I pointed yesterday to a long and fine article in The Guardian by Ed Vulliamy on his recollections of the appalling Radovan Karadzic. Martin Bell was another journalist close to this war, and I have learned much from him. He has a long piece today in the Telegraph, which I also recommend.
Martin saw and describes some terrible things, but one sentence in his piece stands out. I hadn't heard it before; it's Karadzic's justification for the destruction of Sarajevo's library. Martin writes:
I knew Karadzic quite well. He was usually affable, but impossible to deal with. He seldom appeared before midday, but would talk all night over a bottle of Ballantine's whisky about the sufferings of the Serbs since 1389. He referred to the Muslims as Turks. He described Sarajevo's magnificent library, which his forces destroyed, as a storehouse of fundamentalist literature.
It is not the worst of Karadzic's crimes. But the man who fancied himself part of a cultural elite was in reality a vandal and a dunce.
I turn, not with great enthusiasm, to one or two charges that have been made in the comments of my post yesterday by readers who are not sympathetic to my thesis. Almost from the outset of this blog, I've had correspondence on Balkan affairs from people who believe Slobodan Milosevic was a maligned (and later murdered) genius. I should therefore have anticipated that the first comment under my post yesterday would be from someone (a Neil Craig, who has often posted inflammatory nonsense here but won't be doing so in future) who repeated a libel made against the ITN reporters who exposed the inhuman conditions at the detention camp at Trnopolje. The comment directly accused Ed Vulliamy (not of ITN, but of The Guardian) of fakery. That's a patently defamatory statement, and I had no hesitation in deleting it and blocking its author from commenting here again. That's just the way it is, I'm afraid.
English libel law as it relates to to the Internet is a mess, and is in urgent need of reform. But as I understand it (going by the precedent of the Mumsnet libel case), Ed would in theory now be entitled to damages from me, as the unwitting publisher of that libel, even though I deleted it as soon as I saw it, and have made clear my view of it.
I'm sorry to see that another comment further down the thread repeats some of the hollow propaganda that has been retailed by apologists for the defamers of honest journalists. The comment states:
I don't know what Neil Craig has written but, ITN won the libel case against Living Marxism because LM were not able to prove that ITN deliberately misrepresented the TV pictures. But in his summing up the judge said "Clearly Ian Williams and Penny Marshall and their television teams were mistaken in thinking they were not enclosed by the old barbed-wire fence, but does it matter?"
On this point, see an outstanding article by David Campbell, in the Journal of Human Rights, March & June 2002. Campbell dissects and then puts in context the the libellous claims made against ITN. Here is what he has to say about the reporting of the judge's conclusions (emphasis added):
Despite their legal loss, LM magazine and like-minded supporters throughout the world have not let the issue rest. [Mick] Hume denounced the court verdict in an unapologetic statement that re-stated his faith in Deichmann's claims, the key element of which he maintained was never seriously challenged in court. Nick Higham, the BBC's media correspondent, who had told various journalists after the publication of Deichmann's article he believed ITN's pictures were misleading, reported the trial’s outcome for the Six O’Clock News on BBC1. In his report, Higham noted that “the judge, Mr Justice Morland, told the jury LM's facts might have been right, but he asked, did that matter?” This summary was subsequently deemed by the Broadcasting Standards Commission to be misleading and thus unfair to ITN and its journalists.
(Mick Hume was editor of LM magazine, which folded as a result of its loss in this case. Thomas Deichmann was the author of the article that libelled ITN's reporters.) I've removed Campbell's footnotes, but this is the one relating to the last sentence I've quoted.
Not surprisingly, Higham's statement was embraced by LM after the verdict; see Mick Hume, "The Only Things this Case has Proved". ITN, Marshall and Williams lodged a formal complaint with the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC) about Higham’s report. In upholding the ITN complaint, the BSC concluded that “the BBC’s paraphrase of the judge’s summing up could have left viewers with the false impression that ITN had got its facts wrong and won its case on a technicality.” See BSC, “Complaint about unjust or unfair treatment by ITN on its own behalf and on behalf of Ms Penny Marshall and Mr Ian Williams submitted on 25 April 2000 about the Six O’Clock News on BBC1, broadcast on 14 March 2000,” 3 October 2000. The adjudication is summarised in BSC, Bulletin, No36, 26 October 2000, 1.
If you follow Internet discussions on the vexed question of propaganda in the Balkan wars - as you're doing now - it's highly likely you'll come across claims such as the one Campbell debunks here. I recommend being armed with Campbell's treatment of this entire case. Also, see Ed Vulliamy's article in The Guardian immediately after LM's court defeat. Ed writes:
But history - the history of genocide in particular - is thankfully built not upon public relations or melodrama but upon truth; if necessary, truth established by law. And history will record this: that ITN reported the truth when, in August 1992, it revealed the gulag of horrific concentration camps run by the Serbs for their Muslim and Croatian quarry in Bosnia.
Some people who ought to have known better (and also some, such as Noam Chomsky, of very poor judgement indeed) maintained that ITN's libel suit was an attack on the free speech of a small magazine. I have no doubt at all that ITN was justified in taking legal action and in defending the integrity of its journalism.