Lucy Meadows, a transsexual woman formerly called Nathan Upton, is believed to havecommitted suicide earlier this month, following a media witch-hunt. In December, Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn published an attack on her that aimed to hound her out of her job as a primary school teacher. He claimed that having a woman teacher they had formerly known as a man would have a ‘devastating effect’ on Meadows’s pupils; apparently, she was trying to ‘project his personal problems on to impressionable young children’, while Meadows’s school, which supported her, was seeking to ‘elevate its “commitment to diversity and equality” above its duty of care to its pupils and their parents.’ Littlejohn concluded that if Meadows ‘cares so little for the sensibilities of the children he is paid to teach, he’s not only trapped in the wrong body, he’s in the wrong job’. The ensuing media frenzy involved personal pictures of Meadows being published in the national press, and paparazzi camping outside her home, forcing her to leave for work early and return late to avoid them. She complained to the Press Complaints Commission about the Littlejohn piece, but ultimately found the harassment unbearable.
Continue reading at Left Foot Forward
The Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik appears very interested in the Balkans. A lot of space in his ponderous 1,518-page ‘manifesto’ is devoted to discussing Balkan themes. This is not limited merely to praising Radovan Karadzic (‘for his efforts to rid Serbia of Islam he will always be remembered as an honourable Crusader and a European war hero’), supporting the past Serb ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks and Albanians, condemning Kosovo’s independence and demanding that all Bosniaks and Muslim Albanians be deported from Europe (while the Muslim Turkish populations of Cyprus and western Anatolia are to be deported to central Anatolia). It involves also lengthy ruminations on hundreds of years of Ottoman and Turkish history, in which Breivik demonises all aspects of the Ottoman heritage.
Some commentators have argued that this psychopathic mass-murderer represents such an exceptional case that his actual beliefs are irrelevant to understanding his actions. According to Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, ‘The Norwegian tragedy is just that, a tragedy. It does not signify anything and should not be forced to do so. A man so insane he can see nothing wrong in shooting dead 68 young people in cold blood is so exceptional as to be of interest to criminology and brain science, but not to politics.’ As a rule, Jenkins is absolutely wrong about everything, and this is no exception. Breivik represents the exemplar of an extremely dangerous trend in Western and European politics, and his interest in the Balkans – or rather, in his own mythologised narrative of Balkan history – flows naturally from this.
Breivik’s actions are exceptional, but his views are not. His views on Islam and on immigration are in some important respects typical of the right-wing Islamophobic current, some of whose prominent members and groups he cites or sympathises with in his manifesto: Geert Wilders, Robert Spencer, Melanie Phillips, Srdja Trifkovic, Mark Steyn, the English Defence League (EDL) and others. He sees immigration, particularly Muslim immigration, coupled with liberal multiculturalism and political correctness, as a mortal threat to European or Western society. Such views are often justified by their holders as being ‘pro-Western’, whereby ‘the West’ is counterposed to ‘Islam’, as if the two were binary opposites. In reality, the very opposite is true: modern European civilisation was built upon foundations that were Islamic as well as Christian, Jewish, pagan and others. The Enlightenment gave rise to a Europe in which the sectarian religious animosities that characterised the pre-Enlightenment age could be transcended; modern Western liberal and secular values are founded upon the principle of religious toleration.
Far from being ‘pro-Western’; our contemporary right-wing Islamophobes, in seeking to rekindle the religious divide between Christians and Muslims that characterised pre-Enlightenment Europe, reject Western values in favour of pre-Western values. During their successful Vienna War of 1683-1699 against the Ottoman Empire, Austrian Habsburg forces slaughtered, plundered, expelled or forcibly converted to Christianity the Muslim population of the Hungarian and Croatian territories they reconquered, which were forcibly de-Islamised; the Austrians burned the Ottoman Bosnian city of Sarajevo to the ground. The subsequent Ottoman Bosnian victory over Habsburg forces in the Battle of Banja Luka of 1737 saved the Bosnian Muslims from their destruction as a people that an Austrian conquest of Bosnia would have involved. Yet when the Austrian Habsburgs did finally succeed in occupying Sarajevo and Bosnia in 1878, they protected the Muslim population and respected the Islamic religion. Europe, in the interval, had experienced the Enlightenment. It is the pre-Enlightenment Europe to which today’s right-wing Islamophobes look back nostalgically; something symbolised in the name of the anti-Islamic hate-blog, ‘Gates of Vienna’, named after the Ottoman siege of Vienna of 1683 and cited approvingly by Breivik. Hence Breivik’s own obsessive demonising of the Ottoman ‘other’ and its history, all the way back to the Middle Ages.
The right-wing Islamophobes are the mirror-image of the Islamists they claim to oppose. Nineteenth-century opponents of liberal secular values frequently became anti-Semites, seeing the Jews, as they did, as the beneficiaries of these values, to which the Jews owed their emancipation. Today’s Muslim opponents of the Enlightenment have inherited Christian anti-Semitism, whereas the Christian reactionaries have transferred their animosity to a different – Muslim – minority. Apologists blame individuals like Breivik and groups like the EDL and British National Party (BNP) on supposedly ‘objective’ problems of aggressive Islam and immigration that mainstream politicians are supposedly failing to tackle. Just as apologists for Islamism blame it on supposed ‘root causes’ to be found in US imperialism or the behaviour of Israel. Just as earlier apologists for anti-Semitism blamed anti-Semitism on the Jews. The Islamophobes point to Muslim support for Islamic extremism as their anti-Semitic predecessors once pointed to Jewish support for communism. As their Islamist counterparts point to Jewish support for Zionism. And so on.
Such chauvinistic ideologies are not caused by the minority or foreign groups that they target. Undeniably, popular anti-Semitism before World War II tended to be strongest in countries with large, visible Jewish populations, like Poland and Romania, just as popular Islamophobia today is often strongest in West European cities that have experienced large-scale Muslim immigration, but this does not mean that the victims of the bigotry are to blame. Muslim immigration does not automatically give rise to Islamophobia, any more than Zionism automatically gives rise to Muslim anti-Semitism, or ‘US imperialism’ gives rise to Islamist terrorism. Right-wing Islamophobia, Islamism, anti-immigrant racism and modern anti-Semitism are all, in their different ways, expressions of a more general reaction against, and rejection of, modernity and what it implies.
Interestingly, Breivik, who apparently never had a proper girlfriend and lived with his mother until he was thirty, shares Islamism’s extreme misogyny and gender insecurity. His manifesto rails against the ‘feminisation of European culture’ and the supposed emasculation of the contemporary European male, complaining that Muslim immigrants are systematically raping white European women, but that ‘As a Western man, I would be tempted to say that Western women have to some extent brought this upon themselves. They have been waging an ideological, psychological and economic war against European men for several generations now, believing that this would make you “free”… Western women have been subjected to systematic Marxist indoctrination meant to turn you into a weapon of mass destruction against your own civilisation, a strategy that has been remarkably successful.’ But of course, not all Islamophobes are straightforwardly conservative; some oppose Muslims and Islam on the grounds that the latter are sexist and homophobic. Such syntheses of liberalism and illiberalism are nothing new; European fascism and its sympathisers of the 1920s, 30s and 40s had their liberal roots and tendencies too, however paradoxical that might sound (readers are recommended to read Julian Jackson’s excellent France: The Dark Years, 1940-1944, that describes the synthesis of liberal, conservative Catholic and radical right-wing currents that found expression in the 1940s Vichy regime in France).
What our contemporary Islamophobes share – conservatives and ‘liberals’ alike – is conformism, xenophobia, fear of change, hostility to diversity, paranoia about minorities and a longing for the order and certainties of a lost, idealised ‘golden age’ that, in some cases, may not even be very long ago. In the Nordic countries, home of the Jante Law, where an apparently model liberalism frequently masks extreme conformism and insularity, where foreign guests and immigrants usually find it very difficult to fit in (in a way that they don’t in London or New York, for example), and where virulent anti-immigration parties such as the Danish People’s Party and Sweden Democrats have enjoyed success at the polls, this takes its own particular form. Far from needing to be shielded from greater diversity, my feeling is that the Nordic world would benefit from more of it; that even if Norway has no pressing economic reason to join the EU, immersion and participation in the common European project would benefit it culturally and spiritually. But for all that, the sickness that created Breivik is a European and global sickness, not just a Nordic sickness.
This brings us back to the Balkans, a region that resembles the Nordic world in the extent of its often stultifying insularity. For all that Serbia appeared to pursue its own sonderweg during the late 1980s and 1990s, at another level, the Serbian nationalist right and anti-democratic left were exemplars and pioneers of what became an all-European anti-immigrant and Islamophobic trend. Serbian nationalist and Communist hardliners railed against the restrictions supposedly placed on Serbia by membership of a multinational community – the Yugoslav federation. They railed against high Muslim and Albanian birth-rates that were resulting in the Serbs being ‘out-bred’, while lamenting the lower birth-rate among Serbs as symptomatic of national decline. They railed against the supposed mass immigration of ethnic Albanians from Albania into Kosovo; against the supposed Kosovo Albanian cultural ‘otherness’ and refusal to assimilate; against Kosovo Albanians allegedly raping Serb women while the authorities stood idly by. They lamented the supposed corruption and decline of their national culture while indulging in medievalist escapism. All these themes have now been taken up by nationalists in other European countries. For example, in Breivik’s words, ‘The Muslims in Bosnian Serbia; the so called Bosniaks and Albanians had waged deliberate demographic warfare (indirect genocide) against Serbs for decades. This type of warfare is one of the most destructive forms of Jihad and is quite similar to what we are experiencing now in Western Europe.’
Andrew Gilligan, writing in the Telegraph, has claimed that the danger posed by far-right (i.e. white, Christian) terrorists like Breivik is simply not on the same order of magnitude as that posed by al-Qaeda: ‘Over the last 10 years, nationalist terrorists, even counting Breivik, have killed about 200 Westerners; al-Qaeda has killed about 4,000… The white Right should not be ignored by the security authorities – but it would be dangerous to divert our attention from the real threat.’ But this is wrong: tens of thousands of Muslims were killed by white Christians in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya in the 1990s. Breivik has praised the killers, both Radovan Karadzic and Vladimir Putin; the numbers of their victims in Europe dwarf those of al Qaeda.
The danger is that Breivik is the harbinger of a trend. Extremism and chauvinism among the majority will always ultimately be more dangerous than extremism and chauvinism among minorities. Right-wing populists such as Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen may not themselves incite violence, and cannot be equated with a killer like Breivik. But the climate of intolerance they are promoting threatens to give rise to many more Breiviks. The Islamophobic, anti-immigration far-right is the no. 1 internal threat in Western Europe to European society and Western values today.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
The justice or injustice of a cause may in large part be measured by the ethics displayed by those who uphold it. The ongoing campaign to whitewash the former regimes of Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic and to justify their genocidal crimes against the Bosniaks is about as unworthy a cause as it is possible to imagine; consequently, the people who wage it do so in the most dishonest and malicious manner possible. Their campaign is fundamentally an expression of hatred – for Bosniaks, Croats, Albanians, anti-fascist Serbs, Jews and others who opposed the genocide. So their tactics are of the most hateful kind, involving systematic character assassination and racist and anti-Semitic abuse of those who speak about the genocide and the ideology that gave rise to it.
