The likelihood that Ireland will vote in favour of the Lisbon Treaty in its referendum this October brings a federal Europe one step closer. In the probable event that the Conservative Party wins the next general election in Britain, it will then be in a quandary over how to respond to this reality. Now, more than ever, is the time to evaluate – not whether we are for or against the EU, but what kind of EU it is that we want. And the sad truth is that a more centralised EU is likely to result in weaker, not stronger European intervention in world affairs.
The Lisbon Treaty will create the posts of President of the European Council and High Representative for Foreign Affairs, in theory promising a more unified voice for EU foreign policy. Yet there are reasons to be skeptical about whether ‘unified’ means the same as ‘good’. Despite the notorious claim by Luxembourg’s Jacques Poos following the outbreak of the war in the former Yugoslavia in 1991, that ‘the hour of Europe has dawned’, the EC/EU proved itself wholly ineffective in bringing an end to the fighting, which dragged on for another four years. The war was finally ended, not by the European states getting their act together – which never happened – but by the US under the Clinton Administration reluctantly assuming leadership of Western intervention in the crisis, and imposing a more robust policy than the Europeans were ready to adopt on their own initiative. The negotiation of a peace settlement for the Bosnian war in Dayton, Ohio, by US diplomats in November 1995 was a US triumph that put the Europeans to shame.
The European failure over Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s cannot be put down solely to poor leadership, although this was clearly a major factor. There are, rather, structural factors why the EU, as a body, is unlikely ever to play as robust a role in global affairs as the US. With 27 members favouring different policies, EU policy inevitably must essentially be that of the lowest common denominator. Even though 22 out of 27 EU members have recognised the independence of Kosovo, including all the larger and West European members except Spain, the fact that five members have not done so has prevented the adoption of a common EU policy on Kosovo’s independence. Yet even a single member, if it is sufficiently stubborn, can impose its will on the whole of the rest of the Union, if no other member feels particularly strongly enough to oppose it. Thus, the accession of Croatia and Macedonia to the EU is being held up by Slovenia and Greece respectively. Slovenia would like to annex part of Croatia’s sea territory while Greece would like to force Macedonia to change its name, and Slovenia and Greece are obstructing the EU accession of their victims until their demands are met. Even though this amounts to outright blackmail and abuse of the accession process, there appears to be no way in which the EU can bypass them given the absence of will to do so on the part of other members. Thus, EU expansion is held up by a couple of troublemakers. It is very difficult to pull EU foreign policy forward decisively, but very easy to drag on it until it slows to a snail’s pace.
Far from a more unified EU resulting in more decisive European intervention globally, such an EU will increasingly tie the hands of those states that do wish to act, forcing them into line alongside more dovish, do-nothing members. Though Britain’s response to the Russian assault on Georgia last year was among the more forthright, Britain was ultimately forced to remain in step with the French and Germans, who quickly made it clear that they would not allow Russia’s misdeeds to get in the way of their burgeoning cooperation with Moscow. For the problem with the EU is not that it has too many members, but the way in which some of its members behave. The EU has grown up around its Franco-German core, yet France perennially chafes against Anglo-Saxon leadership of the Western alliance, while Germany is intent on developing its partnership with Russia. The dominance of the Franco-German axis within the EU therefore militates against the adoption of forward and progressive foreign policies by the Union as a whole; ones that would strengthen the Western alliance while promoting democracy and human rights globally.
At issue are two rival visions of what the EU should look like. Proponents of a federal Europe, or of extreme vertical integration, favour increasing centralisation and homogenisation of an inward-looking, geographically limited Europe. They will not sacrifice this centralisation for the sake of horizontal expansion beyond a certain point. They seek to exclude Turkey from the EU, in part because because the inclusion of a not very rich or sophisticated country of over 70 million would render their vision of a homogenous, federal Europe unachievable. With a geographically restricted Europe increasingly centralised, its separation from the rest of the world sharply increases. European countries excluded from EU expansion – such as Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and perhaps Moldova – would form a buffer zone vis-a-vis Russia, which would be a natural partner – Fortress Russia in collaboration with Fortress Europe. An EU built on this model would itself increasingly serve as a buffer zone between Russia and the US, restraining US intervention worldwide.
The alternative vision is of an EU that looks outwards instead of inward. Such an EU would eschew excessive centralisation in favour of expansion to take in Turkey, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, and ultimately perhaps Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan as well. Indeed, there are no natural limits to its possible expansion, something that might one day stretch to include countries such as Cape Verde, Israel and Morocco. Rather than being a Fortress Europe, such an EU would be accessible to new members, consequently a catalyst to democratisation in all Europe’s surrounding areas. Rather than collaborating with an authoritarian Russia, a Europe built on this model would seek ultimately to incorporate Russia within the democratic world. The incorporation of more East European countries and Turkey would strengthen the EU’s Atlanticist element and dilute the domination of the Franco-German core. Such an EU would promote the democratisation of the world, rather than hinder it, as the first version of Europe would.
The second vision of Europe is more in keeping with the sentiments of the political classes and publics of the more Euroskeptic countries, such as the UK, which are uncomfortable with the excessive transfer of power from their own parliaments to Brussels, as well as with those of former Communist bloc countries that are deeply unhappy with the readiness of the Western alliance to appease Russia, an unhappiness indicated by the recent open letter to the Obama Administration on the part of a stellar panel of Eastern and Central European statesmen. It is these countries to which Britain should be looking for allies within the EU, as counterweights to the more pro-federalist and pro-Moscow states of Western Europe.
But resisting the drive toward a federal European super-state is not simply a matter of seeking allies; it is also a matter of putting forward winning principles. If it wants to resist this drive, Britain can and should highlight each and every one of the EU’s ethical failings – over Croatia, Macedonia, Georgia and so forth – which stem from the politics of the lowest common denominator and the obsession with consensus and not rocking the boat. In each of these cases the principle of national sovereignty is under attack, for the EU’s politicians and bureaucrats have repeatedly made clear that the national sovereignty of Croatia, Macedonia, Georgia and in principle any state is expendable in the interests of internal EU harmony and pacific foreign relations.
The British government must also point out the national and geostrategic importance of including Turkey within the EU. Turkish EU membership would halt the drive toward the federal Europe so out of tune with the British public’s aspirations. It would also lock this strategically crucial and economically and culturally vibrant state within the Euro-Atlantic democratic framework, halting its slide toward alignment with the hostile states of Iran and Russia. Rather than keeping Turkey out of the club and watching as it backslides on its democratic reforms and pro-Western orientation, the inclusion of Turkey would secure one of the world’s most important countries for the democratic bloc, strengthening our position in Iraq and vis-a-vis Iran and the Arab world. British public opinion has traditionally been receptive to Turkey’s EU membership, and it would be a terrible defeat for British policy if we were to allow this receptivity to be eroded by ill-informed fears about greater immigration and Islam.
For too long, the Euro-federalists have been allowed to get away with pretending that they are the only true ‘pro-Europeans’. Yet any vision of Europe that permanently excludes a large part of the continent’s population cannot rightfully be considered ‘pro-European’. It is the supporters of a broader, more inclusive, more outward-looking Europe – and the supporters of national sovereignty within the EU – that are the true pro-Europeans. True European unity and national sovereignty are complementary, not contradictory. Only by making this point, loudly and consistently, will be achieve the Europe that we want.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
A Greek blogger called Omadeon has written a critique of me, entitled ‘Dr Hoare’s Balkan excesses need… anti-nationalist critics’. Well, I don’t admit to any excesses, but I do welcome anti-nationalist critics. Omadeon deserves credit for writing against Srebrenica-genocide denial and for his statement that ‘I think Greece owes an apology to Bosnia, for the one-sided support of Serbia by most Greeks’. He deserves credit too for his rejection of some of the excesses of Greek nationalism.
Unfortunately, Omadeon nevertheless shares the Greek-nationalist blind-spot with regard to Macedonia. He refers to the Republic of Macedonia in a derogatory manner, as ‘Slavo-Albanian Macedonia’, and puts the words ‘Macedonia’ and ‘Macedonian’ in inverted commas when referring to the Republic of Macedonia and the Macedonian nation. He describes the Macedonian identity as a ‘fiction’. He wrote a letter to the New York Times in April 2008 in which he condemned the newspaper for its criticism of Greek policy with regard to Macedonia, asserted the alleged Greekness of Alexander the Great and the ancient Macedonians, and demanded that the contemporary Macedonians change their name to ‘Slav Macedonians’. Above all, he seems absolutely obsessed with telling the Macedonians that they should abandon the identity that they want to have and adopt the identity that he wants them to have, which is a ‘Slavic’ identity’ (‘A SANE attitude, on behalf of Slav-Macedonia, would be the simple RECOGNITION of their ESSENTIALLY SLAVIC national identity; something they have EVERY RIGHT to be PROUD of….’). But a given identity is something that people either feel for themselves, or they don’t. It is not up to Omadeon and the Greeks to decide what sort of identity Macedonians should have.
Consequently, I am afraid that Omadeon, although he appears to be an honest and decent individual in most respects, is very far from being an ‘anti-nationalist’. In fact, his writings on Macedonia highlight the erroneous way in which ethno-nationalists interpret modern national politics. This includes:
1) A belief that modern nations can be traced back, in unbroken continuity, to ancient or medieval peoples: the modern Greeks to ancient Greeks; the modern Macedonians to medieval Slavs; etc.
2) A consequent belief that one has, on the basis of one’s own ethno-nationalist interpretation of ancient and medieval history, the right to accuse other nations of being ‘invented’ or having ‘fictional’ identities.
3) An inability to understand the difference between language and nationality.
In this case, Greek nationalists – on the basis of their erroneous understanding of ancient and medieval history, and of the meaning of modern nationhood – believe that they have the right to decide what the ‘true’ identity of Greece’s northern neighbour should be. Since they erroneously believe that the majority population of the Republic of Macedonia is descended from Slavs who arrived in the area during the Middle Ages, and since they equally erroneously believe that modern Greeks are descended in unbroken continuity from ancient Greeks (among whom they include the ancient Macedonians), they believe they have the right to pronounce that the Macedonians are ‘not really’ Macedonians, that the Macedonian identity is a ‘fiction’, and that they – the Greek nationalists – on the basis of their ‘objective’ reading of ancient and medieval history have the right to pronounce what the Macedonians’ true name and identity should be.
From this, it follows – according to the Greek nationalist logic – that since their own interpretations of history and of the meaning of modern nationhood are the correct ones, then Macedonians who dispute this are ‘nationalists’, and those who support them in this rejection – such as myself – are supporting ‘ultra-nationalism’, which is what Omadeon accuses me of.
In this way, the Greek nationalists turn reality on its head. Macedonia is not threatening Greece or its national identity; the Macedonians are not saying that the Greek language and nation do not exist; or that Greece has to change its name. They are not trying to impose their own version of Greek identity on the Greeks. They are not even denying the right of the Greek inhabitants of Greek Macedonia to call themselves ‘Macedonian’. Yet for the crime of rejecting the Greek-nationalist interpretation of history, and of asserting their own identity, then it is they who become the bad guys in Greek-nationalist eyes. And before you know it, the whole of NATO and the EU have to shape their policies around the Greek-nationalist misinterpretation of history. Such is the world we live in.
Nationalists do not appreciate the fact that, in a democratic world, everyone has to be free to define their identity as they wish; no nation or individual has the right to decide what the identity of another nation or individual should be. Nationalists do not appreciate that there is no one, single, ‘objective’ interpretation of history; historians, archaeologists and others must be free to put forward different interpretations about Antiquity, the Midde Ages and so forth. No group or nation can impose its own version of history on the rest of the world.
Nationalists also do not appreciate the fact that all modern European nations – all of them – have very mixed ethnic origins. The modern Macedonians – the majority population of the Republic of Macedonia – are descended from a mixture of ancient Macedonians, Slavs and others. And modern Greeks are likewise descended from a mixture of ancient Macedonians, ancient Greeks, Slavs, Turkish-speaking Anatolians and others. Something similar applies for all European nations: English, Scots, French, Germans, Italians, Serbs, Croats, Albanians, Turks, etc.
There is no such modern ethnic group as the ‘Slavs’ – ‘Slavs’ do not exist as an ethnic group in the modern world, any more than do Angles, Saxons, Franks, Gauls, Visigoths or Vikings. ‘Slavic’ is a linguistic, not an ethnic category. The Macedonians speak a Slavic language, and in that sense they are ‘Slavic’, just as the English and Dutch are ‘Germanic’ and the Italians and French are ‘Latin’. Greek nationalists demanding that the Macedonians call themselves ‘Slavs’ is like someone demanding that the English and Dutch call themselves ‘Germanics’ or that the Italians and French call themselves ‘Latins’. It is up to the Macedonians alone whether they feel their identity to be ‘Slavic’ or not – nobody else has the right to impose such an identity on them.
Ironically, in terms of their genetic origins, non-Slavic-speaking Greece and Albania are more Slavic in their origins than the modern Macedonians and Bulgarians; spoken language is a very poor guide to ethnic origins. But does this mean that the Greeks and Albanians are not really Greeks and Albanians ? Of course not ! Modern nationhood does not derive from ancient or medieval ethnicity, but from a shared sense of identity in the present. Omadeon’s describing of the Republic of Macedonia as ‘Slavo-Albanian Macedonia’ is equivalent to describing Greece as ‘Slavo-Albanian-Turkish-Greek Greece’, or England as ‘Celtic-Anglo-Saxon-Viking-Norman England’. If the people of Greece feel themselves to be Greek; if the people of Macedonia feel themselves to be Macedonian – that is all that matters. Trying to deny the existence of a modern nation by pointing out its ethnically diverse roots, or by reducing it to a number of ethnic components, is the action of a chauvinist. We all have ethnically diverse roots. We should be proud of them.
In an age of globalisation and mass immigration, nations will become more, rather than less ethnically diverse. This, too, should be viewed positively. There are English people today whose grandparents were all born in Pakistan, or in Jamaica. They are no less ‘English’ than English people who claim ‘pure’ Anglo-Saxon descent. Black or brown Englishmen and women have as much right as white Anglo-Saxon Englishmen to lay claim to the heritage of English or British historical figures: the Celtic Boadicea; the Norman-French William the Conqueror; the Dutch William of Orange; the Irish Duke of Wellington; the half-American Winston Churchill. In the same way, Alexander the Great is part of the heritage of Greeks, Macedonians, Bulgarians and Albanians alike, and of all those nations which have arisen on the territory that he once ruled. Alexander the Great belongs to Iranians, Afghans and Pakistanis, too.
Omadeon accuses me of opposing reconciliation between Macedonia and Greece, and of not being even-handed in my treatment of Macedonian and Greek nationalism. I make no pretence at being even-handed: I am on the side of the victim (Macedonia) and against the aggressor (Greece), and will always encourage the national resistance of a victim against an aggressor. Siding with a victim against an aggressor is the only honourable position to take: it means siding with Cyprus against Turkey in 1974; with Croatia against Serbia in 1991; with Bosnia against both Serbia and Croatia in 1992-95; with Chechnya against Russia in 1994 and 1999; and with Georgia against Russia in 2008. There can be no ‘even-handedness’ in treating an aggressor and a victim, or in treating their respective nationalisms. Greek nationalism is threatening Macedonia. Macedonian nationalism is not threatening Greece. The two are not equivalent.
As for the question of ‘reconciliation’, this can only rightfully be based on justice, not on the capitulation of the weaker side to the stronger. The only just compromise between Greece and Macedonia would be along the following lines:
1) The Macedonian nation and language, and the Greek nation and language, exist. Anyone who says they do not is an anti-Macedonian or anti-Greek chauvinist.
2) Macedonia and Greece both have the right to call themselves what they want, and to define their national identities as they wish.
3) The people of the Republic of Macedonia, Greek Macedonia and Bulgarian Macedonia have an equal right to call themselves ‘Macedonian’ and to lay claim to the heritage of Ancient Macedonia and of Alexander the Great, if that is what they wish.
4) Greeks and Macedonians alike are descended from a mixture of ancient Macedonians, Slavs and others. The common ethnic heritage of the two nations should be stressed, not denied, by those seeking reconciliation.
5) The symbol at the start of this post – the Star of Vergina – is dear to both Greeks and Macedonians and belongs to them both. Two nations that love the same symbols and revere the same ancient historical figures should naturally be friends.
Anyone who calls themselves an ‘anti-nationalist’, irrespective of whether they are Greek or Macedonian, should have no difficulty subscribing to these principles.
The following petition was published on the website balkangoeseurope.eu on 14 July:
We note with great concern the current policy for South Eastern Europe of the European Commission. The visa policy for the successor states of the former Yugoslavia risks to create two classes of citizens in South Eastern Europe, based on ethnicity.
We welcome, that visa-free travel should be granted to citizens of Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia as of 1 January 2010. Equal rights will, for example, be refused to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The European Commission ignores that Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia are almost at the same level with regard to the introduction of bio-metric passports and a variety of legislative acts agreed on the visa liberalisation road map. The arguments which serve to justify the Commission recommendation are factually unconvincing and politically irresponsible.
The draft recommendation on visa liberalisation will increase tensions within the fragile post-war societies as the plans of the Commission will formalise ethnic divisions and provide them with dubious legitimacy. Only a part of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina will profit from the new travel regime. Bosnian Serbs and Serbs from Kosovo travel visa free in the EU thanks to their second passport issued by the Republic of Serbia as of 1 January 2010. Bosnian Croats have already enjoyed visa-free travel to the EU for a couple of years thanks to their Croatian passports. Restrictions thus remain in place for the Bosniak people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. De facto, ethnic criteria will decide on whether a citizen is able to travel freely to the EU.
This summer, 14 years ago, more than 8,000 Muslim boys and men were killed around Srebrenica. It is evidence of the EU’s poor political judgement that Bosniak survivors and relatives of the killed will be disadvantaged in comparison to the hundreds of suspected perpetrators who committed crimes in Srebrenica and who continue to evade justice.
German post-war history reminds us how important the freedom to travel has been for the peaceful development of a society. With the change of the travel laws in the GDR on 9 November 1989 the wall came down. The East and the West of Europe were able reunite. People in South Eastern Europe have the same right to freedom of travel. A region still haunted by nationalism needs freedom of exchange of ideas and opinions and also the right to travel. It is not freedom that creates instability, but the suppression of freedom.
The guiding vision of the visa liberalisation policy of the European Union is to bring South Eastern Europe closer to the EU and to promote European reconciliation and cooperation. In the next weeks, the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament have the choice between a visa policy that is uniting Europe or one that separates people on the basis of their ethnicity.
Christian Schwarz-Schilling, Former High Representative to Bosnia and Hercegovina, Büdingen, Germany
Wolfgang Petritsch, Ambassador/Former High Representative to Bosnia and Hercegovina, Paris, France
Hans Koschnick, EU-Beauftragter fuer Mostar a.D., Bremen, Germany
Marieluise Beck, MdB, Berlin, Bündis90/Die Grünen, Germany
Franziska Brantner, MEP, (Greens/EFA), Brussels
Doris Pack, MEP, (EPP), Brussels
Tilman Zülch, Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker, Göttingen, Germany
Bärbel Bohley, Berlin, Germany
Rebecca Harms, MEP, (Chair Greens/EFA), Brussels
Dany Cohn-Bendit, MEP, (Chair Greens/EFA), Brussels
Prof. Sabrina P. Ramet, The Norwegian University of Science & Technology, Trondheim, Norway
Reinhard Bütikofer, MEP (Bureau Greens/EFA), Brussels
Rüdiger Ratsch-Heitmann, Schüler Helfen Leben, Berlin/ Pristina/Sarajevo
Nenad Popovic, Publisher, Zagreb, Croatia
Bernd Posselt, MEP (CSU), Chairman Paneuropa-Union, Brussels
Natasa Kandic, Humanitarian Law Center, Belgrade, Serbia
Veton Surroi, Publisher, Pristina, Kosovo
Bujar Bukoshi, Prime Minister a.D. (1991-1999), MP, Kosovo
Milka Tadic Mijovic, Weekly Monitor, Podgorica, Montenegro
Sasa Stanisic, Writer, Berlin, Germany
Hans Christian Schmid, Film Director, Berlin, Germany
Ulrike Lunacek, MEP, (Greens/EFA), Brussels
Hermann Hardt, Flüchtlingsrat Hamburg e.V.
Heide Rühle, MEP, (Greens/EFA), Brussels
Sven Giegold, MEP, (Greens/EFA), Brussels
Peter Matjasic, Secretary General, Young European Federalists, Brussels
Bart Staes, MEP, (Greens/EFA), Brussels
Helene Flautre, MEP (Greens/EFA), Brussels
Michael Cramer, MEP (Greens/EFA), Brussels
Werner Schulz, MEP, (Greens/EFA), Brussels
Raul i Romeva, MEP, (Greens/EFA), Brussels
Dr. Damir Arsenijevic, Tuzla University, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Agron Bajrami, Editor in chief, Koha Ditore Newspaper, Prishtina, Kosovo
Ulrike Baur, Journalist and Filmmaker, Heidelberg, Deutschland
Prof. Dr. Johan Behrens, Universität Halle/Saale, Germany
Dr. Carl Bethke, Universität Leipzig, Germany
Amira Bieber, Forschungsgruppe Bosnien, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Dr. Benjamin Bieber, Forschungsgruppe Bosnien, Frankfurt, Germany
Tobias Bütow, Schwarzkopf-Stiftung Junges Europa, Berlin, Germany
Prof. Dr. Ulf Brunnbauer, South-East-Institute, Director, Leipzig, Germany
Jasna Causevic, Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker e.V., Göttingen, Germany
Tobias Heider, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
PD Dr. Andreas Heinemann-Grüder, Bonn International Centre for Conversion, Germany
Majda Idrizbegovic, European University Institute, Florence, Italy
Dr. Mislav Jezic, Vice-President, Paneuropa-Union, Zagreb, Croatia
PD Dr. Ernst Köhler, Universität Konstanz, Germany
Angela König, EIRENE International, Director, Bonn, Germany
Armina Omerika, Universität Erfurt, Germany
Prof. Dr. Henning Ottmann, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany
Marc-Oliver Pahl, Union of European Federalists, Düsseldorf, Germany
Dr. Kim Christian Priemel, Europa-Universität Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder), Germany
Erich Rathfelder, Journalist, die tageszeitung
Oliver Rolofs, Hauptmann d.R., Germany
Damir Saracevic, ZZI, Linz, Austria
Beate Seel, taz, Ressortleitung Ausland, Berlin, Germany
Antje Heider-Rottwilm, Dr. Martin Heider, Brücke-HafenCity, Hamburg Germany
Michael Schmitt, European Parliament, Brussels
Aida Vehabovic, Schüler Helfen Leben, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina
Walter Veirs, Regional Director, Charles Steward Mott Foundation, Great Britain
Reinhard Weißhuhn, Referent für Außenpolitik, Bündnis 90/ Die Grünen, Berlin, Germany
Prof. Dr. Michael Wildt, Humboldt Universitaet, Berlin, Germany
It is with some hesitation that I comment on the exchange between Noam Chomsky and Ian Williams over the question of responsibility for the bloodshed in Kosova in the late 1990s. Chomsky has no expertise and nothing interesting to say on the topic of the former Yugoslavia, and it is only because of his status as the world’s no. 1 ‘anti-imperialist’ guru that his utterances on the topic attract as many responses as they do. Chomsky epitomises the ‘anti-imperialist’ ideologue who believes in two things: 1) that the US is to blame for everything; and 2) that everything the US does is bad. If you share this worldview, then nothing said by Chomsky’s critics, such as Williams or Oliver Kamm, is going to convince you that he may be wrong on Kosova. If, on the other hand, you do not share this worldview, and are not star-struck by the celebrity Chomsky, then his rambling comparisons between the Western response over Kosova and the Western response over East Timor can only appear extremely tortuous and boring. It is tiresome yet again to point out, for example, the absolute falsehood of Chomsky’s claim that ‘the crimes in East Timor at the same time’ as the Kosovo war ‘were far worse than anything reported in Kosovo prior to the NATO bombing’ – it simply isn’t true.
I am using Chomsky, therefore, only to open a discussion on the question of genocidal causality, and the insidious nature of the sophistry employed by Chomsky and his ‘anti-imperialist’ comrades: that Serbian ethnic-cleansing in Kosova occurred in response to the NATO bombing and was therefore NATO’s fault. As Chomsky put it: ‘The NATO bombing did not end the atrocities but rather precipitated by far the worst of them, as had been anticipated by the NATO command and the White House.’ The thrust of Chomsky’s argument is that since NATO commanders predicted that the NATO bombing would lead to a massive escalation of Serbian attacks on the Kosova Albanian civilian population, and since this prediction was borne out, then NATO is responsible for having cold-bloodedly caused the atrocities that occurred after the bombing started.
The falsehood of this logic can be demonstrated if we ask the following questions:
1) Chomsky claims that the bombing precipitated ‘by far the worst’ of the atrocities, but what precipitated the bombing ?
The answer is that the NATO bombing of Serbia in March 1999 was precipitated by Belgrade’s rejection of the Rambouillet Accords. Belgrade was aware that rejecting the Rambouillet Accords would precipitate Serbia being bombed by NATO, but rejected them nevertheless. By Chomsky’s own logic, therefore, Serbia’s own actions precipitated the NATO bombings, and were consequently responsible for those bombings. Since, according to Chomsky, the bombings led to the atrocities, that means that Serbia was responsible for the atrocities after all.
What Chomsky would like us to believe, is that if a US or NATO action produced a predictable Serbian response, then the response was the fault of the US/NATO. But if, on the other hand, a Serbian action produced a predictable US/NATO response, then the response was still the fault of the US/NATO. This is self-evidently a case of double standards.
2) Chomsky claims that the bombing precipitated ‘by far the worst’ of the atrocities, but what would have been precipitated by a failure to bomb ?
From reading Chomsky and his fellow ‘anti-imperialists’, one would almost believe that the bloodshed in Kosova had been – in Edward Said’s words – a ‘Sunday school picnic’ prior to the NATO bombing. Yet this is what Human Rights Watch reported in January 1999, more than two months before the bombing began:
The government forces intensified their offensive throughout July and August , despite promises from Milosevic that it had stopped. By mid-August, the government had retaken much of the territory that had been held by the KLA, including their stronghold of Malisevo. Unable to protect the civilian population, the KLA retreated into Drenica and some pockets in the West.
Some of the worst atrocities to date occurred in late September, as the government’s offensive was coming to an end. On September 26, eighteen members of an extended family, mostly women, children, and elderly, were killed near the village of Donje Obrinje by men believed to be with the Serbian special police. Many of the victims had been shot in the head and showed signs of bodily mutilation. On the same day, thirteen ethnic Albanian men were executed in the nearby village of Golubovac by government forces. One man survived and was subsequently taken out of the country by the international agencies in Kosovo.
The government offensive was an apparent attempt to crush civilian support for the rebels. Government forces attacked civilians, systematically destroyed towns, and forced thousands of people to flee their homes. One attack in August near Senik killed seventeen civilians who were hiding in the woods. The police were seen looting homes, destroying already abandoned villages, burning crops, and killing farm animals.
The majority of those killed and injured were civilians. At least 300,000 people were displaced, many of them women and children now living without shelter in the mountains and woods. In October, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identified an estimated 35,000 of the displaced as particularly at risk of exposure to the elements. Most were too afraid to return to their homes due to the continued police presence. [our emphasis]
(Contrary to what Chomsky says, the number killed in Kosova prior to the start of the NATO bombing was greater than the number of East Timorese civilians killed by the Indonesians and their proxies during the whole of 1999).
Chomsky is saying that if – instead of presenting an ultimatum to Belgrade at Rambouillet and then proceeding to bomb Serbia when Belgrade defied that ultimatum – the NATO powers had given Belgrade a free hand in Kosova, then Serbian repression in Kosova would simply have continued at what he considers to be an acceptable level. Of course, there is no way of proving one way or the other what would have happened in Kosova if NATO hadn’t gone to war in the spring of 1999, but given the catalogue of horrors in the former Yugoslavia that were demonstrably not ‘precipitated’ by Western military intervention – the destruction of Vukovar, the siege of Sarajevo, the Srebrenica massacre, the killing of at least 100,000 Bosnians, the ethnic-cleansing of 300,000 Kosovars, etc. – the evidence suggests that it would not have resembled Edward Said’s ‘Sunday school picnic’.
3) Chomsky claims that the bombing precipitated ‘by far the worst’ of the atrocities, but even if this were true, would this make those atrocities NATO’s fault ?
Genocides are invariably ‘precipitated’ by something or other. The Armenian Genocide was ‘precipitated’ by the outbreak of World War I and Tsarist Russia’s military advance into Anatolia. The Rwandan Genocide was ‘precipitated’ by the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s offensive against the Rwandan Army, the Arusha Accords and by the shooting down of the plane carrying Rwanda’s President Juvenal Habyarimana. Of course, it is entirely legitimate for historians to interpret instances of genocide as having been ‘precipitated’ by something or other, but anyone who uses such explanations to shift the responsibility away from the perpetrators – whether Ottoman, Hutu, German, Serbian or other – is simply an apologist or a denier.
On 30 January 1939, Adolf Hitler gave a speech to the Reichstag in which he stated: ‘If the world of international financial Jewry, both in and outside of Europe, should succeed in plunging the nations into another world war, the result will not be the Bolshevisation of the world and thus a victory for Judaism. The result will be the extermination of the Jewish race in Europe.’
Hitler therefore made it explicit that the outbreak of a world war would result in the extermination of the Jews in Europe. Indeed, the outbreak and course of World War II ‘precipitated’ the Holocaust. Britain and France, when they declared war on Germany in September 1939, were by Chomsky’s logic responsible for the Holocaust. Some ‘anti-imperialists’ have, in fact, attempted to make this very point.
In sum, Chomsky’s case is a disgrace at the level of plain reasoning, never mind at the level of ethics.
Let there be no mistake about this: atrocities, ethnic cleansing and genocide are the responsibility of those who commit them. Whatever ‘precipitates’ them, they are the fault of their perpetrators. And it would be a sorry world indeed if were were to allow perpetrators to deter us from taking action to stop atrocities, ethnic cleansing and genocide, by their threat to commit still worse crimes in the event that we do take action.
Image: Chomsky agreeing with Dobrica Cosic, the leading ideological architect of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, on the need to partition Kosova – as reported by the Serbian magazine NIN.
Hat tip: Andras Riedlmayer, Daniel of Srebrenica Genocide Blog.
Takis Michas, the brilliant anti-fascist Greek journalist, is being sued by Stavros Vitalis, a Greek volunteer who fought on the side of the Bosnian Serb rebel forces during the war in Bosnia and who participated in the conquest of Srebrenica. Vitalis is suing Michas on the grounds that 1) Michas called the Greek volunteers ‘paramilitaries’, whereas Vitalis claims they were members of the regular Bosnian Serb army; and 2) Michas claimed the volunteers took part in the Srebrenica massacre, whereas Vitalis claims they never participated in ‘aggressive operations’.
However, in the press conference Vitalis gave, he admitted that he himself had been present ‘in all the military operations’ that were related to the Serb ‘reoccupation’ of Srebrenica. He also claimed that the operations of the volunteers ‘were widely endorsed by Greek society because of the warm friendship that connected Andreas Papandreou with Radovan Karadzic’.
Michas is the author of Unholy Alliance, a book that exposes the full extent of Greek support for, and complicity in, the Serb aggression and genocide of the 1990s. His struggle is the struggle to free Greece from the grip of nationalist chauvinism and extremism. This case will be a test case for Greek democracy.
The following is a statement by the Congress of North American Bosniaks in relation to the case:
The Congress of North American Bosniaks, umbrella organization representing approximately 350,000 American and Canadian Bosniaks, strongly condemns a lawsuit against a respectful Greek journalist, Takis Michas for his writing about the presence of Greek paramilitaries in Bosnia supporting the Serbian aggression.
The lawsuit was launched by Stavros Vitalis, a former self-admitted Greek participant in the Srebrenica genocide who claims that the Greek volunteers were there in order to help the Serbs whom he characterizes as the “real victims”.
This is of course a false assessment that is being perpetrated with the intent of distorting the truth and contradicts all the historical facts that have already been established by the international courts, including the decision in which Serbia was found responsible for violating its obligation to prevent genocide in Srebrenica. The facts are that more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were slaughtered by Serbian forces, including Greek volunteers, simply because they belonged to a different ethnic and religious group.
The Congress of North American Bosniaks believes it is incomprehensible that participants in the genocide are not only allowed to walk free, unpunished for their crimes, but they are able to harass highly respected journalists for telling the truth. This is a further insult to injury to all the victims of the Srebrenica genocide and their families.
This is simply a case of trying to intimidate journalists, like Takis Michas, from telling the truth and publicly criticizing the Greek involvement and public attitudes towards the Srebrenica genocide. This is not only an attack on free speech but a repulsive attempt at distorting the truth and spreading of hate propaganda that somehow tries to justify war crimes. This also comes at a time when Radovan Karadzic, the former leader of the Bosnian Serbs, is about to face trial for his role in leading and orchestrating the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is important that journalists are allowed to express their views on all aspects of the events that took place in the region, so that we can prevent them from occurring in the future.
Unfortunately Greek government has not prosecuted those who took part in war crimes in Bosnia and operations that resulted in tragic death of Bosnian civilians, namely around Srebrenica where 8,000 Bosniaks were summarily executed by Serbian forces. As evidenced by the statement from Stavros Vitalis actions of the volunteers “were widely endorsed by Greek society because of the warm friendship that connected Andreas Papandreou with Radovan Karadzic”.
Greek government should take steps to apologize to the families of those who were killed, for their role in not doing anything to prevent the spread of hatred towards Bosniaks and for allowing the Greek volunteers to operate freely without fear of being prosecuted for their crimes. Furthermore, we ask of the Greek justice system to throw out the frivolous charges against Takis Michas, and ensure that freedom of the press is upheld according to the standards of the European Union.
Update: The following interview with Michas, conducted by Daniel Toljaga, was published by the Congress of North American Bosniaks three days ago:
On 27 July 2009 Mr. Stavros Vitalis, representing the Panhellenic Macedonian Front, filed a libel suit against the acclaimed journalist Mr. Takis Michas, best known for his authorship of the book “Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic’s Serbia.” He is suing the journalist for describing- in the daily “Eleftherotypia” – Greek mercenaries as “paramilitaries who took part in the slaughter in Srebrenica.”
Mr. Vitalis is one of the leading Greek volunteers who have admitted taking part in the Srebrenica genocide. But, that’s not how he sees it.
In a statement distributed to the media, he claimed that the Greek volunteers who fought in Bosnia under the command of General Mladic were there in order to help the Serbs “who were being slaughtered by international gangs that were also stealing their houses, their country and their dignity.”
DANIEL TOLJAGA: Mr. Michas, thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview. To begin with, what is the Panhellenic Macedonian Front that has filed this suit against you through its representative Mr. Vitalis?
TAKIS MICHAS: It is a Greek nationalist political organization which also includes socialists and conservative former politicians. Up until now its central campaign theme has been its advocacy of the view that Macedonia along with everything related to it (history, symbols, etc.) is exclusively Greek.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: What exactly does Mr. Vitalis hope to achieve with this lawsuit?
TAKIS MICHAS: Bearing in mind that Karadzic’s trial will also be taking place next year, what they will be hoping is to create an alternative debate in which the substance of what happened at Srebrenica will be called into question. In other words, while the world is trying the war crimes perpetrated at Srebrenica, in Greece they will be putting the critics of the war crimes at Srebrenica on trial!
DANIEL TOLJAGA: Do you have any comments about the lawsuit and the press statements Mr. Vitalis has made?
TAKIS MICHAS: Yes. First of all Mr. Vitalis explicitly admits that Greeks (i.e. himself) took part in the planning and execution of the Serb “re-occupation” (as he calls it) of Srebrenica. As he says in his press statement “I was present with a group of senior Serb officers in all the operations for the re-occupation of Srebrenica by the Serbs”.
Secondly, Mr Vitalis admits that the recruitment of Greek volunteers for the war against the legitimate government of Bosnia took place with the implicit approval of the leading Greek politicians Andreas Papandreou and (to a lesser extent) Constantine Mitsotakis. As he puts it:
“The whole of Greece knows that the Greek volunteers had the broad support of Greek society as a whole as well as the support of politicians, mainly belonging to PASOK, because of the warm friendship between Andreas Papandreou and Radovan Karadzic. They also enjoyed the support of New Democracy, through the friendly diplomatic initiatives of Constantine Mitsotakis.”
This reinforces the point I have repeatedly made, namely that Greek support for the Serb war effort was not only moral, economic, diplomatic and political but also military.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: Was Mr. Vitalis present during and after the fall of Srebrenica when Greek paramilitaries hoisted the Greek flag over the town?
TAKIS MICHAS: Well in his own statement he said that together with high ranking Serb officers he took part in all the operations that dealt with the “reoccupation” (as he calls it) of Srebrenica. Now as to whether he was physically present in the hoisting of the flag this is something that only Mr. Mladic knows (and perhaps Mr. Karadzic)!
DANIEL TOLJAGA: It is interesting that he publicly admitted being present himself “in all the military operations” related to the “re-occupation” of Srebrenica. Do you have any idea why Mr. Vitalis has not been investigated for possible war crimes?
TAKIS MICHAS: Because, as I have shown in my book, in Greece Serb actions during the war in Bosnia are not regarded as “crimes” but as “heroic deeds”. This applies to Srebrenica as well. No Greek government has made any statement at any time during the last 15 years explicitly condemning the killings at Srebrenica – this is a unique state of affairs for a European country.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: In the words of U.N. Judge Theodor Meron, who served as the President of the ICTY, Serbs – and I quote – “targeted for extinction the forty thousand Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica.” In your opinion, is Mr. Vitalis fully aware that the military operations he took part in resulted in the summary killings of more than 8,000 and the ethnic cleansing of approximately 30,000 people in July 1995? Is he aware that he took part in genocide?
TAKIS MICHAS: According to his own admissions, yes. However, just like Holocaust deniers, these people refuse to accept that mass killings took place in Srebrenica.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: Your book revealed for the first time the presence of Greek paramilitaries in Bosnia. Why has Mr. Vitalis waited so many years since the publication of your book to file a suit?
TAKIS MICHAS: This is an interesting question. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that as I have hinted in other articles I am now in possession of confidential diplomatic documents that show the Greek authorities for the first time admitting the presence of Greek paramilitaries in Bosnia. Possibly they think that by putting pressure on me now they will prevent me publishing these documents. But this of course is only one explanation. There may be others.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: Mr. Vitalis has claimed that the operations of the Greek volunteers “were widely endorsed by Greek society because of the warm friendship that existed between Andreas Papandreou and Radovan Karadzic.” To what extent did this friendship suggest that the government may have been involved?
TAKIS MICHAS: Obviously it involves government in the sense of knowing, tolerating and endorsing the open recruitment of Greek citizens with the aim of fighting against the legally recognized government of Bosnia. It certainly implicates the government of PASOK under Andreas Papandreou.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: I remember, and you also referred to this in your book, that leading Greek judges had publicly refused to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Considering that your right to a fair trial may be seriously impaired by the extreme ultranationalist atmosphere in Greece and the fact that Mr. Vitalis has announced that he plans to call leading Greek nationalist politicians as witnesses, I would like to know whether you intend to seek support from prominent international organizations that specialize in the protection of journalistic freedom?
TAKIS MICHAS: I will certainly be trying to spread the word. Judging from the lawsuit they have filed against me, I guess that from now on they will also be making the glorification of the Serb war effort in Bosnia one of their campaign themes.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: Are you worried about the forthcoming trial?
TAKIS MICHAS: In any other European country this lawsuit would have been thrown out of court. But as I have said repeatedly Greece is not a normal European country. Given the spirit of extreme nationalism that permeates the country and the fact that Karadzic and Mladic are venerated as saints by the majority of the public and the political class, I have every reason to feel worried.
DANIEL TOLJAGA: Thank you for taking part in this interview. We will be keeping a close eye on the progress of your case.
- 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