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HLC: The Enemy Within Serbia: A Few Strong Women of Integrity (and current media bias)

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  • natasa kandic by way of Greek Helsinki
    The Enemy Within Serbia: A Few Strong Women of Integrity By Natasa Kandic Belgrade, 20 August 2002 The diatribe against Sonja Biserko penned by Vreme
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 29, 2002
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      The Enemy Within Serbia: A Few Strong Women of Integrity
      By Natasa Kandic

      Belgrade, 20 August 2002

      The diatribe against Sonja Biserko penned by Vreme editor-in-chief
      Dragoljub Zarkovic which appeared in the 1 August issue, and the 15 August
      follow-up by one of his staff reporters do not allow me to continue keeping
      silent about the obloquy heard daily in Serbia, far more vociferously now
      than before the country was freed from Slobodan Milosevic. From the
      streets and the "dependent" media, the attacks and threats against a
      handful of women in Serbia have moved to the "independent media." Aimed at
      derogating and humiliating, they have taken on the proportions of a
      witch-hunt. The tone is no longer set by Serbian state television and
      Politika but by the "free intellects" of the patriotic variety who have
      always been proud of their own independence and the independence of their
      It is not the threats of bombing, arson or severe beating that are hardest
      to bear since they come from armies and paramilitary groups in their death
      throes whose efforts now concentrate on retaining at least their patriotic
      labels and covering up their own crimes and the crimes of the state. It is
      the abuse and denunciation piled on these women by media supposedly free of
      Slobodan Milosevic's influence.
      Considering themselves the most meritorious for ousting the emperor (who
      was already naked as everyone could see but few dared even whisper), these
      media have arrogated to themselves the exclusive right to interpret both
      the past and the future. They invest every effort to defend that right and
      therefore cannot stand for any advocacy of the need to confront the past
      and take responsibility for the crimes of the previous regime.
      Interestingly enough, they are not bothered by critical and independent
      thinking in their own ranks, to wit Teofil Pancic and Ljubomir Zivkov. But
      if someone else is bold enough to make adverse comments about their
      sacrosanct Media, their editorial policy past and present, and, most of
      all, their conscience as professionals and human beings, they are
      immediately irked and highly displeased.
      To the opinion of Sonja Biserko on the editorial policy of Radio B92 and
      the Vreme news magazine set out in her interview with the Croatian weekly
      Feral Tribune, they reacted like absolutist rulers or the aforementioned
      anonymous threat-makers who, in the public interest, will settle scores
      with that particular female and others like her. In the public interest as
      they perceive it, they will lie without compunction and, indeed, did and
      still do so quite deliberately. In slinging mud at Sonja Biserko they went
      so far as to attack those who maintain that there was no difference in the
      coverage provided during the NATO intervention by B92 (until it was ordered
      off the air), Vreme and Serbian state television. A look at the reporting
      of Republika and Radio Pancevo, however, makes it clear that these two
      media were the sole exceptions in the unanimity that prevailed at the time.
      No matter how often and loudly reiterated, the claim that Vreme and the
      Association of Independent Electronic Media fought against censorship
      during the NATO bombing remains a downright lie and gross distortion of the
      facts. At a professional meeting in Milocer, Montenegro, in September
      1999, Dragoljub Zarkovic described the so-called "step by step struggle to
      open the door to the truth and resistance":
      "We contacted the censors every morning to agree the texts that we would
      print. In the beginning, we took the typescripts to them and, later on, we
      settled everything by phone."
      So much for media independence!
      Though the issue of over-sensitiveness to the truth has more important
      ramifications, it is not without significance that a handful of women in
      Serbia are constantly subjected to insults, humiliation and threats for
      trying to initiate a process of reconciliation based on the determination
      of the truth and acceptance of responsibility for what happened. Let me
      repeat that I do not have in mind the threats of those who are afraid to
      show their faces; these are only to be expected and have to do merely with
      brute force and violence, without a potential to confuse or mislead. What
      concerns me most is what is happening in Serbia after the fall of
      Milosevic. I had hoped to witness sober-mindedness and a general accord
      that the priority of both the government and the people would be for all of
      us to assume our share of the responsibility for the crimes committed
      against others by the previous regime, thus laying the groundwork for a
      process of reconciliation.
      But the media embarked enthusiastically on shaping public opinion in the
      way and even along the lines of Milosevic and his mouthpieces. The former
      "independent" media are extremely active in this regard, depicting the
      Milosevic trial at The Hague as a contest between two equally honorable
      sides. In fact, they make no effort to conceal their rooting for
      Milosevic. For his part, Milosevic is cynically using the trial to tell
      victims to their faces that they are lying, an outrageous farce intended
      for consumption at home, in the ever-shrinking Serbia. While his efforts
      have no legal effect on the witness testimony, our journalists courageously
      and independently report how Milosevic has for the umpteenth time proved
      that the Kosovo Albanian witnesses have perjured themselves. In contrast
      to journalists of this ilk and a large proportion of politicians and the
      public in Serbia, a handful of women refuse to applaud and cheer in this
      spurious Milosevic vs. Albanians match. They insist on the restoration of
      the human dignity of the victims and disclosure to the public of the facts
      about the atrocities committed against them, from the killings, burning of
      bodies and removal of evidence, to the refusal to admit the truth and
      provide moral satisfaction and just compensation. This does not mesh with
      the story our journalists are providing; hence their hostility toward women
      who have for years actively advocated justice, responsibility and
      One of these women refused to put her signature to a letter addressed by 27
      intellectuals to the international community in which they called for an
      end to the criminal bombing of FR Yugoslavia. Several people who were also
      invited to sign, including Ivan Colovic, Filip David and myself, declined
      because we considered the letter would make sense only if addressed to
      Milosevic who was primarily responsible for provoking the bombing and had
      the power to bring it to a end, just as easily as he first signed and then
      reneged on the Rambouillet Agreement. Those who did sign, among whom
      several editors with Radio B92 and Vreme, believed that the bombing was a
      prejudging of Milosevic or something equally confusing and untrue. In this
      way, our independent media in fact supported Milosevic, making a pact with
      the devil which continues in force to this day.
      To this day, there has been no genuine break with the period before 5
      October 2000. Milosevic was not toppled because of his accountability for
      the bombing of Yugoslavia or the crimes committed in the name of "uniting
      the Serb lands." All his self-declared opponents and critics were in
      agreement that war crimes should not be mentioned during the 2000 election
      campaign, supposedly because ordinary people would not be able to take the
      truth. There was only a single occasion when the new government made a
      connection between the Tribunal at The Hague, accountability for the
      crimes, and bringing the accused to justice. This was just prior to the
      transfer of Milosevic to The Hague on 28 June 2001. The Minister of
      Internal Affairs took the opportunity to disclose the existence of mass
      graves in Serbia and, in a reference to Milosevic's responsibility,
      mentioned meetings with him at which the decision was taken to destroy
      evidence of the Kosovo crimes. The story had currency for only as long as
      it took to hand over Milosevic to the Tribunal. Not even a year later, at
      a time when a senior Serbian police official, Dragan Karleusa, gave
      testimony at The Hague, had any new information been given out to dispel
      the widespread belief that the mass graves were an invention of the new
      government to avert possible unrest over Milosevic's surrender to the
      Tribunal. Cross-examining Karleusa, Milosevic asked how was it possible
      that the Serbian authorities had not established the identity of the
      persons whose remains were exhumed from the mass graves in Serbia. To this
      Karleusa replied that he did not know and that this was not the job of the
      That a pact exists between erstwhile Milosevic "opponents" and the
      ex-president is evident also from the news coverage of the testimony given
      at The Hague by former Serbian State Security chief Rade Markovic. All
      joined in a chorus of acclaim, praising Markovic for "admitting nothing,"
      that is, not betraying his boss. Fascinated by the extent of Markovic's
      loyalty to Milosevic, reporters for Vreme, Radio B92 and many other media
      felt no need to ask about those mysterious meetings at which it was decided
      to move the bodies of killed Albanians to Serbia. Nor did they take note
      of the fact that Markovic lied when he told the court he knew nothing about
      the remains concealed in graves on the training grounds of special
      operations police units which were under his direct command. The names of
      dozens of senior police and military officers and Serbian government
      officials (e.g. former commander of the Red Berets, former mayor of
      Djakovica, several garrison commanders, Generals Pavkovic and Lazarevic and
      others) were mentioned at the trial. All are in Serbia or Montenegro and
      therefore accessible to journalists, none of whom made any effort to
      interview them and ask about their part in the Kosovo crimes. No one asked
      General Lazarevic, the former commander of the Pristina Corps, to explain
      the liquidation of 250 Kosovo Albanian civilians in Meje village on 27
      April 1999 and the transfer of their bodies to the police training ground
      in Batajnica outside Belgrade. An Albanian witness, an ex-Yugoslav Army
      officer, set out horrific details about events in Djakovica. There was no
      reaction by media which claim that "the truth and responsibility" are dear
      to their heart.
      But these hateful females keep insisting on a public debate and calling to
      account those who ordered and committed atrocities which have made Serbia a
      haven for murders and a graveyard for their victims. The women's
      persistent efforts to set up a system of values for a democratic society in
      Serbia and Montenegro have earned them only angry calls for a witch hunt
      and the contempt of the authors of contumely texts. Though they took the
      brunt of Milosevic's rule, none of these women claim for themselves any
      special credit for his overthrow. They continue doing their work, caught
      between the new authorities who want a blank check for everything they say
      and do, and an emergent civil society that is being sucked into the
      quagmire of political parties beset by vanity and chalking up minor points
      gained in safe activities in the new political climate.
      In my opinion, the primitive attitude toward women in general and these few
      in particular arises from the evil atmosphere that has come to prevail in
      Serbia and in which hate speech is a normal mode of communication. Moral
      integrity, consistence and courage are not appreciated in such an
      atmosphere. Manufacturing of lies and falsifications, the appearance of
      "wise men" who sermonize on every possible subject and defame everything
      that is not to the liking of their patrons, and the campaign against women
      concerned with human rights are what characterize the media in
      post-Milosevic Serbia.
      I have no intention of responding to comments and protests of the kind made
      by Professor Nikola Milosevic who rebuked Politika for affording me more
      space than to others it interviewed on the situation in Serbia under the
      new government. Such comments and protests say more about the people who
      make them than us. But I do have some questions for all those who
      demonstrably care nothing for human dignity:
      Where were you when the Radicals were rampaging in Vojvodina with the
      blessing of the Milosevic regime, forcing local Croats to leave and moving
      into their homes Serb refugees from Croatia? I was daily in Hrtkovci,
      Golubinci, Bac or Platicevo. If you were against that kind of blatant
      fascism, why did you not speak out against it?
      Where were you when Serbs from western Slavonia and Krajina arrived on the
      Serbian border in endless refugee columns? I saw none of you at the
      frontier near Sremska Mitrovica where police separated out the men and
      forced them to go back. I and another woman, Branka Novakovic, were there
      with bread and milk, hoping at least to ease the hunger of children and
      weeping at the indifference of Belgrade and Serbia to the plight of the
      refugees. So much for the slogan "A united people on all our lands" - do
      you remember it?
      During the war in Bosnia, did you ever try to cross from Serbia into the
      Republika Srpska with a Muslim to help him reach his home in Bijeljina or
      Janja? I did and what hurt me the most that there were so few in Belgrade
      who were able to understand why I was exposing myself to humiliation and
      risk because of someone whose very name indicated that he or she was not
      quite like us, was a less worthy being. If you believe that these people
      are just as worthy as yourselves and your equals (or have suddenly become
      so), why not say so now if you did not dare or would not back then?
      Did any of you wonder what I was doing in Kosovo during the bombing and
      about what was happening there? I wrote several reports but none of you
      were willing to print them or simply did not dare. One of your colleagues
      told me at the time that he cried when he read one of my reports but that
      he could not publish it because the censors would ban his paper. Can some
      of these reports be published now? But please, no tears again.
      I wish to say in closing that I am not asking you suddenly to start
      appreciating, respecting and applauding this handful of women, myself
      included. All I ask is that you stop maligning us, and not only for our
      sakes but yours too.
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