Other than their tragic natures, there would seem to be little connection between the Srebrenica massacre and Typhoon Haiyan. They were separated by 20 years, one was in the Balkans while the other ravaged Asian island nations, and the former was a deliberate act, the latter a natural disaster.
Yet there is a tie-in, however tenuous and eye-rolling. Some who deny that the genocide occurred offer a novel explanation for the mass of uncovered corpses. In this tale, the massacre was a hoax and those responsible for perpetrating it furtively slipped thousands of Philippine typhoon victims into central Europe and dumped them in the Srebrenica burial sites. I’m halfway expecting a counter theory from HAARP conspiracy theorists that Srebrenica victims were transported to Southeast Asia and passed off as typhoon fatalities.
While the idea of a massacre/typhoon connection is absurd enough to dismiss out of hand, we in the skeptic community prefer to bolster our points with science, and in this case, we find that evidence in DNA. The massacre took place primarily in July of 1995 when Bosnian Serb soldiers from Republica Srpska and the paramilitary Scorpions slew 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. According to The Atlantic, DNA advances have enabled war crimes investigators to document the massacre in minute detail.
In his Atlantic piece, David Rohde wrote that uncovering the remains was made difficult because Bosnian Serbs went to great effort to conceal victims’ bodies. Several months after the killings, they dug up many of the mass graves, dismembered the corpses, and hid them in dozens of locations. This means that body parts from one victim are often in multiple sites. Despite this challenge, the International Commission on Missing Persons collected 22,268 blood samples from Srebrenica survivors and matched them to 6,827 recovered bodies.
However, even this DNA evidence is dismissed by deniers. To conspiracy theorists, inconvenient evidence is part of the cover-up, evidence not uncovered shows how well it’s being hidden, and scientists and journalists who provide contrary information are in on the plot or blindly contributing to it.
Rohde quoted several Serbs who offered either denial of the entire massacre or insisted it had been exaggerated and only occurred in the normal course of battle. It is dismissed as a hoax perpetrated by Western powers, who are also blamed for fomenting conflict in the splintered Yugoslavia. In this theory, supposedly slain Bosnian Muslims are said to be either living in Germany or are instead dead Serb soldiers or Filipino typhoon victims. This denial is not limited to Serbs. The conspiracy theory finds adherents among Russian government officials and anti-Muslim U.S. conservatives.
Similar denials are leveled at the Holocaust and genocides in Ukraine, Armenia, Rwanda, and Cambodia, as well as the Nanking Massacre. These atrocities are accompanied by a denialist narrative in which a shadowy figure or cabal is out do disparage or destroy the nation, culture, or faith responsible for the genocide. Those perpetrating the hoax can be the CIA, Mossad, Saudi royalty, the Clintons, or whoever best fits the narrative.
In these denials, if mass murder was perpetrated, it was in self-defense. This is a double-win for the denial camp. They can defend their country or people while casting blame on a disliked party for perpetrating a self-serving ruse. As George Orwell observed, “The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”
In many cases, denial is the first reaction to news of the genocide, as it was in Srebrenica, when the victims were dug up and reburied. Some of the bodies were also burned. This moving and desecration of the evidence made further denial easier. Then when those remains were found, an ad hoc rationale developed that the corpses were of legitimate military targets. All this is standard practice for genocide deniers, who attempt to refute what happened or at least downplay it. Gregory Stanton, founder of Genocide Watch, considers denial a continuation of the genocide because it is part of a continuing attempt to psychologically and culturally destroy the victim group.
Meanwhile, blogger Emil Karlsson has touched on the characteristics of genocide denial. These include false attempts at moral equivalence between the side perpetrating the genocide and its victims. This, to the denialist, justifies any atrocity because there were good and bad on both sides, usually more good on their end. Or it can take the form of dehumanizing the victims and considering them unworthy of sympathy, so whether it happened or not doesn’t matter. One Internet meme tried to rebrand Srebrenica massacre mastermind Ratko Mladic as a mighty warrior who has been doing battle with ISIS since 1992, thereby equating murdered grade schoolers with an Islamic terrorists.
Another tact is misusing initial estimates done by governments. The first totals of genocide fatalities are usually done by government or military officials who lack the research and documentation capabilities of scientists and historians. These first estimates may be inaccurate, perhaps wildly so. This provides easy fodder for a genocide denialist, who cites the disparate numbers of proof of a lie. If the numbers go up, they are fraudulent; if they go down, it shows it was never a big deal anyway, especially in war. A similar tactic is to exploit new discoveries or corrected errors, as new information is taken as evidence that it was all fabricated.
Yet another strategy is to quote historians out of context. In Karlsson’s post, he wrote that holocaust deniers enthusiastically reference Raul Hilberg having said that it would be hard to prove that the Holocaust happened. Sliced off is his next sentence, where he explains how historians and researchers overcome any difficulties and confirmed the event’s horrible reality. Holocaust deniers also lift a passage from Arno Mayer’s book to make it seem like he asserts that evidence for Nazi gas chambers is sparse. What they leave out is that he was referring to the SS having destroyed most of the evidence for the chambers, which wouldn’t be possible if they weren’t there to destroy.
This shows how denialists can highlight any apparent inconsistency while ignoring the totality of evidence. In an article sympathetic to Srebrenica denial, World Net Daily wrote that 37 percent of the massacre victims were on voting roles in 1996, a year after what it calls “the alleged genocide.” Voting roles are usually only purged after one misses several elections, so this demonstrates nothing and certainly does not refute the DNA evidence of the nearly 7,000 confirmed victims.
Historians take their work seriously and will correct errors when found. Genocide denialists will advertise this not as admitting an honest mistake, but as the exposing of a cover-up. For instance, WND claimed that at least 100 persons in the Srebrenica memorial sites died of natural causes. Even if true, this is a tiny percentage of those buried and does not lessen the brutality of killing young boys and senior citizens because of where they were born and what religion they practice.