Edward S. Herman / Monthly Review – 2010-07-21 23:09:34
(July 2010) — It has become an annual ritual each July to commemorate the “Srebrenica massacre,” which dates back to July 11-16, 1995. The now institutionalized characterization is that “8,000 [Bosnian Muslim] men and boys” were executed by the Serbs at that time, in “the worst mass killing in Europe since the Second World War.”
This memorial is attended to each year by marches and “a line of weeping relatives” (in Bosnia), interviews with the families of victims, discussion groups, conferences, and numerous media articles and statements of diplomats and political leaders recounting the story and expressing regrets at alleged UN, Dutch, and Great Power failures to prevent the killings.
This year, the President of Serbia, Boris Tadic, was in attendance, showing the contrite face of the New (defeated, and supplicant) Serbia. President Obama declared the massacre “a stain on our collective consciousness” in violation of our promise of “never again” after the Nazi atrocities of World War II, and he stated that “there can be no lasting peace without justice.” (1)
The regular annual focus of attention on this particular tragedy and violence calls for an explanation. After all, there is no such annual memorial in the West as regards the Sabra-Shatila killings of several thousand Palestinians on September 16-18, 1982, although these were killings of civilians, whereas the Bosnian Muslims killed at Srebrenica were almost exclusively military-aged men, mostly soldiers.
Also, just one month after the Srebrenica massacre the Croatian military invaded the Krajina area, killing several thousand, including several hundred women and children, and turned some 250,000 Serbs into refugees, the largest case of ethnic cleansing in the Balkan wars.
Interestingly, this episode is not only not the subject of any annual memorial, it has been celebrated as a “Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day” in Croatia, but EU officials and President Obama do not express their sympathy with the Serb victims or regret at the insensitivity of the Croatians celebrating their ethnic cleansing success.
Madeleine Albright did condemn the Krajina expulsions in the Security Council on August 10, 1995, but she was more indignant over “13,000 men, women and children [who] were driven from their homes” at Srebrenica. (2)
A European Parliament resolution of January 15, 2009, which institutionalized an annual “day of commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide,” mentions the “deportations of thousands of women, children and elderly people” from Srebrenica, but nowhere does it officially condemn or call for the memorialization of the deportation of 250,000 Serbs from the Krajina. (3)
This selectivity is hugely political. The Sabra-Shatila killings and Croatian ethnic cleansing were carried out by US allies, the latter with overt US support (though Albright “categorically” denied this before the Security Council (4)
The Srebrenica massacre, by contrast, was carried out by a US-NATO target, occurred at a very convenient moment, and has been serviceable ever since. It helped justify intensified military intervention by the United States and NATO, including eventually NATO’s Kosovo-Serbia bombing war of March-June 1999, the follow-up NATO occupation of Kosovo, and the final breakup of Yugoslavia.
Srebrenica’s role in demonization helped exclude the Bosnian Serb leadership from participation in the 1995 Dayton peace negotiations, and, eventually, using the NATO-country-sponsored International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslavia (ICTY), made it possible to charge, try, and finish off Milosevic. (5)
For brainwashed Western audiences, however, Srebrenica shows that Western military intervention can be good — if there was a failure to stop genocide at least the West brought a belated justice to the villains. A continuous reminder of this humanitarian role in Western military intervention is provided by the annual Srebrenica memorial.
