The five parts were entitled:
The Road to War
Wars of Independence
The Gates of Hell
A Safe Area
What does one know about the war in Yugoslavia. To mind comes the image of a villainous dictatorial leader Slobodan Milosevic, Kosovo, ethnic cleansing, Nato strikes on Serbia (and also LAIBACH Occupied Europe N.A.T.O. tour 1994-1995), Otpor! (Serbian Cyrillic: Отпор!, English: Resistance! Youth movement), beautiful seaside resorts turned to rubble and fleeing people. There is a lot of rare footage and incredible unseen-before historical materials. But it is also important to interpret these materials in a cogent way (and not only as the producers intended it).
Bro’ Sloba (Milosevic), as his fellow Serbian supporters used to call him. is already a sort of comic book bad guy character in a graphic series that stretches to Saddam and Bin Laden. And this documentary keeps up the job of doing him in, of blaming him for all of the mistakes, cowardly actions, vicious incitements, and nationalist war-mongering. One of the problems I had and others as well, was that the translations of the interviews are not always correct, and I tried my best to use up my small Russian/Bulgarian vocabulary to step over the EN version.
Even if there is no help in blaming him of the worst things around, we should still see him in a strange political continuum that is invisible to the BBC documentary makers. The Yugoslavian situation and the format of the doc completely hides away the larger context. In the same period of time there was the Gulf War going on, and 1989 series of changes (more or less bloody) all over Eastern Europe.
In a book by Hollert&Terkessidis there are several chapters dedicated to the War in Yugoslavia (that made we search for this docu) indicating that Milosevic, the Serbian war-monger might be seen as being part of the avant-garde of neoliberalism and change, heavily promoted during the 80s by such Cold War warriors as Ronald Reagen in the States and Margaret Thatcher in England.
Milosevic and his new version of Yugoslavia isn’t that extreme or innately “Balkan” anymore in this light. Milosevic’s brand of anti-bureaucratic Serbian-centric revolution against senior cadres of the Yugoslav Communist party, against the usual decision channels, and his break with the Titoist past are in tune with larger doctrines Reagan-Thatcherite liberalization, militarism and efficiency. It is as if he took heed from the London-Washington leaders, and we see them all converge at the end of the 80s in a revival of imperial ideas of the past (be it the Pax Americana, the British Empire or Greater Serbia). There is also a feeling that Milosevic is very adapt at using the media to spotlight his good handling of Kossovo Serbian residents chagrin against Albanians, and that he basically transforms Kossovo Serbians into instant star revolutionaries and professional demonstrators.
Another direction is to pay attention to the tourist propaganda films cuts shown during the documentary, they all spotlight an attractive, even dreamy Yugoslavia. What it doesn’t show is the economic trouble was knocking on the door – with nearly 78% unemployment in Serbia at the end of the 80s, and the incredible inflation rate (600%! and rising) because of new measures imposed by WMF.
The fact that all these small ex-republics of the Yugoslav confederacy had their small internal divisions of labor, with some of them heavily dependent on tourism is also undiscussed. In fact in the brutal outcome of the war there is a new economy emerging – a war economy for sure, one based on looting and rapid mafioso-takeovers of all remaining resources. There is also a rise in a new type of entrepreneur-hero, a kind of Gangster entrepreneur (a strange turbofolk crossover with hip-hop haijduk gansta style), and a professional of war – for example represented by Kapetan Dragan.
Dragan and his knin ninjas (yes! It is no joke he took the name from ninja fighters for his paramilitary troops) is not mentioned during the Knin disputes in the first episode of the documentary. Kapetan Dragan is a Serbian emigree to Australia, a professional army man, not a partisan looking, bearded Tchtnik-type warrior at all. He is a clean-shaven Serbian Crocodile Dundee former brothel-owner on the run from Interpol and Croatian War Crimes commission.
There is also much to be said about Western constructions of balkanization (=balkanization is pejorative geopolitical term used to label the fragmentation of a region or state into smaller ones, the formation of several conflicting non-cooperative regions, basically ready for civil war).
The Balkans have always been depicted by European as the ultimate “other”. There is this transhistoric image of a damnable, undemocratic, corrupt, (and certainly masculine and sexist society), full of ethnic unrest.
Nevertheless Yugoslavia’s failure of multiculturalism combined with anti-islamism is more and more becoming a sort of precursor for current anti-immigration and islamophobia in Western Europe. The condemnation and Western media trashing of Milosevic is in stark contrast with the speeches made by him during the celebration of the 600 anniversary of the battle of Kossovo in July 1989 where he attacks nationalism and praises multinational “advanced” states and the protection of European values, religion and culture. His speech could be copypasted into many of today’s European leaders speeches without much change…
About the book that made me see the documentary
I returned reading about the Yugoslav conflict because of a German book written by Tom Hollert and Mark Terkessidis (published in 2002 and still untranslated in English to my knowledge). The subtitle of the book is “War as mass culture in the 21 century”. The two authors trace the massification of the war experience in the XX and XI century trough films, popular culture and slang – the way war has entered street culture and common sense, they way rock n roll was already part of the wargame, the ultimate trip out of conformist suburban reality, just one end of a spectrum of seeking out extreme, out-of-the-ordinary, countercultural and touristic lifestyles. It is a book about killer kids as models for new soldiers, running amok as modern adventurism, about lonely wolf combatants, economic recruitment and guerrilla marketing warfare.
It offers an incredible reading of the Apocalypse Now Coppola film that becomes a sort of master-narrative, disclosing the deep Vietnamisation of the Western society. In short Apocalypse Now is in itself an example of US special beret tactics of failed (impossible) mimicking (imitating) the enemy – the ever-elusive, hidden, camouflaged “Charlie”(nickname for the faceless Communist partisans) and the push to become even more wild, even more aggressive than the unseen jungle enemy. Of course there is also plenty of unknown (for me at least) information about the transformation of Philippines (used as a location for Apocalypse Now filming) into Vietnam, with helicopters fighting Muslim rebels taking a break as part-time props for the movie, or the fact that president and dictator Marcos(a good friend of Ceausescu couple also!) of the Philippines liked to see the actors and film crew members dressed up in their movie costumes at his parties.
With an incredible amount of data ranging from actual field work in conflict areas, touristic guide books, journalism, TV and movie industry or pop culture (even comic book – there is a great fragment on Batman’s The Joker as the perfect unpredictable killer) knowhow they manage to depict war as a culture of the masses and the mass-culturing of war.