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Deconstruction of a virtual genocide


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One question that anybody who takes up the critical study of the regnant narrative of the "Srebrenica massacre" always faces is ‘why?’ 

As a field of research and inquiry, hasn't the basic outline of the events that befell the Srebrenica ‘safe-area’ population after the enclave was captured by the Bosnian Serb army on 11 July 1995 been well-established since the second-half of that year, when Western reporters such as the Christian Science Monitor's David Rohde allegedly stumbled upon a ‘decomposing human leg protruding from the freshly turned dirt’ in a landscape that, Rohde claimed, he recognized from ‘spy-satellite photos’ that had been faxed to him just days before by ‘American officials’?   

Why then would it occur to someone to challenge what appears to be well-known about the ‘Srebrenica massacre’?  And why should this task be of interest and importance to anyone outside survivors and a relatively small coterie of fanatics?   

The critical study of the ‘Srebrenica massacre’ that Stephen Karganovic collects in this volume is important because, taken as a whole, they show that within a very brief period of time – no longer than a handful of weeks -  what had originated in self-serving wartime propaganda and whispers about an atrocity that symbolized Serb evil, became institutionalized as The Truth, effectively removing the actual event from inquiry, and placing it under seal in a sacrosanct realm of myth where it has flourished ever since.   

Initially generated by a nexus between the NATO-bloc powers that had intervened on behalf of the Bosnian Muslim and Croat sides in the civil wars that destroyed the unitary Yugoslavia, and Western news media and human rights organizations committed to proving the veracity of this wartime propaganda, the myth of the ‘Srebrenica massacre’ has been re-institutionalized with every Srebrenica-related judgment at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (e.g., Krstic in August 2001) as well as the International Court of Justice (February 2007).   

As this book reminds us, it serves also as a "mass mobilisation vehicle" every year during the 11 July internment ceremony at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial and Cemetery for the Victims of the 1995 Genocide, where yet new layers of propaganda are laid upon the propaganda of the earlier years.  

It is of course also one of the two most frequently cited symbolic bloodbaths in the Western canon (the other being Rwanda 1994) whenever someone invokes the ‘Never again’ imperative of the Nazi holocaust to urge the great powers towards ‘humanitarian intervention’, the ‘responsibility to protect’, and most recently ‘mass atrocity response operations’.        

Because this ‘Srebrenica massacre’, with its alleged 8,000 victims, conformed so well to framework of what could be expected from the monster Serbs held responsible for the wars, very few inquiries into the real, if far smaller, massacres and executions carried out against the males of the fleeing ‘safe area’ population have ever been undertaken.   

This is why the critical study of the ‘Srebrenica massacre’ undertaken here is vital and stands as a far more honest tribute to these real victims than does the vast literature which it challenges and helps to overturn. 

There is a further pertinent question to answer: why has it taken so long for the core facts about Srebrenica, so clearly expressed in this book, to be collected in this way? 

The answer comes in two parts.  First, the process of international investigation and prosecution was very slow and much of the ‘evidence’ supporting the judgements handed down by the ICTY was not revealed in any form until years after the events.   

Second, few people have tried to make an independent assessment of what happened.  For example, of all the journalists who have ever written or broadcast about Srebrenica, only a handful appear to have made any real efforts to investigate the official account.  It has, as a result, been solely through the efforts of a loose collaboration of individuals around the world that we now have a thorough analysis of what happened in July 1995. 

Predictably, many attacks have been made on these people.  They have been repeatedly accused of genocide denial.  Serious attempts have been made, in Europe and elsewhere, to criminalise their investigative efforts.    

The collaborations which have finally led to the publication of this book have developed almost entirely by chance. In the UK a number of us began to collect reports and broadcasts, building a chronology of events and a background database.  We did this separately at first, but by 1995, thanks to the former “Observer” journalist Nora Beloff, a group of us were in touch with one another, exchanging information and ideas.   

We had become quite an efficient monitoring machine by the time the Bosnian Serb Army took control of Srebrenica in July 1995.  We archived hundreds of reports.  As we went along, we noted many pieces of information which conflicted with the consensus narrative in the media in the UK, the USA and Europe. 

We were conscious of Srebrenica’s short-term political importance in drawing attention away from the US-backed invasion of Krajina and the final abandonment of the international ‘neutrality’, which led to the ending of the civil wars and the terms imposed at Dayton in November.  But we did not yet foresee the full extent to which the ‘Srebrenica massacre’ would become the most complete symbol of Serbian evil in the Balkan conflicts.  Our work was therefore much more widely focused until at least 1997, and was further diverted by the Kosovo war in 1999.

Our network was gradually expanding. Through the internet, people researching aspects of the Balkan conflicts eventually became aware of each other and often made contacts that would lead to new partnerships.  

One such development was the Srebrenica Research Group[1] an international collective brought together by Professor Edward Herman in the summer of 2003.  This was not only a platform for the free exchange of knowledge, information and ideas, but a determined attempt to investigate exactly what had happened on the basis of academic rigour.  

The work of the group was exciting and, I think, highly productive.  The outcome was in my opinion about the best analysis that could be made on the basis of available information.  Our constraint was that we had no resources beyond the limited amounts of our own time we could devote to Srebrenica research.  And we certainly had no means of carrying out our own fundamental investigations.   

In September 2008 I was contacted by Stephen Karganovic, who had recently set up the Srebrenica Historical Project.  Based in Holland, this organisation had secured funding to mount conferences and to commission its own investigations and expert analysis of key questions about Srebrenica.   

The extent and quality of the work done by the SHP since that time has been remarkable.  In a little over two years they have taken on a range of challenges that would daunt the most skilled data crunchers. I believe this work has rewritten the Srebrenica narrative decisively.  

The purpose of this Introduction is not to summarise the many revelations published on the pages that follow.  It is, rather, to commend this book in the strongest terms. This collection demonstrates that the stories about ‘the worst war crime in Europe since the 2nd World War’ are fictions, unrelated to what took place.  

It is vital that the unadorned truth about the Balkan conflicts should be freed from the lies and misrepresentations that have characterised the first draft of this history.  Only then can there be some kind of genuine process of truth and reconciliation in the aftermath of the Balkan wars.  This work provides a platform from which such a process can begin. 

Jonathan Rooper 


Jonathan Rooper was a BBC TV News & Current Affairs journalist from 1983 – 1999.  After several years as a desk producer on daily programmes, he became a field producer making short investigative films on social and political affairs issues.  He was head of the BBC News Features department for four years.   Since leaving the BBC he has worked in corporate communications and now earns his living as a freelance, specialising in corporate video production and editing, media and presentation training and corporate journalism.