bosnia report
New Series No. 9/10 April - July 1999
 
Who are the real targets?
by Slavenka Drakulic

Day in day out we watch their photographs on TV and in the newspapers, accompa nied by reports on how the Serbs are defying the bombing. They stand on bridges holding hands, or gather on the square in central Belgrade where rock concerts are held on a daily basis. They have paper targets pinned to their chests. The word `target' is written in English, for the message is meant for foreigners, the West, the world that has plotted against them. Identical paper targets are handed out by their activists to people taking part in demonstrations against the bombing on the streets of German or Italian towns. Journalists report that targets are the latest fashion, big ones printed on T-shirts or tiny ones like badges worn in the buttonhole. In a short space of time the Serbs have imposed the target as their protective sign, the sign under which united, courageous and resolute they defy the whole world. By wearing it they are turning themselves into live targets, thus making it clear to everyone that the NATO bombs are meant for people, however much Western politicians may claim that this is not the case. And in order to make things easier for them, they are putting this sign on themselves so that they can be hit, they, the peaceful and innocent citizens of a small, unjustly attacked country.

These people are not afraid even to turn their children into live targets. Time Magazine published a photograph of a little girl in a red jacket holding in her hand a paper with circles. The little girl had not picked it up by herself, someone had placed it in her hands. And that someone - her father, mother, teacher, neighbour - had played with the symbolism of the target in an extraordinarily cynical way. To put that sign on a child, i.e. in this case a genuinely innocent human being, while being a citizen of Serbia, means acting with the utmost cynicism. Everyone still remembers similar photographs from Sarajevo a few years ago, in which there were children like this little girl from Belgrade. But those children did not wear targets, they were targets. In the photographs and pictures we remember, they are dead or wounded, hit by a sniper or a shell or whatever. Last year CNN showed a documentary about one such girl who had danced beautifully. In the documentary her mother is showing her dancing dress, her little bag, her shoes. After Sarajevo, when children really did represent targets, there is no way any normal person would use a target in this way. Except, of course, in the system of twisted values and inverted mean ings that is the autistic Serbian empire. So the spring sun shines in Belgrade, while the innocent citizen/targets stand listening to the concert, after which they go home. They have lunch, read the ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ papers, sleep, watch the news, go to work, shower, bake cakes. At night they are disturbed by explosions from some refinery, factory or ministry, by flames that reach the sky, by fear lest the rockets fall 500 m to the left or right. But unlike the citizens of Sarajevo, the citizens of Belgrade - despite real accidental victims - are not targets. They know this and it makes the night bearable, despite the fear. At the same time a few hundred kilometres away, other citizens of that same state of Serbia stand in the mud in the rain for days, whether on the border with Macedonia in a column 25 kilometres long, at the border post of Blace where 50,000 people are living and dying without food or medical help, or crammed into refugee camps across the border in Albania. They have no place to go back to, no lunch, no news, no concert, no native land. Nothing. They do not need a paper target, they do not need symbols. They know that they are targets, every man, woman, child. One million Albanians have already been displaced, which is only a nicer word for ethnic cleansing. But they are - Albanians. They are something different.

`The street concerts [organized in Serbian cities to protest against NATO bombing] are shameful. Their humanism would have a stronger claim if the concerts had been organized in protest against the killing of civilians in Kosova. Not a word of protest against what is happening there has come, however, from the members of the political opposition and alleged hu- manists and artists. '

Ferid Muhic, professor of philosophy at the University of Skopje, Feral Tribune
(Split), 19 April 1999

For, in this order of things in which the Serbs experience themselves as live targets and in which the target becomes the symbol of a nation's innocence, in this logical twist it becomes possible to say that the Albanians have deserved such a fate. Have they supported the UCK terrorists and an independent Kosovo? Have they called for NATO intervention? Well, here's independence for them, here's NATO for them... Those almost one million citizens of Serbia driven from their homes, those more than 50 razed Kosovo villages and who knows how many killed civilians - all this, in the mind of the person listening to the concert in central Belgrade, has nothing to do with him, any more than the bomb ing does. Nor with the citizen of Aleksinac whose house has been hit by acci dent, or with his wife lying wounded in hospital. They are devastated. Why is this happening to them? What have they done wrong? They are ordinary people who do their work, teachers, pensioners, students, not politicians. I don't know why we're being bombed, says a woman whose house has been destroyed.

And now, most of these same people - these citizens of Serbia who are not Albanians, for Albanians have long ago been excluded not just from civil but from human status, and who were not concerned by Sarajevo, or by Srebrenica, or by Dubrovnik, or by Vukovar, or even by Drenica and RaÑak - they dare to parade around with targets on their chests. For years they have refused to understand that they are at war. The war did not concern them, the war was happening some where else. But now all of a sudden they have become victims, and this is why they are wearing targets, doubtless quite unaware of the unbearable symbolism of this idea. Their hands are clean and their consciences at peace, even while their sons are in Kosovo - defending themselves, of course, from terrorists. Peaceful citizens protesting under the spring sun, or at night by the light of burning candles (another perverse symbol of peace), still refusing to understand that this has been their war ever since 1987, 1991, 1992, however much most of them may experience themselves as victims and not protagonists.

No one expects these citizens to be happy at the bÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ombing of their own country. But the autism they demonstrate is utterly horrible, incomprehensible. Along with that, to put a target on a child and imagine that in this way you are send ing a message to the world about your innocence is a grotesque lie. For the Serbs in Serbia are not the victims - the Albanians are their victims. Their as tonishing autism is reflected precisely in their refusal to understand this, even when they are being punished, when they are being bombed. They are still not asking themselves: what have we done? Have we really gone wrong somewhere? This absence of any doubt or uncertainty regarding their own actions is astound ing and terrifying. And the answer they do not want to hear is very simple. Yes, they the citizens of Serbia alone are for the most part themselves responsible for the situation in which they find themselves, they alone are responsible for the bombing, as they are responsible for the sufferings of the Albanian people and all the sufferings they caused earlier (just as the Croats, by the way, are responsible for Dretelj and the Krajina). Their responsibility lies in the fact that for over ten years already, and now through a third war, they have kept in power one and the same man: Slobodan Milosevic. Their political responsibility may be somewhat diminished by the given historical circumstances (emergence from Communism, the lack of any democratic tradition or clear political alternative), but their moral responsibility is not.

However, most Serbian citizens even today do not connect the bombing with Milosevic's rule, Milosevic's rule with their responsibility. No government, not even a dictatorship, can sustain itself without at least the tacit support of the citizens. Even today, even if they do dare say something against Milosevic, the Serbian intellectuals and opposition mostly do not mention the Albanians and their sufferings. They are quite capable of lamenting how the West did not help them, how nobody understands them, and at the same time ignoring completely the suffering of their fellow citizens, as if they did not exist. This is why not one of them can be exempted from responsibility for keeping Milosevic in power, even if they are unaware of that responsibility. They did not know about the suffering of the Albanians? They did not hear about it? A real pity. They could have heard and found out about it, if they had only wanted to. But this time too, as before, they keep on lying - in unison and as one - to the world's face. In spite of testimony, reports, recordings - in short, facts. But what is still more important is that they continue to lie to themselves, living in a closed system that they have themselves created.

This is why we are witnessing the development in Serbia of two parallel trag edies. The first is the suffering of the Albanian people, their exodus which some are already calling a genocide. There is no use now recalling (though it should not be forgotten either) that their fate has been shared by Croatians and Bosnians, and by Serbs from the Krajina as well. The second tragedy is the autism of most of the Serbian people, which is not aware of its political, moral and historical responsibility. Milosevic will be remembered in history as a criminal, and perhaps one day he will answer to a tribunal and be punished for his misdeeds. But most of the Serb people, precisely because they have been incapable of settling accounts with Milosevic, cannot go down in history simply as innocent victims of his dictatorship and Western aggression. The targets on their heroic breasts notwithstanding. So long as most Serbs behave as though they as citizens are innocent, while only the politicians are guilty - only Milosevic, or Seselj, or Draskovic - there will be no hope of anything changing. They will go on being bewildered, lying, and parading before the world in a gro tesque carnival celebration on the streets of Belgrade. Neither an eventual com promise leaving Milosevic in power, nor a total defeat anÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ d capitulation, will have any meaning unless the Serbs realize that the main task falls to them. They must do what neither the West, nor NATO, nor Soros, nor foreign capital - nobody at all - can do for them. It is up to them to overthrow not just Milosevic's re gime, but the blindness, the subservience, the opportunism, the indifference, the manipulation and the fear upon which that regime rests. In other words, they must realize that, apart from changing the regime, they have to change them selves. For a start, by seeing Albanians as people. By one, at least one, of them having some word to say about the Albanians, taking them into account, see ing their suffering, feeling compassion for them. Nowhere is there any trace of such awareness. On the contrary, it is as if there were less of it than ever be fore. For the moment the target, as a perverted symbol of the Serb state of mind, is still in the hands of the little girl whom no one is harming anyway.

This article has been translated from Zaginflatch 29, a newsletter published by the Zagreb Anarchist Movement, 10 April 1999. A slightly shorter revised version appeared in Feral Tribune (Split), 12 April 1999.

` I do believe that the bombing has reduced the political chances for the lib eral and pro-Western opposition forces in FRY, but I do not at all agree with the statement of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights [i.e. that a democratic and economic transition in Serbia is the only cure for the Kosova problem and the only hope for achieving stability in the Balkans]. I am afraid that this is a delusion. We have seen how weak the Serbian opposition has been. Even during the large-scale demonstrations organized by the Zajedno coalition [in 1996/7], only a very small part of the political spectrum involved was really democratic and concerned with human rights. The dominant forces, led by Dindic and Draskovic, were strongly nationalistic. Today, as we can see, Draskovic has joined Seselj in Milosevic's government. To believe and to insist that a small group of Belgrade intellectuals could change the political map of Serbia is utopian.'

Noel Malcolm, Feral Tribune (Split),
19 April 1999

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