The Corner

Man Wolf to Man (cont’d)

More on man’s wolfishness to man.

In last week’s Radio Derb I passed some remarks about the 1990s NATO campaigns against Serbia.

The background there was that a few days earlier I’d had a conversation with a Russian friend who grew up in the U.S.S.R. in the 1980s. My friend told me that educated young Russians at that time were all pro-American, but that now they are all anti-American. I asked him what caused the turnaround. He: “Many things, but more than anything else it was the NATO attacks on Serbia in the 1990s. Serbs are Slavic and Orthodox, you see? Russia traditionally looked on Serbia as a little brother or nephew.”

Well, my Radio Derb remarks brought a spirited reaction from a listener in Zagreb. I have edited the reader’s e-mail somewhat — it was rather long — though without any distortion of the sense.

My name is Jurica [surname redacted at listener’s request], from Zagreb, Croatia. I am a huge fan of your works and a regular listener of Radio Derb. I am writing an angry e-mail to you, without pretending it is an attempt at education … or anything like that. To be perfectly honest, I was simply annoyed to the point of vomiting with one part of your last Radio Derb show:

Remember when back in the Clinton administration we went to war against Christian Serbia on behalf of the Muslims of Bosnia? Muslims world-wide have been expressing their gratitude to us ever since in very moving and colorful ways. Their warm regard easily outweighs the fact that we alienated the Russians, who have traditionally regarded Serbs as their younger brothers. I mean, who cares about Russia? It’s not as if they have oil or nuclear weapons.

I understand that savage wars of some Balkan tribes are absolutely no concern of yours as a patriotic American, and that details of the whole mess there are simply a technical detail in case your aim is to maximize the advantage of the American people. However, my stomach turned after listening to this part of your last show and I simply had to react, mostly because of your choice of words: “Christian Serbia on behalf of the Muslims of Bosnia.”

To a Bosnian Catholic who fled from the terror of Bosnian Serbs, this sounds a little like “Warm multicultural Serbian nation bombed by the racist capitalist monsters of Orthodox-hating WASP Yankees, defending the terrorist Mujahedin unbaptised Muslim beasts.” It’s an implicit way of asserting a very wrong assumption on the nature of these two groups.

First of all, your basic flaw is regarding Bosnian Muslims — to everyone who has ever met Bosnian Muslims, one thing is very clear — they are much more an ethnic than a religious group … Bosnian Muslims are connected by tradition, customs, visiting the mosque a couple times a year, living a relaxed slow life with huge hedonism regarding coffee and making plum brandy. They are very far away from anything you could find in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Egypt etc. and what you are trying to compare them with.

Your second flaw is giving the Serbs that Christian compliment. In one of your earlier columns you have mentioned Serbia having “a long tradition of political violence.” I would add that the Serbian form of Orthodoxy is much more similar to ancient pagan Slavic beliefs than anything you could find in the New Testament. They are simply the last European nation who never gave up barbarism. [Here there follow 300 words of anti-Serb polemic.] And the tragedy is that you guys seem to support these hooligans.

Now, as I mentioned, I am not disturbed with your attitude of an American taxpayer who simply sees it as a waste of money on some Balkan tribes who hate each other for centuries, and will not stop just because Hillary came and told them to behave. However … you may be against Social Security, but if benefits for the unemployed and poor already exist, I presume you would prefer that some orphaned children or victims of natural disasters get your tax dollars, than people with Adult Baby Syndrome. Following the same principle: If the U.S.A. intervenes in the policies of other nations and regions, wouldn’t you like the whole result of the thing to be just a little bit more fair? Just a bit more on the side of more peaceful and European-like nations, then on the side of barbaric hordes who celebrate slaughter and rape?

I would just like to end this angry e-mail with one interesting fact: the only person that I know of who is a fan of Radio Derb here in Zagreb is a friend of mine who is a Bosnian Muslim. He is also an atheist, in a relationship with a girl of Serbian ancestry and has a great love towards dark beer and physics. Radio Derb is much more multiculti then your whole crew in Buckley Towers ever dreamed of.

With kind regards,

Jurica [Name]

A subsequent exchange of e-mails revealed Jurica to be a thoughtful, literate, and rather witty person: a typical Radio Derb listener, in fact…

But what on earth is one to say about the kinds of tribal passions he exhibits? That Serbs, and Bosnian Serbs, were recently wolfish to non-Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo, is not in doubt. There’s always been plenty of wolfishness to go around in that part of the world, though. Albanians are not best known for genteel restraint in dealing with those they perceive as enemies; and if you go a few decades further back, though still well within living memory, Croatia did not have a good war.

Is it probable, though, that Serbs in the generality are as uniquely backward and barbarous as my correspondent says? I am more inclined to think that if my remarks had had a pro-Bosnian-Muslim, anti-Serb flavor, I would have gotten e-mails just as angrily vituperative from the other side.

That’s what tribal passions are like. Turk and Greek (I’m not even going to mention Armenians), Serb and Croat and Bosnian and Albanian, … Anything you say about any of these people ticks off the others mightily. I suppose it has always been thus; but in the present age, when victim status is eagerly sought and cherished, and there is keen competition for what an Irish historian once called the MOPE Trophy (Most Oppressed People Ever), the temperature is higher.

I’ll only add that the point I was making on Radio Derb still stands, as my correspondent sort-of concedes: that it was foolish U.S. policy to annoy Russia, a large and important nation, by getting involved in the inconsequential squabbles of the Balkans, however wolfish they were. “The war in Kosovo was believed to be the first humanitarian war,” says Wikipedia. I wish I could believe it will have been the last.

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