Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Eighty-four days

I am going abroad until 13 February, and shall probably not be able to post much while I am away.

Since Greater Surbiton was launched on 7 November, the site has had over seventeen thousand views. The largest number of views in a single day was 1,452, at the time of this post.

Several people have asked me why I don’t have comments on my blog. There are several reasons. Firstly, as it is, the blog is just about as time-consuming as I can manage. If I were to moderate and post comments as well, it would just be too much. Secondly, I am often depressed by the quality of comments on the blogs that I visit – the abuse, vulgarity, flippancy and repetitiveness. I have a low tolerance for these things and am not interested in dealing with them, but I don’t want to be in the position of having to censor comments. It’s better when people write considered responses on their own blogs than off-the-cuff remarks on someone else’s. I was pleased, for example, when Backword Dave wrote a thoughtful response to my first posted item. Of course, it’s different for blogs with multiple authors and lots of readers, like Harry’s Place or Crooked Timber, where the discussion is much of the point. But for me, the real pleasure has been to write about things I wouldn’t otherwise get to write about; I don’t necessarily want to have a public debate every time. All private comments sent to me are welcome, however.

I have a somewhat more positive view of blogging than Oliver Kamm, who maintains one of the most consistently high-quality blogs on the ‘net and therefore has every right to deplore the poor quality of a lot of what is out there. In general, despite such undeniably widespread poor quality, I favour something that facilitates global communication and the exchange of information. The democratic nature of blogging, whereby anyone can post or comment, is of course a double-edged sword. The amount of abuse and vulgarity in the blogosphere is lamentable. I make no apology for being rude to people with thoroughly obnoxious views – chauvinists, genocide-deniers, etc. – sometimes politeness would not be warranted. But I’m not proud of having sometimes exchanged actual insults. All credit to those who manage to be more consistently restrained than I am. Over here, I have at least tried to follow the advice of my friend Modernity, a much more experienced blogger than I am, who recommended to me when I began that I avoid fighting blog-wars.

Even worse than the vulgarity and abusiveness is the sheer mediocrity of a lot of what passes for discussion online. In the unlikely event that anyone reading this hasn’t already experienced it, the absolute lowest quality of debate that I know of can be found at the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ site. Reading the endless string of totally mindless off-the-cuff remarks that regularly appear there, one sometimes feels that democratisation of the means of communication has gone too far…

For all that, blogs provide a forum for political discussion that might not otherwise take place, and for investigative writing that might not otherwise appear. Readers will no doubt be aware of the excellent Harry’s Place, and its unique role in keeping track of Islamism’s followers and accommodators in the West and enabling issues relating to them to be debated publicly. This is one of the key topics of our day and what Harry’s Place is doing is absolutely crucial. Particularly so given the prevalence of what might humorously be called the ‘left errors’ and ‘right errors’ vis a vis Islamism: on the one hand, the view that Islamic extremists are the authentic voice of the oppressed, and that to condemn them is ‘Islamophobic’; on the other, the view that all Muslims are equivalent to the extremists. Both errors involve conflating moderate, conservative and extremist Islam. Harry’s Place does an excellent job in showing why this is not the case; a lesson that needs to be taken on board if the struggle against Islamofascism is to be won, and the Islamic world freed from the threat it poses.

I would also like to draw readers’ attention to the consistently excellent Srebrenica Genocide Blog, which meticulously keeps track of events, stories and research related to the Srebrenica massacre, and refutes the arguments of the deniers point by point. This blog exemplies what can be achieved by an informed blogger carefully investigating a particular, important subject, one that deserves careful attention but would probably not receive it anywhere else; certainly nowhere so accessible.

The explosion of blogs is part of the process of globalisation. Even a blog like mine, with a modest number of readers, is looked at all over the world. Judging by the ‘Clustermaps’ on many blogs, this is entirely common. I am happy to be participating.

PS I liked this when I discovered it by accident.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008 Posted by | Marko Attila Hoare, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Are there any fascists left ?

Members of the Eustonite left (aka the ‘Decent’ left – I can’t speak for my comrades, but I have no problem with the label) are sometimes stereotyped as describing anyone and anything we don’t like as ‘fascist’. Other left-wingers, by contrast, often prefer to define ‘fascism’ so narrowly that the phenomenon virtually disappears altogether. Richard Seymour of ‘Lenin’s Tomb’, a supporter of Britain’s Socialist Workers Party (SWP), had a go at those of us who describe the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic as ‘fascist’, on the grounds that to do so ‘degrades the very concept of fascism’. Yet the SWP readily describes the British National Party (BNP) not merely as ‘fascist’, but as ‘Nazi’. When I pointed out that this was a strange inconsistency, given that by just about any measure the Milosevic regime was more fascistic than the BNP has ever been, Richard responded with a lot of bluster but without actually being able to resolve the paradox, something that did not go unnoticed. In order to defend the Islamists, Serb Chetniks, Iraqi ‘insurgents’ and other murderous chauvinists they support – or at least don’t like to oppose – from the charge of ‘fascism’, leftists like Seymour choose to reserve the ‘fascism’ label for those political parties organised by white people in Europe or in the white, English-speaking world, that are openly racist or chauvinistic and that are more hardline on race and immigration than the mainstream conservative parliamentary parties. It’s not a very intellectually satisfying definition, but functionally, it serves the purpose of the leftists in question. On this basis, Jean Marie Le Pen’s National Front (FN) in France qualifies as ‘Nazi’; the Iraqi Baathists and the Hizb ut-Tahrir do not.

In Serbia, the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) occupies a broadly similar political space to the BNP in Britain or the FN in France. Even the Western leftists most ready to apologise for Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic are generally ready to concede that the Serbian Radicals are ‘fascist’. And with good reason. Le Pen visited Serbian Radical leader Vojislav Seselj in Serbia in January 1997 to express his support:

‘Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the French far-right National Front, met in Belgrade on 21 January with Vojislav Seselj, leader of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, international media reported. Le Pen, who was invited by Seselj and is on a whirlwind Balkan tour, said Seselj’s party protects and defends “near enough the same things that we defend,” AFP reported.’

In April 2002, following an FN electoral success in France, Seselj congratulated Le Pen:

‘In a message of congratulations sent to Le Pen, Seselj said: “Your victory and those of the French patriots provides encouragement and immense hope for all of us, Serb patriots and other nations of Europe, who are caught in the claws of internationalism and seek to win freedom and the right to a better future,” the Tanjug news agency reported.’

In 1989, Seselj visited the US and was awarded the honourary title of ‘Vojvoda’ (warlord) by Momcilo Djujic, President of the ‘Movement of Chetniks of the Free World’. Djujic, whom Seselj revered, was a former commander of the Nazi-collaborationist Chetnik movement; his forces had literally fought alongside the Nazis and Croatian Ustashas against Tito’s Partisans in World War II. No mere opportunistic collaborator, Djujic was an ideological fascist-sympathiser and anti-Semite. A recent Serbian biographer of Djujic has this to say about him: ‘During 1944 Momcilo Djujic was in contact with Milan Nedic, the president of the government of Serbia. Of him, Djujic spoke only good words. He deemed that Nedic, along with Ljotic and Dragoljub Mihailovic, are doing the same work for the Serb nation, but each in his own way.’ (Veljko Dj. Djuric, ‘Vojvoda Djujic’, Belgrade, 1998, p. 49). Nedic was the Nazi-quisling Serbian leader who served Hitler directly and who helped implement the Holocaust. Ljotic was the Serbian fascist leader, whose Serbian Volunteer Corps formed part of the Nazi SS during 1944. Mihailovic was the Chetnik commander, therefore Djujic’s leader. In my book Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia, I cite a proclamation by Djujic, in which he denounces the Yugoslav Communist leaders as ‘paid Jews’ and ‘Communist Jews’, whom Djujic and his fellow Chetnik leaders pledged to ‘crush’ (p. 162). This, then, was the heritage to which Seselj and his supporters subscribed from the start. During the war in Bosnia in the 1990s, Seselj and the Radicals organised a militia called the ‘Chetniks’, after the Nazi-collaborationist militia of World War II. Seselj’s Chetniks were under Yugoslav military command during the assault on Bosnia, and were centrally involved in ethnic-cleansing operations.

Seselj and the Radicals are, therefore, fascists who I hope would satisfy even the Richard Seymour definition of the term. Be this as it may, given the current evolution that the ‘anti-imperialist’ left is currently undergoing, it was only a matter of time before, here in the West, someone on ‘the Left’ came out in defence of Seselj and the Radicals. This is what the Irish left-wing blogger Splintered Sunrise does. He posted a comment on Seymour’s blog last January, questioning whether it was appropriate to call the Serbian Radicals fascist: ‘I’ve no doubt that Seselj is a nasty piece of work. But the term “fascism” has a definite meaning, and while I’ve heard lots of leftists call the SRS fascist, I’ve never heard a substantial case made for this. And I’m not defending SRS ideology either, but maybe it’s worth looking at what they say they stand for before pontificating about what they stand for. The trouble is, this stuff isn’t readily available to people who don’t understand Serbian, so Western leftists have to rely on agents of imperialism like Sonja Biserko for their factoids.’ (NB you’ll have to scroll to the bottom of the comments box to read this).

