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September 8, 1993


by Klaus Birkholm

For fair use only
Published under the provision of
U.S. Code, Title 17, section 107.


Can any more horrifying and more loathsome war crime be imagined? Serbian snipers are offered a reward of some 2,500 krunas (the equivalent of 300 pounds) for every child they shoot?

This story was launched at the beginning of summer 1992, when the Serbo-Croatian war was already in full swing in Bosnia, and Western media were already over-saturated with reports on barbarian atrocities. The source was a volunteer aid worker, Steve Watt, who was interviewed in a BBC news service programme one Sunday morning.

Serbs "target the children," said Watt, "because of the money and because they are easier to kill". It was asserted that some 400 children were shot dead, while 11,000 were injured, as a result of the Serbs' cynical rewards.

A Good Story

As most editorial boards would say, this was one good story. The following day it was transmitted on the BBC World Service news programme, which can be heard worldwide by 300 million listeners in English-speaking regions. British journalist Karl Waldron tried to investigate the story. It turned out that Watt had heard it from some Croats he had met during his journey with a humanitarian aid convoy.

This was a well-known story to the Croatian public. First appearing in an article written by Irce Zortic, it gained credence when it was cited in almost all the Croatian media and was transmitted by Radio Croatia, the national (state) radio station.

Waldron got in touch with Irce Zortic who stood firmly to his story, but admitted that it had been given to him by the Croatian Ministry of Information.

He did not try to check it out, because "you can't expect us to ring the Serbs and then believe them when they say this information isn't true". This, however, was not the end of the investigation. Waldron established that the story had already been circulating in close diplomatic circles at the time it was "delivered" to Zortic.

And it had found its way to those cireles owing to a fax machine in an office on M Street in Washington, D.C..

This fax machine which - as reported by an increasingly large number of sources - played a central role in the media war about former Yugoslavia, is located in the PR offices of Ruder & Finn, which receives US $18,000 a month from the govemments of Croatia and Bosnia to take care of their image in the international public.

This firm receives a flood of information from these two clients. Its employees then select strategically suitable stories - such as this "Cash for a Corpse" story, and transmit them by fax to pivotal creators of public opinion worldwide.

"It's not our job to check the accuracy of the infommation. Neither do we have the resources to do so", Waldron was told by Rhoda Paget.


The Media Are a Front

"Truth is the first victim of any war." That famous saying by American senator Hiram Johnson has been well used over time. This Balkan war has offered the strongest proof so far that the electronic media and infommation technology have changed the public to such an extent that the above saying should be worded more sharply: The media have become the leading partisans...

The media have become irreplaceable both in preparing and waging wars. In the beginning it was difficult to substantiate this mechanism, because the editorial boards of all the media enterprises were running after "good stories", at least one new story a day. Now, however, with the war going on for more then three years, a number of critical journalists are slowly managing to shed light on a different picture.

One of them is Dubravka Ugresic, a Croat. At the beginning of the summer, in the Index on Censorship magazine she published an interesting story about how a "culture of falsehood" was functioning in her country. In 1981, the citizens of Duga Resa, a town in Croatia, planted a small forest, recounts Mrs. Ugresic. "The 88 trees were a birthday present for Tito."

Today this forest has been cut down by the citizens of the town: they said they had removed "the last remnants of the communist regime". Those who cut down the forest were the same men who had planted it. How could it come to this? By a systematic modification of the national collective memory, asserts Ugresic.

Namely, with the war as a backdrop, now there is no place left for any individual memories. Each story is fit into the "young nation's struggle against the Serbian war of extermination".

Through terror, one falsehood about a nation is removed from the collective memory, only to be replaced by a new, quite similar falsehood. "Some ten years ago the ethnic groups of former Yugoslavia were weeping at the funeral of their aged father-figure, Tito," writes Ugresic. "Those same ethnic groups now unanimously claim that they were living under the heel of 'a communist dictator'. The most extreme elements are reacting by using plaster figures of Tito's head for trapshooting. "In this way, they have started to cast out the demons of their own communism with considerable delay (10 years later)", notes Ugresic.

The fact that there was almost no intellectual opposition to the Yugoslav regime is completely disregarded today. How else could those surviving the war face the future without being ashamed? Now they all remember that they were living an oppressed life in the "dungeon of ethnic groups".

Ugresic cites a number of examples of writers whose work was regularly published in Tito's time, and who now state that (before) they were never given the floor. She is quite convinced that she knows where to place the responsibility: with the media.


In January 1992, the Serbs and Croats signed a cease-fire after the first war, waged in the regions populated by the Serbs in Croatia. "According to Ivan Zvonimir Cicak, chairman of the Croatian Helsinki Committee on Human Rights, about 15,000 homes owned by Serbs in Croatia were destroyed to a greater or lesser extent during the first 15 months atter the cease-fire", writes Article 19. This ethnic persecution, "obviously tolerated by the government, went on practically unnoticed by the Croatian media, which were increasingly focusing their efforts on depicting the Serbs as mortal enemies of the Croats".

The Media War Crime

The cultural editor of the Helsingborgs Dagblad (Sweden) Soren Sommelious states: "One cannot understand what happened and what is still happening in the former Yugoslavia without knowing the role of the media. A military war would not be possible without a preparatory media war. One day when this all ends, and when it comes to shedding light on the thruth and placing responsibility, joarnalists will also be standing among the accused. A new term is already being used: media war criminals."


Published in:
"The Patriot News", Harrisburg, PA, December 5, 1991

"St. Paul Pioneer Press", Minnesota, Thursday, 12/05/91

"Marin Independent Journal", page A4, 12/5/1991

by DAN STETS, Knight Ridder Foreign Service

For fair use only
Published under the provision of
U.S. Code, Title 17, section 107.


Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia

Croatian officials have banned women and children from leaving this besieged ancient city in an effort to deter further attacks by the Yugoslav Army.

The top United Nations relief official in Dubrovnik on Wednesday strongly condemned the move, estimating that up to 4,000 women and children would like to have the opportunity to leave the city, where 120 people were killed in heave shelling last month.

"No woman or child should be obliged to be a hero or used as a shield," said Staffan de Mistura, special envoy of UNICEF in Dubrovnik. "It is a major right to decide whether to be a martyr or a hero, not a duty."

The six-member Dubrovnik crisis committee decided six days ago that the defense of this coastal Adriatic city required the presence of all remaining women and children.

UNICEF was informed of the decree three days ago, and on Tuesday, it was first implemented: 200 people were prevented from leaving the city on a UNICEF relief vessel that had brought supplies to the city.

Croatian officials defended the decree as a way to boost morale here, as well as to prevent the attack.

"From a psychological viewpoint, it is a great advantage to have these people here because an empty city has no motivation, no soul to defend itself," Col. Milivoj Mimica, deputy commander of Croatian forces in Dubrovnik, said Wednesday.

In a surprisingly candid interview, Mimica listed three principal reasons for the decision.

First, he said, if the women and children stay, it will mean that the attacking army would be shooting at them and not just at a walled city.

Second, he said, their presence might force the army to hesitate before shooting.

Third, if there is an attack, the international public reaction to such an attack would be a public relations coup for Croatia, which has been trying desperately for months to get diplomatic and military support from the West.

Mimica said he had been "greatly disappointed" by the Western response to fighting in Croatia, charging that the Serb-led Yugoslav People's Army was committing genicide against the Croats, not just killing people, but also trying to wipe out Croatian culture - its historical monuments, libraries, churches and factories.

De Mistura of UNICEF characterized the decision by the all-male Dubrovnik crisis committee as cowardly and cynical. "If war is decided by men, then these men should not fight using women and children as shields," he said. "If they don't have the courage to fight this war without shields, then they should call a lawyer and sit down with the other side and work out the settlement."

De Mistura said the goverment and military of Croatia were emplying tactic widely condemned when it was used recently by governments in Iraq, Ethiopia and the Sudan.

UNICEF has evacuated 6,400 woman and children from Dubrovnik so far. Only 100 to 300 people scheduled to leave on the ship Tuesday were allowed to depart and UNICEF was told by Dubrovnik officials that no one else would be allowed to leave.

A large cargo ship scheduled to bring 500 tons of relief supplies Friday has enough space to take away several hundred woman and children. Another UNICEF official said it was apparent that many other people, especially women with children, would like to leave the city. When a relief vessel sailed from Dubrovnik with 788 people aboard last week, another 400 people were on the pier, clamoring to get aboard, he said.

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