Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A night at the theatre

And so, our man Aaro comes down on the side of Kamm[1] and MacShane rather than Pollard, over the question of Michael Kaminski, is he a bastard or not. I confess to neither having done nor planning to do the research to work out who's right (as far as I can tell, he's not very good on second world war atrocities, but in favour of bombing Gaza, hence the cognitive dissonance), but here you go.

Notable for me in that one way of summarising the difference between Aaro and your average Decent (by which I mean Nick Cohen) is that Aaro goes to see a play and writes about how he was influenced by the play, and Nick goes to see a play and fulminates about how the play should have been influenced by him. Etc etc.

And apparently if David Cameron went to see a play about Poland, he'd realise … something about the European Parliament and John Redwood, apparently. Strikes me there's a bit of faux-naivete here - Aaro knows that the Tory Party is massively divided on Europe and knows that Cameron's plan is to paper over the cracks in the belief that British voters don't really care about the European Parliament (proof: they don't vote for it). So why's he pretending that there's some dilemma or issue here?

It does strike me that a cruel man might summarise this piece as Dave warning Dave that Nazism is all too often the first step on the road to Euroscepticism.

"For if once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. Once begin upon this downward path, you never know where you are to stop. Many a man has dated his ruin from some murder or other that perhaps he thought little of at the time" - De Quincey.

Update Unorphaning footnote [1], I note that Oliver K is still trying to pretend that Martin Bell's candidacy in the 1997 Tatton election was more independent than it was. The Spiked! reviewer is correct to say that "In doing so, [Bell] helped, along with his friends in the liberal media, to reframe politics in terms of sleaze, elevating the non-political issue of personal conduct over politics proper". While it's impossible to read Bell's mind as to his own particular motivations, he consulted with Alastair Campbell and William LeBreton before deciding to stand (and probably would not have done so if those two functionaries hadn't been able to deliver their local parties), and was provided with significant help by Labour Party worker Alan Olive. And the reason why this help was provided was that Labour and the LibDems wanted to keep the "sleaze" issue high profile during the 1997 election campaign. Oliver was of course quite famously involved in his uncle's campaign, which is why he tries to pretend that it wasn't a stunt, or that it wasn't a piece of Labour Party press strategy. But it was; in many ways a laudable one because it got rid of Neil Hamilton, but I have always found OK's attempts to rewrite the record on this one a bit irksome.

(Spiked! is also something of a thorn in the flesh of the Decent campaign against Mr Justice Eady, as its existence might prick a few consciences - spiked! was formed by the staff of Living Marxism, a quite odious RCP publication which was deservedly sued into bankruptcy by Ed Vulliamy, over issues relating to Bosnia. Few Decents of the tendence Nick Cohen like to be reminded of this entirely sensible use of the libel laws to silence etc etc).

80 Comments:

Blogger ejh said...

Also see the great old ENGAGE joke

11/04/2009 08:58:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Aaro goes to see a play and writes about how he was influenced by the play, and Nick goes to see a play and fulminates about how the play should have been influenced by him

That's ace but a little too kind to Dave - he sometimes indulges in bouts of telepathy when sitting in theatre audiences, imagining what people think and why they're laughing, etc.

Looking over the archives here I'm reminded that Cohen used to write a lot more about the theatre - and he was worse on it than he is on TV which is quite an achievement.

I do sometimes wonder about the Decents and the theatre - the Decent-approved Pinter play was a fairly obscure one about the Kurds, which was admired for its politics rather than the drama, and aaro seems to like this play as historical documentary rather than play. That feeds into this odd conclusion where understanding WWII atrocities makes you like the EU a bit more, or something.

Linked to my comment on the other thread, I know this is asking the world but it would be nice to see Decents acting in a consistent manner about racism and hate crimes. I'm definitely with MacShane and Aaro on the Kaminski issue, but support for Gaza is usually a get-out clause for them and MacShane elsewhere does conflate antisemitism with opposition to Israeli policy - maybe this will encourage him to think a bit harder about the issue. Somehow I doubt it.

11/05/2009 08:58:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

A very odd letter from Ed Vulliamy is being promoted by Kamm, Marko and HP Sauce among others.

Hasn't all this been done already? The letter itself is a horrorshow of sleight of hand, too.

11/05/2009 10:37:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Evidently Nick read about this on HP roughly the same time I did.

A shame for him that the event happened a week ago - evidently he's not in particularly close contact with 'my colleague, Ed Vulliamy', i he didn't see the letter til today.

Cohen is on form, though:

Although largely forgotten, the Bosnian War remains the defining conflict of our age, reshaping what it means to be left or right wing. The sight of Europe standing by while Serbs slaughtered the Bosnian Muslims was a major recruiting tool for Islamo-fascism. The supposedly centre-right Major government disgraced itself by anticipating Michael Moore and degenerating into ever more bizarre anti-Americanism and the left, which claims to be against Islamphobia, was just as bad. (I cover the confusions and betrayals of the time in my book What's Left?) As I and many others noted the most devious apologist for crimes against humanity was Noam Chomsky.

That's more than all over the place, isn't it? The first sentence is pretty instructive, too.

11/05/2009 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Well, you do have to love the idea that non-intervention in Bosnia was a major driver for recruiting Islamic nutters, but that every other aspect of our foreign policy is utterly irrelevant, because Sayed Qutb!!!1!1!!

11/05/2009 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

The thing is that having a go at Chomsky is like putting on a warm favourite pair of slippers for the Decent Left - they understand him and his worldview, because it's basically theirs with a minus sign in front of it. They understand him and he behaves more or less exactly how they think about the imaginary Stoppers in their head. They deserve each other.

11/05/2009 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

By inviting Chomsky to give this lecture, Amnesty condemns itself to ridicule at best, hurtful malice at worst - Amnesty joins the revisionists in spitting on the graves of the dead. Which was not what the organisation was, as I understand, set up for. I have received a letter from an Amnesty official in Northern Ireland which reads rather like a letter from Tony Blair’s office after it has been caught out cosying up to British Aerospace or lying over the war in Iraq - it is a piece of corporate gobbledygook, distancing Amnesty from Chomsky’s views on Bosnia, or mealy-mouthedly conceding that they are disagreed with.

I wonder if HP, Kamm et al read this bit.

11/05/2009 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

I'm reminded of something I wrote in my posts on Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism a few years ago:

*** Discussing Chomsky’s controversial argument that President Clinton’s attack on the al-Shifa plant in Sudan (or “the Sudan”, if you’re Paul Berman) led to more deaths than the 9-11 attacks, Berman writes that “Chomsky stood by his argument, and did so with his customary blizzard of references to obscure sources.” [p.150] Turn to pp.48-9 of 9/11, the relevant Chomsky text, and we find that Chomsky’s sources are drawn from the pages of the Boston Globe, the Guardian and the Observer, and whatever else these are, they are not obscure publications. (Professional Decency-Watchers might like to note that one of the cited pieces was by Ed Vulliamy, and they might remember also that on those occasions when he doesn’t rely on Vulliamy’s reporting, he gets criticized for that, too: see the Emma Brockes interview, still available here.). ***

11/05/2009 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

he behaves more or less exactly how they think about the imaginary Stoppers in their head

This isn't really true, is it?

11/05/2009 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Is a "devious apologist" somebody who deviously doesn't actually say what they are accused of saying?

11/05/2009 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

"Tony Blair’s office after it has been caught out cosying up to British Aerospace"

I don't think this would bother Oliver K. When it happened he declared that Blair had turned Britain into a banana republic. Blair resigned shortly afterwards.

11/05/2009 01:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

ejh - Chomsky never says what he's accused of saying, or not without an armoury of qualifications - he's an incredibly circumspect writer. Nothing wrong with circumspection, of course, but I often feel that Chomsky uses qualifications less to dilute the point he's making than to make it harder to disagree with it. Orwell did something very similar, in his blokey plain-man style - "there are exceptions of course, but I think when you get right down to it most people would broadly agree that [STATEMENT OF OPINION HERE]".

I feel for Vulliamy - he's obviously in some distress as well as very angry, and I think if I'd seen what he has I probably would be too. But he's made the mistake of posting the first draft, not the revised version where he goes back over the sources and puts in references to *what people actually said*. The tendency of Johnstone's work seems to be to deny or downplay much of what the Bosnian Serb forces were accused of, which I think is disgraceful, while the tendency of Chomsky's comments on the matter seems to be to big up Johnstone; to that extent I agree with Vulliamy. But it's a long way from that to this "armchair apologists for Mladic" stuff.

Nick, on the other hand, is just broadcasting from Planet Nick. There are many nasty things that could be said about Tories in the context of the early 1990s (*koff*DouglasHurd*koff*), but I've never thought that the period was characterised by John Major indulging in cheap radical populism. And Michael Moore isn't anti-American, surely. (He's a self-hating American.)

11/05/2009 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I feel for Vulliamy - he's obviously in some distress as well as very angry

I don't, not really. To still be angry at Living Marxism and Diana Johnston, fair enough. But to still be that angry at someone who wasn't even part of the original argument and has gone out of his way to stress he wasn't impugning EV personally? ie, to be so angry as to write horrible open letters to Amnesty, resigning his membership and all, because that person was invited by them to give a lecture (which lectures are notoriously proven money-makers)? I really don't see this and suspect that somebody has put him up to it.

11/05/2009 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I'd also note that one time when NC never makes any qualifications or hedges at all is when he's insulting other people and calling them apologists for genocide, often on thin evidence and tenuous connections. Which is what I meant by saying that the Decents recognise a man after their own heart.

11/05/2009 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I often feel that Chomsky uses qualifications less to dilute the point he's making than to make it harder to disagree with it.

Isn't that, at least in prominent part, because he's very used to being misrepresented?

I'm vaguely reminded of the fact that Tony Benn, long before the recording of interviews was commonplace, used to tape all of his interviews without exception, so that if anybody accused him of saying something he'd not, he could show otherwise.

This was, at the time, a widely-ridiculed practice - though almost exclusively by people who were not sufficiently far to the left* to have their views and opinions misrepresented on a regular basis.



[i.e. not very far at all, if you follow me]

11/05/2009 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

The tendency of Johnstone's work seems to be to deny or downplay much of what the Bosnian Serb forces were accused of, which I think is disgraceful

I want to say that I'm uncomfortable with this sort of argument. I think it's got to be all right to take issue with mainstream assessments of contemporary and historical events without being accused of being apologists for their perpetrators, and I think anybody who, say, opposed the Iraq War to be aware of this. If people are not able to do this, freely, then we simply can't have proper discussions of historical truth. This is the case whether we are discussing Mao, the Ukranian famine, the history of the Provisional IRA, Al-Qaeda, or what you will. Yes, of course the reason somebody may be - for instance - disagreeing vehemently with Chung and Halliday's view of Mao may be that they are admirers of Mao, but unless we are to have a discussion dominated by the theme "why are you defending them?" then it's not a proper way of proceeding.

In practice, I should say, nearly everybody will agree with this, but then play a game of "hint hint!" (if there are, indeed, quite that kind) when it comes to people they don't agree with. But they don't like it if the hints are made about them.

I say occasionally on the internet that I tend to view almost everything in political discussion as if I were looking at it as an historian, and I mean it quite seriously. And one of the imperatives for historical enquiry is that we don't prejudge people or events, we allow people to present their justifications for what they did and said and we view those justifications in the contexts of their experience and reality rather than our own. We can't do that if to do that is described as apologism.

11/05/2009 04:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

one of the imperatives for historical enquiry is that we don't prejudge people or events, we allow people to present their justifications for what they did and said and we view those justifications in the contexts of their experience and reality rather than our own

I couldn't disagree with this if I wanted to. But does it mean that the words "apologist" and "apologetics" are verboten? Aren't they sometimes the correct terms for what certain people do? I don't think most people here would have any trouble labelling Aaro as an apologist for the Iraq invasion, or Martin Kettle as an apologist for Blairism, or what have you.

11/05/2009 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

But Aaro very definitely supported the Iraq War. I am quite sure he would say so himself. He is not being painted as some sort of Iraq War supporter even though he himself denies it. That's a very large difference, isn't it?

I am of course sure that there are times when people who are always defending someone, or something, against criticism are in fact supporters of that person or (say) movement, but it's an accusation we should make only with great care if we're interested in fair and civilised discussion.

There's a lot of reasons for this but one in particular might be that, at any given time, there are movements and individuals who are deeply unpopular - sometimes rightly, sometimes not - to the point where anything can be said about them and it is very difficult to say anything in response. As a result, discussion in that area will be almost entirely one-sided with all sort of exaggerations and falsehoods being put about - say, for instance, "Trotskyism in Spain", where the community we are discussing is "the British Left during the period 1936-8".

In these circumstances, any honest person is bound to spend a lot of their time in the business of defending people and causes that perhaps one might rather not, and even challenging claims made on behalf of people who have been killed in large numbers. Of course one is bound in such circumstances to be called "apologist" and indeed, where large-scale massacre is concerned, both tempers and suspicions are bound to be raised (regarding which one recalls Orwell's comment on Borkenau, that he had written a book on Spain without losing his temper) and understandably so, but it's a necessary and important job, to say "hang on, that's not really true", and we need to defend people's right and ability to do so without being politically defamed.

I should add that I am, perhaps, unhappy about the term "apologist" per se. Aaro was not an apologist for the Iraq War, he was a supporter of it. Kettle's not an apologist for Tony Blair, he's an admirer. There is something called apologetics, but to me it tends to involve a style of analysis in which somebody is always found to be in the right - like certain celebs' and sportspersons' autobiographies - rather than the act of defending the unpopular against exaggeration.

11/05/2009 05:51:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

...all the familiar wartime idiocies, spy-hunting, orthodoxy-sniffing (Sniff, sniff. Are you a good anti-Fascist?)...

11/05/2009 05:55:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Chomsky was badly wrong on some important aspects of the Balkans Conflicts. His worst writing by some distance.

But the Vulliamy letter is really extraordinary. He hugely distorts what Chomsky said and did. Plus he also employs the classic Decent Debating technique of reducing an individual down to a single caricature of what they once said and did and ignoring everything else. It's like the notorious HP post on the death of Harold Pinter:

"Prominent Milosovic Campaigner Dies"

As bad as Chomsky was on the Balkans its pretty undeniable that he has spent the great bulk of his career opposing human rights abuses. For that reason Amnesty are surely entitled to host him.

I think Vulliamy was so close to the story that he has lost his rationality. I feel John Pilger has gone the same way due his proximity to much of the US's worst foreign policy.

What is it about Chomsky that so enflames Decents (not saing EV is one at all)? No Decent CV (Berman, Cohen, Anthony, Hitchens, Kamm, Waltzer) is complete without a boilerplate denunciation of Chomsky. And the Kammster is completely obsessional about the old boy.

11/05/2009 07:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Frady said...

ejh - "I should add that I am, perhaps, unhappy about the term "apologist" per se,."

The term that it seemed to replace, back in the early eighties IIRC, is sympathiser.

I think it was replaced because a person who has sympathy with another's cause could possibly be seen in a generous light and worthy of engagement; whereas one who apologises for another's harmful actions would surely be a lick-spittle shill, who could be safely shunned, ignored or dismissed.

11/05/2009 08:56:00 PM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

I know where Vulliamy is coming from, and can even have some empathy with it - although his reporting during the war was a lot more careful and less bellicose than what he's saying fifteen years later, but maybe that's just a function of age.

There is an issue of getting close to the story. I wasn't, for instance, surprised at Michael Foot's position on Croat nationalism, given his long association with Dubrovnik. His perspective is an understandable one. But I wouldn't mind - and this is where I'm with Justin - I wouldn't mind being able to mention my friends who were ethnically cleansed from Dubrovnik before the war started without it being thereby assumed that I support various unspeakable things that I've never supported.

Chomsky on the Balkans is a good deal worse than Chomsky on Latin America or Palestine, of course. He isn't an expert on the region nor does he claim to be. Johnstone does some stick-bending that I wouldn't be comfortable with. They probably deserve some reasoned criticism, but throwing around the a-word and shouting about David Irving is just verbal bullying.

In any case, the Saucers don't have a problem with ethnic cleansing as long as it's carried out by people they approve of - certain parties in the Balkans maybe, but most definitely a certain country in the Middle East. If you're going to adopt a high moral tone - something I try to avoid - it helps if you don't make yourself look a hypocrite.

11/05/2009 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I think I'd actually like (from my background as a quondam footballer writer) to suggest some Barcelona Principles as regards This Sort Of Thing. These being:

1. it is not legitimate to refer to somebody as a Barcelona supporter because they want Real Madrid to lose a match.

2. it is not legitimate to refer to somebody as a Barcelona supporter because they want Real Madrid to lose every match.

3. it is not legitimate to refer to somebody as a Barcelona supporter because they want Real Madrid to lose a match against Barcelona.

If however, they have a Barcelona scarf, a Barcelona wallchart and a Barcelona flag hanging on their wall, it is indeed legitimate to consider them a Barcelona supporter.

I think that pretty much covers it.

11/05/2009 09:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

spiked! was formed by the staff of Living Marxism, a quite odious RCP publication which was deservedly sued into bankruptcy by Ed Vulliamy, over issues relating to Bosnia.

Really? You're with Kamm on this?

My understanding (and I'm open to correction) is that LM, however odious it might have been (I've never seen an issue), was sued into oblivion because they published something that could be interpreted as suggesting that ITN/Vulliamy deliberately misrepresented the situation at Trnopolje.

That is, they were sued on the same sort of grounds as Singh with the chiropractors and the Sun when they pointed out in slightly loose language that Gillian Mckeith's PhD was not from an accredited institution. The facts regarding Trnopolje, about which I don't claim any special knowledge, were — as far as I understand — deemed to be irrelevant. It did appear, however, that Trnopolje was not quite what it had been reported as being, even if that says nothing at all about general Serbian behaviour.

Perhaps you have better sources on Trnopolje than I do, but in any case you appear to be endorsing the type of libel ruling that I think Chomsky legitimately says restricts free speech.

(None of this means I like the RCP or Spiked, BTW. On that subject, I would like Kamm to address LM's former editor's employment as a Times columnist. How can he stand to operate alongside this disgraceful denialist?)

11/05/2009 09:39:00 PM  
Anonymous BenSix said...

From Cohen...

"As I and many others noted the most devious apologist for crimes against humanity was Noam Chomsky."

Firstly, did Cohen really "note" this? Sure, he seems to have been all for the war but I don't think he was too into "betrayals" at the time. Secondly, even if you disagree with Chomsky, how was he the "most devious apologist". AFAICS, he's most often accused of supporting Diane Johnstone; wouldn't that make her the most devious?

11/05/2009 09:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Incidentally, Vulliamy has made his own mistakes, so maybe should be more tolerant of others. He put a lot of effort into writing about dangerous US "atom spy" Wen Ho Lee, who turned out to be an innocent victim of FBI prejudice
see
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1999/may/16/theobserver1

and see

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/1999/aug/22/life1.lifemagazine2

11/05/2009 10:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I wouldn't mind being able to mention my friends who were ethnically cleansed from Dubrovnik before the war started without it being thereby assumed that I support various unspeakable things that I've never supported.

You should try it. Seriously. Most of what you write on the Balkans seems to be either in winding-up-Marko mode or in Serbo-Croat. I'd really like to see you talk a bit more about what you know; I think you probably know stuff a lot of people reading the blog don't.

ejh: In these circumstances, any honest person is bound to spend a lot of their time in the business of defending people and causes that perhaps one might rather not

I don't get this - it just doesn't resonate with me. I know that mainstream political culture tells a distorted and mendacious story, and that the official enemy of the day is particularly heavily loaded down with distortion and lies, but I don't feel any obligation to take the opposite side.

In the example we're talking about, I approached the conflict in the former Yugoslavia precisely as a historian - as someone who'd been taking an interest in the area for the past several years, recognised some of the names that were starting to appear in our news and had some ideas about the underlying issues. It was the picture I'd already built up which guided my views on the conflict, not the particular slant of official discourse at any given time. As I wrote in 1993,

"as we know, the West periodically sets up a former client as demon of the week. Last year's 'holocaust' allegations against Serb forces, coming after five years of untroubled co-operation with the Milosevic regime, fit this pattern all too well. The 'demonisation' argument is politically irrelevant. The task for the Left is not to befriend whichever demon happens to be in the frame, but to analyse the situation on our own terms."

(I was so much older then.)

11/05/2009 11:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that Chomskys worst writings are on the Balkans, its his weakest area. Having said that E.V's reaction is pretty over the top, I heard him on the radio making some totaly fulse and stupid comments about the Bosnian war not suprising from a man who was in ore of Izetbegovic an out right war criminal him self and Vulliamy didn't mind his war crimes which were as every bit bad as anything the Serbs are accused.

Also E.Vs collegue Penny Marshall later said she thought it was a PR mistake on the part of the Bosnian Serbs to take her & ITN arownd Trnopolje as they did not understand how the western media worked.

I dont understand why people like Vulliamy, Kamm and Monbiot go berzerk over this issue it was almost 20 years ago and they still cant let it go.

11/05/2009 11:38:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

That is, they were sued on the same sort of grounds as Singh with the chiropractors

I do actually think that Singh was pretty arrogant and careless in overstepping the mark with the chiropractors and that although chiropractic is bollocks, he had much less reason to whine than he thought he did. I'm quite a hawk on libel law.

11/05/2009 11:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do actually think that Singh was pretty arrogant and careless in overstepping the mark with the chiropractors and that although chiropractic is bollocks, he had much less reason to whine than he thought he did. I'm quite a hawk on libel law.

I thought you might say that. I guess I don't agree, although I don't have a strong view on the Singh case. My point was that in these cases somebody was sued for writing something that could be interpreted as reflecting badly on somebody's intentions, not for making factual statements that were shown to be false.

What concerns me is the idea that a political magazine that publishes something you don't like can be shut down provided a) you have a pile of money and b) something it printed can be successfully painted as being capable of being read in a way that implies malpractice on your part. This last category surely covers a great deal of political commentary.

In the particular case of LM magazine, it is regularly implied by the usual people that the verdict was a rejection of Deichmann's claims, whereas, as I say, that does not appear to be the case. Rather, it appears to have been a pronouncement that LM couldn't prove intent to deceive on the part of the plaintiffs for the straightforward reason that they weren't psychic.

So I don't quite see why it was such a glorious day, even if the RCP and its Spiked/II spawn are irritating pseudo-left contrarians, and even if Nick Cohen rants about libel law. Political speech, whether or not you agree with it, was stifled on the basis that some journalists might have been thought by some readers, depending on their mood, to have been acting in a less than completely up front way. The practical effect of such actions is surely to hand permission for forthright political speech only to the rich. How is that good?

11/06/2009 01:15:00 AM  
Anonymous bruschettaboy said...

The practical effect of such actions is surely to hand permission for forthright political speech only to the rich

to the rich, or to people who are careful about what they write. LM and the Furediites were not unlike Harry's Place in the casual way in which they threw around very serious accusations and it was an inevitability that they were going to fall foul of the libel laws one way or another.

11/06/2009 07:35:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

The task for the Left is not to befriend whichever demon happens to be in the frame, but to analyse the situation on our own terms.

For sure, but what's it got to do with "befriend"? If the untruths are being spoken and written overwhelmingly about one side in a conflict then how do you propose to analyse it without challenging them? And how is it possible to do so without asking the question as to why such a one-sided picture is being presented?

11/06/2009 07:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

what's it got to do with "befriend"?

Polemical overstatement. (Someone in the group I was in at the time was calling for socialists to support the JNA.)

If the untruths are being spoken and written overwhelmingly about one side in a conflict then how do you propose to analyse it without challenging them?

But how do you know that untruths are being spoken and written overwhelmingly about one side?

This was precisely my disagreement with the majority of the Left. There were a bunch of us who have been interested in Yugoslavia for several years; some of us had been there, knew people over there, had got material translated, etc. Most of that group believed that everyone in the region was being misrepresented in the media, no state or people was safe from getting screwed over by the West, and in general that "who's being demonised?" was a completely irrelevant question - we preferred to focus on "whose cause appears to have more justice in its side?" As far as I can tell, everyone was being lied about, including the victims of massacres. Defending the perpetrators seemed less of a priority than trying to get them stopped.

11/06/2009 08:26:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

But how do you know that untruths are being spoken and written overwhelmingly about one side?

You don't, at first. But over a period of time it's surely possible to build up a picture.

I don't think "who's being demonised?" can be a totally irrelevant question. One doesn't have to have one's view of events determined by the answer, but it's still got to be asked. "why are these people not telling the truth?" is always a good question, and particularly so when they're seeking to be involved in a situation.

11/06/2009 08:33:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

On Cohen and Chomsky - I don't think we really need to take Nick all that seriously on this, as entertainingly denunciatory as his response might be. Cohen's rewritten so much of his own intellectual history (MMR, and his approach to 'anti-Americanism', the most obvious examples), and we know that his 'life changed' after reading Berman, so he relies for almost all his knowledge of this stuff on Kamm and the HP Saucers. That led to the myriad factual howlers in What's Left but Cohen won't be changed now, not even after repeated slapdowns by Reader's Editors and not even after having to drop material from the second edition of his book.

As EJH said, 'most devious apologist' actually means 'someone who wasn't an apologist at all but we'll still pretend that he was cos he's a baddy'. The reason that so many Decents have a beef with him is because - like Michael Moore - he is popular with people the dislike, and hence represents something in their minds, whether he bears any relation to that in real life scarcely matters. I mean, the idea that Moore is always wrong is laughable - just look at Sicko or his earlier anti-big-business stuff, which Cohen must surely have been largely in agreement with, and Moore is not even close to anti-American either, no matter how annoying he might be. This is all part of the personality cults that Decents like to indulge in, where people are always right or always wrong - witness their bizarre treatment of Peter Tatchell for evidence of this.

to the rich, or to people who are careful about what they write

This is it, really. The people lining up to attack the libel laws are almost universally very, very sloppy writers, fond of denunciation and polemic as opposed to rational analysis. Their stated position allies them with Chomsky but their treatment of him betrays the truth about their intentions - they believe that the libel laws should not have to apply to people because they are good. Chomsky's defence of the right of holocaust deniers to free speech is one of David toube's list of Chomsky's 'crimes' and this is surely problematic. anyone who's spent any time on HP Sauce will attest to their commmitment ot free speech which is why the Vulliamy letter fits in so well - there's no evidence against Chomsky in it at all, it's just a load of smears, but as long as they're unfounded smears against the right people that makes the piece not only worthy of endorsement but also worthy of praise. It's one of the most boneheaded aspects of Decency that there are stock villains who are never right - witness Clothes for Chaps saying Chomsky is 'always wrong on politics', which is just plain bonkers but seems to be received wisdom in those circles.

