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.
Charles Frith is a Holocaust denier and minor celebrity in the anti-Semitic Twitter-community with over 32,000 followers, at least some of them real. He appeared in the news recently after an SNP MP, Sandra White, had to apologise after retweeting one of his anti-Semitic tweets. I am an academic staff member at Kingston University. Last week, Frith phoned my office posing as a job-seeker in order to obtain information about me. He then sent me a threatening email: ‘I’m now asking you formally to remove all your anonymous Storify posts about me before I take more serious measures.’ The email was cc’d to one of my university managers and another colleague. The ‘serious measures’ were not specified, but the trouble for me was that I had never written any Storify posts about Frith, or even heard of him until a day or two previously. He had convinced himself that I was a certain pseudonymous blogger called Soupy One who has spent years cataloguing and exposing the activities of online anti-Semites, but who has – perhaps understandably given the sort of people he deals with – chosen to keep his real identity concealed. Needless to say, I am not ‘Soupy One’; I have taken pride in blogging under my real name for years. Never mind; Frith’s gang of online nutters has been aggressively bombarding the Kingston University twitter account. They have been circulating on Twitter a photo of my face with the caption ‘Is Marko Atilla [sic] Hoare the notorious Anti Semite [sic] @inthesoupagain’ (Frith assures people of his ‘Semitic Heritage [sic]’ in order to label his critics anti-Semites).
It is difficult to do justice to just what a raving anti-Semitic crackpot Frith is. His tweets, of which Soupy One has compiled an illustrative selection, speak for themselves:
Germans were the losers of WWII. Most Germans don’t have the guts to look into the fake 6M holohoax figures @rajaaJT
— Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) August 1, 2014
Actually not. Jewish Bolsheviks were behind the 25-60 million genocide in Russia. @earthexperience
— Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) August 7, 2014
— Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) May 12, 2015
Jewish Al-Sisi Runs Egypt; Now an Israeli-Occupied Territory http://t.co/ui7jm1ixDX
— Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) November 25, 2014
Some of his deleted tweets endorsed the view that ‘the Auschwitz chambers were delousing stations in Germany and France’; that ‘Jewish Bolshevism’ was responsible for ’20 million dead’; and that the Apollo moon landings were a hoax. 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’.
Another of those prominent in the Twitter campaign to ‘out’ me has been Alison Chabloz (aka ‘Autumn’s Here’, @AJCTmusic), whose anti-Semitic antics (performing the quenelle; publishing Holocaust-revisionist material; questioning the reality of the gas chambers) made the press last summer during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at which she performed. She is on record as tweeting that most Auschwitz victims died of typhus and that Anne Frank’s diary is a fabrication.
— Autumn’s Here (@AJCTmusic) December 3, 2015
— Autumn’s Here (@AJCTmusic) December 3, 2015
— Autumn’s Here (@AJCTmusic) December 3, 2015
— Autumn’s Here (@AJCTmusic) December 3, 2015
As a genocide scholar, it is part of my job to upset people like Frith and Chabloz. I specialise in Bosnia and teach the history of the Holocaust and genocide. This year, I appeared in the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s annual commemorative programme, screened in Westminster and broadcast on BBC2, and wrote a post for its blog on the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre. However, the intensity of the poisonous current that surrounds Frith can only be explained by reference to something else: Palestine. Frith is a committed ‘anti-Zionist’, and much of his tweeting and many of his followers are above all anti-Israel and ‘pro-Palestinian’ in nature, though most of them have about as much in common with genuine, committed friends of the Palestinians as a bag of Turkey Twizzlers have with actual live, flapping farmyard birds. They are radical left/right-wing fanatics inhabiting a bizarre world in which conspiracies involving Jews and capitalists are omnipresent. The immediate reason that Frith and his mob fixated on me was because Soupy One had published an article in which my name was tagged, and a none-too-bright Frith groupie – a teenager or not much older, with a Palestine-themed profile picture – mistook the tag for the name of the article author. And if you’re the sort of person who thinks the Rothschilds rule the world and Mossad did 9/11, then that counts as hard evidence for you. The groupie consequently launched a blog to ‘out’ me, and has apparently been trying to contact Kingston University to present it with the evidence.
This affair highlights the toxic subculture that has grown up around the movement for ‘Palestine solidarity’, in which the principled, genuine pro-Palestinian activists and the honourable cause of Palestinian independence itself have been increasingly swamped by crazies for whom the whole cause is simply a way of fighting imperialism, global capitalism and the (Jewish) rulers of the universe. For people who inhabit their dystopian fantasy world, launching witch-hunts against random bystanders is unproblematic. Yet their behaviour is also symptomatic of an activist culture in and around universities in which ‘offensive’ or politically incorrect views of all types are to be censored or screamed down, and rigorous debate and criticism stifled. In the US, Nicholas Christakis, master at Silliman College, Yale University, was screamed at by one of his students and told to resign after he defended the right of other students to wear ‘offensive’ Halloween costumes. Here in the UK, students at Cardiff University petitioned for eminent feminist Germaine Greer to be banned from giving a talk there, and the student officer at University College London banned anti-ISIS fighter Macer Gifford from giving a talk hosted by the UCLU Kurdish Society.
Frith is not the first person who has tried to censor my views by attacking my university. David N. Gibbs of the University of Arizona, author of a book on the former Yugoslavia that attributes the break up to an imperialist conspiracy and denies the Srebrenica genocide, sent a threatening, bogus complaint to my university after I published an extended review of his book, in which I thoroughly exposed its worthlessness as a piece of scholarship. Gibbs’s bogus complaint was a desperate effort to suppress my review, and bore some similarities with Frith’s – including even a gratuitous reference to his own Jewish background. Naturally, Kingston University dismissed Gibbs’s ‘complaint’, exonerated me of any wrongdoing and confirmed my academic conduct had been impeccable, and I subsequently refuted his arguments comprehensively on my blog, since which Gibbs has responded with hysterical published attacks on KU and threats to its senior management. Gibbs’s rejected, refuted complaint was republished by the youthful Frith groupie who has been harassing me.
However, the roots of Frith’s attempt to censor me do not lie wholly in the realm of the anti-establishment counter-culture. Soupy One, by his own admission, has no connection whatever to Kingston University, and the false rumour that he does originated with the right-wing, anti-Muslim pundit Douglas Murray. Murray was upset about Soupy One’s references to his less than condemnatory views of the English Defence League. Instead of attempting to refute by rational argument, Murray tweeted threats – he identified Soupy One as a KU staff member, and offered to inform on him to the university:
— Douglas Murray (@DouglasKMurray) February 26, 2015
These tweets were then picked up by the Frith groupie, who reproduced them prominently. Murray has now been asked several times on Twitter to explain his claim that Soupy One was an employee of Kingston University, but has failed to do so. He has in the past come under strong criticism from at least two KU staff members – myself and the well known left-wing journalist Sunny Hundal. Murray is on record as stating: ‘mass immigration has altered our country completely. It has become a radically different place, and London has become a foreign country. In 23 of London’s 33 boroughs “white Britons” are now in a minority.’ He presumably views Kingston University, with one of the most ethnically diverse student bodies of any university in the UK, as part of that foreign country.
Murray may seem a strange source for anti-Zionists such as Frith and his circle to base their opinion on. As a hard-line supporter of Israel, he has compared Palestinian statehood to ISIS and made blanket accusations of anti-Semitism against anti-Israel protesters. Nevertheless, Murray is a fully paid-up member of the campus censorship league, if not its honorary president. He welcomed Southampton University’s decision earlier this year to cancel, in the face of protests, a conference questioning Israel’s right to exist, even calling for universities that host such conferences to lose their government funding. He has lamented the failure of the University of Cambridge to sack Muslim scholar Abdul Hakim Murad for holding homophobic views, and the failure of the University of Oxford to take action against scholar Tom Paulin, who apparently compared Israeli settlers to Nazis.
There is a lesson to be learned here: the intolerant fanatics of radical campus politics and the Palestine solidarity movement do not behave as they do in opposition to the establishment; rather, their sense of victimhood and entitlement feeds off mainstream establishment culture. In attempting to silence me via my employers, Frith and his circle of ‘rebels’ were simply following the example set by a tenured US professor (Gibbs) and a Spectator columnist (Murray). Frith even cc’d both Gibbs and Murray in his threatening email to me; I doubt either of them is in any way connected to him, but he presumably sought validation from them. Irrespective of their political views or status, these people all apparently share the belief that university administrations, far from acting as the guardians of the right to free speech of their staff and students, should rather be policing their staff members’ exercise of this right, and restraining them at the request of aggrieved outsiders.
If we are to preserve our universities as vibrant centres of intellectual life, we academics must stand and speak our minds, and refuse to be bullied by those who would prefer us to sit down and shut up. Because the more we pander to the bullies, the more we invite further attacks on our already endangered freedom of speech. And if we bow to bullies from the ranks of the ‘respectable’, it is only a matter of time before every Holocaust-denying fruitcake starts thinking they can dictate what we can or cannot say.
Update: It turns out that the basis for Charles Frith’s claim to be ‘Semitic’ is that he is half-Maltese, and that Malta is ‘a Semitic country’. The nonentity and egomaniac has written this post about himself, explaining this. I intend to publish below further examples of his vicious Jew-hatred as and when I come across them, in order to expose him in the eyes of the credulous pro-Palestinian activists who retweet him:
: Israel To Coordinate With Google, YouTube, To Censor Palestinian Videos Of Conflict pic.twitter.com/0d9xGODDRz
— Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) November 27, 2015
Rothschild-Zionist tea boy pic.twitter.com/hwDwCyUJ4E
— Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) December 2, 2015
— Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) January 26, 2016
— Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith) March 4, 2016
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
Three years ago, as readers may recall, David N. Gibbs of the University of Arizona responded to my criticisms of his Srebrenica-genocide-denying propaganda tract First do no Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia with an article published on ModernityBlog, entitled – in his characteristically hyperbolic style – ‘The Second Coming of Joe McCarthy’. What followed was a public debate in the comment boxes of the blog, in which Gibbs was comprehensively defeated on every point: he was unable to counter either my criticisms of his work, or my refutations of his criticisms of my own work. So weak, underhand and disingenuous were Gibbs’s attempts at discussion that the proprietor of the venue – where Gibbs had himself chosen to publish – graciously apologised to me personally for allowing him to post there: ‘I made a mistake by allowing David Gibbs a guest post. At the time I thought he was a reasonable academic who deserved a right of reply, however, subsequently I have had time to reflect on my poor judgement.’
I then published further articles exposing the way in which Gibbs distorted and manipulated source material to construct his fictitious narrative of the war in the former Yugoslavia. I refuted his attempt to justify Serb-nationalist territorial claims in Bosnia and his attempt to blame the break-up of Yugoslavia on a German imperialist conspiracy. I could have gone on to demolish the rest of his book as well, but that would have taken weeks of my life, and I felt I had sufficiently exposed its worthlessness as a supposed piece of scholarship. In January 2011, Gibbs admitted his inability to counter my refutations: ‘In what follows, I will make no pretense that I answer all of Hoare’s allegations, which I find impossible, given the huge quantity of his charges.’
Unable to win in a public debate, Gibbs then attempted to intimidate both me and my institution, Kingston University, in order to silence me. Out of the blue, nine months after our debate, he submitted a bogus complaint against me to my university containing fraudulent allegations. When Kingston inevitably failed to uphold his ‘complaint’, he published an attack on me, on Kingston and on my faculty dean on the far-right website Antiwar.com. He then sent increasingly threatening emails to my institution, which nevertheless continued to reject his ‘complaint’. Let us be clear on this point: despite what Gibbs insinuates, no part of his bogus complaint against me has ever been accepted by Kingston University. On the contrary, in dismissing Gibbs’s complaint, my Faculty at Kingston confirmed that my academic conduct had been impeccable.
This week, he is attempting yet again to intimidate Kingston University in the hope of silencing me, through a further bogus public complaint published on the anti-Semitic website Counterpunch .
The essence of Gibbs’s ‘complaint’ is that he is unhappy that I have I refuted much of his book. Instead of attempting to counter my arguments, he has simply restated his already refuted claims and portrayed my exposure of their fallaciousness as some sort of legitimate grievance. I am not going to waste my time re-stating points to which he was unable to respond the first time around. I have already refuted at length his wholly fantastical claim that the break-up of Yugoslavia was engineered by Germany; his wholly disingenuous claim to have engaged with existing scholarly literature by Michael Libal, Brendan Simms, Richard Caplan and others that contradicts his own arguments; his wholly spurious denial that he blames the Bosniak side for the Srebrenica massacre (I have dealt with his victim-blaming over Srebrenica twice already); and many of his other claims.
As regards arguments to which I haven’t previously responded, Gibbs’s formal statement condemning Milosevic is little more than a disclaimer in the style of ‘I’m not a racist, but…’. For those who are not familiar with the way these people operate: they rarely deny the crimes of Milosevic and the Serb forces altogether, but usually make an opening gambit along the lines of ‘Of course Milosevic and the Serb forces were guilty of terrible atrocities, but…’ before proceeding to regurgitate the Great Serb propaganda narrative putting the blame for the war on the Croats, Bosniaks and Western imperialism. There is little that is original in Gibbs’s version of this narrative; it has previously been presented in book form by Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti, Kate Hudson and others, and before that via magazine format by the people behind Living Marxism.
Of course Gibbs does not devote much space in his book to explaining how Milosevic ‘made a central contribution to Yugoslavia’s demise’. No mention of the fact that Milosevic and the Serbian and JNA leaderships were the principal separatists in the break-up of Yugoslavia; that Milosevic’s ally Borisav Jovic recorded in his diary that he, Milosevic and the JNA’s Veljko Kadijevic agreed in June 1990 to work for the forcible expulsion of Slovenia and a dismembered Croatia from Yugoslavia; that Kadijevic in his published memoirs admits that the JNA was working from this time for the ‘peaceful’ exit of Slovenia and Croatia from Yugoslavia; that Serbia’s constitution of 28 September 1990 declared: ‘The Republic of Serbia determines and guarantees: 1) the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia and its international position and relations with other states and international organisations’; that the following month Serbia imposed customs duties on imports from Croatia and Slovenia; that on 16 March 1991 Milosevic publicly announced that Serbia would no longer recognise the authority of the Yugoslav Presidency. Instead, Gibbs defends Milosevic as ‘a strong advocate of maintaining both Serbia and Yugoslavia as socialist’ (Gibbs, p. 65). And he makes clear that he blames the war in Croatia on the Croatian side: ‘The Croatian war had its origins with the nationalist forces that were unleashed during the election campaign of 1990, when Franjo Tudjman’s HDZ party came to power.’ (Gibbs, p. 87). And so on and so on.
Contrary to what Gibbs claims, I have never insinuated that he is ‘an extreme anti-Semite’. Gibbs pretends to deduce this supposed insinuation from my comparison of the myth that Germany brought about the destruction of Yugoslavia by engineering Croatian and Slovenian secession (a myth that he upholds) with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In other words, I am comparing an anti-German libel with an anti-Jewish libel, and Gibbs deduces from this that I am therefore accusing those who uphold the anti-German libel of being anti-Semitic. It really is difficult to believe that even Gibbs is quite so logically challenged that he can take his argument here seriously. Moreover, his faux outrage at the fabricated ‘insinuation’ is undermined by the fact that he has chosen to publish his latest attack in an anti-Semitic publication.
Gibbs claims ‘I have never objected to serious condemnation of Milošević’s crimes, in the media or elsewhere.’ But this is untrue. Gibbs wrote in his book: ‘Another feature of the Balkan conflict was the tendency of the Western media needlessly to exaggerate the atrocities committed by Serb armies… Atrocities committed at Serb-run detention camps were presented in sensationalist fashion, for example, and they became “extermination camps” comparable to Auschwitz. President Izetbegovic himself encouraged these interpretations. Yet, in 2003, shortly before his death, Izetbegovic conceded that “there were no extermination camps” in Bosnia. He also conceded that his previous claims to the contrary had been deliberate misrepresentations, intended to outrage Western public opinion and thus trigger Western military intervention against the Serbs.’ (Gibbs, p. 216) So Gibbs has accused the Western media of having ‘exaggerated’ Serb atrocities and presented them in a ‘sensationalist fashion’ (NB Gibbs’s claim regarding Izetbegovic rests not on any credible source, but solely on the self-serving testimony of Bernard Kouchner, who had been a minister in France’s pro-appeasement government during the war in Bosnia).
Gibbs claims ‘Another one of Hoare’s techniques is the use of faked quotations, wherein he fabricates quoted statements, which he attributes to me.’ This is another falsehood, and represents Gibbs’s desperate attempt to deflect attention away from my point-by-point refutation of his book. Here is what he writes:
‘In the above Modernityblog posting, for example, Hoare attributes to me the phrase “creating the hatred,” which he presents as a direct quotation. The implication is that in my view the Bosnian Muslims were “creating the hatred” in the Srebrenica area. In fact, this is a fake quotation. This phrase “creating the hatred” appears nowhere in any of my writings. Then in a later posting, he attributes to me the quote “created the hatred,” which once again implies that in my view the Muslims had created the hatred in Srebrenica. But the quoted phrase appears in none of my writings, and the essence of its meaning corresponds to nothing I have ever said.’
Naturally Gibbs doesn’t provide any link that would allow his readers to check whether indeed I had said what he claims. In fact, this is what Gibbs wrote in his book: ‘The Srebrenica safe area had an especially brutal history, and it was besieged by Serb forces throughout the war. It is important to note, however, that Muslim troops also behaved brutally. Especially problematic was the Muslim commander Brigadier Oric, who based his forces inside Srebrenica and conducted forays against Serb villages in the surrounding region. One UNPROFOR commander later described Oric’s activities as follows: “Oric engaged in attacks during Orthodox holidays and destroyed [Serb] villages, massacring all the inhabitants. This created a degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the [Srebrenica] region… [etc.]“‘ (Gibbs, pp. 153-154).
So Gibbs quoted an UNPROFOR commander as saying that the actions of Naser Oric’s Bosnian army ‘created a degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the [Srebrenica] region…’. Gibbs treated this claim uncritically, using it to substantiate his attribution of blame for the Srebrenica massacre to Oric’s Bosnian forces. He is now trying to conceal the fact that he wrote this passage, perhaps because he is aware of how shameful it is.
I cited this passage from Gibbs in my first ever post about him, and gave the quote in full. Readers are invited to check what I wrote about him against what he wrote in his book, to see if I cited him accurately. The discussion at Modernity blog was Gibbs’s response to that post. Readers are invited to read the exchange and judge for themselves whether my subsequent references to his statement were accurate or not.
Gibbs continues: ‘And there is yet a third fake quote, in the title of one of Hoare’s reviews: “First Check Their Sources 2: The Myth that ‘Most of Bosnia Was Owned by the Serbs Before the War.’” The first part of the title (“First Check Their Sources”) is a play on words from the title of my book, which is First Do No Harm. The embedded phrase in Hoare’s title (“Most of Bosnia Was Owned…”) is presented as a direct quote, with quotation marks. This quote is yet another fabrication, which falsifies both the literal wording of my book and also the substance of my stated views.’
As Gibbs knows very well, the part of the title in quote marks was not ‘presented as a direct quote’; nowhere did I claim that Gibbs had used those exact words. It was an entirely accurate paraphrasing of the position common to Gibbs and others like him, who do indeed claim that ‘most of Bosnia was owned by the Serbs before the war’. The exact words Gibbs uses are provided in detail in the article in question, with page numbers given. Again, readers are invited to read the article and decide for themselves if it was an accurate paraphrasing. Readers will note that Gibbs was wholly unable to respond to that article, so we may reasonably assume that apart from his quibble over my use of quote marks in the title, he accepts the validity of what I wrote there.
Finally, Gibbs claims ‘Due to Hoare’s tactics, the public understanding of Yugoslavia’s breakup has been fundamentally distorted, due to a climate of intimidation and fear, which has prevented genuine scholarly debate.’ But my ‘tactics’ simply involved writing a negative extended review of Gibbs’s book, exposing its poor scholarship and genocide denial. By contrast, here are Gibbs’s tactics, in his own words: ‘Every time in the future that I am forced to respond to Hoare’s attacks, I will emphasize the role of Kingston University in helping to make these attacks possible. I will especially emphasize the roles of Vice Chancellor Weinberg and Dean McQuillan, who are Hoare’s academic supervisors. Up to this point, there has been too little accountability with regard to Hoare’s conduct. It is time to correct the problem.’
I leave it to readers to make up their own minds about who is guilty of trying to intimidate. Gibbs has revealed himself as a bully with no respect either for truth or for freedom of speech. Neither Kingston University nor any other university worthy of the name will uphold a bogus, malicious complaint published on an unsavoury extremist website; one aimed solely at distracting attention away from an unanswerable refutation of poor scholarship, and at silencing legitimate criticism through threats and smears. But I am not going to be intimidated. I should like to take this opportunity to reaffirm what I have written about Gibbs, and to assure readers that it will not be retracted or taken down.
