Hoare on the Left on Yugoslavia

by Chris Bertram on December 16, 2003

Marko Attila Hoare has “a review essay”:http://www.bosnia.org.uk/bosrep/report_format.cfm?articleid=1041&reportid=162 in the latest “Bosnia Report”:http://www.bosnia.org.uk/bosrep/default.cfm on books on the left about the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia. I won’t attempt a crisp summary here (Hoare’s judgements won’t secure everyone’s agreement though I largely concur with them). One passage was of particular interest to me though:

bq. The journal _New Left Review_ (NLR) commissioned the present author in October 2000 to travel to Belgrade to write an article on the popular rebellion against MiloÅ¡ević that was then taking place. NLR paid my air-fare and I arrived in Belgrade on the day that MiloÅ¡ević fell. But when I produced my report NLR refused to publish it: editor Susan Watkins [that’s Mrs Tariq Ali by the way – CB] explained to me that the editorial board objected to my article’s implied support for the Hague Tribunal and for Serbia’s integration into European institutions – these views were considered politically unacceptable. I was reminded of this some months later while reading Michael Parenti’s _To kill a nation: The attack on Yugoslavia_ , published by NLR’s sister organization, the publishing house Verso. The book is simply an outright apologia for MiloÅ¡ević and his regime. Period. Thus while it would appear that supporting the prosecution of war-criminals at the Hague Tribunal is unacceptable to NLR/Verso, actually supporting the principal war-criminal himself – orchestrator of the worst acts of imperialist aggression and racial mass-murder in Europe since the death of Stalin – is entirely acceptable. Lest any reader believes I am exaggerating Parenti’s views, his book recently appeared in Serbian translation (Majkl Parenti, _Ubiti Naciju: Napad na Jugoslaviju_ , Mediagraf, Belgrade 2002) – with a foreword by none other than Slobodan MiloÅ¡ević himself.

Full disclosure here: I’m a former member of the NLR editoral committee and resigned along with Hoare’s parents and blogger Norman Geras (and most of the rest of the EC) following an office coup in 1993. I’m also a former employee of Verso. Our resignation statement, heavily self-censored for legal reasons, is “here”:http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=1993Mar5.145426.988%40bristol.ac.uk&output=gplain (the full story might get disclosed to people buying me enough beer in the right circumstances).



raj 12.16.03 at 1:55 pm

OK, I’ll bite. To put it succinctly, you resigned from the NLR because the owners (the “shareholder”) started exerting editorial control–which they clearly had a right to do–in a way you didn’t like. Other that apparent pique on your part, what does that have to do with Hoare’s comment?


Ophelia Benson 12.16.03 at 2:03 pm


And then people are surprised that the left is not monolithic – that people can think of themselves as on the left and still have views that other people who also think of themselves as on the left don’t share. As if no one had ever heard of the Moscow Trials, or what happened to the POUM and the anarchists in Barcelona in 1936-37, or the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and the splits in the left that resulted.


Doug Muir 12.16.03 at 2:12 pm

Chris, you’re a purge victim? I had no idea. And with Alexander Cockburn and Tariq Ali sharing the role of Vyshinsky. Wow.

Was any ideological or intellectual reason ever given for the change? Or was it simply, as your e-mail says, “a simple assertion of power, control and proprietorship”?

Doug M.


dsquared 12.16.03 at 2:25 pm

I think it’s a bit much to describe Milosevic as “the orchestrator of the worst massacres”, etc. Surely that designation would pick out Radovan Kasradzic, who actually orchestrated them? This is particularly important because a) Milosevic’s defence at the Hague revolves round the claim that he was not in operational control over Kasradzic, and people who I trust on the issue say he has a point, and b) the unique evilness of Milosevic personally is the main plank in the case for the separate UN intervention in Kosovo, the case against which is much more arguable than the Bosnian.


Chris Bertram 12.16.03 at 2:37 pm


No pique. I just didn’t want to endorse what Hoare says without disclosing that I had, at least, autobiographically, a stake in the matter.

You are also (probably) correct to say that they had a legal right to do what they did. I say “probably” because there were a number of issues that were not tested in the courts at the time.

As for all the other stuff … like I said I might be persuadeable over a few beers but I can say that there was no common set of beliefs over Marxism or Yugoslavia or anything else that united those who resigned.


nofundy 12.16.03 at 2:40 pm

Is this a European sister publication of The New Republic(an)? :-)


Matt Weiner 12.16.03 at 2:43 pm

I can’t speak to the personalities involved in Hoare’s article, but his main points seem on-target. One quibble, though–what is his point about E. Timor? I thought that it was uncontroversial that Indonesia was guilty of “of ‘aggression and massacre’ of ‘near-genocidal levels’ in East Timor”; the BBC quotes nearly 200,000 dead of war, famine and disease under the Indonesian occupation. It wouldn’t seem unreasonable to say that the Timorese suffered worse than the Kosovars, should one go in for such comparisons.


Chris Bertram 12.16.03 at 2:56 pm

Matt: I don’t find that in the review. He’s just making a point about Chomsky being inconsistent rather than denying the suffering of the Timorese himself.

D^2: I don’t think it is unreasonable to say that Milosevic orchestrated the whole Yugoslav trainwreck (of which the massacres are part) from the suppression of Kosovar independence in 1989 onwards. Even without smoking guns, memos, transcripts etc, I’d defend Hoare’s right to say something like that as fair comment in a book review where standards of proof and evidence are rightly different from those at the Hague. I also happen to believe that Karadic was largely Milosevic’s instrument but the tests I have to meet to be warranted in asserting that are a lot lower than would be required for a prosecution.


raj 12.16.03 at 3:03 pm

Chris, understood. Just don’t consider it necessary for you to provide a CV all the way back to your kindergarten days to provide “full disclosure.”

I know nothing about Hoare, and might have a further comment later, but one thing about his article (which, of course, presents his side of the NLR story). After a cursory review of his article, I find it interesting that he throws around “left” this and “left” that as though “left” were an epithet and that he is providing anything other than a bitch session against people he desires to classify as “left.” It is almost as if he is a former leftist who has become disillusioned with what he apparently believes leftism has become. And is tilting at those windmills. Kind of like David Horowitz claims to have become.

Surely he can write something intelligent without railing against “leftists.” Otherwise, it’s a big yawn.


dsquared 12.16.03 at 3:15 pm

Hrrrm, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. Though I must say that there are a few points in the review where Hoare does seem to let his anger run away with him. His discussion of the rumours that the Bosnians were bombing their own villages is particularly weak; to me it fails to address the possibility that something might be true even though David Owen says it is.


Matt Weiner 12.16.03 at 3:21 pm

Seems fair; I couldn’t quite tell whether Hoare was drawing a parallel between East Timor and Palestine, and whether there was some controversy about E. Timor that I missed out on. The criticism of Chomsky seems on-target.

but the tests I have to meet to be warranted in asserting that are a lot lower than would be required for a prosecution.
Always nice to find a fellow-opponent of the knowledge account of assertion… (meant strictly as a philosophy joke)


Doug Muir 12.16.03 at 8:15 pm

His discussion of the rumours that the Bosnians were bombing their own villages is particularly weak; to me it fails to address the possibility that something might be true even though David Owen says it is.

Well, I guess it’s not a Crooked Timber discussion without an Orwell reference. Just glad it wasn’t me this time.

Actually, there is some evidence that Bosnians did shell Bosnians deliberately. The evidence is disputable and disputed, and it’s doubtful if the truth will ever be known.

If they did, it’s nothing unique to them particularly, alas. Everyone knows that NATO bombed TV Belgrade, killing 17 innocent journalists and technicians. What’s been less widely publicized is that in 2002, a Serbian court convicted TV Belgrade’s director, Milosevic crony Dragoljob Milanovic, of deliberately not ordering the evacuation of the TV station. This despite having been informed by the military that it had been moved to NATO’s short list of potential targets.

Milanovic, who had been making a great show of being “at his post” at TV Belgrade 12 hours a day or more, abruptly disappeared two days before the attack. He wasn’t seen again until the following morning, weeping copiously amongst the ruins.

The judge gave him ten years.

— No, no, this is not to absolve the Bosnians. My point is, there were no good guys in the FY. Shades of dark grey to black, at best. (Though I retain a soft spot for the doomed but noble Kosovar nonviolent resistance movement.) But that doesn’t mean there weren’t aggressors and victims, and one doesn’t hesitate to put a nightstick over the rapist’s head just because the rape victim comes from a family of muggers and thieves.

There’s also no question that the Bosnians did everything possible to tug at the heartstrings of the world. What else were they supposed to do? We wouldn’t sell them guns, and we were damnably, sickeningly reluctant to actually help them.

The Bosnians weren’t moral paragons; nobody in the region was. ‘s not the point.

the unique evilness of Milosevic personally is the main plank in the case for the separate UN intervention in Kosovo, the case against which is much more arguable than the Bosnian.

Actually, that’s not true. It did become the main selling point of the intervention, but that’s not quite the same thing.

(And, what UN intervention in Kosovo? Russia would have vetoed any UN resolution, so it had to be done by NATO.)

As for the case being more arguable… yeah, better to intervene too late than too soon. It’s so much more morally compelling after a couple of hundred thousand people have already died.


Doug M.


Doug Muir 12.16.03 at 8:27 pm

Hoare’s anger does indeed run away with him at a couple of points.

On the other hand, as a resident of the Balkans (and a former resident of Belgrade), I can completely understand where he’s coming from. The attempts to demonize the Serbs during the Kosovo conflict were disgusting but comprehensible; the ongoing attempts to whitewash Milosevic are simply stupid, and would be ludicrous if they weren’t so sickening.

(Yes, Neil Clark, I mean you. Lots of others, but your crocodile tears for the late Zoran Djindjic were particularly gag-making.)

Ahh… sorry. But, yeah, I see where it comes from.

I don’t share Hoare’s seeming antipathy towards the “far left”. But neither do I find this boring. Quite the opposite. It seems to me that Hoare is trying to articulate something I felt very strongly at the time: the vast moral confusion that the Kosovo intervention caused on the left, and the despicable willingness of many to take the cheap and easy route of knee-jerk criticism. Any British or American leader who sends soldiers into combat is, ipso facto, deluded or wicked! Link arms, comrades, for we can be certain of our righteousness!

— Dammit, there I go again; sorry. But, point is, when Hoare says something like this:

“Media reports of atrocities carried out by Serb forces allowed liberal and ‘bourgeois’ critics of these atrocities to take the moral high ground; the far left was forced either to fall in behind the ‘bourgeois liberals’ in their condemnation of a ‘socialist’ regime, or to attempt to recapture the moral high ground by pretending that Serb atrocities were all a lie, or at least an exaggeration.”

— I say, yeah, that’s about right, actually. (They just couldn’t accept the mainstream version, because it was, you know, mainstream.) And while this bit is over the top —

“If Bosnian civilians are blown up by a Serb shell, it is still the Bosnians who are the perpetrators and the Western public the victims: How dare they get blown up in front of us ! How dare they make us feel guilt that isn’t left-wing guilt !”

— yes, a bit much, but I can understand where he’s coming from. I was there and it pissed me off, too.

He’s got a piece of something very important here.

A while back, I posted a comment saying that the European (and particularly British) far left had become morally confused and politically impotent. I got jumped on a bit for it… though when Ken MacLeod said almost exactly the same thing last week, he got linked to and lionized. Go figure. Well, I suppose y’all know Ken to be a standup kinda guy, whereas I’m just another commenter, who may or may not have a heart in the right place.

Nevertheless, the point stands: there’s a deal of moral confusion out there at the left end of the political bell curve, and the response to the crises in the former Yugoslavia brought it bubbling unwholesomely to the surface. Where it’s still bobbing around today.

Hm, I was contemplating a long post on the strange fractures that the FY situation caused on the left, from “all a bourgeois conspiracy” through “hand wringing” to “give peace a chance! really!” But upon consideration, tonight I think I’d rather look out the window and watch the snow fall.

Doug M.


Peter 12.17.03 at 12:42 am

While I throughly believe Milosevic to be an evil man who was responsible for the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of people, I do believe there are legitimate criticism to be made of the West’s coverage of the Balkans. In particular, I would focus on:

(1) the enormous attention paid to the Serb role in the destruction of Bosnia (rightfully); whereas the Croat role in the destruction of Bosnia got far less attention, even though Trudjman was at least as bad as Milosevic

(2) The fact that while there is extensive knowledge of how Serbs *committed* ethnic cleansing in Croatia and Kosovo (again, rightly), there is much less knowledge of the hundreds of thousands of Serbian victims of ethnic cleansing in Croatia and Kosovo

(3) the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo of Serbs that’s taken place since the NATO intervention

It’s worth noting that virtually everybody in Serbia was and is hostile toward the NATO internvetion (“The NATO War of Aggression”). Milosevic’s opponents were just as hostile to NATO as Milosevic was. That doesn’t mean they’re right, but it is something to think about.

P.S. Once again, I am not defending Milosevic, nor those who would minimize his evil.


Conrad Barwa 12.17.03 at 1:25 am

This is disappointing but not, I expect entirely surprising, I didn’t know much about the change of guard at the NLR, what little I did was confined to Boris Kagarlitsky’s comment on the “Suicide of the NLR” in the Socialist Register. On a broader level there needs to be a move away from simplistic binaries vis-à-vis the intervention in the Kosovo conflict; one can be critical of the ‘military humanitarianism’ of the NATO action without having to make some sort of martyr out of Milosevic and the Serbian regime of the time.


Doug Muir 12.17.03 at 2:08 pm

For some reason it’s not showing up in the trackbacks, but “Socialism in an Age of Waiting” (the blog over at Marxists.org.uk) has a long post on this.

Unnecessarily long, I think; so, money quotes:

We suggest that you take a look at how “comrades” behaved towards each other ten years ago and then consider this. If the perpetrators of this “coup” can treat former close collaborators in this undemocratic and ruthless way, merely to gain control of a relatively obscure journal and its publishing arm, what would they do if any of them ever came close to gaining the political power that they all dream of wielding?

[Brief pause to contemplate Alexander Cockburn, Tariq Ali et al in positions of actual political power.]

[Takes long swig of black coffee, moves on.]

For their part, the 19 (a term that looks as if it needs a place name in front of it) assert in their statement that “There have been plenty of vigorous disagreements among us, but no consistent polarisations”. That absence of consistency, which they appear to have been mentioning with a collective sigh of relief, was, surely, already part of the problem. But here’s another thought experiment. See how many names you recognise among the 19, follow their various trails over the years since, and decide if their political positions are more honourable, more humane, more genuinely socialist, than those now taken by the erstwhile plotters of the “coup”. We know what we think.

And I’m inclined to agree. Okay, not that “more honourable and humane than Alexander Cockburn” is really setting the bar all that high. But yes, AFAICT they’re entirely correct.

Doug M.


Chris Bertram 12.17.03 at 3:42 pm

Certainly true that the 19 didn’t share much beyond a collective exasperation at being jerked around by Anderson, Blackburn, and Ali (Cockburn’s involvement was pretty nominal). That made it harder for Anderson and co to provide a political rationalization for what they did. I can’t connect to “Socialism in an Age of Waiting” and I haven’t tracked the careers of many of my co-resignees. Those I have are all over the place politically: some are socialists, others find that label wouldn’t describe them particularly well. But honourable and humane yes (certainly compared to Anderson and co.).


Marko Attila Hoare 12.17.03 at 11:37 pm

Thanks to all those who have posted comments related to my article; I’m glad it has provoked some discussion.

Regarding the question of whether the Bosnians might have shelled their own civilians to provoke Western intervention. Senan Pecanin, editor of the Bosnian independent magazine ‘Dani’, has been ready to accuse the Izetbegovic regime and its armed forces of many crimes, including abandoning Srebrenica to Serb forces and terrorising Serb civilians in Sarajevo. But he was so outraged at the suggestion of British journalist Misha Glenny, that the Bosnians had deliberately shelled their own civilians, that he says he almost punched him.

In other words, nobody with any sympathy for the Bosnian people actually takes those claims seriously, even if they are strongly anti-Izetbegovic. They are contemptible smears unworthy of serious consideration.

By the way, when the Nazis bombed Guernica in 1937, the Spanish fascists claimed that the Basques had bombed their own city in order to discredit them.


Marko Attila Hoare 12.17.03 at 11:49 pm

On the more substantial charge, that I was engaged in ‘left bashing’. Well yes, I was. A large part of the far left sympathises with racism and fascism in the former Yugoslavia, without suffering any ostracism or condemnation from most of the rest of the far left. If someone openly sympathised with neo-Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan, one would imagine that they would forfeit their membership of the left.

But supporters of the racist killers of Croats, Muslims, Albanians and others are still given space to publish their poison, even by non-sectarian journals like the ‘New Statesman’ and ‘Red Pepper’. ‘The far left’ has no meaning if it does not oppose racism and fascism; consequently ‘the far left’, with a few honourable exceptions, has ceased to be a progressive force – if it ever was – and deserves to be bashed.


drapetomaniac 12.18.03 at 7:10 am

If someone openly sympathised with neo-Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan, one would imagine that they would forfeit their membership of the left.

Actually, a certain slice of the white left has been quite openly sympathetic to militias, McVeighs and other neo-Nazi groups, especially after Ruby Ridge, Waco etc, as resisting the authoritarianism of the federal govt.

I absolutely do not mean to say that all leftist critiques of how the feds have treated these groups is equivalent to sympathy, but the sympathetic faction does exist, with Cockburn as an example.

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