Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Self-inflicted wounds

It is with some fondness that I remember a day in late spring 1999 when I was accused of being an 'imperialist'.

It was after a reading by Christopher Hitchens at Bookmarks, a left-wing bookshop in London. He was officially promoting a book on Clinton, but most of the discussion -- and debate -- focused on the bombs then being dropped by NATO on Serbia to compel them to withdraw their forces from Kosovo. Hitchens was in favour of this policy, though the rest of the room was divided, so the debate was a rather fierce one.

Afterwards, the audience gathered outside (at least those of us who then smoked) to continue the discussion. I, too, supported the NATO action; a couple of my interlocutors did not. Hence the epithet noted above that they hurled at me. (I might have it wrong: I might simply have been labelled a 'tool of imperialism', and there is a dim memory of the phrase 'NATO lackey' falling more than once that day, as strangely retro as that may sound.)

So, it is perhaps appropriate that I use Hitchens's Slate article, 'The Serbs' Self-Inflicted Wounds', from last Friday as the occasion to offer somewhat belated congratulations to Europe's newest independent state. (Via Will)

A little more than three years after the Battle of Bookmarks, I watched Joschka Fischer -- then Germany's Foreign minister -- defend his decision to support the Nato bombing and the subsequent deployment of German troops to Kosovo, the first foreign military operations ever undertaken on the part of the Federal Republic's Bundeswehr.

As Fischer represented the largely pacifist Greens, this was a significant issue in the 2002 elections, and when he came to Trier, where we then lived, as part of the campaign, the calls of 'Kriegstreiber' ('war-monger') from some parts of the audience were almost constant. Fischer, no stranger to political street-fighting (both literally and figuratively) interrupted his prepared campaign rhetoric and engaged in the debate with gusto.

It was impressive, not least since I had a hard time imagining an American Secretary of State debating policy in a provincial market square with such knowledge and passion.

At least nobody threw anything at him in Trier.

To round this off, the Süddeutsche Zeitung had an interesting article yesterday (in German) about the 'other Serbia', you know, the one that that is not demanding a new war, burning embassies, or carrying pictures of Radovan Karadzic through the streets. A more thoughtful, cosmopolitan nation certainly exists, which should be remembered while the raging nationalist thugs dominate the headlines.

In the last few weeks, I read Laura Silber and Allan Little's The Death of Yugoslavia (US/UK/D). It doesn't go up to the Kosovo war (at least the edition I have), but it is an excellent source of information about how this sad story began.

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