Hidden side of the Yugoslav war
The pictures they don't want you to see
The British government has banned an exhibition of photographs showing atrocities
committed against Serbs in the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. Living
Marxism went to Serbia to get the full story and some of the pictures
from the forbidden exhibition. They are published in this special section.
The Belgrade-based exhibition was banned by the Department of Trade and
Industry on 13 January 1993, under sanctions imposed on Serbia by the United
Nations. Croatian and Muslim groups from the former Yugoslavia have been
allowed to stage their own exhibitions of atrocity photographs in Britain
Living Marxism takes no side in the Yugoslav conflict. But we have
sought to expose the distorted way in which this war has been presented
to people in the West. In particular, we have opposed the dishonest campaign
to demonise and scapegoat the Serbs----a campaign which the British ban
on the exhibition has reinforced.
Publishing these pictures is part of Living Marxism's attempt to
help set the record straight. Judge for yourself who is telling the truth.
The forbidden exhibition
When she started working on a project about Serbs killed in the Second World
War for the Serbian Academy of Sciences in 1990, Bojana Isakovic never imagined
that two years later she would stage an exhibition about Serbs killed in
a new war.
The original project involved recording the excavation and disinterment
of the bones of thousands of Serbs killed and thrown into pits by the Croatian
Ustashe regime in the Second World War. 'But when war broke out in 1991,
I just turned towards recording the current developments', says Isakovic.
The site where the bones were buried was destroyed by the Croats during
the current war. All that remains for posterity are the photographs in Isakovic's
exhibition (see picture, p22).
Intended as an 'encounter between the living and the dead Serbs', the exhibition
opened at the Museum of Applied Arts in Belgrade on 29 September 1992. Isakovic
says that it is a challenge to all those who want to bury the past or rewrite
history to suit their purposes in the present: 'Croatia is trying to sanitise
its history. So is Germany. Croatia is simply following in the footsteps
of Germany. Who was the first to mention the "concentration camps"
in Bosnia? Germany. And now Germany wants some kind of Nuremberg trial for
Isakovic feels the British ban on the exhibition is typical of the attitude
of the Western powers which she blames for the disintegration of Yugoslavia.
She says her pictures should be shown because they tell an untold story
about the Yugoslav war.
'It is understandable that the Americans and Europeans don't want to show
our pictures to their people - because they are the authors of these pictures.
'I think it is Europe that is under a blockade. We have the opportunity
on our TV to watch Sky, BBC and CNN all night long, so we know what is going
on in Europe and the United States - but you don't know what is going on
'For two years, official England has been involved in a kind of propaganda
against the Serbs, or at least it has been hiding the truth. If people in
Britain saw the exhibition they would start asking questions. And I don't
think the British government wants this.'
- Bojana Isakovic is the organiser of the exhibition, 'Genocide Against
A selective silence
When the British government slapped a sanctions ban on a photo exhibition
showing atrocities against the Serbs, Joan Phillips went to Belgrade to
get the full story - and the photographs
It is embarrassing being British in Belgrade these days; embarrassing trying
to explain to angry Serbs why the British media tells so many lies about
them; embarrassing trying to explain why they are the only people in the
former Yugoslavia being made to suffer Western sanctions.
It is even worse being a Western journalist in Belgrade; sitting in a press
conference with Krajina's president, Goran Hadzic, and listening to the
Serbs being assailed by other journalists for wrongdoing in Krajina when
their own people have just been massacred in their hundreds by Croatian
Krajina is a Serbian enclave in Croatia where the Serbs are in a majority.
In March 1992, the Serbs of Krajina were placed under the protection of
United Nations peace-keepers. In late January 1993, however, the Croats
launched a series of military offensives to seize back land controlled by
the Serbs in Krajina.
To most Serbs, the foreign media's coverage of what happened in Krajina
was incomprehensible. How could it be that the Croats could rampage through
Serbian villages killing their inhabitants, and yet the Serbs were the ones
who ended up getting a bad press? According to Hadzic, Croatian forces had
killed 830 Serbian civilians and 150 soldiers after a week of fighting.
Yet foreign reporters had little to say about any of this.
Instead, they denounced the Serbs for stubbornly holding on to Krajina (where
they have always lived and where they make up a majority); for seizing weapons
from arms depots (did they expect the Serbs to confront the laser-guided
missiles of the Croats with pitchforks?); and for sabotaging a hydro-electric
dam (which developed problems only after it was seized by Croatian forces,
and was then miraculously made safe).
The Western media preferred to speculate about a possible attack involving
Serbian troops from Belgrade, rather than condemn the real attack by Croatian
troops from Zagreb.
Media coverage of what happened in Krajina is a case of what Bojana Isakovic
calls 'selective silence'. Isakovic is the organiser of the Belgrade exhibition,
'Genocide Against the Serbs', which has been banned in Britain. One of the
aims of the exhibition, which opened in Belgrade five months ago, is to
draw attention to the 'selective silence' of the world's media about the
suffering of the Serbs in this war and the Second World War.
'Victims' is the word stamped on the front cover of the catalogue that accompanies
the exhibition. 'There are many other victims', says Isakovic. 'They are
Croats and Muslims, we don't deny that. I am sorry for all victims.' What
she objects to is the way in which the media has managed to sustain a deafening
silence about Serbian victims of the Yugoslav conflict.
Look at the photographs on these pages of Living Marxism. You see
dead Serbian civilians. Yet to read the media reports of the war in Yugoslavia
anybody would think that there were no Serbian victims. That impression
can only be reinforced by the ban on Bojana Isakovic's exhibition coming
The day I left Britain for Belgrade my mind was on what was happening in
Krajina, so my attention was caught by the headline on the back page of
the Guardian: 'Croats continue offensive as UN investigators discover
mass grave' (26 January). Thinking that a mass grave of Serbian dead must
have just been discovered in Krajina, I scanned the article, only to discover
that the grave was in Vukovar, the dead were Croats and they had been killed
more than a year ago.
In a war which has exacted a high toll of suffering on all sides, how could
anybody argue that the massacre of one group of civilians is more or less
important than that of another? Yet this is effectively what the Western
media has managed to do. Whether intended or not, the Guardian's juxtaposition
of the two stories had the effect of cancelling out what is happening to
Serbs in Krajina today and focusing attention on what happened to Croats
in Vukovar more than a year ago.
What exactly did happen in Vukovar when war was raging in Croatia in late
1991? Thanks to the media, Vukovar will be remembered as a symbol of Serbian
aggression. But why did the Serbs destroy Vukovar, when almost half its
population was Serbian? An explanation has never been given. We were left
to conclude that the Serbian forces who laid waste to Vukovar were evil
To understand what happened in Vukovar we have to fill in the background
to the media images. The Belgrade exhibition helps to redress the balance.
The problems there started in spring 1990, long before the first shell fell,
when Franjo Tudjman was elected president of Croatia on a nationalist ticket.
From this point on, the Serbian minority in Croatia had good cause to fear
for its future. Tudjman's government began by removing Serbian street names,
and ended up by removing Serbs - from their jobs, their houses and their
In and around Vukovar, where Serbs made up 37 per cent of the population,
and Croats 44 per cent, trouble began almost as soon as Tudjman was elected.
Following Zagreb's example, state and private firms began sacking Serbs
from their jobs. Tensions increased in Borovo Selo, on the outskirts of
Vukovar, as Croatian militants began intimidating Serbs by bombing their
homes, restaurants and shops. Signs appeared in Borovo saying 'No dogs or
In the climate of fear and insecurity generated by Tudjman's nationalist
policies, Serbs began flooding out of Croatia into Bosnia and Serbia well
before the war began. Bojana Isakovic's exhibition shows photographs of
Serbian refugees leaving Borovo in May 1991. The war in Croatia did not
start until July 1991. By the time the battle for Vukovar began, Serbs were
already living in fear of their lives.
Yet somewhere along the line, the media managed to turn the story around.
Vukovar, home to 31 000 Serbs as well as 36 000 Croats, became a symbol
of Croatian suffering. Everybody seems to have forgotten what the photographs
on these pages show: when the Yugoslav federal army marched into Vukovar
it found the streets strewn with the corpses of Serbian civilians slaughtered
by the Croats.
There is little doubt that Serbian irregulars took their revenge on Croatian
civilians once they had control of the city. But the mass grave containing
dead Croats at Ovcara outside Vukovar should not obscure the fact that the
whole of Vukovar became a mass grave for Serbs while the town was under
The story of the persecution of the Serbs in Croatia has still not been
told. Before the war, there were 600 000 Serbs living in Croatia. Now there
are less than 100 000--and their position is far from secure as events in
Meanwhile, cities in the front line of the civil war in Croatia, such as
Osijek, Karlovac and Sisak, are now to all intents and purposes Serb-free.
The same is true of towns on the Dalmatian coast, such as Zadar, Split and
Sibenik. In towns like Gospic, where hundreds of Serbs disappeared without
trace while others were butchered and burned, there are no Serbs left. Over
half of Zagreb's large Serbian community has left the city.
While the Western media has maintained a selective silence about what has
happened to the Serbs, it has continually broadcast what the Serbs are supposed
to have done to everybody else.
If the Serbs commit an atrocity or break any rule it is certain that we
will hear every detail. The same cannot be said about the other combatants
in this war. There are 40 000 troops of the Croatian army stationed outside
the state of Croatia, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in defiance of a UN ban on
the deployment of foreign (non-UN) forces. We hear nothing of this, and
Croatia has been subject to no sanction. Yet Serbia, which has no regular
forces in Bosnia, is constantly accused of being the aggressor there.
When the West can find nothing to pin on the Serbs, it has no qualms about
making things up. Take the row about the no-fly zone over Bosnia. The Americans
have constantly accused the Serbs of violating the UN flight ban, despite
plentiful evidence that Yugoslav air force planes have not made a single
flight in the no-fly zone since it was imposed on 9 October 1992.
UN observers are stationed at all airports in the federal republic of Yugoslavia,
and have access to all flight plans and planes. Awacs airborne surveillance
systems based in Hungary and the Adriatic have also confirmed that Serbian
aircraft have been abiding by the ban. Meanwhile, Croatian planes violate
the UN resolution as a matter of course. America's insistence on enforcing
the no-fly ban clearly has less to do with violations than with giving the
Serbs a hard time.
Black propaganda as well as bias has distorted media reporting. For example,
in 1991 news reports informed us that Dubrovnik's old city had been razed
to the ground by the Serbian forces besieging the city. Now we find that
Dubrovnik's old city survived the siege intact. The only building completely
destroyed was the Serbian Orthodox church, which was firebombed from within.
The real damage done was to the reputation of the Serbs.
Or what about the case of the emaciated man pictured in the Independent
as a starving inmate of a Serbian detention camp (14 August 1992)? The
caption failed to point out that the man was all skin and bones because
he was dying of cancer. The Independent apologised the next day,
but the damage had already been done, and probably nobody saw the correction
hidden away at the bottom of an inside page. What we were never told was
that the man was a Serb, whose daughter identified him after seeing Western
Some might object that it is easy to make mistakes, especially in the heat
of war. But how many mistakes does the media have to make before it becomes
clear that there is something more than accidental about the distortions
in reports of the war in Yugoslavia?
Last summer's reporting of non-existent Serbian 'death camps' in Bosnia
is the most glaring example of how the media has helped to criminalise the
Serbs. The emotive pictures and reports by ITN's Penny Marshall and the
Guardian's Ed Vulliamy from Omarska and Trnopolje in August 1992
led to comparisons between the Serbian detention camps and Nazi concentration
camps. Yet on BBC 2's Late Show, in January 1993, both reporters
tried to suggest that the 'death camp' allusions had nothing to do with
them. The Observer's Victoria Clark even had the cheek to blame 'a
voyeuristic public' for the excesses of the media.
Now the media has moved on from discovering 'death camps' to inventing 'rape
camps'. Serbs have been accused of 'systematically' raping up to 60 000
Muslim women. Muslim women who gave birth in November and December 1992
say they were held in camps and raped by Serbs, even though the war in Bosnia
only started at the end of April 1992. Are the Serbs really such a devilish
race that their children are born three months ahead of time?
The way in which distortion and downright lies have been accepted as news
about the war in Yugoslavia is symptomatic of our uncritical times. It is
time to demand the truth.
Mira Kalanj, a Serbian civilian from Gospic in Croatia, was killed
and burned by Croatian forces between 16 and 18 October 1991. Her husband,
Duro, was machine-gunned in the back and then burned
A family photograph of Mira and Duro Kalanj with the eldest of their
As Croatian forces withdrew from Vukovar on 15 and 16 November 1991,
they dragged Serbian civilians from the cellars where they were hiding,
and massacred them. These Serbs were axed to death in a courtyard, after
being dragged from the cellar at 74 Nikola Demonja Street in Borovo-naselje,
This three-year old Serbian boy was shot dead while hiding in the
cellar at 72 Nikola Demonja Street. His mother and father, Sladana and Miroslav
Cecavac, were also killed
Between 16 and 18 October 1991, 24 Serbian civilians from Gospic
in Croatia were slaughtered. Croatian forces killed the 15 men and nine
women with guns, knives and sledgehammers,doused the bodies with petrol
and set them on fire. From October 1991 to February 1992, more than 500
Serbian civilians from the Gospic area disappeared without trace
This photograph was seized from Saudi Arabian fighters captured
in Crni Vrh near Teslic, Bosnia. A Muslim soldier displays the severed head
of Blagoje Blagojevic, a Serb from the village of Jasenove near Teslic
A Serbian girl, suffocated to death in PVC and stuffed in a mechanic's
pit, Borovo-naselje, November 1991
The bones of Serbs thrown into pits by the Croatian fascists, the Ustashe,
during the Second World War, just before they were buried in a crypt at
Prebilovci, Herzegovina, in June 1991
Serbian women on their way to Jasenovac concentration camp in Bosnia, where
up to 600 000 Serbs, Gypsies and Jews are estimated to have been killed
during the Second World War
Stipo Kraljevic took this photograph of his fellow Croatian Ustashe
soldiers with the severed head of a Serbian villager from Ivanjska near
Banja Luka, December 1942
A Croatian Ustashe soldier with the severed head of a Serbian Chetnik
A Serbian soldier helps a wounded comrade, Vukovar 1991. He was
killed going back into the combat zone to rescue another. The wounded soldier
was later killed in action
The corpse of Milorad Dekic, a Serbian policeman from Osijek, was
found in the Danube near Susek
A Serb from Banija, killed while riding his bike, September 1991
Briton 'planted black propaganda'
Robert Allen Lofthouse, from Nottingham, claims to have supplied the British
and American media with black propaganda against the Serbs in Bosnia, according
to the Belgrade news agency Tanjug.
Lofthouse was captured by Serbian troops on Mount Majevica in northern Bosnia
at the end of January. They claim he was fighting as a mercenary. According
to the reports from Belgrade, Lofthouse has admitted supplying both Roy
Gutman of US Newsday and the BBC with false information about camps,
rapes, 'ethnic cleansing' and other atrocities carried out by the Serbs
Lofthouse is said to have sent false reports and rigged TV footage to Gutman
once a month, and to the BBC once a week, with the help of men working for
a Muslim intelligence officer called Amir. For instance, he is reported
to have admitted telling Gutman and the BBC that the Bosnian Serbs were
using war gases in September 1992.
Gutman's reporting for the Guardian in early August 1992 certainly
lacked the ring of authenticity. On 4 August, Gutman reported from Slavonski
Samac, Croatia, that people in Serbian camps across the River Sava in Bosanski
Samac were being tortured, killed and made to eat their own faeces. His
report was said to be based on the (uncorroborated) testimonies of former
On 5 August, Gutman reported from an unknown location that bodies had been
cremated and turned into animal feed at a Serbian camp in Brcko.
On 6 August, Gutman reported from Zagreb on how 'Serbian guards kept their
captives "in open pit"'. This was a tale of alleged atrocities
at Omarska, told by 'Hajca'. We were told that Hajca 'did not witness the
killings himself but on one occasion saw eight corpses covered with blankets'.
The story of Lofthouse's confession has not been reported in the British
media. Doubtless they would argue that his black propaganda claims about
Gutman are unsubstantiated. But so too were most of Gutman's stories from
Bosnia. The Guardian was happy to print fantastic tales of people
being turned into animal feed in Serbian camps. So why not a word about
any of this?
A SELECTIVE SILENCE
CENSORSHIP AND BIAS IN THE YUGOSLAV WAR
A selection of photographs from the forbidden exhibition, and materials
related to the ban, can be seen at The Edge gallery and bookshop from Thursday
25 February. Phone for details.
THE EDGE, 92 Cromer Street, London WC1 Tel (071) 278 9755 Fax (071) 833
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 53, March 1993