What Motivates Edward Herman and the Balkan Revisionists?
By Roger Lippman
April 26, 2009
John Feffer provides helpful background information on the various Serbian nationalist wars and a good critique of Edward Herman’s habitual distortion of the history of those wars. Feffer also grapples with a pertinent question: What motivates the Revisionists? (Herman does not appreciate being labeled “Revisionist,” so to be fair, perhaps it would be better to refer to them as war-crimes deniers, or genocide apologists.) Why the affinity for an ultra-nationalist, war-mongering dictator, especially on the part of some who once had credentials as leading Left intellectuals?
Feffer posits that Milosevic and his criminal campaigns are glorified because he stood up to the United States over Kosovo, withstanding NATO’s first-ever military campaign. But this can’t be the whole story. Edward Herman has been just as supportive, at least retrospectively, of Serbian nationalist expansion in the earlier Bosnia war as he is on Kosovo – firmly denying the worst of Serbian atrocities in Bosnia. With moral support from Noam Chomsky, Revisionists were right there with Serbian nationalist expansion while genocide was being committed at Srebrenica, and before.
Somehow, the Milosevic apologists glommed onto the notion that Yugoslavia in its decline represented a last bastion of socialism, under assault by capitalist forces. This, despite the fact that Milosevic presided over a kleptocracy, run by profiteers and warlords who privatized state property at will and used much of the proceeds to fuel their wars, pocketing a portion to boot. But a clique of intellectuals including Herman, Diana Johnstone, and Michael Parenti, who had something of a following, spun an entire fantasy that Milosevic was the victim of Western machinations, rather than the one who fomented nationalism and started four wars that wrecked the country. This idea found fertile soil in a Left that had not quite gotten beyond the Cold War mindset. The ideas were given credibility by Chomsky, who should know better but doesn’t. (He is helpful when he knows what he’s talking about, as in Israel and Palestine, but not here.) The Serbia-as-victim notion was widely propagated in the Left press.
This is not just an academic issue. Herman et al are engaged in a continued campaign against the victims, dead and surviving, of Milosevic’s wars. On the tenth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre (which they think didn’t happen), Herman and others went so far as to hold a press conference at the United Nations, not to memorialize the victims, but to insult the widows, parents, children, and other survivors of Bosnian Muslim civilians (who they think weren't killed), while these survivors are still finding, counting, and burying the dead. The struggle goes on in Bosnia to resettle refugees and reclaim housing and land stolen by the Serbian warmakers. And in Kosovo, Serbia still supports forces of destabilization.
All the while, the Hermans of the world, acting in concert with Serbian nationalist propaganda, are on the sidelines cheering on the war criminals, past and present. (Their pronouncements eerily resemble the wartime coverage on Serbian TV - no reports of atrocities in Kosovo, with refugees described only as people fleeing NATO bombing.) And I’m sure they will go on denying that there were more than “only” 2000 victims of the Srebrenica massacre even when the 8000th body has been identified – not because they are uninformed, but because they are ideologically committed, like their Stalinist forbears.
Too much of the Left’s supposed intellectual leadership is still reflexively living out a Cold War paradigm, apologizing for those who have committed ethnic mass murder in the name of a shadow of socialism.