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2 Fools and Madmen Fools and madmen are drawn easily to war—all glory and bravado in the beginning, tragedy and disaster at the end. Slobodan Milosevic, the president of the Republic of Serbia, in his military adventures in the former Yugoslavia overlooked one of the most important lessons of history: wars are easy to start, but once started they often take an unpredictable path.1 Wars are almost never as short as expected. They generally cost more in lives and treasure than originally believed, and those who start wars are often consumed by them. The end of communism in Yugoslavia set off a chain of violence that threatened the stability of the entire region. These ethnic conflicts in the Balkans killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions more as Yugoslavia broke apart. A Narrow Vision The lack of vision by local leaders for a democratic, European future was a primary cause of the violence in the Balkans. Very few leaders in the post-Communist Yugoslavia could see beyond their local political ambitions and personal cultural identity to foresee their country as a modern European democracy. They had few models in their personal experience to draw from. These local political leaders viewed the solution of every political question as a zero-sum competition with other ethnic groups. Compromise , except under very specific—almost mathematical—conditions, was not their tradition. The people of the region also shared the blame. The various populations in the region generally supported Milosevic and other nationalist leaders who chose war to pursue their objectives. I cannot recall one serious peace movement in any of the regions of the former Yugoslavia that placed restraints on leaders who favored war from 1992 to 2008. 8 Bosnia: Shuttle Diplomacy People learned about life and politics as youngsters listening to stories at the feet of parents and grandparents and at local celebrations in their communities. In the Balkans, every group had been a victim of repression by some dominant master at some point in its history. This psychology of victimhood colored each group’s outlook toward outside groups, even if they all had lived as neighbors for generations. Geography reinforced the narrow vision. The Balkan region was isolated from the European mainstream by geography, and in its isolation local ethnic identity was strong. What Yugoslavia’s unification effort failed to solve was how to integrate society into a national political culture in which the nation is the source of personal, political, economic, and legal identity. When Belgrade lost its grip and the political bands holding Yugoslavia together snapped with the fall of communism, Yugoslavia almost immediately fractured along ethnic lines. Political Conversion Self-interest is a powerful motivation for conversion. By 1989, many Communist leaders saw what was coming and began to change from ardent Communist bureaucrats to committed democrats and market capitalists, often stealing the nation’s wealth in the process of conversion. Their primary political strategy to win and hold power was to stress extreme ethnic nationalism among their constituent populations. Slobodan Milosevic was one such leader. In 1989, Milosevic was a successful Communist Party leader married to a woman with strong leftist credentials dating back to the Communist partisans of World War II. For Milosevic, the conversion was rapid. In a series of speeches in Kosovo beginning in 1987, he called for unity among Serbs and declared never to give up Kosovo and to defend Serbs against violence.2 He discovered that fear fuels hate and that fear and hate are potent political forces. As he transformed himself from Communist apparatchik to Serbian nationalist leader, his popularity grew among Serbs. Through his nationalist appeal as a Serb, Milosevic consolidated power when he became president of Serbia in 1990 and never looked back. Religion and Politics—the Unholy Temptation Political conversion was not the only personal transformation. After years of communism, many leaders in the region suddenly and conveniently discovered God. Fools and Madmen 9 Despite fifty years of Communist rule and religious repression, religion remained deeply ingrained in the people’s cultural identity, but not so much in their faith. In general, Croats and Slovenes were historically Roman Catholic, and Serbs, Montenegrins, and ethnic Macedonians were Orthodox Christians. European Muslims, converted to Islam during the Ottoman period, formed the overwhelming majority population in Kosovo, the largest single group in Bosnia, and roughly one-third of the people in Macedonia. As Yugoslavia broke apart, resurgent religion in the Balkans became an important political tool for ambitious...


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