Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Dejan Jovic, David N. Gibbs and the Great Serbian narrative


On 21 January, the Croatian journalists’ website published an article about me written by Dejan Jovic, chief analyst and special coordinator at the office of the president of Croatia, Ivo Josipovic. The Croatian newspaper Vecernji list republished Jovic’s article, then published my reply on 30 January, which is reproduced here with Croatian-language passages translated into English. My reply was also published in BCS translation by

[My four-part refutation of David Gibbs’s book ‘First do no Harm’ can be found here.]


Dejan Jovic’s attack on me, published by on 21 January, contains numerous falsehoods. For example, he accuses me: ‘To justify the war in Iraq, they employed the metaphor of Hitler (for Saddam Hussein)’. Yet I have never used the Hitler metaphor to describe Saddam Hussein, and in June 2013 I described the Iraq war in the pages of the Guardian as a ‘misguided adventure’. He claims ‘people like Hoare advocate further interventions as the solution to new problems: in Syria, maybe afterwards in Iran, then who knows where tomorrow.’ In fact, I explicitly condemned the idea of a US or Israeli attack on Iran on my blog back in April 2012. Jovic claims: ‘Indeed, those same people who attack me have already attacked many others, including the Washington Times, The Guardian, and proclaimed some other reputable individuals and media outlets to be “genocide deniers”.’ But I have never accused either the Washington Times or the Guardian of genocide denial, and I doubt whether Jovic’s other critics have either. Jovic links me to the politics of the Henry Jackson Society. Yet I resigned from that organisation at the start of 2012, and have explicitly and strongly condemned its politics repeatedly since.

Jovic’s string of ad hominem falsehoods directed against me appear to be his way of distracting attention from the matter at hand: his uncritical endorsement of David Gibbs’s Great Serb propaganda tract (First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 2009), which denies the Srebrenica genocide. Jovic claims: ‘In criticising my review of Gibbs’s book, Hoare “forgets” that Gibbs personally replied to his thesis on “genocide denial” – and completely refuted it.’ But this is untrue. In his book (p. 281), Gibbs says of Srebrenica: ‘Certainly, the murder of eight thousand people is a grave crime, but to call it “genocide” needlessly exaggerates the scale of the crime’ (p. 281). Furthermore, Gibbs claims the massacre was provoked by the Bosniak victims: ‘The origin of the Srebrenica massacre lay in a series of Muslim attacks that began in the spring of 1995… Such actions invited Serb reprisals, and this dynamic contributed to the fall of the safe area’ (p. 160). As for Jovic’s claim that Gibbs ‘totally refuted’ my accusation of genocide denial: this is also untrue; Gibbs was completely unable to defend himself from the charge. Readers can view my refutation of him and see for themselves.

Jovic first tries to deny that Gibbs engages in genocide denial, then tries to justify Gibbs’s genocide denial. He argues that ‘in the academic community – not our own post-Yugoslav one, but more broadly – there is no consensus on whether in the wars in the former Yugoslavia genocide was committed or not.’ But none of the people he cites, in support of the view that there was no genocide, is an expert on the former Yugoslavia. Jovic then claims ‘courts have ruled that in Bosnia-Hercegovina there was no genocide (apart from in Srebrenica)’. But this is untrue: the ICTY has not ruled that there was no genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina apart from in Srebrenica. Both Karadzic and Mladic are currently being tried for genocide in municipalities across Bosnia-Hercegovina – not only in Srebrenica. Karadzic’s acquittal by the ICTY Trials Chamber for one count of genocide (in municipalities outside of Srebrenica) was recently reversed by the ICTY Appeals Chamber. Furthermore, in 1997, a German court convicted Nikola Jorgic, a Bosnian Serb, for genocide in the north Bosnian region of Doboj in 1992, and this ruling was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.

Finally, Jovic claims that genocide is something invented by warmongers to justify military intervention, whereas people who deny genocide are really just trying to protect peace:

‘”Genocide” and “Hitler” are always there when it is necessary to start a new war – they are the “idea” explanation of the reason why one more is being launched. The difference between Gibbs and Hoare is, therefore, that one thinks that the wars are not waged out of altruism and that they do not solve problems, whereas the other maintains that liberal interventions are necessary and important, and that there is nothing controversial in them even if they result in a large number of deaths. One is an advocate of peace, the other of war.’ The reality is somewhat different: both Jovic and Gibbs seek to minimise the guilt of the Serbian aggressor for the 1990s war, and to shift as much blame as possible onto the Croatian and Bosnian victims of the aggression. The agenda of people like Jovic and Gibbs is to ensure that the real warmongers – tyrants like Slobodan Milosevic and Bashar al-Assad – should be free to wage their wars without fear of Western military intervention, or even of serious condemnation from the Western media.

Following his review of Gibbs’s book in Politicka misao, Jovic has now for the second time, in his reply to me and to the Bosnian organisations who criticised him, praised this book in glowing terms, while refusing to make any substantial criticisms of it. Yet Gibbs’s book is a Great Serbian propaganda pamphlet of no scholarly value. Gibbs has no expertise on the subject of the former Yugoslavia; he does not even read Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian; and his arguments are based on the distortion and manipulation of source material. He minimises the guilt and crimes of the regimes of Milosevic and Karadzic and of the JNA; exaggerates the guilt and crimes of the Croatians and Bosnians; and seeks to blame the West for the break-up of Yugoslavia and war.

1) Gibbs writes ‘And we will see later in the chapter that the post-Yugoslav state of Croatia, which became independent in 1991, had important historical links with Pavelic’s puppet state.’ (p. 48).

