Words before the War: Milosevic's Use of Mass Media Band Rhetoric to Provoke Ethnopolitical Conflict in Former Yugoslavia (1)

By Bozic-Roberson, Agneza | East European Quarterly, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview
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Words before the War: Milosevic's Use of Mass Media Band Rhetoric to Provoke Ethnopolitical Conflict in Former Yugoslavia (1)

Bozic-Roberson, Agneza, East European Quarterly


Many prominent analysts of the Yugoslav conflict maintain that Yugoslav disintegration was in many ways the logical outcome of Milosevic's policies. In an attempt to present one of the ways in which Milosevic's policies influenced the outbreak of the war in the former Yugoslavia, this study turns to the frequently mentioned but seldom analyzed Milosevic's political tool: Milosevic's use of political communication through rhetoric and the mass media.

The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to examine the role of Milosevic's rhetoric and his manipulation of the mass media in the politicization of ethnicity in former Yugoslavia. The politicization of ethnicity is a process by which ethnic differences are emphasized and then utilized by ethnic leaders to achieve political ends. In many ways this research remains faithful to Rothschild's views on ethnopolitics: ethnic assertiveness and violence are not the result of some primordial aspect of ethnicity, but rather is the product of ethnic entrepreneurship. These ethnic entrepreneurs, with a conscious interest in mobilizing ethnicity, are given this opportunity in transitional societies in which politicized ethnicity has become the crucial principle of political legitimation and delegitimation of systems, states and regimes. (2) Through the process of politicization, the psycho-cultural power of ethnicity can be turned into a source of hatred and stereotyping that can be ultimately mobilized into a confrontational form of nationalism. In these cases the politicization of ethnicity can result in violent outcomes, i.e., ethno-political conflict.

Ethnic entrepreneurs have a wide variety of tools and mechanisms at their disposal by which they can accomplish the task of the politicization of ethnicity. This study will focus on the use of political communication, specifically, mass media and political rhetoric. Communication is essential to politics and offers a powerful strategic tool that can be used by politicians to influence public knowledge, beliefs and action on political matters. (3) We are interested in finding the meaning of political messages and how this meaning leads to political consequences, in this case, violent inter-ethnic conflict. We are also interested in the role the mass media plays as the mediator between the people and politics.

Since Yugoslavia was a multiethnic state, leaders who would assume the role of the spokesperson of their nation or ethnic group, could choose to respect or violate the ethnic balance with other ethnic groups. The use of communication can be especially dangerous if the speaker chooses to instigate fear of others or create malevolent impression of "other." Since ethnic problems usually exist in the context of economic and political crisis, the leader has a choice whether to deal with the problems in the productive manner or to create fear and hate and direct major frustrations of his people against specific groups. (4)

Through analysis of Milosevic's communication tactics we are looking for the following uses of rhetoric and mass media: Are the messages of his public speeches intended to promote unification of one ethnic group? Is the unification of one ethnic group promoted at the expense of other ethnic group(s)? How does the media treat the members of other ethnic groups, their role in history and their leadership? Finally, how is the affirmation of unity and identity of one people perceived by other nations and ethnic groups of the former Yugoslavia?

Milosevic and the Politicization of Ethnicity #l the Former Yugoslavia

Milosevic was the first leader in the former Yugoslavia who realized the power of ethnicity, or as he referred to it "of the people." He used political rhetoric and mass media to capitalize on the pervading economic crisis in Yugoslavia and the unresolved grievances of the Serbs of Kosovo who complained of the expulsion of the Serbs under the pressure of Albanian separatists.

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Words before the War: Milosevic's Use of Mass Media Band Rhetoric to Provoke Ethnopolitical Conflict in Former Yugoslavia (1)


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