Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Milenko Krstic – Helping to get the work done


This is a guest post by Hikmet Karcic

On 16 July 1995, Lieutenant Colonel Vujadin Popovic, chief of of the Drina Corps of the Army of Republika Srpska, requested 500 liters of diesel fuel from the Zvornik Brigade. According to intercepted telephone conversations, unless the diesel was delivered ‘’the work he is doing will stop’’. Just a few days before, the Bosnia Serb Army had overrun the UN ‘Safe Area’ of Srebrenica, rounded up more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys and systematically executed them. The prisoners were taken to locations around Srebrenica where they were shot and buried in mass graves. The buses used to transport the men, the buses used to deport the women and children and the bulldozers used to dig the mass graves all needed a lot of fuel.

Colonel Popovic’s urgent appeal was rapidly dealt with. Captain S. Milosevic issued an order to supply Popovic with the fuel. The person responsible for overseeing the delivery of the fuel to Colonel Popovic was Milenko Krstic, the Zvornik Brigade member who signed the dispatch note – the “material list for dispatch”. This dispatch note was used in the ‘Krstic’ and ‘Popovic’ trials at The Hague Tribunal. Luckily for Popovic, the fuel was delivered quickly and he was able to proceed with his ‘work’ in the village of Pilica.

And that work certainly did not stop: hundreds of Bosnian Muslims were blindfolded, had their hands tied, were executed, and then were dumped into mass graves. The Pilica cultural center where the men were held riddled with bullet holes and the walls covered with blood. The buses that brought the victims to the execution sites and the bulldozers that dug the mass graves could not have done the job without the fuel supplied by the Zvornik Brigade and signed out by Milenko Krstic. On 10 June 2010 Vujadin Popović was found guilty of genocide, extermination, murder and persecution by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Milenko Krstic was located in Oregon, United States, in 2005. An investigating officer of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, Special Agent Weimann, visited Krstic and confronted him with the fuel receipt he had signed on 17 July 1995. According to an article published by The Oregonian, Krstic signed many documents crossing his desk at brigade headquarters. He recognized his signature on the diesel receipt, but it didn’t specify what the fuel had been used for and he didn’t know*.’’ He did not know why a Bosnian Serb Army Colonel would need 500 liters of diesel in a remote village several kilometers from Zvornik. Milenko Krstic was not the only person who did not know. Branko Bogicevic, the driver who delivered the diesel to Colonel Popovic, was another member of the Zvornik Brigade who did not know a lot either. Giving evidence at the trial of Popovic and co-defendants at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague, Bogicevic was unable to remember who had ordered him to take the fuel, where he collected it from and where exactly and to whom he was ordered to deliver it. An accurate memory doesn’t seem to be the strongpoint of former Zvornik Brigade members.

Krstic is not the only Serb living in the United States to have been arrested and prosecuted for giving false statements to Immigration officers about their service in the Bosnian Serb Army. Several dozen have been caught. A few have been deported to Bosnia, where they are currently on trial for their part in the Srebrenica genocide. The United States authorities checked the names of immigrants against the names of the Bosnian Serb Army members known to have participated in the Srebrenica Genocide and began arresting them one by one. They ranged from members of the infamous 10th Sabotage Detachment to individuals like Krstic working in the Zvornik Brigade headquarters. Krstic may not have taken part in any murders himself. But you don’t need to have been a direct perpetrator to be criminally responsible. Krstic knew what was happening in the fields around Srebrenica, he knew why Colonel Popovic needed the fuel and he supplied it to him. He is certainly not the peace activist he claims to be.

Krstic’s case has received more media coverage than any of the others because his daughter was Miss Oregon 2008 and took part in the Miss America competition in 2009. Interestingly enough, her Miss Oregon platform paid a lot of attention to suffering children and expressed the opinion that “all children deserve a chance for a happy and healthy future”.

Thanks to her father, many Bosnian Muslim children were denied that chance.

Monday, 13 September 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Srebrenica deniers get their mucky paws on Rwanda

When, back in the 1940s under the shadow of the Holocaust, Raphael Lemkin coined the term ‘genocide’, then lobbied to have it recognised as a crime in international law, his aim was to prevent such crimes occurring in the future. Since then, there have been those who have attempted to use the concept of genocide, in the spirit of Lemkin, to agitate against the mass extermination of human beings. But there have also been those who have paradoxically attempted to use the concept of genocide to ensure that acts of mass extermination are allowed to take place. During the war in Bosnia, supporters of the genocidal project of Milosevic and Karadzic expended an enormous amount of energy trying to deny the reality of the mass killings – from arguing that the atrocities were being invented by the Western media, to redefining Serb concentration-camps as ‘detention centres’, to claiming that the Bosnians had carried out the atrocities against themselves. But one of their favourite tactics was to set up, then attack, the straw man that ‘the Bosnian genocide was the same as the Holocaust’. Since it was not the same as the Holocaust, they argued, it could not really have been genocide. And since it was not genocide, it wasn’t anything to get upset over.

Thus, it suits the deniers and supporters of genocidal acts to define ‘genocide’ as narrowly as possible. A genocide, such as occurred in Bosnia, can be measured against the benchmark of a ‘perfect’ genocide such as the Holocaust, and found wanting. They tend to define ‘genocide’ as something that has to involve the total physical extermination of an entire ethnic group. This, of course, is a much narrower definition than the one in international law, which defines genocide as an attempt to destroy a group ‘in whole or in part’. And as Adam Jones has pointed out in ‘Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction’ (Taylor and Francis, 2007), according to the international legal definition, genocide technically does not have to involve actually killing anyone at all.

Nevertheless, even with their narrowest possible definition, the deniers have to recognise that at least a couple of cases of genocide have historically occurred. I recall having an exchange about Milosevic on the blog Crooked Timber with a notoriously unpleasant little Stalinist by the name of Louis Proyect, who assured me that the only cases of genocide that were universally acknowledged were the Holocaust, the Armenians and Rwanda. This was already inaccurate, of course, as the Armenian Genocide has been the object of a sustained campaign of denial by Turkish nationalists and their supporters. But it is true that Rwanda has tended to be spared. Back in December 1995, an article by Fiona Fox appeared in Living Marxism, the principal propaganda rag of Milosevic’s and Karadzic’s supporters in the UK, entitled ‘Massacring the truth in Rwanda’. Living Marxism had pioneered Bosnia genocide denial, and Fox attempted a similar form of denial over Rwanda, but this was something of a flash in the pan: Rwanda so far has simply not provoked such a large and active denialist lobby as Bosnia.

The primary reason that the denialists have been much more vocal over Bosnia than Rwanda was that the Bosnian genocide occupied a much larger place in the Western consciousness than the Rwandan genocide, and was a much more prominent foreign policy issue, and over a longer period of time. So far as left-wing deniers were concerned, a second important motive was their wish to minimise the crimes of a reconstituted Communist regime – Milosevic’s ruling party called itself ‘Socialist’. But let there be no illusions: the more widespread and vocal nature of Bosnian than of Rwandan genocide-denial has nothing to do with the fact that the scale of the mass killings in Rwanda was much greater than in Bosnia, or that the Rwandan genocide was much more absolutist in its exterminationist goals than the Bosnian genocide.

That this is so, is evidenced by the fact that two fools have now rushed in where wiser devils have feared to tread. Edward S. Herman and David Peterson were the founders of the ‘Srebrenica Research Group’, set up to deny the Srebrenica massacre had taken place. Their efforts have appeared increasingly laughable, as in terms of forensic evidence, the fact and scale of Srebrenica are probably better documented than any other genocidal massacre in history. The cynicism and downright clownishness of their denialist antics are highlighted by the fact that they repeatedly highlighted the figure of roughly 100,000 Bosnian war-deaths, established by Mirsad Tokaca’s Research and Documentation Centre (RDC), as proof that earlier estimates of 200,000 Bosnian dead were part of an elaborate campaign of anti-Serb disinformation – while themselves repeating massively exaggerated figures for Serb war-dead that the RDC’s research had already discredited.

Herman’s and Peterson’s denial of the Rwanda Genocide has been dissected by Gerald Caplan (in two pieces) and by Adam Jones. I’m not going to regurgitate the admirable job that these two colleagues have done, but what is particularly striking is the amateurish, almost whimsical nature of the deniers’ arguments. Readers may recall the case of the Bosnia genocide denier Thomas Deichmann, who thought that he could disprove the eyewitness accounts by reporters of the Serb concentration-camp at Trnopolje because he noticed that the barbed wire in the picture of the camp was on the ‘wrong’ side of the fence poles, and as his wife pointed out, this wasn’t how fences were organised in their garden. Among the similar gems of stunning insight now produced by Herman and Peterson, which they feel refutes all the evidence for the genocide produced by genuine experts, historians, journalists and war-crimes investigators, we have the following:

Would it not have been incredible for Kagame’s Tutsi forces to conquer Rwanda in 100 days, and yet the number of minority Tutsi deaths be greater than the number of majority Hutu deaths by a ratio of something like three-to-one?  Surely then we would have to count Rwanda 1994 as the only country in history where the victims of genocide triumphed over those who committed genocide against them, and wiped the territory clean of its “genocidaires” at the same time.  If ever a prima facie case existed for doubting the collective wisdom of “academics, human rights activists, [and] journalists” whose opinions the establishment respects, we find it here, with the alleged Hutu perpetrators routed and fleeing for their lives in neighboring countries, and the alleged Tutsi victims in complete control.

Jones points out that it wasn’t the Tutsi victims who defeated the genocidaires, but the Rwandan Patriotic Front invading from Uganda. Apart from that, the sloppiness of the deniers is indicated by their assumptions that the side that lost the civil war cannot be the one that carried out the genocide, and that the victorious side ‘ought to’ have carried out the most killing. We could ask what such an interpretative model would say about the battle for Srebrenica in 1995, when the victims’ side lost but still had its genocide denied, and its own killings of enemy civilians equated with the actual genocide, by Herman and Peterson. Or about World War II in Bosnia, when the Partisans, composed in large part of Serb victims of the Ustasha genocide, defeated the Ustasha perpetrators of the genocide.

Caplan describes Herman and Peterson as ‘two dedicated anti-imperialists [who] have sunk to the level of genocide deniers’. Yet it is a remarkable form of ‘anti-imperialism’ that feels no desire to condemn or expose Western collusion with either the Bosnian or the Rwandan genocides. Indeed, the well documented history of active French complicity in the Rwandan genocide is a particularly fruitful field for those who really do want to expose the crimes of ‘Western imperialism’.

Clearly, Herman and Peterson are anti-Americans before they are anti-imperialist. But it is even worse than that. For them, ‘anti-imperialism’ ultimately is genocide denial. Should any act of genocide be made known to the Western public, they see their job as ensuring that nothing is done to stop it while it is occurring, and as denying it after it has occurred – that is what ‘anti-imperialism’ is for them. Such are the depths to which these people have sunk.

Update: Peterson appears to have graduated from putting ‘massacre’ in inverted commas when speaking about Srebrenica, and ‘genocide’ in inverted commas’ when speaking about Rwanda, to putting ‘the Holocaust’ itself in inverted commas:

I find Jones’s comparison between the “holocaust” and events in Rwanda 1994 to be strangely revealing—but about Jones, not Rwanda.  To me, it betrays an emotional, self-dramatizing, even defensive attachment to the “Holocaust in Rwanda”—that is, to a particular model for discussing events in Rwanda during 1994—that appears to overwhelm everything Jones thinks and writes about it.  Indeed.  “The Genocide” in Rwanda stands out in Jones’s work (and in the work of many others) as a kind of fetishized, supra-historical entity in its own right.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010 Posted by | Bosnia, Genocide, Marko Attila Hoare, Red-Brown Alliance, Rwanda | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How to apologise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genocide at Srebrenica began in 1992

 

This is a guest post by Hikmet Karcic

Review of Edina Becirevic, Na Drini Genocid [Genocide on the Drina], Buybook, Sarajevo, 2009

Writing about genocide was popular in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dozens of books were written, most of which were poorly documented and based on semi-reliable sources. That is why Edina Becirevic’s book has refreshed the genocide debates in Bosnia and Herzegovina. ”Genocide on the River Drina” is in fact an adaption of her PhD thesis. The book is divided into five chapters: Overview of sociological literature on genocide; Serb national myths, programs and propaganda; Planning genocide against Bosniaks 1992.-1995.; Genocide in Eastern Bosnia 1992.-1993. and finally The Eight phase of Genocide – denial.

The book deals with various issues, beginning with the basics about genocide in the first chapter and then giving a historical overview of genocide in the Balkans. Special emphasis is placed upon Serb nationalist programs from the 19th century, ranging from the Serb nationalist politician Ilija Garašin’s program to the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts Memorandum from 1986 in the second chapter. The third chapter deals with the Bosnian Serb modus operandi in committing the Bosnian Genocide. The fourth chapter is the most important one; in it the author explains in detail how genocide was committed in 10 towns in Eastern Bosnia in 1992/93. The fifth chapter deals with modern-day Bosnia and the common issue of post-genocidal societies: denial of committed crimes.

In the past years the spotlight has been almost exclusively on the Srebrenica Genocide, which suits many political and intellectual circles in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. The ‘genocidal processes’ in other areas from 1992-1995, as the author puts it, are completely forgotten and even denied. Unlike other authors, Edina has the courage to use the term ‘genocide’ instead of the jaded term ‘ethnic cleansing’ to explain the events in Eastern Bosnia in 1992/93, which were the systematic destruction, murder and rape of Bosniaks. The author’s central thesis is that genocide in Eastern Bosnia started in 1992 in several towns such as Zvornik, Bratunac, Vlasenica, Visegrad, Rogatica, Foca and Srebrenica. The author provides us with new details of Serb genocidal bureaucratic policies such as the ordering of the establishment of the infamous Susica concentration camp, which she substantiated which an original document ordering its formation, as well as orders for the expulsion of the Muslim inhabitants of Birac (p.159). She also pays special attention to the ‘slow genocide’ in Srebrenica, where tens of thousands of starving Bosnian Muslims were kept under siege, and to the raids carried out in quest for food in surrounding militarized Serb villages. She clearly notes: ‘The defenders of Srebrenica were under constant pressure from starving people who protested on a daily basis, in front of the war presidency in Srebrenica, asking for organized action to gather food’ (p.215).  It is important to note that the author has mostly used documents and archive material from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which are reliable sources, so there is little room left to speculate whether her work is biased or unreliable. This is most probably one of the rare books written in Bosnian which have sources in English as part of their bibliography, which is usually not the case since most Bosnian genocide scholars do not speak English.

Edina Becirevic

The true value of this book is that the author managed to explain many important issues in detail as well as the mechanisms used by the Bosnian Serbs to commit genocide in Bosnia. For example, the role of the Crisis Committees formed by the Serb Democratic Party (p.114) is explained using documents available at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in Hague and the author concludes by saying that those committees were ‘the most effective mechanism in establishing control in the occupied territories in Bosnia and Herzegovina’. Another important issue the author recognized is the false use of the term ‘paramilitary units’ and instead uses the term ‘special units’: ‘In public those units were called paramilitary so as to create an illusion that the state did not have control over them’ (p.129).

This is an important conclusion since recently Milan Lukic, a member of the Bosnian Serb Army from Visegrad, who was sentenced to life at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, was referred to as a ‘paramilitary leader’ throughout the trial. Thus, the command responsibility of the Visegrad Brigade commander, who is not indicted, was not questioned at all. There is no question that this book will be used by genocide scholars in the future. Taking into consideration that there are a few Bosnian books about genocide available in English, it would be wise to translate this book and make it accessible to non-Bosnian speaking public.

Friday, 12 March 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Edward S. Herman and David Peterson humiliate themselves

Last month, a group of ‘foreign intellectuals’ published an open letter to President Boris Tadic of Serbia and to the Serbian parliament, urging them not to pass a parliamentary resolution recognising and condemning the Srebrenica massacre of 1995. The list of signatories is headed by Edward S. Herman; other signatories included Diana Johnstone, Christopher Black and David Peterson. These are all prominent Srebrenica deniers; people who loudly deny not only that the Srebrenica massacre was an act of genocide, but the fact of the massacre itself. According to the open letter:

‘The informed public in Western countries knows that, at that time, forces attributed to the Republic of Srpska executed in three days approximately as many Moslems as Moslem forces, raiding surrounding Serbian villages out of Srebrenica, had murdered during the preceding three years. There is nothing to set one crime apart from the other, except that its commission was more condensed in time.’

The open letter is repeating the claim often made by Srebrenica deniers and apologists, that Bosnian Army forces based in Srebrenica carried out raids against neighbouring Serb villages in 1992 and 1993 that killed a number of Serb civilians similar to the number of Muslims killed at Srebrenica in 1995.

This claim has been thoroughly debunked by the research of Mirsad Tokaca and the Research and Documentation Centre (RDC) in Sarajevo. The RDC’s figures show that 81.06% of all war deaths from the Podrinje region – where Srebrenica and the surrounding Serb villages are located -during the whole of the war were Muslims (a total of 16,940 civilians and 7,177 soldiers) while 18.73% were Serbs (870 civilians and 4,703) soldiers. The RDC’s figures show that 10,333 people from the Podrinje region were killed during 1995; that over 93% of these were Muslims; and that 9,328 out of the 10,333 were killed during the single month of July. Conversely, the RDC has specifically investigated the Serb death-toll in the Bratunac municipality, where the bulk of Bosnian Army killings in the Srebrenica region are alleged to have taken place, and concluded that 119 Serb civilians and 448 Serb soldiers were killed there during the whole of the war.

In other words, Herman, Peterson, Johnstone and their merry band of genocide-deniers, in their efforts to equalise the culpability of the Bosnian and Serb-rebel forces for war-crimes, are making claims about war-losses that have long since been discredited.

This is particularly amusing because Herman and Peterson refer frequently to Tokaca’s figures themselves when it suits their purpose – namely, when they want to argue that ‘only’ about 100,000 people were killed in the Bosnian war. Indeed, they repeatedly accuse others of failing to acknowledge Tokaca’s findings.

In other words, the central claim of Herman’s and Peterson’s open letter – that Bosnian Army and Serb rebel forces killed roughly equal numbers of people in and around Srebrenica during the war – is refuted by a body of research that Herman and Peterson themselves refer to repeatedly, and that they loudly berate others for not acknowledging.

Any further comment would be superfluous.

Hat tip: Sarah Correia of Cafe Turco.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Interview with Nihada Hodzic, survivor of the Zaklopaca massacre

One of the myths most frequently used in attempts at justifying the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 is the myth that the fighting in the Srebrenica region was started by the Bosnian side, and that the massacre was therefore an act of ‘retaliation’ or ‘revenge’. In this interview Nihada Hodzic, a survivor of the Zaklopaca massacre of 16 May 1992, tells Daniel Toljaga of the Institute for the Research of Genocide, Canada how Bosniaks in the Srebrenica region were persecuted and killed from the first weeks of the Bosnian war in the spring of 1992 – months before Naser Oric’s oft-cited raids against the local Serb villages.

This is a guest post by Daniel Toljaga of the Institute for the Research of Genocide, Canada

From April to June 1992, Serb forces plundered and torched hundreds of Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) villages and hamlets in the municipality (district) of Srebrenica and the neighboring municipalities of Bratunac, Vlasenica, Rogatica, and Visegrad. According to the UN war crimes tribunal’s judgment in the Naser Oric case, ‘Srebrenica town and the villages in the area held by Bosnian Muslims were constantly subjected to Serb military assaults, including artillery attacks, sniper fire, as well as occasional bombing from aircrafts. Each onslaught followed a similar pattern. Serb soldiers and paramilitaries surrounded a Bosnian Muslim village or hamlet, called upon the population to surrender their weapons, and then began with indiscriminate shelling and shooting. In most cases, they then entered the village or hamlet, expelled or killed the population, who offered no significant resistance, and destroyed their homes.’ One of these villages was Zaklopača, a small place formerly in the Vlasenica municipality near the border with Srebrenica. On 16 May 1992, Serb forces approached the village and demanded Bosniak residents to hand over their weapons. Except few hunting rifles, Bosniak residents did not have any combat weapons to defend themselves. When the Serbs learned that the residents were effectively unarmed, they blocked all exists of the village and massacred at least 63 Bosniak men, women and children.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Nihada, thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview. I am truly honored to have this opportunity. When you think of Zaklopača, do bad memories overshadow good ones?

NIHADA HODZIC: First of all, I would like to sincerely thank you for the opportunity to share my experiences and broader knowledge about the events of May 16, 1992, that would befall Zaklopača and much of eastern Bosnia as the Serb aggression progressed into the heartland of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I feel extremely fortunate to be in the position of talking to you about what exactly happened on that dreadful day, instead of being among the forgotten statistics that will never be able to demand justice for what has been done to them, and to us who were lucky enough to survive. I feel fortunate to have lived; however, I feel that much of the life my family and I knew died together with our loved ones. So to answer your question, yes, I believe that the bad events will inevitably overshadow the good memories until proper justice has been served. Though we survived, we live with the legacy and pain of this gruesome event and its memories will haunt us as long as we are alive. We would like to think of our relatives in more ‘happy’ terms, but whenever we remember how unjustly and brutally their lives were cut short, it brings us back to this sad reality we have to deal with — as we have still not seen those who committed the heinous murders brought to proper justice.     

DANIEL TOLJAGA: A similar crime also took place in Zaklopača in the fall of 1941, when Serb Chetniks under the command of Nazi collaborator Jezdimir Dangić barricaded 81 Bosniak men, women and children in the local mekteb (Muslim religious school) and then burned them alive. Did you ever imagine that Serbs would repeat the Zaklopača massacre in 1992 – some three years before the Srebrenica Genocide and 50 years after World War II?

NIHADA HODZIC: Generally people were assured that nothing would ever happen to us – when we heard automatic weapons being fired in the distance, we were told that it was only routine ‘training’ by the armed forces. My grandfather was not as gullible however. He knew the picture looked very bleak and that something terrible was surely coming our way. You see, my grandfather Ibro Hodžić, was a survivor. He survived a line up shooting at the hands of his Serb neighbor where upon around a dozen other Muslims form the village were killed, my great grandfather included – he was killed by another Serb neighbor. My grandfather was only fifteen years old then in 1941 and you could say his quick thinking saved his life. As the intoxicated Četnik was loading another bullet to shoot, my grandfather fell to the ground just before he had pulled the trigger on his very old model shot gun. He lay there motionless for quite some time, during which more Serbs came and drilled a few more bullets into the heads of those still moaning with signs of life. My fifteen year old grandfather survived this ordeal in the 1940s just to be killed by the same people in 1992 on the steps of his own home, along with the rest of his five sons and grandson who was only sixteen at the time. But, no one could really understand my grandfather’s fears as we had a well trusted Serb neighbor Milenko Đurić (Gorčin) reassuring our safety time and time again, telling us “not even a hair will be missing from your bodies.” Unfortunately, we had trusted our Serb neighbors; we believed their deceitful lies to keep us grounded in the village. Prior to the massacre we had attempted to flee to a safe haven in Zivinice, however we were sent back with the same type of reasoning by the Serb neighbor. There is apt reasons to believe that he was directly or indirectly involved in the entire plot of the incident in Zaklopača. Gorčin played as a middleman who manipulated our fears and our trust in him as a long term neighbor and whom some even considered a great ‘friend’ in order to set the stage for a more effective premeditated “military” operation by the Serbs. We were certainly sensing the changing atmosphere and the deepening angst which was growing within our community – but we could have never imagined being betrayed in such a cruel way. 

DANIEL TOLJAGA: What were the first signs that the massacre was about to happen?

NIHADA HODZIC: One week prior to the massacre two of my uncles and my father were arrested and brought for questioning to the Police Station in Milići. At the time my father was working in Boksit Transport, in Milići, where upon one day he along with his relative, on their way home, were taken by the reserve police and brought to the Milići police station. First however, they had asked for their identification cards, and made sure they were Muslim. Who ever had a Muslim name, they told them to form a line and to follow them to the station. When they finally reached their destination, for hours they interrogated them with petty questions. Question regarding personal family backgrounds to some other questions to which no one could give any answers to. For example they would point to a machine gun and ask whose it was – obviously no one could have known – when my father answered “I don’t know” the interrogator said “you will know” and shoved him off. At the police station my father along with hundreds of other Muslim men were shoved into a small room where he witnessed some very gruesome acts being performed on these defenseless civilian men. They were beaten beyond recognition, some defecated out of fear and it was simply a gruesome and frightening atmosphere. Shortly there after, though it seemed much longer to my father, our long time neighbor Gorčin, whom I have mentioned before, came to his ‘rescue’. Gorčin was responsible for my father’s release from the police station, and he was brought back home that same day, however my father, witnessing what he had, anticipated something far worse was brewing then we might have thought.  Gorčin, again, reassured us that this would never happen again, that my father should continue to go to work, though my father had refused to go after this incident. Of course, other men where not so lucky, they were left behind at the station, and we are not sure what happened to them.

There are however other smaller indicators of the massacre coming our way. About the same number of days prior, Serbs were adamantly cruising through our village in search for weapons, and demanded that everyone who had any type of weapon even “hunting guns” – that they should hand them over. In other words, they were demilitarizing our village days before the actual massacre, making sure we had no way of defending ourselves, even though no one had claims to any type of lethal weapons anyway.

Also, just about when the massacre was to occur, my mother (Najla Hodžić) was in her vegetable garden just outside of our home, when Police jeeps and cars came flooding into our small town. It was noon, on a very beautiful and sunny Spring day on May 16, 1992. There were a few cars (she could not recall the exact number as they were driving back and forth through the village), in front of them a police car and following them a white jeep with the slogan “pokolj” (slaughter) written in Cyrillic across the vehicle. Our house was located right next to the main road, so my mother saw everything in clear view as they were rolling into the village, coming from the main road leading from the town Milići. She recalls that the vehicles had been packed with Četniks, with long beards, some with nylon socks covering their heads, and loaded Kalashnikovs across their broad chests. Upon seeing this, my mother hurriedly motioned my oldest uncle Bećir Hodžić (who was helping my mother around the garden) to run, yet his last words to my mother were “don’t worry Sister-in-law everything is going to be alright – don’t be afraid” when he was spotted by the Četniks and taken away, not to be seen alive again.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: At this point, you and your mother were also in immediate danger of being killed. Can you tell us what happened next?

NIHADA HODZIC: Once the vehicles moved further into town, my mother ran into the house and franticly began to pack the bare essentials (some clean clothes, food and a few family pictures) and get my sisters and I ready for the worse possible situation. I was only a small child then, but I remember, in the midst of this frightful situation I was so obnoxious as to whine about which clothes I was going to wear – obviously I was not fully aware of the seriousness of what was about to happen. At this time, we had no idea where my father was, and thus we would remain clueless of his whereabouts until almost one year later, when we finally found out that he was alive. But back to the massacre. My mother, my two older sisters and I ran across the yard to one of my other uncle’s homes (Haso Hodžić), at which time almost all my other aunts and their kids were gathered. Just as we, along with my other five aunts and their children and few other neighbors gathered inside, the lightning bolts began to fly, and the sound of thundering bullets began to ring on all sides. My mother was with me all the time – cuddling me inside her lap and shielding me from all the harm. The bullets whizzed through the house, creating big cratered holes as they made a full impact with the concrete walls. At one point, a bullet pierced through my mothers light denim jacket, as I was still cuddling in her lap. The bullet missed us both by a hair. For another fifteen to twenty minutes, the showers of deadly bullets filled the suffocating air, killing anything that was moving – anything that was alive would have met its final death.  As it calmed down, we heard my second uncle (whose house we were all in) calling upon my aunt to come out. We all did, and form the porch we saw my uncle standing at gunpoint. A Serb, was aiming at him, ready to pull the trigger any time. My dear uncle looked pale, and afraid. He asked for a cigarette, and as he reached for the lighter in his pocket, the ringing sound of Kalashnikovs went off once more, and as we were all standing on the porch, we all saw my beloved uncle murdered in front of our very own eyes. His body was thrown up into the air at least a few feet from detonation and came back crashing onto the hot asphalt, motionless and lifeless. My grandmother saw her son mercilessly killed in front of her sorrowful, teary eyes. As she frantically yelled out “My son is Dead,” the Serb (Četnik) opened fire again, chasing us back into the house, shocked, dismayed and still in disbelief of what we had seen. But my grandmother ran out, bewildered, lost and deeply hurt into the streets – suffering a mental breakdown. 

Through out this time, we were quite unaware of the whereabouts of my father (Ekrem Hodžić). From his perspective of the story, things followed in a different fashion from ours. While we were still inside the house, my father observed everything from the woods just above my grandfather’s house. As he saw the cars rolling into town, driving in the direction of the village ‘Gornji Zalkovik’ full of Četniks and returning empty. Curiously, my father went north into the woods to observe where they had gone while two of my uncles went down to see what was happening in town. Just as he reached into the woods the shorts began to fly. He remained in a state of shock as he began running deeper into the woods, however, unaware of where he was going he returned to the outskirts of the woods in dismay – unable to comprehend what was going on.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: When the shooting stopped, I can only imagine the shock and horror you and your family had to endure. Would you mind telling us what happened immediately after the massacre?

NIHADA HODZIC: As the thunder of bullets finally stopped, our small town was gasping for air – it was gasping for life. The Serbs left, the same way they came in, completing their heinous job with blood on their hands. The blood of innocence – the blood of Zaklopača. We dared to step out again, to witness that inferno, the death and destruction of this inevitable storm which plundered our town and raped it of its virtues and good life. We saw dead bodies everywhere. The smell of death permeated the entire town. Dead children, women, men. Bodies everywhere. We were in shock. The tears seemed to have almost dried up, nothing was coming out. It was like a nightmare! A terrible nightmare you desperately wished to wake up from, but never did. We covered my uncle with a blanket, and proceeded to go further into town – hoping to find survivors. We saw my eldest uncle (Bećir Hodžić) again – in a kneeling position with a cigarette still burning in between his index and middle fingers, his head bowed to the ground, and a puddle of blood next to him – he was dead too. We saw small children with their mothers lying side by side on the ground, motionless, very still – in an eternal sleep. We were told that my father was among the dead too. We couldn’t go on. My family and I decided to give our selves in (to “surrender” to the Serbs) – we thought we had no one left alive, in this highly emotional moment we were ready to die too.

My father, on the other hand, was met by other men who survived and fled into the woods. Among them was my uncle Bećir’s son Amir (seventeen at the time), who told my father, that everyone in town was dead — that they were the only survivors. My father also witnessed during this time, after the massacre, Serbs came back to the village to burry their crimes into yet another mass grave. My father saw everything. From this point onward, my father’s path diverged from my mother’s, sisters’ and my own. It is a long story… We later learned that my father was indeed alive, in March of 1993 we were re-united in Zagreb, Croatia.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: It is my understanding that remains of eight members of your family were located in the Zaklopača mass grave. Can you tell us more about them?

NIHADA HODZIC: I have actually lost many more relatives, as our small village was very closely knit and most of us were related in some way or another. It was a relatively small village, where over 200 people were ethnic Muslim Bosniaks. Around sixty percent of the entire population of Zaklopača – somewhere around forty percent were killed and the remaining Muslim population was ethnically cleansed from the area. My grandfather was Ibro Hodžić. He was killed along with my five uncles; Becir Hodžić, Huso Hodžić with his sixteen year old son Mersudin Hodžić, also, Haso Hodžić, Hamdija Hodžić, and Safet Hodžić. The entire ten member family of Ibis Hodžić which included my cousin Naida Hodžić who was only four years old at the time she was killed. Also, members from the family Hamidović who were our extended relatives. My father, and my two first cousins, Amir and Samir Hodžić were the only male survivors from my immediate family. But it is hard to separate the pain we feel for our close relatives from the pain we feel for our neighbors and good friends. We hurt for them all! 

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Forensic reports indicate that the bodies of the Zaklopača massacre victims were first buried in the village, but were later dug up and relocated in order to cover up the crime – just as your father saw it happen. This looks like a well-planned operation, yet none of the people involved in this ghastly crime have ever been prosecuted. In your opinion, what should be done to put pressure on the authorities of Bosnia-Herzegovina to finally prosecute suspects for this massacre?

NIHADA HODZIC: Well, I am certainly no expert in this matter. All I can say is that my family has tried various means to identify those responsible and push for some sort of justice. My family, as well as other survivors form the village, have given numerous testimonies to different sources in an attempt to find any persons responsible, who were directly involved in the massacre. Our big obstacle is that most of the people who could have or might have known these Serbs were killed. Unfortunately, or fortunately, my father was not close enough to identify any potential suspects, but we do know for certain that the Milići police force was directly involved in the Zaklopača massacre. Of course there were some attempts at questioning certain individuals, however nothing was ever established. The process has been extremely slow and exhausting, and thus far no one has been convicted nor held responsible for the crimes committed in Zaklopača in May of 1992. 

DANIEL TOLJAGA: The ICTY court transcripts suggest Milenko Đurić was directly involved in the events leading to the Zaklopača massacre, including demands that Bosniak villagers hand over their weapons. I find it interesting that in the chain of command, he was directly under Milomir Stanić – former mayor in charge of all civil and military authorities. Stanić’s authority also stretched to Sušica camp where Serb forces subjected 2,500 Bosniak civilians to horrific conditions, torture, rapes, and murders. Do you think that Đurić and Stanić will ever be brought to justice to face justice?

NIHADA HODZIC: Unfortunately I am very pessimistic in this regard. I do not see any proper justice being served. As we have clearly seen from previous trials of Serb war criminals and their subsequent verdicts, that their given sentences are simply a superficial number, and are not completely enforced, for the most part. We do not wish to speculate on the levels of involvement ‘Gorčin’ had in the Zaklopača massacre, but we believe that he will walk free either way. We do have grounds to doubt that he may have indirectly been involved, as he did advise my uncle Haso in particular (because of their pre-war dislikes of each other) that he should give up his “weapon” insisting that my uncle had a gun and that he should hand it over to the Serbs. He also, as I said before, kept reassuring us safety and that we should all stay firm in our village as he said there was no need for us to go anywhere. No one, to this date, has been convicted of the war crimes in Zaklopača, and the current pattern in convictions do not indicate that there ever will be justice for the victims of the massacre.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Thank you for taking part in this interview. Do you have any final words?

NIHADA HODZIC:  Although I was very young, at the time of the Zaklopača massacre, I do live with its legacy to this day. My father still wakes up in nightmares from the haunting memories of that day, and my mother is still suffering from the side effects of shock and traumatic stress. Today, I am fighting to raise awareness in any way I can about what happened in Zaklopača on May 16, 1992, because I feel it is important to note that genocide was not limited to Srebrenica – it extended far and beyond – across all of eastern Bosnia. These were premeditated and cold blooded, calculated massacres, which targeted one particular group of people for extermination – the Muslim population – and we have to keep voicing these tragic events so that they may not be absorbed and forgotten in the pretext of larger massacres such as that of Srebrenica in 1995. I am currently in my last year of University studies, majoring in International Studies, and I wish to continue my fight on a larger political playing field, where I can demand proper justice for each and every death – each and every forgotten statistic. I wish to put a face to the number and have people remember what happened from 1992-1995 across Bosnia and Herzegovina, so that we do not repeat the same mistakes in the future. Peace still remains very elusive in Bosnia, and some of the rhetoric coming from politicians does not indicate a very optimistic future.

For more on the Zaklopaca massacre, see the Srebrenica Genocide Blog.

Friday, 12 February 2010 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Serbia | , , , | 2 Comments

Anti-Balkan racism in academia and on the Left

Image: Serbo-Croat-speaking Podlings in the 1982 film Dark Crystal.

Credit goes to Srebrenica Genocide Blog, Oliver Kamm, Balkan Witness and other websites and individuals that have been leading the fight against those who continue to deny or apologise for the Srebrenica massacre and other atrocities of the Wars of Yugoslav Succession, from dabblers like Noam Chomsky to dyed-in-the-wool propagandists like Diana Johnstone, Ed Herman and David Peterson.

I have come to feel that, poisonous though they are, the deniers are ultimately less guilty than members of the political and intellectual mainstream who may disagree with their extreme views, but nevertheless not only tolerate them, but defend them as individuals entitled to respect.

In my last post, I criticised those blogs, such as Harry’s Place, which tolerate vicious personal abuse on the part of those posting comments. I believe that nobody – not even Nazis, racists or war-criminals – should be subject to such abuse, or attacked on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class background, physical appearance or similar. All human beings – even the most evil or obnoxious – are entitled to a degree of respect by virtue of the fact of being human. Vicious personal abuse of a vulgar or bigoted nature demeans the abuser as much as the abused. It falls into the same category as torture; as something that civilised society simply should not tolerate.

However, there is an opposite extreme: the readiness of supposedly respectable individuals to shield from harsh but legitimate criticism those who hold racist, misogynist, genocide-denialist or other views that ought to disqualify them from such solidarity. I shall not hurl vicious personal abuse at a genocide-denier, but I do feel it is my right and duty to call them a genocide-denier in no uncertain terms.

Unfortunately, there are those who are far less offended by genocide denial than they are by those of us who take the genocide deniers to task. I have come across such people both in my experience with left-wing politics and in my work as an academic. They may disagree with the genocide-deniers, but they feel that the genocide-deniers’ status as left-wingers or as members of the academic community should somehow disqualify them from being the objects of attack for their genocide-denial.

My own alienation from traditional left-wing politics was not simply due to the very large number of prominent and less prominent left-wingers who supported or apologised for the Milosevic regime’s genocidal policies in the 1990s. It was, if anything, more due to the fact that other left-wingers who were not themselves deniers or apologists continued to treat the latter as fellow members of a common ‘Left’. Leftists of this kind tend to be much less outraged by left-wingers who deny genocide or support fascism, than they are by those of us who denounce such ‘comrades’.

Leftists of this kind are not bothered by the enormous hurt and offence among the survivors of genocide in the Balkans and their friends, caused by the anti-Balkan racism of a Michael Moore, the genocide-denial of a Noam Chomsky or the support for Milosevic of a Harold Pinter. They are, however, upset when the former respond to anti-Balkan racism, genocide-denial or support for Milosevic by attacking the left-wing celebrities in question. For such leftists, Western left-wing celebrities are real people in a way that the nameless, faceless untermenschen persecuted by Milosevic’s forces in the Balkans are not.

I have encountered a similar attitude on the part of some of my fellow members of the academic community. There are those academics who respond to a genocide in their area of specialisation by speaking out and agitating against it, and there are those who do not. Quite simply, those who do not have less to feel proud about than those who do. In order to succeed, genocide requires bystanders as well as perpetrators. The genocide in Bosnia was largely successful; had fewer informed international bystanders remained passive, it might not have been.

I do not condemn scholars of the Balkans who failed to speak out against the atrocities in the Balkans in the 1990s. But I thoroughly despise those who try to present their inactivity as making them somehow better or more objective scholars than the rest of us. Instead of boycotting the work of their genocide-denying colleagues, scholars of this kind tend to collaborate with them, bestowing undue respectability on their work. They are thoroughly embarrassed and upset when scholars like myself expose their collaborators for what they are.*

This attitude is itself a form of racism. It is the racism of those who view their own Western society, and in particular their own political or intellectual circle, as being composed of real people; of being the real world. Whereas they view war-torn Bosnia (or Darfur or Iraq) as not being the real world; of not being inhabited by real people with real lives and feelings.

For the authors of Living Marxism, the magazine that pioneered Bosnia genocide-denial, the Bosnian war was an issue only in the UK and other Western societies; an issue, as they saw it, over which the ‘consensus’ had to be challenged and ‘freedom of speech’ upheld for the sake of their own, British concerns. What was or was not happening in Bosnia was, in and of itself, of no importance to them, since to them Bosnia was not a real place and the people who lived there were not real people. They were quite ready to parrot Serb hate-speech against Croats and Bosniaks, since they did not care about what happened to the latter. They viewed the case that ITN brought against them for libel as a greater crime than the murder of tens of thousands of Bosnians.

Left-wingers and academics who defend their genocide-denying or fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues from thoroughly justified criticism are not, essentially, any different from the supporters of Living Marxism. Or from the UN bureaucrats who were repeatedly ready to sacrifice the lives of thousands of Bosnian civilians rather than even slightly risk harm befalling their overpaid ‘peacekeepers’.

There is something genuinely disgusting and offensive about people who can watch a genocide or other tragedy unfolding on their television screens, and not only remain unmoved, but actually feel proud of being unmoved; who believe that cold-bloodedness is the correct response to such a tragedy. As the tragedy unfolds; as the corpses pile up; they indulge in their own comfortable little left-wing or academic parlour games; their little conferences, discussions, meetings and debating societies; with their genocide-denying, fascist-supporting comrades or colleagues. They do not appreciate having these games disrupted by those of us who find the spectacle grotesque.

In a democracy, people must enjoy freedom of speech. People are free to deny that the Srebrenica massacre happened; or to claim that it was simply a ‘response’ to Bosniak ‘provocation’; or that Serb ethnic-cleansing was fabricated by the Western media; or that the Bosnian army shelled its own people in order to blame it on the Serbs; or that Yugoslavia was destroyed by a Western imperialist conspiracy. But equally, the rest of us are free – indeed, we are obliged – to call such people by their true names: genocide-deniers; disseminators of anti-Bosniak hate-speech. To stifle such naming and shaming – on the grounds that left-wingers,  or academics, or others should be above being criticised in this way by virtue of being left-wingers or academics or whatever – is to strike a blow against frank public discourse in favour of Orwellian doublespeak; to legitimise genocide denial while de-legitimising its critics.

By choosing to deny genocide and promote hatred against its victims, genocide-deniers have forfeited the right to be treated with intellectual or political respect. It is with the feelings of the victims and the enormous hurt and offence caused them by the genocide deniers, that we should be concerned. A spade should be called a spade.

 

*Such scholars forget that any historian, sociologist, political scientist or the like who claims that his or her work is ‘politically neutral’ is, quite frankly, a liar. There are academics who are honest and open about their political beliefs, and academics who are not, but who claim to be ‘above politics’; the latter have less integrity than the former – it’s as simple as that. Great historians tend to be open about their political orientation, whether ‘Whig’, conservative, Marxist or other – one need only think of Leopold von Ranke, Thomas Babington Macaulay, G.M. Trevelyan, Lewis Namier, Isaac Deutscher, E.P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, etc. Mediocre historians, by contrast, often dress their boring, cowardly writing up as ‘non-political’ .

I apologise for the dearth of posts here recently. Readers of this blog may or may not be pleased to learn that I was recently promoted to Reader at Kingston University; this has, however, meant a substantially increased teaching load, and this autumn I have been teaching for 14-15 hours per week, leaving little time and even less energy for blogging.

Sunday, 13 December 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Political correctness, Racism, Red-Brown Alliance, The Left | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Noam Chomsky and Amnesty International: Two open letters

ChomskyAI

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 burn 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,

Ed Vulliamy,
The Observer

 

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.

Yours sincerely,

Tilman Zülch

President of the Society for Threatened Peoples International (STPI)

Monday, 2 November 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Noam Chomsky and genocidal causality

ChomskyCosicIt 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 [1998], 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.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Kosovo, Serbia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Greek journalist sued for exposing Greek fascists’ participation in Srebrenica genocide

 Vitalis1Takis Michas, the brilliant anti-fascist Greek journalist, is being sued by Stavros Vitalis, a Greek volunteer who fought on the side of the Bosnian Serb rebel forces during the war in Bosnia and who participated in the conquest of Srebrenica. Vitalis is suing Michas on the grounds that 1) Michas called the Greek volunteers ‘paramilitaries’, whereas Vitalis claims they were members of the regular Bosnian Serb army; and 2) Michas claimed the volunteers took part in the Srebrenica massacre, whereas Vitalis claims they never participated in ‘aggressive operations’.

However, in the press conference Vitalis gave, he admitted that he himself had been present ‘in all  the military operations’ that were related to the Serb ‘reoccupation’ of Srebrenica. He also claimed that the operations of the volunteers ‘were widely endorsed by Greek society because of the warm friendship that connected Andreas Papandreou with Radovan Karadzic’.

Vitalis2

Michas is the author of Unholy Alliance, a book that exposes the full extent of Greek support for, and complicity in, the Serb aggression and genocide of the 1990s. His struggle is the struggle to free Greece from the grip of nationalist chauvinism and extremism. This case will be a test case for Greek democracy.

The following is a statement by the Congress of North American Bosniaks in relation to the case:

The Congress of North American Bosniaks, umbrella organization representing approximately 350,000 American and Canadian Bosniaks, strongly condemns a lawsuit against a respectful Greek journalist, Takis Michas for his writing about the presence of Greek paramilitaries in Bosnia supporting the Serbian aggression.

The lawsuit was launched by Stavros Vitalis, a former self-admitted Greek participant in the Srebrenica genocide who claims that the Greek volunteers were there in order to help the Serbs whom he characterizes as the “real victims”.

This is of course a false assessment that is being perpetrated with the intent of distorting the truth and contradicts all the historical facts that have already been established by the international courts, including the decision in which Serbia was found responsible for violating its obligation to prevent genocide in Srebrenica. The facts are that more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were slaughtered by Serbian forces, including Greek volunteers, simply because they belonged to a different ethnic and religious group.

The Congress of North American Bosniaks believes it is incomprehensible that participants in the genocide are not only allowed to walk free, unpunished for their crimes, but they are able to harass highly respected journalists for telling the truth. This is a further insult to injury to all the victims of the Srebrenica genocide and their families.

This is simply a case of trying to intimidate journalists, like Takis Michas, from telling the truth and publicly criticizing the Greek involvement and public attitudes towards the Srebrenica genocide. This is not only an attack on free speech but a repulsive attempt at distorting the truth and spreading of hate propaganda that somehow tries to justify war crimes. This also comes at a time when Radovan Karadzic, the former leader of the Bosnian Serbs, is about to face trial for his role in leading and orchestrating the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is important that journalists are allowed to express their views on all aspects of the events that took place in the region, so that we can prevent them from occurring in the future.

Unfortunately Greek government has not prosecuted those who took part in war crimes in Bosnia and operations that resulted in tragic death of Bosnian civilians, namely around Srebrenica where 8,000 Bosniaks were summarily executed by Serbian forces. As evidenced by the statement from Stavros Vitalis actions of the volunteers “were widely endorsed by Greek society because of the warm friendship that connected Andreas Papandreou with Radovan Karadzic”.

Greek government should take steps to apologize to the families of those who were killed, for their role in not doing anything to prevent the spread of hatred towards Bosniaks and for allowing the Greek volunteers to operate freely without fear of being prosecuted for their crimes. Furthermore, we ask of the Greek justice system to throw out the frivolous charges against Takis Michas, and ensure that freedom of the press is upheld according to the standards of the European Union.

Semir Đulić
Spokesperson

Update: The following interview with Michas, conducted by Daniel Toljaga, was published by the Congress of North American Bosniaks three days ago:

On 27 July 2009 Mr. Stavros Vitalis, representing the Panhellenic Macedonian Front, filed a libel suit against the acclaimed journalist Mr. Takis Michas, best known for his authorship of the book “Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic’s Serbia.” He is suing the journalist for describing- in the daily “Eleftherotypia” – Greek mercenaries as “paramilitaries who took part in the slaughter in Srebrenica.”

Mr. Vitalis is one of the leading Greek volunteers who have admitted taking part in the Srebrenica genocide. But, that’s not how he sees it.

In a statement distributed to the media, he claimed that the Greek volunteers who fought in Bosnia under the command of General Mladic were there in order to help the Serbs “who were being slaughtered by international gangs that were also stealing their houses, their country and their dignity.”

Michas

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Mr. Michas, thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview. To begin with, what is the Panhellenic Macedonian Front that has filed this suit against you through its representative Mr. Vitalis?

TAKIS MICHAS: It is a Greek nationalist political organization which also includes socialists and conservative former politicians. Up until now its central campaign theme has been its advocacy of the view that Macedonia along with everything related to it (history, symbols, etc.) is exclusively Greek.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: What exactly does Mr. Vitalis hope to achieve with this lawsuit?

TAKIS MICHAS: Bearing in mind that Karadzic’s trial will also be taking place next year, what they will be hoping is to create an alternative debate in which the substance of what happened at Srebrenica will be called into question. In other words, while the world is trying the war crimes perpetrated at Srebrenica, in Greece they will be putting the critics of the war crimes at Srebrenica on trial!

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Do you have any comments about the lawsuit and the press statements Mr. Vitalis has made?

TAKIS MICHAS: Yes. First of all Mr. Vitalis explicitly admits that Greeks (i.e. himself) took part in the planning and execution of the Serb “re-occupation” (as he calls it) of Srebrenica. As he says in his press statement “I was present with a group of senior Serb officers in all the operations for the re-occupation of Srebrenica by the Serbs”.

Secondly, Mr Vitalis admits that the recruitment of Greek volunteers for the war against the legitimate government of Bosnia took place with the implicit approval of the leading Greek politicians Andreas Papandreou and (to a lesser extent) Constantine Mitsotakis. As he puts it:

“The whole of Greece knows that the Greek volunteers had the broad support of Greek society as a whole as well as the support of politicians, mainly belonging to PASOK, because of the warm friendship between Andreas Papandreou and Radovan Karadzic. They also enjoyed the support of New Democracy, through the friendly diplomatic initiatives of Constantine Mitsotakis.”

This reinforces the point I have repeatedly made, namely that Greek support for the Serb war effort was not only moral, economic, diplomatic and political but also military.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Was Mr. Vitalis present during and after the fall of Srebrenica when Greek paramilitaries hoisted the Greek flag over the town?

TAKIS MICHAS: Well in his own statement he said that together with high ranking Serb officers he took part in all the operations that dealt with the “reoccupation” (as he calls it) of Srebrenica. Now as to whether he was physically present in the hoisting of the flag this is something that only Mr. Mladic knows (and perhaps Mr. Karadzic)!

DANIEL TOLJAGA: It is interesting that he publicly admitted being present himself “in all the military operations” related to the “re-occupation” of Srebrenica. Do you have any idea why Mr. Vitalis has not been investigated for possible war crimes?

TAKIS MICHAS: Because, as I have shown in my book, in Greece Serb actions during the war in Bosnia are not regarded as “crimes” but as “heroic deeds”. This applies to Srebrenica as well. No Greek government has made any statement at any time during the last 15 years explicitly condemning the killings at Srebrenica – this is a unique state of affairs for a European country.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: In the words of U.N. Judge Theodor Meron, who served as the President of the ICTY, Serbs – and I quote – “targeted for extinction the forty thousand Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica.” In your opinion, is Mr. Vitalis fully aware that the military operations he took part in resulted in the summary killings of more than 8,000 and the ethnic cleansing of approximately 30,000 people in July 1995? Is he aware that he took part in genocide?

TAKIS MICHAS: According to his own admissions, yes. However, just like Holocaust deniers, these people refuse to accept that mass killings took place in Srebrenica.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Your book revealed for the first time the presence of Greek paramilitaries in Bosnia. Why has Mr. Vitalis waited so many years since the publication of your book to file a suit?

TAKIS MICHAS: This is an interesting question. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that as I have hinted in other articles I am now in possession of confidential diplomatic documents that show the Greek authorities for the first time admitting the presence of Greek paramilitaries in Bosnia. Possibly they think that by putting pressure on me now they will prevent me publishing these documents. But this of course is only one explanation. There may be others.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Mr. Vitalis has claimed that the operations of the Greek volunteers “were widely endorsed by Greek society because of the warm friendship that existed between Andreas Papandreou and Radovan Karadzic.” To what extent did this friendship suggest that the government may have been involved?

TAKIS MICHAS: Obviously it involves government in the sense of knowing, tolerating and endorsing the open recruitment of Greek citizens with the aim of fighting against the legally recognized government of Bosnia. It certainly implicates the government of PASOK under Andreas Papandreou.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: I remember, and you also referred to this in your book, that leading Greek judges had publicly refused to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Considering that your right to a fair trial may be seriously impaired by the extreme ultranationalist atmosphere in Greece and the fact that Mr. Vitalis has announced that he plans to call leading Greek nationalist politicians as witnesses, I would like to know whether you intend to seek support from prominent international organizations that specialize in the protection of journalistic freedom?

TAKIS MICHAS: I will certainly be trying to spread the word. Judging from the lawsuit they have filed against me, I guess that from now on they will also be making the glorification of the Serb war effort in Bosnia one of their campaign themes.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Are you worried about the forthcoming trial?

TAKIS MICHAS: In any other European country this lawsuit would have been thrown out of court. But as I have said repeatedly Greece is not a normal European country. Given the spirit of extreme nationalism that permeates the country and the fact that Karadzic and Mladic are venerated as saints by the majority of the public and the political class, I have every reason to feel worried.

DANIEL TOLJAGA: Thank you for taking part in this interview. We will be keeping a close eye on the progress of your case.

Saturday, 8 August 2009 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Former Yugoslavia, Genocide, Greece, Serbia | , , , , , | 1 Comment