Source: The Toronto Star
Date: April 11, 1999
Gordana Knezevic knows all about war. As the former
editor of Sarajevo's newspaper, Oslobodenje (Liberation),
she lived and worked under the fire of Serbian guns on a
daily basis from 1992 to 1994. Now living in Toronto, she
worries about the situation in Kosovo and supports NATO
air strikes - even though she is a Serb. In this piece,
written exclusively for The Star, she explains why
Slobodan Milosevic must be stopped.
By Gordana Knezevic
Special to The Star
`WHAT'S IT feel like when the city of your birth is under attack by
NATO bombs?'' a Canadian friend asked me recently as we sat in a downtown
Watching television reports about the bombing of Belgrade and listening to
Serbs in Serbia, or in exile, I have felt utterly paralyzed by the support
they have given to Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic - a
man British defence secretary George Robertson has called ``a serial ethnic
Suddenly, it seems, Serb history, Serb mythology, and Kosovo's role as the
the cradle of Serb civilization are Being discussed around the globe, as if
they were something truly exceptional - as if no other nation had ever
experienced a single drop of bloodshed in its history. It is, in fact, not
exceptional. It is a history like that of many European nations.
Moreover, the current problem of the Kosovo conflict lies not in Serbia's
history, but in its present.
As a Serb, I feel lonely, alienated and unable to identify with any of the
current expressions of what ``being a Serb'' means.
Why should Serb history be thought of as any sort of justification for
killing people of other ethnic groups? How far should the recreation of
myths take us, in real life?
Whatever it is that Serbs are supposed to be given at birth obviously
wasn't given to me when I was born in Belgrade in July, 1950.
A baby boomer, I grew up proud to be Yugoslavian. At no time did I ever
volunteer to give up my Yugoslavian nationality. But being a Yugoslav is
something that was taken away from me in the besieged city of Sarajevo, in
1992, when the Serb-led Yugoslav Army began indiscriminately shooting
civilians inside my chosen city.
The reason Sarajevo suffered so much during the war in Bosnia is because
most of its citizens rejected the idea of living separately, along ethnic
lines. They refused to buy the idea of an ethnically clean state. Instead,
Sarajevans defended the multi-ethnic structure of their society and because
they did, 10,000 of them were killed between 1992 and 1995.
More than 200,000 others across Bosnia-Herzegovina also died.
The reason my newspaper, Oslobodenje, was targeted and its building turned
into rubble was because its multi-ethnic staff - composed of Muslims,
Serbs, Jews, Croats and other people who couldn't even define their ethnic
background - not only worked together, but slept together in an underground
shelter, safe from Serb guns that encircled the city. Beneath those guns,
we managed to put out our paper every single day of the three-year siege.
As a consequence, Srna, the Serb television network in Bosnia, labeled all
of us Serb journalists still working inside Sarajevo ``traitors.'' It was
never clear to me who it was I was supposed to have betrayed, but I was
denounced as a traitor nonetheless.
I remember a unique moment during the Bosnian war when I received a
telephone call from Belgrade-based Radio Politika. It was early morning and
the Yugoslav Army was shelling a TV transmitter close to my Sarajevo home.
I was prepared to provide an eyewitness report on what was going on as the
attack unfolded in full view from my balcony.
It was the first spring of the war and the telephone lines were still
working off and on. I started to describe the Yugoslav artillery action at
Poljine Hill in detail. Suddenly, the very polite voice of the Radio
Politika producer interrupted me.
``Can you repeat everything you just said but not mention who's shooting?
Just tell us what's been destroyed.''
I couldn't believe they didn't want to know what the Belgrade-run Serb army
was doing to Sarajevo and its people. But the producer insisted.
``It's not my decision,'' he said. ``And I'm uncomfortable asking you to do
it. But we can only put you on the air if you're willing to report on the
destruction and nothing else. We're not allowed to talk about the army's
I shot back: ``But this is all about the army's involvement.''
It was then that he asked me, abruptly, ``Are you a Serb?''
``Yes,'' I said, ``But I don't see how that's supposed to affect my
reporting. Am I supposed to say this is all the result of an earthquake?''
At that point, he apologized. But there were no more calls from Radio
Politika, or, for that matter, from any of my journalist friends in
Belgrade. I didn't see things the way Serbs were supposed to see them -
mainly as trouble caused by the presence of non-Serbs. The wall between me
and Belgrade started to grow. I couldn't break through it.
I was a Serb besieged by Serbs. And I identified with each person in
Sarajevo exposed to Serb shelling. I witnessed the pain of Bosnian Muslims,
Croats, Jews and Serbs who were forced from their homes. I could not
possibly identify with the people who had started all the shooting, or lend
the perpetrators of that action moral support through silence. I could not
close my eyes and say, ``Well, there must be some historic reason for the
Yugoslav army to target civilians in Sarajevo, in Foca, in Srebrenica and
I did not perceive myself as a traitor then, and I do not perceive myself
as a traitor now. But I'm worried - because even though Bosnia was not
regarded by any Serb as a cradle of their civilization, it was still the
scene of indescribable atrocities. And what of Kosovo, a place that is
regarded as the cradle of civilization by many Serbs? What unspeakable
atrocities might be committed there?
My cradle is in Belgrade. But that does not give me the right to
go and shoot whoever lives now in the house on Proleterskih
Brigada St. where my parents lived at the time of my birth.
Some people say, ``But oh, that was during Tito's time and Tito was a
dictator.'' Yes. But part of what he dictated was that we embrace other
peoples' cultures as part of our own wealth. He ordered that bridges be
built and power plants be constructed. And he demanded that we learn
languages and acquire new technologies and that we share these with other
Oh, there was oppression of a kind, too, of course.
Hate-mongering was illegal. Insulting any ethnic or national group in the
media was expressly forbidden.
And this created a hardship for some. People like Vuk Draskovic, for
example, who is today Yugoslav deputy prime minister, must have had to rein
himself in during the period.
Since NATO's air raids I have seen Draskovic shouting on CNN, ``We are
multicultural. We are not against Muslims or Albanians. Don't shoot
But such speeches by Draskovic are only inspired by NATO's attacks. It
should be noted that, in the two decades following Tito's death in 1980,
Draskovic contributed a lot to promote Serb nationalism.
In the days before 1980, however, diversity was actually seen as an asset
and a very important part of Yugoslavia's attractiveness. But once the idea
of creating a Greater Serbia was unleashed, triggering the war, diversity
was transformed into an unfortunate circumstance of the Yugoslav reality.
Because many European politicians were a little familiar with Yugoslavia
and chose it as a popular holiday destination, they believed what Milosevic
was telling them back in 1991 when the Yugoslav army was just beginning its
open aggression against civilian populations. He provided all sorts of
arguments that his army was ``defending Yugoslavia'' while his personal
project of destroying Yugoslavia for the sake of a Greater Serbia was being
implemented on the ground.
As for me, I used to be a pacifist. I believed in diplomacy. When Bosnia
was in flames and world leaders gathered for a peace conference in London
in August, 1992, I shared the hopeful expectations of the Sarajevan people.
I thought it a minor miracle when I was allowed to leave Sarajevo aboard a
United Nations plane to cover the conference for my newspaper.
The London conference sounded a strong voice for peace and even promised to
put U.N. military observers on the border between Bosnia and Serbia.
But during that week of my absence from Sarajevo, almost half of the city
was destroyed by shelling. The National Library, a masterpiece of
Austro-Hungarian architecture, was burned down. Half of my newspaper's
building was obliterated. The city's main cemetery came under heavy
shelling and, afterwards, the victims of each new attack had to be buried
in parks and, later, on the grounds of the Olympic sports stadium.
While most foreign journalists and locals were in London reporting the
major diplomatic effort to stop the war, Serb guns back in Bosnia sped up
their demolition of the city.
I learned the first harsh lesson of being a war correspondent:
Diplomacy can sometimes be just a smokescreen for intensive military
Today, I know the Serb army's record in Bosnia. And I'm concerned that the
worst crimes committed during the Bosnian war may be replicated in the dark
alleys of Kosovo's capital of Pristina, against defenceless and helpless
I worry, too, because what we are seeing on our television screens are only
the pictures that Slobodan Milosevic wants us to see, namely, Belgrade
burning. Even NATO is incapable of bringing us pictures from inside Kosovo.
And as long as Milosevic succeeds in keeping TV crews out of the province,
I fear that the reality of the crimes being committed inside Kosovo may be
much uglier than anyone can imagine.
So have I, as a Serb, betrayed my birthright? If I have betrayed anything,
perhaps I have betrayed Sarajevo. I left the besieged city in the summer of
1994. I never had a chance to report on the final NATO action - 11 days of
bombing of Bosnian Serb targets - which paved the way for the Dayton peace
But ever since, I've been waiting for a voice to rise up from inside
Serbia. There must be someone, I thought, who can resist Milosevic and
stand up and say, ``Look, look what fellow human beings can do to each
other, once the crime is justified by the state.'' There must be someone
there able to see beyond the flames of Belgrade and report to their fellow
citizens what Serb troops are actually doing inside Kosovo and recount, as
well, atrocities that were perpetrated in Bosnia.
My Canadian friends ask, ``Why should Canada, thousands of miles away, get
My answer is straightforward: because Milosevic must be stopped. His army
must be dismantled. If Milosevic is allowed to continue his Satanic
cleansing in Kosovo, we will see the continued Balkanization of politics in
other parts of the world.
The alternative is peace in the Balkans now. It is a monumental task,
regrettably, one that cannot be achieved without the use of force.