The Serbs are confronted with a far more difficult task. They must gather the truth slowly, painstakingly, taking no shortcuts, with first and last name. Unlike American PBS television, their witnesses must have a face. Videotapes are not enough. Serbs must look each other in the eyes
by Ljiljana SMAJLOVIC and Ivana JANKOVIC
This conflict is all the more important for the Serbian public because the facts relate to Serbian crimes in Kosovo. At the time when Filipovic was under the threat of the military justice system, Serbian independent journalists and the critical public all rose in his defense, not asking what, when, why or how he had written but defending his right to publish under his byline the facts that were presented in his reports no matter how unpleasant those facts were for any government institution.
According to general consensus, that was neither the time nor the place to talk about whether Miroslav Filipovic, who has accused Yugoslav security forces of the most serious war crimes in Kosovo of all reporters thus far (not even Albanian sources, as far as we know, made the claim, like Filipovic, that the Yugoslav Army is responsible for the deaths "of at least 800 Albanian children under the age of five"), had reliable information at his disposal. The independent public defended the right of Miroslav Filipovic to perform his professional work the best he knew and saw fit; it did not defend the truthfulness of his reports in and of themselves but reporter Miroslav Filipovic from the accusations of the regime that he was involved in spying instead of reporting.
There is some irony in the fact that Vojislav Kostunica was later to have the role of pardoning Miroslav Filipovic in the capacity of FRY president. Also, there must be some sort of poetic justice in the fact that after the October 5 change in government, the Chief of Staff of the Yugoslav Army maligned by Filipovic, Nebojsa Pavkovic, had to personally recommend that he be pardoned. At the same time he probably condemned the immense stupidity which led the Yugoslav Army to accuse Filipovic of spying and of slander in the same breath. Namely, the two accusations are mutually exclusive: Filipovic must have either been spying on the Army, which would mean that he was gathering accurate information, or slandering the Army, which would mean that the information he was presenting was false. In other words, the Yugoslav Army is either a criminal institution or one that has been slandered.
After October 5 it seemed that no one in Serbia had either the stomach or the wish to resolve this dilemma, least of all Miroslav Filipovic himself. Despite the fact that immediately after his release he uttered the following sentence, which was taken as a leitmotif on a IWPR Internet site dedicated to the Filipovic case: "My first priority is to vindicate myself and my stories, to prove beyond doubt that I wrote nothing but the truth." In order to resolve this dilemma in "the new Serbia", NIN had to visit the Serbian Government and its premier, Zoran Djindjic, at the beginning of February. The motive was the news that the already acclaimed journalist had been appointed to the function of secretary for information in that government as a "cadre" of the Democratic Party, of which he has been a member for several years. The party did not react and Filipovic suddenly withdrew from the function with the explanation that he was dissatisfied with the organization of the ministry.
The silence in Serbia about this case resumed as did silence regarding Kosovo crimes. Filipovic himself responded angrily and nervously when this silence was interrupted by his London editor, Tony Borden, with a series of articles reprinted in the Belgrade paper Danas. In the articles Borden tried to reconstruct the sequence of events and affirm Filipovic's credibility. He offered a relatively complex but superficially convincing version of events that explains how it is possible that in "liberated Serbia" Miroslav Filipovic and all of his numerous sources of information, among them allegedly a senior military intelligence officer and hundreds of Kraljevo reservists, as well as the authors and participants of a detailed army survey on morale in the army, and witnesses of countless crimes against innocent Albanian civilians could all suddenly disappear. People who wanted to testify against war criminals seemed to have suddenly vanished into thin air in liberated Serbia.
"My sources walk through the town," Miroslav Filipovic told the Banja Luka magazine Reporter in May. "They told me that, in case of a trial, they would testify in court and repeat everything they had told me." While Milosevic was still in power, they risked accusing him of war crimes albeit anonymously. When he fell, it was as if they didn't want to deal with it anymore. Everything can be reduced to the fact that the report on the morale situation in the Army, whose "revelation" by IWPR allegedly influenced Milosevic to refrain from military aggression against Montenegro, actually existed (a senior military intelligence officer one March morning invited Filipovic for a coffee and gave him the top secret report in his office!); however, Filipovic destroyed it for fear of the Police and the intelligence officer later reconsidered and no longer wants to testify, liberated Serbia or not.
