Monday, 15 March 2010

Serbs, Media, Justice and Me!

Since the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, and during them, a lot of my fellow Serbs have felt that they had been “disproportionately” accused of war crimes by the Western and local media alike, hearing accusation after accusation blasted at them from their TV screens during the course of the last twenty years. Many high-ranking Serbs have been charged for this and that, eventually getting convicted based on such allegations. Serb after Serb sent to The Hague and then behind bars, and lo and behold, the majority of all the defendants - and convicts alike - at The Hague are and have been Serbs!

For years, Serbs back home in the Balkans and oustide living in the Diaspora felt that we were "demonised" by the media; depicted as the "bad guys" in the world. And worst of all, being considered as bad as Hitler and the Nazis!

I used to be bothered by all this as well many years ago as I was growing in Britain, learning my language from my parents and watching Serbian satellite TV to supplement my growing ability to speak my native tongue (I call it Serbo-Croat, but you can call it what you want!). And as I became more and more aware of my Serbian-ness – or Serbdom, or as we say Srpstvo – in my formative years, I developed a high opinion of my people, my “Serbian brothers” (Braća Srbi!), based on the belief that my people are fundamentally “good” people, from whom came many great people who achieved equally great things in their lives.

However, this was also a time when I often heard bad news about my fellow Serbs on the British news, with the same accusations of war crimes heard time and again, and when it wasn’t about what the Serbs did in recent history, the Serbs in the present time were likewise depicted very unsavourily, in such a way as to invite derision and denunciation from the British public towards my people. All this made me feel offended and even humiliated by my host country’s media, which only caused me to feel even more rebellious against such accusations and the overall "anti-Serb" attitude such accusations foster!

This attitude led me to immerse myself in the pro-Serb and pro-Milošević websites on the Internet. I’m ashamed to say it now, but back then, I found their literature and attitude inspirational! And I honestly believed that what I was discovering was “the truth” about “Western lies” used to justify anti-Serbian policies that caused harm to my people. I viewed the Hague Tribunal as a “kangaroo court”, which unjustly per-secuted rather than prosecuted my people's leaders on a routine basis, serving anti-Serb Western policies in the Balkans.

Believe it or not, I naively hoped that one day I might contribute to "freeing" my people from all those lies that demonised my people throughout the world, and I was honestly inspired and motivated by the good intention of bringing about improved relations between my people and our neighbours, with whom our relations have been strained due to recent history. I honestly thought that way.

I spent a lot of my teens and early adulthood on the net, ’cause well, hehehe (!), I didn’t have much of a social life back then, to tell you the truth!

But joking aside. There came a point in my young life that turned me around from thinking and feeling the way I describe above. And what was it that brought about this shift in me? Well, it happened when I actually decided to venture into hostile territory: to boldly learn how people in Serbia, who lived under Milošević’s régime and fought against him, view our people’s and their country’s recent history. And for me, living away from the Balkans but with access to the internet, this unknown territory was represented by websites like B92.net!

This venture practically gave me a chance to see things from the other side’s point of view, something I had previously denied myself as I found such terrain just too “anti-Serbian” for me to tolerate! But during this process, this research gave me such an education about my people’s recent history, such that none of the pro-Milošević propaganda could ever give me! And it came from people who lived in Serbia at the time, who actually witnessed the political turmoil that consumed their country for a whole decade, were conscious of the downward spiral their country was going since the late 80s, and actually tried to make a positive difference for their country and people. Looking back, I must say it was actually quite an enlightening time for me.

But bear in mind that this personal 'revolution' was not a process that started and ended overnight. Years of strongly held beliefs can't be erased so easily, and there was many a time during this journey that I felt offended by what I was reading from both fellow Serbs and people of other nationalities! Although little-by-little I started to accept opinions I had previously reviled, often I came across ideas which I still resisted and found difficult to swallow.

It felt as though everything I used to believe was true was crumbling in the face of information from people who actually knew far better about what was going on in our former Yugoslavian homeland than I personally did - or could. Each piece of difficult to accept info hit me deep within, and I would resist it by thinking, "That's not true", or, "That just goes too far", and even, "How treacherous can they be to think and write such unpatriotic bile!"

But slowly, I started accepting as true the very stories and ideas I used to believe for so long were not true, and I also started seeing the very people who "thought and wrote such unpatriotic bile" as intelligent and inspirational people that we Serbs should be proud of!

After exposing myself to the views and experiences of the anti-Milošević crowd around B92 and elsewhere on the net, I look back now and I realise that a lot of that literature was actually quite radical stuff, radical in the sense of how it differed completely from how I previously thought. And that's probably why that side of Serbia's political stage captivated me in the end!

And now, whenever I'm watching Serbian satellite TV and listen to anything Serbian nationalist leaders in Serbia and similar folk advocate (which I now know is really just recycled rubbish!), thanks to the critically insightful literature I began exploring only a few years ago, I'm now very critical of anything such politicians have to offer. While on the other hand, I can also recognise reasonable and progressive views and ideas, and also acknowledge their more respectable proponents.

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During this process, my view of the Hague Tribunal, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), also changed. From regarding it as an illegal institution funded by Western governments to further blacken my people's good name, to considering it an important institution with a very important task of shedding light on all the terrible things that have befallen many people thanks to war and nationalist politics.

For a long time, I used to think that many of the witnesses who testified against my fellow Serbs were paid by the West to lie. I also believed that whenever Serb defendants like the late Krajina Serb leader Milan Babić did plead guilty to their charges, that they did that only so they can receive a smaller number of years to serve in prison at Scheveningnen, and therefore, I questioned the validity of their confessions and considered them as good as traitors.

Of course, I thought these numerous allegations laid against Serb defendants at the dock there were as false as the original accusations aired on TV and radio years before, with the sole purpose of "dehumanising" my people! I despised hearing about them in the British media, and perhaps even more from the Serbian media!

But then, during my "period of exploration" I describe above, I visited sites that dispensed information regarding the work of the ICTY. I started reading through profile after profile of Serb defendants on trial-ch.org, and I also read through their indictments and many excerpts from trial sessions on the un.org/icty site. And not only that, I encountered many other sites that offered a lot of primary and secondary sources of info to support these allegations from victims themselves, including the renowned Srebrenica Genocide blog, run tirelessly by a Bosniak man living today in Canada.

And as I exposed myself to all this information, I started wondering, "Are confessions by these Serb defendants only given out so they can receive lesser sentences, and as a consequence, hold no value in truth?" And then I also started asking myself, "How can these witnesses, who claim to have suffered such pain and humiliation, be paid to say those things?"

What happened was I soon realised that the idea of hundreds of people getting paid to falsely accuse certain people and carry on telling those same "lies" is pratically untenable. How can anyone make hundreds of people who go to such a court to testify against specific individuals - and even more so, thousands more people back home who won't be asked to come testify - maintain a pretense for so long? Even if such a scheme was attempted in real life, it would be such a hard job keeping such people in check; ensuring that these people are subjected to the same "propaganda" year in year out, and also maintaining a level of fear lest any of them choose to shout out, "It's not true!" And many of my fellow Serbs do believe that that's the case, and that it's all happening at their people's expense! But then you've got to ask yourself, "How can you live your life thinking that the world's leaders have nothing better to do than invest millions into maintaining "lies" against your people?" That's pure paranoia, and that's not the way I want to live my life!

And another thing. There are many Serb defendants and convicts at the Hague. In fact, they constitute the majority of inmates at the Scheveningen prison. That has bothered me like many other Serbs, and I also considered that to be evidence of the Hague's anti-Serb intentions for many years.

But, during the latter stage of my re-education process(!), I remember reading an interview on the B92 website with some lawyer from the Hague, whose name I can't remember for the life of me. I've tried to find his interview on their great online archives, but I just couldn't find it. But anyway, he said the most logical thing I have ever read with regards to why so many Serbs are on the dock at the Hague.

For many people, especially where I come from, justice means balance, and even equality. But, as explained by the man in that interview, how can equality be established upon a war, in which there was such great inequality: from the beginning, comparing the military strength of all the warring sides involved; and ultimately, in the number of human beings who actually perished as a result of each side's capability of destroying the other?

So logical and rational, his interview finally explained to me in an obvious and simple way once and for all why there were so many Serbs being tried at the Hague. And along with everything else I reconciled myself with, his explanation was the icing on the cake!

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Looking back, I can see I've come full circle; from a heroically pro-Serb Diaspora patriot to a more critical, less patriotic Diaspora Serb. I retain my optimism and hope from that time, but as I've changed my attitudes, I've diverted these energies to a different direction. I was never a nationalist in the true sense of the word, not even back then; just patriotic with a sense of loyalty towards my people. But now that I accept the full gravity of my fellow Serbs' ruthless and reckless policies and actions from the 90s onwards, I've become even more anti-nationalist than ever! I've become more critical of Serbian nationalism itself and other forms of nationalism in Balkans, but I've also became critical of blind loyalty to nation and country, something many of my fellow Serbs are still prone to today. I now realise that the more I grow up, the less patriotic I become, and as a result, my views and opinions of people, both individually and generally, have become much more realistic, and therefore fairer!

I've come to terms with the awful truth, and that there is nothing I nor anyone else can do to disprove it. It was a very profound and moving process, and it wasn't easy for me to change my long held views and beliefs. And what made it difficult was my sincere belief that my people, the Serbs, are a truly good people with a strong sense of justice and a history of liberation, as opposed to imperialism. The truth is many Serbs are indeed very good people with high moral values, but many other Serbs are not so good and don't have that same high sense of morality, while many more Serbs, I believe, find themselves between good and bad and oscillating!

I believe that coming to terms with the truth, as had been stated for so long and yet denied by so many, has also raised my level of morality to a much higher lever. Of course, my intention is always to be fair towards everyone, regardless of colour, creed or country, as such conduct is fundamentally part of my nature. But it is also my intention to recognise something for what it is, whether I like it or not, and however long it takes for me to accept it.

Unfortunately, I'm well aware that thinking this way is not popular among many of my fellow Serbs, and certainly not considered "patriotic" either. Nevertheless, in the end, satyameva jayate - truth prevails!

Minor edit: 17th March, 2010. Second minor edit: 13 July, 2010.

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See also:

  • Serbs, Media, Justice and Me! contd.
  • 7 comments:

    Sam said...

    I read your blog even tho it was too long lol...But I agree on some what u have to say,many Serbs today feel like there being attacked by the media and some what is true!!..(and I'm a Bosniak/Bosnian Croat)...I feel the western media is bashing the Serbian people like they do the middle eastern people and I wish that would stop!!!..and I do believe the media does fuel the hate towards the Balkan people because the newer generation is learning today and the teachers are television and nationalists But putting media aside...The Genocide did happen my people of my both ethnicitys were murdered and still counting from the Srebrenica and Foce Massacres(Don't forget FOCE)..and many Serbs need to open there eyes like you did and hear the truth what happened to there neighbors.Germans one day had to admit and accept of what they did to its Polish and Jewish and Czech neighbors..today the Germans live with peace with there neighbors.And I believe one the Balkans will do the same..But the Serbian Government still didn't recognize the genocide they did in Easter Bosnia!!...Instead they trying chase former Bosniak politician Ejup Ganic to jail for not letting JNA take the weapons to RS to kill Bosniak and Croats....BYE!!!

    Alan Jakšić said...

    Hi Sam, it's nice to read your views. Keep them coming!

    You see, I used to think that the media fabricated and invented stories to attack my people's good name, all with the purpose of blaming my people for the Yugoslav wars of the 90s. Of course, this attitude was promoted by the Serbian state media in the nineties.

    What I realised during that "period of exploration" I go into detail in my article above, was that there is too much evidence to prove all the things I thought were not true. I also found that there are also too many witnesses to confirm the very allegations I thought were untrue. Could I really expect them all to be paid to say those things and think that way?

    And so, I slowly realised that there is no way that anyone can disprove any of these harsh accusations. Not only is that a "fool's crusade", but it's also immoral. How can you look at someone who claims to have suffered so much that they're lying, especially when they have so many people to back them up?

