Serbs and victimhood

I received a note from a reader yesterday about an article on the Financial Times website . Without presuming to speak about the actual contents of the article – read it and make up your own mind – the author caught my correspondent’s attention with these passages:

“It is not as if victimhood is never true. Jews are slandered and persecuted, though not very often in the US. Muslims have had a rough deal in history. But our politics too often degenerate into expressions of self-pity, which is particularly odious in the German case. The result is suspicion, hatred, and in the end vengefulness. One might call it the Kosovo Syndrome.
On St Vitus Day, 1389, much of the Serbian nobility perished in a battle with Turkish armies on the Field of Blackbirds in Kosovo. More than 600 years later, Bosnian Muslims were driven from their homes, murdered and raped in large numbers, and tortured in concentration camps. And all this because Serbs could not stop thinking of themselves as the greatest victims in history.”

Sounds like a slam-dunk ending – were it true.

Buruma’s thesis is a favorite among various apologists for Imperial intervention in the Balkans, especially those of Serbophobic proclivities. It is by no means the only attempt to ascribe the wartime atrocities – characterized as genocidal and attributed exclusively to Serbs – to some collective mental defect of the Serbian nation, and what better target for this “original sin” theory than the bedrock of Serb identity: Kosovo?
In doing so, they not only miss the whole point of Kosovo, but also embrace outright falsehoods. The 1389 battle seared itself into the collective psyche of the Serbs during the centuries of cruel Ottoman rule as a testimony of their Christian faith. It bore the message that it was noble and good to sacrifice oneself in an attempt, however futile, to defend one’s culture, faith and freedom. But Kosovo was liberated in 1912, during a war that saw the end of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans. If there was a legacy of Kosovo looming over the Serbian national psyche for centuries, that’s when it ended.
What happened in Bosnia in the 1990s was not only very different from Buruma’s facetious description, but also differently motivated. Yes, people were forced out of their homes; murdered in cold blood or killed in battle; thousands were tortured; and quite a few women were raped. And while the prison camps on all sides were brutal, they were NOT “concentration camps.” The invocation of that term was a conscious propaganda effort, and bears no relationship to reality.
Serbs certainly have not considered themselves the “greatest victims in history,” unlike some other people. Quite to the contrary, the strongest cult of victimhood in the Balkans is arguably that of the Bosnian Muslims, followed by Yugoslav Albanians.
Yes, there was much suffering inflicted in Bosnia, upon both Muslims, Croats and Serbs. But while Serbs and Croats have acknowledged the suffering of others, the Muslims (and the world opinion) have insisted that they were the only victims. Those who defend the idea of exclusive Muslim victimhood accuse anyone who offers evidence of atrocities on all sides of being an advocate of “moral equivalence” and “genocide denier.” But genocide is a serious accusation, and just because everyone can parrot the allegations does not mean it was actually proven – or that it actually transpired.
[Here’s the obligatory clarification: I by no means support wartime atrocities – or war for that matter. I am a libertarian, and therefore do not hold that virtue is something defined by the will of the majority. Saying ‘everyone did it’ won’t make it any more acceptable or not. But I am disgusted with victim politics, and revolted at propaganda efforts to use suffering as an excuse to inflict suffering.]
So, Buruma’s argument about a world increasingly marked by “holocaust industries” should have used this example – and didn’t. Instead, he embraced a fallacy that allowed him to flog the Serbs (who lack standing to defend themselves, having been demonized for a decade as Nazis Reborn) for some cheap emotional points.
Pardon me if I’m not surprised.