(Re-posted from another of my blogs- this post needed to be here as well, to support other posts about the Balkans.)

As a follow-up to my recent post on the Balkan wars of the 1990’s, I felt it was time to add more book reviews for those who might be interested in immersing themselves in the issues facing the Balkans and eastern Europe. With the future in mind, first on the list is a recent (fall, 2017) edition from the Brookings Institution titled Beyond NATO: A New Security Architecture for Eastern Europe (The Marshall Papers) by Michael E. O’Hanlon.

In summary, the book argues the case against NATO expansion and presents the alternative of a “negotiated agreement” between current NATO countries, the non-NATO and non-aligned states that would remain sovereign and neutral, and Russia. The catalyst for this new type of security agreement is Russia, and namely Russia’s fear of NATO and the west uncomfortably approaching, and eventually encroaching upon, its borders. The author does cause the reader to step outside the western view that our intervention in eastern Europe, most notably Bosnia, Kosovo, and Ukraine, even when labeled humanitarian, can be construed as threatening when viewed through Russian eyes.

The premise is that the new security architecture would act as a deterrent to Russian posturing and aggression and its plans for military growth, including nuclear weapons. It is believed that the coalition of neutral states, not overseen directly by NATO or the United States especially, will eventually allow Russia to cease their destabilisation efforts in the region, specifically in Ukraine and Georgia, and allow these and other states such as Armenia and Azerbaijan to develop towards normalcy after being able to turn away from a continuous defensive/offensive posture.

While theoretically possible, the concept relies on Russia’s acceptance of the new structure. Whether or not Russia accepts, and if so, their willingness and ability to remain faithful to the agreement, is a different story. There would be a built-in “range of responses” to different threats against the agreement participants, be that Russia or other nations. These responses could include anything from economic sanctions to expedited NATO membership for threatened agreement participants.

Street art in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Street art in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, October, 2017. Note the artists use of a bullet hole for the left eye, obviously the starting point for the image.

Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War by Ed Vulliamy was published in 1994. At that time the siege of Sarajevo had ended, Serbia and its forces understood that the UN and NATO would actually take decisive action against them, and the concentration camps, mass murder, atrocities, and genocide of the war in Bosnia had been exposed to the world. Vulliamy’s book reports what was known at the time of publication and paints an ugly, demented picture of what was perpetrated on so many innocent people by the Yugoslav army/ the Serbian army, by “paramilitaries”, by criminals and thugs. But he also tells stories of hope, heroism, and bravery, of fighting against all odds, and of how so many of the people of Bosnia endured. Interspersing these stories in a book of this nature is absolutely necessary, lest the sickened reader cast the book aside. If you choose one book to help your understand the war in Bosnia, Vulliamy’s book will painfully, yet clearly meet that goal.

 

 

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As part of my research into the Balkans and more specifically the Bosnian war- the causes, implications for the future, and the present situation there, there is always so much additional information that relates to and informs that research. A recently published book titled Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz, by Omer Bartov, is one of those sources. Bartov begins with a brief description of his family’s history in the town and builds from there using interviews, letters, diaries, and archives to give the reader a very clear picture of the persecution and suffering of the residents, and the pathological perspectives of the perpetrators.

Another painful account of murder and genocide, the book focuses and the now Ukrainian town of Buczacz, mainly from 1900 onward through World War II.  I have read many books on the Holocaust, World War II, the Soviet Union, Armenia, and the war in Bosnia and the Balkans. But for me the poignancy in Bartov’s book is its focus on this single town, and how the perpetration of torture, murder, and genocide switched hands, but continued unabated, with whichever conquering army was in control of the region. No matter if Ukrainians or Poles were in charge carrying out their nationalistic agendas, there was murder and genocide, with Jews always a target. And once the Nazis marched in, they found ready perpetrators within all three “ethnic” groups in the town, with Poles and Ukrainians working alongside the Nazis, and complicit Jews aiding in the roundup, incarceration, and delivery of mostly Jewish residents of Buczacz for murder.

The “normalisation of murder”, its acceptance as an everyday occurrence, as part of life, is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the book. Bartov’s book is full of quotes directly from sources, relating the exact words and feelings of the murderers, giving eye-witness accounts from perpetrators, “bystanders”, and surviving victims. Equally disturbing is the almost festive atmosphere of the action by German army officers, and to a lesser degree others complicit in the genocide, who were in charge in the town. They were joined by their families, children, and parents in some cases, all of whom were witness to the brutal, daily violence at times taking place at random on the city streets, in broad daylight, in front of passersby. The town became their playground, with anything they wanted at their fingertips. Anyone who questioned them would be immediately killed without a second thought.

The perpetration of genocide in Buczacz, and how it so many residents became complicit, was recreated in Bosnia 50 years later. The actions of those in the early 1940’s in the Ukraine appear almost as a blueprint for the 1990’s. Pitting one “ethnic” group against another; using ethnic, religious, and socio-economic differences; highlighting, elaborating, and in many cases revising history and past injustices; and finally rewarding the murderers with power, and spoils- the houses, possessions, and property of the murdered. This was the formula used by the Nazis in Buczacz and by Milosevic and the Serbs, and eventually the Croatians, in Bosnia.

Bartov’s book is disturbing; there is no way around it.  But, as I paraphrase so often, “if we do not study history, we are condemned to repeat it.” Unfortunately for so many we DO forget too quickly. Hopefully this book will help make a create a more indelible memory of history that must never be forgotten.