Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

The second edition of my book ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina: Genocide, justice and denial’, published by the Centar za napredne studije, is out ! PDF available here…

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PDF: Marko Attila Bosnia – TEXT 2. izdanje (PRINT) 21.12.2017.

The second edition of the selection of articles from my blog, Greater Surbiton, has been published in book format by the Centre for Advanced Studies in Sarajevo. The following is the foreword to the book:

The articles in this volume were published on my blog, Greater Surbiton, since its launch in November 2007. Although Greater Surbiton was devoted to a number of different themes – including the southern and eastern Balkans, Turkey and Cyprus, Russia and the Caucasus, the meaning of progressive politics and the fight against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of chauvinism – Bosnia-Hercegovina and the former Yugoslavia were at all times central to it. Twelve years after Dayton, when the blog was launched, the war over the former Yugoslavia was being waged as fiercely as ever – not on the battlefield, but in the realm of politics and ideas, both in the region and in the West. Genocide deniers and propagandists who sought to downplay or excuse the crimes of the Milosevic and Karadzic regimes of the 1990s – people like Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti, David N. Gibbs, Nebojsa Malic, John Schindler and Carl Savich – continued their ugly work. Yet the ongoing struggle to counter their falsehoods was just one front in the wider war.

The period since 2007 has witnessed the rise of Milorad Dodik’s separatist challenge to the precarious Bosnian-Hercegovinian unity established at Dayton, and the consequent degeneration of the post-Dayton political order in the country; the declaration of Kosovo’s independence and Belgrade’s efforts to derail it; the struggle in Serbia between reformist and nationalist currents; the increasingly aggressive challenge of Russia’s Vladimir Putin to the West, manifested most starkly in the attacks on Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, but also in support for Belgrade over Kosovo and for Dodik in Bosnia-Hercegovina; the increasingly apparent failure of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to punish adequately the war-criminals of the 1990s, despite the spectacular arrests of Radovan Karadzic in 2008 and Ratko Mladic in 2011; and the increasingly stark failure of Western leaders to confront murderous tyrants like Putin, Sudan’s Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad – reminiscent of their failure in the 1990s over Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Today, the truth about the war in the former Yugoslavia is more widely known and understood than ever. The battle for the recognition of the Srebrenica genocide worldwide has largely been won; the remains of most victims of the massacre have been identified and reburied. The deniers and their narrative have been largely discredited. Yet the Bosnian question is further from a happy resolution than ever, while the West – the US, EU and their allies – look less likely to lead positive change in the region than they did a decade ago. Kosovo’s full international recognition is still being blocked by Serbia and Russia; Macedonia, kept out of the EU and NATO by Greek nationalist intransigence, is in crisis; not a single official of Serbia has yet been found guilty by the ICTY for war-crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina, or is likely to be in the future; and leading former-Yugoslav war-criminals such as Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik have been released after serving short prison-terms in comfortable conditions.

The outcomes of the struggles tracked by my blog have therefore been far from unambiguously happy. Yet the politics and recent history of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the rest of the former Yugoslavia are much better understood than they were a decade ago; new generations of scholars, analysts and activists are discovering and explaining more all the time. I hope that the articles contained in this volume have made a contribution to this process of discovery.

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Sunday, 14 October 2018 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Fascism, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Islam, Marko Attila Hoare | Leave a comment

Remembering the Bosnian Genocide

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Review of Hikmet Karcic (ed.), Remembering the Bosnian Genocide: Justice, Memory and Denial, Institute for Islamic Tradition of Bosniaks, Sarajevo, 2016, 350 pp.

Hikmet Karcic, who this month defended his PhD at the International University of Sarajevo, combines an intellectual seriousness in his research into the Bosnian genocide with a readiness to engage with the painful essence of the topic in a way that is all too rare. He is not one to rest content with safe platitudes about reconciliation, memory, civic values and the like that often seem to substitute for such an engagement. His readiness to rock the boat was apparent when his exhibit on the Srebrenica genocide, due to be shown at the European Parliament this month, was cancelled by the latter for displaying ‘too many skulls and bones’. For all that the Srebrenica genocide is now commemorated and recognised in Europe, elements of the EU establishment clearly do not like to see their sleek corporate veneer tarnished by a display concerning it that is too frank and prominent. Subsuming the story of the Srebrenica and wider Bosnian genocide within a ‘progressive’ democratic European narrative remains difficult to achieve, given the extent to which ‘progressive’ democratic Europe was implicated in the genocide

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The current volume of essays arose out of an conference organised by the Islamic Tradition of Bosniaks and held in Sarajevo in 2015 to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. Karcic has managed to assemble a collection of texts covering a range of themes related to the genocide – trials and courts, remembrance and memory and destruction of denial – that are generally of a high scholarly level and likewise pull few punches. In particular, Sandra Cvikic and Drazen Zivic have contributed a withering critique of the form of ‘transitional justice’ promoted by the international community and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), whereby the genuine trauma and memory of the genocide among communities in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia are expected to be suppressed in the name of ‘reconciliation’ and a blander, value-neutral form of memory that tends in the direction of equalising the guilt and suffering of the parties to the conflict and their respective populations. Similarly, former ICTY investigator Nena Tromp provides an account of the tribunal’s pragmatic compromises in the pursuit of truth and justice, in particular with regard to its failure to compel Serbia to hand over the uncensored minutes of the Supreme Defence Council; Tromp’s account is as well informed as one would expect given its author’s expertise, but also very critical of the tribunal’s policies. Norman Cigar’s critique of the US military’s contribution to the Bosnian catastrophe, in the form of its exaggerated estimates of the Bosnian Serb armed forces’ capacity to resist militarily and consequent bad advice to the Clinton Administration, provides an excellent antidote to cliches of US hawkishness, militarism and imperialism.

There are too many more good essays and individual points contained in this volume to list them all, but just to give an example of the range, there is an essay by Safet Bandzovic on the abuse of Bosniak refugees from Srebrenica and Zepa in Serbia during the war – a sideshow to the genocide that has had little attention paid to it – and an essay by Alexandra Lily Kather on the international law regarding genocide that serves as a very good introduction to the subject. I am just sorry that Karcic was apparently unable to prevail upon the always interesting Geoffrey Nice to contribute a fully referenced academic article; his contribution here consists of a rather tantalising list of numbered points.

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Hikmet Karcic

There is, however, one criticism to be made of this collection of essays that transcends any single article, and it applies to many other similar collections relating to the war in the former Yugoslavia: various cliches have crept into several of the texts that should rightfully be dispensed with. Thus, John Weiss claims that in the Communist era in Yugoslavia, ‘The popular memories of the battles of World War II that set Partisan against Chetnik or White Guard, Ustashe against Serb or Jew,  Handzar against Chetnik or Jew, and Yugoslavs against Russian were not allowed expression in the public sphere’ (p. 114). It was certainly a grievance of the Serb nationalists in the 1980s and 1990s that the memory of the Ustasha genocide against Serbs and Jews was supposedly suppressed, but it was not a legitimate one; the genocide was commemorated very publicly, for example in the memorial parks at Jasenovac and at Vraca in Sarajevo, while the Partisan battle against the Chetniks at Neretva in 1943 was depicted in the famous 1969 film ‘Battle of the Neretva’ starring, among others, Yul Brynner and Orson Welles; a more high profile commemoration could barely be imagined. Weiss also argues, in relation to comparisons between the Bosnian genocide and the Holocaust, that ‘As a tocsin to assemble and stir up the righteous, then, “Never again !” retains power, perhaps even more power than it had before the 1970s. But as analytic framework or policy guide, it has to be judged often misleading and occasionally dangerous’ (pp. 122-123). This seems to be an unwarranted concession to the ‘all sides are guilty’ attitude that dominated UN and international community thinking during the 1990s conflict, yet it was the latter, not the ‘Never again !’ position of pro-Bosnia activists, that resulted in the catastrophic international policy that culminated in the Srebrenica massacre.

Bandzovic notes without criticism the view that ‘Everything that happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to the Bosniaks between 1992 and 1995 can be observed, according to a number of Serbian politicians and academics, as the continuity and completion of a process that began in 1804. Earlier events included Karadjordje’s uprising against the Ottoman government in the Smederevo Sanjak, the establishment and expansion of the Serbian state, as well as the disappearance of Muslims from this territory’ (pp. 224-225). Such a teleological, essentialising attitude toward Serb nationhood and nationalism as intrinsically genocidal has predominated among some of their critics, but it isn’t warranted: Serb national politics was historically at least as ready to co-opt the Bosniaks as it was to exterminate them, as witnessed in Ilija Garasanin’s 1844 ‘plan’, the readiness of the Serbian government in the 1850s and 1860s to recognised the land-rights of the Bosnian Muslim landlords, the Serbian Army’s generally correct treatment of the Muslim population of the Sandzak during the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, the 1921 Vidovdan constitution’s recognition of Bosnia-Hercegovina’s historic provinces within the the new Yugoslav state, Milan Stojadinovic’s partnership with the Yugoslav Muslim Organisation in governing Yugoslavia in 1935-1939, and so on. Treating the genocide of the 1990s as simply the logical culmination of Serbian history detracts from the specific responsibility of the Milosevic and Karadzic regimes for organising and launching it.

Samuel Totten’s recommendation, that there be established two major museums and research centres on the Srebrenica genocide (pp. 87-88) seems to follow the trend of over-emphasising the latter to the point where it overshadows the rest of the Bosnian genocide, treating the 1995 massacre as if it were something of an aberration. In fact, as Edina Becirevic’s research has shown, the Srebrenica massacre was the culmination of the genocidal policy begun in the preceding years, and followed on logically from the massacres of 1992 and the siege of Srebrenica of 1992-1995. Since the German courts found, in the Nikola Jorgic case, that genocide had already taken place in Bosnia outside of Srebrenica in 1992, and since the European Court of Human Rights upheld the legitimacy of this conclusion under international law, there is no need to commemorate the Bosnian genocide as if it only occurred in Srebrenica in 1995.

All told, this is an excellent collection of articles that will be of interest to the newcomer to the subject and to the expert alike. But it highlights the fact that there is still more to do in challenging the stereotypes.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, European Union, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anti-Irish racism and Britain’s legalisation of abortion

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As is widely known, abortion was legalised in practice in Great Britain by the Abortion Act of 1967, passed as the result of a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Liberal MP David Steel. Steel had been persuaded to do so by the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA) and, in a 2007 interview with The Guardian, he singles out a book by Alice Jenkins, one of the ALRA’s founders, as particularly influential on him:

‘His decision was reinforced, Steel recalls, by his reading of Alice Jenkins’ polemic, Law for the Rich, which highlighted how rich or educated women were getting round the abortion ban by claiming their life was threatened by the danger to their mental health.’

But Jenkins’s book was more than simply a plea for legalised abortion. It was also an anti-Catholic, anti-Irish tract:

Roman Catholic congregations are amongst the most poverty-stricken sections of the community; their numerical strength is growing and their poverty is intensified by their large families. Most people believe in free speech and a free Press, and the Roman Catholic Church has the right to voice its opinions. But we may well ask why it is allowed to exercise so much indirect and often insidious influence in our country, out of all proportion to its numbers. We are told that in 1958 the number of Irish immigrants from Eire was estimated to be 60,000. The number of marriages solemnised in Roman Catholic Churches in this country is greatly increasing, and, if this trend continues, it looks as though there might be a reversion to Roman Catholicism within 150 years. So it is later than we think ! Far too few leading British newspapers concern themselves with this danger…’ (Alice Jenkins, Law for the Rich, Victor Gollancz, London, 1961, pp. 43-44).

In support of her view, Jenkins quotes another book, Your Future is Now by W.J. Thorne:

‘Never since the Elizabethan settlement have there been so many practicing Catholics in Britain, and each year the supply grows as boatload after boatload arrive to seek a higher standard of life. It is not necessary for the Catholics to constitute a majority for their Church to exercise a decisive influence. The power of a united, well-disciplined, numerous minority operating amongst hordes of unattached individualists is usually sufficient to secure de facto power. We can be thankful that the Catholic ‘interest’ has not been formalised in England by the creation of a separate political party. It has achieved that distinction in some other countries and the results are not pretty. The English being what they are, the Roman Catholics get more of their own way by not seeking representation in Parliament, and the Hierarchy may be expected to rely on the existing policy of permeation. Still, a point may be reached when the unravelled majority may find sufficient negative unity to prevent the creation of anything resembling a Catholic state.’ Jenkins adds: ‘To which we can only rejoin “Let us fervently hope so !”‘ (Jenkins, pp. 44-45). She also asks rhetorically ‘How can a Protestant nation be expected to accept dictation from a doctrinal minority ?’ (Jenkins, p. 43)

The ‘boatload after boatload’ to which Thorne referred were, of course, Irish immigrants, and whether because Jenkins misquoted Thorne or because she used a different printing of his book, she omitted the words ‘the Irish’ from the full sentence, which referred to ‘boatload after boatload of Irish’.

The cause of legalised abortion has been from its inception up to the present day closely bound up with eugenicist, Malthusian and Social Darwinist concerns to reduce the birthrate among, and births of, ‘undesirable’ or ‘defective’ people, which in the US included in particular black people, but in Britain was above all the poor and the disabled (and poverty was widely assumed by supporters of the cause to stem from the ‘feeble-mindedness’ of the poor, so that the two groups were not viewed as distinct). The fear was that the ‘overbreeding’ of these groups would ‘swamp’ the ‘better sort’ of people; encouraging abortion of, or among, the poor and disabled was a way to prevent this (see Ann Farmer, By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control and the Abortion Campaign, Catholic University America, Washington DC, 2008). Hence, the 1967 Abortion Act specified disability of the baby as grounds for abortion, and it has served largely to wipe out people with Down’s Syndrome and other disabilities in Britain ever since.

Madeleine Simms, one of the principal ALRA activists behind the 1967 Abortion Act, dedicated her 1971 book Abortion Law Reformed (known as ‘the “official” ALRA account of the Abortion Act’), to ‘thalidomide mothers for whom reform came too late’. This was a reference to the babies who had been born disabled after their mothers had taken thalidomide to treat their morning sickness, which had resulted in a spate of births of such disabled babies in the late 1950s and early 1960s – a trauma that helped precipitate the Abortion Act. Simms’s assumption was that any mother with the choice would have wanted to abort such babies.

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Nevertheless, as Jenkins’s book showed, the modern ideologies of eugenics and Social Darwinism could readily coexist with the traditional English paranoia and hostility towards the Irish and the Catholic Church; they too were the supposed demographic threat that legalised abortion sought to counter.

That abortion was legalised in Britain at the initiative of a politician under the influence of an aggressively anti-Irish, anti-Catholic tract is already remarkable. But it is truly incredible that the Republic of Ireland may vote in a few days to emulate Britain, its former colonial master, and remove the constitutional protection for unborn children from its constitution, given the anti-Irish and anti-Catholic roots of legalised abortion in Britain. Jenkins may have hoped that her tract would help counter the supposed Irish Catholic threat in her own country. But that her ideology would then spread across the Irish Sea to combat Irish Catholic breeding in the Republic of Ireland itself would no doubt have seemed a success beyond her wildest dreams.

 

 

Thursday, 17 May 2018 Posted by | Abortion, Genocide, Immigration, Ireland | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If fundamentalists are hijacking #MeToo to promote a socially conservative sexual agenda, is that a completely bad thing ?

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Even Bari Weiss, Opinion editor for the New York Times, says that with the Aziz Ansari case, the #MeToo movement has gone too far: ‘The insidious attempt by some women to criminalize awkward, gross and entitled sex takes women back to the days of smelling salts and fainting couches.’ We from a far-left background might call this the movement’s ‘Kronstadt moment’.
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The tendency to treat women as delicate flowers lacking either sin or agency, and men as having a monopoly on responsibility, is indeed extremely sexist. Conflating bad sex or unwanted advances with sexual assault does a huge disservice to the real victims. If a man’s career can be destroyed by unproven, unsubstantiated allegations from anonymous women, that too is injustice. These points are not new; similar ones were already being made a quarter of a century ago by ‘power feminist’ Katie Roiphe.
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But if fundamentalists have hijacked #MeToo and are ironically pushing a socially conservative sexual agenda, is that a completely bad thing ? A post-sexual-revolution culture that abandons more respectful courtship in favour of young men going out to ‘get laid’ with women they neither know nor care about, and young women increasingly emulating their boorish, drunken promiscuity is far from representing genuine liberation, and is likely to encourage sexual harassment and assault. Hence the case of the Stanford University student Brock Turner, who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a skip after they had attended a student party together; an assault his father notoriously labelled ’20 minutes of action.’
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Sexually promiscuous women appeal to male fantasy; Modesty Blaise and Lisbeth Salander were created by male writers. But as someone wrote in relation to Sex and the City, ‘Samantha’s inner life stops at her labia but I’ve never met a real-life woman who would envy her.’ However misguided the excesses of the #MeToo movement, perhaps in their own way, they reflect a feeling among many women, and even men, that the blessings of social progress have not been unmixed. Aziz Ansari’s accuser may not be a victim, and her public humiliation of him may have been deeply unfair, but her hurt was undoubtedly real, even if it was due to her own choices. As the highly doctrinaire and aggressive Jessica Valenti tweeted in relation to the Ansari case, ‘part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers “normal” sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful.’
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Provided we don’t abandon the principle of sexual equality, maybe it wouldn’t hurt for us to be a bit more prudish and old-fashioned ?

Tuesday, 16 January 2018 Posted by | Feminism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apologies for feeding the troll… Brendan O’Neill on sexual harassment

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I know you shouldn’t feed the troll, but professional contrarian twit Brendan O’Neill’s defence of sexual harasser Sam Kriss can only make a pretence of plausibility if you haven’t read the victim’s account.

O’Neill wrote: ‘Mr Kriss is accused by an anonymous person of repeatedly kissing and fondling her when they were on a date. She didn’t like it, which means he should have stopped or she should have gone home earlier. That’s a bad night out with a weirdo who doesn’t know how to court, not sexual assault.’

The victim-blaming is bad enough (‘she should have gone home earlier’), but O’Neill is being actively dishonest.

The victim wrote (in an account that Kriss has acknowledged is accurate): ‘Next, I felt Sam putting his arm round me. Phew, that’s better, some mild affection, not a mauling, I thought. Turns out he wasn’t putting his arm round me, but behind me, to place his hand on the back of my neck, so as to twist my head to face his, wherein, he again forcibly kissed me. This physically hurt.’

And: ‘After realising that I really wasn’t returning home with him, he began forcibly ‘snogging’ (I can hardly call it kissing given it was so aggressive) me at the bus stop. I turned my head away so it was out of reach, to which Sam started grabbing at my breasts with both hands. There were, rather mortifyingly, other people at the bus stop trying to ignore this scene. I felt so embarrassed, so I moved to the doorway behind the bus stop … this moving away was taken not as, ‘please leave me alone’, but as if I had gone to the doorway for us to have more privacy and thus intimacy. At this point Sam actually put his hands up underneath my top to touch my breasts. I protested with statements like, “Sam, seriously, can we not”, “we are outside on the street”, trying to remind him I was not ok with this, but not show any anger in case it escalated his behaviour.’

O’Neill has similarly doctored the facts regarding Rupert Myers’s sexual harassment of Kate Leaver. He writes: ‘For saying ‘I want to fuck you’ to a woman and then trying to kiss her (allegedly), Mr Myers has lost his journalistic jobs and been turned into a pariah.’ He presents it simply as a clumsy advance on Myers’s part, concealing from his readers the fact that Leaver had, according to her own account (as reported by Matthew Scott) explicitly already said ‘no’:

‘She told him that she wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship. She just wanted to be friends with him. Two weeks later they went to a pub in “Fitzrovia” for another drink. She again said that she wasn’t interested in a relationship, couldn’t they just be mates?

According to her he tried this line:

“I’ve got enough mates, I’d rather fuck you.”

Unsurprisingly this conversational gambit created more ice than it melted, and Ms Leaver decided to leave. He left too and just outside the pub he (to use her words) “forced himself” on her.

This is ambiguous. Only Leaver and Myers know exactly what happened, and because it took place two years ago even they have probably forgotten some of the detail. But she explained a bit more on a Radio 5 Live interview with Emma Barnett:

“He took that opportunity to ignore what I said, grabbed me and forced himself into a kissing situation and touching me inappropriately. … just on my body where I was not comfortable having his hands.”

She agreed with her interviewer that his hands were “wandering.”.’

Myers has not denied the allegations and has apologised for his behaviour. There may be a reasonable debate to be had on what sort of sanction someone should face in such situations, but those arguing for greater leniency are not helping their case by suppressing relevant facts.

Attention-seeking, un-PC trolling is what Spectator columnists do, and we should all try to ignore it as much as possible. But if they have to conceal evidence to make their trolling plausible, then that is a bit sad. For O’Neill, a bit like the old days at Living Marxism, which never refrained either from sneering at sexual assault victims or from shamelessly suppressing evidence.

PS This blog has been rather quiet in the last couple of years as I transferred my commentary to Facebook and Twitter, and no longer have time for many of the longer commentaries that I used to publish here. Consequently, to liven the blog up a bit and to give the wider public once again the benefit of my pearls of wisdom, I may start republishing my longer Facebook comments here – like this one.

Sunday, 22 October 2017 Posted by | gender | , , , , | Leave a comment

Re-making Kozarac: Agency, reconciliation and contested return in post-war Bosnia

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Review of Sebina Sivac-Bryant, Re-making Kozarac: Agency, reconciliation and contested return in post-war Bosnia, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2016, 214 + xviii pp.

Since the war broke out in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1992, its people have suffered many afflictions. One of those that is not acknowledged as often as it should be is the patronising attitude with which many outsiders view them. Very often, foreign politicians, diplomats, NGO staff, activists, journalists and others view them in terms of a dichotomy of irrational nationalists and passive victims, discounting the possibility of positive agency on their part – outside the narrow framework of the agenda that the outsiders themselves impose. A large part of agenda revolves around the fetish of ‘reconciliation’, which often seems to be more about the outsiders’ own ideological shibboleths than the Bosnians’ needs and aspirations.

Sebina Sivac-Bryant’s book provides an extremely welcome alternative perspective. It is a study of the experiences of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) who were driven from their homes by the rebel-Serb campaign of genocidal mass violence in the 1990s, but have since returned. It focuses on the town of Kozarac, near the city of Prijedor – a region that formed one of the epicentres of the violence, and spawned the infamous concentration camps of Omarska, Trnopolje and Keraterm. Sivac-Bryant is herself a native of the village of Kevljani, near Kozarac, and her family was among the victims; her eldest brother was tortured and executed at Omarska, and she and her mother were driven into exile in Zagreb, where her mother died after being denied adequate medical care. Despite this tragedy, this is a dispassionate and sharply analytical study, but it benefits from the native’s awareness and insights of themes and nuances that a foreign observer might have missed. Basing her research on extensive fieldwork, interviews with returnees and personal observation, Sivac-Bryant has crafted a multifaceted little gem of a local study.

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Although Kozarac was emptied of its Bosniak inhabitants and destroyed, it has become a notable success story with regard to refugee returns to Bosnia’s Serb entity, Republika Srpska (RS), and the restored town today thrives – a stark rebuke to the genocidal goals of the Serb extremists. As Sivac-Bryant explains, this success was due precisely to the fact that so many of Kozarac’s Bosniaks refused from the start to be passive victims. It had its roots in the 17th Krajina Brigade of the Bosnian army; a unit that originated with Bosniak refugees expelled from their homes in 1992, who had taken refuge in Croatia and organised themselves for military resistance. Receiving training from the Croatian Army but unwilling to let themselves become tools of Croatian official policy, they made their own way back to the war-zone and operated as a mobile military unit capable of operating across the country – something that it did very effectively, reminiscent of the legendary Proletarian Brigades with which Josip Broz Tito and the Communists spearheaded the Partisan resistance movement of World War II. This contrasted with local units of the Bosnian army whose soldiers were often unwilling to fight outside their own areas. The 17th Krajina Brigade became one of the most militarily successful units in the Bosnian army.

The Bosnian war ended in October 1995, just when the 17th Krajina Brigade was on the verge of liberating not only their homes in Kozarac, but Omarska and other sites of concentration camps where so many of their soldiers and their friends, family members and neighbours had been persecuted. This was a great disappointment, but not the end of the struggle; rather, the struggle took a new form, as with the momentum of their military effort behind them, they now campaigned to be allowed home in the newly recognised RS. As Sivac-Bryant shows, the obstacles they faced included not only the expected obstruction from the RS authorities, but also the passivity of and lack of support from the international community. The latter eventually adopted stronger action in response to the efforts of significant numbers of refugees to return home unilaterally. This culminated in the shooting dead of Simo Drljaca, the hardline Prijedor police chief, by British Stabilisation Force (SFOR) troops in 1997, marking a turning-point in the history of refugee returns and political reform in that part of the RS. In 2000, the first mosque in the whole of the RS was rebuilt at Kozarac.

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Sebina Sivac-Bryant

Kozarac was consequently restored and repopulated thanks to its inhabitants’ own effort. But as Sivac-Bryant shows, the success remains ambiguous and bittersweet. The RS authorities went from threatening and harassing the returnees to treating them as second-class citizens, who for example might receive only an hour a day of drinking water during summer, but still be charged for using a reservoir they had built themselves. Moreover, refugees suffer from their own internal divisions as well. By basing her research on extensive fieldwork, interviews with returnees and personal observations, Sivac-Bryant is able to bring these to light. She cites, for example, the case of a Serb woman who was persecuted by the Serb extremists because she had been married to a man of mixed Croat-Muslim background; now back in Kozarac, and despite both her husband and son having been killed in the genocide, she remains estranged from her former Bosniak friends and neighbours. In general, many returnees continue to suffer from loneliness and isolation, with many of their loved ones dead and friendships broken. Their dilemmas are very real; between focusing on the past and the need for justice and for recognition of their losses on the one hand, and for economic improvement and cohabitation with RS authorities on the other. The portrayal of the complexity of the returnees’ emotions is one of the great strengths of this book.

Over and above the divisions at the grass roots, Sivac-Bryant argues that a small clique of Bosniak insiders has monopolised both leadership positions in the community and relations with the RS authorities, marginalising other Bosniaks from Kozarac. Such fissures are too often brushed over by foreign observers who often tend to essentialise Bosnians along ethnic lines, even though they may be as significant as those between the different ethno-national groups, if not more so. It is this unflinching scrutiny of the internal politics of the Kozarac Bosniak community, and of the relations between it and the internationals, that is likely to make this a controversial book in some quarters.

The author is merciless in her critique of the model of ‘reconciliation’ attempted by some foreign activists and NGOs, albeit often well-meaning. She recalls attending a conference on reconciliation organised in Malta by a British charity (which she does not name), in which ‘we, the Bosniaks, were supposed to play the role of survivors’; assigned a psychologist, ‘we could not even go to the bathroom alone without the psychologist accompanying us’. Sivac-Bryant describes her experience as follows:

‘Another way of emphasising our status as “victims of trauma” was in the way we were coached to enter the conference room. We were asked to wait for all participants to take their seats and then our psychologist would invite us in. A back corner of the room was allocated for us, and upon entering the room, the participants’ gaze turned towards us. It felt as though they knew something we did not. The conference was organised by a British woman, the organiser, and her daughter, who talked about their own life tragedies, and how they learned to overcome them, which was why they founded a charity that helps others work through their trauma. While the atmosphere was high on a note of self-healing, our group was struggling to remain quiet as our conversation was mostly humorous. Meanwhile, a famous American psychologist began a ‘puppet-show’ in which he described how to regain self-worth. Although we were entertained, we could not fathom what all this had to do with us. Mirza was listening to the psychologist, trying to take on board his advice for personal growth, but the rest of us either did not understand English, or were too bored to listen.’ (pp. 141-142)

The message of the book is that victimhood is not a permanent or unchanging status, and that return to a form of normal life for victims works best when they themselves work towards it on their own initiative. In particular, Sivac-Bryant describes the efforts of two Bosniak entrepreneurs, Jusuf Arifagic and Enes Kahrimanovic, to bring economic activity and jobs to the locality in the face of official obstruction or indifference, as having been particularly valuable for the wellbeing of the community. For all the physical and emotional suffering, and conflict and animosity that Sivac-Bryant describes, hers is ultimately an extraordinary study of human perseverence in the face of adversity:

‘Having witnessed the resourcefulness of returnees to Kozarac over a decade or more, I am optimistic about the potential for returnees to have a positive effect on their home regions, even where return is contested and highly contentious. Learning the lessons from such case studies, I belive can help us design better, more imaginative and more effective policy for similarly affected communities around the world.’ (p. 205)

Monday, 17 July 2017 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

David Cameron, the Henry Jackson Society and the Libya intervention

French President Nicholas Sarkozy (2-L)

There have been plausible suggestions that the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) think-tank influenced the foreign policy of the Cameron government. The following passages suggest, at the very least, a remarkable confluence of thinking between the HJS and David Cameron over the case in favour of military intervention in Libya in 2011.

As the HJS’s European Neighbourhood Section Director, I published the following analysis on the Henry Jackson Society website on 13 March 2011:

‘We cannot afford to let Gaddafi win… The allied invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was, of course, prompted by our desire to strike against al-Qaeda’s terrorist training-camps. That such camps were present in Afghanistan was the product of conditions arising from the state’s collapse and unresolved civil war. We should be very concerned at what the consequences for Europe would be if a similar state collapse and civil war were to be perpetuated indefinitely in Libya – it would be an Afghanistan on our doorstep. An imploded Libya could be a source of terrorism and piracy, as well as of mass immigration into Europe of the kind that sends right-wing politicians apoplectic… And Gaddafi, be it remembered, was never simply a pedestrian dictator of the Mubarak sort, but the ‘Mad Dog of the Middle East’, in Ronald Reagan’s memorable phrase. Most of us remember his support for the IRA and extremist Palestinian factions, and the Lockerbie bombing… Cameron has already shown himself a leader with vision, and must not allow himself to be deflected by US and EU irresolution from the path that he has correctly laid out. This trial will prove the efficacy or otherwise of his military entente with France, so there is a lot riding on this crisis for the prime minister’s vision of British strategy… The urgency of the situation in Libya is one that calls for immediate, decisive leadership. David Cameron must rise to the challenge.’

Five days later, on 18 March 2011, Cameron made the following statement in the House of Commons:

‘In this country we know what Colonel Gaddafi is capable of. We should not forget his support for the biggest terrorist atrocity on British soil. We simply cannot have a situation where a failed pariah state festers on Europe’s southern border. This would potentially threaten our security, push people across the Mediterranean and create a more dangerous and uncertain world for Britain and for all our allies as well as for the people of Libya. That is why today we are backing our words with action.’

Given how badly the HJS went wrong since 2011, people sometimes ask me why I waited so long before breaking with the organisation. The answer is that the policy ideas that I and my colleagues were promoting seemed to be having a positive impact. Although the Western alliance did not plan properly for the aftermath of the intervention in Libya and the situation in that country remains critical, we only have to compare it with the ongoing nightmare and bloodbath in Syria to see how much worse things could have been if we had not stopped Gaddafi. A lot of people in Benghazi and elsewhere are alive today, who would be dead if we had not acted. David Cameron should feel proud that he stood up to the tyrant.

 

Thursday, 15 September 2016 Posted by | Afghanistan, Britain, Conservatism, Genocide, Libya, Middle East, NATO, Neoconservatism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Whose is the Partisan movement ? Serbs, Croats and the legacy of a shared resistance

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I published this article in the Journal of Slavic Military Studies back in 2002: it is a comparative discussion of the relationship of the Serbs and the Croats to the Partisan movement, with some reference to the other Yugoslav nationalities as well. My knowledge and understanding of the question have, of course, advanced since then, but my conclusions have not significantly changed. The article has now been republished by Balkan Witness.

The Titoist regime in Yugoslavia encouraged the belief that all Yugoslavs participated in an equal manner and to an equal degree in the Partisan movement and that they did so on a homogenous all-Yugoslav basis. Since the late 1980s this Titoist interpretation has been challenged by Serb and Croat nationalists seeking to expropriate the legacy of the Partisan movement for their respective national traditions while condemning the Communist ‘betrayal’ of their respective national interests. Although this involves the substitution of new nationalist historical myths for the older Titoist myth, the process has nevertheless revitalized a previously moribund historiography, opening up issues that were once ignored or taboo. The three conflicting claims – that the Partisans were a Serb movement; that they were a Croat movement; and that they were a genuinely multinational all-Yugoslav movement – paradoxically each holds a kernel of truth. The Partisan movement was a genuinely multinational movement but the roles played in it by the various Yugoslav nationalities were not equivalent. Contemporary Serb and Croat nationalists have borrowed aspects of the Partisan legacy that support the view that the movement was ‘theirs’ while treating its ‘un-Serb’ or ‘un-Croat’ aspects as evidence that ‘their’ movement was hijacked or betrayed by the other.

Continue reading at Balkan Witness

Thursday, 15 September 2016 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia | , , , | Leave a comment

On ‘Anti-Zionists’ Damian James Read (@CockneyActivist), Jason Schumann (@debatingculture), Alison Chabloz and Charles Frith

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Last autumn, a group of ‘anti-Zionists’ launched a harassment campaign against me. Charles Frith, a notorious Holocaust denier and particularly vicious Jew-hater, who had over 32,000 Twitter followers until Twitter suspended his account, telephoned my employers, Kingston University, posing as a job-seeker. After finding out the name of my immediate manager from an unsuspecting colleague, he sent a series of abusive and defamatory emails to me and my senior colleagues, accusing me, among other things, of ‘Zionism’, and turning Kingston into a centre for ‘child abuse’. Frith is someone who refers to the ‘fake 6m Holohoax figures’. He has tweeted that ‘the Auschwitz chambers were delousing stations in Germany and France’; that ‘Israel’s Mossad did 9/11’; that ‘Jewish Al-Sisi Runs Egypt; Now an Israeli-Occupied Territory’. He has blogged that the figure of six million Holocaust dead was fabricated before World War II, and that the real figure is ‘somewhere in between half a million to a million’. He has referred to David Cameron as a ‘Rothschild-Zionist tea boy’ and accused a senior British Jewish journalist of ‘milk(ing) the Holocaust gravy train like a 6 million lottery payout’. His last email to my university colleagues contained a disgusting war-porn picture, apparently of a graphically mutilated child, which he claimed was ‘Zionism in action’.

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Pic.: Holocaust denier Damian James Read aka @CockneyActivist

Frith had been set on me by his political fellow-travellers. One of these was Damian James Read, who Tweets under the name ‘@CockneyActivist’. Read is a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and apparently a Labour Party member, and he likes posting pictures of himself online, dressed in Palestinian flags. When David Cameron tweeted in remembrance of the ‘millions murdered in the holocaust’, Read tweeted back that ‘I think you mean 300,000. An horrific event I agree. But not 6 million is it’.

Continue reading at Engage

PS Since this article was first published, Damian James Read has been busy deleting and ‘unliking’ the incriminating tweets. But I have kept screenshots and printouts, for anyone who is interested 🙂

Thursday, 15 September 2016 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Fascism, Genocide, Holocaust denial, Israel, Jews, Palestine, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Srebrenica genocide denier David N. Gibbs praises Donald Trump on foreign policy

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We have had periodic cause to comment here on the fourth-rate scholar and Srebrenica genocide denier David N. Gibbs of the University of Arizona, author of the propaganda tract First do no harm, which attributed the break-up of Yugoslavia to a German conspiracy and blamed Srebrenica on its Bosniak victims. He has now popped up on ‘OpEdNews’, where he has given an interview entitled ‘Trump Might Actually be Right about NATO’. This is what he says:

‘Well, let me start out by saying that most of Donald Trump’s positions are classic demagoguery and are quite dangerous. But on some foreign policy issues he does occasionally make sense, especially with regard to the issue of NATO. He has repeatedly questioned the value of NATO to US security, as an overly expensive extravagance, and this is a very legitimate issue to raise. To my knowledge no other candidate in recent years, not even Bernie Sanders has been willing to address this issue.’

‘Mostly, NATO seems like an expensive extravagance, a military alliance in search of a justification. Candidates for president should be debating NATO’s value. So far, only Trump is willing to engage the issue.’

‘While Hillary Clinton has been on the hawkish side of the spectrum, the mainstream of both parties has been strongly supportive of NATO, and has favored efforts to find new enemies and new missions to justify the alliance. Until Trump’s recent statements on the issue, there has been almost no criticism of the alliance, and no real debate. Hopefully that will change.’

‘Trump is far from an ideal candidate to be raising the issue of NATO’s lack of value. He is rightly viewed as a racist, divisive figure. But no other candidate is addressing the issue that NATO is a huge taxpayer expense to America’s taxpayer, while providing no real benefit in terms of enhanced security.’

The sort of ‘left-wing’ ideology that leads Gibbs to deny the genocide of a European Muslim people, leads him also to praise the foreign-policy position of someone he admits is a racist; a supporter of banning Muslims from entering the US. He goes so far as to suggest that Trump’s views on NATO are preferable to those of the radical left’s own Bernie Sanders.

I wish I could say I was shocked, but this is sadly predictable.

 

Wednesday, 27 July 2016 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, The Left, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment