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"Yugoslavia: The Forgotten War"


The makers of Yugoslavia: The Forgotten War claim that bombings of Muslims in Sarajevo, like this one, were conducted by the Muslims themselves. in Yugoslavia, the Avoidable War


The makers of "Yugoslavia: The Forgotten War" claim that bombings of Muslims in Sarajevo, like this one, were conducted by the Muslims themselves.

They can't handle the truth

The horrid Serbian-American-made propaganda film "Yugoslavia: The Avoidable War" paints the '90s genocide as a misunderstanding caused by poor public relations, and bases its key conclusions on interviews with a collection of crackpots and racists.

March 16, 2002

"Yugoslavia: The Avoidable War" is interesting for all the wrong reasons. Promoted as an expose of how Western countries mishandled the Yugoslavia wars of the 1990s, it's really something totally different a whiny, dishonest, sometimes outright racist, nearly three-hour excuse-a-thon on behalf of Serbian murderers. And the more you look into this horrid little propaganda film, the more you discover its fascinating connections not only to the Serbs themselves but also to a network of American right-wing extremists.
Produced by: George Bogdanich and Martin Lettmayer.
Featuring: George Kenney, Nora Beloff, David Hackworth, Susan Woodward, David Binder, Peter Handke, James Jatras, John R. MacArthur, David C. Hackworth, Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, Gregory Copley..

Related links: Official site
Let's take an Internet-aided walk down this bizarre road click any link to check out the evidence. (My apologies for the length of the review, much longer than such a lousy film deserves, but this kind of dishonesty and reliance on biased and racist sources requires a thorough treatment. Perhaps future reviewers will not be hoodwinked the way some New York reviewers were.)

The filmmaker

The film was made by George Bogdanich, identified innocuously on the film's web site as "an independent documentary producer, reporter, freelance journalist and editor." But in addition, an Internet search shows that Bogdanich has spent years as a Serbian-American activist with groups identified variously as SerbNet and the Serbian American Media Center. Bogdanich raised money for the film from the Serbian-American community.

There is nothing wrong with being a pro-Serbian activist, but you don't then release a three-hour propaganda film, pretending it's objective and factual, and fail to disclose your partisan background. Especially in this day and age when it's so easy to find out.

The sources

The film is built around interviews with a dozen or so talking heads. Some are respectable types such as British diplomat Lord Carrington. (The filmmakers play these up but they're only a fraction of the total.) A few appear to be left-wing NATO haters. And about half the ones carrying most of the water for the Serbs are fringy, obscure, biased, blatantly unqualified, and in one case an established anti-Islamic racist. Not one person gives a contrary view. What we're getting is essentially the Serbian Unity Congress reading list and speaker's bureau.

To mention five of the film's authorities:
  Nora Beloff in Yugoslavia: The Avoidable War
Nora Beloff, with 24 screen appearances and a dedication at the end, is the picture's patron saint. Formerly a correspondent for the London Observer, she became a darling of the Serbs when she wrote a slim out-of-print tract which gave the film its name. Her advocacy earned her the epitaph "a friend of the Serbs" from the Serbian Unity Congress when she died in 1997.

Peter Handke in Yugoslavia: The Avoidable War  
Peter Handke, identified only as an "Austrian author," is no Balkans expert at all he's a poet and fiction writer best known for the movie "Wings of Desire." His political and historical expertise is nil and his inclusion is apparently based on his authorship of a book called "A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia" inspired by a brief trip to Yugoslavia during which he found the people very nice. (See reviews on Amazon.com for more info.) His excuse of the Serbs was denounced by other writers, notably Salman Rushdie and Susan Sontag.

  David Binder in Yugoslavia: The Avoidable War
David Binder, former Yugoslavia correspondent for the New York Times, professes a lifelong affection for the Serbs and was, like several others quoted in the film, a well-received speaker at the 9th Serbian Unity Congress. He illustrated his lifelong affection in a letter to the New York Review of Books, referring to war-crimes kingpin Gen. Ratko Mladic as "a superb professional." This goes beyond Handke's sympathy with the Serbian common man and directly embraces its most notorious killers.

James George Jatras in Yugoslavia: The Avoidable War  
James George Jatras is a piece of work. Apparently an Orthodox extremist himself, he once called Michael Dukakis a "pagan" for not following the Orthodox church on abortion and attacked him for marrying a non-Christian, although he insisted he was not being anti-Semitic. (His open letter is on file at Northeastern University.) This GOP Senate aide is also the author of an anti-Muslim screed in the obscure Chronicles magazine and The Christian Activist that calls Islam a "gigantic Christian-killing machine" and says the religion grew from "the darkness of heathen Araby." He was also the keynote speaker at the 9th Serbian Unity Congress.

  David Binder in Yugoslavia: The Avoidable War
Chronicles magazine, which published Jatras' rantings, is also cited by the film in support of its claim that Muslims blew up their own people to arouse international sympathy, and it is connected not only directly to the Bosnian Serbs but also to white Southern neo-Confederacy groups. The magazine is run by Thomas Fleming, who rose to prominence as an opponent of school desegregation in Rockford, Ill., and became a founding member of the right-wing neo-Confederacy group League of the South. Its foreign-affairs editor is Srdja Trifkovic, formerly the official spokesman for Radovan Karadzic and the Bosnian Serb government and a source whom Mr. Bogdanich interviewed for the film but apparently decided not to use.

Any experienced journalist should be able to recognize the hack job that's being done here. These jokers weren't chosen because they're the most authoritative sources on the subject or because they represent two different sides of an argument. They were chosen because they are the fringe the only ones going around exonerating the Serbs of responsibility for their murderous campaigns. If the subject were the Nazi Holocaust, we would easily recognize them as the deniers.


The Americans, the Germans, the Croats, the Slovenes, the Bosnians, the Kosovars, the Albanians, NATO, Hitler, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the Iranians, the Habsburgs, Monica Lewinsky and Osama bin Laden. That's who's responsible for the Yugoslavian tragedy but never the Serbs. In three hours, you won't hear a single source accuse the Serbs of anything disreputable. To name just the two most notorious examples of genocide, the film denies the reality of the murderous Omarska prison camp and obfuscates the wholesale massacres of civilians in the city of Srebrenica.

The film's point of view is that the Serbs were guilty only of poor public relations and didn't do anything bad that everybody else wasn't doing. The war was really "a battle of images, staged events and false numbers which would prepare Western public opinion for direct military intervention and new tragedies ahead," the narrator tells us.

The reality is that although there was brutality on all sides, and in fact, Muslims and Croats have also been indicted by the War Crimes Tribunal, the Serbs embarked on a systematic campaign of murder, torture and rape against Muslim civilians and others unlike anything seen in Europe since Nazi Germany. It has been extensively documented by journalists and human-rights agencies, and confirmed by the discovery of mass graves full of Muslim corpses and the filmmakers are trying to obscure that record.

To examine just two of the films' numerous claims:

1. Claim: The "death camps" exposed by Newsday's Roy Gutman were basically peaceful holding camps. (To prove it, we see footage of a cafeteria. It's very clean.) Reports of abuse were based on a picture of an emaciated inmate and a claim by one woman, Jadranka Cigelj, that she was raped. "Crucial details kept changing in her account of events," the film says. Anyway, it adds, the camps were shut down after four months. (Read the transcript and note its insistence that the other sides were equally to blame for prison camps, its focus on only one of the many eyewitness reports and on the U.S. government's inconclusive statements, and its deliberate omission of human-rights documentation about Omarska and other similar camps.)

In fact, the routine murder and torture at the camps is thoroughly documented through statements of the camp survivors themselves in not only Gutman's articles but also 80 pages of testimony in the Helsinki Watch (Human Rights Watch) report "War Crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Volume II". Although the camps did not conduct an industrialized form of mass extermination, allowing the filmmakers to claim that they were not Auschwitz-style "concentration camps," executions were a daily event. Just one example from 80 pages of testimony about the camps:

The night the men were castrated, another three or four men were killed outside we heard shots. The bodies were put on a little truck and driven away. Almost every night, between midnight to 2:00 a.m., drunken guards would take away approximately five men who never came back.

The notorious Omarska camp was shut down not because the Serbs had a change of heart but because they had been exposed by Gutman and international human-rights monitors and the world began to see the genocide with a new clarity. This is what the filmmakers refer to as bad public relations.

2. Claim: There wasn't really a large-scale massacre in Srebrenica. The film glosses over the subject by saying that women and children were bused out of the city, it claims that only a small number of people were killed, with the rest having been found alive later in other locations, and it blames only an unnamed Croat for participating in the murders. Not once does it mention any Serb killing anybody. And whatever the Serbs did, the U.N., the U.S. and the Muslims made them do it. (Read the transcript.)

In fact, contemporary press accounts reported that the Serbs deported many of the women and children from Srebrenica, then rounded up the men, removed them to remote locations, and, according to escapees, massacred them and buried the bodies in mass graves. Subsequent discovery of the mass graves confirmed the massacres of thousands of people in the Srebrenica area. (Extensive information about Srebrenica is available from the Pulitzer-winning series in the Christian Science Monitor and the web site compiled by Haverford College professor Michael Sells.)

This is just a small taste of both the war crimes that have been proven and the film's lies and evasions about them. There probably are a few facts in the film (some of the quibbles about numbers might be justified), but there is not one single point in the entire three hours that justifies violating the human rights and Geneva Convention rights of prisoners and civilians. The film is so thoroughly biased, untruthful, and based on selective and obscure sources, that you shouldn't believe a single word of it unless you can confirm it somewhere else, not including the Serbian Unity Congress.


What's really sad about George Bogdanich and his backers in the Serbian-American community is the way their duplicity and contempt for the human rights of others illustrate exactly the kind of racism that underlay the war crimes that they are now trying to cover up.

Their shameless use of the white-Christian-power magazine Chronicles and the Muslim-hater James Jatras, their leering innuendos about Muslim terrorists controlling the Bosnian Muslim government and Arab governments dictating U.S. policy, their utter disregard for Muslim massacre victims these are only the most overt signs of the racist attitude on the part of the filmmakers. When Jatras invokes Osama bin Laden and the specter of "radical international Islam" and Nora Beloff hints darkly about the United States appeasing its "clients in the Middle East" (read the transcript), the implication is that the simple fact of the victims' religion makes them dangerous, conspiratorial barbarians and justifies the slaughter that occurred.

(I'm still trying to figure out how these statements are compatible why the U.S. allies Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia would urge the U.S. to support international radical Islam, which really does exist as a powerful faction in each of their countries.)

Almost the same logic is true of the film's attitude toward Croats, although it's less overt. It cites the Croats' alliance with the Nazis of 50 years earlier as though it's self-evident that the Croats of today are born as amoral killers. Again, to the filmmakers, ethnicity is guilt.

Meanwhile, Bogdanich is unable to admit that his own people committed even a single illegal act, not to mention colossal, genocidal massacres, rape and torture. This attitude was common among Serbian-Americans during the wars they couldn't understand why the world turned against them because they were the good guys of World War II. They were fighting the Muslims and the "neo-Nazi" Croats how could that be wrong? It is the kind of blind group allegiance and hatred of others that inspired Serb troops, not exclusively but horrifyingly, to inhuman acts.

If "Yugoslavia: The Avoidable War" is interesting at all, it's as an example of how readily even some of the greatest murderers in the world can find banal apologists like the producers of the film and some of the people who speak in it. Either they are deluding themselves because they cannot face the truth of what their countrymen and co-religionists did, or they are deliberate defenders of evil.

Originally published at

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