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Articles on the Kosovo and Bosnia Conflicts



Nothing Is Left
By Marko Attila Hoare
October 2003

Books reviewed:

Philip Hammond and Edward S. Herman, Degraded capability: The media and the Kosovo crisis, Pluto Press, London 2000, 222 pp.

Michael Parenti, To kill a nation: The attack on Yugoslavia, Verso, London 2000, 246 pp.

Diana Johnstone, Fool’s crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western delusions, Pluto Press, London 2002, 317 pp.

Noam Chomsky, A new generation draws the line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West, Verso, London 2000, 154 pp.

Michael Moore, Stupid White Men.... and other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!, Regan Books, New York 2001, 277 pp.

Kate Hudson, European Communism since 1989: Towards a New European Left?, Palgrave, London 2000, 254 pp.


Following the build-up to the Iraq War, I was struck by the paradox of Tony Blair’s position. The British Prime Minister appeared to find it very difficult to mobilize public opinion behind this unpopular war, despite his own firm belief in the necessity of confronting the Saddam Hussein regime. This regime was universally acknowledged as being exceptionally brutal toward its own citizens and aggressive toward its neighbours. Yet British newspapers and TV news reports were not filled with images of Iraqi Baathist atrocities. While the debate raged fiercely among columnists and pundits, between supporters and opponents of the war, there was little in the British media’s coverage of the crisis that might have mobilized the British people more solidly behind the war. Without a state-propaganda machine in control of the media, Blair was forced to rely almost entirely on the strength of his political message concerning the alleged threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The political problems this created for him are well known.

The situation of John Major’s Conservative government ten years previously was almost the exact reverse. Faced with the crisis created by Milošević’s expansionist campaign, the British government did its very best to appease Milošević and to avoid confronting the Serbian armed forces - as Brendan Simms has brilliantly demonstrated in Unfinest Hour - Britain and the destruction of Bosnia (Allen Lane, London 2001). Yet on that occasion the media were filled with reports of the atrocities carried out by Serb forces, seriously embarrassing the British government. In the US meanwhile, the climate created by media reports of these atrocities, above all of the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, put the vacillating Clinton Administration under such pressure that it was eventually forced to carry out air-strikes against Serb forces in Bosnia, dragging the reluctant British government along with it.

Thus on at least two recent occasions - Bosnia in the 1990s and Iraq in the 2000s - the overall effect of British media coverage ran contrary to British government policy. British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd lamented in September 1993 - at the height of Britain’s appeasement of Milošević - what he viewed as the British media’s excessive interest in Bosnia and comparative lack of interest in other wars: ‘We see little on our screens of the tragedies in Liberia, in Angola and in Sudan; they feature little in debate in the House [of Commons], they feature little in the editorials of our papers, they bother British citizens only occasionally. If it costs more to maintain the correspondent in southern Sudan than in Bosnia then the world will know less of the fighting there - and care less. The public debate is run not by events but by the coverage of events.’ Hurd went on to complain that ‘most of those who report for the BBC, the Times, the Independent, the Guardian, have been all in different ways enthusiasts for pushing military intervention in Bosnia.’

Media diversity

In reality, journalists and reporters were deeply split over both wars, with Misha Glenny, Simon Jenkins, Eve-Ann Prentice, Michael Sheridan and many others broadly sympathetic to the British government’s position. Glenny, whose account of the break-up of Yugoslavia was perhaps more widely read than any other, was praised by none other than David Owen, the EU’s mediator in the Bosnian conflict. Glenny’s views on the conflict - as the present author has explored in detail elsewhere (‘Misha Glenny and the Balkan mind’, Bosnia Report, New Series no. 3, March-May 1998) - were more sympathetic to the Serbian than to the Croatian or Bosnian side, and supportive of the British government’s stance vis-B-vis those of the Germans and Americans. In the US, the influential New York Times carried stories on the former Yugoslavia from a variety of different standpoints, some of which upheld Serb-nationalist viewpoints. Reporter David Binder, for instance, wrote from a standpoint of hostility to Bosnia-Herzegovina; a past admirer of such Serb extremists as indicted war-criminal Ratko Mladić and Nazi-collaborator Momčilo Đujić, Binder has recently written a violently hostile obituary of former Bosnian President Alija IzetbegovićNew York Times columnist Thomas Friedman condemned the presence of Croatian President Tuđman at the VE anniversary celebrations in London in 1995, on the grounds that ‘many Croats fought for the Nazis’. New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer frequently repeated uncritically Serb-nationalist stereotypes of Croat behaviour in World War II.

In Britain during the Kosovo War, outright opponents of the war like Tony Benn and the Serbian Information Centre’s Marko Gašić were able to state their views on prime-time television. Independent journalist Robert Fisk covered the war from a position of absolute hostility to the British government; seven years earlier Fisk had responded to the revelation of the existence of concentration camps run by Serb forces by writing a long article about the crimes committed by Croat fascists half a century before - the almost inescapable implication being that those earlier Croat crimes somehow mitigated the contemporary Serb crimes, therefore making Western military intervention to stop the latter unjustified. The media in Britain and the US have not, therefore, been guilty of ‘anti-Serb bias’ or of ‘demonising the Serbs’; nor have they upheld the policies of the British government or made propaganda on its behalf; nor have they been a monolith; they have, on the contrary, represented a diversity of opinions.

Media targeted

Yet it is the Western media, more than any other institution, that have borne the brunt of condemnation from members of the far left for their role in the wars in the former Yugoslavia. These members of the far left, whom I shall refer to as ‘left revisionists’, downplay, deny or minimize the crimes of the Milošević regime, its security forces and its proxy forces in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. They blame the media for ‘exaggerating’ these crimes in order to justify Western military intervention. Degraded Capability: The media and the Kosovo crisis, edited by Philip Hammond and Edward S. Herman, is a collection of essays condemning the Western media for allegedly promoting the Kosovo War. In the view of the editors, ‘the ‘humanitarian war’ concept is promoted through the media, which play a vital role in preparing public opinion and acting as cheerleaders and advocates of war.’ Yet in reality it is the far left that has demonized ‘the media’, not ‘the media’ that have demonized the Serbs. Nowhere in Degraded Capability is there any balanced appraisal of the range of opinions expressed in the Western media, both ‘pro-war’ and ‘anti-war’, ‘pro-Serb’ and ‘anti-Serb’. Nor is there any investigative journalism explaining how the alleged ‘anti-Serb media conspiracy’ was organized.

Rather, ‘the media’ become almost a single, homogenous, demonic force in the eyes of the contributors. They assume that ‘the West’ was ‘anti-Serb’ and ‘anti-Yugoslav’ from the start of the wars in the former Yugoslavia; that the media serve the interests of their governments; and that the media represent only one single, official viewpoint. All of these assumptions are false. At issue here is the unwillingness of too many left-wing intellectuals to acknowledge any facts or information that interfere with their comfortable assumption that ‘Western governments = bad; everyone else = less bad’. The fact that Milošević’s regime was a neo-Communist one and that his party was called the ‘Socialist Party of Serbia’ partly explains this unwillingness. Media reports of atrocities carried out by Serb forces allowed liberal and ‘bourgeois’ critics of these atrocities to take the moral high ground; the far left was forced either to fall in behind the ‘bourgeois liberals’ in their condemnation of a ‘socialist’ regime, or to attempt to recapture the moral high ground by pretending that Serb atrocities were all a lie, or at least an exaggeration.

The obsession of the left revisionists with the Western media is well demonstrated by David Chandler in his contribution to Degraded Capability. Chandler argues: ‘For the beleaguered Sarajevo government, with few resources to fall back on, fighting the war soon became of secondary importance to winning support for international intervention. Weakness became an asset as the war became increasingly staged for international media crews, with the government attempting to provoke incidents around Sarajevo and UN-declared safe areas to encourage military intervention. This strategy included exaggerating numbers of war casualties, preventing the reconnection of water supplies to Sarajevo, halting the evacuation of civilians from war zones and government shelling of their own territory.’ Chandler’s source for these assertions is a single article by Charles Boyd, a retired General of the United States Air Force. That the views of an American general might themselves not be objective does not seem to have occurred to the ‘anti-interventionist’ Chandler. In Chandler’s distorted view, it is the Bosnians who are the puppet-masters and the Western public the victims; it is the Bosnians who are waging war to intervene in the internal affairs of Western countries - something that might have surprised the average Bosnian Army frontline soldier. If Bosnian civilians are blown up by a Serb shell, it is still the Bosnians who are the perpetrators and the Western public the victims: How dare they get blown up in front of us ! How dare they make us feel guilt that isn’t left-wing guilt !

Flimsy sources

Chandler’s statement is characteristic of much of the left-wing discourse on the former Yugoslavia, in which fantastic assertions are made on the basis of the flimsiest supporting ‘evidence’, provided they run contrary to the supposed ‘mainstream’ interpretation of events. This raises the question of why so many left-wing commentators are so determined to challenge this ‘mainstream’ interpretation - in which the war was caused by the expansionism of Milošević’s Serbia. After all, a genuine anti-interventionist would argue that, even if all the accusations levelled against Milošević’s Serbia had been true, Western military intervention against it was wrong. This was the argument made by some supporters of Workers Aid for Bosnia and Workers Aid for Kosovo, for whom condemnation of the crimes of the Milošević regime went hand-in-hand with opposition to Western military intervention. The revisionist left, however, as represented by books such as Degraded Capability, seem intent on downplaying the extent of Albanian suffering, arguing that the Albanian death-toll in Kosovo at the hands of the Serbian security forces was greatly exaggerated by spokesmen for the Western Alliance, as Peter Gowan argues in Degraded Capability. This raises the interesting question of whether, if 100,000 Albanian civilians had really been killed by Serbian security forces and this had been proved incontrovertibly, the left revisionists would then have supported intervention. In other words, were Serbian atrocities in Kosovo simply not bad enough to justify intervention ? And if not, just how bad would they have to be before John Pilger and co. would come out in favour of NATO air-strikes ? The actual Nazi Holocaust was, after all, ended thanks in large part to the military intervention of the United States and Britain, something that nevertheless caused a lot of civilian casualties. Was this a bad thing ? These are just some of the questions to which it would be interesting to hear an answer...

Part of the reason why left revisionists are determined to minimize the crimes of the Milošević regime may be that they feel that the ‘anti-war’ argument is otherwise too weak. The right-wing website ‘Antiwar.com’ has made an opportunistic alliance with Great Serb nationalism: it contains a regular column by Serb hardliner Nebojša Malić, and this ‘anti-war’ website has remarkably few references to the destruction of Vukovar and Sarajevo, or to other war crimes committed by Europe’s most war-mongering regime in half a century. Yet so far as the left revisionists are concerned, their unwillingness to acknowledge Milošević’s crimes may spring from the fact that in some bizarre way they still consider him to be a ‘socialist’ and therefore ‘one of them’. In his foreword to Degraded Capability, Harold Pinter claims: ‘Milošević is brutal. Saddam Hussein is brutal. But the brutality of Clinton (and of course Blair) is insidious, since it hides behind sanctimony and the rhetoric of moral outrage.’ Milošević is therefore a practitioner of ‘non-insidious brutality’, which is presumably more acceptable and one of the reasons why Pinter has joined the ‘International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milošević’ (ICDSM), run by the outright Milošević-supporter Jared Israel.


This being the case, it is reasonable to ask whether the revisionist left is really just trying to be ‘objective’ in its efforts at downplaying or denying Serbian atrocities, as it claims, or whether it is in fact made up of closet Milošević sympathizers. The journal New Left Review (NLR) commissioned the present author in October 2000 to travel to Belgrade to write an article on the popular rebellion against Milošević that was then taking place. NLR paid my air-fare and I arrived in Belgrade on the day that Milošević fell. But when I produced my report NLR refused to publish it: editor Susan Watkins explained to me that the editorial board objected to my article’s implied support for the Hague Tribunal and for Serbia’s integration into European institutions - these views were considered politically unacceptable. I was reminded of this some months later while reading Michael Parenti’s To kill a nation: The attack on Yugoslavia, published by NLR’s sister organization, the publishing house Verso. The book is simply an outright apologia for Milošević and his regime. Period. Thus while it would appear that supporting the prosecution of war-criminals at the Hague Tribunal is unacceptable to NLR/Verso, actually supporting the principal war-criminal himself - orchestrator of the worst acts of imperialist aggression and racial mass-murder in Europe since the death of Stalin - is entirely acceptable.

Lest any reader believes I am exaggerating Parenti’s views, his book recently appeared in Serbian translation (Majkl Parenti, Ubiti Naciju: Napad na Jugoslaviju, Mediagraf, Belgrade 2002) - with a foreword by none other than Slobodan Milošević himself. So proud was either Parenti or his publisher of this that a facsimile of Milošević’s handwritten foreword was included in the book. In Milošević’s words:

I congratulate all those who have contributed to the book To kill a nation: The attack on Yugoslavia - being translated and published in our country. Its author Michael Parenti is an American to whom every genuinely truth-loving inhabitant of our planet owes gratitude for his great bravery and competence in seeing and understanding the events that have marked the last decade of the twentieth century... The attack on Yugoslavia was waged and is being waged without any regard for morality. The illegal ‘Court’ in The Hague is one of the means for waging that war and proof that the war is continuing still. But what has happened, contrary to the wishes of the new world order and the Hague ‘Tribunal’, from day to day shows that in the world the consciousness of the need for uniting the forces of resistance to the new enslavers is becoming stronger. Michael Parenti falls among those who have given this resistance an undoubtedly great personal contribution.

Parenti has also become chairman of the US section of the ICDSM.

Parenti’s book is simply worthless. The first indication of the author’s profound ignorance of Yugoslavia and its history may be found in the title: To kill a nation: The attack on Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was not a ‘nation’ any more than was the Soviet Union - and certainly not in its own self-definition. Parenti seeks to explain the break-up of Yugoslavia, yet not knowing any of the former-Yugoslav languages, he is limited to English-language sources - his task is therefore as hopeless as that of a historian of the English Civil War who does not read English. Parenti several times refers to the pre-1991 Yugoslavia as the ‘FRY’ (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), though it was in fact the SFRY (Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) - the FRY was not proclaimed until April 1992. Interestingly, this basic error was not corrected in the Serbian-language version of Parenti’s book.

Parenti essentially argues that the destruction of Yugoslavia was orchestrated by a conspiracy of the Western imperialist powers. An idea of the standard of ‘documentation’ Parenti employs to uphold this ‘thesis’ is his claim that Germany had ‘openly championed Yugoslavia’s dismemberment in 1991, but was giving Slovenia and Croatia every encouragement long before then.’ Meanwhile, ‘the United States did little to deter Germany’s efforts.’ For these two statements - the first an outright falsehood and the second entirely meaningless - Parenti’s sole ‘source’ is an article by his ideological fellow-traveller Peter Gowan (‘The NATO powers and the Balkan tragedy, NLR no.234, March/April 1999); Gowan is no better informed or qualified to write about the former Yugoslavia than Parenti himself, relying heavily as he does on Susan Woodward’s biased and inaccurate The Balkan Tragedy (see my review in Bosnia Report first series 15, April-July 1996), and a pamphlet by ‘John’ Zametica, sometime official spokesman for Radovan Karadžić. Still more bizarre is Parenti’s claim that the Kosovo War was waged in order to destroy Serbia’s socialized industry: ‘As far as Western free-marketeers are concerned, these [Yugoslav] enterprises had to be either privatized or demolished. A massive aerial destruction like the one delivered upon Iraq might be just the thing needed to put Belgrade more in step with the New World Order.’ This without citing a single piece of evidence to substantiate the claim. Parenti not only supports Milošević but shares his Manichean view of the world, in which there are only two sides: Milošević’s regime and everyone else. Thus the leaderships of Britain, France, Germany, the USA, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Kosovo Liberation Army and even the Serbian opposition are lumped indiscriminately together to comprise a single ‘anti-Serb’ or ‘capitalist/imperialist camp’.

Closed circle

In the absence of any genuine documentation, Parenti flings into his book any ‘source’ that will back up his line. Some of these are articles or statements by his ideological fellow-travellers: Joan Phillips, Ramsey Clark, Michel Chossudovsky, Sean Gervasi, Diane Johnstone and others, which he appears to believe make his compilation of ‘evidence’ more weighty. Indeed, about half the ‘sources’ he cites in the first half of his book are precisely such non-sources. In turn, the left-revisionist authors cited by Parenti themselves tend to cite the same or other similar authors in support of the same set of allegations, creating a closed circle of mutually supporting references that substitute for any genuine documentation or historical enquiry. Yet if one traces the path of references back to the ‘original source’ on which each left-revisionist allegation is based, one finds that it is invariably dubious. For example, one of Parenti’s sources is Michel Chossudovsky, who claims in his article ‘Dismantling Yugoslavia, colonising Bosnia’ (Covert Action, 56, spring 1996) that German support for Croatian secessionism was part of ‘long Western efforts to undo Yugoslavia’s experiment in market socialism and workers’ self-management and to impose the dictate of the free market.’ Chossudovsky claims that the German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher ‘gave his go-ahead for Croatian secession’. Chossudovsky’s ‘source’ for this claim is Sean Gervasi’s article ‘Germany, the US and the Yugoslav crisis’ (Covert Action, 43, winter 1992-93). Gervasi’s ‘sources’ for the alleged German plot to break-up Yugoslavia were accusations made by two US foreign-policy officials. One of these officials was anonymous, the other was former US Ambassador Warren Zimmermann, whose published memoirs (Origins of a catastrophe: Yugoslavia and its destroyers, Random House, 1999) express a viewpoint hostile to Croatian independence and sympathetic to the Yugoslav People’s Army. Though hardly objective, therefore, in this instance the claims made by ‘American imperialist propaganda’ appear to be taken by the left revisionists entirely at face value.

More dubiously still, Parenti relies on US General Charles Boyd’s statement that ‘the Serbs were not trying to conquer new territory, but merely to hold onto what was already theirs’; EU mediator Lord Owen’s statement that ‘no seasoned observer in Sarajevo doubts for a moment that Muslim forces have found it in their interest to shell friendly targets’; Indian UN commander Satish Nambiar’s statement that ‘Portraying the Serbs as evil and everybody else as good was not only counterproductive but dishonest’; French UN commander Philippe Morillon’s accusation that the ‘Bosnian government repeatedly refused to let UNPROFOR establish a ceasefire because it wanted to keep Sarajevo a focal point for world sympathy’; and British UN commander Michael Rose’s ‘conclusion’ that ‘it was Muslim operatives who had bombed Bosnian civilians... in order to induce NATO involvement’. Parenti laments: ‘The moderated truths enunciated by observers like Lieutenant-General Nambiar, US Deputy Commander Boyd, General Morillon, General Rose, negotiator Owen and various UN administrators and eyewitnesses cited above went largely unnoticed in the mass of Nazi-imaged, Serb-bashing stories broadcast unceasingly around the world.’

It is a peculiar imperialist conspiracy that Parenti portrays: one in which most of the senior leaders of the Western imperialist intervention in the former Yugoslavia actually become sources of truth and objectivity. What Parenti seems to be arguing is that there are two viewpoints on the war in the former Yugoslavia: one consisting of journalists such as Roger Cohen and Roy Gutman who ‘demonize the Serbs’; and the other consisting of Parenti himself plus leading representatives of Western imperialism in the former Yugoslavia (Rose, Nambiar, Owen and Morillon), who believe that Karadžić’s Serbs have been unfairly treated by the media and that the Bosnian government forces were really to blame for shelling their own civilians and besieging their own capital city. Parenti has a very original and imaginative view of historical evidence: a source accusing Serbian forces of atrocities is ‘Serb-bashing’ and ‘demonising the Serbs’, thus evidence of an anti-Serb imperialist media conspiracy; a source accusing Bosnian forces of atrocities is taken entirely at face value, as proof that the Bosnians were really the villains, which then highlights the fact that the first set of sources must be part of the conspiracy. In this manner, ipso facto, all evidence must necessarily support Parenti’s thesis.

As a socialist, Parenti’s sympathies are much more with the socialist Slobodan Milošević than with the socialist Josip Broz Tito, the anti-Nazi resistance leader who founded socialist Yugoslavia in the first place. Tito’s only appearance in Parenti’s book is in reference to his support for Kosovo’s autonomy, which Parenti believes crippled the Yugoslav federation - his ‘source’ being not a proper historian or history book, let alone several, but the same NLR article by Peter Gowan that he cited earlier to ‘prove’ that Germany had engineered the secession of Croatia. Parenti believes that ‘Tito did little to discourage the Albanian campaign to ethnically cleanse Kosovo of non-Albanians.’ In this way, Parenti’s ‘socialism’ leads him into support for Milošević’s brand of ‘socialist’ Serb nationalism, in which Tito himself was guilty of grave injustices against the Serb nation. Parenti abandons internationalism in favour of uncritical support for the nationalism of his own ‘chosen people’.

Another left-wing author for whom ‘anti-imperialism’ slips into a virtually uncritical support for Milošević’s version of Serb nationalism is Diane Johnstone. Her book Fool’s Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions is a survey of the history of Yugoslavia and its break-up. As a scholar, Johnstone is one or two steps up the evolutionary ladder from Parenti, since her historical account does at least refer to a handful of serious historical sources, though not many, and none in the Serbian/Croatian language. Yet she makes some truly bizarre statements. One of her peculiarities is her habit of systematically comparing all forces working against Great Serb nationalism with the Nazis, in one way or another. Thus the following reference to Titoist nationality policy: ‘Tito deliberately played down the role of Serbs and Serbia in an effort to placate the nationalist feelings of the Croats and Albanians, exploited by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to dismember the country during World War II.’ Or this reference to the US role in establishing the Bosnian Federation in 1994: ‘Dismissing history as of no importance, United States diplomats created a "Federation" that was inevitably reminiscent of the Nazi-backed Independent State of Croatia set up in 1941'. Or this reference to German media criticism of Serbian policy toward Slovenia and Croatia: ‘Nineteen months after German reunification, and for the first time since Hitler’s defeat in 1945, the German media resounded with condemnation of an entire ethnic group [the Serbs] reminiscent of the pre-war propaganda against the Jews.’

The Nazi brush

It is somewhat ironic that Johnstone should seek so systematically to tar Germans, Croats, Americans, Albanians and even Tito with the Nazi brush. A couple of years before the publication of her book, the same Johnstone had cautioned soberly: ‘Analogies should be employed with care, especially with such emotion-laden subjects as Hitler and the Holocaust. When applied to unfamiliar situations, they can create a powerful semi-fictional version that actually masks reality’ (‘Hitler Analogies betray both past and present’, ZNet Daily Commentaries Website, 28 August 1999). Johnstone was lamenting the fact that, because of alleged Western media demonization, ‘Suddenly, Milošević was the new Hitler’. In her book, she builds on this theme: ‘Once the Yugoslav imbroglio was dramatized as a new version of the Nazi Holocaust, any effort to return to reality was stigmatized as equivalent of "Holocaust denial", and critics were dismissed as "revisionists" and "negationists", comparable to apologists for Nazi crimes.’ One can only conclude that Johnstone took the lesson to heart and borrowed a couple of weapons from her opponents’ armoury. That being the case, it is only fair to point out the historical connotations of some of Johnstone’s own views. Giving a sympathetic account to the suggestion of Dobrica Ćosić, father of contemporary Serb nationalism, that Kosovo be partitioned between Serbs and Albanians, Johnstone complains of the lack of Western receptivity to the idea: ‘a priori dismissal of any suggestion [for the partition of Kosovo] does not help the search for peaceful resolution of a difficult problem.’ Johnstone may be unaware that this plan was first enacted in 1941 by none other than Adolf Hitler, who divided Kosovo between the Nazi-puppet state of Serbia and a Great Albania.

Whose sovereignty?

The left revisionists are motivated in part by opposition to the supremacy of US power. They complain of the West’s ‘calculated disregard for sovereignty’ and belief that in the former Yugoslavia ‘the people of the region are assumed to be incapable of self-government’, in the words of Hammond’s and Herman’s introduction to Degraded Capability. Yet the ‘sovereignty’ and ‘self government’ the left revisionists uphold seem to apply only to Milošević’s Serbia; never to the people of Croatia, Bosnia or Kosovo. There was a time when left-wingers spoke up for the rights of oppressed people without independent states of their own - Kurds, Palestinians, East Timorese and others. This time has now apparently passed, as the far left now largely prefers to defend the ‘sovereignty’ of murderous regimes rather than their subject peoples, provided these regimes are in some way ‘opponents’ of the West. George Galloway, a prominent British left-wing supporter of Saddam Hussein, was recently reported as refusing to meet with or even speak to an Iraqi Kurdish refugee who wished to challenge him on his ‘anti-war’ stance - his sympathies appearing to be with the dictator, not with the dictator’s victims.

In the former Yugoslavia, left revisionists denounced the Rambouillet agreement as an alleged ‘violation’ of the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. They failed, however, to denounce the Dayton Accord’s far greater violation of the sovereignty of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. That Milošević himself signed the Dayton Accord, violating the sovereignty of a neighbouring state and pledging Serb cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, is quietly forgotten amidst the impassioned left-wing defence of the dictator’s ‘sovereignty’ and ‘rights’. But ultimately it is not just a question of left-wing hypocrisy, but of a profound belief among the left revisionists that non-Western peoples have no history of their own; that the history of the former Yugoslavia is merely the history of Western intervention in the former Yugoslavia. If the ‘people of the region are assumed to be incapable of self-government’ by the West, as Hammond and Herman argue, they are assumed by the left revisionists to be incapable of starting their own wars and conducting their own massacres. This left-wing attitude is simply imperialism in another form.

The subordination of the interests of the former-Yugoslav peoples to the global interests of left-wing radicals is demonstrated by Noam Chomsky’s A new generation draws the line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West. Chomsky seeks in a particularly tortuous and long-winded manner to prove that Western leaders are hypocritical: they bombed Serbia in 1999 for allegedly ‘humanitarian’ reasons - to protect the Kosovo Albanians - yet failed to bomb Indonesia to protect the East Timorese. To emphasize the extent of Western hypocrisy, Chomsky seeks to downplay the extent of Kosovo Albanian suffering in comparison with East Timorese suffering.

Double standards

Chomsky is of course guilty of precisely the sin of which he accuses the US leaders: of employing double standards and allowing his response to crimes against humanity to be conditioned by his own political interests. When it is a case of a US client state oppressing a subject people, Chomsky paints a black-and-white picture: Turkey is guilty of ‘massive atrocities’ against the Kurds; Indonesia of ‘aggression and massacre’ of ‘near-genocidal levels’ in East Timor; Israel of ‘murderous and destructive’ operations in Lebanon, while Chomsky makes no mention whatever of Kurdish, East Timorese or Palestinian atrocities. When it is a case of a US opponent state oppressing a subject people, Chomsky paints a grey picture: Serbia’s atrocities against Albanians are a ‘response’ and ‘reaction’ to KLA attacks, while he accuses the KLA of ‘targeting Serb police and civilians’; ‘killing six Serbian teenagers’; the ‘killing of a Serb judge, police and civilians’; and so on. The picture Chomsky consequently sketches is of atrocities by both sides and, since KLA actions were ‘designed to elicit a violent and disproportionate Serbian response’, the implication is that the Milošević regime was actually less to blame than the KLA.

A genuine internationalist - one more sympathetic to the plight of the downtrodden - might conclude that, while both KLA and Hamas atrocities are reprehensible, they are ultimately the product of the respective desperation and suffering of the Kosovo Albanian and Palestinian people, for which the responsibility ultimately lies with the occupying powers - Serbia and Israel respectively. But whereas Chomsky is never sparing in his denunciations of Israel, he seems concerned to divest Milošević of as much blame as possible. Thus the massive Serbian ethnic-cleansing campaign against Kosovo Albanians was, in Chomsky’s view, the fault of the NATO intervention that ‘triggered’ it: ‘the NATO bombing was followed by a rapid escalation of atrocities and ethnic cleansing. But that, in itself, is a condemnation of the bombing, not a justification for it.’ Funnily enough, the spurious argument that NATO intervention increased Kosovo Albanian suffering is never made by the Kosovo Albanians themselves. But their suffering is hypocritically used by left revisionists to justify their own political agenda - the very thing that the left revisionists accuse the US administration of doing. As a final irony, the leadership of the East Timorese resistance publicly supported the NATO action in Kosovo.

The tendency of some American left-wingers to view foreign nations entirely in terms of their relation to the US - as having no meaning or interest except as the subject of US foreign policy - is most graphically demonstrated by Michael Moore, author of the paper-thin critique of contemporary American political life, Stupid White Men.... and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation.

Who is the racist?

This book is largely about white American racism against African Americans, but also involves Moore complaining about Americans’ ignorance and lack of education: the US is an ‘idiot nation’ - why, he asks, is it the case that ‘out of the seventy major American universities, only twenty-three now require English majors to take a course in Shakespeare ?’. It is therefore illuminating to note what this champion of anti-racism and the importance of education has to say about the former Yugoslavia:

‘This godforsaken corner of the world has been the source of much of our collective misery for the last century. Its residents’ inability to get along - with Serbs fighting Croats fighting Muslims fighting Albanians fighting Kosovars fighting Serbs - can be traced to the following single event: in 1914 a Serb anarchist by the name of Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Ferdinand. This incident kicked off World War I. Which led to World War II. Over fifty million people died from both wars. I don’t know what it is about these people. I mean, I don’t go around killing Texans. I don’t go burn down whole villages in Florida. I’ve learned to live with it. Why can’t they?’

Moore believes that Yugoslavia was a civilized country under Tito. However:

‘Then Tito died, and all hell broke loose. Croats started killing Serbs. Serbs killed Muslims in Bosnia. Serbs killed Albanians in Kosovo. Then the United States bombed Kosovo, to show them that killing was wrong. In the past few years there has been peace, then war, then peace again, and now war again. It never stops. These people are addicts.’

The present writer will not insult the intelligence of the reader by actually attempting to criticize these lines of Moore. One can only note that, in the light of the popular left-wing stereotype of President George Bush Jnr as a brainless, uneducated, provincial-American hick, it is deeply ironic that Moore has become such a left-wing celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic. Bush, unlike Moore, has to the best of my knowledge never made the enormous suffering of foreign peoples into a subject of ridicule and cheap racist jibes for the amusement of an American audience.

New alignment?

This then is the face of the Western far left - with a few honourable exceptions - in the twenty-first century: intellectually superficial; morally bankrupt; callous about the suffering of foreign peoples; and cynical and hypocritical in its use of both facts and arguments. Kate Hudson in European Communism since 1989: Toward a New European Left argues that since 1989 there has been ‘the emergence, consolidation and, more recently, advance of what can be described as a new European left.’ She argues that the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Communist bloc in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union have permitted the emergence of a new alignment of left-wing social democrats and Communists in Europe, one that bridges the divide between East and West and that sets itself in opposition to the new European capitalist order. She describes in some depth the policies of Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), arguing that Zyuganov’s ‘strategic decision that the CPRF should lead the opposition to Yeltsin on the patriotic basis that integration into the world economy on IMF terms would destroy Russia... is clearly the correct strategy for opposing the restoration of capitalism....’ Elsewhere she notes that ‘polls which showed that more than 90 per cent of the population of Russia were opposed to the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia were understandable.’

It is unclear from Hudson’s account why any of this should be viewed in a positive light by progressively minded people. Although Hudson frequently refers to the NATO intervention in Kosovo, which she views negatively, she does not even mention the incomparably more bloody and destructive Russian intervention in Chechnya, which Zyuganov and other Russian ‘left-wingers’ and ‘patriots’ supported and continue to support. Potential backers should perhaps consider what possible moral purpose there can be for a ‘New European Left’ that is brought together in opposition to the Kosovo War, but that turns a blind eye to the destruction of Grozny, Vukovar, Sarajevo and other European cities, and to the extermination or dispossession of tens of thousands of Chechens, Kosovars and Bosnians - or even supports such crimes.

Originally published in the Bosnia Report, October-December 2003



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