    And like I've described, not only was this shift in thinking a 180 degree turn, it was most of all a deeply moving experience for me. Not an easy process.

    But, I forgot to mention something in my article! One of the reasons why it was difficult for me to believe that my fellow Serbs could do so much wrong to our neighbours, was because our parents, grandparents and more distant forebears have been victims of similar wrongdoing. So how could the Western and local media accuse us of committing such terrible crimes; what about the suffering that our people have endured in our history? This also made this "re-education" process I underwent very emotional for me.

    Živili!

    Sam said...

    True..Just like so many Grandparents and parents from ww2 teaches the young Serbs about what there neighbors did to them...Deja Vu again this time its the Bosniaks and Croats teaching the young ones not to get along with its neighbors..Specially in Bosnia where all three ethnic groups are living..I see so much segregation in Bosnia its sickens me...Even tho we arrested all these war criminals(well most) but the people in RS and FBIH elect the same type of nationalists...the only difference is this guy doesn't have Criminal record YET!!!...

    Anonymous said...

    Hi Alan,

    I am afraid you just went from one extreme to another.
    Example: You said "how could all this Media be against Serbs or manufacture all this dehumanizing "news"...etc.
    Ever heard of the daughter of Kwaiti ambassador to Washington, in Washington, testify to the US Congress, acting as nurse in Kwaiti hospital, stating she had seen the Iraqis "throw babies out from incubators". Well she did the job so well that many people were brought to tears and shouted at President Bush to go and burn those Iraqis in a hurry.

    Its that simple. Yet you now have come to denying the possibility that nothing was manufactured or video doctored against the Serbs.

    Good luck with your new found "reason or logic". I hope for your sake you will not be shocked again.

    Owen said...

    All of life is a journey of exploration. Fortunately you've set about the business of finding your compass long before many people do.

    The ICTY is not a perfect institution, nothing is ever perfect, but it is a process that reveals more of the truth than would be available to us otherwise.

    The same goes for blogs and books and whatever. We always have to use our own judgment, but it's the quest for knowledge and understanding that hones that judgment, and gives us a gradually building confidence in the reasonableness of our analysis.

    That's what's important about the account you've given in this message. You've described how you went back as far as you could to basic principles, and built upwards from there, rather than relying on the framework of ideas that was handed to you by the media, community, whoever.

    Alan Jakšić said...

    That's all very true what you say Owen. But it looks like I've forgotten to mention a few other things in my article! Dammit!

    1. For me, I found the very idea of "Greater Serbia" as detailed by the Western media utterly repellent, and as far as I was concerned, completely un-Serbian.

    2. I also refused to accept that Slobodan Milošević was responsible for all the bloodshed of the 1990s and for leading that "joint criminal enterprise"; such accusations I deemed unbelievable and part of a wider scheme of slur and slander at the Serbian people's expense.

    3.For me and for many Serbs, the whole idea that we started the wars and, even worse, committed the most number of war crimes and the worst atrocities of all the sides, was completely unacceptable.

    4. And how could I forget to mention the anti-NATO demonstrations in London by diaspora Serbs in response to the bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo war, and how they were left feeling disregarded by Blair's government, whom many of them helped elect two years before, and how such sentiment has lead to general apathy among British Serbs vis-à-vis politics in the Balkans and at home in the UK?

    Rewrite Alert!!!

    Owen said...

    Alan, I'm afraid that too many Serbs in London thought that they'd established a permanent moral right to have the UK on their side. That was partly a case of propagandists believing their own propaganda, but they were also badly misled by the attitudes and opinions of the likes of John Major, Douglas Hurd et al. They should have had the perspicacity to see that Blair was coming at them from a different direction, but too many had been blinded by their own super-logicians into believing that no-one intelligent could ever understand the Balkans differently from themselves.

    It was sometimes very hard not to be convinced by the very precise and coherent analysis these people used to serve up with an air of effortless intellectual superiority, until you became aware of all the unspoken truths that were so rigorously excluded from their arguments. It wasn't always easy to see what thin ice they were skating so skilfully across.