I’ve just used a Christmas book token to purchase the latest Noam Chomsky. Well, I say “latest” but in fact the modestly entitled ‘How The World Works’ is, in fact, a collection of “intensively edited speeches and interviews” (writes editor Arthur Naiman) from the 1990s and (in some cases) the late 1980s.
Above: the old genocide-denier himself
Both Naiman and David Barsamian, who conducted the interviews that make up most of the book, are clearly uncritical Chomsky fans, almost breathless in their hero-worship. Naiman writes “I think you’ll find Chomsky’s take on things more insightful than anything you hear on the airwaves or read in the papers today. His analyses are so deep and farsighted that they only seem to get more timely — and startling — with age. Read a few pages and see if you don’t agree.”
Not to be outdone, Barsamian writes “Chomsky is an electrifying speaker, and that’s due solely to what he says, not to the unpretentious, straightforward way in which he says it (he consciously avoids rhetorical flourishes). Sharp as a razer in debate but warm and amiable in convesation, he’s both the most moral and most knowledgable person I’ve ever met.
“I hope he lives to be 100. You should too. The world will be an emptier, lonlier and less just place without him.”
Given the period in which most of the speeches and interviews took place, and also some previous criticisms that I’ve made of Chomsky, I first checked the contents and index to see what the book contained about former Yugoslavia and the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo; I was surprised to find just one piece on the subject, an interview that seems to be from the early 1990’s. Even more surprising, in the light of some of what Chomsky has written and said on the subject since, is the anodyne nature of what he has to say. In answer to the question “Would you comment on the events in the former Yugoslavia, which constitute the greatest outburst of violence in Europe in fifty years — tens of thousands killed, hundreds of thousands of refugees. This isn’t some remote place like East Timor we’re talking about — this is Europe –and it’s on the news every night”, Chomsky replies:
In a certain sense, what’s happening is that the British and American right wings are getting what they asked for. Since the 1940s they’ve been quite bitter about the fact that Western support turned to Tito and the partisans, and against Mikailhovich and his Chetniks, and the Croatian anti-Communists, including the Ustasha, who were outright Nazis. The Chetniks were also playing with the Nazis and were trying to overcome the partisans.
The partisan victory imposed a communist dictatorship, but it also federated the country. It suppressed the ethnic violence that had accompanied the hatreds and created the basis of some sort of functioning society in which the parts had their role. We’re now essentially back in the 1940s, but without the partisans.
Serbia is the inheritor of the Chetniks and their ideology. Croatia is the inheritor of the Ustasha and its ideology (less ferocious than the Nazi original, but similar). It’s possible that they’re now carrying out pretty much what they would’ve done if the partisans hadn’t won.
Of course, the leadership of these elements comes from the Communist party, but that’s because every thug in the region went into the ruling apparatus. (Yeltsin, for example, was a Communist party boss.)
It’s interesting that the right wing in the West — at least its more honest elements — defend much of what’s happening. For example, Nora Beloff, a right-wing British commentator on Yugoslavia, wrote a letter to the London Economist condemning those who denounce the Serbs in Bosnia. She’s saying it’s the fault of the Muslims. They’re refusing to accommodate the Serbs, who are just defending themselves.
She’s been a supporter of the Chetniks from way back, so there’s no reason why she shouldn’t continue to support Chetnik violence (which is what this amounts to). Of course there may be another factor. She’s an extremist Zionist, and the fact that the Muslims are involved already makes them guilty.
Some say that, just as the Allies should have bombed the rail lines to Auschwitz to prevent the deaths of many people in concentration camps, so we should now bomb the Serbian gun positions surrounding Sarajevo that have kept that city under siege. Would you advocate the use of force?
First of all, there’s a good deal of debate about how much effect bombing the rail lines to Auschwitz would have had. Putting that aside, it seems to me that a judicious threat and use of force, not by the Western powers but by some international or multinational group, might, at an earlier stage, have suppressed a good deal of the violence and maybe blocked it. I don’t know if it would help now.
If it were possible to stop the bombardment of Sarajevo by threatening to bomb some emplacements (and perhaps even carrying the threat out), I think you could give an argument for it. But that’s a very big if. It’s not only a moral issue — you have to ask about the consequences, and they could be quite complex.
What if a Balkan war were set off? One consequence is that conservative military forces within Russia could move in. They’re already there, in fact, to support their Slavic brothers in Serbia. They might move in en masse. (That’s traditional, incidentally. Go back to Tolstoy’s novels and read about how Russians were going to the south to save their Slavic brothers from attacks. It’s now being reenacted.)
At that point you’re getting fingers on nuclear weapons involved. It’s also entirely possible that an attack on the Serbs, who feel that they’re the aggrieved party, could inspire them to move more aggressively in Kosovo, the Albanian area. That could set off a large-scale war, with Greece and Turkey involved. So it’s not so simple.
Or what if the Bosnian Serbs, with the backing of both the Serbian and maybe even other Slavic regions, started a guerrilla war? Western military “experts” have suggested it could take a hundred thousand troops just to more or less hold the area. Maybe so.
So one has to ask a lot of questions about consequences. Bombing Serbian gun emplacements sounds simple, but you have to ask how many people are going to end up being killed. That’s not so simple.
Zeljko Raznjatovic, known as Arkan, a fugitive wanted for bank robbery in Sweden, was elected to the Serb Parliament in December 1992. His Tigers’ Militia is accused of killing civilians in Bosnia. He’s among ten people listed by the US State Department as a possible war criminal. Arkan dismissed the charges and said, “There are a lot of people in the United States I could list as war criminals.”
That’s quite correct. By the standards of Nuremberg, there are plenty of people who could be listed as war criminals in the West. It doesn’t absolve him in any respect, of course.
Now that is pretty inoffensive and uncontentious stuff, especially when compared with what Chomsky was writing and saying just a few years later. Take this commentary on Milošević and the Srebrenica genocide, published in Chomsky’s 2006 book ‘Failed States’:
Let us return to the Yugoslavia Tribunal, where Milošević was charged with genocide. The indictment was restricted to crimes in Kosovo. It kept almost entirely to crimes subsequent to the NATO bombing, which, as anticipated by the NATO command and the Clinton administration, elicited serious atrocities in reaction. Presumably because the Kosovo charges were so ambigious, Bosnia was later added, specifically the charge of genocide at Srebrenica. That too raises a few questions, if only because after these events, Milošević was accepted by the United States and its allies as a partner for diplomatic settlement. A further problem is that the most detailed enquiry into the Srebrenica massacre, by the Dutch government * concluded that Milošević had no connection to it, and that he “was very upset when he heard about the massacres,” the Dutch scholar who headed the team of intelligence specialists reported. The study describes the “incredulity” in the Belgrade government, including Milošević, when they learned of the executions.
Suppose we adopt prevailing Western opinion that such unwelcome facts are irrelevant. Even so, the prosecution has had considerable difficulty in establishing the charge of genocide. Suppose, however, that someone were to unearth a document in which Milošević orders the Serbian airforce to reduce Bosnia or Kosovo to rubble, with the words “Anything that flies on anything that moves” [Nixon's instructions to Kissinger to order bombing in Cambodia - JD]. The prosecutors would be overjoyed, the trial would be over, and Milošević would be sent off to many successive life sentences for the crime of genocide — a death sentence, if the tribunal followed US conventions. But as always, the principled exemption from moral truism prevails.
* Chomsky conveniently ignores the July 1999 findings of the International Criminal Tribunal which attributed the atrocities at Sebrenica to a “direct chain of military command” from Belgrade and, specifically, Milošević. He also ignores the fact that one of the two Serb generals who ordered the killings, Radislav Krstic (the other being Ratko Mladic), was promoted to general within a few days of the atrocity.
George Monbiot on the genocide denial of his former “hero” Chomsky (and others on the “left”), here