Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Should Croatia apologise for the Bleiburg massacre ?

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This article was published today in BCS translation by Al Jazeera Balkans

The Bleiburg massacre is the term used to refer to the mass murder of tens of thousands of prisoners of war and civilian prisoners from the ranks of pro-Nazi quislings and collaborators, by the Communist-led Yugoslav Partisans at the end of World War II. Named after the Austrian town of Bleiburg near the Yugoslav border, where the repatriation of these prisoners began, the killing process involved the forced march of the prisoners and their mass execution at multiple sites. The largest component of those killed were Croats who had served the Nazi-puppet ‘Independent State of Croatia’ (NDH) and its Croat-fascist (Ustasha) leadership, but they included also Slovenes, Serbs and others.

The massacre became a cause celebre for the anti-Communist Yugoslav emigration after World War II. It implicated the British forces in Austria, who had either refused to accept the surrender of the prisoners and insisted they surrender to the Partisans, or had actually repatriated them to Yugoslavia and their deaths. The legacy of the massacre remained controversial after the war, because on the one hand the Yugoslav Communists and their supporters refused to accept any wrongdoing, while on the other, its commemoration was often bound up with expressions of support for the Ustasha regime. For anti-Communist Croats, including but not limited to Ustasha sympathisers, the massacre served as a foundation myth for their self-identification as victims of the Yugoslav Communist regime, which they identified as anti-Croat. Whereas this regime, liberal and left-wing Croats and the anti-fascist world generally have focused on the genocidal crimes of the Ustashas against Serbs, Jews and others, in particular at the notorious death-camp Jasenovac, anti-Communist Croats have commemorated the Bleiburg massacre. The choice of commemoration – Jasenovac or Bleiburg – depended upon political orientation and family background. Croats remain divided over this to this day, reflecting the nation’s division since World War 2 between pro-Partisan and anti-Communist camps.

Of course, the crimes of Jasenovac and Bleiburg were not equivalent: Jasenovac involved actual genocide against whole groups targeted purely on the basis of their ethnicity, while Bleiburg was a case of the victors in a civil war massacring the losers. The Partisans were not attempting to destroy or exterminate the Croat nation, as the Ustashas were the Serbs and Jews. Nevertheless, Bleiburg was undoubtedly a war crime: many civilians were murdered, as were many conscript soldiers who were not guilty of any crimes. And though many of those killed in the Bleiburg massacre were indeed Ustasha war-criminals, these too should have been given fair trials, not extra-judicial executions. The Croatian parliament supports the commemoration of Bleiburg, and Croatia’s Social Democratic president Zoran Milanovic has said he will lay a wreath at one of the massacre sites this year, but the commemoration has not received acceptance from liberal Croatia or from the wider liberal-democratic world. This is in part because of its association with pro-Ustasha revisionism, but also out of simple unwillingness to acknowledge Partisan or Allied war-crimes against Axis or pro-Axis victims. Nobody has ever been punished for Bleiburg. There is no doubt that many people from non-Communist families whose relatives were murdered or persecuted by the Communist remain hurt and bitter about this. Hence, the issue remains a wound that divides Croats.

Liberal principles would suggest that war-crimes by all sides should be acknowledged and repudiated if post-war reconciliation is to be achieved. This is the principle followed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) which has sought to bring to justice war-criminals from all sides in the 1990s wars: Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Albanians and Macedonians alike. The same principle would suggest that an acknowledgement and apology are due for Bleiburg too. But this raises the question: who should give them ?

In fact, Bleiburg was a crime in which Croats were perpetrators as well as victims, and for which the state of Croatia was as responsible as any other. The armed forces that carried out the massacres were Yugoslav and Partisan. Croatia was a founding member of the Yugoslav federation, and had, until comparatively late in the war, contributed more Partisans than any other Yugoslav land. Tito himself was a Croat from Croatia. The contemporary Republic of Croatia is legally one of the successor states of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. The post-Communist Croatian constitution since 1990 has explicitly included among its ‘historical foundations’ the ‘establishment of the foundations of state sovereignty during the course of the Second World War, as expressed in the decision of the Territorial Antifascist Council of the National Liberation of Croatia (1943) in opposition to the proclamation of the Independent State of Croatia (1941), and then in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Croatia (1947) and in all subsequent constitutions of the Socialist Republic of Croatia (1963-1990)’. In other words, the contemporary Croatian state formally affirms the Partisan legacy against the NDH legacy.

Furthermore, the Croatian struggle for independence in the 1990s was led by former Partisans, most notably Franjo Tudjman as president, Janko Bobetko as chief of general staff of the Croatian Army and Martin Spegelj as defence minister and founder of the Croatian Army, as well as Josip Manolic as prime minister and Josip Boljkovac as interior minister. The paradox for the Croatian right is that they commemorate Bleiburg while celebrating a Croatian independence that was achieved by former members of the army responsible for Bleiburg, and revere Tudjman, who rose to the rank of general in that army. Indeed, Tudjman until the very end of his life, continued to praise Tito for his services to the Croat nation, even suggesting that he may not have given the orders for the Bleiburg massacres. While Tudjman lived, a prominent square in central Zagreb continued to bear the name ‘Marshal Tito Square’. While there is a perception among conservative Croats that it is specifically the Croatian left that needs to recognise and apologise for Bleiburg, the reality is that the main Croatian centre-right party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) – founded by Tudjman and including many former Communists among its ranks – is just as bound up in the legacy of the Communist regime, including Bleiburg, as the left’s Social Democratic Party. Bleiburg was a crime of the Croatian state, not just of the Croatian left.

Paradoxically, the crime of Jasenovac is more readily associated with Croatian guilt than Bleiburg, even though Jasenovac was the work of a Croat-fascist puppet state that was destroyed and repudiated by the Partisans who founded the current Croatian state, which is not the legal successor of the NDH and is not legally culpable for its crimes. Croatian President Ivo Josipovic in 2010 nevertheless expressed regret for Jasenovac and other Ustasha crimes, which was the correct thing to do, given that members of his nation had perpetrated them.

