Magazine article The Spectator

The Green Man's Burden

Magazine article The Spectator

The Green Man's Burden

Article excerpt


THE world press have descended on Kosovo like carrion, competing to find mass graves. In Germany the deaths of a photographer and a reporter working for Stem magazine, who according to the defence ministry in Bonn were lured into a Serb ambush with the promise of being shown a mass grave, have attracted very wide coverage, with colleagues emphasising how experienced the dead men were and complaining about the `completely unbearable' pictures shown on German television of the photographer's corpse lying on a road south of Pristina.

The self-same colleagues have not been heard to warn that pictures of the mass graves themselves might be in dubious taste or upset the victims' families, some of which certainly have access to Western television. The assumption seems to be that the full ghastly truth of the graves has got to be seen as well as told, especially in Germany, where even the pictures of the victims of traffic accidents are disconcertingly explicit. A sort of auction is in progress and the winners will be the cameramen or women who send home the most horrible images of Serbian atrocities.

It would be absurd to imagine this hunt could be banned, but we should at least remember, in between our triumph at proving what bastards Milosevic's people are, some of the other people who will feel vindicated by the pictures. Each afternoon during the Nato bombardment of Kosovo, Rudolf Scharping, the German defence minister, held a press conference, and whenever he could he presented us with new evidence of Serb atrocities. There were days when he was certainly the market leader in this sector, others when he promised he would be able to show us something especially juicy tomorrow. The longer the bombing went on, the more he resembled a pornographer who was not just trading for money but got a genuine kick out of his dirty pictures.

What exactly did Herr Scharping see in his aerial reconnaissance photographs of possible mass graves that was so arousing? I have to say, in fairness to the man, that he may have seen nothing at all. There are those who consider that Herr Scharping has had a good war, who believe the ordeal has somehow matured and developed him as a politician, and that he has `come into his own' as the Economist put it. Certainly before the bombing started he was one of the dullest men in Bonn, emitting clouds of boredom wherever he went and exercising a powerfully repellent effect on voters who, in the general election of 1994, chose to stick with the already far from popular Helmut Kohl rather than face the awful prospect of four years of Chancellor Scharping.

But I have met many Germans who were as disgusted by Herr Scharping's Serb atrocity stories as I was myself, and who also had the impression he was enjoying himself. The atrocities did not simply serve a valuable political purpose for Herr Scharping, being the strongest motive he could offer for the bombing campaign. They also seemed to fill him to bursting point with an intoxicating sense of self-righteousness.

Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister and the leading Green in the government, made completely the opposite impression as he sought to justify the war. He recognised that there was `no innocent position' about Kosovo, whether one chose to intervene or stay out, and he remembered how in discussions with his parents he had always asked them: `Why didn't you do more to stop Hitler? …

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