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Sarajevo; a glimmer of hope.

In Sarajevo, the cease-fire is holding as I write. People are walking the streets in a more relaxed way. Journalists go outside without wearing their flak jackets. But no one is celebrating - partly out of caution, partly because it took a massacre to achieve the cease-fire, and partly because it has come too late. After nearly two years of siege, the famous "spirit" of Sarajevo is ebbing away.

There are still people and groups who resist the war by defending secular culture. Haris Pasovic, the director of Sarajevo's theater, remains full of projects: He is planning a workshop for architects on how to reconstruct Sarajevo and he has a new play, Silk Drums, based on Noh theater, which tours community centers, soup kitchens, and hospitals. The independent media survive despite shortages of everything, especially paper. There is a lively young people's magazine called Dani, Radio Zid, and Radio B-90. Radio Zid is still a cultural and political haven for young people, with music and workshops.

But more and more people, especially the young and educated, want to leave and forget. And among those who intend to stay, there are signs of Islamicization, including the teaching of Arabic.

The February 5 massacre in the marketplace produced a collective sense of shock. It was as though all the tragedies of the last two years had come to the surface. "The whole city was crying," one woman said.

It was irrelevant who had fired the final mortar. After all, the Serbs have been shelling from the hills since the war began. Hearing the explanations of officials on both sides, I had the uneasy feeling from their shifty reactions that either side could have been responsible and that neither side was sure it had not done it.

The so-called international community has never had a consistent or principled policy toward Bosnia-Herzegovina. One approach has been that of the British and, to some extent, the Russians, and has dominated the European Union. They argue that since the international community is not prepared to commit resources - especially military resources - and since it is better in any case for people to solve their own problems, the only solution lies in negotiations among the warring parties. And the only compromise solution likely to emerge from such negotiations is ethnic partition.

This is, of course, unpalatable, but it is preferable to war. And perhaps, once the fighting stops, the ethnic states will begin to cooperate. Eventually, some sort of accommodation may be possible.

The other approach, which tends to be espoused by the United States, imposes a Cold War or Gulf war model on the Yugoslav situation. Serbia is cast in the role of pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union or present-day Iraq. Although the United States is not prepared to use ground troops, Serbia must be punished by whatever means are available, short of intervention on the ground which could risk high Western casualties. Hence, the emphasis on sanctions and air strikes.

Both approaches were evident in February, though the first approach proved paramount. Before NATO's ultimatum, the cease-fire negotiated by the United Nations' British commander, General Michael Rose, might have held even without the added threat of air strikes. In an interview with the International Herald Tribune, General Rose said both sides had reached the point of exhaustion that can be seized upon for a political initiative. When agreement on the cease-fire was reached, Rose refused to accept signatures; he said they would be meaningless, since so many cease-fires had been signed before only to be broken.

The outcome of the ten-day ultimatum is a divided city under international military protection. General Rose wasted no time in using the cease-fire to move U.N. troops into positions which divide the warring sides. The presence of French troops on, ironically, the Bridge of Brotherhood and Unity, which divides Serb-held Grbavica from the rest of the city, is a remarkable sight. There is less violence, but sniper fire continues. The cease-fire applies only to heavy weaponry. One night, I heard more or less continuous machine-gun fire. The city will still be under siege - there will be fighting all around, access will still be restricted to the air, and it will still be almost impossible to leave. The term used to describe the situation is "easing the siege."

The NATO ultimatum represented the other dominant approach. The problem with the ultimatum was that the threat of air strikes was never really convincing. Air strikes would have been destructive, and could have provoked attacks on U.N. ground troops and aid workers. Such attacks are notoriously ineffective even with precision weapons, and cannot confer a lasting military advantage. Unless territory is occupied, the opposing side can always retain its position. Hence the Serbs could easily have moved back into the hills after a strike.

A much better ultimatum would have been the threat to occupy the hills with tactical air cover - something General Philippe Morillon, the French former U.N. commander, has been advocating. In other words, NATO air strikes would have been a way of punishing the Serbs and showing the international community's resolve, but the most likely military effect would have been an escalation of the war.

It quickly became clear that air strikes were unlikely. The Serbs had the least interest in breaking the cease-fire. They have most of what they wanted in this part of Bosnia-Herzegovina and had already agreed in principle to a U.N. administration for Sarajevo. They compensated for the psychological humiliation of the ultimatum by defying the no-fly zone and intensifying their attacks on Bihac. By using delaying tactics in withdrawing the heavy weaponry, they were able to bring in the Russians and thus improve their diplomatic position.

The Bosnians had the most to gain by breaking the cease-fire. One U.S. official said air strikes could lead to a new phase of the war in which the international presence on the ground is withdrawn, the arms embargo is lifted, and the Bosnian army tries to reconquer the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina with Western air support. This scenario, however, runs counter to the logic of what was actually happening in Sarajevo and to the positions of the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia.

