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Western Press Review: Kosovo Information And Propaganda

By Don Hill and Joel Blocker

Prague, 9 April 1999 (RFE/RL/) -- With NATO having concluded its 16th night of bombing military targets in Yugoslavia, Western press commentary is focusing on the effects of information, ignorance and propaganda in the conflict.

WASHINGTON POST: Goebbels was an amateur compared to Mr. Milosevic's propaganda

In an analysis in The Washington Post, Karl Vick writes from Podgorica that a senior Montenegrin leader is publicly equating Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels. Vick says the remarks are brazen considering Milosevic's power in Montenegro, the junior partner in the Yugoslav Federation.

Vick writes: "But Dragisa Burzan raised his voice above the air raid siren wailing across the street and declared, 'I'm always repeating that Goebbels was an amateur compared to Mr. Milosevic's propaganda.' So it goes in Montenegro, an infant democracy of barely 700,000 people linked by a dysfunctional federalism with Yugoslavia and its dominant republic, Serbia. Its elected government, after narrowly slipping into office 15 months ago, has invested all its energies on getting as close as possible to the West. Now the West is raining bombs on Montenegro."

WASHINGTON POST: Serbian reaction is a mixture of fatalism, defiance, gallows humor and paranoia

The Washington Post's Michael Dobbs in Belgrade examines the reactions of ordinary Serbs to the NATO air strikes. Dobbs writes: "The predominant Serbian reaction to the NATO bombing campaign -- a mixture of fatalism, defiance, gallows humor and paranoia -- is best summed up by a symbol that has taken the country by storm over the past two weeks. You see the target sign everywhere: adorning billboards, the clothes of young children, newspaper front pages, web sites, bridges and the lapels of government ministers. Consisting of a black bullseye surrounded by two concentric circles, and usually attached to people or peaceful objects, it is designed to mock Western claims that NATO has no quarrel with the Serbian people, only with their leaders."

INDEPEDENT: The Kosovo war now has moved into damned lies

From Pristina, commentator Robert Fisk writes in London's The Independent that propagandistic exaggeration flows both ways. Fisk says: "The Kosovo war now has moved (from mere lies) into damned lies. Just a week ago, we had the Serbs claiming that the (Kosovar) Albanians -- far from being ethnically cleansed -- were setting fire to their own homes. Now we have NATO claiming that the Serbs of Pristina -- far from being bombed by NATO -- were blowing up their own homes. In the center of this empty, silent city, you might be forgiven for thinking that the world had gone mad."

DIE WELT: One case of a high-tech weapon missing its target has been confirmed

In the German newspaper Die Welt, Andress Middel supports the idea in a commentary from Brussels that NATO is exaggerating the precision of its aerial bombardment. Middel says: "NATO puts on its daily press conference movie show to prove how neatly and cleanly -- and precisely -- its fighter-bombers take out their targets in the Balkans. (But) so far at least one case of a high-tech weapon missing its target and instead taking out an apartment house has been confirmed. In Aleksinac, about 180 kilometers south of Belgrade, a laser-guided bomb missed its target, killing seven civilians and wounding dozens more, according to Serbian television. NATO representatives have confirmed that incident but emphasize that civilian casualties and damage to civilian facilities has been remarkably small so far in the air campaign against the Serbs -- the alliance, they say, is doing all it can to spare the population, and the investigation into why the bomb went astray is still going on."

DEISTER UND WESERZEITUNG: The offers are part of a Serbian propaganda strategy

A North German newspaper, Deister und Weserzeitung, says in an editorial that Milosevic is succeeding in driving a wedge into NATO. The newspaper says: "Milosevic knows that NATO politicians cannot accept his (peace) offers. But he also knows that there are strong forces in the West that see even small Belgrade gestures as an example of good will. These offers are part of a Serbian propaganda strategy, whose aim it is to drive a wedge through NATO." The newspaper continues: "Should the NATO states actually strive for an agreement with Milosevic? Not really. Their only aim should be to drive Serbian troops out of Kosovo and arrange for a sort of autonomy."

LE MONDE: Russia deserves a central, constructive role

The French daily Le Monde says in an editorial that Western nations now engaged in the first post-Cold War war in Europe soon will need a strong Russia. But Le Monde says: "Weakened and relatively powerless today, Russia is playing the role of an offended and humiliated observer of the Balkan conflict, although it deserves a central, constructive role." The editorial says that "too many Russian leaders prefer to take refuge in a sort of vague Slav solidarity with the regime of Slobodan Milosevic," the last of the European communist regimes not to have undertaken true democratic and free-market reforms. Le Monde cites "the general tone of the Moscow press which, with few exceptions, discounts the drama of the Kosovar refugees as mere Western propaganda."

INTERNATIONAL HERAL TRIBUNE: Most people in Serbia do not know of the outrages being committed

Jonathan Spalter is associate director for information and chief information officer at the U.S. Information Agency. He writes in a commentary published by the International Herald Tribune that Milosevic's government is avoiding domestic objections to his policies by gagging newspapers and broadcasters and keeping the Serb people ignorant about what they are. Spalter says: "Are the people of Serbia objecting to what their government is doing in their name?" Spalter says the answer is clear: "Most people in Serbia do not know of the outrages being committed by their government against unarmed men, women and children."

LIBERATION: Air strikes have united both partisans and opponents of Milosevic

The French daily Liberation carries a commentary by Martin Graff entitled "Missed Chances in Yugoslavia." He writes: "If European politicians had personally visited Serbia incognito as little as three weeks ago, speaking with the young and the old at all social and economic levels, they would never have decided to bomb the country. (They) would have understood that air strikes by NATO would automatically -- by simple reflex -- bring the country together, uniting both partisans and opponents of Milosevic."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: I expect a more far-reaching strategy from the West

Serbian opposition leader Zoran Djindic -- recently labeled "scum" by a Serbian government official -- continues to live in Belgrade and to speak out against Milosevic. He also speaks critically of NATO's tactics. He tells Suddeutsche Zeitung's Berhard Kueppers: "Milosevic is trying (with overtures to Kosovar-Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova) to get something going. What I am not clear about is the strategy of the West. In trying to solve the Kosovo question, is the West really prepared to put the future of the region at risk and allow a global problem to develop? To generate an anti-Western mood for decades to come? In the case of Milosevic, I know he does not think far ahead. But I expect a more far-reaching strategy from the West -- not an attempt to put out fire with petrol."