konfront@xs4all.nl on Sun, 4 Apr 1999 19:00:25 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Genocide: what's in a word? (By Mick Hume)

From: Living Marxism

As NATO has intensified its air strikes against Serbia, so the NATO
governments have cranked up their war of words. And 'genocide' is the word
that New Labour and its allies have fired against an uncertain public
opinion like a Cruise missile.

Defence Secretary George Robertson has not missed an opportunity to
declare that President Milosevic is 'intent on genocide' and 'ethnic
extermination' in Kosovo, insisting that the NATO air strikes have 'one
purpose alone and that is to stop the genocidal violence' against ethnic
Albanians. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has also talked of genocide and of
refugees being 'concentrated' in camps by the Serbs.

President Bill Clinton has said that the USA must act because it cannot
allow 'ethnic cleansing or genocide anywhere we can stop it'. German
defence minister Rudolf Scharping has claimed that there is 'serious
evidence' in Kosovo of 'concentration camps like there were in Bosnia',
and of 'systematic extermination that recalls in a horrible way what was
done in the name of Germany at the beginning of World War II'. Predictably
the Russian government has replied in kind, the foreign minister accusing
NATO of committing genocide against the Serbs.

The less sure NATO leaders become of their war aims, or of the solidity of
public support, the more they fall back on this kind of emotive rhetoric
to justify themselves.  The language of genocide and concentration camps
invokes almost the only remaining moral absolutes of the modern age.
(Incidentally it also, under the UN Genocide Convention of 1948, provides
the only possible justification for a NATO-style intervention under
international law.) The deployment of this language is designed to give an
air of moral certainty to NATO's 'non-war' against Serbia. Yet its real
effect can only be to cloud the issues further.

'Genocide' is not just another word for brutality, making people homeless,
putting people on trains, or even murder. It means, according to the OED,
'annihilation of a race'. The word was first used in the 1940s,
specifically to describe the Nazi campaign to wipe out European Jewry.

Similarly, for more than half a century, 'concentration camp' has not
meant a place where large numbers of people are concentrated, even if it
is against their will. Everybody should know that it means a death camp,
on the Nazi model, designed for the industrial implementation of a policy
of genocide.

The likes of Robertson, Cook, Clinton and Scharping must either be fools
(Cook has talked about the 'Siberian forces' in Kosovo), liars or both to
use this language today. Of course the situation in Kosovo is a human
tragedy and people are suffering. Beyond that, nobody in Britain knows
what is really happening in Kosovo.

We do know, however, that it is inevitable that refugees will flee a war
zone, where the Serbs are cracking down on the Kosovo Liberation Army and
NATO is stepping up its bombing campaign, without any need for 'ethnic
cleansing'. Serb refugees are also getting out of Kosovo to the north.

We do know that the atrocity stories which have been repeated uncritically
by government ministers and the media are currently just that -
uncorroborated stories. Some of the most dramatic ones, like the
allegation that 10 000 men are being held in a 'concentration camp' in a
Pristina football stadium, have simply been lifted straight from KLA
propaganda statements.

We do know that reports that Serbs have murdered leading ethnic Albanian
politicians like Fehmi Agani and Ibrahim Rugova have already been exposed
as untrue. (The resurrected Rugova not only held a press conference in his
house, which the Serbs were supposed to have destroyed, but announced that
the air strikes 'must stop'.)

And we do know that, from the embellished tales of Belgian nuns maimed by
Germans in the First World War, to the bogus reports of Kuwaiti babies
thrown from incubators by Iraqis during the Gulf War of 1991, horror
stories coming out of a war zone should always be viewed with a sceptical

But even if the worst accounts of Serb reprisals we have heard to date
were true, it would still be wrong and dangerous to use the term genocide.
Anybody who tries to compare Nazi Germany, the dominant and bust-armed
European power of its age, with Milosevic's militarily weak and
economically powerless Serbia, is in danger of losing all sense of

Such comparisons risk seriously distorting the image we have of the
Balkans today, by branding the Serbs as the evil new Nazis against who
anything becomes permissible.  Even more importantly, they risk belittling
the horror of the real Holocaust, by putting the slaughter of six million
Jews on a par with a local conflict, bloody though it may be, in Kosovo or

This is a point which LM has insisted upon throughout the conflict in the
former Yugoslavia. It is why we exposed the truth about ITN's famous
pictures of Bosnian Serb 'concentration camps', and have fought the
ensuing libel case for more than two years.  See
http://www.informinc.co.uk/ITN-vs-LM/ for details.

The attempt to treat the situation in Kosovo as akin to the Nazi
experience is a cheap propaganda trick - but one that will exact a high
price, in terms of both the body count and the truth. There is nothing
lower than exploiting the Holocaust in order to justify a war like NATO's
adventure in Kosovo. But of course, as New Labour and the other members of
the war party (official organ: the Guardian) have made clear, we cannot
question any of this without being guilty of 'appeasement' or even
'Holocaust denial'. Truth was not just the first casualty of this war. It
has been the victim of another cold-blooded massacre in every day's news.

Mick Hume

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