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REMEMBERING CONCENTRATION CAMPS IN BOSNIA

August 13, 2008 1 comment
BOSNIAN GENOCIDE: Remembering Serbian-run concentration camps in Bosnia, where Bosniaks (Muslims) and Croats (Catholics) were detained, tortured, and killed:


HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH / Bosnia-Herzegovina / The Unindicted: Reaping the Rewards of “Ethnic Cleansing” / January 1997 Vol. 9, No. 1 (D)

Two of the concentration camps, Omarska and Keraterm, were places where killings, torture, and brutal interrogations were carried out. The third, Trnopolje, had another purpose; it functioned as a staging area for massive deportations of mostly women, children, and elderly men, and killings and rapes also occurred there. The fourth, Manjaca, was referred to by the Bosnian Serbs as a ‘prisoner of war camp,’ although most if not all detainees were civilians… The Commission of Experts determined that the systematic destruction of the Bosniak community in the Prijedor area met the definition of genocide.


The Prijedor opstina, or administrative district, includes at least seventy-one smaller towns and villages.(1) The names of some are now familiar due to the atrocities which took place there; among them are Kozarac, Omarska, and Trnopolje. While the towns and villages within the wider Prijedor district have their own officials, they are governed by the opstina. Thus, the Prijedor authorities wield influence over a considerable area. Prijedor was considered a strategically important town by the Bosnian Serbs, who wanted to create a corridor between Serbia proper and the Croatian Krajina, which was until 1995 controlled by rebel Serbs in Croatia. As early as 1991, the Serbs organized a Serb-only alternative administration in Opstina Prijedor, under the guidance of a central administration in Banja Luka. The designated Serb “mayor” was Milomir Stakic, a medical doctor who functioned as deputy mayor under the duly elected Bosniak mayor of the town, Muhamed Cehajic.

After the Serbs took power on April 30, 1992, they opened at least four detention camps in the Prijedor opstina. Two of the concentration camps, Omarska and Keraterm, were places where killings, torture, and brutal interrogations were carried out. The third, Trnopolje, had another purpose; it functioned as a staging area for massive deportations of mostly women, children, and elderly men, and killings and rapes (2) also occurred there. The fourth, Manjaca, was referred to by the Bosnian Serbs as a “prisoner of war camp,” although most if not all detainees were civilians.(3)

“Despite the absence of a real non-Serbian threat, the main objective of the concentration camps, especially Omarska but also Keraterm, seems to have been to eliminate the non-Serb leadership,” the U.N. Commission of Experts found. “From the time when the Serbs took power in the district of Prijedor, non-Serbs in reality became outlaws. At times, non-Serbs were instructed to wear white arm bands to identify themselves…According to Serbianregulations, those leaving the district had to sign over their property rights and accept never to return, being told their names would simultaneously be deleted from the census.” (4)

According to Ed Vulliamy (5), the first journalist to report from the Omarska camp, “Omarska was a monstrosity: an inferno of murder, torture and rape. It was a stain upon our century.” (6)

During the period when many persons were interned in the concentration camps, family members sometimes tried to obtain information from the police station in town. “Instead of receiving information concerning the whereabouts of their family members, they were in some cases offered the alternative of paying for an “exit visa” for the family at large.(7) In order to receive an “exit visa,” sums of money had to be paid to various municipal authorities and to the local “Red Cross,” run by the Bosnian Serb authorities, and real property had to be signed over to the municipality.

The Commission of Experts determined that the systematic destruction of the Bosniak community in the Prijedor area met the definition of genocide. (8)

The persecution of non-Serbs in Prijedor did not ease after international pressure succeeded in forcing the Bosnian Serbs to close the concentration camps in 1992, as evidenced by the ICRC’s attempt to evacuate all remaining non-Serbs from Opstina Prijedor in March 1994. (9)

As documented by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, a final wave of mass expulsions of non-Serbs from Prijedor and many other towns in Serb-controlled territory occurred in September and October 1995, when the infamous Zeljko “Arkan” Raznatovic joined local forces to conduct “ethnic cleansing” operations. (10) Forced expulsions in Prijedor began on October 5 during which those expelled were again forced to finance their own “ethnic cleansing” by paying transportation fees to the local “Red Cross” and were harassed, robbed, and threatened while waiting for the buses which would later dump them at the confrontation line. (11)

One woman told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki during a 1995 investigation of the expulsions, “All the Muslims from the city [Prijedor] were expelled. We went to the [local] Red Cross, gave them seventy DM for each family member and got on the buses. . .There were thirteen buses in the convoy leaving from Prijedor for Teslic. Men were taken off my bus. . . My husband was taken off the bus in Blatnica, a Serbian village in the woods.” She had not seen her husband since. (12)

Many draft-age males were separated from their families during round-ups in other Bosnian Serb-controlled areas, and transferred to Prijedor, where they were interned at the “Autoprevoz” facility or other local detention centers. Following the official closing of the camps in 1992, and until the present, rumors have abounded about the reopening of the Omarska, Manjaca and Keraterm camps, but Human Rights Watch/Helsinki has been unable to confirm them. Prisoners released from “Autoprevoz” in an exchange told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki that when the International Committee of the Red Cross tried to visit them, they were moved by bus onto the Kozara mountain and hidden until the visitors had gone away. (13)

Oppression of the now-minority Bosniak and Bosnian Croat populations throughout Republika Srpska continues today through restrictions on freedom of movement; evictions and expulsions; arbitrary arrest and detention; ethnically motivated harassment and direct physical attack; denial of employment, humanitarian assistance, medical care, and social insurance; discrimination in access to education; and restrictions on religious freedom.

* * * * *
(1) According to the 1991 census, Opstina (administrative district) Prijedor had a total population of 112,470 people, of whom 44 percent were Muslims, 42.5 percent Serbs, 5.6 percent Croats, 5.7 percent “Yugoslavs,” and 2.2 percent others (Ukrainians, Russians, and Italians). In April 1992, the total population was approximately 120,000 people, augmented, inter alia, by an influx of people who had fled the destruction of their villages in the west of Opstina Prijedor. United Nations, Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts, established pursuant to Security Council resolution 780, (New York: United Nations, 1992), S/1994674/Add.2 (Vol.), December 28, 1994, Annex V, Part 2, Section II, Subsection B.

(2) The U.N. Commission of Experts and many journalists and witnesses have reported extensively on the rape of women by Bosnian Serb forces. The commission, which conducted a special investigation of rape during the war, concluded: “Rape is prevalent in the camps. . .Captors have killed women who resisted being raped, often in front of other prisoners. Rapes were also committed in the presence of other prisoners. Women are frequently selected at random during the night. These rapes are done in a way that instills terror in the women prisoner population. The commission has information indicating that girls as young as seven years old and women as old as sixty-five have been raped while in captivity.. .Mothers of young children are often raped in front of their children and are threatened with the death of their children if they do not submit to being raped. Sometimes young women are separated from older women and taken to separate camps where they are raped several times a day, for many days, often by more than one man. Many of these women disappear, or after they have been raped and brutalized to the point where they are traumatized, they are returned to the camps and are replaced by other young women. There have also been instances of sexual abuse of men as well as castration and mutilation of male sexual organs. Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts, Annex V, Part 2, Section IV.

(3) As of June 23, 1993, according to the United Nations Commission of Experts, which conducted an extensive review of war crimes committed in Prijedor municipality, the total number of killed and deported persons was 52,811 (including limited numbers of refugees and people missing). Camps located in or around Prijedor included Omarska, Manjaca, Keraterm, and Trnopolje. See Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts, for a detailed description of events around Prijedor in 1992 and throughout the war.

(4) Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts, Annex V, Part 2, Section IV.

(5) Ed Vulliamy of The Guardian and Roy Gutman of Newsday were among the first to uncover and gain access to the concentration camps in the Prijedor area in 1992. Vulliamy accompanied non-Serbs as they were being “ethnically cleansed” from the territory, posing as a deaf mute. The two conducted extensive interviews over many months with Bosnian Serb officials, representatives of international organizations including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and with survivors of the camps. Roy Gutman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his work, and Vulliamy has also been honored. Both Gutman’s and Vulliamy’s findings have been utilized in war crimes investigations by the ICTY.

(6) Ed Vulliamy, “Yugoslavia: Horror Hidden Beneath Ice and Lies”, The Guardian, London, February 19, 1996, p. 9.

(7) Final Report of the U.N. Commission of Experts, Annex V, Part 2, Section IX, Subsection D.

(8) Ibid.

(9) The ICRC’s plans to evacuate all non-Serb residents of the town was abandoned after Karadzic refused to grant safe passage for convoys out.

(10) A person who in 1994 left Prijedor told Human Rights Watch/Helsinki that “I hid for two years. People were being killed on the road and I wouldn’t have been caught dead walking outside. I stayed in my house from the day I was released from the Keraterm concentration camp on August 13, 1992 until I came here [to Bosnian government-controlled territory] on Saturday [September 17, 1994]. See Human Rights Watch/Helsinki report, “Bosnia-Hercegovina: “Ethnic Cleansing” Continues in Northern Bosnia,”A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 6, no. 16, November 1994. Numerous similar stories have been related to Human Rights Watch/Helsinki representatives.

(11) Ibid.

(12) Ibid.

(13) The information on the expulsion of non-Serbs from Prijedor comes in part from a report of a human rights fact-finding mission which included staff from UNPF-HQ, United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), and the U.N. Center for Human Rights. The report is titled “Human Rights Abuses in Northwestern Bosnia: Report on Forced Expulsions from 5-12 October 1995.” For a detailed description of how the forced expulsions were conducted, see Human Rights Watch/Helsinki’s report titled “Northwestern Bosnia: Human Rights Abuses during a Cease-Fire and Peace Negotiations,” Vol. 8, No. 1 (D), February 1996.

OMARSKA CONCENTRATION CAMP

April 2, 2006 Comments off

OMARSKA CONCENTRATION CAMP: The Auschwitz no one had imaged

Patti McCracken

We sat at a table near the window overlooking a slim patch of river — a rather unremarkable river, except in the way it slithered by unnoticed on its way out of town. The air was still, so thick and still, and it was intolerably, menacingly hot on this summer day. My colleague and I downed our coffee, and having finished our breakfast, hung around a bit longer to go through the stack of newspapers in front of us.

