bosnia report
New Series No: 23/24/25 June - October 2001
Jacques, Zivko and the reality of fascism
by Semezdin Mehmedinovic

The ‘Balkans’ or ‘Balkanization’ are terms that have come to be used of late in the Western world when any form of primitivism needs to be named. This, of course, is arrogant and provokes anger in any rational person. But today I read a text in which the term ‘Balkanization’ was used correctly, in the sense that it does approximately describe the condition of the Balkans over the past decade. That is to say, one of the most respected daily newspapers in America, the LA Times, was on the brink of disaster. According to its new editor, this had happened because certain departments of the paper had been seriously neglected; section editors were bullying their subordinates; editorial teams were in such conflict with one another that they were operating almost independently; acclaimed journalists were leaving; readers’ interest was in rapid decline - ‘a real Balkanization of the paper had occurred’, claims the editor.

He is suggesting, in other words, that events in the Balkans are not an isolated phenomenon, or something predetermined by mental outlook, culture or nationality. It is interesting that in relation to the recent events in Banja Luka and Trebinje, in relation to that notorious manifestation of fascism, it was foreigners who behaved in a most ‘Balkan’ way. Jacques Klein drew a comparison between the stoning of a group of elderly worshippers in the town from which they had been expelled (and they were stoned precisely so that it should never even cross their minds to return) and the demonstrations outside the World Bank and the IMF building. After all that has happened, he claims that crime and violence in Bosnia are below the level recorded in the countries of Western Europe. And as for the bomb thrown at the house of a returnee in Janja - the day after the mass stoning in Banja Luka, to which he himself was incidentally exposed - he claims that, according to his sources of information, this was an incident to which no significance should be attached: some kid, he says, was playing with a grenade, accidentally pulled out the pin, then got scared and accidentally threw it away and by chance it fell on a house belonging to a Bosniak who had just returned to his home. In other words, Klein brazenly obscures the truth just as SDS officials did in their heyday, which goes to prove that even today (though some, to be sure, are already at The Hague, while others are still fugitives) they are the rulers of that reality.

For the fascism revealed during the demonstrations in Banja Luka and Trebinje, these representatives of the international community blame - Radovan Karadzic. Whether he was guilty or not, this looks like a clear sign that this fugitive’s days of hiding out in Bosnian lairs are numbered. When that happens, he will answer in a courtroom for having spared no means - i.e. having killed, raped and torched - to draw the borders of the mono-national community officially called Republika Srpska. The paradox is this: he will answer for the killing, the raping and the torching, but this will not call into question the idea or the goal for which he committed those crimes. In other words, Republika Srpska.

Symbols against bombs

From this point begins the ‘Balkanization’ (as the editor of the LA Times defines the term) of Bosnia, which doubtless represents one of the most absurd stories in the rich history of states on this sad Earth. The current Bosnian president [Zivko Radisic] is perhaps a unique example in his (presidential) species, in that he sees his political task - which he approaches with deadly seriousness - as opposition to the country he leads, with its disappearance (or partial disappearance: along the line of its inter-entity border) implied as his ultimate political goal. Faced with this Ketman[sham] the representatives of the international organisations in Bosnia-Herzegovina are keeping both eyes tightly shut. Before every disaster - and the history of Dayton Bosnia is a series of disasters - that occurs in the blocked communication between the two entities, the ‘foreigners’ distance themselves, since they are there only to instruct, to help with advice. And this would be all right if it was done in a consistent way. But all those OHR’s, those UN missions, all those people sitting in their leather armchairs, are capriciously reticent in their explanations as to what they are actually doing here and how influential they really are. For, as we know, they are not always a ‘civic association’ with an advisory function: sometimes they are an executive power, which rightly sends a military force to the Hercegovacka Banka, in order to prevent the direct activity against the vital interests of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina of some Ante Jelavic. But when Zivko Radisic, an elderly man without complete control over his own words, says that Republika Srpska and Bosnia-Herzegovina are both legitimate states, apparently this is not subversion of the vital interests of the state whose president he is. Speaking in the metaphors of Jacques Klein, this is just a child playing with a grenade: a typical incident to which no significance should be attached. And when the Bosnian ambassador to Australia, a certain Davidovic, at the launch there of a paper for emigrants presents himself as the ambassador of Republika Srpska, while on the same occasion extolling the Nacertanije [project of re-creating the mediaeval Serbian empire, drafted in 1844 by Ilija Garasanin] as a transcendental document of glorious national awareness, then this is not subversion of the vital interests of the state, but something that ‘you locals’ should settle, isn’t it?

From this relationship between the representatives of the international community and Bosnian reality, a wrong conclusion might be drawn: that they all stand behind some predetermined scenario, in which they make precise moves ‘devised in the world’s chancelleries’. This is not true, which is the point of their ultimate ‘Balkanization’. And so - embarking on a ‘risky’ action in order to justify their political existence, counting (as they like to put it)on the ‘symbolic’ meaning of the gesture - they initiated the laying of the foundation stone for the restoration of the destroyed Ferhadija. Even in linguistic terms this action collapsed: before the truck filled with explosives that was needed to demolish the mosque, a symbol is a mere poetic figure. Caught out by the collapse of their own ‘symbolic’ notion, they strove hardest to cover up the event itself; and Klein (Klein, again!)was delighted with the proposal of the B-H president to place the responsibility for reconstructing mosques in the hands of UNESCO, which as we know has a developed strategy for protecting cultural monuments! Following this logic of forgetting the crime, UNESCO should send to Banja Luka - as security while reconstructing the mosque - some SFOR of its own, perhaps recruited from UNICEF: and those children should counter the Sarovic-Jugend [Sarovic, from Karadzic’s SDS, is the current president of RS].

Phantom as excuse

Though I cannot quite believe that such a suggestion - to move crime from the political to the cultural field, to ‘humanize’ it with culture - I cannot believe, I say, that such a suggestion came out of Zivko’s head. It is a calculated idea reminiscent of Karadzic, whom ‘the foreigners’ blame as the key culprit for the ‘latest incidents’. For they need someone to blame who will not cast doubt on their accusation, and he is perhaps the first of this kind who comes into their heads, in their haste and fear of suddenly losing their salaries. There is a photograph published on the front page of Oslobodjenje during the first months of the war. It shows a burnt-out building, over which a thick pall of smoke has created an image of the hirsute Radovan Karadzic. Those who still remember the war will remember that photograph, which in a simple way - reduced to a grapheme - pointed to the concrete origin of evil. From the day that photograph was taken until today, in essence nothing has changed in Bosnia. Except the road Radovan Karadzic has travelled from the concrete criminal to that smoky ghost in the photograph from Oslobodjenje, a phantom who is not there to scare others, but to be used as an excuse. When that excuse has been removed, a new one will very quickly be found.

Semezdin Mehmedinoviƒ, one of Bosnia’s foremost younger prewar poets, is the author of Sarajevo Blues (English edition San Francisco 1998). This text is translated from Dani (Sarajevo), 18 May 2001.


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