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A serious misrepresentation of several nations
on 15 October 2003
Parenti's book aims to provide a devastating critique of US and NATO policy in the former Yugoslavia, to cut through the misrepresentation of mainstream media and ideologists, to tell the grim truth. Given the history of official Western duplicity, realpolitik and atrocity this is an important task.
But while much of Parenti's overall analysis of how US foreign policy functions and the terrible human effects it has is about right, his presentation of the issues in the former Yugoslavia amount to a serious and unjust misrepresentation.
Parenti is so concerned to discuss only US delinquency that he goes out of his way to belittle the terrible suffering of Bosnian Muslims and Kosovar Albanians in a manner that is unwarranted and dishonest.
The Srebrenica massacre is given three pages (89-91) in which the discussion focuses entirely on the inadequacies of a television documentary. Readers may judge for themselves, but the heavy implication of these passages, not quite stated, seems to be that the massacre did not even take place and that the claims made by the relatives of the thousands of disappeared are unsubstantiated by evidence. Earlier this year, 600 victims of that massacre were buried in the first such funerals to take place for them - whatever the short-comings of the Bill Moyers' documentary, their is a wealth of evidence elsewhere.
Unfortunately, this is typical of the general approach of Parenti in this book - numerous examples of inadequate and lazy journalism are cited in order to give the impression that there is little if any substance behind accusations made against the regimes of Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic.
The concession on page 78 that, "To be sure, there were also Serb atrocities..." followed by a single paragraph of examples does not alter the inaccurate impression given by the rest of the book. Year after year, Amnesty International's reports noted that the majority - the great majority - of killings in Bosnia from 1992-5 were committed by Serbian paramilitaries, a fact that Parenti obscures. Highlighting the crimes of Croatian and Bosniac armies is one thing, but fundamentally obscuring the reality of the war is another. His discussion of the course of the Bosnian war also tends to rely on UN officials as sources, including those whose role in the conflict was deeply unattractive, such as the British general, Michael Rose.
Parenti is right to criticise and condemn NATO's bombing campaign over the FRY in 1999, and he is right to stress that humanitarian concerns played no significant role in the political decision making behind it. But the assertion that NATO's was simply a military extension of neo-liberal economics is unconvincing.
Parenti seems to mean well and his book contains some interesting tit-bits, but it does not offer social activists the coherent, alternative understanding of the wars of Yugoslav sucession that the reviews on the book's cover claim. The book is unjustifiably dismissive of people who have suffered much. As someone who works in a North-East London primary school, there are too many of Milosevic's victims who have ended up in our classrooms to let that pass.