There is a case for saying that the Croatian president should apologise for the Bleiburg massacre on behalf of the Croatian state. This could help to bring closure to the relatives of the victims. It could mean contemporary mainstream, liberal, anti-fascist Croatia acknowledging and taking responsibility for the crimes carried out by its predecessors. It would shatter both the right-wing narrative, that treats Croatia purely as a victim of, rather than a participant in, the actions of the Communists and Partisans, and the left-wing narrative of Partisan purity. It would affirm the fact that the contemporary Croatian state was founded on an anti-fascist basis, without glorifying or whitewashing the Communists and Partisans, instead by owning their negative side as well as their positive side. It could help to heal the rift between the two Croatias.

For all these reasons, it is doubtful that such an apology will ever happen. The left is unwilling to dwell on Partisan crimes, while the right is unwilling to acknowledge them as their own. The left is attached to a sanitised view of the Partisans, while the right is attached to a narrative of Croatia as innocent victim of Communism. There is too much bound up with these competing myths for any Croatian politician to take such a politically risky step of challenging them. Croatia will remain divided over Bleiburg, so long as its politicians want it to be.

Saturday, 16 May 2020 Posted by | Balkans, Croatia, Fascism, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How ‘progressive’ is the campaign against Rebecca Long-Bailey over her comments on abortion?

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Rebecca Long-Bailey, one of the frontrunners in the contest for the Labour leadership, has come under fire for saying that she personally believes the time-limit for the abortion for disabled foetuses to be the same as for non-disabled foetuses (24 weeks into pregnancy), and that in case of any changes to Britain’s abortion law, she would ensure that the views of the Catholic Church were heard. Long-Bailey is widely regarded as the ‘Continuity Corbyn’ candidate and has the backing of the Momentum movement, so we are in the very strange position of seeing Labour centrists attacking a Corbynite politician for not being left-wing enough.

There is a cognitive dissonance between Labour centrists attacking Corbynites, probably correctly, for losing the election by being too left wing, then attacking a Corbynite leadership candidate for being insufficiently left-wing on abortion. While support for a radical liberalisation of Britain’s already liberal abortion laws is strongly supported by many Labour members, including those with moderate or centrist views on other issues, it is not popular with the British public, which would actually be sympathetic to a moderate change to the UK’s abortion law along the lines Long-Bailey suggested. And support for such a change is higher among women than men.

For many Labour centrists, radical abortion-law reforms are an obsession equivalent to the Labour left’s obsession with Palestine: a ‘progressive’ cause that may or may not be worthy, but is certainly not a major concern for most British people. Ironically, just as the Corbynites’ Palestine obsessions led many of them into the murky waters of anti-Semitism, so the abortion obsessions of certain Labour ‘moderates’ are leading them to outright anti-Catholic bigotry; most notably in the statement of Paul Mason, a supporter of rival Labour leadership candidate Keir Starmer, who tweeted that ‘I don’t want Labour’s policy on reproductive rights dictated by the Vatican’. Such tropes reflect the same sort of ‘dual loyalty’ insinuations regarding Catholics that some Corbynites and others have directed against Jews.

But just as left-wing anti-Zionism turns out not to be quite so ‘progressive’ when you look a little more closely, so too with the cause Long-Bailey’s critics are championing.

Continue reading at Large Blue Footballs

Tuesday, 21 January 2020 Posted by | Abortion, Genocide, Liberalism, The Left, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dragan Markovina’s falsehoods about my book ‘The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War’

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Dragan Markovina, the founder and first president of the New Left (Nova Ljevica) party in Croatia, has written a commentary on my book ‘The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War’, which I here reply to.

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1) Markovina writes: ‘Ključni je pak, nezanemariv i neoprostiv problem ove knjige u tome što se u najbitnijem ni po čemu ne razlikuje od revizionističke historiografije u Srbiji, koja prodaje priču o dva antifašistička pokreta, i u Hrvatskoj, o tome kako je jedino zbog čega bi partizane trebalo honorirati činjenica da su stvorili federalnu Hrvatsku. Hoare zapravo tvrdi doslovno isto, da su postojala dva muslimanska oslobodilačka pokreta, koja su se zbližavala i udaljavala, da bi se na koncu ipak ujedinila u partizanskoj vojsci, a sve sa zajedničkim ciljem stvaranja federalne Bosne i Hercegovine. Ovaj autor to radi daleko pametnije od njegovih pandana u Srbiji i Hrvatskoj, na način da ne falsificira činjenice, ali bit ostaje ista.’

Neither of these claims regarding my thesis is correct. It is untrue that I claimed that the Muslim autonomists were some sort of anti-fascist resistance movement, and also untrue that I claimed that the two movements – the Partisans and Muslim autonomists – united to form a single movement. My thesis was that a) the Muslim autonomists were NOT an anti-fascist resistance movement, and were a resistance movement only insofar as they were anti-Ustasha, while being very much collaborationist in relation to the occupying powers; and b) that elements of them were coopted into the Partisans and NOP, but certainly NOT the autonomists as a whole, against which the Partisans fought throughout the war.

