One of the unnerving aspects of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia is the realization that the Serbs consider themselves victims. They exhibit incredulous dismay that Western European countries are letting them battle the “Muslim hordes” without joining in. This attitude is reminiscent of Hitler’s resentment that the British wouldn’t cooperate in the German Wehrmacht’s mission to wipe out Bolshevism.
It is ironic that Serbia, the Goliath in the 1993 war sees itself as David, fighting an adversary much stronger than they, and reproach the Western nations for not realizing how crucial Serbian success is to the West’s continued global supremacy. An outlook expressing the Serbs’ feeling that they’ve been forsaken comes across in the plaintive question addressed by a Serb intellectual to Detroit friends: “Why does everyone hate us?”
The shortage of oil in Serbia is used as proof that the oil-rich Middle East has made a pact to destroy their heroic nation. Serbs see Islamic antagonism as age-old. Back in 1389, ancestors of today’s Bosnians defeated the Serbs’ valiant but underdog army, and it’s still possible for Serbs to see Bosnians as bullies even though Serbian military equipment is vastly superior to Bosnian armaments, and territorial claims originate on the Serbian side.
Serbian fervor to annex parts of Bosnia pales only before their resolve to retain possession of the Kosovo battlefield where they suffered defeat 600 years ago. The site of this battle appears to be the centerpiece of their national heritage even though in the Kosovo region Serbs are outnumbered 9 to 1 by Islamic Albanians. If the Serbian military machine turns on Kosovo, we can expect yet more ruthlessness and blood.
Most writers about Yugoslavia agree that the 1389 defeat has contributed a great deal to the Serbian self-image. Paul Garde, a French author, writes that Serbian (unlike Croatian) nationalism depends less on an identification with a geographic region than on a past history where heroic fighters tenaciously battled the oppressor.
The Absurd Genetic/Cultural Explanation
Many ridiculous analyses about the Balkan conflict have been propagated. One of the most simplistic and offensive is that because of the long history of intermingling of ethnic groups, the people living there have an ingrained and intractable predilection for fighting.
Michael Ignatieff, London Observer columnist, has a more credible one (which appeared in the New York Review of Books of 5-13-93):
“It is a fallacy to regard the current conflict as the product of some uniquely Balkan viciousness. All of the delusions that have turned neighbors into enemies have been imports of Western European origin. Modern Serbian nationalism dates back to a Byronic style of national uprising against the Turks, while the nineteenth-century Croatian nationalist ideologue, Starcevic, derived the idea of an ethnically pure Croatian state indirectly from the German Romantics. The misery of the Balkan people does not derive from their home-grown irrationality, but from the pathetic longing to be good Europeans, that is, to import the West’s most murderous ideological fashions. These fashions proved fatal in the Balkans, because the very idea of national self-determination could only be realized by destroying the multi-ethnic Balkan reality in the name of the violent dream of ethnic purity…The ‘West’ is making excuses for itself when it dismisses the Balkans as a subrational zone of intractable fanaticism…'”