On 4 December of last year, the Bosnian Embassy in London did me the honour of hosting the launch of my book, The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War: A History (Hurst and Co, London, 2013). Very special thanks for organising the event go to His Excellency Mustafa Mujezinovic, the Bosnian ambassador to London, who also gave the opening speech; to Ms Jasmina Turajlic, Second Secretary; to all Bosnian Embassy staff; and to Jon de Peyer of Hurst Publishers. Very special thanks go also to my friend and colleague Dr Edina Becirevic, for coming to London to speak at the event. The following articles are based on the texts of our respective speeches.
Since the aggression and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina took place two decades ago, so many books have been written on the subject. Yet, very few people have understood Bosnia as well as Marko Attila Hoare does. The first of Hoare’s books that I read was, How Bosnia Armed, and I remember many of my colleagues commenting that, finally, there had been a new approach taken to examining the war against Bosnia. Hoare’s handling of the topic was different because it followed the dynamics of the rise of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and attempted to determine why initial intentions to create a truly multinational Army of Bosnian people – of all nationalities – instead manifested as a predominantly Muslim, i.e. Bosniak, military force.
When war began in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, the international community stood aside and watched as Serbia unleashed an aggression against the country’s non-Serb population. Hoare belonged to the world of academics, civil society members and journalists who understood what is going on and openly campaigned for the defense of Bosnia. He lived in the small universe of people who saw the genocide and aggression for what it was. And this is also why Hoare’s book How Bosnia Armed carried so much weight: his inquiry into past events did not deter him from lobbying for the defense of Bosnia, even when his analysis of the responsibility of Bosniak leadership led him to conclude that they had given up on the ideal of a multicultural Bosnia and Herzegovina in exchange for the pursuit of exclusively Bosniak interests, and had thus played into the hands of Serb and Croat nationalists. The pattern that Hoare recognized, and was one of the first to analyze – on the loss of the multicultural character of the Bosnian Army – became a central theme as he tried to answer the question of why Bosnian leadership settled for the Dayton Accord; which essentially legitimized the division of Bosnia. And this pattern can be steadily traced through the post-Dayton period in Bosnia, too, in many political compromises that Bosniak political elites made at the expense of Bosnian statehood.
I am not sure where the saying originates, but I have heard it many times from many people, that “Serbs and Croats cannot destroy Bosnia and Herzegovina unless Bosniaks agree to it.” And Hoare’s work is therefore even more important; because it has offered researchers in Bosnia and Herzegovina a model of how to tackle this issue without falling into the stereotypical traps of dispersing responsibility for the war and genocide equally to all sides and of viewing it as a war in which there were no clear victims and no clear aggressors. Hoare’s methodological framework can be the example to researchers who identify as victims of the war and who want to address that pattern of de-multiculturization of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This can allow them to step back from a sense of victimhood that disabled many of them to fully understand the dynamics of the war and aggression.
History is important not only for the sake of understanding the past, of course. Historical lessons matter in both the present and the future. Today in Bosnia, Bosniak political forces continue to be inconsistent in defending Bosnian statehood and preserving its multiculturality. The battle for what many still consider to be the core multicultural values of Bosnia and Herzegovina is now left to a group popularly called “the others” – representatives from ethnic groups who were not accommodated in the Dayton Accord – who stand behind the “Sejdić-Finci” ruling and demand political rights equal to those of the three dominant ethnic groups in the country.
Marko Attila Hoare has published four books. Besides How Bosnia Armed, he is also the author of Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943, which looks at the conflict between Yugoslav Partisans and Chetniks in Bosnia during World War II. In The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day, he focuses on the history of national identity in Bosnia. All three of these books are essential reading for understanding the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the present day political chaos facing the country.
But the book The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War: A History, which examines the role of Bosnian Muslims in World War II, not only comes full circle in his corpus, but carries a special significance in relating how events that took place in WWII still affect Bosnia and Herzegovinia presently and by deconstructing the Serbian propaganda of the 90’s, which put forth that all wars waged by the Serbian state were fought to prevent genocide against Serbs. For, it is unquestionable that the various collective myths and memories of the past, of different ethnic groups in Bosnia, played a role in the 1992-1995 conflict, and that they continue to shape – and sometimes strangle – Bosnian society today.
The genocide of Serbs in World War Two is indeed a part of the history of Yugoslavia and the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and no one seeking truth could deny that. However, growing up in Yugoslavia, the genocide and suffering of other people in Bosnia and Herzegovina was never mentioned at all. In school, history books told a one-sided story about both World Wars, giving us the impression that it was only Serbs who had been victims of genocide. And it was the continuity of this narrative that convinced many of my Serb friends to go into the hills to join the forces which turned their heavy artillery against Sarajevo.
In a way it is understandable that there were few books on the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina that went against the official narrative, for there were just as few brave historians willing to detail the complex alliances of the Second World War, and to tell the story that it was not only Serbs, Jews, and Roma who suffered losses. But World War Two meant suffering for Muslims and Croats as well; and while genocide against Serbs is an undisputed historical fact, the changing coalitions and patterns of crimes committed during the war were extraordinarily complex and convoluted. This latest book by Marko Attila Hoare plays a crucial role in setting the record straight, and not only for historians in the region. It also successfuly deconstructs stereotypes about World War Two that many Western historians, regardless of their ideological perspective, have blatantly promoted without reservation.
The residual effects of alliances and aggressions that played out during World War Two revisited Yugoslav society around the time of Tito’s death and began a discussion that is still ongoing; bringing with it an impact on all the societies of former Yugoslav states. But most of the narratives that have emerged are influenced by official dicourse of some kind or another. Some are apologetic toward the Ustasha, others toward Chetniks, some glorify the Partisan movement, and others, as Hoare writes, tell the tale “through the prism of Allied policy.”
Yet, Hoare, in this as in his previous books, does not depend on official narratives or safe stereotypes. He illustrates the complicated game Communists had to play in “leading predominantly Serb and peasant armed resistance to the Ustasha regime in the countryside,” while at the same time conquering the hearts and mind of a predominantly Muslim and Croat urban population. And both of those strategies were, as Hoare says, “ulimately necessary for the Communists to become masters of Bosnia; and both were achieved.”
The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War is the first book that views the history of World War Two in Bosnia from the perspective of the Bosnian Muslims – and not only that of political elites, but also of ordinary people, who formed different political and military alliances. Hoare concludes that, “Political divisions among the Muslim elite were not essentially ideological, but were between conflicting strategies of how best to safeguard its position, and the Muslim population as a whole, in the face of two threats: the assimilationalism and hegemonism of the Croat Ustashas and the genocide of the Serb Chetniks.” And Hoare refers to those threats as two sides of the same coin.
Future generations in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be thanking Marko Attila Hoare not only for this last book, but for all of his books, including those that I hope are yet to come. I say “future generations” because I am not confident that this generation of Bosnian historians and intellectuals fully grasps the importance of Hoare’s work. But I am hoping that there will come a day when real accounts of Bosnian and Herzegovinian history by rare historians like Hoare will serve as the essential content for history textbooks. For, books like this one do not only present fair accouts of Bosnian history of benefit to academics, but can also serve as the basis for a process of reconciliation among Bosnian people, who must understand their history in order to move forward into the future.
What Hoare always brings to his reader is the invaluable insight that time and the events of an era cannot be seen in isolated compartments; that we miss seeing key parts of the picture of today if we are blind to the realities of the past. And his work beyond the pages of this and his other books, to identify and address genocide denial, is a natural extension of this insight. The value of his commitment to bringing awareness to the dangers of genocide denial cannot be understated.
The issue of genocide denial is an understandably contentious one. There is always an accused “side,” for which denial of their crimes is desirable; and since genocide is rarely achievable without the backing of state-level apparatuses, accused perpetrators usually have the backing of both political power and historical rhetoric. But, as the list of genocides in the world sadly continues to grow year after year, the issue of genocide denial becomes one of greater and greater importance. And what motivates Hoare and activists like him, is the knowledge that it is precisely this denial that invites further genocides.
What sets Hoare apart in debates about the topic – and believe me, it is a topic rife with debates, usually fueled as much by emotion as by concrete evidence – is his firsthand knowledge of Bosnia and his exhaustive research on and in the region. He has developed a relationship with the Balkans that few Westerners who deny genocide occurred there, or who tend toward revisionist views of the recent conflict, can lay claim to. This has predictably made him a target of those who do wish to deny genocide, and yet Hoare has remained a consistent “thorn in their side.”
As academic discourse invites ever more questioning about what “truth” and “denial” and “narrative” actually mean; as denial itself is viewed increasingly as a valuable coping mechanism in the face of a world full of trauma; and as we are bombarded more and more by images that Stanley Cohen rightfully points out are bound to overload and overwhelm our senses of reality, it is so important that activists like Hoare continue to demand that we see. For, as Cohen pointed out in his famous treatise on denial, “there is nothing positive about a society denying that it has an AIDS problem or the failure of the international community to recognize early warning signs of genocide…” While my guess is that most people would quickly jump to agree with his first statement; until genocide is seen as something as dangerous and pernicious as AIDS, the world needs activists like Marko Attila Hoare fighting to remove people’s blinders.
Edina Becirevic’s book Genocide on the Drina River will be published this year by Yale University Press
Marko Attila Hoare
Thank you all for coming. I would like to begin by thanking His Excellency Ambassador Mustafa Mujezinovic, Second Secretary Ms Jasmina Turajlic and Jon de Peyer of Hurst Publishers for hosting and organising this event.
I started researching the subject matter of this book seventeen years ago, in 1997. The war in Bosnia-Hercegovina had just ended. As a graduate student in history, it was impossible for me not to be gripped by the need to understand why it had happened. Of course, I have my political views about the rights and wrongs of the conflict, which I have never tried to conceal. But history should not be researched and written with political objectives in mind; rather, it should be guided by the need to answer intellectual questions.
The genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina of 1992-1995 involved the destruction of the Bosnian state; the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Consequently, the questions I wanted to answer were: why had the state been created in the first place, and how had it been possible to build a common, multinational state encompassing Serbs, Muslims, Croats and others ? I believed it was necessary to understand how and why the Bosnian state had been created, in order to understand how and why it was destroyed a half century later.
I have used the name ‘Muslim’ to refer to the Bosnian Muslim or Bosniak people in my book. Although this nation is properly called ‘Bosniak’ today, in the 1940s, when the events described in the book take place, the Bosniak name applied to Bosnian Orthodox and Catholics as well, whereas Muslim Bosniaks were referred to as ‘Muslims’ in most of the documents. It was only in the 1990s that the Bosniak name came to be synonymous with Muslim as opposed to Orthodox, Catholic or other Bosnians. I do not, however, wish in any way to question the legitimacy of the Bosniak national name today.
The revolution in Yugoslavia in the 1940s, led by Josip Broz Tito and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, had been the object of a great deal of myth-making, both by its supporters and sympathisers and its by its anti-Communist critics. Yet it has been greatly under-researched in the West when compared to other great European revolutions, such as the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution. One of the purposes of my research has been to demystify the Yugoslav Revolution; to explain what really happened and what it really looked like. Set against the depressing outcome of the 1990s Bosnian war, the outcome of the 1940s revolution appears more positive, for it involved the establishment of a Bosnian state in which Croats, Muslims, Serbs and others were able to coexist for nearly half a century. But history is not about happy endings, and my work has sought to understand the flaws in this original state-building project, in a manner that might help explain the catastrophe of the 1990s.
My first book on Bosnia-Hercegovina in World War II - Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006) focused on the Bosnian Serbs. It sought to explain how they had been led to support, in large numbers, the establishment of a unified Bosnian state instead of a Great Serbia – something that seems paradoxical in light of the apparently overwhelming and violent Serb rejection of this same state in the 1990s. In fact, as I showed, for many ordinary Bosnian Serbs, there was a fine line between supporting a unified Bosnia, as demanded by the Communist-led Partisans, and supporting a Great Serbia, as demanded by the anti-Communist Chetniks. Both options were open to the Bosnian Serbs; both reflected aspects of their national heritage; and many of them switched from supporting one to supporting the other at least once during the course of World War II.
In this, my second book on Bosnia in World War II, I focus on the Bosnian Muslims, and to a lesser extent on the Croats and smaller Bosnian minorities. The Croats were very much smaller and weaker in Bosnia-Hercegovina in the 1940s than the Serbs or the Muslims, and it was these two latter groups that were and remain ultimately most important for the outcome of the Bosnian question. My book stresses the diversity of forms assumed by the Muslim resistance to the new order established by the Nazis and Fascists in 1941, whereby occupied Bosnia-Hercegovina was forcibly incorporated into the Great Croat puppet state named the ‘Independent State of Croatia’, under the rule of the Ustashas, or Croat fascists. Members of the Muslim elite resisted this incorporation in a number of ways: some turned to an alliance with the Serb nationalists (Chetniks); others appealed directly to Hitler and the Germans; others built their own autonomous Muslim forces within the framework of the Croatian puppet state. But all of them shared the goal of ensuring the national survival of the Muslim people in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Communists realised that in order to win the war in Bosnia, they would have to co-opt at least part of this Muslim autonomist movement.
For in the 1940s, the Bosnian Muslims were the key to victory in Bosnia-Hercegovina. This was apparent also in the 1990s; the Serb nationalists rebels under Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who attempted to conquer Bosnia on the basis of a total rejection of the Muslim population, found themselves unable to break the latter’s resistance; they were brought to the very of total defeat by the autumn of 1995, something they escaped only thanks to Western – above all US – diplomatic intervention. As the eminent Bosnian Muslim notable Muhamed Sudzuka had recognised already before World War II, the Muslims were the key to Bosnia and Bosnia was the key to Yugoslavia. So the Bosnian Muslim story was crucial for the outcome of the Yugoslav Revolution. The mass influx into their ranks of Muslims and others, including Croats and members of smaller minorities such as ethnic Poles and Ukrainians, was decisive for the Partisans’ victory in Bosnia. Above all, the mass defection of quisling troops to the Partisans – members of the Home Guard, Muslim legions, Handzar SS Division and even some Ustashas – enabled the Partisans to capture Bosnian towns and cities without destroying them or destroying their own forces in bitter street-fighting of the kind that broke the back of the Serb forces at Vukovar in Croatia in 1991.
In order to win Muslim support, the Communists championed the goal of a unified, sovereign state of Bosnia-Hercegovina within the Yugoslav framework, and treated the Muslims in practice, if not formally, as the sixth Yugoslav nation – alongside the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians and Montenegrins. Considerable freedom was accorded to the Islamic religion. The Partisan triumph consequently resulted in a brief flowering of Muslim national life and freedom. Yet following this triumph, as the Communists began to consolidate their dictatorship, many of these freedoms were taken away. Muslim religious and cultural institutions were suppressed or neutered. Less respect was shown to the dietary needs of Muslim soldiers in the Yugoslav army. Official statements stopped using the large letter ‘M’, denoting a nation, in relation to the Muslims, and reverted to using the small ‘m’, denoting a mere religious community.
This curtailment of Muslim rights and freedoms set the stage for the next movement of Muslim resistance, involving members of the ‘Young Muslim’ organisation, including a youthful Alija Izetbegovic. But this movement was ruthlessly suppressed, and the Bosnian state that took shape in the 1940s did so on the basis of the hegemony of the Bosnian Serbs – as the group that had numerically dominated the Bosnian Partisan movement. It was when the Bosnian Serb hegemony began to crumble from the 1960s, as the Communists in Bosnia-Hercegovina moved to emancipate fully the Muslims and Croats, by recognising finally the Muslims as a nation and by removing the Ustasha stigma from the Bosnian Croats, that the Serb disenchantment with Bosnian statehood truly began; a disenchantment that would gather pace as the Muslims overtook the Serbs as the most numerous Bosnian nationality during the 1960s and 70s, and that would reach a head when Izetbegovic’s presidency sought to establish Bosnia-Hercegovina as a fully independent state, wholly separate from Serbia, in the 1990s.
The state of Bosnia-Hercegovina was therefore at all times a fragile project, based as it was upon a compromise between the national aspirations of its constituent peoples; a compromise that was unstable as the balance of power between them shifted. Nevertheless, the lesson of the 1940s is that in order for Bosnian Serbs, Muslims and Croats to be reconciled and live in harmony, there has to be a strong, functioning Bosnian state. And this cannot happen again so long as the constitutional order established by the Dayton Peace Accords, which cripples Bosnia-Hercegovina as a state, persists.
Photos by Sarah Correia, Anna von Buchenroder and Jonathan Norton
‘The largest single ethnic-cleansing operation of the Yugoslav wars’ – such was the soundbite that was linked to Operation Storm (Operacija Oluja), from soon after the successful Croatian military operation was waged back in August 1995. That atrocities were carried out by Croatian soldiers and civilians during and after the operation has never credibly been disputed. But the attempt to paint Oluja as an ethnic-cleansing operation – indeed as an ethnic-cleansing operation larger in scale than the Serbian assaults on Croatia and Bosnia in 1991-1992 – has always been rightly contested. Yesterday’s acquittal by the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of Croatian commanders Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac for crimes against Serb civilians between July and September 1995, above all during ‘Operation Storm’, leaves the victims without justice, but represents a defeat for long-running attempts in the West to redistribute guilt from the aggressors to the victims.
Had the ICTY’s prosecution simply sought to indict, prosecute and punish Croats guilty of atrocities against Serbs in the period July-September 1995, it would no doubt have been successful, and the victims would have received at least some justice. Unfortunately, the prosecution attempted something more: to write the historical record of the wars of Yugoslav succession, in a manner that reflected the predominant perception of Western policy-makers. This perception was that, whereas the Serb side was responsible for the largest proportion of the crimes and killing, there was ultimately no fundamental difference in the guilt and actions of each of the sides during the war; it was merely a quantitative difference. In her published memoirs, Carla del Ponte, the Chief Prosecutor of the ICTY at the time when the original indictment against Gotovina was issued, explicitly equalised the blame of Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman as the two individuals primarily responsible for the war (Carla del Ponte and Chuck Sudetic, Madame Prosecutor: Confrontations with Humanity’s Worst War Criminals and the Culture of Impunity, Other Press, New York, 2008, pp. 37, 87, 125). Del Ponte was less of an equaliser than some others, and did at least insist on indicting some Serb perpetrators for genocide, in the face of resistance from other senior prosecution staff. But she also became inveigled in diplomatic and propaganda games with Serbian government ministers, who put her under pressure to prove that the Tribunal was not ‘anti-Serb’.
Consequently, the ICTY prosecutors pursued a policy of indictments that would result in judgements that would support their politics. As I have written before, these indictments thus disproportionately targeted Croatians, Bosnians and Kosovo Albanians; the forces of the Serb side were responsible for well over 80% of the killing of civilians during the whole of the wars of Yugoslav succession, but their officials made up only 68% of indictees. Only six officials of Serbia or the rump Yugoslavia, as opposed to Bosnian Serbs, were ever indicted for war-crimes in Bosnia. The top Yugoslav military commanders and presidency members who led the assaults on Croatia and Bosnia in 1991-1992 (Borisav Jovic, Branko Kostic, Veljko Kadijevic, Blagoje Adzic, Zivota Panic and others) were never indicted. Conversely, the ICTY prosecutors indicted such high-ranking and prominent Croatian and Bosnian officials as former Croatian Army chief of staff Janko Bobetko, Bosnia’s two most important military commanders Sefer Halilovic and Rasim Delic, and Bosnian commander in Srebrenica Naser Oric. When Alija Izetbegovic died in 2003, del Ponte indicated that he might have faced charges had he lived. Unfortunately for the prosecutors, however, the courts stubbornly refused to uphold the picture the prosecution sought to paint: Halilovic and Oric were acquitted, and Delic was sentenced to a mere three years in prison, after the prosecution had sought fifteen. Bobetko was already near death when he was indicted, and died before being extradited.
The sorry story of the Operation Storm indictments and trials should be seen against this background. In Operation Storm, the Croatians were not trying to conquer anyone else’s territory; they were engaged in a defensive operation to free their own territory from occupation by troops controlled by a foreign state (Serbia); troops that were engaged at the time in armed aggression against a neighbouring state (Bosnia) and threatening to carry out a further genocidal act against its population, following the genocidal massacre at Srebrenica a month before. As I have written, Operation Storm was a successful case of genocide prevention that saved the Muslim population in the Bihac enclave of north-west Bosnia from experiencing the fate of the people of Srebrenica. Yet for those seeking to equalise, as much as possible, the guilt of the sides in the former-Yugoslav war, Operation Storm had to be presented as a gratuitous act of ethnic-cleansing by Croat perpetrators against Serb victims – equivalent to the Serb crimes of 1991-1992.
The indictees, Gotovina, Markac and Ivan Cermak were accused of being part of a ‘Joint Criminal Enterprise’ (JCE) whose ‘common purpose’ was ‘the permanent removal of the Serb population from the Krajina region by force, fear or threat of force, persecution, forced displacement, transfer and deportation, appropriation and destruction of property or other means.’ This accusation therefore paralleled the prosecution’s accusations of a JCE levelled against the top Serbian leadership, whose goals were ‘the permanent removal of a majority of the Croat and other non-Serb population from a large part of the territory of the Republic of Croatia’ and ‘the forcible and permanent removal of the majority of non-Serbs, principally Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, from large areas of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina’. But Operation Storm had not involved the acts previously associated with ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia: the rounding up of civilians; their being made to sign away their property to the authorities; their imprisonment, torture and killing in concentration camps; their being bussed out of the area. Instead, at the time of Operation Storm, the Serb authorities themselves organised and ordered the evacuation of the Serb civilians in the face of the Croatian offensive; whatever their intentions, the Croatians never had the chance to organise their removal.
To attribute the exodus of Serb civilians to Croatian actions therefore required the prosecution to develop a new model of how ethnic cleansing occurs. The ICTY prosecutors therefore argued that the Croatians aimed and succeeded in bringing about the removal of the Serb population from the so-called Krajina by artillery bombardment. This was already a dubious proposition – towns in Bosnia had been shelled for years by Serb and Croat forces without their entire population fleeing overnight. The prosecution nevertheless argued – and the original ICTY Trial Chamber accepted – that the exodus of Serb civilians was caused by the bombardment, not by the orders given by the Krajina Serb authorities to evacuate. However, attributing the cause of the exodus to the bombardment was not enough to establish the existence of the JCE, in the absence of evidence that this had been the intent behind the bombardment. Since only the most ambiguous support could be found for the thesis in the statements of the Croatian leadership – above all, the minutes of the Brioni meeting of 31 July 1995 – the intent had to be deduced from the character of the Croatian artillery fire, and whether it appeared accurately to be directed at civilian targets. So the prosecution argued that the existence of a JCE could be deduced from the fact that the Croatian artillery had targeted civilian areas in the so-called Krajina, and that this bombardment succeeded in bringing about the exodus of the Serb population. But since the Croatian forces were engaged in a lawful military operation against enemy armed forces in control of those same civilian centres, the prosecution had to show that Croatian artillery fire was not simply a part of those operations. The existence of the JCE therefore stood or fell on an analysis of the accuracy of Croatian artillery fire. At The Hague on Friday, it fell like the house of cards it essentially was. Most of the judgement of the Appeals Chamber consists, somewhat surreally, of a lengthy analysis of Croatian artillery fire.
ICTY prosecutors have long demonstrated a confused understanding of the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Their indictments have tended to target ‘famous names’ and acts people in the West had heard of; hence the notorious Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan and Vojislav Seselj were indicted, instead of Serbian leaders less well known in the West, but whose responsibility for crimes was much greater. The accusation that the Croatian bombardment of Knin, the capital of the ‘Republic of Serb Krajina’, was a ‘war crime’ originated with the arch-appeaser Carl Bildt, who was the EU’s special envoy for the former Yugoslavia at the time of Operation Storm. It was made in the context of an EU strategy that opposed any military action against Serb forces – either on the part of the international community, or on the part of the Croatians and Bosnians – and that sought instead to achieve peace in the former Yugoslavia through collaboration with the regimes in Belgrade and Pale. Bildt’s loud condemnation, at the time, of the Croatian bombardment of Knin, and his suggestion that it was a war-crime for which Tudjman himself should be held responsible, may have stuck in the minds of ICTY investigators as they considered how to pick Croatians to indict. Yet Knin had suffered minimal damage and civilian casualties as a result of the bombardment, made in the course of a legitimate military operation to recapture the town. This was in stark contrast to Vukovar, which was wholly destroyed by Serbian forces in 1991, and for whose destruction nobody was indicted by the ICTY (though some were indicted for atrocities carried out against the patients at Vukovar Hospital after the town fell).
Seventeen years later, Bildt’s red herring regarding the bombardment of Knin has met its ignominious demise. Since the Appeals Chamber ruled that the existence of a JCE could not be deduced from the pattern of Croatian artillery fire, the central premise of the prosecution’s case was thrown out. And since Gotovina and Markac had been selected for indictment on the basis of this premise, the rest of the case against them collapsed with it: the Appeals Chamber ruled that they had either attempted to prevent crimes against Serb civilians and property, or had not had effective control of those Croatian forces that had committed them. Had the prosecutors not focused on a supposed JCE, but instead sought to indict Croatian perpetrators who could actually be definitely linked to actual killings, they would no doubt have succeeded.
The Appeals Chamber’s verdict has not exonerated the Croatian side of crimes carried out during and after Operation Storm; on the contrary, it explicitly refers to crimes against Serb civilians in its acquittal of Gotovina and Markac. These victims have not now received justice, and critics are right to point out that the ICTY has failed them. The failure should be attributed, however, to the prosecution’s flawed indictment, not to the decision of the Appeals Chamber.
Not all these critics have been ready to point out the converse: that long before this verdict, the ICTY had already failed the victims of Serbia’s aggression and ethnic cleansing against Croatia. Almost no official from Serbia, Montenegro or the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) has been prosecuted and seriously punished for crimes against Croatian citizens in 1991-1992. Of the three relatively minor JNA officers tried over the Vukovar Hospital massacre, one was acquitted (Miroslav Radic) and one freed after serving six and a half years in prison (Veselin Sljivancanin), while only the third received a lengthy punishment of 20 years (Mile Mrksic). Of those JNA officers or admirals indicted over the shelling of Dubrovnik, Miodrag Jokic received a seven-year sentence and was granted early release after three years; Pavle Strugar received seven and a half years and was released on compassionate grounds less than a year later; the indictment against Milan Zec was withdrawn; and Vladimir Kovacevic had his trial transferred to the Serbian courts. Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff Momcilo Perisic was sentenced to 27 years – not for his actions in Croatia in 1991-92, but in part for the rocket attack by the Krajina Serbs on Zagreb in May 1995. Otherwise, the ICTY’s punishment to date has spared Serbia and fallen on Croatia’s own ethnic-Serb citizens who collaborated in the aggression (Milan Babic and Milan Martic). No official of Serbia or the JNA has so far been convicted over the Serbian conquest and ethnic cleansing of the so-called Krajina in the first place – the crime that made Operation Storm necessary.
With the quashing of the Operation Storm sentences, the ICTY can be accurately said to have failed seriously to punish the officers on either side in the war between Serbia (including Montenegro and the JNA) and Croatia of 1990-1995. Whether, having failed to punish the Serbian officers who occupied Croatian territory, justice would have been better served had the ICTY at least succeeded in punishing some of the Croatian officers who defeated the occupation, is a moot point.
This September, my latest book, ‘The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War: A History’, will be published by C. Hurst and Co. According to its blurb: ‘The story of the Bosnian Muslims in World War II is an epic frequently alluded to in discussions of the 1990s Balkan conflicts, but almost as frequently misunderstood or falsified. This first comprehensive study of the topic in any language sets the record straight. Based on extensive research in the archives of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia, it traces the history of Bosnia and its Muslims from the Nazi German and Fascist Italian occupation of Yugoslavia in 1941, through the years of the Yugoslav civil war, and up to the seizure of power by the Communists and their establishment of a new Yugoslav state. The book explores the reasons for Muslim opposition to the new order established by the Nazis and Fascists in Bosnia in 1941 and the different forms this opposition took. It describes how the Yugoslav Communists were able to harness part of this Muslim opposition to support their own resistance movement and revolutionary bid for power. This Muslim element in the Communists’ revolution shaped its form and outcome, but ultimately had itself to be curbed as the victorious Communists consolidated their dictatorship. In doing so, they set the scene for future struggles over Yugoslavia’s Muslim question.’
(NB I refer in the book to ‘Muslims’ rather than to ‘Bosniaks’, since before the 1990s, the term ‘Bosniak’ applied equally to all native Bosnians – Orthodox/Serbs, Catholics/Croats and Muslims alike).
In completing this book, I have concluded the research project I began fifteen years ago as a doctoral student, and continued as a postdoc, and which previously gave rise to my books Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006) and The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day (Saqi, London, 2007). Since this marks, for me, the end of a personal era, I should like to say a few words about the big questions I was raising in these books.
I began my research project against the backdrop of the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina of the 1990s. This war involved the destruction of the multinational Bosnian state as a result of the aggression and genocide waged by the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade and the Bosnian Serb rebels under Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. The government and majority population of Bosnia-Hercegovina made an unsuccessful bid for independence in the face of this assault, but the war ended in 1995 with Bosnia’s statehood and multinational society effectively destroyed.
Although my own views of the rights and wrongs of this conflict are no secret, my motivation for embarking on my research project was intellectual rather than political. Back in the 1990s, as today, students and scholars interested in the Bosnian war had focused on the short-term and all-Yugoslav causes of the war, above all the period from the rise of Milosevic in the second half of the 1980s. The topic was, and is, most frequently approached from the perspective of contemporary politics and human rights rather than of history. This is fine as far as it goes, but it has meant that the medium- and long-term historical background of the conflict has remained hidden; accounts of the break-up of Yugoslavia tend to have Bosnia appearing only in the final chapters, and almost out of the blue.
My contention was then, and remains today, that you cannot understand how and why the modern Bosnian state was destroyed in the 1990s unless you understand how and why it was created in the first place. And it was created in the period 1941-1946, by the Yugoslav Partisan movement which, under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito and the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, waged a successful campaign of resistance against the Nazi and Fascist occupiers of Bosnia and of Yugoslavia. This resulted not only in their liberation from Axis occupation, but in the revolutionary overthrow of the old Yugoslav monarchical order, and the establishment of a new Yugoslavia as a federation of six republics. One of these republics was the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina.
Why had the Communists decided to establish Bosnia as a separate republic in its own right ? How had they been able to mobilise their Partisan soldiers – who in Bosnia were, at all times, majority Serb – to accept Communist leadership and fight for this goal ? How had they been able to persuade Serbs, Muslims and Croats to fight alongside one another in a common, all-Bosnian Partisan army ? How and why did they defeat their enemies – the Croat Ustashas, Serb Chetniks and Muslim autonomists – and win the war ? How did they organise the new Bosnian state ? These were some of the questions I attempted to answer.
I also had a secondary reason for wanting to study this topic, that was not directly related to the Bosnian war of the 1990s: the desire to understand the Yugoslav Partisan movement and revolution of 1941-1945. The neglect of this topic by Western historians is astonishing. There have only been two successful, indigenous Communist revolutions in European history: the revolution in the Russian Empire of 1917-1921 and the revolution in the Western Balkans (Yugoslavia and Albania) in 1941-1945. The first has received enormous scholarly attention in the West; the second almost none. The orthodox Titoist narrative of the Partisans and the Yugoslav Revolution is an oversimplification that conceals as much as it reveals. The anti-Communist counter-narrative advanced by authors like David Martin and Nora Beloff is a politically motivated conspiracy theory.
To oversimplify somewhat, my book The History of Bosnia originally began as an attempt to trace the long-term causes of the revolution in Bosnia of 1941-1945. It explains in detail why the Yugoslav Communists supported the goal of a unified, self-ruling Bosnia-Hercegovina as an entity separate from both Serbia and Croatia. My book Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia focuses on the early phase of the revolution and on the Bosnian Serbs. It explains in detail how the Communists were able to attain leadership over the Bosnian Serb rebellion that broke out in the summer of 1941 against the anti-Serb genocidal Ustashas and the puppet ‘Independent State of Croatia’. It explains how the Chetnik movement emerged in Bosnia-Hercegovina as a Serb conservative and nationalist reaction against Communist leadership of the anti-Ustasha rebellion, and how the rebellion divided into two opposing wings. On the one side, there was the Communist-led Partisans – a multinational resistance movement directed against the German and Italian occupiers, embracing Serbs, Croats, Muslims, Jews and others, whose goal was a self-ruling, multinational Bosnia. On the other side, there was the Chetniks – a purely Serb movement that collaborated with the Italians and Germans and that aimed to exterminate or expel Muslims, Croats and Jews, and whose goal was an ethnically homogenous Great Serbia. Hence the title ‘Genocide and Resistance’: the Partisan-Chetnik conflict was between on the one hand those rebels who wanted to resist the occupiers and opposed genocide; and on the other, those who wanted to collaborate with the occupiers and carry out genocide. I outline this book in more detail in my article ‘Author’s Perspective’, World War II Quarterly, vol. 5, no. 5, 2008, pp. 52-58.
During the second half of 1941, the Partisans in Bosnia were a predominantly Serb movement focusing on the struggle against the Ustashas. During 1942, however, the emergence of the Chetnik counter-movement in Bosnia turned the latter into the Partisans’ principal enemy. The Partisans effectively won the war with the Chetniks in Bosnia by the autumn of 1943, largely because they were able to expand beyond their Serb and peasant base to embrace Muslims, Croats and the population of the towns in general. Having secured their base among the Bosnian Serb peasant population by breaking the Chetniks, the Partisans could then move on to the next stage of their struggle: the liberation of Bosnia from the Ustashas and Nazis. For this stage, the role of the Muslims, and to a lesser extent the Bosnian Croats, was crucial – in a manner not properly acknowledged in the orthodox Titoist narrative. Bosnia was also a crucial springboard for any Partisan push eastward to liberate Serbia and the rest of eastern Yugoslavia from the Nazis and Chetniks; the role of Bosnia and the Muslims was critical for the outcome of the entire Yugoslav civil war.
Thus, just as my first book about the Bosnian Partisans, Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia, focused in particular on the Bosnian Serbs, so its sequel, The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War, focuses in particular on the Muslims and Croats (the Croats were very much smaller and weaker as a community in Bosnia than either the Serbs or the Muslims, so their importance for the outcome of the struggle was correspondingly lesser). Of course, every title is an oversimplification, and both books tell the story of a multinational resistance movement and revolution, in which Serbs, Muslims, Croats, Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, Gypsies and others participated together.
As regards the war and revolution in Bosnia, some of the points I make in The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War are the following:
1) That the Axis powers’ incorporation of Bosnia in 1941 within the puppet ‘Independent State of Croatia’, the re-erasing of Bosnia’s borders and identity by the Ustasha regime, and its brutal and murderous policies, provoked two, parallel movements of resistance that supported Bosnian self-rule: the People’s Liberation Movement (Partisans) and the Muslim autonomist resistance (which was not anti-fascist or anti-occupier, but merely anti-Ustasha).
2) That the Communist-led revolution in Bosnia that triumphed by 1945 did so because one section of the Muslim autonomist resistance went over to the People’s Liberation Movement – it did not simply involve a ‘pure’ triumph of the Partisans, as proponents of the orthodox Titoist narrative tend to imply.
3) That the People’s Liberation Movement on the one hand and its anti-Communist opponents, the Ustashas and the Muslim autonomists, did not comprise rigidly separate camps – as proponents of the orthodox Titoist narrative tend to imply. Rather, the three camps overlapped, with many individuals collaborating with two or three of them, and with members of each linked to members of the others through family and personal connections. These family and personal connections formed a major tool in the Partisan victory and Communist seizure of power; a conduit by which quisling soldiers and supporters of the Ustashas and Muslim autonomists could be recruited for the revolution.
4) That the Partisan victory was the product not simply of a successful guerrilla campaign, but also of political agitation by the Communists and their collaborators among the population of the occupied Bosnian cities and towns, and within the quisling armed forces – in particular, the Croatian Home Guard and Muslim legions.
5) That the Communists’ agitation on a Bosnian-patriotic basis, using Bosnian-patriotic slogans and arguing for Bosnian self-rule, allowed them to win over a substantial section of the Bosnian Muslim population, including of the elite.
6) That a major catalyst in bringing a large section of the Muslim population over to the People’s Liberation Movement, was Italian and German collaboration with the Chetniks, at the expense of the authority of the Ustasha puppet-state, and in particular Nazi Germany’s apparent turn in autumn 1943 toward an alliance with Great Serbian forces, posing an existential threat to the existence of the Muslims.
7) That the Partisan/Communist conquest of Bosnia in 1943-1945 represented not simply a military triumph – as presented in the orthodox Titoist narrative – but occurred through the wholesale defection to the People’s Liberation Struggle of elements of the quisling and collaborationist armed forces, including parts of the Chetniks, the Muslim legions, the Croatian Home Guard, the Bosnian SS Handzar Division and even some Ustashas. Hence, there are parallels between the Communist seizure of power in Bosnia in 1945 and the Bolshevik seizure of power in Petrograd in November 1917, which also succeeded through the winning over of the military units of the old order.
8) That the mass mobilisation and emancipation of women – a previously politically untapped section of the Bosnian population – was crucial for the success of the revolution, and conditioned the nature of the Bosnian state and society that emerged from it.
9) That the Partisan movement was itself heterogeneous and subject to a myriad of internal contradictions that, as it expanded, posed increasing problems for the Communist leadership.
10) That the above process constituted a specifically Bosnian revolution that was distinct from, albeit part of, the wider revolution in Yugoslavia; and that the outcome of this process was the establishment of a Bosnian republic within the new Yugoslav federation. This was not enacted top-down by the new Communist rulers of Yugoslavia, but was the natural outcome of the Bosnian revolutionary movement, led by the Communists in Bosnia, but embracing a much wider and more diverse section of the Bosnian population.
The last quarter of my book deals with the first year and a half after the end of World War II in Bosnia; i.e. with the period from mid-1945 to the end of 1946. Here, I discuss the establishment of the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, set against the formation and organisation of the Yugoslav federation. I then discuss the weaknesses and problems faced by the new Bosnian Communist regime; its approach to reconstructing and governing Bosnia; and its attempts to deal with the rising opposition. I show how the broad, diverse coalition that was mobilized behind the Communists, to free Bosnia from the occupiers and quislings and to establish the Bosnian republic, subsequently had to be brought to heel by the new Communist regime, and how this involved its suppression of former allies and the imposition of a new political hegemony.
Thus, after many thousands of Muslims had fought for the Partisans or been active in the People’s Liberation Movement, there was a brief flowering of Muslim national and cultural freedom after World War II, and the Muslims were virtually, if not formally, recognised as a nation equal to the other five recognised Yugoslav nations (Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians and Montenegrins). But as the Communists consolidated their dictatorship, this freedom was curtailed, and many Muslims began to feel disillusioned with the new order. There was a resurgence of the radical ‘Young Muslim’ organisation in response, with a youthful Alija Izetbegovic, among others, figuring prominently in its dissident activities. Though they were suppressed, they would become, under the Communist regime, what the Communists themselves had previously been: a persecuted, radical sect, ready and able to lead the next revolutionary upheaval in Bosnia-Hercegovina.
Part of the pleasure in writing this book was to tell in detail the exciting story of this great revolution. I have tried to avoid either idealising or demonising it, but to expresses its diverse, contradictory nature; to discuss both the high politics of the Communist leadership and the character of the revolution at the grass-roots level, and the many colourful characters it involved. The antics of Huska Miljkovic, the Muslim warlord of Cazinska Krajina in north-west Bosnia, were particularly fun to write about.
The Communists and Partisans succeeded in what must have appeared to many at the time an impossible task: of reuniting Bosnia, re-establishing its statehood and reintegrating its divided population. It is a story that has lost none of its relevance for the present day.
[This is the second part of my four-part refutation of David N. Gibbs's book 'First Do No Harm'. In Part 1, I expose his attempts to blame the Bosniak victims for the bloodshed in the Srebrenica region. In this second part, I refute his response to me. In Part 3, I refute his attempt to justify Serb-nationalist territorial claims in Bosnia. In Part 4, I refute his attempt to blame Germany for the break-up of Yugoslavia.]
David N. Gibbs has responded to my post of 6 December (‘The bizarre world of genocide denial’), in which I take him to task for his book First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009), in which he denies the Srebrenica genocide and regurgitates the old denialist narrative about the break-up of Yugoslavia, despite his own lack of any expertise in the field, inability to read Serbo-Croat and unwillingness to engage with the existing scholarly literature on the subject.
‘In undertaking these attacks, however, Hoare has omitted important information, which readers have a right to know: That the book presented an extended critique of Hoare’s own publications on this topic, and so he is not a disinterested party. To be specific, my book criticized Hoare’s work for shoddy scholarship, which included mischaracterizing the ethnic makeup of the Yugoslav National Army (p. 252), omitting information that the US sabotaged Bosnian peace talks (262), providing an inaccurate account of testimonies before the Hague tribunal (274), and neglecting evidence of Al Qaeda involvement in Bosnia (280). I understand Hoare’s anger that I have criticized his work, but he really should let readers know when he has a vested interest in a book that he is reviewing.’
I shall deal shortly with the specific points Gibbs raises, but let us first make this clear: it is wholly untrue that Gibbs’s book has ‘presented an extended critique’ of my own publications. Anyone reading Gibbs’s book without examining carefully the endnotes would not even notice that I had been criticised at all: my name does not appear in the text itself, nor in the index. Gibbs has four trivial quibbles with me, buried in his endnotes. Gibbs does not, as he now claims, accuse me in his book of ‘shoddy scholarship’, and has made this accusation only in his subsequent reply to me. I cannot help but suspect that he has only decided I am guilty of ‘shoddy scholarship’ after reading my critique of his book.
If my own mum, dad, best friend, girlfriend or granny had reviewed my work, and come up with nothing more substantial than Gibbs’s four quibbles, I’d feel I was getting off lightly and that they were being too soft on me. If all four of his quibbles were entirely justified, I hardly think they would mark me down as a ‘shoddy scholar’.
However, not one of them is justified. Let us look at them each in turn:
1) I wrote ‘At the start of the war, in 1991, the two most senior JNA [Yugoslav People's Army] officers, Federal Secretary of People’s Defence Veljko Kadijevic and JNA Chief of Staff Blagoje Adzic, were a Croatian Serb and a Bosnian Serb respectively (though Kadijevic had a Croat mother). They ensured the JNA would act as Serbia’s army in the wars against Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.’ (The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day, Saqi, London, 2007, p. 349)
Gibbs replied ‘Marko Hoare provides the following misleading statement [above quote]. Hoare neglects to mention Kadijevic’s deputy, Admiral Brovet, who was a Slovene, nor does he mention the JNA Air Force commander, General Jurjevic, who was a Croat.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 83)
Gibbs is right that I did not mention that Kadijevic’s deputy was a Slovene or that the JNA air force commander was a Croat, but it is unclear what point he thinks he is making. My statement was entirely accurate; Gibbs is not challenging the accuracy of my statement; and the additional information he supplies does not invalidate my statement in any way. I also did not mention – and Gibbs did not mention either – that Adzic’s deputy Zivota Panic was also a Serb. And that consequently, at the start of the war in 1991, the four top posts in the JNA were held by two Serbs, one non-Serb, and one half-Serb (who had a Croat mother but who sided with Milosevic and Serbia in the war against Croatia).
Another fact that is relevant here is that in 1990 the JNA officer corps was – irrespective of the presence in it of individuals like Brovet and Jurjevic – a Serb-dominated body. James Gow writes in his 1992 study of the JNA that ‘Sixty per cent of officers were Serb; a further 5.4 per cent were “Yugoslavs” and likely to be Serbs; and 6.2 per cent Montenegrins. These all shared a perspective of Yugoslavia that coincided in many ways with that of the neo-Communist Serbian leadership’ (James Gow, Legitimacy and the Military: The Yugoslav Crisis, Pinter Publishers, London, 1992, p. 142).
I can only assume that by mentioning that the deputy secretary of defence and the air force commander in 1991 were non-Serbs, Gibbs is trying to obscure the fact of the Serb domination of the JNA. If so, it is an extremely feeble attempt.
2) I wrote that ‘during negotiations at Lisbon on 18 March 1992… Izetbegovic was pressurised by representatives of the EU to agree to the partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina into a Muslim, a Serb and a Croat national entity, though he subsequently repudiated the agreement.’ (The History of Bosnia from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, p. 376)
Gibbs replied: ‘Marko Hoare misleadingly implies that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on his own initiative; but Hoare neglects to mention the US role in encouraging Izetbegovic’s decision.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 264).
As readers can see for themselves from what I wrote, I did not imply ‘that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on his own initiative’, as Gibbs claims. I merely noted that Izetbegovic repudiated the agreement, which he did. Gibbs is not disputing the accuracy of my statement. He is claiming that by stating a fact that he himself accepts as accurate, I am being ‘misleading’.
The subtext of Gibbs’s accusation that I am being ‘misleading’ is that I did not specifically endorse the thesis, which he subsequently repeats in his own book, that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on the prompting of the US, and specifically of the US ambassador to Yugoslavia, Warren Zimmermann. Yet this thesis is at best - at best – unproven and controversial. To cut a long story short, the rumour that Izetbegovic repudiated the Lisbon agreement on Zimmermann’s prompting appears to have originated with an article in The New York Times written a year and a half later, in August 1993, by the journalist David Binder. Binder was highly sympathetic to the Serb-nationalist side in the war – readers are invited to read his grovelling 1994 interview with Ratko Mladic. Nevertheless, Binder does not actually say that Zimmermann told Izetbegovic to repudiate the agreement, merely that he asked Izetbegovic why he had signed the agreement if he didn’t like it, and that Izetbegovic repudiated the agreement after his conversation with Zimmermann. In his memoirs, Zimmermann does not deny asking Izetbegovic why he had signed an agreement he did not like, but nevertheless claims he urged Izetbegovic to abide by the agreement: ‘Drawing on my instructions to support whatever could be worked out between the European Community and the three Bosnian parties, I encouraged Izetbegovic to stick by what he’d agreed to.’ (Warren Zimmermann, Origins of a Catastrophe, Times Books, New York, p. 190).
That is, in essence, the basis for the thesis propounded by Gibbs and others – that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on American prompting. The sources Gibbs (First Do No Harm, p. 110) then cites in its support are the following:
a) Robert M. Hayden’s book, Blueprint for a House Divided: The Constitutional Logic of the Yugoslav Conflicts (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1999), p. 100. This is a reference falsely cited by Gibbs, as Hayden merely notes that the Muslims and Croats repudiated the agreement, without attributing it to US prompting.
b) The aforementioned Binder article.
c) The opinion of George Kenney, a man who in September 2004 wrote to Milosevic to tell him that ‘I believed then and still believe that you are innocent of all the charges in the Tribunal’s indictments.’
d) The opinion of James Bissett, a defence witness for Milosevic at his trial in The Hague, who complained that ‘he felt Milosevic had been unfairly painted as an instigator of the crisis when in fact he had worked tirelessly to keep Yugoslavia united’, and accused Milosevic’s trial of being ‘a Stalinist show-trial’ (mysteriously, Bissett’s support for Milosevic is never mentioned by Gibbs, even though he is one of Gibbs’s most oft-cited sources !)
e) The Dutch government’s NIOD report on Srebrenica. Although it is true that this source claims (based on the aforementioned Binder article) that the US opposed the Lisbon agreement, it does not – contrary to what Gibbs implies – claim that Izetbegovic rejected the Lisbon agreement on US prompting. What it says is this: ‘According to others Izetbegovic withdrew his acceptance on the urging of the American ambassador in Belgrade, Warren Zimmermann. It is not unimaginable that the American government did indeed tell Izetbegovic that he could achieve more by sticking to the principle of an integral Bosnia-Hercegovina that was about to be recognized.’
f) The testimony of Cutileiro himself, who wrote in December 1995 that ‘Izetbegovic and his aides were encouraged to scupper that deal [from Lisbon] by well meaning outsiders.’ Gibbs notes that ‘this was probably a polite reference to US activities’. I agree with Gibbs on this point, that Cutileiro probably was referring to the Americans – still, note his use of the word ‘probably’.
g) The testimony of Britain’s Lord Carrington, who claimed later that the ‘American administration made it quite clear that the proposals of Cutileiro… were unacceptable’ and ‘The Americans actually sent them [the Bosnians] a telegram telling them not to agree’. Neither quotation actually states that the Americans prompted Izetbegovic to repudiate the agreement after he had already signed it. Indeed, the wording of the second quotation rather suggests that the telegram in question was sent before Izetbegovic signed the agreement (advising him not to agree), not after he had done so (advising him to repudiate something to which he had already agreed). In any case, the claim that Izetbegovic repudiated the agreement on the basis of a telegram from the US contradicts the claim that he repudiated the agreement on the basis of a face-to-face meeting with Zimmermann.
So, that is the evidence for Gibbs’s case that Izetbegovic repudiated the Lisbon agreement on US prompting – it can most charitably be described as inconclusive. Gibbs, however, simply states that Zimmermann ‘encouraged Izetbegovic to reject the peace plan’ (p. 110), as if it were a definite fact. He puts the evidence for his case in the actual text of his book (p. 110), but buries the evidence against it – Zimmermann’s denial – in his endnotes (p. 264).
(NB A skeptic might simply dismiss Zimmermann’s testimony on the grounds that he is an interested party, but this is not something that Gibbs can do, because he treats Zimmermann’s testimony as gospel truth whenever it supports his own argument, e.g. on pages 84 and 96 of his book).
I remain unconvinced by the case against Zimmermann. I am ready to accept that Cutileiro probably sincerely believes that the US prompted Izetbegovic to repudiate the agreement. I am ready to accept that Carrington may have sincerely believed the same thing – if that is indeed what his quotes were claiming, which isn’t clear. I am ready to accept that these two (unlike Bissett and Kenney) are witnesses whose opinions count for something. However, I very much doubt that Zimmermann would have lied about urging Izetbegovic to abide by the agreement. Readers may disagree.
But I challenge anyone to say, hand on heart, that Gibbs is right to accuse me of being ‘misleading’ because I mentioned Izetbegovic’s repudiation of the Lisbon agreement without specifically endorsing his unproven thesis. I would rather suggest that it is Gibbs who is being misleading, for a) presenting the opinions of Bissett and Kenney as evidence, without telling his readers of their support for Milosevic; b) failing to inform his readers of Binder’s pro-Serb-nationalist bias; c) burying Zimmermann’s testimony, that contradicts his thesis, in the endnotes of his book; and d) falsely claiming that Hayden and the NIOD report support his thesis about the repudiation of the Lisbon agreement, when they don’t.
3) I wrote of the UK’s David Owen, that ‘he refused to testify against Milosevic at the latter’s trial at The Hague, though he appeared as a court witness to speak favourably of Milosevic’s contribution to the peace process’ (The History of Bosnia from the Middle Ages to the Present Day, p. 379).
Gibbs replied ‘Marko Hoare criticizes Owen because he “refused to testify against Milosevic at the latter’s trial at The Hague”. See Hoare, The History of Bosnia [above reference]. In fact, the ICTY Web site lists Owen as a prosecution witness.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 274).
4) I wrote ‘Insofar as it cannot be excluded that al-Qa’ida ever had a presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina, this is hardly exceptional by European standards; as the international community’s High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch pointed out in November 2001, “after all, the organisation had a base in Hamburg”.’ (How Bosnia Armed, London, Saqi, 2004, p. 133)
I also wrote ‘The 11 September attack inevitably provided a golden opportunity for enemies of Bosnia-Herzegovina, above all from the ranks of the Serb nationalists and right-wing and left-wing fundamentalists in the West, to equate the Izetbegovic regime and the Bosnian Army with the fanatic Islamists of al-Qa’ida. This version of events upholds the popular stereotype of bin Laden as a master villain on the model of James Bond’s arch-enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld, at the head of an organisation similar to ‘SPECTRE’ with tentacles all over the world, one of which was allegedly linked to the Izetbegovic regime, a second to the Kosovo Liberation Army and a third to the ethnic-Albanian National Liberation Army in Macedonia… The “Bosnia – bin Laden” conspiracy theory belongs to this category of the farcical’ (How Bosnia Armed, pp. 134-135).
Gibbs replied: ‘Marko Hoare is dismissive about the possibility of an Al Qaeda role in Bosnia; he refers to the “Bosnia-Bin Laden” conspiracy theory” which “belongs in this category of the farcical.” Hoare, How Bosnia Armed (London: Saqi Books and Bosnia [sic] Institute, 2004), 134, 135. In fact, Holbrooke has since confirmed the Al Qaeda role in Bosnia.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 280).
As the above quotations from my book make clear, I explicitly did not deny that Al Qa’ida had a presence in Bosnia; I did, however, deny that Izetbegovic’s regime was linked to Al Qa’ida. This was the “Bosnia – bin Laden conspiracy theory” to which I was referring, as Gibbs is well aware. All three of the books he uses to ‘prove’ the uncontested fact that Al Qa’ida had a presence in Bosnia are books that I have reviewed in detail. Of the first of these, Evan Kohlmann’s Al Qaida’s Jihad in Europe (Berg, Oxford and New York, 2004), I had this to say back in 2005: ‘In fact, it is as eloquent a refutation as one could hope to read of the idea that Izetbegovic’s Bosnian Muslims were in any way ideological fellow travellers of Al-Qaida, or its partners in terrorist activity.’ The other two books are propaganda tracts of the First Do No Harm variety, that I have refuted point-by-point.
On the basis of the above, I feel justified in saying that Gibbs’s claims to have undertaken an ‘extended critique’ of my work, and to have exposed my ‘shoddy scholarship’, are mere wishful thinking. But what about the rest of his reply to me ? Let us consider his points in turn.
I) Gibbs’s whitewashing of Serb atrocities in East Bosnia
As readers may recall, in my initial critique of Gibbs, this was the specific charge that I made:
‘For the time being, I mention him [Gibbs] because he practices the old denialist trick in relation to the Srebrenica massacre, of describing the military actions of the Bosnian military commander in the Srebrenica region, Naser Oric – involving attacks on Serb villages around Srebrenica and atrocities against Serb civilians – while neglecting to mention the incomparably larger-scale Serbian offensives that preceded Oric’s actions, and to which the latter were a response.’
Gibbs’s response is that he wrote the following: ‘As war began [in 1992], Serb forces launched a major offensive in northeast Bosnia, taking over a series of villages of mixed ethnicity, and then expelling most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force. By the end of 1992, Serb forces had overrun large portions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they controlled approximately 70 percent of the whole area of the country. The process of ethnic cleansing, for which the war became famous, had begun… The Bosnia conflict quickly became notorious for the scale of atrocities, especially those perpetrated by Serb forces against Muslim civilians. The widespread practice of ethnic cleansing was often associated with the killing of noncombatants, and also the raping of women and girls.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 122).
Gibbs’s self-quotation is misleading, because he has actually conflated two paragraphs from two different sub-chapters, joining them with an ellipsis where they are, in his book, actually separated by a sub-chapter heading (‘The Politics of Atrocities’). His paragraph beginning ‘The Bosnia conflict quickly became notorious for the scale of atrocities…’ represents his general evaluation of the war as a whole, rather than anything relating specifically to the start of the war in north-east Bosnia in 1992.
Thus, the only statement in his book that he can even remotely pretend represents an acknowledgement that Serb atrocities against Muslims in East Bosnia preceded Muslim atrocities against Serbs in the same region, is the following:
‘As war began [in 1992], Serb forces launched a major offensive in northeast Bosnia, taking over a series of villages of mixed ethnicity, and then expelling most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force. By the end of 1992, Serb forces had overrun large portions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they controlled approximately 70 percent of the whole area of the country. The process of ethnic cleansing, for which the war became famous, had begun.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 122).
The first problem here is that he refers only to ‘northeast Bosnia’, and Srebrenica is not really in northeast Bosnia – it would be a bit like claiming that Birmingham is in ‘northwestern England’. Even if one is charitable to Gibbs’s vagueness about Bosnian geography, and assumes his reference to the start of fighting in ‘northeast Bosnia’ encompasses territory as far south as Srebrenica, he is nevertheless referring only to the ‘expelling [of] most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force’. No reference to mass murder of civilians, rapes, torture, concentration camps or, indeed, any actual bodily harm to Muslim civilians in the course of this offensive.
Gibbs does not explicitly mention the Srebrenica region until thirty-one pages and several sub-chapters later, and when he does, this is how he presents it:
‘The Srebrenica safe area had an especially brutal history, and it was besieged by Serb forces throughout the war. It is important to note, however, that Muslim troops also behaved brutally. Especially problematic was the Muslim commander Brigadier Oric, who based his forces inside Srebrenica and conducted forays against Serb villages in the surrounding region. One UNPROFOR commander later described Oric’s activities as follows: “Oric engaged in attacks during Orthodox holidays and destroyed [Serb] villages, massacring all the inhabitants. This created a degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the [Srebrenica] region… [Oric] reigned by terror;… he could not allow himself to take prisoners. According to my recollections he didn’t even look for an excuse. It was simply a statement: One can’t be bothered with prisoners.“‘ (First Do No Harm, pp. 153-154).
So the Srebrenica region is introduced to the reader in a manner that implies it is the Muslims, rather than the Serb forces, who initiated the violence (‘created a degree of hatred’ there). Whereas Gibbs refers to Serb forces in northeast Bosnia merely ‘expelling most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force’ – without any reference to killing, rape or torture, and without any reference to atrocities against Muslims in the Srebrenica region – he refers to Muslim forces in the Srebrenica region in terms of ‘massacring all the [Serb] inhabitants’; ‘reigned by terror’, ‘could not allow himself to take prisoners’. And let us remember here that he is speaking this way about Srebrenica – the site of an act of genocide by Serbs against Muslims; a genocide that two different international courts have recognised but which Gibbs explicitly denies (‘Certainly, the murder of eight thousand people is a grave crime, but to call it “genocide” needlessly exaggerates the scale of the crime.’ First Do No Harm, p. 281)
Having blamed the Muslims for initiating the killing in the Srebrenica region in the first place, Gibbs then goes on to accuse them of precipitating the Srebrenica massacre itself in 1995: ‘The origin of the Srebrenica massacre lay in a series of Muslim attacks that began in the spring of 1995.’ (Gibbs, p. 160) Thus, he not only explicitly denies the genocide, but blames the genocidal crime on the victims.
II) Gibbs’s disregard of the existing scholarly literature on the Bosnian war.
Gibbs writes: ‘Hoare also claims that Gibbs “hasn’t bothered to engage with the existing literature, but simply ignored all the existing works that undermine his thesis.” He then lists five specific authors that I supposedly failed to cite (Michael Libal, Richard Caplan, Daniele Corversi, Brendan Simms, and Hoare himself). Wrong again. In fact I cited four of these authors, each several times, and also included them in the bibliography. Hoare’s own writings were cited in four separate endnotes. His claim that I have ignored these authors is thus baseless.’
Since, as Gibbs pointedly mentions, he is a ‘tenured full professor’, I assumed he would understand the concept of ‘engaging with the existing literature’, but I apparently assumed too much. So let me spell this out: to ‘engage with the existing literature’ involves addressing the theses of books that make a significant contribution to our understanding of the topic. Quibbling over a couple of trivial details in a book you disagree with, while ignoring its overall theses and principal arguments, does not count as ‘engaging with the literature’. Attaching a book to one of your endnotes in order to support a factual point, while ignoring the overall theses and argument of the book that contradict your own thesis, does not count as ‘engaging with the literature’. And citing a book in support of your argument, despite the fact that the book’s overall thesis actually refutes your own thesis, certainly does not count as ‘engaging with the literature’.
For example, Gibbs argues that Germany encouraged the secession of Croatia and cites Michael Libal’s book Limits of Persuasion: Germany and the Yugoslav Crisis, 1991-1992 (Praeger, Westport, 1997) to show that the Germans felt ‘euphoria’ at the decision to withdraw the JNA from Slovenia (p. 94). Yet Libal’s book actually presents a documented refutation of the myth that Germany first encouraged Croatia to secede and then sought prematurely to recognise its independence – a refutation that Gibbs fails to address. Gibbs argues that Western policy was consistently anti-Serb, and cites Brendan Simms’s work Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia (Penguin, London, 2001) to show that Lord Carrington blamed the Americans for undermining the Lisbon agreement - but he ignores Simms’s extensively documented thesis demonstrating that British policy was anything but anti-Serb, and actually sought to shield Serbia and the Bosnian Serb forces from hostile intervention. As noted already, Gibbs quibbles with me over whether David Owen was a witness for the court or for the prosecution, but ignores the evidence I present of Western collusion with the Serbian destruction of Bosnia, of which my critique of Owen was just one element. And Gibbs wholly ignores the central aspect of the break-up of Yugoslavia noted by Daniele Conversi, Laura Silber and Allan Little and others – that Serbia’s leaders actively promoted Serbia’s secession from Yugoslavia. The documentary proof of this last one is wholly irrefutable – which is probably why Gibbs wholly ignores it.
III) Gibbs’s reliance on Michel Chossudovsky
Gibbs writes: ‘Hoare implies that my book relies too heavily on the writings of University of Ottawa economist Michel Chossudovsky, someone that Hoare does not like. In reality I cited Chossudovsky exactly once (out of more than a thousand separate endnotes).’
This statement is emblematic of Gibbs’s deliberate deception of his readers. It may be true that he has only cited Chossudovsky once out of more than a thousand endnotes (I’m not going to plough through his thousand plus endnotes to check, so will happily take his word for it). But my criticism was not that Gibbs relied on Chossudovsky for his thesis on the former Yugoslavia. Rather, I pointed out that he borrowed Chossudovsky’s thesis for his own thesis on Rwanda, which naturally occupied a rather smaller place in Gibbs’s book. His discussion of Rwanda occupies less than two pages of his book (pp. 219-220) and is supported by only two endnotes and two sources (excluding Samantha Power’s book, which he cites only in order to dismiss as representing the ‘conventional wisdom’). Chossudovsky is his principal source for Rwanda, though he advises his reader to ‘see also’ an article by another author (First Do No Harm, pp. 307-308). So Chossudovsky’s article is rather more important for this aspect of Gibbs’s argument than his misleading statistic of ‘more than a thousand separate endnotes’ suggests.
IV) Gibbs’s dismissal of me as an authority on the topic under discussion
Gibbs writes: ‘As is typical of his writing, Hoare grandiosely overstates his own accomplishments and presents himself as a leading authority on the topic of my book; he is not. In reality, my book was a study of the international relations of the Yugoslav wars, a topic on which Hoare has no qualifications. He also lacks access to German-language sources, which are crucial to understanding the diplomacy of this period. And given Hoare’s numerous factual errors, the scholarly content of his work is thin.’
Whether I am a ‘leading authority on the topic of Gibbs’s book’ is for others to decide, but I hope readers will not consider me unduly boastful if I say simply that I am considerably more of an authority on the topic of Gibbs’s book than Gibbs himself is. Gibbs’s bibliography contains six of his own publications, yet not one concerns the former Yugoslavia. I presume, therefore, that he has never published a single article on the former Yugoslavia in an academic journal, and that First Do No Harm is his first publication on the topic. He does not read any of the former Yugoslav languages. Wherein then does his claim to expertise in the topic lie ?
Since Gibbs is apparently a ‘ tenured full professor’, I am going to take his slur sufficiently seriously to answer it at some length. I have had articles on the history of Yugoslavia and its successor states in the 1980s and 1990s published in numerous academic journals, including East European Politics and Societies, East European Quarterly, Europe-Asia Studies, Journal of Slavic Military Studies, European History Quarterly and Journal of Genocide Research; my articles on the earlier history of the former Yugoslavia have appeared in a whole lot more. I am the author of the entry for ‘Yugoslavia and its successor states’ in the Oxford University Press volume The Oxford Handbook of Fascism (2009) edited by Richard Bosworth, which covers the Milosevic and Tudjman regimes; and of the entry for ‘The War of Yugoslav Succession’ in the Cambridge University Press volume Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989 (2010), edited by Sabrina Ramet. I am a member of the editorial boards of three different scholarly journals dealing with the former Yugoslavia, including a journal published by the Association for Political Science of Serbia. My books on the former Yugoslavia have been reviewed positively by leading scholarly journals including Slavic Review, Slavonic and East European Review, German History, European History Quarterly and Journal of Military History. To the best of my knowledge, I have never received a negative review in an academic journal – unlike Gibbs’s First Do No Harm, which was described by the Cambridge historian Dr Josip Glaurdic in a review in International Affairs (vol. 86, no. 2, March 2010, pp. 555-556) as containing ‘glaring omissions and distortions’. And I have been invited to speak about the history of (the former) Yugoslavia, including its recent history, at academic conferences and seminars across Europe and in the US.
Thus, when someone who has not published a single journal article on the former Yugoslavia claims that the scholarly content of my work is thin, and that I have no qualifications concerning the international relations of the former Yugoslavia, I’m inclined not to take him very seriously.
V) Gibbs’s description of me in terms of ‘the second coming of Joe McCarthy’
Gibbs’s paranoia and self-pity are indicated by his entitling of his response to me ‘The second coming of Joe McCarthy’ and his claim that ‘Dr. Hoare and his network of neocon friends at the Bosnian Institute and the Henry Jackson Society have designated themselves as the new Thought Police, while conducting their own little witch hunt.’ This really does take the biscuit - I exercise my democratic right to freedom of expression by criticising Gibbs and his book, and he becomes a victim of McCarthyite persecution ! Of the Thought Police, no less !! No doubt he thinks because of my blog post, he’ll be hauled up before the House Committee on Un-American Activities or be arrested by the security forces of a Central American junta, or something like that.
Gibbs may be a bit hazy about what McCarthyism actually involved; suffice it to say that if McCarthy had been a lowly academic who sat quietly at his desk writing articles exposing genocide-denial and poor scholarship on the Balkans, he would not have attained quite such notoriety. And though Gibbs appears not to have actually read George Orwell’s 1984, I can assure him that the original Thought Police would not have been considered very terrifying if they had confined their totalitarian activities to writing book reviews and blog posts. Much as I would like to gratify Gibbs’s radical-left craving to feel persecuted, I am afraid that nobody I have ever criticised has suffered anything much worse than, perhaps, being exposed as a bad scholar and/or a genocide-denier. And that, I believe, is the point of democracy: that if a poor scholar denies a genocide, one is free to criticise them for being a poor scholar and genocide-denier. If Gibbs cannot deal with that, he should go and live somewhere where he can spout his poison without anyone calling him to account. Somewhere like Cuba or North Korea.
Merry Christmas to all my readers !
Update 1: Gibbs has proven completely unable to respond to my refutation of his attack on me, linked to above. In the meantime, further responses to his genocide-denial have been published by Daniel Toljaga and by Chroniclinghate.
Update 2: Daniel Toljaga has posted Part II of his critique of Gibbs.
Update 3: Modernity Blog has very graciously apologised to me for publishing Gibbs’s attack on me.
Update 4: Modernity Blog has evaluated my exchange with Gibbs in his comments box. He concludes: ‘Professor Gibbs seems to have made a conscious choice not to address the criticism of his work in any significant way… So it seems to me that whilst Professor Gibbs was given a splendid opportunity to deal with the criticism of his work, he didn’t. Whilst he could have engaged with the issues in the Balkans, he found other matters more pressing. All in all, Professor Gibbs showed a failure to address the issues, not a sparkling performance as you might expect. A missed opportunity.’
Image: Bosnian forces destroy a JNA convoy at Brcanska Malta, Tuzla, on 15 May 1992
Imagine if, fifteen years after the end of World War II, the Japanese government had tried to have Henry A. Wallace, Vice President of the US during the war, extradited to face trial in Japan for the deaths of Japanese soldiers during the Battle of Pearl Harbour. Imagine if the German government after the war had tried to have survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising extradited from Israel to Germany to face trial for the killing of German soldiers during the uprising.
On Monday, Ejup Ganic, the former de facto Bosnian vice-president during the war of 1992-95, was arrested in London at the request of the Serbian government, which seeks his extradition to face trial in Serbia for the killing of Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) soldiers in Sarajevo on 3 May 1992. This incident demonstrates that Serbia is still very far from showing repentence for its aggression against Bosnia during the 1990s. On the contrary, with the arrest of Ganic, Serbia is continuing this aggression, by attempting to persecute Bosnians guilty only of trying to defend their country from it.
The incident for which Ganic’s extradition is being sought by Belgrade occurred at Dobrovoljacka ulica (Volunteers’ Street) in Sarajevo on 3 May 1992. At this time, the JNA forces in Sarajevo and in Bosnia as a whole were de jure and de facto the forces of the neighbouring state, the self-proclaimed ‘Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’ (i.e. Serbia and Montenegro), which was then engaged in a full-scale war of conquest against Bosnia-Hercegovina, involving the systematic massacre and expulsion of non-Serbs from the areas that it occupied. In principle, the JNA should have been the joint army of all the former Yugoslavia’s republics and peoples. But thanks to the Serb preponderance in its top command and its officer corps, from 1990 the JNA had been transformed into an exclusively Serbian (and technically also Montenegrin) army. On 27 June 1990, Veljko Kadijevic, the Yugoslav Secretary of People’s Defence and the most senior officer of the JNA, agreed with Borisav Jovic, Serbia’s representative on the Yugoslav Federal presidency and Slobodan Milosevic’s right-hand man, a plan ‘forcibly to expel’ Slovenia and a dismembered Croatia from Yugoslavia, thereby breaking up the common state and creating what was in effect a Great Serbia. The JNA was thereafter steadily transformed into a Serbian army.
During the war in Croatia in 1991-92, the JNA fought against Croatia, bombarding Croatian cities, killing and expelling Croatian civilians and turning over territory to the Serb rebels in Croatia – all without any authorisation from its constitutional commander, the Yugoslav Federal presidency, or from the Yugoslav government of Ante Markovic. The JNA simply disregarded orders given to it by Stjepan Mesic, the Yugoslav president. On 3 October 1991, even formal pretence that the JNA was still ‘Yugoslav’ was dropped; the Serbian and Montenegrin members of the Yugoslav presidency carried out a coup d’etat, appropriating to themselves the right to command the JNA. This represented a violation of the rights of Bosnia-Hercegovina, which was still part of Yugoslavia. From then on, the JNA on Bosnian territory was a Serbian and Montenegrin army of occupation.
The Bosnian presidency and government under Alija Izetbegovic remained neutral during the war in Croatia. They bent over backwards to avoid provoking the JNA on Bosnian territory, and to retain good relations with it. Izetbegovic, his fellow Bosnian presidency member Ejup Ganic and other senior Muslim political leaders naively believed that war could be avoided and that the JNA would not support the Serb extremists. This was an error of monumental proportions. Following a long and careful preparation, at the start of April 1992 – before Bosnia-Hercegovina’s independence had been recognised by the international community – the JNA, under Serbia’s formal control, launched a full-scale military attack on Bosnia-Hercegovina. Eventually, the Bosnian Serb nationalists under Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic would assume command of a formally independent Bosnian Serb army (‘Army of the Serb Republic’). But until 19 May 1992, all Bosnian Serb forces were either themselves part of the JNA, or under JNA command.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), in its 2007 verdict in Bosnia’s case against Serbia for genocide, ruled that ‘it is established by overwhelming evidence that massive killings in specific areas and detention camps throughout the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina were perpetrated during the conflict’ and that ‘the victims were in large majority members of the protected group [the Muslims], which suggests that they may have been systematically targeted by the killings.’ Moreover, ‘it has been established by fully conclusive evidence that members of the protected group were systematically victims of massive mistreatment, beatings, rape and torture causing serious bodily and mental harm, during the conflict and, in particular, in the detention camps.’ This process began while all Bosnian Serb forces were still under the command of Serbia and the JNA, whose central role in these crimes has been extensively documented.
Izetbegovic and Ganic were certainly guilty in relation to the JNA – they were guilty of failing to prepare their country to resist its aggression, and for failing to take action against it even after this aggression had begun. Already during 1990, in preparation for its attack on Bosnia, the JNA had begun disarming the Bosnian Territorial Defence, but had run into resistance from sections of the latter, which refused to turn over their weapons. After Izetbegovic and Ganic came to power in the Bosnian elections of autumn 1990, their Bosnian presidency actually ordered the Bosnian Territorial Defence to turn over its weapons to the JNA. Izetbegovic and Ganic would continue to restrain Bosnian resistance to the JNA until long after the aggression had begun. When the Serbian paramilitaries of Zeljko Raznatovic ‘Arkan’ attacked the Bosnian city of Bijeljina on 1 April 1992, Izetbegovic sanctioned the JNA’s occupation of the city, in the belief that it would restrain the Serb extremists. Weeks after the JNA and Serbia’s paramilitaries had already begun conquering Bosnian towns and killing and expelling their non-Serb inhabitants – Bijeljina on 1-3 April, Kupres on 8 April, Zvornik on 8-10 April, and so forth – Izetbegovic was still systematically vetoing moves by Bosnia’s commanders to strike back against the JNA.
On 26 April, Izetbegovic negotiated in the Macedonian capital of Skopje with Branko Kostic, acting president of the self-declared rump presidency of ‘Yugoslavia’ (i.e. Serbia and Montenegro), and with Blagoje Adzic, chief of staff of the JNA, over the possible withdrawal of the JNA from Bosnia. Agreement was reached that JNA troops from Serbia and Montenegro should be withdrawn. But agreement was not possible over the more than 80% of JNA troops on Bosnian territory, mostly Serbs, who were citizens of Bosnia. The Bosnian presidency demanded that they either be withdrawn or place themselves under Bosnian command, while the Belgrade leadership rejected either option, seeking instead to have them placed under Bosnian Serb command, and rejected furthermore any solution that was not agreed to by the Bosnian Serb leadership. Consequently (contrary to what was subsequently claimed by Serbia in its request for Ganic’s extradition) no agreement was reached between Izetbegovic and Belgrade over the withdrawal of the JNA from Bosnia.
Sarajevo was the object of a full-scale offensive on 2 May, on the part of Colonel General Milutin Kukanjac, commander of the Sarajevo-based Second Military District of the JNA, attacking with his garrison within the city and attempting to seize control of the Bosnian presidency building, while additional JNA forces attacked the city from outside. Sarajevo’s post office, telephone exchange and other public buildings were bombarded. On the same day Izetbegovic, returning from peace negotiations at Lisbon, was kidnapped by the JNA at Sarajevo airport. This amounted to a concerted assault by JNA forces on the organs of Bosnia’s democratically elected government. But the JNA’s offensive against Sarajevo was defeated by the Bosnian Territorial Defence, and Kukanjac’s column was surrounded.
It was perhaps Bosnia’s greatest military victory to date, and it was largely squandered by Izetbegovic. Initially, on 3 May, Izetbegovic negotiated his own release from JNA captivity in exchange for the Bosnian armed forces allowing Kukanjac to leave Sarajevo. But immediately afterward, Kukanjac demanded that his entire JNA garrison be allowed to leave Sarajevo as the price for Izetbegovic’s release. This revised deal was not supported by Ganic and the Bosnian military commanders in Sarajevo, but it was supported by General Lewis Mackenzie, the UN commander in Sarajevo and subsequently a paid lobbyist of SerbNet, a Serb-nationalist lobbying group in the US. Once Izetbegovic was safely back in Bosnian hands, the Bosnian forces opened fire on the JNA convoy in Volunteers’ Street, succeeding in killing or capturing dozens of JNA soldiers.
There is some uncertainty as to whether the initiative to attack the JNA convoy was taken spontaneously by the Bosnian soldiers on the ground themselves, as Jovan Divjak, the then deputy commander of the Bosnian Territorial Defence, claims, or whether it was ordered by the top Bosnian commanders or even by Ganic himself, deputised by Izetbegovic to head the Bosnian presidency and critical of the deal with Kukanjac. Were the attack on the JNA convoy a war-crime, it would make no difference: Ganic and other members of the Bosnian wartime presidency - including Izetbegovic himself - as the supreme command of the Bosnian armed forces, would be automatically responsible. But the attack was not a war crime: it was an attack on a legitimate military target. At most, the Bosnian defenders were guilty of violating a ceasefire agreement extracted from them under duress, by an enemy that had attacked them, been defeated, then sought to extricate itself from its defeat by kidnapping their democratically elected president and holding him as a hostage.
The real guilt of Bosnia’s leadership in the spring of 1992 was not that, on this and one or two other occasions, its forces attacked and killed soldiers belonging to the army of a foreign state that was attacking its country. Its guilt lies in the fact that its forces did not do so more often. Where Bosnia’s defenders did prepare their defences and fight back against the JNA, they were sometimes able to protect their people from killing and massacre. So it was at Tuzla, where on 15 May 1992, the city’s defenders successfully destroyed the city’s JNA garrison, as a result of which Tuzla’s population was spared the massacres, expulsion, torture and rape that befell the citizens of other East Bosnian towns. So it was initially in Srebrenica, where the local defenders fought back and saved their town from destruction for three years, though they would eventually pay a very heavy price for their resistance. But in towns where the Bosnian authorities followed Izetbegovic’s lead and did not resist the JNA, such as in Foca and Visegrad, the non-Serb population was massacred or expelled.
The JNA would nevertheless probably have been allowed to withdraw peacefully from Sarajevo and Tuzla had it been willing to return the weapons it had confiscated from Bosnia’s Territorial Defence. Yet Belgrade’s strategy – carried out via the JNA - was to disarm Bosnia’s defenders and keep them disarmed, while arming the Bosnian Serb forces to the teeth, to enable them to carry out their genocidal plans against a defenceless enemy. In principle, the JNA had been the collective army of all Yugoslavia’s republics, and even its own weapons were therefore the collective property of all of them; the claim by Serbia and Montenegro (the ‘Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’) to be the sole successor state of the defunct Yugoslavia was never accepted by the UN or the international community. The ability of Bosnia’s defenders to defend their civilian population from the Serbian genocidal attack depended largely on their ability to recapture their weapons from the JNA – their attacks on the JNA in Sarajevo and Tuzla were a matter of life and death.
With the arrest of Ejup Ganic and attempt to have him extradited to Serbia, Belgrade is persecuting a former member of the democratically elected presidency of the state that it attacked in 1992, for the crime of having resisted that attack. Last September, Ilija Jurisic, one of the Bosnian military commanders who directed the attack on the JNA at Tuzla on 15 May 1992, was sentenced by a Belgrade court to twelve years in prison for his role in the attack. Fifteen years after the end of the Bosnian war and ten years after the overthrow of Milosevic, Serbia is still hounding Bosnians who attempted to resist its aggression and genocide in the 1990s. Such behaviour is of a kind with the Serbian parliament’s unwillingness to recognise the Srebrenica massacre as an act of genocide, despite the fact that this genocide has been recognised by two different international courts.
Britain must release Ejup Ganic at once. Britain and other EU members must make it absolutely clear that such behaviour on Serbia’s part will not be tolerated; that until Belgrade ceases its persecution of Ganic, Jurisic and other politicians and soldiers of the Bosnian war of independence, it will have no place in the EU or in democratic Europe.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Update: This article has been published in Bosnian in BHDani.
