Ratko Mladic’s conviction was two decades in the making, a tribunal at the Hague holding him guilty of participating in genocide as the Bosnian Serb commander during the Bosnian War in the nineties.
The massacre of Srebrenica in 1995 saw thousands of Muslims slaughtered for their identity, so that only Serbs could live there. Ethnic cleansing here was the aim of the war, not its consequence. It’s a grim reminder of the fact that mass murder takes place around the world and we as people have a responsibility to speak, to act and to remember. To learn and hope it never happens again. To ensure it doesn’t happen again.
The issue with that is genocides have often been something of a political weapon depending on what side you’re on. Where it should be condemned as violent barbarism and the perpetrator held to account, sometimes they are justified if you can spin the idea that the victims were responsible for their own deaths in some way, that they were violent terrorists or savages.
You would expect solidarity with genocidal regimes from others also guilty of it. It’s unsurprising to see supporters of Bashar Assad, the butcher of Aleppo currently ruling Syria, supporting the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims. It’s more galling when you see people on the western left refusing to condemn certain genocides on the grounds that they might work against some of their entrenches narratives of the west always being the villains.
The genocide that took place in Bosnia did not receive the widespread condemnation it deserved from the left. Rather, attempts have been made to absolve the criminals here of any participation in genocide. There is a sheer moral and political inconsistency here when the left accuses the right of supporting dictators given their own foreign policy is shoddy. Labour’s spin doctor Seamus Milne has had a history of expressing support for Islamists, Stalinism and dictators, and he sought to play down the crimes of Slobodan Milosevic by claiming he was elected, implying that that somehow imbued him with some sort of special status and that trying him in the Hague was wrong because it was somehow the arm of NATO. It’s more hypocritical when you consider that Jeremy Corbyn himself, seen as the messiah of global peace in some quarters, signed a motion by his friend John Pilger that questioned whether the genocide in Kosovo even took place. Nor is this simply the attitudes held by some on the left when you consider the Morning Star, since its creation, has been an apologist for the Soviet Union.
It’s easy to criticise the right for their imperialist actions and it isn’t wrong. America have caused chaos in many countries, toppling democratic countries, invasions, supporting bloodthirsty tyrants like they did in Chile with General Pinochet. From the Vietnam War to the Iraq War, resisting American foreign policy has been seen as something of a hallmark of a typical leftist. It’s about opposing imperialism, unchecked military aggression.
But it has come at the cost of treating genocides caused by opponents of America as too politically inconvenient to talk out on. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to your enemies but more to question those you share values with. Parts of the left seek to absolve or explain the crimes of Soviet Union as if somehow the pride of socialism rested on it. They will forever defend authoritarian left-wing regimes by shifting the focus elsewhere and will remain tight-lipped about genocides and ethnic cleansing carried our by regimes ordinarily opposed to the Americans.
Nowhere is this a bigger example than Syria, which has been proof that we never really did learn our lessons from what happened in Bosnia. Assad has sought to ethnically cleanse the country of his rivals, mutilating and murdering his people, his army raping, bombing, surrounding and starving entire towns. He has been responsible, according to the likes of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, for vast majority of the killings, followed by Russia. Yet the same left that claims to stand with oppressed people against dictators and imperialists here choose to defend Assad, to explain away his crimes. He’s fighting terrorists, he’s anti-American, he’s uniting his people, he’s a secularist. A list of excuses conjured that merely exposes how too often the left seeks solidarity with the state machine that is oppressing people. Syria is one example, North Korea is another.
Many would claim that right-wingers like Guido Fawkes pointing this out is disingenuous and hypocritical, that they only care to desecrate Corbyn. All of this is true and it does not change what they are saying, the validity of it. And really who is the disingenuous and hypocritical one? Ultimately it underlines that the western left and right are two sides of the same coin at the end of the day, using oppressed people as pawns in their game of socialism versus capitalism.