This is why i'm fully with ejh on this:

it's a necessary and important job, to say "hang on, that's not really true", and we need to defend people's right and ability to do so without being politically defamed.

It's funny how so many people who claim to be history buffs - indeed, in Aaro's case, who front as historians - are unable to see that.

In general I wonder what these people actually did at university - because Decent Debating Technique is the kind of thing you're meant to drop midway through your first year.

11/06/2009 10:08:00 AM  
Anonymous bubby said...

I also tend to think that a lot of prominent writers, particularly on the left, have trouble admitting that things they've said previously were wrong.

Chomsky falls into this category as does Finkelstein and Ken Livingstone - think of his non-apology to the Mail reporter.
Part of this relates to the hit to one's self-esteem that is inevitable when someone has to admit they are sometimes fallible. This is probably more difficult the more fame and larger following you command.

I also think though that because people like Chomsky, Finkelstein and Livingstone have spent their entire careers having bucketloads of shit poured over them in print (often unfairly – e.g. ‘loony left’ lies) they have developed thick skins and very defensive attitudes.

This leads to an attitude that 'no I am not going to admit I was wrong - I am not giving those fuckers an inch'. IMHO wrong but also understandable.

11/06/2009 11:24:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

That's definitely true, though it's as true of Decents (especially Cohen who seems to have his cake and eat it, at once claiming that Berman changed everything for him yet also claiming to have always been in the right) as anyone else.

In my slightly idealistic way I'd have hoped the rise of the internet might have meant that journos can admit they were wrong more - that things would become more of a conversation. But it doesn't seem to work like that.

11/06/2009 11:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

over a period of time it's surely possible to build up a picture.

Well, there were a bunch of us who had been interested in Yugoslavia for several years...

As it goes, I felt the people who were most comprehensively traduced in the British media were the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina and its loyalists, whose side "we" were purportedly on. It seemed to me that the allegations made against them, and duly reported for the sake of 'balance', were much wider of the truth than the allegations made against the RS (and to a lesser extent the Croat forces, although I'd agree with Splinty that that really was an under-reported story).

And if the BBC was recycling stories against the Bosniaks - self-inflicted atrocities and Izetbegovic's fundamentalist past and so forth - that was just as much down to realpolitik as the more obvious anti-Serb material which was prominent for a while. There might be a feeling that the West ought to Do Something, but it wasn't as if we were actually supporting one side against another - squabbling tribes, ancient Near Eastern enmities, can't trust any of these people...

"why are these people not telling the truth?" is always a good question, and particularly so when they're seeking to be involved in a situation.

When the wider Left started taking notice of the Balkans, the logic seemed to me to be the other way round:

1. The US and Britain want to get involved; they must be up to no good
[No problem with this part]

2. They say the problem is Greater Serbian irredentism and aggression against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.
2a. They must be lying about their intentions.
2b. And they're probably lying about the situation.

3a. Let's try and work out in what ways they're lying about their intentions.
3b. And let's identify some lies they're telling about Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia.

I felt there was way too much emphasis on 2b as distinct from 2a - and 3b was taken to lengths which were simply wrong.

The US role in Kosovo (and Dayton to a lesser extent) was like a policeman who gets a report of a neglected child, breaks in, beats up the mother, arrests her on drug charges and steals her stash, then goes away leaving the child unattended. Everything about the response was wrong, including the tactics, the justification and the outcome - but the problem was real, and wasn't all that different from how it was described.

11/06/2009 11:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11/06/2009 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

and wasn't all that different from how it was described.

Well, I don't know. I seem to remember that there was supposed to be an imminent genocide, which was the reason why Belgrade and Novi Sad needed to be bombed (as opposed to landing thousands of soldiers in Kosovo, which might have made more sense to me). It's very far from clear to me that was actually the case, though I'm quite prepared to be convinced, given Milosevic's form (and for that matter the origins of his political rise, the "you will never be beaten again" speech and so on). Of course I don't think everybody had to wait until mass graves had been filled all over Kosovo, but were the claims that were being made at the time actually accurate or proportionate? As I say, it's not clear to me that they were. Or, if they wren't, why not.

On the media coverage, my recollection is very different to yours, taking the media I followed at the time (left-of centre broadsheets, major British TV news outlets). My impression was of coverage in which ethnic cleansing by the Bosnian Serbs forces was a very prominent feature (and ethnic cleansing in Croatia almost absent). That the BBC allowed Bosnian Serb forces to make their claims about Islamists I don't doubt, but it didn't strike me as being a major theme in media coverage. My memory is of a very sizeable good guys/bad guys split with the Croats and Bosnians (and later the Kosovans) on the former side and the Serbs on the latter.

I don't know if any scholarly work has been done on this?

11/06/2009 12:13:00 PM  
Anonymous the dread hand of censorship said...

[this comment was posted by Anonymous at 11/06/2009 11:45:00 AM. It contained a statement which I've removed because I don't think that such allegations should be made anonymously - bb]

LM being right or not about Trnopolje was not even the issue about LM vs ITN it was about ITN missleading its viewers about the Bosnian war. As was said before [snip], so hes in no position to condem anyone. Why does every controversy have to include Chomsky in some way? when in cases like this he wasnt even greatly involved, there are plenty of people the Decents can go after on this issue if they wanted to.

11/06/2009 12:45:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

I don't know if any scholarly work has been done on this?

I'd be interested to know if anyone could recommend any particular reliable works on the subject. It's a very interesting discussion but it's rather showing up my woeful lack of knowledge of these events.

11/06/2009 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Yes, and of course without it we're bound to rely on recollections which are not only both old and partial, but which may even at the time have been formed by taking more notice of items that displeased us than items which didn't.

11/06/2009 01:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'I'd be interested to know if anyone could recommend any particular reliable works on the subject.'

There have been various accusations aimed at Diana Johnstone, but how many of you have read her book?

Louis Proyect reviews it here
http://www.swans.com/library/art9/lproy04.html

And Ed Herman here
http://www.swans.com/library/art9/herman10.html


Johnstone's position on Srebrenica can be read here
http://www.counterpunch.org/johnstone10122005.html

As for Ed "Serbs=Nazis" Vulliamy, read this,

http://whatreallyhappened.com/RANCHO/LIE/BOSNIA_PHOTO/bosnia.html

11/06/2009 01:35:00 PM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

I have to say that college acquaintances of Vulliamy describe him to me as something of a posturer, big on "anti-fascism". (I think he had a piece about his heroic anti-Nazi street fighting days in the Observer a while back). So perhaps he was emotionally inclined to identify new Nazis lurking in the undergrowth. I also remember a piece he wrote about Cambodia where he seemed ready to believe every atrocity story he heard without the slightest attempts at verification (including one story, about a one legged cannibal Khmer Rouge leader, that I seriously believe the locals may have made up in response to his credulity).

11/06/2009 01:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I seem to remember that there was supposed to be an imminent genocide, which was the reason why Belgrade and Novi Sad needed to be bombed (as opposed to landing thousands of soldiers in Kosovo, which might have made more sense to me).

It seemed to me at the time that boots on the ground would have been a lot more effective than high-altitude bombing for any purpose involving rapidly stopping people doing what they were doing, genocide included. But I don't expect logic or honesty from our government, let alone the US.

were the claims that were being made at the time actually accurate or proportionate?

No - they were blown out of all proportion, and they weren't an accurate statement of what was about to happen. But I do think they were correct on the basic point of who was mostly in danger from whom.

11/06/2009 02:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was me who made and accusation that Alija Izetbegovic was not above killing his own people for political gain. I appologise but I am not a blogger and neither do I comment on this blog (with this exception) so I have to make posts anonymously.

I make such an accusation from evindence presented by Gen. Satish Nambiar head of UNPROFOR who wrote in a UN report that the Sarajevo breadline massacre was a staged incident by Izetbegovic's government. British ammunitions experts for the UN also came to the same conclusion (see Sunday Times on 01/10/95). The UN stated that several incidents were Bosnian Muslims were victims were carried out by the Army of BH in reports in 1995. These incidents were carried out by Izetbegovic to provoke NATO intevention against the Serbs.

In examining the victims of he breadline massacre Dr. Borisa Starovic M.D. of the Sarajevo Medical Falcaulty stated that victims wounds were not caused by Serb mortar shells but by pre-planted demolition charges.

11/06/2009 05:04:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Looks like ideas of the death of Decent fruitcakery aren't over by any means - we've also now got the meme that rather than the recent US military shootings being the work of a bloke who happened to be Muslim going postal, they were in fact a co-ordinated Jihadist attack.

11/06/2009 05:14:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

You've got to love this

I did not post on the topic of Major Hasan’s massacre of his army buddies this morning because I do not automatically assume that any crime that is committed by a Muslim is religiously motivated.

Yes, you've got to admire his restraint - he waited until 4.35pm

11/06/2009 05:30:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

The implications of that 'because' are fairly worrying, too...

So it was an incident unworthy of any comment if it wasn't religiously-motivated?

11/06/2009 05:36:00 PM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

Actually I think it probably does require enormous effort for David T to refrain from writing crap for 7 or 8 hours.

11/06/2009 06:02:00 PM  
Anonymous darkhorse steack frites said...

That Vulliamy letter (written in green ink?) is rather poorly researched, given that it's written by a professional journo. It's full of accusations and attributions without any evidence to back them up.

He doesn't even manage to research the easily checked fact of whether he is still a member of Amnesty or not, which suggest that it was possibly written in haste after a few glasses of Shiraz...

11/06/2009 06:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex Higgins said...

"...that the Sarajevo breadline massacre was a staged incident by Izetbegovic's government."

This claim never really made much sense to me.

Serbian forces fired half a million mortar rounds into Sarajevo over a three-year period. If you stand on the hilltops around the city, you can see the vanatage points of the besieging forces - and they could see pretty much everything. RS forces killed thousands of civilians in the city.

The focus on one marketplace massacre requires some explanation.

Why would the Bosnian government need to create a staged incident on top of all the existing ones, many of them caught on camera? If the claim were true, how much would it change the nature of the siege?

11/06/2009 07:16:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

So it was an incident unworthy of any comment if it wasn't religiously-motivated?

Well unless there's a way to use it to have a pop at the far left, Amnesty or HRW.

11/06/2009 08:19:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Why would the Bosnian government need to create a staged incident on top of all the existing ones, many of them caught on camera? If the claim were true, how much would it change the nature of the siege?

Quite.

11/06/2009 10:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Serbian forces fired half a million mortar rounds into Sarajevo over a three-year period. '

Less than 10,000 - on all sides and from all causes - died during that siege.

i.e. at least 100 mortars to kill one person.

I'd guess your figures are bogus.

ps both David Owen and General Michael Rose vouched for the Bosnian Muslims being responsible for the market bombings.

11/06/2009 10:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For background on Bosnian Muslim false-flag operations

http://www.fantompowa.net/Flame/bosnia_sarajevo.htm

11/06/2009 10:48:00 PM  
Blogger frunobulax said...

A journalist would usually try to hide their degree of 'involvement' with a story since that, of course, might be seen as compromising their impartiality. Not so with Vulliamy and the Serbs - with him it's a badge of honour. In one article he compares his efforts to those of his father fighting the Nazis - and finds them to be of a very similar character. When a Bosniak refugee went amok in Utah and shot five people dead in a mall, Ed was quick with the reason why:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/jul/01/usa.features1

Exposure to the Serb contagion proved useful for "first Canadian soldier to ever successfully use post-traumatic stress disorder as a defence for his crimes":

http://mikeoncrime.com/article/4344/breaking-news-new-trial-ordered-for-soldier-found-not-guilty-of-sex-assault-based-on-ptsd

The Ali-G defence: "Is it cos eyes been near dem Serbs?"

11/07/2009 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger frunobulax said...

In challenging the way that the footage was manipulated by ITN, LM magazine was sued by journalists Penny Marshall and Ian Williams in the libel courts. All agreed in court that the prisoners were not penned in by the barbed wire as depicted in the film. This was, of course, how the image was perceived on transmission, and by the press the following day, e.g. "Belsen 92".

Still, the journalists won their libel action. Ian Williams, said lamely after the case that: "I was not knowingly not telling the truth."

So, "deservedly sued into bankruptcy"? Hmmm...

11/07/2009 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Regarding my comments about the need to be able to try and establish historical facts without being accused of apologism, I should perhaps add that it's also unhelpful to that cause if contributions are made anonymously.

11/07/2009 10:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the anonymous who said

"...that the Sarajevo breadline massacre was a staged incident by Izetbegovic's government."

The UN reported no shelling on the day of the breadline massacre, this has been documeted in UN reports.

The reason for this fulse flag terrorism was to provoke a NATO intervention and focus attenion on Sarajevo.

If you visit Bosnia as I have you find that the seige of Mostar by the Croats was far worse than Sarajevo and much of the city is still in ruins.

11/07/2009 01:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

the seige of Mostar by the Croats was far worse than Sarajevo

The siege of Vukovar by the Serbs wasn't exactly a picnic, either. What's the point of this? Is the idea that we should subtract the badness of the siege of Mostar from the siege of Sarajevo, thus making the siege of Sarajevo either only slightly bad or perhaps even a net benefit? Or are you just indulging in that popular pastime, Will-You-Condemn?

11/07/2009 05:22:00 PM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

What I always find objectionable about the Condemnathon is the way it uses one thing to either justify or distract from something else - well, that and the aggressively self-righteous tone it's conducted in. Personally, I can't ever forgive Branka Magas for her performance over Knin, but you won't catch me saying that on that basis what happened in Vukovar was perfectly acceptable. I repeat, if you're going to take the high moral tone you have to be careful not to look like a hypocrite.

To bring this back to the libel issue, I see Ambassador Prosor is floating the idea of Israel suing British media that don't hove closely enough to the Zio line. Where are Nick Cohen and David Toube on that, I wonder?

11/07/2009 06:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Mordaunt said...

Why would the Bosnian government need to create a staged incident on top of all the existing ones, many of them caught on camera? If the claim were true, how much would it change the nature of the siege?

Put me down as another 'quite' with regards to that one.

I was pretty much a signed up member of the 'something must be done' school of thought with the Bosnian war and nothing I have read since has changed my mind on the subject but I will say, FWIW:

1/ The arguments against military intervention were hardly negligible. I recall saying some pretty intemperate things at the time about Major et. al. which I think is understandable given what was happening but with the benefit of hindsight the policy of both the government and the opposition (led for some of the war by the future Decent Paladin St. Anthony of Sedgefield) was formulated with the intention of not making a bad situation worse. I think that they were profoundly wrong but that hardly warrants Cohen's account of events. On Planet Cohen is it ever possible to disagree with our Nick for honourable reasons?.

2/ An awful lot of lies get told when there is a war going on and it is immensely difficult to decide what is true and what is not. (Which is why a lot of us were more upset with the shelling of Gaza than with the allegation that Hamas were using hospitals et. al. as military bases. AFAICS Hamas were capable of doing that sort of thing and the Israelis were capable of lying about it, which doesn't really get us anywhere.) Chomskys' views on the break up of the former Yugoslavia were, IMO, wrong but that doesn't mean that he was wilfully spreading misinformation to get Slobo and co. off the hook. This being the case I don't see it as a fundamental betrayal of their mission for Amnesty to invite him to give a lecture.

3/ The Decents have hated Amnesty's collective guts ever since they were incautious enough to compare the policy of extraordinary rendition to the Gulag. So it's hardly surprising that Amnesty inviting uncle Noam to give a lecture had led to them to an attack of apoplexy.

11/07/2009 07:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not comparing crimes by various people Im just stating a fact that few people know about.

Sarajevo was also not a really a seige as Serbs, Croats and Muslims held possitions in the valley that Sarajevo is situated and fired into each others areas.

Thoughs who favoured military intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo almost never say a word about interviening in Turkish Kurdistan at the same period to stop the ongoing genocide against the Kurds, and here I am comparing crimes!

11/08/2009 12:03:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Can we ask Anonymous to please provide a name or not bother?

11/08/2009 06:55:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Chomsky's views on the break up of the former Yugoslavia were, IMO, wrong but that doesn't mean that he was wilfully spreading misinformation to get Slobo and co. off the hook. This being the case I don't see it as a fundamental betrayal of their mission for Amnesty to invite him to give a lecture.

This is the point, isn't it?

11/08/2009 06:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My name is John does that allow me to have an opinion?

ejh I almost agree with your last post, but I dont think Chomsky's views were wrong even though I dont think much of his writings on the Balkans. For Cohen & co hating Chomsky is a staple of life, as disagreeing Cohen & co is illegal.

If he'd said nothing on the subject they'd find somthing else to take issue with, Bosnia is just uncontroversial.

11/08/2009 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Freshly Squeezed Cynic said...

Are there any good books people can recommend on Kosovo and the events leading up to the NATO intervention? I've got Misha Glenny's book on the Balkans, but never really cracked it open.

To explain my lapse: seeing as I was 11 at the time of the NATO intervention, I was too busy wanting to become a palaeontologist (because dinosaurs are awesome) to pay that much attention at the time, and the arguments that seem to arise about the intervention every time it goes on put me off wanting to enquire further, since coming to some kind of firm conclusion might open me up to some of the same tiresome accusation/counter-accusation pish that interferes with a clear understanding of the situation.

11/08/2009 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger frunobulax said...

FSC:

I'd recommend "Serbia: The History Behind the Name" by Stevan K. Pavlowitch before you read anything specifically about Kosovo.

I'd also suggest you consider "First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia" by David N. Gibbs. This book is still sitting in my Amazon 'basket', so I can't offer an opinion.

"Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis" edited by Hammond and Herman with a foreword by Pinter is pretty much what you'd expect from this lot. However, it's still worth flicking through if only to gasp occasionally at how events were portrayed.

11/08/2009 03:37:00 PM  
Anonymous I.Savvandis said...

To kill a Nation the attack on Yugoslavia by Michael Parenti is a good start but its about a decade old.

First Do No Harm is excellent.

Media lies and the Conquest of Kosovo by Michel Collon, ive been intending to read this for ages

11/08/2009 04:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex Higgins said...

It's actually quite difficult to find books about the Balkan Wars of the 1990s that are not a) naive about Western interests and conduct or b) partisans of the Bosnian cause or c) polemics against Western perfidy that do not attempt to provide a good overall picture of what happened.

In the end, I just had to read pretty much everything I could and put the pieces together. That and visit the places affected.

One fairly good source of what was going on are Amnesty reports from the time, and what was then Helsinki Watch.

Michael Parenti's book does both clearly whitewash the Milosevic and Karazdic regimes and give a misleading impression of their intentions and conduct, up to and including giving the strong impression that the Srebrenica massacre didn't actually happen.

Misha Glenny is probably the best popular writer on the subject - 'The Fall of Yugoslavia' for instance. Laura Silber's and Allan Little's book 'The Death of Yugoslavia' is OK. They stop at 1996 though.

Basically I'd read these, then try competing polemics from Parenti or Brendan Simms on the other side if you're curious.

Chomsky's 'New Military Humanism' is good for deconstructing the self-serving Western glory-through-benevolent-war rhetoric of pundits attempting to fellate themselves and the powerful in support of the bombing of Belgrade. It's a short and easy critique of Western foreign policy at the time, but it doesn't try to tell you much about the former Yugoslavia.

11/08/2009 05:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Freshly Squeezed Cynic said...

Cheers guys; I'll have a crack at Glenny's Balkan book first since I have it, and for context, but i'll look out for the rest.

11/08/2009 05:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Speaking as a partisan of the Bosnian cause (cheers, Alex), I found Glenny an odd and unengaging writer. He said (to my mind) more or less the right things, in terms of who bore responsibility for what, but said them in an odd, back-handed way: so, OK, the Bosnian Serb/JNA forces were carving out a ethnically pure state by brute force, but hey, Serbs will be Serbs, what are you going to do? And yeah, the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina was an innocent victim, pretty much, but those Muslims - they're a bit pathetic, aren't they? I thought it was partly power-worship (he really had the hots for Mladic), partly Orientalism twice over: the noble Balkan savages vs the decadent Middle-Eastern hookah-smokers.

But people with a different angle on the conflict find him intolerably Serbophobic, so what do I know. I guess he's 'objective' in the sense that the BBC's 'objective' - he gets Attacked By Both Sides, so he Must Be Doing Something Right!

11/08/2009 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger frunobulax said...

"odd and unengaging writer"

Indeed, but largely because:

(a) he simply didn't have sufficient depth; and,
(b) like Vulliamy, he became too entrained in events.

I don't believe he had the 'hots for Mladic' any more than he would have had for any other major player in conflict. Rather, he just got a little too overawed from close contact with them.

I was quite underwhelmed by his McMafia book too.

BTW, Phil: Have you read Pavlowitch's book?

11/08/2009 10:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

No, but I've read The Improbable Survivor - I wasn't impressed.

I'll expand on that, but I'll need to back up a bit. I was one of those who felt that the key problem in the ex-Yugoslavia was that the pan-Serbism which had been institutionalised in the Kingdom of the South Slavs had never quite gone away, despite 40 years of a Federation which had been engineered to contain and deter it. So Tudjman was a stupid Ruritanian reactionary and a danger to anyone unfortunate enough to live in his country, but he wasn't any more than that. Milosevic was a much more dangerous proposition, because the ideology that he encouraged (more or less cynically) wasn't simply reactionary or anti-Yugoslav - it was an alternative vision of Yugoslavia, one in which no Serb anywhere would have to take orders from a non-Serb.

My problem with Glenny was that he seemed to take pan-Serbism as a kind of force of nature - you and me might call it ethnic cleansing, but when those Serbs get going, hey, what can you do... Pavlowitch's book (as I remember) was better than that, in that it treated Serbs like people, but it still treated pan-Serb nationalism as a kind of contextual factor that all other actors needed to take account of, rather than as a noxious influence which needed to be countered.

11/08/2009 10:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex Higgins said...

Not that there's anything wrong with being a partisan of the Bosnian cause, Phil! Bosnia needed partisans and their cause was just.

But that doesn't mean 'Unfinest Hour' or 'Slaughterhouse' is the best first reference.

Incidentally, for those who like their politics and journalism in graphic novel form - Joe Sacco's 'Safe Area: Gorazde' explains Bosnia pretty well with pictures and speech bubbles.

11/09/2009 12:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Martin Wisse said...

As somebody who is more or less int he same position as freshly squeezed cynic (did pay attention to the news, but no more than that), I thought Glenny's Balkans book was good in establishing the context of the wars and especially in countering the standard media narrative of an endless, age old and incomprehensible conflict where the EU and America are just helpless, well intended bystanders.

His earlier book, the Fall of Yugoslavia is much more immediate, much more his own response as the war happened. It's a bit more critical of the Bosniak/Bosnian Muslims side of things than might be warranted and lacking in moral condemnation so to speak, so I can see why Phil gets annoyed by it. Glenny's not an apologist for pan-Serbian nationalism but he does present it as a fact of life rather than a mutateable factor in what happened.

Neither book is sufficient to get the real picture of what happened, but they make a good start. As do joe Sacco's comics on Bosnia, which are partisan but not dishonest if you see what I mean. Safe Area Gorazde looks at the war in Bosnia through Bosnian eyes but Sacco never loses sight of the fact that what he's being told might not be the whole truth.

What I'm looking for myself are more indepth, less pop history oreintated books on the war, but
I suspect the definitive history of these wars won't be written until fifty or a hundred years from now.

11/09/2009 07:34:00 AM  
Blogger phildav76 said...

ejh: "given Milosevic's form (and for that matter the origins of his political rise, the "you will never be beaten again" speech and so on)."

a) he didn't say the word "again"
b) it wasn't a speech

11/09/2009 05:22:00 PM  
Blogger frunobulax said...

I was one of those who felt that the key problem in the ex-Yugoslavia was that the pan-Serbism which had been institutionalised in the Kingdom of the South Slavs had never quite gone away, despite 40 years of a Federation which had been engineered to contain and deter it.

This is one of those many ex post facto interpretations that I was never much convinced by. One of the 'smoking gun' tracts that revealed the real menace of Serbian nationalism was that by Vaso Cubrilovic written in 1937. Here's some of it gleefully reproduced on a Croatian website:

http://www.hic.hr/books/greatserbia/cubrilovic.htm

Pavlowitch: "He [Cubrilovic] resigned from the [Serbian Cultural] Club in ... 1939. His paper gathered dust in the archives until it was exhumed by an ethnic Albanian postgraduate for his doctoral dissertation, published in Kosovo in 1983. Immediately seized upon by Kosovo and Croatian independentists, it was serialised in the Belgrade daily Borba in January 1988."

Pavlowitch's book (as I remember) was better than that, in that it treated Serbs like people, but it still treated pan-Serb nationalism as a kind of contextual factor that all other actors needed to take account of, rather than as a noxious influence which needed to be countered.

It's good to be treated as a person. Mind you, only with the Serbs is that taken to be almost an act of generosity on the author's part. Assuming, of course, that the author is not a raving Serbian nationalist to begin with.

If by 'contextual' you mean that there was more going on than unalloyed Serbian blood lust - well, wouldn't if be very odd if it was otherwise for one of the quieter corners of the world, let alone Serbia? 'Context' can't explain away any particular massacre or war crime. However Tito's configuration of the FRY virtually ensured that a 'velvet divorce' was an impossibility. Not a view shared by our chum in Greater Surbiton who pretty much eulogises Tito.

PS. As a kid I spent many dull hours in Nasa Rec meetings hearing all manner of Serbian/Yugoslav politics being discussed by ex-pat Serbs (I guess it was my parents' idea of child minding). I can't recall a single articulation of the Greater Serbian Project, or similar. That's not to say it didn't exist - somewhere - but perhaps I wasn't hanging around the right (or wrong!) people.

11/10/2009 10:05:00 PM  

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