Demonizing the Serbs

Jim Heartfield writes: "I reserve my judgement on CAQ, and at a time when the Serbs are universally vilified in the Western press, I don't want to join in a campaign against it."

I have since gone back to the issue of CAQ in question and picked out a few more examples of irresponsible indulgence of Serb nationalism.

For instance, Deichmann refers to criticism of "the media's approach to the 'siege' of Sarajevo." Note that he puts "siege" in scare quotes. Now how in the hell can you justify doing that? There's simply no other way to describe what was done to Sarajevo. First off, that city was unimportant militarily; the real goal was quite obvious. It was an attempt to destroy the example of people getting along together regardless of nationality. One doesn't have to be a partisan of the Bosnian government to recognize this. For years people of all three nationalities had existed side-by-side in Sarajevo. That's what Ratko Mladic-- that little lump of Nazi rat filth-- was really trying to destroy when he shelled that city. And then Diana Johnstone calls the Serbs "the people who most wanted to continue to live in multi-cultural Yugoslavia."

Please! This is clearly in favor of one nationalism over the other, and in fact, it's favoring the nationalism that was responsible for the MOST atrocities in the breakup of Yugoslavia.

There, I have said it. Does that mean the Serbs were "aggressors" against innocent victims? No, it just means that they had the most guns. Lifting the arms embargo-- the pet solution of much of the pro-Bosnian-government left in the West, would probably have simply evened things up between rival nationalist contenders-- including not only the Croats, who had the potential to be just as bloody as the neo-Chetniks, but also the Muslims, whose mujaheddin committed far more atrocities than was admitted in the Western media. All of that said, let's just recognize the facts: the Serbs did most of the killing and most of the cleansing.

Also, take Diana Johnstone's passage on Kosovo in the CAQ article. She claims that "ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have never been 'politically disenfranchised,'" and that Albanian nationalists who have urged an abstentionist strategy are the primary culprits for the atrocious goings-on in that corner of the world. This is just horseshit. Doesn't Johnstone figure that just MAYBE the mass of Albanians in Kosovo abstained from the political process because they really didn't see much of a future for themselves in it? And while it's true that the KLA and other nationalists have received help from the West, how would they have possibly survived this long without a strong base of support? Yes, I'm opposed to NATO intervention, but it isn't necessary to lie about the situation there to oppose it. In Kosovo, the Serbs are the agressors, although in Bosnia this was by no means so clear-cut a case.

So let's oppose intervention, but do so with no illusions. If NATO does nothing, Serbia is going to put the screws on ethnic Albanians. There will be massacres like the recent one, an event which no doubt occurred. The problem is that if the NATO does "something," i.e., acts militarily, then things will be even worse: there will be bombs falling on people in Belgrade, and perhaps in Kosovo, too. That's just the unfortunate situation that exists. Let's not pretend that there are good possibilities if either "side" "wins."

As for CAQ, I'm going to stick with them because they still have good writers like James Petras and Edward Herman, but this Yugoslavia stuff is an indication of an imminent decline, if you ask me. I think the rather maudlin treatment given Cuba falls in this category, too; certainly that country has been the victim of appalling U.S. imperialist aggression, but where is there even a hint of a critical edge as far as the Cuban government itself goes?

Opponents of U.S. imperialism should stick to the truth. Imperialism looks bad enough without us pretending that those regimes in opposition to it are necessarily models of progressive societies.

--John Lacny


John Lacny: "I have since gone back to the issue of CAQ in question and picked out a few more examples of irresponsible indulgence of Serb nationalism. For instance, Deichmann refers to criticism of "the media's approach to the 'siege' of Sarajevo." Note that he puts "siege" in scare quotes. Now how in the hell can you justify doing that? There's simply no other way to describe what was done to Sarajevo.

Jim Heartfield: I read it differently. By describing the conflict over Sarajevo as a 'siege' the media obscured one important detail - that most of those doing the besieging were themselves Sarajevans, Serbs who has fled the capital under threat of the Bosnian government forces.

John Lacny: First off, that city was unimportant militarily; the real goal was quite obvious. It was an attempt to destroy the example of people getting along together regardless of nationality.

Jim Heartfield: Not true. The military aim of the siege was to keep the Bosnian govt forces pinned down. Once the West used political might to oblige the Mladic's forces to surrender the heights over Sarajevo the Bosnian government forces launched an offensive against Serb populations in Central Bosnia, killing thousands. And furthermore these self-same gun positions were handed over by the UN to the Bosnian government forces to be used to pin down Serb forces in the hinterlands of Sarajevo.

John Lacny: One doesn't have to be a partisan of the Bosnian government to recognize this. For years people of all three nationalities had existed side-by-side in Sarajevo.

Jim Heartfield: That's true, but when Izetbegovic's party voted for secession and the overwhelming number of Serbs abstained in that referendum, those Serbs were forcibly incorporated into a hostile state against their will. The mood in Sarajevo turned very ugly for Serbs, just as it did in Croatian controlled Krajina, where the Bosnian government's Croat allies massacred Serb villagers.

John Lacny: And then Diana Johnstone calls the Serbs "the people who most wanted to continue to live in multi-cultural Yugoslavia."

Jim Heartfield: Of course, Johnstone is wrong to big up the former Yugoslavia as 'multicultural' paradise. In fact its politics of ethnic competition were precisely the most destructive side of Tito's coalition. But there is no need to answer Johnstone with an equally fantastic myth of 'multi- cultural' Bosnia when just over a third of the country did not choose Bosnia, but remained loyal to Yugoslavia.

John Lacny: There, I have said it. Does that mean the Serbs were "aggressors" against innocent victims? No, it just means that they had the most guns. Lifting the arms embargo-- the pet solution of much of the pro-Bosnian-government left in the West, would probably have simply evened things up between rival nationalist contenders-- including not only the Croats, who had the potential to be just as bloody as the neo-Chetniks, but also the Muslims, whose mujaheddin committed far more atrocities than was admitted in the Western media. All of that said, let's just recognize the facts: the Serbs did most of the killing and most of the cleansing.

Jim Heartfield: I think the important thing here is that the arms embargo was pure myth. In fact the United Nations own humanitarian aid convoys were used to ferry arms to the Bosnian government forces through Serb lines. When the Serbs seized these arms the US had the nerve to protest that they had interfered with humanitarian aid.

That said I agree with you that there is nothing to choose between any of the ethnic groups in Bosnia. And I don't.

John Lacny: Opponents of U.S. imperialism should stick to the truth. Imperialism looks bad enough without us pretending that those regimes in opposition to it are necessarily models of progressive societies.

Jim Heartfield: Here too, I entirely agree with John. There is no need to tell fairy tales about the enemies that imperialism targets to oppose Western imperialism. But it is also true that a lot of the 'reporting' in the West is deliberately angled wa propaganda, and that is worth exposing.

So for example, there is more than enough evidence of Sadam Hussein's repressive regime. But the seizure of the Kuwaiti incubators was a story made up by a US based PR company. Similarly the film of the Trnoplje prisoners behind barbed wire did not show a concentration camp - AS ITN HAVE ALREADY ADMITTED.

As someone who works for a magazine, LM, that is being sued for exposing that war propaganda, and in the likelihood that ITN's action will bankrupt my employers, my sympathies are with those who seek to expose such propaganda. CAQ might have it wrong in their assessment Milosevic (I am in no position to judge other than on the basis of the material you quote) but their error arises from a rational intent.


 

You made a pretty good point about the arms embargo not being really enforced, and the UN selling weapons to the Muslims, etc. My girlfriend, who spent the better (or, rather, worse) part of two years in Sarajevo during the siege, saw a lot of this going on, but when she told this to people here at her high school in the US, no one wanted to believe her. Still, a complete lifting of the embargo-- the favorite measure of a good part of the left in the West-- would have made things substantially worse, an assessment I'm sure you agree with.

In any case, I still think the term "siege" applies to Sarajevo. That there were Serbs from the city who joined the Serb forces is undeniable; nevertheless, the heart of the matter is that Mladic and Co. set up camp outside the city and rained shells on targets both military and civilian.

I think we may be exhausting this topic. I don't necessarily want to start a flame war with the folks from LM, for whom I know this is a sensitive topic, for completely understandable reasons.

John Lacny