Discussing World War II, Gibbs mentions Ustasha genocide and collaboration, as well as the collaboration of Bosnian Muslims and Albanians, but fails to mention the crimes or collaboration of the Chetniks, or of Serbia’s Nedic regime.

2) Gibbs claims Tudjman ‘recommended’ genocidal violence against the Jews (p. 67)

3) Gibbs claims Croatia and Slovenia were not experiencing any oppression at Serb hands prior to declaring independence, so had no legitimate grounds for seceding: ‘In fact, there was no serious evidence of Serb oppression in Slovenia or Croatia prior to the secessionist actions. The main reasons for seceding, as we saw in the previous chapter, were economic in nature. The JNA’s initial use of force in Slovenia was quite mild’ (p. 97). Thus, he disregards the Serbian economic sanctions against Slovenia; the JNA’s disarming of the Slovenian and Croatian territorial defence; the Serb rebellion in Croatia; the ‘Log Revolution’; the JNA’s intervention in support of the Serb rebels; and the massacre of Croatian policemen at Borovo Selo.

4) Gibbs blames the war in Croatia on the Croatian side: ‘The Croatian war had its origins with the nationalist forces that were unleashed during the election campaign of 1990, when Franjo Tudjman’s HDZ party came to power.’ (p. 87)

5) Gibbs claims Germany engineered Croatia’s independence and the war in 1991: ‘We will see that Germany began encouraging Croatian nationalists and preparing them for independence months before the war began. Based on this new information, I argue that German officials did not simply respond to the war; they helped initiate it.’ (p. 77)

And again: ‘Germany played a key role in encouraging Slovenia and Croatia to secede, and surreptitiously assured them of external support for the secession efforts. Once the republics actually seceded, the European Community (backed by the United States) condemned the JNA’s efforts to block secession.’ (p. 105)

Gibbs’s anti-German conspiracy theory – which Jovic particularly praises – is based on biased, unserious and manipulated sources; he does not have even a single piece of real evidence to demonstrate that Germany encouraged Croatia to secede from Yugoslavia. I have exposed Gibbs’s anti-German falsifications in detail.

6) Gibbs condemns the European Community for recognising Croatia’s independence in its republican borders, and its failure to recognise the independence of the Krajina Serbs: ‘The European Community took the view that Croatia and other republics could not be divided. In effect, this meant the following: Croatia had the right to secede from Yugoslavia but this same right would not be recognised for the Krajina Serbs, who wished to separate from Croatia. In the ensuing conflict in Krajina, the European Community supported the Croatian position and opposed that of the Serbs. At the Hague conference, Van den Broek, the Dutch foreign minister, affirmed that any changes in the republican borders “were not an option”. This anti-Serb bent was evident at many levels.’ (p. 96).

And again: ‘On the one hand, the Community accepted the right of Croatia to separate from Yugoslavia, or at least viewed such separation with leniency. On the other hand, the European Community condemned efforts by the Krajina Serbs to separate from Croatia. Why the double standard ?’ (p. 97)

7) Gibbs claims: ‘In addition, the Muslim/Croat alliance of 1990-1991 recreated a similar alliance that had existed during World War II, when the two groups were the main supporters of the pro-Nazi Ustasa state, and both participated in the massacres of the Serbs that occurred during this period.’ (p. 116)

8) Gibbs claims: ‘Operation Storm also generated a humanitarian disaster. The attack forced from 150,000 to 200,000 Serbs to flee, producing what was probably the largest single act of ethnic expulsion of the entire war.’ (p. 163)

9) Gibbs writes: ‘Another feature of the Balkan conflict was the tendency of the Western media needlessly to exaggerate the atrocities committed by Serb armies… Atrocities committed at Serb-run detention camps were presented in sensationalist fashion, for example, and they became “extermination camps” comparable to Auschwitz. President Izetbegovic himself encouraged these interpretations. Yet, in 2003, shortly before his death, Izetbegovic conceded that “there were no extermination camps” in Bosnia. He also conceded that his previous claims to the contrary had been deliberate misrepresentations, intended to outrage Western public opinion and thus trigger Western military intervention against the Serbs.’ (p. 216) In this way, Gibbs minimises the criminal nature of Serb concentration-camps like Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje.

10) Gibbs accuses the Bosnian armed forces of shelling their own civilians during the siege of Sarajevo, in order to blame it on the Serbs ‘: ‘In several cases, Bosnian forces themselves bombarded Sarajevo and blamed the resulting deaths on the Serbs.’ (p. 125)

Furthermore: ‘In should also be noted that the [Bosnian] government restricted the right of Sarajevo residents to flee the city, effectively blocking the exit for many besieged civilians. This policy increased the potential for casualties and fit in nicely with the government’s public relations strategy. In the world’s media, the deaths from shelling and sniper fire were blamed exclusively on Serb forces, but in reality the Bosnian government bore some responsibility as well.’ (p. 126)

11) Gibbs claims the Serbs legitimately owned most of Bosnia: ‘: ‘It is clear that Serb forces were on the offensive during much of the war, and they conquered large areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina. But the extent of Serb aggression was once again exaggerated. Newspaper articles repeatedly noted that Serbs controlled some 70 percent of Bosnia’s territory, despite the fact that they only constituted 31 percent of the total population…  What such reports omitted was that Serbs had always occupied most of Bosnia’s land area, owing to their demographic dominance in rural regions.’ (p. 124)

12) Gibbs claims that it was the Muslims and Croats who caused the war to break out in Bosnia in 1992, whereas the Serbs wanted peace: ‘In March 1992, however, before full-scale war had begun, Serb leaders welcomed the Lisbon agreement and they endorsed it in the strongest terms. Radovan Karadzic, who represented the Serbs at Lisbon, called the agreement a “great day for Bosnia and Herzegovina.” And it should be recalled that it was the Muslims and the Croats, not the Serbs, who actually reneged. There is no evidence that the Serbs were bent on war at this point.’ (p. 111)