The decision to strike was to be taken by U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali on advice from his special envoy Yasushi Akashi who, in turn, was to be advised by General Rose and his staff at Sarajevo headquarters. (A key figure is Rose's Russian political adviser Viktor Andreev.) Everyone knew that Rose and his staff were reluctant to advocate air strikes. Moreover, had the Bosnians broken the cease-fire, air strikes would have been a counterproductive response.

Many U.N. officials hope that this is a turning point and that, if the cease-fire holds, a peace agreement is close. The same approach can be tried out in Mostar, Tuzla, and other areas designated as "safe" by the U.N. Security Council, and this can be combined with an agreement for all of Bosnia-Herzegovina. (Mostar is supposed to become a European Union protectorate under the current plan discussed in Geneva.) An agreement is thought to be much nearer both because of the newly demonstrated resolve of the international community and because of the greater involvement of both the United States and Russia.

The Americans are expected to put pressure on the Bosnians, and the Russians on the Serbs. Basically, such an agreement would sanction the ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina into a greater Serbia, a greater Croatia, and a rump state of Bosnia. Give or take a few details such as access to the sea and the return of refugees to towns in Serb- or Croat-held territory which used to be dominated by Muslims under the supervision of UNPROFOR, the U.N. Protection Force in Bosnia, the Bosnian government has more or less accepted this concept. Hence, the military logic of partition both within Sarajevo and in Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole will determine the political outcome.

But I wonder. How many times in this war have we been told that peace is near The fresh fighting in Bihac may be a harbinger of things to come. This war has had the longest ending of any war, argue the Feral Tribune, a Croatian newspaper; it started ending even before it began. A partition agreement will entrench the national expansionists not only in Serbia and Croatia but eventually also in what is left of Bosnia. Will the Muslim population remain satisfied in a rump state that seems unviable?

The problem of refugees, to name but one of the "minor details," will be extremely difficult to solve and will remain an irritant for years to come. Ethnic partition cannot be a long-lasting solution; it is a recipe for continued fragmentation an violence. The power of each warlord depends on a permanent war psychosis. Even if an agreement is signed, I doubt it will last.

Moreover, the notion of preserving Sarajevo and Mostar as international military protectorates or of returning refugees within an ethnically divided region seems implausible. And the idea that in a generation or so people will come together again through intermarriage or trade runs counter to the experience of partitioned places - Northern Ireland, Palestine, and South Africa. Bad systems rarely produce good outcomes.

Is there an alternative? A third approach has been advocated among peace and human-rights groups within the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere in Europe, as well as among those engaged in humanitarian activities both at governmental and nongovernmental levels. This is the approach that emphasizes the need for a political alternative to nationalism - a political movement advocating civic values.

According to this approach, no long-term solution is possible so long as nationalists remain in power. People who advocate this approach might disagree about the degree of responsibility for the conflict of different nationalist parties. Some would blame primarily the Serbs and others would apportion blame more equally, but they would agree that the current wave of nationalism is a new post-communist or post-authoritarian phenomenon in which various unsavory groups (former nomenklatura, Mafia-types, and the like) use nationalist rhetoric and the fears generated by nationalism to sustain their power.

On this analysis, the international community cannot solve the conflict, but it could help create conditions in which a political alternative can develop. This can be. done both by taking seriously those groups that represent a political alternative, and by constructing frameworks in which such political alternatives could flourish.

The proposal for international protectorates either for Bosnia-Herzegovina as whole or for such particular cities as Sara jevo and Mostar aims to protect the victims of the war and to create spaces in which people can discuss their future in an atmosphere free of fear. These frameworks could be established by political and military means. The international community should try to establish them through negotiations, but obviously it needs to use various forms of coercion to pressure the warring parties to agree.

After talking to refugees and other people in Sarajevo, I have the impression that an alternative political approach is possible. Ethnic hatred is not as deep-rooted as we are led to believe, even after two years of war. Most people still want to live together. They blame the nationalists, the gangsters, and the warlords, not their friends and neighbors who happen to come from a different ethnic background. They support the nationalists out of fear and ignorance, a subservient mentality that was nurtured during the totalitarian years. But they do need help to find a viable political solution.

The Helsinki Citizens Assembly, which has many groups in the former Yugoslavia, has been advocating this approach since the beginning of the war. It has established linkages between groups in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere in Europe, and it has campaigned for safe havens and for protectorates. Last June, an HCA delegation to Sarajevo issued, together with the Sarajevo HCA, The Last Chance Appeal for Sarajevo, which called for lifting the siege of Sarajevo and establishing a U.N. administration there. It was signed by thousands of people all over Europe, including politicians from across the political spectrum.

The notion of a U.N. administration for Sarajevo was taken up in the negotiations, together with a proposal for a European Union administration for Mostar, although these were envisaged only as part of an overall settlement. For the last few months, Helsinki Citizens Assembly groups all over Europe have been campaigning for international protectorates for Sarajevo and Mostar to be established independently of what happens in the talks. Such an approach could also strengthen the position of the international community in the negotiations.

Now the siege has been partially lifted, but Sarajevo is divided, and the negotiations still call for the overall partition of Bosnia-herzegovina. However, the present situation does offer the opportunity for this alternative approach. The United Nations needs to build on the military protection of Sarajevo to establish a civil administration.

This would require, first of all, demilitarization of the city so that people could move about freely. All weapons, including small arms, would have to be removed. This could probably only be achieved through house-to-house searches.

Second, it would require the establishment of land routes to the city so that people could move in and out; in other words, it would mean enforcing throughways.

Third, the establishment of an international local administration would break down the division of the city. The administration would have to undertake economic and social reconstruction and the reestablishment of law and order, including a system of justice under which war criminals could be prosecuted. Such an administration would aim to establish conditions in which refugees could return to their homes, multiculturalism could survive, and a non-nationalist political alternative could take root.

The same approach could be extended to Mostar, Tuzla, and other so-called safe areas and might gradually extend to the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In parallel, the international community should, in the talks, reject any solution based on partition. (The current Croat-Muslim talks suggest that it may be possible to put pressure on the Croats to preserve the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina.) The idea of a U.N. Transitional Authority, or a temporary international protectorate for the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina, could be revived and offered as a new international negotiating platform in the talks. This approach is advocated by Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, and by President Mitterrand. Clearly, such an approach would require a long-term international commitment. It would need more peacekeeping troops and a much larger civilian involvement.

So far, the cost of the operation in Bosnia has been tiny in comparison with, say, the cost of the Gulf war or the cost of maintaining troops in Germany. The additional cost would be a small price to pay for preserving human values and, by so doing, restoring the credibility of international institutions.

The February events in Sarajevo do represent the most hopeful international initiative in this war up to now. They could, however, time out to be just an episode in the continuing saga of international complicity in ethnic partition. In effect, they may represent merely a victory for the British and Russian approach over the American approach. But they could also represent a turning point - the beginnings of a third approach, a more principled and consistent international intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina, based on the ideas of independent citizens' groups in the region.

A Failure of Journalism

Two recent editorial cartoons defined the problem. The first shows an army of news satellite trucks and minicams staked out at the Lorena Bobbitt trial. A passerby asks one of the TV crew members, "Why don't you people give this kind of coverage to the tragedy in Bosnia?" He responds, "Did someone there get his penis cut off too?"

A second cartoon shows a couple leaving a movie theater with Schindler's List on the marquee. They are shaking their heads, wondering how "such a thing" could have happened. In the foreground, you can see the headline on a newspaper in a sales box: 150,000 Dead in Bosnia; World Does Nothing.

When a recent edition of Nightline looked closely at the parallels between the Nazi Holocaust and genocide in Bosnia, two of the three "expert" guests admitted that they didn't really understand the dynamics of the war in the former Yugoslavia-and didn't think most Americans did, either. Paradoxically, 7V Guide reported that week that Bosnia was one of television's most covered foreign news stories.

Is it possible that the more we watch, the less we know?

Despite all the coverage and the courage of those who bring it to us, Bosnia represents a frightening failure of journalism-a failure of analysis, interpretation, and explanation. However shocking the images of carnage, the lack of editorial clarity about the causes and meaning of the war left us unable to perceive a connection to our own lives.

To be sure, some intellectual opinion journals and a few leading newspapers have done an excellent job of setting out the issues. But for the most part, the mass media have not. When the history of this conflict is written, future generations may wonder why so many did so little for so long.

Death in Sarajevo hits the headlines only when the atrocity is on an unspeakable mass scale, like the February 5 attack on the central market that tore sixty people into body parts and left another 200 wounded. It happened on a slownews weekend, but was followed by newspaper accounts falsely putting the event in the context of "warring factions." Lower-visibility murders had been going on almost every day. Like some daily horror-scope, the roster of the departed is duly noted and forgotten. Ten more by shelling, five by machine gun, three by starvation, one by freezing.... A stunning picture of a woman in a pool of blood grabs us for one media second. For another, the story of a little girl's diary evokes comparisons to Anne Frank. The muffled sound of mortars became part of the soundtrack of daily life.

The people of Bosnia are not just dying, they are being silenced. We rarely hear their analysis. To the Bosnians, this conflict is not just about land or nationalism or even survival. It is also about defending the principle that people from different ethnic groups can live together-a principle Americans would relate to if it were ever presented clearly to them. But it isn't, and that is partly because Western journalists and news organizations have framed and reported the issues superficially, almost invariably in terms of ethnic war, without acknowledging or, perhaps, even understanding that they are doing so.

The war's policy issues have been debated, by and large. But the performance of the media, especially of television, has not. In a picture-driven medium, what you see is what you get. But the corollary also applies: You don't get what you don't see. For starters, we never really saw how the war came to be.

From its very inception, this was a television war in a way that Vietnam was not. In Central Europe, television is not just an appliance but an instrument of power. That's why the Rumanian "revolution" started with an armed battle for control of a TV station and why Boris Yeltsin fired on the Russian parliament after its dissidents stormed a TV network.

The right-wing nationalist regimes in Belgrade and Zagreb understood the power of the tube as a political tool. First, they purged independent journalists. Then, they used their respective state-owned electronic media to mobilize and consolidate political support through crude ethnic-ideological appeals. TV propaganda pitted people living together against each other. The news was manipulated to promote distrust, grievances, and hatreds. Serbian state television initially targeted its own domestic opposition, then Croatia, and later Bosnia. Croatian television fired back. Sometimes the two stations presented the same atrocity pictures as evidence of each other's barbarism.

The American people rarely saw reporting on this media war or how it turned into a shooting war. American television was not paying much attention. We never were clearly told who was the aggressor or why. We didn't understand the neo-fascist character of the dominant ideologies in Serbia and Croatia or how undemocratic regimes there were encouraging extremists and paramilitary military staffed by thugs. Instead, events were made to seem crazy - as if all parties were equally to blame in a region with a predisposition toward chaos. ("Well, you know the Balkans!")

When the international press started paying attention, the environment had already been infected with disinformation and misinformation about who and what was responsible. Not many outlets made it clear that the war was not ordained by a higher being but began as a conscious act of policy by the regime in Belgrade.

Of course, most of us knew Sarajevo because of the 1984 Olympics-but that was all we knew. Suddenly, distant memories of sports camaraderie, of skiers in flight and skaters on the ice, turned into scenes of bloodletting. Only then did the international media move in en masse, providing dramatic images of ethnic cleansing and civilian massacres. There was no shortage of bang-bang footage of the kind TV is known for.

Then leading newspapers assigned award-winning journalists to pound away on the issues day after day. And they did an impressive job, often relying on their local colleagues. Soon, we all saw Europe's new concentration camps on TV, and were shocked by stories about desperate refugees fleeing armed onslaughts and mass rapes. Many journalists paid with their lives; more correspondents died covering three years of war in the former Yugoslavia than during a decade of fighting in Vietnam.

But while the initial coverage was intense, it was sometimes wildly inaccurate. Many mistakes flowed from omission rather than commission, from relying on information that it may have been impossible to check.

The Bosnians have been dehumanized in much of the coverage, rendered nameless and faceless, seen only as "victims," as objects-not subjects-of media attention. What are we told of their culture, their history, or the character of their resistance? Who speaks for them? Can we namc three of their leaders, or poets, or journalists, even now after three years of intense coverage? Which of their representatives gets on the air regularly enough to be known or remembered?

The Bosnians have become the classic "other," spoken of in terms of religious preference rather than national identity. Their country may have been recognized by the United Nations, but the media recognize Bosnians only as followers of the Prophet Mohammed. What Edward Said calls "orientalism" is usually reserved for the Middle East, but today it is being practiced in the center of Europe.

There is a more generic problem, too: The American television network brand of "sound-bite journalism" is especially superficial when it comes to reporting on people with foreign-sounding names and thick accents. The Bosnians might as well be from another planet. Unfortunately, they are also neophytes when it comes to waging a propaganda war. Had they invested early on in a high-powered PR firm and a slick advertising campaign, they would have had a better shot at winning friends and influencing the spin on coverage.

The "Bosnia story" has been filtered through a media system with a short attention span, where images supplant ideas, where "foreign news" itself has become an endangered species as bureaus and resources are cut back. As a result, TV news becomes a numbing blur of charge and countercharge. At a certain point, the sheer madness of it all becomes too much to bear. We become desensitized. There is no way to digest it at all because so little context is offered to advance comprehension.

Is it a surprise, then, that many tune it out as too obtuse and complicated for mere mortals to understand? Rather than empower us with information that might lead to action, the coverage deadens the brain and paralyzes the emotions.

It is one major reason why Americans don't seem to care.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on the inadequacies of the press coverage of the war; cease fire
Author:Schechter, Danny
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Apr 1, 1994
Words:3997
Previous Article:Behind the Farrakhan show.
Next Article:Si Kahn.
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