[Marxism] Diana Johnstone on Srebrenica

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Nov 5 16:57:34 MST 2005

Counterpunch November 5 / 6, 2005
A Response to Certain Criticisms of My Recent Essay
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 

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 at compuserve.com 

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