Saturday, October 20, 2007

How Many, and Who, Died in Bosnia?

How Many, and Who, Died in Bosnia?

The numbers killed in 3.5 years of savage war in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995 has long been a question of controversy. Bosnian leaders usually claimed some 200,000 people, mostly Bosnian Muslims, were killed; on the other extreme, apologists for Serbian nationalism like to imagine the lowest possible figures, and then suggest these figures were fairly evenly divided among ethnic groups as would be expected in a “civil war.” As an example of the latter group, Ed Herman (Z-Magazine, February 2002, Body Counts in Imperial Service) “quotes” George Kenney’s alleged estimate of only 20-30,000 dead in Bosnia. Kenney in fact estimated between 25,000 and 65,000 dead, and it is clearly Herman who chose to provide only Kenney’s minimum figure to the Z-Net readership, yet in any case Kenney’s figures are still very low.

The reasons for people like Herman, and a significant section of the left, wanting to believe these ‘low and equal’ figures lies in their belief that the war in Bosnia was part of “imperialist intervention against Serbia”, or even part of the “imperialist dismantling of Yugoslavia.” The second claim of course is pure metaphysics, given that Yugoslavia collapsed in 1991 or at the latest early 1992, whereas the Bosnian war broke out in April 1992. Nevertheless, the first claim is just as metaphysical – the whole point is that while slaughter engulfed Bosnia for 3.5 years – with, as will be conclusively shown below, Muslims overwhelmingly the main victims – there was *no* imperialist intervention to help the Muslim, and mixed Bosnian, victims against the monstrous assault by massively armed Serb nationalist forces, themselves armed to the teeth by Serbia, which had inherited the Yugoslav army, the 4th largest armed force in Europe. Which is not to say there was not intervention; there was, but *against* Bosnia. The main forms of imperialist intervention in Bosnia, enforced by tens of thousands of NATO troops, were two-fold: enforcing a criminal arms embargo against the Bosnian republic, in the context of overwhelming military superiority of Serbia; and continually pushing one plan after another for the ethnic partition of Bosnia, ie, precisely the program the Serb nationalists and Milosevic were fighting for, the only disagreement being over ‘how much’. In the end, with the US-imposed Dayton Accord of 1995, the ‘Serb republic’ got half of Bosnia, an enormous steal, courtesy of EU and US imperialism.

So the psychological alleged “anti-imperialist” premises for wanting to believe false figures is an illusion. Now on top of this, we have the first thorough study showing the death figures and proportions are also baseless. Fortunately we have a very thorough research into this question carried out by the Research and Documentation Centre, painstakingly put together by a Bosnian team involving Serbs, Croats and Muslims along with international experts, headed by Mirsad Tokaca, available at:

Every death has been rigorously cross-checked to rule out double reporting (possible in the chaos of war and displacement), and only those deaths that can be absolutely verified are included. This thus excludes many incomplete cases, and those who died as a result of war-related causes, ie, years of having no electricity or being starved in besieged cities, lack of medicines, cold etc, but not directly through military killing. It also excludes “persons who died at an earlier age than would normally be expected during peacetime, due to war conditions.”

As of December 2005, they had a definite count of 93,837, and in December 2006, this had risen to 97,207. The project is continuing and will continue to be extended as long as significant numbers continue to be added.

Many of the pro-Chetnik wing of the left will grab this and say, see, “only” 100,000 killed, not 200,000 as widely quoted. Let’s however remember the fact that the RDC sees these figures as an “absolute minimum,” and that these figures only cover those who died from direct military killing but not others who died as a result of war conditions (which many of these “leftists” would want included if it was a cause they supported).

In reality, the numbers that died in Bosnia as a result of war were far greater than the 97,000 to date found to have been directly killed by acts of war. In fact, a study comparing the pre-war and post-war population of Bosnia, and adding all the known Bosnians living elsewhere in the world, the total number of dead or missing comes to 229,000, of whom 75 percent were Muslims, if it is assumed that there would have been no population increase over that period. If the rate of growth that existed previous to the war is assumed, the numbers of dead or missing rise to 343,000, of whom 64 percent were Muslims (‘Demographic Consequences of the Bosnia War’, by Murat Praso, ).

That there could be such high figures is easily explained when we remember that the RDC figures very strictly exclude “persons who died at an earlier age than would normally be expected during peacetime, due to war conditions.” But is it logical to include people who died “due to war conditions” but not directly shot or bombed in the list of war victims? It really depends on consistency – it is a question of comparing figures with similar figures in other cases. To understand hw important this is, let’s take the case of East Timor.

In 2006, the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation released its report on total deaths in East Timor between the Indonesian invasion in 1975 and its departure in 1999 ( It found 183,000 people had been killed. This approximates closely to 200,000 dead widely quoted, including by Herman, to label the Indonesian action a case of genocide. Yet this report divides this 183,000 into two groups: firstly, 18,600 Timorese – only some 10 percent of the total – who were killed or disappeared (“political violence deaths”), and the remaining 90 percent who died “due to hunger and illness in excess of what would be expected due to peacetime mortality.” Note how closely the description of the vast majority of Timorese deaths due to war conditions resembles the description of the deaths *not* recorded in the RDC’s Bosnian study.

In other words, let’s be clear – and keep in mind that the Timorese figures may well underestimate the scale of killing there, as may also be true in Bosnia – from the available figures, there were 18,600 Timorese deaths directly attributable to killing in 24 years, compared to 97,000 Bosnian deaths directly due to killing in only 3.5 years.

But in any case, let’s leave aside the possible total numbers who died in Bosnia due to war-related causes, which likely are very similar to the widely quoted 200,000 or more. Let’s stick to the 100,000 or so found by the RDC. Let’s leave aside why 100,000 killed in 3.5 years becomes not very much of a big deal by the logic of the revisionists, but 5000 Palestinians killed between 2000 and 2006 is genocide etc. Just to clarify: I have no problem referring to Palestine as genocide, though, like with Bosnia, this description goes beyond the mere question of numbers dead, as we will see below re Bosnia. Let’s leave aside the question of how such craven hypocrisy is even possible. Let’s just deal with the 100,000 killed.

If you want to take that part of the package (ie, the “low” overall numbers), then you have to take the rest of package, which does not bear out the craven “civil war” fantasy at all. When judging these figures below, bear in mind that Bosniaks (Muslims) constituted 43% of Bosnia’s population, Serbs 30% and Croats 18%.

The 97,000 plus deaths to date comprise over 64,000 Bosniaks (65.8%), nearly 25,000 Serbs (25.6%) and 7700 Croats (8%), along with “others.” It is very obvious from this that Muslims (43% of the Bosnian population) are way over represented in the dead and the other two groups are underrepresented. But especially in terms of who was really killing whom, this is even clearer when civilian and military deaths are compared: The 33,000 Bosniak civilians killed constitute 83% of civilian deaths, the 4000 Serbs some 10% and the 2000 Croats 5.4%. Thus there were nearly 8.5 times the number of Bosniak civilians killed compared to Serb civilians. Put another way, over 50% of all Bosniak victims were civilians, compared to only 16% of Serb victims and 26% of Croat victims.

And even this is not the end of the story, because large numbers of Bosnians were officially listed by their families as being in the army as it was the only way to get a government subsidy. According to the RDC the civilian numbers are probably overall underreported compared to the military numbers:

“During our BBD project and other studies related to the registration of victims of war
it came to our attention that some victims reported as soldiers according to official
military lists, would be as well claimed civilians in civilian sources, and vice-versa. In
particular, some military records could have been created by authorities in response to
applications from the relatives of the deceased for the post-mortal benefits after the
deceased. Secondly, some families might have found it honourable to bury their
deceased among the defenders in military cemeteries or to publish their names on
defenders’ lists, even if the actual circumstances of death were not necessarily directly
related to combat. These practices likely lead to over-reporting of soldiers and underreporting of civilians in the sources. In consequence of these and other similar practices, civilians are in our opinion underrepresented in “Status in War”.”

Though Bosniak civilian deaths already vastly outnumber Serb/Croat deaths, it still appears likely that it is Bosniaks relatively underreported due to this problem, probably at the same overall ratio. In particular, even many of the 8000 plus Muslim men and boys slaughtered in captivity over a few days in Srebrenica in 1995 – ie the case unambiguously agreed to be “genocide” by the World Court – are here classified as “soldiers”. Tokaca explains that they in fact were not soldiers, but:

“This is a problem for the state to solve. For many families, the fact that one of its members was filed as a soldier in the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina was a matter of sheer survival. When these people were confronted with the choice between existence and a lie regarding the status of the victim, they opted for the lie. The only ones who could count on some kind of state support were members of the armed forces, or rather their families. The authorities themselves, however, have failed to confront the problem of civilian casualties. Throughout the past sixty years, in this country you could claim the status of a soldier on the basis of just two people’s testimony. I chose not to become involved with this problem.”

While it s unclear how many of these 8000 are here wrongly classified, Tokaca implies it is a significant number. Thus even just adding half this group to the Bosnian Muslim civilians their numbers jump to 9 times the number of Serb civilians killed. However you look at it, the reason the Bosnian Serb Army could overrun Srebrenica and slaughter 8000 captives was because the captives had no arms to defend themselves, not the usual definition of a “soldier”. Put another way, a surrendered soldier without a weapon would be listed as a 'soldiers' on the RDC list; though they were non-combatants when killed. Quite unlike Mladic’s forces that did the killing.

As the RDC explains:

“It is important to emphasize that “Status in War” does not provide correct insights in relation to victims of combat versus non-combat situations. Neither does it inform about legitimate victims of violations of the International Humanitarian Law or the Law of War. “Status in War” is a simple measure of whether or not a person was a member of a military/police formation at the time of death.”

But it does not stop there. There is no reason to assume that all Serb and Croat civilian casualties were killed by Bosnian government forces or Muslim militia. Certainly some were, no-one has ever denied that violations were also carried out by the defenders, in the same way as other oppressed and terrorized groups, such as Palestinians, Tamils, Kurds etc often resort to attacks on civilians on the other side, or even their own civilians, such as the Iraqi resistance. One is justifying any of these cases, but the issue is what the overall nature of the conflict is, and the overall picture is clear from all above.

But we need to remember also that tens of thousands of Serbs and Croats remained alongside their Muslim and mixed Bosnian friends and relatives in cities such as Sarajevo and Tuzla throughout the war, which were besieged the entire time by the Chetniks from the hills above. The daily artillery barrages into the cities from Serb chauvinists did not spare Serb civilians living there. There is thus little doubt that a significant proportion of the Serb and Croat civilian deaths were actually at the hands of the Bosnian Serb Army. For example, one fifth of all Croat civilian deaths occurred in Sarajevo (440 of over 2000), and some 1000 Serb civilians died in that city, one quarter of all Serb civilian deaths. Given the civilian casualty numbers in Sarajevo (4000 Muslims, 1000 Serbs and 440 Croats) and the original proportions of the three groups in the Sarajevo population (Muslims 50%, Serbs 28%, Croats 7%), it seems highly likely that the great bulk of these Serb and Croat civilian deaths were due to killing by the Bosnian Serb Army.

Other facts are worth noting. While Serb and Croat military deaths are higher than civilian deaths by a long margin during every month of the 3.5 year war, among Bosniaks, while this pattern also holds for the middle of the war – 1993-94 – Bosnian civilian deaths outnumber military deaths in both crucial years, 1992 (the initial genocide) and 1995 (the year of the Srebrenica genocide). In particular, Bosniak civilian deaths in the first four months of the war – April to August – are massive by comparison with most other figures of any side, except for the (again) Bosniak figures for July 1995.

Significantly, looking at Serb civilian death figures over the 43 months, the only real ‘spike’ is in September 1995 – ie right at the end of the war – when the Croatian army, having driven the Serbian occupation army (and the Serb civilian population) out of its Krajina region in August, then crossed the border into Bosnia and drove back the BSA from some heavily Serb-populated regions adjoining Croatia. This is certainly not to justify the actions of the Tudjman regime and the Croatian chauvinists, who were a carbon copy of their Serbian cousins, and in any case were allied with them against Bosnia throughout most of the war. However, the fact that 400 of the 4000 Serb civilian victims were killed right at the end of the war (600 in September and October) tells us much more about ‘what goes round comes round’ than about the causes and nature of the overall conflict.

The number of female civilians killed is also an indication, given they are less likely to be confused with soldiers. Of the 9300 female civilians killed, 7000 were Muslims (75%), 1500 Serbs (16%) and 730 were Croats (7%). Likewise, 3000 Muslim children were killed, compared to 218 Serbs and 172 Croats, thus Muslim children were killed at a rate of 15 to 1 compared to both other groups. This is even starker when the relative numbers of “soldiers” are taken into account among older children (15-18 years of age). Only 11% of Muslim child fatalities were officially soldiers, compared to 27% among Serbs and 30% among Croats.

Another major point refuting the simpleton “three sides civil war” where “all committed crimes” thesis is the fact that the extermination of Bosnian Muslims went hand in hand with cultural genocide, via the wholesale destruction of Muslim religious and cultural buildings, historic libraries and museums. According to noted authority on Islamic Studies, Michael Sells, the Chetnik forces destroyed the National Library of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with over “a million books, more than a hundred thousand manuscripts and rare books, and centuries of historical records” going up in flames. At the oriental Institute in Sarajevo, more than five thousand Islamic and Jewish manuscripts, from many parts of the Middle East, went up in flames. Much of the National Museum was destroyed (Michael Sells, The Bridge Betrayed, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1996, pp1-3). Along with the wholesale destruction of mosques, this aimed at the complete eradication of Bosnian Muslim culture, ie cultural genocide.
The RDC gathered data about the devastation of cultural heritage and sacral complexes. According to their research, “917 sacral complexes belonging to the Islamic Community were totally destroyed, while 731 were lightly or heavily damaged,” that is, a total of 1648 Muslim mosques or other structures, attacked by (mostly) Serb but also Croat chauvinists (many were hundreds of years old, and many were turned into parking lots), compared to “311 structures of Catholic (ie Croat) Community were destroyed or damaged, as well as 34 belonging to the Orthodox (ie Serb) Community and 7 to Jewish Community” ( Can there still be any doubt: the number of Muslim holy places destroyed or damaged was over 5 times that of Croat holy places and *50 times* that of Serb holy places.
The “all three sides are guilty” school ought to meditate on the fact that a stroll down the main road in Sarajevo or Tuzla, before, during or after the war, would be enough to bring you to quite intact Orthodox and Catholic Churches with crowds of Serb and Croat worshippers entering and leaving. In fact it is no exaggeration to say that no Serbian Orthodox or Croatian Catholic Churches were destroyed in government controlled areas, though the main Serbian Orthodox Church in Sarajevo was damaged by shelling from the Chetnik besiegers. “Civil war” my foot.
The RDC also notes that “850 villages were totally destroyed; 214 attacks against hospitals and other health facilities were registered as well as 132 attacks against other cultural and educational facilities (libraries, schools, universities)” ( It does not specify the majority ethnic group in these villages or where these other buildings were located, but is there any reason to believe that the demography of destroyed villages would be any different to that of destroyed holy houses? Absolutely not, meaning the number of “totally destroyed” Bosnian Muslim villages was some double that of Palestinian villages in 1948.
The fact that the demography of these destroyed villages would be similar to those of destroyed holy places, and destroyed people, should not come as a surprise to anyone who actually knows anything about the Bosnian war and its geography and demography, despite the totally dishonest obfuscation by the embittered revisionists.

After all, while Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zenica, Srebrenica, Zepa, Gorazde, Bihac and countless other Bosnian towns and cities full of civilians were encircled, besieged, cut off from the world, starved and bombed on a daily basis for 3.5 years by heavily armed Serb nationalists, could our pro-Chetnik friends tell us exactly which Serbian towns were besieged and bombed by Bosnian Muslim forces? None, of course. Let’s look at this question more deeply.

Serbs made up 30% of Bosnia, Croats 18%, Muslims 43% and mixed Bosnians around 10%. Within the first few months of the Bosnian war, the Serbian nationalist forces had taken control of 70% of Bosnia and ethnically cleansed a million non-Serbs who just happened to live there. They kept control of this amount of territory for 3.5 years until Bosnian government forces pushed them back to about 50% in late 1995. The US intervened at that point that the Bosnian forces were for the first time on the offensive, making sure the government forces were not able to take back any more ethnically cleansed land, as the golden 50/50 figure for the partition of Bosnia was the US and Milosevic figure.

In 1993, the Bosnian Croat nationalists, who were allied to the Bosnian Serb nationalists, also conquered about 15-20% of Bosnia, thus together the two allied chauvinist armies had 85-90% of Bosnia, while the government forces – representing the Muslim duality of the population, the mixed Bosnians who obviously couldn’t fit in either of the racist states, and large numbers of Serbs and Croats who preferred to keep living next to their Muslim neighbours and relatives rather than shift to some racist hell – only had control of some 10-15% of the country. At the end of 1993, after circumventing the imperialist arms embargo enough to acquire small numbers of Iranian arms, the Bosnian government smashed the Croat chauvinists, but they still held onto Western Herzegovina which had a solid Croat majority, maybe about 10% of the country. Thus even after this, the government forces still had no more than 20% of the country.

How is this possible? Don’t these figures in themselves tell us something about who had absolute power and who at bottom was the oppressor and aggressor? How can this situation make sense if one really thinks it was a fairly even sided “civil war” and if one wants to believe that civilian casualties were fairly evenly spread, and that "the figures and the ethnic breakdown, ratio of civilians and soldiers killed would be the expected death rates in a civil war, reflecting the balance of power on each side” as ‘one poster claimed? High time to toss revisionist rubbish where it belongs.

The final point is this: if it was just “three sides” fighting each other, then it’s strange this wasn’t also occurring in Serbia itself, with its Muslim, Croat, Hungarian and Albanian minorities, indeed where both the Sanzak Muslims and Presevo Albanians had voted in autonomy or independence referendums in 1992; the fact that it was only Bosnia and Croatia being destroyed and ripped above by massively superior Serbian regime firepower gives the neat, simple answer to this “mystery”: the wars in Bosnia and Croatia were not “civil wars”.

How did it all this happen? Because the Bosnian Serb Army had overwhelming military superiority. For example, in late 1994, they had 330 tanks, 800 artillery pieces, 400 armoured personnel carriers and 37 military aircraft, while the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina (ie government forces) had 40 tanks, “a few” artillery pieces, 30 armoured personnel carriers and no aircraft. The Bosnian Croat forces had 75 tanks, 200 artillery pieces, no APCs or aircraft. Given that through most of the war the Serb and Croat nationalists were either officially or unofficially allied, this represents enormous superiority over the government forces. Even when they were not officially allied, the Croat nationalists never carried out any joint fighting with the Bosnian government forces against the Serb nationalists except at the very beginning and very end of the war. Thus at best it was the overwhelmingly superior Serb nationalist forces versus the extremely ill-equipped government forces. Even if a pro-Serb propagandist were to dishonestly put together the Croat and government forces, they were still way, way overwhelmed by the Serb nationalists.

How did the Bosnian Serb Army “just happen” to have such absolute superiority, since it was “just a civil war between 3 ethnic groups”? Answer: because it wasn’t “just a civil war between 3 ethnic groups”. When there was one Yugoslavia, there was one army, a military machine the 4th biggest in Europe with masses of advanced weaponry. This belonged to all Yugoslavs, but when it broke up it came under the control of Serbia, as Serbs had absolutely dominated the officer caste. All non-Serb officers quit when the federal army began to be unconstitutionally used as an arm of Greater Serb war aims.

Still, how did the massive resources of the federal army, based in Serbia itself, get to the Bosnian Serb Army, which was in Bosnia?

Firstly, because it had unconstitutionally began arming the Chetnik military groups in both Croatia and Bosnia from late 1990, in order to prepare their secession from those republics.

Secondly, because at the end of the Federal government/ Serbian attack on Croatia (July-December 1991), former US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance had negotiated an end to that war that allowed the Yugoslav federal army (now entirely Serbian) to take all its advanced weaponry that it had been using in Croatia to destroy that country back into “Yugoslavia”. However, at that time, Bosnia was still in “Yugoslavia”. If you look at the geography, you will see they took their weaponry into Bosnia, not Serbia, and there delivered it to the Bosnian Serb Chetnik forces, who, even months before they launched their own war, had cut out four zones inside Bosnia and taken them under their exclusive control. There can be no doubt that Vance and the US government did this in order to deliver Bosnia to Milosevic.

Thirdly, even after UN recognition of Bosnia in April 1992 and the outbreak of war there, for the first 2 months of the war it was not even theoretically a “civil war” – the Yugoslav army attacked most of the regions throughout Bosnia with its massive firepower, “softening” the areas up for the Bosnian Serb Chetniks to move in for the kill. Actually, not even they were only Bosnian Serbs – fascist militias included those of arch racist Vojislav Seselj of the Serbian Radical Party of * Serbia *, coalition partner with Milosevic’s party in government, and of Serbian mafia leader ‘Arkan’. And it was in those decisive first few months of the war that the “Bosnian Serbs” conquered the bulk of their territory.

Fourthly, even when the ‘Yugoslav’ army was officially withdrawn by Milosevic, a couple of months into the war, it left its massive weapons supplies it had brought from Croatia with the Bosnian Serb Army. In any case, there was no way of ever checking that the ‘Yugoslav’ army had all left; some suggest around 20% of them remained, and various fascist militias from Serbia definitely remained. In any case, the ‘Yugoslav’ government and army back in Serbia paid the salaries of the Bosnian Serb officers, such as Mladic, throughout the war, and continued to supply them with arms, spare parts and oil. Imagine what kind of “having nothing to do with what the Bosnian Serbs do” this is. We generally hold the US and other western governments responsible when they are arming some brutal tyrant suppressing his people. Now imagine a situation where in addition, the US was directly paying the salaries of the officers of, say, Suharto’s Indonesia, throughout the genocide there. From all these leftists, we would never hear the end of it, and quite rightly. Yet in exactly the same case – where Serbia was paying the salaries of the officers of the BSA – they all throw their hands up and look all innocent and ask what could the Serbian government of the good white European Christian man Milosevic possibly have to do with the actions of “the Bosnian Serbs” in a “civil war” in “another country”??!!

Thus this was no more a “civil” war between “Serbs” and “Muslims” where “both sides are equally guilty” than the war between the enormous, massively armed Indonesian army and the East Timorese resistance fighters was a “civil war” between “Indonesians” and “Timorese” where “both sides are equally guilty”.

Briefly on to Kosova, the revisionist set like to claim that "only" 2000 died based on some warped "body count" method. Yet they are wrong even on this. They selectively quote Del Ponte talking about over 2000 bodies being dug out of some 200 mass graves in the first summer of digging, but they "forget" that following the next summer of digging she reported 4000 bodies, but these were only those bodies in a select 529 "mass graves", no claim was made that this was every dead body in Kosova. There was no law that said that every Albanian killed had to be placed in one of these 529 select "mass graves". What about all the individual graves, indeed, all the individuals killed not in a grave until their relatives could return and bury them? How many were they? Yet even with actual bodies and graves, our apologists here quoting "2000" also forget the 1100 Albanian bodies found in mass graves in Serbia itself and gradually returned to Kosova, and we don't know how many more there might be since the Serb government halted the search years ago. Just with that we have 5000 bodies, plus 3/4 of the 2500 missing, so around 7000 killed, leaving aside those not in these specific graves.

The respected British medical journal the 'Lancet' did the only thorough survey I know of (, which showed that 12,000 Albanians (specifically the Albanian toll) had been killed and 4000 missing. If say about 2000 of the missing were later returned from Serbia as prisoners or turned up late, that leaves about 14,000 deaths, of which 12,000 occurred after the NATO bombing began. This is obviously yet another good reason to oppose NATO's aggression, which obviously brought on a far more vicious attack against the Albanians than Slobo had been politically capable of before, but that us no excuse for those who actually carried it out - 12,000 killed in 11 weeks is pretty impressive. The Lancet is hardly a sucker for US imperialism - their highly respected study on Iraq showed that by 1996, there had been 665,000 "excess" Iraqi deaths since the US invasion.
Leftists widely quote the latter study; wouldn’t it be a nice day if for once the hypocrisy could be dropped, or become a little less rank, and quote the former study as well.

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