So, those are the theses of David Gibbs, which Jovic has now chosen to praise on two occasions. For Jovic to praise so highly Gibbs’s extreme anti-Croatian, anti-Bosnian and Great Serb propaganda tract is scandalous. Yet it is scarcely surprising, since in his own book about the break-up of Yugoslavia (Jugoslavija – država koja je odumrla: Uspon, kriza i pad Kardeljeve Jugoslavije (1974-1990), Prometej, Zagreb, 2003), Jovic already revealed that his sympathies in the 1990s were with Slobodan Milosevic and the JNA. Jovic praised Milosevic as a fighter for Yugoslav statehood and unity and defender of Tito’s legacy, regretted the failure of the JNA to crush Croatian rearmament in 1991, and absolved both Milosevic and the JNA as instigators of the war and perpetrators of the mass killing:

1) Comparing Slobodan Milosevic and Vaclav Havel:

Jovic, p. 56: ‘The direction of the protests against the regime, for example in Czechoslovakia and in Serbia, was totally different, so Havel and Milošević became antipodes in everything. While one led a liberal-democratic revolution against the state, the other led an anti-bureaucratic revolution against an anti-state ideology and anarchy, for the establishment of a state. ‘

2) Lamenting the JNA’s inability to halt Croatia’s rearmament

Jovic, p. 64: ‘The British reaction to separatism in Northern Ireland is a typical example of a liberal (minimal) state, which did not refrain from introducing a state of war and employing tanks in order to halt a civil war before it had begun. In contrast to this, in the state that was withering away, Socialist Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav People’s Army turned itself into a filmmaker recording the illegal import of weapons at the border (with Hungary) whose duty it was to protect from that sort of illegal activity.’

3) On Milosevic as a ‘Yugoslav nationalist’

Jovic, p. 65n: ‘In his first phase, Milosevic was probably a Yugoslav nationalist, but he never became a Serb nationalist, as many call him today. Never, indeed, did he want to form a Serb national state. His attachment to Yugoslavia, even to the point when Yugoslavia had become just a name and nothing more, was the main reason why he in the end lost popularity and the elections (2000).’

4) On the Chetniks as a  ‘strong-pro-Yugoslav resistance movement’

Jovic, p. 141: ‘He who claims that Yugoslavia had to collapse in 1941 because of ethnic tension, should have to explain how it was possible that there arose, immediately following the occupation, two strong pro-Yugoslav resistance movements (Mihailovic’s and Tito’s).’

5) On Milosevic’s loyalty to Tito’s legacy

Jovic, p. 156: ‘In destroying the fourth Yugoslavia, Milosevic rejected Kardelj but not Tito.’

6) On Milosevic’s desire to bring about the ‘unity of Yugoslavia’

Jovic, p. 400: ‘His program now [in 1987], for the first time, seemed clear even to those at the lowest level of the social hierarchy, and he carried it out decisively: first the unity of the Serb Party, then unity of Serbia, then of the Yugoslav Party, then of Yugoslavia. That programme had four phases – Milosevic had now accomplished the first; at the third he would be halted, and at the fourth defeated.’

7) On Milosevic’s desire to restrain Serb nationalism

Jovic, p. 471: ‘Treating Milosevic and Kucan with a bit of benevolence, one could say that at least part of their motive could be explained by an attempt to retain power in order to prevent the “real nationalists” (those gathered around the New Review or people such as Vuk Draskovic was at the time) from coming to power in Slovenia and Serbia.  As David Owen later said of Milosevic, they had to “ride the tiger of nationalism if they did not want the tiger to swallow them” (1995: 129). They appeared powerful, omnipotent, but in reality they were both afraid that the exit of the League of Communists from the political scene could bring about only worse nationalism. They accepted nationalism in order to prevent it.’

8) On the JNA’s ‘good intention’ to prevent ethnic conflict in Croatia

Jovic, p. 485: ‘When the Croatian government attempted to prevent the [Serb rebel] takeover, the Yugoslav People’s Army imposed itself between it and the Serbs, perhaps with the good intention of preventing direct ethnic conflict in Croatia.’

9) On Milosevic as ‘genuinely surprised’ by break up of Yugoslavia and war

Jovic, pp. 491-492: ‘The sources that were at the disposal of the author of this book do not give sufficient reason to support the conclusion that the members of the Yugoslav political elite in this period (including, thus, Slobodan Milosevic and Milan Kucan as well) intended to destroy Yugoslavia. Many of them, like most Yugoslavs, most analysts at home and abroad and the international political community as a whole, were genuinely surprised by the break-up, and still more by the war that broke out after that.’

10) On war in Yugoslavia as expression of state weakness and ‘private violence’

Jovic, pp. 492-493: ‘‘The violence that, in the ruins of Yugoslavia, in a stateless terrain, erupted in the ‘90s of last century had, indeed, the same cause as the collapse itself: it was the expression of a weak, ineffective state that was not in a position to suppress the private armies, private revenge, private “laws” and private violence. The wars that were waged in those ruins were to a large extent private revenge in which neighbours repaid some imaginary quid pro quo to their neighbours.’

Jovic is right about one thing: the criticisms being made against him are political, not academic in motivation. If Jovic were simply a scholar expressing his private opinion, it would not matter that his work rehabilitates Milosevic and the JNA. It would not matter that he praises a propaganda pamphlet with no academic value, that supports Croatia’s territorial dismemberment and denies the Srebrenica genocide. Jovic has the right, as a scholar, to express his views freely. But he is the Croatian president’s chief analyst and special coordinator. It is dangerous to both Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina for someone holding such views, and with such poor analytical judgement and grasp of reality, to occupy the position that he does.

