Campbell 06 Atrocity, memory, photography: imaging the concentration camps of Bosnia – the case of ITN versus Living Marxism

Among the many images of atrocity that emerged from the Bosnian War, the picture of Fikret Alic and others imprisoned at the Trnopolje camp in the Prijedor region stands out. Taken from a 1992 British television report that detailed the role of camps such as Omarska and Trnopolje in the ethnic cleansing strategy of the Bosnian Serb authorities, the image of Alic became the focal point of a controversy about how the Bosnian camps were represented, and the political impact and purpose of those representations. Resulting in a legal clash between Independent Television News (ITN) and Living Marxism (LM) magazine, this controversy is the subject of a two-part article, the full text of which can be seen here.

In Atrocity, Memory, Photography (part 1), the allegations concerning the filming of the Trnopolje inmates are considered in detail. In Atrocity, Memory, Photography (part 2) the argument moves beyond the specifics of the case and the camp to an exploration of the historical, political and visual context in which those specificities are located. This involves understanding the significance of the camps in terms of the Bosnian War and the history of the concentration camps, as well as discussing the issue of photography and the Holocaust to question how particular atrocities are represented. The articles conclude with the issue of intellectual responsibility and the politics of critique in cases such as these.

This is a theme taken up by David Walls’ important article on Project Censored’s claims about these images, which can be read here. Walls’ article drew responses from some of the revisionists we criticise, and he has posted this debate on his site.

The 1992 ITN news reports that are discussed in my articles can be seen on the Atrocity and Memory — Video page on this site. The images from the articles can be seen in the gallery below. These come mostly from the ITN news reports, but the work of other photographers — such as Ron Haviv — shows similar pictures from Trnopolje.

For updates on what happened to Fikret Alic, see the 4 August 2002 and 27 July 2008 articles in The Observer for details.

In November 2009 the issues surrounding the 1992 ITN news reports was replayed following a lecture tour to Ireland by Noam Chomsky. This underlined the way revisionists seeking to belittle the meaning of the Bosnian War continue to recycle untrue claims about the imagery from Trnopolje. I wrote three posts on this new phase in the controversy (here, here and here), the second of which includes my revealing correspondence with Chomsky. While I have focused on the reiteration of false claims about the ITN vs. LM case, Oliver Kamm has provided a fullsome critique of other moments of denial, especially with regard to Srebrenica, and has kindly linked to these pages for information on Trnopolje.

In January 2011 the Bosnian Genocide blog posted more than 50 rarely seen seen photos from the Manjaca and Trnopolje camps. These detail the appalling conditions in both locations.

In April 2012 John Simpson of the BBC publicly expressed regret for being a defence witness in the ITN vs Living Marxism libel trial:

Reviewing Vulliamy’s new book about the Bosnian war, The War is Dead, Long Live the War – Bosnia: the Reckoning, Simpson says that what happened at Trnopolje, as well as at the Omarska camp and during the siege of Sarajevo, was “evil”.

He adds: “Vulliamy’s account of what happened in the camp is completely unanswerable; and I’m sorry now that I supported the small post-Marxist magazine Living Marxism when it was sued by ITN for questioning its reporting of the camps. It seemed to me at the time that big, well-funded organisations should not put small magazines out of business; but it’s clear that there were much bigger questions involved.”