On 21 January, the Croatian journalists’ website autograf.hr published an article about me written by Dejan Jovic, chief analyst and special coordinator at the office of the president of Croatia, Ivo Josipovic. The Croatian newspaper Vecernji list republished Jovic’s article, then published my reply on 30 January, which is reproduced here with Croatian-language passages translated into English. My reply was also published in BCS translation by tacno.net.
[My four-part refutation of David Gibbs’s book ‘First do no Harm’ can be found here.]
Dejan Jovic’s attack on me, published by autograf.hr on 21 January, contains numerous falsehoods. For example, he accuses me: ‘To justify the war in Iraq, they employed the metaphor of Hitler (for Saddam Hussein)’. Yet I have never used the Hitler metaphor to describe Saddam Hussein, and in June 2013 I described the Iraq war in the pages of the Guardian as a ‘misguided adventure’. He claims ‘people like Hoare advocate further interventions as the solution to new problems: in Syria, maybe afterwards in Iran, then who knows where tomorrow.’ In fact, I explicitly condemned the idea of a US or Israeli attack on Iran on my blog back in April 2012. Jovic claims: ‘Indeed, those same people who attack me have already attacked many others, including the Washington Times, The Guardian, and proclaimed some other reputable individuals and media outlets to be “genocide deniers”.’ But I have never accused either the Washington Times or the Guardian of genocide denial, and I doubt whether Jovic’s other critics have either. Jovic links me to the politics of the Henry Jackson Society. Yet I resigned from that organisation at the start of 2012, and have explicitly and strongly condemned its politics repeatedly since.
Jovic’s string of ad hominem falsehoods directed against me appear to be his way of distracting attention from the matter at hand: his uncritical endorsement of David Gibbs’s Great Serb propaganda tract (First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009), which denies the Srebrenica genocide. Jovic claims: ‘In criticising my review of Gibbs’s book, Hoare “forgets” that Gibbs personally replied to his thesis on “genocide denial” – and completely refuted it.’ But this is untrue. In his book (p. 281), Gibbs says of Srebrenica: ‘Certainly, the murder of eight thousand people is a grave crime, but to call it “genocide” needlessly exaggerates the scale of the crime’ (p. 281). Furthermore, Gibbs claims the massacre was provoked by the Bosniak victims: ‘The origin of the Srebrenica massacre lay in a series of Muslim attacks that began in the spring of 1995… Such actions invited Serb reprisals, and this dynamic contributed to the fall of the safe area’ (p. 160). As for Jovic’s claim that Gibbs ‘totally refuted’ my accusation of genocide denial: this is also untrue; Gibbs was completely unable to defend himself from the charge. Readers can view my refutation of him and see for themselves.
Jovic first tries to deny that Gibbs engages in genocide denial, then tries to justify Gibbs’s genocide denial. He argues that ‘in the academic community – not our own post-Yugoslav one, but more broadly – there is no consensus on whether in the wars in the former Yugoslavia genocide was committed or not.’ But none of the people he cites, in support of the view that there was no genocide, is an expert on the former Yugoslavia. Jovic then claims ‘courts have ruled that in Bosnia-Hercegovina there was no genocide (apart from in Srebrenica)’. But this is untrue: the ICTY has not ruled that there was no genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina apart from in Srebrenica. Both Karadzic and Mladic are currently being tried for genocide in municipalities across Bosnia-Hercegovina – not only in Srebrenica. Karadzic’s acquittal by the ICTY Trials Chamber for one count of genocide (in municipalities outside of Srebrenica) was recently reversed by the ICTY Appeals Chamber. Furthermore, in 1997, a German court convicted Nikola Jorgic, a Bosnian Serb, for genocide in the north Bosnian region of Doboj in 1992, and this ruling was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.
Finally, Jovic claims that genocide is something invented by warmongers to justify military intervention, whereas people who deny genocide are really just trying to protect peace:
‘”Genocide” and “Hitler” are always there when it is necessary to start a new war – they are the “idea” explanation of the reason why one more is being launched. The difference between Gibbs and Hoare is, therefore, that one thinks that the wars are not waged out of altruism and that they do not solve problems, whereas the other maintains that liberal interventions are necessary and important, and that there is nothing controversial in them even if they result in a large number of deaths. One is an advocate of peace, the other of war.’ The reality is somewhat different: both Jovic and Gibbs seek to minimise the guilt of the Serbian aggressor for the 1990s war, and to shift as much blame as possible onto the Croatian and Bosnian victims of the aggression. The agenda of people like Jovic and Gibbs is to ensure that the real warmongers – tyrants like Slobodan Milosevic and Bashar al-Assad – should be free to wage their wars without fear of Western military intervention, or even of serious condemnation from the Western media.
Following his review of Gibbs’s book in Politicka misao, Jovic has now for the second time, in his reply to me and to the Bosnian organisations who criticised him, praised this book in glowing terms, while refusing to make any substantial criticisms of it. Yet Gibbs’s book is a Great Serbian propaganda pamphlet of no scholarly value. Gibbs has no expertise on the subject of the former Yugoslavia; he does not even read Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian; and his arguments are based on the distortion and manipulation of source material. He minimises the guilt and crimes of the regimes of Milosevic and Karadzic and of the JNA; exaggerates the guilt and crimes of the Croatians and Bosnians; and seeks to blame the West for the break-up of Yugoslavia and war.
1) Gibbs writes ‘And we will see later in the chapter that the post-Yugoslav state of Croatia, which became independent in 1991, had important historical links with Pavelic’s puppet state.’ (p. 48).
Discussing World War II, Gibbs mentions Ustasha genocide and collaboration, as well as the collaboration of Bosnian Muslims and Albanians, but fails to mention the crimes or collaboration of the Chetniks, or of Serbia’s Nedic regime.
2) Gibbs claims Tudjman ‘recommended’ genocidal violence against the Jews (p. 67)
3) Gibbs claims Croatia and Slovenia were not experiencing any oppression at Serb hands prior to declaring independence, so had no legitimate grounds for seceding: ‘In fact, there was no serious evidence of Serb oppression in Slovenia or Croatia prior to the secessionist actions. The main reasons for seceding, as we saw in the previous chapter, were economic in nature. The JNA’s initial use of force in Slovenia was quite mild’ (p. 97). Thus, he disregards the Serbian economic sanctions against Slovenia; the JNA’s disarming of the Slovenian and Croatian territorial defence; the Serb rebellion in Croatia; the ‘Log Revolution’; the JNA’s intervention in support of the Serb rebels; and the massacre of Croatian policemen at Borovo Selo.
4) Gibbs blames the war in Croatia on the Croatian side: ‘The Croatian war had its origins with the nationalist forces that were unleashed during the election campaign of 1990, when Franjo Tudjman’s HDZ party came to power.’ (p. 87)
5) Gibbs claims Germany engineered Croatia’s independence and the war in 1991: ‘We will see that Germany began encouraging Croatian nationalists and preparing them for independence months before the war began. Based on this new information, I argue that German officials did not simply respond to the war; they helped initiate it.’ (p. 77)
And again: ‘Germany played a key role in encouraging Slovenia and Croatia to secede, and surreptitiously assured them of external support for the secession efforts. Once the republics actually seceded, the European Community (backed by the United States) condemned the JNA’s efforts to block secession.’ (p. 105)
Gibbs’s anti-German conspiracy theory – which Jovic particularly praises – is based on biased, unserious and manipulated sources; he does not have even a single piece of real evidence to demonstrate that Germany encouraged Croatia to secede from Yugoslavia. I have exposed Gibbs’s anti-German falsifications in detail.
6) Gibbs condemns the European Community for recognising Croatia’s independence in its republican borders, and its failure to recognise the independence of the Krajina Serbs: ‘The European Community took the view that Croatia and other republics could not be divided. In effect, this meant the following: Croatia had the right to secede from Yugoslavia but this same right would not be recognised for the Krajina Serbs, who wished to separate from Croatia. In the ensuing conflict in Krajina, the European Community supported the Croatian position and opposed that of the Serbs. At the Hague conference, Van den Broek, the Dutch foreign minister, affirmed that any changes in the republican borders “were not an option”. This anti-Serb bent was evident at many levels.’ (p. 96).
And again: ‘On the one hand, the Community accepted the right of Croatia to separate from Yugoslavia, or at least viewed such separation with leniency. On the other hand, the European Community condemned efforts by the Krajina Serbs to separate from Croatia. Why the double standard ?’ (p. 97)
7) Gibbs claims: ‘In addition, the Muslim/Croat alliance of 1990-1991 recreated a similar alliance that had existed during World War II, when the two groups were the main supporters of the pro-Nazi Ustasa state, and both participated in the massacres of the Serbs that occurred during this period.’ (p. 116)
8) Gibbs claims: ‘Operation Storm also generated a humanitarian disaster. The attack forced from 150,000 to 200,000 Serbs to flee, producing what was probably the largest single act of ethnic expulsion of the entire war.’ (p. 163)
9) Gibbs writes: ‘Another feature of the Balkan conflict was the tendency of the Western media needlessly to exaggerate the atrocities committed by Serb armies… Atrocities committed at Serb-run detention camps were presented in sensationalist fashion, for example, and they became “extermination camps” comparable to Auschwitz. President Izetbegovic himself encouraged these interpretations. Yet, in 2003, shortly before his death, Izetbegovic conceded that “there were no extermination camps” in Bosnia. He also conceded that his previous claims to the contrary had been deliberate misrepresentations, intended to outrage Western public opinion and thus trigger Western military intervention against the Serbs.’ (p. 216) In this way, Gibbs minimises the criminal nature of Serb concentration-camps like Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje.
10) Gibbs accuses the Bosnian armed forces of shelling their own civilians during the siege of Sarajevo, in order to blame it on the Serbs ‘: ‘In several cases, Bosnian forces themselves bombarded Sarajevo and blamed the resulting deaths on the Serbs.’ (p. 125)
Furthermore: ‘In should also be noted that the [Bosnian] government restricted the right of Sarajevo residents to flee the city, effectively blocking the exit for many besieged civilians. This policy increased the potential for casualties and fit in nicely with the government’s public relations strategy. In the world’s media, the deaths from shelling and sniper fire were blamed exclusively on Serb forces, but in reality the Bosnian government bore some responsibility as well.’ (p. 126)
11) Gibbs claims the Serbs legitimately owned most of Bosnia: ‘: ‘It is clear that Serb forces were on the offensive during much of the war, and they conquered large areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina. But the extent of Serb aggression was once again exaggerated. Newspaper articles repeatedly noted that Serbs controlled some 70 percent of Bosnia’s territory, despite the fact that they only constituted 31 percent of the total population… What such reports omitted was that Serbs had always occupied most of Bosnia’s land area, owing to their demographic dominance in rural regions.’ (p. 124)
12) Gibbs claims that it was the Muslims and Croats who caused the war to break out in Bosnia in 1992, whereas the Serbs wanted peace: ‘In March 1992, however, before full-scale war had begun, Serb leaders welcomed the Lisbon agreement and they endorsed it in the strongest terms. Radovan Karadzic, who represented the Serbs at Lisbon, called the agreement a “great day for Bosnia and Herzegovina.” And it should be recalled that it was the Muslims and the Croats, not the Serbs, who actually reneged. There is no evidence that the Serbs were bent on war at this point.’ (p. 111)
So, those are the theses of David Gibbs, which Jovic has now chosen to praise on two occasions. For Jovic to praise so highly Gibbs’s extreme anti-Croatian, anti-Bosnian and Great Serb propaganda tract is scandalous. Yet it is scarcely surprising, since in his own book about the break-up of Yugoslavia (Jugoslavija – država koja je odumrla: Uspon, kriza i pad Kardeljeve Jugoslavije (1974-1990), Prometej, Zagreb, 2003), Jovic already revealed that his sympathies in the 1990s were with Slobodan Milosevic and the JNA. Jovic praised Milosevic as a fighter for Yugoslav statehood and unity and defender of Tito’s legacy, regretted the failure of the JNA to crush Croatian rearmament in 1991, and absolved both Milosevic and the JNA as instigators of the war and perpetrators of the mass killing:
1) Comparing Slobodan Milosevic and Vaclav Havel:
Jovic, p. 56: ‘The direction of the protests against the regime, for example in Czechoslovakia and in Serbia, was totally different, so Havel and Milošević became antipodes in everything. While one led a liberal-democratic revolution against the state, the other led an anti-bureaucratic revolution against an anti-state ideology and anarchy, for the establishment of a state. ‘
2) Lamenting the JNA’s inability to halt Croatia’s rearmament
Jovic, p. 64: ‘The British reaction to separatism in Northern Ireland is a typical example of a liberal (minimal) state, which did not refrain from introducing a state of war and employing tanks in order to halt a civil war before it had begun. In contrast to this, in the state that was withering away, Socialist Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav People’s Army turned itself into a filmmaker recording the illegal import of weapons at the border (with Hungary) whose duty it was to protect from that sort of illegal activity.’
3) On Milosevic as a ‘Yugoslav nationalist’
Jovic, p. 65n: ‘In his first phase, Milosevic was probably a Yugoslav nationalist, but he never became a Serb nationalist, as many call him today. Never, indeed, did he want to form a Serb national state. His attachment to Yugoslavia, even to the point when Yugoslavia had become just a name and nothing more, was the main reason why he in the end lost popularity and the elections (2000).’
4) On the Chetniks as a ‘strong-pro-Yugoslav resistance movement’
Jovic, p. 141: ‘He who claims that Yugoslavia had to collapse in 1941 because of ethnic tension, should have to explain how it was possible that there arose, immediately following the occupation, two strong pro-Yugoslav resistance movements (Mihailovic’s and Tito’s).’
5) On Milosevic’s loyalty to Tito’s legacy
Jovic, p. 156: ‘In destroying the fourth Yugoslavia, Milosevic rejected Kardelj but not Tito.’
6) On Milosevic’s desire to bring about the ‘unity of Yugoslavia’
Jovic, p. 400: ‘His program now [in 1987], for the first time, seemed clear even to those at the lowest level of the social hierarchy, and he carried it out decisively: first the unity of the Serb Party, then unity of Serbia, then of the Yugoslav Party, then of Yugoslavia. That programme had four phases – Milosevic had now accomplished the first; at the third he would be halted, and at the fourth defeated.’
7) On Milosevic’s desire to restrain Serb nationalism
Jovic, p. 471: ‘Treating Milosevic and Kucan with a bit of benevolence, one could say that at least part of their motive could be explained by an attempt to retain power in order to prevent the “real nationalists” (those gathered around the New Review or people such as Vuk Draskovic was at the time) from coming to power in Slovenia and Serbia. As David Owen later said of Milosevic, they had to “ride the tiger of nationalism if they did not want the tiger to swallow them” (1995: 129). They appeared powerful, omnipotent, but in reality they were both afraid that the exit of the League of Communists from the political scene could bring about only worse nationalism. They accepted nationalism in order to prevent it.’
8) On the JNA’s ‘good intention’ to prevent ethnic conflict in Croatia
Jovic, p. 485: ‘When the Croatian government attempted to prevent the [Serb rebel] takeover, the Yugoslav People’s Army imposed itself between it and the Serbs, perhaps with the good intention of preventing direct ethnic conflict in Croatia.’
9) On Milosevic as ‘genuinely surprised’ by break up of Yugoslavia and war
Jovic, pp. 491-492: ‘The sources that were at the disposal of the author of this book do not give sufficient reason to support the conclusion that the members of the Yugoslav political elite in this period (including, thus, Slobodan Milosevic and Milan Kucan as well) intended to destroy Yugoslavia. Many of them, like most Yugoslavs, most analysts at home and abroad and the international political community as a whole, were genuinely surprised by the break-up, and still more by the war that broke out after that.’
10) On war in Yugoslavia as expression of state weakness and ‘private violence’
Jovic, pp. 492-493: ‘‘The violence that, in the ruins of Yugoslavia, in a stateless terrain, erupted in the ‘90s of last century had, indeed, the same cause as the collapse itself: it was the expression of a weak, ineffective state that was not in a position to suppress the private armies, private revenge, private “laws” and private violence. The wars that were waged in those ruins were to a large extent private revenge in which neighbours repaid some imaginary quid pro quo to their neighbours.’
Jovic is right about one thing: the criticisms being made against him are political, not academic in motivation. If Jovic were simply a scholar expressing his private opinion, it would not matter that his work rehabilitates Milosevic and the JNA. It would not matter that he praises a propaganda pamphlet with no academic value, that supports Croatia’s territorial dismemberment and denies the Srebrenica genocide. Jovic has the right, as a scholar, to express his views freely. But he is the Croatian president’s chief analyst and special coordinator. It is dangerous to both Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina for someone holding such views, and with such poor analytical judgement and grasp of reality, to occupy the position that he does.
Marko Attila Hoare
This interview appeared in Bosnian translation in Dnevni Avaz on 12 January 2014.*
How real, if there is any basis for it at all, is the fear that Bosnia and the Bosniaks could be left outside of the EU due to the growing resentment in the EU towards Muslims in general ?
I believe the principal obstacles to Bosnia entering the EU are, firstly, the unresolved constitutional status of the country, its dysfunctional political order and the Sejdic-Finci question, and secondly enlargement fatigue among European policy-makers. Anti-Muslim prejudice may be an aggravating factor, however. EU membership for Bosnia and Serbia might actually accelerate the disintegration of Bosnia, as the West would lose leverage against the leaders of Serbia and the RS.
Bosnia-Hercegovina, in other words, must on no account enter the EU and must employ all means to prevent the entry of Serbia ?
I believe Bosnia’s future lies in the EU, and that the country and its citizens need the opportunities that membership offers. Bosnia has no future outside the EU if Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro are in. But Bosnians need to enter in full awareness of possible consequences. This should serve as an additional motive for preparing a resistance strategy to save the country from partition.
It looks as if the West has, regardless of that, already given up on Bosnia-Hercegovina.
The West gave up on Bosnia during the war of 1992-95, when it effectively engineered the partition of the country, and rescued the RS from defeat and destruction in the autumn of 1995. However, in the late 1990s and first half of the 2000s, there was a partial reversal of policy as the international community, via the OHR, particularly under Paddy Ashdown, took major steps toward the reintegration of the country. Unfortunately, that momentum was lost as Western leaders wrongly believed that the progress achieved could permit them to reduce their presence in, and supervision of the country. Now the EU and US have lost the will to push for the reintegration of Bosnia and are once again appeasing the separatism of the RS leadership.
That means that the fear of the collapse of Bosnia-Hercegovina is justified ? Will the West, nevertheless, react if it comes to that ? Should Bosnia count on such action ?
The experiences of 1992-95 should have taught Bosnians that they can never count on the West. A scenario can be envisaged whereby Bosnia and Serbia eventually join the EU; the RS then declares independence, and its independence is recognised by Serbia, Russia and maybe some other countries. Sanctions would be difficult to enforce against those within the EU. Right-wing Islamophobic opinion across Europe would support the RS. In such circumstances, why should we expect the West to take action, when it has failed to act to reverse the partitions of Cyprus or Georgia ? No: if Bosnians want to save their country, they will have to rely on their own strength.
But are the Bosnian Serbs really intending to declare secession ? That is still a risky move.
I believe the RS leaders will not go for secession in the short term, as the status quo suits them: they enjoy most of the benefits of independence, without having to take the risks involved with formal secession. So long as Bosnia and Serbia remain outside the EU, then the RS and Serbia will always be vulnerable to sanctions and isolation. But in the long run, when the right moment comes, I believe the RS will attempt secession. So Bosnians need to start preparing themselves right now to confront that threat.
You worked for the ICTY. How does that institution now look to you ?
The tribunal’s achievements have been poor overall, but they should not be dismissed completely. The recent convictions of Zdravko Tolimir and the Herceg-Bosna six were significant successes, and the reversal of Radovan Karadzic’s acquittal on one count of genocide was also positive. The acquittals of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic represented a terrible failure of justice, but it is possible that the appeal against them will be successful. The ICTY’s failure to prosecute or convict the principal military and political officials of the JNA, Serbia and Montenegro for war-crimes in Bosnia remains its biggest disgrace. Nevertheless, the eventual conviction of Karadzic and Mladic will count for something, particularly if they are convicted on one, or ideally two counts of genocide. So there is a lot left to hope for from the ICTY. Anger at the acquittals of Momcilo Perisic, Stanisic and Simatovic has understandably led some Bosnians and friends of Bosnia to dismiss the ICTY’s verdicts as ‘political’, but this is a mistake as it undermines the legitimacy of the tribunal, and of any future convictions.
The UK is preparing to have elections. Could they bring about a change in the foreign policy of that state when it’s a question of Bosnia?
No; I believe that British policy toward Bosnia will remain the same regardless of which party wins the next election. Britain’s role in the Bosnian war is almost universally recognised as a disgrace, so neither Labour nor the Conservatives are likely to want to revert to the anti-Bosnian policy of the 1990s. But this has not stopped the Labour leadership from sabotaging effective British intervention over Syria, similar to the way that the Conservative government in the 1990s obstructed effective international action over Bosnia !
How, in your opinion, are Bosnia-Hercegovina’s neighbours behaving ? What are the real policies of Serbia and Croatia when Bosnia-Hercegovina is in question ?
Serbia’s policy toward Bosnia remains what it has been since the late Milosevic era – with variations in intensity – which is to preserve the country in its dismembered, dysfunctional state, and preserve the RS. However, I am deeply concerned that Croatia, which under Stipe Mesic pursued a positive policy toward Bosnia, is indeed now reverting to Tudjman’s policy of collaboration with Belgrade and the RS on an anti-Bosnian basis. In Croatia, as was the case with other countries in the region such as Hungary and Bulgaria, entry into the EU has removed restraints on bad behaviour, and the Croatian right-wing is on the warpath: as witnessed in the campaign against gay marriage and against the Cyrillic alphabet.
On the other hand, another cause for concern is the role being played by Dejan Jovic, who is Chief Analyst and Special Coordinator at the Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia. Jovic recently wrote a book review in the Croatian journal ‘Politicka Misao’, in which he praised a book by David Gibbs, ‘First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia’, as ‘excellent, original and convincing’. This book is a propaganda tract that denies the genocide in Srebrenica and accuses the Bosniaks of provoking the massacre, and also accuses the Bosnian armed forces and government of having shelled their own civilians in Sarajevo, and of having deliberately increased their suffering during the siege, in order to blame it on the Serbs. Gibbs’s book regurgitates the Serb-nationalist interpretation, whereby Yugoslavia was destroyed, and Serbia victimised, by hostile Western powers. When the Croatian president’s chief analyst and special coordinator praises a book containing such views, Bosnia has to be afraid.
What is it about the anniversary of World War One that so arouses Serb feeling ?
According to the traditional Serbian patriotic interpretation, World War I was for Serbia a heroic national struggle against Austro-Hungarian and German imperialism, and straightforward war for self-defence and for the liberation and unification of the South Slavs. However, the reality is somewhat more complicated. It is true that Serbia by 1914 had experienced decades of bullying by Austria-Hungary, which sought at all times to subordinate it to Habsburg imperial interests. On the other hand, Serbia had its own expansionist goals directed toward Austro-Hungarian territory, particularly toward Bosnia-Hercegovina. The extreme-nationalist, terrorist organisation ‘Unification or Death’ (the ‘Black Hand’) was deeply embedded within the Serbian Army and exercised a great deal of influence over Serbian politics, and it was responsible for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 1914. Serbia was not to blame for the fact that World War I happened, as it was ultimately caused by the competing imperial interests of the great powers – Britain, France, Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary, all of which were guilty. But an objective analysis of the reasons why the war broke out must necessarily challenge the traditional Serbian patriotic view of the conflict.
* The meaning of certain passages was altered slightly in translation and editing in the version published in Dnevni Avaz. These passages have been highlighted here.
Those who are sufficiently ideologically driven will readily and tenaciously believe a myth that upholds their own ideology, no matter how completely the myth has been exposed and discredited. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion have been used by anti-Semites from the Nazis to today’s Islamists, despite the fact that they were exposed as a forgery a century ago. German anti-Semites sought to explain away Germany’s defeat in World War I in 1918 by a supposed ‘stab in the back’ by the Jews, shifting the ignominy for the murderous Imperial German regime’s military collapse onto an innocent third party. In much the same way, apologists for the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic have for twenty years tried to blame the ignominious break-up of Yugoslavia – which the Milosevic regime deliberately engineered – on democratic Germany’s supposed ‘encouragement of Croatian secessionism’. They have done this despite a complete failure to uncover any evidence to support their thesis.
David N. Gibbs in First do no Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009) is the latest author to attempt to breathe life into the corpse of this myth, arguing that ‘Croatian leaders were assured, well in advance, that Germany, the dominant power in Europe, would support their efforts to establish an independent state and to secede from Yugoslavia’ (p. 78) and ‘the key EC state of Germany was clearly in favour of breaking up Yugoslavia, and was actively encouraging secession’ (p. 91). Rarely have I seen such cynical misuse of sources.
1) For example, Gibbs quotes the memoirs of the former German foreign minister Hans Dietrich Genscher as follows:
‘Genscher himself was openly sympathetic toward the secessionists. In his memoirs, he stated: “It was important for us to establish that the Yugoslav peoples alone had the right to freely determine the future of their nation” – with the implication that the Yugoslav central government could not veto this right. Genscher also affirmed “an individual nation’s ‘right to secede’ from the larger [Yugoslav] polity.’ (Gibbs, p. 79)
Yet here are some statements from Genscher’s memoirs that Gibbs omitted to quote:
‘When it came to recognising Croatia and Slovenia, the Vatican displayed extreme reluctance. During my visit in [sic] the Vatican on November 29, 1991, this attempt to remain aloof was particularly apparent. I understood that attitude; the accusation that on this issue the Vatican and West Germany formed a “conspiracy” is therefore very wide of the mark. No one outside of Yugoslavia was interested in the least in the dissolution of Yugoslavia; it was only the pan-Serbian strife [sic] for hegemony that set the country’s dissolution in motion‘ (Hans Dietrich Genscher, Rebuilding a House Divided, Broadway Books, New York, p. 91)
‘On Wednesday, March 20, [1991,] I received Slovenia’s president Milan Kucan and Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel; they also spoke of their concerns and of Slovenia’s increasing move to independence. I urged them to proceed slowly and above all to take no unilateral steps but to be alert to opportunities to hold the confederation together in some other constitutional form. Especially in view of our delicate, historically burdened relationship with the region, two aspects were of particular importance to German foreign policy: one, not to encourage centrifugal tendencies, and two, to make no unilateral changes in our policy toward Yugoslavia.’ (Genscher, p. 491)
‘To return to the situation in mid-1991: From June 19 to 20 the first conference of the CSCE Council of Foreign Ministers was held in Berlin. As the host nation, Germany chaired the meeting. Before the conference, I received a few foreign ministers for bilateral talks. Among them was Yugoslavia’s foreign minister, Budomir [sic] Loncar, because I wanted to discuss with him first of all the question of how to deal with the issue of Yugoslavia – as might be expected, one of the core topics of the conference. Once again we were impelled to emphasise our interest in maintaining a unified but democratic and federated nation; the conference must remain true to the principles established by the Paris Charter a few months earlier.’ (Genscher, pp. 492-493)
So a source quoted selectively and tendentiously by Gibbs to try and squeeze out something approaching ‘evidence’ for his thesis that Germany encouraged Croatia’s secession actually provides rather more evidence that Germany supported a unified Yugoslavia at the time Croatia declared independence in June 1991 [NB since Gibbs falsely accuses me of being unable to read German, I should make clear that I am quoting the English translation of Genscher’s memoirs because Gibbs himself relies on the translation, and does not use the German original].
2) Likewise, Gibbs quotes the study of Germany’s policy toward Croatia in 1991 written by former German diplomat Michael Libal (Limits of Persuasion: Germany and the Yugoslav Crisis, 1991, 1992, Praeger, Westport and London, 1997): ‘on 18 July the decision was made in Belgrade to completely withdraw the JNA from Slovenia;… in Germany a sense of euphoria prevailed.’ (Gibbs, p. 94).
Yet Libal’s book in fact demolishes the view that Germany encouraged Croatia to secede; in Libal’s words, ‘No German official advocated the encouragement of separatist tendencies within the Yugoslav republics.’ Libal describes the ‘good, if not excellent relations between Bonn and Belgrade, which Genscher had been building up since the early 1970s… It was almost a special relationship: Germany acted as Yugoslavia’s advocate in the European Community (EC) and was instrumental in bringing about closer cooperation between the two.’ Consequently, ‘Given this excellent state of relations and the strong position Germany enjoyed throughout the whole of Yugoslavia, any idea of destabilising that country and encouraging its breakup would have been lunacy. Yugoslavia as a unitary state was a perfect partner for Germany, as no smaller, more troubled and more difficult partner, or possibly even client state, could ever be expected to be.’ (Libal, p. 5) Gibbs simply ignores the copious testimony and documentation provided by Libal that runs counter to Gibbs’s thesis, treating it as though it does not exist.
3) And again, although he includes in his bibliography the book by Richard Caplan, Europe and the Recognition of New States in Yugoslavia (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005), Gibbs does not bother to inform his readers of what Caplan wrote, which is that
‘Until fighting erupted at the end of June, Germany had, along with the rest of the EC, supported the continued unity of Yugoslavia. As late as 19 June 1991, Germany voted in favour of a statement by the Conference of Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) expressing support for the “unity and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia”; in fact, it was Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the German foreign minister, who supplied the text of the statement. Even after Slovenia’s and Croatia’s declarations of independence, Germany supported the West European Union (WEU) declaration of 27 June that expressed regret at “the recent unilateral decisions” of the two republics, and urged all political authorities in Yugoslavia to “resume the dialogue with a view to securing the unity of the state”.’ (Caplan, p. 18).
Gibbs does not attempt to tackle this evidence.
4) Or another example of misrepresentation: Gibbs cites an anonymous source in the New Yorker, allegedly a US diplomat who was claiming that Genscher ‘was encouraging the Croats to leave the federation and declare independence.’ Gibbs admits: ‘It is difficult to fully assess this allegation, given the anonymity of the source. However, the New Yorker allegation is supported by the memoirs of US ambassador Warren Zimmermann, which note “Genscher’s tenacious decision to rush the independence of Slovenia and Croatia” [Gibbs’s emphasis].’ Gibbs then claims in the endnote to this sentence: ‘Note that Zimmermann does not say that Genscher rushed the international recognition of Slovenia’s and Croatia’s independence; he makes the much more provocative statement that Genscher rushed independence.’ (p. 249)
Yet this is simply untrue, as Zimmermann in his memoirs nowhere accuses the Germans of encouraging Croatia’s secession, but does criticise them for supporting Croatia’s recognition; the idea that when Zimmermann referred to Genscher having ‘rushed independence’ he really meant ‘rushed secession’ is sheer wishful thinking on Gibbs’s part.
5) Yet perhaps the most egregious example of Gibbs’s distortion of sources is his claim that ‘German support for secession and for breaking up Yugoslavia is also noted by former Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia, James Bissett and by Croatian nationalist Stjepan Mesic’ (p. 79). Bissett is frequently cited by Gibbs, who fails to inform his readers that he is a Srebrenica genocide denier and defender of Milosevic, therefore not an entirely reliable source, and that Bissett’s supposed ‘noting’ of German support for Croatian secession is merely an unsubstantiated allegation.
As for Mesic, it turns out in Gibbs’s endnote that he does not in fact ‘note’ German support for Croatia’s secession at all. Gibbs’s supposed evidence for his claim is an extract from Milosevic’s trial, in which Milosevic is questioning prosecution witness Milan Kucan about what Mesic said on a TV programme in which they (Mesic and Kucan) appeared together. Milosevic states ‘Mesic declared that the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of German Hans-Dietrich Genscher and the Pope John Paul II, by the direct agreement and support designed to break up the former Yugoslavia had practically contributed most to that actually happening’, and Kucan replied ‘Those were the stance of Mr Mesic’.
The supposed ‘noting’ by Mesic of Genscher’s support for Croatia’s secession thus turns out to be actually testimony not from Mesic but from Kucan, who appears to be confirming what Milosevic said. Gibbs considers the extract from the trial to be sufficiently significant that he reproduces the sentence by Milosevic, and puts Kucan’s reply in emphasis: ‘Those were the stance of Mr Mesic’ (Gibbs, p. 250).
What Gibbs does not tell his readers, is that in the following lines of the transcript, not only does Kucan state clearly that he cannot remember what Mesic said, but Milosevic makes clear that the reference is to Genscher’s support for Croatian independence after it was declared, not before.
This is what Milosevic said:
‘Let us just specify something else, please. Do you remember that at the time Mesic said that he came to Belgrade, to the highest position in the federation in order to, through the mediation of the Yugoslav diplomacy at the time, to get in touch with the most influential factors and to persuade them that the survival of Yugoslavia was nonsense? And I have a quotation: “I wanted to convey that the idea of the break-up of Yugoslavia to those who had the greatest influence on its fate, to Genscher and the Pope. In fact, I had three meetings with Genscher. He enabled a contact with the Holy See. The Pope and Genscher agreed with the total break-up of SFRY.” Was that what he said?‘
The ‘highest position in the federation’, i.e. the presidency, was a position Mesic assumed only at the end of June 1991, after Croatia had already seceded.
This is what Kucan replied:
‘Your Honours, this programme which I participated together with Mr. Mesic, I can confirm that. But to be able to confirm each and every word, I’d need either a transcript or a video in order to be able to confirm it. These are very weighty words, and to testify like this wouldn’t — just wouldn’t do.’
So Mesic was not ‘noting’ that Genscher had supported Croatia’s secession. And Milosevic was not alleging that Mesic had ‘noted’ this. And Kucan was not confirming that what Milosevic said was true. Gibbs has simply falsified the source yet again.
7) In his endnotes, Gibbs writes, ‘In memoirs, the Slovene defense minister Janez Jansa downplays the role of foreign support, but he concedes that by July 1, “Genscher strongly supported our cause”.’ (Gibbs, p. 249). Of course, this citation merely suggests that Germany supported Slovenia’s cause after independence had already been declared, not that Germany actually encouraged secession.
What Gibbs does not tell his readers is that, according to Jansa, Germany actually discouraged Slovenia from declaring independence. Jansa writes ‘Even the German parliament in its debate in February 1991 did not support our dissociation from Yugoslavia’ (Janez Jansa, ‘The Making of the Slovenian State 1988-1992: The Collapse of Yugoslavia’, Zalozba Mladinska knjiga, Lljubljana, 1994, p. 91)
8 ) Gibbs cites the opinion of journalist David Halberstam: ‘According to David Halberstam: “The Slovenians were already aware [by February 1990] that the Germans… favoured their independence.”‘ The opinion of a journalist with no expertise on the former Yugoslavia does not count for much; particularly so in this case, as in February 1990, the pro-independence nationalists had not even taken power in Slovenia, which was still ruled by Communists formally committed to Yugoslav unity !
9) Gibbs’s last remaining ‘source’ that Germany encouraged Croatia to secede is a statement by the State Department official John Bolton, but this turns out to be another case of misrepresentation. Gibbs writes ‘State Department official John Bolton later stated that Germany “induced the Slovenes and the Croats to jump ship,” that is, to leave the federation.’ (Gibbs, p. 79)
Yet when the quote is given in full, there is no suggestion that Bolton was accusing Germany of having induced Croatia and Slovenia to secede before they did so; merely that he accused Germany of having induced the EU states to recognise their independence after they had done so:
‘Initially, Germany, based largely on its historical interests in the region, insisted that EU members recognize the independence of Slovenia and Croatia. While this precipitous change alone was not enough to cause the ensuing carnage and ethnic cleansing in the region, Bosnia-Herzegovina unquestionably saw a declaration of independence as the only way to extricate itself from Serbia’s grasp, hoping thereby to find security in a united European front against Serbian force. Having thus induced the Slovenes and Croats to jump ship, and having pushed the Bosnians, Germany then concluded that it was constitutionally barred from undertaking any military activities that might actually stop the Serbian (or Croat) war machine.’
Thus, none of Gibbs’s sources turns out to support his contention that Germany encouraged Croatia or Slovenia to secede from Yugoslavia, and some actually refute it.
10) Gibbs also claims that ‘French Air Force general Pierre M. Gallois asserts that Germany began supplying arms to Croatia, including antitank and antiaircraft rockets, in early 1991 – before the war began.’ (Gibbs, p. 78) He neglects to tell his readers that Gallois was – like his favourite source James Bissett – another Milosevic supporter, who actually wrote a preface to a book comprising a dialogue between Milosevic and one of his other supporters, and to which Milosevic also contributed the foreword, entitled ‘The trial of Milosevic or the indictment of the Serb people’. In this book, Gallois praises Milosevic for his ‘intelligence’ and his ‘honour’. The value of his assertion that Germany had been arming Croatia from early 1991 should be assessed with this allegiance in mind.
11) There remains Gibbs’s claim that Germany was involved in building up Croatia’s intelligence services prior to Croatia’s declaration of independence:
‘Germany’s covert intervention began in 1990, while Yugoslavia was still an integral state. In that year, German officials from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BFV), a subdivision of the Interior Ministry, assisted in building up Croatia’s intelligence service, the National Security Office (UNS). In the course of this activity, German officials would openly collaborate with extreme nationalists in Franjo Tudjman’s HDZ party. This early German intervention, though little known, is nevertheless well documented.’ (Gibbs, p. 77)
Since, as Gibbs has pointedly informed us in his reply to my first post about him, he is a ‘tenured full professor’, it is surprising to learn what he considers the definition of ‘well documented’ to be: in this case, two short articles, neither of which provides any evidence or even references to back up its assertions, which do not even support Gibbs’s assertions, which contradict each other, and one of which is the work of a Srebrenica-genocide-denying outfit of extreme-right-wing Islamophobic crackpots.
The first of these articles, ‘Croatia’s intelligence services’ by Marko Milivojevic, published in Jane’s Intelligence Review on 1 September 1994, has this to say: ‘Dating back to as early as 1990, when Croatia was still a constituent republic of an internationally recognised state, German involvement with Croatia’s intelligence services began with the UNS whose name was a direct copy of Germany’s BfV (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.’ Milivojevic does not provide any evidence to back up his claim. Be this as it may, he merely speaks vaguely of Germany’s ‘involvement’ with Croatia’s UNS at this stage; he does not claim what Gibbs claims, that German intelligence began ‘building up’ Croatia’s UNS already in 1990. His article covers the period up to 1994; he writes that ‘As regards the type of assistance provided by Germany to Croatia’s intelligence services, staff training has reportedly been the most important input.’ Gibbs has turned this unsourced ‘reportedly’ into ‘well documented’, and simply assumed it refers to as far back as 1990.
Milivojevic does not give any sources, but he appears to have simply regurgitated a lot of the allegations made in Gibbs’s other source, which Gibbs cites second in his book but which was actually published first: Gregory Copley, ‘FRG helps develop Croatian security’, Defense and Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, February-March 1994. This article claims that ‘The Croatian leadership decided, at the beginning of 1991, to organise its own intelligence and security services.’ It thereby contradicts the claim made by Milivojevic, that these intelligence services already existed in 1990, and Gibbs’s claim, that Germany was already ‘building up’ Croatia’s intelligence services in 1990. This article claims that ‘German intelligence officers provided significant support and training at all stages, both in Croatia and in Germany.’ It does, therefore, agree with Gibbs that the support and training began, if not in 1990, then at least at the start of 1991, prior to Croatia’s declaration of independence. It does not, however, provide any evidence to back up its allegations.
The value of Copley, president of the ‘International Strategic Studies Association‘ as an authority on the war in the former Yugoslavia may be gleaned by the fact that he has made statements such as the following: ‘the Clinton Administration had, during the war, facilitated the Islamist terrorist activities because of the Clinton Administration’s need to demonize the Serbs in order to provide a casus belli for US-led military actions in the area to distract from domestic US political problems’. Copley condemned the possibility of ‘an admission of guilt of Serbs for killing thousands of Muslims who, in fact, were not known to have been killed. Several hundred bodies have been found as a result of the fighting in and around Srebrenica, but the Islamists and their supporters have claimed figures which grow higher with each telling, with figures now claiming some 15,000 alleged deaths.’ Furthermore, according to Copley, ‘the Islamist propaganda [regarding Srebrenica], supported by Ashdown — who has long been disavowed in the UK by his former colleagues in the Royal Marines because of his unequivocal acceptance of Islamist propaganda — is accepted as fact by the R[epublika] S[rpska] Government, thereby admitting guilt for crimes never committed.’
Indeed, Copley is a member of a body of Srebrenica deniers who went on record in September 2003 to claim that ‘the official alleged casualty number of 7,000 victims’ is ‘vastly inflated and unsupported by evidence.’
That, then, is the sort of source that Gibbs relies on to ‘prove’ that Germany encouraged the secession of Croatia.
With thanks to DW and JG
Update: Gibbs has admitted his inability to respond: ‘I will make no pretense that I answer all of Hoare’s allegations, which I find impossible, given the huge quantity of his charges.’ Anyone who has followed this exchange will draw the appropriate conclusions, though the sort of bone-headed left-wing fundamentalists who read his book and subscribe to his thesis won’t be put off by any refutation, however crushing. For who cares about the truth when you uphold the righteous ideology of ‘anti-imperialism’, right ?
I posted the following conclusion about Gibbs at Americans for Bosnia:
‘Quite apart from Gibbs’s deficiencies as a scholar, the reason why he and similar revisionists fail so badly is that – as I mentioned in my initial post about him – they don’t treat the wars in the former Yugoslavia as a serious subject of scholarly enquiry, but merely as another battlefield for their ideological campaign against “Western imperialism”.
Any attempt at open-minded research would force them to examine carefully then abandon as worthless the Serb-nationalist or “anti-imperialist” myths about the wars, and to develop more objective interpretations. But since their priority is to uphold the myths, not to carry out open-minded research, they are stuck supporting the ridiculous.
In trying to write a book on that basis, Gibbs failed as soon as he began.’
The myth that Slobodan Milosevic’s regime in Serbia and Radovan Karadzic’s Bosnian Serb rebels were victims of hostile Western intervention, indeed of a veritable Western imperialist conspiracy, is a bit like the idea that God exists – it really does rest on faith over reason. Ageing Western left-wing extremists who spent their entire lives believing that the Communist dictatorships of the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, etc. represented some sort of advance on liberal capitalism, were unwilling to jettison this shibboleth just because Communism collapsed ignominiously across Eastern Europe from 1989. They emotionally needed to believe that even the decaying remnant of this ancien regime represented by Milosevic’s dictatorship must have been the object of Western imperialist hostility in the 1990s, and their tribal loyalties moved them to solidarise with it in the face of all the evidence of its murderous nature. The solidarity was then perversely extended to Karadzic’s ideologically right-wing, anti-Communist Bosnian Serb rebels.
One of the clearest pieces of evidence that the Western alliance was not hostile to Karadzic’s Bosnian Serb rebels, however, was the fact that three and a half years of Western intervention in the Bosnian war culminated in a peace settlement that was remarkably favourable to them: not only were they granted a virtual state, through the recognition of their self-proclaimed ‘Republika Srpska’, with its own government, parliament, army, etc., but they were awarded 49% of Bosnia’s territory, despite the fact that Serbs constituted only 31% of Bosnia’s population at the time the war began in 1992. Meanwhile, the supposed ‘imperialist clients’, the Bosniaks or Bosnian Muslims, had their Bosnian republic virtually dissolved and broken into two entities, with the Muslims and Croats, who comprised 60% of Bosnia’s population in 1992, receiving only 51% of the territory.
Can you imagine the US treating one of its real allies this way ? Granting 49% of Israel to the Palestinians or 49% of Colombia to FARC ?
The percentages are problematic not only for the myth of Western hostility to Karadzic’s Serb nationalists, but also to those believing in the justice of the Serb nationalist cause in Bosnia. To square this circle, the latter have traditionally claimed that the Serb-nationalist conquest of so much Bosnian land is not really a conquest at all, since Bosnian Serbs ‘already owned’ 65% (or 60%, or 56%, or whatever) of Bosnian private land.
The first problem with this argument is that private ownership of land is not the same as state ownership of territory, nor should it be. In a hypothetical country whose population was made up 90% of poor black peasants and 10% of rich white landowners, but in which the white minority owned 99% of the privately owned land and the black majority only 1%, nobody would seriously argue that the whites had the right to their own state comprising 99% of the country’s territory.
Nor is the area of a country’s territory the same as the area of its privately owned land, since part of the land of any country – particularly a Communist-ruled country like Bosnia – will be owned communally or by the state.
Nor does private ownership imply military control; if in another hypothetical country the native population owned 100% of the privately owned land but the country was heavily occupied by a colonial power, it would not follow that the native population ‘controlled’ the land.
The second problem with the argument that the majority of Bosnia’s land was owned by Serbs is that the figure itself is a myth – whether it is given as 65%, or 60%, or 56% or whatever. No evidence was ever produced to show that Serbs really did own more than half of Bosnia’s land.
David N. Gibbs, in First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009) has this to say on the matter:
‘It is clear that Serb forces were on the offensive during much of the war, and they conquered large areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina. But the extent of Serb aggression was once again exaggerated. Newspaper articles repeatedly noted that Serbs controlled some 70 percent of Bosnia’s territory, despite the fact that they constituted only 31% the [sic] total population… There was an insinuation that the Serbs must have conquered most of the 70 percent. Why, the reader might wonder, should the Serbs control so much land if they account for less than one-third of the population ? What such reports omitted was that the Serbs had always occupied most of Bosnia’s land area, owing to their demographic dominance in rural regions. The Dutch government’s investigation estimates that ethnic Serbs controlled 56 percent of Bosnia’s land prior to the war. During the 1992-1995 period, Serbs extended their control of Bosnia’s land area by approximately 14 percent above the amount of land that Serbs had held before the war. Clearly this 14 percent was gained through military conquest – but the extent of this conquest was nowhere near the levels implied in press reports. Such distortions appeared not only in newspaper articles, but also in US government reports.‘ (p. 124)
This argument allows Gibbs to claim that the various Western peace plans which awarded over 40% of Bosnian territory to the Serb rebels, even though Serbs comprised only 31% of Bosnia’s pre-war population, were actually unfavourable to the Serbs:
‘In fact, the Vance-Owen Plan was not especially favourable toward the Serbs, and for the most part it did not reward ethnic cleansing. The 43% that the Serbs were to receive under the plan was considerably less than the land area controlled by Serbs prior to the onset of the fighting. Critics of the plan ignored the fact that the Serbs had always controlled most of the land in Bosnia – since they were disproportionately agricultural – even before the war. When the war began in 1992, the Serbs owned or controlled some 56% of the total land, a proportion above what they were allocated by the Vance-Owen Plan.’ (p. 144)
Gibbs’s claim is already meaningless, since he doesn’t appear to know whether he is referring to ‘ownership’ or to ‘control’ of land by the Serbs – and as we have seen, the two are not the same and cannot be conflated.
Be that as it may, his source for the assertion that ‘the Serbs owned or controlled some 56% of the total land’ in Bosnia before the war is the 2002 report on the Srebrenica massacre of the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD), commissioned by the Dutch government. In Gibbs’s words, ‘The report states: “Prior to the 1992 conflict, 56% of Bosnian territory was in Serb hands.”.’ (First Do No Harm, p. 269)
It is certainly true that the NIOD report claims the following:
‘Prior to the 1992 conflict, 56 per cent of Bosnian territory was in Serb hands, although they constituted no more than 31 per cent of the population‘ (Part I, Chapter 3, Section, 2, p. 189).
Unfortunately, however, the NIOD report is, as regards historical background, a sloppy, unscholarly source. The NIOD report’s source for this claim is the book by Steven L. Burg and Paul S. Shoup, The War in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Ethnic Conflict and International Intervention (M.E. Sharp, New York and London, 1999, p. 28). Yet the NIOD report has cited Burg and Shoup falsely. What they actually claimed was the following:
‘If the cadastral opstina [municipality] was used as the unit to measure population distribution, about 56 percent of the area of Bosnia-Herzegovina could be said to have been inhabited by Serbs before the conflict began – a figure that should not be confused with the claim of the Bosnian Serbs that they “owned” 64% of the land. (This claim, even if true, can only refer to privately owned land.’
The claim by Burg and Shoup that 56% of Bosnia was ‘inhabited by Serbs’ is vague (what does it mean that 56% of Bosnia was ‘inhabited’ by Serbs ? Is a municipality in which Serbs comprise a small minority still considered to be ‘inhabited’ by Serbs, or must they constitute a majority ? How many Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs also inhabited the 56% of the territory that was ‘inhabited by Serbs’ ? And how is ‘56% of Bosnia’ defined ? Does it mean that municipalities with a Serb majority comprised 56% of Bosnian territory ? Was the city of Sarajevo, with its large Serb population but larger Muslim population, defined as ‘inhabited by Serbs’ ? Are uninhabited mountains located within Serb-majority municipalities included in the 56% or in the 44% ? etc. etc.).
Leaving that aside, Burg and Shoup specifically state that ‘inhabited by’ does not mean ‘ownership of’; nor do they claim that it meant ‘controlled by’. The NIOD report has changed the meaning of Shoup’s and Burg’s statement from ‘56% of Bosnia’s territory was inhabited by Serbs’ to ‘56% of Bosnia’s territory was in Serb hands’. Not bothering to check NIOD’s source, Gibbs has then used the NIOD report to claim that ‘56% of Bosnian land was owned or controlled by the Serbs’.
In other words, Gibbs’s confused and meaningless claim is based upon the NIOD report’s miscitation of Shoup’s and Burg’s already unclear claim – even though the original claim, however unclear it might be, very specifically does not mean what Gibbs claims it means. And he uses this essentially manufactured ‘fact’ to claim that successive Western peace-plans were unfavourable to the Serbs, since they awarded them less than the 56% of Bosnia they had supposedly originally ‘owned or controlled’ !
But are there any real figures concerning Bosnian land that can help us establish the truth ? One source whose reliability, we hope, will not be called into question, is the Encyclopedia of Yugoslavia, whose second edition was published in Yugoslavia during the 1980s. The entry for Bosnia-Hercegovina, which we cite here in the English edition of its published offprint (The Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Jugoslavenski leksikografski zavod, Zagreb, 1983), has this to say:
‘The total area of B-H [Bosnia-Hercegovina] is 5,113,000 ha, which is 20% of the total area of Yugoslavia. Agricultural areas include 2,573,000 ha, that is more than a half of the area of B-H (50.3%), or less than 1/5 (17.9%) of all the agricultural area of Yugoslavia.’ (p. 137). Furthermore, ‘private holdings even now occupy almost all of the arable land (94.9%)’… (p. 139).
So according to this official source, private agricultural land holdings in Bosnia comprised just under half the total territory of Bosnia, and agricultural land as a whole comprised barely more than half.
Furthermore, according to a book published by the Republican Office of Statistics of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1976, the majority of the rural population of Bosnia-Hercegovina at the time was non-Serb. Specifically, in 1971, the village population of Bosnia-Hercegovina was 45.5% Serb and 53.7% Muslim and Croat (Ejub Sijercic, Migracije stanovnistva Bosne i Hercegovine, Republicki zavod za statistiku SRBiH, Sarajevo, 1976, p. 52).
Gibbs’s claim that ‘Serbs had always occupied most of Bosnia’s land area, owing to their demographic dominance in rural regions’ and that ‘the Serbs had always controlled most of the land in Bosnia – since they were disproportionately rural’ is therefore false. His deduction, based on this falsehood, that Western peace-plans that awarded over 40% of Bosnia to the Serb rebels were actually unfavourable to them, can therefore be exposed as an attempt to fabricate Serb victimhood at Western hands.
I shall be adding to this critique of Gibbs in future.
Update: See Srebrenica Genocide Blog on Radovan Karadzic’s use of a misleading ‘ethnic map’ of Bosnia.
I get older, they stay the same age – as someone once said in another context. It’s one thing I like about Bosnia genocide-deniers. When I first started taking them on at the age of nineteen, their arguments were already easy to refute, and I was hampered only by the limits of my own knowledge. Now, nearly two decades on, I know a lot more, but I still periodically find myself repeating the same old refutations of the same old canards – canards that sound increasingly silly as time goes by. Evidence that Germany ‘encouraged’ Croatia’s secession from Yugoslavia, or that the Western media was ‘biased’ against the Serb side in the war, or that Bosnian forces shelled their own civilians to provoke Western military intervention against the Serb rebels, has proven as elusive as the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The steady gathering of forensic evidence has made the Srebrenica massacre the most well-documented genocidal crime in history. Yet like lambs to the slaughter, new waves of deniers step forward to sacrifice any reputations they might have in the service of a long-discredited cause.
I say ‘like’ because it makes the job of the historian wishing to refute their propaganda very easy. But it’s also extremely boring. A couple of years ago I sacrificed a couple of days of my life to writing a review that catalogued the numerous falsehoods and distortions contained in the sensationalist anti-Muslim propaganda tracts about the Bosnian war written by Christopher Deliso and John Schindler. Since then, I have never seen either of those books cited by any reputable author. If my review contributed to this happy state of affairs, then writing it was a worthwhile use of my time. But it’s a chore rather than a pleasure; I’d rather devote this time to historical research or writing.
Consequently, it has been with a certain inner groaning that I’ve become aware of the latest regurgitations of the old denialist narrative. One such regurgitation is David N. Gibbs, First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009). To give a foretaste of what you can expect of this book, Gibbs has this to say about the Srebrenica massacre: ‘Certainly, the murder of eight thousand people is a grave crime, but to call it “genocide” needlessly exaggerates the scale of the crime.’ (p. 281).
Needless to say, Gibbs has no academic expertise on the former Yugoslavia or the Balkans and does not read Serbo-Croat. He hasn’t bothered to engage with the existing literature, but simply ignored all the existing works that undermine his thesis. He has not tackled the evidence presented by Daniele Conversi, myself and others, that the Milosevic regime and the Yugoslav People’s Army deliberately engineered the break-up of Yugoslavia; or the work of Michael Libal and Richard Caplan, exploding the myth that Germany encouraged Croatia to secede from Yugoslavia; or the work of Brendan Simms, demonstrating that Britain’s intervention in Bosnia actually shielded Karadzic’s Serb forces from hostile international intervention. Instead, Gibbs has cherry-picked a few odds and ends in order to present the same old revisionist story, only with a larger number of endnotes than the previous versions written by Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti et al. Yet he must know very well that his book will not survive a critical review by a genuine specialist in the field, that it will be ignored by all serious scholars and that it will serve only to confirm the views of the small, dwindling minority already committed to the revisionist narrative.
Dear readers, I promise I will get round eventually to doing a demolition job on Gibbs’s sorry little propaganda pamphlet. For the time being, I mention him because he practices the old denialist trick in relation to the Srebrenica massacre, of describing the military actions of the Bosnian military commander in the Srebrenica region, Naser Oric – involving attacks on Serb villages around Srebrenica and atrocities against Serb civilians – while neglecting to mention the incomparably larger-scale Serbian offensives that preceded Oric’s actions, and to which the latter were a response. Gibbs writes:
‘The Srebrenica safe area had an especially brutal history, and it was besieged by Serb forces throughout the war. It is important to note, however, that Muslim troops also behaved brutally. Especially problematic was the Muslim commander Brigadier Oric, who based his forces inside Srebrenica and conducted forays against Serb villages in the surrounding region. One UNPROFOR commander later described Oric’s activities as follows: “Oric engaged in attacks during Orthodox holidays and destroyed [Serb] villages, massacring all the inhabitants. This created a degree of hatred that was quite extraordinary in the [Srebrenica] region… [etc.]“‘ (pp. 153-154).
Anyone reading this who didn’t know better would be left unaware that, prior to Oric’s offensives, Serb forces had massacred and expelled Muslims across the whole of East Bosnia – at Bijeljina, Zvornik, Visegrad, Foca, Bratunac, Srebrenica itself and elsewhere; that 94.83% of the civilians from the Podrinje (East Bosnia) region killed during the war were Muslims and only 4.87% were Serbs (according to the figures of the Research and Documentation Centre); or that more Muslims from Podrinje were killed in 1992 than in the year of the Srebrenica massacre. The military actions of Oric’s forces against neighbouring Serb villages were those of defenders of a beleaguered enclave whose inhabitants were threatened with massacre, rape, torture and expulsion already inflicted on other towns all over East Bosnia. That Gibbs lays such stress on Oric’s atrocities while wholly neglecting to mention the incomparably greater-in-scale Serb atrocities in the same region that preceded them is distortion of the most blatant kind; equivalent to writing of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising without bothering to mention the Holocaust. No doubt the sort of bone-headed ultra-left activist who would turn to Gibbs’s book for information on the Bosnian war, instead of to a serious work, is easily and happily deceived.
Those wishing to read the history of the genocidal massacres of Muslims in East Bosnia in 1992 that don’t find a place in books like First do no Harm are recommended Edina Becirevic’s splendid Na Drini genocid, soon to appear in English translation, which demonstrates that the Srebrenica massacre was not an aberration but the culmination of a genocidal policy that began in East Bosnia in 1992. In addition, an excellent case study of the background to the Srebrenica genocide by Daniel Toljaga has recently been published on the website of the Bosnian Institute, entitled Prelude to the Srebrenica Genocide. Toljaga’s knowledge of the history of the Srebrenica genocide is unrivalled, and he traces the grim story: the summoning of local Serb-nationalist leaders to meet with Milosevic’s agent Mihalj Kertes in Belgrade in early May 1991; the killing of the first Muslim civilians in the Bratunac municipality on 3 September 1991; the killing of the first Muslim civilians in the Srebrenica municipality on 15 April 1992; and the deployment of the Yugoslav People’s Army around Srebrenica by April. As Toljaga recounts:
‘Following the takeover of Bratunac, the Serb forces began the attack on Srebrenica on 18 April 1992, firing around 5000 mortar shells on the town and the surrounding Bosniak villages. There was no resistance. The same day, Serbs entered the town, looting Bosniak property, setting houses on fire and killing Bosniak residents who were unable to flee into nearby woods. The Serb occupation of the town of Srebrenica lasted until 8 May, the day when Serbs burned to death 23 Bosniak civilians in the downtown Srebrenica. The victims died in excruciating pain. From April 17 to May 8, a total of 74 Bosniak civilians were killed in the occupied Srebrenica. The youngest victim was the 12-month-old boy Nezir Suljic whose charred body was still lying in his cradle. His father Huso, his mother Muška, and his brother Nisvet were burned to death in the same room. Nezir’s nine-year-old sister Sanela survived by jumping through a window and hiding in nearby woods.‘
Anyone reading Becirevic and Toljaga cannot pretend, as Gibbs does, that the ‘extraordinary hatred’ in the Srebrenica region began with Oric’s counteroffensives, which occurred subsequent to the Serbian attack on the region. Or can they ? The evidence suggests that revisionist authors of the kind under discussion here simply disregard all inconvenient evidence and go on repeating old falsehoods in their books and articles, which consequently have no scholarly credibility but which are nevertheless eagerly seized upon by their ideological fellow travellers. In his book, Gibbs touches on the question of Rwanda in 1994, which he avoids describing as a genocide. Complaining of the ‘asymmetrical focus on specific conflicts, such as Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, or more recently, Darfur, and the ’emotionalism’ that this involves, he advances the bizarre thesis that the massacres in Rwanda were caused by a fall in the price of coffee (pp. 219-220) ! Needless to say, this thesis is not borrowed from a genuine scholar of the Rwandan genocide; it is taken from an article by Michel Chossudovsky, a conspiracy theorist who has likewise argued that break-up of Yugoslavia was engineered by German imperialism as part of a ‘long Western efforts to undo Yugoslavia’s experiment in market socialism and workers’ self-management and to impose the dictate of the free market.’
Gerald Caplan, in tackling Edward Herman and David Peterson, two Srebrenica genocide deniers who have mutated into Rwanda genocide deniers, has written of ‘a tiny number of long-time American and Canadian genocide deniers’, who disregard the copious work of genuine scholars that undermines their denialist thesis, but ‘who gleefully drink each other’s putrid bath water. Each solemnly cites the others’ works to document his fabrications’. Indeed, as I recently wrote, the Srebrenica deniers simply will not stop digging, and are applying their same methods – already discredited over Srebrenica – to the if anything even more monumental task of trying to deny the Rwandan genocide.
In his latest response to Herman and Peterson, Adam Jones has noted:
‘Like Herman & Peterson, the deniers cherry-pick a few useful factoids and declamations from serious scholarship on Rwanda (or halfway serious, like Davenport & Stam), while dismissing the vast bulk of the scholarly and human-rights literature as hopelessly corrupted by nefarious (western/imperialist) interests. This has the additional advantage of cutting down on what would otherwise be an onerous reading list, since the literature on Rwanda is now so extensive, detailed, and utterly contrary to Herman & Peterson’s formulations. I confess I wondered, when preparing my first response to Herman & Peterson, whether their depiction of events in Rwanda in 1994 resulted from ignorance and incompetence, rather than actual malice. Their latest post rules this out, I’m afraid.’
Readers are strongly recommended to read Jones’s article, to confirm again – if any further confirmation is needed – what happens when genocide-deniers come up against a genuine genocide scholar.
This brings us back to the question of why genocide-deniers will devote so much time to writing texts that cannot withstand scholarly scrutiny, and that merely succeed in covering the deniers with infamy in the eyes of everyone outside their tiny denialist circle. These are the activities of a sect that needs its own myths to feed its followers so as to perpetuate itself. Bosnia and Rwanda are not treated as subjects for genuine scholarly enquiry, but merely episodes to be incorporated into the mythical narrative. So long as the sect’s followers continue to imbibe the myths, it does not matter if the rest of the world despises the sect and its myths.
In this context, the task of genuine genocide scholars is not to struggle to de-programme the sect’s followers – a generally impossible task – but merely to ensure that their poison is kept out of mainstream discourse on genocide.
Update: I have written three instalments of a demolition job of Gibbs:
- 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