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Date: Tue, 20 Apr 1999 16:29:26 +0100
From: "Tony Borden" <>


CATCHING PILOTS, LOSING YOUR MIND. Belgrade's bunker mentality is
contagious, says Gordana Igric, and you can catch it above as well as
ground. Ask the local spy.

THE UN'S SURPRISING SUPPORT. The Security Council has not authorised the
bombing. But whatever the legalities of NATO's campaign against
the action has broad support at the UN. Ian Williams in New York

COMMENT: SERBIA'S WAR WITH HISTORY. The propaganda battle stretches well
into the past. Official Serbia boasts of its defiant and heroic history.
The only problem, argues Christopher Bennett, is the facts.


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Editor: Anthony Borden. Assistant Editing: Christopher Bennett, Alan
Internet Editor: Rohan Jayasekera. Translation by Alban Mitrushi.

"Balkan Crisis Report" is produced under IWPR's Balkan Crisis
Project. The project seeks to contribute to regional and international
understanding of the regional crisis and prospects for resolution.

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Copyright (C) 1999 The Institute for War & Peace Reporting



Belgrade's bunker mentality is contagious, and you can catch it above as
well as below ground. Ask the local spy.

By Gordana Igric

There are two ways to lose your mind in Belgrade. One is to seek refuge
an air raid shelter. At least half of Belgrade now spends the hours of
bombing in bunkers. The other is to watch television.

At least this is what a little-known writer friend thinks. A few years
he wrote a book critical of the regime. Now he fears that because of the
book, the regime is about to knock on his door. He is convinced that his
flat is bugged.

As a result, over the dinner he prepared for a handful of like-minded
friends, everybody whispers. Thus, imperceptibly, together with his
he too has acquired the bunker mentality which afflicts more and more of
Belgrade's population. These days, everyone in Belgrade carries their
bunkers in their head.

Ever since the bombing campaign started, two families with four children
have lived together in the air raid shelter at the bottom of their
in the city centre, only occasionally running up to their flats to fetch
something. They use Styrofoam for beds, prepare coffee underground, and
leave the television permanently switched on.

Mika is a plumber, Slobodan a salesman. During the day, their children,
have not attended school since the bombing started, paint slogans on
of cardboard that they then take to the open-air concerts that are daily
events in central Belgrade. The placards read: "Serbia", "Down with
"Clinton-Hitler". While making the placards, they sing along with the
patriotic songs emanating from the television.

Their mothers, both housewives, spend their time on the phone which they
have installed in the basement. They call their relatives in the
countryside and discuss how together they can "catch pilots".

Catching pilots has become a national sport. Every day state television
(and there is no other) claims that some ten NATO planes are shot down
this or that village. So the two women share suggestions as to the
appropriate punishment for the captured pilots. One reports approvingly
that a pilot caught near the village of Mladenovac was beaten to death
shovels. The other disagrees with this approach. When caught, she says,
pilots should be tied to Belgrade's bridges.

In addition to pilots, spies crop up regularly in conversation. Both
women have heard that a car with a Belgian licence plate was spotted
the city's police station. Loyal citizens reported this to the police,
immediately arrested the spies. Their mission, it emerged, was to place
homing beacons in blocks of flats.

The fathers have a different routine. During the day, when there is no
bombing, they sleep in the bunker. At night, when air-raid sirens echo
across the city, they climb to the roof of their block of flats to
With the confidence of experts, they explain to each other where the air
defences are located and the types of radar that the Yugoslav Army
possesses. They place bets on how many NATO planes will be shot down
night. They haven't given up hope that at least one pilot will land on
roof on their building . . .

Indeed, betting has become a popular pastime in Belgrade cafes these
Drinkers, who boycott Coca-Cola since it is a symbol of everything
American, compile lists of potential targets for NATO's war planes, and
place bets on whether it will be the military headquarters, the main
station in 29 November Street, or some bridge anywhere in Serbia.
have recently been a safe bet.