Correction: When it was published on 3 March 2010, this article contained the following claim:
‘On 26 April, Izetbegovic signed an agreement with the regime in Belgrade to permit the JNA to withdraw from Bosnia, along with its own weapons and those that it had confiscated from the Bosnian Territorial Defence. This was arguably an act of treason on Izetbegovic’s part, since he had turned over Bosnia’s confiscated armaments to the army of a neighbouring state that was currently engaged in attacking and conquering his country. But it did not mollify the JNA, whose operations against Bosnia did not cease; at the start of May, JNA forces previously withdrawn from Croatia were used to conquer the Bosnian towns of Derventa and Doboj.’
Subsequently, my research on behalf of Ejup Ganic’s legal defence team revealed this claim to be false: no agreement was reached between Izetbegovic and Belgrade over the withdrawal of the JNA from Bosnia, either on 26 April 1992 or thereafter. Nevertheless, Serbia’s request for Ganic’s extradition from the UK claimed falsely ‘On April 27, 1992, the Agreement was made between B&H and FRY on peaceful withdrawal of JNA until May 19, 1992 [sic - all grammatical errors in original].’
The article has been amended accordingly.
Just over a year ago, I wrote here of the mysterious phenomenon of the Muslim Nazi division, named ‘Handzar Division’ after the Bosnian SS division of World War II, that, according to supporters of the Great Serbian cause, was established in Bosnia by the regime of Alija Izetbegovic during the 1990s. Evidence for the existence of this division, its size, composition and origins, was taken from a single article in a Western newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, by British journalist Robert Fox, who based his information on the testimony of unnamed UN officials. Fox’s article was glaringly inaccurate – he described Bosnian presidency member Ejup Ganic, for example, as ‘foreign minister’ – but was nevertheless assumed by the supporters of Great Serbia to be gospel truth. Indeed, they even embellished it, attributing claims to Fox that he had never made – such as that Izetbegovic himself had founded this ‘Handzar Division’. I concluded that ‘Monty Python is a much better source for accurate historical information’ than the Great Serbia supporters in question.
It has taken nearly a year for a rebuttal of my article to be attempted, by the amateur historian Carl Savich of the Serb-nationalist website Serbianna. Based on Savich’s sorry effort, I can only feel that my assertion, that Monty Python is a much better source for accurate historical information than Savich and his fellow Serb nationalists, has been entirely vindicated. But before I show why this is so, I’d first like to take note of Savich’s attempt at cutting irony, directed at me, when he says:
‘It appears as though the existence of the reformed Handzar Division was not much of a secret. It was only a secret to the befuddled, lost, and delusional Hoare. This is what occurs when Monty Python’s Flying Circus is the source of your historical research. Hoare should spend more time on analyzing the war crimes trials at the Hague and less time on watching dated TV reruns. Moreover, for history to have any value or merit, objectivity and neutrality must be the goals. Delusional fantasy and ideological propaganda constructs have no place in serious scholarship and history. Monty Python should not be the source for historical information on the civil wars in Bosnia-Hercegovina.’
Savich is responding to my quip about Monty Python by accusing me of actually basing my historical research on Monty Python re-runs. Pretty funny, huh ?
This is, in fact, a rather unfortunate line of humour for Savich to employ. Readers will have noted the image at the start of this post, which shows a cover of the Sarajevo youth magazine Novi Vox, dated October 1991. The cover shows a soldier of the Handzar Division treading on the severed heads of the Bosnian Serb leaders, including Radovan Karadzic, under the headlines ‘The Handzar Division is ready’ and ‘The Fourth Reich is coming – Welcome !’ Savich reproduced this image in his response to me. He writes:
‘In October, 1991, the Bosnian Muslim magazine Novi Vox in Sarajevo, in issue no. 3, well over half a year before the civil war broke out in 1992, published a front-cover illustration showing a Bosnian Muslim Nazi SS officer in the Handzar Division stepping on the decapitated and bloody heads of Serbian leaders, including Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. The caption read: “The Handzar Division is ready!” Another headline announced: “The Fourth Reich is coming—Welcome!” This revival of Bosnia’s Nazi and SS genocidal past was censored, suppressed, and covered-up in the U.S. and the Western media.’
What Savich fails to tell his readers, either because he is dishonest, or – more likely - because he is simply ignorant, is that the magazine in question, Novi Vox, was a satirical magazine of the alternative youth movement in pre-war Sarajevo, similar in character to the US’s The Onion, or to the satirical news sections of the UK’s Private Eye. In the words of cultural anthropologist Ivo Zanic, in his magisterial Flag on the Mountain: A Political Anthropology of War in Croatia and Bosnia, Saqi Books, London, 2007 (pp. 332-333):
‘Even in cases that were pushed too hard or that were quite tasteless, Vox‘s constructions contained enough elements for anyone who approached them with minimal common sense to be able without difficulty to realise that this was satire, in other words, an imagined reality that criticised the real reality. Thus its many agendas and declarations are readable, undoubtedly witty, identifiable ironic commentaries on real agendas, actions and declarations by the political figures of the time, particularly Karadzic’s SDS of Bosnia-Herzegovina.‘
Apparently, however, the ‘minimal common sense’ needed to realise that Vox was a satirical magazine was not possessed by Savich, who treats it as though it were a simple statement of Bosnian Muslim intent. Just imagine someone writing about British politics in the 1980s, who used Spitting Image as their source for what Margaret Thatcher’s policies were, without realising that it was a satirical comedy. Well, that is what Savich has done in respect to Alija Izetbegovic and Vox.
Savich’s suspicions should have been aroused by the fact that the price of the magazine, on the cover he reproduces, is given not only in dinars, the Yugoslav currency, but also in the fictional currency ‘bukvi’, or bukvas. In Zanic’s words (pp. 335-336):
‘Vox regularly printed its price not only in legal Yugoslav dinars but also in the fictitious bukvas. The joke was clear to anyone with half a brain: it referred to the proposal that the currency in Slovenia be called the lipa, linden, because this tree in Slovenia had the status of national symbol, and bukva would be the Bosnian equivalent. This irony, or self-deprecation, for the word bukva in the South Slav lands metaphorically means thickhead, and there are versions such as bukvan, blockhead, and the very common colloquial phrase ‘thick as a bukva‘, implying someone rather slow, good-natured and harmless, a likeable fellow in fact, as well as a number of other phrases and proverbs.’
To repeat: ‘The joke was clear to anyone with half a brain.’ Further comment on Savich’s scholarly competence, and on the tactical wisdom of his attempt at irony regarding research based on comedy, would be superfluous (NB although he describes himself as a ‘historian’, Savich has no historical qualification higher than a Master’s degree; he does not appear ever to have held an academic post, published a book or an article in an academic journal, or visited an archive).
‘The Bosnian Muslim Army and the Bosnian Muslim Government of Alija Izetbegovic and Ejup Ganic sought to re-establish the World War II Nazi Waffen SS Divisions formed out of Bosnian Muslims, the 13th Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Handzar/Handschar” and the 23rd Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Kama”, formed in 1943-45 by Heinrich Himmler. The London Daily Telegraph of December 29, 1993, in the news report by Robert Fox in Fojnica, “Albanians and Afghans Fight for the Heirs to Bosnian’s SS Past”, has reported that the Bosnian Muslim forces had formed a new and updated version of the World War II Nazi “Handzar” SS Division, made up of about 6,000 troops and supported by the Muslim leadership.’
This is what I wrote, in response to the Serb nationalists and their supporters, like Savich, who have cited Fox’s article:
‘The Bosnian SS Division ‘Handzar’ (or ‘Handschar’) was a unit that existed during World War II, and it is conceivable that there really was a handful of Muslim zealots who, during the recent war, fought on the Bosnian side and grandiloquently named themselves the ‘Handzar Division’ after this historic unit. It is indicative, however, that no other journalist or anyone else seems to have noticed the existence of a unit of ‘up to 6,000 strong’ that named itself after the SS and that was, according to Fox, officered by Albanians and trained by mujahedin veterans from Afghanistan and Pakistan.’
In attempting to rebut me, Savich draws from the documents of the International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Of all his earlier claims about the recreated Handzar Division, the only one for which he can find any corroboration at all is the claim that some sort of unit called the ‘Handzar Division’ really existed in Bosnia in the 1990s (and this is not an assertion I ever denied; as I wrote, ‘it is conceivable that there really was a handful of Muslim zealots who, during the recent war, fought on the Bosnian side and grandiloquently named themselves the “Handzar Division” after this historic unit.’)
Other than that,
1) Although Savich previously claimed that the recreated ‘Handzar Division’ was made up of ‘about 6,000 troops’, it now transpires, according to the evidence he provides, that the ‘Handzar Division’ was a ‘small unit’; so small, in fact, that it was merged with other units as part of a policy ‘of making larger units out of smaller ones’. Indeed, although Savich’s ICTY source does not provide any figure for the ‘Handzar Division’s' troop strength, the unit is listed alongside other small units that range from about 30 for ‘Cedo’s wolves’ to 150 for the ‘Prozor Independent Battalion’. So it seems we really are talking about a handful of zealots, rather than an actual division.
2) The evidence Savich cites completely fails to substantiate his earlier claim, that Izetbegovic and Ganic had had anything to do with the formation of this ‘Handzar Division’.
Savich now claims: ‘This evidence confirms conclusively that the Bosnian Muslim Government of Alija Izetbegovic and the Bosnian Muslim Army recreated and reformed the Bosnian Muslim Nazi SS Division from World War II.’
This is simply a bare-faced lie, something that will be clear to anyone who reads his article and tries to find the supposed ‘evidence’ (the Bosnian Army, it should be said, was in the habit of incorporating into its ranks independent or autonomous units formed by local strongmen, as well as those of the foreign mujahedin and Bosnian Croat nationalists).
3) The evidence Savich cites completely fails to substantiate Fox’s claim, which he endorsed, that the recreated ‘Handzar Division’ had been trained by mujahedin from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
4) The ICTY’s judges, as cited by Savich (‘Prosecutor vs Sefer Halilovic: Judgement’, 16 November 2005), do not claim to know who formed, named or trained this ‘Handzar Division’, or how many troops it contained. Based on witness testimony, they say only that the unit was made up of Albanians and that its commander’s nickname was ‘Dzeki’. Based on the evidence presented to them, they conclude: ’The Trial Chamber has not been furnished with evidence regarding the composition of this unit’. The ICTY’s standards of documentary evidence are, it would seem, somewhat more strict than those of Savich and his pals at Serbianna.
What we have here, is a case of a number of Serb nationalists and their fellow travellers, who have made wild claims in an attempt to discredit the former Bosnian regime of Alija Izetbegovic, in order to justify the genocidal campaign for a Great Serbia that they supported. When challenged to provide evidence for their claims, they find themselves unable to do so, so the claims in question shrink accordingly, to the point where they effectively disappear.
Update: A closer examination of one of the documents cited by Savich, the Halilovic trial transcript of 21 February 2005, #050221ED, reveals the following testimony about the troop size of the ‘Handzar Division’:
’5 Q. And then which soldiers came?
6 A. All the units that were there, Cedo’s Wolves, the 2nd Independent
7 Battalion, Handzar’s Division, Zuka’s men, and all the others. In all,
8 there were 100 to 150 soldiers.’
It would seem that the ‘Handzar Division’, confidently described as numbering ‘about 6,000 troops’ by our friend, does indeed turn out to be a bit smaller when the available evidence is examined closely…
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