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Ivo Skoric: two articles (long)

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From: "Ivo Skoric" <>
Date: Tue, 13 Jul 1999 01:01:23 -0400
Subject: two articles



Serbia is rebuilding its bridges--and its minds. Academics are reviving
the spirit of Brezhnev. China supports Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bu La
To Vic. And our president boasts: "Our country is the freest and most
democratic in the world."

By Petar Lukovic in Belgrade

We have triumphantly defeated NATO, defended Kosovo, and managed to return
the United Nations to its rightful place. Now we have embarked on the
glorious Reconstruction.

"It is quite possible that the results of the Reconstruction will be a
positive surprise not only to us but to the entire world," Dr Mira
Markovic, wife of the Yugoslav president, told Radio TV Serbia. The
courageous Reform and intimate co-operation with "the progressive and
democratic part of humanity," such as North Korea, China, Russia, and
Belarus, have proceeded apace."

"Our country is the freest and most democratic in the world,"  Slobodan
Milosevic has stated. This is why we go on, why life continues. We
preserved our sovereignty, confirmed our independence, and ensured that
the American and French armada could not roam throughout our country. They
will beg us to forgive them.

Anyhow, state opinion polls say that only 25 per cent of the population
want reconciliation with the NATO countries.

In the first outbreak of the popular enthusiasm, Presidents Milosevic and
Milan Milutinovic, the president of Serbia, competed over who would erect
more marble plaques proclaiming the start of the Reconstruction.
Television viewers were showered with promises that everything that was
destroyed will be rebuilt by tomorrow.

We do not need foreign aid, we can do everything ourselves, we are clever,
we are capable, we have a wise leadership. We are lucky to be led by
Comrade Slobodan. According to the Association of Late Soldiers, he "has
grown into a world leader in the struggle for freedom and became a symbol
of the resistance of the 20th century."

In the post-victory euphoria, it seemed as if we had slept through 77 days
of bombing. As if nothing had happened, as if we picked up from where we
stopped on 24th March, as if it is true that only several hundred of our
soldiers had died. As if it is self-evident that no crimes were committed
against Albanians. How could we, the Serbs, who have only defended
ourselves for centuries, harm anyone?

This is the country ruled by dance-patriots from Radio Kosava (director
and owner: Marija Markovic, the President's daughter), the newly- opened
Bambiland of her brother Marko Milosevic, mother Dr. Mira Markovic and
above all her husband, Slobodan.

They preach that "readiness for the Reconstruction is such that it will be
as efficient as the Defence." They are persuading us that everything is
under control in Kosovo, that the dinar will survive, that reforms will be
here soon, that the ruling coalition of Socialists, Communists and
Radicals will look after us eternally.

Just now Radio Belgrade is broadcasting frightening news that puts it all
into perspective: a huge fire has swept through Sweden, the production of
steel in Holland has dropped by 20 percent, the harvest has not started
yet in the United States, not a gram of rice can be found in Pakistan.
Everybody in the Czech Republic regrets having even started privatisation
and demands a return to the Warsaw pact. People in Hungary are starving,
the return of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena is being organised in

Serbian academics are working to revive the spirit of Leonid Brezhnev. The
Poles are demanding that Russian soldiers occupy Warsaw. China supports
Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bu La To Vic. The North Koreans adore us.
Cuba is sending us congratulations.

At the moment the Reconstruction began, the Yugoslav president bestowed
awards on more than a thousand soldiers and policemen, and as many
factories and companies and their workers. The names of the lucky winners
were read out for 20 minutes on the prime time television news. Only those
who did not want to win were not awarded.

Politika announced on its first page that it had deservedly won the
"Honour of Merits of FRY" for demonstrating "patriotism, courage,
self-initiative, sacrifice, humanity, solidarity, expertise, and a
particular effort in fulfilling its tasks in war conditions."

