By William Markiewicz
Here are my comments on letters from two correspondents of different age, culture and geographical latitude but with similar preoccupations. The individual topics may vary but the overall problem is the same: majority vs minority, coexistence of various groups. After addressing the generalities I will try to address the particular topic of each contributor.
Territoriality is proper to practically all life forms. Competition - cooperation, like two scales, constantly change positions, first one prevailing then the other. These two tendencies gave birth to two philosophies: The one favouring cooperation culminated in Communism and the other, in Fascism. Human culture seems to evolve rather toward cooperation than competition. We see from history that cooperation is the main factor in human evolution. It's enough to compare Athens to Sparta.
Societies will always be an amalgamate of competition/cooperation at all levels. The tribe, the clan, are expressions of cooperation at the local level and competition on a more global level. The French say, "When the countries disappear, the provinces will remain." This saying expresses the belief that the local solidarity will always prevail over the global one. One beautiful outcome of local pride is the rich folklore we can enjoy.
The criteria for solidarity changes according to class: the royal families have always been very cosmopolitan because status and political interests were more important to them than ethnic belonging. In modern times and in the anonymity of big cities, the intelligentsia has taken over the aristocracy's role. Diplomas and philosophies have become more important than origins. Of course this doesn't apply to the Fascists. The further we descend on the social ladder the more the tribal/clannish links prevail: for blue collar workers origins and milieu remain the most important factor. Tribe, clan, race can be appealing especially to those who have nothing else to brag about. So, the majority lives separated by invisible barriers even though they rub shoulders constantly in the subway and during rush hour traffic. When the barriers break, it's usually explosive; this happens during periods of political or economic instability: Hitler's Germany, Lebanon, Yugoslavia ... If it happens it is always an expression of extreme savagery. The crowd is like a retarded giant thrashing about, and to destroy the weaker no grand reasons are needed, only excuses.
We see also that time doesn't inevitably bring security. In Lebanon, the Muslims and the Christians jumped at each others' throats after hundreds of years of coexistence. Germany annihilated European Jewry even if the German Jews were particularly well integrated.
The remedy against storms of hatred? The most obvious remedy against danger is -- not to be exposed to danger. It is safer not to belong to a minority. But if you have to belong, then, in all circumstances, even the safest ones, everybody should be prepared to face possible danger. As we know from the Los Angeles riots, Korean shopkeepers in neighbourhoods with dangerous reputations were more or less unharmed because they were armed and answered fire with fire. So self defence is essential because outside help, for technical or political reasons, may or may not be available. Those who follow the rule of "be prepared" may enjoy security and respect even in a minority position, like the Druze in Lebanon or in Syria.
Now I come to the particulars, responding first to Mohamed (see Communication Page):
Now I go to Christian Mercat's letter with whom I exchanged email about the current Balkan situation. I think that printing his first letter on the Communication Page and giving my answer here to his second letter will be enough to shed light on our respective positions:
The Austrian census of 1879 found in Bosnia 42.8% Orthodox (Serbs), 38.74% Muslims, and 18.3% Catholics (Croats). This proportion remained stable until World War Two.
In 1991, the Serb population was 31.3%, Croats 17.3%, Muslims 43.7%, Yugoslavs 5.5%. 23% of the land belonged to the State. In private hands: Serbs 51.4%, Croats 17.7%, Muslims 27.3%. The Serbs possessed most of the territory because they had been the peasants of Bosnia as far back as memory goes.
The Serb population in Croatia (we are not talking about Krajina): In 1941, around 30%, by then their number must have already been seriously diminished. In 1991 they were around 15%, and today, next to zero. Croatia is the most cleansed country in ex-Yugoslavia and in Europe while the world looks in another direction.
Between the 8th and 9th century, the Slavs all over today's Yugoslavia were Orthodox Christians and spoke the same language, meaning that the difference between Serbs and Croats was none. Catholicism, the defining parameter for Croats, came within the millennium.
In Macedonia, the Serbs became a minority from 1945. Tito invented Macedonia as a separate Republic. The name Macedonia, as we know, is contested by Greece. This area was previously known for centuries as "Old Serbia."
The UNHCR figures of October 1995 note 642,000 refugees in Serbia proper. These are only the registered refugees. 73.3% of all refugees live with local families on a private charitable basis. 41,500 of the refugees are Muslim, 10,000 Croats and 9,500 "Others." I think this speaks for itself regarding Serbian "chauvinism."
A recent Serbian movie has made waves, "Beautiful Villages, Beautiful Flames" (I believe). In this movie, the Serbian director shows Serbian soldiers as drunks, robbers, killers, drug addicts. Show me any other country in the Balkans where the director will be free to show his own kin in this way.
During World War Two in certain parts of Bosnia only one Serbian baby of the male sex had the right to survive. All the rest of the manhood in the villages -- children and adults -- perished. So, there was a multitude of boys who grew up surrounded exclusively by women, and who for years never saw any male older than themselves. Many of them were soldiers in this war. Isn't it strange that they didn't feel love for their adversaries?
What called my attention to the Yugoslav conflict for the first time? It was when Yugoslav General Kukanjec fell prisoner of the Muslims while Alija Izetbegovic was in the hands of the Serbs who proposed an exchange of prisoners. This was done. The Serbs freed Izetbegovic and his men while the Muslims freed Kukanjec and sliced the throats of all his men, most of them adolescents. A friend of mine, a middle aged Serb woman married to a Croat said, "Can't they fight with bullets instead of knives?" These innocent words of a totally apolitical person jolted me into clear perception of the total horror of the situation. As far as I know it was the first noted act of savagery in this war. In the whole world's ethics and justice systems, cold blooded premeditated sadistic crime is considered worse than crimes of rage. It is applied to everybody but to the Serbs. Anti-Serbism stands shoulder to shoulder with anti-Semitism.
How can we talk about national reconciliation which forgives all the past and present crimes if the regimes in Sarajevo and Zagreb are dominated by rabid revisionists who deny that the Serbs were victims of genocide? To submit the Serbs to the Muslim-Croatian Federation is like submitting the Jews to some neo-Nazi regime that denies the Holocaust. To say that the Serbian certitude of danger comes from Big Brother Milosevic is like saying that the Holocaust was invented by Zionists. It's monstrous.
There was never any expression of national reconciliation in Tito's time. Tito, Croatian and politician, protected Yugoslav integrity by passing over the past in silence. He had his show trials but just to consolidate his own position.
There cannot be reconciliation in advance of acknowledgement and apology. See the German and Japanese example. Also an ethnic separation is indispensable for those who don't wish to live together. All those nations that were enemies became friends after separation or at least polite neighbours. Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, almost don't remember the hatred that separated them before. Scandinavian countries were reciprocal enemies until they became separate states. Only big anonymous cities can be cosmopolitan, perhaps because there it's normal to be a stranger. On the other hand it's very possible that if Fikret Abdic had been in Izetbegovic's place, harmony and prosperity among those "brothers/enemies" would be a fact. The majority of all sides trusted him and it is probably a disgrace for everybody that the peace has to be reinforced on the Serbs' back by two strange bedfellows: the West and Mujahadeen.
As for Kossovo, the Serbs sooner or later will have to grant independence because the Albanians are now the majority. It is, though, a great historical tragedy for Serbs because for them to give away Kossovo is like for the Muslims to give away Mecca or for the Catholics, the Vatican. Kossovo is the abode of the Serbian mystique. This is why they resist giving it away. But it is probably inevitable and they will have to learn to live without it like somebody who has to learn how to walk again after an accident.