‘The Jews have had a disproportionate impact’
Most recently, a libellous and racist hate-campaign has been waged by the genocide-deniers - above all, Islamophobic far-right elements in North America - against members of the Institute for the Research of Genocide, Canada (IRGC), which among other things, campaigns against Bosnia genocide-denial. This campaign has accelerated following the decision last month of the Canadian authorities to deny entry into Canada of Srdja Trifkovic, a man who regularly engages in hate-speech against Islam and Muslims. Trifkovic had been invited by a Serbian students’ organisation at the University of British Columbia to give a speech at one of their meetings, but was barred from Canada because he had been an official of the wartime regime of ‘Republika Srpska’, hence ‘for being a proscribed senior official in the service of a government that, in the opinion of the minister, engages or has engaged in terrorism, systematic or gross human rights violations, or genocide, a war crime or a crime against humanity within the meaning of subsections 6 (3) to (5) of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.’
[I had personally written to Professor Stephen J. Toope, President of UBC, urging him to prevent Trifkovic from giving his talk. While I respect the right of genocide deniers to engage in genocide denial, I draw the line at allowing inciters of hatred against ethnic or religious groups to speak at universities, as I consider this an infringement on the rights of staff and students at the universities in question to work and study free from the fear of persecution or harassment. However, it was the Canadian authorities, not the UBC, that ultimately prevented Trifkovic from speaking.]
Supporters of Trifkovic responded to their setback with a campaign of personal defamation directed against members of the IRGC. The anti-Muslim hate-site ‘Gates of Vienna’ denounced the IRGC as ‘Jew-haters’, though without being able to quote a single anti-Semitic statement made by any of its members. This smear was a repeat of one levelled by Trifkovic himself against Professor Emir Ramic, the IRGC’s chairman, on the website of an extreme right-wing organisation, ‘The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’, run by former Canadian ambassador James Bissett. Trifkovic accused Ramic of being a ’Jew-hating jihadist’ - again, without being able to produce a single piece of evidence that Ramic was either anti-Semitic, or that he supported jihad [since the articles in question are extremely libellous, I'm not going to link to them].
The basis for the accusation was the claim that Ramic was a member of the editorial board of a Bosnian journal called ‘Korak‘, that has published some viciously anti-Israel articles. The articles in question were, indeed, viciously anti-Israel. But Ramic is not a member of the editorial board of the journal in question, so the accusation is totally false. The second basis for the accusation is that Korak‘s editor, Asaf Dzanic, is a member of the IRGC’s board of directors. Yet, as anyone can see from the IRGC’s website, its board of directors is very large and diverse, numbering over 120, and includes several eminent Jewish members, including the famous Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Most of these members, including Dzanic, are in the capacity of an ‘International Team of Experts’. The website also carries a powerful defence of the IRGC from the smears of Trifkovic and the ‘Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’, written by the Israeli writer Marjan Hajnal – also a member of the IRGC’s board of directors. The smearing of the entire institute as ‘Jew-hating’ and its director as ‘jihadi’ is, therefore, a desperate clutching at straws on the part of the Srebrenica deniers.
The ‘Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’ has also accused Ramic and the IRGC of ‘Holocaust denial’. Again, not a single piece of evidence was produced to substantiate this very serious charge. In fact, the charge of ‘Holocaust denial’ was made after the IRGC had weeks earlier published, and prominently displayed on its website, an article marking Holocaust Memorial Day and paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, which made clear ‘The Holocaust of World War ll was the despicable, systematic process of torturing and murdering nearly six million European Jews, by German Nazis. Approximately two-thirds of nine million European Jews were murdered throughout that particular Holocaust.’
The irony of such smears is all the greater in that Trifkovic himself, unlike Ramic, is on record as having made anti-Semitic statements. Trifkovic has stated:
‘To claim that the traditional Right is “anti-Jewish” is to imply that it is gripped by an irrational prejudice. Such accusation is untrue and unfair.
It is true, however, that the traditional Right is inevitably antipathetic to certain modes of thought and feeling, to a peculiar Weltanschauung and the resulting forms of public and intra-communal discourse, which are quite properly perceived as specifically Jewish.
Historically, Talmudic Judaism’s insistence on the Jews’ racial uniqueness — emphasized by the ritual and dietary laws of Talmudic Judaism and on its view of Christians as idolaters — has ensured that a Jew steeped in his own tradition could not view traditional European or American conservatism with sympathy. His tradition was a form of elaborate survival mechanism based on the zero-sum view of a world divided into “us” and “them.” The Gentile was “the Other” ab initio and for ever.
In addition, since the late 1800’s the Jews have had a disproportionate impact on a host of intellectual trends and political movements which have fundamentally altered the civilization of Europe and its overseas offspring in a manner deeply detrimental to the family, nation, culture, racial solidarity, social coherence, tradition, morality and faith. Spontaneously or deliberately, those ideas and movements — Marxism (including neoconservatism as the bastard child of Trotskyism), Freudianism, Frankfurt School cultural criticism, Boasian anthropology, etc. — have eroded “the West” to the point where its demographic and cultural survival is uncertain. The erosion is continuing, allegedly in the name of propositional principles and universal values, and it is pursued with escalating ferocity.’
‘Even when Jews don’t come out smelling like roses’
The extreme right-wing and viciously racist and Islamophobic American commenter Julia Gorin has apologised for Trifkovic’s anti-Semitism in the following manner:
‘While virgin eyes (mainstream readers and anyone not experienced in sorting out the intricacies and boundaries of what is and isn’t OK to say about Jews) will read the paragraphs as “anti-Semitic,” the views expressed aren’t unlike what I and any number of other Jewish conservatives have written in an effort to tame the Jewish predisposition toward cynicism about, and dismantling of, the traditional values of, yes, white-established societies… It’s not reading that would be palatable to the mainstream, but conservative readers — including Jewish conservatives — are known to have a slightly higher tolerance for truth, even when Jews don’t come out smelling like roses.’
Thus, Trifkovic and Gorin have no problem with anti-Semitism, but do have a problem with those, like Ramic and the IRGC, that oppose Srebrenica genocide denial. Gorin’s apologia for Trifkovic’s anti-Semitism was made in the course of an article denying the genocide at Srebrenica. Again, unlike Ramic, Gorin is an unabashed anti-Albanian, anti-Croat and anti-Bosniak racist. Commenting on a recent obituary of the Croatian journalist Chris Cviic, a long-standing resident of the UK and recipient of the OBE, which stated ‘He is survived by his widow, Celia, and a son and a daughter’, Gorin commented ‘Yayyyy! More little Ustashas running rampant in the West.’ In response to a story in the British rag-sheet The Daily Star about the alleged activities of Kosovo Albanian immigrants in the UK, entitled ‘Kosovan squatters stole my loo’, Gorin commented ‘Ah, the Albanian specialty: invading someone’s home and stripping it bare. (See Kosovo, Serbia.) Then they get to do it again at the UK government’s expense. What the hell are they going to do with the toilet? Do they even know what it’s for?’ Racists like Gorin typify the Srebrenica deniers. Another Srebrenica genocide denier, Nebojsa Malic of Antiwar.com, has also made racist statements about Albanians, describing them as ‘medieval barbarians‘.
Srebrenica denial and anti-Semitism frequently go hand in hand. The anti-Semite, Holocaust denier and associate of Julian Assange who goes by the name of ‘Israel Shamir’ is a Srebrenica denier and has written ‘Many war atrocity stories are just stories – from Srebrenica to Kosovo “killing fields”, from Saddam Hussein’s WMD to Belgian babies on German bayonets of the WWI, from Kuwait’s incubator to anti-communist inventions of the Black Book.’ Shamir was one of a group of Srebrenica deniers, including Edward S. Herman and Diana Johnstone, who wrote an open letter to the Serbian parliament calling on them not to recognise the Srebrenica massacre.
‘This self-serving Jew’
Srebrenica genocide denial tends to go hand-in-hand with the denial of the genocidal crimes carried out by Serbian Nazi quislings and collaborators during World War II. When the Milosevic and Karadzic regimes waged their war for a Great Serbia in the 1990s, a major element in their propaganda was the equation of the entire Croat and Bosniak nations with the Ustashas (Croatian fascists) of World War II. The reality was that the Serb, Croat and Bosniak nations during World War II were all divided between anti-fascists and quislings or collaborators. Thus, the Nazi-quisling camp included Croat Ustashas, Serb Nedicites and Ljoticites and Muslim soldiers of the SS Handzar Division, while the anti-fascist Yugoslav Partisans comprised Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and others. But the Great Serbian nationalists of the 1990s waged a hate-campaign against Croats and Bosniaks, seeking to equate the entire Croat and Bosniak nations with the Ustashas.
One man who saw through this propaganda early on was the Jewish American medical doctor Philip J. Cohen. As Philip told me when I met him back in the mid-1990s in the US, he approached the Bosnian genocide as a Jew who knew the history of the Holocaust and the failure of the world to prevent it, and felt strongly that something similar should not be allowed to happen again. He was not in the slightest bit taken in by the Serb-nationalist campaign to equate all Croats and Bosniaks with the Ustashas, and responded to it by researching and writing the book Serbia’s Secret War. This book traced the history of anti-Semitism in Serbia and the role of Serbian quislings and collaborators in the Holocaust. It therefore demolished the myth that in the former Yugoslavia, it had only been Croats and Bosniaks who had produced quislings, or engaged in anti-Jewish actions. And although Cohen was not a professional historian or academic, the book is very good.
Needless to say, Cohen does not in any way deny the crimes of the Croatian Ustashas against Jews, Serbs or others. But his exposure of the crimes of Serbian quislings against Jews in World War II led to his being the subject of an anti-Semitic denunciation by a Serb nationalist writer called Vasilije Todorovic, who published an open letter in 1996 claiming (falsely) that ‘Cohen, this self-serving Jew, has even managed to condone the killing of 60,000 Jews in WW II, by the very Croatians from whom he receives his major support. I believe you Jews call this, Chutzpah!’ And ‘How astonishing that for 46 years the Roman Church and its Vatican failed to recognize Israel. Now this upstart Jew, Philip Cohen, defends their actions.’ Todorovic extended his attack on Cohen into a general diatribe against Jews: ‘There are no Spielberg movies made about these brave Serbian families who saved Jews. At the opening of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Serbs were totally ignored as the Museum honored a Roman Catholic woman for saving the lives of 6 Jews.’ Furthermore, ‘Cohen omits the documents that reveal that Jews also joined the Ustasha and the Partisans and murdered numerous loyalists Serbs. In Cohen’s personal secret war against the Serbs, no mention is made that many of the Croatian Nazi officers had Jewish wives.’ And so on.
Todorovic’s article was written fifteen years ago, but the attacks on Cohen for having the temerity to write of the activities of Serbian Nazi quislings have continued. Two years ago, the amateur Serbian-American historian Carl Savich attempted to smear Cohen by claiming that he hadn’t even written his own book:
‘Philip J. Cohen is a medical doctor, a dermatologist with no background or training in history, let alone the World War II history of Serbia. Moreover, he has no knowledge of the Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian languages. How could he have written Serbia’s Secret War, which required a detailed and exhaustive analysis and research of Serbian language documents? Such a massive undertaking would require a thorough knowledge of the historical debates and nuances involed in the issues examined. Cohen couldn’t have written it. And he didn’t write it. Cohen was the front, the front man in a Croatian propaganda hoax. Because Croatia was a satellite, proxy, and client state of the U.S., Cohen received U.S. support and backing. The screed buttressed the anti-Serbian U.S. infowar and propagnada war.’
Savich claimed that Serbia’s Secret War had actually been written by a Croatian historian called Ljubica Stefan. He offered not a shred of evidence for his allegations.
I can personally testify that Cohen is the author of Serbia’s Secret War. At the time he was writing it, I met him at a seminar at Yale University, where I was studying at the time, and he asked me to assist him in working on the manuscript to his book. Consequently, I read his manuscript, made comments on it, then stayed with him at his home for two or three days and helped him work through some of the documents he had yet to analyse. Although Philip did not read Serbo-Croat himself, he told me he had benefited from a lot of assistance, in translating documents, from the Croatian writer Anto Knezevic. Having spoken with him at length and seen his library and archive, I know for a fact that Savich’s allegations are complete fabrications.
