Monday, October 03, 2005

Could Genocide in the Former Yugoslavia be Avoided?



This week's blog topic is on the question of whether genocide in the former Yugoslavia could have been avoided. We have two guest bloggers, Belma H, and Noor M. The blog below is presented by Belma H.

The topic is still inflamatory amongst the different ethnic groups: Serbs, Croats, and Muslims. If you ask any particular group, they will probably have their own version of events and responsbility. Dr. D.

The genocide in the former Yugoslavia could have been avoided if people who had no reason to begin killing another group of people had not decided to do so. People often refer to the genocide in the former Yugoslavia as a civil war: a conflict that involved two different sides with conflicting and equally violent views. However, I believe that the genocide was anything but a civil war. The genocide mistakenly referred to as a civil war was an ethnic cleansing, and it was a successful attempt at almost completely wiping out anyone who was not a Serb.

The ethnic cleansing that took place in the former Yugoslavia involved the continual murder, rape, massacre, mutilation, torture, and banishment of all non-Serbs.A civil war implies dual conflict that arises on both sides, a conflict in which both sides want their view pushed onto the other side's. In the situation of the former Yugoslavia, the Serbs were the ones who worked to systematically destroy all non-Serbs in their country, a tactic very often compared to the one of Hitler. Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Serbia, Radovan Karadzic, the former president of the Serbian party in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Ratko Mladic, the Cetnik troop leader, and many others, continually ordered the murders, torture, abuse, rape, and destruction of over 250,000 people. Many political analysts who discuss the conflict in the former Yugoslavia label it as a civil war, blaming religious and ethnic differences among people as the reason for this so called war. However, the ethnic cleansing-which took place in the former Yugoslavia-is anything but a mere conflict among different religious groups.

This conflict-which resulted in massive bloodshed-was a conflict that Muslims never wanted to fight. Once the Muslims were forced to enter into it (for purposes of defending their lives and the lives of their loved ones), they were not on equal terms. The Bosnian forces did not have nearly even close to the manpower that the Serbian forces had, and the Bosnian forces did not have nearly as much ammunition as that of the Serbian forces who used it against the innocent people of Bosnia, in cities such as Sarajevo, Mostar, Banja Luka, Visoko, Srebrenica, Jajce, etc.

The Muslims were also not prepared to fight for a land which they felt could, and had been shared by so many different religions and ethnicities until the point when the Serbs decided to ethnically cleanse it.My own father expressed great sadness when speaking about his friends who practiced other religious faiths, as he now felt separate and different from them, as a result of being banished from Bosnia, for fear of losing his life because of his religion. Before the war, religion was honored and respected, regardless of who represented which faith. My father said that he would visit his friends on religious holidays, and that he would attend church services on holidays such as Easter and Christmas, as a sign of respect and cultural interest, while his friends would attend mosque sermons and take part in our family reunions and feasts on holidays such as Eid and Kurban-Bayram, celebrations in the Muslim faith.

Before the conflict began, differences in culture were celebrated, and my father looks back to those days sadly, saying that he does not think our country will ever be able to go back to this way of life.The idea of a long existing, boiling hatred among Serbs, Croats, and Muslims is a complete myth because the former Yugoslavia has a rich history of peaceful diversity among people of various religions and ethnicities, people who coexisted peacefully and successfully for hundreds of years.

The president of the Serbian Democratic Party in Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic, assisted former Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic--who is often referred to as the Butcher of the Balkans--in the killing of thousands of Muslims and Croats all over Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Serbia. One of Milosevic's military advisors, Arkan, was the head of a Serbian army troop called the Cetniks, a group which specialized in brutal body mutilations in the rural areas of Bosnia and Croatia during the ethnic cleansing. The Cetniks were responsible for the worst massacres and body mutilations that took place in Srebrenica during the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, as well as in the outskirts of many small towns in the former Yugoslavia, such as Jajce and Vukovar.

