RECONCILIATION IS LIBERATION
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me first thank the Srebrenica Historical Project for inviting me to this conference. I accepted because I am in wholehearted agreement with what I understand to be the basic philosophy of the project, namely, that reconciliation is the highest priority among peoples who have been through a terrible war, and that knowledge of history is an essential foundation for reconciliation. Knowledge and sincerity are the two pillars of reconciliation.
So I want to congratulate the Srebrenica Historical Project for undertaking this extremely arduous and necessary task.
The task is particularly difficult and courageous because today, in much if not most of the world, "Srebrenica" is not an event to be studied and put into context but a sacred cult. It must simply be ritually deplored as "genocide" and "the worst massacre since World War II". Anything else is stigmatized as an "insult to the victims" and a form of "revisionism" or "negationism". Now, history involves a constant process of revision. But today what is implied by "revisionism" is "Holocaust denial", which is a crime in a dozen European countries. By analogy with the Holocaust, history of even such recent events as the war in Bosnia is being replaced by "the duty of memory" which means reverent repetition of the designated victims' version of the past.
Memory or history?
The transformation of "memory" into a sacred cult silences dissent and prevents open-minded examination of recent events and their context. To understand the conflicts that tore apart Yugoslavia, there needs to be much more free inquiry, more information, more analysis. But all that would imply "revisionism". Today it is an unquestioned dogma that recalling atrocities is a "duty of memory" to the victims, something that must be endlessly repeated, lest we forget. However, constant reminders of past atrocities may simply prepare the next wave, which is what has already happened in the Balkans, and more than once. In reality, the dead victims cannot profit from such memories. But the memory of victimhood is a moral and political capital of great value for the heirs of victimhood and especially for their self-appointed champions.
The dominance of the Holocaust in contemporary consciousness has created a sort of "Holocaust envy" among other groups who see advantages in being recognized as victims. Every community involved in a civil war has a natural tendency to see itself as pure victims. "Memory" enforces group identification, because each group tends to cultivate its own memories. To a large extent, the ferocity of the fighting that broke loose in 1992 was a resumption of the vicious cycle of massacres and vengeance that devastated Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1941-44, because the secession of Yugoslav Republics resounded in the Serb community's memory as a repetition of the Croatian Ustasha attacks on Serbs after the first Yugoslavia was broken up by Nazi occupation.
I have heard many indications of Serb willingness to admit that terrible crimes were committed on their side. I hope this willingness exists. But if it is sincere, as I hope it is, it can only be willingness to admit crimes that really took place, in return for recognition that atrocities of the same sort were committed on all sides. But the pressure from outside to make Serbs admit more than they believe is true does not help advance this step in reconciliation.
Revenge is, in my view, one of the commonest and most deplorable of human impulses. It seems that the desire for revenge (against earlier massacres of Serb villagers by Muslim forces based in Srebrenica) spurred the massacres of Muslim men after the Serb capture of Srebrenica. Revenge now also motivates the insistence of the Bosnian Muslim party on branding the Serbs as "genocidal". Muslims leaders seek to use the stigmatization to obtain reparations, or to brand Republika Srpska as an illegitimate entity. This is using “memory” to keep war going indefinitely.
To promote reconciliation, what is needed is more history and less "memory". Certainly, group memories and myths must be recognized as important factors in behavior. But they should not be accepted as too sacred to be examined critically.
There is a difference between raw facts and analysis. The fact, which seems established, that Muslims suffered the greatest number of casualties in the 1992-95 war does not mean that this was not a civil war. Nor does it mean that Alija Izetbegovic did not bear major responsibility, both for starting the war and for its conduct, during which Muslim fighters, notably foreign Mujahidin, committed shocking atrocities.
Atrocities distract from causes
But history is more than a matter of counting up atrocities. The body count tells us part of the result of conflict; it tells us nothing about the causes.
The stress on “genocide” – which is by definition a crime of intention – transforms a result of war, that is, the death of large numbers of people, into the cause. Now, nobody claims that Britain entered World War II, when it declared war on Germany, in order to bomb Dresden. Nobody claims that the United States entered World War II in order to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These gigantic massacres are understood as resulting from the war itself.
War is the condition that leads to massacres. And war has causes that can and should be the object of historical study. Had the war in Bosnia been prevented, there would have been no Srebrenica massacre. It could have best been prevented, by stopping civil war from breaking out in Bosnia Herzegovina to begin with. This prevention was possible if the "international community", meaning the NATO powers, Europe and the United States, had firmly insisted that the Yugoslav crisis of 1990 should be settled by negotiations. But first of all, Germany opposed this, by bullying the European Union into immediate recognition of the secession of Slovenia and Croatia from Yugoslavia, without negotiation. All informed persons knew that this threatened the existence of Bosnia Herzegovina. The European Union proposed a cantonization plan for Bosnia Herzegovina, not very different from the present arrangement, which was accepted by leaders of the Bosnian Muslim, Serb and Croat communities. But both these compromise agreements, which would have prevented war, were rejected by the Muslim party leader Alija Izetbegovic, encouraged by the United States. Throughout the subsequent fighting, the U.S. put obstacles in the way of every European peace plan. Without this U.S. interference, there would have been no Srebrenica massacre, which occurred in the last weeks of the three-and-a-half year war. This rejection of compromise, which plunged Bosnia-Herzegovina into fratricidal war, was supported at the time by a chorus of humanitarian absolutists, claiming that Bosnia must be a centralized State for the sake of "multiculturalism". These were the same humanitarians who had applauded the breakup of multicultural Yugoslavia -- which in fact created the crisis in Bosnia.
NATO’s attachment to “genocide”
Probably the major obstacle to genuine history and reconciliation is insistence of NATO’s vast and powerful institutional and propaganda networks on putting all blame for the Yugoslav wars on one side, the Serb side. The International Tribunal for former Yugoslavia has a priori attributed the wars of Yugoslav disintegration to a “joint criminal enterprise” to create “Greater Serbia”. The Tribunal has gone to great lengths to fix the label of “genocide” on Srebrenica, using an extremely eccentric definition of the term provided by a sociologist witness for the prosecution. There is no room for reconciliation when one side is portrayed as plotting genocide, and the other side is portrayed as being made up of innocent, passive victims. This version erases any political responsibility of Mr. Tudjman and Mr. Izetbegovic for the wars of disintegration. Western media and politicians need to accuse the Serbs, and only the Serbs, simply in order to justify NATO’s illegal 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia. The theory of the “joint criminal enterprise” erases Europe’s responsibility in sponsoring the unnegotiated splintering of Yugoslavia, reducing a large, independent country to a mutually hostile cluster of dependent mini-states. By ruling out reconciliation – because there can be no genuine reconciliation on the basis of a biased, one-sided view of events – the Western powers retain their domination as arbiters between enemies.
Indeed, belief in Serb “genocide” to justify the NATO bombing is so crucially important to the United States and its European satellites that there is hardly any chance in the foreseeable future of being able to raise a serious debate in the Western mainstream on the question.
This makes reconciliation extremely difficult, because the Western attitude both confirms the Muslims in the view that they were innocent victims of Serbian genocide, and encourages them to think that they can expect to be supported forever by the West. It must take a high degree of far-sightedness and wisdom for Bosnian Muslims to resist the temptation to choose eternal dependence on supposed Western benefactors over restoring mutual confidence with their Serbian neighbors.
Bosnian Muslims and the West
From what I read about the attitude of Bosnian Muslim political leaders toward the West, I am struck by what I can only call an unhealthy ambivalence.
To put it simply, these leaders demand and expect endless support from an “International Community” in which they have no confidence whatever.
How is this contradiction possible?
The key is the term “genocide”.
Muslims – and not only in Bosnia, far from it – regularly accuse the West of “standing aside” and “allowing the Serbs to commit genocide”.
