This interview with Marko Attila Hoare was conducted by Bisera Fabrio for Jutarnji list and published in Croatian on 20 June 2014
Who started the war ?
World War I was a conflict with multiple layers. It began as a Balkan conflict between the two Balkan powers, Austria-Hungary and Serbia, but quickly expanded to become a war of Germany against the Franco-Russian alliance, after which other Great Powers and Balkan powers joined the war on one side or the other. So it did not have one single aggressor. The Sarajevo assassination was engineered by leaders of the extreme-nationalist, terrorist Serbian organisation ‘Unification or Death’, also known as the ‘Black Hand’, which must bear responsibility for provoking the Austro-Hungarian declaration of war on Serbia. However, the assassination did not reflect the policy of the Serbian government, and Vienna’s decision to go to war against Serbia was an expression of long-standing Austro-Hungarian imperialist plans. Austria-Hungary and Serbia each had predatory, expansionist designs against each other. However, Austria-Hungary, as the much bigger power, whose leadership officially decided on war, bears the greater responsibility for the outbreak.
Was the fatal shooting by Gavrilo Princip the true cause or simply the formal pretext for a great war that had long been ‘cooking’ ?
The Sarajevo assassination was the spark for the outbreak of a conflict that would almost certainly have happened anyway. However, it was not accidental that the conflict broke out over an event in the Balkans. Austria-Hungary had for decades sought to control Serbia, but Serbia had in the years before 1914 – particularly since 1903 – increasingly moved away from Vienna’s influence. Serbian leaders had long-term plans to ‘liberate’ or annex South Slav territory in Austria-Hungary, and the Black Hand supported terrorist acts like the Sarajevo assassination as part of a deliberate expansionist strategy. Austria-Hungary, for its part, sought to extend its imperial influence southward into the Balkans and viewed Serbia as lying in its natural path for expansion. Beyond this, Germany viewed the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire – the Near East – as a key sphere of influence, after it had largely been shut out of other areas for imperial expansion by the British and French. Russia viewed the possibility of Austro-German expansion into the Balkans as a mortal threat. France competed with Germany for influence over the Balkan states, while Italy competed with Austria-Hungary for influence over the Albanian lands. So the Balkans and Ottoman Empire were a key area of dispute – probably the most important area of dispute – between the Great Powers. Consequently when the assassination crisis broke out in June 1914, neither Austria-Hungary nor Germany nor Russia felt it could retreat.
Was it possible that the citizens of Austria-Hungary, that early summer in 1914, really did not expect any kind of military conflict, let alone a long war that would bring down the Monarchy ?
The citizens or subjects of the Habsburg monarchy were divided over how they viewed the crisis that erupted in June 1914. The war party, represented most prominently by the joint Austro-Hungarian foreign minister Count Leopold von Berchtold and by Chief of General Staff Conrad von Hoetzendorf, was determined to attack Serbia following the assassination, but they did not foresee that this action would result in a general European war lasting over four years, and they certainly did not predict that the war would result in the Habsburg Empire’s collapse. Others, particularly the Hungarian prime minister Istvan Tisza, hoped after the assassination that war could be avoided. Ironically, Hungarian resistance to a Habsburg war against Serbia helped to delay its outbreak, so that Vienna lost the chance to occupy Serbia quickly and present the other Great Powers with a fait accompli. This ensured that when war did break out, it would not remain localised between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, but become a general European war.
What did Serbia actually want ? What were its intentions toward Bosnia ?
Bosnia had formed a key goal of Serbian expansionist plans ever since Ilija Garasanin’s (in)famous ‘Plan’ (Nacertanije) in 1844. Following the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1878, those Serbian statesmen who favoured collaboration with Vienna – most notably Prince, later King Milan Obrenovic – chose to disregard Bosnia-Hercegovina and concentrate on southward expansion. But Bosnia-Hercegovina remained a long-term goal for nationalist Serbians, and the change of regime in Serbia in 1903, when King Aleksandar Obrenovic was murdered and replaced by Petar Karadjordjevic, brought to power those who certainly intended Serbia’s eventual expansion westward. This meant, firstly, the People’s Radical Party under Nikola Pasic, and secondly, the extreme nationalist army officers who had carried out the murder of King Aleksandar and who went on to found ‘Unification or Death’ in 1911. When Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1908, Pasic called for preparations for war, and something of a war psychosis gripped Serbia, with the formation of the ‘National Defence’ (Narodna Odbrana) organisation to wage guerrilla warfare in Bosnia-Hercegovina. However, when he subsequently became prime minister in 1912, Pasic pursued a more moderate policy toward Austria-Hungary, since he was focused on Serbia’s southward expansion against the Ottomans. After the Balkan Wars, Pasic wanted a period of peace to enable Serbia to assimilate the territory in Old Serbia (Kosovo) and Macedonia it had taken. It was the Black Hand, whose leading officers Dragutin Dimitrijevic-Apis and Vojislav Tankosic were behind the assassination, who were the real war-mongers on the Serbian side: they supported terrorism and aggression in Bosnia-Hercegovina, against Montenegro’s King Nikola, against Bulgaria, etc., as part of a consistent policy.
What was the state of inter-religious and interethnic relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1914 ?
Inter-religious and interethnic relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1914 were better than they would later be within the Yugoslav kingdom. Serbs and Muslims were divided by the question of land reform, since the majority of Orthodox Serb peasants in Bosnia-Hercegovina remained subject to Muslim landlords. Croats and Muslims were divided over the issue of Catholic proselytising. However, there was also a general degree of solidarity among members of the Serb, Croat and Muslim elites. Conservative Serb and Muslim leaders had collaborated in their demands for church and school autonomy from the Habsburg regime, and for Bosnian autonomy. Some of the more liberal Bosnian politicians favoured inter-religious and inter-ethnic collaboration on a pro-Yugoslav basis against the regime. The actions of Gavrilo Princip and his fellow assassins were those of an extremist fringe, and were condemned by mainstream Bosnian Serb political and religious figures. Although the assassination provoked a wave of attacks on Serb properties in Sarajevo, these were condemned by Catholic Archbishop Josip Stadler and by Reis ul-Ulema Dzemaludin Causevic. Yet even Princip’s Young Bosnia movement encompassed Croats and Muslims as well as Serbs. Inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in Bosnia-Hercegovina would deteriorate sharply as the result of the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
What was Young Bosnia ? Was it a Serb conspiratorial group, a wing of the Black Hand or an authentic Bosnian illegal organisation ?
Young Bosnia was an ill-defined, loose network of Bosnian student radicals. It was numerically dominated by Serbs and many of its supporters were at least unconsciously inspired by the tradition of Serb Orthodox Christianity. However, its political goals bridged the gap between Great Serb nationalism and pro-Yugoslav ideas, and its adherents came to support common South Slav unification based on the overcoming of religious and ethnic differences between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Consequently it was able to recruit Croats and Muslims as well as Serbs. Young Bosnia was an indigenous Bosnian movement, but it was co-opted by the Black Hand which sought to use it to advance its own expansionist goals. The Black Hand organised a guerrilla training school in Prokuplje in Serbia that prepared young people from Bosnia-Hercegovina to engage in terrorist activities. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, engineered by Apis and Tankosic and carried out by Bosnian Black Hand agents – Princip in conjunction with others – represented the culmination of these activities. The assassination cannot be understood unless both the indigenous Bosnian element (Young Bosnia) and the external Serbian element (Black Hand) are both taken into account together.
Gavrilo Princip was in the period of Tito’s Yugoslavia treated as an extraordinary historical figure; as a revolutionary who initiated the emancipation of the Yugoslav peoples; the forerunner of the people’s heroes of the Second World War. Today he is, at least in Croatia, looked upon differently – some consider him a murderer and terrorist, and others an exponent of Serb nationalism…
He is a figure that understandably divides Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks today. His political goals stood on the border between Great-Serb nationalism and Yugoslavism; he was very much Serb in his background, but he came to embrace a form of South Slav unification that stressed unity between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. He expressed violent hatred for the Sarajevo carsija, that from a contemporary perspective reminds us of Radovan Karadzic. However, his patriotic hatred was directed primarily against the foreign, Habsburg occupier, rather than against Croats or Muslims. His assassination set off a chain of events that had disastrous consequences for the South Slavs. Serbia was militarily crushed by the Central Powers in World War I, and only ended up on the winning side by luck: it was the US’s intervention in World War I that led to an Allied victory, in which Serbia was freed from occupation. The establishment of Yugoslavia was disastrous for Bosnia-Hercegovina’s peoples, and to a lesser extent for Croatia’s: it led to the Chetnik and Ustasha genocides of 1941 and to Milosevic’s and Karadzic’s genocide in the 1990s. We can reasonably view the assassination, leading to the establishment of Yugoslavia, as a historic wrong turn for the South Slav peoples of the Habsburg Empire. Some Young Bosnia supporters became notorious Chetniks in World War II. But it is important to remember that Princip was not Karadzic; he did not plan or engage in genocide.
Was the assassination of the heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand a terrorist act, as the Austro-Hungarian authorities understandably treated it at the time and as it is today treated by some historians, or was it in fact a patriotic act, as it is treated by the majority of Serb and pro-Serb historians ? If it was patriotic, what kind of patriotism was it ? Serb ? Bosnian ?
The assassination was undoubtedly a terrorist act, and it enjoyed no general support or democratic sanction among the Bosnian population – not even among the Serb population. So it cannot be considered as a legitimate act of a genuine national-liberation movement. But the assassins viewed themselves as patriots, and were undoubtedly sincere in their belief that they were acting in the best interests of their people. They did not have clearly worked out political goals – they were very young people, largely teenagers. They supported the liberation and unification of the South Slavs in general terms. Their patriotism was of a kind that blended Serb patriotism, Serbo-Croat patriotism, Bosnian patriotism and Yugoslav patriotism.
Was the goal of Young Bosnia to ‘expel’ Austria-Hungary from Bosnia-Hercegovina, which would then become an independent state, or to annex Bosnia to Serbia ?
Young Bosnia was a loose network with an imprecise membership – it was not a proper political organisation, and it did not have a precise programme. Its members broadly believed that Serbs, Croats and Muslims were the same nation, and they broadly sought Austria-Hungary’s expulsion from the South Slav lands so that these could be united with Serbia in a common South Slav state. In general, Young Bosnia’s members believed that Bosnia-Hercegovina belonged neither to Serbia nor to Croatia, but to both equally. At his trial, assassin Vasa Cubrilovic described his identity as ‘Serbo-Croat’, while Trifko Grabez said ‘I was not led by Serbia but solely by Bosnia’.
How much did the new, post-war (1918) geopolitical picture of the Balkans influence the fact that at the end of the twentieth century a number of national states were established ?
Those who defend the Versailles settlement claim that it permitted the liberation of the subject peoples from the former European empires – particularly the Habsburg Empire – and enabled them to form their own national states. However, from the point of view of the South Slav inhabitants of the Habsburg Empire – roughly speaking, the peoples of the lands that today comprise Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Vojvodina – 1918 arguably resulted in the exchange of one slavery for another. In the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, both Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina lost the parliaments and autonomy they had enjoyed in the Habsburg Empire, and relations between Serbs and non-Serbs became worse, not better. In retrospect, we can view the Yugoslav period (1918-1992) as a transitional phase on the road to independent national statehood for the Croats and Slovenes (although the Bosnian question remains unresolved today). The establishment of Yugoslavia on a centralised, Serbian-dominated basis in 1918-1921 made it very likely, if not inevitable, that the country would eventually break up in favour of independent national states.
Was Austria-Hungary a precursor to the European Union ?
No; Austria-Hungary was a multinational dynastic state that predated the independent national statehoods of its peoples, whereas the European Union is a multinational union built from independent nation-states. Only by freeing themselves from rule by the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, Russian and other empires and establishing themselves as independent states, could the European nations go on to establish something like the European Union.
What was the key cause of the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy ? The burning, militant nationalism of its various peoples or the rigid centralism of Vienna and Budapest ? We see that in contemporary Europe nationalism is rising…
Historians debate how inevitable the break-up of Austria-Hungary was; whether it might have survived had its leaders been more accommodating toward its non-German and non-Magyar peoples, or if there had been no World War I. But I believe pre-national multinational unions like Austria-Hungary and Yugoslavia ultimately had no future. As a general rule, unless a state is underpinned by a common national identity shared by most of its citizens, then it cannot survive in the face of democracy. Because people will generally want their nation to be free and independent, not to be ruled by an alien master. The question is today how many more independent nation-states will one day appear in Europe: Scotland, Catalonia, Chechnya, etc. ?
What kind of lesson can Europe today draw from the Great War ?
That the peace of Europe is best secured when the continent is organised on the basis of independent, democratic national states in which the rights of national minorities are fully respected. And when these states are united in trans-national unions or associations – political, economic and military – that provide a common framework for interaction while respecting the sovereignty of each member.
If, after a hundred years, historians from either side of the Drina cannot even agree on who started the war, let alone who was really to blame for it, how can we expect that this part of Europe will truly be stabilised politically ? It turns out that the debate over the First World War is itself the pretext for a new war, at least among historians if not politically…
The establishment of the former Yugoslav lands as seven fully-functioning, fully sovereign states – Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo – and their unification within the European Union and NATO would provide the best guarantee for the region’s stabilisation. In such a case, the disputes of the past will matter less. Unfortunately, this process is stalled, and the futures of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia, in particular, appear uncertain. If Europe’s leaders remain unwilling to take the necessary steps to restore Bosnia-Hercegovina as a functioning state and to bring it into the EU along with Kosovo and Macedonia, then they will be responsible for any new conflict that breaks out.
The evident domination of Islamist elements in post-Gaddafi Libya, symbolised by the announcement of National Transitional Council chairman Mustafa Abdul-Jalil that Sharia would form the basis for legislation in the new Libya and that the law against polygamy was to be relaxed, raises the question of whether the West was wrong to intervene against Gaddafi. And the answer is that no, we were not.
When the uprising broke out in February against Gaddafi’s dictatorship, it was clear that the latter had to go, just as it is clear today that Assad’s dictatorship in Syria has to go. The only question over Libya then, as over Syria now, was how long-drawn-out, bloody and destructive the transition to a new order would be. Those of us who backed intervention in Libya did not do so in the belief that, if the revolution there were to succeed, Libya would turn overnight into Denmark or Holland. We did so in the belief that the alternative, of allowing Gaddafi a free hand against the rebels, was by far the greater evil. At the time of writing, over 3,500 Syrians have been killed by Assad’s security forces, and we have no way of knowing how many more are going to die, and how much destruction the country will suffer, before the Baathist regime is overthrown and Syria can reach the point where Libya is today. The more protracted, bloody and destructive the Syrian transition is, the more difficult it will be to build a healthy new order in Syria afterward. The ultimate danger is not a Libya or a Syria in which some form of political Islam is strong or in power, but an Afghan or Somali scenario in which the state is destroyed by civil war and collapses, creating a void that organisations such as al-Qaeda can fill. Only slightly less unpalatable is a Yemeni scenario, in which a discredited dictator holds onto power but loses full control of his county, allowing al Qaeda to gain a foothold. Yemen is the principal centre for operations of ‘Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’, despite Ali Abdullah Saleh’s pro-Western orientation.
As Bolshevik and Stalinist tyranny were the child of Tsarist tyranny, so the Islamist elements that have risen to the fore in Libya since Gaddafi’s fall are the children of Gaddafi’s system, which prevented any healthy, pluralistic system from developing and acted as an incubator for radical Islamism. Anyone who thought that Gaddafi’s regime acted as a Hobbesian Leviathan keeping Islamist elements in check was wrong: Gaddafi’s Libya sent more fighters per capita to join the Islamist insurgency in Iraq than any other country, including Saudi Arabia. Despite being in power for forty-two years and wielding absolute control over his country, Gaddafi never got round actually to abolishing polygamy; he merely restricted it. The foreign media has rightly highlighted the disgraceful treatment of David Gerbi, the Libyan Jew who joined the rebellion against Gaddafi, but was then driven out of the country after trying to re-open a synagogue; yet it was Gaddafi who banned the return of Jews to Libya, confiscated all Jewish property in the country and drove out the few Jews who remained, thereby establishing a Libya that was Judenrein. In 1972, in order to pursue his megalomaniacal regional adventures, Gaddafi established the ‘Islamic Legion‘ as an international paramilitary force with an ideology blending Islamism and Arab-supremacist, anti-black racism; it fathered the Janjaweed, with which the Islamist regime in Sudan carried out the Darfur genocide. Given this legacy, it would have been a miracle if a post-Gaddafi Libyan regime were not tainted with Islamism.
We in the West had a humanitarian duty in February and March of this year to protect the Libyan people from massacre at Gaddafi’s hands, and once we had embarked on that intervention, we could only ensure its ultimate success by bringing down the murderous regime. As John McCain said in April after visiting a hospital in Benghazi and seeing the dead and dying victims of the war, ‘It argues for us to help them and to get this thing over with and Gaddafi out.’ But now that we have helped the Libyan people to do what they could not do by themselves, saving their citizens from massacre and freeing them from a dictatorship, it is up to them to do what they have to do for themselves: build a healthy, functioning, pluralistic new order.
Western military intervention has helped maximise the chances of such an order emerging, but it cannot guarantee that it will. We cannot force Libyans or other Arabs to vote for secular parties, much as we would like them to do so. The struggle for a democratic Arab world will be slow and painful; it will be marked by setbacks and defeats, and Arab countries will not always make the choices that we might want. That, after all, is in the nature of democracy. Realistically, democracy in the Arab world will have to accommodate political Islam in some form, but there is a whole range of phenomena that that term embraces, from Turkey’s Justice and Development Party through the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaeda, and we should not see Armaggedon coming just because of the NTC chairman’s deplorable comments regarding Sharia law and polygamy – we are a long way from an al-Qaeda caliphate in Libya or Tunisia. Expressions of moderation by Mustafa Abdul-Jalil and by Libyan Islamists such as Abdel Hakim Belhadj and Ali al-Sallabi should be taken with a pinch of salt, but even insincere expressions of moderation indicate that Islamists are aware they do not have a blank slate, and that their agenda for the country is far from uncontested.
The battle for the new order in Libya is only just beginning. We cannot predict or determine the outcome, but we should not regret that we helped to give the Libyan people the chance to fight it.
This article was published on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Image: Volen Siderov, leader of the Bulgarian fascist party ‘Ataka’
The recent ban on the construction of minarets in Switzerland, following a referendum, was, in the words of one commentator, ‘a reflex of the Swiss tendency for self-isolation’. It is evidence that, for all its long tradition of prosperity and stability, Switzerland would be a less than ideal member of the European Union, were it to join. Switzerland did not permit women to vote in national elections until 1971; it was not until the 1990s that women achieved the right to vote everywhere in Switzerland at the cantonal level. We may lament rich, stable Switzerland’s unwillingness to join the EU, but it has come with a definite silver lining. For with the forces of intolerance on the upsurge in many parts of Europe, the last thing we need is to strengthen their ranks within the EU.
In Slovakia, legislation came into force on 1 September of this year that criminalises the use of non-Slovak languages in the public sphere, including Hungarian, which is the first language of Slovakia’s Hungarian minority, comprising nearly ten percent of Slovakia’s population of just over five million. The legislation means that an ethnic Hungarian train-conductor responding to an ethnic-Hungarian passenger in Hungarian or a Roma doctor addressing a Roma patient in Romani could face prosecution. The legislation is the work of Robert Fico’s governing coalition, which includes the racist and far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) of Jan Slota. It was passed in a context, in the words of the European Council’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, in which ‘the rise of anti-Hungarian discourse by some political figures has created a negative public climate which has led to an increase in intolerance against the Hungarian minority in Slovaka as well as acts of racially motivated crimes against members of this group.’ Not coincidentally, Slovakia is one of only five EU members that refuse to recognise the independence of Kosova; in Slovakia’s case, because it fears that Kosova’s independence from Serbia sets a precedent that its own Hungarian minority could follow. Since Kosova’s independence was the result of the brutal persecution and ethnic cleansing of Kosova Albanians by the former regime of Slobodan Milosevic, this suggests that Bratislava sees itself as following in Milosevic’s footsteps so far as minority rights are concerned – which, to an extent, it is.
The response from the ranks of the EU has, however, been muted. Fico’s ‘Direction – Social Democracy’ party had its membership temporarily suspended in the Party of European Socialists – which includes Britain’s Labour Party – in response to its alliance with the SNS, but this suspension has now been lifted, the language law notwithstanding. In other words, Slovakia’s mainstream Social Democrats are allied to fascists and promoting chauvinistic, anti-minority legislation, and this is being tolerated by the Social Democratic mainstream in Europe.
The implications for regional stability are potentially dangerous. The language law is poisoning Slovakia’s relations with neighbouring Hungary, which recently dropped its support for Bratislava’s bid to host the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER). Like ethnic Serbs and Albanians, ethnic Hungarians are dispersed among several Central European and Balkan states; a reopened Hungarian question would have potentially grave implications for regional stability. Former Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi stated recently that ethnic Hungarians outside of Hungary must always remain a determining element of Hungary’s foreign policy; this sounds reasonable given Bratislava’s current behaviour, but it is uncomfortably reminiscent of the ‘concern’ expressed by Serbia’s politicians in the early 1990s for the Serbs outside Serbia.
Slovakia’s is not the only government in the EU that has promoted anti-minority legislation in order to appease fascist elements. Earlier this month, Bulgaria’s prime minister, Boyko Borisov, announced the holding of a referendum on the abolition of Turkish-language news broadcasts on Bulgaria’s BNT1 public television channel. Nearly 10% of Bulgaria’s population of nearly eight million is ethnic-Turkish, and the minority has a long experience of persecution, most notably at the hands of the Communist tyrant Todor Zhivkov in the 1980s. Borisov announced this move in a joint news conference with Volen Siderov, the leader of the fascist party National Union of Attack (‘Ataka’), with whom his own inappropriately named Citizens for European Development in Bulgaria (GERB) party is in coalition. According to Borisov, ‘This is a very delicate situation and we don’t want the matter being exploited against Bulgarian Muslims or by them. That’s why I support the idea of solving the issue on a referendum as this is the most democratic way.’ He added, ‘We don’t want other minorities to feel neglected. Soon we might have the Roma asking for news in their language’, enlightening his audience by pointing out that Bulgarian was the country’s official language.
This move nevertheless provoked strong opposition in Bulgaria itself, including on the part of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms party (MRF), which is predominantly ethnic-Turkish. To its credit, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the European parliamentary liberal bloc to which the MRF belongs, then threatened to raise the issue of the referendum in the European parliament. Bulgaria also came under pressure from Turkey, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan raising the issue in a telephone conversation with Borisov. Indeed, a return to the persecution of ethnic Turks in Bulgaria would further complicate the already difficult relations between Turkey and the rest of the Western alliance. Turkey is, of course, itself long guilty of persecuting its Kurdish minority, something most recently manifested in the Turkish Constitutional Court’s ban of the Democratic Society Party, the country’s principal Kurdish party. But Turkey at least has the excuse that it is not in the EU, and that its patchy human-rights record is partly responsible for keeping it out. Unlike Turkey, some EU members appear to be given an undeserved clean pass by the Union and by their allies.
In Bulgaria, nevertheless, the forces of intolerance appear to have suffered a defeat, with Borisov retreating from his plan to hold the referendum. But while Bulgarian resistance to the anti-Turkish measure is heartening, encompassing as it did the president and the parliamentary opposition, less edifying has been the muted response from Europe. GERB’s adoption of an anti-minority measure to satisfy a fascist parliamentary ally did not, apparently, provoke any opposition in the ranks of the European People’s Party, the conservative Euro-federalist bloc in the European parliament of which GERB is a member. Nor, indeed, have the European People’s Party or other EU bodies reacted much to earlier instances of persecution of minorities in Bulgaria. Sofia lost two cases in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), brought by Omo Ilinden Pirin, the party of the ethnic-Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. Both times, the ECHR ordered Sofia to permit the party to register legally and to pay it damages; while the damages were paid, Sofia continues to refuse to allow the party to register.
Indulgence toward anti-minority chauvinism in the EU is nothing new. Greece has for decades pursued a policy of forced assimilation of its ethnic minorities; it refuses to recognise the existence of the ethnic Turkish and Macedonian minorities on its soil, and persecutes and harasses their political and cultural organisations. Athens has been found by the ECHR to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights with regard to both minorities as regards freedom of expression, association and self-identification, yet has disregarded the Court’s verdicts. Thus, over ten years after the ECHR found Greece in violation of human rights for its refusal to permit the registration of the ethnic-Macedonian society ‘Home of Macedonian Culture’, it has continued to refuse, without suffering adverse consequences from the EU. Greece’s policy of trying to force the neighbouring Republic of Macedonia to change its name is closely linked to its programme of forced assimilation of its own Macedonian minority; the EU, through recognising the Greek right to veto Macedonia’s EU accession, enables this chauvinistic policy as well.
So far as Greece’s Turkish minority is concerned, Athens violates its human rights both in national and in religious terms; it denies the right of organisations bearing the appellation ‘Turkish’ to register themselves, and denies the right of Muslims in Greece to elect their own imams and muftis. Religious officials elected by Muslims in Greece on their own initiative have been prosecuted and imprisoned, over which Greece was again found by the ECHR to be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights as regards freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The Greco-Turkish relationship is a permanent potential source of discord within NATO ranks, and as Turkey moves to define a new geopolitical role for itself, continued Greco-Turkish cooperation cannot be taken for granted; indeed, there are indications that it is already fraying. Athens’s mistreatment of its Turkish minority may aggravate an already dangerous situation.
Such instances of intolerance toward minorities, on the part of states that belong to both NATO and the EU, are a disgrace to the Western alliance. They are also a threat to our security. With Moscow pursuing an aggressive policy aimed at derailing NATO’s eastward expansion, and with several states of Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe already concerned by our apparently lukewarm commitment to their security, this is not a time for creating new divisions within our ranks. Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece are all NATO members, and it is reasonable to question just how solid a military and political alliance can be while some members are violating the human rights of co-nationals of other members.
We must bring pressure to bear on those EU and NATO members that violate the human rights of their minorities, and make it clear that such behaviour is unacceptable, both because it violates the principles of civilisation and democracy that underpin the EU, and because it threatens our common security. Before these minority issues grow into regional crises, they should be nipped in the bud.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Hat tip: Andras Riedlmayer
Open letter to Amnesty International from Ed Vulliamy, 30 October 2009
To whom it may concern:
I have been contacted by a number of people regarding Amnesty International’s invitation to Professor Noam Chomsky to lecture in Northern Ireland.
The communications I have received regard Prof. Chomsky’s role in revisionism in the story of the concentration camps in northwestern Bosnia in 1992, which it was my accursed honour to discover.
As everyone interested knows, a campaign was mounted to try and de-bunk the story of these murderous camps as a fake – ergo, to deny and/or justify them – the dichotomy between these position still puzzles me.
The horror of what happened at Omarska and Trnopolje has been borne out by painful history, innumerable trials at the Hague, and – most importantly by far – searing testimony from the survivors and the bereaved. These were places of extermination, torture, killing, rape and, literally “concentration” prior to enforced deportation, of people purely on grounds of ethnicity.
Prof. Chomsky was not among those (“Novo” of Germany and “Living Marxism” in the UK) who first proposed the idea that these camps were a fake. He was not among those who tried unsuccessfully (they were beaten back in the High Court in London, by a libel case taken by ITN) to put up grotesque arguments about fences around the camps, which were rather like Fred Leuchter’s questioning whether the thermal capacity of bricks was enough to contain the heat needed to Jews at Auschwitz. But Professor Chomsky said many things, from his ivory tower at MIT, to spur them on and give them the credibility and energy they required to spread their poisonous perversion and denials of these sufferings. Chomsky comes with academic pretensions, doing it all from a distance, and giving the revisionists his blessing. And the revisionists have revelled in his endorsement.
In an interview with the Guardian, Professor Chomsky paid me the kind compliment of calling me a good journalist, but added that on this occasion (the camps) I had “got it wrong”. Got what wrong?!?! Got wrong what we saw that day, August 5th 1992 (I didn’t see him there)? Got wrong the hundreds of thousands of families left bereaved, deported and scattered asunder? Got wrong the hundreds of testimonies I have gathered on murderous brutality? Got wrong the thousands whom I meet when I return to the commemorations? If I am making all this up, what are all the human remains found in mass graves around the camps and so painstakingly re-assembled by the International Commission for Missing Persons?
These people pretend neutrality over Bosnia, but are actually apologists for the Milosevic/Karadzic/Mladic plan, only too pathetic to admit it. And the one thing they never consider from their armchairs is the ghastly, searing, devastating impact of their game on the survivors and the bereaved. The pain they cause is immeasurable. This, along with the historical record, is my main concern. It is one thing to survive the camps, to lose one’s family and friends – quite another to be told by a bunch of academics with a didactic agenda in support of the pogrom that those camps never existed. The LM/Novo/Chomsky argument that the story of the camps was somehow fake has been used in countless (unsuccessful) attempts to defend mass murderers in The Hague.
For decades I have lived under the impression that Amnesty International was opposed to everything these people stand for, and existed to defend exactly the kind of people who lost their lives, family and friends in the camps and at Srebrenica three years later, a massacre on which Chomsky has also cast doubt. I have clearly been deluded about Amnesty. For Amnesty International, of all people, to honour this man is to tear up whatever credibility they have estimably and admirably won over the decades, and to reduce all they say hitherto to didactic nonsense.
Why Amnesty wants to identify with and endorse this revisionist obscenity, I do not know. It is baffling and grotesque. By inviting Chomsky to give this lecture, Amnesty condemns itself to ridicule at best, hurtful malice at worst – Amnesty joins the revisionists in spitting on the graves of the dead. Which was not what the organisation was, as I understand, set up for. I have received a letter from an Amnesty official in Northern Ireland which reads rather like a letter from Tony Blair’s office after it has been caught out cosying up to British Aerospace or lying over the war in Iraq – it is a piece of corporate gobbledygook, distancing Amnesty from Chomsky’s views on Bosnia, or mealy-mouthedly conceding that they are disagreed with.
There is no concern at all with the victims, which is, I suppose, what one would expect from a bureaucrat. In any event, the letter goes nowhere towards addressing the revisionism, dispelling what will no doubt be a fawning, self-satisfied introduction in Belfast and rapturous applause for
the man who gives such comfort to Messrs Karadzic and Mladic, and their death squads. How far would Amnesty go in inviting and honouring speakers whose views it does not necessarily share, in the miserable logic of this AI official in Belfast? A lecture by David Irving on Joseph Goebbels?
Alistair Campbell on how Saddam really did have those WMD? The Chilean Secret Police or Colonel Oliver North on the communist threat in Latin America during the 70s and 80s? What about Karadzic himself on the “Jihadi” threat in Bosnia, and the succulence of 14-year-old girls kept in rape camps?
I think I am still a member of AI – if so, I resign. If not, thank God for that. And to think: I recently came close to taking a full time job as media director for AI. That was a close shave – what would I be writing now, in the press release: “Come and hear the great Professor Chomsky inform you all that the stories about the camps in Bosnia were a lie – that I was hallucinating that day, that the skeletons of the dead so meticulously re-assembled by the International Commission for Missing Persons are all plastic? That the dear friends I have in Bosnia, the USA, the UK and elsewhere who struggle to put back together lives that were broken by Omarska and Trnopolje are making it all up?
Some press release that would have been. Along with the owner of the site of the Omarska camp, the mighty Mittal Steel Corporation, Amnesty International would have crushed it pretty quick. How fitting that Chomsky and Mittal Steel find common cause. Yet how logical, and to me, obvious. After all, during the Bosnian war, it was the British Foreign Office, the CIA, the UN and great powers who, like the revisionists Chomsky champions, most eagerly opposed any attempt to stop the genocide that lasted, as it was encouraged by them and their allies in high politics to last, for three bloody years from 1992 until the Srebrenica massacre of 1995.
Yours, in disgust and despair,
Open letter to Amnesty International from the Society for Threatened Peoples International (STPI), 30 October 2009
You are a genocide denier, Professor Chomsky !
Dear Professor Chomsky,
Dear Friends of Amnesty International,
Once again you find yourself invited to appear in a public forum, this time in Belfast. In the past, Belfast was a city with a long-standing reputation for discrimination against the Catholic population, but today those of us who are familiar with the city’s past history of conflict, crime and disorder are pleased and relieved that the Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland have finally emerged from a long dark tunnel.
The focus of our human rights organisation’s work is the support that we give to minority groups who have been the victims of genocide and dispossession. The two guiding principles inspiring us are that firstly we work with the people “Von denen keiner spricht” – the people no-one talks about, and secondly we are “Auf keinem Auge blind” – never turning a blind eye. We believe that “persecution, extermination and expulsion, the establishment of concentration camps and rape camps are always and everywhere crimes, now just as they were in the past. Irrespective of which government is responsible and on which continent and in which country those crimes are being perpetrated. The legacy bequeathed to us by all the victims of yesterday is an obligation to come to the assistance of the victims of today”.
You, Professor Chomsky, choose to ignore those precepts. You call genocide genocide when it suits your ideological purposes. Who could condone the murkier aspects of American foreign policy or fail to condemn the way that policy has supported and encouraged crimes against humanity? But you express your criticism of the crimes of the recent past in a perverse way, that makes genocide the almost exclusive prerogative of organisations with close links to the US. It is only then that you consider it to be genocide. And it is only your political/ideological friends who are apparently incapable of committing genocide.
That was the situation in Cambodia. While the international press was reporting how the genocide of the Khmer Rouge had eliminated one in every three or four of that country‘s inhabitants, you were laying the blame for those crimes at the door of the US. That was shameful and in any reasonable person stirred memories of Holocaust denial elsewhere in the world.
In the same way you have denied the genocide perpetrated in Bosnia-Herzegovina by Serb forces who killed not only Bosnian Muslims but along with them Bosnian Serbs and Croats as well who had chosen to remain alongside them, in the besieged city of Sarajevo for example.
To deny the fact of genocide in Bosnia is absurd, particularly when both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague and the International Court of Justice, also in The Hague, have had no hesitation in confirming that that genocide was perpetrated in Bosnia, above all at Srebrenica.
For the benefit of the apparently unpolitical and ideologically uncommitted Friends of Amnesty International we are prepared once again to provide a summary of the facts of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And we should like to remind you of them, too, Professor Chomsky, in your denial of genocide:
1. 200,000 civilians interned in over one hundred concentration, detention and rape camps.
2. Many thousands of internees murdered in concentration camps including Omarska, Manjača, Keraterm, Trnopolje, Luka Brčko, Sušica and Foča.
3. Members of the non-Serb political and intellectual elites systematically arrested and eliminated.
4. Approximately 2.2 million Bosnians displaced, exiled and scattered to the four corners of the globe.
5. Many thousands of unrecorded deaths still missing from the official statistics, including children, the elderly and sick and wounded refugees.
6. 500,000 Bosnians in five UN so-called “safe areas” (Tuzla, Goražde, Srebrenica, Žepa, and Bihać) and other, fallen, enclaves such as Cerska besieged, starved, sniped at, shelled and many of them killed over a period of as long as four years in some cases.
7. A four year-long artillery bombardment of the sixth UN safe area, the city of Sarajevo, killing approximately 11,000, including 1500 children.
8. Massacres and mass executions in many towns and municipalities in northern, western and eastern Bosnia (the Posavina, the Prijedor area and the Podrinje).
9. Hundreds of villages and urban areas systematically destroyed.
10. The entire heritage of Islamic religious and cultural monuments, including 1189 mosques and madrassas, destroyed, and extensive destruction of Catholic religious monuments including as many as 500 churches and religious houses.
11. Remains of approximately 15,000 missing victims still to be found, exhumed and identified.
12. 284 UN soldiers taken hostage and used as human shields.
13. Over 20 thousand Bosnian Muslim women raped, in rape camps and elsewhere.
14. 8376 men and boys from the town of Srebrenica murdered and their bodies concealed in mass graves.
The history of Kosovo is familiar to people who know Southeastern Europe: After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Kosovo was annexed to the Serb-dominated Kingdom of Serbs, Croatians and Slovenes (1918). Following the original occupation and then again in the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s Yugoslavian and Serbian governments expelled the Albanians to Turkey where well over one million people of Albanian origin live today. After the gradual dismantling of Kosovo’s autonomy, proclaimed too late by Tito, Slobodan Milosevic’s army and militia killed some 10,000 Albanians and forced half the population – roughly one million people – to flee. The NATO military intervention, some specific aspects of which must certainly be condemned, halted the killing and expulsions.
Someone like yourself, Professor Chomsky, who on various occasions has shown himself unwilling to acknowledge genocide and goes so far as to deny it forfeits all credibility. That is why we question your moral integrity and call on you to stand up before the public in Belfast and apologise for those hurtful comments of yours concerning the Cambodian, Bosnian and Kosovar victims of genocide.
President of the Society for Threatened Peoples International (STPI)
It is with some hesitation that I comment on the exchange between Noam Chomsky and Ian Williams over the question of responsibility for the bloodshed in Kosova in the late 1990s. Chomsky has no expertise and nothing interesting to say on the topic of the former Yugoslavia, and it is only because of his status as the world’s no. 1 ‘anti-imperialist’ guru that his utterances on the topic attract as many responses as they do. Chomsky epitomises the ‘anti-imperialist’ ideologue who believes in two things: 1) that the US is to blame for everything; and 2) that everything the US does is bad. If you share this worldview, then nothing said by Chomsky’s critics, such as Williams or Oliver Kamm, is going to convince you that he may be wrong on Kosova. If, on the other hand, you do not share this worldview, and are not star-struck by the celebrity Chomsky, then his rambling comparisons between the Western response over Kosova and the Western response over East Timor can only appear extremely tortuous and boring. It is tiresome yet again to point out, for example, the absolute falsehood of Chomsky’s claim that ‘the crimes in East Timor at the same time’ as the Kosovo war ‘were far worse than anything reported in Kosovo prior to the NATO bombing’ – it simply isn’t true.
I am using Chomsky, therefore, only to open a discussion on the question of genocidal causality, and the insidious nature of the sophistry employed by Chomsky and his ‘anti-imperialist’ comrades: that Serbian ethnic-cleansing in Kosova occurred in response to the NATO bombing and was therefore NATO’s fault. As Chomsky put it: ‘The NATO bombing did not end the atrocities but rather precipitated by far the worst of them, as had been anticipated by the NATO command and the White House.’ The thrust of Chomsky’s argument is that since NATO commanders predicted that the NATO bombing would lead to a massive escalation of Serbian attacks on the Kosova Albanian civilian population, and since this prediction was borne out, then NATO is responsible for having cold-bloodedly caused the atrocities that occurred after the bombing started.
The falsehood of this logic can be demonstrated if we ask the following questions:
1) Chomsky claims that the bombing precipitated ‘by far the worst’ of the atrocities, but what precipitated the bombing ?
The answer is that the NATO bombing of Serbia in March 1999 was precipitated by Belgrade’s rejection of the Rambouillet Accords. Belgrade was aware that rejecting the Rambouillet Accords would precipitate Serbia being bombed by NATO, but rejected them nevertheless. By Chomsky’s own logic, therefore, Serbia’s own actions precipitated the NATO bombings, and were consequently responsible for those bombings. Since, according to Chomsky, the bombings led to the atrocities, that means that Serbia was responsible for the atrocities after all.
What Chomsky would like us to believe, is that if a US or NATO action produced a predictable Serbian response, then the response was the fault of the US/NATO. But if, on the other hand, a Serbian action produced a predictable US/NATO response, then the response was still the fault of the US/NATO. This is self-evidently a case of double standards.
2) Chomsky claims that the bombing precipitated ‘by far the worst’ of the atrocities, but what would have been precipitated by a failure to bomb ?
From reading Chomsky and his fellow ‘anti-imperialists’, one would almost believe that the bloodshed in Kosova had been – in Edward Said’s words – a ‘Sunday school picnic’ prior to the NATO bombing. Yet this is what Human Rights Watch reported in January 1999, more than two months before the bombing began:
The government forces intensified their offensive throughout July and August , despite promises from Milosevic that it had stopped. By mid-August, the government had retaken much of the territory that had been held by the KLA, including their stronghold of Malisevo. Unable to protect the civilian population, the KLA retreated into Drenica and some pockets in the West.
Some of the worst atrocities to date occurred in late September, as the government’s offensive was coming to an end. On September 26, eighteen members of an extended family, mostly women, children, and elderly, were killed near the village of Donje Obrinje by men believed to be with the Serbian special police. Many of the victims had been shot in the head and showed signs of bodily mutilation. On the same day, thirteen ethnic Albanian men were executed in the nearby village of Golubovac by government forces. One man survived and was subsequently taken out of the country by the international agencies in Kosovo.
The government offensive was an apparent attempt to crush civilian support for the rebels. Government forces attacked civilians, systematically destroyed towns, and forced thousands of people to flee their homes. One attack in August near Senik killed seventeen civilians who were hiding in the woods. The police were seen looting homes, destroying already abandoned villages, burning crops, and killing farm animals.
The majority of those killed and injured were civilians. At least 300,000 people were displaced, many of them women and children now living without shelter in the mountains and woods. In October, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identified an estimated 35,000 of the displaced as particularly at risk of exposure to the elements. Most were too afraid to return to their homes due to the continued police presence. [our emphasis]
(Contrary to what Chomsky says, the number killed in Kosova prior to the start of the NATO bombing was greater than the number of East Timorese civilians killed by the Indonesians and their proxies during the whole of 1999).
Chomsky is saying that if – instead of presenting an ultimatum to Belgrade at Rambouillet and then proceeding to bomb Serbia when Belgrade defied that ultimatum – the NATO powers had given Belgrade a free hand in Kosova, then Serbian repression in Kosova would simply have continued at what he considers to be an acceptable level. Of course, there is no way of proving one way or the other what would have happened in Kosova if NATO hadn’t gone to war in the spring of 1999, but given the catalogue of horrors in the former Yugoslavia that were demonstrably not ‘precipitated’ by Western military intervention – the destruction of Vukovar, the siege of Sarajevo, the Srebrenica massacre, the killing of at least 100,000 Bosnians, the ethnic-cleansing of 300,000 Kosovars, etc. – the evidence suggests that it would not have resembled Edward Said’s ‘Sunday school picnic’.
3) Chomsky claims that the bombing precipitated ‘by far the worst’ of the atrocities, but even if this were true, would this make those atrocities NATO’s fault ?
Genocides are invariably ‘precipitated’ by something or other. The Armenian Genocide was ‘precipitated’ by the outbreak of World War I and Tsarist Russia’s military advance into Anatolia. The Rwandan Genocide was ‘precipitated’ by the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s offensive against the Rwandan Army, the Arusha Accords and by the shooting down of the plane carrying Rwanda’s President Juvenal Habyarimana. Of course, it is entirely legitimate for historians to interpret instances of genocide as having been ‘precipitated’ by something or other, but anyone who uses such explanations to shift the responsibility away from the perpetrators – whether Ottoman, Hutu, German, Serbian or other – is simply an apologist or a denier.
On 30 January 1939, Adolf Hitler gave a speech to the Reichstag in which he stated: ‘If the world of international financial Jewry, both in and outside of Europe, should succeed in plunging the nations into another world war, the result will not be the Bolshevisation of the world and thus a victory for Judaism. The result will be the extermination of the Jewish race in Europe.’
Hitler therefore made it explicit that the outbreak of a world war would result in the extermination of the Jews in Europe. Indeed, the outbreak and course of World War II ‘precipitated’ the Holocaust. Britain and France, when they declared war on Germany in September 1939, were by Chomsky’s logic responsible for the Holocaust. Some ‘anti-imperialists’ have, in fact, attempted to make this very point.
In sum, Chomsky’s case is a disgrace at the level of plain reasoning, never mind at the level of ethics.
Let there be no mistake about this: atrocities, ethnic cleansing and genocide are the responsibility of those who commit them. Whatever ‘precipitates’ them, they are the fault of their perpetrators. And it would be a sorry world indeed if were were to allow perpetrators to deter us from taking action to stop atrocities, ethnic cleansing and genocide, by their threat to commit still worse crimes in the event that we do take action.
Image: Chomsky agreeing with Dobrica Cosic, the leading ideological architect of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, on the need to partition Kosova – as reported by the Serbian magazine NIN.
Hat tip: Andras Riedlmayer, Daniel of Srebrenica Genocide Blog.
In his memoirs of the Bosnian war, Carl Bildt, the foreign minister of Sweden – which took over the EU presidency on 1 July – has this to say about the Srebrenica massacre:
‘In five days of massacres, Mladic had arranged for the methodical execution of more than three thousand men who had stayed behind and become prisoners of war. And probably more than four thousand people had lost their lives in a week of brutal ambushes and fighting in the forests, by the roadside and in the valleys between Srebrenica and the Tuzla district, as the column was trying to reach safety.’ (Carl Bildt, Peace Journey: The struggle for peace in Bosnia, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1998, p. 66 – all subsequent page references are to Bildt’s book).
The Srebrenica massacre, an act of genocide against the civilian population of Srebrenica that claimed the lives of approximately eight thousand victims, including at least five hundred children under the age of eighteen, has therefore been reduced by Bildt to ‘more than three thousand’, all of them ‘prisoners of war’, while four thousand of the victims are portrayed as battlefield deaths. This would be equivalent to claiming that only two and a quarter million Jewish ‘prisoners of war’ had perished in the Holocaust, while the rest of the six million had been killed in battle.
This was not a casual slip on Bildt’s part. At the time of the Srebrenica massacre, Bildt was the EU’s special envoy to the former Yugoslavia. His massive downplaying of the Serb genocide reflects the EU policy of the time, which was to collaborate with Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia and with Radovan Karadzic’s Bosnian Serb extremists, and to appease their expansionism. Unlike the US, the EU states staunchly supported the international arms embargo against Bosnia, which prevented the country from defending itself from Serb aggression.
In his memoirs, Bildt’s chapter on July 1995, the month when the Srebrenica massacre occurred, is entitled ‘Success and failure: July 1995’. He believes that when describing his record as EU peace mediator in Bosnia for the period of the Srebrenica massacre, the word ‘success’ should appropriately be put before the word ‘failure’. Some might feel that using the word ‘success’ in relation to EU policy that presided over a genocidal massacre of eight thousand people was just a wee bit inappropriate. But not Bildt, who seems quite proud of his record.
Following the Serb conquest of Srebrenica, Bildt records how he attempted in London on 21 July 1995 to dissuade the Western states from intervening militarily to defend a second Bosnian enclave that was being threatened with a similar fate:
‘[British foreign secretary Malcolm] Rifkind was a little taken aback when I started his day by saying that Gorazde was scarcely threatened, and even if this was the case, I did not believe it could be defended by air strikes. We had to focus on getting the political process going. If we left London with a bombing strategy but without a political strategy, we would almost certainly be faced with even more acts of war and suffering. But sooner or later, we would be forced to return to the political track in any case. Bombing strategies were all very well, but we should not bomb our political opportunities to smithereens.’ (p. 67).
When Serb forces based in Serb-occupied Croatia (so-called ‘Krajina’) attacked the Bihac enclave in north-western Bosnia that same month, threatening to overrun it and enact another massacre on the model of Srebrenica, Croatia – which had signed a military agreement with Bosnia on the 22nd for the defence of Bihac – responded in August with a full-scale military offensive (‘Operation Storm’) against the Krajina area. According to his memoirs, Bildt made no effort whatsoever to deter the Serb attack on Bihac – which he barely acknowledges even occurred – but instead attempted to halt the Croatian counter-offensive. As Bildt records,
‘My public statement was clear: The Croatian offensive against areas inhabited by Serbs must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. This attack is occurring after negotiations have commenced, and when the Serbs are clearly willing to make substantial concessions on both economic and political matters. This will cast a long shadow over Croatia for many years to come. The shelling of the civilian population which is now being reported is particularly serious. It should be recalled that Martic, the ‘president of Krajina’, was charged with war crimes after the Serb rocket attack on Zagreb in May. It is difficult to see any difference between this and the bombardment of Knin, for which President Tudjman must be held responsible.‘ (p. 75).
In other words, the same Bildt who had made no such threat against the leaders of Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs when they were attacking Srebrenica, nor when they attacked Bihac, was now threatening the Croatian president with a war-crimes indictment for launching a counter-offensive against the Serb forces; a counter-offensive made, moreover, on the basis of an agreement with Bosnia-Hercegovina’s legitimate government for the purposes of defending part of its population from conquest and genocide. Bildt described the Serb-occupied areas of Croatia – defined as ‘occupied’ by the UN General Assembly – as ‘areas inhabited by Serbs’, forgetting that these areas had had a substantial Croat population before being ethnically cleansed by the Serb forces in 1991. He found it ‘difficult to see any difference’ between the Krajina Serb extremists’ wholly gratuitous act of civilian terrorism against Zagreb’s civilians in May 1995 and the legitimate Croatian government’s bombardment of Knin, made in the course of a military offensive against the same Serb extremists who were using Croatia’s territory to attack the territory of a neighbouring state, with the likely aim of perpetrating an act of genocide.
We can compare the way in which Bildt attempted to halt the Croatian offensive against Krajina with the way he had responded to the previous month’s Serb offensive against Srebrenica:
‘I had no way of knowing who was responsible for what was happening around Srebrenica, but it was hard to imagine that Milosevic, at any rate, was unable to influence the course of events. Before going to Geneva that afternoon, I therefore sent a clear letter of warning to Milosevic. There was a clear risk, I wrote, that our talks would be completely overshadowed by what was happening around Srebrenica. The entire situation could take a turn for the worse. If the enclave were attacked and overrun, this would be a very serious provocation which might well lead to an escalation of hostilities throughout much of Bosnia. I thus urged him to do everything in his power to prevent this.’ (p. 56).
So whereas Bildt threatened Tudjman with a war-crimes indictment – a threat he was wholly unauthorised to make – he threatened Milosevic with the possibility that ‘our talks would be completely overshadowed’ !
Bildt goes on to describe how, at the time of Operation Storm, he told the press:
‘I said it was regrettable that the attack meant that Croatia had chosen war, not peace, and said that I assumed that The Hague Tribunal would examine the question of the shellfire against Knin sooner or later, in the same way that it had considered the question of responsibility for the missile attacks on Zagreb.’ (p. 77).
Bildt did not accuse the Serb leaders who had just conquered Srebrenica and Zepa, and who were now trying to conquer Bihac, of ‘choosing war, not peace’; nor did he threaten them with indictment for war crimes. Rather, his threats were directed solely against Croatia. He ends his chapter on the Croatian offensive against Krajina with the following complaint:
‘For me, the conclusion from Srebrenica was not that we should blind ourselves to atrocities committed by others, but that we had to react strongly and clearly against all atrocities. In November 1995, The Hague Tribunal indicted Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic for war crimes committed in and around Srebrenica. However, as this book goes to print, the Tribunal has so far not considered anyone responsible for the massive and brutal ethnic cleansing of the Krajinas in August 1995.’ (p. 80)
Bildt, in pointing out that the Hague Tribunal indicted Karadzic and Mladic over Srebrenica, omits to mention that he did not call for such indictments at the time, in contrast to his call for an indictment against Tudjman over Operation Storm – and this despite his claim that his ‘conclusion from Srebrenica’ was that ‘we had to react strongly and clearly against all atrocities’. He does not complain that ‘as this book goes to print’, neither Milosevic or anyone else from Serbia’s leadership had been indicted for conquering and ethnically cleansing the Krajina region of Croatia in the first place.
Bildt was, in other words, an arch-appeaser, who actively opposed every attempt to resist the Serb forces militarily, whether by the international community or by Croatia. He denies over half the Srebrenica massacre, and describes its child and other civilian victims as having been ‘prisoners of war’. He describes the month in which the Srebrenica massacre occurred as a month of ‘success and failure’. Following the fall of Srebrenica, he attempted to block NATO air-strikes to defend Gorazde. He tried to deter the Croatian offensive against Krajina by threatening Tudjman, but made no equivalent threat to deter the Serb assault on Srebrenica. He called for Tudjman to be indicted for war-crimes, but not for Karadzic, Mladic or Milosevic to be indicted. He complained in 1998 that Tudjman had not been indicted, but he did not complain that Milosevic had not been indicted.
Some things never change. On behalf of Sweden’s EU presidency, Bildt has claimed that ‘Serbia is fully cooperating with the Hague Tribunal’. He pledged that ‘Sweden would take a pragmatic stand on the Kosovo issue, taking into account the fact that several EU member-states had not recognized the independence of Kosovo.’ Also: ‘We want to liberalize the visa regime with Serbia, but not Kosovo, as a dialogue on visa liberalization is being conducted with Serbia, not Kosovo’.
In other words, Bildt is saying that the policy of Sweden’s EU presidency will be: ‘Stuff Mladic’s Bosniak victims. Stuff the relatives of the people killed by him at Srebrenica, who still want him brought to justice. Stuff Kosovo and its people. I’m going to go on appeasing Belgrade, just as I did in 1995.’
No doubt, with Sweden at the helm of the EU, we can look forward to another glorious episode in the illustrious history of this heroic institution.
Update: Owen Beith has pointed out to me that Bildt’s Srebrenica revisionism is actually worse than I originally indicated: not only has he reduced the number of Srebrenica massacre victims to ‘more than three thousand’, but he describes them all as having been ‘prisoners of war’; i.e. captured soldiers. In fact, the Srebrenica massacre was perpetrated against the Bosniak civilian population in general, not simply against captured soldiers, and those killed included at least five hundred children under the age of eighteen. This post has been updated accordingly.
Update no 2.: Daniel of the Srebrenica Genocide Blog has posted a refutation of Bildt’s Srebrenica revisionism in full, which I strongly recommend reading.
Yesterday, Kalaallit Nunaat – Greenland – moved a step closer toward independence from Denmark. The Arctic country has become a subject in its own right under international law; its language, Kalaallisut, has become the sole official language; and it is taking over control of its own police and judiciary, as well as greater control over its natural resources. This move was based on a referendum that took place in November, in which 75% of Greenlandic voters opted in favour.
The festivities in the Greenlandic capital of Nuuk marking yesterday’s event were attended by Denmark’s Queen Margrethe and its prime minister, Lars Loekke Rasmussen. For the Greenlanders are fortunate in having, in Denmark, one of the world’s most enlightened imperial overlords. This is the same Denmark that has proven a staunch member of the allied coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the object of Islamist hatred over the Danish cartoon controversy. We may compared Denmark’s enlightened readiness to permit the peaceful secession of one of its territories and its sterling record as a member of the Western alliance, with the sorry record of Spain, Slovakia and Romania. These countries’ exaggerated fears of ‘separatism’ have led them, despite being members of NATO, to break ranks with most of the rest of the alliance to oppose Kosova’s independence from Serbia, and to align themselves instead with hostile Russia. Denmark, the more enlightened country on the issue of national self-determination, is the better member of the Western alliance.
Denmark’s ready acceptance of Greenland’s right to secede is in keeping with a proud Nordic tradition of enlightened resolution of national questions. Norway seceded peacefully from Sweden in 1905, as did Iceland from Denmark in 1944. Territorial disputes between Sweden and Finland over the Aland Islands in the 1920s and between Denmark and Norway over eastern Greenland in the 1930s were peacefully resolved by international arbitration. Finland granted autonomy to the Aland Islands in 1920; Denmark to Greenland in 1979, allowing the latter to secede from the EU in 1985.
The contrast between the enlightened Nordic acceptance of the right of nations to self-determination on the one hand, and the nationalist resistance to ‘separatism’ on the part of Spain, Slovakia and Romania on the other, is not unrelated to the fact that, whereas Denmark has a long history of liberal constitutional government, Spain was still a dictatorship less than thirty-five years ago; Slovakia and Romania twenty years ago. Spain’s continued refusal to recognise the right of the Basque Country and Catalonia to self-determination is a continuation, in softer form, of the repression of these countries by the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. For their part, Slovakia and Romania have been among the most unreconstructed of the former Eastern bloc countries to join NATO and the EU.
Further still from the Danish ideal of tolerance of secession are repressive states with ruling ideologies hostile to liberal democratic Western values, such as Russia, Iran and China. These states rely on massive violence or forced assimilation to crush subject peoples. They are able to do this precisely because they reject Western values. Equally, as they are unconstrained by concern for human rights, they are ready to support other states that brutally suppress subject peoples. Thus, on 27 May of this year, Russia and China were among those members of the United Nations Human Rights Council that voted for a resolution in praise of Sri Lanka’s brutal campaign against the Tamil Tigers, who are fighting for a separate Tamil state, while Britain, France, Germany and other democratic states voted against. Other states that voted for the resolution included Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Egypt, Nigeria, the degree of whose concern for human rights is suggested by their alignment on this question.
The reality is that, by and large, the more enlightened and democratic a state is, the more ready it will be to accept the secession of a constituent territory or subject people. Conversely, the more repressive and undemocratic a state is, the less willing it will be to countenance such a move, and the more ready it will be to support the brutal suppression of such a move by another such state. It is very possible that Scotland will eventually secede from the United Kingdom; conceivable that Wales will do so, or that Puerto Rico will secede from the US. But while we Britons and Americans may or may not hope against such acts of secession, few of us are enraged by the prospect.
This being so, it is not in the interests of the Western alliance rigidly to uphold the principle that subject peoples should not be allowed to secede unilaterally from existing independent states. Western respect for human rights means that Western states will never be able to support acts of repression by other states against subject peoples as unequivocally as our undemocratic enemies, while even moderate Western expressions of concern at human rights abuses committed during such acts of repression will earn us the ire of the states in question. Western support for Russia against Chechen rebels during the 1990s did not earn us any Russian gratitude, but Western criticism of Russian human-rights abuses in Chechnya certainly earned us Russian ire. Meanwhile, Russia’s crushing of Chechnya strengthened its grip on the Caucasus region, making possible the assault on our Georgian ally last summer. Simply put, Western support for Russia against Chechnya was a blunder; the democratic world should have recognised Chechnya’s independence in 1991, alongside the Soviet republics that declared independence at the same time. Equally, in the event that democratic Taiwan should declare independence from Communist China, while we may regret the clash with the latter that this will inevitably occasion, support for Taiwan would be the only honourable policy. In supporting Kosova’s secession from Serbia, Western statesmen have erred in pretending that this instance of secession is unique. Erred both because it is factually untrue that Kosovo is a unique case, and because pretending that it is will only tie our hands in the future, when dealing with states ruled by hostile, repressive regimes carrying out acts of mass violence against subject peoples.
Genuine democracies have nothing to fear from ‘separatism’; dictatorships and other repressive states do. It is time to accept the principle that, in certain circumstances, subject peoples should be permitted to secede unilaterally from a parent state. Such circumstances might include those where the subject people in question has suffered particularly extreme persecution, or conversely where it has proved itself worthy through practising good, democratic governance. Should they ever choose to exercise this right, the people of Darfur would qualify under the first condition; the Taiwanese under the second. Other conditions or combinations thereof might also warrant qualification. Kosova, for example, qualified not only because of the extreme persecution its people had suffered under Serbian rule, but also because of the constitutional status the territory had enjoyed in the former Yugoslavia. The question of whether a subject people has earned the right to secede should ultimately be decided in the court of public opinion in the democratic world.
But this does not mean that every secessionist movement or act should be supported indiscriminately – far from it. For the right of nations to self-determination is open to abuse. There are cases where an expansionist, predatory state conquers part of a neighbour’s territory, using the pretext of support for a national minority; the predatory state then ethnically cleanses the unwanted population from the conquered territory, creates an artificial demographic majority in favour of ‘independence’, then declares that this artificial majority has the right to ‘self-determination’. This is what Serbia did in Bosnia, Turkey in Cyprus and Russia in Abkhazia. There are cases where the population of a territory is split relatively evenly between supporters and opponents of secession, or where the secessionists are in the minority.
Clearly, in such cases, support for the right to secede should not be the default position. Rather, each demand for secession has to be judged individually, on its own merits – like a case in court. The example most often cited by opponents of national self-determination is that of the southern US states’ attempted secession in the 1860s; as this secession was motivated by the desire to preserve the barbaric institution of slavery, it is not an example that can be used to deny the right to secede to secessionist peoples with more legitimate motives.
The very real possibility that the democratic world might intervene to support a secessionist movement on its territory would act as an incentive for repressive states, both to improve their treatment of their subject peoples and to lessen their hostility to the democratic world. The possibility of losing Darfur would be likely to act as a greater deterrent to Khartoum’s genocidal policies there than the toothless indictments of the International Criminal Court. Conversely, where it is a case of a repressive state allied to the West, pressure to reform would take a different form. Because Turkey is a member of NATO and an EU candidate country, there is no possibility that the Western alliance will intervene militarily to end Turkey’s rule over its Kurdish-inhabited regions; Turkey’s territorial integrity is therefore secure. But the ‘price’ that Turkey pays for this is that it is required to improve its treatment of its Kurds and its human-rights’ record generally – something that, over the past decade, it has actually done. So long as Turkey continues to democratise, Kurdish support for secession is likely to wane, or at least to be increasingly channelled away from support for violent insurgency to support for peaceful, constitutional nationalist parties.
As surely as night follows day, more peoples that today are unfree will join the ranks of the Eritreans, Croatians, Kosovars and others which have already seceded in recent decades after fighting bitter wars of independence. There is no point regretting this, or attempting to halt the process. The Western alliance should be on the right side of history.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Most of us can probably remember, at least once in our lives, asking some apparatchik something along the lines of ‘Couldn’t you please, please make an exception, just this once ?’ and getting the reply: ‘I can’t do that ! If I made an exception for you, I’d have to make an exception for everybody. It’d be more than my job’s worth.’ You and the apparatchik both know that he could perfectly well make an exception for you if he wanted to. But you also both know that he is right in saying that there is nothing special about you, and that you are not uniquely worthy of being treated as an exception. The question is: does he like you or doesn’t he ?
Similarly, trying to pretend that recognising Kosova’s unilateral secession from Serbia is legitimate on the grounds that it is wholly unique and without precedent in international relations is unconvincing, firstly because it isn’t true, and secondly because it begs the question: if it can happen once, can it not happen twice or multiple times ? To which the only reasonable answer is: yes. There may very well be occasions in the future when the Western alliance will be forced to recognise an act of unilateral secession by a subject people and territory from the state that rules them. Everybody knows this is entirely possible, and pretending it isn’t simply destroys the credibility of those who do.
Of course, the reason our officials and statesmen are pretending that Kosova is a unique case is in order to avoid scaring away other countries from recognising Kosova’s independence; countries they fear might otherwise worry a precedent were being established that could be applied to a secessionist region or nationality of their own. But this calculation, too, is misguided, because a) it rests upon a fallacy, and b) it represents a bad geopolitical tactic. We shall briefly explain the fallacy, before focusing on the bigger question of why the tactic is a bad one.
a) It is fallacy to point to Kosova as a precedent, because if a precedent has been established, it was established long before Kosova’s independence was recognised. It was certainly established by the early 1990s, when all the members of the former multinational federations of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia who wanted independence were granted it – except Kosova. This was despite the fact that in the case of Yugoslavia, the federal members that declared independence had done so unilaterally, without the consent of either the federal centre, or of all other members of the federation. There is absolutely no reason why the recognition of Kosova’s independence should not be treated as essentially the same as that of Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Macedonia. In contrast to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, for example, which were not members of the Soviet Union but simply autonomous entities within Georgia, Kosova was a full member of the Yugoslav federation in its own right, independently of the fact that it was also an entity within Serbia. As a member of the defunct Yugoslav federation, Kosova was entitled to self-determination after the dissolution of that federation had been internationally recognised, and after other members of the federation had been accorded that right.
More generally, the former Yugoslav states are far from the first unilaterally seceding entities to be accorded international recognition – think of France’s recognition of the US in 1778 and Britain’s recognition of Bangladesh in 1972.
b) There is no need to pretend that Kosova is a unique case to avoid scaring other states away from recognising its independence, for the simple reason that, when all is said and done, other states’ policies on whether or not to recognise Kosova are really not determined by fear of Kosova becoming a precedent – even if these states are faced with separatist threats of their own. Turkey, faced with a very real Kurdish separatist insurgency and bitterly opposed to the secession of Nagorno Karabakh from its traditional ally, Azerbaijan, was nevertheless one of the first states to recognise Kosova’s independence. Turkey has also promoted the break-up of Cyprus, via the unilateral secession of the self-proclaimed ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’. Russia, which vocally opposes the independence of Kosova, which is faced with secessionist movements within its own borders and which brutally crushed Chechnya’s bid for independence, has nevertheless simultaneously promoted the unilateral secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia. India, which likewise opposes Kosova’s independence and likewise faces secessionist movements within its own borders, was instrumental in achieving Bangladesh’s unilateral secession from Pakistan. In other words, states which might be seen as having as much reason as most to fear a ‘Kosovo precedent’ being established are quite ready to support unilateral acts of secession when they feel it is in their interests to do so.
It might be objected that the states in question are all powerful enough to feel confident that they can crush any secessionist movement they face. Yet fragile Macedonia, which fought an armed conflict with Albanian separatists earlier this decade, and which might have more reason than almost any state to fear a ‘Kosovo precedent’, has recognised Kosova. Fear of the ‘Kosovo precedent’ is not, therefore, a decisive factor in a state’s decision on whether or not to recognise Kosova’s independence (we can make an exception here for states such as Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova that are currently in a state of territorial dismemberment, and that, were they to recognise Kosova, might conceivably suffer retaliation in kind from Belgrade or Moscow)
It may be that, all things being equal, a state faced with a secessionist movement of its own is more likely to sympathise with Belgrade than with Pristina. In one or two cases, such as Spain’s, this sympathy may be electorally significant enough to sway the course of its foreign policy. But so far as almost all non-recognisers are concerned, other factors count for more: a state is likely to oppose Kosova’s independence if it is hostile to the West (Russia, Iran, Venezuela); if it has traditionally enjoyed good relations with Belgrade (Greece, Egypt, Indonesia); or if it simply sees no particular interest in recognising it. All these factors are reasons why it is not only pointless, but actually counter-productive to pander to the opponents of recognition by reassuring them that Kosova is a unique case and will not become a precedent.
As things stand, rogue states have no reason to fear that the international community will ever grant independence to secessionist territories. They therefore enjoy a virtual carte blanche to suppress secessionist movements or other rebellions as brutally as they wish. None of the forms of deterrent threatened against or exerted on the Sudanese regime, from sanctions to international war-crimes indictments, appears to have cooled its bloodlust with regard to Darfur. But were Khartoum to fear that its genocidal actions might potentially result in the loss of territory, it might be less inclined to pursue them. The Western alliance would enjoy that much more leeway in exerting pressure over a rogue state such as Sudan.
Conversely, a close ally such as Turkey, which faces a genuine secessionist insurgency, knows very well that the Western states will never make it the victim of such a precedent: everyone knows that Turkish Kurdistan is not going to be liberated by NATO, as Kosova was; a ‘Kosovo precedent’ will not frighten states like Turkey. But this does not mean that such states can get away with indiscriminate brutality with impunity. Turkey’s treatment of its Kurdish population has dramatically improved over the last ten years, as Ankara’s goal of EU membership has required it to improve its human rights record. Just as NATO acted as the bad cop over Serbia and Kosova, so the EU has acted as the good cop over Turkey and the Kurds. Western allies can be guided toward ending repression and discrimination against national minorities, reducing the appeal of violent separatist movements. Rogue states, on the other hand, should have reason to fear that their brutality may potentially result in a loss of territory. For all states that abuse the human rights of their national minorities, this is a healthy choice to be faced with.
This does not, of course, mean that the Western alliance should indiscriminately threaten states that abuse human rights with territorial penalties. Rather, the ‘Kosovo precedent’ could function rather like the nuclear deterrent, i.e. deter more by its potential than by its actual application, and by its occasional application against only the worst offenders: as was Milosevic’s Serbia; as is Bashir’s Sudan. Nor would a ‘Kosovo precedent’ mean a free-for-all for all secessionist movements. There is a lot of space between the untenable pretense that Kosova is ‘unique’ and the rather comic nightmare-scenario threatened by Kosova’s enemies: of innumerable separatist territories all over the world responding to Kosova’s independence by trying to become Kosovas themselves. Kosova itself, after all, was scarcely given red-carpet treatment by the Western alliance in its move to independence: a decade elapsed between Milosevic’s brutal suppression of its autonomy and its liberation by NATO; almost another decade elapsed between liberation and the recognition of its independence, during which time it was forced to endure international administration and engage in exhaustive negotiations with its former oppressor. Even now, Kosova is still faced with a very real threat of permanent territorial partition, as the Serbs maintain their hold on the north of the country. The Kosova model may not prove as straightforwardly attractive for other potential secessionists as the Cassandras claim.
Kosova’s independence was recognised as the result of a confluence of multiple factors: its existence as an entity in its own right within the Yugoslav federation; its overwhelmingly non-Serb, ethnic-Albanian population; the brutality of Belgrade’s treatment of this population; the unwillingness of the Milosevic regime to reach an accommodation with the Western alliance over the issue, following on from its years of trouble-making in Croatia and Bosnia; the unwillingness or inability of post-Milosevic Serbia in the 2000s to reach agreement with the Kosovars; and the simple lack of any workable alternative to independence. These were an exceptional set of circumstances. The truth is, that it is possible to envisage a similar set of circumstances leading the Western alliance to recognise the independence of another secessionist territory in the future. Sometimes it is better to tell the truth.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Holocaust denial
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left
- World War II