fredag 31 december 2010

Niclas Sennerteg: Ord som dödar ("Words that kill")

Finished Niclas Sennerteg's "Ord som dödar. Om folkmord och propaganda" ("Words that kill. On genocide and propaganda". It's a book about "hate media" and their propaganda, but more about the legal results of putting hate propagandists on trial and the results of that (including for international law).

First off are four chapters on the propaganda effort supporting anti-semitism in the Third Reich and the Nuremberg trials of some of those responsible – Goebbels and Streicher (whom everybody with a passing interest in these issues probably know about already), Hans Fritzsche (less well known; chief of the Home Press Division, later Plenipotentiary for the Political Organization of the Greater German Radio and head of the Radio Division. Fritzsche was one of the few who were acquitted at Nuremberg. Wikipedia and apparently most assessments say that Fritzsche never pushed for the extermination of the Jews, but some quotes offered by Sennerteg still indicates a rather vicious anti-semite who certainly helped spread anti-semitism by his work. Sennerteg also points to the incompetence of the Soviet prosecutor as a factor behind Fritzsche's acquittal – apparently, Roman Rudenko seems to have been more used to Soviet-style "justice" than actually having to make his case properly…

Later on, NSDAP press chief Otto Dietrich would be sentenced to seven years imprisonment for his part in the propaganda that enabled the Holocaust. He would write the severely critical "The Hitler I Knew. Memoirs of the Third Reich's Press Chief" in prison, and I'm putting it on my to-read list. (Even before having read it, though, I'll have to agree with historian Roger Moorhouse: "His insights are sound and sincere, but the obvious question that arises is: when did they occur to him?") Anyway, finding Dietrich guilty of crimes against humanity was a big step in the evolution of international law – he hadn't openly called for the persecution of Jews, but he'd been an important part of the propaganda machine that laid the foundation for it by dehumanizing the victims and justifying the persecutions.

Then follows what comprises the lion's share of the book, a bit more than half of it: Rwanda. After briefly outlining the course of the genocide, Sennerteg depicts the processes against some of the heads of "Radio Machete" (RTLM) and the man running the "newspaper" Kangura, Hassan Ngeze. (Worryingly, some of the stuff that came from those sources was worryingly close to what you can occasionally hear from certain more extreme American radio hosts, like for example Michael Savage.)

Finally, there is a quick look at the case of former Yugoslavia, where Slobodan Milosevic was smarter in his somewhat more indirect use of propaganda, using historical documentaries and movies to remind all Serbs about all sorts of suffering they've been subjected to throughout history.. However, since he died before the trial was over, it didn't offer much additional development of the status of international law.

In some respects, Sennerteg has written a history (and that is how I think the book is being presented on the back cover), but it reads more like a journalistic effort. Sennerteg concentrates a bit too much on the events in the courtrooms and too little on historic theory or the flow of events for it to read like a work of history to me. Still, Sennerteg problematizes the issues – like can the increased focus on holding journalists responsible for unrest elicited by their reporting – and offers enough history to be worthwhile.

The most interesting part of the book is, to me, the very final chapter that briefly looks at various theories about what leads to genocide, and how to prevent it. According to Barbara Harff, the risk that an internal conflict or crisis will escalate into a genocide increases if
• There have been previous genocides;
• There has been grand, tumultuous changes in the last 15 years;
• The ruling elite is a minority in a multiethnic society;
• The ruling elite stands for and promulgates an ideology that locks other groups out;
• The country is run dictatorially; and
• There is little international trade.

John Heidenrich points to the use of silent diplomacy, focused publicity (which of course requires the assistance of the sometimes rather fickle media) and open political pressure in order to prevent a looming genocide. Since military action takes so long to prepare, it is necessary to get a big head start, and (as I think was demonstrated by the case of former Yugoslavia) the pressure you put on a regime needs to be seen as credible by that regime.

Professor Frank Chalk has presented a model for preventing genocide:
Early stage – plenty of warning signals about increasing ethnic tension. International organizations should act as watchdogs on local media and train the country's journalists, and help build ethics codes as well as local, independent media.
Intermediary stage – massacres and violence against the scapegoated group. It is impossible for independent journalists and organizations to work. International actors like the UN and the EU should warn the hate-mongers tat they are being watch and risk prosecution for their actions. Outside news channels can offer correct news about the events in the country.
Final stage – military intervention can be used to destroy the hate propaganda tools (though I must say that I would personally prefer it if they were used to stop the genocide more directly).

(Note: I've re-translated into English terms translated into Swedish by Sennerteg, so I can't vouch that I'm presenting these theories entirely correctly.)

Anyway, a book worth reading if you're a Swedish-speaker and interested in these issues.

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