An example is the extremely popular Egyptian Muslim preacher Amr Khaled, chairman of the Right Start Foundation International, who sees Bosnia as the model of European treatment of Muslims. Khaled is not at all belligerant, and urges Muslims to gain respect in European countries by working hard and being respectable and successful. But he believes that Europeans are hostile to Muslims because they are having more children than non-Muslims, and thus will become a majority “within 20 years”. He explains the Danish caricatures, for example, as a European attempt to “provoke” Muslims in order to have a pretext to ethnically cleanse them from Europe, “as in Bosnia”. http://www.youtube. com/watch? v=CSWLLc6uikE
Personally, I think that Amr Khaled is not totally wrong about all Europeans, although I think the attitudes he ascribes to Europeans are held by a minority and condemned by many more. But the point I am making here is his belief, which is surely widespread in the Muslim world, that Serbian “ethnic cleansing” or even “genocide” of Muslims was symptomatic of European attitudes toward Muslims.
A more extreme view is that of Iqbal Siddiqui, Editor of Crescent International and a leader of the Islamic movement in Britain. In an August 15, 2008 article entitled “Looking back at the war in Bosnia” (http://usa.mediamon itors.net/ content/view/ full/53730 ), Mr Siddiqui claimed that the leaders of Serbia and Croatia agreed on “a pact for the extermination of Bosnian Muslims” and that the “fundamental reality of the war” was that “it started as an attempt by Serbs and Croats together for the genocide of Muslims”. It should not be forgotten “that, in the early years of the war, the West deliberately stood back to allow them to complete the job”…
Mr Siddiqui concluded that: “the real lesson of Bosnia” is that “the West was prepared to allow the genocide of Bosnian Muslims” because of Europe’s fear of Muslims.
This is totally false. For one thing, Europe was never afraid of Bosnian Muslims – on the contrary, they were portrayed as the ideal model for Muslims in Europe, blond and blue-eyed, not overly religious. As for the Islamic fighters who came from abroad, they were a well-kept secret until after the Dayton accords. Western governments were divided as to what to do. The Europeans were divided, but tried to pretend to be united for the sake of the fiction of a “common foreign policy”. After the initial disastrous mistake of endorsing the unnegotiated Yugoslav disintegration, the European Union representatives tried to find a settlement that would end the fighting and save lives. These attempts were undermined by US policy, which was to secretly provide military aid to the Muslims – which kept the war going until the United States itself could take charge of the peace settlement at Dayton.
The irony is that in order to justify NATO bombing of Serbia, Europe has given credit to a myth of “genocide” that works against Europe itself. By endorsing the accusation of “Serbian genocide”, the West has inadvertently stimulated bitter resentment against itself among Muslims everywhere.
The United States readily adopts Manichean, melodramatic interpretations of foreign conflicts. By reducing the war to a conflict between evil, genocidal murders on one hand and innocent, passive victims on the other, the United States can play the role of the valiant hero who comes to the rescue. The Clinton administration embraced without question the melodramatic interpretation for Bosnia. This encouraged Alija Izetbegovic to be intransigent. The proper reproach is not that the United States “stood by” and allowed “genocide”. The United States did not “stand by” – it intervened actively from the moment Ambassador Zimmermann told Izetbegovic he need not accept the Lisbon compromise that had been accepted by the three constituent national communities and that could have prevented the war altogether.
This promise led Izetbegovic to consider that the United States owed him a better settlement than provided by the Lisbon agreement – that is, a centralized Bosnia-Herzegovina under the control of his Muslim party. The United States was wrong to seem to promise something it had neither the means nor the will to impose. Izetbegovic was wrong to rely on United States intervention to attain his political goals. Each was in fact using the other, and that is a game that can backfire.
Izetbegovic was using the United States to win his war for an independent, centralized, Muslim-dominated Bosnia including Serb-populated territories.
The United States was using the Bosnian Muslim cause for a variety of reasons of its own. The United States, being the stronger party, got more out of the deal. Above all, the team of Richard Holbrooke and Madeleine Albright succeeded in using the Bosnian conflict to reassert US control over NATO. It used the supposed threat of Serbian genocide to save NATO by giving it a new “humanitarian mission” – especially in Kosovo – to justify the alliance’s survival and expansion.
The motives for US interference in Bosnia
Both the Europeans and the Americans handled the Yugoslav situation badly, to say the least, but here I want to focus on US policy and its motives, which I think were very mixed.
At the end of the Cold War, the US foreign policy establishment considered that Yugoslavia was no longer of any use as a buffer state between the West and the Soviet bloc. The idea had long been current, especially among the Germans, that Yugoslavia was destined to fall apart, and that the Serbian part would become a satellite of Russia. This, I believe, was mistaken, but it created an initial prejudice against Serbs which the Serbs themselves failed to grasp, since they saw themselves as historic allies of the West. There was an idea that a strong Serbia, or a Yugoslavia dominated by Serbia, would provide a foothold for Russian influence in the Western Balkans. Weakening Serbia was understood has a way of weakening Russia.
And Yugoslavia was seen by some as a sort of Soviet Union in miniature. Techniques for breaking up Russia’s sphere of influence could be tried out in Yugoslavia, which became an experimental terrain for various forms of regime change.
As an immigrant nation, US foreign policy is influenced to an extraordinary degree by lobbies representing particular national groups. The Chinese lobby fifty years ago, the Cuban lobby and the Israeli lobby are the most striking examples.
In the case of Yugoslavia, there was no “Yugoslav lobby”, there was no “Serbian lobby” – because Americans of Yugoslav and Serbian origin, although they were often anti-Tito, had no agenda for radically changing the country. The Serbs in America had no pro-Nazi past to cover up. Anyway, there seem to be many fewer Serbian-Americans than Americans of Croatian origin, including a large number of pro-Nazi Ustasha who went into exile after World War II and worked hard to gain respectability for their cause by identifying it with “anti-communism”. Well before the disintegration of the Yugoslav federation, Croatian nationalists in the United States were well-organized and actively seeking support among influential personalities and members of Congress in particular.
The most successful of these lobbyists was Mira Baratta, the granddaughter of an Ustasha officer in Mostar. Her father, Pero Radijelovic, ran a weekly Croat radio program in Los Angeles and went from cherishing the memory of Ustasha leader Pavelic as “the greatest man in Croatian history” to building financial and political support for Franjo Tudjman in the Croatian émigré community.
As foreign policy advisor to Senator Robert Dole, Mira Baratta exerted an extraordinary influence on Congressional attitudes toward the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Her winning strategy was not so much to preach the Croatian cause – which might have raised questions. Rather, she focused on stigmatizing the Serbs as communist oppressors, taking up the cause of all the nationalities that sought to break up Yugoslavia – Kosovo Albanians and Bosnian Muslims as well as Croats, portraying them as victims of Serbian “bolshevism”.
Mira Baratta’s influence was hailed publicly in the Senate, when she wrote the motion calling for an end to the arms embargo against Bosnia – which, in reality, was already being secretly violated by the US administration. She has gone on to a successful career, including as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Eurasia in the George W. Bush administration, responsible for military cooperation with all the former USSR nations – including Georgia.
Recently, an article in the Croatian daily Jutarnji List revealed another case of significant influence over an American Senator by Croatian nationalists. Senator Joseph Biden, the current Democratic Party nominee for Vice President, was easily influenced by fellow Catholics espousing strong anti-communism, notably the Croat ultra-nationalist Franciscan clergyman Ilija Zivkovic. Zivkovic told the newspaper that Croatian lobbies such as the Croat Brotherhood Community and the Croat National Council had hired a former congressman back in 1987 to lobby for Croatian independence, long before Milosevic took power in Serbia. Biden became a leading crusader against the Serbs, whom he described on a television talk show as "illiterate degenerates, baby killers, butchers and rapists".
The Croatian lobby in the United States was able to advise Tudjman on how to win US support, and help him hire the Ruder Finn public relations firm which played a major role in portraying the Serbs as “the new Nazis” in the opening months of the wars of Yugoslav disintegration.
Now, the point I wish to make is that this high-powered propaganda campaign led by Catholic Croat nationalists did more than merely gain US support to their cause, It dovetailed with an even more deep-rooted Croatian nationalist propaganda campaign in Germany. It helped build the image of Serbs as “genocidal” killers even before hostilities broke out.
A very harmful effect of this stigmatization of the Serbs was by the time the crisis spread from Croatia to Bosnia, it had become politically difficult even to listen to the Serb side. Now, in order to prevent war in Bosnia, it was necessary for outside powers to listen to all sides in an effort to find a compromise settlement. But the United States attitude is that once one side has been identified as “the bad guy”, any compromise with him constitute a “new Munich”. In any case, the US administration failed to back the European-brokered Lisbon agreement and instead allowed Ambassador Zimmermann to encourage Izetbegovic to reject it – leading to war.
