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Srebrenica: Using War as an Excuse for More War


Anyone foolhardy enough to write a dissenting view about former Yugoslavia in general and Srebrenica in particular has to know what she’s in for: misinterpretation, outrage, accusations of being an apologist for genocide. All this is to be expected, but unpleasant nevertheless, and illustrative of the fact that the supposed efforts by the “International Community” to foster a spirit of multicultural reconciliation have been a dismal failure–and that is putting it mildly.

Thus, despite NATO’s war to give Kosovo over to armed rebels with notorious criminal connections, an Albanian-American writes indignantly that the Serbs “still stain” Kosovo — apparently by their drastically reduced presence in terrorized ghettos. The symbol of “the Srebrenica massacre” helps keep such hatred burning, hatred which still has political uses in the Balkans. At the global level, it is shorthand for the “humanitarian intervention” imperative, Washington’s favorite excuse for neoimperialist interventions, when “terrorism” and “weapons of mass destruction” lose credibility.

That symbol was the subject of my essay.

Some months ago, I was invited to join a group of writers forming a “Srebrenica research group”. I declined, explaining that I had already said all I was capable of saying on the subject in my book Fools’ Crusade.

As I pointed out: There are two sides to writing about Srebrenica.

1-The plain facts: body counts, forensic evidence, etc.

2 -Analysis of the propaganda and political significance.

The analysis is the part that actually interests me the most, and that I emphasized in my book. In contrast, evaluating the evidence is beyond my capabilities, nothaving the resources or the expertise to pursue body counts or seek out survivors.

I would have let it go at that, but an Italian publication, Giano, recently invited me to write a response to an article in the Rifondazione comunista newspaper Liberazione, which spoke of “the massacre of 9,000 civilians”, well above even the highest possible estimates, and dwelt heavily on the charge of “genocide”. This was only one example of an extraordinary media campaign on the tenth anniversary of the Serb capture of Srebrenica. Isn’t it rather strange that Western media pay more attention to events in a small town in Bosnia ten years ago than to the destruction of cities in Iraq which is happening now? It is clear that “Srebrenica” as a symbol has a propaganda life of its own, apart from whatever happened there in 1995. However, that distinction is obviously one that many people find impossible to make.

Most attacks on my piece center on three terms:

1.”Humanitarian intervention.” Although used as an argument in favor of “humanitarian intervention”, the Bosnian war may better be seen as an illustration of what is wrong with the notion. The idea of “humanitarian intervention” suggests that Great Powers — and given today’s relationship of forces, this means the United States — can be persuaded to act decisively in the interest of others. Not only is this an illusion, but the type of intervention employed by the United States, based on high altitude bombing, is by its nature totally unsuited to “humanitarian” missions. The prospect of calling in “humanitarian intervention” risks exacerbating conflicts in the hope of drawing in U.S. military power on the side of one group or another. Had Alija Izetbegovic not been led to believe that he could obtain U.S. intervention, he might have worked for a compromise agreement. Without unnecessary prolongation of the Bosnian conflict, the 1995 Serb capture of Srebrenica would not have taken place.

2.”Civil war.” Despite arguments to the contrary, the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was most certainly a civil war, fought mainly between local Muslims, Serbs and Croats. The fact that all three sides received help from outside Bosnia-Herzegovina, both from other parts of former Yugoslavia (Croatia openly sent in its army to fight for Bosnian Croats) and from farther afield (the Muslims received arms and fighters from Muslim countries, with clandestine U.S. help), does not make it any less a civil war. Foreign intervention in civil wars is not unusual. And the argument that it was not a civil war because one party (the Serbs) was stronger than others makes no sense.

3.”Genocide.” Some Bosnian Muslims seem to think that labeling Srebrenica “genocide” is necessary to pay sufficient respect to victims of whatever happened there. Perhaps some day they may realize that the charge of “genocide” has nothing to do with extra respect for victims, and everything to do with pinning the “supreme crime” on Milosevic for political reasons: to justify NATO’s totally unjustifiable aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999. The real nature of the Kosovo problem, and the possibilities for peaceful compromise, were hidden behind the myth of “Srebrenica” as proof that the Serbs in general, and Milosevic in particular, were out to commit “genocide” against non-Serbs. This total fiction enabled Madeleine Albright to get the war she wanted: the war to initiate NATO into its new mission of “humanitarian intervention” and thereby reassert U.S. military dominance of Europe.

DIANA JOHNSTONE is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato, and Western Delusions published by Monthly Review Press. She can be reached at: dianajohnstone@compuserve.com