Nationalists Versus Liberals in Telling Myths Today

Myths are oftentimes perceived as something negative, but they are in fact necessary for a state and its people. This is why liberal journalists and scholars are now urging their politicians to come up with new myths, in order to counter the nationalists’ myths which they regard as superior.
The potential and importance of myths was recognized even in Ancient times and led to the Bible being written. Plato wrote about the power of myths in “The Republic” around 380 BC, where he described myths as invented stories that speak to feelings rather than the mind and as necessary lies that are a foundation for the state.
In his book “Sapiens” from 2014, Dr Yuval Noah Harari writes about the history of mankind and includes what impact myths have had. According to him, myths are binding to human beings and something which has helped mankind to be so successful, in contrast to animals or even humans before the cognitive revolution some 70,000 years ago, when fictive language appeared. As Harairi proves, fiction made it possible for us to imagine something together and this led to the ability to cooperate in large numbers; without myths, the result of fiction, strangers wouldn’t be able to live together. As Harari writes: “Two Serbs who have never met might risk their lives to save one another because both believe in the existence of the Serbian nation, the Serbian homeland and the Serbian flag.”
Today nationalists are winning elections all around the world and one explanation could be that the liberals have a lack of good myths. There is worry among some of these liberals that they have already lost the battle to nationalists because of this lack and now they are desperate. Now liberals such as David Brooks in “The New York Times” are saying that the nationalists have to be countered with new and better myths. Liberals such as him claim that the old myth of America as a spreader of democracy doesn’t work any longer and has been replaced by Trump’s talk of national identity and “real Americans” (i.e. no minorities). We will now take a look at what exactly the liberal myths are and if the nationalistic myths, with the idea that history and language is what binds a nation together, are that wrong after all.
The Liberal Myths and Creating New Myths
According to Brooks and most liberal American politicians, America has been the spreader of democracy in the world up to the point Trump came to power. According to this myth, Americans do things not only for themselves but for the entire mankind.
There is something here which doesn’t add up though. Otherwise, one could think that the founders of this nation of spreader of democracy never committed genocide on the original inhabitants of their land, the Native Americans, and as an insult to the injury even took trophies when they named military helicopters after famous Native Americans such as Black Hawk and Apache, with which they claimed to spread democracy. It was in the name of democracy that this nation also bombed Serbia in 1999. In other words, the myth is cheap talk and only people who are not fully informed can believe in it.
Brooks refuses to see this and talks about creating new myths, both in America and the rest of the world, as if the nationalistic myths are something evil and don’t work. The truth is that one of the difference between totalitarian states and democracies is that totalitarian states create new myths, such as Germany in the 1930s when the Swastika was introduced, and Yugoslavia after the Second World War when the communists talked about “brotherhood and unity” between peoples that had tried to exterminate each other the day before. We saw this in Venezuela as well, when Hugo Chavez renamed the country and changed the flag. It was a revolution that was continued by his successor and it has now led to what can be called a humanitarian catastrophe. One explanation could be that it ends in fiasco when you try to replace myths with something that doesn’t work.
However, now liberals like Brooks actually talk about creating new myths. These liberals talk about some myth which must include all of humanity. Then who are “we” one could ask of course. This also demands the notion that there is something wrong with loving your nation, which is simply an extension of oneself, after one’s family and friends. But the truth is that myths which nations have and which are defended today by nationalistic politicians, because they are proud of their heritage, are far more superior than liberal ones and must not be abandoned. They work and, as we will see, they have helped nations to survive and keep their way of living.
The Superiority of Nationalistic Myths
To illustrate this claim we can take the Serbs and their myths. This is a nation that lived under Turkish occupation for centuries after the battle of Kosovo in 1389. The myths about the battle of Kosovo, with all its stories of heroic deeds and the lessons drawn, helped to keep together the Serbian nation through Turkish occupation, even if many converted to Islam.
It is a case which also illustrates how myths don’t necessarily have to be altogether true. For instance, the hero Miloš Obilić first appeared under the name Kobilić, and the four “S” that are found on the Serbian coat of arms and stand for “Union only saves the Serbs,” which is said to originate from the time for the battle of Kosovo, are in fact four “B” that derive from a Byzantine dynasty.
Nonetheless, the Serbs believe in these myths, the same way I do, because they tell a story and there are lessons to be drawn. The nationalistic myths, such as that of the Serbian people, are also more rooted in facts and history than liberal myths will ever be. They are also rooted in people’s blood and soil. Thanks to their myths the Serbs kept their faith during Muslim rule that lasted for almost a half millennium.
Myths used by nationalists is something that works, and now the liberals have realized the power of myths and recognized that the nationalists have an advantage when it comes to myths and winning the support of people because of them. We see this conflict in Serbia as well, where many politicians want to join the European Union and as a consequence need to recognize the independence of Kosovo, but many Serbs refuse to do so.
The Serbian nationalist Vojislav Šešelj was right when he spoke for the Serbian people at his trial at the Hague tribunal and said this: “Blood has been spilled and the soil has been coloured red because of Kosovo. Even if there is only one Serb left, we will not give up Kosovo.”
Words as powerful as these can’t be matched by anything from the liberals, especially not in Serbia. Indeed, many Serbs converted to Islam, we see Serbs abandoning their roots in Montenegro, and many Serbs want to join the European Union, but these are traitors who have lost their pride and honor. This truth will maybe not kill them, since there are antidotes. But it remains a fact that they are weaker because of this and they can’t replace the heritage that someone is proud of and would die for with myths that are created for everyone. This is why they will lose the battle that is raging.
Alexekin Rockowia
Editor-in-chief of For-Serbia The Website

The Village of Prebilovci

Ustasha functionaries showed up at the predominantly Serbian village of Prebilovci on the eastern side of the Neretva and other Serb enclaves and announced to the villagers that they were all going to be deported to Belgrade. The Serbs were told they were going to be reunited with the Serbian fatherland, a prospect that took the edge off their anger and anxiety. So the Serbs showed up in their best clothes as they marched off to the train station, to become one more dislocated group in a Europe that seemed full of dislocation and people who went off in trains and never came back. The Serbs of Prebilovci were herded together with other Serbs from the western part of Herzegovina and eventually six carloads of them were sent off on a train that was supposedly to take them back to Belgrade. The train ride was much shorter than expected, at least as expected by the Serb passengers, who were ordered out of the six cars they occupied at a town called Surmanci, on the west bank of the Neretva, and marched off into the hills never to return.

Roughly three months later, Bishop Zanic’s predecessor, Aloysije Misic, ordinary of Mostar, the ornate Ottoman town a few train stations upstream from Surmanci, wrote to Cardinal Stepinac, primate of the once and future Yugoslavia, a man who would end up in prison at the hands of Tito’s revolutionary justice, and told him of disquieting reports of atrocities perpetrated against the Serbs in his diocese. “Men are captured like animals,” Misic wrote, “they are slaughtered, murdered; living men are thrown off cliffs… From Mostar and from Capljina a train took six carloads of mothers, young girls, and children… to Surmanci… They were led up the mountains and… thrown alive off the precipices… In… Mostar itself they have been found by the hundreds, taken in wagons outside the town and then shot down like animals.” Eventually around 600 Serbs, including priests, women, and children, were thrown into the pit above Surmanci and then, after throwing hand grenades in on top of them, the Ustashe thugs buried them, most probably still alive.

Michael Jones
The Medjugorje Deception

A little bombing to see reason

NATO alleged that Yugoslav forces were making massive attacks against ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo in pursuit of a programme of racial persecution known as ‘ethnic cleansing’. This claim lay at the very heart of the NATO case for war and of the indictment of Milošević and the other Yugoslav leaders. ‘It is no exaggeration,’ wrote the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, ‘to say what is happening in Kosovo is racial genocide. Milošević is determined to wipe a people from the face of his country.’ Blair went into overdrive: ‘Children seeing their fathers dragged away to be shot. Thousands executed. Tens of thousands beaten. 100,000 men missing. 1.5 million people driven from their homes.’

The world’s media joined in the frenzy. Lurid atrocity ‘reporting’ spread like a collective madness. Saturation coverage was provided of weeping Albanian refugees and the wildest stories about mass killings abounded. At one point, for instance, it was claimed that the Serbs, like the Nazis at Auschwitz, were burning the bodies of 1,500 murdered Albanians in the incinerators at the Trepča Mining Complex. Some of those who set themselves up as leading authorities on the Balkans fell for this blatant piece of war propaganda, even though it turned out to be completely false.

These stories were driven by the war propaganda emanating from the governments of the most powerful Western countries, primarily the United States. The US State Department produced a report in May 1999, during the bombing, entitled ‘Erasing History’, which alleged that ‘The regime of Slobodan Milošević is conducting a campaign of forced migration on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War.’ The report contained numerous falsehoods, from the overall allegation of genocide (which was so unsustainable that it was never included in the Kosovo indictment, not even when this was revised in June 2001, two years after the end of hostilities), to specific claims such as one that the Kosovar capital, Priština, had become ‘a ghost town’ when in fact, there were still hundreds of thousands of people living there.

Leading statesman fed the media with huge casualty figures, secure in the knowledge that their claims would be reported as fact before anything could be checked. In April, the US Ambassador for War Crimes, David Scheffer, said he thought 100,000 Albanians had been killed, a figure repeated by US Defense Secretary William Cohen the following month. Cohen’s claims were widely reported the following day as fact. The British government was a little more circumspect, preferring the figure of ‘10,000 killed’, a figure it initially mooted in June 1999 but which it stuck to until well into the following year.

These claims of genocide had a general and a particular function. Their general function was to work as war propaganda. Their particular function was a legal one. Genocide is a specific crime in international humanitarian law, coming under ‘universal jurisdiction’, and the existing treaties on it require all states to prosecute those accused of it. NATO leaders pretended that this meant there exists a right of ‘humanitarian intervention’ where genocide is occurring, while in fact there does not.

The centrepiece of NATO’s claim in this regard was ‘Operation Horseshoe’. This was allegedly a Serbian plan to drive out the Albanian population from Kosovo in order to establish ethnic Serb hegemony in that province. The NATO spokesman, Jamie Shea, referred frequently to Operation Horseshoe in his press conferences while the bombing was in progress, and the media reported it as fact. Eventually, it turned out to be an invention of the secret services of Western states. The game was given away when the document allegedly outlining it had ‘horseshoe’ written in the Croatian not Serbian form of the word (potkova instead of potkovica).

John Laughland
Travesty (2007)

Kossovo Article

The Epic Lay of Kossovo, sung from generation to generation by peasant bards to the strains of the stringed guzla in the remotest mountain glens and the busiest market places, has still been a common heirloom of the whole people. It has kept alive the tradition of national unity and green the memory of heroic deeds, and held up withal the traitors of the past to perpetual obloquy. The lesson brought homer by it is one which all members of the Southern Slav race take to heart to-day. It is summed up in the Serbian motto “Samo Sloga Srbina Spasava” — “Union only saves the Serbs”.

Sir Arthur John Evans
The Times (1914)

Kossovo Poem

There was a battle long ago,
Before America was dreamed and found
A battle fought and lost on Serbian ground
And known as Kossovo.

There was a Serbian king, Lazar,
Who, when offered earth or heaven by the Lord,
Led Serbians against the Turkish horde.
Chose an undying star.

Kossovo for five hundred years,
Was a battle never finished, till at last,
The mountains free, agony seemed to have passed
The place of skulls and tears.

But no, not yet may freedom go Redeemed.
Once more the Turks and heathen come
Across the broken bridge of Christendom
On the day of Kossovo.

Once more the hero calls to his men
And to unimagined armies from afar
And, by his death and by the undying star
Oh heaven, signals again.

And all the free have now one foe
And every freeman is a freeman’s friend
We come Lazar, to fight and win and end
Your battle, Kosovo.*

Witter Bynner
* Kossovo Day was widely celebrated in the West during the First World War.

Kosovo day

For Serbia

It has become necessary that the attention of the European governments be drawn to one circumstance which seems to be so slight that the governments do not even consider it their duty to notice it! That thing is the following: they are assassinating an entire people. Where? In Europe. Is there anyone to bear witness? The witness is one: the entire world. And the governments, do they see it? No, they do not.

There is something above peoples, which is actually below them: their governments. At certain moments, the nonsense becomes obvious: civilization rests in the people, barbarism in the governments. Is this barbarism intentional? No, it is professional. Things that the human race knows, the governments ignore. It is the government that sees everything through myopia, which is called the reason of state; the mankind looks at everything with a different eye, with its conscience.

We shall certainly surprise European governments by teaching them something, and that is that crime remains a crime; that neither the governments, nor single individuals are allowed to become assassins, that whatever is done in Europe, is done by Europe itself, and that all barbaric governments should be treated like wild beasts; we shall show that at this very moment, and in our close vicinity, slaughter is taking place, extermination; that fathers and mothers are slaughtered and little girls and boys sold into slavery; those children who are too small to be sold are being cut in half by sabers; that families are consumed in the flames of their own homes; that an entire town, Balak (Aleksinac), in only a few hours, was reduced from nine thousand people to one thousand three hundred souls; that in the cemeteries there are more dead than can be buried, so that to those alive, who have brought the slaughter upon their heads, the dead are giving in return the plague, which is just as well; we shall show to the European governments that pregnant women are having their bellies slit open so that their unborn infants may be killed; that dogs roam the streets biting on the sculls of raped girls; that all this is so terrible, and that only one gesture from the European governments would suffice to prevent it all from happening; that the savages perpetrating these crimes are terrible, but that the civilized men who permit this outrage, are abhorring.

The moment has come for us to raise our voices.

From all round the world appalled voices are being raised.

There are moments when even human conscience can take the stand and it orders governments to listen.

Governments are stuttering their reply. We are well acquainted with this stutter. They say: it is exaggerated.

Exaggerated, of course. The city of Balak was not exterminated in a few hours, but in a few days; they say that two hundred villages were burnt down, and in fact no more than ninety nine villages were destroyed; plague is being mentioned, and in fact it is the typhoid fever raging; all women were not raped, and neither were all the maidens sold, several of them did get away. The truth is that they were castrating prisoners, but it is also true that they were chopping their heads off, which alleviates the thing; the child of whom they said to have been thrown from the top of one spear to the top of another, was in fact pierced with a bayonet; there was one case, yes, but you say there were two, etc., etc.

After all, why did that people want to rebel? Why a group of men does not accept being treated like a herd of animals? Why?…etc.

This manner of covering up the crime only increases the horror of the whole thing. There is nothing more miserable that torturing public bitterness. Alleviations are incriminating. Here the slyness defends barbarism. Byzantium is making excuses for Istanbul.

Things should be called by their true names. To kill a man in the forest called Bondiska Forest or the Black Forest, it is a crime; to kill an entire people behind that forest, it is called diplomacy, but it is, nevertheless, a crime.

Only a greater one. That is all.

But does a crime, the bigger it gets, become smaller? Unfortunately, this has already become a law in history! If you kill six people, you are a Troppman; if you kill six hundred thousand, you are a caesar. To be great in evil, means to be powerful among men. The proof: massacre of St. Bartholomew, which was blessed by the Pope; Dragonnades, glorified by Bossuet; December 2nd, welcomed by the whole of Europe.

But the time has come for this old law to be replaced by a new one. No matter how dark the night may be, the horizon at the end must bathe in daylight.

Yes, the night is dark and the ghosts are starting to rise. After Syllabus, here comes the Koran; one Holy Gospel can go hand in hand with the other; iangamus dextras; behind one Holy See there rises the Divine Porta. Rome already gave us the Middle Ages, Turkey is just about now to give us its own mediaeval times.

Thus, the things have come to pass in Serbia. Where will they end?

When will the torture of this small heroic people be over?

The time has come that civilization should impose a magnificent prohibition on its governments.

But they will say: we are forgetting that there are “issues”. To kill a man is a crime, but to kill a people is an “issue”. Every government has its own issues. The Russians have Istanbul, England has India, France has Prussia and Prussia has France.

Here is what we say in reply:

The mankind also has its issue, and that issue is greater than England, greater than India and Russia, it is the infant in the wombs of its mother.

Let us replace political issues with human issues.

It is there that the entire future lies.

And the future will, no matter what is being done, come to pass. Everything is in its service, even crime! What a terrible servant.