NIN's reporters went to work and found the website where nothing was even close to being as clear as Borden would like the reader to believe. Not only are there no stories there about chopped off heads of little children but by lingering for a while on the PBS site it was possible to establish that these interviews were broadcast as far back as February 22 of last year; that is, a full month before Filipovic, according to Borden, heard of the secret army report and the intended attack on Montenegro for the first time. And in Filipovic's article these same officers are already discussing the army survey and the planned aggression against Montenegro in some detail.
All of this has far greater significance for Serbia, of course, then an editorial squabble with London, even though that squabble broke to the surface in Belgrade when Filipovic, in a letter to "Danas", suddenly refuted the existence of both the army report and of the officer who allegedly gave it to him. Something is obviously wrong with IWPR's credibility: either their reporter is lying or the editor is lying or they are both lying. In an interview with NIN, Tony Borden says that he still believes Filipovic as a writer but that he thinks that Filipovic is "in shock" after his article was published in a domestic paper and that as a result of this shock he made "a bad decision" but "it is not my place to judge him". (Before this, however, both of them expressed public horror on several occasions over the fact that Serbia was "not ready" to publish Filipovic's articles.)
Borden admits that he did not even make the attempt to personally convince himself of the existence of the contentious army report (which in the meanwhile has disappeared). It is interesting that the editor has publicly called his reporter a liar (regarding Filipovic's claim that he has withdrawn from journalism, Borden reported that Filipovic is still on the IWPR payroll and that he recently published a new text), but he still believes him with respect to monstrous Serbian war crimes. When asked by NIN whether, perhaps, from the start he was inclined to uncritically accept any alleged evidence for Serbian war crimes, no matter how horrible they may have been, Borden said: "That is an excellent question. That is the most difficult of questions."
The damage which the reporter and the editor have inflicted on each other and on the credibility of their online magazine is nowhere near as great or as significant as the potential damage which failure to believe the two of them may have on the Serbian public, which is not predisposed to believe that the Serbs committed war crimes in Kosovo in any case.
Miroslav Filipovic is right when he says that he doesn't have to do everything himself and it is difficult to hold it against him when he says that it is enough on his part to have been persecuted under the Milosevic regime. The Serbian public cannot sit and wait for someone for someone else to risk familial bliss and a clear conscience on its behalf while it cheers him on and gives him thumbs up or down. The fact that IWPR has been caught in a bind must not be used to smooth over journalistic investigations of the Serbian role in the war. During the time of the bombing all of us here were pulling out the stops to prove that no Serbian crimes in Kosovo could serve as justification for the war crimes which NATO committed against the Serbs. However, if that is true, then it is also true that journalistic sloppiness or irresponsibility on the part of IWPR cannot pardon the Serbian press from responsibility for its vision of the war. There is no more Milosevic to serve as our excuse.
False Western propaganda is also a poor excuse for lack of action. Tony Borden inadvertently gave himself away when he said, at a ceremony at which Filipovic received an award for online journalism: "Filipovic has undertaken the very kind of truthful reporting that the international community is encouraging among the Serbs." Western leaders, the people who organized and headed the bombing of Yugoslavia, are probably more than satisfied with a version of reality in which the Yugoslav Army, and the Yugoslav People's Army before it, have been systematically killing somebody's children throughout the former Yugoslavia for the past 10 years. They will be easily satisfied by the journalistic revelations of IWPR. They will not listen to Filipovic's cries and denials.
The Serbs are confronted with a far more difficult task. They must gather the truth slowly, painstakingly, taking no shortcuts, with first and last name. Unlike American PBS television, their witnesses must have a face. Videotapes are not enough. Serbs must look each other in the eyes.
One field commander admitted he watched in horror as a soldier decapitated a three-year-old boy in front of his family. Another described how tanks in his unit indiscriminately shelled Albanian villages before paramilitary police moved in and massacred the survivors.
The shocking confessions were made by officers who took part in a survey commissioned by the Army Intelligence Unit in January and February this year. They say the internal report gives an insight into the scale of the Kosovo massacres for the first time - and they claim to be shocked by the enormity of the crimes. Particularly disturbing are the combined testimonies of field officers, which suggest that JNA (editor's correction) [in original text VJ] units were responsible for the deaths of at least 800 Albanian children below the age of five.
Several officers interviewed in the survey told IWPR (Institute for War and Peace Reporting) the research was aimed at gauging their morale against the backdrop of growing tension between Serbia and Montenegro. The veterans said they were appalled by the prospect of mounting a military campaign against their ethnic cousins.
They claimed to have been traumatized by what they had seen in Kosovo and some had even taken to drink in a bid to blot out the memories.
One officer, Drazen, who took part in the Kosovo campaign, said, "I watched with my own eyes as a reservist lined up around 30 Albanian women and children against a wall. I thought he just wanted to frighten them, but then he crouched down behind an anti-aircraft machine-gun and pulled the trigger. The half-inch bullets just tore their bodies apart. It looked like a scene from a cheap movie, but it really happened."
Drazen concludes, "I don't know how I will live with these memories, how I'll be able to raise my own children. I'm not willing to accept the collective guilt. I want to see those who committed these atrocities stand trial for their crimes." He added, "My grandmother is Montenegrin. I'd rather kill myself than go through all that again in Montenegro."
For many of the officers, Belgrade's propaganda is wearing thin. The commander of one tank unit was quick to dismiss Serbian claims that the Kosovo campaign was aimed at crushing Albanian separatists. "For the entire time I was in Kosovo, I never saw a single enemy soldier and my unit was never once involved in firing at military targets."
He said state-of-the-art tanks were sent out against defenseless Albanian villages. "The tanks, which cost $2.5 million each, were used to slaughter Albanian children," said the officer. "I am ashamed."
A reconnaissance officer for an engineering brigade said Yugoslav Army reservists in Kosovo ran amok while their commanders did little to intervene, "During one ethnic cleansing operation in a village in south-eastern Kosovo, we gave the villagers half an hour to leave their homes. They were standing in a long line along the road leading out of the settlement.
"A reservist nicknamed Crni (Black) went up to an old man who was holding a child aged around three or four. He grabbed the toddler from the man's arms and demanded a ransom of 20,000 German marks. The Albanian only had 5,000. Crni took the child by the hair, pulled out a knife and hacked off its head. "'5,000 is only enough for the body,' he said and walked off past the other villagers, carrying the child's head by its hair."
Vladimir went on, "All of this took place in front of dozens of people. We were all in a state of shock: some soldiers vomited, while our young second lieutenant fainted at the terrible sight of the headless body writhing in the dust.
"Crni was later declared insane, discharged and sent home. But he is still free to walk the streets, even though he committed this terrible crime."
One retired veteran of the wars in Bosnia and Croatia says the Yugoslav Army has been responsible for the deaths of countless children over the past decade.
"I was trained at the country's top military academies and commanded a crack infantry unit," he said. "Kosovo was the third occasion the army was responsible for the deaths of children. I didn't see so much of it in Kosovo because I was more senior by that time -- but I fought on the front line in Croatia and saw some terrible things then."
(The remainder of the original text published on April 4, 2000 cites Baskim Hisari, a representative of the Foundation for Humanitarian Law in Pristina, who "testified" regarding war crimes committed by the Yugoslav Army at an international conference in Ulcinj entitled "The Truth, Responsibility and Reconciliation". From the article it is not clear whether Filipovic himself attended this conference.)
"... I really must deny an alleged connection and conversation with any officer of the Yugoslav Army, including 'an officer in the army intelligence service' and especially my alleged knowledge of the existence of 'an eight-page report' investigating army morale. Maybe such an officer exists, maybe such a report exists as well but I never had it in my hands nor have I ever discussed such a topic with any person, including any officer." (Miroslav Filipovic, "Danas", April 11, 2001)
"In spring of 2000, he personally confirmed the existence of a military report to IWPR editors by telephone. Approximately 20 days ago, IWPR again discussed the eentire case in detail will Mr Filipovic who on March 8 of this year sent me an email stating: 'A year ago I had this document in my hands. It was given to me so I could publish parts of it and thus prevent Milosevic from doing something ugly in Montenegro. I assume that it is a "top secret" document and that we should not even be talking about it like this.' The same day, in another message, he wrote me: 'I stand behind all my texts and acknowledge them as my own. Of course I stand behind the factual information which I cited in my texts. The events which I described actually occurred and I actually spoke with these people.'" (Anthony Borden, "Danas", April 18, 2001)
"These are topics that cannot be talked about in Serbia: relations with the Army, internal relations in the Army, these things still are not discussed publicly. The problem with the intellectual part of the Serbian people is that it is not ready to talk about the bad things we did to other people, and they, of course, did to us. And not only is there a lack of readiness but there is also a tendency to deny, to contest. I have done enough by being (and I still am) the first and only one to talk about this and by being sentenced to prison for it." (Miroslav Filipovic, April 17, 2001, when asked by NIN whether he had the document and whether he was acquainted with the officer)