OVER A COFFEE: Emerging from chaos the Serbian way — I —Dr Haider Shah
As the communist Yugoslavia fell apart, the period of political turmoil exacerbated ethnic tensions, which resulted in the notorious bloodbath of Bosnia-Herzegovina. What happened then is a bleak spot in the annals of history. What is happening now is, however, of more interest to us
Once upon a time there lived an eagle that took great pride in his sharp eyesight. One day, flying very high in the sky, he sighted a small grain size piece of flesh lying on the ground. Feeling very pleased with his sharp eye, he swooped down and in a flash reached the target to pick it up in his talons. To his horror the bird suddenly found himself unable to fly back as he was entangled in a poacher’s net. “What is the use of such eyesight that can see a wheat grain from miles but can’t see the big net surrounding it,” says Khalil Gibran, the narrator of the story. Today, Pakistan is not much different from the eagle. While pursuing a distant objective with its sharp imagination and innovative strategic planning, our military leadership has got us entangled in a mess of terrorism and chaos.
Watching Pakistani news is like watching a Hollywood movies channel these days. There is an endless supply of hair-raising thrillers. However, unlike the melodramatic effect of movies, what we are experiencing is a depressing feeling of humiliation and despondency. The mayhem that we are witnessing nowadays is shocking and regretful. But in this winter of despair, a few buds of hope are also sprouting. Just as a flood after much destruction lays fertile soil for future generations, there are some clear indications that the old order is crumbling and a new discourse of introspection is showing some signs of germination in the media as well as in private discussions. Perhaps Faiz had prophesied about this particular spring season by suggesting that it would reopen all closed accounts for a fresh appraisal. But in such an environment there is also bound to be a determined effort by opponents of change to hijack the discourse and divert our attention from the core issues.
To lessen the feeling of national guilt, let us begin by not forgetting that we are not the only country that has found itself at the crossroads in its national history after chasing illusive dreams. Before I discuss the case of Serbia, let us recall the history of Germany. With the rise of Hitler, it had embarked on a jingoistic policy of domination in international affairs. It was, however, more genuine and sincere in pursuit of this dream as it did not build castles in thin air and instead matched its lofty desire with astonishing economic and scientific progress. In fact, Germany was the first European country to come out of the economic depression of the 1930s. The charisma of Hitler whipped up the ecstatic sense of racial superiority of the German race and soon Nazi Germany occupied almost all of continental Europe. Once the dream was over, as Hitler lay dead in his bunker, the German people made a conscious choice of a paradigm shift. Germany embraced pan-Europeanism and became an ally of the US in international affairs. Similarly, the then biggest military Asian power, Japan also realised at the end of World War II (WWII) that the pre-WWII world existed no more and, consequently, it reoriented its policy in the changed scenario.
Russia also stood confronted with this reality of a changed world at the beginning of the 1990s. The collapse of the Warsaw pact and the fall of the Berlin Wall had demonstrated that the 1917-1990 world had ceased to exist. The Russian leadership was prudent enough to embrace the reality and redefine its paradigm in the changed world. It kept its head down and slowly and gradually started rebuilding its economy. The East European countries also focused on their economic revival as they entered a new world after the fall of Soviet-led communism.
Students of European history are aware of the bloody wars that Germany, France and Britain had fought against each other over many centuries. Their armies pillaged each other and slaughtered millions in turn. But today they are bound together in one European Union (EU) where their citizens enjoy visa-free movement across the borders of member countries. Not that the change has been embraced by all sections of these societies. Hawks like neo-Nazis and some nationalists in Britain strongly resent the loss of national identities and clamour for jingoistic ideals. However it is the majority public opinion that has made the transition to the new world possible. Put simply, the economic rationale has triumphed over belligerent nationalism.
A dispassionate appraisal of the history of these dominant world powers can become a good source of learning. We can, however, learn even more from the case of Serbia — a troubled Balkan nation. A strong sense of national pride and long subjugation under the Ottoman Turks gave rise to fierce and militant nationalism among Serbians at the end of the 19th century. The First World War was ignited by the suicidal mission of Serbian nationalists when they assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. During World War I about 60 percent of the regular Serbian army perished while around one million, i.e. more than 25 percent of the Serbian population and almost 60 percent of its male population, died. When a nation’s identity is stained with so much blood, it is not surprising that it finds itself embroiled in genocidal wars against other communities. As the communist Yugoslavia fell apart, the period of political turmoil exacerbated ethnic tensions, which resulted in the notorious bloodbath of Bosnia-Herzegovina. What happened then is a bleak spot in the annals of history. What is happening now is, however, of more interest to us as it shows that it is not impossible to overpower the tyranny of the status quo and redefine one’s national paradigm along pragmatic lines. Serbia desires membership of the EU and therefore has made a conscious break with its jingoistic past. As a proof of this transformation the nation has shown readiness to disallow murderers like Milosevic and Mladic to take refuge behind militant chauvinism. While hawks in Serbian society are still trying their best to stop the wheel of time spinning forward, the majority opinion has turned against that paradigm. Serbia has rendered an apology for its past deeds and propaganda and consequently it has recently agreed to hand over Mladic, the Serbian general accused of war crimes, to The Hague War Crimes Tribunal. Pakistan can learn a lot from the Serbian example of how to integrate well with the international community so that, like Serbia, it is also no more viewed as a pariah state.
(To be continued)