Thursday, 24 July 2008

History, journalism, fact and fiction

On Radio 4's 'Today' programme recently, following the arrest in Belgrade of Radovan Karadzic, James Naughtie was heard to declare - as if it were a simple, well-known fact - that the NATO bombing of 1999 had been a success. Bridget Kendall, the Diplomatic Correspondent, responded with a rather more nuanced critique. With the recent declaration of independence in Kosovo, the Albanian population might well feel that it was a success - but at what cost?

Jan Oberg, of the Transnational Foundation wrote earlier this year:
"Did the international community make mistakes? Or did it have a deliberate plan to destroy Yugoslavia? Or was it a mix of this spiced with general conflict illiteracy? The answer is as hugely complex as it is important.
"One mechanism is obvious, however: Having started out with the outdated, two-party conflict paradigm – one all right, the other all wrong - borrowed from the just dissolved Cold War structure, nothing could go right. And since this community by constitution cannot admit that it makes mistakes, it has had to build on blunders, covering them up by continuing its irrational, counter-productive policies. The sum total is a boomeranging make-believe such as independent Kosovo. "

In the year of the bombing itself, Philip Hammond concludes:, in Reporting Kosovo: Journalism vs. Propaganda,
"As the bombs and missiles rained down we were informed by Nato leaders that this was 'not a war', and when it ended every newspaper found the same word to describe the occupation of part of a sovereign country by foreign troops: 'liberation'. This was a fitting climax to a media crusade which had frequently turned reality on its head in an utter dereliction of what journalism is supposed to be. It would seem that one casualty of the Kosovo war was British journalism, although some sources maintain it was already long dead. In its place we have propaganda."

The further away you get from an event, historically, it is harder but still more important to question the history with which we are presented as fact, just as it was and remains important to look beneath the current headlines. The danger in doing so is that the very process of questioning can easily be turned around and used as propaganda by one party or another. But keep questioning we must, and keep looking for nonviolent alternatives to the desperation and destructiveness of military responses.

In 2000, between the Nato action in the Balkans and the beginning of the 'war on terror', Judith Large wrote: "Let us never lose our compassion for suffering and willingness to respond. But let us also cultivate an awareness and sensitivity to signs and signals, and take imaginative and strategica actions to pre-empt collective violence, to protect the vulnerable, to build different futures. It is a longer, slower path than the use of only force, but it will lead to hope and renewal rather than destruction and retribution."
(in 'No Alternative? Nonviolent Responses to Repressive Regimes', edited by John Lampen and published by Sessions of York).