This article, published in 2004, presents an incisive analysis of the way estimates of those killed in the civil wars in Bosnia and Kosovo were manipulated to sustain the propaganda story that the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s were particularly intense and brutal.
Brave New Numbers
by Nebojsa Malic
Manipulating the Bosnia Dead
Tuesday’s Washington Post describes the wondrous successes of Bosnia as an example of how “active and sustained international intervention must be to rescue a failed state.” In the staff editorial, the Post invokes the “bloody civil war that killed more than 200,000 people.” Yet just last week, the mainstream media finally acknowledged that the figure of Bosnian war dead was less than half that, and most certainly not the 250,000-plus quoted as Official Truth for years.
The actual truth is that the more or less accurate number of people killed in the Bosnian War has been established for several years now. According to two demographers, Ewa Tabeau and Jacub Bijak, commissioned by none other than the Hague Inquisition, it is 102,622. Their report with this figure was completed in the fall of 2003, but was suppressed by the ICTY.
When it finally saw daylight, thanks to a Norwegian paper in November 2004, the mainstream media went into overdrive trying to counter its impact. The same Reuters reporter who last week informed the English-speaking world about the Bosnian death toll had tried to get the very same Bosnian researcher, Mirsad Tokaca, to denounce the Tabeau-Bijak report as “rumors on Serbian weblogs.”
Back then, Tokaca had promised a final number of 150,000 (though he only had 80,000 or so confirmed names). Today, he has 93,000. Where did those 60,000 people go? They never existed. Just as those other 100,000 never existed, except in the imagination of propagandists.
Manufacturing the Myth
There is no doubt, nor should there be, that the Bosnian War was ugly. A death toll of 100,000 is still substantial for a country of only 4.5 million (according to the 1991 census). Why should the exact numbers matter, then? Because the “numbers game” has been at the very heart of how the war was perceived from the very beginning.
Almost from the start, the self-proclaimed Bosnian government in Sarajevo (run by Muslims) has claimed that the conflict was a war of Serbian aggression intent on genocide. The purpose of these claims was to secure a foreign military intervention on behalf of the Sarajevo regime, similar to what the U.S.-led coalition did for the Kuwaiti monarchy in 1991. The same PR agencies involved in manufacturing atrocity stories in Kuwait had already been involved with the “government” of Bosnia, as well as Slovenia, Croatia, and the Kosovo Albanians. Coached by their hired propaganda gurus, the authorities in Zagreb and Sarajevo flooded the faxes of wires, newspapers, and TV networks with stories of rape, murder, concentration camps, and genocide.
The “Death Camp” Hoax
First in the chain of deception was the “concentration camps” story from August 1992, product of a UK television crew (ITN) filming a refugee camp in Bosnian Serb territory from inside a barbed wire-enclosed tool shed; heavily edited video and doctored stills created the impression of a Nazi-era death camp. British papers carried the photo accompanied with headlines such as “Belsen ’92.” When a small Marxist magazine exposed this fraud, ITN took them to court. The court’s verdict was that even though ITN’s footage wasn’t entirely accurate, it was libelous to suggest this had been a result of deliberate malice. In other words, deliberately staged photographs and video aren’t lies if the reporters’ hearts are in the right place – the cause of humanitarian intervention.
The “concentration camp” hoax was used to “sell” the Bosnia story to American Jewish organizations, which paved the way to comparisons of Serbs with Nazis and descriptions of the Bosnian war as “genocidal.” The figure of “250,000” was then concocted to make the claim of genocide sound credible.
Even by cursory examination, the number is absurd. It was initially used to describe only the Bosnian Muslim dead (regrettably, most media have used “Muslim” and “Bosnian” interchangeably, and continue to do so today). It remained constant since 1993, even though the following two years saw heavy fighting. It has absolutely no factual basis in documents or statistics. It is, in other words, entirely arbitrary and fictitious. Yet it has continued to be invoked almost to the present day. Only since last year have the media begun to use 200,000 – and even that is a 100 percent inflation of the actual numbers, as demonstrated by Tabeau and Bijak and grudgingly confirmed by Tokaca.
The Srebrenica Trump Card
At this point, supporters of the “Bosnians” and Imperial intervention in the region reach for the Srebrenica card. After stories of camps, mass rapes, and genocide had worn thin even for the receptive audiences in the West, the media latched on to Srebrenica as proof positive of “genocide” in action.
Yet again, the number of Srebrenica dead (commonly around 7,000) has the same arbitrary quality as the 250,000 total. An instance where one of the warring parties did not take prisoners, or summarily executed those it did take, while deplorable and undoubtedly illegal under the Geneva Conventions, does not constitute a crime against humanity, much less genocide. Yet anyone who points out that important distinction is pilloried as a “holocaust denier.”
True Numbers Speak
The true significance of the Tabeau-Bijak report is not that it cut the spurious “estimate” of war deaths down to size, but that its existence challenges the elaborate fiction built on the propaganda numbers. For example, while Tokaca maintains that Muslim victims number 70 percent of the war’s total, the actual figures prove him wrong. Muslim and Croat civilian deaths taken together reach 69.5 percent – but these were a product of three conflicts: that of Muslims and Croats against the Serbs, Muslims and Croats against each other, and Muslims against other Muslims in northwestern Bosnia. Even without that consideration, when compared to the results of the 1991 census, it becomes obvious that civilian deaths in the war were roughly proportional across the ethnic divide.
On the military side, Muslim casualties are disproportionately heavier (28,000, 56 percent of the total) – but again, this can be explained by the fact that the Sarajevo regime fought everybody, and often sacrificed its troops in futile assaults on fortified defenses.
What emerges from these facts is a picture of the Bosnian War as an internal conflict, bloody and brutal, but hardly one of external aggression or genocide.
A Legacy of Lies
The doctored “death camp” photos, the stories about rape camps, the “genocide” of Srebrenica, and the fictitious death toll of 250,000 have all been in service of propaganda designed to incite Western military intervention in Bosnia. This propaganda was jointly undertaken by the regime in Sarajevo, PR firms and special-interest groups in the West, and the Imperialist policymakers in Washington and elsewhere, who saw an opportunity in Bosnia to reassert American influence in Europe in the wake of the Cold War.
A tri-factional civil war over the type of government in Bosnia offered no “moral high ground” or easily digestible emotional sound bites for the “benevolent hegemon” and its media audience. Their involvement demanded a tragedy, a victim, and a villain, a Manichaean scenario in which they could play a knight in shining armor. For that purpose, the story of “genocide in Bosnia” (and later in Kosovo) was manufactured from scraps of fact that had only the most tenuous relationship with the truth.
How completely the Western public has swallowed those lies is evident from the fact that even today the Washington Post can invoke a number its editors know is false, and no one seems to care. For Bosnia is supposed to be a success story in the nation-building endeavor, a way to whitewash the abject failure of the Iraq occupation and provide a cover story for “staying the course.” This sort of propaganda is getting people killed every day in the sands of Mesopotamia. And while the American dead and wounded are carefully counted, the tens of thousands of Iraqis “liberated” from this world by the Empire do not merit mention. This they have to thank to those phantom Bosnians, who helped make the early 21st century the era of “humanitarian intervention.”