Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Balkan Echoes

The Mothers of Srebrenica - the surviving relatives of the 7,000 Muslim men and boys butchered in 1995.

A Dutch Court has today ruled that the Dutch state is liable for the actions of Dutch soldiers, operating as part of the UN peacekeeping forces during the Bosnian war, who delivered some 300 Bosniac men and boys into the arms of their Serb murderers in Srebrenica back in 1995 were guilty of war crimes. The decision, taken following a case brought by the "Mothers of Srebernica", is welcome and long overdue. But it also highlights the ongoing hypocrisy and disregard of western governments towards the victims of European wide nationalist and neo-Nazi groups.

Who can forget these days back in  late June and early July1995? TV cameras covered the crowds of scared and hungry civilians crammed into the supposed safe zone; while the Dutch UN commander promised that he would not leave the terrified Muslims, mostly unarmed and surrounded by heavily weaponised Serbian paramilitaries. For months, they had been terrorised and starved until now their tormentors moved in. In the midst of this, 300 men ad several thousand women took refuge inside the UN compound itself - only to be herded out by their supposed protectors, the Dutch troops. They were assured that General Ratko Mladic himself had guaranteed their safe passage in spite of the obvious hollowness of his many, casually proffered previous promises.

Forced out of the compound in untypically decisive action by the UN in Bosnia, the three hundred joined the queues outside. Ominously, the women were separated from the men, supposedly to go to safety on different buses.

Except, as we know, the men's ones never turned up on the other side of the warring lines. Instead, 7,000 males, from teenage boys to crippled elderly men were led into the hills and then, as Christian priests blessed their executioners, they were shot and bludgeoned to death in the single worst act of genocide in Europe since the close of the Second World War. Their bodies were abused and dumped in mass graves and down old mine shafts in a clumsy attempt to put any evidence beyond the reach of any future investigators.

And, of course, the Dutch commander did not stay, instead getting as far away as possible.

The media of course was more than equivocal about the whole event - just as with Gaza now, the one sided nature of the Bosnian war, in which over 85% of casualties were Bosniac Muslims, the BBC and other western outlets suggested that the arms embargo favoured by the EU somehow "levelled the playing field" (or killing zone would have been more appropriate). In truth, given that the Serbs started with the full panoply of the well armed former Yugoslav army behind them while the Bosniacs started with a few police pistols and partisan rifles from World War 2 museums, the embargo in fact ensured ongoing Serb supremacy. This was only brought down when, finally shamed into action by the shelling of Sarajevo market, the UN finally approved the bombing of Serbian gun emplacements around besieged Sarajevo. A ceasefire and peacetalks leading to the Dayton Accords swiftly followed, but, of course, it has taken nearly twenty years for the families of the men butchered at Sarajevo to find even a smidgen of recognition of the UN's collusion with the Serb rebels.

And, as this Court finding is finally given, another tragedy with very similar traits and motives is playing itself out several hundred miles to the east of Bosnia - on the steppes of the Ukraine, the rightwing regime that came to power by overthrowing the democratically elected President has, with much western backing, more or less consolidated its hold over Russian speaking areas in the east. In spite of much hostile media coverage of Russia's attempts to protect ethnic Russians from the predations of fascist and far right vigilantes favoured by the Kiev irredentists, Putin has not overtly intervened and the Russian militias portrayed as extremists by the west have been almost completely eliminated.

But one look at who is busy fighting for the Ukraine regime immediately raises serious concerns about what is going on, and where Ukraine is headed - Scandinavian "volunteers" proclaiming that they are engaged in a race war for "the white Christian people". This statement does seem all the more odd given that most Russians are fairly white; until you reflect on Hitler's views of the Russian Slavs as what their name originally meant - an underclass, or under-race of slaves.

The Azov Unit uses the Wolfsangel banner once favoured by the Nazis.
Operating as part of the Azov militia, an outfit echoing the Serbian Arkan Tigers of the Bosnian genocide, they openly parade Nazi flags and symbols. Indeed, Nazi views are widespread among the European right - anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish, persecutors of the Roma minority, many of their proclamations make the chilling "manifesto" of Utoya murderer Anders Breivic seem like a children's book by comparison.

The West, keen to get its hands on Ukrainian shale gas (the new regime has signed a 50 year deal with western energy bosses, including the son of US Vice-President Joe Biden and a close friend of Secretary of State John Kerry, which hands over their national treasure to big foreign corporations), has happily backed all manner of misfits and extremists. The coup d'etat in the Ukraine by a mob including racists, anti-Semites and out and out neo-Nazis, some of whom are now members of the Government, highlights very much what the true focus of western interventions in states around the world are actually about. As John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN under the Bush Presidency said of the Iraq war, it was never about freedom and democracy; it is about American (Western) interests. And money.

Dangerous genies were let loose two decades ago when Britain in particular connived in the destruction of Bosnia; and as we remember the ghosts of Bosnia today, the news from the East remains as grimly unsurprising as ever as the tragic cycles of history repeat, again and again.

Chilling echoes - right-wing militia round up ethnically suspect Russians.

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