Category Archives: Yugoslavia

Hoping for D-Day in Sarajevo, 1994

From Logavina Street, by Barbara Demick (Spiegel & Grau, 2012), Kindle Loc. 1930-75:

Enough was enough. The shelling of Sarajevo had to stop. Led by the United States and France, NATO issued an ultimatum: The Serbs were to withdraw their heavy-caliber weapons twelve miles away from Sarajevo or place them under the control of United Nations forces. Any weapons left within striking distance of Sarajevo would be subject to air strikes. The Serbs were given ten days to comply. The deadline was set for one o’clock on the morning of February 21—D-day as the Sarajevans were calling it, giddy with anticipation.

The planes were invisible, obscured by the persistent cloud cover of a Bosnian winter, but they made an impressive roar, drowning out normal conversation and rippling the plastic sheeting taped across the broken windowpanes. Sarajevo shuddered, but nobody complained about the noise. They looked up to the fog-shrouded skies with anticipation that the roar was a message from above and redemption was on its way.

“I’m so happy. I’m trembling when I hear the airplanes,” said Delila, her eyes glittering with excitement.

NATO forces had been patrolling the skies over Bosnia since 1992 as part of a limited mandate to enforce the no-fly zone, and to provide air cover for the UN troops on the ground. The United States had the largest number of planes in the NATO fleet, and Sarajevans had cherished the belief that these Americans would eventually come to their rescue. It was a hope nurtured by a steady diet of American films, television, and recollections of World War II.

Alija Žiga, the seventy-two-year-old head of the mosque behind the courtyard, had just finished leading services for the start of Ramadan when he came out to talk to some neighbors. He had fought with Tito’s partisans. “I was behind the front lines. The Germans had us surrounded and they were trying to starve us to death. Then, all of a sudden, these American planes flew overhead and they dropped—you are not going to believe this—hot goulash.”

Some had darker recollections. In 1943, when the Allies tried to bomb a Nazi headquarters housed in the Razija Omanović school, they mistakenly hit the Hajrić house two doors down. Suad Hajrić’s father was killed in the accident.

Almost all anybody could talk about was how the Americans were about to liberate Sarajevo. They imagined it would be a cross between the Normandy invasion and the Desert Storm bombing of Iraq in 1991. Nermin Džino declared, “The Americans missed a few targets in Iraq. I want the air strikes, even if they end up bombing my backyard by mistake.”

Delila agreed. “If I get killed by an American bomb, I won’t mind so much as if it’s a Chetnik bomb.”

As the deadline grew closer, and the Serbs continued to balk, the NATO planes flew lower and more frequently, buzzing the Serb artillery positions in warning. Everybody was convinced the Serbs would be bombed into submission. Delila was out of control. Four nights before the deadline, she ran out of the bomb shelter in the orphanage at midnight to cheer at the NATO planes flying low through the clouds.

“Come on! Come on! Do it!” she yelled, until a policeman walked by and urged her to go back inside.

Tarik Kaljanac woke up one morning, stumbled into the kitchen as his parents were watching the television news, and asked Minka, “Mom, is this the end of the war? Are the Americans really going to help us?”

The weekend before Monday, February 21—D-day—police knocked on doors up and down Logavina Street, advising people to take precautions in case the air strikes missed their targets, or, more likely, the Serbs sought retribution. A rumor swept Sarajevo that the Serbs had a new weapon, a poison gas they planned to unleash on the city. The police showed residents how to fashion a gas mask out of dishwashing liquid and a cotton rag.

After one police visit, Minka confessed she was more afraid than ever. “I worry that the Chetniks will be so angry they have to withdraw that they’ll shell us with all they’ve got. They are sore losers.”

As darkness descended on Sunday evening, Minka hung a heavy blue wool blanket over her living room window, which faced Mount Trebević. You never wanted any light glinting out to make a target for the gunners in the hills. She packed sleeping bags for the family, bread, and a canister of water in case they needed to take cover in the basement of the school. The dishwashing liquid was on the kitchen table, just in case.

The anticlimax should have been predictable. First, the Serbs balked at the conditions set by NATO and Sarajevo filled up with television crews from around the world who were expecting a rerun of the Persian Gulf War. Then Russian president Boris Yeltsin offered to send Russian troops to secure areas from which the Serbs had withdrawn. The Serbs viewed Russia as their political ally and accepted a deal under which most of their heavy weapons were delivered to UN-monitored collection sites.

Ekrem and Minka had stayed up until 1 A.M., playing cards and listening to the radio. “You always expect something to happen, and then the next morning, it is just the same old crap,” Ekrem complained the following day as he wolfed down a lunch of rice and canned meat.

Kira was also annoyed, having stayed up all night not to await the NATO bombardment, but because the baby was fussing. “Let me tell you about the world,” she said wearily. “I’ve heard all of it before. They always make promises they don’t keep. They said they would attack—they didn’t do it—and now, whatever they do or say really doesn’t interest me.”

Yet it couldn’t be denied: The shelling had stopped. Sarajevo was quiet again. You could even hear the birds. Sure, there was an occasional burst of gunfire around the Holiday Inn, or an odd boom from the direction of the front lines, but Sarajevo was, for the most part, safe.

