Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What's In a Name? Quite a lot, actually

Mick Hume has a good piece in the Times today on why those who believe that Gordon Brown will prove a less of a poodle to the US than Tony Blair are living in cloud cuckoo land. He does though make one serious factual error in his article. Hume claims Labour 'bombed Serbia in the 1990s'. But the country Labour bombed in the 1990s was called Yugoslavia, not Serbia. It's an important distinction. Part of the neo-con mythology surrounding events in 1999 was that a country called 'Serbia' was attacking a place called 'Kosovo' (maps on US tv stations actually showed Serbia and Kosovo as two separate countries). In fact, what was taking place was a counter-terrorist operation carried out by Federal Yugoslav forces against Kosovan separatists, armed and financed by the West. There was no 'Serb aggression' (the stock phrase used by neo-cons when writing about the conflict): merely action taken by the Yugoslav forces (forces which contained ethnic Hungarians, Roma, Muslims and other ethnic/religious minorities) to quell foreign-backed terrorism. Neo-cons were keen to use the word 'Serbia' and not Yugoslavia' for another reason too: it fitted in with their long-standing campaign to demonise the Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, and portray him as a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth Serb nationalist. Milosevic was of course no such thing, born into a family of Partisans, his loyalties were first and foremost to Federal Yugoslavia and not to the cause of Serbian nationalism. The fact that the country Milosevic governed was still known as Yugoslavia, was hugely inconvenient for the neo-cons, so they simply ignored the official name of the country and called it what fitted in with their propaganda.

It's a pity that a writer like Mick Hume, who opposed western aggression in the Balkans, has decided to follow the warmongers lead.

7 comments:

Nick said...

It may have still been CALLED Yugoslavia, Neil, at least by the Serbs, but - as a result of Serbia's earlier (finally unsuccessful) attempts to impose its hegemony on several other members of the federation - the Yugoslavia of 1999 was neither what it had been, nor worthy of the meaning of the name.

And of course it WAS Serbia that was bombed - unless Belgrade had been moved elsewhere without anyone but you noticing.

Philip Davies said...

Nick, Montenegro was bombed also. Not sure how Serbia tried to impose any sort of hegemony on the other republics.

Also when Milosevic was overthrown, the western media had to start calling the country Yugoslavia (at least for a short while) as he was the president of that entity at the time and then Kostunica was.

M.T. said...

The Serbian hegemony myth has been used for decades in order to justify all sorts of things; first internally by the Tito regime (for example - the creation of Kosovo, the separation of "Macedonia" from Serbia, the creation of a Muslim "nation" in Bosnia, the relocation of important factories from Serbia into Bosnia and Croatia...), and externally in the 1990s.

The myth was first used in the late 1890s and early 1900s by the Austro-Hungarian Empire when Vienna started accusing Serbia of 'expansionism'. And then in 1908, A-H annexed Bosnia (where the majority of population was of Serb ethnicity). Go figure.

Nick said...

Maybe it's been used so often, m.t., because it wasn't in fact a myth. Certainly in the late 1980s the Serbian element in the federal parliament was throwing its weight around in a way calculated to deny some of its other members their rightful voice in that body. Hence (in part) the drive towards independence by Slovenia and Croatia.

M.T. said...

Don't be ridiculous, Nick. Serbia was constantly outvoted by the other republics voting as a bloc. The only other republic sticking by Serbia from time to time was Montenegro (no wonder - they're Serbs, too).

Serbia (pop. 10 million, 45% of Yugoslavia) had 1 vote, the same as any other republic. The next largest republic was Croatia, which had less than 1/2 of Serbia's population.

Some hegemony.

Nick said...

I'm not talking about voting, m.t., I'm talking about some of the other tactics used. But just in case my brain's failed and I'm imagining all this, I'll go back to the books and archives to make sure I'm not talking rubbish. Thanks for pulling me up and making me check.

oskar said...

It certainly was Yugoslavia, although by 1999, that was pretty much synonymous with Serbia. Sure, Montenegro was also targeted, but much less so than Serbia/Kosovo.

Given that Yugoslavia has long been used to denote all of former-Yugoslavia, it isn't that surprising that foreign media use "Serbia" instead of "Yugoslavia" by 1999.

Have to agree with Neil though that the media tended to report things in a skewed way. Perhaps Serbia (or Yugoslavia) would have been justified in attacking CNN center in Atlanta and the BBC in London just as Nato bombed RTS in Belgrade (ostensibly to "stop Serbian propaganda" - RTS was comparing Clinton and Blair to Hitler).