Yugoslavia begins the spin on its 'magnificent victory'

Propaganda indicates life in a parallel universe

June 20, 1999

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- There's a great sense of relief here now that Yugoslavia has accepted NATO's terms for a halt in the bombing and has withdrawn its forces from Kosovo.

For the first time in weeks, young men who feared being drafted into the army have come out of hiding.

No one is mentioning Kosovo at this moment. Suddenly, one no longer hears "We will not give up Kosovo!" The illusion of Kosovo as "the soul and the heart" of Serbia, without which there is no life, turned out to be a myth.

The state-controlled media immediately interpreted this sense of relief as support for the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and a "magnificent victory over the world's strongest military power!"

This, of course, is what the pro-regime propaganda machine has been doing for the past 10 years: presenting obvious diplomatic, political and military defeats as great victories.

The process is always the same: political failures with catastrophic consequences are transformed into great victories through rallies, letters of support and TV, radio and newspaper articles claiming to reflect nonexistent "public opinion."

It's as if Belgrade existed in a parallel universe.

The day after the agreement was reached, the headlines in the influential pro-regime newspaper Politika screamed "The victory of the policy of peace conducted by The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and President Milosevic"; "Intellectual idiots leading the new world order"; and "At the end of this horrible story, the whole world will carry us on their shoulders."

And now that the world's greatest superpower has been "defeated," it seems that the only job left to do is the final defeat of the domestic "traitors," "the fifth column," or, in other words, members of the independent media, opposition politicians and the remains of the intellectual opposition.

It is this Serbia against which NATO went to war. The Western media could even indulge in the secret pleasure of its destruction.

But behind this image is another Serbia: a victimized, miserable, suffering nation. Perhaps as many as half her people -- those who did not vote to support the regime -- have sunk into misery and poverty, without the strength or power to awake from the nightmare.

All of Serbia's official and unofficial wars have been lost. Many people have died, and much has been destroyed. Refugees are everywhere. Crimes were committed in the name of the people.

Serbia, a country with significant economic, cultural and scientific potential, has become the pariah of the world. Its citizens are hostages of wrong-headed and evil policies. They have become prisoners of prejudice.

Those leading Serbia are turning her tragedy into a comedy. They are trying to persuade their people that what everyone can see and hear is not true. The real, suffering Serbia is still waiting to be rescued by leaders who can bring about real change.

But until they arrive, the country will continue to exist in a parallel universe, ruled by unscrupulous politicians and imprisoned by poverty and misery.

The name of this journalist is withheld for protection against retaliation by the Yugoslav government. Readers may write to the author in care of Global Beat Syndicate, 418 Lafayette St., Suite 554, New York, N.Y. 10003, or visit its Web site at: www.nyu.edu/global beat/syndicate.

Pub Date: 06/20/99

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