Until the end of the Cold War, the politics of national identity was confined to isolated incidents of ethnics strife and civil war in distant countries. Now, with the collapse of Communist regimes across Europe and the loosening pf the Cold War'd clamp on East-West relations, a surge of nationalism has swept the world stage. In Blood and Belonging, Ignatieff makes a thorough examination of why blood ties--inplaces as diverse as Yugoslavia, Kurdistan, Northern Ireland, Quebec, Germany, and the former Soviet republics--may be the definitive factor in international relation today. He asks how ethnic pride turned into ethnic cleansing, whether modern citizens can lay the ghosts of a warring past, why--and whether--a people need a state of their own, and why armed struggle might be justified. Blood and Belonging is a profound and searching look at one of the most complex issues of our time.
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
September 01, 1995
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Excerpt from Blood and Belonging by Michael Ignatieff
Blood and Belonging
Croatia and Serbia
THE ANCIEN REGIME
WILD strawberries were served in a silver cup at breakfast, I remember, followed by hot rolls with apricot jam. The dining room looked over the lake, and when the window was open you could feel the mountain air sweeping across the water, across the white linen tablecloth and then across your face.
The hotel was called the Toplice, on the shores of Lake Bled, in Slovenia. The diplomatic corps spent the summer there, in attendance upon the dictator who took up residence across the lake. My father, like the other diplomats, came to gossip and take the waters. Every morning, he bathed in the heated pools beneath the hotel. I played tennis, ate wild strawberries, rowed on the lake, and conceived a passion for an unapproachable Swedish girl of twelve. Such are my ancien r�gime memories, and they are from Communist Yugoslavia.
I remember an evening listening from the bottom of our dining room as the then foreign minister, Koa Popovi, suavely smoked cigarettes in an ivory holder and told how his partisan unit had "liquidated the Chetniks," the Serbs who had fought on Hitler's side at the end of the war. I had never heard the word "liquidated" used like that before.
It was obvious, even to me, that the Communist elite had won power not merely by defeating a foreign invader but by winning a vicious civil war. The reality of Tito's police state was just as obvious. We lived in Dedinje, a hillside suburb overlooking Belgrade, only several hundred meters from Tito's residence. Wherever you walked, there were men in plain clothes, strolling about orwhispering into walkie-talkies. Tito himself was the hidden god of the whole system. With his sleekly groomed hair, permanent suntan, shiny silk suit, and black onyx ring on his finger, he resembled nothing so much, my father said, as a prosperous south German refrigerator salesman.
Obviously, he was more imaginative and sinister than that. I remember how, on a cruise in the Adriatic, my parents kept hiding a book from the crew, stowing it under their bunk, locking it in their luggage. The book turned out to be Milovan Djilas's The New Class. Djilas, Tito's companion in arms, was still in Tito's jail for denouncing his dictatorial tendencies.
We traveled everywhere in the Yugoslavia of the late 1950s--through Bosnian hill villages, where children swarmed up to the car, barefoot and in rags; to the great mosque of Sarajevo, where I removed my shoes and knelt and watched old men pressing their foreheads on the carpets and whispering their prayers; to the Dalmatian islands and beaches, then unvisited by Western tourists; to Lake Bled in Slovenia. Parts of southern Serbia, central Bosnia, and western Hercegovina were so poor that it was not clear how ordinary people survived at all. Ljubljana and Zagreb, by contrast, were neat, prosperous Austro-Hungarian towns that seemed to have nothing in common with the bony, bare hinterlands of central Yugoslavia.
At the time, all expression of economic resentment, together with nationalist consciousness itself, came under Tito's ban. The society marched forward, willingly or unwillingly, under the banner of "brotherhood and unity." To call yourself a Croat or Serb first anda Yugoslav second was to risk arrest as a nationalist and chauvinist.
I had no idea how complicated and ambiguous the division between national and Yugoslav identity actually was. I knew, for example, that Metod, my tennis coach in Bled, always called himself, first and foremost, a Slovenian. I remember him saying bitterly that he hated serving in the Yugoslav National Army, because both he and his brother were ragged by the Serbs for being Slovene.
Was that the only time I saw the cracks that were to become fissures? I think so. For everywhere else I remember people who told me, happily, that they were Yugoslavs. In retrospect, I see that was there at the most hopeful moment. Tito was still lionized for having kept the country out of Stalin's empire; there were the first signs of the economic boom of the 1960s; soon to come was the liberalization of travel, which allowed millions of Yugoslavs to work abroad and for a time made Yugoslavia the freest of all the Eastern European Communist countries.
I hold on to my ancien r�gime memories. Everyone now says the descent into hell was inevitable. Nothing seemed less likely at the time. My childhood tells me that nothing is inevitable: that is what makes what did happen tragic.
THE NARCISSISM OF MINOR DIFFERENCE
As Balkan nationalists tell it, their history is their fate. Croats will explain, for example, that the root cause of the bloodshed in the Balkans is that they are "essentially" Catholic, European, and Austro-Hungarian in origin, while Serbs are "essentially" Orthodox, Byzantine, and Slav, with an added tinge of Turkish cruelty and indolence. The Sava and Danube Rivers, which serve as borders between Croatia and Serbia, once demarcated the boundary between the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.
If this historical fault line is emphasized often enough, the conflict between Serbs and Croats can be read off as inevitable. Yet it is not how the past dictates to the present but how the present manipulates the past that is decisive in the Balkans.
Freud once argued that the smaller the real difference between two peoples, the larger it was bound to loom in their imagination.He called this effect the narcissism of minor difference. Its corollary must be that enemies need each other to remind themselves of who they really are. A Croat, thus, is someone who is not a Serb. A Serb is someone who is not a Croat. Without hatred of the other, there would be no clearly defined national self to worship and adore.
In Croatia, Franjo Tudjman's ruling HDZ (Croatian Democratic Alliance) party presents itself as a Western-style political movement on the model of the Bavarian Christian Democrats. Actually, the Tudjman state resembles the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milo�evi much more than either resembles anything on the Western European parliamentary model. They are both post-Communist one-party states, democratic only in the sense that their leaders' power derives from their skill as manipulators of popular emotion.
An outsider is struck, not by the differences between Serbs and Croats, but by how similar they seem to be. They both speak the same language, give or take a few hundred words, and have shared the same village way of life for centuries. While one is Catholic, the other Orthodox, urbanization and industrialization have reduced the salience of confessional differences. Nationalist politicians on both sides took the narcissism of minor difference and turned it into a monstrous fable according to which their own side appeared as blameless victims, the other side as genocidal killers. All Croats became Ustashe assassins; all Serbs became Chetnik beasts. Such rhetorical preliminaries, needless to say, were an essential precondition of the slaughter that followed.
Yet what remains truly difficult to understand about the Balkan tragedy is how such nationalist lies ever managed to take root. For ordinary people know that they are lies: all Croats are not Ustashe; all Serbs are not Chetniks. Even as they use these phrases, people know they are not true. It cannot be repeated too often that these people were neighbors, friends, and spouses, not inhabitants of different ethnic planets.
A nationalist minority on both sides went to work on their deeply intertwined common past, persuading all and sundry, including outsiders, that Serbs and Croats have been massacring each other since time immemorial. History has no such lesson to teach. In fact, the protagonists were kept apart for much of their past, in separate empires and kingdoms. It was only the assassination of Croat politiciansin the Parliament in Belgrade in 1928 that set off the slide into ethnic warfare during the Second World War. While the present conflict is certainly a continuation of the civil war of 1941-45, this explains little, for one still has to account for the nearly fifty years of ethnic peace in between. It was not merely a truce. Even sworn enemies on either side still cannot satisfactorily explain why it broke down.
Moreover, it is a fallacy to regard either this war or the civil war of 1941-45 as the product of some uniquely Balkan viciousness. All the delusions that have turned neighbors into enemies are imports of Western European origin. Modern Serbian nationalism dates back to an impeccably Byronic style of national uprising against the Turks. Likewise, the nineteenth-century Croatian nationalist ideologue Ante Starevi derived the idea of an ethnically pure Croatian state indirectly from the German Romantics. The misery of the Balkans stems in part from a pathetic longing to be good Europeans--that is, to import the West's murderous ideological fashions. These fashions proved fatal in the Balkans because national unification could be realized only by ripping apart the plural fabric of Balkan village life in the name of the violent dream of ethnic purity.
Likewise, even genocide in the Balkans is not a local specialty but an importation from the grand Western European tradition. Ante Paveli's wartime Ustashe regime, which Serbs mistakenly regard as the true face of Croatian nationalism, couldn't have lasted a day in office without the backing of the German Nazi regime, not to mention the tacit approval of that eminently European authority the Catholic Church.
In sum, therefore, we are making excuses for ourselves when we dismiss the Balkans as a sub-rational zone of intractable fanaticism. And we are ending the search for explanation just when it should begin if we assert that local ethnic hatreds were so rooted in history that they were bound to explode into nationalist violence. On the contrary, these people had to be transformed from neighbors into enemies.
Thomas Hobbes would have understood Yugoslavia. What Hobbes would have said, having lived through religious civil warhimself, is that when people are sufficiently afraid, they will do anything. There is one type of fear more devastating in its impact than any other: the systemic fear that arises when a state begins to collapse. Ethnic hatred is the result of the terror that arises when legitimate authority disintegrates.
Tito achieved the national unification of each of the six major south Slav peoples. He understood that a federal state was the only peaceful means to satisfy the national aspirations of each people. For each ethnic group to unify on its own, they would each have had to initiate the forcible deportation of populations. As much as a quarter of both the Croat and Serb populations have always lived outside the borders of their republics. Tito created an intricate ethnic balance which, for example, reduced Serbian influence at the heart of the federal system in Belgrade, while promoting Serbs to positions of power in Croatia.
Tito's containment of nationalism, built as it was on a personal dictatorship, could never have survived beyond his death. Even by the early 1970s, his socialist rhetoric of "brotherhood and unity" was falling on deaf ears. In 1974, he compromised with nationalism, allowing the republics greater autonomy in the new constitution. By the end of his reign, the League of Communists, instead of counterbalancing the ethnic clientism among the elites in the republics, was itself fragmenting along ethnic lines.