Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Warzone business opportunities or Why Kill 'Em If you can't Use 'Em


/ balkan mortuary /


Tales of organ trafficking by the KLA during the Kosovo campaign surfaced recently:

BELGRADE, Serbia: Serbia's war crimes prosecutor is looking into reports that dozens of Serbs captured by rebels during the war in Kosovo were killed so their organs could be trafficked, the prosecutor's office said Friday.

The Serbian prosecutor's office said it received "informal statements" from investigators at the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, that dozens of Serbs imprisoned by Kosovo Albanian rebels were taken to neighboring Albania in 1999 and killed so their organs could be harvested and sold to international traffickers.

Bruno Vekaric, the Serbian prosecutor's spokesman, said later on B92 radio that Serbian war crimes investigators have also received their own information about alleged organ trafficking, but not enough for a court case. Vekaric said Serb investigators also received reports suggesting there might be mass graves in Albania containing the bodies of the Serb victims.

Serbian media reported that the issue was brought into the open in a book written by former U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte that is to be published in Italy on April 3.

According to Serbia's Beta news agency, which carried parts of the book in Serbian, Del Ponte said her investigators had been informed that some 300 Serbs were killed for organ trafficking.

The Beta report quoted Del Ponte as saying in the book that her investigators were told the imprisoned Serbs were first taken to prison camps in northern Albania where the younger ones were picked out, and their organs were later sold abroad.


Here's the more detailed story from Belgrade's B92 and here is the story in Jurist.

To this Doug Muir responded over at A Fistful of Euros claiming that the story is unlikely on a number of grounds. While it is a matter of speculation and no one can positively determine that the crimes described did indeed happen, all of Doug's points seem moot to me:

- DM claims that 300 Serbs is over a half of all missing Serbs; this is debatable. The Serb side is claiming that over 3000 Kosovar Serbs are missing, but even if we are talking about a total of 400 missing, it doesn't stretch imagination much to picture an organized operation in which prisoners were directed to such camps - anyway the IHT article quoted above speaks of "dozens" of Serb prisoners. Other sources state that the number seems to be "at least 100" or "two trucks full of people". Thus, even if 300 is an inflated number (which it might well be) this does not disallow the possibility of the gist of the story being true.

- DM suggests that the great difficulty of disposing 300 bodies and of keeping silent about it afterwards makes the story unlikely. He compares the situation with the fact that the Serbian state didn't manage to keep secret neither the executions or the mass graves of abducted Albanian Kosovars. He thus seems to mistake state efficiency in Serbia and Albania with Mob efficiency (in either of these countries actually). Since the organ snatchers, if indeed they existed, would have to be connected with the mob, this isn't much of a problem. I'm sure that neither disposing 300 people a year or, much more, convincing people to remain silent about it, is something that is way beyond the capabilities of any self-respecting Mafia (see John Stanfa on corpse-disposal technique).

- Doug also suggests that the Albanian government would have to be complicit in such an operation. Not at all. Trafficking in people, including cases of organ snatching, already occur and have been occurring for way over a decade in much of the developing world and Eastern Europe, certainly including both Albania and Kosovo, and certainly without government complicity in most cases. In fact a few years ago a Greek-Albanian organ smuggling ring (mentioned here) was, according to investigations, active in Greek and Albanian hospitals and smuggled human organs through diplomatic pouch, having certain Albanian diplomats on the payroll as well. This was certainly neither done with the assistance or help of the Albanian government (DM brushes off a bit too lightly the connection between Berisha the Socialist Party and the KLA,but that's another story). I remind everybody that the border at the time we're talking about was quite porous with refugees coming in and out of Albania.

- The idea that this is a really difficult process, given the assistance of organizations that are superb smugglers of goods and people, have access to hospitals and doctors and very fast vehicles of all types, seems likewise an exaggeration. Again any decent-sized mafia could easily pull this over. Otherwise there would be no illegal organ trafficking trade at all. Something which is not the case.

Thus, while I agree that this is very far from proven, I'm much less confident that the whole story can be dismissed as "probably bullshit". If the story is totally bogus what in the world could make Carla Del Ponte of all people, include it in her book? And neither of Doug's two alternative scenarios regarding the "yellow house" is plausible IMHO. Firstly because no one in Albania would deny involvement in setting up a hospital for the KLA (which anyway could easily be disguised as a hospital for fleeing Kosovars) and secondly because the "torture-camp" idea, as Doug himself notes, doesn't explain why anybody would do this in Albania rather than on the field in Kosovo.

Two things to add:

1. The story itself is important in a sense that has little to do with whether it is actually true: This is an innovation, an idea that merges seamlessly with the current zeitgeist of market-driven-everything. It is a brilliant way to make a direct profit from what are usually considered to be martial waste products. The idea is so good that I'm willing to bet that if Dick Cheney has heard about it, having already dispensed with the most of the provisions of the Geneva conventions, he has his legal team turning the idea into some sort of non-biddable contract for KBR to sign, giving it full authorization for the expedient trafficking salvaging of usable organs from terrorists and other Arabs. This has the potential to be something that is praised in the OpEd columns of the WSJ, blessed by various US congregations and sold as some form of yet another triumph in the annals of ghoulishness graverobbing colonialism humanitarian-war. Similarly, smaller markets could emerge, as a vast array of mafias big and small will be rushing to war zones with medical trucks, doctors and nurses, in order to utilize the soon to be remains of those about to die. Thus, both legal and black market supply of organs will increase. The only problem will be keeping supplies of bootleg organs at low enough levels as to not effect prices by much. Everybody (that matters, anyway) wins! $$$$$$!!!! € € € € €!!!!!

2. Regardless of the plausibility and validity of the scenario, one can be certain that, had Carla Del Ponte heard of any similar reports of organ trafficking in 1999, but from the other side, i.e. were the accused body snatchers Serbs, with exactly the same evidence to back this up:

a. It would be out in the open well before CDP decided to write a book.
b. A Hollywood film about it would already have been released with a star cast and presented as fact
c. The alleged center of detention and organ snatching would be by now a byword for modern evil, casually referred to as such by pundits on both sides of the Atlantic.
d. The people claiming that the story was "possibly bullshit" would be dismissed as pro-Milosevic patsies or something like that.
e. I'd be writing a similar post complaining that were the perpetrators of the alleged crimes, anything other than Serbs and were the victims Serbs, people would dismiss the story as not very plausible and in fact it would barely make the news.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hm, it got a half-page in today's Daily Telegraph, page 16.

e-link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/04/11/wserb111.xml

(hi talos, kkk)

Anonymous said...

"it doesn't stretch imagination much to picture an organized operation in which prisoners were directed to such camps"

Actually, yes it does.

The Serbs like to present the KLA as incredibly competent. In fact they were a bunch of mopes. The Serbs hate to acknowledge this, because it's really embarrassing to lose to a bunch of half-trained dropouts, but there it is.

Organization was never the KLA's trong point. Quite the opposite... it was a loose organization run by jealous and independent-minded regional commanders. Most of the fighters were student-age, almost none had military training, and the majority of them hadn't finished high school. Even the top commanders were mostly guys under 30 with pretty limited military experience. (One reason Haradinaj hates Thaci is because Thaci used to pull rank on him: Thaci was one of the very few KLA leaders with actual combat experience. He fought in the war in Croatia while Haradinaj was a guest worker in Switzerland.)

That they could pull something like this off during a war does, in fact, stretch the imagination. It's not like they didn't have other things to keep them busy.

More generally, this doesn't fit the KLA's MO at all. I realize that's rather vague, which is why I didn't put it in the post. But keep in mind what the KLA was after. At a tactical level, they wanted to (1) kill Serbs who were particularly hateful and oppressive (usually policemen), and (2) enforce obedience among the Albanian population, if necessary by brutality and killing, followed by labeling the victims as "collaborators". (It's worth noting that, of all the various nasty guerrilla and paramilitary groups spawned by the wars in the FY, the KLA probably had the worst record of violence towards its own ethnic group.)

At a strategic level, they wanted to provoke the Serbs into massive human rights violations that would trigger Western intervention. Once the war started, that goal shifted to staying alive as an organization and doing enough fighting to claim a piece of the victory. Once it was over, it shifted again to driving out the Serbs and maneuvering for political dominance in the new regime.

This MO -- a secret death camp, with organ trafficking on the side -- doesn't fit any of those things. (This is much more the sort of thing that went on in Bosnia.) It's not consistent with what the KLA was after either tactically or strategically. Even in the postwar period, the violence against Serbs tended to be very public. After all, the point was ethnic cleansing. Hanging dead bodies in the town square makes sense; carrying live ones off in a truck does not.

Anyway. The sources are unclear when all this was supposed to be taking place. It certainly couldn't have happened during the war, since all of Kosovo's roads were heavily patrolled by JNA and Serb police. After the ceasefire, there was a pretty narrow window -- a few days -- between the Serbs' departure and NATO forces moving in. That's the only time this could have happened. But the KLA would have to have planned ahead -- they didn't know the ceasefire was coming until just a day or two before it happened. (Nobody did.) So, yes, it does presume a fairly high level of foresight and organization... qualities the KLA conspicuously lacked.

"mistake state efficiency in Serbia and Albania with Mob efficiency" -- the problem here is that the KLA wasn't Mob. They got funding from various Albanian criminal gangs, but they weren't drug dealers or human traffickers themselves. (Talking 1999 here. Some of them branched out later.) So, you have to believe that the KLA handed the prisoners over to their Mob allies. Possible, but now you have two separate organizations that have to keep quiet.

Also, key point -- the KLA did not lack for funding. The Albanian diaspora was pouring money into the cause, and they also had protection and "taxes". While they had a lot of problems, lack of cash was not a major one. Then of course, once the shooting stopped they could just expropriate Serb property. So, this was not something they needed to do for cash.

I note in passing that the vast majority of organ trafficking comes from voluntary or semi-voluntary sources. Having donors who are tricked, defrauded, or leaned on is fairly common; donors who are actual kidnap victims seem to be much more rare. The thing is, it's just too easy to find poor people willing to sell a kidney. Kidnapping is illegal and dangerous! Why bother when there are thousands of Romanians, Ukrainians and Moldovans lining up to sell kidneys cheap?

As for why del Ponte put this in there, who the hell knows? I gave up trying to second-guess her years ago. She was an astonishingly bad chief prosecutor. I used to wonder, "wait, why is she calling that witness now?" or "why is she making this very weak argument?" I never could make sense of it, so after a while I quit trying.

-- You cite John Stanfa on corpse disposal. This would be the same John Stanfa who's currently serving five life sentences? Um.

"The alleged center of detention and organ snatching would be by now a byword for modern evil, casually referred to as such by pundits on both sides of the Atlantic."

Hm, really? Can you cite a non-existent Serb atrocity that's currently such a byword?


Doug M.

talos said...

Hi Doug, I was expecting you :-)

The alleged crime took place according to Del Ponte during the summer of 1999, after the ceasefire (thus beyond the time frame of the ICTY mandate), and as a major campaign of ethnic cleansing of the area from Serbs and others was underway (more about that below). The relevant excerpts from CDP's book were back-translated to english by the Telegraph a couple of weeks ago.

NATO forces were already there or getting there. You seem to imply that their presence hindered criminal activities and thus no such thing could happen in Kosovo under their watch - especially the first few months of their deployment. Is that based on their incredible efficiency in combating human trafficking, heroin smuggling and crime in general and especially during the first couple of years?

This wouldn't have been the only atrocity perpetrated by KLA/mafia members during the summer of 1999, note:

In the internationally-run trial in Pristina, five former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, the dominant Albanian guerrilla force in the conflict with the Serbs, were convicted of abducting, torturing and killing four members of a smaller rival Albanian group, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosovo, FARK, in June 1999 as the conflict drew to an end.

The “Dukagjini group”, as the convicted men were called, consisted of Ramush Ahmetaj, Idriz Balaj, Ahmet Elshani, Bekim Zekaj, and Daut Haradinaj – the latter the brother of Ramush Hardinaj, a leading KLA commander during the conflict who was appointed prime minister of Kosovo in December 2004. They received jail terms of between three and 15 years.

Prosecution witnesses at the trial included Ramiz Muriqi, his cousin Vesel, Sadik Musaj whose funeral Ramiz has just attended, FARK’s commander-in-chief Tahir Zemaj, and former KLA member Ilir Selimaj.

Of these key witnesses, all but Ramiz and Vesel Muriqi are now dead.

Ramiz alleges that the five jailed ex-KLA men are systematically exacting vengeance.

“All the witnesses in the Dukagjini case are slowly being killed off,” said Ramiz. “Now the only ones left are me and my cousin Vesel.”


I'm puzzled as to why you seem to imagine that this whole operation needed much of an organization beyond what the mafia would be capable of, or beyond any arrangements already in palce between the KLA and the mafia. The excerpts I pointed to above and Carla's co-author Chuck Sudetic, also point out that were not talking about hundreds, but rather of dozens of alleged victims.

I'm also not that sure about the KLA and the mob being as distinct as you present them to be. The Haradinajs seemed to be involved in both for example. Now let me make clear that it isn't unheard of nor necessarily condemnable for a liberation movement to cooperate or involve itself with various elements of the illegal economy including the local mob. What is scary is when certain mob leaders ate guerilla/government leaders also. I quote fron Der Spiegel:

A report by the UN police force in Kosovo has linked Haradinaj to the cocaine trade. And according to a 2005 analysis by Germany's foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Haradinaj and his associates play a key role in "a broad spectrum of criminal, political and military activities that significantly affect the security situation throughout Kosovo. The group, which counts about 100 members, is involved in drug and weapons smuggling, as well as illegal trading in dutiable items."

If the BND analysis is correct, Haradinaj has apparently made himself a major player in one of Kosovo's key industries. According to experts, the €700 million budget of this province, 90 percent of which is populated by ethnic Albanians, pales in comparison to the revenues earned in the drug trade in Kosovo.


To sum things up: we're talking about a few dozen, at most, victims (therefore neither the disposal problem or the logistics problem is as big of an issue). It was done *after* the end of the war at a time when surely the question of what to do with captured enemy combatants must have surfaced (I don't recall the KLA turning over Serb prisoners at all after the end of the conflict, and unless it had none, that means that they were disposed of, somehow) and during the time of a pogrom of ethnic cleansing and revenge killings. Note also that it is not unheard of for prisoners to be cut up and sold in the illegal organs market.

In fact, once you have some sort of prison camp with people you don't want to admit you're holding, you get rid of them. If in the process a few bucks are made... what's to stop you?

Thomas Gambill, a former security
chief with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, who worked in Kosovo, states that:

"You couldn't get up in front of meetings and say, 'We've lost control of [Kosovo], the mafia controls it,'" said Gambill. "But they do. They run the damn place."

Gambill cited OSCE data that showed 42 mafia leaders had moved into Kosovo in the wake of the NATO bombing in order to set up criminal organizations. They continued to thrive despite efforts to establish mature law enforcement operations in the province, he said.

"Drug smuggling, counterfeiting, weapons, human trafficking were all booming when I was there," said Gambill. He also alleged that high-level mafia leaders are in senior political positions.

"Good cops," who want to target the corruption are "under threat," said Gambill, adding that the Albanian mafia maintains ties with Russian, Serbian, Croatian and Italian mafia organizations to further their common agendas.


He also states that for at least six months after the ceasefire there was a rampage going on:

Following the NATO bombing of Kosovo, American troops under NATO command were stationed in neighboring Macedonia and Albania while then-President Bill Clinton decided on the size of the U.S. contingent to be deployed in
Kosovo. When U.S. troops entered the province in June 1999, the alleged retaliatory ethnic cleansing was already
underway.

Incidents of sexual violence, torture, arson, murder, kidnapping, and verbal threats were allegedly widespread as part of an organized and successful campaign conducted "right under the U.N.'s nose," said Gambill...

...Entire villages emptied in the wake of large-scale arson and looting. OSCE documents describe "massive population
movements" by displaced minorities after so many of their homes were set on fire, that one region of Kosovo resembled
"a war zone."

An OSCE report notes that in one particular month of 1999 ethnic-related crimes dipped, but the report adds that it is
unclear if that was due to the success of NATO's KFOR (Kosovo Force) or simply because there were relatively few
Serbs left.

After six months of NATO presence, the violence aimed at the Serbs became less frequent, though grenade attacks, drive-by shootings and abductions continued as weekly occurrences for the next five years, according to Gambill


I would also point out that even today, the connections between Organized Crime and the political scene seem to be closer than you seem to believe.

Thus, there was opportunity, connections with the local mob (well connected itself), and huge demand. There was also evidence enough for the ICTY to visit the area, and stopped investigations only after it was determined that the period in which the crimes were committed was beyond their mandate. All of this doesn't make the allegation true, but surely it qualifies it as much more plausible than "probably bullshit" seems to imply.

Re: Del Ponte. Listen if she is mentally unbalanced, crazy or whatever, you realize that this is grounds for appeal for tens of Hague inmates. Political incompetence (on which we agree), is not the same as prosecutorial incompetence. If an experienced prosecutor publishes a story like this, knowing the effect it will have, despite her (not insignificant) collision with all sorts of Serb nationalists, I think the case merits attention and a thorough investigation (as HRW demanded already) - which I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for.

a non-existent Serb atrocity that's currently such a byword.

(I'm tempted to say Racak - but I'm not totally convinced either way) - Nothing as gruesome, and anyway in sheer number of corpses you can't invent anything to top the (real) Srebrenica massacre. However gruesomeness on this level would have been an instant headline-grabber (were the perpetrators Officially Recognized Bad Guys). Note that Mengele is remembered even today - but not the names of the Nazi commanders who executed whole villages full of people.

I take it that you concur on point 1 and 2 a-b and d-e) ;-) ?

DoDo said...

That was an awesome comment, talos, would be worth a diary.

Anonymous said...

Well, three months have passed. I'm keeping an eye on this story, and have seen the following developments:

-- The Serbian government said it would investigate.

-- The Albanian government said it would cooperate with investigators (although the Albanian Foreign Minister called the allegations "libelous"). The Kosovar authorities have made no response.

-- Various sources, including HRW, have said that they've talked with the same journalistic sources who alerted Del Ponte to this story back in 2002. HRW says the sources gave them videotapes of Albanians talking about the detention and killing of Serbs. A senior HRW official calls the allegations "serious and credible".

-- However, none of the sources have come out publicly yet. The videos do not appear to be publicly available. None of the people testifying in the videos have been identified or have come forward.

-- The ICTY has formally said that it found "no substantial evidence was found to collaborate" the events described in Del Ponte's memoir.

-- No further investigation seems to have taken place. An Albanian TV station sent a reporter and camera crew up into the mountain village, but they didn't find anything.

-- No further evidence, either physical or testimony, has emerged.

If I've missed anything, please let me know. Right now this looks like it will develop very slowly, and very probably end up going nowhere.

-- Here's a question. I remember the enthusiasm with which you greeted Diane Johnstone's clumsy "debunking" of Srebrenica. Now, Srebrenica is about as well documented as any event in modern history -- there are hundreds of hours of sworn testimony, thousands of pages of documents, photographs, forensic evidence, you name it. And half a dozen fat nvestigative reports by the UN, HRW, the Dutch government, Bosnia's own Research and Documentation Center... all available online.

AFAICT Johnstone hadn't read or reviewed any of this stuff. Instead, she grabbed the revisionist version with both hands and passed it along. It fit her world-view! It would be so proper, so fitting, so /right/ if the massacre turned out to be a vast exaggeration or lie whipped up by the wicked Western powers and their media.

Anyway. Putting aside issues of plausibility -- clearly we're not going to agree on this -- there are issues of evidence. The entire evidence consists of

1) the physical evidence at the green house, and

2) the videotaped interviews with seven Albanians, which are not publicly available.

Now, we can disagree -- and probably will -- on how much weight to give this evidence. But I think we can agree that, objectively, it's not very much yet.

So, a question. You were very quick to join Johnstone in doubting the very well documented events at Srebrenica. But now you're even quicker to express strong belief in the much less well documented events at the green house in Albania.

Am I missing something?


Doug M.

talos said...

Well Doug: Neither I nor Johnstone doubt the Srebrenica massacre. At all. For myself, I'm totally convinced that Srebrenica was the largest single act of mass murder in the whole bloody mess that were the Yugoslav wars. You will not find me arguing otherwise anywhere. And we've discussed relevant issues frequently enough that this should not need to be stated. So yes, you are missing something: you're replying to a Straw Man.

About Johnstone: I contacted her after the whole discussion we had then. Though she didn't want our conversation to be made public, at the time, I will for clarity's sake and to avoid her further demonization, note that she doesn't doubt the reality of the Srebrenica massacre, nor is she interested in the numbers game, and quote the following excerpt from our correspondence:

From one side, I'm accused of "denial", although the only thing I "deny" is the aptness of the term "genocide", which is a political term used for political purposes. From the other side (yes, there is an "other side"), I'm reproached for conceding too much.
Another personal note: since I consider "revenge" one of the most
barbarous of human passions, and one of the most frequent, when I suggest the Srebrenica massacres were committed out of "revenge", this is not to condone them by any means.... I do not consider "revenge" a justification for killing anyone, least of all people who were not responsible for whatever is being avenged."


Note also that I did not "express strong belief in the much less well documented events at the green house in Albania". I expressed strong belief that "probably bullshit" was an overhasty characterization of its validity, that was definitely not supported by the evidence you presented at the time. I wrote specifically :
Thus, while I agree that this is very far from proven, I'm much less confident that the whole story can be dismissed as "probably bullshit".

Then, I went on to ask a few questions as to the asymmetry of the coverage. Finally, I marveled at the sheer evil brilliance of the idea and forecast that true or not in this case, this will become par for conflicts around the globe. It's at the top of this page. What, do I need to start using blink tags?

As to where this is going: regardless of the validity of the accusations (on which I am and remain agnostic) I don't think it's going nowhere - and I'd be happy to be proven wrong, one way or another.

Anonymous said...

Well, she "doesn't doubt the reality of the Srebrenica massacre", hum. She just says that

-- Izetbegovic wanted it to happen, and was likely complicit;

-- the Muslim military caused it, by treating the civilians as hostages

-- Milosevic didn't want it to happen;

-- since not all the civilians were killed, it wasn't a deliberate massacre;

-- since not all the civilians were killed, it wasn't genocide;

-- the Serbs were unfairly singled out, since nobody else is being accused of genocide;

-- that there's no such thing as command responsibility; the massacres were the fault of individual perpetrators;

-- that the "massacre" -- her scare quotes -- was 'such as occurs in war when fleeing troops are ambushed by superior forces.'

-- that many of those killed were soldiers, and that killing soldiers in war can't be genocide

-- that 'less than 3,000 [bodies] have been exhumed'

-- that the 'star' ICTY witness, Drazan Erdemovic, was probably a liar

...and, oh, I could go on, but really: it's abundantly clear that Johnstone thinks "Srebrenica" has been vastly exaggerated. It's also abundantly clear that she's wrong; most of the statements above are factually incorrect.

So, yes -- unless she's disowning that article, Johnstone does doubt the Srebrenica massacre. This isn't a straw man: doubting it is precisely what she does. You say that according to her e-mail "she doesn't doubt the reality". But in that article, she doubts the first-hand accounts; she doubts the numbers given; she doubts the innocence of those killed and the guilt of those who ordered the killing. That seems to me like, well, doubting.

(Incidentally: genocide isn't a political term. It's a legal term, with a clear and formal legal definition. Yes, it gets thrown around and abused a lot. But saying it's "a political term, with a political meaning" is just wrong. A small point, but there it is.)

As to what you said... you devoted something like 3000 words, with hyperlinks, to arguing the "pro" case here. This seems a level of enthusiasm that goes well beyond "not necessarily bullshit". But! instead of arguing interpretations, let's try this.

I say "probably bullshit"; you say (I think?) "could well be true". I say "probably nothing will ever come of it" (any investigation); you think "probably something /will/ come of it". And you think this idea is "evilly brilliant" and so will probably get used again; it doesn't sound very practical to me, and I'll be surprised if it's shown to be used in future conflicts.

There's not much we can do about the first of these disagreements, but the other two are testable.

Let's come back to this in a year. By that time, I suspect that (1) there'll be no significant advances in this story, and (2) there'll be no clear, well documented evidence of a military force harvesting organs from captives in a conflict. I'm willing to be generous about "military force" and "conflict" -- squabbles among militias will do -- but the evidence has to be well documented, otherwise we'll end up arguing about it.

If I'm wrong on either one of these, I'll admit it on my blog. I'd be willing to throw in some forfeit too, if you like... say, a contribution to Doctors Without Borders, or some such.

If you're wrong... oh, you decide.

If nothing else, it gives both of us a reason to keep an eye on this.

Bet?


Doug M.

talos said...

Doug - first, let's leave Johnstone for the moment...

You accused me of "doubting the very well documented events at Srebrenica", again this is slanderous. Period. You said I spent an inordinate amount of words to establish plausibility. Indeed. What interested me is why certain stories about certain ethnicities are deemed immediately believable and others are immediately disbelieved.

You seem very quick to endorse one local nationalism over another. IMNSHO, the logic of Balkan nationalism over the past century or so leads to ethnic cleansing, widespread massacres and suffering. The logic of nationalism. Irrespective of whose nationalism it was/is. Kosovar nationalism is good, you seem to believe. Serb nationalism in Krajina was bad. In fact the only thing different is the scale and the languages spoken by massacree and massacrer. Don't let me quote Rebbeca West about "English persons of humanitarian and reformist disposition", you know better.

Genocide as a legal concept does not equal genocide as commonly meant in real language. I.e. There's a huge debate in Greece on whether the massacres of Pontic Greeks in the late 1910's and early 20's in northern Turkey, constitute "genocide" or a series of massacres. Legally, the massacres in Northern Turkey at the time constitute far more obvious instances of "genocide" than Srebrenica, since (I assure you) in many cases, no one escorted the women and children to safety. The nationalists want to call it genocide however, as part of an agenda that wants to perpetuate conflict with Turkey (similar terms are used on the "other side" of the Aegean to describe Greek massacres in Turkey). Thus genocide is usually a political term, used in nationalist discourse for purposes having to do with West's "English Persons" and influencing their perceptions - along with building a national mythology on the idea of victimhood and justifying the expulsion of "the enemy". I don't take this stuff seriously from Greek nationalists, I don't have to take it literally from anyone else.

I generally argue that under what is commonly meant by the term, one genocide has occurred in the broader area of the Balkans in the past century (the Armenian genocide) and thousands of massacres and ethnic cleansings large and small. The legal definition of genocide is currently a tool at the hands of various nationalisms and would-be protectors.

As for your bet. There's obviously something wrong with my english, since you said:
"I say "probably nothing will ever come of it" (any investigation); you think "probably something /will/ come of it",

and want to place a bet on those terms. Yet a few cm above your proposal I was stating that:
"As to where this is going: regardless of the validity of the accusations (on which I am and remain agnostic) I don't think it's going nowhere - and I'd be happy to be proven wrong, one way or another."
Let me explain, then (I should have said "I don't think it's going anywhere perhaps?): I don't think there will be any significant developments, because the people who have the opportunity and the means to investigate have no motive to do so whatsoever. However I would be pleasantly surprised if there was an investigation (on the outcome of which I am "agnostic" meaning that I don't have a strong opinion one way or another). Thus there is nothing to bet on. We concur.

As for your final offer: that makes sense. However, not in a year. It takes time (and the appropriate conflict) for good business ideas to catch on. I would say that the testing time should be on the scale of 5 years. I don't know if I'll be around this long, however if I am, I'm willing to come up and state that this was one of these brilliant ideas whose time hasn't yet arrived, publicly in this blog.

Johnstone now: I think that most of the points you note are absolutely compatible with an agreement that 8000 Bosnian Muslim men were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb paramilitaries - who should be (along with their commanding superiors) sent to jail. Some of the points are more plausible than others of course, some are points you put in her mouth, and some I find quite likely (re: Milosvic's intentions, unless you argue that he was retarded as well). However her main objection to Srebrenica is to its uses in a narrative (I hate the word but what else) that supports the legalization of western intervention around the world - see the last part of the article. Thus let me ask you: Was Fallujah genocide? If yes why isn't Bush (or Casey anyway) in a cell in Hague? If no, what exactly differentiates it in intent and practice from Srebrenica?

Anonymous said...

Taking these in reverse order:

Fallujah: I try to keep discussions about the Balkans in the Balkans, if only because I think Godwin's Law has broad application.

Johnstone: no, I didn't put a thing in her mouth. I went back and reread the article carefully before posting. If anything, I'm being conservative in my interpretations.

If her main objection was to the uses of Srebrenica -- well, there's an article to be written there. And it could be a good article. Because yes, Srebrenica was used to justify the subsequent interventions. It wasn't the only thing that was used, and you could argue whether it was necessary (maybe) or sufficient (not), but it was certainly important. So it deserves a hard look.

But that's not what the article is about. It's what she says it is about, and maybe it was what she wanted it to be about, but in fact it's a series of clumsy attempts to minimize, excuse, explain away, and in general debunk the actual events themselves.

Quick to endorse local nationalism: hardly. I don't think you've heard me say much good about any post-Yugoslav nationalism. As a purely practical matter, I favor Kosovar independence, but that's got jack to do with thinking Albanians are "good" and Serbs "bad". And I think you know that, and are just being cranky with me.

If I had been paying attention to matters Yugoslav in, say, 1992? I would have been much less in favor of Kosovar independence. In fact, I wouldn't have favored it at all. I would have been pushing for... ohh, some sort of three-nation solution, with Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo in a loose federation. (Which was proposed a bit later, BTW.) It was probably already too late for such an arrangement in 1992 -- but I would have supported it as the least bad combination of "might just work" and "could perhaps be made reasonably fair to all".

Meanwhile, if I were stuck in 1992 with zero foreknowledge, I'd be at least considering the appropriateness of independence for the Republic of Serb Krajina -- and I'd certainly be in favor of autonomy for the Serbs, similar to what was offered a couple of years later in the Z-4 plan.

"Events, dear sir, events."

-- If I wanted to pinpoint a moment when the last hope of a negotiated settlement disappeared? Probably it was already hopeless by the mid-1990s, but the /utterly/ last flicker vanished when some hapless Serb commander (who still remains nameless) gave the order to destroy the Jasheri family compound. I hold no brief for Adem Jasheri -- the few unbiased accounts suggest that he was a thug and a brute -- but by wiping out his entire clan, the Serbs permanently discredited what was left of the Albanian peace faction, moved the KLA from the margins to firmly in the center and killed forever any chance of a negotiated settlement. At that point, it was either independence or ethnic cleansing; there was no third way. The only questions left were how long it would take to play out, and how much blood would be shed to get there.

Little boys need to be fed and put to bed here -- more in a day or two.


Doug M.

Anonymous said...

A bit more...

You don't think it's going anywhere: okay, I misunderstood you. Yes, then -- we concur. This is unlikely to result in any significant new information coming to light, never mind any indictments or prosecutions.

I note in passing that this is likely because /all/ sides lack interest in securing more information: not only the Albanian governments, but also the Serb one. An investigation that turned up nothing would be an embarassment; an investigation that found something would accomplish (from the government's point of view) very little. Serbs already hate and despise Albanians, and everyone already is certain this episode really happened, so what would be gained?

(Well, aside from some closure for the families of those missing. But healing the wounds of war has not been a priority for any government on any side of this conflict, and I really don't expect that to change.)

"Genocide as a legal concept does not equal genocide as commonly meant in real language." -- So? The fact that people habitually misuse the term does not deprive the term of its meaning. Johnstone says "Genocide is a political term", with the clear implication that it's nothing more. And that's just not true.

One genocide in the Balkans: the Balkan Jews don't count? The Serb victims of the Ustashe?

"Let's take one more look at this nebulous word 'genocide,' which is defined as 'the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national or racial group.' Last time I checked, there were still 2,623,947 Shan left in Myanmar. That doesn't sound like much of a genocide to me!" -- you know? You don't want to be channeling The Onion.

"Slanderous. Period" -- no, it's not; slander is another word with a specific legal meaning, and this doesn't remotely fit.

What it may be is insulting, and wrong. So. If I've misunderstood you -- and upon consideration, I think I have -- I apologize. Without reservation.

Having said that, I'm still not impressed by your arguments. Five years: dude, it's been almost ten already. If this is such an obviously brilliant idea, we should have heard about it already from (say) the Congo, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, Darfur, Chechnya, or Timor. Myanmar should have been exporting Shan and Karen organs by the boatload. The Ethiopian Army should be carving up Somalis right now. It's not like there's been a shortage of conflicts.

I don't think we'd remember this for five years anyway. Would you go with three? As noted, it would give as a reason to keep an eye on this.

As to Rebecca West (and, God, would someone please write another magnum opus on the Balkans so that we can let Dame Rebecca rest? It's been seventy years, already) and her curate's parrot... umm, if anyone is taking sides on Balkan nationalisms here, it ain't me. Noodle through my online writings, here and at the Fistful and elsewhere, and you'll find me saying good things and bad about pretty much every side. And I don't see how you make the jump from "I think Kosovar independence is the least bad solution to an ugly, complex set of problems" to "Albanian nationalism good, Serb bad".

Speaking of which, if I go through /your/ writings, I'm very hard pressed to find anything good about Albania or the Albanians -- in Prishtina, Tirana, or anywhere else. Am I missing something?


Doug M.

talos said...

Last question first: You'll be hard pressed to find anything good (or indeed bad) about Bulgarians, Romanians etc. In fact there's precious little about Albanians of any sort outside the Kosovo issue. Generally I think that (all other nationalisms being defeated in the region) Albanian *nationalism* is a destabilizing force in the area because it is triumphant. That is why I've taken a pot shot against Berisha (and no one else in Albanian politics). That and the fact that I've discussed politics with only *one* (out of scores) Albanian in Greece that wasn't convinced that the man was a crook. This is quite obviously because a large majority of Albanian immigrants in Greece are from the south. For what it's worth, the same sample (random but neither large nor valid in any way) held feelings towards the late Emver Hoxha that ranged from "He had some good points" to "he is an Albanian hero". Nothing negative except the one guy I mentioned above who was from Tirana, not the south.

Anyway. I don't cover Albanian politics in this blog. I rarely cover Greek politics in this blog. This is not what it's about. My Greek blog is another thing altogether.

The former Yugoslavia, on the other hand I've been following since - well since the whole mess began, more or less, and even before that since us "Eurocommunists" were interested in both Yugoslav "self-management" and Djilas' critique of Yugoslav "self-management" (not to mention the whole Yugoslav involvement in the Greek civil war etc). I also cut my teeth as a web activist during the Kosovo war. As at least one reaction to a post I wrote about Greek involvement in Srebrenica, might indicate, as far as local opinions are concerned I'm rather on the "anti-serb" side, of a rather biased spectrum of opinions over here.

Two: yes you're right I was pissed at being called a Srebrenica-denier. I do think that Kosovar independence *now* and without some sort of partition, is a bad idea that might very well be a proximate cause of my children being involved or affected by a regional war, but I was admittedly unfair. Apologies accepted, please accept mine.

talos said...

Genocide in the Balkans: the Balkan Jews were a part of a genocide not *originating* in the Balkans. The Ustasha atrocities against Serbs cannot be called genocide AFAIK. I'm not at all certain that their goal was the anihilation of the Serbs as a race.

Again, as I said, the political use of the term "genocide" to score points in nationalist quarrels, makes me suggest that either:
a. there were three attempted genocides in Europe (jews and gypsies by the Nazis, Armenians by the Ottomans). The rest are frequently *very* bloody ethnic cleansings and ethnic persecutions, but not genocides.
b. Alternatively there have been hundreds of genocides in Europe over the past couple of centuries... In which case there's nothing exceptional about the holocaust, except scale?

BTW you are putting words in Johnstone's mouth, see for example: "that the "massacre" -- her scare quotes -- was 'such as occurs in war when fleeing troops are ambushed by superior forces.'"

She wasn't referring to Srebrenica generally, but to a sub-event:

"Another large, unspecified number of these men were ambushed and killed as they fled in scenes of terrible panic. This was, then, a "massacre", such as occurs in war when fleeing troops are ambushed by superior forces."

But you are certainly assuming intentions on her part: why is she going on about this, then? Pure spite? Hatred of Muslims? Serb nationalism? What?

As for the war-zone organ-harvesting fad. Three years is fine. Depending on the number of wars of course. Does the aftermath of military conquest count? Because in that case, I already won: 1 (probably bullshit), 2. (I don't know)

Anonymous said...

Well, (2) is a single unsourced, unattributed quote from an article in an "alternative" weekly written by a sixtysomething grandmother from Berkeley.

(Hm: brief googling shows that she reviewed her own book on amazon, and gave herself five stars.)

N.B., this is exactly why I said "well documented". There are always, always atrocity stories.

Genocide: the answer is (b). You don't have to kill all of a group, nor must you /want/ to kill all of a group. Your goal need not be the annihilation of the Serbs (or whoever) as a race. You just have to make a concerted effort to kill members of a group en masse because they're members of that group. "Let's kill all the Serb men in our village, and drive out the women and children" -- yes, that counts.

Whether the Holocaust 'differs only in scale' is a fraught question, and also something of a red herring -- it's pretty distinctive not only for scale, but also for efficiency, thoroughness, taking place in a "developed" country, and for the sheer evil, stupid pointlessness of it all.

Johnstone: as I said, because it fit her world view. And the "this, then" quote is specious on its own grounds: why is "massacre" in quotes? (Man, that article is full of scare quotes. She starts by saying she'll put "Srebrenica" in quotes to indicate she's talking about the media construct rather than the event, but before long she's got "massacre", "genocide", "war crimes" and "victims".) And notice how she blithely conflates fleeing civilians with "troops".

Albanians: yeah, the north-south split is pretty strong. The current mayor of Tirana has been trying to cultivate a "Tiranan" identity to be something of a third force in Albanian politics. Of course, this involves looking down on the ignorant backwards cousins from the rest of the country... Anyway, note that this is yet another reason there won't be a "Greater Albania" any time soon.

Djilas: oddly enough, I've been reading a lot of Djilas lately. God damn he is good. Not a genius, but an amazingly /clear/ thinker. _Land Without Justice_ is brilliant... well, okay, the first half is brilliant. The second half is a bit too much "and then there was my old high school geography teacher" memoir-by-character-sketch. But even there, there are good bits. The bit about his brothers, near the end? Heartbreaking.

I'm in awe of Djilas because he did what so very very few have been able to: rose to the heights of power, looked around him and said "this is bullshit", and took the consequences. And he stayed a clear thinker to the end -- he told Dobrica Cosic he was a good writer but an asshole, and viewed Milosevic with utter contempt.

Yeah, Yugocommunism looked good at the time, didn't it? But it turned out to be just as fragile as every other sort.


Doug M.