Similarly, in his article depicting accounts of survivors of the Omarska Serbian concentration camp, Edward Vulliamy writes about a man named Alic, who had survived through concentration camps during World War II, and lived to compare the atrocities carried out by Hitler to those carried out by Milosevic.Alic had been interned in 1943 and 1945 [during World War II], 'but this camp [Serbian concentration camp in Omarska] was unimaginable.' There were beatings on the way to and from the toilet every day. The names of those selected for torture were called out 'every night and every day...They would bring them back and throw them into the room, and there were people who never came back.' As every witness says, Omarska's great hangar was like a battery farm of bloodied humans. Men on stairways, men in corridors, men living atop lockers and tables for months on end. Explaining why it took a man called Jasko Hric so long to cross a room and reach his executioner waiting at the doorway, one witness said: 'You could not put your foot down without treading on someone's foot, hand, or head.' What has emerged is among the most grueling portraits of a European concentration camp, echoing themes of the Nazi Holocaust (Vulliamy).One cannot help but notice the striking resemblance between accounts of people who were forced into Nazi concentration camps, and people like Alic, who were forced into Serbian concentration camps in places like Omarska, Vukovar, Jajce, etc.

These accounts are brutal, sickening stories of horror and terror, and after hearing about them, one wonders how it is possible that the people who ordered and carried out such crimes can remain free, without undergoing trial, and without experiencing any consequences for the actions which they committed. One also wonders what leads people to disrupt a country whose sole existence promoted unity, peace, and co-existence among different groups of people. What leads a man to hate the neighbor who he had hugged the day before, the neighbor who he had often referred to as his brother? What lead my own neighbor to stow away boxes upon boxes of hatchets, knives, machetes, ice picks, screwdrivers, and other tools intended for torture, massacre, and body mutilation of my neighbors, and me: a seven-year-old girl who played with her friends and Barbies on the sidewalk? Belma H.


The Yugoslavian genocide could have been avoided, By Noor M.

To ask if the genocide that occurred in the Former Yugoslavia could have been avoided is a loaded question. Can man overcome emotions like greed, hatred and vengeance? Can people belonging to rival countries/ethnicities/cultures forget years of enmity and violence? Can all opportunists turn into philanthropists? While the answer to these questions in theory could be yes, the grave reality of our world proves otherwise. I believe that the political leaders of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia played an instrumental role in the genocide. However, I also believe that the circumstances in that region during that time period were a strong catalyst for the same. I think, to name the Serbs in Bosnia and Serbia or the Croats in Croatia as mass murderers without considering the political, historical and economic circumstances is a simplified way of looking at the genocide that occurred there. I will proceed to bring some of these circumstances to light so that a better understanding of the cause of the genocide can be reached. This is turn will help us answer the initial question: Could the genocide in the former Yugoslavia have been prevented?
When the history of the Balkans is examined, we note that ethnic cleansing is not a new phenomenon in that region. Even if we examine the history of only this century we will see how this region not only played a crucial role in the two world wars but that there were profound divisions between the various ethnic groups that resided there. The event that triggered off World War I was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand who controlled Bosnia then. At the end of World War I, the treaty of Versailles separated the South Slav lands from their aggressors (Austrians, Hungarians and the Ottoman Turks). However, the people living in this region had differences between them based on ethnicity, religion, or simply history. They spoke different dialects and had never lived in a common state prior to 1918. Croat nationalists felt oppressed in this state and organized the assassination of King Alexander. During World War II, after Hitler took over Yugoslavia he created a Croatian state under Ante Pavelic, leader of the Ustashi (Croatian fascists); the leaders of this state massacred Jews, Serbs and Gypsies in Krajina and Bosnia. Serb nationalists also retaliated in kind and killed Croats and Bosnian Muslims (who mostly sided with the Croats). Extremism on both sides almost exterminated the idea of a united Yugoslavia towards the end of the war.
However, when Tito came to power in 1945, he revitalized this same ideal of a “multinational socialist state.” He divided the country into six national republics and gave these republics artificial sovereignty. It is important to note that the tensions that had historically existed between the Serbs, Croats and Muslims were never discussed and cleared out. A Yugoslavian identity was given to people that had for years identified themselves as Serbs, Muslims or Croats. Moreover, there was a gap between rhetoric and action in Tito’s government. On paper the republics were not national territories and all ethnicities had equal rights. However, in reality Tito’s divisional tactics with the Serbs and the Croatian movement in 1972 had already put the Serbs on an alert. The fact that the republics were defined on the basis of religion and ethnicity also played an important role in the rise of nationalism after Tito’s death in 1980. While the political leaders of the republics used nationalism to remain in power after Tito’s death, the history and circumstances played an equally important role in shaping the nationalist movement. With the central identity of Yugoslavia deteriorating after Tito’s death, people began to cling to their religious and ethnic identities to deal with fear and ambiguity. Milosevic took advantage of the victimized Serb mentality and created an extreme nationalist movement that consisted of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia which was particularly devastating to the Muslims. The Serbian massacres in Croatia in retaliation were also extremely brutal. Thus we can see how the circumstances in the Former Yugoslavia after the fall of communism were conducive to a nationalist movement that then took an ugly turn towards genocide. This movement probably could have been avoided if the leaders of the republics had behaved differently and had valued people’s lives more than power and wealth. However, human nature is often predictably dark and given circumstances most people turn into opportunists as opposed to philanthropists.
Another argument made by author Damir Mirkovic is that ultimately the war was a struggle for economic resources. If we were to not consider the ethnic rivalries, the conflict in Yugoslavia after the death of Tito was about the control of resources. With the breakdown of socialism, and the advent of capitalism, the means of production in the country were to be transferred from the society as whole to individuals. That group of individuals that won the civil war would control these means of production and thus become the privileged elite in the new “system”. This argument however, does not satisfactorily answer the question of torture tactics during ethnic cleansing. One possible explanation is that in such a situation often the actions of one party instigate even worse actions from the other party and it turns into a disastrous competition of who harms more people who are part of the “other group.”
Theoretically, the Yugoslavian genocide could have been prevented, however, in my opinion, it was more probable that the republics under Tito’s government would get swept up in a nationalist movement after his death and old differences would resurface. An important, though unrelated question is the pace at which humanitarian intervention occurred in Bosnia, and if the rest of the world also had some responsibility to stop this genocide/ethnic cleansing by taking concrete, military action against the perpetrators.

