nettime's_roving_reporter on Sun, 30 May 1999 04:42:30 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> (fwd) San Jose Mercury News: Slavenka Drakulic on Targets

Serbian `target' signs pervert reality of who 
the true victims are: Kosovo Albanians

by Slavenka Drakulic


DAY IN AND DAY OUT we see their pictures on the TV screen and in the
newspapers, Serbs defying the NATO bombardment. They stand on bridges
holding hands or attend rock concerts at the main square in Belgrade. On
their chests they wear pieces of paper with painted black circles
representing a target.

The word ``TARGET'' is spelled in English because their message is directed
to the West, to the world that turned against them. It says that despite
the words of Western politicians, the NATO bombing is really aimed at them,
the Serbian people.

So in order to make NATO's job easier, they -- the citizens of this small,
unjustly attacked country -- expose themselves as living targets. Their
activists create a fashion statement across Europe, one that shows up on
posters, T-shirts, lapel pins. In a terrible parody of innocence, they even
dress up their children as targets.

It is the most cynical gesture imaginable, and it could come only from
Serbia: a self-obsessed kingdom of inverted rules and perverted symbols,
where the perpetrators see themselves as the victims. Until that reversal
of reality changes, the horror of ``ethnic cleansing'' will not end.

We are witnessing not one, but two parallel tragedies in what used to be
Yugoslavia. The first, a repeat of the suffering of Bosnia-Herzegovina, is
the exodus of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.

The second is the autism of the Serbian people who deny their historical,
political and moral responsibility. Serbian civilians wear the target signs
as metaphors, while Serbian soldiers herd real ethnic Albanians to real
military targets. Then, when these ``human shields'' are killed by NATO
bombs -- as dozens of refugees were killed 10 days ago at an army command
post in Kosovo -- Serbs add them to their count of appalling ``civilian

Parallel reality

These twin tragedies are possible only because Serbs have created a
parallel reality. In Belgrade today, it is spring. The sun shines while
perfectly innocent citizen-targets are listening to concerts, then going
home. There they are having lunch, a nap; they are reading newspapers,
watching the news, working, taking a shower or baking cakes.

At night, explosions sometimes awaken them: an oil refinery, a factory, a
ministry building. They see the blazes and are gripped by fear that bombs
could drop some hundred yards to the left or to the right and hit people,
as has happened here and there.

But despite these human casualties, they are not in Kosovo or Sarajevo.
They are not deliberately targeted; no one is aiming straight at them. They
know this, and it eases their nightly fear.

A few hundred kilometers away, other citizens of the same state are
standing in the mud for days, under heavy rain. Or they are waiting to
cross into Macedonia in a 35-mile-long queue. Or 50,000 of them are living
for a week in a no-man's land without medical help, without enough food.

These people no longer have a lunch, a shower or for that matter a
homeland. They don't need paper target signs; they know that each of them,
each man, woman or child, is a target of the Serbian ``ethnic cleansing.''

Children are the greatest symbol of innocence, and the Serbs don't shy away
from using their own. Time magazine recently published a photo of a Serbian
girl in a red jacket, holding a target sign in her hands. She was obviously
too young to have made a political choice; some adult -- father, mother,
teacher, neighbor -- gave it to her.

She was also too young to recall the photographs of children in Sarajevo
several years ago, dead or wounded, hit by Serb snipers or shells. These
children did not need to hold up targets; they were targets. In a CNN
documentary, one mother described how her little girl, a dancer, was killed
holding her dancing dress in her hands.

In Kosovo, almost a million ethnic Albanians have been ``cleansed''
already. But to the Serbs, they are not fellow citizens of Serbia, fellow
victims or targets. They are . . . Albanians. They are something else.

In the inverted logic according to which Serbs are blameless targets, it is
quite plausible that the ethnic Albanians are to blame for their own
destiny. Didn't they support the terrorists of the Kosovo Liberation Army?
Didn't they approve of the NATO intervention? Now, aren't they getting what
they asked for?

The Serbs listening to rock concerts in Belgrade believe they have nothing
to do with those million citizens of Serbia on the move, with the
destruction of dozens of ethnic Albanian villages in Kosovo, with the
unknown number of killed civilians, or with the NATO bombardment.

NATO bombing

They are not to blame, either, for the problems of the citizens of
Aleksinac, 100 miles south of Belgrade, whose apartments were destroyed by
errant NATO bombing in the second week of the war.

These victims are just desperate. Why, they say, but why is this happening
to us? They are just ordinary people minding their own business, they are
workers and teachers and students, not politicians. ``I do not know why
they bomb us,'' says an elderly woman whose home was hit.

It is obscene that these same Serbian citizens -- who could not have cared
less about Sarajevo or Srebrenica, Dubrovnik or Vukovar, not even Drenica
or Racak -- now dare to parade as NATO targets. For years they refused to
understand that they, too, were part of the Yugoslav war.

But back then, the war was somewhere else. Serbs in Serbia could not be
responsible for the actions of the Bosnian Serbs, they said -- although
Bosnia's ``ethnic cleansing'' was supported by Serbia's government and
although they shared the vision of a Greater Serbia.

Now, suddenly, these Serbs are the victims, wearing target signs, probably
not even aware of the strange twist of irony. Their hands are clean and
their consciences are peaceful. Their sons may be on mission in Kosovo, but
of course they are only defending the country against the KLA terrorists.

Nobody expects the Serbs to welcome the bombardment of their country.
Still, their behavior is hard to understand. Even when they are being
punished, by bombs, they refuse to ask themselves why. They do not try to
understand what they did wrong.

This absence of doubt, of questioning themselves, is frightening. They
don't want to hear why they are to blame: because they created the
situation they now face.

Just as Croats and Bosnian Muslims are responsible for their part in the
``ethnic cleansing'' of Bosnia and Croatia, Serbs must take responsibility
for theirs, both in the past and now in Kosovo. Deluded by the same idea of
the nation-state, in 1995, Croats committed the very same crime by
``ethnically cleansing'' 200,000 Serbs. Now Serbs must grapple with the
fact that they, ordinary people -- not the ethnic Albanians, not NATO --
are the ones who have gone from house to house forcing whole villages to
flee, who have dug the mass graves and killed the humans to fill them.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic himself will enter the history books
as a war criminal, perhaps end up in a court. But the Serbian people are
not merely innocent victims of both his dictatorship and the aggression of
the West, as they would like to believe.

Political, moral burden

They are responsible for keeping Milosevic in power for more than 10 years,
electing and re-electing him. Serbs carry not only a political
responsibility but also a moral burden. No power can sustain itself, not
even a dictatorship, without at least the silent support of people.

Opposition intellectuals, if they dare to speak against Milosevic at all,
do not mention ethnic Albanians and their suffering. They lament that their
own movement is not supported by the West, and that the bombing is
destroying the fragile Serbian democracy -- yet they act as if the ethnic
Albanians do not exist.

Denying the truth, however, makes it easier to continue to lie in unison --
in spite of being confronted with proof, witnesses, facts. So they continue
to delude themselves, to live in the closed society they have created,
shielded from reality and responsibility.

As long as Serbs behave as if they are innocent and only their politicians
are to blame, there is no hope that Serbia will change. The carnival in the
streets of Belgrade will go on. Neither a truce nor the total capitulation
of Milosevic will have any meaning if Serbs do not realize that they
themselves must do the hard work.

NATO cannot do it for them. It is not enough to topple the Milosevic
regime. They must destroy the very fundament upon which that regime is
built: ideological blindness, obedience, nationalist manipulation,
indifference and fear.

Serbs themselves have to change that, and as a beginning it would be good
if they would recognize ethnic Albanians as human beings and start to speak
about them as victims.

For the moment, though, the target remains the perverted symbol of Serbs'
view of themselves.

Novelist and essayist Slavenka Drakulic is one of Croatia's most prominent
intellectuals. Her current book is ``Cafe Europa: Life After Communism.'' 

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