Macedonian Phrase-Book: Writing NATO's Dictionary of Control
DEDICATION: TO OUR FOREIGN READERS
This article goes out to our many readers for whom English is a second language. As with any other, the English language has many subtleties of usage which a foreigner will not necessarily understand, yet which are highly important, precisely because they are so subtle. The ways of propaganda are many, and include the endless repetition of stock phrases, as well as the appeal to the herd mentality ("everyone else believes this is true, so you should too"). Another aspect of propaganda, and by far the hardest to pin down, is the subtle use of descriptive words and the juxtaposition of quotes and rhetorical devices intended to manipulate the reader's sympathies. Yet these tactics are usually used with some sense of restaint, and so the offending parties often escape without censure. Fortunately, the media (and especially the British media) seem to have thrown subtlety to the wind this week, making our job a lot easier.
Since its beginnings in February, the crisis in Macedonia has presented pro-interventionist media with a significant challenge: that is, how to justify acting against a democratic and peaceful country, one which had neither a malevolent dictator nor any serious oppression to recommend it for opprobrium. When Albanian terrorism started up last winter, it caught even the press by surprise, and for a few weeks no one knew how to handle it except by treating it as what it was: unprovoked violence from a destabilizing and terroristic source. The violence then was too sporadic, too disorganized, and above all too unprovoked to allow any other description.
Yet as time went on, some parallels were observed (or rather, were forcibly constructed) between Macedonia and Kosovo, and the various experiences of the victims and oppressors there. As everybody knows, in Kosovo the Albanians were the good guys, and the Serbs the bad guys, and so the chief bad guy of them all was the leader of the Serbs, Slobodan Milosevic. This handy model has been reapplied, and the tragicomic opera of Macedonia has been recast; Ali Ahmeti is the new Ibrahim Rugova, and Slobodan Milosevic has been replaced by, not one, but two men (after all, he had mighty big shoes to fill) Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski.
As it becomes harder for NATO to conceal its support of the NLA, the quest of the media is to reconstruct the Kosovo scenario, utilizing the same descriptive terms that were widely used to win popular acceptance of the legitimacy and the urgency of NATO's mission on behalf of the Albanians. The fascinating aspect of this is how the use of colorful and pejorative adjectives with the implied meanings and associations they have taken on since Kosovo (and, for that matter, since the earlier Yugoslav wars) has actually created characters in the media's grand opera of Macedonia. The slogan of Macedonia's favorite beer, Skopsko, proclaims, "with Skopsko, anything is possible." Reviewing the media's dictionary of control will show how indeed anything and everything has become possible for the Western media.
A PREFACE: DUAL-CARRIAGEWAYS AND DREADFUL SOUNDS
The controversy continues over the death of British soldier Ian Collins. Was he, as the British press claims, victim of a malicious Macedonian "gang," gunning for NATO soldiers? Or is there reason for the Macedonians to be suspicious that they were not allowed to see the wreckage of Collins' vehicle, and that the reports of different witnesses do not match up? We may never know the whole truth, but there already seems to be one outrageous misdeed committed by the British press.
The alleged "eyewitness," Sima Stojic, is suing the Times of London, claiming that they put false words in his mouth, and offered him large sums of money not to speak to other media.
The Times article claims that Stojic spoke "broken English," learned over two years in Detroit. Yet the reporter, Michael Evans, records him as speaking quite flawless British English. He supposedly quotes Mr. Stojic as speaking of a "dual-carriageway" in reference to the road that the perpetrators crossed to escape. No American would ever refer to a "highway" as a "dual-carriageway"; in fact, most Americans would not understand what this word means. Further, the Times article quotes Mr. Stojic as saying the NATO car made a "dreadful sound." This also raises suspicions. The word "dreadful" is particularly British in tone; no American would use it in this context. If Mr. Stojic really used these words, I can tell you one thing he didn't learn them in Detroit.
This troublesome discrepancy supports Mr. Stojic's claims of tampering and indicates that the Times is guilty of a serious breach of journalistic ethics. Yet why would they sink so low? And why does the British press have such a stake in this?
The answer lies in the general ambivalence of the British people, who are confused and misinformed over why their soldiers are in Macedonia in the first place. The fact that the British military presence was forced through while most of the government was on holiday inspired some objections from Conservatives.
Criticism has also come from the region most weary of violence, Northern Ireland.
During the Kosovo bombardment I was living in England, and I can testify to the incredible impact that the press had on the British people. Headlines every day screamed of Serbian "atrocities," "genocide," and "death camps" and, in general, sought to justify Britain's intervention on behalf of the KLA. Simply put, Tony Blair needed to win the hearts and minds of the average Briton, and the main newspapers all obliged.
Since the situation in Macedonia is so different than in Kosovo, the British press is left with a conundrum: either don't advocate sending British troops, or else find a way, and fast, of making the Macedonian crisis into another Kosovo that is, another humanitarian crusade for Mr. Blair.
THOSE SLAVS ARE ANGRY, ANGRY, ANGRY!
They have chosen the latter. The first step in transforming the Macedonians into those "murderous" Serbs is to describe them by the blanket term "Slavs"; the second step is to portray them as irrational, vituperative, and dangerous.
The frequent use of the word "Slav" to describe the Macedonian majority population is a big reason why the Macedonians are angry. The term is both imprecise, and also a subtle tool for undermining Macedonian ethnicity and as such, their claims against the Albanians.
The word "Slav" is a blanket term which lumps together all of the nationalities which separated off after the Slavic invasions of the Balkans during the 7th century. As such, it is a perfectly legitimate descriptor, in the same way that the word "Celts" is used to describe the ancient settlers of Ireland, Scotland and parts of France, or that the term "Native Americans" is used to describe the hundreds of different tribes that covered North America before the arrival of the European colonists.
As for "Slavs," this extended ethnic family includes, but is not limited to, the Russians, Serbians, Ukrainians and Macedonians. The Bulgarians, who have their origins in ancient Turkic tribes, were Slavicized culturally and by intermarriage with the invaders.
The Macedonians are proud of their Slavic heritage, but resent that the Western media will not call them what they believe themselves to be Macedonians. A parallel example would be if the Norwegians were referred to merely as "Scandinavians," or the Sioux were dismissed as "Indians."
It should be pointed out here that this is not political correctness we're talking about, but merely lexical accuracy. The second, and more serious problem with the name "Slavs," is that it feeds into a chain of associations which link the Macedonians to the Serbians, and eventually, back to the Russians and therefore implies that the Macedonians are just the latest strain of the virulent Slavic plague on humanity. Inaccuracy and implication wed here to create an unflattering portrayal of the Macedonians, who are always described as being "angry" and "rampaging."
Indeed, one recent piece depicts the Macedonians as "angry" three times in the first half-page.
They are said to be angry because of NATO's presence, angry because of the rebels' possession of weapons, and angry that NATO's arrival "has deprived the Macedonian army of the opportunity to crush the insurgents once and for all." Aggressive words such as "crush," "hurl," "hostile," "obscene," "frustration," "riot," and "accuse" are all used in reference to Macedonian civilians not one of whom is quoted as using any of these words.
There is an endless stream of articles that continue to depict the Macedonians as "angry Slavs." The combination of the inaccuracy of nomenclature and the sordid implication of irrational anger masks the fact that, yes, the Macedonians have quite a lot to be angry about and that, all things considered, they have been remarkably docile so far.
MEET JUSTIN HUGGLER, THE NEXT HEMINGWAY
The headline says it all: "Macedonia's campaign of hate leaves NATO suffering its first casualty."
Welcome to the subtle literary mind of Justin Huggler. Of late, this celebrated author has been spouting such vitriol with regularity. But he's not so unique. Too many journalists are just would-be novelists who try to spice up their accounts with exciting details and compelling quotes, in the process throwing both objectivity and the truth out the window. In the cutthroat world of war reporting, where competition to "get the story" is so keen, journalists become especially free with their overuse of adjectives and rhetorical devices, not to mention unsubstantiated and shady quotations. Huggler's account (and many of his previous ones) is a perfect example. He avers:
"On the hot, dusty roadside where Sapper Collins was fatally injured, an off-duty captain in the Macedonian army who refused to give his name yesterday stared contemptuously at the spot where NATO suffered its first casualty in Macedonia. 'You want to know what I think?' he said. 'If I saw NATO soldiers here now, I would kill all of them myself.'"
