n 2001 two events at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague put the subject of genocide in the former Yugoslavia back on the front pages of newspapers. Firstly, Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic was convicted of genocide against the Muslim population of the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, the first conviction at the ICTY for this gravest of crimes. Secondly and more spectacularly, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was indicted and put on trial for genocide against the Muslim and Croat population of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole.
These events at the ICTY inflamed the bitter controversies that have raged over this conflict since it broke out in 1991. Internationally, political opinion has been divided into two camps characterized by their conflicting analyses of the crisis and views of the correct international response. On the one side were those who viewed the war as a result of Serbian aggression and expansionism and who generally advocated military intervention by the West in response. On the other side were those who viewed the conflict as a civil war between competing nationalisms (Serb, Croat, Muslim, and Albanian) in which the Serb side was if anything less to blame than the others. They tended to blame Western interference for catalysing the conflict and to reject military intervention against Serbian forces.
For the sake of convenience, we may refer to the first camp as the ‘orthodox’ and the second as the ‘revisionist’.
The debate between these two camps has continued to dominate discourse on the former Yugoslavia in the West up till the present day. Although the events at The Hague in 2001 marked a defeat for the revisionist camp, its more determined members have responded by denying both the validity of the charges of genocide and the legitimacy of the ICTY. The revisionist analysis of the wars in the former Yugoslavia therefore constitutes one aspect of the Western response to the phenomenon of genocide in the contemporary world, one that is in some ways related to similar ‘revisionist’ analyses of the prior genocide in Pol Pot’s Cambodia and the contemporaneous genocide in Rwanda.
The use of the word ‘revisionist’ to describe this current of opinion serves a dual purpose, for the revisionists seek on the one hand to oppose what they see as the mainstream, orthodox view of the wars in the former Yugoslavia and on the other to challenge the very notion that genocide took place. Thus they are in some ways the counterpart to the Holocaust revisionists. While the revisionists under consideration correctly point out that the massacres in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992-95 and in Kosovo in 1998-99 are not on a scale with those of Auschwitz their arguments resemble in some ways those of the Holocaust revisionists while their own frequent exploitation of the Holocaust legacy contains some startling ambiguities.
Although the revisionist camp stretches right across the political spectrum to encompass liberals, conservatives, socialists, and members of the far right, the ideological motivation of each of these groups is very different. The current I wish to analyse here consists of people who are to the left of mainstream Social Democracy and who oppose what they see as the anti-Serbian or anti-Yugoslav policies of the Western alliance. It includes members of many different far-left traditions: left Labourites and Social Democrats; Christian Socialists; Orthodox Communists; Trotskyists; Maoists; anarchists; and others. For the sake of convenience I shall refer to them as ‘left revisionists’, meaning those who, on the basis of a radical left-wing philosophy, seek 1) to revise the negative evaluation of the Milosevic regime made by politically mainstream commentators; 2) to deny that genocide took place and downplay the violence and suffering involved in the wars in the former Yugoslavia; and 3) to shift the blame for this violence and suffering, as well as for the break-up of Yugoslavia, on to the Western alliance. Other adherents of a radical left-wing philosophy who oppose Western military intervention in the Balkans but who also opposed the Milosevic regime do not belong to this category and are not the subjects of this essay. My purpose here is neither to discuss the merits and demerits of a left-wing philosophy, nor to analyse the events in the former Yugoslavia themselves, nor to address the advantages and disadvantages of Western military intervention. This is a study of the ideology of left revisionism itself. The present author makes no pretence at neutrality in this debate – he belongs firmly in the ‘orthodox’ camp – and this is above all a study of the extremes to which one current of Western opinion is prepared to go and the intellectual and moral somersaults it is prepared to perform, in order to avoid confronting the reality of genocide. In order to understand the erroneous analysis on which left revisionism is based, it is necessary to examine the real causes of the break-up of Yugoslavia, which lie in the policies of the Milosevic regime.
Ideology of the left revisionists
“What about the Kurds?” is viewed by the left revisionists as their clinching argument in the case against the NATO intervention in Kosovo: if Western leaders were motivated to intervene in Kosovo out of concern at the suffering of the Kosovo Albanians, why have they not intervened to protect the Kurds from Turkish oppression? Or the Palestinians from the Israelis? I wish to turn the question around and to ask “What about the Albanians?” If the left-wing revisionists are concerned with the suffering of oppressed nationalities, as they claim to be regarding the Kurds, Palestinians, and others, it needs to be explained why did they not speak out against Milosevic’s persecution of the Kosovo Albanians, or of the Bosnian Muslims, or of the Croats. It needs to be explained why Serbian or Yugoslav military intervention was less objectionable to them than American military intervention, even when it was incomparably more bloody. It needs to be asked why the six hundred or so Yugoslav civilian deaths during the Kosovo War were ‘worthy’ victims in a way that the tens if not hundreds of thousands of Bosnians killed by Serbian forces were not.
This double standard may in part be attributed to anti-Americanism or ‘anti-imperialism’, whereby members of the far left subordinate their morality to the ‘higher cause’ of opposing the United States. There is a long tradition on the far left of supporting the weaker country against the stronger on an anti-imperialist basis. V.I. Lenin wrote in 1915 that “if tomorrow Morocco were to declare war on France, or India on Britain, or Persia or China on Russia and so on, these would be ‘just’ or ‘defensive’ wars irrespective of who was the first to attack; any socialist would wish the oppressed, dependant, and unequal states victory over the oppressor, slave-holding, and predatory ‘Great Powers’.” Such a line of reasoning might conceivably have led members of the far left to support Milosevic’s Serbia as a victim of ‘American imperialism’, even to the point of ignoring or denying its crimes against the non-Serb peoples of the former Yugoslavia.
Simple ‘anti-imperialism’ is however insufficient to explain the motives of the left revisionists, who do not themselves couch their arguments in ‘anti-imperialist’ terms. Rather they prefer to make pedantic, legalistic quibbles over such issues as the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the authority of the UN Security Council, and the exact numbers of Albanian dead; appropriate arguments for international lawyers, perhaps, but scarcely the kind usually favoured in the polemics of the revolutionary left. The focus of the left revisionists is in fact less on denouncing the US as an evil in and of itself – though this is clearly an element – than on defending politically the Milosevic regime. Other regimes that have clashed with the Western alliance during the past decade – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, and elsewhere – have not received similar support from the Western left. To the best of my knowledge nobody has tried to claim that Saddam Hussein is a man of peace who respects the territorial integrity of Iraq’s neighbours or that the Taliban are champions of women’s rights and cultural diversity. Nobody, except Osama bin-Laden and eccentric chess-grandmaster Bobby Fischer, has treated the victims of the World Trade Centre bombing with the callousness and contempt with which left revisionists speak of the dead of Vukovar, Srebrenica, and Racak. The Serbia of Milosevic enjoyed the unique position in the pantheon of the ‘rogue states’ of the 1990s as the only one that was supported politically, not just defended from attack, by much of the Western left.
The left revisionists are holding on to the anti-humanist, anti-moralist, anti-democratic bathwater long after the revolutionary baby has died and its corpse decayed. Instead of being moved by the events in Eastern Europe and the USSR in 1989-91 to reevaluate their political philosophy, many of them reacted by clinging even more stubbornly to every last straw from the wreckage of the Communist Atlantis.
Milosevic and the West
One such straw was the Milosevic regime in Belgrade. Its credentials as a ‘left-wing’ regime were pretty poor: Milosevic’s ruling party was called the ‘Socialist Party of Serbia’ (SPS) and had formerly been the League of Communists of Serbia, but SPS leaders Slobodan Milosevic and Borisav Jovic emphasised from the start their commitment to free-market reforms. Under their tenure the gap between rich and poor massively increased, social services were greatly reduced, free healthcare effectively ended, public transport collapsed, and a large new class of black marketeers and organised criminals created. To look to Milosevic’s Serbia as an ‘alternative’ to the capitalist West was pretty much scraping the bottom of the socialist barrel. Radovan Karadzic’s Bosnian Serb nationalist regime in Pale was even less credibly ‘progressive’: ideologically anti-Communist, Karadzic’s Serb Democratic Party identifies with the monarchist and Nazi-collaborationist Chetnik movement far more openly than the Tudjman regime in Zagreb ever identified with the Ustashas. Nevertheless, in the eyes of the left revisionists, to accept that Belgrade and its proxies were committing aggression and genocide was akin to admitting that the liberals really had been right all along about the negative character of Communism. In their minds the Cold War is still being fought on the battlefields of Kosovo. Twenty-five years ago Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman complained of the poor image conveyed by the Western media of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. They wrote that “What filters through to the American public is a seriously distorted version of the evidence available, emphasising alleged Khmer Rouge atrocities and downplaying or ignoring the crucial US role, direct and indirect, in the torment that Cambodia has suffered.” Today both authors use similar arguments to downplay the suffering of the Kosovo Albanians and to shift the blame for it away from the Milosevic regime and onto the US. In Chomsky’s words, Turkey is guilty of “massive atrocities” against the Kurds; Indonesia of “aggression and massacre” of “near-genocidal levels” in East Timor; Israel of “murderous and destructive” operations in Lebanon; but there is no mention of Kurdish, East Timorese, or Palestinian atrocities. By contrast, Chomsky uses no such emotive language when discussing the Serbian killing of Albanians; they are a “response” and “reaction” to Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) attacks. Meanwhile the KLA was guilty of “targeting Serb police and civilians”; “killing six Serbian teenagers”; the “killing of a Serb judge, police, and civilians”; and so on. The picture Chomsky consequently sketches is of atrocities by both sides and, since KLA actions were “designed to elicit a violent and disproportionate Serbian response”, the implication is that the Milosevic regime was less to blame than the KLA. When a US client massacres innocent civilians it is wholly to blame; when a ‘socialist’ regime does so it is the victims who are primarily to blame.
There is a term for this attitude: moral relativism. In its far-left variety there are two sides to its coin. On the one hand there is a holier-than-thou condemnation of every Western failing (“What about the Kurds/Palestinians/East Timorese?”), allowing the left revisionists always to damn Western policy for its moral imperfections no matter what it is. The West is therefore damned simultaneously for intervening in Kosovo and for colluding in the Turkish oppression of the Kurds and for maintaining sanctions against Iraq, though it is clear that ultimately the West cannot easily reject military intervention, sanctions, and appeasement all at the same time. Combined with this all-trumping moralism in the left-revisionist mind-set, like the opposite pole of a magnet, is a cold-blooded immoralism, according to which the left-winger is absolutely unmoved by the crimes of the Revolution performed for the greater good. More striking even than the defence or denial of crimes against humanity carried out by the left revisionists is their sheer lack of any positive vision for the future or political raison d’etre whatsoever. They should not be seen as ‘pro-Serb’, for the Serb people are unlikely to benefit from their actions. They are offering precisely nothing to the long-suffering people of Serbia in return for suffering sanctions and isolation and defending war criminals from the ICTY. Rather, they appear to view ‘resistance to Western imperialism’ as something worthwhile for its own sake, no matter how much self-destruction it results in for Serbia and how much misery it inflicts on the Serbs. The Chetnik leader Draza Mihailovic accused the British during World War II of “fighting to the last Serb in Yugoslavia”. The same could be said of the contemporary left revisionists, but with one crucial difference: Churchill offered the Serbs something concrete in return for their sacrifices, namely liberation from Nazism, which he duly helped to bring about. By contrast, the left revisionists really are offering the Serbs nothing but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. Equally conspicuous by their absence are constructive proposals of the left revisionists regarding Kosovo’s future. For all his lofty denunciations of the West’s policy, the only alternative Chomsky can suggest for a resolution of the Kosovo question that would have avoided NATO bombing is the partition of Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians as suggested by Dobrica Cosic, the father of contemporary Serb nationalism and one of the architects of Yugoslavia’s wars. As the Albanians make up at least 80% of the population of Kosovo and as the Serb villages are scattered in enclaves throughout the province, what this implies is the expulsion of the Albanian majority from half of Kosovo so that it can be settled by Serbs from elsewhere and therefore satisfy the Serb-nationalist demand for a face-saving formula short of Kosovo’s complete independence.
The left revisionists founded their analysis of Yugoslavia’s collapse on the false premise that because Serbia was in some bizarre sense a ‘socialist’ state in their eyes, the West ‘ought to be’ hostile to it, regardless of all evidence to the contrary. They therefore invented a Western conspiracy to explain the Yugoslav collapse and the subsequent defeats of Milosevic’s Serbia. In Michael Parenti’s view all opposition to Milosevic, be it from the Croats, Muslims, Albanians, or even the Serbian opposition, was simply the expression of such a conspiracy. According to Parenti, Western hostility to Yugoslavia was due to the fact that “after the overthrow of Communism throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) [sic – Parenti means the SFRY] remained the only nation in that region that would not voluntarily discard what remained of its socialism and install an unalloyed free market system”. Consequently “the US goal has been to transform the FRY [sic] into a Third World region, a cluster of weak right-wing principalities”. Following the break-up the FRY resisted privatisation of its socialised industry, continues Parenti, and “as far as the Western free-marketeers were concerned, these enterprises had to be either privatised or demolished. A massive aerial destruction like the one delivered upon Iraq might be just the thing needed to put Belgrade more in step with the New World Order.” In other words, the US engineered Yugoslavia’s destruction and then bombed Serbia in order to bring about the privatisation of its socialised economy. Parenti provides not a single source to back up these assertions; he omits to mention that Milosevic privatised Serbia’s telecommunications system with Britain’s Douglas Hurd acting as intermediary.