We were journalism trainers, and the local weekly newspaper in this east Bosnian town had begun a popular series in which a victim of a war crime was profiled each week, including those who had spent time in the nearby Omarska concentration camp. The editor said printing the survivors’ accounts was a way for the community to begin to heal, and to document what had happened.

It was our job to critique the stories journalistically: Were they fair? Had facts been verified when possible? How many sources were interviewed? Was the coverage and presentation too sensational?

Despite the oppressive heat, our waiter had restless energy. He kept circling back to us, asking if we needed more juice, more coffee, more water, and then he’d circle back to the counter and eye us from there. I remember him — his dark thinning hair, his dark eyes, his round face, his compact body. When it was clear we were about to leave, he came back to our table for the last time, tapped his finger on the newspaper’s front page photo of a suspected war criminal, and started muttering.

“He says that’s a bad man,” said my colleague, translating. “He said that man did horrible things to the people here.”

The waiter, with his dark brown eyes, crouched down to me, his Bosnian face fronting my American one, pointed to an emptiness in his mouth where some teeth had been beaten out, and said quietly, “Omarska.”

And then his brown eyes began to cry.

Omarska is the horror that was never supposed to happen again after Auschwitz. It is the oily blackness of soulless madmen who crack their brothers’ backs, beat them, starve them down to ghastly skeletons, and worse.

A survivor, Rezak Hukanovic, writes of the torture in his book, “The Tenth Circle of Hell.”
“Thirst, hunger, gang rapes, exhaustion, skulls shattered, sexual organs torn out, stomachs ripped open by soldier assassins of Radovan Karadzic.”

If the late Slobodan Milosevic was the mastermind of the Bosnian war, Radovan Karadzic was it’s premier architect, organizing such camps as Omarska (which he would mockingly label an “investigation center” when reporters came snooping about) to ethnically cleanse a region of its non-Serbs.

In May 1992, intense shelling in and around Omarska forced residents to flee their homes. Upon doing so, many were captured by Serb forces and either killed on the spot or marched off to one of the handful of concentration camps in the area.

The Omarska camp operated for about three months, in which time, the U.S. State Department estimates, up to 5,000 people were killed. Those who were able to return home found their houses occupied by Serbs.

Bosnia has three main ethnic groups, Bosniaks (Bosnian-Muslims), Croats and Serbs, and under Josip Broz Tito’s communist regime, ethnicity was essentially a nonissue to the people of Bosnia, as in the rest of Yugoslavia. People married each other, worked together, lived in the same villages and neighborhoods, leaving ethnicity a matter only for the census-takers.

But mighty Milosevic’s calls for a Greater Serbia ignited a nationalist flame that shined like a beacon for the likes of Karadzic, who schemed ways to ethnically cleanse vast territories of Bosnia for the purpose of uniting them with Serbia.

This was the third of four wars Milosevic would carry out against his own people, killing hundreds of thousands, and eventually snuffing out the existence of Yugoslavia itself.

Serbs were not the only war criminals to emerge from the Bosnian conflict; Bosniaks and Croats also shoulder blame for shameful acts, a fact many Serbs feel is unjustly overlooked. But it was Milosevic’s Serb soldiers who shot like snipers at civilians during the siege of Sarajevo, who killed, execution-style, nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in a matter of hours, and who left us the disturbing legacy of the Omarska concentration camp.

I was in the central city of Tuzla the night a helicopter lifted off from there carrying a captive Milosevic to The Hague. The following morning, I walked around the city — its once charming main streets now pockmarked by mortar attacks — and tried to read faces for signs of joy, vindication, relief. The faces gave away nothing, nothing at all, and I thought maybe the war had taken it all from them.

The day his trial started, I sat on a stool in a Bosnian cafe and watched the Bosnians as they stonily watched Milosevic. The country is now divided into two entities, and I was in the Serb-controlled part, waiting to meet a dear friend, a Bosnian-Serb editor who lost both of his legs in a car bomb attack for reporting about war crimes. He had received several death threats before the 3-pound bomb was placed under his car on his birthday, and I asked him once why he risked his life for war criminals.

“The best thing for Serbs here,” he told me, “would be to distinguish between war criminals and Serbs as a whole. Not every Serb is a war criminal.”

My friend nearly died exposing the crimes, but the most wanted criminal remains free. Most think Karadzic now lives in a mountain cottage in Serbia, with 20 or more footmen to buy his food, his coffee, his wine, his clothes and his beloved books, because he is, after all, a poet.

No one has found him yet. He slithered away unnoticed, swimming with the current of Omarska’s river of tears.

CHOMSKY’S SREBRENICA GENOCIDE DENIAL

December 18, 2005 4 comments

Chomsky’s Genocidal Denial

By Marko Attila Hoare
November 23, 2005

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2

In the realm of politics, there are those of us who wear our hearts on our sleeves: proud of what we stand for, we are not afraid to state our positions as clearly as possible, so there is no danger of misunderstanding; we call a spade a spade, and are ready to face the music. On the other hand, there are those who are embarrassed by their own position: they dissemble; muddying the waters so that what they really think is vague and hidden; when confronted by those who recognise them for what they are, they lash out in fear and shame, denying what everyone knows to be the truth.

Two very interesting parallel cases were highlighted in the Guardian newspaper on 17 November. It was reported that David Irving was arrested in Austria for the crime of Holocaust denial. Irving is well known as a Holocaust denier and Hitler apologist, yet when accused of this by the historian Deborah Lipstadt, he attempted to sue her for libel, resulting in his crushing courtroom defeat. Yet he apparently remains ashamed to accept the label that he has inevitably earned. According to the Guardian: ‘Mr Irving has said he does not deny Jews were killed by the Nazis, but challenges the number and manner of Jewish concentration camp deaths. He has questioned the use of large-scale gas chambers to exterminate the Jews, and has claimed that the numbers of those who perished are far lower than those generally accepted. He also contends that most Jews who died at Auschwitz did so from diseases such as typhus, not gas poisoning.’ In other words, lacking the moral courage to say proudly ‘Yes, I deny the Holocaust !’, Irving seeks refuge in the claim that he is merely concerned with the accuracy of details and interpretation. Thus, the Holocaust denier does not merely deny the Holocaust; he denies his own denial. Of course, no rational person would accept such a plea at face value.

On the same day (17 November), a new twist emerged in another saga of genocide-denial: the Guardian printed a grovelling apology to Noam Chomsky for a none-too-flattering interview with him carried out by the award-winning journalist Emma Brockes, published by the Guardian on 31 October, in which Brockes cites Chomsky as having said that the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 was ‘probably overstated’ and was not even an actual massacre. Chomsky prides himself on being a resolute champion of freedom of speech; on this ground, he has defended the right of Holocaust-deniers to publish what they want; and condemned Britain’s libel laws. Yet faced with Brockes’s exposure of his position, he and his circle of fans retreated from their pro-free-speech position, and organised a campaign of denunciation of Brockes, bombarding the Guardian with letters of complaint, and eventually bullying this spineless newspaper into issuing an unequivocal apology and retraction.

In his letter of complaint to the Guardian, published on 2 November, Chomsky writes: ‘As for her [Brockes’s] personal opinions, interpretations and distortions, she is of course free to publish them, and I would, of course, support her right to do so, on grounds that she makes clear she does not understand.’ Yet as a result of the Chomskyite campaign against Brockes, the Guardian readers’ editor reported on 17 November: ‘The Guardian has now withdrawn the interview from the website.’ Just fancy that ! More shamefully still, the Guardian also apologised for having published a letter by Kemal Pervanic, a survivor of the Serb concentration-camp Omarska, alongside Chomsky’s on 2 November. Pervanic said he was ‘shocked by some of the views of Noam Chomsky in the article by Emma Brockes’s.’ Yet in the words of the Guardian readers’ editor’s grovelling piece of self-criticism: ‘While he has every sympathy with the writer [Pervanic], Prof Chomsky believes that its publication was designed to undermine his position, and addressed a part of the interview which was false… With hindsight it is acknowledged that the juxtaposition has exacerbated Prof Chomsky’s complaint, and that is regretted.’ So much for respecting the right of a concentration-camp survivor to state his opinion.

The irony is all the greater, as the Brockes interview revolved around Chomsky’s defence of the writer Diana Johnstone, allegedly on the grounds of supporting freedom of speech. In 2003, the left-wing Swedish magazine Ordfront published an interview with Johnstone, which repeated her revisionist, genocide-denying views of the Bosnian war. This provoked massive outrage on the part of members of Ordfront’s editorial board and readers, leading to resignation of the editor and a public apology by the magazine for the pain it had caused to Bosnian genocide survivors. Johnstone’s Swedish publisher apparently withdrew its agreement to publish her book. This, in the eyes of Chomsky, consisted of a violation of Johnstone’s ‘freedom of speech’, though nobody had prevented her from disseminating her views through other magazines or publishers; indeed, her book has been published in the UK by Pluto Press, and her articles are available all over the internet, should anyone wish to read them. Nor, it should be said, was Johnstone murdered, tortured or driven out of her home, like hundreds of thousands of Bosnian citizens in the 1990s, whose rights Chomsky has never got round to championing. But assuming the right of a Western author not to have her writings rejected by publishers on political grounds is a more worthy cause than the right of Balkan untermenschen to life and limb, it remains to be seen whether Chomsky’s fellow left-wing libertarians will engage themselves in defence of Brockes as forthrightly as they did in defence of Johnstone.

