In my last post here, I pointed to the fact that Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour of the ‘Lenin’s Tomb’ blog, the most widely read blog of Britain’s Socialist Workers Party (SWP) has retrospectively endorsed Serbian territorial expansionism and embraced the arguments ofLiving Marxism, the former pro-Milosevic propaganda publication that denied the existence of Serb concentration-camps in Bosnia. In his response to me, Seymour hasn’t really denied any of this. He admits to endorsing the views of Philip Knightley, who was one of Living Marxism‘s supporters in its libel trial against ITN and who endorsed its apologia for the Serb camps; to denying the existence of Serb concentration-camps; and to viewing Milosevic’s regime as democratic and pluralistic. And he elaborates on his retrospective support for the principle of Serbian territorial expansionism:
After all, I am not the one who [would have] supported the logic of secessionism in the first place, and therefore I would have no problem explaining why the construction of separate states based on ethnic exclusivity would be no solution. It is Hoare who, considering Croatia’s secession legitimate and worthy of full-throated support, has to answer why the Krajina Serbs were not entitled to independence from Croatia (and political union with Serbia if they wished). This is particularly the case since the Serbs living in Krajina were, like other Serbs living throughout Croatia, genuinely victims of repression and ethnic hatred by a state whose early gestures included the rescuscitation of fascist symbolism. But if there is going to be secession, ought there not be negotiations as opposed to a unilateral military take-over of the territory? Might there not be a concession of territory by both parties, or are the borders of some states eternal and inviolable, like the Holy Mother’s virginity?
This is, of course, the same argument that Slobodan Milosevic made at the time of the war in Croatia. In an interview to British Sky Broadcasting TV on 7 August 1991, Milosevic argued:
We are not opposing the Croatian people’s right to self-determination. If they want to establish their own independent, national state, there is no reason for us to oppose that. However, if they want to leave Yugoslavia, they cannot take a section of the Serbian people with them. This right to self-determination belongs to the Serbian people as well… The people of Krajina have, first of all, decided to remain within, that is, a part of Yugoslavia and that is all.
(Text of recorded interview with Slobodan Milosevic, President of the Republic of Serbia, by Arnot Van Linden for British Sky Broadcasting television, Belgrade TV 1833 gmt 7 Aug 91, via BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, 9 August 1991).
The central controversy of the wars in the former Yugoslavia revolved around this point: whether, given Yugoslavia’s break-up, the right of national self-determination should belong to the individual republics or federal units, in their Titoist borders – as I and others argued – or whether these borders should be redrawn to give Serbia a significantly larger share of the territory – as Milosevic, Seymour and various Serb nationalists and their apologists argue (there is also a Tudjmanite Great Croatian variant on this argument, which is that the borders should have been redrawn to give both Serbia and Croatia a larger share of the territory, but we’ll come to that later).
The Milosevic/Seymour demand for ‘self-determination’ for the ‘Krajina’ in a euphemistic way of saying that Serbia should be, or should have been, allowed to annex part of Croatia’s territory as the price for Croatia’s secession. As I pointed out in my last post (a point which Seymour did not respond to, because there isn’t really a counter-argument):
1) Roughly half of the pre-war population of the territories encompassing the ‘Serb Republic of Krajina’ was comprised of Croats and other non-Serbs; even the territory of ‘Krajina’ in the narrower sense, i.e. the crescent-shaped stretch of Serb-occupied land in central Croatia, had a substantial Croat population; the Milosevic/Seymour call for ‘self-determination of Krajina’ simply treats these people as if they don’t exist;
2) Roughly half of all Croatian Serbs lived outside the territory of the ‘Serb Republic of Krajina’, in Zagreb, Split and other large Croatian cities and elsewhere; the overwhelming majority lived outside the territory of the ‘Krajina’ region narrowly defined; the Milosevic/Seymour line, again, treats these people as if they don’t exist.
It should not be necessary – but apparently is – to add to this the truism that ‘Krajina’ was neither a nation, nor a country, nor a historic region, nor any form of legitimate entity, but was simply the name given by the Serb extremists to part of Croatia that they occupied.
So if the Milosevic/Seymour call for ‘self-determination for Krajina’ cannot be justifed on the grounds of self-determination for the inhabitants of the Serb-occupied areas, and cannot be justified on the grounds of self-determination or even minority protection for the Croatian Serbs, what precisely is its justification ?
The answer is this: ‘self-determination for Krajina’ is simply a euphemism for part of Croatia to be annexed to Serbia. Seymour used a slightly less dishonest euphemism in his comments on his own earlier post, when he wrote of ‘border rectifications’. He means the annexation of part of the territory of a smaller, weaker state (Croatia) by the larger, predatory state that is attacking it (Serbia).
How else does Seymour’s attempt to justify his support for Milosevic’s land-grab in Croatia ?
After all, I am not the one who [would have] supported the logic of secessionism in the first place, and therefore I would have no problem explaining why the construction of separate states based on ethnic exclusivity would be no solution.
Seymour is an Irishman, so I am confident that, given his retrospective opposition to the ‘logic of secessionism’, it is only a matter of time before we read a post by him explaining why Ireland should have opposed the ‘logic of secessionism’ and remained in the UK. I hope so, otherwise people might suspect that he was a shameless, lying hypocrite.
As for his straw man ‘I would have no problem explaining why the construction of separate states based on ethnic exclusivity would be no solution’ – this is rather rich coming from a member of a party, the SWP, that did everything possible to sabotage the international campaign in defence of a united, multiethnic Bosnia. And it is particularly amusing that Seymour makes this claim while simultaneously arguing for Croatia’s dismemberment into separate ‘Serb’ and ‘Croat’ areas. No, Einstein, a ‘separate state based on ethnic exclusivity’ is not a good thing, that is why genuine anti-fascists opposed the ethnic partition of both Bosnia and Croatia and supported their self-determination as multiethnic wholes – unlike the SWP, which did not.
But if there is going to be secession, ought there not be negotiations as opposed to a unilateral military take-over of the territory? Might there not be a concession of territory by both parties, or are the borders of some states eternal and inviolable, like the Holy Mother’s virginity?
‘Concession of territory by both parties’ !! Yes, he said that. Now he appears to be arguing that not only some parts of Croatia should be annexed to Serbia, but that some parts of Serbia should be annexed to Croatia ! But since Croatia had no territorial claims on Serbia, and since there were no large Croat-inhabited areas in Serbia, it is completely unclear which territories he has in mind, and the suspicion must be that he has simply inserted the phrase ‘by both parties’ in order to retreat from his earlier position of supporting ‘territorial rectifications’ solely in Serbia’s favour and at Croatia’s expense. He can, of course, prove me wrong by simply explaining which parts of each state should have been annexed to the other. We’re all waiting, Richard…
There is, of course, another possibility: that Seymour believes Serbia should have been allowed to annex part of Croatia’s territory, while Croatia should have been compensated with part of Bosnia’s territory where Croats lived. This would make sense: given Seymour’s support for the ‘self-determination of Krajina’; he presumably would also have supported the ‘self-determination of Herceg-Bosna’ – the Croat statelet carved out of Bosnia by Tudjman.
This is, after all what Tudjman himself essentially advocated. Tudjman, in fact, spent the best part of the 1990s engaged in ‘negotiations’ of the kind Seymour favours – for territorial exchanges and the redrawing of borders between Serbs and Croats. This began in March 1991, with the Karadjordjevo talks between Milosevic and Tudjman for the partition of Bosnia. They continued with the Graz agreement in May 1992 between the Serb and Croat extremists, for the delineation of spheres of control in Bosnia. And they culminated in the Dayton Agreement in November 1995, when Tudjman did indeed negotiate the handing over of a portion of Croat-held (Bosnian) territory to Republika Srpska. Tudjman appears to have believed what Seymour argues today: that Milosevic and the Serb extremists were essentially reasonable, and would have called off the war if only the Croats would agree to ‘negotiations’ on ‘border rectifications’.
So unless I am much mistaken, on the key points – support for ‘negotiations’ to determine the borders between Serbs and Croats; support for ‘border rectifications’; and denial of the legitimacy of a unified Bosnia – Seymour is entirely in agreement with the politics of the late President Franjo Tudjman.
This is an irony, but for those of us who have watched the SWP’s moral degeneration over the past two decades, it is hardly a surprise…
Show me a politically active person who, during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, claimed to ‘oppose all sides equally’, and – nineteen times out of twenty – I’ll show you a bare-faced liar and hypocrite. Almost invariably, people who claimed ‘not to take sides’ over the former Yugoslavia were people who tilted in favour of the Serb-nationalist side but lacked the courage and integrity to come clean about it. The most blatant example of this in the UK was the Trotskyist group ‘Socialist Workers Party’ (SWP) – more recently notorious as the fellow traveller of Islamists and anti-Semites in the campaign against the Iraq war.
During the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the SWP loudly condemned every instance of Western intervention directed against the Great Serb forces – while remaining defeaningly silent about every instance of Western intervention directed against the Croatians or Bosnians. It condemned Western forces when they fired upon Serb forces, but not when they fired upon Croatian or Bosnian forces. It opposed sanctions against Serbia while supporting the arms embargo against Bosnia. It denounced Germany’s support for the international recognition of Croatia, while remaining absolutely silent at its own, British Tory government’s diplomatic collusion with Serbian aggression. Indeed, it repeatedly defended Serb forces from the charge that they were guilty of either aggression or genocide – but then loudly accused NATO of ‘aggression’ when it intervened in Kosovo. The SWP lifted not a finger to oppose Serbian atrocities, but actively agitated within the labour movement and among the left against those of us who actually were campaigning against these atrocities. It only began to demonstrate in 1999 – and then it was in defence of Milosevic’s Serbia against NATO. It denied Bosnia had any right to exist whatsoever, while agitating in defence of Serbia’s ‘sovereignty’. The SWP responded to the Serb assault on Srebrenica in the spring of 1993 by accusing Srebrenica’s defenders of having massacred local Serbs, so contributing to the political atmosphere in the West that made the Srebrenica genocide possible. It then opposed the UN war-crimes tribunal’s efforts to prosecute Serb war-criminals. In effect, the SWP agitated for the Bosnian people to surrender, lie down and die, in order to make way for an ethnically pure Great Serbia.
But formally, it ‘didn’t take sides’.
The more that time has gone by, however, the more the mask of phoney neutrality has slipped. Last Wednesday (23 July), in response to Radovan Karadzic’s arrest, the SWP’s most popular blogger, Richard Seymour of ‘Lenin’s Tomb’, declared that the proper solution to the Serb question in Croatia was ‘border rectifications’. In response to a left-wing critic, Paul Fauvet, who responded to his post, Seymour wrote:
So, you just accept the claims of Croatian nationalism, then? No negotiations, no border rectifications, no arrangements for the increasingly oppressed and demonised Serb minority, just take the land and tell the others to fuck off? Some socialist.
You’re stuck with your support for Croatian nationalism, then. It doesn’t occur to you for a second that there might be legitimate problems for an oppressed minority following an unnegotiated secession with no dialogue or border rectifications.
In the unlikely event that it isn’t clear to any reader what Seymour means when he speaks in favour of ‘border rectifications’, I should spell it out: he’s saying that the proper solution to the Serb question in Croatia was for part of Croatia’s territory, where Serbs lived, to have been taken from it and annexed to Serbia, thereby creating a ‘Great Serbia’.
Am I being unfair to Seymour ? Is there any other possible way of interpreting his words ?
To remind readers: before the war, roughly half of all Croatian Serbs lived in the areas of Croatia that were occupied by Serb forces in 1991. These areas amounted to nearly one-third of Croatian territory, and the majority of their inhabitants were Croats and other non-Serbs. If all these occupied areas were annexed to a Great Serbian state through ‘border rectifications’, there would still have been roughly three-hundred thousand Serbs remaining in a rump, independent Croatia – including large numbers in the Croatian capital of Zagreb and in other large Croatian cities. So ‘border rectifications’ could not conceivably have provided security for these Serbs; and, of course, they would have provided no security at all for the indigenous non-Serb majority in these lands. In other words, Seymour’s endorsement of Serbian expansionism cannot be justified in terms of supporting minority rights. It amounts simply to a retrospective support for the nationalist war-aims of the imperialist aggressor (NB the official position of Milosevic’s Serbian regime, during the war in Croatia, was that Croatia had the right to secede from Yugoslavia, but that the ‘Serb areas’ of Croatia – i.e. the parts of Croatia occupied by Serb forces – had an equal right to secede from Croatia).
This is not a question of Seymour making an uncharacteristic slip. Yesterday (27 July), Seymour posted an article endorsing the denialist claims of the pro-Milosevic ragsheet Living Marxism concerning Serb concentration camps in Bosnia. Putting the term ‘concentration camps’ in inverted commas, Seymour writes of media coverage of these camps as a ‘deception’. His ire is directed not at the Serb fascists who ran these camps, but at the Western journalists who exposed them: ‘Journalists had effectively become co-belligerents with the Bosnian army and the their mujahideen auxiliaries, and anything that didn’t fit the script contrived by PR companies such as Ruder Finn, which was employed by both Croatian and Bosnian governments, or that of Washington and its allies, was out of the picture.’ Far from running concentration camps, the Serb fascists were merely running ‘a system of camps intended as prisons for those deemed suspect by forces deputised by the Republika Srpska.’ (For those who don’t know: Living Marxism‘s denialist claims were discredited when it was successfully sued for libel by ITN over its accusations that ITN had falsified its coverage of these camps – Seymour is endorsing a story has already been very publicly disproved).
Seymour is on record as describing Milosevic’s dictatorship as ‘a state with an elected government, legal opposition parties, independent trade unions, and opposition demonstrations permitted’. He responded to the International Court of Justice’s recognition of the Srebrenica genocide by continuing to deny that genocide had occurred: ‘the massacre of thousands of men of military age is an atrocity, but under no reasonable definition is it genocide’.
How do you describe someone who denies a Serb genocide that has been recognised by three different international courts; who supports Serbian territorial expansion; who portrays Milosevic’s Serbia as a democracy; and who endorses Living Marxism‘s already discredited denial of the existence of Serb concentration-camps ?
One thing’s for sure: you don’t describe him as someone who ‘doesn’t take sides’.
The presidential contest currently under way in the US has generated unprecedented interest in the UK and Europe. Were it left to us on this side of the pond, Barack Obama would win with a landslide. On account of his youth, his colour and his relatively liberal views, Obama is the darling of Europe’s liberals, while not only they, but also European conservatives widely look forward to his presidency as a welcome departure from the hawkish, abrasive unilateralism of George W. Bush’s administration. Yet while Obama as US president would be likely to go down well with the European and, indeed, the world public, this would above all be for the negative reason that – like Clinton before him – he probably would not do very much in the field of foreign affairs. By not rocking the boat or rapping knuckles, a President Obama would appease European liberals and conservatives alike. But by the same token, he may prove inadequate in meeting very real threats to peace and stability in Europe. Nowhere are these threats more real than in the south-eastern borderlands of our continent: the Balkans, Turkey and the Caucasus…
[The rest of this article can be read at Standpoint.Online]
The record of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has not been a glorious one. Most of the top-ranking leaders of Serbia, Montenegro and the Yugoslav People’s Army who planned and executed the war of aggression and genocide in the former Yugoslavia were never indicted. The only top-ranking leader to be indicted, Slobodan Milosevic, died before he could be convicted and sentenced. For all their horrendous suffering, the Bosnian people must be content with the prosecution of a few secondary figures. The Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is one such secondary figure, and his belated arrest may serve as a small scrap of comfort for the victims of his murderous, criminal actions.
The real success over Karadzic is, however, not so much that he has finally been arrested, but that he was indicted in the first place. His indictment back in 1995 ensured that he would be driven out of political life and underground, where he was no longer in a position to dominate Bosnian Serb politics and obstruct peace and reconstruction in Bosnia. The same was true for Milosevic: he was indicted by the ICTY in 1999 and his political fate was sealed; every rational person in Serbia, even among the ranks of the nationalists and regime apparatchiks, knew that an indicted war-criminal could not long remain a European head-of-state. The Milosevic indictment was, along with the Serbian defeat by NATO in Kosova, a major blow to Milosevic’s credibility among his own supporters that helped pave the way for his overthrow.
All this is worth remembering when we consider the indictment issued by International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for genocide and other crimes. The indictment has inspired a chorus of wailing and hand-wringing from various Cassandras and members of the Neville Chamberlain brigade. That the African Union and several of its members have condemned the indictment is undoubtedly a good reason why it should be celebrated; several other heads of state of African Union countries should undoubtedly also be prosecuted as criminals. Countries like South Africa, China and Russia that oppose the indictment of Bashir have also stood out as defenders of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. What a coincidence ! No doubt these sensitive humanitarians are deeply concerned that the indictment may endanger peacekeepers and jeopardise peace negotiations in Sudan… Yeah, right…
Those that align themselves with the genocidal tyrant, Russia and China against the ICC are either extremely naive, or they are likely to view things like international justice and human rights simply as figleaves for ‘Western imperialism’. Veteran Sudan correspondent Julie Flint has aligned herself with the appeasers on this question; she really ought to know better. As for Guardian journalist Jonathan Steele, his polemic in opposition to the indictment of Bashir is an absolute disgrace; he actually uses phrases like ‘The conflict in Darfur is too complex and the attempts to resolve it are too delicate for so one-sided and blunt an approach’, and even ‘Atrocities have been committed on all sides’. Steele followed this up with a eulogy to the Russian regime of Dmitry Medvedev, even complaining that Medvedev has been ‘pilloried in Britain and the US for allegedly backing down on sanctions against Mugabe.’ Pilloried for defending Mugabe – how outrageous ! Even as I write, no doubt many a bereaved mother in Zimbabwe and Chechnya is shedding tears of blood for the indignity suffered by the Russian President. According to Steele, ‘Russia has not always behaved well over the past decade and a half, but it is more provokee than provoker.’ If Steele can reduce Moscow’s slaughter of the Chechens, defence of Mugabe and attempts to sabotage Kosova’s independence and Balkan stability to it having simply ‘not always behaved well over the past decade and a half’, it is unsurprising he is less than enthusiastic about the prospect of Bashir being made to answer for his crimes. And it is a good reason why any sane person should support the opposite of what he advocates.
The Bashir indictment is to be celebrated, because whether or not it results in the tyrant ever facing justice, it represents a nail in his political coffin; a push sending him further along the road already trodden by Milosevic and Karadzic. His international isolation will increase; what is left of his legitimacy will decrease; it will be more difficult for other states to collaborate with him; and if he survives his eventual overthrow, the successor regime will have to collaborate with the ICC in bringing him to trial, which will be a catalyst to its own democratic reform – just as enforced collaboration with the ICTY catalysed democratic reform in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. Of course, this presupposes that Russia, China and the African Union will not succeed in sabotaging the indictment; I’m not betting my life’s savings that they won’t.
Returning to Karadzic; the principal reason why we should celebrate his arrest is that it indicates the new Serbian government’s commitment to improving relations with the West. This is what Aleksandar Vucic of the neo-Nazi Serbian Radical Party believes; he points out that the Karadzic arrest is occurring simultaneously with the return of Serbia’s ambassadors to states that have recognised Kosova. Five months after the Western recognition of Kosova’s independence, Serbia is making better progress on the arrest of war-criminals than it has done since the time of Zoran Djindjic. The Karadzic arrest bodes well for the future peace and stability of the Balkans.
There is also the tantalising possibility that now he is behind bars, Karadzic may spill the beans on Serbia’s involvement in the Bosnian genocide, and on Western collusion with it. I’m not holding my breath, as earlier Hague indictees have not revealed anything shocking in this regard. But we can always hope…
Thirteen years since Srebrenica; thirteen facts to refute the theorists of an ‘anti-Serb imperialist conspiracy’
Since last week was the thirteenth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, this would appear to be a good occasion on which to recapitulate some facts related to the Bosnian genocide and international ‘efforts’ to punish its perpetrators.
1. Two different international courts have recognised that the Srebrenica massacre was an act of genocide: the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY); and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
2. A third international court, the European Court of Human Rights, has determined that genocide occurred in northern Bosnia in 1992. This means that three different international courts have recognised that genocide occurred in Bosnia in 1992-95. Be this as it may…
3. Only a single individual, Bosnian Serb deputy corps commander Radislav Krstic, has been successfully prosecuted for a genocide-related offence by the ICTY.
4. Not a single official from Serbia or Montenegro has yet been convicted of any war-crime in Bosnia by the ICTY – but not because any has been acquitted.
5. Rather, only six officals from Serbia or Montenegro were ever indicted for any war-crime in Bosnia by the ICTY in the first place. Two of these have died and proceedings against the other four are ongoing. The maximum possible number of such individuals who could be convicted by the ICTY is therefore four.
6. Serb or Serb-controlled forces were responsible for at least 86% of the killing of civilians in the Bosnian war, and for over 80% of the killing of civilians in the Wars of Yugoslav Succession as a whole.
7. Nevertheless, of 159 individuals indicted by the ICTY, only 108 or 68% were Serb officials (including non-Serbs employed in the Serb military or security forces). 51 or 32% were Croat, Bosnian Republic, Kosova Albanian or Macedonian officials.
8. Ratko Mladic, architect of the Srebrenica massacre, and Radovan Karadzic, the wartime Bosnian Serb leader, have still not been arrested, despite the continuous presence of international forces in Bosnia since the Dayton Accord was signed. This has not prevented Serbia from signing a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU this year.
9. Nevertheless, Serb nationalists and their apologists in the West have spent the last seventeen years or so whining about how the whole world is against them, and how everything that has happened in the former Yugoslavia is just one big anti-Serb conspiracy organised by Western Imperialism, ‘the media’, the Vatican, Islam, the Jews, the Comintern, the Martians, etc. etc. etc.
10. Although the establishment of the ICTY (unlike the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, for example) was authorised by the UN Security Council, Serb nationalists and their apologists in the West routinely claim that the ICTY is ‘illegitimate’; a ‘kangaroo court’; ‘NATO court’; etc.
11. Milorad Dodik, prime minister of the Republika Srpska / Serb Republic, has refused to respect the ruling of the ICJ that genocide occurred at Srebrenica.
12. Serbia was found guilty by the ICJ of a failure both to prevent and to punish the crime of genocide.
13. Even so, Serb leaders are in the habit these days of accusing others of failing to respect international law…
This is a guest post by Nadja Stamselberg
For the past eight months I have taught English as a second language to teenagers coming form Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Iranian Kurdistan. Out of the ten pupils, three were girls and seven were boys. Aged between sixteen and nineteen, all but one were here without their families. Two boys from Afghanistan and a boy from Pakistan are orphans, whilst another three Afghan boys and an Ethiopian girl don’t know where their parents are or whether they are still alive. Most of them have been trafficked to England. Put on a lorry by a relative who couldn’t afford to look after them, they were sent off to a better future. They survived weeks of inhumane conditions, cramped at the back of airless containers, their limbs numb, their hearts brought to a standstill each time a lorry slowed down or stopped. Some of them even saw their friends and fellow passengers die of exhaustion and dehydration. Nevertheless, when talking about their perilous journey, their faces light up as if they are remembering a great adventure. Perhaps it is a privilege of youth to gloss over most the horrendous experiences and refer to them with nostalgia, or perhaps a mean of survival. One of the boys often talked about Rome, a city he spent a week in whilst the local mafia negotiated with the traffickers before letting them continue their journey. The city made quite an impression on him. It was the first sight of Europe that he saw. The ancient squares and churches were as beautiful, if not even more so, than the ones in his hometown of Herat in Afghanistan. More importantly he was able to experience a place he read and learnt about in school in Iran. Growing up in a refugee camp outside Tehran, he would often imagine these faraway places, and now he was in one of them.
Once in the United Kingdom they applied for asylum and were housed either with foster families, or were put in shared accommodation with other adolescents from similar backgrounds. Each one was assigned a social worker to help them to adjust to their new life. They were also enrolled at a college where they would study English, basic numeracy and IT. With few exceptions, most of them had never been to school. Growing up in war-torn countries robbed them not only of their childhoods and their parents, but of their education as well. Nevertheless, most of them could read and write in their own languages, with a number of them being multilingual, able to speak several languages and dialects. Literacy, however limited, was courtesy of the madrasas. Religion in fact has been the only stable, positive factor in their lives. It provided them with discipline; purpose and most importantly hope that better times were to come. Many of them battle depression and have anger issues and difficulties coping with their new lives. The Afghan boy, whose trafficking experiences took him on an unwilling yet fascinating journey across Europe, broke down in one of the tutorial classes. Only sixteen at the time, he felt that his life was not worth living. He was alone, his parents were killed by the Taliban upon their return from exile in Iran; an only child, he had no one to lean on. Coming from a Hazara background, most of his family has been killed and displaced. The only living relative, his aunt’s husband who paid for his journey to England, was never heard of again. He would often miss college to go to the Refugee Council. A French lady who worked there became like a surrogate mother for him. He spoke of her with so much tenderness, always mentioning that she said that he was like a son to her. Humane contact and genuine emotions are what these children crave the most.
The ones who have successfully been placed with the foster families often thrive. However, as soon as they turn eighteen they are no longer allowed to stay with the families, nor in the shared accommodation. Upon reaching legal adulthood they, often with as little as fifteen minutes notice, have to move. We had cases where the key worker would call the college and ask for the student to be sent home to move as a cab was coming to his place to pick up his stuff. If they did not make it in time, their things would be packed by the key worker and sent to the new address. They were promised that their relocation to hostels and B&Bs was temporary until they were allocated a more permanent abode. Very often they would spend months living in minimally furnished rooms, sometimes not even having bed sheets. Robberies were regular occurrences, their rooms broken into and their few precious possessions stolen.
Unfortunately, these are not the only insecurities they face. Their long-term stay and settlement in the United Kingdom is questionable, with their right to remain reconsidered once they turn eighteen. In fact, for the duration of their stay in the United Kingdom they face uncertainty and the possibility of being sent back to their country of origin. Since quite a few countries are now seen as ‘safe enough’, a number of the adolescent asylum seekers will most certainly face deportation. Having to deal with these issues manifests in different ways. Some of them resolve to self-harm, some get in trouble with the law, others grin and bear it making the most of their lives here. Sadly, they are often expected to transgress. The overworked and jaded social workers tend to have little sympathy for their plights. At a parents’ meeting, I had one student’s social worker refer to him as a ‘little sod’ who keeps getting into trouble with the law. Upon inquiring further I was told that he was booked for dodging the bus fare and for sitting in the driver’s seat of a car without having a licence. Furthermore, their life stories are not believed. The Home Office regards most of their asylum applications as fabrications designed to fool the British system. Their dates of births are also often dismissed as fakes and many are given new ones, the most popular being 1st of January.
At the same parent’s meeting, another social worker told me that I should be careful with believing everything the students tell me as they come form a culture, in this particular case form South Asia, where it is a norm to tell people what they want to hear instead of the truth. He was trying to show understanding for my naiveté, but stressed that I will soon realise myself that this student’s story was questionable, constructed for the benefit of staying in this country. The story that his parents were killed by his uncle in a dispute over land was questionable. His subsequent crime of beating the same uncle to death by a wooden stick whilst sleeping could not be confirmed and the account of both him and his brother spending two years moving from one place to the other all over Pakistan running from relatives was unsubstantiated. Furthermore, he was illegally in this country for two years before applying for asylum. Having turned eighteen, the Home Office is due to reconsider his case. Aware of this, he was filled with terror by the prospect of being sent back to Pakistan. Ever since he was twelve years old he has been on the run. He had a deep hatred and fear of the country where he found no protection from the law and saw no justice served. He was so grateful to be able, for the first time in his life, to go to school and have some semblance of a normal life, and was looking forward to making his life here.
My initial reaction when he told me that if he gets sent back home he will join al Qaeda was to dismiss it as another provocative remark. Looking for a reaction, some of the students would talk about al Qaeda, Taliban and Osama Bin Laden, boasting about their support for their cause and playing up to the stereotypes imposed on them by society. However, I was soon to realise that his statement was not a childish attempt at attention seeking, but an option he was seriously considering. His motifs were neither a religious fervour nor a dislike of the West and its values. On the contrary, they were a frantic plea for some structure, direction and security, whatever that might be. Feeling let down by his own family, country and eventually by the United Kingdom, which had supposed to provide him with a safe haven and another shot at the normal life and education he so desperately craved, he would be a perfect target for recruiting. Preying at disillusioned youth with no jobs and no hope, al Qaeda offers to fill the vacuum left by poverty, lack of education and displaced and destroyed family units. Youth, inexperience and feelings of hopelessness make al Qaeda’s newfound followers susceptible to all sorts of anti-Western sentiments disguised as ‘anti-imperialist’ ones.
Back in the United Kingdom, Islamophobia (systematically promoted by some sections of the political elite and the media); poor treatment of the immigrants; and attempts to manage community diversity to suit certain economic interests best, all deepen divisions within the popular classes, creating more resentment toward the young asylum seekers. Consequently, some of the students are faced with bigoted comments and insults. Many of them also complain about their treatment by the Home Office officials. All of this in turn provides a valuable service to reactionary political Islam, giving credibility to its anti-Western discourse. This makes it possible to lure and draft the deported asylum seekers. Despite everything, most of them love living in the United Kingdom and are very grateful for the freedoms and opportunities it offers. Casualties of the wars we waged on their behalf, our broken promises and their own societies’ inability to provide them with protection and a future, these vulnerable young people need our help. Instead of treating them as parasites on our economy and a threat to our society and values, the Home Office should recognise these young persons’ strengths and potential. Giving them an opportunity; a much-deserved chance to rebuild their shattered lives; we will not only gain valuable members of our society, who will enrich and contribute to it, but also deprive various terrorist organisations both of their mission and of many of their potential followers.
Nadja Stamselberg has recently finished a PhD in Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She wrote her thesis on practices of exclusion and European identity. She is currently working on a book, which traces the historical precursors of exclusion in Europe, connecting it to the subsequent concepts of hospitality and cosmopolitanism.
When Nicolas Sarkozy defeated Segolene Royal in last year’s French presidential election, there were some grounds for optimism that French foreign policy might take a turn for the better. Indeed, Sarkozy – no anti-American – has taken the important step of opting to bring France back into NATO’s integrated command, thereby reversing one of Charles de Gaulle’s most symbolic acts of Gallic independence vis-a-vis the US. Yet where South East Europe is concerned, Sarkozy has on at least five counts proven himself to be as obstructive and destructive as French presidents come; an enemy of the region and of the cause of European unity.
1) Sarkozy argued against Turkey’s entry into the EU on the grounds that ‘Turkey is in Asia Minor’ and that ‘I won’t be able to explain to French school kids that Europe’s border neighbors are Iraq and Syria.’ He is, meanwhile, no doubt aware that the state of which he is head includes territories in the Caribbean, South America and the Indian Ocean as its integral parts or ‘overseas departments’. It is difficult to believe that the French president genuinely has difficulty with the concept of an EU including Turkey, which was part of the Ancient Greek world and the Roman Empire and whose largest city was for a time the Roman capital, but has no difficulty with the concept of a France that borders on Brazil. Or that he is unaware that EU member Cyprus is, geographically, more wholly Asian than Turkey. Either Sarkozy really is spectacularly ignorant – which I find difficult to believe – or he is cynically playing up to the popular ignorance and chauvinism of his citizens in the most vulgar manner.
2) At the NATO summit in Bucharest in April, Sarkozy vetoed the granting of a Membership Action Plan to Georgia and Ukraine; for all his denial, he appears to have done so because he did not want to offend Russia. This makes no sense in terms of principles; it is as if Norway should have been denied NATO membership so as not to offend Sweden; or Poland, so as not to offend Belarus. A sovereign state’s right to join a military alliance cannot be the subject of a veto by one of its neighbours; otherwise it ceases to be sovereign. The deference to Russia harks back to an era of imperial spheres of influence. Sarkozy appears less interested in the principle of European unity than in pursuing old-style imperial diplomacy on the European continent.
3) Sarkozy has long supported Greece in its dispute with Macedonia without pretending that this has anything to do with principles: ‘I always stressed that we support the Greek position in the name issue. Greeks are our friends.’ In his most recent statement, however, Sarkozy not only argues that Macedonia should back down because ‘the newcomer is the one that should make efforts’, but reportedly also on the grounds that Macedonia is a ‘non-democratic country’. This marks a new low in French efforts to destabilise a fragile country that was deemed sufficiently democratic by the international community to warrant international recognition back in 1992, and whose provisions for minority rights are incomparably better than that of Greece, which does not even recognise the existence of its Macedonian and Turkish minorities. The consequences of a Macedonian collapse for peace and stability in Europe should not need emphasising; Sarkozy is playing his cynical, Gaullist game in the most irresponsible manner possible.
4) While denying Macedonia’s democratic credentials, France under Sarkozy is reverting to the traditional French policy of supporting Serbia, the country primarily responsible for the catastrophes in the Balkans in the 1990s, and whose attempts to undermine Kosova’s independence are endangering peace and stability in the Balkans more than anything else. France’s ambassador in Belgrade, Jean Francois Terral, is reported to have described Serbia as ‘the country with the greatest possibilities in the Balkans’. He is quoted as saying that ‘as far as France is concerned, Serbia has the priority among Western Balkan states’. After all the efforts in which the West has engaged in this decade, to encourage Serbia to change its ways and behave in a responsible manner, France now appears to be reinforcing the old, destructive belief of Serbia’s – that it is a natural regional hegemon with a right to preeminence over its smaller and weaker neighbours. And this without demanding any commensurate change in Serbian policy toward Kosova.
5) While rewarding the two Balkan states – Greece and Serbia – that are pursuing the most destructive, nationalistic policies at the expense of the wider region, Sarkozy has taken efforts to punish Croatia, a state that has turned its back on extreme nationalism. In contrast to Serbia, Croatia since 2000 has abandoned expansionism vis-a-vis Bosnia, abandoned support for anti-Bosnian separatists and come round to full cooperation with the war-crimes tribunal in the Hague. Yet in response to the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, Sarkozy has announced that France will veto further EU enlargement until the treaty is ratified – a step that above all punishes Croatia, which is the next state slated for EU membership. Showing scant regard for the democratic will of his fellow Europeans, he appears to be willing to punish Croatia and other EU aspirants for the fact that votes within the EU have not gone his way.
Nicolas Sarkozy is a sorry excuse for a European. His foreign policy makes no pretence at being guided by any principles or consistency, and he appears to revel in its selfish, nationally egotistical character. Nevertheless, at a certain level, one must admire his readiness to behave so unreasonably: the EU is a body that rewards the unreasonable and the selfish and that punishes the well behaved. If an EU member – or indeed a non-member – wishes to get its way, it pays for it to be stubborn and obstructive, as then the EU’s spineless, amoral bureaucrats will pander to it with talk about a ‘compromise acceptable to both sides’ or other such cliches designed to conceal appeasement. It is difficult to see that Sarkozy’s policy toward South East Europe is inspired by anything other than short-term, tactical and narrowly national considerations, but he is at least prepared to go about trying to get what he wants.
It would be encouraging if our own British government were to be similarly stubborn and obstructive in pursuit of goals where, justifiably, our policies have diverged from France’s: over EU and NATO expansion; Turkey; Macedonia; etc. Were it to do so, it would achieve more than it does. But I’m not holding my breath.
There is some resistance among liberal intellectuals to the term ‘Islamophobia’, because it is assumed that Islam is a religion, therefore an ideology, and it is questioned if one can be prejudiced against an ideology. Yet such a distinction is not satisfactory from the standpoint of a scholar of the Balkans; or indeed, from the historical standpoint generally. To treat chauvinism against a religious community as being fundamentally different from chauvinism against an ethnic or racial group is to superimpose a modern understanding of religion onto the past. We may believe in the ideals of the separation of church and state; and of religion as a private, personal matter of conscience; but it is anachronistic to impose this liberal ideal onto past human history.
We are all aware of the distinction between religious and racial anti-Semitism, but also of the connections between the two – of the fact that even the Nazis used religious background to determine who was Jewish. In the Balkans, at least, the model for chauvinism that anti-Semitism provides – in which prejudice against a religious community evolves into an ethnic or racial prejudice – is the rule rather than the exception. Religious and ethnic prejudice are not distinct categories, and it makes no historical sense to see them as such.
The Ottoman Empire ruled over much of the Balkans from the late Middle Ages until the nineteenth century, and it was the Ottoman system that laid the basis for modern ethnicity and nationality in the Balkans. The Ottoman empire was organised on the basis of different legal statuses for Muslims and non-Muslims, in which Muslims were the dominant and privileged group but Christians and Jews nevertheless enjoyed a degree of communal autonomy. This laid the basis for the different religious communities to evolve into separate nationalities.
When the Orthodox nationalities of the Balkans rose up against the Ottoman overlords during the nineteenth century with the goal of establishing their independence from the empire, the process involved the expulsion or extermination of much of the non-Christian population, which was identified as an alien, non-national element. This process of ethnic or religious cleansing was directed primarily against the Muslim population that was concentrated in the towns. But it targeted also the Jews, who were also concentrated in the towns and who were, in the eyes of the predominantly peasant and Christian rebels, equally alien and part of the Ottoman presence. This was something that occurred in the violence that accompanied the uprisings themselves, with rebels spontaneously massacring non-Christians. But it also took place more quietly in the decades that followed the establishment of autonomy or independence, as the new governments encouraged ethnic homogenisation.
Thus, for example, in Serbia during the nineteenth century, the number of mosques in the main cities rapidly declined. The Serbian capital of Belgrade was largely Muslim before the nineteenth century. But following the establishment of an autonomous Serbian principality in the first decades of the nineteenth century, the Muslim population was mostly expelled and most of the mosques were destroyed or dismantled. Similarly, the Jewish communities suffered restrictions they had not suffered in the Ottoman period, and were expelled or relocated from the towns outside Belgrade. This, of course, is a generalisation: the extent to which Muslims or Jews were massacred, expelled or persecuted varied according to country and period. This was not a matter of Nazi-style total extermination. Persecution and expulsion alternated and overlapped with efforts at cooption, assimilation and toleration. But the model of nationhood remained very much one that was based on Orthodox Christianity, in which non-Orthodox were, at best, viewed as less national than the Orthodox.
This model of religiously determined nationhood was not adopted only by Orthodox Christians, but also by the Muslim Turks. The establishment of a Turkish nation-state in the 1910s and 1920s involved the extermination or expulsion of literally millions of Christians. Formally, they were Greeks or Armenians. But this included Turkish-speaking Christians who were excluded from the Turkish nation solely because of their religion. Turkish nationhood, therefore, was based on the Muslim religion: it was inclusive of Kurds and other non-Turkish-speaking Muslims who inhabited Anatolia. But it was exclusive of Turkish-speaking Christians.
After establishing their nation-state, the Turks had a rather better record of treating the Jews than did the Balkan Christians. This was a legacy of the fact that the Muslims, as the elite group in the Ottoman Empire, had not viewed the Jews as outsiders in the same way that the Christians had done. But there was still some anti-Jewish activity on the part of the Turkish state which, with Nazi encouragement, reached its peak during World War II. Furthermore, in the great anti-Greek pogrom in Istanbul in 1955, Jews were also targeted.
Another example serves to illustrate the connection between religion and ethnicity in the Balkans. Both Serbia and Croatia entered the modern age with relatively small Jewish communities that could readily assimilate into the dominant Serbian and Croatian nations respectively. By contrast, in Bosnia there was no dominant nationality. So members of the Sephardic Jewish community in Bosnia developed a distinct sense of nationality of their own. They saw themselves as distinct from the Ashkenazim, who were culturally different. And as they were not oppressed by a dominant nationality that treated them as outsiders, they were less receptive to Zionism than were the Jews of most Central European countries. So the Bosnian Sephardim followed the general Bosnian pattern, whereby the different religious communities evolved into different nationalities.
There were some exceptions to the general rule of religiously based nationhood in the Balkans. The Albanians are the only major example of a Balkan nation for which religion is not the determining factor. The most likely explanation is that Albanian nationalism originated with the Catholic population among the Albanian-speakers. And the Catholics were not legally and economically subordinate to Muslim landlords in the way that Orthodox peasants throughout the Balkans were subordinate to Muslim landlords. So there was not the same degree of class oppression tied into the religious divide between Catholics and Muslims among the Albanian-speakers, as there was between Orthodox and Muslims among the Slavic-, Greek- and Turkish-speaking peoples. Interestingly, the Albanians’ record with regard to the Jews during the Holocaust was about the best in all of Nazi-occupied Europe; Albanians sheltered Jews more solidly than almost any other occupied people.
Another interesting case, for the purposes of comparison, is that of the Croats. Croatia was not part of the Ottoman Empire, so its social structure was not determined by the Ottoman system. Croatia had a relatively small Jewish community, so its anti-Semitism was fairly typical by the standards of Christian Europe. However, Croat nationalists were almost unique in Europe in the extent to which they were ready to embrace Muslims. Ante Starcevic, the father of integral Croat-nationalism, viewed the Bosnian Muslims as the purest of all Croats. According to the tradition he established, the Bosnian Muslims were the ‘flower of the Croat nation’. This was possible for Croat nationalists because, unlike the Orthodox peoples of the Balkans, Croatia had not been ruled and oppressed by the Ottomans. The Islamophile character of Croat nationalism was, of course, a way for it to lay claim to Bosnia, where the Catholics were only a small minority.
The different ways in which Serb and Croat nationalist ideology perceived the Muslims became apparent during World War II. Serb extreme nationalists – the Chetniks – carried out systematic massacres of Muslims and Catholics, and also murdered Jews or handed them over to the Nazis. Croat extreme nationalists – the Ustashas – carried out systematic massacres of the Orthodox Serbs and Jews. But not of Muslims, as the policy of the Ustashas was to treat Bosnian Muslims as Islamic Croats. In contrast to the nationalism of the Orthodox peoples of the Balkans, it was only in the 1990s that the Croat-nationalist mainstream became overtly anti-Islamic; this was due to the policy of the Croatian despot Franjo Tudjman, who aimed to join with the Serbs in partitioning Bosnia. What made the difference for Croat nationalists by the 1990s, compared to the 1940s, was that by then the Muslims had been formally recognised within the Yugoslav constitutional system as a nation in their own right, distinct from the Serbs and Croats. When Muslims could no longer be viewed as Islamic Croats and potentially assimilated, they became open to persecution by expansionist Croat nationalism.
By this period – the 1990s – both Serb and Croat nationalists were more likely to identify with Israel on an anti-Muslim basis than they were to indulge in anti-Semitism. Although the more extreme elements among Serb and Croat nationalists in the 1990s did sometimes express anti-Semitic views, they were generally astute enough to know the propaganda value of not being seen to be anti-Semitic, and they did try to appeal to Jewish opinion – though not very successfully. Albania and Croatia, therefore, are the exceptions that prove the rule: firstly, that anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish prejudice in the Balkans are essentially similar, in that both are prejudices directed against ethnic groups that have their origins in religious differences; and secondly, that Muslims are targeted and persecuted as an alien ethnic group – like the Jews – not simply as a religious community.
To go back to the case of the Serb Chetniks in World War II: they were an extreme-nationalist movement that systematically persecuted and killed the non-Orthodox population in Bosnia: Muslims, Croats and Jews. The Chetniks were engaged in a vicious war against the Yugoslav Partisans, who were a multinational resistance movement led by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. The Chetniks identified the Communists with the Jews, but also with the Muslims and Croats. One Chetnik leader even accused the Communists of destroying Orthodox Churches, and building mosques, synagogues and Catholic churches. In World War II, however, it was still possible for the Chetniks to waver between massacring Muslims, and attempting to co-opt them, on the grounds that Bosnian Muslims were ‘really’ Serbs. So as late as World War II, both Serb- and Croat-nationalists could still make some pretence at treating the Muslims as a religious group within their respective nations. One can compare this to the confusion among modern anti-Semites, until quite late in the day, as to whether the Jews were a religious or a racial group.
By the 1990s, however, despite lip service to the traditional nationalist view, that Bosnian Muslims were really just Islamic Serbs or Croats, in practice, this kind of assimilationism was no longer possible or relevant. Muslims were treated in practice as a hated, alien ethnic minority. There was no policy of forced conversion. Serb nationalists, and to a lesser extent Croat nationalists, ethnically cleansed Bosnia of Muslims who spoke their language, much as the Serbian regime attempted to cleanse Kosovo of the Albanians who spoke an entirely different language. Rather like anti-Semites, extreme Serb and Croat nationalists in Bosnia in the 1990s simultaneously viewed Muslims as a racially alien element, while portraying them in their propaganda as part of an international, global threat to Christian Europe.
Of course, there are differences between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism: anti-Semites traditionally portray the global Jewish conspiracy in terms of sneaky, intelligent puppet-masters working behind the scenes, whereas Balkan Islamophobes portray the global Islamic conspiracy in terms of mindless but fully visible – indeed visually striking – fanaticism. Hatred of Islam and Muslims has, for all its intensity as felt by Balkan Christian nationalists, never quite achieved the intensity of being an all-consuming end in itself, as it has for some anti-Semites. And of course, Balkan Islamophobes do not formally treat global Islam as a race, in the way that anti-Semites treat global Jewry as a race. But we are ultimately talking about ideological window-dressing used to justify the same type of persecution and violence.
It is nonsensical to argue that the systematic destruction of mosques and the Islamic heritage in Bosnia by Serbian forces, combined with a propaganda that stressed the role of mujahedin and of foreign Islamic states, was not an expression of Islamophobia, on the grounds that Islamophobia does not exist. But equally, it is nonsensical to argue that this campaign was genuinely motivated by hostility to Islam as an ideology: there was no pretence that Muslims were a danger because they might indoctrinate the Serbian population with subversive views. Serb nationalists in the 1980s and 90s made much of the growing threat of the Bosnian Muslims in Bosnia, and of Albanian Muslims in Serbia. But the danger they presented was not that these groups would spread Islam to the Serbs, and Islamify Serbia. Rather, the danger was that these groups would increasingly outbreed the Serbs, and turn them into increasingly small minorities in their own countries.
Thus, we are not talking about a threat equivalent to the Communist threat, as it was viewed in McCarthy’s US, or to the counter-revolutionary threat, as it was viewed in Stalin’s USSR. Muslim children in Serb-occupied Bosnia were not simply deported along with their parents, as they might have been if they were viewed as the children of subversives. Still less were they subjected to ideological reprogramming. Rather, they were themselves singled out for rape, torture and murder. Muslim women were raped with the stated goal of making them give birth to Serb babies. Biljana Plasvic, the Bosnian Serb vice-president, theorised about the Muslims being a genetically defective offshoot of the Serb nation.
In sum, Islamophobia, in the Bosnian war, was an expression of hatred directed against an ethnic group, or groups. One of the paradoxes of this is that for all the Islamophobic hatred directed against the Balkan Muslim peoples by Balkan Christian nationalists, and indeed by the anti-Muslim bigots in the West who supported them, the Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians are among the most secularised Muslim peoples in the world. Just as Jewish atheists will always be the Christ-killers or ritual slaughterers of Christian children in the eyes of certain anti-Semites, so Bosnian Muslim and Albanian atheists will always be jihadis in the eyes of Islamophobes.
This paper was presented at the conference ‘Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe: Comparisons – contrasts – connections‘, that took place at University College London on 22-24 June.
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Holocaust denial
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left
- World War II