Mladic, Chomsky, The Guardian and Srebrenica: Time for an apology

July 10, 2015 at 7:52 am (apologists and collaborators, Bosnia, capitulation, censorship, Chomsky, conspiracy theories, genocide, Guardian, history, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", serbia, stalinism, truth)

Above: genocide denier Chomsky

Today’s Guardian carries an excellent piece by Natalie Nougayrede calling what happened at Srebenica twenty years ago a genocide and denouncing Putin for attempting to re-write history. In 2005 the same paper bowed the knee to genocide-denier Noam Chomsky, who like much of the so-called “left” was an apologist for the genocider Mladic and his boss Milosevik:

More guilty parties: from Micharl Deibert’s blog (2011)

I first became aware of Chomsky’s, shall we say rather unorthodox, views of the Bosnian conflict in connection with a campaign he and his supporters launched against the talented young British journalist Emma Brockes, whose October 2005 interview with Mr. Chomsky in The Guardian caused a great deal of controversy. Among other tough questions, it asked about Chomsky’s relationship with what The Times (UK) columnist Oliver Kamm quite accurately described as “some rather unsavoury elements who wrote about the Balkan wars in the 1990s.”

The furor at the time centered around Ms. Brockes confronting Chomky with the fact that he had lent his name to a letter praising the “outstanding” (Chomsky’s own words) work of a journalist called Diana Johnstone. Johnstone’s 2002 book Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions (Pluto Press), argues that the July 1995 killing of at least 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica was, in essence (directly quoting from her book), not a “part of a plan of genocide” and that “there is no evidence whatsoever” for such a charge. This despite the November 1995 indictment of Bosnian Serb leaders Mladic and Radovan Karadzic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for “genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war” stemming from that very episode and the later conviction by the same tribunal of a Bosnian Serb general of aiding and abetting genocide in Srebrenica.

Johnstone also states that no evidence exists that much more than 199 men and boys were killed there and that Srebrenica and other unfortunately misnamed ‘safe areas’ had in fact “served as Muslim military bases under UN protection.” In 2003, the Swedish magazine Ordfront published an interview with Johnstone where she reiterated these views. Chomsky was also among those who supported a campaign defending the right of a fringe magazine called Living Marxism to publish claims that footage the British television station ITN took in August 1992 at the Serb-run Trnopolje concentration camp in Bosnia was faked. ITN sued the magazine for libel and won, putting the magazine out of business, as Living Marxism could not produce a single witness who had seen the camps at first hand, whereas others who had – such as the journalist Ed Vulliamy – testified as to their horror.

In fact, as recently as April 25, 2006, in an interview with Radio Television of Serbia (a station formerly aligned with the murderous and now-deceased Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic), Chomsky stated, of the iconic, emaciated image of a Bosnian Muslim man named Fikret Alic, the following:

Chomsky: [I]f you look at the coverage [i.e. media coverage of earlier phases of the Balkan wars], for example there was one famous incident which has completely reshaped the Western opinion and that was the photograph of the thin man behind the barb-wire.

Interviewer: A fraudulent photograph, as it turned out.

Chomsky: You remember. The thin men behind the barb-wire so that was Auschwitz and ‘we can’t have Auschwitz again.’

In taking this position, Chomsky seemingly attempts to discredit the on-the-ground reporting of not only Mr. Vulliamy – whose reporting for the Guardian from the war in Bosnia won him the international reporter of the year award in 1993 and 1994 – but of other journalists such as Penny Marshall, Ian Williams and Roy Gutman. In fact, Vulliamy , who filed the first reports on the horrors of the Trnopolje camp and was there that day the ITN footage was filmed, wrote as follows in The Guardian in March 2000:

Living Marxism‘s attempts to re-write the history of the camps was motivated by the fact that in their heart of hearts, these people applauded those camps and sympathized with their cause and wished to see it triumph. That was the central and – in the final hour, the only – issue. Shame, then, on those fools, supporters of the pogrom, cynics and dilettantes who supported them, gave them credence and endorsed their vile enterprise.

In his interview with Brockes, Chomsky stated that “Ed Vulliamy is a very good journalist, but he happened to be caught up in a story which is probably not true.”

In a November 2005 column, Marko Attila Hoare, a Senior Research Fellow at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Kingston (London), wrote thusly:

An open letter to Ordfront, signed by Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy and others, stated: ‘We regard Johnstone’s Fools’ Crusade as an outstanding work, dissenting from the mainstream view but doing so by an appeal to fact and reason, in a great tradition.’ In his personal letter to Ordfront in defence of Johnstone, Chomsky wrote: ‘I have known her for many years, have read the book, and feel that it is quite serious and important.’ Chomsky makes no criticism here of Johnstone’s massacre denial, or indeed anywhere else – except in the Brockes interview, which he has repudiated. Indeed, he endorses her revisionism: in response to Mikael van Reis’s claim that ‘She [Johnstone] insists that Serb atrocities – ethnic cleansing, torture camps, mass executions – are western propaganda’, Chomsky replies that ‘Johnstone argues – and, in fact, clearly demonstrates – that a good deal of what has been charged has no basis in fact, and much of it is pure fabrication.’

Pretty astounding stuff, huh? But, faced with a relentless campaign by Mr. Chomsky and his supporters The Guardian, to its eternal shame, pulled Brockes’ interview from its website and issued what can only be described as a groveling apology that did a great disservice not only to Ms Brockes herself, but also to former Guardian correspondent Vulliamy and all those journalists who actually risked their lives covering the Bosnian conflict, to say nothing of the victims of the conflict themselves.

The caving-in focused on three points, the chief of which appeared to be the headline used on the interview, which read: “Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated? A: My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough.”

Though this was a paraphrase rather than a literal quotation, the fact of the matter was that it did seem to accurately sum up the state of affairs: Chomsky had actively supported Johnstone, who in turn had claimed that the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated and not part of a campaign of genocide. The Guardian brouhaha prompted, Kemal Pervanic, author of The Killing Days: My Journey Through the Bosnia War, and a survivor of the Omarska concentration camp, to write that “If Srebrenica has been a lie, then all the other Bosnian-Serb nationalists’ crimes in the three years before Srebrenica must be false too. Mr Chomsky has the audacity to claim that Living Marxism was “probably right” to claim the pictures ITN took on that fateful August afternoon in 1992 – a visit which has made it possible for me to be writing this letter 13 years later – were false. This is an insult not only to those who saved my life, but to survivors like myself.”

Chomsky complained about that, too, forcing The Guardian to write in its apology that, ignoring the fact that it was Chomsky’s characterization of the Serb-run camps that seemed to outrage Pervanic the most, “Prof Chomsky believes that publication (of Pervanic’s letter) was designed to undermine his position, and addressed a part of the interview which was false…With hindsight it is acknowledged that the juxtaposition has exacerbated Prof Chomsky’s complaint and that is regretted.”

So Emma Brockes (whom I have never met), in this instance, at least, was silenced.

But the history of what happened in the Balkan wars should not be so easily silenced and re-written. With Ratko Mladic, predator and killer, now in custody, Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy and the others who have sought to deny justice to the victims of Bosnia’s killing fields should apologize to those victims for working so long to make the justice they sought less, not more, likely.

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How Chomsky’s mind works

January 6, 2013 at 9:45 am (apologists and collaborators, Bosnia, Chomsky, genocide, intellectuals, Jim D, serbia, stalinism, terror)

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.

Noam Chomsky

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

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Monbiot takes on “left” genocide deniers

May 22, 2012 at 3:31 pm (africa, apologists and collaborators, Bosnia, Chomsky, conspiracy theories, genocide, Guardian, Human rights, intellectuals, internationalism, Jim D, serbia, stalinism)

 “[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.

Noam Chomsky 

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

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Simpson apologises over Bosnia libel

April 25, 2012 at 7:26 pm (apologists and collaborators, Bosnia, Chomsky, conspiracy theories, Europe, fascism, Free Speech, Guardian, history, intellectuals, internationalism, Jim D, rcp, SWP, terror, thuggery)

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.

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Twenty years since the Bosnian war.

April 6, 2012 at 12:21 pm (anti-fascism, apologists and collaborators, AWL, Bosnia, genocide, hell, history, Human rights, Jim D, serbia, stalinism, SWP, truth)

Two decades on from the start of the Bosnian war, in which Bosnian Serb forces led by Radovan Karadzic (behind whom stood Slobodan Milosevic, the Serb leader in Belgrade), used mass rape and genocide against Muslims, it’s worth remembering the shameful role of sections of the left – notably the SWP who then ran ‘Stop The War’. What Socialist Organiser (forerunner of the present AWL) wrote in July 1992 follows these harrowing pictures:

Srebrenica massacre: Budak mass grave, Kamenica 9, where some of 8,372 Srebrenica genocide victims had been dumped after systematic killings in July 1995. Photo exhibit courtesy: The Hague Tribunal (ICTY).
 
Emaciated prisoner in the Serb-run Trnopolje concentration camp near Prijedor, Bosnia, in August of 1992. Thousands of civilians, mostly Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslms), were tortured and killed there. Photographer: Pascal Le Segretain


Manjaca concentration camp near Prijedor, north-west Bosnia in August 1992. Thousands of civilians, mostly Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) were tortured and killed there. Photographer: Patrick Robert

At the heart of the chaos into which Yugoslavia has now dissolved is the predatory expansion of the Serbian state, led by neo-Stalinists whose regime has a great deal of popular support. They utilise people such as the Serbs in the territory claimed by Croatia to serve a drive which is essentially a drive to create the largest possible “Greater Serbia”. It is a primitive form of imperialism, whose real content is summed up in the phrase which expresses their policy for non-Serbs: “ethnic cleansing”.

As we were saying: Socialist Organiser 529, July 1992

The old Yugoslav state broke down because, over the last decade, aggressive Serb chauvinism provoked and alarmed the smaller peoples, Croats and others, of the Yugoslav Federation.

Nationalism and chauvinism inevitably breeds… nationalism and chauvinism. The Croats were pushed and provoked by the Serbs. But when Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia, large numbers of Serbs – substantial majorities in some parts of the territory of historic Croatia – were cut off from other Serbs and trapped as a helpless minority in an alien state.

In the Croatian state set up under German patronage during World War Two, as many as half of the Serbs in Croatia – perhaps 3/4 of a million men, women and children – were massacred by Croat chauvinists, the Ustashe.1

While Serb state leaders such as Slobodan Milosevic whose policies through the ’80s led finally to the destruction of Yugoslavia, were chauvinists, people motivated by the desire to aggrandise Serbia, the Serbs in independent Croatia did not have to be chauvinists to resolve to fight rather than submit to outright Croatian rule. They needed only to remember the not too distant past and look around them at the efforts being made to revive Ustashe banners, uniforms and catchcries in the new Croatia.

Thus while millions in Croatia – to stick to the one example – felt the understandable need for separation, they could not achieve independence without oppressing and threatening others. And not only in Yugoslavia. The whole of the Balkans is a crazy pavement of peoples and fragments of peoples interlocked and overlapping, and standing in the way of each others’ full autonomy.

From this it followed that maintenance of a broad federal structure was the best possible way for the peoples of Yugoslavia to arrange their affairs. But the structures broke down; the central state apparatus became increasingly a tool of Serb domination, serving Serb expansion. Everything dissolved into the bloody chaos of ethnic and national wars which is now raging.

Despite all the crimes of the Croatian chauvinists, the Croats’ right to self-determination became the major issue between Croatia and Serbia; socialists have to uphold that right, championing the minority rights of the Serbs within Croatia but denying to Serbia any right to use those minorities as a pretext for trying to conquer as much of Croatia as they can.

The Serb chauvinists were as aggressive against Kosovo and Slovenia where there were no big problems of an oppressed Serbian minority as against Croatia.

Yugoslavia today may offer a picture of their own future to many other ethnically interlaced groups of people, including the occupants of large parts of the former Soviet Union.

Within this situation there is a growing demand for Western – UN, NATO -intervention to bring an end to the fighting. It is by no means certain that there will be Western military intervention. If there is, it is unlikely to bring peace or create a political framework within which the peoples of the former Yugoslavia can coexist. What military intervention would most likely amount to is action to stop Serbia expanding further, and to “freeze” the current carve-up of Bosnia. Already, anti-Serb sanctions are being mounted.

Is the conflict turning into something like the build-up to another edition of last year’s war against Iraq? The Iraqi occupation of Kuwait quickly became the occasion for a savage Western war against Iraq.

Should socialists “Defend Serbia” from “Imperialist Aggression”? If there is Western military intervention it will be a police action to avert chaos on the borders of the immensely powerful European community: it will be a limited police action. If the cluster of wars now going on are allowed to burn themselves out, they will go on for a long time, many thousands will die, hundreds of thousands and maybe millions will be “ethnically cleansed” into refugee camps, and “Greater Serbia” may become a lot greater than it is now.

As socialists and anti-imperialists, we have no confidence in the Western capitalist powers: we warn against relying on NATO or UN intervention; we advocate working-class independence. But in the name of what alternative would we denounce and condemn, and demand an immediate end, to a limited police action by the big powers?

On the ground that everything that “imperialist” Western European states do is ipso facto “imperialist” and wrong, even if it has desirable results? This is not Marxist or working class politics but absurd “oppositionism”, nihilism.

On the ground that ‘outside’ intervention is always wrong? What meaning can such a ‘principle’ have in face of the bloody ethnic melée which is engulfing the peoples of Yugoslavia? Why has Serbia more ‘right’ in Bosnia than a UN army acceptable to the majority of Bosnians would have? That reasoning is absurd.

On the ground that neo-Stalinist Serbia is a ‘socialist’ or ‘workers” state? It is nothing of the sort, but even if it were, then that would not require of socialists that we back Serbian imperialism, with all its inevitable slaughters and “ethnic cleansings”. Such a position would be a reductio ad absurdum of a decades-old ‘tradition’ of kitsch Trotskyist “defencist” policies for the Stalinist states. It is sheer nonsense, on every level.

Or should we oppose a big power police action because we believe the destruction of Serb power, the prevention of the consolidation of the Greater Serb state is the real goal of Western “imperialist” intervention? For certain, the Western powers will only intervene militarily, with all the accompanying costs, dangers and precedents, to serve their own interests.

There are powers with imperialist ambitions to gain semi-colonies and spheres of influence in Yugoslavia and the whole area round the Black Sea. The UN, the EC, and NATO will not, however, lend their banners to Greek or Turkish ambitions! Germany will not vote for a UN operation which is a cover for neo-colonial action by the US – as the Gulf war against Iraq was, to a large extent – and no other power is strong enough to be able to use the UN and NATO banners as its own. Indeed that is the reason why there has been no military intervention, and may well yet be none: the intervention will not give any big power a colony, or a sphere of influence, that it did not have before. From a capitalist point of view, it will have no advantage beyond stabilising the region for normal business, and they may have great difficulties even doing that.

That is why the governments so eager to send troops and weapons to the aid of “poor little Kuwait” are so cautious about Bosnia.

To be sure, the Western powers would probably be happy to kick Slobodan Milosevic and the Serbian neo-Stalinists into history’s abyss, and that might give some of them an added reason to intervene. But even a big war on Serbia might not do that, as Saddam Hussein could tell them.

Their main interest if they intervene will be to secure peace on the European Community’s borders and ‘stability’ in Europe.

Absurd too is the idea that Western capital – in the first place German capital – needs military occupation to secure its domination in the former Eastern European Stalinist states. It has no such need.

The normal workings of the market – the sheer economic power of the West Europeans – make their domination in the East a certainty in the years to come – unless the working class should take power there. Right now the working class is in no condition to take power. Military intervention will just add to their costs, not facilitate West European capitalist penetration of the former Russian Empire.

If US and West European capital tries to play the international policeman on the EC’s borders, we should counterpose to it something better. What exists in Yugoslavia now is worse. We are against the existing capitalist states, but we do not want to replace them with something worse: chaos is a lot worse.

The best outcome from the Yugoslav chaos would be for the working class in the various conflicting peoples to come together, settle accounts with their own chauvinists and tin-pot imperialists and restore a federation, this time under the control of the workers.

Short of that, socialists should want an end to the bloodshed and chaos. We have no confidence in the big capitalist powers and do not call on them to intervene: but if the West does intervene socialists can not side with Serbia and become “defencists” for Greater Serb imperialism.

Socialists should not declare, explicitly or implicitly, that the best thing is for the Yugoslav conflict to take its course with the strongest coming out at the end on top of the bloody pile.

Those socialists who adopt this posture because they want to be “anti-imperialists” will prove in their own way the basic truth that there is no consistently revolutionary politics without thought, clarity and Marxist theory. It will unfortunately, be a negative proof. This “anti-imperialism” is not anti-imperialism at all but support for the weaker and more primitive imperialism – Serbian imperialism!

Footnote, 1999

1. It was, in fact, probably considerably less than that.

Steve Crawshaw in today’s Independent, here.

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