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Dreaming of Salina in Sarajevo

From Logavina Street, by Barbara Demick (Spiegel & Grau, 2012), Kindle Loc. 766-804:

Television stations in Japan, Britain, Italy, Germany, and the United States broadcast the film of Berin at the brewery [mortar attack]—without the more gruesome scenes—and footage from the funeral. A retired couple in Salina, Kansas, were watching and arranged to evacuate the boy so he could live with them. It all happened so quickly Berin barely had time to say good-bye. Victor Jackovich, the U.S. ambassador to Bosnia at the time, accompanied Berin on a UN flight. An ABC crew filmed the hurried good-bye in the courtyard on Logavina Street. Berin wrote Delila a letter the day he was airlifted out of Sarajevo. “I have just taken a hot shower. I ate five bananas. I watched television,” Berin said in the letter written from the Frankfurt airport while he was en route to the United States.

Delila talked about Kansas incessantly. Her English grammar book and dictionary were always on the kitchen table. She would curl up on a rug-covered divan in the kitchen studying as her grandmother read the Koran. She kept an atlas open on the kitchen table with a circle drawn around Salina, Kansas.

When I first met Delila in January 1994, the kitchen was the only room in the house warm enough to sit in. It was an old house to begin with—slanty floors with bright Oriental rugs, hand-printed wallpaper curling at the edges. Plastic sheeting was taped over the broken panes of a window. A tiny aluminum stove was jerry-rigged on a stack of bricks. Berin’s cat curled up to it for warmth. Delila wore a baggy maroon sweater over three layers of T-shirts. Everything hung loosely on her tall, underweight frame.

“Physically, I am in Sarajevo, but in my mind, I am in America,” Delila said. “Everything that comes from America, I am interested in. I saw a television program about Bill Clinton that was great.”

The retired couple in Kansas did not realize initially that Berin had a sister still alive. After Berin’s arrival, they tried to bring Delila out as well. “They know how close we are. My brother is very attached to me. He used to take my cigarettes, hide them, and say, ‘I’ll give you one back when you give me a kiss,’” she said.

Delila’s recklessness completely vanished with the promise of emigrating to the United States. Suddenly, she was always frightened. She worried she would die before she could leave Sarajevo. She was afraid to take flowers to her parents’ graves across the street. She would only go on days when fog obscured the cemetery from sniper fire. The brewery shelling had left Delila with four pieces of shrapnel in her body, and she worried that if she slipped and fell on the ice, the shrapnel would shift and hurt her.

Outside the Lačevićs’ front gate, small children from the apartment next door used to sit on the stoop and play with dolls. Delila would yell at them to go back inside. “The kids hate me, but I don’t care what the neighbors say. I chase them away, and tell them, ‘Look, you can see Trebević like it is the palm of your hand.’”

Delila no longer disregarded the mortar shells that came crashing down from the mountain. When the shelling started, she said she could feel her shrapnel itching and she would run, not walk, to the bomb shelter, usually carrying the cat.

“I can run fast, when I’m scared. I’ll tell you, Carl Lewis is nothing compared to me,” she said. “When I get to America, I’m going to start running professionally.”

Delila planned out her future. She wanted to eat at McDonald’s and study medicine. She promised to give up her two-pack-a-day cigarette habit as soon as she got to America. (“I won’t be nervous anymore, so I won’t need it.”)

Once she left Sarajevo, Delila declared adamantly, she would probably never come back. Her brother had written her that his English tutor had asked if he missed Sarajevo. “He said no. If he ever came back, it would be as a tourist—and maybe not even then. I feel that way, too. I have to go somewhere where I can relax, physically, mentally. I don’t know that I would ever return.”

Delila’s sixty-nine-year-old grandmother had been listening to Delila speak, quietly weeping. I asked if she was afraid she might never see her granddaughter again. “No,” she replied, without hesitation. “I am looking forward to it. I will be happy when Delila leaves.”

Delila couldn’t count the days. For security reasons, people being evacuated usually had only a day or two’s advance notice. So she kept her bags packed and her documents folded neatly in an envelope in the bedroom with her few precious possessions. Her grandmother had given her a farewell present, a gold four-leaf clover that she always wore around her neck.

Delila practiced her good-byes to family members. She didn’t bother with her friends. “I told them that one day if I’m not around, I’ve either been killed or I’ve gone to America.”

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‘The Good War’ Included Many Bad

From Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, by Keith Lowe (St. Martin’s, 2012), Kindle Loc. 6735-6779:

In his memoirs of the late 1940s and 50s, published after his death following the famous ‘umbrella assassination’ in London in 1978, the Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov told a story that is emblematic of the postwar period – not only in his own country, but in Europe as a whole. It involved a conversation between one of his friends, who had been arrested for challenging a Communist official who had jumped the bread queue, and an officer of the Bulgarian Communist militia:

‘And now tell me who your enemies are?’ the militia chief demanded.
K. thought for a while and replied: ‘I don’t really know, I don’t think I have any enemies.’
‘No enemies!’ The chief raised his voice. ‘Do you mean to say that you hate nobody and nobody hates you?’
‘As far as I know, nobody.’
‘You are lying,’ shouted the Lieutenant-Colonel suddenly, rising from his chair. ‘What kind of a man are you not to have any enemies? You clearly do not belong to our youth, you cannot be one of our citizens, if you have no enemies! … And if you really do not know how to hate, we shall teach you! We shall teach you very quickly!’

In a sense, the militia chief in this story is right – it was virtually impossible to emerge from the Second World War without enemies. There can hardly be a better demonstration than this of the moral and human legacy of the war. After the desolation of entire regions; after the butchery of over 35 million people; after countless massacres in the name of nationality, race, religion, class or personal prejudice, virtually every person on the continent had suffered some kind of loss or injustice. Even countries which had seen little direct fighting, such as Bulgaria, had been subject to political turmoil, violent squabbles with their neighbours, coercion from the Nazis and eventually invasion by one of the world’s new superpowers. Amidst all these events, to hate one’s rivals had become entirely natural. Indeed, the leaders and propagandists of all sides had spent six long years promoting hatred as an essential weapon in the quest for victory. By the time this Bulgarian militia chief was terrorizing young students at Sofia University, hatred was no longer a mere by-product of the war – in the Communist mindset it had been elevated to a duty.

There were many, many reasons not to love one’s neighbour in the aftermath of the war. He might be a German, in which case he would be reviled by almost everyone, or he might have collaborated with Germans, which was just as bad: most of the vengeance in the aftermath of the war was directed at these two groups. He might worship the wrong god – a Catholic god or an Orthodox one, a Muslim god, or a Jewish god, or no god at all. He might belong to the wrong race or nationality: Croats had massacred Serbs during the war, Ukrainians had killed Poles, Hungarians had suppressed Slovaks, and almost everyone had persecuted Jews. He might have the wrong political beliefs: both Fascists and Communists had been responsible for countless atrocities across the continent, and both Fascists and Communists had themselves been subjected to brutal repression – as indeed had those subscribing to virtually every shade of political ideology between these two extremes.

The sheer variety of grievances that existed in 1945 demonstrates not only how universal the war had been, but also how inadequate is our traditional way of understanding it. It is not enough to portray the war as a simple conflict between the Axis and the Allies over territory. Some of the worst atrocities in the war had nothing to do with territory, but with race or nationality. The Nazis did not attack the Soviet Union merely for the sake of Lebensraum: it was also an expression of their urge to assert the superiority of the German race over Jews, Gypsies and Slavs. The Soviets did not invade Poland and the Baltic States only for the sake of territory either: they wanted to propagate communism as far westwards as they were able. Some of the most vicious fighting was not between the Axis and the Allies at all, but between local people who took the opportunity of the wider war to give vent to much older frustrations. The Croat Ustashas fought for the sake of ethnic purity. The Slovaks, Ukrainians and Lithuanians fought for national liberation. Many Greeks and Yugoslavs fought for the abolition of the monarchy – or for its restoration. Many Italians fought to free themselves from the shackles of a medieval feudalism. The Second World War was therefore not only a traditional conflict for territory: it was simultaneously a war of race, and a war of ideology, and was interlaced with half a dozen civil wars fought for purely local reasons.

Given that the Germans were only one ingredient in this vast soup of different conflicts, it stands to reason that their defeat did not bring an end to the violence. In fact, the traditional view that the war came to an end when Germany finally surrendered in May 1945 is entirely misleading: in reality, their capitulation only brought an end to one aspect of the fighting. The related conflicts over race, nationality and politics continued for weeks, months and sometimes years afterwards. Gangs of Italians were still lynching Fascists late into the 1940s. Greek Communists and Nationalists, who first fought one another as opponents or collaborators with Germany, were still at each other’s throats in 1949. The Ukrainian and Lithuanian partisan movements, born at the height of the war, were still fighting well into the mid-1950s. The Second World War was like a vast supertanker ploughing through the waters of Europe: it had such huge momentum that, while the engines might have been reversed in May 1945, its turbulent course was not finally brought to a halt until several years later.

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Post-WWII Yugoslavia as Harbinger

From Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, by Keith Lowe (St. Martin’s, 2012), Kindle Loc. 4976-5024:

It is true that the statistics associated with postwar Yugoslavia are worse than in any other country. Some 70,000 collaborationist troops and civilians were killed by the Partisans in the aftermath of the war: when compared to the population as a whole, this is more than ten times as bad as in Italy and twenty times as bad as in France.33 At first sight, the anecdotes that emerge from the postwar period also appear to support the stereotype of Yugoslavian cruelty. Dusan Vukovic, who joined the Partisans at the tender age of eleven, claims that he saw a Ustasha skinned alive and then hung on a tree branch with his own skin. ‘With my own eyes I saw the Partisans cut off noses and ears and gouge out eyes. They cut symbols of various kinds into the flesh of the captives, too, especially when they thought they had Gestapo personnel in their hands.’ Other eyewitnesses speak of routine sadism, such as guards killing their victims slowly with knives, riding prisoners like horses, or binding men and women together and throwing them into rivers to watch them drown.

