Bosnia-Herzegovina and the ‘Left Revisionists’

The long-delayed arrest of the butcher Ratko Mladic (he had friends in higher places than Radovan Karadzic—it took longer for them to decide it was no longer worth protecting him) dreges up memories of the Balkan intervention debates of the 1990s.

Criticism &c. recently came across an article by Marko Attila Hoare—author of The History of Bosnia: from the Middle Ages to the Present Day—which delivers a comprehensive critique of the Red-Brown pro-Milosevic current so prevalent at that time.

Below is a brief excerpt from “Genocide in the Former Yugoslavia: a Critique of Left Revisionism’s Denial,” which appeared in the Journal of Genocide Research (published by the International Network of Genocide Scholars) in 2003.

While I don’t agree with his inclusion of Lenin this excerpt (let alone his mention of Marx elsewhere in the article), this piece is a devastating account of an intellectual trend which—unfortunately—still thives.

Hoare’s context is the British left, but the position of the U.S. left was by and large equally bad, if not worse. Some important exceptions were the positions of News & Letters Committees, Solidarity, and David Watson of the journal Fifth Estate and author of Against the Megamachine.

• • •

from “Genocide in the Former Yugoslavia: a Critique of Left Revisionism’s Denial”

by Marko Attila Hoare

Journal of Genocide Research (2003) 5(4), December, 543-563

The left revisionists accuse the Western alliance of double standards in its approach to the Kosovo Albanians on the one hand and to the Turkish Kurds and Palestinians on the other. They argue that the West’s claim to have intervened in Kosovo for humanitarian motives is inconsistent with its connivance at the oppression of Kurds and Palestinians. Yet the left revisionists employ the very same double standard, only in reverse: they verbally champion the rights of Turkish Kurds and Palestinians while turning a blind eye to the suffering of Bosnians, Croatians and Kosovars. They condemn Western military action against Serbia, the Taliban and Iraq but not Serbian military action against Croatia, Bosnia or the Kosovo Albanians; in their eyes the 600 or so Yugoslav civilian deaths during the Kosovo War were “worthy” victims in a way that the tens if not hundreds of thousands of Bosnians killed by Serbian forces were not. This double standard may only in part be attributed to anti-Americanism or “anti-imperialism,” whereby members of the far left subordinate their morality to the “higher cause” of opposing the United States. There is a long tradition on the far left of supporting the weaker country against the stronger on an anti-imperialist basis. V. I. Lenin wrote in 1915 that “if tomorrow Morocco were to declare war on France, or India on Britain, or Persia or China on Russia and so on, these would be ‘just’ or ‘defensive’ wars irrespective of who was the first to attack; any socialist would wish the oppressed, dependant and unequal states victory over the oppressor, slave-holding and predatory ‘Great Powers”’. Such a line of reasoning might conceivably have led members of the far left to support Milosevic’s Serbia as a victim of “American imperialism,” even to the point of ignoring or denying its crimes against the non-Serb peoples of the former Yugoslavia. Simple “anti-imperialism” is, however, insufficient to explain the motives of the left revisionists, who do not themselves couch their arguments in “anti-imperialist” terms. Rather they prefer to make pedantic, legalistic quibbles over such issues as the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the authority of the UN Security Council and the exact numbers of Albanian dead; appropriate arguments for international lawyers, perhaps, but scarcely the kind usually favored in the polemics of the revolutionary left. The rhetoric of the left revisionists in fact goes beyond denouncing the US as an evil in itself to defending politically the Milosevic regime.

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