A nice, quick read, Michael Sells’ Bridge Betrayed discussed the causes of the genocide within the former Yugoslavia from a religious perspective. In my opinion, Sells’ analysis was simplistic and superficial. Sells only approaches the causes of the genocide solely from a religious war perspective, but he declines to delve any deeper, leaving many questions to be answered. I cannot imagine that the perversion of one religious ideology could explain the Bosnian genocide. One would counter this argument by citing Islamic terrorism, but I would respond by pointing out that while Islam is the banner under which Islamic terrorists commit their atrocities, the motivation behind their atrocities arises from a combination of a lack of economic opportunity and resentment towards abusive regimes propped up by Western governments.
My point is that Sells’ argument about Christianity’s role in the genocide is incomplete. I have no explanation as to why mythological interpretations of Prince Lazar’s death by authors such as Petar II Petrovich and Vuk Karadžić resonated so closely with Serbians in Yugoslavia during the 19th century and thus motivated them to murder, rape and imprison millions of Bosnian Muslims. There is no mention of the extent of Christianity’s importance to the Serb population in Yugoslavia, or the extent of the mistreatment of the Serbs while they were under Ottoman rule. If Sells had explained this part of the story in the book then his argument wouldn’t have fallen flat on its face.
Alright now time for positive comments. I thought that Sells explains the timeline of the Bosnian genocide beautifully in a way that is compelling to someone like me, whose interest mostly lies in African and Middle Eastern history and politics. The story about Prince Lazar was really clear and easy to follow. Sells’ pronunciation guide was very helpful in pronouncing all of the names of the places and the leaders.
For some background: