Selected Longer Reviews

Genocide in Bosnia: the policy of 'ethnic cleansing'

By Cigar, Norman

Texas A&M University Press, College Station, 1995, 242 pages,
Price: 27.95 Pound Sterling
Shelf mark: 341.9497024

As reported in "Alliance News", the promotion of Norman Cigar’s book on genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina was a great sucess. We print below an extract from Noel Malcolm’s review of the book published in The Sunday Telegraph of 11.06.95. Noel Malcolm’s Bosnia: A Short History was published last year by PaperMac.

Of all the books I have read about the Bosnian war, none has been quite so lucidly presented, cogently argued and fully supported by a mass of carefully analysed detail as Norman Cigar’s Genocide in Bosnia. If you want just one work which explains the real nature of this war, you should read this one.

Professor Norman Cigar is a military analyst (he teaches at the Marine Corps Academy in Quantico, Virginia), but this is not a work of military history. It is, as the subtitle says, a study of "ethnic cleansing" - of the ideological basis for expulsions and mass-murderers, of the way the policy was implemented, and, most crucially, of the way in which the outside world was persuaded, at one and the same time, that ethnic cleansing was inevitable and that it was not really happening.

This policy of wiping (or, at best, shifting) non-Serb populations off the map is not a by-product of the war, not a sideshow or an unfortunate detail. It is central to the aims of the people in Belgrade and Pale who made the war happen.

Strangely, though, the sheer enormity of these crimes has acted as a kind of alibi for the people who organised them. The outside world looks on and says: "Nobody could just create this kind of mayhem from above; it must be the inevitable result of thousands of years of ancient ethnic hatreds". And the more we witter on about these so-called ancient ethnic hatreds, the more we imply that the victims must be equally guilty, having presumably some ancient hatreds of their own.

Norman Cigar dispels all these myths. He shows how the ideology of an ethnically pure Serbian state was developed from above, by people who knew exactly what they were doing. Two categores of ideaologists stand out in particular. One is the "Orientalists" of Serbia, the academic specialists in Islamic affairs, who developed a kind of bogus ethnic anthropology in which the Muslims of Bosnia were classed as subhuman non-Europeans exhibiting a "semi-Arab subculture". Professor Cigar, who is himself a scholar of Arabic, has monitored their writings in detail; his expose of their activities is quite devastating.

The other category, dismayingly, is the Serbian Orthodox Church. While some of the Church’s priests and many of its ordinary members remained true to the basic principles of Christian charity, the same cannot be said of the most prominent men in its hierarchy, who helped to create an atmosphere of paranoid hostility towards non-Serbs and were quite happy to depict the Serb attacks on peaceful Muslim cities as desperate acts of self-defence.

The organiser of one of the most brutal paramilitary gangs, "Arkan", has even boasted of the help he has received from the Serbian Orthodox Church in organising, financing and arming his militia.

In the last part of the book, Norman Cigar gives a balanced and cool analysis of the policy options which are (or were) available to the West. He does not call for thousands of British or American soldiers to be sent to Bosnia, though he notes that Western air power could be a significant component of a wider strategy.

His main concern, expressed here with all the clear logic and marshalling of evidence that characterise his argument as a whole, is to show that the Bosnians could defend themselves, if only they were permitted by our politicians to obtain the weapons they so desperately need.

Noel Malcolm

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