May 6, 2012
As a peace and justice activist for
almost 50 years, I am writing to encourage you to cancel the planned
speech by Michael Parenti.
Parenti and his co-thinkers have, for
nearly two decades, carried on a campaign of disinformation about
Milosevic's aggressive wars that led to Yugoslavia's dissolution.
Like Milosevic, they blame the victims, particularly the Muslim
populations of the former Yugoslavia. In this campaign, they have
constructed an alternative reality that reverses the facts. They
deny Milosevic's killing and displacement of huge parts of the
Bosnian population, creating large ethnically homogenous territories
in order to seize Bosniak land. Milosevic conducted a similar
campaign against the Albanian majority in Kosovo, with Parenti again
in alliance with Milosevic.
Why do Parenti et al engage in this
behavior? Some think of Parenti as an intellectual leader of the
Left. But he is stuck with several fundamental misconceptions, which
leave him incapable of comprehending what went on in Yugoslavia,
especially since he is no expert on the subject.
Some of the attitudes underlying the
positions of Parenti and his collaborators include:
The enemy of our enemy is our
friend. The US was involved on one side, so we must be on the other.
This simplistic reversion to Cold War thinking just doesn't work in
today's more complex world - if it ever did. Now, we are going to
have to think for ourselves. Regional fascists may run afoul of US
interests, in places like ex-Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Iran, but that
doesn't mean that progressive forces should act in solidarity with
such dictators. A strong critique can be made of the Western role in
Bosnia and Kosovo, but not by denying the guilt of the war
criminals. The Left needs to develop a coherent and honest
understanding of this issue, and not just leave that effort to
liberals and imperialists.
Milosevic was the last defender of
socialism in Europe, under attack by capitalists who wanted
socialism dispensed with there once and for all. In fact,
Milosevic fomented ethnic conflict to consolidate his own power. To
finance his wars, he and his post-communist elite were plundering
and selling off the social wealth created by working people during
the Tito era.
The crimes committed against
Bosniaks and Kosovo Albanians were not that bad. "Only" tens or
hundreds instead of thousands were killed, expelled, displaced,
raped. Of course Parenti can't deny that these things took place, so
he tries to minimize them, against all evidence, and blame the
attacks on the victims. This is shameful, and a person engaged in
such denial is not suited to be honored by a progressive
organization. I'm not advocating censorship of Parenti, but that
your organization consider the impact upon the survivors that such
an endorsement would have, and the attendant loss of respect for
your group among those with humane values.
Those who blame the Milosevic forces
are just propagandists for imperialism. The documentation by
international experts, United Nations judicial bodies, human rights
advocates, and more than a few anti-imperialists is vast and
credible. It cannot be dismissed by allusions to US lies in
justification of intervention elsewhere.
Of course, as in any war, there were
people on both sides who did bad things (even in Vietnam). When one
lacks a clear grasp of right and wrong, of victim and victimizer,
those details can overwhelm the bigger picture. The Yugoslav wars
may have been more complex than many others that the Left has had a
position on. But never have I seen such a campaign of disinformation
on the part of western Leftists as in this instance (though the
Maoist endorsement of Pol Pot in the late 1970s comes close).
Parenti's position is not honest, and it
is not radical. It is an abject endorsement of war crimes and war
criminals by a mouthpiece for Milosevic. I hope Parenti's position
on Milosevic's crimes will cause you, as it has caused me, to
question Parenti's broader politics. He may not be "one of the
nation's leading progressive political analysts," as you advertise,
You have been barraged with
disinformation from the likes of Diana Johnstone (another
non-scholar of the situation) and with various other collections
of lies from the 1990s that won't go away (such as the
endorsement of the March 1999 CPM statement that was recently
circulated by e-mail). I realize that it is difficult to become
an expert on the issue, but a reliance on fundamental principles
should guide you well: solidarity with the victims, no sympathy
for the war criminals. Beyond that, I and others who have been
engaged with this issue for many years will be happy to consult,
answer questions, and refer you to our sources.
You will find the work of numerous
scholars at the website Balkan Witness (which I have edited for 13
years). It is primarily focused on Kosovo, but it also includes a
Bosnia section. In both conflicts we find the same cast of
characters on the side of the war criminals - the perpetrators and
the deniers/defenders/apologists. Please see
http://balkanwitness.glypx.com/ . It is firmly based in
documented fact and eyewitness reports.
Parenti's book To Kill a Nation is reviewed by
Kirk Johnson, beginning June 2007. Twelve
installments, linked from right sidebar, near the
bottom of the cited page.
Parenti's book is also discussed in
Nothing Is Left, by Marko Hoare, Bosnia Report,
Dubious Sources, by David Walls, New
Politics, summer 2002
Other statements of protest sent to
the San Jose Peace and Justice Center: