Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

The man who wasn’t really all that left-wing

I love crime fiction, am very interested in the Nordic world and have a background in far-left politics, so I have rather naturally recently finished reading the now-legendary Millenium Trilogy by the tragically deceased Swedish author Stieg Larsson. These books have been admirably reviewed many times, including by comrades such as Nick Cohen, Max Dunbar and Christopher Hitchens, so you probably know the basic facts about them already. Their heroes are the maverick investigative journalist Mikael ‘Kalle’ Blomkvist (Larsson’s alter ego) and the emotionally damaged computer wizard Lisbeth Salander, whose flawed but interesting character accounts for much of the books’ appeal.

Larsson had been a supporter of the Socialist Party, formerly the Communist Workers League – the Swedish section of the Trotskyist Fourth International – and an editor of its journal Fjärde internationalen. As several of his reviewers have pointed out, his passionate political activism informed his fiction. Interesting then, that the political flavour of the novels should be liberal or social democratic rather than radical socialist. The villains – rapists, paedophiles, sex traffickers and corrupt secret-policemen and businessmen – are ones liberals will have no trouble booing, while the heroes enjoy the support of many honourable members of the establishment.

Violent misogynists feature prominently in all three books. Swedish fascists – against whom Larsson spent a large part of his life crusading – feature prominently in the first book, ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’. Another of the principal villains of this book is the capitalist Hans-Erik Wennerstroem, but he is evil because he is corrupt and involved in criminal activities; other capitalists and members of the bourgeoisie are sympathetically portrayed. In the second book, ‘The Girl who Played with Fire’, the principal villains are sex traffickers plus members of the establishment who use their services, while in the third, ‘The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ nest’, they are rogue elements within the Swedish intelligence services.

In all three books, the emphasis is on corrupt elements within the existing order – such as businessmen and policemen who abuse sex-slaves, or secret policemen whose Cold Warrior fanaticism leads them to stray outside the law – rather than on any inherent evil on the part of the existing order itself. Meanwhile, these corrupt elements are more than balanced by the good elements that represent the norm. Indeed, whereas the first two novels are gripping thrillers, the third is a somewhat dull, plodding affair – in large part because there are so many noble, principled policemen and secret agents who join Blomkvist’s and Salander’s struggle against their corrupt colleagues that it never really seems like a fair fight. The villains are old, tired, outnumbered, incompetent, self-doubting and internally divided. The heroes, on the other hand, are not only brave, principled, intelligent and altogether brilliant, but seem to have on their side the cream of the Swedish security establishment and eventually even the Swedish prime-minister and defence minister themselves.

‘The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest’ is, in fact, very much in the Hollywood liberal mould: there are corrupt elements within the system, but they are unrepresentative of the system as a whole which is fundamentally good; once it learns of their activities, the good majority ultimately defeats the rogue elements, so the system polices itself. Of course the good policemen need the help of intrepid independent investigators, but this partnership has been a staple of crime fiction since Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. So over-determined is the ultimate victory of good over evil; so much is the reader spared any genuine suspense, uncertainty as to the outcome or trauma on behalf of the heroes; that ‘The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest’ achieves a truly Hollywood level of nauseating goody-goodiness.

Meanwhile, there is next to nothing in the Millenium books about the class struggle or the fight to emancipate the proletariat or the poor. I don’t mean this as a criticism – it is no doubt a reflection of the fact that such issues are simply not very important in egalitarian Sweden today. Larsson’s work is politically sympathetic because, despite his passion and his Trotskyist background, he is no dogmatist. Instead of bothering with irrelevant old Marxist shibboleths, he focuses on issues that really are of central importance for progressive politics in Western Europe today. Above all, on the issue of misogyny.

The most interesting feature of the books is the character of Salander, an innocent woman who manages to inspire pathological hostility in a whole string of nasty men. She does so because she manages to hit so many male chauvinist buttons. She is physically small and apparently weak and vulnerable, yet colourful and exotic; she is socially awkward and aloof, but refuses to be polite or deferential to those more senior than herself; she is far from being classically beautiful, but is weirdly and disturbingly sexually attractive; and, of course, she is sexually promiscuous and bisexual, but does not roll over for many of the men who desire her. Unsurprising, therefore, that so many men hate her; Larsson has brilliantly captured the way in which a certain type of woman jars and unsettles a certain type of man.

If the books are a bit saccharine in some other respects, their portrayal of the pathology of woman-hatred is genuinely disturbing. Larsson has written a study in misogyny that has reached an audience whose size most Trotskyist pamphleteers could only dream of – his books have sold 27 million copies, according to The Economist. He may have died prematurely at the age of only fifty, but if only a portion of his readers understand his message, his life as an activist will not have been in vain.


