I draw upon here. This included Corbyn meeting a Serbian diplomat on the eve of NATO’s military intervention in Kosovo, to warn him that ‘exaggerated claims’ of ethnic cleansing would be used as a ‘pretext’ for intervention.

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In 2004, Corbyn signed an early day motion (EDM) in the House of Commons in support of a column by the notorious denier of Milosevic’s crimes, John Pilger. The EDM spoke of ‘fraudulent justifications for intervening in a “genocide” that never really existed in Kosovo’ and claimed that ‘the final count of bodies found in Kosovo’s “mass graves” was 2,788.’

Somewhat later, in 2014, Corbyn published an article in the Morning Star, endorsing the analysis of the NATO intervention made by Noam Chomsky, a notorious denier of the Srebrenica genocide. Corbyn wrote: ‘Not long after this the war in former Yugoslavia and the atrocities at Srebrenica enabled Nato to supplant the UN forces and become embroiled in a 78-day bombardment of Serbia. At the end of that conflict, in 2001, Noam Chomsky analysed the whole war and concluded that the real “winners” were Western arms manufacturers and that “the US was able to enforce its domination over the strategic Balkans region, displacing EU initiatives at least temporarily, a primary reason for the insistence that the operation be in the hands of Nato, a US subsidiary.”’

Sad though it is to say, a Bosnian activist in the UK, Arnesa Buljusmic-Kustura, who describes herself as an ‘analyst’, ‘researcher’ and ‘lecturer on genocide and fascism’, with over 32,000 Twitter followers and who serves as Operations Manager for Remembering Srebrenica, has repeatedly tweeted in defence of Corbyn in relation to former Yugoslavia; either defending him or making excuses for him. Buljusmic-Kustura was a strong supporter of Corbyn’s campaign to become prime minister of the UK, and she also speaks and writes against genocide denial. Her contortions are what happens when someone attempts to reconcile opposition to genocide denial with radical ‘woke’ politics.

Initially, she claimed there was no evidence that Corbyn was a Bosnian genocide denier, and that the accusations against him were a ‘useful tool’ of the Tories:

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Acknowledging that Corbyn had signed the EDM in relation to Kosovo in 2004, and that it endorsed the ‘notorious genocide denier’ John Pilger and that this deserved to be criticised, she nevertheless attempted to mitigate his action by claiming that the EDM ‘focuses more on the human cost of intervention rather than downplaying the war crimes committed by Serbian forces‘ (to recap: the EDM spoke of ‘a “genocide” that never really existed” and claimed that the ‘the final count of bodies found in Kosovo’s “mass graves” was 2,788’).
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She also tried to claim that any conflation of his stances on Bosnia and on Kosovo was simply a ‘propaganda tool’ – as if his positions on the two conflicts had been different – and that anyway Britain in general had a bad position, so his own position was unexceptional:
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Following Corbyn’s defeat in the UK general election in 2019, she continued to defend him from the charge of Bosnian genocide denial. She claimed that accusations of his genocide denial were part of a right-wing attempt to manipulate Bosnians and ‘well-meaning liberals’ against him:

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Next, when more evidence of his record was pointed out to her, she claimed it arose from ‘misplaced idealistic leftism’ and that it was really about being ‘critical of the NATO bombing’, and that Corbyn was too unimportant at the time to matter anyway. She also shifted from defending him from ‘genocide denial’ to defending him from ‘outright genocide denial’ – a significant moving of the goalposts:

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Finally admitting that he had taken a ‘bad line’ on Bosnia, she nevertheless put it down to ‘an attempt to criticize the NATO bombings’, but emphasised her common ground with him regarding criticism of those bombings.

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Further excuses offered for Corbyn’s stance was that it simply reflected the stance of the mainstream media and UN, that he was too unimportant at the time to matter anyway, and that people should be angry with the Tories instead:
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Other mitigating factors proffered were that Corbyn had not written the EDM, merely signed it, and that it anyway only related to Kosovo, not to Bosnia:

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Truly disappointing that anyone claiming to be an expert on, and opponent of, Balkan genocide denial should try so hard to shield someone like Corbyn from fully justified condemnation. When someone’s extreme-left politics and opposition to genocide denial cannot be reconciled, it is almost always the extreme leftism that comes out on top.

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Pic: For the woke, any misdemeanour can be overlooked…

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, 13 June 2020 Posted by | Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 7 Comments