May 8, 2012
To the board of the San
Jose Peace and Justice Center,
I write to join with those who have contacted you requesting that
you cancel the appearance of Michael Parenti later this month.
I have worked, studied, and traveled in the former Yugoslavia for
over thirty years. I lived in Serbia for a year before the war, and
in Bosnia for two years soon after the war. Since that stay I have
returned to the region a dozen times. I have worked in humanitarian
relief and, more extensively, I have researched grassroots human
rights campaigns. I speak the local language fluently. I have
written at length about the situation I found there; please see
In 1997 I was volunteering for a relief organization in Tuzla,
northeastern Bosnia. Many surviving widows from Srebrenica took
refuge in Tuzla, so I often had occasion to meet some of them. Once,
a widow looked at me and cried, “I had six sons!” The look of pain
and mourning in her eyes burned into me.
From that experience, and many similar ones, I feel that I owe it to
the people of Bosnia to make sure that the truth is told and to
advocate for justice for the victims of that war.
As activists who value human rights and who pursue justice, that is
the responsibility of all of us. Mr. Parenti has participated in the
denial of the concerted campaign of atrocities committed in
Yugoslavia by ultra-nationalists. His pronouncements on this subject
have served to confuse the issue and to distract people’s attention
away from the plight of the victims of nationalist aggression. It is
in this light that I support the request for cancellation of the
To back up a little: it is customary for us busy activists to seek
information and analysis from trusted commentators in the broader
peace and justice movement. However, as other writers have recently
expressed to you, in the case of the breakup of Yugoslavia our
respected analysts have, in many cases, missed the mark.
People such as Mr. Parenti, Noam Chomsky, and others failed to
understand the cause of the breakup of Yugoslavia: an extreme
nationalist movement, led by Serbian expansionists and then answered
by similar nationalists in Croatia. The conflict that tore
Yugoslavia apart, displaced at least three million people, and
resulted in the deaths of around 100,000 in Bosnia-Herzegovina
alone, was not simply a “civil war.” It was, to a large extent,
planned by power-hungry demagogues such as Slobodan Milosevic.
In the early 1990s the conflict seemed to many Americans to be far
away and very complicated, so many progressives either ignored it or
settled on various simplistic analyses involving the phrases “civil
war” or “ancient ethnic hostilities” – none of which came close to
clarifying the situation.
This confusion has produced grievous results in that it left it to
people such as Mr. Parenti to analyze the situation for us, in the
process distorting the truth beyond recognition, as explained to you
by previous writers.
I submit to you that there are times when it is appropriate to be
impartial and let all voices be heard. There are other times when
there can be no compromise between the need to expose and safeguard
the truth, on one hand, and the freedom of speech of those whose
message is destructive and, essentially, hateful. Now is one of
those latter times when we must not make this compromise. Mr.
Parenti has crossed the rhetorical line into atrocity denial, along
the way trampling on the memory of the tens of thousands who were
raped, tortured, imprisoned, and murdered for the profit of a few