Saturday, March 11, 2006

Milosevic is dead…


…but some of the myths of the Balkans war live on. Bosnia in the 1990's was not Poland in the 1940's.

Slobodan Milosevic died of a heart attack (?) in his cell in the Hague today, where he was on trial for war crimes. I can’t say I am very sorry about that - few tears will be shed for him outside Serbia.

But his death has given journalists another chance to recycle some misinformation about what happened in Yugoslavia during the very nasty civil war that eventually led to the nation’s break up.

CNN, for instance – when looking back at the events that led to Milosevic’s arrest and trial, reported today that Serbs were responsible for:

…bombarding towns and cities like Sarajevo with heavy artillery, besieging villages and massacring civilians. Snipers targeted men, women and children. Markets full of people shopping were shelled. There were concentration camps, mass rape and the forced prostitution of women and very young girls.

As the words concentration camps were spoken off-screen the picture of Fikret Alic (above), taken in 1992 at the Trnopolje camp, was shown as evidence that camps such as these had returned to Europe, almost half a century after the Nazi’s attempt at a Final Solution.

Though rape, murder of civilians and more did indeed take place back then, the 50 kilos Alic was not in a concentration camp looking out at the camera. The cameraman was the one behind the wire and Alic was the one looking in.

This fact came to light long after the war had ended, when the British LM magazine published an article in 1998 which claimed that this was ‘The picture that fooled the world’ – see article here. LM reported that:

The barbed wire in the picture is not around the Bosnian Muslims; it is around the cameraman and the journalists. It formed part of a broken-down barbed wire fence encircling a small compound that was next to Trnopolje camp. The British [ITN] news team filmed from inside this compound, shooting pictures of the refugees and the camp through the compound fence. In the eyes of many who saw them, the resulting pictures left the false impression that the Bosnian Muslims were caged behind barbed wire.

ITN was outraged that anyone should question the integrity of its journalists and promptly took LM to court for libel.

The case became a battle between liberal journalists - who had taken the side of the Bosnian Muslims, regularly painting a picture of Serbia bad, everyone else good – and more independent minded writers, such as BBC journalist John Simpson, who argued that the war was not nearly as black and white as that, and awful things were perpetrated by both sides, though a majority of them were, indeed, done by Serbians.

Liberals used the ‘Serbian fascist’ argument to call for intervention in the war by Nato.

As to whether Alic was in or outside the camp, the Judge in the libel trial in London agreed with LM magazine, which wrote after the case had finished:

Justice Morland had to concede in his summing up, 'Clearly [ITN journalists] Ian Williams and Penny Marshall and their TV teams were mistaken in thinking they were not enclosed by the old barbed-wire fence', before adding in his even-handed way, 'but does it matter?'.

He then found in favour of ITN (!) and fined the LM editor and publishers 375,000 pounds. This broke the finances of the magazine – which maybe had a circulation of 20,000 – and it was forced to close down. The magazine’s crime was not for getting the facts wrong, but claiming that ITN had deliberately misled their viewers.

Aren’t the infamously weird English libel laws marvelous!

Why a corporation the size of ITN had to take a small magazine like LM to court in the first place I didn’t understand at all. Why didn’t they just use their almost limitless resources to argue their case on television and in the press?

Nevertheless, the myth that Alic was inside a concentration camp when the picture was taken is still being peddled by news broadcasters today. Shame we can’t see the Balkans war for what it really was – a bloody mess with crimes committed by both sides.

More?
Using War as an Excuse for More War: Srebrenica Revisited, Counterpunch, Oct 12, 2005

29 comments:

Romerican said...

"Aren’t the infamously weird English libel laws marvelous!"

I might take a small issue with that.

In principle, there is a recognizable difference between saying "X made a mistake" and saying "X maliciously lied on purpose." One is a criticism, the other an accusation.

And to preserve integrity, it is common for news organizations to sue people who claim fraud. Rather than engage in Fox-style propoganda, the gentlemanly thing to do is sue your accuser.

Now, having said that... I agree with you on a practical level.

1. It looks like LM never accused ITN for anything and therefore ITN had no case for a lawsuit!

2. The judge was clearly a nutjob! He notes that LM did nothing wrong, but then punishes them anyway? That's a miscarriage of justice.

3. Sadly, as you know, lawsuits can also be a weapon as it was in this case. I imagine ITN probably had help (from LM competitors) in paying their legal bills.

I guess I'll have to do more research into the war crimes trials. I haven't given the subject enough investigation or attention. It's something happening somewhere else, I suppose.

But, if the characterizations of genocide are grossly overstated, then what exactly is going on over at The Hague? Stirner was right about fools in a madhouse.

Thanks for the provocative piece.

beatroot said...

