Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The War

No. Not the Iraq war. Not the Persian Gulf War. The war I am speaking of is the war that happened in Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia in the 90's. Our nanny is, as we speak, in Prishtina serving a mission. She's teaching English as a foreign language to young adults. I totally support that. However, I was trying to give her some background on the War and explaining to her that my discomfort comes from the fact that the war was genocidal and religion played a large part in that genocide. Her being there as a missionary is a bit hard for me to swallow since I look at the country and think, "Um...should we really be drawing lines right now?"

Her roommate, another missionary, apparently has disagreed with my conclusion that the wars were fueled by religion (particularly, the chasm between Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Islam). She claims that it was only "ethnic cleansing". I'm hoping she'll come here to give her side and present her evidence for such a claim.

I understand the ethnicity was a factor,...but, how do we define ethnicity in a country wherein people look pretty much the same and social classes are wide? I argue that people were identified by their religion. I've read multiple sources and spoke to multiple people (including refugees) who back up that claim. But, apparently, I might be, what do YOU think? Were the wars of the early 90's, in Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Albania, and Yugoslavia due to religious genocide or something else?


Anonymous said...

Uh, I blame religion for everything that goes/went wrong in the world, but even without my bias, I'm pretty convinced religious friction was one of the main driving forces of the war in that region.

yuyay (formerly Sarah) said...

I blame religion, too.
This may be a bit off topic, but an interesting phenomenon to a linguist at least and related to the difficulty of defining ethnicity. In linguistics, it is at times difficult to see where one language ends and another begins (much like in defining species in biology). Is it a dialect of another language, or a definably separate language? This is heavily influenced by political factors. In China, where there are thousands of dialects so different that they are unintelligible to outsiders, the Chinese government, in the name of unity has decided that there is only one language. In Serbia and Croatia, however, the languages are fully understandable by both parties, the only real difference being the written alphabet. The governments, wanting to be divisive, and the people, not wanting to admit similarity to a hated people, claim they speak two completely different languages.

Wikipedia's definition of ethnicity is as follows:
"An ethnic group or ethnicity is a population of human beings whose members identify with each other, either on the basis of a presumed common genealogy or ancestry or recognition by others as a distinct group, or by common cultural, linguistic, religious, or physical traits."

Sounds like a lot of claims based on a lot of fluid 'presumptions' completely open to interpretation and exploitation by any group who can include or exclude anyone they feel doesn't fit their definition of the group. What is your nanny's friend using as the defining factors of the 'ethnicities' involved in the conflicts? The language difference is not a plausible claim as Serbian and Croatian are actually the same language (as orthography shouldn't really enter the equation). Genealogy? I don't know enough about the history of the area. Physical? They all look the same to me. ;) Cultural? How much of their culture is distinct from their religious claims? I would imagine that many cultural traits that didn't develop from their religious beliefs could be a common point, not a dividing point. What does that leave? Religion.

DISCLAIMER: I am a linguist, not a genealogist, Eastern-European historian, nor an anthropologist (though my anthropologist husband agrees with what I've said) so my points on those matters may need some backing up) ;)

My husband adds that the problem is in the confusion over ethnic group and cultural group.

Poodles said...

I'm with shadesofgrey.

Corbie said...

Well, the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina thought religion was behind it. Part of their plea to the International Court of Justice was:
"Requests the International Court of Justice to adjudge and declare,
1. That the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), directly, or through the use of its surrogates, has violated and is violating the Convention on the
Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, by destroying in part, and attempting to destroy in whole, national, ethnical or religious groups within the, but
not limited to the, territory of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including in particular the Muslim population, by:
⎯ killing members of the group;
⎯ causing deliberate bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
⎯ imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
2. That the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro).... (emphasis added)

Vincent said...

They are the same thing:

Ethnic groups are not races, since ethnicity can be more precisely defined than race or even logically independent: Serbs and Croats are also Slavs, and a Jew might be black or white. Nor does membership of an ethnic group relate a person necessarily to a particular territory in the way that nationality does. Nevertheless, ‘ethnic conflict’ can be the same thing as conflict between nations or races as it can also be conflict between religious groups. Ethnic conflict in Northern Ireland (‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’), Lebanon (where Christian Arabs have been in conflict with Muslim Arabs), and in the Balkans (where Orthodox Serbs differ from Catholic Croats and from Muslims principally in terms of religion) are all conflicts primarily identified by religious affiliation. Language, for the Basques, Welsh, or Georgians, for example, is a more important badge of ethnicity than race, nationality, or religion.

From the Political Dictionary, Oxford U. Press (emphasis added).
They are ethnic conflicts because they are religious conflicts.

Andrew said...

The war wasn't primarily religiously or ethnically based. The dissolution of Yugoslavia was mainly the culmination of years of poor economic investments by the regime, backlash from attempted suppression of individual nationalities (a rise in nationalism), and finally the West's economic recession during the 1980's.
I think you would have to be there to understand the scope of disaster that was the Yugoslav economy. Hundreds of businesses were filing for bankruptcy. People were being laid off without severances. While all this was going on, political crisis continued. The states dissolved into individual nations all with votes on "Yugoslav" affairs. Then eventually the states started declaring full independence.
Tensions escalated into a full-out war that lasted until the UN stopped it.
I have a close friend who was with the US Army when they went into Sarajevo. He tried to describe the amount of destruction, and let's just say that it is hard to fathom. There were no buildings left, so the Army set up bases in old football (soccer) fields and parks. I don't think either side thought it would ever go as far as it did. To the point where Serbs were spreading lime over the corpses of hundreds of murdered women and children.
Was the war religiously based? No. You could say that it was nationalism at its (er...) finest. The Nazis used nationalism to push their soldiers to do horrendous things as well. And even WE did it to the Japanese with the fire bombings. It takes a certain degree of actual hate to pull something like that off and not feel remorse. And nationalism is the best tool to fuel that hate. Is that really genocide? The Geneva courts said it wasn’t in the majority of cases of mass-murder in Bosnia.

amarullis said...

I had a friend in the mid 90's who had been sent to college in the US by her mother to escape Yugoslavia. One of my friend's parents was Muslim and the other Christian. They were divorced, but still feared for their lives because they were looked at as traitors (sleeping with the enemy). My friend, being on both sides and neither, was even more at risk, so after receiving death threats and going unsucessfully into hiding, her mother sent her away. My friend was pretty clear that religion was the biggest factor in the conflict.

Andrew said...

Religion is what has divided those people ethnically for centuries. Yugoslavia was originally a confederation of smaller kingdoms. But Yugoslavia is not Northern Ireland.

I think you are confusing a complicated situation with something deceptively black and white. Do you actually think that a bunch of Orthodox Christians woke up one day and decided to kill every Muslim and Catholic they could find? No... obviously not. The situation was infinitely more complex than that. It was a result of years of animosity, economic struggle, the fall of Yugoslavia, competition for national resources, the rise of aggresive political forces, and finally the fostering of homicidal nationalism.

Hugo said...

The point is and it is probably what most atheist would say:
Would removing religion have avoided the war?
Probably not but it would give one less reason for it and one less reason for it to continue.
In my view that is good enough to be against religion.

Laura said...

It's been said but I'll reiterate for effect: the two can't be disconnected. Religion is one of the biggest factors in determining ethnicity. Ethnicity is not the same as race (as is commonly thought), but is rather a way of describing a group of people based on many different shared aspects of their lives. It also includes things like diet, socio-political structure, and division of labor.