bosnia report
New Series No. 3 March - May 1998
Misha Glenny and the Balkan Mind
by Attila Hoare

To understand the mistakes of Western policy in Bosnia, it is necessary to understand the mistaken analysis that has underpinned it. In this article, Attila Hoare examines the assumptions of one of the most oft-cited Western commentators.

I last saw Misha Glenny when he was invited to speak at a conference held at the Yale Law School in November 1996 to mark the first anniversary of the Dayton peace accord. Somewhat late, having evidently been well entertained by his hosts, he lumbered into the auditorium to deliver his speech to an assembly most of whose members were concerned with events at Bosnia primarily insofar as they affected the standing of the Clinton Presidency and its foreign policy. Glenny scarcely concealed his contempt for his audience; having apparently taken little trouble to prepare his speech, he addressed them as a bored and malevolent schoolteacher might a class of moronic children, most starkly when, wagging his finger, he declared: 'I'm now going to talk about history. I'm sorry to do this, but I'm afraid I must.'

Glenny has every reason to behave in this manner, for it is his cynicism that has made him such a popular commentator on the war in the former Yugoslavia, appealing to that section of the market for which the intellectual and moral dimensions of the conflict are as much of a distraction as a feminist speech during a strip-tease. It is a cynicism that expresses itself as contempt both for his subject matter and for his readers. His book The Fall of Yugoslavia - the Third Balkan War portrays the peoples of former Yugoslavia as brutal, devi- ous semi-intelligent sub-humans; the term 'Balkan', though encompassing all the peoples of the peninsula from Greece and Turkey to Croatia and Romania, is for him virtually synonymous with dishonesty and irrational savagery. Yugoslavia, he writes, is 'a country where deceit is the most common political currency'; 'there is little permanence in a Balkan alliance'; 'for Balkan politicians, it is axiomatic that the only truth is the lie'; the Serbian attack on Croatia was the product of 'the Balkan mentality'. Glenny writes of 'simple Serb peasants' whose 'discussion around the table was inarticulate'; meeting them, he reports that 'the faces confronting me were those of the peasantry. They were round, wide-eyed with large amounts of roughly trimmed hair - demons with the trigger, but no Einsteins.' One Serb he describes as a 'strange troll'; another 'would startle the cast of an Arnold Schwarzenegger film'; a third is a 'being who had just parachuted in from the set of Night of the Living Dead'. Similarly, the Croats of Herzegovina are 'weird creatures'; it is 'in Herzegovina where the most primitive branches of the Serb and Croat tribes live'. Of Croatia in 1991 he writes that 'its inhabitants thought primarily of guns'. As for Bosnia, it was 'a republic whose inhaÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ bitants were notorious for their indolence' - the 'lazy Bosnian' being a stereotype similar to the 'stupid Pole' or the 'lazy Mexican'. With regard to the Albanians of Kosova, Glenny contemptuously dismisses their entire country: 'There is nothing about this territory to recommend it, except for many of the Albanian intellectuals who live there and some of the little restaurants' - somewhat as a British tourist in Benidorm might say 'Spain is crap'.

If such language effectively militates against any empathy with the former Yugoslavs on the reader's part, Glenny's commentary on Balkan history is equally non-conducive to intellectual understanding of what has befallen them. Exemplary of the superficiality of his historical understanding is an article of his published in the New York Review of Books in September 1996, in which almost every fact adduced is grossly erroneous. Of Ilija Garasanin's 1844 plan for a Greater Serbia, Glenny writes that Garasanin 'wanted to annex Bosnia for one reason: to secure access to the sea and therefore reduce his country's economic dependency on the Austro-Hungarian Empire'. This is wrong on every count. In 1844 Bosnia was a landlocked country separated from the sea by territory that belonged to Austria, at whose expense Garasanin ruled out expansion; he stated, in fact, that Serbia's access to the sea was 'for now possible only via Skadar', in northern Albania. Bosnia was claimed on ethnic not economic grounds. The 'Austro-Hungarian Empire', which Glenny refers to, did not even come into existence until 1867, twenty-three years later. More ignorant still is Glenny's claim that 'the idea of a Greater Croatia, including most or all of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was created primarily to overcome the difficulties in transport and communication that [Croatia] faced owing to its awkward shape.' A more superficial analysis is difficult to imagine, arising as it no doubt did from Glenny simply having looked at a map of the region and concluding that Croatia looked funny and must have done so to the founders of its national movement. In fact Ante StarÑevic and Eugen Kvaternik, the fathers of integral Croat nationalism, conceived of Greater Croatia as including Serbia and Slovenia as well as Bosnia, something that may hardly be explained by a desire for shorter lines of communication. In the same article Glenny extended the scope of his historical exposition beyond the borders of his area of expertise and claimed that it was the expulsion of the German populations of Silesia and the Sudetenland after World War II that '[put] an end to the ideology of Drang nach Osten', a thesis that radically dispenses with the conventional interpretation that Germany's having lost the war might have had something to do with this. In fairness Glenny is no more ignorant than many other journalists, both pro- and anti-Bosnian, who have written on the former Yugoslavia and derived their picture of its history mainly from conversa- tions with people they met there and elsewhere, supplemented by newspaper articles and their own imaginations, He is exceptional, however, in being sufficiently convinced of his own expertise to have announced his intention of writing a 'history of Balkan nationalism'. He is so confident, indeed, that in later editions of The Fall of Yugoslavia he does not even feel the need to correct historical errors pointed out by reviewers of the first edition (such as Yale's Professor Ivo Banac).

Historical Ignorance
The ethnic stereotypes feed the historical ignorance, for if the former Yugoslavs are indeed simply savages prone to mindless violence, the recent war needs no historical explanation. According to Glenny, Bosnia's 'internal stability was invariably guaranteed by an external power which mediated between the three communities (the sublime Porte, Vienna, the inter-war royal dictatorship or Titoism). On the one occasion that this broke down between 1941 and 1945, the results were horrifying: a nationalist, religious war whose violencÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ e surpassed that of all other wartime conflicts in the region.' This remarkable statement ignores the fact that during World War II Bosnia was invaded by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, which had installed fascist puppet-regimes in Zagreb and Belgrade and empowered the Croat Ustashas and Serb Chetniks to carry out genocide against Serbs and against Croats and Muslims respectively. Omitting these insignificant details allows Glenny to portray the extermination of tens of thousands of Bosnians as simply the result of their own inherent viciousness, whose expression was for once not being hindered by foreign powers - as if the organized deportation of Jews and antifascists to German death-camps in Poland were a traditional practice of the Balkan peasant. Similarly, the bloodshed in Bosnia in the 1990s was not at all the result of an organized attack upon the country by its Serbian neighbour, involving units of the Yugoslav People's Army and the paramilitary formations of Arkan and Seselj, all of them based in Ser- bia, Rather, it was the result simply of the Bosnians being Bosnians. One is here reminded of that classic satire of English history 1066 and All That, which ironically summarizes the British textbook view of the 'Zulu War' as follows: 'Cause of war: the Zulus. Zulus exterminated. End of war.' Glenny's explanation of the Bosnian war does not go much beyond this.

Here we come to the nub of the matter, for it is Glenny's depiction of a civil war between three morally equivalent Bosnian factions (Serb, Croat and Muslim) and minimization of the involvement of Belgrade that has made him a favourite of all those, from Lord Owen to the British Socialist Workers Party, who prefer 'impartial' and 'sceptical' journalists to their 'biassed' and 'naive' counterparts sympathetic to the Bosnian cause, such as Ed Vulliamy, Maggie O'Kane and others. Glenny is indeed impartial, insofar as impartiality simply means describing the 'three warring factions' with the same set of negative but not quite damning adjectives - the Serbs, Croats and Muslims have for him behaved in ways that are 'appalling', 'ghastly' or 'dreadful', safely generic terms which may describe a whole range of offenses from genocide to rude graffiti. This technique may satisfy the average Trotskyist or Clinton loyalist, but not those with a more serious interest in the country, including such prominent defenders of a multicultural Bosnia as Ivo Komsic, Ivan Lovrenovic and Marko Vesovic, or the editor of Sarajevo's leading opposition fortnightly Senad Pecanin, all of whom were correspondingly rude to Glenny when they encountered him. For while a Briton abroad may view all natives as wogs, he or she tends to prefer some wogs to others. Glenny's favourites appear to be the Serbs, though his view of them is clouded by his own confused stereotypes. He writes in his book of the Serb nationalists as the injured party in Bosnia following the West's recognition of the country's independence: it was the Karadzic Serbs' 'demand for a political solution which guaranteed the rights that they had fought for in two world wars' which 'was mistakenly ignored'; the 'violation by the Moslems and Croats, as well as by the international community' of their rights was 'at the core of the Serbs' decision to fight' (the reference to 'two world wars' is presumably intended to refurbish the lineage of Radovan Karadzic's politics; its author is surely not thinking of the thousands of Bosnian Serb soldiers who fought in the Austro-Hungarian Army in World War I, or of the Nazi-collaborating Chetniks who massacred thousands of Muslims in World War II). Glenny was equally magnanimous towards Serbian commander Ratko Mladic, of subsequent Srebrenica infamy: 'General Mladic is a single-minded, resolute career officer for whom the Serb-Croat conflict has finally confirmed his crusty analysis of the human condition.'

Bosnian 'Duplicity'
Against his romantic portrayal of Karadzic, Mladic and their supporters taking up arms in ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ defence of their violated rights and in accordance with their 'crusty analysis of the human condition', Glenny is at pains to highlight the Bosnians' duplicity. In his view, the Bosnian leaders 'coaxed their people into a war for which they were criminally unprepared, and at times have both consciously and unconsciously allowed the mass slaughter of their own in the hope of receiving weapons from the West so that they might fulfil their political agenda.' The tangled logic employed here makes this a difficult sentence to translate, but Glenny seems to be saying that the Bosnian government helped to engineer the Serbian attack, its own military defeat and the massacre of its own people, in order morally to blackmail the West into providing the weapons needed to reverse this defeat and establish an independent Bosnia, and that furthermore this Machiavellian policy was being pursued 'both consciously and unconsciously'. Like the accusation that a rape victim in a mini-skirt must have been 'asking for it', this tells us more about the accuser than the accused. UN and EC representatives enjoyed the game of unscrupulous Byzantine diplomacy they played with their Balkan counterparts; and the more they played, the more they needed to project their own deviousness, delusion and paranoia onto their image of the people whose countries they were playing with. When dozens of defenceless Bosnian civilians were killed by a Serbian shell in Sarajevo and shocked observers in the West called for military action in response, UN officials, locked as they were into a kind of collaboration with Serbian forces besieging the city, would reverse reality to present themselves as the innocent victims of a devious Bosnian plot to massacre their own people and thus drag the UN into the war. Of the 'Bread-queue massacre' of Sarajevans by Serbian shelling in May 1992, Glenny writes: 'I imagine that about ten people know the truth of the matter and they are unlikely to tell the story. Or if they did, who would believe them?' It is hard to see what other meaning these two sentences can have, except to imply Bosnian responsibility for the crime, without a shred of evidence. He goes on: 'Wherever they could, the Moslems used the considerable sympathy which they enjoyed in the outside world as a cover to undertake military operations', as if being stereotyped as passive victims turned their very attempts at self-defence into another example of their devious nature. Indeed, Bosnia's ruling Party of Democratic Action (SDA) simply was not 'Balkan nationalist' enough for Glenny's liking: it 'disingenuously leaves the word ''Muslim'' out of its title', he wrote in The New Yorker in May 1995. No doubt the SDA's failure to carry an ethnic label is yet another example of its devious Balkan nature; but Glenny for- gets that SDA politicians do not in fact feel themselves to be 'Muslims' in the national sense, but 'Bosniaks' - a name chosen by vote in the Bosnian parliament in defiance of the wishes of certain British journalists.

Such attempts to depict the Bosnian authorities as devious, while denying the legitimacy of their state, are the counterpart to Glenny's own political agenda, for he has been the most prominent journalistic spokesman for the section of the 'international community' that aimed to conciliate Serbia rather than defend Bosnia, arguing his case as shrilly as any of his counterparts among the pro-Bosnian commentators. Opposing calls from Margaret Thatcher and Robert Dole to lift the arms embargo against Bosnia and assist its government militarily, Glenny wrote in The New York Times in the autumn of 1994 that this would result in 'a complete carving up of Bosnia-Herzegovina between Serbs and Croats; a full-scale Balkan war; dissolution of NATO; collapse of US-Russian cooperation, leading to the throttling of the United Nations Security Council's ability to regulate international crises; [and] re-establishment of the hostile division of Europe.' Hardly the cool commentary of a dispassionate obserÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ver. The irony is that for a man who has been so credited for his 'even-handedness' when it was a question of Serbs, Croats and Muslims, Glenny supported his own country, Great Britain, in every one of its disputes with Germany and the United States during the course of the war, which also meant he always supported policies favourable to Serbia rather than to Croatia or Bosnia. He bitterly and repeatedly condemned the recognition of both Croatian and Bosnian independence, pushed through by Germany and the United States respectively; opposed military action against Serbian-directed forces on every occasion; criticized the Vance-Owen Plan for not giving the Serbs enough territory; and opposed lifting the arms embargo against Bosnia even as he called for an easing of economic sanctions against Serbia.

Serb 'Warrior Consciousness'
The explanation Glenny invariably gave for his stance was that Serbia was capable of a 'ferocious military response' to the slightest recalcitrance on the West's part: the latter had no choice but to dance to Milosevic's tune. In 1991, as the Germans were pushing for recognition of Croatia, Glenny wrote in The New Statesman and Society that they ought to remember what had happened to their Nazi fathers at the battle for Knin during World War II, when they had been defeated with heavy losses. He was attempting to warn the Germans of what had happened to them last time they had messed with the Serbs - Knin being the 'capi- tal' of the Serbian statelet in occupied Croatia in the 1990s. Unfortunately anti-Germanism, historical ignorance and faith in the myth of 'the Serbs' warrior consciousness' do not make for a telling argument: the battle for Knin in late 1944 in fact saw the Germans and Serb Chetniks fighting side by side to defend the town from a force of Partisans that was overwhelmingly Croat; it was a victory of the 'People's Liberation Army of Croatia' over the Germans and Serb nationalists. The Germans, Britain's enemy 'in two world wars', are a particular bugbear for Glenny, as they were for many British commentators on the former Yugoslavia. He attributed Germany's support for the recognition of Slovenian and Croatian independence to the idea that they were its 'regions of traditional interest'; 'natural allies' to which Germany has been connected 'by dint of culture, economics and religion for many centuries'. This, of course, is simple fantasy. Germany has only existed as a unified state since 1871. The German Empire that existed from then until 1918 was ruled by a Protestant Prussian monarchy and landed elite deeply suspicious of the Roman Catholic religion of the Croats and Slovenes, whereas Kaiser Wilhelm favoured good relations with Belgrade. So too did Adolf Hitler, who favoured a united Yugoslavia over an independent Croatia up until March 1941. Following his invasion of the country in April, he made sure Serbia was firmly within the German sphere while Croatia became merely an Italian-German condominium, a buffer zone between the two Axis powers. Meanwhile the Nazis subjected the Slovenes to outright genocide. One imagines even a hardline Serb nationalist might blush at the extent to which Glenny has misdescribed this history.

As the war spread from Croatia to Bosnia, Glenny continued to proclaim loudly the Serbs' invincibility and readiness to fight to the death; their military offensives were always 'ferocious' or 'fearsome'. In February 1994 in the International Herald Tribune he warned that NATO air-strikes would not only be 'a frontal challenge to Russia', but might provoke the Serbs to 'open a new front to the south, in Kosovo or Macedonia' - a highly implausible hypothesis. 'The Serbs will not take air strikes lying down', he wrote; they 'are extremely hostile to the West' and 'will perceive NATO action to be the last straw'. In March 1995, as President Tudjman cancelled the UN mandate in Croatia, Glenny in The London Review of Books scoffed at the idea that Croatia could easily reconquer its Serb-held territoÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ries: 'the Krajina Serbs are no pushover', he said, and would receive military support both from the 'Bosnian Serb Army (BSA)' (as he inaccurately termed the 'Army of the Serb Republic') and from the Yugoslav Army 'which would be forced to come to the Serbs' aid'. 'As far as President Slobodan Milosevic and the Yugoslav Army are concerned', he sternly admonished, 'the Croatian decision to end the mandate is a breach of contract'. In the event, the Croatian offensive against Krajina in August 1995 assumed the appearance of a military parade: the Croatian Army succeeded with minimal losses in achieving all its goals in a mere four days, while the 'fearsome' Serbian commanders appeared concerned solely with evacuating their tanks and artillery from Croatian territory as quickly as possible, their 'warrior consciousness' being more in the tradition of Falstaff than of Prince Lazar. The subsequent NATO air-strikes against Serb forces in Bosnia, far from provoking Belgrade to set the entire Balkans aflame and start World War III, simply forced it to sign the current 'peace-plan' and the Bosnian Serb forces to abandon their stranglehold on Sarajevo. The Russians, needing Western economic support to finance the military onslaught on their own Chechen citizens, lifted not a finger in defence of their Orthodox Slavic brothers, abandoning them as shamelessly as they had in 1812, 1878 and 1941. Glenny appears to have been almost as disconcerted by these events as the Serb nationalists themselves, and began to write of Croatia's President Tudjman with a new-found if grudging respect as 'by far the most skilful politician in the former Yugoslavia'.

Winners and Losers
The Dayton Settlement of November 1995 that ended the war in Bosnia, Glenny wrote in The London Review of Books, marked the fact that 'the Serbs lose' and 'Croatia wins'; Dayton 'screws' the Serbs and Muslims, but Tudjman emerges as victor having achieved his three main goals of securing international recognition and a Serb-free Croatia while preventing the emergence of an independent Bosnia. Once again, Glenny's logic was somewhat - in his sense of the term - 'Balkan'; a more clear-headed observer might have noted that the Serb nationalists in Bosnia had likewise achieved international recognition for their 'Serb Republic' free of Muslims and Croats, while the sabotaging of Bosnian independence was hardly less of a victory for them than it was for Tudjman. Admittedly, the 'Serb Republic' was denied full independence, but it was granted almost complete autonomy with its own army and government, in contrast to Tudjman's pet project, the 'Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna', which was to be dissolved. The settlement, furthermore, left the Serb nationalists in control of two-and-a-half times as much Bosnian territory as their Croat counterparts. Dayton did not, it is true, reverse the exodus of Serbs from Croatia, but nor did it reverse Milosevic's suppression of the autonomy of Kosovo or Vojvodina, being as it was a peace accord pertaining to Bosnia alone rather than to the territory of its neighbours. Glenny's wholly one-sided evaluation of Dayton merely highlighted what Patrick Glynn once wrote of him in the Times Literary Supplement, that he is 'pro-Serb, anti-Croat'. Glenny appeared indignant that Croatia had scored this supposedly great victory without incurring international condemnation; but the years since Dayton have in fact seen Croatia facing increasing international pressure and isolation over its non-compliance with the peace terms, Bosnian Croat war criminals arrested and in one case shot by NATO troops, and Croatian nationalist rhetoric growing increasingly anti-European and anti-American. Tudjman, a man who dreams of digging up the bones of dead Croat Partisans and fascists and mixing them together as a way of 'reconciling them in death', has not been appearing very skilful. But if the de-recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a republic and its partition into two entities, which Dayton effected, do inÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ deed amount to a success for Tudjman's anti-Bosnian politics, then we are faced with a little irony. For only a few months previously, in the New Yorker article cited above, Glenny had himself dismissed the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a Muslim 'parastate', equivalent to the entities carved out of Bosnian territory by Serbian and Croatian forces respectively. Glenny may not much like Croatia and the Croats, but he has always seen eye to eye with their president concerning the supposed unviability and illegitimacy of Bosnian independence and unity. In conclusion, one should give credit where credit is due. Whatever his limita- tions as an expert on South Slav affairs, Misha Glenny does perform one valuable service: he provides his reader with a unique picture of the workings of the so-called 'Balkan' mind.


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