There is a scene in the film ‘Bean’, in which Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean, mistaken for an expert, is forced to give a speech about a painting in an art museum, about which he knows nothing. Trying to think of something to say, he points out that the painting is ‘quite big, which is excellent, because if it was really small, you know, microscopic, hardly anyone would be able to see it’. That scene sometimes comes to mind when reading Michael Dobbs, a Fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) who blogs for Foreign Policy magazine. For reasons that are beyond me, Dobbs has been tasked by these two bodies with investigating and writing about the Bosnian war, Srebrenica massacre and Ratko Mladic trial – despite apparently having no prior knowledge or expertise about these topics, or about the topic of genocide.
Dobbs is a well intentioned individual who tries hard to be balanced and objective. He writes frankly about the horrors of the Bosnian war. He consequently comes under regular vicious attack from the creepy-crawlies of the Srebrenica genocide-denial lobby and has been forthright in confronting them. He responds to criticism in a fair and measured way. Yet it’s as if the USHMM and Foreign Policy had simply walked into a random bar, pulled out a random Joe Bloggs, and told him to write about Bosnia and genocide. In October 2011, he wrote ‘I must admit that I find it difficult to use [in relation to Srebrenica] the word genocide, which conjures up images of the Holocaust… In the popular culture, at least, when we talk about “geno-cide,” we think about the killing of an entire race or ethnic group.’ That a Fellow of the USHMM should be guided by ‘popular culture’ when considering the meaning of genocide – instead of by expertise in the history and literature of the study of genocide – is incredible. It is, on the other hand, not in the least incredible, but wholly predictable and understandable, that his comment should have caused enormous offence among Bosniak people, prompting a letter of protest to the USHMM from the Congress of North American Bosniaks, Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada and Bosnian American Genocide Institute and Education Centre.
Now, Dobbs has put his foot in it again, with an article entitled ‘In Defense of the Serbs’, containing his pearls of wisdom regarding the international recognition of Bosnian and Croatian independence in 1991-1992:
‘Looking back at the start of the Yugoslav wars two decades later, I am struck by a contradiction in western policy to the former Yugoslavia. Europe, supported by the U.S., recognized the independence of the breakaway republics. In other words, the borders of the multi-ethnic state that resulted from the Versailles conference decisions of 1919 (see photograph above) were not inviolate. On the other hand, the international community (in the form of the Badinter commission set up by the European Union) also decreed that the borders of Croatia, Bosnia, and the other republics could not be changed simply because a minority wished to secede.
The practical effect of these decisions was that Croats and Muslims were given the right to secede from Yugoslavia, but Serbs did not have the right to secede from Croatia or Bosnia. The delicate ethnic balance sanctioned by the Great Powers after World War I and enforced by Marshal Tito (a Croat) in the four decades after World War II was upset.
For what it is worth, my own personal view is that the breakup of Yugoslavia was inevitable, just as the breakup of the Soviet Union was inevitable. On the other hand, the United States and Europe (the nations that created Yugoslavia in the first place) should have been much more vigorous about establishing and enforcing rules for the breakup that guaranteed minority rights.
To use a phrase attributed to the French statesman Talleyrand, leaving two million well-armed Serbs in other people’s republics was “worse than a crime.” It was a gross error of political judgment.’
Two decades since the start of the Bosnian war, and a Fellow of the USHMM and writer for Foreign Policy can do nothing better than trot out the same, tired old sophistry that was being peddled by the Serb nationalists back then. It’s as if all the scholarship on the subject of the break up of Yugoslavia and recognition of new states, written in the interval by Richard Caplan, Michael Libal, Josip Glaurdic and others, simply did not exist. Dobbs is making a point that has been extensively addressed and refuted by real experts on the subject over a period of twenty years.
It would take a lot of space to refute all the misconceptions in Dobbs’s small passage above, so let me pick just one. There was, of course, no ‘contradiction’ in the policy of the international community as regards the right to secede of Serbs and of non-Serbs in the former Yugoslavia in 1991-1992. Dobbs claims that ‘The practical effect of these decisions [by the international community] was that Croats and Muslims were given the right to secede from Yugoslavia, but Serbs did not have the right to secede from Croatia or Bosnia’. This is false: ‘Croats and Muslims’ were not given the right to secede from Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was recognised as being ‘in the process of dissolution’, and the six constituent republics were recognised as the entities that inherited its sovereignty. Thus, it was the six republics – including Serbia – not the ‘Croats and Muslims’, whose right to independence was recognised. Serbia was not treated differently from Slovenia, Croatia or Bosnia in this respect, and was entirely free to seek and receive international recognition of its independence, just as they did.
The right of the Serbs of Croatia and Bosnia to secede from their respective republics was not recognised; neither was the right of the Croats of Bosnia. Nor of the Muslims/Bosniaks of Serbia’s Sanjak region. Nor of the Hungarians of Vojvodina, within Serbia. Nor of the Albanians of Macedonia and Montenegro. Nor, at the time, of the Albanians of Kosovo. In fact, the only group on the territory of the former Yugoslavia whose carving out of a wholly new entity has ever been recognised by the international community is the Bosnian Serbs. Thus, at Dayton, the ‘Republika Srpska’ was recognised, whereas the Bosnian Croats’ ‘Croat Republic of Herceg-Bosna’ has been dissolved, and the right of the Bosnian Croats to establish their own entity within Bosnia has been consistently denied.
