Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Macedonian Media War

Albanian and Macedonian journalists are peddling their poison while still able to sip cocktails in cities that remain largely unscathed.
By Zlatko Dizdarevic

As one who lived through the siege of Sarajevo, it is sad to see how little our neighbours in Macedonia have learned from our experience. Indeed, as the Macedonian media works overtime to spread hatred and suspicion, a sense of déjà vu is overwhelming.

With a few exceptions, Macedonian journalists seem to have lost all sense of responsibility, actively stoking a drama which could have a very bloody finale. Indeed, if anything, the media is far ahead of the man-on-the-street when it comes to war-mongering and it is words - more than weapons or casualties - which are pushing the population to the fever pitch required for an all-out war.

As Bosnia was destroyed and thousands were slaughtered, the voices of propaganda were still countered by sober, decent voices of reason on both sides. Even while Risto Djogo, the infamous editor of TV Pale, mouthpiece of the Karadzic regime, was alleging that Muslims were feeding Serb children to the animals in Sarajevo Zoo, I was still able to attend symposiums and find there reasonable, uncorrupted Serb colleagues.

Similarly, brave Croat journalists refused to follow the lead of Smiljko Sagolj, the voice of TV Herceg-Bosna, who called on Croats to attack Bosniak refugees in Croatia.

While I'm not claiming that Skopje is Disneyland, I certainly don't sense the incipient hatred or tension which consumed Sarajevo in the final month before the war started. Yet in Macedonia, which despite the sporadic shooting and deaths of the past year, has suffered nothing on the scale of Bosnia, to open a newspaper is to be confronted with unadulterated bile. It is doubly ironic that this is happening in a town chock-full of international forces and foreign NGOs which have poured money into training "independent" journalists and trying to counter a culture of propaganda.

Unlike some local reporters in Bosnia and Croatia, who became isolated and vulnerable to the hatreds and hardships in their local areas, the journalists in Skopje and Tetovo - both ethnic Macedonian and ethnic Albanian - are peddling their poison while still able to sip cocktails in cities that remain largely unscathed.

Indeed, hatred has become a badge of professional honour in the Macedonian media. "In this story there is no balanced reporting, nor should there be," Aleksandar Damovsiki, the editor of a renowned Skopje daily told a conference, entitled Media and conflict in Macedonia, on September 14. "There is nothing to say about the other side," he continued. "I have no questions for those who murder people."

Editor of the Albanian daily Fakti, Lirim Dulovi, insisted that ethnic Macedonian journalists were solely to blame for what was happening, refusing to acknowledge any responsibility on the part of ethnic Albanian journalists. Ethnic Macedonian journalist, Klime Babunski, provoked a furious reaction for pointing out that the truth in Macedonia has been killed by journalists from both sides. Shocking abuse came pouring in from the back of the hall.

Such "tolerant colleagues" reminded me of "our" war, although I also remember those who never abandoned their professional duty to try and find out what was happening on the other side. If nothing else, stories were clearly sourced as coming "from this side", acknowledgement at least that another side existed. Not so in Macedonia, where the message seems to be "we are the only source and our words are the only truth".

So shocked and upset was I by what I had seen and heard in the Macedonian media, I felt moved to share some recollections from "our war" with the Skopje conference. I remember a dinner with an Israeli and a Palestinian politician. Both agreed, drawing on several decades of experience, that there are three stages on the road to peace.

The first, which they said should never be underestimated or overlooked, is time. With the passage of time, things fall into place. Next comes the stage of "organised stupidity" where all manner of bizarre suggestions for ending the war are brought to the table. These include the relocation of cities, the digging of long tunnels, or the construction of bridges and walls to separate nations from each other. Otherwise intelligent people often get caught up in these ideas.

Finally, comes the stage when there is a real chance for a new beginning. This involves recognising that despite the sins of the other side, our own greatest problems come from the scoundrels among us. "When Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated" said the Israeli, "he was not killed by a Palestinian, but by one of us." Bosnia is slowly but surely approaching this stage, a process helped by certain media such as the magazine Dani, which published a dramatic dossier about Caco, a Sarajevo "hero", who had in fact killed many of the city's Serbian citizens.

On the "other side" the Banja Luka paper Nezavisne Novine has published dossiers of Serb atrocities against Bosniaks. Editor Zeljko Kopanja has paid a high price for his professional bravery: two years ago he lost both his legs when a bomb exploded under his car. Yet he continues, undaunted, to publish the unpalatable truths which his readers need to confront.

The Skopje journalists listened in silence. At the end they clapped, but within seconds they had picked up where they left off with litanies of suspicion, accusation and abuse. What a shame for Macedonia - a beautiful country, but for how much longer?

Zlatko Dizdarevic is senior columnist for Sarajevo weekly Dani.