More than ever, television shapes the warped reality. The language is
always along the lines of "NATO's criminal machinery", "the criminals
the Black House", "the monstrous American armada", "the criminal
of the world's neo-Nazis", "the world's killers and executioners
round the hardened murderer Clinton". Occasionally, other issues
the planting of sunflower seeds is under way, the distribution of diesel
fuel for the spring harvest is proceeding without problems. In other
everything is under control.

Miki Vujovic, director of TV Palma, a commercial station famous for
pornography and pop videos, has refined his television presenting skills
tune with the war. He addresses the public each night, dressed in black,
lying back in his armchair. Twirling a pen in his fingers, he explains,
enthusiastically, that Serbs possess a noble gene that predisposes them
martyrdom. He suggests that this gene should be removed once and for all
and concludes his monologue with a message to foreign troops: Just come,
you will not return.

Between the television bombing and the real thing, other news passes
people by. This is the case, for example, with the proposal of Justice
Minister Dragoljub Jankovic that conditions for detention be changed as
result of the war, as well as conditions for the protection of private
and property. Capital punishment is outlawed by the Yugoslav
yet Jankovic proposed that it be reintroduced. Some ten days ago, the
Serbian President, Milan Milutinovic, decreed, among other things, that
Ministry of the Interior pass "a measure for sending all persons who
represent a danger for the security of the Republic to a certain place."

It is impossible to predict who the Ministry will deem "dangerous", much
less where that "certain place" might be. But one lonely Belgrader may
to regret his bravado. Mocking the regime, he has scribbled on a wall:
am the spy in the neighbourhood."

Gordana Igric is an independent journalist from Belgrade.


The Security Council has not authorised the bombing. But whatever the
legalities of NATO's campaign against Yugoslavia, the action has broad
support at the UN.

By Ian Williams in New York

The NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia may not have the UN's seal
approval in the sense of a formal Security Council resolution
it. But it does have support from a number of delegates who otherwise
askance at US military interventions.

The Islamic bloc, for example, seems pleasantly surprised to discover
US weapons are not for exclusive use against Muslims. Their support has
ensured that perennial US critics like Cuba and Iraq in the Non-Aligned
Movement (NAM) have not had their way--which in this case was an attempt
get the NAM to adopt a position condemning the bombing of Belgrade while
overlooking the killing of Kosovo Albanians.

In addition, considering the 50-plus Security Council resolutions
rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), and the decade-long trail of
across the Balkans that the UN itself has collectively traced to
President Slobodan Milosevic's door, the Europeans and many other
have shown themselves prepared to overlook the failure to get UN
which they know is the result of Russian veto threats. That feeling is
reinforced by uncompromisingly stark daily reports from the office of
UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other UN agencies on the scale of
atrocities in Kosovo.

Even so, the Russians and the West were equally surprised at the result
Moscow's attempt to get a Security Council resolution condemning the
action shortly after it had begun. Only Russia, China and Namibia voted
for, while traditionally anti-Western countries like Malaysia sided with
the British, Americans and French to defeat Moscow's proposed resolution

NATO did not make as much of this backhanded endorsement as it could,
perhaps should, have. This was partly perhaps out of surprise, but also
because of deference to mixed feelings in the US. In Washington, the
security establishment does not like to admit that the UN has any
with NATO operations. And US diplomats, used to being outvoted on the
defensive end of resolutions against Israel, are hardly in a position to
question the appropriateness of a Russian veto.

An even more significant indication was the UN Human Rights Committee,
which voted 44 votes to one to condemn Serb ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
Russia was the sole dissenter, and could only look to the silent support
six abstentions by China, Congo, Cuba, India, Nepal, and South Africa.

Of the abstentions, South Africa has shown signs of viewing Milosevic as
some way the heir of Tito, instead of the destroyer of Titoism. India,
whose Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has
been sensitive to criticism of its mistreatment of the country's
worries about the future fate of the predominantly Muslim province of
Kashmir, resents US hegemony, and, incidentally, overlooks its own very
similar intervention in Bangladesh (in 1971) when it was part of
Nepal tends to follow New Delhi's lead, while Cuba, Congo and China have
their own human rights bills to pay.

Delegates confess to some ambivalence. The US's long track record of
ignoring the UN except when it suits its own purposes inhibits some of
from vociferous support, even if they would vote for the NATO action in
end. As a result, the US has been unable to use the "Uniting for Peace"
procedure, a measure it originally pioneered during the Cold War to take
issues vetoed (by the USSR at the time) to the General Assembly. Through
this procedure, a simple majority in the General Assembly can vote to
authorise an action by the organisation, including legitimising military

Last year, the frequent US veto on Israeli issues led the Palestinians
Arab states to turn the procedure against its originator to overcome the
veto of a resolution condemning Israeli behaviour in the Occupied
Territories. In this way, the US has effectively spent the past year or
detracting from the legitimacy of its own invention, thus precluding use
such a procedure now for the Balkans.

Ironically, the Russians have blustered about using the same procedure
overturn the defeat of their Security Council resolution condemning the
bombing of Serbia. It is indeed bluster, since the West, bolstered by
Muslim support, would have little problem mustering a General Assembly
majority. But Russia's efforts on this issue are targeted at a home
audience rather than towards effective diplomatic results.

The Russians have also spoken of a reference from the General Assembly
the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to determine the legality of
NATO's action. Since the ICJ has already ruled that there is a prima
case of genocide to answer against rump Yugoslavia, and since the
government is still pursuing the case, this, once again, must be
as pandering to Russian public opinion rather than serious diplomacy.

The other UN actor, is, of course, the Secretary General. Kofi Annan's
is in fact very robust. Initially, he issued a somewhat confused
recognising that when diplomacy fails, military action can be
necessary--but almost wistfully wishing that the force had UN sanction.
advisers stepped in to make it plain that they preferred the media to
emphasise the first part.

The following week while he was in Europe, Annan's message to Milosevic
even less compromising. Belgrade had to withdraw its forces, and allow
Kosovo Albanians to return under the protection of an international
before the NATO bombing would stop. He also used the word genocide,
under the influence of Mary Robinson, the outspoken UN High Commissioner
for Human Rights. Reflecting the confusion of the allies, this had the
D'Orsai and the State Department both protesting to the UN. (The UK
government, notably, has used the G-word with abandon.)

Dismissing Annan's proposal as "more or less" the same as NATO's and
Clinton's, Vladislav Jovanovic, Yugoslav charge d'affaires at the UN,
reiterated Belgrade's opposition to any foreign military presence when
rejected it on Friday 16 April.

It may be slightly less galling for Milosevic to climb down to Annan
to NATO, and the Secretary General is eager to play a role, if only to
rescue the organisation from the marginal position that Security Council
deadlock has condemned it to.

However, his efforts there will not be helped by another UN agency.
Prosecutor Louise Arbour of the International Criminal Tribunal for the
former Yugoslavia, in The Hague, has hinted that the case is building
an open indictment against Milosevic. Indeed, there have been suspicions
that he has had a sealed indictment against him for some time. "You
see him leaving Belgrade for talks," one senior court official commented
me last October.

That may be interpreted as good news in some quarters, but it is hardly
conducive to a UN-brokered accord. In the end, the UN is likely to have
settle for the inglorious role of putting its seal on whatever deal
from the ruins of the region. It may give its "blessing" to an
international force in Kosovo, but the ghosts of Srebrenica suggest that
is unlikely to be trusted with operational control.

Ian Williams, UN correspondent for the Nation and author of "The UN for
Beginners", was for many years US editor of the IWPR magazine,


The propaganda battle stretches well into the past. Official Serbia
of its defiant and heroic history. The only problem is the facts.

By Christopher Bennett

As Serbia challenges the might of the West, many Serbs boast that their
history proves that despite the imbalance in firepower, they will never
vanquished. The trouble is that the version of the past recounted in
Belgrade does not stand up to scrutiny. Serbia is not only fighting
it is also at war with history.

The passion and apparent expertise with which so many Serbs talk so
and at such length about their country and its heroic past conceal a
depressing lack of balance and understanding. Opinions are almost
invariably based on prejudice and conditioning. From the infamous 1389
battle of Kosovo to the events of this century, history and myth have
intertwined into a quasi-religious national creed. Anyone who questions
articles of faith is branded a heretic.

According to the Kosovo legend, the Serbian leader, Prince Lazar, was
offered on the eve of battle a choice between a kingdom on earth or in
heaven. Vowing that "It is better to die in battle than to live in
he chose the other world, and was duly killed the following day in what
commemorated as a glorious defeat ending the medieval Serbian empire and
ushering in nearly five centuries of darkness under alien, Ottoman rule.

And indeed, a battle did take place on St. Vitus's day in 1389 in Kosovo
Polje, the field of the blackbird, in which both Prince Lazar and Sultan
Murat, the Ottoman leader, were killed. That much is clear. However,
every other aspect of the battle--including the result itself--remains a

Based on the historical evidence, both the Serbian and the Ottoman
were probably multinational forces. Indeed, it is likely that most of
Christian peoples of the Balkans, including the Albanians, contributed
troops to the Serbian cause and that Serbs and Albanians fought on both

Concerning the outcome, it seems that the battle was not as decisive as
has been portrayed. The result was more a draw than an Ottoman victory,
since the Turkish forces subsequently withdrew from the region. The
empire itself had disintegrated some 30 years earlier, though
statehood remained for another 70 years.

Historical myths are by no means exclusive to Serbs, of course, nor are
they necessarily harmful. Indeed, most societies draw strength from
legends--whether Arthurian or about Washington and a cherry tree--which,
critically examined, are historically unsound. The difference with the
Kosovo covenant, however, is that it has been abused to inculcate a
of victimisation in Serbs which has blinded them to the plight of other
peoples in the Balkans.

The deadly Greater Serbian agenda for the late 20th century grew out of
thinking and writing of Dobrica Cosic, one of Serbia's most
novelists, a writer of popular, historical epics.

Cosic had been a partisan during the Second World War and a friend of
Tito's for more than 20 years, yet he could not come to terms with
attempts to emancipate Yugoslavia's Albanians and was purged for
nationalism in 1968. In his frustration after his fall from grace, Cosic
developed a complex and paradoxical theory of Serb national persecution.
Over two decades, this evolved into the Greater Serbian program which
Slobodan Milosevic first hijacked and then pursued.

The Serb national psyche which has so revolted the world since 1991 is
not the product of centuries of historical evolution, but has been
deliberately manufactured and intensively cultivated by the Serbian
since Milosevic's arrival in power in 1987.

Myth, fantasy, half-truths and brazen lies have been packaged each night
into television news. The conspiracy theory dreamed up by frustrated
nationalists such as Cosic in the late 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s
the literal truth.

Every conceivable event from Serb history was dredged up and distorted
feed the persecution complex of ordinary people who, at a time of
collapsing living standards, were gradually taken in by the barrage of

xenophobia. The atmosphere was so heated and the campaign so
all-encompassing that people lost touch with reality.

According to the new orthodoxy, Serbs were victims exploited by and in
danger from Yugoslavia's other peoples. While they had made huge
in blood to create Yugoslavia and had been victorious in war, they had
allegedly been cheated in peace and thus divided between several
in Tito's decentralised state.

Like any conspiracy theory, there is a kernel of truth in the new Serb
orthodoxy. But it is a very small kernel.

Consider, for example, relations between Serbs and Croats. While
contemporary propagandists (on both sides) claim that these peoples have
been at each others' throats since time immemorial, Serb-Croat rivalry
actually a 20th century phenomenon. In the 19th century, Croat
nationalists, who were preoccupied with a struggle against Austrians and
Hungarians, had actually been great admirers of Serbia and the keenest
advocates of a Yugoslav state. And the ruling party in the Croatian
parliament in 1914 which voted to go to war with Serbia was the

And then there is the Second World War. For Serbs, this conflict is the
ultimate proof that they have a near monopoly on suffering and can
therefore do no wrong. After all, they will tell you that they fought
together with the Allies against the Nazis and suffered great
But is this really an accurate picture of what actually happened?

To a large extent Second World War in Yugoslavia was several civil wars
which had little to do with the world war raging outside the country.
groups, with the exception of the Slovenes, fought against Serbs, though
not in unison, while extreme nationalists on all sides were able to
their wildest fantasies.

The backbone of Tito's partisan army initially consisted largely of
escaping Ustasa atrocities in Croatia and Bosnia, but not of Serbs from
Serbia proper. Apart from an immediate uprising in 1941, which was
put down, Serbia remained more or less quiet until close to the end of

Hitler installed a Quisling leader, Gen. Milan Nedic, who was loyal to
Nazis. In the absence of fighting, Nedic was able to wipe out Serbia's
Jewish community under German supervision, more efficiently than the
Ustasas could wipe out the Jews of Croatia and Bosnia. Nevertheless,
propagandists in the 1990s did not hesitate to claim a special affinity
between Serbs and Jews.

The issue of war dead has also been seriously distorted. The official
number of Yugoslavs who died fighting against the Axis powers was 1.7
million. The figure was only a rough calculation arrived at immediately
after the war for reparations and propaganda purposes. Tito aimed both
maximise war compensation from Germany and to demonstrate to the world
scale of Yugoslavia's heroism and suffering.

But in Serb nationalist circles, operating on the principle "the more
better", estimates of Serb dead extend to absurd levels--sometimes
of 700,000 at the notorious Jasenovac concentration camp alone.

During the 1980s, however, independent research into the question by two
men, Bogoljub Kocovic, an emigre Serb, and Vladimir Zerjavic, a Croat,
produced very similar results. Both investigations were based not on
counts or survivors' recollections but on computer analysis of census
returns and demographic indices. According to Kocovic, whose figures are
marginally higher than those of Zerjavic, a total of about 1,014,000, or
6.4 per cent of Yugoslavia's 1941 population, died during or in the
immediate aftermath of the Second World War on all sides. According to
their findings, in absolute terms, Serbs were the biggest losers, with
487,000 dead. The figures are shocking--and numbers alone cannot
convey the horrors. But mercifully they are well below the official
and certainly those of the most extreme nationalists.

Yugoslavia's contribution to the overall Allied effort has also been
greatly exaggerated, first by the victors themselves and more recently
statesmen wishing to justify a policy of non-intervention in the present

Given the extent and the chaos of Yugoslavia's own civil wars, Germany
never needed to commit large numbers of troops. The only time when
significant numbers of German troops were in Yugoslavia was during the
initial 12-day invasion in 1941 and in 1944 when units stationed in
retreated across the country. Otherwise, Germany relied on its allies,
Italians, Hungarians and Bulgarians, and on local collaborators to keep
Yugoslavia under control. The fighting itself took place largely in

No matter what aspect of Serbian history one cares to examine, the
version emanating from Belgrade appears to be at odds with the facts.
is especially depressing is that not so long ago, before Milosevic's
emergence, Serbia was, in many way, the most liberal and progressive of
Yugoslavia's republics. The Serbian media were remarkably open by the
standards of eastern Europe and political opposition was tolerated, if

Looking back further in Serbian history it is possible to interpret many
events in a very different manner and even to highlight periods of
enlightenment and cooperation between Serb and non-Serb. Whatever the
results of the NATO campaign, Serbia's future may ultimately depend
all on its war with its own history.

Christopher Bennett is former director of the International Crisis Group
the Balkans and author of Yugoslavia's Bloody Collapse (Chris Hurst).


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