Sunday, March 09, 2008

Louis Proyect review of Diana Johnstone's "Fools' Crusade"

A couple of weeks ago, American Marxist Louis Proyect left a short and rather cryptic comment, on my blog. I was curious to see what I might have written to draw his attention, since while he has written from time to time on the Balkans (from a predictably far-left Serbian-apologist perspective), he hasn't been particularly active in the Balkan revisionist project. Then I stumbled across his review of Diana Johnstone's "Fools' Crusade from the "Swans" website.

I had originally planned to consider this review at length, but considering that I devoted several months of my life to critiquing the original book, and considering that I have been so busy lately I have waited over a week to begin this review (despite the date of this post, I am actually writing this on Wednesday, March 19), I thought it best to simply make a note of his review and move on.

I am not sure how much of this chapter-by-chapter review represents Proyect's own "understanding" of the breakdown of Yugoslavia as opposed to simply a synopsis of Johnstone's text. I suspect that the distinction is pointless--they are clearly drinking from the same well, although Proyect's take on matters is more explicitly Marxist. He is honest enough to label Johnstone's portrayal of ethnic Albanians as "unsentimental," which is putting it rather mildly.

There may be little point in linking to this article now that I've chosen to pass on an extended rebuttal (at least for now), except an yet another piece of evidence that an alternate narrative of the Yugoslav wars has indeed taken root in certain intellectual circles. I mention this because I was reading the introduction to Christopher Hedges seemingly dreadful I Don't Believe in Atheists out of curiosity, and I was struck by Hedges angry denial that religion played any part in the Yugoslav wars; rather, he insisted that they were entirely a product of the economic decline of Yugoslavia. When a somewhat-mainstream liberal is parroting the Susan Woodward/Diana Johnstone line, we know we have a problem.


I hope to return to more regular and substantive blogging in the very near future.


Anonymous said...

Proyect's review is dated 26 May 2003. He discusses the massacre at Gospic which he locates in September 1991 rather than October, without reference to events preceding and/or contemporary with the killings in Gospic.

Remarking on the 1999 acquittals by Croatian courts of 6 individuals charged with war crimes committed at Gospic, he comments "In light of this, it is highly revealing that the chief Tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has decided that Croatian courts can render justice in the prosecution of war crimes." The suggestion appears to be that the ICTY is only interested in bringing to justice Serbs, who are "charged with aggression" when they "react to murder", while the trial of non-Serbs is entrusted to courts who are likely to acquit. It's hard to see any other meaning in what he says.

Although writing in May 2003 Proyect fails to mention the Rijeka County Court's indictment in March 2001 of Orešković, Norac, Grandić, Rožić and Canić on charges of committing war crimes against Serb civilians in and around Gospić in October 1991. 50 victims were cited, of whom almost half (24) were identified as Serbs.

After a trial lasting more than 14 months in which witness testimony was provided by Serb victims and Croat soldiers and civilians who had witnessed the abductions and killings in 1991, Orešković, Norac and Grandić were convicted on 24 March 2003.

By ignoring the trial and conviction of Orešković, Norac, et al., Proyect leaves the uninformed reader to conclude that the investigation of the Gospic massacre concluded with the 1999 acquittals.

Proyect is either not very good at following up his research or he is deploying the facts selectively in support of his thesis of systematic discrimination against the Serbs.

As I said before, analysis is only as good as the material you apply it to.

Kirk Johnson said...

One strategy Proyect, Johnstone, and other Balkan revisionists use frequently is to rearrange quotes and events out of chronological order. This quote is a good example:


"As for Izetbegovic, the darling of Rieff and other western progressives, he was under no illusions. In a 1994 speech, he said, "Multicultural togetherness is all very well, but -- may I say it openly -- it is a lie! We cannot lie to our people or deceive the public. The soldier in combat is not dying for a multinational coexistence..."


Note that this quote was from 1994. By that point, the work of ethnic cleansing was nearly complete, and Bosniaks had completely despaired of any hope that the international community had any real will to defend a secular, democratic, multicultural Bosnia. But you won't get even this sliver of context from the likes of Proyect and Johnstone.

Kirk Johnson said...

I apologize for absentmindedly OK-ing that piece of spam; the only reason I moderate my comments is to filter that junk out. If anyone knows how to delete comments once they've been posted, I'd love to here it.

Shaina said...

It might be a little bit different on my version of blogger b/c I haven't enacted comment moderation; but on my blog underneath every post is a tiny garbage can icon-click on the icon, and you can delete that specific post.

Anonymous said...

I read Diana Johstone's book 'Fools' crusade' and I found the facts it contained more than supported her argument. I also know that the history of the Balkans does indeed support the notion that far from being 'nazis' the Serbs were the only group within the Balkans who fought them.
Whilst every other party to the Yugoslav wars were enthusiastic nazis.
Yes folks the Albanians, Croatians and Bosniaks (muslims) were all enthusiastic nazis only sixty years before in WW2.
I also noted with interest the quotations from a book written by Alija Izetbegovic (Bosnian Muslim leader) in which he categorically states that he wants Bosnia to be an islamic state. That he won't send his troops to fight for a multi-ethnic country.
The book is replete with evidence and examples of the total hatchet job done on the Serbs.
I've since travelled to Serbia twice and was surprised to see a mosque in the middle of Belgrade and Arabs in the street talking distinctly Arabic into their mobile phones.
Amazing how muslims aren't ethincally cleansed from Belgrade...the capital of the 'neonazis' of Europe!
Very surprising.
The truth is the truth - even if nobody believes it. Serbia was framed.
How was the ethnic cleanser of the century the only party which tried to keep multi-ethnic Yugoslavia together? Weird eh?

Kirk Johnson said...

Wow, the "Anonymous" fellow really gets around.

Go fight strawmen somewhere else. You won't see me calling Serbs neo-Nazis in this blog. As for the claims that the Serbs, and the Serbs alone, resisted the Nazis while all the other national groups were Nazis themselves, all I can say is that I guess nuance and clear-headed historical inquiry are not your thing.

Your comment is so typical of the drivel that Balkan revisionists spout--the same talking points repeated in an endless loop, irregardless of the evidence or arguments presented. It gets tiresome reading yet another apologist for the Serb nationalist project regurgitating the same easily-discredited arguments, but at the same time those of us who really value the truth must continue to rebut your stale positions, if only in the faint hope that once in awhile one of you will stop to reconsider the contradictory and fact-deprived system of belief you've constructed out of the latest installment of the "martyred Serbia" myth.

David Sketchley said...

Perhaps you'rd care to comment on the ethnic cleansing of Krajina conducted by the Croatians, who had tried the same thing during WWII.

My source is not Johnstone but the establishment account by Silber & Little (Death of Yugoslavia) which was used considerably by the Milosevic prosecution.

On pp. 356-360, they write:

"For international consumption, the Croatian government would make great play of appealing to the Krajina Serbs to stay in their homes and live as citizens of Croatia. But these appeals did little to mask the real ambitions of the Croatian government., which was to drive the Serbs out of Croatia altogether and resettle the land they had lived on for centuries with Croats from elsewhere. After the fall of Knin, Tudjman even said this publicly, calling for Croats from the diaspora to return...Croation troops outnumbered the Serb defenders by five to one. It was not only the numerical superiority that favoured the Croats. It was a military expertise that could only have been derived from their increasingly congenial relations with the United States...Colonel Leslie, of the UN garrison at Knin, recognised the strategy immediately the Croats moved in Bosnia: 'It was a textbook operation, though not a JNA textbook. Whoever wrote that plan of attack culd have gone to any NATO staff college in North America or Western Europe and scored an A-plus.' Western governments turned a blind eye to the shelling. The diplomatic acquiescence in the storming of western Slavonia in May had, in effect, given Croatia the green light to take Krajina by force...It was the first stage in what would become, during the next few days the biggest single forcible displacement of people in Europe since the Second World War. Colonel Leslie estimated...'Knn fell from 35,000-40,000 to around 500 or 600 in less than twenty-four hours.'...The Croatian media broadcast details of safe routes though which the Serbs could leave for Serb-held parts of Bosnia...there was little doubt in the minds of those on the receiving end of Croatian artillery that the attack had more than a military objective...The Croatian army began hitting the very road that the refugees, escorted in places by UN troops, were using to flee into neighboring Bosnia...But the Croats had re-armed with the help of the West. Retired US generals helped them plan their operation. NATO was on side too. In fact, during Operation Storm, on August 4, NATO warplanes bombarded Serb communications sytems, ostensibly because the Serb radar had locked on to NATO jets. NATO airpower, in effect, joined forces with the Croatian army in support of Operation Storm. Western politicians kept quiet....The Croatians embarked on an officially sanctioned campaign of burning and looting which damaged over 20,000 houses owned by Serbs. During the weeks that followed, well after the Croatian army was firmly in control of the territory, elderly Serbs were still being killed. "We are still finding the bodies dumped on the roadside each morning." one UN official said more than two months later. "Elderly Serbs who stayed behind during Operation Storm are still being killed every day." In February 1994, American envoys had offered Tudjman a straight choice: abandon your war against the Muslims of Bosnia, and we, the US, will back your plans to take Krajina...Zagreb and Washington signed a pact on military co-operation."
(Silber & Little, 'The Death of Yugoslavia', Penguin Books/BBC Books 1996, pp. 356-360)

This is entirely relevant today to the Georgia conflict as pointed out by Prof. Charles King, Ion Ratiu Professor of Romanian Studies and Professor of International Affairs in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He's also the author of several books on the former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe. In an interview with Glen Greenwald at he states:

"Well, I think there is some doubt about who fired first, who moved first, and certainly what was in the mind of President Saakashvili, the president of Georgia, that would have pushed him towards some sort of all-out assault on South Ossetia, this secessionist province that was at the core of this dispute. Really, for the last six months or so, folks in the United States who have been watching this, and in Europe, who's been watching developments in Georgia, have been very worried that Georgia would seek some sort of military solution to the secessionist struggles that have been plaguing the country now for the better part of two decades. And what seems to have happened is that Georgia decided to move quickly and decisively, hoping I think that they would be able to take South Ossetia and that Russia would be unable or unwilling to respond.
Again, I think there was probably a degree of miscalculation and miscommunication in fact between Georgia and the United States.
Georgia for a long time, and in fact Georgians and the political elite and elsewhere have talked about an incident now 13 years ago, but 13 years ago actually this month in August, something called Operation Storm, when the Croatian military moved into a region of its own territory called the Krajina, to oust a local secessionist Serb entity. That military operation went forward with a green light from the United States after the Croatian army had in fact been trained and equipped by the United States military, succeeded.
Now, it lead to about, hundreds of thousands of Serbs being pushed out of the area, but it allowed Croatia to reassert control over its own territory, it lead directly to the agreement, the Dayton Accords on Bosnia, and I think the Georgians had become convinced that if they could do this kind of lightning strike, and succeed, they would create a situation on the ground that the Russians would have a very difficult time countering. In the end the Georgians did not succeed militarily and now we're seeing the result of that failure."

Unknown said...

I see dailysketch is back with his tiresome whatabouttery.

Firstly, so that we are clear, it is simply belittling the Ustasha genocide to compare it with Operation Storm, in which the Serb civilian death-toll was somewhere between 700 and 1,200. And it demonises Croatia and its war o independence.

(interestingly, even though dailysketch is quick to tar Croats with the brush of fascism, he has a picture calling for the boycott of Israeli institutions. It it curious therefore, that when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he does not mention the activities of Arab fascists in the same period, the Palestinian fascist Hajj Amin Al Husseini was, like the Croat fascist Ante Pavelic, a loyal ally of Hitler).

dailysketch would like us to believe that Operation Storm was simply an unprovoked attack against Serbian civilians. He would like us to forget that it was launched against Serbian military forces who had ethnically cleansed the territory and had used it to shell Croatian civilians and attack the neighbouring state of Bosnia-Herzegovina in violation of an international border.

dailysketch also very selectively quotes Laura and Silber, here are a few passages he omits:

"Galbraith delivered a demarche to President Tudjman, which he said made clear that Washingron did not favour military ation against the Krajina." [p. 356]

"The Krajina Serb leadership convened a meeting in the late afternoon, and gave instructions that an organized evacuation should begin. The Croats had left escape routes through the villages of Srb and Lapac. Milan Martic and the leadership fled. The evacuation order was communicated to the UN garrison in the early evening, and that night, tens of thousands of Krajina Serbs took to the road. [p. 358]

Really, it was the Serb nationalists who have them selves to blame. By the time August 1995 rolled around, few had any sympathy for them.