‘Other prominent Jews would apply the same techniques against the Serbian Orthodox population’
Savich is not a real historian and has no qualifications in history other than a Master’s degree, so it may not be surprising that his treatment of historical fact is less than professional. But he is also himself ready to engage in anti-Semitic writing. Here is a comment he wrote on the history of Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia:
‘One consequence of the Austrian occupation of Bosnia was that Sarajevo and other Bosnian cities were flooded with over 9,500 bureaucrats and administrators and commercial and trade interests. Many of these were Ashkenazi Jews. Austrian Jews sought to benefit from the annexation and occupation of Bosnia. Racism and bigotry are based in self-interest. The racist attack against Orthodox Serbs by the Jew Freundlich can be explained in this way. His moral outrage is selective and self-interested. Austrian Jews would gain economic advantages by the Austrian occupation of Bosnia. Remarkaby, Roy Gutman, Anthony Lewis, Susan Sontag, James Rubin, and other prominent Jews would apply the same techniques against the Serbian Orthodox population, i.e, professing a disingenuous concern for the human rights of the Albanians and Bosnian Muslims, at the same time ignoring the genocide and repression of the Palestinian population by the zealous Zionist nationalist government in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which were being illegaly settled by Jewish settlers. There was little concern for the human rights of the Palestinians, Kurds, or Basques. There is a dictum: Follow the money trail. Self-interest goes a long way in explaining the bias. Thus, under Austrian occupation, there were thousands of occupation administrators and bureaucrats, many of whom were Jewish.’
Savich is himself an apologist for the Nazi-quisling Nedic regime that ran German-occupied Serbia, claiming that it had ‘no choice in the matter of its collaboration’, that it was no different from the Judenraete in occupied Poland and the Soviet Union, and that it played no role in running concentration camps. All these claims are false.
Savich’s smear, of course, targeted not only Cohen, but also Ljubica Stefan. Stefan is listed among the ‘Righteous among Nations’ at Israel’s Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, as a Croatian who protected Jews during the Holocaust. This is what Savich has to say about her (again, without producing any evidence whatsoever):
‘Although she lived most of her life in Serbia, she was an ethnic Croatian. She lived and worked in Belgrade. She knew the Serbian language. She had access to Serbian documents and archives. Also, as a hack historian, a pseudo-historian, someone below the radar, she did not have to concern herself about academic or scholarly accountability. Moreover, everything that appears in the Cohen text also appears in propaganda screeds published by or attributed to Stefan when she worked for the Croatian Government Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Stefan worked closely with Croatian ultra-nationalist Franjo Tudjman in rehabilitating the Ustasha regime and engaged in historical revisionism by attempting to equate Serbia’s role during the Holocaust with that of Croatia’s Ustasha NDH government.’
So Savich, who has no academic qualifications beyond a Master’s degree and who is an apologist for the Nazi-quisling Nedic regime, accuses Stefan, who was a tenured professor at a Belgrade faculty and who actually protected Jews during the Holocaust, of being a ‘pseudo-historian’ guilty of ‘historical revisionism.
‘Agent of imperialism’
Anti-fascist Serbs, as much as non-Serbs, can become victims of racism when they oppose the activities of the Serbian extreme-right. The Serbian human-rights activist Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, a frequent victim of physical harassment and defamation at the hands of Serbian fascist thugs and their rag-sheets, is periodically denounced by them as a ‘lesbian’. But she has also been denounced for supposedly not being of pure Serbian racial stock. Thus, an anonymous Srebrenica genocide denier – whose genocide denial subsequently led to him being banned by the proprietor of Modernity Blog – challenged my description of her as ‘Serbian’ in the following terms: ‘Serbian, eh? Funny thing is, Sonja Biserko keeps her biographical details well hidden. A wiki page lists her as Croatian, whereas a poster on some forum claims that: her brother was a member of Croatian troops, so called “Zbor narodne garde” and was killed in fight with Krajina Serbs.‘
The anonymous creep in question challenged me to confirm or deny the truth of his rumours. This sort of malicious gossip always puts us in a difficult position, as however unlikely it is that such rumours are true, we cannot formally deny them unless we know for certainty that they are false. Readers may recall the rumour that former Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic recruited for the SS during World War II; no evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this claim, so we have to assume that it is false, particularly given the seriousness of the charge. But I cannot say for absolute certainty that it is untrue.
However, having now researched the matter, I can say for absolute, 100% certainty that Biserko’s brother was not a member of the Croatian armed forces, and was not killed in combat with Serb forces. He was not even present in Croatia during the war. As for the claim that Sonja is ‘Croatian’ rather than Serbian; since she is a Serbian citizen, was born in Belgrade and since her father was an ethnic Serb, the smear entirely rests on the fact that her mother is an ethnic Croat. The suggestion being that any Serb whose background isn’t 100% ethnically pure is ‘not really’ Serb at all.
The idea that someone’s patriotism can be called into question on the basis of their ‘alien’ ethnic background has been a favourite of the far right since the Dreyfus Affair. In reailty, people from ethnically non-Serb or mixed backgrounds, including ethnic Croats and Bosniaks, have often become hardline Serb nationalists, or supported the Milosevic regime – examples are Emir Kusturica, Jovan Zametica, Franko Simatovic and Mihalj Kertes. The Serbian fascist leader Vojislav Seselj was frequently accused of being an ethnic Croat, on the grounds that ‘Seselj’ is a Croat surname – he was pathetically reduced to obtaining a certificate from the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (for which he allegedly paid a small sum in deutschmarks) to ‘prove’ he was ‘genuinely’ Serb.
As a footnote, the smear against Sonja was posted on the ‘Aaronovitch Watch’ malicious-gossip site, about which I have recently written, and is entirely characteristic of the sort of material that is posted there. Biserko’s smearer was actively encouraged to post malicious rumours about me as well by the blog’s proprietor, the Guardian columnist and Credit Suisse stockbroker Daniel Davies (interestingly, Credit Suisse is the same company for which the late Richard Holbrooke worked). Evidence suggests that Davies may not be entirely neutral in former-Yugoslav matters; he has spoken of his friendship with the blogger Splintered Sunrise, a sympathiser of the neo-Nazi Serbian Radical Party; and of Christopher Deliso, author of a viciously Islamophobic propaganda tract about Balkan Muslims significantly entitled The coming Balkan caliphate (which I have dissected), which itself draws heavily on the ‘work’ of Srebrenica genocide deniers, in particular Darko Trifunovic, but also Nebojsa Malic. Davies has also stated that during the war in the former Yugoslavia, ‘I actually had a certain amount of sympathy for the Serbian Republic (though not the Bosnian Serbs)’.
Davies’s friend Splintered Sunrise has himself described Biserko as an ‘agent of imperialism’ in a comment on the Lenin’s Tomb blog (the comments are no longer visible online, but I possess the print-out). A further example of demonisation and character assassination that is entirely characteristic.
Hat tip: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Last week, the Serbian daily Blic published another contribution to the long-running efforts of anti-Communist Serb nationalists to rehabilitate the Nazi-collaborationalist Serbian Chetnik movement of World War II. Such efforts represent an affront to the Serbian anti-fascist heritage and to all those who survived the Chetniks’ crimes. I am therefore publishing here an extract from my book Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006 (pp. 156-162) that illustrates the anti-Semitic and genocidal character of the Chetnik movement.
As the Chetnik-Partisan breach widened, Chetnik propaganda laid increasing stress on the allegedly ‘non-Serb’ character of the Partisans. From the start, Chetnik leader Draza Mihailovic portrayed the Communists as an ethnically alien, non-Serb element. In negotiations with the Germans in November 1941, in the course of assuring the latter that ‘it is not my intention to fight against the occupiers’, Mihailovic claimed that ‘I have never made a genuine agreement with the Communists, for they do not care about the people. They are led by foreigners who are not Serbs: the Bulgarian Jankovic, the Jew Lindmajer, the Magyar Borota, two Muslims whose names I do not know and the Ustasha Major Boganic. That is all I know of the Communist leadership.’ (1) Rhetoric of this kind was rapidly adopted by the Bosnian Chetniks and became more virulent as their conflict with the Partisans intensified. Chetnik propaganda stressed in particular the presence in Partisan ranks of Muslims and Croats, some of whom were allegedly former Ustashas. A bulletin issued by the staff of Bosko Todorovic, the Chetnik commander of Operational Units for East Bosnia and Hercegovina, probably in January 1942, spoke of ‘the leaders of the Partisans from Montenegro, among whom an important role is played by JEWS, TURKS and CROATS’ [emphasis in original].(2) A bulletin issued from the same source in February spoke of ‘a shock detachment of Montenegrin Partisans, under the command of someone called Vlado Segrt, filled with criminal-Ustasha Turks from Hercegovina, some of whom had until recently been throwing our brother Serbs into pits’.(3)
Propaganda pamphlets issued by Todorovic’s staff in this period warned the Serbs in Partisan ranks that the Communists would eventually purge them: ‘And who will carry out this cleansing ? The Turks and the Croats, who will be in the majority. In the majority because the number of Serbs among the Partisans will continuously fall, while the number of Turks and Croats will continuously rise.’(4) According to Todorovic: ‘In the ranks of the Partisans are convicts, outlaws, ne’er-do-wells and Ustashas, who want, on Serb lands, to establish a Communist Croatia in place of the Ustasha Croatia.’(5) So far as the Communist leadership was concerned: ‘They are administered and ordered by the Communist headquarters for the Balkans… In these headquarters sit kikes, Magyars, Croats, Turks, Bulgarians, Albanians and Germans, and occasionally a fallen Serb is found among them.’(6) Jezdimir Dangic’s Mountain Staff of the Bosnian Chetnik Detachments denounced the Partisan detachments ‘which are led by the KIKE Mosa Pijade, the TURK Safet Mujic, the MAGYAR Franjo Vajnert and that so-and-so Petar Ilic whose real name nobody knows…’ [emphasis in original].(7) According to the same source: ‘the Partisans and Ustashas have the same goal: TO BREAK UP AND DESTROY SERBDOM. That, and that alone !’ [emphasis in original].(8)
The Chetniks viewed their struggle against the Muslims and their struggle against the Partisans as two halves of the same coin. This belief found its most detailed formulation in a pamphlet entitled The guns of Nevesinje, issued in late 1941 for the purpose of appealing to the Serbs under Communist leadership. The pamphlet carried an endorsement from Todorovic, who claimed it was ‘full of truth’ and entreated his readers: ‘If anyone tries to forbid you from reading it or claims that what is written in this pamphlet is a lie, be assured, brother Serbs, that that person is a Turk or a Skutor [Croat] or their “faithful comrade”. From such as these, hide it and read it secretly. For there is no longer any point in talking to them. They have sold or given their soul to a foreigner – the German Jew Karl Marx and his followers.’ The pamphlet presented the Chetnik struggle with the Partisans in terms of a Serb struggle against the Muslims: ‘If the Communist Party continues to kill Serbs and to accept into its society Turks and Skutors, if it continues to push Serbs into a pointless and amateurishly led struggle with the occupiers, there where the Serb villages suffer after every attack, then the Turks and others in Yugoslavia will choose a Communist regime in order not only to be equal to the Serbs but to be in a better position to them, but then the Serbs, who want to be free and to avenge their martyrs, will choose the ‘regime of the forest’ and become outlaws.’ To this possibility the Chetniks presented their favoured alternative:
When it achieves freedom, a golden Serb freedom, then the Serb nation will – freely and without bloodshed, by means of the free elections which we are accustomed to in the Serbia of King Peter I – take its destiny into its own hands and freely say, whether it loves more its independent Great Serbia, cleansed of Turks and other non-Serbs, or some other state in which Turks and Jews will once again be ministers, commissars, officers and ‘comrades’.(9)
The pamphlet explicitly condemned the Communist policy toward Muslims as an unfavourable alternative to the extermination of the latter, as favoured by the Chetniks: ‘If they [the Communists] were fighting for their people then they would take account of the desire of the Serb people, that the Turks and Muslims be exterminated in or at least expelled from Bosnia-Hercegovina. But they are fighting for themselves and their Party, and in order to win, they are ready to help the Turks not only in preventing the revenge of the Serbs, but in exterminating dissatisfied Serbs.’ The pamphlet further declared one of its post-war goals to be: ‘The extermination or expulsion of all non-Serbs, particularly the Turks, with whom the Serbs never again wish to live intermingled.’(10)
The chauvinism of the Chetniks, and particularly their anti-Semitism, closely mirrored that of the Nedic regime, which in turn was part of the general ideological climate created by the Nazi hegemony. Nedic peppered his speeches in this period with references to a ‘Communist-Jewish rabble’ and a ‘Communist-Masonic-Jewish-English mafia’.(11) Such rhetoric was linked to Nazi policy toward the Jews, in which quisling Serbia was deeply implicated, for the German military decree of 31 May 1941 had charged the Serbian authorities with responsibility for enforcing anti-Jewish and anti-Gypsy regulations.(12) The mass imprisonment of the Jews in Serbia began in August and, as Israel Gutman’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust notes, a key role in this was played by ‘the Serbian quisling puppet government, under Milan Nedic, whose police and gendarmerie assisted the Germans in rounding up the Jews.’(13) The Serbian Jews were then exterminated by the Nazis between the autumn of 1941 and the spring of 1942. Nedic himself appears to have been eager to impress the Nazis with his anti-Semitic zeal, and on 22 June 1942 he wrote to General Bader, complaining of the fact that Serbian prisoners-of-war in German camps were being confined alongside Jews and Communists, and requesting that ‘it would be very desirable if Jews and leftists-Communists be removed from the common camps and kept apart from the nationally healthy officers.’ Consequently: ‘The Serbian government, concerned by this action, would be extremely grateful if the German Reich would take effective measures for a maximally rapid separation, etc.’(14)
The frequent reference in Chetnik propaganda to the ‘Jews’ in Partisan ranks may have been influenced in part by this desire of Serb quislings to please their Nazi overlords. The Nazi Holocaust of the Jews in Serbia was well under way by the time the Chetniks were making the anti-Semitic statements cited above, a fact of which, given their close ties to the Nedic regime, they cannot have been unaware. This anti-Semitism was by no means purely cynical, but reflected the sentiments of many individual Chetniks. Marijan Stilinovic, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, recalls meeting a group of Chetniks outside Ivancici in January 1942 who had defected from the Partisans on the grounds that the Partisan leaders were ‘Jews’ and Vajner-Cica was a ‘Kraut’.(15) Nor did Chetnik anti-Semitism stop at words. As the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust notes: ‘As the Chetniks increased their cooperation with the Germans, their attitude toward the Jews in the areas under their control deteriorated, and they identified the Jews with the hated Communists. There were many instances of Chetniks murdering Jews or handing them over to the Germans.’(16)
Chauvinist and antisemitic themes in Chetnik propaganda were not confined to the winter and spring of 1941-42, but remained a constant in the months and years that followed – an integral element in a movement whose goal was an ethnically pure Great Serbia inhabited solely by Orthodox Serbs. At a rally in Trebinje in Hercegovina in July 1942, the Chetniks denounced the Partisans as being ‘for the Serb nation more dangerous than any others’, whose ‘leaders were for the most part Bosnian Muslims, Catholics and Jews’. They declared: ‘The Serb lands must be cleansed of Catholics and Muslims. In them must live only Serbs.’(17) Dobroslav Jevdjevic, Mihailovic’s delegate in eastern Bosnia and Hercegovina, issued a proclamation to the ‘Serbs of eastern Bosnia and Hercegovina’ in July 1942, in which he claimed: ‘Tito, the supreme military chief of the Partisans, is a Croat from Zagreb. Pijade, the supreme political chief of the Partisans, is a Jew. Four fifths of all armed Partisans were supplied to them by Pavelic’s Croatian Army. Two thirds of their officers are former Croatian officers. The financing of their movement is carried out by the powerful Croatian capitalists of Zagreb, Split, Sarajevo and Dubrovnik. Fifty percent of the Ustashas responsible for the massacres of Serbs are now in their ranks.’ Jevdjevic levelled a still more bizarre charge against the Partisans: ‘They have destroyed Serb churches and established mosques, synagogues and Catholic temples.’(18) That Jevdjevic himself shared the prejudices to which he appealed is suggested by his claim, in an internal report of June 1942, that the Proletarian brigades contained many ‘Jews, Gypsies and Muslims.’(19)
A Chetnik proclamation of September 1942 defined the difference between the Partisan and Chetnik movements as being that ‘the Chetnik movement is a Serb national organisation whose goal is to establish a Serb state that will unite all Serbs’, while ‘the Partisan movement is a multinational organisation whose goal is to establish a non-national Soviet revolutionary state in the Serb lands’; the difference between the Chetniks and Partisans was that ‘only a true Serb can become a Chetnik’ whereas ‘an Ustasha, German, Jew or Gypsy may become a Partisan; in other words anyone willing on behalf of the foreigner to participate in the slaughter and killing of the best Serb sons.’(20) It was the belief of Stevan Botic, Dangic’s successor at the head of the Mountain Staff of the Bosnian Chetnik Detachments, that the Muslims were supporting the Partisans on an anti-Serb basis: ‘The Turks, when they saw the work of the Partisans, i.e. when they saw how the Partisans mercilessly killed Serbs, immediately saw that collaboration with the Partisans would be very profitable.’ (21)
Petar Bacovic, Todorovic’s successor as commander of the Chetnik Operational Units in eastern Bosnia and Hercegovina, issued an appeal to the Serbs in Partisan ranks in October 1942, which attributed the appearance of the Partisan movement to the fact that ‘the Jews, associated with much of the scum of the earth, fled to our country and began to propagate such better and happier state of affairs in a Communist state.’ The Partisans were guilty of destroying traditional Serb society and morals:
Dividing and ruining Serb villages and Serb peasants; banning Serbs from practising their Orthodox religion; corrupting many Serb youth; teaching children not to listen to their parents; propagating free love among the youth; saying that brother and sister, son and mother, father and daughter can live together as husband and wife; bringing with them many fallen women from the towns – teachers, students, workers etc. – to serve the Communist bosses for the purpose of physical pleasure; and in the wake of their terror pushing many of our honourable peasants to kill each other and to kill all those honourable and national Serbs, who did not wish to join them and accept their bloody and corrupt ideology: godlessness, irreligion, familial corruption and immorality of every kind. (22)
The proclamation lamented to the Serb Partisans: ‘You are still being led by Tito, Mosa Pijade, Rocko Colakovic, Vlado Segrt, Rade Hamovic, Savo Mizera and many other Jews, Muslims, Croats, Magyars, Bulgarians and other scum of the earth.’ (23)
A pamphlet distributed by the Chetniks around Sarajevo in the autumn of 1942 spoke of ‘the Communists whose leaders are Jews and who wish to impose Jewish rule on the world; [though] their and the Ustashas’ collapse is inevitable.’(24) A Chetnik pamphlet distributed in eastern Hercegovina in December 1942 claimed: ‘The Yugoslav Communists who are today so bloodily and heartlessly fighting against the Serb nation’ were a nationally alien, criminal riff-raff; and that ‘the Supreme Commander of all Communist forces in the country is some Comrade Tito, whose real name nobody knows, but we know only that he is a Zagreb Jew. His leading collaborators are Mosa Pijade, a Belgrade Jew; Frano Vajner, a Hungarian Jew; Azija Kokuder, a Bosnian Turk; Safet Mujije, a Turk from Mostar; Vlado Segrt, a former convict; and many others similar to them. Their names best testify as to whom they are and to how much they fight from their heart for our people.’(25) Mihailovic himself informed his subordinates in December 1942: ‘The units of the Partisans are filled with thugs of the most varied kinds, such as Ustashas – the worst butchers of the Serb people – Jews, Croats, Dalmatians, Bulgarians, Turks, Magyars and all the other nations of the world.’(26)
An issue of the Bosnian Chetnik newspaper Vidovdan appearing at the start of February 1943 claimed that Tito’s officers were ‘the Belgrade Jew Mosa Pijade, who was not even born on the territory of Yugoslavia’ and that ‘The other members of the Communist-Partisan staff are mostly Jews, who have very little sympathy for the pain and suffering of our people.’ It complained also that ‘the Communists have promised the Croats a “Croatian Soviet Republic” in which [Croat Peasant Party leader] Macek would be president.’(27) On 10 February the Chetnik commanders for East Bosnia, Hercegovina, Dalmatia and Lika issued a joint proclamation to the ‘people of Bosnia, Lika and Dalmatia’, claiming that ‘since we have cleansed Serbia, Montenegro and Hercegovina, we have come to help you to crush the pitiful remnants of the Communist international, criminal band of Tito, Mosa Pijade, Levi Vajnert and other paid Jews’. The Partisan rank-and-file was called upon to ‘kill the political commissars and join our ranks right away’, like the ‘hundreds and hundreds who are surrendering every day, conscious that they have been betrayed and swindled by the Communist Jews’.(28) The proclamation was signed by Ilija Mihic, Momcilo Djujic, Petar Bacovic and Radovan Ivanisevic. The 9 March issue of Vidovdan described the Partisans as ‘bandits led by the Zagreb Jew “Tito” and the Belgrade Jew Mosa Pijade’.(29) A Chetnik leaflet distributed in the Sarajevo region in April described the Partisans as ‘the scourge of God’.(30)
1.Dragoljub Mihailovic, Rat i mir djenerala: izabrani ratni spisi, vol. 1, Srpski rec, Belgrade, 1998, p. 212.
2. AVII (Archive of the Military-Historical Institute / Military Archive, Belgrade) Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 10.
3.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 13.
4.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 17.
5.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 18.
6.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 20.
7.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 23.
8.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 24.
9.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 4, doc. 25.
11.General Milan Ð. Nedic, Desna Srbija – Moja rec Srbima 1941-1944: Izabrani ratni govori, Slobodna knjiga, Belgrade, 1996, pp. 18, 21.
12.AVII Nedic Collection, box 1, facs. 2, doc. 8 (1941 – 1st part).
13.Israel Gutman (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, MacMillan, New York, 1990, p. 1341.
14.AVII Nedic Collection, box 1, facs. 3, doc. 38 (1942 – 2nd part).
15.Marijan Stilinovic, Bune i otpori, Zora, Zagreb, 1969, p. 140.
16.Gutman, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, p. 289.
17.HMBiH (Historical Museum of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Sarajevo) Collection ‘UNS’, box 2, doc. 443.
18.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 4, doc. 29.
19.Zbornik dokumenata i podataka o narodnooslobodilackom ratu jugoslovenskih naroda, Vojnoistorijski institut Jugoslovenske narodne armije, Belgrade, 1954-, pt 14, vol. 1, doc. 114, p. 400.
20.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 4, doc. 5.
21.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 33.
22.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 34.
24.HMBiH Collection ‘UNS’, box 2, doc. 518/3.
25.HMBiH Collection ‘UNS’, box 2, doc. 627.
26.Mihailovic, Rat i mir djenerala, vol. 1, p. 297.
27.HMBiH Collection ‘UNS’, box 3, doc. 712.
28.Zbornik dokumenata, pt 14, vol. 2, doc. 31, p. 175.
29.HMBiH Collection ‘UNS’, box 3, doc. 859.
30.HMBiH Collection ‘UNS’, box 5, doc. 1451.
Hat tip: Daniel of Srebrenica Genocide Blog.
In our last post, we remarked upon the activities of the Serbian revisionist author Jasa Almuli, who has for many years been attempting to whitewash the role of the Serbian quisling regime of Milan Nedic in the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews. But Almuli’s revisionism is not limited to the history of the Serbian quislings. He has now gone on record to downplay the evil of even the most infamous of Nazi death camps, Auschwitz, by comparing it favourably to the Ustasha (Croat fascist) death-camp of Jasenovac. In an interview with the Serbian daily Politika earlier this week, Almuli stated:
‘I have concluded that Jasenovac in the Ustasha Independent State of Croatia was a much more terrible death camp than Auschwitz in occupied Poland, that largest Nazi execution-site.’
His argument is that the Nazis treated the Auschwitz inmates more humanely than the Ustashas treated the inmates at Jasenovac. Thus he claims that ‘the Germans in Auschwitz endeavoured that the victims, to the last moment, not discover that they will be asphyxiated in gas chambers and burned in crematoria, in order that their industrial means of killing not be disrupted. The Croatian Ustashas openly killed in the most bestial manner, with their own hands, knives, iron bars and very rarely with bullets…’. Furthermore, ‘In Auschwitz it was determined what every guard was or was not allowed to do, while in Jasenovac every Ustasha could torture and kill as they wished.’
It should not be necessary to point out the tendentious nature of Almuli’s comparison. According to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, 56-97,000 people were murdered at Jasenovac, whereas 1.1 million were murdered at Auschwitz. As a killing centre, thefore, Jasenovac was simply not in the same league as Auschwitz. As for Almuli’s portrayal of Auschwitz as a place where the camp authorities protected the victims from unnecessary suffering and abuse in the interest of industrial order; he presumably has never heard of Auschwitz camp doctor Josef Mengele and his human experiments. According to one account:
‘Dr. Josef Mengele, nicknamed The Angel Of Death, and the other Nazi doctors at the death camps tortured men, women and children and did medical experiments of unspeakable horror during the Holocaust. Victims were put into pressure chambers, tested with drugs, castrated, frozen to death. Children were exposed to experimental surgeries performed without anesthesia, transfusions of blood from one to another, isolation endurance, reaction to various stimuli. The doctors made injections with lethal germs, sex change operations, removal of organs and limbs. He carried out twin-to-twin transfusions, stitched twins together, castrated or sterilized twins. Many twins had limbs and organs removed in macabre surgical procedures, performed without using an anesthetic. At Auschwitz Josef Mengele did a number of medical experiments, using twins. These twins as young as five years of age were usually murdered after the experiment was over and their bodies dissected. Mengele injected chemicals into the eyes of the children in an attempt to change their eye color.’
In the words of the Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project website, ‘We say and write “Auschwitz”, but we actually mean a torture center, a terror that we cannot possibly conceive, the essence of evil and horror.’
For Almuli, this ‘terror that we cannot possibly conceive, the essence of evil and horror’ was much less terrible than what went on in Jasenovac; for him, the suffering of Dr Mengele’s victims less terrible than that of the victims of the Ustashas at Jasenovac, killed with knives and iron bars.
Those of us who have not experienced the horror of Auschwitz or Jasenovac cannot know what it was like; we certainly cannot say that the suffering of the victims at one camp was ‘much less terrible’ than that of the victims of the other. One cannot help but think that Almuli’s favourable comparison of Auschwitz to Jasenovac has less to do with attempting an accurate historical evaluation, and more to do with scoring Serb-nationalist points against the Croats.
Hat tip: Sladjana Lazic of A Slice of Serbian Politics.
Jasa Almuli, former president of the Serbian Jewish community, has finally admitted that the World War II Nazi-quisling regime in Serbia under Milan Nedic participated in the Holocaust. He wrote in the Serbian daily newspaper Vecernje novosti last month:
‘The role of the Nedic regime in the destruction of the Serbian Jews was evil and dirty, but it was only an accessory one.’
This represents a significant retreat on the part of Almuli, who has repeatedly gone on record to defend the Nedic regime’s record vis-a-vis the Jews and to deny that it played any role in the Holocaust whatsoever. For example, Almuli claimed in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph on 27 February 1994:
‘As one of the few Serbian Jews who survived the Holocaust I can testify that the Serbian government of Milan Nedic under German military occupation did not “manage to deport every Serbian Jew to face the Holocaust”, as Tom Carter alleged (letter, February 20). The deportation of Jews in Serbia and their complete destruction was a crime exclusively committed by the Nazi Germans. They alone deported the Jews and killed them in camps they established in Serbia.’
The apparent paradox, of why a former senior Serbian Jewish official should be so intent on whitewashing a Serbian regime that participated in the Holocaust, is something that I have explained at length.
Almuli’s retreat represents a slap in the face to others who have attempted to rehabilitate Nedic’s Nazi-quisling regime, such as amateur historian Carl Savich of the Serb-nationalist website Serbianna.com, who has written:
‘The Serbian case is more akin to the Judenrat or Jewish Councils which the Nazi occupation forces established in Nazi-occupied Poland and the Soviet Union. These were administrative bodies composed of Jewish political and religious leaders in the Jewish community who were responsible for local government in the ghettoes. The German authorities made the councils responsible for organizing lists of Jews, deportations, and labor recruitment. The Judenrat was imposed by force. There was no choice involved. Similarly with Serbia, the regime Germany established in Serbia had no choice in the matter. They were not allies or loyal partners as Ante Pavelic was. The goal was to preserve the Serbian population. It was known as the government of “salvation”. Like the Judenrat, the alternative was even more brutal Nazi measures against the population.’
Nevertheless, Almuli’s admittance of Nedic’s Serbia’s involvement in the Holocaust is simply a disclaimer in a series of articles in which Almuli otherwise seeks once again to defend the Serbian quisling record. Even this disclaimer – buried in the sixth article of a thirteen-part series – is couched as a plea for mitigation; Nedic’s Serbia played an ‘evil and dirty’ role in the Holocaust, ‘but it was only an accessory one’.
Furthermore, in his series of articles for Vecernje novosti entitled ‘The destruction of the Serbian Jews’, Almuli claims: ‘The killers were only Germans’. This is a falsehood; as I have documented, both Nedic’s Serbian quislings and Draza Mihailovic’s Chetniks were guilty of murdering Jews. Moreover, in a total of thirteen articles, Almuli manages to avoid discussion of the Serbian quisling role in the Holocaust – which he himself admits was ‘evil and dirty’ – almost entirely. Readers may compare his exercise in minimisation with what serious Serbian historians of the subject have written.
Finally, Almuli is continuing with his favourite tactic of attributing nefarious motives to anyone who has the nerve to raise the subject of quisling Serbia’s collaboration in the Holocaust, and on this occasion singles out for attack the Serbian human-rights activists of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia. As he puts it, ‘if they succeed in persuading the world that the Serbs together with the Germans killed Jews, they will more easily persuade it that in the wars in Bosnia and Croatia the Serbs again carried out ethnic cleansing.’
But of course, Serbian quislings did participate in the extermination of the Serbian Jews, and Serb forces did carry out ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Croatia – something almost nobody seriously attempts to dispute any more. The motive that Almuli attributes to the Serbian human-rights activists that he attacks is really the mirror image of his own motive, and the motive of other Serb nationalists and revisionists, for trying to brush the history of Serbian participation in the Holocaust under the carpet: ’if they succeed in persuading the world that Serbian quislings did not assist the Germans in destroying the Jews of Serbia, they will more easily persuade it that in the wars in Bosnia and Croatia the Serbs were innocent of any wrongdoing.’
Fortunately, the Serbian nationalists and revisionists are failing in this goal.
PS Funnily enough, Vecernje novosti failed to publish the comment I attempted to post on the thread under Almuli’s series…
Update: Almuli’s revisionism is not limited to whitewashing Serbia’s Nazi collaborators; he has also gone on record to downplay the evil of the Auschwitz death-camp itself.
We have long defended the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the face of anti-democratic attacks from the Turkish Kemalist establishment and the ultranationalist right. This government has been a reforming force in Turkish politics and society, promoting democratisation and human rights at home and presiding over great economic growth while pursuing a moderate, progressive foreign policy abroad. The AKP government has improved the rights of women and Kurds, pursued detente with Armenia and Cyprus, tried to restrain Turkey’s hawks over the PKK and northern Iraq, and supported the fragile, threatened Balkan states of Macedonia and Kosova.
Nevertheless, any progressive regime that remains in power too long will cease to be progressive. And the indications are that the AKP government has reached this point. Its initially moderately Islamic ideology mirrored, for a time, the moderate Christianity of European Christian Democratic parties, and provided an appealing alternative Islamic message to that of the Islamists. By challenging the Kemalist establishment over the ban on headscarves in universities and the public sector, the government has simply been standing up for the right of religiously observant women to education and a career. Yet the government, whose public support has been declining and which performed badly in local elections last month, is increasingly slipping down the slope from moderate Islam to Islamic popularism. In January, Erdogan flounced off the stage during a panel discussion with Israeli president Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum, after accusing Peres over the Gaza offensive: ‘When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill.’ During the Gaza offensive, Erdogan regularly denounced Israel in Islamist terms, suggesting that ‘Allah would punish’ Israel, whose actions would lead to its own ‘destruction’.
That this had more to do with pandering to Muslim populism and rising anti-Semitism than to any genuine concern at Palestinian suffering is indicated by the fact that Erdogan has not displayed quite the same degree of anger at the crimes of the Islamist Sudanese regime in Darfur. Indeed, Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir was invited to Turkey in January 2008, when he reviewed a military guard of honour in Ankara in the company of Turkey’s president, the AKP’s Abdullah Gul, who described him as a ‘friend’. Bashir was invited to Turkey again in August, despite his indictment for genocide by the International Criminal Court. The Turkish government has extended a similarly warm welcome to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with whom it is developing a close friendship, and who was permitted to put on an anti-American and anti-Israeli display at Istanbul’s Blue Mosque. Ankara is also pursuing an increasingly close collaboration with Russia, and is obstructing the transit of Azerbaijani gas to Europe via the Nabucco pipeline project, thereby threatening a source of energy for Europe that would be independent of Moscow.
Perhaps most worryingly, Ankara has been blocking the accession of Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to become the next secretary-general of NATO, on account of his handling of the Danish cartoon controversy of 2005. In Erdogan’s own words: ‘We are receiving telephone calls from the Islamic world, telling us: “By God, this person should not become the secretary general of Nato and we have to take into consideration all these reactions”.’ The AKP’s Islamic populism is thus threatening the functioning of NATO.
Meanwhile, the Turkish government has hardened its stand on the Kurdish issue, with Erdogan warning the Kurdish people that, with regard to Turkey, they should ‘love it or leave it’, creating major difficulties for the AKP’s own Kurdish deputies in relation to their constituents. This is apparently linked to increasing government paranoia over the role of the US and Israeli intelligence services in the country. This shift may account for the AKP’s poor showing in Kurdish regions in Turkey’s recent local elections.
Erdogan is mutating from a Muslim moderate into a Muslim bigot; his government is becoming a negative force in world politics. It is time for them to go.
