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Professor of philosophy, University of Oslo


Some of the reactions to my article, «Stoltenberg’s co-responsibility for Srebrenica» in Ny tid (Norwegian weekly newspaper) the 5th of August 2005 show that the Norwegian public is still far from recognizing Stoltenberg’s co-responsibility.  The fact that he himself replies in a way which is irrelevant with regard to the content of the critique (as if he was criticized for failing to report to the UN), does not make recognition easier. Stoltenberg’s unshakeable attitude and self-proclaimed infallibility disclaims his reputation as a man who is devoted to dialogue and reconciliation.

Gunnar Garbo is among those who find that Stoltenberg has no reasons for regrets, and that the claim concerning his co-responsibility for Srebrenica is highly exaggerated. The fact that this claim even after ten years of research by journalists and academics, UN-initiated interrogatory reports, the Dutch Srebrenica-report and various trials in the Hague, can be seen as being highly exaggerated in Norway, is expressive of how Stoltenberg’s own version has been protected in the Norwegian press.

Let me state my concern. When I concluded in my last article that Stoltenberg has co-responsibility for Srebrenica, I do not mean to state that he is alone in this. The theme of the article was his particular role. The list of politicians, diplomats and officers whose co-responsibility more or less equals that of Stoltenberg is a long one; «the wall of shame» is crowded. While co-responsibility is comprehensive, it must be identified with particular persons, whose names are mentioned, the unpleasantness of this process notwithstanding. The ones who were co-responsible, meaning those who contributed to the creation of a situation of such a kind that Mladic could calculate correctly that he would be able to kill 8 000 boys and men in Srebrenica without obstruction, form a different category than that of the killers, although it is a category of people whose behaviour must be taken into account if we are to understand what made the massacre of Srebrenica possible.

Garbo’s article is not primarily about Stoltenberg, but about the UN and the US. So, let us discuss their part in the picture. Although this discussion is an important one, it is made more difficult by the inaccuracies that prevail in Garbo’s account. Garbo does not tell us which moments and events his descriptions are meant to cover. He writes: «The US was continuously eager to bomb.» At what point? Does «continuously» mean that they generally, from the spring of 1992 until the autumn of 1995 were eager to bomb? Bombing whom, as a part of which general policy?

 The truth is that the Americans did not support bombing one of the «parties». As documented by Samantha Power in the book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, no less than five leaders in the Bosnia section of the State Department quit their jobs during 1993. Why? Because they found themselves unable to work for «an administration which supported a diplomatic process legitimating aggression and genocide.» (p. 315) Warren Christopher, the US foreign minister during all these years (not Madeleine Albright, as Garbo states; she was a UN ambassador, and her influence on Clinton between 1992 and -95 was minimal; her «moralism» (David Owen) and eagerness to bomb was hindered by general Colin Powell for several years) replied to the request for employment of military force against the Serbian aggressor by ordering a search for evidence that the Bosnian Muslims had committed equally serious atrocities. Thus, Christopher would insist on the «equality» of the parties – they were all guilty, and taking a stance would be improper – a position which was soon established as the only path worth taking. Rather than bombing, or rather than opposing the genocidal aims and actions of the strongest party on the ground, the US political leadership tried to delay the conclusion suggested by their intelligence and the advice they received that military force would be the only means of preventing continued ethnic cleansing. This is what Clinton and Hoolbrooke have apologized for to the victims of Srebrenica, and of Bosnia in general.

If Garbo is thinking of the behaviour of the US towards Srebrenica in particular, his claim that the US was eager to bomb is equally misleading. The UN Security Council discussed the fall of Srebrenica and Dutchbat’s request for air force attacks the day after the enclave was taken by Mladic’s forces. In this meeting – a fateful moment for the population of Srebrenica – the representatives of France, Italy, Nigeria, Russia, Britain and China went against the use of NATO armed forces under UN directions. The US was more positively inclined towards the employment of air force attacks, but did not attempt to force this decision upon the others. Only the Czech representative was unequivocally in favour of taking a strong line against Mladic, arguing as follows:

 «The Bosnian Serbs will be reaffirmed in their belief that Security Council resolutions are just paper tigers. They will be tempted to repeat what they did in Srebrenica in Zepa, Gorazde and other so-called safe areas, knowing that they can do so with impunity.»[1]

Garbo’s answer to being called pro-Serbian by Svein Mønnesland and myself, is to accuse us of being anti-Serbian, which is a mental blackout. I, for my part, am principally opposed to forces that encourage and perform gross violations of human rights – be it Mladic the Serb or Naser Oric the Bosniak. The error is to presuppose that «Serbs» are identical to the group of those who support the ethnic cleansing of Karadzic and Mladic to create a Great Serbia «free from» non-Serbian inhabitants. But as we know (although Milosevic’s propaganda and Media control did everything to cover up the fact): not all Serbs in Bosnia identified with this project. Thus the multi-ethnic oriented Serbs became «the impure in their midst» and a thorn in the flesh of the ideologists in Pale and Beograd; several of them were killed along with the Croats and Muslims who represented Bosnia as a multi-ethnic society. I am not anti-German because I condemn the genocide of the Hitler regime, or anti-Russian because I condemn the Gulag of the regime of Stalin. Stoltenberg was pro-Serbian in the sense that he took over a view of the situation in Bosnia which was indistinguishable from that of Karadzic and Milosevic. On May the 20th 1995 a long range of newspapers quoted Karadzic’s statement: «Serbs, Croats and Muslims can no longer live together. You cannot hold a cat and a dog captured in the same room.» 11 days later was Stoltenberg’s main message: «You cannot force people to live together.» In brief, he made the analysis, diagnosis and suggested solution of the one «party» (in fact the main aggressor) his own, and voiced the message with the authority of his position as a chief mediator for the UN. One might even call it a case of plagiarism.

 Finally, Garbo quotes Stoltenberg’s favorite apologetic argument:

 «If the US had not undermined the plan of the peace mediators for the UN and the EU, hundreds of thousands of human lives would have been spared two-three years of the horrors of war. And the massacre in Srebrenica would not have taken place.»

The Bosniaks, not the Americans, were the ones who refused to sign the Owen-Stoltenberg plan(s) of division in 1993. Why should they have accepted the plans, with or without American support? Because, states Stoltenberg and Garbo, an agreement made in 1993 would have saved hundreds of thousands of human lives.

Suggestive? Possibly, but a long range of questions remain. Could – or should – the Bosniaks have known that all those human lives would be lost during the next two years? That the massacre of Srebrenica was required for the military intervention of third parties to stop the main aggressor? That Stoltenberg the UN mediator would never abandon Karadzic and Mladic as negotiation parties, regardless of their lies and broken promises? More fundamentally: Should Izetbegovic have rendered to a principle of division in 1993 that – as opposed to the European credo after the fall of Nazism – implies that human beings of different (mixed) ethnic origin cannot live together within the same territory (compare the quote from Karadzic adopted by Stoltenberg)? Why should the «party» whose original aim was that of continued multi-ethnic co-existence abandon this aim to the benefit of a «party» whose declared – and violently achieved – aim was forced ethnic segregation?

It was far from obvious in 1993 that the only alterative to signing an agreement which «accepted the political result of scandalous violations of international law» (the peace researchers Agrell and Alcala on the Dayton agreement, which is quite similar to the Owen-Stoltenberg model, as Garbo also states) would be 200 000 murdered people, most of whom were Bosnian Muslims. Garbo’s Stoltenberg-inspired argument crucially depends on the wisdom of hindsight. Moreover, by consistently adopting the version of the stronger party – the main aggressor, that is – that the only political solution was that multi-ethnicity be replaced by ethnic homogeneity, Stoltenberg contributed to the fact that this position gained the upper hand, as if it were a self-fulfilling prophecy.

[1]  Quoted from Kofi Annan’s Srebrenica report of December 1999, par. 329-339.





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