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.

The Article that Fooled the Left

The Article that Fooled the Left

While an old topic, the issue of the death camps in Bosnia in 1992 continually arises as one of the big issues raised by various revisionists and apologists for Serbian nationalism. Diana Johnstone, Michael Parenti, Ed Herman have all played the game of pretending these camps were “fake”. One of their co-thinkers, Michael Collon, summarised the argument in a ridiculous ‘Milosevic media quiz’ he penned. Collon writes:

“YES. Fabricated by Bernard Kouchner and Médecins du Monde, this image showed some 'prisoners' held, seemingly, behind barbed wire. One of them had terribly protruding ribs … But the whole thing was faked and taken from a report by British TV channel ITN. The trickery became obvious when one viewed the footage shot at the same time by a local TV news crew. In reality, the British camera had been deliberately placed behind the two lonely strands of barbed wire that formed a fence surrounding an old enclosure for farming equipment. The 'prisoners' were on the 'outside' of the barbed wire. Free because they were refugees in this camp to escape the war and the militias who would force them to fight. In the complete film, the only prisoner who speaks English declares to the ITN journalist three times that they are being well treated and are safe. The man with the protruding ribs (gravely ill) was called to the foreground when all his mates looked to be in too good a shape. Kouchner's montage was a gross falsehood.”

These confident assertions derive ultimately from the “research” conducted by a bizarre left-right, “red”-brown British cult called ‘Living Marxism’ (LM, about who, more below) which had appointed itself chief attorney for the far-right Serbian chauvinist regimes of Milosevic/Seselj and Karadzic. This “research” had come to a head with the publication of a famous article by one of their members, a guy called Thomas Deuchmann, titled ‘The picture that fooled the world’. This article alleged that the ITN journalists had “faked” the stories about the death camps. For the naïve among the left, and those who wanted to be convinced, this article was all that was needed.

In reality, the article is a pack of lies, based on the “evidence” of a bloke who first went to Bosnia in 1997, that is, two years after the end of the war, and five years after the events in question, by which time all the remnants of the death camps were gone. He picked up his views by talking to a couple of local Serbs, and from footage shot at the same time by a local TV news crew, that is, the footage shot by the Serbian state media, allegedly “at the time,” which however Deutchman did not see until 5 years later. I suppose, that is, after plenty of time to doctor it, or even invent it.

A great deal has been made about whether the fence was around the prisoners or an enclosure around the journalists, that the prisoners were looking into, based on which side of the fence the barbed wire was on and other such trivia. The answer appears inconclusive, but it is largely irrelevant. More relevant are the assertions deriving from this, like those Collon makes above: that the prisoners were “treated well” according to one prisoner, that the prisoners were “free because they were refugees in this camp to escape the war and the militias who would force them to fight,” and that it was only one “gravely ill” prisoner who was very thin, who they zeroed in on, while his mates were “in good shape.”

This primitive Goebbelesque stuff is an eyesore coming from anywhere on the left, and as Goebbelesque as any of the exaggerated use of the ITN material by tabloids. Anyone who wants to know about the kinds of hideous tortures and daily horrific murders that went on in these death camps only has to look at the very extensive documentation at the Hague, or Red Cross, or Amnesty, or the UN, based on the testimony of thousands of witnesses. And what this testimony shows is that Serbian-run death camps such as Omarska, Keraterm, Trnopolje, Sanski Most, Brcko, Foca etc represented some of the ugliest events of modern history. “Free” indeed. Whether they were surrounded by barbed wire or not was thus irrelevant; even if they weren’t, if they had tried to escape, they would have been target practice for the sadistic guards. As for the photos, if you look at enough of them you will see loads of people as skinny as Alic; the suggestion that other prisoners were “in good shape” is abominable. Perhaps just looking at the three photos on this page might already show up the lie of the “single” allegedly “gravely ill” man.

Anyone who wants to read about these monstrous crimes, these concentration camps, can try these pages from the report of the UN Commission of Experts: includes Omarska includes Keraterm and Trnopolje includes Sanski Most includes Foca (also a rape camp) includes Brcko

Anyone reading these reports will soon become aware of the level of complete moral corruption of the genocide-denying wing of the left represented by the LM cult and their followers.

I think Ed Vulliamy himself puts it most eloquently himself when describing the irrelevance of LM’s obsession with the wire being on which side of the fence, when compared to the stark reality of these death camps. Referring to the trial at which Deutchman’s bizarre LM group lost the case against ITN, he says (,2763,184815,00.html):

“Of course Living Marxism was unable to offer a single witness who had been at Trnopolje, the camp they claimed to be a fake, on that putrid afternoon of August 5, 1992. Indeed, they were unable to produce any witnesses at all. Unlike any member of Living Marxism or their sympathisers, I was there with ITN's cameras that day. We went to two camps: Omarska and Trnopolje.
“Living Marxism does not like to mention Omarska: there, we saw little, but enough: skeletal men drilled across a yard and devouring watery stew like famished dogs before being bundled out. One man said: "I do not want to tell any lies, but I cannot tell the truth."
“The truth emerged with time. Omarska turned out to be the kind of place where one prisoner was forced to bite the testicles off another, who had a live pigeon stuffed into his mouth to stifle the screams as he died in agony. The yard at Omarska was a killing field, prisoners obliged to load the mutilated corpses of their friends on to trucks by bulldozer.
“Trnopolje was a marginally less satanic place, some of whose prisoners were transferred from other hideous camps to await forced deportation. Others were rounded up and herded there like cattle, or had even fled there to avoid the systematic shelling and burning of their homes. Unknown to us when we pulled up on the road, in disbelief at the sight before us, it was the former group that was held captive behind the now celebrated barbed wire fence.
“At the time I paid little attention to what would become Living Marxism's myopic obsessions: such as which side of which pole the old barbed wire or fresh barbed wire was fixed. There were more important matters, such as the emaciated Fikret Alic's (accurate and vindicated) recollections of the night he had been assigned to load the bodies of 250 men killed in one night at yet another camp.
“If it is still of any remote interest, I will say this: I now know the compound in which these terrified men were held captive to have been surrounded on one side by recently reinforced barbed wire, on two sides by a chain-link fence patrolled by menacing armed thugs and on a fourth side by a wall. But so what? This was a camp - I would say a concentration camp - and they were its inmates.
“What does it take to convince people? The war ground on, the British foreign office and Living Marxism in perfect synergy over their appeasement of the Serbs while other, worse camps were revealed. The bench in The Hague issued its judgment on Trnopolje in 1997: a verdict that described the camp as infinitely worse than anything we reported - an infernal place of rape, murder and torture. Witness after witness confirmed this. The Financial Times enthusiastically re-iterated Living Marxism's claims of a fabrication, but published a hasty and grovelling retraction when it looked at LM's non-evidence.”

Deutchman’s cult, the so-called ‘Living Marxism’, was a grotesque outfit, of which, at a certain point after then end of the 1990s, the entire leadership turned completely counterrevolutionary overnight. Since this would seem impossible based on the laws of probability, the only logical explanation is that they already were, and their bizarre tactics, of turning themselves into spokespeople for Serbian ethnic cleansing, were designed to make the left look ridiculous. George Monbiot does an excellent job on this group of right-wing extremists:

The Invasion of the Entryists,3604,1102753,00.html

Bear in mind that it was the fake propaganda of this cult that was behind much of the “information” that is now used by many of the genocide-denying wing of the “left” and right, who continually retail the same points and continually reference each other, with silly stories often going back to LM.

For the most complete description of the entire issue of the camps and the ITN story and the LM idiocy about it, people must read:

‘Atrocity, memory, photography: imaging the concentration camps of Bosnia - the case of ITN versus Living Marxism’

Anyone who hasn’t read that has simply done no justice to the story. It is superbly well-documented and argued stuff: nothing like Deuchmann’s chaff.

Now, that sections of the media may have engaged in ‘demonisation’ in the way they presented news is not in dispute: this commonly occurs. However, reporting on actual death camps is not ‘demonisation’; it is the perpetrators ‘demonising’ themselves. This goes for any conflict. The one thing that can be criticized is some of the sensationalist British media, which blew up the stories of the ITN journalists with screaming headlines about “the new Holocaust” featuring in particular the emaciated figures. The journalists themselves criticized this usage of their material. For example, Vulliamy states:

“Let no one for one minute compare Omarska to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Such a course is useless and dangerous. No one was more angry than I at headlines such as “Belsen 1992”. They merely played into the hands of those seeking to downplay and even deny what had happened in the Serbian camps.” Including, that is, the LM idiots.

But what was LM really concerned about? Was it that the exaggerated way the tabloids used it was cover for some imperialist plot to intervene in the war and launch a war against Serbia?

Some leftists mistakenly took this tabloid sensationalism for the policy of the UK ruling class. In reality, it had nothing to do with UK Tory government policy, which was cravenly pro-Serbian throughout the Bosnia war, just as much as its cheerleaders in LM, indeed the Tories and LM had the same policy; rather it was just that wing of the media which specialize in this kind of hyper sensationalist “journalism” as a rule.

Was the US preparing a war against Serbia, or even to intervene in Bosnia? Since we are talking about 1992, and US intervention in Bosnia did not occur until 1995 (and that essentially to save Milosevic’s arse and give him half of Bosnia on a plate), why would they be making propaganda back in 1992? The answer: they weren’t. And moreover: if the US had wanted to bomb in 1992, using the concentration camp images, it could have easily, with significant support, without even having to resort to much propaganda beyond the reality.

So what was actually happening at the time regarding the US and these death camps? In fact, the US government actively tried to deny their existence until the last moment, until the journalist Roy Gutman thrust them into the international media and into their faces in August 1992. They were clearly aware of these camps: a May 29 report by the International Society for Human Rights had already listed many with graphic details (International Society for Human Rights, British section, Human Rights and Serbia, 1992) and in July the Bosnian government issued a list of 105 such camps and of 9300 deaths in them (Bosnian Government Information Office, ‘List of Concentration Camps and Prisons on the Territory of the Republic of BH,’ July 28, 1992). The US government was clearly aware of this (United States, House of Representatives, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Developments in Yugoslavia and Europe - August 1992, 102nd Congress, Second Session, Washington, GPO, August 4, 1992, p6). US intelligence had also been aware of these camps before this, and the US embassy in Belgrade had sent regular wires to the State Department based on Red Cross and other information (Vulliamy, E, “Bosnia: The Crime of Appeasement,” International Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 1, 1998, p79). The Red Cross had already visited 4000 people in 10 death camps from July 9 and had reported it all to the UN (Developments in Yugoslavia and Europe - August 1992, op cit, p50-51). Even after Gutman’s revelations, the first reaction of US leaders was to deny their existence. Only once they became undeniable did western leaders demand Red Cross examination of these camps; even then they did not demand their closure.

In the US Congress on August 4, efforts by opposition members to bring up the evidence that had been amassed about the camps for months were met with the continual response by government spokesman Thomas Niles, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, that the US government “cannot confirm” such reports as “we do not have thus far substantiated information.” When asked “Do you have confirmation that some killing and some torture has taken place?” he replied “No, I cannot confirm that.” “You cannot even confirm a single case?” “I cannot” (ibid, p7, and then continually throughout the report. The questioner was Lee Hamilton, chair of the subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East). Amazing – Niles sounds just like Parenti, Ramsey Clarke etc.

Every question throughout the session about what the US would do to ensure delivery of humanitarian relief was met with legalistic arguments about needing to get a consensus through the UN Security Council, even though the Security Council had already passed resolutions authorising the use of force, and the US has never worried about legalisms. As one congressman pointed out, “The President wasn’t worried about legalisms when it came to Saddam Hussein. President Reagan wasn’t worried about legalisms when it came to a number of countries, including Grenada. So don’t put up the shield of legalisms,” (p52). Asked about the continuing arms embargo against Bosnia, Niles replied that the delivery of food aid to Sarajevo was “the best guarantee that the Serbs will not succeed in conquering the city” (p34).

Finally, the revisionist set often claims that “all sides” had camps in which they committed atrocities. For example, Collon claims “There certainly were camps in Bosnia. Not for extermination, but rather for the preparation of prisoner exchanges. Violations of Human Rights were committed here. But why were the UN reports on this subject hidden from us? They accounted for six Croat camps, two Serb camps and one Muslim camp.”

It is difficult to know whether Collon is lying or just stupid. Only two Serb-run camps in Bosnia were there?

According to the Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Expertsestablished pursuant to security council resolution 780 (1992), “The reports reviewed alleged a total of 677 camps within BiH. Among those camps, 333 (49.2 per cent) were alleged to have been controlled by Bosnian Serbs; 83 (12.2 per cent) by Bosnian Muslims; 51 (7.5 per cent), by Croats; 31 (4.6 per cent) by both Croats and Muslims; 5 (.7 per cent), by private parties; and 174 (25.7 per cent) by unidentified forces ( Thus if we leave out the “unidentified,” then Serb forces ran two thirds of all the camps.

Of course, not all these were necessarily death camps. Some may have even been the kind of holding camps that Collon describes. Referring to the 960 camps in all of former Yugoslavia (in which the breakdown of ‘ownership’ is basically similar to that of Bosnia), the report states regarding the numbers held and the severity of the crimes recorded:

“As the above statistics and following discussion indicate, the number of camps and reported violations in camps controlled by the Government of BiH and its army are the fewest among the warring factions, irrespective of the ethnic or religious background of the detainees held. The number of reported violations by the Croatian Government, the Croatian Army, and the Croatian Defence Council is larger, particularly against Serbs in Krajina and in eastern and western Slavonia and against Muslims from BiH in Herzegovina. The period of time during which those camps were operated in each of these contexts is relatively limited. The two warring factions identified above are, however, reported to have committed far fewer numbers of violations than those committed by the Serb forces and those working on their behalf, whether in Croatia or BiH. Camps operated by Serbs in BiH are by far where the largest numbers of detainees have been held and where the harshest and largest number of violations occurred.”

No-one has ever denied that Croats and Muslims also had camps, and that massive human rights violations also occurred there. The most important issue, apart from the huge difference in extent of these camps and the abuses, is that the Bosnian government immediately sent Muslim officers to the Hague when they were first accused of running a terrible camp outside Sarajevo where many Serbs and Croats were killed. In fact, for all the alleged “anti-Serb bias” of the Hague, these Muslims were the very first from former Yugoslavia to be convicted by the Hague, while Serb and Croat butchers of a dramatically higher level were – and are - still running around.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On Fidel's advice to MIlosevic to "resist": Resistance, yes, but how?

Fidel asked the Serbian ambassador in Washington, in response to NATO’s aggression against Serbia in March 1999, to pass this message onto Milosevic:

"Even though I have no personal relationship with him, I have meditated extensively on the problems of today's world. I think that I have a sense of history, a concept of tactics and strategy in the struggle of a small country against a great superpower and I feel a deep hatred towards injustice, and so I take it upon myself to transmit to him an idea in just three words:

"Resist, resist, resist.”

(Reflections by the Commander in Chief, October 1, 2007

It is good to know that Fidel had “no personal relationship” with Milosevic, but in any case the advice to resist imperialist aggression is made due to his hatred of imperialist aggression against anyone.

Well and good; the problem being, how exactly does one “resist” in these circumstances? When an imperialist army invades and occupies your country, like the US in Iraq today, or the Nazis in Yugoslavia in WWII, then resistance means fighting against the invader and occupier, as the Iraqis are today, and the Yugoslav peoples (Serbs, Croats, Muslims, Albanians etc) did in WWII.

However, when someone is not invading, but firing cruise missiles at you from Italian bases, or bombing from 15,000 feet, how do you resist? For one, I suppose you try to knock some planes out of the sky, but most small countries are unlikely to have the necessary equipment to do that successfully.

Therefore, apart from “standing firm” and doing nothing, the only real resistance can be a political resistance, involving attempting to mobilise world opinion, and the peoples of the region, against the aggressor.

Fidel suggested this might happen of its own accord, claiming "Unless the terribly brutal and unjustifiable attacks in the very heart of Europe cease, world reaction will be even greater and swifter than that triggered by the war in Vietnam.”

Of course, this prediction could hardly have been more wrong. Not remotely like Vietnam, and not remotely like the enormous anti-war movement that erupted a few years later in relation to Iraq. In most countries, just the odd few thousand, or few hundred, demonstrators. And in the Balkan region itself, virtually not a single demonstration anywhere, except Greece for very specific reasons, in defence of a neighbour being bombed. Why was this?

We can look at Cuba’s resistance in the face of 50 yeas of embargo and various other attempts to undermine and overthrow the Cuban revolution by the US. Now Cuba is also not under occupation, so cannot carry out armed resistance. But it does everything it can to win over the world’s people to at least a position of neutrality, if not full admiration and support for Cuba, with its political, social, educational and health initiatives around the world.

By sending doctors to Haiti for example, Cuba wins the hearts and minds of Haitian people. If instead, Cuba had decided to make a claim to Haiti, send the army there to throw the Haitian population into the sea, then not only would it not win people’s support, but on the contrary, imperialism would finish it off the next day.

Serbia had been fighting a counterinsurgency war against the Albanian majority in Kosova for over a year before NATO’s attack; the Albanians were reasserting their decades-long claim for independence, especially since Milosevic had abolished even the autonomy that they never accepted as enough. This is what Fidel calls Serbia’s “internal problems”, and even if we can disagree that the issue was “internal”, rather than a case of foreign occupation, we can agree with this designation in as much as it means it should be none of the business of imperialism.

However, “internal” or otherwise, the onset of NATO’s attack directly led to Milosevic and his fascist deputy, Vojislav Seselj of the pro-Le Pen Radical Party, using the cover of NATO bombs to carry out Seselj’s long term, openly declared plan: to empty Kosova of its Albanian population. Within a couple of weeks of the bombing starting, the Serbian army and paramilitaries had driven over 800,000 people – half the entire Albanian population of Kosova – out of the country. Chomsky, in his ‘New Military Humanism’, makes a very valid comparison of the size of this ethnic cleansing with that of the Nakba, Israel’s original cleansing of the Palestinians in 1948. Chomsky does this to make a very valid statement about imperialist hypocrisy; but not being an apologist, he makes no attempt to belittle the suffering of either group, nor the culpability of those carrying it out.

The complete isolation of Serbia in the region, even when under brutal attack by the Empire, exactly corresponds to the complete isolation of Israel within the Middle east from 1948 onwards. Of course the difference is the position of US imperialism, though of course British imperialism in 1948 is a different thing, as it lined up with the Arab states that attempted to salvage some of Palestine; and even the role of US imperialism in 1999 was not any long-term view, on the contrary, Milosevic had been coddled through the period of his worst crimes earlier in Bosnia, but that is all another issue.

The issue is rather, carrying out this kind of attack on another people when you yourself are under attack is unlikely to be an effective method of “resistance”, certainly not of any political resistance, least of all the kind that could galvanise a mass anti-war movement in the west to your defence – let alone being morally indefensible in itself.

Likewise, the gigantic, festering refugee camps full of hundreds of thousands of dispossessed Albanians in Macedonia and Albania looked cannily like the Palestinian camps in Lebanon, which is what they would have become if they hadn’t been able to go home. We didn’t want NATO to help them go home with more bombs on Serbian civilians – those bombs had sparked the cleansing in the firs place – but with their right to fight for themselves. But for NATO anyway, as an organisation posing as a Europe-wide “security” umbrella, there was no way it was going to let a Palestinian problem occur in Europe. In the Middle east, sure – especially as imperialism gets the benefit of having Israel there as a surrogate in the oil region; but imperialism, unfortunately for Milosevic, did not want or need an Israel in the Balkans, let alone a massive refugee problem within its own, oh s civilized, borders.

Nevertheless, the parallel with Israel was never lost on Israel itself, which always maintained its own policy in support of Serbian nationalism, whatever the twists and turns of its imperialist master, being an important weapons supplier to Serbia throughout. Israel’s attitude is well described in this series of excellent essays by Igor Primoratz, 'Israel and the war in the Balkans' at .

Thus it was no surprise when Ariel Sharon reacted quite out of line from the master when the US led NATO's attack on Serbia. Sharon of course came from a very different standpoint from Fidel; while Fidel stresses fighting imperialism, and avoids any specific support or mention of Milosevic's policy in Kosova or elsewhere, Sharon comes in and makes an uncharacteristic criticism of an imperialist attack precisely out of solidarity with Serbian nationalism. Sharon declared:

"Israel should not legitimise Nato’s aggression, led by the United States … Israel could be the next victim of the sort of action now going on in Kosovo … Imagine what would happen if one fine day the Arabs declared autonomy for the Galilee and links with the Palestinian Authority," Yediot Aharonot, Tel Aviv, 2 April.

Sharon went on, in a meeting with Jewish leaders in the US, to claim the Kosovo Liberation Army "had obtained significant aid from terrorist organizations backed by Iran, including the mujahadeen fighters in Afghanistan, Hizbullah and Osama Bin Laden" and said an independent Kosovo would enable Islamic terrorism to spread throughout Europe.

Just as he responded to Fidel, Milosevic also responded to Sharon. In the Israeli paper "Ha' aretz" of 23 March 2001, there was a long interview to Milosevic who said "we have always had a positive attitude in the comparisons of the requirement of the Israeli people of living in peace and free being. But I must admit that, ill-fatedly, our good will has not been reciprocated from Israel in the difficult moments for the Serbian people, when this last one was exposed to every type of pressure - from those media and economic, to the army. In truth, the one who raised his own voice against Albanian separatismo, Sharon, has been an example." While hurrying to cite Sharon's example, he does not spend even a word for the Palestinian. In a comment, that accompanied the interview, Adar Primor wrote that "Milosevic has positive memories of Ariel Sharon," who "openly had dissociated the military campaign of the NATO. Sharon had put in guard from the creation of a ' Great Albania' that would have diffused the terror Muslim in all Europe, adding that Israel did not have to give legittimità to a intervenzionista military involvement of NATO ".

Being Sharon one of the last people in the world to be opposed to a war for reasons of moral or political convictions, his message was clear: an independent Kosovo would have constituted a precedent for independent Palestine and the Albanians, like the Palestinians, are only "terrorist" Muslims,