Colonel Kurtz in Sarajevo

The motivation felt by war reporters may sound noble and altruistic – the world must know what is happening, politicians must be driven to action, etc. – but their true motives are often extremely idiosyncratic. A French female reporter for TF1 confessed to Marcel Ophuls, director of the magnificent four-hour documentary The Troubles We’ve Seen: A History of Journalism in Wartime, that she decided to go to Sarajevo in an attempt to forget her marital problems. Similarly, the Belgian biologist and war reporter Dirk Draulans, describes in his book Welkom in de hel how he is released temporarily from his painful feelings of love for the Scandinavian Anne Brit as he journeys along the Bosnian frontlines.

-	The troubles we've seen : a history of war-time journalism = Veillées d'armes : histoire du journalisme en temps de guerre. – The troubles we’ve seen : a history of war-time journalism = Veillées d’armes : histoire du journalisme en temps de guerre.

The Hungarian photographer Endre Friedmann, better known as Robert Capa, gave his reasons for landing with the very first American soldiers on the Normandy beaches on D-Day as follows: ‘I know that the war photographer gets more alcohol, more girls, more money and more freedom than the soldier does. At each stage, he can choose his own position in the bloody game and he can be a coward without being executed for it. That is his torment. The war correspondent holds his own input – his life – in his own hands and can stake his bets on different horses. I am a gambler. That’s why I decided to go along with the first wave.’

Wars are in fact the global simulacra to the shabby red light districts one finds in many of the greater cities with a harbour, docks and alleys, where apart from the clean and simple handlings reflected by the glass and steel towers of the mediocre powers, there is always also a lot of shady traffic and business going on. The comparison with such shady Red Light area where “foul is fair and fair is foul”, may seem far-fetched at its first hint. But when we look closer, it is not.

Like most Red Light Districts in the magapoles, the war zones of our time are mostly frequented by a peculiar species of testosteron and adrenaline driven folk between twenty and fifty, that have become quite inventive and persistent in finding ways to ease the inner and outer tensions of their biochemically enduced unrest. The thugs of Eros gather around their climactic drive for reaching a blissfull moment of extasis that stands out of the regular order of time – little death as Bataille called it. The thugs of war are driven by not so unsimilar behavior. Given the level of adrenaline that usually pounds the heart in bellingerent circumstances. The gung-ho attitude of finding satisfaction in restraining ones emotions and calming ones nerves, in precisely those situations where panic looms at large and our behavior is ruled by fear. The tribe of war thugs is easily recognizable, even though it consists of mercenaries of the most diverse kind and calibre one can imagine. What unites them, is the ability and perhaps even urge to find peace, where battles are fought. To find some kind of private or professional satisfaction, where others, under the reign of terror and chaos, primarily see their daily lifes destroyed and their existence threatened at gunpoint.

Planet Sarajevo, by Sahin SisicPlanet Sarajevo, by Sahin Sisic

All having a huge variety of different reasons to get involved in an area where most sane people would want to flee away from as soon and far as possible. Only sharing their grave commitment to the lure of what is undisputedly world news, betting on the chances that the war might offer them on the grim rouletta table of life and of death. In the slipstream of the conflict, various relief agencies, convois of smugglers, fixers, prostitutes, NGO-personnel, activists, reporters, cameramen, writers, and other specimen of paid or sponsored witnesses, moved to and from the city of Sarajevo during its three and a half year siege from April 1992 till November 1995.  All of us war zone thugs, tried to get as close as possible to the nudity of the situation and the population that was passing its days – by means of a shameful exposure – sitting behind the blown out window frames spalked with transparant plastic sheets flown in and distributed on behalf of the (UNPROFOR) refugee organisation of the United Nations.

The society of war zone thugs that gathered in the lobby’s and on the shedding lines in and around Sarajevo, heavily stood apart from the regular population they tried to live with, mingle with, picture, or sympathized with. The beleagered civilians of Sarajevo, such is my experience, felt betrayed by all the pietaille that visited them over the years. The more journalists, politicians, diplomats, relief-workers were flown in with MayBe Airlines at the beleagerd airstrip underneath Mount Igman, the heavier their bitterness grew over the fact that they were left as prey on the ground and that nothing was done to end the war.

The spectacle of war is a magnet for voyeurs. Slavoj Zizek speaks in this sense about the “jouissance” with which western media created some kind of Rocky Picture Horrorshow in Sarajevo during the nineties. The news moloch cynically played into people’s hunger for the ultimate drama. And while spectators from all over the world, watched events in the besieged city unfold with anger, awe and “jouissance” – the civilians who got stuck in the middle of it all, had to bear the very real and bitter consequences of the Butcher Shop and Splatter Movie they were forcefully playing in. For them, the war was far from a meta- or media-event. For them, the war in Sarajevo was a shere matter of life and death. Of survival. In practice, this meant it was basically busy to pass time in a zone that was literally Timelocked. With limited means, and nothing to do. But a few essential things, like finding a piece of wood for the heater. Or standing in line for water or a loaf of bread.

Holiday Inn, Sarajevo 1993. Photo by Teun VoetenHoliday Inn, Sarajevo 1993. Photo by Teun Voeten

A selected group among the thugs, turned the conflict in Bosnia much to their adventage. It even provided them with a rare sense of nobility, because of all the privileges that could be enjoyed. They could travel freely with their accreditations, through areas where all civilians were trapped. They could show their chivilrous nature, as the generous westerner who made women happy with a cigarette, men with a sip of whiskey. They could stay in luxury hotels where – regardless of the starvation outside – every day three hot meals were served for a huge sum of money. They had a satellite phone or a laptop in the back of an armored car that could speed through areas where no ordinary citizen would dare to thread. I even heard Dutch reporter Harald Doornbos bragging about the `golden wheelchair” that awaited him if something bad should happen to him. After all, Harald was insured for eleven hundred Deutschmark per day while residing in danger zones.

Several of us, over time, began to act like a sort of Lord Byron battling against the oppressor in Missolinghi, or as a colonel Kurtz in the grim heart of the Balcans.  They let themselves be seduced into buying weapons, abused their priviliged position over the local population in various manners. They partook in the black market and became friends (or feigned it) with the most shady and criminal of the protagonists. Some went so far as the Russian poet Eduard Limonov, back in 1992, who in the presence of Radovan Karadzic was seduced to take position behind a Browning machine gun, and to shoot a tray of bullets at the city in the valley underneath – by shere means of slavic solidarity.

Arthur van Amerongen, a Dutch writing journalist whom I met during my first weeks in Sarajevo in the early nineties, was driven by an unstoppable urge to drive along the frontline at nightfall in his car, a shabby Renault 25. He did not fear to get shot, but in fact he said he hoped the car would attract the attention and subsequently some bullets, of the enemy at guard. He was looking for what he considered to be a war trofee: a guirlande of bullet holes that would be clearly visible along the carrosserie and windows of his battered vehicle.    Real fucky fucky. The chauffeur he commanded to drive over the frontline, for the guy himself did not have a driving license, spent his most scary half hour on earth. Because the car was not targeted, the journalist ordered his driver to turn around and go the same route in opposite direction. Perhaps this provocative gesture was all too outrageous, even for the Serb forces of Mladic that were shelling the city at that time during the day. I still remember the disappointment with which the reporter returned in the restaurant of Hotel Bosna, after his Colonel Kurtz like exercise at the outskirts of the centre where the rounds are bumpy, dusty, hilly and on both sides flanked by ditches, cliffs and possibly landmines. His looney excursion, was not unsimilar to a tourist in Amsterdam who – before leaving the capital – is determined to buy a fluorescent T-shirt in one of the shops, as a matter of testimony: “I did it in the Red Light District”.

During the war, one could often be confused as to how real or staged reality  could be. Whether it was a B-film that we all had ended up playing in, or an amateur drama with a mediocre and provincial cast that had highjacked the theater for years in a row. Just take a look at the attitude with which Karadzic boasts about the visionary quality of his gloomy “Black Fairytale” verses, towards visiting Russian writer Eduard Limonov; just before inviting his guest to take a shot at the Browning machine gun with which the Serb forces used to terrorize the people trapped in the valley.

Eduard Limonov, now of “Other Russia” opposition, seen here on the hills above Sarajevo. Next to war criminal Radovan Karadzic. Limonov, now an “opposition activist”, together with chess master Garry Kasparov. Episode from “Serbian Epic”, by Pawel Pawlikowski and Lazar Stojanović, 1992. Evidence exhibit at the Hague International War Crimes Tribunal, ICTY. All clips remain the sole property of the respective copyright holders. No videos are for sale, nor do they imply challenge to ownerships. They are intended strictly for educational and historical purposes, and fall under the “Fair Use” guideline.…

And look at the gung-ho attitude of general Mladic, once the eyes of the camera’s were witnessing his attacks on the enclaves. Neither of these loonatics was eager to step off stage, whilst the media of the world was giving them the airplay they only could attain once in a lifetime.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is a dilemma we all face as journalists. Was our enduring coverage of the war in Sarajevo, in fact not prolonging and thus worsening the whole goddam pattarapoo? How could one seriously expect these farmers who achieved their finest hour, to voluntarily step down, as long as we were giving them the scope and importance they normally could only dream of? Were we not responsible, for having our share in the length and volume of this bloody, grand delusion with which  we kidnapped the attention of our readers and our viewers, made our income and safeguarded our careers?

BBC-reporter Martin  Bell, literally opened a book about the editing laws of the news desk, that were operated during his time as a correspondent in former Yugoslavia. In his In Harm’s Way. Reflections of a War Zone Thug (Hamish Hamilton 1995) he accounts of the absurd guidelines that were issued for him and his team while being based in Sarajevo (Martin Bell was prone to label Sarajevo during the war as “the media-manipulation capitol of the world”).  The rules for what could, and could not be shown before a certain time of day. “At a certain moment”, Bell writes, “I felt being more busy with matching up to all those rules, than I was actually reporting the news.” One example: before nine O’clock in the evening, no bodies with blood were allowed. A timeframe with which any grim massacre on the ground, of course, made an utter joke. The longer the war lasted, the more scared the BBC became, to picture the horrors of the conflict as they did take place. “In our fear to shock”, Bell writes, “we consequently risk to deceive the audience we want to serve, in a very dangerous way.”

“To filter the atrocities of the conflict”, argues Bell, “ultimately makes war acceptable as a phenomenon. And that is unforgivable. We show soldiers who shoot, bang-bang. But we fail to show the results of that action on the other side. This creates a false, more beautiful picture of the nature of the conflict. We beautified the war, instead of portraying it the way it really was. Not only morally, but also in reality war remains a matter of  bad taste, during which victims bleed to death ungraciously, regardless of what time or frame. Not showing this matter of bad taste, means falsifying the world as it is.”

This very issue, was raised in a broader sense in a stunning book written exactly in those years of the Bosnian conflict, by Mort Rosenblum:  Who Stole the News? (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1993). How do you get people to give relevant events the necessary attention in a society increasingly obsessed with fashion and lifestyle, entertainment and stardom? How do you prevent people from avoiding the big international issues, which are usually not appealing subjects, but, instead, get them ‘to be involved more deeply in their reality’? Companies prefer not to spend their money on magazines in which images of people’s suffering cast a freakish shadow over the wrinkle-free and clear-blue-sky advertising world of Peter Stuyvesant. They have the feeling that too much of the harsh news from war zones like Bosnia, damages the marketability and image of their products. Rosenblum thinks that publishers underestimate their readership: people wanting to know about current affairs and concerned about what happens elsewhere in the world.

The grim matter is, that tv is being overflooded with fictitious violence. Once images come in at the newsdesks of real carnages, all kind of rules and hesitations start playing a part. Then we censor the news, because it is too horrific or grose. A lady in Sarajevo, who was wounded in 1993 by shrapnell as the result of a mortar attack on a crowd waiting in line for loafs of bread, reproached the media they showed so little of the massacre. Instead of ten seconds, the news stations should have shown for twenty long minutes how things had been going for the victims standing in that line. In that way, viewers would have gotten a much more accurate image of the war in Bosnia.

Martin Bell also touched upon another significant shortcoming of war reporting in Bosnia. He discovered how much there is the media do NOT see, and do NOT cover.  Albeit their presence, thousands of citizens could vanish from the face of the Bosnian republic. When it mattered, regarding e.g. Srebrenica, the media were as blind as Oedipus in the tragedy of Sophocles. We witnessed and reported what we saw, without really seeing what went on.

Marcel Ophuls aan de slag in Sarajevo, 1993 - 1994.Marcel Ophuls aan de slag in Sarajevo, 1993 – 1994.

The premise in journalism today is that something has not truly happened unless it has also been shown on television. Yet relying merely on television to gather news is like lighting the sky with a stroboscope. We get to see flashes of reality on the screen but no more than that. The considered gaze requires a more precise approach. Television imagery brings a situation to our attention but the image that ultimately stays in our minds almost always comes from a photograph; it sets a news event in a tableau that locks itself in our consciousness and, perhaps later, becomes part of a collective memory. This is why reporting journalism always remains essential to complete news coverage. We illuminate the blind spots of television journalism. We record what the tv-cameras don’t zoom in on.

Nevertheless, there is still much that can escape the attention of even the most hawk-eyed journalist in our rangs. There is so much that we don’t see. Srebrenica, the greatest massacre in Europe since the Second World War, happened under the noses of the entire world press which, by that time, had been billeted in Bosnia for four years. The ladies and gentlemen of photographic journalism were right by the scene when the events unfolded, yet not close enough. So it was that in the first days and weeks after the disaster, it appeared as if the tragedy had not taken place. The reporters did not believe the bloodcurdling stories told by the many hysterical women in the refugee camps. The blood that stood ankle-deep in the ditches; the barns filled to the rafters with corpses; the people who, out of desperation, had hanged themselves before Mladic came to get them; the thousands of men who had fled into the hills and had been fired upon by artillery and anti-aircraft guns. When it really came to it, all international journalists – the eyes of the war – were as blind as anyone else.

De Bosnian writer Nenad VelickovicNenad Velickovic

The many novinari (foreign journalists) who came to Bosnia to serve as Western Media’s unfullfilling eyes, never were very popular in Sarajevo. In the summer of 1999 I asked the young Bosnian writer Nenad Velickovic, author of the books Sexpressionismus and Sarajevi Gastronauti, whether he, after the war, felt abandoned  by the world press since Sarajevo fell out of the current span of attention due to the vague phenomenon of Balkan fatigue. The reaction of Nenad was extremely bitter. `Most of us saw the journalists who visited Sarajevo as people who did not know what they were doing. That is how they behaved. They walked around with their cameras and were mostly out to shoot spectacular images. They were hunters, people on safari. Blood, killings, grenade attacks, sniper fire, abandoned children, the great emotions, that is what they were after because that is the news they thought belonged to a war such as ours. The journalists did not show any interest in what really was going on. The war, we lived it very differently than the big channels like CNN wanted their viewers to believe. The journalists had their own reasons for going to war. I have never seen a story about the war in Sarajevo that was accurate. “
I asked Nenad whether the journalists in his view, in fact by their shere presence and coverage, prolonged the war in Bosnia or aggravated it giving so much attention to the political agendas of figures like Karadzic, Mladic and Koljevic. Again, Nenad answered the question in an aggravated manner. ‘No press service is powerful enough to begin or end a conflict. Nor can they extend it. The media have no real power. They just manipulate. The press had very limited influence in Bosnia. Forty percent of the country is literate, and the rest only reads occasionally. Sixty percent of the people don’t read at all. The TV images were inadequate, but even the written press did a lousy job in framing the entire picture. Wat is an extremely complicated matter, with just as many levels of reality as there are angels of perception. When we saw the TV images from besieged Vukovar, we in Sarajevo  could not really understand what happened there one hundred kilometers up north. People from Yugoslavia came to our city to escape the conflict. Horrible. I am an avowed enemy of the TV, and can spend hours and hours talking about her bad influence. TV poisons people. Sarajevo has made that clear. A war is not about the pictures, but about the people. I’ve seen marriages break over the interpretation of TV footage, the device deprives people of their grip on reality, it sucks people full of hate or makes them apathetic and un-responsible at best and desperate or dangerous at worse.”

Most journalists however, meant well, and many of us have certainly been of help for the civilian population. Apart from our reports, we took and delivered letters, money, food, arranged fund raising events for sponsoring orphans or schools. Some went as far as to smuggle civilians out of the combat zone, by hiding them under a blanket in the trunk of our car. A lot of war journalists in the former Yugoslavia fell in love or married, just like me. Their commitment to the war grew with the years, until the war had swallowed them and they could do nothing more than to join the side of one’s loved one – by enduring the seige or sometimes by fighting. Or to leave the ground, because of one’s loss of proper distance that the job requires of us.

The well known war photographer James Nachtwey, was one of the reporters who found it necessary to come up with some kind of mission statement – in response to some harsh criticism that came his way. ‘If the war in Sarajevo was an attempt to ignore humanity’, he told in response to the fierce criticism of an art critic who labelled Nachtwey’s war images as a means of moral blackmail,  ‘then our reporting journalism can be seen as the opposite of that very war. If it is used well, our work can be a powerful ingredient in the antidote to warfare. I believe that if everyone could experience a war for themselves just once, that people would understand that there is nothing that can justify the terror war creates in people’s lives. But not everyone can go to a war and that is why reporters like me go there: to show what is going on and to ensure that someone puts it to an end. How? By making portraits of the situation that are powerful enough to break through the concealment and diversions of the mass media and to shake people awake from their indifference. To protest and by the strength of that protest, to make others protest.”

Marcel Ophuls behind cameraMarcel Ophuls behind camera

Contrary to the group of sincere reporters like Nachtwey, Voeten, etc., also a completely different sort of journalistic etnos emerged in Sarajevo during the siege. The one of the “lovers of hazard”,  who openly flirted with the hazards of death, drove in their cars along the front, sailed with ropes along the facades of the two deserted Energo Invest business tower, jogged through streets where snipers were lurking), that come into focus in the grandiose film of Marcel Ophuls Veillees d’armes.  Nobody is as sharp as Ophuls in showing how much the war in Sarajevo was the stage for an intricate play of pumped up ego’s, shooting devils, wounded souls and battered persona. A song of kicks, joys and sorrows.
Ophuls’ expedition consisted of a mission to look behind the scenes of those whose task is to look behind the scenes. In addition, he effectively pierced the image the Western media like to have of themselves. One of the points he makes, is the vanity of known television journalists, for whom the stand-up (appearing in front of the camera to tell the news in front of a specific scenery) is often more important than the news itself. Ophuls evokes this criticism in his film by word of French actor Philippe Noiret, who from the set of a film he was shooting, labeled television journalists as ‘un syndicat d’auto et d’entre promotion’. Noiret finds the vanity of journalists a disgusting thing. In sotto voce, he leaves no doubt that “Les stars, c’est nous.”
Patrick Chauvel, a French photographer with thirty years experience of war, told Ophuls: `Our narcissism is more perverse than that of the stars. We see ourselves through others. But their narcissism is total. Those men are all concerned about their make up before the plane even landed on the tarmac. “
Ophuls brings the conversation to the images of war, that automatically become part of a media circus or information spectacle as the Situationists called it.
`I am against that kind of circus,” grumbles Chauvel.
`Of course you’re against,” answers Ophuls. `We are all against, and we are all part of it.”
Chauvel continues to deny. He will never agree to have his pictures of the war, being portrayed in a picture gallery, where visitors will stroll around with a glass of champagne in their hands while expressing their disgust about the misery of the war.

‘We must bear witness. That is the purpose of our presence here’, says Chauvel. He describes reporters, without the slightest shade of irony, as legionnaires and their task as a vocation. ‘We must bear witness. So that people can never say afterwards, as the Germans once did: we didn’t know what was going on.’

In Marcel Ophuls’s film, we see foreign journalists in the restaurant of the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo, explaining how easy it is to forget what the reality outside of the lobby looks like. John Burnes, a senior correspondent for the New York Times, describes – knife and fork in his hands –  the siege of Sarajevo as an experience that he would not want to have missed. `We have the time of our lives,” you hear him say enthusiastically. Burnes emerged from the war as a celebrated, Pullitzer prize-winning conflict reporter. For him Sarajevo was the circus  where he could perform his most daring act of rafter-accrobacy.
What the film painfully makes clear, is how journalism in wartime significantly differs for foreigners and natives. While in the heated restaurant of the Holiday Inn, international reporters were animatedly discussing the appeal of the war, the adrenaline rush and the ‘beautiful story to be told’, two floors below, in the freezing cold basement, journalists of Oslobodenje were working in 14 – hour shifts, despite a total lack of manpower and resources, to publish their newspaper. However much the war for the foreigners might have been or seemed to be some sort of rock ‘n roll (as Paul Marchand from Belgium called it), for the local population in Sarajevo, the war was real. `We are trying to survive,” says an editor of Oslobodenje Ophuls’s film. `I do not fight, but I make a newspaper. Thus I try to keep my self-respect. “
`We are not heroes,” said another of the same newspaper editor who leads the director around the ruins of the once imposing editorial office at Ilidza. ‘Courage is a matter we can only judge when the conflict is over.”

Morgue of Sarajevo. Photo by Teun VoetenMorgue of Sarajevo. Photo by Teun Voeten

The war in former Yugoslavia, was a major testing lab for the development of journalistic crafts and skills. As well as it was a major test to the procurement of each and everyone’s morals and our conscience. In 1997 I read an article by acclaimed Bosnia-reporter Harald Doornbos (the one of the golden wheelchair) in a Dutch newspaper, in which he described how he had tears in his eyes when he finally left Sarajevo for another journalistic destination. Harald mentioned, in a very honest piece of testimony, that he owed everything he had achieved, privately and professionally, to the beseiged Bosnian city: his career, his exposure, his car, his girlfriend, his best memories. At his departure, Harald, apart from being grateful, also felt quite a profound feeling of guilt that bothered him.

While he had been chasing his desire to cover his very best Top Story, the Bosnian people he encountered were mainly longing for the small and banal. A hot shower. A candle to be lit in the dark. One teaspoon of salt that could flavour the tasteless dough of emergency food rations. A letter from a family member whom one had not seen or spoken to for months or years.
Doornbos described how his ‘arrogant choice for the large’ and ‘contempt for the little’ was punished when a Bosnian citizen told him his ultimate dream was to be able to peacefully walk his dog in the park on a sunny day, without having to be afraid for enemy fire or other  lethal perils.  `I do not remember exactly what I felt,” said Doornbos, ‘but I felt ashamed that I had come to Bosnia. ” The choice he had willfully made four years earlier to travel to the war, he now described as a ‘perverse’ one. He compared it to a married couple that is neatly bored with the familiar delights and breaks the routine by tying each other up, and the procurement of delight with the help of steeled or furry  tools.

Sooner or later, every journalist has to see how clean his hands and untainted his soul withstood the course of his work in the dirt and sleaze of the beleagered city.  Sooner or later, one has to assess the damage that is done during all those months or years we tried to work and live and keep it up amidst the etnically frozen tarpits of this ultimately vicious conflict among former neighbours.

You can’t get in focus with tears in your eyes, said Philip Jones Griffiths many years ago. Anyone allowing free reign to their emotions in a war zone would not last long and would either miss out at important moments or else put themselves and others in danger because of not reacting quickly enough to events. A clear-headed, cool spirit is more vital than a bulletproof vest. In Ernest Hemingway’s Across the River and into the Trees, the American colonel, in Venice after the Second World War, says: ‘It’s all as disheartening as you can imagine. But you’re not expected to have a heart in this job.’ Yet most of us were certainly not reporters devoid of conscience. We mused extensively, each of us in our own way, on the moral dilemmas attached to our profession: do I earn my money from other people’s suffering? Is their misery the source of my success? Am I a parasite, a bloodsucker, the vampire with the camera? One of my colleagues, told me honestly: ‘The worst thing is the feeling that I am exploiting another man’s suffering. This accusation keeps haunting my mind. It torments me, because I know that if I ever allow genuine compassion to be overshadowed by my personal ambition, I will have sold my soul to the devil.’

Don McCullin, the British war photographer, one of the trendsetting members of his profession in the 1960s and ’70s, once said: ‘You can’t just skim the surface of hunger, misery and death… You have to wade through them in order to capture them.’

Sooner or later, all Sarajevski zedi that had gathered in the besieged city at the beginning of the nineties, felt the urge to measure the effects of the conflict on their personal lives. All of us would at a certain time be confronted with our very private “moments decisifs”  – and I mean not in a technical Cartier Bresson manner –  during which we felt obliged to determine the parameters of the lines we crossed or moved around, by means of our professional slalom. If only one would stick around long enough, such moments of truth and critical self reflection would certainly pop up. A forced gaze in the mirror,  during which we inescapably determined what the effects of the war had been upon and below the battered surface of our selves. Had we remained as blank and neutral as we should have been? As invisible as the fly on the wall all theory taught us to be?

Some of us, were so honest as to write down their ponderings on paper. It happened with Doornbos, Martin Bell, Dirk Draulans, and many of my former colleagues, including myself, that were stationed for considerable amounts of time in or around that Bosnian Heart of Darkness in the middle of the Balcans. For all of us, there was a point at which we came to question our role in the play we were so seriously performing in the amphitheater of war. A point at which we unmistakingly pooped the party we were so vigourously living until then, by lifting up our proper masks. Some of us decided it was time to leave, or do things differently. Some of us continued as we did before. But all of us reflected on the losses we had suffered or endured, as a shadowy side-effect for the gains we made in our careers as young journalistic adventurors.

Thus it happened, that Martin Bell, at a given moment, found himself to be – at the height of his media fame at the BBC – a winding family man who was hit by shrapnell during a live stand up for the camera. And who, for the first time while finishing his report, felt the eyes of his loved ones piercing through towards his soul.

Thus it happened, that from an idealistic reporter working for Dutch and Flemisch media, reporters like Harald Doornbos and me,  started to feel more and more like some kind of a whore runner instead of a neutral “novinar”. A sleazy visitor of the rowdy Red Light District underneath mount Igman, alongside the Miljacka river.

`But then you discover death, and that life is beautiful, and that even you yourself must fight to preserve it.” Marcel Ophuls thus expresses the view that the war in Sarajevo brought him, at the end of his marvellous documentary. The director states this by means of voice over,  while we see him walking over the Piazza San Marco in Venice. It’s carnival, the people are wearing wondrous masks and outfits, the entire square is a stage for commedia dell’arte. At the end of the film, we see Ophuls actively mounting that stage. The director becomes commediant. Masked as Pantalone, he starts singing his sad, wise song “Nobody knows, the troubles I’ve seen. Nobody knows my troubles…”

Ophuls’ face is hidden behind his gigantic nosey outfit of papier mache. We can only recognize him by the thick lenses of his glasses,  the heavy frame that rests on the grotesque, downward curve of the mask. Those thick glasses leaning over that archetypal mask of carnaval, for me that is the one and singular image of the war in Bosnia I would like to preserve for the rest of my life. Nothing is what it seems to be, especially not on the stage of war that was called Sarajevo. Everything is theater.


–       Sarajevo – by sergevanduijnhoven’s channel

–         [Balkan] Wij noemen het rozen, Serge van Duijnhoven, Uitgeverij Podium, ISBN 90-5759-123-5, 1999, prijs €15,90

–          Welkom in de hel. Oorlogsverhalen uit Sarajevo en Bosnië, Dirk Draulans, Roularta Books, 1993. ISBN9054660600, 9789054660606 Lengte210 pagina’s

–          Mirjana, Oorlogsverhalen uit ex-Joegoslavië, Dirk Draulans, Atlas, 1993.

–          In Harm’s Way. Reflections of a War Zone Thug, Martin Bell (Hamish Hamilton 1995)

–          ….”            De Brakke Hond Nr. 85[, 2004 (themanummer: Oorlogsliteratuur)]

–          –          –  Chris Keulemans, Van de zomer naar de werkelijkheid Amsterdam (De Balie, 1997). ISBN 9066171812

–          –          Serge van Duijnhoven, red. Photographers in Wartime (2002), Ludion-Beaux Arts collection in cooperation with the Flanders Fields World War I Museum in Ieper, Belgium. Editeur(s) : Gent ; Amsterdam : Ludion Beaux arts magazine, 2002, ill. ; 30 cm. Translation: Guy Schipton. ISBN : 90-5544-402-2

–         Teun Voeten, A Ticket To [Bosnië, Soedan, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone] Leiden 1999; uitgeverij H. Veenman & Zonen/Centrum Beeldende Kunst Leiden, ISBN 902781547X Nugi 922

–          Who Stole the News? Mort Rosenblum, (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1993)

–          –          The troubles he’s seen –  interview met Marcel Ophuls. Door Richard Porton & Lee Ellickson
Cineaste, Juli 1995

–          –          War Photographer (2001), documentair portret over conflictreporter James Nachtwey gemaakt door de Zwitserse cineast Christian Frei

Blommaert, Stefan, Warme oorlog, koude vrede. Verhalen uit Rusland en de Balkan, Van Halewyck, 1998.

Blommaert, Stefan, De ondergang van Slobodan Milošević, Atlas, 2003.

Carter, Bill, Toen de engelen vertrokken, Podium, 2004.

Cavelius, Alexandra, Leila. Het schokkende verhaal van een meisje uit Bosnië, Rainbow Pocketboeken, 2000.

Dulmers, Robert, Zwart, Meulenhoff 2003.

Falk, John, Hello to all that. A memoir of war, zoloft and peace, Henry Holt and Company, 2005.

Filipović, Zlata, Het dagboek van Zlata, Forum, 1994.

Gashi, Sadbera, Weg uit mijn land. Het dagboek van de 18-jarige Sadbera Gashi over de oorlog in Kosovo, Arena, 1999.

Giovanni, Janine di, Totale waanzin, Contact 2005.

Kalkan, Izet, Uit de hel, in de hel. Dagboek van een vluchteling, Saik, 2000.

Koff, Clea, De bottenvrouw. Mijn werk in de massagraven voor de oorlogstribunalen van de

VN, Sirene, 2004.

Novaković, Jelica, Gelukkig is wie bijtijds waanzinnig wordt, Contact, 1999.

Paemel, Monika van, Het verschil. Een geschiedenis, Meulenhoff, 2000.

Radojčić-Kane, Natasha, Terug naar huis. Roman, Wereldbibliotheek, 2004.

Radojčić, Natasha, Ik ben hier weg. Roman, Wereldbibliotheek, 2005.

–          –

–          –


Eduard Limonov, now of “Other Russia” opposition, seen here on the hills above Sarajevo. Next to war criminal Radovan Karadzic. Limonov, now an “opposition activist”, together with chess master Garry Kasparov. Episode from “Serbian Epic”, by Pawel Pawlikowski and Lazar Stojanović, 1992. Evidence exhibit at the Hague International War Crimes Tribunal, ICTY. All clips remain the sole property of the respective copyright holders. No videos are for sale, nor do they imply challenge to ownerships. They are intended strictly for educational and historical purposes, and fall under the “Fair Use” guideline.…

–          The troubles we’ve seen : a history of war-time journalism = Veillées d’armes : histoire du journalisme en temps de guerre. Documentary in two episodes, by Marcel Ophuls (1994). Runtime: 224 min  | France, Canada: 226 min. Color.

        Director:     Marcel Ophuls.

       Cast:           Christiane Amanpour, Walter Cronkite, John Burns, Matha Gellhorn, Bernard Henri Lévy and          Slobodan Milosevic.    


Marcel OphulsBertrand TavernierFrédéric BourboulonLittle Bear Production.Studio Canal+All authors


[Paris] : Little Bear Production ; Harrington Park, NJ : Milestone [distributor], [2005].


 DVD video : NTSC color broadcast system : French


The film follows Marcel Ophul’s two journeys to Sarajevo in 1993. He goes there to work on a documentary but ends up also learning about truth and life. The film contains many interviews with journalists and reporters including Christiane Amanpour, John Burns, and Martha Gelhorn.


January 12, 2012 – 20h:
our second Cafe Europa featuring Teun Voeten (war photographer and cultural anthropologist), Serge Van Duijnhoven (writer and historian) and Zsófia ZedSofie Bakonyi, who proposed the Sarajevo theme. Join us, feel free to bring your friends!



January 12, 2012 – 20h:  our second Cafe Europa. You are most welcome to join us, feel free to bring your friends!

Café Europa is open to anyone who is interested in talking freely and constructively about the future of Europe. We want people living in Europe – all of us – to have a space to reflect on what is happening today, to listen to one another, and to think about what Europe really means to us. We invite you to be part of this story – to make it your story.

–   © Serge van Duijnhoven, 2012

About Serge R. van Duijnhoven

Serge R. van Duijnhoven (1970) is schrijver, dichter en historicus. Woonachtig te Brussel, geboren in Oss (Noord-Brabant, NL). Oprichter van tijdboek MillenniuM en de Stichting Kunstgroep Lage Landen. Verbleef in Sarajevo voor De Morgen en de Volkskrant. Debuteerde in 1993 met de dichtbundel Het paleis van de slaap (Prometheus). Frontman van het muziekgezelschap Dichters dansen niet. Recente publicaties: De zomer die nog komen moest (Nieuw Amsterdam), Klipdrift (Nieuw Amsterdam),{Balkan}Wij noemen het rozen (Podium), Fotografen in tijden van oorlog (Ludion), Obiit in orbit; aan het andere einde van de nacht (De Bezige Bij), Bloedtest (De Bezige Bij) en Ossensia Brabantse gezangen (Jan Cunen). Serge van Duijnhoven is freelance medewerker van Vrij Nederland, De Groene Amsterdammer, alsmede van De Morgen en NRC-Handelsblad. Over de auteur: `Een belangwekkend schrijver.' - Alfred Kossman in het Rotterdams Dagblad ‘Vergeleken met het bleke proza van auteurs als Grunberg en Giphart, is de beeldspraak van Van Duijnhoven ongemeen rijk, ik zou bijna zeggen: ouderwets artistiek.’ - Bart Vervaeck in De Morgen Serge R. van Duijnhoven (born 1970 in Oss, in the south of the Netherlands) is a performing poet, novelist, playwright, historian and art-editor. He is the author of numerous books of fiction and non-fiction. Among them four books of poems: The Palace of Sleep (1993), Copycat (1996), End of the Line: Phantom City (1997), Obiit in Orbit; at the other end of the night (1999), Bloodtest (2003) and Klipdrift (2008). Furthermore: We Call them Roses (1999), The Summer that Still Had to Come (2007). All of these books are published in Dutch, by recognized publishing houses. In some of the books cd's are included. Since 1995 the author performs his poetry with electronic music and video-projections in his literary band 'Dichters Dansen Niet' (Poets Don't Dance), together with DJ Fred dB. Van Duijnhoven also wrote a minibiography on the late emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie (1993), and a monologue for theatre Songs of Vranje (2000) that was published at TeleXpress and played throughout the Rotterdam Cultural Capital of Europe 2001 events at Las Palmas. He was the winner of the Nova Makedonia Poetry Award at the Poetry Festival of Struga 1995, and the Initiator of MillenniuM; the periodical 'timebook' of the Art Group of the Lowlands. For the occasion of the Struga Poetry Evenings, Serge's poetry was translated into Macedonian by Suzana Dapcevka, and published by Detska Radost (Palatata da sonot, 1995). Photographers in Wartime (2002), a book with an extended essay and stirring photos from reknown ‘eyes of the war’ like Nachtwey, Tim Page a.o., appeared in 2002 both in English and Dutch within the Ludion-Beaux Arts collection in cooperation with the Flanders Fields World War I Museum in Ieper. In the summer of 2000 he participated in the Literaturexpress; a train with about one hundred European writers on board, representing fourtythree European countries. The train crossed Europe from Lisbon through Brussels all the way to Moscow, and then back through Minsk and Warshaw to its final destination: Berlin. Currently SvD is living and working in Brussels Belgium as a writer of filmscripts.
This entry was posted in Balcans, Bosnia, Nenad Velickovic, Sarajevo, Teun Voeten. Bookmark the permalink.

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