Yours faithfully,
Marko Attila Hoare


Friday, 28 March 2014 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Marko Attila Hoare, Red-Brown Alliance, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marko Attila Hoare in Dnevni Avaz: Don’t count on help from the West !


This interview appeared in Bosnian translation in Dnevni Avaz on 12 January 2014.*

How real, if there is any basis for it at all, is the fear that Bosnia and the Bosniaks could be left outside of the EU due to the growing resentment in the EU towards Muslims in general ?

I believe the principal obstacles to Bosnia entering the EU are, firstly, the unresolved constitutional status of the country, its dysfunctional political order and the Sejdic-Finci question, and secondly enlargement fatigue among European policy-makers. Anti-Muslim prejudice may be an aggravating factor, however. EU membership for Bosnia and Serbia might actually accelerate the disintegration of Bosnia, as the West would lose leverage against the leaders of Serbia and the RS.

Bosnia-Hercegovina, in other words, must on no account enter the EU and must employ all means to prevent the entry of Serbia ?

I believe Bosnia’s future lies in the EU, and that the country and its citizens need the opportunities that membership offers. Bosnia has no future outside the EU if Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro are in. But Bosnians need to enter in full awareness of possible consequences. This should serve as an additional motive for preparing a resistance strategy to save the country from partition.

It looks as if the West has, regardless of that, already given up on Bosnia-Hercegovina.

The West gave up on Bosnia during the war of 1992-95, when it effectively engineered the partition of the country, and rescued the RS from defeat and destruction in the autumn of 1995. However, in the late 1990s and first half of the 2000s, there was a partial reversal of policy as the international community, via the OHR, particularly under Paddy Ashdown, took major steps toward the reintegration of the country. Unfortunately, that momentum was lost as Western leaders wrongly believed that the progress achieved could permit them to reduce their presence in, and supervision of the country. Now the EU and US have lost the will to push for the reintegration of Bosnia and are once again appeasing the separatism of the RS leadership.

That means that the fear of the collapse of Bosnia-Hercegovina is justified ? Will the West, nevertheless, react if it comes to that ? Should Bosnia count on such action ?

The experiences of 1992-95 should have taught Bosnians that they can never count on the West. A scenario can be envisaged whereby Bosnia and Serbia eventually join the EU; the RS then declares independence, and its independence is recognised by Serbia, Russia and maybe some other countries. Sanctions would be difficult to enforce against those within the EU. Right-wing Islamophobic opinion across Europe would support the RS. In such circumstances, why should we expect the West to take action, when it has failed to act to reverse the partitions of Cyprus or Georgia ? No: if Bosnians want to save their country, they will have to rely on their own strength.

But are the Bosnian Serbs really intending to declare secession ? That is still a risky move.

I believe the RS leaders will not go for secession in the short term, as the status quo suits them: they enjoy most of the benefits of independence, without having to take the risks involved with formal secession. So long as Bosnia and Serbia remain outside the EU, then the RS and Serbia will always be vulnerable to sanctions and isolation. But in the long run, when the right moment comes, I believe the RS will attempt secession. So Bosnians need to start preparing themselves right now to confront that threat.

You worked for the ICTY. How does that institution now look to  you ?

The tribunal’s achievements have been poor overall, but they should not be dismissed completely. The recent convictions of Zdravko Tolimir and the Herceg-Bosna six were significant successes, and the reversal of Radovan Karadzic’s acquittal on one count of genocide was also positive. The acquittals of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic represented a terrible failure of justice, but it is possible that the appeal against them will be successful. The ICTY’s failure to prosecute or convict the principal military and political officials of the JNA, Serbia and Montenegro for war-crimes in Bosnia remains its biggest disgrace. Nevertheless, the eventual conviction of Karadzic and Mladic will count for something, particularly if they are convicted on one, or ideally two counts of genocide. So there is a lot left to hope for from the ICTY. Anger at the acquittals of Momcilo Perisic, Stanisic and Simatovic has understandably led some Bosnians and friends of Bosnia to dismiss the ICTY’s verdicts as ‘political’, but this is a mistake as it undermines the legitimacy of the tribunal, and of any future convictions.

The UK is preparing to have elections. Could they bring about a change in the foreign policy of that state when it’s a question of Bosnia?

No; I believe that British policy toward Bosnia will remain the same regardless of which party wins the next election. Britain’s role in the Bosnian war is almost universally recognised as a disgrace, so neither Labour nor the Conservatives are likely to want to revert to the anti-Bosnian policy of the 1990s. But this has not stopped the Labour leadership from sabotaging effective British intervention over Syria, similar to the way that the Conservative government in the 1990s obstructed effective international action over Bosnia !

How, in your opinion, are Bosnia-Hercegovina’s neighbours behaving ? What are the real policies of Serbia and Croatia when Bosnia-Hercegovina is in question ?

Serbia’s policy toward Bosnia remains what it has been since the late Milosevic era – with variations in intensity – which is to preserve the country in its dismembered, dysfunctional state, and preserve the RS. However, I am deeply concerned that Croatia, which under Stipe Mesic pursued a positive policy toward Bosnia, is indeed now reverting to Tudjman’s policy of collaboration with Belgrade and the RS on an anti-Bosnian basis. In Croatia, as was the case with other countries in the region such as Hungary and Bulgaria, entry into the EU has removed restraints on bad behaviour, and the Croatian right-wing is on the warpath: as witnessed in the campaign against gay marriage and against the Cyrillic alphabet.

On the other hand, another cause for concern is the role being played by Dejan Jovic, who is Chief Analyst and Special Coordinator at the Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia. Jovic recently wrote a book review in the Croatian journal ‘Politicka Misao’, in which he praised a book by David Gibbs, ‘First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia’, as ‘excellent, original and convincing’. This book is a propaganda tract that denies the genocide in Srebrenica and accuses the Bosniaks of provoking the massacre, and also accuses the Bosnian armed forces and government of having shelled their own civilians in Sarajevo, and of having deliberately increased their suffering during the siege, in order to blame it on the Serbs. Gibbs’s book regurgitates the Serb-nationalist interpretation, whereby Yugoslavia was destroyed, and Serbia victimised, by hostile Western powers. When the Croatian president’s chief analyst and special coordinator praises a book containing such views, Bosnia has to be afraid.

What is it about the anniversary of World War One that so arouses Serb feeling ?

According to the traditional Serbian patriotic interpretation, World War I was for Serbia a heroic national struggle against Austro-Hungarian and German imperialism, and straightforward war for self-defence and for the liberation and unification of the South Slavs. However, the reality is somewhat more complicated. It is true that Serbia by 1914 had experienced decades of bullying by Austria-Hungary, which sought at all times to subordinate it to Habsburg imperial interests. On the other hand, Serbia had its own expansionist goals directed toward Austro-Hungarian territory, particularly toward Bosnia-Hercegovina. The extreme-nationalist, terrorist organisation ‘Unification or Death’ (the ‘Black Hand’) was deeply embedded within the Serbian Army and exercised a great deal of influence over Serbian politics, and it was responsible for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 1914. Serbia was not to blame for the fact that World War I happened, as it was ultimately caused by the competing imperial interests of the great powers – Britain, France, Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary, all of which were guilty. But an objective analysis of the reasons why the war broke out must necessarily challenge the traditional Serbian patriotic view of the conflict.

* The meaning of certain passages was altered slightly in translation and editing in the version published in Dnevni Avaz. These passages have been highlighted here.

Monday, 13 January 2014 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, European Union, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to apologise

Image: Croatia’s president and prime minister, Ivo Josipovic and Jadranka Kosor, paying tribute to the victims of Croatian World War II fascism at Jasenovac last month, alongside former Croatian president Stjepan Mesic.

Croatia’s new president Ivo Josipovic has in recent weeks made a series of apologies and expressions of regret for crimes carried out by Croats during the 1940s and 1990s. Last month, he apologised for Croatia’s role in the Bosnian war:  ‘(The creators of) the 1990s policies…. based on the idea that division is the solution for Bosnia-Herzegovina, have sown an evil seed here, but also in their own countries’, Josipovic said in an address to the Bosnian parliament; referring to ‘the death and mutilation of hundreds of thousands and the expulsion of millions of people [and] destroyed economies and families’, he stated categorically, ‘I am deeply sorry that the Republic of Croatia has contributed to that with its policies in the 1990s. .. that the then Croatian policy has contributed to the suffering of people and divisions which still burden us today.’ He followed this up with a visit to the village of Ahmici, where Croat forces carried out a notorious massacre of Bosniak civilians in 1993. This apology was immediately condemned by the leadership of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ); HDZ politicians such as Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and party vice-president Andrija Hebrang disgraced themselves trying to justify the former Croatian policy.

Josipovic went on to attend an event commemorating the sixty-fifth anniversary of an uprising at the Ustasha (Croatian fascist) death camp of Jasenovac in World War II, when he expressed regret for the crimes carried out by the Croatian fascists. Noting that history cannot be changed, he stated that it was not just the victories and successes that had to be accepted: ‘In every event, we must accept it also when it points to the evil that we committed against others. That can be a painful process; a process in which all those who wish our nation well must participate.’ He expressed his ‘deepest regret’ for everything that took place in Jasenovac and other Ustasha execution sites during the Second World War.’ At the time of writing, Josipovic has been visiting the Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Hercegovina, paying tribute to Serbs killed by Croat forces at the north Bosnian village of Sijekovac at the start of the war in 1992.

Josipovic’s actions mark a courageous break with the usual practice of nationalist politicians, not only in the Balkans but also in Western Europe and the US, who seem to feel that it is incumbent upon them to defend ‘my country, right or wrong’. A readiness to acknowledge and apologise for the past crimes of one’s state or nation is something that places the principled patriot and democrat above the ‘patriotic’ hypocrite, who will complain endlessly about the crimes of other states or nations while defending those of their own. Such apologies form a necessary part of the reconciliation process between states that have previously been in conflict with one another, helping to cement a post-conflict democratic order. Nevertheless, the crimes which Josipovic has been acknowledging are not equivalent to one another; nor do they warrant the same kind of apology.

In the case of the Croatian attempt to partition Bosnia in the 1990s and the resulting crimes, the issue is one of a state having the moral duty to apologise to another state and its citizens. The Republic of Croatia carried out military aggression against the neighbouring state of Bosnia-Hercegovina, one that involved atrocities against its civilian population. Although Josipovic personally was not responsible for that policy, he is head of the state that was responsible, therefore, it was his outright duty to apologise on the Republic of Croatia’s behalf to the state of Bosnia-Hercegovina and to its citizens.

In the case of atrocities carried out by the Croatian Army, or by Croat militias supported by Croatia’s leadership, against Serb civilians during operations against the Serb rebels in Croatia and Bosnia in the 1990s, an apology from the Croatian president was also due. It is still the Croatian state that needs to apologise for its past actions, but in this instance, the apology is not owed to another state. The apology is due to the victims and to their relatives and friends, and to the Serb people in those areas, rather than to Serbia, whose citizens they were not. In the case of Croatian Serb civilians killed by Croatian forces, such as during the Medak Pocket operation in 1993 or Operation Storm in 1995, the apology is due to people who were Croatia’s own citizens – victims of the very state whose duty it was to protect them. Thus, the duty to apologise is similar to that acknowledged by Britain’s former prime minister Gordon Brown, when he apologised last year to the tens of thousands of British children forcibly sent to Commonwealth countries under child migrant programmes during the twentieth century, where they were widely exploited and abused.

