Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Anti-Semitism, racism and Srebrenica genocide denial

The justice or injustice of a cause may in large part be measured by the ethics displayed by those who uphold it. The ongoing campaign to whitewash the former regimes of Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic and to justify their genocidal crimes against the Bosniaks is about as unworthy a cause as it is possible to imagine; consequently, the people who wage it do so in the most dishonest and malicious manner possible. Their campaign is fundamentally an expression of hatred – for Bosniaks, Croats, Albanians, anti-fascist Serbs, Jews and others who opposed the genocide. So their tactics are of the most hateful kind, involving systematic character assassination and racist and anti-Semitic abuse of those who speak about the genocide and the ideology that gave rise to it.

 

 

‘The Jews have had a disproportionate impact’

Most recently, a libellous and racist hate-campaign has been waged by the genocide-deniers – above all, Islamophobic far-right elements in North America – against members of the Institute for the Research of Genocide, Canada (IRGC), which among other things, campaigns against Bosnia genocide-denial. This campaign has accelerated following the decision last month of the Canadian authorities to deny entry into Canada of Srdja Trifkovic, a man who regularly engages in hate-speech against Islam and Muslims. Trifkovic had been invited by a Serbian students’ organisation at the University of British Columbia to give a speech at one of their meetings, but was barred from Canada because he had been an official of the wartime regime of ‘Republika Srpska’, hence ‘for being a proscribed senior official in the service of a government that, in the opinion of the minister, engages or has engaged in terrorism, systematic or gross human rights violations, or genocide, a war crime or a crime against humanity within the meaning of subsections 6 (3) to (5) of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.’

[I had personally written to Professor Stephen J. Toope, President of UBC, urging him to prevent Trifkovic from giving his talk. While I respect the right of genocide deniers to engage in genocide denial, I draw the line at allowing inciters of hatred against ethnic or religious groups to speak at universities, as I consider this an infringement on the rights of staff and students at the universities in question to work and study free from the fear of persecution or harassment. However, it was the Canadian authorities, not the UBC, that ultimately prevented Trifkovic from speaking.]

Supporters of Trifkovic responded to their setback with a campaign of personal defamation directed against members of the IRGC. The anti-Muslim hate-site ‘Gates of Vienna’ denounced the IRGC as ‘Jew-haters’, though without being able to quote a single anti-Semitic statement made by any of its members. This smear was a repeat of one levelled by Trifkovic himself against Professor Emir Ramic, the IRGC’s chairman, on the website of an extreme right-wing organisation, ‘The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’, run by former Canadian ambassador James Bissett. Trifkovic accused Ramic of being a ‘Jew-hating jihadist’ – again, without being able to produce a single piece of evidence that Ramic was either anti-Semitic, or that he supported jihad [since the articles in question are extremely libellous, I’m not going to link to them].

The basis for the accusation was the claim that Ramic was a member of the editorial board of a Bosnian journal called Korak, that has published some viciously anti-Israel articles. The articles in question were, indeed, viciously anti-Israel. But Ramic is not a member of the editorial board of the journal in question, so the accusation is totally false. The second basis for the accusation is that Korak‘s editor, Asaf Dzanic, is a member of the IRGC’s board of directors. Yet, as anyone can see from the IRGC’s website, its board of directors is very large and diverse, numbering over 120, and includes several eminent Jewish members, including the famous Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Most of these members, including Dzanic, are in the capacity of an ‘International Team of Experts’. The website also carries a powerful defence of the IRGC from the smears of Trifkovic and the ‘Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’, written by the Israeli writer Marjan Hajnal – also a member of the IRGC’s board of directors. The smearing of the entire institute as ‘Jew-hating’ and its director as ‘jihadi’ is, therefore, a desperate clutching at straws on the part of the Srebrenica deniers.

The ‘Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’ has also accused Ramic and the IRGC of ‘Holocaust denial’. Again, not a single piece of evidence was produced to substantiate this very serious charge. In fact, the charge of ‘Holocaust denial’ was made after the IRGC had weeks earlier published, and prominently displayed on its website, an article marking Holocaust Memorial Day and paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, which made clear ‘The Holocaust of World War ll was the despicable, systematic process of torturing and murdering nearly six million European Jews, by German Nazis. Approximately two-thirds of nine million European Jews were murdered throughout that particular Holocaust.’

The irony of such smears is all the greater in that Trifkovic himself, unlike Ramic, is on record as having made anti-Semitic statements. Trifkovic has stated:

‘To claim that the traditional Right is “anti-Jewish” is to imply that it is gripped by an irrational prejudice. Such accusation is untrue and unfair.

It is true, however, that the traditional Right is inevitably antipathetic to certain modes of thought and feeling, to a peculiar Weltanschauung and the resulting forms of public and intra-communal discourse, which are quite properly perceived as specifically Jewish.

Historically, Talmudic Judaism’s insistence on the Jews’ racial uniqueness — emphasized by the ritual and dietary laws of Talmudic Judaism and on its view of Christians as idolaters — has ensured that a Jew steeped in his own tradition could not view traditional European or American conservatism with sympathy. His tradition was a form of elaborate survival mechanism based on the zero-sum view of a world divided into “us” and “them.” The Gentile was “the Other” ab initio and for ever.

In addition, since the late 1800’s the Jews have had a disproportionate impact on a host of intellectual trends and political movements which have fundamentally altered the civilization of Europe and its overseas offspring in a manner deeply detrimental to the family, nation, culture, racial solidarity, social coherence, tradition, morality and faith. Spontaneously or deliberately, those ideas and movements — Marxism (including neoconservatism as the bastard child of Trotskyism), Freudianism, Frankfurt School cultural criticism, Boasian anthropology, etc. — have eroded “the West” to the point where its demographic and cultural survival is uncertain. The erosion is continuing, allegedly in the name of propositional principles and universal values, and it is pursued with escalating ferocity.’

 

 

‘Even when Jews don’t come out smelling like roses’

The extreme right-wing and viciously racist and Islamophobic American commenter Julia Gorin has apologised for Trifkovic’s anti-Semitism in the following manner:

‘While virgin eyes (mainstream readers and anyone not experienced in sorting out the intricacies and boundaries of what is and isn’t OK to say about Jews) will read the paragraphs as “anti-Semitic,” the views expressed aren’t unlike what I and any number of other Jewish conservatives have written in an effort to tame the Jewish predisposition toward cynicism about, and dismantling of, the traditional values of, yes, white-established societies… It’s not reading that would be palatable to the mainstream, but conservative readers — including Jewish conservatives — are known to have a slightly higher tolerance for truth, even when Jews don’t come out smelling like roses.’

Thus, Trifkovic and Gorin have no problem with anti-Semitism, but do have a problem with those, like Ramic and the IRGC, that oppose Srebrenica genocide denial. Gorin’s apologia for Trifkovic’s anti-Semitism was made in the course of an article denying the genocide at Srebrenica. Again, unlike Ramic, Gorin is an unabashed anti-Albanian, anti-Croat and anti-Bosniak racist. Commenting on a recent obituary of the Croatian journalist Chris Cviic, a long-standing resident of the UK and recipient of the OBE, which stated ‘He is survived by his widow, Celia, and a son and a daughter’, Gorin commented ‘Yayyyy! More little Ustashas running rampant in the West.’ In response to a story in the British rag-sheet The Daily Star about the alleged activities of Kosovo Albanian immigrants in the UK, entitled ‘Kosovan squatters stole my loo’, Gorin commented ‘Ah, the Albanian specialty: invading someone’s home and stripping it bare. (See Kosovo, Serbia.) Then they get to do it again at the UK government’s expense. What the hell are they going to do with the toilet? Do they even know what it’s for?’ Racists like Gorin typify the Srebrenica deniers. Another Srebrenica genocide denier, Nebojsa Malic of Antiwar.com, has also made racist statements about Albanians, describing them as ‘medieval barbarians‘.

Srebrenica denial and anti-Semitism frequently go hand in hand. The anti-Semite, Holocaust denier and associate of Julian Assange who goes by the name of ‘Israel Shamir’ is a Srebrenica denier and has written ‘Many war atrocity stories are just stories – from Srebrenica to Kosovo “killing fields”, from Saddam Hussein’s WMD to Belgian babies on German bayonets of the WWI, from Kuwait’s incubator to anti-communist inventions of the Black Book.’ Shamir was one of a group of Srebrenica deniers, including Edward S. Herman and Diana Johnstone, who wrote an open letter to the Serbian parliament calling on them not to recognise the Srebrenica massacre.

 

 

‘This self-serving Jew’

Srebrenica genocide denial tends to go hand-in-hand with the denial of the genocidal crimes carried out by Serbian Nazi quislings and collaborators during World War II. When the Milosevic and Karadzic regimes waged their war for a Great Serbia in the 1990s, a major element in their propaganda was the equation of the entire Croat and Bosniak nations with the Ustashas (Croatian fascists) of World War II. The reality was that the Serb, Croat and Bosniak nations during World War II were all divided between anti-fascists and quislings or collaborators. Thus, the Nazi-quisling camp included Croat Ustashas, Serb Nedicites and Ljoticites and Muslim soldiers of the SS Handzar Division, while the anti-fascist Yugoslav Partisans comprised Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and others. But the Great Serbian nationalists of the 1990s waged a hate-campaign against Croats and Bosniaks, seeking to equate the entire Croat and Bosniak nations with the Ustashas.

One man who saw through this propaganda early on was the Jewish American medical doctor Philip J. Cohen. As Philip told me when I met him back in the mid-1990s in the US, he approached the Bosnian genocide as a Jew who knew the history of the Holocaust and the failure of the world to prevent it, and felt strongly that something similar should not be allowed to happen again. He was not in the slightest bit taken in by the Serb-nationalist campaign to equate all Croats and Bosniaks with the Ustashas, and responded to it by researching and writing the book Serbia’s Secret War. This book traced the history of anti-Semitism in Serbia and the role of Serbian quislings and collaborators in the Holocaust. It therefore demolished the myth that in the former Yugoslavia, it had only been Croats and Bosniaks who had produced quislings, or engaged in anti-Jewish actions. And although Cohen was not a professional historian or academic, the book is very good.

Needless to say, Cohen does not in any way deny the crimes of the Croatian Ustashas against Jews, Serbs or others. But his exposure of the crimes of Serbian quislings against Jews in World War II led to his being the subject of an anti-Semitic denunciation by a Serb nationalist writer called Vasilije Todorovic, who published an open letter in 1996 claiming (falsely) that ‘Cohen, this self-serving Jew, has even managed to condone the killing of 60,000 Jews in WW II, by the very Croatians from whom he receives his major support. I believe you Jews call this, Chutzpah!’ And ‘How astonishing that for 46 years the Roman Church and its Vatican failed to recognize Israel. Now this upstart Jew, Philip Cohen, defends their actions.’ Todorovic extended his attack on Cohen into a general diatribe against Jews: ‘There are no Spielberg movies made about these brave Serbian families who saved Jews. At the opening of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Serbs were totally ignored as the Museum honored a Roman Catholic woman for saving the lives of 6 Jews.’ Furthermore, ‘Cohen omits the documents that reveal that Jews also joined the Ustasha and the Partisans and murdered numerous loyalists Serbs. In Cohen’s personal secret war against the Serbs, no mention is made that many of the Croatian Nazi officers had Jewish wives.’ And so on.

Todorovic’s article was written fifteen years ago, but the attacks on Cohen for having the temerity to write of the activities of Serbian Nazi quislings have continued. Two years ago, the amateur Serbian-American historian Carl Savich attempted to smear Cohen by claiming that he hadn’t even written his own book:

‘Philip J. Cohen is a medical doctor, a dermatologist with no background or training in history, let alone the World War II history of Serbia. Moreover, he has no knowledge of the Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian languages. How could he have written Serbia’s Secret War, which required a detailed and exhaustive analysis and research of Serbian language documents? Such a massive undertaking would require a thorough knowledge of the historical debates and nuances involed in the issues examined. Cohen couldn’t have written it. And he didn’t write it. Cohen was the front, the front man in a Croatian propaganda hoax. Because Croatia was a satellite, proxy, and client state of the U.S., Cohen received U.S. support and backing. The screed buttressed the anti-Serbian U.S. infowar and propagnada war.’

Savich claimed that Serbia’s Secret War had actually been written by a Croatian historian called Ljubica Stefan. He offered not a shred of evidence for his allegations.

I can personally testify that Cohen is the author of Serbia’s Secret War. At the time he was writing it, I met him at a seminar at Yale University, where I was studying at the time, and he asked me to assist him in working on the manuscript to his book. Consequently, I read his manuscript, made comments on it, then stayed with him at his home for two or three days and helped him work through some of the documents he had yet to analyse. Although Philip did not read Serbo-Croat himself, he told me he had benefited from a lot of assistance, in translating documents, from the Croatian writer Anto Knezevic. Having spoken with him at length and seen his library and archive, I know for a fact that Savich’s allegations are complete fabrications.

 

 

‘Other prominent Jews would apply the same techniques against the Serbian Orthodox population’

Savich is not a real historian and has no qualifications in history other than a Master’s degree, so it may not be surprising that his treatment of historical fact is less than professional. But he is also himself ready to engage in anti-Semitic writing. Here is a comment he wrote on the history of Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia:

‘One consequence of the Austrian occupation of Bosnia was that Sarajevo and other Bosnian cities were flooded with over 9,500 bureaucrats and administrators and commercial and trade interests. Many of these were Ashkenazi Jews. Austrian Jews sought to benefit from the annexation and occupation of Bosnia. Racism and bigotry are based in self-interest. The racist attack against Orthodox Serbs by the Jew Freundlich can be explained in this way. His moral outrage is selective and self-interested. Austrian Jews would gain economic advantages by the Austrian occupation of Bosnia. Remarkaby, Roy Gutman, Anthony Lewis, Susan Sontag, James Rubin, and other prominent Jews would apply the same techniques against the Serbian Orthodox population, i.e, professing a disingenuous concern for the human rights of the Albanians and Bosnian Muslims, at the same time ignoring the genocide and repression of the Palestinian population by the zealous Zionist nationalist government in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which were being illegaly settled by Jewish settlers. There was little concern for the human rights of the Palestinians, Kurds, or Basques. There is a dictum: Follow the money trail. Self-interest goes a long way in explaining the bias. Thus, under Austrian occupation, there were thousands of occupation administrators and bureaucrats, many of whom were Jewish.’

Savich is himself an apologist for the Nazi-quisling Nedic regime that ran German-occupied Serbia, claiming that it had ‘no choice in the matter of its collaboration’, that it was no different from the Judenraete in occupied Poland and the Soviet Union, and that it played no role in running concentration camps. All these claims are false.

Savich’s smear, of course, targeted not only Cohen, but also Ljubica Stefan. Stefan is listed among the ‘Righteous among Nations’ at Israel’s Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, as a Croatian who protected Jews during the Holocaust. This is what Savich has to say about her (again, without producing any evidence whatsoever):

‘Although she lived most of her life in Serbia, she was an ethnic Croatian. She lived and worked in Belgrade. She knew the Serbian language. She had access to Serbian documents and archives. Also, as a hack historian, a pseudo-historian,  someone below the radar, she did not have to concern herself about academic or scholarly accountability. Moreover, everything that appears in the Cohen text also appears in propaganda screeds published by or attributed to Stefan when she worked for the Croatian Government Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Stefan worked closely with Croatian ultra-nationalist Franjo Tudjman in rehabilitating the Ustasha regime and engaged in historical revisionism by attempting to equate Serbia’s role during the Holocaust with that of Croatia’s Ustasha NDH government.’

So Savich, who has no academic qualifications beyond a Master’s degree and who is an apologist for the Nazi-quisling Nedic regime, accuses Stefan, who was a tenured professor at a Belgrade faculty and who actually protected Jews during the Holocaust, of being a ‘pseudo-historian’ guilty of ‘historical revisionism.

 

 

‘Agent of imperialism’

Anti-fascist Serbs, as much as non-Serbs, can become victims of racism when they oppose the activities of the Serbian extreme-right. The Serbian human-rights activist Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, a frequent victim of physical harassment and defamation at the hands of Serbian fascist thugs and their rag-sheets, is periodically denounced by them as a ‘lesbian’. But she has also been denounced for supposedly not being of pure Serbian racial stock. Thus, an anonymous Srebrenica genocide denier – whose genocide denial subsequently led to him being banned by the proprietor of Modernity Blog – challenged my description of her as ‘Serbian’ in the following terms: ‘Serbian, eh? Funny thing is, Sonja Biserko keeps her biographical details well hidden. A wiki page lists her as Croatian, whereas a poster on some forum claims that: her brother was a member of Croatian troops, so called “Zbor narodne garde” and was killed in fight with Krajina Serbs.

The anonymous creep in question challenged me to confirm or deny the truth of his rumours. This sort of malicious gossip always puts us in a difficult position, as however unlikely it is that such rumours are true, we cannot formally deny them unless we know for certainty that they are false. Readers may recall the rumour that former Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic recruited for the SS during World War II; no evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this claim, so we have to assume that it is false, particularly given the seriousness of the charge. But I cannot say for absolute certainty that it is untrue.

However, having now researched the matter, I can say for absolute, 100% certainty that Biserko’s brother was not a member of the Croatian armed forces, and was not killed in combat with Serb forces. He was not even present in Croatia during the war. As for the claim that Sonja is ‘Croatian’ rather than Serbian; since she is a Serbian citizen, was born in Belgrade and since her father was an ethnic Serb, the smear entirely rests on the fact that her mother is an ethnic Croat. The suggestion being that any Serb whose background isn’t 100% ethnically pure is ‘not really’ Serb at all.

The idea that someone’s patriotism can be called into question on the basis of their ‘alien’ ethnic background has been a favourite of the far right since the Dreyfus Affair. In reailty, people from ethnically non-Serb or mixed backgrounds, including ethnic Croats and Bosniaks, have often become hardline Serb nationalists, or supported the Milosevic regime – examples are Emir Kusturica, Jovan Zametica, Franko Simatovic and Mihalj Kertes. The Serbian fascist leader Vojislav Seselj was frequently accused of being an ethnic Croat, on the grounds that ‘Seselj’ is a Croat surname – he was pathetically reduced  to obtaining a certificate from the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (for which he allegedly paid a small sum in deutschmarks) to ‘prove’ he was ‘genuinely’ Serb.

As a footnote, the smear against Sonja was posted on the ‘Aaronovitch Watch’ malicious-gossip site, about which I have recently written, and is entirely characteristic of the sort of material that is posted there. Biserko’s smearer was actively encouraged to post malicious rumours about me as well by the blog’s proprietor, the Guardian columnist and Credit Suisse stockbroker Daniel Davies (interestingly, Credit Suisse is the same company for which the late Richard Holbrooke worked). Evidence suggests that Davies may not be entirely neutral in former-Yugoslav matters; he has spoken of his friendship with the blogger Splintered Sunrise, a sympathiser of the neo-Nazi Serbian Radical Party; and of Christopher Deliso, author of a viciously Islamophobic propaganda tract about Balkan Muslims significantly entitled The coming Balkan caliphate (which I have dissected), which itself draws heavily on the ‘work’ of Srebrenica genocide deniers, in particular Darko Trifunovic, but also Nebojsa Malic. Davies has also stated that during the war in the former Yugoslavia, ‘I actually had a certain amount of sympathy for the Serbian Republic (though not the Bosnian Serbs)’.

Davies’s friend Splintered Sunrise has himself described Biserko as an ‘agent of imperialism’ in a comment on the Lenin’s Tomb blog (the comments are no longer visible online, but I possess the print-out). A further example of demonisation and character assassination that is entirely characteristic.

Hat tip: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

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Thursday, 24 March 2011 Posted by | Anti-Semitism, Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Jews, Marko Attila Hoare, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

Srebrenica deniers get their mucky paws on Rwanda

When, back in the 1940s under the shadow of the Holocaust, Raphael Lemkin coined the term ‘genocide’, then lobbied to have it recognised as a crime in international law, his aim was to prevent such crimes occurring in the future. Since then, there have been those who have attempted to use the concept of genocide, in the spirit of Lemkin, to agitate against the mass extermination of human beings. But there have also been those who have paradoxically attempted to use the concept of genocide to ensure that acts of mass extermination are allowed to take place. During the war in Bosnia, supporters of the genocidal project of Milosevic and Karadzic expended an enormous amount of energy trying to deny the reality of the mass killings – from arguing that the atrocities were being invented by the Western media, to redefining Serb concentration-camps as ‘detention centres’, to claiming that the Bosnians had carried out the atrocities against themselves. But one of their favourite tactics was to set up, then attack, the straw man that ‘the Bosnian genocide was the same as the Holocaust’. Since it was not the same as the Holocaust, they argued, it could not really have been genocide. And since it was not genocide, it wasn’t anything to get upset over.

Thus, it suits the deniers and supporters of genocidal acts to define ‘genocide’ as narrowly as possible. A genocide, such as occurred in Bosnia, can be measured against the benchmark of a ‘perfect’ genocide such as the Holocaust, and found wanting. They tend to define ‘genocide’ as something that has to involve the total physical extermination of an entire ethnic group. This, of course, is a much narrower definition than the one in international law, which defines genocide as an attempt to destroy a group ‘in whole or in part’. And as Adam Jones has pointed out in ‘Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction’ (Taylor and Francis, 2007), according to the international legal definition, genocide technically does not have to involve actually killing anyone at all.

Nevertheless, even with their narrowest possible definition, the deniers have to recognise that at least a couple of cases of genocide have historically occurred. I recall having an exchange about Milosevic on the blog Crooked Timber with a notoriously unpleasant little Stalinist by the name of Louis Proyect, who assured me that the only cases of genocide that were universally acknowledged were the Holocaust, the Armenians and Rwanda. This was already inaccurate, of course, as the Armenian Genocide has been the object of a sustained campaign of denial by Turkish nationalists and their supporters. But it is true that Rwanda has tended to be spared. Back in December 1995, an article by Fiona Fox appeared in Living Marxism, the principal propaganda rag of Milosevic’s and Karadzic’s supporters in the UK, entitled ‘Massacring the truth in Rwanda’. Living Marxism had pioneered Bosnia genocide denial, and Fox attempted a similar form of denial over Rwanda, but this was something of a flash in the pan: Rwanda so far has simply not provoked such a large and active denialist lobby as Bosnia.

The primary reason that the denialists have been much more vocal over Bosnia than Rwanda was that the Bosnian genocide occupied a much larger place in the Western consciousness than the Rwandan genocide, and was a much more prominent foreign policy issue, and over a longer period of time. So far as left-wing deniers were concerned, a second important motive was their wish to minimise the crimes of a reconstituted Communist regime – Milosevic’s ruling party called itself ‘Socialist’. But let there be no illusions: the more widespread and vocal nature of Bosnian than of Rwandan genocide-denial has nothing to do with the fact that the scale of the mass killings in Rwanda was much greater than in Bosnia, or that the Rwandan genocide was much more absolutist in its exterminationist goals than the Bosnian genocide.

That this is so, is evidenced by the fact that two fools have now rushed in where wiser devils have feared to tread. Edward S. Herman and David Peterson were the founders of the ‘Srebrenica Research Group’, set up to deny the Srebrenica massacre had taken place. Their efforts have appeared increasingly laughable, as in terms of forensic evidence, the fact and scale of Srebrenica are probably better documented than any other genocidal massacre in history. The cynicism and downright clownishness of their denialist antics are highlighted by the fact that they repeatedly highlighted the figure of roughly 100,000 Bosnian war-deaths, established by Mirsad Tokaca’s Research and Documentation Centre (RDC), as proof that earlier estimates of 200,000 Bosnian dead were part of an elaborate campaign of anti-Serb disinformation – while themselves repeating massively exaggerated figures for Serb war-dead that the RDC’s research had already discredited.

Herman’s and Peterson’s denial of the Rwanda Genocide has been dissected by Gerald Caplan (in two pieces) and by Adam Jones. I’m not going to regurgitate the admirable job that these two colleagues have done, but what is particularly striking is the amateurish, almost whimsical nature of the deniers’ arguments. Readers may recall the case of the Bosnia genocide denier Thomas Deichmann, who thought that he could disprove the eyewitness accounts by reporters of the Serb concentration-camp at Trnopolje because he noticed that the barbed wire in the picture of the camp was on the ‘wrong’ side of the fence poles, and as his wife pointed out, this wasn’t how fences were organised in their garden. Among the similar gems of stunning insight now produced by Herman and Peterson, which they feel refutes all the evidence for the genocide produced by genuine experts, historians, journalists and war-crimes investigators, we have the following:

Would it not have been incredible for Kagame’s Tutsi forces to conquer Rwanda in 100 days, and yet the number of minority Tutsi deaths be greater than the number of majority Hutu deaths by a ratio of something like three-to-one?  Surely then we would have to count Rwanda 1994 as the only country in history where the victims of genocide triumphed over those who committed genocide against them, and wiped the territory clean of its “genocidaires” at the same time.  If ever a prima facie case existed for doubting the collective wisdom of “academics, human rights activists, [and] journalists” whose opinions the establishment respects, we find it here, with the alleged Hutu perpetrators routed and fleeing for their lives in neighboring countries, and the alleged Tutsi victims in complete control.

Jones points out that it wasn’t the Tutsi victims who defeated the genocidaires, but the Rwandan Patriotic Front invading from Uganda. Apart from that, the sloppiness of the deniers is indicated by their assumptions that the side that lost the civil war cannot be the one that carried out the genocide, and that the victorious side ‘ought to’ have carried out the most killing. We could ask what such an interpretative model would say about the battle for Srebrenica in 1995, when the victims’ side lost but still had its genocide denied, and its own killings of enemy civilians equated with the actual genocide, by Herman and Peterson. Or about World War II in Bosnia, when the Partisans, composed in large part of Serb victims of the Ustasha genocide, defeated the Ustasha perpetrators of the genocide.

Caplan describes Herman and Peterson as ‘two dedicated anti-imperialists [who] have sunk to the level of genocide deniers’. Yet it is a remarkable form of ‘anti-imperialism’ that feels no desire to condemn or expose Western collusion with either the Bosnian or the Rwandan genocides. Indeed, the well documented history of active French complicity in the Rwandan genocide is a particularly fruitful field for those who really do want to expose the crimes of ‘Western imperialism’.

Clearly, Herman and Peterson are anti-Americans before they are anti-imperialist. But it is even worse than that. For them, ‘anti-imperialism’ ultimately is genocide denial. Should any act of genocide be made known to the Western public, they see their job as ensuring that nothing is done to stop it while it is occurring, and as denying it after it has occurred – that is what ‘anti-imperialism’ is for them. Such are the depths to which these people have sunk.

Update: Peterson appears to have graduated from putting ‘massacre’ in inverted commas when speaking about Srebrenica, and ‘genocide’ in inverted commas’ when speaking about Rwanda, to putting ‘the Holocaust’ itself in inverted commas:

I find Jones’s comparison between the “holocaust” and events in Rwanda 1994 to be strangely revealing—but about Jones, not Rwanda.  To me, it betrays an emotional, self-dramatizing, even defensive attachment to the “Holocaust in Rwanda”—that is, to a particular model for discussing events in Rwanda during 1994—that appears to overwhelm everything Jones thinks and writes about it.  Indeed.  “The Genocide” in Rwanda stands out in Jones’s work (and in the work of many others) as a kind of fetishized, supra-historical entity in its own right.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010 Posted by | Bosnia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Red-Brown Alliance, Rwanda | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments