Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Congress of North American Bosniaks has published a Letter to the Editor at Foreign Policy magazine:

Letter to the Editor: Foreign Policy Magazine should reject Dobbs’ views on the war in Bosnia

August 25, 2012

Author: Hamdija Custovic

 Michael Dobbs is at it again, appeasing the Serbs who have apparently been critical of his coverage of the Ratko Mladic trial and the Srebrenica Genocide, and falling into the increasingly dangerous trap being set by a coalition of Serb nationalists and islamophobic activists worldwide (see Julia Gorin and Srdja Trifkovic) to revise history and “spread the blame” for the aggression and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mr. Dobbs’s latest blog entry “In Defense of the Serbs” on the Foreign Policy website is shockingly irresponsible. In this blog article, Mr. Dobbs sympathizes with the Serb arguments that they were trying to “protect large Serb minorities” and that the western governments were hypocritical for allowing the breakup of Yugoslavia. Anyone who survived the violent breakup of Yugoslavia and the Serbian aggression on its neighbors knows that the breakup of Yugoslavia was primarily caused by the rise in Serbian ultra-nationalism and their desire to create a greater Serbian state, a plan that dates back to the 1840s (see Nacertanije of Ilija Garasanin). We cannot forget that it was Slobodan Milosevic who rose to power following his infamous 1989 speech at Kosovo claiming that Serbs were being oppressed in Yugoslavia, and that he will defend them at all cost. This was an ominous existential threat to the other republics of the former Yugoslavia which at the time still functioned as a union of six republics, with equal rights.

Let us briefly remember that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi establishment used fear tactics and nationalist appeal to raise support domestically in order to consolidate all Germans into a single state. It was through the same arguments of existential threats to German minorities and the injustice against Germany that Hitler used to invade the neighboring countries and commit grave atrocities. Likewise, Milosevic and his minority supporters in Croatia and Bosnia used fear tactics and propaganda to garner support. Serb nationalists seized on this widespread nationalist support to take over the majority of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA), heavily arm their populations, and launch a systemic plan of attack for carving out Serb “republics” in Croatia and Bosnia at the expense of Bosniaks, Croats, and other nationalities. The war of aggression finally prompted a NATO intervention in the fall of 1995 in Bosnia and again four years later in Kosovo, that ultimately resulted in temporary defeat of the Serbian army and the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic from power in 2001. I use the words “temporary defeat” because the last few years have once again seen the escalation of the same nationalist rhetoric that caused the war. Once more, Serb nationalists are claiming that Serbs are in danger because they’re being “unfairly” blamed for the Balkan wars of the 1990s. This time it may be even more dangerous because of the use of internet to spread lies and propaganda to support their agenda. The election of Tomislav Nikolic to the presidency of Serbia is a clear signal to Serbia’s neighbors and the international community that the Serbian fascist ideology is alive and well, waiting on the right conditions to once again launch their evil and terrifying agenda.

The article suggests hypocrisy of the western nations in their policy towards Serb secessionists saying that he was “struck by a contradiction in western policy to the former Yugoslavia. Europe, supported by the U.S., recognized the independence of the breakaway republics” while “Serbs did not have the right to secede from Croatia or Bosnia”. Mr. Dobbs is somehow missing the point that Bosnia and Croatia both have historically recognized territories that go back a thousand years, and were ratified by the socialist establishment that formed the socialist Yugoslavia after World War II. It was only after the breakup of Yugoslavia and the aggressive policies of the Milosevic led Serbia that led Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia to secede. In the case of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, this secession was done through completely peaceful and democratic means of a referendum which resulted in more than 66% of the population voting for independence, with constitutional guarantees of equal rights for all citizens, regardless of their ethnic or religious background.

On the other hand, the self proclaimed, fabricated, and historically inexistent “Republika Srpska” and “Serb Krajina republics” in Bosnia and Croatia were carved out through an organized campaign of military aggression, ethnic cleansing, and genocide which completely wiped out all non-Serb populations in their territories. How can Mr. Dobbs, then, argue that the international community should have somehow recognized these types of acts as legitimate will of the Serb minority? One can only conclude that he is either completely unaware of the principles of international law or willingly using skewed logic.

According to the CIA report from 1995, more than 90% of all ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina was committed by Serbs: “The C.I.A. report, based on aerial photography and what one senior official called “an enormous amount of precise technical analysis,” also concludes that while war crimes were by no means committed exclusively by Serbs, they were the only party involved in a systematic attempt to eliminate all traces of other ethnic groups from their territory.” This assessment was further confirmed by the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague which was set up to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of war crimes in the territories of the former Yugoslavia. Mr. Dobbs appears to give support to the Serb nationalist arguments that ethnic cleansing and genocide are somehow justified due to “legitimate concerns” of the Serb nationalists for minority rights. He is also somehow implying that, Bosnia with a majority Bosniak population was inherently going to encroach on Serb civil rights without offering a single shred of evidence to support these claims. The constitution of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina guaranteed equal rights to all its citizens regardless of ethnicity, religious, or political convictions. As such, it was recognized by the entire international community and the United Nations.

Those of us with firsthand experience of the wrath of Serbian nationalism cannot accept the vicious organized attacks on historical truth and justice that are being perpetrated only 17 years after the end of the war in Bosnia. Most of us are old enough to remember the fascist propaganda that was openly spread by Serb nationalist prior to their genocidal aggression are disturbed by the latest attempts to downplay the seriousness of their role and crimes. Among these propaganda tactics were constant calls for revenge for the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 and the Ottoman occupation, the glorification of Draza Mihailovic, fascist collaborator who was executed for war crimes by Marshal Tito’s partisans following the end of WWII, and the regular accusations against Bosniaks of wanting to form an “Islamic state” in which the Serbs are going to be persecuted. These are eerily the same fear tactics being perpetrated today by the aforementioned coalition, as part of a global islamophobic campaign. 

The well respected Foreign Policy magazine should provide clarity and perspective in these difficult times, not promote irresponsible and outrageous writing of Mr. Dobbs on his website which serves to insult the victims of war and genocide. It sets a terrible precedent whereby genocide denial, justification of military aggression, ethnic cleansing, and revisionist history become the norm. Foreign Policy magazine should immediately remove this article from their website and apologize to the victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide everywhere.

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 About the Author Hamdija Custovic is a former refugee of the Bosnian war, and a victim of ethnic cleansing and genocide. He currently serves as the Vice President of the Congress of North American Bosniaks and lives in the United States.

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This letter makes its case well, and the good people at CNAB don't need me to rephrase what they have already spelled out. However, I will add that this isn't the first time Mr. Dobbs has been the subject of a post in this blog. And on the previous occasion, he was also guilty of dubious logic and false moral equivalencies: Michael Dobbs Illustrates that the Lessons of Bosnia Haven't Been Heeded by all So Dobbs doesn't get the benefit of the doubt with me. I will only add that he once again makes a false equivalency argument in the blog post in question, In Defense of the Serbs, when he writes: "The practical effect of these decisions was that Croats and Muslims were given the right to secede from Yugoslavia, but Serbs did not have the right to secede from Croatia or Bosnia." This is a disingenuous parallel--"the Croats" did not succeed from Yugoslavia, the Republic of Croatia did. "The Muslims" did not succeed from Yugoslavia, the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina did. This deliberate blurring of the distinction between nations and states in the former Yugoslavia is a common tactic of Balkan revisionism, and a clear sign that Dobbs is either muddled in his thinking, or deliberately misleading.

3 comments:

Ted R said...

The oft-repeated chorus of "...Croats and Muslims were given the right to secede from Yugoslavia, but Serbs did not have the right to secede from Croatia or Bosnia" is a rather tired and shopworn analogy. It goes hand in hand with the Bosnian Serb assertion that if BiH was left to democratic means of leadership, a radical Islamist state would appear. We should use this claim as a tool for apprising the validity of the other claim.

After 17 years of independence, the Croat/Bosniak Federation of BiH is by no means a "radical Islamist state". In fact, one would be hard-pressed to call it any kind of Islamic state. I'll go one further: BiH is by no means a sectarian republic of any kind. Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and others live together rather peacefully. The Koran is a holy book and not the law of the land.

So, if the Bosnian Serbs exaggerated when they claimed BiH would become a radical Islamist state, is it possible their claims of certain victimization under democratic rule was similarly exaggerated? With hindsight and the slow blurring of the RS borders, we can safely say that it was an exaggeration.

This exaggerated fear was echoed in eastern Slavonia and Knin. These Serb-heavy areas could have very simply melded into the new Croatian republic without a problem. During the referendum for independence, the only friction in these areas was friction promulgated by Serbs. There was no Croatian effort to harm or displace them. It wasn't until the Serbs started taking over police stations (because they didn't like wearing the Croatian insignia or flying a Croatian flag) and blockading roads that Croats took offense and started the process of expelling them.

The ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Croatia was regrettable, but it didn't need to happen. If ethnic Serbs had opted to live under the Croatian flag and be law-abiding citizens of the new independent republic, they could be happily living in their Croatian enclaves to this day.

But the ethnic Serbs didn't want that. They wanted to be a satellite republic. This is untenable and everyone knew it.

To this day there are still thousands of Serbs living in Croatia. They are not isolated and hunted down. They are Croatian citizens and most of them act accordingly.

There is one subject which still stings are requires redress: the continued disparity of fairness of employment at all levels of government in BiH (and to a lesser extent in Croatia). Ethnic identity continues to be used as a cudgel by bureaucrats to populate the government with preferred applicants. In this, Bosnian Serbs have a rightful grievance.

The shadow of socialist Yugoslavia looms large and government employment is the dream of most unemployed people of all ethnic groups in the region. The BiH government is heavily tilted toward Bosniaks. One can probably understand this, since the flames of war are so recently subsided. But BiH needs to do more. It needs to jettison the ethnic identity requirement and start a program of "affirmative action".

The best way to drown out Serb complaints of victimization to utterly demolish all forms of ethnic discrimination and government hiring should be #1 on that list.

Kirk Johnson said...

Fantastic points, Ted. Thanks for reading and posting. I can't agree more with your final sentence.

Also, I completely forgot another point which Dobbs conveniently forgets--nobody argued that the minorities in Serbia proper had the right to secede. The Muslims of the Sandzak, the Hungarians in Vojvodina, the Bulgarians in the border areas--nobody, least of all Serb nationalists, argued that they could "leave Yugoslavia."

Owen said...

For someone who has now spent quite a lot of time researching the background to his book on Mladic, Dobbs doesn't seem to have a feel for the details of his subject. He can't really hope to get inside Mladic's head in the way he's proposing without knowing the waters that the shark was cruising.