War Psychosis

Involvement in four wars in less than a decade has inured many Serbs to an atmosphere of perpetual hostility. Thus, the possibility that President Slobodan Milosevic might precipitate yet another conflict to keep his grip on power may not surprise the Serbian people.

But given the regime’s unwillingness to solve the country’s growing political crisis and international isolation in a peaceful way, there is considerable fear among the public and speculation in the Serbian press that a violent outcome is inevitable.

The question for many Serbs is not if or why, but when and with whom they will be engaged in the next confrontation. “Spring in Serbia, after all those years, arouses only memories of previous wars and fear of new wars,” the independent Belgrade weekly Blic News wrote on March 8.

“We have fears and possible wars for everybody’s taste: from the confrontation with Montenegro, civil war in Serbia, clashes with ethnic Albanians in Presevo and Medvedja [towns in southern Serbia with predominantly ethnic Albanian populations], to a new [NATO] bombing campaign for those who do not like change,” the weekly said.

“The war psychosis in Serbia is quite real. The [effects of the] terrible experience of last March have not disappeared yet,” wrote Ljubodrag Stojadinovic, military analyst for Belgrade’s independent Glas Javnosti (March 3).

Linking the growing fear of war among the population with the three-week-long NATO maneuvers in Kosovo, carried out from March 19 to April 10, Stojadinovic said, “The analogy [with last year’s bombing campaign] is so obvious that calm analysis has not been able to lessen the tension.”

“However, tensions inside Yugoslavia itself make the situation dangerous, with or without NATO” in Kosovo, he added.

Reflecting on a number of repressive actions the Milosevic regime has taken against its own people in the past several months, Blic News called spring 2000 in Serbia “the spring of fear.” The possibility of renewed bombing has been the main topic of conversation for months. Reacting to this preoccupation, Serbian newspapers have been filled with statements, denials, experts’ opinions, and even predictions by psychics and practitioners of black or white magic.

“People have found themselves exposed to pressure from two sides. There is NATO with its representatives claiming that Serbia will be in danger as long as it has the current regime. On the other hand, the regime in Belgrade says that world imperialism has engaged all forces against Serbia,” Glas Javnosti said.

“For the regime, the fear of war is...probably the best way to equate the regime’s interests with patriotism,” Stojadinovic wrote.

“On the other hand, NATO leaders are still convinced that frightened people might become fed up and topple the regime which has been leading them only to war and incredible suffering. Whatever Serbs think about last year’s bombing, the tension is unbearable,” Stojadinovic added.

Milosevic and his regime apparently intend to keep the tension high, all the while pointing to continued “NATO aggression.” Now, however, the regime and the media it controls locate this activity among the political opposition and the independent media, which they have labeled “NATO mercenaries and traitors.”

The Serbian authorities also do everything possible to keep the people’s memories of last spring’s horrific experiences alive. “In many Serbian towns, there have been massive military mobilization calls.…MiG aircraft fly over Belgrade every night. Even announcements of air- raid alert siren tests have caused panic,” Blic News reported. “The fear of sirens is a clear sign that the psychological war against these people was waged successfully in the past several months,” Stojadinovic wrote.

In Serbia “everything has been happening between rumors and reality,” he added, recalling that in the past years “the reality has become crueler than any terrible fiction, and therefore many hearts would have not survived if they had heard sirens.

“Maybe that was the reason the sirens were not tested in Belgrade. They would not be tested at all, a senior government official said. If they are heard anyway, then it will not be a test,” Stojadinovic predicted.