Tuesday, 30 March 2010 Posted by | Fascism, Misogyny, Scandinavia, Sweden | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Echoes of a Genocide: The Turkish prime minister’s anti-Armenian outburst

For all the criticisms that I and others have levelled against the chauvinism of Balkan states such as Serbia and Greece, it must be conceded that such chauvinism has one redeeming feature: it is the chauvinism of relatively small states, hence always somewhat ridiculous. The nationalist posturing of such states, replete with references to mythologised glorious histories, is the posturing of the little man who walks into a bar and brags about how big he is. In this sense, such chauvinism and posturing can never quite compare to that of a really large, powerful state. The threat of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to expel 100,000 ethnic Armenians from Turkey, is therefore uniquely terrifying: ‘There are currently 170,000 Armenians living in our country. Only 70,000 of them are Turkish citizens, but we are tolerating the remaining 100,000. If necessary, I may have to tell these 100,000 to go back to their country because they are not my citizens. I don’t have to keep them in my country.’ The threat was made in response to moves by the US Congress and the Swedish parliament to recognise the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Such posturing is that of a thug who really is one of the biggest and strongest in the bar. At the same time, Erdogan has not only rejected the term ‘genocide’ in relation to what happened to the Armenians in 1915, but denied that Turkey had even every been guilty of atrocities: ‘Our warriors always respected ancestral laws and did not kill innocent people even on the battlefield. I should underline that this country’s soldier is bigger than history and that this country’s history is as clean and clear as the sun. No country’s parliament can tarnish it.’

Erdogan’s chauvinistic outburst proves that the extreme Turkish nationalism responsible for the Armenian Genocide and for the killing or expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Greeks during the 1920s (many of whom were Turkish-speaking Anatolians deemed ‘Greek’ only by virtue of being Christians) still very much dominates the mind-set of the Turkish political classes. It is a nationalism born out of the decay of the Ottoman Empire, in which repeated interventions by Christian Europe on behalf of the Ottomans’ Christian subjects and the resulting Ottoman territorial losses gave rise to a genocidal Turkish impulse vis-a-vis Anatolian Christians, identified as they were as agents of foreign enemies and threats to the territorial integrity of the state. The Turkish War of Independence of the 1920s was at once a legitimate war of national liberation against West European imperialism and Greek aggression, and a murderous assault on the remaining Anatolian Christians that culminated in the burning of the city of Smyrna in 1922 and the massacre of its Greek and Armenian inhabitants. The Turkish victory in that war and the establishment of the Turkish republic halted the Ottoman/Turkish territorial decline, but the readiness to attack and expel members of Christian nationalities remained. As late as 1955, the Turkish government of Adnan Menderes orchestrated a massive anti-Greek pogrom in Istanbul, as a way of pressurising Greece over the Cyprus question, resulting in the virtual disappearance through emigration of Istanbul’s up-till-then large and thriving Greek community. Against this background, Erdogan’s anti-Armenian outburst needs to be taken seriously.

Ironically, Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), to which Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul (who recently won the Chatham House Prize for 2010) belong, represents the moderate wing of traditional Turkish nationalism. The AKP government has improved the rights of Turkey’s Kurdish minority and pursued detente with Cyprus and Armenia. On the other hand, the AKP government has developed a populist Islamic chauvinism of its own, involving demagogic diatribes against Israel, flirtation with anti-Semitism and support for Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s genocidal Islamist regime in Sudan. Erdogan has denied that the latter is guilty of genocide in Darfur, claiming that ‘Muslims don’t commit genocide’. This Islamic populism has gone hand in hand with increasing government assaults on the media, most notably the imposition of a $2.5 billion fine on Dogan Yayin Holding, Turkey’s biggest media group. Meanwhile, Ankara is developing increasingly close friendships with authoritarian states in the region hostile to the West, above all Russia, Iran and Syria.

The AKP regime’s drift away from the West and from Western values must be blamed in large part on Ankara’s increasing loss of confidence in the prospect of EU membership, above all on account of French and German opposition. The appointment of the strongly anti-Turkish and anti-Islamic Herman Van Rompuy as President of the European Council last autumn has only increased the justified impression in Turkey that Europe fundamentally does not want it. ‘Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe’, said Van Rompuy in 2004; ‘An expansion of the EU to include Turkey cannot be considered as just another expansion as in the past. The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are also fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey.’ This is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The carrot of EU membership was a major catalyst for the impressive democratisation of Turkey that took place during the early years of the AKP government. With the carrot apparently unattainable, a major incentive to democratise has gone. The Western alliance is now paying a heavy geopolitical price for French and German selfishness and narrow-mindedness, and for Islamophobia of the Van Rompuy variety.

For all its increasing authoritarianism and Islamic populism, the AKP government remains in one respect a driving force behind further democratisation: it is successfully taming the Turkish military, which has been responsible for overthrowing several democratically elected Turkish governments in the past. The Turkish government has every right to pursue and punish elements in the military that plot coups and internal disorder. Yet there are reasons to fear that the huge ‘Ergenekon’ investigation of these elements is also being used to hound the AKP’s political opponents. The democratically elected AKP government is successfully overturning an old authoritarian order, but threatens to establish a new authoritarianism in its place. In the struggle between the old Kemalist establishment and the new Islamic middle class represented by the AKP, a total defeat for either side would be bad for democracy; the two sides should rather become the two wings of a pluralistic Turkey – like the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats in Germany, or the Republicans and Democrats in the US.

Turkey, in other words, is a country at a political crossroads: between democracy, authoritarianism and political chaos at home and between a Western and anti-Western authoritarianism abroad. It is in the vital interests of the Western alliance to steer Turkey as much as possible in a pro-democratic, pro-Western direction. The alternative is an authoritarian, anti-Semitic regime – either in Islamist or extreme-nationalist Kemalist garb -allied to the West’s enemies abroad.

In these circumstances, parliamentary resolutions in Western countries recognising the Armenian genocide are equivalent to pouring petrol on the flames. Such resolutions are objectively anti-Turkish: many members of the Western alliance, not to mention of the wider international community, have historically been guilty of genocide or of crimes on a par with genocide, yet it is Turkey alone – alone – whose historic crimes are being singled out for parliamentary recognition by its own supposed allies. If the Armenian Genocide is being recognised by parliaments that have absolutely no intention of recognising the genocide of the Native Americans or the Australian aborigines, for example, or the European powers’ colonial crimes in Africa and Asia – some of which undoubtedly constituted genocide or were on a par with it – then Turkey has every reason to view such recognition as aggressive and hostile. Many citizens of Turkey are descended from Balkan and Caucasian Muslim peoples who were the victims of genocidal crimes at the hands of Russia and the Balkan Christian states during the eighteenth, nineteenth or early twentieth centuries; the hypocrisy of Western states that remain silent about these crimes while formally recognising the Armenian Genocide is clear to everyone in Turkey.

The tragedy is that such Western hypocrisy discredits the cause of Armenian Genocide recognition in Turkey itself and hands a powerful trump card to the Turkish government, which has long been aggressively persecuting those Turkish citizens brave enough to speak about about what happened to the Armenians in 1915. Defying popular chauvinism and government intimidation, over 22,000 Turkish citizens signed a petition in 2008 apologising for the crime against the Armenians: ‘My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathize with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers and sisters. I apologize to them.’

This growing movement in Turkey to reject the national chauvinist paradigm and come to terms with the country’s historical crimes represents an essential part of Turkey’s democratisation. Turkey will only become a genuine democracy when its citizens are free to discuss what happened to the Armenians in 1915, and to call it genocide if they wish, without fear of persecution or arrest. The tragedy is that clumsy, hypocritical genocide resolutions actually set this process back. As the New York Times reported earlier this month: ‘Turkish intellectuals had made some progress at pushing the [Armenian] issue into the public debate. Ethnic Armenians in Turkey fear that passage of the [genocide]resolution by the full House — which would be unprecedented — would seriously harm those efforts.’ As Turkish university professor Soli Ozel said back in December 2008, ‘If they were to free Turkey of the pressures [of these bills], we would be able to talk about the issue in a more desirable way.’ So long as the Turkish government can present the campaign for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide as the work of the international Armenian lobby and hypocritical anti-Turkish governments, it only weakens the position of those brave and principled Turks who wish to wish to raise the issue at home. As Ergodan’s chauvinistic outburst threatens, there is always the danger that the AKP government, frightened for its political future, will respond to further foreign recognitions of the Armenian Genocide by retaliating against its own Armenian minority. This is quite apart from the fact that such recognitions will only further alienate Turkey and the Turkish public from the Western alliance and push them into the arms of our enemies, and that they are highly problematic from the point of view of genocide scholarship as well.

There is a simply way in which the Armenian Genocide issue can become a help rather than a hindrance to Turkey’s democratisation: instead of passing resolutions recognising the Armenian Genocide, Western parliaments should pass resolutions calling upon Turkey to permit the issue to be freely debated at home and abroad; to desist from arresting, persecuting or intimidating anyone for stating their opinion about what happened to the Armenians in 1915. Unlike parliamentary recognition of genocide, there would be nothing hypocritical about this: the US, Britain and other EU and NATO members do not for the most part recognise their own or each other’s historic acts of genocide, but they do permit these crimes to be freely discussed and debated.

A democratic Turkey’s membership of the EU would tremendously strengthen Western security. But so long as Turkey threatens its minorities and criminalises mention of the Armenian Genocide, it does not deserve membership. Turkey should be encouraged to become a pillar of Europe, rather than an embarrassment to it.

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

Friday, 26 March 2010 Posted by | Armenians, Balkans, Genocide, Turkey | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Genocide at Srebrenica began in 1992


This is a guest post by Hikmet Karcic

Review of Edina Becirevic, Na Drini Genocid [Genocide on the Drina], Buybook, Sarajevo, 2009

Writing about genocide was popular in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dozens of books were written, most of which were poorly documented and based on semi-reliable sources. That is why Edina Becirevic’s book has refreshed the genocide debates in Bosnia and Herzegovina. ”Genocide on the River Drina” is in fact an adaption of her PhD thesis. The book is divided into five chapters: Overview of sociological literature on genocide; Serb national myths, programs and propaganda; Planning genocide against Bosniaks 1992.-1995.; Genocide in Eastern Bosnia 1992.-1993. and finally The Eight phase of Genocide – denial.

The book deals with various issues, beginning with the basics about genocide in the first chapter and then giving a historical overview of genocide in the Balkans. Special emphasis is placed upon Serb nationalist programs from the 19th century, ranging from the Serb nationalist politician Ilija Garašin’s program to the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts Memorandum from 1986 in the second chapter. The third chapter deals with the Bosnian Serb modus operandi in committing the Bosnian Genocide. The fourth chapter is the most important one; in it the author explains in detail how genocide was committed in 10 towns in Eastern Bosnia in 1992/93. The fifth chapter deals with modern-day Bosnia and the common issue of post-genocidal societies: denial of committed crimes.

In the past years the spotlight has been almost exclusively on the Srebrenica Genocide, which suits many political and intellectual circles in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. The ‘genocidal processes’ in other areas from 1992-1995, as the author puts it, are completely forgotten and even denied. Unlike other authors, Edina has the courage to use the term ‘genocide’ instead of the jaded term ‘ethnic cleansing’ to explain the events in Eastern Bosnia in 1992/93, which were the systematic destruction, murder and rape of Bosniaks. The author’s central thesis is that genocide in Eastern Bosnia started in 1992 in several towns such as Zvornik, Bratunac, Vlasenica, Visegrad, Rogatica, Foca and Srebrenica. The author provides us with new details of Serb genocidal bureaucratic policies such as the ordering of the establishment of the infamous Susica concentration camp, which she substantiated which an original document ordering its formation, as well as orders for the expulsion of the Muslim inhabitants of Birac (p.159). She also pays special attention to the ‘slow genocide’ in Srebrenica, where tens of thousands of starving Bosnian Muslims were kept under siege, and to the raids carried out in quest for food in surrounding militarized Serb villages. She clearly notes: ‘The defenders of Srebrenica were under constant pressure from starving people who protested on a daily basis, in front of the war presidency in Srebrenica, asking for organized action to gather food’ (p.215).  It is important to note that the author has mostly used documents and archive material from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which are reliable sources, so there is little room left to speculate whether her work is biased or unreliable. This is most probably one of the rare books written in Bosnian which have sources in English as part of their bibliography, which is usually not the case since most Bosnian genocide scholars do not speak English.

Edina Becirevic

The true value of this book is that the author managed to explain many important issues in detail as well as the mechanisms used by the Bosnian Serbs to commit genocide in Bosnia. For example, the role of the Crisis Committees formed by the Serb Democratic Party (p.114) is explained using documents available at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in Hague and the author concludes by saying that those committees were ‘the most effective mechanism in establishing control in the occupied territories in Bosnia and Herzegovina’. Another important issue the author recognized is the false use of the term ‘paramilitary units’ and instead uses the term ‘special units’: ‘In public those units were called paramilitary so as to create an illusion that the state did not have control over them’ (p.129).

This is an important conclusion since recently Milan Lukic, a member of the Bosnian Serb Army from Visegrad, who was sentenced to life at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, was referred to as a ‘paramilitary leader’ throughout the trial. Thus, the command responsibility of the Visegrad Brigade commander, who is not indicted, was not questioned at all. There is no question that this book will be used by genocide scholars in the future. Taking into consideration that there are a few Bosnian books about genocide available in English, it would be wise to translate this book and make it accessible to non-Bosnian speaking public.

Friday, 12 March 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Edward S. Herman and David Peterson humiliate themselves

Last month, a group of ‘foreign intellectuals’ published an open letter to President Boris Tadic of Serbia and to the Serbian parliament, urging them not to pass a parliamentary resolution recognising and condemning the Srebrenica massacre of 1995. The list of signatories is headed by Edward S. Herman; other signatories included Diana Johnstone, Christopher Black and David Peterson. These are all prominent Srebrenica deniers; people who loudly deny not only that the Srebrenica massacre was an act of genocide, but the fact of the massacre itself. According to the open letter:

‘The informed public in Western countries knows that, at that time, forces attributed to the Republic of Srpska executed in three days approximately as many Moslems as Moslem forces, raiding surrounding Serbian villages out of Srebrenica, had murdered during the preceding three years. There is nothing to set one crime apart from the other, except that its commission was more condensed in time.’

The open letter is repeating the claim often made by Srebrenica deniers and apologists, that Bosnian Army forces based in Srebrenica carried out raids against neighbouring Serb villages in 1992 and 1993 that killed a number of Serb civilians similar to the number of Muslims killed at Srebrenica in 1995.

This claim has been thoroughly debunked by the research of Mirsad Tokaca and the Research and Documentation Centre (RDC) in Sarajevo. The RDC’s figures show that 81.06% of all war deaths from the Podrinje region – where Srebrenica and the surrounding Serb villages are located -during the whole of the war were Muslims (a total of 16,940 civilians and 7,177 soldiers) while 18.73% were Serbs (870 civilians and 4,703) soldiers. The RDC’s figures show that 10,333 people from the Podrinje region were killed during 1995; that over 93% of these were Muslims; and that 9,328 out of the 10,333 were killed during the single month of July. Conversely, the RDC has specifically investigated the Serb death-toll in the Bratunac municipality, where the bulk of Bosnian Army killings in the Srebrenica region are alleged to have taken place, and concluded that 119 Serb civilians and 448 Serb soldiers were killed there during the whole of the war.

In other words, Herman, Peterson, Johnstone and their merry band of genocide-deniers, in their efforts to equalise the culpability of the Bosnian and Serb-rebel forces for war-crimes, are making claims about war-losses that have long since been discredited.

This is particularly amusing because Herman and Peterson refer frequently to Tokaca’s figures themselves when it suits their purpose – namely, when they want to argue that ‘only’ about 100,000 people were killed in the Bosnian war. Indeed, they repeatedly accuse others of failing to acknowledge Tokaca’s findings.

In other words, the central claim of Herman’s and Peterson’s open letter – that Bosnian Army and Serb rebel forces killed roughly equal numbers of people in and around Srebrenica during the war – is refuted by a body of research that Herman and Peterson themselves refer to repeatedly, and that they loudly berate others for not acknowledging.

Any further comment would be superfluous.

Hat tip: Sarah Correia of Cafe Turco.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ejup Ganic meets Franz Kafka

Ejup Ganic, who served as vice-president in Bosnia-Hercegovina’s first democratically elected government in the 1990s, is being detained without bail in a British prison. Even senior international and British statesmen have expressed concern at the manner in which he is being treated. According to Germany’s Christian Schwarz-Schilling, the former High Representative of Bosnia-Hercegovina, ‘By arresting Ejup Ganic in London, Great Britain has unintentionally taken part in the kidnapping of a distinguished Bosnian academic and participated in Serbia’s political ploy. Furthermore, reportedly rude and unprofessional behaviour of British authorities was in an open violation of most basic international legal principals, such as the Vienna Convention (Art. 36). It is unacceptable that an EU-member state is participating in this kind of political kidnapping.’

British shadow foreign secretary William Hague notes in a letter (see appendix) sent on 3 March to his counterpart, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, that  ‘A number of reports have been brought to my attention alleging that at time of writing, Mr Ganić has been denied consular access or visits from his family or his legal representatives since he was taken into custody at HMP Wandsworth on Monday. It has been further alleged that Mr Ganić was unable to attend the hearing on his case that took place today as the wrong individual was taken to the Court by the authorities, and that he will be held in detention until a further hearing next Tuesday as bail has been denied.’ According to Hague, ‘I am concerned about the risk of negative repercussions in our relations with the countries of the Balkans and Bosnia-Herzegovina, in particular if the treatment afforded to Mr Ganić is seen to be deficient in any respect. I have also seen that the alleged denial of legal and consular access to Mr Ganić is being broadcast as fact in a number of media outlets throughout the world. I am concerned about the potential that these stories have to do damage to Britain’s international reputation.’

The questionable nature of Ganic’s treatment by the British authorities is not confined to the manner of his detention; the charge against him appears to be equally problematic. As can be seen from the arrest warrant, which I reproduce below, the British judge who issued the warrant appears to be under the impression that Sarajevo, where the alleged ‘offence’ took place, is in Serbia !

Nor does uncertainty about the nature of the ‘offence’ begin in Britain. Serbia’s media is consistently claiming that the military action, that Ganic is accused of ordering, resulted in the deaths of 42 soldiers of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). In its portrait of Ganic published today, Serbia’s most eminent daily newspaper, Politika, writes of ‘2 May 1992, the day when the attack began on the JNA column that was withdrawing from Sarajevo’s Volunteers’ Street [Dobrovoljacka ulica], when 42 people were killed, 73 wounded and 215 arrested.’ The same figure of 42 deaths is attributed to the Dobrovoljacka ulica attack by other Serbian dailies, including Blic and Glas javnosti.

Yet the truth is somewhat different. A document posted on the website of the Interior Ministry of the Republika Srpska shows that the figure of 42 JNA deaths actually refers to all those killed or missing in combat operations all over Sarajevo for a five day period from 29 April to 3 May. Only five JNA soldiers were killed and one went missing as a result of the attack on the JNA column in Dobrovoljacka ulica.

The unseriousness of the case against Ganic is a reflection of its political character.

Hat tip: Alem Hadzic, Justwatch; Andras Riedlmayer.

Appendix: Full text of William Hague’s letter of 3 March to David Miliband, which has been made available to the press:

3rd March 2010

Dear David, I write regarding the detention of the former Bosnian Presidency Member Mr Ejup Ganić in London.

A number of reports have been brought to my attention alleging that at time of writing, Mr Ganić has been denied consular access or visits from his family or his legal representatives since he was taken into custody at HMP Wandsworth on Monday.

It has been further alleged that Mr Ganić was unable to attend the hearing on his case that took place today as the wrong individual was taken to the Court by the authorities, and that he will be held in detention until a further hearing next Tuesday as bail has been denied.

Can you confirm whether these reports are correct?

I would be grateful if you could have this matter looked into urgently. I am concerned about the risk of negative repercussions in our relations with the countries of the Balkans and Bosnia-Herzegovina, in particular if the treatment afforded to Mr Ganić is seen to be deficient in any respect. 

I have also seen that the alleged denial of legal and consular access to Mr Ganić is being broadcast as fact in a number of media outlets throughout the world. I am concerned about the potential that these stories have to do damage to Britain’s international reputation. 

In the light of public interest in these matters I am making a copy of this letter available to the press. I look forward to your urgent response.

The Rt Hon William Hague MP 
Shadow Foreign Secretary

Sunday, 7 March 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The arrest of Ejup Ganic: Serbia’s aggression against Bosnia continues

Image: Bosnian forces destroy a JNA convoy at Brcanska Malta, Tuzla, on 15 May 1992

Imagine if, fifteen years after the end of World War II, the Japanese government had tried to have Henry A. Wallace, Vice President of the US during the war, extradited to face trial in Japan for the deaths of Japanese soldiers during the Battle of Pearl Harbour. Imagine if the German government after the war had tried to have survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising extradited from Israel to Germany to face trial for the killing of German soldiers during the uprising.

On Monday, Ejup Ganic, the former de facto Bosnian vice-president during the war of 1992-95, was arrested in London at the request of the Serbian government, which seeks his extradition to face trial in Serbia for the killing of Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) soldiers in Sarajevo on 3 May 1992. This incident demonstrates that Serbia is still very far from showing repentence for its aggression against Bosnia during the 1990s. On the contrary, with the arrest of Ganic, Serbia is continuing this aggression, by attempting to persecute Bosnians guilty only of trying to defend their country from it.

The incident for which Ganic’s extradition is being sought by Belgrade occurred at Dobrovoljacka ulica (Volunteers’ Street) in Sarajevo on 3 May 1992. At this time, the JNA forces in Sarajevo and in Bosnia as a whole were de jure and de facto the forces of the neighbouring state, the self-proclaimed ‘Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’ (i.e. Serbia and Montenegro), which was then engaged in a full-scale war of conquest against Bosnia-Hercegovina, involving the systematic massacre and expulsion of non-Serbs from the areas that it occupied. In principle, the JNA should have been the joint army of all the former Yugoslavia’s republics and peoples. But thanks to the Serb preponderance in its top command and its officer corps, from 1990 the JNA had been transformed into an exclusively Serbian (and technically also Montenegrin) army. On 27 June 1990, Veljko Kadijevic, the Yugoslav Secretary of People’s Defence and the most senior officer of the JNA, agreed with Borisav Jovic, Serbia’s representative on the Yugoslav Federal presidency and Slobodan Milosevic’s right-hand man, a plan ‘forcibly to expel’ Slovenia and a dismembered Croatia from Yugoslavia, thereby breaking up the common state and creating what was in effect a Great Serbia. The JNA was thereafter steadily transformed into a Serbian army.

During the war in Croatia in 1991-92, the JNA fought against Croatia, bombarding Croatian cities, killing and expelling Croatian civilians and turning over territory to the Serb rebels in Croatia – all without any authorisation from its constitutional commander, the Yugoslav Federal presidency, or from the Yugoslav government of Ante Markovic. The JNA simply disregarded orders given to it by Stjepan Mesic, the Yugoslav president. On 3 October 1991, even formal pretence that the JNA was still ‘Yugoslav’ was dropped; the Serbian and Montenegrin members of the Yugoslav presidency carried out a coup d’etat, appropriating to themselves the right to command the JNA. This represented a violation of the rights of Bosnia-Hercegovina, which was still part of Yugoslavia. From then on, the JNA on Bosnian territory was a Serbian and Montenegrin army of occupation.

The Bosnian presidency and government under Alija Izetbegovic remained neutral during the war in Croatia. They bent over backwards to avoid provoking the JNA on Bosnian territory, and to retain good relations with it. Izetbegovic, his fellow Bosnian presidency member Ejup Ganic and other senior Muslim political leaders naively believed that war could be avoided and that the JNA would not support the Serb extremists. This was an error of monumental proportions. Following a long and careful preparation, at the start of April 1992 – before Bosnia-Hercegovina’s independence had been recognised by the international community – the JNA, under Serbia’s formal control, launched a full-scale military attack on Bosnia-Hercegovina. Eventually, the Bosnian Serb nationalists under Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic would assume command of a formally independent Bosnian Serb army (‘Army of the Serb Republic’). But until 19 May 1992, all Bosnian Serb forces were either themselves part of the JNA, or under JNA command.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), in its 2007 verdict in Bosnia’s case against Serbia for genocide, ruled that ‘it is established by overwhelming evidence that massive killings in specific areas and detention camps throughout the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina were perpetrated during the conflict’ and that ‘the victims were in large majority members of the protected group [the Muslims], which suggests that they may have been systematically targeted by the killings.’ Moreover, ‘it has been established by fully conclusive evidence that members of the protected group were systematically victims of massive mistreatment, beatings, rape and torture causing serious bodily and mental harm, during the conflict and, in particular, in the detention camps.’ This process began while all Bosnian Serb forces were still under the command of Serbia and the JNA, whose central role in these crimes has been extensively documented.

Izetbegovic and Ganic were certainly guilty in relation to the JNA – they were guilty of failing to prepare their country to resist its aggression, and for failing to take action against it even after this aggression had begun. Already during 1990, in preparation for its attack on Bosnia, the JNA had begun disarming the Bosnian Territorial Defence, but had run into resistance from sections of the latter, which refused to turn over their weapons. After Izetbegovic and Ganic came to power in the Bosnian elections of autumn 1990, their Bosnian presidency actually ordered the Bosnian Territorial Defence to turn over its weapons to the JNA. Izetbegovic and Ganic would continue to restrain Bosnian resistance to the JNA until long after the aggression had begun. When the Serbian paramilitaries of Zeljko Raznatovic ‘Arkan’ attacked the Bosnian city of Bijeljina on 1 April 1992, Izetbegovic sanctioned the JNA’s occupation of the city, in the belief that it would restrain the Serb extremists. Weeks after the JNA and Serbia’s paramilitaries had already begun conquering Bosnian towns and killing and expelling their non-Serb inhabitants – Bijeljina on 1-3  April, Kupres on 8 April, Zvornik on 8-10 April, and so forth – Izetbegovic was still systematically vetoing moves by Bosnia’s commanders to strike back against the JNA.

On 26 April, Izetbegovic negotiated in the Macedonian capital of Skopje with Branko Kostic, acting president of the self-declared rump presidency of ‘Yugoslavia’ (i.e. Serbia and Montenegro), and with Blagoje Adzic, chief of staff of the JNA, over the possible withdrawal of the JNA from Bosnia. Agreement was reached that JNA troops from Serbia and Montenegro should be withdrawn. But agreement was not possible over the more than 80% of JNA troops on Bosnian territory, mostly Serbs, who were citizens of Bosnia. The Bosnian presidency demanded that they either be withdrawn or place themselves under Bosnian command, while the Belgrade leadership rejected either option, seeking instead to have them placed under Bosnian Serb command, and rejected furthermore any solution that was not agreed to by the Bosnian Serb leadership. Consequently (contrary to what was subsequently claimed by Serbia in its request for Ganic’s extradition) no agreement was reached between Izetbegovic and Belgrade over the withdrawal of the JNA from Bosnia.

Sarajevo was the object of a full-scale offensive on 2 May, on the part of Colonel General Milutin Kukanjac, commander of the Sarajevo-based Second Military District of the JNA, attacking with his garrison within the city and attempting to seize control of the Bosnian presidency building, while additional JNA forces attacked the city from outside. Sarajevo’s post office, telephone exchange and other public buildings were bombarded. On the same day Izetbegovic, returning from peace negotiations at Lisbon, was kidnapped by the JNA at Sarajevo airport. This amounted to a concerted assault by JNA forces on the organs of Bosnia’s democratically elected government. But the JNA’s offensive against Sarajevo was defeated by the Bosnian Territorial Defence, and Kukanjac’s column was surrounded.

It was perhaps Bosnia’s greatest military victory to date, and it was largely squandered by Izetbegovic. Initially, on 3 May, Izetbegovic negotiated his own release from JNA captivity in exchange for the Bosnian armed forces allowing Kukanjac to leave Sarajevo. But immediately afterward, Kukanjac demanded that his entire JNA garrison be allowed to leave Sarajevo as the price for Izetbegovic’s release. This revised deal was not supported by Ganic and the Bosnian military commanders in Sarajevo, but it was supported by General Lewis Mackenzie, the UN commander in Sarajevo and subsequently a paid lobbyist of SerbNet, a Serb-nationalist lobbying group in the US. Once Izetbegovic was safely back in Bosnian hands, the Bosnian forces opened fire on the JNA convoy in Volunteers’ Street, succeeding in killing or capturing dozens of JNA soldiers.

There is some uncertainty as to whether the initiative to attack the JNA convoy was taken spontaneously by the Bosnian soldiers on the ground themselves, as Jovan Divjak, the then deputy commander of the Bosnian Territorial Defence, claims, or whether it was ordered by the top Bosnian commanders or even by Ganic himself, deputised by Izetbegovic to head the Bosnian presidency and critical of the deal with Kukanjac. Were the attack on the JNA convoy a war-crime, it would make no difference: Ganic and other members of the Bosnian wartime presidency – including Izetbegovic himself – as the supreme command of the Bosnian armed forces, would be automatically responsible. But the attack was not a war crime: it was an attack on a legitimate military target. At most, the Bosnian defenders were guilty of violating a ceasefire agreement extracted from them under duress, by an enemy that had attacked them, been defeated, then sought to extricate itself from its defeat by kidnapping their democratically elected president and holding him as a hostage.

The real guilt of Bosnia’s leadership in the spring of 1992 was not that, on this and one or two other occasions, its forces attacked and killed soldiers belonging to the army of a foreign state that was attacking its country. Its guilt lies in the fact that its forces did not do so more often. Where Bosnia’s defenders did prepare their defences and fight back against the JNA, they were sometimes able to protect their people from killing and massacre. So it was at Tuzla, where on 15 May 1992, the city’s defenders successfully destroyed the city’s JNA garrison, as a result of which Tuzla’s population was spared the massacres, expulsion, torture and rape that befell the citizens of other East Bosnian towns. So it was initially in Srebrenica, where the local defenders fought back and saved their town from destruction for three years, though they would eventually pay a very heavy price for their resistance. But in towns where the Bosnian authorities followed Izetbegovic’s lead and did not resist the JNA, such as in Foca and Visegrad, the non-Serb population was massacred or expelled.

The JNA would nevertheless probably have been allowed to withdraw peacefully from Sarajevo and Tuzla had it been willing to return the weapons it had confiscated from Bosnia’s Territorial Defence. Yet Belgrade’s strategy – carried out via the JNA – was to disarm Bosnia’s defenders and keep them disarmed, while arming the Bosnian Serb forces to the teeth, to enable them to carry out their genocidal plans against a defenceless enemy. In principle, the JNA had been the collective army of all Yugoslavia’s republics, and even its own weapons were therefore the collective property of all of them; the claim by Serbia and Montenegro (the ‘Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’) to be the sole successor state of the defunct Yugoslavia was never accepted by the UN or the international community. The ability of Bosnia’s defenders to defend their civilian population from the Serbian genocidal attack depended largely on their ability to recapture their weapons from the JNA – their attacks on the JNA in Sarajevo and Tuzla were a matter of life and death.

With the arrest of Ejup Ganic and attempt to have him extradited to Serbia, Belgrade is persecuting a former member of the democratically elected presidency of the state that it attacked in 1992, for the crime of having resisted that attack. Last September, Ilija Jurisic, one of the Bosnian military commanders who directed the attack on the JNA at Tuzla on 15 May 1992, was sentenced by a Belgrade court to twelve years in prison for his role in the attack. Fifteen years after the end of the Bosnian war and ten years after the overthrow of Milosevic, Serbia is still hounding Bosnians who attempted to resist its aggression and genocide in the 1990s. Such behaviour is of a kind with the Serbian parliament’s unwillingness to recognise the Srebrenica massacre as an act of genocide, despite the fact that this genocide has been recognised by two different international courts.

Britain must release Ejup Ganic at once. Britain and other EU members must make it absolutely clear that such behaviour on Serbia’s part will not be tolerated; that until Belgrade ceases its persecution of Ganic, Jurisic and other politicians and soldiers of the Bosnian war of independence, it will have no place in the EU or in democratic Europe.

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

Update: This article has been published in Bosnian in BHDani.

Correction: When it was published on 3 March 2010, this article contained the following claim:

‘On 26 April, Izetbegovic signed an agreement with the regime in Belgrade to permit the JNA to withdraw from Bosnia, along with its own weapons and those that it had confiscated from the Bosnian Territorial Defence. This was arguably an act of treason on Izetbegovic’s part, since he had turned over Bosnia’s confiscated armaments to the army of a neighbouring state that was currently engaged in attacking and conquering his country. But it did not mollify the JNA, whose operations against Bosnia did not cease; at the start of May, JNA forces previously withdrawn from Croatia were used to conquer the Bosnian towns of Derventa and Doboj.’

Subsequently, my research on behalf of Ejup Ganic’s legal defence team revealed this claim to be false: no agreement was reached between Izetbegovic and Belgrade over the withdrawal of the JNA from Bosnia, either on 26 April 1992 or thereafter. Nevertheless, Serbia’s request for Ganic’s extradition from the UK claimed falsely ‘On April 27, 1992, the Agreement was made between B&H and FRY on peaceful withdrawal of JNA until May 19, 1992 [sic – all grammatical errors in original].’

The article has been amended accordingly.


Wednesday, 3 March 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments