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Read the oth­er arti­cles in the series The Vile Beast

Ex-Yugoslavia, or: when “the beast” stuttered in Europe

French media made but sparse com­ments about the recent ver­dict of the Inter­na­tion­al Tri­bunal in The Hague, con­demn­ing Ratko Mladić, the “Ser­bian butch­er” and con­firm­ing on appeal a life sen­tence for war crimes and geno­cide in ex-Yugoslavia.

That among oth­er crimes com­mit­ted in ex-Yugoslavia1 a gen­er­al, both author and exe­cu­tion­er of the largest mass mas­sacre com­mit­ted in Europe since the sec­ond world war should be def­i­nite­ly judged for what the expres­sion of Ser­bian ultra-nation­al­ism was capa­ble of, did not inter­est more than a fringe of peo­ple, while this same “beast” is still  cur­rent­ly on the prowl in the area. And on July 11, thou­sands of peo­ple prob­a­bly com­muned in mem­o­ry of Sre­breni­ca, at the Poto­cari memo­r­i­al, cre­at­ed to com­mem­o­rate the victims.

As is the case for the Rwan­dan geno­cide, per­pe­trat­ed in the same years, the crimes and geno­cide in Bosnia2,  find them­selves in a polit­i­cal  and his­tor­i­cal impasse in France notably, both on the left and on the right. Rais­ing the issue of those “Bosn­ian years” in mil­i­tant sur­round­ings is total­ly oblit­er­at­ed by the absence of trans­mis­sion, and con­se­quent­ly of a polit­i­cal mem­o­ry of what will nonethe­less mobi­lize in the ear­ly 1990s around the cry “no to eth­nic cleansing”.

For Rwan­da, the role played by France in pro­vid­ing polit­i­cal cov­er for the geno­cide, even sup­ply­ing it with weapons, is still bare­ly acknowl­edged nowa­days despite the fact it is now an open secret. An open secret still denied by the social democ­rats who, at the time were in pow­er joint­ly with what was the tra­di­tion­al old French right wing. The mat­ter is more com­pli­cat­ed for ex-Yugoslavia. The same peri­od of con­fu­sion between social democ­ra­cy and nascent neo-lib­er­al­ism led to the same con­se­quences, this time at a Euro­pean scale. More­over, one can even say that his­to­ry was re-writ­ten by media fal­si­fy­ers, aid­ed by the bad con­science of that phoney “left wing”, unable or unwill­ing to rec­og­nize “the beast” in action in Europe.

There is noth­ing sur­pris­ing about the fact these same fal­si­fy­ers are the same ones in France now bat­tling against “left­ist islamism” and call­ing for a “com­bat­ive form of sec­u­lar­ism”, spring-like and Repub­li­can, which hap­pens to be the dar­ling of all ten­den­cies with­in the French right wing.

I admit to feel­ing some­what ashamed in still find­ing my name on a “Euro­pean list” from 1994, next to the names of those who were already guilty of total duplic­i­ty at the time. For any­one who expe­ri­enced it from the inside, even the sto­ry and the descrip­tion of this list titled “Europe begins in Sara­je­vo” has now become a real fake on Wikipedia,  thanks to the con­tri­bu­tion of spe­cial­ists and ped­dlers in amnesia.

So why were there no politi­cial lessons learned and trans­mit­ted about that four-year peri­od that brought about a large scale anti-fas­cist mobi­liza­tion con­cern­ing a nation­al­ist war in the heart of Europe? Why, a con­trario, has there remained this media foam that per­sists as a step­ping stone for a racist, iden­ti­tar­i­an and vir­ilist extreme right wing, in the per­son of “French intel­lec­tu­als” busy admir­ing and dis­play­ing their own navels, intel­lec­tu­als whose ship­wreck no longer needs to be demonstrated?

I dare say and write that the decade in ques­tion, which began by the so-called “first Gulf war” had many issues fol­low­ing the fall of the wall in Berlin. In the left­ist move­ments, the rifts around the ex-big broth­er in the Sovi­et Union was pro­duc­ing dis­as­trous con­se­quences, among oth­ers. So that con­vul­sions around the impe­ri­al­ist war in Irak, along with the extreme repres­sion of the Kur­dish peo­ple in Turkey, the geno­cide in Rwan­da and… the dis­lo­ca­tion of the ex-Yugoslavia, all received a media and polit­i­cal cov­er­age depend­ing on what­ev­er dis­hon­est com­pro­mis­es need­ed cov­er­ing up. On these “inter­na­tion­al” ques­tions “spe­cial­ists” in the media main­ly expressed the view of “trib­al wars from anoth­er time.”  Mean­while, “the beast” was lay­ing its eggs.

Thir­ty years lat­er, one can read in its bro­ken shells the main lines of ongo­ing events.

There­fore, what I wish to write for this third col­umn on “the beast” are not the rem­i­nis­cences of an “old Sara­je­vo fighter”.

Thir­ty years ago, a “war of eth­nic cleans­ing” caused the death of 130 000 peo­ple in the heart of the Euro­pean con­ti­nent. Rel­a­tivists will say this is much less than the fig­ures of the Covid pan­dem­ic, and only a third of the pro­vi­sion­al num­bers in the Syr­i­an war, for exam­ple. Inhu­man­i­ty has thus done much bet­ter since, with the same actors get­ting bet­ter at their game. So what need is there to stir up the past?

Aid­ed at first in this by the Unit­ed States, the mem­ber states of the Euro­pean Union have since become mas­ters in the way to con­tribute to wars by proxy, as “sup­pli­ers” of weapons and of tech­nol­o­gy, ever since direct inter­ven­tions have demon­strat­ed their dev­as­taat­ing con­se­quences in cre­at­ing chaos. Ruins are always bad for busi­ness, when you are not the one pro­vid­ing the con­crete. France for exam­ple learned this les­son at its own expense  in Libya, after fol­low­ing the judi­cious advice of the prophets I men­tionned above. Com­men­ta­tors call this “geopol­i­tics”. States and blocks with “hege­mon­ic voca­tions” con­front one anoth­er by sup­port­ing region­al pow­ers with nation­al­ist, reli­gious and total­i­tar­i­an regimes. Then fol­lows the diplo­ma­cy con­duct­ed through  Rafale com­bat planes and S 400s. The region­al pow­ers them­selves then del­e­gate the “ground work” to groups to which it sup­plies these weapons. This is the process used by a mem­ber of NATO such as Turkey, sup­ply­ing mili­tias, gift­ed both in pro­duc­ing mass crimes and in the fine crim­i­nal detail work of tar­get­ed and dai­ly crimes. What kind of “beast” is this, then, half-big­ot­ted, half nation­al­ist psychopath?

But let’s get back to Bosnia and try to to find out if this analy­sis was done con­cern­ing this/these wars as the expres­sion of a wider con­fronta­tion, in line with the imme­di­ate “cold war”, and if the “nation­alisms” were not sim­ply evil bac­te­ria lib­er­at­ed by the col­lapse of the com­mu­nist block in Yugoslavia.

Final­ly, in this view, the “tribes” would have been awak­ened because the Yugosla­vian com­mu­nist hege­mo­ny had nev­er respect­ed the nation-states it was com­posed of? This kind of think­ing is a way of say­ing that it was “nat­ur­al” and “legit­i­mate” for a Slove­nia, a Croa­t­ia, a Ser­bia to exist and to redis­trib­ute ter­ri­to­ries accord­ing to major­i­ty set­tle­ments, Bosnia becom­ing an extra part to be divid­ed, not to men­tion Mace­do­nia and Kosovo.

Thus, where a Ser­bian bone rest­ed in the sun, or a Croa­t­ian cross was raised to the sky, the land was to belong to the cor­re­spond­ing “nation”. And too bad if this hap­pened to be with­in the same ceme­tery. Arise all ye Dead, in march­ing order for the nation!

Set­tle­ments are the result of human his­to­ry. How could it be oth­er­wise. And those set­tle­ments con­sid­ered as form­ing a “major­i­ty” can be the result of an estab­lish­ment going back mil­lenia as well as the result  of con­quest and col­o­niza­tions, or of very ancient suc­ces­sive migra­tions. It is thus in this his­to­ry and these stra­ta that reside the keys to the first inklings of under­stand­ing. In the case of ex-Yugoslavia, these set­tle­ments had noth­ing to do with trib­al migra­tions, but are the result of a fair­ly recent his­to­ry involv­ing the Ottoman empire, its wars, its con­quests and its lim­its, in this spe­cif­ic case, in the Euro­pean part. And going back fur­ther still, one could won­der about the ori­gin of these “Slavs” who set­tled in these areas and became “mer­ce­nar­ies” against the Ottomans lat­er, defend­ing the Ger­man-speak­ing empire that had lit­tle regard for them previously.

But why go back that far? Why dilute into some­thing rel­a­tive this peri­od known as the “war of ex-Yugoslavia” by pre­sent­ing it as a prod­uct of human his­to­ry and of ter­ri­to­r­i­al pow­er con­fronta­tions? Would this sim­ply mean that the vio­lence of these wars of con­quest, or re-con­quest, are, in final analy­sis, the “flaw” in the human species? With apolo­gies to our friend Prévert, but it’s the old sto­ry of “war is hor­ri­ble” so, quick, peace, and at all cost. In the final read­ing, “the beast” had  only appeared in order to devour the victims.

As you can see, here also the “fas­cism” label requires anoth­er, com­ple­ment­ing the list of addi­tions to it.

I’m not con­vinced that the hor­ror of crimes com­mit­ted in the name of an exac­er­bat­ed nation­al­ism some­where is a suf­fi­cient qual­i­fi­ca­tion for fas­cism. Because fas­cism does not only con­sist of  nation­al­ist vio­lence and  a polit­i­cal sys­tem orches­trat­ing it, but of a full-fledged ide­ol­o­gy that, at some point, is the­o­rized as a response to crises, when social ten­sions caused by class antag­o­nisms with­in a sys­tem can no longer be con­trolled by iden­ti­tar­i­an pop­ulism. And this ide­o­log­i­cal the­o­ry, although drawn from a com­mon matrix and abun­dant, read­i­ly-avail­able fas­cist lit­er­a­ture, is always shaped accord­ing to the cur­rent crisis.

This quick detour through Bosnia thus brings me back to the begin­ning of this open-air column.

To be continued…

Read the oth­er arti­cles in the series The Vile Beast

Image : CC Lila Mon­tana sol­idary photographer-journalist

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Daniel Fleury
Let­tres mod­ernes à l’Université de Tours. Gros mots poli­tiques… Coups d’oeil politiques…