Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Xavier Bougarel’s errors concerning the Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War


Xavier Bougarel has reviewed my book The Bosnian Muslims in the Second World War for Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, but appears to have done so without reading it at all carefully. What follows is my correction of his misrepresentation of my work. Although I would have preferred to have published this correction in the journal in question, and although some academic journals (e.g. Slavic Review, Journal of Contemporary History) do permit authors to publish responses or corrections to book reviews, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies is not one of them.

1) On the character of the Muslim autonomist movement

Bougarel writes:

Hoare draws artificial parallels between two movements [the Muslim autonomist movement and the Communist-led People’s Liberation Movement] that had very different characteristics and aims. He ignores the persistent anti-communist views of most members of the Muslim autonomy movement (especially the Muslim clerics). He speaks of a ‘dual Bosnian movement of resistance’ (9), whereas the history of the Muslim autonomy movement is chiefly the story of their collaboration with the Third Reich. He even makes the odd assertion that the SS Handschar Division was ‘the flagship project of the Muslim autonomist resistance’ (103) whose ‘ruling ideology shared some common ground with the multinational Bosnian patriotism of the Partisans’ (195).

Bougarel here seems to be claiming that I have somehow glossed over the Muslim autonomists’ collaboration with the Third Reich, and presented them as some sort of anti-Nazi resistance movement. Yet this is the very opposite of what I actually did write.

i) I wrote ‘Although the Muslim autonomists were not a resistance movement in the sense of being anti-fascist, anti-Nazi or anti-occupier – they were none of these – they were a resistance movement in the sense of being anti-Ustasha and anti-NDH’ (p. 10). They were a ‘specifically Bosnian anti-Ustasha (though not anti-fascist, anti-Nazi or anti-occupier) current of resistance, that paralleled and overlapped with the Communist-led People’s Liberation Movement (NOP)’ (p. 14).

ii) I described the Muslim autonomist leader Uzeir-aga Hadzihasanovic as ‘the de facto leader of the pro-German but anti-Ustasha wing of the Muslim elite’ who ‘adopted a back-seat role in channelling Muslim autonomist opposition to the NDH’ (p. 41).

iii) I discuss the efforts of Muslim autonomists ‘who were anti-Ustasha but nevertheless ready to collaborate with the occupiers’ (p. 40) to seek ‘direct German military administration over the whole of Bosnia-Hercegovina’ (pp. 40-41); the stated desire of Murat-beg Pasic, a Muslim autonomist notable from Bijeljina, to ‘fight for Bosnia-Hercegovina, albeit under German military protection’ (p. 44); and the attempts of Muslim autonomists in Hercegovina to ‘express the loyalty of the Muslims of Hercegovina to the Kingdom of Italy’ and seek ‘the establishment of an autonomous Bosnia-Hercegovina under Italian protection’ (p. 50).

iv) I described in detail the Muslim Memorandum to Hitler of November 1942 as ‘the culmination of activity on the part of the pro-German, anti-Ustasha wing of the Muslim autonomist movement. Up until the summer and autumn of 1943, Muslim autonomist activity aimed predominantly at direct collaboration with the Germans to bypass the Ustashas, rather than at direct resistance activity.’ (p. 51).

v) I cite the Memorandum’s enthusiastically pro-Hitler, anti-Semitic words addressed to ‘Our Führer !’: ‘Nobody, not a single ethnic group, not a single tribe, likewise not a single nation in all Europe has with greater devotion felt and understood your gigantic movement to establish a New Order in Europe as have we Bosnians, Muslims of Bosnia. We have in the principles of National Socialism, your movement, felt that it alone brings justice, order and peace to Europe, which has been blighted and ruined by democracy.’ (p. 52) I cite the Memorandum’s reference to the fact that ’the Jewish problem among us has finally been solved…’ (p. 52).

vi) I describe the opposition of the leading Sarajevo Muslim autonomists Uzeir-aga Hadzihasanovic and Mehmed Handzic to collaboration with the NOP (p. 82); the fact that Handzic was the ‘most powerful opponent of both the Partisans and the Ustashas among the Muslim autonomists’ (pp. 247-248) and that the NOP may have assassinated him; the execution by the Partisans of the Tuzla Muslim autonomist leader Muhamed-aga Hadziefendic (p. 137); that Nesad Topcic, leader of the Muslim autonomist ‘Green Forces’, directed his activity primarily against the Partisans (p. 189) and was eventually killed by them (p. 257); that Tito considered Muslim autonomist leader Hafiz Muhamed efendi Pandza, with whom the Partisans collaborated, to have been ‘an agent of the Gestapo all along’ (p. 153); and the Partisans’ execution of Srebrenica Muslim autonomist Ismet Bektasevic after he abandoned them for the Ustashas (p. 143).

vii) I describe the origins of the Handzar Division in the machinations of the Nazi leadership: ‘At Himmler’s suggestion, Hitler approved in February 1943 the establishment of an SS division made up of Bosnian Muslims. The Ustasha functionary Alija Suljak arrived in Tuzla at the end of the March 1943 with the goal of mobilising the Muslim population behind the formation of a Bosnian SS division… The name chosen for the Division was the 13th SS Volunteer Bosnian-Herzegovinian Division (Croatia)’, an attempt to reconcile the feelings of both its Croat and Muslim members. Yet it was more commonly known as the Handschar (Scimitar) Division’ (pp. 53-54).

Regarding my supposedly ‘odd assertion’ of shared ideological ground between the Partisans and the command of the Handzar Division – this was demonstrated by evidence that Bougarel has not disputed.

viii) I wrote ‘The most notorious Muslim quisling unit – the 13th SS Volunteer Bosnian-Hercegovinian Division (Croatia), better known as the “Handschar” or “Handzar” Division, to which this book devotes some attention – was, like the Partisans, the repository of hopes for Bosnian autonomy on the part of sections of the Muslim population; the Bosnian autonomist goal was, ironically, shared by the Communist-led Bosnian resistance movement and by the Muslim supporters of its Bosnian Nazi antithesis.’ (p. 10)

The specific passage in my book to which Bougarel refers is as follows:

‘[the Handzar Division’s] ruling ideology shared some common ground with the multinational Bosnian patriotism of the Partisans. [Its commander Karl-Gustav] Sauberzweig informed his troops “you all know that, in addition to the Muslims, Catholics and people of the [Serbian Orthodox] faith also call this their home. They must all be absorbed into the Bosnian community… We shall give the first liberated land to the Muslims, but we shall not permit the others to be left out. Please consider this and forget the petty hatreds, which only cause new discord.” (p. 195).

Sauberzweig futhermore believed that ‘a community composed of all faiths must be constructed, and that all interests particular to each group must be forgotten in the interests of the community.’ (p. 195)

This echoed the Partisan support for Bosnia-Hercegovina as the common homeland of Muslims, Serbs and Croats. Bougarel has not challenged the veracity of the passages in question, so it is not at all clear why he considers my assertion to be ‘odd’.


Xavier Bougarel

2) On the Partisans as both a Bosnian and a Yugoslav movement

Bougarel writes:

At the same time, his [Hoare’s] emphasis on the ‘Bosnian patriotism’ of the Partisan movement in Bosnia-Herzegovina leads him to ignore its Yugoslav dimension. Yet this aspect was clearly visible not only in most official resolutions and propaganda tracts, but also on the ground. As Hoare himself notes, the region of Cazinska Krajina was long dependent on the Communist Party of Croatia, the Partisans of Vojvodina fought in Eastern Bosnia and the Bosnian units took part in the ultimate liberation of Serbia and Croatia. Hoare ignores the fact that the Yugoslav idea was decisive in mobilizing Bosnian Serbs, who were the majority of Bosnian Partisans until the war ended.’

