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Since the beginning of the Kosovo conflict, the Yugoslav government has engaged in a systematic campaign of propaganda and disinformation presenting a view of the conflict that is clearly at odds with the reality on the ground. Misinformation about the conflict has served to whip up xenophobic nationalism and fears of an international anti-Serb conspiracy, a central pillar of President Miloševic’s rule.

On September 28, 1998, before the atrocities revealed in this report were uncovered, Serbia’s Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic gave a victory speech:

Today there is peace in Kosovo Metohija.87 Life in Kosovo Metohija has returned to normal. The Republic of Serbia has thwarted the secessionists’ attempts to realize their intentions through terror. The terrorist gangs have been destroyed ... Serbia has once again shown that it is capable of resolving its problems alone, with full respect for the democratic countries’ principles and standards regarding human, civil and minority rights.88

The response of the Yugoslav authorities to reports of the atrocities in Gornje Obrinje and Golubovac was along similar lines. The spokesman of the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Serbia, Colonel Bozidar Filic, denied that the police had been responsible for the atrocities, stating that “MUP [police] forces did not undertake any actions against civilians in the village of Gornje Obrinje,” and that “all actions undertaken by the police in Kosovo were aimed exclusively against terrorists.”89

Most news programs on the official Serbian television (RTS), which is tightly controlled by the government, suggested that the Gornje Obrinje massacre had either been staged by Western media or by ethnic Albanian “terrorists.” The RTS evening news even suggested that a widely publicized photograph of eighteen-month-old Valmir Delijaj was actually a photograph of a doll, and the reporter held up what he claimed was a “similar” doll smeared with blood. Western television sometimes did not show human corpses in its coverage of the massacres out of consideration for the sensitivity of viewers, but the RTS news argued that this showed that reports about the massacre had been fabricated. Pictures of the corpses that ran in the international media, including the front page of the New York Times, as well as such local papers as the Albanian-language Koha Ditore, were conveniently ignored. Human Rights Watch researchers gave interviews about their findings to the independent Serbia media, such as the Beta news agency and Radio B92, as well as to numerous international journalists, but were never approached by any of the state-run media outlets, even though those journalists were aware of Human Rights Watch’s presence in Priština.

Serbian political leaders also claimed that the massacres had been staged by the Western media and the KLA to justify NATO bombing. Vojislav Šešelj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party and deputy prime minister of Serbia, claimed that the massacre at Gornje Obrinje “was orchestrated in the West by those same countries in order to create legal grounds for the U.N. Security Council to authorize the bombing of Serbia.”90 He continued with his familiar refrain of a vast conspiracy against the Serbian people:

All propaganda services and agencies for waging the propaganda war of the Western powers have joined forces in an orchestrated campaign against Serbia, the Serb people, and the FRY.

What we saw in Kosovo, in the village of Gornje Obrinje, is identical to the promulgation of false reports on the events at the [Sarajevo] Markale market place, Vase Miskina Street, and the Partisan Cemetery in Sarajevo, when Alija Izetbegovic had his own civilians killed in order to impute those killings to the Serbs.

[Those responsible are] the Shiptar91 terrorists, because they were militarily defeated by the police and army, who used the most perfidious and corrupt means, sacrificed their own people, and called up the foreign diplomats and correspondents...92

The official RTS television attributed similar statements to Vuk Draskovic, head of the Serbian Renewal Movement Party (SPO) and a Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia since mid-January, who reportedly stated that:

Logic and all the available facts lead to the conclusion that the Albanian civilians were killed by those whose propaganda and strategic interest would be served by such a crime. The Albanian terrorists had every reason to stage the massacre against their compatriots and thus push their atrocities [against Serbs] in Klecka and Glodjane aside, simultaneously rousing anti-Serb emotions and triggering NATO pact aggression against Serbia.93

87 “Kosovo Metohija” is the official Serbian term for Kosovo. 88 Quoted in Bob Dole, “How Convenient,” Wall Street Journal, September 30, 1998. 89 Tanjug, September 30, 1998. 90 “Šešelj says Kosovo massacre fabricated in order to bomb Serbs,” Beta, October 1, 1998. 91 “Shiptar,” which means “an Albanian” in the Albanian language (“Shqiptar”), is a derogatory word for Albanians when used by Serbs. 92 “Šešelj says Kosovo massacre fabricated in order to bomb Serbs,” Beta, October 1, 1998. 93 “Party leader says ‘logic’ indicates Kosovo rebels carried out massacre,” RTS TV, October 1, 1998, 17:30 gmt. Klecka and Glodjane refer to two sites where ethnic Albanians are accused of committing execution-style killings. Many questions surround the Klecka allegations, but the deaths of thirty-four people, ethnic Albanians and Serbs whose bodies were found in a lake near Glodjane can be attributed more directly to the KLA. For details on abuses by the KLA, see the Human Rights Watch report, “Humanitarian Law Violations in Kosovo,” October 1998.

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