Madrid 1936 -- Sarajevo 1996

Article excerpt

EVERY historical situation is unique, and the events of 1936 in Spain differ in many ways from those of Bosnia since 1992. Yet there are enough points of convergence that we may establish a series of parallels between these two situations. We must bear in mind that the Spanish was hinged on a fundamental ideological conflict - socialism and democracy versus fascism. This was the major intellectual struggle within Europe at this time, and within a few years it would ignite the Second World War. In Bosnia, on the other hand, the ethnic factor has now replaced ideology to the point that the concrete issues at the heart of the various conflicts are becoming obscure.

But it remains true that the government of Sarajevo fights in the name of the same great political principle that inspired European democracies half a century ago. And while the motivations of the ultranationalist Serb (and Croat) forces do not exactly correspond to the doctrines of the Spanish Falange, there are many frightening similarities between these two reactionary movements, rooted less in ideology and political organization than in the more tribal and primitive notions of blood, birthright, and heroic past.

The Serbian Nationalist mythology is remarkably close to the tradition that inspired the Medieval Spanish Christians during their conflict with the Iberian Moors. The desire to correct the injustices of past centuries is resurrected by Serb leaders, pitting the Orthodox Serbs against their Catholic and Muslim neighbours, just as the Spanish Reconquista inflamed Christian hatred of Jews and Muslims. Conjuring the spirit of the fifteenth-century defenders of the faith, Franco called the Spanish Civil War a "crusade" against a conspiracy of communists, Jews, and Freemasons. In song and story, militant Serbs now echo the chauvinism of old Spanish Christendom - the "usurper" becomes Turk instead of Arab, while the martyred warrior hero is Lazar instead of Roderick. The desire for "ethnic cleansing" recalls Spain's expulsion of Jews (1492) and Moors (1 609) and that country's statutes concerning "purity of blood," which remained in force until the nineteenth century.

Yet another obvious parallel lies in the heroic resistance of the civilian populations of Madrid and Sarajevo, which managed to undo the plans of those who had expected, in the 1990s as in the 1930s, a quick victory for the stronger force. In each case, stubborn opposition caused the war to drag on, creating terrible hardship but enabling the population to recognize those who have shared complicity in barbarous aggression.

The Spanish Popular Front and the democratic and multi-ethnic government of Bosnia-Hercegovina have likewise shared a similar fate. In both cases a legitimate government, internationally recognized, was attacked by the armed forces, or a faction of the armed forces, in the name of retrograde values. And, in both cases, instead of being protected by the international community, these governments became victims of the passivity, cowardice, and cynicism of the great democracies. The politics of "non-intervention" was realized as an arms embargo. …