External Observer’s Vantage Point«, Matthias Wagner K click here
war between the Serbs, the Croats and the Bosnian Muslims has now been raging
for four years. It is the first war in Europe sin-ce 1945. It is still going on
and nobody seems to doubt the fact that it will continue to rage for some time.
But at some indeterminable point in the future, it will belong to the past, it
will become history.
AlI of the
warring parties claim to have justice on their side. Each backs up its claim by
referring back to history, cultural influences and religious beliefs.
Croats and Bosnian Muslims form a single linguistic unit, in which various
dialects of Serbo-Croat, or Croato-Serb are spoken.
collapse of the Yugoslav Federal State, brought about by the breakaway of
Slovenia and Croatia, threatened to create a situation incompatible with the
Serb doctrine. This doctrine states that only a united Yugoslavian State or a
Greater Serbia can guarantee the continued existence of Serbs living beyond the
borders of Serbia. This belief is based on past experiences of Serb persecution
in the independent Croatian state which exi-sted during the Second World War,
but it also has its roots in the Serb expansionist idea of the 19th Century.
Yugoslavian State created after 1918 by the victorious powers of the First
World War lay in ruins. The quarrel over this ruined sta-te now included a
third party, the Muslims. These people had the same origins and language as the
other two ethnic groups, but due to their long history of oppression under the
Osman Empire and to their belonging to the Muslim faith, they had developed a
national identity of their own.
basic conflict is between the Serbs and the Croats and one of their aims in the
past was always to reintegrate Bosnia and ist Muslim population into one nation
or the other.
southern Slavs grouped themselves into nations much later than their Western
role models and unlike the Western nations they were not formed on the basis of
a strong expansionist monarchy, but rather in a process springing from the
domination of this area by three imperial powers: the Tsar of Russia, the
Emperor of Austria and the Sultan of Turkey.
led the way with an independent revolution which resul-ted in the creaton of a
semi-sovereign state around the year 1830, which in turn developed into an
independent kingdom in 1878.
national identity came as a response to the developments in neighbouring
Serbia. As long as the Habsburg Empire existed, Croatia clung to its tradition
of a Croatian monarchy, dating back to the early Middle Ages and perpetuated by
their Hungarian rulers. Croatian national confidence was built upon the
military enthusiasm of the Croatian nobility serving under the Habsburgs and
the success they had in pursuing their rights and maintaining their language in
the oppressive climate created by their governors in Budapest.
introduction of universaL suffrage in 1918 came a spiralling nationalist
movement which stoked up feelings of hatred. Objects of this hatred were now,
however, the Serb rulers of the state created by the victorious WW I Allies.
It was not
until 70 years after the founding of Yugoslavia that the Bosnian Muslims laid
claim to a state of their own, taking advanta-ge of the collapse of Tito's
uses history as a justification for something is exploit-ing history, abusing
it as an excuse for her or his actions.
exploitation of history as a justification for one's actions is coupled with
nationalist ideals is not unique to former Yugoslavia. These ideals allow for
expansionism which brings with it the expulsion of people who refuse to conform
in thought and belief and can lead as far as acceptance by the majo-rity of so
called ethnic cleansing. Using the propagandised phrase »the cons-ciousness of
the collective identity« the individual is no longer defined as a dependant
entity but as part of a group. This means that the actions of the individual
become the actions of the group, giving the individual the assurance that she
or he does not carry the guilt alone and so does not carry sole res-ponsibility
for her or his actions. This is a way of thinking which can only develop when
individual crimes are committed in times of war.
in retrospect, when history has analysed and evaluated the war, the individual
is still seen as part of a group. This goes for both the perpetrators and the
victims. For the perpetrators this can lead to collective blame, for the
victims and their individual histories it can mean being filed away in the
archives of history and statistics.
is history? Our perception of time leads to the artificial creation of time
periods, past and future. Time past is not empty. It is full of events which define
and structure it. Events which were created out of the interaction and
interplay of a complex of human intentions.
becomes history when it is written about or recounted, only then does it become
history and is then open to alterations and manipulations.
i.e. the writing of history, is then not necessarily the same as the revelation
of real events, it can also be used to suppress these events. In addition,
there is also individual, subjective history. The way individuals regard the
objects, persons and events around them
forms the personal sphere of reference within which they act. As the past was once the present, the future will become the present. The individual's perception of this creates the experience of the flow of time. In the realisation of this, the experience of this time continuum can be seen as a life-long voyage of dis-covery through one’s own history and at the same time as a continuous questioning. The answers to these questions are not absolute truths, but subjective ones. Only in the realisation of this subjectivity can a definition of the individual and her or his position in the universe be given. The individual's history becomes something
which is continuously emerging.
claim that the Croat Ustasha killed 700 000 Serbs during WW II in the Jesenovac
death camp a hundred km south-east of Zagreb, define themselves as Serb
nationalists. Those who say that the Ustasha Fascists killed only 60 000 Serbs
are defined as Croat nationalists and therefore despise the Serbs1.
science has made great efforts to illuminate history. Histoncal events have
shown us, however, that our usual division of things into Good and EviL and our
bias towards the Good are not possible in this case. In view of this, it is
also impossible to base our understanding of the meaning of history on
scientific deduction. This is because historiography, in its attempt to be
scientific and its overemphasis of objectivity and of facts
and figures, runs the risk of hindering our emotionaL involvement in real historical events. On
the contrary, historiography promotes indifference.
question which arises, of whether historiography as we know it fuels such
conflicts, is not at issue here.
question should underline the constant problems arising from history's forms of
The war in
former Yugoslavia is happening now but we find ourselves »outside« this
conflict. Direct physical identification with the people involved is not
possible under normal circumstances.
In view of
the fact that this war is being fought in Europe, i.e. in an area which
certainly should concern us, this feeling of being »outside« must be seen as a
external view defines our own position and point of view, however. This point
of view, although it necessarily demands a cer-tain distance it also offers us
a more extended field of vision and therefore more points of comparison.
The war in
the Balkans hoLds up a mirror to us. If we look into this mirror we see not
only ourselves but aLso the events of history as they repeat themselves.
of historiography and its effects on history have no relevance for this war. It
is directed towards the future alone, a future which will become the present,
and it demands of us an examination which makes possible a new understanding of
the legacy left to us by time past. This is essential if real changes are to be
made. And changes are necessary to prevent the repetition of familiar events,
which have however lost their meaning for us, being accep-ted as normal and
confronts this point of view and therefore creates a dialectic bet-ween life
and art must be oriented towards a communicative interaction. It must criticise
the traditional forms of presentation of word and image which we believe enable
us to understand the world in its entirety.
standpoint of the external observer as a concept of sensory thought.