Guardian's Hatchet Job, March 12,
To join the Observer (same publishers) another hatchet-job. Should go on
the site with the other "coverage" - another good example of rubbish
they use to hide behind.
The Guardian, 12 March 1997
Front page of Guardian 2, the tabloid-size 2nd section of the Guardian.
Photo: (Thomas Deichmann in profile) Thomas Deichmann, pro-Serbian
German journalist and associate of the British Revolutionary Communist
Party. Inset: (Fikret Alic as on front cover of February LM).
This man claims the footage of Bosnian concentration camps which shocked
the world was faked. Luke Harding reports
[Photos: A different slant on a shocking picture... the scene at
Trnopolje detention camp as filmed by ITN with (centre left) Fikret
Alic, the emaciated figure who became the defining symbol of the war in
Bosnia. Now claims that the footage was faked are being made by a
strange alliance involving German journalist Thomas Deichmann (far left)
and Mick Hume (above), editor of Living Marxism, the magazine of the
British Revolutionary Communist Party]
PHOTOGRAPHS: ITN/MARTIN GODWIN A shot that is still ringing]
A horrific photograph of emaciated Bosnian prisoners behind the wire of
Trnopolje concentration camp made front-page news in 1992 as it
confirmed Serbian 'ethnic cleansing'. So why are a German journalist
and a group of British socialists trying to rewrite history? Luke
THEY are a curious bunch: an odd German journalist by the name of
Thomas Deichmann, a group of middle-class British communists, a former
US State Department official called George and a gaggle of
beautifully-coiffured Serbian ladies with fascistic leanings.
Over the last week this strange alliance of former advisers,
designer-clad revolutionaries and chilling pan-Serbian enthusiasts have
been engaged in a grand project. Their aim is simple: to rewrite
history. Not distant history, but recent history. The war in Bosnia.
Deichmann, a diminutive German leftist and late entrant to the noble
profession of journalism, has a curious thesis, which runs something
like this: footage of a Serb-run detention camp taken by a team from
ITN in August 1992 was faked. The footage was confirmation to those who
suspected that the Serbs were "ethnically cleansing" the Bosnian
hinterland of Krajina and were engaged in systematic genocide against
the resident Muslim population.
When ITN reporters Penny Marshall and Ian Williams stumbled into the
Trnopolje camp escorted by Serbian heavies in dark glasses, they were
greeted by Bosnian prisoner Fikret Alic, who poked an emaciated arm
through the barbed wire and shook hands.
With his xylophonic ribcage and horrifically prominent cheekbones, Alic
unwittingly became _the_ defining symbol of the war in Bosnia. There is
little doubt that the ITN pictures of Fikret and his fellow internees
galvanised opinion in the West against the Serbs. The war rumbled on
and the ethnic cleansing continued. But out of a dispute whose tribal
complexities baffled many came a morally unambiguous image of stark,
almost iconic, clarity. The pictures -- with its echoes of Belsen and
Dachau -- found their way on to the front pages of newspapers across the
Now, however, Deichmann and the British Revolutionary Communist Party
(RCP) are busy deconstructing unedited ITN footage of the camp. Last
month the RCP's glossy low-circulation magazine, Living Marxism,
reprinted Deichmann's controversial thesis. Under the headline "The
picture that fooled the world", it claims that the ITN footage was shot
from inside the Trnopolje camp. Deichmann says a group of British
journalists, including the Guardian's Ed Vulliamy, were themselves
behind the wire when they arrived at the camp's warehouse. The Bosnian
Muslims were not captive, Deichmann says, but had come voluntarily to
Trnopolje to seek "protection".
ITN has responded to these allegations by slapping a writ for libel on
Living Marxism and its editor, Mick Hume. ITN is also suing the
magazine's printer and a subsidiary of the Press Association which
carried a defamatory LM press release promoting its "scoop".
None of this has deterred the magazine and its surprisingly soigne army
of students and media studies lecturers from turning the issue into a
wider ideological crusade. There have been press conferences in London
and Bonn at which Living Marxism has invited Deichmann to advance his
thesis, something he does in the deadpan manner of a car salesman asked
to demonstrate the merits of a new family saloon.
Other revisionists, meanwhile, are busy redrafting history's awkward
title pages in favour of the winning side. The Serbian Information
Centre (something of an oxymoron, it has to be said) has gleefully
joined in the debate. At a Living Marxism rally held last week to raise
funds for the magazine's defence of the forthcoming libel action, a
heavily-accented Serbian announced blithely from the audience: "We have
investigated the question of rape. There have only been eight
documented cases in the former Yugoslavia." No systematic rapes of
women and girls by Serb militias then? Er, right.
Another member of the audience who had the temerity to mention
Srebrenica, scene of some of the worst massacres against Bosnian
civilians, was heckled by a group of upper-class Serb women. Others
have suggested that Fikret Alic had not been suffering from malnutrition
but tuberculosis. This, they say, truly explains the peculiar condition
of his ribcage.
As supporters filed into Church House in Westminster, they were all
recorded on video camera by a man in a crumpled suit and a purple V-neck
jumper. Why was he filming the audience? "I'm with the Crown," he said
conspiratorially, with a Serb accent. Youthful apparatchiks from Living
Marxism in Adidas T-shirts also took photos of everyone who filed into
the domed meeting room, normally used by elderly clerics and members of
the General Synod. The atmosphere was half secret police social, half
evangelist rally. After a rousing speech by Mick Hume, the entire
audience rose to its feet as one for a standing ovation.
As part of its crusade, Living Marxism had flown in former US state
department official George Kenney, who resigned in 1992 in protest at
America's anti-interventionist policy in Bosnia. Since then Kenney has
undergone a strange transformation and become one of the leading
apologists for Serb aggression during the war.
After the rally, female revolutionary communists in little black dresses
and modish trouser suits complained about media manipulation and lack of
"principles". In a rather delightful irony, members of the audience had
been given differently coloured tokens for drinks at a reception after
the meeting. Green -- presumably for elite cadres only -- meant
unlimited Vin du Pays. Those given yellow or pink tickets in exchange
for their ^\12.50 entry fee were allowed a couple of drinks only. At a
bookstall, copies of Living Marxism paperbacks changed hands for a
tenner a time. Various Serb dignitaries beat a path through the crush
to shake Deichmann warmly by the hand and draw to his attention other
areas of the war in Bosnia which merited further "investigation".
BUT TWO DAYS ago in Bonn, the Deichmann-Kenney-Living Marxism roadshow
came unstuck. As Deichmann advanced his polished thesis in Bonn's
prestigious Press Club, he noticed a rather fatter Fikret Alic standing
at the back, wearing a Los Angeles baseball jacket, with other former
Trnopolje inmates. Deichmann seemed unnerved. Afterwards the pair
shook hands in the warm Bonn sunshine. Deichmann mumbled a few
pleasantries and went off.
Fikret then explained what really happened on August 5, 1992: "We were
100 per cent behind that barbed wire. There was wire all around us.
They took some of it down on August 8, 1992, when Serb television crews
arrived from Belgrade and Banja Luka [when the world's media circus also
arrived]." He gulped a couple of painkillers for his irreparably
damaged kidneys. And that was that.
Why, then, is a small leftwing revolutionary group, whose cadres appear
to come largely from the former polytechnic sector, making common cause
with a bunch of unreconstructed Serbian nationalists?
The answer has something to do with Living Marxism's
anti-interventionist stand on war in general. The conflict in Bosnia
was not created by the pressure cooker of resurgent Balkan nationalism
but by Western powers, the magazine would argue. According to LM, the
West caused the war by intervening to promote its own interests.
To flick casually through Living Marxism is to enter a curious universe
defined by libertarian arguments and a crude anti-statism. LM is
against gun control, hates the authoritarian Jack Straw and makes great
play of demanding a society "fit for adults". It hated the Labour Party
long before this became a fashionable activity. Reading its most recent
manifesto, The Point Is To Change It (an impossible slog through sawdust
prose), the anti-interventionist message is clear.
Arguing the toss later in a bar with a senior Revolutionary Communist, I
ask him whether Britain was right to intervene when Hitler's armies
swept into Poland and Czechoslovakia in 1939. "No," he replies. "That
would have been fighting for the British ruling classes." Does he ever
suffer from self-doubt? "I am riddled with self-doubt," he says,
The RCP long ago fell out with its more genuinely proletarian rival, the
Socialist Workers' Party. Both were founded when a group called
International Socialists split up in the mid-seventies. The RCP
originally called itself the Revolutionary Communist Tendency.
Ideologically, the RCP is big on Trotsky, not Stalin. New members, most
of whom are recruited at university, are told to use false identities so
that the revolutionary "cells" in which they work are not compromised.
No one is quite who he or she seems. According to a former RCP member,
there are also secret passwords which must doubtless add to the sense of
romanticism and adventure.
Curiously, there are no adverts in Living Marxism. How, one wonders,
does such a glossy publication, which has a generously estimated
circulation of 16,000 copies a month, manage to survive? "It's all
through subscription copies and sales," another RCP apparatchik explains
over a glass of vin rouge. A cursory look through the accounts of
Junius Publications, which publishes LM, reveals little. There is no
doubt, though, that the magazine is heavily subsidised by RCP members,
who pay anything between 10 and 20 per cent of their incomes to the
cause. "I joined in 1980 when I was a student," one former member, who
has now defected to a rival communist group, explained. "I would simply
hand over 10 per cent of my grant cheque at the start of each term."
And then there are its links with the Serbs. Four years ago Joan
Phillips, a Living Marxist journalist, smuggled in photographs of
"atrocities" allegedly carried out by Arab mercenaries against Serbian
victims. The photos came from the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences
in Belgrade, the organisation which revived the idea of a Greater Serbia
a decade ago. Phillips's tendentious pro-Serb accounts of the war in
Bosnia have long been a feature of the magazine. Private Eye recently
revealed that she had also worked for the Economist Intelligence Unit,
a subsidiary of the magazine, as a Balkan sage writing briefing notes
for capitalist bosses. Not as Joan Phillips, but as Joan Hoey.
THOMAS DEICHMANN, 34, trained as an engineer but failed to finish his
degree at Frankfurt University. He professes he has no links with the
Serbs. His recent adventures in Bosnia (he first visited Trnopolje just
three months ago, with a camcorder) have not been funded by any outside
body, he says. To date his work has mainly appeared in Novo, an obscure
German Trotskyite magazine with a minuscule circulation.
Other German journalists say Deichmann is suffering from "profile
neurosis". He now looks like a man who has bitten off more than he can
chew. "Nobody had ever heard of him before this," says Paul Stoop, of
the Berlin Tagesspiegel. "I think this an attempt to attract attention
Deichmann has reinvented himself as a fully-fledged Bosnia expert. On
October 30 last year he gave evidence for the defence in the trial of
alleged Serbian war criminal Dusko Tadic at the Hague. He says he is
concerned with raising journalistic standards, but failed to speak to
any of the journalists who were actually at Trnojople before publishing
his extraordinary thesis that the whole thing had been crudely stunted
And what of poor old Fikret Alic, who -- unlike Deichmann and Hume --
actually suffered the privations of Trnopolje? Now 27 and living in
Denmark, he has a clear memory of August 5, 1992. "I remember when
Penny Marshall arrived at about midday: She was the only one who tried
to help people in the camp," he said yesterday "The Serb translator Igor
who translated for ITN was the son of the Serb doctor in the camp. The
Muslims had to say on camera it was a gathering centre. They had no
"I only said my name. The Serbs were standing behind the camera. They
said: 'Write down the names so we can kill the Muslims.' The killings
and beatings continued after the journalists left, but in a different
way.' On August 13, eight days after the ITN visit, Fikret escaped.
"There was a convoy of women and children leaving. I dressed as a woman
and hid on the floor of a truck. I came out over Travnik. I was very
lucky. Between the 19th and 21st of August 250 people in the camp who
took the same route were killed."
"I would like to say to anyone who thinks it was a pleasant experience
being in the camp: 'Try it for yourself'."