Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Srebrenica Genocide Denial

Srebrenica Genocide

The Srebrenica genocide involved the mass murder of 8000 people and forced deportation of around 25 000-30 000 people carried out by the Army of Republika Srpska around the town of Srebrenica (today part of Bosnia and Herzegovina) during the Bosnian War (1992-1995). According to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, this was the “the worst [crime] on European soil since the Second World War.” Several military personnel, police officers and politicians have been indicted and convicted of genocide, abetting genocide or other war crimes. Two of the masterminds behind this genocide, Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, are currently being prosecuted by The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Although it has been exactly 20 years on the day since the start of the genocide in Srebrenica, dark forces are gathering on the horizon. Just with the Holocaust and the Nanking Massacre, there are people who deny that the genocide at Srebrenica ever took place. These are primarily Serbian nationalists such as Milorad Dodik (president of Republika Srpska) and Tomislav Nikolić (President of Serbia) and leftist pseudo-intellectuals (such as writer Diana Johnstone and the Living Marxism magazine). Unbelievably, Srebrenica genocide denial has even been espoused by Swedish university professors, such as Kjell Magnusson (associated professor in sociology) and Lennart Palm (professor of history). Even more disturbingly and in an ironic twist of tragedy, Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer appears to reject the genocide status for the Srebrenica massacre according to an interview published (29 June, 2015) in the Serbian newspaper Politika.

This goes to show that historical truth is not immune distortion by nationalism or other political ideologies and that being a high-level politician or public intellectual does not mean that you are immune to pseudoscientific and pseudohistorical falsehoods. This article serves as a short primer on the Bosnian War, the Srebrenica genocide, the subsequent legal consequences for the people committing these atrocities, the debacle between Living Marxism and British Independent Television News (ITN) and the modern face of Srebrenica genocide denial.

What was the Bosnian War?

The Bosnian War (1992-1995) ignited after after the fall of communist Yugoslavia between three different ethnic groups: Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. It was a complicated conflict with different constellations of allegiances in different places and a lot of infighting, but key events were the Siege of Sarajevo (longest siege in history) and the genocide at Srebrenica.

What was the Srebrenica massacre?

During the conflict, the UN established so called “Safe Haven” for Bosnian Muslim civilians in places such as Sarajevo and Srebrenica. In the summer of 1995, Srebrenica and the Dutch UN forces from the UN were overrun by the Army of Republika Srpska under the leadership of General Ratko Mladic. They mass executed some 8000 Muslim Bosniak boys and men and deportation of 25 000-30 000 others.

What legal consequences faced the perpetrators?

Many perpetrators, (military personnel, police officers and politicians), have been convicted by national courts in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Radislav Krstic (leader of the Drina Corps) was convicted to 46 years in prison at the ICTY. Other high-ranking perpetrators, such as Radovan Karadžić (former President of the Republika Srpska) and Ratko Mladić (Chief of Staff of the Army of Republika Srpska i) are currently being prosecuted for genocide and other war crimes.

What was the debacle between Living Marxism and the British Independent Television News?

In 1992, U. K. newspapers broke the story of Serbian run concentration camps. Radovan Karadžić denied that such horrible events had occurred at the camps and offered journalists to come visit. Both ITV and Channel 4 decided to do it. They sent journalists Penny Marshall and Ian Williams and their video reports provided the iconic image of prisoner Fikret Alić behind barbed wire. The magazine Living Marxism published an article by Thomas Deichmann entitled “The Picture That Fooled the World”, alleging that “Marshall and Williams had constructed misleading reports centred on the image of Alic by virtue of camera angles and editing” (see part 1 below). The ITN sued for libel and won.

This history is told in additional detail in the two papers “Atrocity, memory, photography: imaging the concentration camps of Bosnia – the case of ITN versus Living Marxism” (part 1 and 2) by David Campbell published in Journal of Human Rights in 2002.

What is the modern face of Srebrenica genocide denial?

Several leading Serbian nationalists deny the genocide at Srebrenica. Milorad Dodik, the President of Republika Srpska, recently called the Srebrenica genocide “the biggest sham of the 20th century”. The Serbian President, Tomislav Nikolic, stated point-blank that there was no genocide in Srebrenica.

On the July 8th 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin vetoed a proposed resolution that would have condemned the Srebrenica massacre as genocide. According to an article in the New York Times, ambassador Churkin called the resolution “confrontational” and “politically motivated”, whereas the British envoy Wilson responded by saying that “It is denial, and not this draft resolution, that will cause division” and that “Denial is the final insult to the victims.” The U. S. ambassador Power called it “a veto of a well-established fact.”

Why is genocide denial problematic? It is based on pseudoscientific and pseudohistorical falsehoods, it denies the historical reality for the victims of mass murder, and if you can convince yourself that a genocide did not happen when it did, you can convince yourself of anything. That is very dangerous.

You can read more about the Srebrenica massacre on the Guardian website and The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

9 responses to “Srebrenica Genocide Denial

  1. Black Metal Valkyrie July 12, 2015 at 02:23

    Pseudohistorical, certainly but in what why is it pseudoscientific?

    • Criticaldragon1177 July 12, 2015 at 06:46

      Black Metal Valkyrie,

      I think that Emil likes to take on denial of reality in general. Plus pseudohistroy and pseudoscience work in a very similar manner. Both ignore evidence and reject peer review. Plus pseudohistory and pseudoscience often overlap. Since we’re talking about genocide denial here, let’s take the Holocaust as an example. Say someone denied that Zyklon B was used by the Nazis. We can point to forensic evidence that was found that proves that the gas was used. So it can be argued that Holocaust deniers must deny science as well as history to convince people that the Holocaust never happened.

      http://www.nizkor.org/faqs/auschwitz/auschwitz-faq-06.html

      I’m certain that we could also come up with some instances where Srebrenica Genocide have denied forensic evidence as well.

    • Emil Karlsson July 12, 2015 at 13:51

      That is an excellent question!

      First, Criticaldragon mentioned two reasons:

      (1) pseudohistory and pseudoscience use similar debating tactics and are very similar general, so we might just call all of it “denialism”.

      (2) history is not just about textual sources, but also about physical evidence. This means that proponents of pseudohistory often also use pseudoscience.

      For the Srebrenica case, researchers have spent a very long time identifying victims with DNA technology (which was made harder because the perpetrators dug up the bodies and mixed the remains and then dispersed them to conceal the crimes, make it harder to ID them and get a good idea about the accurate number of people murdered). So the moment someone like Diane Johnstone says that there were only 200 or so victims instead of over 8000, she is promoting pseudoscience.

      There is also a third (philosophical) reason:

      (3) I am a “lumper” rather than a “splitter” when it comes to science. I consider different disciplines of natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology etc.) to be arbitrary divisions done for the cognitive benefit of humans because it is hard to deal with everything at once and because a reductionist understanding starts with understanding the parts and then how they interact. I take a similar approach to natural and social sciences. There are, of course, many important systematic differences and those should not be ignored, but I feel the similarities are large enough to consider all of it “science” in the broad sense as long as it is empirical, testable, falsifiable etc. From that perspective, pseudohistory is just special kind of pseudoscience. So anytime something fulfills the criteria of pseudohistory, it automatically fulfills the criteria of pseudoscience.

    • Black Metal Valkyrie July 13, 2015 at 05:38

      What do you think of Blanchard and Bailey’s work on transgenderism and those who call themselves “trans-critical” or “gender-critical”?

    • Emil Karlsson July 13, 2015 at 09:47

      Not sure how those questions relate to genocide denial 😛

      I have not really been following that discussion. Although it might seem like I know about a lot of stuff, that isn’t always true. xD

    • Black Metal Valkyrie July 13, 2015 at 18:19

      Oh it doesn’t. I just wanted to know your thoughts on it.

    • Emil Karlsson July 13, 2015 at 19:35

      You are not alone. I get similar requests a few times a month, so it is nice to see that people value my input. 🙂

  2. shelldigger July 13, 2015 at 12:23

    Yes, pseudo is as pseudo does, whether it be historical or scientific. The overlap is hard to ignore.

    It’s funny how some people can claim that things we have ample evidence for never happened, yet also claim that every little thing in their magic books, for which we have zero evidence for, did.

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