Monday, February 12, 2007

Mero's Review of Oberschall

“Before the war was super…my neighbors were Muslims, Croats. We celebrated our holidays together. A few months before war broke out, people started separating. It was after Bosnia’s independence was recognized. Our neighbors avoided us.” This quote, taken from Anthony Oberschall’s article, “The manipulation of ethnicity: from ethnic cooperation to violence and war in Yugoslavia", aims at explaining how ethnic violence and war could have erupted in Yugoslavia after over forty years of peace and cooperation. Oberschall explains how factors such as false media propaganda, hostile nationalist sentiment, and fear of security were all manipulated to breed distrust among neighbors of the former Yugoslavia. In his article, he combines aspects of four social theories for ethnic violence (primordial, instrumentalist, constructionist, and ethnic conflict) to support his own personal theory of latent nationalism. Under this theory he highlights how ethnic manipulation succeeded in a crisis framework and led to the slaughter of innocent civilians.
Oberschall’s latent nationalism theory is encompassed in two cognitive frameworks for Yugoslavs. First, a peaceful and cooperative lens in which Serbs, Croats, and Muslims all worked together politically and socially. The second lens is labeled as a crisis lens in which WWII sentiments and fears are used to perpetuate social insecurity and distrust among neighboring cultures. To highlight his first frame, Oberschall draws upon social studies and polls to show the peaceful coexistence of Serbians and Croatians in the workplace, schools, universities, law force even though Serbians maintained a slight majority population in neighboring countries.
The transition from peace to hostility begins to boil at the beginning of the early 90’s in the 91 election where the Muslim SDA won majority seats in government. Though the Muslims did not take advantage of the majority position and continued to engage in a power sharing relationship, extreme nationalists began to worry about a loss of political control among the nation. The Serb SDS in response quickly established, the “Crisis Committee”, a parallel Serb governance aimed at consolidating Serbian rule. However, the nationalist party did not just stop at the creation of a new political governance, small militias and police forces were created to kill and detain all non-Serbs in the region.
Many of the support for these hostile regimes came from false media propaganda being spread through local radio and television stations which were controlled by Serbian nationalist leaders. Rapes and massacres of Serbians were being reported in other countries and spread across the townspeople. Eventually, fear and hatred began to brew as the threat of another WWII attack on the Serbs was being created. It is through these repetitive strategies that the majority of Serbs were persuaded by a relatively small nationalist party to cooperate with the genocide of non-Serbs.
Of course, as with most Communication theories that try to explain social behaviors, there are many unaccounted factors that could have lead to the slaughter of all non-Serbs. However, Oberschall’s analysis is consistent with his use of the multiple social theories that he encompasses within his new framework. He highlights many of the key important aspects of how persuasion is implemented through the political and social level. Drawing upon key narratives and reports, his arguments are validated through his step by step analysis of a nationalist takeover.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Amanda Marie Hunter on Bringa

In her article Nationality Categories, National Identification and Identity Formation in ‘Multinational’ Bosnia, Tone R. Bringa examines the conceptualization of ethnicity and nationality prior to the outbreak of war in Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s. Bringa carefully delineates the two with her assertion that ethnicity is reflective of individual ascriptive action while nationalism is derived from state-level descriptive action. That is, the relationship to the state constitutes the difference between each concept. Throughout the rest of the paper, Bringa argues that elite- and state-led dispensations of nationality generated grave distortions in an otherwise stable process of “multiethnic coexistence” (2).

Since it emanates from the individuals experience in a community, the substance of ethnicity tended to reflect the general mutability of life (i.e. work, marriage, or community of residence). Conversely, nationality closely mirrored regime change and elite politicking. Neither was fixed and each relied heavily upon the ‘other’, of varying propinquity, for definition. For example, the Communist state sought to construct a reality that provided for no official acknowledgment of religion, despite a populace in which religion is a major source of cleavage. Political actors methodically denied the existence of some groups while extending the benefits of recognition to others in return for support. After Bosnian Muslims were recognized by the state, Croats asserted that Bosnian Muslims were no more than ethnic Croats with a different religion, and the Serbs levied the same the claim in their own favor

I appreciate the authors’ criticism concerning western attempts to import a Wilsonian peace via the Dayton Accords. It may be that the peacekeeping programs were laden with normative prejudice and treated culture and all its complexities as epiphenomena. Missing from this assessment, however, is to what degree Serb and Croat actions were also internally and culturally coherent. The author exposes her own biases when the Croats and Serbs, apparently unable to distinguish between western elitist machinations and their own will, seem to have been herded into war (with a special noted exception for the intelligentsia) in her concluding comments. Finally, the scope of the paper feels artificially abridged due to a timeline that reaches, briefly, back to World War II.

In sum, there are tensions within the authors argument because, while cleary aimed at divesting elitism of utility, the author falls short of fully advancing the agency of the individual. To do so would mean confronting the idea that the capabilities for both making war and keeping peace are equally human.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Summary of: Tesanovic, Jasmina. The Diary of a Political Idiot: Normal Life in Belgrade. San Francisco: Midnight Editions, 2000.

Life in Belgrade during NATO bombing was both terrifying and monotonous for Jasmina Tesanovic, author of The Diary of a Political Idiot. Unlike the wartime diary of Anne Frank, Tesanovic’s writing reflects a new kind of war, one voiced by an adult with children of her own. This new war unfolds on BBC and CNN, watched by those inside Belgrade, where they learn of air strikes within their city, bemused when the foreign news gets the story wrong. Following the trajectory of Yugoslavia into war, Tesanovic’s diary takes the reader inside the city and appeals to the outside for understanding.

The diary follows the inner thoughts and outer activities of Tesanovic from 1998 to 1999; she is mother, daughter, wife, friend, writer, and filmmaker. Even before NATO reprisals begin, Tesanovic struggles with the multiple roles she plays; her fatalism, rationale for writing in English, the guilt she feels as a child of communists, and the unbridgeable divide between Tesanovic and her parents are detailed in entries. By revealing her conflicting emotions and sharing the small moments that make up a large part of life, Tesanovic’s diary provides a compelling connection, to her and therefore to Serbians, the group despised for bringing about this war.

Tim Judah’s introduction supplies a helpful background to Balkan events in the 1990s. Threaded throughout his lengthy introduction, however, are various restatements of the idea that the diarist, Ms. Tesanovic, is just like us. She is one of us, or could be us. These several heavy-handed statements detract from the real story, the entries shared by the author.

Arguably the diary is set in three acts, not parts: Prelude, NATO, and Political Idiots. The idiots of the title and chapter reference the Greek roots of idiot: “a common person without access to knowledge and information” (Tesanovic, 2000, 39). Tesanovic writes that she and the majority of Serbs are political idiots, caught up by their corrupt leadership. The Prelude is full of talk of sanctions, comparisons to the earlier wars in Croatia and Bosnia, and plans to leave. NATO focuses on life during the air strikes: belated attempts to obtain a passport and VISA, worried thoughts about Albanian friends in Kosovo, meetings with friends or protest groups, reflections on her parents and their disapproval, runs to the shelter for cover and runs to the black market for food, and always the worry and second-guessing of choices made. Political Idiots turns towards the ending of the bombing, the signing of a peace agreement, the apprehension of a new regime, and acknowledging Serbs are no longer able to hide as idiots.

The diary’s strengths lie in writing about the events that everyone already knows about war and detailing its minutia. Rumors run emotions. Neighbors and neighborhoods are forcibly knit together as bridges are targeted for bombing and citizen mobility is restricted by gas rations and blockades. More weddings take place. The rush to underground shelters as the sirens blast, reminiscent of WWII film, is followed by the gradual inurement of the citizens to the sirens, to the war. Now, the eeriness of phone calls from the field. The portrayal of life during a modern war, and how people become trapped in their own lives, is a jarring juxtaposition of us and them.

Throughout her diary, Tesanovic seems to address us, the NATO countries, trying to show that the people of Serbia are not wild, bloodthirsty, and warlike, no matter what decisions their leaders make. Serbs want to eat in restaurants, drink wine on the terrace, and enjoy the company of friends. Already filming a version of this diary while still writing it, Tesanovic shows the hope that still exists, whether her words express it or not, that Serbia and she will survive the war, that she has not waited too long, that staying in the city was the right choice. ~ Amy Fyn

Shant's Article Summary (Bringa article)

“Nationality Categories, National Identification and Identity Formation in ‘Multinational’ Bosnia”
Cantonization in Bosnia-Herzegovina is based on the European concept that people within a multiethnic society can be divided and co-exist without giving up their nationality. Unfortunately this Wilsonian-Leninist doctrine proved to be disastrous because cantonization assumes that nations are clearly definable, and historically static units. It assumes that these units are culturally homogenous and that the best way to govern is by creating politically sovereign units which overlap within the cultural units. There were attempts at forceful cantonization in Bosnia-Herzegovina; ethnic cleansing that resulted in human loss and suffering as well as destruction of cultural and historical monuments. The three reasons cantonization did not work in Bosnia-Herzegovina were: 1) the “intricate ethnic patchwork” fostered a society where cantonization could occur only at a great human expense; 2) cantonization is ill-informed as it assumed that division of B.H. into three separate nationalities qualifies as a Western definition of a nation; and 3) the Western concept of cantonization is incompatible with the notion of nationality in B.H. along state and local lines.
The Western notion of ethnicity is based on the idea that an individual is so because he was born to be so, and this can never be changed. This ignores the concept that different people have different ideas of who one is and which group he belongs to. National and ethnic identity is partly based on ascription (self-definition) and description (definition by others). Bosnia-Herzogovina is an example of one or more parties contesting the cultural (ethnic or national) identity, where there is no real consensus on nationality within groups in the state. In B.H. religious identity overlapped with national or ethnic identity for the three major groups. Thus religion became part of an individual’s cultural identity, whether or not one is a believer. In local areas of B.H. the term for religious identity (i.e. Catholic, Orthodox) is used rather than the national identity (i.e. Croat, Serb). The term ethno-religious identity is a more accurate depiction of an individual.
In Dolina, a two-hour drive north of Sarajevo, one can easily distinguish between a Muslim and Catholic house based on the architecture. During secular activities the Muslims and Catholics interact together, but during religious activities, they separate and knowledge about each other’s religious activities become scarce. Secular activities consist of key values of honor and hospitality which the two groups share—gift-giving, building projects, and community work. These common visits would be opportunities for the groups to point out differences amongst themselves with each other. This illustrates that cultural differences between Muslims and Catholics are mutually stated. The village of Dolina illustrates that the formation of self-identity is dependent on the other group; that is, one’s self-identity is asserted by pointing out differences in the other group, and understanding of the other group is stated by how they are different from themselves. Despite religious tolerance and co-existence amongst groups in the town of Dolina, a boundary still exists in the village. This is the idea of intermarriage, which is not allowed and non-negotiable because of the religious issues that arise. There is also a sense of the environment being a major factor in determining the values of the people. Many individuals in Dolina acknowledge that “we are the way our surroundings are,” and reinforce the idea that there are differences between rural and city dwellers.
The Western concept of nationality differs from the socialist state’s idea of nationality. In Western Europe citizenship and nationality are synonymous and nationality refers to a person’s relationship to a particular state. In a multi-ethnic socialist state, identity is determined by ascription and description, leaving room for adoption or inheritance of a nationality. Yugoslavia had a three-tier system of national rights, a hierarchy of categories which they grouped different peoples and according to which they were granted national rights. The first category was the “nations of Yugoslavia”, which there were 6, the second category was the “nationalities of Yugoslavia, of which there were 10, and the third category was “other nationalities and ethnic groups.” This was the legacy of three ideologies: the Ottoman millet system, Stalinist doctrine, and the Wilsonian doctrine. The situation for Muslims in this area is that they are the only nation in the former Yugoslavia who did not have a republic as their de jure national home. There is no legally established link between the Bosnian (Muslim) nation and the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina leaves the Muslims without a legitimate state.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Tony's Summary of Oberschall's Article

Oberschall's Analysis of Ethnic Violence
In Anthony Oberschall's article "The manipulation of ethnicity: from ethnic cooperation to violence and war in Yugoslavia", he uses popular explanations of ethnicity and ethnic conflict to expound further in explaining how exactly Yugoslavia went from ethnic cooperation to all out ethnic warfare. The 'primordial', 'instrumentalist', 'constructionist', and the 'state breakdown' views are four explanations of ethnicity and ethnic conflict that come up short according to Oberschall.
The 'primordial' view states that feelings of ethnicity are natural and almost taken for granted in culture. Applied to Yugoslavia, this would mean that underneath the facade of cooperation and friendship that had been so prevalent among Muslims and Serbs, there were inherent mistrusts, hatreds, and other misgivings felt by both sides. Fueled by a political power race, this meant that neighbors would have started going at each other in a escalating level of violence and hatred. According to Oberschall, this view comes up short for explaining the conflict in Yugoslavia primarily because of the lack of neighbor on neighbor violence, and how most of the violence perpetrated was committed by militias and the military. I take issue with his criticism in that the makeup of militias and think that they could have contained former neighbors. These people had to come from somewhere, and if manipulated enough with propaganda, neighbors would be more than willing to take up arms against threats, regardless of whether or not that ex-neighbor of yours lent you three eggs the week before. I would like to read more about the regional makeup of militias in order to answer this more thoroughly.
The 'instrumentalist' idea of ethnic conflict states that politicians and those in power manipulate ethnic feelings and identities in order to make political gains. The political gain in this case was, for the Serbs, the creation of Greater Serbia. Oberschall takes issue with this when the feelings of average Bosnians and Serbs were surveyed to display a sentiment that was not supportive of secession, and that many Serbs in fact avoided military service which would show an unwillingness to die for this cause or fight for it at the least, though I would argue that they could have had strong nationalist sentiment but they were not willing to die for it perhaps.
'Constructionist' explanations point to the very real existence of ethnicity but that in ordinary times ethnicity is just one of a few identifying characteristics important to people. Oberschall finds this lacks any explanation of how the nationalist and ethnic identities were constructed and then broken down by a heavy handed propaganda campaign and political mobilization.
The breakdown of the state and the lack of security therein was the fourth existing explanation of ethnic conflict. The idea behind this is that a lack of security drives a sort of ethnic arms race because there is no protection offered, or felt to be offered, by existing institutions. This is not to say that it is ethnicity that drives this, but rather a feeling of fear and insecurity. However, Oberschall finds this lacking any explanation as to why there was so much violence without state breakdown. I disagree in that the state does not need to be failing in order for groups to cling together out of fear.
Oberschall then seeks to show that it there was a strong sense of nationalism that was lying just beneath the surface of peoples psyche and that it was the leadership that brought those feelings out. The fears and insecurity that followed was the product of media dishonesty and heavy propaganda. He uses the ideas of cognitive frames to explain some of the shortcomings as described above.
There existed two frames in Yugoslavia. One was a frame of normal peacetime relations that was most prevalent under the rule of Tito. This frame suppressed the other, crisis frame. This crisis frame was activated throughout the many wars experienced in the region throughout history. Oberschall argues that the crisis frame was brought out in a manipulative way by nationalists.
Generally critical of what I read, I have to admit that this argument was very agreeable to me and made quite a bit of sense in explaining a little further than the other views on ethnicity, why and how ethnic conflict was ignited in Yugoslavia. I would have liked to continue on further with really unpacking the article because the implications of how cognitive crisis frames are brought out, particularly through the media, are very global. Even in our own country we could analyze this in regards to the War on Terror, or to past issues such as racism and the Civil Rights Movement and find explanations that might call into question whether or not our media machine is indeed benevolent and noble in its quest for the 'fair and balanced' report.