[Phillip Corwyn was the UN’s highest ranking civilian official in Bosnia when Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serbs. ]
THE SREBRENICA MASSACRE
Evidence, Context, Politics
Edited by Edward S. Herman
FOREWORD – Phillip Corwyn
On July 11, 1995, the town of Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serb army. At the time, I was the highest ranking United Nations civilian official in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In my book, Dubious Mandate, I made some comments on that tragedy. Beyond that, I decried the distortions of the international press in their reporting, not only on that event, but on the wars in Yugoslavia (1992-95) in general. I expressed the wish that there could have been, and must be, some balance in telling the story of what actually happened in Srebrenica and in all of former Yugoslavia, if we are to learn from our experience.
This book by the Srebrenica Research Group, The Srebrenica Massacre: Evidence, Context, Politics, answers that call. It presents an alternative and well-documented assessment of the tragedy of Srebrenica, and of the suffering of all the constituent peoples of former Yugoslavia. It is an invaluable document. Of course, there will be those who will disagree with the authors’ perspective. But if we are to open a discussion that has been closed to all but the faithful, if we are to prevent similar tragedies from occurring again, then we must take seriously the accounts put forward by the bright and discerning contributors to this book. No honest reader can doubt the credentials of these authors. And no honest reader should doubt the importance of what they have to say. I congratulate them on their scholarship and their courage.
Coincidentally, I have a personal reason for recalling what happened on July 11, 1995, for not only was that the day Srebrenica fell, but it was also the day that a Bosnian sniper tried to assassinate me as my vehicle, white and clearly marked as a UN vehicle, was driving over Mt. Igman on the way back to Sarajevo from a staff visit to Gorni Vakuf. The sniper targeted our vehicle as we sped around the hairpin turns of that narrow, rutted mountain road, and it was due only to the courageous efforts of Bruno Chaubert, the Corsican warrant officer who was my driver, that we survived. We knew from the trajectory of the bullet, and the fact that we had identified ourselves only minutes earlier at a Bosnian army checkpoint, that the sniper who fired on us was in Bosnian government controlled territory, and that he knew who we were. Actually, the sniper had targeted the driver, because he knew if the driver had lost control, then the vehicle and all its passengers would have gone over the mountain. At the time, however, I chose not to publicize the event because the Bosnian government would have denied it, and the UN would not have protested, given its gaping lack of credibility with the Bosnian government. But the message was clear. The Bosnian government considered the UN to be its enemy.
In the years since Srebrenica fell, the name itself has become a buzz-word for allegations of Serbian genocide. Books have been written, reports have been compiled, and radio and television broadcasts have saturated the air waves with “evidence” of this crime against humanity. The United Nations Security Council convened an international tribunal in The Hague to “prove” this pre-trial judgment. It would not be an exaggeration to say some journalists and aspiring politicians have made careers out of promoting this allegation.
But the situation is more complicated than the public relations specialists would have us believe. That there were killings of non-combat- ants in Srebrenica, as in all war zones, is a certainty. And those who perpetrated them deserve to be condemned and prosecuted. And whether it was three or 30 or 300 innocent civilians who were killed, it was a heinous crime. There can be no equivocation about that. At the same time, the facts presented in this volume make a very cogent argument that the figure of 8,000 killed, which is often bandied about in the international community, is an unsupportable exaggeration. The true figure may be closer to 800.
The fact that the figure in question has been so distorted, however, suggests that the issue has been politicized. There is much more shock value in the death of 8,000 than in the death of 800.
There is also evidence in this book that thousands of Serbs were massacred, expelled, tortured, raped, and humiliated during the wars within former Yugoslavia. The international community has not seen fit to publicize these atrocities with as much vigor as it has those of Srebrenica. That simple observation does not justify what occurred in Srebrenica. But it is another piece of the puzzle that explains the anger of the Serbs when they assaulted Srebrenica. In May 1995, for example, just two months before Srebrenica fell, the Croatian army captured Western Slavonia and expelled 90 per cent of the Serb population in that region.
Serbs had lived in Western Slavonia for hundreds of years. But the international community said nothing about those expulsions; in fact, it applauded the Croatian action, as though the Serb civilians deserved what had happened. To massacre Croatians or Bosnians or Kosovo Albanians was genocide. To massacre Serbs was regarded as appropriate retribution. Clearly, the international community has not seen fit to consecrate the massacres of Serbs with monuments. Instead, it has issued arrest warrants for Serb leaders.
What happened in Srebrenica was not a single large massacre of Muslims by Serbs, but rather a series of very bloody attacks and counterattacks over a three-year period, which reached a crescendo in 1995. And the number of Muslim executed in the last battle of Srebrenica, as former BBC reporter Jonathan Rooper has pointed out, was most likely in the hundreds, not in the thousands. Moreover, it is likely that the number of Muslim dead was probably no more than the number of Serbs that had been killed in Srebrenica and its environs during the preceding years by Bosnian Commander Naser Oric and his predatory gangs.
The events at Srebrenica in July 1995 did not occur in a political vacuum. In fact, they might never have occurred at all if Yugoslavia had not been forcibly dismembered against the will of 45 percent of its people, the Serbs. (Serbs were about 31 percent of pre-war Bosnia.) The breakup of Yugoslavia, in fact, was contrary to the last Yugoslav Constitution (1974), which invested the right of self-determination in Yugoslavia’s six constituent “nations” (Croats, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Mus- lims, Serbs, and Slovenes), and required that all of these nations had to agree to the dissolution of the federal state for it to be legal. And of course, the Serbs never agreed. In my book, Dubious Mandate, I report the following question, which was posed to me by a Bosnian Serb: Why, after 50 years as a Yugoslav, should I suddenly be told I’m a minority in a Muslim State, when I was never even given a choice?
People can get very angry when you take away their country.
Today, one can only imagine what might have happened in the Balkans if diplomacy had been given a better chance, if NATO had not had the ambition it had to push eastward, up to the borders of the former Soviet Union, to annex what was then being called the “new Europe.” It is possible—not certain, but possible—that in due time there might have been a peaceful breakup of the former Yugoslavia, probably along different international borders. But the decisions to fracture the former Yugoslavia were taken precipitously, by minority communities within Yugoslavia, and were driven by powerful forces outside Yugoslavia—namely, those of NATO, especially the newly-reunited Germany.
One of the big lies that we heard during the wars in Yugoslavia was that NATO had to intervene because there was danger the conflict would spread. But no group within the former Yugoslavia had ambitions outside of Yugoslavia. It was the nations outside Yugoslavia that had ambitions inside Yugoslavia.
When the greatest military power of all time has an identity crisis, the world is in danger. With the end of the Cold War, NATO’s role as a defensive alliance ended. There were those who said that NATO should have been dissolved, now that there was no more Soviet Union. But there were also those—many of whom were bureaucrats benefiting from the existence of such a massive organization—who said NATO should now be used as a weapon to forge “democracy” around the world—in other words, it should be used to promote the global economy, and make the world free for Coca-Cola. Four of the six constituent republics within former Yugoslavia agreed to this immediate transition to “democracy.” Serbia did not, and it paid the price. In fact, everyone in the former Yugoslavia paid the price, and Srebrenica was part of that price.
Post-mortem studies of events in the former Yugoslavia, including those by the United Nations, have cited the international community’s inability to recognize “evil” as the main reason for its inability to end the wars of the 1990s in the Balkans. If such self-delusion were not so tragic, it would be comic. Wars have never been fought to destroy evil, no matter what religious zealots may assert. Wars have been fought for economic, political, strategic and social reasons. The wars of the 1990s in the Balkans were no different. It was geopolitics, not original sin, that drove NATO’s ambitions.
There is one more general comment I must make, by way of back-
ground, about the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and that comment in- volves the concept of historical memory. We allow certain peoples to have historical memory. We allow the Jewish people to remember the Holocaust. And they should remember it. It was a terrible tragedy. But we do
not allow the Serbian people to remember their massacre during World War II at the hands of the Nazis and their Bosnian and Croatian fascist puppets. This is not to say that all Bosnians and Croatians were Nazi collaborators; but the Croatian Ustaše regime, which included Bosnia, was. And why should Serbs not have been suspicious and angry when they were suddenly told that vast numbers of their people were about to become minorities in new countries that were led by people who were their killers during World War II? Especially when the Serbs had never even been consulted! They would have been crazy not to be anxious. My question is, why did the international community not under- stand the perplexity, the anger, and the historical memory of the Serbs?
Back to military concerns. It was evident by July 1995 that the Bosnian Serb army could not continue to allow five enemy bases to exist be- hind its front lines. Mind you, I am not speaking about the humanitarian issue here, because I have never, and will never, condone the slaughter of civilians. But it would be irresponsible to ignore the military aspect of the campaign in eastern Bosnia when discussing Srebrenica, just as it would be foolish to ignore the historical process that led up to the events of July 1995.
Today in Bosnia there is a campaign of disinformation that has all but buried the facts along with the bodies. To pretend that the events in Srebrenica were a microcosm of any sort is to take an oversimplified, fast-food view of history. One isolated event does not explain a process as complicated as war. History is not a collection of sound bites. History is a process with several watersheds, and to understand Srebrenica one must understand the watershed of NATO’s identity crisis.
As part of that campaign of disinformation, the authors of a whole series of reports about Srebrenica, both inside and outside the UN, have judiciously avoided interviewing those in-the-know who might not have told them what they wanted to hear. For example, the authors of the first comprehensive United Nations report on Srebrenica, entitled The Fall of Srebrenica, issued in the fall of 1999, never interviewed me, and did not list my book in their short bibliography, even though I was the ranking UN official in Bosnia at the time of the takeover of Srebrenica. Nor was I alone in being ignored by the compilers of politically- correct history. In my case, my major error was that I dared to defend the United Nations at a time when it was fighting as hard as possible to be a scape- goat. UN leadership, which was desperately trying to curry favor with the United States in order to prevent the world organization from completely collapsing, could not afford to criticize the world’s only superpower. The United States, which had been useless in Rwanda, embarrassed in Somalia, and frustrated in former Yugoslavia, needed a sacrificial lamb. And because I refused to be part of the UN’s mea max- ima culpa campaign, I was ignored. There were others too, prominent intellectuals, who were ignored in the flurry of reports that emerged, “studies” righteously denouncing the United Nations for not having recognized the existence of evil. But one day their story, our story, must be heard if one is ever to understand the history of Srebrenica, of the former Yugoslavia, of Europe, and of the world. The beginnings of that untold story, hitherto marginalized by official renditions, are here for all to read in this report.