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
”[T]he movement to which I thought I belonged has closed ranks: against attempts to challenge this revisionism, against the facts, in effect against the victims of these genocides. My attempts to pursue this question number among the most dispiriting experiences of my working life.”
In today’s Graun, George Monbiot notes that recent attempts to deny or downplay genocide (especially the massacre of Bosniaks at Srebrenica and of Tutsis by Hutu militias in Rwnada) have all too often come from the “left.” He’s obviously shocked and upset, especially at the reaction of his hero, Noam Chomsky who (typically) when challenged resorted to his usual trick of avoiding the question and accusing his questioner of being an agent of Washington. Also in Monbiot’s sights: the wretched, deranged Pilger and the antisemitic Counterpunch magazine.
This is an important piece, not because what it states is new (others, including us at Shiraz and indeed, Monbiot himself, have made the same points many times before), but because it marks a partial political coming-of-age for this Chomsky fan (only partial: in the comments below the article Monbiot says he’s still an admirer of the slippery old charlatan), and he’s honest enough to admit how depressed it has made him. It’s also significant that it should appear in the Graun, several of whose leading figures (eg Milne and Steele) regularly sing from the Chomsky hymn-sheet.
Above: slippery old charlatan
If you don’t read anything else today, read this:
The term genocide conjures up attempts to kill an entire people: the German slaughter of the Jews or the Herero; the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians; the near-extermination of the Native Americans. But the identity of the crime does not depend on its scale or success: genocide means “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.
Though, in 1995, the women and children of Srebrenica were first removed from the killing grounds by Bosnian Serb troops, though the 8,000 men and boys they killed were a small proportion of the Bosnian Muslim population, it meets the definition. So the trial of Ratko Mladic, the troops’ commander, which began last week, matters. Whatever one thinks of the even-handedness of international law, and though it remains true that men who commissioned or caused the killing of greater numbers of people (George Bush and Tony Blair, for instance) have not been brought to justice and are unlikely to be, every prosecution of this kind makes the world a better place.
So attempts to downplay or dismiss this crime matter too – especially when they emerge from the unlikely setting of the internationalist left. I’m using this column to pursue a battle which might be hopeless, and which many of you might regard as obscure. Perhaps I have become obsessed, but it seems to me to be necessary. Tacitly on trial beside Mladic in The Hague is a set of ideas: in my view the left’s most disturbing case of denial and doublethink since the widespread refusal to accept that Stalin had engineered a famine in the Ukraine….
Read the rest here
All Monbiot’s references, and his correspondence with Chomsky, here
It’s a rare thing for anyone in the public eye to come out and simply admit they were wrong about something important. Oh yes, we’ve all heard the non-apology (“If you stupidly misunderstood me, I’m sorry about that,” as perfected by A. Blair Esq) and the “I was taken out of context”-type wriggling. But for a public figure to come out and plainly admit they were wrong on a major issue is, these days, a rare and wonderful thing.
So all credit to BBC world affairs editor John Simpson who admitted in Sunday’s Observer that he was wrong to have supported the so-called Living Marxism (LM) magazine when ITN sued it for libel in 2000:
“Vulliamy’s account of what happened in the camps is completely unanswerable; and I’m sorry now that I supported the small post-Marxist magazine Living Marxism when it was sued by ITN for questioning its reporting of the camps. It seemed to me at the time that big, well-funded organisations should not put small magazines out of business; but it’s clear that there were much bigger questions involved,” writes Simpson in the course of a review of The War is Dead, Long Live the War: Bosnia – The Reckoning by Ed Vullamy.
For those who don’t remember the case, it’s probably worth just running through the basic facts:
Early in the Bosnian war (August 1992) Ed Vulliamy of the Guardian, together with Penny Marshall of ITN and Ian Williams of Channel 4 managed to reach two Serbian prison camps, Omarska and Trnopolje, where emaciated Bosnian Muslim men were being held under conditions that looked very much like those of the Nazi’s concentration camps in WW2.
Ed Vulliamy, Penny Marshall and Ian Williams witnessed the skeletal figures at Trnopolje, but, at Omarska they managed to speak to some of the men: one said, “I do not want to tell any lies, but I cannot tell the truth.” Later it emerged that at Omarska prisoners were forced to bite the testicles off one another and had live pigeons stuffed into their mouths as they died in agony. Prisoners were forced to load the corpses of their friends onto trucks by bulldozer.
Vulliamy later wrote “Trnopolje was a marginally less satanic place, some of whose prisoners were transferred from other hideous camps to to await forced deportation. Others were rounded up and herded there like cattle, or had even fled there to avoid the systematic shelling and burning of their homes.” Less satanic than Omarska perhaps, but that isn’t really saying very much, as Vulliamy would be the first to agree.
Naturally, on their return the journalists reported what they had seen and ITN’s images of the emaciated figures at Tropolje (and especially that of Fikret Alic, above) came to sybolise the barbarity of the Serb genocide of Muslims and Croatians in Bosnia. They also almost certainly played a major part in bringing to an end the British foreign office’s appeasement of the Serbs.
Fast-forward to 1997 and an article in the trendy “post-Marxist” magazine LM (as in Living Marxism, its previous name), by one Thomas Deichman: “The picture that fooled the world.”
Centred upon the Fikret Alic photo, the article claimed that there was no barbed wire around Trnopolje and that ”it was not a prison, and certainly not a ‘concentration camp’, but a collection centre for refugees, many of whom went there seeking safety and could leave again if they wished.” Deichman, who turned out to be consistent supporter of Serb war criminals like Dusko Tadic and Radovan Karadzic, claimed that ITN and the other journalists had deliberately misrepresented what was going on at Trnopolje and had failed to correct the allegedly false impression they had created when other media repeated their claims. ITN believed that their journalistic integrity was at stake and sued LM for libel.
LM initially succeeded in obscuring the central issue by presenting the case as a ‘David v Goliath’ free speech issue, and persuaded some leading liberals to rally to their support: Harold Evans, Doris Lessing, Paul Theroux, Fay Weldon and John Simpson all condemned ITN’s “deplorable attack on press freedom.” To this day, the likes of Noam Chomsky, Diana Johnstone and Alexander Cockburn refuse to acknowledge that what ITN and the other journalists said and wrote was true and that Deichmann and LM were simply apologists for Serb genocide.
Professor David Campbell of Durham University studied the case and summarised it thus:
“…as strange as existing British libel law is, it had an important and surprisingly beneficial effect in the case of ITN vs LM. The LM defendants and Thomas Deichmann were properly represented at the trial and were able to lay out all the details of their claim that the ITN reporters had “deliberately misrepresented” the situation at Trnopolje. Having charged ‘deliberate misrepresentation’, they needed to prove ‘deliberate misrepresentation’. To this end, the LM defendants were able to cross-examine Penny Marshall and Ian Williams, as well as every member of the ITN crews who were at the camps, along with other witnesses. (That they didn’t take up the opportunity to cross-examine the Bosnian doctor imprisoned at Trnopolje, who featured in the ITN stories and was called to testify on the conditions and others suffered, was perhaps the moment any remaining shred of credibility for LM’s allegations evaporated). They were able to show the ITN reports to the court, including the rushes from which the final TV stories were edited, and conduct a forensic examination of the visuals they alleged were deceitful. And all of this took place in front of a jury of twelve citizens who they needed to convince about the truthfulness of their allegations. They failed. The jury found unanimously against LM and awarded the maximum possible damages. So it was not ITN that bankrupted LM. It was LM’s lies about the ITN reports that bankrupted themselves, morally and financially. Despite their failure, those who lied about the ITN reports have had no trouble obtaining regular access to the mainstream media in Britain, where they continue to make their case as though the 2000 court verdict simply didn’t exist. Their freedom of speech has thus not been permanently infringed” (quoted on Wikipedia).
Why is this important? Well, as I noted at the outset, it makes a refreshing change to read a clear-cut, unambiguous apology and admission of error from a figure like Simpson (compare and contrast Chomsky’s self-righteous evasions). Secondly, it’s important to set the record straight about the Bosnian war and Serb genocide, as vile revisionism, repeating all Deichman’s lies is still to be found on the web, as though the ITN case had never happened. Thirdly, LM has succeeded in transforming itself into first Spiked Online and then the ‘Institute of Ideas’ and their people, as George Monbiot has pointed out, have succeeded in getting themselves lucrative and high-profile employment as supposedly ‘reputable’ commentators in the mainstream media (eg Mick Hume at The Times and Claire Fox on Radio 4′s ‘ The Moral Maze’).
And one final point: it wasn’t just the degenerates of the so-called Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP)/Living Marxism who were de facto apologists for Serb genocide during the Bosnian war. A lot of the left did much the same, albeit less blatantly, including those who a few years on would pose as great friends of Muslims everywhere…
The Bosnian war still holds important lessons for the left.
It amazing to see that some serious and respect-worthy people are still willing to associate themselves with the Stop The War Coalition and its despicable “peace” rally tomorrow. But for every half-way decent socialist and internationalist foolish enough to attend, there’s a dozen charlatans, isloationists and apologists for tyranny, of the Galloway-Pilger-Chomsky variety. I see that the Taliban’s nark Assange is also billed as a star attendee.
You would have thought that this organisation’s objectively pro-Gaddafi scabbing on the Libyan rebels would be enough to put any half-way decent internationalist off attending.
One of the less objectionable and more serious ‘celebrities’ billed as supporting the rally is Peter Tatchell. Given what he has written over at the Graun‘s ‘Comment Is Free’ I suspect the organizers of tomorrow’s event may be regretting having publicised his “support”:
“As a leftwinger and internationalist, I can’t accept the simplistic calls for immediate troop withdrawal. Don’t get me wrong. I never supported the war strategy in Afghanistan. The Nato-led occupation is wrong. Democracy and human rights cannot be imposed by western diktat. The troops should come home – but not with no regard for the consequences.
“A hasty Nato withdrawal will not bring peace. Afghan security forces lack the training, equipment and numbers to stave off the fundamentalist threat. A premature exit could result in a Taliban victory – and a bloodbath. Is this what anti-war activists want? I’m sure they don’t. So why do many of my colleagues make a demand that risks such a grisly outcome?
“Campaigners against the war are rightly critical of Nato’s ham-fisted intervention, human rights abuses and reckless attacks that kill civilians. But why aren’t they equally critical of the Taliban? Taliban fighters deliberately target civilians. They kill many more ordinary Afghans than the Nato forces, and they’d kill even more civilians if there was a rushed pull-out of western troops. A one-sided focus on Nato’s wrongs, to the neglect of a far more brutal set of killers, is a tad hypocritical.”
Read the rest here.
“Afghan war protest in London ignores Taliban threat” – Peter Tatchell Foundation statement.
You don’t have to agree with Christopher Hitchens on everything (certainly, I don’t on the Iraq war) to recognise him as a very serious and principled commentator, whose defence of basic principles of democracy, free speech and anti-racism is in marked contrast to much of the so-called “left” and the so-called “anti-imperialist” so-called “left” in particular. This was never more clearly illustrated than in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. In his 2010 autobiography, ‘Hitch-22′, he describes his reaction to being told by a student at Whitman College, Washington State, a day or so after the attack, that “You know what my friends are saying? They are saying it’s the chickens coming home to roost.”
I have always had a dislike for that rather fatuous and folkish expression, and this dislike now came welling up in me with an almost tidal force. (What bloody “chickens”? Come to think of it, whose bloody “home”? And, for Christ’s sake, what sort of “roost”?) And I could suddenly visualise, with an awful sickening certainty, what we were going to be getting by way of comment from Noam Chomsky and his co-thinkers in the coming days. This realisation helped me considerably in sorting out the discrepant and even discordant discussions that were taking place in my interior, and I soon enough sat down to write my regular column for The Nation. I titled it “Against Rationalisation.” I did not intend to be told, I said, that the people of the United States – who included those toiling in the Pentagon as well as all those, citizens and non-citizens, who had been immolated in Manhatten - had in any sense deserved this or brought it upon themselves. I also tried to give a name to the mirthless, medieval, death-obsessed barbarism that had so brazenly unmasked itself. It was, I said “fascism with an Islamic Face.” In this I attempted to annex Alexander Dubcek’s phrase about Czechoslovakia adopting “Socialism with a Human Face,” and also to echo Susan Sontag’s later ironic re-working, following the military coup in Poland, of the idea of Communism going the other way and degenerating into “Fascism with a Human Face.” Obviously, this concept is too baggy to be used every time, so I am occasionally “credited” with coining the unsatisfactory term “Islamofascism” instead.
Anyway, I didn’t have long to wait for my worst fears about the Left to prove correct. Comparing Al Quaeda’s use of stolen airplanes with President Clinton’s certainly atrocious use of cruise missiles against Sudan three years before (which were at least ostensibly directed at Al Quaeda targets), Noam Chomsky found the moral balance to be approximately even, with the United States at perhaps a slight disadvantage. he also described the potential civilian casualties of an American counterstroke in Afghanistan as amounting to “a silent genocide.” As time had elapsed, I had gradually been made aware that there was a deep division between Noam and myself. Highly critical as we both were of American foreign policy, the difference came down to this. Regarding almost everything since Columbus as having been one continuous succession of genocides and land-thefts, he did not really believe that the United States of America was a good idea to begin with. Whereas I has slowly come to appreciate that it most certainly was, and was beginning to feel less and less shy about saying so. We commenced a duel, conducted largely in cyberspace, in which I began by pointing out the difference between unmanned cruise missiles on the one hand and crowded civilian airliners rammed into heavily populated buildings on the other. We more or less went from there.
Gore Vidal also, could hardly wait to go slumming. he took the earliest opportunity of claiming that, while Osama bin Laden had not been proved to be the evil genius of the attacks, it was by no means too early to allege that the Bush administration had played a hidden hand in them. Ot at least, if it had not actually instigated the assault, it had (as with Roosevelt at Pearl Harbor!) seen it coming and welcomed it as a pretext for engorging the defense budget and seizing the oilfields of the southern Caucasus. His articles featured half-baked citations from the most dismal, ignorant paranoids. President Bush had evidently forewarned himself of the air piracy in order that he he should seize the chance to look like a craven, whey-faced ignoramous on worldwide TV. Vidal’s old antagonist Norman Mailer was largely at one with him on this, jauntily alleging that endless war was the only way to vindicate the drooping virility of the traditional white American male. Thus did the nation’s intelligensia, and a part of the mental universe of the New York Review of Books, show its readiness in a crisis. I thought I had to say a word for the fortitude that the rest of society was manifesting.
I had another motive that is perhaps plainer to me now than it was then. I could not bear the idea that anything I had written or said mayself had contributed to this mood of cynicism and defeatism, not to mention moral imbecility, on the Left. I did not want that young lady at Whitman College to waste her time drawing facile and masochistic conclusions. I had said all I could about American policy in South Africa and Chile (Salvadore Allende had been overthrown and murdered on another 11 September twenty-eight years before) but as I asked an audience in Georgetown in a later debate with Tariq Ali, could anyone imagine Mandela or Allende ordering their supporters to use civilian airliners to slaughter more civilians? Any comparison of that kind, or any extension of it to Vietnam, was - quite apart from anything else – viley insulting to the causes and struggles with which it was being compared.
More sound stuff on 9/11 from C. Hitchens, here
As the war criminal and mass-murderer Mladic finally faces justice, it’s not just Serb nationalists who have supported and excused him: a lot of the so-called “left” have some answering to do, as Stan Crooke explains below. The particular criminals here are the SWP, who a few years later started puffing themselves up as “fighters for Muslims”. At the time they refused to side with the Bosniac and Kosovar Muslims fighting Serb conquest, focusing their sympathies on Serbia as the victim of NATO. They quietly went along with those who anathematised the Bosniac Muslims (mostly secularised) as the catspaws of Islamic-fundamentalist conspiracy. The parallels with the present situation in Libya are obvious…
It’s come to something, hasn’t it, when “communists” ally with fascists…
The “safe haven” of Sarajevo was besieged for 44 months by Serb forces, the longest siege in modern warfare. Serb forces stationed on the surrounding hills used artillery, mortars, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine-guns, multiple rocket launchers, rocket-launched aircraft bombs, and sniper rifles against the civilian population.
An average of 300 artillery shells a day hit Sarajevo during the siege. On just one day in 1993 more than 3,500 shells hit the city. Overall, an estimated 10,000 people were killed and another 56,000 wounded during the siege. 35,000 buildings were destroyed, including 10,000 apartment blocks.
Ethnic cleansing and war crimes were also carried out by the forces of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg Bosnia.
In February 1994 an American-brokered deal, the Washington Agreement, brought an end to the fighting between Bosnian and Croatian forces. In September 1995, NATO finally moved against Milosevic and his allies, in a month-long bombing campaign.
Workers’ Liberty commented: “Yes, the Western powers are hypocrites… But to reckon that NATO’s bombardment of Mladic’s siege guns calls for protest meetings, and Milosevic’s atrocities do not, is to condone Serbian imperialism… Sarajevo relieved by a NATO offensive designed as a lever for an imperialist carve-up is bad; Sarajevo still besieged is worse.”
Others on the left rallied to a “Committee for Peace in the Balkans” focused on denouncing NATO. They said NATO action was about “enforcing Western interests” on Serbia. Back in 1991, the SWP had disdainfully said “neither of the nationalisms currently tearing Yugoslavia apart has anything to offer”. It had maintained the same disdain towards the Bosniacs’ struggle against Serbian conquest and ethnic cleansing. It backed the anti-NATO campaign.
In fact, the NATO bombing paved the way for an American-brokered peace deal, the Dayton Agreement. It ended the massacres, and set up Bosnia-Herzegovina as a quasi-independent state, for most purposes a loose confederation between Serb and Croat-Bosniac units, with an external “High Representative” as overlord.
In the course of the war between 100,000 and 176,000 people had been killed. More than 2.2 million had fled their homes. 530,000 of them had managed to reach other European countries, despite the European Union responding to the outbreak of war by imposing a visa regime on Bosnians.
After the end of the fighting Mladic continued to live openly in the Serb-controlled area of Bosnia. In the late 1990s he moved to Belgrade. Only after the overthrown of Milosevic in 2000 did Mladic go more or less underground.
Meanwhile Kosova, an area under tight Serbian control but with a 90% Albanian-Muslim majority in the population, was stewing.
The Kosovar majority organised a virtual parallel society, with underground schools, hospitals, and so on, beside the Serbian-run official institutions.
The big powers opposed Kosovar independence, but pressed Milosevic to ease off. From mid-1998 Milosevic started a drive to force hundreds of thousands of Kosovars to flee the province. The big powers called a conference and tried to push Milosevic into a compromise deal.
Milosevic refused. NATO started bombing Serbian positions, apparently thinking that a short burst of military action would make Milosevic back down. Simultaneously the Serb chauvinists stepped up the slaughter and driving-out of Kosovars. After two and a half months of bombing (March-June 1999) the Serbian army finally withdrew. By then around 850,000 Kosovars had fled.
From 1999 to 2008 Kosova was under UN rule. During that period there were a number of persecutions of the small remaining Serb minority in Kosova. In 2008 Kosova declared independence.
Far from being converted by the war into a crushed semi-colony of some big power, Serbia benefited from its defeat. In October 2000, following rigged elections, Milosevic was ousted by mass protest in the streets, and Serbia’s chauvinist frenzy began to dissipate.
Dispute on the left over the Kosova war was sharper than over Bosnia. Workers’ Liberty said that, while we could not and did not endorse NATO, the main issue was Kosovar self-determination. The SWP and others threw themselves into a “Stop The War Campaign”, later recycled for use over Afghanistan and Iraq and still in existence.
“Stop The War” here meant “stop NATO and let Milosevic have his way”. On Milosevic, their main message was that he was not as bad as painted; and on Kosova, that the reports of massacre were probably exaggerated, that nothing could be done about it anyway, and that the Kosovar revolt was undesirable because it could destabilise the whole region.
Michael Barratt Brown, a veteran socialist economist, was typical of a whole school of thought on the left claiming that the driving force in what he called “The Yugoslav Tragedy” was a conspiracy by Germany in particular, and the West in general, to gain “control over the oil supplies of the Middle East”.
He wrote “Once Croatia’s independence was recognised … war between Serbs and Croats was assured inside Croatia.” In fact the big powers pressed the subject peoples of Yugoslavia not to declare independence. Germany was less convinced about that than other states, but even Germany did not recognise Croatia until six months after the outbreak of war. And why shouldn’t states recognise Croatian independence demanded by over 90% of the people?
Consistently, Brown wrote of the actions of Milosevic and the Serbian government as if they were mere responses to the actions of Bosnian and Croatian nationalists, rather than the expression of an aggressive regional imperialism.
“Nationalists in Serbia followed enthusiastically where Slovenes and Croats had led”, he wrote, but he praised the “federal” army, which had already committed a succession of war crimes by the time Brown wrote his book, as “the one remaining force representing Yugoslavia”, and one which was engaged in “a state-building project.”
In To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, published in 2000, Michael Parenti argued that the West’s hostility to Milosevic was triggered by the Serbian government’s commitment to the defence of the country’s “socialist heritage”:
“After the overthrow of Communism throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia remained the only nation in that region that would not voluntarily discard what remained of its socialism and install an unalloyed free-market system… The US goal has been to transform Yugoslavia into a Third World region, a cluster of weak right-wing principalities.
“As far as the Western free-marketeers were concerned, these enterprises [in Serbia] had to be either privatised or demolished. A massive aerial destruction like the one delivered upon Iraq (in the first Gulf War) might be just the thing needed to put Belgrade more in step with the New World Order.”
In fact, the Serbian government pursued privatisation and pro-market policies of its own volition from the late 1980s, imposing cuts in public services and increasing social inequalities. And its old reformed-Stalinist structure was nothing to cherish.
After the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic in 2001, the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic said:
“Crimes were committed in Yugoslavia, but not by Milosevic. … His real offence was that he tried to keep the 26 nationalities that comprise Yugoslavia free from US and NATO colonisation and occupation.”
The chapter on the Bosnian war in The Liberal Defence of Murder, written by the SWP’s Richard Seymour and published in 2008, has similar arguments: Milosevic’s regime and its war crimes were not as bad as they were made out to be; the Bosnian and Croatian governments were not only at least as bad as that of Milosevic but were also guilty of the same kind of atrocities.
“In the run-up to that atrocity” [the Srebrenica massacre], he claimed, “a wave of terror, including rape, by Bosnian Muslim forces in surrounding areas had killed thousands of Serbs”.
The SWP itself, mostly, did not bother discussing the atrocities one way or another. It simply stated that NATO was “imperialism” and the job was to oppose “imperialism”. In other words, it put its opportunist concern to “catch the wind” of miscellaneous disquiet about or opposition to NATO military action in a region which most people knew little about above any internationalist concern for lives and freedoms in the region… the rest here.
The war criminal and mass-muderer Ratko Mladic has, at long last been arrested. Justice has been delayed, but hopefully will now be done.
“…Countdown begins now for the Noam Chomsky article
daydreaming about Bush being deported to the Hague for trial, and saying
the entire Bosnian conflict is America’s fault - posted by happyroach at 9:25 AM on May 26″
Readers may rest assured that Shiraz will be monitoring the inevitable apologists, revisionists and deniers, with hawk-like vigilance, and keeping you posted.