Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Arnesa Buljusmic-Kustura’s ‘woke’ excuses for Jeremy Corbyn’s Balkan genocide revisionism


Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s former leader, is a Balkan genocide revisionist. At the time of the NATO bombing of Ratko Mladic’s Bosnian Serb forces in 1995, shortly after the genocidal Srebrenica massacre, the ‘Committee for Peace in the Balkans’, of which Corbyn was a prominent member, published a statement that failed to condemn the genocide and instead condemned the NATO bombing. It complained that ‘The one-sided nature of NATO’s intervention is breathtaking’ and ‘Bosnian forces were reported by the Dutch UN commander in Srebrenica to have burned 200 Serb villages in the area surrounding the town, with no question of a NATO response.’

The Committee for Peace in the Balkans was co-founded by Corbyn’s close collaborator Diane Abbott and by Sir Alfred Sherman, an advisor to Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who made racist claims of a ‘European Islamistan in Bosnia and a Greater Albania’. The further activities of Corbyn as a member of this group have been documented by the investigative journalist Iggy Ostanin, whose work I draw upon here. This included Corbyn meeting a Serbian diplomat on the eve of NATO’s military intervention in Kosovo, to warn him that ‘exaggerated claims’ of ethnic cleansing would be used as a ‘pretext’ for intervention.


In 2004, Corbyn signed an early day motion (EDM) in the House of Commons in support of a column by the notorious denier of Milosevic’s crimes, John Pilger. The EDM spoke of ‘fraudulent justifications for intervening in a “genocide” that never really existed in Kosovo’ and claimed that ‘the final count of bodies found in Kosovo’s “mass graves” was 2,788.’

Somewhat later, in 2014, Corbyn published an article in the Morning Star, endorsing the analysis of the NATO intervention made by Noam Chomsky, a notorious denier of the Srebrenica genocide. Corbyn wrote: ‘Not long after this the war in former Yugoslavia and the atrocities at Srebrenica enabled Nato to supplant the UN forces and become embroiled in a 78-day bombardment of Serbia. At the end of that conflict, in 2001, Noam Chomsky analysed the whole war and concluded that the real “winners” were Western arms manufacturers and that “the US was able to enforce its domination over the strategic Balkans region, displacing EU initiatives at least temporarily, a primary reason for the insistence that the operation be in the hands of Nato, a US subsidiary.”’

Sad though it is to say, a Bosnian activist in the UK, Arnesa Buljusmic-Kustura, who describes herself as an ‘analyst’, ‘researcher’ and ‘lecturer on genocide and fascism’, with over 32,000 Twitter followers and who serves as Operations Manager for Remembering Srebrenica, has repeatedly tweeted in defence of Corbyn in relation to former Yugoslavia; either defending him or making excuses for him. Buljusmic-Kustura was a strong supporter of Corbyn’s campaign to become prime minister of the UK, and she also speaks and writes against genocide denial. Her contortions are what happens when someone attempts to reconcile opposition to genocide denial with radical ‘woke’ politics.

Initially, she claimed there was no evidence that Corbyn was a Bosnian genocide denier, and that the accusations against him were a ‘useful tool’ of the Tories:


Acknowledging that Corbyn had signed the EDM in relation to Kosovo in 2004, and that it endorsed the ‘notorious genocide denier’ John Pilger and that this deserved to be criticised, she nevertheless attempted to mitigate his action by claiming that the EDM ‘focuses more on the human cost of intervention rather than downplaying the war crimes committed by Serbian forces‘ (to recap: the EDM spoke of ‘a “genocide” that never really existed” and claimed that the ‘the final count of bodies found in Kosovo’s “mass graves” was 2,788’).

She also tried to claim that any conflation of his stances on Bosnia and on Kosovo was simply a ‘propaganda tool’ – as if his positions on the two conflicts had been different – and that anyway Britain in general had a bad position, so his own position was unexceptional:

Following Corbyn’s defeat in the UK general election in 2019, she continued to defend him from the charge of Bosnian genocide denial. She claimed that accusations of his genocide denial were part of a right-wing attempt to manipulate Bosnians and ‘well-meaning liberals’ against him:




Next, when more evidence of his record was pointed out to her, she claimed it arose from ‘misplaced idealistic leftism’ and that it was really about being ‘critical of the NATO bombing’, and that Corbyn was too unimportant at the time to matter anyway. She also shifted from defending him from ‘genocide denial’ to defending him from ‘outright genocide denial’ – a significant moving of the goalposts:


Finally admitting that he had taken a ‘bad line’ on Bosnia, she nevertheless put it down to ‘an attempt to criticize the NATO bombings’, but emphasised her common ground with him regarding criticism of those bombings.



Further excuses offered for Corbyn’s stance was that it simply reflected the stance of the mainstream media and UN, that he was too unimportant at the time to matter anyway, and that people should be angry with the Tories instead:


Other mitigating factors proffered were that Corbyn had not written the EDM, merely signed it, and that it anyway only related to Kosovo, not to Bosnia:



Truly disappointing that anyone claiming to be an expert on, and opponent of, Balkan genocide denial should try so hard to shield someone like Corbyn from fully justified condemnation. When someone’s extreme-left politics and opposition to genocide denial cannot be reconciled, it is almost always the extreme leftism that comes out on top.


Pic: For the woke, any misdemeanour can be overlooked…






Saturday, 13 June 2020 Posted by | Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

How Margaret Thatcher turned the left upside down


When I was growing up in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher was the incarnation of evil. I came from a left-wing family and was an activist from an early age, joining the Labour Party Young Socialists at fifteen or sixteen. I was active in support of striking teachers and ambulance workers and against the poll-tax; I attended the great London demonstration against the poll-tax of 31 March 1990. In those days, political rights and wrongs were very simple: right-wing was bad and left-wing was good. Thatcher, along with the US’s Ronald Reagan, was the number one left-wing hate-figure; most demos involved the ritual chant of ‘Maggie ! Maggie ! Maggie ! Out ! Out ! Out !’ Her fall in November 1990 was a time of joy.

My two-dimensional political world began to collapse in 1991, when Serbia’s fascistic dictator Slobodan Milosevic launched full-scale war in the former Yugoslavia, from where my own mother came. The crimes of Milosevic’s forces, culminating in the genocide in Bosnia, made the real or supposed crimes of Thatcher and the Tories – the sinking of the Belgrano, the crushing of the miners, the poll tax, etc.  – pale in comparison.

Continue reading at Left Foot Forward

Thursday, 11 April 2013 Posted by | Bosnia, Britain, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia, SWP, The Left, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Progress is possible in the Balkans – why can’t the EU push for it ?

There are at least two reasons why the last two months have been good for the Balkans.

The first is that what is left of the propaganda edifice constructed by the Serb nationalists during the wars of the 1990s has received three heavy blows. Serb nationalists and their Western lobbyists spent the best part of these wars trying to convince the world that Serb war-crimes were mostly the fabrication of a hostile international media. For example, apologists such as John Pilger have long claimed that mass graves of Kosovo Albanians were as non-existent as Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, and that not enough Albanian bodies have been discovered to support the figure of approximately 10,000 Albanians killed by Serbian forces in 1998-1999. Yet on 10 May of this year, Serbia’s War Crimes Prosecution Office announced that a mass grave, thought to contain the bodies of about 250 ethnic Albanians, was discovered at Raska in southwestern Serbia, near the border with Kosova. The slow but steady location and identification of the remains of the victims of the wars are important not only for the relatives of the dead, but for making the publics of the region – and particularly the Serbian public – aware of the incontrovertible reality of the war-crimes.

Another favourite tactic of the Serb-nationalists propagandists was to muddy the water, by arguing that Croatian, Bosnian, Kosova Albanian and NATO forces were as guilty of atrocities as the Serb forces, or even more so. Perhaps the most graphically gruesome assertion used to support this argument was that the Kosova Liberation Army was guilty of systematically removing and trafficking the internal organs of their Serb captives – a rumour that was started by Carla del Ponte, the maverick former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, then eagerly seized upon by the water-muddiers. Yet shortly after the discovery of the Raska mass grave, the BBC reported that ‘Three parallel international investigations, by war crimes investigators from Serbia, the European Union, and the Council of Europe, have failed to uncover any evidence that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) trafficked the organs of captives, according to sources close to each investigation.’ Although the KLA did commit atrocities – as all national-liberation movements that resort to armed struggle do – the myth that its atrocities represented a degree of evil equivalent to the Milosevic regime’s systematic ethnic-cleansing of hundreds of thousands of its own citizens has now been laid to rest.

The third blow against Serb-nationalist propaganda was a spectacular own goal. Ever since 1992, Serb nationalists claimed that the war in Bosnia was not a war of aggression waged by Serbia against its neighbour, but a ‘civil war’ between the Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims, in which Serbia merely assisted the Bosnian Serbs. However, Serbia is currently attempting to secure the extradition of former Bosnian vice-president Ejup Ganic from the UK to Serbia to face spurious ‘war-crimes’ charges, and in order to have the legal right to do this, it has had to accept that at the time of Ganic’s alleged crimes, in early May 1992, an ‘international armed conflict’ was taking place between Serbia and Bosnia. Thus, it has casually torpedoed the eighteen-year-old myth of a Bosnian ‘civil war’.

The steady collapse of Serb-nationalist wartime mythology in the light of new research and developments is part and parcel of the post-war normalisation of the Balkan region. It means a steadily greater awareness – in Serbia, in the Balkan region and in the world as a whole – of the true nature of the wars of the former Yugoslavia. These were wars for which a single regime – that of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade – was overwhelmingly to blame, and responsible for most of the killing. The more Serbia’s citizens become aware of this, the less inclined will they be to support aggressive policies reminiscent of Milosevic, while the more the international public becomes aware of it, the less inclined will the international community be to appease any further such policies. Belgrade’s ongoing attempt to have Ganic extradited is, of course, evidence that Serbia has not completely turned its back on Milosevic’s legacy, but the cup of reform is at least half full, and every myth demolished adds another drop.

The second, and more substantial reason why this has been a good period for the Balkans, is the belated resolution of the Slovenian-Croatian border dispute. In a referendum on 6 June, Slovenia’s citizens voted 51.5%, in a turnout of just over 42%, to permit the border dispute to be resolved through international arbitration. The referendum result removes the last major obstacle to Croatia’s membership of the EU, and marks a major step forward for the Euro-Atlantic integration of the former-Yugoslav region. Despite the low turnout, the referendum result indicates a degree of political maturity on the party of Slovenia’s citizens. The Slovenian attempt to hold up the entire process of EU expansion in the Western Balkans to make a cheap territorial grab has proven extremely damaging to Slovenia’s international standing, and damaging to the wellbeing of the entire region. In rejecting the siren call of nationalism made by the Slovenian opposition under Janez Jansa, in favour of harmony within the EU and the region, Slovenia’s people demonstrated an admirable appreciation of where their national interest lies.

Readers might argue that Slovenia is not part of the Balkans, yet the country has recently joined a Balkan regional body, the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP), that includes all the Balkan states except Kosova, including Moldova and Turkey. Somewhat belatedly, given that the body was established in 1996 and its other members all joined by 2007. Despite their proudly felt Central European identity, the Slovenians realise their national interest lies in participating in and facilitating South East European regional cooperation. Their readiness settle their border dispute with Croatia on a fair basis my be linked to this perception.

The Slovenian case demonstrates that the states of the region are not immune to soft pressure from the international community, even if they do happen to be EU members. It provides a model for a possible resolution of another dispute arising from the break-up of Yugoslavia involving an EU member and a candidate country: the Greek-Macedonian ‘name dispute’. EU and NATO members should put pressure on the parties to this dispute to permit it to be settled by binding international arbitration, in the manner of the Slovenian-Croatian border dispute. With Greece in the throes of acute economic and social crisis, with its social capital expended and its international standing at an all-time low, an ideal opportunity exists to pressurise Greece to accept this. However, bizarre as it may seem to any rational person unaccustomed to the perverse ethics of the EU, the latter has rewarded Greece for its spectacular economic selfishness and irresponsibility with a still more craven appeasement of its anti-Macedonian nationalist policy.

The EU’s failure to resolve the Greek-Macedonian conflict, despite ample opportunity, is contributing to the deterioration in relations between the political parties in Macedonia representing the country’s two principle nationalities: the ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians. Ethnic-Albanian parties, who do not feel particularly committed to the country’s constitutional name, are increasingly frustrated with the Macedonian government’s failure to progress toward EU membership in light of Greece’s veto. In a worse case scenario, this could lead to the collapse of the Macedonian state and a new regional conflagration, drawing in Macedonia’s neighbours and potentially spreading to other Albanian-inhabited Balkan states. If this were to occur, the EU would have only itself to blame.

Thankfully, such a catastrophe does not appear imminent. The same cannot, unfortunately, be said for another consequence of EU vacillation: the alienation of Turkey from the Western alliance. Turkey’s increasingly aggressive policy of Israel-baiting, manifested most spectacularly in its permitting of the Gaza aid flotilla to sail from its shores last month, with predictable bloody consequences, is the bastard child of the Franco-German-led policy of keeping Turkey out of the EU. Turkey’s turn toward Iran and Syria and away from Israel cannot be excused, but it can be understood, as the rising Turkish regional superpower seeks to carve out a new, more Islamic and Middle Eastern role for itself in place of its denied EU role. Instead of being drawn into the club, where it would have to play by the rules, Turkey has been left outside, where it is increasingly going rogue.

It would not require superhuman  efforts on the part of the UK and its allies to keep the Balkans on the straight and narrow. The region is slowly and unsteadily reforming, but faces a number of surmountable obstacles, which we are in a position to help it overcome. Weakened, discredited Greece could be pressurised to lift its veto on Macedonia’s EU and NATO accession, and the EU member  states could make a joint and unambiguous commitment to Turkish membership when certain conditions are met. The tragedy is that even these easy steps are blocked by the selfish and short-sighted interests of certain EU members, above all France and Germany. The UK needs to break ranks more openly with them with regard to both issues, and to campaign loudly and publicly for a change in EU policy. We must point out the potentially catastrophic consequences for Europe and the Middle East of abandoning Macedonia and Turkey, and say openly whose fault it will be if things go further wrong. We might offend our allies now, but that is preferable to having to clean up their mess tomorrow.

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

Wednesday, 30 June 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Croatia, European Union, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Marko Attila Hoare, Serbia, Turkey | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hat tip: Michael Karadjis, Mihalis.

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

John Pilger and the Tasmanian Genocide

On Tuesday, the door of my institution, Kingston University, was darkened by John Pilger, a virulent denier of the crimes of Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian regime against the Kosovo Albanians, who had been invited to speak. Pilger is someone who claims that no mass graves of Albanian victims of Milosevic’s regime have ever been found; he puts the term ‘mass graves’ in quote marks when referring to Kosovo. He even cites Milosevic supporter Neil Clark in support of his position. Pilger’s claim that no mass graves have ever been found in Kosovo is, of course, false. Untrue. In conflict with the factsContradicted by the evidence. A lie refuted by Amnesty International, among others.

I challenged Pilger on his denial, in front of the audience of academics, students and others that he was addressing. I told him that I taught a course on the history and politics of mass murder here at Kingston University; that I had been studying the former Yugoslavia for many years; and that those, such as himself, who denied that Serb forces had been guilty of mass murder and genocide had been proven wrong. So as not to appear rude and lower the tone of the discussion, I did not accuse him of anything worse than having been wrong.

Rather than attempt to defend his record, Pilger tried to play the numbers game with me (people like Pilger are under the impression that if the total number of victims in a campaign of mass murder turns out to be lower than some of the earlier estimates, it vindicates the deniers and the apologists). He asked me what I thought the death-toll in the Kosovo conflict was. I replied that it was about ten thousand (1). He then countered that no, the number of bodies found, including both civilians and combatants and members of all ethnic groups was ‘only’ four thousand, according to members of forensic teams working in Kosovo. This, it should be pointed out, is something of an upward revision for Pilger, who as recently as a year and a half ago was claiming that the total death-toll in Kosovo was ‘only’ 2,788, and that therefore the justification for the NATO operation against Serbia was an ‘invention’.

I reminded Pilger that the Milosevic regime had systematically concealed and destroyed the bodies of its Kosovo Albanian victims; that more mass graves were being discovered as time went by; and that the body count was therefore likely to rise. He did not appear to have a counter-argument; his only response was to tell me ‘you clearly have an agenda’ and ‘you shouldn’t be teaching here’. Which, given that I was teaching at the invitation of, and in conjunction with, senior members of the same faculty and university as those who had invited him to speak, was something of an insult to his hosts. He then tried to shift the discussion away from the topic of the body-count (that he had himself introduced) and to claim that ‘the NATO war was to destroy the state called Yugoslavia’. I told him that was ‘nonsense’, and he decided that this was the time to move on to the next question. After the meeting and in the following days, several Kingston students and staff members approached me to tell me how shocked they had been at his reaction to my question and his inability to address it.

Unknown to either myself or Pilger, a forensic expert who had worked on-site in Kosovo examining the bodies was also present in the audience. After the meeting, she approached him, told him who she was, challenged his version of events and asked him to tell her who the alleged forensic experts he had cited were, because they were probably people she knew personally. Pilger’s response was ‘I have to go now’. Although when I passed him in the entrance to the auditorium, he was talking to someone else and did not appear in any great hurry to leave.

As I noted above, deniers such as Pilger are under the impression that if they can ‘win’ the numbers game – if the death-toll in Kosovo turns out ‘only’ to have been four thousand rather than ten thousand, for example – then they believe it will prove their case that genocide did not occur, the assumption presumably being that four thousand deaths are ‘too small’ to count as genocide.

Pilger is an Australian, and it is interesting to note what the implications of his line of reasoning are for our understanding of one of the most prominent cases of total genocide in human history: the genocide of the native Tasmanians in his homeland, Australia. The native population of Tasmania was perhaps 5,000 at the start of the nineteenth century, possibly fewer (2). This population was totally eradicated over the course of several decades, largely through diseases and the destruction of its society by the European settlers, with a smaller number directly murdered and only some mixed-race individuals surviving.

If one were to accept Pilger’s figures of 4,000 dead in the Kosovo conflict, this puts Milosevic’s killing of Kosovo Albanians on a scale very similar to that of the British and Australian destruction of the native Tasmanians, with a roughly equivalent death-toll, though accomplished in a matter of months rather than decades (NB the attempt by Pilger and others to claim that some of the Albanian dead in Kosovo were ‘combatants’ and therefore not proper victims of genocide could equally be made in relation to some of the native Tasmanians killed by the British and Australians, though it is questionable how much meaning the civilian/combatant distinction has in cases of genocide – one need only think of the Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, for example – or indeed what ‘combat’ really means when groups with vastly superior technology, fire-power and resources, such as the Serb forces in Kosovo or the British and Australians in Tasmania, wage campaigns of destruction against civilian populations defended by poorly armed guerrillas). And, of course, Milosevic’s campaign of mass murder in Kosovo, unlike the British-Australian destruction of the native Tasmanians, was halted by outside intervention and was therefore unable to fulfil the intentions of its perpetrators.

Australian deniers of the Tasmanian Genocide use many of the same techniques that Pilger does in relation to Kosovo, above all attempting to revise downward the death-toll of massacres, or to claim that they were ‘fabricated’ altogether. Pilger’s position on Kosovo mirrors and reinforces that of the deniers of the Tasmanian Genocide.

In reality, genocide is not a matter of numbers.

For more on Pilger’s denial, see Martin Shaw.

1) a scientific study by Paul B. Spiegel and Peter Salama of the Centre for Disease Control, ‘War and mortality in Kosovo, 1998-99’, published in the Lancet on 14 July 2000, estimated 18,800 total deaths in Kosovo in this period, of which 12,000 from war-related trauma; a second scientific study by a team of experts led by Patrick Ball, dated 2 January 2002 and submitted by the prosecutor to the trial chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia on 15 February 2002 estimates that 10,356 Kosovo Albanians were killed. See also here.

2) Mark Levene in ‘The rise of the West and the coming of genocide’ (I.B. Taurus, 2005, p. 38), gives a figure of 3-4,000 for the population of native Tasmanians at the time of the arrival of the first British settlers, based on Lyndall Ryan’s work, ‘The aboriginal Tasmanians’ (Allen and Unwin, 2nd ed., 1996, p. 14)

Friday, 14 December 2007 Posted by | Australia, Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Serbia, The Left | , , | 1 Comment