It was quite convenient for Mr. Huggler that an off-duty captain just happened to be standing around, and that the captain wouldn't give his name. The "quote" he records is absurd; no Macedonian, especially an official, would say such a thing to an English journalist, especially at the crash site of a NATO soldier. The "lonely stretch of motorway," as Huggler describes it, must have been swarming with reporters, police and other officials. But when you throw in the description "hot" and "dusty," a kind of High Noon showdown scenario is conjured up; one in which a "contemptuous" Macedonian army officer can cleverly be found to illustrate the dangers for NATO in the badlands of "hostile territory," and so provide colorful support for what Huggler argues is a "relentless government and media campaign" by the Macedonians against NATO.
LES MOTS FRANCAISES
The use of certain French words in the context of English may be particularly difficult for our foreign readers to comprehend. The two words most used have been nom-de-guerre and agents provocateurs. A certain intrigue, mystery and sophistication comes with the use of these words in English, which would be noticeably lacking were we to substitute them for terms that are more accurate for the context.
There are two subtle insinuations that come with the use of the word nom-de-guerre to describe NLA commanders.
The more correct description of such an individual would be "individual who uses a made-up name specifically in his capacity as a military commander." The French term, however, is not only shorter, it also conjures up a swashbuckling, adventurous figure, a fighter with an air of mystery to him. That is to say, the phrase nom-de-guerre implies someone dashing, romantic and mysterious that is, a person with whom we should sympathize. Secondly, the descriptor nom-de-guerre conceals an important question: why is this person using a false name? Does this person have a real name? And does this person even exist?
Since March, "NLA commanders" such as Sokoli, Hoxha, and Leka have made themselves remarkably available to British and American journalists. Over cell phones, over cups of coffee, these shadowy figures have always been there to provide a quote when it was needed. Of course, it is impossible to prove anything, but….
The second French word, agents provocateurs, has been used in connection with the destruction of the Sveti Anastasi monastery in Leshok. The NLA did not take responsibility for this crime, but blamed it on "certain agents provocateurs." We can be sure that it was not the NLA who used this term, but the journalists. What they mean to say, more specifically, is that the bombing was committed by Macedonians who wanted to make it look like the NLA's work, to derail the "peace agreement" and provoke more fighting. Not that they have addressed why any patriotic Macedonian would consider the destruction of his country's most revered church to be useful in any way.
Clearly, there is nothing to the NLA's assertion: they are as guilty as sin. But the French word, in this case, rather obliquely skirts the issue and keeps the journalist from having to deal with how to judge the legitimacy of the assertion.
NOPE, THERE'S JUST NO WAY TO BEAT AN ETHNIC REBEL
Any way you slice it, there's just no way to beat an "ethnic rebel." This is an intoxicating phrase for interventionists everywhere. The word "ethnic," especially in the Balkans, conjures up images of poor, oppressed minorities yearning to break free from tyranny. "Ethnic" also implies "truly native of' a place." The correlative word for what happens to "ethnic" groups is "genocide" (i.e., media indictments of Serbia's actions in Kosovo). And, consequently, the need for "rebels," the courageous and just soldiers of said ethnic group who rise up to throw off the yoke of tyranny. The lethal cocktail of "ethnic" and "rebels" conjures up a confusing chain of associations, embedded over time by incessant repetition, which automatically validates the actions of these "freedom-fighters." Specifically in the case of the Balkans, "ethnic rebels" has always meant one thing: whoever was fighting against Serbia. Never mind that Croatia's Fascist leader Tudjman had said, "I'm glad my wife is neither a Serb nor a Jew," nor that Bosnia's Izetbegovic had written a book advocating an ethnically-pure Islamic fundamentalist state in the Balkans; these were just poor victims of Serbian oppression. The torch was passed to the Albanians, who elevated being "ethnic rebels" to an art form in Kosovo, and now Macedonia. After a few tentative weeks in early March, the media stopped referring to the NLA as "terrorists," and almost unanimously began referring to them as "ethnic rebels," or "ethnic guerillas," a term only slightly less provocative.
This brings up an interesting dichotomy: why do we have terrorists in Northern Ireland, but in Macedonia we have "ethnic rebels"? What's to account for this? Ah, I know…
THE TERRIBLE SCOUGE OF 'HARDLINE NATIONALISM'
The media's most insidious manipulation of the Macedonian crisis has to be the continued use of the term "hardline nationalist" to denote anyone who has not automatically caved in to the demands of the NLA. The term "nationalist" connotes, by association, images of recalcitrant Balkan thugs inflicting genocidal campaigns of terror against defenseless ethnic minorities. The term "hardline" is used to describe someone who is unyielding and who will not compromise in any negotiations. Taken together, the phrase "hardline nationalist" just seems to cry out for intervention against said boorish thugs. It worked with Milosevic, the most famous "hardline nationalist" now indicted by the Hague for genocide and it seems to be working Macedonia's leaders.
As such, the Macedonia crisis is being subtly manipulated by the media into a replay of Kosovo coverage, as has already been noted, by the description of Macedonian patriots as "hardline nationalists." Prime Minister Georgievski and Interior Minister Boskovski have especially been singled out as "hardline nationalists," as they have consistently stood up for their country in the face of extreme Western pressure to cave in to the demands of the NLA.
Further damning them, in the eyes of the pro-intervention media, has been their stated desire to use all necessary force to remove the terrorists from their positions, and so eliminate the threat to Macedonia's stability.
Yet it is hard to imagine that Tony Blair would be decried as a "hardline nationalist" if the IRA attacked London, and he tried to stop them by force. And say that the IRA then demanded a rewrite of British laws to win "more rights," such as a veto power over Parliament? Would the press condemn Tony as a "hardline nationalist" for refusing them? And what about if they demanded that Gaelic be made an official language?
THE BENEVOLENCE OF THE 'INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY' AND THE GOOD INTENTIONS OF NATO
In matters of intervention, the media often makes reference to an enlightened and benign body, known as the "international community." This group is never defined by name; in other words, there is nowhere to place blame or attach responsibility, although reporters always seem to find "high-ranking diplomats" or "international monitors," or, even more suspicious, "sources" who are glad to share their "concern" over such things as the "peace process" and "human rights." The anonymity and lack of centrality which the "international community" enjoys allows those behind it to avoid the blame for interventionist activities, especially when those activities go disastrously wrong.
In the case of Macedonia, the "international community" is really quite homogenous: it is the NATO governments, under the rule of the U.S., and to a lesser extent, Britain. Words used in the context of the "international community" include "support," "cooperate," "agreement," "confidence-building," "foster," "deploy," and "secure." These are all very benign and laudable terms but they are seldom accurate in the case of Macedonia.
Take this description of the "peace treaty" given by the Economist:
"In the end, foreign mediators persuaded the two sides to accept a compromise, whereby Albanian would receive official status in areas where 20% or more of the locals spoke it. Ethnic Albanians would also be able to speak their language in the national parliament, although Macedonian will remain the language of the central government. Thus ethnic Albanians will be able to use their own language for almost all official purposes, but Macedonian will still reign supreme."
Anyone who has been keeping a close eye on the "peace process" knows that the Macedonians were not "persuaded" they were cajoled, threatened, intimidated and pressured into signing an agreement that proved terrorism gets results. The media almost never shows the "international community" as anything more than a benign, almost godlike, entity committed to the best interests of those it seeks to help.
IT'S NOT OVER 'TIL THE FAT LADY SINGS
And so, all the characters of the Macedonian tragicomic opera are in place. Standing in for Mr. Milosevic are the "hardline nationalists," Prime Minister Georgievski and Interior Minister Boskovski. For the KLA's mouthpiece Ibrahim Rugova we have the suddenly peace-loving statesman Ali Ahmeti of the NLA. The Albanians of Kosovo will be portrayed by the Albanians of Macedonia (and, er, of Kosovo). NATO will also reprise its stellar performance as the guarantor of peace and stability. The murderous Serbs have been replaced by the Macedonians; on second thought, let's just call them "Slavs." And the chorus of the "international community" is warming up, while the British-American media, a very fat lady indeed, smacks her lipstick in the dressing room.
Christopher Deliso is a San Francisco-based travel writer and journalist with special interest in the Balkans. He received a BA in Philosophy and Greek (Hampshire College, 1997) and an M.Phil with distinction in Byzantine Studies (Oxford University, 1999). From 1997-2000 Mr. Deliso lived and worked in Ireland, England, Turkey and Greece, and he spent one month in Macedonia in January, 2000. He is currently involved with investigating media and governmental policies regarding the Macedonian crisis, and he publishes regularly on European travel destinations."
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