Again, Bougarel’s claims that I a) ignore the Yugoslav dimension of the Partisan movement and b) ignore the role of the Yugoslav idea in mobilising Bosnian Serbs, are both directly contrary to what I actually wrote in the book. My actual position, as I elaborate in detail, is that both the Bosnian and Yugoslav dimensions are crucial to understanding the victory of the Partisan movements, but that the Bosnian dimension has been ignored by the traditional historiography.

i) I describe how the Staff of the Partisan Group of Shock Battalions appealed to the Serbs and Muslims of East Bosnia with the slogan ‘Long live the people’s liberation struggle of all the peoples of Yugoslavia !’ (p. 25).

ii) I describe the events of the First Session of the Antifascist Council for the People’s Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ), which ‘issued individual appeals to each of the Yugoslav nations, including the Muslims’, and promised the Serbs ‘a free and brotherly union of Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia’ (p. 26).

iii) Chapter 4 is entitled ‘Bosnian assembly and Yugoslav federation’ and largely devoted to the relationship between the Partisan state-building processes at the Yugoslav and Bosnian levels; I argue that ‘The Bosnian and Yugoslav state-building impulses therefore converged. In November 1943 the convening of the First Session of ZAVNOBiH [Country Antifascist Council for the People’s Liberation of Bosnia-Hercegovina] and the Second Session of AVNOJ, establishing a new Yugoslav state on a federal basis, within which Bosnia would be one of six equal units, set the seal on this process and paved the way for the foundation of a Bosnian state’ (p. 155).

iv) I argue that the ‘laying of foundations of Bosnian statehood at this time [autumn 1943] was therefore the product simultaneously of specifically Bosnian, all-Yugoslav and international developments’ (p. 164).

v) I cite the First Session of ZAVNOBiH’s declaration that Bosnia-Hercegovina would be ‘in the great democratic federal union of peoples of Yugoslavia an equal member with the other countries of Yugoslavia’ (p. 179).

vi) I devote a subsection of Chapter 4 to the Second Session of AVNOJ (pp. 181-186), and another in Chapter 5 to the ‘Yugoslav Road to Bosnian statehood’ (pp. 200-203). I quote the KPJ Central Committee’s proclamation: ‘Peoples of Yugoslavia ! Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians, Montenegrins and Muslims ! … Forward for a free Serbia, a free Croatia, a free Slovenia, a free Macedonia, a free Montenegro and a free Bosnia-Hercegovina in a free Democratic Federative Yugoslavia’ (p. 199). I argue that ‘The Bosnian and wider Yugoslav federal state-building processes ran parallel, each decisively influencing the other’ (p. 288).

vii) I describe how, at the Third Session of ZAVNOBiH in April 1945, the third speech was delivered by Sinisa Stankovic, president of the (Partisan) People’s Assembly of Serbia, who stated: ‘At this moment, the enemies and traitors are spreading lies about the disintegration of Serbdom. To this it can be replied, that never in history has Serbdom been so united as it is today in the free union of equal Yugoslav peoples’ (p. 301).

viii) I describe how the senior Bosnian Serb Communist and prime minister of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Rodoljub Colakovic, went out of his way to reassure Serbs that they were united within Yugoslavia: ‘We in Bosnia-Hercegovina do not feel threatened in the slightest. On the contrary, today more than ever, we feel the inseparable bonds that bind us to our brothers in Serbia, our brothers in Croatia and our brothers everywhere where there are Serbs in Yugoslavia. But we, at the same time, also feel fraternal blood ties with all the other peoples of the new Democratic Federative Yugoslavia’ (p. 303) and ‘Nobody is thinking of questioning the right of us Serbs outside Serbia to maintain the closest links with our brothers in Serbia, which will enable the most complete and fastest development of the Serb nation. This development can only be rejoiced over by the other nations of Yugoslavia, for it will mean, like the development of its other nations, the strengthening of our common homeland – Yugoslavia.’ (p. 303)

I could provide many more citations to refute Bougarel’s mischaracterisation of my book, but I will finish by noting his statement: ‘As Hoare himself notes, the region of Cazinska Krajina was long dependent on the Communist Party of Croatia, the Partisans of Vojvodina fought in Eastern Bosnia and the Bosnian units took part in the ultimate liberation of Serbia and Croatia.’ I do indeed note this, for the very simple reason that my book explores in detail the relationship of the Partisan movement in Bosnia-Hercegovina with the Partisan movement in the rest of Yugoslavia. Bougarel has used my actual position to argue against a straw-man position that he has falsely attributed to me.

3) On the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina as ‘a nation-state without a nation’

Bougarel writes:

he [Hoare] describes the new Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a ‘nation state’, a description that results in some semantic confusion: on page 287, he writes that in 1945, Bosnia and Herzegovina became ‘a nation-state without a nation’ (a contradiction in terms), then he concedes that the new Constitution implied ‘a nationally heterogeneous citizenry’ (336) and concludes by speaking of a ‘Bosnian multinational patriotic model’ (380; my emphasis).’

[NB the use of the term ‘Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina’ is Bougarel’s error – in the period under consideration, it was the ‘People’s Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina’]

My terminology simply describes the contradictions of the Titoist state-building project. Here is what I wrote: ‘But although the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina was organised as a nation-state, it was not underpinned by any recognised “nation”, as was the case with the other five Yugoslav republics. It was, in other words, a nation-state without a nation.’ (p. 287)

The Partisans did establish a ‘nation-state without a nation’ in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and my book provides any number of quotations to demonstrate this:

i) The resolution of the Second Session of ZAVNOBiH, July 1944: ‘For the first time in their history, the peoples of Bosnia-Hercegovina equally and freely, on the basis of their own will and their own strength, are building their statehood. The Country Antifascist Council of the People’s Liberation of Bosnia-Hercegovina, as the carrier of Bosnian-Hercegovinian statehood and national sovereignty, declares that it recognises no government other than the Antifascist Council of the People’s Liberation of Yugoslavia and the National Committee of the Liberation of Yugoslavia, which alone can represent the peoples of Yugoslavia internationally.’ (pp. 209-210)

ii) Pro-ZAVNOBiH rally in the Kljuc district, July 1944: ‘We are happy and full of pride that, for the first time in history, our people of Bosnia-Hercegovina, which was until yesterday exploited by all anti-people regimes, has gained its statehood.’ (p. 212)

iii) Pro-ZAVNOBiH rally in the Jajce district: ‘We are happy that under your leadership will be realised the age-old dream of the people of Bosnia-Hercegovina for the independent administration of their country, and that the infernal plans of those who in place of brotherhood bring discord and fratricidal strife among the peoples of Bosnia-Hercegovina will always collapse.’ (p. 212)

iv) Statement of Vojo Ljujic, Secretary of the People’s Front of Sarajevo, October 1946: ‘According to the statutes of the Federal constitution, the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina has its own Constitution, People’s Assembly and its own government, which in fact guarantees its sovereignty. Nobody gave this to us, nor has it even been given to us in history. Our history is full of difficult pages of slavery under Hungary, Turkey and Austria-Hungary. It is the history of colonial exploitation of slaves and peasants; the exploitation of the riches of our country, mines, forests, cattle and – most importantly – the human workforce. But it is also the history of a people that has always fought for its freedom, justice and statehood.’ And: ‘In the struggle for survival, once again in all its strength was born the aspiration for freedom and for the independent statehood of Bosnia-Hercegovina, and this aspiration our people carried and developed through the struggle, establishing at once a granite foundation for its achievement. Nobody has given us the freedom we have today, nor has anyone given us our statehood. We achieved it in struggle and it is ours’ (p. 312).

v) Statement of Vaso Butozan, President of the Constitutional Council of the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, December 1946: ‘Our Republic, like the other People’s Republics, has expressed its desire to live in an equal union of nations in the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. This program and this unity are of vital importance to the happier future of the Serbs, Muslims and Croats and other Yugoslav peoples. In such a federation, every nation is guaranteed its national development and flowering. In a federation of this kind, sovereignty and the independent exercise of government are guaranteed to every Republic, except those rights that are voluntarily transferred to the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. The peoples of Bosnia-Hercegovina express, on the basis of this Constitution, their statehood and sovereignty.’ (p. 326)

vi) Statement of Jakov Grguric, First Vice-President of the Presidium of the Constitutional Assembly of the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, December 1946: ‘By ceding one part of its sovereign rights, on the basis of the Constitution of the FNRJ, to the jurisdiction of the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, the People’s Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina has not thereby lost its sovereignty; rather, it has, on the basis of its sovereign people’s will, only voluntarily transferred the execution of those sovereign rights to the state union; and this precisely in its own interests, for the purpose of a stronger protection of its national freedom and its economic and cultural development.’ (p. 327)

Bougarel has simply ignored the enormous quantity of documentary proof that I provided in my book, showing that the Partisans did indeed seek to establish a Bosnian nation-state, despite not formally recognising a Bosnian nation.

