ANATOMY OF DECEIT, by Jerry Blaskovich, M.D.
Copyright© 1997 by Jerry Blaskovich. Electronic edition by Studia Croatica, by permission of the author
"We live in an age where people no longer produce or create their own opinions, but rather, where people reproduce opinions presented in the media."
-- Jean Baudrillard in Simulations.
On December 15, 1991, I was awakened at 5 A.M. by a phone call from the Foreign Press Bureau's chief in Zagreb, J.P "Pat" Mackley. He was phoning from the combat zone: “I need your help. There’s been another massacre and we have bodies to prove it! In a place called Vocin near Podravska Slatina. What’s different is that the Cro Army is holding the terrain; the Serbs can’t hide the evidence. Unfortunately the Croatian Army has started burying them."
"Stop them; dig up those already buried and put them on ice. Pressure the Croatian government to send pathologists from Zagreb's Medical School and work up each corpse as they would any murder case."
With this began my direct exposure to crimes committed by the Serbs in the name of nationalism and ethnic cleansing.
When Mackley called I was blissfully ensconced in the safe cocoon of the Lotus Land called California, though I was scheduled, on behalf of the Foreign Press Bureau, to leave for Croatia that very day to evaluate the health care conditions in Croatia and investigate allegations involving incidents of poison gas and chemical warfare. Throughout the country, the medical facilities had been devastated. Since the onset of hostilities in June, 1991, the Yugoslav Army's primary targets, aside from non-Serb civilians, had been hospitals, churches, and Croatian cultural treasures. By February 1992, 378 towns, 210 Catholic churches, and 160 historical buildings had been destroyed, 28 of which were designated by UNESCO as world cultural monuments, including the city of Dubrovnik. The loss and destruction of the large number of medical facilities seriously crimped health care delivery.
After Mackley told me about Vocin, and knowing the way other Serbian atrocities had been handled, the first thing I blurted out, after being suddenly awakened from my deep sleep, was for him to institute a forensic investigation. He confirmed my arrival time, and told me to get on it.
Going back to sleep proved impossible. My wife, already fearful for my safety on this trip, became completely unglued when I told her what had happened in Vocin. The previous evening she had discovered her growing fear was justified when she found a Kevlar bullet proof vest and helmet among my clothes, and told her the items were the required wear in the areas I would be visiting. Another suitcase brimmed with desperately needed anesthetics, antibiotics and anti-scabies medications. Mackley had previously informed me that scabies and crabs were endemic at the front lines, which was wherever Croatian civilian forces were resisting the Yugoslav Army. When the Yugoslav army began hostilities, they immediately rolled over everything in sight until the Croat civilian defenders started to resist with whatever weapons they had. These "frontlines" unexpectedly held (the Croats' motivation was, after all, to defend their families).
My wife Kathy had become painfully aware of the situation in former Yugoslavia when the island of Brac in the Adriatic Sea, where her family has its roots, had been bombed a few months earlier by the Yugoslav air force.
After Mackley's call, my wife knew she could not dissuade me. A commitment was a commitment. To the contrary, my resolve stiffened after hearing about this latest outrage. I was painfully aware of the civilized world’s moral inertia that followed previous Serbian atrocities.
The Croatia I would be going to would be a far cry from the Croatia where I studied medicine on the GI Bill in the 60s. During my years as a medical student in Zagreb the power of the Communist Party was at its apogee. It was a time when one had to talk in whispers about anything political to another person; if a third person was present, all political discussion stopped. You were never sure of who could be an UDBA (secret police) informant. National identity was suppressed to a point that the mere mention of the noun “Croatian” was viewed with suspicion.
The friendships made in my student days in Zagreb have persisted. It may be that true relationships, which develop in a communist society, are somehow even more endearing and enduring than those nurtured in democracies. With every new acquaintance, one always had to be on guard, both in word and deed, and in how one talked, because of the lurking threat that 'someone' might be working for UDBA (secret police). In my particular case, since I was a student from America, I was perceived by some as working for the CIA or on a more Machiavellian note, an agent provocateur for UDBA. But once one was trusted, the relationships grew and persisted, warts and all. One way to maintain that trust in a totalitarian society is never to volunteer information to anyone, outside your own circle, who your close friends are. Another feature of totalitarian societies is the preference not to name names of those who are present when certain events take place. Until the situation in Croatia is resolved, it is necessary that I continue to use such precaution.
In present day Croatia these fears no longer exist, nonetheless the mentality persists. Among my circle of friends the formula of compartmentalizing of friends has proven to be successful; by my definition, "successful" means that none of those friends has gone to jail or disappeared during the communist heyday.
Friends from my student days have come to be judges, doctors, professors at the university--not only in medicine but in other fields, including architecture and engineering.
Since my student days, I had revisited former Yugoslavia numerous times. Although each visit had been interesting and a learning experience about new facets of life under communism, none of my visits were of any political consequence. This trip was my first in an official capacity. Yet, by coincidence, I was fortunate enough to be in Zagreb on the two most historic days in contemporary Croatian history: the Croatian Communist Party delegates walking out of the Yugoslav Communist Party Congress in Belgrade and the Croatian Sabor (Parliament) were voting to secede from Yugoslavia. When I witnessed the walkout in January 1990, my parasympathetic system response went into overdrive.
I immediately realized it to be the death knell for Yugoslavia. Anything that happened after this could only be anti-climatic. When the momentous event took place in Belgrade, I was watching television in Zagreb with a number of my closest friends. It would be an understatement to say that everybody was shocked; even those who had access to the workings of the Communist Party at the highest levels were flabbergasted.
Few of my Croatian friends realized at the time the ramifications of the walkout in Belgrade. Perhaps they were too close to the forest to see the trees--possibly, if they had been vocal it might have placed them in jeopardy; they may have feared that somehow the power and wrath of the Communist Party could rain upon them.
Following the parliament vote on February 21, 1991, the euphoria on the streets of Zagreb had no bounds. My wife and I had been in Zagreb to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. On Zagreb's main square, Trg Ban Jelacic, everyone was embracing or extending hands in congratulations. It was akin to Life magazine pictures I'd seen of Times Square in New York City following V-E day. Only one thing dampened the scene for us. My wife ran into a man, an ex-army officer from her hometown, whom she had not seen in years. After warm greetings and comments about the parliament vote were exchanged, he predicted that the Serbs would not give up Croatia easily nor would they allow the Croats their self-determination without a great deal of blood being shed. How right he proved to be!
When the Croatian parliament voted to secede from the Yugoslav federation, Slovenia's parliament also voted the same way. The federal government's (read Serbian) response to Slovenia secession was a tacit "good riddance;" but the Croatian resolution was greeted in Serbia with consternation, and immediately labeled "nationalistic." The federal government's response, retrospectively, portended the Serbs' true feelings, as exemplified by what transpired in the facts of the subsequent months.
Although I hadn't been to Croatia since the Yugoslav army unilaterally initiated their aggressive acts, I was nonetheless acutely aware of what was happening there. When I visited Croatia in February, 1991, there had been rare, isolated incidents of aggression. But within a few days after I left, incidents instigated by the Serb rebels steadily increased, and these rebels became more and more brazen when they were abetted by the Yugoslav army. The aggression reached its crescendo after the army started attacking Croatian cities. Between February and the time I received Mackley's phone call in mid-December, the city of Vukovar had fallen to the Serbs and Dubrovnik besieged for months. Vukovar’s dead lay buried under heaps of rubble.
I couldn't reconcile the vast discrepancy between what I knew and what I was watching on CNN and reading in the newspapers. The large number of atrocities being committed by the Yugoslav army and Chetniks, the Serbs' paramilitary force, on civilian Croats were ill-reported. And if they were reported at all, the articles and broadcasts were loaded with half truths.
