Official Propaganda Spreads War Fever in Serbian Heartland With PM-Yugoslavia
MARY BETH SHERIDAN
Jun. 15, 1992
NIS, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Factory worker Miroslav Ivanovic has a ready explanation for why Serb forces have been battling so fiercely in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
''The enemy cuts throats. They massacre little children,'' the 35-year-old worker said earnestly.
''They cut out Serbs' hearts and kidneys then sell them in Germany,'' added his colleague, Zoran Pavlovic.
Asked where they had heard such outrageous reports, the men responded: ''Television.''
If much of the world blames Serbia for Europe's worst fighting since World War II, people in the Serbian heartland do not.
A major reason is the highly biased state television, which has inflamed Serbians' nationalist feelings and misled them about the war raging in former Yugoslavia.
Outside Belgrade, few areas of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav state have access to independent television news. And with an estimated 19 percent illiteracy rate in Serbia, many people don't pick up a newspaper.
That leaves state television, which offers a steady diet of Croatian ''fascists'' and Muslim ''extremists'' who destroy Serbian Orthodox churches, and American plots to destroy Serbia.
Its part of the media war fought by all sides to the conflict. Croat television also tells its version of the truth, as does Bosnian TV.
''The TV is right,'' said a gray-haired 60-year-old woman in Nis' main park, who refused to give her name.
''They actually showed a Muslim admitting he cut throats. He went like this,'' she added, drawing a finger across her throat.
Diplomats say Serbia's president, Slobodan Milosevic, has used television masterfully to keep a loyal following in the Serbian provinces, even as an opposition movement has grown in Belgrade.
Milosevic's propaganda has enabled him to blunt the effects of U.N. sanctions, aimed at forcing him to help stop the fighting in Bosnia.
Thanks in part to state television, some Serbs appear to have identified even more with Milosevic. They parrot the line that the sanctions are aimed at getting rid of the Serbian people, not just their leader.
''Britain wants a war in Serbia. They want to send the army. I saw it on TV,'' said Zaklina Petrovic, a 21-year-old waitress.
It is not difficult to stir nationalist feeling in a provincial city like Nis, 150 miles south of Belgrade. Its World War II memorials, including a concentration camp, attest to the tens of thousands of Serbs killed by Nazis and their Croat sympathizers.
The city's main tourist attraction is the ''Tower of Skulls,'' a grizzly monument of Serbian heads built by Ottoman Turks during their 500 years of occupation, which ended only in 1877.
Television has played on that period, comparing the international community to an Ottoman ''sultan,'' demanding the head of a Serb. Some citizens actually believe the Turks have returned.
''In one village in Bosnia, 3,000 Turks with long swords and fezzes killed a whole Serbian family,'' related Nebojsa Milosevic, a security guard, resurrecting a century-old stereotype.
The few opposition supporters in Nis say years of communist rule have conditioned many people to simply follow what they're told.
Some Serbs fear the gulf between Milosevic supporters in the countryside and opposition groups in Belgrade may eventually plunge Serbia itself into civil war.
''Brother is going to kill brother,'' said Zoran Petkovic, an unemployed 32-year-old sitting in a TV repair shop. ''Because people are very mixed up.''