Of course, such a project was paradoxical and problematic, but this is something I emphasised myself: ‘This was, in essence, a nation-state represented by a sovereign “National” or “People’s” assembly, in the tradition established by the French Revolution, a tradition to which new nation-states in Europe had tended to subscribe. There was, however, a tension between the “political nation” or “people” of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the five “nations” recognised by the FNRJ Constitution – the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians and Montenegrins. This tension was never resolved during the lifetime of the Yugoslav state and was formally the issue over which the war of 1992-95 broke out”.’ (p. 330).

Bougarel is free to insist there cannot be a nation-state without a nation, but he should direct his criticisms at those who attempted to establish one (Tito and his Communists), not try to shoot the messenger (me).

Monday, 25 July 2016 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, World War II | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monty Python vs Carl Savich and Serbianna: Who are the real comedians ?

novivoxJust over a year ago, I wrote here of the mysterious phenomenon of the Muslim Nazi division, named ‘Handzar Division’ after the Bosnian SS division of World War II, that, according to supporters of the Great Serbian cause, was established in Bosnia by the regime of Alija Izetbegovic during the 1990s. Evidence for the existence of this division, its size, composition and origins, was taken from a single article in a Western newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, by British journalist Robert Fox, who based his information on the testimony of unnamed UN officials. Fox’s article was glaringly inaccurate – he described Bosnian presidency member Ejup Ganic, for example, as ‘foreign minister’ – but was nevertheless assumed by the supporters of Great Serbia to be gospel truth. Indeed, they even embellished it, attributing claims to Fox that he had never made – such as that Izetbegovic himself had founded this ‘Handzar Division’. I concluded that ‘Monty Python is a much better source for accurate historical information’ than the Great Serbia supporters in question.

It has taken nearly a year for a rebuttal of my article to be attempted, by the amateur historian Carl Savich of the Serb-nationalist website Serbianna. Based on Savich’s sorry effort, I can only feel that my assertion, that Monty Python is a much better source for accurate historical information than Savich and his fellow Serb nationalists, has been entirely vindicated. But before I show why this is so, I’d first like to take note of Savich’s attempt at cutting irony, directed at me, when he says:

‘It appears as though the existence of the reformed Handzar Division was not much of a secret. It was only a secret to the befuddled, lost, and delusional Hoare. This is what occurs when Monty Python’s Flying Circus is the source of your historical research. Hoare should spend more time on analyzing the war crimes trials at the Hague and less time on watching dated TV reruns. Moreover, for history to have any value or merit, objectivity and neutrality must be the goals. Delusional fantasy and ideological propaganda constructs have no place in serious scholarship and history. Monty Python should not be the source for historical information on the civil wars in Bosnia-Hercegovina.’

Savich is responding to my quip about Monty Python by accusing me of actually basing my historical research on Monty Python re-runs. Pretty funny, huh ?

This is, in fact, a rather unfortunate line of humour for Savich to employ. Readers will have noted the image at the start of this post, which shows a cover of the Sarajevo youth magazine Novi Vox, dated October 1991. The cover shows a soldier of the Handzar Division treading on the severed heads of the Bosnian Serb leaders, including Radovan Karadzic, under the headlines ‘The Handzar Division is ready’ and ‘The Fourth Reich is coming – Welcome !’ Savich reproduced this image in his response to me. He writes:

‘In October, 1991, the Bosnian Muslim magazine Novi Vox in Sarajevo, in issue no. 3, well over half a year before the civil war broke out in 1992, published a front-cover illustration showing a Bosnian Muslim Nazi SS officer in the Handzar Division stepping on the decapitated and bloody heads of Serbian leaders, including Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. The caption read: “The Handzar Division is ready!” Another headline announced: “The Fourth Reich is coming—Welcome!” This revival of Bosnia’s Nazi and SS genocidal past was censored, suppressed, and covered-up in the U.S. and the Western media.’

What Savich fails to tell his readers, either because he is dishonest, or – more likely – because he is simply ignorant, is that the magazine in question, Novi Vox, was a satirical magazine of the alternative youth movement in pre-war Sarajevo, similar in character to the US’s The Onion, or to the satirical news sections of the UK’s Private Eye. In the words of cultural anthropologist Ivo Zanic, in his magisterial Flag on the Mountain: A Political Anthropology of War in Croatia and Bosnia, Saqi Books, London, 2007 (pp. 332-333):

‘Even in cases that were pushed too hard or that were quite tasteless, Vox‘s constructions contained enough elements for anyone who approached them with minimal common sense to be able without difficulty to realise that this was satire, in other words, an imagined reality that criticised the real reality. Thus its many agendas and declarations are readable, undoubtedly witty, identifiable ironic commentaries on real agendas, actions and declarations by the political figures of the time, particularly Karadzic’s SDS of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Apparently, however, the ‘minimal common sense’ needed to realise that Vox was a satirical magazine was not possessed by Savich, who treats it as though it were a simple statement of Bosnian Muslim intent. Just imagine someone writing about British politics in the 1980s, who used Spitting Image as their source for what Margaret Thatcher’s policies were, without realising that it was a satirical comedy. Well, that is what Savich has done in respect to Alija Izetbegovic and Vox.

Savich’s suspicions should have been aroused by the fact that the price of the magazine, on the cover he reproduces, is given not only in dinars, the Yugoslav currency, but also in the fictional currency ‘bukvi’, or bukvas. In Zanic’s words (pp. 335-336):

Vox regularly printed its price not only in legal Yugoslav dinars but also in the fictitious  bukvas. The joke was clear to anyone with half a brain: it referred to the proposal that the currency in Slovenia be called the lipa, linden, because this tree in Slovenia had the status of national symbol, and bukva would be the Bosnian equivalent. This irony, or self-deprecation, for the word bukva in the South Slav lands metaphorically means thickhead, and there are versions such as bukvan, blockhead, and the very common colloquial phrase ‘thick as a bukva‘, implying someone rather slow, good-natured and harmless, a likeable fellow in fact, as well as a number of other phrases and proverbs.’

To repeat: ‘The joke was clear to anyone with half a brain.’ Further comment on Savich’s scholarly competence, and on the tactical wisdom of his attempt at irony regarding research based on comedy, would be superfluous (NB although he describes himself as a ‘historian’, Savich has no historical qualification higher than a Master’s degree; he does not appear ever to have held an academic post, published a book or an article in an academic journal, or visited an archive).

Let us, however, return to the issue of contention: the matter of the ‘Handzar Divison’ in 1990s Bosnia. As I noted in my article a year ago, Savich had commented on this matter. In 2002, he wrote:

‘The Bosnian Muslim Army and the Bosnian Muslim Government of Alija Izetbegovic and Ejup Ganic sought to re-establish the World War II Nazi Waffen SS Divisions formed out of Bosnian Muslims, the 13th Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Handzar/Handschar” and the 23rd Waffen Gebirgs Division der SS “Kama”, formed in 1943-45 by Heinrich Himmler. The London Daily Telegraph of December 29, 1993, in the news report by Robert Fox in Fojnica, “Albanians and Afghans Fight for the Heirs to Bosnian’s SS Past”, has reported that the Bosnian Muslim forces had formed a new and updated version of the World War II Nazi “Handzar” SS Division, made up of about 6,000 troops and supported by the Muslim leadership.’

This is what I wrote, in response to the Serb nationalists and their supporters, like Savich, who have cited Fox’s article:

‘The Bosnian SS Division ‘Handzar’ (or ‘Handschar’) was a unit that existed during World War II, and it is conceivable that there really was a handful of Muslim zealots who, during the recent war, fought on the Bosnian side and grandiloquently named themselves the ‘Handzar Division’ after this historic unit. It is indicative, however, that no other journalist or anyone else seems to have noticed the existence of a unit of ‘up to 6,000 strong’ that named itself after the SS and that was, according to Fox, officered by Albanians and trained by mujahedin veterans from Afghanistan and Pakistan.’

In attempting to rebut me, Savich draws from the documents of the International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Of all his earlier claims about the recreated Handzar Division, the only one for which he can find any corroboration at all is the claim that some sort of unit called the ‘Handzar Division’ really existed in Bosnia in the 1990s (and this is not an assertion I ever denied; as I wrote, ‘it is conceivable that there really was a handful of Muslim zealots who, during the recent war, fought on the Bosnian side and grandiloquently named themselves the “Handzar Division” after this historic unit.’)

Other than that,

1) Although Savich previously claimed that the recreated ‘Handzar Division’ was made up of ‘about 6,000 troops’, it now transpires, according to the evidence he provides, that the ‘Handzar Division’ was a ‘small unit’; so small, in fact, that it was merged with other units as part of a policy ‘of making larger units out of smaller ones’. Indeed, although Savich’s ICTY source does not provide any figure for the ‘Handzar Division’s’ troop strength, the unit is listed alongside other small units that range from about 30 for ‘Cedo’s wolves’ to 150 for the ‘Prozor Independent Battalion’. So it seems we really are talking about a handful of zealots, rather than an actual division.

2) The evidence Savich cites completely fails to substantiate his earlier claim, that Izetbegovic and Ganic had had anything to do with the formation of this ‘Handzar Division’.

Savich now claims: ‘This evidence confirms conclusively that the Bosnian Muslim Government of Alija Izetbegovic and the Bosnian Muslim Army recreated and reformed the Bosnian Muslim Nazi SS Division from World War II.’

This is simply a bare-faced lie, something that will be clear to anyone who reads his article and tries to find the supposed ‘evidence’ (the Bosnian Army, it should be said, was in the habit of incorporating into its ranks independent or autonomous units formed by local strongmen, as well as those of the foreign mujahedin and Bosnian Croat nationalists).

3) The evidence Savich cites completely fails to substantiate Fox’s claim, which he endorsed, that the recreated ‘Handzar Division’ had been trained by mujahedin from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

4) The ICTY’s judges, as cited by Savich (‘Prosecutor vs Sefer Halilovic: Judgement’, 16 November 2005), do not claim to know who formed, named or trained this ‘Handzar Division’, or how many troops it contained. Based on witness testimony, they say only that the unit was made up of Albanians and that its commander’s nickname was ‘Dzeki’. Based on the evidence presented to them, they conclude: ‘The Trial Chamber has not been furnished with evidence regarding the composition of this unit’. The ICTY’s standards of documentary evidence are, it would seem, somewhat more strict than those of Savich and his pals at Serbianna. 

What we have here, is a case of a number of Serb nationalists and their fellow travellers, who have made wild claims in an attempt to discredit the former Bosnian regime of Alija Izetbegovic, in order to justify the genocidal campaign for a Great Serbia that they supported. When challenged to provide evidence for their claims, they find themselves unable to do so, so the claims in question shrink accordingly, to the point where they effectively disappear.

Update: A closer examination of one of the documents cited by Savich, the Halilovic trial transcript of 21 February 2005, #050221ED, reveals the following testimony about the troop size of the ‘Handzar Division’:

‘5 Q. And then which soldiers came?

6 A. All the units that were there, Cedo’s Wolves, the 2nd Independent

7 Battalion, Handzar’s Division, Zuka’s men, and all the others. In all,

8 there were 100 to 150 soldiers.’

It would seem that the ‘Handzar Division’, confidently described as numbering ‘about 6,000 troops’ by our friend, does indeed turn out to be a bit smaller when the available evidence is examined closely…

Wednesday, 10 December 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Islam, Kosovo, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment