Disciplining Civil War: Serbian and U.S. Press Coverage of the 1990s Conflicts in Yugoslavia

Article excerpt

Abstract

This essay explores Serbian and US print media coverage of a number of war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. Utilizing Deleuze and Guattari work on fascism, the paper examines the theoretical concepts of overcoding, micropolitics and the rhizome in order to argue that both U.S. and Serbian print media coverage of the conflicts failed to provide adequate picture of the wars. The study focuses on newspaper articles in Borba (Struggle), a major Belgrade pro-government newspaper, and in Nasa Borba (Our Struggle), a leading opposition daily from Novi Sad/Serbia, during the Srebrenica crisis (July, 1995) and the fall of the breakaway Serb Republic in Croatia, (Republic of Serbian Krajina, RSK) (August, 1995). These newspapers' portrayal of the incidents are, then, compared and contrasted to the coverage offered by the New York Times and the Washington Post for the same period. The paper also studies the pro-government Borba coverage of the conflict in Kosovo (1998-1999).

KEYWORDS: former Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Deleuze and Guattari, Eastern Europe, civil war, warlords, violence, media coverage

The first part presents the collapse of Yugoslavia and the violence which accompanied it, arguing that the understanding of the tragedy necessitates attention at the micropolitical level. On the basis of Deleuze and Guattari theoretical concepts I contend that molar explanations should co-exist with molecular analysis of sentiments and desires that invite for a new explication of the mobilization of war-like behavior in former Yugoslavia.

The second part of the paper highlights how the newspapers mentioned utilize overcoding as a strategic device to present the complexity of the civil wars. The analysis calls for a novel view to understand conflict, namely through a social practice of molecular and open discussion beneficial for a larger audience in global times.

Mass Media and the Yugoslav Conflicts

The inability to rationalize war and create a coherent story out of a mosaic of complex fractures and awkward developments is one of media's major problems, in general. The coverage of the ongoing war in Iraq illustrates this difficulty. Up to this day, it remains unclear who the insurgents really are, as broad and vague descriptions continue to create ambiguous image. For example, the New York Times characterizes the rebels as "a nasty stew" (Oppel, 2007). In addition, journalists as well as US soldiers, fail to understand the tactics and motivations of the guerrillas. War correspondent Richard Oppel describes the "astonishment" of American forces operating on the main road in western Baquba after a night in which "over the course of an hour and 15 minutes, they gunned down four teams of guerrillas trying one after the other to plant a bomb in the same spot" (2007). The fighting itself is also hard to characterize. John Burnett, a war correspondent for the National Public Radio, struggles to place in context a situation in a rural community south of Baghdad. There, a Sunni group was fighting another Sunni group when the Americans entered the village. Burnett described the perplexing standoff as "the enemy of my enemy is my enemy" (Burnett, 2007).

This paper focuses on similar complexities experienced by the media when attempting to rationalize the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the violence which accompanied it. The tragedies during the breakup (1991-1999) attracted significant attention mainly because of Yugoslavia's location in Europe and the controversial notion of the Balkans. Similarly to the coverage of the war in Iraq, the representations of the violence were irreducible to common sense. The horror of the war crimes was unimaginable and the developments on the ground were unintelligible. For these reasons the media struggled to reduce them to common sense. Complicated historical and political developments became a challenge for the ethical attitudes underpinning media's presentations of the conflicts. …