Tag Archives: Genocide denial

Denial and the rhetorics of Serbian victimization.

One of the most effective ways for Serbian nationalist propaganda to get into the minds of normal people has been, over the last three decades, the invocation of Jasenovac and of Serbian victimhood. The rhetorics of victimization was presented in a way that actually represents an abuse of memory of the Serbian victims of past oppression. Victimization was used in order to install a climate of fear, to present the Serbs as a nation under continuous threat and thus to whitewash as self-defence the wars of aggression conducted by the Serbs in the 1990s. For Serbian nationalists, thus, Serbian victims became no more than an asset, a useful tool of propaganda.

Even nowadays, this mentality dominated by the idea of victimization is what prevents many decent Serbs with no sympathy for nationalism to fully aknowledge the degree of harm caused by the Greater Serbia nationalists.

On my post on Holocaust Memorial Day, a reader, signing as Svetlana, wrote a comment about a bitter exchange of arguments between Owen and I and a Greek reader, Nikos previously published in the same thread. Her comment to a certain extent is illustrative of how the rethorics of victimization distorts the ability or the will to assess Serbia’s responsibilities for the violent break-up of Yugoslavia.

here is an excerpt: (…) somehow I feel that there will never be any understanding for serbian victims. The comments for this article should talk about all the victims of all nationalities and to be equally treated by everyone and not just always to point to Serbs as the main war criminals. Mladic should be arrested, no doubt about it, but now I somehow suspect that it is not Serbia that does not want to arrest Mladic, in my opinion some bigger factors are involved, because for some people it would be better to leave Serbia in dark, isolated, marginalized… so they could do their business as usual there.(…)

I am not at all questioning Svetlana’s good faith, I am just quoting her, in order to introduce the comment written as a reply to her by Owen, which focuses on victimization and on the patterns of argumentation used by those who believe that should not face the extremely negative legacy of Greater Serb nationalism.

I have been reading Owen’s comments in other blogs for years and I am very happy to receive his support and have him regularly following my blog and writing comments here. I am publishing Owen’s comment in full. In case some parts seem to lack context, please consult the post where the comment was originaly published :

Svetlana, I must take my share of criticism for the way in which the discussion moved on from discussing Sarah’s initial post honouring Aristides da Souza Mendes by way of commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day.

The problem was that I saw in the way Nikos expanded his original comments yet another effort to take discussion of criminal atrocities into the area of subtle propaganda for the EU to allow Serbia to move on and in.

As Sarah has said, our experience of exchanges with Serbians – hers considerably greater than mine – has been sufficient for us to have a reasonable idea now here an apparently open-ended discussion is heading. I observed to Nikos that the regrettable outcome of so many discussions with so many Serbians is that I have become much more focussed – closed-minded, with entrenched views, whatever – because I have wasted so much time beating around the bush as a result of taking the initial remarks at face value. Sad, but some of us have to use our time and energy carefully.

That’s not to write off all Serbians, far from it. I know that Sarah like myself has Serbian friends and acquaintances whom we not only like but intensely admire. But when engaging in discussion with Serbs and Serbians on the internet – on blogs, at places like Wikipedia, etc. – I so often find myself aware of a pattern emerging that reveals a single overriding concern on the part of my interlocutor, the aim to persuade me that Serbia is being victimised and discriminated against and I and the world should treat Serbia with more consideration and tolerance.

Of course I know about Jasenovac and the atrocities there. It is true that what happened at Jasenovac is not widely enough known and acknowledged outside Former Yugoslavia as a horror that stands alongside Srebrenica and the other atrocities in the wars of 1991-1995. But there are reasons why even those who are aware of Jasenovac are distracted from showing adequate respect for the memory of the victims.

Most of us communicating on the internet were born after the Second World War. We tend to speak of what we know. I know that Srebrenica was the single worst atrocity on the continent where I live since WWII. Events in Former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s were profoundly shocking to myself and others who had grown up with the idea that even if the commitment to “Never Again” was unlikely to eradicate war and conflict the one thing we should not expect to see in our lifetimes was the spectre of ethnic extermination. Srebrenica was only the culmination of horrible events that unfolded before us in places like Eastern Slavonia, Prijedor, Central Bosnia and the Drina Valley (not ignoring atrocities perpetrated on a smaller scale but no less importantly in places like Gospic and during the exodus from the Krajina).

For a long time when trying to discuss these atrocities and the reality of what had happened the inevitable response from Serbians, with the exception of an honourable and honoured minority, was that no massacre had taken place, that the scale of atrocities was vastly exaggerated, that Muslim and Croat atrocities were on a much greater scale than those blamed on Serbs, etc.

Over time as more facts have been confirmed the arguments deployed have gradually changed. There is still denial, but absolute denial is much less in evidence and attempts to downgrade the scale of what happened are much less blatant. In the case of Srebrenica that’s perhaps thanks to the evidence of the Scorpions video, though Natasa Kandic remains a target of hatred for forcing it onto the public’s consciousness. And also perhaps an appreciation of the overwhelming public acceptance outside the Balkans of the facts relating to the wars of the Former Yugoslavia wars as established in legal proceedings which however imperfect have succeeded in bringing to light an extraordinary volume of evidence that is now seen as beyond question.

So the argument has shifted but its central focus remains the same, the unfair treatment of Serbs and Serbia. Many Serbians now acknowledge that Srebrenica was a terrible atrocity (albeit little is said about events elsewhere – Omarska doesn’t seem to register much and Ovcara seems to remain difficult to accept). But that’s about as far as it goes. After a brief acknowledgment of Srebrenica the discussion moves rapidly on to Serbia’s problems and suffering. There’s no real outrage, no condemnation of the fact that the principal perpetrators have succeeded in avoiding justice for so long. I never hear concern expressed for the families of the victims. Above all I hear about the suffering of Serbians denied the right to be part of a prosperous, contented Europe (and occasionally complaints about the situation of Serb refugees in Serbia – a legitimate concern but usually expressed in a context of assigning uncritical blame). Serbians appear to be outraged by the notion of conditionality. The country that has protected and paid pensions to the indicted war criminals considers it has moved on.

The agenda is always to make the outside world aware of its mistreatment of Serbs and Serbia. And that is the problem. So much obvious intelligence and wide-ranging knowledge is relentlessly applied to the task of persuading the persion at the receiving end that Serbia must be allowed to cast off the burden of any outstanding responsibility for the recent past.

Jasenovac has become part of the scheme of justification, as an instrumental reference. And that’s why people who are aware of what happened there may appear to pay less attention to Jasenovac than the scale of what happened there demands.

The motives behind the work of the hopefully now defunct Jasenovac Research Institute were made clear by the activities of its officers elsewhere. That was perhaps one of the most transparently cynical attempts to exploit the reality of the suffering of the victims of Jasenovac and their survivors by using an association with other Holocaust victims to cloak apologist propagandising in a false respectability.

I often sense the presence of a similar, if less intense, cynicism in the references to Jasenovac that I’m offered as a sort of balance to comments about Srebrenica and other atrocities. To be frank though possibly unfair, it is difficult to detect the pain experienced by other victims in many of these references. Where there is a sense of genuine anger it often seems to spring from a resentment at being treated unfairly. But at least that anger is genuine. What I find most disturbing is when the references are almost incidental and appear intended simply to confirm a communality of victimhood rather than remind me of the terrible suffering of the individuals killed and otherwise abused by the Nazis and their Ustashe and Chetnik associates.

Svetlana, I don’t quarrel with your reference to Serbians as hospitable people. My problem is that Serbian hospitability seems to be conditional on the conduct of your guests. We’ll get along fine as long as I don’t disagree with you. I’m not going to be mealy-mouthed and pretend that I’m not criticising because that’s precisely what I have been doing up to this point.

As far as you personally are concerned I know almost nothing about you and your personal motives so the above is not directed at you. Nevertheless I think I’m still entitled to challenge your lack of insight in accusing Sarah of unfairness towards people who don’t share her attitudes. I very much hope that the profound respect for truth and justice she observes is, as you put it, what Europe is, and what democracy is.

You’re right, Europe should be proud of all its diversity and let people be different, their difference informed by that fundamental respect for one another.


Filed under Bosnia, Culture of denial, Duty of memory, Genocide, Nationalism, Serbia

A reply to genocide deniers.

There are basically two kinds of genocide deniers:

Those for whom the existence of a genocide becomes a taboo, which allows them to live in peace with their good conscience, by pretending to believe in something that they know it is a falsification of truth. They know, they just don’t admit it, until, after a certain time, they interiorize the fake version as if it was not fake. I have found a lot of people like that in Serbia and among serbs who live abroad, and it is sometimes heartbreaking to see people that try to live a decent life and to behave according to high moral standards, people whom anybody could call good people, supporting through their silence, the most immoral of all human actions and its perpetrators. If you happen to tackle the subject, they will then try to relativise it, but with a clear discomfort, or maybe they will just say that they don’t want to talk about it. Usually there is a tacit agreement not to talk about the taboo issue, and I never take the initiative of unveiling the taboo with these people, whom I meet for reasons that are not related to my work. I will write my impressions about these people, as well as about my moral dilemmas towards them in another occasion.

For now I want to focus on the other category of genocide deniers, those who actively contribute to fabricate  and maintain the fake version that is then ‘sold’ to those on the above mentioned category, and to outsiders who are not properly informed, and we cannot expect normal people with no links to the region to be fully aware of what happened.

It has happened to me quite often that people confuse me with those not very well informed people, because I look dumb, and I often play dumb in order to see up to each point people try to manipulate me, so I know their strategies.

At a personal level, these people can be very persuasive. Their aggressiveness can be most clearly perceived when they put comments on blogs or news sites. One of the comments in my post about the case of Hasan Nuhanović against the dutch state highlights precisely this point, by recommending the readers to check the comments on this post published by Julijana Mojsilovic on Balkan Insight.

Here is one of those comments:

(…) To finish. You parrot the Western like that men and BOYS were killed at Srebrenica. As far as I know when someone reaches the age of 18 one is considered a man. Women and children were given safe passage. Even the BBC showed that!

The agressiveness of these comments was properly spotted by other readers, such as the person who then posted this comment:

You are indeed a unique and amazing human being for being able to see the truth in the world for what it is. Many of the posts before me show that clearly many people live in denial of basic facts. They do not know of objective fact-seeking, but rather look for information sources that fit their extremist and ignorant views.

There are abhorrent accusations of Muslim terror and all that in these comments and I am dumbfounded that people can make such baseless facts. There is no use in arguing with you people. The world will embrace Serbia only once more people think like you Julijana

Still, for the sake of those not very well informed people who sometimes drop by through their google searches, I am posting the photos of the graves of:

EDIN OSMANOVIĆ, born in 1979.

1995-1979= 16.

OSMAN ALIĆ, born in 1981.

1995-1981= 14.

SADIK HUSEINOVIĆ, born in 1982.

1995-1982= 13.

I took these photos myself in Potocari, in 11 July 2008. I don’t feel very comfortable in posting them because after all these are the remains of someone’s son, nephew, cousin, friend, but I feel even more discomfort if I don’t post them.

If the dates and names are not clear enough, please click on the photos.

The Srebrenica Genocide Blog has a parcial list of the children killed in Srebrenica.

And here is a good text on genocide denial, by Vladimir Petrović.

Now, I’ll just post this link there as a comment…


Filed under Bosnia, Children, Culture of denial, Duty of memory, Genocide, Serbia, Srebrenica, Uncategorized