A no-brainer: NATO and the EU should not facilitate aggression and expansionism in South East Europe
One of the biggest arguments in favour of the European Union is that it has, along with its precursors, helped to keep the peace in Europe for nearly sixty years, turning previously hostile neighbours into partners in a common supranational, democratic European project. Meanwhile, NATO defended democratic Europe from Soviet expansionism. Today in the Balkans, however, both institutions are playing the opposite role: they are aiding and abetting regional predators in the pursuit of aggressive policies against neighbouring states. This is happening despite the fact that these aggressive policies are undermining both Western security and regional stability, and are contrary to the common interests of the EU and NATO member states. It is happening because existing members of both organisations enjoy the right to veto the accession of new members. Such a veto would be somewhat less problematic if all existing members were genuinely democratic states with no aggressive or expansionist ambitions. But unfortunately, this simply is not the case.
Last April, Greece vetoed Macedonia’s entry into NATO’s Membership Action Plan, because of the unresolved ‘name dispute’ between the two countries. Greece objects to Macedonia’s constitutional name, ‘The Republic of Macedonia’, and demands that Macedonia change it. The reason is that Greece does not recognise the existence of a Macedonian nation. In 1912-13, Greece conquered the portion of the Ottoman territory of Macedonia that today comprises Greek Macedonia. Since then it has pursued a policy of forced Hellenisation of the territory, involving varying policies of extermination, expulsion and forced assimilation of the non-Greek population. Thanks to these measures, a territory that was barely over two-fifths ethnic Greek in 1912 is today almost ethnically pure. This policy of enforced ethnic homogenisation has involved denying the existence of an ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece. When Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, Greece expanded this policy to try to wipe the newly independent Macedonian nation-state, which had emerged from the former Yugoslavia, off the map, by forcing it to change its name, a policy whose pettiness was noted by David Cameron, currently leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, in a defence of Macedonia he wrote back in 2003. Consequently, Greece is blocking Macedonia’s entry into NATO.
Greece is a regional troublemaker of long standing that has repeatedly acted against Western interests in South East Europe. Its veto of Macedonia’s NATO bid was a violation of an international agreement, the Interim Accord of 1995, whereby Greece had undertaken not to block Macedonia’s entry into international organisations under the provisional name ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’. Macedonia has proven a better ally of the democratic world than Greece, contributing the same number of troops to the allied forces in Afghanistan as Greece, despite being a non-NATO country with a fifth of Greece’s population. The exclusion of Macedonia from Euro-Atlantic structures threatens to destabilise this fragile state, with potentially catastrophic consequences for Balkan regional stability. Yet by meekly acquiescing in Greece’s misuse of its veto, NATO effectively endorsed an act of petty Balkan nationalist aggression.
With Greece threatening to exclude Macedonia from the EU as well, the lesson had not been lost on other regional bullies. Slovenia is now threatening to keep Croatia out of the EU unless Zagreb cedes it territory on both land and sea. Because there is no actual legal validity to Slovenia’s territorial claims against Croatia, Slovenia is rejecting the idea that the case be resolved by the International Court of Justice, unless the latter’s decision is based on factors other than international law. As Xinhua News Agency diplomatically put it: ‘Slovenia has opposed taking the border issue to the ICJ unless the court uses the equity principle (ex equo et bono) in coming to a decision. This means the court can include any kind of circumstances, even if the valid international law does not [sic] (like historical facts), in order to reach a fairer verdict.’ Put simply, the Slovenes feel that because they don’t have much of a coastline, and Croatia has a long one, the Croats should give them some of theirs. Rather like demanding, on the principle of ‘fairness’, that someone who is richer than you are should hand over to you part of their savings. Since its territorial claim is political rather than legal, Ljubljana naturally prefers the idea of EU mediation to an ICJ legal ruling. Although not on an equivalent scale, this has disturbing echoes of the way in which Slobodan Milosevic successfully enlisted EU mediators such as David Owen and Carl Bildt to pressurise Bosnia’s leaders to accept an unprincipled settlement to the war of the 1990s. Great Serbia and Great Croatia have failed to come into being, but we may yet see the establishment of a Great Slovenia – thanks to the fact that Slovenia, unlike the expansionist Serbia and Croatia of the 1990s, is in the EU.
Thus, by colluding in Greece’s blackmail of Macedonia, Western leaders have given a green light to Slovenia’s blackmail of Croatia. Indeed, the far-right Party of the Slovenian People’ has been campaigning for Slovenia to veto Croatia’s entry into NATO as well, though so far without success. The Slovenian leadership has retreated from its own threat to obstruct Croatia’s entry into NATO under pressure from the US, which has, on this occasion, stood up to the local troublemaker for the sake of the Western alliance. This shows that, where there is a will on the part of the major NATO and EU states, a rogue member of the alliance can be pressurised to desist from its bullying of an aspirant member.
The unwillingness of the NATO and EU states, therefore, to exert enough pressure on Athens and Ljubljana to end their obstruction of Macedonia’s and Croatia’s Euro-Atlantic integration stems from a lack of will. In the case of Greece, its determination to keep Macedonia out of NATO and the EU has been bolstered by the opportunistic support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy – presumably an expression of his Mediterranean ambitions and of a residual Gaullism that conflicts with Washington’s support for Macedonia. Yet there has been no contrary support for Macedonia from within EU ranks. A sign of the unprincipled, pessimistic times is that even the International Crisis Group, once a voice of principled moderation, has advocated a Macedonian surrender in the name dispute in return for a Greek recognition of the Macedonian national identity.
It is, of course, easier for Western leaders simply to go with the flow, and appease the unprincipled nationalist demands of rogue NATO and EU states. Yet the more such appeasement occurs, the more problems are generated for the Western alliance. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has taken the principled position, that Croatia will not obstruct Serbia’s entry into the EU as Slovenia’s has obstructed Croatia’s: ‘Croatia will not be to Serbia what Slovenia is to us’. Yet if EU diplomacy does result in a Croatian cession of territory to Slovenia, there is nothing to prevent an embittered Croatia from reversing Sanader’s position, and imposing territorial or other unreasonable demands on Serbia, Montenegro or Bosnia – all of which possess territories that Croat nationalists have traditionally claimed. With Albania set to join NATO and significant ethnic-Albanian minorities present in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, Tirana could, if it so wished, create a veritable nightmare for the Western alliance by making issues out of the latter. There are already enough obstacles in the way of the smooth Euro-Atlantic integration of the remaining Balkan states, without us encouraging those who might wish to create more of them. Then there are Cypriot objections to Turkey’s EU membership; potential Ukrainian and Moldovan differences over Transnistria; differences between Turkey and Armenia and between the Transcaucasian states. The national – or to be more accurate, nationalist – veto of new NATO and EU members by local rivals that are already members represents a very dangerous barrier to European unity and handicap for the Western alliance. If we ignore the problem, it will only get worse. NATO and the EU, which are supposed to act – and in the past have acted – as solvents of nationalist conflicts, will increasingly threaten the stability of the wider European world, by providing one side in a nationalist dispute – usually the side that’s in the wrong – with an unassailable advantage over its victim.
The Western democratic world faces serious opponents and enemies, from the regimes in Moscow, Tehran and Pyongyang to the Taliban and al-Qa’ida. We are faced with serious questions of how to organise our defence against these threats; how to reconcile the demands of security with the principle of civil liberties; how far to proceed with European integration; how to assimilate diverse religious and ethnic minorities to ensure the functioning of our multiethnic nation-states; how to protect the environment; and so forth. It beggars belief that our ability to respond to these challenges should be hampered by selfish members of our alliance that do not appear to understand the meaning of post-nationalist democracy upon which our Euro-Atlantic institutions rest.