Opportunism of US policy
Indeed, in regard to Bosnia-Herzegovina, the main role of the United States for a long time was purely negative: to impede any European-backed settlement. I think this policy was not planned in advance, but grew up under the influence of the anti-Serb lobby, as US leaders saw the opportunity offered by the conflict in Bosnia for the United States to achieve several important policy goals:
- Assert its dominance over European allies in the arbitration of European conflicts (Richard Holbrooke says this in his memoirs);
- Save and expand NATO by giving it a new humanitarian mission “out of area”;
- Gain influence in the Muslim world by championing the Bosnian Muslims.
This was stated clearly by the late chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, Rep. Tom Lantos, known as a leading champion of Israel. Advocating independence for Kosovo at a hearing in April 2007, he called it "just a reminder to the predominantly Muslim-led governments in this world that here is yet another example that the United States leads the way for creation of a predominantly Muslim country in the very heart of Europe. This should be noted by both responsible leaders of Islamic governments, such as Indonesia, and also for jihadists of all color and hue. The United States’ principles are universal, and in this instance, the United States stands foursquare for the creation of an overwhelmingly Muslim country in the very heart of Europe.”
Nobody embraced the Bosnian Muslim cause more ardently than such loyal friends of Israel. Among them was the leading neo-conservative guru, Richard Perle, who served as advisor to Izetbegovic at Dayton. These are very often the same politicians and strategists who portray the Palestinians as dangerous Islamists and part of a threat of Islam to the West.
The Bosnian Muslim connection received strong political support from segments of the Israeli lobby because it promised to strengthen the crucial strategic U.S.-Israeli-Turkish alliance in the Middle East. This attitude was very frankly expressed in a January 1996 column by New Republic editors Jacob Heilbrunn and Michael Lind who wrote that:
...instead of seeing Bosnia as the eastern frontier of NATO, we should view the Balkans as the western frontier of America’s rapidly expanding sphere of influence in the Middle East. ... The fact that the United States is more enthusiastic than its European allies about a Bosnian Muslim state reflects, among other things, the new American role as the leader of an informal collection of Muslim nations from the Gulf to the Balkans. The regions once ruled by the Ottoman Turks show signs of becoming the heart of a third American empire.
The two editors predicted with remarkable foresight that: “The main purpose of NATO countries, for the foreseeable future, will be to serve as staging areas for American wars in the Balkans, the Mediterranean and the Gulf.”
The point here is that the United States embracing of the Muslim cause in Bosnia turns out to be part of a strategy to combat Muslims in other regions. The US policy in Bosnia and Kosovo has resulted in obtaining military bases – Bondsteel in Kosovo, Tuzla in Bosnia – by convincing the local Muslim population that it is there to protect them from the Serbs. These bases are certainly not used to protect Muslims in Palestine, Iraq or Iran.
This may shock some people, but I’ll say it nevertheless: the public display of commiseration with “mothers of Srebrenica” by certain American officials has been used primarily to give American leaders a good conscience for massacring Muslim men, women and children in Iraq – in far greater numbers than died in Srebrenica.
The Serbs’ vain appeal to the “Christian” West
A certain number of Christian Serbs seem to have nursed the hope that Serbia might be saved from its pariah status by joining in the conflict of civilizations alongside the Christian West against Islamic terrorism. By now, I think it is clear that this hope is vain and misplaced.
When Serbs recall that they were the first to oppose Islamic extremism by combatting Muslims in Bosnia, this merely serves to confirm the impression that Serbs are bigoted racists against Muslims. Some commentators already blame Islamic extremism on the Serbs. They point out that the Bosnian Muslims were moderates, but that the war in Bosnia inspired a new generation of international Mujahidin activity.
Serbs repeat that they are the historic bulwark defending Europe from Islam. For the vast majority of Europeans, who know and care nothing for that history, such a claim can only be taken as evidence of the medieval mentality still afflicting Serbs. Moreover, Serbs who recall their historic role as “bulwark against Islam” in Europe should also recall how they were used by the great Christian power of the time, the Habsburg Empire. Serbs were welcome as soldiers in the front line -- but not as an independent country.
The United States doesn’t need Serbia in its “war against terrorism”. That war is not really “against terrorism”. It is part of the attempt to impose a New World Order on the Middle East and beyond. And for that purpose, the United States obviously prefers Muslim allies over Christian ones as more effective in dividing and conquering the Muslim world.
A variation on this Serbian claim to belong to the West is the analogy that describes Kosovo as “the Serbian Jerusalem”. This analogy no longer works in favor of the Serbs. The likening of the Serbs to the Jews has not endeared them to the most influential Jews in Washington. And it will certainly not gain the sympathy of most of world public opinion. Western governments, and of course the United States most of all, strongly support Israel, but on the basis of the understanding that Israel is absolutely unique and can be pardoned for actions that would be unacceptable in others, because of the Holocaust. There is no way that little Serbia can be a second Israel -- except to be the version people dare to condemn.
Moreover the comparison distorts the geography in a manner very unfavorable to the Serbs.
The Serbs obviously prefer to compare themselves culturally to the Jews, but in current political terms, the sad fact is that the Serbs of Kosovo have much more in common with the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
This is a comparison that could gain much more worldwide sympathy for Serbia than the idea of a “Serbian Jerusalem”.
There is another political comparison that needs to be examined: the comparison with Central America.
In October 1998, when the United States imposed William Walker as head of the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission, this was the clear sign that the United States was henceforth treating the Balkans as they had traditionally treated Central America. Walker’s career in Central American “banana republic” management had notoriously included providing arms and supplies to the “Contra” forces to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua by murder and sabotage. What few people seem to have realized is that the armed Albanians of the UÇK played the same role in Yugoslavia as the Contras in Nicaragua. In both cases, rebel forces were armed and supported by the United States in order to bring about “regime change” favorable to U.S. strategic interests. Using ethnic minorities to undermine targeted States is standard operating procedure for the United States, as it was for British imperialism.
Now the former Yugoslavia is broken into so many “banana republics”, dependent on great powers and partially under military occupation and foreign rule.
Yes, Islamic terrorism exists – and began in Afghanistan with aid from the United States, in order to weaken the Soviet Union. The U.S.-led crusade against Islamic terrorism is steeped in lies, deception, and treachery. The same sort of lies, deception and treachery that have been used to destroy Yugoslavia. The struggle for truth should bring together all the real victims of such lies, especially those who have been set against each other.
The emphasis on universal religious identities, which is largely a fiction, leaves aside the particular history of the Balkans. The Bosnian conflict had its own very specific historic causes, which have nothing to do either with the situation of Muslim immigrants in Western Europe or with Western aggression against Muslim countries in the Middle East. The notion that the conflict between Serbs and Muslims is in some ways a paradigm of relations worldwide between the Christian, or ex-Christian, West, and Islam is a dangerous falsehood. This falsehood is not just spread by Islamic preachers like Iqbal Siddiqui. It is also adopted by a certain number of Christian Serbs and Western defenders of the Serb cause, who insist – in vain – that the West should recognize that the Serbs are defending the West against Islam. Some of these defenders of Serbs are repeatedly surprised that the West fails to recognize Serbia as their ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism. This line of argument is a bad basis for reconciliation. It also misjudges Western policy and priorities.
The result is that both the Muslims and the Serbs (I leave aside the Croats, who are in a different position vis-à-vis the West) focus on winning the support of the West, to the detriment of seeking compromise with each other. Although the Muslims seem to be winning this game, it is based on the false assumption that Western policy, and especially US policy, is loyal to its friends. The ease with which France and the United States forgot their “historic alliance” with the Serbs should cast serious doubt on that assumption. The Muslims may be abandoned some day, not because the Christian West awakens to its kinship with the Serbs, but simply because Great Power interests may shift.
So long as the peoples of former Yugoslavia count on outsiders, they will be manipulated and betrayed by outsiders. For better or for worse, you must live with each other. A terrible civil war has turned you over to foreign domination. Your liberation depends on reconciliation and cooperation.