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Articles on the Kosovo Conflict


Michael Parenti
The American leftist who attributes the stories of mass rape to the American imperialist propaganda machine
By Shon Meckfessel
Excerpted from Suffled How It Gush (Oakland: AK Press, 2009), page 306

Michael Parenti’s book To Kill A Nation has been one of the most widely-read critiques of the US involvement with the Balkans. And like much of the authoritarian left, he adopted an aggressive the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend approach to the regime in Belgrade, made worse by his conviction that Milosevic stood as a paragon of Socialism after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. He repeatedly speaks of "Serbs" without regard to intra-ethnic political differences, parroting the same ethnicism as those he critiques for demonizing Serbs. 

Particularly upsetting is his denial of widespread rapes by Serb forces during the war in Bosnia. 

Given the nature and circumstances of the crime, exact numbers have been difficult to establish; however, large bodies of first-hand testimony have been documented by independent groups such Amnesty International, who Parenti cites elsewhere to (correctly) implicate Bosnian Croat and Bosnian government forces. 

In his essay "The Media and Their Atrocities" in the anthology You are Being Lied To (Russ Kick, ed., New York: The Disinformation Company Ltd, 2001, pp. 51-55), Parenti executes a sleight-of-hand in order to defend his chosen people. Parenti begins by denying that sufficient numbers of Serbian soldiers were present in Bosnia to carry out a rape-campaign of the alleged scale, as they were "involved in desperate military engagements." Besides dishonestly contrasting rape with "military engagements," this argument is belied by the speed with which Serb forces conquered land early in the war. He goes on to quote one dissident opinion within Helsinki Watch – without citing their name or his source – as claiming that all stories of mass-rape originated with the governments of Bosnia and Croatia. 

In the next paragraph, without completing his argument concerning the events in Bosnia, Parenti then moves quickly on to the events in Kosovo, and the propaganda campaign carried out to legitimate NATO intervention. He quotes one official from Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as saying that dozens, not masses, of rapes occurred by Serbian forces in Kosovo, "and not many dozens." Parenti then refers again to Bosnia in the last sentence of the same chapter to refer to the conviction of a Bosnian Croat officer for failing to stop his troops from raping Bosnian Muslim women in 1993. 

In the third and final paragraph concerning mass-rape allegations, Parenti concludes, "A few-dozen rapes is a few-dozen too many. But can it serve as one of the justifications for a massive war?" Following on the inconclusive paragraph concerning Bosnia, and the paragraph addressing Kosovo but ending with a reference to Bosnia, the ambiguous antecedent of this summary gives the strong impression – particularly to a reader unfamiliar with the area – that a “few-dozen" rapes occurred in the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo taken together. Parenti has managed to reduce tens of thousands to a "few-dozen." The author then wraps up his argument in one idiotically opportunistic phrase, stunning in its lack of perspective: "If Mr. Clinton wanted to stop rapes ... he might be able to alert us to how women are sexually mistreated on Capitol Hill and in the White House itself" (p. 52). 

Later in the article, Parenti writes: "A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees talked of mass rapes and what sounded like hundreds of killings in three villages, but when [journalist Audrey] Gillan pressed him for more precise information, he reduced it drastically to five or six teenage rape victims" (p. 53). Not only had the commissioner exaggerated the numbers, he'd forgotten to mention that the victims were teenagers. Which, Parenti's syntax bizarrely seems to imply, makes the matter not so serious. 

In his book To Kill A Nation, Parenti again hastily, if not viciously, dismisses essential evidence in order to establish his case: 

The handful of rape-produced births that actually came to light seemed to contradict the image of mass-rape pregnancies reported by Muslim authorities and Western journalists. An Agence France-Presse news item reported that in Sarajevo, "Bosnian investigators have learned of just one case of a woman who gave birth to a child after being raped." 

The article cited by Parenti is dated March 1993, less than a year into the war in Bosnia, itself assumably quoting a report published even earlier. Allowing for the term generally associated with pregnancy, the low figure is hardly surprising.

Independent researcher Indira Kajosevic in her balanced essay "Understanding War Rape: Bosnia 1992," gives a more honest account on the topic of rape-pregnancies: 

Dr. Shana Swiss of the Women's Commission of Physicians for Human Rights who followed up the UN Reporter's investigation found 119 cases of pregnant rape victims in a small sample of six hospitals in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia. Based on the assumption that 1% of acts of unprotected  sexual intercourse result in pregnancy, the identification of 119 pregnancies therefore represents some 11,900 cases of rape [my emphasis- S.M. See http://archeologia.women.it/user/cyberarchive/files/kajosevic.htm.]

For Parenti, the Cold War never ended, and the entire Yugoslav tragedy is explained as Capitalist Hegemony conspiring against the triumph of Communism: 

Why were the Serbs targeted? They were the largest and most influential nationality in the former Yugoslavia, with a proportionately higher percentage of Communist party membership than other nationalities … Moreover, in the 1989 US-imposed elections, Serbs and Montenegrins supported the former Communists over the US-backed "democrats" in their respective republics. No wonder the Serbs were targeted as the enemy. [To Kill A Nation, pp. 81 – 82]

The excerpt above has been lightly edited for clarity.

See also:

Landmark cases on sexual violence in Bosnia and Hercegovina, prosecuted at the United Nations International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

Mass Rape: The War Against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina By Alexandra Stiglmayer and Marion Faber, April 1994

Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia By Beverly Allen, February  1996
Book notesJournal of Peace Research, 1997
Rape Warfare in Bosnia and Hercegovina: The Policy and the Law By Beverly Allen, The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 1996

The Political Psychology of War Rape: Studies from Bosnia and Herzegovina By Inger Skjelsbæk, October 2013
Author's presentation, 2014

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