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
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.
Xavier Bougarel has reviewed my book The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War for Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, but appears to have done so without reading it at all carefully. What follows is my correction of his misrepresentation of my work. Although I would have preferred to have published this correction in the journal in question, and although some academic journals (e.g. Slavic Review, Journal of Contemporary History) do permit authors to publish responses or corrections to book reviews, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies is not one of them.
1) On the character of the Muslim autonomist movement
‘Hoare draws artificial parallels between two movements [the Muslim autonomist movement and the Communist-led People’s Liberation Movement] that had very different characteristics and aims. He ignores the persistent anti-communist views of most members of the Muslim autonomy movement (especially the Muslim clerics). He speaks of a ‘dual Bosnian movement of resistance’ (9), whereas the history of the Muslim autonomy movement is chiefly the story of their collaboration with the Third Reich. He even makes the odd assertion that the SS Handschar Division was ‘the flagship project of the Muslim autonomist resistance’ (103) whose ‘ruling ideology shared some common ground with the multinational Bosnian patriotism of the Partisans’ (195).
Bougarel here seems to be claiming that I have somehow glossed over the Muslim autonomists’ collaboration with the Third Reich, and presented them as some sort of anti-Nazi resistance movement. Yet this is the very opposite of what I actually did write.
i) I wrote ‘Although the Muslim autonomists were not a resistance movement in the sense of being anti-fascist, anti-Nazi or anti-occupier – they were none of these – they were a resistance movement in the sense of being anti-Ustasha and anti-NDH’ (p. 10). They were a ‘specifically Bosnian anti-Ustasha (though not anti-fascist, anti-Nazi or anti-occupier) current of resistance, that paralleled and overlapped with the Communist-led People’s Liberation Movement (NOP)’ (p. 14).
ii) I described the Muslim autonomist leader Uzeir-aga Hadzihasanovic as ‘the de facto leader of the pro-German but anti-Ustasha wing of the Muslim elite’ who ‘adopted a back-seat role in channelling Muslim autonomist opposition to the NDH’ (p. 41).
iii) I discuss the efforts of Muslim autonomists ‘who were anti-Ustasha but nevertheless ready to collaborate with the occupiers’ (p. 40) to seek ‘direct German military administration over the whole of Bosnia-Hercegovina’ (pp. 40-41); the stated desire of Murat-beg Pasic, a Muslim autonomist notable from Bijeljina, to ‘fight for Bosnia-Hercegovina, albeit under German military protection’ (p. 44); and the attempts of Muslim autonomists in Hercegovina to ‘express the loyalty of the Muslims of Hercegovina to the Kingdom of Italy’ and seek ‘the establishment of an autonomous Bosnia-Hercegovina under Italian protection’ (p. 50).
iv) I described in detail the Muslim Memorandum to Hitler of November 1942 as ‘the culmination of activity on the part of the pro-German, anti-Ustasha wing of the Muslim autonomist movement. Up until the summer and autumn of 1943, Muslim autonomist activity aimed predominantly at direct collaboration with the Germans to bypass the Ustashas, rather than at direct resistance activity.’ (p. 51).
v) I cite the Memorandum’s enthusiastically pro-Hitler, anti-Semitic words addressed to ‘Our Führer !’: ‘Nobody, not a single ethnic group, not a single tribe, likewise not a single nation in all Europe has with greater devotion felt and understood your gigantic movement to establish a New Order in Europe as have we Bosnians, Muslims of Bosnia. We have in the principles of National Socialism, your movement, felt that it alone brings justice, order and peace to Europe, which has been blighted and ruined by democracy.’ (p. 52) I cite the Memorandum’s reference to the fact that ’the Jewish problem among us has finally been solved…’ (p. 52).
vi) I describe the opposition of the leading Sarajevo Muslim autonomists Uzeir-aga Hadzihasanovic and Mehmed Handzic to collaboration with the NOP (p. 82); the fact that Handzic was the ‘most powerful opponent of both the Partisans and the Ustashas among the Muslim autonomists’ (pp. 247-248) and that the NOP may have assassinated him; the execution by the Partisans of the Tuzla Muslim autonomist leader Muhamed-aga Hadziefendic (p. 137); that Nesad Topcic, leader of the Muslim autonomist ‘Green Forces’, directed his activity primarily against the Partisans (p. 189) and was eventually killed by them (p. 257); that Tito considered Muslim autonomist leader Hafiz Muhamed efendi Pandza, with whom the Partisans collaborated, to have been ‘an agent of the Gestapo all along’ (p. 153); and the Partisans’ execution of Srebrenica Muslim autonomist Ismet Bektasevic after he abandoned them for the Ustashas (p. 143).
vii) I describe the origins of the Handzar Division in the machinations of the Nazi leadership: ‘At Himmler’s suggestion, Hitler approved in February 1943 the establishment of an SS division made up of Bosnian Muslims. The Ustasha functionary Alija Suljak arrived in Tuzla at the end of the March 1943 with the goal of mobilising the Muslim population behind the formation of a Bosnian SS division… The name chosen for the Division was the 13th SS Volunteer Bosnian-Herzegovinian Division (Croatia)’, an attempt to reconcile the feelings of both its Croat and Muslim members. Yet it was more commonly known as the Handschar (Scimitar) Division’ (pp. 53-54).
Regarding my supposedly ‘odd assertion’ of shared ideological ground between the Partisans and the command of the Handzar Division – this was demonstrated by evidence that Bougarel has not disputed.
viii) I wrote ‘The most notorious Muslim quisling unit – the 13th SS Volunteer Bosnian-Hercegovinian Division (Croatia), better known as the “Handschar” or “Handzar” Division, to which this book devotes some attention – was, like the Partisans, the repository of hopes for Bosnian autonomy on the part of sections of the Muslim population; the Bosnian autonomist goal was, ironically, shared by the Communist-led Bosnian resistance movement and by the Muslim supporters of its Bosnian Nazi antithesis.’ (p. 10)
The specific passage in my book to which Bougarel refers is as follows:
‘[the Handzar Division’s] ruling ideology shared some common ground with the multinational Bosnian patriotism of the Partisans. [Its commander Karl-Gustav] Sauberzweig informed his troops “you all know that, in addition to the Muslims, Catholics and people of the [Serbian Orthodox] faith also call this their home. They must all be absorbed into the Bosnian community… We shall give the first liberated land to the Muslims, but we shall not permit the others to be left out. Please consider this and forget the petty hatreds, which only cause new discord.” (p. 195).
Sauberzweig futhermore believed that ‘a community composed of all faiths must be constructed, and that all interests particular to each group must be forgotten in the interests of the community.’ (p. 195)
This echoed the Partisan support for Bosnia-Hercegovina as the common homeland of Muslims, Serbs and Croats. Bougarel has not challenged the veracity of the passages in question, so it is not at all clear why he considers my assertion to be ‘odd’.
2) On the Partisans as both a Bosnian and a Yugoslav movement
‘At the same time, his [Hoare’s] emphasis on the ‘Bosnian patriotism’ of the Partisan movement in Bosnia-Herzegovina leads him to ignore its Yugoslav dimension. Yet this aspect was clearly visible not only in most official resolutions and propaganda tracts, but also on the ground. As Hoare himself notes, the region of Cazinska Krajina was long dependent on the Communist Party of Croatia, the Partisans of Vojvodina fought in Eastern Bosnia and the Bosnian units took part in the ultimate liberation of Serbia and Croatia. Hoare ignores the fact that the Yugoslav idea was decisive in mobilizing Bosnian Serbs, who were the majority of Bosnian Partisans until the war ended.’
Again, Bougarel’s claims that I a) ignore the Yugoslav dimension of the Partisan movement and b) ignore the role of the Yugoslav idea in mobilising Bosnian Serbs, are both directly contrary to what I actually wrote in the book. My actual position, as I elaborate in detail, is that both the Bosnian and Yugoslav dimensions are crucial to understanding the victory of the Partisan movements, but that the Bosnian dimension has been ignored by the traditional historiography.
i) I describe how the Staff of the Partisan Group of Shock Battalions appealed to the Serbs and Muslims of East Bosnia with the slogan ‘Long live the people’s liberation struggle of all the peoples of Yugoslavia !’ (p. 25).
ii) I describe the events of the First Session of the Antifascist Council for the People’s Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ), which ‘issued individual appeals to each of the Yugoslav nations, including the Muslims’, and promised the Serbs ‘a free and brotherly union of Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia’ (p. 26).
iii) Chapter 4 is entitled ‘Bosnian assembly and Yugoslav federation’ and largely devoted to the relationship between the Partisan state-building processes at the Yugoslav and Bosnian levels; I argue that ‘The Bosnian and Yugoslav state-building impulses therefore converged. In November 1943 the convening of the First Session of ZAVNOBiH [Country Antifascist Council for the People’s Liberation of Bosnia-Hercegovina] and the Second Session of AVNOJ, establishing a new Yugoslav state on a federal basis, within which Bosnia would be one of six equal units, set the seal on this process and paved the way for the foundation of a Bosnian state’ (p. 155).
iv) I argue that the ‘laying of foundations of Bosnian statehood at this time [autumn 1943] was therefore the product simultaneously of specifically Bosnian, all-Yugoslav and international developments’ (p. 164).
v) I cite the First Session of ZAVNOBiH’s declaration that Bosnia-Hercegovina would be ‘in the great democratic federal union of peoples of Yugoslavia an equal member with the other countries of Yugoslavia’ (p. 179).
vi) I devote a subsection of Chapter 4 to the Second Session of AVNOJ (pp. 181-186), and another in Chapter 5 to the ‘Yugoslav Road to Bosnian statehood’ (pp. 200-203). I quote the KPJ Central Committee’s proclamation: ‘Peoples of Yugoslavia ! Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians, Montenegrins and Muslims ! … Forward for a free Serbia, a free Croatia, a free Slovenia, a free Macedonia, a free Montenegro and a free Bosnia-Hercegovina in a free Democratic Federative Yugoslavia’ (p. 199). I argue that ‘The Bosnian and wider Yugoslav federal state-building processes ran parallel, each decisively influencing the other’ (p. 288).
vii) I describe how, at the Third Session of ZAVNOBiH in April 1945, the third speech was delivered by Sinisa Stankovic, president of the (Partisan) People’s Assembly of Serbia, who stated: ‘At this moment, the enemies and traitors are spreading lies about the disintegration of Serbdom. To this it can be replied, that never in history has Serbdom been so united as it is today in the free union of equal Yugoslav peoples’ (p. 301).
viii) I describe how the senior Bosnian Serb Communist and prime minister of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Rodoljub Colakovic, went out of his way to reassure Serbs that they were united within Yugoslavia: ‘We in Bosnia-Hercegovina do not feel threatened in the slightest. On the contrary, today more than ever, we feel the inseparable bonds that bind us to our brothers in Serbia, our brothers in Croatia and our brothers everywhere where there are Serbs in Yugoslavia. But we, at the same time, also feel fraternal blood ties with all the other peoples of the new Democratic Federative Yugoslavia’ (p. 303) and ‘Nobody is thinking of questioning the right of us Serbs outside Serbia to maintain the closest links with our brothers in Serbia, which will enable the most complete and fastest development of the Serb nation. This development can only be rejoiced over by the other nations of Yugoslavia, for it will mean, like the development of its other nations, the strengthening of our common homeland – Yugoslavia.’ (p. 303)
I could provide many more citations to refute Bougarel’s mischaracterisation of my book, but I will finish by noting his statement: ‘As Hoare himself notes, the region of Cazinska Krajina was long dependent on the Communist Party of Croatia, the Partisans of Vojvodina fought in Eastern Bosnia and the Bosnian units took part in the ultimate liberation of Serbia and Croatia.’ I do indeed note this, for the very simple reason that my book explores in detail the relationship of the Partisan movement in Bosnia-Hercegovina with the Partisan movement in the rest of Yugoslavia. Bougarel has used my actual position to argue against a straw-man position that he has falsely attributed to me.
3) On the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina as ‘a nation-state without a nation’
‘he [Hoare] describes the new Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a ‘nation state’, a description that results in some semantic confusion: on page 287, he writes that in 1945, Bosnia and Herzegovina became ‘a nation-state without a nation’ (a contradiction in terms), then he concedes that the new Constitution implied ‘a nationally heterogeneous citizenry’ (336) and concludes by speaking of a ‘Bosnian multinational patriotic model’ (380; my emphasis).’
[NB the use of the term ‘Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina’ is Bougarel’s error – in the period under consideration, it was the ‘People’s Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina’]
My terminology simply describes the contradictions of the Titoist state-building project. Here is what I wrote: ‘But although the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina was organised as a nation-state, it was not underpinned by any recognised “nation”, as was the case with the other five Yugoslav republics. It was, in other words, a nation-state without a nation.’ (p. 287)
The Partisans did establish a ‘nation-state without a nation’ in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and my book provides any number of quotations to demonstrate this:
i) The resolution of the Second Session of ZAVNOBiH, July 1944: ‘For the first time in their history, the peoples of Bosnia-Hercegovina equally and freely, on the basis of their own will and their own strength, are building their statehood. The Country Antifascist Council of the People’s Liberation of Bosnia-Hercegovina, as the carrier of Bosnian-Hercegovinian statehood and national sovereignty, declares that it recognises no government other than the Antifascist Council of the People’s Liberation of Yugoslavia and the National Committee of the Liberation of Yugoslavia, which alone can represent the peoples of Yugoslavia internationally.’ (pp. 209-210)
ii) Pro-ZAVNOBiH rally in the Kljuc district, July 1944: ‘We are happy and full of pride that, for the first time in history, our people of Bosnia-Hercegovina, which was until yesterday exploited by all anti-people regimes, has gained its statehood.’ (p. 212)
iii) Pro-ZAVNOBiH rally in the Jajce district: ‘We are happy that under your leadership will be realised the age-old dream of the people of Bosnia-Hercegovina for the independent administration of their country, and that the infernal plans of those who in place of brotherhood bring discord and fratricidal strife among the peoples of Bosnia-Hercegovina will always collapse.’ (p. 212)
iv) Statement of Vojo Ljujic, Secretary of the People’s Front of Sarajevo, October 1946: ‘According to the statutes of the Federal constitution, the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina has its own Constitution, People’s Assembly and its own government, which in fact guarantees its sovereignty. Nobody gave this to us, nor has it even been given to us in history. Our history is full of difficult pages of slavery under Hungary, Turkey and Austria-Hungary. It is the history of colonial exploitation of slaves and peasants; the exploitation of the riches of our country, mines, forests, cattle and – most importantly – the human workforce. But it is also the history of a people that has always fought for its freedom, justice and statehood.’ And: ‘In the struggle for survival, once again in all its strength was born the aspiration for freedom and for the independent statehood of Bosnia-Hercegovina, and this aspiration our people carried and developed through the struggle, establishing at once a granite foundation for its achievement. Nobody has given us the freedom we have today, nor has anyone given us our statehood. We achieved it in struggle and it is ours’ (p. 312).
v) Statement of Vaso Butozan, President of the Constitutional Council of the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, December 1946: ‘Our Republic, like the other People’s Republics, has expressed its desire to live in an equal union of nations in the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. This program and this unity are of vital importance to the happier future of the Serbs, Muslims and Croats and other Yugoslav peoples. In such a federation, every nation is guaranteed its national development and flowering. In a federation of this kind, sovereignty and the independent exercise of government are guaranteed to every Republic, except those rights that are voluntarily transferred to the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. The peoples of Bosnia-Hercegovina express, on the basis of this Constitution, their statehood and sovereignty.’ (p. 326)
vi) Statement of Jakov Grguric, First Vice-President of the Presidium of the Constitutional Assembly of the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, December 1946: ‘By ceding one part of its sovereign rights, on the basis of the Constitution of the FNRJ, to the jurisdiction of the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina has not thereby lost its sovereignty; rather, it has, on the basis of its sovereign people’s will, only voluntarily transferred the execution of those sovereign rights to the state union; and this precisely in its own interests, for the purpose of a stronger protection of its national freedom and its economic and cultural development.’ (p. 327)
Bougarel has simply ignored the enormous quantity of documentary proof that I provided in my book, showing that the Partisans did indeed seek to establish a Bosnian nation-state, despite not formally recognising a Bosnian nation.
Of course, such a project was paradoxical and problematic, but this is something I emphasised myself: ‘This was, in essence, a nation-state represented by a sovereign “National” or “People’s” assembly, in the tradition established by the French Revolution, a tradition to which new nation-states in Europe had tended to subscribe. There was, however, a tension between the “political nation” or “people” of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the five “nations” recognised by the FNRJ Constitution – the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians and Montenegrins. This tension was never resolved during the lifetime of the Yugoslav state and was formally the issue over which the war of 1992-95 broke out”.’ (p. 330).
Bougarel is free to insist there cannot be a nation-state without a nation, but he should direct his criticisms at those who attempted to establish one (Tito and his Communists), not try to shoot the messenger (me).
The following interview with me was published in Bosnian translation in Dnevni Avaz on 23 June.
What’s you personal opinion about Britain leaving or remaining in the EU ?
Britain leaving the EU would be a major setback both for Britain and the democratic world. Britain would lose much of its influence in Europe and the world, and would turn inwards, to become a more fearful, xenophobic country. It might trigger a full collapse of the EU, with all the chaos and economic decline that would cause. Or it will result in Europe reconstituting itself as a super-state without Britain. Britain would still have to accept rules made by the EU, contribute to the EU budget and accept EU immigration. But we would have no say in making EU rules. We would be abandoning our friends in Europe; above all, our friends in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Brexit would also probably trigger the secession of Scotland from the UK; hence, the break-up of Britain.
What consequences would Brexit have for the stability of Europe ?
The likelihood is that a vote for Brexit will encourage anti-EU forces in other countries, such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France. Thus, it could potentially trigger the complete break-up of the EU, which would have calamitous consequences for the economy and political stability of Europe. Even if that doesn’t happen, Brexit would destabilise the EU; it would swing the balance of power further towards the Franco-German bloc, particularly Germany itself, and away from those countries that, like Britain, prefer a looser Union. The creeping centralisation that is responsible for much of the anti-EU mood and economic difficulties across the continent would thereby be strengthened. We have seen how the single currency has helped wreck Greece’s economy, in turn destabilising the Union. An EU without Britain would be more prone to such crises.
Some analysts claim that Bosnia-Hercegovina in that case would lose a true friend. Your comment?
Yes. EU policy in the Balkans will be made without Britain, which has been a friend of Bosnia-Hercegovina and other Balkan countries. Britain will retreat from the outside world, and will lose interest in helping BiH and other friends. Ministers on both sides of the Brexit debate, including former good friends of BiH like David Cameron and Michael Gove, have been ready to offend and alienate Balkan allies such as Turkey and Albania in order to score points in the debate. So Cameron has distanced himself from his former support of Turkey’s EU accession, and Gove has stereotyped Albanians as criminals – all in order to appease anti-immigration sentiment in Britain. Whichever side wins, Britain is becoming less of a friend to Balkan states, as a result of the Brexit debate.
What would an eventual Brexit bring for the enlargement process?
Britain’s exit will greatly set back the enlargement process, as Britain has been a key supporter of enlargement. Although the mood in the EU is shifting against enlargement, irrespective of whether Britain stays or goes.
Your comment on the murder of Jo Cox ?
Jo Cox was a great MP; a friend of BiH and other peoples in need of solidarity, including the peoples of Syria and Palestine. Her death is a tremendous loss to Britain. Her murder by a far-right extremist cannot be blamed on the Leave campaigners as a whole, but there is a current of hatred that is being generated by this campaign, and by anti-establishment, anti-European, anti-immigration and anti-Muslim discourse in Britain generally, that should be held responsible and tackled. Her death was not an aberration.
I recently received a pro-Brexit pamphlet through my door that argues I should vote for Britain to leave the EU because of the danger that further EU expansion into the Balkans will result in more immigrants from the Balkans coming over (see image, above).
This echoes an article Michael Gove published in the Daily Mail some weeks ago:
The Albanian Option. It sounds like a John le Carré novel. You imagine a story with political intrigue, huge sums of money going astray, criminality and double-dealing. And you’d be right. But the Albanian Option isn’t holiday reading fiction — it’s diplomatic fact. Albania is on course to join the European Union — alongside four other countries, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. The already unwieldy group of 28 is due to become a throng of 33. And Britain isn’t just backing this move. We’re paying for it. Every week we send £350 million to the EU. And now millions of your hard-earned taxes are being directed to these five prospective members. Between now and 2020 the United Kingdom will pay almost £2 billion to help these nations prepare for membership of the EU — that’s more than we will spend on the NHS Cancer Drugs Fund over the same period. This bounty will be our greatest gift to Albania since the comic talent of the late Sir Norman Wisdom, that country’s improbable national hero, lit up the dark days of Stalinist dictatorship. Indeed, I wonder if the Albanian people are now convinced that Britain’s Foreign Office is full of Norman Wisdom characters, lovable chumps whose generosity and good-heartedness make them easily gulled into accepting all sorts of bad advice. How else could they explain their good fortune in being on the receiving end of a £2 billion Balkan bonanza?
As Justice Secretary, I am well aware that there are around 10,000 foreign criminals in our jails — and one in 20 of those is Albanian. Of all the prisoners in our jails who come from European countries, 10 per cent come from Albania — yet Albania comprises less than half of one per cent of the overall population of Europe.
Those prisoners currently cost the British taxpayer almost £18 million a year to keep in custody. And that’s before Albanian citizens even have the right to move to the UK! The Home Secretary knows the problem is very far from diminishing. Already this year we’ve seen 20 gangsters from Albania convicted of running a brutal drugs ring in Manchester.
Of course, as the Home Secretary rightly noted, Albania is not the only accession country with an organised crime problem. Albania’s neighbour on the Adriatic Sea, Montenegro, has a breathtakingly beautiful coastline and romantic interior. It also, unfortunately, has mafia gangs, a reputation as a centre for money-laundering and a record for narcotics trafficking. The prime minister, Milo Djukanovic, has been a leader of the country almost continuously for the past 30 years. He started as a Communist apparatchik and friend of the murderous Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. But today he is a fan of the European Union and chummy with EU power brokers.
Has everyone got that ? Albanians and Montenegrins are basically all criminals and we need to leave the EU to stop them flooding into our country and swamping it. Huge, China-sized countries that they are. Gove’s exploitation of stereotypes of Albanians and Montegrins as criminals echoes the sort of propaganda popular among the supporters of Slobodan Milosevic and his successors, who first attempted to destroy the Albanian people of Kosovo as a group, then to deny their state international recognition. Note that Gove does not distinguish between Albanian criminals and Albanian people in general. Consider this sentence: ‘I wonder if the Albanian people are now convinced that Britain’s Foreign Office is full of Norman Wisdom characters, lovable chumps whose generosity and good-heartedness make them easily gulled into accepting all sorts of bad advice. How else could they explain their good fortune in being on the receiving end of a £2 billion Balkan bonanza?’ He is concerned that ‘the Albanian people’, not just Albanian criminals, might consider British officials to be ‘chumps’.
Albania has been one of Britain’s staunchest allies over the past two decades. Its troops have fought alongside ours, sustaining casualties in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Gove is, of course, a neoconservative who strongly supported the US-led intervention in Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein. While the Albanian troops were shedding their blood in support of the unpopular intervention in Iraq, while other British allies refused to step forward, Gove did not say at the time ‘Go home; we don’t want you on our side as you’re a bunch of criminals and scroungers.’ No, he waited until the Brexit campaign cynically to stab them in the back. Though it is not inconceivable that he launched his anti-Albanian tirade in a fit of pique after his suggestion that the UK could form part of a ‘free-trade zone’ of countries outside the EU, along with Albania, was trashed by the Albanian prime minister, Edi Rama.
His portrayal of Montenegro’s Djukanovic as a ‘friend of the murderous Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic’ is another exercise in cynicism, given that Djukanovic has been a longstanding ally of the West who, as Montenegro’s president, visited Tony Blair in London during the Kosovo War in 1999 to declare his opposition to Milosevic’s policy – at considerable personal risk, given Montenegro was then under the military control of Belgrade’s forces.
Gove was, until 2011, a trustee of the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society, whose policy at the time was to support the expansion of the EU to include the Western Balkan countries and Turkey. According to its manifesto, The British Moment, published in 2006 and currently selling on Amazon for as little as 29p, ‘The EU should contemplate expanding to include Turkey, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia.’
Gove did not express any dissent from this policy at the time. He thus subscribed to a political vision that was outward-looking, seeking to combat totalitarianism and human-rights abuses, and promote Western liberal-democratic values across the world, and that sought to embrace Albania, Montenegro, Turkey and other Balkan states as allies in this project. He has now done a 180-degree turn, and subscribes to a political vision that is inward-looking and isolationist; the counterpart of Donald Trump’s call for a wall to be built against Mexican immigrants. Instead of seeking to export our positive values, Gove wants to keep the outside world out. No longer allies, Balkan states in Gove’s eyes are now threats; sources of immigrants who will come over, import crime with them, steal our jobs and scrounge off our taxpayers. The tension in neoconservatism was always present between its positive, optimistic, liberal-interventionist tendency that perceived a world inhabited by sisters and brothers in need of solidarity and freedom, and its regressive, pessimistic, Islamophobic and anti-immigration tendency that perceived a world inhabited by hordes of unredeemable economic migrants and jihadis. Orcs, one might say. Gove’s definite defection to the second tendency is a powerful indication of the movement’s degeneration.
What a disgraceful, miserable political evolution Gove has undergone. A powerful European union of democratic states including all the countries of the Western Balkans and, one day, a fully democratic Turkey is one we Brits should be proud to be part of.
Vote REMAIN on 23 June
The judgement on Radovan Karadzic will confirm the criminal character of Republika Srpska’s wartime leadership
This interview with me was published in Bosnian in Dnevni Avaz on 23 March
On 24 March, the tribunal in The Hague will pronounce its judgement for the case of Radovan Karadžić for war crimes and genocide. What do you expect from the judgement ? Will it bring justice for the victims ?
I expect that Radovan Karadzic will be convicted on the majority of counts, which will result in him spending the rest of his life in prison. I don’t expect him to be convicted on the first count of genocide, regarding the municipalities outside of Srebrenica – even though the ICTY Appeals Chamber ruled in 2013 on the Karadzic case that sufficient evidence existed to establish the actus reus of genocide for this count. ICTY Trial Chambers have, to date, failed to convict suspects of genocide outside of the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995. This contrasts with judges in Germany, who have, through the cases of Nikola Jorgic and Maksim Sokolovic in the 1990s, convicted suspects of genocide and related crimes in Bosnia outside of Srebrenica. The European Court of Human Rights, in dismissing Jorgic’s appeal in 2007, confirmed that crimes consistent with the international legal definition of genocide occurred in northern Bosnia in 1992. Therefore, if the ICTY, as seems likely, fails to convict Karadzic on the first count of genocide, then the victims will not have received proper justice. To this should be added the facts that, so far, no official of Serbia has yet been convicted of war-crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and that the two most senior Bosnian Serb convicts to date, Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik, are both already free after serving relatively short terms in prison. We cannot therefore conclude that the victims have received proper justice.
What could be the consequences of the judgment for Bosnia ? Can we except tensions among the people, Bosnian Serbs and Muslims? Or could it be a step to final justice ?
The judgement is unlikely to have major consequences for Bosnia, since it is likely to confirm the established narrative about the Bosnian war. Thus, it will not provide support for those who want to deny Serb-extremist crimes altogether, nor to those who seek recognition of the genocide outside of Srebrenica. Milorad Dodik and other Serb nationalists will continue to claim that the ICTY is anti-Serb, while the victims and their representatives will continue to feel that they have not received proper justice. The judgement will at least establish definitely the criminal character of the wartime political leadership of the Republika Srpska – already indicated by the convictions of Plavsic and Krajisnik – and in that sense will provide a small step towards final justice. But final justice remains a long way in the future.
Review of Keith Doubt, Through the Window: Kinship and Elopement in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Central European University Press, Budapest and New York, 2014, 158 +xvii pp.
‘The world has read much about the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, its horrible nature and unconscionable character’, writes Keith Doubt in his preface, ‘but the world has read less about Bosnia-Herzegovina itself’ (p. xii). Indeed, it is difficult for many of us to think of the country without thinking of the war that ended in 1995 and the political struggle that has continued ever since. One of my personal regrets, as a historian specialising in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is that I never knew the country as it existed before the war, particularly since many people who did, both natives and other foreigners, have described it as an idyll. I’ve been told more than once about how you could go skiing in the morning in the mountains around Sarajevo, then drive down to the coast for a swim in the afternoon. Very little is left of that idyll today.
Doubt has set out to shed light on the hidden or forgotten social relations of Bosnia-Hercegovina that existed before the war and continue to exist, and his book owes a large debt to the now-classic anthropological studies of William Lockwood and Tone Bringa. Specifically, he studies familial relations by focusing on the phenomenon of ‘elopement’, which as Svetlana Slapsak indicates in the foreword, does not have the same implications as it did in the pre-feminist era in other countries. Although elopement in Bosnia-Hercegovina does allow a woman to choose her marriage partner, it does not damage a woman’s reputation or that of her family but represents a socially acceptable norm. Indeed, Doubt links this to the greater importance of affinal kinship ties; i.e., those based on marriage rather than blood. It is often supposed that the ancestors of today’s Bosniaks, or Bosnian Muslims, had essentially the same culture as those of the Serbs or Croats until this was altered by Ottoman Islamic occupation. But according to Lockwood, as cited by Doubt: ‘Muslim peasants of Bosnia give much less emphasis to patrilineality and to groups based on patrilineal kinship than do either the Croats or (especially) the Serbs… The slack seems to be taken up by an increased emphasis on affinal relations.’ (Doubt, pp. 97-98). Paradoxically, in this regard, Serbs and Croats are culturally closer to Turks than any of these are to Bosniaks, for the Turks share with the former, but not with the latter, an agnatic kinship structure that defines family and community.
This observation emphasises the distinctiveness of an autochthonous Bosniak culture, distinct from both the wider Serbo-Croat and post-Ottoman neighbourhoods. It perhaps stands in tension, however, with observations that Doubt makes later, that emphasise Bosnian commonalities: ‘The emphasis on establishing affinal relations is not only a cultural custom of Bosniaks, but also a cultural custom of Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs’ (p. 123). Doubt supports this assertion by reference to a survey, which indicates that even in the present day, the two sets of parents of a married couple (i.e. those of a husband and of a wife) visit each other frequently: about two thirds or three fifths of those questioned indicated that their parents visited each other at least four times a year, with very minor differences in the rate for the three nationalities.
Thus, Doubt’s research powerfully illustrates the distinctiveness of both Bosnian and Bosniak culture, and the richness of its heritage. It would not be possible in this review to do justice to the complexity and nuance of Doubt’s interdisciplinary study and discussion. They provide an antidote to the facile tendency among some observers, and not only foreign ones, to assume that the cultural differences between Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims can be reduced to religious ones, and the book sensitively discusses the relationship between ethnic culture and religion, though the latter features only slightly in it.
Doubt ends by overstating somewhat the extent to which the Bosnian commonality and identity have been neglected by scholars and remain obscure; they have, in fact, been explored and written about in various ways by many different scholars, myself included. If we do not have a more complete picture of what makes Bosnians specifically ‘Bosnian’, this is probably because non-native scholarship about the country is still relatively underdeveloped in general, rather than due to a particular neglect of this topic. In fact, almost any scholar not completely blinded by an ideological agenda, and indeed almost any visitor who spends any length of time in the country and its neighbours, will be aware that Bosnia-Hercegovina and its people are distinctive, and that the Bosnian Serbs and Croats and the lands they inhabit are not simply indistinguishable from their counterparts in Serbia and Croatia. Doubt argues that as long as the common Bosnian gemeinschaft, particularly gemeinschaft of kin, is sustained, then ‘the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina is promising’ (p. 135). But he also notes that the cultural phenomenon of elopement, on which the book focuses, is in decline and faces extinction.
Thus, as this book suggests, though Bosnia-Hercegovina’s statehood is badly broken and its citizens politically divided along ethno-nationalist lines, shared common traditional cultural practices, albeit in decline, bear witness to the fact that the country continues to exist. Of course, this begs many questions, such as whether these cultural practices differ significantly between the different regions of Bosnia-Hercegovina, how much other traditional Bosnian cultural practices differ from those in Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro, and what the implications are of the continued decline of these various practices for Bosnia-Hercegovina’s long-term survival. This fascinating little book does not provide all the answers, but it does suggest a lot of original ways of looking for them.
A selection of articles from the blog Greater Surbiton has been published in book format by the Centre for Advanced Studies in Sarajevo, and can be downloaded in PDF format for free via its website. 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.
Marko Attila Hoare, June 2015
The following article was published by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust on 8 July, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre:
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995, when rebel Bosnian Serb forces carried out an act of genocide that claimed the lives of over 8,000 Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims). In the interval, the world has come a long way towards acknowledging the crime. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) have both recognised that genocide was committed at Srebrenica. The European Parliament in 2009 voted overwhelmingly for a resolution calling upon all EU member states to adopt 11 July, the anniversary of the start of the massacre, as a day of commemoration. Consequently, the UK held its first Srebrenica memorial day event in 2013, and is currently sponsoring a resolution at the UN to mark the 20th anniversary. Bosnian Serb officers have been found guilty by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Bosnian state court of genocide and other offences in relation to Srebrenica. The two leading Bosnian Serb perpetrators, Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, are currently on trial at The Hague for the genocide.
The world has come a long way, but from an ignominious starting point. The Srebrenica massacre did not come out of the blue; it was the crowning atrocity of a genocidal killing process that had begun over three years earlier, in the spring of 1992, and unfolded before the cameras of the global media. Not only did the international community – the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), NATO and other bodies – not intervene to halt the genocide, but what intervention did take place made the situation worse. The UN maintained an arms embargo that hampered the ability of the fledgling Bosnian army to defend its citizens from the heavily armed Serb forces. The British and other Western governments resisted calls for military intervention to halt the killing, instead seeking to appease the perpetrators by accommodating their demands for the carving out of a Bosnian Serb territorial entity through the dismemberment of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Consequently, the Bosnian Serb leaders embarked on the massacre at Srebrenica in the fully justified belief that the world would not stop them, but would recognise their conquest of the town. UN officials blocked NATO air-strikes to defend Srebrenica, and the Dutch UN peacekeeping force supposedly defending this UN ‘safe area’ then abandoned or turned over to the killers the Bosniak civilians seeking their protection. The Dayton Accords that ended the war in November 1995 recognised the town of Srebrenica as part of Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity. Srebrenica was not just the shame of Serbia and the Serb nation, but the shame of Europe, the West and the world as well.
Continue reading at the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website.
Almost anyone who has followed events in the former Yugoslavia since the war of the early 1990s is likely to be aware of who the Ustashas were, and to know that they carried out genocide against the Serb, Jewish and gypsy populations of their puppet ‘Independent State of Croatia’ (NDH), under the leadership of Ante Pavelic in the period 1941-1945. Yet scholarly understanding of this genocide is still in its infancy. There is no serious general explanatory history of this genocide in the English language, and while a wealth of respectable works on the topic have been produced by native historians in the former Yugoslavia, these have almost invariably tended to prioritise the description and cataloguing of crimes over analysis and explanation. In recent years, serious contributions dealing with particular aspects of the Ustasha question have been made by historians writing in the English language such as Tomislav Dulic, Mark Biondich and Esther Gitman, but it is no exaggeration to say that our scholarly understanding of the Ustasha genocide is considerably behind our understanding of the Rwandan genocide, even though the latter occurred a half century later.
Part of the problem is that historians who touch upon the subject have often seemed mesmerised by the sheer horror of the Ustasha regime and its deeds, to the point where their treatment of them has reflected outrage and condemnation rather than the pursuit of intellectual understanding. This, it should be said, is characteristic of much writing on the wars of the 1990s and the Milosevic and Tudjman regimes as well. Nevenko Bartulin’s new book focuses, once again, on a particular aspect of the topic; in this case, the origins and nature of Ustasha racial ideology. One of the strengths of his approach is that he sets out to explode many of the clichés that have bedevilled our understanding of the Ustasha question, but from a rigorously objective standpoint, untainted by any clear ideological or political bias of his own. Bartulin is unsparing in his discussion of nineteenth- and twentieth-century thinkers and ideologists of all ideological persuasions, whether Croatian- or Serbian-nationalist, pro- or anti-Yugoslav, including not only the Ustashas themselves but such key figures of Croatian history as Ante Starcevic, Josip Juraj Strossmayer, Stjepan Radic and others, all the way up to the Communists of Josip Broz Tito, whose ideology did not mark such a clean break with what had gone before as might be expected.
Bartulin challenges both the idea that the Ustasha ideology was primarily Catholic-sectarian in inspiration, and the idea that it was a copy of Nazi ideology. Instead, he stresses its origins in native Croatian racial thinking going back to the nineteenth century. Paradoxically, while the father of integral Croat nationalism, Ante Starcevic, had slipped into overt anti-Serb racism at times, he had primarily been a civic nationalist; it had been the Yugoslavist-nationalist thinkers who had pioneered racial thinking among Croats, from which Ustasha anti-Yugoslav racial thinking emerged – both as heir and as reaction. Serb-oriented Yugoslavist thinkers like Jovan Cvijic believed in a common Dinaric racial identity of the Yugoslavs, in which the ‘Serbian type’ was the ideal, core component that could assimilate the rest; conversely, anti-Yugoslav Croatian race theory also drew upon the idea of a Dinaric racial ideal, but counterpoised it to a non-Dinaric Serbian ‘other’.
Racial Yugoslavism also formed the basis of the ideology of the Croat Peasant Party of Stjepan and Antun Radic. Bartulin quotes the Peasant Party’s official programme: ‘We Croats consider Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria as our national states’. The Radic brothers had upheld the concept of ‘a-Semitism’, which meant excluding the non-Slavic Jews from the Croat national movement and from the idea of a racially Slavic Croat nation (but supposedly without active hostility to the Jews in the manner of anti-Semitism), and the Ustashas drew upon this legacy to justify their own much more extreme anti-Jewish ideology. The Ustasha regime celebrated the Radic brothers as national heroes, but not Josip Frank – leader of the anti-Serb Pure Party of Right, traditionally viewed as the precursor to the Ustasha movement – because he was Jewish. The Yugoslav Communists who defeated the Ustashas in the war of 1941-45 also celebrated the Radic brothers as Croat national heroes, and they too embraced a national ideology based upon racial pan-Slavism, but this time directed against the Germans and Italians, which involved ethnic cleansing and persecution of Yugoslavia’s German and Italian minorities following their victory.
Murderous and genocidal as it was, Ustasha ideology was not as absolutely racist as its Nazi counterpart. Jews and gypsies (except the so-called ‘white gypsies’) were considered racially alien and subject to racial laws modeled on the Nazis’ Nuremberg laws, though a small minority of Jews were declared ‘honorary Aryans’, so spared persecution. But because the Ustashas considered the Serb inhabitants of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina to be a racial mixture that included Croat elements, they did not entirely consider them as a group to be wholly racially alien, and their policy toward them was characterised by some flexibility. Thus, in addition to massacre and expulsion, Serbs were subject to assimilation attempts, via forced conversions to Catholicism and, subsequently, the establishment of a ‘Croatian Orthodox Church’ to replace the Serbian Orthodox Church on the territory of the NDH. There were three Orthodox generals in the NDH’s Home Guard.
Challenging the identification of the Ustashas with militant Catholicism, Bartulin argues that they were in fact not hostile to Orthodox Christianity as such, merely to the presence of a Serbian church on NDH territory, and were genuinely philo-Islamic. The Bosnian Muslims were celebrated as among the racially purest of Croats; Pavelic was ready to anger Catholic opinion by establishing a mosque in Zagreb. Nevertheless, the Ustasha regime preferred to force Serbs to convert to Catholicism rather than Islam or Protestantism, for fear of strengthening the Muslim autonomist movement and Volksdeutsche community respectively. Bartulin therefore stresses the pragmatic nature of the Ustashas’ use of Catholicism, though as his study focuses on the Ustasha leadership and intelligentsia, it does not consider the frequently genuinely Catholic-sectarian and anti-Muslim character of Ustasha activity at the local level in Bosnia-Hercegovina.
Though Bartulin’s book may be somewhat too monographic to appeal readily to the general reader, anyone interested in the former Yugoslavia would benefit from reading his exercise in cliché-busting. With all the lazy binaries – Serb and Croat nationalist; pro- and anti-Yugoslav; pro- and anti-Communist – it is refreshing to read a work that stresses just how many common assumptions were shared by the various ideological currents and political groups; even by those that were mortal enemies.
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Holocaust denial
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left
- World War II