Wednesday, 09 March 2011 16:15

It is always an appropriate occasion to attempt to transcend the routine banalities of the Srebrenica debate which turns mostly on numbers. When we say “debate” we are aware, of course, that this is a highly unpopular notion, and unfortunately precisely for those who should be conducting that debate with us. They deny as a matter of principle that there is anything to debate. So many thousand prisoners were executed and a distinguished international judicial forum of unquestioned authority has found it to constitute genocide. (These are the “routine banalities” that define the parameters of Srebrenica as an issue at least, if not as a debate.) According to our hypothetical debating partners there is nothing to debate because everything is settled and clear.

If we agreed with this point of view we would also have to concede that all the data that we have accumulated over the years which put the institutionalised Srebrenica narrative in grave doubt constitute a hallucination.


But that is far from being the case. Leaving the “routine banalities” aside, we should like to focus on the things that concentrating excessively on the banalities causes us to overlook, but which we believe are even more important.

[1] The first of these very important things that tend to be missed when we get obsessed with the banalities is the narrowness of the gap which separates the two opposing views on what happened in Srebrenica, the reference now being exclusively to July of 1995. The maximalist position (we need not list its adherents because their identity is self-evident) insists on two things: [1] the magic figure of 8,000 execution victims which must be upheld regardless of the lack of physical evidence and [2] on the legal description of the crime as genocide, to which we are required to give our assent regardless of the flimsiness of the judicial rationale upon which it is based. The realist position (again without naming names and this for the same reason as above) is that Srebrenica must be treated like any other criminal investigation and that precisely the same standards should be applied. There were as many victims as the forensic evidence demonstrates that there were, not the number that political convenience mandates. The determination of the crime’s legal status must be governed by a regular, non-political, assessment of the known circumstances, not by the propaganda imperative to produce a crime of sufficiently shocking magnitude suitable for attribution to one of the parties in the Bosnian war.

Clearly, at issue is not a substantive disagreement on whether a crime occurred but one side’s rejection of the other side’s unreasonable insistence on a fictitious figure and on an arbitrary classification of that crime.

In a rational world the realist position ought to be self-evident and non-controversial. The fact that for the moment it is not does not inspire excessive confidence in the possibility of fruitful dialogue.

[2] But such a dialogue (if some object to the word “debate” we can always put it aside and substitute another which sounds less threatening) is indispensable if we wish to promote the constructive rather than the destructive potential of Srebrenica. The constructive potential consists in the truthful reading of the Srebrenica narrative: As a place of shared suffering of two kindred communities. But for this meaning of Srebrenica to be recognized, the field of vision when we talk about it must be expanded. The reduction of Srebrenica to three days in July of 1995 is a moral distortion and a historical falsehood; to be honest and authentic we must expand our canvass to include also the three preceding years. In July of 1995 it was one community which suffered; during the preceding three years the roles were reversed and it was the other. What happened later was a settling of accounts for what preceded it. It was not morally noble or excusable, but in the Balkans, which is where all the actors and most of their supporters and advocates come from, that certainly is understandable psychologically.

The drawback, if there is one, of the concept of shared suffering is that it obligates the other side also to be honest and truthful. It implies a willingness to confront the mistakes and crimes of their own community, and to stop simulating an innocent victim with hands that are dripping with blood. Only such honest self-scrutiny can lead to peace and unity; the alternative, the pretense of innocence accompanied by the disingenuous cultivation of imaginary grievances, can result only in the exacerbation of hatred and deepening of mutual distrust. In the Balkans that process has only one meaning and a single inevitable implication: It is the synonym for a reprise of the carnage.

[3] Srebrenica has yet another meaning: It is deliberately inflicted slander. It serves to tar an entire nation with a heinous crime that it did not commit and this not because the accusers on the other side sincerely believe in the validity of the charge but because they think opportunistically that if they manage to make the charge stick, they may also be able to secure for themselves various strategic advantages. But whatever advantage they succeed in extracting can only be with the assistance of international mechanisms whose interests presently but only temporarily happen to coincide with their own. Little do they realize also, in their provincial ignorance, that their foreign partners will not hesitate to discard them as soon as they have outlived their usefulness. When that inevitably happens, the only people remaining to give them support will be their Serbian neighbors.

The time to mend fences, to chase corrupt and incompetent Sarajevo charlatans away, and to formulate a viable Plan B is now.

[4] There is at least one more dangerous meaning, or to recall the always pertinent insights of Diana Johnstone, political use, of Srebrenica. It is to serve the corrupt Sarajevo elite as a mass mobilization device and as a negative definer of national identity for their followers. Having few positive elements by which to ethnically define themselves in a way that would draw a radical distinction from their neighbors, they now construct their new identity on the single assertion that they have nothing to do with the neighbors who tried to exterminate them. We have already discussed elsewhere the three phonies that were generated by the controversy of Srebrenica: phony jurisprudence, phony historical record, and phony international morality[1].  To this infamous list we may now add phony national identity, which is perhaps the most pathetic and for its presumed “beneficiaries” the most degrading political use of Srebrenica of them all.


There is a very simple way to solve the conundrum of Srebrenica to the advantage of everyone concerned. It is to investigate what really happened not in order to support preconceived conclusions but to discover and document the truth.

Who will join us?