Monday, February 05, 2007

Howling Mad

I've been writing columns about the Balkans for almost eight years now, and have always made the utmost effort to document every claim included there. If I recall correctly, my detractors have found only two factual errors in any of my columns. I once wrote that the indictment against Milosevic had been filed by Carla del Ponte (it was Louise Arbour). The other one was when I asserted that modern Croatian arms (chequy gules et argent) were the same as the World War Two arms of the Nazi-allied "Independent State of Croatia" - and an intriguingly well-informed Croat said this was patently false, because the WW2 arms were chequy argent et gules.

Alright, so that second case is more comical than truly illustrative - but the point I was trying to make is that I do my homework. If I am making a claim in any of my articles, I am doing my damnedest to provide some backing to it, preferably a source that can hold up to serious scrutiny, rather than assertions of the "everyone knows" variety. And it is such "history," often quoted in shrill tones by professional [insert ethnicity here] at events and in letters, that annoys me to no end. Worse yet, people spouting such pseudo-historical drivel are deeply convinced of its accuracy and allow that sentiment to pervade their, um, presentation.

Perfectly illustrating the point are letters and responses from Croats following the publication of Julia Gorin's article "When will world confront the undead of Croatia?" in the Baltimore Sun two weeks ago or so. Croats worldwide wrote to the Sun denouncing her piece as "Serbian propaganda" (right, because everything in the world is the fault of Serbs - the sentiment itself proving Julia's point that hatred of Serbs is not a thing of the past). Many wrote to Julia personally, using language so vile I admire her for having the fortitude to preserve the messages and post them online (latest post here, see her blog for more).

Julia Gorin's researched, documented article, could not be challenged factually. Therefore it became the subject of a firestorm of spitting and howling by people who "knew" the "actual truth" and spouted it free of Serbodiabolical constraints of proper English and decency. Even the polite letters were based on premises so ridiculously false, even I had a hard time believing there were folks who actually thought that way. And I'm supposed to be used to all manners of Balkans oddities, having lived there for almost 20 years and written about them since 1999.

Some years ago I would have been tempted to say "Well obviously their problem is ignorance... once they realize their beliefs are false, they would stop hating." Now I know better. Ignorance is the consequence of hatred, not its source. Those Croats who spat on Julia over the Internet, much as those Croats, Muslims, Albanians, or Serbs who have railed at me for years, don't just disagree with the message - they hate the messenger. Just look at the sheer number of hate-mail pointing out Julia is Jewish (thus proving her point even more...).

And it's not just the "uninformed" private citizens doing this. A couple years back, when I published on this blog the results of an ICTY-sponsored inquiry into Bosnian War deaths, a Reuters correspondent tried to discredit the scoop by calling it "reports circulating on Serbian weblogs" and "internet rumours."

Last week I was at the University of Michigan, at a conference about Europe and globalization. One of the panels was dedicated to the future of Kosovo, and it happened to be on the very day Martti Ahtisaari presented his plan to Belgrade and Pristina. I had the dubious pleasure of sitting on the panel with two top Albanian lobbyists in the U.S., who turned the session into their political rally (most of the audience were ethnic Albanians). Nothing I could say to that crowd would have made the slightest difference. All they wanted to know was what the world owed the Albanians for their centuries of suffering under the brutal, fascist, genocidal Serbs, and how dare anyone suggest any of the "history" presented by the lobbyists (or the people from the audience, which was often even more "flavorful") was anything but absolutely accurate?!

And then people wonder why there's hatred and war.

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