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Myth v. Reality
Publikuar më 06 tetor, 2011 në orën 23:17 ( ) English |
Rrit madhësinë e shkronjave
The gritty, often contradictory truth about our once beautiful B-92

The harsh sounding ethnic slurs and threats are all too ubiquitous: “Albos with their dirty behavior/plan took over Kosovo”; “Bomb the Albanians, let them go back to their mountains”; “Albanian terrorists who today act like gods in our Southern province will be crushed in less than three days and they will disappear as if they never even set foot on that holy Serbian soil!”

Radical ramblings of some obscure, extremist website? An ominous re-emergence of the notorious Serbian Defense League? If you think so, you’d be sadly mistaken. The above smears represent just another day’s visit to Serbia’s popular B-92 website – its “moderated,” English language comment section, to be precise.

Read it and weep. Today’s B-92 is certainly not for the faint at heart.

For those not in the know, B-92 is one of the most successful media outlets in Serbia – arguably, in all of the former Yugoslavia. It focuses on Balkan politics and culture, but extends its reach to the international realm. At one time, there was even talk of following a BBC kind of model.

If that’s the case, and not mere hype, then it’s been a major disappointment. A bitter disillusionment for some of us, who once held out such high hope for B-92. Great expectations. Dreams of a vibrant, solid alternative to the standard nationalist muck.

What could have been.

The truth is, I’ve followed B-92 intimately for over a decade, nearly each and every day, like an obsessive, devoted lover. It all started out as an exciting, exhilarating labor of love. Sadly, it has gradually transformed into something quite different. Some would even label it a Serbian nationalist Safe Haven.

It didn’t have to fall so low.

Once upon a time, not so many years ago, Belgrade’s B-92 was something really special, a kind of cause célčbre among liberal Serbs, and progressive (former) Yugoslavian citizens throughout the Balkans. Founded by the insistently individualistic Veran Matic, and at least partially financed by western-oriented NGO’s, it gradually morphed into a radical movement – experimental and arguably anarchistic.

In Guerilla Radio, British rock critic Mathew Collin recounts B-92’s halcyon beginnings, in all its defiant, history-ripping genesis. “Armed only with a stack of old punk records and a dream of freedom,” trumpets Collin’s work, “one defiant radio station waged a ten year war against Slobodan Milosevic’s dictatorship – and won.” Guerilla Radio is a fascinating, page-turning social history, a document of modern, anti-fascist rebellion.

For years, B-92 allowed English language readers to eagerly track the fates of some of Milosevic-ruled Serbia’s most prominent political prisoners. Ethnic Albanian political prisoners such as doctor/poet/human rights advocate Flora Brovina and political activist Albin Kurti, both repeatedly tortured by Serbian jailors and sentenced to trumped-up, heavy prison sentences under Milosevic’s repressive regime.

Or Serbian political prisoners like journalist Miroslav Filipovic, whose groundbreaking web-based reports on horrendous war crime atrocities committed by Serbian soldiers against ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo in the spring of 1999 resulted in his imprisonment and near death. According to his daughter Ivana, a journalist in her own right, her father’s heart would have never survived a lengthy prison sentence. Certainly not in a Serbian prison.

In effect, B-92 became my lifeline to the Balkans. But that was then, and this is now.

These days, some of B-92’s “news” stories paint quite a different picture. “Nothing but brute force can be expected from (Kosovo’s Prime Minister) Thaci,” accuses one recent blaring headline. “UNSC (Security Council) sent dangerous message, (Serbia’s) foreign minister says,” lectures another.

“Albanians try to rob, then attack Serb returnees,” warns a third, part of a continuing campaign of demonization and vilification of Albanains – as a race – all too reminiscent of the sordid Milosevic press of the 1990s. Not exactly something you want or need to promote in the Balkans.

Some critics would refer to this as editorializing-through-news. With B-92 these days, it’s not very subtle.

And that’s not all. For at least the last several years, a bizarre and sometimes inconsistent, even arbitrary CENSORSHIP has reigned at B-92’s website. You can never predict with certainty when and where the censor’s pen will fall, or why.

For example, I’ve been repeatedly censored for discussing Serbia’s World War 2 collaborationist government and homegrown fascist collusion with the Nazis – especially involving the mass murder of Serbia’s Jews.

I’ve been typically censored for calling Milorad Dodik, current strongman of Bosnia’s “Republika Srpska” a corrupt fascist, a low-life proxy of Belgrade’s, who continues to promote the Karadzic/ Mladic/ Milosevic program of the 1990s. And for daring to suggest that this “Republika Srpska” is built directly over 400 mass graves and counting – that it is built upon genocide.

I’ve been censored for demanding reparations from Serbia’s government for the 1,000s of individual survivors and victims' family members all throughout Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, as a result of Milosevic’s wars and genocidal plans.

I was inconsistently censored for demanding that B-92 launch an independent investigation into the whereabouts of Ratko Mladic, the Serbian general wanted on genocide charges in Bosnia. We were repeatedly informed by friends and colleagues that he was residing in Serbia, protected by elements of the state security sources, and in full knowledge of their president. “He’s probably within an hour from your headquarters,” I challenged, to little avail. Two months later he was suddenly “discovered” some 100 km (60 miles) outside Belgrade. Surprise!

I’ve even been censored for calling it “censorship,” for calling a spade a spade. Now that’s a tasty bit of irony. .

I’ve had sentences chopped midstream, paragraphs torn to shreds, my usually carefully shaped prose barely recognizable. And I’m hardly alone. If you train yourself to read between the lines, you may occasionally detect the voices of frustrated kindred dissident spirits.

One such poster wrote in, plainly exasperated: “… honestly I don't want to waste more time, discussing or writing because based on experience they don't publish my comments.”

Another dissident poster, determined to comment – publicly – on Kosovo’s declaration of independence (February, 2008), finally broke through the invisible barrier on his third effort:

“Dear Kosovars, This is the third attempt to try to congratulate you but for some strange reason B92 censures me. I will do it in the next days again and again until it goes through. B92 do you realize that you can not change the reality?”

One sarcastic response that followed was most revealing, even oddly compelling:

“Joe, I've been censored & edited many times and it wasn't for insulting anyone or improper language but for merely expressing myself. There were times where it took nearly 8 attempts to post the same response and whenever I would state that this was my ______ attempt to post, it would get through but it was nearly always edited for content.

“I guess it comes down,” he explains patiently, ‘to which moderator you get and how unbiased they are when reviewing your opinions. I'll be curious to see if this gets through in its authentic form. Perhaps we should just ask b92 what shift the more unbiased moderator works and we'll send all our responses at that time.”

I’ve often described the “dialogue” at B-92 as a continuing, interactive Hate Fest, and it frequently lives up to its hostile reputation. But no single event set off the fireworks like the wave of allegations of human organ trafficking by members of the Kosovo Liberation Front. First, came former Hague Tribunal Prosecutor Carla del Ponte’s tell-all memoir, in late 2008; then earlier this year, a highly controversial report emerged from so-called human rights raconteur Dick Marty.

Now in my opinion, both del Ponte and Marty have exhibited dubious integrity, both politicians extremely contentious and politically on the fringes. The evidence for their accusations seems sketchy, even as far as it goes. But here’s the rub: once such outlandish, volatile allegations are widely publicized and insistently promoted, proving that they NEVER happened becomes a Herculean task.

That hasn’t stopped B-92 from making the most of a bad situation.

Following the public allegations, B-92 went on a monomaniacal crusade. Not just one, not just two, but three news articles a day would be devoted to their mind-numbing promotion. I’m highlighting three of less than a dozen “news” headlines, all cut-and paste jobs from Serbian national-ist sources, and transmitted – not coincidentally – on February 18th of this year, the third anniversary of Kosovo’s independence.

Or as B-92 consistently deems it, the Kosovo Albanians’ UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence):

“UN was aware of organ trafficking,” lectures Beta news agency; “Organ trafficking document ‘not made in Hague,’” contends Tanjung; and finally, “Marty to address EP on March 10,” promises Politika.

Once – twice – thrice. In a single day’s “news.” As Hamlet’s guilt plagued mother observes of her onstage alter-ego: The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Needless to say, it proved a clarion call for the accompanying Hate Brigade chorus, who came out in full force.

“Who gives a rat’s behind what the Albanians do,” one such contributor begins, “all they do is cause trouble wherever they may be… It would be better for all nations if these people disappeared. BTW, Thaci, what did you and the KLA do with the bodies of the poor souls you removed kidneys from?”

“Ohh. No, no celebration in Pristina,” speculates another. “Dignitaries are afraid they’ll be without kidneys after a glass of champagne and Thaci is in no mood to celebrate frankestanian… aka Kosova.”

You almost need a discrete sub-category, just to separate out the organ-theft dark humor. All in all, just another day in B-92 land.

But the very worst I’ve ever personally experienced with B-92 occurred this spring, a few months after the initial Marty organ-snatching drama. My Kosovar work partner and I had just released a 23 page report, 18 months in the making, offering a detailed analysis of the numerous allegations of industrialized burning of hundreds of Kosovar Albanian bodies committed by Serbian forces in the spring of 1999.

At the end of March, we’d visited Belgrade and offered copies of the report to a media press conference focusing on the EU sponsored negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina.

The Belgrade press corps was under-appreciative, to say the least. Instead, they turned their heads away, scattered from us as if we lepers. But not before one of their esteemed journalists loudly accused me of being an Albanian collaborator – she’d recently spotted me colluding with ethnic Albanian “separatist” politician Orhan Rexhepi!

In fact we had met with Rexhepi quite openly in Presevo, only days before, where he’d lashed out about the highly questionable circumstances surrounding the spectacular arrest, beating and predictable conviction of nine ethnic Albanian men – the so-called Gjilani 9.

It was like a bad flashback to Communist times; I’d been suddenly, successfully denounced. Silenced. Instant persona non grata.

Determined not to let them have the last word, I sent a link for the article from an Albanian news site that had published our work to B92. Oddly enough, they allowed the link, uncensored, and more than once. Perhaps some astute staff member recalled Natasa Kandic’s December, 2004 Danas article on the cover-up of the mass burning of Albanian bodies at a Serbian industrial plant called “Mackatica.” A reprint of that article was published later that month – on B-92.

Initially, I felt validated, but I was wholly underprepared for the tempest to follow.

For weeks on end, I was subjected to a slew of abuse unprecedented even at B-92, and that’s saying a lot. My full name was bandied about, hickelty pickelty, the usual safety net of anonymity torn to pieces. Beyond that, ugly insinuations were made about certain friends, even close relatives found on the net. Not just embarrassing but potentially detrimental insinuations about some of them. It sounds like a dull cliché, but I really could not believe my eyes.

They even – deliberately or not – printed my great aunt’s maiden name. She’s 85 years old, a Polish-Jewish refugee who barely managed to escape the Holocaust, and who lost a disabled brother and nearly 100 relatives, all murdered by the Nazis. She’s always been cautiously supportive of my work. But never, then or now, could I admit to her that particular breach of “post-modern” civility. It might just be one last straw, from her not so beloved Eastern Europe. Thanks for that little gift, B-92.

Never had I felt myself or my family so violated. But then, that’s the unstated deal you make: if you determine to report the truth, especially on a site like B-92, and then dare not to use a nome-de-plume, it’s all up for grabs.

At some point, I had had enough – I finally decided to fight back.

To borrow from that courageous French writer and early human rights pioneer Emil Zola, arguing in passionate defense of the falsely accused French Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus, J’accuse! I also accuse:

-I accuse B-92 of an utter lack of objectivity, a lack of transparency, an absence of diversity, a distinct deficiency of independent investigation
-I accuse B-92 of default nationalism and nationalist propaganda
-I accuse B-92 of exploiting prejudice and racism
-I accuse B-92 of fostering an atmosphere of intolerance and intimidation (retribution)
-I accuse B-92 of capricious, politically-motivated censorship
-I accuse B-92 of marginalizing and/or silencing dissidents – most of all the Belgrade intellectual dissidents like Sonia Biserko, outspoken president of Serbia’s Helsinki Committee for Human Rights

Yet the picture is not completely bleak. B-92 does manage to facilitate bits and pieces of legitimate news and inter-ethnic communication, occasionally offering moments of rare but sublime revelation. Some historical eye-opener, hitherto unknown to me, like the secret massacre of some 4,000 Albanian Partisans in 1945 – the so-called Bar Massacre – suddenly comes to light, thanks to a new dissident poster, undeterred by the omnipresent threats, the censorship, the not so subtle intimidation

Nor dare I omit courageous individual journalists like B-92 Insider’s Brankica Stanković, whose uncharacteristic investigative probing of Belgrade’s criminal underworld, its football mafias and shady, inter-connecting links with Serbian “security services” – not to mention her ongoing investigation into the murky political background of former Prime Minister Djindjic’s 2003 assassination – has earned her 24-hour-a-day plainclothes police protection. The price of truth-telling can be a steep one indeed.

Such a level of personal integrity is remarkable, reminding us of the promise that was once B-92.

Likewise, the genuinely dissident, alternative Serbian website and radio outlet Pescanik (“Hourglass”) continues to flourish, though only after a complete and total break with its former partner, B-92. The separation came in steps; ultimately, the founding Svetlana’s admitted to us, enough was enough. “We simply could not accept the level of anti-Albanian prejudice that we found, that was tolerated.”

And finally, on rare occasion, a thoughtful meditation on inter ethnic relations suddenly pops up on B-92, like a beautiful tulip rising from a mountain of old debris, harboring the promise of new dawn. I relay it as written:

“I don't hate anyone. I just think Serbs had enough and deserve to be left in peace in Kosovo and have a better life which Kosovo is willing to help them with. I am Kosovar and never forget what Serbs has done in Kosovo. But it’s time to move on as other parts of the world have done and not carry on passing hate and trouble to our new generations…

“For God's sake leave the personal interest on the side and look straight and enjoy the life for everyone in peace with no fear of what's tomorrow is bringing.”

Robert Leonard Rope
San Francisco

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