It is difficult to believe that anyone could think about this for even a few minutes before realising that the ‘contradiction’ Dobbs posits is no contradiction at all. But I’m not suggesting he’s being insincere; merely that he hasn’t bothered to think seriously about this, let alone read anything much – if at all – on the subject. Hamdija Custovic, Vice-President of the Congress of North American Bosniaks, has quite rightly written another letter of protest to Foreign Policy about Dobbs’s article. What saddens me about this is not that Dobbs’s views are particularly outrageous – as I said, I believe he is a well intentioned individual trying hard to be balanced and objective. It is that respectable bodies like the USHMM and Foreign Policy consider it acceptable to provide a lot of space and opportunity for someone with no expertise on the former Yugoslavia or the Bosnian genocide to write about them, as if the subject wasn’t important enough to recruit a proper expert who actually has something informed to say.
The victims of the Bosnian genocide deserve better than this.
Review of Josip Glaurdic, The Hour of Europe: Western Powers and the Breakup of Yugoslavia, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2011
The break-up of Yugoslavia has generated an enormous literature – much of it poor, some of it acceptable and some of it excellent. There are several decent introductory accounts of the break-up that competently summarise familiar information. There are some very good studies of Slobodan Milosevic and his regime that do justice to the break-up as well. There are some excellent studies of sub-topics or related topics. But there have been few truly groundbreaking studies of the process as a whole. Too many of the older generation of pre-1991 Yugoslav experts had too many of their assumptions shattered by the break-up; too many journalists and casual scholars flooded the market in the 1990s with too many under-researched, third-rate works; too many younger scholars were handicapped by political prejudices that prevented them from addressing the truth squarely. Furthermore, the body of relevant primary sources has been vast and growing exponentially while the body of good supporting secondary literature has only slowly grown to a respectable size. In these circumstances, to write a groundbreaking general study of the break-up of Yugoslavia has been a difficult task that has required both a lot of talent and a lot of patient hard work.
Josip Glaurdic’s The Hour of Europe: Western Powers and the Breakup of Yugoslavia is such a study. As far as general accounts of the break-up go, there are only two or three that rival this work; none that is better. A great strength of this work lies in Glaurdic’s careful balance between the domestic and international dimensions of Yugoslavia’s break-up; he gives equal space to each and shows carefully the interaction between them. As far as the domestic dimension is concerned, he has skilfully summarised and distilled the existing knowledge about the subject as well as anybody before him. But where this book is truly original and groundbreaking is in its analysis of the international dimension. For this is the best serious, comprehensive, scholarly analysis of the role of the West – specifically, of the US, European Community and UN – in the break-up of Yugoslavia.
The mainstream literature has tended to present the West’s involvement in the break-up in terms of a reaction after the fact: Yugoslavia collapsed and war broke out due to internal causes, and the West responded with a weak, ineffective and primarily diplomatic intervention. Some excellent studies of the responses of individual Western countries have appeared, most notably by Michael Libal for Germany, Brendan Simms for Britain and Takis Michas for Greece. Apologists for the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic or for the Great Serb nationalist cause have, for their part, churned out innumerable versions of the conspiracy theory whereby the break-up of Yugoslavia was actually caused or even engineered by the West; more precisely by Germany, the Vatican and/or the IMF. But up till now, nobody has attempted to do what Glaurdic has done, let alone done it well.
Glaurdic’s innovation is to begin his study of the West’s involvement not in 1991, when full-scale war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, but in 1987, when Milosevic was assuming absolute power in Serbia. This enables him to interpret the West’s reaction to the eventual outbreak of war, not as a reflex to a sudden crisis, but as the result of a long-term policy. He places this long-term policy in the broader context of the evolution of the West’s global considerations in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The most important of these considerations concerned a state incomparably more important than Yugoslavia: the Soviet Union.
Yugoslavia’s principal significance for the Western alliance during the Cold War was as a buffer state vis-a-vis the Soviet Union and as a model of an independent, non-Soviet Communist state. These factors became less important in the second half of the 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev ruled the Soviet Union and the Cold War was winding down. Milosevic was initially identified by some influential Western observers as a possible ‘Balkan Gorbachev’; a Communist reformer who might bring positive change to Yugoslavia. The most important such observer was the veteran US policymaker Lawrence Eagleburger, who became deputy Secretary of State in January 1989. In his confirmation hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 15-16 March 1989, Eagleburger stated that ‘there is no question in my mind that Milosevic is in terms of economics a Western market-oriented fellow… [who] is playing on and using Serbian nationalism, which has been contained for so many years, in part I think as an effort to force the central government to come to grips with some very tough economic problems.’ (Glaurdic, p. 40).
This initial US appreciation for Milosevic dovetailed with a more important consideration: the fear that a collapse of Yugoslavia would create a precedent for the Soviet Union, weakening the position of Gorbachev himself. Of decisive importance was not merely that Western and in particular US leaders viewed Gorbachev as a valued friend, but the extreme conservatism of their ideology as regards foreign policy. Simply put, the US administration of George H.W. Bush valued stability above all else, including democratic reform, and actually preferred Communist strongmen, not only in the USSR but also in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, to the democratic opposition to them. Bush and his team feared the collapse of the Soviet Union and the destabilisation that this threatened – given, among other things, the latter’s nuclear arsenal. This led them to acquiesce readily in Soviet repression in Lithuania, Latvia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Their acquiescence in Milosevic’s repressive policies was a natural corollary.
As Glaurdic shows, this conservative-realist worldview led the Bush Administration, right up till the end of 1991, to champion Yugoslavia’s unity rather than its democratic reform. Though the US gradually lost faith in Milosevic, its animosity in this period was above all directed at the ‘separatist’ regimes in Croatia and Slovenia. The irony was not only that Croatian and Slovenian separatism was a direct response to the aggressive policies of the Milosevic regime, but also that the latter was promoting the break-up of Yugoslavia as a deliberate policy. Through its unwillingness to oppose Milosevic and its hostility to the Croats and Slovenes, Washington in practice encouraged the force that was promoting the very break-up of Yugoslavia that it wished to avoid.
The problem was not that the Bush Administration lacked accurate intelligence as to what Milosevic’s regime was doing, but that it chose to disregard this intelligence, instead clinging blindly to its shibboleth of Yugoslav unity, indeed of Yugoslav centralisation. Thus, as Glaurdic shows, a ‘conservative realist’ ideology resulted in a highly unrealistic, dogmatic policy. In October 1990, the CIA warned the US leadership that, while the latter could do little to preserve Yugoslav unity, its statements would be interpreted and exploited by the different sides in the conflict: statements in support of Yugoslav unity would encourage Serbia while those in support of human rights and self-determination would encourage the Slovenes, Croats and Kosovars (Glaurdic, p. 110). The Bush Administration nevertheless continued to stress its support for Yugoslav unity.
This meant not only that the West failed to respond to Milosevic’s repressive and aggressive policy, but that Milosevic and his circle actually drew encouragement from the signals they received from the West. Milosevic scarcely kept his policy a secret; at a meeting with Western ambassadors in Belgrade on 16 January 1991, he informed them that he intended to allow Slovenia to secede, and to form instead an enlarged Serbian stage on the ruins of the old Yugoslavia, that would include Serb-inhabited areas of Croatia and Bosnia and that would be established through the use of force if necessary. This brazen announcement provoked US and British complaints, but no change in policy (Glaurdic, pp. 135-136).
The problem was not merely ideological rigidity and mistaken analysis on the part of Western and particular US leaders, but also sheer lack of interest. Glaurdic describes the paradoxical Western policy toward the Yugoslav Federal Prime Minister, Ante Markovic, who – unlike Milosevic – really did want to preserve Yugoslavia, and whose programme of economic reform, in principle, offered a way to achieve this. In comparison with the generous financial assistance extended to Poland in 1989-1990, no remotely similar support was offered to Markovic’s government, because in US ambassador Warren Zimmermann’s words, ‘Yugoslavia looked like a loser’. (Glaurdic, p. 68).
The US’s dogmatic support for Yugoslav unity was shared by the West European powers. Glaurdic demolishes the myth – already exploded by authors like Libal and Richard Caplan – that Germany supported or encouraged Croatia’s and Slovenia’s secession from Yugoslavia. When the president of the Yugoslav presidency, Janez Drnovsek, visited Bonn on 5 December 1989, German chancellor Helmut Kohl expressed to him his ‘appreciation for Yugoslavia’s irreplaceable role in the stability of the region and the whole of Europe’. On the same occasion, German president Richard von Weizsaecker informed the Yugoslav delegation that he supported a ‘centralised’ Yugoslavia (Glaurdic, p. 59). A year later, on 6 December 1990, German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher told his Yugoslav counterpart, Budimir Loncar, that Germany ‘has a fundamental interest in the integrity of Yugoslavia’, and consequently would make ‘the Yugoslav republics realise that separatist tendencies are damaging to the whole and very costly’ (Glaurdic, pp. 124-125).
This German opposition to Croatian and Slovenian independence continued right up till the latter was actually declared in June 1991, and beyond. According to Gerhard Almer, a German diplomat and Yugoslav specialist at the time, ‘Everything that was happening in Yugoslavia was viewed through Soviet glasses. [Genscher's] idea was, “Well, Yugoslavia disintegrating is a bad example for Soviet disintegration, and this was bad for us since we needed a Soviet Union capable of action because we needed to get a deal with them on our unity”. This was widely accepted in the ministry.’ (Glaurdic, p. 160). Contrary to the myth of anti-Yugoslav imperialistic tendencies on the part of Helmut Kohl’s Christian Democratic government, the latter’s support for the Yugoslav status quo in the face of Belgrade’s abuses was so rigid that it provoked strong resistance from the Social Democratic opposition.
Genscher, subsequently demonised as a supposed architect of Yugoslavia’s break-up, actually resisted this pressure from the Bundestag for a shift in German policy away from unbending support for Yugoslav unity and toward greater emphasis on human rights and self-determination. The turning point for him, as Glaurdic shows, came with his visit to Belgrade on 1 July 1991, after the war in Slovenia had broken out. The combination of the overconfident Milosevic’s aggressive stance in his talk with Genscher, and the Yugoslav government’s inability to halt the Yugoslav People’s Army [JNA] operations against Slovenia, destroyed the German foreign minister’s faith in the Belgrade authorities, leading to his gradual shift in favour of Croatia and Slovenia. Eventually, after a lot more Serbian intransigence and military aggression, Germany would reverse its traditional policy by 180 degrees, and come out in favour of the recognition of Slovenia’s and Croatia’s independence, while the EC would split into pro- and anti-recognition currents of opinion.
Nevertheless, as Glaurdic shows, Germany’s change of heart was a double-edged sword, since it aroused the anti-German suspicions and rivalries of other EC states, particularly France and Britain, which consequently hardened their own stances against recognition. On 6 November 1991, while the JNA’s military assaults on the Croatian cities of Vukovar and Dubrovnik were at their peak, Douglas Hogg, the UK’s Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, explained to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons that his government was opposed to the recognition of Croatia since it would create an ‘obstacle’ to territorial adjustments in Serbia’s favour and at Croatia’s expense. Several days later, the French president, Francois Mitterand, made a similar public statement, indicating that he saw Croatia’s existing borders as a ‘problem’ that prevented its recognition (Glaurdic, pp. 253-254).
The Bush Administration, meanwhile, acted as a brake on the EC’s shift against Belgrade and in favour of recognition, teaming up with the British and French to counter Germany’s change of policy. US Secretary of State James Baker and his deputy Lawrence Eagleburger, as well as the UN special envoy Cyrus Vance (himself a former US Secretary of State) waged a diplomatic battle in this period against any shift away from the West’s non-recognition policy, and against any singling out of Serbia for blame for the war – even as the JNA was massively escalating its assault on Vukovar in preparation for the town’s final conquest. Eagleburger had signalled to the Yugoslav ambassador in October that, although the US was aware that Milosevic was attempting to establish a Greater Serbia, it would do nothing to stop him except economic sanctions, and even these only after Greater Serbia had been actually established (Glaurdic, pp. 243-246). As late as December 1991, Vance continued to oppose recognition and to support the idea of a federal Yugoslavia, and continued moreover to put his trust in Milosevic, the JNA and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, while viewing the Croatians dismissively as ‘these Croatian insurgents’ (Glaurdic, pp. 264-265).
Glaurdic has marshalled an enormous wealth of documentary evidence to show that the British, French and Americans, far from reacting in a weak and decisive manner to a sudden outbreak of war, actually pursued a remarkably steady and consistent policy from before the war began, right up until the eve of full-scale war in Bosnia-Hercegovina: of vocally supporting Yugoslav unity and opposing Croatian and Slovenian secession; of resisting any singling out of Serbia for blame or punishment; of opposing recognition of Slovenia and Croatia; of seeking to appease Milosevic and the JNA by extracting concessions from Croatia as the weaker side; and finally of appeasing the Serb nationalists’ desire to carve up Bosnia. EC sanctions imposed in November 1991 applied to all parts of the former Yugoslavia equally, while there was no freezing of the international assets or financial transactions through which the JNA funded its war. The UN arms embargo, whose imposition had actually been requested by the Yugoslav government itself, favoured the heavily-armed Serbian side and hurt the poorly armed Croatians. Although, largely on account of Germany’s change of heart, the EC at the start of December 1991 belatedly limited its economic sanctions to Serbia and Montenegro alone, the US immediately responded by imposing economic sanctions on the whole of Yugoslavia.
According to myth, the Western powers applied the principle of national self-determination in a manner that penalised the Serb nation and privileged the non-Serbs. As Glaurdic shows, the reverse was actually the case. In October 1991, Milosevic rejected the peace plan put forward by the EC’s Lord Carrington, which would have preserved Yugoslavia as a union of sovereign republics with autonomy for national minorities, in part because he feared it implied autonomy for the Albanians of Kosovo and the Muslims in Serbia’s Sanjak region. Carrington consequently modified his plan: Croatia would be denied any military presence whatsoever in the disputed ‘Krajina’ region, despite it being an integral part of Croatia inhabited by many Croats, while Serbia would be given a completely free hand to suppress the Kosovo Albanians and Sanjak Muslims. Carrington’s offer came just after leaders of the latter had organised referendums for increased autonomy, and after the Milosevic regime had responded with concerted police repression (Glaurdic, p. 242).
Milosevic nevertheless continued to reject the Carrington Plan in the understandable belief that the West would eventually offer him a better deal. He consequently asked Carrington to request from the EC’s Arbitration Commission, headed by Robert Badinter, an answer to the questions of whether the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia possessed the right to self-determination, and of whether Serbia’s borders with Croatia and Bosnia should be considered borders under international law. Carrington submitted these to the Commission, along with a third question, of whether the situation in Yugoslavia was a case of secession by Slovenia and Croatia or a case of dissolution of the common state. That the Arbitration Commission ruled against Serbia on all three counts was, in Glaurdic’s words, a ‘terrible surprise for Milosevic and for many in the international community’ (p. 260), given that Badinter was a close associate of President Mitterand, whose sympathies were with Serbia’s case. The Badinter Commission’s ruling dismayed both Carrington and French foreign minister Roland Dumas, and paved the way to international recognition of Croatia and Slovenia. But it did not fundamentally change the West’s policy.
Glaurdic’s account ends with the outbreak of the war in Bosnia, which as he argues, should be seen as the logical culmination of this policy. The failure of the EC foreign ministers to recognise Bosnia’s independence in January 1992 along with Croatia’s and Slovenia’s was, in Glaurdic’s words, ‘the decision with the most detrimental long-term consequences, all of which were clearly foreseeable… The EC had missed a great chance to preempt a war that would soon make the war in Croatia pale in comparison. Of all the mistakes the European Community had made regarding the recognition of the Yugoslav republics, this one was probably the most tragic.’ (pp. 281-282). Recognition of Bosnia at this time would have upset Milosevic’s and Karadzic’s plans for destroying that republic; instead, they were given every indication that the West would acquiesce in them.
