Having sensed in the 1990’s that most European and American reporting about the Balkans was suspect, I find that this investigative study by a young German journalist, associated with the publication Junge Welt, fills in gaping holes in the received account of a controversial phase of recent history. Contributing to my uneasiness over the establishment’s presentation of the Balkan unrest was the contradiction between two situations: the supposedly desperate plight of the outnumbered and out-armed Muslim population in Bosnia and Kosovo and the fact that the Muslim armies not only held on there but, in the Krajina, managed, with the aid of Croatians and mysterious foreign volunteers, to dislodge Serbian populations. There was also the problem of the uneven reporting about which ethnic minority was committing what when and against whom. Thus, while the Serbs’ shelling of Sarajevo in 1992-93 and the Srbrenica massacre of captured soldiers and some civilians in 1995 received considerable news coverage, very little came through, as Jürgen Elsässer points out, concerning the Muslims’ wholesale murder of Serbs—a carnage that may have involved as many as 3,000—in Sarajevo in 1993. Nor did one learn from the Western media about the torture and killing of at least 1,000 Serb captives at the Muslim internment camp at Celebici. Bosnian Muslim president Alija Izetbegovic visited this camp and reviewed its soldiers while murder and rape were still going on there; unlike both the Muslim commander he appointed to this camp and the Serb military leader Radovan Karadzic, Izetbegovic was never prosecuted for war crimes before his death in 2003.
I knew in advance of reading this book about one case of distorted reporting that Elsässer brings up: the bloody bombing of the marketplace in Sarajevo that occurred in February 1994. French journalist Elisabeth Lévy had anticipated Elsässer’s revisionist account by several years, while reports as early as 1994 in Nouvel Observateur suggest that the French premier Edouard Balladur suspected that Muslims had blown up the Sarajevo marketplace in order to pull NATO peacekeeping forces deeper into the conflict. It is telling that the self-proclaimed voice of French conscience, Bernard-Henry Lévy (no relative of the more honorable Elisabeth), proclaimed in Le Monde (February 8, 1994) that “ceux qui posent la question sont des salauds.” Presumably, those who looked at the mounting evidence linking the Muslims to the Sarajevo atrocity (which Elsässer reviews) have no status in a discussion among French humanitarians.
Equally upsetting is that, in 1997, the Republican majority in Congress drafted a resolution scolding President Clinton, National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, and James Galbraith, the U.S. ambassador in Croatia, for “turning Bosnia into a militant Islamic base.” The resolution referred unmistakably to arms deals in which Lake had been involved, including the transfer of rockets from Iran to Bosnian Muslim forces. By 1999, however, the Republicans in Congress were hot to trot when Clinton proposed the bombing of Serbian forces in Kosovo. The painfully detailed information Elsässer packs into fewer than 200 pages—excluding the introductory chapter and his reflections, at the end, about September 11 and current American energy concerns—makes his book difficult reading. No one can reasonably accuse the author of not having done his spadework on multiple trips to the troubled region he examines. Elsässer’s core chapters, and the accompanying notes, are worth picking through for the massive refutation they offer of what most of the Western elite press was reporting about the Balkans throughout the 90’s. Whether Elsässer is discussing the importation of mujahideen armies into Bosnia and Kosovo, Albanian drug deals, the operation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Bosnia before the disintegration of Yugoslavia, Al Qaeda activities in the Balkans, or American violations of the Dayton Accords by the imposition of an arms embargo on all Balkan belligerents, the result is to contradict the disinformation Americans were fed about unprovoked Serbian aggression against innocent Muslims.
Whatever else Elsässer accomplishes, he does manage to discredit the pro-Muslim and anti-Serbian account of events. He also causes one to wonder how anyone with his head screwed on straight could have believed that Izetbegovic and his associates in the Bosnian Muslim government, Muhamed and Hasan Cengic, all of whom had close contacts with radical Muslims going back to before the 90’s, were devoted to a religiously pluralistic Bosnia. Even less can it be understood how a sensible Western leader could have believed that the gargantuan Muslim arms-smuggling agency known as the Third World Relief Organization (centered in Vienna) was really about philanthropy. Elsässer cites evidence that Western heads of state, including Clinton, knew better than to parrot the party line. During the alleged “Serbian shelling” of the Markalé marketplace in Sarajevo, everyone and his cousin recognized the strong possibility that Muslim terrorists were to blame. But they carefully refrained from expressing these thoughts too loudly—the way the Anglo-American side went on lying about the Soviet massacre of Polish officers even after the outcome of World War II was no longer in doubt.
There is, however, one imbalance about this otherwise illuminating work that fairness obliges me to mention. Elsässer understates leftist support for the misconceived Western intervention on the Muslim side. Not all Germans who favored the Muslim and/or Croatian causes thought of themselves as “renewing the Nazi alliance system,” and it is doubtful that such a trip down memory lane dominated the minds of Helmut Kohl or his foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, both of whom hastened to recognize the independence of Slovenia (which had fought against Germany in World War II) as well as that of Croatia. The German left, led by the ferociously antinational Jürgen Habermas and the Berlin Tageszeitung, were ecstatically pro-Muslim; and almost the entire German left opposed the Serbs as the enemies of a European multicultural society. Both Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright misrepresented or blurred the events of World War II to make it appear that, somehow, the Balkan Muslims were then anti-Nazis, while the ever-manipulative Elie Wiesel employed the term genocide to describe the fate of the ex-Nazi Muslim populations in the Balkans and their Muslim terrorist helpers.
There was a pro-Western, pro-Croatian side in the war, which I personally favored, and my sympathy may have been partly attributable to the fact that, in World War I, four of my uncles fought on the Austrian side, together with the Croatians, against the Serbs and the Russians. But from what I can tell, and as Elisabeth Lévy suggests, the pro-Croatian sympathizers were less hysterical than the pro-Muslim multiculturalists. And without the distraction created by the multiculturalists, the slimy business interests that Elsässer exposes would not have profited so lucratively from arms sales to the Bosnian Muslims and the Albanians.
It may also be useful to note that the recognition of Croatian and Slovenian independence in December 1991 was not universally seen as tied to Bosnian Muslim designs. Elsässer is correct in arguing that one development accelerated the other and that, from the 1970’s forward, Muslim fundamentalists were planning to take over Bosnia and to marginalize or expel the majority Christian (Serbian and Croatian) population. But this succession of events was not one that those who rooted for the Croatians and Slovenes necessarily hoped to see unfold.
What is demonstrable, however, is that the efforts made to preserve a multicultural society in Bosnia and Kosovo helped strengthen Muslim terrorists. And unlike the aid given to the Taliban in their struggle against Soviet aggression in the 1980’s (which might have been justified in terms of the Cold War), the strategy Elsässer documents makes no political sense, representing as it does the triumph of multicultural illusions, in the same way as did the events leading to this summer’s bombing of London tube stations and a London bus. The pro-Muslim side was at work there, too, as it had been in the Clinton administration and throughout Western Europe in the 90’s, particularly among those English I heard on TV, who were loudly blaming the violence on the failure to provide Muslim immigrants with sufficient social services.
[Wie der Daschihad nach Europa kam. Gotteskrieger und Geheimdienste auf dem Balkan, by Jürgen Elsässer (St. Pölten, Vienna, Linz: NP Buchverlag) 246 pp., €19.90]