Triangulating the square around the circle

I am fully aware that my posting has not been so frequent since my arrival in Belgrade. This is only partly because of the unreliable dialup connection I have here in my lovely garsonjera. It is also because from the moment I arrived I seem to have been swept up in the whirlwind of NGO worthy causes and the long hours in kafići that follow them. One thing I have noticed about the worthy causes: they are no longer advertised. I got into last Saturday's invitation-only presentation on Srebrenica on the «imperial advantage» strategy—wear a suit, speak English and smile, and maybe they will think that you are important. Other events, including the documentary film festival in Dom omladine, I found out about through the friend calls a friend network, it was not announced and the audience rarely got above ten people. The nice folks seem to be closing the circle, whether because of intimidation or something else I do not know.

A high point: at the presentation of his new book Vampires like us: Writing down "the serbs", Tomislav Longinović described the image of the vampire: «it is an imaginary creature that has to feed constantly on the blood of others. So the vampire is a metaphor for the idea of the nation.» Toma's new book is in English, and deserving of high praise.

Should I mention that among the worthy events was the largest-ever meeting of worldwide Balkan bloggers?


Why's it always us?

BBC News reports,
Stolen Goya found in Montenegro

A stolen painting by the Spanish master Francisco Goya has been found by police in Montenegro.

The oil painting, Count Ugolino, had been lifted from a gallery in Turin, northern Italy, in December 2001.

Goya's work -- which evokes a gory episode from Dante's inferno -- was retrieved during a raid on a flat near the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica.

Evidence, and the need for more evidence

It seems that there is still a good deal of discussion over the videotape “Treskavica July 1995” that surfaced earlier this month showing one instance in which members of a paramilitary formation murdered civilian prisoners. Claims about the influence of the tape go all around, from people saying that it has transformed Serbian public opinion to those claiming (as in today’s Monitor) that some huge number of people believe the footage to be fake. It is probably indicative that many members of the Serbian parliament felt moved to push for a resolution condemning war crimes, but that the initiative now seems to have failed because the parliamentary parties could not reach agreement on the question of whether it is worse to murder people of one nationality than another. So much for consciousness.

For those who have not seen the film or who have only seen the varying bits of it that are shown on television, here is a brief synopsis:

Scene 1: The members of the Scorpions are blessed by a priest who chants to them an invocation including references to the need to defeat “the enemy people” (not the enemy armed forces).

Scene 2: The Scorpions have a little party and enjoy a few drinks.

Scene 3: The Scorpions take their six bound prisoners, teenage boys who appear to have been beaten, in a truck to a rural roadside where they are lain in a row on the ground.

Scene 4: The boys are taken away from the roadside into a wood where the Scorpions kill four of them with guns at close range.

Scene 5: The remaining two boys are instructed to carry away the bodies of the four who have just been murdered.

Scene 6: The other two boys are murdered as well.

Scene 7: The Scorpions enjoy a little barbecued lamb.

There is no doubt that the footage makes some horrifying viewing indeed. At the same time, more needs to be known about the time, place and conditions of filming to be sure about just what the film is evidence of. As it stands, the film could offer a convenient way for people who supported the Milosevic regime and its clients in Bosnia and Croatia to claim that large scale organized murders of civilians were not the result of policy, but simply the work of some armed criminals (Scorpions? White Eagles? Tigers?) going about under the name of one more animal.


The ethics of book reviewing

Yep, there is such a thing. Like, read the thing before you write the review.

But there is also a time-honored approach that sees reviewing primarily as an opportunity to advance one's own arguments rather than to discuss the arguments of the book in question . The piece I just read, from the March 2001 issue of Choice, squarely falls in that category. The reviewer, a prominent if controversial academic, describes the aim of the author as follows:
He wishes to show that Bosnia's tradition has been one of unity in diversity, with adherents of Islam, Roman Catholicism, and Orthodox Christianity linked in the spiritual pursuit of transcendence. The argument is that this traditional orientation towards transcendence has been lost to a politics glorifying individuality and modernity, achieved by the targeting of Bosnia's Islamic component and the slaughter of its Muslim population by those who deny tradition in order to justify separate nation-states.
You may or may not buy this particular argument of the author, but I think it's a fair summary of what he says. But then our reviewer continues, without catching his breath, with the following judgment:
Useful as an example of the arguments of Muslims who want a unified Bosnia in spite of the rejection of that project by most of their Serb and Croat neighbors, the book will be of interest to Balkanists as an exploration of Bosnian Muslim ideology. But it is not suitable for use by undergraduates without much explanation of why some non-Muslims in Bosnia may see its very Islamic argument as evidence justifying their fears of Muslim domination.
No comment needed, right?

Zone of peace and harmony

European foreign ministers agreed Monday to drop any mention of the four candidate countries Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Turkey from the statement the leaders of the EU member states will issue after their meeting this week. Britain, which will take over the EU presidency for the second half of this year, opposed any reference to Croatia as long as retired general Gotovina was at large; Austria (a supporter of Croatia's membership) and France opposed any reference to Turkish membership, and in the end the ministers agreed on the smallest common denominator, as is customary in such declarations. Is this the grand vision for a zone of peace and stability? Or even just the common foreign policy?


The power of images

First off two apologies -- one for disappearing in the foothills of the Vosges for several days, the other for boring you with stories of that video.

The L.A. Times carries a story today that contains the following passage:
To the amazement of many in the human rights community, who had condemned the Srebrenica massacre and war crimes for years without getting much response in either Serbia or the Serb-majority areas of Bosnia, broadcast of the video appeared to have jolted and even horrified Serbian politicians known for their nationalism and failure to acknowledge Serb responsibility for war crimes.
Indeed, is the power of images sufficient explanation for this impact, or is the timing equally important? I mean, it's not as if people in Serbia were unable to know until last week what happened in Srebrenica, right?

The article continues,
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica described the video as showing a "brutal, callous, shameful crime committed against civilians."
Serbian Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic said the footage "was extremely important for the attitude of citizens toward war crimes. As a human being I'm truly shaken by viewing these images." [emphasis mine]
Why is viewing such images so much more shocking than knowing what happened? We've come to a point where the murder -- as brutal as a it was -- of six men appears more shocking than the massacre of thousands. It reminds me of the storming of Fallujah (with which Srebrenica has nothing in common): the shocking thing was not that the U.S. forces and their local allies (in fact, a battalion of Kurdish Peshmerga -- the other two Iraqi units had simply run away) leveled the city and made it uninhabitable for most of its population, or that they killed hundreds of residents -- the shocking thing was one marine killing one fighter, who he probably believed was booby-trapped. Why was it shocking? Because a cameraman happened to be nearby and filmed the whole thing.