Tadeusz Mazowiecki: The Vicious Circle Of Hatred
13 December 1993
Following a gathering on the independent media in the former Yugoslavia, a seminar on the behavior of the media in crises ended recently in Strasbourg. Even though there is an abundant number of crises in Europe, the greatest attention was devoted to the behavior and functioning of newspapers, radio and television. Over eighty participants---representatives of governments, international organizations, European parliamentarians, members of the Council of Europe and journalists talked for three days on how the media should and should not behave in ``conflicts and hostile situations.'' One of the most competent participants in the seminar was Tadeusz Mazowiecki.
VREME: Let's start with an unpleasant question---why are the authorities in Belgrade angry with you, why have you been attacked in media close to them? I'll remind you---it was said that your reports were ``nonobjective, partisan, with a lot of religious and political bias.'' In one statement issued by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia government it is claimed that ``in investigating the human rights situation in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, you behaved in a discriminatory and racist way.''
MAZOWIECKI: Yes, I was practically presented as the state enemy no. 1. The Pope and then me, or the other way round. And all because I said in my first reports that the Bosnian Serbs were the ones who had committed the greatest number of atrocities at the start of conflicts. Now, unfortunately, others are doing so too. In my last report I wrote of crimes committed by Croats in central Bosnia, so that I am now being attacked by Zagreb.
* What was your personal reaction to the attacks from Serbia?
Of course, I didn't like it. But, my task is really not an easy one. I can't write reports which will make everyone happy. It mustn't be forgotten however, that I received support for my work from a lot of Serbs. I visited camps (in Mostar and elsewhere) in which Serbs were detained. In my last report I wrote that the UN Committee for implementing sanctions should ease procedures for the import of humanitarian aid, above all, medicine. I know that your situation is very difficult, that it is especially hard on the children and the elderly, and that things could deteriorate dramatically during the winter.
* Are you trying to ``make up'' for some of your earlier statements and assessments?
I didn't accept this job with the idea of being anti-Serb or anti-Croat. It is necessary to differentiate between the Serbian people and those who are responsible for military and political crimes. This of course, refers to Croats and Moslems, too.
* Are you perhaps preparing to visit Belgrade?
I don't know. I was in Belgrade last summer and I met with Milosevic (Slobodan, Serbian President) and Dobrica Cosic who was Yugoslav President at the time (who at the time ``expressed satisfaction that Mr. Mazowiecki, as a highly esteemed figure in Poland was at the head of the Committee,'' ed. note). My associates recently visited Serbia. I asked for a permanent representative in Belgrade, but we still haven't received approval.
* How do you look on the causes of all the horrors which are happening in the former Yugoslavia?
The conflict concerns the secession or partial departure from the former multi-nation state, or those states from a Communist system; at the same time there are strong and deep historical roots. There is a strong historical memory, especially concerning World War Two, which is of great significance since it was encouraged and so revived, represents, perhaps, the main cause of the present enormous hatred.
* And it resulted in ``ethnic cleansing''---a term invented to describe precisely what happened in the former Yugoslavia?
One of the main thesis I underscored in my reports was that ethnic cleansing, that terrible word which is now being used extensively, this ethnic cleansing, and if you like ``technical cleansing'' in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is not the result of this war, but its goal. This, therefore, is not the result of combat activities, but the war's goal. The goal is to remove the people and to capture territory. In implementing ethnic cleansing the most drastic means are used---pressure, intimidation, murder, even slaughter. Therefore, ``ethnic cleansing'' is not the result of combat activities, but as I have said, the main goal of the war.
* Have the goals been achieved?
Unfortunately, this has already been done, ethnic cleansing has practically been finished. All three warring sides are responsible for the crimes, just as there is suffering on all sides.
* Many have assessed the war as a religious one?
No, I don't think it's a religious war. I saw a lot of destroyed mosques in Bosnia, Catholic churches have been burned down, I know that Eastern Orthodox churches were destroyed in Croatia. But, even though this is claimed frequently, it is not a religious war; it is a war for territory.
* Is it possible to speak of a civil war?
From the point of view of the former Yugoslavia, it would be possible to talk of a civil war. But things are different now. Croatia is an independent, internationally recognized state. So is Bosnia. Therefore, this cannot be a civil war.
* Lately many politicians have said that the recognition of the former Yugoslav republics, especially Bosnia-Herzegovina, was a mistake, and that this contributed to the spreading of the war.
At the start of the Yugoslav crisis, the international community, Europe foremost, was occupied with integration, and so showed a total absence of political vision and interest. This doesn't mean that the presence of many international representatives wasn't useful. Some even lost their lives. But, there was certainly a lack of understanding of the conflicts, mistakes of judgement, which, especially in the areas where there was fighting, decreased the reputation of the international community.
* It is difficult to say this, but it seems that the West is saturated with horrendous pictures from Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that they have had enough of corpses, wounded and starving people, ruins...
Yes, the people have become used to war, its atrocities and victims. The fact that people are still dying and being killed in Bosnia, that they are desperate---all this is no longer news.
* You have not been very complimentary about the media in the former Yugoslavia?
I said that generally speaking, the media have played a negative role. This of course does not apply to all the media and to all journalists. The media encouraged hatred, through stereotypes, negative ones, of course, when speaking of the other side. That is how all the Croats became Ustashi and the Serbs Chetniks. This was done daily. Only the crimes committed by the other side were mentioned. The media in Serbia talked a lot about an alleged international conspiracy against Serbs, the Croatian media are obsessed with the syndrome of national unity and a need to oppose the enemy. When I say this, then I am thinking literally of the local press which encouraged hatred of fellow citizens of different nationalities or was directly responsible for ethnic cleansing. I repeat that this criticism does not apply to all media and all journalists.
In Croatia, there is undoubtedly, economic and political pressure on the media, the independence of the media and the journalists is limited. It seems to me that in Serbia, the greatest problem lies in the state's total control of television. This is also an obstacle to further democratization. The situation with the ethnic Albanian press in Kosovo is especially difficult since they have been forced to stop coming out or have been limited greatly.
* The responsibility of the media for the war and atrocities in the former Yugoslavia were specially mentioned at the seminar. A colleague said: If what Mr. Mazowiecki claims is true, that an article can sometimes be as lethal as a sniper, what should be done about journalists who write this way or present such a picture, what kind of an international court should deal with them?
I was very skeptical when the decision on the setting up of an international court for war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia was made. Firstly, because I knew how difficult it was to collect objective information in the field, and secondly, I remember that the Nuremberg Court was set up after, and not during the war. I have no answer to the question should a similar court be set up for journalists. I do know however, that there is a lot of talk that pressure via public opinion should be applied---both local and international pressure against these, shall we call them, dependent media. They must be told that what they sometimes do can be defined as a crime. This is perhaps more important than bringing journalists to trial. The most important thing, I repeat, is to find a way out of this vicious circle of hatred.