Thursday, 24 February 2011

Book Review: The Breakup of Yugoslavia and the War in Bosnia by Carole Rogel

The Breakup of Yugoslavia and the War in Bosnia Twenty years ago the state of Yugoslavia began to fall.  Significant events in late 1990 and early 1991 lead Slovenia and Croatia to declare independence on June 1991.  What began in early 1991 resulted in five years of brutal warfare in first Croatia and then Bosnia.  The war was characterised by massacres, ethnic cleansing and genocide and represented a particularly bloody period in the history of the European region. 

The Breakup of Yugoslavia and the War in Bosnia by Carole Rogel provides a useful history of the region and covers the period from around the fourteenth century right up to the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement in December 1995.  It is an extremely useful resource for someone wishing to gain an introduction to the events in the former Yugoslavia but is unfortunately limited in that it was published in 1998, before the Kosovo War.

Designed specifically for student research, the book begins with a comprehensive timeline of events from the 500s and 600s to 1997.  There are five main chapters of the book:  “The Breakup and the War: A Historical Overview”; “The Collapse of Tito’s Yugoslavia”; “The War in Bosnia-Herzegovina”; “A War of Myths, Propaganda, and Balkan Politics”; and “The Response of the International Community”. 

The next section of the book consists of a series of biographies of all of the big players in the war including Slobodan Milosevic, Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia respectively; Bosnian Serbs Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic; and various diplomats and mediators including Richard Holbrooke, David Owen and Cyrus Vance.  Unfortunately, this section is where the timing of the publication of the book is most problematic: I felt I could not read any of the entries without reverting to Wikipedia for updates.  Still, Radovan Karadzic was only arrested in July 2008 and Ratko Mladic is still on the run for war crimes so it is unlikely that even the revised edition of the book, The Breakup of Yugoslavia and Its Aftermath (2004, ABC-CLIO/Greenwood) would give a complete history.

The Breakup of Yugoslavia and Its Aftermath Perhaps the most useful section of the entire book is the final section before the comprehensive glossary entitled “Primary Documents of the Breakup and the War”.  This section included a series of speeches and excerpts from books and articles and each item was given a brief introduction.  The documents included the infamous Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (1985); Warren Zimmerman’s damning cable to the US on his recall in 1992 and Tadeusz Mazowiecki’s shocking letter of resignation as UN Human Rights Advocate on moral grounds in 1995.  Also included are excerpts from Zlata’s Diary: A Child’s Life in Sarajevo and sections of the Bosnia vs Serbia proceedings at the ICJ where the Bosnian people charged genocide.

I’m not quite certain why I purchased the earlier edition of this book instead of the revised edition.  I suspect that I followed a link from a book review of the former and had not noticed the latter edition.  Nevertheless, I would recommend the book as a good starter text but would certainly advise to rather purchase The Breakup of Yugoslavia and Its Aftermath.

Buy The Breakup of Yugoslavia and the War in Bosnia (1998)  from ¦

Buy The Breakup of Yugoslavia and Its Aftermath (2004) from ¦


Monday, 21 February 2011

The Triangle Project responds to Anti-Corrective Rape Petitions

The Triangle Project is a South African organisation that seeks to challenge homophobia and to eradicate discrimination against and within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community.  In their mission statement, they state their aim to educate, lobby and advocate against harmful stereotypes, attitudes and behaviours towards LGBTI people and to provide services, build confidence and strive for better understanding of the community.

The Triangle Project

Since the beginning of the year, several online petitions have been circulating the Internet, highlighting what was labelled the “corrective rape” of lesbian women in South Africa.  The Triangle Project was notably silent in response to the petitions and did not sign or endorse them. 

On Friday 18 February, the Triangle Project issued a statement in which they condemned several aspects of the petitions and explained their reluctance to associate the organisation with these petitions.  The absence of survivors’ voices and testimonies in the petitions is noted and it is stated that “once again black women in Africa are being cast as voiceless victims, as voiceless faces”.  The false division between “corrective rape” and rape perpetrated against women in general is questioned, as is the call for rape to be declared a hate crime and a minimum sentence of 25 years imposed.  Specifically, the statement states that the petitions seem silent on other forms of violence experienced by lesbians, including harassment, assault and murder as well as violence targeted against transgendered persons, gay men and other marginalised groups.

Finally, the petition questions the inflated figures and statistics in the petitions and notes that there is no specific hate crime legislation in South Africa.  It is noted that “a context such as South Africa, where progressive legislation and extreme levels of gender violence co-exist, poses particular challenges and hard questions to LGBTI and gender activists”.

I must admit that when I first noticed the petitions in question, I did feel that they were specifically sensationalist but I wonder about this statement too.  I saw the petition on the website which has reported success in various petitions in the past.  It must be considered that anyone can post a petition about any issue they feel strongly about.  Many of these people are not directors of organisations such as The Triangle Project and they are often neither educated or educators.  They are simply lay people like myself who want to make a difference.  Many websites for organisations such as The Triangle Project encourage people to volunteer but beyond that, few give concrete advice as to how one can make a real difference by spreading knowledge, adopting certain practices and beliefs and being an ambassador for social responsibility in general. 

I will say just one final thing though.  I went to university in Johannesburg, South Africa.  I will never forget sitting in the courtyard of our residence when a black man approached a black, lesbian woman and stated, in front of about fifty onlookers, that he would like to “rape the lezzie out of” her.  I’m not being specifically naive or privileged, nor am I trying to portray that woman as a voiceless victim but the one thing these petitions did do in the past couple of months is to illustrate that these types of attitudes are alive and well in South Africa years after I witnessed them.

Article written by me and first published as The Triangle Project Responds to Anti-Corrective Rape Petitions on Blogcritics.


Sunday, 20 February 2011

Genocides from 1915 to 2006

Auschwitz I Camp - Arbeit Macht Frei - Detail of Main Gate - Oswiecim, Poland

With the possible exception of the Holocaust, the definition and application of the term ‘genocide’ has been fraught with controversy.  In fact, since the term was legally codified by the United Nations in 1948 as they approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, only two cases have been determined to have constituted genocide.  These are the Rwandan genocide and the Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia in 1995.

Human Rights and Wrongs-Slavery, Terror, GenocideIn her book Human Rights and Wrongs: Slavery, Terror, Genocide, researcher Helen Fein has drawn on a range of historical documents to estimate the actual numbers of people killed in genocide in the last century.  As you can see from the table below, more people have died in genocides than are accounted for by the two existing cases confirmed by the international courts and tribunals.

Table of Genocides from 1915 - 2006
Table source: Centre on Law and Globalization

The defining factor in determining genocide is whether the offending party had the intention to destroy a group of people in whole or in part on the basis that they were simply part of that group. 


That is why, for example, despite the number of deaths in Cambodia, the ECCC have been unable to establish genocide as they cannot prove that there was an intention to destroy any specific group.  Where there were instances of the slaughter of ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslim minorities, charges of genocide were brought against Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan and former first lady Ieng Thirith.

Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo

You will note that the table above includes the Rwandan genocide which is considered to have taken place over one hundred days between April and July 1994.  It does not include the decade of systematic rape that is documented to have taken place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1994 and 2003 (and in fact, still continues to this day).  The situation in the Congo is directly linked to the Rwandan situation but is considered separately.

Herero and Namaqua Genocide and the Gukurahundi

Bizarrely enough, the table leaves off the Gukurahundi which was the deliberate and systematic attempt by Robert Mugabe and his government to destroy the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe in the early 1980s.

Also not included (as the period it analyses begins in 1915) is the first genocide of the 20th Century, the Herero and Namaqua genocide which took place between 1904 and 1907.

Image credit: “Auschwitz I Camp - Arbeit Macht Frei - Detail of Main Gate - Oswiecim, Poland” – Adam Jones (source)


Tuesday, 8 February 2011

New Reports on Racism and Intolerance in Europe

Passport_en-3The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has  today released five new reports on racism and intolerance in Europe.  The reports document the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and intolerance and concentrate on five countries in Europe: Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Monaco, Spain and Turkey.

In most cases, the reports cover visits to the countries in March and April 2010 and take into account developments up to June 2010. The exception in Turkey which was visited in October 2009, taking account developments up to March 2010. 

The ECRI is the Council of Europe’s independent human rights monitoring body and is comprised of one expert member from each of the Council’s member states.  The CoE works towards European integration but is distinct from the European Union.  This accounts for the interesting spread of contact visits between EU-members states (Spain), candidate states (Turkey) and other European states (Armenia, and Herzegovina and Monaco).

It is within the remit of the ECRI to take such action as is necessary to combat violence, discrimination and prejudice against people or groups on the basis of race, colour, language, religion, nationality, national origin or ethnic origin.

The reports were announced today in five press releases:

Report on Armenia
Report on Bosnia and Herzegovina
Report on Monaco
Report on Spain
Report on Turkey

Image © ECRI [source]


Monday, 7 February 2011

The Butterfly Effect and the (Re)Emergence of Passion

Or.. on how we need people to combat the rise of the right and genocide and why I am the person to do it.

Image Source

A long, long time ago I was a bright-eyed university student who thought I wanted to be a psychologist when in fact, I was more interested in politics, sociology, history and international relations. Like many psychology students in my country, I reached a stage where I could go no further as I finished my Honours degree and did not find a place on a Masters programme. (In South Africa, the route to becoming a psychologist used to be Bachelors degree -> Honours degree -> Masters degree). I suddenly found myself in a position where I couldn’t study further and without the benefit of funding, I needed to find a job quickly. Luckily for me, I had been working part-time in a bank and they were more than happy to take me on a full-time basis. Happy to have a graduate on their staff who just happened to be trained in their systems and procedures (did I mention I was lucky?), the bank swiftly promoted me to a junior management position and from there I moved into junior accounting roles in the property industry. Considering the large number of unemployed graduates, I do consider myself fortunate to have landed in a new career and am slowly working my way up the ranks towards becoming a fully qualified accountant.

But that passion never diminished and in fact, it has become stronger and stronger each year. I began this blog back in 2006 (although it was on a different domain back in those days) and my aim was to continue learning and to fuel my passion to understand. I always considered myself to be an absolute beginner and wrote accordingly but I have since come to realise that I’ve been somewhat selling myself short. I have studied sociology to third-year level and social psychology to Honours level. The time has come to apply that knowledge and to really begin challenging myself. But now I am getting ahead of myself.

Let’s take a step backwards…

The Horror

At the end of last year, I engaged in a bit of a tirade on Twitter and Facebook. See, there is a video online of a speech by a conservative Jewish woman where she speaks against the secession of Kosovo. Secession is always a controversial issue and on the surface of it, one can agree that it is not a good idea for every under-represented group to go ahead and secede from government. I won’t go too deeply into the Kosovo situation here but what ignited my ire with that video was what the woman had to say about the Srebrenica genocide.

The Srebrenica genocide is not a matter of opinion. In the words of the Srebrenica Genocide Blog:

Srebrenica genocide is not a matter of anybody's opinion; it's a judicial fact recognized first by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and subsequently by the International Court of Justice.

In the aforementioned video, the woman denied the occurrence of genocide in Srebrenica. As “proof” she stated that media reports of the actual amount of dead had varied greatly in the time following the event. Anyone who was glued to their televisions in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks will recall a similar fluctuation in numbers. In the case of the former, you will recall that the numbers crept up from tens of thousands to hundred sof thousands, peaking at 300,000 before finally settling back down to 230,000 dead. In the case of the 9/11 attacks, initial reports stated up to 15,000 dead which reduced to about 5,000 and finally settled at 2,996. Just because we did not know, just because we could not measure it, does not mean that the events did not occur. For the record, 8,373 people were reported missing from Srebrenica and as of May 2010, the remains of 6,557 people had been identified through DNA analysis of the remains of individuals found in mass graves.

My biggest problem with this video was that the woman attributed what she saw as an inflation of numbers of the dead to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the area. She stated that there was no genocide and there were no crimes against humanity committed against Kosovan Albanians by the Serbs and that Bosnian Muslims and Kosovan Albanians were merely a bunch of trouble-making Islamic fundamentalists intent on taking over the world.

From the text below the above video link:

Julia Gorin, author, pundit, and comedian has been studying and writing about this issue for some time. She commented years ago that the next wave of Jihadist Muslims would be "White al Qaeda" from Bosnia Whether or not this proves to be true, we had a great opportunity to hear this fascinating speaker defend her point of view.
Kosovo, Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Yugoslavia – the whole Balkans goulash. Do you know the differences among them? We’ve all heard that the Serbians were the villains in the Balkan wars, but is it true?
• Do you think the case against ethnic cleansing has been made against only the Serbs?
• Do you know that the largest ethnic cleansing of the entire Balkan war was committed in a savage attack by Croatia against the Serbs who had inhabited one of its regions (Krajina) for 500 years?
• Are you aware that the historical links to the pro-Hitler Grand Mufti of Jerusalem are still echoed today through pro-Nazi groups in Croatia?
• Do you realize that a number of "Palestinians" are actually Bosnians who fled Europe after WWII's "final solution" didn't succeed?
• Is the naming of an independent Kosovo a compassionate and just idea, or the creation of another, perhaps aggressive, Muslim state in Europe?

From Horror to Paralysis

I was so upset by this concept that I almost gave it all up. I almost gave up this blog and my studies as I felt a sense of hopelessness and futility that I had never encountered before. I was devastated and this was the very reason I did not post on this blog for so long. A seed that began to grow in my mind was the rise of the right and growing Islamophobia in Europe and Great Britain. Surely we have been here before? Surely this is what it felt like in the mid-1930s just before the Holocaust?

islamophobia Image Source

I have never been fond of marginalised groups being racist and intolerant of others. In my naïve little world, I think that if you’ve been the victim of racism, sexism, discrimination, anti-Semitism or persecution, then the very last thing you should be is racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, etc.

That’s why I felt so heartened when I recently came to the end of Sharon Dogar’s novel Annexed to discover that The Anne Frank Foundation in Holland is undertaking work in combating Islamophobia in Europe. It all just clicked into place then.

The Emergence From the Cocoon

I realised that we need people to combat genocide and persecution and that of all the people I know, I am most qualified to do that work. The year 2011 began with me making a decision to study further in this field. The course I really want to do is the Masters in Human Rights and Genocide Studies through Kingston University in London. The problem is that this is an 18-month course and I am not of independent means which basically means I won’t eat if I take 1.5 years off work! I’ve begun the process of looking for undergraduate courses to study in the field in the meantime and have not found anything local, online or through the distance-learning medium. It seems that I have reached an impasse. I have all of this passion and fury and nothing to do with it.

With this in mind, I’ve made the decision to self-study for the rest of the year. I have come up with a broad programme of subjects to cover and will set aside time to study in the weeks when I don’t have accounting classes. I will be putting everything I learn in this blog as I hope it can become both a resource for others and a portfolio of sorts. I am not concerned with copyright or intellectual property; this is information that needs to be out there for everybody to access. It is frightening, more so because the dream I had a month ago of studying a master’s programme seems to have been dashed by the cold light of reality.

What I hope most of all is to never again neglect my blog because of fear, hopelessness and despair. Being too busy, living my life, travelling, and spending time with family are all great reasons for neglecting a blog but what I experienced ain the past two months does not fall into that category. It seems likely that the majority of posts on this blog will be related to genocide in the future and focus on past events and history as opposed to current affairs. I hope that readers continue to find this interesting but will understand if you don’t.

Yours in solidarity and determination.

© A Passion to Understand

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