Of course, Washington in 1991 did seek the end of Communist rule in Yugoslavia, just as it had previously in Poland and Hungary. But Washington did not seek to break up Poland or Hungary. The myth that the Western powers destroyed Yugoslavia and persecuted Serbia because they were ‘socialist’ is made above all to satisfy the emotional need of the left revisionists to believe that the dictatorships they spent years defending were in some sense ‘progressive’ and hence unacceptable to the powers that be.
It is true that Serbia was subjected to a NATO assault in 1999 and that Western leaders rejoiced in Milosevic’s overthrow the following year. But to deduce from this that the West was already ‘anti-Serb’ during the Croatian war in 1991 – eight years earlier – is a bit like saying that the West viewed Saddam Hussein as an enemy during the Iran-Iraq war or Osama bin-Laden as an enemy during the Soviet-Afghan war. During the Gulf crisis of 1990-91 the Milosevic regime supported the US-led drive to expel the Iraqis from Kuwait. Thus, following a meeting with US President George Bush on 1 October 1990 Borisav Jovic, at the time President of Yugoslavia, recorded that “President Bush expressed special satisfaction and gratitude to Yugoslavia for adopting the same position of condemning Iraqi aggression and the annexation of Kuwait. He is pleased and encouraged by the unity of the international community regarding the crisis in the Gulf and Iraq.” Jovic on this occasion boasted to Bush that “we [Yugoslavs] are the only Eastern European country that has almost developed and established a market economy system. Now we are at a critical point, but we will overcome it too over the next few years, which is why we need the understanding and aid of the United States with international financial institutions and in the business world.” Finally, responding to Bush’s query regarding the presence of Iraqi jets in Yugoslavia, Jovic informed him that “We have a contract from earlier, before the crisis, to repair 16 MiGs for the Iraqi air-force. They will not be delivered to Iraq now. Two of them were dismantled in the workshop, after which they were gathered up and tested or transferred to another location in order not to hinder the normal work in the workshop.” Jovic records that “President Bush thanked me for that.” So much for the argument that the US victimised Serbia as a ‘socialist’ and ‘defiant’ state. The left revisionists are fond of pointing out that both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin-Laden were originally allies of the US, but they are reluctant to acknowledge Western collaboration with Milosevic because such an admission would ruin their claim of Western victimisation of ‘socialist’ Serbia.
In 1991 the American UN mediator Cyrus Vance negotiated the so-called ‘Vance Plan’ to end the conflict in Croatia involving the use of UN peacekeepers to protect Serb-held territory in Croatia; even Jovic described it as “exceptionally favourable to the Serb side”. Every single Western peace plan for Bosnia was based on the premise of Bosnia’s partition; every one gave Karadzic’s Bosnian Serbs a much larger share of Bosnia than their proportion of the population would warrant. UN troops in Bosnia collaborated systematically with Ratko Mladic’s forces, helping them murder the Bosnian Deputy Prime Minister in 1993; British troops in Central Bosnia killed dozens of Croat troops and in his memoir of the conflict British Major Vaughan Kent-Payne describes beating up a Croat soldier. UN forces drove the Bosnian Army from Mt. Igman in the autumn of 1994, using rocket launchers to destroy its trenches. Most notoriously, the West maintained an arms embargo against Bosnia which the British and French, though not the Americans, enforced rigorously to the bitter end. Meanwhile not a single NATO missile struck Serbia throughout the Croatian and Bosnian wars while Milosevic was the respected interlocutor of Douglas Hurd, David Owen, and Richard Holbrooke. The Dayton Accord of 1995 compromised the sovereignty of the Bosnian state far more than the Rambouillet treaty of 1999 threatened the sovereignty of the Yugoslav state: it abolished the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina and recognised Radovan Karadzic’s ‘Republika Srpska’, with rights far greater than those ever offered to the Kosovo Albanians. The left revisionists’ ‘anti-interventionism’ does not seem to extend to these particular instances of Western intervention.
Who destroyed Yugoslavia?
The ‘anti-Serbian imperialist conspiracy’ in fact existed in only two places. One was the minds of the Serbian leadership and the commanders of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA). I have read the memoirs of several top Serbian and Yugoslav political and military leaders, including Borisav Jovic, Branko Mamula, Veljko Kadijevic, Ratko Mladic, and Aleksandar Vasiljevic, who were respectively Serbia’s representative on the Yugoslav Presidency, Yugoslav Defence Minister, Yugoslav Defence Minister, commander of the Bosnian Serb army, and Yugoslav chief of military intelligence. Not one provides a single fact to back up the claim that the West was working to break up Yugoslavia, but they interpret the failure of the West actively to support them with support for their enemies. The other place in which the ‘anti-Serbian conspiracy’ existed was in the minds of the left revisionists. The idea that ‘Western imperialism’ was not responsible for the destruction of Yugoslavia is for the left revisionists simply unthinkable, rather as the Stalinists of the 1930s could not conceive of the failure of the USSR to fulfill a five-year plan as anything other than the result of a Trotskyist-Fascist plot. The destruction of Yugoslavia thus could only have been caused by German and/or American imperialists wishing to control this economic and strategic El Dorado. Thus Michael Barratt Brown claimed that Germany’s recognition of Croatia was part of a Drang nach Osten aimed at “control over the oil supplies of the Middle East”.
In fact, two such imperialist conspiracies are posited: a conspiracy to break up Yugoslavia and a conspiracy to attack Serbia. Neither has any basis in fact. So far as the historical evidence goes, there is no doubt about ‘who killed Yugoslavia’. On 27 June 1990 Borisav Jovic, Serbia’s member of the Yugoslav Presidency (thus the number two politician in Serbia after Milosevic) and Veljko Kadijevic, Yugoslav Defence Minister and the top man in the JNA, met and agreed that they should, regarding Croatia and Slovenia, “expel them forcibly from Yugoslavia, by simply drawing borders and declaring that they have brought this upon themselves through their decisions”. The next day Jovic met with Milosevic and obtained his agreement. As Jovic records on 28 June:
Conversation with Slobodan Milosevic on the situation in the country and in Serbia. He agrees with the idea of “expelling” Slovenia and Croatia, but he asks me whether the military will carry out such an order? I tell him that it must carry out the order and that I have no doubts about that; instead, the problem is what to do about the Serbs in Croatia and how to ensure a majority on the SFRY Presidency for such a decision. Sloba had two ideas: first, that the “amputation” of Croatia be effected in such a way that the Lika-Banija and Kordun municipalities, which have created their own community, remain with us, whereby the people there later declare in a referendum whether they want to stay or go; and second, that the members of the SFRY Presidency from Slovenia and Croatia be excluded from the voting on the decision, because they do not represent the part of Yugoslavia that is adopting this decision. If the Bosnian is in favour, then we have a two-thirds majority. Sloba urges that we adopt this decision no later than one week hence if we want to save the state. Without Croatia and Slovenia, Yugoslavia will have around 17 million inhabitants and that is enough for European circumstances.
