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Serbian Government's Planned Demand for Federal Investigation of Supposedly Anti-Serb "Racist Remarks":

I blogged over the last several days about the planned philosophy lecture at Kent State — the 2007 Veroni Memorial Lecture in Philosophy and the Humanities, to be delivered by Peter French, Lincoln Chair in Ethics, and Director, Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at Arizona State University — which was titled On Being Morally Challenged by Collective Memories, and had the following blurb:

During the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, Serbian men described themselves as compelled to rape and murder Kosovar women and children. This felt necessity was provoked and sustained by collective memories nurtured in Serbs for seven centuries. The basic question I hope to answer is whether group members caught in the throes of collective memories should be held responsible for their actions when they "can do no other."

Here's a copy of a fax from the Serbian consulate that was sent before the lecture was called off:

CONSULATE GENERAL OF THE REPUBLIC OF SERBIA
201 E. Ohio Street, Suite 200, Chicago, IL. 60611
Tel: 312/670-6707; Fax: 312/670-6787
www.scgchicago.org

Friday, March 02, 2007

David W. Odell-Scott, Chair Philosophy Department
Kent State University
P.O. Box 5190
Kent, OH 44242-0001

VIA FACSIMILE: 330-672-4867

Dear Professor Scott;

It has come to our attention that the Philosophy Department at Kent State University is sponsoring a lecture "On Being Morally Challenged by Collective Memories" to be held on March 7, 2007 featuring Peter French as the speaker.

After reviewing the promotional materials concerning Mr. French's speech, we are deeply disturbed and shocked. We view these remarks as racist and hateful, and feel compelled to react. My Consulate is responsible to inform the Serbian Government of such anti-Serbian rhetoric, as well as US authorities about possible legal violations.

If this lecture is allowed to proceed, we will demand from the Office of the US Attorney in Cleveland an investigation about racist remarks and demand an explanation from the State of Ohio, regarding State sponsored hate speech. We are very sorry that no one at your School recognized this shameful conduct and did not react to prevent its announcement.

Respectfully,

Desko Nikitovic
Consul General
Cc: Kent State President Lester A. Leftonfax

CONSULATE GENERAL OF THE REPUBLIC OF SERBIA
201 E. Ohio Street, Suite 200, Chicago, IL. 60611
Tel: 312/670-6707; Fax: 312/670-6787

Fortunately, in America the U.S. Attorney does not investigate allegedly racist remarks by scholars (plus, as I noted before, the allegations were based on some very thin evidence). Let's hope it stays that way, and European norms of speech restriction — whether from Serbia, France, England, or elsewhere — do not make their way to the U.S.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Serbian Government's Planned Demand for Federal Investigation of Supposedly Anti-Serb "Racist Remarks":
  2. Cancellation of the Lecture That Was Objected to by Some Serbian-Americans:
  3. Brewing Academic Controversy:
elChato (mail):
Well I think the US Attorney should get right on this—he should call the consulate and tell them, “we are ready to devote all our resources to this investigation, and are sorry for those victimized. If you could send Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić over to give us a statement about how all this has personally affected them, we will proceed accordingly. Airfare and accommodations will be on us.”
3.6.2007 5:19pm
Anderson (mail):
elChato's snark surpasses anything I could add. Well done.

How does one say "chutzpah" in Serbian?
3.6.2007 5:31pm
Elliot123 (mail):
European norms of speech restriction have made their way to the US. This case is an example. The authorities haven't restricted it, but the norm was nevertheless succesfully applied. In this case Kent State appears to have taken the high ground, but too often the core of support for these restrictions is on campus.
3.6.2007 5:54pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Welcome to the First Amendment, butthead.
3.6.2007 6:47pm
FC:
I call it "Hmong-Hmonging the French professors."

