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Comment: B92 Confronts the Past

B92's editor-in-chief rebuts claims his media group is failing to adequately address Serbia's wartime record.
By Veran Matic

The B92 media group has come under attack from some quarters recently for not confronting the war crimes issue. We stand accused of dishing up frivolity and "infotainment" rather than addressing past atrocities in the serious manner they demand.


In fact, B92's treatment of the subject has been, and continues to be, extensive and considered. The group's publishers, including Samizdat B92 (http://www.b92.net/samizdat/), have produced dozens of books about war crimes. A major work on Srebrenica was launched in Belgrade before its publication in Sarajevo.


Our television producers have made countless hours of documentary film on the issue, while hundreds of victims of all nationalities have participated in the radio programme Catharsis (http://www.b92.net/radio/emisije/katarza.php).


The group is currently working on establishing a network for such programmes with its partners in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.


In Croatia, B92 recently ran a promotion for the Samizdat publication The Serbian Side of the War, edited by Nebosja Popov. Other Samizdat books include Tim Judah's Kosovo, Arie Neyer's War Crimes, and soon a Human Rights Watch report on Kosovo.


The B92 magazines The Word (http://www.b92.net/samizdat/casopis_rec.php) and ProFemina (http://www.b92.net/samizdat/casopis_profemina-9902.php) have carried authoritative pieces on crimes, responsibility and facing the past.


The group has also organised three large international conferences focusing on facing up to the past, all of which can be accessed through the B92 website. (http://www.b92.net/konferencije/).


Meanwhile, TV B92 is the only broadcaster carrying live coverage of Slobodan Milosevic's trial at The Hague - hardly "light entertainment". A half-hour summary of the day's proceedings is also broadcast each evening.


While the court is in recess, the station broadcasts educational programmes on the tribunal's procedures, western judicial systems and other such trials.


In addition, nearly 70 documentaries on war crimes and the causes of conflict have been broadcast so far in a tribunal-related series. These programmes were followed by a studio discussion.


While one could question the quality of these debates, it would be wrong to dismiss B92's sincere intentions on that basis alone.


Since its foundation 13 years ago, B92 has fought against the warmongers, the apologists and those journalists employed in pedalling hate speech. TV B92 now has a daily programme, Lest This Be Forgotten, which airs the belligerent commentaries broadcast by the state broadcaster RTS during the Milosevic era.


Our critics complain that no one in Serbia writes about the crimes committed in Strpci, Sjeverin, Srebrenica. In the last year alone, B92 has broadcast five programmes on Sjeverin, three on Strpci, four on Srebrenica and more than 15 on crimes committed in eastern Bosnia - Bijeljina, Bratunac, Zvornik, Foca and Visegrad. All of these are accessible through our web site.


New documentaries on events in Sjeverin and Strpci are in production, as are films on political assassinations and the economic collapse brought about by the conflict. A series on rape in time of war is also in production.


In order to deal with the whole issue of war crimes in greater depth, B92 founded the Documentation Centre Wars 1991 - 1999 (http://www.b92.dcr.net) in an attempt to air previously censored material.


The centre supports the investigative efforts of programme makers at B92 television and radio and contributes content to the group's website, and has helped in organising an investigative journalism training programme.


In addition, the centre is collecting oral testimonies from former combatants, refugees and Serbian citizens and has organised numerous public discussions, exhibitions and presentations across the country.


In Cacak, an exhibition of war photographs by photographer Ron Haviv closed prematurely after a group of extremists attacked the organisers, claiming that the work is "anti-Serb". The same exhibition was also disrupted in Uzice, after protesters removed the pictures from the walls as the police idly stood by.


The documentation centre has an extensive library and video collection on war crimes, which is open to the public, and provides copies of all B92's programmes and publications on the subject.


Our critics claim that in Serbia nowadays there is little to distinguish one broadcaster or newspaper from another. They say that we all pedal the same line and aim to distract the public from the difficult, but important, matter of the recent past by filling the airwaves with "political infotainment".


Certainly, Serbian youngsters flock to music festivals while Ratko Mladic remains at large and mass graves are exhumed. Does this mean people can be insensitive and may seek an escape from life's painful realities? Yes. Does it mean Serbs are unique in such behaviour? No.


To demand that life come to a halt until the war crimes issue is completely and fully addressed is foolish and unrealistic.


We at B92 remain true to our motto - "Suspect everyone, even us". We are open to criticism and admit to having made mistakes. But we cannot allow our recent past to be cast into oblivion or to be distorted by a selective memory.


The roots of hatred, prejudice and crimes must be exposed and presented to the widest possible audience and that is what we seek to do. However, this cannot be done overnight. It is a task requiring persistence, courage, energy and knowledge.


Veran Matic is editor-in-chief of B92 and chairman of the Association of Independent Electronic Media


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