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  •   War Entrepreneurs

        Bill Arkin
    By William M. Arkin
    Special to
    Monday, August 30, 1999

    All along Belgrade's pedestrian zone between the Moskva Hotel and the ransacked former American cultural center, war entrepreneurs have set up shop, selling trinkets and other tie-in merchandise commemorating the NATO-Yugoslavian war.

    There are tee-shirts with the now famous "target" bullseye (80 dinars or about $4 at black market exchange rates) and other target-related paraphernalia.

    There is the glossy foldout map "78 Dana Rata," pinpointing bombing targets throughout the country by location and function (35 dinars). In my recent 20-day bomb damage assessment mission to Yugoslavia, the map proved invaluable.

    Then there are the postcards (5 to 10 dinars). Most are photos of bombed targets that have acquired symbolic importance to the Serbian psyche: the Chinese Embassy, the New Belgrade heating plant, the downtown government radio and television headquarters, Avala mountain tower, the black cloud over Pancevo, the bridges of Novi Sad.

    No Pictures, No Entry

    If you rummage enough through the stacks, there are some true gems that go beyond the propaganda symbols. One is a picture postcard of the smoldering skeleton of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs at the foot of the main boulevard, Kneza Milosa. Belgraders drive by the empty but still guarded complex every day. Given the furious activity to clear the rubble and begin reconstruction, the postcard may prove a lasting memory.

    Another postcard shows Slobodan Milosevic's destroyed residence at 15 Uzicka street in the Dedinje neighborhood. At the center of the card is the bombed out shell of the villa surrounded by a selection of old tourist photographs showing the nicely appointed interior and artworks.

    ''The anti-Milosevic quotient is the rarity, not the rule.''

    The house was Tito's official residence from 1948-1980. Milosevic commandeered the building from a state foundation in 1995, and moved in. It is one of a half dozen houses that the Yugoslav leader uses, and one of two that was bombed.

    After Uzicka 15 was bombed at 4:00 a.m. on April 22, graffiti appeared in Belgrade saying "Mr. President: Why Weren't You At Home When We Needed You?"

    Yugoslavs Die Laughing

    There is humor in the tribute to Operation Allied Force. But the anti-Milosevic quotient is the rarity, not the rule. Much more common is wit that does not threaten the authorities. Take for instance, the ubiquitous image on tee-shirts and postcards showing the F-117 stealth fighter shot down west of the capitol with the caption: "Sorry we didn't know it was invisible." More than one Serb gleefully told me he had a piece of the stealth fighter, and when I asked if I could see it, he put his hand in his pocket to remove an invisible nugget, all to hearty laughs.

    Yugoslavia shot down a stealth fighter. Yugoslav withstood NATO "aggression." Yugoslavia is victim.

    ''After awhile it became clear to many that the innocents drawn to the [anti-bombing] protests were merely indirect Milosevic tools.''

    For the Belgrader, largely insulated from the war's effects and from the misery in Kosovo, street "defiance" merely affirms deep-seated messages that please and bolster the ruling regime. During the bombing, when people mobilized for concerts and nighttime bridge vigils, there may have been spontaneity, and entrepreneurs may have supplied the target bullseyes and banners and placards. But it was the government that was the ultimate organizer and beneficiary.

    Bombing can naturally result in a "rally 'round the flag" effect, pushing even opponents to support a central government. After awhile it became clear to many that the innocents drawn to the protests were merely indirect Milosevic tools. Now that bombs have stopped falling, however, the undercurrent of victimization flourishes. It is all mostly anti-U.S. and anti-NATO sentiment that is ultimately harmless if not supportive to the regime.

    Web War I

    One of the more fascinating mementos to illustrate the subtle internalization of victim culture from the recent war is the flashy "NATO Aggression Against Yugoslavia" CD-ROM produced by Intervision Productions, a small Belgrade graphics arts and web design firm (12 DM or $15). The final product is slick (information is available on Intervision's Digit011 site)( World class interface, 100 audio-video clips, 5,000 pages of text, news, photos, maps and documents, background information on Kosovo, positions of all the major players. A second war-related CD-ROM entitled "Ecocide" is hot off the presses.

    The 20-somethings at Intervision maintained their own "istina" (truth) website during the war, and decided to make an interactive CD-ROM to both archive the material and showcase their talents. Twenty-two year old Dejan Miletic, the chief designer who worked on the project at Intervision, says they tried to be "independent" in the presentation of material. That the CD-ROM is called "NATO aggression" doesn't even register as a contradiction to this claim.

    Miletic says that his company made the phrase "digital resistance" popular with the Belgrade Internet set during the war. When I asked him, "Digital resistance to what?", he responded, "Everything." We wage our own war against authority across the Internet, he says. The office is filled with Internet memorabilia from the 78 days of bombing. One of the most clever is the postcard "Web War I."

    There is a certain naive sentimentality to it all, the digital resistance accompanied by its own product line. But as Internet warfare goes, it is barely bows and arrows.

    William M. Arkin can be reached for comment at

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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