Srebrenica’s legacy should be one of peace, not war
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia deemed the massacre genocide, a finding upheld by the International Court of Justice. But have the right lessons been learnt from this appalling tragedy?
Srebrenica, along with the genocide in Rwanda, is regularly cited by 'liberal interventionists' in the West as an example of what happens when the US and its closest allies don’t ‘intervene’. It has been used not to promote peaceful solutions to disputes, but to strengthen the neocon/faux-left case for wars (aka, 'humanitarian interventions') against independent, resource rich countries that don’t run their economies to the benefit of the Western elites or have the ‘right’ i.e. pro-Western foreign policy orientation. We saw a classic example in 2011, during the build up to the NATO war against Libya.
We are told that British Prime Minister David Cameron pushed for military action against Colonel Gaddafi in Libya in 2011 because he did not want another Srebrenica. ‘There was a very strong feeling at the top of this government that Benghazi could very easily become the Srebrenica of our watch. The generation that lived through Bosnia is not going to be the pull-up-the-drawbridge generation, a Whitehall source told the Guardian.
But today, after that 'humanitarian intervention' to stop a possible Srebrenica, Libya is a failed state and a country in which thousands of people have been killed in the post-NATO violence, and which is far too dangerous for Westerners to visit.
‘If the Libya war was about saving lives it was a catastrophic failure’wrote the Guardian’s Seumas Milne in 2011, and things have got much worse since then.
A 'Stopping another Srebrenica' liberal interventionist foreign policy has led to far greater loss of life than that which occurred in Srebrenica, and ironically the largest number of victims of the West’s policy have been Muslims. ‘Humanitarian intervention’ has led to the most un-humanitarian consequences.
In any case, the argument that Srebrenica was an example of what happens when the ‘benign’ West does not intervene to stop the bad guys is misleading to say the least.
While the direct responsibility for Srebrenica lies with those who ordered and carried out the slaughter, it's worth remembering that the massacre did not take place in a vacuum. It was part of a bloody conflict, which would not have occurred in the first place without Western interference.
Yugoslavia, a non-aligned communist nation, served its purpose in the old Cold War, but once the Berlin Wall came down it became the ’expendable country‘ for the Western elites. The last thing these elites wanted in the 90s was the continued existence of a large, independently minded country in southeast Europe, one that had a large army and where socialist and communist parties remained popular. "In post-Cold War Europe no place remained for a large, independent-minded socialist state that resisted globalization” admitted George Kenney, a former Yugoslavia desk officer at the US State Department.
As part of their strategy, the West supported politicians who wanted Yugoslavia to be broken up, men such as Franjo Tudjman in Croatia, and Alija Izetbegovic in Bosnia. At the same time they opposed and later demonized those who did not want a break-up of the country, such as Serbia’s socialist leader Slobodan Milosevic, who had declared at a meeting with European Community ‘arbitrators’ in October 1991: "Yugoslavia was not created by the consensus of six men and cannot be dissolved by the consensus of six men.” Serbia’s leaders wanted a referendum in which all Yugoslav citizens would be able to decide whether they wanted to stay in Yugoslavia, but the pro-secessionist leaders of the other republics, backed by the West, opposed such plans.
Germany, keen to have new client states in the region, promised Slovenia and Croatia diplomatic recognition if they broke away from Yugoslavia.
The US championed the cause of an ‘independent’ Bosnia. Washington opposed initiatives that would have kept Bosnia in Yugoslavia and urged Alija Izetbegovic to be more ambitious in his demands.
The man who really lit the blue touch paper for the Bosnian War was not Slobodan Milosevic, the Western war machine's number one bogeyman in the Balkans, but the US Ambassador Warren Zimmerman who urged Izetbegovic to renege on his acceptance of the 1992 Lisbon Agreement, which provided for the peaceful division of an independent Bosnia. ‘If you don’t like it, why sign it?’ said Zimmerman, a man who is largely forgotten today, but whose negative intervention helped plunge Bosnia into a vicious war.
Of course, at the 20th anniversary of Srebrenica all this background has been quietly ignored in the West. We are meant to condemn (quite rightly) the perpetrators, but not delve too deeply into how the fighting broke out in the first place. If there is mention of the wider picture in neo-con media, it’s usually to blame Milosevic for what happened, even though the International Court of Justice in 2007 ruled that Serbia had not ‘committed genocide,’ not ‘conspired to commit genocide nor incited to commit genocide,’ and that Serbia had not been ‘complicit in genocide’.
If the US can be blamed for plunging Bosnia into civil war and sabotaging attempts to solve differences between the various parties peacefully, there is also US culpability for the Srebrenica massacre itself, according to a new Dutch television documentary. The programme claimed that American spies knew that Muslims were in grave danger in Srebrenica, but the US ruled out airstrikes against the Bosnian Serb military. “The shillyshallying on the Bosnian enclaves was gross political ineptitude and led to the evil of mass murder in Srebrenica,”wrote Robert Fox in the Evening Standard.
Although Srebrenica was the worst single massacre to take place in the Balkan wars, it’s also important to remember that terrible crimes were committed by all sides, including the NATO powers who illegally bombed the rump of Yugoslavia in 1999, and whose ‘hits’ included a passenger train, a television studio, a hospital, a refugee column and an old people’s home.
In the West we tend to hear only about Serbian crimes in the 1990s, because it was Serbia’s leadership that thwarted western ambitions in the region. But the Serbs, cast by the neocons and faux-left imperialists as the boo-hiss baddies of a black-and white conflict, suffered greatly too in the Balkan wars.
In ’Operation Storm’ in August 1995, around 200,000 Serbs were driven from their homes in the Krajina region in Croatia, in an operation that received the green light, logistical and technical support from the US.
“The Croatian rampage through the region left a trail of devastation. Croatian special police units, operating under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, systematically looted abandoned Serbian villages. Everything of value (cars, stereos, televisions, furniture, farm animals) was plundered and homes set afire,” wrote Gregory Elich in ‘NATO in the Balkans.’
If an ‘official enemy’ had carried out such an act of ethnic cleansing, we can be sure that there would have been several Hollywood films made about it by now, but it was carried out by the West’s allies and with Western help, so it has effectively been airbrushed out of history.
Another ‘non-event’ as far as neocon ‘humanitarians’ are concerned was the massacre of 49 Serbs on Orthodox Christmas Day 1993 in the village of Kravica, near Srebrenica. As I noted in my 2008 Guardian article on Serbophobia: “The town (Kravica) recently held a commemorative service to mark the 15th anniversary of the atrocity: no members of ‘the international community’ were present.”
Of course, the fact that Serbs had been massacred in the area previously in no way excuses what took place at Srebrenica in July 1995. But it does show that the Srebrenica massacre was part of a brutal conflict in which many other heinous crimes took place: crimes that the Western elites want us to forget as they don’t fit in with the dominant narrative that the Serbs were to blame for everything.
Had the Western powers acted responsibly in the 1990s and made it clear that they would not support illegal, unconstitutional breakaways from Yugoslavia, then its highly likely that war in the Balkans would have been avoided.
However, the West did the worst possible thing: they encouraged separatist leaders, fomented a civil war and then stood by as an appalling massacre took place. Then to make things even worse, they have used the massacre as a justification for more ‘interventions’ that have killed many more people.
It was a similar scenario with Rwanda, the other example that liberal interventionists love to use to justify their ‘humanitarian’ wars. The genocide that occurred there was preceded by US attempts to destabilize the country and to use the Tutsi-dominated Rwanda Popular Front (RPF), (which invaded Rwanda from US ally Uganda in 1990) to fight against the Hutu government, which was a block on the US attempts to increase its influence in the region.
Again, this background is rarely discussed; only the genocide against the Tutsi which broke out after the plane carrying Rwanda’s Hutu President, Juvenal Habyarimina was shot down as it came in to land at Kigali airport.
The role of foreign powers in destabilizing Rwanda and fomenting civil war for furtherance of their geo-political aims doesn’t fit in with the neat and tidy ‘liberal interventionist’ narrative that the Rwandan genocide occurred because the US and its allies ‘did nothing.’
This weekend, it’s right and proper that we pause to remember the men and boys whose lives were so brutally extinguished in the massacre at Srebrenica. Yet, as terrible as Srebrenica was, the numbers killed there have been dwarfed by the number of people killed in the last twenty years in Western wars of intervention. Earlier this year, a new report, which I discussed in a previous OpEdge piece here, revealed that at least 1.3 million people had lost their lives in the so-called US led ‘Wars on Terror’ in just three countries, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In addition to these, we must also add the numbers of people who have been killed in Libya, during and after the NATO intervention, in Yemen, in Palestine/Gaza and in Syria, a conflict fuelled by the support of the US and its allies for violent ‘rebels.’ It would have been over ages ago if the US had genuinely wanted peace, instead of gunning for ‘regime change’ at any cost.
There is more than a whiff of hypocrisy when Western leaders stand with solemn expressions on their faces at Srebrenica memorial services, yet evade any responsibility for the death and destruction their own warmongering policies have caused.
The Muslims massacred at Srebrenica are remembered (rightly), but there are no ceremonies for the millions of Muslims killed in Iraq, Gaza, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere by the US and its allies.
It leaves a bad taste in the mouth too when those who supported the illegal invasion of Iraq and other recent Western military ‘interventions’ that have caused large scale loss of life, have the audacity to falsely and libelously accuse genuine anti-war, anti-genocide voices, such as the media monitoring organization Media Lens, of denying the Srebrenica massacre.
We should never allow supporters of the Iraq war, which has led to the deaths of around 1 million people, to claim the moral high ground when it comes to the Balkans.
Twenty years on, it’s time we learnt the right lessons of Srebrenica and not the wrong ones the neocons want us to learn. We need less Western ‘intervention’ around the world, not more. We need more genuine peacemaking and an end to the fomenting of civil wars in countries the Western elites want ‘regime changed’ or destroyed. And whenever we hear or read a neocon or ‘liberal’ hawk calling for Western ‘intervention’ in this or that country to prevent ‘another Srebrenica,’ we need to remind them how many innocent people have been killed by Western ‘interventions’ since Srebrenica, and also how the Balkan wars started in the first place.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.