Poison in the well of history
Some will say that Living Marxism won the `public relations battle', whatever that is. Others will cling to the puerile melodrama that ITN's victory in the high court yesterday was that of Goliath over some plucky little David who only wanted to challenge the media establishment.
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.
The law now records that Penny Marshall and Ian Williams (and myself, for that matter) did not lie but told the truth when they exposed this crime to the world, and that the lie was that of Living Marxism and its dilettante supporters who sought, in the time-honoured traditions of revisionism, to deny those camps existed.
Of course Living Marxism was unable to offer a single witness who had been at Trnopolje, the camp they claimed to be a fake, on that putrid afternoon of August 5, 1992. Indeed, they were unable to produce any witnesses at all. Unlike any member of Living Marxism or their sympathisers, I was there with ITN's cameras that day. We went to two camps: Omarska and Trnopolje.
Living Marxism does not like to mention Omarska: there, we saw little, but enough: skeletal men drilled across a yard and devouring watery stew like famished dogs before being bundled out. One man said: `I do not want to tell any lies, but I cannot tell the truth.'
The truth emerged with time. Omarska turned out to be the kind of place where one prisoner was forced to bite the testicles off another, who had a live pigeon stuffed into his mouth to stifle the screams as he died in agony. The yard at Omarska was a killing field, prisoners obliged to load the mutilated corpses of their friends on to trucks by bulldozer.
Trnopolje was a marginally less satanic place, some of whose prisoners were transferred from other hideous camps to await forced deportation. Others were rounded up and herded there like cattle, or hadÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ
even fled there to avoid the systematic shelling and burning of their homes. Unknown to us when we pulled up on the road, in disbelief at the sight before us, it was the former group that was held captive behind the now celebrated barbed wire fence.
At the time I paid little attention to what would become Living Marxism's myopic obsessions: such as which side of which pole the old barbed wire or fresh barbed wire was fixed. There were more important matters, such as the emaciated Fikret Alic's (accurate and vindicated) recollections of the night he had been assigned to load the bodies of 250 men killed in one night at yet another camp.
If it is still of any remote interest, I will say this: I now know the compound in which these terrified men were held captive to have been surrounded on one side by recently reinforced barbed wire, on two sides by a chain-link fence patrolled by menacing armed thugs and on a fourth side by a wall. But so what? This was a camp - I would say a concentration camp - and they were its inmates.
What does it take to convince people? The war ground on, the British foreign office and Living Marxism in perfect synergy over their appeasement of the Serbs while other, worse camps were revealed. The bench in The Hague issued its judgment on Trnopolje in 1997: a verdict that described the camp as infinitely worse than anything we reported - an infernal place of rape, murder and torture. Witness after witness confirmed this. The Financial Times enthusiastically re-iterated Living Marxism's claims of a fabrication, but published a hasty and grovelling retraction when it looked at LM's non-evidence.
It was dispiriting to have to report that in the first year of what was proclaimed as the new united, democratic Europe such places as Trnopolje and Omarska existed. It was worse still to return to London and find an obscure group of supposed intellectuals putting such effort into trying to convince society that the camps had been a fabrication and that I had committed perjury when testifying to their existence and horrors at the war crimes tribunal at The Hague My friends and colleagues Marshall and Williams - brave reporters of the highest calibre - were being branded as liars. I suffered a whole lot less but there was a steady stream of hate mail. `You piece of shit,' read one letter from an LM supporter revelling in the destruction of Vukovar, `probably a nasty little Jew.''
Those most horribly insulted, of course, were the disbelieving camp survivors and relatives of the dead. I happen to believe that those who survive and are left bereaved by such monstrous crimes are owed at least one thing. They should be given back their lives by an admission that what happened happened. Their sanity requires that history records and acknowledges the truth of the atrocities that were committed against them and those they lost.
Richard Tait, editor of ITN, realised that three things had to be reclaimed. One, the reputation of his correspondents and his programme. Two, the trustworthiness of front-line, on-site reporting in general. And three, the need to etch the truth about those camps into history. Tait was the man who in private and in his affronted, righteous anger used the words `revisionism' and `fascism' without blushing.
When ITN sued in pursuit of these aims, the company of course ran the risk that such action would draw attention to LM's revisionism. But no one could have predicted the degree to which, rather than be dismissed as a foul revisionist trick, Living Marxism's claims would become a matter for voguish tittle-tattle among bored intellectuals on the sofas of the Groucho Club.
LM played its hand well but the rot in the British intelligentsia made it easy for them to do so. LM succeeded in entwining the two issues of the libel writ and denial of the camps. Some of their supporters argued that they accepted the truth of the genocide but nevertheless felt compelled by ITN's supposedly heavy-handed use of the libel laws to speak out in favour ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ
of those who denied the carnage. But such distinctions were utterly unconvincing. Those who helped LM cannot fail to recognise that by doing so they also stirred the poison LM had dropped into the well of history, playing their own role in denying a genocide.
By this entwinement, genocide was devalued into a `media debate', something to chitter-chatter about over grilled sea bass and pale Belgian beer.
Hungry for controversy, a sizeable portion of London's intelligentsia lined up to support Living Marxism. They rallied round those who had named me and others as liars in the name of free speech - so why not name them too, the great, the good and the up-and-coming? Fay Weldon, Doris Lessing, Harold Evans, Toby Young, and even a handful of contributors to this newspaper. A diverse coterie, eager to sip Living Marxism's apparently excellent claret at the ICA, to eat their canap‚s and run alongside the rotten bandwagon of revisionism. But how, and why?
One could argue about post-modern ennui and the paucity of values in a society obsessed by packaging. One could argue very cogently about the complete inability to understand fascism, about `victim-hatred' and the strong historical strand of British appeasement of Europe's tyrants, from Franco and Hitler to Milosevic. There was also a mutated strand of anti-Semitism in a lot of this, the Muslims being, in their way, the Jews of Bosnia. But the most tangible answer lies, I think, in the way revisionism works in a bored society, whether you are David Irving or regards as influential positions in the media. This is all perfectly above board: The Times was desperate enough to offer LM's editor, Mick Hume, his own column. The signatories of LM's letters are familiar bylines across Fleet Street. But the pivot of Living Marxism's activities in the mainstream is, for some reason, the Economist Intelligence Unit, which has at times, backstage, been torn asunder by arguments over key positions held by the group's leading members.
Two of these are a Serb called Laza Kekic, the author of some of the most virulent attacks on the `bloody liberals', and Joan Phillips, who also works under the name Joan Hoey. This is the text of an e-mail that came my way from Kekic to Hoey, written after the Nato bombardment of 1995 that produced the Dayton agreement:
`The Serbs have come back from far more difficult moments in the past. In the meantime, should accept and swallow a lot and consolidate what's left. Can even do Eurospeak and fluff on about the Balkan peace and co-operation in the meantime. Then, at some future date, the obliteration of the Muslims, the Albanians, and last of all the Croats. That's my perspective. And there's little else left to say'.
Indeed there isn't. The message was sent from Kekic's electronic address at the Economist Intelligence Unit on September 14, 1995, at 10.11am. Others in the series of e-mails involve chatter about gainful contact with David Owen and friendly journalists at the BBC and Observer.
At one point during the trial, LM produced video footage shot by what it called Bosnian-Serb Television, which did indeed have a crew there that day. But these particular images, it emerges, came from a third camera, a camcorder held by a man in military fatigues I remember well; LM was serviced in that instance by Serbian military intelligence.
The point is this: `free speech' has nothing to do with what is going on. Living Marxism's attempts to re-write the history of the camps was motivated by the fact that in their heart of hearts, these people applauded those camps and sympathised with their cause and wished to see it triumph. That was the central and - in the final hour, the only - issue. Shame, then, on those fools, supporters of the pogrom, cynics and dilettantes who supported them, gave them credence and endorsed their vile enterprise.
This article appeared in The Guardian (London), 15 March 2000 Press Release: Office