Video of satirical song causes an uproar

Norwegian soldiers dance to lyrics about Kosovo

August 21, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PRISTINA, Kosovo - Most of the satirical songs written at the radio station KZOK in Seattle amuse listeners for a brief life, then fade from the air. But one number from 1999 about the war in the Serbian province of Kosovo has ignited a diplomatic dispute years later and halfway around the world.

The song, written by the D.J. Bob Rivers and set to the melody of the Beach Boys hit "Kokomo," ridiculed what he considered the nonchalant way the United States assumed the role of the world's policeman when it led an air war over Kosovo, a place most Americans knew little about.

The trouble started, Rivers said, when a group of Norwegian soldiers on peacekeeping duty in Kosovo came upon the song in 2002 and decided to make a rock video of it.

The 2 1/2 -minute video shows four soldiers miming to the music - dancing on watchtowers and armored trucks, wearing bulletproof vests over their bare chests, performing routines in their military compound and splashing mineral water on one another.

Over time, the tape made its way to the Internet and caught the attention of BK TV, the Serbian television station. When the station broadcast the video, it incited an uproar, and not only because of the dancing and lightly clad soldiers. What was most provocative were the song's lyrics. Verses such as "Protecting human rights, airstrikes and firefights/We'll be dropping our bombs, wherever Serbian bad guys hide," caused deep offense.

The video criticized the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, a province that officially remains part of Serbia but has been administered by the United Nations and patrolled by NATO since the 2 1/2 -month bombing campaign in 1999.

A senior adviser to Serbia's prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, said the video suggested that the NATO mission, which was meant to be evenhanded between the province's majority Albanian population and its minority Serb community, was biased.

"Such things only help the Serbian side to prove that there is no security in Kosovo, no respect for human rights and no multi-ethnicity," Agence France-Presse quoted the adviser, Slobodan Samardzic, as saying.

"The president was very shocked to learn about this," said Vuk Jeremic, the senior foreign policy adviser to President Boris Tadic of Serbia. Tadic was especially upset because the soldiers came from Norway, a country with a strong record of peace initiatives and conflict resolution, Jeremic said in an interview.

The video showed that four years after the collapse of Slobodan Milosevic's autocratic government in Serbia, the nation's image abroad is still sullied. "This is what boys from Norway think about Serbs," he said.

Norway's ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro, Hans Ola Urstad, promptly issued an apology calling the video "highly regrettable" and promised an investigation.

The original intent of the song - to question American involvement in Kosovo - had clearly been missed. "It was meant to be very lighthearted and was aimed at our own government," Rivers said in a telephone interview, but instead it was taken as propaganda.

He said that for several years he had received e-mail messages from Serbs complaining about the song.

Zoran Stanojevic, a journalist who writes a column about the Internet in the Serbian news magazine Vreme, understood that the song was not the work of Norwegian soldiers. If they were that good at satire they would be "doing stand-up on the radio," not serving in the army, he said.

"If nobody tells you it is a satire, it can sound a bit harsh," he said in a telephone interview. He blamed cultural differences for the misinterpretation. "For example, the ironic use of a love ballad - they didn't understand the idea." Most Serbs still do not know the song's origin, he said.

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