What was it about Brockes’s interview that so rattled Chomsky ? Chomskyite ire focussed on the question-and-answer headline that introduced the interview:

Q. [Brockes]: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated ?

A. [Chomsky]: My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough.

This was a paraphrase, rather than a literal quotation, and one that was written by the newspaper rather than by Brockes herself, and for which she therefore cannot be held responsible. Nevertheless, it accurately summed up the essence of the matter: Chomsky had supported Johnstone, who claimed that the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated. In his open letter to the Guardian of 13 November, Chomsky claimed it was simply a matter of defending freedom of speech: ‘The truthful part is that I said, and explained at length, that I regret not having strongly enough opposed the Swedish publisher’s decision to withdraw a book by Diana (not ‘Diane,’ as the Guardian would have it) Johnstone after it was bitterly attacked in the Swedish press… In the interview, whatever Johnstone may have said about Srebrenica never came up, and is entirely irrelevant in any event, at least to anyone with a minimal appreciation of freedom of speech.’

Chomsky therefore claimed his defence of Johnstone’s freedom of speech had been misrepresented as denial of the Srebrenica massacre. Indeed, Brockes’s portrayal of Chomsky’s alleged denial of Srebrenica was at the heart of Chomsky’s complaint. According to Brockes, Chomsky claimed ‘that during the Bosnian war the ‘massacre’ at Srebrenica was probably overstated.’ Brockes elaborated thus on Chomsky’s style: ‘Chomsky uses quotations marks to undermine things that he disagrees with and, in print at least, it can come across less as academic than as witheringly teenage; like, Srebrenica was so not a massacre.’ Chomsky’s outraged response was that ‘with five minutes research on the internet, any journalist could find many places where I described the massacre as a massacre, never with quotes. That alone ends the story.’ The Guardian readers’ editor accepted the validity of Chomsky’s complaint, and threw in an apology to Johnstone for good measure: ‘Ms Brockes’s misrepresentation of Prof Chomsky’s views on Srebrenica stemmed from her misunderstanding of his support for Ms Johnstone. Neither Prof Chomsky nor Ms Johnstone have [sic] ever denied the fact of the massacre.’

The big question is, of course, does Chomsky really deny the Srebrenica massacre ? Or, if he does not deny it outright, does he put such a spin on it that he denies it to all intents and purposes ?

Johnstone, for her part, denies it to all intents and purposes. Her book, Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions (London: Pluto Press, 2002) puts the words ‘Srebrenica massacre’ in quotes (p. 106). She then goes on to argue: ‘In trying to understand what happened at Srebrenica, a number of factors should be taken into account.’ These are, she argues, that Srebrenica and other ‘safe areas’ had ‘served as Muslim military bases under UN protection’; that the ‘Muslim military force stationed in Srebrenica – some 5,000 men under the command of Naser Oric, had carried out murderous raids against nearby Serb villages’; that ‘[Bosnian President] Izetbegovic pulled Naser Oric out of Srebrenica prior to the anticipated Serb offensive, deliberately leaving the enclave undefended’; and that ‘Insofar as Muslims were actually executed following the fall of Srebrenica, such crimes bear all the signs of spontaneous acts of revenge rather than a project of ‘genocide’’. Furthermore: ‘Six years after the summer of 1995, ICTY forensic teams had exhumed 2,631 bodies in the region, and identified fewer than 50. In an area where fighting had raged for years, some of the bodies were certainly of Serbs as well as of Muslims. Of these bodies, 199 were found to have been bound or blindfolded, and must reasonably be presumed on the basis of the material evidence to have been executed.’ She concludes: ‘War crimes ? The Serbs themselves do not deny that crimes were committed. Part of a plan of genocide ? For this there is no evidence whatsoever.’ (pp. 109-118).

To sum up Johnstone’s position on Srebrenica: she blames everything that happened there on the Muslims; claims they provoked the Serb offensive in the first place; then deliberately engineered their own killing; and then exaggerated their own death-toll. She denies that thousands of Muslims were massacred; suggesting there is no evidence for a number higher than 199 – less than 2.5% of the accepted figure of eight thousand. And she eschews the word ‘massacre’ in favour of ‘execution’ – as if it were a question of criminals on Death Row, not of innocent civilians. It is as if she were to claim that less than 150,000 Jews, rather than six million, had died in the Holocaust; that the Jews had provoked and engineered the Nazi killings; that these killings had been ‘executions’; and that the Jews had then exaggerated their death toll. She is ready to excuse the Srebrenica killings as retaliation for Oric’s earlier killings of Serb civilians – but does not mention that Oric’s crimes took place long after the war had already begun and Serb forces had begun slaughtering Muslims all over Bosnia. She does not mention how Srebrenica became an ‘enclave’ in the first place: through Serb aggression against, and conquest of, East Bosnia in 1992, and the killing and expulsion of the Muslim population that this involved – against which the Srebrenica Muslims were temporarily able to hold out as an ‘enclave’. All in all, this can reasonably be called denial; insofar as it is not complete denial – she recognises less than 2.5% of the massacre – it is an apologia for the Serb forces. The Guardian readers’ editor’s claim that ‘Neither Prof Chomsky nor Ms Johnstone have [sic] ever denied the fact of the massacre’ is, therefore, at least half untrue.

But what about the other half, i.e. Chomsky ? An open letter to Ordfront, signed by Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy and others, stated: ‘We regard Johnstone’s Fools’ Crusade as an outstanding work, dissenting from the mainstream view but doing so by an appeal to fact and reason, in a great tradition.’ In his personal letter to Ordfront in defence of Johnstone, Chomsky wrote: ‘I have known her for many years, have read the book, and feel that it is quite serious and important.’ Chomsky makes no criticism here of Johnstone’s massacre denial, or indeed anywhere else – except in the Brockes interview, which he has repudiated. Indeed, he endorses her revisionism: in response to Mikael van Reis’s claim that ‘She [Johnstone] insists that Serb atrocities – ethnic cleansing, torture camps, mass executions – are western propaganda’, Chomsky replies that ‘Johnstone argues – and, in fact, clearly demonstrates – that a good deal of what has been charged has no basis in fact, and much of it is pure fabrication.’

In the same letter, Chomsky makes much of an allegedly positive review of Johnstone’s book in a British foreign-affairs journal: ‘I also know that it has been very favourably reviewed, e.g., by the British scholarly journal International Affairs, journal of the Royal Academy.’ He then continues, with his own idiosyncratic logic: ‘I don’t read Swedish journals of course, but it would be interesting to learn how the Swedish press explains the fact that their interpretation of Johnstone’s book differs so radically from that of Britain’s leading scholarly foreign affairs journal, International Affairs. I mentioned the very respectful review by Robert Caplan, of the University of Reading and Oxford [sic]. It is obligatory, surely, for those who condemn Johnstone’s book in the terms just reviewed to issue still harsher condemnation of International Affairs, as well as of the universities of Reading and Oxford, for allowing such a review to appear, and for allowing the author to escape censure.’ The essence of what Chomsky is saying, is that Johnstone received a positive review in a respectable scholarly journal, therefore her book must be good.

There are, first of all, a number of distortions in Chomsky’s claim: International Affairs is the journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, not of the ‘Royal Academy’; the RIIA is a para-governmental think tank, not a scholarly institution, therefore it makes no sense to describe International Affairs as ‘Britain’s leading scholarly foreign affairs journal’; the reviewer was Richard, not Robert Caplan; and his review of Johnstone’s book was far from being as positive as Chomsky suggests. Caplan wrote: ‘Diana Johnstone has written a revisionist and highly contentious account of Western policy and the dissolution of Yugoslavia… Yet for all of the book’s constructive correctives, it is often difficult to recognize the world that Johnstone describes…The book also contains numerous errors of fact, on which Johnstone however relies to strengthen her case… Johnstone herself is very selective.’

Indeed, Caplan was overly polite in his criticisms of what is, in reality, an extremely poor book, one that is little more than a polemic in defence of the Serb-nationalist record during the wars of the 1990s – and an ill-informed one at that. Johnstone is not an investigative journalist who spent time in the former Yugoslavia doing fieldwork on the front-lines, like Ed Vulliamy, David Rohde or Roy Gutman. Nor is she a qualified academic who has done extensive research with Serbo-Croat primary sources, like Noel Malcolm or Norman Cigar. Indeed, she appears not to read Serbo-Croat, and her sources are mostly English-language, with a smattering of French and German. In short, she is an armchair Balkan amateur-enthusiast, and her book is of the sort that could be written from any office in Western Europe with access to the internet.

The quality of Johnstone’s ‘scholarship’ may be gauged from some of the Serb-nationalist falsehoods she repeats uncritically, such as the claim that the Serb Nazi-collaborationist leader Draza Mihailovic formed ‘the first armed guerrilla resistance to Nazi occupation in all of Europe’ (p. 291) – a myth long since exploded by serious historians (see for example Jozo Tomasevich, War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: The Chetniks, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1975, pp. 124, 137). Or Johnstone’s claim that Croatia in 1990 ‘rapidly restored the symbols of the dread 1941 [Nazi-puppet] state – notably the red and white checkerboard flag, which to Serbs was the equivalent of the Nazi swastika’ (p. 23) – a falsehood that can be refuted by a glance at any complete version of the Yugoslav constitution, which clearly shows that the Croatian chequerboard – far from being a fascist symbol equivalent to the swastika – was an official symbol of state in Titoist Yugoslavia (see, for example the 1950 edition of the Yugoslav constitution, published by Sluzbeni list, Belgrade, which shows the Croatian chequerboard as a Yugoslav symbol of state on p. 115; or the 1974 edition published by Prosveta, Belgrade, which shows the Croatian chequerboard – in full colour – at the start of the text). It would require an entire article to list and refute all the numerous errors and falsehoods in Johnstone’s book; Chomsky praises it because he sympathises with her political views, not because it has any scholarly merit.

Perhaps it would be unfair to label Chomsky a Srebrenica massacre-denier simply because he praises uncritically Johnstone’s massacre-denying book and endorses its conclusions. A fuller picture of Chomsky’s views on Srebrenica, however, can be gleaned from his interview with M. Junaid Alam of Left Hook on 17 December 2004, where he states that ‘Srebrenica was an enclave, lightly protected by UN forces, which was being used as a base for attacking nearby Serb villages. It was known that there’s going to be retaliation. When there was a retaliation, it was vicious. They trucked out all the women and children, they kept the men inside, and apparently slaughtered them. The estimates are thousands of people slaughtered.’ The key words here are ‘retaliation’, ‘apparently’ and ‘estimates’; the slaughter ‘apparently’ took place; the thousands killed were mere ‘estimates’; they were, in any case, simply ‘retaliation’ for earlier Serb crimes. Note that while Chomsky raises doubts about the fact and scale of the killings, he is absolutely categorical that they were retribution for earlier Muslim crimes – the slaughter apparently took place, but if it did, then it was definitely retaliation. Read carefully, nothing that Chomsky says actually contradicts Johnstone’s massacre-denying claims cited above.

Chomsky then goes on to compare the Serb behaviour favourably with that of the Americans in Fallujah: ‘Well, with Fallujah, the US didn’t truck out the women and children, it bombed them out.’ Chomsky does not mention the thousands of Bosnian women and children raped and murdered by Serb forces in other parts of Bosnia; nor those blown to bits by the Serb shelling of Sarajevo and other Bosnian towns, choosing instead to focus on the sparing of the women and children of Srebrenica. Johnstone, too, makes much of this: ‘one thing should be obvious: one does not commit ‘genocide’ by sparing women and children’. In fact, the Nazis began the systematic extermination of Jewish adult males in the USSR in 1941 before they began the systematic extermination of Jewish women and children, and the Nazis, unlike the Serb forces a half century later, were not being restrained by the democratic Western media.

Chomsky again compared Serb behaviour at Srebrenica favourably with American behaviour at Fallujah in his article ‘Imperial Presidency’ (Canadian Dimension, January/February 2005, vol. 39, no. 1), where he wrote of ‘Srebrenica, almost universally described as ‘genocide’ in the West. In that case, as we know in detail from the Dutch government report and other sources, the Muslim enclave in Serb territory, inadequately protected, was used as a base for attacks against Serb villages, and when the anticipated reaction took place, it was horrendous. The Serbs drove out all but military age men, and then moved in to kill them. There are differences with Falluja. Women and children were not bombed out of Srebrenica, but trucked out, and there will be no extensive efforts to exhume the last corpse of the packrats in their warrens in Falluja. There are other differences, arguably unfair to the Serbs.’ Not quite massacre denial, it is true; more of a massacre minimisation – since Chomsky nowhere recognises the figure of eight-thousand Muslim dead, it is entirely possible that he reduces the massacre to the fraction suggested by Johnstone, and therefore denies it to all intents and purposes. And he is certainly at pains to contrast ‘the Serbs’ favourably with the Americans.

One might criticise Brockes for not giving a more nuanced portrayal of Chomsky’s vague yet complex view of the Srebrenica massacre – were it not for the fact that Chomsky is notorious for the deliberate use of obscure and confusing language, designed to muddy the waters as to his real views, and the use of verbal trickery aimed at confusing his opponents. Take his 2001 exchange with Christopher Hitchens over the question of whether the US bombing of Sudan’s pharmaceutical factory in 1998 was a crime equivalent to 11 September:

Chomsky stated: ‘That Hitchens cannot mean what he writes is clear, in the first place, from his reference to the bombing of Sudan. He must be unaware that he is expressing such racist contempt for African victims of a terrorist crime, and cannot intend what his words imply.’

Hitchens replied: ‘Since his [Chomsky’s] remarks are directed at me, I’ll instance a less-than-half-truth as he applies it to myself. I ‘must be unaware’, he writes, that I ‘express such racist contempt for African victims of a terrorist crime.’ With his pitying tone of condescension, and his insertion of a deniable but particularly objectionable innuendo, I regret to say that Chomsky displays what have lately become his hallmarks.’

Chomsky then pulled his sleight-of-hand: ‘Hitchens claims that I accused him of a ‘propensity for racist contempt.’ I explicitly and unambiguously said the opposite.’

Given such word games and obfuscation, Chomsky should hardly complain when an earnest interviewer fails to interpret his well-camouflaged position as he would have it. Had he so wished, he could have avoided the entire imbroglio with Brockes by telling her unambiguously: ‘I recognise that several thousand Muslim civilians were massacred by Serb forces at Srebrenica in 1995′. Yet one rather suspects he wanted to have his cake and eat it: to put forward a ‘position’ that was compatible with those of the outright deniers, like Johnstone, but that nevertheless allows him formally to deny being a denier himself.

Instead of taking responsibility for his own insincerity and double-talk, he chose to punish the messenger – Brockes. He has then failed on two occasions – his letter published in the Guardian on 2 November and his open letter to the Guardian of 13 November – to state categorically that the massacre occurred in the way that it is understood to have done: as a massacre of several thousand innocent Muslim civilians by Serb forces. Nor is it true what Chomsky claims, that ‘with five minutes research on the internet, any journalist could find many places where I described the massacre as a massacre, never with quotes.’ I have not yet discovered a single text on the internet in which Chomsky describes Srebrenica as a ‘massacre’; if such a text exists, it is not as easy to find as Chomsky claims. Chomsky’s actual position on Srebrenica must remain an open question until he can actually bring himself to speak and write in plain English – for which nobody should hold their breath. Under these circumstances, the Guardian readers’ editor had no need to issue its apology, and had no right to impugn the journalistic professionalism of Brockes. It is to Brockes, not to Chomsky, that the Guardian should be apologising.

The outrage of Chomsky and his fellow-travellers over his portrayal as a Srebrenica massacre-denier is particularly ironic, given that several of these fellow-travellers are themselves overt Srebrenica deniers. Chomsky is notorious for having gone on record in 1977, in an article co-written with a certain Ed Herman, as claiming that Khmer Rouge atrocities were being exaggerated by the Western media (‘Distortions at Fourth Hand’, The Nation, 25 June 1977). Recently, the same Ed Herman founded a ‘Srebrenica Research Group’ to propagate the view that the Srebrenica massacre never happened. In his essay ‘The Politics of the Srebrenica Massacre’, Herman writes that ‘the evidence for a massacre, certainly of one in which 8,000 men and boys were executed, has always been problematic, to say the least’. Herman concludes: ‘The ‘Srebrenica massacre’ [note the quote marks] is the greatest triumph of propaganda to emerge from the Balkan wars… But the link of this propaganda triumph to truth and justice is non-existent. The disconnection with truth is epitomised by the fact that the original estimate of 8,000, including 5,000 ‘missing’ – who had left Srebrenica for Bosnian Muslim lines – was maintained even after it had been quickly established that several thousand had reached those lines and that several thousand more had perished in battle. This nice round number lives on today in the face of a failure to find the executed bodies and despite the absence of a single satellite photo showing executions, bodies, digging, or trucks transporting bodies for reburial.’

In this way, Chomsky’s close collaborator Herman unashamedly holds a view that Chomsky is outraged to have attributed to himself. Both Chomsky and Herman are regular contributors to the website ‘ZNet’ – a haven for neo-Stalinist die-hards, several of whom are outright Srebrenica deniers. The publication of Herman’s above-cited article was greeted with uncritical approval by ZNet blogger David Petersen, who praised its ‘powerful analysis’. The same Petersen then reacted with outrage when Brockes attributed the same Srebrenica-denying view that he himself endorses to his comrade Chomsky, describing her interview as ‘lies, smears and more lies’. Just fancy that ! If to deny the Srebrenica massacre is shameful – which it is – why do Johnstone, Petersen and Herman do so ? But if they really think that the Srebrenica massacre did not happen, or was vastly smaller and more justifiable than is usually claimed, why should they be so outraged at Chomsky being described as a denier ? The answer brings us back to where we began: the Chomskyites and ZNet people are, at heart, embarrassed by their own position. In this, too, they resemble the controversial British historian recently arrested in Austria.

In this debate over whether or not Chomsky denied a massacre, it is important not to lose sight of something more damning and much less controversial: that Chomsky quite openly denies that genocide took place, either in Srebrenica or in Bosnia as a whole, and makes no bones about putting the word ‘genocide’ in quotes – this despite the fact that an international tribunal, established by the UN, has convicted a Bosnian Serb general of aiding and abetting genocide in Srebrenica. Indeed, the genocide-denial of Johnstone, Chomsky and their circle goes far beyond questioning the Srebrenica massacre. Chomsky was among those who supported the campaign in defence of Living Marxism (LM), the lunatic-fringe magazine that accused the news agency ITN of fabricating the existence of Serb concentration camps in Bosnia, on the basis of the writings of Thomas Deichmann, an amateur journalist and supporter of the Serb-nationalist cause. Deichmann claimed the camps in question were merely ‘detention centres’, and – although he had never visited them himself – presumed to know them well enough to claim that the pictures ITN had taken of them were deliberately intended to ‘mislead’ the Western public as to their true nature. ITN sued LM for libel, and the magazine was unable to produce a single witness who had actually seen the camps at first hand, whereas eye-witnesses such as Vulliamy testified as to their true, horrific character. LM‘s resounding defeat in the libel trial has not stopped Johnstone, in a recent commentary on the Chomsky-Brockes affair in the left-wing American magazine Counterpunch, from repeating LM‘s already discredited lies: “The issue raised by LM had to do with the way photographs taken at Trnopolje camp, by focusing on a thin man on the other side of a wire fence which in reality did not surround the Muslim inmates, but rather the ITN crew itself, was used to create the impression that what was happening in Bosnia was a repetition of a Nazi-style Holocaust.” The campaign against Brockes has therefore simultaneously become a campaign to rewrite the history of the Bosnian war to deny that genocide took place.

Chomsky’s denial that genocide took place in Bosnia, even after it has been established in international law that it did, and even after LM‘s lies about Serb camps were exposed as such in a British court, marks him down as a revisionist in the mould of Irving; the general thrust of Brockes’s exposure of him was therefore bang on target. In pandering to him, the Guardian has besmirched its own reputation and insulted the survivors of the genocide. Ironically, it was Guardian journalists such as Vulliamy and Maggie O’Kane who were in the forefront of bringing the genocide to light in 1992. That the Guardian – with this proud record – should have chosen to betray Brockes, its own journalist, by apologising on her behalf to an unabashed genocide-denier, means that this newspaper is now collaborating in the revisionist re-writing of the history of the Bosnian war.