Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

SWP blogger Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour supported Serbian territorial expansion

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.

And again:

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’.

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Monday, 28 July 2008 - Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Islam, Kosovo, NATO, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, The Left

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