As regards the first of these claims, I am going simply to repeat what I wrote in response to Xavier Bougarel, who mischaracterised my thesis in a similar way:

i) I wrote ‘Although the Muslim autonomists were not a resistance movement in the sense of being anti-fascist, anti-Nazi or anti-occupier – they were none of these – they were a resistance movement in the sense of being anti-Ustasha and anti-NDH’ (p. 10). They were a ‘specifically Bosnian anti-Ustasha (though not anti-fascist, anti-Nazi or anti-occupier) current of resistance, that paralleled and overlapped with the Communist-led People’s Liberation Movement (NOP)’ (p. 14).

ii) I described the Muslim autonomist leader Uzeir-aga Hadzihasanovic as ‘the de facto leader of the pro-German but anti-Ustasha wing of the Muslim elite’ who ‘adopted a back-seat role in channelling Muslim autonomist opposition to the NDH’ (p. 41).

iii) I discuss the efforts of Muslim autonomists ‘who were anti-Ustasha but nevertheless ready to collaborate with the occupiers’ (p. 40) to seek ‘direct German military administration over the whole of Bosnia-Hercegovina’ (pp. 40-41); the stated desire of Murat-beg Pasic, a Muslim autonomist notable from Bijeljina, to ‘fight for Bosnia-Hercegovina, albeit under German military protection’ (p. 44); and the attempts of Muslim autonomists in Hercegovina to ‘express the loyalty of the Muslims of Hercegovina to the Kingdom of Italy’ and seek ‘the establishment of an autonomous Bosnia-Hercegovina under Italian protection’ (p. 50).

iv) I described in detail the Muslim Memorandum to Hitler of November 1942 as ‘the culmination of activity on the part of the pro-German, anti-Ustasha wing of the Muslim autonomist movement. Up until the summer and autumn of 1943, Muslim autonomist activity aimed predominantly at direct collaboration with the Germans to bypass the Ustashas, rather than at direct resistance activity.’ (p. 51).

v) I cite the Memorandum’s enthusiastically pro-Hitler, anti-Semitic words addressed to ‘Our Führer !’: ‘Nobody, not a single ethnic group, not a single tribe, likewise not a single nation in all Europe has with greater devotion felt and understood your gigantic movement to establish a New Order in Europe as have we Bosnians, Muslims of Bosnia. We have in the principles of National Socialism, your movement, felt that it alone brings justice, order and peace to Europe, which has been blighted and ruined by democracy.’ (p. 52) I cite the Memorandum’s reference to the fact that ’the Jewish problem among us has finally been solved…’ (p. 52).

vi) I describe the opposition of the leading Sarajevo Muslim autonomists Uzeir-aga Hadzihasanovic and Mehmed Handzic to collaboration with the NOP (p. 82); the fact that Handzic was the ‘most powerful opponent of both the Partisans and the Ustashas among the Muslim autonomists’ (pp. 247-248) and that the NOP may have assassinated him; the execution by the Partisans of the Tuzla Muslim autonomist leader Muhamed-aga Hadziefendic (p. 137); that Nesad Topcic, leader of the Muslim autonomist ‘Green Forces’, directed his activity primarily against the Partisans (p. 189) and was eventually killed by them (p. 257); that Tito considered Muslim autonomist leader Hafiz Muhamed efendi Pandza, with whom the Partisans collaborated, to have been ‘an agent of the Gestapo all along’ (p. 153); and the Partisans’ execution of Srebrenica Muslim autonomist Ismet Bektasevic after he abandoned them for the Ustashas (p. 143).

 

2) Markovina writes: ‘Hoare, jednako kao i hrvatski državotvorni povjesničari potpuno zanemaruje ideju socijalne revolucije kao konstitutivnog dijela dio te borbe, koju jedva da spominje, a i pritom posredno, ali očito u potpunosti relativizira moralne izbore. Kao da je potpuno svejedno da li je netko bio od početka i svo vrijeme antifašistički opredijeljen ili nije.’

Markovina doesn’t explain what he means by ‘the idea of social revolution’, and by linking it to the assertion that it was not ‘potpuno svejedno da li je netko bio od početka i svo vrijeme antifašistički opredijeljen ili nije‘, he suggests that he himself doesn’t know what he means. Because the whole point is that a social revolution and an antifascist movement are NOT the same thing.

Does he mean a social revolution in the countryside, among the peasantry who comprised most of Bosnia’s population ? But the real social revolution there had already been carried out by the royal Yugoslav regime after 1918, and involved radical agrarian reform to the benefit of the Bosnian Serb peasantry and at the expense of the Muslim landlords and their families, reducing many of them to poverty. Taking this radical social change a step further to encompass actual extermination or expulsion of the Muslims was what the Chetniks attempted to do, while the Partisans followed the more conservative policy of trying to preserve Bosnia’s traditional multiethnic coexistence.

Does Markovina mean a social revolution in the towns, among the proletariat ? But their socio-economic circumstances did not naturally lead them to support the sort of guerrilla uprising the Communists wanted to wage, involving destroying industrial assets to prevent the occupiers using them. In Zenica in July 1941, one veteran of the struggle recalled that local Communists feared ‘If we destroy the steel mill, the workers will become unemployed en masse and their hostility to Pavelić will be turned against the Communists’. When the Partisans destroyed the industrial assets of Drvar in September 1941, one Partisan recalled ‘To be honest, it has to be said that the best part of the people could not immediately understand and accept the meaning of this action. The majority of the population, which lived from their earnings from these factories, did not approve of their burning.’ Thus, the Partisan movement cannot be seen simply as some sort of outgrowth of pre-existing working-class struggle.

Does Markovina mean an idea of social revolution that existed in the Communists’ heads ? But the revolution in Bosnia wholly failed to unfold according to such pre-existing conceptions of what Communists thought it should look like; for example, richer peasants (‘kulaks’) were on the whole more likely to support the Partisans and poorer peasants to support the Chetniks. When the Communist leadership did shift in the direction of the ‘second stage’ of the revolution – of going from an anti-fascist struggle to a proletarian struggle – it had disastrous consequences for the Partisans in Hercegovina, where it led to systematic extermination of ‘kulaks’ that drove the local population into the arms of the Chetniks. The Hercegovinian Partisan Ljubica Mihić later recalled entering the struggle in the villages ‘with all the bookish, dogmatic prejudices concerning kulaks, middling peasants and poor peasants, and there I found a totally unexpected situation. Instead of by class, the division was national, and our ideas were not even accepted by the poor’.

