Have a look at this upsetting post from Kathimerini a few weeks ago. It's about the destruction by fire of a large chunk of medieval Serbian monastery in Mount Athos. Upsetting though the post is, I can't help being bemused by this passage in the report:
"None of the 25 resident monks - all Serbs - were hurt, while the monastery's medieval heirlooms and holy relics were evacuated from a secret chamber with the help of ex-army special forces soldiers from a neighboring Greek monastery who rappelled down the 30-meter-high walls with ropes."
It does conjure up a wonderful image, doesn't it? As S. F. Danckaert puts it:
"unless the article is unclear, that means that some Greek monks who live nearby are (a) former special forces and (b) pulled off quite a stunt. Can you imagine men in hiked-up black robes, with long beards and hair, propelling down a burning wall? To make matters more interesting, the closest monastery to Helandari is none other than Esfhigmenou, famous center of staunch conservatism and anti-ecumenism."
They Hide That Information in Books
One of Danckaert's other concerns, naturally enough considering his Orthodoxy, is the ongoing trouble in Kosovo, which has turned to carnage in the last few days. Most coverage of Kosovo is highly simplistic, so Jan's site puts the current violence into context.
Most of what I know about the disintegration of Yugoslavia dates from the media at the time, chatting with my Serbo-Croat friend Ana, and reading such books as Michael Ignatieff's Virtual War, Misha Glenny's The Balkans, Allan Little and Laura Silber's The Death of Yugoslavia, General Michael Rose's Fighting for Peace, William Shawcross's Deliver Us from Evil, and Joe Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde.
Granted, I could have read more, but I think I'd read enough to be troubled by the simplistic attitudes I heard expressed towards the situation in the Balkans at that weird summit I attended in London a few years ago. Listening to George Robertson, Geoff Hoon, Wes Clark, Socrates Kokkalis, and especially CNN's Christiane Amanpour I was horrified by their black-and-white statements about what had happened in Yugoslavia.
Particularly offensive was Amanpour's offhand observation that in conflict situations there's always a bad guy, and the job of the journalist is to identify that villain; in the case of Yugoslavia the villain was clearly 'the Serbs'. That's insane. Journalists have a job to report on what's happening, not to impose a false order on the bloody reality by labelling people heroes and villains. That's turning it into a story; life is usually more complicated than that.
Yes, the Serbian leadership throughout the nineties were scum, and the likes of Milosevic lit the fire that destroyed Yugoslavia, whipping up nationalist sentiment to gain power. He was no nationalist himself, just, as Ana puts it 'a greedy man' But the leaders of the Croats and of the Muslim Bosnians were no better. The Muslim leaders seem to have been particularly dangerous, being willing to risk and sacrifice their own people for political gain.
It seems that American intelligence agents were only too willing to believe whatever they said, invariably taking their side, so much so that they undermined the Vance-Owen plan in late 1994, telling the Bosnian leaders that if they held out they could have got a much better deal. The results of that are only too well known - a further year of war, the ethnic cleansing of the Krajina, and the massacre at Srebrenica, before at Dayton the Americans managed to broker a deal that gave the Muslims less land than they would have had under the Vance-Owen plan.
Conspiracy Theory, anyone?
Bearing that in mind, I was intrigued to read an unofficial report by an American soldier just returned from Iraq, who says that:
"Almost all the soldiers in his unit think the war was about oil, and question the Bush adminstration. They follow their orders, but do not believe their cause is just in the grand scheme of things. They believe the goal was to control the flow of oil to Russia and Europe. They also believe Kosovo was an oil interest, because Iraqi oil went to France and Germany through the Balkans."
I'd heard this about Kosovo pipeline shortly after that war, but that story had slipped away into the background. Interesting to see it being resurrected now.
Another curious aspect of that report was the observation that as the US now has troops in every middle Eastern country except Iran and Syria, the rumour in the military is that they're next on the agenda and that "Rumsfeld is even planning to push for a reinstitution of the draft if Bush wins in '04".
Now that doesn't quite square with Rumsfeld's own dreams of a leaner, hi-tech army, but does kind of tally with this ominous report that the US government "is taking the first steps toward a targeted military draft of Americans with special skills in computers and foreign languages."
We'll see, I suppose.