This week, Splintered Sunrise offers a measured endorsement of Seselj’s Radicals: ‘I’m not exactly an ideological soulmate of the SRS, and the party contains a lot of, shall we say, colourful characters that people worrying about their respectability might like to avoid. So why do I find myself warming slightly to these fuckers? Mostly, I have to say, this is down to spite. And very largely it’s down to the Empire’s definition of “democracy”, which acquires a specialist meaning when it comes to Serbia. “Democracy” in this context means that the Radicals must never be allowed to form a government no matter how many votes they get.’ Which is to say, Splintered Sunrise sympathises with the Serbian Radicals because they are ‘anti-imperialist’. Of Seselj’s deputy, the acting Radical leader Tomislav Nikolic, currently contesting the Serbian Presidential elections, Splintered Sunrise has this to say: ‘Nikolić is no pearl of great price to say the least, but he has one thing going for him. That is that he isn’t a surrender monkey, which is why the Powers have determined he can’t be allowed to win. More to the point, there is an alternative programme on offer to simply going along with Washington and Brussels. Nikolić is nowhere near as stridently anti-EU as he used to be, but his support for national sovereignty and his call for closer ties with Russia and other countries that don’t regard Serbia as the Heart of Darkness has a lot of resonance.’

Of course, Hitler wasn’t a ‘surrender monkey’ either. And it won’t be Splintered Sunrise who’ll pay the price for his ‘spite’: in an ‘anti-imperialist’ Serbia kept out of the EU, it’ll be the ordinary Serbian citizens who’ll be denied the benefits in the field of work, travel and education that EU membership would bring. There’s no economic or material hardship our ‘anti-imperialists’ are unwilling to impose on the Serbian or Iraqi people in the cause of opposing the US. Also notable is Splintered Sunrise’s resistance to the labelling of Seselj and the Radicals as ‘fascist’, but simultaneous readiness to label the brave human-rights activist Sonja Biserko as an ‘agent of imperialism’. This is very much in the tradition of the late Gerry Healy, a Trotskyist leader in Britain who much preferred Saddam Hussein to Iraqi left-wingers, so much so that he was ready to inform on them to the Iraqi authorities, from which he received money. Indeed, the resemblance between the politics of Healy and Splintered Sunrise may not be coincidental…

Splintered Sunrise is not a serious blogger. He uses words like ‘Stalinophobic’ [in the comments] and ‘imperialised’. The meaning of ‘Stalinophobic’ is all too self-evident; ‘imperialised’ apparently means ‘made subordinate to imperialism’. No doubt James Joyce would have been proud. He frequently posts titillating pictures of lad-mag models on his blog, which also links to pornographic websites, and he muses on masturbation and female pubic hair. The combination of Red-Brown politics, sleaze and personal nastiness that characterises his site is highly distasteful.

In short, someone not worth mentioning, were it not for the fact that he has made it onto the blogroll of numerous left-wing blogs, some of them ones that I have time for. Now, I appreciate that putting someone on one’s blogroll doesn’t mean one agrees with everything they say. But surely, when someone is a fascist sympathiser by any definition of the term, then a line should be drawn ? Is it really defensible to publicise fascist or racist websites, simply because one finds them interesting or informative ?

Unfortunately, there are many on the left who regard it as a provocation even to ask such questions. While not themselves fascist sympathisers, such leftists are 1) ready to turn a blind eye to the powerful (I would say dominant) pro-fascist currents in the ranks of the radical left; and 2) liable to get extremely upset when anyone points out the increasing influence of such currents within the left, as I have discovered. If one raises the issue, one risks being labelled a class traitor, McCarthyite, neocon or such like. This is because the radical-left mindset depends upon a sense of moral superiority in relation to the existing liberal-capitalist order. Question this sense of moral superiority; suggest that perhaps the liberal-capitalist mainstream might actually be morally superior to a left that embraces pro-fascist currents; and you threaten the leftists’ very identity. It’s a bit like telling a devoutly religious person that the God they’ve worshipped all their life is an evil God.

Well comrades, you can have your broad-church united left. Or you can have your moral high-ground. But you can’t have both.

Thursday, 24 January 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, The Left | 2 Comments

The ghost of Franco

FranciscoFrancoI wrote recently of how Greece and Cyprus have systematically allowed their own petty nationalistic concerns to distort EU policy. But it would be a mistake to view this sort of misbehaviour as being an exclusively Balkan or South East European failing. It is being reported that Spain has requested a delay in Kosovo’s declaration of independence until after Spanish elections on 9 March, for fear that recognition of Kosovo’s independence might encourage separatist sentiment among Spain’s Basque population and complicate the results of the poll. Abusing his position as EU foreign policy chief, the Spanish Socialist Javier Solana has been trying to hold back discussion of Kosovo’s independence until after 9 March to avoid creating problems for the Spanish Socialist (PSOE) government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

This Spanish tendency, to put selfish nationalistic concerns above Balkan stability, is nothing new: in 2002, Solana negotiated the unworkable ‘State Union of Serbia and Montenegro’ in a futile attempt to avert Montenegro’s independence. When Montenegro nevertheless went ahead and held a referendum on independence in 2006, Solana insisted that at least 55% had to vote in favour, for the EU to consider the vote for independence as valid. This was, it seems, not only in order to make Montenegrin independence more difficult, but also to ensure that the threshold for votes for independence in other parts of Europe be kept high. When the people of Montenegro nevertheless voted in favour of independence by over 55%, Solana was quick to insist: ‘This is not a precedent for anyone, it is just for the situation in the Balkans. Anyone who compares Catalonia and the Basque Country with Montenegro is suffering from delirium tremens.’ In other words, Solana and other Spanish nationalists are indeed afraid that the secession of countries like Montenegro and Kosovo might become a precedent for the secession of Catalonia or the Basque Country, and will therefore try to obstruct such acts of secession. If the latter are successful, however, the Spanish nationalists will then argue that there is not really a parallel anyway. They want it both ways.

The United Kingdom, of course, is a multinational state with ‘separatist’ movements of its own, represented by the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein. Nevertheless, the UK supports Kosovo’s independence. This raises the interesting question of why Spain is afraid of Kosovo’s independence inspiring its own ‘separatists’, but the UK is not. One answer might be that the British government is more rational than its Spanish counterpart, and realises that Kosovo’s independence will not, actually, have any bearing on the domestic politics of the UK, Spain or any other West European state. Ultimately, if the people of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, or indeed the people of Catalonia or the Basque Country, want independence, then they will not be deterred from seeking it by a failure of Kosovo’s bid. After all, there are plenty of successful precedents that ardent pro-independence patriots can look to, from the secession of the Netherlands and Portugal from the Spanish crown in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to the more recent secessions of Croatia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Montenegro, etc. Conversely, while Basque and Catalan nationalists welcomed Montenegrin independence, there is no evidence that it actually boosted their fortunes.

The knee-jerk Spanish hostility to Balkan ‘separatism’ is simply a reflection of paranoia, and a reminder that the legacy of Franco’s dictatorship, which came to an end only in 1975, has not really been overcome. The fascist assault on Republican Spain in 1936 was inspired in part by the desire to crush Catalan autonomy and safeguard a unitary Spanish nation-state. While Republican Spain granted extensive autonomy to the Catalans and Basques, Franco’s Nationalists abolished this autonomy and pursued a policy of forced assimilation of both nations. The autonomy was re-established following Franco’s death in 1975 and the restoration of democracy. But the Spanish political elite’s continued hostility to ‘separatism’ indicates that the ghost of Franco still lingers. Nor is this the only such indication. Spain continues to lay claim to the British territory of Gibraltar, on the Spanish coast, while refusing to recognise Morocco’s similar claim to the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, on the Moroccan coast. The Spanish claim to Gibraltar was revived under Franco, who ultimately closed Spain’s border with the territory. Spain continues to make life difficult for the people of Gibraltar.

A West European state whose foreign policy toward South East Europe is motivated by domestic political concerns of this kind is clearly not a healthy entity; nor is it one that can play a constructive role in the EU. The obvious cure is for Spain to complete the transition to democracy begun in 1975, and recognise the right of Catalonia and the Basque Country (i.e. the Catalan and Basque Autonomous Communities) to secede from Spain, should they wish to do so. The question of whether other autonomous communities of Spain, such as Galicia, should possess this right should also be addressed. This may or may not lead one day to one or more territories breaking away from Spain, but Spain – properly democratic and freed from the fear of separatism – would be a winner either way. And a Spain that achieves such political maturity at home will cease to play such a destabilising role abroad.

Monday, 21 January 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Basque Country, Catalonia, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Spain | 1 Comment

Join Facebook and support the Revolution

I was getting a bit fed up with Facebook. The ‘social networking’ side to it seems to be completely drowned out by the junk mail, the time-wasting gadgets, the relentless infantilism, the virtual presents and other silliness. I don’t like the way it constantly manipulates you to challenge friends to quizzes or bombard them with spam or otherwise harass them; the way it tells you that you have a ‘message’, but when you try to access the alleged ‘message’, you’re suddenly told to install yet another unwanted application. Or the fact that genuine messages get lost between the Inbox, the Funwall, the Superwall and the ordinary Wall. Or whatever. I’ve largely been driven off Facebook by the sheer weight of fripperies.

However, now that I’ve learned that Facebook is really a sinister, global neoconservative conspiracy, it appears in a much more positive light…

Hat tip: Neil Clark.

Friday, 18 January 2008 Posted by | Neoconservatism | Leave a comment

Serbia’s oldest theatre destroyed

The Bradt travel guide to Serbia (2005) has this to say about the building pictured on the left, in the town of Subotica: ‘Facing the Town Hall are the six tall pillars of the neoclassical People’s Theatre (Narodno Pozoriste, or Nepszinhaz in Hungarian), dating from 1854 and the oldest theatre in the country.’ I was able to see it with my own eyes last summer when I was exploring Serbia. There are many things about Serbia to attract the tourist: good-looking inhabitants who are generally kind and helpful toward foreign visitors; streets that are safe to walk in at night; lovely lush, green, rolling countryside; great food; low prices; and, of course, the legendary medieval monasteries. But nobody could accuse Serbia of being a country of beautiful buildings. Of all Serbia’s towns, Subotica, an ethnically mixed, bilingual Serbian-Hungarian town on the northern tip of the country, stands out as being one of the most architecturally splendid, thanks to the Secessionist architecture it inherited from Hungary, of which Subotica was part until the end of World War I. It may not remain so.

Today, just over six months after I saw it, Serbia’s oldest theatre looks very different. Despite its status as a listed building on Serbia’s National Register, and after a long period of neglect by the town’s authorities had left it unusable as a theatre, it was at the start of last year, apparently in virtual secrecy, slated for demolition, allegedly to be replace by a modern theatre building. After the demolition contract was signed, a campaign arose in its defence, headed by leading architects of the town, that extended to both Serbia and Hungary. In the words of Subotica architect Viktorija Aladzic, ‘The existing theatre was one of the highest achievements of that era. Nobody destroys the highest achievements of earlier eras apart from us. That was a place for meetings and gatherings of different nationalities and religions in a single place, a place for the unification of our citizen class that built a town that we are today trying so hard to destroy.’ Or in the words of chief architect Sabo Zombor, who lost his job because of his opposition to the demolition: ‘As chief architect and expert, I could not permit myself to watch in silence as the town theatre that was a symbol and defining element of the visual identity of the town centre was destroyed, in order that in its place should pop up, who knows when, a twenty-eight metre concrete-and-glass monstrosity.’

In the face of the public campaign, which was apparently supported by 90% of Subotica’s citizenry and backed by a petition that attracted several thousand signatories, the town mayor, Geza Kucera of the Alliance of Vojvodina Magyars, offered a compromise whereby one-third of the building, including the facade, main hall, main staircases and ballroom were to be saved. This compromise was, however, not honoured, and the building has been totally wrecked. The magnificent building was turned into a ruin.

In March 2004, Kosovo was engulfed in a wave of violence, as Albanian thugs attacked ethnic Serbs and vandalised and desecrated Serbian Orthodox monasteries and churches. Whether there is any real difference between what these rioters did to Kosovo’s religious buildings, and what the town authorities have done to the Subotica theatre, is a moot point. In Belgrade and Nis, Serbia proper’s second city, local racists responded to the Kosovo riots by attacking the cities’ mosques; the seventeenth-century Ottoman Bajrakli mosque in Belgrade was seriously damaged; the nineteenth-century Islam-Aga mosque in Nis was completely burned out. In Belgrade, historic Ottoman gravestones at the Kalemegdan fortress, Belgrade’s leading tourist attraction, were smashed with sledgehammers on the orders of Dragan Nikolic, curator of the Military Museum and supposedly in charge of their protection, as a ‘patriotic’ act.

Serbia is not the only country in the region that is suffering from this kind of vandalism. In Croatia, Bosnia and elsewhere, corrupt and primitive local politicians are frequently destroying the landscape and architectural heritage of their local areas. Less extreme than the Subotica case and at least reparable, but nevertheless ghastly is the ‘reconstruction’ carried out on the seafront of the Croatian city of Split, on the outside wall of the palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian; this beautiful spot is now marred by an ultra-modern esplanade replete with motorway-style street-lamps.

That the ‘reconstruction’ is deeply unpopular among the Split citizenry, and that there is talk of it being reversed, may not matter to those who commissioned it; people speak of a so-called ‘construction mafia’ that bribes corrupt officials to carry out unwanted, poor-quality building work at the public expense. In Croatia, the ‘biggest joke in the state’ is the fact that there are now two bridges at Maslenica linking Split to Zagreb, eight-hundred metres apart. After the original was destroyed in the war, the construction of a new bridge was entrusted by President Franjo Tudjman to a crony, Jure Radic. Radic built the new bridge in the wrong place, allegedly to increase construction costs and his company’s profits. The new bridge is closed for an average of 600 hours every year due to high winds, a problem that did not affect the original bridge. So a second new bridge at Maslenica has had to be built where the original bridge had stood; the second new bridge does not have to be closed when the wind is strong. The fiasco did not hurt Radic’s career, however; he is currently contracted to build an even larger and more expensive bridge linking Croatia’s Peljesac peninsula to the mainland.

Another bridge-related joke concerns the Old Bridge in Mostar in Bosnia-Hercegovina, destroyed by Croatian shelling in 1993. The Croats were said to have reassured the Muslims later that ‘We’ll build you an even older one.’

Travellers to the former Yugoslavia are advised to remember, that a beautiful historic building or town centre that you visit may, months later, no longer be there.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Serbia | 2 Comments

Is it really true that ‘East Timor was worse than Bosnia or Kosovo’ ?

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East Timor and Bosnia are two countries with parallel tragedies. Both were attacked by vastly more powerful neighbours as they tried to establish themselves as independent states. In each case, the aggression involved genocide against the country’s population; in each case, the aggression and genocide were aided and abetted by the Western powers; in each case, however, the aggressor was ultimately defeated. The death toll of the East Timorese and Bosnian genocides has in each case commonly been put at 200,000.

In the last two years, scientific studies of both East Timorese and Bosnian war-losses have appeared, enabling us to begin to quantify them more accurately. In January 2006, the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (CAVR) published the results of its investigation into East Timorese human losses in the period 1974-99. In June 2007, the Research and Documentation Centre in Sarajevo (RDC) published the results of its investigation into Bosnian human losses in the period 1991-95.

The two sets of figures are not completely comparable, as the figures for East Timor represent scientific estimates with a small margin of error so far as direct war-deaths are concerned, while the figures for Bosnia represent a body count, therefore something close to an absolute minimum. Furthermore, the figures for East Timor include a much less precise estimate for deaths from war-related hunger and disease, while the figures for Bosnia do not cover such deaths at all; conversely, the figures for Bosnia include military deaths while the figures for East Timor do not. Finally, neither the sizes of the East Timorese and Bosnian populations nor the lengths of the two conflicts were equivalent; the deaths in East Timor occurred among a much smaller population over a much longer period of time.

With these provisos in mind, what do the results tell us ?

1) In East Timor, approximately 18,600 civilians were killed or disappeared between 1974 and 1999 (with an error margin of +/- 1,000).

In Bosnia, at least 39,684 civilians were killed or disappeared between 1991 and 1995.

2) In East Timor, just over 70% of killed civilians (approximately 13,094 people) were killed by the Indonesians or by their East Timorese auxiliaries, while 29.6% (approximately 5,506 people) were killed by the East Timorese resistance.

In Bosnia, at least 86% of killed civilians (34,128 people) were killed by Serb forces, while not more than 14% (5,556 people) were killed by Croat and Bosnian/Muslim forces combined.

3) In East Timor, a minimum of 84,200 people died from hunger or disease resulting from the Indonesian occupation, 1975-99 (with an error margin of +/- 11,000). The figure may be as high as 183,000.

In Bosnia, the number of people who died from hunger, disease or exposure resulting from the Serbian aggression, 1991-95, has not yet been calculated.

4) In East Timor, the absolute minimum number of deaths resulting from war, 1974-99, is 90,800 (i.e. 18,600 civilians killed by all parties and 84,200 who died from hunger and disease, with error margins of +/- 1,000 and +/- 11,000 respectively, for a range of 90,800 – 114,800). These figures do not include military casualties on either side, which were not addressed by the study.

In Bosnia, the minimum number of deaths resulting from war, 1991-95, is 97,207 (i.e. 39,684 civilians and 57,523 soldiers), excluding those who died from hunger, disease, exposure or other indirect causes of war. This figure represents a minimum, and may rise by up to 10,000 as further data is accumulated.

On the basis of these figures, which crime against humanity was worse: the Indonesian aggression against East Timor or the Serbian aggression against Bosnia ?

The correct answer is that neither was ‘worse’; only a very cynical, callous or perverse individual would seek to rank two such horrific episodes of mass killing. The figures tell us that both the East Timorese and the Bosnians suffered terribly; to describe the suffering of one as somehow ‘less’ than that of the other is to show a staggering disrespect for the dead.

Unfortunately, many of the same people who highlight the extent of East Timorese suffering, such as Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Edward Herman and David Peterson, actually go out of their way to minimise the extent of Bosnian suffering. For the sake of convenience, such people can be termed Chomskyites. The Chomskyites like to portray East Timor as absolutely the worst crime to have occurred anywhere in the world since World War II, whereas they like to portray Bosnia as something equivalent to a pillow-fight at a children’s party.

What applies to the Chomskyites’ treatment of Bosnia applies equally to their treatment of Kosovo. Chomskyites like to use terms such as ‘Sunday school picnic’ in relation to the suffering of the Kosovo Albanians. In reality…

Two scientific studies indicate that approximately 10,356 Kosovo Albanian civilians were killed in the period March-June 1999, or approximately 12,000 Albanians between February 1998 and June 1999 (the authors of the second survey indicate that ‘most’ were civilians but that it was not possible to distinguish completely between civilian and military deaths). This may be compared with the 18,600 East Timorese civilians killed (13,094 at the hands of the Indonesians and their East Timorese auxiliaries) in the period 1974-99.

So how do the Chomskyites make it look as though what happened in East Timor was incomparably worse than what happened in Bosnia or Kosovo ?

1) They readily accept the maximum reported estimates of East Timorese deaths as the true figures, while denying every single Bosnian or Kosovar fatality that has not been definitely documented;

2) They blame the Indonesians for 100% of all deaths in East Timor, including those that were the work of the East Timorese resistance, while blaming Serb forces only for the deaths of Bosnians or Kosovars they actually killed themselves;

3) They try to convert as many Bosnian or Kosovar deaths as possible into ‘military’ deaths and therefore not as ‘proper’ victims, or into victims of the Bosnian/Muslim, Croat or Albanian forces and therefore not as Serbian victims, while assuming that all 200,000 East Timorese deaths were indeed ‘proper’ victims of the Indonesians alone;

4) They describe Bosnia or Kosovo as a ‘civil war’ or an ‘internal conflict’ and remind everyone that there were ‘atrocities on all sides’, while never mentioning the civil-war dimension of East Timor, or the atrocities of the East Timorese resistance;

5) They include deaths resulting from hunger and disease in the total for East Timorese deaths; such deaths account for over 90% of the total if one adopts the maximum figure for total East Timorese deaths, which they usually do; conversely, they exclude all such possible deaths from their calculation of the Bosnian or Kosovar war-dead;

6) They treat the RDC’s documented body-count of 97,207 Bosnian war-dead, in reality a minimum, as if it were actually a maximum, and treat it as equivalent to the maximum estimates for East Timorese losses.

7) They treat incomplete body counts for Bosnian or Kosovar victims as though they were equivalent to total actual losses, while never requiring body counts to ‘prove’ East Timorese losses.

Here are some facts that you are unlikely to learn from an article written by Chomsky, Pilger, Herman or Peterson:

* In 1975, the year of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, 49% of civilians killed in East Timor were killed by Fretilin/Falantil, the East Timorese resistance movement. In no year during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, 1991-99, were non-Serb forces responsible for such a high percentage of civilian deaths. You will frequently hear the term ‘on all sides’ used by a Chomskyite in reference to the death toll in Bosnia or Kosovo, but never in reference to East Timor.

* In the year 1999, the Indonesian army and its East Timorese auxiliaries killed 1,400 – 1,500 East Timorese civilians according to the CAVR survey, a figure apparently supported by a study carried out by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and cited in the CAVR survey. In 1995, the RDC’s figures confirm that Serb forces massacred over 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica. Chomsky is on record as describing the Srebrenica massacre as ‘much lesser’ in scale than the Indonesian massacres in East Timor in 1999. He achieves this by using high estimates for East Timorese losses – high estimates of the kind that Chomskyites regularly cite as proof of ‘exaggeration’ and of ‘pro-war propaganda’ when made for Bosnian or Kosovar losses.


Chomsky on East Timor: ‘The massacre continued, peaking in 1978 with the help of new arms provided by the Carter administration. The toll to date is estimated at about 200,000, the worst slaughter relative to population since the Holocaust.’

Chomsky on Kosovo: ‘Up until the US/NATO bombing March 24th, there had been, according to NATO, 2000 people killed on all sides, and a couple of hundred thousand refugees. Well, that’s bad, that’s a humanitarian crises, but unfortunately it’s the kind you can find all over the world.’

Pilger on East Timor: ‘…a tiny nation then suffering one of the most brutal occupations of the 20th century. Enforced starvation and murder had extinguished a quarter of the population: 180,000 people. Proportionally, this was a carnage greater than that in Cambodia under Pol Pot.’

Pilger on Kosovo: ‘The “mass graves” in Kosovo would justify it all, they said. When the bombing was over, international forensic teams began subjecting Kosovo to minute examination. The FBI arrived to investigate what was called “the largest crime scene in the FBI’s forensic history”. Several weeks later, having found not a single mass grave, the FBI and other forensic teams went home. In 2000, the International War Crimes Tribunal announced that the final count of bodies found in Kosovo’s “mass graves” was 2,788. This included Serbs, Roma and those killed by “our” allies, the Kosovo Liberation Front.’

Herman on East Timor: ‘The U.S. support and investment did not slacken when Suharto’s army invaded and occupied East Timor in 1975, which resulted in an estimated 200,000 deaths in a population of only 700,000.’

Herman on Srebrenica: ‘The disconnection with truth is epitomized by the fact that the original estimate of  8,000,  including 5,000 “missing”–who had left Srebrenica for Bosnian Muslim lines-was maintained even after it had been quickly established that several thousand had reached those lines and that several thousand more had perished in battle. This nice round number lives on today in the face of a failure to find the executed bodies and  despite the absence of  a  single satellite photo showing executions, bodies, digging, or trucks transporting bodies for reburial.’

Peterson on East Timor: ‘The Indonesian military’s brutal occupation caused the deaths of some 200,000 East Timorese, perhaps as many as one-third of its pre-invasion population.’

Herman and Peterson on Kosovo: ‘There has never been any hint of criticism in the mainstream media of the inflated numbers given by U.S. officials, nor have there been any doubts expressed as to the accuracy of the 11,000 figure, although it came from sources of proven unreliability and was 70 percent higher than the official body count plus list of missing (6,398). In the New York Times, Michael Ignatieff explained that if the numbers of bodies found was less than 11,000 it must have been because the Serbs moved them out. He never explained why the bodies plus missing total fell far short of 11,000, but he didn’t have to worry: in dealing with a demonized enemy anything goes.’

Hat tip: Michael Karadjis, Mihalis.

Monday, 14 January 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, East Timor, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Indonesia, Kosovo, Serbia | , , , | 4 Comments

Florence Hartmann’s ‘Peace and Punishment’

Florence Hartmann, former spokeswoman for Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), is the first senior official of the ICTY to have written a book discussing its inner workings (Paix et chatiment: Les guerres secretes de la politique et de la justice internationales, Flammarion, 2007). She has used her eyewitness’s insight into the inner workings of the ICTY to support her blistering critique of the failure of the Western alliance to support the cause of justice for the former Yugoslavia. Her book paints a portrait of Western powers, above all the US, Britain and France, stifling the ICTY and preventing the arrest of war-criminals through a combination of obstruction, manipulation, mutual rivalry and sheer inertia.

One of the best parts of the book concerns what Hartmann terms the ‘fictitious pursuit’ of the two most prominent Bosnian Serb war-criminals, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, involving repeated failures to arrest them. Hartmann gives various reasons why the Western powers might have behaved in this manner, among them the alleged agreement in 1995 between Milosevic, Mladic and French President Jacques Chirac, that in return for the release of two French pilots shot down by the Serbs over Bosnia, Mladic would never be prosecuted by the ICTY; the similar alleged agreement between Karadzic, Mladic and the US’s Richard Holbrooke in 1996, for Karadzic to withdraw from political life in return for a guarantee that he would never be prosecuted; and the readiness in 2002 of Bosnia’s High Representative, Britain’s Paddy Ashdown, to sabotage the attempts of Bosnian intelligence chief Munir Alibabic to track down Karadzic, out of rivalry with the French intelligence services with which Alibabic was working.

Hartmann has done an admirable job in compiling a comprehensive account of all these rumours, and in reminding us of just how much may have been going on behind the scenes. The problem is that they remain only rumours, ones that often originated from Serb officials themselves. The merciless portrait of the failure of international justice is one that we should all recognise; Hartmann has brought a welcome dose of hard-headed cynicism to discussions of the topic, marking a refreshing change from the rose-tinted view of too many liberal commentators. But it is in her attempts at interpreting this failure that Hartmann’s book becomes more problematic. That the US under Clinton was unwilling to risk the lives of its troops in attempts to arrest war-criminals; that the US under Bush was unsympathetic to international courts in principle and unwilling to allow the war-criminals issue to become a distraction from the War on Terror; and that the US was in general unwilling to allow sensitive classified information of its own to be used in prosecutions of war-criminals, thus putting its own ‘national security’ before international justice – all this seems uncontroversial. But Hartmann does not stop at such observations; she portrays a comprehensive policy of the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ to sabotage international justice, in order that the Western powers’ own prior collusion with Serb war-criminals not be brought to light. And while such a thesis does not in principle sound unlikely, Hartmann has a) failed to provide any real evidence to support it; b) attempted to explain too much through it; and c) failed to resolve the paradoxes that it necessarily gives rise to.

It is unclear how Western powers that have been applying very real if inconsistent pressure on Serbia to hand over war-criminals to the ICTY, and that acquiesced in Milosevic’s deportation to and trial in the Hague, can have been pursuing such a single-minded policy of sabotaging international justice motivated by an overarching concern to keep their own complicity hidden. A more convincing and nuanced interpretation would be that the Western powers were pursuing a contradictory policy toward Serbia and the ICTY, with different individuals and institutions in Britain, France and the US acting at variance with one another – the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing. But such an interpretation could only with difficulty be reconciled with Hartmann’s thesis, which is really something close to a conspiracy theory: that the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ powers of Britain and the US are all-powerful puppet-masters in control of events and pursuing an entirely consistent and uniform policy.

The concept of ‘Anglo-Saxons’ is one that Hartmann uses liberally, and it suggests a peculiarly French perspective. Hartmann is ready to point out French complicity in the failure of international justice, but she nevertheless allows a degree of nuance in her interpretation of French policy that she is unwilling to recognise for the ‘Anglo-Saxons’. Treating the US and Britain as if they were a uniform bloc with regard to the former Yugoslavia is, in fact, problematic: for most of the Bosnian war it was the British and French who generally stood together in opposition to American calls for a tougher policy vis-a-vis the Bosnian Serb rebels; it was France, not Britain, that was the first to break ranks and move closer to the US position; and more recently the British and French have stood together in supporting the International Criminal Court, which the US has refused to recognise. So the concept of a uniform ‘Anglo-Saxon’ policy with regard to the ICTY is already questionable. But Hartmann goes further, and accuses ‘Anglo-Saxon’ employees of the ICTY in general – i.e. Americans, British, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans – of being agents of this same ‘Anglo-Saxon’ policy. And this is where Hartmann’s thesis does become simply a conspiracy theory.

I myself worked as a Research Officer at the ICTY’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) for seven months, and many of the quirks and flaws of the ICTY’s organisation that Hartmann describes are ones that I recognise. The predominance of officials from the white Anglophone countries, particularly in the more senior ranks, was very marked, and was something I interpreted at the time simply as an expression of an unfortunate preference of officials to work with others speaking the same native language and sharing a similar cultural background. The division of OTP investigators into different teams investigating the crimes of different groups of former Yugoslavs, with several different teams devoted to Bosnian Serb war-criminals but only one to Serbia’s crimes in Bosnia – contributing to there being numerous indictments of Bosnian Serbs but very few of members of the Belgrade leadership or Yugoslav army for war-crimes in Bosnia – was also apparent. Hartmann attributes to the OTP’s Australian deputy prosecutor, Graham Blewitt, an unwillingness to ascribe blame to Belgrade for war crimes in Bosnia; indeed, a reluctance to work on the prosecution of Milosevic at all, on the assumption that it was a waste of time as he would never be deported to the Hague.

I do not know whether this accusation against Blewitt is correct or not; Hartmann may have garnered enough inside information to be able to support it. But it is unclear how she can then jump to the conclusion that the OTP under Blewitt and Chief Prosecutor Richard Goldstone, one of del Ponte’s predecessors and a South African, ‘rejected any attempt to overstep the obstacles put up by the Great Powers that at Dayton had de facto distributed impunity to their principal suspect. The Westerners did not wish for the Tribunal to interest itself too closely with the orchestrator of the policy of ethnic cleansing that ravaged the former Yugoslavia’ (p. 89) – it was, after all, Goldstone who originally indicted Karadzic and Mladic, who Hartmann then argues were precisely the ones whom the Western powers did not want to face justice. Or the conclusion that she comes to regarding the resistance of the Blewitt faction in the OTP to del Ponte’s attempts to indict Milosevic for genocide and for war-crimes in Srebrenica and Sarajevo: ‘Srebrenica, the genocide charge and, secondarily, Sarajevo were not only the cause of perpetual friction within the Office of the Prosecutor, but also between the ICTY and the Great Powers. Hence the question of the impact of the strategy of the Anglo-Saxon governments and their enmeshing of the Prosecution, too insidious to be quantifiable but that could not have been unrelated to the absence of a will to indict Milosevic and to the reticence that arose over every key episode of the case.’ (p. 91).

Hartmann’s accusations become wilder: ‘All the officers occupying the key posts within the Serb forces in Bosnia, engaged in the capture of Srebrenica and the massacres that followed, all without exception had been released from service by the general staff of the army of Belgrade and continued to have their salaries paid by Belgrade. For nearly ten years, the MAT [Military Analysis Team] obscured this information, thus preventing the Prosecution from inquiring about the true nature of the control exercised by the central power in Belgrade over the cadres of the Bosnian Serb army during the Srebrenica episode.’ … ‘To dismiss facts that they wished to obscure, members of the MAT would proclaim that a witness or unwelcome parts of their testimony were not credible… The Anglo-Saxon military analysts (there were no French), deliberately and systematically concealed directly Milosevic’s responsibility for crimes in Bosnia, particularly at Srebrenica. On the orders of their governments, they long determined the interpretation of documents in the manner that they wished, and ensured that the Tribunal, established to conceal their impotence, should not by any chance reveal the cowardice of the Great Powers during the time of the wars in the former Yugoslavia.’ (pp. 103-106).

And wilder: on the reluctance of Geoffrey Nice, chief prosecutor in the Milosevic trial, to indict Milosevic for genocide and for the Srebrenica massacre, Hartmann writes that ‘Rather than convincing the judges, beyond all reasonable doubt, of Milosevic’s responsibility for genocide, he [Nice], attempted to convince del Ponte to abandon the prosecution… Instead of helping the Tribunal in its search for the truth, he entered into the game of the Great Powers.’ To which is added, in a footnote, a pointed claim, based solely on the testimony of Kosovar politician Azem Vllasi, that Nice had worked for British intelligence during the 1960s (pp. 140-141).

Thus, Hartmann portrays those lawyers and researchers who disagreed with del Ponte over strategy, or who interpreted evidence differently, or who failed to produce the right evidence, as being agents of the Great Powers, in particular the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ powers. It is one thing to be critical of the performance or strategy of individuals or teams within the OTP; but to accuse them of deliberately sabotaging the Prosecution’s work on the orders of the Great Powers, without providing any evidence, is something else entirely: it strangely resembles the propanda of the Milosevic regime and the Serb nationalists, according to which all opposition to the Great Serbian cause was orchestrated by the imperialists, and all Serb critics of the regime were Western stooges. Not to mention the Serb nationalists’ oft-repeated claim, that the ICTY itself is simply a tool of Western imperialism.

I am entirely ready to believe that the British and American intelligence services had their agents in the OTP, and I have no doubt that the OTP contained many incompetent officials who obstructed its work. But that is a far cry from saying that the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ powers had so many agents in the Tribunal that they were effectively able to control it. My own experience of working at the OTP does not confirm such a claim. I worked for the Leadership Research Team, of which Hartmann writes: ‘This pool of experts on the Balkans was confided to a South African who continued to reject links between the local command structures and Belgrade, to the great displeasure of his team.’ (p. 90). This may or may not have been true of the late 1990s, but when I arrived at the Leadership Research Team in early 2001, it was under an American, Pat Treanor, who had been with the ICTY from the beginning and who immediately assigned me to work on analysing the command structures through which Belgrade controlled Serb forces in Bosnia.

The team investigating the leadership of Serbia/Yugoslavia’s war-crimes in Bosnia, ‘Team 5’, with which I worked, was headed by an Australian, Bernie O’Donnell; the first draft indictment of Milosevic for war-crimes in Bosnia, on which I, Bernie and other members of Team 5 worked, was a collective indictment of senior members of the ‘joint criminal enterprise’, including not only Milosevic but also Veljko Kadijevic, Blagoje Adzic, Borisav Jovic, Branko Kostic, Momir Bulatovic and others. As I have said many times before, it was on del Ponte’s intervention that this draft was rejected, and the indictment limited to Milosevic alone, as a result of which most of these individuals were never indicted. So on the basis of my personal experience, it was the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ who wanted to pursue the Serbian/Yugoslav leadership, and del Ponte who restricted the indictment.

More generally, in the seven months in which I worked at the OTP I got to know many other investigators, ‘Anglo-Saxons’ and others, some of them quite well, and some of whom I had known from before any of us were working for the ICTY. There was plenty of rumour and gossip going around, but nothing that would suggest a large-scale infiltration of the OTP by British and American secret agents. Finally, del Ponte’s predecessor as Chief Prosecutor, the Quebecoise Louise Arbour, herself apparently clashed with the Great Powers and with her colleagues in the OTP for the same reasons that del Ponte did, according to Hartmann. Leaving one to wonder how the Anglo-Saxon puppet-masters could have been so careless as to allow two French-speaking troublemakers in a row to become chief prosecutor.

Hartmann portrays del Ponte as the heroine of the story, fighting for justice against the ill-intentioned Western powers and their agents in her own team. Her book, therefore, is interesting for what it reveals about what preoccupied del Ponte: above all, the arrest and prosecution of Karadzic and Mladic, and the indictment of Milosevic for genocide, for the Srebrenica massacre and for the siege of Sarajevo. While I entirely sympathise with del Ponte’s determination to indict Milosevic for genocide, I am less convinced of the importance of indicting him for Srebrenica and for Sarajevo. The importance of Srebrenica may appear justified in hindsight, as it was the only case for which genocide was proven to have taken place by the ICTY – though I am not convinced that del Ponte could have predicted this. But Sarajevo ? The reason for del Ponte’s determination to indict Milosevic for Srebrenica and Sarajevo was, according to Hartmann, that they were ‘the two most symbolic episodes of the war in Bosnia.’ (p. 88). Which tends to confirm my suspicion that del Ponte’s policies were guided above all by public perceptions of what was important, rather than by what really was. Hence the obsession with the household names, Mladic and Karadzic, and complete lack of interest in supects like Kadijevic, Jovic and Adzic, forgotten in the West, who were actually much more responsible for what took place in Bosnia: Mladic was a nobody handpicked by the Belgrade leadership for the role he was to play.

There is, indeed, something of a contradiction between the preoccupation of del Ponte and Hartmann with Karadzic and Mladic, and Hartmann’s simultaneous insistence that the Bosnian Serbs were acting always under Belgrade’s control. For if, indeed, Karadzic and Mladic were acting at all times under Belgrade’s control or guidance, then it is unclear why the Western powers should have been ready to allow Milosevic’s deportation to the Hague, but not Karadzic’s or Mladic’s – did the minions really possess information about Western complicity that was so much more embarrassing than anything possessed by their boss ? Nor is it easy to reconcile the supposed determination of the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ to acquit Serbia of war-crimes in Bosnia with their supposed equal determination to shield Karadzic and Mladic, rather than Milosevic, from prosecution. One explanation might be that it was precisely Karadzic and Mladic who could have revealed the extent of Belgrade’s direction of the Bosnian Serb war-crimes. But do Karadzic and Mladic really know so much more than Biljana Plavsic, Momcilo Krajisnik, Jovica Stanisic, Momcilo Perisic and all the other indictees who have been successfully turned over to the ICTY ? And even if they do, can the Western powers really have known this and engineered events to ensure that it was only Karadzic and Mladic who escaped justice ? Such an interpretation stretches plausibility to breaking point.

Peace and Punishment, nevertheless, remains essential reading for several reasons. It reminds us that, however critical one may be of del Ponte’s performance as Chief Prosecutor, she was very far from being the only senior individual responsible for the ICTY’s failures. It gives an insight into the sort of debates and conflicts over strategy that preoccupied war-crimes investigators at the OTP. And it highlights the fact that, far from being an agent of Western imperialism, the Chief Prosecutor was acting in a frequently hostile international arena, in which she had to struggle for international cooperation, and in which the ICTY was frequently squeezed rather than supported by the Great Powers. Although, as I have indicated, I am highly critical of several aspects of this book, I would nevertheless recommend it to anyone interested in the subject of why international justice has failed the peoples of the former Yugoslavia.

Thursday, 10 January 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Serbia | | 4 Comments

Barack Obama and the Greek lobby

Last August, three US senators including presidential candidate Barack Obama introduced a resolution to the US Senate (S. Res. 300), endorsing the Greek-nationalist bullying of the Republic of Macedonia. This resolution raises serious concerns about whether an Obama presidency would pursue a responsible policy vis-a-vis the Balkans.

S. Res. 300 accuses Macedonia of a policy that ‘instills hostility and a rationale for irredentism in portions of the population of FYROM toward Greece and the history of Greece’, on the grounds: 1) that ‘a television report in recent years showed students in a state-run school in FYROM [the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia] still being taught that parts of Greece, including Greek Macedonia, are rightfully part of FYROM’; 2) that ‘some textbooks, including the Military Academy textbook published in 2004 by the Military Academy “General Mihailo Apostolski” in the FYROM capital city, contain maps showing that a “Greater Macedonia” extends many miles south into Greece to Mount Olympus and miles east to Mount Pirin in Bulgaria’; and 3) that ‘the Government of FYROM recently renamed the capital city’s international airport “Alexander the Great Airport”.’

The resolution, which has been endorsed by at least 75 Members of Congress and is advertised on the website of the Greek Embassy in Washingon D.C., is evidence that Obama and other senior US politicians are pandering to the peculiarly hysterical, nationalistic and ill-informed Greek lobby in the US. That the resolution justifies itself on the basis of something as insubstantial and ill-defined as ‘a television report in recent years’ is evidence of the unseriousness of its allegations. The television report in question appears to be a YouTube clip that briefly shows a school textbook illustrating the historical territory of Macedonia, which was partitioned between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria in 1912-13 (you have to watch the clip quite carefully to catch it). The fact that the YouTube clip was undated may be why the resolution referred vaguely to a ‘television report in recent years’. Likewise, the military textbook mentioned by the resolution appears merely to have displayed historical maps of Macedonia. The Greek-nationalist lobbyists appear to have interpreted this as evidence of a contemporary Macedonian territorial claim on parts of Greece – evidence of a Greek-nationalist sense of insecurity over the Macedonian question that peaked in the early 1990s at the time of Macedonia’s secession from Yugoslavia and that, however baseless, has not gone away. The Skopje airport is indeed named after Alexander the Great, though why this should be in any way objectionable, let alone the object of a senatorial resolution, is really beyond comprehension to anyone who is not a Greek nationalist, and I shall not insult the reader’s intelligence by labouring the point.

S. Res. 300 ends by urging Macedonia (‘FYROM’) to 1) ‘observe its obligations under Article 7 of the 1995 United Nations-brokered Interim Accord, which directs the parties to “promptly take effective measures to prohibit hostile activities or propaganda by state-controlled agencies and to discourage acts by private entities likely to incite violence, hatred or hostility” and review the contents of textbooks, maps, and teaching aids to ensure that such tools are stating accurate information’; and 2) to ‘to work with Greece within the framework of the United Nations process to achieve longstanding United States and United Nations policy goals by reaching a mutually-acceptable official name for FYROM’.

It is unclear why people who get their information from random YouTube clips should feel they have the right to lecture sovereign states about what they put in their school or military textbooks. Yet it is the second demand that is the most worrying: the US has already recognised Macedonia under its official and rightful name, the ‘Republic of Macedonia’; Obama and his fellow senators appear to be trying to turn the clock back and destabilise this fragile state in a sensitive part of the Balkans, in order to pander to the nationalist hysteria of the Greek American lobby, thus giving their own domestic political careers priority over the US’s foreign-policy interests.

Let us hope that Obama’s sponsorship of this resolution is simply a cynical ploy to win the Greek-American vote, and will not translate into a genuinely anti-Macedonian policy in the event that he becomes president. For if it does, the consequences for the peace and stability of South East Europe could be catastrophic.

Hat tip: David Edenden, The Macedonian Tendency.

Monday, 7 January 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Greece, Macedonia | | 1 Comment

What do the figures for the Bosnian war-dead tell us ?

Earlier this year, the Research and Documentation Centre (RDC) headed by Mirsad Tokaca in Sarajevo released the semi-final results of its extensive investigation into the death-toll of the Bosnian war. The investigation, the most well documented to date, gives a body count of 97,207 war-dead in Bosnia-Hercegovina in the period 1991-95. This number is then broken down into different categories and combinations thereof: year, month, region, municipality, nationality, gender, age and status (i.e. civilian or military), with a more detailed treatment of the Srebrenica municipality. The figures tell us much about the character of the Bosnian war.

1. Do the RDC’s figures vindicate the genocide deniers ? Since the figure of 97,207 is about half of the figure of 200,000 Bosnian war-deaths that has been commonly accepted since the Bosnian war, and since it has been clear for a couple of years that the RDC’s research would produce roughly such a figure, its work has for some time now been eagerly seized upon by Bosnia genocide deniers and apologists such as Ed Herman, David Peterson and Nebojsa Malic as supposed ‘vindication’ for their position. This being the case, and since the RDC’s findings are broadly supported by those of a second scientific investigation, carried out by Ewa Tabeau and Jakub Bijak of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, we hope that they can now be taken by all sides in the debate as an essentially reliable basis from which to draw conclusions about the Bosnian war.

For reasons that should not require too much explanation, a body count will almost always give a lower death-toll than a scholarly estimate of total deaths. This is because a body count only takes into account documented deaths, rather than all the deaths that are likely to have occurred but for which documentary proof is lacking. In the words of Philip Verwimp, an expert who has evaluated the RDC’s figures: ‘Many consider the number of 97,207 as the overall total of victims of the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, which is not correct. For several reasons, this number should be seen as an approximation of a minimum and not as a complete total.’ In the case of the RDC’s study, the discrepancy is not likely to be so great, because years of research have eliminated most of the ‘unknowns’. Tokaca has stated that the final figure for the Bosnian death-toll may rise by up to 10,000 as research continues. Still, for purposes of comparison, the figure of 97,207 falls into the same category as the figure for Iraqi dead provided by the Iraq Body Count website (approximately 80-87,000 civilian dead at the time of writing) rather than the figure of over 600,000 Iraqi dead in the study appearing in the Lancet last year (NB my purpose here is not to compare death tolls, but to compare methods of their evaluation).

The RDC’s figure of 97,207 includes only those definitely documented victims defined as direct casualties of war in the strictest sense. It does not include indirect victims of war: e.g. those who died of hunger, exposure or lack of medicine as a result of war conditions; those killed by incompetent use of weapons; military suicides; civilian and military accidental deaths; victims of armed quarrels; etc. The total number of Bosnians who died as a result of the war is therefore substantially higher than the RDC’s figure, and the proportion of civilian fatalities greater.

This should be borne in mind when considering the arguments of deniers from the Chomsky-Pilger school, who will happily treat the figure of 97,207 as though it were equivalent to their own favourite estimates for the victims of ‘Western imperialist’ crimes, e.g. 200,000 East Timorese victims of Indonesia, two million or more Indochinese victims of the US, one million Iraqi dead in the current war, etc. For example, Noam Chomsky’s oft-cited figure of 200,000 East Timorese deaths resulting from the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, a figure broadly supported by John Pilger, apparently includes deaths from famine and disease or ‘enforced starvation’ (to use Pilger’s words) – such deaths were not included in the RDC’s study of the Bosnian war-dead.

Any evaluation of the death-toll of a genocide should, indeed, take into account those killed by disease, hunger and exposure as a result of conditions deliberately imposed by the perpetrators for that purpose. Thus, for example, the figure of six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust includes those, such as Anne Frank, who died from disease, hunger or exposure as the result of Nazi-imposed conditions in the camps and ghettos. The figure of 97,207 Bosnian war-dead does not therefore include all the civilian victims of the genocide.

I make these observations by way of a preliminary, in response to those who enjoy playing the numbers game with regard to the Bosnian genocide. Whether 100,000 or 200,000 died in the Bosnian war should have no bearing on our recognition that this was a terrible crime, or on whether we consider what happened to have been genocide. But if numbers cannot be used to confirm or deny a genocide, they can tell us a lot about when, where and how most of the killing occurred, who were the principal perpetrators and who were the principal victims.

2. What was the national composition of the victims ? The most striking fact to emerge from the study is that 83.33% of civilian deaths in the Bosnian war were Muslims (Bosniaks). In total, 33,070 Muslim civilians were killed, as against 4,075 Serb civilians, 2,163 Croat civilians and 376 civilians of other nationalities. Muslims were the only one of the three principal Bosnian nationalities who suffered higher civilian than military casualties. Thus, 51.64% of the Muslim dead were civilians, as against 27.77% of the Croat dead and 16.36% of the Serb dead.

The RDC has not compiled data on who carried out the killing. Nevertheless, it is indicative that in both absolute and proportional terms, more Serb civilians were killed in the Sarajevo region than in any of the other six regions of Bosnia-Hercegovina that the study considered. Thus, in the Sarajevo region, 1,091 Serb civilians and 2,927 Serb soldiers were killed. We can compare this to the region of Podrinje, in one part of which Naser Oric, a Bosnian commander frequently singled out as particularly guilty of war-crimes against Serb civilians, was active. In Podrinje, a total of 849 Serb civilians and 4,711 Serb soldiers were killed. Muslim, Serb and Croat civilian casualties in Sarajevo all peaked in the same year – 1992 – and fell in subsequent years. Civilian casualties were highest in Sarajevo in the early stages of the war, the spring and summer of 1992. Due allowance must be taken for the Serb civilians killed by Bosnian Army or Croat soldiers, in particular by rogue commanders such as Musan Topalovic-Caco, but the conclusion is inescapable: the single largest killer of Serb civilians during the war was the Serb siege of Sarajevo.

Taking into account all those Serb civilians killed by Serb forces in Sarajevo and elsewhere (such as in the Tuzla massacre of 25 May 1995), as well as those killed by Croat forces, then the number of Serb civilians killed by Bosnian Muslims during the whole of the Bosnian war across the whole of Bosnia cannot have been very different from the number of American civilians killed by fundamentalist Muslims on the single day of 11 September 2001. Which should serve as a salutary lesson for those who like to equate the moderate Muslims of Bosnia with the fundamentalists of al-Qa’ida. The relatively low Serb civilian death-toll in the Bosnian war is testimony to the fact that, while the Bosnian Army was sometimes guilty of war crimes, it did not pursue a policy of deliberately targeting Serb or Croat civilians.

3. Where were the epicentres of the mass killings ? The RDC’s figures confirm that the most intense phase of the mass killings was the spring and summer of 1992, and that the epicentres of these mass killings were the Podrinje region – broadly speaking East Bosnia – and the Prijedor municipality in north-west Bosnia (we are leaving aside, for the moment, the special cases of the Srebrenica massacre and the siege of Sarajevo). Podrinje accounted for nearly thirty per cent of all Bosnian fatalities, followed by the Sarajevo region, with just over fifteen per cent. In Podrinje, 94.83% of civilian casualties were Muslims. The killings here peaked in the period April-September and particularly May-June 1992. Podrinje was the region adjacent to Serbia; not only were all Bosnian Serb forces formally under ‘Yugoslav’ (i.e. Belgrade’s) military command until 19 May 1992, but units from Serbia were centrally involved in the killing in this region: notably, the Uzice Corps of the Yugoslav People’s Army, based in Serbia’s city of Uzice, and the paramilitary forces of Zeljko Raznatovic-Arkan and Vojislav Seselj. The RDC’s figures therefore corroborate the fact that Milosevic’s Serbia spearheaded the programme of mass killings in Bosnia.

Further to the west, 5,209 residents of the Prijedor municipality were killed in the war – more than three times the number of any other municipality in the Pounje region. Prijedor municipality was serviced by the notorious concentration camps of Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje, whose exposure by Western reporters in the summer of 1992 was a decisive moment for international perception of the Bosnian war. Deniers, such as Thomas Deichmann and Mick Hume of Living Marxism magazine, have for long concentrated their efforts on attempting to exonerate these camps. Although their attempts have been totally discredited by ITN’s victory over Living Marxism in the libel trial of 2000, they are still endorsed by Noam Chomsky, among others.

4. What do the RDC’s figures tell us about Srebrenica ? The RDC’s figures broadly vindicate the particular attention that observers and scholars of the Bosnian war have given to the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre. We have already noted that the Sarajevo region accounted for over 15% of the total Bosnian death-toll (a figure that includes not only the victims of the siege, but also the dead, of all nationalities, in Serb-held municipalities such as Pale and Trnovo). The RDC gives a figure of 6,886 for deaths in the Srebrenica municipality in the month of July 1995 when the massacre occurred – which can be compared to a mere thirteen deaths in the municipality in June and twenty-three in August of the same year (NB some who initially survived the massacre were hunted down and killed in subsequent months). Since the Srebrenica massacre was carried out in multiple locations on the territory of several municipalities, the figure of 6,886 deaths should not be seen as encompassing all the deaths in the massacre, but merely those who were killed on the territory of the Srebrenica municipality itself.

The RDC classified some of the Srebrenica victims as soldiers rather than as civilians. Tokaca admitted that difficulties had been created for the RDC’s system of classification by the fact that some of the victims’ families had chosen to classify them as soldiers, even when they had been civilians, in order to improve the families’ access to social support. Nevertheless, the perpetrators massacred captured soldiers and civilians alike. In genocide, as I have noted elsewhere, the civilian vs soldier/combatant distinction is frequently an artificial one; one need only think of the Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising; or the millions of Soviet POWs deliberately starved to death, killed through exposure or otherwise murdered by the Nazis – the most infamous Nazi death-camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was originally built to house Soviet POWs, and these were the first to be gassed to death there.

The RDC’s figures suggest that approximately 4,800-5,000 civilians and 1,500-1,700 soldiers were killed in the Srebrenica municipality in July 1995. These were almost all Muslims: only 22 Serbs and 1 Croat were killed in the Srebrenica municipality in the whole of 1995.

The RDC divides the ‘military’ deaths into those defined as killed in combat, those killed outside of combat and those killed as POWs. This division simply reflects the victims’ status according to the military registers and other sources upon which the RDC based its figures; it does not represent any kind of evaluation as to whether the victims in question really were killed in or out of combat, or as POWs. As has been made clear, ‘It is important to emphasise that “status in war” does not provide correct insights in relation to victims of combat versus non-combat situations, neither does it inform about legitimate victims of violations of the International Humanitarian Law, IHL.’ Thus, the RDC’s figures for Muslim soldiers killed ‘in combat’ in Srebrenica includes both genuine battlefied deaths and the much more numerous victims of the massacre who did not receive POW status.

These figures can be compared with those for other regions where heavy fighting took place (unfortunately, the RDC’s website does not provide such detailed information for individual municipalities other than Srebrenica). In the region of Posavina, the town of Bosanski Brod was captured by the Serbs in October 1992; civilian and military deaths on all sides across the whole of Posavina in October 1992 were 593. In the region of Vrbas, the town of Jajce was captured by the Serbs in October 1992; civilian and military deaths on all sides across the whole of Vrbas in October 1992 were 291. In the autumn of 1994, there was heavy fighting around the ‘safe area’ of Bihac in the Pounje region, with the Serbs appearing poised to take the town and NATO launching unsuccessful air-strikes; the highest combined civilian and military death toll for all sides across the whole of the wider Pounje region in any one month in 1994 was 554 in November followed by 386 in December. The Bosnian Army waged a bloody and unsuccessful offensive to break the siege of Sarajevo in June and July 1995; the combined civilian and military death toll for all sides in the Sarajevo region for these two months together was 533.

In other words, Muslim losses in Srebrenica, both civilian and those classified as ‘military’, were massively out of proportion to those in other municipalities where heavy fighting took place, far beyond anything that can be explained away as simply the result of combat. By the RDC’s figures, the destruction of approximately 6,886 Muslim lives in July 1995 cost the Serb forces something between 0 and 22 casualties.

As we noted above, these figures encompass only the deaths in the Srebrenica municipality, not all the victims of the massacre who perished in other municipalities of the region. The RDC’s figures show that 10,333 people from the Podrinje region were killed during 1995; that over 93% of these were Muslims; and that 9,328 out of the 10,333 were killed during the single month of July, compared with 225 in June and 171 in August. These figures do not include people from other regions of Bosnia killed in Podrinje, and do include people from Podrinje killed in other regions, but this only very slightly distorts the figures as in both cases the numbers involved are very small. The deaths of people from the Podrinje region in the month of July number over 9,000 more than in any other month of the year; this works out as an ‘excess’ Muslim death toll of over 8,000 in the month of the Srebrenica massacre. The RDC’s figures thus confirm the already established figure of over 8,000 victims of the Srebrenica massacre.

5. Was Bosnia a ‘three-sided war’ ? The Bosnian war is often presented as having been a three-sided war, between Serb forces, Croat forces and the predominantly Muslim Bosnian Army, but the RDC’s figures remind us that this is somewhat misleading, and that the so-called ‘Muslim-Croat war’ of 1992-94 – i.e. the war fought between the Bosnian Army on the one hand and the Croat Council of Defence (HVO) and regular Croatian Army on the other – was, in scale and bloodshed, very minor in comparison to the war involving the Serb forces.

The Muslim-Croat war was essentially waged in only two of the seven regions of Bosnia as defined by the RDC: Central Bosnia and Neretva. Muslim and Croat civilian casualties in the whole of these two regions throughout the entire period 1991-95 were 2,908 and 786 respectively. These figures include those Muslim and Croat civilians killed by Serb forces, which must have comprised a substantial proportion of the total: nearly half of all deaths in these regions occurred either before the first serious clash of the Croat-Muslim war (the HVO’s seizure of the town of Prozor from the Bosnian Army in October 1992) or after the war ended in March 1994. Neretva, for example, experienced by far its highest monthly death-toll in June 1992, when Bosnian and Croat forces were still fighting together against the Serbs. Some municipalities in both regions were not even encompassed by the Muslim-Croat conflict – in these all Muslim and Croat casualties must have been the work of the Serb forces.

When all this is taken into consideration, the Muslim-Croat war cannot have claimed more than 2,000 civilian lives at the most generous estimate, or about 5% of the total civilian casualties of the Bosnian war as a whole. If this is added to the 3-3,500 Serb civilians killed by Croat or Muslim forces, then we have a total civilian death-toll at the hands of the Croat and Muslim forces combined of 5,500 maximum. This amounts to just under 14% of the total civilian death-toll. At least 86% of civilian deaths in the Bosnian war were the work of the Serb forces. They include the overwhelming majority of Croat as well as Muslim civilian victims. This is worth pointing out to those who like to claim that ‘all sides were equally guilty’.

To describe the Bosnian war as a ‘three-sided war’ is therefore something of an exaggeration; it was essentially a two-sided war within which there were some smaller-scale conflicts among the ranks of one of the two sides. The Bosnian Croat military (HVO) remained throughout the war, formally, a constituent part of the Armed Forces of Bosnia-Hercegovina. In some areas such as Tuzla, Bihac, Tesanj and Olovo, the HVO remained loyal to Sarajevo throughout the war; and in some areas, rogue Muslim military forces also waged armed rebellions or clashed with Bosnian regular forces – these included Fikret Abdic’s forces in Velika Kladusa and the forces of Musan Topalovic-Caco and Ramiz Delalic-Celo in Sarajevo. Some of these rebel forces, including the rebellious portions of the HVO and Abdic’s forces, collaborated with the Serb forces. There were only ever two sides, but some Croat and Muslim units switched sides at least once (In the Spanish Civil War, too, there were armed conflicts between different factions of the Republicans, though to the best of my knowledge none of these actually fought alongside the Nationalists against other Republicans).

6. Who were the victims ? The Bosnian war was not a war between Muslims, Serbs and Croats, but a war fought between the defenders and the destroyers of a unified Bosnia-Hercegovina. 381 Serbs, 436 Croats and 69 other non-Muslims/Bosniaks died as Bosnian Army soldiers – nearly 3% of overall Bosnian Army losses (the figures do not include foreign volunteers from outside of Bosnia, such as the foreign mujahedin). The role of Serb and Croat soldiers in the Bosnian Army was more significant than the role of the foreign mujahedin, though this is not often admitted by those who like to highlight the role of the latter. 478 Muslims, 73 Serbs and 17 other non-Croats died as HVO soldiers – nearly 10% of total HVO casulties – most of them, presumably, in the period before the outbreak of the Muslim-Croat war, when the HVO was itself a multinational force resisting the Serb attack. The Serb forces – the Yugoslav People’s Army and Army of the Serb Republic – were the least multinational in terms of their losses: 252 non-Serbs – mostly Muslims – died fighting for them, amounting to just over 1% of the losses of the Serb armed forces.

The Bosnian war involved an attack upon Bosnia-Hercegovina by an aggressor, and the aggressor’s strategy involved getting Bosnians to kill each other so as to further the partition of their country into three ethnically homogenous portions. Those Muslims who slaughtered Serb civilians were, therefore, aiding the aggressor, and there is reason to believe that some of these may have been doing this deliberately. In my book, How Bosnia armed, I discussed the possibility that high-ranking Muslim and Croat officers of the Bosnian Army and HVO may have been consciously working, as agents or allies of Belgrade, to destroy inter-ethnic relations and partition the country. All 97,207 Bosnian war-dead, as well as all those other Bosnians who died as a result of the war, were victims of the aggression waged by the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, supported by the regime of Franjo Tudjman in Croatia and aided and abetted by the Western alliance and the UN. The war came to an end when the Serb side started losing, and when the Bosnian side abandoned resistance to partition. The victims of the war were Bosnia-Hercegovina and the Bosnian people.

Friday, 4 January 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, The Left | 3 Comments