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What's at Stake in Kosovo?

The New York Times' Roger Cohen puts in a call from Berlin. Cohen reported from Bosnia during the war there. He's the author of the book, "Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo."


Other segments from the episode on March 29, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 29, 1999: Interview with Julia Glyn-Pickett; Interview with Roger Cohen.


Date: MARCH 29, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 032901np.217
Head: Julia Glyn-Pickett
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

There's an old saying that the first casualty in war is truth. The Serbian government has expelled foreign journalists from NATO countries. Serb citizens are prohibited from talking to the foreign press. And the principal independent radio station in Serbia, B92, has been shut down by the government.

B92 broadcasts a mix of news, information and rock music. A co-founder once described the station as symbolizing the right to information; one of the fundamental principles which has been ignored ever since Milosevic came to power.

The station has been honored with awards from the International Press Institute and MTV. The government has shut down the station several times before. Refusing to be censored, in 1996, B92 established a strong Internet site which has enabled it to reach people around the world. B92 is still broadcasting on their Internet site:

My guest Julia Glyn-Pickett has worked for B92 for the past three years. She is a spokesperson for the station and the manager of its English language service. She left Belgrade a couple of weeks ago for a brief trip to London, but has been unable to return to Belgrade.

We talked to her this morning from the NPR bureau in London. I asked her first why the station is called B92.

JULIA GLYN-PICKETT, SPOKESPERSON, RADIO B92: B92 stands for "Belgrade 92.5 FM." 92 is also the Yugoslav equivalent of the number 911 for emergency services. So the idea was that you would be able to get urgent information from B92 radio station.

GROSS: What's the difference between how you cover news on B92 and how that same news is covered on the state-sponsored radio?

GLYN-PICKETT: The -- there are a lot of differences between state controlled television reporting and the reporting of B92. I think the most important difference is that B92 doesn't lie. B92 seeks to represent all political opinions and positions, which means that the radio stations interviews representatives from all political parties; government and opposition.

B92 promotes in its programming format the possibility for listeners to phone in and participate in programming. So in a way it's very interactive with its audience. And it also has programming which supports different minority groups, different lobby groups.

So for example, there is a program which is -- which is for refugees. The program is biweekly, it's called "Potikas." (ph) And the program provides legal and other information for Yugoslavia's very large refugee population.

I don't know if you know, but following the conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia, Yugoslavia took the greatest number of refugees in the whole of Europe. And they now have 650,000 Serb refugees from Bosnia and Croatia. So B92 has those two weekly shows, for example, for the refugees.

GROSS: Now I understand the slogan of B92 is "trust nobody not even us."

GLYN-PICKETT: That's right. I think you can get a feel for B92's humor through this slogan. This was a slogan that was -- that became the hallmark of B92 at the height of the propaganda during the conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia.

And the idea was to provoke the public to start thinking about the information that they were receiving. So just don't be just a passive recipient of this information, think about it and decide do you believe it or not.

GROSS: Do you think most people have been passive recipients of propaganda?

GLYN-PICKETT: I think we have to draw a line between the situation now and the situation a week ago. We had quite a strong indication of the interest of the publics in Serbia and Montenegro for receiving independent information just through our audience figures.

State radio -- until a week ago -- state radio had about 2.5 million listeners. We had -- we had some 20 percent of their broadcasting capacity -- 1.6 million. So I think that's a very strong indication of how people were using B92 because they wanted to have free information.

GROSS: Now back when you were still in Belgrade, how was B92 covering the Serb attacks on Kosovo?

GLYN-PICKETT: B92 -- from the beginning of the Kosovo crisis last year -- B92 has had at all times at least two correspondents based in Pristina and around Kosovo. We also had access to Albanian and Serbian sources on the situation as well as access to international news agencies, and a whole network of contacts who were able to give us information.

So we were able to provide very comprehensive information about what was happening in Kosovo.

GROSS: And how were those reports comparing to the ones on state-sponsored radio?

GLYN-PICKETT: Until a week ago, basically the situation on state radio and television was that the reports were not covering at all anything that was happening among the ethnic Albanian community except to accuse the ethnic Albanians of being terrorists. And that was the reason why the police were in Kosovo, which was to cleanse Kosovo of Albanian terrorism.

GROSS: Looking back over the time that you've worked at B92 in Belgrade, what are the reports that you thought had the biggest impact on the country?

GLYN-PICKETT: Oh, it's very difficult to answer that question. Everyday there's another crisis, which means that everyday there's another crisis report which is of enormous importance. I think one of the things about working for an organization in Yugoslavia is that you are in a perpetual state of emergency.

So you never know quite what to expect when you go into the radio in the morning. I mean, I think even up until last Wednesday there was still a surreal hope in a way that NATO would not strike and that Milosevic would sign the deal. And I know for a fact that everybody in the radio station, many of them still are in a state of shock. And all of them were in a state of shock for at least 24 hours after those NATO strikes began.

So it's very very difficult to identify the most important report or the most significant report that B92 has produced. I think you can identify different periods -- different crises. B92 has followed all of the major crises over the past 10 years.

During my time in B92 we've covered the mass civic demonstrations of '96-'97. Before that, the Dayton agreement. Then the mass demonstrations of '96-'97. Then the dispute with Montenegro. Then the dispute with Republic of Serbska. Following that, we moved down to Kosovo and we're still with the Kosovo conflict.

And what you can see is a pattern of crisis after crisis after crisis.

GROSS: I was reading that according to research conducted by the Institute for Social Science in Belgrade about 45 percent of the population in Serbia hasn't finished elementary school. And about 70 percent hasn't finished high school.

And this report also said that about a half million young people, mostly with higher education, had left the country in the past few years. And I know I've read over the years that a lot of intellectuals who lived in Belgrade have left the country in the past few years. For those intellectuals remaining in Serbia does it feel like a kind of lonely situation?

GLYN-PICKETT: I think one of the worst things about the last 10 years for people in Belgrade -- but not just in an Belgrade, throughout the country -- is the extreme isolation that they have experienced. And this is particularly true for those people who have been looking to create a more outward looking and European country to live in.

And I think for them now the NATO air strikes are the last nail in the coffin. There was a degree of hope developing before the NATO air strikes began that there would be a chance to solve the Kosovo crisis peacefully and start to live a normal life in Belgrade. I think those people now see there's no hope.

GROSS: I'm wondering if you think that the state sponsored media plays on the lack of education that the majority of people in Serbia have.

GLYN-PICKETT: It's very interesting if you analyze the language of state television and the way that they report. It's a very very complex language -- very -- a lot of dependent clauses. Very complex syntax. A lot of -- often you hear them quoting Latin.

So it's not a language that's directed as you would think it would be at capturing the hearts and minds of, according to this research, what would imply an illiterate population. I think one of the ways that Radio-Television Serbia is able to create a sense of confusion -- a sense of confusion which is essential if you're going to paralyze people in a way from taking action is by using this very convoluted type of language.

And this language is punctuated with inflammatory adjectives. So, for example, a report that -- this is extreme, because as I say that you have a situation of war -- but there was a report that came out on the 27th of March from Radio-Television Serbia which was referring to the Clinton and Albright address to the Serbian people.

You have -- you saw adjectives such as, for example, that Clinton is a murderer. That Albright is his hench woman. That he's a blood thirsty maniac. And then the end of the report finishes by saying, "that is the problem you stupid murderer. You Adolf, Goebbles, Clinton -- you embarrassment and blemish on the United States and the world."

So I think it's quite clear from that the type of information that people are receiving.

GROSS: My guest is Julia Glyn-Pickett, a spokesperson for the independent Serb radio station B92. More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Julia Glyn-Pickett, a spokesperson for B92 the independent radio station in Serbia. It was shut down by the government last week but continues to broadcast on the Internet. Glyn-Pickett left Belgrade for London a couple of weeks ago.

I wonder if you have any sense of what the decision-making has been like at B92 in figuring out how much to comply with Milosevic's restrictions on the media -- the bans that he's put on all media. For example, not talking to the international press, you know, including a spokesperson from the government in every story. I don't know if there are other restrictions that the media has to comply with.

GLYN-PICKETT: The situation at the moment is a situation of war. And as we all know, the first victim of war is always the truth. And it's -- B92 said way back in October if NATO bombs Yugoslavia we will not be able to continue to report the way we are reporting now.

And it will be a situation of war and we will have to comply with government regulations in a situation of war. And that's what they are doing, and so it means that they're not reported stories that are different from the ones, basically, that the state television and radio are putting out.

But I think one things that's very very important is B92, as I said before, B92 is not telling lies. B92 is restricting itself to factual information. Information about where -- which sites have been bombed. Where people can find shelters. And they're basically just trying to help their listeners to survive this very very difficult time.

And that's -- I don't think that B92 has taken that order from on high. It's -- there's a general consensus throughout the whole news department of B92 that that's what they should be doing, and that's what they are doing.

GROSS: That the most important function they can play is just helping people survive on a day-to-day basis?

GLYN-PICKETT: Absolutely. B92 news staff, they feel the most important thing is that they survive -- that they help their listeners to survive on a day-to-day basis. That they stay there on the air for their listeners. That their listeners don't feel that their last bastion of hope, if you like, has also been turned off.

GROSS: How much of that sense of helping listeners survive means keeping them entertained in the bomb shelters by playing music?

GLYN-PICKETT: Well, B92 is also a music station. A lot of B92's time is given over to music programming. Also phone-ins so people can phone in. B92 was broadcasting the concert in Belgrade yesterday that was organized by bands that are also sponsored by B92's music department.

And I think this is very important for the B92 listeners that they feel that there is something positive in spite of everything that's going on. And I think that's the most difficult thing for the people in B92, which is to -- and this is a real test for their professionalism. That they are able convey a sense of hope in what is a desperate situation to their listeners.

GROSS: If you were in Belgrade now, if you were back there, where would you be seeking refuge in the bomb shelters? What bomb shelter would you be using?

GLYN-PICKETT: To be honest I don't even know where the bomb shelters are. It was a situation where in October every building was -- received written instruction of where they should send their employees and where people should go if the strikes began. But this situation now -- it didn't happen, and so people found out about bomb shelters as the strikes started to happen.

And the information took rather longer to come through then it had. And there was a lot less preparation than there was in October. So I don't even know where the bomb shelter would be if I were in Belgrade.

Also, I don't know if I would probably go to a bomb shelter simply because as a foreign citizen it would be extremely dangerous for me to go into a bomb shelter.

GROSS: People would see you as representing the enemy?

GLYN-PICKETT: Absolutely. And this is something else that we said again and again and again. If you bomb then you will create -- you will catalyze public support. If not for Milosevic, without doubt against the West -- against NATO.

And people are now very angry, very upset. They feel very betrayed. Especially those people who have been fighting for an alternative solution all these years. And you can't expect people to be understanding and friendly even if -- even if they've known that you have been there for three years. It's an extraordinary situation, and you have to understand that.

GROSS: Do you think that there are any people in Serbia who oppose the Milosevic government and who support the bombing as a way of a uprooting Milosevic?

GLYN-PICKETT: Absolutely not. That's a simple answer. Anyone who voiced political support for an alternative -- an alternative party to Milosevic's governing party and the coalition, not one of those people would support the bombing as a strategy for political change.

So there's absolutely no support at all for the bombing in Serbia.

GROSS: Your husband is in Serbia, and I'm wondering if you are able to stay in touch with him.

GLYN-PICKETT: Fortunately, the telephones lines are still open. When the confirmation came through on Wednesday that the NATO strikes would indeed go ahead, our greatest worry was that we wouldn't be able to speak to each other.

But thank God until now we have been able to speak to each other, and so I've been on the phone to him about every two hours. Sometimes waking him up, which he's not to pleased about because he's working around the clock at the moment and only snatching half an hour sleep -- half an hour's sleep here and there.

But yes, he's in Belgrade. And he is safe and well and working hard.

GROSS: If the phone lines do go down because of the bombing that means that you and other people with loved ones in Serbia will lose contact. It will also mean that the Internet broadcast would have to end, wouldn't it, because doesn't that rely on phone lines?

GLYN-PICKETT: Yes. That's it. If international phone lines go that means that Serbia is truly isolated from the world.

GROSS: So is that a big concern of yours that the bombs will down the phone lines?

GLYN-PICKETT: I would -- I mean, I would -- if I were -- if I had any -- to NATO, I would certainly tell them -- apart from telling them please stop the bombing, I would also say please don't bomb the telecommunication systems.

GROSS: How much knowledge do you think the people in Belgrade actually have about the Serbian attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo? And about the huge number of refugees who are fleeing the country now and being forced out of the country?

GLYN-PICKETT: Well, there are two points I would like to make. One point is that there has been a lot of flammatory -- inflammatory -- vocabulary used about what's happening in Kosovo at the moment. And I think that that -- actually what that does is it destroys any empathy that you might have among the Serbian people for ordinary Albanians.

So when you start -- when politicians start talking about genocide and scorched earth policy, which does come back into Serbia through Radio-Television Serbia because of course they pick up on this and they quote it in their news. What it invokes among ordinary Serbian people is a sense of anger and outrage.

So it actually -- it's counterproductive. It destroys any possibility for empathy because of this inflammatory vocabulary that's being used. In terms of what information is available, there is basically very little information at all available in Belgrade and the rest of Serbia at the moment about what's happening in Pristina and around the rest of Kosovo.

And, for example, B92 no longer has any reporters there. And so they have no way of having direct information. And they have no way of verifying reports either way. And that's the situation.

GROSS: Are you saying it's NATO and the Clinton Administration that's using the inflammatory language?

GLYN-PICKETT: I think it's across the board.

GROSS: So you think when people use words like "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" that that alienates people and ruins the chances of empathy?

GLYN-PICKETT: I think that's definitely the situation in Serbia at the moment. Because you have to remember that the way that the Serbians -- what the Serbians think is, well what about what happened in Croatia in 1995 when 350,000 Serbs were driven out of Croatia by the Croat army that was receiving military support from the United States of America and nobody said anything about it? The world was silent.


GLYN-PICKETT: This is the problem of using apparently simple solutions in an incredibly complex context.

GROSS: Well, I wish you and your colleagues good luck, and I thank you very much for talking with us.

GLYN-PICKETT: My pleasure. Thank you. Bye-bye.

GROSS: Julia Glyn-Pickett is a spokesperson for B92. She recently left Belgrade for London. B92's Internet site is

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Julia Glyn-Pickett
High: To discuss the situation in Kosovo and the NATO bombings, a talk with Julia Glyn-Pickett. She is the spokesperson for Belgrade radio station B92. Earlier this week the Yugoslavian government banned the station from broadcasting and journalists were forbidden to talk with foreign media about the situation. The government also expelled journalists from Britain, France, the U.S. and Germany.
Spec: War; Europe; Television and Radio; Lifestyle; Culture; Julia Glyn-Pickett

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Julia Glyn-Pickett

Date: MARCH 29, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 032902NP.217
Head: Roger Cohen
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

NATO is bombing Serbia while Milosevic is driving ethnic Albanians out of Kosovo. What's at stake for Milosevic, NATO and the people of Kosovo?

Earlier today we called Roger Cohen, who learned the history of the region when he covered the war in Bosnia for "The New York Times." He's the author of a book about the war called, "Hearts Grown Brutal." He's now "The New York Times" Berlin bureau chief.

We called him earlier today in Berlin. Kosovo is a province of Serbia that is trying to secede from Serbia. Critics of the NATO bombing are asking why should we intercede in a civil war? If one of the American states tried to secede from the Union, what business would it be of any other country?

Roger Cohen says the situation in Kosovo isn't really comparable.

ROGER COHEN, JOURNALIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES;" AUTHOR, "HEARTS GROWN BRUTAL: SAGAS OF SARAJEVO": Well, first of all, in the United States we have a democratic system. We have the rule of law. We have freedom of the press. Kosovo was out an autonomous part of a country that for all intents and purposes no longer exists. That is Yugoslavia.

The status of that place was arbitrarily changed in a brutal way by Milosevic 10 years ago. He removed the autonomy. He began to persecute the majority population. That people, because they're in a one party state, they have no say -- no means of talking about that.

This state, Yugoslavia, that used to exist had, as I said, eight seats on its -- to elect a presidency. Milosevic grabbed four of them. He grabbed Kosovo because he took away the autonomy. He grabbed Vojvodina because he took away the autonomy. And he instilled his own people in Montenegro.

So he had four of the eight seats. And then when the other people in Yugoslavia -- Croats, Slovians, Bosnians -- started saying well hang on a second. This is now Serbislavia (ph). It's not Yugoslavia. We don't think this is still recognizably our country anymore and we want out.

Then Milosevic started saying well if you want to leave I'm going to shoot you. He reminds me of somebody who smashes all the furniture and then gets angry with people for not wanting to sit down with him. He destroyed the architecture of the country. And then he turned around and said you leave at your peril.

Now if there was a coup in the United States and if Congress was disbanded and you had an army general in the White House, and I don't know what other events -- mass shootings in Chicago in an arbitrary way and nobody in Chicago was allowed to protest or say anything about it.

And then some part of United States said well hang on a second. This is not the country we signed up for. This is not -- we don't want to live under this system. Of course it's a different situation, Terry, I think.

GROSS: Can you talk a little bit more about the importance of Kosovo to Milosevic and why he's willing to risk the devastation of Belgrade in order to keep Kosovo?

COHEN: Well, the Serbs are a people driven very much by myth and by history. History is not in the past for the Serbs, it's immediate and present. Kosovo, that area, was where the Medieval Serbian Empire and civilization flowered. It's evident even today in some of the most beautiful monasteries in the world, which three or four Serbian monasteries notably at Dechemy (ph) and at Pech (ph) in the Kosovo area.

It's also the site in 1389 of the Battle of Kosovo, which was a loosing battle. The Serbs lost that battle to the Ottoman Turks and that led shortly afterwards to the crumbling of the empire of which I just spoke. But Kosovo, despite the fact that it was a losing battle, has become the symbol of Serbian nationhood, of Serbian heroism.

It's said that Prince Lazar (ph), who led the Serbs into battle that day, lost an earthly kingdom but gained the kingdom of heaven. And one of the interesting things about the Serbs, I think, is the way that in defeat often they tend to see victory. And in destruction, the kind of destruction that is going on now, they find some kind of vindication.

As I covered the Bosnian war I often thought, talking to them, that victory and defeat were largely inseparable in their minds. So I think Kosovo is this extremely potent symbol. Side-by-side with that, there is the modern reality which is that Kosovo is 99.0 percent inhabited by Albanians.

And those Albanians, every single one of them at this point I think, no longer wants to live under the rule of Belgrade.

GROSS: And, you know, the Kosovo Liberation Army is trying to get Kosovo to secede from Serbia. And Milosevic is, of course, trying to stop that. Besides all of the historical import of Kosovo what's at stake for Milosevic now in trying to hold onto Kosovo?

COHEN: Well, I think he feels that his hold on power is intimately linked through holding onto Kosovo. It was in Kosovo 10 years ago -- 12 years ago -- that Milosevic first launched his nationalist message telling the Serb minority there that would always be defended.

And in 1989, on the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, assembling one million Serbs at the site of that battle and saying that battles may yet to be to come, as indeed they proved to be. It's very hard, Terry, to gauge how Milosevic's support is cemented.

That is to say what degree of control he has over the army. He got rid of the commander-in-chief just a couple of months back. He got rid of the head of the secret police as well, Mr. Stanisic (ph). There have been tensions within the regime. It's still very much, for all its veneer of democracy, a one-party state. And it's extremely impenetrable.

However, I think Milosevic clearly judges that he could not tell the armed forces, could not tell be Serbian people, that NATO would come in and police a peace agreement in Kosovo as NATO wants. And I think at that point he judged that the army would feel that Kosovo had been lost.

So he has attached a deep importance to it. What we have to find out now is whether there are disaffected elements in the army, in the police, who see what destruction -- extraordinary, unbelievable destruction -- this man has wrought. Not only on the people surrounding him -- the Moslems of Bosnia, Croats, others -- but also on his own people.

It's not clear at what point the people around him in the army and elsewhere, seeing this daily bombardment, will begin to react. I'm not entirely convinced by these stories of the bombardment bringing unity. Of course, at one level the Serbs are banding together now because they feel under attack and many feel unjustly under attack perhaps.

But I'm convinced that there are tensions there beneath the surface.

GROSS: My guest is Roger Cohen. He covered the war in Bosnia for "The New York Times," and is the author of the book "Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Roger Cohen is my guest, and he covered the war in Bosnia for "The New York Times." He is now "The Times" Berlin bureau chief. He is joining us by phone from Berlin.

The leader now of the effort to secede from Serbia is the Kosovo Liberation Army. What is the Kosovo Liberation Army, and how does it compare with the previous leadership of Kosovo?

COHEN: Well, the -- you know, when I was going to Kosovo in the mid-'90s the spokesman for the Albanians was always Ybrahim Rogova (ph), who is in hiding at the moment if he's alive. He lives in Pristina.

And he, you know, has always been -- he had a sort of Gandhi-esque approach and felt that in Kosovo for a longtime the Albanians -- ethnic Albanians -- and Serbs had been living parallel existences. Really not intermingling in anyway. And that way it's very different from Bosnia.

The Albanians have their own schooling. Their own -- quite separate housing. They really -- since their autonomy was quashed they've chosen to have nothing to do with it.

Now Rogova basically was a moderate and believed that with time by force of the overwhelming number of Albanians -- 90 percent of the population -- the fact that most did not want to stay in Serbia. That a political movement could prevail.

However, after Bosnia -- after seeing what Milosevic did to the Moslems in Bosnia, and most of the Albanians are nominally Moslems even if very few of them are particularly religious. A movement did begin to grow up in the last couple of years that believed Rogova was wrong in his moderation, and that only through forces armed would the Albanians secure the independence that they seek.

The KLA is quite splintered. It's exact leadership has long been fairly murky. That's been one difficulty in dealing with them. They're financed mainly from the expatriate Albanian communities in Switzerland, in Germany and in the United States. And they're obviously gaining support from Albania itself, although Albania is not a country with many resources.

And they have been providing weapons and money to this movement. I think it's worth noting that there's been one Serb obsession in this misdriven rampage that many of the Serbs have been on in the past decade, and that is the infiltration of Islam into Europe.

I remember being told on countless occasions by Serb generals and others that Islam was trying to penetrate Europe and the means was what they called the "green transversal." Now the green transversal, I think, was largely a figment of their imaginations, but what it was was a green line -- green being the color of Islam to them -- going up from Istanbul through the Moslem Albanian population of Kosovo through into Bosnia.

And even in the early '90s the Serb generals were talking about quashing -- ruthlessly quashing -- this so-called Islamic attempt to take over Europe. In fact, most of the Moslems of Bosnia, before they were persecuted, were very very secular people whose main preoccupations were going to the beach in the summer and having a good beer and living their lives.

And the Albanians too had very little, I think -- the mosques in Kosovo, whenever I visited them, were empty. I suspect that in Kosovo, as in Bosnia, we may get a reaction whereby the Albanian population will come to identify more with their religion at this point.

GROSS: The Kosovo Liberation Army, which is leading the effort to secede from Serbia, didn't really have a great record of supporting ethnic diversity either.

COHEN: No, they don't. And, you know, we are, Terry, dealing with a part of the world where peaceful intermingling and coexistence -- it's existed. It's existed to some extent under the Ottoman Empire. To some extent under the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. And certainly in Bosnia under Tito for about 50 years.

And indeed historically there has been -- I mean, on the one hand the kind of Arcadian myth of Bosnia as this place of idyllic intermingling was wrong. On the other, it was also completely wrong to say it was a place of ancient tribal rivalries.

And the truth lay somewhere in between. There was a lot of intermarriage and so on. I think, you know, when you're repressed, frankly, you don't think about ideals of intermingling. You think about your freedom and your safety.

Whereas we understand freedom to mean democracy and certain rights and the rule of law and so on. I think when you live in a place that's under an oppressive system and people start talking of freedom, freedom means escape. Freedom means, you know, like in the Soviet Union for several of the countries there that have gone their own ways since the end of communism -- and Yugoslavia itself -- freedom means escape.

And right now freedom for the Albanians means escape. Escape from rule of Milosevic; escape from Serbia; escape into independence. And frankly, I doubt they're giving five minutes thought to intermingling. I think it's a rather dismal conclusion, but in a way I believed in Yugoslavia, and I still believe that Bosnia exists in some people's hearts and minds.

But, you know, I think the process of ethnic disentanglement and segregation in the Balkans has now gone so far that perhaps the best medium term hope for the area is that the separation be completed. That is to say that Kosovo gain its independence. That Montenegro gain its independence. That we finally have a nation state that is called Serbia and we don't have this stupid meaningless -- now meaningless -- name of Yugoslavia being bandied around. The only Yugoslavia that was worth anything went up in smoke several years ago.

And then on the basis of these nation states like elsewhere in Europe since the war -- World War II -- we get a gradual process of integration where the borders between these nation states become essentially meaningless. I mean, you drive now from France to Germany you don't even know you cross the border. Fifty years ago that would have been absolutely inconceivable.

And taking a medium term view, maybe if we can somehow, you know, end the fighting and complete this dismal awful process that's gone on under Milosevic for 10 years now; then a generation from now that process might begin to take hold.

GROSS: Now you're "The New York Times" Berlin bureau chief so you've been writing about the story from a vantage point of being stationed in Berlin. Now Germany is part of NATO and is participating in the air strikes against Serbia. What's the significance of that in Germany?

COHEN: Well, I think for the Germans, you know, for a long time after the war the mantra of Germany was that only peace would go out from German soil. The effect of the Third Reich -- of Nazism -- and of the catastrophic defeat was for the Germans to say that never again would they in anyway participate in any form of war or aggression.

And what I think we see today is Germany -- a now unified Germany -- no longer at the front line of the Cold War, no longer constrained by those Cold War imperatives. A Germany in a sense ruled by people who were not alive at the time of the Nazis. Whose parents were Nazis, but who then felt -- a Germany that is sort of coming of age. That doesn't want to be any longer an economic giant and then a political pygmy.

A Germany that feels very strongly about human rights and about the rule of law and about democracy. About the things on the basis of which it has rebuilt itself. And that Germany has decided to participate despite the difficulty and the historical echoes of -- because Hitler of course bombarded Belgrade in a very savage way.

I think it's a Germany that's coming-of-age and is ready to assume its political responsibilities. It's been controversial, but the big majority of Germans backs it. And the fact that it's a left leaning government -- Social Democrats and Environmentalist Greens.

That is to say the people at the head of the peace movement in the 1980s have taken this decision -- the government of Chancellor Schroeder. I think that in a sense has made it easier, because had there been an opposition they might have been vocal in saying this is not a good idea.

GROSS: Has Milosevic been using the participation of Germany in the air strikes as an example of how this is Hitlerian?

COHEN: Well, I think there have been references. They said the first day they had shot down a German plane. I don't think the choice of a German plane was a coincidence. The obsession with German aggression in the Serb mind is very much locked in the past because they have no future at the moment.

The economic implosion under Milosevic has been total. So -- and the past is World War I, which began with Austria-Hungarian and then German attack. And World War II, of course, when Hitler came in. So I think they are trying to use that for whatever propaganda value they get out of the fact that there is this small German participation in the force.

In Bosnia all these barracks used to be adorned with posters showing the blue flag of the European Union -- the blue and gold star flag of the European Union -- with swastikas appearing all over it. And there was a slogan under it with, "are you ready for `deutschemarcroacy' (ph)." And that was everywhere in Bosnia in the Serbian barracks.

I think it shows the depth of feeling of the Serbs and the inability to recognize that Germany has changed.

GROSS: My guest is Roger Cohen. He covered the war in Bosnia for "The New York Times," and is the author of the book "Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Roger Cohen is my guest. He is "The New York Times" Berlin bureau chief, and he covered the war in Bosnia. We're talking about Serbia and Kosovo.

Milosevic, I guess you could say, is from a troubled background. His father, his mother and his uncle all committed suicide. And I don't mean to just do a little psychiatric thing here, but I'm wondering if you know of like psycho historians who are trying to analyze the psychological explanations for his tyranny.

COHEN: It's been a suicide and redemption, loss and victory, damnation and salvation; they're all -- it's all very linked, I think, somehow in the Serb psyche. This notion of true suffering -- you achieve some kind of vindication. I -- what strikes me about Milosevic is he is an extremely -- apart from this moment in '89 when he was riding this wave to power, he is essentially an (unintelligible).

That is to say he operates in secret in a closed way. He never -- he is a closed personality. He never appears before his people. He very rarely appears on television. He attaches no value that I can see to human life.

When 200,000 Serbs, his own people, poured out of Croatia in 1995 in a mass and brutal eviction of Serbs from Croatia that took place at the end of the war there when the Croats fought back and destroyed the autonomous areas that the Serbs had carved out in 1991. When those 200,000 Serbs bedraggled on tractors, walking, struggled into Serbia proper after seven days of trekking across Bosnia -- Milosevic did not address a word to them. He did not appear on television. He did not greet them in any way.

I mean, they were furious at Milosevic because he had armed and goaded them to fight and then abandoned them. But that, I think, is Milosevic. He is a man for whom everything is an abstraction. He never -- when the questions have been put to him about the concentration camps in Bosnia he waves his hand in the most nonchalant, dismissive way. As if to say what nonsense. Never existed.

Well, maybe for him in his mind they ever did exist. I mean, he never went there. He never saw them. And one of the interesting things about what's going on now is that throughout the wars of Yugoslavia's destruction, destruction has gone out from Belgrade to Croatia to Bosnia to Slovenia. You name it, it's gone there.

But it's never hit the heartland of Serbia before. So I think there is a kind of psychological shock for Milosevic and for other Serbs. And I think it's unpredictable how that will play out. But the suicides I think -- well, they would have to mark anyone. And they certainly, I think, marked him very deeply.

And perhaps contributed to this extraordinarily coldness and closed nature of the man.

GROSS: I'm wondering if you think getting any e-mails or phone calls from contacts of yours in Bosnia from the period when you were covering the war there and what their reactions have been to watching Serbia bombed.

COHEN: Well, I have been in touch with Harris Setchovic (ph), one of the Bosnians whose family was destroyed and who I portray in my book. And he, you know, they are -- they feel at last, is basically their sentiment. I think that at last the man who destroyed their lives -- I mean, Harris' mother and brother were both killed.

I think it's very easy to waiver, I mean, nobody likes bombing; nobody likes to see -- and I'm sure there are civilians be killed by this bombing even if it's a limited number. It's hard to remember sometimes of the immediacy of the images. But you talk to Harris and you do remember that there are so many thousands -- tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people's lives whose blood directly or indirectly is on this man Milosevic's hands.

That I think it's worth remembering that. Their basic feeling is, you know, I hope that America will stay the course and they are relieved that to them there is some form of justice. Some form of balance in things. I often heard in Bosnia that there will be a day of retribution. Maybe we're coming close to that day.

GROSS: Have you been in touch with any Serbs in Serbia about their reaction to the bombing?

COHEN: I've spoken to -- I've spoken to friends in Belgrade and people I know in Belgrade from the time I spent their. And these are people I would say -- I mean, certainly not great supporters of Milosevic -- on the liberal spectrum. But they are -- well, number one, I think they are frightened and shocked.

There is this sense, I think, of the war coming home. I mean, Belgrade was a place from which war went out, and now war is coming to Belgrade. I remember Koliovic (ph), Karitic's (ph) deputy in Bosnia, being so shocked when NATO bombed near his house and complaining to American officials who said, "welcome to war Mr. Vice President."

I think these people have, six years after -- seven, eight years after -- the war has began of Yugoslavia's destruction. It's come to Serbia. I think people are shocked. They're indignant. These people were feeling very lost. They're older people. They're not going down into the bomb shelters, preferring to stay in their homes.

They're very worried about, obviously, their children and grandchildren. And it was difficult for me to talk across this gulf I really felt now dividing us, because my own view is that this is really the right policy. That Milosevic -- that this destruction cannot go on indefinitely in Europe.

And of course they see it from their perspective of bombs coming out of the sky; a sovereign state that has an insurrectionary movement was trying to deal with it. And how's it different from Northern Ireland or if somebody wanted to secede in New Mexico or something. You do feel that certain things, you know, whatever context existed before that it's hard to explain across that gulf.

GROSS: So the people who you're talking about may oppose Milosevic, but they also oppose the bombing.

COHEN: That's right. They do oppose the bombing. They feel it's outrageous, and they feel frightened. And they feel that it will regroup support around Milosevic, which it may in some ways in the short-term. But I think at some point, as I said earlier, I suspect that some serious political divisions might emerge.

GROSS: Well, Roger Cohen I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

COHEN: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Roger Cohen covered the war in Bosnia for "The New York Times," and is the author of "Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo." He's now "The Times" Berlin bureau chief.

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, DC
Guest: Roger Cohen
High: "The New York Times'" Roger Cohen puts in a call from Berlin. Cohen reported from Bosnia during the war there. He's the author of the book, "Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo."
Spec: War; Europe; Lifestyle; Culture; Roger Cohen

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Roger Cohen
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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