Friday, January 19, 2007

"Fascism" in Serbia, "the Liberation of Krajina", and the "genocides" in Kosovo and Bosnia

A brief comment on the ductility of ethical imperialism.

In The War in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina 1991-1995, published a couple of months after the twin towers attacks, Marko Atilla Hoare, son of the litigous Branka Magas and Quintin Hoare, saw fit to describe the ethnic cleansing of some 200,000 Serbs from Croatia in 1995 as "the liberation of Krajina". In this, he was in agreement with the Croatian regime, its ambassador, the U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith (who specifically denied that it was ethnic cleansing), and Croatia's apologists such as Duke Otto von Habsburg of Germany (who referred to the ethnic cleansing as liberation at the European Parliament) and tacitly the bulk of the Western media. I don't claim that Hoare was won over by Croatian nationalism, and I certainly wouldn't imply that his mother was either, since both claims could take me in a dangerous direction. Nevertheless, his printed material tells a sufficient tale in itself. Only a few honourable skeptics like Robert Fisk actually called it for what it was at the time.

By contrast, of course, the war in Bosnia, including especially the massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica by Serb forces, are uniformly referred to as "genocide" in the mainstream media, (and Hoare is not one to buck that trend). In fact it was, by most accounts, genocide bearing comparison with the Nazi holocaust. This was not so, and even the death-rates during the conflict were consciously exaggerated, and continue to be so. You are unlikely to meet someone interested in the topic who doesn't know that 260,000 people were killed in Bosnia during the war. It is axiomatic that these figures represent a Serb-driven effort at exterminating the Bosnian Muslim population. The researchers from the ICTY who conducted a study released in 2005 into the matter found something rather different. About 102,622 civilians and soldiers were killed; 55,261 civilians (of which 38,000 were Muslims and Croats, and 16,700 Serbs) and 47,360 soldiers (of which 28,000 were Muslims, 14,000 Serbs and some 6,000 Croats). These figures would be the expected death rates in a civil war, reflecting the balance of power on each side: and indeed, it was a civil war.

Similar language abounded during the Kosovo war, with Milosevic's campaign against the KLA also described as 'genocide' by Western leaders. Jonathan Freedland wrote in April 1999 that "Just as the US scholar Daniel Goldhagen has shown how it was impossible for ordinary Germans to be ignorant of the Final Solution, so today's Serbs can hardly claim to be in the dark." Two weeks later, Goldhagen wrote for the same newspaper that "Serbia's deeds are, in their essence, different from those of Nazi Germany only in scale. Milosevic is not Hitler, but he is a genocidal killer who has caused the mass murder of many tens of thousands of people". The Serbs had "done their best to remind the world of the Holocaust", and like "Germany and Japan, the defeat, occupation and reshaping of the political institutions and prevailing mentality in Serbia is morally and, in the long run, practically necessary." US Secretary of Defense William Cohen told the world that 100,000 men of military age (never mind women and children) were missing and presumed dead. The Mirror noted "Echoes of the Holocaust". There were certainly deaths in Kosovo - perhaps as many as 2,000 - but it goes without saying that for all the crimes of Milosevic's counterinsurgency campaign in Kosovo, there was no genocide there. The ICTY reluctantly acknowledged this, and the ICTY are not known for hostility to Western propaganda.

Finally, it was an article of faith among apologists for Western intervention and secession that the Serbs were fascists. Hitchens, for instance, continues to maintain that Milosevic wished to impose "a wilderness of Serb Orthodox fascism". Yet a state with an elected government, legal opposition parties, independent trade unions, and opposition demonstrations permitted could not be characterised as fascist, for all its brutality. If there was a regime that bore any tincture of fascism at all, it was the Croatian government that apologists for the break-up of Yugoslavia under Western guidance were falling over themselves to excuse. The use of this language, and obviously its apologetic overtone, degrades the very concept of fascism, precisely as the opportunistic use of the term 'genocide' vitiates the impact of that term. Yet we never stop hearing about new forms of 'fascism' from the advocates of empire. Tory MPs rediscovered the pejorative sense of the term during the Falklands War, when they suddenly realised that the former client who had stolen British sheep was a dictator, and since then we have had fascism in Iraq, fascism in Yugoslavia, and 'Islamic fascism' to think about. We have also had Hari explain how there are two opposing left-traditions: anti-fascism and anti-imperialism. This was an update of Fred Halliday's claim during the first Gulf War that he preferred imperialism to fascism. I keep waiting for one of these people to update Rosa Luxemburg's maxim, and tell us that the choices facing humanity are imperialism and barbarism.