The reality is that the Communists called the struggle they were waging a ‘Narodnooslobodilacka borba’ – National Liberation Struggle or People’s Liberation Struggle. They did not call it a ‘Klasnooslobodilacka borba’ or ‘Socijalnooslobodilacka borba’. They fought and won a national-liberation struggle using patriotic and anti-fascist rhetoric, not a class-liberation struggle using class rhetoric. The national struggle and the genocidal threat, represented in Bosnia by the Ustashas and Chetniks, were far more important than any social or class factors in mobilising people into the NOP. That is why the NOP took much stronger root among the Serbs of Croatia and Bosnia than in Serbia, and stronger root among the Croats in Dalmatia (annexed by Italy) than among the Croats in northern Croatia, irrespective of prewar social conditions. And it is why the Muslim Bosniaks, who had mostly voted alongside their own ‘bourgeoisie’ for the Yugoslav Muslim Organisation before the war, were ready to join the NOP en masse.

 

3) Markovina writes:Autorova tendencioznost vidi se i po još jednom detalju, a to je izostanak priče o Mostaru, koji je spomenut izravno ili posredno tek na 5-6 mjesta, a isto vrijedi i za Hercegovinu generalno.’

This is what my index says:

‘Mostar: 15, 17, 30, 32, 46, 47, 50, 118, 124-5, 176, 185, 193, 225, 339, 276, 277, 291, 350, 360, 368, 377; Muslim Resolution of (1941), 42-43, 360; Chetnik activity in, 49, 106-7, 112; early NOP activity in, 67-69, 79-81, 82; liberation of (1945) 266–9’

In other words, Mostar appears in rather more than five or six places.

 

4) Markovina writes: ‘Zašto mislim da je izostanak šireg prikaza stanja u Mostaru planski izostao? Pa zato jer s mostarskim slučajem, u kojem je gro Muslimana, pa tako i moja baka bio u radničkom pokretu i činio najznačajniju bazu partizanske vojske i gradskih ilegalaca od prvih dana okupacije i rata, pa sve do kraja, sve Hoarine teze padaju u vodu. Mostarski muslimani su u najvećem broju, od početka i bez ikakvih kalkulacija bili u antifašističkom pokretu zato jer su bili komunisti. A Hoare se ponaša tako da kad mu nešto ne odgovara, jednostavno prešuti. Tako mu je svugdje drugo važan nacionalni sastav partizana, samo za Mostar spominje generalno jak antifašistički pokret, bez spominjanja nacionalnog sastava.’

What is notable here is that Markovina cannot simply criticise the book for (as he sees it) neglecting to discuss something sufficiently that he considers important. No, he has to make the accusation of deliberate bad faith, or suppression of evidence, on the historian’s part. Which, to put it as politely as possible, reflects his own authoritarian-Communist intolerance and small-mindedness when faced with anything that does not confirm his own biases and cliches. When I am constantly and repeatedly attacked by Twitter Chetniks for supposedly exaggerating the Muslim Bosniak participation in the NOP, it very strange to be suddenly attacked with the opposite accusation: that I am supposedly downplaying Muslim Bosniak support for the NOP !

In my book ‘Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia’, I wrote the following: ‘The Hercegovinian capital of Mostar was the large town in Bosnia-Hercegovina where during the 1930s opposition to the Belgrade regime was strongest, and perhaps the one subsequently where support for the NOP would be most pronounced. In the words of Čolaković: “For Mostar it is characteristic that there the Muslims are the main basis of our movement. Few Muslim homes in Mostar are not tied to our movement, not only those of the poor but those of the notables.” According to Humo: “In Mostar a broad People’s Liberation Front was created and the Partisan families contributed a lot to its cohesion and activity. Almost every family had someone in the Partisans, and the Party involved all those families in its work. The solidarity of the citizens was such that illegal agents could freely move about without worrying that someone would reveal them. Every house was ready to hide anyone in danger.” Finally Vlado Šegrt, former commander of the 29th Hercegovinian Division, said of Mostar: “Rarely could one find any other town with a greater percentage of the population ready to involve themselves actively in the Partisan movement. There were towns in which the great majority of the people sympathised with the Partisans and were just waiting for the time when we should come and bring freedom, but there were few towns like Mostar in which so many people were ready to accept such difficult and dangerous tasks. These claims are supported by the testimony of the Ustasha police, which reported powerful Communist activity in several areas of public life in the city: pupils of the Mostar Gymnasium were “over 80% Communist oriented”; in the tobacco factory Communists were “spreading Communism unhindered among our workers”; Mostar citizens, Croats as well as Muslims, were demanding the release of Communist prisoners and the return of sacked Serbs into the administration; and there were several Communists and sympathisers among the Mostar Home Guards. The NOP was present also in the German munitions factory NSKK, where its agents siphoned off weapons and uniforms for the Partisans. Even the mosques in Mostar could serve as a hiding place for the NOP’s armaments. That the Communists were able to operate so easily in Mostar owed something to the Italian military presence, for the Italians did not wish the Ustasha state to consolidate itself in their zone of the country and did not allow the Ustasha police to act freely against the Communists. In total, Mostar contributed nearly two thousand Partisans during the war. After the war, the NOP in Mostar was made the subject of an epic poem, entitled ‘Poem about Mostar’, by Hamza Humo, the great Mostar poet.’ (‘Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia’, pp. 213-214)’

In other words, I have already written about, in an earlier published work, all the things that Markovina accuses me of deliberately suppressing and being silent about. (NB But note also the exaggeration in Markovina’s claim that ‘Mostarski muslimani su u najvećem broju, od početka i bez ikakvih kalkulacija bili u antifašističkom pokretu zato jer su bili komunisti.’ The Mostar Muslims were mostly anti-fascist from the start, but they were not mostly Communist.)

I do not of course expect Markovina to be familiar with my earlier book. I cite this passage to show just how false and, indeed, disgraceful is his accusation that I suppressed evidence of the antifascist sympathies of Mostar’s Muslim population.

 

5) Markovina writes: I na koncu, da bi čitatelju raspršio sve iluzije, autor glavni dio teksta, prije zaključka, završi ovako: “I baš kao što su komunisti, koji su bili mala i progonjena sekta tridesetih godina prošlog stoljeća, poveli borbu za oslobođenje Bosne i Hercegovine protiv Sila osovine i njihovih saradnika, tako će i bivši ‘Mladi Muslimani’ i njihove pristalice, na čelu s Alijom Izetbegovićem, povesti Bosnu i Hercegovinu u sljedećem metežu tokom devedesetih godina. Bosanska revolucija, koja se ugasila četrdesetih godina, rasplamsat će se ponovo pola stoljeća kasnije”. Pet puta sam ovo pročitao, svaki put ne vjerujući vlastitim očima, da je netko tko ima toliko podataka i znanja, u stanju mrtav-hladan zaključiti kako je Alija Izetbegović nastavio revolucionarnu partizansku i Titovu borbu. Besramno.’

As the citation above makes clear, I did not write that Alija Izetbegovic continued the revolutionary struggle of Tito and the Partisans. I wrote that Izetbegovic and his group led Bosnia in the next upheaval, and that the Bosnian revolution which wound down in the 1940s flared up again half a century later. There was no suggestion that the political goals or ideological character of the two parties that led Bosnia in each of its revolutionary phases were equivalent, merely an observation on the structural similarities, whereby in each case a dedicated, persecuted sect assumes a leadership role in a revolutionary upheaval. I certainly made no moral judgement about whether either group was ‘the good guys’, because that is not the task of the historian.

The trouble here is that Markovina, given his own ideological background, cannot understand the phenomenon of revolution except in terms of the Communist party. Being a Communist in Bosnia during World War II meant being a revolutionary. But being a Communist in Bosnia, or elsewhere in Communist-ruled Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s meant being a conservative; a supporter of the status quo. It was anti-Communists who were the revolutionaries in the 1980s and 1990s; the ones who tore down the Berlin wall. Markovina is offended by comparisons between Communists and anti-Communists. He cannot step outside his ideology and look at the course of history objectively, or judge his own and other political currents by the same standard. That is his problem.

Saturday, 18 January 2020 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Conservatism, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, The Left, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kurdistan, Palestine, Scotland, Catalonia, Taiwan, Chechnya…?

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National self-determination really just means democracy – the principle of majority rule. Democracy is based on the nation; sovereignty of the people means sovereignty of the nation. If a smaller nation is dominated by another, larger nation that imposes its majority on it, the smaller nation may reasonably feel that this majority is alien and illegitimate. A genuine nation rests on the consent of its members, which means they agree to be ruled by its majority, even if they support the minority.

In other words, true democracy must be pluralistic; it involves respect for the minority alongside rule by the majority. Consequently, for a nation to determine its own destiny freely, it must be able to choose freely between different, legitimate options. Scottish independence vs union with the rest of the UK; Catalan independence vs union with the rest of Spain; Brexit vs Remain. And not so long ago, Croatian and Slovenian independence vs united Yugoslavia; Jewish national statehood (Zionism) vs opposition to Jewish statehood (anti-Zionism). There can be no self-determination if there is only one permitted choice, and no national unity unless we respect our co-nationals who choose differently.

Modern history has involved the continuous emergence of new independent nation-states, from the secessions of the Netherlands, Sweden and Portugal in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through the American, Haitian, Belgian and Greek revolutions; the independence of Brazil and break up of the Spanish empire in Latin America; the break-up of the Ottoman, Habsburg and Romanov empires; independence of Norway, Ireland and Iceland; the Turkish and Israeli wars of independence; the establishment of the British Empire’s Dominions; post-WW2 decolonisation; the independence of Algeria, Bangladesh and Eritrea; the fall of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia; Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Divorce; up to the independence of Montenegro, Kosovo and South Sudan.

There is every reason to believe that as the human world continues to grow and evolve, the process will continue and more independent states will emerge – Kurdistan, Palestine, Scotland, Catalonia, Taiwan, Chechnya…? But the question of which nations or countries will become independent, as opposed to remaining parts of larger unions, is not predetermined. It depends – among other things – upon the will of their respective peoples. It is up to us to ensure that, while these difficult, weighty questions are being decided, the spirit of pluralism and tolerance is preserved.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019 Posted by | Catalonia, Chechnya, Kurds, Marko Attila Hoare, Palestine, Scotland | Leave a comment

Britain’s uncertain Brexit march

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The popular vote of the UK on 23 June 2016 to leave the EU has been politically an earthquake for the first and a shock to the second. Retrospectively, the outcome was likely, given the structural factors both within Britain and between Britain and the EU. Yet these same factors have obstructed a clear British postreferendum strategy for secession: Britain does not know what kind of Brexit it wants, or whether it wants one at all. This briefing will examine the causes of the Brexit revolution and the reasons for its uncertain execution, before considering the likely outcome.

Britain’s relationship to Europe is traditionally ambiguous. Britain’s identity – of a Protestant island-state formed in 1707 from the AngloScottish union – was cemented during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in wars against the Catholic powers of continental Europe. It was successively reinforced by Napoleon’s anti-British Continental System; by nineteenth-century imperial ‘splendid isolation’; and by Britain’s ‘Finest Hour’ in 1940, standing alone against Nazi-dominated Europe. But to maintain the European balance of power, Britain had to be closely involved in Europe’s politics. When Britain became too detached from Europe, as during the American Revolution and the Boer War, it found itself in peril.

Continue reading at IRMO Brief

Sunday, 15 September 2019 Posted by | Brexit, Britain, European Union, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being Serb the Bosnian way: Rodoljub Colakovic

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I reached my homeland, in Bosnia, whom I love as it is possible to love only a mother. I love her for her gentleness, her sombreness, wild beauty, for her soft and warm songs, for her pain and suffering yesterday and still today. I love her for her rebelliousness and her struggles, for her proud sons who languish and die in the dungeons and fortresses of two great empires and two small kingdoms: from Asia Minor through Požarevac, Arad and Teresienstadt to Zenica, Sremska Mitrovica and Lepoglava. Among them were various people: archimandrites and metal-workers; long-moustached Franciscans and clean-shaven gymnasium students; the descendants of old Bosnian landowning houses and the sons of serfs; coarse and illiterate people and educated heads who managed to “write little books”. But in all of them burned the same flame: all of them loved our Bosnia, and all of them not only passionately desired, but fought and died so that her children should have more freedom, more bread and more justice.

Rodoljub Čolaković, Bosnian Serb from Bijeljina, Bosnian Partisan leader, Spanish Civil War vet, political secretary of the Bosnian Communist organisation in 1943, first prime minister of the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1945, writing in 1941, on the eve of Yugoslavia’s entry into World War II (Rodoljub Čolaković, Kuća oplakana, Svjetlost, Sarajevo, 1966, p. 307).

 

Sunday, 15 September 2019 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia | | Leave a comment

From Milosevic to Brexit

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In the 1990s, it seemed Serbia had gone off on a sonderweg while most of the rest of Europe was progressing toward liberalism and integration. Now it seems Milosevic and his regime were pioneers for a general trend across Europe and beyond, involving different combinations of chauvinism, particularly Islamophobia; anti-elitist rabble-rousing; resistance to international collaboration and integration; treating allies as enemies; contempt for procedures and institutions; putting the immediate interests of cliques before the national interest. European and American right-wing populists who whip up Islamophobic fears of high Muslim birthrates and of Muslims as the enemy within are treading the same path as the Serbian nationalists of the 1980s and 90s, for whom Islamophobia and fears of the Albanian birthrate were central.

We in Britain may particularly now appreciate what the people of Serbia went through, as we watch a clique of cynical, self-serving chancers wreck our economy, relations with allies and internal harmony, all in pursuit of their own personal careers and profits. The sort of nationalists in Britain today who think our enemies are the liberal-democratic EU, France, Ireland, etc. are not unlike the nationalists in Serbia in the 1980s who thought their enemies were the Yugoslav federation, Croatia, Slovenia, Kosovo Albanians, etc.

It may not end in war and genocide. But we have a destructive period ahead of us that will make our country poorer, more divided and less respected.

Thursday, 5 September 2019 Posted by | Brexit, Islamophobia | , , | Leave a comment

The second edition of my book ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina: Genocide, justice and denial’, published by the Centar za napredne studije, is out ! PDF available here…

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PDF: Marko Attila Bosnia – TEXT 2. izdanje (PRINT) 21.12.2017.

The second edition of the selection of articles from my blog, Greater Surbiton, has been published in book format by the Centre for Advanced Studies in Sarajevo. The following is the foreword to the book:

The articles in this volume were published on my blog, Greater Surbiton, since its launch in November 2007. Although Greater Surbiton was devoted to a number of different themes – including the southern and eastern Balkans, Turkey and Cyprus, Russia and the Caucasus, the meaning of progressive politics and the fight against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of chauvinism – Bosnia-Hercegovina and the former Yugoslavia were at all times central to it. Twelve years after Dayton, when the blog was launched, the war over the former Yugoslavia was being waged as fiercely as ever – not on the battlefield, but in the realm of politics and ideas, both in the region and in the West. Genocide deniers and propagandists who sought to downplay or excuse the crimes of the Milosevic and Karadzic regimes of the 1990s – people like Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti, David N. Gibbs, Nebojsa Malic, John Schindler and Carl Savich – continued their ugly work. Yet the ongoing struggle to counter their falsehoods was just one front in the wider war.

The period since 2007 has witnessed the rise of Milorad Dodik’s separatist challenge to the precarious Bosnian-Hercegovinian unity established at Dayton, and the consequent degeneration of the post-Dayton political order in the country; the declaration of Kosovo’s independence and Belgrade’s efforts to derail it; the struggle in Serbia between reformist and nationalist currents; the increasingly aggressive challenge of Russia’s Vladimir Putin to the West, manifested most starkly in the attacks on Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, but also in support for Belgrade over Kosovo and for Dodik in Bosnia-Hercegovina; the increasingly apparent failure of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to punish adequately the war-criminals of the 1990s, despite the spectacular arrests of Radovan Karadzic in 2008 and Ratko Mladic in 2011; and the increasingly stark failure of Western leaders to confront murderous tyrants like Putin, Sudan’s Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad – reminiscent of their failure in the 1990s over Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Today, the truth about the war in the former Yugoslavia is more widely known and understood than ever. The battle for the recognition of the Srebrenica genocide worldwide has largely been won; the remains of most victims of the massacre have been identified and reburied. The deniers and their narrative have been largely discredited. Yet the Bosnian question is further from a happy resolution than ever, while the West – the US, EU and their allies – look less likely to lead positive change in the region than they did a decade ago. Kosovo’s full international recognition is still being blocked by Serbia and Russia; Macedonia, kept out of the EU and NATO by Greek nationalist intransigence, is in crisis; not a single official of Serbia has yet been found guilty by the ICTY for war-crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina, or is likely to be in the future; and leading former-Yugoslav war-criminals such as Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik have been released after serving short prison-terms in comfortable conditions.

The outcomes of the struggles tracked by my blog have therefore been far from unambiguously happy. Yet the politics and recent history of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the rest of the former Yugoslavia are much better understood than they were a decade ago; new generations of scholars, analysts and activists are discovering and explaining more all the time. I hope that the articles contained in this volume have made a contribution to this process of discovery.

Sunday, 14 October 2018 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Fascism, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Islam, Marko Attila Hoare | Leave a comment

Remembering the Bosnian Genocide

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Review of Hikmet Karcic (ed.), Remembering the Bosnian Genocide: Justice, Memory and Denial, Institute for Islamic Tradition of Bosniaks, Sarajevo, 2016, 350 pp.

Hikmet Karcic, who this month defended his PhD at the International University of Sarajevo, combines an intellectual seriousness in his research into the Bosnian genocide with a readiness to engage with the painful essence of the topic in a way that is all too rare. He is not one to rest content with safe platitudes about reconciliation, memory, civic values and the like that often seem to substitute for such an engagement. His readiness to rock the boat was apparent when his exhibit on the Srebrenica genocide, due to be shown at the European Parliament this month, was cancelled by the latter for displaying ‘too many skulls and bones’. For all that the Srebrenica genocide is now commemorated and recognised in Europe, elements of the EU establishment clearly do not like to see their sleek corporate veneer tarnished by a display concerning it that is too frank and prominent. Subsuming the story of the Srebrenica and wider Bosnian genocide within a ‘progressive’ democratic European narrative remains difficult to achieve, given the extent to which ‘progressive’ democratic Europe was implicated in the genocide

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The current volume of essays arose out of an conference organised by the Islamic Tradition of Bosniaks and held in Sarajevo in 2015 to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. Karcic has managed to assemble a collection of texts covering a range of themes related to the genocide – trials and courts, remembrance and memory and destruction of denial – that are generally of a high scholarly level and likewise pull few punches. In particular, Sandra Cvikic and Drazen Zivic have contributed a withering critique of the form of ‘transitional justice’ promoted by the international community and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), whereby the genuine trauma and memory of the genocide among communities in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia are expected to be suppressed in the name of ‘reconciliation’ and a blander, value-neutral form of memory that tends in the direction of equalising the guilt and suffering of the parties to the conflict and their respective populations. Similarly, former ICTY investigator Nena Tromp provides an account of the tribunal’s pragmatic compromises in the pursuit of truth and justice, in particular with regard to its failure to compel Serbia to hand over the uncensored minutes of the Supreme Defence Council; Tromp’s account is as well informed as one would expect given its author’s expertise, but also very critical of the tribunal’s policies. Norman Cigar’s critique of the US military’s contribution to the Bosnian catastrophe, in the form of its exaggerated estimates of the Bosnian Serb armed forces’ capacity to resist militarily and consequent bad advice to the Clinton Administration, provides an excellent antidote to cliches of US hawkishness, militarism and imperialism.

There are too many more good essays and individual points contained in this volume to list them all, but just to give an example of the range, there is an essay by Safet Bandzovic on the abuse of Bosniak refugees from Srebrenica and Zepa in Serbia during the war – a sideshow to the genocide that has had little attention paid to it – and an essay by Alexandra Lily Kather on the international law regarding genocide that serves as a very good introduction to the subject. I am just sorry that Karcic was apparently unable to prevail upon the always interesting Geoffrey Nice to contribute a fully referenced academic article; his contribution here consists of a rather tantalising list of numbered points.

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Hikmet Karcic

There is, however, one criticism to be made of this collection of essays that transcends any single article, and it applies to many other similar collections relating to the war in the former Yugoslavia: various cliches have crept into several of the texts that should rightfully be dispensed with. Thus, John Weiss claims that in the Communist era in Yugoslavia, ‘The popular memories of the battles of World War II that set Partisan against Chetnik or White Guard, Ustashe against Serb or Jew,  Handzar against Chetnik or Jew, and Yugoslavs against Russian were not allowed expression in the public sphere’ (p. 114). It was certainly a grievance of the Serb nationalists in the 1980s and 1990s that the memory of the Ustasha genocide against Serbs and Jews was supposedly suppressed, but it was not a legitimate one; the genocide was commemorated very publicly, for example in the memorial parks at Jasenovac and at Vraca in Sarajevo, while the Partisan battle against the Chetniks at Neretva in 1943 was depicted in the famous 1969 film ‘Battle of the Neretva’ starring, among others, Yul Brynner and Orson Welles; a more high profile commemoration could barely be imagined. Weiss also argues, in relation to comparisons between the Bosnian genocide and the Holocaust, that ‘As a tocsin to assemble and stir up the righteous, then, “Never again !” retains power, perhaps even more power than it had before the 1970s. But as analytic framework or policy guide, it has to be judged often misleading and occasionally dangerous’ (pp. 122-123). This seems to be an unwarranted concession to the ‘all sides are guilty’ attitude that dominated UN and international community thinking during the 1990s conflict, yet it was the latter, not the ‘Never again !’ position of pro-Bosnia activists, that resulted in the catastrophic international policy that culminated in the Srebrenica massacre.

Bandzovic notes without criticism the view that ‘Everything that happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to the Bosniaks between 1992 and 1995 can be observed, according to a number of Serbian politicians and academics, as the continuity and completion of a process that began in 1804. Earlier events included Karadjordje’s uprising against the Ottoman government in the Smederevo Sanjak, the establishment and expansion of the Serbian state, as well as the disappearance of Muslims from this territory’ (pp. 224-225). Such a teleological, essentialising attitude toward Serb nationhood and nationalism as intrinsically genocidal has predominated among some of their critics, but it isn’t warranted: Serb national politics was historically at least as ready to co-opt the Bosniaks as it was to exterminate them, as witnessed in Ilija Garasanin’s 1844 ‘plan’, the readiness of the Serbian government in the 1850s and 1860s to recognised the land-rights of the Bosnian Muslim landlords, the Serbian Army’s generally correct treatment of the Muslim population of the Sandzak during the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, the 1921 Vidovdan constitution’s recognition of Bosnia-Hercegovina’s historic provinces within the the new Yugoslav state, Milan Stojadinovic’s partnership with the Yugoslav Muslim Organisation in governing Yugoslavia in 1935-1939, and so on. Treating the genocide of the 1990s as simply the logical culmination of Serbian history detracts from the specific responsibility of the Milosevic and Karadzic regimes for organising and launching it.

Samuel Totten’s recommendation, that there be established two major museums and research centres on the Srebrenica genocide (pp. 87-88) seems to follow the trend of over-emphasising the latter to the point where it overshadows the rest of the Bosnian genocide, treating the 1995 massacre as if it were something of an aberration. In fact, as Edina Becirevic’s research has shown, the Srebrenica massacre was the culmination of the genocidal policy begun in the preceding years, and followed on logically from the massacres of 1992 and the siege of Srebrenica of 1992-1995. Since the German courts found, in the Nikola Jorgic case, that genocide had already taken place in Bosnia outside of Srebrenica in 1992, and since the European Court of Human Rights upheld the legitimacy of this conclusion under international law, there is no need to commemorate the Bosnian genocide as if it only occurred in Srebrenica in 1995.

All told, this is an excellent collection of articles that will be of interest to the newcomer to the subject and to the expert alike. But it highlights the fact that there is still more to do in challenging the stereotypes.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, European Union, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anti-Irish racism and Britain’s legalisation of abortion

AliceJenkins

As is widely known, abortion was legalised in practice in Great Britain by the Abortion Act of 1967, passed as the result of a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Liberal MP David Steel. Steel had been persuaded to do so by the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA) and, in a 2007 interview with The Guardian, he singles out a book by Alice Jenkins, one of the ALRA’s founders, as particularly influential on him:

‘His decision was reinforced, Steel recalls, by his reading of Alice Jenkins’ polemic, Law for the Rich, which highlighted how rich or educated women were getting round the abortion ban by claiming their life was threatened by the danger to their mental health.’

But Jenkins’s book was more than simply a plea for legalised abortion. It was also an anti-Catholic, anti-Irish tract:

Roman Catholic congregations are amongst the most poverty-stricken sections of the community; their numerical strength is growing and their poverty is intensified by their large families. Most people believe in free speech and a free Press, and the Roman Catholic Church has the right to voice its opinions. But we may well ask why it is allowed to exercise so much indirect and often insidious influence in our country, out of all proportion to its numbers. We are told that in 1958 the number of Irish immigrants from Eire was estimated to be 60,000. The number of marriages solemnised in Roman Catholic Churches in this country is greatly increasing, and, if this trend continues, it looks as though there might be a reversion to Roman Catholicism within 150 years. So it is later than we think ! Far too few leading British newspapers concern themselves with this danger…’ (Alice Jenkins, Law for the Rich, Victor Gollancz, London, 1961, pp. 43-44).

In support of her view, Jenkins quotes another book, Your Future is Now by W.J. Thorne:

‘Never since the Elizabethan settlement have there been so many practicing Catholics in Britain, and each year the supply grows as boatload after boatload arrive to seek a higher standard of life. It is not necessary for the Catholics to constitute a majority for their Church to exercise a decisive influence. The power of a united, well-disciplined, numerous minority operating amongst hordes of unattached individualists is usually sufficient to secure de facto power. We can be thankful that the Catholic ‘interest’ has not been formalised in England by the creation of a separate political party. It has achieved that distinction in some other countries and the results are not pretty. The English being what they are, the Roman Catholics get more of their own way by not seeking representation in Parliament, and the Hierarchy may be expected to rely on the existing policy of permeation. Still, a point may be reached when the unravelled majority may find sufficient negative unity to prevent the creation of anything resembling a Catholic state.’ Jenkins adds: ‘To which we can only rejoin “Let us fervently hope so !”‘ (Jenkins, pp. 44-45). She also asks rhetorically ‘How can a Protestant nation be expected to accept dictation from a doctrinal minority ?’ (Jenkins, p. 43)

The ‘boatload after boatload’ to which Thorne referred were, of course, Irish immigrants, and whether because Jenkins misquoted Thorne or because she used a different printing of his book, she omitted the words ‘the Irish’ from the full sentence, which referred to ‘boatload after boatload of Irish’.

The cause of legalised abortion has been from its inception up to the present day closely bound up with eugenicist, Malthusian and Social Darwinist concerns to reduce the birthrate among, and births of, ‘undesirable’ or ‘defective’ people, which in the US included in particular black people, but in Britain was above all the poor and the disabled (and poverty was widely assumed by supporters of the cause to stem from the ‘feeble-mindedness’ of the poor, so that the two groups were not viewed as distinct). The fear was that the ‘overbreeding’ of these groups would ‘swamp’ the ‘better sort’ of people; encouraging abortion of, or among, the poor and disabled was a way to prevent this (see Ann Farmer, By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control and the Abortion Campaign, Catholic University America, Washington DC, 2008). Hence, the 1967 Abortion Act specified disability of the baby as grounds for abortion, and it has served largely to wipe out people with Down’s Syndrome and other disabilities in Britain ever since.

Madeleine Simms, one of the principal ALRA activists behind the 1967 Abortion Act, dedicated her 1971 book Abortion Law Reformed (known as ‘the “official” ALRA account of the Abortion Act’), to ‘thalidomide mothers for whom reform came too late’. This was a reference to the babies who had been born disabled after their mothers had taken thalidomide to treat their morning sickness, which had resulted in a spate of births of such disabled babies in the late 1950s and early 1960s – a trauma that helped precipitate the Abortion Act. Simms’s assumption was that any mother with the choice would have wanted to abort such babies.

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Nevertheless, as Jenkins’s book showed, the modern ideologies of eugenics and Social Darwinism could readily coexist with the traditional English paranoia and hostility towards the Irish and the Catholic Church; they too were the supposed demographic threat that legalised abortion sought to counter.

That abortion was legalised in Britain at the initiative of a politician under the influence of an aggressively anti-Irish, anti-Catholic tract is already remarkable. But it is truly incredible that the Republic of Ireland may vote in a few days to emulate Britain, its former colonial master, and remove the constitutional protection for unborn children from its constitution, given the anti-Irish and anti-Catholic roots of legalised abortion in Britain. Jenkins may have hoped that her tract would help counter the supposed Irish Catholic threat in her own country. But that her ideology would then spread across the Irish Sea to combat Irish Catholic breeding in the Republic of Ireland itself would no doubt have seemed a success beyond her wildest dreams.

 

 

Thursday, 17 May 2018 Posted by | Abortion, Genocide, Immigration, Ireland | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment