The Breakfast Table

They Did Give Us the Fork …


In my usual contrarian way, I sat at breakfast with Natty in my lap, listening to the radio and trying to think of something–anything–to say in defense of the Serbs.

Up till now, that’s often been dimly possible. I thought the reporting of the Bosnian war was badly biased, with Western journalists so seduced by Sarajevan intellectuals, so overwhelmed by the barbarity of the siege, and so enamored with their own role as death-defying witnesses, that they made no attempt to see the Serbs as humans or understand their point of view. Forgotten, it seemed, was the fact that just 50 years before it was the Serbs, along with Jews and gypsies, who were the victims of genocide at the hands of Croats–and also many Muslims–who sided with the Nazis. As we’ve discovered since, the Croats’ conduct of the civil war was no less brutal than the Serbs, and they’ve celebrated their independence by turning the Nazis into freedom fighters and tearing down 3,000 anti-Fascist monuments.

Maybe I was biased, too. I liked most of the individual Serbs I met while reporting on the war. They reminded me of Russians: warm, soulful, poetic, alcoholic. Yes, they could be deranged with pride, like the commander who insisted that Serbs were the only civilized people in the Balkans, as evidenced by their invention of the fork back in the 13th century. But the explanation of their actions had a twisted internal logic; like hawkish Israelis, they felt that victimizing their enemies was the only way to prevent becoming victims again themselves.

When it comes to Kosovo, though, and the defiance leading to this bombing, I’m confounded. I know, I know, there’s your beloved “Field of Blackbirds” in Kosovo and the sacred blood of Serb martyrs. We went over all that on Monday. But the battle of Kosovo was 600 years ago. “Balkan ghosts” explain only so much. Nor does Milosevic’s tyranny let Serbs off the hook. Belgrade isn’t Baghdad. There’s a degree of free speech, free thinking, free voting. Judging from reports so far, many Serbs support what he’s doing.

The only explanation that makes sense to me is the famous Larson cartoon, where the reader can peek over a shrink’s shoulder at the notes he’s scribbling about a patient. In block letters it says: “Just Plain Nuts.”