The survival of most emerging nations depends on the success of that country’s Public Relations campaign in the United States and Europe. Far more important than any military victory, Public Relations battles are not always won or lost with deference to the truth.
A military loss can be rendered unimportant if a nation is able to win the Public Relations battle. Former Vice President Al Gore accurately stated, “We live in a world where what used to be called propaganda now has a major role to play in shaping public opinion. (1)”
With increasingly negative reporting on Bosnia, rooted in dubious sources, the task of truth telling has become an arduous one. However, it is crucial that Bosnians maintain a commitment to truth telling and involvement in world political affairs. The Bosnia-Herzegovinan government and its embassies around the world must counter the false statements published in Western media vis-a-vis press releases provided by Serbs’ Lobby Group in the United States.
On August 24, 2007 Eldin Hadzovic, of the Independent Bosnian magazine Dani, wrote that, the Republika Srpska (RS) through Milorad Dodik, the Prime Minister of the RS, “in January of this year, engaged Quinn Gilespie & Associates LLC, in Washington DC.” This is one of the top lobby firms in Washington D.C. In addition to Republic Srpska (RS), an entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, this particular firm also represents Macedonia and the Albanian Foundation for Democracy.(2) The RS is paying $120,000 USD per month to Quinn Gilespie “whose mission is political and media services with an aim of informing the American government, the Bush Administration, and Congress about the importance of the cohesion of the RS as an entity and the image of the RS in front of the American public.”
The task of improving the image of Serbs is an enormous one. This investment is already paying great dividends for Serbs as evidenced in several current political issues, articles, and books reviewed below.
The ultimate agenda of Serbs’ Lobby Group is the advancement of Serbian interests abroad and in Bosnia and the dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Furthermore, the final aim is to fulfill Milosevic’s genocidal dream of joining the RS to Greater Serbia. What is Bosnia to do about its growing negative image in the American media? Individually, we can all write to the Economist, The Wall Street Journal or others, but our comments as individuals would not bear any weight. Our government must engage lobbyists as soon as possible and Bosnians throughout the world must speak as a unified front.
So here we are, over fifteen years after the Yugoslav Army under Serbian generals with the help of Bosnian Serb paramilitary troops, invaded the newly independent Bosnia, torching civilian homes, gathering Bosnian women for rape camps, and killing innocent civilians, the realities of this war have been forgotten. As is commonplace when public opinion and foreign policy shift, many journalists and academics have begun to paint the atrocities committed by Serb extremists with half truths and started another chapter of the revision of the history of Bosnia.
The September 11th and consequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have provided opportunities for Serbs to exploit anti-Muslim sentiments in the United States and Europe. They proclaimed to the world that, at last you all understand what we were going through. Serbs alleged that the democratic process and elections that created the newly independent Bosnian state were actually the result of the subversive efforts of an Islamic terrorist network to declare a “Bosnian Jihad” on their Serbian neighbors. John R. Schindler, in his new book, Unholy Terror: Bosnia, Al-Qaeida, and the Rise of Global Jihad, does in fact go so far as to say that a “Bosnian Jihad” existed during the 1992-95 war.(3) Besides the fact that the term “Bosnian Jihad” seems counterintuitive, Marko Hoare, in his book How Bosnia Armed, clarifies that Western personnel have not been the objects of attacks in Bosnia “nor have any al-Qaida training camps been discovered.”(4) The premise of the book is that Bosnia played the same role in the 1990’s as Afghanistan did in 1980’s in creating and expanding terrorism across the globe. John R. Schindler teaches at the Naval War College and is a former National Security Agency officer and analyst. He tries to do the same as Evan F. Kohlmann tried and failed to do in his book entitled, Al-Qaida’s Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network. His book attempts to connect the attack and aggression on Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and Bosnian Croats to a global jihad, thus creating the impression that the Bosniaks right to defend themselves against attacks from Serbia was a part of a global jihadist conspiracy.
If these accusations fell on deaf ears, we would have no cause to discuss these issues. However, since the events of September 11th, it has become clear that a worldwide propaganda campaign has infiltrated our newspapers, television, and public discourse. Serbs’ ethnic cleansing campaign has somehow become legitimized because of who the victims were. It has become increasingly difficult for westerners to view Muslims as victims despite the mass murders, mass rapes, and atrocities which were committed. To eradicate this global propaganda campaign, we must look beyond the rhetoric to the evidence.
The Economist article entitled “Bosnia’s Muslims – Balkan Extremists” in its July 12th print edition evaluates whether there is a threat of Bosnians becoming Islamic extremists. It analyzes the beginning of the trial “at the Hague war-crimes tribunal of Rasim Delic, a former commander of the Bosnian army.”(5) This article coincided with the twelfth year anniversary of Srebrenica genocide, killing of over 8,000 Bosniaks. The article concludes that fears of Bosnian Muslim extremists are probably exaggerated, yet somehow it leaves the impression despite evidence to the contrary that there are connections between the presence of foreign (Muslim) volunteers fighting the war in Bosnia and the potential for Bosnian Muslims to become somewhat dangerous to the rest of the world.
While the Bosnian Army General Delic turned himself in for the accusations of failing to prevent war crimes, Karadzic and the Yugoslav Army/Serb Army General Mladic actually personally ordered war crimes to be committed have been on the run for over a decade and have yet to be captured.
The article further explains how many of Rasim Delic’s “troops were foreign mujahadeen” and that “during the war thousands of foreigners came to Bosnia to fight.” The author does not explicitly state it, but one may assume the author is referring to volunteers from countries that may be perceived as Islamic or Muslim. As a pragmatic point of view, perhaps there were some foreign volunteers who may have come with the intent to defend its Muslim brethren. At the time these volunteers came to Bosnia, their intentions were the last matter of consideration. Bosniaks were defending their right to exist and welcomed assistance from any quarter. At that time Bosnia was placed under unjust arm embargo. Bosnian Army certainly did not need help from foreign fighters as there were many willing and able Bosnians ready to defend their country. The fact that mujahadeen existed in Bosnia does not prove Bosnia?s link to Al-Qaida.
While Bosnia, an independent, sovereign country under attack, did not solicit the aid of mujahadeen, it certainly welcomed help wherever it came from. A fitting analogy is the West’s alliance with the Soviet Union during WWII. No reasonable person would suggest that the U.S. was complicit with Soviet doctrine and the Stalinist purges which preceded War II simply because it shared a common enemy with the Soviets.
What the article fails to mention is that just as maybe some foreign Muslims fought along Bosniaks, there were many thousands of Greeks, Russians, Ukrainian, and Romanian (Orthodox Christian) contractors who came to loot, rape and pillage Bosnians.
In his article, entitled Russian Mercenaries at War in the Balkans, author Ali Koknar details the war crimes and atrocities committed by many Russian citizens who came to fight “in the Balkans for the government of the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.”(6) According to the article, “Enrique Bernales Ballesteros, Special Reporter of the UN Secretary general, discovered in 1994 that Russians started serving in the Serbian Army (then called Yugoslav Army – JNA) in 1991. Between 1991 and 1992, JNA’s Russian, along with Ukrainian and Romanian “kontraktniki”(contractors), fought in Bosnia and Herzegovina against the mainly Bosniak and Croat/Bosnian forces.”
In addition, the report details the number of paid Greek mercenaries who took part in the attacks of the UN safe-haven of Srebrenica in July of 1995 ”and raised the blue and white Greek flag triumphantly when the enclave fell” into Serb hands. Greek Daily Ethnos published a report about Greek volunteers fighting alongside Serb forces in Bosnia. Author Takis Michas published a book titled Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic’s Serbia which details how the Greek paramilitary volunteers were fighting under the command of General Ratko Mladic and took part in Srebrenica massacre.(8) The atrocities perpetrated by Serbs in Srebrenica have been recognized as Genocide in the unanimous ruling “Prosecutor vs. Kristic” the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).(9) This was the largest mass killing of civilians in Europe since WWII.
The Economist also states that “An unknown number of Bosniaks have studied in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries. All this has raised fears that under foreign influence, a radical Wahabism may take root in Bosnia and in the mainly Muslim Sanjak (Sandzak) region.”(10) This article does not even explain what and why they went to study to Saudi Arabia. Bosnians have excellent Universities, but many Bosnians end up studying in France, England, and United States, but they do not accept the radical ideologies popular in those locations. They, like college students across the globe, study abroad so they can get a unique education and come back to share their knowledge with their fellow Bosnian citizens. Saudi Arabian religious schools are some of the best for teaching future religious leaders, and many other nationalities study in Saudi Arabia.
Another recent article attempts to tie today’s Bosnia to Iran and a greater Islamic terrorist network. Michael A. Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute writes in his August 18th story published in the Wall Street Journal that “Iran was secretly authorized to ship weapons into Bosnia in defiance of a United Nations embargo that was formally endorsed by the Clinton administration (11) .” He goes further to state that,
“The Iranians exploited the opportunity provided by our invitation to ship arms to the Muslims in the Balkans, by supporting a terror network in Bosnia. Mohammed Atta trained in Bosnia, from there he went to Hamburg, and thence to the U.S. Two other 9/11 terrorists Ramzi Binalshib, and Said Bahaji -were recruited into al Qaeda in Bosnian camps. We ignored the Iranian action.”(12)
This is incorrect. The 9/11 Commission report shows that Mohamed Atta was never in Bosnia, and contrary to Michael Leeden’s article, neither of the other two September 11th attackers, according to this report were ever in Bosnia.(13) If Iran had violated the unjust arms embargo on Bosnia by supplying the Bosnian government with arms to defend itself, it was not done without the explicit approval from the U.S. Government. It is also in the interest of any country to defend itself. Referring back to numerous sources and probably the most compelling book, How Bosnia Armed, there was never any proof of a terrorist network in Bosnia. A network means there is an organized group of people, with a material support, weapons, and committed acts of terrorism against specific targets—the definition of a terrorist network-if according to Mr. Ledeen the definition includes several individuals with dangerous ideas, then every country in the world has a terrorist network.
In yet another article, humanitarian support to Bosnia is portrayed as support for terrorism. The July 26, 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal entitled U.S. Tracks Saudi Bank Favored by Extremists, alleges that the philanthropic activities of the Al Rajhi Bank are actually terrorist activities. The Al Rajhi bank is accused of giving money “to promote Islam.” There is no law that prohibits an organization from promoting Islam or Islamic instruction. Promoting Islam or Islamic instruction is not the same as promoting terror. The author continues by stating that, “A 2003 German police report said Sulaiman Al Rajhi and other family members had contributed more than $200,000 in 1993 to a charity that finance weapons for Islamic militants in Bosnia.” That the charity was actually “providing humanitarian aid” is hardly important to the author. As a sovereign nation that had been invaded by a foreign army, Bosnia had a duty to defend its people’s right to exist. The most crucial thing to understand is this: There would have been no war in Bosnia had Serbia under Milosevic’s leadership not trained, planned, armed, and indoctrinated its citizens to hate Muslims with such a fanaticism that Serb extremists were willing to rape, murder, and torture their civilian neighbors with impunity. If in fact the Al-Rajhi Bank was involved in terrorist activities in Bosnia, this article provides no substantial evidence to support their claim. The article, however, does succeed in linking terrorism to Bosnia in the mind of the reader.
The reality is Serbs were indoctrinated to believe that Muslims must be eliminated by whatever means necessary. The Serb troops deliberately and methodically attacked innocent civilians in every village in Bosnia in an effort to completely eliminate Muslims because they were Muslims. They believed their terrorist activities were justified for the safety of the nation but there is nothing that can justify the evil acts committed. Serb extremists and Serb forces in Bosnia rounded up thousands of women and children for rape camps. These women were raped by Serb soldiers, civilians, and many of the women have been disfigured for life by these acts. In Srebrenica, at least 8000 Muslim civilians-boys from 10 years old to men of 80 years old-were killed in three days and thrown into a mass grave. There is not one Bosnian Muslim family that was untouched by Serb forces terrorism. Benjamin Netanyahu said in this September 20, 2007 address to US Government Reform committee stated, “If we begin to distinguish between acts of terror, justifying some and repudiating others based on sympathy with this or that cause, we will lose the moral clarity that is so essential for victory(14) ” against global terrorism. The Serb propaganda machinery along with western media have almost succeeded in turning public opinion in their favor because the victims of their terrorist acts in Bosnia were Muslims.
The media reports on the most recent terrorist cases against Jose Padilla, a Mexican convert to Islam, also mentioned Bosnia “The government says Padilla, along with co-defendants Adham Amin Hassoun and Kifah Wael Jayyosui, were part of a cell in South Florida that supported terrorist groups operating in Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan.”(15) Again, somehow there is a connection between Bosnians defending their country and terrorism. The only terrorist activities that took place were committed by Serbs when they systematically raped, killed, tortured, ran concentration camps, and held numerous Bosnian cities under siege. Twelve years later and the world has begun to forget the siege of Sarajevo, Gorazde, Tesanj, Maglaj, Srebrenica — where Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats and loyal Bosnian Serbs were constantly targeted from surrounding hills by Serb forces. Why weren’t these Serb terrorists brought to justice for systematically targeting civilians in Sarajevo and other cities?
Another article states that “Caruso described Padilla as linked only casually to Hassoun and said he had never met Jayyousi until he reached the Miami courtroom. All three face life in prison of providing material support for Islamist terrorist groups and conspiring to murder and kidnap and maim people in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia and other countries from 1993 – 2001.” Furthermore, “Defense lawyers said Jayyousi, a U.S. Navy veteran, and Hassoun worked with legitimate charities that provided medicine, food and clothing to Muslims being slaughtered and displaced in Bosnia, Chechnya and elsewhere in the 1990.”(16)
The Serb Lobby has another project which is to link Kosovo with the RS.
“Privately some Serbs and Kosovars say they could have serious talks on partition, but only, say the Kosovars, if the Serbs are prepared to trade the north of Kosovo for Albanian-inhabited of Serbia outside of Kosovo. Diplomats hate such talk. For them it risks discussion of similar divisions in Macedonia, Bosnia and beyond.”(17)
What gives Serbs the right even to use Kosovo as leverage against Bosnia? Republika Srpska did not even exist until 1995 and was created as a political entity, not an autonomous region or republic. Other parts of Serbia that could still be traded too.
In the recent BBC News online article, Walton Nicholas writes that RS is “keen to shake off its troubled and violent past, the ethnic Serb half of the country now wants to promote itself as a good place to do business. Deep in the forested hills of Republika Srpska – the Bosnian Serb republic – forensic archaeologists excavate a mass grave containing the remains.”
“We have an image problem, with a stereotype that was imposed upon us a long time ago,” says the Republic Prime Mister Milorad Dodik. “During the war bad things happened – terrible and horrible things. And of course there were those that committed atrocities on behalf of Republika Srpska-but nobody can hold either the Republic or its people responsible for those crimes. That would be the same as holding all nations that had dictatorship responsible for the crimes of those governments.”(18)
On a first reading of the above quote, it is easy to accept the logic. However, the reader must read carefully to see that the premise must be rejected. The Serb military, Serb paramilitaries and individual Serb civilians were all participating in criminal activities. Just as was the case with the Nazis, and contrary to Prime Minister Dodik’s statement, Serb criminals must be held responsible for the crimes they committed and the Republic must be held responsible for training, arming, providing support and materials to the Serbs who committed war crimes. The article ends on a cautionary note that two war criminal fugitives, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are still at large, twelve years after the end of war. This should make the world community cautious about the RS and it should also be a warning that Serbs are not yet serious about dealing with their past sins.
As written in the Economist article on May 3rd, Waiting for Al-Qaeda’as Next Bomb, “For America, the worry is that -clean skin- European citizens, with no known record of radicalism, could be used to attack the United States.”(19) This statement should put in perspective for Bosniaks that we may all be viewed as terrorists. The recent writings in the western press should make the Bosnians and Bosnian government think seriously about the investment and countering these accusations.
The saddest and the weakest attempt is the book called Ratko Mladic:Tragic Hero, edited by Milo Yelesiyevich. The book description proclaims that General Ratko Mladic was the first General to fight Islamic fundamentalism in Europe.(20) If Hitler were alive, it would be interesting to see whether he could be called a tragic hero or a vicious monster and murderer that he was. Mladic is accused of numerous war crimes, including a Srebrenica massacre, and is still hiding from justice. That much is true. That he is called hero in another example of Serbs trying to cash on the world wide fear of Muslims.
Furthermore, Ratko Mladic: Tragic Hero proposes that the West has been acting against its own best interests by supporting Islamic fundamentalist terrorism in former Yugoslavia, while at the same time attempting to prosecute General Mladic for alleged crimes for which there is still no proof, even after the passage of more than a decade!
What should Bosniaks do?
Lobby firms are paid groups of people who do an excellent job in protecting the interests of those who pay them. The Bosnian government should engage a lobby firm in the United States to reverse the damage already done to Bosnian political clout in the US and the World Community. If the Bosnian government won’t do it, to protect the interest of the country, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina should devote a significant portion of its budget to this issue. In the meantime our Embassies should be more actively involved in PR for Bosnia. Other embassies around the world often react to inaccurate newspaper reporting by writing editorial responses to the Economist, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other written and electronic media whenever there is a negative commentary about that particular country. Unless it already does so, our embassies should begin reading these news sources daily and responding when necessary.
Patriotic Bosnians should do everything in their power to support the two very important organizations in the United States and Canada, North American Congress of Bosniaks and Bosniaks Advisory Council for Bosnia in the United States. Bosnians should work more actively to ask U.S. Congressional Representatives to join the Bosnian Caucus in the 110th US Congress. Only seven representatives have joined so far this year.(21) The Serbian Caucus in the 110th US Congress (Bicameral) has a total of three Senators and 27 Representatives.(22)
Two years ago, on June 22, 2005, the US Senators by unanimous consent passed a resolution commemorating the 10 year anniversary of the genocide against Bosniaks in Srebrenica. The resolution supported “the independence and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina” and went even further to recognize that “the Serbian policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing meet the terms defining genocide.”(23) Later on June 27, 2005, The House of Representatives passed House Resolution 199 with similar language and an overwhelming vote of 370 in favor of the resolution and 1 No vote.(24)
We have come a long way in our battle against the enemies of Bosnia. We shouldn’t let the wave of fear about terrorism and anti-Muslim hysteria reverse those gains. Just remember the war, when Bosnians had the full support of almost the entire free world. We had Dr. Haris Silajdzic, Muhamed Sacirbey and other who did everything to present the correct image of Bosnia-Herzegovina, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and democratic nation that survived criminal aggression in order to create a nation where all people were equal under the law.
What should Americans do?
Bosnian Muslims are some of the most secular in the world. As stated by Stephen Schwartz in the Weekly Standard on July 27, 2006, “Bosnian Muslims [Bosniaks] have proven their moderation in full, if not extra, measure.”(25) What else is there to prove? They are the most natural connection between the so called Western world and the Muslim world. The Bosnian Army took part in and supported the US Government in its efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bosnians are very thankful for American involvement, although somewhat late during the war, and for ultimately helping reverse the course of war in Bosnia. Some 350,000 Bosnians live in the United States and Canada. The American government must show the support for Bosnian government and unifying the Police, correcting the mistakes of Dayton peace agreement and providing unfading support for Bosnia-Herzegovina sovereignty and integrity.
Note: No part of this paper can be reproduced without an explicit approval from the authors.
TO BE UPDATED