In the Yugoslav conflict, misinformation has exceeded anything ever witnessed during World War II. Television coverage of the war has appealed to emotions and weakened our faculties for critical analysis, leaving them vulnerable to manipulation by opinion-makers.
To win any media war today, it is of prime importance to hire a good public relations firm. Take, for example. Ruder Finn Global Affairs, which has worked for both the Muslims and Croats since the very beginning of the war. Its director is James Harff, who declared to Jacques Merlino, assistant editor-in-chief of France 2: “Our job is not to verify information. We are not paid to uphold any morals. Our job consists of accelerating the circulation of any information which we deem to be favorable and to target previously selected targets.” Their role as propagandists could not have been stated clearer.
The methods of misinformation are so numerous and varied that they could provide writers with a quasi-inexhaustible source of material and case studies to write about for years to come. Let’s limit ourselves to a few examples.
Everybody remembers the excessive news coverage that accompanied the supposed Serb bombing of the old city of Dubrovnik. To help generate media attention and arouse the public, a famous American diva was brought in; a few Western intellectuals, in need of a cause to defend, signed petitions to stop this barbaric destruction, while television showed the ramparts of the old fortress lit up in flames, which in reality were automobile tires doused in gasoline and lit at the feet of the ramparts. These images provoked a general indignation against the Serbs, but once the battles had stopped, the press could not show any photos of the ruins of the old city, and no one forced the issue, because misinformation depends, with reason, on collective amnesia. (The only destroyed building, which of course was never reported, was the Serbian Orthodox Church, which was gutted by flames caused not by bombardment but rather from ground-level arson.)
Another method of misinformation involves self-imposed blackouts and omissions of events. One such example is the Croats’ destruction of the Muslim-held part of Mostar and its famous bridge, a story which was seldom mentioned and never publicly condemned by editorialists. There is even a geographically illiterate publication in France, l’Actuel, which showed a photo of the old Mostar bridge and described it as having been destroyed by Serb artillery in Vukovar!
Misinformation was again a key element in the orchestration of the Sarajevo massacres. The first of these, which happened on May 27, 1992, in front of a bakery on Vasa Miskin street in Sarajevo, killed 17 people and injured 150. It resulted in sanctions against Yugoslavia, even though responsibility for the event was never established with certitude. General Lewis MacKenzie, the first commander of U.N. troops in Sarajevo, had this to say: “The Bosnian presidency denounced this as a Serbian act. The Serbs talk about an explosive charge planted in advance. Our soldiers [the Canadians] say that a certain number of disturbing details do not make sense. The street was blocked just before the incident. Once a line up was formed, the Bosnian media showed up on location but stayed at a distance and were then able to rush to the site immediately after the attack had finished.”
Two years later, on February 5, 1994, a similar carnage took place, this time in the Markale market in Sarajevo. In his book Casque Bleu Pour Rien, a French superior officer who wrote under the pseudonym of Commandant Franchet said: “But here also the blue helmets refuse to confirm the thesis of a Serb shell and talk of a remote controlled explosive device instead. Four days later, NATO passes an ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs.”
We now know a great deal about these “Serb” atrocities in Sarajevo. Jean Daniel, editor of the magazine Le Nouvel Observateur, in the August 31, 1995, issue under the revealing title, “No more lies about Bosnia,” made an unprecedented confession: that the Prime Minister at the time of the market massacre, as well as many other ministers and two French generals, had confirmed to him that the Muslims were the true authors of this carnage. The following statement is self-explanatory:
“They [the Muslims] have committed this carnage on their own people?” I exclaimed in consternation. “Yes,” confirmed the Prime Minister [Eduard Balladur] without hesitation, “but at least they have forced NATO to intervene.”
The military interventions against the Serbs were therefore justified because of this useful lie, or, more precisely, by a series of lies; the initial lie creating others so as to confirm and justify the preceding one. Even as there is in France an unnerving similarity with the Dreyfus Affair, there is in the Markale marketplace affair a sort of slow progression into immorality which the media have refused to acknowledge. During the Dreyfus Affair, none of the main players ever admitted to having used lies to defend the honor of the French army. In the case of Markale, a Prime Minister admits, without hesitation, that a lie was propagated, but that he considered it necessary to help NATO come out of its indecision.
Obviously, we need to investigate the reasons for this vast campaign of misinformation which, both in the West and in the Muslim world, has tried to present the Serbs as aggressors. Although the Western media are free, they are not independent from governmental pressures, especially when it comes to foreign policy. More often than not, a government will suggest to the media a general orientation on which it will later depend, in the form of public opinion, to justify its policies. This was the modus operandi of the German government, which prematurely recognized Croatia and Slovenia under the pretext of pressures from public opinion which it had itself shaped.
The decisive (though discreet) role of Germany in the decomposition of Yugoslavia was of critical importance. The chronology of events demonstrates this very well. The conflict in Yugoslavia started less than a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, almost as if there was a cause-and-effect relation which joined the reunification of Germany with the decomposition of Yugoslavia. The German desire to have an opening to the Mediterranean and to be surrounded by small satellite states is certainly an important element of its foreign policy. After all, it is not the Serbs who invented the Drang Nach Osten, or even the idea of Lebensmum, this vital space the German people supposedly need to flourish.
By supporting the decomposition of Yugoslavia, Germany has also satisfied its long-standing obsession with a state which it believed, wrongly, to be an artificial creation of the Treaty of Versailles. For Turkey, a secular state that is strongly influenced by fundamentalist groups, the establishment of the first Islamic state in Europe would be in some ways a return to its glory days in the Balkans. To understand all these geopolitical problems, we can turn to the writings of General Pierre M. Gallois and specifically his book Le Soleil d’Allah Aveugle l’Occident. Identifying clearly the powers which have an interest in seeing the Serbs blamed as the aggressors in the Yugoslavian conflict does not necessarily imply the innocence of the Serbs nor the culpability of the Groats and Muslims, but it does show that the culpability of the Serbs is based essentially on geopolitical concerns.
However, it is in editorial cartoons that the demonization of the Serbs has reached a degree of virulence and racism hitherto never seen (or allowed) in the Western media. The caricature published in the Montreal daily Le Devoir from February 14, 1995, shows Serbs firing on children in Sarajevo. It is accompanied by the following sentence: “The problem with kids is that they move all the time.” The same primitive smear tactic is evident in different caricatures published by such French papers as Le Monde and L’Express, which continue to this day to draw Serb soldiers decorated with the communist star, an emblem which has not been worn for many years. The Montreal daily Gazette published on July 12, 1995, a picture of Dr. Karadzic with a simian face, along with the following commentary: “The living proof of Darwin’s theory: Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.” In the same vein, Danas magazine, which is published in Zagreb, shows the evolution of a monkey into a man and his regression from man to Serb.
The caricature published by La Presse on Wednesday, May 10, 1995, deserves a special place in this Hall of Shame. Two Serb soldiers are shown shooting on a city, probably Sarajevo, while one of them comments, “We’re not killing large scale like in ’40! WE don’t work with huge ovens. WE do this with fine detail . . . one by one!” When we know that many Serbs ended up in Croatian crematoriums during World War II, it is time to say, “Enough is enough!” Had any other ethnic group been the target of such a vicious and racist attack, every human rights group in the world would have been outraged.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new era of prosperity seemed to open for Western nations, and the war in Yugoslavia forced European leaders to choose between European unity and the destruction of Yugoslavia. Pressed by the troubles of Maastricht and by German stubbornness on the question of recognition of secessionist states, they decided to sacrifice the latter without realizing that in the long run this also signified the death of the European spirit. This opened a Pandora’s Box from which old demons escaped and joined with new ones, which no one had the courage to call by their names. Instead of recognizing Germany’s responsibility, the ruling political and intellectual leaders preferred simply to close their eyes. The demonization of the Serbs was the result.