It’s been a few days of rich and bountiful eating, so I decided to go for something lighter, not to mention the cucumbers and tomatoes, so fresh a few days ago, were in danger of getting overripe. It’s immediately obvious to me what to do with these two delicious and cooler summer vegetables (technically fruits to the pedant). In a Spanish-speaking country where I could get sherry vinegar, and if I had a blender, it’d be gazpacho. But šopska salata is also a fine choice, especially given that the stalwart Italian PX stocks DOP feta cheese.
Now, I’m treading into the Balkans here, and I know that emotions run high about most all questions of national identity in that part of the world, and I know the Greek battle to secure DOP labeling for a kind of white sheep milk cheese that is produced in innumerable forms all over the Balkans was seen as a nasty nationalist move by many. But this is war zone cooking, and although I’d prefer real sirenje, that ain’t happening, and DOP feta is not a bad substitute, especially for my countrymen used to eating bland and hard stuff at salad bars and in gyros most of their lives.
I can’t think of any foreigner who, when traveling in the Balkans, didn’t immediately fall in love with the šopska salata. (I feel particularly strongly as I lived in the Šopluk for a bit.) Now, there is a lot of information on the internet about what is and what isn’t in a šopska, which seems common to all ultra-simple regional foods.
What I knew was this: the freshest possible tomatoes and cucumbers, cubed, topped with the most finely grated sirenje. Maybe a single black olive for decoration at fancier places. Possibley trace amounts of sunflower oil, not that you could taste. To Americans used to bland, tasteless iceberg topped with ranch or thousand island dressing, this was a new frontier in salads.
In the cafés in Belgrade, they’d add some finely diced and fairly hot fresh pepper. Every few bites, you’d get a bit of heat that could be instantly ameliorated with the cooling cucumbers and creamy cheese. Delightful on a sweltering summer day. That’s what I replicated here, to, I think, great effect. My only gripe is that the south Slavs rely on sunflower oil far too much. With a few drops of Zucchi organic, it was delightful. My only regret is not having some hearty Macedonian white bread to sop it up with.
I should probably have a post at some point about similarities between the Balkan and Central Asian kitchen — the fresh vegetables, grilled meats, and good bread all doubtless have Turkish roots. But that’s a subject for a different post.
(Video primarily in Serbian although the judge speaks in English.)
Readers of yesterday’s post, which quoted Rory Stewart questioning the ability of the UN and similar organizations to do much of anything, might’ve detected a hint of disappointment. This view was informed in some measure by the inability of the UN to prevent carnage in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. That drama is still being played out at the ICTY in the Hague, and although there are sometimes questions to be raised about the institution, when it convicts those like the former assistant minister of the interior Vlastimir Đorđević of crimes against humanity and war crimes it is redressing a real wrong.
Đorđević, as assistant minister of interior, was head of Serbia’s police forces and paramilitaries who played an active role in using violence and intimidation to force Kosovars out of their homes and off their land. In additional to charges of mass killing, the judge also brought up the removal of the victims’ bodies to mass graves inside Serbia proper, and sentenced Đorđević to 27 years’ imprisonment.
Belgrade’s silence on the matter bodes well for Serbia’s European future.
Perhaps international justice comes out ahead of international development here because the results are so much easier to measure. One can debate the merits of the sort of justice it is, but for those familar with Kosovo and the Milošević regime, Đorđević’s sentencing is just.
The ICTY’s indictment of Đorđević can be found here. Names of the victims, including the 47 members of the Berisha family who were killed on a single day in March 1999, can be found in Schedules A-L, pages 25-48.
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.
The Dutch held out but Europe, as usual, wants to have its way so after a threat to ram Serbia’s EU ‘assessment’ through by majority vote, the Dutch folded. However, there is a provision that every step of Serbia’s accession will have to be subject to a unanimous vote. The Dutch, we can imagine, will watch that closely.
It’s hard to know what to say at this early hour, although I’d caution Westerners to pin all hopes on Serbia. Much analysis has mentioned that Serbia, as the largest and most populous ex-YU state, is the linchpin of the Balkans. Well, Greece seemed to be the most well-off until recently, and it has hardly assumed a leadership role in the region. Tadic’s government has done much, esp. in defreezing the lock over Kosovo, but remember that there are blocs — substantial ones — of extremely regressive bodies politic in Serbia that could come to power. Would Serbia continue to enjoy this prestige of leadership if so? The lesson is not to conflate territory and population with leadership.
And while I’m at it I’d like to point out the folly of articles likethese. (The latter being far more reputable than the former.) Saudi and Iranian money in Bosnia and other Muslim parts of the Balkans (like Macedonia, which the Greek author of the International Analyst Network piece desperately tries to avoid mentioning) is nothing new and dates back to the arms embargo in the 1990s in Bosnia. Every few years, a journalist sees a pre-fab concrete mega-mosque and wonders if the often-propagated tale that Osama is using these Muslims to try and get ‘into’ Europe is true. It’s not. In the mid-1990s, there was an attempt to radicalize Bosnian Muslims. They rejected Wahhabism and its severe tenants. A 40% unemployment rate, or even an 80% one, won’t change that. To pretend otherwise is to toe a chauvinist line.
Thursday I was excited to see the photo of none other than Ratko Mladic on the cover of the IHT at the newsstand; “he’s been caught,” I thought, “just like Karadzic a few years ago.” Of course, he hasn’t, and the article spends far too much time on summarizing the case against the general, although there are a few intriguing (and I mean that very literally) details, such as how his men communicated:
As the former protector described the process as it worked in 2006, they discarded mobile telephones and SIM cards 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles, from their gatherings in crowded places where they could easily blend in. Meeting face to face, they hardly spoke, discussing protection logistics by exchanging written messages that they burned.
But the meat of the matter is up in the lede:
But a softening by several European countries on whether his arrest should be a prerequisite for Serbia’s admission to the European Union is raising questions about whether he will ever face justice.
The idea that Europe would soften their stance on Serbia is repugnant not only to any idea of human rights, but also to the survivors of Srebrenica (and Sarajevo, Visegrad and any other campaign in the Bosnian War). If you don’t believe me, go watch the excellent BBC documentary A Cry from the Graveand its follow-up, Srebrenica: Never Again? I challenge anyone who feels like Mladic is “yesterday’s news” to sit through the whole documentary — particularly the segments in which former UN interpreter Hasan Nuhanovic describes being separated from his family by the Dutch with a quiet, incandescent anger — and then argue that relenting on the search for Mladic is justifiable under any circumstances.
If that fails to convince, let me allow the Bosnian Serbs to sum up their own position in their own words, through a remarkable interview that Croatian-American New York Times reporter Chuck Sudetic relates in his book Blood Vengeance. The New York Review of Books review is archived on reviewer Mark Danner’s website.
It merits a full quote here. The narration is Danner’s; the interview Sudetic’s.
Those Serbs that survived, now homeless, penniless, unable even to bury their mutilated dead, made their way to Bratunac. It was there, in 1996, that Sudetic interviewed Mihailo Eric, a remarkable Serb from Kravica:
“After the Christmas attack, when the people from Kravica were refugees in Bratunac, the menfolk were bitter, weren’t they?”
“They were angry…”
“What did they say?”
“Revenge…. They said, ‘Kad tad. Kad tad, sooner or later our five minutes will come.'”
“…And the opportunity finally came.”
“Yes, blood vengeance.”
“Did they come for you?” [He nodded.] “They were excited?”
“What did they say?”
“They said, ‘Grab your gun and come down to the soccer field.'”
The soccer field at Bratunac, that is, whence the Dutch hostages heard “a great deal of shooting.” Much of that firing was done by men like Mihailo Eric. As it happens, though, Mihailo himself, a war hero, a man who had been gravely wounded, shot through the forehead earlier in the fighting, refused to take part in the massacre. As he tells Sudetic,
“It’s one thing to kill someone in battle, and it’s something else to kill prisoners, men who’ve surrendered and have no guns.”
“And have their hands tied?”
Mihailo’s attitude, of course, was unusual; had it not been, the war would have been fought very differently. During Sudetic’s interview he and Mihailo were interrupted:
The door behind me swung open. A man with a construction worker’s beer belly stumbled in. He had a ruddy complexion, light eyes, and light hair. It was Mihailo’s father, Zoran; he had been a member of an “obligatory work brigade” called to Bratunac on the day the killings began. We stood up… The father sat down in Mihailo’s chair, and Mihailo stood behind him leaning against a wall.
“Was it honorable to kill them all?” I asked the father.
“Absolutely,” he said. “It was a fair fight.”
Mihailo stared at me from behind him with a forlorn look in his eye.
“Absolutely,” the older man said again, and he turned to the woman: “Get some more brandy.”
In Bratunac, in Kravica, one suspects that the father’s view would be the accepted one. For him, Mladic’s victory over Srebrenica offered an opportunity, a chance to end the cycle of attack and retribution. Having finally conquered the enclave, would one then hand back to the Muslim leaders seven thousand men of military age (who, even if they weren’t soldiers, could easily take up arms) so they could then, or at some point in the future, rejoin the fight—the fight, that is, to regain the homes they had just lost? What, after all, had losing his home done to Zoran Eric and the other survivors of the Muslim attack on Kravica?
No, the moment must be seized, for future survival’s sake; and even Mihailo, though he stood aloof from the killing, freely admits he understands the feelings that lay behind it.
“And they killed all of them [Sudetic asks him], everyone they could?”
“And the Muslims in the column who escaped across the road? They held them up…as long as they could so that they could get some men together and have one more crack at them, didn’t they?”
“They came around looking for volunteers.”
“Did guys from Kravica go?”
“They wanted to kill as many of them as they could.”
“So they could never come back? So there would not be enough military-age men left to fight their way back?”
“Never,” Mihailo said.
The raw motives for ethnic cleansing laid bare: never come back. Never. Going ‘soft’ on the hunt for Mladic is letting Zoran Eric’s idea of justice to permeate 21st-century Europe. For many policymakers, the morass of the Balkans sows confusion and there’s always a tendency to do the easy thing, which is so rarely the right thing. Serbia will never be able to rehabilitate properly if Mladic’s capture doesn’t remain a priority, and throwing EU euros at it won’t change that. In fact, I’ll argue that it will enrich and empower the substantial portion of the population who think like Zoran Eric. Many of these young men were on display last week in Genoa and Belgrade. What is their vision of a future Serbia, and does the EU want to condone it?
If France, Germany, Belgium, and Greece cave in on considering EU membership for Serbia in Luxembourg on Monday, they will continue to make a shameful mockery of the lives lost in the Balkans from 1990 to 1999, and do a modern democratic Serbia no favors — Tadic himself says that Serbia (or at least the Serbia that his Democratic party represents) will continue to hunt for Mladic. Will the EU insist on a lower standard than the present leadership of Serbia? One hopes not. Stand up for something, Europe. At least Srebrenica succeeded in shaming the Dutch into not being pusillanimous.
Greece, of course, would like nothing better for Mladic and Srebrenica to be swept under the rug. But perhaps this is because Greeks themselves participated in the taking of Srebrenica. Takis Michas, a Greek journalist with outstanding credentials, has written about that and is now being sued for speaking the truth, by none other than the same reactionary core who wish to rob Macedonia of a name. Keep reading for more about that.
FINAL UPDATE: I can’t really say it any better than the Guardian does here.
Belgrade’s Vreme ran this story today. There was a rather choice photo of masked Ivan Bogdanov burning an Albanian flag; it’s since been replaced so I leave you with this video that tells the story even better.
Clearly burning the Albanian flag has everything to do with winning a match against Italy. The message is hardly hidden, though — the t-shirt reads “Northern Chetniks” — which I’d wager refers more to the looting murderers of the 1990s wars than to the WW2-era Royalists. And this Ultra would probably be proud to tell you that, if he weren’t currently in jail in Genoa and pathetically blaming this ugly nationalism on his sick mother. Please.
To all those naive enough to say, “politics aside, what a cool Ultra!”, I say, you are deeply mistaken if you think you can de-politicize this. These “Ultras” hung up signs comparing Kosovo to Palestine, and Bogdanov is a member of a group named after the year that the Serbs lost the Battle of Kosovo — ushering in over 600 years of victimhood that opportunistic leaders in their recent past have used to fuel toxic nationalism that, guess what, led to the first wars on the European continent since the Second World War. If you want to be boneheaded enough to glamorize pointless violence and destruction, and forcing the cancellation of a normal sporting event, be my guest. But please don’t suggest that there is an apolitical dimension to this. There isn’t; suggesting otherwise is an unwelcome parade of ignorance.
Why is Genoa always a place for spectacular violence? There is much to be said about the violence of Serbian football fans in Genoa yesterday, but alas, I have to be away from the computer all day today. Mainly what I want to say is that Vuk Jeremic can apologize in the media all he wants, but his irrational policies about Kosovo stoke this kind of gangsterism, and I’ve no doubt — none whatsoever — that this violence and the violence at the gay pride parade were nurtured by politicians. You will hear lots of blame given to gangster overlords like Darko Saric, but the informed reader would do well to keep Jeremic’s clean-cut image, excellent English, and “Western” credentials in mind when trying to understand these extremely non-spontaneous events. It has a stench of the Milosevic years.
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.