Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

The bizarre world of genocide denial

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:

First check their sources 1

First check their sources 2

First check their sources 3


Monday, 6 December 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Rwanda | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Edward S. Herman and David Peterson humiliate themselves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any further comment would be superfluous.

Hat tip: Sarah Correia of Cafe Turco.

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

Anti-Balkan racism in academia and on the Left

Image: Serbo-Croat-speaking Podlings in the 1982 film Dark Crystal.

Credit goes to Srebrenica Genocide Blog, Oliver Kamm, Balkan Witness and other websites and individuals that have been leading the fight against those who continue to deny or apologise for the Srebrenica massacre and other atrocities of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, from dabblers like Noam Chomsky to dyed-in-the-wool propagandists like Diana Johnstone, Ed Herman and David Peterson.

I have come to feel that, poisonous though they are, the deniers are ultimately less guilty than members of the political and intellectual mainstream who may disagree with their extreme views, but nevertheless not only tolerate them, but defend them as individuals entitled to respect.

In my last post, I criticised those blogs, such as Harry’s Place, which tolerate vicious personal abuse on the part of those posting comments. I believe that nobody – not even Nazis, racists or war-criminals – should be subject to such abuse, or attacked on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class background, physical appearance or similar. All human beings – even the most evil or obnoxious – are entitled to a degree of respect by virtue of the fact of being human. Vicious personal abuse of a vulgar or bigoted nature demeans the abuser as much as the abused. It falls into the same category as torture; as something that civilised society simply should not tolerate.

However, there is an opposite extreme: the readiness of supposedly respectable individuals to shield from harsh but legitimate criticism those who hold racist, misogynist, genocide-denialist or other views that ought to disqualify them from such solidarity. I shall not hurl vicious personal abuse at a genocide-denier, but I do feel it is my right and duty to call them a genocide-denier in no uncertain terms.

Unfortunately, there are those who are far less offended by genocide denial than they are by those of us who take the genocide deniers to task. I have come across such people both in my experience with left-wing politics and in my work as an academic. They may disagree with the genocide-deniers, but they feel that the genocide-deniers’ status as left-wingers or as members of the academic community should somehow disqualify them from being the objects of attack for their genocide-denial.

My own alienation from traditional left-wing politics was not simply due to the very large number of prominent and less prominent left-wingers who supported or apologised for the Milosevic regime’s genocidal policies in the 1990s. It was, if anything, more due to the fact that other left-wingers who were not themselves deniers or apologists continued to treat the latter as fellow members of a common ‘Left’. Leftists of this kind tend to be much less outraged by left-wingers who deny genocide or support fascism, than they are by those of us who denounce such ‘comrades’.

Leftists of this kind are not bothered by the enormous hurt and offence among the survivors of genocide in the Balkans and their friends, caused by the anti-Balkan racism of a Michael Moore, the genocide-denial of a Noam Chomsky or the support for Milosevic of a Harold Pinter. They are, however, upset when the former respond to anti-Balkan racism, genocide-denial or support for Milosevic by attacking the left-wing celebrities in question. For such leftists, Western left-wing celebrities are real people in a way that the nameless, faceless untermenschen persecuted by Milosevic’s forces in the Balkans are not.

I have encountered a similar attitude on the part of some of my fellow members of the academic community. There are those academics who respond to a genocide in their area of specialisation by speaking out and agitating against it, and there are those who do not. Quite simply, those who do not have less to feel proud about than those who do. In order to succeed, genocide requires bystanders as well as perpetrators. The genocide in Bosnia was largely successful; had fewer informed international bystanders remained passive, it might not have been.

I do not condemn scholars of the Balkans who failed to speak out against the atrocities in the Balkans in the 1990s. But I thoroughly despise those who try to present their inactivity as making them somehow better or more objective scholars than the rest of us. Instead of boycotting the work of their genocide-denying colleagues, scholars of this kind tend to collaborate with them, bestowing undue respectability on their work. They are thoroughly embarrassed and upset when scholars like myself expose their collaborators for what they are.*

This attitude is itself a form of racism. It is the racism of those who view their own Western society, and in particular their own political or intellectual circle, as being composed of real people; of being the real world. Whereas they view war-torn Bosnia (or Darfur or Iraq) as not being the real world; of not being inhabited by real people with real lives and feelings.

For the authors of Living Marxism, the magazine that pioneered Bosnia genocide-denial, the Bosnian war was an issue only in the UK and other Western societies; an issue, as they saw it, over which the ‘consensus’ had to be challenged and ‘freedom of speech’ upheld for the sake of their own, British concerns. What was or was not happening in Bosnia was, in and of itself, of no importance to them, since to them Bosnia was not a real place and the people who lived there were not real people. They were quite ready to parrot Serb hate-speech against Croats and Bosniaks, since they did not care about what happened to the latter. They viewed the case that ITN brought against them for libel as a greater crime than the murder of tens of thousands of Bosnians.

Left-wingers and academics who defend their genocide-denying or fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues from thoroughly justified criticism are not, essentially, any different from the supporters of Living Marxism. Or from the UN bureaucrats who were repeatedly ready to sacrifice the lives of thousands of Bosnian civilians rather than even slightly risk harm befalling their overpaid ‘peacekeepers’.

There is something genuinely disgusting and offensive about people who can watch a genocide or other tragedy unfolding on their television screens, and not only remain unmoved, but actually feel proud of being unmoved; who believe that cold-bloodedness is the correct response to such a tragedy. As the tragedy unfolds; as the corpses pile up; they indulge in their own comfortable little left-wing or academic parlour games; their little conferences, discussions, meetings and debating societies; with their genocide-denying, fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues. They do not appreciate having these games disrupted by those of us who find the spectacle grotesque.

In a democracy, people must enjoy freedom of speech. People are free to deny that the Srebrenica massacre happened; or to claim that it was simply a ‘response’ to Bosniak ‘provocation’; or that Serb ethnic-cleansing was fabricated by the Western media; or that the Bosnian army shelled its own people in order to blame it on the Serbs; or that Yugoslavia was destroyed by a Western imperialist conspiracy. But equally, the rest of us are free – indeed, we are obliged – to call such people by their true names: genocide-deniers; disseminators of anti-Bosniak hate-speech. To stifle such naming and shaming – on the grounds that left-wingers,  or academics, or others should be above being criticised in this way by virtue of being left-wingers or academics or whatever – is to strike a blow against frank public discourse in favour of Orwellian doublespeak; to legitimise genocide denial while de-legitimising its critics.

By choosing to deny genocide and promote hatred against its victims, genocide-deniers have forfeited the right to be treated with intellectual or political respect. It is with the feelings of the victims and the enormous hurt and offence caused them by the genocide deniers, that we should be concerned. A spade should be called a spade.


*Such scholars forget that any historian, sociologist, political scientist or the like who claims that his or her work is ‘politically neutral’ is, quite frankly, a liar. There are academics who are honest and open about their political beliefs, and academics who are not, but who claim to be ‘above politics’; the latter have less integrity than the former – it’s as simple as that. Great historians tend to be open about their political orientation, whether ‘Whig’, conservative, Marxist or other – one need only think of Leopold von Ranke, Thomas Babington Macaulay, G.M. Trevelyan, Lewis Namier, Isaac Deutscher, E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, etc. Mediocre historians, by contrast, often dress their boring, cowardly writing up as ‘non-political’ .

I apologise for the dearth of posts here recently. Readers of this blog may or may not be pleased to learn that I was recently promoted to Reader at Kingston University; this has, however, meant a substantially increased teaching load, and this autumn I have been teaching for 14-15 hours per week, leaving little time and even less energy for blogging.

Sunday, 13 December 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Political correctness, Racism, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is it really true that ‘East Timor was worse than Bosnia or Kosovo’ ?


East Timor and Bosnia are two countries with parallel tragedies. Both were attacked by vastly more powerful neighbours as they tried to establish themselves as independent states. In each case, the aggression involved genocide against the country’s population; in each case, the aggression and genocide were aided and abetted by the Western powers; in each case, however, the aggressor was ultimately defeated. The death toll of the East Timorese and Bosnian genocides has in each case commonly been put at 200,000.

In the last two years, scientific studies of both East Timorese and Bosnian war-losses have appeared, enabling us to begin to quantify them more accurately. In January 2006, the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor (CAVR) published the results of its investigation into East Timorese human losses in the period 1974-99. In June 2007, the Research and Documentation Centre in Sarajevo (RDC) published the results of its investigation into Bosnian human losses in the period 1991-95.

The two sets of figures are not completely comparable, as the figures for East Timor represent scientific estimates with a small margin of error so far as direct war-deaths are concerned, while the figures for Bosnia represent a body count, therefore something close to an absolute minimum. Furthermore, the figures for East Timor include a much less precise estimate for deaths from war-related hunger and disease, while the figures for Bosnia do not cover such deaths at all; conversely, the figures for Bosnia include military deaths while the figures for East Timor do not. Finally, neither the sizes of the East Timorese and Bosnian populations nor the lengths of the two conflicts were equivalent; the deaths in East Timor occurred among a much smaller population over a much longer period of time.

With these provisos in mind, what do the results tell us ?

1) In East Timor, approximately 18,600 civilians were killed or disappeared between 1974 and 1999 (with an error margin of +/- 1,000).

In Bosnia, at least 39,684 civilians were killed or disappeared between 1991 and 1995.

2) In East Timor, just over 70% of killed civilians (approximately 13,094 people) were killed by the Indonesians or by their East Timorese auxiliaries, while 29.6% (approximately 5,506 people) were killed by the East Timorese resistance.

In Bosnia, at least 86% of killed civilians (34,128 people) were killed by Serb forces, while not more than 14% (5,556 people) were killed by Croat and Bosnian/Muslim forces combined.

3) In East Timor, a minimum of 84,200 people died from hunger or disease resulting from the Indonesian occupation, 1975-99 (with an error margin of +/- 11,000). The figure may be as high as 183,000.

In Bosnia, the number of people who died from hunger, disease or exposure resulting from the Serbian aggression, 1991-95, has not yet been calculated.

4) In East Timor, the absolute minimum number of deaths resulting from war, 1974-99, is 90,800 (i.e. 18,600 civilians killed by all parties and 84,200 who died from hunger and disease, with error margins of +/- 1,000 and +/- 11,000 respectively, for a range of 90,800 – 114,800). These figures do not include military casualties on either side, which were not addressed by the study. 

In Bosnia, the minimum number of deaths resulting from war, 1991-95, is 97,207 (i.e. 39,684 civilians and 57,523 soldiers), excluding those who died from hunger, disease, exposure or other indirect causes of war. This figure represents a minimum, and may rise by up to 10,000 as further data is accumulated.

On the basis of these figures, which crime against humanity was worse: the Indonesian aggression against East Timor or the Serbian aggression against Bosnia ?

The correct answer is that neither was ‘worse’; only a very cynical, callous or perverse individual would seek to rank two such horrific episodes of mass killing. The figures tell us that both the East Timorese and the Bosnians suffered terribly; to describe the suffering of one as somehow ‘less’ than that of the other is to show a staggering disrespect for the dead.

Unfortunately, many of the same people who highlight the extent of East Timorese suffering, such as Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Edward Herman and David Peterson, actually go out of their way to minimise the extent of Bosnian suffering. For the sake of convenience, such people can be termed Chomskyites. The Chomskyites like to portray East Timor as absolutely the worst crime to have occurred anywhere in the world since World War II, whereas they like to portray Bosnia as something equivalent to a pillow-fight at a children’s party.

What applies to the Chomskyites’ treatment of Bosnia applies equally to their treatment of Kosovo. Chomskyites like to use terms such as ‘Sunday school picnic’ in relation to the suffering of the Kosovo Albanians. In reality… 

Two scientific studies indicate that approximately 10,356 Kosovo Albanian civilians were killed in the period March-June 1999, or approximately 12,000 Albanians between February 1998 and June 1999 (the authors of the second survey indicate that ‘most’ were civilians but that it was not possible to distinguish completely between civilian and military deaths). This may be compared with the 18,600 East Timorese civilians killed (13,094 at the hands of the Indonesians and their East Timorese auxiliaries) in the period 1974-99.

So how do the Chomskyites make it look as though what happened in East Timor was incomparably worse than what happened in Bosnia or Kosovo ?

1) They readily accept the maximum reported estimates of East Timorese deaths as the true figures, while denying every single Bosnian or Kosovar fatality that has not been definitely documented;

2) They blame the Indonesians for 100% of all deaths in East Timor, including those that were the work of the East Timorese resistance, while blaming Serb forces only for the deaths of Bosnians or Kosovars they actually killed themselves;

3) They try to convert as many Bosnian or Kosovar deaths as possible into ‘military’ deaths and therefore not as ‘proper’ victims, or into victims of the Bosnian/Muslim, Croat or Albanian forces and therefore not as Serbian victims, while assuming that all 200,000 East Timorese deaths were indeed ‘proper’ victims of the Indonesians alone; 

4) They describe Bosnia or Kosovo as a ‘civil war’ or an ‘internal conflict’ and remind everyone that there were ‘atrocities on all sides’, while never mentioning the civil-war dimension of East Timor, or the atrocities of the East Timorese resistance;

5) They include deaths resulting from hunger and disease in the total for East Timorese deaths; such deaths account for over 90% of the total if one adopts the maximum figure for total East Timorese deaths, which they usually do; conversely, they exclude all such possible deaths from their calculation of the Bosnian or Kosovar war-dead;

6) They treat the RDC’s documented body-count of 97,207 Bosnian war-dead, in reality a minimum, as if it were actually a maximum, and treat it as equivalent to the maximum estimates for East Timorese losses.

7) They treat incomplete body counts for Bosnian or Kosovar victims as though they were equivalent to total actual losses, while never requiring body counts to ‘prove’ East Timorese losses.

Here are some facts that you are unlikely to learn from an article written by Chomsky, Pilger, Herman or Peterson:

* In 1975, the year of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, 49% of civilians killed in East Timor were killed by Fretilin/Falantil, the East Timorese resistance movement. In no year during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, 1991-99, were non-Serb forces responsible for such a high percentage of civilian deaths. You will frequently hear the term ‘on all sides’ used by a Chomskyite in reference to the death toll in Bosnia or Kosovo, but never in reference to East Timor. 

* In the year 1999, the Indonesian army and its East Timorese auxiliaries killed 1,400 – 1,500 East Timorese civilians according to the CAVR survey, a figure apparently supported by a study carried out by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and cited in the CAVR survey. In 1995, the RDC’s figures confirm that Serb forces massacred over 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica. Chomsky is on record as describing the Srebrenica massacre as ‘much lesser’ in scale than the Indonesian massacres in East Timor in 1999. He achieves this by using high estimates for East Timorese losses – high estimates of the kind that Chomskyites regularly cite as proof of ‘exaggeration’ and of ‘pro-war propaganda’ when made for Bosnian or Kosovar losses.


Chomsky on East Timor: ‘The massacre continued, peaking in 1978 with the help of new arms provided by the Carter administration. The toll to date is estimated at about 200,000, the worst slaughter relative to population since the Holocaust.’

Chomsky on Kosovo: ‘Up until the US/NATO bombing March 24th, there had been, according to NATO, 2000 people killed on all sides, and a couple of hundred thousand refugees. Well, that’s bad, that’s a humanitarian crises, but unfortunately it’s the kind you can find all over the world.’

Pilger on East Timor: ‘…a tiny nation then suffering one of the most brutal occupations of the 20th century. Enforced starvation and murder had extinguished a quarter of the population: 180,000 people. Proportionally, this was a carnage greater than that in Cambodia under Pol Pot.’

Pilger on Kosovo: ‘The “mass graves” in Kosovo would justify it all, they said. When the bombing was over, international forensic teams began subjecting Kosovo to minute examination. The FBI arrived to investigate what was called “the largest crime scene in the FBI’s forensic history”. Several weeks later, having found not a single mass grave, the FBI and other forensic teams went home. In 2000, the International War Crimes Tribunal announced that the final count of bodies found in Kosovo’s “mass graves” was 2,788. This included Serbs, Roma and those killed by “our” allies, the Kosovo Liberation Front.’

Herman on East Timor: ‘The U.S. support and investment did not slacken when Suharto’s army invaded and occupied East Timor in 1975, which resulted in an estimated 200,000 deaths in a population of only 700,000.’

Herman on Srebrenica: ‘The disconnection with truth is epitomized by the fact that the original estimate of  8,000,  including 5,000 “missing”–who had left Srebrenica for Bosnian Muslim lines-was maintained even after it had been quickly established that several thousand had reached those lines and that several thousand more had perished in battle. This nice round number lives on today in the face of a failure to find the executed bodies and  despite the absence of  a  single satellite photo showing executions, bodies, digging, or trucks transporting bodies for reburial.’

Peterson on East Timor: ‘The Indonesian military’s brutal occupation caused the deaths of some 200,000 East Timorese, perhaps as many as one-third of its pre-invasion population.’

Herman and Peterson on Kosovo: ‘There has never been any hint of criticism in the mainstream media of the inflated numbers given by U.S. officials, nor have there been any doubts expressed as to the accuracy of the 11,000 figure, although it came from sources of proven unreliability and was 70 percent higher than the official body count plus list of missing (6,398). In the New York Times, Michael Ignatieff explained that if the numbers of bodies found was less than 11,000 it must have been because the Serbs moved them out. He never explained why the bodies plus missing total fell far short of 11,000, but he didn’t have to worry: in dealing with a demonized enemy anything goes.’

Hat tip: Michael Karadjis, Mihalis.

Monday, 14 January 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, East Timor, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Indonesia, Kosovo, Serbia | , , , | 4 Comments