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war

YU: The Lost Country. A Yugoslav in search of a vanished identity.

Dragana Jurisic was 16 when Yugoslavia began to disintegrate as competing nationalist movements started to resurrect once more the poisonous internecine hatred that had already brought so much hurt to the Balkans.  Once more, less than fifty years after World War 2 ended, Europe was going to experience a savage conflict, although this time it would be all the more bitter, since it was conducted by people who knew each other, who spoke the same language, who had been schoolfriends, studied in the same military cadet schools.  People who, at the height of the conflict, were still able to radio each other across the lines to ask how the wife and kids were getting on.

It was 1991.  Dragana was out with three friends, just messing around, when they came to the riverside walk and found it deserted, apart from groups of armed men.  Across the river was Bosnia-Herzegovina while off in the near distance was Serbia.  Go  home, the armed men told them. Run.  And so the war in Croatia kicked off, with the Yugoslav People’s Army, the JNA, making war on its own people.

Except that they couldn’t have been its own people, since Yugoslavia no longer existed, but then, what exactly was the JNA?  An army without a country?  The entity that had bound Yugoslavia together for five decades was suddenly an oppressive terrorist force that would shortly reduce parts of Croatia to rubble, paving the way for even worse terrorists, such as the criminal Arkan’s Tigers, the thug supporters of Red Star Belgrade, and the White Eagles, directed by the brutish academic genius, Vojislav Seselj, the youngest PhD Yugoslavia ever produced, now reduced to a thug.  Both groups would go on to follow the Yugoslav People’s Army through Eastern Slavonia, tossing hand grenades into cellars full of cowering civilians, abducting patients from Vukovar’s hospitals and murdering them, using rape as a weapon of terror.

Bijeljina

On the other side, long-dormant passions would emerge, driven by Croatia’s dark past.  The country that produced the worst Nazi collaborators, the Ustase, would once more spawn sectarian, xenophobic, murderous paramilitary groups, as Colonel Bob Stewart revealed to the world when he confronted Croat murderers who had slaughtered 101 Bosnian Muslim villagers at Ahmici.  One leader of these factions, Mate Boban, a former Communist, saw the Muslims as irrelevant, and formed common cause with his “brother in Christ” Slobodan Milosevic, the former Communist Serbian leader (some would say the puppet-master) to carve Bosnia up between Croatia and Serbia.

Franjo Tudjman, the Croatian President, shared Boban’s vision of a Greater Croatia,  cleansed of Serbs and Muslims, even though he had fought the Germans as a Partisan.  It’s still hard to comprehend how Tudjman and Milosevic maintained a close, if covert, working relationship even when the JNA was destroying cities in Croatia, and when Arkan’s thugs and Seselj’s killers were terrorising the civilian population, but they did, and what’s more they put it on the record in a remarkable BBC documentary, The Death of Yugoslavia.  Creating a Greater Serbia and  a Greater Croatia was their joint aim, even if they had nothing else in common.

Who can explain why Tudjman chose to provoke such fear and paranoia among rural Serbs in Croatia?  Why did he do that?  Why did he assault the civil service, attempting to remove as many Serbs as possible, when he must have known that the urban middle-class Serbs posed no threat at all to his government?  Why did he reintroduce the chequered flag so quickly when he must have known that it was seen as a symbol of the hated Ustase by many?  A symbol as potent as the Swastika.  Why did he outlaw the use of Cyrillic script in official documents, thus alienating every Orthodox Serb in the country?

It’s impossible to know, but actions like these caused massive fear among rural Serbs, especially in the Krajina region and particularly in Knin, where a  local dentist, Milan Babic, became the focal point for a Serb uprising, thereby playing into the cynical hands of Milosevic.  Fifteen years later, Babic, in a fit of remorse for what he had visited upon what he called his “Croatian brothers”, killed himself in a prison cell, but not before the flame he lit had consumed much of Croatia and all of Bosnia.

Dragana Jurisic was only 16 when this conflagration sparked.   Before long the conflagration would consume not only Yugoslavia but the very apartment in which she lived, along with her father’s thousands of photographic negatives and all her LPs.   In what she describes as a bureaucratic genocide, millions of people who identified as Yugoslavians were wiped out, converted to Croats, Serbs and Bosnians by the heartless logic of political ideology.  It was a grim, if unknowing, echo of the Ustase in the 1940s, when thousands of Serbs were forcibly converted from Orthodox to Catholic in order to turn them into Croats.

How can we account for this sort of behaviour among plainly civilised people?  After all, despite the stereotypes inflicted on the Balkans by self-interested politicians and journalists in the more westerly nations, the fact is that Croats and Serbs are an educated and sophisticated society, among the warmest and most welcoming of folk, provided they don’t fear for their safety.

I once put this question to a taxi-driver in Croatia.  He was a kind man of infinite patience, who happily gave up his entire day to take us around and show us the sights, for a modest enough fee.  Curiously, I discovered later that even though he and his wife are Croat, they speak Italian at home.  I was interested in his take on Operation Storm in 1995, when the Croatian Army, newly re-armed by their old ally, Germany, crashed into the Krajina region and expelled a half million people who had lived there for centuries.  In a mixture of broken English, broken French and broken German, I tried to get his view.  How can such a thing happen?

He shrugged.  I win war, I take your house.   You win war, you take my house.  Is natural.

No, I thought.  It isn’t.  It’s not a bit natural.   But I wasn’t going to intrude on his easy-going nature by arguing with him about such a huge issue, though the question still troubled me, just as it had done in previous years when Serb forces dispossessed Croat and Bosnian alike, just as Israeli settlers evicted Palestinians and took over their homes.  Just as Hutu had murdered Tutsi in Rwanda.

What is that?  What causes kind, decent people to believe that they can murder, imprison and dispossess their neighbours, people they went to school with, people they knew and played with as children?  How does an average man, a plumber perhaps or a baker, suddenly develop the skills to draw up lists, requisition warehouses, hire buses and sequester all those he hates in a makeshift concentration camp at a moment’s notice, just as the Serbs did at Omarska?

Had the hatred always been there, in this case hidden under a Yugoslav skin?

The jewel wasp is a remarkable insect that knows precisely how to take over a cockroach.  First it stings the insect to temporarily paralyse its front legs.  Then it injects a precisely-measured amount of venom into exactly the right place in the cockroach’s brain to disable its  escape instinct.  Having achieved that, it leads the docile insect by the antenna, like a farmer leading a cow, to a tomb, where it lays an egg that will eventually become a larva.  The larva burrows into the cockroach and eats it from the inside out, taking care not to kill it, and at the same time spreading an anti-microbial layer to ensure that it has no competition as it consumes its host, until it eventually bursts out of the used-up husk, a newly-pupated jewel wasp.

I can think of no better analogy for the sort of evil ideology that has consumed not only the Balkans, but just about every country in the word.

What wasp stung Yugoslavia?

Slobodan Milosevic, of course, with his Gazimestan speech in 1989, where he invoked the ancient Serbian sense of persecution. Serbs are the only people in the world who feel more persecuted than the Irish, and Slobo understood this very well as he reminded the crowd that Serbia had been robbed by the Ottomans in 1389.  Irish people will understand this mindset very well.  Six hundred years of oppression.

Of course, the location was important, in the heart of Kosovo at a time when tensions were so strong between Kosovar Serbs and ethnic Albanians.  Slobo addressed a million Serbs who had been transported to Kosovo Polje,  the Field of the  Blackbirds, from all over Yugoslavia in a massive nationalist display of intimidation, replete with ludicrous symbols invoking everything from the blood of Prince Lazar to  the Orthodox cross.  It was a bizarre performance from a man who, only five years previously, had been a committed Communist, but it worked.  Slobo, the new Serbian Prometheus, had stolen fire from Heaven, though he had yet to understand that it would consume him and all around him.

We all know how that ended.

Dragana Jurisic, daughter of a Croatian father and a Serbian mother, went on to earn a degree in psychology from the University of Rijeka, followed by a Masters and a PhD in photographic research at the University of Wales.  She then discovered Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West, a massive, two-volume account of a journey through Yugoslavia in 1937, setting out in precise detail the itinerary, including dates and times of every journey, every arrival and every departure.   It was only four years later that the Axis powers invaded, splitting Yugoslavia into many fragments but never truly subduing its spirit.  In the end, as we know, the Axis powers failed to defeat Yugoslavia, and the native Ustase collaborators and their German friends beat many hasty and ignominious retreats, but not before they had created such obscenities as the Jasenovac extermination camp, commanded at one time by a Franciscan called Filipovic, whom the inmates referred to as Brother Satan.

When a friend told me that this talk was being presented by someone who spoke about the Serbo-Croat language, I knew there was something special afoot, since this is the touchstone of the silly division between one Yugoslav and another.  It reached its nadir during the early Bosnian parliament sittings when the Serb faction and the Croat faction demanded interpreters, even though their linguistic differences amount to little more than an accent in a country smaller than Munster.  Imagine a Tipperary TD demanding an interpreter for a Cork TD.  It was, and is, as silly as that.

Dragana decided to follow Rebecca West’s travels through Yugoslavia and it wasn’t an easy journey.  Using only an old Rolleiflex medium-format camera and confining herself to 24 shots a day, she encountered all manner of obstacles, not least of which was her obviously-Serbian name.  It wasn’t a help in Croatia, but it was a positive hindrance in Kosovo, where she was seen as a spy by paranoid policemen, followed everywhere and arrested more than once.

The project resulted in a series of images collated into an exhibition called YU: The Lost Country, but the story isn’t quite finished yet.

I had the privilege to hear Dragana’s presentation of this story at Limerick School of Art and Design, and throughout the talk, I heard her speak of a search for her lost nationality.  It was hard not to ask where she was going with this logic, considering what nationalism has bequeathed to Europe in the form of war and oppression, but the talk ended with an acknowledgment of precisely that point, for which I was glad.   Does it make any sense to be searching for a national identity, when the nation you yearn for has been torn apart by nationalism?

And yet, despite all the nationalistic nonsense, many people continued, and continue, to regard themselves as Yugoslavian, while other people, who promoted hatred for no good reason, are beginning to reassess the wisdom of their actions.  Serbia is in economic trouble.  Bosnia is a joke, a patchwork of unworkable municipalities based on the ridiculous Vance-Owen Plan.  Croatia is the only one with any possibility of economic success.

They had a wonderful country.  A free country.  A country with a high standard of living where citizens were free to travel, to study, to debate, discuss and disagree.  They had a country with an ancient tradition and a sense of brotherhood absent in so many other places.

And they broke it, for no good reason.

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This is Dragana Jurisic’s website.

 

 

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Favourites History News

Ratko Mladic Arrested in Serbia

It seems the Serbs have finally decided to arrest the murderer, General Ratko Mladic, sixteen years after he personally oversaw the cold-blooded massacre of 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.

This isn’t the only blood on Mladic’s hands.  The killers who lurked in the hills overlooking Sarajevo were acting under his orders as they shelled civilians and shot people down in the street with high-powered rifles.  His forces murdered thousands as they systematically destroyed 300 Bosniak villages around Srebrenica and he knowingly facilitated the Chetnik thugs led by the criminal Arkan as they robbed, slaughtered and raped their way across Bosnia.

Srebrenica was a gigantic failure for the UN, with  General Philippe Morillon’s hollow assurance still resounding as an example of empty posturing.

I will never abandon you, he told the terrified refugees, and promptly departed for safety.   When the Serb forces rolled into the town, the remaining Dutch UN soldiers surrendered without firing a shot  and the slaughter began.

Use this moment, Mladic urged his soldiers.

One by one, Mladic surrounded and bombarded Bosniak settlements while at the same time laughing at the ultimatums he received from the United Nations.  While his army had endless supplies of munitions and fuel thanks to Slobodan Milosevic’s support, the EU was imposing an embargo on supplies of weapons to the Bosnian forces to defend themselves.

Probably the most stark example of how powerless the UN was can be found in the ludicrous concept of safe areas.  Sarajevo, Goražde, Žepa, Bihac, Srebrenica and Tuzla were so designated, but the UN failed to define precisely how they might be made safe.  In Srebrenica and Žepa, the Serbs overran the defences and massacred the people.  The people of Bihac were besieged and starved by attacking Serb, Croat and, bizarrely, Serb-supported Bosniaks.  Civilians in Goražde were saved only because NATO attacked Serb forces from the air, finally convincing Mladic that at last he was dealing with people who meant business.

In the end, the UN had to admit that the term “safe area” applied only to their troops, who had no mandate, or capability to carry the fight to the Bosnian Serb army which was, after all, a branch of the JNA, a very professional fighting force.  Be under no illusions.  Ratko Mladic was a highly-trained officer of an extremely capable army.  Not only that, he was among the very best of his generation — a man not to be taken lightly, despite his bluff, shoulder-punching bonhomie.  He might have had the common touch, but his intellect was far from ordinary and if Morillon was under the illusion that he dealt with an inferior, he was badly mistaken.

Mladic never took his orders from the ridiculous Radovan Karadzic, figurehead of the Bosnian Serbs.  He rarely disguised his contempt for the occult-obsessed former psychiatrist who always brought a fortune teller with him to perform incantations before a battle, even though, of course, he took no part in the fighting.  Karadzic was always an absurd and rather pathetic figure.  Even at the height of the siege, a documentary about his poetry played to packed audiences in Sarajevo cinemas and broke all records for attendance at comedy events.

It was the Krajina uprising that launched Mladic’s murderous career when Milosevic appointed him chief of the Bosnian Serb army staff in 1992, and the connection with Belgrade continued unbroken thoughout the conflict.  Despite Belgrade’s denials, the Krajina uprising and the Bosnian war were instruments of Serbian policy, and the Serb forces there were controlled, paid and supplied from Belgrade.

Mladic saw himself, probably correctly, as a key figure in the  creation of a Greater Serbia, and worked closely with his old friend, General Momcilo Perisic, chief of staff of the Yugoslavian army in trying to achieve that aim.  There was little limit to Mladic’s arrogance, or to his awareness of his world profile.  This was a man who named his pet goats after his international critics.

There’s no doubting his efficiency.  By the end of 1994, he had taken 70% of Bosnia for the Serbs. Both he and Perisic stayed in close contact with Slobodan Milosevic, co-conspirator with Croat president Franjo Tudjman in a plan to divide Yugoslavia by violent means but true to form, Mladic seems to have also held Milosevic in contempt, even though Slobo was in theory giving the orders.

As Mladic went about his job of mass murder, he was living with his own personal tragedy.  Not only had he lost both parents through suicide but, a year before the Srebrenica atrocity, his daughter Ana, a medical student, had taken her own life after learning of her father’s genocidal activities in Bosnia.  Ironically, the suicide weapon was the treasured pistol presented to Mladic in the military academy for being such an outstanding student.

Most people would be flattened by the loss, but not Mladic, who carried on his military campaign regardless, though he was said to have been distraught and profoundly depressed as a consequence of Ana’s death.  Some say his daughter died of shame, but clearly, the experience of losing a beloved child in such circumstances didn’t cause him to reflect on what he was doing to thousands of other parents, or to wonder about the morality of his actions.

This, above everything else, in my opinion, makes Mladic monstrous.  He was not a man without feelings, but he was capable of suppressing them.

Even after the Dayton peace accords were signed, Mladic refused to give up control of the Bosnian Serb army to Biljana Plavsic — another convicted war criminal.   Eventually, Bosnian Serb police physically destroyed the communications between Mladic and his commanders, but he still remained an officer of the Serbian army in Belgrade until 2001 when, eventually, the new Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, forced him to resign.

This is what makes the Serb case so ludicrous.  They were employing him and paying his wages while the rest of the world treated him as a wanted war criminal.  Over the years since he supposedly went on the run, Mladic was frequently seen in the Belgrade cemetery at Topcider, sitting on a bench beside the grave where his daughter is buried.  He plainly felt safe under the protection of Serb security forces.

Obviously, it now suits the Serb government to hand him over for political reasons, but they must be wondering how the final chapter will play out.

Will Mladic follow the example of his parents and daughter, and finish his own life as he has threatened?  That’s what Milan Babic did, although his suicide was more than likely driven by guilt, since he was the most prominent figure in the Krajina uprising that sparked the whole Yugoslav bloodbath.

Or will he do something much worse, and tell the real story of how Serbia and Croatia conspired to fight a war that enriched so many politicians at the cost of so much human misery?

After all, whatever else we can say about Ratko Mladic, he didn’t benefit personally from the horror of the Bosnian war, unlike many others, Bosnian, Serb and Croat.

In the long run, Mladic failed to achieve anything but cause misery. The Krajina Serbs were ejected en masse during Croatia’s German-supported Operation Storm in 1995. Bosnia is now a patchwork of ethnically-delineated municipalities existing uneasily beside each other, while Republika Srpska seethes at having to share power with the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Open war is never far from the surface as the ancient hatreds continue to ferment. For now, though, the Bosnian Serbs are limited in what they can do because in the west they rely almost totally on Croatia and in the east on Serbia. When Serbia joins the EU, Republika Srpska will be given no room to manoeuvre, but in that region, a grudge can last a thousand years, while the EU is unlikely to be there in a hundred. When the Union finally decides to call it a day, Bosnia’s Serbs will be ready and wiling to spark another Balkan war, beginning the whole futile cycle all over again.

 

________________

Update: Mladic extradited

The hunt for Ratko Mladic

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Previously:

Genocide in Bosnia
Bosnia. The Legacy Of Karadzic And Mladic

Karadjic Caught

Categories
Favourites Politics World

Serbian Victory in Eurovision Song Contest

I’m so distraught at the thought of Ireland coming last in the Eurovision Song Contest that I’m unable to see my keyboard through the tears.

Instead, I’ve asked one of my associates to say a few words. This is Zeljko’s view on it.

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At long last, Glorious Serbian Peoples is march to victory on evil enemy.

Ever since despicable Field of Blackbeards massacre in 1389, Serbian Peoples is carry great and righteous anger for oppressings to Tragic Serbian Peoples.

In five hundred years — 500!! — Misunderstood Serbian Peoples is celebrate great defeat and oppressings under evil Ottoman jackboot.

princip Only hope in many years is come in 1914 when Great Hero of Sorrowful Serbian People,Gavrilo Princip, jump out of café  in Sarajevo and execute Archduke Franz Ferdinand — Bang! Bang! — to plunge Europe into Great War. He not finish sandwich.

Is great moment for Fearless Serbian Peoples.

194px-Milosevic-1Is other Great Moment come for Glorious Serbian Peoples in 1989 when historic leader Slobodan Milosevic (what’s first name mean Freedom) assure Oppressed Serbian Peoples in Field of Blackbeards (or as we say Kosovo Polje, what really not mean field but nevers mind). Slobo tell them how nobody never beat them no more again and specially not evil policemens.

180px-Evstafiev-ratko-mladic-1993-w180px-Evstafiev-Radovan Karadzic 3MAR94Is other great moments for Serbian Peoples, when evil smelly Franjo Tudjman take disgusting Catholic Croatia out of Heroic Yugoslav Federation and make possible Glorious Mass Killing of filthy smelly Muslims Peoples in Bosnia i Herzegovina by Poetic Proxy Leader Karadjic and Fearless Soldier Mladic. Also by Heroic militia leader and great sporting persons, Arkan, the Lord rest his soul. Is martyr.

Is wonderful.

All, of course, lead to Treacherous Destroying of Serbia from Bill Clinton (filthy cigar-inhaler) Air Bombing and excluding from all things but is normal for Tragic Serbian Peoples Who is Always Right. And so is good and bring even more oppressing and miserable for Serbian Peoples as History say always happen. But is good too and Sorrowful Serbian Peoples make more celebration on it.

What wonderful wisdom Great Leader Milosevic show Glorious Serbian Peoples in giving own life for cause!

What genius to make such Plan: make many new country and all vote for song of Beloved Stare Jugoslavije!

What Prophet is such man who say:

I must break up Glorious Yugoslav Federation, even make great painings for Glorious Yugoslav Peoples and maybe perhaps many killing too. Who knows — perhaps even becoming billionaire in process but is not importants.

I make sacrifice because in end will lead to Great Srpska glorious victory in despicable bourgeois Eurovision Songs Contesting!!

Aaahh. How true. What great day for Glorious Serbian Peoples!

Poor Slobodan, is pity he not live to see Musical Serbian Peoples take prize for Best Song in Greatest-in-World Transvestite-Klingon Singing-Writing Competition.

Is all worth massacre in end – no?

bosnia

A small price to paying for win Glorious Eurovision Sing Contesting.

Is New Serbia!

==========================

Many thanks to Zeljko for that.

Here’s a related post

And anotherÂ

kick it on kick.ie

Categories
Politics World

Later

Amazingly, I actually made it out for a pint, but only to the local pub with Jimbo. A good walk, which is probably as well since we both need the exercise.

A good chunk of our night, I’m sorry to tell you, was given over to the late Mr Milosevic, a thundering bollocks, in my humble opinion, and no loss to humanity. An individual who, for opportunistic reasons, facilitated a gratuitous war in which there were absolutely no winners. At least Babic had the decency to acknowledge the evil of his actions before ending his life. I was looking at the news last night, at footage perhaps of the Dayton talks or something like that, and there were Milosevic, Tudjman and Izetbegovic. Table quiz question!! What do these guys all have in common? Yep, they’re all fucking dead.

While musing on the Yugoslavian conflict, and in particular on the flaccid European Union response to the genocide on its doorstep, my thoughts wandered to the Rwandan obscenity of 1994. Now, admittedly, we did just as little about both genocides, but I thought we probably agonised a good deal more about the European one. We were upset about people like us being killed. In truth, we achieved an astounding thing, by inventing the concept of racist apathy. It’s that kind of original thinking that makes the EU so great today.