Tag Archives: balkans

Literary Lunches: Rebecca West

Today we’ll kick off what will hopefully be a literary lunch series, in which I’ll showcase a (usually) simple meal from a great book. 

Black Lamb & Grey FalconAll I had time for today was a quick lunch — a couple of slices of prosciutto di parma (Citterio, aged 420 days, Trader Joe’s; $6.49 for 4 oz.) on a leftover hunk of pain de campagne (Leonora’s; de-thawed free “sympathy loaf” given to me the day before Snowzilla). This spartan lunch reminded me of Dragutin, Rebecca West’s chauffeur in the Macedonia chapter of Black Lamb, Grey Falcon. All I’m missing is some good Hungarian, or better, Serbian paprika. 


On the step of the automobile Dragutin sat and ate his lunch between the two young soldiers, who had the dutiful and dedicated look I have noticed so often in Yugoslav conscripts. His lunch was, as always, ascetic and chosen in accordance with the principles of sympathetic magic: he liked lean meat and rough black bread and paprika, and he regarded as weakening all soft and slippery things like butter and kaymak and sardines.

Certainly no sardines on my sandwich. But if only one could get some decent njeguški pršut around here. 

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Organ Harvesting in Kosovo

It’s such a common urban legend that it’s almost the stuff of jokes.  But organ theft is, apparently, alive and well, and right here in what’s loosely called “Europe.”

You won't remember a thing

Carla del Ponte caused a minor stir a couple of years ago when she alleged that the Kosovar Liberartion Army had been secretly harvesting organs from captured Serb war prisoners.  Her allegation was ultimately found to be lacking in hard proof, but, as with many things in the Balkans, anything is — sadly — possible.  Now, according to the New York Times, seven people have been charged in a similar illegal rings.  It wasn’t Serbs POWs that were operated on, but the impoverished lured from Istanbul, Moscow, Moldova and Kazakhstan.  A prominent surgeon and a senior health ministry official were involved.  More disturbing is the possibility that the ring goes much further than just Kosovo.  The article points to substantial complicity of Israel and South Africa, and indeed Israel may be the nexus of the case.  The disturbing implication is just how very far from an idea of “Europe” Kosovo still is, almost three years after its declaration of independence.  This blog would never argue for a return to Serb rule for Kosovo, but the fact that it’s institutions are somewhat lacking is pretty easy to see, and this is made worse by its “Kosovo farà da sè” attitude. Although Kosovo is less ill-conceived as a statelet than nearby Bosnia, it is clearly barely ready to do much of anything alone, and EULEX’s mission will be long and hard there.  But unlike neighboring Macedonia, which seems to be healing, Kosovo itself seems in dire need of some essential transplants.

Old Gold

If you can keep your head when...

Doing some research on Milosevic cheerleaders and Srebrenica deniers Living Marxism, I happened upon this debate in the 8 July 1993 issue of the London Review of Books. If you’ve been following the discussion on my post on Mladic you might’ve heard the assertion that the only way to reverse the gains made by the ethnic cleansing that Bosnian Serbs mainly accomplished in two shorts weeks in the spring of 1992 would have been a total military defeat. This is true, but the time for this was, of course, in August 1995 and not the present. But the following quote from author Mark Thompson practically could’ve have come from these pages:

Nothing but nothing will ‘reverse ethnic cleansing’ (David Owen’s initial aim) except a military defeat inflicted upon Serb forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina (and David Owen was employed, of course, exactly to try and forestall the necessity of Western military action by persuading the Serb forces to abandon their maximal aims). Without a Serb defeat there is no chance of stability for the entire region, no hope for Bosnia Herzegovina, and only black prospects for Serbia and Croatia.

Of course not all of this is true. Serbia and Croatia’s prospects are not ‘black’ at present; Croatia’s haven’t been for quite some time.  And David Owen might’ve indeed had the lofty aim of reversing the ethnic cleansing that went on in the first draft of his plan, but he and Cyrus Vance eventually had to own up to the reality on the ground, which was sharply slanted in the Serbs’ favor.  That reality was reflected in their second plan, which was enormously unpopular in that it would’ve only solidified Serb gains.  Of course it was rejected by Bosnian Serb leadership, who at that point must’ve been feeling pretty invulnerable.

It’s hard to reverse territorial gains (and the terror campaigns that inevitably go with them) without an army.  No one learned this lesson more bitterly than the Croats and Bosnians in this conflict.  The only “plan” that would have had any success was the Carrington-Cutileiro one — because it was designed to prevent, not stop, fighting.    But it was too little, too late.

NB: Those who read this letters column to the end will find a young Marko Hoare going the distance over wartime nationalism in the Nazi-occupied territory of Serbia and Croatia.

More on Bosnia

It’s turning out to be a Bosnia-focused weekend here.

Marko Hoare has an excellent and sober assessment of Angelina Jolie’s Bosnia “imbroglio” up here.

For those who don’t know, the British left often has an odd — to say the least — way of viewing the Balkan Wars.  Mainly it consists of lionizing Milosevic as some kind of “anti-imperialist” simply because he was able to get his country bombed by NATO.  This is an old article from Indymedia Ireland that explores some of the myths and flat-out denying that go on amongst some British leftists when they discuss the Balkans.  It should serve as a useful warning for a treacherous path to “sinister idiocy” that sadly continues to influence thinking on the region.

Finally, it seems that Greek nationalists have managed to clean the internet of any photos of their paramilitary unit, the Greek Volunteer Guards, with Karadzic and the Bosnian Serb leadership.  But fear not, Takis Mikas’ intriguing book Unholy Alliance is up on Google Books.   The above photo is from it.  It’s worth pointing out he’s being sued for for stating that the Greeks were in Srebrenica, and it’s further worth pointing out what the name of the organization that’s suing him is. And here’s Hoare on the same issue.

The Importance of Being Serbian

A Serious Matter for Serious People

Belgrade’s Gay Pride parade has been an opportunity for the its nationalistic and regressive right-wing youth to rebel against European values for as long as Serbia has been trying to rehabilitate itself after the Milosevic regime, i.e., the last decade.   Although the mobs of the right succeeding in actually stopping it last year, this year they didn’t quite get so far, and the parade was successfully run, for the first time.  The hooligans put on such a performance that they made the media nonetheless. This should serve as a reminder, as the riots after Kosovo’s independence over two and a half years ago did, that the same elements that fed the gangsteristic nihilism of the Milosevic years are still hard at work.

The implications of these sentiments reach far beyond Belgrade and deep into the region, particularly in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska.  There’s more — much more — to be said on this, but for now, let me point you to this excellent piece by Marko Hoare.