MEDIA PLAYS A KEY ROLE IN BOSNIA
By Georgie Anne Geyer
25 November 1997.
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — The important story of the media in the historical roots of the war in Bosnia really began in Belgrade in the 1980s. I remember it well.
It was 1989 when I made my first trip there and saw the war being carefully plotted. In the deceptive hush of the capital, ambitious Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was already organizing Serbian nationalist militias to attack the Bosniaks, Croatians and Kosovars and sending fanaticized agents out to propagandize the villages.
But the most terrifying indicator of what was to come was the television in my hotel room in the Inter Continental. There, on that little screen — part of the new technology that so many thought would unite the world — one saw hour after hour of Serb propaganda. Serb cemeteries from battles lost 800 years ago vied with Serbian women crying at the graves — the Serbs as eternal victims!
It reminded one of the Nazi propaganda of the ’30s.
Media: And that was the beginning of the Serb propaganda machine that now, finally, has forced the Western world, through NATO and the civilian organizations at least, to try to control the uses of “the media” here. That, of course, means really television, particularly in the Republika Srpska, the Bosnia Serb region in the mountains, which is still controlled by the original war criminals.
Despite two years of international command and despite the presence of some 30,000 NATO troops, the sad fact is that the populations both in Srpska and in Belgrade are still kept in line through the mental and political control of TV.
What is happening here? Well, it depends upon the day you look.
Early last summer, there began to be some movement. British troops went up the mountain in unprecedented numbers and arrested one and killed one Serb accused war criminal. There were several Western military assaults on TV transmitters up there, and they were closed down.
Propaganda: For some days, this apparent change in approach was successful in stopping the Bosnian Serb propaganda machine; then the leadership found way to broadcast again.
As of this writing, the situation is once again indeterminate. What had seemed a new strategy turned out once again to be uncoordinated flashes with no reasoned plan behind them.
And so, two years after the Dayton Accords, we still have Milosevic in Belgrade and Radovan Karadzic in real command of Srpska (both men maintain nearly total control of the media). Thus, the Western hopes for an alternative power base for Srpska under Biljana Plavsic in Banja Luka flounder because she (or any other candidate) has no means to have counter-messages be heard.
‘Electronic Village’: In a world that parrots the reassuring but simplistic idea that television and international communications will somehow unite the world — the famous “electronic village” — Serbia has shown in contrast how easy it is today not to free people through some supposed magic of communications, but to mesmerize and enslave them to extremism.
As the former American ambassador to Yugoslavia during the war-forming years, Warren Zimmerman, writes: “It was TV that promoted the hatred, not ancient hatreds. It gave people myths and called them history.”
The idea, therefore, that somehow the “modern world” precludes these kinds of mind control because we have international communications is proven woefully false.