Saturday, October 9, 2010

I was a Srebrenica-denier

Yes, I admit it. From the distance of fifteen years it seems hard to believe that I stayed in that political heresy for so long, but it really did make sense at the time that the media lied about Srebrenica as it lied about almost everything else in the fighting in the disassembling Yugoslavia. What finally convinced of me of my folly were the first trials in the Hague, in which the accused Bosnian Serb officers did not defend themselves by saying "it did not happen" but by saying "I really wasn't involved". It could only mean one thing: it did happen.

Four years ago I wrote to a University of Philadelphia professor whose heart, like mine, was with the Serbs but who unlike me, did not find a way to deal with their ugly propaganda and their lies.

The letter comments on professor Ed Herman's essay The Politics of Srebrenica , published on ZNet a year earlier.

The unfortunate events took place in East Bosnia in the summer of 1995.

April 17, 2006
Dear Professor Herman,

I have had a long-standing interest in the history and politics of the Balkans, and special hobby called “propaganda”. Like yourself, I do not accept the official version of what happened during the breakup of Yugoslavia and consider the distortions and untruths that have flooded the media a reflection of the deeply flawed US/UN/EU policies in the region. I agree with much of the analysis that you (and writers like Diana Johnstone) have provided, regarding the causes and effects of the Balkan wars of the 1990’s. The perspective that you bring has been invaluable to me in many respects, whether it supports my own views or is at odds with them. As my overall view of the situation significantly overlaps with yours, I would like to explore – if I may interest you – the differences that we have in our respective approach to, and conclusions about the controversial subject of Srebrenica and the “politics” thereof. (Referring to your essay, The Politics of Srebrenica on ZNET, from July 2005)

There cannot be any doubt that the unfortunate events after the fall of Srebrenica in the summer of 1995 have been used, and colored, and inflated in importance, for political purposes. The hugest canard of course is the charge of “genocide” that has been slapped on all Serbs for what appears to be a large-scale week-long murderous cabal to which a small number of Serb professional officers – some technically without a country - allowed themselves to descend to. My concern is with the historical fallacy of this accusation, and the events which such charge suggests, however has very little to do with Serbs, and the need to defend their actions. It has much to do with the historical fact of genocide, and our duty to understand the motives, the aims and the root of the diligent persistence, in annihilating a population of humans. If the word should convey the ultimate horror of inhumanity, a function for which it has been designed, it cannot become an object of legalistic football, in which it is applied liberally to any war nastiness, and to incidents of episodic wartime slaughter even if they are horrific and damnable. And even more so, “genocide” cannot become a semantic turpentine which dissolves meaningful boundaries between words and concepts in which the evidence of some Serbian helicopters flying to Bosnia in violation of a self-imposed arms embargo is easily exhibited as proof of Serbia’s president planning unbridled pillage and mayhem in all of Balkans.

The singular blame for the bloody end of Yugoslavia falls on the shoulders of the EU. I would say more specifically, Germany, who pursued aggressively its own interests in the two northern republics, but since Germany was a member of EU it is reasonable to conclude it would not have acted outside that body had it had a strong consensus around the minimal exit conditions for the new constituents in the dying Yugoslav federation. Among these, the most important were guarantees Рunambiguous, effective and reciprocal Рof minority ethnic rights for all the successor states. As general Boyd said (in one of the docs on the Srebrenica Research Group site), once the war started, all the ethnic entities had an identical goal, the avoidance of becoming a minority within the new frontiers. The abysmal failure of Europe to enforce its standards in this respect, led directly to the rebellion of Serbs in Croatia, and the éclat of hostilities in Bosnia. The problem with Croatia was not simply that it wanted independence, but that its nationalist leaders wanted also hegemony over the region, something that the large Serb population within Croatia made extremely difficult to realize. Hence the impetus for the unacceptable state policy of Serbian assimilation/ expulsion. The aims and means of the policy were clearly demonstrated from the start and no-one can pretend they were not there for all to see.

So far, I believe, my reading of the historical wall does not diverge from yours. However, I do have a significant issue with the Serb response, in the general sense, which you will see, projects into my reading of Srebrenica. You correctly pointed out, for example, that the JNA bombardment of Vukovar, was preceded by months of terror against Serbs in the city, the purpose of which was to intimidate first the SDS activists, and then Serbs generally, by increasing the intensity of random violence against them. The official history of the war remains silent on this undeniable fact, which prefigured the vandalizing of the city by the JNA heavy guns and the first large-scale deployment of the Serbian brand of the atrocity specialists, the efficiency of which, unfortunately, appears to be many Serbs’ special pride. (In case you are wondering, I am referring to what Milovan Djilas called the Serbs’ “love of the bandit”.)

And therein lies my problem! One cannot deny the absolutely unnecessary level of violence which the Serbs unleashed, given the military situation which was hugely in their favour. The bombardment by the JNA and outrages against civilians committed by Arkan’s, Seselj’s and Bokan’s troopers cannot be excused by the murderous spree of Mercep’s HDZ gangs. (Incidentally, the Vukovar “governor” was arrested and taken to Zagreb in a trunk of a car by Croat security to be investigated for “excesses”, in advance of the first JNA shells falling on the city.).

It may be that the JNA was utterly incompetent in utilizing its overwhelming strength against a poorly defended city, but given the known hawkishness of its General Staff, it appears that it wasn’t just being ham-handed, as the Russians were during their first Chechen war in taking Grozny. No, this looks much more like bloody mayhem exacted in retribution which fell below ‘tolerable’ on the scale of humane conduct of war ! I don’t think anyone who really has a sense of fairness can fail to acknowledge this aspect of the war chapter. Furthermore, the problem appears to have been of a generic nature. The Serb shelling of Sarajevo had for most part no military purpose. Neither had the half-hearted attempt at the defacing of the Pearl of the Adriatic. General Mladic first distinguished himself in leveling the town of Kijevo. Why would anyone who holds the strategic and material advantage the Serbs had at the start of the two wars want to behave in this fashion ? Did they not realize that the lack of judgment, discipline and often a recognizable military objective, would be used against them heavily in the propaganda war?

There may be people who might say, well look, naturally the Serbs are no angels but consider the bigger picture. By the ITCY own body counting study (Tabeau & Bijak, 2004) the total proportion of Serb (16,700) to the total civilian casualties in the 1992-95 Bosnian War (55,000) seems to be very close to that of the total prewar populations. That does not argue well for the genocidal genius of the Serbs. The cynic may even point out that even if the Serbs killed 8,000 innocents in Srebrenica, they still “only” kept up with the Hadzihasanovices. All this may be true but really misses my point. We need to know what happened around Srebrenica in July of 1995 and acknowledge the vile nature of crude revenge for terrorist acts taken on Muslim war prisoners and civilians at large, if that is what really happened. Pointing from massacres on one side to massacres on the other side just won’t do as a historical method. To find out what happened, we need to put away the blinkers and prejudices and assumptions cross-dressing as conclusions of a fair inquiry. Let the chips fall where they will.

I consider it unfortunate that you began your analysis of the political uses of Srebrenica by asking the cui bono question. As a disinterested historian, I would prefer to ask first what happened, and how I know it happened, before asking – if I need to ask - who benefits from the exercise. You state, off the bat, that the “claims” of a massacre at Srebrenica were “extremely helpful” to Izetbegovic, Tudjman, and Clinton. To which I would reply, that I don’t care a hoot, and that the historical truth of an event does not at all depend on how it will be used or who will find comfort in it. The truth about the Katyn massacre, for example, was extremely unhelpful to the Allied cause and presented a propaganda windfall to the Nazis. Does it in any way help us to understand what happened and why ? The answer is, no, of course not.

You state that the Clinton officials rushed to Srebrenica to confirm the atrocity just as William Walker did later at Racak. I do not accept the link. The best I can make of it is that you seek to dismiss the reports of the earlier event off-hand, by pointing to the later one, in which a strong case for a fraud has been made. Be it as it may, the two incidents are unrelated, in the sense that nothing that happened in one can be assumed automatically to have happened in the other. The disappointment with the US officials’ curiosity should be only that it was not equally whetted by reports of atrocities in which the Serbs were the victims. Their investigating allegations against Serbs (if that is what Walker actually was doing) was correct and called for ! As for the two incidents, Racak , I believe, was demonstrably a fraudulent manipulation of corpses for the purpose of manufacturing an event. Srebrenica, on the other hand, appears overwhelmingly (on the undisputed evidence available to us all at this point) to have been a large scale massacre of unarmed or disarmed Muslim men taken prisoner by the Serb Bosnian army and security police.

There is a good historical example of the dangers of making conclusions about Srebrenica on the basis of Racak.

The 1939 invasion of Poland came after a series of diversions by the Abwehr and SS (the post office bombing in Danzig and assault on the radio-station in Goerlitz most famously) and Goebbles’ propaganda milked them as the incontrovertible proof of the Poles’ blood lust. Scores of stories of mass rapes, killings and assaults by Poles on Germans living in Poland filled the Nazi papers. In the end, the Fuehrer had no choice but to put stop to the outrage against his people and defend German interests in Poland.

In the first days of the war, another of those stories of blood-curdling, sprawling atrocity appeared in the press. It was quickly dubbed ‘der Bromberger Blutsonntag’. Thousands ethnic Germans were allegedly murdered in Bydgoscz by the retreating Polish army and the fleeing criminals who disturbed the peaceful Volksdeutsche in Silesia abducted to Poland by Versailles. Now, given the elaborate hoaxes of special SS commandos, which simulated large scale assaults by uniformed Polish soldiers (concentration camp prisoners were dressed up and then shot), the news was greeted in the West by skepticism. The Times accused the Germans of fabricating atrocities as they had done in the campaign against the Czechs. (Oddly, the British government commission of inquiry credited those as genuine before Munich). The Polish government vehemently denied that massacres took place. But they did take place, and the murders were on large scale as the city exploded into an orgy against the German ethnics. The historical chapter on the events of Sep3-4. 1939 has still not closed. The neo-nazis claim 58,000 were dispatched (as the killings spread into the countryside) , adjusted for inflation from the 10,000 that Goebbles counted. The Polish philistines seek their refuge with the figure of a few hundred Germans dead as a result of their shooting at the Polish Army out of their house windows. Some smaller incidents seemed to have happened in other places as well, and the respectable historians from both sides have been converging on the number of 5,000 as the total civilian casualties suffered by the German ethnics during the invasion. But the historically big questions to this day, is how far the massacres have been spontaneous breakout of mass psychosis of revenge for the German attack, and how far it was organized by the Polish army and intelligence, in a bizarre and crazy plot to intimidate the German-speaking population seen as Poland’s fifth column.

The lesson learned here I think is clear – one cannot use one wrong as a license for another wrong, and one cannot fairly conclude that a staged massacre in one instance is a guarantee that a real massacre did not occur in another, especially if we are talking wartime. The undisputable wrong done to the Germans of Bydgoscz cannot be excused by invoking the large context which gave rise to the lawlessness against them, Germany’s unprovoked all-out assault on Poland. And just like the case of Blutsonntag in Bromberg will not go away until the Poles find the decency to admit that the Nazis did not have monopoly on atrocities during WWII then the spectre of Srebrenica will not go away until the Bosnian Serbs will likewise find their way to owning up to the nastiness their army leaders unleashed on their prisoners in July 1995. For that exercise, what happened later in Racak, or how Croats behaved in Krajina, or why Fikret Alic smiled on the Trnopolje picture, become wholly redundant issues.

Your long preface about the political bonanza of false claims of massacres and the serial lying by the West about Serb aims and misdeeds fails to convince me, and no doubt will be seen by those whose attitude to the Serbs is much less friendly than mine as a calculated deception. For my own part, I am writing to you with in the sincere hope that you are not familiar with many of the concrete charges against the VRS (the Bosnian Serbian Republic Army), the substance of which has not been legally challenged by the defendants in the Hague proceedings in the eight years they have been presented there. Be it as it may, the purpose of your speculations seem clear – to deny that a large-scale massacre did take place and to deny that by now it has been established beyond reasonable doubt. This, I believe, is regrettable not only from the point of view of moral hygiene; it also has the effect of enabling and strengthening the anti-Serb propaganda.

The imperial court in Hague claims that not only there was a large-scale massacre which is undeniable, but one that was ‘carefully planned’ and executed as part of a concerted genocidal plan, which is a lie ! That lie, I am convinced could have been handled fairly easily had the Serbs and most of those who are in sympathy with them acted with integrity in the aftermath. But they did not and countered with a lie of their own. They fashioned a tale in which only minor and unauthorized excesses happened amid otherwise peaceful and orderly transfer of the Srebrenica population. The individual acts of retribution, we are told, were due to large atrocities the enemy army had previously inflicted on Serbs in the city and villages nearby ! Unfortunately, the facts of the events do not support such a view, and they are handily available through the media and on the Internet. The masses and even intelligent people will be much more inclined to accept the false, larger representations made by the ITCY than to conclude that Srebrenica was essentially a blood libel on the Serbs. Moreover, because it is clumsy and childish, the Serbian lie is much more easily tackled:

So, you are telling us that these crazy Oric hudlums were killing and burning your villages, even on Christmas, and when they accuse you of taking a big blood tax on the men of his town for what the goons had done to you, you are saying, no, we only killed a few of the guilty ones and we regret the excess !

And the longer such nonsense is repeated, the more it looks like the Serbs wanted to kill all the Muslim males to grab as much their land in Bosnia as they could, and lied about Oric’misdeeds (the poor guy, Wikipedia says, is also being tried by the ITCY but only for some police station beatings), as they are lying now about shooting max 100 men, expecting people to believe that took care of the “revenge on the Turk” the puffed up Mladic gleefully promised in front of the Bosnian Serb TV cameras during the roundups. The Srebrenica ‘deniers’ tales are self-contradictory and offend common sense. Worse still, compared to the ‘no-organized-massacre’ lie, the ‘genocide’ lie looks not just more probable and internally consistent, but more humane. In the competition of untruths, the defenders of Mladic and his cronies do not stand a chance.

I shake my head when I see that some people still want to believe that the VRS behaved honourably in the hour of its greatest temptation. They blind themselves to the obvious. Is it not strange that the two army groups involved in taking Srebrenica and securing their new lines did not produce the minimum credible number of live POWs in the pursuit of leaderless and disoriented enemy fighters ? I ignore the naive, and frankly odious, mendacity of the “Forbidden Report of 2002” from Banja Luka, in the explanation of the pathetically low numbers of male survivors and claims that hundreds of soldiers “cleared” of war crimes and kept in camps were later exchanged. It appears that many of the 164 prisoners from Srebrenica counted by the ICRC at the Batkovic camp in July 1995 were transported there directly from the city hospitals. Scores of them were amputees. The pathetic POW “deficit” itself all but annihilates the assertion that the nastiness were isolated incidents of ‘spontaneous retribution’. Sadly, the obduracy only reinforces the perception the believers want to combat – that the Serbs are irrational, vicious killers without conscience !

The question of how many people actually perished as prisoners of the VRS is a complex one and by no means settled by some self-validating assertions. You are free to disagree with the figure of 8,000 and the methods it was arrived at. However, you may not ignore a number of important revelations that have not been challenged even by the Serbs themselves. The formula of “three and five”, i.e. three thousand Bosniaks captured and five thousand unaccounted for and presumably dead at the hands of the hajduks was questioned again and again while back and the objections were repeated at the 10th anniversary (here in Canada by general MacKenzie and ambassador Bassett). But much has happened in the last five years that shifted focus in the numbers game. New grave sites were discovered. No “forgotten” survivors showed up. Most importantly, the Krstic/Blagojevic/Obrenovic trials in the Hague produced some hugely damning evidence which simply cannot be talked around. Intercepted VRS radio communications confirms large haul of male prisoners indicating between 4 and 5 thousand were in Mladic’ “care” in the first five days after the city’s fall. General Krstic’ appeal did not question the transcript or the interpretation (of the coded phrases) of an intercepted conversation between himself and colonel Beara (the man alleged to have been the chief co-ordinator of the effort), in which the latter requests ‘help’ with the execution of his remaining 3,500 prisoners. Krstic’ lawyers argued only that the conversation should have been interpreted as his refusal to help. The call was made on the 15th of July, i.e. two days after the mass shootings began. The Dutch government study of Srebrenica, whose facts have not yet been refuted, says the only hard number of prisoners in VRS custody - 6,000 - apparently originated with VRS itself (Col. Jovanovic to Major Franken), although even that tally looked like an estimate. The intercepts themselves, the Dutch concluded, support a claim of between 4 and 5 thousand prisoners killed by July 18. The study estimates the total losses of uncaptured Bosnian soldiers (through combat, suicide or exhaustion) at 1,500 which would present a credible ceiling for all Srebrenica casualties at about 7,500. Since records were not kept by either side, the investigators conclude that we will probably not known ever the exact number.

Likewise, the claim that there is no proof of the Serbs’ opening the graves and relocating the bodies will not hold water. Contrary to what you say the one “known” to the US intelligence (Konjevic Polje) was photographed and the tampering with the site was widely publicized (in newspapers) in comparing the aerial photos. As to the “mysterious” delay in the VRS order to relocate the bodies from the other sites, it was suggested - plausibly – that the VRS General Staff did not realize there were survivors who could locate the “northern” killing fields. It was when people like Rohde started to poke around that the VRS brass realized they needed to cover their tracks. Even though the ITCY has not yet heard an eyewitness who participated in the exhumations (Obrenovic’ testimony was second-hand knowledge), the prosecution facts have not yet been disputed in the trials that concluded. But despite the efforts to hide the bodies, a significant number of them was discovered and the total estimate by the 2002 Dutch report was 4,600 in mass graves, some of them still not opened. The present ITCY estimates, adjusted for commingling, hover still around that figure, even after the discovery of a new mass grave near Bratunac in 2004. Naturally not all the remains relate to casualties from July 1995, but the take is significant. While the KLA claims of mass graves in Kosovo never produced anything of note, the survivors from Srebrenica led the investigators to sites of real horrors.

The factual evidence before the ITCY and data collected by the Dutch investigatotrs, while inculpating the VRS leadership, and Mladic personally (-he is referred to in the army intercepts as the “boss” -), still looks very unfriendly to the thesis of a meticulously executed genocidal plan. From what is known and not seriously disputed, it appears Mladic and his staff took a decision (or confirmed an earlier one) on the morning of the 12th to “prosecute war criminals” among the prisoners, which was then (perhaps as early as that afternoon) quickly replaced by orders to disperse the prisoners and shoot every one of them. What exactly determined the change in policy remains unknown, but one can guess. The idea of trials seems like a non-starter for an army engaged in combat. Besides, the paperwork would have given the game away.
In a nutshell then, while the orders for the shooting and its co-ordination came without question from the General Staff, the whole process gives the impression of makeshift happenings not planned in advance, and which simply began to be improvised on a large scale after a small Serb reconnaissance detachment entered the city on July 11 and, against all expectations, found it undefended.

Several factors seem to have influenced the decision to shoot the prisoners :

The largest consideration that dominated everything in the background, should go to the historical reasons that you are familiar with. Everyone who was conversant with the issues on the ground knew, that the Serbs’ thirst for revenge far exceeded individual personal accounts to settle. Almost all the prominent military UN personnel, and a number of politicians commented in advance on the bad blood that existed between the fighting sides in Eastern Bosnia. The Dutch report noted that the hatred between the two armies facing each other was well in excess of other places. Everywhere else in Bosnia the enemies kept lines of communication open. No line to Oric existed – the first attempt at talking was made by the Serbs immediately before their offensive. They learned Oric was not there. (BTW, I am entirely ok with the thesis that Izetbegovic had a devilish plan in the pullout of the garrison, as he knew the Drina army would go berserk with the survivors. If he in fact had such a plan, my sole concern would be – and I am sure you can guess by now - with the origin of his clairvoyant powers.)

What the Dutch failed to mention in their generally fair analysis is that, on the Serb side, the inventory of wrongs did not start with the mayhem wrought by Oric. It just so happens that the region between Bosna and Drina also figured prominently among the areas where the Serb population was decimated during WWII. In many ways, Oric’ raids were simply a repeat of the assaults that the Serbs endured two generations prior and which then were still in living memory. The area quickly became a partisan territory, and, inevitably, also the Cetniks bored in. For the Ustashe, the land had a special significance, as the river Drina was the frontier of Greater Croatia (“sve do Drine”). The problem was in that there was a majority Serb population in the territory. Pavelic dispatched his most distinguished band of butchers, called “Crna Legija” (Black Legion) to fix the unfriendly demographics by cleansing the place of the “bivshi Srbi” (“former Serbs” which is how the Ustashe state officially referred to them - the double meaning in that intended !). The black shirts sacked Srebrenica in April 1942 murdering thousands of Serbs in the city and the villages around in one of the revolting mass killings in that war. “Srebrenica” then became a battle cry for the Serb nationalists. Unable to exact their revenge on the spot, the Cetniks produced an able replica of the horrors (if not one better !) taking Foca in the south as their stand-in prize in January 1943.

When Lewis MacKenzie, the UN commander in Bosnia was asked in early 1993, what he thought of creating a “safe” zone around Srebrenica, he replied he would need one hundred thirty thousand men to protect the area effectively. Commenting on the events in 2005, the former general unfortunately omitted to mention the evidence before the ITCY which inculpated the army command in thousands of deaths and which was not disputed by the defense lawyers. Equally, he did not seem to be aware that Oric operated in the vicinity well before a “safe area” was declared and that Mladic’ Drina Corps, as an army unit, was created practically out of scratch, specifically to suppress the large-scale Muslim terrorism in the Bratunac area which dated back to spring of 1992.

By mid 1993, with Mladic closing in on the pocket, even Milosevic was alarmed and leery of great bloodletting. It also appears (on Lord Owen’s word) that his personal intervention dissuaded Mladic and Karadzic from going in that year.

The psychology of the VRS highest-ranking officer needs to be taken into account as a factor. What exactly prompted Mladic to renew his push for the enclaves in 1995 is still open to debate. Without a doubt, the reasons above played a big role, even if Oric’ actions were rather subdued compared to his punitive expeditions two years prior. The most likely immediate impetus for Krivaja 95, was the relative ease with which the Croats overran the SAO pocket of Western Slavonia in May 1995 (Operation Flash). Indeed, the maneuvering of Mladic forces suggested a quick reduction and then strangulation of the Srebrenica enclave, much like the Varazdin brigade did with Okucani. Given that his relationship with Karadzic was at an all-time low, he might have concluded a decisive military victory on the ground would be treated as a fait-acompli by the politicos, as was the case with the Croats. Srebrenica and Zepa were seen as large bargaining chips for the post-war carving of Bosnia, and since the end-game was near, their possession improved the Serbs negotiating position. All indications so far (except the highly controversial testimony of Deronjic against Karadzic) point to Mladic acting alone, basically informing Pale about his decisions after the fact. Karadzic’ and Krajisnik’s fortunes were fading fast, having been fingererd by Siladzic as scoundrels who would offer Serb land for quick cash in their Swiss accounts, had to lie low for a while and accept Mladic’ rule as warlord.
The Dutchbat officers recalled that the general became extremely belligerent when the UN threatened his forces with air strikes for overrunning the “protected area”, given that UN just said “hello”, packed their bags and went home when the Croat tanks arrived in Okucani. What the Ottoman Turks knew, but evidently not the UN, is that “you never threaten a Serb”, to control him or as a way of assigning to him a role of an inferior. Mladic’ ordering cold-blooded murder easily falls into a classical stereotype of Serb reaction to injustice, real or perceived, which the psychologists describe as “victim’s rage”. Mladic, forever the macho-man, despised the UN and NATO forces as cowards who would not fight (him) like real soldiers, instead killing his men from planes they knew he could not attack. Similarly, he despised Oric as low-life, a security thug who would not face what was coming to him. Hell, if they can kill defenseless men at will, why can’t Mladic ? How can he hold his own, if he allows scruples to creep into his confrontation with sissies and degenerates ? Did the Ustashe spare his father when he fell into their hands at a time the fighting was over in May 1945 ?

Among the secondary, immediate, concerns in the decision to kill the captives, probably the most important was the VRS’ lack of intelligence about the size and intentions of the enemy fighting force which was on the loose and inflicting casualties. Mladic’ offer of “safe corridor” for the Bosniak columns made on the 19th has been taken by most analysts as sheer propaganda. Yes, but I think the motives need to be understood better. I believe that Mladic, and his Zvornik brigade commander Obrenovic, knew of the large prominent vulnerability that the prisoner situation aggravated. Their forces were now engaging around Zvornik and Zepa. They knew they were running a risk with the Bosniak forces retreating across their lines that they could be re-deployed by an energetic action from Tuzla. If the moving men met with re-inforcements, received supplies and reversed their march, they could quickly wreak havoc in the Serbs’ rear. In the scenario, the prisoners represented a prize of several thousand fighting men. Likely Mladic preferred not to take such risks, especially when the bulk of Bosniak fighters failed to materialize at an intercept point on the 12th. The offer of the “corridor” could be read as a probing maneuver delayed after the prisoner liability was dealt with and VRS lines were consolidated to a point where the general felt confident no big harm could come from the enemy calling his bluff.

Finally, given the sudden, unexpected turn of events which produced the influx of prisoners, the order to execute them quickly, probably was also a convenient way out of a logistical crisis they created. The lack of food and drink the surviving Bosniaks complained about testifies not as much to the captors’ exceptional brutality (though I have no illusions on that score) but to the lack of supplies available. The logistical woes had also to do with the local Serbs civilian population, in the area which suffered heavy casualties from Oric’ raiders. Indeed, there were reports by both sides of “spontaneous” attacks on the prisoners, from among the soldiers and civilians. The situation quickly became critical in Bratunac where the civilian authorities were in open rebellion against the army demanding the immediate removal of the prisoners. With both the Zvornik and the Bratunac brigades engaged, the number of soldiers and MPs available to guard the prisoners was inadequate. Alternately, the “shortage” may be explained as reluctance of the commanders to get involved in an atrocity and a gross violation of war conventions. Much of Krstic’ and Obrenovic’ legal posturing at the Hague would suggest that the senior officers, outside Mladic’ personal retinue, would fall in the second category. (We will see if this hypothesis holds in the coming trial). All of this naturally created dangerous internal tensions and a risk of mass break-outs of prisoners. The first large-scale killing in the warehouse at Kravica almost certainly came about as a result of a disturbance among the prisoners, and not as a scheduled execution. The Serbs reported that their soldiers started to lob grenades from the outside when a group prisoners overpowered a guard, took his submachine gun and started shooting. The Kravica incident bespeaks of lack of provisions, manpower, and administration for the new POWs which with the hostility of the locals were powerful factors in the regrettable events that followed.

You say that justice cannot be one-sided or it ceases to be justice, and of course I agree. The ITCY record has been abysmal, both in administering justice and its custodial care. Nothing speaks of the incompetence of the court as the (late) judge May dismissing as “irrelevant” the evidence of the Jasenovac camp in 1940’s as important in shaping the Serb Krajina’s view of the regime in Zagreb in 1990. The obscenity of such a ruling whether made through ignorance or sheer ill-will cries to heaven. The case of Milosevic being deprived of the results of his health-report, especially given what was in it, also shows a pitiful lack of integrity and equity in the court’s operation. Even if there was compelling evidence the noxious substance was self-administered, the court had an absolute duty to inform Milosevic instantly and take appropriate measures to stabilize his health. As it was known to the jailers that the prisoner had a history of depression, a thorough exam should have taken place to ascertain the motives for his endangering his health.

But whatever the woes, something needs to be done.

I can’t help but notice the generally poor record of most of the Serbian leadership in the post-Titoist times in defining and executing policy initiatives. Instead of allowing the army to march directly into Zagreb (which was undefended) and send the Tudjman policy architects to prison or back to exile, Milosevic let it get bogged down in a crazy demolition job in Vukovar and suffer a huge black eye in public relations as a result. The lack of initiative, and meaningful objective, led to a loss of vital JNA garrisons and the momentum in Croatia, creating a Sitzkrieg which effectively stripped the Serbs of their military assets. On the political front, Milosevic, could not effectively control the Knin and Pale local agendas, and tipped his hand in dealing with a U.S. State Department underling, who he knew was hostile and intent on blackmailing. His legacy of hedging, missing opportunities and atrocious PR skills vis-√†-vis the Western media has been passed onto the current Serbian leadership.

Carla del Ponte, on her last visit to Serbia, should have been publicly challenged for Milosevic, and invited – as a gesture of goodwill and compromise - to prosecute Mladic in Belgrade. Have Tadic and Kostunica not realized how much has changed in the Franco-, and German-US relations since 1999 and the silly relic that the ITCY has become of past European complicity in the hapless US 1990’s intervention in the Balkans ? Would France and Germany not be warming to the idea that Serbia appears to be a threat to Europe only in Washington’s late edition of global strategy, now disjointed and self-defeating to a point where it can be held in check by provincial satraps who can control a few dozen suicide bombers ? Instead, Kostunica in Paris appeared on the defensive, bobbing and weaving, forever pledging to “respond to his obligation” to deliver Mladic to the Twisted Swiss Sister in the Netherlands.

As for the Bosnian Serbs, their idiotic “Srebrenica report” of 2002 , followed by a pathetic apology in 2004 are again nothing if not the wrong responses to pressure. They should have gathered the best they have (including English translators) and put together a cogent, truthful account of what happened, carefully going through all the evidence with the historical background of the animosities.

So opportunities have been lost, but Belgrade still can come to the rescue and put together something solid and dignified for all Serbs. It is absolutely imperative that the Serbs produce an authoritative version of the events in East Bosnia by themselves and for themselves, across the current borders. No chest beating, no hair pulling - just the truth ! They and only they possess still undisclosed facts which will help to shed light on the end of the much abused “UN safe area” of Srebrenica. The Dutch report opened a beam on a little known, but absolutely critical side view – the shock and panic that the initial reports of Srebrenica ‘liberation’ created in Belgrade among the senior politicians and the military. Stories like the ‘Cosic’ mission’need to be presented in order for the outside world and posterity to grasp the complex relationships between the Serbian political entities and their leadership. I am heartened by the public revulsion in Serbia the Kandic’ videos have produced. And again, it does not matter what her ulterior motives were (or if there were any), because this wound of Srebrenica needs to be kept open until it is properly treated and has a chance to heal. Otherwise it will continue to fester, in a society dominated by fear, lies, corruption and murder.

So professor, here are my two cents worth for the debate. Next month, the Srebrenica Mega-trial of Nine is scheduled to begin at the Hague, and the media circus will start again. I thought, perhaps you might want to look at this again and update yourself on the developments. If you want to discuss further, by all means, I am yours. Fare well !

Best regards,

Afterword: Professor Herman never responded. The trial of the remaining Srebrenica officer was concluded in June 2010, after many delays, and resulted in the conviction of two Mladic lieutenants (Vujadin Popovic, Ljubisa Beara) for ‘genocide’. No credible evidence was presented from the Serb officers’ defense to dispel the accusations of organized mass killings.

No comments: