If there’s a rule in international relations (and there isn’t, I’m just saying if there were), it would be, as soon as somebody starts sermonizing about how all-good they are and how all-wicked someone else is, buy defense stocks. Relentless demonization of The Other is a pillar of regime-change efforts and, basically, any occasion upon which persuasion and threats have not worked and a country or group of countries has elected to escalate to force.
This has now become so de rigueur in the business of image management – “catapulting the propaganda”, as George W. Bush once said in an unusually candid moment – that many of us have learned to look for it as an early sign of destabilization efforts that might lead to war. That’s because when governments develop a trick which is astonishingly successful (as many are the first time they are used), they tend to do it exactly the same way until it is a disastrous failure. A few people noticing it is a trick is considered just the cost of doing business, so long as the majority falls for it.
An early example, and the blueprint for colour revolutions to follow, was the ramp-up to the Kosovo War in the late 90’s. Slobodan Milosevic was made to appear the embodiment of earthly evil, the kind of Beelzebub used to frighten bad children who would not go to sleep. As western journalists have learned to do much more skillfully since, owing to practice, atrocities were projected onto Milosevic that he had not in fact done at all, but which had been done by the western-backed KLA (originally listed as a terrorist organization by the USA, then de-listed without explanation). I well remember the daily outpouring of contempt and loathing for Milosevic, and I was right there with them, because I believed every bit of it. It’s a terrible thing to be a fool, but it’s far worse to be a fool all your life, and I hope I’m less one now than I was then.
I’d like to think the public as a whole is getting harder to fool. But an overlooked element in the miscasting of enemies as savage, cruel and fully deserving of being cut down by the forces of enlightenment…is religion.
For many, the alacrity with which the Pussy Riot affair was seized upon by the west as an opportunity to bash the Orthodox Church as intolerant, stuffy and backward was a revelation. I mean, isn’t Christianity…Christianity? Apparently not. Despite very little difference in overall philosophies, the Catholic Church broadly does not recognize the Orthodox as being the same religion. Neither recognizes Islam, although of the two, Orthodoxy gives it more of a break in the belief that Islam (and Baha’i) are wrong because they deify men who claim to be greater than Christ. Catholicism regards Islam as a “false religion” and does not hold the Quran to be true.
To what extent does demonization of the opponents’ religion contribute to the overall impression of him as brutish, cruel and incapable of higher emotion, and consequently deserving of conquest? That varies, of course, with the religiosity of the society, but it seems possible if not probable that a core of belief lies within us all, requiring only the proper appeal to it in order to harness it for the part it can play in manipulating what we think and why we think it.
I’m a little out of my depth with both theology (being about as non-practicing a Christian as you are likely to find) and Serbia, as the latter was a conflict which took place during my blinkered unquestioning NATO booster stage of development. So I asked reader Patient Observer to write up a discussion of the part religion plays in modern conflict. He in turn subcontracted the effort out further, and I hope you will be as delighted with the result as I was – take it away, boys.
The Orthodox Other
By Gray Falcon, Patient Observer and Anonymous
“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation… We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.” – V.V. Putin, The New York Times, 9/11/2013
With a few exceptions, analysis critical of U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War skirts around the Balkans. Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya – all these adventures are fair game. But on the former Yugoslavia, there is only silence. This phenomenon was first observed back in 2005, but has persisted to the present day.
Supporters of “humanitarian” imperialism (aka “weaponized human rights“) don’t have that hang-up: they mention the Balkans frequently, citing it as a major success story of their “liberal” interventionist agenda. But places like Bosnia and Kosovo are only “successful” on a relativistic scale calibrated around Iraq and Afghanistan.
The reason that Washington’s efforts against the Serbs in Yugoslavia were not a military disaster (though they were far from a triumph) is that the Serbs – accused of being Nazis reborn, brutal, savage and ruthless – did not respond to NATO occupation with IEDs, suicide bombings and terrorism. Instead, they resorted to politics and non-violent protests. Considering the demonization, international isolation, two campaigns of aerial terror, and pogroms, this can only be described as remarkable restraint.
Why such hostility towards the Serbs, then? One compelling argument is that in the early 1990s, in search of a new purpose after the Cold War, both the West and militant Islam desperately needed a villain – and the Serbs became available. For a variety of actors – American imperialists, European revisionists, Muslim fanatics – the Serbs made the perfect Other. Moreover, the attack on Yugoslavia dovetailed nicely into the ongoing demolition of Russia well underway at the time.
To those nostalgic for the Islamic Caliphate, the Serbs are vile infidels who started the chain reaction against the Ottoman Empire, culminating with its expulsion from the Balkans in 1912. To the Germans, they are the obstinate obstacle to victory in two world wars; the first trophy Hitler claimed after conquering Yugoslavia in 1941 was the plaque honoring Gavrilo Princip, the 1914 assassin of Sarajevo. To the British Empire and its modern American heir, they are the surrogate Russians, a people too difficult to control and disruptive to interests of London’s (and later Washington’s) Hapsburg and Turkish allies.
This has quite a bit to do with the West’s relationship to Orthodox Christianity, which can be traced to the schism between the Church and the Bishops of Rome, over a thousand years ago. The supposedly influential Christian Right in America has hardly made a peep about the horrific persecution of Christian communities – Orthodox Serbs and Antiochians (Syria), Chaldeans (in Iraq), Copts (in Egypt) – by US-backed Muslim regimes or rebels. Few, if any, voices were raised against the systematic destruction of Orthodox shrines in occupied Kosovo, Iraq and by the rebels in Syria.
Simply put, Catholicism and its spin-offs in the West do not consider the Orthodox properly Christian. Hence the American evangelical missionaries going to “build the Church” in places like Decani – where an Orthodox monastery was established in 1327, long before America was discovered by Europeans.
Western Europeans – Catholics, Protestants or secularized descendants of both – have always seemed to harbor a common attitude towards the Orthodox Europeans (Serbs, Russians, Romanians, Greeks, and even Bulgarians). Even while fighting the Muslims – from the Seljuks, Arabs and Mamelukes of the Crusades, to the Ottomans later – the West continued trying to crush the Orthodox, sometimes even prioritizing it (e.g. 1204).
The philosophical underpinnings of Catholicism and its derivatives are fundamentally at odds with Orthodox Christian values. Catholicism owes much of its worldview to the Roman Empire, even having a semi-divine ruler (a.k.a Pope). The Catholic religion and its derivatives worship a God more interested in punishment than in love and forgiveness, reflected in the high importance of the Old Testament in Catholic dogma. The importance of this difference cannot be overstated to those who plan and promote empire.
After the Serbs had fought to a bloody draw with the Turks in 1389 – with both rulers dead and the Turks abandoning the field – attacks from the Catholic kingdom of Hungary forced them to bend the knee to the sultan. Hungarian hostility also doomed the resistance of Serbia in the 1450s, and Vlad Tepes of Wallachia in the 1460s.
After the 1683 siege of Vienna was broken, Catholic armies surged east, but were ultimately defeated by the Turks in Kosovo. A number of Serbs, who had counted on Austrians as liberators, retreated with the Imperial army (the first “Great Migration”) to avoid Turkish reprisals. They were settled along the Military Frontier (Vojna Krajina). But even as Emperor Leopold I guaranteed them freedom of religion in exchange for military service, as soon as the Turkish danger would recede, Catholic pressure would reappear.
“Just as those who embraced Islam made for the cruelest oppressors of their remaining Christian kin (with a handful of very notable exceptions), so did the Catholics converted through Austro-Hungarian pressure turn to hatred against their Orthodox roots. In the 19th century in particular, once the Principality of Serbia successfully wrested a modicum of liberty from the Sultans, Vienna encouraged an anti-Serb, Catholic identity amongst its southern Slavs. After going through Illyrian and Yugoslav phases, this identity was eventually shaped by by Ante Starcevic, a vicious anti-Serb and anti-Semite, and labeled “Croatian.” (source)
But while the Catholic Czechs were unwilling to fight for Austria-Hungary, the Croats led the way in atrocities against Serbian civilians during the 1914-15 campaign and the subsequent occupation.
Serb leaders involved in the creation of Yugoslavia in 1918 did not understand that those who identified as Croats and Muslims did not consider the Serbs their kin, but rather their inferiors. Becoming Catholic (in Austrian-held lands) or Muslim (in Turkish-held lands) meant escaping the life of oppression and contempt in which the Orthodox Serbs were held by both empires.
From the day it was created, the kingdom of Yugoslavia faced constant hostility from the Croats, backed by the Catholic Church. No amount of appeasement by Serbian officials helped. When the Axis forces invaded, in April 1941, Croats set up their own “Independent State” and proceeded to mount an organized campaign of mass murder against the Serb and Jews (in that order). Croatia had an operational death camp complex a full year before the Nazis decided to embark on the “final solution” at the Wannsee conference. Catholic clergy, from individual friars to the Archbishop of Zagreb, Aloysius Stepinac, openly backed the Nazi Croatian state. Over 1,000 Catholic clergy committed mass murder with their own hands.
Yet almost all of this first chapter of the Holocaust was covered up in 1945, to enable the creation of the second Yugoslavia, under the Communist Croat Josip Broz Tito. While Tito’s regime did persecute some Nazi Croatians (aka Ustasha), his principal obsession was containing, dividing and weakening the Serbs. Tito’s cover up of the Serbian Holocaust explains why this event, though 10 times the magnitude of the Spanish Inquisition, remains virtually unknown outside of Serbia.
Adopting the Austrian talking points, the Yugoslav Communist Party came out against the “greater Serbian bourgeois oppressors” as early as 1928, and upon seizing control of Yugoslavia in 1944 – with British and Soviet backing – proceeded to make the Nazi carve-up of the country their own. Close to a million Serbs were murdered by the Ustasha during WW2, but Tito decreed moral equivalence between the genocidal Croat regime and the royalist resistance of General Mihailovich, declaring them both “traitors and collaborators”. This even though Mihailovich remained steadfastly loyal to the Allied cause even after his abandonment by the British, while the Ustasha were loyal to Hitler from day one.
Many Nazi and Ustasha murderers were rescued by the West using the “ratlines” operated by the Vatican. Covering up the Catholic Croat genocide of Serbs served to bolster the credibility of the Catholic Church as a pillar of Western moral superiority during the Cold War. Saving the Catholic Church for the Cold War actually explains the otherwise seemingly baffling British decision to back Tito and betray the Serbs (or rather, the royal Yugoslav government). Used to wielding hard power, Stalin did not understand “soft power”, and underestimated the Catholic Church (“How many divisions does the Pope have?”). So he was caught off-guard when in 1948, Tito broke off from the Comintern and positioned Yugoslavia as officially neutral, but friendly to the West. Unwilling to antagonize Tito, Washington even kept secret the Legion of Merit (posthumously) awarded to General Mihailovich for his efforts in rescuing over 500 Allied airmen. The rescue, Operation Halyard, was likewise classified. When Slobodan Milosevic brought up the suppression of the Serbian Holocaust, and amended Serbia’s constitution to make it equal with other parts of Yugoslavia, he was attacked by both the revenant Croat nationalists, and the West. Once again, the Vatican – under the Polish-born Pope John Paul II – led the way in backing Croatian separatists and calling for war on the Serbs. In 1995, a US-backed Croatian regime finished what the Ustasha started in 1941, expelling almost all the Serbs from territories claimed by the Croatian state.
The NATO and Albanian occupation of Kosovo (1999-present) is also linked to the suppression and denial of the Serbian Holocaust. WW2 Albania had a similar position to Croatia among the Axis satellites, and the Albanians persecuted and murdered the Serbs of Kosovo with impunity. After the war, Tito not only suppressed the facts about this persecution, he banned the Serbs forced out of the province to return, and confiscated their property.
The West’s insistence on separating Kosovo from Serbia has less to do with ethnic Albanians laying claim to the province, than with the understanding of Kosovo’s importance to the Serbs. Accepting the “reality” of an independent, Albanian Kosovo has the same objective as denying the million victims of the WW2 Serbian Holocaust: submission, control, and abandonment of the Orthodox faith, Serbian identity, and ultimately Serbian independence.
Thus we arrive at the present, and the approaching centenary of the Great War. Historians in the Anglosphere now seek to project the blame for the war on the Serbs and the Russians, so the former foes in London, Paris, Washington, Berlin, Vienna and Ankara can all reconcile against the true Other. Already, Western Europe no longer celebrates the defeat of Hitler, preferring to call it “Europe Day” and extol the virtues of a German-led EU instead.
And while the EU is insisting on Serbia unconditionally surrendering and recognizing the Albanian-occupied Kosovo as an independent state, it does nothing to stop the ongoing persecution of the remaining Serbs in Croatia – left over from the US-backed campaign of ethnic cleansing in 1995. Clearly, “European values” apply to some – e.g. Catholics, Protestants, atheists and Muslims – but never to the Orthodox Other.
The 1999 attack on Serbia, however, had one major unintended consequence. Russian outrage over NATO’s aggression, combined with a remarkable resistance by Serbia, brought about the end of the Yeltsin regime and the ascendency of Russian patriots led by Vladimir Putin. Within a few years, what seemed like a terminal decline of Russia was stopped, then reversed. Meanwhile, Western triumphalism got mired in the sands of Afghanistan and Iraq. Two months ago, when Russia and China successfully stopped the attempt to invade Syria, it was a true turning point in international relations.
Judging by the comments on Vladimir Putin’s 9/11 op-ed in the New York Times, Americans have seen past their politicians posturing, and heard Putin’s essential admonishment: it is vice, not virtue, to demand everyone else to obey the rules, while considering oneself exempt from them.
Yet the struggle against this tyrannical “exemptionalism” cannot truly succeed until its forgotten chapter – the genocidal crusade(s) against the Serbs – is addressed, and set right.
Editor’s Note: The following material was added as a sort of “Part II”, on the same subject, because the authors felt it would clarify some issues under discussion. It might also be described as footnotes.
The West’s 70 year long war against Serbia began as the winners and losers of World War II became obvious by late 1942 – early 1943, when the British realized that a Soviet victory was a certainty and that the post war political landscape of Europe would see the Red Army occupying much of Catholic Europe. Thus began the largest covert intelligence operation in WW II history – destroy an entire nation of innocent witnesses to history greatest crime. Because of the crime’s magnitude and the ultimate guilty party, the Roman Catholic Church, deception became the strategy for the cover up. Make the actual guilty (fanatic Catholics and Muslims) nameless, make the real victims (Serb Orthodox) guilty.
“It is an irony of history that Tito should have been the creation of the capitalist democracies of Great Britain and the United States. His movement, even at its height, was a minority that had won itself the active hostility of the mass of Serbs, Croats, and Slovene peoples. By arming the movement, by providing it with the services of the BBC and American radio, by converting the democratic press into a propaganda agent for it, by sending Allied officers into Yugoslavia to be used as propaganda exhibits in its recruiting efforts, and finally cloaking it in their own enormous moral authority, Great Britain and the United States made themselves directly responsible for Tito’s rise to power”. From the “Web of Disinformation, Churchill’s Yugoslav Blunder” by David Martin.
Yes, the decisive role of the UK/US in bringing Tito to power in Yugoslavia is universally acknowledged, but was British and American support for Tito a blunder or a mistake as David Martin and many Serbs believe or was it the oldest strategy of warfare – the enemy of my enemy is my friend?
“Military deception was as old as warfare itself, but it is doubtful whether any military command ever employed deception as a fundamental tool of strategic planning as completely and rigorously as did the British did during World War II”. General Eisenhower aptly concluded, “they (the British) resorted to every type of subterfuge”.
From Deceiving the Deceivers by Samuel J. Hamrick
It was Gen. Eisenhower who insisted that Draza Mihailovic receive America’s Legion of Merit, its highest foreign recipient military award.
In A Genius for Deception, Rankin offers a lively and comprehensive history of how Britain bluffed, tricked, and spied its way to victory in two world wars. As he shows, a coherent program of strategic deception emerged in World War I, resting on the pillars of camouflage, propaganda, secret intelligence, and Special Forces. All forms of deception found an avid sponsor in Winston Churchill, who carried his enthusiasm for deceiving the enemy into World War II . From A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars by Nicholas Rankin
[President] Roosevelt asked him [Yugoslav Ambassador to the US Fotic] on December 20, 1941 “How, after such horrible crimes we could expect (the Serbs) to live in the same state with the Croats”. And on an earlier occasion he [Roosevelt] had said, “it would be for the Serbs to decide what sort of community they intended to retain with the Croats after the war”.
Hamilton Fish Armstrong told me [Ambassador Fotic], “We never understood his [Churchill’s] enthusiasm for Tito and his conviction he could get Tito away from the Russians”. From the “Fall of Yugoslavia” by Ilija Jukic
As US Army Colonel Robert McDowell pointed out, Stalin tried several times from 1942 until early 1944 to have the British send a Soviet mission to Mihailovich and help prevent the war between Chetniks and Paritasns. Molotov told Eden (British Foreign Minister), in November 1943 at the end of the Tehran Conference “I would rather send our mission to Mihailovich than Tito to find out more information on events there”.
In January 1944 General Kornevv who was sent as Chief of Soviet mission to Tito, asked Bill Deakin who was sent in May 1943 as the first British mission with Tito, why were the British helping Tito when the Soviets had no confidence in the military worth of the Partisans and consider Mihailovich resistance as the only group of some significance … at the time, Deakin said “I thought Korneev must have believed that we were helping Tito because of some secret political motive”. From a speech by Nikola R. Pasic May 15, 1993
“According to Edvard Kardelj, prime minister of Yugoslavia under Tito, Stalin exerted pressure on the Partisans “to reach an understanding with the Cetniks at all cost and set up a joint army under the command of Mihailovic”.
In mid 1942, however something strange happened to change Soviet policy towards Yugoslavia. In one way or another the supercautious Stalin must have received intelligence that it has become safe to break with Mihailovic without endangering the relationship with Churchill. Indeed, the abrupt and dramatic manner in which the change occurred strongly suggest that the Soviet government must have possessed intelligence leading it to believe, even at that early date, that Churchill could be persuaded on his own, to backing Tito. Certainly Stalin was in no position and would be in no position before the Red Army entered in Yugoslavia, to assist Tito materially.
It can be taken for granted that one of the factors of Stalin’s decision was the almost irresistible prospect of brining Soviet power to the shores of the Adriatic, thus achieving the age old Russian dream of access to war water seas. One would have imagined that an old war horse like Winston Churchill, no admirer of Bolshevism and accustomed to think in strategic terms, would have understood the basic implication of this switch in Soviet policy. But he did not. – from The Web of Disinformation; Churchill’s Yugoslav Blunder by David Martin
Poor David Martin and Stalin, they both took the British bait that Churchill supported Tito because his forces were killing more Germans. And who was the source of the phony intelligence that changed Stalin’s mind from supporting Mihailovic to Tito? Why, none other than the British themselves. And poor David also wants us to believe that Churchill couldn’t see that he was handing Yugoslavia to the communist. David, that’sexactly what Churchill wanted to do with Yugoslavia – hand it to the communists.
Churchill said to Maclean,” do you intend to live in Yugoslavia after the war, Maclean answered, “No”, Churchill replied, “ neither do I, the less you and I worry about the form of Government they set up, the better.” From “Eastern Approaches” by Fitzroy Maclean.
It was a win – win for the British. If Tito did as the British expected and let “Brotherhood and Unity” cover up the Serbian Holocaust, then that’s a win. On the other hand, if Tito acted as a true communist, then the British would propagandize that “look, Tito is a communist attacking the Catholic Church, therefore it’s all just communist propaganda and not to be believed”, another win. However, given Serbia’s WWI contributions to the Allied victory and its WW II, March 27th revolution that stunned the world, and Mihailovic’s early war fame, its world wide acclamation and reservoir of good will would give any Serb charges against the Catholic Church enormous credibility. So, the British needed to prevent a Serbian Orthodox victory at any cost by destroying Mihailovic’s credibility. What really concerned the British, as we will see, was the world to come after the war. A Serbian pawn would be sacrificed to save the Roman Catholic Queen for the coming chess game of the Cold War.
The British were in a position along with the Americans (but not the Soviets)to know all of the facts on the ground concerning the Serbian Holocaust and the role of the Catholic Church right up to Pope Pius XII. They also realized after Kursk there would be a divided Europe and a long ideological struggle with communism and that propaganda and claims to moral superiority (given the experiences of capitalism producing two world wars and the Great Depression in the first half of the twentieth century) would be crucial for victory. Simply put, the British and Americans feared a Serbian Orthodox victory in Yugoslavia would lead to Serb retribution and justice which would very likely lead to the downfall of the Papacy and perhaps the entire Roman Catholic Church at a time when the Soviet Union enjoyed immense prestige for its role in defeating Nazi Germany, and at a time when the masses of Europe where shifting radically to the left.
In other words if the Vatican was exposed as complicit in mass murder, if Pius XII was in the defendant box at Nuremberg, most of Western Europe may have gone communist by free elections. The cover up of the Serbian Holocaust by Tito and the West was precisely the “secret motive” that the Soviets couldn’t figure out.
In defense of my loyalty to you, I am hopeful that I may deviate from strict military protocol so that justice might prevail, and for this reason I hasten to write about an incident which I personally went to inspect which happened three weeks ago. Upon visiting the District of Stolac, Chapljina and Ljubinje I was informed by one of our intelligence officers that Pavelic’s Ustashi, on a previous day, had inflicted some sort of crimes in the village of Periodic (a Serbian village in Bosnia) and that if it became public, the local Serbs would anew become disturbed and agitated.
I lack the words with which to write about what I had discovered there in a large classroom. I discovered the massacre of a teacher and 120 of her students. Not one of the students was older than twelve years. It was a crime, an improper and indecent word that surpasses all insanity. Many of them were decapitated and their heads lined up on the student benches. The intestines were pulled from the slashed stomachs by the Ustashi and like New Year’s streamers stretched across the ceiling and nailed to the walls. …
The criminals first all took turns in raping the teacher and later killed her in front of the children. During this time a gypsy orchestra was forcibly brought in and was forced to sing loudly songs and beat upon the stings of the guitars… To the eternal shame of our Roman Catholic Church – one man of God – a parish priest participating in all of this.
The massacre of Serbians has reached such proportions that many sources of water supplies have been polluted. I can personally vouch for this because I have seen a well in Popovo Polje, not far form the pit where 4,000 Serbs were disposed of, that due to that, a well is discharging crimson water because of this pollution.
An indelible stain will fall upon the culture and consciousness of Italy, if we do not while there is still time, distance ourselves from the Ustashi and prevent that it could be written that we supported this madness” Italian Army General Alexander Luzana in a letter to Mussolini (from the Military Archives of the Second Occupation Army).
So, what to do, if you are the British and Americans? Like General Luzana, the British came to the same conclusion, but went Luzana one step further. They must prevent not only that it could be written that the Catholic Church was involved in the Serbian Holocaust, but that it didn’t happen. At stake was the very survival of the Roman Catholic Church. An instrument the British knew was absolutely vital to the Cold War. The Catholic priest who participated in the mass murder described by Luazna was not an isolated individual, but rather all too common in the Independent State of Croatia. The late Serbian Holocaust research Dr. Milan Buljaic has meticulously documented the name of over one thousand Catholic priest, monks, and seminarians that committed mass murder. So what options do the British have? Really they have only one. You create in the form of Tito, a force that is: one, anti Serb and two, entirely dependent on the West for its survival. And this is the reality behind Anglo American policy in World War II Yugoslavia. They supported Tito not because his forces were killing Germans, they supported Tito because the British knew Tito’s partisans were killing the Serbian Orthodox resistance. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, the oldest strategy in warfare and for the British, looking ahead to the Cold War, see the Serbian Orthodox resistance movement of Draza Mihailovic as their real enemy.