[Guardian - 14 March 1997]
Letters to the Editor - Battle rages over Bosnia
Whatever his motives, Thomas Deichmann's article on the famous ITN picture of Trnopolje camp and your reaction to it raise interesting questions about modern war reporting, particularly by television (A shot that's still ringing, March 14).
The demand for short, hard hitting segments with clear villains and heroes forces cameramen to look for powerful symbols. In the case of the Trnopolje picture, the barbed wire represents forced confinement, the emaciated Fikret Alic, starvation. The two together spell concentration camp.
Yet neither symbol was entirely true. Fikret Alic and his fellows were confined not by barbed wire but by armed Serb guards - even the ITN footage makes it clear that the wire itself would not have deterred a serious attempt at escape.
And Fikret Alic's emaciated condition was an exception. (See your own Maggie O'Kane's report on July 29 that Trnopolje was one of the better camps: "They are fed there and the villagers can bring them supplies.") Wider shots on the ITN film even reveal men with paunches hanging over their belts.
So the symbolic picture was not quite accurate. As Channel 4's Ian Williams has said of the film from which the still was taken: "In a sense it's almost the power of the images going two steps ahead of the proof that went with them." (Press Gazette, August 17 1992). The picture then became even less accurate when taken out of context by the British tabloids and labelled "Belsen 92". These are important points for debate but unfortunately debate has been stifled by ITN's decision to reach for its lawyers.
4 Northumberland Place, London W2 5BS.
Luke Harding may be entitled to tell the world that he does not like Living Marxism, me or Thomas Deichmann. But it might have been more useful for your readers if he had bothered to deal with the actual evidence that Deichmann has presented, which shows exactly how ITN's award-winning reports from Trnopolje camp in August 1992 fooled the world. Instead, on this central issue, there is a resounding silence.
All right, I admit that I wear good suits, went to university, sometimes drink "vin rouge" and am a Communist-Fascist-Serbomaniac-Alien-From-the-X-Files. But what has nay of that to do with the truth revealed by the ITN rushes from Trnopolje, which Deichmann showed in public for the first time last week?
Editor, Living Marxism.
27 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3XX.
Luke Harding outlines the support given to the Serbian nationalists by the Revolutionary Communist Party. For those of us who were in Bosnia during the war their claims are sick.
Why was almost all the trade-union and labour movement in Britain silent over mass murder, rape and ethnic cleansing?
The RCP only says openly what many others thought: "Yugoslavia represented workers' unity. It was broken up by German capitalism. Milosevic tried to defend Yugoslavia even if he did some bad things." There were a thousand variations on this theme.
It is becoming clear how deep were the philosophical ties that bound many on the left, whether Stalinist, anti-Stalinist or Social Democrat, with the regimes in Eastern Europe. When Belgrade's ethnic cleansers invaded Bosnia, these British "socialists" were blinded by the red stars on the hats of Milosevic's troops and the word socialist over his party's HQ. They share his view that ordinary people are expendable in the greater cause.
But thanks to the efforts of Guardian reporters like Ed Vulliamy, Maggie O'Kane and others, as well as honest people from ex-Yugoslavia who were able to make their voices heard, many people in the labour movement were able to see their way to taking sides in the war.
Workers Aid for Bosnia, PO Box 9, Eccles SO, Salford M30 7FX.
Why does Luke Harding have a problem with the fact that RCP boys wear Adidas t-shirts and RCP girls wear "little black dresses and modish trouser suits"? In the era of the Spice Girls, Harding should not be so easily flummoxed by girls in dresses talking about politics. If one of the worst things about the RCP is that they are trendy and have some "girl power" of their own, maybe they should make a record too.
Katy Sims & Lara Moore.
University of Brighton, Lewes Road, Brighton BN2 4AT.
Luke Harding provides us with a good example of Martin Bell's dictum that mere objectivity give way to the requirements of a greater "moral enterprise". Unwilling to address the main issue, for this requires an objectively dispassionate eye, Harding instead treats us to a deluge of petty slander. Surely the question as to whether the Trnopolje footage was as misleading as Thomas Deichmann alleges is worthy of more serious attention?
(Dr) Stephen Bowler.
Department of Politics, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TU.