Numbers aside, however, the violence that occurred in Yugoslavia at the end of the war was no more cruel than that which occurred in other countries. On the contrary, the same themes that pervaded here were present throughout the continent. There is no difference between the anecdotes above and the stories of French miliciens who are supposed to have arrested Resistance fighters during the German occupation, ‘ripped out their eyes, put bugs in the holes and sewn up their sockets’. Czech mobs were just as likely to carve Nazi symbols into the flesh of SS men they caught hold of, and Belgian maquisards thought nothing of burning collaborators alive. Despite the stereotypes, therefore, the cruelty that took place in this unfortunate part of the Balkans should not be considered unique – rather it was symbolic of a dehumanization that had taken place across the continent.

Neither does the ethnic dimension to the violence set Yugoslavia apart. Such ethnic tension might have been missing in most of western Europe but, as I have shown, it was an integral part of the war and its aftermath in Czechoslovakia, Poland and Ukraine. There were also numerous smaller, more regional conflicts involving minorities across the continent, some of which were every bit as violent on a local scale.

In fact, the only unique thing about Yugoslavia is how well it simultaneously encapsulates all of the themes I have discussed so far in this book. As in the rest of Europe, much of the violence in Yugoslavia was motivated by a simple desire for vengeance. As in the rest of Europe, the rifts caused by the war were deliberately concealed beneath a layer of cosy mythology once the war was over. The postwar breakdown of law and order was no different there than in other badly damaged areas of the continent. Lack of trust in the new police force, whom the people feared ‘as they would a plunderous mob’, was no different from the fear that Poles, Romanians, Hungarians, Austrians and East Germans felt towards their own militias (or indeed towards Soviet soldiers). Lack of trust in the courts was the same as it was in France and Italy and, as in those countries, often led to people taking the law into their own hands. Clandestine, unofficial prisons were set up for collaborators, just as they were in France and Czechoslovakia; gulags were created for prisoners of war, just as they had been in the Soviet Union. Populations of Germans and Hungarians were expelled, just as they were from other countries across the continent.

It is only the involvement of the Yugoslav state that points the way to a new theme that I have not yet discussed in depth – the idea that much of the violence was politically motivated. Almost all of the events described up to now were brought about by individuals or groups acting outside state control, and who were eventually brought back into line by a combination of the Allied armies and traditional politicians. In Yugoslavia it was the state itself that conducted the violence, the Allies were absent, and traditional politicians had been replaced by revolutionaries. It is perhaps unsurprising that these fighting men took a distinctly unsubtle approach to returning the country to law and order.

Tito’s right-hand man, Milovan Djilas, put their methods succinctly in an interview published in a British magazine in 1979: ‘Yugoslavia was in a state of chaos and destruction. There was hardly any civil administration. There were no properly constituted courts. There was no way in which the cases of 20–30,000 people could have been reliably investigated. So the easy way out was to have them all shot, and have done with the problem.’ While the French and the Italians tried to rid themselves of collaborators through the courts, and bemoaned the inadequacy of their purge ever afterwards, Tito recognized the shortcomings of his legal system and dispensed with it altogether. ‘We put an end to it,’ he reminisced later, ‘once and for all.’

There is no doubt that the massacres that occurred in Yugoslavia after the war were, at least in part, politically motivated. Since the Communists were intent on forcing Croatia and Slovenia to rejoin a Yugoslavian federation, it made no sense to allow tens of thousands of staunch Croatian and Slovenian nationalists to put that reunion in jeopardy. Neither could Tito allow the continued existence of Mihailović’s royalist Chetniks to jeopardize his vision of a Communist Yugoslavia. Both groups therefore had to be dealt with one way or another. Those who were not shot were imprisoned for years or sometimes decades.

Politically motivated violence by the state was not unique to Yugoslavia. Other Communist groups across Europe were perhaps more subtle in their pursuit of power, but equally ruthless, and just as willing to resort to violence when they believed it necessary. For countless millions of people throughout the eastern half of the continent, therefore, the end of the war did not signal ‘liberation’ at all, it merely heralded a new era of state repression. The Nazi terror was over: the Communist terror was about to begin.

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Who Was Responsible for World War I?

From Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, by Max Hastings (Knopf, 2013), Kindle Loc. 2486-2525:

Would any of the Entente Powers have acted differently had they known of the profound complicity of the Serbian army, though not the government, in the murder of Franz Ferdinand? Almost certainly not, because this was not why the Austrians and Germans acted, or their opponents reacted. The Russians simply considered the extinction of a small Slav state as an excessive and indeed intolerable punishment for the crime of Princip, and for that matter Apis. Unless France had swiftly declared its neutrality and surrendered its frontier fortresses as Germany demanded, its alliance with Russia would have caused Moltke to attack in the West. The British were entirely unmoved by Serbia’s impending fate, and acted only in response to the German violation of Belgian neutrality and the threat to France. The various participants in what would soon become the Great War had very different motives for belligerence, and objectives with little in common. Three conflicts – that in the Balkans over East European issues, the continental struggle to determine whether German dominance should prevail, and the German challenge to British global naval mastery – accomplished a metamorphosis into a single over-arching one. Other issues, mostly involving land grabs, would become overlaid when other nations – notably Japan, Turkey and Italy – joined the struggle.

Many people in Britain have argued through the past century that the price of participation in the war was so appalling that no purpose could conceivably justify it; more than a few blame Sir Edward Grey for willing Britain’s involvement. But, granted Germany’s determination to dominate Europe and the likely consequences of such hegemony for Britain, would the foreign secretary have acted responsibly if he had taken no steps designed to avert such an outcome? Lloyd George in his memoirs advanced a further popular argument against the conflict, laying blame upon the soldiers he hated: ‘Had it not been for the professional zeal and haste with which the military staffs set in motion the plans which had already been agreed between them, the negotiations between the governments, which at that time had hardly begun, might well have continued, and war could, and probably would, have been averted.’ This was nonsense. What happened was not ‘war by accident’, but war by ill-conceived Austrian design, with German support.

Today, as in 1914, any judgement about the necessity for British entry must be influenced by an assessment of the character of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s empire. It seems frivolous to suggest, as do a few modern sensationalists, that a German victory would merely have created, half a century earlier, an entity resembling the European Union. Even if the Kaiser’s regime cannot be equated with that of the Nazis, its policies could scarcely be characterised as enlightened. Dominance was its purpose, achieved by peaceful means if possible, but by war if necessary. The Germans’ paranoia caused them to interpret as a hostile act any attempt to check or question their international assertiveness. Moreover, throughout the July crisis they, like the Austrians, consistently lied about their intentions and actions. By contrast, whatever the shortcomings of British conduct, the Asquith government told the truth as it saw this, to both its allies and its prospective foes.

The Kaiserreich’s record abroad was inhumane even by contemporary standards. It mandated in advance and applauded after the event the 1904–07 genocide of the Herero and Namaqua peoples of German South-West Africa, an enormity far beyond the scope of any British colonial misdeed. German behaviour during the 1914 invasion of Belgium and France, including large-scale massacres of civilians endorsed at the highest level, cannot be compared with what took place in the Second World War, because there was no genocidal intent, but it conveyed a profoundly disturbing image of the character of the regime that aspired to rule Europe.

It seems mistaken to suppose that neutrality in 1914 would have yielded a happy outcome for the British Empire. The authoritarian and acquisitive instincts of Germany’s leadership would scarcely have been moderated by triumph on the battlefield. The Kaiser’s regime did not enter the war with a grand plan for world domination, but its leaders were in no doubt that they required huge booty as a reward for the victory they anticipated. Bethmann Hollweg drafted a personal list of demands on 9 September 1914, when Berlin saw victory within its grasp. ‘The aim of the war,’ he wrote, ‘is to provide us with [security] guarantees, from east to west, for the foreseeable future, through the enfeeblement of our adversaries.’

France was to cede to Germany the Briey iron deposits; Belfort; a coastal strip from Dunkirk to Boulogne; the western slope of the Vosges mountains. Her strategic fortresses were to be demolished. Just as after 1870, cash reparations would be exacted sufficient to ensure that ‘France is incapable of spending considerable sums on armaments for the next eighteen to twenty years’. Elsewhere, Luxembourg would be annexed outright; Belgium and Holland transformed into vassal states; Russia’s borders drastically shrunken; a vast colonial empire created in central Africa; a German economic union extending from Scandinavia to Turkey.

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South Slavic Nationalism before 1914

From Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, by Max Hastings (Knopf, 2013), Kindle Loc. 838-871:

The south Slavs lived in four different states – the Hapsburg Empire, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria – under eight different systems of government. Their impassioned nationalism imposed a dreadful blood forfeit: about 16 per cent of the entire population, almost two million men, women and children, perished violently in the six years of struggle that preceded Armistice Day 1918. Serbia fought two Balkan wars, in 1912 and 1913, to increase its size and power by seizing loose fragments of the Ottoman Empire. In 1912 the Russian foreign minister declared that a Serb–Bulgarian triumph over the Turks would be the worst outcome of the First Balkan War, because it would empower the local states to turn their aggressive instincts from Islamism, against Germanism: ‘In this event one … must prepare for a great and decisive general European war.’ Yet the Serbs and Bulgarians indeed triumphed in that conflict; a subsequent Serb–Romanian victory in the Second Balkan War – a squabble over the spoils of the First – made matters worse. Serbia doubled its territory by incorporating Macedonia and Kosovo. Serbians burst with pride, ambition and over-confidence. Wars seemed to work well for them.

In June 1914 the Russian minister in Belgrade, the dedicated pan-Slavist Nikolai Hartwig, was believed actively to desire an armed clash between Serbia and Austria, though St Petersburg almost certainly did not. The Russian ambassador in Constantinople complained that Hartwig, a former newspaper columnist, ‘shows the activity of an irresponsible journalist’. Serbia was a young country wrested from the Ottoman Empire only in 1878, which now clung to the south-eastern frontier of the Hapsburg Empire like some malevolent growth. Western statesmen regarded the place with impatience and suspicion. Its self-assertiveness, its popular catchphrase ‘Where a Serb dwells, there is Serbia,’ estabilised the Balkans. Europe’s chancelleries were irritated by its ‘little Serbia’, proud-victim culture. Serbs treated their own minority subjects, especially Muslims, with conspicuous and often murderous brutality. Every continental power recognised that the Serbs could achieve their ambition to enfold in their own polity two million brethren still under Hapsburg rule only at the cost of bringing down Franz Joseph’s empire.

Just four and a half million Serbs occupied 87,300 square kilometres of rich rural regions and barren mountains, a smaller country than Romania or Greece. Four-fifths of them lived off the land, and the country retained an exotic oriental legacy from its long subjection to the Ottomans. Such industries as it had were agriculturally based – flour and sawmills, sugar refineries, tobacco. ‘Within little more than two days’ rail from [London],’ wrote an enthusiastic pre-war British traveller, ‘there lies an undeveloped country of extraordinary fertility and potential wealth, possessing a history more wonderful than any fairy tale, and a race of heroes and patriots who may one day set Europe by the ears … I know no country which can offer so general an impression of beauty, so decided an aroma of the Middle Ages. The whole atmosphere is that of a thrilling romance. Conversation is larded with accounts of hairbreadth ’scapes and deeds of chivalry … Every stranger is welcome, and an Englishman more than any.’

Others saw Serbia in much less roseate hues: the country exemplified the Balkan tradition of domestic violence, regime change by murder. On the night of 11 June 1903, a group of young Serb officers fell upon the tyrannical King Alexander and his hated Queen Draga by candlelight in the private apartments of their palace: the bodies were later found in the garden, riddled with bullets and mutilated. Among the assassins was Dragutin Dimitrijević, who became the ‘Apis’ of the Sarajevo conspiracy: he was wounded in a clash with the royal guards, which earned him the status of a national hero. When King Peter returned from a long exile in Switzerland to take the throne of a notional constitutional monarchy, Serbia continued to seethe with factionalism. Peter had two sons: the elder, Djordje, educated in Russia, was a violent playboy who was forced to relinquish his claim to the throne after a 1908 scandal in which he kicked his butler to death. His brother Alexander, who became the royal heir, was suspected of attempting to poison Djordje. The Serb royal family provided no template for peaceful co-existence, and the army wielded as much power as that of a modern African statelet.

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Mobutu’s Mercenaries, 1996

From Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, by Jason Stearns (Public Affairs, 2011), Kindle Loc. 2126-2158:

There were few memorable battles for the rebels as they crossed the country. Bukavu was one of the fiercer ones, as the Zairian army tried to put up some resistance; later, they knew better. Goma fell quickly as a result of treason, as Mobutu’s officers sold equipment and intelligence to their enemies in the months prior to the invasion and then did little to defend the town. Simultaneously, Ugandan troops had crossed the border to the north and taken the town of Mahagi with only thirty soldiers. A rebel commander told me that three of his men on a motorcycle defeated two hundred Mobutu soldiers in another town in the northeast.

Where there was resistance, it was often because of foreign troops. Rwandan ex-FAR [Forces Armées Rwandaises] were fighting alongside the Zairian army, trying to protect the retreating refugees. In Kindu, along the upper reaches of the Congo River, over a thousand ex-FAR joined Mobutu’s troops, although they were poorly coordinated and soon scattered. Mobutu’s officers, however, had not given up. They decided to make a stand in Kisangani, the country’s third largest city and the gateway to the east, located at a bend in the Congo River. The city had a long airstrip and was a major river port. The army’s high command flew in reinforcements and also mined the airport and the main roads leading to town from the east. Diplomats speculated that Mobutu would be history if the town fell.

Mobutu’s generals began frantically organizing other foreign support. Using their contacts in Belgrade and Paris, they managed to hire around 280 mercenaries, mostly French and Serbs, under the command of Belgian colonel Christian Tavernier, along with some attack helicopters and artillery.

It was too little, too late. The area they had to cover was too large, and the Zairian army too disorganized for them to have much impact. The soldiers of fortune were also perhaps not of the best quality. A French analyst described them as a mixture between “Frederick Forsyth’s ‘dogs of war’ and the Keystone Kops.” He went on to disparage the Serbs’ performance in particular: “They spent their days getting drunk and aimlessly harassing civilians. They did not have proper maps, they spoke neither French nor Swahili, and soon most of them were sick with dysentery and malaria.”

Tavernier chose as his operational base Watsa, a remote town in the northeast that had little strategic importance, but where he had obtained mining rights. The colonel himself was seen more often in the upscale Memling Hotel in Kinshasa than on the battlefield, haranguing foreign correspondents, boasting of his feats, and complaining of government ineptitude.

Internal tensions also hampered operations. The French, mostly former soldiers from the Foreign Legion, were better connected and paid up to five times as much as the Serbs—up to $10,000 per month for the officers. But the Serbs controlled most of the aircraft and heavy weaponry, old machines leased at inflated prices from the Yugoslav army. The French accused their counterparts of amateurism; the Serbs retorted that the last time the French had won a serious battle was at Austerlitz in 1805.

On the battlefield, everything fell apart. The Serbs never provided the air support the French demanded, complaining of missing parts and a lack of fuel. On several occasions, they even bombed Mobutu’s retreating troops, killing dozens. Mobutu’s security advisor remembered the episode: “We had two different delegations from Zaire recruiting mercenaries separately. What was the result? We had mercenaries from different countries who spoke different languages…. We bought weapons from different countries that didn’t work together. It was a veritable Tower of Babel.”

The mercenaries behaved abysmally toward the local population. Even today, residents of Kisangani remember the deranged Serbian commander Colonel Jugoslav “Yugo” Petrusic, driving about town in his jeep, harassing civilians. He shot and killed two evangelical preachers who annoyed him with their megaphone-blasted prayers. He was sure that AFDL rebels had infiltrated Kisangani, and he arrested civilians for interrogation, subjecting them to electroshocks from a car battery and prodding them with a bayonet.

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No Plebiscites for Germans, 1919

From The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 160-161:

Applying the principle of self-determination proved far from easy, however, for two reasons. First, … there were more than thirteen million Germans already living east of the borders of the pre-war Reich – perhaps as much as a fifth of the total German-speaking population of Europe. If self-determination were applied rigorously Germany might well end up bigger, which was certainly not the intention of Wilson’s fellow peacemakers. From the outset, then, there had to be inconsistency, if not hypocrisy, in the way Germany was treated: no Anschluss of the rump Austria to the Reich – despite the fact that the post-revolutionary governments in both Berlin and Vienna voted for it – and no vote at all for the 250,000 South Tyroleans, 90 per cent of whom were Germans, on whether they wanted to become Italian, but plebiscites to determine the fate of northern Schleswig (which went to Denmark), eastern Upper Silesia (to Poland) and Eupen-Malmédy (to Belgium). France reclaimed Alsace and Lorraine, lost in 1871, despite the fact that barely one in ten of the population were French-speakers. In all, around 3.5 million German-speakers ceased to be German citizens under the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Equally important, under the terms of the 1919 Treaty of St Germain-en-Laye, more than 3.2 million Germans in Bohemia, southern Moravia and the hastily constituted Austrian province of Sudetenland found themselves reluctant citizens of a new state, Czechoslovakia. There were just under three-quarters of a million Germans in the new Poland, the same number again in the mightily enlarged Romania, half a million in the new South Slav kingdom later known as Yugoslavia and another half million in the rump Hungary left over after the Treaty of Trianon.

The second problem for self-determination was that none of the peacemakers saw it as applying to their own empires – only to the empires they had defeated.

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Filed under Austria, Belgium, democracy, Germany, Hungary, Italy, nationalism, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, U.S., war, Yugoslavia

Practical Problems of Genocide Tribunals

From After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide, by Craig Etcheson (Texas Tech U. Press, 2006), pp. 183-187 (footnote references omitted):

When one examines the details of how tribunals are structured, it becomes clear that no solution can yield a completely satisfactory outcome on all the competing values at stake. We see, for example, a range of approaches to the question of personal jurisdiction, that is, who should be prosecuted in a genocide tribunal. Though the approaches vary widely, each of them has both advantages and disadvantages with respect to the question of impunity. Cambodia’s 1979 People’s Revolutionary Tribunal prosecuted only two people, leaving many other culpable senior leaders untouched, along with the thousands of people who carried out the actual killing. The ICTR has indicted and/or prosecuted more than seventy people, but this is totally unsatisfactory to many Rwandans, who find tens of thousands of genocide perpetrators living among them. The ICTY has indicted some 150 individuals, creating a large and time-consuming caseload but still leaving many perpetrators harmless in the former Yugoslavia. The Ethiopian courts are prosecuting more than 5,000 suspects, though that process has been criticized for violating the rights of the accused, and in any case it still leaves low-level perpetrators beyond the reach of the law. In Rwanda, more than 100,000 persons suspected of involvement in the genocide have languished in detention for years with no prospect that they will ever receive fair trials in a court of law, solely due to the fact that the sheer numbers of accused overwhelm the capacity of the Rwandan justice system. As a practical matter, then, there may be no ideal solution to the problem of personal jurisdiction for the crime of genocide….

Another challenge in achieving justice for the Cambodian genocide has to do with the question of temporal jurisdiction, or the span of time during which applicable crimes may be prosecuted. The proposed Khmer Rouge tribunal would limit its temporal jurisdiction to the period between April 17, 1975, and January 7, 1979. Thus, only criminal acts that were committed in that time frame could be prosecuted by the Khmer Rouge tribunal. This makes sense, insofar as that was the period during which the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia ‘s capital and also the period of the most intense killing by the Khmer Rouge, but it is also true that the Khmer Rouge executed and otherwise abused many innocent people prior to April 17, 1975, and they also continued to carry out atrocities long after they were driven from power on January 7, 1979. By limiting temporal jurisdiction to this period, people who were victimized by the Khmer Rouge at any time outside of that tightly constricted time frame might feel as if they have been denied justice for the crimes committed against them and therefore that impunity continues to reign….

A similar set of questions could be raised with respect to the subject matter jurisdiction, or what crimes will be prosecuted. For example, a growing body of evidence suggests that rape was common at the lower levels of the Khmer Rouge security organization, particularly the rape of female prisoners who were slated for execution. Recent precedents established by the ad hoc international criminal tribunals mean that when rape is assessed as having been systematic or widespread, this could constitute a war crime or a crime against humanity. Rape in war is always a war crime, but what is new under these recent precedents, where widespread or systematic, is that it can now trigger the doctrine of “command responsibility,” putting senior leaders at risk for the crimes of their subordinates. In the Cambodian case, however, the available evidence suggests that whenever the top leadership of the Khmer Rouge uncovered such “moral” infractions by their cadre, those accused of such acts faced summary execution. Consequently, the top Khmer Rouge leaders can argue that they did everything possible to suppress such crimes, and therefore they cannot be held responsible. If, due to the limited definition of personal jurisdiction, only top leaders are prosecuted, but they are absolved of responsibility for rapes, then any woman who was raped by a lower-level Khmer Rouge cadre or soldier may feel that she has not received justice and that impunity continues. Again, it would seem that there is no universally satisfactory way to address the problem of impunity for crimes on the scale of those carried out under the Khmer Rouge.

Another set of questions has to do with the extent of international involvement in a tribunal. The ICTY, the ICTR, and the ICC are in the nature of international experiments in combating impunity. As such, these judicial institutions have been fraught with start-up difficulties. They are also enormously expensive undertakings—which is one reason that several members of the UN Security Council were reluctant to see a similar model implemented in the case of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. A major advantage of the ad hoc international tribunals is that they tend to provide the highest legal standards of international justice, but in so doing, they also require a great deal of time and money in order to render justice to only a small minority of the perpetrators. Moreover, with the ICTY seated in the Netherlands, and the ICTR in Arusha, Tanzania—both at some distance from the territories where the crimes were actually committed—the surviving victims who have the greatest right and need to see justice done in most cases are simply too far from the court to see any justice being done at all. On the other hand, in the Rwandan domestic prosecutions, in a country where the legal profession and the courts were totally destroyed during the genocide, the relative lack of international involvement can be seen as a factor contributing to the procedural shortcomings of the process and the long delays in rendering justice for the victims and the accused alike. The same might be said of the Ethiopian prosecutions.

Thus, there seems to be no optimum level of international involvement in tribunals designed to combat impunity. If the tribunal is entirely internationalized and seated outside the territory where the crimes were committed, there is a danger that those most in need of seeing justice done will not perceive any effective impact on impunity. Those few perpetrators who find themselves before the court will be prosecuted under alien laws and in an unfamiliar language, all far away from the scene of the crime. On the other hand, when tribunals are conducted strictly as a national affair in the immediate aftermath of terrible devastation, local judicial and political conditions may not be strong enough to deliver fair and impartial justice, as we saw with the People’s Revolutionary Tribunal in 1979. However, it may turn out that the proposed mixed model for Cambodia—with internationals on the court and with the proceedings conducted where the crimes occurred—could be a good compromise to balance these competing values.

On balance, then, when we look under the hood of international tribunals at their internal workings, it is clear that there is no ideal, one-size-fits-all solution. When weighed against the enormity of the crimes at issue, questions of personal, temporal, and subject matter jurisdiction, along with the degree of international involvement, generally tip the scales of justice toward an unsatisfying outcome.

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Filed under Cambodia, Ethiopia, NGOs, Rwanda, U.N., Yugoslavia

No Clean Hands in Kosovo

In an op-ed in the University of Pittsburgh Law School’s Jurist, a former UN human rights legal advisor in Kosovo examines some of the complexities.

From the moment the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia began in 1999, the independence of Kosovo seemed a highly likely eventuality. Since that time, developments on the ground have effectively precluded virtually any other possibility. As such, an independent Kosovo does seem inevitable. However, a number of commentators have recently opined that although the purported secession of Kosovo may well be unlawful, it is nonetheless just. Both of these propositions – that it was not in conformity with international law and that it was “justified” – are open to question….

I have to admit that, upon my arrival in Kosovo in the summer of 1999, I had very much shared this simplistic view of the situation. Indeed, my work there on war crimes documentation was largely driven by a desire to secure accountability for the seemingly steady stream of international crimes being broadcast by the international media.

I was initially stationed in western Kosovo, where I, along with throngs of other international aid workers, was welcomed as a benefactor and friend of the Albanians; that is, until I questioned the acceptability of blowing up the town’s Serbian Orthodox Church. Any suggestion that Kosovo Serbs should benefit from the protection of human rights law was met with open hostility.

I later moved north to Mitrovica, the ethnically divided city bisected by the River Ibar, with Kosovo Serbs living to the north and Kosovo Albanians living to the south. Working regularly with individuals from all ethnic groups, I was one of very few people who crossed the Ibar on a daily basis. The few Kosovo Albanians who remained in the north lived in a state of continuous insecurity. Kosovo Serbs fared less well in the south. Shortly before I arrived in Mitrovica, a Kosovo Serb was discovered south of the Ibar, and was consequently beaten to death by an angry mob.

The work of documenting past abuses was quickly supplemented by the need to respond to the spike in crimes against ethnic minorities, including Kosovo Serbs. Over the course of the following 18 months, the killing and displacement of Kosovo Serbs, and other ethnic minorities, continued unabated, notwithstanding the presence of tens of thousands of NATO soldiers.

Further reflection was prompted once the percentage of the Kosovo Serb population that had been murdered or displaced surpassed the percentage of the Kosovo Albanian population that had been killed or displaced in the years leading up to the NATO intervention.

via Laurence Jarvik

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