Thus, on 21-22 February 1992, Bosnia’s politicians were presented with the first draft of the plan of the EC’s Jose Cutileiro for the three-way partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina into loosely linked Serb, Croat and Muslim entities. Since the plan, based on the ethnic majorities in Bosnian municipalities, offered the Bosnian Serb nationalists ‘only’ 43.8% of Bosnian territory instead of the 66% they sought, the latter’s assembly unanimously rejected it on 11 March. Once again, the EC abandoned universal standards in order to accommodate Serb intransigence, and Cutileiro modified his plan so that the three constituent Bosnian entities ‘would be based on national principles and would be taking into account economic, geographic and other criteria’ (Glaurdic, p. 294), thereby opening the way for a Serb entity with a larger share of Bosnian territory than was justified on demographic grounds.
Ultimately, Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic rejected the plan. But as Glaurdic writes,
‘The damage that the Cutileiro plan did to Bosnia cannot be overstated. By accepting the ethnic principle for the reorganisation of the republic, Cutileiro in essence recognised the platforms of the SDS [Serb Democratic Party led by Karadzic] and the Boban wing of the HDZ [Croat Democratic Union] and opened a Pandora’s box of ethnic division that still mars Bosnia to this very day. Cutileiro’s intent was obviously to appease the Bosnian Serbs and their Belgrade sponsor into not implementing their massive war machinery. However, instead of lowering tensions and giving the three parties an impetus to keep negotiating, the plan actually gave them a “charter for ethnic cleansing”.’ (p. 290)
In these circumstances, the West’s belated recognition of Bosnia’s independence in April 1992 was naturally not taken seriously by the Serb leaders; Milosevic rather wittily compared it to the Roman emperor Caligula declaring his horse to be a senator (Glaurdic, p. 298).
My principal regret is that Glaurdic did not fully apply the logic of his iconoclastic analysis to his consideration of the Croatian dimension of the Yugoslav tragedy. He carefully and correctly highlights the retrograde nationalist ideology of Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, including his equivocal statements about the Nazi-puppet Croatian regime of World War II and his promotion of the partition of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Yet he does not properly stress the extent to which Tudjman’s repeated retreats in the face of Serbian aggression merely encouraged the latter, just as did the similar retreats of the Western leaders. Thus, Tudjman capitulated to the JNA’s bullying in January 1991 and agreed to demobilise Croatia’s reservists and arrest Croatian officials involved in arms procurement, including the Croatian defence minister Martin Spegelj himself. Glaurdic argues that this ‘defused the [JNA] generals’ plan for a takeover’ and brought Yugoslavia ‘back from the brink’ (p. 134), but it would be more accurate to say that such Croatian appeasement merely encouraged further Serbian assaults, and that the killing in Croatia began only weeks later.
Glaurdic has carefully described the Milosevic regime’s secessionism vis-a-vis the Yugoslav federation, but one significant detail omitted from his book is the promulgation on 28 September 1990 of Serbia’s new constitution, which stated that ‘The Republic of Serbia determines and guarantees: 1 the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia and its international position and relations with other states and international organisations;…’. In other words, Serbia declared itself a sovereign and independent state before either Croatia or Bosnia did. This is relevant when evaluating not only the Milosevic regime’s hypocrisy regarding ‘separatism’, but the extent of the West’s policy failure. Milosevic posed as Yugoslavia’s defender while he deliberately destroyed it. Western leaders were hoodwinked: they sought both to uphold Yugoslavia’s unity and to appease Milosevic’s Serbia. As Glaurdic has brilliantly demonstrated, their dogged pursuit of the second of these policies ensured the failure of the first.
Those who are sufficiently ideologically driven will readily and tenaciously believe a myth that upholds their own ideology, no matter how completely the myth has been exposed and discredited. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion have been used by anti-Semites from the Nazis to today’s Islamists, despite the fact that they were exposed as a forgery a century ago. German anti-Semites sought to explain away Germany’s defeat in World War I in 1918 by a supposed ‘stab in the back’ by the Jews, shifting the ignominy for the murderous Imperial German regime’s military collapse onto an innocent third party. In much the same way, apologists for the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic have for twenty years tried to blame the ignominious break-up of Yugoslavia – which the Milosevic regime deliberately engineered – on democratic Germany’s supposed ‘encouragement of Croatian secessionism’. They have done this despite a complete failure to uncover any evidence to support their thesis.
David N. Gibbs in First do no Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009) is the latest author to attempt to breathe life into the corpse of this myth, arguing that ‘Croatian leaders were assured, well in advance, that Germany, the dominant power in Europe, would support their efforts to establish an independent state and to secede from Yugoslavia’ (p. 78) and ‘the key EC state of Germany was clearly in favour of breaking up Yugoslavia, and was actively encouraging secession’ (p. 91). Rarely have I seen such cynical misuse of sources.
1) For example, Gibbs quotes the memoirs of the former German foreign minister Hans Dietrich Genscher as follows:
‘Genscher himself was openly sympathetic toward the secessionists. In his memoirs, he stated: “It was important for us to establish that the Yugoslav peoples alone had the right to freely determine the future of their nation” – with the implication that the Yugoslav central government could not veto this right. Genscher also affirmed “an individual nation’s ‘right to secede’ from the larger [Yugoslav] polity.’ (Gibbs, p. 79)
Yet here are some statements from Genscher’s memoirs that Gibbs omitted to quote:
‘When it came to recognising Croatia and Slovenia, the Vatican displayed extreme reluctance. During my visit in [sic] the Vatican on November 29, 1991, this attempt to remain aloof was particularly apparent. I understood that attitude; the accusation that on this issue the Vatican and West Germany formed a “conspiracy” is therefore very wide of the mark. No one outside of Yugoslavia was interested in the least in the dissolution of Yugoslavia; it was only the pan-Serbian strife [sic] for hegemony that set the country’s dissolution in motion‘ (Hans Dietrich Genscher, Rebuilding a House Divided, Broadway Books, New York, p. 91)
‘On Wednesday, March 20, [1991,] I received Slovenia’s president Milan Kucan and Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel; they also spoke of their concerns and of Slovenia’s increasing move to independence. I urged them to proceed slowly and above all to take no unilateral steps but to be alert to opportunities to hold the confederation together in some other constitutional form. Especially in view of our delicate, historically burdened relationship with the region, two aspects were of particular importance to German foreign policy: one, not to encourage centrifugal tendencies, and two, to make no unilateral changes in our policy toward Yugoslavia.’ (Genscher, p. 491)
‘To return to the situation in mid-1991: From June 19 to 20 the first conference of the CSCE Council of Foreign Ministers was held in Berlin. As the host nation, Germany chaired the meeting. Before the conference, I received a few foreign ministers for bilateral talks. Among them was Yugoslavia’s foreign minister, Budomir [sic] Loncar, because I wanted to discuss with him first of all the question of how to deal with the issue of Yugoslavia – as might be expected, one of the core topics of the conference. Once again we were impelled to emphasise our interest in maintaining a unified but democratic and federated nation; the conference must remain true to the principles established by the Paris Charter a few months earlier.’ (Genscher, pp. 492-493)
So a source quoted selectively and tendentiously by Gibbs to try and squeeze out something approaching ‘evidence’ for his thesis that Germany encouraged Croatia’s secession actually provides rather more evidence that Germany supported a unified Yugoslavia at the time Croatia declared independence in June 1991 [NB since Gibbs falsely accuses me of being unable to read German, I should make clear that I am quoting the English translation of Genscher's memoirs because Gibbs himself relies on the translation, and does not use the German original].
2) Likewise, Gibbs quotes the study of Germany’s policy toward Croatia in 1991 written by former German diplomat Michael Libal (Limits of Persuasion: Germany and the Yugoslav Crisis, 1991, 1992, Praeger, Westport and London, 1997): ‘on 18 July the decision was made in Belgrade to completely withdraw the JNA from Slovenia;… in Germany a sense of euphoria prevailed.’ (Gibbs, p. 94).
Yet Libal’s book in fact demolishes the view that Germany encouraged Croatia to secede; in Libal’s words, ‘No German official advocated the encouragement of separatist tendencies within the Yugoslav republics.’ Libal describes the ‘good, if not excellent relations between Bonn and Belgrade, which Genscher had been building up since the early 1970s… It was almost a special relationship: Germany acted as Yugoslavia’s advocate in the European Community (EC) and was instrumental in bringing about closer cooperation between the two.’ Consequently, ‘Given this excellent state of relations and the strong position Germany enjoyed throughout the whole of Yugoslavia, any idea of destabilising that country and encouraging its breakup would have been lunacy. Yugoslavia as a unitary state was a perfect partner for Germany, as no smaller, more troubled and more difficult partner, or possibly even client state, could ever be expected to be.’ (Libal, p. 5) Gibbs simply ignores the copious testimony and documentation provided by Libal that runs counter to Gibbs’s thesis, treating it as though it does not exist.
3) And again, although he includes in his bibliography the book by Richard Caplan, Europe and the Recognition of New States in Yugoslavia (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005), Gibbs does not bother to inform his readers of what Caplan wrote, which is that
‘Until fighting erupted at the end of June, Germany had, along with the rest of the EC, supported the continued unity of Yugoslavia. As late as 19 June 1991, Germany voted in favour of a statement by the Conference of Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) expressing support for the “unity and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia”; in fact, it was Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister, who supplied the text of the statement. Even after Slovenia’s and Croatia’s declarations of independence, Germany supported the West European Union (WEU) declaration of 27 June that expressed regret at “the recent unilateral decisions” of the two republics, and urged all political authorities in Yugoslavia to “resume the dialogue with a view to securing the unity of the state”.’ (Caplan, p. 18).
Gibbs does not attempt to tackle this evidence.
4) Or another example of misrepresentation: Gibbs cites an anonymous source in the New Yorker, allegedly a US diplomat who was claiming that Genscher ‘was encouraging the Croats to leave the federation and declare independence.’ Gibbs admits: ‘It is difficult to fully assess this allegation, given the anonymity of the source. However, the New Yorker allegation is supported by the memoirs of US ambassador Warren Zimmermann, which note “Genscher’s tenacious decision to rush the independence of Slovenia and Croatia” [Gibbs's emphasis].’ Gibbs then claims in the endnote to this sentence: ‘Note that Zimmermann does not say that Genscher rushed the international recognition of Slovenia’s and Croatia’s independence; he makes the much more provocative statement that Genscher rushed independence.’ (p. 249)
Yet this is simply untrue, as Zimmermann in his memoirs nowhere accuses the Germans of encouraging Croatia’s secession, but does criticise them for supporting Croatia’s recognition; the idea that when Zimmermann referred to Genscher having ‘rushed independence’ he really meant ‘rushed secession’ is sheer wishful thinking on Gibbs’s part.
5) Yet perhaps the most egregious example of Gibbs’s distortion of sources is his claim that ‘German support for secession and for breaking up Yugoslavia is also noted by former Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia, James Bissett and by Croatian nationalist Stjepan Mesic’ (p. 79). Bissett is frequently cited by Gibbs, who fails to inform his readers that he is a Srebrenica genocide denier and defender of Milosevic, therefore not an entirely reliable source, and that Bissett’s supposed ‘noting’ of German support for Croatian secession is merely an unsubstantiated allegation.
