Bombing and the Media War

AIM Podgorica, 10 April, 1999


On Good Saturday, on the eve of the great religious holiday, Easter, Belgraders have given up on singing and dancing in the squares, but not on gathering. Known and unknown stars of "turbo-folk" music were replaced by actors, church choirs and chanters. It is hard to believe that in this country with 50 years of socialism and blasphemy of God and the church people should know for sure why on this holy day they are not supposed to rejoice and dance. They were simply told not to do it. Not because of bombs but because Good Saturday was declared a day of mourning by all the electronic media in Serbia. The error of dancing and singing occurred only in those parts of the Republic where the destruction of transmitters made the reception of state television impossible.


Last night, on 9 April, Belgrade was spared by NATO bombs, at least the downtown and its outskirts. As state television reported, surroundings of Valjevo were bombed, and targets in Kosovo, including the railway station in Kosovo polje near Pristina - what else, it will become known here later on. News about the number of human victims are slow in reaching the public, except through friends and acquaintances of those who have lost their dearest ones or those who are announcing the death of their relatives, children or friends in the obituaries.


The tragedy of the small and poor Serbian town of Aleksinac mostly populated by miners on whose civilian houses several days ago bombs fell still dominate the feelings of the people. Evidently, the bombs of world power wielders can miss their targets. Those that fell on Aleksinac tore 16 houses down to the ground, and made another 400 unfit for living. The exact number of victims has not been stated. Bombing of Crvena zastava factory in Kragujevac caused no less emotions.


Pictures of complete destroyed Pristina have reached Belgraders with a few-day delay. And that is the only thing from Kosovo that can be seen in the media in Serbia. There is a lack of TV pictures even from the demolished outskirts of Belgrade. War laws are in force in Belgrade and Serbia, people are concerned how to save their heads, they are getting paler and more nervous every day. Serbia is nowadays completely homogenised, insulted, humiliated and devastated. Every expression of support coming from the world is run on all television stations for days, and hatred agaisnt NATO member countries, especially America, has reached its climax. All the eyes are turned towards Russia which is attributed enormous power and force and it is the only hope for salvation.


In the third week of the war, an open media war has started between the world and the Serbian media. It was marked by the moment when a NATO officer threatened that due to "lies for propaganda purposes, the building of state television will be bombed if it does not agree to broadcast program of foreign stations" or perhaps of NATO itself...

Therefore, a country which is attacked and almost destroyed is expected to publish what those who are bombing it are broadcasting. The information did not pass without reactions here, primarily of state television which reacted with sharp commentaries. Even the sharpest critics of the regime who are mostly the ones who excpress a wish to hear information from the world, were shocked with the arrogance of those who are bombing. During all these days of the war, those who are watching satellite programs, and who are just a small part of the population in Serbia, were appalled with the propaganda and semi-truth on bombing and developments in Yugoslavia. Some journalists in Serbia established that in terms of truth manipulation Serbia's state TV was a pure amateur in comparison with CNN.


What is western propaganda exactly reproached for?


From Serbia, only singing and dancing is shown to the world as opposed to the pictures of Kosovo Albanian and Serbian refugees. Ethnic cleansing and banishments are attributed solely to Milosevic's regime. The bombing of Kosovo as a reason of the terrible exodus of the Albanians is not even mentioned in western propaganda, nor the departure of verifiers from Kosovo as the only bulwark to mutual killing of the Serbs and the Albanians.


Certain commentators even concluded that the bombs were agreeable for the Serbs, since they were not moving or fleeing. If they had just bothered to look into bus and railway stations in Belgrade they would have seen people leaving, seeking refuge in neighburing countries or in villages. Nobody even bothered to recall to mind that the Serbs had nowhere to go. They need a visa for every country but Hungary where there are already about twenty thousand registered refugees. Many families are moving to Subotica as a "safer" place. Men cannot cross the border, and according to the new decree of the government, even children over 14 are required to have identity cards. There is no answer to the question why the multi-ethnic Voivodina, especially Novi Sad, is destroyed to such an extent. Why are the bridges in this city torn down, and why is this province paying so dearly for what the other province is experiencing.

Caught in the midst of two propagandist machineries, with state TV affecting majority of the population as opium, the completely frantic, disoriented and bewildered people are living a double life every day. During the day they must go to work although there is mostly nothing to do there, and at night they go to the basements. There is no explanation for bombs which fall immediately next to maternity hospital or downtown Belgrade, on civilians inside Serbia. When that happens, all the "merits" of the NATO "peacemakers" go up in smoke. To expect from an attacked country to defend those who are throwing bombs at it is indeed unprecedented cynism.


To expect condemnation of the exodus of the Albanian population from those who have not even seen the horrible sights of refugees, except for a few who can receive satellite programs, is also pure nonsense. Organised singing in the squares and slogans which can be seen and which are dominated by obscene presentation of western leaders and outcries in which territory is more important than lives are nothing but a propagandist picture of Serbia and gathering energy for another night under bombs. At twilight already Belgrade becomes a ghost city. There is heroism, boasting and patriotism only on television then. Until the next rally at the Square of the Republic. The only evident effect of propaganda is homogenisation of the people, the feeling of injustice done by the world to the Serbs. Everything else, including everything that had been happening in Serbia and former Yugoslavia for years has been forgotten.

Spomenka Lazic