ITN is the largest private tv news agency in the UK. It didn't need any help with legal bills. LM, on the other hand, had no money whatsoever and its readers footed much of the costs through donations.

Renegade Eye said...

Very good balanced post. I used to know Diana Johnstone, when she lived in Minnesota. She wrote a book with similar conclusions.

beatroot said...
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beatroot said...

Cheers Renegade. She's good. I put one of her latest for more reading.

eulogist said...

Mr Milosevic death is one of those case in which you hope the religious nutcases are right after all and that hell does exist... Then again, religious zeal has this tendency to focus on the real problems of society, like protesting against gay weddings, rather than waste precious time on petty mass murder.

With that gratuitous defamation off my chest, I do agree with Romerican that there is a difference between pointing out a mistake someone made and accusing him of malicious intent. "Responsible freedom of speech" (is that why you wanted me to read this, beatroot?) entails that if you make the claim, you've got to prove it. In the ITN-LM case it was not the law, but the judicial system that failed.

eulogist said...

I could add that where most Western media really failed to paint a balanced picture (that is, after they should have learned their lesson in Bosnia), was Kosovo. The UÇK has, in my humble opinion at least, never had as bad a press as it should have had even though there were exceptions. Nor has the West itself, in letting things (i.e. the UCK) run out of hand first until they got so bad that the only way to stop the atrocities was by military force.

With hindsight at least, it seems to me that Europe should never have followed Germany in its recognition of Croatia's independence as early as it did, as this only accelerated a process that, given time, might have been concluded without the loss of so many lives. But certainly by the time things got started in Kosovo we should have known better than to play the UÇK's little game. Both the Serbian army's actions in Kosovo and the bombing of Belgrade and other places in Serbia by NATO might then have been avoided.

roman said...

Wow, that picture is still in use today in retrospective editorials of the Balkan conflicts. It's still
"lying" to its viewers in the same way that it did when it was first published. Miscarriage of justice? Definitely!
Good post.

beatroot said...

Eulogist: I wanted you to see this post because I respect your opinion on these things. That simple.

The Balkans war, Kosovo was one of those 'difficult' issues for me. I hated seeing what Serbs and the others were doing to each other. But everytime I picked up a newspaper like the Guardian I was confronted with some liberal asking me to support bombing Serbs, and other 'humanitarian intevensions'. And I just couldn't support that.

Now the same people are asking me to support invading Iraq on the same grounds - and I can't.

And 'that photo' tried to say that Bosnia in the 1990's was some sort of equivalant to Poland in the 1940's...it wasn't. That's my point.

English libel laws are peculiar to that country. They are a rich man's play thing to shut the rest of us up. 80% of cases go the way of the plaintiff...why do you think Polanski chose London to drag Vanity Fair across the coals? Legal people call the city A Town Called Sue...

eulogist said...

Thanks beatroot, I feel honoured. We do agree then, broadly, on the Yugoslavian civil war. I too felt rather uncomfortable seeing not just ordinary liberals, but even former frontmen of the Cold War peace movement argue that we should start bombing Servia. I did not support it at the time. That may have been the mennonite streak running through my genes (I have always admired pacifist resistance leaders like Rugova, Tutu, Mandela (for most of his life) and Ghandi much more than military heroes even when they were on the good side), because I am still not entirely sure what was the right thing to do given the situation as it had developed.

That is not to say that Iraq now and Bosnia or Kosovo then is not a different situation. Iraq was suffering under an evil dictator, but there was no major crisis going on. There was in Bosnia and Kosovo. And a major crisis may be sufficient reason to use force if that helps to end it. The problem I had with the use of force in this case, however, was that I felt the situation as it was, was in part of our own making and in part (including some of the refugee flows) manipulated.

Romerican said...

And Darfur, gents? =\

beatroot said...

Do you mind if I don't go down the Darfur root, romerican? These sorts of wars are sooo hard to get my head round, I can only cope with one horror at a time.

I wanted to support someone in the Balkans war. But the more I looked at the story, the less attractive the main actors became. It was a war without heroes. Just a mess.

Crazy rumours about how Slobo died on the BBC at the moment. He was murdered (poisoned)...he killed himself (like his mum and dad)...he was really a woman and his wife was king of serbia...

eulogist said...

Carla del Ponte is still leaving all options open, including suicide. In an interview with La Repubblica today she said that "Suicide is only one of the possibilities".

If he did commit suicide that would be a real problem for the tribunal, as that means the doctors will find an unnatural cause of death. Conspiracy theorists would have a field day.

beatroot said...
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eulogist said...

Dutch teletext just said that such substances have indeed been found in his blood by Dutch doctors several months ago, who were trying to find out why the medicines they were giving him for his heart condition had no effecy. The substances apparently neutralise the effect of such medicines.
According to the press story, this was confirmed by "an advisor to the tribunal".

eulogist said...