As for Mesic, it turns out in Gibbs’s endnote that he does not in fact ‘note’ German support for Croatia’s secession at all. Gibbs’s supposed evidence for his claim is an extract from Milosevic’s trial, in which Milosevic is questioning prosecution witness Milan Kucan about what Mesic said on a TV programme in which they (Mesic and Kucan) appeared together. Milosevic states ‘Mesic declared that the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of German Hans-Dietrich Genscher and the Pope John Paul II, by the direct agreement and support designed to break up the former Yugoslavia had practically contributed most to that actually happening’, and Kucan replied ‘Those were the stance of Mr Mesic’.
The supposed ‘noting’ by Mesic of Genscher’s support for Croatia’s secession thus turns out to be actually testimony not from Mesic but from Kucan, who appears to be confirming what Milosevic said. Gibbs considers the extract from the trial to be sufficiently significant that he reproduces the sentence by Milosevic, and puts Kucan’s reply in emphasis: ‘Those were the stance of Mr Mesic’ (Gibbs, p. 250).
What Gibbs does not tell his readers, is that in the following lines of the transcript, not only does Kucan state clearly that he cannot remember what Mesic said, but Milosevic makes clear that the reference is to Genscher’s support for Croatian independence after it was declared, not before.
This is what Milosevic said:
‘Let us just specify something else, please. Do you remember that at the time Mesic said that he came to Belgrade, to the highest position in the federation in order to, through the mediation of the Yugoslav diplomacy at the time, to get in touch with the most influential factors and to persuade them that the survival of Yugoslavia was nonsense? And I have a quotation: “I wanted to convey that the idea of the break-up of Yugoslavia to those who had the greatest influence on its fate, to Genscher and the Pope. In fact, I had three meetings with Genscher. He enabled a contact with the Holy See. The Pope and Genscher agreed with the total break-up of SFRY.” Was that what he said?‘
The ‘highest position in the federation’, i.e. the presidency, was a position Mesic assumed only at the end of June 1991, after Croatia had already seceded.
This is what Kucan replied:
‘Your Honours, this programme which I participated together with Mr. Mesic, I can confirm that. But to be able to confirm each and every word, I’d need either a transcript or a video in order to be able to confirm it. These are very weighty words, and to testify like this wouldn’t — just wouldn’t do.’
So Mesic was not ‘noting’ that Genscher had supported Croatia’s secession. And Milosevic was not alleging that Mesic had ‘noted’ this. And Kucan was not confirming that what Milosevic said was true. Gibbs has simply falsified the source yet again.
7) In his endnotes, Gibbs writes, ‘In memoirs, the Slovene defense minister Janez Jansa downplays the role of foreign support, but he concedes that by July 1, “Genscher strongly supported our cause”.’ (Gibbs, p. 249). Of course, this citation merely suggests that Germany supported Slovenia’s cause after independence had already been declared, not that Germany actually encouraged secession.
What Gibbs does not tell his readers is that, according to Jansa, Germany actually discouraged Slovenia from declaring independence. Jansa writes ‘Even the German parliament in its debate in February 1991 did not support our dissociation from Yugoslavia’ (Janez Jansa, ‘The Making of the Slovenian State 1988-1992: The Collapse of Yugoslavia’, Zalozba Mladinska knjiga, Lljubljana, 1994, p. 91)
8 ) Gibbs cites the opinion of journalist David Halberstam: ‘According to David Halberstam: “The Slovenians were already aware [by February 1990] that the Germans… favoured their independence.”‘ The opinion of a journalist with no expertise on the former Yugoslavia does not count for much; particularly so in this case, as in February 1990, the pro-independence nationalists had not even taken power in Slovenia, which was still ruled by Communists formally committed to Yugoslav unity !
9) Gibbs’s last remaining ‘source’ that Germany encouraged Croatia to secede is a statement by the State Department official John Bolton, but this turns out to be another case of misrepresentation. Gibbs writes ‘State Department official John Bolton later stated that Germany “induced the Slovenes and the Croats to jump ship,” that is, to leave the federation.’ (Gibbs, p. 79)
Yet when the quote is given in full, there is no suggestion that Bolton was accusing Germany of having induced Croatia and Slovenia to secede before they did so; merely that he accused Germany of having induced the EU states to recognise their independence after they had done so:
‘Initially, Germany, based largely on its historical interests in the region, insisted that EU members recognize the independence of Slovenia and Croatia. While this precipitous change alone was not enough to cause the ensuing carnage and ethnic cleansing in the region, Bosnia-Herzegovina unquestionably saw a declaration of independence as the only way to extricate itself from Serbia’s grasp, hoping thereby to find security in a united European front against Serbian force. Having thus induced the Slovenes and Croats to jump ship, and having pushed the Bosnians, Germany then concluded that it was constitutionally barred from undertaking any military activities that might actually stop the Serbian (or Croat) war machine.’
Thus, none of Gibbs’s sources turns out to support his contention that Germany encouraged Croatia or Slovenia to secede from Yugoslavia, and some actually refute it.
10) Gibbs also claims that ‘French Air Force general Pierre M. Gallois asserts that Germany began supplying arms to Croatia, including antitank and antiaircraft rockets, in early 1991 – before the war began.’ (Gibbs, p. 78) He neglects to tell his readers that Gallois was – like his favourite source James Bissett – another Milosevic supporter, who actually wrote a preface to a book comprising a dialogue between Milosevic and one of his other supporters, and to which Milosevic also contributed the foreword, entitled ‘The trial of Milosevic or the indictment of the Serb people’. In this book, Gallois praises Milosevic for his ‘intelligence’ and his ‘honour’. The value of his assertion that Germany had been arming Croatia from early 1991 should be assessed with this allegiance in mind.
11) There remains Gibbs’s claim that Germany was involved in building up Croatia’s intelligence services prior to Croatia’s declaration of independence:
‘Germany’s covert intervention began in 1990, while Yugoslavia was still an integral state. In that year, German officials from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BFV), a subdivision of the Interior Ministry, assisted in building up Croatia’s intelligence service, the National Security Office (UNS). In the course of this activity, German officials would openly collaborate with extreme nationalists in Franjo Tudjman’s HDZ party. This early German intervention, though little known, is nevertheless well documented.’ (Gibbs, p. 77)
Since, as Gibbs has pointedly informed us in his reply to my first post about him, he is a ‘tenured full professor’, it is surprising to learn what he considers the definition of ‘well documented’ to be: in this case, two short articles, neither of which provides any evidence or even references to back up its assertions, which do not even support Gibbs’s assertions, which contradict each other, and one of which is the work of a Srebrenica-genocide-denying outfit of extreme-right-wing Islamophobic crackpots.
The first of these articles, ‘Croatia’s intelligence services’ by Marko Milivojevic, published in Jane’s Intelligence Review on 1 September 1994, has this to say: ‘Dating back to as early as 1990, when Croatia was still a constituent republic of an internationally recognised state, German involvement with Croatia’s intelligence services began with the UNS whose name was a direct copy of Germany’s BfV (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.’ Milivojevic does not provide any evidence to back up his claim. Be this as it may, he merely speaks vaguely of Germany’s ‘involvement’ with Croatia’s UNS at this stage; he does not claim what Gibbs claims, that German intelligence began ‘building up’ Croatia’s UNS already in 1990. His article covers the period up to 1994; he writes that ‘As regards the type of assistance provided by Germany to Croatia’s intelligence services, staff training has reportedly been the most important input.’ Gibbs has turned this unsourced ‘reportedly’ into ‘well documented’, and simply assumed it refers to as far back as 1990.
Milivojevic does not give any sources, but he appears to have simply regurgitated a lot of the allegations made in Gibbs’s other source, which Gibbs cites second in his book but which was actually published first: Gregory Copley, ‘FRG helps develop Croatian security’, Defense and Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, February-March 1994. This article claims that ‘The Croatian leadership decided, at the beginning of 1991, to organise its own intelligence and security services.’ It thereby contradicts the claim made by Milivojevic, that these intelligence services already existed in 1990, and Gibbs’s claim, that Germany was already ‘building up’ Croatia’s intelligence services in 1990. This article claims that ‘German intelligence officers provided significant support and training at all stages, both in Croatia and in Germany.’ It does, therefore, agree with Gibbs that the support and training began, if not in 1990, then at least at the start of 1991, prior to Croatia’s declaration of independence. It does not, however, provide any evidence to back up its allegations.
The value of Copley, president of the ‘International Strategic Studies Association‘ as an authority on the war in the former Yugoslavia may be gleaned by the fact that he has made statements such as the following: ‘the Clinton Administration had, during the war, facilitated the Islamist terrorist activities because of the Clinton Administration’s need to demonize the Serbs in order to provide a casus belli for US-led military actions in the area to distract from domestic US political problems’. Copley condemned the possibility of ‘an admission of guilt of Serbs for killing thousands of Muslims who, in fact, were not known to have been killed. Several hundred bodies have been found as a result of the fighting in and around Srebrenica, but the Islamists and their supporters have claimed figures which grow higher with each telling, with figures now claiming some 15,000 alleged deaths.’ Furthermore, according to Copley, ‘the Islamist propaganda [regarding Srebrenica], supported by Ashdown — who has long been disavowed in the UK by his former colleagues in the Royal Marines because of his unequivocal acceptance of Islamist propaganda — is accepted as fact by the R[epublika] S[rpska] Government, thereby admitting guilt for crimes never committed.’
Indeed, Copley is a member of a body of Srebrenica deniers who went on record in September 2003 to claim that ‘the official alleged casualty number of 7,000 victims’ is ‘vastly inflated and unsupported by evidence.’
That, then, is the sort of source that Gibbs relies on to ‘prove’ that Germany encouraged the secession of Croatia.
With thanks to DW and JG
Update: Gibbs has admitted his inability to respond: ’I will make no pretense that I answer all of Hoare’s allegations, which I find impossible, given the huge quantity of his charges.’ Anyone who has followed this exchange will draw the appropriate conclusions, though the sort of bone-headed left-wing fundamentalists who read his book and subscribe to his thesis won’t be put off by any refutation, however crushing. For who cares about the truth when you uphold the righteous ideology of ‘anti-imperialism’, right ?
I posted the following conclusion about Gibbs at Americans for Bosnia:
‘Quite apart from Gibbs’s deficiencies as a scholar, the reason why he and similar revisionists fail so badly is that – as I mentioned in my initial post about him – they don’t treat the wars in the former Yugoslavia as a serious subject of scholarly enquiry, but merely as another battlefield for their ideological campaign against “Western imperialism”.
Any attempt at open-minded research would force them to examine carefully then abandon as worthless the Serb-nationalist or “anti-imperialist” myths about the wars, and to develop more objective interpretations. But since their priority is to uphold the myths, not to carry out open-minded research, they are stuck supporting the ridiculous.
In trying to write a book on that basis, Gibbs failed as soon as he began.’
[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.’
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