Michael Dobbs

“Michael Dobbs should apologize”

“Michael Dobbs should apologize”

My last posting, "In Defense of the Serbs," has prompted a protest letter to Foreign Policy from Hamdija Custovic, Vice President of the Congress of North American Bosniaks. The letter is too long to reproduce in full here, but I will summarize its contents in the spirit of free and open discussion. You can read the letter in full at his  organization’s website.

Custovic accuses me of "appeasing the Serbs" who have been critical of my coverage of the Ratko Mladic trial by seeking to "spread the blame" for the Serbian "aggression and genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina." He compares Milosevic’s project for a "Greater Serbian state" to Hitler’s attempts to "consolidate all Germans into a single state." According to Custovic, the Serbian "war of aggression finally prompted a NATO intervention in the fall of 1995 in Bosnia and again four years later in Kosovo." He fears that we are now witnessing a revival of the "same nationalist rhetoric" that caused the Bosnia war in the first place, as evidenced by the election of Tomislav Nikolic to the presidency of Serbia.

He then addresses my point about a "contradiction in western policy" that permitted Croatians and Bosnians to secede from Yugoslavia but drew the line at Serb minorities seceding from Croatia and Bosnia:

Mr Dobbs is somehow missing the point that Bosnia and Croatia both have historically recognized territories that go back a thousand years, and were ratified by the socialist establishment that formed the socialist Yugoslavia after World War II. It was only after the breakup of Yugoslavia and the aggressive policies of the Milosevic-led Serbia that led Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia to secede.  In the case of the republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, this secession was done through completely peaceful and democratic means of a referendum…On the other hand, the self-proclaimed, fabricated, and historically inexistent "Republika Srpska" and "Serb Krajina republics" in Bosnia and Croatia were carved out through an organized campaign of military aggression, ethnic cleansing, and genocide, which completely wiped out all non-Serb populations in their territories.

Custovic quotes from a 1995 CIA report that estimated that "more than 90 per cent of all ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina was committed by Serbs." In conclusion, he calls on Foreign Policy to remove the "irresponsible and outrageous writing of Mr Dobbs" from its website and "apologize to the victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide everywhere."

My comment: I think I have shown through my writing that I am on the side of "victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide" so I see no need to apologize. As I have repeatedly made clear, I think that Milosevic’s policies resulted in disaster for all the peoples of the former Yugoslavia, not least the Serbs. On the other hand, I think the Milosevic-Hitler comparison is misleading, and it is wrong to blame one side exclusively for all the evil inflicted by the war. When I talked about the historical legitimacy of states, I was not comparing Bosnia and Croatia with Republika Srpska. My comparison was with Yugoslavia, which was a legitimate, internationally-recognized state, created in the aftermath of World War I.