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 (cache) and part 2 (cache)) 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.