When faced with claims made by revisionist writers concerning the wars in the former Yugoslavia of the 1990s, that they present as ‘challenging accepted wisdom’, it is generally a safe working assumption that they are all falsehoods, unless the writers in question actually present hard evidence to back them up. This can be shown by even the most casual glance at the ‘sensational revelations’ that these writers have been making since 1991: that Germany ‘encouraged’ Croatia’s secession from Yugoslavia in 1991; that the Croatian chequerboard symbol was a ‘fascist’ symbol; that Bosnia’s Alija Izetbegovic recruited for the SS during World War II; that Izetbegovic’s regime reestablished a five-thousand strong SS ‘Handzar Division’ in Bosnia in the 1990s; that the Western media ‘fabricated’ the existence of Serb concentration camps in Bosnia; that the Bosnian Army was guilty of shelling its own civilians in Sarajevo in order to provoke Western bombing of the Serbs; that the US imported mujahedeen or Wahhabi fighters into Bosnia during the war; that Izetbegovic was a friend and ally of Osama bin Laden and shared his politics; that the fighting and massacres in the Srebrenica region were initiated by the Bosnian Army; that there is ‘no proof’ that the Srebrenica massacre occurred; that Croatia’s Operation Storm was the ‘largest single act of ethnic cleansing during the Yugoslav wars’; that there was no Serbian ethnic-cleansing in Kosovo before the NATO bombing began in 1999; that no mass graves of Kosova Albanians were found in Kosova after NATO moved in; that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has focused disproportionately on Serb war-crimes suspects; and so on and so forth - all these claims, and others, have either been shown to be complete fabrications or, at best, wild exaggerations, or they remain entirely unsubstantiated. Generally, only a bit of research is necessary to reveal each new claim of this kind as yet another falsehood.
On this occasion, I should like to turn to one of the older claims made by the members of the Milosevic-Karadzic lobby and by others who defend Milosevic and the Great Serbian record: the claim that the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman was a ‘Holocaust denier’. This claim has generally been linked to Tudjman’s turgid, rambling, 1989 study of genocide and mass violence, Bespuca povijesne zbiljnosti: Rasprava o povijesti i filozofiji zlosilja [Wastelands of historical truth: A discussion of the history and philosophy of violence] - citations here are from the first edition, Nakladni zavod Matice Hrvatske, Zagreb, 1989.
This is what Tudjman wrote in Bespuca (p. 153) about the Holocaust:
After Hitler’s military forces had foundered in the Soviet expanses, together with the myth of German invincibility in the Blitzkrieg, there disappeared also for Germany the possibility of a territorial solution of the Jewish question outside of Europe. Already from the very start of the German-Soviet war, from the summer of 1941, the persecution of the Jews was increased, with fanatical propaganda about the need for the merciless uprooting of all members and supporters of Jewish-Bolshevism. Since with the development of the war the possibility of expelling the Jews to Madagascar had vanished, and the conquest of large Polish and Soviet expanses in the East had opened other possibilities for a territorial solution, so Hitler, at the start of 1942, with the goal of a ‘final solution’, took the decision on the resettlement, that is the expulsion or ‘deportation’ of the Jews to the East. Although the Berlin (Grossen Wannsee) confererence (21.01. 1942), at which Heydrich gave instructions to the high Nazi officials on the execution of Hitler’s new orders, spoke only of ‘evacuating’ the Jews from all European lands to the East, it was obvious that the final solution of the Jewish question in this way aimed at achieving their step-by-step annihilation. H. Frank had, before German functionaries in Krakow, spoken more directly of the ‘final solution’. Mentioning that in Poland there were now almost 2.5 million Jews, and including the mischlings perhaps up to 3.5 million, he would say that they ‘cannot all be executed or poisoned’, but that it was necessary ‘to take measures that would bring about their annihilation’, because the war would not be a complete success if Jewry survived.
Thus, in the third year of the Second World War (1942), began the period in which the Third Reich would attempt through the ‘final solution’, that is, the exclusion of the Jews from the life of Germany and the other European nations, to achieve their step-by-step extermination. But, as that goal could not be announced to the world public, and was in the form of a secret directive notified to only a narrow circle of Nazi confidants, this was also kept hidden from the majority of Germans, who took the deportation of the Jews to the East to be their resettlement in the Polish-Russian territories, and held the concentration camps to be work camps and not death camps.
Thus, the accusation that Tudjman was a ‘Holocaust denier’ is simply untrue. But nor is it quite true that the accusations came completely out of nowhere: in this case the lie contains three grains of truth:
1) Tudjman cast doubt on the figure of six million Jewish Holocaust victims (pp. 155-156):
Regarding the total number of Jewish victims in the Second World War, in world literature there is still not even an approximate scientifically determined fact. On the one hand, estimates range from about four million (G. Reitlinger, 1953) to up to six million (J. Lestchinsky and the American Jewish Congress, 1946, and N. Levin, 1968 and 1973). Raul Hilberg, whose book (1961 and 1973) in terms of comprehensiveness and quality exceeds that of Nora Levin, judges that the total losses exceed about five million or about one third of the pre-war Jewish population, but in his statistical overview alleges that of 5,100,000 deaths there are records for the deaths of 900,000, and casts doubt (putting question-marks) on some other numbers in the framework of the total figure. Those are, presumably, the reasons why there is a need to mention that, on the other hand, some consider the figure of six million deaths to be highly ‘exaggerated’.
This passage has frequently been misquoted to accuse Tudjman of putting the figure for Jewish Holocaust victims at only 900,000, though Tudjman was in fact claiming that a leading Holocaust scholar, Raul Hilberg, had put the figure at 5.1 million and the number of those for whom records existed at 900,000. However, Tudjman then argues (p. 156)
That the mentioned estimates of up to six million dead are based too much, both on emotionally partisan testimony, and on one-sided and exaggerated figures of the postwar settling of accounts for wartime misdeeds and retribution against the defeated perpetrators of war-crimes…
After discussing differing estimates of Jewish, Polish and other casualties at Auschwitz, Majdanek, and elsewhere, Tudjman nevertheless concludes his discussion of the Holocaust (p. 158):
Of course, these examples – whether unconfirmedly indiscriminate or highly contradictory - of giving different figures, do not bring into question the enormity of the war losses of particularly the Jewish and Polish, as well as some other peoples, and in particular are not important for an overall condemnation of the genocidal acts of their perpetrators.
2) Tudjman cites self-evidently anti-Semitic sources to try to show that in the Ustasha death-camp of Jasenovac, Jewish inmates had enjoyed a privileged role in relationship to other groups of prisoners, including Serbs and Gypsies, and had even participated in the persecution and killing of the latter (pp. 316-320). Typical of the way Tudjman gives credence to anti-Semitic testimony against the Jewish inmates of Jasenovac is his citation of an anti-Semitic Bosnian Serb former Jasenovac inmate, Vojislav Prnjatovic, whose statement Tudjman quotes (p. 318): ‘A Jew remains a Jew, even in Jasenovac. They have retained all their vices in the camp, only these are now more apparent. Selfishness, cunning, unreliability, avariciousness, treacherousness and a propensity to snitching are their principal characteristics.’
Tudjman then comments (p. 318):
This judgement of Prnjatovic’s reeks of exaggeration; we could say an anti-Semitic inclination, but similar things are said by other witnesses. Some of the Jewish camp officials were armed and participated in the killing. Furthermore, in their hands was, to a large degree, the ‘selection’; i.e., the separation of prisoners for ‘liquidation’, and partly even their actual execution.
Tudjman did not deny the crimes of the Ustashas against Jews in Jasenovac, but his discussion of the Jewish inmates of Jasenovac is dominated by their supposed role as perpetrators, rather than their suffering and loss of life.
3) Tudjman moves straight on from his discussion of the Holocaust to a discussion of Israel and Palestine, in which he compares Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi treatment of the Jews (p. 160):
After everything that it had suffered in history, particularly that terrible suffering in the Second World War, the Jewish people will in a very short space of time carry out against the Palestinian people such a brutal, genocidal policy that it has justly been termed judeo-Nazism.
Tudjman described Israeli policy as tending toward a ‘“final solution” of the Palestinian question‘, and complained:
And all this is taking place in the middle of the nineteen eighties, when world Jewry still has the need to recall its losses in the ‘Holocaust’, and even to try to prevent the election of the former general secretary of the UN, Kurt Waldheim, as president of Austria ! (p. 160)
Tudjman had fought as a Yugoslav Partisan during World War II, against the Croat Ustasha fascists; his ‘anti-Zionist’ views concerning Israel and Palestine should be attributed not so much to any right-wing Croat nationalist tendencies on his part, but primarily to his formation as a Yugoslav general under Josip Broz Tito’s fiercely pro-Arab and anti-Israeli Communist regime, with its close links to Nasserite Egypt and the Non-Aligned Movement.
In sum, therefore, Tudjman was not a Holocaust denier, but he cast doubt on the figure of six million Jewish Holocaust victims; went out of his way to portray Jewish inmates of the Jasenovac death-camp as perpetrators rather than as victims; and relativised the Holocaust in a manner that can only be deemed deliberately offensive and provocative toward Jews – by comparing it to Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.
Tudjman was a crude Croat chauvinist who was entirely ready to write offensively about Jews, as he was about other groups, and to repeat anti-Semitic cliches about the role of ‘world Jewry’ in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to its alleged use of the memory of the Holocaust. But hostility toward Jews was not central to Tudjman’s worldview, as it was for ideological anti-Semites in the mould of Hitler, Corneliu Codreanu, David Duke, Osama bin Laden, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Hassan Nasrallah, Mahmud Ahmadinejad or other contemporary Islamic radicals. What was central was a profound cynicism and callousness with regard to questions of genocide and its victims, which led him to veer in the direction of anti-Semitism.
Originally a hard-line doctrinaire Marxist, Tudjman began his evolution into a Croat nationalist through his work as a historian, in which he had attempted to evaluate Croatia’s World War II history more positively; this involved emphasising the Croatian contribution to the Partisan movement. But it also involved challenging the view favoured by some Serb intellectuals, that the Croats were a ‘genocidal nation’, and challenging the high figures given by Yugoslav and Serb historians of Serb victims in the Ustasha genocide, in particular at Jasenovac. These were legitimate gripes: the widely accepted figure of several hundred thousand dead at Jasenovac was indeed a gross exaggeration; the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington today places the figure at 56-97,000 (though Tudjman’s own estimate of 30-40,000 was too low). Likewise, the overall figure for Serb deaths in the Ustasha genocide has frequently been put at around a million or upwards. But studies of war-losses carried out by the demographers Bogoljub Kocovic and Vladimir Zerjavic, a Serb and Croat respectively, have shown that the total number of Serbs killed on the territory of Croatia and Bosnia during World War II – including battlefield deaths and civilians killed by the Germans, Italians, Chetniks, Partisans and other non-Ustashas – was somewhat over three hundred thousand. These and other sources suggest a total figure of somewhat under three hundred thousand Serb victims of the Ustasha genocide.
As a historian, therefore, Tudjman was entirely justified in questioning the figures for Serb casualties in mainstream accounts of the Ustasha genocide, particularly where Jasenovac was concerned. But this bee in his bonnet then mutated into the highly cynical and offensive general theory set out in Bespuca, with its anti-Semitic overtones, in which genocide was relativised and the distinction between victims and perpetrators was deliberately blurred. This involved, as we have seen, a questioning of the figure of six million Jewish Holocaust victims; a portrayal, based on anti-Semitic sources, of Jewish inmates of Jasenovac as perpetrators rather than as victims; and a description of Israeli policy toward Palestinians as ‘Judeo-Nazism’. Tudjman had moved seamlessly from skepticism about mainstream evaluations of the Serb death-toll in the Ustasha genocide and resentment of the image of Serb victimhood in it, to skepcitism about the figure of six million Jewish deaths in the Holocaust and resentment of the image of Jewish victimhood in Jasenovac.
The type of anti-Semitic views expressed by Tudjman in Bespuca, particularly where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was concerned, was of a kind that is today not unusual among supporters of the UK’s ‘Stop the War Coalition’ and ‘Respect’ party, or among speakers at the Socialist Workers Party’s annual conference. They reflect, in part, Tudjman’s background as a Yugoslav general under Tito’s fiercely ‘anti-Zionist’ Communist regime. But Tudjman was not a Holocaust denier. The accusation that he was, of course, is frequently made by radical leftists in the West, such as supporters of the SWP, who are themselves often apologists for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime – all incomparably more anti-Semitic than was Tudjman. Such radical leftists hold views on Israel and Palestine that are generally similar to, if not more extreme than Tudjman’s, and share his hostility to the Bosnian Muslims, to the idea of a united Bosnia, and to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Of all the revisionist myths that such radical leftists peddle about the former Yugoslavia, the myth that Tudjman was a Holocaust denier is particularly cynical: insofar as it has any origins in reality, it derives from him having said the sort of things about Jews that they do themselves.
The blogger Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour of ‘Lenin’s Tomb‘, a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), published his first book last year, entitled The Liberal Defence of Murder (Verso, London, 2008). Rather than review the whole of the book and make points that other reviewers are likely to make, I am going to focus on the section (pp. 190-212) dealing with my own area of special interest: the former Yugoslavia, to see how Seymour’s thesis holds up. I should declare a special interest, in that I am myself quoted critically in passing in this book, and my own parents, Branka Magas and Quintin Hoare, come in for particular criticism in it. Despite this, and despite the fact that I am not exactly a fan of Seymour, his politics or his party, this will be a review in measured tones, as I would like the facts to speak for themselves.
Seymour explains the title in his opening sentence: ‘This book seeks to explain a current of irrational thought that supports military occupation and murder in the name of virtue and decency.’ Broadly speaking, this book is a critique of liberal and left-wing supporters of humanitarian military intervention, as in the cases of Bosnia, Kosova, Iraq and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, in the section of the book dealing with the wars in Croatia and Bosnia (pp. 190-205), Seymour is unable to provide any evidence that any of his liberal targets did, indeed, support ‘murder’ - unless simply being in favour of Western military intervention automatically makes one a supporter of ‘murder’. Even so, there are no quotations in this section dealing with just how, or in what way, the liberals in question did indeed support military intervention. Seymour tells us, in his own words, that Ken Livingstone ‘called for force to be used against the Serbs’; that Michael Foot ‘pleaded for a British humanitarian intervention’; and so on. There are no examples provided of any bloodcurdling war-cries, or calls for the Serbs to be bombed back to the Stone Age, or the like. Seymour does a bit better in the section on Kosova (pp. 206-211), where he does provide a couple of quotes, one of which actually comes across as quite bloodthirsty – by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, who is quoted here as supporting attacks on the Serbian civilian infrastructure. But that really is just about it: Seymour has no case whatsoever that liberal interventionists supported ‘murder’ in Croatia or Bosnia, and only one quote by one individual that arguably supports his case with regard to Kosova. So we are left with a tautology: support for military intervention is defined as support for murder, therefore any liberal who supported military intervention is evidence of a ’liberal defence of murder’.
Why, you may ask, did it then take Seymour a whole twenty-one pages to make this point ? How does he fill up those pages ? Well, Seymour’s main argument is not that liberals supported military intervention that might have or did kill Serb civilians. Rather, he attempts to argue that military intervention was wrong because 1) Serb atrocities, and Milosevic’s regime, were not as bad as liberal interventionists made them out to be; and 2) that the Croatians and Bosnians were not worthy of being defended by Western military intervention, because their governments were just as bad as Milosevic’s – possibly worse – and were guilty of the same atrocities. So far from writing a polemic on the evils of Western military intervention, or on the bloodthirsty character of its supporters, Seymour has written a polemic playing down the evils of Milosevic and Serb nationalism, playing up the evils of Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic and Croat and Muslim nationalism, then condemning those liberals who - as he sees it – got the balance wrong. The only quotations he actually produces for his prosecutor’s case against the ‘liberals’ in the entire section on Bosnia and Croatia are quotes expressing condemnation of Serb atrocities, or of Western complicity in them. So we have Alain Finkielkraut quoted using the term ‘Guernica’; Bernard-Henri Levi quoted calling for the lifting of the arms embargo against the Bosnians; Christopher Hitchens quoted as claiming that Serbia and Croatia were led by ‘fascist parties’; Michael Ignatieff quoted describing what was happening as ‘genocide’, and so forth. But as Seymour makes clear, he does not believe that Milosevic and his Serb forces were fascist, or that genocide occurred, or that the Serb forces ran concentration camps, etc.
This, then, is the case for the prosecution: not that liberals actually supported murder, or even that they supported military intervention, but that they made Milosevic and Serb ethnic-cleansing out to be worse than they were, when really, they weren’t bad enough to justify military intervention. Before we turn to Seymour’s actual methodology, it is worth pausing to examine what the premise of this argument is. Seymour is saying that if you used terms like ‘fascism’, ‘genocide’, ‘concentration camps’, etc., to describe Milosevic and his forces and what they were doing, you are a liberal supporter of murder. The correct response, in Seymour’s view, to news and images of Serb ethnic-cleansing and atrocities (which Seymour does not deny took place) is not to demand action in defence of the victims, but to ensure that the perpetrators of this ethnic cleansing and these atrocities get a fair coverage and are not condemned in too strong terms. So it really doesn’t take much to be a liberal defender of murder: if you react to images of Serb persecution of Muslim civilian prisoners in camps by using the term ‘concentration camp’, or if you describe a Serb ethnic cleanser as a ‘fascist’, you’re one of the bad guys. Whereas if you try to moderate liberal condemnation of the concentration camps and the ethnic cleansers, as Seymour does, you’re one of the good guys.
Consequently, what Seymour has written is a defence of the Milosevic regime and Serb ethnic-cleansing from their liberal critics. Complaining about the Western media’s treatment of the conflict, Seymour writes that ‘while Izetbegovic was deified, Milosevic received no credit for taking risks with his support by urging the Serbs in Krajina and the Republika Srpska to accept various deals to end the conflict.’ (p. 205) Thus, Seymour condemns Western journalists for failing to portray Milosevic as the peacenik that, in Seymour’s eyes, he really was (as for actual evidence that the Western media ‘deified’ Izetbegovic – Seymour doesn’t provide any).
Seymour’s critique centres not on actual liberal support for military intervention, let alone murder, but on what he sees as a mistaken liberal analysis of what was going on in the former Yugoslavia, and on inappropriate terminology. He condemns the liberals not for having the wrong principles, but for applying them incorrectly. Since there is no real clash of ideals between Seymour and his various liberal targets expressed here, his case rests on how effective his piecemeal demolition job of their case turns out to be.
Rather than bore the reader by going once more into the rights and wrongs of the former Yugoslav conflict, I am going to analyse Seymour’s case entirely in its own terms, by looking in turn at his principal charges against his liberal targets.
1) ‘Backing secession’.
Seymour begins with a critique of my parents, Branka Magas and Quintin Hoare. He quotes a source as saying that ‘when Branka went to visit Zagreb, she flipped over to Croatian nationalism. I mean, she simply backed secession.’ (p. 192) Seymour doesn’t draw any conclusion from this assertion; he simply allows it to speak for itself.
Who is the source in question ? None other than Peter Gowan, a former friend of my mother’s and father’s who parted company with them over the former Yugoslavia. Gowan isn’t by anybody’s standards an expert on the former Yugoslavia; he’s merely a left-wing writer who broadly shares Seymour’s ‘anti-imperialist’ political views and has similar views on the former Yugoslavia. The source is given as ‘author interview with Peter Gowan’.
What Seymour is saying is that he had a chat with his mate Peter, and Peter used to know Branka, and Peter said that Branka supported Croatian nationalism and Croatian secession. We’re talking ‘man in the pub’ scholarship here. But leaving aside the fact that Gowan has zero credibility as an objective judge of Branka’s political evolution, the accusation that Branka ‘backed secession’ is a rather unfortunate one for Seymour to make.
On 31 March 1990, Seymour’s party paper, the Socialist Worker, itself ‘backed secession’ when it wrote: ‘The Lithuanian masses overwhelmingly rejected Russian rule given a chance to vote for the first time recently. They want independence. That is their right. Every socialist should support them.’
On 13 July 1991, the Socialist Worker ‘backed secession’ in Yugoslavia as well: ‘First, the mass of people cannot gain by forcing an ethnic group to stay in a state where it doesn’t want to. That means recognising the right of any national minority to separate from the state if it so wishes, and opposing the murderous activities of the Yugoslav army.’
In other words, Branka is condemned as a liberal defender for murder because she supported exactly the same thing for Croatia – the right to national self-determination – that Seymour’s party supported for Lithuania, and which it initially supported for the Croats as well.
2) ‘Unfair accusations of fascism’.
Seymour accuses his liberal targets that they ‘consistently demonised Slobodan Milosevic as a “fascist” or its equivalent, which was a false and unnecessary embellishment when he was merely a bureaucratic thug’ (p. 194). This complaint comes from someone who routinely describes the British far-right party, the ‘British National Party’, not merely as fascist, but as ‘Nazi’; I don’t particularly object to this, but it is clearly a ‘false and unncessary embellishment’ of the kind that apparently makes one a liberal defender of murder. The only explanation for this double standard is that Seymour supports action against the BNP but retrospectively opposes any action against Milosevic.
But there is no need to trawl through Seymour’s blog to find evidence of his double standards: he devotes nearly a full page (pp. 196-197) to describing the fascist affinities of Croat nationalism. In the space of this one page, he uses the terms ‘fascist’, ‘Nazi’ and ‘Ustashe’ (Croatian fascists) six times in relation to Croatia. It’s true he does not actually describe the Tudjman regime as ‘fascist’ outright. But nor does he mention any equivalent fascist phenomena in relation to Serb nationalism. He does not mention the fact that Serbian paramilitaries called the ‘Chetniks’ – after the Nazi-collaborationist, anti-Semitic, Serb extreme-nationalist movement of World War II – formed part of the Serbian forces, under Belgrade’s control, that assaulted Bosnia in 1992. Or that Milosevic’s sometime collaborator, Vojislav Seselj, was a friend and ally of France’s Jean Marie Le Pen, and had received a decoration from a Chetnik warlord who had fought alongside the Nazis and Ustashe in World War II. Or that the Bosnian Serb nationalists armed and funded by Milosevic’s regime openly embraced the Chetnik heritage. Seymour thus simultaneously defends Serb nationalists from the charge of fascism while accusing Croat nationalists of embracing fascism. He condemns liberals as defenders of murder when they accuse Serb nationalists of the same thing of which he accuses the Croat nationalists.
3) ‘Abuse of the term “genocide”‘
Seymour denies that Serb forces were guilty of genocide, even suggesting that the International Court of Justice may have been guided by political motives when it defined Srebrenica as an act of genocide (p. 204). But while condemning his liberal targets for using the term ‘genocide’ in relation to Milosevic’s Serb forces, he has no qualms at all about tarring Tudjman with the brush of genocide: ‘His [Tudjman's] position on the question of genocide had been made very clear: “Genocide is a natural phenomenon… Genocide is not only permitted, it is recommended, even commanded by the word of the Almighty.”‘ Seymour is quoting Tudjman to show that he supports genocide (p. 196).
Where did Seymour get this quote by Tudjman from ? Why, from none other than the book To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, written by Michael Parenti, head of the US section of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic (ICDSM). Parenti’s book, like Seymour’s, was published by Verso. Its Serbian-language edition had a foreword written by Slobodan Milosevic himself ! Needless to say, Parenti, like Seymour, hasn’t read anything Tudjman has written; he doesn’t even provide a reference for the quotation.
I, on the other hand, have read what Tudjman wrote in the Croatian original (Franjo Tudjman, Bespuca povijesne zbiljnosti: Rasprava o povijesti i filozofiji zlosilja, Zagreb, 1989, p. 172):
As we were able to conclude from the preceeding study, in the very (Judaic) origins of all our later, Western, civilisation, in that ancient age when the apex of historical-philosophical human thought was expressed by the word of the biblical god Yahweh, genocidal violence is a natural phenomenon, consistent with human-social and mythological-divine nature. It is not only permitted, but even recommended, moreover even found in the words of the all-powerful Yahweh, always when it is necessary for the survival or the restoration of the kingdom of the chosen people, or for the maintenance and spread of their one true religion.
Tudjman, writing as a (third-rate) historian and scholar of genocide, is claiming that the Old Testament god Yahweh endorsed genocide. There is nothing in this passage to suggest that he himself supported genocide. Seymour, however, misquotes Tudjman to suggest that he upheld genocide as an ideal. He does this on the basis of a quotation he got from a book written by an American supporter of Milosevic who has never read anything by Tudjman.
Finally, later in the book Seymour claims that the US’s ‘atrocities in Indochina were certainly closer to genocide than anything that happened in the former Yugoslavia’ (p. 219). Since he provides no evidence or argument whatsoever in support of this tendentious claim, it would appear his expressed concern at the supposed casual misuse of the term ‘genocide’ by liberal interventionists is not quite sincere.
4) Dodgy source materials and ‘imperialist propaganda’
Since Seymour’s case against liberal interventionists really just boils down to the accusation that their analysis of the Yugoslav conflict and use of terminology were flawed, it is worth examining Seymour’s own scholarly apparatus. Owen Hatherley, the SWP supporter who reviewed Seymour’s book for the New Statesman, claimed: ‘The Liberal Defence of Murder is probably more valuable as history than as polemic.’ But would a genuine scholar have made a judgement about Tudjman’s views on genocide on the basis of a third- or fourth-hand misquotation from a Milosevic lobbyist ?
Indeed, Parenti’s grubby little propaganda book is entirely characteristic of the source material that Seymour relies upon. Seymour cites the opinion of ’George Kenney, a former State Department Yugoslavia desk officer’, that the Western diplomacy that preceded the Kosovo war was ‘equivalent to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which had been used to justify escalation in Vietnam’ (p. 208). Seymour fails to inform his readers that Kenney was a Milosevic sympathiser, who wrote to Milosevic in prison to tell him ‘I believed then and still believe that you are innocent of all the charges in the Tribunal’s indictments’.
Seymour cites the views of Edward Herman and David Peterson in support of his argument (p. 203); he does not tell his readers that the two are organisers of the ‘Srebrenica Research Group’, a lobbying group set up to deny the Srebrenica massacre. One of Seymour’s principal ‘sources’ for his claim that ‘the SDA [Muslim nationalist party] was one of the nationalist parties seeking to use secession and military conflict to amplify its own power’ is Kate Hudson’s book Breaking the South Slav Dream: The Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia. Hudson is the leader of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and a member of the Communist Party of Britain, whose newspaper The Morning Star backed the Serb side during the Bosnian war and still publishes Srebrenica-denying articles. Hudson’s book, a propaganda tract that casts doubt on the fact of the Srebrenica massacre, is entirely typical of Seymour’s source material: his endnotes are filled with references to articles by Diana Johnstone, Alexander Cockburn, John Pilger and other authors who have no genuine expertise on the former Yugoslavia but who share his political views, and whose unsubstantiated claims are treated as ‘evidence’ for his case.
Thus, for example, Seymour claims: ‘Izetbegovic later confessed to having confected Serb death camps in order to precipitate bombing raids.’ (p. 200) The ‘source’ for this claim is an article in the American far-left magazine Counterpunch by the Srebrenica-denying Paris-based writer, Diana Johnstone, in which she claims that the Srebrenica massacre was merely a case of Serb soldiers killing Muslim soldiers in battle, and that it was anyway engineered by the Muslims. Johnstone’s source for Izetbegovic’s alleged ‘confession’ was the memoirs of the French politician Bernard Kouchner, but Seymour doesn’t bother to consult the French original; he merely takes Johnstone’s article as a sound source on which to base his argument, as he did with Parenti.
Even if one assumes Johnstone has cited Kouchner accurately, one wonders how Seymour can criticise liberal interventionists for poor methodology, when he takes every single accusation made by Western politicians against Izetbegovic and the Muslims at face value. Never mind that Kouchner’s French government was aiding and abetting Milosevic’s destruction of Bosnia, and maintaining an arms embargo against the Bosnians; we are supposed simply to believe his accusations against Izetbegovic.
Likewise, Seymour cites ‘Philip Corwin, the UN’s chief political officer in Sarajevo during the summer of 1995′ as a witness to the fact that ‘following the Dayton settlement, thousands of Serbs were vindictively “cleansed” from areas of Bosnia by state police forces.’ Seymour continues approvingly: ‘Corwin was relentlessly critical of the media depiction of events…’ (p. 201). What Seymour doesn’t tell his readers is that Corwin was one of the ‘advisors and contributors to the work of the Srebrenica Research Group’, Edward Herman’s Srebrenica-denying outfit, and therefore had political views that might lead a genuine scholar to question the objectivity of his account.
Indeed, one of the unintended achievements of this book is that it marshals enough evidence to demolish convincingly the view that Seymour himself appears to hold: that Izetbegovic’s Bosnian regime was the party favoured by ‘Western imperialism’ while Milosevic and the Serb ethnic-cleansers were the victims of imperialism. Seymour writes (p. 204):
Other stories barely examined [by the Western media] include what might be described as ‘false flag’ operations, such as the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at the Markale market in 1994, which helped precipitate the Nato bombing of Serb positions. Many UN officials believed that the shelling had come from the Bosnian army, and Unprofor accused Bosnian government forces of ‘firing to provoke the Serbs, and of using hospitals and public buildings as cover for such fire.’
So the representatives of Western imperialism in Bosnia accused the Bosnians of massacring their own people in order to blame it on the Serbs, and of ‘provoking’ Serb attacks on hospitals and public buildings. Seymour’s endorsement of these claims means that his argument cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as ‘anti-imperialist’ – on the contrary, he upholds the claims made by Western imperialist officials against the victims of Western intervention; that they were to blame for their own suffering. This is, it seems, the only way he can construct his critique of the defenders of Bosnia.
5) ‘Inflated casualty figures’
Seymour devotes some space to trying to show that liberal interventionist estimates of Bosnian or Muslim casualty figures in the war have ‘not stood the test of time’ (p. 203). This is taken as evidence of the weakness of the liberal-interventionist case. Consequently, Seymour cites the evidence of the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Centre, that calculated the total number of people directly killed in the Bosnian war on all sides, both civilian and military, to be in the region of 100,000, or considerably less than the ‘up to 330,000′ deaths claimed, according to Seymour, by the liberal interventionists.
This being such a key element in his argument, how does Seymour himself deal with the casualty figures for Serb victims ? With regard to the Srebrenica massacre, Seymour writes: ‘In the run-up to that atrocity, a wave of terror, including rape, by Bosnian Muslim forces in surrounding areas had killed thousands of Serbs.’ (p. 204). Yet according to the figures of the Research and Documentation Centre itself, which Seymour himself cites, the total number of Serb civilians killed in the entire wider region of Podrinje, where Srebrenica was located, during the whole of the war was 849. In other words, the figures that Seymour himself cites – and which were not available to liberal defenders of Bosnia during the war – disprove his own claim that a Bosnian Army ‘wave of terror’ killed ‘thousands of Serbs’ near Srebrenica. In fact, the Research and Documentation Centre has specifically refuted the claim that ‘thousands’ of Serb civilians were killed in the atrocities Seymour cites; it calculates the total number of Serb civilians killed in the locality in question during the war to be 119.
Likewise, Seymour claims that Croatia was guilty of the ‘ethnic cleansing of up to 300,000 Serbs during Operation Storm’ (p. 203). This figure of ‘up to 300,000′ is apparently taken from Hudson, who also writes of a ‘massive population flight of up to 300,000 Serbs’ resulting from Operation Storm (Hudson, p. 119). But what was the real figure ? According to Amnesty International, ‘In May and August 1995, the Croatian Army and police forces recaptured Western Slavonia and the Krajina region. During and after these military offensives, some 200,000 Croatian Serbs, including the entire Croatian Serb Army, fled to the neighbouring Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina under Bosnian Serb control.’ According to the ICTY’s indictment of the Croatian general Ante Gotovina: ‘The “Oluja” offensive resulted in the displacement of an estimated 150,000 – 200,000 Krajina Serbs, who fled or were forced to flee, during, and in the aftermath, of the said offensive.’ The top figure of this range – 200,000 – includes the Krajina Serb army, which numbered about 40,000. The number of displaced Serb civilians was therefore closer to 150,000.
If exaggerating casualty figures is a crime that makes one a ‘liberal defender of murder’, then what does it make Seymour ?
In conclusion, it is really very difficult to work out what Seymour intends to achieve with this poorly researched, poorly sourced, repeatedly self-contradictory and entirely unsuccessful excercise in nit-picking, which amounts, as we have seen, simply to a series of spectacular own goals. But even if we were to concede Seymour’s main points (which we don’t, of course), and to accept that the Milosevic regime was not fascist, did not commit genocide and was not qualitatively worse than the Tudjman or Izetbegovic regimes, would he have a case ? Are people who reacted to the horrors of Omarska, Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo by calling for Western military intervention to halt them really defenders of murder ?
This is perhaps what is most shocking about Seymour’s whole, sorry ideological exercise: the perverse obsession with trying to prove that the people who wanted to stop the racist mass-murder and close the concentration camps were the bad guys.
Update: Seymour has written a response to me. He writes:
‘Hoare is scandalised that I impute “political motives” to the International Court of Justice: the problem is that I don’t. He is referring to page 204, which explicitly references the ICTY, a wholly different (and highly politicised) body.’
This is what Seymour writes, on p. 204:
‘Designed to ethnically cleanse the territory and capture it decisively for the Republika Srpska, the operation [against Srebrenica] is now considered by the US-sponsored ICTY and the International Court of Justice as the only instance of “genocide” that can be shown to have occurred. Serbia, however, was cleared of involvement in the massacre. Some scholarly opinion has cast doubt on the verdict of genocide, and it could be argued that the purpose of the judicial process was less to establish the facts of the case than to determine a politically convenient verdict.’
Carry on digging, comrade…
Update no. 2: In his response to me, Seymour is now attempting to justify his claim that a Bosnian Army ‘wave of terror’ in the area around Srebrenica had killed ‘thousands’ of Serbs by insisting he was referring to Serb military casualties as well as civilians:
‘I did say “Serbs” and not “Serb civilians”, and the total number of Serbs killed in that area, according to Hoare’s source, is 5573. He might have been more attentive to what he was reading.’
Even if we accept the extremely dubious proposition that Serb military casualties should be counted as victims of a Muslim ‘wave of terror’, the figures still do not support Seymour’s claim.
Firstly, he has cited the wrong figure: 5,573 refers to the deaths of Serbs from Podrinje, including those killed in other parts of Bosnia. The number of Serbs killed in Podrinje, including those from other parts of Bosnia, is 4,848. But this refers to all Serbs killed in the whole of the Podrinje region during the whole of the war, not just those killed near Srebrenica.
Secondly, and more importantly, the Research and Documentation Centre, whose data Seymour relies upon to make his case, has calculated the total number of Serb civilian and military deaths in the ‘wave of terror’ that Seymour refers to. It puts Serb civilian deaths at 119 and Serb military deaths at 448. This puts the maximum possible number of Serb deaths in Seymour’s ‘wave of terror’ at 567, rather than in the ‘thousands’ that he claims.
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