2005-11-29

How many fatalities in the BiH war?

The researcher Mirsad Tokača, on the basis of the documentation gathered by his Istraživačko-dokumentacioni centar, disputes the most frequently used estimate that between 200,000 and 300,000 people were killed, and gives his estimate at just under 100,000 victims, of whom 70 percent are Bosniak, 25 percent Serb, and 5 percent Croat. Aware of the ways in which this estimate is likely to be used, Tokača explains, "in ideologised societies controlled by neither rationality nor empiricism, but political conclusions, we see either the complete denial of crime or, on the other hand, their exaggerated presentation. The character of the war in BiH does not change if we give a real number. We do not need untruths and myths about victims." Like all estimates of war victims, of course, this one is constrained by the fact that reliable records or testimonies do not exist in all cases, and that data which would allow for reliable demographic analysis (like a postwar census) are also not available.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thought the best estimate had already dropped down to around 150,000. IMS Dragan Antulov blogged about this last year.


Doug M.

Eric Gordy said...

I think Tokaca's estimate is fairly new, at least for him. But of course he is not the only researcher trying to come up with an estimate. There is always some variation, and sometimes a lot, in estimates of war deaths, since much of the evidence is indirect, and that means that conclusions are strongly affected by methodology. And of course it doesn't help that there are political actors who have a stake in promoting higher or lower numbers.

BlogistiKa said...

I don't think there is exact information about war victims, or that there will ever be one. I'm not going to get deeper into that simply because of the fact that there were 3 nations, and everyone of them will have their own numbers as correct one. Besides, that procedure takes time...There is still a lot of missing people,lots of undiscovered (massive) graves...Some countries have a 5 years period to declare a missing person dead,some more...Some people never ended on Red Cross missing list simply because somebody find it "appropriate" and of course-there is a manipulation with numbers with the same reason as mentioned above...and so on...

oskar said...

The 250,000 number has been disputed for quite a long time, but wasn't widely accepted internationally. Also, revision of the 250K number has been seen as part of a revisionist (which is a very charged term in itself) package concerning the war.

Some might argue that the number don't make a difference. I think this is false. It is important to get the numbers right as soon as possible or the issue will pop up again later in history and promote the next conflict (ex Jasenovac deaths).

Eric Gordy said...

I dont know what is meant to be implied by "revisionist package." Are you suggesting that IDC is part of a larger political project?

András said...

Like Oskar, I also wish someone would get the numbers right. But I don't think it's going to happen. Remember that even in peacetime demography tends to be an inexact science and often has to fall back on estimates -- state border-control bureaucracies and census keepers regularly miss many thousands of people (either due to procedural flaws, or because people are on the move, or have their own reasons to try to avoid interactions with officialdom).

In wartime, that information hole grows larger, as chaos and the "fog of war" takes over, as peacetime record-keeping procedures and government bureaucracies break down, as archives and registry offices cease to function or are destroyed, as countless thousands of people are on the move across confrontation lines, with little or no sharing of information across jurisdictions and only limited and uncoordinated efforts to document and keep count of the living and the dead. And no post-war censuses. For more on the difficulties of coming up with firm figures for the casualties in the Balkan wars of the 1990s, see
http://listserv.buffalo.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0302&L=JUSTWATCH-L&P=R33224&D=1&H=0&I=-3&O=D&T=1&X=5E19D457BCEB322FDD&Y=riedlmay%40fas.harvard.edu
-and-
http://listserv.buffalo.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0510&L=JUSTWATCH-L&P=R30702&D=1&H=0&I=-3&O=D&T=1&X=5E19D457BCEB322FDD&Y=riedlmay%40fas.harvard.edu

A telling example is the case of the Holocaust, for which the "canonical" figure for the total number killed has long been 6 million. But respectable scholars (i.e. not deniers) have argued that the actual figure was signifcantly lower -- Raoul Hillberg, one of the leading experts on the Holocaust, gives an estimated total of 5.2 million, i.e. 800,000 fewer than the often-quoted "canonical" figure. Others give totals both higher and lower than that. And keep in mind that this not inconsiderable degree of uncertainty about the casualty figures exist even in the case of the Nazis, who were more efficient and compulsive than most in trying to keep accurate records of their doings.

For a sobering collection of published statistics about war-related military and civilian deaths in the 20th century, and the wide range of figures cited for each of these events, see
http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstats.htm

oskar said...

András,
When I say "get the figures right" I don't necessarily mean the exact and absolute correct number, just a number based on some kind of scientific method (like the 100,000) rather than just a rounded off guesstimate (like the 250,000 probably was).

Eric Gordy,
When I speak of "revisionist package" I'm referring to that a lot of politicans, journalists and intellectuals who were engaged in the war on the Bosnian muslim side see any questioning of the 250K figure as a questioning of their (dominating) view of the war as being a war of aggression, fought between good and evil.

Also, the critics of the 250K figure who have gotten the most media attention have often been people who see the whole breakup of Yugoslavia as one big Vatican/US/World Bank/IMF plot with some Islamic fundamentalism thrown in.