Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Srebrenica: BBC Research Department still somewhat lacking in resources


This is a guest post by Dusty Dragicevic

Given what happened in Bosnia during the war, how it was widely reported on throughout its duration and how the history of Bosnia became a hot topic of debate and discussion, one wonders how a so-called respectable news agency like the BBC can still get it so excruciatingly wrong.

Browsing through the BBC News website, I came across an article which reported on the reburial of almost 500 Bosniak Srebrenica massacre victims who have recently been identified through forensic and DNA analysis. The (un-named) journalist, who wrote this article, dropped a clanger right in the final passage of the text. The anonymous journalist writes:

‘The Bosniak people, most of whom are Muslims, first settled in Bosnia in the Middle Ages’

The fact that this remark was thrown in at the end of the article is mind boggling. How the BBC, being the respected news organisation that it prides itself on being, can display such historical ignorance towards Bosnia and towards the Bosniak people is beyond comprehension. Those who even know the most minimal amount about Bosnia’s history know that the Muslim population of Bosnia is indigenous to the country and comprises a Slavic people, just like Slovenes, Macedonians, Croats & Serbs.

Such a comment could be expected to cross the teeth of any representative of the Serbian Radical Party or any other Serbian mainstream nationalist political party for that matter, that treats the Muslim population of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia (Sandzak) & Kosova as an alien presence. An uninformed reader might draw conclusions, from such a comment, that the Srebrenica massacre was merely a xenophobic act carried out by an indigenous Serbian population against a Muslim invader, rather than a planned political program of genocide engineered by a government in the capital city of a neighbouring country, which it was.

Any journalist would only have to reach for a copy of Noel Malcolm’s book Bosnia: A Short History, or even the Encyclopedia Britannica, for basic facts on Bosnia’s Muslim heritage. One would think that the BBC would have an abundance of information on Bosnia-Hercegovina given that two of their journalists, Allan Little & Laura Silber, published the definitive book Death of Yugoslavia. The fact that the BBC can write a comment like that today as a fact, when it is incorrect and mirrors Serbian hate-propaganda from the 1990s, is disappointing.

Marko Attila Hoare comments: To state, in an article about the Srebrenica massacre, that  ‘The Bosniak people, most of whom are Muslims, first settled in Bosnia in the Middle Ages’, would be equivalent to stating, in an article about the 7 July 2005 terrorist bombings in Britain, that ‘The English people, most of whom are Christians, first settled in England in the Middle Ages’. That is, it is both factually untrue and an inane non sequitur. The Bosniak people is descended from a mixture of the pre-Slavic population of the region; from the Slavs who settled there during the early Middle Ages; and from others who have settled there over the centuries since. Although the arrival of the Slavs in the early Middle Ages resulted in the Slavicisation of the language spoken by the population of what is today Bosnia-Hercegovina, this language inherited many words and place-names from the pre-Slavic, Illyro-Roman period. Modern genetic research emphasises the heterogeneous origins of the Balkan peoples, and the fact that there is no ready correlation between language spoken and genetic background. Thus, in genetic terms, the non-Slavic-speaking populations of Albania and Greece are more genetically Slavic than the populations of Slavic-speaking Bulgaria and Macedonia.

As Dusty says, for a BBC report to single out – inaccurately – the Muslim population of Bosnia as having ‘settled’ in the area during the Middle Ages is highly unfortunate.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009 Posted by | Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment