Thursday, July 31, 2008

Guest Blog: Balkan Reality

By M Hristov

I found an old photo recently. Three girls sitting on a lawn in front of a grand country house. It is 1986 and shoulder pads, big hair and coloured tights are all in evidence. The house is my ancestral home and the girls are my sister and two of her friends. They are all at a prestigious international school. The Prince of Orange (Crown Prince of The Netherlands) is a classmate. They are part of a week long house party.

How very Edwardian, you may think. How very 1913 and how extraordinarily old fashioned. Well, yes. How irrelevant to today’s world. 1913 was the year before the Great War, whereas 1986 was the dawn of Francis Fukyama’s “End of History“? The start of the triumph of western liberalism. The beginning of the end for communism. Surely, the girls in the 1986 photo must all have lived happily ever after.

It started well enough. My sister and one of her friends go and stay in the friend’s home town a few months later. They have innocent adventures, such as getting ‘trapped’ in a cable car. They laugh about it. My sister’s friend even suggests that my sister buy property in the home town. How very 1990s and how unlike 1913. The name of the home town? It was Sarajevo.

Now we move forward a few years. My sister’s friend, a totally westernised nominally Muslim girl, has got fed up with running through “snipers alley”, under fire from the hills. She has got herself pregnant by a Serb Doctor and is leaving on an aeroplane to Serbia. She is last heard of in the Serb countryside. Her final telephone call to my sister relates two facts. She is finding it hard to get milk for the baby and the Serbs are resentful of a Muslim girl working in their factory. Then silence. Silence which has never been broken.

My mother is standing in a cemetery in Zagreb. It is near the end of the Serb - Croatian War. She has joined her Croatian friends in the weekly trek to the cemetery. She is consoling them whilst they complain how changed their husbands are, because of fighting at the front. Does my mother think of my sister’s friend to whom she offered sanctuary to so long ago, when the war in Sarajevo started? An offer which was politely refused.

The wars in Yugoslavia are over and I am standing in the hills above my mother-in-law’s country house, about one hour from Sofia, Bulgaria. It is the summer after Clinton and Blair bombed Serbia and Autumn is early that year. A fact that is attributed, by the locals, to the bombing in nearby Serbia. I wonder if my Orthodox in-laws are capable of finding my sister’s friend. Or is it too late?

There is no happy ending to this story, for this is real life. No miraculous discovery and tearful reunion. Just a slow forgetting and a memory jogged by a photo. Ostensibly so different from those photos of country house parties in 1913 but similar in one respect. The horror of war was shortly to affect one member of the group in that photo.

The “End of History” was an illusion shattered long before 9/11. The U.S. had seemed to be in touching distance of it but, in truth, they were no nearer it than any other nation in history.

I am reminded of the final paragraphs in “The Great Gatsby”. That American hero had thought he would capture his great love, Daisy but the narrator sees this quest as the illusion it was fated to be. He writes as follows :-

“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

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If you would like to write a guest blog for publication, please do email it to me. Maximum 750 words.

16 comments:

Alcuin said...

Thank you, Ian, for that story - one of a great many, I expect. There is nothing else to say.

Londoner said...

I got about 40% through this before I realised it was a guest column. Imagine as my mild surprise at your "ancestral home" gradually transformed itself into increasing mystification that we had never before been told of this exotic past...and then I saw the byline.

A powerful piece nonetheless.

I think the moral is that when things seem finest (whether personally or in terms of ones country, political leanings, whatever) you never know what might be around the corner. This should not be a recipe for depression but rather one for appreciating good fortune when you have it.

Anonymous said...

"The wars in Yugoslavia are over"

No they're not. Merely suppressed while the illegal Nato invaders maintain their illegitimate occupation.

GC said...

M Hristov - did you go to Atlantic College or one of the UWCs as well?

neil craig said...

While the "end of histroy" was very silly phrase the NATO powers did have a chance to end mlitary conflict between nations in Europe. All they had to do was uphold the rule of law by keeping their Helsinki Treaty promise to "take no action against the territorial integrity or unity" of other European countries including Yugoslavia.

Instead, partly to satisfy the demands of a reunited & aggressive Germany & partly to "prove" that capitalism was triumphant, they sided with western funded (ex-)Nazis publicly committed to genocide (Tudjman of Croatia, Izetbegovic of Moslem Bosnia & the even more obscene KLA) to tear the country apart, not even on ethnic lines but according to lines on the map drawn by the Holy Roman & Ottoman Emperors.

There is no question whatsoever that western leaders, including John Major, knew perfectly well that by "recognising" the Nazi regimes they were starting a war of genocide, because this is what every independent Balkan expert told them.

Karadzic certainly didn't start the war. The Moslem Nazis to a large extent did> They certainly fired the first shots, against a Serbian wedding party, but the EU knowingly & deliberately placed the bomb & lit the fuse.

In 1918 the Bosnian question was considered settled for all time. It far less settled now since it is obvious the "the nation of Bosnia & Hercegovina" is no such thing. Indeed NATO, by imprisoning Fikret Abdic, the only Moslem leader not publicly committed to genocide, for the "war crime" of opposing al Quaeda's press gang, when they were our friends & generally running its war crimes "trials" as blatantly racist show trials, is, presumably deliberately, preventing any healing.

The guilty should indeed be brought to justice. Karadzic, who was the lawful President of Bosnia under their rotating presidency, when we recognised the illegal Moslem Nazi regime, is not among them.

The rest of the world knows perfectly well what happened. Unlike us they do not have to rely on the BBC for "news". Consequently they cannot trust our governments ever to keep their word or indeed respect the rule of law, precisely because of the genocide we committed in Yugoslavia. That will not change untol we bring our own criminals to justice.

Martin said...

Anonymous: Well said. I'm fed up of British soldiers being sent off to get killed for people whom I really couldn't care less about.

As the bumper sticker says "f**k them all, let god sort them out"

Anonymous said...

Well said Neil Craig.

There are no perfectly bad or perfectly good parties in the Balkans but I have long thought Serbia to be more wronged than in the wrong.

If only in the 1990's we had had a British PM who knew and was interested in just a little bit of history and was aware of the complexity it all.

Instead we had that shallow ignorant fool Blair easily bounced by the EU plus that equally ignorant clot Bush

these two banal twerps with their puerile inability to recognise reality have landed the West in the greatsesty geopolitical error of the last century ie Iraq .

Serbia and the Balkans , a completely unresolved set of problems no matter how much the banal ones might try to insist otherwise , ditto.

Anonymous said...

Neil Craig - I don't really agree with much you have written.

Yugoslavia was unstable. It was historically held together by Tito - and the power of the Serbs was balanced by the disproportionate advancement of non-Serbs into positions of power.

With Tito's death, the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of Serbian nationalism - Yugoslavia was doomed.

Slovenia, Croatia and the Muslim population of Bosnia would have declared independence regardless of European support. The nationalist movements were rising and wish for self-determination was powerful.

The lines on the map you claim were the driving force are the same lines that led Milosevic to fight a civil-war in Kosovo.

Labelling the nationalist movements in Croatia and Bosnia as Nazi is unhelpful. The alignment of the nations during the second world war is of little relevance today.

I agree that the media over-simplified the war and looked to demonise the Serb leadership whilst overlooking the crimes of the nationalist movements. But Karadzic, regardless of position, has blood on his hands, as does Mladic - and they both deserve to face justice.

Politics of the war aside - I very much enjoyed this guest blog. The human tragedy should never be forgotten. Unfortunately I do not believe that the wars were preventable.

David said...

Neil Craig: spot on. Anon 6:44. Naive to say the least. Of course Karadzic has blood on his hands. It was a nasty civil war after all. But if he is a war criminal, what does that make Blair?

judith said...

Thank you for that post, M Hristov. I have always found your comments very intelligent and worthwhile reading.

Yak40 said...

anonymous 6:40pm

Clinton was US president who pushed NATO bombers into the former Yugoslavia, I'm still unsure why - what the REAL reason was and why Serbia was forced to sign the Rambouillet Accords with the secret attachments ?
Rescuing various people from historic enemies was just an excuse.

M. Hristov's story is heartbreaking and of course just one of thousands I'm sure.

M. Hristov said...

You will excuse me, gc, if I do not respond to your question. I have tried hard to make it difficult to identify the central subject of this tragedy for obvious reasons. I could be criticised for the inclusion of The Prince of Orange but I wanted to illustrate the fact that war impoverishes formerly privileged persons, such as those who were at school with Royalty.

It would be naive to imagine that there will never be another war in the countries which formed Yugoslavia and/or the Balkans but peace has been imposed and is being held by a promise of further EU enlargement. I suspect that M. Sarkozy will block that enlargement and that this will cause a major problem.

In any case, the “glory days” of the EU would seem to be over. Membership may not be so inviting in future, not least because the EU is becoming unmanageable.

It would be stupid to imagine that the Blair/Clinton response to the push for a Greater Serbia was motivated by misguided morality. It is much more likely that it was motivated by fear of a general Balkan war, which would drag in Turkey and Greece.

Blair’s identification with the KLA was distasteful but he soon had to go back on his hubris when the KLA invaded Macedonia. That invasion was stopped very quickly, as it threatened to spark a general Balkan war which would spread to Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. A NATO civil war (between Turkey and Greece) would have been a real disaster, whereas a Yugoslavian civil war was a sideshow until it threatened to spread over the region.

The removal of Kosovo from Serbia could be interpreted as an attempt to permanently weaken Serbia and make the dream of a Greater Serbia unreachable. Blair and Bush (and Clinton) have no conception of the history of Alsace-Lorraine the provinces that “ping ponged” between Germany and France in the 19th century creating a reason for two wars that engulfed us all.

Isaac Foot said...

I'd just like to thank Mr Hristov for a beautifully written and deeply reflective piece - and Iain for hosting it. Such a contrast with so much that appears on (other!) blogs and in comments.

Anonymous said...

Yak40 said...

"what the REAL reason was ...?"

The dribbling inadequates of the press went into propaganda overdrive to convince everyone that the evil Serbs had launched an unprovoked aggression against the poor little Moslems. This was long before the West had woken up to the reality of the Islamic war against the West.

The war criminals leading the West thought they could get some good publicity by illegally bombing the Serbs; no ground troops would be required; the Muslim world would gratefully respond by shunning the terrorists bombing Western assets and therefore the West would be safer; everyone would be happy (except the Serbs). That all worked out well then.

It is now clear that Radovan Karadzic should be President of Europe. We don't need traitors and quislings leading us. We need someone who will protect us.

(And what Neil Craig said is right.)

Anonymous said...

judith said...

"Thank you for that post, M Hristov. I have always found your comments very intelligent and worthwhile reading."

So you keep saying Judith. It's your little weakness.

Neil Craig said...

Anon 6.44 you make your case without hysteria, which puts you several steps up from our media but I will still disagree.

Perhaps Yugoslavia was unstable but not necessarily noreso than Turkey, Spain, the USA or indeed our own UK. All countries have centrifugal & centripetal forces & more often than not they hold together. The speedy rise of the parties of Tudjamn, Izetbegovic & of the KLA strongly points to western funding & arming of them being the deciding factor.

The fall of the Soviet Union, with which Yugoslavia was more enemy than ally, should not have influenced her fate if the NATO powers had not decided that that fall gave them an chance for aggression & worse.

However had Slovenia, Croatia & the Moslem majority areas of Bosnia & Hercegovins chosen independence I would have had no objection & it could have been done as peacefully as the break up of Czechoslovakia. The reason for the war & genocide was that we insisted that they not only had the right to separationn but had the right to seize areas which had a Serb majority & didn't want to go. Particularly bearing in mind the sort of people we had as allies this mini-imperialism was bound to start a genocidal war.

My personal opinion is that left to themsleves it is unlikely that there was a majority in Bosnia's Moslem areas for the sort of Caliphate of Sarajevo that would have resulted, certainly Bihac's Moslems were opposed to seccession & have since suffered for it. The culturally Italian "Croats" of Dalmatia might not have chosen union with the Austro-Hungarian Croats of Zagreb.

You have a fair point that a division on ethnic lines would have meant a separate Kosovo. There are 3 weaknesses to this argument:

1) The Albanian majority is of recent origin & largely formed by immigration. The precedent established here should mean independence of San Diego & fairly soon, of London.

2) We ourselves had made the priciple illigetimate by our wars against Krajina & Republica Srpska on precisely this issue.

3) Kosovo itself was not uniformly Albanian. Indeed until NATO moved the KLA in & the "cleansing" started under our rule, only about half of Kosovo had an Albanian majority. I could accept the legitimacy of that bit seceding as part of a general settlement based on historical ethnicity.

We have supported the seccession of Slovenia, Croatia & B&H on the grounds that we honestly believe seccession is a good thing, opposed seccession for Krajina & Republica Srpska (indeed actively participated in genocide in Krajina) on the grounds that we honestly believe seccession should not be allowed, supported seccession in Kossovo (& again participated in genocide) on the first principle & opposed the division of Kosovo on the second. No wonder the world can't trust us.

I called the Croatian & Bosnian Moslem leaders "(ex-)Nazis". Considering that they both served Hitler, were unrepentent about it, & were publicly committed to genocide I think I was being, if anything, overly kind to our allies, "unhelpful" though it may have been.

While the term "blood on their hands" can not, with certainty, be denied by anybody involved in any war, including ourselves even in WW2, I doubt very much if Karadzic & Mladic compare with their enemies or indeed the western governments that supported them. Certainly in 4 1/2 years of "trial" no such evidence could be produced against Milosevic. Equally, while unreported by the western media, it is undeniable that the primary (quite possibly only but certainly primary) genocide at Srebernica was of about 3,800 Serb men women & children in surrounding villages murdered by the Moslem forces under Nasir Oric & THAT THIS WAS DONE AFTER THEY WERE OFFICIALLY DISARMED BY & UNDER THE PROTECTION OF NATO "PEACEKEEPRS" WHO HAD TURNED IT INTO A "SAFE AREA". That we have been complicit in KLA genocide, child sex enslavement & dissections to sell body organs under our authority in Kosovo is also undeniable. indeed our media do not deny it they merely keep silent about it.

If Karadzic had been selling body parts to our hospitals I assure you I would consider hanging to good.