Prior to the fall of communism in former Yugoslavia, my life style could have been best described as typical for a middle American. My existence centered on my family and I was happy practicing medicine in my specialty of dermatology. Although concerned about America's growing drug problem, illiteracy, and falling educational standards, I could not have, by any stretch of imagination, been considered an activist. To the contrary, I was apolitical and content with the superficiality of the news: the visual and sound bytes from television, the Los Angeles Times, the local "fish wrapper" San Pedro News Pilot, and sporadically US News and World Report. Naively I believed in the sacred responsibility of the media that could be trusted to deliver the truth.
The hostage crises in Iran during President Jimmy Carter's and Secretary of State Cyrus Vance's watch, however, unequivocally changed the direction of my life. Since the media offered more confusion than explanation about what Shi'ites, Sunnis, or whatever any other sects they cited were all about, I took a course at UCLA to get a better understanding. Before I knew it, I had the tiger by the tail and couldn't let go. I was so intrigued I decided to pursue the subject further. While maintaining a full time practice and caring for my patients, I took the required classes at UCLA, as well as all the available courses in Balkan history, and ended up getting a masters degree in Islamic art history.
Since the 1960s I had been a keen student of Yugoslav affairs, but once the various republics started to make overtures toward self-determination in the late 1980s, my readings increased markedly. Aside from having a number of close friends in Croatia who kept me informed, I received faxes of a newsletter from Croatia's Ministry of Health, Facts About Croatia. Although issued by a government agency, this newsletter gave the most objective information about the subject. The information I had at my disposal, derived from a variety of sources, enhanced by my background in history, kept me abreast about the events occurring in Croatia.
When the situation in former Yugoslavia reached the crises stage, I knew Croatia would be in dire straits, by every standard of measurement. Croatia, aside from being ill-equipped for a war, was economically devastated; Serbia had confiscated Yugoslavia's assets, including all its foreign monetary reserves. As the Yugoslav army regiments pulled out of Croatian cites and towns, they took with them everything, even the toilets out of the barracks, or whatever wasn't nailed down. Medically speaking, too, Croatia was a disaster in the making. When the first Yugoslav shells fired in 1991, I immediately began soliciting friends and medical colleagues for contributions to help implement humanitarian aid. The Croatian ministry of health sent updated lists of desperately needed medical supplies that I undertook to send to the devastated areas.
From September to December, 1991, a number of reports had claimed that the Serbs were using poison gas in some of their air attacks on civilian targets. Even Croatia's capital, Zagreb, was not exempt from air attacks. Following ten days of air raid alerts, Yugoslav MIGs fired missiles into the very heart of the city. They hit the parliament and presidential buildings on September 7, 1991. Croatia's president Franjo Tudjman; the Yugoslav federation president, Stipe Mesic; and Yugoslavia's Prime Minister Ante Markovic, escaped injury. It seems more than coincidental that the attack came at a time when the highest ranking Croatian leaders in the Yugoslav government were attending a summit conference with Croatia's president. The air attack may have been the Serbs' way of sending a message to the Croatian parliament, for that very same morning the parliament's agenda was to vote for full independence, which didn’t take effect until 4 months later.
Between the air attacks and the certain knowledge that the Serb forces were committing atrocities in the areas they had conquered, the rumor mills among the population were working overtime. The reported gas attacks had tremendous psychological ramifications on the Croatian citizenry. Each time a plane flew overhead (Croatia had no planes) it would elicit a degree of panic.
It enraged me that, though all Serb aggressive actions during the conflict in Croatia had so far been directed only at civilians, the Western media kept making it sound as though the Yugoslav Army (JNA) and the Serb paramilitary forces were facing a hostile and formidable Croatian army.
I knew very well that Croatia, for the first two years of the conflict, had neither a national army nor any organization that could, in the wildest imagination, be considered an "army." The Croatian defenders were auxiliary policemen or local civilians trying to protect their families. They were, in the strictest sense, analogous to the Minutemen who fought the British in the American Revolution. And like them, the largest weapons at
their disposal were hunting rifles.
The big league media, with its long and cozy relation to Belgrade, and seemed to relentlessly justify the JNA's actions as an effort to protect the Serb minority in Croatia. But, in carrying out this so called "defensive policy," one of the JNA's first actions was to occupy Slavonia, an eastern province in Croatia, and to expel most of the Croatians and Hungarians who made up the majority population in the villages there. Once this was accomplished, the Yugoslav army proceeded to attack the large towns: Osijek (70 % Croat, 15% Serb), Vinkovci (80% Croat, 11% Serb), and Vukovar (47% Croat, 32% Serb). The alleged "defenders" of the Serbs were, in fact, attacking Croatian towns and villages.
The relationship between the JNA and the Croatian government was difficult to understand. Nearly every town in Croatia still retained a military presence. During the very time the JNA were laying siege to Slavonian Croatian towns and cities, the JNA bases in non-combat zones in Croatia, not only were never attacked, but the Croatian government continued to supply the day-to-day needs to those JNA garrisons. The government was fueling the very tanks that were destroying Croatian cities and towns less than 100 kilometers from Zagreb. They allowed access to its ports and free movement of war material to the Yugoslav Army while it was engaged in besieging Croatian cities. The situation seemed to me baffling, to put it mildly.
As I prepared to leave, I packed literature about poison gas to read on the plane to Graz. I was landing in Austria, by way of Frankfurt. Commercial airlines quit flying into Zagreb because the Yugoslav Air Force controlled the air space. But reading proved to be difficult since I was haunted by the possibility of what Mackley described by phone had not been an exaggeration. Finally I gave up and settled back in my seat to reflect on the difference between reading about a war and actually entering a war zone. I had served in the U.S. Navy and with the Marine Corps as a Corpsman during the Korean War, but that experience was from a different time and place, from an altogether different world. Now I was heading into a situation where there were no clear battle lines and all civilians were potentially in harm's way. I didn’t know at time that my experiences treating casualties during the Korean war and covering the emergency room at Cook County Hospital, euphemistically called the “zoo,” couldn’t have come close to prepare me for Vocin.
Mackley really opened my eyes to the true situation in Croatia. I had met him several months earlier after he gave a talk to a civic group in Los Angeles on the political situation in former Yugoslavia. His knowledge was first hand because he had recently returned from Croatia after spending a great deal of time there--from observing the front lines to the dealing with the highest echelons in the government. Since that time we had many extensive discussions centering on Yugoslavia and about the ongoing atrocities committed by the Serb forces. Although what Mackley had told me about Vocin was shocking, it was not surprising. In November, after Croatian civilians destroyed a Yugoslav tank close to the village of Skrabrnje, Serb forces retaliated by massacring 55 villagers. Autopsy reports had revealed that most of them had been executed by a bullet to the head at close range--Nazi style--though some of the victims had perished under the treads of Yugoslav tanks. Identification of the crushed remains had been almost impossible. Yet a few were identified; I recall one witness telling me he had identified his father because one quarter of the face, with one eye still in the orbit, and the surrounding skin, was relatively intact. Despite the media received more than adequate substantiation about other Croatian slaughters, they were mostly ignored. Although what happened at Skrabrnje wasn’t unique, it was the very first massacre that appeared in the American press.
Initially, in early November, the Foreign Press Bureau had invited me to Croatia to lend my expertise as a physician in investigating alleged Serbian poison gas attacks on civilian targets and evaluating the way health care was being delivered in the devastated areas. Because of my commitments to my practice and business in California, it took me a month to make preparations to leave.
The coincidental massacre in the Croatian village of Vocin now took precedence over my primary mission. Although the alleged gas attacks were the main topic of discussion in Croatia, the issue was clouded with controversy since government sources were reluctant to be interviewed and few could get a handle on the situation. The Foreign Press Bureau had contacted me to tap my experience in A.B.C. Warfare (atomic, biological, and chemical) learned in the American military; and because of my expertise as a dermatologist who understood the skin manifestations of disease (the most common sequelae of gas attacks are skin lesions).
Aside from being knowledgeable about the clinical effects of chemicals and/or gas, I knew many physicians in Croatia on a personal basis and spoke Croatian. With my access to the highest levels in the medical field, including the Chief of Medical Services of the Croatian Armed Forces and the Health Ministry, the Foreign Press Bureau felt I was ideally suited to obtain accurate medical information. Besides questioning my personal contacts, during my three weeks of investigation I interviewed physicians practicing in a number of hospitals, especially those at the front lines. As the primary treating physicians, they, more than anyone else, eventually provided me with all the information I needed. None were able to cite that they have seen or treated one clinical case of poison gas exposure.
From what I gathered and concluded from my in-depth investigation, what triggered off the poison gas scare, apparently, was that the Serbs, whether purposely or accidentally, were sporadically dropping from their planes almost microscopic sized, spider web quality filaments. These filaments were comprised of inorganic substances that "stuck to the skin." Evidently, contact with this material had no clinical significance. According to military experts these objects had something to do with anti-radar or anti-detection devices.
My investigation established that such attacks were unsubstantiated and probably a manifestation of mass hysteria--a common phenomena under the conditions the Croatians had been subjected to.
Although I'd been to Croatia less than a year earlier, nothing could have prepared me for the excess of unbridled nationalistic symbolism I witnessed when I arrived in Zagreb on my mission in December 1991. In contrast to the former Yugoslavia era, there was now an outpouring of Croatian symbolism everywhere:
Croatian flags fluttered from every window; Croatian songs poured from boom boxes every few meters; and busts of the Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, were being sold like cherished icons on every corner.
What I found most surprising was that all hindrances to free speech had vanished. The plethora of political parties in Croatia is testimony to this new found freedom, belying the media's contention that Croatia is a dictatorial state.
The Western media misinterpreted Croatia’s unbridled nationalism and lambasted it. Without foundation, they equated the rebirth of Croatian nationalistic spirit to the fascist government of World War II.
To be sure, what was now going on seemed like an orgy of nationalism; but, after decades of repression under the artificially constructed Yugoslavia and its Communistic dictatorship, the new political climate was simply the spontaneous explosion of a forty- years-in- the-making, pent up identity crisis.
Thoughts of what had taken place in the previous months ran through my mind. Whenever legitimate Croatian government officials confirmed the minority Serb rebel aggressive act, the Yugoslav Army always intervened on the rebels' behalf. With each incident, the distinction between the Army and the rebels blurred.
When the Slovenes and the Croats seceded in June 25, 1991, the Yugoslav army unleashed their juggernaut attacks. Since then they took 30% of Croatian territory, most of which has been only recently regained by the 1995 Croat offensive. The reason the Serbs didn't take more land was the steadfast resistance of the Croats who defended their homes with hunting rifles.
At the time of my December 1991 mission, the State Department had placed a travel advisory against travel to Yugoslavia. While planning my trip I had anticipated that I would have to be smuggled across the border close to Graz, Austria, because the borders were still controlled by Yugoslav forces. However, by the time I arrived the borders of Slovenia and Croatia were no longer in the hands of Yugoslavia. Since all flights to Zagreb were canceled because of the potential of being shot down by Yugoslav MIGs, the trip had to be made by bus from Graz. Crossing the borders into Slovenia and then into Croatia was, for me, a red letter day. Getting visas stamped in my passport from the new authorities was the first evidence of the sovereignty of these new states. For the first time in centuries, Slovenia and Croatia had their own borders, symbolizing that they were in control of their own destiny.
In contrast to my earlier visit in February of that same year, the mood on the streets was somber and subdued. A curfew and a blackout were in effect. The citizens of Zagreb were still being subjected to air alerts.
The front lines were within streetcar distance away, and it was not uncommon to hear an occasional explosion.
Serbian sniper attacks from Zagreb's apartment windows, although rare enough, kept everyone on edge.
Branko Zmajevic, a Croatian Supreme Court Judge and a close friend of mine, was almost hit by a sniper a few yards from his home. The bullet flew by within inches of his head. At street level, most of the windows of the buildings had sandbags in place.
This was the atmosphere in Zagreb when I arrived to investigate what happened at Vocin. The ground floor of The Hotel Intercontinental, where I was housed, and which served as headquarters for the Foreign Press Bureau, looked like a bunker because its windows were boarded up and lined with sandbags. The hotel's lobby, a favorite watering hole for Western media folk, teemed with refugees from Vukovar, the city which had been reduced to rubble by the Serbs after a siege as devastating as that of Stalingrad in World War II.
As these events were taking place in Croatia the international media, aside from misinterpreting the causes of the conflict, painted an entirely different picture. Filing their stories, they all but ignored Croatian sources, which, in any case, were inadequate to the task of setting the record straight. A group of concerned Croatian Americans established the Foreign Press Bureau to help provide objective news analysis. Originally its function was to act as translators for the growing presence of the international media in Croatia, but in a short period of time, the reporters came to rely upon the Bureau for hard and fast information and access to inside sources which heretofore had been closed to them.
When I first entered the Bureau’s office, everything appeared to be in chaos. I soon learned that the apparent chaos was, in fact, orderly; and I came to respect the dedicated young men and women volunteers who ran the Bureau. Even before I had a chance to unpack and freshen up, Mackley had me roll up my sleeves to begin evaluating and verifying 43 pathology reports that were available of the 58 Vocin victims. Although I felt a sense of mission as I approached the work at hand, I learned from reading a number of related documents that many other massacres had occurred in Croatia, which had gone unreported by the press. Vocin was only the latest in a series of atrocities committed by the Serb forces in widely separated geographic locations in Croatia, which have now been well documented by teams of the European Community (EC) and of the Helsinki Watch.
A January 21, 1992, open letter from Helsinki Watch addressed to President of the Republic of Serbia Slobodan Milosevic and Acting Minister of Defense and Chief of Staff of the Yugoslav People's Army General Blagoie Adzic, focused on rampant Serbian human rights violations and accused the Yugoslav Army and Federal government of being directly responsible for atrocities. Despite the scathing indictment the media were loath to report it.
When Mackley asked me to investigate the medical aspects of the slaughter he told me especially to look for chicanery in the pathology reports. In other slaughters committed by the Serbs, some of the investigating pathologists not only downplayed the Serbs’ inhuman acts in their reports, they tried to cover them up. In one example of many, following atrocities in Sisak, an ethnic Montenegrin pathologist’s protocol made no mention that a victim’s throat was cut ear to ear. Rather, his report stated that the victim had succumbed to a ricocheted projectile. Apparently the pathologist had forgotten Mackley was present during the autopsy and Mackley placed his finger into the lumen of the severed carotid arteries and jugular veins after the pathologist pointed them out to him.
Since there were a number of pathologists who were ethnic Serbs and Montenegrins that performed some of the autopsies on the Vocin victims, Mackley’s index of suspicion was high. In the Vocin massacre, although there were a number of reports about genital mutilation--including one by an American journalist who saw the bodies in situ--I found no mention of those findings in the reports. The photographers either selectively omitted taking photos and/or the pathologists ignored the mutilations. Was it a cover-up? At this stage, only their consciences know the truth.
For some strange reason Mackley’s attempts to get the reports and photos from the forensic department met a stonewall. Mackley suspected this lack of cooperation was due to ethnic Serbian or Montenegrins being in the department’s leadership positions. His suspicion prompted Mackley to tell Branko Salaj, Ministry of Information, that he would use force to obtain the records. After Salaj notified the lab that a crazy American would be coming with intent to do violence they suddenly cooperated.
With this information in mind I proceeded to organize the investigation systematically, beginning by correlating the pathology reports I'd requested with the photographs (many of which are reproduced in this book) taken prior to the autopsies. I personally interviewed some of the eye witnesses. Bill Bass, a judge of the Texas Court of Appeals, who happened to be among the first to arrive on the scene, summarized the situation I witnessed only as a post-mortem analyst: "A mindless orgy of violence. There is no excuse on earth to justify this kind of murder and devastation."
From the time Mackley called me on the phone in Los Angeles, between the flight to Europe and transfer to Zagreb, and as I was immediately put to work on the Vocin pathology reports, I had been up for 44 hours. Despite the fatigue, sleep did not come readily that first night in Zagreb. It was an eerie feeling to hear sporadic explosions and machine gun fire in the background. Although they were supposedly a great distance away, I received little comfort from the knowledge that my room was not in the line of fire from potential Serb artillery. What was even more eerier was the lack of city noises, of lights, and of any vehicular traffic whatsoever. It was a far cry from the Zagreb that I knew so well. The boarded up windows and sand bags that surrounded the hotel's ground floor provided no security for me on the tenth floor where I had a panoramic view. What disturbed my rest even more were the images of the pathology photos from Vocin that I had examined shortly before. I couldn't help imagining what the last hours and minutes had been like for the victims, and how they were tortured before they were murdered.
At first I could not understand why, despite the ample documentation, the press had either disingenuously chosen to avoid reporting about Croat victims or had chosen, with motives that seemed increasingly suspicious to me, to report them with skepticism. Yet when rumors that Croats may have committed war crimes circulated, the world press on the scene immediately published the stories that were verified by the JNA. And, almost invariably, later investigation would reveal that the stories describing Serb victims were fabrications.
At times the reporting has seemed almost intentionally perverse. In a number of instances, when the media reported finding Serbian victims of an atrocity, subsequent investigations revealed the victims were, in fact, Croatians. In one example of the many I had first hand knowledge of; the British media reported under banner headlines that the Croats slaughtered a large number of Serbs in Daruvar in October 1991. But European Community (EC) monitors, who were called in to investigate the alleged slaughter a month later, concluded that the victims had been Croats. United Nation Forces (usually British) often reported finding Serb victims who had been mutilated by either Croats or Muslims. Time and again, investigators were unable to provide verification.
In spite of glaring evidence to the contrary, there has never been a retraction to this day. These stories were used by Belgrade to inflame the Serbs against the Croats. The pattern continues.
After the Croats retook their territory in Western Slavonia in May 1995, the U.N. and in particular the British delegation, immediately attributed "massive and inhuman" human rights violations by the Croatian forces upon the fleeing Serbs. These charges were later dispelled by independent investigating organizations.
The leading human rights watchdog, the Helsinki Watch, criticized the U.N. for its false report and concluded that the U.N. misused the issue as a pressure mechanism against the Croatian government.
Reuters committed one of the most perverse examples of media abuse in November 1991, when they reported that one of their journalists had witnessed the discovery of the bodies of 41 Serbian children butchered by Croatian guardsmen. The children, between the ages of five and seven, were found in a cellar of a school in Borovo Naselje, a Croatian village near Vukovar. The bodies were so badly mutilated that the, "Serbian soldiers were weeping when the children were brought from the cellar." The Reuters journalist related that he saw the body of a young man sprawled at the top of the cellar steps with the severed head of a young woman cradled in his arms. At the foot of the steps lay a woman's corpse, while next to it was a dead seven year old child.
Although what Reuters reported was horrific, it was, in actuality, a hoax. The journalist admitted it was a fabrication. Yet other newspapers picked up the story and published it without question, helping to perpetuate the notion that "all sides were guilty of atrocities." The story ran on Serbian television, and Reuters as its source gave it great credibility throughout the world. The Serbs who saw it believed it, and so did the rest of the Western media. CNN, which had ignored numerous verifiable massacres of Croatians, choose to believe the Reuters fabrication to a degree that they ran the story every hour. Reuters’ story played a major role in inciting acts of revenge against Croatians by the Yugoslav military.
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