MONDAY, JANUARY 3, 2022
The center, failing to hold: In the country called Bosnia and Herzegovina, things may be falling apart.
There seems to be an increasing sense that the center may not hold. So it may be for nations which employ the word "and" in their official nomenclature!
The nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is often referred to, more simply, as Bosnia. In a front-page report in today's New York Times, Andrew Higgins offers this brief overview of the nation's three major identity groups, and of their discontents:
HIGGINS (1/3/22): A patchwork of different peoples and religions, Bosnia has long been a tinderbox for larger conflagrations.
It was in Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital, that a teenage Serb nationalist set off World War I by assassinating an Austrian archduke in June 1914, and where the seemingly deranged rants of a Serb psychiatrist, Radovan Karadzic, presaged a three-year spree of bloodletting in the 1990s. Those Balkan wars left roughly 140,000 people dead, drew in NATO warplanes and soldiers and created a rift between Russia and the West that remains today.
Now the United States and the European Union, which Bosnia aspires to join, are desperate to stop the new crisis from escalating into conflict, or creating the sort of political instability that Russia could exploit...
The frictions in Bosnia are rooted in the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, brokered by the United States. The deal stopped the fighting but created an elaborate and highly dysfunctional political system, with a weak central authority in which different ethnic groups share power. The trio of elected presidents are Mr. Dodik, who represents Serbs, Mr. Dzaferovic, who represents Bosnian Muslims, known as Bosniaks, and Zeljko Komsic, an ethnic Croat.
Within the country's current political system, the Croats, the Muslims and the Serbs each have their own president. Roughly 140,000 people lost their lives the last time the center failed to hold—in a country whose current population is roughly 3.3 million.
(That's the equivalent of 14 million lives lost in a nation our size.)
The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina are trapped within a tragic, very lengthy history—a tragic history none of them initiated. The nation's three "constituent peoples" speak three different languages. They tend to recall and record their long, tragic history in three quite different ways.
This news report in today's New York Times helps us think about the largely unavoidable perils of human "identity." It can be very hard for different identity groups to form the types of shared understandings which allow the center to hold—the kinds of shared understandings which serve to keep things from falling apart, even from sliding toward war.
Human identity groups tend to have vastly different beliefs. Members of identity groups may cling to their own group's beliefs in ways which brook no compromise with the beliefs and understandings of many of their fellow citizens.
The beliefs of other groups will be understood to be wrong. The beliefs of one's own group will be understood to be right—and we humans may be very strongly inclined to cling to our group's formulations.
Can Bosnia's three identity groups survive the current tensions? We have no way of knowing! That said, our own famous nation, which is much larger, is also struggling with identity issues at this perilous point time.
Can we survive our identity issues? Major experts sometimes say that our center has already failed to hold, in ways which aren't yet fully visible.
Last week, Michiko Kakutani penned an essay for the New York Times about the work of the late Joan Didion. Her essay touched on our own nation's perilous state. The essay started as shown:
KAKUTANI (12/30/21): Joan Didion was a writer uniquely attuned to the disorder and fragmentation of our times, the dizzying changes overtaking America since the 1960s, when, as she wrote in “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” lines from Yeats’s famous poem “The Second Coming” reverberated “in my inner ear as if they were surgically implanted there”:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.
For Didion, who died on Thursday at 87, the late ’60s and early ’70s were a time of social and political tumult, abrupt leave-takings and random violence... She was uncannily attuned to the dark undercurrents of the day—the social fractures and divides that fueled carelessness and alienation. This is one reason Didion’s work resonates so deeply with us today. Once again, we are living in times defined by chaos and uncertainty, and what Didion called “the jitters” are settling in again...
Here in this country, the center seemed to be failing to hold back in the 1960s. As Kakutani notes, similar "jitters" are being widely reported today.
As she continued, Kakutani described some of the ridiculous conduct which is fueling the fear of an incurable divide. She described the crazy behavior of some members of one of our nation's largest identity groups. She also noted "the fracturing of truth" which is plainly taking place within that identity group.
The group she described was our nation's "red" tribe—the tribe which supports Donald J. Trump. Kakutani didn't discuss the possibly ridiculous conduct—and the widespread "fracturing of truth"—which has simultaneously been taking place within our own "blue" tribe.
Human identity groups are like that, major top experts all say. It's easy for the Croats to see what's going wrong with the Serbs and the Muslims. It's much harder for members of identity groups to see the ways things may be falling apart among one's own identity group, or tribe.
It was easy to see the craziness when an offshoot of QAnon supporters gathered in Dealey Plaza in November to await the return of John Kennedy Jr. Kakutani cites that obvious craziness as her essay continues.
On MSNBC, the leading cable star of our own blue tribe entertained us with that sliver group's lunacy over the course of several nights. As her entertaining presentations developed, she made it seem that the crazy people in question were typical red tribe members.
Her viewers may have gobbled that down. It has proven harder for blue tribe members to see the various ways that same entertaining cable news star has misdirected our own failing tribe over the past dozen years.
At any rate, as our nation's red and blue tribes develop their dueling sets of standard facts and true beliefs, the center is failing to hold in our own "United" nation. It may well be that things have already fallen apart in a way which can't be repaired.
The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina are caught is a tragic human situation, but the same is true right here. For the record, this is an ancient type of situation. It's a situation which has played out all through the course of human affairs.
Starting tomorrow, we'll be exploring the perils of identity—identity and its discontents. We'll note the bogus beliefs which prevail within the red tribe, but we'll focus on the bogus beliefs we blue voters generally can't see—the bogus beliefs and weird behaviors which now prevail Over Here.
Experts suggest that it may be too late to heal our own nation's divide. As we wish the best to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. we'll offer our review of local facts for informational purposes only.
We don't expect a thing to change! It seems to us that our own identity groups are locked into their dueling postures and beliefs in a way which won't easily be fixed.
Tomorrow: Ted Koppel goes to Mt. Airy