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Milosevic’s instrument of propaganda

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Snjezana Milivojevic, chairwoman of the center for Media Studies at the University of Belgrade, spoke tonight about media as an instrument of ethnic and nationalist propaganda in Serbia during the ’90s.

How did Milosevic use the media to promote himself and his ideas? And how did society communicate its resistance to the centrally controlled media?

After the collapse of communism, the centrally controlled media was kept intact, purged of dissenting voices, and instrumentalized to be a mouthpiece for the official party mandate.

Milivojevic attributes Milosevic’s media success to what she calls his “charisma of absence.” Milosevic’s performances and appearances were ritualized and rare. His overwhelming absence from the media spotlight dominated political life. He only appeared during election campaigns. And even then, he often offered his media slots generously to his opponents. His strategy was to exude superiority as if he was above the normal proceedings of a democratic election.

Resistance to the state controlled media appeared in several demonstrations that sought the decentralization of TV. In the late 90s, a family of independent journalists was able to publish a daily and weekly paper as well as produce TV and radio broadcasts. Finally in 2000, the demonstrators besieged and overtook the two greatest houses of power; the parliament and the TV station headquarters.

While the war was fought only 300km from Belgrade, orientation to its reality was skewed by the central media, and parallels to the current war in Iraq were insinuated in clips from Jarecki’s “why we fight,” Levinson’s “wag the dog” and numerous samples from American administration officials since 9/11. In brief, Serbian media dehumanized the war, deprived people of proper reporting, and hid the geographic and social elements that would have helped people place the unfolding events.

The relevance of the media’s role in the war is the dramatic and conflicting social memory of society being torn apart. Giving society a chance to reflect and reconcile its past is “a major task for critical citizenship in Serbia.”

Later, Darkwood Dub played at the Melkweg. I spoke with a Serbian man who recently moved to the Netherlands, and he explained that Darkwood dub is an underground reggae-dub band that played to a generation of young people trying to “live normal lives…”

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