Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Opinion: Tribal War

I read this article about the closing statements in the Marko Boskic case, (Mr. Boskic is a VRS soldier accused of lying on his refugee application to the US, by not mentioning his service with the VRS and his role as a foot soldier in the Srebrenica genocide) and the statement by his defense lawyer really irked me.


Mr. Stern said about the Bosnian war "This was a terrible, senseless, barbaric tribal war which left no one untouched, no one unharmed,"
I know that Mr. Stern was just trying to help his client, but his comment reveals a simplistic (and offensive-IMO) interpretation of the Bosnian war.

There are two very broad interpretations of the Bosnian war.
The first one, is that of an aggressor actor/state (RS with help from Serbia) against a victim state (Bosnia). Whereas, the aggressor had a calculated plan to ethnically cleanse the area of Muslims (and also Croats to a certain extent). Ethnic cleansing was not simply a byproduct of the war-but a war policy.
While soldiers from all armies committed horrific war crimes, only the VRS and RS leadership enacted a policy of genocide.

The other interpretation is that of a "Hatfield v. McCoy" scenario of constant and inevitable fighting. This is based on two assumptions. First, that the war was based on "ancient tribal hatreds" and therefore inevitable. Secondly, that because the war was the inevitable, all sides were equally guilty for the war.
First of all, the notion that the people of the Balkans are "born to hate each other" is offensive to me. Poponents of this p.o.v. view the Bosnian war as a natural outcome of the genocide/ethnic hatred that stemmed from WWII. Certainly, WWII, and Tito's inability/unwillingness to deal with the tensions and crime which derived from WWII did nothing to help the situation. But what the "Hartfield v. McCoy" proponents ignore is how the RS leadership manipulated and used the events of WWII to start a new war. By using propaganda (Muslim radicals, Ustasha hordes) they manipulated the Serb people and took advantage of this fear for their own genocidal purposes. Secondly, the ethnic cleansing plan was not just random acts of violence, but highly organized, systematic killings/deportation/rapes. It included killing Muslim intellectuals/leaderships to ensure that the Muslim community would be unable to function at any normal capacity, mass rape of women for the purpose of getting them pregnant and the destruction of Muslim cultural landmarks in an effort to erase the Muslim presence in Bosnia. But, the proponents of the tribal hatred scenario, usually ignore the RS's role in organizing genocide, and instead present the war as a blood orgy -where Serbs hate Croats, Croats hate Muslims, Muslims hate Serbs etc. It was this (wrong) interpretation of the war that too many people in the West relied on to ignore our moral duty to do whatever we could to stop the horror. After all, if the war is the result of "tribal hatred" than there is nothing we in the West can do to stop the war. Furthermore, if the war is a result of tribal hatred, with all sides being equally guilty for atrocities, than there is no moral incentive to stop the war, because they are just going to stop killing each other again.
This interpretation is offensive to the victims of the war and to the historic record. For the sake of history and the victims, the we must understand the war as not as a tribal war, but as an act of aggression on a UN state, for the purpose of genocide.


Boo Friedmann said...


Your analysis of the war is spot on, and many people should read it. I would also like to add that regardless of whether or not there is "ancient tribal hatred", ethnic cleansing and genocide is still morally wrong and breaks with the law set forth by the Geneva Convention.

The tribal hatred excuse is a lazy way for the Western World and NATO to avoid intervening. It is pathetic, yet it is still used today, i.e., with the situation in Darfur.

Thanks for blog. I will continue to check back in with you.

Many regards,

boo friedmann

Shaina said...


Thanks for your comment. You are right that everytime we don't want to intervene in a humanitarian crisis/genocide (which is most of the time) we use the old "tribal war" "ancient hatred" excuses. Even more than Bosnia, we also used that excuse to do absolutely NOTHING when it came to the genocide in Rwanda. Where the US government actually denied at first that the Hutu government wholesale slaughter of the Tutsi was genocide.

Your point that even if the war was the product of ancient hatreds-that does not justify genocide, nor does it justify us (The west, etc) being bystanders to genocide.