‘The largest single ethnic-cleansing operation of the Yugoslav wars’ – such was the soundbite that was linked to Operation Storm (Operacija Oluja), from soon after the successful Croatian military operation was waged back in August 1995. That atrocities were carried out by Croatian soldiers and civilians during and after the operation has never credibly been disputed. But the attempt to paint Oluja as an ethnic-cleansing operation – indeed as an ethnic-cleansing operation larger in scale than the Serbian assaults on Croatia and Bosnia in 1991-1992 – has always been rightly contested. Yesterday’s acquittal by the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) of Croatian commanders Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac for crimes against Serb civilians between July and September 1995, above all during ‘Operation Storm’, leaves the victims without justice, but represents a defeat for long-running attempts in the West to redistribute guilt from the aggressors to the victims.
Had the ICTY’s prosecution simply sought to indict, prosecute and punish Croats guilty of atrocities against Serbs in the period July-September 1995, it would no doubt have been successful, and the victims would have received at least some justice. Unfortunately, the prosecution attempted something more: to write the historical record of the wars of Yugoslav succession, in a manner that reflected the predominant perception of Western policy-makers. This perception was that, whereas the Serb side was responsible for the largest proportion of the crimes and killing, there was ultimately no fundamental difference in the guilt and actions of each of the sides during the war; it was merely a quantitative difference. In her published memoirs, Carla del Ponte, the Chief Prosecutor of the ICTY at the time when the original indictment against Gotovina was issued, explicitly equalised the blame of Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman as the two individuals primarily responsible for the war (Carla del Ponte and Chuck Sudetic, Madame Prosecutor: Confrontations with Humanity’s Worst War Criminals and the Culture of Impunity, Other Press, New York, 2008, pp. 37, 87, 125). Del Ponte was less of an equaliser than some others, and did at least insist on indicting some Serb perpetrators for genocide, in the face of resistance from other senior prosecution staff. But she also became inveigled in diplomatic and propaganda games with Serbian government ministers, who put her under pressure to prove that the Tribunal was not ‘anti-Serb’.
Consequently, the ICTY prosecutors pursued a policy of indictments that would result in judgements that would support their politics. As I have written before, these indictments thus disproportionately targeted Croatians, Bosnians and Kosovo Albanians; the forces of the Serb side were responsible for well over 80% of the killing of civilians during the whole of the wars of Yugoslav succession, but their officials made up only 68% of indictees. Only six officials of Serbia or the rump Yugoslavia, as opposed to Bosnian Serbs, were ever indicted for war-crimes in Bosnia. The top Yugoslav military commanders and presidency members who led the assaults on Croatia and Bosnia in 1991-1992 (Borisav Jovic, Branko Kostic, Veljko Kadijevic, Blagoje Adzic, Zivota Panic and others) were never indicted. Conversely, the ICTY prosecutors indicted such high-ranking and prominent Croatian and Bosnian officials as former Croatian Army chief of staff Janko Bobetko, Bosnia’s two most important military commanders Sefer Halilovic and Rasim Delic, and Bosnian commander in Srebrenica Naser Oric. When Alija Izetbegovic died in 2003, del Ponte indicated that he might have faced charges had he lived. Unfortunately for the prosecutors, however, the courts stubbornly refused to uphold the picture the prosecution sought to paint: Halilovic and Oric were acquitted, and Delic was sentenced to a mere three years in prison, after the prosecution had sought fifteen. Bobetko was already near death when he was indicted, and died before being extradited.
The sorry story of the Operation Storm indictments and trials should be seen against this background. In Operation Storm, the Croatians were not trying to conquer anyone else’s territory; they were engaged in a defensive operation to free their own territory from occupation by troops controlled by a foreign state (Serbia); troops that were engaged at the time in armed aggression against a neighbouring state (Bosnia) and threatening to carry out a further genocidal act against its population, following the genocidal massacre at Srebrenica a month before. As I have written, Operation Storm was a successful case of genocide prevention that saved the Muslim population in the Bihac enclave of north-west Bosnia from experiencing the fate of the people of Srebrenica. Yet for those seeking to equalise, as much as possible, the guilt of the sides in the former-Yugoslav war, Operation Storm had to be presented as a gratuitous act of ethnic-cleansing by Croat perpetrators against Serb victims – equivalent to the Serb crimes of 1991-1992.
The indictees, Gotovina, Markac and Ivan Cermak were accused of being part of a ‘Joint Criminal Enterprise’ (JCE) whose ‘common purpose’ was ‘the permanent removal of the Serb population from the Krajina region by force, fear or threat of force, persecution, forced displacement, transfer and deportation, appropriation and destruction of property or other means.’ This accusation therefore paralleled the prosecution’s accusations of a JCE levelled against the top Serbian leadership, whose goals were ‘the permanent removal of a majority of the Croat and other non-Serb population from a large part of the territory of the Republic of Croatia’ and ‘the forcible and permanent removal of the majority of non-Serbs, principally Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, from large areas of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina’. But Operation Storm had not involved the acts previously associated with ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia: the rounding up of civilians; their being made to sign away their property to the authorities; their imprisonment, torture and killing in concentration camps; their being bussed out of the area. Instead, at the time of Operation Storm, the Serb authorities themselves organised and ordered the evacuation of the Serb civilians in the face of the Croatian offensive; whatever their intentions, the Croatians never had the chance to organise their removal.
To attribute the exodus of Serb civilians to Croatian actions therefore required the prosecution to develop a new model of how ethnic cleansing occurs. The ICTY prosecutors therefore argued that the Croatians aimed and succeeded in bringing about the removal of the Serb population from the so-called Krajina by artillery bombardment. This was already a dubious proposition – towns in Bosnia had been shelled for years by Serb and Croat forces without their entire population fleeing overnight. The prosecution nevertheless argued – and the original ICTY Trial Chamber accepted – that the exodus of Serb civilians was caused by the bombardment, not by the orders given by the Krajina Serb authorities to evacuate. However, attributing the cause of the exodus to the bombardment was not enough to establish the existence of the JCE, in the absence of evidence that this had been the intent behind the bombardment. Since only the most ambiguous support could be found for the thesis in the statements of the Croatian leadership – above all, the minutes of the Brioni meeting of 31 July 1995 – the intent had to be deduced from the character of the Croatian artillery fire, and whether it appeared accurately to be directed at civilian targets. So the prosecution argued that the existence of a JCE could be deduced from the fact that the Croatian artillery had targeted civilian areas in the so-called Krajina, and that this bombardment succeeded in bringing about the exodus of the Serb population. But since the Croatian forces were engaged in a lawful military operation against enemy armed forces in control of those same civilian centres, the prosecution had to show that Croatian artillery fire was not simply a part of those operations. The existence of the JCE therefore stood or fell on an analysis of the accuracy of Croatian artillery fire. At The Hague on Friday, it fell like the house of cards it essentially was. Most of the judgement of the Appeals Chamber consists, somewhat surreally, of a lengthy analysis of Croatian artillery fire.
ICTY prosecutors have long demonstrated a confused understanding of the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Their indictments have tended to target ‘famous names’ and acts people in the West had heard of; hence the notorious Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan and Vojislav Seselj were indicted, instead of Serbian leaders less well known in the West, but whose responsibility for crimes was much greater. The accusation that the Croatian bombardment of Knin, the capital of the ‘Republic of Serb Krajina’, was a ‘war crime’ originated with the arch-appeaser Carl Bildt, who was the EU’s special envoy for the former Yugoslavia at the time of Operation Storm. It was made in the context of an EU strategy that opposed any military action against Serb forces – either on the part of the international community, or on the part of the Croatians and Bosnians – and that sought instead to achieve peace in the former Yugoslavia through collaboration with the regimes in Belgrade and Pale. Bildt’s loud condemnation, at the time, of the Croatian bombardment of Knin, and his suggestion that it was a war-crime for which Tudjman himself should be held responsible, may have stuck in the minds of ICTY investigators as they considered how to pick Croatians to indict. Yet Knin had suffered minimal damage and civilian casualties as a result of the bombardment, made in the course of a legitimate military operation to recapture the town. This was in stark contrast to Vukovar, which was wholly destroyed by Serbian forces in 1991, and for whose destruction nobody was indicted by the ICTY (though some were indicted for atrocities carried out against the patients at Vukovar Hospital after the town fell).
Seventeen years later, Bildt’s red herring regarding the bombardment of Knin has met its ignominious demise. Since the Appeals Chamber ruled that the existence of a JCE could not be deduced from the pattern of Croatian artillery fire, the central premise of the prosecution’s case was thrown out. And since Gotovina and Markac had been selected for indictment on the basis of this premise, the rest of the case against them collapsed with it: the Appeals Chamber ruled that they had either attempted to prevent crimes against Serb civilians and property, or had not had effective control of those Croatian forces that had committed them. Had the prosecutors not focused on a supposed JCE, but instead sought to indict Croatian perpetrators who could actually be definitely linked to actual killings, they would no doubt have succeeded.
The Appeals Chamber’s verdict has not exonerated the Croatian side of crimes carried out during and after Operation Storm; on the contrary, it explicitly refers to crimes against Serb civilians in its acquittal of Gotovina and Markac. These victims have not now received justice, and critics are right to point out that the ICTY has failed them. The failure should be attributed, however, to the prosecution’s flawed indictment, not to the decision of the Appeals Chamber.
Not all these critics have been ready to point out the converse: that long before this verdict, the ICTY had already failed the victims of Serbia’s aggression and ethnic cleansing against Croatia. Almost no official from Serbia, Montenegro or the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) has been prosecuted and seriously punished for crimes against Croatian citizens in 1991-1992. Of the three relatively minor JNA officers tried over the Vukovar Hospital massacre, one was acquitted (Miroslav Radic) and one freed after serving six and a half years in prison (Veselin Sljivancanin), while only the third received a lengthy punishment of 20 years (Mile Mrksic). Of those JNA officers or admirals indicted over the shelling of Dubrovnik, Miodrag Jokic received a seven-year sentence and was granted early release after three years; Pavle Strugar received seven and a half years and was released on compassionate grounds less than a year later; the indictment against Milan Zec was withdrawn; and Vladimir Kovacevic had his trial transferred to the Serbian courts. Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff Momcilo Perisic was sentenced to 27 years – not for his actions in Croatia in 1991-92, but in part for the rocket attack by the Krajina Serbs on Zagreb in May 1995. Otherwise, the ICTY’s punishment to date has spared Serbia and fallen on Croatia’s own ethnic-Serb citizens who collaborated in the aggression (Milan Babic and Milan Martic). No official of Serbia or the JNA has so far been convicted over the Serbian conquest and ethnic cleansing of the so-called Krajina in the first place – the crime that made Operation Storm necessary.
With the quashing of the Operation Storm sentences, the ICTY can be accurately said to have failed seriously to punish the officers on either side in the war between Serbia (including Montenegro and the JNA) and Croatia of 1990-1995. Whether, having failed to punish the Serbian officers who occupied Croatian territory, justice would have been better served had the ICTY at least succeeded in punishing some of the Croatian officers who defeated the occupation, is a moot point.
The start of Ratko Mladic’s trial today means that the most important Bosnian Serb war-criminal, alongside Radovan Karadzic, is now facing justice. This trial will be crucially important for two reasons.
Firstly, its proceedings may shed some light on the role of Serbia and its military in the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995. At the time of the massacre, Serbia was in a federal union with Montenegro, and the joint state went by the name of the ‘Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’ (Savezna Republika Jugoslavija – SRJ). Its army, the ‘Army of Yugoslavia’, provided logistical support for the Bosnian Serb army – the ‘Army of the Serb Republic’ – and its Croatian Serb counterpart, though these were formally independent of it. The minutes of the SRJ’s Supreme Defence Council (which comprised the presidents of ‘Yugoslavia’, Serbia and Montenegro) were recently used by the prosecution of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in its case against former Yugoslav army Chief of Staff Momcilo Perisic. They reveal that Perisic regularly appealed to the Supreme Defence Council to provide such logistical support to the Bosnian Serb military, and that these appeals continued up until the eve of the Srebrenica massacre. Hopefully, the trial of Mladic, alongside that of Perisic, will provide more information on the role of the Army of Yugoslavia during the Srebrenica massacre. Indeed, it is likely that Mladic’s ability to provide such information was one of the reasons that Serbia’s military shielded him from arrest for so long. This is, however, an optimistic hope, as Mladic is more likely to continue denying responsibility for the massacre and to shield his former protectors than he is to spill the beans.
The second, and more important reason why Mladic’s trial is important, is that it provides the best chance yet to prove that genocide occurred not only at Srebrenica in 1995, but in other places and at other times in Bosnia-Hercegovina as well. The judicial record on this question so far is ambiguous. Germany’s courts have convicted Bosnian Serb perpetrators for offences relating to genocide carried out in parts of Bosnia outside of Srebrenica. One of these, the paramilitary leader Nikola Jorgic, was convicted of genocide in the north Bosnian region of Doboj in 1992, but appealed his conviction all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. The latter upheld Jorgic’s conviction for genocide, ruling that the German courts’ definition of genocide was consistent with the international legal definition. The German and ECHR rulings on Jorgic corroborate the view that genocide occurred across Bosnia from 1992, not merely at Srebrenica in 1995. On the other hand, the International Court of Justice, in the case for genocide brought by Bosnia against Serbia, acquitted Serbia of all genocide-related charges apart from failure to prevent and punish genocide. The ICJ specifically stated that genocide in Bosnia occurred only at Srebrenica in 1992, not in other places or at other times. Mladic, however, stands accused by the ICTY prosecution of systematic genocide across both western and eastern Bosnia from May 1992. If Mladic is found guilty on all charges, the judicial record for a genocide in Bosnia that occurred across the country from 1992 to 1995 will be greatly strengthened.
Be this as it may, the significance of this trial, and of Mladic personally, should not be overstated. News reports have suggested that Mladic was, along with Serbia’s wartime president Slobodan Milosevic and the wartime Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, one of the three principal perpetrators of Serb war-crimes in Bosnia. In fact, the singling out of these three individuals, to the exclusion of all others, betrays a false understanding of the nature of the Great Serbian killing campaign and of how it was organised. In reality, the Serb military aggression against Bosnia and programme of mass killing of its non-Serb inhabitants was planned and organised by the regime in Belgrade; not merely by Milosevic the despot, but by a much wider circle of top political, military and police officials. This war followed on seamlessly from the prior war waged by Serbia against Croatia in 1991-1992.
Mladic, on the other hand, was merely a run-of-the-mill officer in the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) until well after the war in Croatia had begun. He served as chief of the Department for Instruction of the JNA’s 3rd Military District based in Skopje in Macedonia until January 1991, then as assistant to the commander of the Pristina Corps in Kosovo until July 1991, when he was transferred – still as a mere colonel – to Knin, which was the self-proclaimed capital of the Serb rebels in Croatia. He was appointed chief of staff of the 9th (Knin) Corps at the end of July, and played a central role in ethnic cleansing operations against Croatia. In October, after Serbia together with Montenegro had carried out a coup d’etat to establish exclusive control of the federal organs of rump Yugoslavia, including of the JNA, Mladic was promoted to major-general. From late November or early December 1991, as they were preparing to wind down the war in Croatia and to shift it to Bosnia, the Milosevic regime and the leadership of the JNA set about organising a Bosnian Serb military within the framework of the JNA, something that involved concentrating all Bosnian Serb soldiers and officers in the JNA on Bosnian territory. On 30 December, the rump Yugoslav presidency (i.e. the representatives of Serbia and Montenegro) established a new military district – the ‘2nd Military District’ – based in Sarajevo, that had jurisdiction over Mladic’s Knin Corps. At the same time, Mladic was promoted to commander of the Knin Corps.
Thus, when the JNA launched a full-scale war against Bosnia in March and April 1992, Mladic was not even based in Bosnia, but was still in the relatively junior position of commander of the Knin Corps, based in Serb-occupied Croatia. He nevertheless participated in the start of the aggression against Bosnia; his forces captured the town of Kupres in south-west Bosnia from its predominantly Bosnian Croat defenders on 8 April 1992 and helped to organise the future Bosnian Serb army in that region of the country, after which he returned to the Knin region for further operations against the Croatian Army.
On 27 April 1992, Milosevic’s regime proclaimed the new ‘Yugoslavia’ – i.e., the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SRJ), consisting only of Serbia and Montenegro. The Bosnian Serb rebel entity, subsequently known as the ‘Republika Srpska’, had already proclaimed independence a month before. By establishing the SRJ and the Bosnian Serb republic as formally separate states, the Milosevic regime aimed to pretend to the world that it was not involved in the war in Bosnia, and that this war was really just a ‘civil war’. This necessitated a formally independent Bosnian Serb army, separate from the Yugoslav army, and Mladic was handpicked by Belgrade to be its commander. On 30 April, Milosevic and other top officials of Serbia, Montenegro and the JNA met with the Bosnian Serb leaders under Radovan Karadzic to arrange the formation of a Bosnian Serb army, and it was agreed that Mladic – who had been promoted to lieutenant general only a few days before – would serve as its commander. In early May, JNA Chief of Staff and acting Yugoslav defence minister Blagoje Adzic summoned Mladic to Belgrade to inform him that he was to be promoted to both commander and chief of staff of the JNA’s 2nd Military District, based in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. At about the same time, the acting president of the Yugoslav presidency, Branko Kostic, ordered the previous JNA incumbent of the post to surrender his duties to Mladic, whose appointment as commander of the 2nd Military District was reported by Belgrade TV on 9 May.
Mladic subsequently recalled that ‘When I took up duty in the 2nd Military District I immediately assigned myself the task of assembling men and forming a command and General Staff, partly from the remnants of the 2nd Military District and partly from the men who had come with me from Knin and from other areas, who were born in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We immediately began the formation of a General Staff of the [Bosnian] Serb Army.’ On 12 May, the self-declared Bosnian Serb parliament voted to establish a Bosnian Serb army incorporating all JNA units on Bosnian territory, and to appoint Mladic as its commander. Yet the law was not promulgated by the presidency of the self-declared Bosnian Serb republic until 19 May. Until that time, Mladic was still formally subordinate, along with all Serb forces on Bosnian territory, to the Yugoslav military command and Yugoslav presidency in Belgrade. Only on 19 May did the the JNA formally split into two separate armies: the ‘Army of Yugoslavia’, made up of troops from Serbia and Montenegro, which formally withdrew from Bosnia on the same date; and the ‘Army of the Serb Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina’, subsequently simply the ‘Army of the Serb Republic’, headed by Mladic and now formally independent.
In other words, although Mladic played a prominent and significant role in the Serb military assault on Bosnia that began full-scale in the spring of 1992, he was far from being its chief instigator or organiser. The latter was the political and military leadership of Serbia, Montenegro and the Yugoslav People’s Army, which handpicked and groomed Mladic for the role. Attributing excessive importance to Mladic as organiser of the war in Bosnia downplays the party that was actually responsible: the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.
War crimes investigators at the ICTY were aware of how the war and mass killing in Bosnia were organised. According to the amended indictment of Milosevic for war crimes in Bosnia:
‘Slobodan MILOSEVIC participated in the joint criminal enterprise as set out below. The purpose of this joint criminal enterprise was the forcible and permanent removal of the majority of non-Serbs, principally Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, from large areas of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (hereinafter referred to as “Bosnia and Herzegovina”), through the commission of crimes which are in violation of Articles 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the Statute of the Tribunal. The joint criminal enterprise was in existence by 1 August 1991 and continued until at least 31 December 1995. The individuals participating in this joint criminal enterprise included Slobodan MILOSEVIC, Radovan KARADZIC, Momcilo KRAJISNIK, Biljana PLAVSIC, General Ratko MLADIC, Borisav JOVIC, Branko KOSTIC, Veljko KADIJEVIC, Blagoje ADZIC, Milan MARTIC, Jovica STANISIC, Franko SIMATOVIC, also known as “Frenki,” Radovan STOJICIC, also known as “Badza,” Vojislav SESELJ, Zeljko RAZNATOVIC, also known as “Arkan,” and other known and unknown participants.’
However, at the time of writing, not a single official of Serbia, Montenegro or the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – i.e. of the regime that organised the war – nor any officer of the JNA (excluding officers of the Bosnian Serb army who had previously served in the JNA) has been convicted by the ICTY of war crimes in Bosnia. The weight of ICTY punishment has, so far, fallen exclusively on the Bosnian Serbs, while the regime of Milosevic in Belgrade and the leadership of the JNA have been mostly let off the hook. Only six such officials were ever indicted: Milosevic, Stanisic, Simatovic, Perisic, Arkan and Seselj. Arkan was assassinated before he could be arrested, while Milosevic died while his trial was in progress. This leaves a maximum of four representatives of the regime who could, if the prosecution is wholly successful, receive punishment for organising the worst case of aggression and mass killing in Europe since World War II. None of these belonged to the top rank of officials responsible for organising the war in Bosnia, with the exception of Stanisic, who was head of Serbia’s State Security Service.
Of the other representatives of the ‘joint criminal enterprise’ from Serbia, Montenegro and the JNA high command who were listed in the Milosevic indictment, Stojicic was assassinated in Belgrade before the indictment was issued. Adzic and Kadijevic, the two top figures in the JNA during the war in Croatia and (in Adzic’s case) during the first stage of the war in Bosnia, were never indicted. Neither were Jovic and Kostic, the Yugoslav presidency members for Serbia and Montenegro respectively, and therefore (along with their counterparts for Vojvodina and Kosovo) the individuals in ultimate formal command of all Serb forces in Croatia and Bosnia up until 19 May 1992. Other top officials of Serbia, Montenegro and the JNA also escaped indictment over Bosnia or Croatia – such as Montenegro’s wartime president Momir Bulatovic, and acting Yugoslav army chief of staff Zivota Panic (who died in 2003).
Some relatively minor JNA figures were indicted for war-crimes in Croatia, in relation to Vukovar and Dubrovnik, but over Croatia, as over Bosnia, the weight of the ICTY’s punishment has fallen on the Croatian Serb agents of Belgrade – such as Milan Martic and Milan Babic (and potentially also the still unarrested Goran Hadzic) – while the officials of the former Milosevic regime have escaped extremely lightly.
This extraordinary failure of international justice over Bosnia – the failure of the ICTY to indict more than a handful of the officials of the regime and army responsible for the planning and launching the war, and so far to convict a single one of them – reflects both the inability of its prosecutors to understand the war properly, as well as their poor strategy in issuing indictments. As I have indicated elsewhere, a preliminary draft of a war-crimes indictment for the leadership of the SRJ (Serbia and Montenegro) drawn up in 2001 by investigators – including the present author – aimed to indict Milosevic and other members of his regime together, including Jovic, Kostic and Adzic. But by a decision of Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte, the policy was then dropped in favour of an indictment of Milosevic alone. Apart from allowing his chief collaborators to escape justice, this had the unfortunate effect – as Geoffrey Nice, who led the prosecution of Milosevic, himself noted – that when Milosevic died in 2006, his trial came to an end, and with it, the trial of his regime. This contrasts with the sensible indictment strategy pursued over Serbian war-crimes in Kosovo by del Ponte’s predecessor, Louise Arbour, who indicted five top members of the regime together, including Milosevic.
In her published memoirs, del Ponte’s failure to understand the planning and organising of the war in Bosnia is apparent; it is a failure that found expression in her misguided indictment strategy. She describes Milosevic and Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman as the two figures primarily responsible for the break up of Yugoslavia – as if their respective roles in the process were equal, and as if none of the other leading members of Milosevic’s Belgrade regime was of similar importance. But this is false.
The break up of Yugoslavia and the wars in Croatia and Bosnia all formed part of a single process, planned by the regime in Belgrade under Milosevic’s leadership from at least the spring of 1990, with the goal of creating a Great Serbia (masquerading as a ‘new Yugoslavia’). So far as Bosnia was concerned, this ‘joint criminal enterprise’ aimed to destroy the country and kill or expel most of the Muslim or Bosniak population. Most of Bosnia, as well as large parts of Croatia, were to be annexed by Serbia, and rump Croatia was to receive some Bosnian territory as well, with the Muslims or Bosniaks, at best, being confined to an Indian reservation in between. Tudjman was an eager collaborator in this programme of genocide and aggression, whose other leading members were, in particular, the aforementioned Jovic, Kostic, Kadijevic, Adzic, Stanisic, Panic and Bulatovic. None of these has yet been punished, and most of them certainly never will be.
As for Mladic, he was merely a middle-ranking agent in the planning and launching of this enterprise – more than a pawn, but not more than a knight or a bishop. So while his arrest and trial should be celebrated, and while we have much to expect from it, let us not pretend that justice is being served.
The justice or injustice of a cause may in large part be measured by the ethics displayed by those who uphold it. The ongoing campaign to whitewash the former regimes of Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic and to justify their genocidal crimes against the Bosniaks is about as unworthy a cause as it is possible to imagine; consequently, the people who wage it do so in the most dishonest and malicious manner possible. Their campaign is fundamentally an expression of hatred – for Bosniaks, Croats, Albanians, anti-fascist Serbs, Jews and others who opposed the genocide. So their tactics are of the most hateful kind, involving systematic character assassination and racist and anti-Semitic abuse of those who speak about the genocide and the ideology that gave rise to it.
‘The Jews have had a disproportionate impact’
Most recently, a libellous and racist hate-campaign has been waged by the genocide-deniers – above all, Islamophobic far-right elements in North America – against members of the Institute for the Research of Genocide, Canada (IRGC), which among other things, campaigns against Bosnia genocide-denial. This campaign has accelerated following the decision last month of the Canadian authorities to deny entry into Canada of Srdja Trifkovic, a man who regularly engages in hate-speech against Islam and Muslims. Trifkovic had been invited by a Serbian students’ organisation at the University of British Columbia to give a speech at one of their meetings, but was barred from Canada because he had been an official of the wartime regime of ‘Republika Srpska’, hence ‘for being a proscribed senior official in the service of a government that, in the opinion of the minister, engages or has engaged in terrorism, systematic or gross human rights violations, or genocide, a war crime or a crime against humanity within the meaning of subsections 6 (3) to (5) of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.’
[I had personally written to Professor Stephen J. Toope, President of UBC, urging him to prevent Trifkovic from giving his talk. While I respect the right of genocide deniers to engage in genocide denial, I draw the line at allowing inciters of hatred against ethnic or religious groups to speak at universities, as I consider this an infringement on the rights of staff and students at the universities in question to work and study free from the fear of persecution or harassment. However, it was the Canadian authorities, not the UBC, that ultimately prevented Trifkovic from speaking.]
Supporters of Trifkovic responded to their setback with a campaign of personal defamation directed against members of the IRGC. The anti-Muslim hate-site ‘Gates of Vienna’ denounced the IRGC as ‘Jew-haters’, though without being able to quote a single anti-Semitic statement made by any of its members. This smear was a repeat of one levelled by Trifkovic himself against Professor Emir Ramic, the IRGC’s chairman, on the website of an extreme right-wing organisation, ‘The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’, run by former Canadian ambassador James Bissett. Trifkovic accused Ramic of being a ‘Jew-hating jihadist’ – again, without being able to produce a single piece of evidence that Ramic was either anti-Semitic, or that he supported jihad [since the articles in question are extremely libellous, I’m not going to link to them].
The basis for the accusation was the claim that Ramic was a member of the editorial board of a Bosnian journal called ‘Korak‘, that has published some viciously anti-Israel articles. The articles in question were, indeed, viciously anti-Israel. But Ramic is not a member of the editorial board of the journal in question, so the accusation is totally false. The second basis for the accusation is that Korak‘s editor, Asaf Dzanic, is a member of the IRGC’s board of directors. Yet, as anyone can see from the IRGC’s website, its board of directors is very large and diverse, numbering over 120, and includes several eminent Jewish members, including the famous Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Most of these members, including Dzanic, are in the capacity of an ‘International Team of Experts’. The website also carries a powerful defence of the IRGC from the smears of Trifkovic and the ‘Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’, written by the Israeli writer Marjan Hajnal – also a member of the IRGC’s board of directors. The smearing of the entire institute as ‘Jew-hating’ and its director as ‘jihadi’ is, therefore, a desperate clutching at straws on the part of the Srebrenica deniers.
The ‘Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies’ has also accused Ramic and the IRGC of ‘Holocaust denial’. Again, not a single piece of evidence was produced to substantiate this very serious charge. In fact, the charge of ‘Holocaust denial’ was made after the IRGC had weeks earlier published, and prominently displayed on its website, an article marking Holocaust Memorial Day and paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, which made clear ‘The Holocaust of World War ll was the despicable, systematic process of torturing and murdering nearly six million European Jews, by German Nazis. Approximately two-thirds of nine million European Jews were murdered throughout that particular Holocaust.’
The irony of such smears is all the greater in that Trifkovic himself, unlike Ramic, is on record as having made anti-Semitic statements. Trifkovic has stated:
‘To claim that the traditional Right is “anti-Jewish” is to imply that it is gripped by an irrational prejudice. Such accusation is untrue and unfair.
It is true, however, that the traditional Right is inevitably antipathetic to certain modes of thought and feeling, to a peculiar Weltanschauung and the resulting forms of public and intra-communal discourse, which are quite properly perceived as specifically Jewish.
Historically, Talmudic Judaism’s insistence on the Jews’ racial uniqueness — emphasized by the ritual and dietary laws of Talmudic Judaism and on its view of Christians as idolaters — has ensured that a Jew steeped in his own tradition could not view traditional European or American conservatism with sympathy. His tradition was a form of elaborate survival mechanism based on the zero-sum view of a world divided into “us” and “them.” The Gentile was “the Other” ab initio and for ever.
In addition, since the late 1800’s the Jews have had a disproportionate impact on a host of intellectual trends and political movements which have fundamentally altered the civilization of Europe and its overseas offspring in a manner deeply detrimental to the family, nation, culture, racial solidarity, social coherence, tradition, morality and faith. Spontaneously or deliberately, those ideas and movements — Marxism (including neoconservatism as the bastard child of Trotskyism), Freudianism, Frankfurt School cultural criticism, Boasian anthropology, etc. — have eroded “the West” to the point where its demographic and cultural survival is uncertain. The erosion is continuing, allegedly in the name of propositional principles and universal values, and it is pursued with escalating ferocity.’
‘Even when Jews don’t come out smelling like roses’
The extreme right-wing and viciously racist and Islamophobic American commenter Julia Gorin has apologised for Trifkovic’s anti-Semitism in the following manner:
‘While virgin eyes (mainstream readers and anyone not experienced in sorting out the intricacies and boundaries of what is and isn’t OK to say about Jews) will read the paragraphs as “anti-Semitic,” the views expressed aren’t unlike what I and any number of other Jewish conservatives have written in an effort to tame the Jewish predisposition toward cynicism about, and dismantling of, the traditional values of, yes, white-established societies… It’s not reading that would be palatable to the mainstream, but conservative readers — including Jewish conservatives — are known to have a slightly higher tolerance for truth, even when Jews don’t come out smelling like roses.’
Thus, Trifkovic and Gorin have no problem with anti-Semitism, but do have a problem with those, like Ramic and the IRGC, that oppose Srebrenica genocide denial. Gorin’s apologia for Trifkovic’s anti-Semitism was made in the course of an article denying the genocide at Srebrenica. Again, unlike Ramic, Gorin is an unabashed anti-Albanian, anti-Croat and anti-Bosniak racist. Commenting on a recent obituary of the Croatian journalist Chris Cviic, a long-standing resident of the UK and recipient of the OBE, which stated ‘He is survived by his widow, Celia, and a son and a daughter’, Gorin commented ‘Yayyyy! More little Ustashas running rampant in the West.’ In response to a story in the British rag-sheet The Daily Star about the alleged activities of Kosovo Albanian immigrants in the UK, entitled ‘Kosovan squatters stole my loo’, Gorin commented ‘Ah, the Albanian specialty: invading someone’s home and stripping it bare. (See Kosovo, Serbia.) Then they get to do it again at the UK government’s expense. What the hell are they going to do with the toilet? Do they even know what it’s for?’ Racists like Gorin typify the Srebrenica deniers. Another Srebrenica genocide denier, Nebojsa Malic of Antiwar.com, has also made racist statements about Albanians, describing them as ‘medieval barbarians‘.
Srebrenica denial and anti-Semitism frequently go hand in hand. The anti-Semite, Holocaust denier and associate of Julian Assange who goes by the name of ‘Israel Shamir’ is a Srebrenica denier and has written ‘Many war atrocity stories are just stories – from Srebrenica to Kosovo “killing fields”, from Saddam Hussein’s WMD to Belgian babies on German bayonets of the WWI, from Kuwait’s incubator to anti-communist inventions of the Black Book.’ Shamir was one of a group of Srebrenica deniers, including Edward S. Herman and Diana Johnstone, who wrote an open letter to the Serbian parliament calling on them not to recognise the Srebrenica massacre.
‘This self-serving Jew’
Srebrenica genocide denial tends to go hand-in-hand with the denial of the genocidal crimes carried out by Serbian Nazi quislings and collaborators during World War II. When the Milosevic and Karadzic regimes waged their war for a Great Serbia in the 1990s, a major element in their propaganda was the equation of the entire Croat and Bosniak nations with the Ustashas (Croatian fascists) of World War II. The reality was that the Serb, Croat and Bosniak nations during World War II were all divided between anti-fascists and quislings or collaborators. Thus, the Nazi-quisling camp included Croat Ustashas, Serb Nedicites and Ljoticites and Muslim soldiers of the SS Handzar Division, while the anti-fascist Yugoslav Partisans comprised Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and others. But the Great Serbian nationalists of the 1990s waged a hate-campaign against Croats and Bosniaks, seeking to equate the entire Croat and Bosniak nations with the Ustashas.
One man who saw through this propaganda early on was the Jewish American medical doctor Philip J. Cohen. As Philip told me when I met him back in the mid-1990s in the US, he approached the Bosnian genocide as a Jew who knew the history of the Holocaust and the failure of the world to prevent it, and felt strongly that something similar should not be allowed to happen again. He was not in the slightest bit taken in by the Serb-nationalist campaign to equate all Croats and Bosniaks with the Ustashas, and responded to it by researching and writing the book Serbia’s Secret War. This book traced the history of anti-Semitism in Serbia and the role of Serbian quislings and collaborators in the Holocaust. It therefore demolished the myth that in the former Yugoslavia, it had only been Croats and Bosniaks who had produced quislings, or engaged in anti-Jewish actions. And although Cohen was not a professional historian or academic, the book is very good.
Needless to say, Cohen does not in any way deny the crimes of the Croatian Ustashas against Jews, Serbs or others. But his exposure of the crimes of Serbian quislings against Jews in World War II led to his being the subject of an anti-Semitic denunciation by a Serb nationalist writer called Vasilije Todorovic, who published an open letter in 1996 claiming (falsely) that ‘Cohen, this self-serving Jew, has even managed to condone the killing of 60,000 Jews in WW II, by the very Croatians from whom he receives his major support. I believe you Jews call this, Chutzpah!’ And ‘How astonishing that for 46 years the Roman Church and its Vatican failed to recognize Israel. Now this upstart Jew, Philip Cohen, defends their actions.’ Todorovic extended his attack on Cohen into a general diatribe against Jews: ‘There are no Spielberg movies made about these brave Serbian families who saved Jews. At the opening of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Serbs were totally ignored as the Museum honored a Roman Catholic woman for saving the lives of 6 Jews.’ Furthermore, ‘Cohen omits the documents that reveal that Jews also joined the Ustasha and the Partisans and murdered numerous loyalists Serbs. In Cohen’s personal secret war against the Serbs, no mention is made that many of the Croatian Nazi officers had Jewish wives.’ And so on.
Todorovic’s article was written fifteen years ago, but the attacks on Cohen for having the temerity to write of the activities of Serbian Nazi quislings have continued. Two years ago, the amateur Serbian-American historian Carl Savich attempted to smear Cohen by claiming that he hadn’t even written his own book:
‘Philip J. Cohen is a medical doctor, a dermatologist with no background or training in history, let alone the World War II history of Serbia. Moreover, he has no knowledge of the Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian languages. How could he have written Serbia’s Secret War, which required a detailed and exhaustive analysis and research of Serbian language documents? Such a massive undertaking would require a thorough knowledge of the historical debates and nuances involed in the issues examined. Cohen couldn’t have written it. And he didn’t write it. Cohen was the front, the front man in a Croatian propaganda hoax. Because Croatia was a satellite, proxy, and client state of the U.S., Cohen received U.S. support and backing. The screed buttressed the anti-Serbian U.S. infowar and propagnada war.’
Savich claimed that Serbia’s Secret War had actually been written by a Croatian historian called Ljubica Stefan. He offered not a shred of evidence for his allegations.
I can personally testify that Cohen is the author of Serbia’s Secret War. At the time he was writing it, I met him at a seminar at Yale University, where I was studying at the time, and he asked me to assist him in working on the manuscript to his book. Consequently, I read his manuscript, made comments on it, then stayed with him at his home for two or three days and helped him work through some of the documents he had yet to analyse. Although Philip did not read Serbo-Croat himself, he told me he had benefited from a lot of assistance, in translating documents, from the Croatian writer Anto Knezevic. Having spoken with him at length and seen his library and archive, I know for a fact that Savich’s allegations are complete fabrications.
‘Other prominent Jews would apply the same techniques against the Serbian Orthodox population’
Savich is not a real historian and has no qualifications in history other than a Master’s degree, so it may not be surprising that his treatment of historical fact is less than professional. But he is also himself ready to engage in anti-Semitic writing. Here is a comment he wrote on the history of Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia:
‘One consequence of the Austrian occupation of Bosnia was that Sarajevo and other Bosnian cities were flooded with over 9,500 bureaucrats and administrators and commercial and trade interests. Many of these were Ashkenazi Jews. Austrian Jews sought to benefit from the annexation and occupation of Bosnia. Racism and bigotry are based in self-interest. The racist attack against Orthodox Serbs by the Jew Freundlich can be explained in this way. His moral outrage is selective and self-interested. Austrian Jews would gain economic advantages by the Austrian occupation of Bosnia. Remarkaby, Roy Gutman, Anthony Lewis, Susan Sontag, James Rubin, and other prominent Jews would apply the same techniques against the Serbian Orthodox population, i.e, professing a disingenuous concern for the human rights of the Albanians and Bosnian Muslims, at the same time ignoring the genocide and repression of the Palestinian population by the zealous Zionist nationalist government in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which were being illegaly settled by Jewish settlers. There was little concern for the human rights of the Palestinians, Kurds, or Basques. There is a dictum: Follow the money trail. Self-interest goes a long way in explaining the bias. Thus, under Austrian occupation, there were thousands of occupation administrators and bureaucrats, many of whom were Jewish.’
Savich is himself an apologist for the Nazi-quisling Nedic regime that ran German-occupied Serbia, claiming that it had ‘no choice in the matter of its collaboration’, that it was no different from the Judenraete in occupied Poland and the Soviet Union, and that it played no role in running concentration camps. All these claims are false.
Savich’s smear, of course, targeted not only Cohen, but also Ljubica Stefan. Stefan is listed among the ‘Righteous among Nations’ at Israel’s Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem, as a Croatian who protected Jews during the Holocaust. This is what Savich has to say about her (again, without producing any evidence whatsoever):
‘Although she lived most of her life in Serbia, she was an ethnic Croatian. She lived and worked in Belgrade. She knew the Serbian language. She had access to Serbian documents and archives. Also, as a hack historian, a pseudo-historian, someone below the radar, she did not have to concern herself about academic or scholarly accountability. Moreover, everything that appears in the Cohen text also appears in propaganda screeds published by or attributed to Stefan when she worked for the Croatian Government Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Stefan worked closely with Croatian ultra-nationalist Franjo Tudjman in rehabilitating the Ustasha regime and engaged in historical revisionism by attempting to equate Serbia’s role during the Holocaust with that of Croatia’s Ustasha NDH government.’
So Savich, who has no academic qualifications beyond a Master’s degree and who is an apologist for the Nazi-quisling Nedic regime, accuses Stefan, who was a tenured professor at a Belgrade faculty and who actually protected Jews during the Holocaust, of being a ‘pseudo-historian’ guilty of ‘historical revisionism.
‘Agent of imperialism’
Anti-fascist Serbs, as much as non-Serbs, can become victims of racism when they oppose the activities of the Serbian extreme-right. The Serbian human-rights activist Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, a frequent victim of physical harassment and defamation at the hands of Serbian fascist thugs and their rag-sheets, is periodically denounced by them as a ‘lesbian’. But she has also been denounced for supposedly not being of pure Serbian racial stock. Thus, an anonymous Srebrenica genocide denier – whose genocide denial subsequently led to him being banned by the proprietor of Modernity Blog – challenged my description of her as ‘Serbian’ in the following terms: ‘Serbian, eh? Funny thing is, Sonja Biserko keeps her biographical details well hidden. A wiki page lists her as Croatian, whereas a poster on some forum claims that: her brother was a member of Croatian troops, so called “Zbor narodne garde” and was killed in fight with Krajina Serbs.‘
The anonymous creep in question challenged me to confirm or deny the truth of his rumours. This sort of malicious gossip always puts us in a difficult position, as however unlikely it is that such rumours are true, we cannot formally deny them unless we know for certainty that they are false. Readers may recall the rumour that former Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic recruited for the SS during World War II; no evidence has ever been produced to substantiate this claim, so we have to assume that it is false, particularly given the seriousness of the charge. But I cannot say for absolute certainty that it is untrue.
However, having now researched the matter, I can say for absolute, 100% certainty that Biserko’s brother was not a member of the Croatian armed forces, and was not killed in combat with Serb forces. He was not even present in Croatia during the war. As for the claim that Sonja is ‘Croatian’ rather than Serbian; since she is a Serbian citizen, was born in Belgrade and since her father was an ethnic Serb, the smear entirely rests on the fact that her mother is an ethnic Croat. The suggestion being that any Serb whose background isn’t 100% ethnically pure is ‘not really’ Serb at all.
The idea that someone’s patriotism can be called into question on the basis of their ‘alien’ ethnic background has been a favourite of the far right since the Dreyfus Affair. In reailty, people from ethnically non-Serb or mixed backgrounds, including ethnic Croats and Bosniaks, have often become hardline Serb nationalists, or supported the Milosevic regime – examples are Emir Kusturica, Jovan Zametica, Franko Simatovic and Mihalj Kertes. The Serbian fascist leader Vojislav Seselj was frequently accused of being an ethnic Croat, on the grounds that ‘Seselj’ is a Croat surname – he was pathetically reduced to obtaining a certificate from the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (for which he allegedly paid a small sum in deutschmarks) to ‘prove’ he was ‘genuinely’ Serb.
As a footnote, the smear against Sonja was posted on the ‘Aaronovitch Watch’ malicious-gossip site, about which I have recently written, and is entirely characteristic of the sort of material that is posted there. Biserko’s smearer was actively encouraged to post malicious rumours about me as well by the blog’s proprietor, the Guardian columnist and Credit Suisse stockbroker Daniel Davies (interestingly, Credit Suisse is the same company for which the late Richard Holbrooke worked). Evidence suggests that Davies may not be entirely neutral in former-Yugoslav matters; he has spoken of his friendship with the blogger Splintered Sunrise, a sympathiser of the neo-Nazi Serbian Radical Party; and of Christopher Deliso, author of a viciously Islamophobic propaganda tract about Balkan Muslims significantly entitled The coming Balkan caliphate (which I have dissected), which itself draws heavily on the ‘work’ of Srebrenica genocide deniers, in particular Darko Trifunovic, but also Nebojsa Malic. Davies has also stated that during the war in the former Yugoslavia, ‘I actually had a certain amount of sympathy for the Serbian Republic (though not the Bosnian Serbs)’.
Davies’s friend Splintered Sunrise has himself described Biserko as an ‘agent of imperialism’ in a comment on the Lenin’s Tomb blog (the comments are no longer visible online, but I possess the print-out). A further example of demonisation and character assassination that is entirely characteristic.
Hat tip: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Everyone knows that the United States of America is totally to blame for absolutely everything that is wrong with the world today. Any crisis or conflict in any part of the world is, one way or another, the fault of the US and its imperialistic policies. American intervention in a given region should always be opposed and condemned unreservedly, since everything that is wrong in that region was caused by an earlier act of American intervention – if you go back far enough, you’ll always find one. The US is always intervening for a bad reason, whether it is to grab oil supplies or patronisingly to impose its Western ‘democratic’ values on foreign peoples whose own, different values it doesn’t respect. Yet neither should the US be let off the hook when it doesn’t intervene; we should never stop pointing out that if the US cared so much about freedom and democracy, it wouldn’t turn a blind eye to their absence in Saudia Arabia or Pakistan. We must cut the US no slack: it should be condemned when it invades or bombs other countries; when it starves countries to death with sanctions; when it demonises them with its media; when it hypocritically points out their human-rights abuses instead of minding its own business; and when it enjoys peaceful and friendly relations with them – trading with them and selling them weapons despite their poor human-rights records. The US will sometimes wage illegal wars without the consent of the UN Security Council, yet on other occasions it will work through the UN, proving that the UN is an American tool. Whatever policy the US adopts is being done for reasons of self-interest, so all its policies must be opposed, no matter what they are. In sum, there is no higher nor more noble cause than the cause of being against the US.
This, at least, is what every fashionable, right-on, politically correct person worth his or her salt feels in his or her heart to be true.
Well, the peoples of the former Yugoslavia need no lessons from anyone about how to have a go at Uncle Sam – they have produced more than their fair share of notable and colourful anti-Americans. In fact, they may have a thing or two to teach the rest of the world on this score. Many former Yugoslavs were upset by the US’s insistence that they cooperate with the UN war-crimes tribunal in the Hague. Some muttered that the US had no right to lecture them on war crimes, given the US’s own extermination of its native Amercian population. Highlights in the history of former-Yugoslav anti-Americanism include Croatian President Franjo Tudjman signing a declaration of friendship and cooperation with Russia’s Boris Yeltsin as a response to US pressure over the Hague tribunal; Serbian warlord Zeljko Raznatovic-Arkan’s challenge, ‘I will go to a war-crimes tribunal when Americans are tried for Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam, Cambodia and Panama’; and Serbian politician Vojislav Seselj’s response to the 9-11 attacks, ‘I have never forgotten the thousands of Serb civilians who died under NATO’s bombs – the United States has reaped what it has sowed around the world.’
But who was the most anti-American of them all ? See if you can guess in this one-question Former-Yugoslav Anti-Americanism Quiz.
Question One: Who was the only ruler from the former Yugoslavia actually to declare war on the US, citing the ‘blatant endeavours of the United States of America’ to ‘establish for itself a hegemonic position, on the basis of which it would in ever greater measure impose its plutocratic domination on all other nations’ ?
1) The Communist ruler Josip Broz Tito, President of the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia
2) The Ustasha ruler Ante Pavelic, Poglavnik (Fuehrer) of the ‘Independent State of Croatia’
3) The Socialist ruler Slobodan Milosevic, President of the Republic of Serbia
To find the answer, click here.
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left
- World War II