Britain, the US and their friends should exert sufficient pressure – be it diplomatic, political or other – on Athens, Ljubljana or any other rogue member of our alliance, to desist from their unreasonable nationalist demands. We should furthermore be working, as the Henry Jackson Society has advocated, to abolish the right of individual NATO and EU states unilaterally to veto the membership of aspiring members. The dog should wag the tail, not vice versa.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Update: The image below shows how Slovenia would like to redraw its maritime border with Croatia:
The Oxford Handbook of Fascism, edited by Professor Richard Bosworth, was published by Oxford University Press last month. It is a multi-authored volume with sections on the origins and legacies of fascism, Italian Fascism, the Nazi-Fascist comparison and fascism outside of Italy and Germany. The latter section has chapters by different authors on different countries, from Spain to Japan, and includes a chapter on Yugoslavia and its successor states. This chapter traces the history of ultranationalist, fascist and far-right phenomena, from Serbia’s ‘Black Hand’ and Croatia’s ‘Pure Party of Right’, through the World War II quisling regimes of Milan Nedic and Ante Pavelic, up to the regimes of Slobodan Milosevic, Franjo Tudjman and Radovan Karadzic in the 1990s. I reproduce here some extracts:
On the Milosevic regime:
In Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina in the late 1980s and early 1990s, authoritarian former Communists seeking new bases for their power and legitimacy came together with dissident nationalist opponents of the Titoist order to produce regimes that were arguably, to a greater or lesser degree, fascist or semi-fascist. Above all, the regime of Slobodan Milosevic was fascist in practice, if not in self-identification…
Milosevic began, like earlier fascists and proto-fascists such as Georges Sorel and Mussolini, as a radical socialist who decided that nationalism provided a better weapon than the class struggle and internationalism with which to overthrow the liberal (in this case, quasi-liberal) order. He centred all power in Serbia in his own hands and proceeded to tear up the Titoist settlement of the national question, much as Hitler had torn up the Versailles settlement. As President of the League of Communists of Serbia, he effectively seized power against his Communist rivals in September 1987. He consolidated it by using Serbian party, police and media organs to carry out a mass nationalist mobilisation of the Serbian population, above all over the Kosovo issue. Post-Titoist Yugoslavia was governed by a quasi-pluralist system, with power divided between different institutions and individuals, and it was this system that Milosevic’s ‘anti-bureaucratic revolution’ brought down. A series of mass nationalist rallies between October 1988 and February 1989 overthrew the governments of Vojvodina and Montenegro, replacing them with ones loyal to Milosevic, and pressurised the Yugoslav Federal leadership first to pass legislation restoring Serbian control over Kosovo and Vojvodina, then to deploy the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) against the Kosovo Albanians. These rallies were Milosevic’s ‘March on Rome’, establishing his power through crowds and intimidation. Milosevic became President of Serbia on 28 May 1989.
This mass nationalist mobilisation used to consolidate power flowed seamlessly into ill-conceived wars of conquest…
Serbian forces – the Serbian-controlled JNA and Croatian Serb and Bosnian Serb militias – engaged in systematic massacres and forced expulsions of Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. This involved concentration camps, most notoriously at Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje in north-west Bosnia. In July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces conquered the East Bosnian town of Srebrenica and massacred 8,000 Muslim civilians, an act that constituted genocide according to the International Court of Justice. By the war’s end in late 1995, the territory of the self-proclaimed ‘Serb Republic’ in occupied Bosnia-Hercegovina, under the leadership of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, had been almost wholly emptied of the 50% non-Serb part of its population…
At the height of his power, Milosevic’s control over his country’s political life was probably greater than the pre-Salo Mussolini’s had ever been; unlike Mussolini, his power was unconstrained by king, church or army, and he could not be removed constitutionally but had to be overthrown…
Ultimately, however, Milosevic fell because, like Hitler and Mussolini, he could not stop the boulder of nationalist mobilisation that he had set in motion from rolling; he could never rest on his laurels, but needed continuously to provoke crises and pick fights with ever-stronger opponents until he destroyed himself.
On the Tudjman regime:
The regime of Franjo Tudjman and the ‘Croatian Democratic Community’ (HDZ) in Croatia, in power from 1990 until 1999-2000, also had some affinities with fascism…
Yet while Tudjman formally upheld the Titoist legacy, he sought also to incorporate elements of the Ustasha legacy in his stated goal of ‘national reconciliation’. The Croatian currency was renamed from the Yugoslav ‘dinar’ to ‘kuna’, as the NDH’s had been. Tudjman prominently stated: ‘The Independent State of Croatia was not merely a quisling creation and a fascist crime, but also an expression of the historical aspirations of the Croatian people for an independent state of their own’. The HDZ politician Stipe Mesic, who served as Croatia’s last representative on the Yugoslav presidency and speaker of the Croatian parliament before breaking with Tudjman’s nationalist policies and eventually succeeding him as president, stated in 1991 that ‘we won on 10 April  when the Axis powers recognised Croatia and we won after the war, when we again found ourselves with the victors, at the victors’ table.’ In this respect, Tudjman and the HDZ were readier than Milosevic and the SPS to appropriate elements of the World War II fascist heritage.
Tudjman and the HDZ waged their own war of conquest in Bosnia-Hercegovina, directed primarily against the Muslims and involving massacres and expulsions of both Muslims and Serbs and the establishment of concentration camps, particularly at Dretelj near Capljina.
Comparing the Milosevic and Tudjman regimes:
Nevertheless, Tudjman’s Croatian regime was ultimately less fascistic than its Serbian counterpart. Tudjman was a quieter and more conservative figure than Milosevic. He did not come to power through mass nationalist mobilisation in a fascist manner, aimed at bending the existing institutions, but through a traditional electoral campaign. His use of violence against domestic opponents was much less than Milosevic’s. His territorial expansionism was also on a smaller scale and did not flow from nationalist mobilisation and rhetoric, but was covert and underhand: Tudjman sought to partition Bosnia-Hercegovina through a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with Milosevic, modelled on the Sporazum of 1939. Despite its anti-Serb and anti-Yugoslav rhetoric, Tudjman’s policy was collaborationist in relationship to Milosevic and the JNA, with whom he sincerely hoped to avoid war; he defused Croatian resistance activities in 1990-92 to the point where he clashed with Croatia’s own defence minister and almost provoked his own overthrow. The difference in political character may explain the divergent fates of the two despots: unlike Milosevic, Tudjman did not overextend himself; he died quietly in office, after which his HDZ was peacefully voted out of power.
As to the identity of the author of these lines, readers are free to guess…
Update: The Oxford Handbook of Fascism has been reviewed by Roger Griffin, one of the world’s most eminent historians of fascism.
When faced with claims made by revisionist writers concerning the wars in the former Yugoslavia of the 1990s, that they present as ‘challenging accepted wisdom’, it is generally a safe working assumption that they are all falsehoods, unless the writers in question actually present hard evidence to back them up. This can be shown by even the most casual glance at the ‘sensational revelations’ that these writers have been making since 1991: that Germany ‘encouraged’ Croatia’s secession from Yugoslavia in 1991; that the Croatian chequerboard symbol was a ‘fascist’ symbol; that Bosnia’s Alija Izetbegovic recruited for the SS during World War II; that Izetbegovic’s regime reestablished a five-thousand strong SS ‘Handzar Division’ in Bosnia in the 1990s; that the Western media ‘fabricated’ the existence of Serb concentration camps in Bosnia; that the Bosnian Army was guilty of shelling its own civilians in Sarajevo in order to provoke Western bombing of the Serbs; that the US imported mujahedeen or Wahhabi fighters into Bosnia during the war; that Izetbegovic was a friend and ally of Osama bin Laden and shared his politics; that the fighting and massacres in the Srebrenica region were initiated by the Bosnian Army; that there is ‘no proof’ that the Srebrenica massacre occurred; that Croatia’s Operation Storm was the ‘largest single act of ethnic cleansing during the Yugoslav wars’; that there was no Serbian ethnic-cleansing in Kosovo before the NATO bombing began in 1999; that no mass graves of Kosova Albanians were found in Kosova after NATO moved in; that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has focused disproportionately on Serb war-crimes suspects; and so on and so forth – all these claims, and others, have either been shown to be complete fabrications or, at best, wild exaggerations, or they remain entirely unsubstantiated. Generally, only a bit of research is necessary to reveal each new claim of this kind as yet another falsehood.
On this occasion, I should like to turn to one of the older claims made by the members of the Milosevic-Karadzic lobby and by others who defend Milosevic and the Great Serbian record: the claim that the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman was a ‘Holocaust denier’. This claim has generally been linked to Tudjman’s turgid, rambling, 1989 study of genocide and mass violence, Bespuca povijesne zbiljnosti: Rasprava o povijesti i filozofiji zlosilja [Wastelands of historical truth: A discussion of the history and philosophy of violence] – citations here are from the first edition, Nakladni zavod Matice Hrvatske, Zagreb, 1989.
This is what Tudjman wrote in Bespuca (p. 153) about the Holocaust:
After Hitler’s military forces had foundered in the Soviet expanses, together with the myth of German invincibility in the Blitzkrieg, there disappeared also for Germany the possibility of a territorial solution of the Jewish question outside of Europe. Already from the very start of the German-Soviet war, from the summer of 1941, the persecution of the Jews was increased, with fanatical propaganda about the need for the merciless uprooting of all members and supporters of Jewish-Bolshevism. Since with the development of the war the possibility of expelling the Jews to Madagascar had vanished, and the conquest of large Polish and Soviet expanses in the East had opened other possibilities for a territorial solution, so Hitler, at the start of 1942, with the goal of a ‘final solution’, took the decision on the resettlement, that is the expulsion or ‘deportation’ of the Jews to the East. Although the Berlin (Grossen Wannsee) confererence (21.01. 1942), at which Heydrich gave instructions to the high Nazi officials on the execution of Hitler’s new orders, spoke only of ‘evacuating’ the Jews from all European lands to the East, it was obvious that the final solution of the Jewish question in this way aimed at achieving their step-by-step annihilation. H. Frank had, before German functionaries in Krakow, spoken more directly of the ‘final solution’. Mentioning that in Poland there were now almost 2.5 million Jews, and including the mischlings perhaps up to 3.5 million, he would say that they ‘cannot all be executed or poisoned’, but that it was necessary ‘to take measures that would bring about their annihilation’, because the war would not be a complete success if Jewry survived.
Thus, in the third year of the Second World War (1942), began the period in which the Third Reich would attempt through the ‘final solution’, that is, the exclusion of the Jews from the life of Germany and the other European nations, to achieve their step-by-step extermination. But, as that goal could not be announced to the world public, and was in the form of a secret directive notified to only a narrow circle of Nazi confidants, this was also kept hidden from the majority of Germans, who took the deportation of the Jews to the East to be their resettlement in the Polish-Russian territories, and held the concentration camps to be work camps and not death camps.
Thus, the accusation that Tudjman was a ‘Holocaust denier’ is simply untrue. But nor is it quite true that the accusations came completely out of nowhere: in this case the lie contains three grains of truth:
1) Tudjman cast doubt on the figure of six million Jewish Holocaust victims (pp. 155-156):
Regarding the total number of Jewish victims in the Second World War, in world literature there is still not even an approximate scientifically determined fact. On the one hand, estimates range from about four million (G. Reitlinger, 1953) to up to six million (J. Lestchinsky and the American Jewish Congress, 1946, and N. Levin, 1968 and 1973). Raul Hilberg, whose book (1961 and 1973) in terms of comprehensiveness and quality exceeds that of Nora Levin, judges that the total losses exceed about five million or about one third of the pre-war Jewish population, but in his statistical overview alleges that of 5,100,000 deaths there are records for the deaths of 900,000, and casts doubt (putting question-marks) on some other numbers in the framework of the total figure. Those are, presumably, the reasons why there is a need to mention that, on the other hand, some consider the figure of six million deaths to be highly ‘exaggerated’.
This passage has frequently been misquoted to accuse Tudjman of putting the figure for Jewish Holocaust victims at only 900,000, though Tudjman was in fact claiming that a leading Holocaust scholar, Raul Hilberg, had put the figure at 5.1 million and the number of those for whom records existed at 900,000. However, Tudjman then argues (p. 156)
That the mentioned estimates of up to six million dead are based too much, both on emotionally partisan testimony, and on one-sided and exaggerated figures of the postwar settling of accounts for wartime misdeeds and retribution against the defeated perpetrators of war-crimes…
After discussing differing estimates of Jewish, Polish and other casualties at Auschwitz, Majdanek, and elsewhere, Tudjman nevertheless concludes his discussion of the Holocaust (p. 158):
Of course, these examples – whether unconfirmedly indiscriminate or highly contradictory – of giving different figures, do not bring into question the enormity of the war losses of particularly the Jewish and Polish, as well as some other peoples, and in particular are not important for an overall condemnation of the genocidal acts of their perpetrators.
2) Tudjman cites self-evidently anti-Semitic sources to try to show that in the Ustasha death-camp of Jasenovac, Jewish inmates had enjoyed a privileged role in relationship to other groups of prisoners, including Serbs and Gypsies, and had even participated in the persecution and killing of the latter (pp. 316-320). Typical of the way Tudjman gives credence to anti-Semitic testimony against the Jewish inmates of Jasenovac is his citation of an anti-Semitic Bosnian Serb former Jasenovac inmate, Vojislav Prnjatovic, whose statement Tudjman quotes (p. 318): ‘A Jew remains a Jew, even in Jasenovac. They have retained all their vices in the camp, only these are now more apparent. Selfishness, cunning, unreliability, avariciousness, treacherousness and a propensity to snitching are their principal characteristics.’
Tudjman then comments (p. 318):
This judgement of Prnjatovic’s reeks of exaggeration; we could say an anti-Semitic inclination, but similar things are said by other witnesses. Some of the Jewish camp officials were armed and participated in the killing. Furthermore, in their hands was, to a large degree, the ‘selection’; i.e., the separation of prisoners for ‘liquidation’, and partly even their actual execution.
Tudjman did not deny the crimes of the Ustashas against Jews in Jasenovac, but his discussion of the Jewish inmates of Jasenovac is dominated by their supposed role as perpetrators, rather than their suffering and loss of life.
3) Tudjman moves straight on from his discussion of the Holocaust to a discussion of Israel and Palestine, in which he compares Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi treatment of the Jews (p. 160):
After everything that it had suffered in history, particularly that terrible suffering in the Second World War, the Jewish people will in a very short space of time carry out against the Palestinian people such a brutal, genocidal policy that it has justly been termed judeo-Nazism.
Tudjman described Israeli policy as tending toward a ‘“final solution” of the Palestinian question‘, and complained:
And all this is taking place in the middle of the nineteen eighties, when world Jewry still has the need to recall its losses in the ‘Holocaust’, and even to try to prevent the election of the former general secretary of the UN, Kurt Waldheim, as president of Austria ! (p. 160)
Tudjman had fought as a Yugoslav Partisan during World War II, against the Croat Ustasha fascists; his ‘anti-Zionist’ views concerning Israel and Palestine should be attributed not so much to any right-wing Croat nationalist tendencies on his part, but primarily to his formation as a Yugoslav general under Josip Broz Tito’s fiercely pro-Arab and anti-Israeli Communist regime, with its close links to Nasserite Egypt and the Non-Aligned Movement.
In sum, therefore, Tudjman was not a Holocaust denier, but he cast doubt on the figure of six million Jewish Holocaust victims; went out of his way to portray Jewish inmates of the Jasenovac death-camp as perpetrators rather than as victims; and relativised the Holocaust in a manner that can only be deemed deliberately offensive and provocative toward Jews – by comparing it to Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.
Tudjman was a crude Croat chauvinist who was entirely ready to write offensively about Jews, as he was about other groups, and to repeat anti-Semitic cliches about the role of ‘world Jewry’ in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to its alleged use of the memory of the Holocaust. But hostility toward Jews was not central to Tudjman’s worldview, as it was for ideological anti-Semites in the mould of Hitler, Corneliu Codreanu, David Duke, Osama bin Laden, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Hassan Nasrallah, Mahmud Ahmadinejad or other contemporary Islamic radicals. What was central was a profound cynicism and callousness with regard to questions of genocide and its victims, which led him to veer in the direction of anti-Semitism.
Originally a hard-line doctrinaire Marxist, Tudjman began his evolution into a Croat nationalist through his work as a historian, in which he had attempted to evaluate Croatia’s World War II history more positively; this involved emphasising the Croatian contribution to the Partisan movement. But it also involved challenging the view favoured by some Serb intellectuals, that the Croats were a ‘genocidal nation’, and challenging the high figures given by Yugoslav and Serb historians of Serb victims in the Ustasha genocide, in particular at Jasenovac. These were legitimate gripes: the widely accepted figure of several hundred thousand dead at Jasenovac was indeed a gross exaggeration; the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington today places the figure at 56-97,000 (though Tudjman’s own estimate of 30-40,000 was too low). Likewise, the overall figure for Serb deaths in the Ustasha genocide has frequently been put at around a million or upwards. But studies of war-losses carried out by the demographers Bogoljub Kocovic and Vladimir Zerjavic, a Serb and Croat respectively, have shown that the total number of Serbs killed on the territory of Croatia and Bosnia during World War II – including battlefield deaths and civilians killed by the Germans, Italians, Chetniks, Partisans and other non-Ustashas – was somewhat over three hundred thousand. These and other sources suggest a total figure of somewhat under three hundred thousand Serb victims of the Ustasha genocide.
As a historian, therefore, Tudjman was entirely justified in questioning the figures for Serb casualties in mainstream accounts of the Ustasha genocide, particularly where Jasenovac was concerned. But this bee in his bonnet then mutated into the highly cynical and offensive general theory set out in Bespuca, with its anti-Semitic overtones, in which genocide was relativised and the distinction between victims and perpetrators was deliberately blurred. This involved, as we have seen, a questioning of the figure of six million Jewish Holocaust victims; a portrayal, based on anti-Semitic sources, of Jewish inmates of Jasenovac as perpetrators rather than as victims; and a description of Israeli policy toward Palestinians as ‘Judeo-Nazism’. Tudjman had moved seamlessly from skepticism about mainstream evaluations of the Serb death-toll in the Ustasha genocide and resentment of the image of Serb victimhood in it, to skepcitism about the figure of six million Jewish deaths in the Holocaust and resentment of the image of Jewish victimhood in Jasenovac.
The type of anti-Semitic views expressed by Tudjman in Bespuca, particularly where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was concerned, was of a kind that is today not unusual among supporters of the UK’s ‘Stop the War Coalition’ and ‘Respect’ party, or among speakers at the Socialist Workers Party’s annual conference. They reflect, in part, Tudjman’s background as a Yugoslav general under Tito’s fiercely ‘anti-Zionist’ Communist regime. But Tudjman was not a Holocaust denier. The accusation that he was, of course, is frequently made by radical leftists in the West, such as supporters of the SWP, who are themselves often apologists for Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime – all incomparably more anti-Semitic than was Tudjman. Such radical leftists hold views on Israel and Palestine that are generally similar to, if not more extreme than Tudjman’s, and share his hostility to the Bosnian Muslims, to the idea of a united Bosnia, and to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Of all the revisionist myths that such radical leftists peddle about the former Yugoslavia, the myth that Tudjman was a Holocaust denier is particularly cynical: insofar as it has any origins in reality, it derives from him having said the sort of things about Jews that they do themselves.
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