The current developments in Serbia demonstrate that there is a need for the United State of Europe. Let instead of the disagreeing governments come harmonious peoples. Let once and for all put an end to the murderous empires! Let us put a stop to fanaticism and despotism. Let us break down swords in the service of illusion, and dogma waving the saber in its hand. Enough with wars and slaughters, free thought, free exchange; brotherhood of men. Is the peace really so difficult? European Republic, continental federation, this is the only political reality. Thinking points at this, and so do events. When asked about this reality, which is a necessity, all the philosophers agree, and the executioners with their evidence support that of philosophers. In its own way, just because it is so terrible, the savagery bears witness to civilization. Progress was signed by Ahmed Pasha. What the bestialities committed in Serbia put beyond any doubt is that Europe needs a single European nation, a single European government, a single enormous brotherly electoral cord, democracy in peace with itself, that all peoples should be brothers with Paris, as the cradle and the capital, that light becomes the capital of freedom. In a word, the United States of Europe. This is the aim, this is the harbor. Until yesterday, it was only the truth, today it is a reality, thanks to the butchers of Serbia. With thinkers of the killers. Evidence was first provided by genius, now to be repeated by monsters.

The future is God dismembered by tigers!

Paris, August 29, 1876
Victor Hugo
Rappel (1876)

Refugees and Rebellious Bosnia

The Bosnian insurgents hold already in their possession mountain strongholds, embracing over 1,000 square miles, are fairly armed, and, as I believe, capable not only of holding their own without foreign assistance, but ultimately, perhaps, unless thwarted by foreign intervention, of forming a new free State — a little Bosnian Montenegro — in the north-western angle of the province.

Finally, as to Turkish promises and paper constitutions, the fall of Midhat will have already prepared your readers for the intelligence that the Turkish Government has not dared to promulgate the new Constitution in Bosnia in the native language, and that, so far as Western Bosnia is concerned, the Government of Samboul has practically ceased to exist. The country not in the hands of the insurgents is terrorized over by the dominated caste of native Mohametan fanatics, the begs and agas, and their (in Bosnia still half-feudal) train of murderous Bashi-Bazouks, who have cast off the last semblance of obedience to the Central Government. In the country about Travnik and Banjaluka, the worst horrors of Bulgaria are repeating themselves at this very moment. I have before me the following details from a source of which you may absolutely rely. The outburst of fanaticism at present desolating that already desolated part of Bosnia, had its origin among the dregs of the Mohametan population of Travnik, the ex-capital of this country. One gang of these ruffians numbering about a hundred made its way to Banjaluka, and since the end of last month robber bands of these fanatics have been making inroads into the Christian villages whose inhabitants had not fled the country. As to the number of persons actually murdered, it is impossible at present to obtain details. In a single village, however — Zupa, by Banjaluka — there were six such assassinations; many have been cruelly beaten, and other outrages have been committed of which I cannot write. The worst is, that in the depths of winter a large and peaceful population have been scared from their homes, and are either hiding in the forests or have crossed the frontier. The Agram papers raise the number of this fresh exodus of refugees to 5,000, but this is probably an exaggeration, and I have been careful to accept nothing on the authority of Croatian and Dalmatian journals. The fact which I wish to impress upon my readers is that, so far from the refugees returning to their burnt homes, their numbers are rather augmenting; and even while I write this, news reaches me of fresh arrivals of refugees at this place from Glamoč; these, however, on their own showing, were driven forth by no particular act of barbarity, but simply by hunger and misery.

Tišovo, Free Bosnia, February 10

There are some five hundred insurgents encamped in the neighborhood of Despotović’s head-quarters: those I saw were fairly clad, some in Montenegrin fashion, well armed, and seemed to want for nothing. The insurgents, however, under Despotović’s command are scattered at present over a wide area of country, forming an irregular mountainous triangle between the Austrian frontier and the Turkish fortresses of Kulen Vakuf, Kliuč and Glamoč, the chief bulwark of which to the east is the great mountain mass of Czerna Gora, or the Black Mountain; so that there literally exists at the present moment a little Bosnian Montenegro.

It was to exploring the whole of this difficult country and to visiting the other principal insurgent camps that I has resolved to devote the following days; and I was lucky in securing the services of the ex-commander Golub Babić, who is still chief Vojvoda of the insurgents and their most trusted leader, as my guide and escort. I was also accompanied by Atanasija Smilianić, a young but exceedingly brave warrior, of a famed and noble Dalmatian race, and who spoke German tolerably well.

I was mounted on a sure-footed Bosnian pony, and, with no more deadly weapon than a walking-stick, set forth with my escort armed to the teeth to explore a country as little known to Europeans as the wilds of Asia; the Mohamentan Effendi, of whom I took leave, grimly expressing a hope that I would call on some friends of his at Petrovatz, as they had vowed a vow to hang the first Englishman they set eyes on! Obviously we are loosing our popularity in Bosnia, and indeed the Effendi explained that among Bosnian Begs, who have lost a good deal of property during the present troubles, the English are peculiarly hateful, many of them declaring that they would never have fought against the insurgents at all if they had not been sure of English help. This is to be regretted, as the fanatical raid of these Begs on the Christian population of this part have been attended with terrible havoc and ferocious deeds of cruelty.

It was already twilight when we caught sight of our day’s destination, the village of Veliki Tišovo, perched on a rocky knoll on the side of the ‘pole.’ Here is another insurgent camp containing over four hundred armed men who, as we approached, formed in line and received us with another military demonstration.

Here, as elsewhere, the men are hearty and hopeful and are armed with serviceable breechloaders, and the village they occupy lies in such a secure position that it has never been visited by the Turks. We are received into the hut of Pero Kreco, the local Vojvoda, and glad enough I was to seat myself before his blazing pine-logs, for the cold in these highlands is intense. We were feasted with excellent broth and mutton, and a very jovial evening was enlivened with some songs about the Sultan by no means complimentary in their character.

I am much struck at the difference between the men here and the Bosnian rajahs that I remember still under Turkish yoke. They are incomparably less degraded, whether that so short an enjoyment of freedom has already elevated their character, or that the mountaineers of this part have always been superior in physique to those of the more central districts and of the Possavina, or lands about the Save, where the inhabitants are a smaller race and are contemptuously spoken of by the Bosniacs themselves as “frogs”. The people about here are Pravoslav in their religion to a man, whereas in the more central and northern districts, with which I had been previously better acquainted, the population was largely Catholic; and it has often been remarked that the Pravoslavs or Orthodox in Bosnia are more manly and moral than the Latins. The Pravoslav grasps his congregation by the hand; the Romish priest leads them by the nose. The Pravoslav pope is obliged to be a married man, which itself is a good thing, for it is to be observed as an odd coincidence that the only regions in Bosnia in which prostitutes are to be found are those where Romish priests are plentiful.

Here I heard an instance of those revolting practices which, with many other evil relics of mediaeval feudalism or importations of Asiatic barbarism, still survive among the Slavonic Begs of Bosnia. Mili Kotor, a peasant of Grahovo, near here, was captured by one of the Mohametan landlords and his Bashi-bazouk retainers, and forced to swallow large quantities of salt and water. In a mill at Sterminitza may be seen any day by those who are curious as to these monstrosities of barbarism a man who was tied face foremost to a tree and worried by dogs while the Beg sat by and smoked his chibouk.

Unnatz, in Free Bosnia, February 11

We left Tišovo about 6.30 this morning, and following another mountain pass, leaving on our left the great Chator, a two hours’ ride brought us to another ‘polje’ and the village of Preodatz. The Turks had never penetrated here, and one half of the village was still occupied by its inhabitants; the other half, however, had left, having no corn to sow, and are  now among the refugees at Stermnitza. So the cottages are empty and half ruined, for the fugitives have carried with them part of the wooden roofs for firewood. There are turbine mills over the little stream, but the millers have gone. In this village was an ancient graveyard, and an old cross overthrown and half buried in the earth. The people said that when the Turks first conquered Bosnia a marriage was going on here; that the Turks rushed in, killed the wedding guests and bridegroom, and carried off the bride, and that this cross was set up in memory of the tragedy. I had the cross raised, and discovered on its under side a very ancient Bosnian inscription; but though I have not yet succeeded in deciphering the runes, they are hardly likely to throw much light upon the legend. Beyond this was another monument of ancient Bosnia, the foundations of a church long destroyed; and on a peak above, perched as if by magic on almost inaccessible rocks, overlooking on one side a stream at the bottom of a stupendous chasm, stand the fine ruins of a castle dating from the feudal days of the Christian kingdom. Its massive tower looked down at present on wasted fields and deserted homesteads, and brought home to one in a singular way what the wretched serfs of Bosnia have suffered both in the present and the past.

Emerging on the valley of the Unnatz, I found a more fertile and friendly country than any I have yet seen in the liberated district of Bosnia. The beech trees were finer and the soul richer, and the village of Lower Unnatz itself, to which we now made our way, was as flourishing as any in this part of Bosnia before it was burnt and harried by the Turks. As it is, the devastation is cruel; the fields lie waste, and only a few huts, where the ‘cheta,’ or insurgent camp, is pitched, are still unburnt and surrounded by a little cultivation. On our way we made a slight detour to visit the remains of an ancient church that once rose on the other side of the valley, and the architectural fragments which I have discovered showed that in days before the Turkish conquest something of a higher civilization had penetrated into this remote valley.

About eleven hours from our morning’s start we arrived at the “cheta” of Unnatz, where we were received, as elsewhere, with military honors by a troop of about one hundred and fifty insurgents.

We were now welcomed into the hut of the local Vojvode, Simo Kralj, and here I passed an evening which carried one back to Homeric times. The evening meal was served, as elsewhere, on a round board, on which was first set a great bowl of boiled Indian corn, from which the assembled chieftains and their guests helped themselves by means of curiously ornamented wooden spoons. This was succeeded by lumps of mutton, which we picked off the board with our fingers, one at a time, and at intervals the host handed to each in turn a silver drinking cup of curiously antique shape filled to brimming with thick Dalmatian wine. The women and children, and those of less consequence, ate afterwards, and during the meal two women held torches of resinous pinewood above our heads. Then the “guzla”, the national lyre, was brought out, and a venerable minstrel played and sang the song of free Bosnia, for amongst this highly poetic people the insurrection has already its unwritten epics.

Then I stretched myself with the others on the hay that had been strewn, as an unusual luxury, for our common couch, and, with my feet towards the embers, prepared to pass from cloudland into dreamland; and last of all the chieftain, with patriarchal ceremony, spread a sheepskin over me against the small hours of the night.

Sir Arthur John Evans
Illyrian Letters (1878)

History in the Poem

It is worth noticing how national history, only when transposed into a poem, becomes national treasure and is committed to legend.

Everything that had happened before is almost entirely forgotten; the memory grips that last of the nation’s splendor and its tragic end. The tragedy is described in several extensive poetic cycles.

The first poetic cycle starts by describing Stefan Dušan. Although he was blamed for bringing about the fall of the Empire, by creating very large provinces, here we can see him surrounded with several distinguished Serbian families whom he has to treat tactfully. From the very start, they are depicted in such light as is required for the developments yet to come: the Jugovichi are proud and hot-tempered, the Mrnjavčevichi act in collusion with demons and fairies. We see that immediately after the demise of Dušan, the Mrnjavčević’s grabbed all the power. History says that this was to due to the incompetence of the weakling Uroš, who is described as a forty-days old child at the moment of the father’s death. But not all members of the Mrnjavčević family are prone to using force. That same family gave birth to the national hero, Marko Kraljević (Prince Marko), who fears no  one except God. He disputes the right to the throne both to his father and to his uncles, giving it to the one to whom it rightfully belongs. Can a hero be more splendidly described? By doing so, he brings upon himself both a blessing and a curse, both of which will come true, and this is an indication of the developments to take place in the future.

Marko is cursed to become a Turkish vassal. The second cycle, entitled Lazarica, recounts how the country fell under the Turkish rule. Just like history, the poem also mentions the discord and treason which resulted in the disaster. There is, however, a painful feeling of doom pervading throughout this poetic cycle, a feeling that the tragic outcome was somehow meant to be. The tragic outcome is also anticipated by Miloš, the most excellent, most handsome and noblest of all Lazar’s heroes; the prince also receives bad omens from celestial messengers and on the eve of the battle, he give communion to his army; nevertheless, the courage of combatants is no less splendidly glorified, and a terrible curse is pronounced on a prospective traitor. A moving description praises the death of those who have fallen in the battle.

Marko did not take part in the Battle of Kossovo; the poem does not say why. The third poetic cycle is dedicated to him. The poem described him not as a man like other heroes, but as some kind of prodigy; he lives a long life of a hundred and sixty years, and for as many years he rides his horse whom he feeds with the same wine that he drinks himself; on horseback, he sits like a dragon on a dragon; no sword can kill him, and neither can a mace or a club; he pursues the fairy who inflicted a deadly wound on his blood-brother, high through the skies, catches her with the bludgeon and refuses to release her until she begs to become his blood-sister and promises to help him whenever he is in trouble, as well as to heal his friend. Since the legend has equipped this hero so wonderfully well, what deeds are ascribed to him? He serves the Turks. Yet we see that the neighboring kings invite him for religious ceremonies at the same time when the Sultan calls him to join him in his warfare. Being well aware of his duties as a Turkish vassal, he chooses to go to the war. However, while serving the Sultan, he refuses to take injustice, unlike the others. When a vizier breaks his falcon’s wing, he kills both the vizier and hs twelve escorts; he takes revenge on his father’s assassin and then, still smoldering with rage, with his fur-lined coat turned upside down, bludgeon in hand, he enters the Sultan’s tent. The Sultan, scared, steps backwards trying to appease Marko with words and gifts. Nevertheless, all this does not change the fact that Marko served the Turks, which is related in a number of stories about his adventures. When everybody else refuses to do so, Marko has to fight in a duel with the Arab who has forced the Sultan to pay him the dues and give him a daughter in a marriage, then with a Rabanase of demonic powers who hinders sailing on the seas from his tower; Marko also goes to pilgrimage and takes part in the collection of the “harach” (tax imposed by the Turks). He goes with the Turkish army all the way to Arabia. Through Marko’s character, the people apparently epitomized its servitude to the Turks in the early stages of its slavery. According to ancient books, after the Battle of Kossovo Serbian army took part in Bajazet’s warfare almost every year; in the battle of Ankara it almost single-handedly save the life of Bajazet’s son Suleiman and the what was left of the defeated Turkish army. But if it assisted one Turk and had greatly aided the establishment of Turkish grandeur under Mohammed I, for other Turks it was no less dangerous: Seleiman and Mussa experienced it well. The people was full of immeasurable strength and unwavering courage, but nevertheless, it was in chains. This is something that the people shows through its hero, endowed with all the virtues in which the nation believed, comprising in his character, perhaps, all the glory of the heroes of the times gone by. The people was well aware of the historical course of events and the battle which brought about its slavery, but the long period of slavery after the battle could only be depicted as a myth. Some poems say that God, “that old slayer”, finally killed this invincible hero. It is a poem very naive and full of ecstatic feeling. Some others express hope that Marko is still alive. As the legend goes, when Marko saw the first rifle and realized that it had lethal power, he retired into a cave in the high mountain forest. His sword still hangs there, his horse eats moss and Marko is asleep. Only when his sword falls, and the horse has no more moss to eat, Marko shall wake up and return.

All these legends are not recounted in a continuos series, but are contained in various poems, each of them having a separate focus; they have never been elaborated or put together by the creative mind of one poet, but yet they are all pervaded with an unvaried tone and spirit, the one and only popular perspective of the world, at the same time poetic and, apparently, one can not fail to perceive in them some supreme form of unity of the general subject matter. In this way the people, in the legend which is always alive and always young, keeps up the memory of its one-time greatness and the loss of its independence.

Leopold von Ranke
Serbian Revolution (1829)

The Western powers and the collapse of Yugoslavia

The forces eager to see the break-up of Yugoslavia through independence for Slovenia and Croatia were the Vatican, Austria, Hungary, Germany and, more ambivalently, Italy. Since the mid-1980s, the Vatican and Austria had started an active campaign in East Central and Eastern Europe to rebuild their influence there and by 1989-90 the Vatican was openly championing independence for Slovenia and Croatia. By 1990 Austria’s government was equally open. In the words of a study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Austria had “a remarkably open and sometimes brazen policy aimed at helping Slovenia and Croatia in their efforts to leave the [Yugoslav] Federation.”  The Austrian media denounced what they called ‘Panzer Communism’ in Yugoslavia and ‘primitive Serbs’ while the Austrian government went so far as to include the Slovenian Minister for External Affairs, Dmitri Rupel, in Austria’s own delegation to a CSCE meeting in Berlin. Although Austria presented its drive for Slovenian and Croatian independence in terms of ‘democracy’ and the ‘democratic rights’ of the Slovenians and Croatians, such concerns were hardly uppermost in the Austrian state, given the fact that for decades Austria had, according to Zemetica, “been striving to assimilate the Slovene minority in the Klagenfurt Basin and the Croats in Burgenland” and “had been flagrantly and consistently brushing aside its obligations towards minorities under the 1955 State Treaty.”

The real goal of Austrian policy was to expand Austria’s regional influence since it “saw the Yugoslav crisis as an auspicious moment for self-assertion” In the summer of 1991 the EC was finally prompted to warn Austria that if it continued its energetic efforts to break up Yugoslavia it would be excluded from eventual EC membership but even that threat did not stop Austrian efforts.

The Hungarian government of Jozef Antall, elected in the Spring of 1990, adopted a policy very much in line with that of Austria, but with additional Hungarian goals vis a vis Serbia’s Voivodina Province. As Zametica explains, the Hungarian government, during the Yugoslav crisis, consistently favoured and covertly aided the secessionist struggle of Slovenia and, particularly, Croatia. The Kalashnikov affair of early 1991 revealed that wide sections of Hungary’s officialdom were implicated in the illegal and large scale supply of weapons to Croatia.

Hungary was secretly supplying automatic assault rifles to Croatia in late 1990. And in July 1991, at the very height of the crisis between Serbia and Croatia, the Hungarian  Prime Minister declared that the international treaties designating Hungary’s southern borders with Serbia and in particular with Voivodina were treaties made only with Yugoslavia. This, he said, was an ‘historical fact’ which ‘must be kept in view’. And, referring to the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, Antal spelt out just why Hungary was so vigorously supporting Croatia’s secession: “We gave Vojvodina to Yugoslavia. If there is no more Yugoslavia, then we should get it back.”

These manoeuvres by Austria and Hungary to break up Yugoslavia were, of course, then overshadowed by the German government’s drive to derecognise Yugoslavia through giving recognition to Slovenia and Croatia. The German government’s open championing of Yugoslavia’s break-up did not occur until the late Spring of 1991, but long before that both Slovenia and Croatia were getting encouragement from Bonn for their efforts. The German campaign has usually been explained by Kohl’s domestic electoral interests. But the weakness of this explanation lies in the fact that it was Foreign Minister Genscher – not a Christian Democrat – who seems to have been the driving force behind the German policy. And there was thus a focused and co-ordinated coalition involving Austria, Germany, Hungary and the Vatican all pushing for the same goal: Yugoslavia’s break up.

In 1990 the CIA was warning the Bush administration that Yugoslavia was heading for civil war within 18 months. The dilemma was well brought out by a journalist at a press conference given by Secretary of State Baker on 5 July 1990 in Washington. The journalist asked: “I noticed in the remarks that you made today that were distributed to us, you expressed some concerns about the situation in Yugoslavia. Now, how does conditionality apply to the kind of problem that you have described in Yugoslavia, which is less to do with the central government and more to do with the different republics. It is not clear whether Belgrade could deliver some of the things that you want. How will that be judged?”

Baker, normally laconic, replied with some feeling but more evasion: “The question you raised is a very, very good question. There will have to be some serious thought given to the degree to which you look at the republic level as opposed to looking at the central government level. And you are quite right. There are some things in some countries with respect to which the central government can deliver on; and in other countries that cannot be done.”

But the US government as a whole opted for the priority of the Shock Therapy programme over Yugoslav cohesion.  Thus was the internal dynamic towards the Yugoslav collapse into civil war decisively accelerated. The only European states which did have a strategic interest in the Yugoslav theatre tended to want to break it up.

It would be wrong, of course, to suggest that there were no other, specifically Yugoslav, structural flaws which helped to generate the collapse. Many would argue that the decentralised Market Socialism was a disastrous experiment for a state in Yugoslavia’s geopolitical situation. The 1974 Constitution, though better for the Kosovar Albanians, gave too much to the republics, crippling the institutional and material power of the Federal government. Tito’s authority substituted for this weakness until his death in 1980, after which the state and Communist Party became increasingly paralysed and thrown into crisis. But if the Western powers had been remotely interested in putting the interests of the Yugoslav people first, they had adequate levers to play a decisive role, alongside Yugoslavia’s federal government, in maintaining the country’s integrity. Instead, the Western powers most interested in Yugoslav developments actually assisted, politically and materially, in bringing about the collapse.

In 1991 the Western powers, led by Germany, gave their answer on the question of the Serb population in Croatia. They said Croatia should be entitled to independence on grounds of self-determination and within the boundaries of republican Croatia established within post-war Yugoslavia. Self-determination was established by the fact that a referendum of the Croatian nation had voted for independence. This was a formula for war between the Croatian nationalist government and Croatia’s Serb population because it violated the principles for handling the national question established in the post-war Yugoslav constitution: it denied the Serbs in Croatia their sovereign national rights.

Under that constitution the will of a republican majority could not override the equally valid will of a constituent nation. Thus the vote of the Croatian majority for independence could not override the rights of the Serb population which had to be equally respected. The political leaders of the Serbian population in Croatia organised a referendum on whether to remain within  an independent Croatia and the result was an overwhelming rejection. According to the Yugoslav principles Croatian independence should have been dependent upon a prior resolution of that conflict of rights and democratic wills.

But the EC states during 1991 ignored this, rejecting the Yugoslav idea that the Serb nation had rights equal to the Croatian republican will. Instead the majority of EC states adopted the view that the Serb population of Croatia should accept their status as a national minority within an independent Croatia. This approach should, of course, have implied that CSCE principles for protecting minority rights must be guaranteed before Croatian independence was recognised. But the Croatian government rejected the granting of such CSCE rights.

And the German government decided to brush this CSCE principle aside and recognised Croatia without any prior commitment by the Croatian government to adequate minority rights for Croatia’s Serbian population. This German position thus involved a double betrayal of Croatia’s Serbs: a betrayal of the Yugoslav principles concerning their rights and a betrayal of the CSCE principles concerning their rights. It was bound to drive the Croatian Serb population towards war under the leadership of Serb nationalism. And it led the American mediator Cyrus Vance to call the resulting war ‘Genscher’s war’, referring to the German Foreign Minister. This may be an exaggeration: it was also Tudjman’s and Milosevic’s. But it was Genscher who made it clear to the Croatian Serbs that they had nobody to depend on for their rights but the force of their own arms and those of Serbia.

As to why the German government took this stand is an issue which remains obscure. The line of German diplomats that it was driven by domestic pressures is not convincing since the Auswärtiges Amt [foreign office] led the whole drive. As we shall see, there were other interpretations at the time. But equally important is the question as to why the other EC powers were prepared to accept the German line.

Peter Gowan
The Twisted Road to Kosovo (1999)

US intervention: playing the Bosnian card against an emerging German sphere of influence

During 1991 the United States’s declaratory policy was one of supporting Yugoslav unity. But in reality the US stood back from the Yugoslav crisis, simply watching the chaotic manoeuvrings of the European powers on the issue. The US no longer had any significant national interest in Yugoslavia. But it was pre-occupied by one overriding European policy issue: ensuring that Western Europe remained firmly subordinated to the Atlantic Alliance under US leadership. And this was viewed by the Bush administration as a serious problem as a result of fundamental features of the Soviet collapse. First, NATO – the military cornerstone of the Alliance – had lost its rationale and there were moves in Western Europe (and the USSR) to build a new security order in Europe that would tend to undermine US leadership.

Secondly, the new United Germany, liberated from US tutelage, seemed to be building a new political bloc with France through the Maastricht Treaty with its stress on a Common Foreign and Security Policy leading towards ‘a common defence’. This seemed to be more than words since Germany and France were in the process of building a joint military corps, the so-called ‘Euro-Corps’ outside the NATO framework – a move that profoundly disturbed Washington and London. And thirdly, Germany’s drive in relation to Yugoslavia seemed to be geared not simply to domestic German constituencies, but to the construction of a German sphere of influence in Central Europe, involving Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia and perhaps later drawing in Czechoslovakia and eventually and most crucially Poland. This seemed to be the only explanation for the extraordinary assertive unilateralism of Genscher and Kohl, running roughshod over their EC partners in December 1991 and sending a signal to the whole of Europe that Bonn had become the place where the shape of the new Europe was being decided.

This was not acceptable to the Bush administration. As Eagleburger explained, Germany “was getting out ahead of the US” with its Croatian drive. In other words the US interpretation of Genscher’s drive to break up Yugoslavia was far from being that it was just a sop to Catholic domestic constituencies and the editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. In response to this challenge, the US administration decided to take over the political lead in the Yugoslav crisis.

But just as Germany’s various declared universalist norms and goals were in the service of not of the Yugoslav people but of German political influence, so the United States was not, of course, entering the Yugoslav theatre to calm the storms of war and provide new security for Yugoslavia’s terrified peoples. Quite the reverse. The Bush administration was entering the scene to push Germany and the European Union aside but it was going to do so by laying the basis for a new and much more savage Yugoslav war.

Washington’s chosen instrument for taking the lead was that of encouraging the Bosnian government to go for independence and therefore for a Bosnian war. Bosnian independence was opposed by the German government and the EC. They aimed to try to hold the rest of Yugoslavia together. The US administration decided to put a stop to that by launching a drive for Bosnian independence which got underway in January 1992 just as the EC was following Germany’s lead in recognising Croatia and Slovenia.

Germany had turned the internal Yugoslav crisis into its own problem definition: Europe must defend independent Croatia against Serbian/Yugoslav aggression. Now Washington would provide a new problem definition: Europe and the world must defend an Independent Bosnia against Serbian/Yugoslav aggression and, perhaps, if tactically useful, against Croatian aggression as well. Thus did the US enunciate the great norm that would eventually provide it with European leadership: self-determination for the Bosnian nation and defence of its independence against aggression.
Bosnia: A state without a nation

There was a factual problem with the American line: there was no Bosnian nation in a political sense or in a Yugoslav constitutional sense. There were, instead, three nations in Bosnia, none of which had a majority of the population. As of the 1981 Census Bosnia contained the following main national groups:

Muslims: 1,629,000
Serbs: 1,320,000
Croatians: 758,000
Yugoslavs: 326,000
Bosnians: 0

It was evident from voting results that the majority of Bosnia’s own population was not going to respect the authority of an independent Bosnian state. (The Croatian nationalist leaders had supported Bosnian independence but only to facilitate Bosnia’s being carved up). And it was equally obvious that large parts of that population would go to war rather than accept the state. The American government knew this perfectly well. So by pushing the Izetbegovic government to launch a drive for independence, the Bush administration was pushing for war.

Peter Gowan
The Twisted Road to Kosovo (1999)