(You need to have been reading Althouse's blog to get that.)
3.6.2007 7:54pm
Yankee_Mark:
Well nobody can possibly point to solid evidence that Serb nationalists murdered one Bosnian or Kosovar ... maybe ten thousand, but certainly not one! Seriously though, since when is it so impossible for members of a group, be it ethnic or other, to cope with lectures/arguments/discussion that some members of said group have done terrible things?
3.6.2007 8:06pm
bokababe (www):
Yes, el Chato's remarks are suitbaly snarky and probably describe all that he knows about the Balkans -- and he still got it wrong. Mladic and Karadzic are from Bosnia, not Serbia. Serbia was recently cleared of any complicity in Bosnian war crimes. Serbia has invited the ICTY to find Mladic or Karadzic on Serbian soil or tell them where either of them are, but the ICTY doesn't give them any info yet Carla del Ponte still keeps playing the broken record, "We know Mladic &Kradzic are in Serbia!"

If you had even a cursory knowledge of the Balkans, you'd know that right now the future of Kosovo is hanging in the balance, as Albanian seperatists want to tear off a chunk of Serbia for their own, so it is understandable that Serbia would be rather touchy on the subject of being portrayed as "rapists and murderers" in Kosovo.

This has nothing to do with "freedom of speech" -- it has to do with "hate speech". The Consitition does not guarantee you a right to cry "Fire!" in a crowded theater because people could get physically hurt. Nor does it guarantee a public institution the right to describe an ethnic group as "rapists and murderers" on posters, especially at a time when political negotiations are underway that could very well mean life or death to the remaining non-Albanians in Kosovo.
3.6.2007 8:13pm
rtaycher1987 (mail) (www):
While you are right about the legal aspect you seem a bit too happy about it. Yes it is good that the US have freedom of speech, but that doesn't mean universities should invite people to speak about stupid excuses for genocide.
3.6.2007 8:56pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
bokababe.
You're right about "fire" and wrong about the rest of it.

The Constitution is not a grab bag of goodies from which you can count on drawing whatever is necessary for some issue or other.

It's sort of like the Motoons. The legalities of something do not depend on the presumed--even if presumed with good evidence--insanity of another party or parties.
3.6.2007 9:04pm
JamesWN (mail):

Yes, el Chato's remarks are suitbaly snarky and probably describe all that he knows about the Balkans -- and he still got it wrong. Mladic and Karadzic
are from Bosnia, not Serbia. Serbia was recently cleared of any complicity in Bosnian war crimes.


No, Serbia (then the former Republic of Yugoslavia) wasn't cleared of war crimes.
Click here for the judgment and press release
3.6.2007 9:05pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
rtaycheri1987

I get the impression that the professor wasn't making an excuse, but was commenting on one heard from the perps. You can point something out without being accused of favoring it, when discussing issues with adults.
3.6.2007 9:06pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Aubrey:
She was wrong about "Fire!". I don't know whether she was wrong about the rest of it. Brush up on Schenck v United States, and think about how our understanding of the First Amendment (and the free speech provisions of the Ohio constitution) have changed between then and now.
Meanwhile does Serbia claim that Serbians constitute a race?
How many Serbians does it take to get into law school?
3.6.2007 9:18pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Serbians can be a race on a given campus if they threaten violence. Works for any group.
3.6.2007 9:20pm
David Maquera (mail) (www):
There is a clear distinction between yelling "fire" in a crowded theater (which creates imminent physical harm for the listeners and not the speaker) versus describing an ethnic group as "rapists and murderers" (which may create imminent physical harm for the speaker but certainly not the listeners). Regardless of one's partisan feelings regarding the Kosovo question, I think it is highly regrettable that the lecture was cancelled. Why? Because it appears to me that now Americans can be cowed into silence within our own borders by foreigners with disdain for our Constitution. Such cowardice provides me with further evidence that my generation is turning America into a nation of wimps. How dare any American remain silent about the atrocities that took place in Kosovo (by both Serbians and Kosovar Albanians)!
3.6.2007 9:25pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
The letter from the Consulate General of Serbia provides further proof of the eroding sovereignty of the US. Here we have a foreign government issuing demands on an American University complete with threats. Note the bogus use of the word “racist.” Imagine how Teddy Roosevelt would have reacted to such behavior on the part of a foreign government. I suspect he would have booted the Serbian delegation out of the country the next day. How can we expect foreigners to respect The First Amendment if our cowardly institutions cave in on the slightest provocation? The First Amendment will of little use to Americans if restriction of speech becomes a private norm. It’s already happening. Private parties (like Charles Schwab) block web sites taking an anti-immigration position such as Vdare because someone takes offense and flings the charge “racist” or “hate speech.” What are you going to do if Google becomes the only search engine available and they take it upon themselves to exercise censorship? Remember Google helped the Communist Chinese government censor searches making a mockery of their own slogan “do no evil.”
3.6.2007 10:26pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
A. Zarkov has it right, the Serb Counsel and maybe their ambassador should be declared persona non grata and sent back home.

The comments from the Serb apologists on these threads are appalling. No understanding of the American tradition of free speach.

I also love when they say on one hand that anti-Serb speech is racist and then deny responsibility for ethnic Serbs like Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić. Logicaly consistency ain't their strong point.
3.7.2007 12:32am
Respondent (mail):
Yelling "fire" in a crowded theater is not speech that represents a viewpoint on any social or political question, and therefore isn't in the core of the first amendment at all. This difference is so obvious that it is no surprise that in the fifth grade I was already criticizing people who used that example to support point of view speech restrictions when the speech could lead to "bad" results.
3.7.2007 12:47am
A. Zarkov (mail):
I suggest that Americans call the Serbian embassy and express their disapproval in a polite, non-threatening, but firm manner. Tell them that their behavior is unacceptable and that they are unwelcome here. If enough people do this it will have an effect. If our government is too poltroonish to do this, and obviously it is, then we need to act in its stead. It’s also clear the US Department of State needs an enema.
3.7.2007 2:52am
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
Now there will be Serbian free speech jokes circulating in the US, and Serbian Ambassador as a new standard for cluelessness.
3.7.2007 3:52am
Hoosier:
A. Zarkov-- YOU HAVE OVERSTEPPED THE BOUNDS OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT! How dare you launch a RACIST attack on the State Department! This is an insult to all
DIPLO-AMERICANS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It's the Holocaust all over again!

Never again MEANS NOW! STOP THE HATE!
3.7.2007 9:51am
Gary McGath (www):
Serbia will invade the US, lose, and demand foreign aid if our government doesn't yield to its demands.
3.7.2007 12:27pm
bokababe (www):
This is really funny, actually.

Bill Clinton strong-arms most of Europe into bombing the hell out of Serbia for 78 straight days including Easter, and then attempts to amputate a piece of their state to give to Albanians in one of the worst violations of a country's sovereignty imaginable -- and you feel that a single letter from the Serbian consulate re a single university lecture "threatens American sovereignty"! Oh my, it must be "dark Balkan forces" at work!

It couldn't possibly be that Department Heads and University Presidents at both Kent State and ASU got so many letter and phone calls that when they actually looked at the poster, they decided that it was indefensible. It couldn't possibly be that an Ohio senator named "Voinovich" (who happens to be half-Serb) also got a whole lot of letters on this issue. AND it couldn't possibly be that Senator Voinovich knows lies and political propaganda when he sees it. AND I am sure that the fact that Senator Voinovich is on the Senate Committee for Foreign Relations has nothing to do with it, as does the fact that he is initmately involved in the delicate negotiations for Kosovo right now! I am sure that Senator Voinovich kept his mouth shut on this, because the ability for college students to produce lying hate propaganda and the protection a professor's right to give a lecture when he openly admitted that he didn't know what he was talking about re Serbs, is SO much more important than keeping peace in the Balkans where the last two World Wars began!

No, instead this must be some "plot to erode America's sovereignty" by the government of little Serbia!

This proves to me that those of us fighting against this were doing the right thing, because the truth of the matter is far too simple to catch up to dark creations of people's imagination when it comes to "Serbs".
3.7.2007 12:38pm
JTB:
It's falsely yelling fire in a crowded theater. Pedantic, I know, but a pet peeve as well.
3.7.2007 12:53pm
Per Son:
Bokababe:

I do not know where you get your info, but to act like Serbia never did anything wrong is ludicrus. I'll admit that not all Kosovars are angels, but then again many states have large organized crime elements. Just as some things the IRA are inexcusable, the existence of the IRA does not negate the brutal repression of Catholics in Northern Ireland.

Back to my point, is your claim that Serbia was a sweet little center of bliss, and that the atrocities were only committed by Croats and Bosnians, and if the people were ethnic Serbs then they were certainly Bosnian Serbs.

I could have sided with you, but you overplayed your hand on this website and your own. You act as if the Serbian Military is made of saints. That would be like me saying that the black people have never been mistreated in America's history.
3.7.2007 12:56pm
Andy Freeman (mail):
> Nor does it guarantee a public institution the right to describe an ethnic group as "rapists and murderers" on posters, especially at a time when political negotiations are underway that could very well mean life or death to the remaining non-Albanians in Kosovo.

If said negotiations are affected by what an academic says 3000 miles away, the parties involved are clearly incompetent and should be "given" adult supervision.

And no, it doesn't matter what said academic says.
3.7.2007 1:06pm
bokababe (www):
Per Son,

Never said that "Serbia was a sweet little center of bliss, and that the atrocities were only committed by Croats and Bosnians, and if the people were ethnic Serbs then they were certainly Bosnian Serbs."

As for where I am coming from, I am an American born &bred &my grandparents came from Montenegro and our family is also mixed with Croat. In that sense, I have no particlular dog that I am betting my life on in this fight except what is the truth and in the longterm best interests of the US -- but I do know enough about the Balkan region &the people and the actions taken not to be as easily fooled by propaganda from any side, as most Americans are. And I am saying that we have been sold a load of garbage about the Balkans.

Milosevic was a very bad man &there were undoudtedly war crimes committed by Serbs, many of which have been admitted &punished. Personally, although I am not a violent person, if you'd have given me a gun to put a bullet in old Slobo's head, I would have done it -- because between the NATO Bombing, the ICTY set up to prosecute him &other Serbs, and the political fall-out, going after him IN THE WAY we did, cost America far more financially and politically than it was worth .

But whatever else he was, Slobo was not a racist -- he was an equal opportunity communist bureaucrat who tried to pander to anyone and everyone just to stay in power. If you actually read that speech that keeps getting referred to as being "anti-Albanian", you'll find nothing of the sort. Slobo actually came to power (by accident) back in the 1980's because the Kosovo Albanians were beating and driving Serbs out out of Kosovo and he was the bottom man on the communist totem poll who got sent to Kosovo to handle the political job that nobody wanted -- dealing with Serb complaints in Kosovo. When an old Serb man complained about about being beaten by Albanians, Slobo said, "No one will dare beat you again!" That televised statement propelled him to instant fame, precisely because Serbs (including priests and nuns) were regularly getting beaten, raped and killed in Kosovo back in the 1980's. Don't believe me? Read some old NY Times articles from the period. The now Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church had been hospitalized for months from one of those beatings by Albanians before he became Patriarch.

Whatever Slobo was, the KLA were and are are a narco-terrorist mafia that even Amnesty International points the finger at for dealing in sex slavery of women and children. The Kosovo Albanians came to the US back in the mid 90's, spead around millions of dollars into the campaign coffers of US politicians and hijacked our foreign policy. They used the US for illegally buying and shipping weapons for their cause, and paid even more to use the same PR Firm that the Croats &Bosnian Muslims used to elevate "Kosovars" (a politically created ethnic identity that is only used in the press and not in the region) to "victim status". Before the NATO Bombing, the seperatist KLA provoked the Milosevic government into cracking down on them in Kosovo by killing Serb police officers in the region -- and Slobo obliged. Was it "excessive"? Absolutely -- but nothing compared to the 78 days of NATO bombing Serbia to rubble.

By the time that the NATO Bombing happened in 1999 less than ten thousand people on ALL sides had been killed (Serbs included)in ten years. But since the NATO Bombing, at least as many non-Albanians have been murdered and ethnically cleansed from the region -- including every last Jew in Kosovo. Over two hundred thousand Serbs and other non-Albanians who lived there prior to the NATO Bombing have been driven out, permanently. Over 150 ancient Serbian Orthodox Churches have been destroyed and most Serbs, including priests and nuns, can't leave their houses or monasteries unless under armed guard. A few weeks ago, a helpless nun was thrown from the train &killed by a bunch of Albanian thugs.

I don't know about you, but ethnically cleansing all non-Albanians from Kosovo &ripping off a piece of a sovereign country to to give to the Albanian mafia, is not what America is all about to me!

Re, "what an academic says 3000 miles away" not affecting the Balkans, you might want to check out who actually filed that Bosnian lawsuit against Serbia. His name is Frances Boyle and he is a law professor at the University of Chicago. His other clients include the PLO and Chechniya -- and he has also petitioned the UN to try President Bush for "war crimes" &supports Hawaii breaking away from the US!

Back to the legality (&morality) of the French lecture poster -- if posters containing a lie about an ethnic group, slapped up all over the campus of an American University are simply an example of "freedom of speech", then so are posters with swastikas and anti-Semitic lies and burning crosses by people wearing hoods. Are you really sure that this is "a horse you'd want to ride"?
3.7.2007 2:46pm
ed o:
seems the Serbian Consulate has read the papers and knows what will make modern university administrators quake and run for cover-one more example of the cowardice of academia. as to the actual events in the Balkans, I thought saving the everyone from those brutish serbs was going to establish our bona fides with the Islamic world given that we were intervening to save muslims. Instead, we seem to have established a safe zone for islamic terrorism in Europe and they still hate us.
3.7.2007 3:19pm
Vovan:
bokababe

When push comes to shove, the Russians will back you guys up. Kosovo will not get its independence.
3.7.2007 3:52pm
wooga:
bokababe said
This has nothing to do with "freedom of speech" -- it has to do with "hate speech".
and
Back to the legality (&morality) of the French lecture poster -- if posters containing a lie about an ethnic group, slapped up all over the campus of an American University are simply an example of "freedom of speech", then so are posters with swastikas and anti-Semitic lies and burning crosses by people wearing hoods. Are you really sure that this is "a horse you'd want to ride"?

Welcome to the real world:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._A._V._v._City_of_St._Paul
It is unconstitutional to outlaw "racist cross-burnings." This is free speech, and your "I'm for free speech but not for offensive speech" is the same sort of fascist totalitarian garbage that plagues Europe, including the slavs. It's sickening, and yes, according to our unanimous Supreme Court, patently un-American.

But the fact that you even think that it is not 'free speech' to post a swastika makes me think you are lying about being American - or at least you haven''t spent any significant portion of your life on American soil. Every high school graduate in America knows the ACLU defended the Illinois nazis.

After all, if a given item of speech was not offensive to somebody, then why would we need a law to protect that speech? Who would be trying to suppress the speech? The first amendment only means something if it serves to stop your buddies from outlawing speech that hurts your feelings.
3.7.2007 3:58pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The closest boka comes to reality wrt free speech is that burning a cross on private property had better be permitted in advance by the property owner. In other words, if you feel you must intimidate blacks, burn the cross on your lawn, not theirs. Then you'll be fine.
boka is probably now preparing a screed on how such a concept must mean I favor cross burnings.
boka either doesn't understand, or does understand the First Amendment but finds it inconvenient at times. We all do, but good Americans suck it up. It's too important to be allowed to be tweaked by, among others, those who claim to have been offended.
3.7.2007 4:07pm
wooga:
I want people to be able to offend me and attack the beliefs I hold dear. After all, unless I can logically defend my beliefs against vigorous critique, how do I know I'm right?

Surround yourself with only yes-men and like minded individuals, and you have a recipe for group think and collective ignorance. Of course, that's really the European model of doing things...

This disdain for free speech is generally the sign of folks who are (1) incapable of logically defending their own positions, or (2) so elitist and disgusted with the common man that they don't believe the "unwashed masses" can be trusted with the truth.
3.7.2007 4:38pm
Gary McGath (www):
bokababe: I ride the horse of free speech proudly.
3.7.2007 7:29pm
bokababe (www):

But the fact that you even think that it is not 'free speech' to post a swastika makes me think you are lying about being American - or at least you haven''t spent any significant portion of your life on American soil. Every high school graduate in America knows the ACLU defended the Illinois nazis.

LOL! Born St. Agnes Hospital, Fresno, CA 1953,
Arch Wilson Elementary School, Cupertino, CA,
Hyde Jr. High, San Jose, CA
Lynbrook High School, San Jose, CA
De Anza College, AA Liberal Arts
National University, BA Behavioral Science

Sorry to disappoint!

The Skokie march happened when I was in college, not high school. However to my knowledge, it did not happen on a State university campus.

As for the issue of "defending the Serbs", in the long run, it isn't even the point to me. It is ultimately that Americans have gotten so propagandized primarily by gobbledy gook nonsense (like what was contained in this poster) about "the big bad Serbs" that we have been empowering radical Islamic and neo-Nazi groups that are far worse a threat to us than the Serbs ever were or ever will be. (Serbs will kill me for this, but..) in fact, what in the hell kind of threat is Serbia to us? It's a rat's butt little country on the other side of Europe. And yet, as Israeli General Saul Shay pointed out — "Kosovo &Bosnia are radical Islam's greatest accomplishment of the 20th century". We are so busy dealing with "nasty Serbs" propaganda that we are ignoring the fact that we've got Croat Soccer fans forming swastikas at soccer games and Croatia producing sugar packets with Hitler's face and anti-Semitic jokes on them. To an outsider who knows no history of the area, these are random an disparate issues. But they are not. This is precisely exactly where Nazism met radical Islam during WWII and combined into a horrible force. The opening flag here was the flag of the Nazi Handzar Division of Bosnian Muslims, of whom Alija Izetbegovic was a member.

Think what you like about Serbs, and if you want to defend getting lied to by posters like this at a university that should know better, go ahead. But look beyond it too, because what's behind it because it is a far worse threat to our liberties and way of life than the Serbs and Serbia ever will be.
3.7.2007 7:41pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
All very nice, boka. But the First Amendment allows the prof to say what he said, it allows the Serbs to be infuriated, and it prevents the government from doing anything about either.

What happened or didn't happen in that part of the world--said to produce more history than it can consume locally--is BESIDE the point.

The point is freedom of speech.
3.7.2007 10:14pm
Hoosier:
"National University"?
3.7.2007 11:29pm
wooga:
Richard's got it. In America, even holocaust deniers are allowed to spout their lies. We confront their lies by more speech and debate.

In Europe, the speech laws have mysteriously not eliminated the nazis...

I want to know when Volokh will touch on the new story about France outlawing any reporting of violence by someone other than a government licensed journalist.
3.8.2007 12:45am
A. Zarkov (mail):
bokababe:

If you really were educated in America then you have no excuse for not understanding the concept of free speech we enjoy here. This is not Europe with its heinous limitations on the rights of people to speak their mind. Controversial speech, offensive speech and yes even hate speech is precisely the kind of speech that needs protecting. The actual events in the Balkans are irrelevant to the issue of a foreign government issuing demands on who says what about Serbia on the campus of an American university. The appropriate response of the Consulate General of the Republic of Serbia would be to ask Kent State for the opportunity to present its case in a supplementary forum. While I might actually be sympathetic to the plight of the Serbians, I am extremely put off by the attempts of a foreign government to interfere with an event on an American campus. My request to Desko Nikitovic: go home.
3.8.2007 12:31pm