Admittedly, 8,000 is a large number. But 250,000 Serb refugees is a larger number. Recall also Albright’s notorious statement in 1996 that the death of 500,000 Iraqi children resulting from the US-sponsored “sanctions of mass destruction” was “worth it,” based on US political aims. There is also the internal State Department memo of September 1994, cited in “The Politics of Genocide,” (6)
Apart from its selectivity, there is also a question of the accuracy of that large number, 8,000. There has been a steady stream of inflated, sometimes ludicrously inflated, claims of target-inflicted deaths in the Yugoslav wars. From 1993 onward the implausible and unverified Bosnian Muslim claim of 200-300,000 victims was uncritically accepted and institutionalized in the Western mainstream media. It was undermined in 2003-2007 by a pair of studies sponsored by the ICTY itself and the Norwegian government, both of which found total deaths on all sides, including soldiers, to be on the order of 100,000. (7)
This deflation has only slowly crept into the mainstream media, which have never explained or apologized for their gullibility. In the case of the Kosovo bombing war of March-June 1999, US official claims of Serb killings reached up to 500,000, and Western officials and media pundits were hysterical in their denunciations and indignation. Eventually the official claims fell to 11,000, but the total number of bodies uncovered and missing persons together, including soldiers and non-Kosovo Muslim civilians, was little more than half that official claim (some 6,000). (8)
But the mainstream media used the word “genocide” 323 times in describing what happened to the Kosovo Muslims, versus 80 times for the Iraq sanctions, which involved 200 times as many civilian deaths, and they used it only 17 times for deaths in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which involved over a thousand times more deaths than in Kosovo. (9)
Inflated counts and “genocide” for the worthy victims (of US targets); low key treatment and avoidance of invidious words like “genocide” for the unworthy victims (of the United States itself or one of its clients).
The Srebrenica massacre of “8,000 men and boys” dates back to a Red Cross claim about missing people in July-August 1995, when no real data were available,(10)
In fact, the 8,000 is now taken as possibly an underestimate — the EU resolution of January 15, 2009 speaks of “more than 8,000” and this is commonplace. It will be recalled that the initial 9-11 estimate of deaths from the New York City Trade Center attack — 6,886 — fell subsequently to 2,749, a decline of 60 percent.
The figure for Muslim dead in Bosnia fell from some 250,000 in 1992-3 to fewer than 100,000 today, a fall of well over 60 percent. The number allegedly massacred by the Serbs in Kosovo during the 1999 bombing war fell from US official claims of 100,00, 250,000, and as high as 500,000, to an official (and still inflated) figure of 11,000 today, a drop of 90 percent or more. But Srebrenica’s number stays the same — not because it is based on evidence, but because it is so central and useful a political construct, and is repeated by members of the establishment with the assurance of true believers.
The 8,000 is sustained in part because the follow-up list of missing persons eventually assembled was done by means of an appeal to the Bosnian Muslim population to come forward with names of the missing. Again, by the continuing miracle, this list still approximates 8,000. But it was not collected on any kind of scientific basis, and it has been found that some of the names are of men who died before July 1995, quite a few seem to have voted in the 1996 election, and the number has never been sustained by forensic evidence.
As late as 2001 the ICTY had only located some 2,100 bodies in the Srebrenica area, not many identified or shown to have been July 1995 Srebrenica victims. (11)
Later grave finds have been similarly problematic. A basic problem throughout has been the fact that there was severe fighting between the thousands of Bosnian Muslim 25th regiment soldiers, who left Srebrenica for Bosnian Muslim lines on or shortly before July 11, 1995, and Bosnian Serb forces. Both Bosnian Muslim and Serb officials have estimated that 2,000 or more Muslim soldiers were killed in this retreat; the Bosnian Muslim Chief of the Supreme Command Staff General Enver Hadzihasanovic testified in the trial of Radislav Krstic that he could “claim for certainty that 2,628 members, both soldiers and commanding officers, members of the 28th Division, were killed” during this retreat. (12)
According to an analysis of the autopsy reports compiled by the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICTY from 1995 to 2002 by the Serb forensic expert Ljubisa Simic, in roughly 77 percent of the bodies associated with these reports it was either impossible to determine the manner of death (i.e., execution or combat) or the manner of death strongly suggested that it was in combat. (13)
This uncertainty was very convenient, because, with a compliant ICTY, Bosnian Muslim investigative authority, and media, they could all be quietly assumed to have been executed.
There is no doubt that there were at least several hundred executions in the Srebrenica area in July 1995, as 443 ligatures and “at least” 448 blindfolds were found in the mass graves, (14)
The Bosnian Serbs were in a vengeful mood as the “safe area” of Srebrenica had long been the military base from which Bosnian Muslim forces went out to attack nearby Serb towns. Many scores of these towns were assaulted and several thousand Serbs were killed in these actions in the several years before July 1995. (15)
Naser Oric, the Bosnian Muslim military commander in those years, actually bragged about his killings to Western journalists, showing them videos of beheadings, and acknowledging an action which had left 114 Serb dead. (16)
What a field day the ICTY would have had if such admissions, and videos, had been attributable to Karadzic, or Mladic, or Milosevic! But given their attribution to an alleged defender of a victim population, Oric could get away with murder.
General Philippe Morillon, who had been in charge of UN forces in the Srebrenica area, told the ICTY that Serb brutality at Srebrenica could be explained in good part by this prior Oric-Bosnian Muslim violence, but this context was never mentioned in the EU resolution of January 2009 nor in the speeches about and analyses of Srebrenica at the July 2010 memorials.
Another bit of context-stripping has been the assailing of the UN-provided Dutch peacekeeper contingent at Srebrenica for its failure to stop the massacre. There has even been a lawsuit initiated against them in the Netherlands for their alleged complicity. (17)
The EU resolution of January 2009 mentions twice that Srebrenica was “a protected zone” by virtue of a UN Security Council ruling, and that “Muslim men and boys…had sought safety in this area under the protection” of UN protection forces, so that the massacre “stands as a symbol of the impotence of the international community.”
But the Resolution fails to mention that the protected zone was supposed to have been demilitarized, but wasn’t. Naser Oric and his fighting cadres had not been disarmed, and many attacks on Serb villages had been launched from the “protected area.”
Furthermore, in July 1995 there were several thousand well-armed Bosnian Muslim soldiers of the 25th regiment located in the town. So the Resolution deceives, first by omission of the actual role of the “protected zone” (protecting a fully operational Bosnian Muslim military base). It deceives (and lies) secondly in saying men and boys had “sought safety” in Srebrenica, implying that these were civilians, not the 25th regiment. It contains other lies: one is that there was “rape of a large number of women,” a charge for which there has never been any evidence whatsoever.
So rather than the “impotence of the international community” what we see here was really the “international community’s” complicity with Naser Oric and the Bosnian Muslims in their military strategies, local ethnic cleansing, and provocations of the Bosnian Serb armed forces, and the parallel refusal of the Western leadership to try to settle these struggles, manifested in their sabotaging of the early 1992 Lisbon agreement and its successor peace plans. (18)
The fact that a well-armed Bosnian Muslim regiment of several thousand men was located in Srebrenica, and retreated without putting up any defense against a Serb attack force of 200, shows that the charges against the lightly armed Dutch peacekeeping contingent of 69 men are ridiculous and misdirected. Why not sue the Bosnian Muslims responsible for the retreat for any deaths that followed in the Srebrenica area? But in the spirit of the memorial, and the narrative and ideology on which it rests, (19)
Another Srebrenica memorial myth is that the memorial and political actions associated with it are necessary for real peace. In the words of the EU resolution, “there cannot be real peace without justice,” which means getting Mladic into court, and this is essential for “reconciliation” so that “civilians of all ethnicities may overcome the tensions of the past.”
But how about justice for the thousands of Serbs killed from the UN-protected Srebrenica base between 1992 and July 1995, the 250,000 driven out of Krajina in Operation Storm, and the thousands of Serbs and Roma driven out of Kosovo since the NATO takeover and installation of the KLA in power?
NATO’s bombing war against Yugoslavia in March-June 1999 was in violation of the UN Charter, killed many hundreds of civilians, and involved the use of illegal weapons (cluster bombs, depleted uranium). Don’t we need criminal prosecutions in these cases for justice and reconciliation?
Furthermore, doesn’t huge attention to a one-sided remembrance and memorial create resentments and assure long-term ethnic hostilities? Can’t it be used by the preferred side to keep the pot boiling, rub salt in the wounds of their enemies, and obtain financial and political advantages from their powerful Western supporters?
The memorials and EU Resolution are not designed for peace and reconciliation; they are a continuation of the war of pacification and vengeance against Serbia and a means of showing that the ongoing US-NATO militarization and permanent global “war of terror” is a fight against evil.
Edward S. Herman is professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and has written extensively on economics, political economy, and the media. Among his books are Corporate Control, Corporate Power
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