In the case of the Ustasha genocide of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and others during World War II, an apology of a different kind is in order. Unlike the aforementioned Croatian crimes of the 1990s, in this case it was not the current Croatian state that was responsible. The Republic of Croatia is not the de jure or de facto successor state of the Ustasha-ruled ‘Independent State of Croatia’ (NDH), which was a puppet state established by the Axis powers on Yugoslav territory. The NDH was never recognised by the Allied powers, which viewed it for what it was: the expression that German and Italian rule took in that part of occupied Yugoslavia, equivalent to the General Government in Poland or to the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. According to the Nuremberg Military Tribunal established by the Allied powers after the war, ‘Whatever the form or the name given, the Croatian Government during the German wartime occupation was a satellite under the control of the occupying power. It dissolved as quickly after the withdrawal of the Germans as it had arisen upon their occupation. Under such circumstances, the acts of the Croatian Government were the acts of the occupation power… We are of the view that Croatia was at all times here involved an occupied country and that all acts performed by it were those for which the occupying power was responsible.’ (quoted in Jozo Tomasevich, War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: Occupation and Collaboration, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2001, pp. 271-272). The states with a duty to apologise for the crimes of the NDH are Germany and Italy.

This was reaffirmed this month, when the European Court of Human Rights threw out the case brought by the Association of Second World War Camp Inmates of Republika Srpska against Croatia, for damages to the tune of 500 million euros for crimes carried out by the NDH. Sources suggested that this was because the judges concluded that Croatia was not the legal successor to the NDH, therefore not liable to pay damages for its crimes. Indeed, Croatia was the legal successor of Yugoslavia, and was established as a republic in the 1940s by the Partisans who destroyed the NDH. The Republic of Croatia is not liable to apologise for the NDH’s crimes, any more than the Spanish Republic would have been liable to apologise for Franco’s crimes, had it won the Spanish Civil War. Any more than the current Rwandan government is liable to apologise for the Rwandan genocide. By contrast, although the Ottoman Empire which perpetrated the Armenian genocide was overthrown by Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish nationalist movement, nevertheless Turkey is the legal successor of the Ottoman Empire, and the latter was not simply an insurgent faction or a party to a civil war, but a legally constituted state. As the successor to this state, Turkey does have a moral duty to apologise for the genocide.

This does not mean that Josipovic was wrong to say what he did at the recent Jasenovac commemoration. He cannot – indeed did not – apologise on behalf of the Republic of Croatia, since that state was not responsible. He can however express regret in a different manner and capacity, as the democratically elected leader of the Croatian nation – the nation that produced the Ustashas. He cannot accept that the Croatian nation as a whole was guilty, but he can express regret for the fact that some members of his nation carried out those crimes; for the fact that the Croatian nation produced such monsters. Nations as a whole are not guilty for the crimes committed by some of their members, but nor can they pretend that these crimes have nothing to do with them. We could compare this with the case of an extended family, in which a wayward family member commits a crime. The head of the family might rightfully feel that the family’s honour requires an apology to the crime’s victims, even though neither the family as a whole nor its head can reasonably be blamed. Certainly, such chivalry goes down better than a callous refusal to apologise.

We can compare Josipovic’s expression of regret with the opposition of certain Polish politicians, such as Michal Kaminski, to a Polish apology for the Jedwabne massacre of July 1941 in Nazi-occupied Poland, when Poles under the leadership of Jedwabne’s mayor Marian Karolak massacred the town’s Jews. The Jedwabne massacre was, albeit on a much smaller scale, similar in character to the Ustasha massacres of Serbs and others. Kaminski was undoubtedly correct when he pointed out that the whole Polish nation was not guilty of a massacre carried out by a particular group of Poles in a particular town at a particular time. But this ignores the fact that you do not have to be guilty of something in order to say sorry; nor does an apology imply an admission of guilt. The readiness of Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski to apologise for the Jedwabne massacre suggests a much more mature sense of national responsibility than that of Kaminski.

Another point of comparison is the declaration issued in March by the Serbian parliament condemning the Srebrenica massacre, which involved also an apology. The apology, less than a sentence long, was inserted at the end of a paragraph; it was made only to the relatives of the victims rather than to the people of Srebrenica or of Bosnia as a whole. It was an apology only that ‘everything possible had not been done to prevent the tragedy’, rather than for Serbia’s role in organising, arming and financing the Bosnian Serb forces that carried out the massacre, or for the Yugoslav Army’s collusion with these forces during the massacre. It avoided using the word genocide, albeit recognising this genocide in a roundabout way, by condemning the massacre ‘in the manner established by the ruling of the International Court of Justice’. And although it avoided condemning any of the other crimes carried out by Serbs during the war, it nevertheless included an ‘expectation that the highest authorities of other states on the territory of the former Yugoslavia would also condemn the crimes committed against the members of the Serbian people in this manner, as well as extend condolences and apologies to the families of the Serbian victims’. In fairness, such a grudging and mealy-mouthed declaration was probably the most that its authors could have pushed through parliament; even in this form, it barely scraped together enough votes to pass. But it does not suggest much genuine contrition on the part of Serbia’s lawmakers.

Serbia can and has done better than this. On 15 June 2005, the Council of Ministers of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro stated: ‘Those who committed the killings in Srebrenica, as well as those who ordered and organised that massacre represented neither Serbia nor Montenegro, but an undemocratic regime of terror and death, against whom the majority of citizens of Serbia and Montenegro put up the strongest resistance. Our condemnation of crimes in Srebrenica does not end with the direct perpetrators. We demand the criminal responsibility of all who committed war crimes, organised them or ordered them, and not only in Srebrenica. Criminals must not be heroes. Any protection of the war criminals, for whatever reason, is also a crime.’ In that year, the president of Serbia and Montenegro and the president of Republika Srpska attended the tenth anniversary commemoration of the Srebrenica massacre at Potocari. More recently, however, the Republika Srpska’s leadership has been regressing; Prime Minister Milorad Dodik has been engaging in revisionism and denial in relation to Srebrenica and to other Serb war-crimes.

State apologies for past crimes will always be a sensitive manner; the politicians who make them will always be treading a fine line; the extent of an apology issued, and the reaction it receives at home, will reflect the degree of a nation’s democratic maturity. All the more reason to watch them closely; to interpret the degree of contrition that they actually represent, and to see who is for them, and who is opposed.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Monday, 31 May 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Croatia must defend Bosnia. So should Serbia…

Outgoing Croatian president Stjepan Mesic earlier this month threatened to intervene militarily in the event that Bosnia’s Serb entity, Republika Srpska, attempts to secede and establish itself as an independent state. He was responding to repeated separatist noises on the part of the Republika Srpska’s aggressively nationalistic prime minister, Milorad Dodik, who makes no secret of his hostility to the state of Bosnia-Hercegovina and his designs against its territorial integrity, and whose atrocity denial and friendship for convicted war-criminals indicate a dangerous contempt for the norms of civilised behaviour. Mesic has warned that if Dodik announces a referendum on secession – as the first step toward the Republika Srpska’s unification with Serbia to form a ‘Great Serbia’ – he would send the Croatian Army south across the River Sava to cut in half the Bosnian Serb entity, which ‘would then have to disappear’. Yet the establishment of a Great Serbia is not the only danger about which Mesic has warned. He has highlighted also the possibility that, with Republika Srpska seceding and the Bosnian Croats following suit, it would leave behind an embittered Muslim rump-state, that ‘would find itself in a hostile surrounding, and would be able sustain itself only with the help of a fundamentalist regime.’ Consequently, ‘In the next 50 to 70 years there would be a new center of terrorism. It would be a new Palestine in the heart of Europe.’

German Ambassador to Sarajevo Joachim Schmidt is reported to have said that Mesic’s military threat ‘is not of help’. Yet it would not be left to Bosnia’s western neighbour to issue such a threat if the EU and US had not shown themselves to be quite so complacent in the face of Bosnia’s threatened collapse. Bosnia was lumbered with the unworkable and unsustainable Dayton settlement that ended its war in 1995. To sustain this unsustainable settlement, to make the unworkable work, required a powerful High Representative wielding authoritarian powers, backed up by a large international military presence. The Dayton system enjoyed its golden years in 2002-2006, when the Office of the High Representative (OHR) was held by the energetic Paddy Ashdown, and Bosnia superficially appeared to be making genuine strides towards reintegration. Yet the EU, naively believing that the farcical Dayton constitutional order could actually be made to function without massive outside interference, has since been rushing to wind down the OHR, and has withdrawn its support from Ashdown’s successors. With few international troops now remaining, the OHR has been left as a paper tiger, something that Dodik has taken advantage of to pursue his secessionist policy. It is as if a zoo-keeper had decided that, since his caged tiger had not eaten many people recently, it was now tame and could safely be let out of the cage, not realising that it was only because of the cage that the tiger appeared to be safe.

With the EU and US blithely fiddling while Bosnia burns, it has been left to the Croatian president to behave like a responsible European statesman, and make clear that the destruction of the international order in the Balkans will not be tolerated. Those condemning Mesic forget that his policy toward Bosnia is the exact opposite of that pursued by his predecessor, the chauvinistic tyrant Franjo Tudjman. Where Mesic defends a unified Bosnia, Tudjman joined with Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic in attempting to destroy Bosnia and crush the Bosnian Muslims. And that is really the choice that Europe has, so far as Croatia is concerned: between a Croatia that upholds Bosnia, a la Mesic, and a Croatia that undermines Bosnia, a la Tudjman. It does not take a genius to realise that a Mesicite Croatia is preferable to a Tudjmanite Croatia.

Under Tudjman, Croatia was a corrupt and despotic state that sheltered war criminals, persecuted national minorities and undermined the territorial integrity of its Bosnian neighbour. The Tudjman regime represented a synthesis between the authoritarianism of the Croatian Communist ancien regime – whose child Tudjman himself was – and right-wing Croat emigre nationalism, combining the worst features of both. Yet since Tudjman’s death in 1999 and the electoral defeat of his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in 2000, Croatia appears definitely to have made the transition to becoming a democratic European state. Both Ivica Racan’s Social Democratic government, which took power in 2000, and the government of Ivo Sanader, who reconstituted the HDZ as a mainstream conservative party and took power in 2003, have guided Croatia down the democratic European path. Over them presided President Mesic, a reformed nationalist who honourably broke with Tudjman as early as 1994 over the latter’s Bosnian policy. These politicians redeemed Croatia in the 2000s from the disgrace brought upon it by Tudjman in the 1990s: they turned their back on anti-Bosnian Croat irredentism; refrained from pandering to neo-Ustasha sentiment; cooperated with the war-crimes tribunal in the Hague; put on trial war-criminals who persecuted Serb civilians in the 1990s; recognised the independence of Kosovo; and have brought Croatia into NATO and up to the gates of the EU. Croatia’s citizens should be as proud of their rulers’ record in the 2000s as they should be ashamed of their predecessors’ record in the 1990s. Of course, Croatia still faces huge problems of corruption and organised crime, but measured against where it would be now if Tudjman’s policies had been continued into the 2000s, the achievement is monumental.

With the election victory of the Social Democrat Ivo Josipovic in this month’s Croatian presidential election, Croatia has reaffirmed its democratic European path. His opponent in the presidential election, Milan Bandic, was a vulgar and corrupt populist who enjoyed the support of the nationalist emigration, of the better part of the clergy and of war-criminals such as Branimir Glavas and Tomislav Mercep. Bandic waged a red-baiting campagin directed against the Social Democrats on account of their Communist past – despite the fact that he too had been a member of the Communist party. Had he won the election, he would have become a Croatian Berlusconi. Yet Josipovic, a composer and law professor, crushed Bandic, winning 60.26% of the vote. Zivjela Hrvatska !

Josipovic is a civilised, non-nationalist individual who will serve to consolidate Croatia’s democratic transition and guard against any resurgence of Tudjman-style chauvinism. Yet there are indications that he lacks Mesic’s toughness. He has spoken of the possibility of withdrawing Croatia’s lawsuit against Serbia at the International Court of Justice; this would be an error, for although Croatia is unlikely to win the case, the verdict is highly likely to recognise Serbian war-crimes in Croatia in 1991-92, as it did in its judgement on Bosnia’s case against Serbia, when it recognised that ‘it is established by overwhelming evidence that massive killings in specific areas and detention camps throughout the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina were perpetrated during the conflict’ and that ‘the victims were in large majority members of the protected group [the Muslims], which suggests that they may have been systematically targeted by the killings’, and that ‘it has been established by fully conclusive evidence that members of the protected group were systematically victims of massive mistreatment, beatings, rape and torture causing serious bodily and mental harm, during the conflict and, in particular, in the detention camps.’ Croatia can reasonably hope for a similar recognition of its people’s suffering in the early 1990s.

Josipovic has also distanced himself from Mesic’s threat to intervene militarily to prevent the Republika Srpska’s secession, saying ‘sending the Croatian Army to a neighbouring country for me is not an option’ and ‘problems must always be solved through negotiations and with the agreement of all interested parties’. The pacific sentiment is commendable; the naivete less so. The Western alliance, given its past record, cannot be relied upon to take action to prevent the Republika Srpska’s secession; if it does not, and if Croatia does not either, then one of two things might happen. The Bosniaks might be stupid enough not to respond militarily, on the grounds that ‘problems must always be solved through negotiations and with the agreement of all interested parties’, in which case Republika Srpska will become independent at the price of some token concessions to the Bosniaks. Or the Bosniaks might take military action alone, in which case the consequences cannot be predicted, but are unlikely to be good.

It is worth stating again the case against allowing Republika Srpska to secede: it would represent a violation of the right to self-determination of the nearly 50% of the territory’s population that was Bosniak and Croat before 1992, that was mostly ethnically cleansed during the war and that has not been able to return since Dayton; the quid pro quo for international recognition of the Republika Srpska’s existence, with a massively disproportionate share of Bosnia’s territory, was the Serb recognition of Bosnia’s unity and indivisibility, and if the Serbs cease to recognise Bosnian unity then nobody is under any obligation to recognise the Republika Srpska’s existence any longer; the secession of Republika Srpska and its eventual unification with Serbia would derail Serbia’s own democratisation, and send it back down the path of expansionism and regional troublemaking; if Bosnia is allowed to break up, it will create a precedent for the break up of Macedonia and the secession of the Macedonian Albanians to unite with Albania and form a Great Albania, with all the dangers that would bring; and finally, the elements responsible for the bloodbath of the 1990s must never be rewarded. For all these reasons, Republika Srpska should not be allowed to secede. It is for the Bosnian citizenry as a whole to decide whether Bosnia should be divided into separate Serb, Croat and Bosniak states or whether it should remain united as a single state; it is not for either of the Bosnian entities to decide this unilaterally.

A threat, such as Mesic’s, makes a war in the region less rather than more likely, since so long as it is plausible, it will serve to deter an act of secession that would at the very least greatly destabilise the Balkans, and that would most likely spark a new Serb-Bosniak war. Dodik may be ready to pursue a secessionist policy that will result in war if he only has to fight the Bosniaks; he will be much less likely to do so if he has to fight Croatia as well, because he would inevitably lose. Those, such as Germany’s Ambassador Schmidt, who would like to deter Croatia from promising to defend Bosnia militarily if necessary, are contributing to the likelihood of war in the Balkans. Rather than praising him for not doing so, we should do well to encourage Josipovic to adopt Mesic’s policy.

We have spoken of Croatia’s tremendous achievement in turning its back on the politics of the late Franjo Tudjman. Serbia, too, has made tremendous strides in its democratic transition, particularly since the victory of the pro-European parties in Serbia’s 2008 parliamentary elections. Serbia has become a fully democratic state, embraced the European path and put war-criminals on trial, and however misguided its attempt to retain Kosova might be, it is at least using judicial means that are within its rights. But in one respect in particular Serbia scores much lower than Croatia: it has not abandoned its nationalist paradigm vis-a-vis Bosnia. Whereas official Croatia today sees Bosnian unity as its national interest and refrains from promoting Bosnian Croat separatism, official Serbia continues to see its interest in undermining Bosnia and promoting the separateness of the Republika Srpska.

The day when Serbia sees its national interest as defending Bosnia’s unity and integrity from enemies such as Dodik, is the day when post-nationalist Serbia will truly have arrived.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Friday, 29 January 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Croatia, Former Yugoslavia, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment