Guest post by Andrew Murphy
Milosevic’s authoritarianism in Serbia is provoking real separation. Remember what Hegel said, that history repeats itself as tragedy and farce.
There she goes again. In classic Chomskyite argumentation, Diana Johnstone has penned an essay trying to assert that the late Richard Holbrooke, rather than Slobodan Milosevic, was the real monster in the Balkans in the late 1990s.
Johnstone is the former European editor of In These Times magazine, who made quite a splash in 2003 when she wrote a book entitled Fool’s Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions. Among other things she denied the massacre at Srebrenica, putting it in quotation marks (pages 106, 115). She was only willing to admit that the Serbs executed at most 199 Muslims because all the Bosnian had fled Srebrenica (pages 114-115). Since 2003 Johnstone has done some some writing and verbal tap dancing around her original arguments to prevent being perceived as a “denier,” but we will get to that later.
Her latest essay is fraught with the same sort of mythology. She implies that the Dayton Agreement was purely one-sided against the Serbs. In fact Bosnian Serbs actually achieved a net increase in territory. Most of the large tracts of land minus Sarajevo were retained by the Serbs. In all the Serbs saw a 3 percent increase in territory whereas the Bosnian Muslims saw only a 2 percent increase.
Milosevic had hoped that his concessions would lead to peace and reconciliation with the United States. As it happened his only reward for handing Holbrooke the victory of his career was to have his country bombed by NATO in 1999 in order to wrest from Serbia the province of Kosovo and prepare Milosevic’s own fall from office.
Could Johnstone possibly genuflect more at the grave of Milosevic?Milosevic’s call for a Greater Serbia is what unleashed the Balkan wars. Likewise she doesn’t mention what Serbia was doing in Kosovo prior to the NATO bombing in 1999. From 1990 to 1996, ethnic Albanians were expelled from state jobs and had a Serbian education curriculum imposed on them. Albanian newspapers, TV and even the language itself was suppressed. Nor is there any mention of the peaceful attempts by the ethnic Albanians to try and resist Serbian domination of Kosovo. Writer Ibrhaim Rugova, leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo, led a campaign to boycott paying taxes, and for Albanians merging into a Serbian-dominated Kosovo. In 1992, when a referendum was passed creating a new Republic of Kosovo and making Rugova president of the republic, the Serbs refused to accept this and imposed more repression.
Johnstone never mentions that when Kosovo issues were addressed in 1997 prior to the war by diplomats to find a peaceful solution to the rising Serbian-Albanian tensions in the region, the Serbian delegation left in protest.
Johnstone is correct that Holbrooke was once soft on Suharto in the 1970s, but comparing him to a ruthless Serbian apparatchik who tried his best to bring ethnic cleansing back in vogue in Europe is revolting. Johnstone belongs to that pseudo-Left position which couches everything in knee-jerk Anti-Americanism. After all, didn’t you know the real reason Serbia was attacked was because they were a bulwark of socialism against neo-liberalism?
Whatever faults Holbrooke had, they pale in comparison to a man who deliberately whipped up ethic hatred by giving a speech June 28, 1989– the anniversary of the Serbian defeat in Kosovo by the Turks– rallying Serbian hatred toward Muslims. A man whose political enemies routinely “disappeared”, who made secret deals with Croatia to carve up the region of Bosnia to be exploited and ethnically cleansed by Serbian separatists. A man who his country into the ground, both politically and economically, and profited by the economic embargo placed on Serbia by the West.
It is known from court testimony by General Wesley Clark that Milosevic knew in advance of the massacre of Srebrenica.
“And so I simply asked him. I said, ‘Mr President, you say you have so much influence over the Bosnian Serbs, but how is it then, if you have such influence, that you allowed General Mladic to kill all those people in Srebrenica”
He continued: “And Milosevic looked at me and paused for a moment. He then said, ‘Well, General Clark’, he said, ‘I warned Mladic not to do this, but he didn’t didn’t listen to me’.”
Milosevic retorted in open court that this was all a lie by claiming that he could not issue orders to General Mladic, Chief of Staff of the Bosnian Serb Army. Yet we know from Swedish diplomat Carl Bildt that this is untrue. Bildt was with Milosevic and Mladic on July 14 (while the massacre was ongoing) and watched as Milosevic would vacillate between begging and issuing orders to General Mladic.
This is where we come back to Diana Jonstone’s denying the massacre at Srebrenica. The first edition of her book puts the massacre in quotation marks and claimed that only 199 Muslims were killed by Bosnian Serbs. Two years later in the Guardian she wrote:
My book does not attempt to recount what happened at Srebrenica, but to point to the political symbolism of such events, marked by the media tendency to dwell on some and not on others, to repeat the highest of casualty estimates when there is no scientifically established number, and above all to simplify and dramatise an unfamiliar and complex reality by resorting to analogy with Hitler and the Holocaust.
If that was really the case, why put massacre in quotation marks?
In another essay in 2005, Johnstone wrote of the bodies found in Srebrenica:
Despite unprecedented efforts over the past ten years to recover bodies from the area around Srebrenica, less than 3,000 have been exhumed, and these include soldiers and others-Serb as well as Muslim-who died in the vicious combats that took place during three years of war. Only a fraction have been identified.
At least she was willing to admit more then 199 were executed, but she still implied many of the bodies in the mass grave were those of soldiers, thus trying to cling to genocide revisionism. DNA evidence has already established that 6,186 bodies of the people missing from the village of Srebrenica have been identified.
Like a moth to the flame, Johnstone simply can’t leave it alone. This year she signed a letter along with other notables like Edward Herman, pleading with the Serbian government not to give the Srebrenica massacre the full recognition it deserves:
The informed public in Western countries knows that forces of the Republic of Srpska executed in three days approximately as many Muslims as Muslim forces, raiding surrounding Serbian villages out of Srebrenica, had murdered during the preceding three years. There is nothing to set one crime apart from the other, except that its commission was more condensed in time.
This is sheer intellectual BS. The Research and Documention Centre in Sarajevo has studied the war deaths in the Bosnia conflict and has found over 83 percent of the victims were Bosnian Muslims. So yes, one can separate one crime from another, Ms. Johnstone.
It is the sort of line of argument which destroys any credibility that people like Diana Johnstone were really antiwar. Of course they claim they opposed NATO bombing and the Western intervention of diplomats like Richard Holbrooke, but if they truly were against war, they would have been neutral, denouncing the Serbian aggression as much as NATO. But instead they are nothing more than apologists for the worst sort of Serbian chauvinism. And what sort of left-winger worth her salt values chauvinism over internationalism?