Consulted Sources:
Dusko Doder, "Yugoslavia: New War, Old Hatreds", Foreign Policy Journal
Damir Mirkovic, "Ethnic Conflict & Genocide: Reflections on Ethnic Cleansing in the Former
Yugoslavia", Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Journal
Adam Roberts, "Humanitarian War: Military Intervention and Human Rights",
International Affairs

8 comments:

Belma H said...

I do not think that one can make a statement that the one believes "that the political leaders of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia played an instrumental role in the genocide", without offering up examples after making this statement in order to support its claim. Furthermore, confusing the leaders of different groups during World War II in the former Yugoslavia, and the leaders during the ethnic cleansing which took place also confuses the issue, and does not illustrate how different leaders of all republics contributed to the attrocities that took place.
Another point that I would like to mention is that the people of Yugoslavia (during Tito's days) accepted Yugoslavia as though it represented different religious backgrounds and ethnicities, and it completely inaccurate to suggest that people's pent up attitudes concerning their religious/ethnic identification was the reason that over 250,000 innocent people were slaughtered.
As far as economic competition is concerned, again, unity comes into the picture, as these people had ALL been living in ONE country, so why would they be competing for resources, seeing as all of the revenue that they brought in went to ONE country? Making a distinction among republics that was barely there, and making a conclusion based on this false distinction leads one to believe that these people have been fighting for centuries, when IN FACT, they were one of the shining examples of unity, and ways in whic peace could work, even for people of varied backgrounds, relgigions, and ethnicities.
To the previous blogger, I would like to say that the ethnic cleansing in that region IS in fact something that was new, something that had not taken place, and something that COMPLETELY contradicted what the majority of the people of the former Yugoslavia stood for, and that was unity.

rachw said...

Belma H--
You talk about what happened, what Yugoslavia was like under Tito, and your own experiences but you didn't really answer the questions, "could it have been avoided" or "why did it happen." You wrote that "The genocide in the former Yugoslavia could have been avoided if people who had no reason to begin killing another group of people had not decided to do so." My questions are then--why did one group of people decide to kill another group of people, especially when they were, as you mentioned, their neighbors and friends? If it contradicted what Yugoslavia stood for, then why did it happen? What do you think led to the genocide? How could it have happened? Why did people do the things they did?
I'm just curious as to what your thoughts are on this since you disagree with the usual arguments on "why" and "how." It's also interesting to hear your opinions because you were someone who experienced things first hand while most of us can only make arguments based on what we read and what other people tell us. I think it is interesting how history is analyzed and how things actually happened...it seems like what you experienced is completely different from what history books tell us (which I think happens frequently).

Anonymous said...

I guess the one thing that REALLY frustrates me is that someone would tell me that I'm "too emotional" on this subject, and that as a result, my opinion cannot be trusted, because I underwent experiences that took place in my country. I WISH I had an answer as to why one group of people decided to begin killing another one, but in reality, I DO NOT. I have spent my entire life asking this question, (ever since I became old enough to understand what had actually happened in my country), but I have not found an answer. The truth is, most history books will easily chalk up something like this to a simple civil war, and it's easier for countries who should have taken a responsibility in intervening to say, "Oh well, it was a civil war, they were all just killing one another." I believe that because I WITNESSED the attrocities that took place first hand, I KNOW what happened, and there is no way that I will ever accept a person telling me, "I researched this, so I know it better than you, because you connect your emotions to it." To me, my emotions are more research than anyone can do, and that's what matters to me.

Belma said...

This previous blog was mine, I just missed the name box. It's pretty obvious it's mine as well! Sorry I forgot the name box!

Anonymous said...

RZ
In response to Belma, I have to completey agree with what you said about not being able to answer the question as to why the genocide happened. I think that it's very easy for someone to do some research and come up with an answer based on the analysis of the situation by a few people. But since you were there and you saw what happened, it's hard to come up with answer, because as you've pointed out there is no clear cut answer.
I think it's interesting that when just looking at such a horrific thing as genocide, it's easy to come up with why it happened. but clearly as Belma shows, the people who were actually involved don't have the same simple minded answer that can be gained from research. It really says something about how someone's emotional ties can affect the way they view things, and I personally think it's a more interesting and honest perspective than just a historical book.

don said...

Belma,

Experiencing the events you encountered has a powerful effect on how you think and view and live your life. This is great! At the same time, however, while you cannot decidely answer the question as to why the events took place, can you offer some objective plausible reasons, keeping in mind that one reasoning does not necessarily override another.

It is often difficult to hear and read what others write about experiences you had to deal with firsthand. Please keep in mind, however, that as much as history "chalks" over and writes its own version in recorded records, why don't we understand your thoughts, your reasonings, and your attempts to understand why what happened occurred. Why don't you set the record straight?

Belma said...

Don,
The reason why I cannot set the record straight is because everyone has their own reason, view, and opinion pertaining to why this genocide took place in the former Yugoslavia. There are a lot of people who would not understand my reasoning for possible answers to this question, and that is largely connected to the fact that they have not undegone the same experiences that I have. War is an awful, terrible thing, and I would NEVER wish it on anyone. I would never want anyone to see and experience the things that I have seen. My reasoning as to WHY someone would do this does not exist, because to this day, I still do not understand why someone would decide to harm another human being. I guess that may be naive of me, but the experiences that I have undergone have made me extremely anti-war and anti-violence regardless of the situation, or parties in question. The war has had a reverse effect on me in a way, as all that violence made me search for answers to resolve hate, anger, and disputes in different ways. To this day, I do not have an explanation for why one group of people would decide to begin ethnically cleansing another group of people, and I would not want to group people either. I do not think that all Serbs are bad people, that all Croats are bad people, or that all Bosnians are bad people, by any means. What I do think is that these events have really affected me, and they forced me to grow up way too quickly. I did not have a childhood, and I did not really have a chance to understand what happened. I am still dealing with it to this day, and trying to understand exactly why it happened.

Marko said...

I have had seen all of these conflicts first hand. And I would like to ask Belma are you so sure that only Serbs committed atrocities? I believe you have only one side of story.