Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 27, 2019

The Load

Filed under: Film,Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 7:16 pm

No other European nationality has been demonized more in the recent past than the Serbs. Starting with the war in Bosnia in 1992 and continuing through the war in Kosovo that lasted until 1999, they have been depicted as fascist monsters. The demonization finally relented when President Milosevic was ousted in a coup in 2000. And nowhere is the demonization more pronounced than in cinema where Serbs have been given more or less the same status as Arab terrorists. The most extreme of these films was “Welcome to Sarajevo” that I reviewed in 1997:

To prove how inhuman the Serbs are, the film includes a horrifying scene. A bus carrying the orphaned children out of Sarajevo into the safety of Italy is stopped at gun-point by ranting Serb soldiers. They board the bus and take Muslim babies with them, presumably to be barbecued and eaten later. It is astonishing that “Welcome to Sarajevo” puts forward the notion that the Serb army would exterminate innocent children in this manner. The real crime of “ethnic cleansing” was beastly enough, but it was designed to carve out pieces of Bosnian territory in order to exclude one ethnic group or another, not exterminate them. While the Serbs were certainly more aggressive than the Muslims, both sides took part in the blood-letting.

Even the Nazis got a better treatment than this in “Das Boot”, the 1982 film about a German submarine crew. After more than a dozen films that portrayed Serbs as mustache-twirling villains out of central casting, there is a new film that opens Friday at Lincoln Center, which departs from the official version. Directed by a 34-year old Serb named Ognjen Glavonić, “The Load” tells the story of Vlada (Leon Lucev), a 40-something man paid to transport a truckload of goods across the border from Kosovo into Belgrade during wartime. The publicity likens the film to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “The Wages of Fear” but it is not at all like this. Although you are reminded of the war continuously through burning wreckage both on the road and near it, it much more about the quiet acceptance of a man forced to take risks to put food on his table. Back in Belgrade, he has a wife and son who await his return. The road to Belgrade is fraught with danger but Glavonić has not made an action film. Instead, he has created an existential tale set against the backdrop of war but it is the man’s soul that concerns him, not his heroism.

Even though we have no idea what “the load” in the back of the truck consists of, we do know that is connected to the war since armed detachments of Serb fighters meet him at either end. Most of the film consists of Vlada and a 19-year old hitchhiker named Paja (Pavle Čemerikić) exchanging small talk as they wend their way northward. Tired of the war and an uncertain future, Paja is on his way to Munich. Vlada is both happy to have some company on the trip but occasionally irritated with the youth who probably had no business being in the truck. Probably the most telling scene that distinguishes this film from run-of-the-mill action movies takes place when Vlada is standing near his truck on the side of the road when a police car pulls up with the lights flashing. If this was a conventional film, he would have overpowered the cop and shot him with his own gun. As it happens, the cops were fellow Serbs who waved him along after he shows them a written order from the men who hired him. We can assume that they were Serbian military brass.

Cinematically, “The Load” is as bold as its subject matter. Using a palette of olive drab and gray, the film assumes a melancholy tone in keeping with the narrative. There is no film score, only the continuous sound of the truck’s engine that creates a mood more effective than any music.

It is only in the final 15 minutes of the film that the Serb identity begins to be foregrounded. Vlada discusses the family’s situation with his wife and his son Ivan (Ivan Lučev) who have grown weary of NATO bombing. He urges them to find a place to stay in the country that is less of a target. He will rejoin them after one last trip from Kosovo to Belgrade. A conventional film might have Vlada killed off just like Yves Montand in “The Wages of Fear” but director Ognjen Glavonić has something else in mind as the press note’s interview would indicate:

I didn’t want to make an action movie. I didn’t want to have hundreds of different shots and camera angles, as it was more important to spend that time with him and the sound of the truck, to see what he sees and to feel what he feels. This film is defined by two words: isolation and occupation. When he steps out of the truck cabin, he steps into a territory that’s occupied by war: the bombs, gunshots, noise, but also the fear and paranoia, which has already awakened in people. Which is why Vlada always goes back to that truck.

Resolutely determined to avoid action film conventions as well as pat political commentary, Glavonić does come up with a rather poignant depiction of Serb resistance to NATO bombing. It is not a spoiler alert to state that it is a virtual “fuck you” to the bombers rather than a missile taking down a plane.

February 11, 2019

Among Wolves

Filed under: Film,Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 7:23 pm

In 2004, photographer Shawn Convey was traveling around Europe, including Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia. He became so consumed by the aftermath of the war in Bosnia (he said that he “felt drunk with questions”) that he sold everything he owned in Chicago and moved to Bosnia in order to begin making his first film. That finally came to fruition in 2016, when “Among Wolves” began showing up at film festivals. After a week-long run in Chicago this month, the documentary is now available as VOD/DVD and well worth your while. (Check the official website tomorrow for screening info.)

It is the story of a motorcycle club called the Wolves in Livno, a town in the predominantly Croatian area of western Bosnia, just across the border from the Republic of Croatia that seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991. Most of the men are veterans who fought against the Serbs but the press notes describe the club as multi-ethnic. Since the film is observational, it does not try to identify who is a Croat or a Serb but allows the men to simply go about their daily lives, which consists of menial jobs in a town plagued by unemployment, riding their bikes, and providing various humanitarian assistance to needy causes such as securing supplies for hospitals in Livno and Srebrenica, donating blood, doing repair work at an orphanage and—most importantly—attending to the needs of the wild horses that live in the spectacularly beautiful mountains near Livno.

The president of the Wolves is a middle-aged man named Lija who led a Croatian militia at the age of 20 back in 1991. He is a thoughtful and sympathetic character who provides the psychological and moral core of the film. It is clear that the Wolves provides the camaraderie that the men relied upon during the war, except in the context of what Jimmy Carter called “the moral equivalence of war”. The mountains of western Bosnia provide a stunning backdrop for the Wolves tending to the needs of the wild horses, including walking them across a road safe from traffic and toward a waterhole. Like the men, the horses were a casualty of the brutal war and by helping them regain the numbers lost to mortar attacks, mines and other weapons that horses had no investment in, the veterans heal themselves psychically as well.

While the press notes do not relate the war in Bosnia to the nativism that has gripped Europe and the USA in the recent past, I could not help but think of Donald Trump and his wall. Just as Yugoslavia was torn apart by nationalism, so is the USA descending into a febrile xenophobia that will condemn Hondurans and other people fleeing oppression into an early grave. What Lija’s bullets and those of his Serb enemies did back in 1991, so will those of drug gangs do to those turned away at the border. The blood will be on Trump’s hands this time.

Also condemned to an early grave will be the wildlife of the borderlands between Mexico and the USA if Trump’s wall is ever built. Like the wild horses, they salute no flag and are dead-set on roaming free. On December 10, 2018, the Washington Post reported on the environmental consequences of the wall:

Months later, by September, wildlife biologists and managers at Fish and Wildlife, which is part of the Interior Department, penned a list of “informal comments” on the possible impacts. In a draft letter prepared that month, career wildlife employees wrote that they were concerned the border wall would reduce “habitat connectivity” for rare ocelots and jaguarundi that roam the Santa Ana and Lower Rio Grande Valley national wildlife refuges.

While some fencing already exists in the two Texas counties, officials wrote that erecting more border wall in the region may limit animals’ access to drinking water and the intermingling within the cats’ populations. If the cats’ choice of mates narrowed, it could raise the risk of inbreeding.

These experts voiced concerns about the wall “leaving terrestrial wildlife trapped behind the levee wall to drown or starve” during floods. Fish and Wildlife suggested constructing berms south of the levee to give animals a path to flee from the flood-prone river valley.

January 13, 2016

David Gibbs on Srebrenica

Filed under: Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 11:24 pm

David Gibbs

In the latest issue of Class, Race and Corporate Power, a scholarly and eclectically leftist open access journal launched by Ronald Cox in 2013, there is an article by David Gibbs titled How the Srebrenica Massacre Redefined US Foreign Policy that generated some interesting feedback from a wide range of scholars, including Kees van der Pijl. Gibbs responds to his interlocutors here.

When I first heard about these exchanges, I fully expected an angry attack from  people such as Marko Atilla Hoare who wrongly accused Gibbs of being a genocide denier in an underhanded campaign that was the subject of a 2011 post on this blog. As it turns out, the commentary was civil and thoughtful even when it took a position at odds with the article.

In essence Gibbs argues that the killing of 8,000 Muslim residents of Srebrenica was certainly a war crime but not a genocide, an analysis I agree with. In general, I find Gibbs’s scholarship on the Balkan Wars to be informed, cogent and well-researched as I indicated in a 2009 review of his First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. Indeed at the time I was taking the Serb side to such a degree that some of Gibbs’s more critical statements about Milosevic got me hot under the collar. While I would not disown anything I wrote about the Balkan Wars, I certainly would be much more open to the arguments of the other side. Specifically, I had a tendency to demonize the Muslims because of the presence of foreign fighters. For me, fighting against the Russians in Afghanistan was prima facie evidence of being on the side of the Devil. But if there is anything I have learned from five years of writing about Syria, it is the need to avoid Islamophobic demagogy of the sort found in both electronic and print media from a cast of thousands.

Gibbs’s article is very much reading in its entirety but one passage really made me realize once again how the truth is the first casualty in war:

The idea that genocide was occurring seems to have originated with the issue of Serb-run detention centers in Bosnia, which housed Muslim and Croat prisoners, where major atrocities and abuses undoubtedly occurred. Beginning in 1992, the Bosnian government promoted the idea that these detention centers were Nazi-style extermination camps, similar to Auschwitz or Treblinka. New York’s Newsday helped publicize the idea of Serb extermination camps. In reality, the detention camp atrocities had been deliberately exaggerated by the Bosnian government, and President Izetbegović confessed this exaggeration shortly before his death, in a 2003 interview with former French official Bernard Kouchner. This confession was later reported in Kouchner’s memoirs:

Kouchner: You claimed the existence in Bosnia of “extermination camps.” You repeated this journalists… [Kouchner then notes he visited one of the main camps.] Conditions there were terrible but there was no systematic extermination. Did you know this?

Izetbegović: Yes, I thought the claims would help trigger a bombing campaign by the Western powers… I tried but my claims were false. There were no extermination camps in Bosnia, even though conditions were terrible. [emphasis added]

This exchange resonated with me especially since the anti-Baathist town of Madaya is now literally being starved into submission. Stephen Lendman, a supporter of the dictatorship in Damascus, writes that Syrian rebels are killing any of the townspeople trying to escape–a totally fabricated business not even cropping up on RT.com. While I would be the last person to describe what is happening in Syria as genocidal, I do know mass murder when I see it. I also know that things have reached a grievous state on the left when people speaking in its name can simply make things up to defend their support for the Syrian dictatorship that uses the same “anti-al Qaeda” rhetoric I used from time to time in the late 1990s.

With respect both to Lendman’s yellow journalism and Izetbegović’s cynical use of the big lie, the left has to draw a line over the need for journalistic integrity. It is a slippery slope from bending (or breaking) the truth and becoming a hired gun for any state pursuing a narrow path of self-aggrandizement as the sorry history of the USSR would indicate. When people like Lendman (and those with a much more elevated status such as Slavoj Zizek) can so easily write lies, we are in trouble.

Let me turn to some comments made by Jean Bricmont, the Belgian physicist who collaborated with Alan Sokal in a book that basically expands on the famous Sokal hoax. One of Bricmont’s other avocations besides trashing postmodernism is promoting the reputation of dictators who are regarded as enemies of the West, a stance that I was far too accommodating to in my pro-Serb phase. Bricmont complains that Gibbs cedes far too much to the other side of the debate, an error in his eyes that objectively suits the needs of the imperialist war-machine. He writes:

As Gibbs points out, the Srebrenica myth has been a standard pretext for justifying US attacks against one country after another. It was used against Serbia to detach the province of Kosovo, where a huge US military base was immediately installed. It was cited to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It was used in Libya to kill the country’s leader and destroy the country. It is currently being used to justify efforts to overthrow the government of Syria.

The idea that the USA is trying to overthrow the government of Syria is widely accepted on the left, probably even by Ronald Cox and David Gibbs. However, the truth is that Obama never had George W. Bush “regime change” ambitions.

In fact there was zero interest in a large-scale intervention in Syria in either civilian or military quarters. All this is documented in a NY Times article from October 22nd 2013, written when the alarums over a looming war with Syria were at their loudest, that stated “from the beginning, Mr. Obama made it clear to his aides that he did not envision an American military intervention, even as public calls mounted that year for a no-fly zone to protect Syrian civilians from bombings.” The article stressed the role of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, who had frequently clashed with the hawkish Samantha Power. In contrast to Power and others with a more overtly “humanitarian intervention” perspective, McDonough “who had perhaps the closest ties to Mr. Obama, remained skeptical. He questioned how much it was in America’s interest to tamp down the violence in Syria.” In other words, the White House policy was and is allowing the Baathists and the rebels to exhaust each other in an endless war, just as was White House policy during the Iran-Iraq conflict.

In conclusion let me say a word or two about how I went through an attitude adjustment that led me to break with the “anti-imperialist” mindset of people like Jean Bricmont. During the war in Kosovo, I was contacted by a 1960s radical named Jared Israel who had been a leader of the Progressive Labor Party wing of SDS called the Worker Student Alliance. After years of inactivity, Israel had been stirred into partisan journalism on behalf of Milosevic. For obvious reasons, Israel saw me as a kindred spirit and sought my advice on how to spread the word.

I suggested that he start a website (these were the days before the blog had been invented) to promote his views. The fruit of that suggestion was something called the Emperor’s Clothes that had the same relationship to the Serb cause that CounterPunch or Global Research have to the Baathists today. What Jared Israel and people like Mike Whitney had in common was a visceral Islamophobia that was actually a counterpart to what Christopher Hitchens was writing in 2004 except on behalf of the Kremlin rather than the White House.

Not long after the war in Kosovo wound down, Jared Israel took up a new cause—the war on the Chechens who he regarded as a jihadist threat to the peace-loving and diversity-minded Russian people. When I heard this nonsense, I began to rethink my positions immediately since I regarded Putin as a malevolent figure dedicated to enriching himself and his cronies no matter who got in the way—Russian reporters or people living in Grozny being bombed into oblivion.

I felt vindicated in my course redirection when about a year later, Jared Israel’s Islamophobia went full-tilt boogie. He became an ardent Zionist and began writing for ultraright Israeli newspapers since it was obvious to him that the Muslims wanted to exterminate the Jews. To my knowledge, Jared Israel has since retired from political life—a benefit to himself and to the rest of humanity to say the least.

February 21, 2011

Gene Sharp’s goal: liberty in a world of market imperatives

Filed under: Cold War,Egypt,ussr,Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 8:05 pm

For obvious reasons, the New York Times has hyped the role of Gene Sharp and his co-thinkers in the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. By placing much more emphasis on the struggle against “dictatorship”, all sorts of delicate questions about class relations get deemphasized. By making the struggle one against a Ben Ali or a Mubarak rather than the capitalist system, the newspaper of record hopes to steer things in the direction of Corey Aquino “People’s Power” rather than the kind of social transformation that would leave American corporations on the outside looking in, like a bunch of hungry buzzards.

Michael Barker has written eloquently about the dangers of a Philippines type outcome that people like Gene Sharp, a life-long anti-Communist, would hail. Since events are moving rapidly in Egypt toward a class-versus-class showdown, it seems likely in any event that the Sharpies will have anything much to say. The working class understands that market imperatives can constitute just as much of a dictatorship as Mubarak or Ben Ali. As Ellen Meiksins Wood once put it:

To understand the market as imperative, we have to understand not just how people have been able to respond to the capitalist market but how they have been forced to do so. Capitalism doesn’t just allow people to avail themselves of the market in the pursuit of profit. It forces them to enter the market for the most basic conditions of survival and self-reproduction—and that applies to both workers and capitalists.

That force can be excruciating in countries like Egypt.

In any case, it is worth saying a thing or two about their role of Gene Sharp and company in “color revolutions”, understanding of course that red is the only color in the spectrum that is strictly off-limits.

On February 13th, the Times reported that Ahmed Maher, a 30-year-old Egyptian civil engineer and a leading organizer of the April 6 Youth Movement, and his fellow activists began reading about nonviolent struggles and “were especially drawn to a Serbian youth movement called Otpor, which had helped topple the dictator Slobodan Milosevic by drawing on the ideas of an American political thinker, Gene Sharp.” The article makes clear that flirtation with leftist themes is not unheard of in these circles, despite Sharp’s hatred of anything connected with communism:

The April 6 Youth Movement modeled its logo — a vaguely Soviet looking red and white clenched fist—after Otpor’s, and some of its members traveled to Serbia to meet with Otpor activists.

“The Academy of Change [an émigré group in Qatar] is sort of like Karl Marx, and we are like Lenin,” said Basem Fathy, another organizer who sometimes works with the April 6 Youth Movement and is also the project director at the Egyptian Democratic Academy, which receives grants from the United States and focuses on human rights and election-monitoring. During the protesters’ occupation of Tahrir Square, he said, he used his connections to raise about $5,100 from Egyptian businessmen to buy blankets and tents.

The Times followed up with another article three days later that included references to the three figures who have been at the center of controversy around such interventions. There is obviously Gene Sharp himself, the guru of the movement. The article also quotes Stephen Zunes who shares many of Sharp’s views and who has joined forces with Peter Ackerman, another Sharp disciple, who founded the International Institute of Nonviolent Conflict, upon whose advisory board he sits. Ackerman took classes with Sharp as a graduate student in the 1970s. Since Sharp, now in his 80s, is not really in any position to influence events on the ground, he has ceded leadership to his disciple who runs Rockfort Capital Partners, a private equity firm. Ackerman is almost certainly a billionaire. One has to wonder how much currency Sharp’s ideas would have abroad without the venture capitalist’s fiscal support.

In keeping with the flirtation with the left in the earlier NYT article, we read that:

Some people suspect Mr. Sharp of being a closet peacenik and a lefty — in the 1950s, he wrote for a publication called “Peace News” and he once worked as personal secretary to A. J. Muste, a noted labor union activist and pacifist — but he insists that he outgrew his own early pacifism and describes himself as “trans-partisan.”

The Muste connection is interesting. In the 1930s, Muste was the leader of a group called the Workers Party that spearheaded major labor struggles. In James P. Cannon’s “History of American Trotskyism” there is a useful discussion of Muste’s importance. When Cannon found his own Trotskyist group growing closer to Muste’s, he broached the subject of a fusion that Muste was agreeable to. The Trotskyists were at that time doing what is called “entryism” in Norman Thomas’s Socialist Party. When they were expelled, they united with Muste as the Socialist Workers Party, reflecting each group’s antecedents.

Eventually Muste abandoned Marxism and became a Christian pacifist. As a leader of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Muste became critical in the formation of the Vietnam antiwar coalitions that would challenge the imperialist war-makers. One crucial difference between Muste and Sharp was their chosen arena of struggle. Muste targeted his own government while Sharp saw his role as providing leadership to struggles elsewhere, particularly in the Soviet bloc countries. During the Korean War Sharp spent nine months in a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., as a conscientious objector. He also took part in some civil rights protests but from the 1960s onwards his emphasis has been on providing consultation to people in other countries.

Zunes mocks the idea of the elderly Gene Sharp fomenting uprisings in other countries:

“He is generally considered the father of the whole field of the study of strategic nonviolent action,” said Stephen Zunes, an expert in that field at the University of San Francisco. “Some of these exaggerated stories of him going around the world and starting revolutions and leading mobs, what a joke. He’s much more into doing the research and the theoretical work than he is in disseminating it.”

That might be true, but if you look at Peter Ackerman’s International Center on Nonviolent Conflict as an extension of Sharp’s empire of peaceful resistance, there is no question about a division of labor. Sharp provided the ideas, Ackerman the money and bodies.

The article takes up Peter Ackerman’s role:

When the nonpartisan International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which trains democracy activists, slipped into Cairo several years ago to conduct a workshop, among the papers it distributed was Mr. Sharp’s “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action,” a list of tactics that range from hunger strikes to “protest disrobing” to “disclosing identities of secret agents.”

Dalia Ziada, an Egyptian blogger and activist who attended the workshop and later organized similar sessions on her own, said trainees were active in both the Tunisia and Egypt revolts. She said that some activists translated excerpts of Mr. Sharp’s work into Arabic, and that his message of “attacking weaknesses of dictators” stuck with them.

Peter Ackerman, a onetime student of Mr. Sharp who founded the nonviolence center and ran the Cairo workshop, cites his former mentor as proof that “ideas have power.”

If you read the study guide for “Bringing Down a Dictator”, a documentary that Ackerman executive produced, you will find a most interesting discussion point:

The United States government gave over $25 million dollars in aid to Otpor and other opposition groups during the movement against Milosevic. Some of these groups declared themselves to be anti-American. What is the purpose of the US funding of anti-American groups overseas?

While I doubt that Otpor could be considered anti-American, whoever was shrewd enough to write the study guide surely understands the role of people like Stephen Zunes and the importance of funding groups like the April Sixth Movement in Egypt that was trying to overthrow America’s greatest ally in the Middle East, next to the Israelis. People like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are simply too stupid to understand America’s long-term interests in the Middle East. A Mubarak, like a Ferdinand Marcos, presents serious problems to social stability. He had to be replaced even as he was being supported. It is this kind of contradiction that far-sighted people in the ruling class have come to understand, perhaps a function of having read Karl Marx as undergraduates.

Like George Soros, Peter Ackerman is very far-sighted. While Soros sees the wisdom of putting Christian Parenti on the payroll of Open Society, Ackerman chooses Zunes. If you want some credibility on the left, these types of cooptation are essential.

Not content to include Zunes’s dismissal of charges that Sharp is running some kind of private spook network, the article makes the point a second time:

In 2008, Iran featured Mr. Sharp, along with Senator John McCain of Arizona and the Democratic financier George Soros, in an animated propaganda video that accused Mr. Sharp of being the C.I.A. agent “in charge of America’s infiltration into other countries,” an assertion his fellow scholars find ludicrous.

But if you see Ackerman as the instrument of Sharp’s ideas, the idea is not so ludicrous. As I mentioned in an earlier article on the venture capitalist, Ackerman was the former director of Freedom House, a group that was also run at one time by James Woolsey, former director of the CIA.

The New York Times articles on Gene Sharp prompted me to take a fresh look at Peter Ackerman, to see what the rat has been up to. Apparently, his main interest in life, besides making money, is running or serving on the boards of outfits like Freedom House. Sourcewatch  has a very good dossier on Ackerman.

There we learn that Ackerman now sits on the board of Spirit of America, a group that is “dedicated to spreading US influence worldwide, with a particular emphasis on covert cyber-intelligence measures”. In 2005 Trish Schuh wrote an article for Counterpunch that explored its role in the Middle East:

Another Spirit of America governor is Lt General Mike DeLong, Deputy Commander, US Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. DeLong manages a budget of $8.2 billion and “conceived and implemented the Global War on Terrorism, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.” As top Deputy to former General Tommy Franks, DeLong’s listed expertise at places such as the Army War College, the Department of Defense and the Amphibious Warfare School included Artillery, military intelligence, coup détats, supporting democracy.

Ackerman is also on the advisory board of the Cato Institute’s Project on Social Security Choice. Not surprisingly, they claim that “allowing younger workers to privately invest their Social Security taxes through individual accounts will improve Social Security’s rate of return.”

But what difference does it make if their individual accounts at Goldman-Sachs or Merrill-Lynch go up in flames during the next stock market crash? There will always be jobs for the elderly as greeters at Walmart. And if they are unhappy with their fate, they can always vote for the candidate of their choice at the next election even if both candidates favor keeping Social Security as a shell game run by the rich. After all, it could be worse. You might be in a country like Egypt with fraudulent elections. It is much better, isn’t it, to give people a choice? That’s what Gene Sharp and Peter Ackerman have always been about, endeavoring to allow people full liberty in a world of market imperatives.

January 23, 2011

David Gibbs replies to Marko Attila Hoare

Filed under: cruise missile left,Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 6:40 pm

David N. Gibbs Replies to Marko Atilla Hoare

This posting is a follow-up on an extended debate that I have been having with Marko Atilla Hoare, on the breakup of Yugoslavia during the 1990s. For those interested in the full set of comments, you can find them here https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/david-gibbs-answers-marko-atilla-hoare/. This debate actually began on Modernityblog, but I have decided that Louis Proyect’s website is a much better venue for my comments. I thank Louis for allowing me to post on his website.

Let me begin by noting that Hoare seems to have an obsessive interest in my 2009 book, First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Vanderbilt University Press, 2009). Over the past two months, Hoare has written three lengthy attack reviews of my book on his own website, which (when printed out) run to some eighteen single-spaced pages; in addition to several dozen postings to Modernityblog, in debates that directly address my book. And he promises that there will be yet more attack reviews, to add to all this. One wonders if the man actually has a job, or if attacking me has become a full time endeavor. Either way, I am impressed by the sheer volume of his output.

In what follows, I will make no pretense that I answer all of Hoare’s allegations, which I find impossible, given the huge quantity of his charges. What I will show however is that Hoare’s writings contain major and systematic errors of fact that would, in any normal situation, discredit him.

One of Hoare’s most persistent charges is that my book whitewashes Serb atrocities, notably the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. In reality, this is nothing but a smear, based on an extended series of factual errors. Several examples follow. In Modernityblog (29/12/10), Hoare writes:

“in your sections on Srebrenica (pp. 153-154, 161-162), you falsely portray the Srebrenica Muslims as the ones principally guilty of the violence in the Srebrenica region, and of ‘creating the hatred’ there – despite the fact that most of the killing in the region was the work of the Serb forces.”

Wrong. This is what my book actually states (p. 161):

“the capture of Srebrenica led to atrocities that were far larger in scale than anything that had occurred during three years of fighting… the Serb armies began by expelling the town’s women and children, producing yet another act of ethnic cleansing. And then the Serbs proceeded to murder some eight thousand military age Muslim males. According to the Dutch investigation of the massacre: ‘Muslims were slaughtered like beasts.’”

Later in the debate (5/1/11), Hoare changes tack and makes the following statement — which contains new factual errors:

“Your account of the background to the Srebrenica massacre presents the Muslims/Bosnian army as the ones principally guilty of the atrocities in the region, and of having ‘created the hatred’ there (pp. 153-154).

You then claim ‘The origin of the Srebrenica massacre lay in a series of Muslim attacks that began in the spring of 1995.’ (p. 160)

So while you do not deny that the massacre occurred, you a) deny that it was genocide, and b) blame the victims for it.” [emphasis added]

The key point here is the claim that I supposedly “blame the victims” for the Srebrenica massacre. This is a straightforward factual error. In reality, my position is the following:

“Without question, the Bosnian Serb army and their political and military leaders must bear the overwhelming burden of guilt for having orchestrated this calamity. However, the Muslim leader Alija Izetbegović must bear some of the blame as well. Contrary to popular belief, Bosnia’s Muslim-led government was in fact quite ruthless and some of its actions helped lay the groundwork for the massacre. Specifically, the Izetbegović government followed a clear policy that aimed to maximize casualties of its own civilians, a strategy adopted to elicit the outrage of international public opinion, and thus leading to Western military intervention against the Serbs and in favor of the Muslim.” [emphasis added]

This quote was taken from the following article, which was posted twice to Modernityblog:  D. Gibbs, “The Srebrenica Massacre After Fifteen Years,” Foreign Policy in Focus, July 30, 2010, (www.fpif.org/articles/the_srebrenica_massacre_after_fifteen_years).

In short, I never state that the 8,000 Muslim victims were responsible for the Srebrenica massacre. On the contrary, I put primary blame on the Serb forces, and secondary blame on the Muslim government (which is not the same as the Muslim massacre victims). Hoare’s inflammatory claim that I blame the victims is a factual error.

Hoare’s above statement contains yet another error, attributing to me the quote “created the hatred” – which implies that I believe the Muslims not the Serbs had created the hatred in the Srebrenica area. In reality, the phrase “created the hatred” appears nowhere in my book or in any of my writings.

A central claim by Hoare is that I engage in “genocide denial.” Indeed, his first review of my book was given the unsubtle title, “The Bizarre World of Genocide Denial” (Greater Surbiton, 6/12/10).  The origin of Hoare’s charge is an endnote in my book (p. 281), in which I presented an extended quote from an article by Katherine Southwick, in the Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal. The quote criticizes the Krstić decision by the international tribunal at The Hague, which had originally defined the Srebrenica massacre as a case of genocide. The cited article strongly implies that the court had erred in defining that massacre as genocide. Based on the evidence in the Southwick article, my endnote concluded that Srebrenica was closer to a war crime than to a genocide. This endnote became the initial basis of Hoare’s entire claim that I am a supposed genocide denier.

If I cannot cite and agree with an article in a Yale law review without being attacked like this, then there obviously is something wrong with the way this discussion is taking place.

When the above was pointed out on Modernityblog, Hoare responded (29/12/10):

“The Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal article by Katherine G. Southwick that you cite, unlike you, does not blame the genocide on the victims.” [emphasis added]

This is another factual error since, as noted above, I never blame the victims for the Srebrenica massacre.

Another point of contention concerns the lead-up to the Srebrenica massacre. Hoare claims my book “suppresses the history of Serb mass killings of Bosniaks in east Bosnia in 1992” (7/12/10). Wrong. Here is what my book actually says (122):

“As war began [in1992], Serb forces launched a major offensive in northeast Bosnia, talking over a series of villages of mixed ethnicity, and then expelling most of the non-Serb inhabitants by force. By the end of 1992, Serb forces had overrun large portions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they controlled approximately 70 percent of the whole area of the country. The process of ethnic cleansing, for which the war became famous, had begun… The Bosnia conflict quickly became notorious for the scale of atrocities, especially those perpetrated by Serb forces against Muslim civilians. The widespread practice of ethnic cleansing was often associated with the killing of noncombatants, and also the raping of women and girls.”

In short: With regard to the issue of Serb atrocities, Hoare’s claims are an extended misrepresentation of my position, based on a long string of factual errors.

And there are still more errors. With regard to my sources, Hoare claims that Gibbs “hasn’t bothered to engage with the existing literature, but simply ignored all the existing works that undermine his thesis” (Greater Surbiton, 6/12/10). He then lists five specific authors that I supposedly failed to cite (Michael Libal, Richard Caplan, Daniele Corversi, Brendan Simms, and Hoare himself). Wrong again. In fact I cited four of these authors, each several times, and also included them in the bibliography. Hoare’s own writings were cited (and criticized) in four separate endnotes. His claim that I have ignored these authors is in error.

And in a later posting to Greater Surbiton (24/12/10), Hoare discusses at great length my book’s criticisms of his own work – thus contradicting his previous claim that my book had ignored his work. And he also discusses a quote from my book that discusses Serb atrocities in northeast Bosnia in 1992 (see my block quote above). This contradicts his previous statement that my book “suppresses the history of Serb mass killings of Bosniaks in east Bosnia in 1992.” Finally, I will note that Hoare’s third long review of my book contains a factual error in its very title of the review: “First Check their Sources 2: The Myth that Most of Bosnia was Owned by the Serbs before the War.’” In reality, the quoted phrase (“Most of Bosnia…”) appears nowhere in my book or in any of my writings.

The above should give the reader a sense of Hoare’s “style” of argumentation. No doubt this posting will be followed by yet another blistering attack on my work, penned by the ever-eager Mr. Hoare — presenting yet more factual errors. I wonder if his cumulative attacks will eventually exceed several hundred pages.  Perhaps Hoare should consider publishing all of his attacks of my work as a separate book; or even an encyclopedia.

March 31, 2009

The Lessons of Yugoslavia

Filed under: Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 12:32 pm

(This appeared originally at http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/proyect300309.html)

The Lessons of Yugoslavia
by Louis Proyect

David GibbsFirst Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia(Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, forthcoming, June 2009).

As a rule of thumb, there is an inverse relationship between the success of American foreign policy adventures and the amount of scholarly critiques they generate.  When they fail, as they did in Vietnam and Iraq, a mass market will be created for books like David Halberstam’s The Making of a Quagmire: America and Vietnam during the Kennedy Era or Thomas Ricks’s Fiasco.  But when they succeed, publishers will not rush to the door of a scholar who questions such victories, especially if the main criterion of questioning is the impact on the lives of those whose lands were attacked.

Perhaps the most obvious recent example of this is the wars in Yugoslavia, which have generated very little in the way of serious analysis except from Diana Johnstone or Edward Herman.   As a measure of their isolation, both have been attacked as “holocaust revisionists” for making essentially the same kinds of points that have been made with respect to Iraq.

First Do No HarmThus, it is of some importance that David Gibbs, a respected professor of history and political science at the University of Arizona, has weighed in on the Balkan wars through the publication of First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia.  Using his background in the two disciplines, Gibbs has written one of the few chronicles of the wars in Yugoslavia designed simply to tell the truth about what happened.  Since so many mainstream accounts are content to recycle propaganda, it is no small accomplishment to present the facts without fear or favor.  With a twenty-five page bibliography, First Do No Harm is a substantive contribution to the scholarly literature, one that will have to be engaged with whatever your perspective on the Balkan wars.

Just as importantly, Gibbs has provided one of the few book-length analyses of the political economy of the wars’ origins.  With the exception of Sean Gervasi’s “Why Is NATO in Yugoslavia?” a paper delivered to a conference in Prague in 1996, there have been very few attempts to understand the implosion of Yugoslavia except in terms of a “great man” theory of history, in which an Evil Slobodan Milosevic gets blamed for everything that went wrong.  In that paper, Gervasi raised the question:

Why are the Western powers pressing for the expansion of NATO?  Why is NATO being renewed and extended when the “Soviet threat” has disappeared?  There is clearly much more to it than we have so far been told.  The enforcement of a precarious peace in Bosnia is only the immediate reason for sending NATO forces into the Balkans.

Gervasi died only six months after this paper was delivered, so he never really had a chance to give a fully elaborated, book-length treatment on U.S. ambitions clashing with one of the few remaining socialist strongholds in Eastern Europe.  In describing American foreign policy as a “Great Game,” not that much different from imperial ventures in the past, Gervasi dared to go against the liberal consensus.

David Gibbs’s study answers the questions first raised in Gervasi’s article, while contributing a new explanation that might appear controversial to those who regard inter-imperialist rivalries as ancient history.  In general, even among Marxists, including me, there is a tendency to regard the First and Second World Wars as confirmations of Lenin’s writings on imperialism but to look at the post-Second World War period as fundamentally different.  While there were obviously clashing interests between the United States and Europe or Japan over this or that trade agreement or foreign policy dispute, the consensus view tended to overlap with either “globalization” theories that posited a disappearance of the nation-state or a view that most nation-states were content to operate as subhegemons in the U.S. orbit.

For Gibbs, the key to understanding the trajectory of the Balkan wars was rivalry over what was considered a ripe plum.  Germany had its own imperial interests and was actually the first capitalist power to begin the process of tearing apart a social system that had proven quite viable until economic contradictions began to make it vulnerable to outside powers in the 1970s.  In chapter four, titled, appropriately enough, “Germany Drops a Match,” Gibbs reveals the extent of German support for Croatian and Slovenian secessions:

German support for the secessionists is noted by several other sources.  French Air Force general Pierre M. Gallois asserts that Germany began supplying arms to Croatia, including antitank and antiaircraft rockets, in early 1991 — before the war began.  Off the record, US officials also acknowledged German intervention.  An investigative article in the New Yorker cites an anonymous US diplomat who alleged that German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher “was encouraging the Croats to leave the federation and declare independence.”  It is difficult to fully assess this allegation, given the anonymity of the source.  However, the New Yorker allegation is supported by the memoirs of US ambassador Warren Zimmermann, which note “Genscher’s tenacious decision to rush the independence of Slovenia and Croatia” (emphasis added).

Although the United States and Germany shared hostility toward Milosevic, who was perceived as a Titoist holdover standing in the way of converting the Yugoslav economy into one more favorable to Western economic ambitions, they by no means saw their own interests as coinciding.  Like dogs fighting over a bone, the United States sought to push its rivals aside and viewed NATO in particular as a means toward that end.  Sharing Gervasi’s emphasis on the role of NATO, Gibbs makes a strong case for seeing this military alliance as a bid to enhance the US hegemonic power at the expense of what became known as “Old Europe” in the early stages of the war in Iraq.

As a latecomer to the new areas for investment in the former Titoist republics, the United States understood the need for armed might, arguably the sine qua non for its continuing role as a hegemonic power in a period of economic decline.  As Thomas Friedman once put it, “the hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist.  McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15.”  While it was clearly beyond the bounds of U.S. hegemony to impose its will directly on Yugoslavia as it has now attempted in Iraq, it saw NATO as a useful surrogate.  Indeed, the pretext for a full-scale NATO intervention was the slaughter of Muslim men at Srebrenica, an event that, horrible as it was, should not have provided an excuse for even greater bloodletting.  Under the rubric of “Operation Deliberate Force,” U.S. power was put on full display as Gibbs relates:

Deliberate Force was technically a multinational NATO campaign, but it was conceived and conducted largely by the United States.  Shortly before the strikes were launched, US officials met with their European counterparts and, in essence, demanded their support.  According to Chollet, who interviewed many key figures: “The Americans would go to explain what they were doing, not ask for permission.  The message would be ‘part invitation, part ultimatum.'”  Though European leaders resented this US diktat, they reluctantly went along with the plan.  After the Srebrenica massacre, the Europeans were under pressure to take action, and they did not wish to appear obstructionist.  NATO member states thus supported Operation Deliberate Force.

Gibbs fully intended First Do No Harm as a critique of both successful interventions such as the one that took place in Yugoslavia and the one that still lurches unsteadily in Iraq.  Despite the perception (albeit growing dimmer day by day) that Obama is anxious to pull out of Iraq, it should have been clear to everybody committed to world peace that his opposition to war was based on pragmatism rather than principle.  Even during the period when he was perceived as a courageous opponent of an unpopular war, Obama maintained that he was not opposed to all wars, only those that were “dumb” or “rash.”

Therefore, it is a cause for great worry that Obama has retained the services of a number of foreign policy operatives who do not believe that NATO’s wars in the Balkans were “dumb” or “rash,” especially journalist Samantha Powers who became persona non grata with the Obama team during the primaries when she blurted out that his plans for withdrawal were only a “best case scenario.”   She was subsequently reinstated, apparently because Obama shared her cynical attitude all along, despite his dovish reputation.

It is essential for those committed to world peace to become familiar with the sorry history of so-called humanitarian intervention in Yugoslavia, since the same characters who orchestrated American strategy in the period are now in the driver’s seat.  Not only do we face escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we are likely to hear the same kinds of “human rights” rhetoric that accompanied the Balkan wars.  This is not to speak of Darfur, a region that Powers has likened repeatedly to Yugoslavia as a candidate for a NATO-style rescue.

Gibbs indicates what the movement must be prepared for in his conclusion:

[T]he Iraq war has gone badly indeed, and the humanitarian effects of this particular intervention must be regarded as negative.  In this context, some recall the earlier interventions in Yugoslavia with nostalgia.  To state the matter simply, Yugoslavia is remembered as the “good war” — which achieved genuinely humanitarian outcomes — and it thus offers a welcome contrast with the Iraq fiasco.  The Balkan nostalgia also results from electoral politics: Democratic politicians are drawing attention to the “successful” US bombing campaigns in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina as examples of how intervention should be undertaken.  By emphasizing the positive aspects of these campaigns, Democrats are trying to show that they too are capable of using military force (with the implied additional claim that they can do so more effectively, more competently, and more humanely than their Republican opponents).  But the benign image of the Balkan interventions extends well beyond Democratic circles, and it is bipartisan to a significant degree.  The main purpose of this book has been to debunk this benign image, and to argue that it relies on a series of myths.

August 4, 2008

The DSP versus the archfiends

Filed under: Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 2:34 pm

Where was James Bond when we needed him?

While some elements of the left such as Counterpunch, Monthly Review and ZNet have not succumbed to the enormous pressures of the bourgeois press and well-funded NGO’s and think-tanks to demonize the Serbs, others have. Workers Liberty in Great Britain, a state capitalist sect and one such group, has politics that can be described as rightist social democratic across the board with an affinity for the Shachtmanite journal New Politics in the U.S.A. New Politics is co-edited by Joanne Landy who is perpetually circulating petitions calling attention to the alleged crimes of the Cubans, Iranians or the Serbs. Alan Johnson, a former leader of Workers Liberty, was on the editorial board of New Politics but eventually broke with the left entirely. Nowadays he writes for Democratiya, an online publication of the Eustonite “left”.

In what can only be described as a kind of cognitive dissonance, the Democratic Socialist Perspective group in Australia argues from the same angle as Workers Liberty even though its politics are much more akin to Counterpunch et al on just about every other question. This has led to some rather schizoid outbursts. Michael Karadjis, their rather febrile “expert” on Yugoslavia, has denounced the Counterpunchers of the world for genocide denial even though John Pilger-one of their most cited leftist personalities-signed an open letter defending Diana Johnstone from exactly the charges that Karadjis levels against her.

I have no idea what most DSP’ers think about Yugoslavia since Karadjis is their designated batter on the topic. My guess is that early on during the conflict in the Balkans, after they formed close ties with a left-nationalist Croatian group in Australia, they developed a line on Yugoslavia which bought into Serbophobia. Things being what they are in “Marxist-Leninism”, they essentially painted themselves into a corner. It is impossible for them to renounce this shitty analysis in the same way that it was impossible for the American SWP to admit that the “turn” was not working. Fortunately for the DSP, the impact of having a stupid position on Yugoslavia is not as grievous.

In the latest issue of Links, Karadjis holds forth on the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the Serb warlord who is held to be qualitatively worse than all the other warlords in Yugoslavia, including the Muslim Naser Oric whose anti-Serb pogroms near Srebrenica unleashed Karadzic’s bloodlust revenge. Oric was just freed of all charges by the ICTY in The Hague in keeping with its tendency to judge Serb killers as more unequal than other killers.

While acknowledging the hypocrisy of the imperialist powers that have done nothing about war crimes in Iraq, Palestine or Afghanistan, Karadjis advises that it would be a mistake to come to Karadzic’s “defence”. It is a bit difficult to understand what he means by defending Karadzic. Does it mean calling attention to the clearly illegal basis of the ICTY, including the use of naked bribery (opening up the door to European Union membership specifically)? This matter appears to be of zero interest to our intrepid radical journalist.

Karadjis buys in completely to the Susan Sontag/Christopher Hitchens/Paul Berman version of the Bosnian war in which a multicultural socialist country is despoiled by the Chetnik Karadzic who was the proverbial turd in the punch bowl:

From the outset, Karadzic planned to destroy Bosnia, so rudely based on coexistence between peoples rather than ethnic purity, root and branch and had agreement from his Bosnian Croat chauvinist counterparts.

What was needed, of course, to deal with such naked evil was somebody like James Bond who could have penetrated deep into the stronghold of the archfiend and dispatched him straight to hell with a Walther P99.

In this version of history, the Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic is as pure as the driven snow. In 1970, Izetbegovic wrote an Islamic Declaration that stated: “Pakistan constitutes the rehearsal for introduction of Islamic order in contemporary conditions and at the present level of development.” Now maybe I am missing something, but I had always considered Pakistan to be a reactionary, pro-imperialist bastion but perhaps beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Taking inspiration from the breakaway republics of Croatia and Slovenia, Izetbegovic pushed for a secessionist referendum in 1992 that the Serbs boycotted. With the Croatian ethnic cleansing of Serbs having already begun, one can understand why the Serbs would be on edge, especially since the Croats in Bosnia backed secession.

All of the three nationalities in Bosnia were involved with ethnic cleansing. The Counterpunch left has never tried to prettify Karadzic. Why the DSP would want to lie about Izetbegovic and destroy their credibility on the left is something of a mystery, although I understand how difficult it is for such propaganda groups to admit that they are wrong.

Trying desperately to maintain the DSP’s sorely tested anti-imperialist credibility, Karadjis insists that the West backed Karadzic:

But imperialism helped destroy Bosnia, because its heartland cities and industrial centres represented a multi-ethnic working class containing the last embers of socialist Yugoslavia.

Even before the war began, European powers put together plans drawn up by the Serb and Croat chauvinists for the ethnic partition of Bosnia into three states, despite the intermingling of populations – directly encouraging ethnic cleansing.

The one thing that Karadjis is unable to explain is this. If the West was so hostile to the socialist and multicultural government of Bosnia, why did the bourgeois media not reflect this? Anybody who read the Washington Post, N.Y. Times, Guardian et al during the 1990s would be hard-pressed to find evidence of support for the Serb militias, even in a backhanded way. Maybe DSP members do not read the bourgeois press, but others of us do. Here’s a reminder:

By taking United Nations peacekeepers hostage and using them as human shields, Dr. Radovan Karadzic and the other Bosnian Serb leaders have defined themselves as outside law and civilization. But then that should not have been a surprise to anyone who knew their works.

Dr. Karadzic and his colleagues, after all, presided over the first attempted genocide in Europe since Hitler: the systematic murder, torture and rape that constituted ethnic cleansing. Their idea of reprisal showed up recently when Bosnian Serbs responded to Serbian defeat in neighboring Croatia by blowing up Catholic churches in the town of Banja Luka, killing a priest and a nun.

–Anthony Lewis, N.Y. Times, May 29, 1995

All in all, the bizarre affinity between the DSP and the forces of Serbophobia beating within the heart of Western imperialism, its media and kangaroo courts should not be held against the comrades. As I have tried to point out, they have painted themselves into a corner. Given a choice between admitting that you are wrong and lining up with the Paul Berman’s and Michael Ignatieff’s of the world, it is apparent that the latter choice is a lesser evil for them. Some day, if the left can break its grip on the “democratic centralist” nonsense that forces small propaganda groups or mass parties to defend indefensible positions, we will all be better off. The sooner, the better.

July 30, 2008

Worst European massacre since the end of WWII?

Filed under: Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 7:31 pm

Marshall Tito: far bloodier than Radovan Karadzic

In news coverage of the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, there are constant references to the 8,000 dead at Srebrenica as the greatest massacre in Europe since WWII. For example, an article that appeared in the July 22nd Independent starts off:

The massacre of around 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica in July 1995 stands out as the worst carnage of the Bosnian war and the largest mass murder in Europe since the Second World War.

As an amateur historian, my curiosity was piqued. Was this really true? As it turns out, this very region was the scene of a far bloodier massacre that occurred in the town of Bleiburg in May 1945, just after the formal end of WWII. Bleiburg was on the border between Austria and Slovenia and a hub for Croatian Nazi collaborators, mostly Ustashe members. There were 30,000 POW’s who would be joined by another 60,000 Croats fleeing Tito’s advancing Partisans. Many of these were civilians who had absolutely no record of working with the Nazis.

When the Partisans reached Bleiburg, they wreaked bloody vengeance on the refugees, even though Tito himself was a Croat. As indicated from the wiki entry on Bleiberg, there are varying estimates of the casualty figures by respected historians but even the lowest estimate far exceeds whatever happened at Srebrenica.

For example, Croatian historian Vladimir Žerjavić estimates the numbers killed during the Bleiburg massacre at between 45,000 and 55,000 while British journalist Misha Glenny came up with the figure of 50,000 soldiers and 30,000 civilians executed.

Clearly the bloodbath was meant as retribution for Ustashe crimes at the Jasenovac death camps during WWII. A wiki entry on the Ustashe states that around 32,000 Jews, 40,000 Romas and between at least 300,000 and 700,000 Serbs died there.

Tito’s Partisans were not the only Communist-led soldiers who carried out war crimes. Anthony Beevor, whose book on the Stalingrad siege I found most useful in a survey of films about the pivotal WWII event, also wrote “Berlin: The Downfall 1945” that alleges that Red Army soldiers raped two million German women.

One imagines that if the left adopted the approach of Human Rights Watch, it would look at Bleiburg as just another Srebrenica type mass murder, with the perpetrators deserving to be put on trial at a place like Nuremburg or The Hague.

Yet Marxists have always used a different criterion. It is less focused on “evil” in the abstract, preferring to look at violence through the prism of history. While wars of liberation are often led by men and women who would disdain the kind of “collateral damage” associated with Bleiburg, there are notable exceptions.

For example, the FLN in Algeria often resorted to extreme violence against noncombatants, so much so that a liberal intellectual like Albert Camus decided to condemn them in numerous articles that have been the inspiration for Eustonian type declarations against the dastardly Serbs.

But unlike Algeria, Bosnia involved no such clear class distinctions. (Kosovo does involve these kinds of distinctions but that is a matter best taken up separately.) Perhaps the best analogy is with the communal riots associated with the creation of the modern states of India and Pakistan that resulted in over 10,000 deaths and 28,000 injuries by some accounts. Since both conflicts had nothing to do with social or economic emancipation, there was little point in trying to put a Marxist spin on a human tragedy except to point to the role of imperialism as Tony Cliff did at the time:

The power mainly responsible for communal clashes is British imperialism. It is she, who is responsible for the preservation of feudalism, which is the social background for the influence of religion on the masses. It is she who is responsible for the introduction about a century ago and preservation of the zamindar system, whereby permanent large landowners were put to lord over big estates in place of the former system of tax farmers. The British rulers put Hindus to rule over Moslem peasants and vice versa, thus sowing the seeds of communal discord. It is British imperialism, which is responsible for the competition of the clerks and members of the free professions, which receives a, communal colouring. And it is she who is responsible for the communal electoral system, for the sub-Federation organisation, etc.

And so, to the platitude of the Labour Government that they want to give independence, but the Indians are not capable of ruling themselves, and will cut one another’s throats in communal clashes, we must answer that the occupation army has not yet left India, that the pillars of imperialist rule – the Princes, zamindars etc. – are still in the saddle; and without their eradication the independence of India can only be a fiction.

The task of leading India’s independence of course cannot be carried out by the feudalist Moslem League or by the capitalist Indian Congress.

This should have been the approach of the socialist movement during the Bosnian civil war. Instead some elements became disoriented by the mammoth pressure orchestrated by the bourgeois press and well-funded NGO’s and began to look for “evil” men to demonize.

There seems little point in my opinion in debating over how many Muslims were killed at Srebrenica. Even accepting the 8,000 dead as an established fact, one has to ask whether justice is being served by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. On July 3rd, it decided to free the ex-commander of Bosnian Muslim forces in Srebrenica, who was originally convicted of failing to prevent men under his command killing and mistreating six Bosnian Serb prisoners. Such is the state of affairs in The Hague that this was the only charge preferred against him despite such reports in the mainstream media at the time:

Oric is a fearsome man, and proud of it.

I met him in January, 1994, in his own home in Serb-surrounded Srebrenica.

On a cold and snowy night, I sat in his living room watching a shocking video version of what might have been called Nasir Oric’s Greatest Hits.

There were burning houses, dead bodies, severed heads, and people fleeing.

Oric grinned throughout, admiring his handiwork.

“We ambushed them,” he said when a number of dead Serbs appeared on the screen.

The next sequence of dead bodies had been done in by explosives: “We launched those guys to the moon,” he boasted.

When footage of a bullet-marked ghost town appeared without any visible bodies, Oric hastened to announce: “We killed 114 Serbs there.”

Later there were celebrations, with singers with wobbly voices chanting his praises.

(Bill Schiller, “Fearsome Muslim warlord eludes Bosnian Serb forces”, The Toronto Star, July 16, 1995)

December 21, 2007

A Serbophobe outburst in the Nation Magazine

Filed under: cruise missile left,Yugoslavia — louisproyect @ 8:48 pm

The current issue of the Nation Magazine has an extraordinarily long article titled “Western Promises” that accuses the Western imperialists being soft on the late Slobodan Milosevic and other Serbs. It was written by Marc Perelman, the diplomatic correspondent of the Forward, a Jewish-American weekly in NY with historic ties to the social democratic leadership of the ILGWU.

Perelman uses nearly 6000 words to make the case that the U.S. and Britain “sabotaged” the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and allowed Serb criminals to go scot-free. It relies heavily on the word of one Florence Hartmann, a Serbophobe reporter for Le Monde in the early 1990s who became an assistant to Carla Le Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the ICTY. Hartmann is the author of one of those typically one-sided biographies of Slobodan Milosevic that makes him out to be Satan’s Spawn. Perelman’s article, however, relies heavily on her latest book titled “Paix et châtiment: Les guerres secrètes de la politique et de la justice internationales” (Peace and Punishment: The Secret Wars of Politics and International Justice) that is not yet available in English.

Hartmann is even too much for Marcus Tanner, who covered Yugoslavia for the Independent and hewed to their Serbophobe editorial position. In a review of a collection of articles on Yugoslavia co-edited by fellow Serbophobes Roy Gutman and David Rieff, Tanner dismissed Hartmann as an untrustworthy crank:

Some of the articles are sermons and rants. Florence Hartmann’s piece on Bosnia is just a series of accusations that have been bundled together. That “Milosevic made it his mission to set Yugoslavia’s ethnic and national groups against one another” is one of a great many “facts” that are baldly asserted without any supporting evidence.

–The Independent (London), August 3, 1999

Why the Nation Magazine would waste 9 pages circulating ideas that stemmed from Ms. Hartmann is somewhat beyond me, but then again they had the “wisdom” to publish the awful Joaquin Villalobos’s attack on Hugo Chavez.

The gist of Hartmann’s complaint is that a deal struck between the West and the Serb Republic to divide up Bosnia resulted in the slaughter at Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde since they fell within territory that was to be ceded to the Serbs. Hartmann’s argument is not new as Perelman reports:

The story of how the city was overrun and several thousand inhabitants were executed as UN peacekeepers watched helplessly has been recounted many times, most grippingly by David Rohde, an American reporter who first uncovered evidence of the massacre and whose Endgame: The Betrayal and Fall of Srebrenica (1997) describes the event through the eyes of seven witnesses. Rohde concluded that the litany of mistakes that led to the massacre was a “passive conspiracy” rather than a cynical backroom deal.

Missing entirely from these accounts of the Srebrenica killings that most assuredly did take place (although to describe them as “genocide” is positively Orwellian) is the ratcheting up of tensions at the hands of Muslim militias. You never find the name Naser Oric in the reporting of a David Rohde or a Roy Gutman, but Bill Schiller (by no means pro-Serb) wrote in the July 16, 1995 Toronto Star:

On a cold and snowy night, I sat in his living room watching a shocking video version of what might have been called Nasir Oric’s Greatest Hits. There were burning houses, dead bodies, severed heads, and people fleeing. Oric grinned throughout, admiring his handiwork.

“We ambushed them,” he said when a number of dead Serbs appeared on the screen.

The next sequence of dead bodies had been done in by explosives: “We launched those guys to the moon,” he boasted.

When footage of a bullet-marked ghost town appeared without any visible bodies, Oric hastened to announce: “We killed 114 Serbs there.”

Later there were celebrations, with singers with wobbly voices chanting his praises. These video reminiscences, apparently, were from what Muslims regard as Oric’s glory days. That was before most of eastern Bosnia fell and Srebrenica became a “safe zone” with U.N. peacekeepers inside – and Serbs on the outside.

Despite Oric’s taste for Serb blood, his forces were inexplicably withdrawn from Srebrenica just before the Serb counter-attack. A small UN force proved incapable of withstanding the Serb militias and the net result was a bloodbath.

Where Hartmann sees UN and Western inaction as proof that they were willing to cast the Muslims to the wolves as part of a process of carving up Bosnia ethnically along the lines of the India-Pakistan division, Diana Johnstone views it as a necessary first step in drawing NATO into the fray. If the UN was incapable of stopping the Serb Stalinist-Fascist-Satanist onslaught, then more powerful forces had to be mobilized. Waving the “bloody shirt” in this fashion has become more and more instrumental to the war aims of imperialism. Only a few years after Srebrenica became a rallying cry of the cruise missile left, Racak would play the same role in precipitating NATO intervention in Kosovo. And then more recently the attack on the WTC served similar purposes. One imagines that if there is ever an all-out nuclear war, it will be some other incident of “genocide” that will necessitate B-52’s being sent on their way to teach the miscreants a radioactive lesson.

If the goal of Perelman’s article is to convince readers of Serb guilt that the ICTY overlooked, it does not do a very good job. For example, there is much ado about the “Kula Tapes” that link Milosevic with the “Red Berets,” a highly trained detachment of the Serb army that operated in Croatia and Bosnia. Supposedly the U.S. sent a copy of the tape to ICTY that concealed key information about Milosevic’s culpability.

Perhaps people like Florence Hartmann and Marc Perelman are still stung by the ICTY’s decision that Milosevic was not directly involved with what they called “genocide” in Bosnia, so somebody has to be blamed for that failure. You have to stop and ask yourself why the U.S. would withhold such evidence when there is nothing in the tapes that has anything to do with Western failure to come to the aid of the Bosnian Muslims.

Contrary to Perelman and Florence Hartmann, there is substantial evidence that Milosevic was absolutely innocent of the charges against him as this report by Chris Stephen in the habitually anti-Milosevic London Observer (October 10, 2004) would indicate:

FRESH controversy has hit the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic with a claim from a senior intelligence analyst that the Yugoslav leader is innocent of genocide.

Dr Cees Wiebes, a professor at Amsterdam University, now says there is no evidence linking Milosevic to the worst atrocity of the Bosnian war, the massacre of 7,000 Muslims at the town of Srebrenica.

Srebrenica, which was overrun by Serb forces in July 1995, forms the basis of the genocide charge against Milosevic, but Wiebes, a member of a Dutch government inquiry into the atrocity, said there is nothing to link Milosevic to the crime.

‘In our report, which is about 7,000 pages long, we come to the conclusion that Milosevic had no foreknowledge of the subsequent massacres,’ he says in a radio programme, The Real Slobodan Milosevic, to be broadcast by BBC Five Live tonight. ‘What we did find, however, was evidence to the contrary. Milosevic was very upset when he learnt about the massacres.’

The prospect of the former Balkan strongman being cleared of the most serious charge he faces is a fresh blow to an already troubled case, which begins hearing defence evidence this week after several months of delays.

Any failure to prove genocide will cast a shadow not only over this case but over the whole practicality of holding tyrants to account in war crimes trials, most obviously in the case against Saddam Hussein.

Wiebes headed a team of intelligence specialists commissioned by the Dutch government to look into the massacre because its own forces were present in the town under the UN flag.

He had access to secret files, key diplomats and hundreds of witnesses to a massacre in which Muslim men and boys as young as 12 were butchered by Bosnian Serb forces. But while clearly implicating senior Serb field commanders, including General Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian army chief still on the run, Wiebes says Milosevic played no part.

He said it was understandable that Milosevic was upset ‘because in this phase of the war he was looking for a political settlement and this was not very good for him’.

Furthermore, if Western complicity with an alleged war criminal like Slobodan Milosevic would get in the way of a successful prosecution, then why in the world did the U.S. agree to allow Saddam Hussein to stand trial? Surely, he would have been able to “expose” American collaboration in his war with the Kurds as some leftist commentators predicted. Unfortunately, kangaroo courts like the ones that took place in the Hague and Baghdad are not set up for an evenhanded examination of all the facts. Neither Milosevic nor Saddam Hussein received adequate legal representation. And even if they had been able to bring to light American complicity, nothing of consequence would have come out of it since the propaganda machine of the West had already condemned such men to become “unpersons” in the Orwellian sense.

In keeping with the overall credulousness of the article, Perelman calls on a witness even more doubtful than Florence Hartmann:

In Srebrenica: Un génocide annoncé (Srebrenica: A Genocide Foretold), a book published in France on the tenth anniversary of the massacre, French writer Sylvie Matton offers some fresh acknowledgments by senior European political and military officials–mostly French–that the tragic fate of the enclave was no mystery. The most vivid acknowledgment is provided by Alain Juppé, who was prime minister of France at the time of the Srebrenica massacre. “It was widely known that the Serbs wanted to take the enclaves and annihilate the men,” Juppé told Matton, who then asked Juppé what he meant by “annihilate.” “Let’s say we knew they would take no prisoners,” he answered.

After reading this, I paused for a moment with my mouth agape. Who in their right mind would take Juppé’s word about anything? Alain Juppé was probably the most hated politician in recent French history, although Sarkozy seems poised to surpass him before long. The two of them came into office with a mandate from the French ruling class to break the powerful trade union movement and both ended up with bloody noses in the process. In 2004, he was found guilty of stealing money from his party, the Rally for the Republic, for which he got an 18-month suspended jail sentence and was banned from holding office for 10 years.

Fortunately, the Nation Magazine does occasionally allow the truth to filter through on the Balkans wars. In George Kenney’s review of Noam Chomsky’s “The New Military Humanism: Lessons From Kosovo” that appeared nearly 8 years ago to the day, the notion of a Serb master plan to subjugate its neighbors gets thoroughly debunked. Kenney writes:

On March 18, the day the Rambouillet talks broke down, David Scheffer, the State Department’s ambassador at large for war crimes issues, proclaimed that “we have upwards to about 100,000 men that we cannot account for” in Kosovo. Depending upon the sophistication of the press organ involved, this statement was variously construed as a warning or, as the New York Daily News put it in a headline the next day, 100,000 Kosovar Men Feared Dead. The specter of mass murder critically supported public acceptance of NATO airstrikes, which began less than a week later, on March 24. After two months of bombing, the Yugoslav regime was still, to the Administration’s deepening chagrin, in the fight. By this time there were increasing murmurs of discontent in the press regarding the effect of NATO airstrikes on unmistakably civilian targets. Ambassador Scheffer stepped to the plate again in mid-May, calling for “speedy investigations” of war crimes (by Serbs) while now noting that “as many as 225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59 remain unaccounted for.” Several wire services quoted him on different days as saying that “with the exception of Rwanda in 1994 and Cambodia in 1975, you would be hard-pressed to find a crime scene anywhere in the world since World War II where a defenseless civilian population has been assaulted with such ferocity and criminal intent, and suffered so many multiple violations of humanitarian law in such a short period of time as in Kosovo since mid-March 1999.” It was a profoundly ignorant remark, of course, but what’s important is that the Administration’s laserlike focus on allegations and innuendoes of genocidal acts securely established the legitimacy of continued bombing for an at-that-time unknown, perhaps lengthy period.

Helpfully sensing that Washington–Scheffer and a battalion of like-minded flacks–had gone too far out on a limb, in June and July the British started publicizing their reduced estimate that 10,000 Albanian Kosovars had been killed. For whatever reason that number stuck in establishment circles. In fact, however, it appears to be still too many. The actual number is probably somewhere in the low thousands.

In mid-July sources from the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, known as KFOR, were telling the press that of 2,150 bodies found by peacekeepers only 850 were victims of massacres. Nevertheless, still eager to bolster the Serb=devil argument, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, in an address to the Council on Foreign Relations on July 26, poignantly mentioned “the village of Ljubenic, the largest mass-grave site discovered so far from this conflict, with as many as 350 bodies.” Berger may not have been aware that the Italian in charge of the site, Brig. Gen. Mauro Del Vecchio, had told the press several days earlier that the exhumation had been completed at the site and that seven bodies had been found. All press mention of Ljubenic ceases after that point.

That’s the kind of writing that the Nation needs, not the drivel offered up by Marc Perelman.

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