the whole story:
Other LM articles
Ed Vulliamy of the Guardian insists that the Bosnian Serb-run
camp at the centre of LM's legal battle with ITN was a concentration
camp. And he has the nerve to accuse us of rewriting history,
says Mick Hume
There are camps, and then there are concentration camps
Ed Vulliamy got piles of awards for his reports on the Bosnian-Serb
run camps which he visited with an ITN news team in August 1992.
Not content with being the Guardian's star international reporter
and chief crusader against parliamentary sleaze, however, he has
recently expanded his range of talents to become a book reviewer,
a film buff and an art critic. Why? Because writing about these
things provides him with another pretext to pursue his obsession
with smearing LM magazine and its writers, over our revelations
about those famous ITN reports from Trnopolje camp.
On 20 April in the Observer, Vulliamy used a review of a book
about the Bosnian camps as a platform from which to denounce us
as 'lice' with a 'diabolical' mindset. On 25 April in the New
Statesman, a review of art exhibitions about Bosnia gave Vulliamy
the opportunity to accuse 'the apparently insignificant gang who
publish Living Marxism' of trying to 'poison and slaughter' the
truth. On 9 May in the Guardian, Vulliamy used an article about
the film Welcome to Sarajevo to brand us as 'lunatics'. And so
it goes on. He may not know much about art, but he knows what
he doesn't like. You get the feeling that, if Ed Vulliamy wrote
a food column, he would end up complaining that LM had put him
off his dinner.
Reading between the bile, Vulliamy's central accusation is that
LM's coverage of the Bosnian civil war, and particularly Thomas
Deichmann's article 'The Picture that Fooled the World', is guilty
of 'revisionism' and rewriting history. What he seems to mean
by 'rewriting history' is that we disagree with his version of
events. Does Ed Vulliamy now claim a monopoly on Bosnia's history?
The notion that journalists' accounts should be accepted as historical
record is highly dubious.
After all, Vulliamy himself has given several different 'eye-witness'
accounts of what he saw at Trnopolje on 5 August 1992. First he
said it was not a concentration camp, then he recalled that it
was one after all. His first report from Trnopolje failed to mention
any barbed wire fence; his later book remembered that the camp
compound was 'surrounded by barbed wire fencing'; and now (after
Thomas Deichmann's revelations in February's LM) he remembers
that it was not. Which report are we to take as the gospel truth?
(For a full account , see 'Ed Vulliamy's recovered memories',
LM, March 1997).
Vulliamy's 'I am the Truth' posturing, and his feverish attempts
to discredit LM, cannot be allowed to distract from the major
issue at stake in the debate about Trnopolje camp. That issue
is not about the existence of camps during the war in northern
Bosnia; contrary to what Vulliamy and his allies claim, LM has
never denied the existence of the camps or accused ITN of 'fabricating'
their pictures. Nor is the argument about whether or not Trnopolje
camp was a pleasant place; as we have always made clear, there
is no such thing as a 'good' camp and everybody at Trnopolje would
undoubtedly have rather been somewhere else.
The issue is simply this: was the world right to interpret the
ITN pictures from Trnopolje, centred on the image of Fikret Alic
and other Bosnian Muslims behind barbed wire, as proof that the
Bosnian Serbs were running Nazi-style concentration camps?
Vulliamy now insists that Trnopolje was a concentration camp,
a symbol of the Bosnian Serbs' war of 'genocide' against the Bosnian
Muslims. LM insists that there is a world of difference between
a camp like Trnopolje, however grim, and a real concentration
camp like Auschwitz or Belsen.
Trnopolje was a chaotic refugee and transit camp situated on the
grounds of a local school in the middle of a war zone. At its
peak it held about 7 500 people, many of whom were under-nourished,
and there have been reports of some beatings, rapes and killings
there. Auschwitz concentration camp in occupied Poland was a huge
industrially-organised extermination machine, with about 40 'branch'
camps attached, where the Nazis killed between three and four
million Jews, Poles, Russians, Gypsies, communists and others,
mostly in mass gas chambers.
The respected Stockholm International Peace Institute estimates,
in its 1996 yearbook, that a total of between 30-50 000 people
died on all sides during the whole of the Bosnian civil war (not
the 250 000 figure that is bandied around by journalists who get
their information from Bosnian government sources). The Nazis
exterminated about 100 times as many at Auschwitz alone. There
can be no intelligent comparison between that concentration camp
and the ramshackle centre at Trnopolje.
The thrust of Thomas Deichmann's argument is that the ITN pictures
of Trnopolje camp, showing emaciated Bosnian Muslims apparently
caged behind barbed wire, gave the world the false impression
that Trnopolje was a Nazi-style concentration camp - and neither
ITN nor its journalists ever corrected that false impression.
The Bosnian Muslims were not encircled by barbed wire at all.
There was no barbed wire fence surrounding Trnopolje camp; the
barbed wire actually encircled the British news team, who took
those shots from inside an old fenced-in agricultural compound
next to the camp (for the full story, see 'The Picture that Fooled
the World' in February's LM).
In all of his hysterical attempts to rubbish LM's case, Ed Vulliamy
has never once considered the actual evidence which Thomas Deichmann
has amassed, instead confining himself to cheap insults and boring
old Red scares, or trying to dismiss the question of the barbed
wire fence as 'a detail'. But the amount of time and space Vulliamy
has devoted to his campaign suggests that he knows it is nothing
of the sort.
The picture of Fikret Alic behind barbed wire is the defining
image of the Bosnian war, the one thing above all others which
convinced the world that another Holocaust was taking place in
Serb-run concentration camps. And that false interpretation has
not only distorted the reality of Bosnia; it has belittled the
real Nazi genocide against the Jews.
The notion that the Bosnian civil war was a war of genocidal aggression,
with the Bosnian Serbs cast in the role of the new Nazis, served
to justify Western intervention, as Vulliamy and his fellow breast-beaters
demanded 'an end to appeasement'. In reality it was the interference
of the Western powers which sparked off the Yugoslav civil war
in the first place, and perpetuated it thereafter, to the detriment
of all those on the receiving end - the Muslim, Croatian and Serb
communities. The post-war pay-off from the moral crusade for Western
intervention is that Bosnia is now effectively under foreign occupation
(see Dave Chandler, 'You will be democratised', LM, March 1997).
Trivialising the Holocaust
The ironic twist is that Vulliamy's insistence that Trnopolje
and another Serb-run camp at Omarska were concentration camps
really has helped to rewrite history. Any attempt to speak of
these camps in the same breath as concentration camps like Auschwitz
and Treblinka can only serve to alter the historical record by
trivialising the unequalled horrors of the Nazi Holocaust.
As the veteran Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal said when the camps
in Bosnia first made sensational headlines, 'To call the camps
"concentration camps" is a minimisation of Nazi concentration
camps, because not even the gulag camps could be compared with
the Nazi camps'.
Vulliamy himself once seemed almost to grasp this point. In the
introduction to his 1994 book, Seasons in Hell, he explained how,
at the time when the ITN pictures from Trnopolje first had the
world's press screaming about 'Belsen 1992' , 'I declined to use
the term "concentration camp" because of its resonance since the
Nazi Holocaust'. However, Vulliamy went on, for some reason since
then 'I have decided that "concentration camp" is exactly the
right term'. The camps deserved 'the strict definition of "concentration
camp", but there is no intention to draw parallels with the scale
of the Nazi Holocaust' (pxii).
Tadic is not Goering
That's alright then, Ed. Never mind that the term concentration
camp has only one meaning in the post-1945 world, or that it can
only conjure up direct comparisons with Auschwitz and all that.
So long as there was 'no intention to draw parallels' in your
head, you cannot be blamed for the stupidity (or was it diabolical
lunacy?) of people who thought that when you said concentration
camp you meant concentration camp.
This same habit of implying bogus parallels with the Second World
War infuses all discussion of the Bosnian conflict. The International
War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague has been set up on the assumption
that what happened in Bosnia bears comparison with the Nazi experience.
In May the three Tribunal judges found Bosnian Serb Dusko Tadic,
against whom Vulliamy gave evidence, guilty of 'crimes against
humanity' - the same charge which was levelled against the Nazi
leaders at Nuremberg. Yet how can anybody with a passing knowledge
of history seriously suggest that a local militiaman like Tadic
could be compared to the powerful Nazis sentenced to death for
crimes against humanity? The notion that Tadic could really be
another Herman Goering, Rudolf Hess, Martin Bormann or Julius
Streicher takes revisionism to ridiculous lengths. (A full legal
assessment of the Tadic trial will appear in the next issue of
Who benefits from the fashion for crying 'Holocaust' and 'genocide'
every time a local war breaks out from Bosnia to Rwanda, a comparison
which implicitly belittles the Nazi experience through the comparison?
Vulliamy deludes himself that his Bosnian crusade presents a radical
challenge to the 'appeasers' within the Anglo-American establishment.
In fact the powerful elites of Western society have good reason
to be delighted with his Holocaust-mongering.
The argument that there are new Holocausts happening in the East
or the South has helped to establish the moral authority of the
West to intervene around the world as it sees fit, under the banners
not of empire but of a righteous crusade against evil. This does
not mean, of course, that Washington or Whitehall will answer
every crank call for intervention, but it does mean that they
have an almost open invitation to intervene in their pockets.
Having liberal journalists scream at them to invade small countries,
and denounce them as 'appeasers' for failing to do so, must be
like music to the ears of the great military powers of the West,
which are more used to being branded imperialists and told to
get their hands off the rest of the world.
The Holocaust-mongering of the likes of Vulliamy also helps to
relativise the Nazi experience, by reducing the great genocide
of the century to the level of just another atrocity like those
carried out today in the Bosnian or Rwandan civil wars. The German
authorities are of course keen to encourage this process of relativisation,
to rehabilitate their own global reputation . But all of the other
Western powers have an interest in it, too. For half a century
the Nazi experience has cast a shadow over them all, discrediting
the politics of race and empire that are so close to the heart
of Western societies and advertising the dangers of a capitalist
system out of control.
That is why the Western establishment should be grateful to Vulliamy
and his fellow Holocaust-mongers, for providing them with an opportunity
to get off the hook and spread the guilt for genocide around.
Better still, the focus on alleged concentration camps and genocide
'over there' in the East and the South allows the West to present
itself as the potential saviour of the innocent. The great powers,
who invented the politics of racial supremacy and put them into
practice at the cost of millions of lives around the world, are
recast in the role of Holocaust-busting super heroes. That is
history not just rewritten but turned on its head.
The final little irony in all of this is that Ed Vulliamy, who
has tried to win himself a reputation as a crusader for the truth
against sleaze and the abuse of power, should now act as the mouthpiece
for ITN's libel writs against LM - a blatant attempt by a mega-corporation
to gag the press and buy immunity from criticism through the courts.
Obsessed: Ed Vulliamy
Despite the impression given by ITN's picture, Trnopolje (left)
was not Auschwitz (right)
News from the legal front
The battle between LM magazine and ITN, over Thomas Deichmann's
article 'The Picture that Fooled the World', is starting to warm
up as we spar over the legal details of the libel case.
Contrary to the impression given recently in the media, LM has
not apologised to ITN or anybody else. The magazine is continuing
to defend itself against ITN's libel writs and gagging orders.
All that happened in April was that Two-Ten Communications (a
subsidiary of the Press Association) issued a High Court apology
to ITN and two of its journalists, over allegations made in a
Living Marxism press release promoting Deichmann's article. The
Two-Ten case was reported in terms which gave the clear impression
that ITN had won a major legal battle over Deichmann's allegations.
But there was no legal battle. Two-Ten Communications lawyers
offered no defence. They simply made a short, formal apology (but
paid no damages), and then ITN's lawyers read out a lengthy statement
giving their own version of what happened at Trnopolje camp on
5 August 1992. The court made no examination whatsoever of Thomas
Deichmann's counter evidence, and no jury passed judgement on
who was telling the truth.
Two-Ten Communications is only a commercial distributor of press
releases which, as its own solicitor's courtroom statement makes
clear, 'does not make any comment or judgement on the content
of such press releases'. For Two-Ten, apologising to ITN was strictly
a business matter, to do with protecting commercial relations.
For LM Magazine, however, the battle against ITN's libel writs
is an issue of principle to do with defending press freedom. That
is why LM is continuing with its defence and refusing to apologise.
As LM editor Mick Hume said after the Two-Ten case: 'Judgement
as to who is telling the truth about the ITN reports will have
to wait until all the evidence is finally made public. We have
that evidence. We stand by our story. Watch this space.'
Meanwhile, another settlement relating to the case went unreported.
In April the Guardian agreed to settle a claim made by former
US state department official George Kenney, over the paper's 12
March article about the London Off the Fence rally where Kenney
spoke. Luke Harding of the Guardian described Kenney as a 'leading
apologist for Serbian aggression'. Kenney's solicitors, Bindman
& Partners, complained to the Guardian Newspapers Ltd that this
was a serious defamation of their client, and demanded an apology
and payment of costs and damages.
Although the Guardian Newspaper Ltd claimed that the article was
'fair comment' they nevertheless were not prepared to see the
case go to court. Instead they agreed to publish a letter from
Kenney and to pay him in excess of £2250. Readers can draw their
own conclusions about the strength of the Guardian's case. Kenney
told LM magazine that in his view the settlement was 'a small
moral victory, but a victory nonetheless'.
If we are to win a bigger victory for press freedom, we still
need all the help we can get. Send messages of support, offers
of help and money to the LM libel appeal, the Off The Fence Fund.
first appeared in LM 101