Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Let’s trade Ratko Mladic for Republika Srpska

srpskaBosnia-Hercegovina, the weakest spot in the European order in the Balkans, may be closer to renewed violent conflict than at any time since the war ended there in 1995. Milorad Dodik, prime minister of Bosnia’s Serb entity, the ‘Republika Srpska’ (RS), openly expresses his opposition to Bosnia’s continued existence, while working methodically to undermine it from within, paving the way for the Serb entity’s eventual secession. His radical stance appears to be catalysed by his desire to avoid investigation for fraud, corruption and misuse of finances by Bosnia’s central bodies. After Bosnia’s State Investigation and Protection Agency sent a report to the state proscutor’s office detailing allegations against Dodik, the latter responded that ‘Even the little faith I had in the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina is now lost due to this farce with the criminal charges against me’ and ‘They have made this country pointless.’ Bosnia’s Muslims, or Bosniaks, are meanwhile preparing to resist the secession of the Serb entity through force of arms. Serbia’s President Boris Tadic, torn between pro-European and nationalist impulses, has aligned himself with Dodik, claiming he is the victim of a ‘daily witch-hunt’. The Bosnian central state has virtually ceased to function. Already last autumn, the former High Representative of Bosnia, Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, and the architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, Richard Holbrooke, wrote in an article in The Guardian that Bosnia ‘is in real danger of collapse’. Yet the situation has only become worse since that article was penned, and shows every sign of deteriorating further.

It is, therefore, clear to anyone who cares to look that the constitutional order established in Bosnia by Dayton, based as it is upon two semi-independent entities (the RS and the Muslim-Croat Bosnian Federation) has ceased to function and has become a danger to regional peace and stability. The question is not whether this order needs to be replaced, but what it should be replaced with. The question ultimately boils down to whether Bosnia should be recentralised and reintegrated, so that the central institutions can function properly again, or whether Bosnia should be allowed effectively to disappear altogether.

Some argue that the RS should be allowed to secede and become an independent state, as Kosova has been allowed to secede from Serbia and Montenegro was allowed to secede from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. Yet this is a false parallel that demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the constitutional nature of Bosnia on the part of those that draw it. Contemporary Bosnia is not a federation of entities that came together formally on the basis of their own individual sovereign wills, as was the old Yugoslav federation. After World War II, Montenegro, Serbia and the other Yugoslav republics came together voluntarily to form a federal union of sovereign members, while Kosova joined the People’s Republic of Serbia formally on the basis of a decision of its own assembly. By contrast, the RS was created as part of the overall peace settlement at Dayton that also created the two-entity Bosnia in place of the old Bosnian republic, and that was based on certain mutually agreed terms and conditions. The trade-off was that, on the one hand, the RS would be recognised as one of Bosnia’s two entities in extremely generous borders encompassing 49% of Bosnia’s territory, despite the fact that Serbs had comprised only slightly over half of the pre-war population of this territory, and only 31% of the pre-war population of Bosnia as a whole. And on the other hand, the RS would recognise that it formed an integral part of a unified Bosnian state.

Secession of the RS from Bosnia would constitute a violation of the terms of the Dayton Accords, therefore nullifying any obligation on the part of the other Bosnian parties and the international community to recognise its existence. Such an act of illegal secession would inevitably result in a Bosniak military response; the Western alliance would then effectively be faced with the unenviable choice between colluding in the illegal secession or colluding in its military crushing by the Bosniaks, with all the bloodshed that would involve. A successful dismembering of Bosnia would further encourage Serb efforts at dismembering Kosova, resurrecting Serbian expansionism and encouraging similar impulses on the parts of other Balkan peoples, such as the secession of the Albanian minority in Macedonia, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the region.

Far better, then, to ensure that the RS does not secede. Those complaining that the Serbs are supposedly being discriminated against by the international community, so far as national self-determination is concerned, should politely be reminded that the Bosnian Serbs are not being accorded any fewer rights in this respect than the Bosnian Croats, or than the Albanians in Macedonia – indeed, they have been accorded a higher degree of autonomy than either. Furthermore, the right to national self-determination also belongs to the non-Serb inhabitants of the territory of the RS who were expelled during the war; like Bosnia as a whole, the RS belongs to all its peoples, not just the Serbs or any other single ethnic group.

Indeed, the recognition of the RS in 1995 was made contingent upon its acceptance of additional terms, including that it permit the return of Muslim and Croat refugees to its territory and cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). These terms have not been fulfilled: the RS, whose territory was nearly half Muslim and Croat in 1992, is today still almost entirely ethnically purely Serb, while its record of collaboration with the ICTY is the worst of any state or entity in the region. Ratko Mladic, the architect of the genocidal Srebrenica massacre and one of the two most high-profile Bosnian Serb war-crimes indictees, has still not been delivered to The Hague, while the other, former RS president Radovan Karadzic, was arrested in Belgrade only last year, having previously enjoyed years of fugitive existence in the RS and Serbia, undisturbed by their authorities. Not only has the RS no right to secede, but by violating the terms of the Dayton Accord, it has forfeited the right to exist in the form mandated by Dayton. In the name of both justice and regional stability, we have every reason to scale back the autonomy of the RS and reintegrate it with the rest of the country, so that the Bosnian central institutions are able to function. Bosnia is heading toward either partition or reintegration; since it cannot be partitioned without catastrophe, it must be reintegrated. The RS may continue to exist at the administrative and ceremonial level, as a district of Bosnia with its own flag and other symbols, but real sovereignty over the whole of Bosnia must reside in Sarajevo if the state is to function.

The reintegration of Bosnia can serve to kill two birds with one stone; it can solve the Bosnian problem, and solve the Serbian problem as well. Leaving aside the question of Kosova, the problem with Serbia is that it is not being allowed to join the EU given its failure to arrest Mladic. Yet what the EU views as punishment, the anti-European nationalists in Serbia view as reward: as Sonja Biserko, head of Serbia’s Helsinki Committee, has argued, punishing Serbia over Mladic by keeping it out of the EU is counterproductive, as it further weakens the already weak pro-European element in Serbian politics. Biserko therefore favours Serbia’s unconditional entry into the EU. Yet the Bosniaks would rightly see an end to European pressure on Serbia over Mladic as grossly unfair; they would be entirely justified in responding to such a European betrayal of the terms of the Dayton Accords with more radical measures.

Allowing Serbia to join the EU without arresting Mladic would be a reasonable quid pro quo for the reintegration of the RS into Bosnia, solving both the Serbian and Bosnian problems, bolstering the pro-European element in Serbia while compensating the Bosniaks and Bosnian citizens as a whole for the failure to arrest Mladic. The warrant for Mladic’s arrest can remain outstanding, should he ever resurface.

This would leave the unresolved dispute over Kosova as the principal remaining source of instability in the former Yugoslavia. It is unrealistic to expect Serbia to recognise Kosovo as a condition for EU membership. But the EU could impose more reasonable conditions: firstly, an end to Serbia’s destabilisation of and embargo against Kosova, and to its promotion of parallel structures among the Serb minority there; secondly, a formal undertaking not to veto Kosova’s eventual membership of the EU; and thirdly, an undertaking to respect the autonomy, unity and indivisibility of Kosova, something that Belgrade already formally adheres to. This would leave only an unresolved dispute between Belgrade and the majority of EU states over whether the self-governing, unified Kosova heading toward EU membership is or is not an independent state (and entities do not have to be independent to join or leave the EU – witness Greenland, which seceded from the European Economic Community in 1985 despite the fact that it was an autonomous part of Denmark, which remained in the EEC).

European leaders may baulk at attempting any such ‘radical’ solution. Yet if they do, they may find themselves faced with a much worse crisis in the near future, one that will really require drastic measures to rectify.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Saturday, 28 February 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Serbia | Leave a comment

Chechnya needs a fair political settlement


The following letter appeared in today’s Guardian:

Today is World Chechnya Day. On this day in 1944 Stalin deported the entire Chechen population of 500,000 people to Siberia and Kazakhstan, where almost half of them perished in 13 years of exile.

Sixty-five years on, the Chechen people are still suffering. After the collapse of the Soviet Union Chechnya existed as an independent state in all but name before Russian troops invaded in 1994. Following a bloody war, a peace accord was signed and democratic elections were held in Chechnya in 1997, only for Vladimir Putin to order its invasion in 1999, resulting in the displacement of several hundred thousand refugees and the death of another 100,000 civilians.

The Kremlin now claims that the war is over and that there is peace and stability in the region. The reality is that the intensive bombings have been replaced with a regime of fear and oppression which has eroded civil society in Chechnya and suppressed any open and democratic voice. Visits are carefully choreographed for western journalists and dignitaries. They do not see the daily realities of Moscow-imposed Ramzan Kadyrov’s rule.

The facade of stability is dangerous. The only way to establish lasting peace in Chechnya is through free and fair elections, which last took place over 10 years ago. On this World Chechnya Day, we urge President Medvedev to find a genuine political settlement that will finally put an end to an entire people’s suffering.

Ivar Amundsen Director, Chechnya Peace Forum,
Malcolm Rifkind MP, Andrew Motion, Ken Loach, Prof AC Grayling, Dr Benjamin Zephaniah, Andre Glucksmann, Aki Kaurismäki, Prof Brendan Simms, Jonathan Heawood, Glen Howard, Danny Alexander MP, Raymond Jolliffe, Nicolas Rea, Peter Tatchell

Monday, 23 February 2009 Posted by | Caucasus, Chechnya, Former Soviet Union, Genocide, Russia | Leave a comment

Richard Seymour’s ‘The Liberal Defence of Murder’

seymourThe blogger Richard ‘Lenin’ Seymour of ‘Lenin’s Tomb‘, a member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), published his first book last year, entitled The Liberal Defence of Murder (Verso, London, 2008). Rather than review the whole of the book and make points that other reviewers are likely to make, I am going to focus on the section (pp. 190-212) dealing with my own area of special interest: the former Yugoslavia, to see how Seymour’s thesis holds up. I should declare a special interest, in that I am myself quoted critically in passing in this book, and my own parents, Branka Magas and Quintin Hoare, come in for particular criticism in it. Despite this, and despite the fact that I am not exactly a fan of Seymour, his politics or his party, this will be a review in measured tones, as I would like the facts to speak for themselves.

Seymour explains the title in his opening sentence: ‘This book seeks to explain a current of irrational thought that supports military occupation and murder in the name of virtue and decency.’ Broadly speaking, this book is a critique of liberal and left-wing supporters of humanitarian military intervention, as in the cases of Bosnia, Kosova, Iraq and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, in the section of the book dealing with the wars in Croatia and Bosnia (pp. 190-205), Seymour is unable to provide any evidence that any of his liberal targets did, indeed, support ‘murder’ – unless simply being in favour of Western military intervention automatically makes one a supporter of ‘murder’. Even so, there are no quotations in this section dealing with just how, or in what way, the liberals in question did indeed support military intervention. Seymour tells us, in his own words, that Ken Livingstone ‘called for force to be used against the Serbs’; that Michael Foot ‘pleaded for a British humanitarian intervention’; and so on. There are no examples provided of any bloodcurdling war-cries, or calls for the Serbs to be bombed back to the Stone Age, or the like. Seymour does a bit better in the section on Kosova (pp. 206-211), where he does provide a couple of quotes, one of which actually comes across as quite bloodthirsty – by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, who is quoted here as supporting attacks on the Serbian civilian infrastructure. But that really is just about it: Seymour has no case whatsoever that liberal interventionists supported ‘murder’ in Croatia or Bosnia, and only one quote by one individual that arguably supports his case with regard to Kosova. So we are left with a tautology: support for military intervention is defined as support for murder, therefore any liberal who supported military intervention is evidence of a ‘liberal defence of murder’.

Why, you may ask, did it then take Seymour a whole twenty-one pages to make this point ? How does he fill up those pages ? Well, Seymour’s main argument is not that liberals supported military intervention that might have or did kill Serb civilians. Rather, he attempts to argue that military intervention was wrong because 1) Serb atrocities, and Milosevic’s regime, were not as bad as liberal interventionists made them out to be; and 2) that the Croatians and Bosnians were not worthy of being defended by Western military intervention, because their governments were just as bad as Milosevic’s – possibly worse – and were guilty of the same atrocities. So far from writing a polemic on the evils of Western military intervention, or on the bloodthirsty character of its supporters, Seymour has written a polemic playing down the evils of Milosevic and Serb nationalism, playing up the evils of Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic and Croat and Muslim nationalism, then condemning those liberals who – as he sees it – got the balance wrong. The only quotations he actually produces for his prosecutor’s case against the ‘liberals’ in the entire section on Bosnia and Croatia are quotes expressing condemnation of Serb atrocities, or of Western complicity in them. So we have Alain Finkielkraut quoted using the term ‘Guernica’; Bernard-Henri Levi quoted calling for the lifting of the arms embargo against the Bosnians; Christopher Hitchens quoted as claiming that Serbia and Croatia were led by ‘fascist parties’; Michael Ignatieff quoted describing what was happening as ‘genocide’, and so forth. But as Seymour makes clear, he does not believe that Milosevic and his Serb forces were fascist, or that genocide occurred, or that the Serb forces ran concentration camps, etc.

This, then, is the case for the prosecution: not that liberals actually supported murder, or even that they supported military intervention, but that they made Milosevic and Serb ethnic-cleansing out to be worse than they were, when really, they weren’t bad enough to justify military intervention. Before we turn to Seymour’s actual methodology, it is worth pausing to examine what the premise of this argument is. Seymour is saying that if you used terms like ‘fascism’, ‘genocide’, ‘concentration camps’, etc., to describe Milosevic and his forces and what they were doing, you are a liberal supporter of murder. The correct response, in Seymour’s view, to news and images of Serb ethnic-cleansing and atrocities (which Seymour does not deny took place) is not to demand action in defence of the victims, but to ensure that the perpetrators of this ethnic cleansing and these atrocities get a fair coverage and are not condemned in too strong terms. So it really doesn’t take much to be a liberal defender of murder: if you react to images of Serb persecution of Muslim civilian prisoners in camps by using the term ‘concentration camp’, or if you describe a Serb ethnic cleanser as a ‘fascist’, you’re one of the bad guys. Whereas if you try to moderate liberal condemnation of the concentration camps and the ethnic cleansers, as Seymour does, you’re one of the good guys.

Consequently, what Seymour has written is a defence of the Milosevic regime and Serb ethnic-cleansing from their liberal critics. Complaining about the Western media’s treatment of the conflict, Seymour writes that ‘while Izetbegovic was deified, Milosevic received no credit for taking risks with his support by urging the Serbs in Krajina and the Republika Srpska to accept various deals to end the conflict.’ (p. 205) Thus, Seymour condemns Western journalists for failing to portray Milosevic as the peacenik that, in Seymour’s eyes, he really was (as for actual evidence that the Western media ‘deified’ Izetbegovic – Seymour doesn’t provide any).

Seymour’s critique centres not on actual liberal support for military intervention, let alone murder, but on what he sees as a mistaken liberal analysis of what was going on in the former Yugoslavia, and on inappropriate terminology. He condemns the liberals not for having the wrong principles, but for applying them incorrectly. Since there is no real clash of ideals between Seymour and his various liberal targets expressed here, his case rests on how effective his piecemeal demolition job of their case turns out to be.

Rather than bore the reader by going once more into the rights and wrongs of the former Yugoslav conflict, I am going to analyse Seymour’s case entirely in its own terms, by looking in turn at his principal charges against his liberal targets.

1) ‘Backing secession’.

Seymour begins with a critique of my parents, Branka Magas and Quintin Hoare. He quotes a source as saying that ‘when Branka went to visit Zagreb, she flipped over to Croatian nationalism. I mean, she simply backed secession.’ (p. 192) Seymour doesn’t draw any conclusion from this assertion; he simply allows it to speak for itself.

Who is the source in question ? None other than Peter Gowan, a former friend of my mother’s and father’s who parted company with them over the former Yugoslavia. Gowan isn’t by anybody’s standards an expert on the former Yugoslavia; he’s merely a left-wing writer who broadly shares Seymour’s ‘anti-imperialist’ political views and has similar views on the former Yugoslavia. The source is given as ‘author interview with Peter Gowan’.

What Seymour is saying is that he had a chat with his mate Peter, and Peter used to know Branka, and Peter said that Branka supported Croatian nationalism and Croatian secession. We’re talking ‘man in the pub’ scholarship here. But leaving aside the fact that Gowan has zero credibility as an objective judge of Branka’s political evolution, the accusation that Branka ‘backed secession’ is a rather unfortunate one for Seymour to make.

On 31 March 1990, Seymour’s party paper, the Socialist Worker, itself ‘backed secession’ when it wrote: ‘The Lithuanian masses overwhelmingly rejected Russian rule given a chance to vote for the first time recently. They want independence. That is their right. Every socialist should support them.’

On 13 July 1991, the Socialist Worker ‘backed secession’ in Yugoslavia as well: ‘First, the mass of people cannot gain by forcing an ethnic group to stay in a state where it doesn’t want to. That means recognising the right of any national minority to separate from the state if it so wishes, and opposing the murderous activities of the Yugoslav army.’

In other words, Branka is condemned as a liberal defender for murder because she supported exactly the same thing for Croatia – the right to national self-determination – that Seymour’s party supported for Lithuania, and which it initially supported for the Croats as well.

2) ‘Unfair accusations of fascism’.

Seymour accuses his liberal targets that they ‘consistently demonised Slobodan Milosevic as a “fascist” or its equivalent, which was a false and unnecessary embellishment when he was merely a bureaucratic thug’ (p. 194). This complaint comes from someone who routinely describes the British far-right party, the ‘British National Party’, not merely as fascist, but as ‘Nazi’; I don’t particularly object to this, but it is clearly a ‘false and unncessary embellishment’ of the kind that apparently makes one a liberal defender of murder. The only explanation for this double standard is that Seymour supports action against the BNP but retrospectively opposes any action against Milosevic.

But there is no need to trawl through Seymour’s blog to find evidence of his double standards: he devotes nearly a full page (pp. 196-197) to describing the fascist affinities of Croat nationalism. In the space of this one page, he uses the terms ‘fascist’, ‘Nazi’ and ‘Ustashe’ (Croatian fascists) six times in relation to Croatia. It’s true he does not actually describe the Tudjman regime as ‘fascist’ outright. But nor does he mention any equivalent fascist phenomena in relation to Serb nationalism. He does not mention the fact that Serbian paramilitaries called the ‘Chetniks’ – after the Nazi-collaborationist, anti-Semitic, Serb extreme-nationalist movement of World War II – formed part of the Serbian forces, under Belgrade’s control, that assaulted Bosnia in 1992. Or that Milosevic’s sometime collaborator, Vojislav Seselj, was a friend and ally of France’s Jean Marie Le Pen, and had received a decoration from a Chetnik warlord who had fought alongside the Nazis and Ustashe in World War II. Or that the Bosnian Serb nationalists armed and funded by Milosevic’s regime openly embraced the Chetnik heritage. Seymour thus simultaneously defends Serb nationalists from the charge of fascism while accusing Croat nationalists of embracing fascism. He condemns liberals as defenders of murder when they accuse Serb nationalists of the same thing of which he accuses the Croat nationalists.

3) ‘Abuse of the term “genocide”‘

Seymour denies that Serb forces were guilty of genocide, even suggesting that the International Court of Justice may have been guided by political motives when it defined Srebrenica as an act of genocide (p. 204). But while condemning his liberal targets for using the term ‘genocide’ in relation to Milosevic’s Serb forces, he has no qualms at all about tarring Tudjman with the brush of genocide: ‘His [Tudjman’s] position on the question of genocide had been made very clear: “Genocide is a natural phenomenon… Genocide is not only permitted, it is recommended, even commanded by the word of the Almighty.”‘ Seymour is quoting Tudjman to show that he supports genocide (p. 196).

Where did Seymour get this quote by Tudjman from ? Why, from none other than the book To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, written by Michael Parenti, head of the US section of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic (ICDSM). Parenti’s book, like Seymour’s, was published by Verso. Its Serbian-language edition had a foreword written by Slobodan Milosevic himself ! Needless to say, Parenti, like Seymour, hasn’t read anything Tudjman has written; he doesn’t even provide a reference for the quotation.

I, on the other hand, have read what Tudjman wrote in the Croatian original (Franjo Tudjman, Bespuca povijesne zbiljnosti: Rasprava o povijesti i filozofiji zlosilja, Zagreb, 1989, p. 172):

As we were able to conclude from the preceeding study, in the very (Judaic) origins of all our later, Western, civilisation, in that ancient age when the apex of historical-philosophical human thought was expressed by the word of the biblical god Yahweh, genocidal violence is a natural phenomenon, consistent with human-social and mythological-divine nature. It is not only permitted, but even recommended, moreover even found in the words of the all-powerful Yahweh, always when it is necessary for the survival or the restoration of the kingdom of the chosen people, or for the maintenance and spread of their one true religion.

Tudjman, writing as a (third-rate) historian and scholar of genocide, is claiming that the Old Testament god Yahweh endorsed genocide. There is nothing in this passage to suggest that he himself supported genocide. Seymour, however, misquotes Tudjman to suggest that he upheld genocide as an ideal. He does this on the basis of a quotation he got from a book written by an American supporter of Milosevic who has never read anything by Tudjman.

Finally, later in the book Seymour claims that the US’s ‘atrocities in Indochina were certainly closer to genocide than anything that happened in the former Yugoslavia’ (p. 219).  Since he provides no evidence or argument whatsoever in support of this tendentious claim, it would appear his expressed concern at the supposed casual misuse of the term ‘genocide’ by liberal interventionists is not quite sincere.

4) Dodgy source materials and ‘imperialist propaganda’

Since Seymour’s case against liberal interventionists really just boils down to the accusation that their analysis of the Yugoslav conflict and use of terminology were flawed, it is worth examining Seymour’s own scholarly apparatus. Owen Hatherley, the SWP supporter who reviewed Seymour’s book for the New Statesman, claimed: ‘The Liberal Defence of Murder is probably more valuable as history than as polemic.’ But would a genuine scholar have made a judgement about Tudjman’s views on genocide on the basis of a third- or fourth-hand misquotation from a Milosevic lobbyist ?

Indeed, Parenti’s grubby little propaganda book is entirely characteristic of the source material that Seymour relies upon. Seymour cites the opinion of ‘George Kenney, a former State Department Yugoslavia desk officer’, that the Western diplomacy that preceded the Kosovo war was ‘equivalent to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which had been used to justify escalation in Vietnam’ (p. 208). Seymour fails to inform his readers that Kenney was a Milosevic sympathiser, who wrote to Milosevic in prison to tell him ‘I believed then and still believe that you are innocent of all the charges in the Tribunal’s indictments’.

Seymour cites the views of Edward Herman and David Peterson in support of his argument (p. 203); he does not tell his readers that the two are organisers of the ‘Srebrenica Research Group’, a lobbying group set up to deny the Srebrenica massacre. One of Seymour’s principal ‘sources’ for his claim that ‘the SDA [Muslim nationalist party] was one of the nationalist parties seeking to use secession and military conflict to amplify its own power’ is Kate Hudson’s book Breaking the South Slav Dream: The Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia. Hudson is the leader of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and a member of the Communist Party of Britain, whose newspaper The Morning Star backed the Serb side during the Bosnian war and still publishes Srebrenica-denying articles. Hudson’s book, a propaganda tract that casts doubt on the fact of the Srebrenica massacre, is entirely typical of Seymour’s source material: his endnotes are filled with references to articles by Diana Johnstone, Alexander Cockburn, John Pilger and other authors who have no genuine expertise on the former Yugoslavia but who share his political views, and whose unsubstantiated claims are treated as ‘evidence’ for his case.

Thus, for example, Seymour claims: ‘Izetbegovic later confessed to having confected Serb death camps in order to precipitate bombing raids.’ (p. 200) The ‘source’ for this claim is an article in the American far-left magazine Counterpunch by the Srebrenica-denying Paris-based writer, Diana Johnstone, in which she claims that the Srebrenica massacre was merely a case of Serb soldiers killing Muslim soldiers in battle, and that it was anyway engineered by the Muslims. Johnstone’s source for Izetbegovic’s alleged ‘confession’ was the memoirs of the French politician Bernard Kouchner, but Seymour doesn’t bother to consult the French original; he merely takes Johnstone’s article as a sound source on which to base his argument, as he did with Parenti.

Even if one assumes Johnstone has cited Kouchner accurately, one wonders how Seymour can criticise liberal interventionists for poor methodology, when he takes every single accusation made by Western politicians against Izetbegovic and the Muslims at face value. Never mind that Kouchner’s French government was aiding and abetting Milosevic’s destruction of Bosnia, and maintaining an arms embargo against the Bosnians; we are supposed simply to believe his accusations against Izetbegovic.

Likewise, Seymour cites ‘Philip Corwin, the UN’s chief political officer in Sarajevo during the summer of 1995’ as a witness to the fact that ‘following the Dayton settlement, thousands of Serbs were vindictively “cleansed” from areas of Bosnia by state police forces.’ Seymour continues approvingly: ‘Corwin was relentlessly critical of the media depiction of events…’ (p. 201). What Seymour doesn’t tell his readers is that Corwin was one of the ‘advisors and contributors to the work of the Srebrenica Research Group’, Edward Herman’s Srebrenica-denying outfit, and therefore had political views that might lead a genuine scholar to question the objectivity of his account.

Indeed, one of the unintended achievements of this book is that it marshals enough evidence to demolish convincingly the view that Seymour himself appears to hold: that Izetbegovic’s Bosnian regime was the party favoured by ‘Western imperialism’ while Milosevic and the Serb ethnic-cleansers were the victims of imperialism. Seymour writes (p. 204):

Other stories barely examined [by the Western media] include what might be described as ‘false flag’ operations, such as the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at the Markale market in 1994, which helped precipitate the Nato bombing of Serb positions. Many UN officials believed that the shelling had come from the Bosnian army, and Unprofor accused Bosnian government forces of ‘firing to provoke the Serbs, and of using hospitals and public buildings as cover for such fire.’

So the representatives of Western imperialism in Bosnia accused the Bosnians of massacring their own people in order to blame it on the Serbs, and of ‘provoking’ Serb attacks on hospitals and public buildings. Seymour’s endorsement of these claims means that his argument cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as ‘anti-imperialist’ – on the contrary, he upholds the claims made by Western imperialist officials against the victims of Western intervention; that they were to blame for their own suffering. This is, it seems, the only way he can construct his critique of the defenders of Bosnia.

5) ‘Inflated casualty figures’

Seymour devotes some space to trying to show that liberal interventionist estimates of Bosnian or Muslim casualty figures in the war have ‘not stood the test of time’ (p. 203). This is taken as evidence of the weakness of the liberal-interventionist case. Consequently, Seymour cites the evidence of the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Centre, that calculated the total number of people directly killed in the Bosnian war on all sides, both civilian and military, to be in the region of 100,000, or considerably less than the ‘up to 330,000’ deaths claimed, according to Seymour, by the liberal interventionists.

This being such a key element in his argument, how does Seymour himself deal with the casualty figures for Serb victims ? With regard to the Srebrenica massacre, Seymour writes: ‘In the run-up to that atrocity, a wave of terror, including rape, by Bosnian Muslim forces in surrounding areas had killed thousands of Serbs.’ (p. 204). Yet according to the figures of the Research and Documentation Centre itself, which Seymour himself cites, the total number of Serb civilians killed in the entire wider region of Podrinje,  where Srebrenica was located, during the whole of the war was 849. In other words, the figures that Seymour himself cites – and which were not available to liberal defenders of Bosnia during the war – disprove his own claim that a Bosnian Army ‘wave of terror’ killed ‘thousands of Serbs’ near Srebrenica. In fact, the Research and Documentation Centre has specifically refuted the claim that ‘thousands’ of Serb civilians were killed in the atrocities Seymour cites; it calculates the total number of Serb civilians killed in the locality in question during the war to be 119.

Likewise, Seymour claims that Croatia was guilty of the ‘ethnic cleansing of up to 300,000 Serbs during Operation Storm’ (p. 203). This figure of ‘up to 300,000’ is apparently taken from Hudson, who also writes of a ‘massive population flight of up to 300,000 Serbs’ resulting from Operation Storm (Hudson, p. 119). But what was the real figure ? According to Amnesty International, ‘In May and August 1995, the Croatian Army and police forces recaptured Western Slavonia and the Krajina region. During and after these military offensives, some 200,000 Croatian Serbs, including the entire Croatian Serb Army, fled to the neighbouring Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina under Bosnian Serb control.’ According to the ICTY’s indictment of the Croatian general Ante Gotovina: ‘The “Oluja” offensive resulted in the displacement of an estimated 150,000 – 200,000 Krajina Serbs, who fled or were forced to flee, during, and in the aftermath, of the said offensive.’ The top figure of this range – 200,000 – includes the Krajina Serb army, which numbered about 40,000. The number of displaced Serb civilians was therefore closer to 150,000.

If exaggerating casualty figures is a crime that makes one a ‘liberal defender of murder’, then what does it make Seymour ?

In conclusion, it is really very difficult to work out what Seymour intends to achieve with this poorly researched, poorly sourced, repeatedly self-contradictory and entirely unsuccessful excercise in nit-picking, which amounts, as we have seen, simply to a series of spectacular own goals. But even if we were to concede Seymour’s main points (which we don’t, of course), and to accept that the Milosevic regime was not fascist, did not commit genocide and was not qualitatively worse than the Tudjman or Izetbegovic regimes, would he have a case ? Are people who reacted to the horrors of Omarska, Srebrenica and the siege of Sarajevo by calling for Western military intervention to halt them really defenders of murder ?

This is perhaps what is most shocking about Seymour’s whole, sorry ideological exercise: the perverse obsession with trying to prove that the people who wanted to stop the racist mass-murder and close the concentration camps were the bad guys.

Update: Seymour has written a response to me. He writes:

‘Hoare is scandalised that I impute “political motives” to the International Court of Justice: the problem is that I don’t. He is referring to page 204, which explicitly references the ICTY, a wholly different (and highly politicised) body.’

This is what Seymour writes, on p. 204:

‘Designed to ethnically cleanse the territory and capture it decisively for the Republika Srpska, the operation [against Srebrenica] is now considered by the US-sponsored ICTY and the International Court of Justice as the only instance of “genocide” that can be shown to have occurred. Serbia, however, was cleared of involvement in the massacre. Some scholarly opinion has cast doubt on the verdict of genocide, and it could be argued that the purpose of the judicial process was less to establish the facts of the case than to determine a politically convenient verdict.’

Carry on digging, comrade…

Update no. 2: In his response to me, Seymour is now attempting to justify his claim that a Bosnian Army ‘wave of terror’  in the area around Srebrenica had killed ‘thousands’ of Serbs by insisting he was referring to Serb military casualties as well as civilians:

‘I did say “Serbs” and not “Serb civilians”, and the total number of Serbs killed in that area, according to Hoare’s source, is 5573. He might have been more attentive to what he was reading.’

Even if we accept the extremely dubious proposition that Serb military casualties should be counted as victims of a Muslim ‘wave of terror’, the figures still do not support Seymour’s claim.

Firstly, he has cited the wrong figure: 5,573  refers to the deaths of Serbs from Podrinje, including those killed in other parts of Bosnia. The number of Serbs killed in Podrinje, including those from other parts of Bosnia, is 4,848. But this refers to all Serbs killed in the whole of the Podrinje region during the whole of the war, not just those killed near Srebrenica.

Secondly, and more importantly, the Research and Documentation Centre, whose data Seymour relies upon to make his case, has calculated the total number of Serb civilian and military deaths in the ‘wave of terror’ that Seymour refers to. It puts Serb civilian deaths at 119 and Serb military deaths at 448. This puts the maximum possible number of Serb deaths in Seymour’s ‘wave of terror’ at 567, rather than in the ‘thousands’ that he claims.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia, SWP, The Left | 1 Comment