Deconstruction of a Virtual Genocide

By Srebrenica Project
Saturday, 26 Feb 2011

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The controversy of Srebrenica enters a new phase. There is now a definitive new study in English incorporating the most up to date evidence and presenting a thorough critique of the evidence -- or what passed for evidence -- that was available previously.

It is the monograph prepared by a group of authors and published by Srebrenica Historical Project entitled “Deconstruction of a virtual genocide: An intelligent person’s guide to Srebrenica.” The guiding concept behind the monograph was to address all the key points in this controversy within the confines of a single readable and well-documented volume.

As we have always done since the beginning of our work, we have strived here also to achieve maximum balance and fairness with a minimum of emotion. The banishment of emotion from the discussion of such a highly charged topic as Srebrenica may appear to be a difficult and nearly impossible task. But it is not so daunting after all when it is approached in the right way. The now familiar descent into emotionalism whenever Srebrenica is debated occurs only when the subject is approached by those who have a set agenda. They usually take extreme positions and since their claims are not supported by facts they must resort to emotion, and on occasion even vituperation and ad hominem diatribes, to make up for the shortcomings of their “arguments.” We are not in that position because we have no agenda, so we also have no need for emotional shortcuts. We are only interested in the truth, whatever in the end it may turn out to be, and that is a goal that we will continue to pursue dispassionately.

Since we are not finished with our task, we cannot draw any final conclusions. But we can suggest some preliminary findings which the evidence that we have seen so far supports strongly. What happened in the region of Srebrenica between 1992 and 1995 was a human tragedy of enormous proportions. Two neighbouring communities virtually annihilated each other. There are no winners in the Srebrenica story.

Chronologically, the first community in Srebrenica to be devastated was the Serbs. They were first expelled from the town itself in 1992, then their villages surrounding it were systematically attacked and torched while with medieval barbarity a part of the inhabitants were “put to the sword” and the rest were driven out. When predictably the boomerang returned in 1993 and with even greater ferocity in July of 1995, regrettably it was the turn of the local Bosnian Muslims to suffer. And, indeed, they paid a heavy price for the insane policies of their venal and incompetent leadership.

The controversy which has surrounded the subject of Srebrenica ever since defies rational understanding. There are established core facts about Srebrenica (focusing on July 1995) that all reasonable people can readily agree on: [1] After the fall of Srebrenica to Serbian forces on 11 July, 1995, a substantial number of Muslim prisoners of war were executed, and [2] That massacre was a war crime the perpetrators of which must be identified and punished. The incomprehensible, characteristically Balkan, overkill aspect of the debate is that the Muslim political leadership in Sarajevo insists on imposing its own, politically-driven and dogmatic interpretation of those facts. Notwithstanding the glaring lack of physical evidence after 15 years of assiduous searching, it requires everyone to believe, or at least to hypocritically pretend in public that they believe, that the number of executed prisoners was 8,000. They have also proclaimed it a dogma that the execution of the prisoners was an act of genocide, although – based on the evidence discovered so far – there is nothing to support such a radical interpretation of the massacre. It is for that politically twisted version of Srebrenica that our monograph is meant to serve as a Requiem.

The lunacy of this position should be apparent to everyone whose mind functions on non-Balkan principles. If you want to discredit someone, imputing the killing of a couple of hundred unarmed prisoners is bad enough; you are not going make him look substantially worse by exaggerating the figure tenfold. Likewise, it would seem ultimately futile (not to say ridiculous) to claim “genocide” on the basis of an 8,000 figure, whether it has a factual foundation or not, in a century of real genocides where figures range from 1,5 million (Armenian) to six million (Jewish). Certainly, no court would ever manage to convict the Sarajevo Muslim political leadership on the charge of subtlety.

We have earnestly sought to avoid as many minefields as possible (no pun intended, but readers are kindly requested to turn to Chapter VII of our monograph to understand the reasons for this notice). It was our goal also to sort out as many dilemmas as possible given the current state of Srebrenica evidence. As they always say on such occasions, we now commend the fruit of our labours to our gentle readers and, naturally, we are fully prepared to abide by their judgment.

Finally, we consider it appropriate to offer to our readers the “Introduction” written by former BBC journalist and political analyst, Jonathan Rooper, who has retained a lively interest in the affairs of the former Yugoslavia and in particular the controversy of Srebrenica ever since the Balkan conflicts of the nineties. The monograph “Deconstruction of a virtual genocide: An intelligent person’s guide to Srebrenica” can be downloaded in its entirety from the link which is at the end of Mr. Rooper’s piece.

INTRODUCTION --One question that anybody who takes up the critical study of the regnant narrative of the "Srebrenica massacre" always faces is ‘why?’ As a field of research and inquiry, hasn't the basic outline of the events that befell the Srebrenica ‘safe-area’ population after the enclave was captured by the Bosnian Serb army on 11 July 1995 been well-established since the second-half of that year, when Western reporters such as the Christian Science Monitor's David Rohde allegedly stumbled upon a ‘decomposing human leg protruding from the freshly turned dirt’ in a landscape that, Rohde claimed, he recognized from ‘spy-satellite photos’ that had been faxed to him just days before by ‘American officials’?

Why then would it occur to someone to challenge what appears to be well-known about the ‘Srebrenica massacre’? And why should this task be of interest and importance to anyone outside survivors and a relatively small coterie of fanatics?

The critical study of the ‘Srebrenica massacre’ that Stephen Karganović collects in this volume is important because, taken as a whole, they show that within a very brief period of time – no longer than a handful of weeks - what had originated in self-serving wartime propaganda and whispers about an atrocity that symbolized Serb evil, became institutionalized as The Truth, effectively removing the actual event from inquiry, and placing it under seal in a sacrosanct realm of myth where it has flourished ever since.

Initially generated by a nexus between the NATO-bloc powers that had intervened on behalf of the Bosnian Muslim and Croat sides in the civil wars that destroyed the unitary Yugoslavia, and Western news media and human rights organizations committed to proving the veracity of this wartime propaganda, the myth of the ‘Srebrenica massacre’ has been re-institutionalized with every Srebrenica-related judgment at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (e.g., Krstic in August 2001) as well as the International Court of Justice (February 2007).

As this book reminds us, it serves also as a "mass mobilisation vehicle" every year during the 11 July internment ceremony at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide, where yet new layers of propaganda are laid upon the propaganda of the earlier years. It is of course also one of the two most frequently cited symbolic bloodbaths in the Western canon (the other being Rwanda 1994) whenever someone invokes the ‘Never again’ imperative of the Nazi holocaust to urge the great powers towards ‘humanitarian intervention’, the ‘responsibility to protect’, and most recently ‘mass atrocity response operations’.

Because this ‘Srebrenica massacre’, with its alleged 8,000 victims, conformed so well to framework of what could be expected from the monster Serbs held responsible for the wars, very few inquiries into the real, if far smaller, massacres and executions carried out against the males of the fleeing ‘safe area’ population have ever been undertaken. This is why the critical study of the ‘Srebrenica massacre’ undertaken here is vital and stands as a far more honest tribute to these real victims than does the vast literature which it challenges and helps to overturn.

There is a further pertinent question to answer: why has it taken so long for the core facts about Srebrenica, so clearly expressed in this book, to be collected in this way?The answer comes in two parts. First, the process of international investigation and prosecution was very slow and much of the ‘evidence’ supporting the judgements handed down by the ICTY was not revealed in any form until years after the events.

Second, few people have tried to make an independent assessment of what happened. For example, of all the journalists who have ever written or broadcast about Srebrenica, only a handful appear to have made any real efforts to investigate the official account. It has, as a result, been solely through the efforts of a loose collaboration of individuals around the world that we now have a thorough analysis of what happened in July 1995.

Predictably, many attacks have been made on these people. They have been repeatedly accused of genocide denial. Serious attempts have been made, in Europe and elsewhere, to criminalise their investigative efforts.

The collaborations which have finally led to the publication of this book have developed almost entirely by chance. In the UK a number of us began to collect reports and broadcasts, building a chronology of events and a background database. We did this separately at first, but by 1995, thanks to the former “Observer” journalist Nora Beloff, a group of us were in touch with one another, exchanging information and ideas. We had become quite an efficient monitoring machine by the time the Bosnian Serb Army took control of Srebrenica in July 1995. We archived hundreds of reports. As we went along, we noted many pieces of information which conflicted with the consensus narrative in the media in the UK, the USA and Europe.

We were conscious of Srebrenica’s short-term political importance in drawing attention away from the US-backed invasion of Krajina and the final abandonment of the international ‘neutrality’, which led to the ending of the civil wars and the terms imposed at Dayton in November. But we did not yet foresee the full extent to which the ‘Srebrenica massacre’ would become the most complete symbol of Serbian evil in the Balkan conflicts. Our work was therefore much more widely focused until at least 1997, and was further diverted by the Kosovo war in 1999.

Our network was gradually expanding. Through the internet, people researching aspects of the Balkan conflicts eventually became aware of each other and often made contacts that would lead to new partnerships. One such development was the Srebrenica Research Group, [1] an international collective brought together by Professor Edward Herman in the summer of 2003. This was not only a platform for the free exchange of knowledge, information and ideas, but a determined attempt to investigate exactly what had happened on the basis of academic rigour.

The work of the group was exciting and, I think, highly productive. The outcome was in my opinion about the best analysis that could be made on the basis of available information. Our constraint was that we had no resources beyond the limited amounts of our own time we could devote to Srebrenica research. And we certainly had no means of carrying out our own fundamental investigations.

In September 2008 I was contacted by Stephen Karganović, who had recently set up the Srebrenica Historical Project. Based in Holland, this organisation had secured funding to mount conferences and to commission its own investigations and expert analysis of key questions about Srebrenica.

The extent and quality of the work done by the SHP since that time has been remarkable. In a little over two years they have taken on a range of challenges that would daunt the most skilled data crunchers. I believe this work has rewritten the Srebrenica narrative decisively.

The purpose of this Introduction is not to summarise the many revelations published on the pages that follow. It is, rather, to commend this book in the strongest terms. This collection demonstrates that the stories about ‘the worst war crime in Europe since the 2nd World War’ are fictions, unrelated to what took place.

It is vital that the unadorned truth about the Balkan conflicts should be freed from the lies and misrepresentations that have characterised the first draft of this history. Only then can there be some kind of genuine process of truth and reconciliation in the aftermath of the Balkan wars. This work provides a platform from which such a process can begin.

Jonathan Rooper

Jonathan Rooper was a BBC TV News & Current Affairs journalist from 1983 until 1999. After several years as a desk producer on daily programmes, he became a field producer making short investigative films on social and political affairs issues. He was head of the BBC News Features department for four years. Since leaving the BBC he has worked in corporate communications and now earns his living as a freelance, specialising in corporate video production and editing, media and presentation training and corporate journalism.