Some years ago, I was chatting at work with an Arab woman from Egypt when the topic of democracy came up.
‘Arabs can’t do democracy,’ she informed me. ‘They can only function under a dictator.’
Being from the West and holding lofty ideals about the perfection of democracy, I agreed with her. Racial prejudice declared that Arabs deserved their fate and, in my more innocent days, I believed in the superiority of first-world parliamentary systems.
As I slowly read my way through Good People in an Evil Time, I find opportunities in abundance to celebrate human nature during the Bosnian War, but I am left with questions about democracy, non-democratic leaders people might alternatively support, and why they might support them. That hatred is so easily stirred up as it was in Bosnia is obvious throughout history, not just in Yugoslavia, not just in the 1990’s, and democracy is open to abuse, partly because we hold such a strong belief in it.
Take, for example, the notorious gerrymander in the Australian state of Queensland that altered the boundaries of the electorates to make sure the premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson won every election. For nineteen years he controlled this state, in 1972 retaining office with just 20% of the primary vote. Bribery and restriction of civil liberties were widespread, and his heavy-handed tactics towards any group who opposed him turned north-eastern Australia into a police state. If you wanted to experience corruption in the 70’s and 80’s, you could live in a cold war country in Eastern Europe or you could live in Queensland.
Part of Bjelke-Peterson’s ability to achieve this was due to mob mentality. Power over the people. Queensland was a conservative state and the premier’s popularity amongst his supporters was so huge that it was hard to believe that such corruption existed in Australia until it wormed its way to the surface. To most comfortable Queenslanders, Bjelke-Peterson remained an amiable politician who smiled and made jokes. I remember him making one about money falling off the back of a truck.
First tip for success: be popular with the mob.
Second tip: learn how to control their emotions.
'The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas, a notorious prisoner, and to have Jesus killed.' Matthew27:20.
They do exactly the same thing today – don’t they? – and people believe them! Is it in the nature of a mob to be led by their emotions like lambs to the slaughter, or do they genuinely believe that leaders have a monopoly on truth?
Here is how Serbia and Croatia were encouraged to go to war with Bosnia.
‘Bosnia was a creation of the Ottoman invasion of Europe,’ [the Croatian President Franjo Tudjman] informed a Western television crew. ‘Until then it was part of Croatia, or it was a kingdom of Bosnia, but a Catholic kingdom, linked to Croatia.’ (1)
In 1991 'the Serbian Democratic Party organized a referendum...The Serbs were told that if Bosnia became independent they would once again be subjected to the laws of Muslim landlords, agas, begs and pashas, and that independence represented a rolling back of everything Serbs had died for since 1904, if not 1389. (2)
To end, here is a more hopeful quote from Good People in an Evil Time.
‘Looking at what the Croats were doing to the Muslims, and knowing that the Serbs and Croats and Muslims all treated each other the same, I realized that the late President Josip Broz Tito was right when he said, “Cherish brotherhood and unity as your dearest possession.”’ (3)
(1) CROATIA by MARCUS Tanner, Yale University Press 1997.
(2) THE SERBS by Tim Judah Yale University Press 2008.
(3) GOOD PEOPLE IN AN EVIL TIMES by Svetlana Broz, Other Press, New York 2004.