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