The Medal of Courage was awarded to "the defenders of bridges", a group of
citizens employed and paid to tell the reporters of the state television
Serbia that they are ready to swim in the Sava River if the enemy hit
them. The medal was also awarded to the manifestation "With the Song
against the War", in which all singers who were intelligent enough to open
their mouths and deride Clinton took part.

A number of lieutenants, colonels and captains of the People's Police have
been presented a pile of decorations: the order of "the long barrel of
security of the first degree", the order of "merits for truth covered two
meters below the ground", the order of the "paramilitary death squad" . .

And then it started. The opposition rally in Cacak: 20,000 protesters. The
demo in Uzice: 10,000. In Leskovac, erstwhile SPS-bastion, 20,000 furious
participants who dared demand the list of those killed and missing in the
victorious war. In Prokuplje: 5,000 citizens. In Novi Sad, 25,000 people
on the city square. In Kikinda: 6,000 dissatisfied with the triumph in
Kosovo. Rallies in Krusevac, Kraljevo, Valjevo and Nis are scheduled.

The basic demand: the resignation of Slobodan Milosevic. Petitions are
being signed. They say that the president is dead only no one has told him

But the government daily Politika has an explanation. It informs us that
the president's resignation is being demanded by traitors, mercenaries,
CIA-informers, fifth-columnists, moral trash, mondialists, minor
politicians, internal enemies, deserters, cowards who fled from bombing,
the so-called peacemakers, provocateurs, American sympathisers, the
enemies of their own people.

Meanwhile, Serbia is falling apart along the seams. It is ready to sell
itself at the lowest possible price. It has gathered around the soup
kitchens, and dived into garbage containers from which no one is
collecting the garbage any longer.

It is angry, and unable to face the truth: we committed crimes, killed,
threw people into mass graves. We believed, as Politika had announced
three days before the war, that there will be no more of "Shiptars" (the
derogatory term for Albanians) when NATO comes. We wanted to "liberate"
each Albanian from the ruined foundations of his home, and to repeat
everything that we have so successfully accomplished in Croatia and

As for me, I am sitting in front of the computer screen and summing up my
personal decorations-merits: I was patriotically carrying canisters with
water and patiently waiting in the dark. I heroically smoked all the
cigarettes I could get my hands on and drank everything I could afford.  
I showed my courage in front of web-sites, waging my own information
battle . . .

It seems to me that something called civil war is inevitable in Serbia.
The only question is whether this art-happening will take place tomorrow
or in six months' time.

"We endured the sacrifice heroically and we have always embarked on the
Reconstruction," the voice from the radio is saying. But will anything
seriously change soon? Are you kidding: it is summertime. Who could
possibly topple the regime in this heat?

Petar Lukovic is a Belgrade based columnist for Feral Tribune in Zagreb
and editor of XZ, a cultural magazine, produced in Belgrade
<>. ------------------------------------------

Reporting Kosovo: Journalism vs. Propaganda
   by Philip Hammond

Throughout Nato's war against Yugoslavia, no opportunity was missed to
contrast the propaganda emanating from Yugoslavia's state- controlled
media with the truthful, reliable free press of the West.  The contrast
was used by Nato as a reason to kill civilians, when it bombed the
Belgrade RTS television building in April; and by journalists as a way to
brush aside criticism of British media coverage and Nato news-management.

As a demonstration of the vibrant diversity of Britain's unshackled media,
take the stories written as reporters entered Kosovo alongside British
paratroopers on 12 June, carried in the following day's Sunday editions.  
This is what James Dalrymple wrote in the Independent on Sunday,
describing the town of Kacanik:

'It looked peaceful and intact - except for the silence.There were no
curtains, no ornaments, no door handles, no light fittings.  Every item of
value had been removed by the almost exclusively middle-class Serbian
population and carried away in any vehicle they could beg, borrow or

'Each small community held a mystery.  Who had lived here?  Serbs or
Albanians?  What had happened to them?  The only witnesses seemed to be
the packs of emaciated dogs.'

Leave aside the fact that, if he didn't know who lived where, it would be
impossible to tell who had taken the door handles.  And leave aside the
question of how Dalrymple knows middle-class Serbs 'beg, borrow or steal'
motor vehicles.  Instead, compare his report with that of David Harrison,
writing in the Sunday Telegraph:

'It was the silence that gave away the horror.  At first sight the
beautiful little town of Kacanik looked peaceful and intact.There were no
curtains or ornaments.  Even the door handles and light fittings had been
removed.  This was not random looting or small-scale pillage. Kacanik had
been deliberately stripped of everything that could possibly be taken away
by the remaining Serbian population and carried off in every vehicle they
could beg, borrow or steal

'In most cases it was impossible to know if Serbs or Albanians lived
there.  The only witnesses seemed to be the roaming packs of pet dogs
which had somehow survived in the wild for weeks, now emaciated and

Though uncannily similar, there is one interesting difference.  Where
Dalrymple's report gives the impression that houses have been stripped by
their departing Serbian occupants, Harrison apparently knows the missing
curtains had been looted, and that the looting could not have been
'random'.  Quite how this insight was gained remains unclear, particularly
if dogs were the 'only witnesses'.

For Harrison the sound of silence evoked 'horror'.  Others too had
sensitive hearing.  'This is a land swept clear of people and the silence
is haunting', wrote Ross Benson in the Mail on Sunday:

'Not a child cries, not a mother calls out.  Washing flutters neglected on
the clothes-lines.  And the houses stand empty'It's eerie, isn't it?'
said Lieutenant Nick Hook'

Benson's poignant, evocative, first-hand account was equalled only by Ian
Edmondson of the News of the World, who wrote that:

'at the town of Kacanik, the convoy entered a land swept clear of people.  
The silence was haunting.  Not a child cried, not a mother called out.  
Washing fluttered neglected on the clothes lines.  'It's eerie, isn't it?'
said Lieutenant Nick Hook'

These reporters' apparent disregard for both journalistic standards and
their usual cut-throat commercial rivalry presumably results from the fact
that they were under the control of a Nato-run pool system as they entered
Kosovo.  Yet the existence of such a system was mentioned only once by one
TV news bulletin (Channel Four News 11 June), in contrast to the way every
single dispatch from correspondents in Belgrade carried the warning that
it had been 'monitored by the Serb authorities'.  The press did not
mention the restrictions reporters were under at all. Instead,
near-identical stories were presented as the unique eye- witness testimony
of individual journalists.

The uniformity of the articles quoted above is simply the most glaring
example of media coverage which, throughout the war, was highly
conformist.  The case of Kacanik is a particularly interesting one in this
respect.  Within 24-hours of these articles appearing, Kacanik had become
the setting for an international media circus, as reporters jostled to get
to the site of 'the first major discovery', a mass grave which might
contain 'vital evidence of war crimes' (ITN 14 June). Reports from the
site raised more questions than they answered.  The Independent (15 June)
reported that two bodies were buried under only a few inches of soil
because the Serbs 'almost certainly ran out of time'.  Yet they apparently
did have time to place numbered wooden markers on the graves, to bury at
least some of the bodies in coffins, and to dig empty graves 'for victims
yet to come' (ITN 13 June).  These peculiarities, and the fact the bodies
were in a graveyard, were explained as the result of Serbs trying to
'cosmetically rearrange the site' to conceal the evidence of their crime
(Newsnight 14 June). Estimates of the number of dead at Kacanik ranged
from 81 to 172, but there was unanimity that the graves contained
civilians massacred by the Serbs.

The BBC's Newsnight (14 June) uncovered evidence which threw doubt on the
claim that Kacanik's graves contained civilian victims of atrocities: a
letter, purportedly written by a Serbian soldier, recounting a battle near
the town, in which 100 Kosovo Liberation Army guerrillas had been killed.  
But the letter, shown to the BBC by a KLA officer, was presented instead
as damning confirmation of Serbian war crimes against civilians.  
Newsnight's reporter, Paul Wood, mentioned that the letter 'talks about a
battle', but then immediately countered this: 'The KLA say there was no
such engagement and that this text can be about only one thing: the murder
of civilians'.  The KLA officer who had produced the letter then
explained, in broken English, what it supposedly revealed about Serb

'He feeled funny when he killed children, when he shot a Albanian with a
30mm calibre Praga.  He write in the letter how is fun when he saw the
Albanian chest was open from the calibre.  You can believe it.  The
civilisation people, nation, can believe it, that exist human being who
write and think like he does in this letter.'

In fact the letter said no such thing.  Not all the text was clearly
visible on screen, but the passages dealing with the battle were:  they
ended with the line 'enough about me', and the letter's author then went
on to ask after friends.  Nowhere did he mention killing children or any
other civilians.  He wrote that one of the dead had been shot with the
30mm Praga, but in a tone of shock rather than 'fun': 'imagine a 30mm
shell passing through your chest' (zamisli granata od 30mm da ti prodje
kroz grudi).  The letter did not resolve all the questions about the
burial site at Kacanik, since it described how a bulldozer was used to dig
a grave for the 100 ethnic Albanians killed in the battle.  But it
certainly did not confirm atrocities against civilians.  It is easy to see
why the KLA officer would have wanted to portray Serbs as bestial and
evil, but it is less obvious why a BBC reporter should accept such a
distortion of the evidence.

Contrast this style of reporting with Paul Watson of the Los Angeles
Times.  The only Western reporter to remain in Kosovo throughout the
conflict, his articles consistently presented a more complex - and more
credible - picture of the situation inside the province.  Watson's 31 May
report from Kacanik included an interview with Saip Reka, a member of an
ethnic Albanian self-defence unit set up by the Yugoslav authorities in
September 1998, and armed by Serbian police so they could help repel KLA
attacks.  But for British journalists, the idea that some ethnic Albanians
could be pro-Yugoslav just didn't fit their idea of the war as a morality
play in which the Serbs were evil, ethnic Albanians their innocent
victims, and Nato the knight in shining armour.  As one BBC reporter put
it in urging tougher Nato action against Serbs, 'where is the middle
ground between good and bad, right and wrong?' (16 June).

Facts which didn't fit this simple-minded picture were frequently
downplayed, distorted or suppressed.  Newsnight (18 June)  interviewed a
Serbian worker at Dobro Selo colliery, where a Serb driver had been
abducted only four days earlier, and where the KLA had already taken over
part of the mine complex.  Asked about Serbs fleeing the area, he began by
saying 'the Albanians are attacking' (Albanci napadaju).  Yet the BBC's
voiceover translation had him explaining that Serbs had taken flight 'as
the Albanians come home'.  The mass exodus of Serbs was seen as an
expression of their 'ethnic hatred', not as a response to KLA violence and
Nato occupation.  Similarly, while the discovery of a 'torture chamber' at
a police headquarters in Pristina made headline news, the discovery of a
torture chamber in Prizren the following day was treated very differently.  
Standing in the empty Pristina police building, reporters speculated
wildly about what atrocities might have been committed there before the
Serbs left.  But the Prizren torture chamber left nothing to the
imagination: KLA soldiers were literally caught in the act of beating 15
suspected collaborators, and the body of a 70-year-old was found
handcuffed to a chair.  Apparently this was not so newsworthy.  This time,
no British newspaper carried pictures of the site; the Independent,
Express and Sun ignored the story altogether; the Telegraph, Times and
Mail buried it on inside pages; and the Mirror confined it to the last
three sentences of an article headed: 'British tanks roll in to halt final
Serb rampage' (19 June).

Reporters have found it hard to sympathise with the tens of thousands of
Serb refugees fleeing Kosovo.  One BBC reporter described them as leaving
'with their lips sealed, taking with them the dark secrets of ethnic
hatred' (16 June).  Matt Frei, sent by Newsnight to watch the exodus,
seemed to relish the opportunity to gloat:

'Imagine the Serbs' reversal of fortune today: the rulers have themselves
become refugees, shedding tears of departure and stashing the loot - two
phones in the back of the car.  Brutality has given way to self-pity.  
Overnight, the villains think they've become the victims in this war.' (16

Even as they fled with whatever possessions they could carry, Serb
civilians were self-pitying 'villains' who deserved no compassion It seems
entirely obvious that Nato would not be regarded as protectors by the
people they had been bombing for weeks, yet the Serbs' distrust of Nato
seemed to perplex many Western reporters.  'But why don't ordinary Serbs
trust Nato?' the BBC's Kate Adie asked one Yugoslav soldier, before her
interview was cut short by incoming gunfire.  She concluded that the
problem was not the bullets whistling past the camera, but that 'fear is
infectious' (17 June).  Another BBC correspondent observed simply that
'they didn't want to wait to welcome Nato to Kosovo' (11 June).  As
attitudes hardened even further, the Serb refugee columns were said to
conceal war criminals, while even civilians had to share the collective
guilt after tolerating 'genocide'.

Journalists have seized on every grisly discovery in Kosovo with a certain
relief.  As Newsnight's Paul Wood proclaimed: 'for the Western allies, the
steadily accumulating evidence of atrocities will be confirmation that
this was a just war' (14 June).  Yet even if all the atrocity stories were
true and the official British estimate of 10,000 dead was accurate, this
would not justify Nato's war, since all the allegations of atrocities
relate to the period when Nato was already bombing.  To present them as a
retrospective justification relies not just on questionable evidence, but
on the implausible premise that Serb attacks were not motivated by
anything other than a fiendish master plan for genocide.  Attacks on
Serbs, if they are reported at all, are mitigated by being described as
'revenge attacks'.  Would it not be just as reasonable to regard violence
against ethnic Albanians by Yugoslav forces as a reaction to both KLA
insurgency and Nato bombing? Similarly, the return of ethnic Albanian
refugees to Kosovo was hailed as vindication of Nato's cause.  The BBC's
reporter explained: 'This is why Nato went to war: so the refugees could
come back to Kosovo' (16 June).  Channel Four's Alex Thompson enthused
about 'the success of the US policy': 'after all, the President fought
this war so that these people could go home in peace' (22 June).  Somehow
reporters have forgotten the chronology of events: there was no refugee
crisis or 'humanitarian disaster' until Nato started bombing.

One of a handful of exceptions to the general trend, Robert Fisk, divided
his fellow reporters into 'sheep' and 'frothers'.  In fact many
journalists managed to be both at once, combining slavish subservience to
Nato spin with self-righteous moralism.  In this, they took their cue from
the British Prime Minister, who talked incessantly of a 'just war' between
'civilisation and barbarity'.  The historian of war reporting Phillip
Knightley has noted how this crude Good versus Evil framework turned
warmongers into peacemakers in Kosovo:

'In Kosovo the media tend to believe everything the military tells them
because the military has stolen the moral high ground by claiming it is
anti-war.  It bombs in the name of peace, to save or liberate, so those
who object are the war-mongers, appeasers, Nazis.' (Independent on Sunday
27 June)

The photograph chosen by almost every newspaper to accompany the story of
Kacanik was of a young female soldier sorrowfully contemplating the
graves.  Earlier in the war, Nato's role was illustrated with pictures of
soldiers playing with refugee children and bottle-feeding babies. While
contrived to tug our emotions, such pictures also carry another message:
the most powerful military force on earth is really just a bunch of pretty
girls and caring guys.

As the bombs and missiles rained down we were informed by Nato leaders
that this was 'not a war', and when it ended every newspaper found the
same word to describe the occupation of part of a sovereign country by
foreign troops: 'liberation'.  This was a fitting climax to a media
crusade which had frequently turned reality on its head in an utter
dereliction of what journalism is supposed to be.  It would seem that one
casualty of the Kosovo war was British journalism, although some sources
maintain it was already long dead.  In its place we have propaganda.