(such substances = drugs usually administered to people suffering from lepra or tubercolosis, as alleged by Milosevic's lawyers)

beatroot said...

So Slobo really was an International Lepra!

The plot thickens.

His wife, Mira, looks an interesting Lady Macbeth type. Apparently, they used to phone each other ten times a day and bill and coo and call each other 'little pussy' and coccheycoo etc...she thinks he was murdered by the court process.

But how bad was he, on a scale of 1 to 10? Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot were ten. Saddam was about six or seven...where was he? Five?

eulogist said...

Don't know where Slobodan is on that scale, but his wife must be at least two points higher... (her hair certainly is)

Latest news: Results are in from the autopsy (carried out by Dutch and Serbian doctors and recorded on video). It was a heart attack. Well, of course it was - that would have been the result of that poisoning trick (if it was one) too. So it does not really solve anything.

The toxicology test results will take more time before they are known.

Michael Farris said...

How bad was he? He was bad enough. I'm glad the sob's dead is all.

beatroot said...

Eulogist: I agree about her hair, and I think the UN should be sent in there right now to give her a short-back-and-sides...humanitarian intevention at its most merciful.

But Mike: The whole point of my post was to try and demonstrate that showing photos of very skinny people behind barbed wire, using words like 'genocide' when reporting about Bosnia, gives the impression that there was something similar to the Holocaust going on in the Balkans in 1990's.

But it was not.

So Slobo is not qualitativly nor quantitativly on the same planet as a Stalin or a Hitler. There are dictators...and there are DICTATORS. There are very nasty civil wars, and then there was the Holocaust.

Not the same things at all.

Michael Farris said...

"So Slobo is not qualitativly nor quantitativly on the same planet as a Stalin or a Hitler."

Absolutely agreed. But he was a filthy SOB who decided to play the hard-nationalist card which resulted in the deaths of lots of people. (There were other nasty SOB's in the region willing to follow suit but he was the one who got that particular ball rolling).

I'm still glad he's dead. (I'll say the same thing when Mugabe and lots of other petty power-mad tyrants kick their respective buckets).

Romerican said...

I'll be contrarian and say I'm not glad he's dead. I'd have much rather seen the trial carry through, in the same way I'm glad Saddam is having to deal with situation instead of being conveniently limp. Followed by conveniently stiff. (No viagra jokes, please.)

sonia said...

It was a war without heroes. Just a mess.

Pretty much describes all wars, actually.

A few remarks: even if the photo was misleading, that guy was still starving. During the Great Famine in the Ukraine in 1932-3, people weren't behind barbed wires neither.

In my opinion, our failures to prevent atrocities in Serbia and Kosovo (and Chechnya too) are among the root causes of Islamic terrorism today. In those countries, Muslims were facing genocide and we only acted after people actually died.

Later, all that some clever mullahs had to do was to steer the anger in a different direction, away from Russia and Serbia and towards Western Europe and America. Away from murderers and towards those who took long to act...

Romerican said...

facing genocide and we only acted after people actually died.

It's all "we" ever do. And all one can do, methinks.

Edie said...

Why would he kill himself? He was planning to present his case, which would have been quite a damning indictment of the US and UK.

beatroot said...

You are right, Sonia.

The 'muhajadin' turned to Bosnia once they had got rid of the Soviets in Afghanistan (with US backing). And then those same people got backing from the same western powers in Bosnia.

Just lkke Saddam did in the 1980's.

The West seems to have a talent for creating monsters that come back to haunt them.

beatroot said...

I am doing to do a post about that tomorrow, Edie!

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting site... » » »

Emina Selmic Kahrimanovic said...

Reading all of this was very interesting to me and has caught my eye. First I would like to introduce myself, I am a Bosnian Women was in the Trnopolje concentration camp during the Bosnian war. I am a child of a loving family with two children and that build there own home and went on vacations every year. I am very grateful to ITN and Mrs. Penny Marshall who risked there jobs to send the news across the world. The man that is in the first picture (without the t-shirt) is my first neighbor in Bosnian and has grown up with my father and his family. It is very hard for me to see this picture because my father, who was just a few men behind my neighbor, has been missing ever since. I am 24 year old women that grow up without him. I live in the US, I am finishing my business degree, I am married and a Manger at a hotel. In other words I have worked hard to have a great life. But down the end I would give all of this up TO HAVE MY DAD BACK! No one can replace a parent to a child and so can’t anything replace my dad for me. My mother has been my dad and mom my whole life and of course my hero. After reading all of your comments and opinions, I felt that I needed to write this to all of you. It is a bit of information about my life not anywhere close to the end. But I am the living proof that all of the concentration camps were part of the era and that a lot of people were harmed and killed. Thank you all for readying my note.
If you have any more questions please write at ekselmic@aol.com.