February 21, 2008

Balkans Continuity

Stephen Schwartz puts the Serbian crowds attacking the U.S. embassy into perspective, offering a very harsh, but by no means an unfair, judgment:

Let Serbs dance in the ashes of their undeserved reputation for honor and glory. They will be the black hole of Europe for a hundred years. Albanians kiss our flag and express their gratitude and love for us. Let us not forget who have been our honorable and truthful friends.

I'm reminded of something I read a few summers ago in John Keegan's authoritative work The First World War. Culled from pages 48 to 52:

The chief source of subversion [in Austria-Hungary] was Serbia, an aggressive, backward and domestically violent Christian kingdom which had won its independence from the rule of the Muslim Ottoman empire after centuries of rebellion. Independent Serbia did not include all Serbs. Large minorities remained, by historical accident, Austrian subjects. Those who were nationalists resented rule by the Habsburgs almost as much as their free brothers had rule by the Ottomans. The most extreme among them were prepared to kill. It was the killing by one of them of the Habsburg heir that fomented the fatal crisis in the summer of 1914.


...nothing, it seemed, could diffuse [the problem] of the Serbs but the use of force. Their Orthodox Christianity made them a religious as well as a national minority and one which Russia's guardianship of the Orthodox Church made cocksure; their long years of guerrilla resistance to Turkish rule had rendered them headstrong and self-reliant but also, in Austrian eyes, devious and untrustworthy; their poverty kept them warlike. The small kingdom of Serbia was intensely warlike. It had won independence from the Ottomans in 1813 by its own effort and glory and territory in the Balkan Wars in 1912-13. National rebirth had raised the idea of a Greater Serbia, strong within the kingdom and a beacon to Austria's Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia. It had to be resisted, for not only were Serbs but one minority among others in those territories but neither could be surrendered.


The Serbs, moreover, were odd-man-out even in the wild Balkans, worse than that in the eyes of civilised Europe. The "Asiatic" behaviour of their army's officers in 1903, when they had not only killed their king and queen but then thrown their bodies from the window of the royal palace and hacked them limb from limb with their swords, had shocked sensibilities everywhere.

Their heirs have just destroyed our embassy. Serbs often raise the specter of Muslim extremism to justify their excesses (they equated the Bosnian president and amiable scholar Alija Izetbegovic, who found as much wisdom in Dostoevsky and Hesse as he did in the Koran, with the ayatollah). Yet like their Iranian counterparts, they reject the most basic principles of the international order. How little things change...

Posted by Ideofact at February 21, 2008 11:52 PM