Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Review: Genocide In Bosnia

Genocide In Bosnia
Norman Cigar

I am weary of hyperboles; something is the "best" or the "greatest." Because chances are, you are going to find something else down the road that is ever greater.
Therefore, I will not say that Norman Cigar's "Genocide In Bosnia" is the "best" book I've read dealing with the subject of genocide in Bosnia.
I will however say it is one of the most concise and well written.

Mr. Cigar is a former Senior Analysist for the Pentagon, and a professor of National Security Studies at the U.S. Marine Corps.
While his book does not have the emotional punch of eyewitness accounts as Roy Gutman's "Witness To Genocide" does; it is very well organized, well sourced and one of the most meticulous accounts of the planning of the genocide I have ever read.

Cigar pulls no punches. The first line of the book is "The Muslim community of the former Yugoslavia republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina has been the victim of what can be termed, by any accepted legal and moral measure, genocide."
There is no hodge podging here. What is happening in Bosnia is not simply a "civil war" but genocide.

Because this book is so important; I'd like to spend some time exploring Cigar's arguments.

The crux of his argument is this: "Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina was neither a spontaneous expression of communal hatreds, extending back over a millennium, nor was it a primeval popular emotion, which the Serbian leadership could not control. On the contrary, in seeking to develop a vehicle for its own acquisition and consolidation of power, the Serbian elite (both governmental and non-governmental) found it necessary to engage in a systematic and intensive campaign in order to create a nationalist movement and to exacerbate intercommunal relations to the extent that genocide could be made plausible."

In other words; what happened in Bosnia was neither the results of "ancient hatreds" or of an "uncontrollable mass"; but the result of the Serbian leadership who engaged in a systematic campaign and who were the instigators of genocide.

Cigar's meticulous focus on the role of the Serbian elite and on the "preparatory phrase"-the step for the mobilization and legitimacy to execute a genocidal policy is the book's greatest strengths.
Almost every single book I’ve read on the genocide in Bosnia, with the exception of Michael Sells “The Bridge Betrayed” has focused on the genocide itself and the camps, and mass rape.
By instead focusing on how and why the genocide occurred Cigar shows in unabated terms that what happened in Bosnia was genocide and that it was a planned genocide with the perpetrators knowing exactly what they were doing.

Cigar first starts out by exploring the ideological motivation of the perpetrator.
As it is with all genocidal campaigns, there must be an ideology to justify and motivate the perpetrators. According to sociologist Leo Kuper, at least when operating collectively, they need an ideology to legitimize behavior. The use of an ideology is an essential stepping stone in all genocides. Without an ideology the killers cease to become legitimate in their own eyes.
In the case of Bosnia, the ideology was first offered not by the Serbian government, but by an influential segment of the of the intelligentsia; with the backing of their hierarchy of the Serbian Orthodox Church. It was from there that Milosevic adapted the ultra nationalist platform for his own purpose and political power.

After looking at the ideology of genocide; Cigar takes a step by step approach in looking at how that ideology became action; and how that action was not random, but planned and organized.
In carefully explaining how the genocide unfolded, he specifically combats several arguments and allegations put forth by those who either deny that genocide occurred or who place the blame for what happened on the West (for recognizing BosniaÂ’s independence) or the Bosniaks (for not being part of rump Yugoslavia).

While the first part of the book is an organized and well documented look at the genocide in Bosnia, the second part of the book looks at what role the international community was playing in the conflict and what role it could play to end the war (the book was published in 1995).
Cigar applies the same thorough analysis and cool headed research to this section of the book as he did to the previous section.
His analysis on the devestating role the arms ban against the Bosnian Muslims is especially well argued; as is his refuting of the various arguments by those who favor keeping the ban.
Cigar never pretends to have all of the answers; nor does he pretend that are no challenges ahead, something I appreciate in an author. He does however leave the reader with the inescapable conclusion that the West failed Bosnia by not acting quicker and with more force to stop genocide.

There is not one theme that Cigar does not deal with. While he spends much time looking at the role of the Serbian elite played in organizing genocide; he also looks at the role of those Serbs who stood up to Milosevic or who helped the Bosniak neighbors in Bosnia.
He also looks at the ethnic cleansing campaign waged by the HVO against the Bosniak community; as well as some of the war crimes committed by members of Bosniak forces.
Cigar is very clear to condemn all forms of war crimes; and not to minimize the suffering of any victim. At the same time, he shows the difference in scope and planning and degree genocide organized at a state level is compared to war crimes committed by roque units and soldiers.

What I most appreciate about Cigar's work is how well researched his arguments are, and how well he argues his position. And no-that is not a euphemism for "boring."
Maybe it is a result of three years on my high school's speech team, where I had to research and deliever 3 speeches on current even topics every Saturday; but I really appreciate well organized and well sourced arguments.
At the same time, Cigar does not hesitate from taking a moral position, or from fully exposing the true horrors of what happened in Bosnia, or from the denial and appeasement of the West.


Balanced and clearly written, this book is essintial for anyone interested in not only the former Yugoslavia, but on the policy of genocide and genocide denial.

1 comment:

Owen said...

Excuse me saying so, Shaina, but your high-school training has stood you in good stead.