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Balkans war - legacy of terror
The Times (UK) / June 21 1999
Nato bombings have left Serbia a guilt-free zone
IT TOOK America two decades to come to terms with the scars of Vietnam; Germany did not undertake self-examination until Willy Brandt knelt in the Warsaw ghetto in 1970; and it was not until Pinochet's arrest that Chile was thrown into renewed soul-searching. In Belgrade it will be some time before the Serbs acknowledge the atrocities of Kosovo.
It is partly that the after-shock of the bombing has left the country emotionally and physically wounded. Newspapers are already advising citizens to take precautions for winter because of anticipated shortages of electricity and heating. Thousands of young soldiers are dead in what many view as a senseless war and those returning from Kosovo are demoralised by the long-running Nato defeat.
This weekend's refugee demonstrations were small but significant and several of the church sermons spoke out against President Milosevic. Many seasoned observers believe this is the end of his regime. "I never said it before, but I believe this is the end of him," the historian Aleksa Djilas said. "People are angry, he has got to go." Added to the anger is the strong sense of Serb pride and victimisation. There is also a deep suspicion of anything the West says, in this case that up to 10,000 ethnic Albanians might have been killed by Serb forces.
This is partly because of a news blackout. The state of war means that most of the newspapers including Danas, the most progressive daily, are censored. RTS, Serb state television avoids mentioning the refugees or the war crimes investigations. Magazines are silent, and only private newsletters try to tackle the subject.
But even the informed liberals who have access to the Internet and are able to navigate themselves around blocked websites or who are able to listen to Radio Free Europe still have doubts about the extent of the killing. "They say 10,000 so easily, but there are no facts yet," said Dusan, a 24-year-old who worked for B92, the progressive radio station closed during the war because of its outspoken policies. "I know there are massacres in Kosovo, but how does Nato get that figure after only one week? They have a propaganda machine the same way Milosevic does, they are lying like everybody else." Dusan did not serve in the army because he is a student, but most of his friends did, which contributes to some of the collective disbelief. No one believes that someone they knew could commit such crimes. One of his friends is in a mental hospital having suffered a nervous breakdown after serving in the army. Dusan believes, like many educated Serbs, that heinous things happened, but he is reluctant to admit that they were committed by the regular army.
Mr Djilas, son of the Yugoslav dissident, Milovan Djilas, believes it will be some time before people face what happened in Kosovo because they are unified in their anger over the bombing. He said that while he knew ethnic Albanians were beaten he is sceptical about the torture chambers: "Why would the police leave the equipment behind?" Many of the Serbs do not even know about the crimes and with the political situation so tense they may never become enlightened. But even if they do, would there be a collective sense of guilt or unified anguish? Mr Djilas doubts it. "There is not a single case in history in which a group of people can express collective guilt during a conflict, especially in front of the aggressor." Four years ago in the aftermath of Bosnia, Serbia did experience some soul-searching. There were protests against the siege of Sarajevo and films afterwards depicting the horror. Radovan Karadzic's deputy, Nikola Koljevic, the man who said about Sarajevans: "Bomb them until they are on the edge of madness," committed suicide.
But Kosovo is different, the bombing has brought on blind anger.
Those who have been indicted for war crimes are seen by many as local heroes. There are even Radovan Karadzic T-shirts. "Once you have been bombed, your order changes," said Mr Djilas. "If there is an ethnic conflict, there are no good guys."
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