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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Learning the Language is Good

You can say what you like about the British but for me one thing is obvious – their journalism is currently the best in the world. Compared to, for example, American journalism it's like the difference between a plate of exciting spicy food versus a dish of plain corn meal. Perhaps George Carlin puts it better. If you have trouble sleeping, take the New York Times.

And when I occasionally read Nouvel Observateur's English edition and discuss it with a friend with a fluent command of French I end up concluding that it is full of spin. In more than a couple of articles referring to Srebrenica I found no mention of the word genocide. French spin is really delicate, finely flavoured like their renowned cuisine, the only problem being the unpleasant taste it leaves.

Johann Hari is a journalist writing for the Independent who in my view is a true pretender to the throne of Ryszard Kapuściński, possibly the best journalist of all time. Hari's views and analysis are thoroughly researched, down to earth, progressive, and they have the ability to dispel the reader's illusions and bring us back to where we are – Phase Zero on Michio Kaku's scale of human evolution.

My purpose here isn't to talk at length about British journalism, rather I want to take a look at Bosnian journalism, and its peculiarities. First, though, let's go back to Britain again. What particularly strikes me when I read the on-line editions of The Independent and The Guardian is how journalists use words like "loathe" and "hate" with such profligacy. I have nothing against that. Take a couple of Hari's titles for example : "It's all right to attack a politician's religion", "The real reasons to hate the Pope", "We all pay for the Saudi hate-machine" etc. And what is so brilliant about Hari's writing in, what is for me another, foreign, language is that these words never seem out of place in his articles. I believe that many native English speakers share my opinion. In Bosnia, though, where we have much more reason to be using words of this kind, justifiably and appropriately, it simply never happens.

One of the most outrageous Serb politicians ever, Milorad Dodik, makes offensive racist pronouncements all the time (the latest example being his statement that Bosniaks are "not suitable" to serve as judges in the state courts - an opinion he has expressed a lot more directly in fact - "Bosniak judges must not try Bosnian Serbs." Later, after a meeting with the Russian ambassador to Bosnia, he offered the rather lame apology, "I didn’t mean it".

I once even thought of starting a blog dedicated to analysing Dodik’s shocking public statements and his unapologetic confession of unconcealed hatred for anything prefixed with the word "Bosnian" and his use of the expression “faggot” (peder) to refer to people he dislikes, such as the head of Transparency International in Bosnia - one of the victims of his verbal abuse.

Dodik’s discourses, anthologies of verbal aggression and hatred spiced up with a sprinkling of homophobia, have never been properly challenged either by the Bosnian press or by the international community's representatives in Bosnia, where life goes on undisturbed, ignoring the shrouded reality of Dodik’s verbal crimes. Dodik's conduct is more than just an accurate indicator of current sad standards of behaviour among Bosnian Serb politicians, it is a pointer to the real state of public life in this shockingly unshockable country. The passivity and silence of the international community is further proof of an indisputable lack of interest in the affairs of our war-riven country. People are genuinely disgusted by his remarks and the language that he uses, which someone has called even worse and more violent than the language used by Karadzic during the war, but there has been no adequate public condemnation of Dodik's most recent savage attack.

No Bosnian equivalent of Johann Hari has used the verbs I mentioned earlier in commenting on the violence of Dodik's language. What is more interesting, though, is that I doubt that we would ever have a Bosnian Johann Hari.

One of the national characteristics of Bosnians is their astonishing ability to get along with yesterday's enemies, in less time than it takes to blink an eye. People you saw at one and another's throats only a couple of days ago may be having a coffee together somewhere at this very moment.

A friend of mine recently quarrelled with a cousin of his in a dispute over property caused by a badly written will. My friend was simply cheated out of his entitlement and to make matters even worse, he was insulted and called names I can't repeat. His cousin, a greedy, unpleasant women, was intent on destroying his character.
Only for her to stand up and defend him just a few days later when a completely different situation arose – my friend was under attack again, this time by an ungrateful colleague, over a matter relating to his work, and now the same cousin who only a few days before had been threatening him was speaking out on his behalf. That's Bosnia.

Of course this does not mean that Bosnia has managed to invent some super new washing machine for laundering the random thoughts of genocide deniers or racists; there is no way of ever making that sort of thing acceptable, as I hope we recognise. What I am attempting to describe here is something quite different.

In Montenegro quarrels can persist over generations. Once you have insulted a man his grandchild will hear about it and will never forget the insult. What I am trying to describe here is that special aspect of the Bosnian character that means that even while people listen to third-rate politicians making the most humiliating racist statements about them in silence and without any coherent response, they still somehow find using words like "hate" an inappropriate response.


Luis Portugalsaid...

It has a nice blog.
Sorry not write more, but my English is bad writing.
A hug from my country, Portugal

Amila Jasarevicsaid...

At the beginning of the war I often heard people around me saying "They'll come to their senses, this won't continue". Maybe that's what they're still saying..?

Jim Murdochsaid...

I was once pulled in by one of the big bosses where I worked for a wee chat and one of the things he wanted to know was what paper I read. Well, I virtually never buy a paper. I think they're a waste of money. Anyway I spent the next few hours (literally) defending TV journalism. There used to be a time when we Brits held the view "if it's in the paper it must be true" but it's been a long time before anyone has stood in that corner. On the whole TV journalism has fared better and I do watch the BBC news quite regularly though not obsessively and, when I do switch it on, my opening line usually is: "Well, let's see if the world ended today."


@Hi Amila, an interesting observation you have there. I wish I could say something smart, but I just can't.

@Jim, I think that the Independent is currently the best paper in the world, all thanks to Johann Hari and Robert Fisk.


This is a fantastic article J.C. You would make a great journalist yourself.

I'm with Jim on this, newspapers are generally a waste of money, especially in America. I read The Guardian and The Independent on line and never read the New York Times. I would rather read about what happened in a short article over a long winded editorial opinion by some politically biased American journalist.

Since I've met you, I've read more about Bosnia than ever before. Here on the line the world is small--and things are different when you have a friend there.


Hi Bobbz, it always nice to hear from you. Thanks for the plaudits, those are just the musing of a Bosnian. Cheers!

Ray Gratznersaid...

Dear J.C.. I like this post too. It is a great idea to analyze the quality of journalism according to the countries the journalists come from. I used to read the Independent when I stayed in UK for holidays.
Well I wish the Bosnians that they will find ways to overcome longtime hatred....Happy Blogging

Sarah Francosaid...

this is an excellent post... and Amila's comment very aptly complements it.


you have a nice site. thanks for sharing this resources. anyway, various kinds of ebooks are available here

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