The record of both meetings is contained in Jovic’s diary, published by the Serbian state-publishing house ‘Politika’ in 1995. Kadijevic’s own analysis of the break-up, published in 1993 also by Politika, confirms that from the spring of 1990 the command of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) had ceased to believe in a unified Yugoslavia and was working for the “defence of the Serb nation and its national interests in Croatia”; for “full control over Bosnia-Herzegovina” and for the “peaceful exit from the Yugoslav state of those Yugoslav nations that so wished”. 
In September 1990 Serbia promulgated a new constitution that recognised the “sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Serbia”. In March 1991 Milosevic declared that Serbia no longer recognised the authority of the Yugoslav Presidency, that it was forming its own independent armed forces and that “We have to ensure that we have unity in Serbia if we want as the Republic that is biggest, which is most numerous, to dictate the further course of events. Those questions of borders are, therefore, state questions. And borders, as you know, are always dictated by the strong, never by the weak. Consequently, what is essential is that we have to be strong.” In June 1991 Croatia declared independence while Germany publicly reaffirmed its support for a unified Yugoslavia. In October 1991 Mihajlo Markovic, deputy president of the SPS, stated that “there will be at least three units in the new Yugoslav state: Serbia, Montenegro, and a united Bosnian and Knin Krajina”. Later that month Borivoje Petrovic, Vice-President of the Serbian Parliament, claimed that all Serbs must live in a single state and that it was all the same “whether the new state is called Yugoslavia or the ‘United States of Serbia’.”  In November 1991 the JNA conquered the Croatian city of Vukovar. In December 1991 Germany recognised the independence of Croatia and Slovenia.
It would require a pretty strange sense of historical chronology to argue that Germany’s decision in December 1991 to recognise Croatia could have influenced the Serbian leadership’s decision in June 1990 “forcibly to expel” Croatia from Yugoslavia; it would be a bit like saying that World War I caused the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. There exists not a single shred of evidence anywhere that Germany ‘orchestrated’ the break up of Yugoslavia. Michel Chossudovsky alleges German support for Croatian secessionism was part of what he calls “long Western efforts to undo Yugoslavia’s experiment in market socialism and workers’ self-management and to impose the dictate of the free market.” Chossudovsky claims that the German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher “gave his go-ahead for Croatian secession”.  Chossudovsky’s source is an article by his ideological fellow traveler, the late Sean Gervasi. Gervasi’s source was an article in the New Yorker citing an allegation by a US diplomat.  In this way the left revisionists substitute third-hand hearsay for documentation. But even if it were true that Germany covertly encouraged Croatian secession contrary to official German policy, it is certainly true that the US, Britain, and France very publicly discouraged Croatia from seceding. Even Parenti admits that the US disagreed with Germany over Croatia; in fact he complains that “the United States did little to deter Germany’s efforts” in support of Croatia and that it was not until “January 1992” that “the United States had become an active player in the break-up of Yugoslavia”. So at this point the Americans were not really the bad guys after all. Alleged German diplomatic intervention nevertheless serves to excuse the decision by Milosevic and the JNA to attack Croatia in 1991, just as Western recognition of Bosnian independence excused their decision to attack Bosnia in 1992 and the NATO strikes of 1999 excuse Milosevic’s decision to expel eight-hundred thousand of his own citizens from their homes. In fact, it appears the Serbian and Yugoslav leaders really are not responsible for anything they have done. Edward S. Herman and Philip Hammond speak of “the elitist and anti-democratic character of Western policy, whereby the people of the region are assumed to be incapable of self-government.” Or of starting their own wars and conducting their own massacres, one might add.
The Guardian, Noam Chomsky and the Milosevic Lobby
By Marko Attila Hoare, 04th February 2006
Sometimes facts are stranger than fiction. On 31 October 2005, The Guardian published an interview with Noam Chomsky, prophet of coffee-table anti-imperialism and verbal conjuror extraordinaire, carried out by the journalist Emma Brockes, which was highly embarrassing to him. The interview exposed him as having revisionist views in relation to the Srebrenica massacre, which he described as ‘probably overstated’ and which he has minimised at various times and in various ways. The interview also cited him as saying that reports of Serb concentration-camps were ‘probably not true’, and that claims that these camps had been deliberately invented by the Western media to demonise the Serbs were ‘probably correct’. Despite being a self-proclaimed champion of freedom of speech, Chomsky decided that in this instance, the right to free speech was not applicable. Brockes made one small error of detail, in her claim that ‘Chomsky uses quotations marks to undermine things 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.’ For while Chomsky has indeed been highly ambiguous in his references to the Srebrenica massacre, he has never actually put the term in quotation marks; Brockes’s sentence accurately reflected Chomsky’s ambiguous view of Srebrenica, but erred as to the form in which this ambiguity was manifested. By homing in on this error of detail, while not disputing the accuracy of the rest of the interview, Chomsky claimed that Brockes had falsely represented his views on Srebrenica. He therefore successfully pressurised The Guardian to repudiate the interview and remove it from its website. Having been stabbed in the back by her editors, Brockes was now subject to an unparalleled campaign of vilification by Chomsky’s supporters. Yet though both Chomsky and The Guardian thereby hoped to put the lid on this unfortunate incident, they have failed to do so, and the debate over The Guardian’s so-called ’correction’ of the Brockes interview continues to reverberate. Those Bosnian genocide-survivors who have spoken out on the matter, have universally condemned both Chomsky and The Guardian. Yet the latter have received support from an expected, but perhaps not entirely welcome source, in the form of members of two interconnected lobbies – the ‘International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic’ and the‘Srebrenica Research Group’, which exists to deny the Srebrenica massacre. Furthermore, we have evidence to suggest that Chomsky is in close contact with members of both groups, who keep him informed about their efforts to defend him – from the charge that he is one of them! You couldn’t make it up!
To understand how Britain’s leading liberal paper should have found itself in such a position – of being denounced by Bosnian genocide-survivors but defended by lobbyists for Slobodan Milosevic – some additional background is needed. Having once decided to capitulate to Chomsky, presumably out of terror at the prospect of libel action, The Guardian now bent over backward to apologise, not only to Chomsky, but to another, much more overt Srebrenica revisionist, Diana Johnstone, who is on record as a denier of the massacre, and whom – as Brockes described in her interview – Chomsky had supported. The Guardian, in an orgy of self-abasement, accepted Johnstone’s false claim that she had not denied the Srebrenica massacre, and Chomsky’s equally false claim that his support for Johnstone ‘related entirely to her right to freedom of speech’, not because he agreed with her views on Srebrenica (Why precisely Chomsky should have been so concerned to disassociate himself from Johnstone’s views on Srebrenica, when she supposedly has not denied the massacre after all, is just one of the many paradoxes of this case). The Guardian repudiated not only Brockes’s interview, but a letter it had published by Kemal Pervanic, a survivor of the Serb concentration-camp Omarska, condemning Chomsky for his views on Srebrenica and on the Serb concentration-camps. Chomsky falsely claimed – and The Guardian upheld his falsehood – that Pervanic’s letter concerned only the revisionist views on Srebrenica that Brockes had falsely attributed to him, and that Pervanic’s accusations were therefore unfounded and should not have been published. In reality, Pervanic condemned Chomsky above all for his views on the Serb camps, the accuracy of whose portrayal by Brockes Chomsky has made no attempt to dispute.
In the face of this travesty of correct journalistic practice, a group of several Bosnian genocide-survivors, academics, journalists and others with a specialisation on the subject of the Bosnian war – the present author included – resolved to write a letter to The Guardian to protest at its legitimisation of genocide revisionism. We pointed out that a) Johnstone had indeed denied the Srebrenica massacre; b) Chomsky had not merely defended her right to free speech, but endorsed her views; c) Chomsky’s own statements on Srebrenica have been highly ambiguous, so that Brockes’s presentation of them was therefore essentially fair; d) The Guardian, in its apology to Chomsky, had misrepresented Pervanic and insulted his intelligence; and e) both Chomsky and Johnstone have denied genocide took place in Bosnia, despite the conviction of a Bosnian Serb general, by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), a UN court, for aiding and abetting genocide. We called upon The Guardian to retract its ‘correction’ to the Brockes interview and to apologise unreservedly to both Brockes and Pervanic. The letter, which was emailed to The Guardian on 8 December, can be read at the following link, along with its stellar cast of signatories.
Our letter coincided with a much longer and more detailed refutation of The Guardian’s ‘correction’, written by Oliver Kamm, Francis Wheen and David Aaronovitch, which was sent to The Guardian at about the same time and which remains unpublished. These two letters were what The Guardian readers’ editor Ian Mayes, author of the original ‘correction’, meant when he referred to ‘an extraordinary storm of opposing passions’ that his ‘correction’ had provoked. This created a certain pressure on The Guardian to acknowledge the extent to which its ‘correction’ was being called into question by expert opinion. Our letter had been sent from the present author’s email, and I received on the same day a telephone call from The Guardian’s Deputy Editor, Georgina Henry, who informed me that The Guardian would be willing to publish our letter, but that at nearly 950 words, it was too long in its present form. Would we be willing to shorten it to no more than 450 words? I responded that we would. We duly produced a shortened version of the letter, which we sent to The Guardian on 9 December. Ms Henry thanked me for this, and informed me that The Guardian’s lawyers would be examining our letter before publication. At the request of Siobhain Butterworth, head of The Guardian’s legal department, I submitted on the same day supporting evidence for the claims we had made in our letter.
At this point, however, there appears to have been a change of heart at The Guardian. Butterworth did not merely examine the letter and suggest changes, but rewrote it in her own words, divesting it of most of its original meaning and weakening it to the point of tepidity. The following is the text of our abridged letter:
We wish to protest at The Guardian’s ‘correction’ of 17 November, relating to Emma Brockes’s interview with Noam Chomsky (31 October), Chomsky’s support for Diana Johnstone, and the Bosnian concentration-camp survivor Kemal Pervanic’s letter to The Guardian (2 November). This ‘correction’ unjustly besmirches Brockes, misrepresents and insults Pervanic, and legitimises attempts to deny the Bosnian genocide and minimise the Srebrenica massacre:
1) It is untrue that Johnstone has never denied the Srebrenica massacre. In her book Fools’ Crusade (2002), Johnstone puts the term ‘Srebrenica massacre’ in quote marks; denies 8,000 Muslims were killed, claiming that most of these merely ‘fled Srebrenica’ and ‘made it to safety in Muslim territory’; and admits only the Serb ‘execution’ of 199 Muslims.
2) It is untrue that Chomsky’s support for Johnstone was limited to her ‘right to free speech’. An open letter signed by Chomsky states: ‘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’. Elsewhere, Chomsky describes the book as ‘quite serious and important… 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.’
3) It is untrue that Chomsky has been unambiguous in recognising the Srebrenica massacre. Chomsky has described Serb forces as having ‘apparently slaughtered’ Muslims in Srebrenica; the thousands of dead as mere ‘estimates’; the killings as Serb ‘retaliation’ for alleged Muslim crimes against Serbs; Serb behaviour at Srebrenica as better than US behaviour in Iraq; and the crime of Srebrenica as ‘much lesser’ than the Indonesian massacre of 5-6,000 civilians in East Timor in 1999.
4) It is untrue that Pervanic’s letter to The Guardian of 2 November ‘addressed a part of the interview which was false’. In the interview, Chomsky described Ed Vulliamy’s reports on Serb concentration camps as ‘probably not true’ and Living Marxism’s claim that the character of these camps was deliberately misrepresented by Western reporters as ‘probably correct’ – even though this claim was proven false in a British court. Chomsky has never claimed that, on this issue, Brockes misrepresented his position. Pervanic’s letter condemned Chomsky primarily on this point.
5) Both Johnstone and Chomsky reject the term ‘genocide’ in reference to Serb actions at Srebrenica or in Bosnia as a whole, despite the conviction, by a UN war-crimes tribunal, of a Bosnian Serb general for aiding and abetting genocide at Srebrenica.
We call upon The Guardian to withdraw its ‘correction’ of 17 November; to apologise unreservedly to Brockes for unjustly impugning her professional reputation; and to apologise unreservedly to Pervanic for misrepresenting his argument and insulting his intelligence.
The following is Butterworth’s version of our letter:
We wish to protest at The Guardian’s ‘correction’ of 17 November, relating to Emma Brockes’s interview with Noam Chomsky (31 October). This ‘correction’ legitimises attempts to deny the Bosnian genocide and minimise the Srebrenica massacre:
1) We disagree with the statement that Johnstone has never denied the Srebrenica massacre. In her book ‘Fools’ crusade’ (2002), Johnstone puts the term ‘Srebrenica massacre’ in quote marks; denies 8,000 Muslims were killed, claiming that most of these merely ‘fled Srebrenica’ and ‘made it to safety in Muslim territory’; and while she acknowledges that 2,631 bodies were exhumed in the region she admits only the Serb execution of 199 Muslims.
2) In our view Chomsky has been ambiguous in his recognition of the Srebrenica massacre. While Chomsky says that the Serbs ‘trucked out all the women and children, they kept the men inside and apparently slaughtered them. The estimates are thousands of people slaughtered’, he also characterises the killings as Serb ‘retaliation’ for alleged Muslim crimes against Serbs; and the crime of Srebrenica as ‘terrible but much lesser’ than the Indonesian massacre of 5-6,000 civilians in East Timor in 1999.
3) Despite the conviction, by a UN war-crimes tribunal, of a Bosnian Serb general for aiding and abetting genocide at Srebrenica Chomsky maintains that the term ‘genocide’ is ‘generally overused’, not just in relation to Srebrenica and Bosnia but also in relation to East Timor and elsewhere. His view is that the terms should be reserved for the Holocaust and Rwanda and ‘maybe a few other cases’. Johnstone rejects the term ‘genocide’ in reference to Serb actions at Srebrenica’.
The reader will note that our letter, already reduced to just under 450 words at Henry’s request, was now further reduced to 265 words. Butterworth removed the demand for an apology to Brockes on the grounds that Brockes accepted the correction – whether or not Brockes was free to do otherwise, given that her bosses had already decided to repudiate her, and whether or not the head of The Guardian’s legal department is the most objective judge of this matter, are moot points. Butterworth similarly removed the demand for an apology to Pervanic, repeating the claims made in The Guardian’s ‘correction’ and by Chomsky, that it addressed a part of the article about which Chomsky had complained and to which the correction referred – even though, as our letter specifically pointed out, the best part of Pervanic’s letter was not concerned with Chomsky’s views about Srebrenica (and even the part that was did not repeat Brockes’s error about quote marks). Whereas Butterworth might, perhaps, have felt that our presentation of the views of Chomsky and Johnstone needed to be reworded to avoid possible libel action by either of the latter, this would not explain why she felt it necessarily to delete parts of our letter that were solely concerned with The Guardian’s incorrect treatment of Brockes and Pervanic.
Whatever her reasons, this slaughtering of our letter amounted, in our view, to a rejection, and I informed Butterworth that we should be publishing it elsewhere. She warned me that this would be at our own risk.Our letter was published online by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), which, to date, has not been the object of legal action by either Chomsky or Johnstone.
Among the signatories of our letter are three survivors of the Srebrenica massacre: Emir Suljagic, Hasan Nuhanovic and Nihad Salkic. A fourth signatory, Nerma Jelacic, is a refugee who was driven from her home in Visegrad by the Serb ethnic-cleansers. Pervanic himself likewise informed me that he felt The Guardian owed him an apology. Another refugee from Srebrenica, the blogger Alan Kocevic, has similarly expressed his anger and disgust at Chomsky’s genocide-denial over Srebrenica and at his support for Johnstone – an opinion derived not from Brockes’s disputed interview, but from Chomsky’s more recent statements on Bosnian television. These, then, are the people who are not convinced by Chomsky’s or Johnstone’s protestations of the respectability of their views on Bosnia and Srebrenica. But what of the people who take the side of Chomsky and Johnstone?
Last month (January), BIRN received an open letter, in response to our open letter, which it likewise posted on its website and which sought to defend Chomsky and Johnstone. It referred to Brockes’s interview as a ‘deliberate effort to smear both Prof Chomsky and Ms Diana Johnstone over issues related to the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.’ However, the signatories declared themselves satisfied with The Guardian’s correction, and dismayed at our attempts to challenge it, so that they ‘felt compelled to urge those responsible to use their common sense and not let this sad affair go any further’. The signatories wrote of Johnstone: ‘Ms. Johnstone’s work, epitomised in her book Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions, is a model of humanity, insight and impeccable scholarship. We cannot understand how anybody who has read this book could find it anything but admirable’. Furthermore: ‘The scholarly contributions of Diana Johnstone and Noam Chomsky need no defence from us. They are capable of standing on their own. We write only to oppose the attempts to carry out a kind of Inquisition in matters of the Balkan Wars that aims to root out as heresy and apostasy any challenges to the prevailing orthodoxy, no matter how well-reasoned the arguments or how solid their evidential foundation.’ The letter then went on, precisely, to question whether 8,000 Muslims really had been killed at Srebrenica; to question whether genocide really had taken place; and to question the legitimacy of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). So who are these people who leap to the defence of Chomsky and Johnstone, who support The Guardian’s ‘correction’ to the Brockes interview, and who repeat The Guardian readers’ editor’s plea – indeed actually quoting him – that ‘a line should be drawn under the matter’? The authors of this open letter were unable to find a single established scholar of former-Yugoslav or Balkan history to endorse their views on Srebrenica; their signatories were of a different type.
Second on the list of signatories in support of Chomsky and Johnstone is Christopher Black, whom the letter describes only as a ‘Canadian lawyer dealing with human rights issues’. This is a somewhat euphemistic way of describing a man who is Vice-President of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic. Further down the list we find David Jacobs, described as a ‘lawyer practising on human rights, defence council before ICTR’. Again, a somewhat selective description of a man who is a member of the legal committee of the ICDSM. Several other signatories (Vera Vratusa, George Szamuely, Nebojsa Malic) are also signatories of the ICDSM’s petition, which appeared after Milosevic had been arrested by the Serbian authorities, but before he had been deported to the Hague. The petition reads as follows: ‘We the undersigned demand that the Serbian authorities immediately release Slobodan Milosevic and all other Serbian patriots from jail… We demand an end to the arbitrary kidnapping, arrest, harassment and persecution of Yugoslav leaders and soldiers and ordinary people whose crime was to set an example to the world by resisting NATO aggression. Free Slobodan Milosevic at once! End persecution [sic] of Mr. Milosevic and all Yugoslav patriots and soldiers at once! Jail the real war criminals: the NATO leaders who committed crimes against humanity and against Yugoslav sovereignty and who continue to commit those crimes today.’
Several of the other signatories of the letter in support of Chomsky and Johsntone are members or supporters of the Srebrenica Research Group: Ed Herman, Philip Corwin, Milan Bulajic, Jonathan Rooper, Tim Fenton, Philip Hammond, Michael Mandel, George Bogdanich and George Szamuely (note that Szamuely is both a member of the SRG and a signatory of the ICDSM’s petition). The SRG is a campaign group set up to deny the Srebrenica massacre. At its press conference on 12 July 2005, the SRG claimed that ‘The premise that Serbian forces executed 7,000 to 8,000 people “was never a possibility”… at least 38,000 Srebrenica residents survived out of a population of 40,000 before the capture of the enclave. Around 2,000 Muslims who fled with the 28th division were killed, most by fighting, but also hundreds executed by paramilitary units and a mercenary group.’ (emphasis in original). Thus, those leaping to defend Chomsky and Johnstone from accusations of Srebrenica revisionism include people who openly and unambiguously claim that only ‘hundreds’ were ‘executed’ at Srebrenica, that only about 2,000 were killed, and that most of these were killed in combat. One of these people, George Bogdanich, is the director of a film entitled ‘Yugoslavia: The avoidable war’, which was used by Milosevic himself as evidence in his defence at the ICTY.
Other signatories of the letter in support of Chomsky and Johnstone include George Kenney, who is on record as claiming that only 25-60,000 were killed in Bosnia; and Louis Dalmas, editor of the ‘Balkans Infos’ website, which follows the same political line as the ICDSM and SRG and that advertises literature written by Milosevic himself. Dalmas’s website carries articles by Michael Parenti, head of the US section of the ICDSM and author of a book for which Milosevic wrote the foreword, and by Kosta Cavoski, head of the ‘International Committee for the Truth about Radovan Karadzic’, a lobby set up to defend the fugitive former Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war-criminal.
Such are the eminent individuals who have spoken out in defence of Noam Chomsky and Diana Johnstone – essentially the same people who have spoken out in defence of Slobodan Milosevic and/or who have unambiguously denied the Srebrenica massacre. Of course, this does not mean that Chomsky and Johnstone really are associated with these people. Or does it? In his article ‘The Politics of the Srebrenica Massacre’, SRG leader Ed Herman thanks a number of individuals for their help and advice, including Diana Johnstone, ICDSM signatory Vera Vratusa and a certain George Pumphrey. Of the last of these, Herman writes ‘George Pumphrey’s Srebrenica: Three Years Later, And Still Searching’, ‘is a classic critique of the establishment Srebrenica massacre narrative’. George Pumphrey has actually described Srebrenica as a ‘hoax’ and holds views that are borderline anti-Semitic; his denial of the reality of anti-Semitism and neo-Nazi violence against Jews resembles his denial of the Srebrenica massacre.
Pumphrey wrote his own letter in support of Chomsky and Johnstone, which he sent to the BIRN, The Guardian, the American left-wing journal ‘Counterpunch’, Diana Johnstone and Noam Chomsky, and which has consequently been circulating around the internet, although it does not appear to have been published anywhere. When Pumphrey’s text found its way to me, and I saw to whom it had been addressed, I immediately wrote to BIRN, urging that they publish it, though my advice was not followed (I would, however, be happy to forward it to anyone who is interested). It is a straightforward claim that the Srebrenica massacre never happened, not essentially different from his published article making this claim. More interesting is the fact that Pumphrey appended to his article sections of an email correspondence that had occurred between his circle of fellow travellers, discussing their possible response to our own open letter, and which I reproduce below. The reader should note in particular the list of recipients of the third email reproduced below, sent by SRG member David Peterson to Diana Johnstone, Noam Chomsky, George Pumphrey and others. Chomsky’s email address appears directly before that of Tiphaine Dickson, attorney of the ICDSM.
From: Diana Johnstone [mailto:DianaJohnstone@compuserve.com]
Sent: Wednesday, December28, 2005 6:16 PM
Subject: Guardian bis
Could someone please forward this to Michael Mandel? I don’t have his email! address where I am now. I had hoped to move onto other matters, but I am going to have to defend myself from this new assault. Diana.
From: “Ed Herman”
Dear Friends: I wonder whether it wouldn’t be advisable to do what the “anti-revisionists” do here, namely, put up a letter signed by an equal number of us “revisionists” contesting their attack, rather than leaving Diana Johnstone to defend herself alone? An impressive feature of this attack, that I think should be featured, is the use of “revisionism” (and “denial”) to put down any contesting views to an institutionalised truth that they espouse. This is in line with their performance from the early 1990s in viciously attacking all dissenters, including Peter Brock and George Kenney, who challenged the party line already fixed. The party liners’ behavior then and now is hostile to debate and has a strong element of ad hominem as well as appeal to unchallengeable truth, along with a minimal appeal to fact. They also continually misrepresent the positions of the “revisionist” targets. I like the statement in Freebairn’s summary below that the genocide in Bosnia has been “legally established.” As Michael Mandel has suggested, this ICTY claim is itself a nice case of “revisionism,” but meeting the party line demand it ceases to be revisionism and becomes truth. What do you think about this? Ed Herman.
Sent:Thursday, December 29, 2005 11:01 AM
To: Ed Herman; email@example.com; Tiphaine Dickson; IntPressIntl@aol.com; ‘PhillipCorwin’; Vera Vratusa-Zunjic; AvoidableWar@aol.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; Jonathan Rooper; milan bulajic; Petokraka78@aol.com; Sanjoy Mahajan; firstname.lastname@example.org; ‘george pumphrey’; ‘george Szamuely’; ‘michael mandel’
Subject:RE: Guardian bis
Dear Ed: Very good idea. Whenever I encounter use of the terms ‘revisionism’ and’ revisionist’, immediately I know that the Truth in this instance is too important for it not to be true. The collective who signed onto this particular letter employ “Bosnian genocide” and “Srebrenica massacre” both as touchstones of Truth, and as whips for disciplining deviant views. Only a totalitarian mentality works like this. If they were concerned about the historical accuracy of a person’s work, they would challenge it on grounds that it is wrong. But the use of the accusations revisionism and denial work on a wholly different plane: Namely, political discipline. Thus to resort to these accusations is to resort to a species of the charge of heresy. In what sense can one’s work revise the historical record, and its producer be guilty of some egregious crime for doing so? In the sense that it deviates from the doctrine of the faithful. Only a totalitarian mentality employs a charge like revisionism. Furthermore, what should we call a collective that refuses to emend its body of accepted knowledge in the face of evidence to the contrary? SincerelyYours,DavidPetersondavidepet@comcast.net
—–[End of emails]—–
Further comment on the character of this circle would be superfluous. But how closely do the views of Johnstone and Chomsky mirror those of their correspondents? Johnstone has challenged the accepted view of the Srebrenica massacre in her book Fools’ Crusade: ‘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.’ I have interpreted this to mean that Johnstone admits the Serb ‘execution’ (what the rest of us call ‘massacre’) of 199 Muslim victims, and that as this reduces the massacre to less than 2.5% of its accepted death-toll, Johnstone has effectively denied the massacre. Some of her defenders, such asBrian Leiter, have suggested that Johnstone’s mention of the 2,631 exhumed bodies shows that she has not necessarily reduced the Srebrenica massacre toll to only 199; presumably, they feel, she leaves open the possibility that the death toll may have been over two and a half thousand, or less than a third of the accepted figure of 8,000 (though she does imply that some or most of those 2,631 may have been killed in fighting, and some may have been Serbs). Since Johnstone does not actually explicitly draw any conclusion about the scale of the Srebrenica massacre from the evidence she puts forward, readers are left to draw their own. Yet the Srebrenica Research Group, which explicitly thanks Johnstone for her contribution to their work and whose members praise her book, has explicitly stated its belief that only 2,000 Muslims were killed at Srebrenica, that most of these were killed in combat, and that only several hundred were ‘executed’. So there are two possible interpretations: that Johnstone and the SRG are in agreement, and that Johnstone has indeed reduced the Srebrenica massacre death-toll to a figure in the hundreds, as I believe; or that Johnstone perhaps believes that the SRG is wrong and that the death-toll may be as high as two and a half thousand or so, but for some reason neglects to spell this out, as Leiter appears to believe. Readers are free to decide whose interpretation is more plausible.
So far as Chomsky is concerned, he cannot of course be held responsible if a group of Milosevic supporters and unambiguous Srebrenica deniers should happen to include his name on a mailing list of people coordinating their action to defend him from the charge that he is one of them, even if he does also regularly write for the same website as they do; even if he did tell Brockes that he believed the Srebrenica massacre was ‘probably overstated’; even if he has described Johnstone’s book as ‘an outstanding work, dissenting from the mainstream view but doing so by an appeal to fact and reason, in a great tradition’; even if he has described the Srebrenica massacre as ‘much lesser’ than the Indonesian massacre of 5-6,000 people in East Timor in 1999; and even if he has in the past joined with SRG leader Ed Herman tominimise the atrocities of the Pol Pot regime. It is possible that he entirely disapproves of their wicked activities, but has simply neglected ever to say this openly – readers are again free to draw their own conclusions.
In his open letter to The Guardian, Chomsky claimed 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.’ In my last article on the subject, I mentioned that I had failed to find a single web-page where Chomsky does indeed describe the Srebrenica massacre as a massacre. Since then, various people have pointed me to a sum total of ONE web-page where Chomsky does indeed refer in passing to the ‘Srebrenica massacre’, without putting it in quotes. This dates back to 2002, the year of the appearance of Johnstone’s book, which appears to have influenced Chomsky’s perception of Srebrenica. Thus, his subsequent references to the latter have been more ambiguous, up until the controversy with Brockes, since when he appears to have come back down off the fence so far as Srebrenica is concerned – though not about Bosnia in general, as his statements about Omarska and the Serb concentration-camps show.
Indeed, where Bosnia atrocity-denial is concerned, Chomsky has – to borrow a quip from David Lloyd George – sat on the fence for so long that the iron has entered into his soul. Bosnian Muslim victims remain for him and his circle ‘unworthy victims’ – to borrow a well-known Chomskyite concept – as are Croats, Albanians, Israelis, Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi victims of suicide bombings, whereas Palestinians, Turkish Kurds, Serbs, East Timorese and Iraqi victims of American air-strikes are ‘worthy victims’, whose death-toll figures are never subject to the same demands for forensic evidence as are the Srebrenica victims. When was the last time an anti-American radical complained that the figure of one million victims of US air-strikes in Cambodia, or 250,000 East Timorese victims of Indonesia, is too neat and round and has not been backed up with the evidence of an equivalent number of corpses, appropriately examined to determine the cause of death of every single one?
The questions of whether the Srebrenica massacre really did happen, and what its death toll was, have already been extensively addressed by others. Readers should look here for the evidence for a death-toll of 8,000; here for a breakdown of the forensic and other evidence collected by the year 2000; here for the Bosnian Serb government’s own recognition of the massacre; and here for the most extensive survey yet of the massacre, carried out by a Dutch team of experts, which refers to the ‘mass murder’ of Muslims at Srebrenica – a term which you will not find Johnstone, Chomsky or their friends using in this context.
There remains the question of freedom of speech. Chomsky has gone on record to denounce ‘Britain’s outrageous libel laws, denounced as scandalous worldwide by everyone concerned with the right of freedom of expression’, yet it was probably thanks to the existence of these laws that Chomsky was able to win his unethical victory over The Guardian. The facts are that a journalist’s interview with Chomsky was driven off The Guardian’s website for the crime of portraying the great prophet in a negative light, and that the journalist in question was then subject to an unprecedented campaign of vilification. She has been accused of everything, from being a tool of The Guardian’s conspiracy to defame Chomsky (byChomsky himself), to being anapologist for Ariel Sharon. Anentry for Wikipedia was created for her that refers exclusively to her interview with Chomsky and her repudiation by The Guardian. Apparently, The Guardian has been the subject of a campaign aimed at her dismissal for the crime of her interview. Leiter virtually salivates at the thought of Brockes’s fall: ‘Perhaps Ms. Brockes, having now been publically [sic] humiliated with the total [sic!] repudiation of her work in this case, will do better in the future; or perhaps she will find a different profession, where she can conduct herself more honorably.’ Two supporters of the Henry Jackson Society – myself and Oliver Kamm – have been vocal critics of Chomsky’s behaviour in this affair. Consequently, Richard Symonds of the ‘Cyril Joad Society’ held a ‘Christmas lecturette’ to ‘mark Noam Chomsky’s 77th birthday (and to counter the Henry Jackson Society)’, the flyer for which Symonds forwarded unsolicited to me – a week after the ‘Christmas lecturette’ had already occurred. The flyer claimed: ‘There is now an orchestrated attempt to silence the voice of Noam Chomsky – especially by THE HENRY JACKSON SOCIETY.’ Symonds is apparently unable to distinguish between criticising Chomsky and attempting to silence him. The signatories of the open letter in defence of Chomsky and Johnstone, described above, have accused myself and the other defenders of Emma Brockes and Kemal Pervanic of being ‘inquisitors’ – for daring to expose the dishonesty of their gurus; the same people for whom Milosevic is a ‘Serbian patriot’ describe Srebrenica survivors and Bosnian refugees as ‘inquisitors’, naturally. Chomsky himself accused The Guardian editors of ‘lies and deceit’ over the Brockes interview, alleging a conspiracy to defame him, and humbly comparing his own treatment by The Guardian to the murder of El Salvadorean dissidents by US-backed death-squads in the 1980s. Such is the Chomskyite tolerance of criticism.
It should be crystal clear which side in this debate is the enemy of freedom of speech. Let us be absolutely clear on this point: anyone has the right publicly to deny the Srebrenica massacre, or the Holocaust, or Pol Pot’s genocide, because we believe in democracy, where everyone has the right to say what they think. But equally, the rest of us have the right to expose and condemn those who do this. It is one thing for Holocaust-deniers and other conspiracy-theorists and crackpots to have the freedom to disseminate their views, and another for a respectable newspaper like The Guardian to endorse them. Of course, The Guardian is free to endorse whatever views it likes, but let us be clear about the consequences: this is the thin end of the wedge; first the Srebrenica massacre is dismissed as a ‘hoax’ of ‘Anglo-Saxon imperialism’, and before you know it, the Holocaust-deniers’ ‘challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy’ will be taught to our children in schools as a respectable ‘alternative’ to the ‘mainstream’ viewpoint. Far fetched? Already the fashionable ‘anti-war’ current embraces – along with the usual Chomskyites and Guardianistas – Islamists who routinely denigrate Jews and deny the Holocaust. The Chomsky-Brockes controversy is, so far as we are concerned, about our right to expose genocide-denial in all its forms; to counter the spread of this poison – not through censorship, but through our pens. This is why we shall not do what both The Guardian and the Milosevic lobby want, and draw a line under this affair.
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